Sam Harris on death

Take an hour and listen to Sam Harris at his best. In this presentation from April’s Global Atheist Conference in Melbourne, Sam talks about a truth that weighs on all our minds but that we try to ignore.  No, it’s not our lack of free will, but death.  Sam’s aim is to show how atheism, while useful in dispelling superstition, fails to deal with everyone’s fear of death.  How can we, as nonbelievers, confront the fear that motivates so much religious belief? Sam’s answer involves training our minds, and his method is meditation.  Watch as he gets thousands of atheists to actually engage in “mindfulness” meditation during his talk.

It’s a lovely presentation, and showcases Sam’s eloquence and dry (and spontaneous) wit.

h/t: John Danley

97 Comments

  1. steve oberski
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    It’s when I watch talks like this that I realize how thoroughly religion has contaminated the conversation we need to have on how to work towards increasing human well being.

    You can’t use words like transcendence, awe, sublime etc. or deal with our basic and primal fears and motivations without bronze age mythology pushing it’s way in claiming to be the sole authority on matters of this nature when of course it would be hard imagine any philosophy having less credence than goat herder monotheism.

    As Sam Harris is careful to point out, not that it makes any difference to faithheads and accommodationists, Meditation, in the sense that I use the term, is nothing more than a method of paying extraordinarily close attention to one’s moment-to-moment experience of the world but these insights are purely subjective and make no claims about the nature of reality.

    • Bebop
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Why subjectivity would not be useful to make claim about the nature of reality? That is an assumption. There couldn’t even be any objectivity possible if it wasn’t of subjectivity.
      In the traditions where meditation was developed as a technic to see the nature of reality, they also teach how to overcome the duality (good vs evil, objectivity vs subjectivity, etc…) we believe absolute. Once that non-dual state is reached, the superjective mind, i.e.: the mind beyond the dual objective/subjective spectrum, that mind can have access to insights about the nature of reality that our average dual mind can’t grasp.

      • Strider
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        @ Bebop ‘Dual mind’? Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

        • Bebop
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          You have to experience what is non-duality in order to know that our average mode of reasoning has a dual quality. But that would be subjective so not real..?

      • steve oberski
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Thank you for making my point far better than I ever could.

        • Bebop
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          You are welcome.
          So you agree that objectivity wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t of subjectivity?

          • darrelle
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            I can’t speak for Steve, but my interpretation is that he meant that you proved this point . . .

            “You can’t use words like transcendence, awe, sublime etc. or deal with our basic and primal fears and motivations without bronze age mythology pushing it’s way in claiming to be the sole authority on matters of this nature when of course it would be hard imagine any philosophy having less credence than goat herder monotheism.”

            In any case, regardless of what Steve may have meant, you certainly have proved that point. And at the same time you have not provided any good evidence for, or explanation of, your claims. Just composing a few deepities and adding a few lines of grandiose verbiage lacking any real semantic value, doesn’t add anything useful to the conversation.

    • PB
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      The spirituality of atheism, this is the one topic that always separate Sam Harris from other NAs. I personally think that this is important issue, cannot just thrown away with glib remarks.

      And yes, I also have soft spot on buddhism and meditation, the metta-bawana, and especially anatta (no-god no-soul). Not the mahayana, ritual, reincarnations.

      Somebody needs to do this for the NewAtheists.

  2. Myron
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    For a materialist, stoic acceptance is the only way to deal with death.

    • Kassul
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I dunno, gratitude that we can be very very very very confident it’s going to happen eventually?

      While I have no desire to die anytime soon, and probably would enjoy living for hundreds of years if my health could hold up, I’m grateful that I’m not going to live to be anything more than a few trillion years old.

      (Eventual) death is as good a thing as anything else. It might come faster than we’d like while still being something desirable.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Nobody can possibly know what it’s like to be a trillion years old (or even a million). So on what basis do you assert that death would be preferable?

        Even if at some point you decide that life is no longer worth living, you always have the option of ending it. But I don’t see how that translates into gratitude that someday the choice will be taken away from you.

        • Kassul
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          “Even if at some point you decide that life is no longer worth living, you always have the option of ending it.”

          If I have that option, then all is well. Death is still around then, so I’m fine. My objection comes when death is totally removed and I *can’t* die like a character from myth who is cursed by the gods.
          Or like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged.

          And perhaps you’re right, and I wouldn’t want to end my life after a trillion years, or a trillion trillion raised to the power of a trillion years.
          … But I suspect I would. At the very least after enough time has passed the universe would get rather cold and empty and boring after even the black holes have all evaported.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

            Fine, but I thought the point of the discussion was to jettison mythical scenarios of infinitely prolonged life and face up to what’s real.

            If indefinitely extended consciousness turns out to be feasible in the real world, it will always be possible to end it by disrupting the physical substrate that sustains it.

            As for boredom, I thought Dyson showed that subjective time necessarily derives from the ambient energy level. By the time the black holes evaporate, it will take untold eons to gather enough energy for each tiny increment of thought (however it’s implemented). So regardless of how cold and slow the universe gets, your subjective time sense will always be appropriate to the timescale of external events, because it depends on such events to drive its processing.

          • L.W.
            Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:50 am | Permalink

            And after the first trillion years, who’s gonna be left to play ping pong with? Jesus?

  3. stevehayes13
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    That which lives dies.

    • Myron
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      The theists say: God lives, but he never dies. 😉

  4. Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I think one of the best ways to deal with fear of death, for an atheist, is as follows: to discover that you probably will survive the death of your body. (Here’s an argument I posted in more detail here as well.)

    First, consider all the ways that an atheist might survive the death of their current body: (1) Some sort of benevolent theism or lucky dualism might be true; (2) we live in an infinitely expansive (in space, time, or both) universe, so there are always infinitely many copies of you; (3) the same is true but it’s a multiverse; or (4) we live in some kind of benevolent deceptive situation like a computer simulation.

    These are mostly not mutually exclusive; perhaps only (4) is mutually exclusive with the others.

    Only one of them needs to be true in order for you to survive the death of your current body.

    So we can perform a probability calculation. Let P(n) stand for the probability of one of those four hypotheses, measured from 0-1. Then the probability that you will survive the death of your body can be approximated by:

    ([P(1) + P(2) + P(3)] – P(1)P(2)P(3)) + P(4)

    Since none of P(1)-P(4) seems extremely improbable, it’s near-certain that the above sum is greater than 0.5.

    Therefore, most likely, you will survive the death of your body.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Where do you get the idea that none of those P values is small–that “none of P(1)-P(4) seems extremely improbable”?? It seems that you are just saying that out of complete ignorance.

      And if there are infinitely many copies of me, my present consciousness is in only the one on Earth.

      You can’t be serious.

      • Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Jerry,

        Thanks for your reply. I realize my comment wasn’t long enough to fully justify all the parts of the argument.

        I take it there are two objections in your reply.

        Re probabilities: Normally if we have no evidence for or against a hypothesis, we assign equal probability to each possibility. (If there are n possibilities, we assign 1/n to each.) So we might assign 0.5 to an infinite universe and 0.5 to a finite universe, etc.

        Fortunately, present-day scientific research allows us to modify our estimates of P(2) and P(3); Brian Greene, for example, argues that scientific evidence shows P(2) and P(3) not to be extremely low. As for a deceptive simulation, Nick Bostrom argues that those are actually more likely than not. To get into these details might get us far afield, but I’m happy to spell it out more here, as I have elsewhere.

        More fortunately still, even if we assign a mere, say, 10% likelihood to each of the ways we might survive the death of our body, we still get a higher than 50% chance.

        Re copies: This depends on our philosophical theory of diachronic personal identity. If our survival depends on the survival of our bodies, then there being infinitely many synchronic copies of me doesn’t guarantee my survival. If it only depends on our psychology, though, then it might; your consciousness would be continuous with another body’s. Again, this gets us into all the myriad arguments about personal identity, which you probably don’t want taking up comment space, but I could elaborate. (And if we have a many-universes interpretation of quantum mechanics, we seem to get “quantum immortality,” as several philosophers and scientists have argued.)

        • Tim
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          Normally if we have no evidence for or against a hypothesis, we assign equal probability to each possibility. (If there are n possibilities, we assign 1/n to each.) So we might assign 0.5 to an infinite universe and 0.5 to a finite universe, etc.

          Normally, when I hear this probabilistic bullshit as an argument for immortality, I assign the vanishingly small credibility to the moron who is offering up the argument. But in your case … no, come to think of it, that’s exactly appropriate – again.

          • Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

            Tim,

            I’m sorry you think I’m I moron. (Of course, if you don’t post any objections to my argument, you might as well explicitly concede.) In any case, I’m sure you don’t feel the need to continue conversation with a moron, so I’ll leave the thread here.

            • Tim
              Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

              These are numbers you’re just making up – there is no other apt description. Why should you assign probabilities of 0.5 to an infinite universe and 0.5 to a finite universe? There is another option: don’t bother assigning probabilities at all. It is a waste of time, without some basis in evidence for assigning such probabilities, to go through the exercise at all. Since you’re pulling the numbers from your nether regions, all you succeed in doing is pretending that your making progress by dressing up sheer speculation in mathematical jargon.

        • Notagod
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          If you are copied infinitely or at all then you would be born and die at the same time as the infinite other copies of you. If there is a variation at any time during the process you would cease being a copy of yourself and thus become no different then the other finite near copies of yourself sharing the planet.

          Maybe you figure that universes are born at fractionally later times so that there is an infinite number progressing one after the other. Each copying the history of the one before it. That wouldn’t be very satisfying, I would think.

          • Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

            Notagod,

            Thanks for your reply.

            Here’s a more detailed explanation of what might happen.

            You live a life, say, from 0 to 80 years, and suppose your current body (call it ‘Body A’) dies right on its 80th birthday.

            We seem to agree that somewhere in the universe, there is a body (call it ‘Body B’) that’s qualitatively identical to yours, and has lived an identical psychological life as well, throughout those 80 years. However, at that 80th birthday, its life is exactly like your body’s life, except that it doesn’t die. For whatever reason, it keeps living. (Maybe a drug miraculously saves it from a disease, or it doesn’t have that heart attack, or whatever.)

            Many or most philosophers would say that you are now continuing your existence in that body. They think your identity depends on your psychological continuity. For those who don’t, see the other possibilities for immortality I adduced.

            • Notagod
              Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

              Actually, I don’t agree that there are other identical entities anywhere. But, you’ve either avoided or I haven’t made my point clearly.

              If you assume that there are other universes (your last comment stated “somewhere in the universe”, I assume that means the universe that encompasses all universes as you have noted other universes in prior comment), they must evolve with exactly the same history in order for an identical you to exist. If something changes to an 80 year old in one universe than something else changes to a 10 year old in another universe, and follow the results of those changes over hundreds of thousands of years, those changes are going to have a significant effect on the local environment. See, you are only thinking in terms of the effect a change has on you without considering that if change did occur it would have occurred for billions of years between different universes and those changes would be accumulative over time. Making the chance of an identical you in two universes that started exactly the same but changed over time unlikely. Then to add to that you suppose an infinite quantity of identical you. The only change you want to acknowledge is a change that keeps you alive without acknowledging the implication of prior changes within your supposed universes.

              Suppose the 80 year old that survives (in your prior comment) somehow causes an accident that kills a 3 year old in that universe, what then happens to the 3 year old in the other identical but changeable(?) universes.

              • Posted June 26, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                Notagod,

                Given infinitely many universes, or an infinitely expansive universe, isn’t the probability infinitesimally close to 100% that there are indeed infinitely many qualitatively identical versions of you (including the history of their local environments), and that infinitely many of those will have bodies that continue living after “your” body dies?

                (Suppose that you step into a machine that scans your body, destroys it, but at that same moment creates a copy of it one mile away, a copy that’s completely psychologically continuous with the previous body. Do you think the person who steps out of this “teleporter” would be you? If so, then presumably the bodies that continue living and are psychologically continuous with your body would be you as well.)

                As for the three-year-old, I take it that they would survive in infinitely many universes, for the same reasoning I’ve been presenting.

              • Notagod
                Posted June 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                We may as well bring this to its logical conclusion then. If there are infinite you’s in infinite universes and all possibilities are expressed infinitely then, there are an infinite number of universes in which the entity “you” thinks the you in this universe has gone off the rails, right?

                You are playing with nonsense, it becomes completely meaningless, even in the case that it actually existed, it would have no purpose to think a thought about it.

    • Sigh
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      “We live in an infinitely expansive (in space, time, or both) universe, so there are always infinitely many copies of you.” Isn’t this a quantum physics parallel Universe or Multiverse thingy? How can there be an infinite amount of every being that ever lived in our Universe?

      • Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Sigh,

        An infinite multiverse would imply infinitely many copies of you, yes. But an infinitely expansive universe would as well. Indeed, the universe is probably “flat”, which may suggest that it’s infinite in expanse. If so, then the likelihood that there are infinitely many copies of everything is infinitesimally close to 100%.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          No its not. You argue like William Lane Craig.

          • Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

            darrelle,

            I imagine if you had any objections to my argument, you would have posted them. (I take it your position is like the theist’s ‘I know God exists, because I say so, and I don’t have to give any arguments.’) So if you have no objections, I have nothing to respond to, and I’ll leave the thread here.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        This is either an easy or complicated problem.

        – The easy part, egotistical complications of modern physics:

        A universe has, as a quantum system, a Hilbert phase space with an infinite degree of freedom.

        However, the _observable_ universe has a certain spacetime volume and matter content. Thus it can only partake in a finite number of configurations. You can also see this from estimating its finite entropy, or embracing the new and intriguing but as of yet untested physics of the holographic principle.

        Hence the observable universe, and everything in it, must be repeated with a certain frequency over space. Our best estimates for minimum size of the universe is not enough, but certainly the infinite extent topology universe that a locally flat space implies will do.

        Perhaps confusingly, theoretical physicist Tegmark has observed this in a level in his multiverse hiearchy:

        “Level I: A generic prediction of cosmological inflation is an infinite “ergodic” space, which contains
        Hubble volumes realizing all initial conditions — including an identical copy of you about 10^10^29 m
        away.”

        “Ergodic” implies the phase space is conserved and closed, meaning all paths through it must eventually return to a point (not necessarily the initial condition). Or in other words here, it must repeat a universe. In an infinite universe, it must repeat them infinite number of times.

        – The hard part, cosmological complications of modern physics:

        Quantum fluctuations over such universes, or at least the larger ones, means that there is in principle a large chance that a sufficently complicated naked biological brain will fluctuate into existence, complete with Last Thursday notions of its existence, before it fluctuates away again.

        These are called Boltzmann’s Brains, after the physicist that realized a universe could start that way. The BB implication is a block for such explanations of initial conditions of low entropy.

        On the other hand no one believes in Last Thursdayism. A large effort is spent on trying to figure out how our physics prevents this in reasonable comsologies like our standard cosmology. The alternative, finite universes, are even worse in many respects.

        So if you have a (an infinite number of) “you” out there, it isn’t likely a brain imagining it is you.

        • Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          Torbjörn,

          Thanks for the informative comment.

          I take it that there might still be infinitely many of you in the universe outside our light cone and not in the observable universe, which might deliver immortality.

          Even though infinitely many Boltzmann brains will fluctuate away as soon as they appear, won’t infinitely many also last, say, for centuries? (And infinitely many of them will believe themselves to be you, right?)

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        Since the Wikipedia article on Boltzmann Brains was so boring, can I tease you with this web site’s house physicist Sean Carroll’s post with a comic and a link to his (serious and good, or at least seriously good) article on them?

    • L.W.
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      I smell bullshit.

      • Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        L.W.,

        I guess there’s a difference between smelling it and finding it, and a further difference between finding it and demonstrating its existence.

        Many theists have a feeling that God exists, but have nothing else to offer us than that.

  5. emactan
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    It’s not my death that gives me the jitters, it’s the demise of loved ones. Since Sam is into Buddhism I’m wondering what his thoughts are on attachment to significant others.

    • corio37
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Exactly so: my main goal is to get out the door first and leave them to deal with bereavement rather than me.

  6. Grania Spingies
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    That was a great talk, and one that confronts an eternal issue that atheism in itself cannot tackle.

    • steve oberski
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      An unwillingness to accept the truth value of propositions unsupported by evidence is a necessary first step to confronting our fear of death.

      To admit that our consciousness is most likely a completely material manifestation of our physical brain and will in no way survive the destruction of that organic matrix is to face the problem unflinchingly and to start to follow the evidence to a rational solution.

      To claim that atheism can not tackle this issue is to cede the conversation that mature adults need to have about this to those who claim to know things that they can not possibly know.

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Except that’s not what I said. I only said that atheism – the rejection of gods and related supernatural claims – has no content that is particularly helpful with regard to how society and individuals should face mortality and grieving.

        That has nothing at all to do with whether mortality and grieving can be discussed by atheists.

        • steve oberski
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          My claim is exactly this – that the rejection of gods and related supernatural claims as one specific case of being unwilling to accept the truth value of propositions unsupported by evidence – is the only way to deal with mortality.

          I further claim that this is the only meaningful and productive way to discuss this and that those who claim to know things that they can’t possibly know bring nothing positive to the discussion and in fact act to the detriment of society.

        • steve oberski
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          And by the way I’m not implying that you condone supernatural based explanations of mortality.

          I’m just arguing that atheism is a sufficient basis to discuss this.

          • Grania Spingies
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            You are missing my point by a mile. We are not talking about what happens when we die. There, certainly, atheism has something to say if only to negate all the bad ideas that much of humanity clings to on the subject.

            The issue here is how humans confront the knowledge that we are all going to end, and how to deal with the inevitable suffering and grief that we all have to face at some stage in our lives.

            I really don’t think that atheism (I reject gods and the supernatural) adds anything of substance to that conversation – it’s just a jumping-off point. That doesn’t mean that atheists are excluded from the conversation. In fact this is exactly the sort of conversation that atheists need to have.

  7. DV
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Why is Sam Harris not talking about our attitudes about death in the explanatory framework of evolution? He wonders how unhappy we could be about our present circumstance to pine for everlasting life? It seems to me the answer is very plain – evolution simply can’t produce a living thing that doesn’t fear or in some way averse to death.

    • Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Well, yes, no organism will engage in behaviors that, by causing its death, will prematurely reduce its inclusive fitness, but that of course doesn’t mean that they really experience “fear of death” the way we do. And, contrary to your claim, sometimes it’s adaptive to SEEK death if you’ve already reproduced and your dying somehow increases the number of your offspring. Male spiders, for example, sometimes catapult themselves into the mouths of females after they’ve mated with them, turning themselves into a postcoital meal. In so doing they nourish the female and increase the numbers of the male’s offspring. Since males get mates only rarely, in this case natural selection will favor a form of sexual suicide.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        “…dying somehow increases the number of your offspring.”

        More generally, what you mean is that dying somehow promotes the replication of your genes, as in the case of soldier ants dying to defend the nest. The beneficiaries of your sacrifice need not be your own offspring, so long as they carry (some of) your genes.

      • DV
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        That would be a case of the exceptions proving the rule.

        My point is that an hour-long talk about essentially what is the nature of man (focused on the subject of man’s fear of death) missed bringing in the real explanation. And in so doing may have misdiagnosed the problem and may have offered the wrong solution. I’m reminded of that quote that Richard Dawkins mentioned in The Selfish gene:

        “What is man? After posing the last of these questions, the eminent zoologist G. G. Simpson put it thus: ‘The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.”

        I feel Sam Harris gave a talk as if we are still in the time before evolutionary psychology was invented.

        • steve oberski
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          I suspect that evolutionary psychology is still in it’s pre 1859 period.

          While it makes for some great just-so stories it’s short on rigor and chock full of bad research.

          • DV
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            It’s just-so stories are much better – in my opinion – than the mysticism that Sam Harris is wont to wade into when talking about these kinds of topics. I wonder how you would characterize the rigor and research associated with eastern religion-inspired meditation on the other hand.

            • DV
              Posted June 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              Its. Dang!

            • steve oberski
              Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              TheSkepticalChymist pointed out below that many people accuse Sam Harris of talking “mumbo jumbo” when there is no actual basis in fact for doing so.

              I have yet to encounter Sam Harris “wading into mysticism” when discussing any issue, be it free will, religion, morality or martial arts for that matter.

              Perhaps you can provide an example where he has made a causal connection between any of the above subjects and supernatural entities, which is how I would interpret “mysticism”.

        • Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          “…the exceptions proving the rule.”

          I do not think it means what you think it means.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exception_that_proves_the_rule

        • Krishan Bhattacharya
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          DV,

          you wrote : “Why is Sam Harris not talking about our attitudes about death in the explanatory framework of evolution?”
          “My point is that an hour-long talk about essentially what is the nature of man (focused on the subject of man’s fear of death) missed bringing in the real explanation.”

          It seems to me that you have missed the point of Sam’s talk. The point is not to give some explanation of the fear of death in evo-psych terms. The point is that humanity has this fear, and it is an, or perhaps THE, central motivating emotion behind religious belief (Sam even has a section in TEOF called “Death: The Fount of Illusion”). WHY we have this fear is an interesting question by itself, but is not necessary to employ an evo-psych explanation form a normative response to it.

          The point is that we suffer. We suffer from the fear of death and the anguish of losing loved ones. One of the big reasons that religion has so much traction in society is that it gives and answer to this unanswerable problem, by saying that death is an illusion. When a person truly believes that, the suffering from this fear and anguish can be relieved, and thus religion takes its hold on us. Of course, the belief itself comes with a host of other problems, which I don’t need to illustrate here.

          The point Sam’s talk is to demonstrate that there is another way of alleviate the suffering that comes from the fear of death and the anguish of loss. Meditation of the kind that Sam promotes is aimed at breaking the identification with emotions such as fear. By paying close attention to one’s moment-to-moment experience, the illusion of the self can be eroded, and even broken, and in turn alleviate the suffering by breaking the attachment between fear, anguish, and the self-illusion.

          • DV
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            >>The point is not to give some explanation of the fear of death in evo-psych terms.

            That’s exactly why he’s misdiagnosing the problem. Evolution is why we are here and why we behave the way we do. The answer to any puzzles about our condition must be illuminated by evolution. Instead he’s employing answers and solution from religious traditions 500 years older than Christianity.

            I’m not sure if he really thinks the old eastern “sages” are wiser than us, without the benefit of accumulated understanding from science that came after them. Atheists often ridicule the wisdom and world views of the goat herders whose myths populate the Christian bible. Why there should be any higher regard for the mumbo-jumbo from even older mythmakers is beyond me. Gautama was clueless about what man really is.

            • Krishan Bhattacharya
              Posted June 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

              But he hasn’t misdiagnosed the problem. Sam has it right.

              Religion’s massive hold on the human mind results from it providing ways to alleviate the suffering caused by fear and grief. Unfortunately, it does this by making them believe in manifestly crazy things. So we have to find a way to alleviate the suffering without believing in nonsense.

            • Krishan Bhattacharya
              Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

              You are missing the point entirely. The goal of this kind of exercise is NOT to gain knowledge about the world, or to have a greater understanding of mankind or of the laws of nature. Indeed the goal of gaining knowledge is itself subordinate to another goal: happiness. Knowledge is only valuable because it can be used to improve the quality of life.

              The point of this kind of meditation is to use attention in certain way to break emotional cycles (grief, fear, anxiety, anguish) that cause suffering. It doesn’t contribute to any third-person transmissible knowledge about how the world is or how it works. It’s just to improve one’s life for its own sake.

              • DV
                Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                Where is the proof that meditation works as advertised? And exactly how is it supposed to work? The idea that meditation might have this desired effect of alleviation of suffering was not plucked from thin air. This comes from a theory of what is man, what is suffering. A theory that has unfortunately no evidential support.

                >>Religion’s massive hold on the human mind results from it providing ways to alleviate the suffering caused by fear and grief.

                I dispute the above claim. I think the utility of religion as help for pain is overrated. It thrives despite causing pain, is more like it. Think about the atheist who has no illusions of being God-favored and no illusions of after-life and understands well that consciousness is emergent from the working of the material brain, that life is non-mystical. I submit that this atheist will have less fear of death than a God-fearing theist.

                All things being equal (same success in life, same amount of comfort from friends and family, etc.), I think a mind deluded with religion will be more tormented than a mind clear of religious delusions.

                Evolution built us with instinctive fears and aversions, but evolution also built us with capabilities for happiness. In general those things that tend to improve our evolutionary fitness also make us happy. Caveat is that we are built not to be satisfied. This kind of knowledge as we glean from the study of evolutionary psychology would be a better aid for devising help for our psychological well-being than applying methods and exercises with dubious theoretical basis.

              • Caroline52
                Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for your lucid and patient iterations of response. I could not have so patient, or said it so well. It seems some commenters, hearing the phrase “mindfulness meditation,” erroneously assume it is a kind of praying or contemplation. [In fact, it’s more similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (though with broader and deeper effects) which has been experimentally shown to be effective.] Some such deep confusion about what’s actually being described by Sam is the only explanation I can think of for comments like, “Where’s the proof it works?” The effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain has been the subject of well designed fMRI studies published in leading peer-reviewed cognitive psych and neuroscience journals. And it’s taught as a method of stress and pain management at hundreds of hospitals around the US.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        However do you know that the male spiders who catapult aren’t trying to catapult away?

  8. TheSkepticalChymist
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    A number of these comments demonstrate how sorely misunderstood Sam Harris continues to be. The fact that whenever he discusses a topic such as death or consciousness many people will reliably accuse him of talking “mumbo jumbo” (or spouting some of their own; I’m looking at you, Tom) should be troubling for anyone who wishes that the future will loosen the grip of irrationality on topics such as morality and spirituality. Sam speaks plainly about such topics, and takes his caveats where they are warranted. He has never claimed the existence of reincarnation, an eternal soul, or any other supernatural phenomena.

    • Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      SkepticalChymist,

      If you don’t actually post any objections you have to my argument, I can’t respond to them. Is there some reason that you don’t want to post them?

  9. Occam
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Oy vey.
    I beg to disagree.
    This is hardly Sam Harris at his best.
    I have never seen him so defensive, so weak even.
    There are so many wrong generalisations in his talk that a text of at least equal length would be needed in rebuttal.
    I’ll limit myself to four salient points.

    1.

    Atheism is a necessary corrective of bad ideas, but it puts nothing in its place.

    Why should anything be artificially injected in replacement of crud? The religious “Überbau” is as unnecessary as a goitre. Void is not “a nice cuddly pink unicorn, only you can’t see it properly right now”. Void is void.

    2.

    Without death, faith-based religion would be unthinkable. From the point of view of the faithful, atheism is the mere assertion of death.

    Not so. Leaving aside all the religions which do not explicitly — or explicitly do not — profess faith in a “life after death”, there are surprisingly many Christians, for one thing, who ardently believe in a deity, but who are more doubtful than about the literal promise of an afterlife. I know several of them, including of the most hard-core Evangelical persuasions. The idea of a creator-less universe is to them inconceivable, and would be devastating. The absence of a Big Celestial Daddy, the ultimate authority on Right and Wrong, would open a hole in the sky for them. But eternal life? Hum-hum. Survival of the soul? If at all, in a far more Platonicised, self-less fashion than in Ray Kurzweil’s worst nightmare.

    3.

    The problem is, without god and without an eternal existence after death, life appears to be an emergency. To not believe in god means it’s up to us to make the world a better place. We have barely emerged from centuries of barbarism.

    Have we? The Whig illusion. Life is an everlasting emergency, and an exercise in problem solving. Not just for hominids. The sparrow perched on the railing on my balcony, as I am writing this, is trying to solve a vital problem: how to take off without dropping the too large chunk of dry bread he has snatched.*
    As to making the world a more tolerable place, this is precisely one of the few point my friends who happen to be religious and I agree upon. In their case, it’s just the typical Protestant ethic.

    4. The argument from grief:

    When you are open to new evidence, there is not guarantee that your revisions in your world view are consoling. When you loose Santa Claus what you get in his place is not so much fun.

    Not true. Without Santa, the real fun can begin. As to the need for consolation: this is just perpetuating our emotional neoteny, real or presumed. There is no existential substitute for growing up. The more support we get in doing that, rather than delaying it, the less the collateral damage of our immaturity will amplify.

    We should take heart from the example of children who are allowed to see life as it is, not being served a saccharine simulacrum. I have seen children confronted to death, and I have seen children dying. I hope I’ll die myself before I ever again have to face such an experience, but there it was. They were facing reality, and in their own incomprehensible way, coped with it. Death seemed just as strange as life itself, no more, no less.

    Und so weiter.

    Most unnecessary bad moment? Ten minutes to the end (46:10 or thereabouts): an almost endearingly inept question about Douglas Hofstadter’s concept of “soul simulation” followed by a breathtakingly inadequate answer: “That doesn’t work for me.” High marks for honesty, zero for pertinence. If anyone is tangentially interested in Hofstadter’s admittedly poetic term for a very clear concept facing a very bleak reality, but can’t get around to reading I Am a Strange Loop, they should read DRH’s interview with Tal Cohen and Yarden Nir-Buchbinder, available online.

    My own probability of surviving the next five years is in the low single digits, so from now on I’ll be a lot more wary of allocating an hour of my scarce remaining time to Sam Harris.
    All was not lost, though.
    I tried Mindful Meditation.
    I failed, relaxing so completely that I fell asleep.
    A very reinvigorating power nap it was.
    And no, the sleep of reason did not beget monsters.

    * Ornithological update: The sparrow flunked it. He dropped the bread chunk. A crow picked it up.

  10. cyan
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    “…. It seems to me the answer is very plain – evolution simply can’t produce a living thing that doesn’t fear or in some way averse to death.”

    Better to say “pain stimuli” instead of “death”, as what other animals than humans and perhaps a few other chordates formulate the concept of death.

    • cyan
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      This should have been placed in reply to DV at #7.

  11. shakyisles
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    This is why I found Eckhart Tolle’s books so useful around the time I was transitioning from Christian to Atheist. It helped me ‘deal’ with the fact that I’m not going to actually live forever in a paradise on earth afterall

  12. shakyisles
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    It’s also about moving beyond the Ego, which I’m sure is behind why religious beliefs are held so firmly

  13. shakyisles
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    So far I’ve only made it half way through the video, but this is the most honesty I’ve heard from anyone ever..Sam Harris is brutally honest without being harsh or unkind. Mana from heaven

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t this only an outcome with Harris mysterious infatuation with buddhist religion?

    Last I heard a 10 minutes nap was as efficient in relieving stress and promoting long life, so I would opt for the easiest, non-gibberish method. (As in, the gibberish you need to fill your mind with in order to meditate efficiently – I think.)

    “Mindfullness” on the other hand should be totally unresearched!? Or I have missed something (as is easily done).

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I swear I didn’t update and read Occam’s comment before posting this. But there you go, Harris edging towards belief in belief all over again.

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Torbjorn, you sound silly dismissing mindfulness meditation in this way. Meditation is a tool that doesn’t need any woo woo beliefs to be effective. You have to practice for a few weeks before you develop the skill to any extent and stop falling asleep or feeling restless. It’s a method for watching how your thoughts arise and hijack you, and for developing the ability to unhook from the hijacking whenever you want to as you go about your day. The point isn’t to relax during meditation, it’s to learn a skill that you use to make difficult situations easier to handle in your life. I learned it when my husband got cancer when we were young parents. They taught it at the local cancer support center. Sam is right that it is brilliant at making the prospect of death — and the hardships of severe illness — much, much easier to handle.

        • DV
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

          Distraction is also brilliant at making the prospect of death easier to handle.

          You do need practice to successfully distract your mind from focusing on your fears.

  15. corio37
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    The idea of finding a ‘substitute’ for religion is as repellent to me as the idea of finding a substitute for smallpox. Given that death is a brute fact, it’s presumably best to regard it as such and deal with it the same way we deal with any other brute fact.

    As Mark Twain pointed out, we weren’t around for most of the previous history of the universe, and it doesn’t bother us in the slightest. Why should it bother us that we’ll miss most of the subsequent history as well.

    • Krishan Bhattacharya
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      The point is not to substitute something new for religion. The point is that religion exists to give a way to alleviate the suffering that comes with the fear of death and the anguish of loss. It does this by giving a false answer -that death isn’t real – which comes with huge liabilities.

      Atheism has basically no response to this problem, since it has no content (like ‘non-astrology’ or ‘non-easterbunnyism’.

      Sam is saying that we need response to this problem that religion addresses – the suffering that results from the fear of death and the anguish of loss. The answer we give has to be true, and it has to avoid the liabilities of the afterlife illusion that religion offers. Sam’s answer is that we can alleviate the suffering that results from the fear of death and the anguish of loss by practicing meditation. The meditative practices that Sam promotes are aimed at breaking the illusion of the self. In this school of thought, suffering results from identifying thoughts and feelings with the self. The mind produces and experience of fear or anxiety, and, by identifying with these feelings “this is MY fear, MY anguish”, we experience suffering. Through meditation, one can erode or break the illusion of the self, which is the thread upon which this suffering is held. Break the thread, and you can break the suffering.

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Well said. I find it odd how many commenters on this supposedly bastion of rationalists website reflexively dismiss a practical methodology they know nothing about based on their ideas and assiciations with the word meditation, in terms that make it obvious they didnt actually listen to Sam’s talk, or not with any attention to what he was actually saying. It reminds me of how so many people criticized Dawkins’s book, The Selfish Gene, based on misunderstanding the title,without reading the book. They were so sure they knew what the book’s thesis was that they felt comfortable being vociferous in their scorn. You’d think JAC’s recommendation would carry enough weight to at least make people hesitate to pan a talk based on the topic itself.

        • Krishan Bhattacharya
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Me too. Part of the difficulty is the association with Buddhist religion, which Sam has done his best to break, and leave the value of meditation as a secular practice intact.

          I think that part of the problem is also just the sheer difficulty of talking about consciousness. Its about the most difficult subject matter to describe, but that’s what’s required to talk about meditation. The difficulty often results in phrases that sound a bit like woo-ish spiritual talk, but we have to find a way of discussing it. Hopefully Sam’s next book will help.

          http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/look-into-my-eyes

          • Caroline52
            Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            As Dan Dennett pointed out in one of his TED talks (“cute, sexy…”) everyone thinks they’re an expert on consciousnesss- because they have one. So first people have to be shown the limits of introspection, the equivalent of how optical illusions get us to realize visual perception is construction, not direct apprehension.

      • DV
        Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        >>suffering results from identifying thoughts and feelings with the self.

        where is the evidence for this theory? more importantly what would be a falsification of this theory? and what predictions of this theory has been verified so far?

        • Krishan Bhattacharya
          Posted June 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

          All of the claims that Sam made about the use and value of meditation are falsifiable empirical claims.

          The evidence comes from two main lines.

          The first is first hand testimony from thousands of meditation practitioners, amassed in a huge literature that has built up over centuries around the practice.

          The second comes from hard, third person, peer-reviewed, scientific research, included neuroimaging studies and medical survey data. A scientific literate on the subject has already begun.

          One prediction of this view of human suffering is that pain could be alleviated through meditation (meditation of the kind that Sam was teaching, there are several other practices that go under the name ‘meditation’ that would not apply).

          Here’s a study that looked at the effects of meditation on chronic pain sufferers. Includes quantitative analysis:

          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569828/?tool=pubmed

          “As participants became more skilled at using the mindfulness meditation technique, some indicated that it directly eliminated their pain. They spoke of relieving pain by concentrating on their breathing, “I have used the breath concentration to successfully relieve pain in a number of situations” “(participant 6).

          MIT study showing benefits for healthy individuals:

          Magazine article:

          http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/meditation-0505.html

          Full text from the Brain Research Bulletin:

          http://mindinbodylab.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/effects-of-mindfulness-meditation-training.pdf

          There’s a ton more, if you do research. I’m not at school right now, so I can’t get on my libraries’ peer review databases.

          • DV
            Posted June 25, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

            I’m not clear on how the prescription of meditation for pain follows from the theory; it seems to me it’s the other way around: the theory is offered as a way to explain why meditation works as claimed by some people.

            Your linked articles mentioned some examples of applicability in alleviating lower back pain or pain from ingrown toenail. There are physical causes of these pains. I can attest because I’ve had them. If you misdiagnose the problem as “suffering results from identifying thoughts and feelings with the self” rather than a bulging vertebra disc pinching a nerve or toenail pushing into soft tissue of the toe, then you may prescribe meditation rather than disc surgery or cutting your toenails. In my case disc surgery and cutting the toenail worked brilliantly.

            Meditation *may* work but I think not in the way the theory says it will. My son doesn’t notice his growing pain in his legs until I tell him to stop playing video games. I don’t know if there’s any research on the efficacy of playing video games on stress reduction, or pain alleviation, but it could be just as effective as meditation or maybe even better. My son doesn’t have to have disciplined practice playing video games or believe that it will work before it works. We can supply any number of theories here of why playing video games works to alleviate pain (assuming indeed it does). The merits of the theories will have to be tested, and it doesn’t suffice to point to the original observation as the validation of theories which were meant to explain the observation in the first place.

            • Krishan Bhattacharya
              Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

              “If you misdiagnose the problem as “suffering results from identifying thoughts and feelings with the self” rather than a bulging vertebra disc pinching a nerve or toenail pushing into soft tissue of the toe, then you may prescribe meditation rather than disc surgery or cutting your toenails. ”
              If you think there’s a misdiagnosis there, you’re going to have to think in more detail about human suffering and experience in general. There are levels psychological reality and dimensions of experience that aren’t articulated in your description. Pain isn’t just pain. There’s pain as a physical sensation, and there’s suffering that results from pain.
              I once walked through a grocery story parking lot in Galveston, Texas wearing flip-flops. When I was inside the store, one of the employees came up to me and said “sir, you’re tracking blood through the store”. I had walked through some broken glass and cut my foot, which was bleeding noticeably, but I hadn’t felt it. When it was pointed out to me I suddenly started feeling pain. You may have had similar experiences, or perhaps have read about soldiers who don’t know they’ve been shot.
              When I was walking through the store, no doubt my foot was sending pain signals to my brain. All of the usual processes were happening, but I didn’t experience any pain until someone said my foot was bleeding. How is it that I didn’t feel it? Did I “misdiagnose” the pain? Of course not. It hadn’t grabbed my attention, so I didn’t feel it.
              Once the physical sensation of pain gets your attention, there are additional levels of suffering that one can experience. These are generally categorized as ’emotions’, and they can entail additional suffering ON TOP of the physical sensations of pain. Imagine that you and a child both stub your toe in the same way. You are both walking into the kitchen, to get something to eat, and you stub your toe on the kitchen table. For both of you, the physical pain is noticeable and distressing. For you, the pain hurts, and you pause to rub your foot. But your hunger is still with you, and after a few moments you limp to the fridge to get a sandwich. Your foot still hurts, but you takea breath and move on.

              However, the child suffers more, not because the physical pain is worse (his brain is recieving the same signals that yours did), but because the pain changes his global emotional state – he starts crying. This emotional state entails a dynamic shift in the level of experience – from physical sensation to emotional suffering. Unlike you, the easily distracted child is unable to shift his attention back to his hunger that motivated to walk to the kitchen in the first place. The physical sensation of pain seizes his entire being, and he shrieks and sobs, his face turning red, and writhes on ground.

              The ability that you have to move on from pain is not because it hurts less, but because you can prevent the pain from escalating to a global emotional state. This involves the ability to shift your attention – somthing that an easily distracted child does not have much of.

              Meditation is a practice where one cultivates this ability, training the mind to control the attention and prevent the escalation of sensations and simple emotions like sadness and grief from escalating to greater degrees of suffering.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted June 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      One obvious asymmetry is that we can find out about the past by studying history, archaeology, paleontology, and so forth. So the past remains alive to us in the sense that our curiosity about it can be satisfied.

      The future, in contrast, is largely opaque. We have no way of knowing what will happen after our deaths. So we really will be missing something by checking out early, and that understandably bothers us more than not having lived through the (knowable) past.

    • Thanny
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Your reading of “substitute for religion” is just too colored by the word “religion”.

      Maybe an analogy will help. Lets say you’re holding up your hut with a rotting corpse. There are a great many bad things to say about having that rotting corpse there, but it’s definitely holding up your hut. If someone suggests that you “replace the rotting corpse”, do you automatically think of putting a new rotting corpse in its place? I’d hope not. The suggestion is to put something else there, that performs the vital function of holding up the hut, but doesn’t reproduce the host of horrid side-effects that accompany a rotting corpse.

      So when someone speaks of a “substitute for religion”, don’t think of another morally and intellectually bankrupt system of beliefs. Think of something that provides the benefits of religion (meager though they are), without the horrid side-effects.

  16. Alex SL
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I still think that, with some exceptions, being a second generation atheist means having a more relaxed attitude to death.

    What I mean is that many people who obsess about death are those who were born to parents who also obsess about death and are perhaps religious at least partly because of the whole “but if death is the end then everything is meaningless” line of “thought”. And that deep horror of annihilation is inherited by the child.

    If, on the other hand, your parents stance towards death can be summarized as (1) well, that is going to happen no matter what, so just accept it and (2) what is the problem really, I will simply be as I was before I was born – that wasn’t horrible, was it?, then that relaxed attitude is inherited by the child.

    Seriously, I do not see how atheists need to develop anything beyond what I just outlined in the previous paragraph and a humanist approach to help the grieving deal with their loss (e.g. remembering the lasting positive effect the deceased had on our lives).

  17. MadScientist
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Did he go from meditation to having priests and temples?

    I’m with Corio37. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things; mentioning meditation to me would be provoking an assault but some people swear they find it useful. I’ve always been one who says “that’s the way things are, get over it”. Would prescribing something else allegedly to replace religion even be of any benefit? The claim is often made, but no substantial supporting evidence is ever presented.

  18. Mary - Canada
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Watched this a couple of weeks ago. Sam’s a great inspiration

  19. Caroline52
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry, I agree this is Sam at his best. When I finished Moral Landscape last year I figured this would for sure be the topic of his next (full-length) book. Now I’m hoping again it will be. I expect he’s going to have to give some variation on this talk for a couple of years before people start taking in what he’s actually saying.

  20. gluonspring
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I find that when thinking about death it helps to remember that I’ve been dead before and it wasn’t that bad.

    Far harder for me to face than death itself is the slow loss of things I can do while alive. Vision that isn’t what it was, strength waning, sex appeal declining, and so on.

    But death itself, meh.

  21. Notagod
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand “everyone’s fear of death”. I don’t expect to like the process of dying, apprehension might describe the feeling but being dead isn’t something that I fear. When I was younger I had a fear of death, maybe to do with fear of not existing or not knowing what being dead would entail. Knowing that being dead will be exactly like, from a personal perspective, it was before I was born and similar to the time before becoming self aware, although I don’t remember exactly when that was. Or, sleeping because with the exception of dreams I’m totally unaware of myself while asleep and death will render me totally unaware. Seems acceptable since the alternative would be to not have lived at all, given reality. But, if I wouldn’t have been born I wouldn’t have existed and wouldn’t have even known, which doesn’t seem that formidable either.

    So what is it that I’m missing that I should be afraid of? I’ve lived, some good some bad. I’ve been limited by a social structure that I find unacceptable but it could be worse and my complaints and attempts to change it are exceedingly slow at best but, I’m still willing to try in hope of there being something better for future generations of life, not just for humans. Lots of different emotions and wishes but I don’t think I understand why fear of death is required?

  22. gluonspring
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    For me, I STOPPED fearing death when I lost my faith. Far from being a something to soothe fears of death, the religion of my youth was designed to stoke them. Our sect took Judgment and Hell very seriously. Dying meant the end of trying to “get right with God”. Your fate was sealed at death and if that fate was Hell, well, there would be no end to your suffering. It would just go on and on and on for all eternity. As a child, every time I was sick or had a pain I tried to imagine what that would be like if it never ended, if even death could not free you from it. I was scared witless through a good part of my childhood by the “comforting” faith of my family.

  23. Dylan Thomas Hayden
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    DV writes: ” I wonder how you would characterize the rigor and research associated with eastern religion-inspired meditation on the other hand.”

    Torbjörn Larsson writes: “Mindfullness” on the other hand should be totally unresearched!? Or I have missed something (as is easily done).

    What’s the matter? Too lazy to Wiki?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

    • DV
      Posted June 25, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      So how would you characterize the rigor and research on this area?

      Mind you there are also a wikipedia entries for Chiropractic and Parapsychology.

      • Dylan Thomas Hayden
        Posted June 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        I’m not citing Wikipedia as an authority, just offering a simple way to evaluate some of the claims made for mindfulness practices. I would hope that most people who read and comment on this site share a commitment to reason and would therefore wish to check some evidence before completely dismissing a subject.

  24. jcm
    Posted June 25, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Dealing with our own mortality http://nymag.com/news/features/parent-health-care-2012-5/

  25. Posted June 25, 2012 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    I prefer to live in fear of death than in fear of gods and such.

    However, I believe this trade takes courage, and I have found mindful meditation useful.

    Anyway, this is all textbook TMT:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory

  26. Posted July 2, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Didn’t know Ben Stiller was such a brilliant man…

    (ok, very silly joke, but had to do it)


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