we don't need to change how we do conservation, we need to change why we do it

Old Buddha, Part-1: the Tree of Life

The second section of Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice begins.

PART II —Darwin and the Tree of Life

… as a result of competition two similar species scarcely ever occupy similar niches —Georgii Frantsevich Gause [1]

I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of nature are to those of art. —Charles Darwin [2]

A short selection from Essay Nine in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice. 

This I of which you speak, no matter whether it be the great I or small I, is only a pure concept which does not correspond to any reality. That is what Buddha meant. —Thich Nhat Hanh [3] (Italic and regular fonts as in original)

If we accept the insubstantiality of ‘self’, then there is nothing to hold human intelligence above that original phylogenic intelligence which dwelt long before Mankind in the bio-associations of Earth. Certainly this pre-human intelligence was a prerequisite for our human intelligence, and our ancestors were obliged to shape their techno-logical wisdom in response to the eco-logical patterns that in-formed the tree of life, perhaps even to model it upon them. Furthermore, it can be argued that even today our cultural associations must be overseen by at least a convention of selflessness that contradicts this trumped-up superiority over Nature. But here’s the paradox for us gadget-heads: even if we imagine the self to be substantial, an emergent property of an embodied brain, then given the success we’ve had modelling our evolving artificial neural net (ANN) algorithms on natural selection, we can now just as easily argue that the bio-associations of Earth have a self as well—as creative as our own if not as quick, and as complex as our own if not distributed in quite the same way. For that matter, if we protest that Earth’s evo-ecological intelligence seems to be radically fragmented among its islands and geographic zones, does this observation not really make the similarity with human intelligence—which has as many divergent personal and cultural zones—all the more compelling? And if the intelligence of evolving Nature operates enough like our own minds that we can postulate a primordial Mind at work here too, then perhaps it is wise after all, if not to anthropomorphize, at least to empathize with a Natural selection that distinguishes between the minute chemistries and activities of biological bodies as fit, or unfit, for an ecological niche. Perhaps we can learn something ‘personal’ after all from this sacrificial Way of at-tending that pervades evolving bio-associations. Whether we call it selfless, of not.


1. Krebs, Charles, J. 1972. Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance. New York: Harper & Row, p. 231.

2. Darwin, Charles. 1968 [First edition, John Murray 1859]. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Penguin Books, p. 115.

3. Thich Nhat Hanh. 1974 Anchor Books edition. Zen Keys. Garden City NY: Doubleday, p. 34.

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