Sam Harris deals with a lot of public hate and misrepresentations of his views. It’s amazing how he always keeps his cool in these situations, and I’m sure a lot of it has to do with years of Buddhist-like meditation. Science shows how disciplined mindfulness leads to increased compassion and non-judgmental behavior. But in yesterday’s Huffington Post interview, Harris explains how his view of free will (there is none) assist him on a more philosophical level.
“Seeing through the illusion of free will can also change my emotional reaction to unpleasant people, directly in the moment. As you know, I’m constantly confronted by people who maliciously misrepresent my work or who attack me on spurious points, purely for the purpose of defamation. My first reaction is often to treat them as the real authors of their actions, and to react with anger. But when I can step back and actually reflect on the causes of their actions, my attitude shifts. I suddenly feel like I’m in the presence of a wild animal or a malfunctioning robot. I still have to respond to lies and bad behavior, but anger no longer makes much sense. There’s no longer a place to lay emotional blame. It would be like blaming a hurricane for its bad behavior.
“People are walking around with the sense that if they could rewind the movie of their lives, they could behave differently. But if you could return the universe to the exact state it was yesterday, you would do the same things, speak the same words, and think the same thoughts – and so would your enemies, for precisely the same reasons. Realizing this can keep you from taking everything so personally. If you found yourself in the presence of a grizzly bear, you would fear it, of course, and you might even kill it if there were nothing else you could do to protect yourself, but you wouldn’t hate it in the way you might hate a bad person. That extra level of entanglement – hatred – is born of a philosophical error.”
I’ll remember this the next time I’m dealing with hostile conversation partners. They’re just malfunctioning robots.
Full interview here: