Books: Waking Up – Sam Harris

Before reading this book, I knew it would be challenging. Not only because I just recently had a newborn baby, but as is the case with Sam Harris, what the author frequently attempts to make us understand is beyond the capacity of our evolutionary brains to digest simply and effortlessly. Sam Harris has fascinating ideas, he makes the reader think outside the box, in a manner beyond what our genes and neurons are designed or accustomed to do. In Waking Up, he presents his view of the self, or the I, the ego, the ghost in the machine, the thinking narrator in your head,  That voice that just won’t give, it won’t shut up.  And what is the view, it is that ALL of this is an illusion!

I know, it was hard for me to digest as well, and had me wondering who it was really that decided which route to run this morning, or why I would prefer muffins over cupcakes? Well, according to Harris, {you} have already decided, or more correctly, {your brain} has the decision made way before we act on the consideration and the decision itself. In sequence, we are a product of our thoughts, and our thoughts a product of our consciousness, followed by our consciousness being a  product of our brain. These are just a few of the many factors that makes us who we feel we are;  our genes, surrounding environment, our direct and indirect experiences play vital roles. The main issue here to focus on is back to that damn voice in our heads, narrating everything we do.  So constant and not shutting off for one second, yet the identity of this narrator remains a mystery.  Who is doing that? In fact, there is no one.

According to Harris, we think that there is someone in our heads, and this might have something to do with the cerebral cortex, the Amygdala and other components of the brain that creates in us this illusion. To expand on this, our brains function in a linear manner.  To describe the operation of the brain in the form of linear function, questions like “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” and “Who created the creator?” might mimic the activity of its form of function.  In essence, a cause and effect form of thinking, but in fact we cannot think this way about the way we think anymore.  We need to expand in broader dimensions, taking into consideration breakthrough after breakthrough being made concerning the universe and our immediate surroundings.  There is a need to rewire our brains, by going against the grain of its evolution in order to better understand (again) what the universe is made up of or who we truly are!

I find Harris’ idea liberating just thinking of it in theory, even if it is still not fully understood.  It is like quantum mechanics, it is there, it is relevant, but it is very rare to have someone fully explain it properly! To put things further into perspective, I would like to share an experiment I read about from another book called The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood, also strongly recommended. OK so try this at home. Stand in front a mirror about two feet away and move your eyeball side to side without moving your head. See if you can notice the eye shifting. Now call someone to stand next to you, and let them see if they can observe the eye shifting. I want you to try this and if you happen to realize something, think about it.  I won’t say what it is here, but it has to do with the idea of self illusion. It is very interesting, trust me!

In conclusion, what I liked about this book is that it speaks to the reader from a secular point of view, regarding a subject that is in us all.  We are all spiritual in one way or another, for me, it is when I am afloat in an outdoor swimming pool looking at the clouds above, and slowly I  carry my gaze outwards, creating a three dimensional ‘reference view’ of where I am at that moment, at that particular spot on this earth, and that image in that particular spot of our vast universe. It’s in these moments of cognisant insignificance, created by the ‘significant’ mumblings of my mind and the daily interactions of my life that make me feel spiritual.  The dichotomy is difficult, actually quite sad to accept, but the abundance of beauty, whether in nature or in our bonds makes it easier to swallow.  With this in mind, and with Harris’ ability to rid the subject matter of any connection to religion or new age movements, Waking Up presents the realization to selflessness through meditation and dedication to the thinking of thinking.  A requirement, one hell of a complex brain, and the ability to explore it. Enjoy!!!

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