Alan Brush finds a scientific discussion of “character” that closely parallels the Buddhist conception of aggregates.
I love to keep up on news from the world of science. And as a student of Buddhist thought, I try to keep tuned in to the points where these two great traditions seem to intersect. So, when I ran across a new interview in Scientific American magazine, I was very excited: Had I found one of those points?
As discussed in the interview, Out of Character, a new book by scientists David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdelsolo, discusses the popular concept of “character,” showing that moral behavior is actually highly unstable and variable in most people, depending on “a host of factors.”
Here’s the surprise: far from being a trait that defines who we are, “character is always in flux,” according to these scientists. Their conclusion: “Moral education needs to be more skill-based. That is, we would advise parents to tell their kids not only what the goal is, but also how to get there — what tricks to expect their minds will engage in and what strategies they can use to keep their character moving in the direction they want.”
This sounds to me a lot like some basic Buddhist teachings about the nature of self and prescriptions for a way of living. (Core concepts that may be familiar to you — for example, impermanence, the importance of skillfulness, and others — might ring bells here.) It’s delightful to hear it independently from scientists. But then it would also be delightful to hear from you. What do you think?