Sam Harris is known as one of the four horsemen - including Dennitt, Dawkins and Hitchens.  They are all proponents of science and reason.


Sam Harris has a blog and this is his latest blog post:


I was interested to hear his answer to the second question regarding his experiences travelling in India in his 20's and the impact that's had on his life.  He still meditates and promotes a type of meditation called Vipassana and then details the benefits he sees from practising this meditation.


I'm really interested in having a discussion on Meditation.


What are your thoughts about Meditation?

Have you ever practiced mediation?

Is it compatible with science and reason?

Could it be beneficial to our lives?


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actually it's more of a PPPppppppssssshhhhhhh! Naw..I don't wanna discuss anything

natural just means that it occurs naturally - which I believe all things do - I don't believe in the supernatural - or none natural - if it's happening it must be natural - if god exists then he/she too would be natural - as would ghosts etc if they existed - they would be natural - meditation is natural etc...


I used to believe there was something extra - supernatural perhaps - but after a few years of wanting to know more about that something extra - I, like Harris, turned to scientific method to find out more.  Scientific methods gives us the tools to investigate things in a way that will help to mitigate the lack of objectivity from our brains - we can create all sorts of things and experiences - I've astral travelled a number of times, and seen a ghost for example - it really freaked me out at the time - but I've since put it down to a poor diet and lack of essential nutrients for normal brain function along with suggestive ideas from supernatural believers around me at the time.  


We are very suggestive to ideas - and don't even 'see' what we think we are seeing - our brains actually make up most of what we think we see - with memory, imagination and our ability to see patterns etc.  Lots of tests have been done to prove this - with optical illusions etc.


If we are told something that we then believe - our brains can construct it's happening and we will be convinced of it's occurrence - even though it was mostly imagined accompanied by the associated feelings - that make the experience more real and believable.

I recently had an argument with a liberal Christian whose contention was that he didn't base his belief in God on the bible, presumably that his religious experience -- being infilled with the spirit -- was more fundamental to him than the religious text itself.  I had to wonder if he really believes  that he would have come to the same interpretation of his experience without the bible, which I concluded was preposterous.  But it got me to thinking, as a Taoist, everything is (supposedly) experiential -- that if you let go of your intellectual and language bound notions about what is, and just experienced it, you would discover the Tao that mystics like Lao Tzu could only gesture towards.  And I had to wonder, is my concept and experience of the ineffable, of the Tao, any different from the Christian's experience of God?   Am I not similarly simply pairing up pre-existing notions with the features of my experience much like a Christian would pair up certain of his experiences with that of God and the divine?  I think not.  And if what I am doing is different, on what basis would I know that it was?  It's a paradoxical situation that the multitude of Buddhist and Taoist traditions have created voluminous canons of texts attempting to describe the indescribable.  Even though my school of Taoism attaches to only two texts, I suspect that any "experience" I have of the ineffable is going to be strongly conditioned by all the effing metaphysical speculations that proceed it.   I have to wonder if it's possible to have an authentic pre-linguistic experience that doesn't simply consist of whatever weird phenomena we experience in meditation simply attaching itself to our religious beliefs like lint to a wool sweater.   I don't know.   Not to get off-track, but it ties up with a similar thought I've had recently.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that we can only think what is thinkable in language.  And recently I observed that it was odd how "thought" resembles language, musing that perhaps conscious thought is a form of "hijacking of the neural circuits for language".  Upon reflection however, I think the opposite -- sure my thoughts can blossom into language, and much stream of consciousness occurs in language, but there's also an element in which my thoughts aren't like words, or propositions, or sentences; there is a sense in which thought itself is pre-linguistic.  What the implications of that 'thought' are, I don't yet know, but I imagine that is the same space in which both religious and meditational "experience" occur.
Meditation is pretty straight forward. you just sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and just think about one thing. Like one word. Every time your mind wonders from it you bring it back to that one word. You do this for as long as possible. I have heard of the goal should be 1 hour.  Studies about peoples brain waves when they meditate and when they concentrate on any task that is repetitive are suppose to be about the same. Knitting, crochet are the 2 that I heard about. Meditation to me is boring and a waste of time for me. I didn't see any true results. The results I did see, I wasn't sure if I imagined them.  So I would rather Crochet a groovey hat, at least I have something when I'm done.

LOL - good point...


I have managed to have good experiences in meditation - I've spent a lot of time in rooms with people in meditation due to growing up in a meditation centre - and on a few occasions when I've aimed to do it myself - I did have quite a good experience - it's sort of like the same feeling as when you've had a really good sleep - but better than that - like taking Valium but without having to take it sort of feeling - deeply relaxed and with a deep sense of well-being.  I've also knitted jumpers etc and it's totally not anything like meditation.

I've been following this thread and now I think/feel it's time for another branch or twig;(not to mention more metaphors).."Contemplation vs, Meditation"..When I contemplate, am I'm focused, zeroed in. When I meditate, am I'm relaxed..So, first, am I zero in on relaxing then focus on meditating?, uh..Am I concentrating on/in my conscientiousness while "acknowledging" contemplative thoughts without actually contemplating them? I dunno, sometimes..It depends..(Thank you Mr. Nebulous..)
I know..that's what my professor siad too..

It's also helpful to recognize that OCD thoughts are perpetuated by anxiety, it's an anxiety disorder, and when your thoughts begin racing there is no reason to believe any of their meaning is realistic or true.


That's not necessarily the point, though.  What they are is useful, particularly if you're trying to pursue a creative career.  You can sort out what of the material that your mind vomited up is useful, when you sit down for editing.

(Apparently, I didn't read to end of thread, so if this is redundant, I apologize.)



I can't speak as any kind of expert, but I would suggest that meditation breaks down into kataphatic and apophatic types just like prayerful meditation -- one consists in focusing the mind on one thing and making that the totality of your awareness, and the other consists in attempting to empty the mind of all content.  (I can never remember which is which.)  Although the first kind can involve contemplation of religious content, it doesn't necessarily involve it, and many religious meditational practices do not involve religious content in the meditation.  Although I'm sure you can find your way to books, meditation is also a common treatment for stress, so your physician should be able to recommend some resources.

As to meditation and mental illness, that sounds rather folksy.  "Thinking too much" doesn't lead to bouts of mental illness any more than avoiding thought can help one avoid illness.  More importantly, the successful survivor of chronic mental illness has usually developed strong skills of self-monitoring, which are used to monitor the status of their illness.  While it's different with every individual, if anything that likely makes such a person more resilient in the face of unusual mental phenomena accompanying meditation.  (Of which Buddhist have catalogs of such.)  (And yes, I have a mental illness.  I never found anything strange or unusual in my practice, limited though it was, and it didn't make my illness worse; the previous poster's comments strike me as one of someone who isn't knowledgable about mental illness.)


Personally, I couldn't stand meditation much, and only practiced it for a short while. Despite the mystical nature of my Taoism, I'm an intellectualizer.  While I found my limited experience of meditation interesting, I'm not sure I buy the idea that it is the one, true way to the truth; having experience with abnormal psychology and a long standing interest in cognitive science, it's all too clear that unusual experiences are as likely to lead one astray as they are toward truth -- and if anything, those without pre-existing experience in handling abnormal mental experiences are likely more vulnerable to fall into error as a result.


Anyway, I'm tempted to launch off into a discussion of the middle path of Buddhism, as it's quite relevant to the opposition between kataphatic and apophatic meditation, but it's late, so I'll rest.

If you attend the 10-day course, then spend years consistently practicing what you learned, the sheer attention and effort dedicated to inner calm is bound to have at least some sort of desired effect.  It's sort of like a refocusing of the mind that slowly builds up inner calm as a priority in your life.  The more you practice, the more you strengthen the neural pathways for meditation.

It's essentially a form of self-hypnosis, akin to prayer.

At least, that's how I see it.

Not coincidentally, Sam has a blog entry on How To Meditate which addresses a beginning practice from what may be termed a non-religious point of view.  It's been centuries since I've read it, but I found the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind to be very useful, concentrating on the mechanics of practice more than any discourse on Buddhist psychology or doctrine (though a little is unavoidable).


Just noticed the other questions heading this thread.  The question of whether meditation is compatible with science and reason.   I think for the most part, successful practice can be achieved pretty much divorced of all religious content, so I would say yes.  And while I'm currently re-evaluating my religious framework, most of my life has been lived as someone with a grounding in mysticism, and combining Taoism with various components of east Asian Buddhism.  While I'm re-orienting myself, I guess I still believe that the theoretical background -- the psychology and metaphysics of a tradition, these act like road signs and the white line down the center  of a highway to help you get where you're going (of particular note, while not being immersed in a Buddhist practice, I know that the Buddhist traditions are possessed of things like "weird things that may happen on your journey of meditation and how to avoid getting freaked out by them and losing the path," which, while not essential, are likely quite helpful).  Sam has a recent blog entry exploring the possible role of psychedelic drugs as consciousness expanders and "journey accelerators".  I suppose I would review the various meditational "psychologies" not so much as foundations, as meditational aids -- journey accelerators.  Unfortunately, I can hardly suggest a specific one without being both prejudicial and, possibly, investing you in a framework I may be abandoning.


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