We’ve seen that Sam Harris, one of the leaders in the New Atheist movement, wants to be compared to the New Age mystic, Eckhart Tolle. However, when I quoted Harris to document this, I left out part of the quote. Let me rectify this:
It’s interesting that you mention Tolle, because when someone asks me for the two-second summary of my new book, I’m often tempted to say, “It’s Eckhart Tolle for smart people”—that is, people who suspect that something important can be discovered about consciousness through introspection, but who are allergic to the pseudoscience and irrationality that generally creeps into every New Age discussion of this truth.
Harris is admitting that we can discover important truths without science. We can discover important truths through introspection. Harris has essentially acknowledged the limitations of science (good for him) and his position can be cited when we are confronted by New Atheists who aggressively peddle their scientism (thanks, sam).
So far, no other New Atheist leader has criticized Harris concerning this abandonment of scientism. Why this silence?
Then again, recall that Harris is one of those New Atheists who is trying to dumb-down the definition of science. So perhaps Harris would argue that introspection is science.
This raises the question of how to evaluate the results of a spiritual practice—and whether those results, however transformative they may be for someone, can be credible to others.
What constitutes evidence that there is a path to wisdom at all? From the outside, it’s very difficult to judge—because there are charismatic charlatans who are probably lying about everything, and there are seemingly ordinary people who have had quite profound experiences. From the inside, however, the evidence is clear; so each person has to run the experiment in the laboratory of his own mind to know that there’s anything to this.
Ah, yes. Run the experiment.
In the laboratory of his own mind.
Experiments subjectively run + data subjectively gathered = subjective evidence. But subjective evidence does not equal scientific evidence.
I happen to agree there are truths that can be discovered through introspection and there are truths beyond the reach of science. I also think all evidence comes with a distinct subjective aspect. But then I also don’t go around promoting and preaching scientism and trying to make it sound like my subjective beliefs are science. Neither do I attack science by dumbing-down its definition to advance some personal agenda. I value intellectual honesty. I doubt many New Atheists can understand this approach to life.
Harris does make an important point:
The truth is that most of us are bound to appear like ordinary schmucks to others no matter how much we meditate. If you’re lost in thought, as you will be most of the time, you become the mere puppet of whatever those thoughts are. If you’re lost in worries about the future, you will seem to be an ordinary, anxious person—and the fact that you might be punctuating this experience with moments of mindfulness or moments of non-duality isn’t necessarily going to change the way you appear in the world. But internally, the difference can be huge. This gap between first-person and third-person data is a real impediment to communicating the significance of meditation practice to people who haven’t experienced it.
Really, Sam? When Francis Collins wrote about his first- person experience in becoming a Christian, you mocked it and demanded third-person data. Clearly, “the significance of meditation practice” does not entail a decreased likelihood of wallowing in hypocrisy.