background where appropriate, making
The Monastery and the Microscope both
a historical record of the event and a de-
lightful educational experience.
The Dalai Lama’s natural scientific curiosity is highlighted throughout the book, as is
his clear desire to use Buddhism to promote
effective solutions to the humanitarian issues facing the world. In his discussions, he
calls for the development of what he terms
secular ethics, ethics that appeal to both religious and nonreligious people.
Describing the vital role of scientists within
this framework, the Dalai Lama states, “
People like me, religious people, what we can do
is only collaborate and offer support. But the
main contribution, I feel, should come from
the scientists.” He tasks both scientists and
religious scholars with the responsibility of
developing “a more holistic approach to the
education of our younger generation” so as
to ease human suffering.
Throughout the discussions, evidence of a
convergence between Tibetan Buddhism and
Western science emerges. As we have moved
into the 21st century, an increasing number
of Western scientists have set aside an exclusively reductionist approach to the world
and have turned their attention toward investigating the nature of internal phenomena. There is, for example, a growing body of
evidence showing that meditation and introspective reflection can have profound effects
on the brain, inducing neuroplastic changes
previously thought implausible.
This book provides a welcome and neces-
sary look at how individuals from seemingly
distant disciplines can engage with one an-
other in transformative dialogue. The cu-
mulative experience and knowledge gained
from Buddhist investigation and from scien-
tific methodology have the capacity to shape
The Monastery and the Microscope:
Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mind, Mindfulness,
and the Nature of Reality, Wendy Hasenkamp
with Janna R. White, Eds., Yale University
Press, 2017. 397 pp.
Dinner with Darwin
Reviewed by Mari-Vaughn V. Johnson
With today’s well-established foodie culture,
what better way to serve up a book on evolution than by appealing to a reader’s stomach?
In Dinner with Darwin, biologist Jonathan
Silvertown details the relationships between
humans, our nutrition, and our environment
through the lens of evolution. The story is
structured as a 10-course meal of “
evolutionary gastronomy,” bookended by chapters on
the history of cooking and the future of food.
Using anecdotes about vegetables, herbs,
meats, cheeses, and more, Silvertown demonstrates how our relationships with food
have defined not only our cultures and histories but also the evolutionary trajectories
of our species and that of those we eat. Domestication of cereal grains in the Fertile
Crescent of southwest Asia, for example,
led to physiological changes in the cereals that make them more suited to human
use and consumption (e.g., nonshattering
seed heads, larger seeds, and adaptation to
harsher climates). It also led to genetic and
physiological changes in humans. In early
agrarian societies, evolution began selecting for humans with the capacity to regulate
blood-sugar spikes associated with increased
starch consumption, thus decreasing the
likelihood of type 2 diabetes.
Our relationships with food species also affected the evolution of species that interact
closely with us. Silvertown notes, for example, that dogs, like humans, evolved to digest
starch around the same time that we domesticated cereals.
Throughout the book, Silvertown adeptly
introduces various evolutionary concepts.
The chapter on dairy, for example, explores
gradualism (vis-à-vis the origins of milk
production in mammals), horizontal gene
transfer (as exemplified by the evolutionary
advantage conferred by milk’s use of lactose
as a sugar source), and the evolution of mu-
968 8 SEPTEMBER 2017 • VOL 357 ISSUE 6355 sciencemag.org SCIENCE
The Monastery and
Reviewed by Chantelle Ferland-Beckham
Although, on the surface, Buddhist contemplative tradition and Western science would
appear to represent divergent perspectives,
a closer look at these disciplines shows that
they are both deeply rooted in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge and a desire to
understand the complexities of human existence through empirically verified observations. Individuals from these two sectors
who would seek to engage in respectful discourse might therefore find that they have
much to learn from one another.
Such an exchange is expertly illuminated in The Monastery and the Microscope. In this captivating and insightful
book, Wendy Hasenkamp and Janna White
transport the reader to southern India for
a private audience with the Dalai Lama as
he engages in genuine, and at times humorous, dialogue with leading scientists
on topics such as physics, neuroscience,
Hasenkamp and White have provided a
simple and untouched record of these dialogues, as they occurred during the 2013
“Mind & Life,” an annual event run by the
Mind & Life Institute since 1987. The two
authors have skillfully curated the hours
of conversation that occurred across this
6-day meeting and provide contextual
The reviewer is at Cohen Veterans Bioscience, Cambridge, MA
02142, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Dalai Lama prepares to address a group of Emory University faculty and Tibetan Buddhist monks in 2012.
The reviewer is at the Resources Assessment Division,
Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department
of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250, USA.
Email: mari-vaughn.johnson@ wdc.usda.gov
INSIGHTS | BOOKS