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?