Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Buddhist militancy triggers international concern

by Robert Spencer

"When did you ever see in the Financial Times, or anywhere else in the mainstream media, an article entitled, “Muslim militancy triggers international concern” — unless it was devoted to downplaying that concern or denying that there was anything rightly called “Muslim militancy” at all? When did you ever see in the Financial Times, or in any other mainstream media outlet, a victim of Islamic jihad being quoted saying: “If I could meet those responsible, I would ask: ‘Sir, does your prophet Muhammad teach this?’” When did you ever see in the Financial Times, or anywhere else, an exploration of whether Buddha or Muhammad actually did teach or incite violence?

No violence against any innocent people, Muslim or non-Muslim, is ever justified. This ridiculous piece makes no mention, however, of the fact that all the conflict — in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand — between Buddhists and Muslims was caused by Muslims attacking Buddhists. The Buddhists responded, and this is what they get. James Crabtree and Michael Peel would apparently have preferred that they surrender quietly to the jihad, and submit to being massacred or enslaved.

If Buddhists were organized like Muslims, we would now start seeing the mainstream media filled with weepy articles about “Buddhismophobia,” and laments that opposition to Buddhist militancy was really just a smoke screen for “racism” and “bigotry,” and that there wasn’t really any Buddhist militancy anyway, as it was actually all just a creation of those Buddhismophobes. But they aren’t, and we won’t..."   Full article


Related articles 

Islam will destroy Buddhism

Islam will Dominate - The Islamic Threat to Buddhism


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Life after death: mental processes continue after brain processes shut down

From The Telegraph 

First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study
"Southampton University scientists have found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after clinical death which was previously thought impossible.

...The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.

But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

 One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Despite being unconscious and ‘dead’ for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.

“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now at the State University of New York, who led the study.

“But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.

“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.

“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”

Of 2060 cardiac arrest patients studied, 330 survived and 140 said they had experienced some kind of awareness while being resuscitated.

Although many could not recall specific details, some themes emerged. One in five said they had felt an unusual sense of peacefulness while nearly one third said time had slowed down or speeded up.

Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the Sun shining. Others recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water. 13 per cent said they had felt separated from their bodies and the same number said their sensed had been heightened...


Mental processes don't depend on mechanistic processes

What this study demonstrates is that there are two kinds of processes at work in our lives: mechanistic and mental. 

Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics. The brain is a physical machine no different in principle from a computer, and carries out mechanistic processes.  However mental processes are completely different.

Mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or aboutness (the power of minds to be about, to represent, experience, cognise or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs).    

When mechanistic processes shut down, mental processes can still continue.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Islam will destroy Buddhism

Islam will dominate the world and destroy Buddhism

 "QADIYA, Iraq — In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted.

He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her.

When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion.

“I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God,” she said in an interview alongside her family in a refugee camp here, to which she escaped after 11 months of captivity." 
  - New York Times

The non-Muslim world was horrified recently when the Islamic State (aka The Caliphate, ISIS, ISIL)  attacked a small population of Yazidis (an ancient religious group), raped and enslaved the women and children, murdered the men and tried to starve fleeing survivors [a, b, c, d e, f, g, h, i , j , k, l] .     

The Islamic State has also attacked Christians, though not with the same ferocity. Christians have been able to buy their lives by paying huge amounts of protection money under the Koranic 'jizya' dispensation, which allows three groups of people, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who are known as 'people of the book', to retain their religion and their lives by accepting 'dhimmi' status.   

Yazidis and Buddhists are not ‘people of the book’ and are not eligible for dhimmi status (or dhimmitude, as it is known) and must convert or be exterminated, or in the case of the Yazidis, simply be exterminated.  So what has befallen the Yazidis is a forestaste of what will happen to Buddhists as the Caliphate extends its reach globally [ a, b, c, d, e,  f, g, h, i, j, i, j, k

Yazidi chidren burned alive

Some  naïve Westerners have been puzzled why 'moderate' Muslims have not condemned the Caliphate’s genocidal activities, [a, b, c, d, e ]  but the reason is that the Islamic State’s actions are in complete accordance with the Koran, [a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h  i,  j , k, l, m, n ,o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z, a1] so to condemn them would be to condemn the Koran and its author, which is blasphemous and punishable by death [ a, b, c, d, e f g h i j] .

The Islamic State, despite, or perhaps because of its barbarity, enjoys growing support among a large proportion of Muslims in the West.

Extreme versus moderate Islam
Islam is a supremacist, totalitarian system [a, b] that cannot and will not coexist on equal terms with any other worldview, and seeks to impose its own ideology throughout the world [a, b c].  

This imposition cannot be brought about by rational argument, since Islam rejected reason long ago [a b].  But instead, Islam spreads by violence,  intimidation, political subversion, bullying and mass murder. Dissent and freedom of expression are ruthlessly suppressed by vicious savagery [a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h ,i j].

In Turkey, the Islamic State’s neighbor and ally, [a, b, c ] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said:  “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” [a]  and  “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers” [a] . Like the Islamic State, Turkey's hard-line Islamic government is notorious for encouraging domestic violence, and the rape and torture of women who appear too independent [a].   

Coercion, intimidation, thuggery and outright terrorism are intrinsic and essential features of Islam [a, b, c, d, e, f, g ,i, j ] without which it could not spread, or even survive [a].  Islam is so intellectually moribund and ethically repulsive that it cannot compete for followers in a free marketplace of ideas, but must eliminate its competitors  by whatever means may be necessary.    This supremacist combination of ignorance and arrogance, with reliance on violence in place of reasoned argument, is in marked contrast to the rationality of Buddhism.

It is clear that Islam is not a religion in any normal sense [a] , but has more in common with those vicious tyrannies Nazism and Stalinism [a].  The religious aspect is a thin veneer to dupe and manipulate  the gullible masses, and raise an army of sexually frustrated youths hoping for 72 virgins in Allah's brothel in the sky, while the leaders enjoy the fruits of their powers. 

Islam is a classic mind virus - a contageous meme causing aggressive insanity which shares many of the features of rabies.

How Islam sees others
Islam divides humanity into two implacably antagonistic groups - Muslims (collectively known as the Ummah) versus Kaffirs (aka Kufr, Kuffars, Infidels or non-believers).

Kaffirs are subdivided further - Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians who accept the supremacy of Islam are known as Dhimmis, and are allowed to live as second-class citizens, provided they pay the extortionate Jizya (infidel tax) to their Muslim masters. The state of being a submissive, humiliated Dhimmi is known as Dhimmitude. [a].  

Sexual humiliation, organised pedophilia, sex slavery and gang rape of infidels
Humiliation of Kafirs, especially by sexual humiliation and gang-rape of their women and children (both girls and boys), is extremely important to Jihadists, with Islamic child abductions and gang-rapes of infidels being a feature of jihad in such widely different locations as Iraq, Russia, Nigeria, Britain, Switzerland, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Burma and Bangladesh. 

In fact, these attacks, which are encouraged by the Koran and follow the example of the 'prophet' Mohammed, are inevitable wherever packs of sexually aggressive predatory Muslim males are able to get access to vulnerable kafir women and children. [a b c d e f g h, i, j , k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r s t, u, v, w x y z, a1, b1, c1, d1, e1, f1, g1, h1, i1, j1, k1, l1, m1, n1, o1, p1, q1, r1, s1, t1, u1, v1, w1, x1, y1, z1, a2, b2, c2 , d2, e2, f2, g2, h2, i2, j2, h2, i2, j2, k2, l2, m2, n2 , o2, p2 ,q2, r2, s2, t2, u2v2, w2, x2, y2, z2 , a3, b3, c3, d3, e3 - f3, g3, h3,   i3 , j3, k3, l3 , m3 ,n3, o3 , p3 , q3r3, s3,  t3, u3v3,  w3,  x3y3,   z3 
 a4  b4  c4   ] 
The Koran's hit list
Buddhists, Pagans and members of all other 'non-Abrahamic' religions, together with secularists, and those Jews and Christians who do not accept Muslim domination, are regarded as Harbis - targets of war destined for extermination.  However ultimately ALL Jews, even those who live submissively under Islamic domination, will be exterminated [a, b].  

'The Qur’an tells Muslims that they are the “best of people” (3:110), while unbelievers are “the most vile of created beings” (98:6), and that this dichotomy inculcates a pride and arrogance'[a].  Muslims describe Buddhists as 'Mushrik' or 'Mushrikun' (idolaters) - a term of abuse which places them in the lowest category of 'najis kafirs'.

Execution of a harbi

Islam is at permanent war with harbis, even if the harbis don't actually do anything to annoy Muslims. The harbis' mere existence is itself an act of war. A Harbi has no rights, not even the right to live, as was shown recently in the Caliphate's execution, after prolonged torture,  of James Foley for being a harbi  [a ,b, c, d, e, f, g ]  

Jihadist children are taught from an early age to hate and kill harbis [a, b, c, d, e ]

Harbi doll --  before...

 ...and after

Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam
Areas under Muslim control are known as Dar al-Islam. Areas under Harbi control are known as Dar al-Harb - the domain of war. The Koran commands Muslims to wage perpetual war (Jihad) against Dar al-Harb until the entire world is Dar al-Islam. These attacks are ordained by Allah [a] and are non-negotiable in the long term, though the practice of taqiyya (holy deception) allows temporary deceptive peace agreements (’Hudna’) to be made while the forces of Islam are too weak to attack the Harbis successfully [a, b].

Islamization of Dar al-Harb

Buddhists as Harbis
Buddhists have always been favorite targets for jihad because:

(1) The Koran (Surah 9, ayah 5) commands that polytheists and idolaters should be exterminated  wherever they are found. Buddhist statues and icons provided the perfect excuse for a bloodbath. Modern Muslims continue to believe that since Buddhists are not monotheists they must be forced to convert to Islam or be killed.

(2) Being pacifists, Buddhists were unable to defend themselves.

Given this long history of uncompromising hostility towards Buddhism, which has 'sanctified' the slaughter of Buddhist sangha and destroyed Buddhist civilizations throughout Asia,  the future of Buddhism looks bleak indeed, as the Caliphate commands the loyalty of more and more Muslims and spreads throughout the world [a].     

Religious liberty under Islam

The Islamic memeplex is terrifyingly unstoppable [a,b]. Hence Buddhism is unlikely to survive as the world inevitably becomes more Islamized by conquest, subversion, immigration and demographic growth.   We can expect the anti-Buddhist jihad to intensify globally, with the increasing likelihood of attacks on Buddhists and Buddhist institutions in the West, as well as the usual terrorist operations in Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka etc  [ a, b, c, d, e,  f , g, h, i, j, k, l , m, n ]

Islam cannot coexist with Buddhism or other religions

Islam is a brutal, hyper-masculine, barbarian, tribal warrior cult that glories in machismo, murder, mutilation, gang-rape, genocide, terrorism, destruction and anarchy.

Islam is as ruthless as the rabies virus in ensuring is own propagation. It appeals to the lowest motives in human nature, with its divine approval for murder, sadism, extortion and rape in this life, and the promise of an afterlife spent in Allah's brothel in the sky with 72 subservient virgins.

Women, girls and all the feminine aspects of human nature are chattelised and subjugated. Weakness is despised and seen as ripe for predation. Women and children are gang-raped, and kuffar captives and defenseless minorities tortured and slaughtered.

With its institutionalized misogyny, Koran-sanctioned wife-beating and prophet-inspired pedophilia, Islam is a predatory, bullying, domineering, gang-raping despoiler and destroyer of all that is beautiful, spiritual, gentle, peaceful, innocent and vulnerable.

In the face of this militant all-conquering savagery, Buddhism doesn't stand a chance!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Delusions in Buddhism

The basis of Buddhism is that we all suffer from delusions, and only by reducing, and eventually completely removing those delusions, will we find happiness.

Most people, on first meeting these teachings, are likely to be extremely skeptical. After all, most of us don’t see pink elephants,  think that we’re Napoleon, or believe politicians' promises. So in what way are we deluded?

The basic delusion of ‘inherent existence’ or ‘svabhava’

The basic delusion is that we believe that all substances, objects and people have an unchanging, stable, defining nature ‘from their own side’ that makes them what they are. This delusion of intrinsic nature, is known as ‘svabhava’  (Sanskrit for ‘inherent existence’), and can be refuted philosophically by the 'emptiness' argument, and scientifically by recognising the process nature of reality.

In Buddhist philosophy, all functioning phenomena exist dependently upon (i) their causes, (ii) their parts and (iii) the mental designation by an observer.   There is no extra or more fundamental ‘essence’ that makes a thing what it is beyond or beneath these three attributes of existence.  

Although we may understand intellectually that inherent-existence is impossible, nevertheless we still have great difficulty of ridding ourselves of this delusion.  The reason that svabhava is so deep-rooted, pervasive and systematic is that our brains and perceptual systems have evolved to use svabhava as a useful working approximation (or ‘conventional truth’) to represent commonsense reality. 

This ‘working approximation’ functions quite well in our everyday life, and only breaks down when we analyse phenomena in depth, either philosophically, or scientifically as with particle physics, where we are forced to realise that the observer is an inextricable part of the system. 

Why is the delusion of inherent existence so strong?

Our brains have evolved to present a useful model of reality to our minds as quickly  and efficiently as possible.   To do this they must sample reality, rather than monitor it continuously.    By analogy, think of  a movie camera that takes a series of frames as  samples of continuous reality, or a CD that samples a continuously varying soundtrack as a series of discrete numbers.  Sampling is essential because continuous monitoring would produce an information overload.

Our brains do a similar sampling job, along spatial and conceptual dimensions as well as along temporal ones.  Hence we normally see the universe as composed of discrete things, rather than continuously varying processes.

But if we analyse carefully, and on a long enough timescale, we realise that everything in the universe is impermanent, and part of continuously changing processes.   Even the universe itself is a process, starting out from the big bang.  At the other end of the scale, subatomic particles are processes - continuously varying wavefunctions, which only appear as distinct particles at the moment they are sampled.

However, our brains haven’t evolved for philosophical reflection. They have evolved  to present a workable view of reality which identifies threats, opportunities and resources as rapidly as possible.   Natural selection cannot select directly for true beliefs, but only for advantageous behaviors. 

So the brain is giving us a picture of the world that is merely fit for purpose, rather than one that represents some true underlying reality.      This is the explanation for the two truths - conventional truth versus ultimate truth.    Conventional truth applies to those entities in the world that are stable and persistent for long enough for us to regard them as things.   The ultimate truth is that all those things are actually impermanent when viewed on a long enough timescale, and have no defining existence within themselves.   

As Wiki puts it:
Ignorance isn't just an inability to apprehend the truth but an active misapprehension of the status of oneself and all other objects—one's own mind or body, other people, and so forth. It is the conception or assumption that phenomena exist in a far more concrete way than they actually do.
Based on this misapprehension of the status of persons and things, we are drawn into afflictive desire and hatred [i.e. attachment and aversion]... Not knowing the real nature of phenomena, we are driven to generate desire for what we like and hatred for what we do not like and for what blocks our desires. These three—ignorance, desire, and hatred—are called the three poisons; they pervert our mental outlook. 

Conventional truth enables us to go about our daily business. Ultimate truth enables us to perform philosophical analysis.  For further discussion  on this  topic see Evolution, Emptiness and Delusions of the Darwinian Brain.  

For general background see Buddhist Philosophy

Saturday, 16 August 2014

'Autoerotic Spirituality' - The Roman Catholic Understanding of Buddhism and Masturbation

Updated August 2014

'Autoerotic spirituality' is how Pope Benedict described Buddhism, according to a recent article by Catholic writer George Neumayr.

'Autoerotic' is Vatican terminology for masturbation, consequently the Pope is accusing Buddhists of self-grasping.  Autoeroticism (otherwise known as 'Onanism' or 'self-abuse') is one of the most heinous sins in Catholicism, which is why Catholic priests have traditionally employed altar boys to give them hand and mouth jobs so they don't have to touch themselves sexually and risk an eternity in hell.

(Contrast this Papal confrontationalism with the ecumenical attitude of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that it would be OK for Prince George, the future leader of the Church of England, to become a Buddhist.)

Getting a Grip on Buddhism
The Catholic church seems to be giving Buddhism a hard time (if you'll pardon the expression), with two anti-Buddhist critiques being published by prominent Catholic intellectuals in recent weeks.

As well as the Pope's description of Buddhists as compulsive masturbators, George Neumayr's article describes Buddhism as 'one of the world’s largest half-baked religions', 'absurd and dangerous', 'a more cushy false religion than Islam', and 'tends to make people indifferent, not holy'.   None of these allegations are supported by any factual evidence or reasoned arguments, and there is little logical progression in his narrative beyond the Pope's jacking-off jibe.

Neumayr then goes on to link Buddhism with terrorism, in the person of Aaron Alexis, a paranoid schizophrenic who attempted to control his mental illness by Buddhist meditation, but eventually went postal in the Washington Navy Yard   

In terms of a more detailed critique of Buddhist philosophy, Mr Neumayr contends that  'As a non-judgmental, navel-gazing religion, it asks little of its adherents and accommodates all sorts of wild contradictions, producing not a holy fear of God but sometimes just emboldened self-indulgence and a frantic search for fulfillment through willy-nilly negation'.

Dr Regis Martin's critical analysis of Buddhism.
The second and more academic article is by a leading Catholic theologian, Dr Regis Martin, professor of theology at the prestigious Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Professor Martin uses a similar line of argument to George Neumayr, consisting of unsupported allegations and attempts to link Buddhism to terrorism.

The first few paragraphs of the article are a discussion of how the Buddha never opened his eyes (however there's no historical evidence for this assertion). This is followed by a lament about the lack of Catholic intellectual rigor in the current generation of students.  

Professor Martin then goes on to construct his logical case against Buddhism by using ad hominem reasoning, starting with calling the Buddha 'a plump fatuous looking fellow, sitting cross-legged on the floor with eyes closed upon the world', and Buddhists as '...what’s wrong with these people?  How does one set about disabusing such folk of nothingness, nada?  Not only has their pilot light gone out, which would be deplorable enough, but they actually seem to prefer wandering about in the darkness.  Indeed, the darkness is the light.  Such sublime imbecility is no easy matter to overcome.'

Like George Neumayr, Regis Martin also tries to link Buddhist meditation with terrorism, in this case meditation on emptiness: 'In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, when the need to know why was on everyone’s mind, I remember reading about one of the teachers who had tried to tutor the young man, the student-turned-killer, but gave up because, as she put it, there was such an emptiness she felt whenever he came into the room.'

Dr Martin's understanding of Buddhist philosophy is summed up by his conclusion: 'And what does the Buddha give?  Nothingness.' 

Why Christians misunderstand Buddhism.
The critiques of Buddhism by these two leading Catholic scholars are unfortunately typical of many Christian attempts to understand Buddhist philosophy. They seem to have particular problems with the concept of emptiness, equating it with nothingness, as we have seen with Regis Martin's concluding statement.

It's not that there's anything difficult about Buddhist philosophy, it's just that it's very different from traditional Western philosophy.  But once the basis of the difference is understood, everything should become clearer.

Process versus Substantialist Philosophy
One of the main difficulties many Christians have with understanding Buddhist philosophy is that they don't realise that Buddhism is a 'process philosophy', which is radically unlike most Western philosophical systems. The mainstream Western philosophical tradition has been overwhelmingly 'substantialist' until the 20th century, and in most academic philosophy departments substantialist thinking (the opposite of process thinking) still dominates.

Buddhism is a process philosophy, in that it holds that the ultimate nature of reality is change and flux, with all functioning things being impermanent, and having no static intrinsic nature.  Everything interacts with something else, and whenever it causes a change it is itself changed.  All functioning entities are composite, and nothing at all exists independently in splendid isolation.

In contrast, from the time of the ancient Greeks until very recently, Western philosophy has been dominated by unexamined 'substantialist' presuppositions, which assume that there is some permanent stable basis for reality, including fundamental self-established entities, and unchanging 'essences' from which things (such as chariots and roses) take their form.

Buddhism states that no such self-established entities are to be found, and modern science tends to confirm this, in that there are no permanent unchanging substances or particles at the foundations of reality.   

Whether we look at the largest scales or the smallest, everything seems part of a process, and everything is impermanent.  Existence is impermanence in slow motion, and all composite things eventually disintegrate.  Modern science also casts doubt on the existence of essential natures, such as those that specify the characteristics of species.

The Scientific case for Process Philosophy
Process philosophy is counterintuitive, because the human perceptual system has evolved to present substantialist delusions to the mind.  However, a careful examination of modern physics will show that the universe and everything in it are indeed processes. 

At the topmost level, the universe as a whole is a process of expansion and cooling, with matter being constantly recombined, transmuted and recycled by stellar subprocesses.

At the bottommost level, fundamental particles
, which in classical physics were once thought of as little pieces of matter, are now regarded as processes consisting of continuously evolving and changing wavefunctions.  These processes give the appearance of discrete and localized particles only at the moment they are observed. 

So particles are forever changing, and lack any inherent existence independent of the act of observation.    Consequently, everything composed of particles is also impermanent and continually changing, and no static, stable basis for its existence can be found.

In the late nineteenth century, the theory of evolution made processes rather than static species the fundamental realities of biology. A similar transformation of thinking was to affect physics with the negative result of the Michelson–Morley experiment.  

Until the nineteenth century, it was thought that all waves must propagate through matter. In other words, processes such as sound and water waves needed some substance to support their existence.   It was therefore assumed that space was filled with a 'luminiferous aether' through which electromagnetic waves such as light, heat, radio waves, X-rays etc propagated like ripples on a pond.  But the Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that this aether did not exist, and thus electromagnetic waves were standalone processes with no supporting substance.

Therefore, at a very generalized level, since the nineteenth century the scientific view of the world has converged with the Buddhist view.  The underlying basis of reality is change, process and impermanence.
  In the transition from classical to modern physics, atomic theory has changed from traditional substantialism, to being in agreement with the Buddhist 'process' view of reality.

The logical fallacy of regarding things and substances as the building blocks of reality is known as 'substance metaphysics' or reification.

Mind and Soul in Buddhism - Extinction or Purification?
The aspect of Buddhist philosophy and psychology that most perplexes Catholics is the status of the mind and soul in Buddhism.

Professor Martin demonstrates this confusion is his comment on nirvana:
'Why would any sane person want nirvana anyway?  I mean, look at the etymology of the word: it means being extinguished, vaporized, the sheer evacuation of existence.  From the Sanskrit verb nirva, which is the act of being blown out like a candle, the word implies a state of complete cessation, of no longer being there, a condition of absence, vacancy.  How can this be bliss? '

And in a later article he totally misunderstands Buddhist psychology:

'And if they still persist in the blindness of their belief that the only way to escape suffering is to extinguish desire, and thereby embrace the nothingness of nirvana, are we not obliged to point out the sheer suicide of the self such madness invites?'  
In fact, nirvana refers to the blowing out of the fires of attachment, hatred and delusion, not the total cessation of consciousness.  The Buddhist doesn't seek to extinguish all desire, but only those desires for ephemeral worldly things which can ultimately never be satisfied, and which are the cause of suffering.  

When a Buddhist takes the Bodhisattva vow, she promises to increase her desire to liberate all sentient beings, both human and animal from suffering. This is the 'Superior Intention' - the desire that is not extinguished by Buddhist practice, but burns all the brighter as the Bodhisattva progresses along her path.     

"Desire is a natural part of life that provides the motivating force for our achievements,” says Dr. Arthur Zajonc, Mind and Life’s president.  “Our highest aspirations are animated by desire. Yet, when desire becomes obsession or craving, we cross over into the territory of suffering. What before was an aid to accomplishment can devolve into a source of personal anguish and social violence."

In Catholic theology the soul is believed to be the seat of consciousness that only humans but no other animals possess.   Animals are automata put on earth by God to be used by humans. They are machine-like entities with no consciousness in the human sense, and their minds cease at death.  The difference between humans and animals is absolute, and there is no continuity.

This discontinuous view of humans and animals has obvious problems in terms of evolution.  When and how did God equip the ape-men (and ape-women) with souls?   Did it happen all at once, so every living ape-person from the youngest to the eldest was equipped with a soul on one particular day in the distant past; or were all ape-infants born after a certain date given souls, so during the transition period  soulful ape-kids would be parented by soulless adults?

Physical and Non-physical processes
Buddhism doesn't have these problems, because it doesn't regard the soul as a 'thing' but as a process. (Buddhist philosophers tend to avoid the word 'soul' because of its reifying connotations, and use the terms 'mindstream' or 'mental continuum'  instead, to denote that the mind is a process, albeit a non-physical one.)

The great Buddhist philosopher Alan Turing established a clear demarcation between physical processes (including chemical and biological processes)  and cognitive processes (including qualia and intentionality).  Those processes that can be modelled, predicted and understood in terms of Turing machines (or algorithms) are physical. Those that cannot in principle be thus modelled are cognitive or 'mental'.   

The interface between these two types of process is very much a mystery, and is known by modern Buddhist philosophers as the Hard Problem, (not to be confused with the hard problem that the Pope had in mind with his comments on Buddhists bashing the bishops, or when Buddhists hold their own in debates with Catholics... anyhow, enough of these standing jokes,  I really must get a grip on myself... 

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Limits of Scientific Explanation

Time is what clocks measure

Are there some things that science just can’t explain?
When asked to explain time,  Einstein famously remarked ‘Time is what clocks measure’.   In other words, time is a primal, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not explainable in terms of anything else.  If you try to explain time you end up with a circular definition.  

There are other primal aspects of the universe, for example, space, energy and charge, which are irreducible and not explainable in terms of any other phenomena.

So is mind one of these fundamental, irreducible aspects of reality?

Is there any scientific explanation for the mind?
What distinguishes Buddhists from materialists is that Buddhists believe that the mind is a primal aspect of existence, which is not explainable in terms of physics.  The mind is not mechanistic or deterministic and has no scientific explanation.

Let’s illustrate this with two examples.

(1)  When you hit your thumb with a hammer, nerve impulses are generated which are transmitted to the brain.

(2)  When you hit your thumb with a hammer, nerve impulses are generated which are transmitted to the brain,  and you feel pain.

The first statement is a purely mechanistic explanation of what happens.  The mechanical damage to the tissue, the chemical changes resulting from the compression and the electro-chemical transmission of the nerve impulses into the brain are all mechanistic processes, which can be modelled as a chain of physical causes and effects, by for example, a computer simulation.

The second statement has something extra - the result is a subjective feeling, an aspect of the mind, for which there is no mechanistic (scientific)  explanation.  It seems to be impossible to envisage any mechanism which can produce a mental state from any physical configuration of neural states.  The chain of cause and effect stops just short of its final link.   This is known by philosophers as 'The Hard Problem' or explanatory gap.  

The Buddhist would say that there is indeed no physical causal mechanism beyond the configuration of neural states. Everything that happens thereafter to complete the experience, flows in the reverse direction, and comes from the side of the mind.    The mind is drawn to the neural correlate of pain and recognises it as an object of aversion. In other words the mind develops ‘intentionality’ towards the brain state, and this intentionality, along with the actual subjective feeling of pain, does not have a scientific explanation.

But surely everything has a scientific explanation?
To say that mental phenomena exist that have no scientific explanation may seem provocative, possible almost heretical to some materialists. Yet there is strong evidence, from the very nature of science, that this is indeed the case.   

If we a have clear-cut definition of what constitutes a scientific explanation, then we will be able to see its limits.   That clear-cut definition exists in the form of the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle, which states that every physical process can be simulated by a Turing machine.   Since all chemical, biochemical and biological processes are ultimately physical, according to the CTD principle they can all be simulated by a Turing machine. Any phenomenon that cannot be simulated by a Turing machine must therefore be non-physical.

The Turing machine is not necessarily an actual machine or even a physical device (although physical demonstrations have been constructed) . Its primary purpose is as a thought-experiment, or a precisely defined simple mathematical object, whose precision and simplicity produce a rigorous definition of the fundamental behavior of all mechanistic systems and mathematical procedures.

In practice, a large unwieldy Turing machine may implemented as a series of small separate Turing machines (a process known as algorithmic decomposition)  which may consist of mathematical formulae such a Newton’s laws of motion, or conditional statements such as  IF … THEN … ELSE .

Any equation, mathematical or logical function, or statement in a computer language can be regarded as a mini-Turing machine dedicated to a single purpose, as can any combination of statements or functions.  A computer is a general purpose Turing machine (usually implemented as a combination of mini-Turing machines  known as 'opcodes', which constitute its instruction set

The computer language conditional  statement  IF … THEN … ELSE   is equivalent to the conjunction ‘because’ in normal explanatory discourse. 


From a back of envelope explanation to a computer simulation
Consider the following series of increasingly detailed scientific explanations:

‘Human life might be  wiped out in 2880 AD because asteroid 1950 DA might collide  with the earth.'

To put that in a more Turing-machine compatible form we might say.

IF asteroid collides with earth
THEN humans become extinct
ELSE life goes on

We could make this explanation more detailed and accurate  by replacing ‘asteroid collides with earth’ by various equations describing the orbits of the asteroid and the earth.    The whole thing would probably fit on the back of an envelope.  All the statements and equations on the envelope are reducible to a chain or network of Turing machines.

The next step, especially if we wanted an explanation of what would happen if we tried to alter the course of the asteroid (nuke it, or zap it with a laser, or spray it with WD40) would be to set up a computer simulation.

Computers are functionally equivalent to Turing machines, though again for convenience they are ‘decomposed’ into smaller mini Turing machines.  And it is actually quite surprising just how few varieties of these mini Turing machines (‘opcodes’) are needed to simulate any physical system - fewer than 20:


The conditional combination of  COMPARE, JUMP, JUMP-CONDITIONALLY form the IF … THEN … ELSE  statements  of higher level language.

Why mind is outside the scope of scientific explanation

So why is it that we can never simulate the mind using a computer,  (or even the back of an envelope)?       

The problem lies with the fundamental intrinsic limitations of the Turing machine, which affects every simulation and explanation built out of Turing machines, including all physical explanations and hence all other scientific explanations.    

If we return to the experience of pain caused by hitting the thumb with a hammer, we see that there are two mental processes, intentionality and qualitative experience,  which the Turing machine is incapable of simulating, as a result of its structural limitations. 

A Turing machine consists of just two main components:
(i) A tape of characters, which may be limited to just 1’s and 0’s.
(ii)  A table of actions, which instructs the machine what to do with each character.

There are also two minor components:
(iii) A read/write head, which simply transfers symbols from the tape to the table and vice versa,
(iv)  A register that holds the numeric identifier for the machine’s current state.

The tape consists of a string of characters drawn from a defined alphabet, where the term ‘alphabet’ is used in a rather technical sense of a restricted  set of characters, such as the 26 characters of the  Latin alphabet, the 33 characters of Russian alphabet, the four characters of the DNA alphabet, or the two characters of the binary alphabet.   The size of the alphabet makes no difference to the capabilities of the Turing Machine, since all characters are capable of being encoded as binary.

The table consists of five columns, with as many rows of instructions as are needed to do the job.  The columns are:

1  The row's machine state identifier to be tested against the actual machine state.
2  The row's character to be tested against the current character as read from the tape.
3  The identifier of the new state to which the machine will change
  The new character to be written to the tape.
5  An instruction to move the head one character right or left along the tape.

So there is no capability whatsover to make any intentional reference about anything outside the system.

Neither is there any ability to hold any internal qualitative state.  The only internal state it can have is the number in its register.    Even if additional registers were added, they could only contain ‘alphabetic’ characters or state numbers, for there is nothing else in the machine and nothing else can get into the machine.  

So to expect a Turing machine, or any narrative based upon Turing machines to be able to explain such basic mental processes as qualia and 'aboutness' is a category error.   And, according to the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle, all physical narratives must inevitably be isomorphic (functionally identical) with Turing machines. Hence we can conclude that there are basic mental processes which are, by the very definition of what is physical, forever outside the scope of physics.

As Particle physicist Peter J Bussey says:

"When we are investigating a physical system, physics tries to answer three kinds of question – composition, arrangement and behaviour. In other words, what is it made of, how are the parts put together and what laws of nature are operating? The answers provide a “physical explanation” of the system and its properties, and in this way physics achieves much insight into the world around us. In fact, there are those who claim that everything reduces to physics. But there are areas where physics cannot give answers, one such being metaphysics: questions about physics.

More importantly, physics cannot deal with our conscious mental nature and our nature as human persons. The nature of consciousness is beyond the methodology and conceptual apparatus of physics, which confines itself to objective, universal facts, whereas my conscious awareness is associated just with me. Cleverer physical theories are of no avail here – physics has a limited remit and is not set up to address what it really means to be human. Procrustean philosophies that try to cut humanity down to fit into a bed of physics are a dangerous illusion and should be shunned. They are true neither to humanity nor to physics."

When we seek to bridge the gap from the brain to the mind, we inevitably reach a point where the methods of investigation pursued by mechanistic science are exhausted, and 'physical' understanding comes to an end.  Logical continuity disappears, and we are left to meditate on mysterianism, and develop an intuitive understanding of the creative clarity and emptiness of the non-physical mind.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy