Buddhism, Physics, the Brain, Consciousness and the Mind
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...'
'It has often been remarked by physicists and chemists that the universe is very sensitively tuned to allow life to exist. If certain physical and chemical constants were just a fraction out from their observed values, life could never have arisen.'
'Bible-believing creationists claim that the world and all its species were created in six days of a single week around 4004 BC . In contrast, Buddhist philosophy is evolutionary. Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading.'
'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.'
Was Albert Einstein a Buddhist? ... some interesting links.
Emergence, consciousness and emergent phenomena
Consciousness 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.
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..'
As well as being able to affect matter at the quantum level, there is increasing evidence that consciousness can directly affect larger scale systems.
'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'.
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...'
Function of the Brain
'...But - you've got to ask yourself - what is the purpose of the normal functioning of the brain? The brain hasn't evolved to represent ultimate reality to the mind. The brain is a device which has evolved by selection of the fittest (not the most truthful) to project the delusion of the inherently-existing self onto the mind. This delusion of a permanent, unchanging self is 'imputed' over the building blocks that make up the physical aspects of a sentient being...'
'...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.
'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.
Mind over matter
Can the mind directly affect sensitive machines?
'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).'
Parietal Lobe and the physical basis of religious 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"
Basically, what quantum theory says is that fundamental particles are empty of inherent existence and exist in an undefined state of potentialities. They have no existence 'from their own side' and do not become 'real' until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning.
Qualia - the physical/mental interface
'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.'
What make a sentient being different from an automaton?
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.'
Stern and Gerlach's magnet
'One of the earliest demonstrations that the choice of observation imputes qualities on a quantum system (rather than merely observes what is already there) is due to Stern and Gerlach.'
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.
- 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?