Making Sense of Consciousness

Episode 2 of The Essential Sam Harris

Episode Companion

Each episode includes a workbook with illustrations, background information on each guest, references, suggested books and films, and more.

December 15, 2022

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro has produced a new series of audio documentaries, exploring the major topics that Sam has focused on over the course of his career.

Each episode weaves together original analysis, critical perspective, and novel thought experiments with some of the most compelling exchanges from the Making Sense archive. Whether you are new to a particular topic, or think you have your mind made up about it, we think you’ll find this series fascinating.

And make sure to stick around for the end of each episode, where we provide our list of recommendations from the worlds of film, television, literature, music, and art.


In this episode, we survey the landscape of consciousness and get acquainted with the mystery of the mind. We start with an attempt to define consciousness–and veterans of conversations on consciousness will know that this is a huge part of the challenge. 

David Chalmers begins with his conception of what he coined “The Hard Problem of Consciousness” and a famous question offered by the philosopher Thomas Nagel. 

We then construct a “Philosophical Zombie” before the philosopher Thomas Metzinger explains why he is thoroughly unimpressed by the ability to imagine “such a thing,” while he simultaneously warns us against ever attempting to build one. Anil Seth brings some hope of whittling away the intuition gap of the hard problem by pursuing the “easy” problems, with clear scientific reasoning.

Later, Iain McGilchrist lays out the intuition-shattering implications of the famous Roger Sperry experiments with split brain patients that suggest that consciousness can be cut with a knife… at least temporarily. Annaka Harris then shifts the conversation to the realm of panpsychism, which suggests that consciousness is nomologically fundamental and potentially permeates all matter. 

Finally, Don Hoffman explains that consciousness is not only fundamental and non-illusory, but that the physical world we appear to be navigating is merely a virtual space-time interface, which has evolved to hide the true nature of reality from us.