Thursday, 29 October 2009

Buddhism, Rationalism and Empiricism - The Kalama Challenge

The Sleep of Reason brings forth Monsters

The Kalama people of India had many holy men trying to convert them by claiming their own doctrines were correct, and everybody else was wrong.

One day the Buddha turned up, and naturally the Kalamas asked him why they should believe his teachings rather than all the cult leaders, charlatans and false prophets whom they had already grown weary of.

The Buddha replied:

"It is natural that doubt should arise in your minds.

I tell you not to believe merely because it has been handed down by tradition, or because it had been said by some great personage in the past, or because it is commonly believed, or because others have told it to you, or even because I myself have said it.

But whatever you are asked to believe, ask yourself whether it is true in the light of your experience, whether it is in conformity with reason and good principles and whether it is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings, and only if it passes this test, should you accept it and act in accordance with it." - Kalama Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya.

So the Buddha is making a statement which is found in no other religion. Unlike all other religious leaders he is not claiming a hotline to God, a personal, non-reproducible revelation which appears to him and no-one else.

He is saying:

(1) Do not believe anything on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.


(2) Test the methodology against your own experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.

The Kalama challenge

But the Buddha was also implying something else, which he has perhaps left as a terma ( hidden teaching-challenge) for our own beleaguered civilisation, where scientific rationalism is fighting a rearguard action against the forces of religious fanaticism, irrationalism and barbarism.

Buddha is implying that it is possible to construct much (most? all?) of Buddhist doctrine by the application of reason and empiricism (experiment/experience) which are accessible to everyone, without the need for special revelation.

The empirical aspect consists of physical experiments which were impossible in Buddha's time, as well as introspective thought-experiments and meditational techniques which produce reproducible mental effects when employed by different people.

So that's the challenge. Given our modern understanding of physics, psychology, biology and information science, how much of the Dharma can we derive and reconstruct as a system without resorting to faith or authority - to quote Buddha "even because I myself have said it"?

More at Rational Buddhism 

- Sean Robsville



The Three Poisons of the Mind

Toxic Cult

"One should not criticize other spiritual paths."
But what if the 'Spiritual Path' is actually nothing of the sort, but a predatory, supremacist, totalitarian, political ideology masquerading as a religion? And what if it is not only harmful to its own devotees, but also to all other followers of genuine spiritual paths - "As dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog" - to quote Churchill?   It's now time to abandon reticence and speak out about this menace. The alternative is to acquiesce to evil.

Most religions attempt to bring out the best in people, but Jihadism deliberately does the opposite. For example, Buddhism attempts to free its practitioners from 'The Three Poisons' of hatred, attachment and ignorance.

In contrast, Jihadism gains its power by enslaving its believers to those very same poisons of attachment, aversion and ignorance , and pollutes any society which it invades with the sociopathic symptoms of these poisons, such as honor killing, sexual predation, enslavement of women, suppression of the truth, terrorism, intimidation, dominance crimes etc. 

The Three Poisons of the Mind are:

Poison #1 -  Attachment, including

  • Greed
  • Lust
  • Envy
  • Control freakery and domination
Note that attachment must not be confused with love (though the two are sometimes mixed). Love is a virtuous mental state in both Buddhism and Christianity.

Love is: "How can I make you happy?"

Attachment is: "How can you make me happy?" 

Thus Mohammed's relationship with Aisha was attachment rather than love, because if he had truly loved the child, he would never have done what he did to her.  The ultimate illustration of the difference between love and attachment is the 'religious' practice of honor killings or 'Daughter-Slaughter'.

Poison #2 - Aversion, including

  • Hatred
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Aggression
  • Intolerance
  • Vandalism and destruction

Poison #3 - Ignorance, including

  • Irrationalism
  • Intellectual and Philosophical Laziness
  • Deluded view of reality (essentialism, tribalism etc)
  • Concealing truth
  • Arrogance
If we check on the main features, we see that greed, plunder, lust (72 virgins and 24 catamites) and territorial expansion are major motivators, as is hatred of 'The Other'.
Ignorance is a prerequisite for Jihadism's spread, with the authority of scripture (Koran and Hadith) taking precedence over science, philosophy, commonsense and rational argument.

Jihadism also shows great attachment to itself, being self-referential and intensely memetic.

For evil to flourish...
Of course we can remain in a state of dhimmitude and refrain from criticising Jihadism for fear of being accused of Jihadophobia or being physically attacked, in which case, like some spiritual Gresham's law, the bad will drive out the good, and all beneficial spiritual paths will be wiped out.  Alternatively, we can shine the light of reason and Buddhist psychological insight on  this venomous mind virus.

Supremacism is committed to destroying all other religions, and replacing them with... 

Attachment - Greed, Lust, Domination

  • Brothel in the Sky
  • Daughter-slaughter
  • Domination of Public Space
  • Eurabia - the takeover of Europe
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Honor/Shame culture
  • Humiliation
  • Inbreeding, cousin marriage and incest
  • Jizya - protection money
  • Pedophilia
  • Polygamy
  • Predation, Plunder and Parasitism
  • Rape as a weapon of Jihad
  • Razzia
  • Sexual perversion
  • Slavery
  • Supremacism
  • Tribalism
  • Women as property

Aversion - Hatred, Rage, Aggresion

  • Execution for Apostasy
  • Bullying and intimidation to maintain conformity
  • Contamination and Biojihad
  • Cultural Jihad
  • Destruction of Dar al-Harb
  • Persecution of Gays and Lesbians
  • Infiltration, Subversion and Sedition
  • Obsessive hatred of Kafirs (Kaffirs, Kuffars etc) -
  • Riots and threats of riots
  • Street Jihad
  • Sudden Jihad Syndrome
  • Terrorism - 'Victorious with terror'
  • Us and them - the Ummah - the Muslim 'tribe'

Ignorance and obscurantism










  • Censorship
  • Deception and Taqiyya
  • Subversion of Educational Systems
  • Lack of Inventions, Innovations and Intellectual Achievements
  • Koranic contradictions and absurdities
  • Obsessive Compulsive practices
  • Institutionliased irrationalism 
  • Totalitarianism

As Buddha said:
"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

As Jesus said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them."

Successful crap
Jihadism is crap, but it's successful crap. In Europe it entitles the Jihadists to immunity from normal laws - everything from obstructing the highway to mass child-rape and incitement to murder. Moreover, it entitles the Believers to priority in social housing and welfare handouts. With such automatic entitlements, what motivation do Believers have to abandon, or even moderate, their death-cult? More Jihad gets more privileges.
Neverthess, Jihadism cannot compete on its merits in a free marketplace of ideas. It can only defeat its competitors by intimidation, thuggery, terrorism and murder. 

Jihadism is ethically and spiritually retrograde, and intellectually degenerate. It has nothing to offer the world but bloodshed and anarchy.

The koran must be supported by violence


Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Related Articles:

 Terrorism will Dominate
- what Buddhists and Pagans should know about this violent, predatory, supremacist cult.

Were the London Beheaders and Boston Bombers infected with a mind virus? 

The Biological Basis for the Three Poisons 



Celtic Buddhism - Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain

Pages from Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain by Donald A. Mackenzie, published by Blackie and Son Ltd, Glasgow and London, 1928

Click images to enlarge

Saint Origen wrote that Buddhists and Druids coexisted in pre-Christian Celtic Britain

So did Ashoka's missionaries reach the Celts and establish Buddhism as far west as Britain?

Is the meditating figure on the Celtic Gundestrup Bowl the Buddha of the West, Virupaksha?

Celtic Buddhism? Points to ponder

  • So perhaps the Druids were influenced by or adopted the Buddhist teachings they encountered.
  • The Druids were pan-Celtic and travelled unhindered from one end of the Celtic world to the other, ie from Galatia in the east, westward through Balkans, Austria, Helvetia, Gaul, Galicia, Britain and Ireland.
  • The main Druidic college was in Britain on the Isle of Anglesey. It drew teachers and students from Ireland, Britain and Continental Europe.
  • Origen attributed the rapid and unobstructed growth of Christianity in Britain to the foundations laid by the teachings of the Druids and Buddhists.
  • The Gundestrup bowl, a beautiful piece of pre-Christian Celtic craftsmanship, seems to show a meditating Buddha.
  • Triskeles - classic Buddhist symbols - also appear in pre-Christian Celtic designs.
  • Celtic mystical art often displays elaborate knotwork designs, which symbolize the interconnectness of all phenomena. Similarly Buddhist philosophy is concerned primarily with interconnectness. In fact, it is the relationships, the interdependencies that are the reality, since objects or subjects are nothing but their connections to other objects and subjects.
  • The Buddhist teaching on Dependent Relationship states that phenomena exist in three fundamental ways. Firstly, phenomena exist by dependence upon causes and conditions. Secondly, phenomena depend upon the relationship of the whole to its parts and attributes. Thirdly, and most profoundly, phenomena depend upon mental imputation, attribution, or designation. According to John Michael Greer, Druid philosophy has a similar division into three 'elements' which are known in old Welsh as Gwyar (change, causality), Calas (structure) and Nwyfre (consciousness).

- Sean Robsville

Related Articles:

Cauldron, Chalice and Grail Symbolism in Buddhism and Celtic Wicca

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

Celtic and Buddhist Symbolism - Triskeles and the Three Hares

C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy

Buddhism, Shamanism and the Use of Entheogens (Psychedelic agents)

Buddhist Halloween

External Links

Celtic Buddhism Homepage
Celtic Buddhist Art



Quantum Buddhism

Buddhism and Quantum Physics

Experiments in quantum physics seem to demonstrate the need for an observer to be present to make potentialities become real.

Quantum physics is an outstandingly successful  mathematical description of the behavior of matter and energy at the level of fundamental particles. No discrepancy of any kind between the predictions of quantum theory and experimental observation has ever been found [PENROSE 1990a].

It should be noted that the value of a scientific theory is normally judged by its predictive rather than descriptive power. Theories which are merely descriptive rather than testably predictive have little or no scientific value.

It is important to emphasise that the mathematical equations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence - they predict the potential for existence. Working out the equations of quantum mechanics for a system composed of fundamental particles produces a range of potential locations, values and attributes of the particles which evolve and change with time. But for any system only one of these potential states can become real, and - this is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics - what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation. Matter and energy are not in themselves phenomena, and do not become phenomena until they are observed. The following experiments give some feel for the interaction of mind with matter at the fundamental level of existence:

The two slit paradox
The two slit experiment contains a device (the emitter) which strips the electrons off atoms and fires them at a screen. The screen is covered with thousands of tiny dots of phosphor (like a TV screen) which glow when an electron hits them. If we wish to obtain a permanent record of the results of the experiment we can place a sheet of photographic paper on the back of the screen.

Single slit in top position - intensity of glow due to electrons

We place a sheet of foil, which stops the electrons, between the emitter and the screen. The sheet has a very thin slit in it just above the level of the emitter. Looking at the screen we see what we might expect - most of the screen is dark but there is a glowing band behind the slit where the electrons are getting through and hitting the phosphorescent dots. The glowing band, slit and emitter are all in direct line of sight.

There is nothing remarkable about this. The main area of the foil is casting an 'electron shadow' with a thin stream of electrons passing through the slit. As the effects of gravity are negligible and there are no strong magnetic or electric fields, we would expect the electrons to travel in a straight line, and this indeed appears to be what happens.

Single slit in bottom position - intensity of glow due to electrons

We replace the first sheet of foil with another sheet which has a very thin slit just below the level of the emitter. Looking at the screen we see what we might expect, which is almost the same as we saw for the first slit. Most of the screen is dark but there is a   glowing band behind the slit where the electrons are getting through and hitting the phosphorescent dots. As the glowing band, slit and emitter are all in direct line of sight the band is at a slightly lower position than for the first slit.

Both slits with a stream of particles - expected results

We now replace the sheet of foil with one containing two slits, of exactly the same size and exactly the same positions as before. Common-sense tells us that we should see an additive effect of the two individual slits. There should be two glowing bands, one at each of the previous positions.
But common-sense is wrong - this doesn't happen!


Both slits with a stream of particles - actual results

Instead we see a number of glowing bands at different positions from those seen with either of the two individual slits.  Regions which were dark in both previous experiments have become light, and vice versa. In fact the electrons are showing interference effects, which are typical of waves. Waves which converge after travelling two different paths show a pattern of high energies at places where troughs and peaks converge simultaneously, and zero energies where troughs coincide with and cancel peaks.

Stretching common-sense a little we conclude that introducing the second slit has somehow forced the electrons to behave as waves rather than particles.

One of the characteristics of waves is that they spread out. But if we observe the screen closely we notice that the glow isn't spread out. Individual dots are still momentarily glowing while their neighbours may remain dark. The electrons are arriving as particles. So we may conclude that the electrons are travelling as waves, and interfering with one another, but as soon as they meet a detector they immediately resume particle behavior.

Two slits, one particle at a time
One obvious way to get rid of the interference effects is to ensure that only one electron is travelling at any one time. If we do this then each electron will have an unobstructed run and, over the course of time we should see a pattern build up which is the same as for two single slits added together.

To do this we reduce the power of the emitter so that it does not release an electron until the previous one has hit the screen, so removing any possibility of interference. We could actually sit and watch each individual electron arrive at the screen but this would be time consuming. Instead we stick the photographic paper on the screen and leave it for a while.

But when we develop the photographic paper, we find the same interference pattern that we saw when many electrons were passing through the apparatus simultaneously! The same areas which were dark in the two slit experiment remain dark, despite their being light in the single slit experiment.

So our original ideas of electrons interfering with one another by cancelling and reinforcing is wrong. Each electron cancels and reinforces itself when two slits are open, but does not do so when only one slit is open. The only logical explanation left is that a single electron must split and pass through both slits simultaneously. We can install detectors behind the slits to confirm this.

Check both slits
We place extremely sensitive particle detectors behind each slit and then set the emitter to release electrons singly. We wait to observe the simultaneous arrival of two bits of electrons at both particles detectors. And we wait ... and wait ... and wait. But all we ever see is that either one particle detector registers an electron or the other does, but never both simultaneously. Each electron travels through either one slit or the other.

So if it does not traverse both routes, how does the electron 'know' that the other slit is present. Well obviously a thing as simple as an electron can't know anything. And yet knowledge of the existence of a second slit is involved at the deepest level of these series of experiments. Knowledge of possibilities rather than any actual particle trajectory , or other physical event, seems to be determining the properties of material objects. But if the electron has no knowledge of its environment, then the only other place where such knowledge could reside is in the mind of the observer. Therefore the observer's mind is in some way determining the outcome of the observations.

If the experimenter's observational set-up imputes the concept 'wave', then he will see wave-like behaviour. If he imputes the concept 'particle' then he will see particle-like behaviour. Even placing a particle detector behind only one of the slits destroys the interference pattern, because the experimenter has in so doing imputed the concept 'particles' over the electrons despite both slits remaining open and one route being unobstructed. More detailed descriptions of the two-slit paradox are given in The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose [PENROSE 1990b ] and Where Does the Weirdness Go? by David Lindley [LINDLEY 1997a].

Stern and Gerlach's magnets
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.

Many subatomic particles are tiny magnets with north and south poles of equal strength. If we obtain a stream of particles from a random source, such as a hot wire, then we would expect them to be randomly aligned. The north south axis might run up-to-down, left-to-right, back-to-front or vice versa or any intermediate orientation. In fact, we would expect only a small proportion to by aligned exactly up/down, the vast majority will be somewhere in between.

Stern and Gerlach set up a special type of magnetic field where the strength of the poles declines rapidly with distance. In certain areas of the magnetic field this would deflect the particles according to their orientation.

The mechanism is as follows: Assume that particles pass by the equipment's north pole which is at the top. A particle with its north pole facing directly upwards would be expected to be deflected strongly downwards because the repulsion due to its north pole would be stronger than the attraction due to its south pole (because the particle's south pole is further away from the apparatus' north pole and so in a weaker part of the field). Conversely a particle with its south pole upwards would be expected to be deflected upwards.

However the vast majority of particles would not be aligned directly upwards or downwards but somewhere in between. These would be deflected less strongly, and the large number aligned more or less a right angles to the field would undergo very little deflection at all .

Stern Gerlach - expected results

If we examined the beam after passing through the magnetic field (by placing a photographic screen in the way) we would expect it to have assumed an elongated   shape, with the brightest areas (most particles ) being in the central undeflected area. THIS DOES NOT OCCUR!

Stern Gerlach - actual results

All particles are deflected either equally upwards or equally downwards in a 50:50 ratio. There are no intermediate positions.

We are therefore left with three possible conclusions:

(1) The apparatus somehow forces the particles to align parallel to its magnetic field before it deflects them.

(2) The particles are not emitted with random orientation but are produced either up or down.

(3) The particles have no orientation until it is observed. The act of observation produces the orientation.

Alternative (1) - forced alignment - can be rejected because there is no known two-step mechanism whereby a magnetic field would wait until it had aligned all the miniature magnets before it decided to turn on the deflection. Also, progressively weakening and shortening the magnetic field would be expected to allow some particles to escape the alignment process. But this does not happen. Particles are, within the limits of experimental measurement, all deflected to exactly the same extent either up or down.

Alternative (2) - non random orientation - can be disproved by observing what happens when the incoming beam is left unchanged and the the Stern-Gerlach magnet is rotated through 90 degrees. The particles are then either deflected left or right with nothing in between. In fact the orientation is totally arbitrary. If the Stern Gerlach magnets are aligned at orientations corresponding to any axis (one o'clock/seven o'clock or two o'clock/eight o'clock) etc then the original beam will   split into two beams with all particles showing an equal deflection towards the one'clock or seven o'clock position.

So we are left with alternative (3) - the orientation has no inherent existence. The attribute of orientation is utterly meaningless in the absence of an observer. The meaning of the orientation is projected by the observer's mind. If the observer projects the up/down axis of orientation on a stream of particles then that is the way that they will all be sorted. If any other direction is chosen then they will be sorted along that axis. Quantum theory does not appear to allow any fundamental distinction between the mind of the observer and what is being observed.

Full details of the Stern-Gerlach experiments are given in Where Does the Weirdness Go? by David Lindley [LINDLEY 1997b]

Spooky action at a distance - EPR
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, for example through ten kilometres of intervening Geneva city-scape (walls, buildings, railway stations, the lot!) at speeds exceeding that of light.

Nor does the effect diminish with distance. According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, the 'spooky action' can affect a particle instantaneously whether it is a metre away from the observer or halfway across the universe.

The observation of 'spooky action' relies on the concept of entanglement. It is possible to obtain pairs of fundamental particles where it is known that their properties will always cancel one another out, even when those properties have not been defined. These pairs are said to be 'entangled' . However the entanglement is conceptual rather than physical and the particles are free to move far apart.

Consider an experiment where we create an entangled pair of magnetic particles. Their polar alignments will always be opposite. We allow them to move far apart. We then place a Stern-Gerlach magnet in the path of one of the particles and observe what happens when it passes through. If it is defected upwards then, according to the 'spooky action' hypothesis, its distant partner would be deflected downwards by a similar magnet. By making the nearby observation we have instantaneously defined the properties of the distant particle.

Note that this is not the same thing as saying 'The near particle was always up but we didn't know until we decided to observe it. So the distant particle must always have been down even though we didn't know at the the time.'

The reason the statement above is incompatible with quantum theory is that we could have equally well decided to align the Stern-Gerlach magnet on a left/right axis instead of up/down. In which case we would have fixed the near particle as, say, left-deflected and the distant particle would instantaneously be known to be right-deflected.

For many years both theoretical and technical difficulties stood in the way of determining whether 'spooky action' does indeed take place. However as a result of the theoretical work of John Bell and the ingenious experimental designs of Alain Aspect strong evidence was obtained that the effect occurred over distances of a few metres. The act of making a decision of what attributes of one member of an entangled pair were to be observed immediately determined what could be observed of the other member.

Since then 'spooky action' has been demonstrated over increasing distances. The current record is 10 km obtained by Nicolas Gisin and his team at the University of Geneva [BUCHANAN 1997]. Starting from near Geneva railway station they sent entangled photons along optical fibres through the city to destinations separated by 10km. They showed that observing the state of one member of the pair instantaneously determined the state of the other.

Quantum sunyata
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 inherent existence from their own side and do not become 'real' until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning. Whenever and wherever there is no mind there is no meaning and no reality. This is a similar conclusion to the Mahayana Buddhist teachings on sunyata.

The ultimate manifestation of quantum sunyata is when quantum theory is applied to the entire universe. According to some cosmologists, the universe began as a quantum fluctuation in the limitless Void (Hartle-Hawking hypothesis). The universe remained as a huge quantum superposition of all possible states until the first primordial mind observed it, causing it to collapse into one actuality. This fascinating theory is discussed in The Participatory Anthropic Principle.

- Sean Robsville


[LINDLEY 1997a] Lindley, David, Where does the Weirdness Go? page 39ff. (London: Vintage 1997, ISBN 0 09 974751 0 )

[LINDLEY 1997b] ibid, page 8 ff.

[BUCHANAN 1997] Buchanan, Mark , Light's Spooky Connections Set Distance Record , New Scientist, 28 June 1997, p 16.

[PENROSE 1990a] Penrose, Roger, The Emperor's New Mind, page 385 (London: Vintage, 1990, ISBN 0 09 977170 5)

[PENROSE 1990b] ibid page 299ff}

Reductionism and Buddhist Philosophy

The pseudo-scientific doctrine of Physical Reductionism - that life has no spiritual dimension - is sometimes openly stated, but often just accepted as the default physicalist view.

Reductionism states that:
  • The mind is nothing but the brain.
  • The brain is nothing but a biological system.
  • Biological systems are nothing but chemical interactions.
  • Chemical interactions are nothing but physical interactions.
  • Therefore the mind is nothing but a set of physical interactions.

From the Materialist standpoint this hierarchy exists as bottom-up 'objective reality'. If you removed the top level then the rest of the structure would be unaffected.

However, from a Buddhist standpoint, the reductionist argument is flawed at the top ('The Hard Problem'). It is flawed at the bottom (quantum-mind interactions and the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics), it is flawed in the middle (the problem of emergence), and it is flawed ontologically (There is no inherently-existent objective reality. Mother nature doesn't make statements, she only answers questions, and the questioner is part of the system).

Buddhism and 'The Hard Problem'
The 'Hard Problem' is that there is no explanation of how neurological activity could turn into qualitative subjective experience. Not only is there no explanation, but no one has any idea of what such an explanation would look like.

Even worse (for the reductionists) there's a growing suspicion that The Hard Problem is in fact what's known as a `category error' or 'category mistake'. In other words, no explanation of subjective experience in terms of physico-chemical brain activity is possible. Another dimension of reality is required. There is a huge, vast, gaping explanatory gap between brain processes ('neural correlates') and mental experience.

Mental experience cannot be explained in terms of causes and conditions nor structures of the brain. There are correlations, but no explanations.

This shouldn't be surprising if we remember teachings on sunyata, that the three irreducible aspects of all phenomena are:

(1) Causes and conditions
(2) Structures - relations of wholes to parts and aspects, and vice versa.
(3) Mental imputation.

Mental imputation is associated with, but cannot be reduced to the two other aspects. The mind is an irreducible feature of reality.

If you were to put it in Buddhist terminology, I suppose you would say that the brain is not a valid basis of imputation for the mind (and any case what would be the entity that was doing the imputing?).

The short circuit from mind to particle physics
The flaw at the bottom level is that there seems to be a direct connection to the top level which doesn't go through the hierarchy. The links between the behaviour of fundamental particles and the activities of the mind are suspiciously close.

There are fascinating parallels between what physicists have learned about sub-atomic physics and the Buddhist ideas of emptiness and dependent origination. In addition, as Einstein famously remarked "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible"

The problem of emergence
The flaw in the middle is the lack of equivalence in both directions (aka the problem of emergence). You can logically go down the hierarchy, but not up it. From observing the behaviour of sub-atomic particles you could not even deduce the existence of turnips, let alone brains, though close examination of both turnips and brains would lead to the discovery of their constituent particles.

`Nothing but' is untrue, because there is some mysterious `extra ingredient' being added as you go up the hierarchy.

So we will have to replace the phrase `is nothing but' by `is understandable in terms of', and do a few more corrections as well.

The mind is NOT understandable in terms of the brain. The brain is understandable in terms of biological systems.
Biological systems are understandable in terms of chemical interactions.
Chemical interactions are understandable in terms of physical interactions.
Physical interactions are understandable in terms of mathematics.
Mathematics is a product of the mind.

Now, forget the bottom and top and just look at the middle level of the hierarchy. Can you see the mysterious missing ingredient? Where does the understanding come from?

Let's turn the middle layers upside down and rephrase using Buddhist terminology...

Physical interactions are the basis of imputation of chemical reactions.
Chemical interactions are the basis of imputation of biological systems

So even at the more mundane intermediate levels of this supposedly objective reductionist hierarchy, mental imputation is present all the time.

Mind is an irreducible aspect of reality inseparably intertwined with all levels of the physical universe.

Buddhists have nothing to fear from Science
Maybe Buddhists need to put more effort into combining arguments from science and Buddhism to demolish the deluded view of Reductionism ( aka Materialism aka Physicalism aka Naturalism).

Buddhism is grounded in philosophy, and has nothing to fear from science, not even from Darwin's Universal Acid which corrodes the 'faith-based' religions.

The bleak, deluded view of Materialist/Physicalist Reductionism is not only a major obstacle to the spiritual progress of those who (often reluctantly ) suffer from it, but it also generates fear, aggression and denial in those who oppose it but don't know how to argue against it. This denial and aggression against Materialism manifests as anti-science, irrationalism, bigotry, Creationism, Biblical literalism and is quite possibly a contributory factor to Jihadism.

But there's no reason for Buddhists to adopt the same head-in-the-sand turn-the-clock-back approach. Buddha didn't tell us to criticise and examine his teachings for no reason. He knew that his Dharma rested on unassailable metaphysical foundations.

- Sean Robsville


Rational Buddhism

Buddhism versus Materialism



Consciousness and mind are not emergent phenomena or emergent properties of the brain.

Summary: 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.

Is the bunch of cherries an emergent property 
of the 13x15 pixel array,  or does it emerge

Emergent properties and emergent phenomena
A frequently used materialist argument against the existence of the mind as a non-physical continuum is to claim that it is an 'emergent property' or 'emergent phenomenon' of the brain.

The definition of emergence given in the Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind is
'Emergence - Properties of a complex physical system are emergent just in case they are neither (i) properties had by any parts of the system taken in isolation nor (ii) resultant of a mere summation of properties of parts of the system.

Thus a boat which drifts northwestwards in response to a southerly wind and a current flowing from the east is not exhibiting emergent behavior, whereas the products of chemical reactions could be considered emergent. To quote the Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind:
"Consider the following chemical process: CH4 + 2O2 --> CO2 + 2H2O (Methane + oxygen produces carbon dioxide + water). For Mill, the products of such chemical reactions are not, in any sense, the sum of the effects of each reactant. 

While the mechanics underlying chemical reactions are understood well enough today to render Mill's point dubious, we can see why the above chemical reaction would impress Mill and his contemporaries as significantly different in kind from the Composition of Forces for moving bodies. In the case of the chemical reaction, the resulting compounds exhibit properties significantly different from those of the reactants. For instance, methane is violently combustible, whereas carbon dioxide and water are not. 

This contrasts sharply against the case of a north-westerly moving object being propelled by two forces--one towards the north, the other towards the west--insofar as the subsequent motion is so obviously decomposable into the effects of the conjoint causes. A very live possibility to consider in connection with these examples is that an enhanced understanding of the processes that underlie some observed property of a system may show that system not to be an example of emergence. 

That is, an increase of knowledge about the way certain effects are obtained may reveal that certain effects are decomposable into the effects contributed by subcomponents of that system. Mill's chemical examples fail as properly emergent for just this reason. With the development of quantum mechanical explanation, we have been able to see how chemical reactions are composed of additive properties of individual electrons (McLaughlin, 1992, p.89)."

Note that in the case of a chemical reaction, the attribution of emergence differs according to the extent of knowledge of the observers (19th century bucket chemists versus 20th century quantum physicists).
Nevertheless, it is still commonplace to think of certain phenomena, such as biological systems, as as showing complex behavior which somehow emerges uncreated out of far simpler behaviors such as the chemistry of carbon compounds.

The Game of Life as an emergent phenomenon.
One of the most familiar examples of emergent behavior is exhibited by cellular automata, such John Conway's Game of Life and its variants (eg Brian's Brain). These are available as animations on the web:
The Game is what a computer programmer would nowadays define as an object, which consists of a datastructure (the two dimensional pixel array) and associated algorithms (the rules which determine whether pixels switch on or off according to the state of their neighbors).
The algorithms are extremely simple:
  • A dead cell with exactly three live neighbors becomes a live cell (birth).
  • A live cell with two or three live neighbors stays alive (survival).
  • In all other cases, a cell dies or remains dead (overcrowding or loneliness).
Amazingly, out of these simple rules operating on a simple datastructure, a complex system of gliders, oscillators etc appears.

But is this really an emergent phenomenon? If the gliders were to emerge out of the screen and glide around the top of our desk (as distinct from being pixel patterns gliding around our PC desktop), then we should have to concede that something had emerged. But all we can say is that an appearance has emerged. 

So, from where has the appearance emerged?
If we search carefully, we come to the conclusion that we cannot find the complex behavior within the object. The movements of the pixel-structures are algorithmically compressible, with no remainder, back into the rules that generated them. There is no mysterious addition of procedural complexity.

The two-dimensional pixel array remains an array of pixels in two dimensions - it hasn't suddenly changed its nature and become a cube or magically sprouted chess-pieces.

Yet we can't deny that we have observed a phenomenon which has properties which 'look different' and 'feel different' from its constituents.

But if the phenomenon hasn't emerged from the object, then the only other place from which it could have emerged is the mind of the observer. We are therefore left with the conclusion that emergence is a psychological, not a physical phenomenon. The pixel array is 'nothing but' sequentially illuminated squares on the computer screen. All else is imputed by mind.
David Chalmers makes a similar point in his notes on emergence, quote:

"The notion of reduction is intimately tied to the ease of understanding one level in terms of another. Emergent properties are usually properties that are more easily understood in their own right than in terms of properties at a lower level. This suggests an important observation: Emergence is a psychological property. It is not a metaphysical absolute. Properties are classed as "emergent" based at least in part on (1) the interestingness to a given observer of the high-level property at hand; and (2) the difficulty of an observer's deducing the high-level property from low-level properties"

"The properties of complexity and organization of any system are considered by Crutchfield to be subjective qualities determined by the observer.
"Defining structure and detecting the emergence of complexity in nature are inherently subjective, though essential, scientific activities. Despite the difficulties, these problems can be analysed in terms of how model-building observers infer from measurements the computational capabilities embedded in non-linear processes. An observer’s notion of what is ordered, what is random, and what is complex in its environment depends directly on its computational resources: the amount of raw measurement data, of memory, and of time available for estimation and inference. The discovery of structure in an environment depends more critically and subtly, though, on how those resources are organized. The descriptive power of the observer’s chosen (or implicit) computational model class, for example, can be an overwhelming determinant in finding regularity in data."(Crutchfield 1994) "  from Wiki
So we can dismiss all claims that consciousness, mind and awareness are emergent properties of matter or brains, because we need the presence of a mind for emergent properties and phenomena to appear in the first place. The subjective activity of the mind of the observer, together with the 'objective' procedures and the structures upon which they operate, is an irreducible component of emergent phenomena.
The behavior of cellular automata gives a vivid illustration of the three levels of dependent relationship, as discussed in the article on Buddhist teachings on sunyata :

(1) Gross dependent relationship - the dependence of phenomena on their causes (the algorithms or rules of production).

(2) Subtle dependent relationship - the dependence of phenomena on their perceived parts (the pixels which go to make up the emergent structures).

(3) Very subtle dependent relationship - the dependence of phenomena on imputation by mind.

Emergent all the way up and all the way down?
In addition, the article on sunyata demonstrates that instead of viewing the world in terms of 'things', we should understand all phenomena in terms of three types of relationships - causal, organisational and imputational.
The universe consists of relationships and only relationships. To ask what the participants in these relationships are in themselves only leads to paradox.

One interesting aspect of emergent phenomena is the different causal and organisational relationships which appear at different levels of investigation.

For example, ecology emerges out of biology, which emerges out of chemistry, which emerges out of physics, which emerges out of mathematics, which emerges out of the mind contemplating the empty set.
Each level of investigation has its own explanatory relationships, yet if we check carefully there is no 'added extra' coming from the side of the objects. (Everything is algorithmically compressible without remainder, there are no mysterious ingredients added as we progress from lower levels to higher levels).

The only place from which these relationships/phenomena can emerge is the mind. Hence we are again forced to conclude that these emergent phenomena are psychological phenomena.

So, even the relationships themselves are imputed by mind and have the nature of mind.

TIP - If some aspects of Buddhist beliefs seem unfamiliar, obscure, or confusing, then bear in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy.   Difficult aspects of Buddhism often become much clearer when viewed from a process perspective.


- Sean Robsville


Buddhism versus Materialism

Rational Buddhism
The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in Science and Engineering

Non-algorithmic phenomena

Objections to Computationalism and Arguments Against Artificial Intelligence

Reductionism and Buddhist Philosophy



Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Celtic and Buddhist symbolism - triskelions, triskeles.

The triskele or triskelion symbol, which resembles three commas or teardrop shaped beads chasing one another round a circle, is a Buddhist meditational symbol that represents the three aspects of Dependent Relationship which give existence to all functioning things.

The Buddhist teaching on Dependent Relationship states that phenomena exist in three fundamental ways. Firstly, phenomena exist by dependence upon causes and conditions. Secondly, phenomena depend upon the relationship of the whole to its parts and attributes. Thirdly, and most profoundly, phenomena depend upon designation by the mind [1].  The mind is a non-physical aspect of the universe that is not reducible to matter.

The appearance of motion of the three swirling teardrops symbolises that the impermanence of all compound phenomena arises from these three ever-changing relationships.

In traditional Buddhist art, triskeles are frequently seen in the centre of Dharma wheels, four-pronged vajras and auspicious symbol mandalas.

The triskelion magatama symbol is also a common feature of Celtic sacred art such as stone carvings, enamel ornaments, book illumination and knotwork.

This metaphysical symbol is probably the 'Caer Sidin' which was the object of meditation by the Druidic bard Taliesin, as he explains in this verse:

Mi a fum ynghadair flin
Uwch Caer Sidin
A honno ya troi fydd
Rhwng tri elfydd
Pand rhyfedd ir byd
Nas argennyd

Which is translated as:

I have presided in a toilsome chair
Over the circle of Sidin
Whilst that is continuously revolving between three elements;
Is it not a wonder to the world,
That men are not enlightened? [2]

The untranslated term 'Sidin' is not explained. Could it be related to the Sanskrit Siddhi ?

According to the article by John Michael Greer, the 'three elements' of Druid metaphysics to which Taliesin refers are known in old Welsh as Gwyar (change, causality), Calas (structure) and Nwyfre (consciousness).

Buddhist Triskeles

An Indian Dharma wheel with a triskele at the hub

Japanese Buddhist Dharma wheel

Dharma wheel - Manjushri Center, Cumbria

Four pronged vajra with central triskelion (click to enlarge)
Manjushri Center, Cumbria

Celtic Triskele Symbols

Scottish Carved Stone 1

Scottish Celtic sculptured stone - inner and outer triskelions

Silver object (function unknown) from Saint Ninian's Isle Treasure, Shetland

Irish metalwork showing interleaved triskelions, second century A.D.

Central triskelion surrounded by three triskelions on Celtic enamel ornament from Derbyshire

The Laxey Wheel Triskelion Isle of Man

Buddha's bunnies - the three hares/rabbits symbol

In the three hares/rabbits triskelion, the aspect of motion is especially apparent, emphasising that all phenomena arise from the three dependencies and are thus inevitably impermanent and devoid of any essence.

This symbol was originally Buddhist, but travelled westwards along the silk routes and can be found in European medieval church ornamentation.

In Buddhism, as well as Druidism, mind is a primal aspect of reality that is not reducible to matter.  For a discussion of why the mind is a non-physical, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not derived from anything else, see Confronting Materialism and the Delusion of the Mechanical Mind.

- Sean Robsville

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Related articles:

Mysterians, Mysterianism and the Mystery of the Mind

Cauldron, Chalice and Grail Symbolism in Buddhism and Celtic Wicca

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

Celtic Buddhism - Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain

C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy




[1] Victor Mansfield 'Time and Impermanence in Middle Way Buddhism and Modern Physics'. Talk at the Physics and Tibetan Buddhism Conference, University of California, Santa Barbara January 30-31, 1998

[2] Stewart, R. J. and Williamson, R. (1996) Celtic Bards, Celtic Druids , ISBN 0-7137-2563-X, publ Blandford, London, p 146.