I blogged my own confusion about exactly what Sam Harris education was way back here, over a year ago. Reality is he’s an English major and a very clever writer. A bit like Pirsig “skating on thin ice” when writing about Zen having previously read only one book on the subject, later pursuing studies to cover his arse. A lot more parallels between Harris and Pirsig, and Hofstadter, and more.

[After his Stanford English batchelor] in 1986 – when he experimented with psychedelics, dropped-out after two years and travelled in India. (Sounds familiar?) He later gained a Batchelor’s in Philosophy in 2000 and a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2009.

Interesting that recently there’s a bit of a twitter storm about how little he did to achieve his “bogus” cognitive neuroscience PhD:

However thin his formal qualifications really are in philosophy and/or science he certainly hadn’t served his time before his elevation to the peerage as one of the four horsemen of science and rationality challenging the irrationality of religion. A young upstart spouting New Atheism from a very limited perspective.

But fair play to Sam, he’s doing his (real) education in public in front of us (a bit like I am, but I’ve been doing it since blogging was invented). Take for example his public conversation with Maajid Nawaz on the value of Islam – where I concluded he seemed “chastened” by the experience. Take for example his recent kiss and make-up conversation with time-served neurophilosopher Dan Dennett. Take for example (hat tip to Lee Beaumont) his recent podcast conversation with Eric Weinstein on Judaism and religion generally.

Sam is Waking Up to the fact that education is more than qualifications and wisdom is more than knowledge and knowledge is more than science. I say again, fair-play to him for showing us how to listen in public. His philosophy education may yet stand him in good stead. Would that Dawkins and Krauss (and Cox and …. ) followed his (and my) lead.

I mentioned and shared, a few posts ago, a brief presentation on Free-Will I gave to Teesside Sceptics in the Pub last week, but I also wanted to mention the other contributions:

Sue Whitcombe was probably the highlight of the night, partly because it was delivered with the passion of direct personal experience and partly because it was an unexpected topic for such a group. How child-psychology aspects get overlooked in cases of Parent-Alienation that accompany typical family break-ups. The key point for me and my agenda, was the binary nature of the child’s perception (particularly 7 to 11-ish?) of “one parent good, one parent bad”, and how easily and almost randomly that conclusion could be set by the (well- or bad-intentioned) communications of adults around the child, despite any previous normal (imperfect) shared loving relationships. A craving for the simplest explanation. Sue’s point, as a practicioner, was for more expert transparency in social organisations (and courts) that deal with family separations. (Also of interest, the extreme cases that result in entirely fictional abuse accusations against a previously loving parent. But that’s another story.)

More typical of expectations were the presentations by Chris Diboll and Adam Baker. Chris gave us a warning on being Sceptical About Economics and the harmful misinformation that typically accompanies economic claims and predictions. Hear, hear, I say. The problem I often characterise as “autistic economics” – we and economists often mistake economics for a science and expect meaningful objective facts and numbers on which to hang decisions. Politicians – evil conspiracy or incompetent cock-up and all grey areas between – exploit the misunderstanding we all share, and there was some good discussion. Talking of which, Adam presented examples of Conspiracy Theories with some of the psychological reasons why so many of us are tempted to believe them and how typically believing one tends to correlate with believing many to be part of wider over-arching establishment conspiracies. Again something of interest to my own agenda, the memetic effect of wanting to believe simple arguments that fit most easily with existing perceptions and the consequence that these become the easiest ideas to spread and take root. An effect reinforced in our times of mass social-media, but the mainstream press suffer from it too.

Thez Alan gave us a heartfelt rant on the local housing crisis. Apart from raising the profile of the issue, his main point seemed to be that building more houses wasn’t necessarily the solution. The problem at the social housing end of the market doesn’t benefit from building to expand the home-ownership market.

Reece Hanrahan had opened the evening with million-miles-an-hour wizz through Parallel Universes, Buddhism and Psychedelics mentioning a zillion topics and sources, but without any clear message other than these things are all somehow connected and that we should find it controversial. Wasn’t sure if he ran off immediately to a prior engagement because of the (presumed) sceptical question I’d asked about what, if any of the topics he’d listed, did he actually believe in? I wasn’t sure if he thought he was being deliberately controversial. If he’d stuck around he might have found out I am sympathetic and have taken an interest in practically everything he mentioned. I’m good with the multiverse, but not with parallel universes as a quantum kludge. I’m good with Buddhism as an alternative to the objective exclusion of the world from ourselves as subjects – Zen and the Art of …. you name it – is a recurring meme around here. I’m good with psychedelics as “doors of perception” breaking down the objective blockages to direct experience of the world. Many respectable philosophers and scientists have explored all of these, and still do, and I could list several hundred already referenced here. Pity.

A long piece from Massimo Pigliucci on why it’s wrong for either science or humanities to vie for supremacy in the quest for knowledge. Wisdom is more than knowledge I’d say, but Massimo’s piece covers a lot of ground and references well trodden here on Psybertron.

As Dan Dennett wrote in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea:

“There’s no such thing as philosophy-free science;
there is only science whose philosophical baggage
is taken on board without examination.”

Hat tip to Massimo Pigliucci IIRC?

As someone who’s first forays into philosophy were encouraged by Robert Pirsig I was intrigued to see the reference in this piece on Stoicism to Eugen Herrigel’s Zen and the Art of Archery, the work that prompted the form of Pirsig’s famous title.

The Stoic philosopher Antipater is a new one for me. Never really taken enough interest in the Stoics beyond the natural language use of the term. I may have to fix that.

George Monbiot lamenting that mainstream media is still failing to recognise the reality of climate change and that real life has already moved-on to adopting significant changes in behaviour is pulled-up by Nick Maxwell. It’s not just “cultural amnesia”.

Nick’s letter in the Grauniad points out that whilst academic institutions are commercial knowledge machines they are largely to blame for the failure to communicate and educate real wisdom.

(Hat tip to David Morey).

Grauniad piece by David Mitchell, on my recurring topic of offence in free speech generally and comedy specifically – (ie  The Court Jester. See also Frankie Boyle generally.)

The David Mitchell example is in defense of the real case that led to Mike Ward being fined for offense!

We need to separate case of the general public (and authorities) from those of our court jesters.

Hat tip to Sarah Brown.