Bob Wright’s Why Buddhism is True

One of the delights of the past couple years has been becoming friends with Robert (Bob) Wright. For a long time and from afar, I’ve been stimulated by his writing and thinking. When I discovered that his next effort involved Buddhism, meditation, and evolutionary psychology, I jumped at the opportunity to be an ally/collaborator/thought partner. I’ve learned a lot.

Over the past couple years, in various MeaningofLife.TV episodes, essays, blog posts, tweets, his Coursera course, and elsewhere, Bob has been sharing bits and pieces of how he thinks about the connection between ev psych — which he originally popularized in The Moral Animal — and Buddhism .

Now, in his new book — hot off the presses! — he presents the full argument in one coherent volume. It is titled Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. It’s a fantastic book that speaks directly to a secular reader. He makes the argument that the Buddha’s diagnosis of the human condition — that we fail to see the world clearly and this causes us to suffer — is consistent with how you’d expect natural selection to “design” a human brain with the singular goal of genetic proliferation. Buddhism’s prescription for what to do if you wish to see the world more clearly, become happier, and be a more morally upstanding human being (the trifecta!) makes a great deal of sense, in Bob’s view. And in his experience, by attending several meditation retreats and maintaining a daily practice, there are some practical steps one can take to move closer to these truths in one’s own life.

Here’s a photo of a discussion I co-hosted over the weekend for Bob about his book. More to come on all these topics…

3 Responses to Bob Wright’s Why Buddhism is True

  1. The utility of practicing meditation aside, reading this rah-rah post on an imagined connection between evolutionary psychology and Buddhism is disconcerting; it’s as if Ben Casnocha were cheerleading for astrology or phrenology. Pardon me, but statements like this from the book are cringe-worthy: “If during meditation you see things that are consistent with credible scientific models of how the mind works, that gives you a bit more reason to believe that, indeed, meditation is helping you see the dynamics of your mind clearly.”

    Evolutionary psychology has generated no “credible scientific models of how the mind works”, and treating all human behaviors as evolutionary adaptations, functions of natural selection, is a flawed premise on which to construct its theoretical foundation.

    This article sheds light some light on the subject. Here’s two quotes:

    “Neurobiologists Panksepp and Panksepp point out that while evolutionary psychologists may interpret psychological data in a way to fit with their preferred theory, the philosophical assumptions that are the foundation of that theory are not at all consistent with what we know about human neurophysiology.”

    “…evolutionary psychology commits itself to defining the mind as being comprised of domain-specific information-processing mechanisms that were designed to solve evolutionary problems related to our Pleistocene past (or some other distant history). This is based not on scientific fact, but rather philosophical argument…”

    Yeah.

    Reply
    • Ben Casnocha says:

      Great to hear from you, Vince!

      Evolutionary psychology does have its critics. Smart people on both sides of the issue. Myself, I find it a compelling body of work.

      Even ev psych skeptics will find some things to love in Bob’s new book, I should add… but yes some of the stronger assertions will be met from them with scorn. 🙂

      Reply
  2. wings io says:

    Evolutionary psychology has generated no “credible scientific models of how the mind works”, and treating all human behaviors as evolutionary adaptations, functions of natural selection, is a flawed premise on which to construct its theoretical foundation.

    Reply

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