The Delusions of Sam Harris

Sam Harris is one of the New Atheists who loves to promote himself as some type of Pro-Science champion. Yet oddly enough, he really doesn’t seem to have much of a passion for science. According to the latest puff piece, where Harris gets to promote himself as some type of modern day jedi warrior:

Harris is more open to esoteric arts such as meditation, which he has practiced daily for nearly three decades….. Less well known is Harris’s other enthusiasm: cutting off the blood supply to other people’s brains by using techniques learned in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or BJJ……. Harris began practicing BJJ in earnest in November 2011 and now trains three times a week, often in private sessions with Ryron Gracie, a head instructor at the Gracie Academy, which has locations in Beverly Hills and Torrance, California….. Harris thinks about violence more than almost anyone else I have ever met. After our BJJ encounter, we went to a Korean restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, where he tried to explain his obsession with self-defense

Given there is only so much time in any day, it’s informative to note that Harris would rather spend his time meditating and practicing how to cut off the blood supply to others people’s brains than reading journal articles or [gasp] doing experiments. He has an obsession with self-defense, not science. The puff piece is about his fascination with violence, not his work as a scientist. Clearly, science is low on his list of life’s priorities. Yet we are being asked to believe that Harris is some type of Ambassador for Science.
His delusion does not end there.

After our BJJ encounter, we went to a Korean restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, where he tried to explain his obsession with self-defense—including not just BJJ but also guns (he has several stashed strategically around his house) and physical force generally. He said that the response to his first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, published in 2004, had led to concern for the security of his wife and, more recently, his daughter, who is 4 years old. He asked me not to say where he lives. “People’s craziness has no expiration date,” he said. “I don’t know when someone is going to discover that thing I said about Islam or Christianity or Ayn Rand on YouTube seven years ago and decide that it’s a killing offense.”

So here he tries to present himself as some type of victim and once again (surprise) it is religion that is forcing him to protect himself and his family. The problem is that Harris’ fascination with violence began long before his book:

Harris’s self-defense obsession predates his counter-apocalyptic horsemanship, however. His parents divorced when he was young; growing up in a household with no adult male left him with a lasting concern about physical security. By the time he headed to Stanford for college, he was studying and teaching ninjutsu, a Japanese martial art.

I can’t psychoanalyze him, but I would note there are many people who grow up in a household with no adult male who don’t become obsessed with mastering violent techniques and guns. Nevertheless, it’s clear his interest in violence is not something that can be blamed on religion.
Finally, we get to the mega-delusion:

Harris clearly craves the feeling that he has dispelled an illusion—whether about the effectiveness of a left hook or about the divinity of Jesus. “I don’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be,” he told me.

That he believes he doesn’t “want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be” tells us he is the type of person who does not believe he is wrong about anything. In other words, it’s not that he wants to be oh so careful not to be wrong; it’s that he works hard to convince himself he is not wrong. And that explains why he can never admit to being wrong. This is the place where Pride meets Delusion and they form a symbiotic relationship.

The experience did, however, offer some insight into why Harris might crave a daily routine of silent reflection. He has, after all, chosen a life of wandering the Earth getting in unwinnable arguments with unyielding people. Perhaps this leaves him with an unusual need for peace, quiet, and answers.

Nah. Harris has been meditating long before his fame as a New Atheist.

“The sort of satisfaction one hopes to achieve in intellectual debate is always elusive,” said Harris, referring to his public disputations with various professional Christian apologists. “I’ve had debates where it’s absolutely clear to me that my opponent has to tap out,” he told me. “They are wrong—just as demonstrably as you’re wrong when you’re being choked to death in a triangle choke.” (Which raises the possibility that, however calm and well-spoken Harris appears onstage with, say, Rick Warren, he may be silently imagining strangling the pastor into unconsciousness.) “It’s like they’ve turned into a zombie,” he continued. “You rarely get the satisfaction in intellectual life where the person who is wrong has to acknowledge and grow from the experience of having been self-deceived for so long.”

Notice how Harris is blind to the possibility that in some cases, perhaps he was the one who should have tapped out. Let’s give a concrete example.
About four years ago, Sam Harris took to the pages of the NYT to argue that Francis Collins would be bad for the NIH. Collins was an evangelical Christian, and this was supposed to mean that he was not qualified to head the NIH and would use that position to do harm to science.
Sorry Sam, but you delude yourself in thinking that don’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than you have to be. You’ve been wrong about Collins for much longer than a moment; you’ve been wrong for about 4 years. And during that entire span of time, you have shown NO interest in checking to see if you were wrong. Thus, you will not admit to being wrong about this to maintain the self-delusion that you are never wrong.
Look, if you could just admit you were wrong about Collins, we could then begin the process of exploring how you got it so wrong. You rarely get the satisfaction in intellectual life where the person who is wrong has to acknowledge and grow from the experience of having been self-deceived for so long.
Ironically, Harris is also blind to the fact that his criticisms of religion apply to him and his fans:

Those videos defy description. They are the physical manifestation of the same kinds of reasoning errors and self-deception we see in religion–with the crucial difference that, in martial arts, it is possible to expose a person’s misconceptions in real time for all to see. But what’s amazing–and this should really worry people of faith–is that, even in the martial arts, a person can persist in delusion for decades, gather students, and become a famous master of his fake discipline without knowing that he has wandered completely out of contact with reality. This madman can’t even begin to do what he thinks he can do–and what he is apparently renowned for doing–because the skill he is displaying and that his students are striving to emulate doesn’t exist. The whole thing is a collective delusion.

What a perfect description of Harris. He is master of his fake discipline – his Think Tank. He gathers acolytes who tell him how brilliant he is. He believes it. And wanders completely out of contact with reality. For how else could one possibly explain the crackpot notion that Francis Collins would have been bad for the NIH?

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15 Responses to The Delusions of Sam Harris

  1. TFBW says:

    “They are wrong—just as demonstrably as you’re wrong when you’re being choked to death in a triangle choke.”

    The man has an interesting conception of “wrong”. Should I interpret this as “might makes right?”

  2. Nam Le says:

    You should try meditation and jiu jitsu before you disparage it. I’m certain that doing either or both will really help you with your problem (which really comes through in your writing) of you taking things too seriously and being a cunt. I can tell you that I’ve become a much more relaxed, accepting, and cooler person due to these practices. Also, it seems like you have an affinity for conflict in your writing. Instead of letting out your frustrations and insecurity through the odious outlet of writing attack articles, this can be bled through safe and supervised physical competition and self-improvement. Not only is it a manlier and less slimy thing to do in comparison, but it will free up your mental resources for positive intellectual endeavors that benefit others.

    Cheers!

  3. Michael says:

    You should try meditation and jiu jitsu before you disparage it. I’m certain that doing either or both will really help you with your problem (which really comes through in your writing) of you taking things too seriously and being a cunt. I can tell you that I’ve become a much more relaxed, accepting, and cooler person due to these practices.

    Yes, we can all see how you’ve become so much more relaxed, accepting, and cooler as you personally attack me as “a cunt.”
    Silly Gnu.

  4. Crude says:

    Yes, we can all see how you’ve become so much more relaxed, accepting, and cooler as you personally attack me as “a cunt.”
    Silly Gnu.

    Apparently regular bouts of jiu-jitsu and meditation makes a person a whiny, passive-aggressive twerp. Not exactly a stirring advertisement for it from Nam Le.

    I bet he’s some kind of triple black belt in pouting and being petulant though, so look out.

  5. Michael says:

    Did you notice how he never attempted to addressing any of the points in my essay?

    Harris promotes himself as some type of Pro-Science champion, yet oddly enough, he really doesn’t seem to have much of a passion for doing science.

    He dishonestly blames religion for his fascination with violence.

    His “I don’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be”
    a. Indicates he is a man who would have a hard time admitting he was wrong
    b. I provide a concrete, factual example of Harris being unwilling to admit he was wrong.

    We can tell my critiques are spot-on because of the nature of Nam Le’s response – it is ad hominem attack in its purest of forms.

    In all fairness, however, it is possible Nam Le has no interest in the atheist debates, is someone who is into martial arts who stumbled on this blog entry, and mistakenly thought I was attacking jiu jitsu.

  6. Occam says:

    There are enough hours in a week to practice martial arts and meditation, and still engage in scientific discourse, research, review, etc). 3 days/week of BJJ is actually quite minimal. Between this and meditation, this is probably no more time-consuming than regularly attending a gym. Also, being a neuroscientist, the meditation portion is actually a part of his research. BTW: BJJ is one of the least violent martial arts. You are putting your opponent away by submission (and ideally, in a smooth, seamless fashion) not pounding him bloody as you would in striking arts.

    I don’t blame Harris for wanting his whereabouts to remain private. It’s not difficult to find instances of atheists who’ve been killed by religious zealots (even if 99.99% of religious people would never consider harming Harris for his views, it only takes one). Remember he has a family to take into account.

    You say:

    “That he believes he doesn’t “want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be” tells us he is the type of person who does not believe he is wrong about anything. ”

    This seems like a bit of a non-sequitur. It doesn’t follow. If you find out you’ve been wrong, and you don’t want to be wrong any longer than you have to be, that’s the point where you in fact, change your mind. In any case, that sentiment is not specific to Harris. Many who follow the Occam’s Razor principal tend to feel this way. It just so happens that Harris tends to actually give voice to this way of thinking.

    All that said, I’m sure Harris has been wrong about several things (I certainly haven’t agreed with everything he’s said, and I haven’t followed everything he’s said). I don’t know enough about Francis Collins to comment on that whole scenario. I will say that I certainly don’t know of any instances where Collins has allowed his religious beliefs to cloud his judgement.

  7. Michael says:

    There are enough hours in a week to practice martial arts and meditation, and still engage in scientific discourse, research, review, etc). 3 days/week of BJJ is actually quite minimal.

    The point remains – Harris would rather practice martial arts and meditation than do science. How many days a week is he doing experiments?

    Also, being a neuroscientist, the meditation portion is actually a part of his research.

    Nonsense. That Harris got a PhD in neuroscience does not make him a neuroscientist. Even more absurd is this notion of his meditation being “part of his research.” Perhaps you can share with us the following: his hypothesis, his experimental design, his data, and the means by which he is sharing his data with the scientific community. If you can’t share this, he is not doing science.

    I don’t blame Harris for wanting his whereabouts to remain private.

    Neither do I. He has multimillionaire parents and is quite likely a multimillionaire himself.

    It’s not difficult to find instances of atheists who’ve been killed by religious zealots

    Harris lives in the United States. Can you please name the outspoken atheists in the United States who have been killed by religious zealots? Has any outspoken atheist ever been attacked in his/her home?

    If Harris is so truly concerned about keeping his whereabouts private for fear that a “religious zealot” could strike at any moment, then why does he give interviews that would make it easy for someone to find him? For example, in the interview above, we learn:

    Harris began practicing BJJ in earnest in November 2011 and now trains three times a week, often in private sessions with Ryron Gracie, a head instructor at the Gracie Academy, which has locations in Beverly Hills and Torrance, California.

    and

    Harris proposed that we meet for a private lesson with Ryron in Beverly Hills; he and Ryron would take turns drowning me.

    Sounds to me like Harris is not THAT private – the world knows he is going to be at the Gracie Academy in Beverly Hills three times a week. If not there, then Torrance. Someone so concerned for the safety of himself and has family would not give that information out, now would they?

    All that said, I’m sure Harris has been wrong about several things (I certainly haven’t agreed with everything he’s said, and I haven’t followed everything he’s said). I don’t know enough about Francis Collins to comment on that whole scenario. I will say that I certainly don’t know of any instances where Collins has allowed his religious beliefs to cloud his judgement.

    The fact remains – six years ago, Harris tried to warn people that Collins should not head the NIH. Harris has had six years to gather data and revisit his original warning. Has he done this? No. Has he ever shown any willingness to admit he was wrong about this? No. Clearly, Harris is not telling the truth when he insists he does “ not want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be.”

    Look, you sound like a victim of Harris’s marketing machine. Seriously, why do we need to know about Harris’s chokeholds? How did this puff piece come into existence? Did the journalist contact Harris about his martial arts? Or did someone from Harris’s pool of connections reach out to The Atlantic? It would seem the latter, as clearly a public image is being sold with that article. Sam Harris – the martial arts expert, the “neuroscientist,” the man “who doesn’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than he has to.” In other words, Sam Harris the Bad Ass. It’s all marketing. And you lap it up.

  8. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    After reading this, Sam Harris is starting to remind me of this guy: https://vimeo.com/40983417

  9. Glabius says:

    Holy crap Batman, you’re ignorant about Sam Harris AND Jiu Jitsu!

    As someone else on here explained, jiu jitsu a few times a week and daily meditation is a minimal distraction at best. Finding examples of his peer reviewed work takes about….20 seconds on Google scholar.

    You seem like a smart guy, way too smart to be making sloppy arguments like this. Obviously the New Atheists got to you and now you’re out on a vengeance quest to straw man hay makers. I guess the Jesus thing can’t be all that consoling if you have to resort to this intellectual dishonesty,

    Pick yourself up, son.

  10. Michael says:

    Poor Glabius. Spend a little more than 20 sec on Google scholar and learn that the Batman is right.

  11. Michael says:

    You seem like a smart guy, way too smart to be making sloppy arguments like this. Obviously the New Atheists got to you and now you’re out on a vengeance quest to straw man hay makers. I guess the Jesus thing can’t be all that consoling if you have to resort to this intellectual dishonesty,

    No sloppy arguments. No intellectual dishonesty. Glabius’s attack has been defeated here.

  12. Fancynamehere says:

    I don’t particularly care much about the whole “Is Sam Harris or is he not as smart as he says he is”. He’s pretty smart, and he wrote two papers for his PhD then he shifted gears after the second paper and became a media personality, but that is a digression. I only want to comment about this:

    “That he believes he doesn’t “want to be wrong for a moment longer than I have to be” tells us he is the type of person who does not believe he is wrong about anything. In other words, it’s not that he wants to be oh so careful not to be wrong; it’s that he works hard to convince himself he is not wrong.”

    No, that isn’t what he said. What he said is he doesn’t want to be wrong for a moment longer than he has to be, i.e. if you receive new information that is supported and dictates you are not correct, you change your view to the correct view. Further extension, only be wrong for long enough to learn you’re wrong. Then don’t be wrong anymore. He gives the example of the left hook in the sense that if someone comes at you with a hook and you were wrong about what punch it was, you should recognize it in the future and not make the same mistake.

    It does not mean that you do not believe you are wrong about anything. That’s weasel-wording at its finest.

  13. >Nonsense. That Harris got a PhD in neuroscience does not make him a neuroscientist

    you understand you have to publish a paper in order to get one of those right? thereby qualifying the definition?

    all controversial public figures receive death threats. acknowledging them publicly leads to more. its reasonable to consider self defense in his situation. are you willfully ignorant of this? how is critiquing someone for not doing enough “science” a reasonable critique? how is it any of your business?

    you seem exceptionally dumb.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?cmd=search&term=Sam%20Harris

  14. Michael says:

    you understand you have to publish a paper in order to get one of those right? thereby qualifying the definition?

    Let’s say someone gets a PhD in Biochemistry. After getting the degree, they do not secure a post-doc or teaching position. Instead, they start up an alternative health company and write an alternative health book that uses sciencey language to promote some new diet fad. Sorry, just because the guy got a PhD in biochemistry to help him sell his diet pills does not mean he is a biochemist.

    you seem exceptionally dumb.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?cmd=search&term=Sam%20Harris

    Er, do you realize most of those Sam Harris’s are not your Sam Harris? 😉

  15. Mile Sanchez says:

    What does it matter if Harris spends time meditating or practicing martial arts. Both are healthy pursuits. I’ve only ever heard sam sanction the use of violence in the most extreme circumstances. None of his statements are disproven in this post. This post is petty and whiny. This author would have no chance in an intellectual debate with sam Harris. So instead tries to prove an ‘obsession with violence’ because Harris trains in martial arts. Weak.

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