#147- Stephen Fry

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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28 January 2019 11:50
 

In this first Making Sense episode of the podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Stephen Fry about comedy, atheism, political correctness, meditation, ambition, empathy, psychedelics, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen’s experience of manic depression, and much else.

#147- Stephen Fry

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 
 
ncooty
 
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ncooty
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29 January 2019 00:11
 

Thoroughly enjoyable, particularly for Stephen’s characteristic capacity for elevating the use of language in conversation (not that Sam is ineloquent).

 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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31 January 2019 14:16
 

In past podcasts and writings, Harris has repeatedly claimed with apparently unwavering confidence that people are, at the root of it, never capable of making any choice, ever. I’m pleased to see that he’s now tempered that most peculiar perspective in this podcast with Stephen Fry. During his conversation with Fry, Harris says that “. . . mindfulness gives you the ability to choose how long you want to be angry or sad. . . .”

For reference, find the 25-minute mark.

 
 
ncooty
 
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ncooty
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31 January 2019 22:32
 

@nonverbal

I don’t see an inconsistency in Sam’s beliefs or assertions on this point (free will as reflected in this conversation), though I completely understand the confusion.  I think he often uses the same terminology in two separate ways:  stipulated and colloquial.  It’s not entirely his fault, because our language is fairly careless with the types of “free will” we might be talking about.

Colloquially, we often use “free will” to refer to choices that an individual made independent of external coercion.  Sam likewise sometimes talks in those colloquial terms and believes in the potential for varying degrees of external free will, depending on several factors that we generally all likewise assume.

However, my understanding is that Sam does not believe in a sort of _internal_ free will, whereby the actions of an individual are not determined by physical or mechanistic (even randomly or stochastically determined) processes _within_ the individual.  To assert otherwise (i.e., to believe in a sort of _internal_ free will) seems to require dualism, and Sam is certainly not a dualist.

These distinctions became much clearer to me when I started using the analogy of humans as robots running software.  Ideas are just software.  Sam is running some software that attempts spread itself to other systems, in part by appealing to the software already running on the other systems.  What I’m calling “external free will” here seems intelligible in this context and can be asserted without implication or assumption about what I’m calling “internal free will”.  I think that’s all a more-or-less faithful representation of Sam’s broad view on free will and why he uses the related terms differently, depending on context.

 
nonverbal
 
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01 February 2019 05:54
 
ncooty - 31 January 2019 10:32 PM

@nonverbal

I don’t see an inconsistency in Sam’s beliefs or assertions on this point (free will as reflected in this conversation), though I completely understand the confusion.  I think he often uses the same terminology in two separate ways:  stipulated and colloquial.  It’s not entirely his fault, because our language is fairly careless with the types of “free will” we might be talking about.

Colloquially, we often use “free will” to refer to choices that an individual made independent of external coercion.  Sam likewise sometimes talks in those colloquial terms and believes in the potential for varying degrees of external free will, depending on several factors that we generally all likewise assume.

However, my understanding is that Sam does not believe in a sort of _internal_ free will, whereby the actions of an individual are not determined by physical or mechanistic (even randomly or stochastically determined) processes _within_ the individual.  To assert otherwise (i.e., to believe in a sort of _internal_ free will) seems to require dualism, and Sam is certainly not a dualist.

These distinctions became much clearer to me when I started using the analogy of humans as robots running software.  Ideas are just software.  Sam is running some software that attempts spread itself to other systems, in part by appealing to the software already running on the other systems.  What I’m calling “external free will” here seems intelligible in this context and can be asserted without implication or assumption about what I’m calling “internal free will”.  I think that’s all a more-or-less faithful representation of Sam’s broad view on free will and why he uses the related terms differently, depending on context.

Such change need not appear inconsistent at all, as such an adjustment can also be seen as a sign of personal growth which at times demands we reconsider some of our views. Show me a professional thinker who holds on to each of his early views till the day he dies, and I’ll show you someone who lost track of how to make an honest living. People who seem unable to evolve are a little frightening.

 
 
ncooty
 
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01 February 2019 07:26
 

@nonverbal I agree that perhaps he has changed his mind, but if he has, then his current view would be inconsistent with his previous one.  If they’re consistent with each other, then he hasn’t changed his mind.  That’s why I noted that his previous and current positions do not sound inconsistent to me.  I’m not arguing the merits of temporal consistency (or hard-headedness).

 
nonverbal
 
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01 February 2019 07:30
 
ncooty - 01 February 2019 07:26 AM

@nonverbal I agree that perhaps he has changed his mind, but if he has, then his current view would be inconsistent with his previous one.  If they’re consistent with each other, then he hasn’t changed his mind.  That’s why I noted that his previous and current positions do not sound inconsistent to me.  I’m not arguing the merits of temporal consistency (or hard-headedness).

However it gets worded, I’m happy to see Harris expanding his notions about free will.

 
 
Mattt
 
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05 February 2019 02:51
 

I was really useful, and helpful that Stephen Fry talked about his concerns about meditation, so that Sam could explain how it was in some cases the opposite of that Stephen thought.  Really nice that the relationship allowed them to be as frank an honest, especially Stephen Fry’s description about being a bit shy, embarrassed and awkward about meditating.

This podcast also , nudged me to finally dive into the writing of Christopher Hitchens, which i expect I would have anyway, but this was the tipping point.grin

 
Ola
 
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Ola
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08 February 2019 13:42
 
Mattt - 05 February 2019 02:51 AM

I was really useful, and helpful that Stephen Fry talked about his concerns about meditation, so that Sam could explain how it was in some cases the opposite of that Stephen thought.  Really nice that the relationship allowed them to be as frank an honest, especially Stephen Fry’s description about being a bit shy, embarrassed and awkward about meditating.

This podcast also , nudged me to finally dive into the writing of Christopher Hitchens, which i expect I would have anyway, but this was the tipping point.grin


Ah! You should try to tell them that by email or on twitter because I think they’d both be thrilled to hear it! smile