The Evolution of Evolution Part III

I have been working on a theory that the Buddhist “story” of dependent origination (not the doctrine, the story), is a cultural narrative about evolution.

Pratityasamutpada-as-evolution has a philosophical tradition in India that predates Buddhism: Samkhya philosophy. The History of Philosophy  without any gaps series (Kings College London) teaches Indian philosophy. It has a section on Samkhya philosophy that explains its theory of evolution. http://historyofphilosophy.net/samkhya It’s a rather crude and confusing story of evolution, but the components are definitely there. Actually pratityamsamutpada is a more sophisticated and refined version. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar also said that Buddhist philosophy is based on Samkhya.

My writing on this has been crude and needs much refinement, but its a work-in-progress. When I first started writing on this, I developed the idea that evolution itself went through stages of transformation, where the process of evolution itself changed: the evolution of evolution. I related my understanding of Buddha’s teaching on pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) to theories of evolution. In my first attempt at this, I ended the piece with a question that I never answered: what is the next stage of evolution? I made several speculations, but none were satisfactory.

Since then, I believe that I have arrived at the answer, or at least one possible answer to “what comes next?” It’s this:

The next evolution of evolution is the capacity to choose, consciously choose, how we will evolve. Up till now, all evolution has been pre-conscious. Even cultural evolution was limited by instinct and environmental conditions, but it was the beginning of a more conscious evolution. The evolution of evolution is a conscious choice about how we will evolve, what kinds of mental and social capacities we will have, even physical capacities, and how we will use them. How we evolve from here is now up to us. We can choose our evolutionary future.

Practicing the dharma of Buddhism is one way that we can consciously choose how we will evolve, but many spiritual paths accomplish the same. Michael Dowd’s religious naturalism is another form of this. The key to this stage is that it is a conscious evolution, which means first of all that you must understand and accept, at some minimal level, the process of evolution.

Conscious evolution also does not guarantee that we all naturally evolve to some state as a peaceful, ecological utopian species. On the contrary, we can also choose an evolutionary path to become the most violent and destructive species that ever inhabited this planet. Or more likely, we could evolve to be some mixture of the two extremes. The point is that its a conscious choice, and that we have the power to make those conscious choices right now. We are already in the midst of this process. The question is now: which way do we go?Here are links to two previous articles I wrote that developed these ideas:

https://engagedbuddhism.net/2016/01/17/pratityasamutpada-the-evolution-of-evolution

https://engagedbuddhism.net/2016/10/06/freed-from-rebirth-the-evolution-of-consciousness

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3 thoughts on “The Evolution of Evolution Part III

  1. Hello Shaun,
    Good post. In regards to pratitya-samutpada, you might want to explore how Nancy Frankenberry deals with it in her book “Religion and Radical Empiricism.” The book traces the history of radical empiricism, which is a version of religious naturalism. The term ‘radical empiricism’ comes from William James. In the latter part of the book she compares Whitehead’s process-relational philosophy with Buddhist thought, in particular that of the Abhidharmists. And she spends some time on this concept of pratitya-samutpada. Here is a short series of quotes from the book:

    “The concept of pratitya-samutpada is unique to Buddhism, but exhibits a close affinity to Whitehead’s causal efficacy and conception of the processive-relational nature of actuality. Pratitya-samutpada literally means conditioned coarising or dependent coorigination. Pratyaya refers to the conditional or auxiliary causes or concomitant factors; samutpada refers to their arising together…
    …it is the relational process which coordinates the momentary factors (dharmas) as they pulsate in and out of the causal process…By perceiving causality as a multiple-directional convergence, the Buddha discards the notion of a one-directional movement of power from a prime substance to another independent substance…
    …The Buddhist aesthetic vision of all experiences as a unique process of relational origination, ranging from the microscopic to the macroscopic realm of existence, is nearly identical to the Whiteheadian insight that ‘creativity is the universal of universals chracterizing ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively.’ ”

    For me, all of this supports my notion that the systems thinking tool/sustainability pattern language of PatternDynamics is a useful approach to applying these notions, such as this (Frankenberry again): ” ‘Things’ or ‘selves’ alike are ‘energy-events’ in cross-points of collision between vibrating forces. These collisions may set enduring patterns of change fro the energies that collide so that things are dynamic processes whose patterns of activity persist through their flux. But the endurance of patterns resides not in simple, elementary entities, but in the wholeness of all the interrelated components together. None of these components can be adequately explained except by their relations to one another.”
    In the quote above she is talking in relation to dharmas, but the Patterns in PatternDynamics seem to me to be a new expression of patterns that are very much akin to dharmas.
    https://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/patterndynamics/

    1. Thanks for your comments, David. Pratityasamutpada-as-evolution has a philosophical tradition in India that predates Buddhism: Samkhya philosophy. History of Philosophy series that teaches Indian philosophy has a section on Samkhya philosophy that explains its theory of evolution. http://historyofphilosophy.net/samkhya It’s a rather crude and confusing story of evolution, but the components are definitely there. Actually pratityamsamutpada is a more sophisticated and refined version. B. R. Ambedkar also said that Buddhist philosophy is based on Samkhya.
      As for Frankenberry, I found that Buddhist deconstructionism, like Abhidharma, lacks a theory of information, ergo complexity and emergence. I just read “Why Information Grows” by MIT’s Cesar Hidalgo. Order/structure = information. He explains how information is generated (dynamic systems far from equilibrium) and why information “endures”: solid matter and the computational power of matter. So my understanding of dependent origination has more ‘form’ (matter) than ’emptiness’, compared to many Buddhists.

      1. I’m not familiar with Cesar Hidalgo’s work, but it seems consistent with what pioneering systems ecologist Howard T. Odum found. He believed information is the highest transformation of energy (transformation into higher degrees of structure/order). Information retains a high quality form of embodied energy, or energy memory, or what he termed “emergy.”

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