Our View of the World is Misleading Part 1: Implications for Personal Integrity and Fiduciary Responsibilities
December 3, 2018 ~ Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner
Approx. Read Time: 13 Minutes
“Ultimately, happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as cited in Why Buddhism Is True by Robert Wright. What Rinpoche meant is that if you want to liberate yourself from the parts of the mind that keep you from realizing true happiness, you have to first become aware of them, which can be unpleasant.
I trust after writing several articles (see bibliography below) that I have done an adequate job of creating a case around the relevance of mindfulness (largely but not exclusively through meditation) to the world of business.
This series is intended to (Part 1) review past material and introduce a new (highly recommended) source and (Part 2) further develop two specific illustrations of the relevance of mindfulness to the Business Brain Model.
As in previous articles, my references here to mindfulness, Buddhism etc. refer to the pragmatic secular (not religious or spiritual) aspects.
If I might – a few excerpts from the archives:
- “In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making” (as cited from Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game).
- As you might imagine, certain aspects of this phenomena are hard to quantify, but I have seen several sources propose that as much as 50% of your time can be spent in DMN (Default mode network) and as much as 80% of the ‘bad news’ that comes out of your ruminations never materialize.
- As a quick sidebar, I feel compelled to point out an important quandary: I believe it is philosophically inconsistent with mindfulness for it to be used to “enhance performance”. It is designed to enable you to come to grips with your life – not in a way that results in you not striving for success (whatever that means to you), but rather enables you to accept the challenges for what they are.
- Lots of activities can boost the size of various parts of the pre-frontal cortex (i.e. video games), but it’s the disconnection of our mind from its “stress center” that seems to give rise to a range of physical, as well as mental health benefits, says Taren (as cited by Tom Ireland in the article What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?)
- At this level of expertise, the pre-frontal cortex is no longer bigger than expected. In fact, its size and activity start to decrease again, says Taren. “It’s as if that way of thinking has become the default, it is automatic – it doesn’t require any concentration.” (as cited by Tom Ireland in the article What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?)
The Next Chapter
For the purpose of this article – I will introduce select aspects reported by the journalist Robert Wright in Why Buddhism Is True. Wright is a practicing Buddhist who often explores the intersection of religion and science including psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience.
While my objective is to report on Wright’s work as it relates to the Business Brain Model; an overview of the book at large is worth a small detour.
I couldn’t begin to summarize the salient points better than to review using the brilliant Antonio Damasio (Assessing the Value of Buddhism, for Individuals and for the World).
I quote the following directly:
- First, the beneficial powers of meditation come from the possibility of realizing that our emotive reactions and the consequent feelings they engender — which operate in automated fashion, outside our deliberate control — are often inappropriate and even counterproductive relative to the situations that trigger them.
- Second, the mismatch between causes and responses is rooted in evolution. We have inherited from our nonhuman and human forerunners a complex affect apparatus suited to life circumstances very different from ours. It worked well for nonhuman primates and later for human hunter gatherers, but it has worked far less well as cultures became more complex.
- Third, meditation allows us to realize that the idea of the self as director of our decisions is an illusion, and that the degree to which we are at the mercy of a weakly controlled system places us at a considerable disadvantage.
- Fourth, the awareness brought on by meditation helps the construction of a truly enlightened humanity and counters the growing tribalism of contemporary societies.
With this overview behind us, I will further distill the relevance in areas such as how you make decisions; interact with others etc. and (most importantly), how our nature compromises our success.
I call your attention to this endorsement:
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” – Albert Einstein
“I’m utterly convinced that the self is an illusion, albeit a very powerful one. I think we labor under the illusion that there is a thinker behind our thoughts or a doer behind our deeds when, in fact, I think we’re just a field of consciousness responding to things in the world.” – Sean Illing
The jumping off point for the balance of this discussion (as it is for the Wright book) is evolution. The underlying theme is how the evolutionary process has stacked the cards against us when it comes to conscious control and objective information processing.
A few of the salient points:
Darwin managed to simplify the evolutionary context by confirming the primary agenda is about passing on our genetic material to succeeding generations. Without going any further than needed into the weeds – this manifest itself in many different ways.
According to Wright:
- “Buddhism had been studying how the human mind is programmed to react to its environment, how exactly the “conditioning” works. Now, with Darwin’s theory, we understand what had done the programming.”
- “Another way to put this is that feelings, viewed in the context of their evolutionary purpose, are implicit judgements about things in the environment, about whether they are good for the organism or bad for the organism, and about what behaviors (approach, avoid, scream, flatter) will be useful for the organism, given these judgments. “
- “Are those judgments accurate or inaccurate? Sometimes, especially in the modern world, they’re inaccurate. Witness road rage, rampant anxiety, and various other kinds of feelings that don’t serve the interests of the typical twenty-first-century human being.”
- “But note that phrase serve the interests. This whole evaluation, by accepting a particular organism’s interests as the criterion for whether judgments are accurate, is accepting natural selection’s basic frame of reference: that you, this particular organism, are special; your interests are the most important interests, and therefore your particular perspective – the perspective that judges everything in relation to those interests – is the appropriate perspective for evaluating the goodness or badness of things in the world. Is that the way feelings and the perceptions they foster should be evaluated – from your particular perspective, or, for that matter, from anyone’s particular perspective?”
The resulting challenge is summarized by Illing (Why Buddhism is True):
- Walking around with this outdated operating software for our brain that was designed or fitted for a very different kind of life circumstance that has almost nothing in common with present reality.
- It’s designing organisms that get genes into the next generation. If illusions will help them do that, then illusions there will be.
Terry Gross sums the premise accordingly: “Are human beings hard-wired to be perpetually dissatisfied?” He then cites Robert Wright to make the point:
- “Wright points out that evolution rewards people for seeking out pleasure rather than pain, which helps ensure that human beings are frequently unsatisfied: We are condemned to always want things to be a little different, always want a little more,” he says. “We’re not designed by natural selection to be happy.”
Before wrapping this section up, I provide additional perspectives (beyond those whose opinion could be argued to be biased) in support of the view that our perception of the world around us is at best subjective comes from the giants in the world of philosophy and science.
- The philosopher David Hume
- “Reason is a slave to the passions.”
- Einstein captured it all in his description
- “The illusionary nature of everyday perceptions.”
So – in summary: we don’t see the world clearly and this has implications to several aspects of business.
For further thoughts on this topic, a list of previously written articles is below.
- Gregory Cowles – A Science Writer Embraces Buddhism as a Path to Enlightenment
- Antonio Damasio – Assessing the Value of Buddhism, for Individuals and for the World
- Terry Gross – Can Buddhist Practices Help Us Overcome The Biological Pull Of Dissatisfaction?
- Gilbert Harman – Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology
- Sean Illing – Why Buddhism is true
- Tom Ireland – What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?
- Lee Ross – The Intuitive Psychologist and His Shortcomings: Distortions in the Attribution Process
- Kirk Ulrich, Jonathan Downar and P. Read Montague – Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game
- Robert Wright – Why Buddhism Is True
Relevant Business Brain Model articles – Mindfulness
- Daniel Kahneman Meets Dalai Lama
- TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
- TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness
Relevant Business Brain Model articles – Decision Making
- Passion: Part Two – How to get Intimate with Your Passion
- A Neuroscience Perspective on Enhancing Innovation
- How Embodied Is Your Cognition?
- Can Your Vagus Nerve Stimulate Your Business Success?
About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.