December 12, 2009

Survival of the Kindest

It's not such a dog-eat-dog after all. It turns out we may be wired to be kind.

As you may have heard, Sharon Salzberg is leading our first Tricycle Online Retreat, a three-week teaching on metta, or loving-kindness, practice. In the teacher-led discussion, one retreatant points us to a University of California, Berkeley, study on sympathy and compassion. The Science Daily reports:

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it "survival of the kindest."

In ordinary circumstances, one study claims, the human default is to "err on the side of kindness." You can read the rest here.

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toner's picture

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Sarah's picture

Compassion is not genetic and is not an inherited trait. It's not created by our physical body - rather, the other way round! Our body is created by karma, which is created by our mind.

Everyone is arguing that Darwin meant "survival of the fittest" means compassion, so why did Darwin's heart son Richard Dawkins write a book called "the Selfish Gene"?

It's nice that everyone wants to bow down at the altar of Darwinism, but it's better to bow down at the altar of Lord Buddha who explained how things really are.

I think the Dalai Lama has made Buddhists too sympathetic towards science which, although at times can seem beneficial, does not have all the answers since it is created by ignorance and not wisdom. Scientists have no idea about the nature and function of the mind which is the most crucial knowledge of all. Science needs Buddhism, not the other way round.

(For the record, I've got a degree in physics and astronomy so I'm not anti-science, I'm just pro-wisdom)

Bars's picture

Completely agree with Pete D. and others. Everything I have read about Darwinism is all about genetics...that those who have the 'heartiest' genes (at a given time/circumstance) will survive and reproduce. I've never seen anything that suggests this type of thing should be applied to our social natures.
Hooray for compassion...if you let your guards down, it just might flow out of you=)

linda's picture

HH Dalai Lama said that compassion is good for the immune system.

Holly's picture

If you read the entire study, it correctly states that Darwin indeed identified the strongest inherited trait "sympathy", alternatively called compassion. Indeed, Darwin's findings are only supported by these new studies on humanity, rather than refuted as many are suggesting. Species that can provide support to each other (sympathy) are much more likely to yield survival skills rather than those species that only wield animosity or violence.

Pete D.'s picture

To expand on what Maura said - Darwin referred to the survival of the fittest *genes,* which said little or nothing about the competitiveness, meanness, kindness or altruism of the individual. Darwinism has since been applied (erroneously) to all sorts of human activity and behavior.

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Sandra's picture

It wasn't a case of Buddha right, Darwin wrong. The excerpt says 'interpretations" of Darwinism. (Bad ones at that I might add)

Mumon's picture

Darwin said NOTHING about "social Darwinism." That it's advantagous to have beings cooperate for suvival is readily observed.

The poster's words were well chosen; please can't we keep ignorance and junk science out of Buddhism???

alan's picture

Not sure if the Buddha would smile upon this, but that was an intelligent post, Maura.

Maura's picture

Darwin used the phrase "survival of the fittest" not "survival of the most violent or most cruel." I'm sure he would have no trouble understanding the notion that altruism is an adaptive trait that helps communities survive. It's all about change, compromise, adjusting, fitting in. He and Buddha would both smile with pleasure and approval at this report.

Bill Esterhaus's picture

I like this - Darwin was wrong, and Buddha was right. Survival is not about being selfish and being 'fittest' to survive at the expense of others, wisdom sees that 'survival of the kindest' is the way to go.

As Je Tsongkhapa said in 27 Verses of Training the Mind:

So sensitive an ecology is the interdependence of all
that the slightest attention and assistance to others
creates moral elevation for ourselves and humanity,
while the slightest indifference or neglect towards others
creates moral harm for ourselves and our civilization.

Dave's picture

The UC Berkeley professor mentioned above, Dacher Keltner, was on a FORA program that I found very interesting:

http://fora.tv/2009/01/21/Dacher_Keltner_Born_to_Be_Good

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