This is the third installment of my conversation with the outspoken author, podcaster, philosopher, and recovering neuroscientist Sam Harris. Please check out part one and part two if you missed them. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.
Today, we start off discussing Harris’ first bestselling book, The End of Faith, inspired by September 11th attacks. Having recently spent ten years on his own self-styled spiritual journey, “I immediately recognized the spiritual intensity of that enterprise,” he recalls. Of Osama Bin Laden, Harris says, “He was not faking his belief. He believed what he said he believed, and it was only rational to take his stated beliefs at face value.”
Harris denounces his critics for viewing the religious justifications of terrorists as “just propaganda, and propaganda that nobody believes” and for thinking that more standard geopolitical or sociological motivations must surely be at work instead. “Many academics,” he says, “virtually every anthropologist I’ve ever had to talk to about this stuff, many journalists, many so-called scholars of religion just don’t know what it’s like to believe in God. And then doubt that anyone really does.”
From this we turn to lone-wolf mass shootings, US politics, the 2016 election, and the importance Harris attaches to free and open speech, which he has called the “master value” of a healthy society. We also discuss anonymous vs. open speech, Apple’s refusal to help the FBI access a dead terrorist’s iPhone, and other controversial topics. You may find yourself screaming at Harris as you listen to today’s installment. You may yourself cheering him on. Or you may find yourself alternating between the two as we jump from topic to topic.
If you enjoy this installment and just can’t wait for part four (which will go up on Ars tomorrow), you can find it in my podcast feed, where it first appeared on September 12th of last year. The full archive of my episodes can be found on my site, or right in your favorite podcast app by searching for “After On” (the podcast’s title). There you’ll find deep-dive interviews with other world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists—tackling subjects including robotics, cryptocurrency, astrophysics, drones, genomics, synthetic biology, neuroscience, consciousness, privacy and government hacking, and a whole lot more.
Finally, I’d like to briefly mention a series of four articles that I’m posting to Medium this month on the uplifting topic of existential risk. Which is to say the grim yet perversely fascinating possibility that our technological creations might just annihilate us. I believe I present some arguments and analytic lenses that are new to this important topic—and some of these tie quite closely to the issues that Harris and I discuss in our conversation. The first piece in the series is right here. I should note that Medium is running this in their editorially curated, paid, members-only section. The goods news is that Medium gives everyone access to a few articles per month with essentially zero friction.
And with that, I hope you join me tomorrow here on Ars for the conclusion of this conversation.
This special edition of the Ars Technicast podcast can be accessed in the following places:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-ars-technicast/id522504024?mt=2 (Might take several hours after publication to appear.)