Science is catching up to the Buddha

Does happiness require a rebellion against evolution?


1. Science is confirming key Buddhist ideas. So reveals Robert Wright’s very enlightening book, Why Buddhism Is True.

2. Wright means “true” because evolutionary logic and brain science now fit Buddhism’s ancient naturalistic (non-reincarnation-y) aspects. Consider some of Wright’s mind-stopping sentences and essentially delusion-illuminating ideas.

3. Evolution “doesn’t care about our… happiness.” It wants us anxiously striving, thus life brings suffering (=Buddhism’s dukkha = unsatisfactoriness”). So feeling happy requires “rebellion” against evolution’s values.

4. Evolution’s sole goal (=“purpose”) is gene spreading. So life feels strongly about and “values” the needs of its gene “vehicles” ( = bodies).

5. Feelings arose to enact evolution's vehicle-centered values (=personalized go-forth-and-multiply mission). And all feelings are elaborations of basic evolutionary good-or-bad approach-or-avoid judgments.

6. “Judging is what we’re designed to do.” Our heads are full of feeling-generating “modules,” constantly running backstage (System 1) that judge (assign affective adjectives to) things in our environment.

7. “There’s no such thing as an immaculate perception” or conception (the cognitive, not sexual kind). All come bundled with feelings (feelings = biochemical judgments + attached stories, see “Darwin’s Hindoo”).

8. Brain science backs Buddhism’s “not-self” doctrine—“thoughts think themselves”—there’s no “CEO” module. Ordinarily, which feeling-thought-story bundles “bubble up” into awareness depends on the intensity of outputs of competing modules.

9. Buddhism calls these feeling-thought-story bundles “delusions” because they arise from misplaced “essentialism.” Your perceptions about X may seem like essential attributes of X, but they result from “interdependent co-arising.” Like color, they’re co-constructed, “caused” by properties of the object, lighting, our physiology, and even language (color =“secondary quality” in Western philosophy).

10. Science calls essentialism about people the “fundamental attribution error” (blaming dispositional traits over situational factors). But this error varies by culture, Jerome Kagan says Asian psychologists wouldn’t ever dream up the “Big Five” personality traits (e.g., Korean uses act-plus-context as the basic “unit”).

11. Buddhists don’t fight feeling-delusions directly. Rather they “R.A.I.N.” them in—recognize, accept, inspect, and nonidentify (feelings aren’t an essential part of you).

12. Mindfulness meditation trains you in metacognitive skills (thinking about thinking) that weaken unhelpful feelings and empower calmer ones.

13. Buddhist language like "nothing possesses inherent existence" can seem to go too far, since our unobjective “delusions” are often accurate enough.

14. But Buddhism beat Einstein to relativity’s core insight, that there’s no “view from nowhere,” or God’s-eye view (even the truths of physics are relational, perspectival).

15. Evolution’s save-your-own-skin values tend to inculcate the perspective that we’re “special.” But perhaps these evolution-given values are more like food than air (the former far more culturally configurable than the latter).

16. Wright feels our evolutionary “vehicle stops at the skin,” but that view is shifting—every vehicle needs ”multitudes,” and “every self is a society.”

17. Our “extended vehicles” raise broader “vehicular viability” issues (see “universal survivor logic”). And beyond the personal practical benefits meditation offers, Wright feels a “Metacognitive Revolution” could save the planet (Buddha and the art of vehicles maintenance).

 

Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Jordan Peterson on Joe Rogan: The gender paradox and the importance of competition

The Canadian professor has been on the Joe Rogan Experience six times. There's a lot of material to discuss.

Personal Growth
  • Jordan Peterson has constantly been in the headlines for his ideas on gender over the last three years.
  • While on Joe Rogan's podcast, he explains his thoughts on the gender differences in society.
  • On another episode, Peterson discusses the development of character through competition.
Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are drained for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

Credit: Business Insider (video)
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less

Do you have a self-actualized personality? Maslow revisited

Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.

Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.

Keep reading Show less