How to Instantly Achieve a Calm State | Sam Harris on Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "How to Instantly Achieve a Calm State | Sam Harris on Impact Theory".
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If you're feeling anxiety, there's actually a place from which you can just feel it, right? And be actually indifferent to it or anything else you could be feeling. My first you can notice that anxiety isn't even that unpleasant. I mean, it's so close to excitement in its actual physiology that really the difference between excitement and anxiety is more or less just the framing. It's just the story you're telling yourself. You know, if you felt these tingles and this slightly adrenalineized response right before you're about to go on a roller coaster, that's part of why you're going on the roller coaster. You like that experience, right? But the fact that you feel that way when you're about to have an interview or you're about to walk out on stage, that's intolerable, right? So just dropping back and realizing the power of the framing, it has immense utility because then you can realize that the half-life of negative emotions is incredibly short. Hey everybody, welcome to Impact Theory. Our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you actually execute on your dreams. All right, today's guest is a neuroscientist, philosopher, and a five-time New York Times best selling author. His book, The End of Faith, won the 2005 Penn Award for nonfiction and spent an astonishing 33 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He has a degree in philosophy from Stanford, a PhD in neuroscience, and he's practiced meditation for more than 30 years, a combination that gives him a very unique perspective that has made him one of the most sought-after thinkers on the planet. He's given multiple TED talks with millions of views, and his written works have been translated into more than 20 different languages. Additionally, he's written for some of the most prestigious publications around, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Anals of Neurology to name but a few. A clear and rational voice, almost without peer on some of today's most difficult subjects. When he speaks, thousands of people show up in real life and millions listen online. And his ideas have been discussed by some of the most visible and well-respected outlets in the world, including Time, The New York Times, Scientific American, Nature, and Countless Others. He's also the host of the Webby Award-winning podcast Making Sense, which was named by Apple as one of the iTunes best. So please, help me in welcoming the man who has spent roughly two years in aggregated silent contemplation, one of the four horsemen of the non-apocalypse, Sam Harris. Welcome. Absolutely pleasure to have you. Yeah, pleasure to be here. I'm really excited to dive into some of these subjects, which I think you have just such a fascinating take on. And the thing that I've drawn the most wisdom from with you is what, and these are very much my words, how to live a good life.
Exploring A Better Life: Discussions On Beliefs, Emotions, And State Of Mind
Definition of a good life (03:15)
And that's where I want to start. And it'd be really interesting to hear your definition of what kind of life and way of thinking should we be aiming for. Yeah, it was a hard question because my notion of human well-being is really open-ended. I don't think we understand what the horizon is. In fact, there is one for ultimate flourishing of conscious minds. We have a pretty good sense of what we don't want and are right not to want. We don't want to be terrorized and depressed and find ourselves constantly in conflict with strangers, finding our aims frustrated. So the generic situation we want to find ourselves in more and more is to effortlessly cooperate with creative and happy strangers. The seven billion of us, we need institutions and laws and norms and ways of thinking that take the friction out of pleasurable and non-paranoid interaction with strangers. It's not just about having five or so close friends who have your back. Clearly, we're all on the same team on some basic level. And if we can't figure out how to build a civilization where everyone thrives to some degree, we'll have the world we currently have until it becomes unsustainable. I mean, we're in a situation now where I think it's reasonable to worry that our default state of partisanship and tribalism and rational fear of the incompatible aims of other groups and other people is unsustainable. And the presence of more and more destructive technology, I just think we have to get our act together, psychologically and socially in a way that we haven't yet. And when you think about that coming down to the personal level, do you think about people as having a North Star or a purpose that they should be pursuing and to contextualize that, I'll say, because I always found myself wanting to ask people that, I ended up answering the question for myself. And so for me, the purpose of my life from my perspective is to see how much of my potential I can actuate. So how many skills can I acquire that have meaning and utility to me that allow me to serve not only myself but others. And so that sense of pushing myself to always get better, to always improve, to show up every day and not think about whether I get something, cross some finish line, generate a certain amount of wealth or anything like that, but just do I sincerely approach the idea of bettering myself in a very specific direction based on what I want to accomplish in my life or not. And if I do that sincerely, then I say that the day or the life has been a victory. And if I don't do that, then to me, I'm pointed in the wrong direction. Do you have any sort of guiding light like that that say you would try to pass on to your children or that you yourself have for you? I think that's a good one. And I share it, but I can imagine other versions of having an aim which don't really totally overlap with that. Someone could decide, for instance, that they have a talent that is highly marketable. And what they want to do is make as much money as possible so that they can give a lot of it away to help people. Money is just energy. If you are making billions of dollars and you're giving billions of dollars away to good causes, well, that on an effective altruism metric, that's much better than you going to Africa yourself and handing out food in a famine. You want to be bankrolling thousands of people to do that. And if you have a skill, if you're a great singer, whatever, and it may be a skill that you didn't spend a lot of time to acquire. So you don't have this whole mastery story that you have and that actually resonates with me. So that would be a good life.
Are our belief systems based on the truth? (07:23)
Provided you can extract the psychological satisfaction from it because most of what we experience in philanthropy is when it's telescopic in this way, when you're just signing a check, you're not necessarily connected to the good you're doing. And I can imagine someone doing immense good in the world by signing very large checks, but not actually internalizing the gratification of that. On some level, we have to be aware of the possibility of rowing in two boats simultaneously. There's what the effects are in the world of how we're living. So we want to have a good impact on others, but we actually want our conscious states of psychological pain and pleasure to be mapped in some rational way to the kinds of effects we're having. So you don't want to be a callous person who's just leaving devastated and unhappy people in your wake and taking pleasure in that. I mean, you're a psychopath. That's how you're tuned. But you also don't want to be a person who's doing a lot of good in the world, but not able to internalize the felt sense of you're connected to others because you're too neurotic or too distracted or you're just not connecting with others. So it's really interesting. And I don't think I've ever heard anybody else talk about that notion of making sure that you're mapping what you're doing to sort of be outwardly altruistic to actually map to your own internal state of well-being, if you will. And hearing the discussions that you've been around Islam and how beliefs and ideas can be really dangerous made me ask a question of how and basically I'll quickly summarize. So you've got people that they have a book and the book has ideas and things that they are meant to believe and then act in accordance with. And because of where they grew up or what their parents and the society around them taught them, they internalized those beliefs. And if we could through communicating our ideas well to them, get them to see something that caused more well-being for other people, that that would be a better way to move their belief system. So one, do you believe that a belief system is malleable in that there's some element of what you could choose this set of ideology or you could choose this. And I don't know if you would say that one of those is more true than the other, but certainly one may take us closer to well-being than the other. And if you think that belief systems are by their very nature malleable things, what would sort of be the belief system in just like a couple tenants that you could hand to somebody that you think would help them maximize their own well-being as well as serve a greater good? Speaking generically, I think having our beliefs map on to reality to some degree is obviously good because if they're not, you're just bumping into hard objects. If your map is completely wrong, you are bound to suffer. So we have to be in a situation where radical ignorance can't be bliss. So that's one principle. Now there could be a looseness of fit. There could be situations where being strictly right about what's true, maybe non-optimal. It may be useful to have a slightly delusional self-serving bias to think you're coming off better than you are. It may give you more enthusiasm for your life and more confidence. But anything that's too out of register is just delusion. And other people notice, and other people treat you like somebody who's just not tracking in a reality. And so that's one principle. So I think we want our beliefs to be true in some basic sense. And therefore, we want to be open to new evidence and better arguments perpetually. Because if you close yourself off, if you say, "Well, listen, I'm done. I'm done thinking about reality. And I know what's true." Then again, when more data comes in, when something's surprising, when one of your intuitions proves to be faulty, if you can't error correct, again, you're just going to fall out of alignment with what's going on in the world and what other people think is true as well. So really, the only mechanism we have to do that is human conversation.
Become more open in conversation (11:37)
We have to be open to having other people point out errors in our thinking. And in the conversation we have with ourselves, we have to do likewise. We have to be continually open to the possibility that we might be wrong. And in fact, we're very likely to be wrong a lot of the time. And so then, hence, the virtue of getting educated and surrounding yourself with smart people and reading good books and just exposing yourself to the kinds of lessons that other people have learned over thousands of years and are learning in real time right now. And you can live vicariously through. You don't have to make all the errors that everyone is made around you. So you don't have to, so you can look at Lance Armstrong and say, "Okay, well, it's probably not a good idea to lie relentlessly about something and then try to punish the people who caught you in your lives and then get caught and have to wind up on Oprah apologizing." You can internalize that lesson and understand something about the ethics and reputational costs of lying. So given the conversation and an openness to the intrusions of other people's thinking is really the best game in town for understanding what reality is and how to navigate within it, then you can see how non-optimal and ultimately dangerous dogmatism is. Dogmatism is just holding to an idea no matter what else comes into view. So there's nothing you can say to challenge. I'll talk to you about all this stuff, but over here there's something that I care about, some proposition, some assertion that something is true that I care about so much, I'm so emotionally attached to it that not only is it non-negotiable, if you continue to push over here, I'm going to get angrier and angrier. I'm going to threaten you with violence. That is the default state of organized religion. Historically, certain religions now have relaxed their intolerance to a degree where the violence isn't explicit, but not only is that the default of faith-based religion, they have a way of thinking about dogmatism. Dogmatism is a good word in the context of religion. Christian dogma is not a derogatory term. They call it dogma for a reason. The Catholics do. So this notion that you can believe something strongly without evidence or certainly without good evidence or without evidence that can survive pressure from outside. So the idea that wanting evidence is a perversion of your circumstance. So if you buy this thing in the bag that I haven't shown you, that redounds to your credit, one, it's not true because the experiential core of these religions, experiences like unconditional love say those can be experienced. It's not that everything in our religious literature is untrue, but there's nothing that has to be believed on insufficient evidence to be explored. What I recommend here is that we really adopt a scientific attitude everywhere. We don't partition our thinking about reality where we say, "Well, here's the stuff over here where super important, but we can't think about it too rigorously." In fact, I think about it too rigorously is to corrupt it. Then over here, we've got science and technology and engineers calculating whether a bridge is going to withstand the weight of the traffic on it. And there we can think rigorously. Don't tell me about rigor with respect to meaning and what's worth living for and what's worth dying for and what is love and compassion and well-being. That's all. That has to be just... We have to be hostage to a conversation that our ancestors were having 2000 years ago. And we have to imagine that certain of our books were dictated by the creator of the universe to organize all that. But over here, let's get it all dialed in because we really care about how our smartphones work. It makes no sense. It's trying to resolve that tension is something I've spent a lot of time on. It's interesting to me that that tension exists and it makes me come back to, "Okay, why doesn't that tension exist in my own life?" And the organizing principle that I use, and I think a lot about what would somebody pass on to their children now? I've decided not to have kids. So I will never get to answer this, but I spent a lot of time thinking about what are the organizing principles you've referred to ideas as the operating system of the mind. That seems very apt to me. So what are the organizing principles that I would give somebody to think in a certain way? And one of the things I'm obsessed with, and I think I explained this so poorly, I don't see it light people's eyes up, and I'd love to figure out how to say it well, which is this. Skills have utility. Now, what I mean by that is learning architecture is interesting because it allows you to build a structure that could protect somebody, allows you to build a structure that to really make it basic, like the one I forget exactly what country it's in, but the seed vault. You understand architecture well enough and how to ventilate things and all the things that seeds would need to live for a very long time so that we could replant if we had to. Learning those skills had a purpose, and that purpose allows for something to happen. And so let's take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which I know that you do Jiu Jitsu. Everything that you learn in Jiu Jitsu has a real world implication, and that real world implication is one, if you got into a fight, you probably be more likely to be able to successfully defend yourself, and that in and of itself is so profound as to be worth the time. Now, there's obviously all kinds of other benefits as well, but once people understand, "Okay, these skills have utility, then I need to be fiendish about increasing my skill set because it has this real world application." So the problem that I get into where people are dogmatic about anything, whether it's religion or like I wrote this belief system, okay, it was the 25 things that I had to do to my mind in order to go from being a good employee, which I always lovingly refer to as sort of a slave-like mentality. I kept my head down, did as little work as possible, and avoided punishment at all costs. That's where I started. That's what my parents taught me to do. And to get out of that and to become an entrepreneur, there were these very simple, write downable things that I had to choose to believe and act in accordance with. And if you came to me and said, "Hey, Tom, by the way, number 14 on your list doesn't make sense and it doesn't make sense for this reason, I think you misunderstood something about your own journey." I'd be like, "That's so rad, because now you're giving me something that has more utility than the thing that I've used thus far. One, why do you think that breaks down? What is it that people value more than that? Is there some internal thing? And then what process can people use to become more aware of what's guiding their decision-making? Because I think a lot of people, I don't know if it's just at a feeling level, it's like a limbic thing or what? Well, I think it's a framing problem because most of what people care about can be thought of as a skill. Well-being is a skill. Not suffering unnecessarily, is a skill. Noticing your emotional life and regulating negative emotion is a skill.
Noticing your emotional life (19:12)
I have a meditation app and a meditation is a skill, it's a very useful one. And I'm spending a lot of time teaching what's now referred to as mindfulness meditation. And the moment you begin practicing mindfulness, which is just learning to pay close attention to the nature of your experience. Not adding anything to your experience, you're just noticing what it's like to be you, moment to moment, but in a way that is not reactive. You're not grasping at what's pleasant or pushing what's unpleasant away. You're just, I mean, to make this concrete. Let's say you have a fear of public speaking, right? So you're about to go out on stage and you feel anxiety. The usual, the default state of someone who doesn't want to have that experience is just trying to figure, is one to, in advance, worry about that experience. I mean, the anxiety is kindled just by the mere thought of what you have to do. Then once you feel the butterflies, you are at war with them, right?
Mind Contraction (20:10)
Your mind contracts around it. Your conversation with yourself is unhappy. One, it's like, why the fuck am I this person who just can't? Like, I see people do this all the time. They're relaxed. I'm unhappy. And you're talking to yourself, you're not noticing it, because the thoughts just come up from behind you as fast as they can. And they seem to be you, right? You're identified with each thought that emerges in consciousness. And most people live their lives as though there's no alternative. We're not given a rule book for how to operate a human mind, right? And there's no place in a normal education where it's even indicated that there's no alternative here. And so we get, we kind of stumble out into adulthood. More or less assuming that we have, we'll always have the minds we have. And really, the only thing we can do to really upgrade our firmware is to just add new content. We can read books. We can develop interests, but there's nothing at the sort of root level of our emotional and cognitive life that can change. And so mindfulness is a way of kind of dropping a little bit lower and realizing, so in this case, if you're feeling anxiety, there's actually a place from which you can just feel it, right? And be actually indifferent to it or anything else you could be feeling. I mean, just notice that there's even an unpleasant sensation. I mean, first, you can notice that anxiety isn't even that unpleasant. I mean, it's so close to excitement in its actual physiology that really, the difference between excitement and anxiety is more or less just the framing. It's just the story you're telling yourself. If you felt these tingles and this slightly adrenalineized response right before you're about to go on a roller coaster, that's part of why you're going on the roller coaster. You like that experience, right? But the fact that you feel that way when you're about to have an interview or you're about to walk out on stage, that's intolerable, right? So just dropping back and realizing the power of the framing is, again, this is a skill that is a fairly esoteric one, but now many people are learning it, the secret's out. And it has immense utility because then you can realize that the half-life of negative emotions is incredibly short. I mean, one, you can actually be psychologically free even in their presence, right? Your freedom and your well-being isn't even predicated on getting rid of the physiology, right? You can still be there. But if you're not continually thinking about all the reasons why you should be anxious, the physiology dissipates very, very quickly.
Frances Emotional control (22:46)
And that's true for anger, it's true for anything that is classically negative. Come back to your question. Many of the things that people think they want out of life, they either think or many of the ways they're keeping score about how good their lives are or aren't, they're not seen as these are either, you know, this experience is being delivered to them either based on the skills they have or the skills they've never thought to acquire, right? And yeah, so that's one thing I would add to the picture of the usefulness of skills. I want to talk about the emotional control that you bring up. I think that's super powerful. When my wife and I were first married, my problem was I have a very slow fuse, we're very long fuse. And so it takes a lot to get me angry. And that was actually a big complaint to first. She'd be really annoyed. Something would happen, someone would cut in front of us in line and I wouldn't freak out. And she wanted me to freak out. And she wanted me to like just bask in how unjust it was. And she would really lament that. And it just seemed so strange to me. But then when I got mad, I would stay mad. And there were times I would stay mad eight, 10, 12 hours. And I was working so much at the beginning of our relationship. The only time that we really had together as husband and wife would be for part of a Saturday. And I would inevitably she would say something, it would upset me, I would get pissed and I would stay pissed the entire time. But then as you said, once you stop reinforcing it, which I would do unfortunately, I'd be reinforcing, reinforcing, reinforcing it, then something would happen. It would change my neurochemistry. I'd forget like, why was I so mad? Every single time, I was like, why did I just waste that time being mad? So I ended up writing myself this letter. And I gave it to my wife. And I said, read that to me the next time I get pissed off. And in the letter, I said, Hey, me, it's me. I have no hidden agenda here as to why I want you to calm down other than the fact that you know that if you end up being pissed for several hours, you're going to regret it every single time. And right now, I want you to laugh out loud. And for however long it takes, just laugh out loud, you know, study show that you can't laugh out loud and remain pissed. And so I gave it to her, I got pissed, she read it, she only had to read it once. It was so profoundly transformational to see that just by laughing out loud, I couldn't stay angry that it really helped me get control of my emotions so that I knew I can do what I'll call a state shift. I don't think I've ever heard you use that kind of language. But if I'm angry, I'm choosing to stay angry. Yeah. Unfortunately, I hadn't found meditation at that point. So I had to sort of brute force my way to that. What can people do to learn to get control of their emotions? Well, the first thing to realize is that they already have control.
How to reset a triggered state (25:42)
Virtually anyone watching this, I would expect can do this under certain circumstances. So the one example I would have you recall is I'm sure this happened to almost everyone. You're in some state like that. You're angry, you've just gotten triggered by something. But then the phone rings, right? And the phone, you're getting called by somebody who, this is not someone for you to process your anger with. This is like a business call or like you have to function, right? And it actually perfectly interrupts your state. You actually can just reset and have the conversation and the physiology is dissipating very, very quickly there. Your attention is on something else and you're just having to function. Now, of course, if somebody, if it's a friend or your mother or somebody who you can complain to, well, then you'll jump on and you'll amplify this state because you'll have a reason to talk about it. So you can interrupt these states and simply put your attention on something else and then it dissipates. One thing that I'm really curious to know, you seem just freakishly educated on a whole lot of topics.
The process Sam uses to learn new things (26:46)
What is your process for learning? How do you go about in taking data? How do you start? Do you pull threads? What thread do you pull first if you do? Like, how do you really begin to educate yourself on any given topic? Well, I don't really have, I mean, I've taken a lot of information and I always have. So that's not necessarily an efficient or smart way. I don't have life hacks that optimize me as a consumer of information. So I know there are ways that are recommended to read a book so as to extract the actionable information as quickly as possible from it. I have never been an adopter of any of those ways. And I mean, I basically read everything at the same speed. So I read everything like a scripture. So if it's People Magazine and a waiting room of a dentist's office, I'm reading that at the same speed that I'm reading, a work of philosophy or neuroscience. And the big change of late, I guess this probably happened somewhere around 10 years ago, is that once I realized that there's functionally an infinite amount of information to consume, it was doubling in the sciences every three to five years. And there are literally thousands of good books that I will wish I had read, but I will never get around to reading. I've become a very fickle reader in the sense that I cut my losses very early. The sunk cost fallacy has completely disappeared from me. The idea that I've spent five hours or five days on this thing, so I better just finish it. That used to be my orientation with respect to reading books. Now I'll discard a book just on a whim because I know there's an infinite amount of stuff I want to read. I don't go into the table of contents and look at the structure of the book and then go to the index and then look at the topics. And then I just start on page one and start reading and then when I get bored, I stop. So that's do with that life hack what you will. But I do continually, I mean, I'm either listening to audiobooks or podcasts or the news when I'm working out or commuting or I'm just constantly taking in information fairly passively when I'm multitasking. So there's not the one thing that I don't have a lot of in my life is music because I can't write to music. Certainly I'm music with lyrics. I can't podcast to music obviously. And I've decided that there's so much that I'm interested in. There's so much that I want to know that basically I just hear music by accident. I mean, if someone else is playing music or if I walk into a store, there's music associated with the film, it's getting in. But otherwise, I'm just just a fire hose of information pointed at my head most of the time. I got that. So despite the per chance haphazard way that you're reading, it does seem, at least from the outside, that you are striving, I would say pretty truly for excellence.
Do masculine activities interfere with meditation? (29:54)
Help me reconcile. So one of the things I struggled with with meditation was it felt decidedly feminine and in a way that as somebody who I felt that certainly growing up that I was far more on the feminine end of being a guy than anything else. And so for me, my journey, certainly to being an entrepreneur, was one of toughening up. And so anything that made me feel that old school sort of gentle way, I would push back on. And it's why I didn't meditate for a long time. But I see you doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You're somebody who obviously cares about martial arts and being able to fight and defend yourself. I've heard you talk very eloquently about violence and clearly in your professional life. You've just even just what you've done in the writing, let alone the lecture, and you've already achieved such massive success, refused to believe that there wasn't a just massive amount of energy behind that. So how do you think about meditation in that context? Is this like going to war with your mind? And I'm going to come out the other side having face demons and having won some sort of victory that allows me to perform at a higher level? Or am I totally missing all of this and it needs to be a letting go, a more peaceful, relaxed, sort of transient experience? Yeah, well, first it's a very common association. I totally understand it. And it's presented in many ways where, yeah, under that framing, you can just feel the testosterone leaving your body. So yeah, that's not my orientation. It is a lot like Jiu Jitsu for the mind. And it's a lot like it. What's so beautiful about Jiu Jitsu in particular is that you can have this massive effect in the domain of violence while being relaxed. It is what Akido advertises itself to be, but it's a much more, at least in my estimation, a much more effective version of that same underlying ethic where you can like you can control someone and use as a little violence as necessary and basically just use a superior knowledge of physics and leverage and position against them. So it's a very, it can be incredibly relaxed and yet given what the circumstance is, it can be a very high testosterone experience. It's not quintessentially masculine thing to be doing, but you can internalize the same sort of structure. And that's largely what meditation is because basically the default state is one of being attacked and ambushed all the time by your thoughts and by your reactivity and by you are being taken in by assumptions and illusions and not just you're in a fog, not you personally, but one is. And even when you learn to meditate, you're in this fog most of the time. So the practice is one of continually breaking the spell. You were constantly on the mat constantly finding yourself in a position of some surprising disadvantage. Like it's like all of a sudden there's a rear naked choke that's three quarters applied and you need an answer for that. And not knowing the answer is just synonymous with death. You're just getting, you'll be as miserable for as long as circumstances dictate in the absence of this. And I shudder to interrupt this because I found it so interesting tying it to BJJ. But I need to know why is it or I want it said, why is it that the identification with the eye or these never any thoughts?
Ego and sense of self (33:48)
Why do they create suffering? Well, it's just the ego is at bottom it is itself a kind of contraction. I mean, when you look at what you're this feeling of self is, right? So, let's just talk about what the sense of self is. The sense of self for most of us is not a feeling that we're identical with our bodies. Most people don't feel identical with their physical bodies. They feel like they're passengers inside their bodies, right? They're like my body's down here. Like these are my hands, these are my legs. You know, I obviously care about these things. You know, if you know, these are my pains and pleasures are coming from, but I'm up here in the head and I'm a kind of passenger. I'm a witness of this. And if you look, I mean, most people when they try to pay attention, they try to find themselves, they try to, you know, they try to meditate. They feel that they're a locus of attention in the head behind their face, behind their eyes, you're looking out at the world and the world is not self. You know, you're over there. I'm looking across space at you. I'm here behind my face and my face is a kind of mask, really. I mean, it's like, I'm not identical to my face. I mean, it's, it's states manner to me. Like if I have some weird expression on my face, you know, like someone said, like, well, can we take a picture of you and you can't figure out how to smile and you feel uptight? Like you're reading the state of your face as your emotions are playing on your face, right? The signature of the emotion you're feeling has a lot to do with what you feel in your face. And it feeds back into your mind. If you force yourself to smile, you can actually feel a state of happiness coming in your mind. But people feel like they're behind their face in their head, right? And so that, you know, kind of homunculus that that person in the head, which we know doesn't make any sense neurologically, there's no place in the brain where there could be a little, you know, consciousness that is one thing that is this stable self that's looking out through the eyes, right? There's a flow of experience and you know, it's it is invoking, you know, many regions of the brain at all times. And there is no you you are identical to this flow of experience. This this stream of consciousness is what you are as a matter of subjectivity, right? I'm not I'm not I'm not saying that it's not arising in the brain or that bodies aren't real or that there's no physical universe. I'm saying as a matter of experience, there is just this flow of consciousness and its contents. And yet we seem to put this unchanging center to it. And that is a the what what that is, you know, what what is giving us that feeling that there is an unchanging center to this flow is this sort of this contracted identification with thought. It is a kind of thought, it is just each moment of, you know, if I'm saying something and it doesn't make sense or it sounds like bullshit, the part of the part that the experience in you, which is, oh, that's not right, right? That feels like you, right? I mean, you're not you're not witnessing it as an object in consciousness, just arise and pass away. It sort of has come up from behind and it just feels like that's me, right? And but that thing is always happening that that's me feeling is always happening. And so you just feel like you're in your head behind your face, right? Well, for two reasons. There's two sides of this coin. So much of our of what we're thinking is making us miserable, right? So much of it is unpleasant. So much of it is causing anxiety. We got we look at your to do list, you got 50 things on it. You just feel like, Oh my, there's just the days not long enough, right? This is, you know, the state and that's a good, you know, that's a, you know, a high class problem to have, right? I mean, you know, they're worse problems. This is the state we're in. And the obverse of that is when we're really just connecting with life in a joyful, creative, beautiful way, like when you look out the window and it's the most beautiful sunset ever, and you are just looking at the sunset, right? You're not like you're fully connected with its beauty. Those are all moments where you're losing this sense of self. But the difference between meditation and those moments is that you're not really aware of losing the sense of self in those moments. You're not really aware of what is freeing about those moments. And you can't do it in other circumstances. Like, you can't like, you know, I need the I need the beautiful sunset. Just looking at your shoe isn't good enough for me, right? But with meditation, I can actually look at your shoe in the same way that I look at the sunset. So that's the like what's what's happening for people, most people, is that they're waiting for the world to give them a good enough reason to just be present and to be present so fully that they lose their sense of self, right? That they're no longer behind their face, you know, just waiting for something good to happen, right? Or figuring out how to change the experience enough so that, again, they can start they're no longer at war. I mean, we're to a greater or lesser degree, we're always at war. I mean, we're always fighting something. You know, there's always this like, you know, you're always noticing something wrong. You're feeling uncomfortable in your body. You're reacting to something that somebody did or you thought they did. You're navigating a social encounter that seems off kilter, you know, it's awkward and like you're trying to figure out what to say and that would that sound too stupid. And you're you're just being blown around. And the moments where you really feel good are moments where you can you are there isn't a coming to rest, right? Where it's not about the past or future. You know, it's not even about it's not about half a second ago. That's not about half a second from now. And the ultimate version of that is to just entails the dropping of this this sense of self. Is everything you do about flourishing for you?
The Experiencing Self vs The Remembering Self (40:13)
Unfortunately not. I mean, you know, wisdom would be really being able to track what is going to matter, you know, at the end of the day or at the end of the life. For me, flourishing is a matter of spending your time pleasantly and happily and creatively and having fun. But in all the ways which every moment when someone asks you, well, you know, that last hour, that last day, that last week, that last year, do you feel good about that? Was that a good use of your time? That remembering self, that retrospective gesture, that's where people worry about things like meaning, right? I mean, that's like, so it's like, there's two, I mean, to use, you know, Danny Kahneman's framing here. There's the experiencing self and there's the remembering self. And the remembering self is the self that you're talking to when you say, you know, are you satisfied with your life, whether you're asking yourself or someone's asking you. And the answers that are available in that in those moments really determine whether or not somebody has a kind of global life satisfaction, whether they have meaning. And those are those are the moments where people feel like, you know, I need religion, I need to know, you know, I need to know how the the far future is going to be, I need like, I need some story to tell myself that is fundamentally consoling. But the experiencing self, the self that is just going moment to moment, feeling pains and pleasure, and just dealing with dealing with this very short, you know, time horizon. I think that is, that's fundamentally our real self. I mean, the remembering self is the is a version of that. You know, if you ask me, are you satisfied with your life? And I, you know, spend the next 30 seconds telling you about that. That is yet another, you know, brief chapter in my experiencing self, right? And most of life is, is, is, is, you know, is getting, getting in summed over this, this, this lifeline of the experiencing self. And their questions of meaning and a kind of global story to tell yourself about what this is all about are, are far less important than people think. I mean, I think you want to be playing both games intelligently. You don't want to be absorbed in, in pleasures, which every time you think about your life, have you feeling gone just wasting my life?
The difference between feeling okay & good (42:44)
I'm just, you know, I'm a superficial guy, you know, I've, you know, I got wealthy and now I just, you know, do heroin and play golf, right? And it's just fun. You know, like, whenever you check in with me, I feel pretty good because I have, you know, an unlimited supply of heroin and golf. But it's, you know, I can't really, you know, I'm sort of embarrassed by it every time I have to talk about it. That's not the, you know, you, you do want, so over here, you still do want, you want your pleasures to be justified by good relationships and a world that cares about your inputs and outputs, right? So you're, like, you want, you know, you want what you are paying attention to all day long to matter to someone else. And we're so deeply social. It's not wrong to want those things. But again, it's possible to have a, a purchase on well-being that is deeper than any one of those things so that when you lose one of those things, right, when you find out that the, the thing you thought people would love, they actually hate it, right? You know, the television show you wrote or the novel you wrote or whatever, you invested all this time, you had a hope for this thing, but your hopes were disappointed. How long do you suffer over that, right? In the absence of this sort of superpower, where you can actually find an intrinsic well-being to consciousness, it will be for as long as, you know, your, you know, bad genes and bad life experiences dictate, right? It's like it's just, you're at the mercy of who you were yesterday. And so, you know, as a skill, meditation is fairly unique in that you can actually reset independent of what's going on.
Self-Consciousness And Helping Others: A Shift In Perspective
On the ''self '' & his shift in consciousness" (44:30)
But again, it's not a reason to become totally immune to your integrate, you know, the effects you're having on the world and what the world is telling you because ultimately you are going to spend most of your time asleep and dreaming, you know, this, in this state with, you know, in conversation with yourself and in conversation with others, no matter how much you meditate. I mean, you know, I think ultimately there are people who get, you know, quote, fully enlightened and completely break the spell of being identified with, with thoughts. You know, I'm not one of those people. They're certainly not yet. And so I experienced this fluctuation, but the, the fluctuation, the fluctuation is so important for my well-being that I can talk about it without, you know, hesitation. What do you say to people who the deep fundamental problem in their life is that they're lost. They have no sense of meaning or purpose. They don't know what direction to go into.
How to help someone in 90 secs who has no sense of purpose (45:34)
They're sliding towards depression because it all seems so pointless. That, that's something that I encounter with people a lot. People will stop me randomly and just be like, help. And I'd love to know, knowing that you have a very limited window of time with that person, you know, what would you say in like 60 or 90 seconds that would hopefully send them on a path that would actually be useful? Well, I would just point out the mechanics of it, which is what is actually going on is that they're lost in thought. They're, they're thinking without knowing that they're thinking basically every moment of their waking life, right? And the, and the character of that story, in this case, is depressing or, or, you know, certainly productive of unhappiness. Now, they're two, three, at least three possible antidotes to that, and they should try all of them, right? So like if we're talking about a clinical depression, it's, it's useful to say that there's a physiology to this that, you know, can be driven from below in a way that's not narrowly responsive to their thinking, right? So it's, it'll tend to produce depressive thoughts and the depressive thoughts will tend to feed back on the state. But, you know, I don't think all forms of depression are just a matter of what a person's thinking. And it can be really, it's, it's best viewed as a kind of disease, you know, of physiology. And so, you know, I'm not against antidepressants at all. I know many people who've, you know, received a lot of help from them. And I hope we get better ones in the future. And, and pharmacology is definitely a piece of the, of the solution for, for many people. And everything else that is good to do that people sort of lose their commitment to doing at the worst possible time should be done. I mean, you have to sort of get behind yourself and push to, to exercise and to socialize and to do things that, you know, you, you may not want to do because those are good for you and help, you know, break can, can break you out of it. But the normal range of psychological suffering, you know, not clinical depression, but just feeling like, you know, life sucks and you're a failure and there's nothing, you know, it's like, you're just, it's, you're stuck. That is a story of telling yourself a story. You're thinking and you can either become more and more mindful of that and interrupt that more and more and or and it should be and you can reframe this continually and tell yourself a better story. But you can actually just engineer, you know, you can change the code that you're, that you're, you know, running moment to moment. And I mean, just, you know, very simple one, which I, you know, I use, I actually recently recorded this, you know, lesson on the app, you know, just gratitude, just thinking, this actually, you know, this particular maneuver is, I believe comes from stoic philosophy. I didn't actually get it from stoic philosophy, but this, this sort of use of negative imagination where you think of all of the bad things that haven't happened to you. Right. So if you're just, you know, if you're stuck in traffic, driving to the job that you don't like and you're, you're frustrated, you can think of all the things that could happen to you, right, that haven't. And if any one of them happened to you, you would consider your prayers answered if you could just be returned to this moment, right? Like you haven't been diagnosed with cancer, right? You've got two young kids say, you know, you want to live to see them grow up and you could be the guy who today is going to find out you've got two months to live, right? And you have to then the next two months is spent just unwinding your worldly affairs, right? You're not that guy, right? That hasn't happened to you yet. That's just more thinking, but it can have a profound effect. You can, you can reframe your experience in a way that doesn't actually change anything material about your circumstance and it can let the light in. And there are many techniques like that that are just a matter of invoking useful concepts skillfully. Tell these guys where they can find you online. The Making Sense podcast is something I spend a lot of time doing.
Where to find Sam (49:52)
My meditation app is at wakinup.com. It's called Waking Up. And otherwise, I'm just my website, samharris.org. I'm on Twitter is also Sam Harris org. There's no dot, but you just put in Sam Harris and you'll get an eye full.
Sam'S Impact And Legacy
What's the impact he wants to have? (50:15)
Yes, very true. What's the impact that you want to have on the world? Well, you know, I what I'm spending my time doing is trying to engage honestly with interesting and consequential ideas. So the net, the then diagram I have, you know, I don't think about it a lot, but when I think about, you know, retrospectively what I have been spending a lot of time doing, I seem to keep finding the intersection of intellectually interesting ideas. They have to have some con connection to science or philosophy or it just has to be the kind of thing that someone would may want to think about anyway, because they're just cool ideas. So something like artificial intelligence, right? Very interesting to think about, but it's also hugely consequential, you know, increasingly so. And if we get it wrong, it will, you know, redound our misery, right, if not extinction, right? So like that is that's the center of the bullseye for me. Something that's interesting, something that's consequential, something that that getting it the difference between getting it right and wrong is enormous, right? And that's so those are that's sort of the landscape where I'm trying to continually focus my conversations. I love that. All right, guys, truly there are a few people on this planet that have influenced my thinking more than this man. I hope that you will dive in his world and let it expand your own consciousness and discover new things that you're capable of. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. And until next time, my friends, be legendary. Take care. Sam, Jesus, how many times have you robbed a bank? I've got the bank the way you mean as it went into a one and stole the cash four times. Wow. And stole money virtually dozens of times.