Sam Harris Promotes Sam Harris Memes

I recently checked out Sam Harris’s blog and found the latest entry entitled “Meme#8” Which means there is a #7, #6, etc.

And they are all quotes from….Sam Harris speaking on his podcasts.

So Harris is using his blog to promote Sam Harris memes.

At first, I thought maybe he was finding his memes and helping to spread them.  But then I noticed that all eight of the memes credit the same artist for the illustration.

Does this mean Sam Harris is actually making and promoting Sam Harris memes?  Some people just can’t get enough of themselves.

Anyway, it does make sense that Harris’s insights are actually…….memes. 😉

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11 Responses to Sam Harris Promotes Sam Harris Memes

  1. Dhay says:

    > Does this mean Sam Harris is actually making and promoting Sam Harris memes? Some people just can’t get enough of themselves.

    Looks like it. I reckon the cartoonist produced Meme #1 without prompting, because it’s different from the others in being misquoted from a Harris book — yes, there’s quotation errors in it, it’s definitely not what Harris wrote; as for the other Memes, the ones using quotes from Harris’ podcasts, I reckon Harris probably liked Meme #1 so much he commissioned those other Memes.

  2. Dhay says:

    Meme #8 says: “Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a betrayal of science — and yet it is the lifeblood of religion” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast..

    For those who have lived closeted the last few years, this is not a Sam Harris meme at all, but one of Peter Boghossian’s most repeated memes, and is reproduced with scant changes, especially to meaning, and without acknowledgement.

    OK, compare and contrast:

    While we attempted to make the challenges to the political statements as strong as possible, we also cannot rule out the possibility that the non-political challenges were somehow inherently more persuasive. Both categories involved exaggerations or distortions of the truth, but our political participants may have been more likely to identify these distortions for the political issues, especially if they were more familiar with these issues.

    [Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence, from the fourth paragraph up in the Discussion, P.9 of the pdf, my emphasis.]

    What was that about betrayal of science.

  3. Dhay says:

    Meme #5 says: “Certainty about the next life is incompatible with tolerance in this one” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast.

    Says Sam Harris, so it must be true, mustn’t it.

    From the cartoon, and the fact that Harris has happily blogged Meme #5 with that cartoon and with no disclaimer or qualification — Harris has ‘owned’ it — I conclude Harris means us to take Meme #5 to refer to Christians.

    Unfortunately for Harris, I reckon many or most Christians would disagree that Meme #5 applies to themselves, whatever Harris might have meant or still mean by it.

    Let’s try one possible meaning:

    “Certainty about whether there will be a next life is incompatible with tolerance in this one”: that’s double-edged, because it applies also to atheists, to people who have certainty there will be no next life. Is the certainty of an atheist incompatible with them being tolerant. Do Stalin and Pol Pot exemplify this. Wow, Harris could be on to something here.

    Then there’s Buddhists (like Harris himself), and Hindus, who are certain there is a next life and that by the iron dictates of the Law of Karma — sounds like it’s scientific, guys — the deceased will be reincarnated as an ant (say) or as a more advanced Buddhist type known as a ‘stream-winner’ or ‘never-returner’; the only uncertainty is how to calculate whether the deceased will go up or down the virtue scale, and how far — ant? or cat? — or in rare cases whether they will finally reach that goal of final extinction. Is the certainty of a Buddhist or Hindu about reincarnation to a next life incompatible with their being tolerant in this life.

    I’ve looked at one possible meaning; perhaps, probably, there are other meanings, but I’m not going to write a thesis exhausting every possibility: it is for Harris to make his meanings clear, not for me to speculate on which possibility, or comment on a plethora of possible meanings.

  4. Dhay says:

    Meme #6 says: “Bad ideas, however sacred, cannot survive the company of good ones forever” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast.

    It always astonishes me how much of a Gish Gallop of innuendo and mere assertive claim Harris can manage to squeeze into his very shortest sentences.

    From the cartoon, and the fact that Harris has happily blogged Meme #6 with that cartoon and with no disclaimer or qualification — Harris has ‘owned’ it — I conclude Harris means us to take Meme #6 to refer to the three Abrahamic religions and to assert that their ideas are bad.

    Says Sam Harris, so it must be true, mustn’t it.

    Harris doesn’t tell us what the alleged “good ideas” are, nor tell us what the alleged “bad ideas” are: it’s innuendo and it’s innuendo, unsupported. That it’s a meme is no excuse or explanation, it’s Harris’ meme, Harris’ choice of message medium. His fans may love it, it plays to their prejudices and echoes in the echo chambers of their postings to each other, but it fails rational analysis through lack of content.


    Where’s Hinduism, where’s Buddhism, Shinto, Taoism, where’s all the other well-known and widespread religions in that cartoon — Harris (and his cartoonist) singles out the Abrahamic religions only.

    Chapter 1 of Harris’ Waking Up includes this lament, which I am sure is not complaining purely about Christians:

    Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated, empirical approach to understanding the human mind, whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding.

    Or put another way, Bodhisattva Sam Harris laments Christians, Moslems and Jews being resistant to conversion to Harris’ beloved Buddhism.

    My heart bleeds for the poor man.

  5. unclesporkums says:

    Amen, I’ll pray for him as well.

  6. Dhay says:

    Meme #7 says: “We will embarrass our descendants just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast.

    Says Sam Harris, so it must be true, mustn’t it.

    Odd, then, that things were always better in the good old days. Some research I heard about (probably a couple of decades ago) found that the ‘good old days’ were about twenty years ago — indeed, they have always been about twenty years before any date you look at — even back to those Elizabethan days when things were better back in the good old days before the unruly apprentice boys.

    I’d say this research finding of better-ness always being better in the previous generation is a perfect mirror to Harris’ picture of better-ness always being better in the subsequent generation.

    And has Harris never ever heard the likes of “Tsk, tsk, the young people of today [fill in the blank]!” It is commonplace (though not universal) for the older generation to disapprove of the younger.

    Would people of 1850 or [insert year] say of today’s commonplace abortion-seeking that that is moral progress — or would they be not just embarrassed but appalled.

  7. TFBW says:

    Meme #7 says: “We will embarrass our descendants just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast.

    Dawkins has framed moral progress in the same sorts of terms (in his “Root of all Evil?” TV shows, and possibly elsewhere). I think that Sam has made a one-word error in his statement, however. I offer the following correction.

    We will embarrass our descendants just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral parochialism.

  8. Dhay says:

    Meme #3 is peculiarly American; best that I avoid it.

    Memes #2 and #4 display Harris’ interest in Buddhism; there’s not a lot to say about #2 except that he is very likely correct (but who cares either way): Meme #4 says: “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion” ~ Sam Harris – The Waking Up podcast.

    Actually, it dates back to Harris’ 11 October 2011 blog entitled “The Mystery of Consciousness”, so for once it’s possible to find the context without listening intently – personally I won’t – to a hour or two of some podcast or other, or to all of them (Harris doesn’t even tell us which are the relevant podcasts!):

    It’s a typically over the top Harris proclamation — for an enthusiastic proponent of mysticism, he’s packed that short statement full of the concepts that underwrite our dualistic materialistic perception of the world; if I were to use my own words for what I think Harris is getting at, I’d say the pithier “Here is this”, but I’ll stay focused on what Harris actually says.

    It’s an odd claim: everything might be an illusion except this one thing, consciousness — oh, and a universe as well, that’s two things, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition; or if consciousness is the one thing that cannot be an illusion, the universe can be and perhaps is an illusion. Where’s the clarity of thought and expression which Harris’ fans claim to see and love.

    (He’s that unclear, I could read this sentence as claiming there is a Cosmic Consciousness. Heck, if consciousness is ‘the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion’, there’s room there for consciousness to be a ‘one thing’, ‘one thing only’ in the universe; there’s room there for the universe to be nothing but consciousness – everything else whatsoever being merely illusion.)

    OK, let’s drop the universe (and cosmos) as the irrelevant distraction I suspect it is and concentrate on that one non-illusory consciousness. It’s consciousness singular, I note, as reinforced by that “… one thing …”, not consciousnesses plural, not even a mere two consciousnesses. Because – so far as I know – nobody has experienced someone else’s consciousness, still less provided objective evidence of doing so, I have to presume that Harris was here talking about his own consciousness.

    So let’s plug that into the Meme: “Sam Harris’ consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion”.

    Says Sam Harris – once you work out what it is he’s trying to say – so it must be true, mustn’t it.


    Has anybody spotted Harris’ absurdity, spotted that consciousness cannot be “in” a material universe. It’s unfindable in its most probable home, the material flesh-and-blood brain, Harris reckons it will remain unfound and unfindable, and the likes of Alex Rosenberg, Paul Churchland and Daniel Dennett deny consciousness altogether as just an illusion. No agreement there, which shows how out on a limb Harris is in his views.


    SJW activists have recently been pilloried on S2L for prioritising their subjective feelings over objectivity. If you want a very glaring example of subjectivity being prioritised over objectivity, read Meme #4.


    Harris has kept on repeating this Meme #4 mantra over a number of years. It must be important to him, it must be one of his core views. Why should that be.

    I observe that Harris’ Buddhist-derived and very typically Buddhist denial of a self (and thence of free will) relies upon that “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion”: his argument that there is no self boils down to the observation that a meditator who has cleared their mind of thoughts and is no longer locked into thoughts of self – that person will find they are not conscious of a self, there’s no sign of anything to call a self within consciousness: if the meditator isn’t conscious of a self, if the meditator doesn’t see a self, then there is no self, the self is an illusion.

    It’s horribly simplistic, that: if I am not conscious of a self causing and directing my thoughts and actions – that’s the other part, in meditation you still not just thoughts but all activity – there is no self causing and directing my thoughts and actions. Yeah, yeah, by that standard of thinking, by that standard of refusing to use reasonable inference, by that standard of peek-a-boo babyish if-I-don’t-see-it-it’s-non-existent logic, if I don’t see the electronics and motor in the lift it’s all just happening electronic-less and motor-less; as for my computer, nothing whatsoever causes e-mails to come in, those workings of the computer and the external world, being outside consciousness, are not only deniable as illusions but should be denied as illusions – by Harris’ Meme #4 standards.

  9. Dhay says:

    “Neuroscientist Sam Harris” — how many times have I seen that.

    It occurs to me that Meme #4 amounts to science-denialism; nor does it look well-reasoned (even in full blog context); whatever happened to that ‘Science and Reason’ which Sam Harris’ fans presumably love to love, and which in their eyes Harris presumably embodies, as model, as pattern, as the very paradigm of neuroscientific logic and reason.

  10. TFBW says:

    “Sam Harris’ consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion”

    That’s pretty funny, but Sam’s position on consciousness is a point (possibly the only point) on which I agree with him. The short version of why his claim is true goes like this: an illusion is a form of consciousness — a non-veridical form, but a form even so. To experience an illusion is to have a form of consciousness, so if consciousness were an illusion, it would still be consciousness, and therefore not an illusion. Saying that consciousness is an illusion is a self-contradiction, much like saying, “you’re not thinking — you only think that you’re thinking.”

  11. Dhay says:

    TFBW > … Sam’s position on consciousness is a point (possibly the only point) on which I agree with him. …

    I agree it’s a Sam Harris strong point. There are those who insist on an ultra-materialistic ‘leptons and baryons only’ approach, an approach which concludes that consciousness is an illusion. Like you and Harris, I agree that is an absurdity, and I applaud Harris for subverting the usual reductionist materialist narrative by turning the ‘consciousness is an illusion’ claim completely around.


    I don’t think Harris is coming from the same philosophical viewpoint as you, or arriving there via philosophical arguments as you do. I judge Harris is a Buddhist through and through, and that it is no accident that he echoes a characteristic Buddhist teaching; here’s from the Buddhist scholar DT Suzuki’s analysis of the Lankavatara Sutra entitled Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra and, subtitled ‘One of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism, in which almost all its principal tenets are presented, including the teaching of Zen’:

    So far no special efforts have been made to prove why there is Mind itself and no external realities. The Lankavatara is not a philosophical treatise and naturally does not profess to prove anything specifically in connection with the teaching or statement it propounds. But as we peruse the sutra, we cannot help coming across certain attempts at advancing proofs for its main thesis: svacittadrisyamatram. We will try to gather up these attempts already alluded to, though sporadically in previous pages, and present them in a more systematic way. …

    P.267 (P.298 of the pdf)
    [Large pdf download. My emboldenings.]

    Good luck with understanding any Mahayana Buddhist Sutra, even when systematically presented.

    Now the question naturally suggesting itself is: what is really meant by cittamdtram, or “mind-only”? It is often phrased, svacittadrisyamatram, meaning ”own-mind-seen-only.”

    P.248 (P.279 of pdf)

    Or search for “matram”, which amongst other findings will find:

    “the triple world is no more than [the product of] discrimination, there is no such thing as an external world”

    P.439 (P.470 of pdf)

    I trust you can see why I reckon Harris’ “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion” comes from Buddhism, perhaps or perhaps not from this Sutra but from the same tradition of thought. Yes, you can find Western philosophical tradition arguments, correct and smart, to support Harris, and Harris can, too; but that’s not where I think Harris is coming from, for him that would be a case of his being skilled at defending things he arrived at for non-smart reasons.

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