Monday, June 04, 2012

Sam Harris on Death and the Present Moment

source: Thanks Tim Stephenson for sharing.

Draft Transcription of Sam Harris Talk

Sam Harris – Death and the Present Moment
2012 Australian Atheist Conference.. A celebration of reason
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc (established 1970)
Reality of death is central to religion and its denial to religion. Without death faith based religion would be unthinkable. From the point of view of the faithful, atheism is the mere assertion of death. Atheists appear to be a death cult since we are the only people who admit that death is real. Every other view leaves the question open or asserts that death is an allusion. The good people, the people who believe the right things about an iron age war god, get everything they want after they die. Every thing that is annomoulous or accidental gets sorted out in the end. There is no reasonable likelihood of that happening. The gospel of atheism, The essential news, the good news of Atheism is that nothing happens after death. There is nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. When after you die you are returned to that nothingness you were before you were born. This proposition is very hard to understand. Most people mistake nothing for something. Many have said that my friend Lawrence Krauss does that! In the case of death many people imagine a case of eternal silent darkness which does sound a little boring. But if we are right and nothing happens after death, then every religion every devised, is false. But if we are right and nothing happens after death, then death is not a problem. Life is the problem. The problem is without God and without an eternal existence after death, life appears to be an emergency. It’s a long emergency for many. You can’t help but notice that things are going very wrong in this place. No matter how much fun you are having, a glance at a newspaper, will show you its possible to have no fun at all. Everyone seems to have a run of bad luck in the end. Religion makes sense of these problems: its my karma, my god will mean that I’m so lucky. God wants me to have a new iPad (halleluyuw), not be the ones making the iPad for a few $ a day. To not believe in god means its up to us to make the world a better place. We have barely emerged from centuries of barbarism. Its not a surprise that that there are inequities in this world. Its hard work to climb down from the trees and build a global civilisation when you start with a technology that is made of rock and sticks and fur. This is the project and progress is difficult. If you talk to your ancestor 100 generations ago you’d meet someone who thought that sacrificing their first child was a good way to control the weather. Some of you don’t have to go back that far. You just have to go home for Christmas!
(8.03) Real progress is a very recent phenomena. Religion keeps its foot on the brake. In the USA, still have to argue that women have access to birth control.
8.33 – Abortion. … Child Abuse by Catholic Church … this world will not be a paradise. Cure ageing  itself, upload on Ai, Singularity,
10.32: if you live long enough – you will lose everyone you know. A memory is a thought arising in the present.
12.16: Atheism is a necessary corrective of bad ideas, but it puts nothing in its place. What fills the void is science and art and philosophy. Atheism is just a way of clearing the space for better conversations. The problem we face is convincing majority of humanity to have those better conversations and this is a political problem. It’s a scientific problem, it’s an interpersonal problem, It’s a problem of education. The problem is that most people most of the time are desparate to belive ridiculous ideas for repeatedly emotional reasons. Whilst rarely explicit what they are really worried about is death. When we are arguing about teaching evolution in schools we are really arguing about death. The only reason the religious care about Evolution is that If religion are wrong about origins then they fear they are wrong about our destiny after death. If you say to the religious that they are a fool to not believe in Evolution or a fool to believe the universe is 6000 years old then that gets translated into saying they are a fool to believe that their daughter that died in a car crash is in heaven with god (this is consoling). How can people close to tragedies make sense of that – religion provides an answer to that - but it's an unjustified answer, a bad answer. Grief is not so necessary if you believe in heaven cos you will be re-joined with your daughter in heaven in  a twinkling of an eye. Atheism does not offer real consolation on this point. 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.
17.58: most of us do our best not to think about death. But we know we are only a doctors phone call away from being reminded of our own mortality or of those closest to us. Hitch wrote brilliantly about death in is his Vanity Fair articles (go read them). 
20.08. Most people tacitly think they will live on forever. There better be a heaven if we are going to waste our time bickering with our spouses etc etc! Unlike religious people we atheists have a real good reason to make the most of life. To make the most in the present moment. Even if you live to 100 there are not that many days in life. So what is the point in life. Is anything sacred? Does that question make sense? There are ways to live in the present moment. The reality of life is always NOW. This is a liberating truth about the human mind. This is the most important thing to know if you want to be happy in this world.
23.40 The past is a memory it’s a thought arising in the present. The future is merely a thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment .. and this moment.
25.20 I don’t want to stand in front of 4000 atheists and talk about Lao Tzu. Not more information but requires a change of attitude, change in attentiveness in the present moment.
26.01 Consciousness just arrives dependant on the brain, consc indepent of the body. No.
28.59 Conceptual lens
29.50 to 37.10: 7 minute Mindfulness Meditation in the present (you are now all Buddhists!)
41.56 constantly ruminating – you will miss your life. Be in the present. Voice in the head keeps saying things. Conversation that you have with yourself every minute of the day has a cost. Mechanism of self doubt - the fear of death. Hostage to thoughts is not useful. Purpose of life is obvious – we try to create and repair a world that our minds want to be in. We Atheists alone among humanity realise that, religion is a bad way to do that, we have to start a new conversation.
46: Douglas Hofsteder – memory is an emulation of them.
50.20 – 56.30 Question on suffering when can see death in the world. When you are suffering you are lost in thought. Some  things are worth suffering over? If your child dies can you stop suffering if you break the spell of thought? Yes to some degree but its damn hard to do when the bar is set that high when you dealing with the death of someone so close to you. The experience of the 7 minute meditation (I’ve gone on retreats for weeks or months at a time) and in silence for 18 hours a day just did that exercise. It takes a lot of time to realise how much thought is clouding your experience of the present moment. Under current of thought – memory of how much you loved her – buffeted to thoughts, hostage to thoughts. Relief of death and suffering is by bearing down on the present moment,  erodes the pain of the pain. The framing is the issue, it’s the difference between the pain in your arm because you are getting good at lifting weights or the pain of bone cancer. We give a lot of thought to gaining more information or getting healthy. We give very little thought to training the mind, training attention itself. Lot of neuroscientific research on Mindfulness Meditation. Many good things happen when you can just drop your stress and the automaticity of thinking. Just be aware of current moment, the next sensation, the next thought. Experience of flow in the present moment. There is relief to found there but it takes training, a commitment to not merely brooding and thinking. Not discounting the utility of thought.Not discounting the importance of sorting out the world. There is a quiestic bias amongst meditators that I think is completely dysfunctional. We don’t want a culture of people not being engaged and not improving the world. But if there is any kernel of truth in the religions we so deplore and they are just a carnival of errors the truth is it possible to sink into the present moment in such a way to find it sacred and to cease to have a problem. Most of the testimony for this is contaminated with religious bullshit.

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