Sunday, March 26, 2017

Science and religion are compatible

My position on science and religion/spirituality/supernatural stuffs is that they are compatible.

Let me define science first, I mean the scientific method of having to test hypothesis before accepting it as a model of how the world works.  It doesn't include dogmatism of philosophical believes like the brain is the mind, or materialism/physicalism. It doesn't include the opinion of scientists, although this is largely how science progress, through the collective agreement of the scientists in the field.

I do not distinguish much between religion, spirituality and supernatural stuffs as Buddhism has them intertwined together, but at the same time it is scientific at heart, so these elements are not that crucial to Buddhism, the crucial thing is to be our own scientist of our mind to observe using mindfulness about how our mind works based on working hypothesis provided by the Buddha. The claim is, if done according to the instructions with all the right conditions brought about by practising, we will end all forms of dissatisfaction forever for each individual.

So by religion, I do not include other religions in general, mainly only referring to Buddhism, by spirituality, I do not include the new age stuffs, just the practise of meditation, wisdom and morality as found in Buddhism. By supernatural stuffs, I do not include all the claims by whatever nut case out there but mainly rebirth (of which there are sufficient objective evidence to be accepted as fact), kamma, beings of other realms and psychic powers via meditation.

Most scientists have mainly have a problem with the supernatural stuffs. And of course that religious people tend to be anti-science because science cannot support their supernatural claims. This attitude from religious people are indeed unwarranted and downright dangerous. If religion is meant to bring us to the truth, then religious people should like science as it did uncover many ignorance about the world. It is people who are climate denialist, anti-vaccine who are putting human lives in danger. (Not to mention some people believe in flat earth!)

The supernatural stuffs are mainly outside the current purview of scientific investigation mainly because it doesn't fit into the materialism philosophy. So scientists who adhere to that philosophy may become unjust in judging raw data or too quick in dismissing evidence and hypothesis outside of the materialism worldview.

Science requires the ability to reproduce things in a controlled environment to count as valid data. Often times this doesn't agree with some religious people out of respect for their gods or that we know too little about ghosts that we can't trap them like ghost busters to study them, leading to the widespread believe that ghost does not exist.

For those few who encountered these supernatural stuffs as they go deeper into spirituality and their religion, it becomes harder to communicate with the scientists because there can be a claim that they wish for their religion to be supported by science as their underlying motive for bringing up these data. Worse still is the reputation of their religion would be tarnished if for whatever reason the scientists dismiss the claim as false.

Most spiritual practitioners lack the training of scientists to be able to conduct experiments and gathering data for themselves should they obtain psychic powers via meditation. There can also be an issue of credibility and motivation. Most people who did not spend their life building themselves up as respected scientists might be ridiculed for publishing a paper on researching supernatural stuffs. Most people who can develop these psychic powers usually have no motivation to become a scientist but more motivated to attain to enlightenment. Those few who are scientists and great practitioners might see that it cannot really change people's mind anyway, those who believe place little value on scientific proof. Those who disbelieve might reject facts to upheld their precious materialism view. Only those who are in the middle of being open minded yet not so much faith may benefit from these findings.

And so pockets of humans are trapped in their own worldview blissfully ignorant of what the other thinks.

Many times it might not be worth doing the bridge as the negative repercussions are worse than the positive ones.

Having said that, this is one possible future about how science can proceed to make progress in discovering the supernatural laws. First, is through the meditation science. Once meditation is taught to the general populace an scientists until they can attain to the fourth jhana, and then proceed on to develop psychic powers, then those psychic powers will be new tools for scientific discovery into the supernatural.

Second, taking hints from the brahmajala sutta, merely having psychic powers like divine eye is not enough to uncover objective truths. Views cloud the interpretation of what is seen. Eg. Near death experience can be different based on the person's religion and believes. So experiments on having different and the same views will have to be conducted to find out the relationship between views and how people interprets their spiritual experience. Mindfulness of feelings and views will help a lot in uncovering the views and interpretation and how they form.

Lastly, in particular for Buddhism, it can be tested of having right view as described in Buddhism can lead to the end of all dissatisfaction as claimed by the Buddha. Naturally, as Buddhist, we will say that there is thousands of years of data and proof. But from the perspective of science, the development must go step by step to establish theories and tools for investigating the mind before it can be accepted as scientific facts.

In that era, anti-science promotion will only harm the acceptance of what science will have discovered.

Right now materialism dogmatism is strong amongst many scientists and it will be hard on the side of spiritual practitioners to come to science. It can only be bridged by scientists coming to spiritualism and test it out. Of course, if the above scenario ever happens, we might have religious crisis on our hands as people decide to renounce other religions and how would leaders of other religion act. Or ignorance can run deeper and alienate a lot of humanity from proper science.

Science can also be used in another way as had been done by communism, to destroy all religions because of the believe that humans created God and religions without having to investigate if religions has anything to offer towards the search for truth. Especially tragic is what happened to Buddhism in China due to communism. So militant atheists, do investigate first, not all religions has unfalsifiable God.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Infinite beings according to buddhism

There is a few logical conclusion one can obtain from the Buddhist sutras. One of them is that there is infinite amount of sentient beings in Buddhism.

Here is how we can arrive at this conclusion.

Firstly, Buddhism claims that there is no beginning.

Second is that fully enlightened buddhas appears, back into the infinite past and future.

This leads to the conclusion that there was infinite number of buddhas in the past. Each time a Buddha appeared, at least one being is liberated from samsara.

Given that there is a constant reduction of total sentient beings over an infinite period until now, and the fact that there is still sentient beings in samsara. We conclude that the only way for this to happen is that there is infinite amount of sentient beings.

Assumption inherent is that no new sentient beings are "created" out of nothing. Another assumption is that there was no primordial or first Buddha.

From this, it is reasonable to further conclude that Buddhism requires infinite number of universes. Or an infinite sized universe. This is to house the infinite amount of sentient beings. This also lends credit to the teachings of pure land as a universe with that exact property.

There seems to be a disappointment to Mahayana Buddhists. If there is infinite amount of sentient beings, how can we liberate them all?

One answer I got from a zen master is: can a superhero stop all crime? Or is it enough to stop as much as they can?

The Buddha also gave this answer in a sutta. His goal is to just teach suffering and the way to end it. Who so ever follows the way, will end it, who doesn't will not.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Information transfer between galaxies via rebirth (writing in progress)

One thing we know for sure from studies of cases of rebirth is that they transfer information, from the dead previous body to the next person being born.
Of course most of us do not remember our previous life, thus the main lack of evidence that inspires lack of belief in this phenomena. Regardless, there are some people who spontaneously remember their past lives (and found facts in the present that agrees with the memory)  and it is possible to remember past life information via meditation practice, so for the purpose of this thought experiment, rebirth is equal to information transfer or at least the potential for it.
Now consider the scenario that humans as a species survive the ongoing climate change, possible nuclear war and colonise space without being exterminated by hostile aliens and not creating enemies by being hostile to aliens. Humans would spread out not only throughout the whole galaxy, which is merely 100,000 light years across, but the whole universe, in particular, consider galaxies that are about 1 billion light years apart from each other. Assuming faster than light travel and time travel via general relativistic time machines are prohibited or plain impossible, there would be no practical means of communication between the two galaxies because by the time a laser communication device reach from one galaxy to another, one billion years might had wiped out all other traces of civilisation from the sender.
However, consider this: what if one person from this galaxy gets reborn in another one about one billion light years away? According to the Theravada Buddhist tradition, the rebirth is instantaneous (from the point of view of the consciousness, the death consciousness is immediately followed by a rebirth consciousness). Bringing this back to Physics, instantaneous between two bodies means two events (death and rebirth) happening at different place at the same time, or simultaneous.
The problem is, there is no such thing as absolute simultaneity. Special Relativity (SR) threw that out long time ago, the plane of simultaneous events changes according to your velocity.
Here we shall make a short detour to address if SR really applies in intergalactic distances. SR is just a local flat approximation of General Relativity (GR), the theory that made Einstein famous. For universal scales of intergalactic distances, we should use GR. Yet, now we know that in the large scale of the universe, it is very near to being a flat universe, or that the mass distribution is uniform enough that general relativity does not matter (much) in the large scale. That means special relativity could be applied across intergalactic distances.
Back to planes of simultaneity. There would be no such thing as that plane in the universal scale. Thus if rebirth is instantaneous from the outside, this begs the question: instantaneous to who?
If we can solve this problem, we might have information time travel, or even time travel itself!
One easy way out is to refer to the one of the cases in Francis Story's book: Rebirth: Doctrine and Case Studies.
In this case, the person who died had

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Samsara=nirvana and the end of time

In the book, the end of time, by julian barbour, the interpertation of the absence of time in the equation of quantum gravity is taken literally.

That is our parallel to nirvana. The way time and change emerge is via looking at a subset of the universe, and run it relative to the rest of the universe. Thus, samsara exists when one does not completely understand dependent origination.

And since the difference is only in how one perceive it, then samsara is equal to nirvana. Even in physics, it has been recently shown that the mind can alter results of an quantum experiment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Guide to ultimate physics according to dependent origination philosophy

This article is written for Physics using the central philosophy in Buddhism as a guiding principle to select the assumptions in the theories to construct and how to interpret them. In particular, the philosopher Nagarjuna with the philosophy of the Middle Way, which emphasizes on the emptiness (non-independent arising) is used.

The philosophy of Middle Way uses the examples to illustrate the relativity of concepts. A thing that is long is only long relative to something else. In Physics, this principle can translate into relativity of everything that needs to be compared to make sense.

Position relativity is one of the cornerstone that explains the conservation of momentum in Physics. So to there are time relativity, size, etc... most of the principles of symmetry in Physics that can be used, should be used to construct a theory.

Also another principle we can use is non-independent existence of phenomena without observation.

Quantum Physics has this principle in its mathematics when it describes the collapse of wave-function due to measurement. According to Buddhist philosophy then, it is pointless to speculate on the philosophical nature of wave-function before collapse. Operational quantum physics approach as in taking care of the input and output of the theory as opposed to the philosophical interpretations would be the result of applying that philosophy.

More parallels should be available as I learn more about speculative physics, but as of now, I am not in a position to indulge in that yet.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Universal Characteristics and Physics

Impermanence, non-self and dissatisfaction are what Buddhism deems to be the universal characteristics of all conditioned phenomena, that is everything except for the unconditioned. We shall attempt to see if the current Physics understanding of the world does or doesn't agree with the claims of Buddhism.

Impermanence means that all things are subject to change, nothing last forever, not even nothing. This seems like a simple observation but we don't really realise it all the time. Although we all die someday, we tend to live as if we will live forever. For physicists in particular, we think that somehow if we can make the greatest contribution to the world, then the books of the future will immortalize us like Newton and Einstein. Even if we just make a contribution like having our name on the equation we discovered, it's a great honour. No doubt it is, yet we tend to forget that languages changes, our knowledge of the world changes, humanity may remember Einstein until the end of the Universe, but the Universe will end nontheless.

How can we be sure that the universe will end? Ever since the discovery of the second law of thermodynamics we are sure. The second law states that entropy of a closed system tends to increase with time. That is things will tend towards disorder. If we regard the universe as a closed system then it will go towards a heat death, whereby all things will have the same temperature and then largely nothing happens. Even then, that state is bounded by impermanence as given infinite time, a large fluctuation can create another big bang. Just like shaking a box of white and black balls, once in a long time, you get order from disorder. Other than the heat death, other possible end of the universe are the Big Crunch, whereby gravity pulls everything back to a singularity, possibly followed by the Big Bounce and Big Rip, whereby the repulsive force of dark energy rips everything apart to quarks and then the quarks themselves create more quarks out of the energy and so on.

Even so, there is a subtler notion of impermanence in Buddhism, that is that all things that arises would cease and in particular, form (physical things) rises and ceases so fast that we don't notice it, unless we meditate to calm the mind to a very deep level and then observe the world. This seems to parallel the concept of quantum foam in Physics. Quantum foam is the fluctuations in the smallest of spacetime patch of every field due to uncertainty principle. So in a very short amount of time, any matter-antimatter pair can be created and destroyed with energy borrowed and returned to the vacuum. Casimir effect, experimentally well established is well explained by the quantum foam. Wait a second, quantum foams are virtual particles, they do not interact with real particles do they? Well, they do. We model them by using Feymann's diagram. Now this is speculative but it's possible that real particles seems to last so long because they are constantly being replaced by virtual particles that pop up just beside it and it gets destroyed by its antiparticle. After all, if virtual particle turning real happens at event horizons of black holes (an effect called Hawking radiation), why not to every single particle we think of as real?

So far, we had seen that impermanence is indeed a common property of everything (at least all physical thing) according to both Buddhism and Physics, how about non-self?

In Buddhism, non-self carries the meaning of emptiness too. Emptiness does not mean nothingness. It means empty of an independent essence. Everything that depends on conditions are empty because when the conditions changes, the thing changes as well. In Physics, conditions of a thing is typically represented by a variable. Equations in physics is merely a description of how different things changes depending on different conditions. Think of all the equations in Physics now, from classical mechanics, to thermodynamics; from electromagnetism to modern Physics, are they all describing the inherent emptiness of all phenomena that they describe?

A good example in Buddhism that exemplifies emptiness is taking an example of a table. A table is empty. Why? Because it's actually wood made into that shape, it depends on wood, having a carpenter, the concept of a table among other things. The table is empty of inherent "tableness". Even the concept of the table depends on the shape of humans, a good mind to think, and so on. Wood itself is empty of "woodness". It depends on having a tree, loggers, etc. A tree is empty of "treeness", it depends on a seed, soil, sunlight, water. Sunlight is empty too, it depends crucially that the Big Bang happened which produced majority hydrogen and the laws of gravity for the hydrogen to gather together and form stars. I doubt if Carl Sagan learned emptiness before, but he is right when he said, "if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." In Buddhism we have the saying that you can see a whole universe in a flower.
Usually people would stop at this point and let the concept of emptiness sink in. Done? Ok then, let's go further shall we? The Big Bang depended on initial conditions and the right quantum gravity laws nearer the singularity. Now, we have arrived at what physicists with reductionist tendency tend to end up with. The Newtonian paradigm of initial conditions and laws of the universe as the ultimate essence of the universe and everything in it. The ultimate aim of a theory of everything is to see if we can find a deeper law that is necessary and inevitable, hence unique. There is some philosophy that hope that it can even explain the initial conditions (that determine the values of mass of elementary particles and constants) away. Thus we would have arrived at the essence of truth.

In essence, the truth we seek should have these qualities: Space and time independence (in general relativity this can be generalized to reference frame independence and many other symmetry), applies to all, and inevitable. These are what Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan taught to be criterion of truths as well. 

Dwelling further into the issue, we can ask are the initial conditions empty? What do they depend upon? Answer: the previous conditions and laws of physics. Then are the laws of Physics empty? Newtonian gravity depends on the condition of low energy and speed. General Relativity requires low energy. Quantum Physics depends on the quantum coherence of the system described. Maybe we can find a quantum gravity that does not depend on any conditions, or maybe the search is endless. Even if the quantum gravity that is universal is found, can it really be said to be not empty? It would change into General Relativity at low energy, into quantum Physics at small distances.

 The Buddha did not give a whole lecture of how to find the theory of everything in Physics, but He straightaway go to the point of impermanence, non-self and dissatisfaction. He was interested only in teaching dissatisfaction and the way out, thus anything else, including physics, that does not help would not be in his interest to share.

Dissatisfaction is not really within the realm of Physics right? Yet, Physicists as humans can identify with this statement: There is dissatisfaction in life. Yes, there is the obvious suffering of physical pain, and the mental pain of getting papers rejected, the stress of research, the depression of graduate school and so on. There is also the happiness of getting paper published, solving great difficult problems and getting tenure. Yet, even those happiness does not last forever. Impermanence ensures that the happy feeling dies down. It may last a day, a week or even years, but one is simply not happy forever. Even neutral feeling is dissatisfactory as it would change too. Thus dissatisfaction permeates everything that is impermanent.

Now we had seen that as human physicists, we can intellectually verify that indeed there are these three universal characteristics of everything. Enlightened people are those who realizes, not just intellectually understand, this truth with a deep calm mind that sees the world with the light of wisdom and let go of craving and clinging to the world, the cause of dissatisfaction, thus ending dissatisfaction. That's the essence of the Buddhist training.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Logical reasoning

The premise of this blog is using mainly logical reasoning to map out the philosophical interactions between physics and Buddhism.

Logical reasoning has its limits, that it cannot arrive at the truth on its own. If the premise is false, the conclusion can be false.

Logical reasoning as well as 9 other sources (divine revelations, traditions, rumours, scriptures, on the view that it seems rational, reflection on mere appearances, agreement with one's own opinions, authorities or experts, one's own teacher) are said by the Buddha to not be relied upon as sole sources of the truth.

Only via experience, experimentation should a truth be discerned. I hope you would bear that in mind as you read all the rest of this blog.

Yet, there are other traditions who has meditated and reached a different conclusion with respect to Buddhism. The reason that Buddhism claim is that the others let their likes and dislikes to a certain view to colour their conclusion.

Thus to gain enlightenment, you'll have to let go of all the views explored here. They are not conducive towards enlightenment. The only role I hope for these articles is that it inspires enough faith in you to draw close to a teacher, to sit nearby, to lend your ear, to listen to the Dhamma, to remember it, then test the meaning, testing the meaning, things are approved of, being approved, there arose desire, with desire, you make an effort, with the effort, you weight it up (contemplate), having weight it up, you strives, finally being self resolute, you realises the highest truth.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kamma in Bohm's Interpertation

This post is a sequel to previous two posts, the Karma-Quantum Interpretations-Bell's inequality, and Physics needs Buddhism. I am still reading the book "Time Reborn" by Lee Smolin and the second part is quite heavy in terms of food for thought, so I decide to just run the articles as I read along.

I'm reading now about Smolin's preference to the hidden variable interpretations of quantum physics, lead by de Broglie and Bohm. The reason behind the preference of this as the more fundamental explanation to quantum theory is to do away with the inherent randomness of quantum physics which violates the principle of sufficient reason. The principle of sufficient reason means that any reasonable questions should have an answer. Intrinsic randomness (without cause) is the ultimate bummer to this principle, there is no reason for the result to happen, it just happened to happen! Recall in the Karma-Quantum article, I mentioned that from a superficial outlook, karma in Buddhism which rejects no causes for things to happen and super-determinism seems to favour the hidden variable theories. This article explores this line of thinking further.

Smolin posits his own version of the hidden variable versions, that is real-ensemble interpretation. The usual ensemble interpretations involves interaction of single systems with imaginary group of ensembles and the usual sampling from statistics explains the randomness in quantum theory. Smolin modified this by rejecting the interaction with imaginary groups (which violates the principle that nothing outside the universe can act on something inside it), and says that the group that quantum systems compare to does not have to be local. Now it has been proven that local hidden variable are not possible in nature, so all hidden variable theories includes non-locality. Thus, the example of an electron would have it's copy of ensembles far away, but the universe has many of those identical fundamental particles. However, when it comes to macroscopic things like humans, we are unique, therefore there is no exact copy elsewhere in the universe and thus the quantum effects disappears.

Before he presents his theory, he speculates that the hidden variable inside quantum systems that determine the results of measurements are inherently linked to everything else in the universe via the principle of maximum freedom. This principle is that quantum physics maximizes the amount of information you need per choice. It describes the universe which can have probabilistic predictions of how systems behave where the systems has as much freedom from determinism as any physical system described by probabilities can have. So in the sense that quantum systems are free, they are maximally free. It means that the properties of each particle in the universe are maximally tied up in hidden relations to the universe as a whole. (Sorry a lot of direct copying of his exact words, I find it hard to paraphrase and still mean the same thing.)

Now onto the creative part. If we use a naive approach and directly input kamma as part of the mechanism or relations that describes these relational hidden variables, how can that help in the research in Physics from the interaction between Physics and Buddhism?

So having just thought about it, here is my naive conception of how this might work out. Below are just an overall plan, with no details of the theory, just an outline of the direction of research to work out for the idea.

From the previous post of Physics needs Buddhism, I had argued for the inclusion of mind-matter interaction relations to be described in Physics before any theory can claim the title of theory of everything. Kamma can enter into Physics via the hidden variables version of quantum physics.

First we need to know how the physical world affects and influences the mental world. This ranges from studies of biology, neuroscience (how the physical world affects the brain which in turns affects the mind), to psychology and a bit of Buddhism. Most importantly perhaps is if Penrose's speculation that the mind is quantum mechanical, is true, then this would be a major contribution.

Second, is how the mind takes the data input from the physical world and processes it to eventually translate it to further actions (kamma). This is the part where Buddhism can help fill in the blank, because it is how mind interacts with mind itself. The dependent origination and Abhidhamma explained in the previous post exactly addresses this gap.

Third is to see how action (kamma) translates to changes in the hidden variables. This is one of the mind-matter interactions which is a variable theory to be discovered and researched. Some complications may present itself here. Kamma is not only physical actions and speech, it includes mental actions. How does this translates to hidden variables is anyone's guess. However, one can speculate that mental thoughts is correlated with electrical signals in the brain, and thus can investigate how that affects the hidden variables (maybe mainly around the brain) was modified from there and how it changes a human.

Conventional kamma action theory from Buddhism can help in a rough guide here. Conventionally, what we put out in the world, goes around and changes it a little, so that it is no surprise if it comes back and hit you one day. That's social kamma. Also there is psychological kamma, which is just like the book the Secret. What you think about, you are getting prepared for it, eventually, when the opportunity comes, you'll get it naturally as much easier as compared to you not having thinking about it. But the most mysterious part of kamma is the one that just says, doer of good deeds will get their results when the conditions are right and vice versa, even onto the next life and beyond. This kinds of posits an imaginary account for kamma which the individual carries around all the time until the results ripen. In fact, Mahayana Buddhism has the eight consciousness just for this, the storehouse of kamma. The potential of relational hidden variable theory is to put this imaginary account onto the physical world or at least provides a relationship to the physical world which somehow puts the theory of how kamma works on a more rational (possibly predictable) and less mysterious track. But to complete this theory, we need one more element.

Fourth, we need to see how the hidden variables that was modified by kamma interacts with other hidden variables and comes back to hit the doer of the kamma. And this would link back to the first knowledge above, completing this chain. This might be the hardest part to figure out as it is purely a physical phenomena on unobservable quantities. The theories constructed on this part must be tested together with theories constructed for the third part and best estimates from the first part to fit in with the second part (which we currently take that Buddhism works well to describe the theory for the mind) to reproduce the description of how kamma works in Buddhism (which for this case we assume to be true and the goal of the research). So for the best case scenario that the first knowledge can be obtained from neuroscience quite well, we have four parts of a theory, 2 known, 2 unknown to equate to 1 description of kamma, which is known. We have one degree of freedom here.

I would suggest that this degree of freedom be modified to test against predictions from this theory on supernatural observations. No, I am not talking about fictional accounts of ghosts and such beings, nor claims that has been proven to be fake. We should only consider cases where it has been well documented, long standing cases which cannot be easily explained away by conventional means. And also employ experienced frauds, skeptics and neutral scientists to decide the cases to consider.

Another feature is that I believe the theory of how rebirth happens might have to be written down (or better yet, predicted from the previous theory) somewhere to guide the construction of the theory. Then the theory can be modified to fit accounts of cases of rebirth claims that has been verified which numbers thousands of data. Using this, we might be able to produce the physics of supernatural beings, predict the workings of kamma and rebirth on a person and so on to construct experiments and further test the theories.

One example of how kamma might work is that each time an action is done, it shifts the hidden variable around the doer a bit. However, habitual kamma can accumulate the shift to be significant so that it comes back to the doer in a heavy force. Being non-local, kamma may also not be stored around the doer, but actually affects the whole universe.

Another power of this description is that the concern raised by Sean Carroll here about modifying the equations of physics to fit in interactions between mind and matter is addressed. Physics at everyday scales need not change, we only need the seemingly random results of quantum measurements. We need them because they are actually a complicated play of mind-matter interactions.

Now, I hope that this article shows that the dialogue between Buddhism and Physics can drive a certain direction of research in Physics. If you are uncomfortable with thinking that Buddhism as a religion, think of the statements from Buddhism as working hypothesis or conjectures by learned ancient scholars, or one wise dude (the Buddha) who has no intention to convert anyone, just to discover the truth to live a happier life and share it.

There are just two warnings for those who wants to pursue this. First, the relational hidden variable theories may not be correct. This is one fair warning, but it never stopped theoretical physicists before. Second, The Buddha did put up a warning that to contemplate the exact workings of kamma may make one go insane. But he also said that about thinking of the origin of the universe, and this didn't stop cosmologists from discovering almost everything right down to just after the Big Bang. It might be that these statements were true to the people of that time. (Imagine them having to learn/discover modern physics first before able to start to think about these questions.) We might have some advantages due to the advances in theory made in the past. Yet, to be fair, we still do not know the origin of the universe for sure yet, thus, it might be possible that we may also not ever be able to complete the plan outlined above to complete satisfaction.

Anyway, once again I apologize for the large number of assumed knowledge of Physics and Buddhism on the part of the reader and my laziness to cite things I mentioned here. I'll do it next time.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Physics needs Buddhism

Physics has been wildly successful in describing the physical universe. However, the answer to what is consciousness and the mind differs if you ask one physicist to another. There is this reductionism tendency to regard the whole is just the sum of it's parts, thus the mind is psychology, which is applied neuroscience, which is part of biology, which is applied chemistry, which is applied physics. Thus fundamentally, the mind is subject to physics laws and principles.

This view can no longer hold sway, as we discover and acknowledge the science of chaos, which states that it is not possible to predict deterministic outcomes in chaos situation. And the science of complexity, which studies the emergent properties of systems at the edge of order and chaos. Implicit in the assumption of emergence is that the emergent phenomena does not influence the more fundamental phenomena from which it is emergent from, but the other way around is true. Biological systems which reverses local entropy has to be an open system, but the concept of life has no impact on physics.

In the book time reborn by Lee smolin, he advocated some principles for building a true cosmological theory that describes and explains everything in the universe. The problem he finds with the current cosmological models is that there can be many fundamental quantum gravity laws that fits into the approximate theories of quantum, general relativity, and standard model. Not only that, there is also the freedom of choice for the initial conditions in cosmology. The thing is, we only have one observable universe. Thus the laws might easily apply to many different kinds of Multiverse which can be in principle unobservable.

This he says is the problem of applying the Newtonian paradigm to the whole universe. The Newtonian paradigm is to do Physics in a box. That means isolate a subsystem of the universe and then change the initial conditions in it to deduce the laws that apply to that phenomenon. Once we have the laws, we can predict all future and the past of the system with only information about the present. (In principle, the dynamics of quantum physics is deterministic until measurement, which is interaction with something outside the box, thus if the system is truly isolated, the wavefunction should not collapse.) Lee says because at least gravity is not blockable, no system within the universe is truly isolated, we cannot draw a box and assume that all that is in it is changing, but outside things are not changing. Thus he proposed that a true theory of the cosmos should dispense with Newtonian paradigm and describe the relationship of change between all things in the universe, no exceptions allowed, not even the differential structure of curved space time, or symmetry. He even elevated this to a principle, the principle of no unresipocated action.

So taking that principle and using it on the most basic fact of life we experience everyday, we see that the mind and matter has interactions between them. Matter affects the mind, this is clearly seen everytime we eat something good and felt happy, also the condition of the brain affects how our mind functions. Mind also affects matter, our decision to eat meat drives the economy of may production which contributes significantly to global warming, the connections in our brain is also rewired depending on how we train our mind.

A theory of everything cannot leave out this obvious fact of life. The interaction between mind and matter has to be figured out regardless of the philosophy and theories of what anyone has about what is the mind. It maybe same as the brain, it maybe the heart, it maybe a whole new separate thing, it may also be emergent. All these doesn't matter much in the exploration of the laws of the interaction between mind and matter.

It is wise to employ a tool of the mind to study the mind just as we employed matter to study matter. Meditation, a practise that has been secularly and scientifically confirmed to be effective in letting the user observe oneself and becoming happier is the ideal tool for the studies of the mind.

The idea is to gain a working knowledge of the laws of the mind, then see how the mind influences matter and the other way around.

So far there is no Buddhism in this discussion yet, now I am bringing it in.

Buddhism features amazingly detailed description on how the mind works. Most notably in the Abhidhamma, where the mind is classified to consciousness and mental factors. The model is linear in time, each consciousness arises for one thought moment before disappearing and the next one replaces it. Each consciousness is accompanied by several mental factors that drives it. According to the Theravada Abhidhamma, there are 89 or 121 different types of consciousness and 52 mental factors. Consciousness includes mostly functional aspects of the mind, wholesome and unwholesome mind and also states of deep meditation. Mental factors includes hatred, loving-kindness, feelings, perception, wisdom, delusion, and also volition. Having the basic building blocks, the Abhidhamma also describes what are the thought processes that arises from the input of our 5 senses and the subsequent analysis of the 6th sense, the mind itself to sense mental objects. So thoughts are mental objects and can be endless and infinite. What's more amazing is that the relationship and interactions between the mind itself, mind and matter, and between matter itself are described. 24 conditionality, which can be condensed into 4 are what links causes to effects. 

There is also the links of dependant origination. From ignorance is conditioned volitional actions, which conditions rebirth consciousness, which conditions mind and matter, which conditions the 6 sense bases, which conditions contact, which conditions feelings, which conditions craving, which conditions attachment, which conditions actions for becoming, which conditions birth, which conditions death, decay and suffering. It is primary concerned with the mind, but there is the clue on how the mind rebirth consciousness conditions which mind and body that the new life inhibits. This is one of the crucial links between mind and matter that should be considered and included in any theory ambitious enough to want to explain the cosmos. Implicit here is the assumption of the facts of rebirth, which many with a western, materialistic, and Abrahamic faiths and education would have prejudice against. My opinion of it is that it has enough empirical evidence to warrant it a naturalistic fact and scientific attention, unbiased thought, analysis and experimentation.

So far it is in my view that in order to advance Physics, the theories about the mind and it's interaction with matter cannot be ignored. Having found the analysis of exactly these in Buddhism, I conclude that more physicists and scholars of Buddhism should work together to crack up a theory that can be tested by scientific studies so that even the anti religion people would have to agree with the findings.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The End of Time, non-self and Nibbana

Julian Barbour wrote a popular science book, advocating his idea of a particular interpretation of the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. The name of the book is called the end of time. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation is an early attempt to combine both quantum and gravity. The search for quantum gravity still continues today, possibly because of one problem that the Wheeler-DeWitt equation posed: there is no time in it.

Having read the book, I had saw many parallels in Buddhism that matches the description by Barbour. This article is an attempt to list down the parallels. However closely Barbour's interpretation might appear to fit in with Buddhism, I do not claim that Buddhism requires this interpretation to be the true picture of reality. This is because I have neither the empirical realisation of the truths claimed in Buddhism nor do we have the experimental data to test Barbour's interpretation. The emphasis on empirical data is in accordance to Buddhism's spirit that the ultimate arbiter of what is right is empirical experience. However philosophically, it can be said that Buddhism supports certain parts of Barbour's interpretation. I invite the readers to form their own conclusion.

I shall describe The End if Time in brief and draw the parallels with Buddhist concepts along the way when suitable. I've found that a dialogue form is nicer to read, and easier to write. So here's P, a physicist and B, a Buddhist who are knowledgeable in their area but also knows the other side well too.

P: Time does not exist in the ultimate sense. That is the hypothesis by Barbour. Time is only an agreement to track changes we see in the world with another thing that changes that are more regular and accurate. In a universe with only one particle, like an electron, there is no time, because there is nothing else to keep track of any change.

B: Indeed, for Buddhist there is only the present moment, the past is gone, the future has not come.

P: Good, but that's not what Barbour's picture is. Now Barbour invites us to image a universe with three particles only. It is possible to track their evolution by taking successive "instants of time" or pictures, with only these pictures, one can rearrange the order of them and extrapolate it's path in the past and to the future. To those three particles, what is intuitive is not the Newtonian absolute space and time we develop having lived on earth, but what is real to them is only the relative configurations of their positions. Each moment in time is just a representation of these relative configurations. The collection of all possible configurations is called Platonia, it represents all that can be. These moments in time are all also called Nows, if we add in more particles until we put in the whole universe, then Platonia becomes the space of all possible configurations.

B: That sounds more like everything exist, a doctrine of the Sarvastivada school of Buddhism.  He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarvastivadin. It might be that the Sarvastivada school acknowledged that time travel as General Relativity allows is possible but the other schools do not bother with it.

P: Time travel in Barbour's picture is possible. A point in Spacetime in General Relativity represents an event, a point in Platonia represents a Now. So in general Relativity, time travel is a closed loop around a point, but this is pointless in Platonia, the time travellers only has memory of when they came from if the Now they occupy is close but not exactly the same as Now they wanted to go back to. Barbour postulate that if time travel is possible, then it has very low probability of being realised. Of course time here is conventional speech, ultimately time does not exist. You might think that time is still needed to talk about progressions from one Now to another in Platonia. However, it is possible to attribute this persistent illusion of time and motion as just memories and histories. Barbour calls things that records the past as time capsules. We only remember and infer the existence of a time before us in the Now. It is because of time capsules that we were made to believe that we travelled in time from the past to the future when in fact, there is no travelling, no motion. Just that the person in each Now are aware of the experience of their Now including time capsules. Thus each person in their Now thinks that they came from someone from another Now (in their so-called past). 

B: Memory, it's part of the aggregate of perception in Buddhism. In Buddhism, we believe that ultimately a person is made up of 5 aggregates, of form (anything material), sensation, perception, mental factors, and consciousness. Barbour's picture if imported into Buddhist terms, would have Platonia including not just the physical world, but also at least the perception aggregate too.

P: It should include all 5 aggregate to be worthy to be called Platonia.

B: Doubtless. However, the thing is, in Buddhism we recognize 4 elements that makes up the form: Earth which represents solidity, water which represents cohesion, fire which represents heat and air which represents motion. And then there is space too. What is curious is that Barbour denies the air element. I don't think it would fit in with Buddhism anyway.

P: But don't forget, the 4 elements are meditation teachings on what humans can directly sense, not necessarily it is the fundamental way the world works.

B: It's debatable, but anyway, how do you fit in entropy here then?

P: The distinction between the past and future is only because the smaller volume and thus smaller entropy Nows are correlated with the past, while the Nows with bigger volume, are the ones with higher entropy and they also has the ability to contain time capsules that describes other Nows with lower entropy, thus they are perceived as the future.

B: I still find it hard to believe that there's a me out there in Platonia doing everything else.

P: Not all Nows are created equal. The Nows that life are breathe into are the most frequent one. This can be predicted by the wave function of the universe which is given by solving the Wheeler-DeWitt equation for the whole universe. The way to solve it is to look at the structure of all that is possible and then let them cancel each other out until you get the most likely path. It's inspired by the Hamiltonian mechanics principle of least action. Since the equation applies to the whole of Platonia which is timeless, there is no time in the equation. So our existence, what we do now, is a sum of all possible us.

B: That smacks of the lack of free will. Of fatalism. Back in Buddha's time there was many other teachers teaching many other philosophy, one of which is fatalism, Makkhali Gosala. He taught that there is no point in doing good or striving, when a person's life cycle is finished, he will automatically attain to the end of rebirth. In Buddhism, a person has the habits due to unmindfulness, which leads them to be quite predictable as a biological, social, psychological machine. Yet, if we are mindful, we can choose not to be angry when the situation presents itself. We can exercise free will to change the course of our life. It is because of free will that people can choose to follow the path of Buddhism to enlightenment.

P: Barbour calls his picture as beyond free will and beautiful. You are what you are (Now) because you are what you are (in the whole of Platonia). There's also multiple instants, so instead of one possibility, if there is choices, the wave function can split up and follow those possibilities. However, each person only sees their possibility when the choice is made. I use person here as a conventional speech, ultimately each Now has a different person in it. There's no one person who travelled from one Now to another. There's just memory of each person thinking that they did.

B: This no self thing rings well with Buddhism. The parallels I can see with Buddhism is that a central concept in Buddhism is that we are deluded into thinking that something are permanent, happy and have a self. Whereas the ultimate view if we have a clear mind is to realize that all conditioned phenomenon are impermanent, unsatisfactory and thus doesn't have an independent existence as a self. This is usually summarized as non self or emptiness, empty of inherent existence. The reasoning is that all things depend on one another, for example, the fact that you are reading this is conditioned by you having the time, energy, and relatively healthy. It is also only possible if I wrote it in the first place, and it is published. And all these can be traced back to the conditions that allow humans to exist, the conditions to form earth, the sun and indeed the whole universe. So nothing ever exist independently of other things. 

P: On the surface, Barbour's picture seemed to agree with the non self of Buddhism. Yet within each Nows, Barbour allows for independently existing entities that are not subjected to causation because there is no time for cause to become effect. There are just all the possible configurations of the world including the Now in which a person experiencing the effect remembers another Now in which he or she had done a cause for the effect. There is another Now in which the memory is different but the likelihood of that inconsistent history to happen is low. Or at least Barbour claim that it should be low if we ever manage to solve the Wheeler-DeWitt equation to that detail. Herein lies that falsibility of his theory or interpretation. 

B: Thus these independent Nows are against the spirit of non-self. Yet, one can also argue that the Nows are not entirely independent, but are bound somewhat by the Wheeler-DeWitt equation which solution in turn depends on the structure of each Nows. 

P: Wow, we might need a philosopher in here to sort out our mess.

B: One last thing, another parallel concept I see is Nibbana. You kept on using conventional and ultimate view. In Buddhism we have that too. The conventional view is that the world has time, everything changes, with it, it has no self, and is suffering. However, in Nibbana, there is no time, no impermanence, still no self and no suffering. Two out of three makes Nibbana sounds like Platonia.

P: Indeed, if Barbour is right, there's nothing really to worry about death. No one died, it's just one Nows of the Platonia, memories and so on. Maybe realizing Platonia is equal to realizing Nibbana.

B: Well, some Mahayana teachings has this thing that Samsara (the conventional world, the rounds of rebirth) is the same as Nibbana, once you realize this, you realize Nibbana. These looks nice, but I doubt it, first off, Physics has practically no idea how to quantify suffering or unsatisfaction, much less the cause and the way out of it. Buddhism however is quite expert in it.

P: Sounds to me like we should construct the mathematics of suffering to introduce to the Physics world.

B: Anyway let's have a warp. A recap of the parallels and differences.

Barbour's Picture Buddhism
Time does not exist in the ultimate sense The past is gone the future has not come
Nows All exist doctrine
No one passed from one Now to another Non-self
Platonia Nibbana?
"Beyond free will" Free will is important, exercised when mindful.
Denies motion Form has the air element
Independently existing Nows?  Against the spirit of non-self.

P: So we have about 4 parallels, and 3 differences. Well, that's certainly strange, when I first read the book, I thought that it would fit in quite well. 

B: Well, that's Physics and Buddhism for you folks. No real answer, I'm going back to practicing for enlightenment. See ya!