Friday, January 7, 2022

Making Sense by Sam Harris

I've been listening to Sam Harris's podcast on and off now for quite a few years. For those who don't know him, he's an American philosopher and neuroscientist who's possibly best known for unpacking many hot-button topics. Obviously, this has earned him a fair amount of criticism from certain quarters, but it doesn't detract from the manner in which he approaches his rational inquiries. Whether you agree with him or not, I still feel that he often raises points that are worth turning over.

Making Sense
is a selection of discussions that appeared on his podcast, and features the likes of Nick Bostrom, David Chalmers, David Deutsch, Daniel Kahneman, David Krakauer, Glenn C Loury, Thomas Metzinger, Robert Sapolsky, Anil Seth, Timothy Snyder, and Max Tegmark. All these contributors are specialists in their fields that range from philosophy and physics to neuroscience and history.

Some of what is covered includes consciousness, notions of the self, the nature of knowledge, intelligence (and AI), ethics, and a range of topics that slot in among these bigger pictures. I'll admit straight up that some of the discussions strayed into territory that I found incredibly challenging, but I'm also a big champion of reading outside of my comfort zone, so this hefty tome most certainly presented a worthy investment of my time that stretched my grey matter a fair bit. So, perhaps a word of caution – this is not an easy read for the average person (like me!)

My biggest takeaway from Making Sense is that as a species we need to be able to take a collective view that is broader and more objective, and to be especially aware of how easy it is for us to remain within the parameters that are 'easy' or 'less effort'. From what I can glean, there are many exciting developments in the worlds of computer programming and neuroscience, and especially so where the two fields are starting to overlap in the development of AI. It's interesting to see also how the experts in these fields often disagree with each other, but most important is Harris's emphasis on ethics, rationality, and growing an understanding not just how we think, but how we share the collected wisdom for future generations. 

This is most certainly a book to delve into again in the future, especially to see how things might have developed since then. Harris and his contributors often engage in lively debate, and it's good to see some of that flavour translate from the spoken to written word. 

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