Monday, January 13, 2014

The partnership of science and non-science.

The 8th-century Indian Buddhist philosopher, by the name of Śāntideva, said that in order to be able to deny something, we first have to know what it is we’re denying. The logic of that is peerless. His exact statement was, “Without contacting the entity that is imputed. You will not apprehend the absence of that entity.” In similar fashion Bodhidharma said: “That which exists, exists in relationship to that which doesn’t exist.” And, perhaps the first known person to discuss relativity, was not Einstein but rather Nāgārjuna wherein he pointed out, “That which is the element of light is seen to exist in relation to darkness; that which is the element of good is seen to exist on account of bad; that which is the element of space is seen to exist on account of form.”
In today’s world we have embraced science as the new god and have enshrined definable matter as the exclusive province of reality. Perceptible form has become the gold standard which emerged out of the Western pre-Enlightenment era,  beginning in late 17th century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than religious tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using rational logic, challenge ideas grounded in dogmatic religious thought and, advance knowledge through the scientific method. However, to give thorough, impartial consideration to the framework of science, we need to carefully explore the foundation upon which it rests.

The physical world is governed by rules that require, as a minimum, the combined matters of time, space and the circumstances of cause and effect. And a fundamental beginning point to all contemporary discussions of the physical world is the Big Bang.  

While Einstein wasn’t the first to discuss relativity, he did destroy the idea that time and space are two separate, independent matters and argued that physical objects are not located in space, but rather have a spatial extent. Seen in this way, the concept of empty space loses its meaning. Rather, space is an abstraction, based on the relationships between objects. Consequently even the abstraction of space, given Einstein’s definition, could not have existed “prior” to the Big Bang since there were neither objects nor a before.

The development of quantum mechanics complicated the modern interpretation of a vacuum by requiring quantum indeterminacy (meaning uncertainty). In the late 20th century, this principle was understood also to predict a fundamental unknowability in the number of particles in a region of space, leading to predictions of virtual particles arising spontaneously out of the void. Cause and effect likewise must be acknowledged as equally absurd within the idea of singularity and/or a “before.” There was nothing to cause anything measurable, either at the most distant (oxymoron) aspect of space (oxymoron) or at the smallest (oxymoron) quantum level.

I’ve been a cosmology buff for some time with a specific interest in the pre-Big Bang state of affairs. Everything known and expressed by cosmologist begins, and precedes from the “moment of singularity” when space/time came into being. THE question that can never be answered with the tools of science is the “before,” which is actually an absurd idea. The big clock in the sky that governs the past, present and future didn’t exist prior to that moment of singularity so the thought of before is an oxymoron. I’ve never heard any explanation for what came before but recently saw the following quote on TV a couple of days back when watching a “cutting edge” show of cosmology…

“In the beginning was the void but the void was not nothing and then there was light and the light changed. And so the void brought forth the world. And the world was good. And it endured until man could comprehend it. And it will come to pass that one day the energy of the void will have pushed all things away leaving nothing but the void. But the void is not nothing.”Commentary of the latest understanding of cosmology.

Compare that to this from Zen Master Huang Po:

“To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence, which is no existence, a non-existence, which is nevertheless existence. To the ancients, to find the true essence of life, it was necessary to cast off body and mind. When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha.”

Or this from Bodhidharma (The alleged father of Zen): 

“To say that the real Dharmakāya of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya ... they are one and the same thing.... When all forms are abandoned, there is the Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is the Buddha, and the Buddha is the Dharma.”

There are some who say that when the term “void” is used scientifically the intent is different from when it is used spiritually. My response to this alleged differentiation is, “Really?” By definition, however used, “void” means “absence” and absence can’t be divided since there is nothing to divide, which is of course the same thing as undifferentiated unity. And that is precisely the nature of a Buddha as well as the essential nature of the cosmos. Pure, undifferentiated consciousness, like the Internet, is everywhere and nowhere at once. It has no definable properties but without consciousness nothing could exist.

There is a place for the theories of physical sciences that govern un-reality as well as the non-physical theories of reality beyond the physical world. Śāntideva, Nāgārjuna, Bodhidharma, as well as Einstein are in agreement that, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Science AND non-science make a good partnership between illusion and reality but perhaps, independently they can’t exist at all.

The idea that opposites attract is a commonly held notion, not only among human relationships but also in the world of physics. It is not so much a matter of what lies on opposite ends of a spectrum but that there is a spectrum at all, and where one segues into the other. Now tell me again that science and spirituality don’t wed.
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