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From one of America’s greatest minds a journey through psychology philosophy and lots of meditation to show how Buddhism holds the key to moral clarity and enduring happinessRobert Wright famously explained in The Moral Animal how evolution shaped the human brain The mind is designed to often delude us he argued about ourselves and about the world And it is designed to make happiness hard to sustain But if we know our minds are rigged for anxiety depression anger and greed what do we do? Wright locates the answer in Buddhism which figured out thousands of years ago what scientists are only discovering now Buddhism holds that human suffering is a result of not seeing the world clearly—and proposes that seeing the world clearly through meditation will make us better happier people In Why Buddhism is True Wright leads readers on a journey through psychology philosophy and a great many silent retreats to show how and why meditation can serve as the foundation for a spiritual life in a secular age At once excitingly ambitious and wittily accessible this is the first book to combine evolutionary psychology with cutting edge neuroscience to defend the radical claims at the heart of Buddhist philosophy With bracing honesty and fierce wisdom it will persuade you not just that Buddhism is true—which is to say a way out of our delusion—but that it can ultimately save us from ourselves as individuals and as a species


10 thoughts on “Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

  1. says:

    A far accurate title for this book would be Why Mindfulness Meditation is Good For as Wright—who does not consider himself a Buddhist—admits he is not really here to talk about any form of traditional Buddhism He does not even present a strictly “orthodox” view of any secular Western variety of Buddhism Instead this is a rather selective interpretation of some Buddhist doctrines in the light of evolutionary psychology Wright’s essential message is that the evolutionary process that shaped the human brain did not adeuately program us for life in the modern world; and that mindfulness meditation can help to correct this bad programming The first of these claims is fairly uncontroversial To give an obvious example our love of salt beneficial when sodium was hard to come by in natural products has become maladaptive in the modern world where salt is cheap and plentiful Our emotions too can misfire nowadays Caring deeply that people have a high opinion of you makes sense when you are say living in a small village full of people you know and interact with daily; but it makes little sense when you are surrounded by strangers on a bus This mismatch between our emotional setup and the newly complex social world is one reason for rampant stress and anxiety Something like a job interview—trying to impress a perfect stranger to earn a livelihood—simply didn’t exist for our ancestors This can also explain tribalism which Wright sees as the most pressing danger of the modern world It makes evolutionary sense to care deeply for oneself and one’s kin with some close friends thrown in; and those who fall outside of this circle should following evolutionary logic be treated with suspicion—which explains why humans are so prone to dividing themselves into mutually antagonistic groups But how can mindfulness meditation help? Most obviously it is a practice designed to give us some distance from our emotions This is done by separating the feeling from its narrative In daily life for example anger is never experienced “purely; we always get angry about something; and the thought of this event is a huge component of its experience But the meditator does her best to focus on the feeling itself to examine its manifestation in her body and brain while letting go of the corresponding narrative Stripped of the provoking incident the feeling itself ceases to be provocative; and the anger may even disappear completely Explained in this way mindfulness meditation is the mirror image of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT In CBT the anger is attacked from the opposite side by focusing on the narrative and subjecting it to logical criticism In my experience at least the things one tells oneself while angry rarely stand up to cool analysis And when one ceases to believe in the thought the feeling disappears The efficacy of both mindfulness meditation and CBT then is based on the interdependence of feeling and thought If separated—either by focusing on the feeling during meditation or the thought through analysis—the emotion disappears This in a nutshell is how mindfulness meditation can be therapeutic But Wright wants to make a far grandiose claim that mindfulness meditation can reveal truths about the nature of mind the world and morality One of the central ideas of Buddhism is that of “emptiness” that the enlightened meditator sees the world as empty of essential form The first time I encountered this idea in a Buddhist text it made no sense to me; but Wright gives it an intriguing interpretation Our brain designed to survive naturally assigns value to things in our environment based on how useful or harmful they are to us These evaluations are according to Wright’s theory experienced as emotional reactions I have uite warm and fuzzy feelings about my laptop for example; and even the communal computers where I work evoke in me a comforting sense of familiarity and utility These emotions which are sometimes very tiny indeed are what give experiential reality a sense of essence The emotions in other words help us to uickly identify and use objects I don’t have to closely examine the computers for example since the emotion brings their instrumental ualities uickly to my attention The advantages of this are obvious to anyone in a hurry Likewise this emotional registering is eually advantageous in avoiding danger since taking time to ponder a rattlesnake isn’t advisable But the downside is that we can look at the world uite narrowly ignoring the sensuous ualities of objects in favor of an instrumental view Visual art actively works against this tendency I think by creating images that thwart our normal registering system thus prompting us into a sensuous examination of the work Good paintings make us into children again exploring the world without worrying about making use of things Mindfulness meditation is supposed to engender this same attitude not just with regards to a painting but to everything Stripped of these identifying emotional reactions the world might indeed seem “empty”—empty of distinctions though full of rich sensation With objects it is hard to see why this state of emptiness would be very desirable Also it should be said that this idea of micro emotions serving as registers of essential distinctions is Wright’s interpretation of the psychological data and is rather speculative But with regards to humans this mindset might have its advantages Instead of attributing essential ualities of good and bad to somebody we might see that their behavior can vary uite a bit depending on circumstances and this can make us less judgmental and forgiving Wright also has a go at the traditional Buddhist idea that the self is a delusion According to what we know about the brain he says there is no executive seat of consciousness He cites the famous split brain experiments and others like it to argue that consciousness is not the powerful decision maker we once assumed but is like a publicity agent making our actions seem cogent to others This is necessary because underneath the apparent unity of conscious experience there are several domain specific “modules”—such as for sexual jealousy romantic wooing and so on—that fight amongst themselves in the brain for power and attention Each module governs our behavior in different ways; and environmental stimuli determine which module is in control Our consciousness gives a sense of continuity and coherence to this shifting control which makes us look better in the eyes of our peers—or that’s how the theory goes which Wright says is well supported In any case the upshot of this theory still would not be that the self doesn’t exist; only that the self is fragmented and less executive than we once supposed Unfortunately the book steeply declines in uality in the last few chapters—where Wright tackles the most mystical propositions of Buddhism—when the final stage of the no self argument is given This leads him into the following speculations If our thoughts are generated by a variety of modules which use emotion to get our attention; and if we can learn to dissociate ourselves from these emotions and see the world as “empty”; if in short we can reach a certain level of detachment from our thoughts and emotions then perhaps we can see sensations arising in our body as euivalent to sensations arising from without And maybe too this state of detachment will allow us to experience other people’s emotions as euivalent to our own like how we feel pain from seeing a loved one in pain In this case can we not be said to have seen the true oneness of reality and the corresponding unreality of personal identity? These lofty considerations aside when I am struck by a car they better not take the driver to the emergency room; and when Robert Wright gets a book deal he would be upset if they gave me the money My point is that this experience of oneness in no way undermines the reality of distinct personal identity without which we could hardly go a day And this state of perfect detachment is arguably contra Wright a far less realistic way of seeing things since being genuinely unconcerned as to whom a pain belonged for example would make us unable to help Also in this way contra Wright it would make us obviously less moral More generally I think Wright is wrong in insisting that meditation can help us to experience reality “truly” Admittedly I know from experience that meditation can be a great aid to introspection and can allow us to deal with our emotions effectively But the notion that a meditative experience can allow us to see a metaphysical truth—the unreality of self or the oneness of the cosmos—I reject completely An essentially private experience cannot confirm or deny anything as Wright himself says earlier on I also reject Wright’s claim that meditation can help us to see moral reality clearly By this he means that the detachment engendered by meditation can allow us to see every person as eually valuable rather than selfishly considering one’s own desires important Now I do not doubt that meditation can make people calmer and even nicer But detachment does not lead logically to any moral clarity Detachment is just that—detachment which means unconcern; and morality is impossible without concern Indeed it seems to me that an enlightened person would be even less likely to improve the world since they can accept any situation with perfect euanimity Granted if everyone were perfectly enlightened there would be no reason to improve anything—but I believe the expression about hell freezing over applies here Aside from the intellectual weakness of these later chapters full as they are of vague hand waving the book has other flaws I often got the sense that Wright was presenting the psychological evidence very selectively emphasizing the studies and theories that accorded with his interpretations of Buddhism without taking nearly enough time to give the contrasting views On the other hand he interprets the Buddhist doctrines uite freely—so in the end when he says that modern science is confirming Buddhism I wonder what is confirming what exactly And the writing while usually uite clear was too hokey and jokey for me Last I found his framing of meditation as a way to save humanity from destructive tribalism as both naïve and misguided In brief I think that we ought to try to create a society in which the selfish interests of the greatest number of people are aligned Selfish attachment while potentially narrow need not be if these selves are in enmeshed in mutually beneficial relationships; and some amount of attachment with its concomitant dissatisfactions seems necessary for people to exert great effort in improving their station and thus changing our world Encouraging people to become selflessly detached on the other hand besides being unrealistic also strikes me as generally undesirable For all the suffering caused by attachment—of which I am well aware—I am not convinced that life is better without it As Orwell said “Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings”


  2. says:

    “The problem with introspection is that it has no end” ― Philip K Dick For years I've told people I was a Zen Mormon More as a way to suirm into the edges of LDS cosmology and less because I was practicing anything really approaching a hybrid of Buddhism and Mormonism But I've always been attracted to Buddhism like many Westerners before me I'm thinking of Herman Hesse W Somerset Maugham Jack Kerouac and Peter Matthiessen I've always been attracted to the intersection of cultures philosophies etc So I guess it is natural for me to be attracted if somewhat lazily to Western Buddhism Zen gardens and the potential of mediationI'm also a big nerdy fan of Robert Wright I've read most of his books It is probably easier to just post the one book of his I haven't read rather than list the ones I have I enjoy Wright's evolution from Evolutionary Psychology to Buddhist writings I think the premise of Wright's book is mostly correct There is something that evolution has burdoned us with that meditation specifically Mindfulness Meditation and Buddhism can help us with The books title I should note here IS a little off putting I think Wright almost meant it as a joke with a hook of truth It comes across like some Mormon Southern Baptist or Jehovah's Witness tract; a bit evangelical But Wright is not just trying to convert the reader and he's not exactly NOT trying to convert the reader either He lays out pretty good arguments about how Evolutionary Psychology and behavioral psychology show lots of caveats obviously the mind is complex and not everyone agrees with everything that a lot of our feelings motives choices are built on genetic coding which might actually make us unhappy unhealthy etc The Buddhists seemed to have climbed that mountain before us Wright seems less of a philosophical or religious Buddhist and of a pragmatic Buddhist I think his time studying how religion the mind behaviors etc have evolved over time has also provided him with ample evidence about how these traits that were evolved to help our primitive selves reproduce survive etc don't always help us in a modern age that includes HR departments Facebook politics etc Buddhism Wright would argue can help untangle some of these evolutionary knots So? What does this book mean for me? Someone who calls himself mostly in jest a Zen Mormon who has spent exactly 10 minutes mediating in a half assed way? Well I'm thinking of hooking up with a local BuddhistMeditation group and giving Mindful Mediation a try I'm pretty chill but I think mindfulness can only help I'm also not above exploring truth beyond my own familiar cosmology When I told my wife and kids of my plan they did laugh however My wife suggested meditation might not be easy for me given my competitive natureWife You can't win at meditationD8u Sure you can isn't enlightenment basically winning?Daughter Yeah Mom the Buddha definitely wonD8U See?My daughter laughing said the closest I've come to meditating was my nightly scalding bath with headphones in my ears a cold diet Dr Pepper and candy She thinks anything that would help me unplug one or two of my sensory addictions might not be a bad thing I agree It is worth a shot I haven't read Three Scientists and Their Gods Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information


  3. says:

    I've read every book Wright's written and all have been fantastic This is my favorite It's the perfect book for the cultural moment we're in Forget the title it's misleading The book is a nice primer on meditation and evolutionary theory with some helpful insights Basically our brains are not wired for peace and happiness only to propel our genes forward There's a yearning for programmed into us and the only antidote is mindfulness meditation I've read a ton of evolutionary theory and a bunch of buddhism lite but this one is exactly the synthesis I've been waiting for without knowing it It changed the way I think about meditation and my thoughts and feelings Read it and pass it along We all need this book right now or we're going to nuke ourselves off the planet or otherwise destroy it through greed in no time


  4. says:

    This is a fact based and serious book that uses brain science evolutionary psychologybiology and sociobiology to prove each claimed assumption and maybe one of the best explanations of how and why mindfulness and a livelong training and evolution of meditation and self reflection might be advisable A few examples Someone working hard and achieving amazing results after decades of training and exercising to become a leading expert master maybe even a prodigy world elite People bursting full of enthusiasm charisma and happiness spreading it as if it was a renewable energy source they could never run short of A classical stereotypical Buddhistic monk or a kung fu master A surgeon soldier or emergency doctor staying cool and focused for hours EtcThey all have what all others are desperately searching for control over their minds Be it innate epigenetic or just regular practice guess what way could work for nearly everyone? By starting practicing right now and never stop being mindful again many of personal unreachable seeming goals can become possible But that´s just about controlling the mad monkey in one´s single brainWhere other books about the topic end Wright begins to dissect the functioning of all aspects of a human mind and how a loss of objective serenity just always leads to problems no matter if it is a family of 4 or a state of hundreds of millions or humankind All those group dynamics ego being right or wrong getting angry sad etc were really fancy vehicles as long as we were nothing than animals but in highly developed civilizations where uncontrolled emotions are no evolutionary advantage any they just bring pain and sadness Of course it´s about the bad negative emotions not cutting love and joy out of one's soulWright has the idea of a new real life based Buddhism without focus on afterlife reincarnation heaven hell etc and instead a basis on the philosophical and scientific ideas that help everyone to become a better human by integrating the knowledge of psychology and evolutionary biologypsychology at a purely scientific base without any faith or potential for extremismHappiness and joy is a free choice and everyone can freely choose between it and neutral or pessimistic but both the neurological and Buddhistic approach show that it might just hurt oneself It is much healthier and makes one stronger because we are social animals that are functioning better be it as extroverted people lovers or as introverted stay at homers when we enjoy what we do It´s a shield against any harm and it´s an armor that is easy to wear and impossible to permeate because if someone is cool about everything and takes everything negative even provocations positive shehe is indestructible In contrast someone who protects herhimself by anger and hate is permanently boiling herhimself in everything negative the biochemistry of the body can provide and is much easier to attack or be provoked to overreactAs long as we were even primitive and hairier apes how I love calling everyone a monkey hey chimpanzee over there yea looking at you do you want a banana? Don´t forget anger is your enemy I am just helping you don´t throw sh at me please many of those mental dysfunctions were helpful Find oneself great and think that everyone else is an idiot Check Prone to group dynamics opportunism and hierarchies to build mighty tribes Done Building a conscience ego and higher intelligence by repeatedly believing and thinking the same things to shape the wetware Bingo And then well it uickly escalated because narcissistic cognitive dissonant psycho primates ha got you again are a true pain in the gluteus maximus for themselves all other groups and those poor innocent planet under their swift pawsA short utopia Out of calm and mindful minds grow when they reproduce and the they get the influence they have on the state and if everyone would be enlightened and realized how destructive ego and negative emotions are world peace and a sustainable economic system would come and but wait stop dystopia just called saying humans are humans The sad end of the storyNo just joking forget the misguided and deluded ones who aren´t guilty just had no chance and are impossible to heal focus on the next generation instead With each kid able to control herhis emotions self reflection self criticism stay objective believe nothing stay evolving and adapting and always curious you make Buddha laughAnd uestioning and changing anything may bring us away from many self destructive paths we are currently on as humankind to realize that there may be the too objective too easy and egoistic and wrong Buddhistic approach to say that there is no right and wrong nothing matters no true or false the mind is empty total objectivity is king all is an illusion etc That´s a sophisticated way to say that one's own peace of mind and easy stressless life is important than to stay motivated positive neutral and engaged in both civil society and politics to make a change happenNot all that seems bad is just evil and not all that seems good is pure gold instead the wrong destructive dangerous and misleading ideas out of all ideas humans ever had have to be eliminated because there is just a collective way in the middle of the road together not with everyone walking angrily sulky and offended as far at each side of this metaphorical entity that is our all lives But all compromises have to be evidence based no soft science no mumbo jumbo humanities just real hard science based long term reproducible studies not funded by anyone interested in a certain outcome This is also how this amazing author wrote a must read book and how we as a society can overcome our animalistic roots urges and instincts to something worthy of the Latin name sapiens in the article description A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books in a nutshell made a video toohttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?vWPPPF


  5. says:

    “Ultimately happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them” True happiness is exceedingly hard to find in this life And when I hit hard times I always find myself drawn to Buddhist teachings as a way to detach myself from my thoughts feelings and desires in order to become mindful and live in the moment Whilst not a miracle cure the strongest benefit gained by Buddhist practice is the ability to gain perspective and understand that often it is our own reactions that cause us to suffer internally The wisdom gained through achieving contentment with our life can lead to the emptiness Buddhist's strive for But these are just words Achieving them is an entirely different matter This is what Wright discusses here the philosophy of Buddhism and the truth and positiveness behind it Because it is true if we can embrace it If we can learn to live it everyday we can achieve some small sense of internal happiness Initially this is all marginal and preoccupied with the self; however once we learnt to transform the self we can transform the world and others around usSo I believe in the truth of Buddhism and this book provides a deep stimulating and intellectual discussion behind exactly why the truth is such a potent one You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree


  6. says:

    This was a really compelling book for me it made me think deeply about myself and the world and opened my eyes a bit too It's no coincidence that multiple of my smarter friends have told me to read itMeditation is a subject that is interesting to me because of how many smartsuccessful people that I've talked to or read about highly recommend it I wanted to better understand it but I didn't predict all the directions this book would take One of the main interesting takeaways was how strongly the book ties the theory of natural selection with meditation So if you ask the uestion “What kinds of perceptions and thoughts and feelings guide us through life each day?” the answer at the most basic level isn’t “The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that give us an accurate picture of reality” No at the most basic level the answer is “The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that helped our ancestors get genes into the next generationThis makes sense we evolved over millions of years according to an algorithm that simply said the ones who live pass on their genes This has a lot of implications however the foremost being that our ancestors the ones that passed their genes on to us evolved to be particularly good at finding food mating and having kids being alert to and surviving various dangers and being positive contributors of their tribe as outcasts don't survive They did NOT evolve to be happy Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy after all; it just “wants” us to be productive in its narrow sense of productive And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long lastingThis to me was a huge insight I am constantly seeking new experiences and am fortunate to have experienced many amazing things But each thrill uickly fades and I find myself worrying about whatever is next remarkably uickly To know that we were evolved that way on purpose because our ancestors who killed a mammoth would only survive if they killed another one next week is both fascinating and illuminating This is why it is true that money doesn't make you happy nor do successes in career The book delved into our emotions around human relationships a lot which I found very interesting Because as much as I would love to say I don't care what others think of me it's simply not true In fact random encounters with people I don't know and will never see again can bother me Also encounters with people I do know can worry me uite a lot too So it's somewhat comforting to realize that we evolved to be this way Interestingly interactions with strangers is a newer thing to us and has likely added to our modern day stress The book also talks a lot about essence as many of us have impressions of others eg nice not nice helpful jerk selfish weird etc that aren't really accurate they are just our perceptions and by being aware of this it can better help us interact with such people We're designed by natural selection to care—and care a lot—about what other people think of us During evolution people who were liked admired and respected would have been effective gene propagators than people who were the opposite But in a hunter gatherer village your neighbors would have had a vast database on your behavior so you’d be unlikely on any given day to do anything that radically revised their opinion of you for better or worse Social encounters wouldn’t typically have been high pressure eventsSo meditation can help us by recognizing that our mind is running these algorithms which come in the form of emotions and cause us to worry about things instead of focusing on being present in the moment By observing which emotions and worries pop up we can become aware of them and somewhat strangely worry a lot less about them The routine business of mindfulness—observing the world inside you and outside you with inordinate care—can do than tone down troublesome feelings and enhance your sense of beauty It can in a slow incremental often uneven yet ultimately systematic way transform your view of what’s really “out there” and what’s really “in here” What begins as a modest pursuit—a way to relieve stress or anxiety cool anger or dial down self loathing just a notch—can lead to profound realizations about the nature of things and commensurately profound feelings of freedom and happiness An essentially therapeutic endeavor can turn into a deeply philosophical and spiritual endeavor This is the third virtue of mindfulness meditation it offers a path to liberation from the MatrixThe book had an interesting section on the self Most of us think there is an I inside of us that is calling the shots in our lives or as the book calls it our internal CEO But in Buddhism one of the key concepts as you advance is you are supposed to learn that there is no self But we aren't really in control of ourselves if we were we wouldn't have all kinds of thoughts all day worrying about or contemplating all kinds of random things The book proposes that what is really going on is that there are a number of modules or algorithms as I prefer to think that are competing for our attention There is the mating module the get food module the look good socially module etc Any thought or anything we see or hear or smell can easily trigger the emotion that starts any of these modules Buddhist thought and modern psychology converge on this point in human life as it’s ordinarily lived there is no one self no conscious CEO that runs the show; rather there seem to be a series of selves that take turns running the show—and in a sense seizing control of the show If the way they seize control of the show is through feelings it stands to reason that one way to change the show is to change the role feelings play in everyday life I’m not aware of a better way to do that than mindfulness meditationSo to summarize humans suffer from dukkha or unsatisfactoriness which means we have a constant craving or thirst or desire which can't be uenched because if we attain our desire we will just have a new one The only solution is to be mindful of the desires we have To notice when we have a feeling to examine the feeling turn it over until you understand its root By doing this it loses its power over you You can also start to recognize patterns in your thoughts if you do this a lot The book says meditating 20min a day is a great start but the difference between 30min a day and 50min is huge as is the difference between 30min and 90min But it also seems to imply that a weeklong retreat is likely also reuired if you really want to see benefits You might say that the path of meditative progress consists largely of becoming aware of the causes impinging on you aware of the way things manipulate you—and aware that a key link in that manipulation lies in the space where feelings can give rise to tanha to a craving for pleasant feelings and an aversion to unpleasant feelings This is the space where mindfulness can critically interveneThis all leads to a uestion that is interesting to ponder but the book only touches lightly on which is that is the way we evolved the way we need to behave to be happy and thrive in modern times? The answer is likely not as humans over the past 1000 years have changed a lot even the past 100 years So how could we help a lot people be aware of this and what impacts could that have? A good uestionThere’s a lot to dislike about the world we’re born into It’s a world in which as the Buddha noted our natural way of seeing and of being leads us to suffer and to inflict suffering on others And it’s a world that as we now know was bound to be that way given that life on this planet was created by natural selection Still it may also be a world in which metaphysical truth moral truth and happiness can align and a world that as you start to realize that alignment appears and beautiful


  7. says:

    I disagree with the author’s view of meditation as a study of one’s thought But then there are so many schools of meditation I’m primarily interested in the evolutionary psychology angle here but have to sit through these pages that don’t entirely accord with my Soto Zen dharma But as Shunryu Suzuki roshi once said—read Zen Mind Beginners Mind—there’s something to be gained from all schools of meditation and we should seek those aspects of any dharma which strengthen our practice instead of seeking to tear down by way of a brittle Western style critiue which let’s face it is little than dogma mindset or just plain envy masked by pedantic connoisseurship The author goes through the many self delusions evolution instills in us as a means of making our genes viable in a hunter gatherer society These include our ability to generate fundamentally baseless feel good stories about ourselves as a means of instilling confidence in others; our tendency to convince ourselves that we are valuable than the average team member Our egocentric biases are aided and abetted by the way memory works Those certain painful events get seared into our memories—perhaps so we can avoid repeating the mistakes that led to them—we are on balance likely to remember events that reflect favorably on us than those that don’t which presumably makes it easier to convince others that our story is true p 84We are in short a species of hustlers No wonder the one percent is flourishing Overall the book is too collouial too chatty to be genuinely engaging I like the evolutionary biology angle but it’s buried among too much padding Meh Stopped reading at p 109 The prose being dull as dishwater I say this not really knowing how or why dishwater is dull just that the simile seems apposite


  8. says:

    This is a truly remarkable fantastic book It is one of those rare volumes that will turn your head inside out and leave you seeing the world differently not because he or it is extreme but because reality is extreme; he is sewing together science and philosophy and offering readers a breathtaking tapestry for their consideration Briefly his argument is that our minds are populated by evolved psychological adaptations that were naturally selected for their adaptive utility NOT for seeing the world objectively And especially when it comes to our feelings and emotions our minds often saddle us with perceptual and conceptual distortions that lead to unnecessary suffering This state of affairs as revealed by psychological science aligns well with Buddhist renderings of the human predicament and even remarkably psychological science is also showing that the Buddhist prescription of mindfulness meditation can indeed help alleviate much of this suffering Mindfulness meditation works as a kind of cognitive exercise a kind of mental resistance training that over time affords us distance from the tumultuous workings of our mind and allows us to see things clearly which often drains anxiety and anger of their motivational power and helps foster our ability to chart where our mind goes next Not only does mindful distance get us closer to the Truth or at least further from delusion but Wright argues that it can also bring us closer to moral truth enhancing our capacity for responding in idealistically ethical ways And that's just scratching the surface The deeper details duly contemplated will leave readers enchanted head often spinning occasionally agitated Robert Wright has always had a keen ability to integrate disparate ideas in science and philosophy stepping back to view things in wider perspective than the original scientists whose work he builds upon and this book is a gem that will not disappoint those who enjoyed his earlier books eg The Moral Animal Nonzero The Evolution of God especially his dry wit everyday guy accessibility pragmatic reasoning and clear writing As a psychology professor who teaches courses in evolutionary psychology neuroscience and psychology of religion I'm in something of a uniue position to review the work Certainly I can say that Wright's command of the subject matter ranging from evolutionary psychology to abstruse Buddhist philosophy is excellent Experts in those fields will find details to uibble about of course but Wright does his homework and to his credit modestly concedes that his interpretations are his own best renderings And they are good renderings I think everyone should read this wonderful and important book I worry that many will be put off by the title alone I worry that those conversant with the subtleties of Buddhist thought will not invest the time and effort to grapple with the subtleties of psychological science and evolutionary biology and vice versa It IS a book that I think reuires of a cognitive commitment from readers than others But it will reward all who do Whether readers come away in general agreement with Wright or not I don't think it is possible to read the book and come away WITHOUT a better understanding of yourself and a better appreciation what it means to be human That alone makes it an engine of insightThank you to NetGalley for the advance review copy


  9. says:

    62nd book of 2017I imagine the author at a diner party demanding complete attention from those present while he describes at length being at an intense macho meditation retreat in the Maine woods having the unfortunate luck of sitting next to a fat flatulent person Telling all present very seriously that he's not the sort of person who is OK with flatulence especially from other people especially if they are fat but because of his very serious but also very modest attempts at mediation he was able to step back from his intense hatred of the person sitting next to him and was able to experience the beauty of each particular fart in turn smelling different notes and if not loving them at least seeing their beauty for what they are He also felt some sort of oneness with the farter next too him Now he tells us how some super meditator that he blush could never be was put in a brain scanner and showed almost no brain response when smelling evil odours Imagine that Now throw in some random passage from either Buddhist scripture or some other pre 20th C source to make some sort of weak point Now repeat for another 300 pagesI would have been much happier if it had either 1 been a serious attempt at accessing the science and philosophy of meditation and enlightenment; or 2 been offered a serious discussion of Buddhism The book offers neither It's a shame because I think the topic itself is worthy of a serious book


  10. says:

    Even if this book has its occasional thought provoking moment my overwhelming reaction is shock at how fluffy and slipshod the writing is It seems as if Wright submitted a rough draft to make some uick cash Why waste time on an editor just throw a goldfish on the cover and wait for the Whole Foods goers to take out their mandala adorned hemp wallets A promising book was undermined by the author's unwillingness to do research or teach himself about Buddhism or anthropologyInstead he often takes the easy route by focusing on his own personality his own anxieties insecurities This might have been okay if he had come across as a likable person but I felt trapped in a room with an uptight narcissistic falsely modest bloviator I'm glad to finally be liberated