• Taking Sam Harris to task


    I love Sam Harris, but I cringe every time he says something about Buddhism, meditation, or that feudal dictator known as the Dalai Lama.

    Going through his blog, I ran into two guided meditations Harris posted, along with this:

    There is nothing spooky or irrational about mindfulness, and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial.


    Developing this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression; improve cognitive function; and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation, and self-awareness.

    Wow, that sounds a lot like… quackery.

    Despite Harris saying there’s “substantial (scientific) literature”, and that these effects “have been shown”, he fails to link to a single peer-reviewed paper, published by a magazine with extensive background to support his claims. I know he says he’ll cover all the science (!) on his book, but a single link wouldn’t kill him, right?

    And then it comes the “changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain” claim. As far as I know, what have been linked to meditation is having thicker cortical areas, but those studies fail to define meditation in an objectively measurable way, and they established a correlation; and as we all know, correlation doesn’t imply causation.

    By the way, we know for fact, with peer-reviewed papers, that meditation is dangerous. I hope I am misunderstanding Harris and he will provide evidence for his claims.

    Category: Uncategorized


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker

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    • You know, not everything is quackery and a quick google search yourself would have shown you that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation

    • Jim

      It would seem that your problem is that he wants people to read his book.

      • Well, it is not. My problem is he praising and promoting irrational beliefs.

    • I’m kind of divided on this issue. I’m as antitheistic as Harris is but I am somewhat sympathetic to some versions of Buddhism, so long as the absurd metaphysics (like reincarnation) are jettisoned. One can be a naturalist and a Buddhist at the same time with no major conflict: In Buddhism there is no god, and one need not acknowledge a supernatural dimension.

      • As far as I’m concerned, there are gods in Buddhism and the ideology itself is a rejection of the physical world (turning down your desires?), so it’s all metaphysical.

        • Traditionally there never were gods in Buddhism, but there was a “spiritual world.” It’s certainly possible to jettison the spiritual mumbo jumbo and keep the philosophy.

          • How do you intend to do that? That whole ‘philosophy’ rests upon the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and wouldn’t make (even any less sense) without it.

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    • Paul Cannell

      I am surprised that Sam Harris continues to be caught in a blindspot with meditation. Its possible he is still stuck in guru worship of Papajii and similar others and his personal investment in experiences of visspassana meditation has wired his brain accordingly. Perhaps he may wish to read the excellent article entitled “the dark side of visspassana” on the Atheist Foundation of Australia website. Perhaps Sam Harris may see the danger of narrowing and subjecting his own mind to the personal psychosis and torment of a 2000 year old character who posits the delusional ideology of the desperate goal of enlightenment or purity or oneness blah blah woo woo. Meditation is woo woo and to rejected. Go for a walk instead. Nirvana is a concoction of a deluded mind and by practising meditation you take on the history of that mindset. Wake up.

      • I completely agree. Funny thing: his podcast is called Waking Up.

        BTW, do you have the link to the Dark Side of Visspassana article?