《BRAN-NEW HARDCOVER + A Way To Turn Your Head Inside Out & Leave You Seeing The World Differently》Robert Wright - WHY BUDDHISM IS TRUE :The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
★★ New York Times Bestseller ★★ 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 happiness. In Why Buddhism is True, Wright advocates a secular, Westernized form of Buddhism focusing on the practice of mindfulness meditation and stripped of supernatural beliefs such as reincarnation. He further argues that more widespread practice of meditation could lead to a more reflective and empathetic population and reduce political tribalism. In line with his background, Wright draws heavily on evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology to defend the correctness of Buddhism's diagnosis of the causes of human suffering. He argues the modern psychological idea of the modularity of mind resonates with the Buddhist teaching of no-self (anatman). Robert 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. Basically, our brains are not wired for peace and happiness--only to propel our genes forward. There's a yearning for more programmed into us and the only antidote is mindfulness meditation. 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 more 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. 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 more 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 more 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. 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 (e.g. The Moral Animal, Nonzero, The Evolution of God), especially his dry wit, everyday-guy accessibility, pragmatic reasoning, and clear writing. 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 quibble 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.) 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. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Review From The Medium : This book starts with two serious, non-trivial, overarching claims: that Buddhism is correct in ● Its diagnosis of the human condition, that we seek, mindlessly and eternally, temporary pleasures that fail to satisfy us and thus cause suffering, and ● Its prescription of meditation as a way to understand this condition and to escape from it, leading to both greater happiness and more moral behavior. In one of my favorite writing features that I wish more authors would adopt, the appendix details the 12 specific Buddhist claims the author is saying are “true,” which he often but not exclusively means in the scientific sense of there existing convincing corroborating evidence. He then helpfully summarizes his book’s thesis; it is, paraphrased: ‘Humans are animals created by natural selection, which built into our brains what early Buddhist thinkers basically understood at a remarkable level. Now, in light of modern understanding of natural selection and the human brain (mostly through evolutionary psychology and neuroscience), we have convincing scientific defenses of (the naturalistic parts of) Buddhist thought.’ The author makes it clear that he’s, at best, a secular Buddhist who is defending only the naturalistic (not metaphysical) components of Buddhism. However, he does speak quite a bit from personal experience as an (amateur) meditator. At points the book reads like a pop psychology book, such as when the author cites specific scientific studies as evidence for (often far stronger) claims that the study’s authors themselves don’t make. In some cases, he is (perhaps unsurprisingly, given the claim) citing the same studies that behavior economists do regarding how susceptible the human brain is to various mistakes because of heuristics natural selection has drilled into us. For at least the first overarching claim, the evidence is fairly convincing. Furthermore, it seems to me that the ‘natural selection engineered us to pursue these fleeting pleasures, leading to suffering’ argument is no different than the (increasingly believed) argument that ‘our phones/Facebook have been engineered to be dopamine buttons that capture our attention, making us unhappy and unproductive.’ In that sense, though it may be my Bay Area bias speaking, I imagine that many people will be receptive to this argument. The second claim (regarding meditation as the prescription) is the far more difficult one to justify, partially because of the relative dearth of scientific backing. As a claim regarding mostly internal, consciousness feelings, it’s hard to imagine what convincing evidence looks like, unless one is convinced by MRI studies that show, approximately, that ‘something different is going on the brains of those who meditate, in particular in regions of the brain commonly associated with X.’ To this end, the author draws far more on his personal experiences with meditation and the testimony of others. He does so with a clarity of argumentation, as someone who is used to writing books distilling complex arguments into a simplistic, persuasive sounding singular idea. However, due to the nature of the claim, whether one believes him is a matter of personal preference, and, I imagine, experience with trying to meditate. About the Author Robert Wright is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Nonzero, The Moral Animal, Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Why Buddhism Is True. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the widely respected Bloggingheads.tv and MeaningofLife.tv. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Time, Slate, and The New Republic. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton University, where he also created the popular online course “Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” He is currently Visiting Professor of Science and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
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