Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sam Harris: Contemplative Science

I have been pretty hard on Sam from time to time, especially when he is advocating torture, advocating atheism, or advocating the destruction of all religions. However, Sam recently attended a silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society. For six days he did not speak.

Sam argues that such an event, which hosted mostly his fellow scientists, could be a landmark in the development of a new kind of science, a science based in contemplation. However, in keeping with his abhorrence of all forms of religion, he wants to strip away the Buddhism from Buddhist meditation.

On the surface, this isn't too far from what Ken Wilber argued for in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, as pointed out by tuff ghost in response to my post attempting to refute Harris's condemnation of all religions. Still, I feel Harris holds a flatland view of the world, completely lacking any verticality.

I am forced to wonder what might happen if Harris continues to meditate. How will he understand experiences of the psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual states of consciousness? Will he reduce the experiences to fluctuations in brain chemistry? For example:
As some of the retreatants discovered, when thoughts are seen to be mere phenomena arising and passing away in consciousness (along with sights, sounds, sensations, etc.), the feeling that there is a "self" who is the thinker of these thoughts can disappear. This experience of selflessness is interesting for two reasons: it makes perfect sense from a neurological perspective, as there is no privileged position for a self to occupy in the brain.
Harris has the exterior individual quadrant holding all the meaning for an interior individual quadrant experience. As he continues to meditate, will he attribute any sense of interior meaning he gains from such states (like selflessness) to wish fulfillment or some other Freudian reductionism? Or will it always be brain chemistry and neurons?

Unless he can move up a developmental ladder he does not believe in, all of his meditation experiences will necessarily be filtered through the Orange lens of flatland science.

If Wilber is correct in his admonition to "just meditate," maybe there is hope that Harris will grow beyond a flatland worldview and embrace the Great Chain of Being. He is a bright man with the potential to create great change. Let's hope he will one day use his powers for good.
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