Below is a transcript of a guided meditation by Sam Harris that I listened to recently on his Waking Up app. I enjoyed it a lot. His guided meditations last either 10 or 20 minutes, depending on how much non-speaking time you choose.
So the words by Harris should be experienced, not just thought about. Of course, there's quite a bit to ponder in how Harris views consciousness and its contents.
What he says reminds me of what I read about Descartes and his famous Cogito, ergo sum, I think therefore I am, in an intriguing new book by David Chalmers that I'm reading, "Reality: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy."
More deeply, Descartes reasoned that he could not doubt that he's thinking. Even if he doubted that he was thinking, his doubt was itself a sort of thinking. To doubt that one is thinking is internally inconsistent: The doubting itself shows that the doubt is wrong.
Once Descartes knew he was thinking, it was a small step to knowing his own existence. Where there is thinking, there must be a thinker. So Descartes concludes: Sum! I exist!
Plenty of philosophers have tried to poke holes in Descartes's Cogito ergo sum. Some question the cogito part. How can Descartes be so sure that he's even managing to doubt? That is, how does he know that he's not a mindless automaton?
Others question the step to sum. Is it so obvious that thinking requires a thinker? According to the 18th century German philosopher Georg Lichtenberg, Descartes should have said, "There is thinking, therefore thought exists."
That way, he could have known that thoughts exist, but he should not have been so sure about himself.
...Speaking for myself, I don't think there's anything special about thinking per se. Descartes could have said, "I feel, therefore I am," or "I see, therefore I am." All of these are claims about his mind that he can be certain of and that aren't threatened by the evil demon.
At least, he can be certain about these claims if they're understood as states of consciousness, or subjective experience. If we understand "see" as referring simply to the subjective experience of seeing, then Descartes can be certain he is seeing.
In my view, the best statement of the cogito is "I am conscious, therefore I am."
Here's the guided meditation by Sam Harris. It echoes how David Chalmers views Descartes.
OK, just find a comfortable seat, and take a few deep breaths. See if you can recognize a sky-like nature of your mind, right at the outset.
There's just this vast, open, undefined, centerless condition in which everything is appearing, all by itself.
Sights, sounds, sensations, smells, tastes, thoughts, moods, emotions -- everything you can notice, along with the noticing itself, is simply springing into view in the space of awareness.
Just drop back and rest as that.
Any thought about the past is simply appearing in this space. Any thought about the future, any reaction to the present -- everything you can experience is a modification of this condition to which you are identical.
There's nothing to do here to meditate. There's nothing to focus on or to improve. Simply rest as this openness. Grasping at nothing, pushing nothing away.
It's as though you're watching a movie. And everything, including the watching itself, is on the screen. Just recognize as a matter of experience, you're identical to the screen.
You are the condition in which everything that appears, appears. You're not outside it. You're not on the edge of it. You're not merely observing it.
See if you can recognize what that feels like. That openness, that boundarylessness, that centerlessness. Notice how it transcends any object or process that appears within it.
Does it feel like "I"? Or "Me"? How could it be a self? How could it be personal? How could it be happy or sad?
At the moment you notice a thought, recognize the condition in which it already is unraveling. Rest as that.
In the last minutes of the session, pay careful attention to the breath. See if you can refine your mindfulness, just for a minute.
OK. Again, thank you for your practice. And I wish you much happiness for the rest of your day. I'll see you back here next time, for the next session of Waking Up.