Paul Ekman sees Vancouver talk as collaborative opportunity

For Dr Paul Ekman, his upcoming Speaker Series talk in Vancouver on “Darwin, the Dalai Lama and the nature of compassion” is not only an opportunity for the audience to learn from the world renowned psychologist, but also a chance for him to learn from them.

“I have given this talk a few times, but it continues to grow and change each time I give it,” he says. “I really want to see how people react and see whether I can gain any new ideas about it.”

Ekman, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at San Francisco, is not averse to using people’s reactions to his work and making drastic changes mid-stream. While writing Emotions Revealed, he had an encounter with the Dalai Lama that led him to reconsider much of what he had written.

“Some of the questions that he had asked and the issues raised during the course of our meeting caused me to rethink the nature of how emotions are triggered and I rather completely rewrote those chapters,” he says. “Emotions Revealed certainly benefited from my meeting with the Dalai Lama.”

Ekman notes that the Dalai Lama considers himself a Darwinian, which he suggests shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

“There is so much similarity between Darwin’s thinking about compassion and virtue and the Buddhist view,” he says.

“Although the Buddhists came up with these ideas first and Darwin was aware of Buddhism, they appeared in Darwin’s notebooks years before he learned anything about it,” Ekman says, indicating that the Buddhists and Darwin developed their models of the nature of compassion independent of each other.

And just what is it about Buddhism and Darwin’s concepts of compassion and virtue that are so similar? For one, Ekman says, it is that the relationship between mother and infant is such a central focus.

“Darwin called that relationship the initial basis of compassion, while the Dalai Lama has referred to it as the ‘seed of compassion’,” says Ekman.

“We take that [relationship] for granted. But if we treated all human beings the same way we treat our own child, then the world would be a very different place.”

Of course, Ekman has more to share on the links between Darwin and Buddhism, which he will have the opportunity to do this Thursday in Vancouver.

Ekman will give his talk – which looks at the connection between an evolutionary and a Buddhist view of human nature and provides a new formulation of the nature of empathy, compassion, altruism and heroism – at SFU’s Segal School of Business on March 11 at 7:00 pm. Tickets for the event, which is hosted by the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, can be purchased through Vancouver Tix.


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