You’re Interpreting it Wrong


Last week, I inched my way through the tough conversation between Sam Harris and Omer Aziz on Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast. While there were moments that I wanted to write a point for point post against Omer Aziz and take a more in-depth analysis of the conversation, I quickly recognized that I couldn’t bear to listen to the episode again.

While I don’t intend on this being a post directly about the podcast, really, there were two points that were presented that I really wanted to voice my thoughts on. The first point is directed at an allegation made by Omer Aziz, meanwhile the second topic of this post will touch on a claim made by many people, regardless of faith. To begin, I want to talk about the first point Aziz and Harris touch on in the podcast.

Get Rich Quick!!!

If you listened to the podcast or followed this “controversy” between Harris and Aziz, you know that this was provoked by Omer’s critique in Salon of Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s collaboration on their book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a Dialogue.

The first and immediately damning point that Omer tries to make is that Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz were simply taking advantage of a hot topic to make a quick buck. His first paragraph reads:

There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Reformation. Writing a book that fits in this category is actually quite easy. First, label yourself a reformist. Never mind the congratulatory self-coronation the tag implies; it is necessary to segregate oneself from all the non-reformists out there. Second, make your agenda clear at the outset by criticizing what is ailing Islam and Muslims. The Qur’an is a good place to start because Muslims, especially in the Middle East, surely treat their holy book more like a military instruction manual than anything else. Third, propose a few solutions. Lest you be accused of nuance, the more vague and generic these are, the better. Fourth, soak up the inevitable publicity that awaits, and with it, your hard-earned cash. Voilà!

This point, in accordance with many points made by the new-age intellectuals, only finds its reasoning at the surface, its prowess in its supposed ethical superiority, and arrogance in its ego stroking narrative. I would argue that even looking at the surface of this claim, this should be clearly false to anyone. What Omer fails to consider here is just about everything there is to know about Sam and Maajid.

The first thing that Omer should recognize is that this has clearly been a topic of great importance to Sam Harris since he recognized the serious correlation between ideas, beliefs, and their consequences, all of which reached the utmost clarity on 9/11, acting as the catalyst for Sam Harris to begin writing The End of Faith. For Maajid, a former Islamist who managed to find his way out of such destructive ideas, is now a co-founder of Quilliam, a counter-terrorism think tank set up to challenge the very extremism that Maajid was once drawn so vehemently to. If you assert that this is all merely two men’s attempt to make money, rather than two men trying to be a forward thinking voice on an important issue, I find it hard to believe your intentions are pure.

In the Podcast, Sam spends an incredible amount of time on this paragraph alone as Omer refuses to budge. Not only should this point have been defeated by Sam simply assuring Omer that this was not their intention (Sam in fact never attempts the simple route, and it is quickly clear it would never have worked) but even as Sam explains to Omer the financial detriments and security concerns that come with writing a short book that is critical of Islam, Omer only doubles down.

Like a child, Omer asks if he’s made any money or acquired twitter followers as a result of publishing this book, implying that this would justify his point. But it doesn’t, this only gets closer to how poor his claim is. Let’s suppose Sam and Maajid only benefited from this enterprise. This does not mean that their intentions were poor. You cannot assume that just because you can be successful talking about a controversial issue, that you must only be doing it for monetary and selfish reasons. This is the same as saying no good deed is truly good if it made you happy in the process, implying that the good deed was purely done for selfish reasons.

In closing on this tangent, I want to show just how truly poor and upsetting the reasoning of this first paragraph was. It became obvious to me that such a defaming claim with weightless assertions could be flipped so easily, almost suggesting that Omer is merely out to make money and ride the gravy train of political correctness to uncapped success. I give you now, Omer Aziz’s get rich quick scheme:

There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Apologetics. Writing an article that fits in this category is actually quite easy. First, don’t label yourself a reformist, because there is nothing that needs reforming. The crisis of terrorism that we see from the likes of ISIS are only political and the Islamic State bases none of its principles on a belief in Islam. If anyone claims that there is a direct correlation, label them as bigots, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. Never mind the congratulatory self-coronation this stance implies. Second, make your agenda clear at the outset by criticizing those who criticize Islam. Sam Harris and/or Maajid Nawaz would be a good place to start. Third, propose that there is nothing to fix. Claim that this is all political, this is all completely unrepresentative of Islam, and most importantly, this is all the U.S.’s fault. Lest you be accused of nuance, the more vague and generic these are, the better. Fourth, soak up the inevitable publicity that awaits, and with it, your hard-earned cash. Voilà!

Bravo, Omer… Bravo.

Interpreting Scripture

The second topic I want to discuss was spurred by this podcast as well, but it is not a direct rebuttal to Omer. Rather this is a rebuttal to a common point made across all faiths that is truly hollow and ultimately arrogant. I was reminded of this in the Podcast when Sam would attempt to link what we are seeing from ISIS to scripture in the Qu’ran or the Hadith. At every turn, Omer would say that this is simply wrong. He would say they are interpreting the scriptures incorrectly, they are justifying their own desires and finding what they want to find in the text. Omer would continue with claims that Islam requires a much more scholarly reading and anything otherwise cannot be taken seriously. We’ve heard this argument in many forms and across many faiths, and this statement is always wrong. Why? There are two paths that can be taken and both yield the same result. One can either begin with the assumption that their faith (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) is true, or no religion is true (or one is simply agnostic or unsure). Let us first begin with the latter.

Let’s assume no religion is true, or that we are unsure. This means every interpretation of Islam or Christianity, etc. is incorrect because there cannot be a true interpretation. Not only that, but this probably makes things worse than believing the scripture was true, because now we can claim to know with certainty that these were written by men with an inconceivably narrow view of reality. It becomes much more reasonable then to take the awful verses literally and assume there was no godly depth to them. So the inequality of women, the hatred for homosexuals, etc. are all very man made ideas that can be easily pulled from the texts.

The most important point to recognize here is that if no religion is true, then no interpretation can be correct. So when ISIS is throwing homosexuals off of roof tops, when Christians are holding signs saying “God Hates Fags”, when women are not being allowed an education, when we see all of this hatred or inequality and the one’s uttering or enacting this hatred quote their doctrine to justify it, you have absolutely no basis on which to say they are wrong.

Now let’s suppose you believe Christianity, Islam, etc. is true. You don’t have much more to go on, other than you simply believe you are interpreting your faith correctly and they aren’t. But as religion isn’t based on evidence or facts, you will find that you have no real foundation to stand on when you say “they aren’t interpreting the scripture correctly”.

For instance, simply suppose ISIS has interpreted the scriptures correctly. Suppose the Westboro Baptists have interpreted the scriptures correctly. Are they really doing anything that cannot be drawn back to the scriptures of their faith? If you ask them why they are doing what they are doing, will they not quote scripture directly? Of course, you may not agree, but here you reside in the arena of faith and not science, evidence, or facts, so life becomes much more difficult when you try to argue that they have the incorrect interpretation.

Interpretation of scripture is not a popularity contest. It does not yield to anyone’s credentials. If there is indeed a correct interpretation of these scriptures to be had, everyone is in the game and no one is out. So when there is a group in the hundreds of thousands proclaiming an interpretation of a faith in Islam. You cannot simply discount it as wrong, because you will find yourself standing on as little justification as they are.

Find Me on Twitter


Hi all! I am now officially on Twitter. As I become more familiar with all that Twitter has to offer, I will primarily be promoting my blog posts, as well as forwarding other “tweets” that spark my interest. As I have become more and more busy with life outside of college, I am unable to post on my blog regularly. While I intend to become more consistent, I believe Twitter will enable me to remain current in my ideas, as well as maintain the interest of those of you who follow me. If you would like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @intellectoutlet. Again, the more familiar I become with Twitter, the more interesting it will become.

I hope to see you all on Twitter! Talk to you soon.


Bernie’s not the Answer

In this photo taken May 20, 2015, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., poses for a portrait before an interview with The Associated Press in Washington. For Democrats who had hoped to lure Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into a presidential campaign, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the next best thing. Sanders, who is opening his official presidential campaign Tuesday in Burlington, Vermont, aims to ignite a grassroots fire among left-leaning Democrats wary of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is laying out an agenda in step with the party's progressive wing and compatible with Warren's platform _ reining in Wall Street banks, tackling college debt and creating a government-financed infrastructure jobs program. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Neither is Hillary, neither is Jeb. Donald Trump might be the answer, but I’m not sure yet (kidding).

The first time I could vote was back in 2008, when Barack Obama inspired so many of my generation. I remember being mesmerized by the words of Obama. He had such a great message. I witnessed so much of this country fall in love with his message. His mere presence gave people hope as his values and goals resonated with so many of us.

If you supported Obama in ’08 as I did, in your eyes, he was the savior. He was going to save America. He was going to “Make America Great Again”.

2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 went by and improvements were certainly made. But we witnessed how an opposing side can halt solutions and progress at will.

We saw a lack of passion from those of us who still supported Obama in 2012. For me, I still liked his premise, his goals, and his values, but I felt like I could see the writing on the wall. It had already been made clear to me; Obama can only do so much. He doesn’t even have that much power (which is a good thing, in some cases, when you think about it. For instance, if Trump found a way to win the upcoming election, I don’t want him to have the power that I would want Obama to have right now). So while he was the right choice, when the opponent was Mitt Romney, that’s all that he really was — the best choice. He’s simply a manager of the Country. He has more power than most, but that really doesn’t say too much. In many ways though, it has felt like he has had no power.

The point that I am ultimately making here is, the President is never the answer. This only took me about one and a half elections to figure out, yet it seems this is a realization only a handful have. Day after day I see my Facebook feed full of Bernie Sanders videos promoting his glory. Sadly, I am also seeing the same of Trump (Perhaps it’s time I delete some friends from my Facebook). I see people enamored by the exciting message that Bernie brings to the forefront, and they are good messages. They are great ideals. It’s a great premise. Where I see the fallacy, however, is in the response of his supporters. They view him as the Messiah; the man who will single-handedly save America. This is a belief that is far too plain to see isn’t true.

No one person will ever be the solution, because for real, significant change to happen, a social alignment needs to occur. For real, long lasting change, we need the great majority on the same page wanting the same things. Yes, Obama has done some things that have benefited us, thanks to his strong ideals and leadership. But some of the greatest social achievements during his presidency (marriage equality, for one), was the result of a change and alignment of social morality. The push of a united good that provided momentum in the masses is what made the change inevitable. It was too obvious to our society as a whole what the solution to the barbarically stupid question of marriage equality was, and it was this social pressure that forced change. Still, some of the most important and crucial issues have yet to be solved; the dissolving middle class and income inequality as a whole, climate change, stem cell research, the list goes on and on. These are issues that aid in the impotence of our society. Not just in the U.S. But in the world. And neither Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Dumb Fuck Trump are the answer to these serious issues. The answer is us. Social pressure. Expelling ignorance through education and conversation, making the answers to these problems undeniable and thereby shifting the moral and social zeitgeist that, as of now, is still suffering from a virus that feeds on the greed and ignorance of too great a majority.

So by all means, support the man or woman that you believe will be a good leader for this country, with the right ideals that will aid us in moving in the right direction. But keep one thing in perspective; no one President is the answer. We are.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Passion for Science

I have become a bigger and bigger fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson over the years. As I have watched and read more about him, I have come to admire his passion for science, way of thinking, and his ability to communicate and debate. He is a voice in the scientific community that is truly inspiring. In fact, after watching videos of him speak and get excited about science, it makes me want to grab my math textbooks and brush off the dust on my mathematical background. He inspires me to want to learn and discover more about what is true of reality.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been watching YouTube videos of him and I thought I would share a couple that I have enjoyed, here. So please, take the time to sit back and enjoy some good arguments, comebacks, and inspiring thoughts of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I am Everything. I am Nothing.

the self

Photo Credit

In continuing my thoughts on consciousness, I want to look at the self. As I discussed in my last post on consciousness, thoughts, sensations, everything attributed to experience seems to arise and have an effect on consciousness. I think this is fairly intuitive to most people in one way or another, whether they are looking at it through a correct or incorrect lens. What I mean by this is, people seem to, at the very least, believe that things happen to themselves. There is this separation of the mind, the body, and the self. Nobody tends to feel, or believe they are, identical to their body or their brain. That is, you don’t feel identical to your hands, you believe you have hands. You don’t feel identical to your brain, you believe you have a brain. There is the body, the brain, and the self. The self is what people tend to believe is consciousness, the “I”. I look at this differently and the self will be the topic of this post.

The first thing we need to do is talk about redefining “I”. Now if you have read my earlier posts, you can see that I want to do away with the term free will. Free will really seems to be a term that carries around too much implicit baggage that really isn’t there. Intellectual supporters of the term want to use it to differentiate reactionary from intentional behaviors (What makes the term more needless is there are words we can use that are more precise and don’t carry the baggage. Terms like reactionary, intentional or unintentional, for instance. It’s really that simple.). They also boast that the term acknowledges the complexity of the mind, in many cases proclaiming that our ability to make the sane and logical choice is what free will is. But with that argument comes a dualistic perspective that is almost impossible to accept when being truly critical of who and what we are and it is why I tend to argue so fervently against it. Supporters of the term will bring with it, whether they truly realize it or not, the claim that we have the ability to step outside the mind, almost. Suggesting, implicitly, that we can go beyond the processes of the brain and use the information given to us by the brain to make our very own, self-authored decision. This is incredibly dualistic to believe. For instance, to be able to use what the brain gives us begs the question; who is this “us” that is separate from the mind and it’s processes. In their argument, there is the mind and then there is the self, the conscious ego resting behind the eyes utilizing the body and brain as a tool separate from itself. This is the only light in which a free will that people want seems to make sense. It is this personal control, or power beyond the natural order that they desire that naturally spawns the dualistic perspective. It is the only way that the term free will can be held so near and dear to one’s heart. So one might wonder, if I believe the self, or the I is an illusion as well, why I don’t want to simply rid of these terms also. Unlike the needlessness of the term free will, “I” is fully integrated into our every day language. The use of terms like “I” or “myself”, etc. are almost as reactionary as breathing. You would really have to stop and pay close attention to avoid these terms. And in many cases you wouldn’t know what to use in their place. I am also not trying to be in the business of creating new words or making new terms and it would be much more convenient to adopt a different view of the term “I” rather than abandoning it altogether. However, I wouldn’t say this is adopting a new view so much as developing a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to say “I”. Because, to this point, I think there is still a way to use these terms in a way that makes sense, while still carrying no additional baggage about the self that the critical mind can see isn’t really there.

Most of us don’t feel identical to anything that makes up “us”. You don’t feel identical to your hands, you feel like you have hands. I would also confidently say that most people don’t feel identical to their brain, they would say they have a brain. This is made especially clear when we say “my brain”, a phrase that simply does not make much sense when we think about this critically. Who is the possessor of this brain? Can we really be something that isn’t the brain? And even if you could claim that you are part of your brain, does that really give you any ownership of the brain? I digress.

Now it’s easier to look at your hands or feet and say, “these are my hands”. It is very difficult, and most likely impossible, to feel identical to our hands. If there is a self or a feeling of “I” that can reside anywhere that we can feel connected, it is in the brain where consciousness arises. That is, this experience that we are all having is completely due to the existence of consciousness. It is in the psychology that contains most of what we value about ourselves.

Something begins to happen, however, as we look at consciousness and the experience. We begin to feel like we are more than the experience itself. We believe that we are inside the brain. This separate entity, of sorts, that is calling the shots. This ego, or self, that is using the body and the brain as a tool to aid in it’s experience. For many, this is where people can place things like free will. The ego is the ultimate author and decider of our thoughts and actions. This ego is ultimately responsible for everything we do, and it is the power of this ego, self, or I, that we can judge, praise, respect, or hate and condemn. Because of the ego’s appeal on the surface, many people are reluctant to analyze the validity of this belief. What many will find when doing so, is that the ego, the self, “I”, does not exist.

There is a phrase that has been running through my head lately when I think about “I” which is; I am everything. I am nothing. If someone asked me what I call me, or, what would be “I”. So when I’ve used the term “I” without quotations, what am I referring to? This is my answer; I am the continuous psychological and physical entity correlated completely to this brain and this body. In that sense, I am everything. I am consciousness and it’s contents. I am consciousness and a body and the only consciousness and body that is correlated to this brain which, as far as we know, is the sole reason I can even conceive of the idea of an I. I know, it is convoluted, a little complex, and maybe on the forefront, it sounds ridiculous or senseless, but it is the best way I know how to explain it. The easiest, most appealing way to say it, I am consciousness and it’s contents, and in that sense, I am everything.

If you want to feel “the self” drop, there is no easier way to do it, than to introspect and try to find a self within you. If you try to find something that is separate from the brain and it’s continuous stream, you will find yourself somewhere that nothing else exists. The self will drop. When I look at this, I am nothing.

When one refers to the self or “I” in a way that means they are a conscious observer that is basically residing behind the eyes, using the brain as a tool rather than being merely a direct cause of the brain, they will never be able to truly find this self when they look for it. I came up with the analogy of a home to explain this.

Imagine the house that you live in, or perhaps a friends house if you do not live in a house. Now if you go inside this house and try to find the house, you will not find anything. You can’t point at a piece of furniture and say, “There’s the house!” You can’t point to a cupboard or a bedroom either. If you look for something within the house that you call the house or the home, you will never find it. There is nothing. You have to consider everything when you are talking about the house as a whole. The same goes for I.

What I currently like about the phrase, “I am everything. I am nothing.” is it allows you to conceptualize how you should view the “I”. If you look at the I as a means of representing everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you are looking at it in a way in which a very reasonable, and very real, you, exists (I am everything.).

If, on the other hand, you begin to view the I as something that is more than everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you will continually find nothing, because it just isn’t so. There is no self to pinpoint residing behind the eyes (I am nothing.).

This can be a lot to take in, and there are many emotions that this can lead to. I am still pondering this a lot and critiquing my thoughts on this often. Everything that I said above is still a rudimentary framework. You are witnessing a brainstorm of sorts, though I must say that I think I am on the right path. I’m just not sure how far down this path I have gone yet.

The next time I explore consciousness, I think I may look at more of the emotional implications, and the lens through which we should look at this. But I am not certain. I will continue to think about this and try to build off this hopefully with the feedback of others, both on this blog and in my life. I’m not sure when I will return to this topic on this blog. It may be soon, it may be a while. One thing is for certain. More to come.

Questions for the reader: If you would like to respond to this, of course say whatever you would like, but also, if you would like, I have some questions that if you could answer would help me look at other perspectives of consciousness.

1.) How would you explain consciousness?

2.) What are your views on the self? Do you believe it is an illusion? If not, where is the self?

3.) What are you referring to when you say “I”?

Kindle Quotes 5


 The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness–rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.

Sam Harris – Free Will

More on Free Will

I have written about free will twice on this blog. In my first post about free will, I argue that regardless of where you stand on the debate, you must concede that the most important things in your life hinge on your inability to control it. My last post on free will was probably my most popular post to this point, especially on Google+. In my last post on free will, I have a much more in depth approach on my views on free will. I base a lot of my points by arguing against Daniel Dennet’s critique of Sam Harris’ book Free Will.

For this post, I have found a few videos on YouTube from Big Think which touch on some common errors that I believe many people make when discussing this topic. Most importantly, the last video I will show I believe is the strongest argument I have ever heard in support of free will, yet I still believe it is missing the point.

Free Will is a Term That Distinguishes Intentional Actions From Unintentional Actions

Now I will first start off easy because this is something I can basically agree with. It is useful, in some sense to have a term that differentiates the two behaviors, one being the iris closing when a light is shined in your eye, and the other being the decision to invest in a type of stock or where to move the next chess piece (Though we already have less misleading ways to distinguish the intentional from reactionary, etc.). And I believe almost anyone that argues against free will would probably concede that if we are to define free will in that way, then I will agree with it.

The only problem that occurs is that a great majority of people do not look at free will in this way. Similarly, they may explain it in an elegant way such as Steven Pinker and yet hold deeper, illogical, and incorrect implications of free will. In a lot of ways it seems that people who argue for free will in intellectual circles will explain it in a similar way as the video above yet as the conversation continues, it becomes more and more clear that they have smuggled more into their definition than they originally advertised. And it is usually the smuggled information that we disagree on. And it is because so many people either believe or continue to smuggle the bullshit, that we can appear hyper-critical at times or stubborn. I argue however that this is us merely trying to look at the core of the issue rather than spar in a game of semantics. For the record, I do not believe Steven Pinker is doing any smuggling here.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

This is a common argument that I have heard again and again. My response is pretty quick and concise. Randomness is not free will and it is certainly not the free will that anyone is trying to hold on to. That is, if you are arguing that you have free will because there is randomness to the decisions that you make, then you are still not making the choice. To have free will to any level worth caring about is to claim that you are the author of your thoughts and actions, not that you are the recipient of random emotions.

A Strong Argument for Free Will

In this video, Alfred Mele makes many good points and says a lot of things that I agree with. For instance, as he defines it, I would agree that we all have this “regular” free will. At least us sane folk. That is, when we do something, we were aware of what we were doing, we probably understood the consequences, and no one was forcing us to do what we did. Yes, we can all behave in this way. Similarly, he makes a good point about the mid-grade free will. There isn’t really any evidence to suggest that the brain, or the universe, works in that way, but there also isn’t a lot of evidence that it doesn’t. So he’s right, from a scientific perspective, this is still empirically open.

He goes on to talk about the experiments that have been done to “show” that we don’t have free will, and here is where I believe he makes his strongest point. That is, that we can’t really correlate, clearly, decision making with the spike we see in the data. He also makes a point about how the muscle motion triggers the computer to log the data whereas the other data very well may have been useful. Now he may be completely wrong, but I am willing to give him the point.

There are two issues that still remain. First, this is still missing the point that those opposing free will are making. We are acknowledging that many people, even the intellectuals, are using free will as a means to place a conscious author in the mind. Something that is solely responsible for it’s actions and is not really affected by the laws of physics. This seems to come from a desire to want to hold people ultimately responsible for their actions. This justifies many negative emotions, such as hate and vengeance. I have already argued how we can still be civil people even with a view that no one is ultimately responsible for there actions, and I have shown that we are still justified in having prisons and other means of “punishment” which you can read in my earlier posts on free will. If it becomes clear that I wasn’t clear enough, I will touch on that specifically in another post.

The second point that I want to make is that I don’t really need the science to back me up on my view. Now this is not to say that I won’t listen to what the science reveals. If it is discovered that free will exists and it is proven, I would not hesitate in changing my view. But for now, in the science realm, this is still empirically open. So when I say I don’t need the science to back me up, this is because a lot of experiments on free will can be done through introspection.

What has become clear to me is that thoughts merely arise in consciousness. These thoughts have a causal affect on emotions which lead to other thoughts which cause other emotions and so the causal string goes. Again, I believe I have gone into further detail in the past and will reserve deeper discussion on this unless prompted by others, or if I later decide to devote a post to the point.

In many ways, we probably all agree and this argument is really a lot of semantics. But I do believe that at the core, far too many are smuggling too much into this term which leads to what I am currently convinced are views that simply aren’t true.