A Hint at Sam Harris’ Next Book

It’s not about profiling anyone at the airport.

Instead, Harris will be causing a different kind of controversy:

The working title of the book is Waking Up: A Scientist Looks at Spirituality. This title could very well change, but this should give you some indication of what I’m up to. My goal is to write a “spiritual” book for smart, skeptical people — dealing with issues like the illusion of the self, the efficacy of practices like meditation, the cultivation of positive mental states, etc.

The tentative title doesn’t mention atheism (much like The End of Faith, which — surprisingly — never used the word at all). So it doesn’t look like Harris will be ripping on religion.

Harris is also wading into dangerous territory by mentioned that word “spirituality,” a word that may be too fuzzy and touchy-feely for a lot of atheists. Hell, it appears at first glance that Harris may lend some credibility to the annoying phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” God, I hope he doesn’t do that… but if his previous writing are any indication, Harris will be saying that spirituality/meditation/etc. cannot only be practiced by religious people. There are strong scientific reasons to meditate, for example, without needing to resort to superstition or supernatural ideas to back it up.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • antdrew

    I don’t find much wrong with  “I’m spiritual but not religious.”. And its about damn time we moved on from religion. Gets so old after a while. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Waggle/656305084 Eric Waggle

    I practice non-spiritual meditation all the time.  It’s about proper visualization and breathing to relax the body and mind.  Also an excellent exercise in discipline.

  • Alexandra

    I’m actually kind of excited about this.  Him being a neuro-scientist he probably has a lot of really useful insight into exactly what “spiritual health” is. 

  • John Small Berries

    dealing with issues like the illusion of the self

    If the self is just an illusion, why does he use first-person pronouns?

    • Slavoc

       Because it’s a helpful construction even if not 100% accurate given our current understanding of cognition, thought, memory, etc.

      Also: he gets a nickel every time some smartass thinks that they have a point against him by using bullshit pedantry. It’s made him ten times as much money as his book sales, y’know.

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      That was pretty funny, John. Good thing I wasn’t sipping a hot beverage when I read it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    It sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that “spiritual” means -for me at least- awareness of my place in the universe. Whilst meditating I observe that I am so incredibly small, so insignificant, compared to the totality of existence in terms of time and space. So while I’m humbled by that observation, I also feel profoundly excited by the prospect of understanding yet another sliver of what we call reality.

    Also, I think about my kids. That alone give me hope and strength for another day.

  • http://twitter.com/KevinSagui Kevin Sagui

    There’s really nothing wrong with “spiritual but not religious” – that probably describes non-theistic Buddhism pretty well, and that’s about as non-harmful as anything you’ll find in the world.

  • MichaelD

    I’d be very interested to see what his definition of spiritual is . I don’t think I’ve seen any that make much sense.

    • antdrew

      Richard Dawkins has described spirituality as feeling wonder in the natural laws that govern the universe. Makes sense to me.

  • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

    I have to go with the “I don’t like the word “spiritual” at all, because it doesn’t actually mean anything” crowd. Maybe I was heavily influenced over time by watching too much Atheist Experience episodes, but I think it’s absolutely correct.

    However, I don’t think that Sam Harris is talking about the same thing. When Sam talks about that sort of thing, he’s trying to take back terms which religion has, as he sees it, hijacked over the centuries. And good for him. There’s nothing wrong with meditation. There are physical, medical, scientific benefits to it for most people and he’s trying to explain them in a scientific way. I couldn’t say that this is a waste of time at all. I think we all realize that he’s got a good point.

    It’s just that almost all of us get uncomfortable talking about it *because* the religious have hijacked these terms and concepts since the dawn of history. He easily separates these from religious “bullshit” (as he says, and I agree), but it isn’t so easy for the rest of us yet. However, I absolutely trust that Sam is not a religious or “supernatural” guy in disguise. I trust that he’s talking about psychology, medicine, neurology, and other evidence-backed sciences. So I am always curious to see what advances he, and others, have been making in these fields which have been grabbed on to for so long by the ignorant religious hordes and their cultish leaders. Sam may come to dead ends at times, or may come up with proposals which we don’t agree with, or come to conclusions which don’t lead him anywhere, but he always does so (from what I can tell) based from a rational viewpoint. I may not agree with everything he has ever said, but I like the fact that he is not afraid to try, and fail, and try another thing again. He’s the one guy you get (apart from Hitchens, who was always a contrarian) from the “New Atheists” who likes to poke a stick in the mud sometimes just to see what happens.

    I really can respect that.

    • antdrew

      I feel that another problem is that many people assume or treat word definitions to be fixed. There is always plasticity in words. The religious can not hijack words any longer! 

  • TheAnalogKid

    To me, “spiritual” means what makes us human, what we have in common. I just call it that; what makes us human; what we have in common.

    • debbiedoesreality

       Perhaps a bit off topic (or not, but I think “what we have in common” may be apropos?)… Since I’ve been reading the comments at FriendlyAtheist and seeing your contributions, I have wanted to ask you if you are a Rush fan… or is the name you chose to post with just a coincidence?

      • LesterBallard

        Yes, I am. Looking forward to the show in Pittsburgh in September.

        TAK (Shhhh. ;-))

        • debbiedoesreality

           Right on. I hope you’ve been enjoying ‘Clockwork Angels’ as much as I have. If not, I recommend it.
          Your secret’s safe with me.  ;)

          • LesterBallard

            It’s playing constantly on my mp3 player, and right now I’m listening to Seven Cities of Gold. I love that opening bass line.

            • debbiedoesreality

              Sweet. It is a great bass line, as most of Geddy’s are. I love all the lyrics too, as I do with most Rush songs.
              Good to personally know that others are appreciating Rush’s latest effort as much as I am. Wasn’t sure about the whole “steampunk concept album” when first hearing of it a couple of years ago, but I think it works, and works quite well. I also like the artwork in the booklet.

              Also, like the Lester Ballard name. It has me interested in reading the book now.

              • LesterBallard

                I can listen to Malignant Narcissism over and over. That and Vital Signs. Yeah, I wondered about another concept album, but I like Clockwork Angels more and more, musically and lyrically, the more I listen to it. I would like to see them release a all instrumental album; just let it rip.

                Cormac McCarthy is fantastic. Read them all more than once; waiting for the new one, The Passenger.

                • debbiedoesreality

                  I concur on all things Rush. Since the new release we’ve been listening to a lot of “old friends”, ‘Vapor Trails’ being the one that comes to mind first.

                  As the reading material goes, thanks for the recommendation… I’m intrigued, certainly. Consider it added to my mile-long list.

                • LesterBallard
  • http://www.facebook.com/mattos John Mattos

    I cant wait to read it. I’m sure Sam will have a fascinating perspective, as always.

  • dangeroustalk

    I’m excited about Harris’s new book. He has been toying with that idea for awhile and it reminds me of the Huffington Post article I wrote, Atheists Can Be Spiritual Too – http://huff.to/wGP0o8

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    For those who don’t mind “spiritual but not religious”, you might look into it’s common usage by cults to lure people in with ‘bait and switch’ techs.  It’s a common phrase of the religious Alcoholics Anonymous, and other religious cults.

  • Gordon Duffy

    I wanted “Spiritual but not Religious” on the census form, since I think most of the people who ticked “Christian” would tick that instead. 

  • Georgina

    “There are strong scientific reasons to meditate, for example … ” all us trekkies have to agree with that statement.
    What is good enough for logic obsessed Spock and pragmatic T’Pol is good enough for me.
    (So, how do I stop falling asleep within 2 minutes?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=597335033 Jack Puffin

    Can’t wait. It will be yet more new age tripe dressed up as science. 

  • Pascale Laviolette

    I find the confusion over the word “spirituality” frustrating.  As an atheist, I experience moments that I have a hard time describing without using words like “transcendance” and “spiritual”… Sometimes when I contemplate my place in the universe, the beauty of evolution; or if I just meditate – I feel “transcendent”, like I am part of a bigger whole; but not in any religious/supernatural way, just in a molecular/awesome/big blanket way.  The word spirituality seems to fit, but I dare not utter it!

    I hope that Sam is able to reclaim the word “spirituality” so that it can be used by atheists without having to duck afterwards.


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