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September 17, 2014

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t95DKcI4B8E

Here is Alan Watts laying it out in plain English. If Sam Harris were to watch this lecture, he would agree with it wholeheartedly.
One of Watts' very best - and they are all superb, IMHO.

I just finished Harris' Waking Up (on the recommendation of Blogger Brian). It's a good read.

From moment to moment....
Love it!!
s

Hello, nice blog.

Harris and other people who propose meditation would say that there is a deep difference between an intellectual understanding of a fact, and an experiential or emotional understanding of that same fact. You said yourself that although you know that the earth rotates around the sun, you still see the sun moving. And although we all intellectually know that there is no I, we can't shake that feeling that there is an I, residing somewhere behind the eyes and watching. I'm pretty confident that thinking about there not being an I isn't going to create a wholesale shift in that situation - simply because many of us do think about that all the time and like you said - no change in perspective.

Running, dancing, thinking - these all do create a temporary sense of selflessness, sometimes. But I don't know anyone who reports that a dedicated practice of these things can lead to a lasting, experiential sense of selflessness. Do you think that they can?

I'm a Sam Harris fan and was really looking forward to this book. And I agree that it's mostly a good read but for me it contained some very frustrating material. Firstly, how about this:

"Many scientists and philosophers believe that consciousness is always tied to one of the five senses - and that the idea of a "pure consciousness" apart from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching is a category error and a spiritual fantasy. I am confident that they are mistaken."

And he actually leaves it at that. "I'm confident that they are mistaken", isn't that what creationists say about evolution?

Later referring to consciousness he writes:

"That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not fearful." And, "Consciousness - free, undivided, and intrinsically uncontaminated by its ever-changing contents."

Now apart from having to check if I'd picked up one of my daughter's Eckhart Tolle books by mistake, this doesn't stand up to serious consideration. As we can see from above, he has already tried to convince us that there is such a thing as pure consciousness which is other than the five senses - and later on he refers to perceptions and memory etc. as themselves being contents of consciousness.

The implication is that this pure consciousness can somehow witness/register "ever-changing content" without recourse to sense perception and memory etc. since they themselves are content.

It seems to me as if Harris has shoehorned his own spiritual biases (complete with some eighth century muddlement) into an otherwise fine book about the exploration of the self.

I don't know anyone who reports that a dedicated practice of these things can lead to a lasting, experiential sense of selflessness. Do you think that they can?

It's good to feel selfless and seamlessly one-with-everything at times, but I think "a lasting, experiential sense of selflessness" would be a crippling disorder. It's enough to know that there is no actual self, just as it's enough to know that the sun isn't really rising and setting.

Jon, good points. As noted in another post about Harris' book, it is obvious from dreaming that consciousness isn't always tied to the five senses. But "pure consciousness" is something different. Thinking, feeling, and remembering show that there are contents of consciousness, not a purely empty void of .... what?

The fact that Harris thinks he experienced pure consciousness shows that there was enough of him separate from the purity to realize "Wow, I'm experiencing pure consciousness." Which, naturally, is five words away from complete purity.

cc, I keep thinking (oh no, I"m thinking!) that our sense of self must be good for a lot of things, or natural selection / evolution wouldn't have brought it about. We humans have come to rule the world.

Maybe that isn't such a great thing, but it does show that self-awareness and self-consciousness has survival benefits -- short-term, at least. We might screw up the planet so much we're doomed long-term.

Adrian, not only do I not know whether non-formal-meditation activities like dancing and physical activity can lead to an enduring sensation of selflessness, I'm not sure whether this is desirable.

As noted before in some blog posts, there must be something (or a lot) good about our illusory feeling of being a "Self." For me, this isn't really the problem. Getting fixated or obsessed about some aspect of myself is the problem.

When I'm able to flow with life, I feel much better than when I unduly resist what is happening. Being a Tai Chi practitioner for 10 years (still a beginner!), this is akin to some fundamental Tai Chi principles.

Sensing skills. Circularity. Groundedness. Accepting incoming energy, then redirecting it as needed. Empty -full. Yin-yang. Not becoming "double weighted" where you can't move easily.

Feeling like all this is just happening, rather than me controlling it, certainly is helpful. But in my Tai Chi classes I find that trying to be selfless just makes me more self-aware, not less. When I just act naturally, I feel fine.

So Harris' Buddhist-like emphasis on needing to engage in exercises and training to realize one's selflessness, that strikes my Taoist non-soul as probably unnecessary.

Brian, I agree the sense of self probably had some evolutionary value, assuming it is an actual trait and not a strange set of side-effects of more useful phenomena (or a disorder). However, I don't see a strong argument as to why that means it is something that we should accept and leave in place. I am pretty sure that the anxiety, tribalism, fear of strangers and sexual attractions that I feel to varying degrees in a normal day are similarly evolved traits, possessed by my ancestors that contributed to their survival. However, as a modern human I don't regard these things as being useful in my life and can lead a higher quality of life when I'm not subject to their intrusion. Harris and others see the self as a similar relic.

Not being a tai-chi practitioner, I'm not able to understand fully what you mean. But I can see that accepting the way things are instead of wishing for them to be different is a useful state to be cultivated. I would say however, that "trying to be selfless" is not relevant to the experience Harris describes. He is careful to point out that thinking about meditation is not meditation, no matter how profound the thoughts. Similarly, trying to be selfless isn't and can't be the practice that allows one to see selflessness. Unfortunately, he's not super clear on what would allow us to see that. Dzogchen, his preferred flavor of Buddhism is rife with supernaturalism and religious self-interests, and so a peculiar choice for atheistic spirituality.

I don't know much about Taoism, so I will look forward to reading some more of your blogs.

I agree the sense of self probably had some evolutionary value, assuming it is an actual trait and not a strange set of side-effects of more useful phenomena (or a disorder). However, I don't see a strong argument as to why that means it is something that we should accept and leave in place.

As long as there's memory, there will be a sense of a self. But there's no problem with this condition until what's expected of oneself is at odds with what one does.

As long as there's memory, there will be a sense of a self. But there's no problem with this condition until what's expected of oneself is at odds with what one does.<\i>

I am not aware of any theory linking memory to self. Can you elaborate? Is this a neuroscientific argument or from spiritual practice? I'm also not sure what you mean by expected of oneself - from where is the expectation derived?

Unfortunately we have only anecdotal descriptions of how seeing the true nature of the self can lead to a cessation of suffering. But if that is to be disregarded then we'd need some reasonable arguments of what the self is and why we must not relinquish our sense of it.

I am not aware of any theory linking memory to self. Can you elaborate?

Everything you remember is from your point of view, making you the central character of existence. As memories accumulate, your sense of who you are takes shape (how ever accurate or distorted), enabling reasonable or foolish predictability.

...we'd need some reasonable arguments of what the self is and why we must not relinquish our sense of it.

You can argue forever about what the self is, or see for yourself how it forms and changes and persists as a reflection.

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