Monday, May 26, 2008

Sam Harris on Atheism...

I think I'm in love. This is Sam Harris speaking about the label "atheist", among other things. And damn, he's hot.

Julia Sweeney (who sounds like a new cult convert) does the intro. You can skip that part. It reminds me too much of the person I used to be and makes me throw up in my mouth a little. But Harris speaks so eloquently about the need for us to just be, without using labels to define ourselves. You can sense the Buddhist influence in his words. Man after my own heart.

Edited to add: Harris is a researcher in need of people to take surveys. You can get involved here.

tall penguin


Anonymous said...

I thought you'd dig that lecture. Good stuff!

Also, don't give up too quick on Julia Sweeney (though I'll admit she's hella annoying in that video). Her solo stage act "Letting Go of God" is really amazing. You can get it on CD or download it on BitTorrent. Incredibly moving and funny account of her deconversion process.

Sam Harris does sort of have a Ben Stiller thing going on, doesn't he? It also doesn't hurt that he's a neuroscientist.


tall penguin said...

Thanks so much for putting me onto that link.

Ya, Julia is alright. It's just my own shame rearing its head. :)

No, it definitely doesn't hurt that he's a neuroscientist. I love geeks. Always have. Always will. :)

matt said...

The fanaticism in her voice when it comes to Sam Harris shares what a deep influence his words have had on her, some people just really needed that change and they can't help but show it. Still scary because I was like that too. :D

Put me in a room with Sagan, and I would have to hide my giddiness as well!

I find what is so hard about Sam's argument is the ability to back it up in front of so many who have attached to the group identity of Atheism. But he did his best to share his thoughts with a sense of humility I try so hard to emulate.

I need to research Buddhism more... I am missing something so deep -- something they found so long ago. I want it. :D

Geeks/Intellectuals/Those Who Care To Care <3

Ged said...

Sam Harris makes a fair point about the downside of labels. I couldn't agree more. I said in an earlier post that I see atheism more as an effect than a course to pursue. I think that amounts to much the same thing.

I have big problems though with this idea of finding a profound level of happiness/ contentedness/ peace etc by contemplation/ meditation or whatever. I don't know if Harris has taken hallucinogens at all - I took a lot of that stuff when I was younger and it made me realise that you just can't go around believing that anything you feel is real. That's the mistake religious folks make. When I was tripping I could do pretty well anything I wanted to - walk through walls, teleport - you name it. But I didn't end up believing any of it was real. I can still do it sometimes. The most common kinds of flash back I get - and this is like 15 years since I last took acid or mushrooms - are powerful feelings of deja vu and of jumping a few seconds back in time. Those two are pretty similar in terms of the effect yet subtly different in terms of the experience. I've come to suspect (of course evidence is hard to come by) that all experience is highly subjective and this becomes more apparent when you put yourself into a state of consciousness where the rules that keep us on the straight and narrow are suppressed. Hallucinogens do this and so do mental illness, delirium through disease, fasting, meditation, chanting, hallelujah etc. You get yourself into the right state of mind and dopamine (or whatever it is) is released giving you that familiar sense of wellbeing, euphoria and purpose.

If you've never had it, I can't recommend it enough - it's a lot of fun. But don't make a career out of it. That way lies delusion...

Ged said...

Opps - that should be 'a cause to pursue'

matt said...

Oi, just took all four surveys.. Some interesting questions. As I was taking it I continually thought "What would a fundie decide" and it kept me laughing. Maybe the US Constitution really was written in Chinese first! *hides* ;)

Anonymous said...

Julia Sweeney "Letting Go of God"

tall penguin said...

"But he did his best to share his thoughts with a sense of humility I try so hard to emulate."

I admire Harris' courage. To stand up in front of a group of his peers and have the balls to present another view is a beautiful thing. And he does it with utmost respect. I really appreciate how he attacks beliefs/thoughts, not the person. It's an important distinction and comes more from a place of love than fear/arrogance.

tall penguin said...

"I need to research Buddhism more... I am missing something so deep -- something they found so long ago. I want it. :D"

If I may make a few recommendations:
--anything by Lama Surya Das or Pema Chodron or Eckhart Tolle
--Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
--The Five Things We Cannot Change by David Richo

Buddhism is not an endpoint but a jumping off point. While I don't subscribe to all of it, it boils down to just a few basic ideas for me:

Be. Here. Now.

tall penguin said...

"I have big problems though with this idea of finding a profound level of happiness/ contentedness/ peace etc by contemplation/ meditation or whatever."

I don't meditate per se. I walk, I do my best to stay present but formal meditation has never appealed to me. My body is just too restless for it to be useful.

I also don't like the idea of becoming dependent on any one thing for a state of happiness. It's why I'm not a fan of affirmations, prescription drugs, or the consistent use of any form of therapy. While they all have their place in the short-term, long-term use can create a situation where one thinks them necessary for their happiness.

Having only limited experience with recreational drugs, but a lot of experience with pharmaceuticals, I can see how the brain can manufacture all manner of states. It's been a factor in my coming to the conclusion that all this brain-generated stuff can't be used to define myself, because it is so utterly changeable. If I hooked in to everything my brain thought, felt, experienced, I'd be on the roller coaster from hell. Oh what, I was. :)

tall penguin said...

That should read "Oh wait, I was."

Flonkbob said...

Well I don't know how 'hot' he is...I mean he's no Johnny Depp, but that's okay I suppose. ;)

Thanks for the link to the surveys!

Anonymous said...

In answer to the question from the audience "what should I call myself (when asked about religion)?" it seems to me that a decent answer is something like "undecided." Then follow up with a Sam Harris style mantra of "but I am open to persuasion based on reason and evidence."

In this way, we provide a (nonconfrontational) label and also throw the burden back on our interlocutor -- a burden they may be willing to take up in an effort to convince, persuade, convert, etc., but which has the possibility of rebounding on them as they search for a way to provide evidence we might accept.

This is a newly germinated idea (for me), so I would appreciate any thoughts, pro or con. Thanks.

--wishing (ihacan)

matt said...

I agree ihacan, that is a wonderful way of putting it, and what I think Sam is definitely trying to say. That, do be label-less is to realize you have no need to be confrontational like everyone else. That you're okay with the idea that your label may not be the right one. :)

matt said...

erk, "That, do be label-less is to realize..." = "That, to be label-less is to realize..."