Making Sense of Death

Episode 9 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.

May 26, 2023

In this episode, we explore Sam’s conversations about the phenomenon of death.

We begin with an introduction from Sam as he urges us to use our awareness of death to become more present in our day-to-day lives. We then hear a conversation between Sam and Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project, who shares the valuable lessons he has learned through caring for those in their very last days. Next, we move on to a conversation with Scott Barry Kaufman, who explains what it means to pursue a good life by putting a modern spin on Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs.

Researcher and professor of neuroscience Roland Griffiths then details his findings on psychedelic therapies. He and Sam discuss the inexplicable powers of psychedelics in easing the anxiety around death, and how these experiences can potentially help us live fuller lives. Shifting perspectives, we move on by hearing NYU professor Scott Galloway explain the social and economic impacts of a society made painfully aware of death by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We then listen in to author Oliver Burkeman as he outlines how the knowledge of our mortality can inform practical time management techniques before addressing an age-old question with physicist Geoffrey West: Theoretically, could we engineer humans to live forever?

Sam closes this episode with a solo talk, explaining that we needn’t be cynical about the fact that all life must come to an end. Instead, it is the transient nature of life that might be the very thing which makes it beautiful in the first place.


About the Series

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro has produced The Essential Sam Harris, 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.