Posted by: grokscience | October 20, 2010

Moral Landscape

Morality is often viewed as being outside the domain of scientific inquiry, but is an objective understanding of morality possible? On this program, Sam Harris discussed the Moral Landscape.

Does it have a Koi Pond… šŸ˜‰




  1. The interview with Dr. Harris was terrible. Why would you invite someone on your show with the credentials of Dr. Sam Harris only to confront him with really stupid questions. I do not know under which rock you found Dr. Covic, but I do not think she adds any value to your podcast. I have been a loyal subscriber to your podcast for several years, and I have purchased many books after listening to your author guests. However, I will never bother with your podcast again after your really poor treatment of Dr. Harris. By the way, The Moral Landscape is an excellent book.

    • I believe we found Dr. Covic under some igneous rock, although it might have been sedimentary rock… alas, we’re not trained geologists… šŸ˜‰ But, thanks for your comments!

    • What was wrong with the interview? I thought it was ok, nice and casual and friendly like. And he played Grokatron, unlike Dawkins.

      Considering that 80% in USA identify as Christians and most of the rest identify as “spiritual” — what I call bogus religion — topic on Morality from Atheist POV seems lacking. Like Dawkins, he’ll make few bucks off of those minority faithful from his book.

      From the tone of your post, you sound like a worshipper; at least your comment comes across that way when you storm out of the whole podcast based on this one you didn’t like. Substitute Harris for some religious figure and see what I mean.

      As for Sam Harris credentials, he’s quite entertaining, especially when debating Deepok Chopra at Cal Tech, and probably a good scientist in his own right although I’m not familiar with his science work. But I wouldn’t put too much weight outside of that. After all, he is only human.

      • I couldn’t quite remember where I saw Steve’s behavior, but I just remembered. Remember Issac Hayes, the Chef from South Park? He did all the shows mocking various topics, including many other religions, but when they did a show on his Scientology, he walked off the show. Tick off a faithful and suffer the consequences!

        Speaking of Southpark, their show on Mormons is pretty good, and seems related to morals discussion. Damn the reasons; good is good.

  2. Thanks for another shout-out. Just because I listened to every downloadable GSS episode doesn’t mean I’m a huge fan, or does it?

    I listen to it on my weekly 4+ hour commute to Pasadena (up to 4 hours, depending on traffic, which is always! arrgghhh!!). I blame the government. If they set the speed limit back to 186000 miles per second instead of this artificial BS, I might not have time to listen as much.

  3. Steve, I’m heart broken that you didn’t like the show. As I’m sure that you’re aware, we host a science and technology show. I’m also sure that since you are interested in the program, you have a basic grasp of scientific concepts. Specifically, I’m referring to the ‘Scientific Method’. One of the aspects of scientific exploration is controlling your variables. What does this mean? It is essential to make a special effort to keep other factors constant so that they will not effect the outcome of what is being assessed. Controlled variables are used for comparison. How can you even define or even quantify what needs to be controlled?? So, Steve… I want to know how one could actually control for all of the variables that may influence and define morality. How can this be done? I don’t know and I want to know. Is it rude of me to try to clarify something that I don’t quite understand? I get to do that for a few reasons: 1) It was my section of the show. 2) People who come on the show are there to answer questions. 3) There are plenty of other scientists out there who listen to the show. If I don’t ask questions that are intended to clarify matters, our listeners will be a bit peeved (to say the least).

    I think that Dr. Harris is brilliant and an important figure in world reasoning and logical conclusions. I agree with 99.9% of what he says. I am delighted that he decided to come on our show. I just had no idea that I wasn’t allowed to facilitate discussion, clarify issues and bring up topics and questions that I’m sure a large number of listeners have. Thanks Steve. Now I know. Maybe you could be extra helpful, listen to our live stream, email us while the show is on and tell me what questions I should be asking.

    Yes, that last part did sound a bit antagonistic. It was meant to sound sarcastic. Nonetheless, we do love when people write in and tell us what they think (both the positive and the negative). We would also really love it if people did start emailing us questions for the guests.

    Now on to you Mik…
    You’re welcome and I will keep them coming! We are delighted that you listen and that you comment. We look forward to it. No need to explain or justify your Grok-lovin’!!!

    Signing of from under my rock…
    dr. e

    • Dr. E, I wouldn’t put too much weight on Steve’s comments. I doubt people listen to the show, because every single one is perfect. I’ve heard some (many? haha) that are lacking and some truly awful, but overall, it’s a decent show. If Steve or other faithful can find a better show elsewhere, by all means, they should go listen to those instead. I would if there’s a better show. That’s just how nature works. Is it “evolution”? Is it free market enterprise? Probably both. But knowing how most faithfuls work, they’ll probably find something that reinforce their beliefs and rhetoric and not much in new.

      OTOH, I’ve learned so much from this Podcast, not only the stuff they are trying to sell, but at somewhat personal level through Grokatron. But sometimes I get the feeling that all interviewees except one or two were picked out of Democratic convention. Maybe it’s because their party model fits science world: authority on subject tend to rule and make policies with majority following (sometimes blindly) and tiny minority dissenting. Like in science where you have professor in authority and number of slaves, oops I mean graduate students, underneath. But I digress.

  4. I would have preferred an interview that better facilitated a grok of Sam and his book. Deep and long complex arguments, no matter how well reasoned and appropriate, aren’t that fun for me, especially in the absence of a good grok of the subject matter.

    • Well, we may have to invite him back to revisit his argument in more detail. Thanks for listening!

  5. Thanks for the interesting interview and another GOOD show. I enjoy listening to this podcast during my travel and in my daily walk.

    Interesting guests and informed questions. I miss the science news section at the start of the show.

    Grokatron is fun!

  6. I have listened to Groks for several years now and find it entertainng and infomative. Keep up the good work. The addition of Dr.Covic has enhanced your effectiveness, but what happened to what’s his name?

    Thanks again
    J Carroll (AX)

    • I think you mean Frank? Yeah, what happened? I also enjoyed Frank and Charles trying to say “PNAS” together after the science news. It’s one of those unique quirk of the show.

    • What’s his name has been somewhat occupied lately. But, keep your ears peeled for the mellifluous sounds of Dr. Ling… šŸ˜‰

  7. I like the idea of examining the possibility of leaving superstition behind to the extent we can and deliberately constructing social norms with the greater good in mind. So, I enjoyed this conversation. But, there are clear biases demonstrated inherent in the author’s approach to the problem. In the conversation the author listed curing disease as a certain moral imperative. That sort of over-simplification is convenient but not necessarily effective. While curing disease is clearly an interesting scientific endevour, that example, for instance, shows a bias against exploiting simple eco-system balancing phenomenon in nature to address some of our current environmental issues. So, cool idea overall. But, still constrained on scope as far as I can tell.

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