Sam Harris versus Ezra Klein, aka, high versus low decoupling


Dialogue is difficult.

Exhibit A would be the recent exchanges between the neuroscientist Sam Harris (of the Waking Up podcast) and Vox-founder Ezra Klein (of the Ezra Klein Show). Actually, Exhibit A is their email exchange and Exhibit B is their podcast together. It’s a continuing series.

The whole thing started when Harris had Charles Murray — author of The Bell Curve — on his podcast. Klein posted an article in response to the interview. This led to an email exchange between Harris and Klein. Harris chose to publish this exchange, whereupon all hell broke loose.

And then they attempted to hash it out together in a podcast (published on both Harris and Klein‘s podcasts). The key word being “attempted.” It doesn’t seem like they ended up understanding one another more deeply.

Why not?

Here’s one theory. John Nerst over at Everything Studies has broken down the Harris/Klein battle – both the email exchanges and the podcast conversation – in painful detail. To illuminate the causes of the disconnect, he introduces the distinction between high cognitive decoupling and low cognitive decoupling cultures.

Cognitive decoupling consists of stripping out context to work with a simplified set of constructs, propositions or models with greater rigor and precision. This is a practice that is second nature to scientists, analytical philosophers, economists, and so forth. They live in “high decoupling” cultures.

Journalists, literary intellectuals, and almost everyone else lives within a “low decoupling” culture, where context is king, even if there is some loss in rigor and precision.

When a high-decoupler and a low-decoupler meet, much is lost in translation.

To a low-decoupler, high-decouplers’ ability to fence off any threatening implications looks like a lack of empathy for those threatened, while to a high-decoupler the low-decouplers insistence that this isn’t possible looks like naked bias and an inability to think straight. 

Read the whole thing here.



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