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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Sam Harris (LIE): Personality Type Analysis

Samuel Benjamin "Sam" Harris is an author, philosopher and neuroscientist, known for being one of the 'Four Horsemen of New Atheism' alongside Christopher Hitchens (ESI), Richard Dawkins (LSE) and Daniel Dennett (ILE).

Sam Harris is commonly known for his writings on Atheism, including the award-winning The End of Faith (2004), where he criticised organised religion, and later responded to criticisms from Christians in America. In its place, he advocates a scientific approach to normative morality. More recently, Harris has turned his attention to Islam as a major focus of critique. He is also known for his irregular podcast Waking Up with Sam Harris, airing since 2013.

To get a good view of Sam Harris' type, it is important to first get a good sense of his values, the things that are of import to him, and that which he finds most repugnant. Throughout his work, a consistent theme is valuing an approach to knowledge and our ideas of truth, based on what can be demonstrated by empirical evidence. For Harris, "It's not so much religion per se, it's false certainty that worries me, and religion just has more than its fair share of false certainty or dogmatism. I'm really concerned when I see people pretending to know things they clearly cannot know."

Accompanying this ethos is the attitude that whatever views you currently have, you should be able to revise and update your positions based on new evidence or a better account of what is happening, and to abandon your position when you do not have factual claims to back it up:

"The real pressure is to be honest early enough.... to have your full intellectual and ethical commitment to not pretend to know something... If you are pretending to know things you don't know, you are vulnerable to embarrassment.... Most people's reflex is, the way to save face here, is to dig in, the way to save face is to hold on more tenaciously to this opinion which now is eroding in real time in a conversation, and whereas that's to lose face twice over. There's nothing more attractive really, except that you never see this, there's nothing more attractive to see someone being intellectually honest enough to notice that they're wrong as close to the moment that the audience does as possible, and to then disavow their false certainty."

This can similarly be seen with his evident impatience and irritation when he feels that the interlocutor is not of this attitude, as can be seen from his autopsy of a previous conversation with Omer Aziz:

"The true things he says are usually irrelevant, and the relevant things he says are usually false, and that is a toxic combination, ok, especially for me. That is my 'kryptonite', so you will hear me at my least patient, and I'm not proud of who I was in those moments, and you'll also hear a fair amount of despair from me at points. This is not the despair of someone who was worried they were losing a debate... I wasn't trying to have a debate, I was trying to have a truly honest conversation, and the despair you hear, especially at the end, was over the discovery that this just wasn't possible."

From these quotes, we can see that Sam Harris has clear Integrity-Seeking values, i.e. valuing P and R. He has a compulsion to form his opinions from factual evidence, to abandon or change opinions not supported by evidence, and to communicate in a manner that is factually honest, rather than exaggerated for greater rhetorical effect or altered to appear more certain, consistent or clear. Furthermore, when in conversation with types of people that he perceives to not share this attitude, he experiences a strong repulsion, and an almost naive dismay.

Despite his cool, matter-of-fact manner in interviews, we can also note from Harris' writings, a certain harshness in how he puts forward his opinions. It is quite clear that his view towards religious ideology is one of a compulsion to remove it in eventuality from society, saying that the creation of moral imperatives from empirical scientific study would "send religion to the scrap-heap". Similarly, in his recent criticism of Islam, he comes across as willing to up the stakes:

"It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us."

Additionally, much of Sam Harris' work in philosophy, influenced by his past-time of meditation, focuses on the idea that the self is an illusion:

"The illusion of free will... is itself an illusion. There is no illusion of free will. Thoughts and intentions simply arise. What else could they do? Now, some of you might think this sounds depressing, but it's actually incredibly freeing to see life this way. It does take something away from life: what it takes away from life is an egocentric view of life. We're not truly separate: we are linked to one another, we are linked to the world, we are linked to our past, and to history. And what we do actually matters because of that linkage, because of the permeability, because of the fact that we can't be the true locus of responsibility. That's what makes it all matter."

What we can see from these quotes is that Sam Harris identifies with the view that there is a grander purpose that supervenes on his 'egocentric' existence, from which he can derive personal responsibility to act for a greater good. Furthermore, these quotes show that while he feels that there is a moral imperative behind his actions, Harris is willing to say in clear terms what he is opposed to, and possesses the desire for his ideas and the progress of science to have a meaningful and final impact on reality, removing what he sees as wrong or evil from existence. This is all consistent with World-Rejecting values, i.e. someone valuing F and T.

The evidence so far establishes Sam Harris as being of the Gamma quadra. To work out what type makes most sense within that quadra, we must look into his strengths and weaknesses in terms of information metabolism.

It is perhaps most obvious that Harris would be a Researcher, that is, someone strong at Intuition and Logic, rather than a Socialite, i.e. strong at Sensation and Ethics. He is someone that is most at home in the realm of ideas and reasoning and as a flip-side, shows a certain naivety in his dealings with ideological opponents.

As was clear from debating with Omer Aziz, Harris was at first surprised and then dismayed at the willingness of Aziz to say things that he thought deliberately inaccurate and exaggerated, or else irrelevant but spun to look like a point of pertinence. Instead of being able to quickly size Aziz up as a person not to have bothered with, Harris went into the debate with a sincere desire to participate in the sharing of ideas and constructive critique. This clearly shows a weakness in his command of 'harsh judgment' R+F.

At the same time, F does not seem to be in an especially weak function for Harris. Outside the interpersonal naivety with which he approaches intellectual debate, Harris is obsessed with the themes of violence and self-defence. Graeme Wood's article in The Atlantic illuminates this upon being choked by Harris when sparring in his preferred martial art, Brazilian Ju-Jitsu (BJJ):

"Harris thinks about violence more than almost anyone else I have ever met. After our BJJ encounter, we went to a Korean restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, where he tried to explain his obsession with self-defense—including not just BJJ but also guns (he has several stashed strategically around his house) and physical force generally."

A need to foresee future acts of violence on his family, and the drive to protect himself with firearms, fits well with the resistant use of F seen with Gamma types. In addition, his interest in martial arts and testing methods of dispatching an enemy had him teaching Ninjitsu in university, and being fascinated by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

This evidence establishes F for Harris as sort of a hobby or aspiration that he has indulged in with great interest, and has devoted a great deal of his energy, all the while excelling in more Researcher typical fields and not coming across in conversation as an obvious 'tough guy'. This suggests a weak function, but not too weak, accompanied by an active attempt at growth. That is typical of F6.

Keeping this in mind, when we recall his naivety with F+R 'harsh judgment', it makes sense to say that R was in the truly weak position, best fitting R5.

It is perhaps most obvious that P plays a strong role in deciding Harris' motives, and its violation producing the strongest response in Harris. His conversation with Aziz shows, not merely the naive weakness of R5, but also how honest, matter-of-fact communication is so natural to him that he cannot understand why someone else would not be the same. This makes P1 most likely.

While it is clear that P is far stronger than R for Sam Harris, it is also notable that T plays a comparatively more balanced role with F6. After an intense martial-arts session, Harris draws on a quintessentially T-approach in his meditation, where he seeks to dispel the illusion of self and gain a sense of a greater responsibility in his life. This seems to naturally feed into his more F-like, 'at the helm' attempts to materialise that purpose with both his oral and written advocacy for Atheism, as well as his non-profit organisation, Project Reason. This rules out the 'too-much-thinking, too-little-action' paralysis of T1/F5. In addition, any mention of higher purpose is less consistent to Harris' rationale than his P-focused demand for factual honesty, constructing more pragmatic moral systems and dismantling false beliefs, making T2 a likely fit for Harris.

The more subdued elements to Sam Harris are also notable. Out of them, I seems the strongest, with Sam Harris showing a broad range of interests from neuroscience to theology to politics to philosophy to martial arts. Even after critiquing numerous world religions and holding Atheist positions, Harris is still willing and interested in exploring Indian spirituality, such as Advaita Vedanta Hindiuism and Gzongchen Buddhism. Indeed, his willingness to approach and converse with almost anyone who is willing to have an honest discussion shows that I plays a much stronger role than R for Harris, even if it is subdued. However, it is still notable that Harris draws from I in service of P+T, using a variety of different ideas and influences to feed a more targeted point about how people's actions can lead to the best outcomes in the long-term. This strongly suggests I8.

Additionally, while P evidently serves as a natural lens for Harris' views on morality, this culminates in a clear rejection of L. Harris seeks what can be factually supported and his critique of religious faith is attacking the idea that principles should be held to when they can lead to bad effects. This attitude is compounded with his own moral consequentialism, i.e. morality being judged by how much it contributes to outcomes, and thus is a rejection of moral deontology, i.e. morality is the adhering to certain rules or principles. In this regard, Harris uses L minimally in order to clearly frame his ideas with consistency, while intentionally seeking to undermine it as something that should be used for its own sake, and indeed, sees it as a major source of evil in the world. This fits well for L7.

As per job description, Sam Harris is an Atheist who is dedicated to changing people's minds about religious ideology and seeing that science can provide both a better account for information about our world and a better moral guidance. For this purpose, the use of E by Harris serves as a necessity for coming across as attractive enough to people that they will listen to his arguments. Even then, Harris is averse to exaggerating language and much prefers matter-of-fact communication. Although sometimes saying things that are controversial and perhaps harsh, Harris far less likely than figures such as David Starkey (ILI) to come across as obnoxious in conversation, and does seem to have an idea of what the audience will like to see of him, as is evident by his earlier quote, commenting on how "there's nothing more attractive...". This suggests that E is something he has some understanding of and can utilise when necessary, but much prefers the use of P. That is consistent with E3.

Finally, an attempt to review the use of S by Sam Harris comes up short, with no sign of vocabulary being found to express the pleasure, comfort or enjoyment of sensations (moreso S+E). At the beginning of an interview with Joe Rogan, Harris talks about his vegetarian diet, and how he went off meat due to being unable to morally justify eating it. He notes that he has persisted to a degree with his vegetarianism, despite noticing a certain "withering" in his health:

"I don't know that it's correlating with health... I am not the smartest vegetarian in the world in terms of how I prepare my food and how attentive I am to it, so the onus is somewhat on me, but I'm not totally sure it's the healthiest thing for me... I feel like my health is somewhat withering under this."

This is strong evidence for S as not merely a subdued function, but a very weak one. Even when taking a moral position on what food he eats, Harris is naturally negligent of his bodily needs and the attention to daily specifics that could better satisfy him while being a vegetarian. This is good evidence for S4.

From an in depth look into Sam Harris' values, as well as his strengths and weaknesses in information metabolism, one can identify the best fit of P1, T2, E3, S4, R5, F6, L7 and I8. This makes it almost certain that Sam Harris is an LIE.

To learn more about LIE, click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

Sources

The Rubin Report: Sam Harris on Islam, the Left, Trump and Hillary
Autopsy on Omer Aziz
Morality: 'We can send religion to the scrap heap'
The Atheist Who Strangled Me (Graeme Wood, The Atlantic)
Joe Rogan Experience #804 - Sam Harris




Editor's Note: Why Sam Harris is NOT an INFJ

It has commonly been asserted by sites such as CelebrityTypes that Sam Harris would be an INFJ in the MBTI. This is, in my opinion, one of numerous unusual typings that I have seen from MBTI experts.

Like Socionics, MBTI claims to be a Jungian typology. As such, it should derive its cognitive function definitions from Jung. Looking at Jung's Psychological Types, we find the following description of the 'Extraverted Thinking type':

"In accordance with his definition, we must picture a, man whose constant aim -- in so far, of course, as he is a [p. 435] pure type -- is to bring his total life-activities into relation with intellectual conclusions, which in the last resort are always orientated by objective data, whether objective facts or generally valid ideas. This type of man gives the deciding voice-not merely for himself alone but also on behalf of his entourage-either to the actual objective reality or to its objectively orientated, intellectual formula. By this formula are good and evil measured, and beauty and ugliness determined."

The above would superbly describe Sam Harris' main approach to his life, intellectual pursuits and moral philosophy, as is evident from the argument for LIE given further above. However, an INFJ could not be more removed from Extraverted Thinking (Te) as a type, it being Introverted and Feeling, while not possessing Te in its four function stack (Ni> Fe> Ti> Se). In other words, either Sam Harris is not an INFJ, or MBTI has abandoned either internal consistency or its Jungian definitions.

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