Sunday, June 2, 2024

Review of Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (10/05/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) What Is The Power Of Belief Systems?, 2) War for Your Attention

Watch Short Review

“If you put these three principles together, you get a pretty plausible explanation of the human predicament as diagnosed by the Buddha.  Yes, as he said, pleasure is fleeting, and, yes, this leaves us recurrently dissatisfied.  And the reason is that pleasure is designed by natural selection to evaporate so that the ensuing dissatisfaction will get us to pursue more pleasure.  Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive.  And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.” – Robert Wright, Chapter 1: Taking the Red Pill, Page 14

“Hence another paradox of meditation: the problems that meditation can help you overcome often make it hard to meditate in the first place.  Yes, meditation may help you lengthen your attention span, dampen your rage, and view your fellow human beings less judgmentally.  Unfortunately, a short attention span, a hot temper, and a penchant for harsh judgement may slow your progress along the meditative path.” – Robert Wright, Chapter 2: Paradoxes of Meditation, Page 23

“Our assumption that people give much thought to us one way or the other is often an illusion, as is our unspoken sense that it matters what pretty much everyone we see thinks of us.  But these intuitions were less often illusory in the environment of our evolution, and that’s one reason they’re so persistent today.” – Robert Wright, Chapter 3: When Are Feelings Illusions?, Page 39


Is This An Overview?

Psychologists have come to various same conclusions as the core ideas from Buddhism.  The mind is evolutionarily designed to mislead, to delude.  Which are not necessarily negative attributes as they have enabled survival.  Buddhism and psychology have similar conclusion about feelings.  Feelings can guide people to do what is right, and avoid wrong behavior, but in various circumstances such as feelings out of a specific context, can misguide behavior.  They can provide false-positive reactions, making people commit behavior without an appropriate stimulus.  Many feelings which enabled appropriate decisions within the evolutionary history of humans, have become inappropriate within contemporary society. 


Buddhism and psychology have similar conclusion about pleasure.  Benefits of pleasure are illusory, as the brain overstates how much happiness will be received.  Pleasure evaporates quickly which leaves people desiring for more.  The anticipated benefits are purposely misled by biochemical reactions to make people more evolutionarily productive.


Buddhism and psychology have similar conclusion about what defines the self.  The self is usually associated with control and persistence over time, but people do not have full control over their bodies or minds.  Humans do not have the ability to rapidly change themselves which would be required of one’s control of the self.  Attachments and other harmful divisions between people occur when thinking of the self.  Divisions that lead to an escalation of conflicts.  Alternatively, as everyone affects each other, everything is interdependent and interconnected.  Which means that harming another is in effect harming oneself. 


Part of Buddhism is meditation, mindfulness meditation.  The benefits of meditation have been corroborated by psychologists.  Mindfulness training can enable people to be governed less by misleading or unproductive feelings, to reduce the effects of illusions created by the self.  Meditation helps the individual notice when the mind wanders, to reduce the effect of the mind wandering.  Meditation can help with attention, rage reduction, and reduce harsh judgment of others.  The problem is that those who need meditation for these aspects, are also going to have the hardest time meditating. 


How Else Can The Mind Mislead Humans?

People want to be perceived as and present themselves as beneficial and effective.  Which is the beneffectance effect.  They perceive themselves as being better than average, giving themselves more credit within group collaboration than other team members.  People do not recall memories with perfect recollection, but omit inconvenient facts and exaggerate convenient ones.  People are prone to the fundamental attribution error, in which there is a misattribution of the effects of the situation and someone’s behavior.



Various parts of the book contain memoir explanations.  The memoir experiences can sometimes further enable an understanding, but can also be distracting.  As the author notes, there are various paradoxes in Buddhism, as in physics.  Some of these paradoxes are created by a language barrier.  There are tacit experiences, experiences that cannot be explained with fidelity using language.  The author sometimes uses the more original, more formal language to describe ideas, and then describes the experiences with more contemporary language.  Contemporary language that can make the ideas more readily understood, but which are not present throughout the book. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How is the Matrix reflected by Buddhism? 
•What is dharma? 
•What does evolution want of people?
•What is the purpose of anticipated pleasures?
•How are people deceived by their own biochemicals?
•How to be successful in meditation? 
•Who can meditation help? 
•What is mindfulness meditation? 
•Are feelings illusions?
•What effect does righteous rage have on society?
•How often do people think about other people?
•What is a silent retreat? 
•What is the default mode network?
•What is enlightenment? 
•What is the self?
•What happened in the split-brain experiments? 
•What is beneffectance? 
•How do people think of their society and different societies?  
•What are modulars in the mind?
•What is the philosophy and psychology of impermanence?
•What does the consciousness think? 
•What are passions?    
•ow much self control do people have?
•What is RAIN?
•How do impulses work?  What is their effect on gratification? 
•How does sound effect people? 
•What is meaningful in the world? 
•What is the fundamental attribution error?
•What is oneness?  How does it effect harming other individuals?   

Book Details
Publisher:               Simon & Schuster
Edition ISBN:         9781439195475
Pages to read:          242
Publication:             2017
1st Edition:              2017
Format:                    eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          3