I scored some major “dad points” the other night.
My daughter and I were enjoying an absolutely amazing dinner at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans a few days ago. R’evolution is on my personal list of top 10 restaurants in the world, and we were not disappointed (more details on the meal in the addendum below). My daughter is a neuroscience major in college, and she also waitresses while going through school to help meet expenses. She’s interested in getting a different job at a much higher-end restaurant than the one that she works at now, where the tips will be much better and the food will have the sophistication to cater to a clientele of bon vivants. So she picks the cutest waiter she can find and asks him how he got his job at R’evolution.
The waiter learns she is a neuroscience major, and starts telling her how much he enjoys reading the blog and listening to the podcasts of Sam Harris.
Sam Harris (http://www.samharris.org) is a pretty interesting fellow. He is, like me, both a Ph.D. and a UCLA alum. While I am a rocket scientist by training, Sam is a neuroscientist and best-selling author. His writing and public lectures cover a wide range of topics–neuroscience, moral philosophy, religion, spirituality, violence, human reasoning–but generally focus on how a growing understanding of ourselves and the world is changing our sense of how we should live. Harris is a cofounder and the CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. His books include The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying, and Waking Up—as well as the forthcoming Islam and the Future of Tolerance (with Maajid Nawaz).
So the waiter asks my daughter if she has heard of Sam Harris, and she says “no” and looks at me. And I casually mention, “Oh, Sam Harris, I just sent him a message this morning.” The expressions on both of their faces was classic… The waiter about flipped, and so did my daughter.
Taking her to dinner at R’evolution scored the first set of dad points, but having messaged Sam that morning took me far into bonus territory!
And the oddest part of the story is that I don’t think I’d ever even heard of Sam Harris either, until just a few days earlier.
This past Monday I published an article on The Domino Principle called “Guns and Dominoes: Let’s Play Global Thermonuclear War!” that examined, amongst other things, 55 techniques of distortion and propaganda used in fallacious reasoning, the difference between science and religion, what constitutes cultish and fanatical behavior, and the distorted prose and rhetoric of the gun regulation debate.
As part of that article I mentioned my belief that I have a high degree of confidence that, even if well trained in the use of a handgun, my carrying one in public would statistically make me less safe rather than more safe. On the other hand, I believe that my taking a martial arts self-defense course would likely make me statistically far more safe. I mentioned a scene from the TV show Better Call Saul that playfully supported the concept. After a bit of searching for a good reference to include with the article, I also ended up finding and including a link to Sam Harris‘ article “The Truth about Violence: 3 Principles of Self-Defense.” As I often do, when I use a link to someone’s article in something I’ve written, I’ll send them a note as a courtesy and/or thank you, letting them know I’ve referenced their work. And that was why I had sent Sam a message that morning.
After publishing my Guns and Dominoes article, I also found Sam’s essay specifically on the gun control debate, “The Riddle of the Gun.” His opinions differ from mine in some aspects, and after reading his article, I was persuaded to think deeper about some of the issues. Unlike the gun fanatic blogs, Sam’s article is compelling because it is REASONED. It is persuasive not through the use of deceptive propaganda techniques (such as faulty reasoning, omission, presenting facts selectively, and using loaded messages), but rather through the use of logical and scientific-based arguments. He takes a look at both sides of the issue and admits that there are no easy answers. While he may draw a line of what is reasonable policy on the gun issue that is a bit different than mine, I can respect his opinion, and might even be persuaded by some aspects of it.
In researching my Guns and Dominoes essay, I put considerable time and effort in trying to understand the positions of the parties on both sides of the debate. In the case of those on the extreme end of the no gun control spectrum, reading their articles felt like hearing fingernails slide across a chalkboard. As was the case with the example Ammoland.com article by AWR Hawkins that I dissected on a line-by-line basis in my Guns and Dominoes article, virtually every other sentence of many of the articles on the extremist gun blogs seem logically suspect. Huge pieces of important information are also omitted. It gives me a headache to read that kind of rhetoric, because my experience tells me that every line must be deeply examined to try to understand how the author is trying to fool me. There might be a kernel of wisdom hidden in there from time to time, but if it ever appears, it gets drowned out by the propaganda, fanaticism, bullshit and general intellectual dishonesty. And you know, my attitude on it would be to leave it alone — “live and let live,” except that the statistical scientific evidence supports the notion that the self-interested agenda that they promote (often quite successfully) causes extensive and needless death, and makes our society less safe for me and my family.
Oh, I sent Ammoland.com a note too, submitted as a comment on the article I’d reviewed. My note was polite and gave a link to the critique I’d written, stating that my review provided a line-by-line analysis of the distortion and omissions in their article. Ammoland.com, not surprisingly, refused to post my comment. It appears that polite comments harshly critical of their publication are not permitted on Ammoland.com (at least not when they come from me). For some reason, I don’t find this surprising, and it substantiated even further that my assessment of their publishing motives as meretricious was right on track.
Looking at Sam Harris‘ extensive body of work, it was both surprising and gratifying to see that, without being previously aware of his writings, my Domino Principle articles have often touched on themes quite similar to the ones that he has often focused upon: in addition to the gun debate, Sam has also written extensively on the subject of the lies that we tell; the differences between religion and science; cultism; and how one can adopt a highly spiritual approach to life without religion. Sam takes a deeply analytical approach that is in many respects far more eloquent than mine. I see myself as being on a path to developing a lighter and less intelligentsia-oriented voice that incorporates popular memes into messages with appeal to a broad audience. I’m inspired not only by Sam, but also by watching John Oliver have fun while analyzing serious news topics each week. I see myself potentially converging towards a style that is somewhere in the middle of the two of them.
A friend of mine (the same one mentioned in my Guns and Dominoes article) told me not too long ago that I was “working my way out of a cocoon.” I think perhaps she got it right. Finding Sam Harris‘ extensive rationalism-based body of work shows me I still have a ways to go before I’m soaring free. But it also shows me that I’ve filed the right flight plan.
The interesting discussion of neuroscience and philosophy with the waiter at R’evolution was not the only time in the past few weeks where I’ve had the privilege of having a waiter at a restaurant engage in highly educating and enlightening dialog. A few weeks ago I took part in a four course group dinner at Artisans restaurant in Houston. The occasion was a book signing honoring Marie LeNôtre (of Houston’s Culinary Institute LeNôtre) on the release of her new autobiography “Appetites: A Memoir.”
Artisans is my favorite Houston restaurant, and I don’t get nearly enough opportunity to dine there, but did have a chance to make it there that special evening along with a charming friend of mine who has a day job as a federal lobbyist. It was a really interesting and intelligent crowd, and we may have been the only two in the room who didn’t speak French. There were around 16 of us at the table, and I was lucky enough to be seated with my friend on one side and Marie on the other side, and Marie’s husband Alain directly across from me.
Over the course of the evening, our discourse turned both philosophical and scientific, and somehow morphed into a discussion of the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson is sometimes called the “God particle” in popular culture, because it is believed to have an associated field responsible for endowing other subatomic particles with mass. As our discussion progressed, one of our waiters chimed in with a detailed explanation of the particle and the state of research aimed at validating its existence. We were all in awe (and he got a very nice tip!).
So now I’ve told my daughter that her role as a waitress is not only to serve food, but to educate. I’m not sure if she believes me. But regardless, I now have a mindset, particularly when at finer restaurants, to try to get to know my server a little bit and see what I might learn from him or her.
As promised, here are the details/photos of the meal we shared at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans this week:
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