Sam Harris

Samuel Benjamin Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, neuroscientist, philosopher, and podcast host. His work touches on a wide range of topics, including rationality, religion, ethics, free will, neuroscience, meditation, philosophy of mind, politics, terrorism, and artificial intelligence. Harris came to prominence for his criticism of religion, and Islam in particular, and is described as one of the "Four Horsemen of Atheism", along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.[3][4] His academic background is in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience.[5]

Sam Harris
Harris in March 2016
BornSamuel Benjamin Harris[1]
(1967-04-09) April 9, 1967
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationB.A. in Philosophy, Stanford University (2000)
Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of California, Los Angeles (2009)
SubjectNeuroscience, philosophy[2] religion, ethics, politics, spirituality
Notable awardsPEN/Martha Albrand Award, Webby Award
Annaka Harris (m. 2004)


Philosophy career
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolNew Atheism
ThesisThe moral landscape: How science could determine human values (2009)
Main interests
Neuroscience, religion, ethics, free will, spirituality, philosophy of mind
Notable ideas
The Moral Landscape, Ethics as a branch of science

Harris's first book, The End of Faith (2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction[6] and remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks.[7] Harris has subsequently published six other books: Letter to a Christian Nation in 2006, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values in 2010, the long-form essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014, and, with British writer Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue in 2015. Harris' work has been translated into over 20 languages.[8]

Since September 2013, Harris has hosted the Making Sense podcast (originally titled Waking Up), in which he interviews guests, responds to critics, and discusses his views. In September 2018 Harris released a meditation app, Waking Up with Sam Harris.[9]

Early life and education

Harris was born on April 9, 1967, in Los Angeles,[10] the son of actor Berkeley Harris and TV producer Susan Harris (née Spivak), who created The Golden Girls.[11] His father came from a Quaker background and his mother is Jewish but not religious.[12] He was raised by his mother following his parents' divorce when he was aged two.[13] Harris has stated that his upbringing was entirely secular and that his parents rarely discussed religion, though he also stated that he was not raised as an atheist.[14]

While his original major was in English, Harris became interested in philosophical questions while at Stanford University after an experience with the empathogen–entactogen MDMA.[15][16][17] The experience led him to be interested in the idea that he might be able to achieve spiritual insights without the use of drugs.[18] Leaving Stanford in his second year, a quarter after his psychedelic experience, he went to India and Nepal, where he studied meditation with teachers of Buddhist and Hindu religions,[18][19] including Dilgo Khyentse.[20] Eleven years later, in 1997, he returned to Stanford, completing a B.A. degree in philosophy in 2000.[21][22][23] Harris began writing his first book, The End of Faith, immediately after the September 11 attacks.[21]

He received a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 from the University of California, Los Angeles,[21][24][25] using functional magnetic resonance imaging to conduct research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty.[21][25] His thesis was titled The moral landscape: How science could determine human values, and his advisor was Mark S. Cohen.[26]


Writings and public debate

Harris's writing focuses on philosophy, neuroscience, and criticism of religion, for which he is best known, and he has written for a variety of outlets.

Harris engaged in a lengthy debate with conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan on the Internet forum Beliefnet.[27] In April 2007, Harris debated with the evangelical pastor Rick Warren for Newsweek magazine.[28] In April 2011, he debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig on whether there can be an objective morality without God.[29] In June and July 2018, he met with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson for a series of debates on religion, particularly the relationship between religious values and scientific fact in defining truth.[30][31]


In September 2013, Harris began the Waking Up (since re-titled Making Sense) podcast, in which he discusses his views, responds to critics, and interviews guests. The podcasts, having started with very short posts, now vary in length anywhere from 1 hour to over 4 hours. The podcast has no regular release schedule, although the frequency of releases has increased over time.[32] In 2017, the UK Business Insider included it in their list of "8 podcasts that will change how you think about human behavior" and PC Magazine included it in their list of "Podcasts You Should Download Now".[33][34] The Waking Up podcast won the 2017 Webby Award for "People's Voice" in the category "Science & Education" under "Podcasts & Digital Audio".[35]

Meditation app

In September 2018, Harris released a meditation course app, Waking Up with Sam Harris.[9] The app provides daily meditations, long guided meditations, and a selection of other lessons on various related topics.[9] Users of the app are introduced to a number of types of meditation, such as mindfulness meditation, vipassanā-style meditation, and loving-kindness meditation.[9]



While broadly critical of religion in most forms, Harris considers Islam to be "especially belligerent and inimical to the norms of civil discourse", insofar as it involves what Harris considers to be "bad ideas, held for bad reasons, leading to bad behavior."[36]


Harris is critical of the Christian right in politics in the United States, blaming them for the political focus on "pseudo-problems like gay marriage."[37] He is also critical of liberal Christianity—as represented, for instance, by the theology of Paul Tillich—which he argues claims to base its beliefs on the Bible despite actually being influenced by secular modernity. He further states that in so doing liberal Christianity provides rhetorical cover to fundamentalists.[37]


Harris holds that there is "nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion, and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have."[18]

Harris rejects the dichotomy between spirituality and rationality, favoring a middle path that preserves spirituality and science but does not involve religion.[38] He writes that spirituality should be understood in light of scientific disciplines like neuroscience and psychology.[38] Science, he contends, can show how to maximize human well-being, but may fail to answer certain questions about the nature of being, answers to some of which he says are discoverable directly through our experience.[38] His conception of spirituality does not involve a belief in any god.[39]

In Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014), Harris describes his experience with Dzogchen, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice, and recommends it to his readers.[38] He writes that the purpose of spirituality (as he defines it – he concedes that the term's uses are diverse and sometimes indefensible) is to become aware that our sense of self is illusory, and says this realization brings both happiness and insight into the nature of consciousness.[38][40] This process of realization, he argues, is based on experience and is not contingent on faith.[38]

Science and morality

In The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that science answers moral problems and can aid human well-being.[41]

Free will

Harris says the idea of free will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality" and is incoherent.[42] Harris writes in Free Will that neuroscience "reveals you to be a biochemical puppet."[43]

Social and political views

Harris describes himself as a liberal, and states that he supports raising taxes on the very wealthy, the decriminalizing of drugs and legalizing of same-sex marriage. He was critical of the Bush administration's war in Iraq, fiscal policy, and treatment of science. However, he also believes liberals dangerously downplay the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.[44] He is a registered Democrat.[45]

During the 2016 United States presidential election, Harris supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primaries against Bernie Sanders,[46] and despite calling her "a terribly flawed candidate for the presidency," he favored her in the general election and came out strongly in opposition to Donald Trump's candidacy.[47][48]

Artificial intelligence

Harris has discussed existential risk from artificial general intelligence in depth.[49] He has given a TED talk on the topic, arguing it will be a major threat in the future and criticizing the paucity of human interest on the subject.[50] He argues the dangers from artificial intelligence (AI) follow from three premises: that intelligence is the result of physical information processing, that humans will continue innovation in AI, and that humans are nowhere near the maximum possible extent of intelligence.[50] Harris states that even if superintelligent AI is five to ten decades away, the scale of its implications for human civilization warrant discussion of the issue in the present.[50]


Glenn Greenwald has claimed that "[Harris] and others like him spout and promote Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism." Greenwald claimed that Harris' Islamophobia is revealed by his statements such as: "the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists", and "[t]he only future devout Muslims can envisage — as Muslims — is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed."[51]

Harris has criticized the way the term Islamophobia is commonly used.[52] "My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences, but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people",[53] he wrote following a disagreement with Ben Affleck in October 2014 on the show Real Time with Bill Maher. Affleck had described Harris' views on Muslims as "gross" and "racist", and his statement that "Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas" as an "ugly thing to say."[54][55]

In April 2017, Harris stirred controversy by hosting the social scientist Charles Murray on his podcast, discussing topics including the heritability of IQ and race and intelligence.[56] Harris stated the invitation was out of indignation at a violent protest against Murray at Middlebury College the month before and not out of particular interest in the material at hand.[56] The podcast garnered significant criticism, for instance from Vox[57][58] and Slate.[59] Harris and Murray were defended by conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan, as well as by neuroscientist Richard Haier, who stated that the points Murray claimed were mainstream scientific opinion were indeed mainstream.[60][61] Harris and Vox editor-at-large Ezra Klein later discussed the affair in a podcast interview,[62] where Klein criticized Harris for rebuking tribalism in the form of identity politics while failing to recognize his own version of tribalism.[63] Hatewatch staff at the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that members of the "skeptics" movement, of which Harris is "one of the most public faces", help to "channel people into the alt-right".[64]

In May 2018, Harris was profiled by Bari Weiss in the New York Times as part of the "Intellectual Dark Web" (a term coined semi-ironically by Eric Weinstein to refer to a particular group of academics and podcast hosts).[48]


Harris's first book, The End of Faith (2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.[65]

Harris was included on a list of the "100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People 2019" in the Watkins Review, a publication of Watkins Books, a London esoterica bookshop.[66]

Personal life

Harris is a martial arts student and practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu.[67][68]

Harris has been reluctant to discuss personal details such as where he now lives, citing security reasons.[69] In 2004, he married Annaka Harris, an editor of nonfiction and scientific books.[70] They have two daughters.[71][72]



  • Harris, Sam (August 11, 2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03515-8. OCLC 62265386.
  • Harris, Sam (September 19, 2006). Letter to a Christian Nation. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-307-26577-3. OCLC 70158553.
  • Harris, Sam (October 5, 2010). The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4391-7121-9. OCLC 535493357.
  • Harris, Sam (2011). Lying. Four Elephants Press. ISBN 978-1940051000.
  • Harris, Sam (March 6, 2012). Free Will. Free Press. ISBN 9781451683400.
  • Harris, Sam (September 9, 2014). Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1451636017.
  • Harris, Sam; Nawaz, Maajid (October 6, 2015). Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674088702.


Amila, D. & Shapiro, J. (2018). Islam and the Future of Tolerance. United States: The Orchard.[73][74]

Peer-reviewed articles


  1. "Sam Harris at the Warner Theater".
  2. Paul Pardi (May 15, 2012). "An Analysis of Sam Harris' Free Will". Philosophy News. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  3. Bowles, Nellie (December 14, 2018). "Patreon Bars Anti-Feminist for Racist Speech, Inciting Revolt". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2019. Mr. Harris, who gathered his fan base as a pugnacious atheist and fierce critic of Islam
  4. Madigan, Tim (2010). "Meet the New Atheism / Same as the Old Atheism?". Philosophy Now. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  5. Bullivant, Stephen; Ruse, Michael, eds. (2013). The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. p. 246. ISBN 9780199644650. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  6. PEN American Center, 2005. "The PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction Archived May 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine."
  7. Van Biema, David (December 14, 2007). "What Your Brain Looks Like on Faith". Time. Retrieved August 16, 2018.
  8. "Sam Harris". Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  9. Freeland, Ben (March 29, 2019). "Sam Harris' Waking Up App, Reviewed". Medium. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  10. Current Biography, January 2012, Vol. 73 Issue 1, p37
  11. Anderson, Jon (October 20, 1985). "'Girls' Series is solid gold for Harris". Chicago Tribune TV Week. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  12. Samuels, David. May 29, 2012. Q&A: Sam Harris. Tablet. Retrieved: October 6, 2014.
  13. "I'm Not the Sexist Pig You're Looking For". September 15, 2014. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  14. Sam Harris - Extended Interview; PBS: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly; January 5, 2007
  15. "Sam Harris." (2008). The Science Studio. Science Network. October 3, 2008. Transcript.
  16. Harris, Sam (June 28, 2011). "MDMA Caution with Sam Harris".
  17. Cogent Canine (December 6, 2017), First Time Sam Harris Took E, retrieved December 8, 2017
  18. Miller, Lisa (2010). "Sam Harris Believes in God". Newsweek.
  19. Segal, David (October 26, 2006). "Atheist Evangelist" .The Washington Post.
  20. Harris, Sam (November 11, 2012). "Science on the Brink of Death". Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  21. Segal, David (October 26, 2006). "Atheist Evangelist". The Washington Post.
  22. Rice, Lewis I. "The Iconoclast: Sam Harris wants believers to stop believing". Stanford Magazine.
  23. "Sam Harris". The Information Philosopher. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
  24. Greenberg, Brad A. (April 1, 2008). "Making Belief". UCLA Magazine. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  25. Healy, Melissa (September 30, 2009). "Religion: The heart believes what it will, but the brain behaves the same either way". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 24, 2014. Retrieved October 17, 2009.
  26. Harris, Sam (2009). The moral landscape: How science could determine human values. ProQuest (PhD). UCLA. ISBN 9781124011905. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  27. Harris, Sam; Sullivan, Andrew (January 16, 2007). "Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'?" Beliefnet.
  28. Harris, Sam; Warren, Rick (April 8, 2007). "NEWSWEEK Poll: 90% Believe in God". Newsweek.
  29. Schneider, Nathan (July 1, 2013). "The New Theist". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  30. Ruffolo, Michael (June 26, 2018). "Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson waste a lot of time, then talk about God for 20 minutes". National Observer. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  31. Murray, Douglas (September 16, 2018). "Arena talks in Dublin and London with Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray". The Spectator USA. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  32. "Waking Up with Sam Harris". iTunes – Podcasts. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  33. "8 podcasts that will change how you think about human behavior". Business Insider Inc. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  34. "Podcasts You Should Download Now". Ziff Davis, LLC. PCMag Digital Group. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  35. "The 2017 Webby Awards for the best science and education podcasts". The Webby Awards. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  36. Harris, Sam (June 21, 2014). "Response to Controversy". Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  37. Mohler, R. Albert Jr. (August 19, 2004). "The End of Faith--Secularism with the Gloves Off". The Christian Post. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  38. Clothier, Peter (September 2, 2016). "'Waking Up', by Sam Harris: A Book Review". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  39. Smith, Holly (September 17, 2014). "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion". Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  40. "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion". Kirkus Reviews. August 29, 2014. Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  41. Don, Katherine (October 17, 2010). "'The Moral Landscape': Why science should shape morality." Salon.
  42. Paul Pardi (May 15, 2012). "An Analysis of Sam Harris' Free Will". Philosophy News. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  43. Nahmias, Eddy (August 13, 2012). "Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?" Big Questions Online.
  44. Harris, Sam (September 18, 2006). "Head-in-the-Sand Liberals: Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists." Los Angeles Times. Archived at the Wayback Machine.
  45. Sam Harris: Trump, Reparations, Manifestos, Fox News, September 9, 2019, retrieved November 21, 2019, 03:50 I'm a registered Democrat
  46. "Sam Harris Q&A: "Why I'm Voting For Hillary Clinton"". YouTube. February 18, 2016.
  47. Harris, Sam. Trump in Exile., October 13, 2016. Retrieved April 22, 2017
  48. Weiss, Bari (May 8, 2018). "Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  49. Harris, Sam. "Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse?". Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  50. Davey, Tucker. "Sam Harris TED Talk: Can We Build AI Without Losing Control Over It?". Future of Life Institute. Retrieved June 14, 2019.
  51. Greenwald, Glenn (April 3, 2013). "Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus". The Guardian. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  52. Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent.
  53. Harris, Sam (October 7, 2014), Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?, London, retrieved December 26, 2014
  54. Child, Ben (October 7, 2014). "Ben Affleck: Sam Harris and Bill Maher 'racist' and 'gross' in views of Islam". The Guardian. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  55. Bond, Paul (October 8, 2014). "Ben Affleck Targeted by Conservatives After Islamism Spat With Bill Maher". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  56. Harris, Sam (March 27, 2018). "Ezra Klein: Editor-at-Large". Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  57. Turkheimer, Eric; Harden, Kathryn Paige; Nisbett, Richard E. (May 18, 2017). "Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ". Vox Media. Vox. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  58. Klein, Ezra (March 27, 2018). "Sam Harris, Charles Murray, and the allure of race science". Vox Media. Vox. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  59. Saletan, William (April 27, 2018). "Stop Talking About Race and IQ". Slate. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  60. Sullivan, Andrew (March 30, 2018). "Denying Genetics Isn't Shutting Down Racism, It's Fueling It". New York. Retrieved October 17, 2018.
  61. Haier, Richard (June 11, 2017). "No Voice at VOX: Sense and Nonsense about Discussing IQ and Race". Quillette. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  62. Klein, Ezra (April 9, 2018). "The Sam Harris debate". Vox. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  63. Wright, Robert (May 17, 2018). "Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought". Wired. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
  64. Hatewatch Staff (April 19, 2018). "McInnes, Molyneux, and 4chan: Investigating pathways to the alt-right". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  65. PEN American Center, 2005. "The PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction Archived May 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine."
  66. "Watkins' Spiritual 100 List for 2019". Watkins Magazine. April 2019. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  67. Harris 2012.
  68. Wood, Graeme (April 24, 2013). "The Atheist Who Strangled Me". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  69. Piccalo, Gina (October 2, 2006). "Oh, dear God—it's him again". Los Angeles Times.
  70. "Project Reason Trustees / Advisory Board". Project Reason. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  71. Harris 2014a"For Annaka, Emma, and Violet"
  72. Harris, Sam (July 4, 2011). "Drugs and the Meaning of Life". Sam Harris.
  73. "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". Islam and the Future of Tolerance. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  74. "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". Amazon. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.