We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
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20-01-2011, 06:51 AM
 
We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
interesting article by Sam Harris, from: http://www.edge.org/q2011/q11_12.html#harriss (lots of other reads there as well worth checking out)


We are Lost in Thought

I invite you to pay attention to anything — the sight of this text, the sensation of breathing, the feeling of your body resting against your chair — for a mere sixty seconds without getting distracted by discursive thought. It sounds simple enough: Just pay attention. The truth, however, is that you will find the task impossible. If the lives of your children depended on it, you could not focus on anything — even the feeling of a knife at your throat — for more than a few seconds, before your awareness would be submerged again by the flow of thought. This forced plunge into unreality is a problem. In fact, it is the problem from which every other problem in human life appears to be made.

I am by no means denying the importance of thinking. Linguistic thought is indispensable to us. It is the basis for planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other capacities that make us human. Thinking is the substance of every social relationship and cultural institution we have. It is also the foundation of science. But our habitual identification with the flow of thought — that is, our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as transient appearances in consciousness — is a primary source of human suffering and confusion.

Our relationship to our own thinking is strange to the point of paradox, in fact. When we see a person walking down the street talking to himself, we generally assume that he is mentally ill. But we all talk to ourselves continuously — we just have the good sense to keep our mouths shut. Our lives in the present can scarcely be glimpsed through the veil of our discursivity: We tell ourselves what just happened, what almost happened, what should have happened, and what might yet happen. We ceaselessly reiterate our hopes and fears about the future. Rather than simply exist as ourselves, we seem to presume a relationship with ourselves. It's as though we are having a conversation with an imaginary friend possessed of infinite patience. Who are we talking to?

While most of us go through life feeling that we are the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience, from the perspective of science we know that this is a distorted view. There is no discrete self or ego lurking like a minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. There is no region of cortex or pathway of neural processing that occupies a privileged position with respect to our personhood. There is no unchanging "center of narrative gravity" (to use Daniel Dennett's phrase). In subjective terms, however, there seems to be one — to most of us, most of the time.

Our contemplative traditions (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc.) also suggest, to varying degrees and with greater or lesser precision, that we live in the grip of a cognitive illusion. But the alternative to our captivity is almost always viewed through the lens of religious dogma. A Christian will recite the Lord's Prayer continuously over a weekend, experience a profound sense of clarity and peace, and judge this mental state to be fully corroborative of the doctrine of Christianity; A Hindu will spend an evening singing devotional songs to Krishna, feel suddenly free of his conventional sense of self, and conclude that his chosen deity has showered him with grace; a Sufi will spend hours whirling in circles, pierce the veil of thought for a time, and believe that he has established a direct connection to Allah.

The universality of these phenomena refutes the sectarian claims of any one religion. And, given that contemplatives generally present their experiences of self-transcendence as inseparable from their associated theology, mythology, and metaphysics, it is no surprise that scientists and nonbelievers tend to view their reports as the product of disordered minds, or as exaggerated accounts of far more common mental states — like scientific awe, aesthetic enjoyment, artistic inspiration, etc.

Our religions are clearly false, even if certain classically religious experiences are worth having. If we want to actually understand the mind, and overcome some of the most dangerous and enduring sources of conflict in our world, we must begin thinking about the full spectrum of human experience in the context of science.

But we must first realize that we are lost in thought.
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21-01-2011, 02:15 AM
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
Interesting. Thanks.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Richard Dawkins comes to me, speaking words of reason, now I see, now I see.
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10-02-2011, 07:10 AM
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
An enjoyable read. Now if only the non religious could develope a way to stop thinking for a moment and gain the calming sense of selflessness that the theists have, oh wait that's what literature and film were made for. =p

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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26-02-2011, 03:38 AM
 
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
I have thought, that it is our 'thought' itself that is creating all the confusion. our ability and want to classify everything and find an explanation to things. what makes us human is what unmakes us.
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26-02-2011, 05:02 PM
 
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
(10-02-2011 07:10 AM)Lilith Pride Wrote:  An enjoyable read. Now if only the non religious could develope a way to stop thinking for a moment and gain the calming sense of selflessness that the theists have, oh wait that's what literature and film were made for. =p


What would "not thinking" accomplish though? It seems counter productive as well as counter intuitive, as an animal that has the capacity for thought, and in a demonstrable way, that thinking has served toward the betterment of existence to stop doing the very thing that has helped create the world which we live in. I would also posit that the founders (and perpetuaters) of the worlds modern religions do quite a bit of thinking.
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26-02-2011, 11:39 PM
 
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
(26-02-2011 05:02 PM)sano Wrote:  What would "not thinking" accomplish though?

While I love being on this forum and reading and discussing complex or deep thoughts and ideas, doing too much of it makes me feel a little burnt out sometimes. "Not thinking" is nice to just take a break and let our minds soak up the information and world around us and be at peace with our surroundings.
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27-02-2011, 12:06 AM
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
That is what meditation does. It relaxes to the point of suspending thought. This gives us a rest and allows one to take another look at things, this time with a with a refreshed mind.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Richard Dawkins comes to me, speaking words of reason, now I see, now I see.
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27-02-2011, 11:22 AM
 
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
Meditation is not the act of "not thinking" as much as it is a concerted and purposeful effort to calm oneself and concentrate on ones surroundings.
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27-02-2011, 07:43 PM
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
The meditation I do is a purposeful effort to calm oneself which often results in the suspension of thought. Those moments of suspension from thought are the most relaxing points in the meditation. Concentration on one's surroundings is not how I was taught to meditate.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Richard Dawkins comes to me, speaking words of reason, now I see, now I see.
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28-02-2011, 07:51 PM
 
RE: We are lost in thought- Sam Harris article
While I do not really practice meditation (I would like to, but I get distracted by other things and am lazy) I don't claim to be any sort of expert. I do find this video interesting: 7 myths of meditation

While the presentation of the videos from this guy may seem a bit amateurish and funny looking, I think he's got interesting things to say.
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