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The Origin of Human Nature

A Zen Buddhist Looks at Evolution

Albert Low is an internationally published author of many books, including Invitation To Practice Zen, which is now in its thirteenth printing. In 2003 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree for scholastic attainment and community service by Queen’s University Ontario. He is currently director of the Montreal Zen Centre, where he is in charge of over 200 students, many of whom are doctors, psychiatrists, and university professors.

From the author of the best-selling Zen and Creative Management (75,000+ copies sold)

Albert Low has provided a YouTube link, which he updates regularly:

For those interested in the work of Albert Low, you can visit the Zen Center at

The Origin of Human Nature
offers an original and fertile way to integrate spiritual and scientific views of human evolution. It offers a new and refreshing alternative to the way we think about our origins: random mutation (mechanistic neo-Darwinism), Genesis (God did it all personally), and Intelligent Design (God personally does what we can’t otherwise account for). The result is an invigorating perspective on how our best qualities – our capacity for love, our appreciation of beauty, our altruistic capability, our creativity and intelligence – have come into being and evolved.

How we think about our origin matters: if we think we are machines living among other machines, we will act accordingly. By showing evolution as a creative and intelligent process with its own inherent logic, The Origin of Human Nature resolves the dilemma of how to have, at the same time, both truth and ethics. Instead of starting in an imagined remote and uncertain past and moving to the present, this book starts at the certain and immediate present and works back. That consciousness, creativity, and intelligence exist is certain. The question is: how can these have evolved?

Dr Albert Low has made a study of human nature throughout his life. To write this book he draws on his prolonged meditations on creativity and the human condition, his years of providing psychological and spiritual counseling, and a wide-ranging knowledge of Western psychology, philosophy, and science.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-260-0
Paperback Price: £17.99 / $29.99
Release Date: February 2008
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


1 On Darwin’s Theory
2 On Subjectivity and Objectivity
3 ‘Knowing’, the Basis of Experience
4 Knowing and Evolution
5 On a New Way of Thinking
6 On Intention
7 Intention as Dynamic Process
8 The ‘Blind, Unconscious, Automatic’ Process of Intention
9 On Causation and Programming
10 What is Creativity?
11 Creative or Mechanical Evolution?
12 The Evolution of Intelligence
13 On the Evolution of Consciousness
14 The Ambiguity of ‘I–You’
15 The Birth of Ego
16 On Humans and Evolution


Currently director of the Montreal Zen Centre, Low has written widely about Zen Buddhism for many years. Being an educated, modern, Western, generally cool guy, he had no trouble taking sides in the creation/evolution debate. Then one night, reading Dawkins, he realized that neo-Darwinism is a materialistic-mechanistic theory arguing that matter is the element from which all is derived, and that the evolution of life is no different from the evolution of matter. He decided that he needed to think a little deeper about that, and shares the insights he stumbled upon.
Reference & Research Book News

Albert Low breathes new life into old terms – the transcendent, consciousness, awareness, evolution, creativity, intention – not by going around science, but by going through it. In the current frenzy to purge science of purpose, meaning, direction, and values, Low’s insights are a welcome resource. One might say that our survival depends on the wisdom in this book.
Larry Dossey, MD, author of The Extraordinary Healing Power of Everyday Things

The old religious models don’t seem to work for us these days. And so we have turned to secularity, to the cooler gaze of science, especially the neo-Darwinism of Richard Dawkins and others. Albert Low shows that the bloom of their answer – the random-mutation mechanistic evolutionary system – that once seemed so promising, cannot account for our capacity for love, appreciation of beauty, altruism, creativity or intelligence. And it cannot offer us meaning or direction.
... So we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place of ambiguity … The Origin of Human Nature offers a model that lives creatively in just that ambiguity. Living up to his life-long effort to integrate the hard sciences with his years of Zen practice and teaching, Low makes room for the best of evolution while welcoming space for the mystery of consciousness and the humble contemplation of the abyss. His is a welcoming of science and mysticism, and we would all do well to walk with him.
Professor Robert Forman, founder/CEO of The Forge Institute of Spiritual Leaders and Teachers, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion, CUNY, founding co-editor of The Journal of Consciousness Studies and author of Grassroots Spirituality

In this intelligently written book Albert Low gives us a modern Guide for the Perplexed; a richly thoughtful reflection on the roots of human nature that glows with a deep respect for both science and the spirit.
Allan Combs, author of The Radiance of Being

The battles over evolution are fought by two sides that are far too rigid in their thinking, the Biblical literalists on the one hand and the mechanistically committed materialists on the other. But our human and spiritual nature is much bigger than fanatic literalism or scientistic dogmatism, and Low’s refreshing book offers a more open direction to explore the potentials of evolution for real human beings.
Charles T. Tart, Core Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UC Davis, author of Body Mind Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality

I enthusiastically recommend this book. As a hard-core scientist, I was overjoyed to read Dr. Low’s ‘knowing’ centered approach to human origins and nature, as well as his eloquent rebuttal of the ‘selfish gene’ neo-Darwinism that now dominates mainstream views. Dr. Low’s vision
dovetails perfectly with the broader scientific vision of evolution that I work with but perhaps it takes a Zen master to communicate the profundity of its human implications to a world so desperate for a deeply felt understanding of purpose and meaning.
Dr. S. J. Goerner, Director of The Integral Science Institute, and author of After the Clockwork Universe: The Emerging Science and Culture of Integral Society

Albert Low offers us a strikingly original vision of evolution and human nature. He presents us with a choice that is stark, with implications that are far-reaching. On the one hand, we can take the metaphor of ‘man as machine’ literally and, as a consequence, abandon those very qualities that make us human and make life worth living. On the other hand, we can come to see that the evolutionary process, and therefore ourselves, is fundamentally intelligent and creative. The choice, Low tells us, is fateful and ours to make.
Dr William Byers, Mathematics Professor at Loyola University, Montreal, author of How Mathematicians Think

Transcending the clichés on both sides of the modern God/evolution debate, Dr. Low’s book offers a most welcome invitation to the joyful work of thinking like a human being about what an evolving human being is and can – for the sake of our world, must – become.
Jacob Needleman, Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, author of Why Can’t We Be Good?

This book emerges from the conviction that ‘we have no greater intellectual need at the moment than a reality based understanding of the origins and development of the human being’ (pp. xviii–xix). The author, Albert Low – Director of the Montreal Zen Centre – is disturbed by the alternative accounts of human development on offer: ‘random mutation, Genesis, or Intelligent Design’ (p. xv) and aims to develop an alternative view that is consistent with the facts of scientific research, while placing these in a new interpretative framework. Low is particularly exercised by the mechanistic view of neo-Darwinism, which, he argues, fails to adequately account for ‘the immensity of human nature, and the marvel of the human mind’ (p. x). Human creativity, for Low, is crucially dependent on intentionality and this is why neo-Darwinian accounts of origins are unconvincing. The problem here is the tendency to seek an account of human through a focus on the primitive past and the assumption that human life can be treated it as just another aspect of inanimate matter and explained in terms of the increasing complexity of the material world. Whereas, in Low’s view, a more fruitful procedure is to start with fully orbed human intelligence, with the capacity for love, thought, altruism and the appreciation of beauty, and to ask how it emerged. …
... The Origin of Human Nature is an ambitious book that sometimes suffers from a corresponding tendency to high level generalizations and nonsequiturs. Its primary thesis that mind and matter are ‘basic ingredients of the world’ (p. 47) is a controversial and thought-provoking one. The concomitant idea that evolution is promoted by mind operating at the micro-level is somewhat reminiscient of William James. Its overall argument that there is an alternative to creationism, intelligent design, and neo-Darwinism is certainly worth considering. Low accepts – for unexamined reasons – the idea that human life must be explained within a closed evolutionary system and works to expound an evolutionary view that allows for human creativity and freedom, as against Neo-Darwinism, which, for Low, denies those qualities that distinguish the human race. I am not convinced that Low requires to depart from the standard Darwinian view to safeguard human goods, but found his book fascinating, often enlightening and always thought provoking. It would be useful for anyone interested in the questions around the evolution of humankind and human consciousness and the implications for ‘soul’.
Religious Studies

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