Sam Harris

Why Everyone Needs to Listen to Sam Harris

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, an author, a philosopher and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu participant, and he has a lot to say about the modern world.
March 6, 2018
7 mins read

Very few college students are familiar with Sam Harris, but everyone should familiarize themselves with him as soon as possible. After all, he is a neuroscientist, author and philosopher and, interestingly, he also practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu. With his slew of talents and abilities, he’s a fascinating person and someone you need to get to know immediately.

I’m not being hyperbolic by saying that Sam Harris will change your life. If nothing else, he will definitely change the way you think, which reflects his greatest skill: challenging the way we perceive things we always held to be the truth. 

Harris’ topics of discussion range from critiquing religion and analyzing the potential dangers of AI, to discussing the intellectual dark web and the illusion of free will. In addition to these topics, Harris unpacks the complicated subject of secular spirituality and the benefits of meditation. He does this in a way that is uniquely accessible to everyone.

Additionally, Harris strives to bring truth and enlightenment into the world and advises everyone to maintain a progressive society. He ultimately explores challenging topics with a sincerity and intellectual mastery, which is difficult to accomplish, especially in today’s culture where ideologies want to suppress the truth.

In addition to hosting his own wildly popular podcast, “Waking Up,” Sam Harris has written seven books, held Ted Talks on various subjects, lectured at many speech conventions, been featured on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and done countless public forums and debates.

Neil deGrasse Tyson also featured Harris multiple times on his show titled “Star Talk Radio” and Joe Rogan featured him on his podcast called “The Joe Rogan Experience.” Additionally, some of the most famous guests Harris’ personal podcast include Jordan Peterson, Richard Dawkins, Ken Burns, Douglas Murray, Max Tegmark, Daniel Dennett and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

One of his recent live events, which he held in San Francisco, was with Ben Shapiro and Eric Weinstein, and they debated morality, free will and religion. Ben Shapiro is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire and host of the “Ben Shapiro Show.”

Eric Weinstein is an Oxford mathematician, and he also publishes on topics such as immigration, gauge theory and incentivizing risk-taking in science. This event is available on Harris’ podcast, and many listeners found the conversation to be interesting and insightful, despite the two camps of conservative and classical liberal opinions.

Sam Harris garnered public attention after the publication of his first book “The End of Faith: Terror, and the Future of Reason” (2004). Harris says he wrote the book after what he described as “collective grief and stupefaction” following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result, he writes about the dispute between reason and religion in the modern world.

Harris also gained media attention after a heated debate broke out between Bill Maher, Harris and Ben Affleck on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Harris remarks, “We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people, which is ridiculous.”  Harris also said, “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.”

This descended into Affleck attacking Harris as a bigot.

Harris is an outspoken critic of Abrahamic religions, especially Islam, and his critiques have caused the media to target him as a bigot and “Islamophobe.” However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, Harris co-authored a book titled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” with Maajid Nawaz, British activist, author and politician. Nawaz is also the founder of Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank that aims to prevent Islamist radicalization and counter extremism.

Harris and Nawaz — a former radical, turned liberal Muslim — wrote “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” in a dialogue format between them. In the work, the two authors discuss the very polarizing issue of Islam and why it needs to experience reform.

Critics have praised the book for the civil and thoughtful conversation of this complicated issue, and they also praised the writers for finding a common ground.

Though he seems to target his religious analyzations toward Islam, Harris doesn’t hold back with his criticism of Christianity, either. In his book “Letter to a Christian Nation,” Harris is mainly directing his arguments to the conservative Christian Right in in the United States. Ultimately, he asserts that religious dogma blocks true morality.

In regard to moderate beliefs surrounding religion, Harris says, “With religious moderates, you have people talking about just wanting meaning in their lives, which I argue is a total non-sequitur when it comes down to justifying your belief in God.”

Harris explains that wanting meaning doesn’t automatically make a specific belief system justifiable, and he believes people should seek validation elsewhere. 

With his constant criticism of various doctrines, it’s obvious that Sam Harris believes we can attain spirituality without religion. In fact, his book “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion” is a guide to meditation as a rational practice influenced by neuroscience and psychology. He also posted two free guided-meditation sessions on his website.

Because he supports meditation, Harris recommends vipassana, which helps you gain mindfulness. To further promote vipassana, he says, “Developing this quality of mind has been shown to reduce pain, anxiety and depression, improve cognitive function and even produce changes in gray matter density regions of the brain related to learning and memory, emotional regulation and self-awareness.”

Harris is also an avid participant in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. On the Joe Rogan podcast, Harris and Rogan discussed the effectiveness of BJJ. In order to explain his love for the sport, Harris remarks, “The violence is truly incremental. You can turn it up as slowly as the laws of physics allow … You can’t apply a punch incrementally.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, Harris points out the validity of acquiring self-defense skills. He discusses that although most people won’t experience acts of violence during their life, aggressive crimes are common enough to prepare yourself for them without feeling irrational.

Sam Harris’ unique viewpoint on this subject is indicative of his jarring, yet deeply insightful, worldview and his quest to understand the world and make it a better place for all of humanity.

Download the “Waking Up” podcast from your favorite podcast directory.

Visit for more information on upcoming events and access to his blog posts, and to become a monthly subscriber.

Miranda Maples, University of Tennessee

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Miranda Maples

University of Tennessee Knoxville

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