LugosiDevilBat3Whenever I read a headline that screams about how SCIENCE AGREES with anything Buddhist I cringe.

Does this only happen with Buddhism? I guess there must be Fundamentalist Christian websites boldly declaring that science agrees the Earth is just 6000 years old. I doubt there are a lot of other religions out there grabbing up anyone with a PhD who happens to say something like what their texts say. Deepak does it all the time, I suppose. But do we really want to sound like him?

I’m just gonna call Buddhism a “religion” for the purposes of this article, even though I still think it really isn’t one. Forgive me.

One of the things that got me interested in Buddhism to begin with was that it was the first religion I’d encountered that didn’t fear science. The Christians I grew up around in the boonies of Ohio were absolutely terrified of science. It was a dangerous and ever present threat to everything they believed in. The Hare Krishnas loved to throw the word “science” into their literature, but they spent as much time trying to disprove evolution as any believer in the historical truth of Noah’s Ark. Yet the Buddhists seemed to be perfectly willing to accept science.

But it seems like every three weeks or so, my Facebook gets clogged up with people sharing how SCIENCE AGREES with some random Buddhist thing. That’s why I rolled my eyes real big when I saw a headline that yelled, “Leading Neuroscientists and Buddhists Agree: Consciousness is Everywhere!

Look. Elvis is everywhere. Savoir Faire is everywhere. Consciousness is a whole other story.

I scanned through the article. Then I read it again for preparing this piece. I still didn’t get it. It sounds like some neuroscientist somewhere has a new definition of “consciousness” and he talked to the Dalai Lama about it and the Dalai Lama was all like, “Oh that sounds great!”


This stuff just makes me tired.

There is a lot in Buddhist philosophy about “all sentient beings.” And there is a lot in Buddhist philosophy that extends the definition of “sentience” well beyond the one we’re used to. For example, I just watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Lt. Data reads a poem in which he says of his cat Spot, “Although you are not sentient.” As far as I’m concerned cats are sentient. I think most people I know would agree with that. This begs the question of whether Lt. Data himself, being an android, is sentient. But whatever.

Actually not whatever! Cuz the article I’m responding to goes on a tangent about machine consciousness. It quotes neuroscientist Christof Koch as saying, “We’re witnessing the birth of computer intelligence. Is a machine conscious? Does it feel like anything? If it does, it may acquire legal rights, and I certainly have ethical obligations towards it. I can’t just turn it off or wipe its disc clean.”

And this is the problem.

Because while Buddhist writers often extend their definition of sentience to such things as “fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles,” to quote Dogen, once you start talking about consciousness we’re getting into a whole different area.

In the old Buddhist formula of what constitutes a human being there are five factors; form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness. Note that consciousness is just one of these factors. Also note that feelings, perceptions and impulses toward action are separate factors. Most folks these days would probably put all those things under the general heading of consciousness.

The way people usually talk about stuff nowadays in the West, there are just two things; form and consciousness.

Everybody seems to agree that form exists. Form is matter. Science is the study of matter and how it interacts with other matter. Science obviously works. You are reading this blog on a device that couldn’t exist otherwise. So matter is real.

For us, consciousness is the thing in doubt. We know that we feel consciousness. But maybe that’s just a byproduct of material interactions.

Lots of us these days are desperate to hear those who are experts in the matters of form tell us that consciousness is real. Scientists are like our High Priests. They know all and see all. If they believe in consciousness, it must exist. Because they can do the math! They know how to work those weird machines that go “ping!” and light up.

If one of those guys talks to the Dalai Lama and hears him go “Mmm-hmmm” when he says something about consciousness going “ping!” or lighting up a machine somewhere then SCIENCE AGREES!! And headlines are made!

Now there’s a lot in the old Buddhist literature indicating that many of the masters of the past have discovered that the entire universe is sentient. That’s pretty mind blowing if it’s true. It’s also a fairly good description of what I myself have discovered through my own practice.

But when you start saying consciousness is everywhere, something is going very wrong.

It could be a matter of words. But I feel like even saying “the entire universe is sentient” is also going wrong. Not as wrong as “consciousness is everywhere” but still wrong. Dead wrong. Completely and utterly wrong.

So what are you gonna do? How can you even talk about these ideas without the entire conversation going cockeyed?

I don’t know the answer. But I feel like one good place to start is by looking at our concepts and questioning them deeply.

Years ago at a lecture, some British guy was asking Nishijima Roshi about consciousness. Nishijima said, “Consciousness is just an idea.”

At the time I was baffled. How can consciousness be just an idea? There I was, sitting in a chair, being fully conscious of the conversation I was hearing and here was this Zen Master, who I trusted, saying, “Consciousness is just an idea.” So was my conscious experience of hearing that conversation “just an idea?” Is that what he was saying? Because, man, that’s some acid trippy Matrix stuff !

But that wasn’t what he was saying at all. He was saying that the British guy was talking about an idea called “consciousness” that he imagined was at work in the real world. Nishijima was trying to get him to look at what he was saying, at what this thing he called “consciousness” actually was. And what it was, was an idea.

Once you start defining everything as having consciousness you get into all kinds of mind twists about, “Well what does that mean? Does it mean I can’t erase all the porn off my computer because it’s conscious and it might not want its erotic memories removed?”

You get into trying to manipulate this idea of “consciousness” through the little thought maze you’ve constructed for it. But in doing so, you forget that it’s just an idea and that even the maze you made for it isn’t real.

Or something like that. Anyway. Science agrees!!!

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April 7, 2016 San Francisco, California Against The Stream

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59 Responses

Page 1 of 1
  1. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer April 1, 2016 at 5:33 pm |

    I agree that articles claiming Buddhism got such and such scientific principle back before dinosaurs were born are tiresome. It’s usually not a very convincing story. And none of the patriarchs of zen even came up with the concept of the light bulb, so their implied mastery of science wasn’t all that impressive.

    Many years before I ever started any of this Buddhist crap I remember getting irritated at Depak Chopra when I would hear his babble about “quantum levels of healing”. In physics the word quantum is a well defined, useful concept and seeing it mangled by some new age fruitcake was painful.

    I try to avoid the Buddhism predicted Science type articles. If my practice is so weak that it needs some sort of endorsement from the scientific world then I might as well just give it up.


    1. drocloc
      drocloc April 2, 2016 at 8:11 am |

      Mind is one of the six senses.

      Consciousness is equivalent to the orgasm of scents the dog perceives sticking it’s head out the window of a car. Just sit. Gassho

  2. Fred
    Fred April 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm |

    Consciousness is everywhere

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous April 1, 2016 at 6:02 pm |

    Oxford scientists have proven that Shariputra existed and was over 7 feet tall.

  4. shade
    shade April 1, 2016 at 6:26 pm |

    The strangest thing about the statement “Science Agrees” is that implies that there are no disagreements among scientists about anything regarding their own area of expertise. What’s usually meant is “ScientIST Agrees”, with the assumption being that if one Scientist makes a certain statement, there will automatically be a consensus among all Scientists in support of that statement. And while this is obviously not true I think Scientists themselves sometimes allow the assumption to stand in order to create the impression of a unified front against their adversaries, that is, all those who dismiss the Scientific enterprise as a whole (In that they act very much like priests as well).

    By the way, Data on Star Trek TNG was definitely sentient. That was central to his whole existential drama throughout the series. With that in mind, you would think he would understand the meaning of the word sentient. I mean, one could argue whether or not a sponge or a leech is sentient, but not a cat. I think the writers on the show might have dropped the ball there. I think they might have meant sapient.

  5. Dog Star
    Dog Star April 1, 2016 at 8:43 pm |
    1. Cygni
      Cygni April 2, 2016 at 8:21 am |

      As deep as any ocean, as sweet as any harmony ~

      1. Dog Star
        Dog Star April 2, 2016 at 10:07 am |



  6. Cygni
    Cygni April 1, 2016 at 8:46 pm |

    Since phenomena are always coming and going, all ideas about the universe are temporary appearance, so any idea can exist.

    1. Cygni
      Cygni April 2, 2016 at 8:25 am |
  7. Andy
    Andy April 1, 2016 at 10:42 pm |
    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara April 2, 2016 at 6:58 pm |
  8. zenmite
    zenmite April 2, 2016 at 12:10 am |

    To quote a member of team rinzai; “there is nothing but the one mind & that which you see before you is it.” There are so many different ways to define and use the word “consciousness” that it is nearly impossible to even discuss such things unless we agree on the exact definition. Materialism asserts that consciousness is nothing but a special form of nonconsciousness, only dead matter. New age or spiritual idealism asserts that dead matter is a special form of consciousness. They’re all lies…lies I tell you.

  9. Chong Do
    Chong Do April 2, 2016 at 1:25 am |

    The Dalai Lama was once quoted in a interview as saying, “If there is ever a disagreement between Buddhism and science, Buddhism will change.” Putting aside the fact that he only has the authority to speak for 1 of the approx. 47 schools of Buddhism, I thought that was awesome. And it definitely played a part in me wanting to practice.

    I think the, “science agrees” articles can be helpful in that they allow us to use very mundane language to describe Zen practice. If I tell someone I sit and stare at walls, ” To see through the illusion of a separate self,” they generally think I’m nuts. However, if I tell them, “Meditation allows me to weaken the connections between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex in my brain thus making me less reactive to negative emotions, and more compassionate towards others. Then the conversation is usually more productive.

  10. french-roast
    french-roast April 2, 2016 at 3:02 am |

    It would seem that there is little consensus regarding the word consciousness. That in itself is an interesting phenomena, why is it that the most obvious is so difficult to conceptually pin down and agree upon? Can we agree on the concept car? Instead of asking what is consciousness, let us ask what is a car. An inherent characteristic of the human mind is that it isolates and extracts, it is in fact a key aspect of perception, to bring foreground, to discern, out of the/an undifferentiated background of a huge and complex display of sensory inputs. The mind discerns patterns within varied and similar sensory experiences, and freezes those patterns with/within concepts; in this case the word car. Whatever concept, it is intimately related to the experience we have. A car isn’t a car, that is why we call it a car. But of what kind of car is it? What is the true essence of a car? Of course, we can easily see that to look for the true essence of a car is meaningless. Most concept are simply like the concept car, without essence and /or sub-stance, since most rest on circum-stances.

    Now, how do you isolates and extract ‘consciousness’? Consciousness isn’t the same kind of concept as the concept car, but unfortunately we do as if it was, as if it has/is a form. The concept car is generative, open, and rest upon the multiple divergent and similar experiences we get of it, those generative concepts are senses related.

    Instead of the word consciousness, let us take the word brain. Do you have a brain? I would think that most of us would answer yes, I do have a brain. But what kind of brain is it as I say this? Is it of the actual brain? Can you hold that actual brain in your hands and show it to me, all the while talking about it? That brain is an abstract brain, not of the actual brain. And so my brain as I talk about is is always an abstraction. Is there such a thing as an abstract brain essence? It is even worst with the concept consciousness. Does it have a form? What color is it? What shape, smell, touch, what sounds does it make? How wide, narrow or vast is it? What is it that we are talking about when talking of/about consciousness? Are you so sure you have one? Can you show it to me? What is it that we are talking about when talking? I surely do not know!
    If I were to show it to you, would you recognize it? Names and forms, is consciousness empty of forms and just a name? And a name for what? Maybe it is a meaningfull ‘that’ to which we gave a name; That I am!

    When the world is real, you are a phantom, but when you are, the world is just a shadow.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot April 2, 2016 at 4:10 am |

      What we call “consciousness” covers some disparate concepts. There is the mental apparatus and its functioning, which has form and rules. But there is also that which “lights up” the apparatus, which is formless and does nothing, although you can say the functioning of the mental apparatus is its doing. Some teachers prefer to call that “awareness.”

      But as zenmite says, it’s all lies.

      1. french-roast
        french-roast April 2, 2016 at 5:28 am |

        Ok, now we have awareness and consciousness, could we say that consciousness is simply a mode of awareness; awareness of? And then, if there is awareness of (consciousness) there must be some kind of awareness as, no? Where do you ‘locate’ words and concepts in all of this? Could we say that consciousness is being aware of with concepts? In such a way that perception is now of a frozen universe; a world entirely made up of words and concepts. What about non-reflected awareness? another word? Another world?

      2. minkfoot
        minkfoot April 2, 2016 at 5:38 am |


        1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
          DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 2, 2016 at 10:38 pm |

          Actually, no.

  11. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon April 2, 2016 at 4:16 am |

    “Consciousness” seems to be one very specific type of activity in certain parts of living brains. If consciousness is not even “everywhere” in the brains where it occurs, it seems impossible that it could be “an intrinsic property of everything”.

    “The heart of consciousness,” says neuroscientist Christof Koch, “is that it feels like something. How is it that a piece of matter, like my brain, can feel anything?”
    Because that is one of the things that brains do. Consciousness feels like that because that is what consciousness feels like. Sometimes the best explanation is a tautology.

  12. Chong Do
    Chong Do April 2, 2016 at 8:41 am |

    To be fair, it seems like the boundaries between sentience and consciousness are somewhat blurred as shown by the following definitions from

    Sentient- having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.

    Conscious- aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings, etc.

    Despite the confusion, it is an important question to ask. At what point does sentience cross over into consciousness? Furthermore, if all animals show some level of sentience, and thus some level of consciousness, don’t we have a responsibility to give them the same compassion and respect that we give human beings?

    Personally, I choose to error on the side of caution by being vegetarian.

  13. Nicole
    Nicole April 2, 2016 at 2:46 pm |

    “Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. […] Only individuals of exceptional endowments and exceptionally high-minded communities, as a general rule, get in any real sense beyond this level [of an anthropomorphic character of their conception of God.]. But there is a third state of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form, and which I will call cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to explain this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

    The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear in earlier stages of development — e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contains a much stronger element of it. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image […]

    How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are capable of it.

    We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science and religion very different from the usual one. When one views the matter historically, one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events — that is, if he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. […] Hence science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties, no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear and punishment and hope of reward after death. […]

    On the other hand, I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion which pioneer work in theoretical science demands, can grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate reality of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to those like-minded with themselves, scattered through the earth and the centuries. […] It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man strength of this sort. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.”

    — Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science”, New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930

    You wonder what Einstein would’ve said had he read Dogen instead of Schopenhauer …

    1. Dog Star
      Dog Star April 2, 2016 at 6:13 pm |

      Great post. Thanks.

  14. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara April 2, 2016 at 6:52 pm |

    Om namo Buddhaya! Clickbait is EVERYWHERE!

  15. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 April 2, 2016 at 7:16 pm |

    Deepak Chopra said that this is the worst comment thread he’s ever read using his magical, mystical third eye.

    1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
      DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 2, 2016 at 10:42 pm |

      Hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

      1. Khru 2.0
        Khru 2.0 April 3, 2016 at 9:21 am |

        I’ll pass your message on to Deepak but he’s not gonna like it.

        1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
          DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 6, 2016 at 10:52 pm |

          Deepak even dream of whupping my ass, he better wake up an’ apologise.

  16. dzj
    dzj April 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm |

    > while Buddhist writers often extend their definition of sentience to such things as “fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles,” to quote Dogen,

    “Mountains and waters are neither sentient, nor insentient.” – Dogen (Mountain Water Sutra, read by Gary Snyder & from my fallible memory.)

    Paraphrasing from memory…

    Mountain walking & walking mountain. Investigate carefully this aspect of “walking mountains”.

    🙂 <3

    Speaking of experiences, feelings (that are transient – so like, whatever, shouldn't be grasped)…

    A wall being sentient, this is something i've had a weird experience of, to which this could match, but is different in character, to what might be called "mountains walking". The character of what I currently have mapped to 'zazen' / 'original mind' / 'practice' is 'neither sentient, nor insentient'. It's not an experience – that implies someone to who it is happening.

    Would be interested to hear what you have to say on this & if I even make sense to you 🙂

    For some reason, feel like I have to articulate this stuff 🙂

  17. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
    DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm |

    NEVER rinse your mouth out when you’ve finished brushing your teeth.

    Well…I say never…wait 30 minutes and that should do the trick.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon April 3, 2016 at 2:21 am |
      1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
        DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 3, 2016 at 8:15 am |

        Who said anything about Fluoride? I use bleach.

        “Several clinical and experimental studies have reported that the F induces changes in cerebral morphology and biochemistry that affect the neurological development of individuals as well as cognitive processes, such as learning and memory. ”

        Sounds like meditation…

        1. The Grand Canyon
          The Grand Canyon April 3, 2016 at 10:39 am |

          “Can I use Clorox® Regular-Bleach to gargle, brush my teeth or clean cuts and scrapes?
          Clorox’s answer:
          No. Clorox® Regular-Bleach is not for personal usage.”


          1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
            DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 6, 2016 at 10:54 pm |

            They’re trying to build a more corporate image. Whoever heard of anyone getting sick from using bleach to gargle, brush teeth or clean cuts and scrapes?

            They laughed Einstein out of the scientific community, just because he was married to Marilyn Monroe.

  18. Fred
    Fred April 3, 2016 at 8:56 am |

    “Despite the confusion, it is an important question to ask. At what point does sentience cross over into consciousness? Furthermore, if all animals show some level of sentience, and thus some level of consciousness, don’t we have a responsibility to give them the same compassion and respect that we give human beings?”


    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 April 3, 2016 at 9:20 am |

      Absolutely. Except for cats.

      1. Khru 2.0
        Khru 2.0 April 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm |

        Makes perfect sense.

      2. Nicole
        Nicole April 5, 2016 at 2:09 am |

        Fascinating article, thank you for the link. I just wonder, ‘plant intelligence’ seems a little far-fetched. Not because plants ‘can’t do it’, but because the idea of intelligence is so anthropomorphic. Why would a pine tree need to be intelligent? I think the real solution is to let go of the phantasm that being human makes us somehow ‘special’ and ‘superior’, and just to accept that we’re a part of this world like anything else.

        Maybe that’s how science and Buddhism do agree. Both teach you that you’re a part of the greater whole of this universe. The one by showing you what that outside world looks like, the other by showing you how to find that link within yourself. No wonder they come to the same conclusions. And I bet that there’s nothing supernatural about consciousness either. It’s just what we are, what we need to be to perceive the world. Maybe some electrical signals in some neurons is really all it takes to make consciousness. But that wouldn’t make it any less precious than if it was the breath of God. It would just be one more sign that we’re creatures of this world, rather than the rulers of it.

  19. Dogen
    Dogen April 3, 2016 at 11:18 am |

    I agree.

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm |

      That’s a low blow

      1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
        DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 6, 2016 at 10:56 pm |

        That’s a high cry.

  20. Cygni
    Cygni April 3, 2016 at 5:31 pm |

    30 Helens Agree: Dolphins are Everywhere!

    1. Cygni
      Cygni April 4, 2016 at 12:21 pm |
  21. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara April 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm |
  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote April 3, 2016 at 8:17 pm |

    There’s consciousness in the context of the twelve Nidanas:

    ignorance > habitual tendency > stationing of consciousness > name-and-form > senses > contact > feeling > craving > clinging > the five groups of grasping (suffering)

    Then there’s consciousness as one of the five groups of grasping, so grasping a sense of self in connection with consciousness.

    Blanke’s hypothesis with regard to the sense of self is that it’s actually a coordination of the vestibular, proprioceptive, otolithic, and ocular organs. I think I was behind the door when ability in these senses was passed out, and I often have to remind myself of what they feel like.

    Gautama points out that the cessation of habitual (volitive) activity is gradual, and occurs in the induction of the concentrative states. At the same time he emphasized cultivation of the signs, characteristics, and marks of concentration, and claimed he could enter all but the cessation of (habitual activity in) perception and sensation instantly; in one lecture he claimed he could enter that instantly, too.

    I fall back to my version of Shunryu Suzuki’s “zazen sits zazen”:

    “It’s possible to experience support from the “fluid ball” exactly as a sensation or perception that sustains the “fluid ball” takes place. In fact, I would say such a simultaneity is a normal part of everyday life, and underlies any induction of concentration. The simultaneity feeds on itself when the circumstances are appropriate, and exercises in the distinction of the senses and the recall of signs are really only intended to allow an openness to such a simultaneity.”

    Have to add that for me, it’s no fun unless it comes around to just breathing, and I can’t seem to get myself to sit if I’m doing it without finding any fun in it (American Zen?).

  23. Dogen
    Dogen April 4, 2016 at 2:20 pm |

    Unofficial music video for this blog post:

  24. jason farrow
    jason farrow April 4, 2016 at 9:18 pm |

    it must be a buddhist thing to disagree with what other ppl say. disagree with the common understanding…in so far….until you piss the teacher off.

    i agree with your disagreement. its good you have something more valuable to say then everyone else.
    In Gassho_/\_

    1. DontQuoteScriptureAtMe
      DontQuoteScriptureAtMe April 6, 2016 at 10:57 pm |

      “it must be a buddhist thing to disagree with what other ppl say. ”

      What utter nonsense!

  25. Nicole
    Nicole April 5, 2016 at 2:33 am |

    “Everybody seems to agree that form exists. Form is matter. Science is the study of matter and how it interacts with other matter. Science obviously works. You are reading this blog on a device that couldn’t exist otherwise. So matter is real.”

    Actually, what we perceive as ‘form’ or ‘objects’ or ‘matter’ isn’t real at all from a physics point of view. It’s just the repulsive forces of the electrons in your fingers and other electrons in the object you’re holding that make you feel that object as different. And differences in the temperature and heat capacity of that object and your fingers that make you feel something as hot or cold. And differences in the refractivity index and transparency that makes you ‘see’ an object as different from its surroundings. All of these are related to changes in the electron configuration on the surface of a giant grid of little wave packages called electrons and neutrons and protons. And this goes on: At a quantum level, the difference between a ‘force’ and ‘matter’ are just the statistical properties of the particles involved (fermions vs. bosons). And most of what you consider ‘mass’ is in fact the binding energy between quarks and gluons in the nuclei of atoms. And gravity is just a deformation of space-time. Etc. etc. etc.

    Does this mean that science is proving that all in life is just an illusion? I don’t think so, because science is just one more human concept as well. Quite an elaborate one, I admit, but nonetheless, it’s just our way to make sense of the world. Quite reassuring how far we got with that. But that doesn’t make science an ‘absolute truth’ at all. Quite to the contrary. All scientific knowledge is preliminary by definition. No theory can ever be ‘proven’ right, it can only be shown to be wrong, or, at best, incomplete.

    1. Bubba
      Bubba April 5, 2016 at 3:59 am |

      In Buddism, I think I read that directly seeing what you are describing is known as ’emptiness’ and the feeling towards beings who are suffering because they can’t see it and are caught up in the show is ‘compassion’. Is this true?

      1. Nicole
        Nicole April 5, 2016 at 8:06 am |

        I don’t know. Yes and no. I’m not really a Buddhist myself, so perhaps not the right person to answer, in particular here. I understand emptiness in the Buddhist sense more like a basic principle of human existence. It’s about how we deal with the world, and not so much what the world ‘really’ is like, because there’s no way we can tell. For me that’s emptiness: accepting that we simply cannot know. We can only make models, approximations, to help ourselves find some orientation in the mess of individual stimuli of our senses that the world would otherwise be for us. It’s not an exclusively Buddhist idea either. Kant, Plato, and many others have expressed very similar thoughts. Buddhism just goes further because it turns this into a principle of life. You’re freed from suffering because you realize it’s your choice what you make of this world. Since there is nothing that’s absolute, your own choice is the only thing you’re left with. So suffering (or the end of it) becomes kind of a choice (at least in theory, of course it’s very difficult not to get lost in your emotions when you’re dying from cancer).

        Quantum physics is made by humans, so it would be quite a surprise if you wouldn’t ultimately find emptiness in it, too. But don’t fall into the trap to believe that the world is ‘really’ made of quarks and gluons, just because scientists say so. This is no more true in an absolute way than anything else. It’s a handy way to look at things, to make certain predictions based on certain measurements. It helps you get order into the chaos that a big pile of unconnected data would otherwise be.

        Science knows that in principle, that’s why we talk about models and theories, which are by definition not absolute, although we tend to forget this at times. And most non-scientists miss this point entirely, in particular when looking for something to hold on to. But then you’re really more in the realm of religion than in that of science (or Buddhism, for that matter). I think that this is actually where most of this never-ending quarreling between Christian fundamentalists and scientists comes from. So, yes, science agrees with Brad. Let’s cringe together. 🙂

        1. Mark Foote
          Mark Foote April 5, 2016 at 10:49 am |

          To my knowledge, emptiness in the classical teaching is shorthand for the lack of any abiding self, so empty of self.

          There is also the plane of the infinity of ether (or space), and the plane of “no-thing”, with the plane of the infinity of consciousness between them, but these are the characterizations of the first three of the non-material concentrative states.

          “You’re freed from suffering because you realize it’s your choice what you make of this world. Since there is nothing that’s absolute, your own choice is the only thing you’re left with. So suffering (or the end of it) becomes kind of a choice (at least in theory, of course it’s very difficult not to get lost in your emotions when you’re dying from cancer).”

          Actually, the causation of suffering in the classical teaching is:

          ignorance > exercise of volition in activity > stationing of consciousness > name-and-form > senses > contact > feeling > craving > clinging > the five groups of grasping (suffering).

          The five groups of grasping are the graspings after self with regard to form, feeling, perception, habitual (volitive) tendency, and consciousness.

          The difficulty in seeing things this way is the recognition that action can take place without the exercise of volition, that in fact choice is an illusion; we gonna do what we believe we must do, in our heart of hearts, and all the mental machinations simply conceal the ishinashini at the heart of it all (the “will-less”-ness).

        2. french-roast
          french-roast April 6, 2016 at 2:28 am |

          Emptiness as a concept can be endlessly debated, what it means, in which context, what it relates to, what we can compare it to, etc…

          On the cushion, within the context of practice, it is entirely different. It is more of an ’emptying’, not an emptiness or void essence or substance, not a thing or no-thing, it is verb. Whatever is being perceived, whatever percepts, looses its clear and distinct ‘being what it is’, becoming fluid, eroding its rigid boundaries, until they gave away and yield. Whatever was, isn’t, never was. It is highly dynamic, there is no grasping, nothing to hold on to. It is not a conceptual ‘thing’, it is concrete, not a theory, not a direction or sets of instructions, not a way of seeing, not a view or viewpoint. No-things or no-self, not as essence or substratum, but more as ‘consequences’, as a collapse, of a let go of, but it also goes much further than those two for there is also no world, no view. There is kind of a blindness. But the irony is that this no view or highly dynamic transparency is the world and you are ‘it’.

          Ignorance meaning that we simply turn our back to this transparency that we already are. In the very same way that we can ignore someone, by not talking to them, by turning our back to them we ignore them. This is what is meant by Buddhist ignorance. Form isn’t matter, it is emptiness, emptiness is form.

  26. Jules
    Jules April 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm |

    Ah, I see you have a machine that goes “ping!”

  27. nauka przyznaje racj?!!! | tako?? May 13, 2016 at 5:15 am |

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