Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sam Harris on Waking Up

He posted chapter one of his new book here. Therein he describes the spiritual as "to fully bring their minds into the present or to induce nonordinary states of consciousness [...which] links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives." He later notes that spirituality is not about ordinary states of mind, even artistic inspiration of awe of mystery. Or about trying to connect nonordinary states with metaphysical theories on the origins of the universe. It's about the illusion of self, which can be "altered or entirely extinguished."

On p. 2 of the IPS Harris thread kela said, and which we discussed at length, that for Harris "the conception of consciousness [...] is clearly indebted to Advaita Vedanta, and apparently Yogachara, is not at all free from metaphysical preconceptions." In the section on mindfulness Harris acknowledges that neurologically we aren't 'present.' Yet phenomenologically being present is the bomb. Again it's about a state experience of subject/object dissolution that is the crux of his spirituality. (And not just his but some sects of his favored Buddhism.) Which state of course is healthy if kept in context, the latter being that it helps us overcome constantly living in anticipation of the future or remembering the past. It is the meditative state of "clear awareness" where we dispassionately observe the contents of our experience, which can lead to subject/object dissolution in consciousness without an object. That is how he, and many others, define spirituality, this state experience.

He also thinks this state is "nonconceptual," a claim we've examined at length in various threads. A claim that is in no way accurate neurophysiologically according to Lakoff and Thompson. It's one of those metaphysical accoutrements that Harris thinks he's free from. It's the same mystical empiricism kela criticized earlier in the thread, i.e., the same metaphysics of presence. For by attending to our contents one can arrive at "consciousness itself." At least the Lingam realizes this is an UL state and uses other quadrants/zones to contextualize it, calling it the philosophy of consciousness.

Granted this is an important and healthy state to pursue, but by itself it's 'spirituality?' Early on he does make the connection of this state to ethics, but as yet has failed to describe how this is so. I've done so in many past threads, but again not as a metaphysical system, at least in the traditional sense. For me spirituality is in how we behave toward others after learning the lessons of such state experiences, how a 'nondual' state allows for compassion and public actions that benefit the well-being of others. And I don't mean just teaching them how to achieve such states too, but giving them a hand up through public policy, through active engagement in social action. Having state experiences without that is just so much narcissistic and masturbatory fluff.

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