« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#68 — Reality and the Imagination

2017-03-19 | 🔗

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Yuval Noah Harari about meditation, the need for stories, the power of technology to erase the boundary between fact and fiction, wealth inequality, the problem of finding meaning in a world without work, religion as a virtual reality game, the difference between pain and suffering, the future of globalism, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I am speaking. Will you bore no Harare revolvers a Phd in three from Oxford University, and he lay tenured professor of history at Hebrew, worsening in Jerusalem need special. eyes in world history and medieval history and military history. But his current research focuses on macro historical questions, persons. What is the relationship between history and biology,
What is the essential difference between human beings and other animals? Is their justice in history? Does history have a direction? Did people become happier as history has unfolded? These were all fast any questions you have all the author of two blockbuster books, Sapiens, a brief history of humankind and his newest book homo deus a brief history of tomorrow. Our time, with somewhat limited, by of all schedule, our love for Skype was somewhat unrequited. He was back in Israel. The time of this interview, but I think you'll find our conversation very interests. And now I bring you you ve all Harare, I am here what you ve all Noah Harare, you ve all thanks for coming on the bank. S merits my pleasure to be here you have really just exploded on, the scene here, with two wonderful book, sapiens being the first and homogeneous
just came out in the U S about a month ago or so. Congratulations. These are really fantastic, beautiful, exciting books. Thank you. you're backgrounds in history. However, Europe here historian technically, but you ve written two very interdisciplinary books, get into anthropology and biology and technology to an unusual. Agree- and I am very fond of this kind of crossing of boundaries, intellectually being a fan of the concept of the unity of now college. Did you always know you wanted to work this way when you went into history? Was that your intention, or is this just something that has happened to kind of late in the game for you? I always wanted to do it, but for many years it seems the impossible it's really only after I go to my ten year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but I also got there the courage of the opportunity to let go of their publish all terrorist regime.
what I really wanted to do, which was to pursue the big questions of history, the big questions of life, and as you said them in Realities- one if you want to go to get answers to the really big questions, you cannot remain confined within a single discipline because reality is confined to a single discipline. Yeah. I often say that the single disciplines are now defined more by University architecture and budgets than anything else and to remain silent in one way of thinking about reality. In part, it's an understandable that outcome, based on everyone's limitations on time and bandwidth and end the impossible,
we have knowing everything about everything, so people do specialised, but really the the boundaries between philosophy and science and specific disciplines within science and anthropology and sociology and psychology and history, and it is just the facts of the cosmos: don't obey these boundaries so great that you see someone run. equally over them. I mean, if you start up with a question that, for me, is one of the most several questions of history will further humans today are happier then install age and whether we know how to translate powering to happiness. Then what disciplined does? This question belongs to which you know its history? Its philosophy is biology, its everything you're near so I want to jump into the box, in particular
your latest, but before I do it's very rare that I get some on the podcast, who was also seriously committed to the practice of meditation and has a lot of experience theirs. I just wanted. This is a very novel thing. Ok, you came off of a believer sixty days, retreat recently- and I am not mistaken us of the eu- do every year, how did you get in timidity, And what is your background? Look like there. Will I e when I did my Phd in Oxford. Seventeen years ago? I went to Because in retreat- and I learned percent of meditation from a teacher called, isn't going up and down it completely. The blue my mind and then changed my life and ever since the first course say I do two hours be personal meditation every day I usually my work day was one hour meditation. I finish it with another hour of meditation,
and every year, like maybe you'll evaluation, is to go for a long retreat of between thirty and sixty days of just meditating, complete silence, no noise males, no computers, no books, no, in writing. Nothing just just meditating. Now, that's wonderful! I'm envious! You have kids on L, just dog. Hi slaves alone. That explains your freedom. Now, that's that's! Really wonderful. So I've just give people a clear picture of what you're up to their so Goenka is a very famous opossum, the each other. There are two strands of a partner that had been very influential, particularly in the west, among all the the westerners who, in the sixties, discovered this practice and they both come out of Burma and go Ankara's is one line coming from a teacher named, but kin, and there was another line- came from a teacher, namely hussy, side islands. All all
the passenger practice, I've done on retreat has come from the the mahars he sighed outline, which teaches the same kind of mindfulness, but it's a different sort of practice. Technical details are less important He is just to observe reality as it is every moment. Just stay focused what is really happening right now, as against all their stories and explanations. our mind constantly generate, and it is extremely difficult. What struck me? My first cost item Emma like the first day came to the retreat. I was absolutely me is by it that these it starts with a very simple proxies. Something, but anyway of you just have to focus your attention on the brain,
and observe what are the bread is coming in and when the bread is going out of your nostrils? That's it, you don't have to do anything. Just just observed that, and I couldn't do it for more than like five cans or ten seconds and my mind would run away somewhere near until I was twenty four. The time end It was the first time I realized our little. I understand my mind, how little control, I hope over my attention. This is why they start with this very simple practice: just focus on the breath, because it so difficult,
when, once you get the hang of it, and you can do it for more than ten seconds then yes, that is the idea of things function, is to start observing, not just a brief, but everything that is happening in the body than stations throughout the body in every part of the body, the resumption station at any moment- and you start observing that and you see the deep connects them between these sensations and what's happening in your mind. But we think that we react to events and seen the outside world. Old to memories from our childhood, to something we saw on television. But in fact in tat every moment which constantly react to the sensations within our body and Everything people do as a story and I can say that everything people do. You know from fidgetting in your chair to stop
Take a world war you're actually acting to sensations in your body. it's amazing, how out of trawl, our minds are and how few people realise that their minds are out of control and the consequences of their of them being out of control are. As you say, these are the same process that that gets you to say something untoward in a personal interaction is the very process that brings us civilization of scale catastrophes, wars and all the rest. People had been moved by their thoughts and every moments and they see no alternative and meditation is, for the most part, the one way people can become. were aware of these processes that rule their lives, have you had any psychedelic experiences or anything that got you gone at first reading How did you find yourself there? No, I had a very good friend me still my good friend of mine. He no votes in Silicon Valley, and the heating for me higher year kept like nudging me,
you should go to urge retreat and he was the very persistent and on I was at the time in life that I had all these questions, and I had no answers and I was very disappointed with the union- a city with the academic world with on with my studies, because they didn't provide me anyway, says to the really deep questions of ah, you know that the suffering world and the suffering in my life. Where is it coming from? And what can we do about it? he kept telling me. Well, you should go to meditation retreats. Maybe it will show you something: and I just kept reading books and reading articles- and I was convinced that the answer will come from there until I reached a certain degree of this, creation and, I said: ok, look I lose from going to these ten days, motivation which reads and die. never looked back since
and have you done any psychedelic sensors that something that you have an experience you didn't I, I did what was its own ecstasy, but damn it. You know it was an interesting experience, but Didn't teach me, I think, really valuable and later on, I realize I mean the really I think, the dangerous. The dangerous potential of all the psychedelic drugs is that people get hooked on the excitement and that they want special experiences Europe and it is also dangerous something money taken. The people come to migration with red and they want something special. They want to experience. I don't believe it sent them to fly in the air and to see stars in whatever? And then you come to the retweeted recently person up and they tell you, ok observed your breath and then
You have pain in your back and they say good. You have paid, observe the pain of looking just once in your life, you sort of reacting to the pain just see. How does pain feel oh maybe very hot, and they tell you- okay- observe the heat. How does it feel? How does the heat feel or how does boredom feel and people say? I don't want to observe border of pain. I want to be special, wonderful experiences and it's the thermostat psychedelic drugs. I think that today that they can open your mind to some levels of reality. Which are usually hidden from us, The danger is that people just want the next street and the next specialists. Dreams, and indeed, in the end, I think the real key is to understand and the normal everyday experiences, and not their unique one single once in a lifetime specialists-
Prince, because if you want to deal with the arm, girl, Bordeaux, more irritation or anything then need to observe your anger and it's very good go to feel just resting special special experiences yeah as a very important point I fully agree with it: the illusion that gets introduced when you're using psychedelic in that way to have more peak experiences, as you say, you can use meditation. That way, were you the moment you feel level bliss or rapture, some very poor positive, unusual mental state. You can take that to be the signature of a successful meditation and the illusion that creeps into air, which is of a piece with everyone's efforts to seek happiness throughout their lives. As that experience has to change. In order for the most profound things about human mind or human consciousness can be discovered, profundity is elsewhere, which is, in fact not. The case may be
if the ego is an illusion, as it turns out it is, you can discover that coincident would most ordinary moments of consciousness. You don't need the full fireworks show of a psychedelic experience to notice it. There's a subject, object, illusion that can be penetrated and that something that you do get with a very systematic approach to mindfulness meditation, in this case, this wonderful you're doing that as meditation affected. The way you approach your work, I believe I detect the influence in many of the things you ve written. But how do you have you view that he as it does a very deep influence both on my ability to research and to write such books. especially when you deal with something like the history of the world in one book, the one
you need, above all else, seize the opportunity to focus on what is really important and how not to get bogged down in the thousand little details and, as you know, the kings and battles and dates, and all that and the practice of meditation I think you gave me this ability to remain focused, and without that I couldn't have written sapiens or or homer. The US and on it on another level, at least be personal is really, observing reality ass. It is and being able to distinguish between what is real and what is just a story, your a fantasy created by our own minds- and these are the very deep impact on my interpretation of history because also enable but history. For me, the big question is what is real
and water fictions created by human beings, and at least my understanding is that a source of human power, but also the soul. of so much human misery is the human imagination and the ability of humor and to create fictional stories and then to believe them to such an extent that breakin starts entire wars, just because I believe some religious on national economic fiction and on because really what gave us control of the planet. We control this planet, not because as individuals, much more intelligent than chimpanzees or peaks of dogs, but rather because we are the only memo that can cooperate into very large numbers, and we can do that because we believe in Fiction
if you examine any large scale. Human cooperation, you always find a fictional story at that, at the basis, whether it's about God oh, the nation, or none he or even human rights human rights like Garden, Heaven they'll, just a story invented by humans, that they are not a biological reality and on this is again this. was of a full power and also many of her calamities. You can We are convinced that group of sheep and these to attack the neighboring group by promising the ambit after they die if they die for the great chimpanzee God or the great events in eight then after they die they go to sleep and they have been and their receive lots of bananas and virgin shoeprints ease and, and things like that, no one can see will ever ever believed that his story- This is why we control the world and not the chimpanzees. I love this basic picture
I must admit: I've had a few problems with some of your terminology. Here, because you you use, words like religion and fiction and stories fairly loosely say, say things science depends on religion and humanist Mr Religion, and all, as you just said, all large scale. Human cooperation is based on fiction, but it seems to me that there are fictions and then their affections and end. I think we still want to differentiate between stories and concepts that are obviously false. Pride in therefore spread confusion by definition and those that one need not be confused to adopt. So you of the EU constitution or the concept of human rights or the convention of money. The Are not fictions the same way that the concept of paradise or martyrdom or the Holy Spirit are fictions and me I don't have to. confused about the nature of reality to see the benefit of thinking in terms of human.
Rights or to use money do disagree with that. Are we, on the same closer, definitely agree that not all stories are the same answer Stories are much more beneficial than other stories and all Oh, they demand a kind of defence kind, maybe your belief, but what happens is even if you start by a convention like money, then. Yes, everybody knows that these pieces of paper have no value, and it's just an agreement between the people that are invest them with a certain value very soon. What happens is that people forget that or ignore that, and if you open a suitcase full of a hundred dollar bills, and you look at the brain of the person, We are looking at that's a big pile of money. You see, like all the neurons going, crazy and the person seas,
money is something really valuable. Now, if you start talking with him, and you know you little long, philosophical discussion, then yes in the air and maybe even agree that I actually he's just a convention, but the immediate experience of look first and looking at the pile of money is, you know, immense greed and even a willingness to cure for it, and it's say you always corporations. If you tell someone that you know Google is just a story or air rail and water is just the story. Then he s. If you sit from a long philosophical discussion, no legal discussion, they will understand what you mean, but in most cases in everyday experience, we treat these entities as if they are completely real yeah. It's also worth pointing out that we can get locked in to these can be engines in ways that create an immense
amount of needless suffering and no Alan Watts, the great popular riser of eastern philosophy from the sixty to seventy. He told us an amusing story. I'm sure he told us a hundred times, but he when talking about the great depression in this vein and talking about the concept of money, he pointed out that money is abstraction kind of like an inch writer, any units of measurement, and so the way out economy fell into the abyss after the great depression was to some degree a matter of our not being able to free ourselves from this convention, and so he talked about what happened in the great depression was like a construction workers showing up on. job and the foreman says, sorry, no more work. Today we run out of inches right in the eye. they have running out of money when they're still houses to be built and still p well who want them in this. There was no less work to be done, but we couldn't coordinate our work, given what had happened
to the economy, these attractions obviously have enormous are also. I would say that if you would talk quiz like him. Theologian then, here tell you well, I also. We also know that God he's not this old man in remaining the sky that gets upset- if you, if I don't know if it's you don't follow his orders, God. These is love, God is no, but whatever and that he will come up with some very abstract ends, maybe convincing, worry about what God is and when you You, the story of the theologian, you would think. Well, actually, maybe I was too fast to condemn religion, but story? And it will tell you yes an audience God. This is that this may be kind of a nice all own, not nice, but that this idea has some sense in it. But this is not the garden
history. This is not the guy, the launch, the Crusades and that your heart and all the religious laws and prosecutions and so forth There- is a huge gap between the God of the theologians and the guy of the masses and its voice from historical perspective? It's the God of the masters. That really can't is the remaining the sky and it's the same with money. Yet if with, if we, this deep conversation than we all agree that monies just an obstruction created by humans and so forth. but I know, if you're with you in the middle of a warfare between two two gettings or between took operations, then everybody's dead, serious that these pieces of paper or these elections, data, the computer? It is the most important thing in the world. So what is the internet doing to us now in affecting the power or lack of power?
of the stories we used, organise our lives. How do you view our current moment with respect to creating stories that will allow for the emergence of a viable global civilization or in a truly open societies that are durable. What's your sense of the present doktor quest there, one about the internet and the other about a global society, and they, I think, are very different questions let's hold global Asma. I want to talk about globalism. Minutes precarious birth later on to us was just talk about technology and its implications the moment. Wealth technology makes our stories and fantasies more important than ever before, because it makes them more powerful than ever before you ice people in ancient Egypt wanted to leave for ever they just couldn't they didn't have the technology, so they fantasized any TED in their fantasies.
But another impact on the economy, because they they used all that all the resources to build his huge pyramids and you get an impact, on culture and politics, but the impact was was limited, know when bill fantasize about immortality. They are starting to have the technology to actually do it. I think it will be feasible in say twenty years, but give in Fifty years, two hundred years, I dont think that overcome in old age and there is is impossible and then whatever we fantasize on whatever he's whatever stories we believe it began The most powerful force in the world are the very future of evolution of noise we'll be shaved by human fiction, but I'm in a human fiction. I mean the stories in which we believe you're dying technology will give us the
how were to realise what ever fiction we we believe in and then the question? What is your favorite fiction will become maybe the most important question in the evolution of What we are seeing or what we will see in the not too distant future, is exactly the collapse of the Super relation between fiction reality because things that begin as fiction? in humans in the human mind, we will have the technology to make the reality, and then they are no longer fiction. Yeah you could create your favorites Heaven or hell. Maybe using by engineering and using brain computer interfaces and due to reality, technology and things like that. You think in terms of optimism and pessimism, here are you just did
I have in the world, as you see it in and knots tipping in one one direction or another. With respect to your pope or fear about what's happening, I try not to think in terms of optimism and pessimism, because it then you'll colors you your lenses and makes it more difficult to just see what what is happening. I also think of the story and the term histories. Not deterministic and technology is not deterministic. You can use the same technology for very good purposes or for very bad purposes. You feel it the twentieth century, then you see that with the same technology of trees, and cars and radio, and all that people could create communist dictatorships.
Ashes regimes. Only when democracy is the electricity didn't tell people what to do with it and it's the same with biotechnology and artificial intelligence are we still have options, just to give one example, which is close to my heart, because I am very much concerned about what doing to other animals and especially farm animals, and I think that the biotechnology poses both the greatest strength and the greatest promise to farm animals dependent and what we choose to do with it. You could use biotechnology to stop. Engineering thousand pigs and chickens that grow faster and her more meat and give more milk and whatever serving the interests of the industry, wants completely disregarding what this means in terms of the experience and the misery. Of
of the animals. On the other hand, you could use biotechnology to start what is known as similar agriculture, you all agree Anita caused should meet or clean meat which is meets grown from cells. If you want to stake, you dont need to raise a call and kill it and have a state aid. You can just groups a stake from still actually of a lady that they CEO of Memphis, meets on the pie cast about a year ago in, and that was the topic. I M very excited about this truly ethically pure approach to go in meat and just then no animal involved be a wonderful breakthrough so. This is a very good example that the same to the same field, of course, is not exactly the same technology but the same field depending on how we choose to use, it can be immense blessing gonna get, can be a tribal curse, soul,
I tried to focus on different understanding what other possibilities also, I tried not to make prophecies and forecasts I dont think anybody really knows how the world look like in twenty fifty. I really just try to map the dear friend possibilities so did take us very local case, that is in the news. The news itself is in the news really so that the issue of fake news seems to me has direct relevance to this the influence of stories. How do you view this recent phenomenon of fake news. Is it? Is it at all new or is this? Have we been dealing with fake news for thousands of years? I still don't, what's knew about. It needs a very troubling phenomenon is for sure, but I dont think there is anything you If this is the era of post truth, then I would like to know. When was the error of truth? I mean was it you know that I can fix,
these Nike authorities that the middle ages. I don't think there is anything that gables Joseph Gables didn't know about propaganda and fake news and manipulating the public and going much further bank of fake use of thousands of years old. You just need to think of the Bible, and finally also disconcerting example that they can use can last forever. You have not yet exposed after you know a man for a year they can last for thousands of years. That's a great meme, fake news came last forever. Musket teachers print so one thing is arranged in your latest book again on this on the implications of technology, you speculate about the likely birth, of new religions inspired by technology, say a little more about that are used
think that there is a good chance that Silicon Valley, in places like it, will create not just gadgets and tools but I do a logical systems and even with religions that will make many of their traditional promises of religion are promising. You know justice and prosperity and even immortality, but here on earth, with the help of the quality and not after you die with the help of supernatural beams, and you can say that we have actually seen at least some technical religions religions based on technology. Our previously maybe the best example is these socialism and communism,
and promised to create paradise on earth with the help of the technology of the industrial revolution. I know you didn't work very well, but this was the basic idea we don't need. Ah god, we just need to control the means of protein in and the engineers and technicians they can create paradise on earth. For us. And if you didn't work very well, but I think that in the twenty first century will see a second wave of of these different religions. Now, if you dont like that religion. You can. You can just use ideology instead, but I think there is not nor essential difference between ideology and religion. Are, they bore fulfils a thing. functioning history to give legitimacy to you, many institutions and to your men, norms and values.
Whether there is a God involved or not is really far less important than that historical function, because in the end, its not God that makes religions in humans, It makes religion the dividing line for me, usually between Legion and another car and of ideology. Like a political one is the line between the natural and the supernatural. So, when you're on your positive in the existence of invisible agents, the four you have no real evidence or your making claims about the validity of prophecy and other messiahs going to return or you're making claims about the survival of consciousness after death based on precious little evidence. That's where I think it's obviously a religious. enterprise and you have superstition and other worldliness creeping in, but again that there's no
very clear line there, and when you talk about something like what the personality cult enough, Korea at the moment. Obviously, it has many of the features of a religion, certainly the socially consequential ones, and then you something like this: the singularity phenomenon or the idea of the singularity in Silicon Valley, as propounded by somebody like Ray Kurzweil, that has many of the features of each other worldliness, arguably that a classical religion does- and there is there- is this expectation of immortality that you mentioned a few moments ago and here I agree that the boundaries here are somewhat fungible, but when you think of the birth the technology inspired. Religion is the notion singularity something that that answers to that script and already are you thinking about something else? Definitely, that's probably the best example we have today. I think
the single oratorians may deserve the title of the first Silicon Valley, Techno, religion, but as the technology matures delivers more and more of achievements in power. I think Seymour Immoral that I especially because you know it again. In contrast to ancient religions, like Christianity or the religion of ancient Egypt, when you needed to postpone most, fuel desires to the afterlife. The immense obstruction of the new technologies is that they promised, fulfil all these miracles, he rode here, Here and now in this very life on Earth They manage to do it or not. It's a different question, of course, but the temptation is, I think, immense. The difference here really does strike me as a difference is that the technology that promises this
Rapturous fulfilment of all human desire exists to a considerable great even now, and we are noticing it while it creates these benefits the benefits of of intelligent technology and automation. It is creating the very harms that will make people more and more desperate to find something to anchor them. Take automation as the the narrow case, the consequences of automation, I think on. Arguably this point will be a kind of relentless loss of the need for human labour right. There are jobs that will go away. That will never be replaced and in the limit, when you get perfect automation and perfect ay, I we have a total change of the purpose of human life and people.
will not be able to find their meaning anymore in work, because there is need for human work in the same way that there is there is virtually no need for horses to work now and if you gave me course, I wouldn't know what to do with em. If you gave me a free horse, you would just be imposing a cost on me right, whereas a century ago There were, I think, twenty eight million horses working in the U S and they were indispensable. So if you buy fact that we are moving toward something like in the best case, and this is MRS to be desired, and this is this is a matter of success. You know, if we don't destroy ourselves with technology, we will be putting ourselves out of a job. then the the challenges of wealth, inequality and and how to spread this wealth around and in developing the political and the norms that will get people to want to do that. That's a huge challenge and you'll have vast numbers of people who are looking for meaning in their lives and obviously,
the problem, now it has been a problem for thousands of years, but is a problem that most people haven't had to confront very directly, because The burden has been on them to spend most of their lives working and that something at sea. To be going away again, if we succeed if it doesn't go away, means we have created some chaos for ourselves that it will be intolerable for other reasons, so tell me about your views on wealth inequality here and the implications automation, artificial intelligence? If you'd like to continue listening to this podcast you'll need to subscribe, it Samharris, DOT, org you'll, get access to all full length, episodes of making sense, podcast and other subscriber only content, including bonus episodes and Amas. In the conversations I've been having in the waking up app and making sense podcast ad free, entirely on with your support Prime now, at that work
Transcript generated on 2020-10-08.