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September 16, 2022


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Haha, cheers to the happy and happily-made-up-again couple!


Here’s *my* issue with Sam Harris. Now I haven’t actually read any of his books directly, but only read indirect references to what he says, and that largely here, from your writings. And basis what I’ve heard, I’ve generally found what he says entirely reasonable, and some of it very inspiring. Nevertheless here’s my issue with the man, that is to say what he says and writes:

As I see it, Sam Harris wears two hats, straddles two separate roles: on one hand that of traveler on the path spiritual, meditator, Dzogchen exponent, and (secular) Buddhist; and on the other hand, that of bona fide scientist. And my issue with him is that he seems to conflate these two roles, resulting in confusion in the message he sends across, in effect even if not necessarily intentionally. (And I say this basis my admittedly sketchy knowledge of what the man’s actually said, since like I said I haven’t actually read his books nor actually listened to his lectures except only small bits and pieces here and there, excerpts really; so I realize I may be mistaken about this, and am happy to revise my views should it turn out that he’s actually spelt out this difference clearly, and it’s just I that am unaware of his having done that.)


I suppose it’s entirely obvious what I mean by the above, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if I spelt it out some more anyway.

His actual science, or at least such of it as I know of, I have zero issue with. But when it comes to the rest of what he says and teaches/preaches, my issue is:

(1) He doesn’t actually do science with his meditation thing, at least not entirely, and he teaches/preaches the rest of it anyway, the part he hasn’t actually done science on. Now I’m not disagreeing with what he teaches/preaches, I agree with him as far as my gut feeling, and my own experience at meditation, such as it is, bears this out. But, and for instance, when he talks about the hows and wherefores of Anapan (the breathing part of the essential Buddhistic meditation), as well as the hows and wherefores of Vipassana (the insight part, no matter the details of the specific technique): for one thing, is it true that this actually and literally applies to everyone? Is it actually and literally true that what is claimed (and, anecdotally, observed) as happening, does indeed happen? What is the noise to signal ratio? Is that necessarily the best method to achieve that same effect? What are the cons to all of this, if any? And finally, how does this bear up, compare with, other techniques from other traditions?

Thing is, either Sam Harris does not go into the above in detail. Or, if he does, then --- and as far as I know, and I’m happy to corrected on this if the fact is otherwise --- it is not Sam Harris the scientist that does it, but merely Sam Harris the meditation and (secular) Buddhism enthusiast. That is, to the extent he deals with these questions, he deals with them essentially anecodally, essentially informally, essentially unscientifically or non-scientifically. Those questions have not, to my knowledge, been dealt with conclusively at a social-science level using valid statistical tools. And those questions have not completely been dealt with using the methods of neuroscience; and even such of those questions as have not been dealt with properly and scientifically, he still goes ahead and teaches/propagates. And that is my first, and major, issue with him.

(2) And my second issue is this: If he must go ahead and propagate such of the message of (secular) Buddhism as has appealed to him --- although I don’t see why he necessarily should, there’s more than enough people who’re out doing that already, but still, if he wishes to do it that’s his business --- he does not make it fully clear that he isn’t dealing with science.

Like I said, I could be mistaken about this, and if so I’m happy to be corrected. But he does not, when does this app thing and in his books et cetera, clearly spell out, does he: “Look guys, I’m a scientist, but this whole part of what I’m now going to discuss has zero basis in actual science, at least so far. To that extent it is no different than any old method that anyone else discusses and teaches, including RSSB, including other traditions of Buddhism, including traditions within and related to Hinduism, including Sufi traditions, and including even some Chrisitan mystic traditions. That is, I vouch for it personally, basis my personal experience and understanding; but, I realize, so do others from other traditions. So pinch of salt, guys, and caveat emptor.” He does not clearly state that, emphasize that, make that unambiguously clear, does he?


TLDR: So, yeah, those are my two main quibbles with him. First, that he should teach and propagate the (thus far) non-science part at all. And second, that in as much as he does that, he does not make it fully clear that this is not science, not evidentially established, and therefore not, by any rational and scientific standard, actually true. (Obviously, had he done #2 --- or, if it so turns out that he actually does #2 --- then that would take much of the steam off #1 as well, and leave what remains of #1 a very weak criticism. But, to my knowledge, he doesn’t actually do #2 --- and, for the umpteenth time, I’m happy to be corrected on that last, should the facts be otherwise.)

Appreciative Reader, you're being unduly harsh on Harris. He has a PhD in neuroscience. He's clearly familiar with the extensive research showing the benefits of meditation in general and mindfulness in particular.

There's no need for every practitioner of a discipline to conduct their own research. No physician does this. No auto mechanic does this. No psychotherapist does this. So why criticize Harris for not conducting research into mindfulness when this has already been done, and continues being done, by others.

For example, check out the "Research" page of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.


Here's their summary:

"Research in mindfulness has identified a wide range of benefits in different areas of psychological health, such as helping to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity. Research has also shown mindfulness helps to increase well-being, positive affect, and concentration.

Practicing mindfulness can also be helpful to foster physical health by improving immune system function, quality of sleep, as well as decreasing blood pressure. Structural and functional brain changes have also been documented in areas associated with attention, emotional regulation, empathy, and bodily awareness.

In addition to health, research has been made on the benefits of mindfulness in business and educational settings. In companies, results showed improved communication and work performance. In educational settings, mindfulness practices improved social-emotional skills, executive functions, and decreased test stress in students, as well as reduced stress and burnout in teachers."

Mindfulness in general's good for you, sure. To an extent that's true of all meditation. That isn't quite where I was at though, it was about the specifics.

Where I was going with this is, I've seen you quote him talk about specific meditation techniques, and how, for instance, and to quote from memory, you're to let go of the hankering after the highs and the dissonance with the lows and to go for the calm that precedes and follows those highs and lows.

The above paragraph, that was just an example, taken from the excerpts you presented some days back. And it's the most innocuous example ever. Plus at a personal level I agree with that, because that actually agrees with my own experience. So in a way that makes for a great example where one is NOT being harsh with SH, right?

So then, what I've just been saying here about this specific example, about what SH has been saying about it: that's just anecdotal stuff at the end of the day, right? Yet it needn't be. Is there any actual study that statistically shows this to be overwhelmingly what most people experience, that abiding calm once one lets go of the highs and lows? To my knowledge there isn't, and if there is, fine then, bring that evidence on, is what I say. That's at the general social-science level, where you need statisfical validation. And further, does neuoscience gel with that sort of thing happening, and support that kind of thing, that specific, that very innocuous and apparently self-evident specific (but not really self-evident, when you think about it, and actually needs validation via actual, objective evidence)?

That's where I'm going with this. I broadly agree with SH actually. My gut feelings agree with his "teachings". Plus my experiences, such as they are, gel with all of that. But that's just me. That isn't objective, that's just anecdotal --- even if I find myself agreeing, right? From a scientist one would have expected more, is what I'm saying.

You're right, it's silly to expect SH to conduct all of his own research. By all means, let him clearly present the evidence, let him make clear that what he's "teaching" is evidenced stuff, not just the anecdotally supported probably bias-ridden conclusions that so many religious and spiritual teachers hand out in all sincerity. (And like I said, maybe SH does teach only evidenced stuff, maybe I'm mistaken, in which case I'm happy to revise my views if that is how it is.)


Sure, mindfulness is good for you. Agreed, absolutely. Also, I'm not insisting SH do every bit of his research himself. Perfectly fine if he does no research at all, as long as he relies on others' valid research. But as far as the specifics of what he teaches, does he actually always "teach" only evidentially supported stuff? That example I provided, for instance? And other stuff as well that I can recall from your posts and my past comments, that I can go back and look, but the details escape me at this moment; and no doubt loads of other stuff.

Because if he's falling back on "teaching" unevidenced things, as far as all of those *specifics*, well then he's no diferent, as far as that, than any other religious or spiritual teacher. Leave out the charlatans, I'm not likening SH to those. But even the sincere ones, they teach stuff that is backed simply by tradition and anecdotal personal experience, not science. And SH seems to be doing no different.

So that:

(1) Why does he need to do that at all? Lots of other guys out there doing that, does a scientist really need to jump into that game?

(2) If at all he does #1 above, then shouldn't he put in that disclaimer, clearly and unambigiously delinking the science from the not-science? (Not just *his* science, but science in general. The evidentially backed thing.)

(3) I'm adding this #3 to emphasize that should #2 actually be followed, and that disclaimer clearly made and unambiguously spelt out, as far as individual specifics, then that does take the wind out of #1. It's then a question of him doing what he's doing, because he wants to, and it's no business of mine to question that, right? I mean why shouldn't he? ---------------And like I've said repeatedly, I'm happy, very happy indeed, really, to revise my views, if it turns out that Sam Harris only teaches scientifically evidenced things as far as the actual specifics; or if it turns out that he does, for those *specifics*, unambiguously point out those items that are not scientifically evidenced.

Sure, mindfulness in general's good for you. No argument about that. Probably meditation as well, meditation in general. But all of those specifics that he "teaches" and talks about, is what I was referring to. (While, I repeat again for emphasizing, agreeing wtih much/most of what he's saying at a personal level, and speaking for myself.)

Again, disclaimer: Agreed, he's a bona fide scientist. It's entirely possible that he has indeed familiarized himself with the research, and that he does in fact only teach stuff that is evidenced, that is scientifically borne out, as far as the specifics he's talking about. Maybe he doesn't preface every specific teaching with saying that, but he does in fact only speak of scientifically evidenced specifics, that's quite possible. If that is the case, not only am I happy to retract my criticism, but in fact I'll quite literally be HAPPY to have found some source of spirituality that I can trust cent per cent not to in effect bamboozle me (not intentionally, but in effect) by passing off as 'truth' that which isn't really scientifically borne out.

Is that actually the case, though? Do we know that?

(It would've been great if we could have had him here, and were able pose this question to him. Should he briefly have answered, "Yes, every specific I teach, I do make sure every individual specific's fully evidenced", well then I'd trust him, absolutely. It would be even better if he could back that up by clearly discussing one or two actual specifics, including that very innocusous example of mine ------- but even if he didn't, I'd have no problems with trusting his word. But as it is, I don't see that we can conclude that, isn't it, Brian? In fact it seems to me that's palpably NOT the case.)


In short: Why's this scientist teaching (secular) Dzogchen, without first presenting the evidence for the *specifics* of it, or without first disclaiming that he's not doing science here? That's what I'm asking.

Meditation's good for us, sure. But is SH merely giving us a mental workout, with nothing claimed beyond merely a good workout and the benefits that accrue from a good mental workout? Nope, he doesn't, he goes well beyond that. So that the general physical and psychological benefits from meditation are kind of not quite the point here, right?

"the "Research" page of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.


..........Thanks for that link, Brian. I hadn't had time to go through it yesterday. It makes for very interesting reading. (Only browsed through so far, haven't actually gone through the actual research papers. But the scope of research seems very broad, that is to say, the benefits of meditation seem to apply across a wide range of very specific issues.)

Got to checking, quite at random, what kind of research there actually exists, actual research papers, on meditation. Other than this lot, that is to say. Google threw up a whole flood of such papers. By far the majority of those are on mindfulness meditation; and if you generally look for "research on meditation" or similar search terms, then what will float up to the top will be research on mindfulness. But I was curious, and specifically checked for other kinds of meditation as well, including Tantra, and Sufi, and Christian mystical, and, yes, Surat Shabda Yoga meditation as well; and there seem to be a great many papers around for these traditions as well. Nowhere close to as many as there seem to be on mindfulness, but still quite a few. (Can't vouch for the quality or validity of this research, though. Haven't actually checked out the actual papers.)

Have bookmarked these search pages, and your link as well. I'll sit down and explore them in some detail, check out some of the actual papers/abstracts, one of these days.


(Tangential aside: It's fascinating, how *much* of knowledge, generally speaking, becomes so entirely easily and effortlessly available, thanks to the Internet. In the pre-Internet days, to check out something like this would have meant visits to the library, and painstaking searching through musty tomes, and even then, and even given perserverance and painstaking effort, you'd still have only been able to access only a very small cross-section of research, unless you were clued in to the discipline and were prepared to maybe travel around a bit. We do live in wonderful times, at least as far as the easy availability of information (and I suppose knowledge, should one be so inclined).

I like the dust cover of ‘Waking Up’, seeing the face made from the fluffy white clouds - very temporary….
These last few posts are generating questions.

One concerns how we view meditation and it’s purpose. I would say few individuals can truly realise this no self/no sense of self scenario. Arguably this is the ‘goal’ of meditation as a process - meditation as a state, discussed by the likes of Jiddu Krishnamurti. However in my view this is something related but vastly different to being aware of one’s thoughts/emotions/ breath and how good this can be for ‘us’.

In the absence of this ‘us’ i.e. ‘I’, what is there? When thought has stopped, what remains?
With regular access to such a scenario, which as I see it, then frames the usual waking ‘I’ in a broader, let’s say connected/expanded context, the perceived need to meditate is now over?

How does this relate to the meditational process adopted by Bhakti traditions such as Sant Mat?

Doing meditation for its health benefits and getting hooked into it earnestly could well turn into this search for truth… - not everyone wants to go there (this also may not be clear at the start).

To quote -
“Notice any present thought as an appearance in consciousness, then just begin again.”

So there is no self - whose consciousness is it? What/who begins again?

I recall a 2021 YouTube clip where Sam Harris and Rupert Spira are discussing consciousness. At one point Spira says to Harris
“What makes you think that your consciousness is your consciousness”?

Btw does anyone know how Manjit is doing? Be great to hear from him.

Btw2 - we watched a movie called Spectral the other day and it’s based on this stuff called Bose -Einstein Condensate. After googling this I was fascinated to see that it’s one of several other states of matter currently being researched, that I was unaware of. There really is heaps of stuff we know f’all about …
Best to all

@Tim [ In the absence of this ‘us’ i.e. ‘I’, what is there? When thought has stopped, what remains? ]

IMO, awareness or the potential for awareness. As I see it, thought is so engaging
that it distractively interrupts the flow of awareness by overlaying it with language or
by conjuring up imagery. Awareness itself is direct and bypasses them.

[ With regular access to such a scenario, which as I see it, then frames the usual waking ‘I’ in a broader, let’s say connected/expanded context, the perceived need to meditate is now over? ]

It's my impression mystics never stop meditating even after attaining GIHF
( also known as "totality of awareness")

[ How does this relate to the meditational process adopted by Bhakti traditions such as Sant Mat?]

The goal is to expand awareness to reach GIHF-hood themselves by
repetition of a mantra and devotional intensity.

[ To quote -
“Notice any present thought as an appearance in consciousness, then just begin again.”
So there is no self - whose consciousness is it? What/who begins again? ]

"Totality of Consciousness" plays all roles in this masquerade ball.

Dungeness, the problem with putting too much hope in conscious awareness is that neuroscience and brain imaging have proven that most of what goes on in the brain is outside of conscious awareness. We're only aware of what pops up from the hidden layers of the brain. So any conclusion about the nature of the brain/mind/consciousness is highly suspect if it relies only on subjective conscious awareness. This is akin to someone clearly seeing the sun setting while not knowing that astronomy has found that the sun remains where it is and it is the earth rotating that makes it look like the sun sets.

@ Brian [ So any conclusion about the nature of the brain/mind/consciousness is highly suspect if it relies only on subjective conscious awareness.]

That's why mysticism stays in its own lane about drawing scientific
conclusions about what's witnessed within. I'm hardly knowledgeable
about mystic insight but I believe mystics only testify about what they
see/experience in the inner realm. They've honed their awareness
or potential awareness by practice however to the extent that their
opinions and/or intuitions are more informed than the average

What becomes problematic is that mystic testimony is not confirmed
by science nor is mystic description of sights/sounds experienced
within consistent or regularized. They attempt to capture in language
and images a subtle realm which can only be experienced through
rigorous inward mystic practice. That makes it more difficult.

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