Sam Harris is arguably one of the greatest and most divisive philosophers of our time.
From his critiques of religion to his thoughts on free will to his philosophy on objectively derived but consciously inspired morality, whether you agree with his beliefs or not, his work forces all who encounter it to stop dead in their tracks and reconsider the very foundations of what they perceive to be reality.
While Sam has been lauded as a champion of secular mindfulness, what I find most interesting about his writing and philosophy is not his take on meditation, but rather the perspective he has on life, purpose, and morality.
And today, I wanted to share a few of my favorite Sam Harris quotes that will challenge your assumptions and force you to consider life and your fellow humans from a different angle.
If you will let them, these Sam Harris quotes will have a profound impact on your view of reality and change your life in unexpected ways.
Let’s dive in.
10 Sam Harris Quotes that Will Transform Your View of Reality
1. “Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”
Most interpersonal human suffering–anger, resentment, war, political strife, racism, bigotry, etc–stems from a simple source.
We forget that, when it’s all said and done, we’re all going through the journey of life together.
Despite our cultural, religious, and social disparity, human beings across the globe share far more similarities than we do differences. Yet our basic inclination is to focus myopically on our differences…on the small and ultimately unimportant ways our stories diverge from the stories of our fellow humans instead of focusing on the ways in which we are all the same.
All humans, without exception, want to experience more love, joy, peace, and happiness in their lives. And even though we all have different and often conflicting ways of achieving this aim, our end goal is the same.
When we remember this, and when we remember that every person, no matter how good or evil they seem to be will ultimately suffer the fate of having everything they love in this world stripped away from them–often violently and unexpectedly–we kindle the flames of compassion and realize that the only way to treat others is with empathy and respect.
We’re all in this together. And when we discard our differences and bigotry and join together with a common goal to flourish together, magnificent things will happen.
2. “If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence. If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?”
Humans are all, without exception, highly irrational creatures. Even the most learned scholars and philosophers are not immune to the myriad of biases and cognitive dissonances that plague our species.
And the only antidote to our irrationality is a skeptical and inquisitive mind. To make decisions based on evidence, logic, and reason instead of fleeting emotions of vacuous platitudes.
The challenge, however, arises whenever we disregard the importance of sound evidence in favor of our “feelings” and one sided world view.
Because the truth of the matter is that feelings don’t matter. Evidence does.
No matter how strongly held your beliefs might be or how significant they are to your identity as a human being, when presented with evidence that contradicts that which you hold dearly, it is your duty and obligation as a contributing member of society to discard your errant beliefs and attempt to realign your thoughts and actions with the truth.
The history of humankind is nothing if not a history of stupidity. For millennia we engaged in perverse acts–stoning homosexuals, burning “witches” at the stake, owning other humans as workers, and denying people basic rights because of their differences–because we regarded our feelings as more important than the truth.
But evidence always wins in the end. And mankind is always better for it. So follow the evidence…seek truth no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
3. “Almost all our suffering is the product of our thoughts. We spend nearly every moment of our lives lost in thought and hostage to the character of those thoughts. You can break this spell, but it takes training just like it takes training to defend yourself against a physical assault.”
Suffering is rarely a byproduct of our circumstances. With the rare exceptions of death, disease, and tragedy, most of the suffering we experience is manufactured in our heads. It’s a result of the stories we tell ourselves about future problems, not a reflection of the realities playing out in our lives now.
When you intentionally develop your ability to control your thoughts…when you reclaim the reins of your monkey mind and learn how to live in the present moment instead of projecting a catastrophize future, most of your suffering will cease.
This is not to say that you can live a pain-free life–you can’t.
Simply that you will no longer be the victim of errant thoughts and mental conjurings. You will eliminate “imaginary” sufferings from your life and show up with greater presence and peace to everything you do.
No society in human history ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
We will embarrass our descendants just as our ancestors have at times embarrassed us. This is moral progress and its necessary today more than ever.
4. “Bad ideas, however sacred, cannot survive the company of good ones forever.”
We live in a society plagued by bad ideas. They permeate every facet of our modern lives from our personal development to our education system to our political discourse to religious institutions.
And even the most perfunctory glance at the news headlines reveals, on no uncertain terms, that these bad ideas continue to proliferate and sabotage our species ability to flourish.
As depressing and frustrating as this may be, as with all things, it’s important to maintain a healthy perspective. Bad ideas cannot and do not survive forever.
The history of our species is nothing if not a history of good ideas–logic, reason, and common decency–triumphing over superstition and dogma.
Only a few hundred years ago, the earth was believed to be flat, slavery was a common practice, innocent citizens were murdered for imaginary crimes (think: The Salem Witch Trials), and homosexuality was viewed as a capital offense.
But most of us have outgrown these outdated and verifiably ridiculous ideas.
We are a wiser, kinder, and more compassionate species than ever before in our history and, as many problems and bad ideas as we are forced to contend with, we must remember that they will not stand in perpetuity.
5. “Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.”
Despite the rising number of individuals who claim to meditate on a regular basis, very few of them are doing it right.
Meditation, as a practice, requires months, often years of concerted effort to get right. It isn’t simply the act of closing your eyes and thinking. It’s the act of dissolving the self and falling fully into the present moment, a moment where nothing exists outside of what is happening right now.
Most humans live their lives as time travelers. They are constantly reminiscing about the past or projecting and catastrophizing some imagined future. But none of those things are real. The present moment is all we have.
And once you experience the act of truly falling into the present moment, your life will change forever. When someone says they “Tried meditation” and it wasn’t for them, what they often mean is that they sat with their eyes closed and got restless. They weren’t willing to put in the hard work to reach true presence and find the ever present but seemingly untouchable stillness of now.
If you’ve ever tried and failed at a meditation practice before, I encourage you to try again. Because I promise, once you taste the serenity of being fully engaged with the present moment and nothing else, you will experience a radical and fundamental shift in the way you view and pursue life.
6. “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.”
This is one of my favorite Sam Harris quotes. Our lives, it seems are nothing more than an endless attempt to alter the way we feel at any given moment. We are always trying to escape the “bad” and experience the “good”.
Yet all too often, we fall into the trap of pursuing temporary alterations in our consciousness–that feel good in the moment while leaving us hollow in the long run–over sustained and consistent improvements in our conscious state.
Whether we consume drugs, engage in instant gratification driven vices (porn, TV, video games), or eat nutritionally void foods, we make the mistake of positively altering our consciousness in the present moment with little regard to the long term implications of said alteration.
Once we accept that everything we do is for the purpose of altering our emotions and mood, we can use this, in conjunction with evidence, to carve out a path to sustainable positive alternations that will improve our lives for years to come.
We can do things in the present moment that are uncomfortable and unenjoyable for the sake of experiencing a sublime alteration in our conscious state later.
7. “A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.”
Of the many insightful and pointed Sam Harris quotes, this is one of his most interesting for the simple reason that we, as a species, are not free. No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, all of us, without exception, are confined by the mandates of society, physics, and nature. We are all subjected to an invisible master and are little more than marionettes under the control of some cosmic force we can neither see nor fully understand.
And it is only by accepting the inherent “unfreeness” of our existence that we can achieve true freedom.
When we can learn to revel in the absurdity of life, to be amused by the insanity around us, to accept the cards we were dealt, no matter how unfair they are, we become free.
Not because we can do or have anything we want whenever we want. But because we can experience happiness and joy in any moment.
None of us were given the option to choose the life we were born into. None of us were even allowed the choice as to whether or not we wanted to experience this life at all. The only choice we have is to make the most of the opportunities given to us. To accept our captivity to the human experience and do our best to enjoy it while we can.
When we learn to love the strings controlling us, we gain our freedom.
8. “People often regret the things they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns when life was normal.”
Regret stems from one thing and one thing only. Spending your time on earth concerned with the wrong things.
The simple truth of the matter is this…the things you care about determine your thoughts and actions. And if you care too much about the wrong things, you will one day look back on your life with regret.
The fancy cars…the big houses…the single-digit body fat…the expensive toys…the lavish vacations…none of these things really matter when it’s all said and done. We’ve all heard the old cliche that no one comes to their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time in the office…but cliches exist for a reason and are often grounded in truth.
The key to a successful and flourishing life is to be intentional about the things you give importance in your life.
When it’s all said and done, the money won’t matter…the toys, houses, and cars won’t matter…the body you flaunted on social media won’t matter.
The only things you’ll care about are the people you impacted and who impacted you, the adventures you enjoyed, and the experiences you shared with others.
9. “However much you feel you need to plan for the future and mitigate risk. The reality of your life is now.”
One of the most uncomfortable truths of modern life is this…
Your plans don’t matter. No matter how meticulously you prepare, how detailed your five-year vision is, or how many goals you set, we live in a world that is not influenced or controlled by our petty whims and desires.
Shit will happen and it will happen more frequently and unexpectedly than you can imagine.
This does not mean we should disregard our future or ignore the potential consequences of our actions, simply that we must learn to reside in the present moment.
Have a direction for your life and a general understanding of the type of future you want to live, but do not dwell in this imaginary future.
Live in the here and now. Whatever it is that you’re doing at any given moment, do that. Plan for the life you want, but live the life you have.
10. If you live long enough, you will witness the death of everyone you love. At some point the phone ringing will be bad news.
The hardest truth of life is that everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone who fills your life with joy, and laughter, and intimacy, will one day die. Whether they befall a tragic accident or disease early in life, or fall victim, as we all do, to the slow decline of age, everyone you know today will one day leave this earth.
As uncomfortable as this fact is, as painful and heart wrenching as it might be to imagine the passing of your parents, friends, and lovers, this is a fact we must all accept.
Because it is only in accepting the brevity and inevitable cessation of our existence that we can truly appreciate it while we have it.
When seen in the light of our mortality, the petty problems and minor squabbles we experience in our interpersonal relationships pale in comparison to the importance our friends, family, and lovers hold in our lives.
The trivial arguments and disagreements don’t matter. The dramatic and overinflated conflicts aren’t necessary.
The person in front of you will one day be buried 6’ under the ground, cold and lifeless. And when you remember this fact, you open yourself up to a new level of love and appreciation few humans allow themselves to experience.
The people you love are all going to die. So treat them and love them as if today is the last day you will ever get to spend with them, because it very well might be.
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