8th February 2004
I used to be a scientist. I did Theoretical Physics at Cambridge
University, hanging out in the same building as the
later-to-be-famous Professor Stephen Hawking. I became disillusioned
with such science when, as an insider, I saw how dogmatic some
scientists could be. A dogma, according to the dictionary, is an
arrogant declaration of an opinion. This was a fitting description
of the science that I saw in the labs of Cambridge. Science had lost
its sense of humility. Egotistical opinion prevailed over the
impartial search for Truth. My favourite aphorism from that time
"The eminence of a great scientist, is measured by the length
of time that they OBSTRUCT PROGRESS in their field"!
To understand real science, one can go back to one of its founding
fathers, the English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561 - 1628). He
established the framework on which science was to progress, namely
"the greater force of the negative instance". This meant that,
having proposed a theory to explain some natural phenomenon, then
one should try one's best to disprove it! One should test the theory
with challenging experiments. One must put it on trial with rigorous
argument. When a flaw appears in the theory, only then does science
advance. A new discovery has been made enabling the theory to be
adjusted and refined. This fundamental and original methodology of
science understood that it is impossible to prove anything with
absolute certainty. One can only disprove with absolute certainty.
For example, how can one prove the basic law of gravity that "what
goes up comes down, eventually"? One may throw objects up one
million times and see them fall one million times. But that still
does not prove "what goes up comes down". For NASA might then
'throw' a Saturn rocket up into space to explore Mars, and that
never comes down to earth again. One negative instance is enough to
disprove the theory with absolute certainty.
Some misguided scientists maintain the theory that there is no
rebirth, that this stream of consciousness is incapable of returning
to a successive human existence. All one needs to disprove this
theory, according to science, is to find one instance of rebirth,
just one! Professor Ian Stevenson, as some of you would know, has
already demonstrated many instances of rebirth. The theory of no
rebirth has been disproved. Rebirth is now a scientific fact!
Modern science gives a low priority to any efforts to disprove its
pet theories. There is too much vested interest in power, prestige
and research grants. A courageous commitment to truth takes too many
scientists out of their comfort zone. Scientists are, for the most
part, brainwashed by their education and their in-group conferences
to see the world in a very narrow, microscopic, way. The very worst
scientists are those who behave like eccentric evangelists, claiming
that they alone have the whole truth, and then demanding the right
to impose their views on everyone else.
Ordinary people know so little about science that they can hardly
even understand the jargon. Yet, if they read in a newspaper or
magazine "a scientist says that?", then they automatically take it
to be true. Compare this to our reaction when we read in the same
journal "a politician says that?"! Why do scientists have such
unchallenged credibility? Perhaps it is because the language and
ritual of science has become so far removed from the common people,
that scientists have become today's revered and mystical priesthood.
Dressed in their ceremonial white lab coats, chanting
incomprehensible mumbo jumbo about multi-dimensional fractal
parallel universes, and performing magical rituals that
transubstantiate metal and plastic into TV's and computers, these
modern day alchemists are so awesome we'll believe anything they
say. Elitist science, as once was the Pope, is now infallible.
Some know better. Much of what I learnt 30 years ago has now been
proved wrong. There are, fortunately, many scientists with integrity
and humility who affirm that science is, at best, a work still in
progress. They know that science can only suggest a truth, but can
never claim a truth. I was once told by a Buddhist G.P. that, on his
first day at a medical school in Sydney, the famous Professor, head
of the Medical School, began his welcoming address by stating "Half
of what we are going to teach you in the next few years is wrong.
Our problem is that we do not know which half it is!" Those were the
words of a real scientist.
Some evangelical scientists would do well to reflect on the
(amended) old saying "Scientists rush in where angels fear to tread"
and stop pontificating about the nature of the mind, happiness and
even Nirvana. Neurologists are especially prone to such neuroses
(Neurosis: an undue adherence to unrealistic ideas of things). They
are claiming that the mind, awareness and will, is now adequately
explained by activity in the brain. This theory was disproved over
20 years ago by Prof. Lorber's discovery of the student at Sheffield
University with and IQ of 126, a First Class degree in mathematics,
but with virtually no brain (Science, Vol. 210, 12 Dec 1980)! More
recently, it was disproved by Prof. Pim Van Lommel, who demonstrated
the existence of consciousness activity after clinical death, i.e.
when all brain activity has ceased (Lancet, Vol. 358, 15 December
2001, p 2039).
Although there may be correlation between a measurable activity in
part of the brain and a mental impression, such co-occurrence
doesn't always imply that one is the cause of the other. For
instance, some years ago, research showed a clear correlation
between cigarette smoking and the non-occurrence of Alzheimer's
disease. It was not that smoking cigarettes somehow caused immunity
from Alzheimer's, as much as the tobacco companies might have
wished, it was only that many smokers did not live long enough to
get Alzheimer's disease! Thus a co-incidence of two phenomena, even
when repeated, does not mean that one phenomenon is the cause of the
other. To claim that activity in the brain causes awareness, or
mind, is plainly unscientific.
Buddhism is more scientific than modern science. Like science,
Buddhism is based on verifiable cause-and-effect relationships. But
unlike science, Buddhism challenges with thoroughness every belief.
The famous Kalama Sutta of Buddhism states that one cannot believe
fully in "what one is taught, tradition, hearsay, scripture, logic,
inference, appearance, agreement with established opinion, the
seeming competence of a teacher, or even in one's own teacher". How
many scientists are as rigorous in their thinking as this? Buddhism
challenges everything, including logic.
It is worth noting that Quantum Theory appeared quite illogical,
even to such great scientists as Einstein, when it was first
proposed. It is yet to be disproved. Logic is only as reliable as
the assumptions on which it is based. Buddhism trusts only clear and
Clear experience occurs when one's measuring instruments, one's
senses, are bright and undisturbed. In Buddhism, this happens when
the hindrances of sloth-and-torpor and restlessness-and-remorse are
both overcome. Objective experience is that which is free from all
bias. In Buddhism, the three types of bias are desire, ill will and
sceptical doubt. Desire makes one see only what one wants to see, it
bends the truth to fit one's preferences. Ill will makes one blind
to whatever is disturbing or disconcerting to one's views and it
distorts the truth by denial. Sceptical doubt stubbornly refuses to
accept those truths, like rebirth, that are plainly valid but which
fall outside of one's comforting worldview. In summary, clear and
objective experience only happens when the Buddhist 'Five
Hindrances' have been overcome. Only then can one trust the data
arriving through one's senses.
Because scientists are not free of these five hindrances, they are
rarely clear and objective. It is common, for example, for
scientists to ignore annoying data, which do not fit their cherished
theories, or else confine such evidence to oblivion by filing it
away as an 'anomaly'. Even most Buddhists aren't clear and
objective. One has to have recent experience of Jhana to effectively
put aside these five hindrances (according to the Nalakapana Sutta ,
Majjhima No. 68). So only accomplished meditators can claim to be
real scientists, that is, clear and objective.
Science claims to rely not only on clear and objective observation,
but also on measurement. But what is measurement in science? To
measure something, according to the pure science of Quantum Theory,
is to collapse the Schroedinger Wave Equation through an act of
observation. Moreover, the "un-collapsed" form of the Schroedinger
Wave Equation, that is before any measurement is made, is, perhaps,
science's most perfect description of the world. That description is
weird! Reality, according to pure science, does not consist of well
ordered matter with precise massed, energies and positions in space,
all just waiting to be measured. Reality is the broadest of smudges
of all possibilities, only some being more probable than others.
Even basic 'measurable' qualities as 'alive' or 'dead' have been
demonstrated by science to be invalid sometimes. In the notorious 'Schroedinger's
Cat' thought experiment, Prof. Schroedinger's cat was ingeniously
placed in a real situation where it was neither dead nor alive,
where such measurements became meaningless. Reality, according to
Quantum Theory, is beyond measurements. Measuring disturbs reality,
it never describes it perfectly. It was Heisenberg's famous
'Uncertainty Principle' that showed the inevitable error between the
real Quantum world and the measured world of pseudo-science.
Anyway, how can anyone measure the measurer, the mind? At a recent
seminar on Science and Religion, at which I was a speaker, a
Catholic in the audience bravely announced that whenever she looks
through a telescope at the stars, she feels uncomfortable because
her religion is threatened. I commented that whenever a scientist
looks the other way round through a telescope, to observe the one
who is watching, then they feel uncomfortable because their science
is threatened by what is doing the seeing! So what is doing the
seeing, what is this mind that eludes modern science?
A Grade-One teacher once asked her class "What is the biggest thing
in the world?" One little girl answered "My daddy". A little boy
said "An elephant", since he'd recently been to the zoo. Another
girl suggested "A mountain". The six-year-old daughter of a close
friend of mine replied, "My eye is the biggest thing in the world"!
The class stopped. Even the teacher didn't understand her answer. So
the little philosopher explained "Well, my eye can see her daddy, an
elephant, and a mountain too. It can also see so much else. If all
of that can fit into my eye, then my eye must be the biggest thing
in the world"! Brilliant.
However, she was not quite right. The mind can see everything that
one's eye can see, and it can also imagine so much more. It can also
hear, smell, taste and touch, as well as think. In fact, everything
that can be known can fit into the mind. Therefore, the mind must be
the biggest thing in the world. Science's mistake is obvious now.
The mind is not in the brain, nor in the body. The brain, the body
and the rest of the world, are in the mind!
Mind is the sixth sense in Buddhism, it is that which encompasses
the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, and
transcends them with its own domain. It corresponds loosely to
Aristotle's "common sense" that is distinct from the five senses.
Indeed, ancient Greek philosophy, from where science is said to have
its origins, taught six senses just like Buddhism. Somewhere along
the historical journey of European thinking, they lost their mind!
Or, as Aristotle would put it, they somehow discarded their "common
sense"! And thus we got science. We got materialism without any
heart. One can accurately say that Buddhism is science that has kept
its heart, and which hasn't lost its mind!
Thus Buddhism is not a belief system. It is a science founded on
objective observation, i.e. meditation, ever careful not to disturb
the reality through imposing artificial measurements, and it is
evidently repeatable. People have been re-creating the experimental
conditions, known as establishing the factors of the Noble Eightfold
Path, for over twenty-six centuries now, much longer than science.
And those renowned Professors of Meditation, the male and female
Arahants, have all arrived at the same conclusion as the Buddha.
They verified the timeless Law of Dhamma, otherwise known as
Buddhism. So Buddhism is the only real science, and I'm happy to say
that I'm still a scientist at heart, only a much better scientist
than I ever could have been at Cambridge.
Source: Buddhist Society of Western Australia,