The Myth of Free Will, Thoughts on Religion, and More – Sam Harris on Bret Weinstein’s DarkHorse Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • In today’s world, it’s shocking that there are little to no consequences for public dishonesty
  • Instead of flat-out lying to children, consider not telling them the full truth
  • Free will is a myth
  • The big question to ponder: Is life a movie that has already been shot or is it being shot right now?
  • Religion is often a placeholder for ignorance until something can be explained through science
  • “Whatever good can be found in religion – and I’ve yet to find an important exception to this rule, and I’ll admit it’s possible that there is an exception – is better found some other way” Sam Harris

Intro

The Miracle of Podcasting

  • One huge perk of talking on a podcast compared to via email or text: real-time responses
  • In a way, podcasting is a return to an ancient form of a conversation (like how our ancestors frequently had conversations over a fire)
    • “We’re living through the Golden Age of conversation in some ways” – Sam Harris

On Lying

  • In today’s world, it’s shocking that there are little to no consequences for public dishonesty
    • “We have a president who I think – and even most of his fans would admit this – lies more than almost any other public figure that can possibly be named” –Sam Harris
    • But the problem: Many people consider lying a feature among humans, not a bug
  • When it comes down to it, telling the truth 100% of the time makes life easier
    • The main reason: You don’t have to track who you told which lies to, what you lied about in the past, etc.
  • Advertising or promoting a product, as long as you’re completely honest, isn’t deceptive
    • Sam references how Tim Ferriss is an awesome marketer who finds and promotes helpful products
    • But there is such a thing as “false advertising”:
      • For example: A drug company hiring an actor who played a doctor on a popular show to be in their commercial (this gives off the false impression that their product is being recommended by a legitimate doctor)
  • Is it okay to lie to children?
    • Sometimes, but instead of lying to them, consider simply not telling them the full truth
      • For example, Sam doesn’t need to tell his 11-year old daughter how terrible ISIS is or how horrible the crimes they commit are
      • Or, instead of lying, consider having an open secret your child
        • How so? – Tell them they don’t yet need to know/don’t want to know the complete truth

Free Will is a Myth

  • Sam claims that although many people believe they have free will, no one actually does
    • “We live in a world where everything that can happen does, in fact, happen somewhere… Whatever surprises are here can still be understood deterministically.” – Sam Harris
      • (In other words, there are an infinite number of universes, and everything that will happen in this universe has already been written)
      • 🎧 “Anything that can happen will happen an infinite number of times. That’s how big infinity is. So there are an infinite number of identical copies of us having infinitely similar and slightly different conversations than this an infinite number of times, simply if you make the universe big enough.”
  • “The other issue I have with free will: if you pay close enough attention to what it’s like to be you, you can notice that everything is just happening. You don’t know what you’re going to think until you think it, until the thought itself arises, and it arises in the same adventitious way that a hummingbird can fly in your window.”Sam Harris
    • “You’re not standing in relationship to authorship. There is, in fact, no you that is standing there pushing the thoughts into view.”

Luck and Randomness

  • “All of Darwinism, which is stacked on the idea that two things could have happened and one of them did, requires there to be randomness somewhere in the universe” – Bret Weinstein
    • “From what we can tell, the universe isn’t totally deterministic”
  • Sam’s counterargument: Life is like a movie that has already been shot and we’re just watching it. We’re experiencing the movie, but don’t have any power to change what’ll happen.
    • “There are zero degrees of freedom. The last scene exists just as much as the first scene… It’s all scripted… Everything’s been arranged to seem like it was causing each subsequent thing but everything was put in place.” – Sam Harris
    • “You’re so taken by the illusion of it that it seems not only like real life, it seems more real than real life in some sense” – Sam Harris
  • 🎧 If there are multiple universes, and something goes wrong in life, you have to ask yourself what role you played. However, if life is completely deterministic, everything that happened was supposed to happen, no matter how cruel.
  • The big question to ponder: Is life a movie that has already been shot or is it being shot right now?

Thoughts on Religion

  • “Religion isn’t just one thing. There are many different religions on offer and they do things differently. They believe in different things. There are different consequences to each.” – Sam Harris
    • “Religion is a very broad concept, like food… Not all foods are doing the same thing and they’re not all fit for the same occasion.” 
      • Some people find happiness in religion while others can be happy without it
  • “Whatever good can be found in religion – and I’ve yet to find an important exception to this rule, and I’ll admit it’s possible that there is an exception – is better found some other way” Sam Harris
    • Sam admits that a lot of good has certainly been done because of religion, such as missionaries going to Africa to lend aid. But couldn’t people also do the same thing without it being tied to a religious belief?
  • What is religion to Sam? 
    • “It’s another name we put to ancient ignorance” – Sam Harris
  • Religion isn’t much different than witchcraft
    • Just like religious people pray for something to happen, people who believe in witchcraft perform spells for things for the same
  • Religion is often a placeholder for ignorance until something can be explained through science
    • For example, people used to believe crop failures or people catch disease were the result of certain religious rituals not being followed. Today, we can explain both through science.
      • (And every year, more religious answers are replaced with scientific ones)
  • 🎧 Most religious people aren’t trying to become holy figures, “They’re normal, neurotic people who are worried about death and suffering”Sam Harris

Additional Notes

  • Parents who aim to shield their children from as much harm as possible need to remember that important life lessons are learned during difficult circumstances
  • 🎧 It’s great for children to be born into a happy family with two parents who love each other, but there’s often a shadow side to it. Sometimes, children born into less loving families develop more grit and resilience.
  • A paradox is like an X on a treasure map – it means there’s something to be discovered here
  • “What’s the problem with the Trump presidency? Well, one major problem is just sheer opportunity cost; just think of all the good things we’re not doing when we’re talking about how bad Trump is or when we’re trying to figure out how to get him unelected or impeached.” – Sam Harris
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