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When Einstein meets Buddha. By Yoon Tiem Leong, School of Physics, USM Talk given to Buddhist Society, at DKG, USM, 5 Feb 2009. Our Universe. Consciousness (spiritual aspect) Materialistic aspect. Philosophy of science: mind-matter dichotomy. René Descartes

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When Einstein meets Buddha

By Yoon Tiem Leong, School of Physics, USM

Talk given to Buddhist Society,

at DKG, USM,

5 Feb 2009

our universe
Our Universe
  • Consciousness (spiritual aspect)
  • Materialistic aspect
philosophy of science mind matter dichotomy
Philosophy of science: mind-matter dichotomy
  • René Descartes
  • Mechanistic universe paradigm – focus only on materialistic aspect of our universe.
  • Spiritual aspect lies beyond the domain of science due to its non-empirical nature.
some characteristic features of science
Some characteristic features of science
  • Scientific methodology.
  • Believe in the existence of a set of elementary laws governing the nature ‘out there’.
  • Empiricism.
  • Reductionism.
  • Logical consistency.
  • Falsifiablility.
some characteristic features of science cont
Some characteristic features of science (cont.)
  • Logical consistency (causal effect must be respected).
  • Quantitative - Mathematical language is used.
  • Predictive (use of mathematical language of logic leads to prediction).
  • Experimentally reproducible.
some characteristic features of science cont1
Some characteristic features of science (cont.)
  • Accumulative – existing knowledge is built upon previous knowledge, and then extended and modified when new finding are discovered.
  • Scientific knowledge evolves, hence the content of science grows over time and changes from time to time.
what are not science
What are not science
  • Things can’t be measured in principle can not be treated scientifically.
  • Reproducibility is crucial.
what are not science1
What are not science
  • Ghost?
  • Consciousness
  • God
  • Supernatural power?
  • UFO?
  • Resurrection?
  • X-files?
  • Past life?
  • Hell?
  • Heaven?
  • Love?
limitation of science due to its nature
Limitation of science due to its nature
  • Impossibility in principle:
  • By nature, it is not able to access spiritual aspect of the universe but only the materialistic aspect
  • Explanation of consciousness impossible by science.
practical limitations of science
Practical limitations of science
  • Impossibility due to practicality:
  • e.g. to access deeper into the constituent of matter, or earlier state of universe, higher energy are required.
  • Practically impossible to access these domain despite they are in principle empirically accessible.
  • e.g. Superstrings prediction.
  • Time travel.
scientific knowledge changes over time
Scientific knowledge changes over time
  • We have only ‘the best knowledge’ available to us at the moment.
  • Hence we can’t claim that we have found the ‘final theory’ in science as we never know what will we discover later.
  • Example: Lord Kelvin’s premature claim “we have known all the laws of physics” around ~ 1900
science vs religion
Science vs. religion
  • Science only access materialistic aspect of the universe
  • Science is not everything, and should not be granted a religion-like status
  • It can’t solve our spiritual and mental suffering even if we know all the law of physics.
  • This is the job of religions.
science becomes a tool to probe philosophical questions
Science becomes a tool to probe philosophical questions
  • Science can now answer some fundamental questions that are used to be in the realm of philosophy in the past.
fundamental materialistic questions
Fundamental (materialistic) questions
  • Is there a beginning of the universe/time?
  • Is the universe finite or infinite in size?
  • Is our universe eternal?
  • What is, if there exist such entity, the fundamental constituent of matter?
  • Where does all matter come from?
fundamental materialistic questions cont
Fundamental (materialistic) questions (cont.)
  • Is there life beyond Earth?
  • What is the ultimate nature of space and time (or how does space and time arise)?
  • What is the origin of the universe (how is it come into existence)?
fundamental materialistic questions cont1
Fundamental (materialistic) questions (cont.)
  • What are the ultimate laws that governs the behavior of the materialistic universe?
  • Why are the natural constants take on the value as observed?
  • What is the truth of singularity in the black hole, big bang? (quantum gravity)
fundamental materialistic questions cont2
Fundamental (materialistic) questions (cont.)
  • How do life and consciousness arise?
  • Is there such as an ‘objective’ universe, evolves according to this laws and be independent from its observer (consciousness)?
no definite answer to most of these questions from science yet
No definite answer to most of these questions from science yet…
  • Modern day science, despite having been progressed at awful pace since the Renaissance, is still uncertain about many open questions pertaining to the true nature of the universe.
  • Do we still stand any chance to ultimately uncover the ultimate laws of nature?
will we ever get to know the ultimate answer to these questions through scientific approach
Will we ever get to know the ultimate answer to these questions, through scientific approach?
  • YES?
  • NEVER?
  • The answer is…

No one knows

analogy of a lost traveler in a vast desert
Analogy of a lost traveler in a vast desert
  • The ultimate solution is still a dream far away.
features of buddhist teaching
Features of Buddhist teaching
  • Not so much to explaining the nature of materialistic universe.
  • The answer is suggested ‘top down’ by the Buddha.
  • Direct insight
  • Qualitative
  • The nature of the mind
  • Consciousness.
  • Ultimate aim: cessation of suffering.
features of buddhist teaching cont
Features of Buddhist teaching (cont.)
  • Dependent origination (causal interdependence), pañicca-samuppàda
  • Explanation of the rise and fall of mind-matter
  • Everything is interconnected, rises and falls according causal inter-relations that ties everything in a web of causality
  • Equivalent to ‘emergent phenomena’ by scientists – no elementary constituent of matter. All phenomena arises as a result of collective, dynamical behavior within a system
the truth taught by the buddha are
The truth taught by the Buddha are…
  • Experiential.
  • Transcendental.
  • Not objectively measurable/quantifiable.
  • Beyond worldly comprehensibility.
  • “Absolute”.
  • “super natural”.
  • Ehipassiko.
buddha s description of the nature of our universe
Buddha’s description of the nature of our Universe
  • Three characteristics of existence:
  • Anicca or "impermanence". This refers not only to the fact that all conditioned things (sankhara) eventually cease to exist, but also that all conditioned things are in a constant state of flux. (Visualize a leaf growing on a tree. It dies and falls off the tree but is soon replaced by a new leaf.)
  • Dukkha or "unsatisfactoriness" (or "disease"; also often translated "suffering", though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction.
  • Anatta or "no-self" is use
the parallel between science and buddhism
The parallel between science and Buddhism
  • No blind faith.
  • Intellectual investigation is emphasized.
  • Causality – interdependence - wholeness – entanglement
  • Non-locality vs. locality, EPR paradox.
the parallel between science and buddhism cont
The parallel between science and Buddhism (cont.)
  • Singularity during creation of universe entangles every single entity in this universe.
  • As experienced in deep meditation, consciousness is like quantum fluctuation.
  • Cosmology
  • E.T. (extraterrestrial intelligence)
but still we should not compare an apple with an orange
But still, we should not compare an apple with an orange
  • Both concern different aspects of the universe
  • Buddhism – life, mind, consciousness and liberation from suffering
  • Buddhism suggests the right ways to cultivate spirituality as a means to understand what life truly is.
what science does not provide
What science does not provide
  • Science is meant for materialistic aspect of the universe.
  • It’s an intellectual pursuit that may not lead to insight of spiritual truth of life.
  • The fundamental purpose of science is in many aspect different from that of Buddhism.
  • E.g. science does not teach us the cause of suffering and the way leading to cessation of suffering.
what science does not provide cont
What science does not provide (cont.)
  • Science – fundamental laws governing the materialistic universe only (not including the non-materialistic aspect)
  • Science can’t experimentally investigate quantitative behaviour of kamma since it is not measurable by any apparatus.
closing remarks
Closing remarks
  • The truth expounded by the Buddha does not need science to prove its authenticity.
  • According to Buddhism, the truth in life has to be experienced directly.
  • Knowledge in science evolves over time.
  • What is thought to be a trendy theory may be overthrown tomorrow
  • Hence parallel or contradiction between science and Buddhist teaching does not constitute an ultimate proof nor falsification to the teaching of the Buddha
suggested reading
Suggested reading
  • L‘infini dans la paume de la main, by Matthieu Ricard, Thuan Trinh Xuan ( Chinese translated version: 《僧侣与科学家-宇宙与人生的对谈》,台湾先觉出版社)
  • 《哲学是物理学的工具》,方励之,湖南科技出版社
  • The Tao of Physics, by Fijtrof Capra.