Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Emptiness, Oneness and Reality: Where Buddhism and Science Converge

"Buddhism has all the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."
Albert Einstein: "Science without religion is
lame. . . . Religion without science is blind
In the book "The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama," editor Arthur Zajonc makes the following comments on the ways in which the so-called "New Physics" has turned classical understandings of the cosmos and reality on their ears:
"During the three centuries that established classical physics and cosmology," Zajonc observes, "the mechanistic and materialistic character of physical theory came to dominate Western thinking even outside these areas. Increasingly, philosophy came under the powerful sway of science through such thinkers as Descartes, Kant and Locke. The life sciences, longing for comparable precision, sought out a similar path to development to that of physics. Genetics, evolution, and cellular biology displaced natural history and whole-organism biology. The mind itself, traditionally understood as the expression of the spirit, gradually became part of the mechanistic universe as well. By the dawn of the twentieth century, the physics of the seventeenth century had successfully conquered the adjacent areas of science and was already encroaching on that of the mind. A single mechanistic paradigm and its associated materialistic metaphysics came to dominate Western thinking."
However, he notes:
"With the opening of the twentieth century, the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity would make incomparable demands on our conception of the universe. We are still struggling to grasp their full implications. They challenge the simple mechanistic accounts of matter and the cosmos we inherited from earlier centuries, replacing them with accounts that shun such pictures. In addition, both quantum theory and relativity grant a new prominence to the observer. It is hard to overestimate the significance of these developments. The ramifications of twentieth-century discoveries for physics and cosmology have been enormous, changing our very notions of space and time, the ultimate nature of matter, and the evolution of the universe. They have also begun to affect philosophical discussions in significant ways."
For his part, the Dalai Lama notes that, "In Buddhism in general, and particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, the basic attitude is that you should remain skeptical at the beginning. This skeptical attitude automatically brings up questions. Questions bring clearer answers, or investigation. Therefore, Mahayana Buddhist thinking relies more on investigation rather than on faith. . . (An) attitude that is very, very helpful in communicating with scientists."

"There are two kinds of wrong views," the Dalai Lama notes. "One exaggerates what is actually there, superimposing onto a thing a property of existence or status that is not there. The other denies what is actually there. So both absolutism and nihilism are seen as wrong views. Thus, even in ethical discourse, a correct understanding of reality is very much emphasized. Therefore, scientific findings are very helpful to Buddhist thinking."

The three-part video discussion, below, (like the dialogue between scientists and the Dalai Lama in 'The New Physics and Cosmology') examines the areas where "the new physics" described by Zajonc seemingly converge with traditional Buddhist teachings about emptiness, Oneness and the nature of 'reality.'

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