June 11, 2009

Where science and Buddhism meet [video]

Where Science and Buddhism Meet from Gerald Penilla on Vimeo.

A question for my readers: Is this an accurate assessment of quantum physics and the ways in which Buddhism intersects with science?


Athena Andreadis said...

In a word, no.

George said...

@Athena: Explain your objection.

Mike Treder said...

I couldn't get more than 1/4 into the video (5 minutes out of 20) before turning it off. The message seems to be that because quantum physics is difficult to understand and is effectively opaque to many people, and because pseudo-Buddhist mumbo-jumbo can be made to sound a bit like quantum physics, then, HEY, they must be the same!

I have two big problems with attempts to reconcile Buddhism with scientific rationality.

First, which one of the many varieties of Buddhism are we talking about? The kind that believes in transmigration -- literal reincarnation of souls? If it's that kind, which is probably the type of Buddhism that most people are familiar with, then any attempt at reconciliation is doomed to fail and pointless to even try. Science will not admit to the existence of non-material "souls" and, moreover, the logic behind transmigration just doesn't hold up. It's a silly, primitive, backward belief that has no place in an enlightened world.

Or, is it perhaps Zen Buddhism that is purported to be compatible with scientific rationality and synchronous with quantum physics? Again, I don't see the point. Zen, as I understand it, is basically an atheistic philosophy that proposes acceptance and serenity in the face of existential despair. Fair enough, but what has that to do with the alleged crossover between science and spirituality?

And that takes me to my second big problem with this whole undertaking, which is that it runs contrary to the centuries-long positive trend of replacing superstition with reason. Why keep cheerleading for the supposed value of "spiritual" beliefs when there is no scientific justification for them? Why try to find common ground at all?

The worst impact of such apolegetics is that they provide cover for the severe dangers of fundamentalism. Faith in the supernatural on any level makes it effectively impossible to deny the validity of faith at extremist lengths. The obvious way to reject harmful religiosity is to reject religion altogether.

Athena Andreadis said...

Objections, many of them, not objection. Just for you, George, I will write a brief essay and post it on SD if you agree. (*rolls up sleeves*)

George said...

@Athena: Go for it.

brian t said...

No. The idea that any man-made religion has anything to say about the natural world is mere wishful thinking. When you "do" science, you use all kinds of techniques to avoid the influences of "human factors", of which religion is one. Peer review, multiple independent observations, double-blind trials, whatever - all aimed at seeing things as they are, not as we might wish they are. No, it's not perfect - nothing we do is perfect - but it's crucial that we try, because that is how we learn to do things with the knowledge we have gained.

MeditateAndDestory said...

Hey everyone, thanks for your thoughts on the video, and thanks for having posted it. I'd love to chat with any of you via skype or any other medium about this.

This video was made with a pure intention supported by vigirous research and profound personal experience. I hope we can all stretch our paradigms a bit and humbly challenge our own ways of looking at the world!

Lots of love to you all! :D


Unknown said...

I can't wait to see what Athena comes up with for this.

In the meantime, I'll say that most of this seemed a very facile attempt to kludge various bits and pieces of the two models of reality (Quantum physics and Buddhist cosmology) together. While I can't pretend to have a thorough understanding of either system, even I could spot multiple innaccuracies on both sides.

That said, I object to the characterization of Buddhism as either wishful thinking or a "silly, primitive, backward belief". If you wish to object to it, try to at least explore it a bit first, because it is very much an attempt to perceive the universe as it is, just like science. Its methodology is quite different, is all. Buddhism asserts the primacy of the subjective experience and phenomena of the mind while science asserts the primacy of the natural world and objective observation.

It appears to me each approach has had its results. Buddhism made great advances in human understanding, while science allowed us to understand the physical realm and gain great power in it.

In any case, what's at point here is both world views have their place and don't necessarily need to call for the destruction of the other, just to validate themselves.

Roko said...

[I have a degree in mathematics and physics]

There are multiple inaccuracies in the video, for example the de Broglie wavelength of an apple is extremely small and in any case, as a macroscopic object it is subject to decoherence, but I would say this in favour of Buddhism: if you believe Buddhist doctrine but know nothing about science, your feeling of what reality is like is more accurate than if you believe Christian or Islamic doctrine.

Mike Treder said...

@Chris: I have explored Buddhism quite a bit (along with various other philosophies and religious beliefs). For several years back in the 1980s, I studied and practiced Zen Buddhism, so my criticism is not entirely without firsthand knowledge.

Beyond the personal, though, what I hear you saying is that both methods of seeking truth -- science and spirituality -- are legitimate in their own ways. Sounds like you're alluding to something like Stephen Jay Gould's infamous "Nonoverlapping Magesteria," which has been debunked by others far more informed and eloquent than me. Nuff said.

~C4Chaos said...

the video makes a decent attempt at drawing the parallels between quantum physics and buddhist philosophy but it's an oversimplification of both.

when my teacher uses quantum physics to draw parallels with buddhism, he always makes sure that he mentions that he's just using it as a *metaphor* (but a good metaphor at that). Buddhists who've done their homework will never claim what the nature of reality is (e.g. quantum packets, field, etc.) or what is the ultimate cause, because our perception of "reality" is limited to our senses (note that thoughts is a sense gate in the Buddhist teachings).

that said, i recommend watching this Burke Lecture by Dr. Lewis Lancaster (a Buddhist scholar) wherein he covered this topic briefly yet succinctly:
Burke Lecture: Buddhism in a Global Age of Technology

also, here's a warning from philosopher Ken Wilber.
"Does Quantum Physics Prove God?"

that is all. enjoy.

peace, love, happiness, and Divine discontent,


Martin said...

@Mike Treder:
Science, just like religion, bases it self on a few dogmas. But in this case these "dogmas" say that in order to acquire knowledge of world around us we have to use numbers and measurements. And it just so happens the culture we live in recognizes this model of reality. It doesn't necessarily mean that we have a generally better understanding of our reality, it just means we can measure it using those same dogmas scientific method is built upon. Scientific people have a tendency not to see it...

Athena Andreadis said...

Martin: Once again, in a word, no. If you think science doesn't give us a better understanding of reality, jump out of a plane without a parachute. Or pray over a tumor.

Unknown said...

@Mike: interesting to know about your Buddhist background, I wouldn't have gathered it from your pat dismissal.

And no, I wasn't bringing up the Nonoverlapping Magisteria, which yes, doesn't seem like it would apply to my statement either. My general concern is that both objective measurement and subjective experience are important to human existence. I don't want to lose either one, which is why I object strenously to any philosophy or methodology being bent to the purpose of eliminating other viewpoints on the world. Maybe someday scientific rationality will be able to explain spiritual experience, rather than just bumble on in endlessly complicated attempts to explain it away. Until then I'll continue to find value in older approaches such as Buddhism as well.

Luisfer said...

There is no need of a parachute. Just a fall is need. The world is a hole and empty that is the truth. Tell about the reality. What´s that, just the illusion of being allive. We are not talking about anything like a good. The fact is the matter is just a litle part of the atom, the most important thing is the movement, and the movement in itself is impermanent, is just the noneness. The most important part of physics, of matter, is the emptyness. "What is matter? never mind. What is mind? No matter" (Russell) The mind is our reallity, the matter too, but we don´t understand both of them. That is the real matter. Jai guru dev: fernandezfernand@gmail.com

Martin said...

I really don't see why you have to bring up praying, I never said I find it useful, nor did I mentioned anywhere I'm a religious person. In fact I'm anything but religious.

I'm just pointing out that science bothers only with things it can measure, and it's fine as long as you believe our reality has only those properties that can be measured in this way. I'm just not convinced it's the case.

Your fine argument is much appreciated...

Athena Andreadis said...

Martin, science is not the accountant's boring tool you describe. It "bothers" with most things, from universes to particles and everything in between. It makes predictions and tries to test them. Contrary to your assertion about dogmas, science constantly re-evaluates its premises. If individual scientists fall in love with their theories, that's only human -- paradigms still shift from the force of experimental evidence.

However, trying to use science as a "magic wand" to promote or validate an agenda, as the video that started this discussion did, is disingenuous at best -- as I argue in the essay I promised George: Keeping an Open Mind Is a Virtue, but not so Open that Your Brains Fall Out.

Unknown said...

The video is a collection of silly words with "nice" pictures and a background music, they use to play in elevators. I don't want to say anything about buddhism, but in this terribly stupid video there is nothing, which "meets" science.

~C4Chaos said...

P.S. i also highly recommend the works of B Alan Wallace. he's one of the geeky people out there who understands both domains of science and buddhism.

see "Introduction: #Buddhism and Science - Breaking Down the Barriers" - B Alan Wallace ~http://bit.ly/YjH27

here's a link to his lectures.

thanks. keep it on flowing...


Anonymous said...

I can see the "atheist anger" in the comments that is clouding the minds of the commenters. Buddhism doesn't make you believe in anything. It has no god. It wants you to believe in "nothing" as seen in this video.

Buddhism doesn't deny scientific knowledge and it is not a religion, it is a philosophy. Our science has limits and beyond those limits there starts philosophy. What do i mean by limits can be understood by reading:

- Nick Bostrom - Simulation Argument
- Konrad Zuse - Calculating Universe

Please just google them and have a look.

@George: For a start please read "the new physics and cosmology" in which, buddhists (like dalai lama) and respected quantum physicists (like anton zeilinger) brainstorms about the matter, reality and universe. It will give you the answers you are searching for.

Valentin Kravtchenko said...

Hum really dont like that one:

suggest that one from TED


Russell Blackford said...


You said: "What is matter? never mind. What is mind? No matter" (Russell)

I have to correct the misinformation here. Bertrand Russell did not endorse that comment. He quoted it as something that he rapidly got sick of hearing when he was young.

Luisfer said...

Realmente mi idioma materno es español, así que prefiero escribir en este. Primero, no rezo nunca. Salvo, cuando voy a un funeral o un matrimonio, situaciones del mismo tipo, por cumplir con el ritual sin intención alguna de fe. Segundo, no soy ni ateo ni creo en alguna entidad llamada dios. Considero nada mas que hay una onda de frecuencia de la realidad que no conocemos a través de la mera objetividad, sino de la unión entre la percepción seudo objetiva y la seudo subjetiva, esa es la que se permite por la percepción de un instante una percepción alterada de la realidad a la cual se tiene acceso únicamente en el estado de trance, que ha llamado "místico". Tercero, entonces si lo dijo Bertrand Russell o no? Una cita herrada seria porque no lo hubiera dicho, pero descontextualizadas todas estan de por si. Four: There a mumbo jumbo, as Mike Treder said, yoguist not necesarily budhist expression of this perception that is atheist, no need of god as premise. Translation: My native languaje spanish, I do rather write on it. First, I never pray. But, when I go to a funeral o a marriage, events of the same kind, whithout the intention of being faithfull or something like that. Second, I'm not atheist but even I'dont believe in the existance of something called God. I believe there is a wave of frequence of reality that we don't perceive just by means of the experience called objectivity, but probably by the mixing of seudo subjectivity and seudo objectivity. That is allowed by means only of trance called "mystique". Third, so Rusell said it or not? Because a misquote is when a person didn't said something, but descontextualized are all quotes.

Luisfer said...

Try the change of perception caused by meditation and then oppose. But whithout knowing saying something is like being faithfull to science in the same way to being faithfull to the "mumbo jumbo budhist", it could be like the "mumbo jumbo scientist".

Unknown said...

thank you for relating Buddhism with science.I think this part is nicely described in Theravada. this is the main phenomena in Buddhism . misfortune we do not have any English version of the damma part of the Buddhism.

G.B said...

I believe that Buddhists and scientists have a lot in common.
That's not to say that the content and goals of both are exactly the same. Science does not concern itself with philosophical matters such as free-will, the existence of a soul or the meaning of life,. and Buddhism is not trying to understand the functions of DNA or predict the movements of the stars.

Yet, I think that any real Buddhist (I do not consider myself as one) would take the lengthy and interesting debate here, as a perfect example of something that contradicts the real spirit of their philosophy, the same as any real scientists (also, unfortunately can't claim to be one) would feel.

What really matters to both is the need and craving to understand /find the truth /realize the true nature of things, or whatever drives real truth-seekers. What we, on the other hand, are doing here is convincing the others that we are right and they are wrong, the usual business of most of the world’s politicians, religious leaders or laymen.

I think that another common trait of real Buddhists and scientists is openness to the changing world that they constantly explore.
Many established Zen and Tao quotes of mainstream personalities, such as the comparison of the mind to a mirror that has to be constantly polished, or the need of "killing the Buddha" once you meet him on the road, best demonstrates the need to self exploration and turning every stone instead of taking others' theories for granted or spending time on lecturing to others.

I am talking about "real" Buddhists and "real" scientists since in both dogmas and sticking to the old and known theories are part of the culture. But in both the real work is being done by the real seekers, who do not care about how they are being perceived.
What the discussion here demonstrates (in my humble opinion) is that we are all a bunch of wise guys using the same old tricks and feel great about it, instead of being a little more curious (and humble).

Judging by the strong opinions here, all of us can lecture about quantum physics 5 seconds after being awoke from a deep sleep, but we have also meditated for an average of 28 years and know about Buddhism more than the Buddha himself.

I think that the video is very interesting in showing some fascinating illustrations that touch the surface of a huge ocean, and entices some of us to at least try and swim in it for a while, if not to dive deep. Every Buddhist and scientist would reject the notion that a slogan, video or lecture can somehow summarize such deep subjects, or testify to its validity, but I don’t think that the video had any such pretension. The issue is not if the creator is a genius or has just gathered a few notions and put them together in beautiful graphical way, to intrigue us. It is mainly about us who “have been there, done that” and may never open themselves to the real nuances of both fields.

JacquelineFFC said...

Theravada Buddhism - The ultimate truth a human has ever discover. Well science has rejected the idea of a creator god long ago :)

Albert Einstein - Buddhism has the characteristics of a Cosmic religion for the future.