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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Replies to This Discussion

No, I'm not confusing the two, I was just giving an example. 


I was trying to point out that panic attacks, obsessive thought trains, emotional melt-downs, general anxiety, etc, are all things that can be ameliorated with a regular meditation practice, but you don't get the benefits if you only do it once, or wait until you are in the middle of a crisis to try it.

I think meditation could be seen and used as a tool to get relief and relaxation when you are not enjoying your experience of the world.  Why would anyone be motivated to meditate when they are not driven too by unpleasantness?  Unless it was part of their natural lifestyle - culture.  I grew up in a meditation centre - I found meditation painful, as I would have to sit still and not make any noise or movement.  Thus I developed a bad attitude towards it.  But now that I have 3 young children and my body is getting old and painful - meditation is starting to look good - an opportunity to get away from the continual intensity of the kids and my mind stressing about all that I have to do in a day.  Being silent is a rare thing for me, that I've found a relief and a joy - whereas as a child and young adult, I found it frustrating or lonely.
I'm bi-polar.  Not stressing about the things I have to do in a day comes easily.  I don't do them.  I just sleep a lot.  :-D
Perhaps you are still young and have lots of support around you - so don't need to worry about weather things get done or not.  Although I think I've always had anxiety - in fact it's lower now than ever - accept perhaps when I was about 9 years old - I was quite care free and happy for a year or so.

I'm older than you.


It just takes a realization that anything that isn't critical can wait until you feel like doing it.  Anything non-life-threatening can wait until you're ready to do it.

So do you work? :)
In Taoism, there is the concept of wu-wei, variously translated as "no action" -- which is similar, but different.  In my understanding, wu-wei means learning to differentiate between calls to action which are warranted from those which are not; a sort of "studied paring down" of activity to that which is important.  One of my favorite metaphors from the Tao Te Ching is that of "Do you have the patience to wait till the mud settles and the water is clear?"  Wu-wei is learning the patience and wisdom to let the mud settle before acting.  (I'll make this relevant, even if it kills me.)  I guess this gets back to the other person's comment about meditation being a path, not a destination; like exercise or sports, when you first try, you will be unskilled and clumsy, and the least effort will wear you out; like any other skill, it has to be practiced to be useful.  Nobody gets wu-wei right on the first try (well, almost no one, anyway.)  Anyway, this is what I've heard -- I personally have no patience for meditation myself.  :P

When I was 18, and that’s a long time ago, I learned Transcendental Meditation. The TM organization made a lot of hay with scientific studies of the benefits of meditation vis a vis physical and mental health, part of its claim that it “is not a religion.” I have also learned Zen meditation from an established “master,” as well as the Catholic form of this type of practice from the Hesychastic tradition (see, e.g., “The Way of the Pilgrim” and what Franny is up to in J. D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey”), often referred to as "the Jesus Prayer" or centering prayer.

Looking back, I’m almost surprised at how little talk there was in all of this about “experiencing God” or “direct contact with the divine” and other nonsensical ideas. I think all of these practices (which are virtually the same) alter physiology through a simple method of focusing thought, and the admittedly profound experience of interior silence can easily be mistaken for or articulated as a direct encounter with some sort of panentheistic deity, or ground of being, or whatever terminology practitioners prefer. If the practitioner tends toward religious and mystical beliefs and language, that is likely how he or she will speak of it. And I have heard others, not inclined in that direction, speak of their experience in much more in terms of physiology and therapy.

So, to answer the questions asked in the original post: Yes, I do think that these techniques, in and of themselves, are compatible with science and reason and can be beneficial to our lives. They are essentially a physical/mental discipline, which, like exercise and memorization, say, have clear purposes and benefits. I doubt that it’s for everyone, just as some prefer tennis to jogging, but when you strip away the religious folderol it becomes much more palatable.

It sounds as though it's about finding a group (if you want to meditate) who are secular in their methods and don't push supernatural themes.  Because it's nice to meditate with others, but not so good if they are all the time exposing you to nonsense that doesn't contribute to your life or well-being because of it's fanciful nature.


It's good to reclaim meditation from the Supers.  What else can we reclaim?

Obviously you haven't been fully caused to do the kind of meditation that Harris has done or does - but if you were fully caused to do so - you would have been fully caused and therefore you would have done it.

Not being fully caused to do something isn't a sin - it's just a matter of circumstances - you never know one day you might be fully caused to do it.

I think we can measure meditation in terms of brain activity or lack of it in some areas.

Were weren't designed at all - we evolved - but I think you mean that to the extent that we are evolved we do feel limited... I agree that science and reason haven't uncovered all there is not know as yet and may never do so in the context of the human race - we may die out as a species before that day comes - and the universe has forgotten more than we known right now anyhow.... :) metaphorically - I don't want to get caught out anthropomorphising the universe! Have a look at some Lawrence Krause on You Tube - how something came from nothing - or how it's all going to get a lot worse from here on....

I don't see any reason why everything in the natural world wouldn't be reasonable - or be able to be measured by scientific method in some way - I think that if we can notice it, then science can measure it - whether it be through the traditional sciences or through the social sciences - the social sciences are more obtuse but if it's observable in some form then it's also measurable in some form.

It just means that with some of these things they haven't yet been measured.

I think though that the benefits of meditation have been measured and they have been found to be real - in terms of relaxation and greater sense of well-being - but more studies perhaps should be done - do bring these benefits more into the mainstream - in the treatment of disease for example - which I think is being done more these days.
hmm..another typical "post modernists" rant..




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