Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Nagarjuna, Hume, and the God Particle

Posted by Tom Pepper on July 6, 2012

Is The Dharma a reified account of thingsmind, self, causality, world? Or is it a metaphorical model? The former arrogates authority to itself; it has the first and final word. The latter eagerly awaits upgrades to its explanatory power, even to the point of its very displacement.

If x-buddhism offers a reified account, what are we to do with one of that account’s central tenets: contingency (paticcasamuppada), or what Hume called the “collocations of conditions”? For, doesn’t this tenet call into question the very notion of The Dharma—of, that is, an authoritative account of things? Why would x-buddhists bemoan this demotion of The Dharma from conclusive account to metaphorical model? For, as Tom Pepper says in the essay that follows,

If we are content to accept that everything is the result of conditions, and that our explanation will never be final, our knowledge never complete, then we have not a problem but an opportunity.

Taking advantage of such an opportunity, of course, requires x-buddhists to form a radical new relationship to The Dharma. Ironically, this new relationship would be one that more closely honors their own doctrine of contingency. For as a “final level of explanation, we must imbue [The Dharma] with intention and essence”—an irreconcilable contradiction of the tenet of contingency.

Why do x-buddhists resist this final embrace of contingency? Why are they more like Hume than Nagarjuna, as Pepper shows, in refusing to follow their own hard-won insight wherever it might take them? What role does ideology-blindness play in this refusal?

A final irony struck me in reading Pepper’s essay. X-buddhistsparticularly Secular Buddhists and Mindfulness para-Buddhistsare anxious to enlist science in their quest for validation of The Dharma. The irony: they seek to further reify their account on the authority of a perishable model.

(Glenn Wallis)

_________

Nagarjuna, Hume, and the God Particle

Tom Pepper

Western Buddhists are usually quick to appropriate any new scientific news, invariably taking imprecise popular-press accounts of the latest discovery and pressing it into service as evidence of some purported ancient Eastern wisdom. So, one can imagine the discovery of the Higgs boson particle being put to such use fairly soon in the pages of Tricycle or in Alan Wallace’s next book. Maybe it will demonstrate that science has finally proven the ancient mystical truth of the “substrate consciousness,” or perhaps it will be called on to demonstrate the scientific truth of dependent origination or impermanence.

I am not about to make any such claim. The “science has finally demonstrated the ancient Buddhist wisdom” approach is always a mistake.

Instead, I am interested in using this event to demonstrate the distinction between science and ideology, and to argue, once again, for the necessity of this distinction, as well as for the impossibility of living purely in science. This question continues to crop up, on this blog and elsewhere, as those responding to my writing accuse me of producing ideology (which I hope I am), with the obvious implication that we should deal with truth, that we should live with only a clear conception of reality as it is, independent of any human values or intentions. Or, I hear the alternative, that we live only in our ideological depictions of our world, with no access to any mind-independent reality at all; for these critics, I am accused of implying a mind-independent, transcendent reality (which I hope I am).  This new scientific “discovery,” then, in no way proves anything about Buddhist philosophical thought. Instead, it offers an opportunity to use such concepts.

The Higgs boson particle is, according to the popular media, that magical final cause that somehow gives form and mass to the universe, that provides the underlying structure of our material existence.  It is the final piece of the puzzle, unfortunately, but perhaps aptly, named the “god particle” by the physicist Leon Lederman about twenty years ago.  I say aptly, because the particle is often talked about as if it had intent and causal power, as if it were the transcendent “mind” that shapes creation.  But is it?  Is such a final, causal essence even possible?

It is a commonplace in academic philosophy and eighteenth-century studies to say that David Hume argues that there is no such thing as causation, that there is only constant conjunction, and we mistakenly attribute causal power when we encounter such repeated conjunctions of events.  This, the argument goes, is the origin of all our error: we mistake our misattribution of causal powers for a really existing entity, and delusions proliferate from there, because in actuality we are only justified in speaking of conjunctions we have actually witnessed as events occurring closely in time and space.  Now, this isn’t, I think, completely accurate as an account of what Hume says.  His claim is, ultimately, that there in fact is causal regularity in the universe, that a specific set of conditions really will lead to another predicable set of conditions, and we in fact can know that this will happen.  If I let go of this book, it will fall to the ground.  Every time.  Not only in the instance in which I have witnessed it, but in every instance, even those that have yet to occur.  What Hume claims is that we make an error when we reify our explanation of why this happens.  We say it happens because of an invisible universal force called “gravity,” when in fact we have no perceptual experience of that force, and only a mathematical model which works to predict what would happen if that force in fact did exist.  Hume’s point is that we think in metaphors, creating models to explain and predict, and what is most important is that we not forget that these models are always only models, that we not mistakenly convince ourselves that we can perceive these metaphorical explanatory constructs.  Our description of the world, then, will always be open to greater refinement.  We will be able to explain and predict events better and better, but only if we remember that we are using conceptual models, metaphors—only, that is, if we avoid reification.

 The similarity to Nagarjuna’s discussion of causality in the first chapter of his Mulamadhyamakakarika is interesting. As Jay Garfield explains, for Nagarjuna “carving out particular phenomena for explanation or for use in explanations depends more on our explanatory interests and language than on joints nature presents to us”(113).  The assumption that there is a causal power inherent in a thing, separate from its conditions, is a fundamental error: “phenomena arise as consequences of the collocation of those conditions”(110).  We are, if we think in terms of causes, stuck with “a vicious, explanatory regress, for then one has to explain how the powers to act are themselves brought about by the conditions”(113).  But this “explanatory regress” is only a problem if we insist that there must actually be some final, transcendent, ultimate cause, some “prime mover” of the universe.  If we are content to accept that everything is the result of conditions, and that our explanation will never be final, our knowledge never complete, then we have not a problem but an opportunity.  The Higgs boson is desperately needed because we want the final answer, we want to know we have reached the ultimate level of explanation.  But for Nagarjuna, as indeed for Hume, to think that this particle is finally the one in which causal powers inhere, that it’s capacity to give structure to the world is its essence, and not a result of its “collocation of conditions,” would be an epistemological error, bringing our description of the world to a stop, and preventing us from further refining our explanations and predictions.

Now it may be that we don’t, for any practical reason, need to get any finer in our predictions than the Higgs boson would allow for.  If we were to stop there, and simply say we should fill in the picture a bit before we go any further, smaller, deeper (pick your metaphor), that would not be a problem; we would be considering this particle as part of the descriptive, metaphorical model that allows us to interact more extensively with the world.  If, however, we say it is the final level of explanation, we must imbue it with intention and essence.

And this is where the question of ideology enters the picture.  Because our model of the world, even though it is always only a conceptual model, is not ideological so long as we remember that it is a model, and so long as we are describing an actual state of affairs in the world, about which the model could possibly be imprecise or incorrect.  This is the register of science, that category of human thought and practice which seeks to map out the intransitive dimension, the world as it is regardless of what intentions or desires we may have.  Ideology, to continue the mapping metaphor, would be our mode of getting around in the world we have mapped out: where do we want to go, and what’s the best way to get there?  Ideology, then, is not falsifiable in the same way as science; we can, perhaps, be wrong about where we really want to go, but this is a different kind of wrongness than being wrong about whether or not that location exists.  Sometimes, science and ideology will impact one another—they are not completely isolated categories.  We may cut off scientific investigation at a certain point for ideological reasons, for instance if to go further, to know more, would destabilize our social system; we don’t want to know that all races are biologically equal if we have a slave mode of production.  Clearly, scientific knowledge would impact our ideologies, because knowing what the world is like is bound to influence what we want to do in it, what we think we can do in it.  Nevertheless, we need to maintain the distinction between the two.  We don’t want to invest the Higgs boson with godlike qualities simply because we are uncomfortable with too much detail in the map we are drawing; and we cannot assume that nature of the universe can tell us anything about what kind of social formations will provide the most human happiness.  We need ideology, because it structures how we can get around in the world, and we can pick an ideology that helps us do that with a minimum of suffering.

This, I would suggest, is where Nagarjuna parts ways with Hume.  Hume is consistently puzzled by the existence of things like customs, morals, tastes; he always collapses science and ideology into one category of knowledge, and so cannot quite make sense of where our “habits of thought” come from, or why we might need them.  Nagarjuna, in contrast, ends his Mulamadhyamakakarika with a chapter on the formation of the subject, the central concern in the register of ideology.  Although Garfield implies it is a bit anticlimactic after the crucial arguments of chapters XXIV and XXV, for me the chapter on “Views” is the pinnacle of the argument.  Here, Nagarjuna addresses the question of the nature of the self.  Just as Hume argued that there is some “secret connection” that unites our past, present and future experiences, producing a kind of bundle of phenomena, Nagarjuna addresses the existence of an “appropriator” which has the experiences; both find this hidden, appropriating, connecting principle to be logically flawed and experientially non-existent.  For Hume, this is a defeat, and he abandons all hope of solving this problem.  For Nagarjuna, however, this is not a problem at all: “There is no self without appropriation.  But it is not true that it does not exist. To say ‘in the past I wasn’t’ would not be tenable.  This person is not different from whoever existed in previous times” (MMK XXVII 8-9; Garfield, 346). The “appropriator,” for Nagarjuna, is conventionally existent, similar to a physical phenomenon in that it is also a “collocation of conditions.”  Yet it does exist, so long as the conditions persist.  Hume’s atomism will not allow him to consider that the “secret connection” exists in ideology, and his atheism will not allow him recourse to a soul, so he finds the problem impossible.  For Nagarjuna, the construction of a (conventional, non-essential, impermanent) “self” by human social conventions is not troubling at all.  Our ideology then becomes something that is just as open to infinite improvement as is our scientific knowledge of the world.   For Nagarjuna, not having a permanent, abiding, transcendent self is the condition for having a self that can improve its world: “If anyone had come from anyplace and were then to go someplace, it would then follow that cyclic existence was beginningless” (XXVII 19).  If we had an essential self, we would never be able to escape our present samsaric existence, our ideology would be ontology, and suffering would never cease.

This new scientific discovery, then, doesn’t serve to support any ancient mystical wisdom.  Instead, it can serve as an opportunity to put some of these concepts to use.  Why is the Higgs boson particle so popular?  What makes it so much more appealing than the various “Higgsless” models of the universe?  Are we going to reify our metaphorical model just because we so desperately need a final answer?  And do we need that final answer because without it we face the possibility that our own autonomous, abiding, transcendent selves are just “collocations of conditions”?  Are we interested in science, or ideology?

Finding the Higgs boson may say more about our “interests and languages,” to borrow Garfield’s phrase, than it does about the natural structure of the universe.  We do science to get a better map of the world, to explain and predict, to aid our interactions with our environment.  What explanations and predictions are aided by this discovery?  That is its scientific value.  However, to the degree that we are seeking this particle to validate our “interests and languages,” to convince ourselves that the way we choose to interact with our world is meaningful and important and inevitable, that there is a “god particle” that explains it all, well, that is its ideological function.  When ideology masquerades as science, it never seems to turn out well.

Bibliography

Garfield, J. (1995) The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika.  New York: Oxford University Press.

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Tom Pepper teaches English at Southern Connecticut State University. He has a Ph.D. in English from the Stony Brook University, and is a graduate student in counseling psychology, as well as pursuing a further degree in mathematics.

Image: Sally GallBruges, 1986

A downloadable pdf file of this essay is available on the “Articles” page.

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44 Responses to “Nagarjuna, Hume, and the God Particle”

  1. I wonder if the hoopla about the boson has just been manufactured to justify the extraordinary cost of “finding” it. More than $13 billion, which would fund a lot of science that I personally would find a great deal more interesting.

  2. Tomek said

    I am interested in using this event to demonstrate the distinction between science and ideology, and to argue, once again, for the necessity of this distinction, as well as for the impossibility of living purely in science. This question continues to crop up, on this blog and elsewhere, as those responding to my writing accuse me of producing ideology (which I hope I am), with the obvious implication that we should deal with truth, that we should live with only a clear conception of reality as it is, independent of any human values or intentions. Or, I hear the alternative, that we live only in our ideological depictions of our world, with no access to any mind-independent reality at all; for these critics, I am accused of implying a mind-independent, transcendent reality (which I hope I am).

    Tom, you are not “accused” of producing an ideology, you are suspected of re-producing the x-buddhistic ideology together with its transcendental reality of The Dharma.

  3. The distinction between science and ideology. We should think of it when talking about neuroscience, evolution, evolutionary psychology, in short when we talk about something which we inherit from the biological process we are.

    The cause. There is a telling episode in the book Dialogues with the Dalai Lama. Anton Zeilinger, the Austrian physicist, demonstrates to the Dalai Lama and his entourage randomness in quantum mechanics. The disturbing question is:

    How can macroscopic order or pattern emerge from microscopic randomness?

    The single event is random, but with events accumulating order is developing (local randomness, global order). Zeilinger makes this point quite clear.

    Then comes in Allan Wallace. He angrily asks Zeilinger why the latter is asking “to throw away thousands of years of believe in causality?” (p. 26) The problem for him (and his Master) seems to be that there cannot be an event without a cause while Zeilinger makes it clear that he takes exactly this as his working hypothesis (on the quantum level)

    that these things are completely random and there is no explanation

    This clearly is at odds with the observer-generated, mind-only-reality to which Wallace adheres. It threatens the whole superior position ‘the mind’ has in so called Tibetan Buddhism.

    This anecdote is not only remarkable because Wallace shows emotion in regard of his ideology about reality which is threatened by a scientific hypothesis about reality, it is also remarkable because it shows, I think, that His Holiness and his acolytes adhere to a watchmaker-universe which is permeated by a stringent causality at every point. This informs also the x-buddhist view about karma. In x-buddhism it is often said karma is “the law of cause and effect” wherein causes are thought of as discrete elements. The point in here is, I think, this it all at odds with Garfield/Nagarjuna and their view on causes. One could easily show how dated all this is.

    The story. I wonder how the narration about the “god particle” fits into our culture-specific narration about creation-fall-redemption? Could it be that if we, finally, understand it all we then are saved somehow? That we finally can calculate it all through – up to the pinnacle of absolute happiness?!

  4. Tomek said

    If to some degree I can identify with the implied interlocutor in the above quoted fragment (# 2), I think it’s worth to remember playing with the ideas provided by Glenn in his article – as I was trying to do posing the questions that you, Tom, eventually left unanswered in two previous threads on this blog – that non-buddhism is not a thought experiment that exhorts the thinker to try to live “purely in science” or that s/he “should live with only a clear conception of reality as it is, independent of any human values or intentions.” As I mentioned in my comment # 91 in The Mirror of Practice following the heuristic of empty reality from the mentioned article, the suggested aim of SNB is “to settle alongside of empty reality with (…) whatever culturally minimal representation is required” and also that “dispelling occlusion of [that] empty reality—which occlusion ensues from excessive, e.g., buddhistic, representation—constitutes speculative non-buddhism‘s very reason for being.”

    Now in this new essay you bring attention to the figure of Nagarjuna and you juxtapose his (?) supposed ideas with the ideas of Scottish philosopher David Hume. One thing that strikes me immediately in this comparison, is that you seem to take as a given the concreteness of the figure that is also known as a “second Buddha” and whose dubious historicity makes him (?) a half-mythical buddhistic hero. So in my view one of the outcomes of comparing the ideas of that blurry figure of Nagarjuna with D. Hume might be not just “objective” comparative exercise but also the empowerment of the dharmic decisional syntax constituting the very occlusion of empty reality and in effect reproducing the x-buddhistic ideology. As Glenn wrote in this much telling quote:

    Every utterance, every written word, every claim of the type “Buddhism holds” or “the Buddha taught” or “according to the Heart Sutra/Pali canon/Shobogenzo/this or that teacher,” every attempt to formulate a “Buddhist” (or crypto-Buddhist/mindfulness) response/solution to X invariably instantiates buddhistic decision. This decisional operation constitutes the structural syntax of buddhistic discourse, and, in so doing, governs all such discourse—the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal no less than the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox. Without it, there would be no Buddhist discourse, no such utterances, no Buddhism, no Buddhists. (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism p. 5)

  5. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    I’m not sure what questions I left unanswered. I know I didn’t give the answer you want, but I thought I did answer the questions–at least, I meant to. If there are questions I didn’t respond to, what are they?

    As for Nagarjuna, I see nothing wrong with juxtaposing Buddhist philosophers with western ones. For any of them, all we have is texts–the “real opinions” of Nagarjuna, and even whether he “really existed” are insignificant to me. Nagarjuna is a name for a set of texts, which present ideas that we can evaluate and put to use. Hume, for us today, is also a name for a set of texts, some of which present ideas that can be of enormous use to us today–often they can be put to uses that the historical figure David Hume would not have endorsed. I really don’t see the problem with this–I’m not comparing “figures” at all, simply concepts.

    The problem, as I see it, comes in when we assume that the words of the Buddha (or Nagarjuna, or Dogen, etc) are revealed, unquestionable truths, that they have the final word on any matter.

  6. Tom Pepper said

    Matthias, RE #3: I agree; neuroscience is important and valuable, because the kinds of ideologies we can construct depend on the kinds of things our brains are capable of doing. We need to avoid constructing ideologies that that demand physical impossibilities, and then diagnosing our own failures to do the impossible as illnesses that require medication. The problem comes in when neuroscientists think they can explain the mind or consciousness completely in terms of what the brain does or can do. Ideology, consciousness, the mind, are collective an intersubjective things, that depend on the brain but not only the brain.

    As for the dialogue between the Dalai Lama, Wallace, and Zeilinger, I would have to wonder why Zielinger is so thoroughly convinced in “microscopic randomness.” I think it was David Bohm who observed that probability is just a term for the acceptable level of ignorance. Zielinger’s acceptance of the quantum randomness is his metaphysical moment, if you will. Bohm, who literally wrote the book on Quantum theory, never accepted the Copenhagen interpretation with its insistence that we stop looking for deeper strata of explanation and just call the rest “probability.” Zielinger, then, needs something on the order of a “god particle” to give order to randomness at some point–the famous “and then a miracle occurs” step, as things jump from the quantum to the ordinary level.

  7. Tomek said

    The problem, as I see it, comes in when we assume that the words of the Buddha (or Nagarjuna, or Dogen, etc) are revealed, unquestionable truths, that they have the final word on any matter.

    Tom (# 5), I would see it the other way round: it is the sheer act of invoking these “words of the Buddha (or Nagarjuna, or Dogen, etc)” that turns them into “revealed, unquestionable truths, (…) the final word on any matter”. However crudely put, it is simple as this. Of course, they can be analyzed, juxtaposed in any possible combination – as for example philologists do or in a way you try to do above – but if they are put on the table in some discussion by self-described Buddhists, they implicitly connote thaumaturgical message of ending of suffering that they inevitably impose on the exchange. Texts – as those labeled by the name of Nagarjuna – containing repackaged x-buddhistic version of “wisdom” of the Dharma may have their value as artifacts of the ancient culture but if they are used nowadays by a person self-identified as a subscriber of that “wisdom”, then any sentence culled from those texts is affectively charged and thus specifically biased. It serves as a modern vanguard of The Dharma, the ideally grounding transcendence, and helps tacitly to engulf any concept coming from the outside of the dharmic dispensation, as in this case happens with: science and ideology.

  8. Tom Pepper said

    Sorry Tomek, but that’s just ridiculous. Following this reason, nobody could ever mention the work of any other thinker, for fear there might be someone in the audience who would invest a name with magical power. If YOU can’t think about Nagarjuna without getting all in a flutter, maybe that’s something you need to work on. I don’t have that problem–and I seriously doubt most Westerners would.

    If you could drop the nonsense, and just point out what particular concept you think is problematic, then we might get somewhere. But if all you can say is that it doesn’t even matter what Nagarjuna says, because the name itself has magic powers, then that’s just silly.

  9. Tomek said

    Tom, let me remind you that we don’t talk here just about any thinker, but you in your essay present the audience with snippets of x-buddhistic corpus that parade by the name of half-mythical x-buddhistic hero, magician/logician Nagarjuna. And also that you as the author of it are someone who presents himself to all concerned as Buddhist. So I am not surprised that you think it is ridicules to question the very reasonableness of your seemingly pure comparative exercise by suggesting that you might simultaneously smuggle into the initiated discussion the dharmic hopefulness/magic and thus reproduce and perpetuate the existence of x-buddhistic verity. You encourage me to “just point out what particular concept you think is problematic” in Nagarjuna thinking that in result “we might get somewhere” but you seem to be unaware that this is exactly how the buddhemes replicate themselves endlessly and are ingrained in the fabric of all other fields of knowledge. That’s just how the x-buddhistic juggernaut keeps rolling on every strata of discourse, no matter how low or high it might be.

  10. Sebastian said

    Nice, ‘x-buddhistic juggernaut’. Translated in German ‘juggernaut’ can mean ‘Götze’ or ‘Monstertruck’.
    I wrote a lot on Matthias Steingass’ German Blog. From his writings (he mentioned “cardinal sins” etc.) I concluded that he has at least a christian background.

    Tomek, you are from Poland? What’s your opinion about homosexuality ?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland#Religion

    Are you still sad, that Karol Wojtila has gone ? Santo subito ?

    http://thisburningfire.blogspot.de/2011/04/passport-of-karol-wojtyla.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICWEbGjuTEI

    In the article ‘After one year’ I found the following:

    “Speculative non-buddhism, in other words, is a humanistic project. It aims to nudge the human–whatever that entails–to the center.
    Speculative non-buddhism views x-buddhism as anti-humanistic. X-buddhism aims to place itself in the center. X-buddhism desires to replace your thoughts with its thoughts. It desires to graft its emotions, values, and actions onto your life and world.”

    It aims to nudge the human–whatever that entails–to the center.

    This is exactly the point: All that you are writing here have to understand, that humans are individuals.
    And some of these individuals, want to meditate and practise. There is nothing wrong about that.

    If you don’t like to meditate or to practise, then stop it, but that’s your very own subjective opinion, and NOT a proof for an objective fact like:” Meditation is bad for your health!”

    Introspection is part of human nature, and it always has been.

    And the Buddhistsic conception of the world is accurate.

    The christian conception of the world is rubbish (creationism, Immaculate Conception etc.)

    In my personal opinion one should ban religious education from schools.
    In Germany religion class begins at third degree (9 to 10 year old kids).

    THIS is indoctrination with a world view that is ridiculously wrong.

    As opposed to this the Buddhistic conception of the world corresponds in a good way with many scientific disciplines (neurosciences, physiscs, psychology etc.)

    I wrote on http://derunbuddhist.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/der-zauberer/ about the links between physiscs, constructivism and the Buddhist world view.
    But I think Matthias Steingass didn’t understand it.

    Maybe we together can figure out, what scientificly evaluable statements Jesus, David or Solomon told us about the world. So grab your bibles and post it here !

  11. Sebastian said

    Tom Pepper # 6
    Anton Zeilinger is catholic, too. He takes the view that randomness is the ‘Alter Ego of God’.
    At least he stated this in an Austrian newspaper.

    But Anton Zeilinger reported a violation of the Leggett-Garg inequality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leggett-Garg_inequality

    This could lead to the final proof for the validity of constructivistic theories.

  12. Sebastian, re #10. I have no christian background. But I like to play sometimes with christian notions because in x-buddhism you can translate a lot back into christian terminology.

  13. Tomek said

    And the Buddhistsic conception of the world is accurate.
    The christian conception of the world is rubbish (creationism, Immaculate Conception etc.)

    Sebastian (# 10), I don’t know if you had a chance to encounter the book The Making of Buddhist Modernism by D. McMahan. If not, it’s an eye-opening work that may change your views about how useful that rubbish, as you say, has been in translating x-buddhistic conception of the world to make it familiar for Christians and actually to persuade them that it is x-buddhistic conception that is more accurate. In fact it was so successful that nowadays some originally Christian tropes are unrecognizable to the majority of Buddhist converts and ironically they are treated as solely x-buddhistic. Maybe those Christian themes that I mean are not so well known as originally coming from Christian theology, as say, immaculate conception, but take for example the following short fragment from the work of seventeen century Puritan minister William Perkins:

    He declared in one of his works – writes McMahan – that even activities like doing the dishes and wiping one’s shoes, “so long as they are done within the lawes of God . . . howsoever grosse they appeare outwardly, yet are they sanctified”

    Sounds familiar to you? You must have heard those famous slogans touted by many contemporary Buddhist teachers as, for example Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying “taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands.” Hurrying through the task mindlessly, he insists, “would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle”. But the sanctification (a miracle), or as Charles Taylor calls it, “affirmation of ordinary life” has been one of those fundamental concepts of Reformers theology known since the time of Calvin and Puritans that has been later co-opted by oriental scholars and Buddhist missionaries in XIX century and has been promoted as purely x-buddhistic memes.

    I think that making such simplistic distinction as you seem to do, namely, stupid Christian ideas and accurate Buddhist worldview, just makes you more beholden to the latter representation of the empty reality. If you’d be more ideologically suspicious, you may end up seeing that such distinctions are just a product of shrewd marketing methods used by what is nowadays almost several generations of x-buddhistic missionaries working arduously in the West.

    PS. I don’t see if my views about homosexuality or Wojtyła would add up anything to the discussion here.

  14. Tom, this piece is a little too Lakoffian for my taste. The concluding two paragraphs are particularly invidious because their trajectories asymptotically creep towards a rather seminal, juvenile, zen-like solipsism:-

    Finding the Higgs boson may say more about our “interests and languages,” to borrow Garfield’s phrase, than it does about the natural structure of the universe.

    On the other hand – you are just as likely to be totally mistaken. The implications of our finding what might euphemistically be described as the final piece in the jigsaw is all about the nature of an objective, physical universe and is a direct challenge to the legacy of anthropomorphic ideology we all appear to fall back on when we cannot deal with the dissonance that stems from these grand, recurrent culminations of data that are antagonistic to our selfish conceptions of life and our persistent mistrust of facts that present themselves as anti-humanistic. All those Lakoffian relativistic meanings, metaphors, maps and interpretations that work so well for lower orders of thought, literature and mathematics I do not accept can be reliably extrapolated out to more complex theories – and neither do the sponsors and science folk at CERN it seems. Of course. we are waiting for further confirmation of the initial findings but should they turn out to be conclusive you would be wise to suggest your readers that continue to regularly abuse themselves with Stockholm Syndrome-like notions of achieving a single, optimized, transcendent intellectual configuration that allows them a faux-omnipotent Punctum Archimedis equivalent to historical figures like Nagarjuna or Gautama, to discontinue their negotiations with proponents of the the Standard Model – kick Lakoffs most over-ambitious ideas into the long grass and suck up what may well turn out to be some of the best maths and science we have ever done as a species.

  15. Sebastian said

    Tomek (# 13)

    ”If not, it’s an eye-opening work that may change your views about how useful that rubbish, as you say, has been in translating x-buddhistic conception of the world to make it familiar for Christians and actually to persuade them that it is x-buddhistic conception that is more accurate. In fact it was so successful that nowadays some originally Christian tropes are unrecognizable to the majority of Buddhist converts and ironically they are treated as solely x-buddhistic. Maybe those Christian themes that I mean are not so well known as originally coming from Christian theology, as say, immaculate conception, but take for example the following short fragment from the work of seventeen century Puritan minister William Perkins:

    He declared in one of his works – writes McMahan – that even activities like doing the dishes and wiping one’s shoes, “so long as they are done within the lawes of God . . . howsoever grosse they appeare outwardly, yet are they sanctified”

    When Thich Nath Hanh says: “taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands” he refers to Mindfulness.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

    Mindfulness meditation can also be traced back to the earlier Upanishads, part of Hindu scripture. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness).

    Hence this concept is more than 2500 years old !

    So if a christian Puritan minister adopted this concept in the SEVENTEENTH (!!) century, it is pretty clear where it’s has real roots, namely in the Eastern philosophies.

    But the christians do the same with meditation-techniques nowadays. They say: “Oh, we did this earlier, too. We’ve just forgotten it !”

    The only, but extremely BIG difference is: Meditation is for christians a way to ‘God’ and the Buddhistic concept of Mindfulness ‘translates’ to ‘done within the laws of God’.

    It makes a huge difference if there IS an intelligent being outside this universe that controls everything, or if there is NONE.
    (It is absolutely possible to explain the universe scientificly without a ‘God’ outside it.)

    Read, for example, the book of revelation. There is written down what is planned to happen (Could it be possible, that this plan actually was made by stupid and morally questionable human beings ? 😉 ) when Jesus returns.
    And to be honest, the book of revelation is really a fascistic text.

    There is a funny German website, with ‘quotations’ of Jesus.

    One of them says:

    ‘Mein Reich komme !’ – Geständnisse eines Machtpolitikers

    ‘My Reich shall come !’ – Confessions of Power Politician

    What I’m trying to say is that theistic religions are implements for the exercise of power.
    That is one of the reasons why there are so many dogmas in the deistic religions.

    In contrast Buddhism is an approach to understand the structure of the universe (and it is a very good approach). Buddhism is not theistic, not even a religion.

    Buddhism is not intended to be used for exercise of power.

    You wrote:”But the sanctification (a miracle), or as Charles Taylor calls it, “affirmation of ordinary life” has been one of those fundamental concepts of Reformers theology known since the time of Calvin and Puritans that has been later co-opted by oriental scholars and Buddhist missionaries in XIX century and has been promoted as purely x-buddhistic memes.”

    Read above (about Mindfulness), this ‘theory’ is hereby refuted.

    You wrote:”If you’d be more ideologically suspicious, you may end up seeing that such distinctions are just a product of shrewd marketing methods used by what is nowadays almost several generations of x-buddhistic missionaries working arduously in the West.”

    No, these distinctions indicate a FUNDAMENTAL difference in the conception of the world. (Is there ‘somebody’ outside the universe, or not ?, with all the consequences that arise from this, see book of revelation etc.).

    Due to these mentioned consequences I sounded you on your opinion about homosexuality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Poland

    Keep in mind: 88% of the Polish people are catholic christians !

  16. Sebastian said

    it should read: So if a christian Puritan minister adopted this concept in the SEVENTEENTH (!!) century, it is pretty clear where this concept has it’s real roots, namely in the Eastern philosophies.

  17. Sebastian said

    it should read: So if a christian Puritan minister adopted this concept in the SEVENTEENTH (!!) century, it is pretty clear where this concept has its real roots, namely in the Eastern philosophies.

  18. Sebastian said

    Why does nobody take a stand on the Leggett-Garg-inequatity and its implications for constructivistic theories ?
    I think this issue is pretty interesting !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leggett-Garg_inequality

  19. Tomek said

    Sebastian (# 16) Thanks for pointing out my clumsiness. But in fact the really substantial error I’ve made was that it should read SIXTEENTH century. William Perkins lived 1558 – 1602. So would you please explain to me exactly how he adopted that concept from the so called “Eastern philosophies” during his lifetime and that he later included in his Christian theology? In my reading of both McMahan and Taylor I find no trace of any “eastern thought” during that historical period that could influence Puritan thinkers as Perkins. The whole idea of the “affirmation of ordinary life” is a direct product of Reformation initiated by Luther.

  20. Sebastian said

    Even in ancient times the contact between the cultures of the world was closer than commonly assumed.

    As an example I picked the christian missionary work in China.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_China#Pre-modern_history

    The christian missionaries came back and brought these innovative ideas with them.

    Have you ever heard the term ”Greco-Buddhism” ?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism

  21. Tomek said

    Sorry, Sebastian but I don’t see any need to return to the Greco-Bactrian period to try to understand the complex forces that enabled x-buddhistic thought to penetrate the Western modernity. If you really want to understand why “mindfulness” (that you capitalize) reached such a status on the popular scene in recent times you don’t have to go back earlier than sixteenth century. The disenchantment of the world that was unleashed by the Reformation and later pushed even harder by the science coupled with the colonization of Asian lands plus the reaction to that disenchantment in the Romantic era were that very forces that later in the second part of XIX century opened Europe and America for Buddhism as we know today.

  22. Tomek said

    No, these distinctions indicate a FUNDAMENTAL difference in the conception of the world. (Is there ‘somebody’ outside the universe, or not ?, with all the consequences that arise from this, see book of revelation etc.).

    Sebastian (# 15), one more thing, if you happened not to read Glenn’s article Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism then please read it. I might be helpful in the further discussion. But if you happened to ready it, please go back to his heuristics and carefully read again at least two entries: Empty reality and Dharma, The. If you read it then maybe you’ll find out that actually on the fundamental level there is not much difference between x-Buddhism and Christianity.

  23. Sebastian said

    Tomek (#22)

    ”Empty reality and Dharma, The. If you read it then maybe you’ll find out that actually on the fundamental level there is not much difference between x-Buddhism and Christianity.”

    ‘Empty reality’ implies the ‘existence’ of a transcendence ‘beyond’ the causal universe. Or in other words, the universe we are expiriencing through our senses is illusionary.

    This is a constructivistic approach, which has a good chance to prove to be correct.
    This approach corresponds with the more abstract facets of Dependent Arising.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da#Madhyamaka (hope this link works)

    The EDGE of transcendence corresponds to a certain state of mind, which western religions call ‘unio mystica’. But this state of mind is still illusionary.

    Dharma can have a lot of meanings.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma

    I assume you intended to use this term for the teachings of Buddha.

    Maybe what you intend to say is that christianity and Buddhism have in common, that both want to show a way for human beings to reach the above mentioned transcendence.
    Christians call the transcendence ‘God’ and the Buddhist concept of Nirvana corresponds vaguely with the western concept of transcendence.

    Maybe this difference seems slight to you, but it is not.

    The christian ‘God’, self not part of the universe, interacts with the universe. <- from the viewpoint of system theory this is a contradiction, and therefore impossible.

    Nirvana does not interact with the causal universe, not even on the most subliminal level.

    But why do you think it has to be considered as negative that a person wants to reach a state of mind at the edge of trancendence or even beyond? Meditation is a way to come close to this state of consciousness.

    What's wrong about that ?

    You wrote:''If you really want to understand why “mindfulness” (that you capitalize) reached such a status on the popular scene in recent times you don’t have to go back earlier than sixteenth century. The disenchantment of the world that was unleashed by the Reformation and later pushed even harder by the science coupled with the colonization of Asian lands plus the reaction to that disenchantment in the Romantic era were that very forces that later in the second part of XIX century opened Europe and America for Buddhism as we know today.''

    Why do you complain that Mindfulness has reached a high status?
    What is bad about mindfulness ?
    I know you want to be secular, but you can't sacrifice a accurate conception of the world on the altar of secularity or even worse of a theistic religion like the abrahamitic ones. What today is considered 'mystical' will be considered secular in 100 years. This is part of the disenchantment of the world.

    Maybe this helps you to understand what 'mystical' expereinces can look like:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-death_experience

    While reading this wikipedia-article keep in mind that there is a Buddhist technique to induce lucid dreaming, 'dream yoga'.

    And to be honest, the disenchantment of the world is a problem for christianity, not for Buddhism, as Buddhism is from the ground up compatible with science.

    But in (#13) you wrote about the Puritan minister William Perkins and his opinions about the 'laws of god'.

    I just wanted to show that the concept of Mindfulness emerged long before the lifetime of Mr.Perkins.

    If you didn't yet, you should read the wiki-article

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism#Greco-Buddhism_and_the_West

    Buddhism influenced the western culture already more than 2000 years ago.

    So why this focussing on the nineteenth century ?

  24. Tomek said

    Because, Sebastian (# 23), among other things, it can help you for example to understand the origins of the currently popular sentiments like the one that “Buddhism is from the ground up compatible with science” what in turn has direct consequences in the latest rise of the so called “mindfulness industries” that very mindfully penetrate both the corporate world and the pockets of thousands of individual sad suckers.

  25. Sebastian said

    Tomek (#24)

    You wrote: ””Buddhism is from the ground up compatible with science” what in turn has direct consequences in the latest rise of the so called “mindfulness industries” that very mindfully penetrate both the corporate world and the pockets of thousands of individual sad suckers.”

    But what is bad about Mindfulness in general ?
    If people feel better, and are less stressed, without any medication, I can’t comprehend why you assess Mindfulness as something NEGATIVE ?

    Are you concerned that Buddhism could aquire a too wide influence in the corporate world ?

    Do you know how much money the catholic and evangelic chuches receive from the German state every year ? Together with their welfare institutions (Diakonie and Caritas) more than 50 billion Euro per year !
    That is what I would call a wide influence of the christian religion on German politics.

    And as I mentioned above, the christian conception of the world is a bit crappy.

    But the German state even pays for the religious education (of course only the christian) to raise even more retarded, psychically disturbed christians.

    To call Germany a secular state is ridiculous, the same applies for the U.S.

    And, to complete this, Buddhism is indeed from ground up compatible with science. One of the fundamental Buddhist statements is the validity of causality.
    Causality is one of the cornerstones of science, too.

    If we write a formula like z_(n+1) = z_(n)^2 + c we describe a CAUSAL system.

    In addition, the Buddhist philosophy, makes statements on domains that are not YET, objects of scientific research, e.g. states of consciousness etc.

    In the future these domains will be explored. Then will become apparent, if the Buddhist conception of the world is accurate.

    But till now, NOT ONE of the central statements of Buddhism was proven false by NATURAL SCIENCE. And only natural science is considered as an authority in this issue !

    Or do you know any ?

    So, what is your problem with Mindfulness, and the Buddhist philosophy in general ?

    Mindfulness can’t be considered as something negative and the fundamental statements of the Buddhist philosophy are accurate. So what ?

  26. Sebastian said

    In this wikipedia-article

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness-based_stress_reduction

    is shown through scientific methods, that Mindfulness has an positive effect and is improving physical and emotional well-being of individual human beings.

  27. Tomek said

    Sebastian (# 25),

    Buddhism is indeed from ground up compatible with science. One of the fundamental Buddhist statements is the validity of causality. Causality is one of the cornerstones of science, too.

    Oh, really? But x-buddhistic chain of dependent origination – that’s what you mean by Buddhist causality (?) – originally was not to explain the arising of natural phenomena but the set of conditions that caused suffering in life of the individual leading to the next rebirth; so dependent origination was to illuminate and then to help to unravel those conditions causing suffering and at the end of the path to reach the liberation, to escape beyond the phenomenal world, to attain nirvana. This seeming compatibility with modern views of causality is one of the products of more then hundred years of arduous work done by x-buddhistic apologists to reassert the position of The Dharma in the West.

    The problem with that something that you call “Mindfulness” is that it is like selling water on the bank of the river. It’s a craze that helps ripping people off in the broad daylight. It’s a next vague term, the next Tao in town for the industry that can be added to anything, to any product to make it more marketable. I have nothing against people using some practical methods to feel better, less stressed, but to sell them “Mindfulness” to achieve that is totally pathetic.

  28. Sebastian said

    You wrote: ”Oh, really? But x-buddhistic chain of dependent origination – that’s what you mean by Buddhist causality (?) – originally was not to explain the arising of natural phenomena but the set of conditions that caused suffering in life of the individual leading to the next rebirth; so dependent origination was to illuminate and then to help to unravel those conditions causing suffering and at the end of the path to reach the liberation, to escape beyond the phenomenal world, to attain nirvana. This seeming compatibility with modern views of causality is one of the products of more then hundred years of arduous work done by x-buddhistic apologists to reassert the position of The Dharma in the West.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da#Interdependent_causation

    This is what is commonly called in natural science ‘Schwache Kausalität’ , weak causality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da#Reversing_the_chain

    Pay attention to the quotation from the Pali Canon ! This more abstracted view on Dependent Origination, was already developed by the Buddha.

    There had no arduous work be done by x-buddhist apologists. This facet of Dependent Origination is known since more than 2500 years.

    At this time the people in the western world still lived ‘on the trees’.

    You wrote: ”The problem with that something that you call “Mindfulness” is that it is like selling water on the bank of the river. It’s a craze that helps ripping people off in the broad daylight. It’s a next vague term, the next Tao in town for the industry that can be added to anything, to any product to make it more marketable. I have nothing against people using some practical methods to feel better, less stressed, but to sell them “Mindfulness” to achieve that is totally pathetic.”

    You are getting polemic ! These are no real arguments and your very own opinion!

    Show me a study that ‘Mindfulness’ is a vague term or a craze for people in the West.

    You only have to read the wikipedia to learn what Mindfulness means

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

    And wikipedia-articles are FREE, there’s nothing sold.
    Some Buddhist authors sell books. But everybody has to have an income, else he would not be able to survive in the modern world. No one is forced to buy these books.
    And Buddhism receives no financial support from the state/country in Europe.
    So why is this pathetic ?

    You appeal to be emotionally charged about this whole topic, otherwise you wouldn’t get polemic.

    Why is that ?

  29. Sebastian,

    please keep in mind some things.

    1) There are some texts here which give specific explanations about what we are discussing here. Please read them and try to understand what is said there. (=> cf. ; cf. )

    2) Please try to think about what is relevant in regard of the context you are writing in.

    3) Links to the wikipedia are no substitution for an individual expression of what you think, what you are and what you feel important.

    This site is a critical project. You are invited to contribute but keep in mind the above points.

    Thanks

  30. Tomek said

    Sebastian (# 28)

    There had no arduous work be done by x-buddhist apologists. This facet of Dependent Origination is known since more than 2500 years.

    Wikipedia?! All right, so you may have a look at the article about Anagarika Dharmapala, one of the founding fathers of modern Buddhism, who was also the most prominent late XIX and early XX century buddhistic apologist, using the argument that The Dharma was compatible with Western science as a weapon to fight Christianity being forcefully disseminated all over Asia at that time. Take the figure of Paul Carus who was famous proponent of so called Religion of Science, who published widely read at his time, not only in Europe and USA by in Asia as well, The Gospel of Buddhism, the book that was a try to persuade the Western public that Buddha was the first prophet of that religion. Those figures form a very important part of direct historical background that must be taken into account if you truly want to understand that seeming compatibility between science and dharmic dispensation. Other important figures enabling transplantation of x-buddhistic hope – I’ve already mentioned Reformers – had nothing to do with The Dharma whatsoever but without all those thinkers, say of European Enlightenment – Descartes, Lock, etc – there would be no special kind of reflexivity ingrained the Western self and hence later no talk about any neuroscientific measurements of all those allegedly beneficiary effects of “Mindfulness”. This is a very complicated story and Wikipedia works but only up to a certain point. And then when you cross it, well … “Mindfulness” might not make much sense anymore. It may become just an expensive form of placebo effect (especially p. 13).

    The fundamental problem with the buddhistic causation is that it really makes no sense if it is considered in abstracted form. It only ‘works’ – read: gives you hope – if it remains a part of the law of karma that describe not so much how natural phenomena arise but how beings come to be born and reborn in various circumstances through their own karma. Abstracting dependent origination from it’s ancient salvific context was only possible because modernists as those mentioned above had to strip away all kinds of elements that did not fit into the new Western context. They had to discard or ‘skilfully’ mold certain fundamental ideas to be ‘well understood’, and in effect to gain support, that is literally to survive in those foreign lands.

  31. Sebastian said

    Tomek (#30)

    The fundamental problem with the buddhistic causation is that it really makes no sense if it is considered in abstracted form. It only ‘works’ – read: gives you hope – if it remains a part of the law of karma that describe not so much how natural phenomena arise but how beings come to be born and reborn in various circumstances through their own karma. Abstracting dependent origination from it’s ancient salvific context was only possible because modernists as those mentioned above had to strip away all kinds of elements that did not fit into the new Western context.

    You should read post # 28 once again.

    When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.
    — Samyutta Nikaya 12.61

    This makes sense to everybody, who is concerned with natural sciences. This decribes the weak causality.

    For explanation, weak causality means: an absolutely identical cause has always an absolutely identical effect.

    There had nothing to be stripped or molded, the law of causation is a similarity between the 2500-year-old Buddhist teachings and modern science.
    (Proof see above)

    All right, so you may have a look at the article about Anagarika Dharmapala, one of the founding fathers of modern Buddhism, who was also the most prominent late XIX and early XX century buddhistic apologist, using the argument that The Dharma was compatible with Western science as a weapon to fight Christianity being forcefully disseminated all over Asia at that time.

    If you would read in all my postings above, you would recognize, that Anagarika Dharmapala was right, when he said that The Dharma is compatible with Western science.

    I’m still waiting for a statement on the philosophical implications of a violation of the Leggett-Garg-inequality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leggett%E2%80%93Garg_inequality

    This is a very complicated story and Wikipedia works but only up to a certain point. And then when you cross it, well … “Mindfulness” might not make much sense anymore. It may become just an expensive form of placebo effect (especially p. 13).

    If you can explain me scientifically (psychology, neurosciences, psychophysics etc.) , how exactly the placebo effect works, we can debate about this.

    Else this is once again only your private opinion.

    I’ve read another study, (in the comments of the article nascent non-buddhism .
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848393/pdf/nihms-162932.pdf

    And on page 13 is said nothing about ‘placebo effects’, there’s said that a lot of work has to be done.
    There’s also said that the concept of Mindfulness for a practising Buddhist is easily intelligible and experiencable. Only people who are not familiar to Buddhism or are not practising, may perhaps misunderstand it .

    Take the figure of Paul Carus who was famous proponent of so called Religion of Science, who published widely read at his time, not only in Europe and USA by in Asia as well, The Gospel of Buddhism, the book that was a try to persuade the Western public that Buddha was the first prophet of that religion.

    If you read my postings above you can arrive at the same conclusion as Paul Carus did.
    Do you know what logical consequentuality means ?
    Of course you can try to twist facts now, but this is a quirk of the human sciences.

    Other important figures enabling transplantation of x-buddhistic hope – I’ve already mentioned Reformers – had nothing to do with The Dharma whatsoever but without all those thinkers, say of European Enlightenment – Descartes, Lock, etc – there would be no special kind of reflexivity ingrained the Western self and hence later no talk about any neuroscientific measurements of all those allegedly beneficiary effects of “Mindfulness”.

    Reflexivity is part of human nature, and to make that point very clear, part of every reputable science or conception of the world.

    Maybe a bit more of this ‘Western’ reflexivity would be a great thing for the egypt-originated, abrahamitic religions!

    P.S. In the article Nascent non-buddhism I read a cryptic sentence:

    The death of this transcendent pretension is the ultimate transgression, the release of narcissistic humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun.

    Sounds a bit masonic. What does it mean ?

    You want to say that the material necessities of the whole mankind will be fully satisfied in the future ?

    And you should understand that separating a human being or even every lifeform in this universe, is against nature, and so against the human nature, too.

  32. Sebastian said

    Once again on this:

    This is a very complicated story and Wikipedia works but only up to a certain point. And then when you cross it, well … “Mindfulness” might not make much sense anymore. It may become just an expensive form of placebo effect (especially p. 13).

    If you can explain me scientifically (psychology, neurosciences, psychophysics etc.) , how exactly the placebo effect works, we can debate about this.

    Maybe this belongs more to the domain of psychophysics but,

    surely all of you know the concept of Chakras.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra

    In the English wikipedia-article the coherence between the position of the chakras in the human body and the position of the endocrine glands is even mentioned.

    You can compare for yourself:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocrine_gland

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra

    In Matthias Steingass’ Blog this did not pass ‘moderation’.

    What is your opinion about that ?

  33. Tomek said

    Sebastian (# 31)

    This makes sense to everybody, who is concerned with natural sciences. This decribes the weak causality.

    This fragment that you quote from the Pali sources might make sense, as you say, to everybody concerned with natural sciences, but all I’m saying above is that it would be simply useless for a traditional x-Buddhist when taken out of the familiar cosmological, ethical and ritual context of The Dharma as it happens in much of x-buddhistic discourse today.

    But to cut this exchange of chaotic comments short I think that a truly interesting question pertinent to this project of Speculative Non-Buddhism would be to ask: why is this so important to you to align this abstract form of ancient x-buddhistic causality with modern science? Contrary to the contemporary x-buddhistic circles eagerly trying to prove the compatibility of their ideology with the natural science I don’t see many people making much fuss, for example, over some remnants of Aristotelian physics still being true in the era of quantum physics. Sebastian, where is this tenacious decision to prove that seeming compatibility coming from in you case?

  34. Sebastian said

    Tomek (#33)

    This fragment that you quote from the Pali sources might make sense, as you say, to everybody concerned with natural sciences, but all I’m saying above is that it would be simply useless for a traditional x-Buddhist when taken out of the familiar cosmological, ethical and ritual context of The Dharma as it happens in much of x-buddhistic discourse today.

    It is not useless for a Buddhist, as Dependent Origination is a central concept in Buddhism and this fragment displays one of the basic statements of Dependent Origination.

    When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.
    — Samyutta Nikaya 12.61

    It is a fundamental part of the of the Buddhist philosophy, on which the ‘higher-level’ parts are based.
    The Twelve Nidanas one of these higher concepts of Buddhist philosophy , that base on this fragment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da#The_Twelve_Nidanas

    Maybe a Buddhist who is not familiar with physics, will not know this more abstracted facet of Dependent Origination. But for the everyday life this fragment has importantance, as the Buddhist practice is also based in it.

    This course of action is generic for Buddhist teaching.
    The Buddha always explained, using a logical method, how he achieved the knowledge about this universe.

    why is this so important to you to align this abstract form of ancient x-buddhistic causality with modern science? Contrary to the contemporary x-buddhistic circles eagerly trying to prove the compatibility of their ideology with the natural science I don’t see many people making much fuss, for example, over some remnants of Aristotelian physics still being true in the era of quantum physics. Sebastian, where is this tenacious decision to prove that seeming compatibility coming from in you case?

    I know both, science and Buddhism. I do not tenaciously want to prove the compatibility, but I have these realized that these two conceptions of the world actually are compatible (at least till the latest state-of-the-art).

    The difference between Aristotelian physics and Buddhism is the ‘outreach’.
    Buddhism works on domains, that natural science hasn’t entered yet, or is just beginning to do so.
    Aristotelian physics is ‘grazed’.

    In addition Buddhism offers a path (meditation, yoga etc.) beside the accurate conception of the world, that enables the practicing person to reconstruct how the Buddha achieved his knowledge.

    That this ancient knowledge nowadays is confirmed by modern Western science, shows the accuracy of the Buddhist teachings.

    Two independent sources that come to the same results… this is a good indicator for the discovery of an universal law.

    So, I don’t tenaciously want to prove the compatibility of natural sciences and Buddhism, I just realized the similarities, and perceived them as absolutely remarkable.

  35. Tom Pepper said

    I’ve been reluctant to jump in to the preceding conversation because, frankly, I can’t make much sense of Sebastian’s comments. Really, knock off the wikipedia links!! If you can’t explain something yourself, you don’t understand it well enough to talk about it, so shut up.

    Your goal, Sebastian, as near as I can tell, is to insist that science and Buddhism both prove the necessity of a world-transcendent entity. That science, and Buddhist thought, have often been put to this use is clearly the case–but if your interest is in producing idiotic new-age scientific ideologies and perpetuation the delusions of morons, you can probably find another blog devoted to that. There are thousands of them.

    I wonder what effect Dan Arnold’s recent book might have on this position? He argues that “the view that Buddhist thinkers elaborated a position that is uniquely compatible with scientific understanding” runs into a “significant obstacle.” Among other problems, modern science, including the neuro-cognitive versions, are physicalist in nature, and “the traditionally transmitted utterances of the Buddha include passages to the effect that physicalism is finally a more pernicious error even than self-grasping.” I doubt one book can put this nonsense to rest, but it certainly makes it harder to adopt the naive compatiblist position. Unless, of course, it is just completely ignored in favor of whatever Alan Wallace comes out with next.

  36. Sebastian said

    Tom (#35)

    Really, knock off the wikipedia links!! If you can’t explain something yourself, you don’t understand it well enough to talk about it, so shut up.

    I understand these topics very well, but I’m a bit lazy…

    Your goal, Sebastian, as near as I can tell, is to insist that science and Buddhism both prove the necessity of a world-transcendent entity.

    Science doesn’t need a world-transcendent entity and doesn’t prove it. But it doesn’t exclude it either. There are states of conciousness, that imply an entity beyond the dualistic part of the universe.

    See posting #23.

    In Buddhism, Nirvana can’t be called an entity, neither is there a necessity for it. All that is stated about Nirvana is that it is transcendent (not to be understood in the Western sense).

    That science, and Buddhist thought, have often been put to this use is clearly the case–but if your interest is in producing idiotic new-age scientific ideologies and perpetuation the delusions of morons, you can probably find another blog devoted to that. There are thousands of them.

    You have to be open to these ideas, science works this way. A theory is established and then examined.

    I wonder what effect Dan Arnold’s recent book might have on this position? He argues that “the view that Buddhist thinkers elaborated a position that is uniquely compatible with scientific understanding” runs into a “significant obstacle.” Among other problems, modern science, including the neuro-cognitive versions, are physicalist in nature, and “the traditionally transmitted utterances of the Buddha include passages to the effect that physicalism is finally a more pernicious error even than self-grasping.”

    This depends on what is defined as ‘physical’. It is possible to define everything that arises dependently as ‘physical’.
    Then there is no real physicalism, as everything that arises dependently is illusionary or empty.

  37. Tom Pepper said

    Sebastian: you clearly are quite lazy. At least, your thinking and use of language is. You seem to be merely parroting some tired old sophistries, which nobody but an idiot could be taken in by. Cut the crap, and say something, or stop wasting people’s time with your senseless “noise.”

    To say science doesn’t “exclude” a world-transcendent entity, but doesn’t “need” one either, is like saying that science doesn’t exclude the existence of flying, fire-breathing dragons, but merely requires that we cannot see them, interact with them, or be any way affected by them–that the exist, but in a “dimension” which can in no way interact with our own. If there is a world-transcendent entity which we can never detect, and which can in no way influence us or be influenced by us, then that is the same thing as saying it is “excluded” by science. What could it possibly mean to say that nirvana is NOT an “entity” but “it” does exist? If there is such a thing, then it is an entity of some sort. Why would you want to say that Nirvana is “transcendent” but not in any sense of the word “transcendent”? Why not, then, just use the word you mean. That is like saying the sky is yellow, just not in any sense of the word yellow yet used. It is just nonsense. This pomo gibberish, like saying you can “define” the word physical to mean not at all physical, is stupid, and a waste of time.

    Avoiding such pseudo-scientific bullshit is exactly what I was arguing for in this post. Learn to think, and you won’t feel the need to be “open” to every completely idiotic idea you come across.

  38. Sebastian said

    Tom (#37)

    At least, your thinking and use of language is. You seem to be merely parroting some tired old sophistries, which nobody but an idiot could be taken in by. Cut the crap, and say something, or stop wasting people’s time with your senseless “noise.”

    First: My mother-tongue is German.

    What ‘sophistries’ exactly ?

    If there is a world-transcendent entity which we can never detect, and which can in no way influence us or be influenced by us, then that is the same thing as saying it is “excluded” by science.

    Yes and no. There are ways to prove, that beyond the dualisitic part of this universe we observe, exists a different part of this universe.
    See Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and self-reference.

    What could it possibly mean to say that nirvana is NOT an “entity” but “it” does exist? If there is such a thing, then it is an entity of some sort. Why would you want to say that Nirvana is “transcendent” but not in any sense of the word “transcendent”?

    The word ‘exists’ implies something exists in the meaning of the dualistic universe. For the concept of Nirvana this is not applicable. You have to be careful here.
    ‘Transcendent’ comes closest. Nirvana simply has none of the qualities of the universe (including ‘existence’). So it’s not describable.

    This pomo gibberish, like saying you can “define” the word physical to mean not at all physical, is stupid, and a waste of time.

    For someone who tries to be an educated person and philosopher you are using hard words.
    You seem mentally disturbed.

    This definition makes sense. Think about it!

    This depends on what is defined as ‘physical’. It is possible to define everything that arises dependently as ‘physical’.
    Then there is no real physicalism, as everything that arises dependently is illusionary or empty.
    The only new about this idea is, that psychic processes have to be considered as physical, too.
    This is an issue of philosophy of mind (mind-body-problem).
    See posting #32 !

    In the Madhyamaka, to say that an object is “empty” is synonymous with saying that it is dependently originated. Nāgārjuna equates emptiness with dependent origination in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:18.

  39. Sebastian said

    oh sorry: psychically disturbed

  40. Tom Pepper said

    Sebastian: I would have accepted either mentally or psychically. The judges say they would also have accepted emotionally or intellectually.

    I didn’t realize you were not an American. As a native of this fine country where over 80% of schoolteachers could not define the word syllogism, much less produce a correct one, I assumed that only Americans could be so ridiculously illogical.

    There is another part of the universe beyond the “dualistic part” which we observe, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem proves this? Yikes! That wouldn’t even work as an explanation on Star Trek.

  41. Sebastian said

    There is another part of the universe beyond the “dualistic part” which we observe, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem proves this? Yikes! That wouldn’t even work as an explanation on Star Trek.

    A causal system (in this case the universe) can be described in a two-valued (true-false) logic. So Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem is applicable to such a system.
    Now there are two posibilities, either the (complex enough) system is incomplete or inconsistent / contradictory .

    In case 1, one of the possible conclusions is that, the system (universe) is infinite, as it is always possible to expand the incomplete universe. But it still remains incomplete or contradictory if one does so.

    Case 2 is ‘system (universe) is inconsistent / contradictory ‘: One of the possible conclusions is, that beyond this causal system (universe), is a transcendence or in other words the discerned environment / universe is illusionary.

    I don’t estimate that only the ‘dualistic part’ is causal, but it is the part of the universe, we are familiar to.

  42. Sebastian said

    I mixed up Gödel’s theorems. What I was refering to is the second incompleteness theorem.

  43. Tom Pepper said

    RE #41: This is a perfect example of what I was trying to argue against in my short essay. You are confusing the description of the universe, which occurs in the symbolic system of mathematics, with the actual mind-independent universe. Because our conceptual model is incomplete, or contains contradictions, we tend to assume that the same is true of reality; in the same way, because we can only arrive at probabilistic accounts of quantum reality, we assume that the universe is probabilistic. This is the kind of reification I am suggesting we can avoid, if we employ Nagarjuna’s thought, if we treat Nagarjuna as another philosopher, in the same way we treat Hume or Hegel or Heidegger. Don’t confuse the conceptual model with reality.

    This is similar to the error of claiming, as so many x-buddhists do, that what is “mystical” today will seem “secular” in a hundred years. This is sloppy thinking, or just plain sophistry. The correct way to think of this is that what we explain in silly mystical ways today might someday be explained in reasonable, natural terms–the phenomenon will remain the same, it was never “mystical” to begin with. We do not think that demonic possession is a “secular” explanation today while it was “mystical” a couple hundred years ago; instead, we think today that it was stupid and ignorant to explain mental illness as demonic possession. The “mystical” has not become accepted as scientific, but has been dismissed as silly superstition.

  44. Sebastian said

    Tom (#43)

    You are confusing the description of the universe, which occurs in the symbolic system of mathematics, with the actual mind-independent universe. Because our conceptual model is incomplete, or contains contradictions, we tend to assume that the same is true of reality; in the same way, because we can only arrive at probabilistic accounts of quantum reality, we assume that the universe is probabilistic. This is the kind of reification I am suggesting we can avoid, if we employ Nagarjuna’s thought, if we treat Nagarjuna as another philosopher, in the same way we treat Hume or Hegel or Heidegger. Don’t confuse the conceptual model with reality.

    I’m absolutely aware of the fact, that the model of the universe is incomplete, maybe even faulty at some points. Else we would have a TOE.
    But the assumption that the universe exists mind-independently, does not necessarily have to be true.

    This is why I mentioned the Leggett-Garg-inequation.

    The keypoint is that the foundations of the physical world explanation, like causality are correct, else technology which is based on natural laws wouldn’t work and we would still live in Stone Age.

    Just to mention it, solely the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics assumes a probabilistic universe on quantum level.
    There are different interpretations of quantum mechanics e.g. de Broglie-Bohm theory. The de Broglie-Bohm theory describes quantum mechanics as deterministic / causal.
    The de Broglie-Bohm theory describes exactly the same physics as the Copenhagen interpretation.

    The correct way to think of this is that what we explain in silly mystical ways today might someday be explained in reasonable, natural terms–the phenomenon will remain the same, it was never “mystical” to begin with.

    This is what I was intending to say, but I expressed it in different words.

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