Oh, yeah, I'm ready for it! Bring it on, USPS or UPS, whichever Amazon has selected to deliver Sam Harris' new book, "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion."
Delivery day is tomorrow. Within a week I expect to be all woken up. Unless it takes longer, like ten days.
But seriously... I'm looking forward to this book, notwithstanding my previous doubting that I will indeed wake up as a result of sending $15.85 to Amazon.
Even if I don't achieve a secular enlightened state (perhaps because I already am!), reading an interview with Harris in the New York Times solidified my impression that this book will be one of the best efforts to meld two things I believe:
(1) There is nothing supernatural beyond the physical. No God, no heaven, no life after death, no soul, no spirit.
(2) There is something more to human contentment, happiness, growth, and understanding than most people achieve. This more can be pursued through meditation and other so-called "spiritual" practices.
Here's some Harris excerpts from Gary Gutting's NYT piece, "Sam Harris's Vanishing Self."
The only thing in this universe that suggests the reality of consciousness is consciousness itself. Many philosophers have made this argument in one way or another — Thomas Nagel, John Searle, David Chalmers. And while I don’t agree with everything they say about consciousness, I agree with them on this point.
The primary approach to understanding consciousness in neuroscience entails correlating changes in its contents with changes in the brain. But no matter how reliable these correlations become, they won’t allow us to drop the first-person side of the equation. The experiential character of consciousness is part of the very reality we are studying. Consequently, I think science needs to be extended to include a disciplined approach to introspection.
...And certain truths about the nature of our minds are well worth knowing. For instance, the anger you felt yesterday, or a year ago, isn’t here anymore, and if it arises in the next moment, based on your thinking about the past, it will quickly pass away when you are no longer thinking about it. This is a profoundly important truth about the mind — and it can be absolutely liberating to understand it deeply.
If you do understand it deeply — that is, if you are able to pay clear attention to the arising and passing away of anger, rather than merely think about why you have every right to be angry — it becomes impossible to stay angry for more than a few moments at a time. Again, this is an objective claim about the character of subjective experience. And I invite our readers to test it in the laboratory of their own minds.
...It certainly looks like there is a white square in the center of this figure, but when we study the image, it becomes clear that there are only four partial circles. The square has been imposed by our visual system, whose edge detectors have been fooled. Can we know that the black shapes are more real than the white one? Yes, because the square doesn’t survive our efforts to locate it — its edges literally disappear. A little investigation and we see that its form has been merely implied.
What could we say to a skeptic who insisted that the white square is just as real as the three-quarter circles and that its disappearance is nothing more than, as you say, “a relatively rare — and deliberately cultivated — experience”? All we could do is urge him to look more closely.
The same is true about the conventional sense of self — the feeling of being a subject inside your head, a locus of consciousness behind your eyes, a thinker in addition to the flow of thoughts. This form of subjectivity does not survive scrutiny. If you really look for what you are calling “I,” this feeling will disappear. In fact, it is easier to experience consciousness without the feeling of self than it is to banish the white square in the above image.
Posted by: Flow of Conciousness, in thought form! | September 09, 2014 at 12:12 AM
"Can we know that the black shapes are more real than the white one? Yes, because the square doesn’t survive our efforts to locate it"
That's not true. The white square is as real as the incomplete black circles. It is your subjective experience (perception) that decides whether it is one or the other, or anything in between.
That "the white square disappears with close scrutiny" is not a true statement. That depends upon how you are applying your perception - equally of which is viable in the opposite direction: the white square appears with close scrutiny.
You attempt to take a philosophically ambiguous premise with a spectrum of possible outcomes and draw a singular truth from it: "it is what I say it is". Simply moronic.
Posted by: Anonymous | October 10, 2014 at 10:19 PM
Anonymous, I'd say you are the one who is missing the point. The illusory white square doesn't exist as an entity in itself. Place something over the black shapes, or even one of the black shapes.
You'll find that the white square goes away. It is an optical illusion. The mind creates it. Yes, that mental creation is real insofar as it is perceived. But not everything perceived is real. Mirages, for example.
Likewise, dreams exist in a personal mental world, but not in the shared intersubjective world. This is Harris' point: the self appears real to our subjective perception, but it doesn't have an enduring reality outside of the mind that perceives it.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 11, 2014 at 12:09 AM
Very good post Anonymous
Posted by: Who else ... George | October 13, 2014 at 01:53 PM