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I Enjoyed Sam Harris’ Q&A

April 29, 2013

I’ve always liked Sam Harris.  He recently asked his twitter followers for questions and I’d like to repost some of his answers.  I deeply agree with them.

If the self is an illusion, who or what is witnessing that illusion?

Consciousness.

What’s your opinion of panpsychism? A technically valid theory or scientifically impossible?

Possibly true, but probably unfalsifiable—and, therefore, probably vacuous in scientific terms. Is the sun conscious? There’s no reason to think so, but would I expect the sun to behave differently if its processes of nuclear fusion were associated with subjectivity? No. So, even if panpsychism were true, I would expect it to be undetectable.

Do you think that truth has value in and of itself or is its value derived from its affect on well-being?

This is actually a very subtle question—and my answer is pretty easy to misconstrue. But I think that (ultimately, when we get very clear about what we mean by these terms) truth is a slave to well-being. Which is to say that anything you can say about the value of knowing the truth (e.g. it’s so interesting, so useful, so beautiful, etc.) translates into a claim about the well-being of conscious creatures.

Does your stance regarding free will affect your actions from day to day, or are its implications strictly societal?

My view about the illusoriness of free will makes it easy to let go of anger/hatred. I occasionally get angry, of course. There are people who behave in ways that I find despicable. But I can (ultimately) see their behavior as impersonal—even when it is directed at me personally. That doesn’t mean that I suddenly become trusting of everyone. I know that certain people can be counted upon to misbehave. But so can grizzly bears. We can fear grizzly bears and take steps to protect ourselves from them, but it makes no sense to hate them.

How do you define the secular spirituality?

Self-transcendence without divisive bullshit.

If, as you say, science is to be the main arbiter of morality, do you still see a useful role for philosophy in this area?

I wouldn’t separate them. Our truth claims should be guided by reason and evidence. There is no clear line between (good) philosophy and science.

Anyways, you can read his entire Q&A here.

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