It happened again this morning, a sign from the non-God.
I'd tried to continue reading a couple of Buddhist books that appealed to me, aside from occasional mentions of supposed supernatural phenomena, which had been bothering me.
Today the bothering overcame my liking of the books.
In the course of returning them to the Buddhism section of my bookcase, my eye hit upon a book by Robert Wright, "Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment."
Highlighting indicated that I'd read the entire book. But so far as I can tell, I never wrote a blog post about it. Well, that changes with today. And I'm sure I'll write more posts as I re-read the book.
Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of the book that I got through this morning. I really like Wright's writing style and his approach to Buddhist meditation.
Evolutionary psychology can be described in various ways, and here's one way I had described it in my book [The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life]: It is the study of how the human brain was designed -- by natural selection -- to mislead us, even enslave us.
Don't get me wrong: natural selection has its virtues, and I'd rather be created by it than not be created at all -- which, so far as I can tell, are the two options this universe offers.
Being a product of evolution is by no means entirely a story of enslavement and delusion. Our evolved brains empower us in many ways, and they often bless us with a basically accurate view of reality.
Still, ultimately, natural selection cares about only one thing (or, I should say, "cares" -- in quotes -- about only one thing, since natural selection is just a blind process, not a conscious designer). And that one thing is getting genes into the next generation.
Genetically based traits that in the past contributed to genetic proliferation have flourished, while traits that didn't have fallen by the wayside.
And the traits that have survived this test include mental traits -- structures and algorithms that are built into the brain and shape our everyday experience.
So if you ask the question "What kinds of perceptions and thoughts and feelings guide us through life each day?" the answer, at the most basic level, isn't "The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that give us an accurate picture of reality."
No, at the most basic level the answer is "The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that helped our ancestors get genes into the next generation."
Whether those thoughts and feelings and perceptions give us a true view of reality is, strictly speaking, beside the point. As a result, they sometimes don't. Our brains are designed to, among other things, delude us.
In the rest of his book, Wright describes his exploration of Buddhist meditation and how it can lead us to a less deluded view of reality.
One reason I like non-supernatural Buddhism so much is that it flips around the Hindu conception of maya, the illusory nature of this world.
In Buddhism the world is simply what it is, the world.
There's no problem with the world. The problem lies with the human mind that is trying to comprehend the world, to find the world satisfying, to treat other people compassionately.
This is one reason why the Buddha reportedly wasn't much interested in abstract discussions of how the world is. His focus was on how a correct view of the world can lead to much reduced suffering, which Wright suggests is better termed "unsatisfactoriness."
At the end of his second chapter, Paradoxes of Meditation, Wright cites the questions he's going to explore via the scientific foundation of a Buddhist worldview.
Why, and in what particular ways, are human beings naturally deluded? How exactly does the delusion work? How does delusion make us suffer? How does it make us make other people suffer? Why would the Buddhist prescription for dispelling the delusion -- in particular, the meditative part of that prescription -- work?
And what would it mean for it to work fully? In other words, does the elusive state that is said to lie at the culmination of the meditative path -- sometimes called enlightenment -- really qualify for that term? What would it be like to see the world with perfect clarity?
I look forward to learning the answers through a second reading of "Why Buddhism is True." I'm a different person than I was almost four years ago, when I bought the book in August 2017.
So my comprehension of what Wright has to say also will be different now.