Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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zavk
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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby zavk » Tue Aug 25, 2009 4:10 am

I wasn't going to post a response--partly because I don't want to repeat what I've said in previous threads on the matter, and partly because discussions like these tend to cover the same grounds over and over again.

But the previous few posts raise some interesting themes that connect with some ideas that I've been looking into recently. I also haven't posted in a while and seeing how I have some time to spare I thought I'd put in my two cents....

I agree with retro that scientific knowledge can help Buddhism clarify its assumptions and premises. It is important that Buddhism does this--several Buddhist commentators have made this point, the most prominent of which being the HHDL of course. But I don't think this means that Buddhism is in its 'nature' scientific. There may be some parallels between Buddhism and science but I don't think the two can be equated.

To this extent, I agree with Mawkish. I'm not well-versed in science or the philosophy of science, but I am inclined to agree with Theravada scholar Stephen Evans who has pointed out the limitations of projecting scientific categories onto Buddhism (thanks to Tilt for sharing Evans' essay).

What Evans's work remind us is that Buddhism is not simply a system of knowledge, but is also at the same time (if not first and foremost) an ethical system. Fede's and Chris' posts point this out too. And I think Craig is right in saying that science is not primarily in the business of determining good and evil.

In Buddhism, what is true and what is good, knowledge and ethics, are not separated but closely related (the Eightfold Path is the most obvious expression of this). Science on the other hand does not establish such relationships between knowledge and ethics. So, rather than simply try to find a fit between their methodologies, we can explore new ways of establishing relationships between Buddhism and science. I would suggest that a more productive way of bringing the two in dialogue is to shift the focus away from 'Buddhism and the scientific method' to 'Buddhism and the applications of science'.

What do I mean by 'applications of science'? I am, in a word, referring to technology. I'm aware that technology and science are not the same thing, but I think it is clear that the ascendancy of modern science in the nineteenth century had sparked off immense technological progress (and catastrophes). And while the theories/philosophies of science can be engaging--and perhaps reading about them can deepen our appreciation of the dhamma--I cannot help but wonder how relevant those theories/philosophies of science really are for most people. I know Mawkish is pursuing a PhD in science and I know of one other person here who works as a scientist in a university. There could be others, I don't know. But for me and most people I know, that level of science has little relevance to our everyday experience--the ground where the Eightfold Path unfolds.

However, what we are in contact with at the everyday level are the technologies enabled by science and the consequences of these technologies. The fact that you are reading this on your computer illustrates this. To explore the possible relationships between Buddhism and technology from Buddhist ethical perspectives means that we need to focus not so much on the 'truth' of technology but the cetana or intentions of technology. From a Buddhist ethical perspective, we need to consider the kusala/akusala of the applications of science, the wholesomeness/unwholesomeness of (the use of) technology.

To do so means that we ask not so much 'Is Buddhism and science are compatible' but 'What does Buddhism tell us about the uses of science?' We'd have to consider such questions as, 'What might a Buddhist response be to the development of GM food technology which seem to serve more the interest of food corporations than the consumer, and which also appear to be creating wider health and environmental problems? What might a Buddhist response be to the development of 'green energy' technology?', and so forth.

These are just some possible areas where science and Buddhism (and indeed, other religions) can meet. Regardless of what one's position is on these issues, considering science at this level seem to be a more productive way of bringing our Buddhist practice in dialogue with science--which, it has to be said, is not likely to diminish any time soon whether the epistemological methods of Buddhism are compatible with the methods of science or not.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Dan74 » Tue Aug 25, 2009 5:18 am

My two cents worth:

Science and Buddhism have very different objectives.

Science is in the business of creating models that "explain" empirically observable phenomena and have predictive power. So we see the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane, the magnets come together. We notice the patterns and "embed" them in a larger model - planetary motion, gravity, and the equations that describe their dynamics. We can use this model to answer other related questions, eg when will Saturn come closest to Mercury, etc etc. And of course our technology is based on this predictive power of science. I know when I press the on key may laptop will power up, etc..

Buddhism is in business of freeing us from delusion. This does not require understanding the laws of gravity or quantum mechanics. This does not use empirical evidence as much as inner processes which are not observable to anyone else. The Buddha certainly did rely on logic to some extent as he taught, but what he taught is not science. It is an array of methods designed to help us learn to investigate and become aware. But this awareness is not like scientific knowledge. Rather it is way of seeing without being hindered by greed, anger and ignorance.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby appicchato » Tue Aug 25, 2009 11:06 am

Science deals with the physical world...Buddhism (BuddhaDhamma) deals with the mind...oil and water is pretty tough to mix...

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:25 pm

appicchato wrote:Science deals with the physical world...Buddhism (BuddhaDhamma) deals with the mind...oil and water is pretty tough to mix...


Hi Bhante,

With all due respect, what about Nāma-rūpa?

I think Buddhism does deal with the physical world, as well as the mind.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:32 pm

Why all the antagonism toward science in some of the posts above? :thinking: :tongue:

I like science and although most of the posts are not saying that science is bad, but somehow some of the posts above seem to be discounting the benefits Buddhism is receiving as being not worthy. Buddhism is fully worthy of the credit it gets towards science, in my opinion.

Buddhism is not science per se and science is not Buddhism. But Buddhism can be seen as compatible with science. We don't have a creation myth. Evolution is compatible with the Dhamma. When I look at the Six Qualities of the Dhamma I see lots of compatibility to scientific method and science:

1. Svakkhato: The Dhamma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (Sila — Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi — Concentration) and Excellent in the end (Panna — Wisdom),

2. Samditthiko: The Dhamma is testable by practice and known by direct experience,

3. Akaliko: The Dhamma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.

4. Ehipassiko: The Dhamma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.

5. Opaneyiko: The Dhamma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life.

6. Paccattam veditabbo vinnunhi: The Dhamma may be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples who have matured and enlightened enough in supreme wisdom.

(Anguttara Nikaya 11.12)

People are leaving their mythical religions and philosophies and moving toward atheism/agnosticism and Buddhism, which are all more compatible to science. So why not receive this benefit instead of denying it?

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Aug 25, 2009 2:38 pm

Fede wrote:Science is fundamentally not about Altruism, and in fact there is much in science which is detrimental to humanity.


Why not? There might be some "bad" scientists, but this does not make 'science' bad. Communists and atheists have no religion, but often have the same wish to set-up a society that is helpful to all and does not leave anyone out. That sounds like altruism to me. A social scientist might do some urban planning and set-up a structure so that there is little crime and other problems for an orderly society and it might have nothing to do with religion or morality, just a peaceful arrangement for everyone to live together in an orderly, peaceful way.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Mawkish1983 » Tue Aug 25, 2009 3:28 pm

TheDhamma wrote:Buddhism can be seen as compatible with science.

Rock on. Personally I find it hard to understand why anyone would follow a religion that isn't compatible, but that's their choice I suppose :)

The compatibility is one of the factors that originally made Buddhism SO appealing to me. On a side note, when my Christian friends talk about 'god' I always ask them 'which god?' reactively (after all, there are so many mentioned in the Bible). It's antagonism I'm trying to stop. Anyway, this obviously upsets a lot of them who see it as me making fun of their religion. They often say 'we don't make fun of your beliefs' (to which my reaction is always 'what do you think I believe', so far no-one has got that question right).

One of the reasons I think science and Buddhism are so compatible is because neither deals in 'belief' per se, at least not in the same way as Abrahamic religions do. When asked what I believe about the origins of the universe etc I say 'I believe in what the experts say is right, them having devoted a lifetime to study these things'. Is it belief or acceptance? I don't know, but I think maybe that grey area between belief and acceptance is exactly why Buddhism is so strong and future-proof. It's not about a set of beliefs, it's about a set of practices... just like science is.

So I think Buddhism isn't a science but it seems to me to be fully compatible. Not once do I feel I have to compartmentalise my brain between my work and my 'spiritual' endeavours.

Just some more rambling thoughts :)

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Jechbi » Tue Aug 25, 2009 4:12 pm

A side note: Since most of us are not personally doing experiments and writing research papers on the various subjects science explores, there is an element of faith present in the acceptance of scientific conclusions. That faith is based in part on:

1) Trust in the efficacy of the practical application of scientific method in every case; and
2) Trust in the integrity of the scientists involved.

I'm not saying that I lack trust in those things. On the other hand, "science" changes its mind about important subjects, and one cool thing about science is that this change is possible and encouraged.

But for the common, average, everyday person, you can't take faith completely out of the equation when such a person accepts scientific conclusions (as I do).
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Individual » Tue Aug 25, 2009 4:48 pm

Science can be seen as inferior to or distinct from Buddhism, because it is engaged in rational or empirical investigation, but Buddhist investigation eventually goes beyond this. With mere reason alone, we can observe how our senses deceive us and yet, with reason alone cannot evaluate anything without sense-data to go by and arbitrary axioms to built upon. Now, how could it be a good methodology to combine a faulty sensory process with a reasoning capacity which relies so heavily on sense-data?

So, there is some missing component and that is intuition, wisdom, discernment (panna\prajna).

When scientists discuss valid science, they appeal to things like reductionism, proper scientific method, observability, falsifiability, empirical verification, and replication of experimental results, but then these again all fall under considerations of either proper reasoning or proper observation.

However, when scientists actually do science, if they are good scientists, they use their intuition and it's what everything else -- the entire philosophy of science and the science itself -- relies upon. Yet we simply think of scientists as men and not as "wise men" or "sages".
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby appicchato » Tue Aug 25, 2009 9:29 pm

TheDhamma wrote:I think Buddhism does deal with the physical world, as well as the mind.


Hi David,

It does because we're here, although all the work is about what is upstairs...I won't belabor the point, it's just my take on it... :smile:

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:04 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:The compatibility is one of the factors that originally made Buddhism SO appealing to me.


Me too.

Great posts above (after mine), good points.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:07 pm

appicchato wrote:It does because we're here, although all the work is about what is upstairs...I won't belabor the point, it's just my take on it... :smile: [/i]


Hi Bhante,

Okay.

By the way, you have got to be the best photographer ever . . . okay, I know, "have I met every photographer in the past, present, and future, no " . . . then perhaps the best photographer I have seen. If you ever go to Bodh Gaya, take some pictures for me!!

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Mawkish1983 » Tue Aug 25, 2009 10:12 pm

Individual wrote:Science can be seen as inferior to or distinct from Buddhism

I choose answer B.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby appicchato » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:38 am

TheDhamma wrote:By the way...If you ever go to Bodh Gaya, take some pictures for me!!


Thank you David...I hope to get there before long, and certainly will... :smile:

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby BlackBird » Thu Aug 27, 2009 7:45 am

I like the fact that Buddhism and Science are not at odds with one another, I still like to think of Science as the exploration of relative truth, and Buddhism as the exploration of ultimate truth.

To that end there's a lot Buddhism can offer Science.

I think that the relationship that Buddhism and Science could be beneficial for all. I think there's probably quite a few people in the field of science who are searching for the Dhamma - Not that they know it yet...
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby flyingOx » Fri Aug 28, 2009 2:46 am

I'm a scientist. To those who think that science and Buddhism don't and won't mix, then which would you prefer? Would you like those of us who are scientists also practicing the Noble Eightfold path, influencing our industry with morality towards animals, the environment, and humanity, or would you like those of us who are scientists to be amoral and in it for nothing but the money?

Also, I was planning on working as a scientist saving all of my money so that I could donate it all to Buddhist organizations when I finally retire to become an ordained monk. I ask you again, "Are you sure that science and Buddhism can't mix?"
One is encouraged to seek the truth, but be warned if you ever find it, you will be treated as blasphemous.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby zavk » Fri Aug 28, 2009 5:43 am

Hi FlyingOx,

I don't think anyone is saying that science and Buddhism cannot mutually inform each other. From what I have read, I don't think anyone here is saying 'Buddhism and science are not compatible'. The word 'compatible' has been mentioned a few times. Looking at the definition of the word compatible from dictionary.com, it says:

1.capable of existing or living together in harmony: the most compatible married couple I know.
2.able to exist together with something else: Prejudice is not compatible with true religion.
3.consistent; congruous (often fol. by with): His claims are not compatible with the facts.

There are other definitions relating electronics and computing but I won't list them here.

Following these definition of 'compatible' I think most people would say that Buddhism and science are indeed compatible: i.e. they are entirely capable of living together in harmony. I certainly think so. And indeed as you are saying, I too think that Buddhism can provide a much needed ethical dimension to the activities of science. However, what some people might argue--as I have--is that we should not mistake the two to be the same thing just because they are compatible.

I would use the analogy of a couple. Two persons may be the very compatible. But I believe anyone who has been in a long term relationship (or any relationship counselor) would tell you that to sustain the relationship, those two people should always maintain a healthy sense of self. One should not blindly defer oneself to the other to maintain the relationship. In fact, doing so would actually harm the relationship. :hug:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Aug 28, 2009 8:30 am

zavk wrote:I don't think anyone is saying that science and Buddhism cannot mutually inform each other.

they can, but I think not really beneficially, refer to my post
zavk wrote:From what I have read, I don't think anyone here is saying 'Buddhism and science are not compatible'.

according to your definition I have to say "buddhism and science are compatible"
zavk wrote:And indeed as you are saying, I too think that Buddhism can provide a much needed ethical dimension to the activities of science. However, what some people might argue--as I have--is that we should not mistake the two to be the same thing just because they are compatible.

I find this very important.

with a shallow point of view they might be limited beneficial by some means or other but the "area of examination" of buddhism and science (imho) is completely incompatible as I tried to explain in my post

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

:anjali:

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Aug 28, 2009 6:32 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:Personally I find it hard to understand why anyone would follow a religion that isn't compatible, but that's their choice I suppose

I suspect Buddhism is compatible with myth, and science is one of the myths.

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Re: Buddhism And The Scientific Method

Postby Mawkish1983 » Fri Aug 28, 2009 7:53 pm

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:science is one of the myths.

?


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