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Why Buddhism Is True

The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

By Robert Wright
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Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright

Why Buddhism Is True (2017) takes a scientific look at the teachings and meditative practices of Buddhism. Robert Wright presents an impressive and surprising amount of data and research, all of which suggests that even Buddhism’s more esoteric teachings may have a solid basis in science.

Key idea 1 of 8

Life is full of delusions that evolution has hardwired into the human brain.

In the modern sci-fi classic, The Matrix, our protagonist, Neo, discovers that the life he’s been living has all been an illusion – nothing more than a bunch of ones and zeroes.

One of the reasons the movie became a hit is that it touches on some highly relevant themes, including how modern society has “programmed” us to pursue delusional goals.

Ask yourself: Are you in complete rational control over your life and your desires?

How about with sweets and processed foods? A lot of people are aware that sugary foods and drinks are bad for them but they succumb to cravings or fool themselves into thinking that junk food is a well-deserved reward. Most of the time, however, the initial satisfaction of indulging in junk food is quickly replaced by feelings of guilt or shame about having eaten something you know is bad.

So why do we keep falling into these traps? One reason is evolution.

We all have basic instincts related to food, sex, popularity and competition, because these were the things that helped our ancestors survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. Each one of them triggers a strong response in the pleasure center of our brain, which releases the neurochemical dopamine every time we taste something sweet or win a competition.

The problem is, our anticipation of pleasurable rewards like sweet flavors and winning can outweigh the rewards themselves.

In one study, monkeys were given some sweet juice, which was observed to trigger the release of dopamine in their brains. Researchers then started turning on a light right before giving the monkeys more juice. The first few times, the juice triggered the release of the same amount of dopamine. But, soon enough, more dopamine was being released when the monkeys saw the light go on than when they actually had the treat. Anticipation of a reward, the researchers concluded, is more pleasurable than the reward itself.

It’s believed that we’re wired this way so that we’ll keep searching for and discovering new and better things, but this wiring has also led to a lot of destructive-compulsive behavior.

But thankfully, we have Buddhism to restore a healthy balance to our lives.

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