The Healing Principle

The existential pressure to thrive



Reaching towards the light.  

Feeding the inner flame.  



All beings everywhere want to be happy.

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death.  

All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all.  

The Buddha



If a mad dog is chasing you, you run away.  

When you cut your finger, it heals up by itself.  



The DNA molecule has the fundamental property that it reproduces itself.  

  1. All living beings are genetically constructed and operated, and therefore, all living beings experience a pressure to reproduce.  
  2. In order to reproduce, they experience a pressure to survive.  
  3. In order to survive, they experience a pressure to flourish ― to thrive and to stay fit, healthy, strong and feeling good.  If they did not do this, they would soon get ill and die.  

This is a basic, direct consequence of evolution and natural selection.  It is so obvious that we tend to overlook it in everyday life.  

These needs: to thrive, survive and reproduce, are the primary challenges faced by all life on earth.  It follows that the pressures to thrive, survive and reproduce are the primary pressures experienced by all life.  

Taken together, and for the want of something better, I have named this “the Healing Principle”.  



How did the Healing Principle become so strong?  


Natural selection

The process in nature by which, according to Darwin's theory of evolution, organisms that are better adapted to their environment tend to survive longer and transmit more of their genetic characteristics to succeeding generations than do those that are less well adapted.

Free Dictionary


After life started on Earth, the Healing Principle would quickly have become stronger and stronger within successive generations of living things, because those that most sought to preserve their health and survival would have out-lived and therefore out-reproduced the others.  Through this process of accumulation of positive traits, the adaptation we can call the Healing Principle would soon have become a fierce, primary, universal imperative.  



Inclusive fitness: the bias towards “me and mine”

Fitness is defined as how well an organism is adapted to thrive, survive and reproduce, within a particular environment.  Inclusive fitness is defined as the fitness of the individual and of the individual’s genetic relatives.  In a wider sense, it can include the fitness of the individual’s friends and allies (those who help the individual).  

If we accept that the biological pressure to thrive is one of the primary values in human morality (the other being cooperation), then we must recognise that this pressure originates and operates within each individual for the benefit of that individual (inclusively).  

Therefore the morality in this site is based on inclusive fitness, and the perspective is mainly that of the individual.  (see: Circle of Concern)



The Healing Principle, morality and ethics


The situation dictates what actions would best accomplish and support a particular set of values.



Human morality has evolved as an adaptation aimed at thriving, surviving and reproducing.  The human ecological niche is uniquely difficult to survive in, compared with those of the other great apes, and, unique among great apes, the evolutionary solution to this problem has been for humans to team up; to work together; to cooperate.  

The primary nature of these goals or values makes them an appropriate choice upon which to base a theory of human morality and ethics, consistent with the most basic biological pressures to act.  

The evolutionary pressure on genes to maximise the thriving, surviving and/or reproducing of their host organisms translates into a biological pressure on individuals to act to maximise their short and long term inclusive fitness.  

For humans, these goals, typically, can best be achieved by making appropriate use of any of a complex of moral principles and virtues that have evolved because they are necessary to support thriving and cooperation; and the perceived need to achieve these goals in this way is experienced, in present-day psychological terms, as an ethical pressure.  

Collaborating closely with others is a sophisticated and demanding task in itself, and to this end, humans have evolved a unique, specialised set of social and cognitive skills, and a separate sense that other animals do not have: the moral sense, the sense of right and wrong.  This means that we often do things purely because they are “right”, and avoid doing other things purely because they are “wrong”.  



Accessing the biological “magic power”

– working hand in hand with nature

Living creatures are different from inanimate objects.  Living creatures are genetically programmed to be able to regenerate themselves when injured (i.e. to heal), for example; and in general, every physical aspect, and biological process, of their entire being is oriented towards maintaining, and if possible increasing, their thriving, surviving and/or reproducing.  There is an automatic goal: a fundamental existential pressure on the organism to make progress in this direction.  

How can we make the most of this miraculous power to thrive and grow strong in response to the right conditions?  By putting the right conditions in place.  We nurture the flower in our garden by putting the right conditions in place, and the flower responds by growing strong and healthy, in keeping with its nature, of its own accord.  



Universal and individual

The Healing Principle is universal: this pressure exists within every living being.  

At the same time, it is personal and individual: it originates within each individual, for the benefit of that individual, inclusively.  



The Healing Principle and God’s love

This biological “magic power” is, practically speaking, equivalent to God’s providential love; God’s kindness and mercy; the “rain that falls on the just and the unjust”.  

When religious people say that God loves everyone unconditionally, this is what they are referring to.  

We may see this version of God’s love as part 1 of human morality: the pressure to thrive.  

Part 2 is cooperation: the particularly human solution to the problem of thriving, surviving and reproducing.  The individual nature of the Healing Principle translates into a tendency towards self-seeking and competition, and therefore, people are not perfectly cooperative.  Therefore, in order for cooperation to be successful, it is fundamentally necessary to employ mechanisms both to achieve (or promote) cooperative behaviour and to prevent (or discourage) uncooperative behaviour.  

This means that another main function of God is as the Cosmic Policeman: the moral God seeking to ensure that the human race behaves cooperatively.  Hence, God also punishes the bad and rewards the good.  

Within religious thinking, these two are hard to reconcile, because to reject somebody outright, as when God sends people to hell, is not compatible with unconditional love.  But it makes perfect sense when looked at from an evolutionary point of view.  

From this point of view, we see that the “magic power” of God’s unconditional love, without its part 2 of cooperation, is actually amoral, and the individual is free to satisfy the associated goals of God’s unconditional love – it is a biological magic power – an evolutionary adaptation that is an inherent result of natural selection and evolution and is able to assist the individual to thrive, survive and reproduce – without taking morals into account.  



Two-way relationship

The most beneficial thing we can do as individuals is to revere, respect, take care of, and nurture, the gift of God’s love within us.  

In effect, the situation is: a two-way love or caring between each of us and the thing that sustains us.  



Living a good life

An appropriate goal for human beings is to maximise long-term thriving by following a cooperative morality.  



Kindness to others: spreading the love

The fundamental moral principle (pattern of behaviour), i.e. a principle to do with thriving and cooperating, is kindness, or helping in response to need.  This is sometimes called “sympathy” or benefit / harm.  Strictly speaking, “benefit” is a separate idea from “need”, although the two are obviously linked.  

To benefit someone means to make them thrive more.  To make them thrive more, as with ourselves, is to take actions to put the right conditions in place so that thriving may, we hope, spontaneously occur of its own biologically programmed accord.  


since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  

John 4:11



There is a beauty in the forest

When the trees are green and fair,

There is beauty in the meadow

When wild flowers scent the air.

There is beauty in the sunlight

And the soft blue beams above.

Oh, the world is full of beauty

When the heart is full of love.



It would seem that making “God’s love” central to everything you do is a fundamental and reliable step in the direction of happiness.  



Definitions of thriving

We may classify thriving into two types: short term and long term.  There is no real need to define it closely, since it is easily recognised, and is anyway probably very subjective, but it basically means to be physically or psychologically strong and healthy, in keeping with its evolved purpose, which is to help us survive.    

A crude indicator of thriving is “feeling good”, since emotions have evolved broadly to tell us whether we are thriving or not.  Emotions tell us whether we are going towards (feeling good) or away from (feeling bad) our primary goals of thriving, surviving and/or reproducing.  

Possibly, our emotions depend on the information available to us, and are a reaction to what we perceive to be true, rather than, strictly speaking, what is actually true.  

The consequences of an event may be that we feel good in the short term, or we feel good in the long term, or both.  

This is the starting point for more complex discussions of whether somebody is thriving.  Others may override somebody’s insistence that they are thriving (“feeling good”) by reference to some other primary criterion: for example, physical safety.  

Happiness may be defined as “a state of satisfaction with one’s life”.  Because of its blind, reflexive, biological nature, “thriving” may not always match up with happiness.  Evolution selects for survival but not for happiness.  The idea is to harness and manage the pressure to thrive in ways that are healthy in the long term: i.e. that result in happiness.  



Moral progress and the maximising ethic

The pressure to thrive is


Steven Pinker maintains that over the course of human history, overall morality has improved considerably.  

Contrary to what is perhaps the normally accepted view, there is no archaeological evidence of warfare in prehistoric humans until around 12,000 years ago.  There is a lot of evidence of long-range travel and trade.  So before the advent of settlement, farming, and ownership, it appears that the human race was effectively one big happy family.  


By considering the total archaeological record of prehistoric populations of Europe and the Near East up to the Bronze Age, evidence clearly demonstrates that war began sporadically out of warless condition, and can be seen, in varying trajectories in different areas, to develop over time as societies become larger, more sedentary, more complex, more bounded, more hierarchical, and in one critically important region, impacted by an expanding state.  

R Brian Ferguson – “Pinker's List – exaggerating prehistoric war mortality” in “War, Peace and Human Nature” edited by Douglas P Fry


In the time of the first kingdoms and city states, in normal daily life, the average rate of death through warfare was equal to the peak death rates in World War II.  Since then, the rate has gone up or down, but overall, the trend has been downwards.  Every measure of rates of violence: killing, assaulting, kidnapping, physical harm or coercion, has followed the same downward trend.  Violence against women has dropped by 70-80% since the 1970s.  Capital punishment and slavery are in decline.  We see hugely increased rights for formerly oppressed groups: women, racial minorities, homosexuals, and animals.  

Over historical time, human moral reasoning has shown itself to be "self-correcting", like science: to gradually become more articulate and complete.  It seems that there may be three stages involved in moral progress: new ideas (arguably the prime mover); expansion of empathy to include previously excluded groups; and the establishment of new norms which replace the old.  This process may be helped by things like the arts: specifically, novels, plays, and cinema, which gives us an insight into the inner worlds of people unlike us; and international trade, which has the effect of reducing warfare.  

This historical pattern follows the characteristics of the pressure to thrive: maximising, universal, and individual.  Humans achieve their thriving primarily through cooperation (but also through competition, and hierarchical societies reflect this).  If we don't cooperate, we don't survive, and enforced cooperation brings enforced interdependence (“I look after you because I need you”).  Since there has been strong evolutionary pressure to behave like this since the dawn of the genus Homo, modern humans possess strong instincts in this direction.  So our moral instincts are the particularly human expressions of the pressure to thrive.  




God is love.

The Bible:  1 John 4:8


I will be with you – will you be with Me?  

Richard Foster – “Life with God”


Did not He find thee an orphan, and shelter thee?  

Did not He find thee erring, and guide thee?

Did not He find thee needy, and suffice thee?


As for the orphan, do not oppress him,

and as for the beggar, scold him not;

and as for thy Lord’s blessing, exalt it.  


The Qu’ran: Sura 93


Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus: Matthew 7:7,8


behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Jesus: Luke 17:21


The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like.” He said to them, “It is like a mustard seed.  It is the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for the birds of the sky.”

Jesus: Gospel of St Thomas


Nature loves courage.

Terence McKenna


The only failure is the failure to try.

Mr T


... evolution selects for adaptive actions.  

Michael Tomasello – “A Natural History of Human Thinking”


In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.  And that makes me happy.  For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.  

Albert Camus – “Return to Tipasa”


Broken bones always seem to mend.  

Angus & Julia Stone – “The Devil's Tears”


In all species, nature works to renew itself as it works to nourish itself, and to protect itself from danger, each by its kind and for its kind, in the great work of continuation that is evolution. In humankind the work of renewal lies in the work of affection, the bond of one to another made by desire.

A C Grayling – “The Good Book: a secular Bible”


Eventually Muhammed’s religion of al-Llah was known as islām, the act of existential surrender that each convert was expected to make to God: a muslim is ‘one who surrenders’ his or her whole being to the Creator.  At first, however, the believers called their religion tazaqqa.  This is an obscure word, which is not easy to translate.  By cultivating tazaqqa, Muhammed’s converts were to cloak themselves in the virtues of compassion and generosity; they were to use their intelligence to cultivate a caring and responsible spirit, which made them want to give graciously of what they had to all God’s creatures.  By pondering the mysteries of creation intelligently Muslims would learn to behave kindly and this generous attitude would mean that they acquired a spiritual refinement.  Al-Llah was the great exemplar.  Muslims were urged to contemplate His ‘signs’ in order to appreciate His graciousness to the whole of the natural world.  As a consequence of his generous intelligence, there was order and fruitfulness instead of chaos and selfish barbarism.  If they submitted to His edicts, they would find that their own lives could be transfigured by a similar refinement.  

Karen Armstrong – “Muhammad”


chance uk – nurturing and healing troubled children

The Flowering Brain – neuroscience and healing

Action for Happiness programme of happiness lessons (article)


What is the difference between “I like you” and “I love you”? Beautifully answered by Buddha.  Buddha’s answer was so simple. When you like a flower, you just pluck it.  But when you love a flower, you water it daily.  One who understands this, understands life.  

Fake Buddha quotes


A loves A if A’s happiness depends on A.  

A loves B if A’s happiness depends on B.  


Philip Veasey





The mechanics of making living beings flourish:  if we want to change a non-living object, we need to directly manipulate it; but a living being will grow, thrive and flourish of its own accord if the right conditions are in place.   




Religion should be idealistic


Don't be crazy, have a rainbow in your heart.  

Anonymous (13:00) (Lullaby Project)


— Elizabeth Jennings


I have come into the hour of a white healing.

Grief's surgery is over and I wear

The scar of my remorse and of my feeling.


I have come into a sudden sunlit hour

When ghosts are scared to corners.  I have come

Into the time when grief begins to flower


Into a new love. I had filled my room

Long before I recognized it.  Now

I speak its name. Grief finds its good way home.


The apple-blossom's handsome on the bough

And Paradise spreads round.  I touch its grass.

I want to celebrate but don't know how.


I need not speak though everyone I pass

Stares at me kindly.  I would put my hand

Into their hands.  Now I have lost my loss


In some way I may later understand.

I hear the singing of the summer grass.

And love, I find, has no considered end,


Nor is it subject to the wilderness

Which follows death.  I am not traitor to

A person or a memory.  I trace


Behind that love another which is running

Around, ahead.  I need not ask its meaning.


“The Prayer” – bubug