Sam Harris Answers Your Questions June 29, 2011

Sam Harris Answers Your Questions

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, recently did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.

He responded to the highest-rated questions in the video below:

I haven’t seen it yet, but if there are any sections we should look at, please leave the timestamp (e.g. 1:22) in the comments!

***Update***: The answers are interesting, though I’m *really* enjoying hearing Harris just say the questioners’ names… “This question comes from steakmusic. Thanks, steakmusic.”

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  • Feels like a long ad for Apple (kidding). I only watched the 1st 20 minutes, since Harris was mostly talking about meditation and spirituality, which don’t interest me. Maybe the video is just “how to be good without god.” Not sure it’s worth watching. No offense, Sam Harris– I loved your books.

  • “The goal is to calibrate the bullshit detectors of the general public. People should be embarrassed to pretend to know things they don’t know.”

    This is why I’m a fan.

  • Trace

    …and then…..

  • Brice Gilbert

    @Sarah Trachtenberg he has a very strong opinion on people who dismiss meditation the like. I’m like you though I don’t find it interesting (probably in the same way I don’t find drugs interesting).

    Anyways he makes a point that if we found out aliens existed and they had a greater degree of consciousnesses (in the same way we do compared to pigs) they would be more important than us. He finds it strange that someone might object to this. I personally don’t know if i’m comfortable with this. I might be if he intended it to mean once a creature hits a certain level of consciousnesses they should be seen as “sacred”. I’d like to see him clarify this.

  • Blondin

    The subject of animal rights or vegetarianism/veganism comes up a couple of times. The second occasion (around 36 minutes) deals with the relative wrongness of killing or ill treatment of pigs versus flies and links this to the extent to which something can suffer or be made happy. Sam talks about this as if it were an infinitely linear scale and makes the comment (at about 36:47) that, if we should encounter some creature who relates to us in the same way that we relate to bacteria, then they would be more important than us.

    My question is: more important to who?

    That statement seems completely at odds with the whole atheist notion of a non-benign, non-hostile, indifferent universe. He implies an “ought” to the hierarchy of beings. He actually says, “…there’s no evidence that beings like that exist but, if they did, we certainly shouldn’t eat them.” Extrapolating this statement leads to the notion that it is okay for us to eat “less important” beings and, more distressingly, it would be okay for “more important” beings to eat us!

    This conjures up visions of To Serve Man-type scenarios. It’s hard to imagine many people submitting to Sam’s logic and willingly accepting such a fate because, hey, they’re way more advanced than us.

    In fact, I think this scenario does form a reductio ad absurdum to his sliding scale of importance argument. There is no cosmic hierarchy to defer to and no universal authority to impose such a hierarchy. It seems more likely that there is some kind of demarcation or boundary area in levels of self-awareness, ability to suffer or feel joy, apply logic, etc which separates those beings with strictly selfish, survivalist instincts from those with compassionate, altruistic and reasoned motivations which overrule simple selfish, survivalist instincts.

  • The Picard

    With the possible exception of Barack Obama, I’ve never seen anyone more misunderstood than Sam Harris. In my experience I’ve not seen anyone who has had more things read into what he says that he didn’t actually say or mean. It’s probably because he challenges so many taboos. Strange.

  • I look forward to Sam Harris furthering his research and understanding on the “problem” of why there doesn’t ever seem to be any real time conversions or changes in political or religious beliefs (under pressure).

    Personally I’m comfortable with the notion that such conscious changes in belief are really only consciously constructed after the fact (after some neurological changes have occurred in our brains). We then only act like our “ID” made a real-time belief change in private. I’m curious what his (and other’s) research will eventually show.

  • Josh

    I’m glad he said that thing about MDMA. I know some people who used to take that shit a lot and most of them are half retarded now.

    No offense meant to retarded people.

  • Michael

    I wonder what he thinks about animals eating humans, lol. Seriously though, I liked most of what he said. I too though was kind of bored and uninterested with his talk about meditation. But it did lead into something I never thought about before. it was the part about the real experiences a religious person may have had, that they attribute to their religion. There is a real reason they had those experiences not involving the supernatural, but the only logical option from the point of view of someone who has not experienced it is to dismiss it.

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