Sam Harris Reddit thread

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I happened across this thread while searching for something almost unrelated but I stuck around long enough to read several of the posts. I have to say that I was surprised at the tone of the conversation and the lack of flames directed towards a philosophical position that would normally attract the heat in a decidedly atheist/materialist discussion thread.

Here's a snippet from the discussion: What is Sams position regarding the relationship between mind and matter... How consciousness arises in this universe? : samharris (reddit.com)


Quote:I don’t think being an idealist makes you not an atheist. There is a very crude sort of philosophically unexamined materialist atheism that is popular to mediocre intellects, but it’s not the only atheism.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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I'm always surprised seeing anyone on Reddit be friendly to a non-materialist/physicalist view, given that Reddit has a very large, very vocal militant atheist/anti-theist majority.
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Quote:Any explanation we get about the emergence of consciousness...would seem like a miracle. And that's not the way most — or really any — satisfying scientific explanation works. When I give you an explanation for any higher level property...the fluidity of water or the brittleness of glass in terms of its micro-constituents — that explanation actually does run through, and conserves your intuitions about how things function at a lower level so as to appear as they do on a higher level.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(2021-02-18, 05:03 AM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Any explanation we get about the emergence of consciousness...would seem like a miracle. And that's not the way most — or really any — satisfying scientific explanation works. When I give you an explanation for any higher level property...the fluidity of water or the brittleness of glass in terms of its micro-constituents — that explanation actually does run through, and conserves your intuitions about how things function at a lower level so as to appear as they do on a higher level.


Once again I would point Harris in the direction of Quantum Mechanics. Do some of the facts in this area not ‘seem like a miracle’ ? Entanglement is one that comes to mind for example. Are ‘scientific explanations’ meant to be satisfying? Einstein was arguably the discoverer of some of our most profound knowledge, but even a mind like his wasn’t ‘satisfied’ by some of the facts we have come to grudgingly accept as being ‘how it is’. Maybe Harris ought to reflect on that. 

I am struck at just how many human beings would prefer to have things be a certain way, and are willing to go to huge lengths to find ‘satisfying’ reasons, or maybe it’s is more accurately described as ‘justifying their own preferred beliefs’ ? 

I think there is a sliding scale of ‘right and wrong’, but maybe they’re not the right words to use. Right and wrong are too divisive, too analytical, too emotive. They tend to reinforce our tribalism. 

Let’s take one example that I personally find both interesting and troublesome. I have issues with ‘Israel’, possibly the most emotive topic possible where ‘countries’ are concerned. Feelings run deep with some. Trying to get our own feelings across to those who have such ‘deep feelings’ in such an ‘emotive’ topic are nearly impossible. Believe it or not, I can have sympathies for both sides. Can a baby born in either camp really be expected to do anything different after growing up surrounded by a bombardment of ‘beliefs’ either way? So, I think more understanding and less
emotion is a way to growth. Ok, I’m human too, with an ego, so shoot me down for expressing such dumb ideas! 

Sam Harris is a very intelligent man, no question. I find at least two interesting things about him. My opinion only. He has Islamophobic leanings and he doesn’t believe in reincarnation. Personally I couldn’t care less about these beliefs of his, he may be justified in holding both. But it’s interesting that he is unusual in having no interest in reincarnation while in many respects following a ‘Buddhist’ path. Reasons for these two ‘beliefs’ can be found in his ‘greater beliefs’; he grew up Jewish, and he is a materialist, both very strong ‘identities’. (I also know that being Jewish doesn’t automatically make you a anti - Muslim.)  A certain upbringing and a worldview can not be underestimated for forming ‘hard’ opinions. We can overlook the ‘bleeding obvious’ to defend these opinions formed from...what? 

Where do we get such opinions from? It’s worth asking. I think a lot of our beliefs are formed by having them forced upon us by people around us that we have respect for, (or fear) in environments we feel comfortable in. Home, school, University etc. Our families, our friends, our colleagues - people like us. 

Sorry for this rambling post, it seems to be the way my mind works or doesn’t work these days.  Praying hands
Oh my God, I hate all this.   Surprise
(This post was last modified: 2021-02-18, 09:53 AM by Stan Woolley.)
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(2021-02-18, 09:46 AM)Stan Woolley Wrote: and he is a materialist

Where do we get such opinions from? It’s worth asking. I think a lot of our beliefs are formed by having them forced upon us by people around us that we have respect for, (or fear) in environments we feel comfortable in. Home, school, University etc. Our families, our friends, our colleagues - people like us.

Sorry for this rambling post, it seems to be the way my mind works or doesn’t work these days.  Praying hands

Not sure it would change your thoughts but just to clarify Harris isn't a materialist, in the bit above he's saying any materialist explanation for how we get consciousness feel[s] like nothing but a miracle rather than what we usually take to [be] scientific explanations.

I do agree a lot of views are shaped by experiences, the people around us, etc. I had my first remembered paranormal seeming experience around the age of 4 and the people around me from family to friends for much of my life have also had odd experiences or were open to the idea of all this being more than matter.

I also wasn't brought up to believe in eternal damnation, so while I've had doubts regarding certain conceptions of God I've never felt like trying to shut the door against a deep fear that I might be going to Hell forever.

All to say it's a pretty good recipe for being a proponent, and a different life might be a good recipe for being a pseudo-skeptic.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2021-02-18, 09:46 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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(2021-02-18, 05:50 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Not sure it would change your thoughts but just to clarify Harris isn't a materialist


I had my doubts about saying that, but seemed to think he’s somewhere ‘in between’. Am I right in thinking he’s definitely an atheist? I remember reading that Peter Russell found Harris’s book to be the best that he’d read about consciousness, and feeling frustrated by that. I had it in my mind that Harris hadn’t a theory that I warmed to. 
It is dangerous to rely on a memory that’s only at best shaky !
Oh my God, I hate all this.   Surprise
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(2021-02-18, 06:25 PM)Stan Woolley Wrote: I had my doubts about saying that, but seemed to think he’s somewhere ‘in between’. Am I right in thinking he’s definitely an atheist? I remember reading that Peter Russell found Harris’s book to be the best that he’d read about consciousness, and feeling frustrated by that. I had it in my mind that Harris hadn’t a theory that I warmed to. 
It is dangerous to rely on a memory that’s only at best shaky !

He's definitely an atheist AFAIK, though in the past he's said something to the effect that the work of yogis counts as replication.

If you go further back, he even went to Atheist conferences and talked about the mysterious replicative effect of people meeting the same beings again & again during DMT/ayahuasca trips. Sadly seems like these videos aren't around anymore?

I definitely don't think he's written anything I'd consider to be the "best of", but having one of the New Atheist Horseman - the only one with a Neuroscience PhD no less - being so set against materialism is quite useful.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2021-02-18, 09:45 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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  • Stan Woolley
I'm not sure Harris is an atheist in the sort of traditional, layman's sense.

He is certainly anti-mainstream religions AFAIK.  Sees a lot of abuses in organized religion and points out troubling narratives in the major sacred texts (Koran/Bible).

That said, he comes off to me as more of an agnostic as opposed to a denier of God(s).  Leaves open the door in my view as Sci points out he's not a materialist either.

Feels like the days of the "new atheists" are waning.  The two requirements of this movement seem to me, at least, to be a) being a physicalist/materialist and by extension an atheist and b) an acolyte of science.  Since the former isn't a scientific position to take it makes holding the latter to be a charlatan's game.

I find Harris to be the more intellectually honest variety.  His default position is to not believe in God/Gods/First Mover/etc because of a lack of evidence (primarily), but willing to push back on those that wish to assert that "God is dead" through advances in science (since that is a fallacy).  I don't agree with all his takes/positions but I can listen to him and find him to be thought provoking for me.
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