« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#159 — Conscious

2019-06-05 | 🔗

In this episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with his wife, Annaka Harris, about her new book, "Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind."

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to the making sense, Podcast SAM Harris, okay, not much housekeeping today Just a reminder that enterprise accounts are available on the waking up app if you're interested in that or work for a company that might be, interested you can send an email to enterprise at waking up dot com. And also new features, are rolling out on the app soon you'll be able to sit in groups with friends and colleagues. There notifications and reminders that you can turn on the app which many people find useful you can set a time to meditate each day with a reminder and notifications will tell you when new lessons or new features are hitting the app things are rolling along on that front. Okay, So today I have an unusual podcast. My wife Monica is joining me he's. Never been on the podcast before many of you have asked to have her on.
And as luck would have it, she has a book that we were eager to talk about. The book is conscious of guide to the fundamental mystery the mind and see her Bio, Annika Harris is an author, editor and consultant for science, writers, she's author. Children's book. I wonder and a collaborator on Susan Kaiser Greenlands mindful Games activity cards. Her were disappeared in the New York Times and she lives with her husband, the neuroscientist author and Podcaster SAM Harris and their two children confirm all of those facts. The thing It's not here, though implicit in her being an editor and consultant for science writers Monica has added it all my written work since my first book, the end of faith. That book included and once I discovered her talents as an editor, I recommend that she do it professionally. So she's collaborated with other scientists. Neurosci There's an physicists mainly an she wrote that
his book. I wonder which many of you liked, but this is the first book that she's written for grownups and the focus of book is the nature of consciousness and why it is so inscrutable. This is something, that not everyone recognizes, and she does that. Remarkably well the blurbs in a previous housekeeping, but marker Kaboni dentist said I've read many many great books on consciousness in my life as a neuroscientist, conscious tops the mall hands down TIM Urban, the the weight, but wine blog writes one of spokes had fundamentally shifts the way you think about reality. Konica Harris is a masterful explainer, MAX Tegmark, I t rights in this gem of a book. Annika Harris tackles consciousness, controversies with incisive of rigor and clarity in a style. Accessible and captivating. Anyway, it's a great look at the problem of consciousness.
We get into some of this over the next hour. We talked about a few other things anyway. I hope you enjoy the conversation hi, sir. I did and I bring you on a hair. Oh, Okay, I got Annika in the studio. My own wife welcome. Thank you. You ready for this. We should really have other people here. I think no go to save us from ourselves. Yeah. Have a hostile witness here: okay, well, you have a new book coming out for grown. We're gonna talk about. Let's talk, How overjoyed you are to be doing this podcast, but why are you reluctant to do this? I don't think You should start with that or not I don't know because part of it is just that it's. This is a totally awkward thing to do, which is why I think it might
better. If we had that Michael closer more toward you go think that. Curse the reality is I I just realized this. Our first date was filled with a conversation about this topic and we basically spoke about consciousness and free will- and you know the other top, in your book now it may be a bad sign that was followed by you, avoiding me for six months and not returning my emails so now well. I mean the the thing I thought about also before we did. This is that the friend who set us up had said to me that she didn't know, of course, whether there'd be a romantic connection,
but that she knew that we would be great friends, because we talk about and think about all of the same things and it's true we've been thinking about a lot of the same things for for most of our lives, and this was the topic of, I think, mostly what we talked about, that the first time we met was philosophy, consciousness to give a false impression. We don't spend a lot of time talking about these things now. So happily, your book is an excuse to get into it and your book is conscious, a brief guide to the fundamental mystery of the mind different title. I recall, I think you lucked out and being overruled on your title, but what was the first title lights on right, conscious, I think, is a better title, they're right, so thank you, dear publisher, so um. What's the book about really see this is weird.
Why did you write a book on consciousness? We can go back to what's the book. Say. You know, I obviously know what the book is about, but why don't you say something about what the book is about love. You already asked the question. Let me just try to answer. Oh my god, alright, this staying in the interview. That is awesome, listen, listen to listen to me
The answer, let me answer your question question. Let me answer it the answer. This is my podcast. You asked a question. Let me it's okay, all right. So my book is about the science and philosophy of consciousness and it focuses on why consciousness is so deeply mysterious, but want one of the things that it does? That has always been interesting to me and that, of course, you and I have talked a lot about- is breaking through false intuitions, and it's something that I find incredibly interesting to do an interesting that we often reach deeper truths, more fundamental truths, better picture of the reality around us when we can break through intuitions that are missing us or that are giving us false information about the well
around us, even if they're helpful for us at the time I was thinking about the fact that, even as a child, this was an interesting exercise to me. This was something and actually begin the book this way. So I talk about just my experience of breaking through the intuition, basically that the earth is flat and that where we're are on it, underneath the sky, rather than on a sphere in in the way that we are, but I remember, being a child and trying to think of paradoxes or make up paradoxes just to create this feeling of kind of breaking out of this. This day to day experience that that I knew in some ways was Miss guiding me are keeping me: apart from from the deeper mysteries. So what are some of the intuitions that so off brand consciousness, so just Some context you- and I both have this experience of
and dialogue with some very smart people who seem not to get the most charitable thing to say, is they have fundamentally different intuitions about consciousness, and what could be plausible to think about it. It's interesting about it? What is mysterious about it hi this is true free will to, and it is. This is true of the nature of the self reports. Illusory nature and those are the two big ones, though those are the big ones that I think misleading us in terms of being able to understand consciousness it wasn't so there is a free will and- and the self are really two sides of the same coin yeah and then there's the hard problem of consciousness, which is more the focus of your book. Although free wellness, I've come up so it so you- and I are almost the worst people to Dayag close this problem because we're really
we're totally aligned on our intuitions here and we're fairly mystified by the responses we get from some people on this topic. So we've been in some funny circumstances to wear we cannot let go of our side of the we happen to be in the same place at an event, for dinner, where we've encountered, someone who has a very different intuition in neither of us can let this debate go and so will sit there for two hours until everyone else is left trying to get the other person to understand what we're talking about yeah. We basically tried to perform an exorcism on this person and I guess those people should go nameless, but so, but start with the hard problem and the intuition that some people have that either doesn't test store. It's not or there's no mystery around consciousness is different from any other thing. We don't yet understand scientifically. How do you raise this
yeah? I do. I understand it in a sense, because so the hard problem. I believe that the term was coined by David Chalmers but this is this is obviously this is a problem that people have encountered for much longer than David Chalmers used the term in nineteen. Ninety five. So it's it's a concept that has been around for a very long time and- and he gave us the shorthand which is great and very useful in conversation, but that the problem is is essentially. Why is it that any configure tion of non conscious material. Since we obviously know that everything in the universe is is is made of the same things that the the ingredients are the same for everything and but that particles get configured in such a way that suddenly the matter itself entails an experience of being that matter, and so there's almost no
no explanation or there's really no explanation. We could think of that. We could ever give. That would make it less mysterious, because it's always non con matter getting arranged in a very specific way, so that it suddenly lights up from the inside, and so it seems that no matter how much we know about the brain, there's nothing that will that will ever make this less mysterious, and so that so Chalmers was contrasting. This problem, this mystery to be quote, unquote easier problems which are more about how the brain processes which parts of the brain. Responsible for which functions and the more complex understanding that we now have, since we have a science of the brain of which experiences in which behaviors are correlated with, which brain stew right so the in easy problem of consciousness would be something like. Why is vision the way it is
is? Why is there a one to one mapping say of the visual field on to the visual cortex, but the heart problem is: why is it like something to see right? Why? Why is there an experience there yeah? As you said it, it seems, like you, have complex systems, doing complex things at no point should be necessary, or it's certainly not obvious. Why would be necessary that it be like something from the inside to be that system because we know so much of this can happen, unconsciously, even our own case, or it certainly seems well we'll get to that, we may not know that as much as we think we do and I just use this phrase a few times a like something to be a system, and that comes from Thomas Nettles s a what is it like to be a bat or he defined consciousness in these terms, if, if it is a like something to be a bad. That's what we mean by consciousness in the case of a bat
whether we can never understand what it's like to be a bad or not? Now this phrase trips off our tongues without any problem, and yet I notice that- It confuses many people, then people who have the opposite intuition about consciousness. They they think. Well, it's like something to be anything. It's like something to be that couch or sitting on right well, but it's part, it's partly a linguistic issue that it doesn't actually mean anything. It's it's it's not as accurate as we'd like it to be. I actually like the word experience better, even though that can misunderstood too, but it confuses people on two levels, one there, people who actually don't see consciousness and experience as being something unique again is the right word, but there's there's an there another group of people who actually get the hard problem, but they still have a hard time getting their minds around this language. It's like something is it like? Something
and actually I noticed that with with most of those people, if you just have a little back and forth, they get it and you've written about this to just distinguishing between collections of matter or sister is that you think are having having an experience and those that aren't and that that difference that basic difference is what we mean by consciousness. What we're talking about what is mysterious, so, if you just ask the person Is there something that it's like to be you right now? Are you having an experience and, of course they don't don't even have to think about it. There's reflexively answer yes, and then you is it like something to be your shoe lace or your chair having an experience right now, their intuition? is immediately no, and so it doesn't even matter what the truth is just being able to distinguish between like a yes there there's. I have an immediate response to that, and so therefore I I understand what you're talking about so I guess the confusion that I notice is that people, when you say this phrase,
what is it like to be a bad? They take the external, view of that? What is it like from the outside? To be that thing, not what it's like from the inside, then I think experience does the trick there. You can say what kind of experience does have you okay, so why is it not straightforward to judge the consciousness of a system or thing from the outside? What is the evidence that consciousness exists yeah, so this is so listeners know I I begin my disk. Mission and my basically the book takes the reader through my own thought processes over the last fifteen years or so and what I've arrived at and why I've become open to some of the stranger theories that are out there. That postulate, that consciousness could be a more fundamental feature of the universe, and so I begin this investigation of breaking through our into
shins and getting as close in my in my own thoughts as I have been able to at what our intuitions and could they be wrong, and so, I think, are the most primary intuitions we have about consciousness live in these two questions that I like to keep asking myself and the first one is: is the one you just you know the one you just named: is there any behavior on the outside or anything we can witness on the outside of a system that can tell us conclusively that consciousness is present in that system, and my first answer is always yes and that that's something that I been questioned throughout the book, but I think it's interesting, because we feel very strongly that the answer is yes. If I see that my daughter has fallen down and is crying, and you ask me is: is all this behavior you're seeing right now evidence that she's conscious? I would say absolutely this: this is to
This is not the normal way. I parent I'm capable of a lot, but not quite that. So you know or or anything in the in the book. I use the example of someone witnessing a car accident. I think, and you know being really concerned in calling nine one one. All there there's just end the amount of behaviors that we wouldn't have said. We think, yes, that that is absolute evidence that that person is conscious, that we can do it with animals as well, and I think it's interesting to question that to question whether there is something that by definition gives us. That hints that there is is consciousness. There was a is so obviously they're counter examples. We all meet people in dreams, presumably they're, not conscious or don't even exist, and they seem to be conscious.
We will almost certainly build robots at a certain point which passed the turing test and if we don't understand the material basis of consciousness at the time we produce those robots, we won't know whether or not they're conscious and yet they they may seem to be conscious. And, conversely, there are people who we know due to new logical injury are still conscious, but can give no sign of that and one example. I think you talk about in the book locked in syndrome, yeah yeah, and I think that I I actually start there with with all of the cases we can give, where we don't see that behavior that we would normally give- and there is a a full, very complex- you know it's complexes
our own experiences right now that are present in people who are completely paralyzed, and we could never see that evidence from the outside. I think that's an interesting starting place for whether we can never pinpoint certain behaviors that that we can say conclusively are evidence of consciousness and then the second question is essentially is consciousness. Doing anything. Is it serving a function and our reflexive answer with that again is yes and my my intuition goes that way too, but I think the these are. The kind of a simple is the deepest intuitions we have, and I wanted to start there in terms of challenging our intuitions and an empty
and to break through some of them. So an example of of the second question, even though it's very similar to the first, but it's getting at it from a slightly different angle, would be you know, just deciding toe to write a book or even the the whole writing process. It feels very strongly that consciousness is driving. All of that. It feels like every time I make a decision or plan on
anything consciousness. Is the thing that's driving it it's it is. It clearly has a role in my behavior and it seems to have a role at the very beginning and the science. Actually, you know, as you know, and have talked about and written about is, is the opposite, and so that's that's an intuition that we can start to chip away at pretty quickly and, I think, use you start to go down very interesting paths of contemplation when, when you begin with these two questions that challenge our intuitions yeah, so it's not clear what consciousness is doing in this at this concern here in philosophy has been that caught this is a so called at the phenomenon, which is to say it's it's something that is stand outside the stream, a phenomenon that a causal and if consciousness is doing anything, it has to be doing it at the level of mark is the brains causal pattern, the the neurophysiology, so it's the most well
subscribe, view at this point is that consciousness whatever it is at the level of experience it is, you know the fact that the lights are on the fact. That's like something to be you in this moment. That's how it seems from the first person side, but there's some third person level description, which is its cash value at the level of causality. So if there's certain, if somethings can only be done consciously that's because whatever consciousness is at the level of neurophysiology. In our case, that has to be part of the causal stream right yeah, but a little more mysterious than that in that- and you just alluded to this, which is that anything we're conscious of me take your writing process the decision to write the decision to sit down basically, at that moment, to write decision about where to start relative to what you had written previously. That word choice for the to start. The next sentence, anything you can point to in that process. No matter how deliberative it seems is pursue
did by events in your brain of which you're not conscious of which there's no conscious, coral it and the question is: why does any of that seemingly could happen on its own yeah, right and and and so what is consciousness adding to that process and the zombie thought experiment has always been instrumental in this. But I actually think at this point because a I is so in our minds because of pop culture and and for homes? I think it's easy for us to imagine ai doing a lot of the things that we are capable love without consciousness. Like writing a book like riding up look, but even something like vision. It seems right now, troll to us that we have an experience of seeing things and mean we understand that their processes in the brain and light is bouncing the objects in the room and hitting our retina. My brain and we're processing this, but we can easily
be that a computer, a camera or very advanced ai could be doing all of the processing. The visual processing that we're doing without having an experience like the one we're having there's a very specific feeling, content of consciousness, to be seeing the color, blue and that's not necessarily or doesn't seem to us to be necessary for or the processing to take place, so the idea that consciousness might not be doing anything is problematic. Corpora Steve to be problematic from an evolutionary point of view, because people wonder Well, then, why would it have evolved? Surely it must be doing something because it must be expensive metabolically on some level, although perhaps not all that expensive, and why would this have emerged out this again. Not not everything. That's emerged has a Neville
Mary rationale: there things that just have come along for free that aren't really selected for but our intuitions are so aligned with that theory. Also, it really feels, like you know. The love and my desire to protect my child is the thing that will give me that extra power that extra that extra. That extra will the experiential. That of you yeah the fact that it's like something to want to put your child, rather than just blindly coded in to an unconscious yeah. It seems to us that the feelings of love and fear- probably primarily but but of course, all of the other emotions and desires and intentions it. It seems that our experience of them is the thing that gives them, our power except we know. The case of fear is a great example, because we know that the startle response has already hit the amygdala.
Before you're aware you've been startled yeah. No, I think we're probably wrong about this, and and again the zombie thought experiment can get you there, but just imagining an ai that's been programmed to above all else protect this other robot. You can call it it's child. What whatever it is you it doesn't seem to us that it would require that it have an experience in order to follow that programming. So so the argument about evolution is one that sends many people, including myself down the path of. Is it possible that consciousness is a fundamental feature of all matter, and it is there in some form of core if we're talking very minimal forms if we're talking the level of atoms are very minimal information processing. It's important to not confuse consciousness with complex thought. There's no
No one is postulating that if it's a more fundamental feature, it is anything like a human mind and brain, but ok, so let just and the movie was made so the idea that consciousness may not be doing anything seems problematic if you think that consciousness had to have emerged in the process of evolution, because by default we expect those things to have been costly in some way and have been selected for and therefore, by definition, they were leading to differential success in breeding and survival, so with consciousness, is doing any of that. That seems mysterious unless you posit that it is a far more fundamental feature of physical reality in that right and the name. For that view, The general family of use in philosophy is panpsychism right, right, so I warned you to red light,
on panpsychism because it seems it first of all, it's a terrible name. I actually, I kind of opened the question to the world to come up with a better name it just. It sounds something like something very unscientific or pseudo scientific and just on the face of it. It sounds like a crazy idea which it real see I feel like I'm, I'm a good proponent of it and I actually shouldn't say I'm I'm a full proponent of it, because in my book I say, and I'm I'm still in the same place that I'm really just open to it. I think it's it's a it's a the category of theories that are very interesting and worth exploring. I think it's it's just as likely that
even though it is as mysterious as it is, it's possible that that it requires that consciousness requires a brain and their consciousness does not emerge until we have brain or nervous system present. But I think this other this other way of looking at consciousness. It is very interesting and I feel, like I'm a good person to fight for it or to fight for it for more people being open to it, because I completely dismissed it when I first encountered it and like most people, they feel that it's just the idea sounds completely crazy. So I sight in my book this great title of an article by Phillip Goff, which is panpsychism, is crazy, but it's also most probably true and. That really gets out. For me, the point at which I started to take pan psych is um more seriously, so it was something that I completely dismissed when I, when I first encountered it and thought it sounded totally crazy, we should define it to their different levels at which
you could imagine consciousness is integrated, ranked the stuff of things. Well there. There may be, maybe maybe three different levels at which people think consciousness could be appearing under this. Umbrella term panpsychism and what one is at the level of information processing which, as far as I No, that's where David Chalmers feels that it makes the most sense for it to emerge. He may he may be more open to a deeper level than that now, but he writes about that. He writes The possibility that a thermostat could be conscious is very minimal information processing. And then some people postulate that it is a fundamental feature of matter itself, whether it's processing, information or not right, so any matter down to the level of individual particles. That consciousness is itself a property of matter, and so it's it's integral to two men.
Her and there's some level of experience, no matter how minimal and completely unlike I mean anyone who proposes these theories, acknowledges that it would be unrecognizable to us that the type of experience. So you imagine you imagine what it's like to be a bat. That is a very different experience from the one we have as human beings navigating the world with sonar just just what that feels, like must feel very different, must be a very different experience from navigating the world using vision and then, obviously the the more simple the system. If consciousness is present in everything then we're talking about such a minimal level of experience. It's not something we could. We could ever even try to imagine it's
there's, there's no memory, there's in one of the chapters of my book actually tried, try to give a sense of what consciousness could be like, and it's most minimal form, and I kind of talk the the reader through this guided imagery, but I think, if it's possible that that consciousness is present in all matter, most experience that exists is nothing like the experience we have as human beings and probably a very rare form of consciousness, and it's also not experience that you would expect to show up in the world in any the way that it doesn't currently show up. So right, for instance, if there is something that it's like to be an electron or an Adam one. That's not saying that there's something that is like to be a couch right from the right- and you certainly wouldn't expect ordinary physical objects to behave differently, they do on the basis of that right. Now everything
would appear the same to us mean we probably think about a very differently if we knew it were the case that consciousness was a pervasive element in the universe, but no we wouldn't expect anything to be different from the way it is so, is that when you're talking about complex behavior or any behavior you're talking about a complex system that can do things based on the way it's integrated, yeah, right and so and complex integrated system yeah. The other problems with this notion of consciousness going all the way down and and I want the worst one from my point of view is that it just seems from the consciousness we to you're familiar with our own, that there is complex information process, in our own brains that
there's nothing that is like to be right that it's it's it'll certainly seems you know. Based on all, you can experience about yourself directly that, as we said, your choice to produce a certain word or or even just one more in deep sleep. We That appears to be a cessation of consciousness, yes, yeah or under I'm not sure. I'm not sure about that. I suspect it could just be a cessation of memory, but right, but but either way I mean we. We definitely have a strong intuition that, and we also know that there are certain things that are happening even in my body right now. There are not rising to the level of what my experiences, but I I think I think it's. I could easily see how there's a capital m for my and that there could be a lot of other consciousness. You know within the boundaries of my physical body. That's not it! It sounds it's one of those things that sounds crazy at first, but it's not that hard to imagine. We can talk about the research on split
in patients, but so so yeah. I think that intuition is similar to looking at a rock and saying, of course, there's no experience. There's no consciousness. Looking at the table, looking at inanimate objects, we have a very strong intuition that they're not having an experience just too explain the split brain reference which you talk about in the book which I wrote about and waking up a cz. Well, the fact that you can divide the cerebral hemispheres and uncontradicted Salih produced two separate, conscious experiences. You really there to subjects at that point, that's interesting because it suggests it was an interesting for many reasons, but it suggests that even in an intact brain there's almost certainly in perfect information sharing across the hemispheres right right. So you could imagine that there are islands of conscious experience or other interview even in an intact brain and
If you are one of those points of view, you wouldn't necessarily know about the existence of the other points of view and that, given the dynamic nature of information sharing, those points of view could be be they their purview. You know and and maybe even coming in and out of existence as information gets shared and the you the subject could always be. Sort of the predominant locus of experience, and I guess you could expand and contract and be running alongside other points of view that are open in closing, or coming also think they don't even necessarily have to be points of view and the way that we have a point of view. So this is where we can get into a little bit of the illusion of the self, but but with brain. We really do think that there is just another point of view. You know, but it's right hemisphere, the left hemisphere. It doesn't know anything about. Yes, yes, it doesn't seem that likely to me that something like that would be happening in the brain that weren't,
late, but I can easily imagine other processes that have consciousness. That does not entail itself or even complex thought but that are processes that that are not non conscious processes that, yes, I think I agree with you. It makes sense that some of that content could cross over into the experience that we're having some are, and some of it could be completely closed off from it just depending on the structure. But this this would be true if Individual cells, individual atoms- if, if there's some level of experience and- and I think, once you're able to break through the illusion of self or understand that that our sense of being a self in the way that we experience it- is not an accurate picture of of reality. These types of theories are easier.
To entertain or to to imagine so I will. I warned you to tread lightly on panpsychism, because it is a has been a somewhat disreputable theory just because it it seems highly on par. Demonius right. It's attributing consciousness. You know one of the more. It is imagined, complex, cognitive property is of higher level animals yeah. No, it's it's electrons and- perhaps even below, so it sounds kind of profligate in that sense, but there are very well regarding people who have warmed up to this theory. And I actually, I wasn't aware that Christoph Coke was one of them he's to see call so no, no, no he's he's open to it and he definitely thinks it's possible. That sir Very minimal levels of information processing give rise to consciousness in a way that most Neuro do not.
It sounds crazy and it may in fact be crazy, but I found myself just going down this path in my own. Thinking for many many years, and then I remember I I kept coming to you saying. I think this this might be possible and we would talk about the details and talk about what I was thinking about, and you always say at the end of those conversations, don't don't ever say this, the innocent public outside of the that will any neuroscientists you work with, and I think it was good advice. I I agreed it can sound crazy, but was interesting is Started writing so the way this whole book came to be was I wanted to work, some of my own, I was surprised at my own ideas. Surprise aware, my thoughts were taking me and my own process so writing really helps me get clear about my own thoughts and helps me think through different idea. And so I started writing about this. Just for myself really and then I
I shared it with a few friends who I knew were interested in the topic and then I realized that. Many more people were interested in hearing about these is in hearing about where philosophy and neuroscience currently are in terms of understanding consciousness. So it it slowly became an article and then and then a short book, and what was interesting was that once I was writing it as a book as an accessible book for the general public, I was very nervous about writing about in discussing pens, Ike is um, and so I sent it to many side Dentist who I assumed, would really have strong arguments against what I was hearing straight yeah. Exactly I was, wanted to spare myself ever embarrassment. I might experience on the other side of publication, but
also really what I was a a moat more than anything. I've just been interested in working through these ideas, so I just wanted to hear what scientists, who I knew would think these ideas were crazy. What what they would say, what their arguments would be, and what was incredibly interesting and surprising to me was that many of the scientists, were actually very happy that I was writing about. The topic were completely open to these ideas and felt that they couldn't speak about it publicly themselves, and so they were happy. It's that someone. Someone like me who I don't have to put my my career, my reputation on the line really to write about these things, because I'm not in academia, because I'm not a scientist, and I I realize that many well respected mainstream scientists have thought about these ideas before an are not close to them at all, and some of them are really
in fact, I think it's it's more likely than not that some version of panpsychism is is correct. One thing we should say this d pok Chopra, like point- is that if panpsychism is true, that doesn't necessarily suggest that the new age philosophy around, the idea that consciousness is fundamental to reality is true. Well in that that's actually on the other side, so I had to two fears on each side of the spectrum. One was that these ideas sound crazy to scientist
is and then on the other side is that the things that I was expressing in a scientific framework could get misused and interpreted as being evidence for some pseudo scientific and new age ideas. So after I got these reactions from scientists, one of the goals of the book suddenly became to make this topic less taboo, because the hard problem is the hard problem if we want to understand consciousness, but I think it's possible that weird that our brains are just not wired in such a
way that this is something we can understand. It may just always seem deeply mysterious to us, but I think if it's something we can understand better, it will require that we break some strong intuitions and that scientists are able to be creative in there and they're thinking about it. Yeah. This is a point that I've mentioned a bunch on the podcast. It really, I think it first came up with MAX tag mark Who- and it is just that drops straight out of evolutionary logic. Whatever is true at certainly the fundamental level of reality, whether you're talking about the very small, the very fast, the very old or our case. How consciousness is integrated with matter. The true description should not seem insensible to us. We have not evolved to track reality that, level at all right, and so, if we do have a
Metallica one hand, it should seem implausible for that reason alone. Okay, so now to a few less than common sense. Full intuitions, which we, which now really are a matter of common sense for us, and this poses a communication problem. But the fact Get free will is an illusion. The fact that the self, as most people experience it, is also an illusion. I think it also is a fact that those are two sides of the same coin yeah. Why do you think it's so counter intuitive? people to hear this described. The free will one is more straightforward. There's more to say about that. It's easy to breakthrough. That was just conceptually. It is in fact, impossible to make sense of What people could mean by free? Will it doesn't it's not like you can describe the thing as it is?
Is there or should be there, and then you have tenure, arguing that it's not actually there yeah but can't even describe how causes can propagate such that people could have the freedom they think they have. But I think the self is the same thing I mean, especially once you get there with free will so I've been have been quoting Galen, Strawson recently 'cause. I he just said it so succinctly, but he says- and I think it was one of his articles- that he wrote What you do follows from what you are and that that is basically why free will is an illusion in a nutshell, and even if we can get to that point, we we understand that everything we think and feel and experience as it is at some level of product of our brain processing. We still- I even you know in this moment I can have most moments. No, not even certainly not in the middle of that sentence.
That's the point like. If you pay attention you can see that you're not in control of any of it. Yes, no, but but I think that then just crosses over to the self. So then very quickly, so you notice. Okay, all all of everything that I'm experiencing is this brain processing, but we still have this intuition that the self is the thing that has the free will right, so they're they're coming together. So the moment you notice that you're still carrying around this illusion that you know there's part of you wants to say: ok, I know my brain is doing all this processing. But- and you know, the desire for ice cream is coming from processing. But I me this the self that separate from my brain can somehow now override the brain processing and, in some sense, could even stand outside of my body. Paul bloom often says that were common to do and that's the default right subjectively for most people, there sense of the mind is separate from
body and brain which is natural, there's no evidence of the brain at all. Right you, don't so that you have a brain and much less, that's doing anything important, so so you feel, like your mind, can float free of the physics of things and that you have a body and you presume you have a brain and the sense of self is bound it's really identical with the sense that you are the author of your thoughts and actions, and so that's uh. That's the feeling of free will that well, that's where the illusion of free will lives is in this. Other self is the thing: that's free. They really are the same object. Your pseudo object, which is the feeling of self is the feeling of agency right, and that is the feeling that suggests I could have done. Otherwise,
right in I wasn't. There was nothing at my back pushing inexorably in one direction. I was not determine This thought wasn't determined. This movement of my hand wasn't determined. I did it that as the as the I did, it feeling, which is both the feeling of freedom and it's the feeling of self yeah, and it's I would say this is where consciousness plays a role also it is our consciousness comes in and and how free will and the self our illusions that prevent us from seeing consciousness clearly, because, even if there's some sense in which the brain is making a choice there, some processing, that's taking place, that's choosing right over left, that's choosing. Door a over door, be in some say,
there there may not actually be a more fundamental level. There may not be a sense of of causality in this way, but when we talk about processing, so even if we can say that the brain is making a choice, the idea that the con Cious, your conscious experience is the thing driving. That decision is part of the illusion of free will and self, and I do make a distinction in the book between conscious will and free will on Lee in the sense that in some sense we can talk about the brain, making decisions based on outside him from ation and processing that isn't necessarily reliance on consciousness. Yeah. Well! So well, it's a little more about that. So we're conscious and you're, conscious of Certain of the inputs into your mind right now, at what stage you become conscious is difficult to specify, but
you have all of this information coming in some of it gets promoted to consciousness. They can be, I can say well, I saw you reach for the glass over there and if that is part of My initiating the next thing I do or think or say, the consciousness, is playing a role in the causality of things, but again, whatever role is actually playing, it has to be planted the brain to be effective as well. It's certainly not the conscious self, is initiating all of this processing in the first place. Yeah. So that's what you think yeah the agent the subject who many, who you might feel yourself to be, isn't controlling any part of this process right. So, like you know you're, not picking the data that are coming in your not picking their eh see whether they affect you or not, and the degree to which they do you're, not choosing what you're conscious of it. Not choosing the next thing you notice or think or in and all of this stuff is simply emerging, and you
the witness of that as a matter of consciousness, but let's talk about the way in which the version of free will might be useful for, first of all, as parents or not drumming it into our daughters that they don't have free will right. So there's like there's a reason why and the reason why we don't write. Presumably, this is not a truth about the human mind that we feel it's important to emphasize for a ten year old, much less a five year old, So why not your mom? Why not spend the next hour making sure our daughters understand that they don't have free will on Lee to the degree that it would be confused? I think if she truly understood it, I think it would be. I mean it's not necessarily something that will help her, don't think it would be something that could hurt her and that the way I imagine it being harmful is in the set in the way that it could be missing. And this, so, I think, is what were
as many adults about it too yeah yeah, it's easy to misinterpret. It could be argued that, even if you interpret it correctly, there is a time and place to be. The motivated by the illusion, or at least not not to It's illusory ness be this. What is salient right? Yes It comes down to what we mean when we say or imagine that a person could have or should have done something other than they did right so if Our daughter is rude to somebody right doesn't say. Thank you when you know another grown up gives them something, and we say you know it's really nice to say. Thank you you you should say thank you. When someone gives you a gift, we're in a lesson, that's objectively important to learn to produce a civilized and and happy person, it seems to impart the message or reveal the assumption that
she could have or should have done otherwise, I mean I I see this, I think, is the the slightly differently. I think the useful thing is that you can learn and adapt your behavior for the next time, you're in a similar circumstance right, I think, just psychologically. I think the I I could have done it differently, I should have done it differently is just ninety nine percent of the time, a cause for psychological suffering and but I feel the same way right. It is ever I mean let's just linger here for second 'cause regret. There's something there's is a component of regret them in the painfulness of regret is part of what ensures that next time, you'll be more vigilant to do
otherwise in writing c as part of the learning so Navy. But I think the most painful regrets are the things you are never going to have a second chance at and that's obviously when it's the most harmful to people right, and I think that's when regret really shows up and that that actually, I think that's a that's a pre requisite for regret. Is that particular circumstance will not sent itself again, you you, you did something that you can't on harm that person right on. So just so, I don't know that that's ever useful for anyone really- and I will not know but think about like in the context of our marriage right so we're we're married. We have an ongoing relationship. I do something that causes you suffering. You pointed out, if I don't feel any regret of his. If I just feel like well, you know I could have done otherwise right. That was just I I don't. I'm not the author of my thoughts and actions I'll try next time to be different. Now that I know that you don't like this, but the
it would be worse it would. It would be more effective if there was actually a sting of conscience there. Don't you think, but I think conscience is different from regret. I think it's it's just more much more useful to think in terms of well. This regret in that mall. I will have it always at the next fork in the road and that's still part of the illusion of free will, but I think that's the that's what useful, what if anything, is useful about the idea that we have well there two levels of it there, there's like what's fundamentally true and how you how you talk about yourself and Haliti when you're acknowledging that we we don't have free, will and then there's another level of the conversation which is more of a what's healthy psychologically. How do you talk to chill during what could be dangerous about discussing this? How could it potentially harm people, and I think those are slightly different convo
well, I'm also. I'm also wondering whether you think it's possible to experience what's true throughout this whole, says, forget about kids for moment, yeah, take ourselves as adults. Is it possible to experience what's true with respect to free will and the self and have that be psychologically behaviorally? Optimal. Take regret as one component like, if, if you were vividly aware in each moment that whatever you did couldn't have done otherwise, and then you do something stupid or harmful, or something for which you get feedback some people you care about, but you're hot you're having both levels of the conversation at the same time you you said: let's have it at this level, but then you jump to the other level, no still the same level, you can be stupid and harmful. You know, aware in every moment. So you're you're, shaking yourself free of the illusion of free, will and self.
And yet you're functioning in the world, you're saying things are doing things I think regret won't come up. This is the question so, but I'll but I think everything we talk about it at the at the second level. Only because, I think regret is not. Okay, so Maybe maybe we're getting hung up on this word, but if I did something it might be a different conversation if we talked about it, which is doing something purely by accident right, so it wasn't even intended. You know, I don't think feeling sorry and regret are the same. Well then, what's your view of regret? Being sorry is related to compassion. Regret is related to self hatred so your you're, given it have of top spin of shame, but I think that that's why they're different regret, does have an it we're read. Also has the free will component like deeply necessarily with this this is a problem that I don't think is useful. I think it's harmful. Ok, I get it but
and I'm trying to figure out, if there's anything we disagree about here, if you do something, if you are the agent of harm right? However, inadvertent you the cog in the machine- and it really was not it wasn't that you were being selfish or or even engaged in a voluntary action that led to the harm you could just have been in the place at the wrong time and get. Yours was the final domino that fell that caused tremendous harm right. Let's just think of a pure case, where this, I don't think don't think regret is the word you would use to describe how you feel about it regret is regret, is about a choice, mean the regret comes into say in in ways that I is impossible to sorry without regret, without, the illusion of free will, yes, okay, so you're clearly differentiating the feeling of I'm. So sorry I did that yeah from regret yeah even with,
responsibility because you use it you're were using these words slightly differently. I think that's the problem. So what is the feeling of being sorry anchored to? if you're vividly aware in the moment that you couldn't have done otherwise, it's compassion for the other. Focus on the other person. Not focus on the arm done also You could also be focused on in the normal case, whether or not you have any illusion that you could have done, otherwise, you could have been moved by something which is thing. You want to change something: that's undignified in light of the fact that cause someone else harm right, like your selfishly going to rush into the fridge, because you just can't wait to grab another beer and you you know you trample over your child right. You cannot That example why well
ramble over your child was rushing to the fridge to get first. Let me say: I've never done that right with you, as my witness. I believe that was possible because, because that hasn't happened but take a take a normal case which well you can take me their experiences there, many levels level so that you can take responsibility for whatever choice or action you made lead to harming someone else. For two reasons, but what does it mean to take response yeah, so they're they're, two reasons one is even if we're able to to shake this feeling for a short amount of time. Nobody else is doing this, so it's important for everyone else, the psychological health for you to take responsibility and apologize for the thing you did that clearly sent the person state in a bad direction, but it is the real cash value of it is
allusion to be different next time in similar situations. That's it's it's actual effect. Yes, you can become a better person, yeah on in the thing that you could not have done otherwise yeah, so so, when this comes up, I sometimes give the example of of trees and plants. Behavior. We assume they're, not conscious, and whether or not pan Sikhism is true. I still assume plants and trees are not conscious. They adapt their behaviour based on their Environ their roots grow in different directions. They're not doing any of this with their conscious will, but in some sense they're making different decisions based on information they received from the way they did it. The first time. In that circumstance there is a poisonous chemical for coming from another plant
and they got too close to it, and damage was done and they're now going to grow in a different direction. I think this is very boring. We've spent way too much time on this like weird little rabbit hole of a regret I'm leaving that in that is awesome you're. The first person on my podcast just disparage the the podcast. That fully is anything else about consciousness free will the cell? Do you wanna talk about meditation at all or meditation for kids, because you've done a lot of work, teaching,
mindfulness and you're you're? Now you have a a course for kids on a waking up app. Many people are surprised to learn that kids as young as five or six can be taught anything useful in this area. Sonya what your thoughts I'm one of them. They constantly surprised me. I just recently started teaching younger kids than I've ever top before I had up until a couple of years ago only taught the the youngest class I thought was second grade. I mostly taught second through fourth a couple of years ago I taught a kindergarten class and was not expecting them to get much out of it, and I was completely blown away by them, and this year I taught a preschool pre k class and I actually got into it because one of the moms at the school wants to learn how to teach meditation to children, and so we kind of set this up for for a preschool class. Just so I could train her
and and she could observe what what my classes like, but I I made a very strong disclaimer at the beginning that these were the youngest kids. I've ever taught- and I had no idea what to expect- and I was sad to say I I wasn't expecting much- I Didn'T- expect them to be able to really learn the practice of meditation, and I thought we could get some concepts in and we could kind of lay the groundwork for for future, but they blew me away as thoroughly as every other class. I've taught has- and I just had this experience that I haven't told you about yet there's a little boy in the class who these air five year olds, they're five yeah, I think they're, four and five. Actually so we were we've now had about ten classes. They were a
to sit and pay attention to whatever I I've been guiding them and we started with sounds and sights and feelings, and they seem to. They definitely made progress in being able to sit. And just serve the things that were happening around them for longer periods of time, and then little boy in my class we were doing a mindful seeing meditation and he said it looks so fast something like that and that might not be a direct quote, but some and I and I we all stopped out that the two teachers of the class and then this other mom and I kind of looked at each other when we felt like he was noticing something interesting. So I asked a few follow up questions and and said: what do you mean and he said it moves so fast and we had just been talking about the difference between the past and the present and the future, and I said, are you
talking about the moment the present moment- and he said yeah, you see something and then you see something else and I'm paraphrasing, but he clearly was having a profound experience of just noticing the passage of time. You know, Micro, moment by micro moment. That was astonishing to me that a child that young could could basically get what it's about. Generally speaking, children don't get everything grownups get and they get it. There's a more coarser grained level of self, harness that they're getting out of it, but it seems really important for kids to be getting it just just just to be a
Air of what emotion is present in their mind, yeah! No, it's I now understand that it's extremely beneficial to them. It started for me just with an intuition that I thought it would be. It would have been so helpful to me as a child, mostly just with difficult things that I was experiencing. I I'd not knowing how to meditate could have helped me manage a lot of what I was dealing with and I just to bring that to children. Don't you feel that you were doing it spontaneously in a way as a kid with migrants? I did, but I just talked about this with Dan Harris. Oh, the other hair do you want me to repeat the story. If you contain to repeat yourself to my audience, it wasn't finished what I was I wanted to say is that what I realized once I started working with children, is that they're better possess
Shinde their minds are actually in a better state to learn to meditate than adults are almost across the board. I think I think they learn more easily. I think it's a natural state that they just have more readily available to them and yeah. I mean that somehow it's surprising to me every time, but this is just been a consistent thing that I've experienced over the last fifteen years they learn fairly quickly. They have very profound experiences and they start to notice on their own, how it's helping them psychologically. They make the connections on their own with how their meditation practice is helping them in conflict with their siblings in stress around taking tests. You know just in the same way that that adults do, but in my experience they notice those changes and they're able to develop.
A regular meditation practice much more quickly than adults generally do, but it would be the earliest practical time to start is because it because from what I can tell five still sounds a little like a little too young. I think it. I think it probably is So when seven, I mean I've always said, and I still feel that my favorite age to teach is nine and ten year olds. There's something about that age developmentally that seems. Perfect for not just learning but retaining what they learn through adulthood and being able to understand and process the experiences they're. Having a really. I think that is probably The ideal age, I I'm sure other meditation teachers would have other ages, but that that just seems to me to be the perfect time, but I do think they can
absolutely starving not now. I am convinced they can start as early as five. I would have said before six or seven, and I still think that's what I would give. I think there there are a lot of the kids in the preschool class who are not having the experience of of that one boy that was yeah. He could be a prodigy. You were asking about my experience with my green, no yeah, so please divulge your personal expense, finished with migraines as a child, it did actually happen at other points, and I now that I've been working with kids for awhile. I hear their stories as well and I realized I mean I never thought this was unique to me. This is why why I wanted to teach children, I figured that many children had the experience. I had jizz kind of finding meditation spontaneously and naturally, and
so the first vivid memory I have of it, was when I had a terrible migraine, and I I getting bad migraines when I was eight years old and there were many times where I didn't have medication that was working or I just didn't, have medication available to me and I would spend hours in agony where any movement at all caused extraordinary pain. I mean was in peace, even when I wasn't moving, but just small movements would would make it so much worse that I would just try to stay as still as I could, and there was one time I was at home. We were, I think, we're visiting friends somewhere, and so I didn't. I had no medication with me and it was wasn't specially bad migraine. I was in terrible pain and I just said Lee became curious about what I was experiencing and I couldn't under I was. There was something that bothered me about
the fact that just lying there in pain felt so horrible sound kind of strange when I say it, but I think many people have arrived at this idea that getting curious about something, especially something that is painful, can be part of the antidote to whatever it is you're experiencing, whether it's physical or emotional pain to you of a buddhist framing of it. The inside here is that there's the pain, there's a strong, unpleasant physical sensation station, and then there other steps in the chain that produce the psychological suffering around. That physical sensation. So I don't even think I I don't think I recognize that, though I think in that moment I just I couldn't figure out- you know like this- is just for the coming year. Areas pick becoming areas of of of the about the experience itself can break that chain of causation, from unpleasant stimulus to psychological suffering,
For instance, one link in that chain is the resistance. Yes, version. Well, that's what I know to the pain that you become curious, you're undercutting that that was the. That was the first real insight I had so it came from yeah see almost about the physical sensation like what is this sensation and there's something about a migraine to where I think all pain is probably this way. But a migraine is particularly hard to pinpoint where exactly the pain is it it move. As an adult. A closer to where you are. Is the actor right right like it's, not a mile away? What in your foot right, but there was part of me that just felt like I should be able this this shouldn't, be so horrible why. Why is there any feeling in consciousness that feels this bad to be experiencing and so The all I really did in that moment was just started looking more closely at the pain
search to find where it was and started to see what kind of character it had, and I noticed that just that activity just kind of playing that game gave me a tiny bit of chief, so I realized that there was a component of the pain where it was so scary and and uncomfortable for me that it's hard to describe what this is. But I was really you you, you said it I I was resisting it there kind kind of, like a psychological stance of. I want this to go well like push get away with the cells of fear to it's natural to be afraid that it's going to continue, although I don't remember that that probably was there, but I don't actually remember that. I just remember changing my relationship to the pain and being willing to get closer to it and look at it, provided just a tiny amount of relief that was different from this feeling. Go away, go away, go away and that was a conscious
inside I had that that I then started applying to other things in my life that I found helpful when I was in uncomfortable moments to just look more closely like what am I actually experiencing right now and more often than not that made the experience much more tolerable, and what do you think about the ability of mindfulness to produce the same effect with respect to psychological pain? Oh yeah? No, that that's actually what I mean so I was I was then I took that experience of looking more closely at the pain in a migraine to psychological discomfort, yeah so growing up in your perfect family as a teenager, yeah, okay. Well, this wasn't as bad as you it would be. Will we'll see the truth? Is you don't listen to the podcast very much? You have been absolutely instrumental
everything I've written from the first book. I mean you've edited all my writing, but since I've wandered away from the away from the page and onto the podcast, you have. Much less involved mean, I think, you've only added it. Open podcast that I've released right. So you've been so this is may have only heard five yeah So it is a little much to even say that you're a fan of the podcast you I'm not a fan no anyway, I'm very happy that you agreed to do this and we will see how you like the aftermath, then, if anyone can get ever gets to hear it yeah this this. If you're listening dear audience, this has escaped the sensor. Who was the subject of this podcast again thanks for doing it, and I'm really happy you,
the book. The other thing that's ironic here is that, though, what you wrote about is totally central to my interests you really just did this on your own, I mean I was so focused on my podcast and the app when you decided to write this book, that I was not really available when uninvolved to a fault, but but it's it's. That's also reason why I haven't listened to your podcast. I mean it's, not it's not! Actually, because I'm not interested, you know have parallel lives, yeah. Well, we had children and then I got extremely busy with my career and you started doing something that didn't need my editing I anymore and didn't need didn't. Is it certainly could have used it? You didn't need it well check twitter. If you believe that anyway, I'm very proud of you, I think it's awesome. You release this book and uh. I hope you have fun on the other side of publication,
thanks baby, okay, how my in the kitchen, if you find Comcast valuable. There are many ways you can support it. You can review it on Itunes or Stitcher, or whatever happened to listen to it. You shared on social media with your friends, you can blog about it or discuss it on your own podcast or you can support it directly, You can do this by subscribing through my website at website, at DOT, Harris and Org find subscriber only content, like my ask me anything episodes as well as the bone, questions for many of these interviews. You'll also get advance tickets to my live events.
Transcript generated on 2019-09-24.