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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Convergence of Science and Spirituality

Finished The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality a 2003 book by the Dalai Lama. It was very good, enjoyed the read. Part of my background is as a physicist, though I have never practiced physics. I am not spiritual, except perhaps in an broadly intellectual way.

The DL makes some interesting points ... he is very honest up front in saying he does not understand mathematics. Mathematics is the language of physics, and has been since Newton. Quantum mechanics is obscure even to those who know math more deeply than I do. Math is a requirement for physics these days, and statistics is part of that. So that's a big impediment.

The DL picks and chooses very carefully with examples that seem to show that Buddhism has predicted some results of modern physics. I don't know much about Buddhism, so I am hard pressed to say these choices are reasonable or not. I noticed that he very briefly mentioned being able to predict eclipses, which a number of ancient peoples figured out. Then he mentions astrology, which apparently is part of Buddhism, and that's very difficult to justify scientifically, and thus is mentioned no more.

Also no real mention of the 'scientific method' in the sense that it attempts to control context very carefully, that's why physics research works, and he seems to imply it's more about the choice of apparatus. Its more about careful control, which greatly simplifies the problem. I do like his mention of Popper's work ... I think falsifiability is an important idea, though this is a less popular notion in science today.

His view of evolution is also problematical. He brings up the problem of altruism and group selection. This has been addressed by a number of folks in evolutionary biology ... in particular 'Dawkins' Selfish Gene and following work. He discards those solutions pretty quickly. I am not saying he is wrong, only that he drops science that can't be ignored because it does not feel right. Liked his piece about early Tibetian work on senses.

His discussion of reincarnation is interesting, and although science cannot disprove it, it's one of those 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof ' situations.

I am in agreement overall that strictly reductionist, purely materialist science is dangerous. We have seen lots of examples of that. I am not sure there is much we can do about that. He seems to be saying we can add a spiritual overlay on science to make it safe, and a combination of the two will be better. Perhaps, though I am not convinced.

Overall a very thought-provoking book. Worth reading. Sad to see him run out of his country, though its probably contributed to his being heard. Good piece of science philosophy, from the spiritual direction.

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