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

Young Buddha Speaks, Part-3:  The Name Game.

A short selection from Essay Thirty-nine in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice. [YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP THIS ON A FIRST READING OF THE TWO BUDDHAS SEQUENCE]

We are between stories. —Thomas Berry [1]

Our stories aren’t real. But we know this only in that ‘dumb’ part of the brain that’s been left out of the game to engage the moment directly, while the awareness that can be named treats our stories as if they are real. And we argue over them as if we could really make this seemingly perfect layer of words as seamless and complete as the lived moment.


In our first (strictly Darwinian) story, any genetically fixed entity is an “individual organism”; in our second (evo-ecological) story an ecosystem is an “intelligence” (after all it’s not individuals that evolve, it’s Nature’s divisions, its speci-fications, themselves); and in our last story (symbiosis) “a tiny divisible ecosystem has evolved into an individual organism”. Perhaps it can now come back into our first story without further argument about what these terms mean? “Things” change, and it’s only when we don’t expect any story to be complete that we can appreciate all stories’ essential complementarity. Indeed the whole story would take all of us, and all of time, to never really complete. What matters to me is the utility of our insubstantial narrative models in fostering a mindful non-destructive culture, and this means, as an essential part of the story, telling how stories take up dedicated space in the totality of our experience.

Of course the ‘this is that’ naming illusion, which allows us to tell stories, need not signify a desperately grasping idealism, or even ‘real’ categories (unicorns come into many inspiring tales). It might only entail the transitory model space pretense that ideas are true, in the sense that we hold them less variable than the muddle we directly experience; thus we believe hypothetically. The illusion does give us useful models—like natural selection (favouring without intent), and entropy (favouring recognizable ends upheld by the greatest number of indistinguishable means)—but its uses, and also its misuses, arise from the illusion’s potential to both direct and obscure the undefinable, ever-changing totality of our lived experience.

The “bio-association as intelligence” story has two uses: it forces us to take a broader view of intelligence, and therefore of our insubstantial selves, thus encouraging both a more hypothetically-believable relationship to Nature and a more mindful culture. Many will say this challenge is un-realistic. It is! But a non-practitioner might be less reluctant to accept the necessary premise, that thinking is essentially Darwinian, if my story can explain (believably) why we so easily get stuck in our creative head spaces: why do our creatively modified and recombined—thus metaphorically ontogenic—mental subroutines hold us so spell-bound that we forget to step out again into that creative wholeness? Then, if you also believe my tale about “a Promethean Humanity that’s unlike any Natural species in that our minds recapitulate all three phases of Darwinian evolution”, [2] I readily concede that I’ll still need to prove (that is, defend as useful) my claim that we are “naturally destructive to Nature”. Accordingly, I will pretend to “finish my story” in the next section.

[The next post moves on to the final section of the book, PART V: The Extremophile Choice.]


1. Taken from Loy, David R. 2010. The World is made of Stories. Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 19.

2. In 1965, Donald T. Campbell introduced the idea of “blind variability, selective retention (BVSR)”, which has spawned a growing interest in looking at cultural creativity as a Darwinian process. By proposing evolutionary parallels to mental ‘model space’, and even to human language, we complete this thought by making Natural selection itself, ‘psychological’.

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