These Sam Harris quotes come from some of his books, including Free Will, while others are from his podcast Making Sense, which was originally called Waking Up.
Samuel Benjamin Harris, an American author, philosopher, neuroscientist, and podcast host has debated the topics of God or religion with several prominent figures, including Deepak Chopra. Harris’ work includes a broad range of topics like rationality, politics, terrorism, and artificial intelligence. Religious and spiritual themes in his work have touched on subjects like religion, ethics, free will, and meditation. He has also written about neuroscience and the philosophy of the mind.
Harris gained fame for his criticism of religion, and Islam in particular, and has been called one of the “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse.” The other three “horsemen” include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.
Harris’s views have been debated in academic settings and journals, attracting both criticism and praise. His books have been successful and appeal to the masses. His first book, The End of Faith (2004), which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks, won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.
Harris has written six other books, and his work has been translated into over 20 languages. His success didn’t stop with his written work; keep reading to learn more about who Sam Harris is.
Best Sam Harris quotes from Free Will
1. “A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: This metaphor was meant to describe how free will is an illusion. However, we can look at this a little deeper in our own lives. A puppet can love his strings if he chooses to wear them. Especially, since nothing here indicates there is a puppeteer. In life, we have control to decide our decisions and actions, so choose wisely.
2. “You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Bring the thunder and own who you are. We will all face challenges in this life, and we do not control them. We do not need to let them consume us and lose who we are. We just need to rise to our potential and be the storm!
3. “If you pay attention to your inner life, you will see that the emergence of choices, efforts, and intentions is a fundamentally mysterious process.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Free will is a complicated and mysterious process. Even if you will never really understand it, always look at your life choices, efforts, and intentions because that will lead to growth and self-awareness.
4. “Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic—in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom. My hopes, fears, and neuroses seem less personal and indelible.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: What is the concept of free will? Losing a belief that we have any control over the things in our life would mean that our hopes and fears are not a direct result of our making, and therefore we could harbor less guilt about failure.
5. “A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Where do our thoughts come from? This is up for debate depending on how you feel about free will. However, a moment or two of serious self-scrutiny can accomplish many things! So, always see what you can learn from any situation.
6. “How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware?” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: The answer to this depends on your philosophy. However, there is a lesson here you can work on. Become more aware. Self-awareness is a process of growth (regardless of whether you agree with Harris’ philosophy). You can start building your self-awareness with some help from this article.
7. “We are not self-caused little gods.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Sam Harris hits us with these incredibly deep thoughts! Who are we? What are we? Here are a few more thoughts from philosophers you can read to help you figure out what you believe!
8. “We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Applications: Regardless of where you believe intention comes from, both intention and action matter! Intention helps us make sense of events around us and helps us effect change. Action is what helps us turn our goals and dreams into our new reality.
9. “You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: There have been many research studies that try to answer the mysteries of the human decision making process. They have identified the areas of the brain involved, found evidence that supports our emotions impact our decisions (making them less rational than we might think), and even questioned the role of intelligence. You can learn more about the fascinating science behind decision making in this article.
10. “My choices matter—and there are paths towards making wiser ones—but I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do—for instance, after going back between two options—I do not choose to choose what I choose. There is a regress here that always ends in darkness.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Choice itself is an interesting psychological construct. We are inundated with choices all day, every day. Choice seems like a way to live the idea of free will. We are shaping our lives and doing what we want! (Or are we…) One thing that holds true, regardless of what philosophy you believe about choice…is that it have consequences.
Sam Harris quotes from Waking Up
11. “My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Each time you die in a video game battle is an opportunity to learn, especially because the mechanics of the monster you are fighting are programmed and stay the same. Paying attention to the moves and the mistakes you made will help you get to the next level. The same is true in life, although you might not notice it because you do not take the time to be in the moment and watch the events unfold.
12. “Spirituality must be distinguished from religion—because people of every faith, and of none, have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences.” — Sam Harris
13. “Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Contrary to what many people think, it is not the amount of stuff you have, the exotic places you visit, or the comfort that surrounds you that makes you happy. Sure, these things might feel great and make you happy briefly. However, you can have all of these things and still be miserable. How happy you are comes down to your mindset, your perception, your attitudes, and the relationships in your life.
14. “Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: You can train your brain to be different and develop a better mindset. Reframing your thoughts and the way you speak to yourself are both great places to start. Focusing on the positive instead of complaining is another. Lastly, learning to practice gratitude is a good way to train your brain to be happy!
15. “Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” — Sam Harris
16. “How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages—but a growing body of scientific research now bears it out.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Living in the moment and being present is a surefire way to improve your life. Don’t obsess over the past, you can’t do anything about it, except learn from it and move on. Plan for the future, but don’t get so lost in those plans that you miss what is happening in your life right now. Increasing your self-awareness, meditating, and limiting distractions are all good ways to stay in the moment.
17. “We are all seeking fulfillment while living at the mercy of changing experience. Whatever we acquire in life gets dispersed. Our bodies age. Our relationships fall away. Even the most intense pleasures last only a few moments. And every morning, we are chased out of bed by our thoughts.” — Sam Harris
18. “Every moment of the day—indeed, every moment throughout one’s life—offers an opportunity to be relaxed and responsive or to suffer unnecessarily.” — Sam Harris
Everyday Application: Everything we do is related to a choice we make. We can choose to be grateful and happy with what we have right now. Conversely, we can choose to focus on the past or the negative things in our lives. The kind of life you live is up to you.
19. “The feeling that we call “I” is itself the product of thought. Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.” — Sam Harris
20. “Merely accepting that we are lazy, distracted, petty, easily provoked to anger, and inclined to waste our time in ways that we will later regret is not a path to happiness.” — Sam Harris
21. “If you are thinking without knowing you are thinking, you are confused about who and what you are.” — Sam Harris
Sam Harris quotes about religion and faith
22. “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.” — Sam Harris
23. “We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.” — Sam Harris
24. “Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance.” — Sam Harris
25. “Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time. It is the denial-at once full of hope and full of fear-of the vastitude of human ignorance.” — Sam Harris
26. “The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention—distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence—is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory.” — Sam Harris
27. “Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity—a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible.” — Sam Harris
28. “Religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction.” — Sam Harris
29. “It is time we recognized that belief is not a private matter; it has never been merely private. In fact, beliefs are scarcely more private than actions are, for every belief is a fount of action in potential.” — Sam Harris
30. “Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance. […] By failing to live by the letter of the texts [scripture], while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally.” — Sam Harris
31. “The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained—as the beliefs, rituals, and iconography of each of our religions attest to centuries of cross-pollination among them.” — Sam Harris,
Sam Harris quotes on consciousness, spirituality, and morality
32. “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness.” — Sam Harris
33. “Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion.” — Sam Harris
34. “The fact that one can lose one’s sense of self in an ocean of tranquility does not mean that one’s consciousness is immaterial or that it presided over the birth of the universe.” — Sam Harris
35. “Many of my fellow atheists consider all talk of ‘spirituality’ or ‘mysticism’ to be synonymous with mental illness, conscious fraud, or self-deception.” — Sam Harris
36. “One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.” — Sam Harris
37. “The science of morality is about maximizing psychological and social health. It’s really no more inflammatory than that.” — Sam Harris
38. “There’s something it’s like for me to see the green leaves outside my window right now, so that’s a conscious state to me. But there may be some unconscious language-processing going on in my head that doesn’t feel like anything to me or some motor processes in the cerebellum.” — Sam Harris
39. “I consistently encounter people in academic settings and scientists and journalists who feel that you can’t say that anyone is wrong in any deep sense about morality or with regard to what they value in life. I think this doubt about the application of science and reason to questions of value is really quite dangerous.” — Sam Harris
40. “It’s simply untrue that religion provides the only framework for a universal morality.” — Sam Harris
41. “Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe.” — Sam Harris
42. “The moral landscape is the framework I use for thinking about questions of morality and human values in universal terms.” — Sam Harris
Sam Harris quotes from Making Sense
43. “It’s awfully hard to define consciousness. But I’d start by saying that it’s the subjective experience of the mind and the world.” — Sam Harris
44. “I take seriously the idea that we’re in a simulation. I have no idea whether or not it’s true, but if it is, if we are in a simulation, it’s not that nothing is real, not that there are no tables and chairs and trees. Rather, it’s that they exist in a different form from what we first thought.” — Sam Harris
45. “What we call reality is just when we all agree about our hallucinations.” — Sam Harris
46. “The sea squirt—a very simple marine creature—swims about during its juvenile phase looking for a place to settle, and once it settles and starts filter-feeding, it digests its own brain, because it no longer has any need for perceptual or motor competence. This is often used as an unkind analogy for getting tenure in academia.” — Sam Harris
47. “There is no divine purpose, only a plurality of human purposes.” — Sam Harris
48. “If your denial of death is sufficiently explicit and persuasive that you believe death isn’t real, then what you deny isn’t death but the significance of life.” — Sam Harris
49. “Every person is a puppet who didn’t pick his own strings and those strings reach back to the big bang.” — Sam Harris
50. “We’re not really free unless we can put matters in our own words. And if we can’t put them in our own words, we can’t talk to other people, because if we speak the words of the internet or the TV news, other people will recognize that, and they are not really in our company, but somewhere else.” — Sam Harris
What did you learn from these Sam Harris quotes?
In September 2013, Harris started hosting the popular Making Sense podcast. In September 2018, Harris released a meditation app, Waking Up with Sam Harris. Sam Harris is not a stranger to fame, as his parents are actor Berkeley Harris (known for his Western films) and TV writer and producer Susan Harris (nee Spivak), who created The Golden Girls. His parents came from different religious backgrounds and divorced when he was two. He was raised by his mother, who was ‘Jewish, but not religious.’
Harris called his upbringing “entirely secular” and that “his parents hardly discussed religion.” However, he has also stated that he was not raised as an atheist. Harris attended Stanford University and planned on majoring in English.
However, after an experience with the empathogen–entactogen MDMA (ecstasy) Harris became interested in philosophical questions and interested in the concept of achieving spiritual insights without drug use. He left Stanford in his second year and went to India and Nepal to study meditation.
In 1997, he returned to Stanford, graduating with B.A. in philosophy in 2000. After the September 11 attacks, he began writing The End of Faith. In 2009, he received a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles.
What’s your biggest takeaway from these Sam Harris quotes and sayings? Share your thoughts on Sam Harris’ work, meditation app, or podcast with us in the comment section.
June 15, 2022 6:41 AM EST