New Atheism’s Guru

Are you an atheist who feels stressed, anxious, or even depressed by your insignificance in the godless universe? Does reading Peter Boghossian’s manual for creating atheists make you feel as if you need to improve your cognitive function? Are you having a hard time remembering who you are supposed to hate more – Christians or Muslims? Are you uncomfortable with all the fits of red-faced rage you experience when you think of religion?

If you find yourself answering ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you are in luck. Sam Harris, the Master of Meditation, will guide you to mindfulness. As Harris himself says:

Mindfulness is simply a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and nondiscursive attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Developing this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression; improve cognitive function; and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness.

If you click on that link, Harris will guide you through two forms of meditation. I kid you not.

As for me, I’d like to know when Dawkins, Coyne, and Myers are going to start meditating.

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17 Responses to New Atheism’s Guru

  1. rlp152 says:

    Is it conceivable one or more of them already are?

  2. 9lives says:

    Nothing religious about atheism. 😉

  3. TFBW says:

    Warning: prolonged use of vipassana meditation may produce side-effects including pointy ears, and a tendency to raise one eyebrow and declare things “highly illogical”.

  4. Shizzle says:

    9lives: “Nothing religious about atheism ;)”
    They do have churches now. I guess they’re trying to become the next Christians with their nothing god.

  5. Ilíon says:

    As for me, I’d like to know when Dawkins, Coyne, and Myers are going to start meditating.

    Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I understand meditation to involve an “emptying of the mind” … and, if so, have they not been meditating all along?

  6. Shizzle says:

    Ilíon: “Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I understand meditation to involve an “emptying of the mind” … and, if so, have they not been meditating all along?”

    Lol, i won’t be so sure. There has to be evidence that there is something in there to empty.

  7. Martin tuelay says:

    Thank you for taking time to post me this link. I read its entirety, however joining belief groups goes against everything I stand for. But I never fault someone for trying 🙂

  8. Dhay says:

    I note that Sam Harris steers clear of the term “delusion”, with its “needs medical treatment connotations”: there’s a couple of newspaper article titles that include “delusion” – presumably to link Harris in readers’ minds to fellow New Atheist Horseman, Richard “The God Delusion” Dawkins – but Harris himself consistently uses “illusion”.

    For Harris, ‘free will’ is an illusion; the self, too, is an illusion; and his book-in-waiting, “Waking Up”, is reported by the publisher as saying, “that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow”, so it looks like the book will say that our ordinary understanding of reality is incomplete and illusory.

    In his latest blog – which I am sure will soon be the subject of a later detailed blog by Michael – Harris says, “The illusoriness of the self is potentially of great interest to everyone, because this false construct really is our most basic problem in every moment”. And he also says, “…they recognize [their inability to pay sustained attention] as pathological, despite the fact that almost everyone is in the same condition.”

    Um, I think that “illusion”, when pathological, is actually “delusion”: Harris, therefore, thinks that everyone in the world – a few advanced meditators excepting – suffers from a delusion. The possibly good news is, that in a world where psychiatric disorders (such, apparently, as thinking you are a person who makes decisions) are increasingly and almost invariably treated with drugs, the drug he would presumably treat us all with to get rid of our self-delusions and free-will delusions is not Zyprexia – see http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/is-medical-psychatry-a-scam/ – but “MDMA, better known as ecstasy” – see https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/newsflash-sam-harris-writing-another-book/

  9. Dhay says:

    From the same latest Sam Harris blog entry:

    Dan: … My parents … made me go to a yoga class when I was a little kid. The teacher didn’t like the [evidently restrictive of movement] jeans I was wearing, so she forced me to take them off and do Sun Salutations in my tighty-whities in front of all the other kids.

    Sam: Rarely has the connection between yoga and child abuse been illustrated so clearly.

    A passing dry-humoured swipe at Richard “bringing up a child as a Christian is child abuse” Dawkins? Well done, Sam.

  10. stcordova says:

    I think Harris will make a lot of money with this. He’s cornered a niche market. It might make some nihilistic atheists feel better.

  11. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris says:

    The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy. Here, as elsewhere in life, the “10,000 Hour Rule” often applies. And true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate

    I got my calculator out, and worked out that “10,000 Hours” equates to 416 days continuous 24/7 practice, or about three-and-a-half years of practicing 8 hours a day, about 27 years of two half-hour meditations a day.

    I don’t know why anyone (especially Harris’ target New Atheist types, proud of their critical-thinking skills) should want to spend anywhere near that much time meditating: elsewhere on Harris’ website — in a review of a book Harris is promoting and selling through his website — meditation is described as “mind-numbing”.

    The authors write about the mind-numbing effects of charismatic Christian prayer meetings, meditation, speaking in tongues, mantras; these activities apparently turn off the critical-thinking areas of the brain like a light switch.
    http://www.samharris.org/book_store/book/snapping-americas-epidemic-of-sudden-personality-change

    So, Sam Harris – bearing in mind that you have practiced “mind-numbing” meditation for many years, an activity which “apparently turn[s] off the critical-thinking areas of the brain like a light switch” – what exactly led you towards New Atheism and materialist-reductionism?

  12. Dhay says:

    It’s a shame about Sam Harris’ beliefs: having looked around when younger, I can vouch he is actually quite good at teaching meditation.

    Or perhaps listening to the two forms of meditation has numbed my brain, and has turned off its critical-thinking areas like a light switch.

  13. Dhay says:

    rlp152> Is it conceivable one or more of them already are [meditating]?

    The obvious one to look at is someone who has long been regularly sharing the conference podium with the originals and with the other prominent wannabees, namely New Atheist wannabee ‘Horseman’, Michael Shermer: if you look at the Wiki page for Shermer, you will find that this champion of scientific skepticism knows about how very gullible people can be because – well, he’s been there, he’s been very gullible indeed:

    Shermer’s embrace of scientific skepticism crystallized during his time as a cyclist, explaining, “I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado” after months of training under the guidance of a “nutritionist” with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, negative ions, rolfing, pyramid power, fundamentalist Christianity, and “a host of weird things” (with the exception of drugs) to improve his life and training, Shermer stopped rationalizing the failure of these practices.

    (The quote appears to come from his 2002 book, “Why People Believe Weird Things”. He’s obviously himself believed many of what he would now call weird things. It is interesting that in his 2012 book, “The Believing Brain”, Francis Collins’ conversion to Christianity is presented as irrational, and reached by an irrational path, whereas his own de-conversion is presented as wholly rational and reached by an essentially exclusively rational path. I call that economical with the truth.)

    It’s quite a list. Meditation is not mentioned there, but might come under “a host of weird things” – Shermer has obviously been so far into far-out New Age thinking – “pyramid power”! – that it would be peculiar if he had never added meditation to his life-and-training improvement practices.

  14. Dhay says:

    Wikipedia> “Shermer’s embrace of scientific skepticism…”

    Let’s be skeptical about Shermer’s CV, which tells us he is an Adjunct Professor at two universities – see http://www.michaelshermer.com/downloads/Shermer-CV.pdf

    At Chapman University:
    HON 329-02. The Moral Arc of Science: How Science and Reason Have Bent the Arc of the Moral Universe Toward Truth, Justice, Freedom, & Prosperity. See http://www.chapman.edu/academics/honors/_files/new-student-info-12-13/2012-13%20-%20HONORS%20COURSES.pdf
    Yes, it’s a history of science course – Shermer is a writer and historian, not a practising scientist. His ratings (by only two students who rated him) were abysmal – see http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=1841925
    It was a 2012-13 course: Shermer isn’t listed on the faculty now – see http://www.chapman.edu/our-faculty/list-by-rank.aspx

    At Claremont Graduate School/University:
    Shermer was there in Spring 2010 teaching an overview of the history and science of evolutionary theory, evolutionary economics, and neuroscience. See http://www.cgu.edu/pages/1159.asp?instrm=0980&insubject=TNDY, but he was there as a Teaching Assistant, not as an Adjunct Professor, as his CV claims. See http://www.cgu.edu/pages/4546.asp?item=1683 and note the missing Adjunct Professorship appointment.

    Someone phoned up and asked about Shermer:

    “I did my own research into Shermer’s credentials. I explored the website of Claremont Graduate University and discovered to my surprise that there was no reference to Shermer whatsoever on a list of Adjunct Professors of Economics. I then wrote to Prof. Jean Schrodel, Dean of Claremont’s School of Politics and Economics, and received the answer that she had never even heard of Michael Shermer. The acting President of Claremont also answered me writing Dr. Shermer “does not hold any term or permanent appointment in the University.” The Claremont president added, “Michael Shermer assists Prof. Paul Zak of the Economics Department in an occasional single course in the transdisciplinary studies program at the University.””
    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/07/29/the-puppet-conspracy-theory-detector-michael-shermer/

    Looks like Shermer is definitely economical with the truth.

  15. TFBW says:

    I call that economical with the truth.

    I regard it as evidence that his beliefs are still weird. Clearly he gravitates towards fringe views.

  16. Dhay says:

    “Want the potential mental and physical health benefits of meditation without the work of chasing away all those intrusive thoughts and feelings? Try laughing, a new study suggests.

    Laughter — the real kind associated with genuine joy and mirth — sets off brain wave patterns quite similar to those generated when experienced meditators ply their mindfulness skills.”
    http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-laughter-meditation-20140430-story.html

    While I quite like Sam Harris’ sense of humour, it looks like New Atheism’s Guru should be — not meditation teacher Sam, but his Project Reason Board colleague, the stand up comedian, Ricky Gervais.

  17. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris says:

    The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy. Here, as elsewhere in life, the “10,000 Hour Rule” often applies. And true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate

    This Dilbert comic strip disagrees with Harris: assuming it’s quoting correctly, even to reach the “10,000 hour” level of capable competence probably requires of a meditator either special talent or a lifetime of practice.

    http://dilbert.com/strip/2013-10-15

    Even a mere 10,000 hours is 27 years or so of two half-hour meditation sessions a day. But the Dilbert strip seems to say that realistically, the “10,000 hour” level of capability will probably take either special talent or many, many more hours than 10,000; and many, many more years than 27.

    There’s no doubt that Harris himself reckons that “true mastery” of meditation and Buddhism is completely out of reach of just about everybody, everyone bar the very few who are exceptionally gifted, and also exceptionally dedicated: he says, “true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.”

    Meditation sounds like a waste of time; lots of time; years; and that’s even without factoring in what the Dilbert strip says.

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