Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson Debate… Missing the DMT Mark
I was recently forwarded the podcast in which Dr. Sam Harris and Dr. Jordan Peterson would engage in a debate regarding what appeared to be the meaning of truth… specifically as it pertains to religious beliefs.
Harris is a neuroscientist by training and is seemingly known for his promotion of spirituality without any religious involvement.
Peterson is a clinical psychologist by training and identifies himself as a Christian who is deeply religious. He criticizes atheists who he believes oversimplify the philosophy of Christianity based on their critiques.
I didn’t really know what to expect from either man since I haven’t read any of their material and do not follow them closely. However, when two people debate the reality of religion, I would expect them to discuss the “supernatural” occurrences either to dissuade or add validity to their respective arguments. From my perspective it is the reported “supernatural” aspects of religion that turn the traditional science-minds against the philosophy. In the eyes of most scholars who follow mainstream scientific beliefs, any “supernatural” occurrences are inherently false being that the mainstream science industry has not come to an agreement to validate any of these stories. I know this is what caused me to largely discount all religion for much of my life being that tales of miraculous healing seemed extremely far-fetched and unexplainable.
Fortunately I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced some transpirations that have changed my perception of what is truly possible. While I cannot vouch for every “miracle” that has taken place in every religious text across the world, I can attest that some basic concepts do seem to be steeped in distinct alterations in electrical activity within the human body during these moments. Being that much of the research that takes place regarding biology is concerned with measuring everything but electrical flux, it comes as no surprise that mainstream science is no closer to explaining the transpiration of “miracles” today as they were 50 years ago. There is nothing regarding the multi-billion dollar industry of research regarding genetics, proteins, or enzymes that can extend past the physical human body.
While modern science will concede the fact that the placebo effect is real and that spontaneous remission of severe disease does occur periodically, the mechanisms with which they take place have yet to be deciphered in detail. This is as far as the field of science will go in conceding that our mind-body connection can go as far as affecting physical matter. While a handful of scientists across the world have delved into studying these types of phenomena, the general majority of the population of scientists are not involved in this field of study.
Back to the podcast debate between Harris and Peterson.
While Harris is a critic of religion and Peterson is a supporter of Christianity… neither man addressed the reality of the “miracles” described in the Bible. The one quip that was made by Harris in regards to the supernatural was as follows (starts at 47:45):
“I just want to take a generic starting point which for me is more accessible and I think more illuminating. It certainly describes the divide between science and religion that resonates with me and I think it connects nicely to the way you were describing our primal circumstance of being an individual or tribe standing in the face of mute and often hostile nature and trying to figure out what’s going on and how to live within it. I think that really is the primal circumstance… this is why I think of religion as you know as a kind of failed science. A kind of first attempt to tell a story about what’s going on and it gives us some power over it. But it’s a bad attempt because we didn’t develop any type of methodology at that point to differentiate fact from fiction. Take the case that every parent will be familiar with of standing helplessly over your sick child wondering what’s wrong. Let’s say your child throws up and has a fever… and you don’t know what’s wrong with him or her and this is obviously one of the more ancient moments for any person and there’s an obvious evolutionary reason why we would be concerned about this.”
“It’s quite Darwinian to care about what’s happening to your infant but today this primitive uncertainty and helplessness and fear is bracketed by a basic understanding of the processes in the world that can affect a human body and there’s obviously enough to worry about there to drive almost any parent crazy. But one thing that is no longer on the menu is the evil eye. When your child gets sick, no part of your mind… if you’re sane… is now devoted to the question of whether or not you should go burn your neighbor as a witch because she might have cast a malicious glance at your child. But as you know that was not always so and in fact in Africa people are still murdering their neighbors for the crime of witchcraft. So the problem from my point of view is two-fold… one is that we know that there is a path forward to rule out things like witchcraft and the evil eye and that this path is science and rationality generally. But the other problem is that you could still play this game by resorting to ancient stories and finding some connection between those stories and evolution. You could play a game of dignifying a belief in magic in this case… the evil eye specifically along Jungian lines or Archetypal lines or something. You could be sympathetic with this picture but my point is… what would be the point of that? Given the obvious harms that we no longer need commit based on disavowing this ancient ignorance why would one spend anytime at all trying to make sense of admittedly ancient concern about sympathetic magic. Sympathetic magic is dangerous bullshit. That’s basically all I think we need to know about it now and yet you could spend a lifetime… you could be reading not only Jung… but you know sketchier people like Aleister Crowley and Eliphas Levi and all the history of hermeticism and you could open Manly Palmer Hall’s "The Secret Teachings of All Ages” and just get deep into that stuff… the tradition of western magic right? It seems to me almost by definition to be a colossal waste of time and actually unnecessary to preserve anything that we care about at this moment in history.“
From a different lecture, Harris states the following as it pertains to "miracles”.
“Consider Christianity… the entire doctrine is predicated on the idea that the gospel account of the miracles of Jesus is true. This is why people believe Jesus was the Son of God, divine, etc. This textual claim is problematic because everyone acknowledges that the gospels followed Jesus’ ministry by decades and there’s no extra-biblical account of his miracles. But the truth is quite a bit worse than that. The truth is even if we had multiple, contemporanious, eye-witness accounts of miracles of Jesus this still would not provide sufficient basis to believe that these events actually occurred. But why not… the problem is that first hand reports of miracles are quite common. Even in the 21st century… I have met literally hundreds at this point of western educated men and women who think that their favorite Hindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers. The powers ascribed to these gurus are every bit as outlandish as those ascribed to Jesus.”
“I actually remain open to evidence of such powers but the fact is that people who tell these stories desperately want to believe them. All to my knowledge lack the kind of corroborating evidence we should require before believing that nature’s laws have been abrogated in this way… and people who believe these stories show an uncanny reluctance to look for non-miraculous causes. But it remains a fact that yogis and mystics are said to be walking on water and raising the dead and flying without the aid of technology, materializing objects, reading minds, foretelling the future… right now. In fact, all of these powers have been ascribed to Sathya Sai Baba the south Indian guru by an uncountable number of eye witnesses. He even claims to have been born of a virgin which is not all that uncommon a claim in the history of religion… or in history generally. Genghis Khan was supposedly born of a virgin as was Alexander. Apparently parthenogenesis doesn’t guarantee that you will turn the other cheek. But Sathya Sai Baba is not a fringe figure, he’s not the David Koresh of Hinduism. His followers through a birthday party for him recently and a million people showed up. So there are vast numbers of people who believe he is a living god. You can even watch his miracles on YouTube. Prepare to be underwhelmed… it’s true that he has an afro of sufficient diameter as to suggest a total detachment from the opinion of his fellow human beings. But… I’m not sure this is reason enough to worship him. In any case… so considered as though for the first time the foundational claim of Christianity. The claim is this… that miracle stories of a sort that today surround a person like Sathya Sai Baba become especially compelling when you set them in the pre-scientific religious contexts of the first century Roman empire decades after their supposed occurrence. We have Sathya Sai Baba’s miracle stories attested to by thousands upon of thousands of living eye witnesses and they don’t even merit an hour on the Discovery Channel but you place a few miracles stories in some ancient books and half the people on this earth think it a legitimate project to organize their lives around them. Does anyone else see a problem with that?”
Harris on DMT:
“I’m unqualified to talk about because I haven’t done it. For those of you that don’t know DMT is famous as the most potent psychedelic in the sense… not in terms of the size of the dose required to get you off but the effects of taking it. It also distinguishes itself since it’s the shortest acting and it is an endogenous molecule that we already have in our brains and elsewhere so it’s in some sense an illegal neurotransmitter… that people can… it becomes available when you smoke it or inject it. It leads to the shortest and yet most stratospheric change in consciousness. A whole acid trip could be… an LSD trip could be 10 hours. DMT could be 10 minutes full course and the phenomenology of this experience is interesting because it’s not like you with a changed perception. What people tend to report if they get a sufficient amount of DMT on board and apparently that’s hard because it’s very unpleasant to smoke… they report getting shot out, out of themselves and landing elsewhere. The phenomenology of this experience is almost no classical religious imagery at all no matter who you are taking this drug. You don’t meet Jesus and you don’t meet your grandma… you don’t meet Buddha but what people tend to report is very bizarre alien, insectile-like creatures that come into the presence of. So there’s this… probably what I just said sounds like complete insanity to most people in this room but you go online and you get smart, serious people trying to make sense of this phenomenology. Ummm… but I’ve never done it so I can’t speak as one who has integrated that experience.”
From doing a basic search on Jordan Peterson’s thoughts in regards to the miraculous, he seems to insinuate that much of what has been cited in religious texts is to be utilized in a more metaphoric manner than in a literal manner. I could be wrong in regards to Peterson’s perspective but that is the general feeling of his perspective.
From my perspective, it seems as though the debate between Peterson and Harris was a purely semantical discussion. While this is fine if that was the purpose of the debate… I feel as though the public would greatly appreciate a discussion based on a more purely scientific framework. While Harris’ opinion seems to align with the fact that is no such thing as “supernatural” occurrences, he would need to debate with a person of a scientific mindset that “supernatural” occurrences do occur but that the current mainstream
scientific paradigm lacks the proper framework with which to explain them in the greater context.
I would presume that the most basic of starting points in regards to a potential debate regarding “miracles” would be whether it can be proven or disproven whether consciousness originates within the brain/body. If Harris were to believe that there is no doubt that it does originate within the brain/body, he could be shown in person that specific changes in physiology could lead to the extension of consciousness outside of the body. Once that has been showcased unequivocally… then it can be showcased that this extension of consciousness appears to coincide with some sort of electric/magnetic field that has the potentiality to effect cellular function. There are plenty of studies showcasing the effects of artifically derived exposure to electric/magnetic fields as having measurable effects on cellular function. This would help him understand that if a person is able to change aspects of their brain/body significantly enough to project a particular frequency/field that it would indeed be technically possible to effect malfunctioning cells of another person based on intent/visualization.
While this piece isn’t about arguing for the legitimacy of religion, we are delving into the concept of what is deemed as “miraculous”. Harris would state that the bending or breaking of nature’s laws would be deemed supernatural. Perhaps our understanding of the “laws of nature” by mainstream academia is incomplete? I doubt that any educated person would claim that our current understanding of the natural world is even close to being complete. Mainstream consensus might deem that “we” know “x” amount regarding the world but as individuals we are generally relegated to a focused understanding of our own areas of expertise. It’s rather difficult to verify anything that occurs outside of our fields of study so in essence much of it is based on faith of accuracy, honesty, and an assumption that a wide perspective was utilized to analyze all the possible information. In an ideal world, it would be safe to assume that each and every field of science has grown in this manner but unfortunately, the linearity of scientific progression is not as untouched as one might assume. Financial motives, herd mentality, and amplified narratives all play a role in the dominant belief of specific fields within science leading to a less than organic linear progression from my research.
I believe that there is enough evidence to support the notion that visualization exercises can have effects on a person’s own body and abilities. The next step is to showcase these mechanisms as extending past the body using the same visualization exercises. Obviously utilizing the proper equipment to measure the marked changes in a person during these moments would be necessary to understanding the mechanisms taking place. Once the general mechanisms are understood… they can no longer be considered “miracles”. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a spiritual component as not being in play during these moments.
I believe that the world is extremely complex and to believe that current, mainstream science provides the framework to truly understand the outliers of life showcases a naive arrogance. When concepts that science has conceded to occur such as the placebo effect, spontaneous remission of disease, xenoglossy, hypnotic analgesia, acupuncture based analgesia, sleep paralysis (and many other compartmentalized occurrences that I’ve left off) have yet to be fully explained in a detailed, systemic fashion, I believe it’s pertinent to remain humble in our quest for truth.
I would never claim to have all the answers in a book if I only read the first chapter.
As far as I’m concerned, the complexity of this book of life could be millions of pages long. I tend to believe that based on our inability to truly understand (labeling isn’t understanding) and reverse disease that we might be stuck on page 37 on this great book.
There’s no need to ridicule and grandstand about concepts we are not familiar with intimately.
PS. I believe that attempting to pick apart any religion as being false based on a lack of scientific principles is a bullying tactic. It’s easy to do as those in support of religious beliefs generally do not encompass the mental framework in which to debate their beliefs from a basic scientific perspective. I consider it to be the lowest of the lowest hanging fruits with which to make a name for oneself. This rings especially true when a person has not delved deep into the perceived physiological mechanisms that appear to coincide with endogenous DMT synthesis/release in the human body.