Filmed during Mind & Life Institute’s “Mind & Life XIV: The Universe in a Single Atom” on April 9-13, 2007.

Day Three

Evolution, Altruism and the Fundamental Nature of Human Emotion
Ben Shapiro
Paul Ekman
Richard Davidson
Matthieu Ricard

Is evolution driven by random mutation and natural selection? How can the adaptations of species best be understood? Can basic evolutionary principles be used to understand the fundamental origins of basic, human cognitive and emotional competences? Is the fundamental nature of emotion positive, compassionate and altruistic? How might evolutionary accounts of emotion accommodate these virtuous emotional qualities? To what extent is any particular emotion (e.g., anger) destructive or constructive, or can any emotion be enacted constructively or destructively? What is the role of subjective experience of emotion in the overall function of emotion? Buddhism places great emphasis on the role of experience while modern psychological and neurobiological accounts of emotion place less emphasis on the experiential component. Buddhism underscores the importance of suffering. Is there some teleological significance to suffering? Are there neurobiological parallels? Buddhist accounts emphasize training the mind as a strategy for improving emotional qualities. What are the scientific bases of these practices and what do these practices imply for the stability and plasticity of emotional traits?

INTERPRETER: Thupten Jinpa

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
John Dunne
R. Adam Engle
Martha Farah
George Greenstein
Wolf Singer
Evan Thompson
Anton Zeilinger
Arthur Zajonc


Paul Ekman, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Richard J. Davidson, PhD

William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Founder & Director of the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Founder and Chief Visionary for Healthy Minds Innovations, Inc.

Matthieu Ricard, PhD


Convening Faculty, Fellow

Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Compassion Institute

Board Chair

Mind & Life Connections


2007 Mind & Life Dialogue XIV

The Universe in a Single Atom

Topics: Contemplative Wisdom