Sam Harris & Yuval Harari – Meditation, Religion & God

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Waking Up With Sam Harris #68 – Reality and the Imagination (with Yuval Noah Harari)

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because on our retreat and I learned the personal meditation from a teacher called SN Goenka and it completely blew my mind and changed my life and ever since that first course I I do two hours of the personal meditation every day I usually start my workday with one hour of meditation and I finish it with another hour of meditation and every year like my uuly vacation is to go for a long retreat of between 30 and 60 days of just meditation complete silence no no emails no computers no books no reading writing nothing just just meditating now that's wonderful I am envious do you have kids on just dog hog slaves a lot that explains your freedom yeah that's that's really wonderful so just to give people a clearer picture of what you're up to they're so Goenka is a very famous the pasta teacher there there were two strands of a pasta that have been very influential particularly in the West among all the the Westerners who in the 60s discovered this practice and they both come out of Burma and goenka's is one line coming from a teacher named ubach in and there was another line that came from a teacher named maja societร  and so all of the vapp asana practice I've done on retreat has come from the the Mohave side outline which teaches the same kind of mindfulness but it's a different sort of practice the technical details are less important the key is just to observe reality as it is every moment just to stay focused what is really happening right now as against all the stories and explanations that our mind constantly generate and it is extremely difficult struck me my first course I remember like the first day I came to the retreat I was absolutely amazed by it that it starts with a very simple practice sounds simple any way of you just have to focus your attention on the breath and observe when the breath is coming in and the breath is going out of your nostrils that's it you don't have to do anything just just observe that and I couldn't do it for more than like five seconds or ten seconds and my mind would run away somewhere Europe until I was 24 at the time and it was the first time I realized how little I understand my mind how little control I have over my attention and this is why they start with this very simple practice just focus on the breath because it's so difficult when once you get the hang of that and you can do it for more than 10 seconds then yes the the the the idea of the instruction is to start observing not just a breath but everything that is happening in the body sensations throughout the body in every part of the body there is some sensation at any moment and you start observing that and you see the deep connection between these sensations and what's happening in your mind but we think that we react to events in the outside world to memories from our childhood to something we saw on television but in fact in each of every moment we constantly react to the sensations within our body and and everything people do as a story and I can say that everything people do you know from fidgeting in your chair to starting a world war you're actually reacting to sensations in your body it's amazing how out of control our minds are and how few people realize that their minds are out of control and the consequences of their of them being out of control or as you say these are the same process that that gets you to say something untoward in a personal interaction is the very process that brings us you know civilizational scale catastrophes Wars and all the rest people are being moved by their thoughts in every moment and they see no alternative and meditation is for the most part the one way people can become more aware of these processes that rule their lives had you had any psychedelic experiences or anything that got you to go on that first retreat or how did you find yourself there no I had a very good friend he still made a good friend of mine he now works in Silicon Valley and he for an entire year kept like nudging me you should go to it with Reid and he was very persistent and I was at a time in life that I had all these big questions and I had no answers and I was very disappointed that with the university with the academic world with with my studies because they didn't provide me any answers to the really deep questions you know the suffering in the world and the suffering in my life where is it coming from and what can we do about it and he kept telling me really you should go to a meditation retreat maybe it will show you something and I just kept reading books and reading articles and I was convinced that the answer will come from there until I reached a certain degree of desperation and I said okay what can I lose from going to this ten days meditation retreat and I never looked back since hmm and have you done any psychedelic sense or is that something that you have an experience as a student I did what was it ecstasy but it's you know it was an interesting experience but it didn't teach me everything really value and later on I realized I mean the really I think the dangerous the dangerous potential of all the psychedelic drugs is that people get hooked on the excitement and that they want special experiences yeah and this is also dangerous sometimes in meditation that people come to meditation retreat and they want something special they want to experience I don't know bliss and then to fly in the air and to see stars and whatever and then you come to the retreat at least in the personal they tell you okay observe your breath and then you have a pain in your back and they say how good you have pain observe the pain look just for once in your life instead of reacting to the pain just see how does pain feel oh maybe it's very hot and they tell you okay observe the heat how does it feel how does the heat feel or how does boredom feel and people say I didn't want to observe border or pain I want these special wonderful experiences and it's the same with like psychedelic drugs I think that they can open your mind to some levels of reality which are usually hidden from us but the danger is that people just want the next trip and the next special experience and in the in the end I think the real key is to understand the normal everyday experiences and not the unique one thing in once-in-a-lifetime special experience because if you want to deal with your anger or boredom or irritation or anything then you need to observe your anger and it's very difficult to feel just for doing special special experiences yeah that's a very important point and I fully agree with it the illusion that gets introduced when you're using psychedelics in that way to have more peak experiences as you say you can use meditation that way where you the moment you feel a little bliss or rapture or some very positive unusual mental state you can take that to be the signature of a successful meditation and the illusion that creeps in there which is of a piece with everyone's efforts to seek happiness throughout their lives is that experience has to change in order for the most profound things about the human mind or human consciousness can be discovered for fun Tootie is elsewhere which is in fact not the case maybe if the ego is an illusion as it turns out it is you can discover that coincident with the most ordinary moments of consciousness you don't need the full fireworks show of a psychedelic experience to notice that there's a subject/object illusion that can be penetrated and that's something that you do get with a very systematic approach to mindfulness meditation in this case it's wonderful you're doing that as meditation affected the way you approach your work I believe I detect the the influence in many of the things you've written but how did how do you view that yes it has a very deep influence both on my ability to research and to write such books because especially when you deal with something like the history of the world in one book the one thing you need above all else is the ability to focus what's really important and how not to get bogged down in the thousand little details and then you know all the kings and battles and dates and all that and the practice of meditation I think gave me this ability to remain focused and without that I I couldn't have written sapiens or Homo Darrow's and on another level at least Vipassana is really about observing reality as it is and being able to distinguish between what is real and what is just a story or a fantasy created by our own minds and this is the very deep impact on my interpretation of history because also when I look at history for me the big question is what is real and what are fictions created by human beings and at least my understanding is that a source of human power but also the source of so much human misery is the human imagination and the ability of humans to create fictional stories and then to believe them to such an extent that they can start entire wars just because they believe some religious or national or economic fiction and this is really what gave us control of the planet we control this planet not be as individuals we are much more intelligent than chimpanzees or pigs or dogs but rather because we are the only mammal that can cooperate into very large numbers and we can do that because they believe in fictions if you examine any large-scale human cooperation you always find a fictional story at the data basis whether it's about God or the nation or money or even human rights human rights like God in heaven they are just a story invented by humans they are not a biological reality and this is again the source of our power and also of many of our calamities you can never convince a group of chimpanzees to attack the neighboring group by promising them that after they die if they die for the great chimpanzee God or the great chimpanzee nation then after they die they will go to chimpanzee heaven and there receive lots of bananas and virgin chimpanzees and things like that notions he will ever ever believe such a story and this is why we control the world and not the chimpanzees I love this basic picture but I must admit I've had a few problems with some of your terminology here because you you use words like religion and fiction and stories fairly loosely so you say things like you know science depends on religion and humanism is a religion and you know all as you just said all large scale human cooperation is based on fiction but it seems to me that there are fictions and then there are fictions and and I think we still want to differentiate between stories and concepts that are obviously false right and therefore spread confusion by definition and those that one need not be confused to adopt so you know the US Constitution or the concept of human rights or the convention of money these are not fictions in the same way that the concept of paradise or martyrdom or the holy spirit are fictions and I don't have to be confused about the nature of reality to see the benefit of thinking in terms of human rights or to use money do you disagree with that or we on the same poster definitely agree that not all stories are the same and some stories are much more beneficial than other stories and also they demand the kind of different kind maybe of belief but what happens is even if you start by a convention like money that yes everybody knows that these pieces of paper have no value and it's just an agreement between people that invest them with a certain value very soon what happens is that people forget that or ignore that and if you open a suitcase full of $100 bills and you look at the brain of the person who is looking at that that pile of money you see like all the neurons going crazy and the person sees the money is something really valuable now if you start talking with him and you know you have a long philosophical discussion then yes India and maybe he will agree that are actually it's just a convention but the immediate experience of the person looking at the pile of money is you know immense greed and even a willingness to kill for it and it's saying you know these corporations if you tell somebody that you know Google is just a story or a General Motors is just the story then yes if you sit for a long philosophical discussion or legal discussion they will understand what you mean but in most cases in everyday experience we treat these entities as if they are completely real yeah it's also worth pointing out that we can get locked in to these conventions in ways that create an immense amount of needless suffering and you must know Alan Watts the great popularizer of Eastern philosophy from the 60s or 70s he told a an amusing story I'm sure he told this a hundred times but he when he's talking about the Great Depression in the vain and talking about the the concept of money he pointed out that money is an abstraction kind of like an inch right or any unit of measurement and so the way our economy fell into the the abyss after the Great Depression was to some degree a matter of our not being able to free ourselves from this convention and so he talked about you know what happened in the Great Depression was like a construction worker showing up on the job and the foreman says sorry no more work today we've run out of inches right and the idea of running out of money when there's still houses to be built and still people who want them and there was no less work to be done but we couldn't coordinator work given what had happened to the economy these abstractions obviously have enormous power and also I would say that if you would talk with you know like him theologian then he will tell you well I also we also know that God is not this old man old angry man in the sky that gets upset if you if I don't know if you don't follow his orders god is love God is whatever and he will come up with some very abstract and many convincing story about what God is and when you hear this story of the theologian you would say well actually maybe I was too fast to condemn religion but as a historian I will tell you yes the theologians God this is this is maybe kind of a nice not nice but this idea has some sense in it but this is not the god of history this is not the god it launched the Crusades in the jihad and all the religious wars and persecutions and and so forth there is a huge gap between the god of the theologians and the god of the masses and it's forests from a certain perspective it's the god of the masses that really count is the angry man in the sky and it's the same way with money yes if we have this deep conversation then we all agree that money is just an abstraction created by humans and so forth but I don't know if you are with you in the middle of a warfare between – two gangs or between two corporations then everybody's dead serious that these pieces of paper or these electronic data on the computer this is the most important thing in the world

45 thoughts on “Sam Harris & Yuval Harari – Meditation, Religion & God

  1. Yuval and Sam do not understand the real meaning of Vipassana which is the actual teaching of Buddha more than 2500 years ago, if you do not study the indepth of Buddha teaching, you are talking about superficial and that is why you do not understand the reality of Human beings,

  2. Harari seems to use the idea of "Fictions" to cheapen the human. I would rather call these the essence of consciousness that are part of our nature and one of the most beautiful parts. I hear too much that the fiction of religion is the main or major cause for war. I feel strongly that it's the truth of love that will ultimately be our salvation and what gives life as we know it meaning.

  3. As Yuval has said in many conversations, 'meditation' simply provides, in the starkest of terms, concrete evidence of how 'the brain' or to make it a quadrillion times more complicated, 'the consciousness' of most people is simply making up 'stories' in a random fashion with no impetus and no boundary and based on the one simple rule of the exercise, no cohesion to the simplest set of 'rules'.

    If 'you' can not simply agree with 'you' to observe 'your' breath either to the exclusion of other 'brain activity' or however you wish to phrase that, then obviously the age old conundrum of do 'we 'live' in the 'real world' or some 'construct' might be obvious and so the simple idea that 'we' must live in some 'illusion' should become immediately real and immediately observable to anyone who tries this simple exercise. Ok, so maybe it takes some 'practice' to 'realize' this 'truth' and this simple way to 'observe' 'that' appears to be ineffectual at any extreme. Including the extreme where 'you' are simply sitting 'in a safe space' alone and unthreatened immediately.

    And so, here 'we' are in the year 2019 or whatever and yes, this appears at then end of copious evidence to not be obvious to what effectively amounts to anyone anywhere in the big picture that includes something like seven or eight billion homo sapiens alive today and the multiples of that number who have come and gone from 'here' over the last, just to keep it simple, say 2000 years of homo sapien existence.

    Perhaps this is the message that has been completely (you fill in the blank here) over the last x thousands of years since 'it' was initially proposed by the extraordinarily small cabal of individuals who have engaged in the practice and have come to realize 'its' worth.

    And tens of billions of people later, the collective 'we' has effectively got nothing from this exercise.

    There is hope for the future.

  4. Sam Harris babbles about psychedelic drugs time and again which have no relevance to what Yuval Harari is trying to put forth. Harari is very clear about the benefits of practicing Vipassana.

  5. I don't know what's worst here – Harari's inability to explain why he thinks religion is fiction/bad or Harris lapping it all up, because it backs up his views and this is a 'safe' conversation for him.

  6. My problem with philosophical individuals like them is that many of the past great thinkers have said the same abstract narrative but with different linguistics.

    Bottom line is that our sensory inputs allow us to engage and become aware of our own reality. This reality is an individual perception of own story, a journey measured by conditional standards set by believed and assumed truths. Each story has its own personal direction – sort of one-to-one lesson with the world around us. Whatever we eventually grasp is what defines us and perhaps the reason why weโ€™re interested what they have to say – do they confirm what we learned through our own perception of life or does their story wow us because itโ€™s different. Whatever direction you take, it will always be based your own accountability or maybe to an external party greater than ourselves.

    They simply have learnt the tools to express their reality to an audience whom are unable to articulate reality and be satisfied. If you donโ€™t have a story and unable express a reality then you simply wonโ€™t be listened to.

  7. ืœื ืชื”ื™ื” ืฉื•ื ืฉืœื•ื•ื” ืืžื™ืชื™ืช ื‘ืขื•ืœื ืื ืœื ื ืฆืœื™ื— ืœืคืฆื— ืืช ืžื•ื— ื”ืคืกื™ื›ื•ืคื˜ (ื•ื“ื•ืžื™ื•) ื•ืœื”ืขืœื™ื ืืช ื”ื’ื ื˜ื™ืงื” ืฉืœื•. ืœืคื ื™ ื”ื›ืœ.

    ื•ืื—"ื› ืœื”ื‘ื™ืŸ ืืช ืžื•ื— ื”ืื•ื˜ื™ืกื˜.

  8. Yes, Sam, your belief system is also fiction, it is comprised of conventions and ideas, a higher proportion of which happen to have been proven to be more beneficial. Most are not great truths, they are simply beliefs that have proven beneficial. Yes, they are derived from rational thought and accepted, but not because they are truth, but because the outcome is desirable and leads to outcomes in the society that you have grown to appreciate. e.g. The idea of Human rights is not truth, it is a fiction, but the outcome is desirable so we adopt it, and in this case so good we adopt it as morality. Sam is very wrong in his conclusion that the world needs to structure morality around facts. If we did that, something like human rights and equality cannot exist. Society is based on adopting those particular fictions that organize our collective behavior in such a way, that it leads to positive outcomes for us all. Beliefs are about organizing and coordinating behavior towards positive outcomes. Facts may or may not play a role. Organizing a society is not first and foremost about establishing facts. It's probably not even a secondary or even tertiary concern, not necessarily at least, unless beneficial outcomes are proven with time. Sam's personal ideology has made facts a deity that must be primary in all things. That has nothing to do with and cannot be made primary in organizing and directing human behavior towards beneficial outcomes. The actual outcome of Sam's ideology will prove to be anti-civilizing.

  9. I think that there are levels regarding "stories". When you talk of Human rights, for example, in the core of it, there is something that carries you to the very essence of the Golden Rule. And the Golden Rule its not a "story"… What happens is that we, human beings, have a mind, and we think, and by thinking we create things and stories about things. But you cannot mix Human Rights with stories that aim to confuse people in order to make them slaves. For example…

  10. ์œ ํƒœ์ธ๊ณผ ๋ถˆ๊ต ๋น„ํŒŒ์‚ฌ๋‚˜, ๋งˆ์Œ์ฑ™๊น€ ๋ช…์ƒ์˜ ๋งŒ๋‚จ.๊ทธ๊ฐ€ 2๊ฐœ์›” ์ฝ”์Šค๋ฅผ ์ง€๋„ํ•œ ๋ฏธ์–€๋งˆ ๋ช…์ƒ๊ตฌ๋ฃจ ์ฝ”์—”์นด์—๊ฒŒ ์ €์„œ๋ฅผ ํ—Œ์ •ํ•จ

  11. I agree with Yuval on most points, but he is not really well informed about psychedelics and the "addictive" side he likes to talk about when answering questions about psychedelics. He's putting mushrooms in the same basket as XTC… If anything, despite people doing psychedelics to reach the mentioned "peak experiences", I find mushrooms to be sobering in a way, as they strip illusions and ego, and reveal the truth and beauty of things as they are.

  12. Yuvual Harari is obviously a big intellectual and a very smart guy; but clearly he can not talk or make an opinion on psychedelics, without being intellectually dishonest, if he has not fully experienced them. Street MDMA does not count as a real psychedelic substance.

  13. Even though it is an important conversation, both are intellectuals who are interested selling their book and propagate their reputation. But there seems to a major difference, Sam Harris is an opportunist, who is seeking to advance his reputation and selling books, by using others to promote himself; but Harari truly wants to help humanity to understand the dangers of our ignorance, so we may wake up to save ourselves.

  14. Great ….huge respect for Goenkaji… of the great beings in the world ……

    Now in Burma there are many more ways of meditation apart from Goenkaji's body sweeping technique and Mahashi noting way. There are arahats in Burma who have developed ways which suit masses of Burmese people and some foreigners, such as Sayadaw U Sandima and others …. many ways up the mountain and the hope is that we can all respect each others callings without the ego saying "my way is better"…and trying to convert , to assume superiority or any other machination of the dualistic mind/ego ….
    May all beings be free from all suffering and led to the path which suits them …

  15. Would be cool to have a better description at the bottom, with some of the names you are mentioning on this audio, so that NOT native speakers (like my self) can understand and follow up on the subject better.


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