WRITTEN BY BERKELEY STUDENT FRANCES HUANG WITH MARK KOLSEN, AAI NEWS TEAM
Does it make sense to talk of ‘secular spirituality’? Well-known atheist and author Dr Sam Harris thinks it does. I attended Harris’s San Francisco lecture on 17 September which coincided with the release of his new book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. The lecture series (also presented in Los Angeles and New York) tried (and mostly succeeded) in getting to the core of human consciousness, mindfulness and secular spirituality.
First, Harris skilfully argued that since the very beginning, suffering has its origins in the illusion of self. This ‘self’ claims to be the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experiences. When we are wandering in our thoughts, those little persons in our heads are the ‘selves’ that we seem to experience. However, as Harris pointed out in both the lecture and the new book, ‘a persistent and unified self’ is merely an illusion since it is the whole brain and the firing of neuronal networks that make us who we are. Our thoughts and our behaviors are wholly caused by our brain, which also changes with time. As Harris argued in his book Free Will (2012), free will, like the sense of self, is also an illusion.