Is Sam Harris Halfway There?

#1
I seem to remember atheist Sam Harris caused a bit of a flurry among his fellow sceptics with a few lines in his The End of Faith book which seemed to nudge towards an acceptance of some aspects of parapsychology.

And I've seen him wavering a little in YouTube discussions on NDEs.

And believe it or not it was a Tweet from Deepak Chopra no less, writing "I'm loving Sam's new book. I see hope" which pointed me towards Waking Up.

The book's description states, "For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris' new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology. From multiple New York Times bestselling author, neuroscientist, and 'new atheist' Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds."

Here's a New York Times review:
Between Godliness and Godlessness NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/o...i-between-godliness-and-godlessness.html?_r=0

And a full first chapter in sound and script on Sam's blog here:
http://www.samharris.org/blog

I did listen to all of it and it was obvious it is Sam's experiences with DMT and silent meditational two year retreats, have woken him up to what he admits is a "deeper reality" and a "diamond in the dunghill" of conventional religion.

He's saying quite rightly that mystical experiences common to all religions and none cannot be linked evidentially with those religions because their dogmas are all different.

He talks a lot about happiness being achieved successfully less by simply striving for more stuff but more from some form of mindfulness transcendence.

En route he demolishes Theosophy, Mormonism and Scientology among others but applauds aspects of Buddhism while making clear that being "at one with the cosmos" shines no light on any relationship between mind and matter.

On his blog mentioned above he posts a reviewer who goes a little further down the rabbit hole, this one:

A Rationalist's Mystical Moment NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/opinion/sunday/a-rationalists-mystical-moment.html?_r=0

I have no problem personally with Sam's opposition to crackpot religions but by his embracing in this book of many of the areas which intrigue us on this forum, I wonder whether he's perhaps halfway there?

I would love to hear what you dudes think......
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
I wonder how many people like Harris who hate the Cosmic Authority Figure but sense a deeper reality have read Whitehead. I think if Whitehead's view of the universe had been more pervasive it's possible an alternate theological movement might've preceded the New Atheism.

I'm very much enjoying process theology combined with readings on Taoism.
 
#5
Super post, Psiclops. I just listened to Harris read the first chapter of his new book and greatly enjoyed it--he reads aloud very well, and when available in the UK (from Sept 9), I plan to buy the audio version. I found hardly anything to take issue with. I can see why Chopra has hope!

A lot of what he says about religion is true. The one thing about it he may be missing is that some people are fully aware of the limitations of religion, yet are also spiritually inclined. They may have a spiritual appreciation of the Universe, but still consciously engage in and value the symbols and rituals of religion. Rupert Sheldrake comes to mind; I think he has a deep sense of the symbolic significance of Christianity.

Then there are others, such as myself, who don't practise any religion, but have ways of interpreting Christianity, say, that don't involve belief in orthodox perceptions of an Abrahamic God. We too recognise the symbolic/allegorical significance of the resurrection, if not the doctrine of redemption and a dozen other dubious propositions. I think Harris is under-appreciating the fact that religion can also be a stepping stone to spirituality, for at least some of us.

I recall Rumi's story about Moses coming across a poor and simple shepherd, who was praying to God in terms of wanting to comb His hair, wash His feet, and so on. Moses rebuked him, but later, God in turn rebuked Moses, because to Him, the shepherd's conception, prayers and offerings were acceptable, and suitable to his stage of development. So Moses goes back to the shepherd to apologise, but the shepherd thanks him because it's caused him to move on and evolve, to see things in a totally new way.

Coleman Barks' version is narrated by Barks himself here:


We don't all have the benefit of a Moses to shock us out of our present understandings of the spiritual. I think Harris may be just a short step away from seeing the positive function of religion, even of the Abrahamic variety; but based on what I've heard so far, he doesn't quite seem to grasp how a person could be (externally) religiously orthodox and at the same time (internally) have a deep appreciation of spirituality. It's down to the nature and motivation of the "flute" (the human being as I interpret it) in Barks' reading. Some are simple affairs; a few holes in a reed. Others are more sophisticated and refined, allowing of more complex versions of the melodies that are always being played. Luckily, flutes can evolve.
 
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#6
On another angle, It'd be fascinating to hear Alex interview him about Waking Up. I don't know if Harris would agree to such an interview, but there may be a chance if it helps him promote the book. I'd certainly be willing to make initial contact with Harris to float the idea if Alex was game.
 
#7
Re, Christianity, it's worth remembering the church is no more than the people who comprise it. Given how flawed people are, it would be extraordinary if the institutional was not also compromised. That said, people can relate to the aspiration of the church without being side tracked by the diversions of its members. Within Catholicism there are sub-sects like the Catenian society (a kind of RC freemasonry) and Opus Dei (Catholic-er-than-thou flagellants), all of whom have little to do with the message of Christianity. It would be absurd to measure the message of Christ against social clubs like these (whatever aspirations they pretend to), or dismiss a religion because such cults identified with it.

Back on topic, it will be interesting to see how the skeptic movement perceives Harris if he moves towards an inclusive view of immaterialism. I think they'll eat him alive at the first sign of compromise. I followed a car yesterday that had a Darwin fish sticker and a dinosaur eating a fish, among other signs. When an idea represents someone to that level of self-labelling, they're not going to reconsider their world view because Harris embraces a little spirituality. Skeptics don't do nuance.
 
#8
On another angle, It'd be fascinating to hear Alex interview him about Waking Up. I don't know if Harris would agree to such an interview, but there may be a chance if it helps him promote the book. I'd certainly be willing to make initial contact with Harris to float the idea if Alex was game.
Maybe you could bring this thread to Alex's attention and ask him, Michael?
 
#9
There's a winning quote from a review of his book: "As a neuroscientist, Sam Harris shows how our egos are illusions, diffuse products of brain activity, and as a long-term practitioner of meditation, he shows how abandoning this illusion can wake us up to a richer life, more connected to everything around us.

- Jerry Coyne
 
#10
Maybe you could bring this thread to Alex's attention and ask him, Michael?
Done. Here's my PM to Alex:

Hi Alex,

Just in case you haven't seen it, there's a thread at:

http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/is-sam-harris-halfway-there.1238/#post-33650

--about Sam Harris' new book, Waking up. His views as expressed in the first chapter of the book (the audio version is available on his site) comprise a lot that proponents could agree with, and it'd be interesting to explore where he differs, in essence, from us.

I realise you've said you have a number of interviews in the pipeline, but would you be interested at some time in the future in having him on the show? I'd be willing to try to make initial contact if you are.​
 
S

Sciborg_S_Patel

#11
There's a winning quote from a review of his book: "As a neuroscientist, Sam Harris shows how our egos are illusions, diffuse products of brain activity, and as a long-term practitioner of meditation, he shows how abandoning this illusion can wake us up to a richer life, more connected to everything around us.

- Jerry Coyne
I'm curious about how accurate this is, and what it means for Harris' previous interest in the uncanny commonalities of DMT experiences. Strassman specifically notes that the DMT visions were very unexpected in their exaltation, rather than dissolution, of Self.
 
C

chuck.drake

#12
I'm curious about how accurate this is, and what it means for Harris' previous interest in the uncanny commonalities of DMT experiences. Strassman specifically notes that the DMT visions were very unexpected in their exaltation, rather than dissolution, of Self.
The two ideas of a dissolution of a self and a celebration of the true self are not necessarily incompatible. There is a subtle distinction that Almaas talks about in his books. He encapsulates the idea as The Pearl Beyond Price (an idea already present in some spiritual practices that Almaas tweaks a little I believe.)

http://www.ahalmaas.com/glossary/pearl-beyond-price/experiencing-the-pearl-beyond-price

If I understand Almaas correctly, there is a personal aspect to Essence as well as a universal aspect.

I think the Pearl is talked about in Sufism and maybe Micheal has another thought on its usage there.
 
#13
I think the Pearl is talked about in Sufism and maybe Micheal has another thought on its usage there.
I first came across the term when reading Almaas myself. There's speculation that it may refer to One of Jesus' parables found in Matthew's gospel and also the Gnostic gospel. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Pearl. I agree with what that article says, that the pearl may represent the true self, or what is known in Sufism as essence: one's core being, which, as you say, may have a personal dimension. In Christianity, a similar idea might be expressed in the term "Christ consciousness".

I think many of us may be closest to it as very young children, before the conditioning sets in and encourages us to march to a drum beat different than our intrinsic one: IOW, switches us towards ego-focus, which is actually to some extent necessary in order to be a functional human being. The trick is to get the balance right, and the Sufis have always maintained that it's desirable to be in the world, but not of it. They eschew asceticism: it's easy to imagine one is holy and unattached to the world when locked up in a cloister; but we need to engage with the world, so asceticism is recommended only on a temporary basis for specific purposes.

The most impressive spiritual people may be those who are active in the world, in which they may be personally very successful, while at the same time doing good works in a non-ostentatious way. It may go against our prejudices that the spiritually advanced may be successful entrepreneurs, business people, actors, artists and so on. But the Sufis maintain that worldly success in such cases is a mere reflection of inner attainment. That's different, of course, from those people who are successful by dint of the pursuit of ego gratification. Amongst those may be some who have gained admiration for their asceticism and seeming other-worldliness, on which their ego feeds and grows. Christopher Hitchens lambasted Mother Theresa, probably categorising her as one such example (I make no comment as to whether he was right or wrong about that). Others have cast aspersions on Ghandi or Pope John Paul II.

It's further complicated because Sufis maintain that some spiritual adepts consciously project an unpleasant image of themselves: the malamati or the blameworthy, who do it so that they won't boost their own egos by appearing as saints. They appear to be the last people who might be enlightened beings. I suppose it's all summed up by the aphorism don't judge a book by its cover. ;)
 
C

chuck.drake

#14
The most impressive spiritual people may be those who are active in the world, in which they may be personally very successful, while at the same time doing good works in a non-ostentatious way. It may go against our prejudices that the spiritually advanced may be successful entrepreneurs, business people, actors, artists and so on. But the Sufis maintain that worldly success in such cases is a mere reflection of inner attainment. That's different, of course, from those people who are successful by dint of the pursuit of ego gratification. Amongst those may be some who have gained admiration for their asceticism and seeming other-worldliness, on which their ego feeds and grows. Christopher Hitchens lambasted Mother Theresa, probably categorising her as one such example (I make no comment as to whether he was right or wrong about that). Others have cast aspersions on Ghandi or Pope John Paul II.
On a side note I have heard mentioned several times that Mother Theresa was in fact saintly, but not particularly self-realized. Even admittedly so. I don't know all the details.
 
C

chuck.drake

#15
I first came across the term when reading Almaas myself. There's speculation that it may refer to One of Jesus' parables found in Matthew's gospel and also the Gnostic gospel. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Pearl. I agree with what that article says, that the pearl may represent the true self, or what is known in Sufism as essence: one's core being, which, as you say, may have a personal dimension. In Christianity, a similar idea might be expressed in the term "Christ consciousness".
Almaas talks specifically about this during one of his interviews on the Sounds True: Insights at the Edge podcast. I'm not sure if it was the latest one or not. He has a book entitled The Pearl Beyond Price and also speaks at length about his differentiation between soul and spirit in The Inner Journey Home, which is a great introduction to his work. Very interesting guy to listen to if you haven't heard him before. He had a very good interview on Conscious TV a while back as well. He was working on his PhD in physics at Berkeley Livermore Lab I think when he realized his intentions to understand the true nature of reality had been misplaced in the physical sciences and he left and spent the rest of his life pursuing knowledge in various esoteric schools. He ended up forming his own amalgam of Eastern and Western approaches in the Diamond Approach or Ridhwan School. Tami Simon from Sounds True refers to Almaas as a spiritual genius and I tend to agree. But I digress. Good work for anyone so inclined. Much of his work is very readable. Recommended. :)
 
#16
Almaas talks specifically about this during one of his interviews on the Sounds True: Insights at the Edge podcast. I'm not sure if it was the latest one or not. He has a book entitled The Pearl Beyond Price and also speaks at length about his differentiation between soul and spirit in The Inner Journey Home, which is a great introduction to his work. Very interesting guy to listen to if you haven't heard him before. He had a very good interview on Conscious TV a while back as well. He was working on his PhD in physics at Berkeley Livermore Lab I think when he realized his intentions to understand the true nature of reality had been misplaced in the physical sciences and he left and spent the rest of his life pursuing knowledge in various esoteric schools. He ended up forming his own amalgam of Eastern and Western approaches in the Diamond Approach or Ridhwan School. Tami Simon from Sounds True refers to Almaas as a spiritual genius and I tend to agree. But I digress. Good work for anyone so inclined. Much of his work is very readable. Recommended. :)
He also has a good interview at Buddha at the gas pump with Rick Archer as well as an interview with Karen Johnson the co-creator of Ridhwan
 
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#17
On a side note I have heard mentioned several times that Mother Theresa was in fact saintly, but not particularly self-realized. Even admittedly so. I don't know all the details.
In her final days it was said she embarked on a seemingly physical battle with doubt, or Satan or whatever. It echoes the fight other saints and mystics have been through, not least Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione), who often emerged from his cell bloodied and bruised. I don't buy the Sufi idea of material wealth as a manifestation of inner attainment. The few very wealthy people I know got that way by having an almost diabolical energy combined with zero empathy for their fellows except as consumers or acolytes. High functioning sociopaths one might say. Whether saints occupy a similar pathology is hard to say.
 
#18
In her final days it was said she embarked on a seemingly physical battle with doubt, or Satan or whatever. It echoes the fight other saints and mystics have been through, not least Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione), who often emerged from his cell bloodied and bruised. I don't buy the Sufi idea of material wealth as a manifestation of inner attainment. The few very wealthy people I know got that way by having an almost diabolical energy combined with zero empathy for their fellows except as consumers or acolytes. High functioning sociopaths one might say. Whether saints occupy a similar pathology is hard to say.
The Sufis don't say that material wealth is always a manifestation of inner attainment. They say that success in ordinary life, which may be accompanied by material well-being, can be a sign of inner attainment. As I noted, the acquisition of material wealth in many, probably most, cases, is the result of egoism and greed. The point is, one can't always rush to judgement and say that all successful and well-off people are bastards. People whose external well-being reflects their inner attainment will be the kind who non-ostentatiously help others. They may go to great lengths to conceal their charitable and good works because it's held that ostentation boosts the ego and reduces inner attainment.

You'll find many rich and successful people are ostentatious in their charity: like to advertise it, or have buildings or institutions named after them, etc., maybe to get recognition or honours. It's held that this does them no good, but more importantly, isn't as effective as secret charity: that's actually held to be a law about how such things work. This concept of secret charity isn't widely known in the West, but even here, now and then you hear that an "anonymous donor" has gifted a large sum to a good cause.

Please read more carefully what I say, Gabriel. Don't dismiss it out of hand because you've read it superficially and only think you know what I've said.
 
#19
Please read more carefully what I say, Gabriel. Don't dismiss it out of hand because you've read it superficially and only think you know what I've said.
Fair enough but I think linking spiritual enlightenment with material wealth in any way is the kind of thing that sees Eastern gurus riding round in gold plated Rolls Royces surrounded by attractive young women, while preaching abstinence, poverty and benign acceptance of ones lot. Anyone putting a couple of quid into a charity tin is practising secret charity, but it should be remembered that large donations are often tax right-offs, or come from people who've spent a life subtracting wealth from the common purse.
 
#20
Re: Mother Teresa - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/opinion/29martin.html?_r=0

It seems she wrote of her inner despair for decades, yet sparingly shared it. Perhaps she intended to burn her journals before passing to take it with her.

“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,” she wrote in 1959, “of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing.” According to the book, this inner turmoil, known by only a handful of her closest colleagues, lasted until her death in 1997.
Perceptions based upon appearances seem interesting indeed.

The question arising for me about Sam Harris being "halfway there" ... halfway where? Does any one ever really know where they are?
 
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