Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tao of Darwin

At this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, psychologist Paul Ekman has posited that Charles Darwin’s views on compassion may have been influenced by Buddhist teachings. According to Ekman, both Darwin and Buddhists write about compassion originating with the relationship between a mother and her young. The fundamental idea, Ekman says, is that people seek to relieve the suffering of others because seeing that suffering makes us suffer. Of course, compassion makes evolutionary sense even without the influence of Buddhism. It’s in the best interest of the species for us all to try and get along, which means trying to understand and help one another. Obviously this isn’t an absolute, however, considering the existence of assholes. But Ekman suggests that Darwin may have been influenced by his correspondence with his friend, botanist and explorer Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who had visited Tibet and learned about Buddhist teachings. This all seems very unlikely, though, since we all know Darwin was more influenced by Satan than the Buddha. More details here.

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