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Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 9:08 pm
by Freedom_2018 I am not quite up to date with my internet reading, youtube and Ted talks etc.

But I had read Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning which I found to be quite an interesting book (much more so than 12 rules...though the 12 rules seems like more of a working manual). Saw some of his talks and they seem to make sense...leans a bit heavy on the darkness inside humans but history sure is rife with examples to back him.

Also tried to see some youtube videos of Sam Harris and to be honest I am not quite sure why he can't seem to understand the need for a religious belief or other 'non-scientific' attitudes among humans.

Then I come upon this :

Someone who can't seem to comprehend how ~50% of the voters would vote for Trump, even after the fact, could not in my understanding be much of an expert on things outside of a narrow field. Also does not seem to be open minded...i.e. when reality does not follow your theory, time to examine your theory.

Not sure why he is so popular. Am I missing something big here?


Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:47 pm
by LookingInward
Aren't you interpreting things too literally (or maybe it's me)? I think he does understand why people cling to irrational believes and why Trump is President. He is just bewildered by it and probably means that those two situations have good reasons to not be the case because they run counter to values such as rationality and honesty

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:21 pm
by Freedom_2018
I don't think I am interpreting literally. He obviously gets it intellectually (I guess most shocked by the election result also fall into this category) but not viscerally (most shocked by election results still continue to fundamentally not get it since it goes counter to what they perceived as rational) and that is what matters in life.

For someone who doesn't think much of free will (i.e. situations are results of initial conditions, rules of interaction and probability) he certainly seems to struggle with the same (viscerally) when the outcome is not to his liking.

Of course Monday morning quarterbacking always exists.

My own $0.02 is that there is something these days that now passes with a veneer of science that has become its own religion with its own prophets.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:48 pm
by Freedom_2018
I guess what I am trying to say (sorry if not very clear) is that the often implicit and underlying assumption that science and its methods are the only way to accurately understand the world and gain knowledge of it is not without huge blind spots which we ignore at our own peril.

Similar to how the present problem of millennials with useless degrees and big student loans was created by the implicit and unquestioned belief that 'everyone must go to college' for a better life. Meanwhile my mechanic wants $120/hr to even look at my car and those rates only seem to be going up.

Another example of such belief would be when say homeowners think their property is worth X when say a similar house down the block sold for X (and websites like zillow etc will show value based off this). But if all/many houses in their neighborhood were to be on sale at the same time, their value would be much lower than X (like in 2007/2008)

On that same note I think those of us who are on the ERE path/lifestyle should also mentally discount our stock portfolios etc by some factor since if the market went on sale, the value of our portfolio would be significantly lower than indicated by just today's trading price at the margin.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 12:53 am
by Seppia
I’m a religious person but I would kinda pick “science” as the best way to describe how things actually work.
I know concepts like science and the very pillars upon which it is based (“data”, “facts” for example) are unpopular with a growing number of humans, but if I broke my leg I would prefer an actual doctor to treat it rather than someone who has the attitude of “fuck medical science I know better”

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 1:22 am
by Freedom_2018
@Seppia - No doubt, if I break a leg I am going to the same person you are :-)

I'm not talking about Idiots of the type you mention. People who don't want to learn or make the effort to learn and improve their lot in life but instead hang their hat on unexamined tradition or some bigotry or just blind faith. Not talking about them.

Rather talking about those that Nassim Taleb would call Intellectual Yet Idiots - people who might have domain specific knowledge but then extrapolate from there to thinking they understand other domains equally well too. Sort of like the uber techie because he or she understands some complex coding/technology also thinks that they know what ails the company and if given half a chance could fix all the problems the firm faces. Meanwhile not realizing that fixing many of those problems require skill in areas such as interpersonal skills, dealing with and motivating people with conflicting agendas and all the political crap that goes with it....areas in which he/she has no aptitude and skill - even though he/she intellectually understands what the issues are.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:54 am
by vexed87
You've just described dunning-kruger. It's human nature, the world is really complicated and we have a tendency to want to simplify it, rather than spend years of our lives constructing elaborate metal models of how the world really works. JMG did some interesting writing on this topic on his blog Ecosophia, maybe check that out.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 6:33 am
by IlliniDave
I'm impressed you read Maps of Meaning. I couldn't get through it. Maybe a sign that my mental acuity is waning.

I don't get the impression Harris is an idiot. You mentioned the reason I think he's popular in some circles--he consistently argues against religion.

I watched one of his "debates" with Jordan Peterson. In a simplified sense, I see Peterson as arguing that religions/mythologies encode collective wisdom regarding how to organize societies and how individuals can organize their lives to both find meaning and contribute to societies in a way that advances them. He makes the argument without evangelizing. Harris seems to take the position that such wisdom can be derived from reason/science alone, and should be, and is generally skeptical at best that much of value can come from having roots in the religious traditions. That one or both of them may be incorrect doesn't make either an idiot.

Regarding Trump all I can say is Harris is not alone. It seems like the tack of trying to reason/science one's way to a moral hierarchy often points the way to progressivism as a substitute for religion (or arguably as a surrogate religion), and I suspect it has blind spots analogous to the blind spots identified in traditional religious adherence. If nothing else he maybe lost sight of the fact that humans are not logic machines, himself included, so his logic may be faulty and even if it is perfectly accurate insofar as logic goes, many, maybe most, people really don't prioritize their lives based on modern philosophical logic. You hit on something else that I've seen in various places: faith invested in a theory being so strong that when contrary evidence appears the only choice is to modify the evidence (e.g., looking just at the 2016 election since it is what was mentioned, you can blame it on the Russians, disparage the contrary voters, etc.).

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:08 am
by prognastat
I actually like Sam Harris quite a bit and his podcast is one I regularly listen to. In large part his disbelief in Trump winning the presidency seems to be more due to him not wanting it to be true rather than actually not believing that people would vote for him. Despite having many negative interactions with the far left he still very much holds on to some remnants of the left. I can understand his position somewhat myself, although unlike him I wouldn't have been able to force myself to vote for Hillary, I also wouldn't have been able to convince myself to vote for Trump. In the end Sam is an intellectual and what probably offends him most about Trump is that he isn't an intellectual/doesn't try to be one. He can't stand the way Trump behaves, speaks and thinks. To him Trump represents all the worst stereotypes of America. He is loud, gauche and obnoxious(and it is hard to deny that Trump can be these things).

I think it's similar for him as to why he doesn't understand why people cling to myth/belief. He on one level understands why people do, but as he himself doesn't work this way can't quite empathise with this way of thinking.

I don't have to agree with Sam on everything though to realise he brings plenty of value to the discussion.

Also JP actually doesn't just rely on mythology/scripture/belief, his whole schtick is interpreting those through more of a scientific lens thus actually using science to somewhat rationalise the beliefs. The main difference being JP believes the prevailing beliefs have an underlying truth starting from there and tries to use science to uncover them SH believes the beliefs aren't necessary and we can arrive at the same truths through sheer logic/reasoning.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 9:42 am
by 7Wannabe5
prognastat wrote:The main difference being JP believes the prevailing beliefs have an underlying truth starting from there and tries to use science to uncover them SH believes the beliefs aren't necessary and we can arrive at the same truths through sheer logic/reasoning.
I think they are both wrong. It's like 1889 debating 1959.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 10:28 am
by jennypenny

I listened to a podcast with Sam Harris recently and found myself agreeing with almost everything he said. I took that as a sign that the apocalypse draws nigh.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Thu Mar 14, 2019 10:41 am
by chenda
This Domains of Belief theory explains a lot of this conflict. See -

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 10:29 am
by Freedom_2018
@Illinidave - I wrote out about half a page of response and then when tried to post got an error...tried to recover by going back in the browser and goofed it up.

While I made a fat finger error, however I am not averse to a couple of lashes for whoever designed ^C and ^V for copy and paste...another reason why nerds should not be in charge of things that also need an understanding of how humans operate...can you tell I am pissed :-) This has happened before too...why pick keys right next to each other for such diametrically opposite tasks?

Will come back when saner and redo. I need another cup of tea.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 7:55 pm
by Freedom_2018
@bigato - ha ha, you are funny. I think it would be very hard for me to have an emotional reaction about Sam Harris (now if it were Christopher Hitchens.. that would be different because I kind of liked the guy ) ...not sure why you think I did...maybe it was the use of the word 'Idiot'..perhaps I should have said 'uninformed' or 'close minded' but then I was thinking of Taleb's 'Intellectual yet Idiot' when I saw that youtube video I mentioned above but my point would have been the same.

I do wonder however though if my use of the word 'nerd' or referring to them in the manner I did, didn't actually push your buttons.

Come to think of it, I have a precedent where if I recall correctly I said 'this format sucks' or something to that effect when the ERE forum was redesigned. Some people then reminded me of how much work was put into it by yourself and some others and on reflection I realized how my comment might have come across to those who worked hard on it. I think I made a post about how I shot from the hip and probably shouldn't have said what I did.

So I think there are strong emotions here but I'm fairly confident they are not on my side. I do agree with the universality of your second sentence though :-)


Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 9:44 pm
by Freedom_2018

I asked because I was intrigued after seeing his video. I wanted to know how someone so well regarded could have a window of understanding of human affairs so narrow that the results of an election were such a surprise to him (I've also seen such 'disbelief' in almost all the well educated and credentialed people I personally know). That is why I asked if I am missing something big. To date I am still intrigued by how so many experts were caught off-guard. For me this was a bit personal also as by just by luck I happened to be touring the country during election time and saw hundreds of trump-pence signs on people's front lawns but found hardly any Hillary signs..heck I even saw some for Ben Carson (of the pyramids are grain silos fame). Yet, this was contrary to everything I was hearing from the experts on the news that Trump was a joke and basically had no serious chance. Should I believe my eyes or the experts who obviously should know what is what. Talk about having massive personal cognitive dissonance - it is not pretty, believe me.

Similarly over 10 years ago we were able to 'reverse' my partners type 2 diabetes by simply switching to a largely low carb diet, yet all our doctors and dietitians and the American Diabetes Association (experts) warned against doing so instead just preaching low fat, more whole grains and more metformin and other drugs. Prior to this she was in danger of losing her eyes and already enroute to other serious medical complications.

So you see, my personal experience might have made me a bit skeptical of 'experts' or at the very least try to understand how they are considered experts.

I don't necessarily post to find like minded peers, I'm looking for value. Stuff I can use and hone to improve my life and of those associated with me in practical and tangible ways. Some of them are physical, some to do with mental frameworks and biases/blindspots and others to do with matters of the spirit.


Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Sat Mar 16, 2019 5:26 pm
by Campitor
History is replete with smart men doing or believing in stupid things:
  • Sir Isaac Newton lost 3 million in the stock market after getting caught up in the investment hysteria for South Sea stock.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor and Sherlock Holmes novelist, believed psychiatric ailments were caused by spiritual possessions.
  • Mathematician Paul Erdos would take amphetamines.
  • Einstein had some prejudicial things to say about Indians and Chinese in his diary.
  • Dr. Ardnt, who was Harvard Medical graduate, walked out of a spinal surgery he was performing to cash his check.
Sam Harris has a PhD in Neuroscience but that doesn't make him infallible. I imagine he's very smart in many areas but calling elections and reading the minds of voters isn't one of them. I suspect he spends his time in the US blue zones with little exposure to red/purple zones. It's impossible to make calculations when you don't have all the data. He was a victim of unknown unknowns.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 5:31 pm
by enigmaT120
IlliniDave wrote:
Thu Mar 14, 2019 6:33 am
You hit on something else that I've seen in various places: faith invested in a theory being so strong that when contrary evidence appears the only choice is to modify the evidence (e.g., looking just at the 2016 election since it is what was mentioned, you can blame it on the Russians, disparage the contrary voters, etc.).
Sorry for the distraction but what you and another have posted previously reminds me of the dark matter/dark energy ideas.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm
by RealPerson
Sam Harris is a very intelligent person and far from an idiot. He does have a big blind spot: he believes all humans should abstain from any lies at any time. He was deeply influenced by a class he took in college, discussing the damage done by lying. He promised himself to never lie or accept lying. His definition of lying seems to be anything that is not factually true.

That explains him public position against religion. It also explains his total disbelief that Trump got elected, as DT is known to not always be completely factual. It is part of the same blind spot. It does not make him an idiot. It makes him human, like all of us. The interview linked in the OP shows an unusually unflattering picture of Harris. If you examine the bulk of his work, or view more representative samples on YouTube, you will find him to be highly educated, intelligent and quite reasonable.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:45 pm
by IlliniDave
enigmaT120 wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 5:31 pm
Sorry for the distraction but what you and another have posted previously reminds me of the dark matter/dark energy ideas.
Hadn't really thought of that, but postulating dark matter does seem to be a case where the "theory" is modified to fit the evidence, dark matter I believe just being a placeholder name for the undiscovered whatever it is that accelerates the universe's expansion. That's arguably the proper way to do it, in contrast to what was mentioned above.

Re: Sam Harris - Idiot?

Posted: Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:48 pm
by Freedom_2018

Following is a sample of a conversation I would have with my parent/s when I was 8-10 yrs old. My parents are very religious and very literal. I mean there is no interpretation of the bible, word for word they just take it as it is written in the book (say in the King James Version or something like that).

Me : Mom, where is Mahatma Gandhi (father of the nation of India, shot to death by a fanatic Hindu in 1948) now?

Mom (with a stern expression) : He is in hell.

Me : You mean to say the father of our country, the one who preached and practiced non-violence towards all living beings and who went on a hunger strike to quell the religious riots in India and almost died in the process, is in hell? Burning over a hot fire and screaming? What about my friends from school (almost no one was a Christian in my class). What about Prasenjit Bose (my best friend at that time)?

Mom : Yes (looking a bit pleased), in hell where he belongs. Prasenjit and his whole family will also go to hell. That is what happens to those who don't believe in Jesus. Have you done your homework?

Me (a little angrily) : What about some baby who was born deep in African jungle and died right away? His people had not heard of Christ since no missionaries went so deep in the jungle. Is the baby's soul in hell also? Small baby being burnt and poked in hell ? What about those people who died much before Christ was born. Where are their souls?

Mom (getting annoyed) : You talk too much nonsense. Go and do your homework or I will tell your father (I feared dad more than hell).

Me : So you don't know do you? Don't know...don't know..lies...lies..all Christian lies (joyfully running out the room)

Mom (yelling after me) : I will definitely tell your he will show how heaven and hell (alluding to the beating that was to come later for my intransigence).

I was a big anti-religious person can you tell? As I grew older I taunted my parents, the priests in the church with all sorts of questions to which they couldn't give any answer to my satisfaction. Wasn't I clever? I had demolished their stupid religion with my incisive questions. How dumb could so many people be? Stupid religious people!

Then yesterday I watch something like this

Sam Harris demolishes Christianity :

or this one (Sam Harris on free will) :

I just had a flash back to being 10 yrs old. Why are people listening to a 10 yr old's arguments? Jeez.

In the intervening years, I've had lots of life experiences that while still maintaining my incredulity about innocent babies and Gandhi's of this world being roasted in some imaginary hell beneath our feet, make me realize that there are always those who take everything literally and then there are those who understand the archetypes and myths for what their greater purpose is - hopefully informing people how to live a moral and productive life which are the underpinnings of a stable society. I mean one does not look at a Van Gogh painting from 1 inch away to see the sloppy dabbing of paint in thick clumps but instead stands back to look at the image and that is what invokes in us a sense of say empathy for the human condition within the context of what the artists was experiencing in his own life. Now someone like Jordan Peterson or Schopenhauer or Solzhenitsyn or Carl Jung or any director from Hollywood who has made a half decent movies and millions of ordinary men and women understand this simple thing.

Maybe this guy is not an idiot. Maybe he is just 10 yrs old?

I could type more but it is St. Patrick's day (no I am not in the least religious) and soda bread, lamb chops and Irish whiskey are calling to me in the kitchen and so is my green paper hat.