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If some of these beliefs continue to perpetuate themselves, these ideals do not have their roots in basic, human needs that transcend the survival impulse. Rather they are like vestigial limbs, or organs that were once useful in exercising dominance or finding food, but no longer serve a coherent function.
However, the Buddhist monk son involved with a debate with his philosopher of the Monk and the Philosopher would contend that it is possible to have a sense of mind that is distant from the demands of the body. Mathieu Ricard notes that his chosen path of Buddhism advocates a letting go of the self or 'I,' the very self whose drive to replicate enables the self's DNA to be passed on from generation to generation. The fact that persons have been able to transcend such a sense of fixated, selfish consciousness and detach from their bodies is proof, for Ricard, of the self's existence. Ricard is less interested, however, than finding a totalizing explanation for all of human existence, and is more interested in finding an effective way of dealing with the stresses of life. This orientation of Buddhism is why that his father Revel calls philosophy or religion a way of being in life, rather than a modality of knowledge or a way of explaining human existence. One key aspect of Buddhism is that an adherent must live the teachings of Buddha and rather than focus on understanding the teaching from an intellectual standpoint, including a scientific standpoint like Wilson's thesis.
Wilson would see the Buddhist tradition as merely one more product of genetically generated culture. and, in light of modern scientific knowledge (as opposed to theorization about 'being') a great deal of scientific evidence has accumulated that support's Wilson's essential contention. For example, consider the mutability of the self in light of drugs designed to treat psychological disorders. A formerly scatterbrained individual can become tremendously focused so long as he or she takes the correct Attention Deficit Hyperactivity medication to combat this tendency. In light of Wilson's theorizing, one could say that a formerly useful genetic trait that was passed along, like the ability to be hyper-alert, that has now become less useful in changed modern culture, can now be altered to enable the person to be more functional in present-day culture, by altering the brain chemistry of the mind. Changing the brain chemistry changes what used to be called the mind or self. The need for monks like Ricard to find comfort in religion, or the need to theorize and grapple with circumstances on an intellectual level is likewise a personal trait, neither bad nor good, but a biological product. The examples of persons whose entire selves seem altered after a traumatic injury to the head, which alters their physical, cognitive function also seem to support Wilson's concept of a lack of body and mind 'split.'
On some level, however, it is difficult to 'reply' to Wilson's contention about the need for religion or science, because even if one's impulses are genetically governed, this does not mean that one cannot refuse to function as an individual, living from moment to moment, in the world. Wilson's point-of-view may offer a value structure for some scientifically oriented persons. But for persons who do not feel that passing on their DNA is an appropriate moral guide for their lives, for whatever the reason will look to religion or philosophy. Although, like Wilson, Ricard denies the 'essential' self, his guide to life offers an approach that puts achieving a more meaningful sense of existence and purpose in one's daily activities, rather than simply understanding one's cognitive impulses, as a perhaps more effective solution overall to the question of how to function in society. To ask, 'what is my DNA making me do,' in response to every moral question thrown in one's way provides very little solace in helping a brain or mind make decisions.
Revel, Francois Mathieu Ricard. The Monk and the Philosopher. New York: Schocken,
Wilson, Edward O. Consilience -- the Unity of Knowledge. New York: Knopf, 1998.[continue]
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