As essentially a practical person what follows is a physicalist and (limited) reductionist outline view of how I currently think the world works from the perspective of homo sapiens. My interest in dharma is to what extent it adds useful information and processes to this developing understanding. Rather than the idea that I start with the dharma and fit my worldview around it. Is there any value in this approach or does the dharma only work in totality? if there is value how would you suggest the project could be developed?
Sapiens are animals that think they have selves:
The human brain is made up of modules with different functions
Most of the processing of these modules goes on unnoticed (unconscious)
The results of some of the processing is relayed to modules which are noticed (conscious)
The conscious modules can utilise the body to communicate the previously unconscious thoughts with other humans.
Since conscious modules are the only access to the functioning of the brain they give the impression that they are the whole brain.
They also create the impression that these thoughts are from an individual self somehow independent of the body.
As the modules from which the thoughts emerge rely on other modules to produce the thoughts and all these modules are part of the body and the body is made up of the same stuff as everything else, it follows that the self is a creation of the body and world. However the illusion of a self independent from the world is so powerful and so useful that in everyday life almost all humans accept the self (and themselves) as separate from the environment.
How to act:
The decisions on what to do are made by the unconscious modules and relaid to the conscious. How these decisions are made is a mystery but they do seem to follow a pattern. Once one type of decision has been made it is often followed by similar ones, often referred to as a habit.
Most often decisions are made to suit the culture and its conditions. Conditions arise from collective acceptance of ideas. Ideas like laws, money, nations, identity, professions, politics and most importantly, the self or ego.
To act without being influenced by the prevailing cultural conditions it is necessary to recognise when a decision is based on conditions. If a decision not to dance is based on the reactions of other people and a subsequent feeling of embarrassment this is an example of a decision based on conditions. If a decision to dance is based on reactions of other people and subsequent pride, this is another example of a decision based on conditions.
If a decision to dance is based on a desire to dance and the only reaction is playful joy, this is an example of a decision not influenced by prevailing conditions.
This could be termed acting authentically
It is relatively straightforward to understand why actions are taken based on conditions. It is less clear to know what the motivation for authentic actions is.
If authentic actions come from a body/brain decision and that body/brain has evolved from earlier versions then it could be that these decisions come from hardwiring. Without an influencing self/ego the decisions could be said to come from the nature of the body/brain. Since the body/brain, like everything else, is a product of evolution then such a decision could be said to come from nature. Evolution and nature are without right and wrong, without ego/self, without direction or purpose, they simply exist.