Sam Harris

Any topics primarily focused on metaphysics can be discussed here, in a generally casual way, where conversations may take unexpected turns.

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ParadoxZone
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Joined: Fri Jul 23, 2021 7:59 pm

Re: Sam Harris

Post by ParadoxZone »

Hi all,

This is a perspective on what might be triggering to Bernardo when it comes to Harris, apart from what's already been described. It refers to a recent and ongoing controversy (invermectin) and an older, though ongoing "issue" - Islam and Islamophobia - although the point I make has nothing to do with either of those.

Both Harris and Bernardo (already I'm revealing some sympathy and antipathy in how I refer to them) claim to be very concerned with the public discourse and I have no reason to believe that either is being (totally) disingenuous here.

Recently, Sam explained why he wouldn't debate a former "Intellectual Dark Web" colleague who has been pro-invermectin. His explanation was clear, concise and well-reasoned. It touched on lies, half-truths and debating tactics, the effects of which would persist rather than Sam's cold hard facts. He spoke about how this would poison the discourse, play into already-formed conclusions and the potential real-world harmful effects. So far so good (as it applies to Harris).

But here's the thing - he doesn't see, or at least hasn't acknowledged, how he used all of this to poison the discourse on the topic of Islam for years. It could be argued that he built his profile mainly on this aspect of his work as well as anti-religious sentiment (I know he now doesn't like the "Four Horsemen" characterisation, no need to point to that, maybe he rode that tiger long enough for him). He played into existing antipathies, used some awful writing and debating tricks and claimed to know things that groups he referred to didn't know, because of his reason, reading, bizarre reading of public polling and (to me), worst of all, his fanciful thought experiments.

Does he see how the above poisoned the discourse and promoted some awful things that actually happened in the world? Does he see how the danger he helped foster and create was felt so keenly by some groups of people? I don't know, but I do see how this might be a huge blind spot for him.

So the question might be - which of the two of them is more committed to purifying the discourse and promoting a more truthful and more accurate seeing? I have my own thoughts on that - I don't see Bernardo as dangerous (although I am, more and more, seeing the potential for danger in his flat MAL approach). Maybe Sam isn't as dangerous as he used to be? I don't know that either.

If course, dialogue between the pair would clarify much. No apologies though - maybe both could say something along the lines of "things have been said and done that could have happened differently, or not at all, by both of us". Something they could both be truthful about and that seems to be demanded by those interested in hearing a conversation.

So maybe all of the above is contributing to whatever triggering might be happening. Does Bernardo see Sam as concretely dangerous? I think he does.

A footnote : You're nobody these days unless you claim to be improving/purifying the "discourse" in some way. Some are genuine and some are not and some are somewhere in the middle. If you haven't been called a left or right wing fascist (we have centrist fascists now) or a metaphysical or spiritual fascist/dictator, you're nobody. Fascists and wannabe-dictators are out there though, or so I believe.
findingblanks
Posts: 503
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:36 am

Re: Sam Harris

Post by findingblanks »

Paradox, perfectly put! I have an on and off email exchange with Harris and I bring up these exact points. But I don't put them as clearly as you do. I think he has shown that he is learning, slowly, about the ways that he accidently has platformed some nefarious ideas by merely 'leaving room' for the worst interpretations of his comments. This also explains why he gets so upset at those interpretations.

That said, I've read dozens of Bernardo's comments on Harris and I haven't seen him make this nuanced point. Even deeper, I think the exact point you are making about a real weak point in Sam can be applied to Berenardo in other contexts, especially his overgeneralizations about the inner lives of so-called 'materialistis'.

Seriously, your comments above are about as crystal clear as I have seen this point made. Thanks so much.
findingblanks
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Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:36 am

Re: Sam Harris

Post by findingblanks »

In terms of:

"So the question might be - which of the two of them is more committed to purifying the discourse and promoting a more truthful and more accurate seeing?"

As you can imagine, I am wary to get into a battle about who is 'more' of a problem. I'd rather just look carefully at how they both are probably doing great work in some contexts and not so much in others. Bernardo makes a claim that I am very wary of with regards to the practical consequence of somebody converting to idealism from materialism. But if Bernardo is correct, there is a case to be made that he owes Harris a HUGE high-five. Harris has unique access to a massive population of thinkers who are tacitly 'ready' to make a shift from materialism but haven't found the right leverage. As Harris has slammed materialism, especially as it relates to the hard problem, and publicly declared that there are reasons to maybe prefer idealism (in specific versions, of course) or panpsychicsm, I would say that he is playing one of the largest roles in preparing the groundwork for a massive change that is underway. Can we measure how influential Harris is? Maybe. Not sure. But we all probably agree that many people listen to him. He may have lots to learn about specific framings of specific models (who doesn't) but when he shouts out that Donald Hoffman should be taken seriously or when he openly speaks to why panpsychicm has some strengths that he is pondering, this must influence a large portion of his listeners who tacitly have the same qualms with materialisms response to the hard problem.

And, yes, I think there is also the smple fact that the larger somebody's platform, the more unintended damage they can do when they misspeak. This is why I've taken Harris to task on Islam and why, now that Bernardo is rapidly becoming known, I think it isn't a waste of time to explore what is going on when he screams untrue comments about what Harris believes about reality and about meditation. Especially since we all know that Bernardo is happy to be friends with guys and gals who openly mock his form of idealism. I am almost certain that if Harris was informed as to the basics of Bernardo's model, he probably wouldn't immediatley be converted, but he wouldn't mock it. Well, it would need to be presented to him by a reasonable person. I am now long past thinking Bernardo could have a comfortable disagreement with Harris.
ParadoxZone
Posts: 78
Joined: Fri Jul 23, 2021 7:59 pm

Re: Sam Harris

Post by ParadoxZone »

FB,

I'm not that interested in who is more of a problem either, although I have my own view that I won't deny. The point about Sam's audience and where they might be with regard to ontological commitments is well made, so thanks for that.

I have a differing impression of where Bernardo's at. Given his professed regard for depth psychology, I'd be surprised if he wasn't interested in his own shadows and so I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he might make some conciliatory gesture at some point. Counterpoints might be that his role at Essentia might hamper this, or that he is so convinced a dialogue will never happen that he will totally explode the possibility. Mere speculation of course, though maybe not so wild.

Given that you are in sporadic contact with Harris and that poking around at shadows seems to be somewhat of a hobby that you have fun with, you might consider the following possibility if you already haven't.

You said this about Harris :

"I think he has shown that he is learning, slowly, about the ways that he accidently has platformed some nefarious ideas by merely 'leaving room' for the worst interpretations of his comments. This also explains why he gets so upset at those interpretations."

Of course I can't tell the spirit in which you intended the above as your hobby makes it even harder to interpret than it might usually be for me. It's very charitable, that much I can tell. Is it too charitable for the circumstances?

Does he want to make amends for "leaving room" for all those "worst interpretations" which was all done "accidently"? Does he believe in the existence of the ego (I suppose he must, though what does he conceive it to be)? Of shadow? I don't know, do you?

Your last sentence above - I just don't buy it and I suspect you don't either. I don't think "it" explains why he gets so upset. I buy that he gets upset, but that's not what "explains" it. Hence my suggestion would be that you poke harder at him. You have acknowledged the potential pay-off. You might also be helping him to "save" himself more quickly than might otherwise be the case if you do that.

It might also provide some evidence for you on the topic you've been exploring in other threads regarding the effect of acknowledged metaphysical beliefs, whether firmly held or not. How much on the fence is Harris exactly? How far is he prepared to go? And maybe the biggest one - what are the real-world (I mean on the planet, in the near future) implications of those beliefs?

(Btw, I haven't formed my impressions of Harris solely on the basis of metaphysical discussions, meditation, Islam or invermectin. I used to watch the guy. The last time was a few years ago when he appeared on the nascent podcast of his then IDW buddy, the elder W brother. The interaction was painful in a weirdly enjoyable way. I left with a horrible impression of both of them, which has only been buttressed since. I've only watched the elder W brother since for a bit of a giggle (big-brained as he undoubtedly is). (Oh yeah, he wants to be in the welcoming party if the aliens arrive and he wants Sam with him!) We must all have our fun somehow, or play games with our audience, I suppose.

Anyway, I hope you found the above suggestion useful or at least stimulating in some way. Feel free to poke away at whatever shadow you identify from it. I'll try not to poke back, but you know yourself - these shadows have minds of their own if we don't tame or kill them. If you don't find the suggestion useful, no harm done as I've had some fun writing it.
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AshvinP
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Re: Sam Harris

Post by AshvinP »

ParadoxZone wrote: Mon Oct 18, 2021 8:18 am It might also provide some evidence for you on the topic you've been exploring in other threads regarding the effect of acknowledged metaphysical beliefs, whether firmly held or not. How much on the fence is Harris exactly? How far is he prepared to go? And maybe the biggest one - what are the real-world (I mean on the planet, in the near future) implications of those beliefs?

This is a very important point you raise, PZ. For some reason, it is simply assumed that someone like Harris influencing people to consider any form of idealism whatsoever, and even panpsychism, is a good thing. As I tried to show in the solipsism essay, many forms of idealism are, beyond the initial assumptions of conscious activity being fundamental, materialist accounts of nature transposed onto idealism. And it is extremely clear how those accounts have faired for the living planet Earth in the last few hundred years. It defies all logic to suggest these material-mental reductionist views are not intimately linked with devastating real world consequences, as Cleric also outlined recently in the Deep MAL essay (which unfortunately is still totally under BK's radar). And panpsychism is even more clearly rationalist dualism - it doesn't even try to hide that fact. Hard dualism of this sort does not merely distinguish humanity from nature, but divides them, resulting in the isolation, alienation, and self-destruction we are witnessing unfold rapidly these days. As Cleric also mentioned, many people simply want a nebulous conceptual unity of any sort to avoid the structured detail of the collective subconscious, which it is absolutely imperative for us to know if we want any chance at correctly diagnosing any of these modern predicaments. I have posted this quote from Bergson many times before, but I like it so much and it is so deeply relevant that I will post it again in case anyone has missed it:

Bergson wrote:These conclusions on the subject of duration were, as it seemed to me, decisive. Step by step they led me to raise intuition to the level of a philosophical method. “Intuition,” however, is a word whose use caused me some degree of hesitation. Of all the terms which designate a mode of knowing, it is still the most appropriate; and yet it leads to a certain confusion. Because a Schelling, a Schopenhauer and others have already called upon intuition, because they have more or less set up intuition in opposition to intelligence, one might think that I was using the same method. But of course, their intuition was an immediate search for the eternal! Whereas, on the contrary, for me it was a question, above all, of finding true duration. Numerous are the philosophers who have felt how powerless conceptual thought is to reach the core of the mind. Numerous, consequently, are those who have spoken of a supra-intellectual faculty of intuition.

But as they believed that the intelligence worked within time, they have concluded that to go beyond the intelligence consisted in getting outside of time. They did not see that intellectualized time is space, that the intelligence works upon the phantom of duration, not on duration itself, that the elimination of time is the habitual, normal, commonplace act of our understanding, that the relativity of our knowledge of the mind is a direct result of this fact, and that hence, to pass from intellection to vision, from the relative to the absolute, is not a question of getting outside of time (we are already there); on the contrary, one must get back into duration and recapture reality in the very mobility which is its essence. An intuition, which claims to project itself with one bound into the eternal, limits itself to the intellectual. For the concepts which the intelligence furnishes, the intuition simply substitutes one single concept which includes them all and which consequently is always the same, by whatever name it is called: Substance, Ego, Idea, Will.

Philosophy, thus understood, necessarily pantheistic, will have no difficulty in explaining everything deductively, since it will have been given beforehand, in a principle which is the concept of concepts, all the real and all the possible. But this explanation will be vague and hypothetical, this unity will be artificial, and this philosophy would apply equally well to a very different world from our own. How much more instructive would be a truly intuitive metaphysics, which would follow the undulations of the real! True, it would not embrace in a single sweep the totality of things; but for each thing it would give an explanation which would fit it exactly, and it alone. It would not begin by defining or describing the systematic unity of the world: who knows if the world is actually one?

Experience alone can say, and unity, if it exists, will appear at the end of the search as a result; it is impossible to posit it at the start as a principle. Furthermore, it will be a rich, full unity, the unity of a continuity, the unity of our reality, and not that abstract and empty unity, which has come from one supreme generalization, and which could just as well be that of any possible world whatsoever. It is true that philosophy then will demand a new effort for each new problem. No solution will be geometrically deduced from another. No important truth will be achieved by the prolongation of an already acquired truth. We shall have to give up crowding universal science potentially into one principle.

- Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics (1946)
“It is your presumption that freedom is something which you already possess that ensures that you will remain in chains."
findingblanks
Posts: 503
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:36 am

Re: Sam Harris

Post by findingblanks »

Hey Paradox,

"I have a differing impression of where Bernardo's at. Given his professed regard for depth psychology, I'd be surprised if he wasn't interested in his own shadows and so I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he might make some conciliatory gesture at some point."

I agree 100%. Both he and Sam are very interested in what lurks under the surface. And, yes, they have very differnt ways of understanding that. But they value it. And both have shown that they can own up publicly when they cross certain lines. At times. But that is such a great trait. Before Bernardo started going on his slash-and-burn "Sam Harris is the epitome of what's horrible" and "Harris says that mediation is just to feel good..."...before that, I think it would have been very easy for Sam to be introduced to Bernardo and start from scratch. We already know that Sam is very interested in alternatives to mainstream and I know for a fact (because I've emailed Sam about it) that Sam would LOVE to hear how Bernardo's model specifally addresses many of Sam's intuitions and hunches about AI.

But Sam is just as defensive and sensitive as Bernardo when it comes to feeling that people are strawmanning them personally in public. So, I don't see either feeling like dealing with this. Which is fine. They have enough on their plates.

"Is it too charitable for the circumstances?"

I only mean to say that Sam has increasingly been going public with his growing understanding as to the subtle ways a person in his position can accidentally do harm by speaking to the wrong person at the wrong time. I'm not trying overstate how much he's grown. But I do know that it is rare to find many people speaking publically about their learning curves with this sort of thing.

"Does he want to make amends for "leaving room" for all those "worst interpretations" which was all done "accidently"? Does he believe in the existence of the ego (I suppose he must, though what does he conceive it to be)? Of shadow? I don't know, do you?"

Harris certainly doesn't seem ready to make amends and own up to some of the subjects I care most about. He believes in the ego in terms of psychological dynamics that can be studied and phenomenology observed but he does not believe in a 'self' that sits in the middle of the psyche and pulls the levers.

"- I just don't buy it and I suspect you don't either. I don't think "it" explains why he gets so upset."

And then you suggest I poke harder. I can't tell if you are talking about Sam or Bernardo. My point includes both in that I believe they each are very concerned when they feel somebody has publicly misrepresented their specific viewpoint and named them. But I agree that my comment was too broad. I don't think such a dynamic 'explain' everything. Not at all. It is just an important chunk to me that both helps me see the true value they each hold so dearly and why it generates a lot of agitation when they feel publicly straw-manned.

"How much on the fence is Harris exactly? How far is he prepared to go? And maybe the biggest one - what are the real-world (I mean on the planet, in the near future) implications of those beliefs?"

I don't know if i can ever know the answer to those questions for either Bernardo or Harris. Harris speaks about being on the fence, whereas I don't think I've heard Bernardo speak of being on fence very often about very much. Harris periodically goes public with areas he's been wrong and what changed his mind. I think Bernardo has done that in relation to how he finally took on Idealism. And, as you know, I am interested in the real world implications of beliefs. I tend to find that people (with the best of intentions) will cherry-pick their logic and data to 'prove' that somebody like Harris is responsible for much more horror in the world than they are anything else. That said, I think Harris has much to own with regards to his way of characterizing the causes of terrorism.

Yeah, I was at least happy that right away Harris distanced himself publicly from the term IDW and made clear that he did not feel that the social narrative matched what was happening on the ground. And I'm very happy that he spent so much time excoriating younger W about his anti-vax screeds. That said, it is in this very social pocket of left/right culture wars were I find Harris most obnoxious and annoying and, at times, putting his finger on issues that, in my view, the left has to wake up to much more quickly. He certainly isn't who I'd want to be the spokesperson for those things. I'm happier to hear Brianna Gray-Joy hold those forums :)

To be clear, I don't see any need to shadow dance with you. I only begin that dance once somebody decides not to engage with me and my fallible words. Once a person begins to speculate that I am evil or that I'm intentionally not speaking the truth and all that...then I decide it CAN be useful to try to join their dance.

You have been a delight and I long for conversations that have this tone. Even the way you honestly brought your wariness or skepticism about me to me is a model of how folks can deal with the ambiguity of online conversation. Much thanks.
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