Harris in March 2016
|Born||Samuel Benjamin Harris|
April 9, 1967
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Education||B.A. in Philosophy, Stanford University (2000)|
Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of California, Los Angeles (2009)
|Subject||Neuroscience, philosophy religion, ethics, politics, spirituality|
|Notable awards||PEN/Martha Albrand Award, Webby Award|
Annaka Harris (m. 2004)
|Thesis||The moral landscape: How science could determine human values (2009)|
|Neuroscience, religion, ethics, free will, spirituality, philosophy of mind|
|The Moral Landscape, Ethics as a branch of science|
Samuel Benjamin Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, neuroscientist, philosopher, and podcast host. His work touches on a wide range of topics, including rationality, religion, ethics, free will, neuroscience, meditation, philosophy of mind, politics, terrorism, and artificial intelligence. Harris came to prominence for his criticism of religion, and Islam in particular, and is described as one of the "Four Horsemen of Atheism", along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. His academic background is in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience.
Harris's first book, The End of Faith (2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction and remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks. In The Moral Landscape (2010), he argues that science answers moral problems and can aid human well-being. He then published a longform essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014, and, with British writer Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue in 2015. Harris' work has been translated into over 20 languages.
In September 2013, Harris began releasing the Making Sense podcast (originally titled Waking Up), in which he interviews guests, responds to critics, and discusses his views. In September 2018 Harris released a meditation app, Waking Up with Sam Harris.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 3 Views
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Works
- 6 Recognition
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and education
Harris was born on April 9, 1967, in Los Angeles, the son of actor Berkeley Harris and TV producer Susan Harris (née Spivak), who created The Golden Girls. His father came from a Quaker background and his mother is Jewish but not religious. He was raised by his mother following his parents' divorce when he was aged two. Harris has stated that his upbringing was entirely secular, and his parents rarely discussed religion, though it was always a subject that interested him. While a student at Stanford University, Harris experimented with MDMA, and has written and spoken about the insights he experienced under its influence.
Though his original major was in English, he became interested in philosophical questions while at Stanford University after an experience with the empathogen–entactogen MDMA. The experience led him to be interested in the idea that he might be able to achieve spiritual insights without the use of drugs. Leaving Stanford in his second year, a quarter after his psychedelic experience, he went to India and Nepal, where he studied meditation with teachers of Buddhist and Hindu religions, including Dilgo Khyentse. Eleven years later, in 1997, he returned to Stanford, completing a B.A. degree in philosophy in 2000. Harris began writing his first book, The End of Faith, immediately after the September 11 attacks.
He received a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 from the University of California, Los Angeles, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to conduct research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty. His thesis was titled The moral landscape: How science could determine human values, and his advisor was Mark S. Cohen.
Writings and media appearances
Harris engaged in a lengthy debate with Andrew Sullivan on the internet forum Beliefnet. In April 2007, Harris debated with the evangelical pastor Rick Warren for Newsweek magazine. In April 2011, he debated William Lane Craig on whether there can be an objective morality without God.
In September 2013, Harris began the Waking Up (since re-titled Making Sense) podcast, in which he discusses his views, responds to critics, and interviews guests. The podcasts, having started with very short posts, now vary in length anywhere from 1 hour to over 4 hours. The podcast has no regular release schedule, although the frequency of releases has increased over time. In 2017, the UK Business Insider included it in their list of "8 podcasts that will change how you think about human behavior" and PC Magazine included it in their list of "Podcasts You Should Download Now". The Waking Up podcast won the 2017 Webby Award for "People's Voice" in the category "Science & Education" under "Podcasts & Digital Audio".
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Harris considers Islam to be "especially belligerent and inimical to the norms of civil discourse".
Glenn Greenwald has claimed that "[Harris] and others like him spout and promote Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism." Greenwald claimed that Harris' Islamophobia is revealed by his statements such as: "the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists", and "[t]he only future devout Muslims can envisage — as Muslims — is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed."
Harris has criticized the way the term Islamophobia is commonly used. "My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences, but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people", he wrote following a disagreement with Ben Affleck in October 2014 on the show Real Time with Bill Maher. Affleck had described Harris' views on Muslims as "gross" and "racist", and his statement that "Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas" as an "ugly thing to say."
Harris is critical of the Christian right in politics in the United States, blaming them for the political focus on "pseudo-problems like gay marriage." He is also critical of liberal Christianity—as represented, for instance, by the theology of Paul Tillich—which he argues claims to base its beliefs on the Bible despite actually being influenced by secular modernity. He further states that in so doing liberal Christianity provides rhetorical cover to fundamentalists.
Harris holds that there is "nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion, and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have."
Harris rejects the dichotomy between religious spirituality on the one hand and scientific rationality on the other, and favors a middle path that preserves spirituality and science, but does not involve religion. He writes that spirituality should be understood in light of scientific disciplines like neuroscience and psychology. Science, he contends, can show how to maximize human well-being, but may fail to answer certain questions about the nature of being, answers to some of which he says are discoverable directly through our experience. His conception of spirituality does not involve a belief in any god.
In Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014), Harris describes his experience with Dzogchen, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice, and recommends it to his readers. He writes that the purpose of spirituality (as he defines it – he concedes that the term's uses are diverse and sometimes indefensible) is to become aware that our sense of self is illusory, and says this realization brings both happiness and insight into the nature of consciousness. This process of realization, he argues, is based on experience and is not contingent on faith.
Social and political views
Harris describes himself as a liberal, and states that he supports raising taxes on the very wealthy, the decriminalizing of drugs and legalizing of same-sex marriage. He was critical of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, fiscal policy, and treatment of science. However, he believes liberals dangerously downplay the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.
During the 2016 United States presidential election, Harris supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders, and despite calling her "a terribly flawed candidate for the presidency," he favored her in the general election and came out strongly in opposition to Donald Trump's candidacy.
In April 2017, Harris stirred controversy by hosting the social scientist Charles Murray on his podcast, discussing topics including the heritability of IQ and race and intelligence. Harris stated the invitation was out of indignation at a violent protest against Murray at Middlebury College the month before and not out of particular interest in the material at hand. The podcast garnered significant criticism, for instance from Vox and Slate. Harris and Murray were defended by conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, as well as by neuroscientist Richard Haier, who argued that Murray's work represented a valid scientific debate. Harris and Vox editor-at-large Ezra Klein later discussed the affair in a podcast interview, where Klein criticized Harris for rebuking tribalism in the form of identity politics while failing to recognize his own version of tribalism. Hatewatch staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that members of the "skeptics" movement, of which Harris is "one of the most public faces", help to "channel people into the alt-right".
In May 2018, Harris was profiled by Bari Weiss in the New York Times as part of the "Intellectual Dark Web" (a term coined semi-ironically by Eric Weinstein to refer to a particular group of academics and podcast hosts).
Harris has been reluctant to discuss personal details such as where he now lives, citing security reasons. In 2004, he married Annaka Harris, an editor of nonfiction and scientific books. They have two daughters.
- Harris, Sam (August 11, 2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03515-8. OCLC 62265386.
- Harris, Sam (September 19, 2006). Letter to a Christian Nation. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-307-26577-3. OCLC 70158553.
- Harris, Sam (October 5, 2010). The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4391-7121-9. OCLC 535493357.
- Harris, Sam (2011). Lying. Four Elephants Press. ISBN 978-1940051000.
- Harris, Sam (March 6, 2012). Free Will. Free Press. ISBN 9781451683400.
- Harris, Sam (September 9, 2014). Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1451636017.
- Harris, Sam; Nawaz, Maajid (October 6, 2015). Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674088702.
- Harris, S.; Sheth, S. A.; Cohen, M. S. (February 27, 2008). "Functional neuroimaging of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty". Annals of Neurology. 63 (2): 141–147. doi:10.1002/ana.21301. PMID 18072236.
- Harris, S.; Kaplan, J. T.; Curiel, A.; Bookheimer, S. Y.; Iacoboni, M.; Cohen, M. S. (October 1, 2009). Sporns, Olaf (ed.). "The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief". PLoS ONE. 4 (10): e7272. Bibcode:2009PLoSO...4.7272H. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007272. PMC 2748718. PMID 19794914.
- Douglas, P. K.; Harris, S.; Yuille, A.; Cohen, M. S. (May 15, 2011). "Performance comparison of machine learning algorithms and number of independent components used in fMRI decoding of belief vs. disbelief". NeuroImage. 56 (2): 544–53. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.11.002. PMC 3099263. PMID 21073969.
- Kaplan, Jonas T.; Gimbel, Sarah I.; Harris, Sam (December 23, 2016). "Neural correlates of maintaining one's political beliefs in the face of counterevidence". Scientific Reports. 6: 39589. Bibcode:2016NatSR...639589K. doi:10.1038/srep39589. PMC 5180221. PMID 28008965.
- "Sam Harris at the Warner Theater".
- Paul Pardi (May 15, 2012). "An Analysis of Sam Harris' Free Will". Philosophy News. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
- Bowles, Nellie (December 14, 2018). "Patreon Bars Anti-Feminist for Racist Speech, Inciting Revolt". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
Mr. Harris, who gathered his fan base as a pugnacious atheist and fierce critic of Islam
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- Harris, Sam (2009). The moral landscape: How science could determine human values. ProQuest (PhD). UCLA. ISBN 9781124011905. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Harris, Sam; Sullivan, Andrew (January 16, 2007). "Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'?" Beliefnet.
- Harris, Sam; Warren, Rick (April 8, 2007). "NEWSWEEK Poll: 90% Believe in God". Newsweek.
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- "The 2017 Webby Awards for the best science and education podcasts". webbyawards.com. The Webby Awards. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
- Harris, Sam (June 21, 2014). "Response to Controversy". Retrieved October 23, 2016.
- Greenwald, Glenn (April 3, 2013). "Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus". The Guardian. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
- Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent.
- Harris, Sam (October 7, 2014), Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?, London, retrieved December 26, 2014
- Child, Ben (October 7, 2014). "Ben Affleck: Sam Harris and Bill Maher 'racist' and 'gross' in views of Islam". The Guardian. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Bond, Paul (October 8, 2014). "Ben Affleck Targeted by Conservatives After Islamism Spat With Bill Maher". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Harris, Sam (August 15, 2004). "Holy Terror". Sam Harris. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
- Mohler, R. Albert Jr. (August 19, 2004). "The End of Faith--Secularism with the Gloves Off". The Christian Post. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
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- Nahmias, Eddy (August 13, 2012). "Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?" Big Questions Online.
- Harris, Sam (September 18, 2006). "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals: Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists." Los Angeles Times. Archived at the Wayback Machine.
- "Sam Harris Q&A: "Why I'm Voting For Hillary Clinton"". YouTube. February 18, 2016.
- Harris, Sam. Trump in Exile. samharris.org, October 13, 2016. Retrieved April 22, 2017
- Harris, Sam (March 27, 2018). "Ezra Klein: Editor-at-Large". SamHarris.org. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
- Turkheimer, Eric; Harden, Kathryn Paige; Nisbett, Richard E. (May 18, 2017). "Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ". Vox Media. Vox. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
- Klein, Ezra (March 27, 2018). "Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the allure of race science". Vox Media. Vox. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
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- Sullivan, Andrew (March 30, 2018). "Denying Genetics Isn't Shutting Down Racism, It's Fueling It". New York. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
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- Wright, Robert (May 17, 2018). "Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought". Wired. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Hatewatch Staff (April 19, 2018). "McInnes, Molyneux, and 4chan: Investigating pathways to the alt-right". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
- Weiss, Bari (May 8, 2018). "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- Harris 2012.
- Wood, Graeme (April 24, 2013). "The Atheist Who Strangled Me". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
- Piccalo, Gina (October 2, 2006). "Oh, dear God—it's him again". Los Angeles Times.
- "Project Reason Trustees / Advisory Board". Project Reason. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
- Harris 2014a"For Annaka, Emma, and Violet"
- Harris, Sam (July 4, 2011). "Drugs and the Meaning of Life". Sam Harris.
- "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". Islam and the Future of Tolerance. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
- "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". Amazon. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
- "Watkins' Spiritual 100 List for 2019". Watkins Magazine. April 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
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