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

Young Buddha Meets Old Buddha, Part-1: Realizing that Humans are Naturally Compromised

A short selection from Essay Forty-five in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice.

Do not depart from deceptions and errors; for they of themselves are the nature of True Reality. When all things are illumined by wisdom and there is neither grasping nor throwing away, then you can see into your own nature and gain the Buddha Way. —Hui-neng (the Platform Sutra)

Those who do not understand the distinctions between the two truths [Absolute and relative] do not understand the profound truth embodied in the Buddha’s message. —Nagarjuna

Did you see the discrepancy in my likening pre-verbal cognition to genepools (see: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/05/03/two-buddhas-part-2/), when this ‘covert rehearsal’ has the same motor-tactile nature as its overt expression? What happens when we can’t take advantage of that “primaeval convenience” (essay 2: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/05/02/the-great-god-pan-intelligent-designer-part-1/) that chemically delimits Nature’s genepool ‘design space’? The safe domain of our creative dynamic, the covert playground in our heads where shadowy acts must be forgotten to provide an evolutionary ratchet for the culture-genic progress of the whole, is not so clearly distinguished from the more consequential acts of our daily lives as are Nature’s nucleic acid ‘blueprints’ from their epigenetically modulated protein expressions.


Let’s review our three-phase evolutionary dynamic: A species on the phylogenic tree is internally recombined and re-membered by genepool processes set apart within special cells and chemically distinct from the protein-based structures they express, and it’s among their ontogenic expressions only (organisms), due to their overt interactions, that the selective events of species-branching or maintenance take place. In fact, we can say a “commitment” is made when a zygote forms (when a covert germline becomes overt); and this corresponds to our thought processes giving rise to overt actions, or to a playful discussion becoming a real world decision (even when it’s meant only as a ‘trial balloon’) — for now the oversight of our cultural totality performs a ‘phylogenic’ selection. But notice also that cultural evolution is naturally compromised, if only because our cognitive equivalent to the Weismann Barrier is not so robust.

So now we must ask, how can we be trustworthy hosts in our private house of thought if the covert behavioural ‘guests’ therein are unconsciously held to be personally consequential overt actions?

TWO TRUTHS: 1 This bare awareness, without leaning, and before judgement, decision, or comment arise, is our only Absolute Truth, because 2 our everyday truth is a compounded ‘reality’ in which chain-reacting stories tell of ‘parts in relation’ (samsara). Here, seeking from thought to thought, for an ultimately imperfect resolution, we grasp onto a succession of divisive, judgemental ‘selves’ that, even after we die, are widely ‘impersonated’. —the Buddhadharma (updated)

BUDDHA’S MESSAGE: Nothing whatsoever should be clung to as being “I”, “me”, or “mine”.


Language isn’t the only culprit here, more of an accomplice really, for it’s the tongue’s protraction of other attenuated and uncommitted behaviours that points us down not just the wide road, but a natural road, to confusion. Can we now say that it’s only because of an evolutionary compromise that inventive hominins must make a special effort to seek the grace of a ‘lost paradise’ in religion? Then:

The act of religion is not just claiming a supra-Natural freedom from animal compulsions; it’s nothing less than the mindful effort to reclaim a unified poise—whereupon our compulsions naturally lose their desperate hold.

Ironically, the beliefs we commonly associate with religion are the very doorway to further departures from this state of grace. However, they really only trouble us when we hold on to them tightly—when we treat them as more than conventional words and images that just ‘point the way’ to a whole-some life. The daily effort of authentic religion amounts only to recognizing as insubstantial, thereby releasing, our beliefs and assumptions. And the uniquely human need for religion consists in the un-Natural requirement that we alone in the animal kingdom must discipline ourselves to oversee our internalized choosing before the act, and to accept that the authentic choice is made in good time by paying attention, by community, and by Totality itself. Or, in fewer words, our job is simply to be authentic.

Without mindfulness discipline we are sentenced to endure, with faith or pragmatism (or laughter and beer), an existential doubt. Gautama meant that, not just verbal instruction, but abstraction in general is a “finger pointing to the moon”. He knew there was a problem, as we all do, but the biological lore of his day didn’t allow an evolutionary interpretation: Our cultural version of Natural selection is built on a jerry-rigged ‘Weismann Barrier’, which depends on insight alone to compartmentalize the extended, abstract thinking that makes technology possible. Although this ‘stickiness’ of our model realities can be managed, as demonstrated by certain cultural leaders we might recognize as truly “authentic”, and by sporadic acts of wisdom that can pop up anywhere at any time, nevertheless, reliable mental poise means managing the quality of our insight.


I would apologize for bringing up this ‘sticky model space’ wrinkle so late in the book, but I think it would have been a confusing, or even antithetical, observation to make before the groundwork for my Darwinian Zen phenomenology was laid. Now however, it offers a surprisingly tangible insight on the vaunted ‘forethought’ that’s supposed to set human intelligence apart from the Nature’s mere in-tension-ality. Reason tells us that playing with models to see how they fit into a model universe is anticipation, not really fore-‘sight’, but still we have trouble mentally relating to genepool designs and the sexual selection that affirms them as ‘anticipation’ also. This is because covert rehearsal ‘feels like the real thing’, and convinces us bodily that we alone are ‘seeing the future’ (or at least a future).

Even though Nature bypasses this full-dress-rehearsal stage, engaging directly with real world consequences, it produces results that Darwin himself said are “immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts”. Is natural selection’s “power incessantly ready for action” [1] not the very purest form of anticipation? Gautama’s teaching might even be boiled down to the recommendation that we should only engage in this modelling activity to the extent that we need it to stay fully human; that we must not get ‘stuck’ there. So really, would it have made the journey any less difficult if I’d tried to twist this radical projection into our tangle of cross-culture, cross-scale, metaphor from the start? (Though you might have noticed I hinted at the end of essay 22 [https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/06/28/two-buddhas-dance-part-2-foresight-really/] that foresight is not necessarily an ‘advantage’. [2])

Dealing with a ‘sticky model space’ makes our intelligence different from Nature’s: not superior, but not inferior either because building on an imperfect past is what natural selection does, and because any metaphor misfit, arising from a jerry-rigged ‘barrier’, can do little but emphasize a natural expectation that there is still work to be done stabilizing the LAST Niche. The mismatch just ‘suggests’ that something is missing; it doesn’t change the lived Reality that we must make an effort to see through this trick of our fragmented, metaphoring, meta-behaviour. Nothing is missing, because ‘this’ is not ‘that’. But this is hard to see, so in the next essays I will try to fold Weismann into the mix, if only as collateral evidence that ‘mindfulness effort’ is constitutionally needed.


1. 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, ‘Struggle for Existence’, p. 115

2. Here we might revisit de Waal, Frans. 2016. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? London: Granta Publications, 12 Addison Avenue, London W11 4Q (Chapter 3, sub-heading “Redefining Man”, e-book location 1395) in which he points out that the great apes, unlike other primates, appear to use “a representational mental strategy, which allows solutions before action.” I wonder, would it be practical to hook a chimpanzee’s face up to an electromyograph, as well as a human’s, to see whether or not the hypothesized ‘facial closed behavioural imaging field’ fragmentation was already present in our pre-verbal common ancestor before our lines diverged? We know tools are important, if not essential, to chimpanzees in the wild (ibid, e-book location 1257), and this capacity might be needed even in the early stages. Or, was full-body rehearsal good enough?

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