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    Sam Harris On Consciousness, Meditation, Misinformation, AI, & What Ails The Modern World

    enJune 10, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Intellectual Honesty and Open DialogueMaintaining a shared sense of reality and truth amidst confusion and misinformation requires intellectual rigor, open dialogue, and a commitment to problem solving. Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris emphasizes the importance of these values in preserving democratic systems and decision making.

      As we navigate the current cultural landscape, it's crucial to preserve intellectual rigor and open dialogue. Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, a renowned critic of religion and leading figure in new atheism, discusses the importance of maintaining a shared sense of reality and truth amidst the confusion and misinformation spread through social media. The decline of institutional trust and derogation of expertise pose significant challenges to democratic systems and decision making. Harris emphasizes the power of conversation and problem solving, and the role of meditation in fostering clarity and understanding. In a moment where critical thinking seems to be losing ground, Harris' work and perspective offer a beacon of intellectual honesty and a call to action for preserving the tradition of open dialogue and constructive disagreement.

    • Contrarianism and MisinformationThe current landscape is filled with misinformation and lies, leading to a new religion of contrarianism that undermines trust in institutions and experts, making it difficult for society to respond effectively to crises. Trusting institutions and maintaining order is crucial for safety and effective crisis management.

      The current information landscape is plagued by misinformation and lies, which are often amplified by algorithms and alternative media. Any attempt to address this issue is perceived as censorship, and people on the right in America, in particular, view it as an elitist attempt to suppress free speech. This has led to a new religion of contrarianism, where people are more interested in anomalies and hypotheses that challenge the mainstream narrative, regardless of their veracity. This trend is dangerous as it undermines trust in institutions and experts, making it difficult for society to respond effectively to crises. To counter this, it's crucial to recognize that there are moments when trusting institutions and maintaining order is an intrinsic good. This can be compared to being in a plane at 30,000 feet, where our tolerance for diversity of opinion should be limited in favor of maintaining safety and order. Ultimately, repairing trust in institutions and valuing expertise will be essential for navigating future predicaments effectively.

    • Clear communication during crisesClear and responsible communication is essential during crises to prevent unnecessary distractions, misinformation, and misunderstanding, shaping public perception, and acknowledging the complexity of issues and their root causes.

      During times of crisis or uncertainty, clear and responsible communication is crucial. Comparing such situations to an airplane in flight, unnecessary distractions or misinformation can be dangerous and potentially disastrous. The COVID-19 pandemic served as a recent example, with misinformation and distrust leading to confusion and unrest. The importance of acknowledging the evolving nature of knowledge and understanding, as well as the role of institutions and messaging in shaping public perception, cannot be overstated. Additionally, it's essential to recognize and address the root causes of misinformation and misunderstanding, rather than focusing on simplistic narratives and binary oppositions. In the context of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it's crucial to acknowledge the complexity of the issue and the long history that led to it, rather than reducing it to a simplistic oppressor-oppressed narrative. Ultimately, clear and responsible communication is vital in navigating crises and fostering a more informed and nuanced understanding of the world.

    • Jihadist belief systemThe sincere belief in Jihadism that values death and martyrdom over life fuels terrorism and violence, requiring a large-scale reformation and renaissance within the Muslim world to counteract it

      The belief system of Jihadism, as expressed by individuals like the Hamas fighter in the article, is rooted in a sincere worldview that values death and martyrdom over life. This belief, while not held by the majority of Muslims worldwide, is a significant problem for the Muslim world and the rest of the world, as it fuels terrorism and violence, particularly in Muslim-majority countries. The challenge is to inspire a reformation and renaissance within the Muslim world to challenge and counteract this belief system, making it less appealing and more anathematized. This will require a change in opinions and attitudes on a large scale, as polls show significant numbers of Muslims in certain countries supporting Sharia law and punishing those who offend Islamic sensibilities. The Muslim world needs to address this issue internally, as it is not a distortion of Islam but a genuine expression of belief.

    • Transparency and conversationTransparency and conversation are essential for understanding complex issues and finding solutions. Open-mindedness, reason, and collaboration are crucial for bridging differences and making informed decisions.

      Conversation and transparency are powerful tools for understanding and solving complex issues. Go Brewing's commitment to natural ingredients and transparency in brewing beer is commendable, while Momentous' rigorous testing and use of top-notch ingredients in their supplements make them a trusted choice for athletes and health-conscious individuals. The power of conversation to heal societal issues and bridge differences of opinion is emphasized, with the importance of open-mindedness, reason, and collaboration highlighted. Dogmatism and religious beliefs that forbid challenging cherished beliefs are seen as dangerous and hindering progress. The need for smart, well-intentioned, and well-educated individuals who can draw from all the best ideas, regardless of their provenance, is emphasized. Whether it's in the realm of brewing, supplements, or societal issues, transparency, reason, and collaboration are key to making informed decisions and finding solutions.

    • Ancient texts as unchallengeable sources of wisdomWhile ancient texts like the Bible and Quran contain valuable wisdom, they cannot be considered unchallengeable sources of truth and should be approached with a critical and open-minded perspective, recognizing their limitations and inconsistencies, particularly regarding moral issues.

      According to the speaker, certain ancient texts, such as the Bible and the Quran, are considered unchallengeable sources of wisdom that cannot be surpassed by modern scientific discoveries or ideas. This belief is rooted in the idea that these texts were dictated by the creator of the universe. However, the speaker acknowledges that these texts contain valuable wisdom, such as the golden rule, but also acknowledges their limitations and inconsistencies, particularly regarding moral issues like slavery. The speaker argues that we can no longer be provincial in our thinking and that we have access to the totality of human knowledge. He encourages a shift towards conversations that require an up-leveling of our minds and consciousness, which he believes is at the core of his work. The speaker and Sam Harris, the podcast host, share a background as former Stanford classmates, and the speaker's introduction to meditation came during his sophomore year of college, after an MDMA experience and reading Ram Dass's book, "The Only Dance There Is."

    • Ram Dass's Spiritual JourneyRam Dass's spiritual journey was shaped by his experiences during the 1960s counterculture movement, including his support for Timothy Leary, his discovery of Hindu and Buddhist practices in India, and the importance of mindfulness and ongoing spiritual practice.

      The life of Ram Dass, a former Harvard professor turned spiritual teacher, was significantly shaped by his experiences during the 1960s counterculture movement. He made a choice to support his mentor Timothy Leary during their dismissal from Harvard, which led to Ram Dass's spiritual journey to India and the discovery of his guru. There, he learned various spiritual practices, including Hindu devotional practices and Buddhist meditation. The Buddhist meditation practice, specifically Vipassana, taught him the importance of mindfulness and paying attention to one's experience. This led Ram Dass to teach these practices to others and write influential books like "Be Here Now." The firsthand experience of psychedelics during this time also played a significant role in Ram Dass's spiritual awakening, giving him a glimpse of a more enlightened state of being. However, the coming down from such experiences served as a harsh reminder of the confines of selfhood and the need for ongoing spiritual practice.

    • Psychedelic experiencesProfound insights into reality and human condition can be gained from psychedelic experiences, but not all aspects are more real than everyday consciousness. The key insight is recognizing suffering caused by thought entanglement and inability to fully pay attention to present moment. Solution: wake up from self-dream and fully arrive in present through practices like meditation.

      Psychedelic experiences, such as those induced by LSD, can offer profound insights into the nature of reality and the human condition. These experiences can lead to a deeper understanding of the present moment and a sense of freedom from self-concern. However, it's important to note that not all aspects of these experiences are fundamentally more true or real than everyday consciousness. Some are merely pyrotechnics or sensory enhancements. The crucial insight gained from these experiences is the realization that most suffering is caused by our entanglement with thought and our inability to fully pay attention to the present moment. The solution to this suffering is to wake up from the dream of self and fully arrive in the present. This can be achieved through practices like meditation, which help us develop the capacity to really pay attention and make contact with experience. Ultimately, the goal is to move beyond the mirage-like quality of even the best experiences and fully engage with the present moment.

    • Meditation vs PsychedelicsMeditation offers sustainable freedom from suffering by breaking the spell of thought, while psychedelics provide a new perspective but may not offer long-term relief

      Our perspective on life and our suffering can be significantly altered through experiences like psychedelics or meditation. However, while psychedelics can provide a new perspective, it's meditation that offers a sustainable way to break free from the suffering caused by identifying with our thoughts. The speaker shares his personal experience of dealing with loss and depression, and how his first experience with MDMA helped him see that his suffering was self-imposed. He emphasizes that the profound discovery of meditation is that true freedom and presence can be found in ordinary states of consciousness, without the need for physiological changes. It's the practice of breaking the spell of thought and being fully present in the moment that brings about a different way of experiencing life.

    • ConsciousnessConsciousness is a fundamental, irreducible concept and subjective experience, not just the absence of something. Meditation can help distinguish self from mind and realize self as an illusion.

      Consciousness is the subjective experience of being, and it's a fundamental, irreducible concept. According to philosopher Thomas Nagel, there's something that it's like to be any conscious being, including bats. Consciousness is not just the absence of something, like empty space or nothingness, but a conceptually irreducible intuition that something is happening. It's the bedrock of our understanding of reality, even if we're unsure about the nature of consciousness itself. Meditation can help us better understand consciousness by recognizing the distinction between the self and the mind, and eventually realizing that the self is an illusion. This nondualistic perspective can be a challenging concept to grasp, but it's a crucial aspect of wisdom practices within Buddhism and other traditions.

    • Meditation and RealityDeep meditation practices reveal the impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of all phenomena, leading to a sense of freedom and equanimity, and ultimately, a more peaceful and fulfilled life.

      Deep meditation practices, such as going into silence and intensive concentration, can lead to profound realizations about the nature of reality and the self. These practices involve noticing the impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of all phenomena, leading to a sense of freedom and equanimity. The more one pays attention, the more one realizes that everything is constantly changing and there is no stable self to be found. This can result in a sense of relaxation and acceptance of the present moment, as well as a reduction in suffering caused by clinging to pleasurable or unpleasant experiences. The ultimate goal is to develop a deep sense of equanimity and selflessness, leading to a more peaceful and fulfilled life. These practices are not for everyone and can be challenging, but they offer immense benefits for those who persist.

    • Maintaining mindfulness in daily lifeMaintaining mindfulness in daily life can help access non-dual awareness, which is not dependent on formal practice or retreat, and can bring freedom from suffering by interrupting thought patterns

      The skill of going on retreat and achieving deep levels of silence and focus can be quickly regained, even after time has passed. This is because the experience of retreat is not fundamentally different from daily life, but rather a matter of focus and attention. From a non-dualistic perspective, the center of awareness is always available, and the boundary between formal practice and daily life is just a concept. The key to accessing this non-dual awareness is to maintain enough mindfulness in the present moment to notice that there is no self or center to experiences. This can be done in any situation, not just during formal meditation or retreat. The freedom that comes from this realization is not dependent on the content of consciousness changing, but rather on the interruption of the thought patterns that create suffering. Although it may be difficult to fully grasp the concept of no self, practices like looking for the looker or focusing on the absence of a head can help in the meditation process.

    • Self perception illusionOur sense of self is not a fixed entity but an illusion arising from perception, leading to self-consciousness and anxiety. Techniques like Douglas Harding's method can help us momentarily break free and experience openness.

      Our sense of self is not fixed and located within our heads as we commonly believe, but rather an illusion arising from our perception of ourselves as objects in the world seen by others. This perception can lead to feelings of self-consciousness, anxiety, and a collapse into selfhood. However, techniques like Douglas Harding's method of looking for one's head can help us momentarily break free from this illusion and experience a sense of pure openness and connection with others and the world. This realization challenges our understanding of reality and raises questions about the nature of consciousness and perception.

    • Consciousness and AIThe possibility of creating conscious AI raises ethical dilemmas, as we might not truly know if machines are conscious, despite appearing so.

      The nature of consciousness and its relationship to reality remains a profound question, whether it's a product of brain chemistry or an independent entity. If consciousness is indeed a byproduct of information processing, it raises the possibility of creating conscious AI. However, if we build machines that seem conscious, we might not truly know if they are, leading to ethical dilemmas. Ultimately, our experiences, including happiness and suffering, are subjective and rooted in our neurological processes, making the distinction between what's real and a dream a complex and debated question.

    • Response to the worldOur happiness isn't solely dependent on external changes, but on how we respond to them. Changing our thoughts and detaching from them can lead to personal and societal transformation, but requires prioritizing mindfulness and honesty.

      Our individual and collective happiness is not solely dependent on changing the external world, but rather on changing our response to it. We live in a world shaped by our thoughts, and much of our suffering is self-imposed. The freedom to change our experience lies in our ability to detach from our thoughts and respond to the world in a more conscious and liberated way. This concept, while offering immense potential for personal and societal transformation, remains elusive for many. The prevalence of dishonesty and lack of accountability in our culture further complicates matters, creating a societal norm that undermines trust and effective communication. To truly unlock the potential for positive change, it is essential to prioritize personal mindfulness practices and cultivate a culture of honesty and accountability.

    • Consciousness mysteryThe experience of consciousness remains inherently mysterious despite our conceptual understanding, and the unknown and awe-inspiring should be respected and explored with an open mind.

      Despite our advanced thinking and curiosity about the mysteries of consciousness and the universe, we are still limited beings with a hubris that exceeds our actual capabilities. The unknown and the mysterious are inherent to existence, and even if we could understand consciousness conceptually, the experience of it remains mysterious. The more we pay attention to the present moment and the objects of our consciousness, the more we realize their inherent mystery, which cannot be explained or banished by our conceptual understanding. Additionally, religious beliefs should not be dismissed outright, as they can provide a sense of awe and wonder towards the unknown, even if one does not subscribe to the specific doctrines or institutions. Ultimately, the best approach is to continue exploring these mysteries with an open mind and a deep appreciation for the intrinsic mystery of existence.

    • Eastern vs Western spiritual traditionsEastern traditions focus on practical wisdom and introspection, while Western traditions have historically been more dogmatic and intolerant, but a synthesis of both can lead to greater understanding and personal growth

      There is a significant difference between Eastern and Western spiritual traditions when it comes to empiricism and the requirement of faith. Eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism, offer a wealth of practical wisdom for living an ethical and wise life, often with a focus on meditation and introspection. Western traditions, on the other hand, have historically been more dogmatic and intolerant, leading to the suppression of spiritual insights and the need to import Eastern practices into Western culture. However, it's important to note that both traditions have their strengths and weaknesses, and a synthesis of the best aspects of both can lead to greater understanding and personal growth. Ultimately, the capacity for self-transcendence is not limited by culture or tradition, but is a human universal that requires open-mindedness, cooperation, and a commitment to individual rights and collective responsibility.

    • Happiness and Inner PeaceTrue happiness and inner peace are not dependent on external circumstances, but rather on the quality of our attention and recognizing the open, free nature of consciousness. Meditation can help us cultivate this awareness and live more fully and authentically.

      While we can strive for improvements in various aspects of our lives and society, it's essential to remember that true happiness and inner peace are not dependent on external circumstances. Even in the most challenging situations, it's possible to find happiness through the quality of our attention and recognizing the open, free nature of consciousness. Conversely, one can have everything materialistically but still be unhappy. This realization, often referred to as spiritual insight or ethical depth, can be practiced and cultivated through meditation, which allows us to live more fully and authentically, regardless of our circumstances. However, it's important to note that this concept can be paradoxical, and our perception of our own progress is often tied to our past experiences. Nonetheless, the potential for liberation and inner peace is always present in each moment.

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    Andy Ramage on the Benefits of An Alcohol-Free Lifestyle

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    This week, I am joined by Andy Ramage, who co-founded the OneYearNoBeer to discuss the growing alcohol-free lifestyle movement and its impact on individuals, industries, and cultural shifts. We explore the personal journeys of transitioning to an alcohol-free lifestyle, navigating social settings, and the psychological aspects of behavior change. Andy expounds on intrinsic motivation, the stages of the change model, challenging limiting beliefs about alcohol, and the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of transformation. Our conversation digs into real-world scenarios, dating without drinking, peer pressure, moderation versus complete abstinence, and the importance of community support. Additionally, Andy talks about the broader applicability of psychology and behavioral change principles beyond the alcohol-free ecosystem.  Enjoy! Show notes + MORE Watch on YouTube Newsletter Sign-Up Today’s Sponsors: Brain.fm: Science-backed sound for optimized productivity 👉brain.fm/richroll On: 10% OFF your first order of high-performance shoes and apparel w/ code RICHROLL10👉on.com/richroll  AG1: Get a FREE 1-year supply of Vitamin D3+K2 AND 5 free AG1 Travel Packs 👉drinkAG1.com/richroll Waking Up: Get a FREE month, plus $30 OFF mindfulness resources 👉wakingup.com/RICHROLL  Eight Sleep: The Eight Sleep Pod is designed to dynamically heat and cool throughout the night to help you sleep better. Get $200 OFF 👉EightSleep.com/RICHROLL  This episode is brought to you by Better Help: Listeners get 10% off their first month 👉BetterHelp.com/RICHROLL

    From Punk to Monk: Raghunath Cappo on The Wisdom of The Sages, Bhakti Yoga & The Pursuit of a Spiritual Life

    From Punk to Monk: Raghunath Cappo on The Wisdom of The Sages, Bhakti Yoga & The Pursuit of a Spiritual Life
    This week I am joined by Raghunath Cappo, a hardcore punk icon turned modern-day spiritual warrior and Bhakti yoga devotee, to discuss various facets of living a spiritual life. We talk about the transformative principles guiding the path of self-transcendence, examining cultural differences between India and America regarding spirituality and identity. We discuss the vital roles of mentors and the essence of yoga practices like mantra meditation, japa, ritual, kirtan, and devotional dancing as avenues for spiritual expression. Raghunath reflects on navigating the challenges of ego and ambition while nurturing spiritual growth, emphasizing the importance of mindful choices, boundaries, and self-regulation. Additionally, we underscore the power of storytelling, community, and positivity while looking ahead to Raghunath's continuing mission to inspire spiritual fulfillment.  Enjoy! Show notes + MORE Watch on YouTube Newsletter Sign-Up Today’s Sponsors: Bon Charge: Wellness products designed to help you sleep better, recover faster, and boost your overall well-being. Get 15% OFF w/ code RICH ROLL 👉boncharge.com  On: 10% OFF your first order of high-performance shoes and apparel w/ code RICHROLL10👉on.com/richroll  AG1: Get a FREE 1-year supply of Vitamin D3+K2 AND 5 free AG1 Travel Packs 👉drinkAG1.com/richroll Waking Up: Get et a FREE month, plus $30 OFF mindfulness resources 👉wakingup.com/RICHROLL  Brain.fm: Science-backed sound for optimized productivity 👉brain.fm/richroll