Essays on modern Buddhism and
modern Buddhist Philosophy
'...All systems subject to the laws of physics can be simulated by algorithms. Hence any system which cannot in principle be simulated by an algorithm must have a non-physical component...'
Anthropology of religion
'...Among many anthropologists it has recently become fashionable to dismiss all religions as memes - parasitic mental processes which propagate in the same manner as viruses...'
The usual arguments against Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
'...Computationalism or philosophical AI, (sometimes also known as Strong AI), which is the view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer...'
'...The internal states, inputs and outputs of an automaton have no inherent meaning. Any meaning (semantics) must be assigned from outside the system...'
'...It is amazing that no-one ever realised that all phenomena - from atoms to galaxies - can only be known via internal mental states. If internal mental states do not exist then the things that become manifest through them cannot exist - or at any rate must always remain totally innaccessible to understanding. (But presumably this doesn't matter because understanding, being an internal mental state, also cannot exist!)...'
Christianity and Buddhism, Genesis and Science.
'Christian Fundamentalists still hanker after the truth of Genesis, whereas Buddhists are happy to accept scientific explanations for the origin of the Universe.'
'The theological objection is that evolution states that there is a continuum between ape and man, ie human and animal.. This is not a problem for Buddhists, who believe that both humans and animals possess sentient minds which survive death. However it is a major problem for theologians. The church has always taught that only humans have immortal souls, whereas animals are automata whose minds cease at death'
'The western response to materialism is dualism, which claims that there are two kinds of things in the universe - material objects and souls. The major exponent of dualism was Descartes. Dualism implies that mental experience is a radically new feature that only humans possess, and a late optional extra slipped into an already well-defined, functional, physical universe.'
'Dukkha is sometimes translated as suffering but in actual fact encompasses all senses of unsatisfactoriness, even including pleasure (which evolution has contrived will always be a transient sensation - lest it detract too much from the grim business of survival).'
Emergence - is the mind an emergent property of the brain?
The mind cannot be an emergent property of the brain or any other physical system, since emergent properties and emergent phenomena are psychological in origin, and require the pre-existence of an observer's mind in order to become manifest.
'King Milinda was a Greek and an experienced soldier who thought he knew a chariot when he saw one. But Nagasena demonstrated that if Milinda's chariot were gradually dismantled - knock a spoke out of a wheel here, a plank off there, then a bit of the frame and so on - there was no way for Milinda to decide at exactly what step in the procedure he should stop imputing 'vehicle' and start imputing 'heap of firewood'. '
Empty set - the origins of number
'...in the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted. Numbers are therefore fundamentally devoid of inherent 'Platonic' existence..'
'Epiphenomenalism avoids some of the absurdities of the behaviorists by claiming that consciousness and thought-processes do actually exist, though only as epiphenomena generated by the physical activities of the brain. However, thoughts have no causative functions! The illusion of free-will remains precisely that - an illusion'.
Feminine spirituality, philosophy and science
'Why is God male rather than female? Gender is required to allow DNA to recombine and evolve in different and potentially novel combinations. Patriarchal religions preach that God is a single unborn, uncreated, unevolved, non-biological entity who does not reproduce and will endure for all eternity. He hasn't undergone evolution Himself, so why does He need to be sexually differentiated at all?.
Feud between Science and Religion
'Many (most?) scientists believe religions to be irrational, obscurantist and anti-scientific The problem goes back to Galileo, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice-versa as stated in the Bible.'
'The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology. . In Buddhist psychology the root mind is non-physical and non-algorithmic. The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness.'
Genes, Memes and Buddhism
'...We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators..' - Richard Dawkins
'For in Him we live, and move, and have our being'
Sow a character, reap a destiny.'
Laws of physics - their anthropic origin
'Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives'
'In Marxist countries most religions were suppressed to a greater or lesser extent, Buddhism being a particular object of persecution. The reason for this is fairly clear, for unlike the other belief-systems that Marxism encountered, Buddhism was the only one which offered a rational, logically coherent philosophy, and thus presented a real ideological threat to the Marxist materialist worldview'.
'...The version of materialism prevalent nowadays is more accurately known as physicalism. Physicalism has grown out of advances during the second half of the twentieth century in the fields of genetics, evolution and computer technology. Modern physicalism takes as its subject matter DNA codes, computer instruction sets and datastructures, rather than the bouncing billiard balls of the nineteenth and early twentieth century materialists..'
Mathematics - Its unreasonable effectiveness in science and engineering
So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology, neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.
Meme theory and memetics
'A novel view of meditation might be that it is like running a virus check on your mind. Lurking memes, such as rubbish left over from childhood indoctrination, can be brought to the surface and examined. Residues of self-referential belief systems - those driven by fear, guilt, wanting to conform, wanting other people to conform, or alternately pride in being better than non-believers - can be recognised for what they are and cleared out.'
'Metaphysics means, literally, 'beyond physics'. Metaphysics deals with phenomena which are either more basic than physics, or beyond the reach of physical methods of analysis and understanding.'
Mind - experiencing its non-physical nature
One of the quickest ways to convince yourself that the root mind is not physical, (and is not therefore limited by one birth and one death), is to meditate on the formless nature of the mind.
'The great difficulty in talking about non-algorithmic phenomena is that although we can say what it is in general terms that they do, it is impossible by their very nature to describe how they do it. (If we could describe in a stepwise manner what was going on then we could write a computer program
to perform the task).'
'At present the creationist/young earth view is winning within the US educational system, as more and more boards of education outlaw the teaching of evolution. The creationists' victory is being won not by the strength of their arguments, but by imposition of censorship. It is likely that soon many young Americans will simply never come into contact with the concepts of evolution either in their lessons or libraries.'
Parasites of the Mind
These two types of self-referential statement "propagate me" and "I am the only truth" provide the driving force for memes to invade the minds of their hosts. In addition, many memes contain the instructions "Help people who believe in this meme, attack people who do not". These commands being the ultimate cause of all religious wars throughout the centuries.
Parietal Lobe and Mystical Experience
To the average Westerner, deliberately cultivating the idea that your ego doesn't exist as a fixed entity may seem weird and scary, but in fact it can be immensely liberating. As one of the researcher/meditators taking part in the study said "It feels like a loss of boundary. It's as if the film of your life broke and you were seeing the light that allowed the film to be projected"
Participatory anthropic principle
The early multiverse can perhaps be thought of as a massively parallel quantum computer which explored all of possibility-space until it was able to generate a living body, which became the habitation of an observing, sentient being. At that moment the multiverse collapsed into the actuality of that one alternative environment. This theory is known as the Participatory Anthropic Principle and was first put forward by the physicist John A.Wheeler in 1983.
Philosophy for Children and Young People - A small charity whose members are interested in the role of philosophical enquiry in education, both as a model of rigorous thinking and as a celebration of wonder and open-mindedness.
Buddhist views of the nature of the mind.
'The Buddhist does not doubt that the brain does some very sophisticated ordering of its incoming nerve impulses into the datastructures which are the objects of knowledge. But when all is said and done, those datastructures remain as objects. They are not themselves knowledge, neither are they that which performs the function of knowing.'
Experiments in quantum physics seem to demonstrate the need for an observer to be present to make potentialities become real.
'We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against out creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators'
What make a sentient being different from an automaton?
Sociology of religion
The social manipulations that religions perform to bring about their propagation.
Sociology of Scientific Knowledge - SSK
From the mid 1970s to the late 1990s a cluster of irrationalist or anti-rationalist ideas became increasingly prevalent among academic sociologists in America, France and Britain. The ideas were variously known as Deconstructionism, Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, (SSK), Social Constructivism, or Science and Technology Studies (STS).
Spooky action at a distance (EPR Paradox)
'One of the most vivid illustrations of the interactions of the mind of the observer with a quantum system is given by EPR - the 'Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox', or 'Spooky action at a distance' as it is sometimes known. The experimental evidence seems to show that the observer's mind goes to its object unobstructedly and instantaneously.'
The ultimate unfindability of the real nature of all phenomena - their lack inherent existence, is usually referred to by English-speaking Buddhists as 'emptiness', which is a translation of the Sanskrit word Sunyata (sometimes spelled Shunyata). According to David Loy the English word emptiness has a more nihilistic connotation than the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit root su also conveys the concept of being swollen with possibility [LOY 1996]. It is therefore most important not to confuse emptiness with total nothingness. Emptiness implies the potential for existence and change.
Animals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness. It is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals.
'...Sentient beings have many different capacities for spiritual understanding and practice. For this reason, out of his compassion, Buddha Shakyamuni gave teachings at many levels..'
Teachings on Buddhism
Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in Science and Engineering
Einstein is said to have remarked that "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." This observation was elaborated by Eugene Wigner in his famous paper in Pure Mathematics (Volume 13, Number 1, February 1960) entitled 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences'
- Sean Robsville
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?