Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

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Jason Snyder, modified 6 Years ago.

Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 186 Join Date: 10/25/13 Recent Posts
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/chapter-one

"That principle is the subject of this book: The feeling that we call “I” is an illusion. There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself—can be altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of “self-transcendence” are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are. Deepening that understanding, and repeatedly cutting through the illusion of the self, is what is meant by “spirituality” in the context of this book."
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Simon T., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
It will be interesting to see how this book will be received. What make Harris interesting is that he already has a large group of followers, composed of scientists, skeptics, bitter atheists and so forth. He went with a tone to really please the skeptics, giving them something to chew on interwinded with Dharma material. 

He also hints that he isn't done according to his own criterias, and seems to be inclined toward the idea of quasi-linear progression that would have no end. He does acknowledge stages and difficulties and mention Willoughby Britton in the footnotes, though. 
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sawfoot _, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 507 Join Date: 3/11/13 Recent Posts
Simon T.:

He also hints that he isn't done according to his own criterias, and seems to be inclined toward the idea of quasi-linear progression that would have no end. He does acknowledge stages and difficulties and mention Willoughby Britton in the footnotes, though. 

I believe Harris is primarily coming from a secular dzogchen prespective (with a helping of Theravadan Vipassana), and what he writes about enlightenment seems consistent with that view.
Sam Harris:
So what would a spiritual master be a master of? At a minimum, she will no longer suffer certain cognitive and emotional illusions—above all, she will no longer feel identical to her thoughts. Once again, this is not to say that such a person will no longer think, but she would no longer succumb to the primary confusion that thoughts produce in most of us: She would no longer feel that there is an inner self who is a thinker of these thoughts. Such a person will naturally maintain an openness and serenity of mind that is available to most of us only for brief moments, even after years of practice. I remain agnostic as to whether anyone has achieved such a state permanently, but I know from direct experience that it is possible to be far more enlightened than I tend to be.

In my view, the realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening. 
Is a pragmatic dharma 4th pather a "spiritual master"? It seems to me that overcoming the "confusion" as he calls it, as what appears to be claimed by 4th pathers, does not necessarily lead to an "openness and serenity" of mind. I think that is more a dzogchen expectation of the results of practice.

Simon T.:


It will be interesting to see how this book will be received. What make Harris interesting is that he already has a large group of followers, composed of scientists, skeptics, bitter atheists and so forth. He went with a tone to really please the skeptics, giving them something to chew on interwinded with Dharma material. 
Sam Harris:
Although the insights we can have in meditation tell us nothing about the origins of the universe, they do confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.

According to the Buddhist teachings, human beings have a distorted view of reality that leads them to suffer unnecessarily. We grasp at transitory pleasures. We brood about the past and worry about the future. We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist. This is stressful—and spiritual life is a process of gradually unraveling our confusion and bringing this stress to an end. According to the Buddhist view, by seeing things as they are, we cease to suffer in the usual ways, and our minds can open to states of well-being that are intrinsic to the nature of consciousness.

Speaking of someone who could be considered in that target audience, I expect a large part of the book will be about those last two "truths", and I don't find them controversial (and who would really disagree with them?).

But the first is where Harris appears to run into trouble. It is one thing to say that treating our conventional sense of self is an illusion as a method that can increase subjective well-being, but he appears to confuse method with reality, and also ends up falling into the classic Vipssana trap of thinking meditation inherently allows you to see reality "as it is" (though he prefaces it with the "Buddhist view", it appears to be his belief given other things he writes).
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Jason Snyder, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 186 Join Date: 10/25/13 Recent Posts
sawfoot _:
Simon T.:

He also hints that he isn't done according to his own criterias, and seems to be inclined toward the idea of quasi-linear progression that would have no end. He does acknowledge stages and difficulties and mention Willoughby Britton in the footnotes, though. 

I believe Harris is primarily coming from a secular dzogchen prespective (with a helping of Theravadan Vipassana), and what he writes about enlightenment seems consistent with that view.
Sam Harris:
So what would a spiritual master be a master of? At a minimum, she will no longer suffer certain cognitive and emotional illusions—above all, she will no longer feel identical to her thoughts. Once again, this is not to say that such a person will no longer think, but she would no longer succumb to the primary confusion that thoughts produce in most of us: She would no longer feel that there is an inner self who is a thinker of these thoughts. Such a person will naturally maintain an openness and serenity of mind that is available to most of us only for brief moments, even after years of practice. I remain agnostic as to whether anyone has achieved such a state permanently, but I know from direct experience that it is possible to be far more enlightened than I tend to be.

In my view, the realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening. 
Is a pragmatic dharma 4th pather a "spiritual master"? It seems to me that overcoming the "confusion" as he calls it, as what appears to be claimed by 4th pathers, does not necessarily lead to an "openness and serenity" of mind. I think that is more a dzogchen expectation of the results of practice.

Simon T.:


It will be interesting to see how this book will be received. What make Harris interesting is that he already has a large group of followers, composed of scientists, skeptics, bitter atheists and so forth. He went with a tone to really please the skeptics, giving them something to chew on interwinded with Dharma material. 
Sam Harris:
Although the insights we can have in meditation tell us nothing about the origins of the universe, they do confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.

According to the Buddhist teachings, human beings have a distorted view of reality that leads them to suffer unnecessarily. We grasp at transitory pleasures. We brood about the past and worry about the future. We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist. This is stressful—and spiritual life is a process of gradually unraveling our confusion and bringing this stress to an end. According to the Buddhist view, by seeing things as they are, we cease to suffer in the usual ways, and our minds can open to states of well-being that are intrinsic to the nature of consciousness.

Speaking of someone who could be considered in that target audience, I expect a large part of the book will be about those last two "truths", and I don't find them controversial (and who would really disagree with them?).

But the first is where Harris appears to run into trouble. It is one thing to say that treating our conventional sense of self is an illusion as a method that can increase subjective well-being, but he appears to confuse method with reality, and also ends up falling into the classic Vipssana trap of thinking meditation inherently allows you to see reality "as it is" (though he prefaces it with the "Buddhist view", it appears to be his belief given other things he writes).
Well, the generally accepted view among neuroscientists (of which Sam Harris is one) and cognitive philosophers is that the "self" is an illusion. For example check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ego-Tunnel-Science-Mind/dp/0465020690

So how is Sam Harris confusing method with reality?
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sawfoot _, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 507 Join Date: 3/11/13 Recent Posts
jason synder:


]Well, the generally accepted view among neuroscientists (of which Sam Harris is one) and cognitive philosophers is that the "self" is an illusion. For example check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ego-Tunnel-Science-Mind/dp/0465020690

So how is Sam Harris confusing method with reality?

Just a point of minor contention, I wouldn't say Sam Harris is a neuroscientist (though I think he spent some time in a neuroscience lab), and I would guess most philosophers would take umbrage to calling him a philosopher. Author and public intellectual seems about right.

Ok, let's assume you are on-board with the claim that "seeing the illusion of self" is a method.

So if the feeling you have looking at the world that is separate from yourself can be altered or extinguished does it mean that the feeling is an illusion? I would say not. If I have a stroke in my visual cortex, lost my ability to see colour anymore, does it mean my previous experience of colour was an illusion? No. 

Are you a Platonist? Do you think that there is a discrete indivisible coherent thing, a you, or perhaps something like a soul? So it you do, then perhaps you need that notion dispelling. Otherwise, you are left with this ephemeral nebulous conception of self. Now, is that real? Is anything real? One question to ask is: do selves have casual powers. I think the answer would be yes.

I would argue that the modern scientific conception of self is that some folk-psychological intuitions about selves are misguided, but to say that "self is an illusion" takes one particular angle in a very complex multi-dimensional matter. I doubt Metzinger would frame it that way either, he might say something more like self is a construction, just like everything we consciously experience.

tl;dr - self sort of is an illusion, but sort of isn't, but Harris wants to back just one side of the equation as he is a buddhist. Note that not all Buddhisms would even say self is an illusion - it is a very Theravadan angle.
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Jason Snyder, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 186 Join Date: 10/25/13 Recent Posts
sawfoot _:
jason synder:


]Well, the generally accepted view among neuroscientists (of which Sam Harris is one) and cognitive philosophers is that the "self" is an illusion. For example check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ego-Tunnel-Science-Mind/dp/0465020690

So how is Sam Harris confusing method with reality?

Just a point of minor contention, I wouldn't say Sam Harris is a neuroscientist (though I think he spent some time in a neuroscience lab), and I would guess most philosophers would take umbrage to calling him a philosopher. Author and public intellectual seems about right.

Ok, let's assume you are on-board with the claim that "seeing the illusion of self" is a method.

So if the feeling you have looking at the world that is separate from yourself can be altered or extinguished does it mean that the feeling is an illusion? I would say not. If I have a stroke in my visual cortex, lost my ability to see colour anymore, does it mean my previous experience of colour was an illusion? No. 

Are you a Platonist? Do you think that there is a discrete indivisible coherent thing, a you, or perhaps something like a soul? So it you do, then perhaps you need that notion dispelling. Otherwise, you are left with this ephemeral nebulous conception of self. Now, is that real? Is anything real? One question to ask is: do selves have casual powers. I think the answer would be yes.

I would argue that the modern scientific conception of self is that some folk-psychological intuitions about selves are misguided, but to say that "self is an illusion" takes one particular angle in a very complex multi-dimensional matter. I doubt Metzinger would frame it that way either, he might say something more like self is a construction, just like everything we consciously experience.

tl;dr - self sort of is an illusion, but sort of isn't, but Harris wants to back just one side of the equation as he is a buddhist. Note that not all Buddhisms would even say self is an illusion - it is a very Theravadan angle.

Fair enough. I'm okay with  "self is a construction" instead of "self is an illusion". Still makes me want to see through it.
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sawfoot _, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 507 Join Date: 3/11/13 Recent Posts
Jason Snyder:

Fair enough. I'm okay with  "self is a construction" instead of "self is an illusion". Still makes me want to see through it. 
Yes, its pretty interesting and they say it has some nice side effects.

Though it seems like going beyond thinking that there is an "it" that can be seen through is half the battle - so there is a paradoxical angle (there is no self to see through) and there was the point I made above - in that what we refer to and think about as "selves" is a very complex thing - insight practices can give you some insight into conscious level self-construction phenomena, but it’s only part of a multi-faceted conception of what selves are/are not.
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Simon T., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 381 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
sawfoot _:
jason synder:


]Well, the generally accepted view among neuroscientists (of which Sam Harris is one) and cognitive philosophers is that the "self" is an illusion. For example check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ego-Tunnel-Science-Mind/dp/0465020690

So how is Sam Harris confusing method with reality?

Just a point of minor contention, I wouldn't say Sam Harris is a neuroscientist (though I think he spent some time in a neuroscience lab), and I would guess most philosophers would take umbrage to calling him a philosopher. Author and public intellectual seems about right.

Ok, let's assume you are on-board with the claim that "seeing the illusion of self" is a method.

So if the feeling you have looking at the world that is separate from yourself can be altered or extinguished does it mean that the feeling is an illusion? I would say not. If I have a stroke in my visual cortex, lost my ability to see colour anymore, does it mean my previous experience of colour was an illusion? No. 

Are you a Platonist? Do you think that there is a discrete indivisible coherent thing, a you, or perhaps something like a soul? So it you do, then perhaps you need that notion dispelling. Otherwise, you are left with this ephemeral nebulous conception of self. Now, is that real? Is anything real? One question to ask is: do selves have casual powers. I think the answer would be yes.

I would argue that the modern scientific conception of self is that some folk-psychological intuitions about selves are misguided, but to say that "self is an illusion" takes one particular angle in a very complex multi-dimensional matter. I doubt Metzinger would frame it that way either, he might say something more like self is a construction, just like everything we consciously experience.

tl;dr - self sort of is an illusion, but sort of isn't, but Harris wants to back just one side of the equation as he is a buddhist. Note that not all Buddhisms would even say self is an illusion - it is a very Theravadan angle.

Harris did his PhD in cognitive neuroscience but his B.A. was in philosophy. He call himself a writer.
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(D Z) Dhru Val, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Chapter 1

Posts: 346 Join Date: 9/18/11 Recent Posts
Here's an essay by Sam where he argues that Buddhism would benefit more people if it wasn't presented as explicitly buddhist. I tend to agree with him, but ofcourse also value the uncompromising quality of the traditional path.

http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2903Itemid=247

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