A short selection from Essay Forty-nine — one of the longer essays, and the second last — in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice
There is something in this [experimental path] which reminds us of the obstinate adherence of Columbus to his notion of the necessary existence of the New World; and … may serve to teach us reliance on those general analogies and parallels between great branches of science by which one strongly reminds us of another, though no direct connection appears. —John Herschel 
The test of a true paradigm shift is not that old ideas get entirely replaced by new ones, but that all the things we thought we knew now look different. Perhaps such a profound change can be initiated simply by decluttering our focus, so we begin to see the outline of a more integrative figure haunting our claustrophobically rearranging ideas. If so, then the expansiveness of a good metaphor can reveal what our self-serving conventions hide. At least this was my intent when I made behaviour, overt and covert, the framework for animal intelligence and cultural evolution (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/07/21/old-buddhas-gift-part-4-young-buddha-explores-the-subtle-body/ ), for now our ‘mysterious and uniquely human conceptuality’ becomes as accessible and natural as the ‘speci-fications’ of the pre-human world; and indeed, I think this has allowed us to move ahead on several fronts.
First of all, to avoid being brushed with the determinist stain of “just behaviourism”, we had to account for the obvious originality of human minds, and so Darwin was naturally drawn into the project: Darwin, who had to account for the creativity of the organic world (equally obvious), gave us a model that inadvertently allows us to see the ramification of knowledge (the speci-fication and proliferation of covert behavioural thought-habits), as a global ‘phylogenic’ process. (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/07/24/young-buddha-speaks-part-1-kick-starting-a-verbal-selection-process-for-ramifying-thought/)Thus, with human-natural selection, the two trees metaphor came fully committed into our newly emerging picture. But then Dogen was also needed, and not just for one, but for two reasons: first, to assure us that we can, through practice based on a long tradition of bodymind meditation, look directly into our personal ‘trees of knowledge’ and see if there are in fact credible parallels to the tree of life; and second, to upset our claustrophobic ‘thinking about thinking’. With Dogen, consciousness at its undifferentiated root becomes Primordial Awareness: the intimate Way of all-connecting Mind manifesting what we call, for operational convenience, our conceptual ‘world’. And this is what finally made the two trees a productive metaphor, rather than, as required by the current paradigm, just another handy way to contrast natural mechanism vs conscious intelligence.
One serendipitous consequence of confining our anatomy of human intelligence to behaviour is that, by regarding language simply as meta-behaviour—that is, indirect behaviour we use to organize directly functional behaviours—we can now explain the mystery of undisturbed yet overly-diversified ecosystems (the Amazon seems to ‘cheat’ Gause’s Law even without the geographic isolation of species) as a fundamental capacity of sexual selection. There is good reason to think this meta-evolution plays the same role of speci-fication in ecosystems that language plays in human cultures. (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/07/26/young-buddha-speaks-part-2-a-far-more-voracious-creativity/) With the Amazonian evidence, and a language-like model for ‘intentional’ species generation, we now have an even more compelling reason to treat evolving ecosystems as fellow intelligence.
But the consequences for our understanding of human nature, when we adapt the concept of Darwinian selection to model thought’s overt-covert behavioural evolution, are perhaps more revealing yet. Many of the afflictions of human nature can be separated into two categories: first, our creativity too-easily gets stuck in ideology, and second, our animal passions betray us. When we review the literature regarding the first affliction, we find traditions in both Eastern and Western psychology that blame what seems to be a human difficulty in distinguishing between thought and act-uality (or in Buddhist terms, between real-istic mental construction and Reality). So what is the corresponding case for the gene-defined tree of life? Well, ‘gene-defined’ is really only part of the evolution story. Weismann’s legacy, (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/05/02/the-great-god-pan-intelligent-designer-part-1/) when we bring it up to date, tells us that Nature’s intelligence can be deconstructed as a three-phase dynamic: a genepool ‘design space’ reiterating a supply of various fixed mortal organisms to advance the seamlessly evolving Reality of natural selection. And critically, to make the global accommodation of all this evo-ecology irreversible, this design phase is conveniently distinguished, as undifferentiated non-somatic DNA, from the body’s epigenetically expressed protein chemistry. But we can’t say this about the generative phase hosted by our globally selective cultural Reality, for our covert behavioural ‘model space’ is merely an attenuation, coordinated by a symbolic displacement (i.e. language), of our overt behaviour. (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/08/16/young-buddha-meets-old-buddha-part-1-realizing-that-humans-are-naturally-compromised/) This real-ization is what gives us the illusion of foresight, for our illusory ‘living in the future’ convinces us our intelligence is superior to un-foreseeing ‘natural’ selection.
The second category of affliction, whereby our Natural passions betray our supra-Natural strategy, with its ‘unregulated’ technological powers, might also have an evolutionary prognosis that can be better understood, and accepted, by referring again to our two trees metaphor, with ‘cognitive evolution’ aligned by a strictly behavioural focus. The simple expedient of viewing all animal intelligence as having an overt-covert behavioural framework allows us to approach the question of human origins, and the ecological consequences of technology, from a new direction. If our object is to tell the human story in the context of other species, and if animals in general are organic structures that can ‘behave’, and have evolved from a common pattern of muscles in motion (with many animal skill-sets ‘more evolved’ even than ours in certain directions), then we have to face the consequences of our strange situation: we alone are the progressive inventors of behaving extensions. Darwin’s passing comments on “fixed or invariable … natural instincts” as compared with domesticated instincts, and his abstruse arguments concerning structural vs functional change—of marginal interest in the old paradigm—are very important in this new configuration, for they reveal a generally overlooked ‘conformity imperative’. (See: https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/06/21/old-buddha-meets-young-buddha-part-3-when-we-see-the-difference-our-world-changes/) Natural selection, for a startled geological moment, might favour what I have called inapposite curiosity, but if ecosystems must ultimately select for their own stability, then Natural selection won’t favour risky experimentation beyond a certain point; after this point, body-insubordinate behaviour will become a liability. But what if it doesn’t? What if, in a prolonged ‘moment’, a new evolutionary story has begun? Then this story will cease to have a place in that story, with its Natural resources, and its “fixed or invariable” Natural instincts.
1. Holmes, Richard. 2008. The Age of Wonder. London: Harper Press., pp. 444-445.