I have probably listened to everything he has ever said about this and yet it is still a puzzling statement to me. Does he mean there is no soul? This I already believed (and most of his audience I would guess). Does he mean there is no free-will? I don’t think so, because he also claims that, but he seems to believe these are two separate claims. In any case, even if he does mean that, I can’t even make sense of the idea of free-will without something fundamentally and by definition magical, something which is outside the “natural” domain and would therefore be very much identical in most critical ways to the traditional concept of a “soul”. So what does he mean? Honestly I’ve been reading the work of logical positivists lately and I am very tempted to say Sam’s claim is unverifiable and therefore meaningless. To be fair, verificationism doesn’t apply very well to the philosophy of mind. The claim “it feels like something to be a bat” is clearly meaningful and yet it seems completely unverifiable. So sure, I have the subjective experience of being an “agent” who acts “freely”. So yes, I “feel” as if I had a soul. Actually, I feel as if I am a soul who has a body, but I am aware that this is not the case. I feel like I am a character in a narrative. I know this is just a construction of the brain. I’ve experienced these feelings dissolving to some extent under the effect of psychedelics (though I never took a really high dose), so I am aware it is only an experience. However, as an experience, it is real. Just as consciousness itself is real. To say “the self does not exist” sounds weird and unnecessarily metaphysical to me, it sounds a bit like saying “consciousness doesn’t exist”, or “taste doesn’t exist”. I mean, of course they don’t exist physically and I cannot touch them. But they do exist as experiences. I’m thinking maybe what Sam means by “there is no self” is rather something like “it is possible to stop feeling like you are a soul”. What do you guys think?
IMO, Harris feels the need to fight back against Dualism, and so his description of “self” is equivalent to what others would call a soul.
I would also see the “self” as process, and as with any process you can’t see it if you just focus on one part of it.
I don’t really gain anything from “observing that there is no observer”, since I never expected there to be one.
My take on Harris’s claim: I think it might be more accurate to say, “the self of which we are aware doesn’t exist.” If consciousness is the process by which a model of reality is constructed in the mind, and that model of reality constitutes everything we’re aware of—including the “self”—then it’s a safe bet (thanks to the subjective nature of the model) that everything we’re aware of is more or less an illusion. Not to say that reality (including some version of your self) doesn’t exist, it just doesn’t exist the way we’re aware of it. Which kind of sounds like what you’re hinting at.
I don’t think it’s possible to “stop feeling like you are a soul,” or put another way, to “transcend the illusion of self.” Yes, the self is an illusion, but not one that can be transcended without transcending consciousness—and therefore awareness—itself. Nirvana is therefore the illusion of transcending the illusion of self. A placebo, if you will.
There’s a Zen adage: “To understand or not to understand, both are mistaken views.”
Both of those views call for memory, knowledge, opinion, ideation - all attributes of the self.
Then there’s the Zen koan, “Does a dog have Buddha nature? No.”
Does this last question & answer suggest that a dog has a self and isn’t just its own ‘present beginningless awareness’.?