Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Fri Oct 23, 2009 6:33 pm

gabrielbranbury wrote:Dont they come into being in dependence upon the observance of them coming into being?

Nope, but if you observe the precise position of a particle with 100% accuracy you can know nothing whatsoever about it's momentum. This is not an equipment or experimentation issue, it's a universal law. Again, Heisenburg's uncertainty principle NOT to be confused with the observer principal.

Right, my wife is moaning at me so I'll have to come back later to finish. Sorry.
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 23, 2009 6:43 pm

Thanks for the effors, Mawkish,

For further details I suggest (as usual) reading B Alan Wallace (Not Watts, sorry) "Choosing Reality" for a discussion by someone well-informed (with degrees in both Physics and Buddhism).

Metta
Mike
Last edited by mikenz66 on Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 9631
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 23, 2009 7:59 pm

clw_uk wrote:Modern Science in the form of Quantum mechanics has shown that you can actually get sub-atomic particles coming out of nothing with no cause and hence no interdependent arising. Does this cancel out a fundemental Buddhist doctrine or interdependence?




metta

I think the cause of sub-atomic particles is still debated. But you may have a point.

mikenz66 wrote:Thanks for the effors, Mawkish,

For further details I suggest (as usual) reading B Alan Wallace (Not Watts, sorry) "Choosing Reality" for a discussion by someone well-informed (with degrees in both Physics and Buddhism).

Metta
Mike

Do you mean "Alan Wallace"?

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss?url=s ... ty&x=0&y=0
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
Individual
 
Posts: 1970
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:19 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Oct 23, 2009 8:16 pm

Individual wrote:Do you mean "Alan Wallace"?

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss?url=s ... ty&x=0&y=0

Yes, sorry, mistyped...

Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 9631
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 24, 2009 12:54 am

We may all be laboring under a false assumption here.

Where is it written that dependent origination must apply to the subatomic world? Isn't it entirely possible that Buddha taught only what was necessary to enlightenment, and skipped over numerous exceptional cases? Or does someone think they are in possession of The Truth here?
User avatar
catmoon
 
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 1:59 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Oct 26, 2009 6:19 am

catmoon wrote:Where is it written that dependent origination must apply to the subatomic world?

Yes, this, and the fact that details of the theories change, mean that trying to identify specifics of the Canon with specifics of science are, in my view, pointless. That is why Wallace talks more in terms of generalities.

Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 9631
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby fig tree » Mon Oct 26, 2009 9:50 am

clw_uk wrote:Modern Science in the form of Quantum mechanics has shown that you can actually get sub-atomic particles coming out of nothing with no cause and hence no interdependent arising. Does this cancel out a fundemental Buddhist doctrine or interdependence?

I don't think quantum physics contradicts Buddhist teachings.

Quantum physics is tricky in that it supplies a general framework for theories that predict what you are likely to measure when you do an experiment, but which is compatible with several different descriptions of what is actually occurring to give rise to those measurements. People have differing opinions on which description makes the most sense, but since there isn't an experiment that can decide which is correct it's left on a somewhat philosophical level. These different descriptions are often termed interpretations. (See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics.)

The issues revolve around a certain kind of indefiniteness, whose significance is related to how you interpret it. Take some radioactive material look at the radioactive atoms in it. They appear as though they emit particles randomly. Each second, there is a certain chance that one of them will decay that way. The first question to get out of the way I suppose is whether it's compatible with Buddhist teachings that they are actually decaying at random (as they appear to be), or whether it indicates that there is always a set of causes sufficient either to make it happen for sure or to make it not happen for sure. I believe the answer is, the former, Buddhist teachings don't say that there isn't any randomness in the world, although I'm ready to be corrected.

One way to describe the situation is known as a hidden variable theory. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_variable_theory) Some people favor a hidden variable theory that includes unobserved factors that actually determine the outcome. I don't favor such a formulation, but it's possible to make one compatible with quantum physics if you really want to. (Quantum field theory seems to make it ugly....) It seems unhelpful since there's no way to observe the hidden variables and thus be able to predict when radioactive atoms will decay and things like that, without disturbing them in a way that leaves you with an entirely different situation (like hitting the atoms with radiation that causes them to break apart immediately).

Another common interpretation says that the outcome remains indefinite until it is observed, at which point the aspect being observed becomes definite. So for example, if I put my radioactive atoms in a box, and don't look at them (or at anything being affected by them, which turns out to be impractical...) then whether they have decayed or not gradually becomes more indefinite, until I look at them, whereupon their status becomes definite, in a random way. Schroedinger expressed his dismay at this by imagining that something not merely subatomic (whether a cat continues to live) is made to be dependent on whether radioactive atoms decay. It seems perverse to say that the cat's being alive or not is indefinite until you look (and then it randomly becomes either alive or dead). I don't know how many people think of this interpretation as an "objective" description of what ultimately is occurring, but if one did, it would be saying that what happens in the world is both random and dependent on some kind of process of observation (whether conscious or not isn't clear. Some physicists are more comfortable assuming that there's a "purely physical" process that causes outcomes to become definite.)

A third type of interpretation says that in a sense the indefiniteness persists. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation) This type of interpretation describes the process as deterministic, but for a different reason than the hidden variable theories. To put it roughly, in this interpretation all the relevant possibilities occur. The cat both lives and dies. When you look at it, you both see it alive and see it dead. But the two processes lose the opportunity to influence each other, losing it through a phenomenon known as decoherence, so you never directly perceive the situation as one in which both possibilities have occurred. This makes the situation much as if the two possibilities were taking place in parallel universes, hence the name "many worlds". Presumably the mental states (cittas) arising in each are just separate from each other.

I actually don't think any of these interpretations is incompatible with Buddhism. (The possibility of someone awakening in one parallel universe but not another is disconcerting, but I don't see anything inherently wrong with it.) To investigate further, though, I think one needs to be more specific on both sides: what kind of determinism and/or randomness is incompatible with Buddhism, and also what interpretation it is that potentially suffers from that kind of determinism or randomness.

I remember reading in the canon criticisms of philosophers who claim that events are fatalistically determined. It's not clear to me that the kind of determinism that some interpretations of quantum physics have is really the same thing as that. You refer to the opposite possibility, that of events completely without causes. I don't think the kind of randomness that some interpretations of quantum physics have is really the same as that either.

Take this issue of particles appearing out of nothing. I suspect part of the problem is that popular explanations of quantum physics have to make do with somewhat approximate ways of describing the theory, that can be a bit misleading. What one is really dealing with are cases where the number of particles in a region of space is indefinite in much the way that positions of particles and so on are. ("Quantum mechanics" is often used to refer to the more elementary version of the theory where the number of particles is assumed to be definite, but just the position and/or other aspects of their states is indefinite, while "quantum field theory" is where one treats interactions that may change the number of particles present, and in quantum field theory the number of particles will usually be somewhat indefinite.) Considering it from the point of view of observations, when you try to observe how many particles there are in a box, there is always a possibility of observing some. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_state) So the appearance of particles is not causeless, but it is like radioactive decay in being at least seemingly random. In the interpretation that gives a special role to the process of observation, it's when you make an observation that the particles become definitely present.

My gut feeling is that quantum physics is actually more naturally compatible with Buddhism than previous theories of physics were.

Fig Tree
User avatar
fig tree
 
Posts: 170
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:25 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:24 pm

Right, sorry about the delay. My wife is very unwell... anyway, let's see if I can address a few more posts...

Dhammabodhi wrote:Although I don't know much of String Theory, what I understand is as follows:[snip]

That's pretty much my understanding too. It should be noted that this model isn't compatible with the standard model though... and the question was about quantum mechanics (which is supported by the standard model).
Dhammabodhi wrote:electric charge monopoles were recently produced in the lab

Recently? The electron was discovered (or maybe isolated is a better word) in 1897... that's an electric charge monopole. Maybe you mean magnetic monopoles were only recently produced in a lab? The production of magnetic monopoles would be in contradiction to Maxwell's laws, which are special because they are compatible with both classical physics and relativity (one of the very few sets of laws that seem to cover both scales!). As far as I'm aware, magnetic monopoles aren't supported by QM either, but they are possible in string theory. Contrary to what the popular media may have reported, magnetic monopoles have not been produced in a lab. My understanding is that quasiparticles were created... we covered quasiparticles somewhere in the second year of the degree so I'd have to dig deep in my memory (or my notes) if you wanted to know more! Again, lets not get confused... quasiparticles are a QM phenomena, magnetic monopoles are possible in string theory... the two theories are not the same and are (superficially) incompatible. Again, the question is about QM.
Dhammabodhi wrote:for the other forces, esp. strong and weak nuclear forces, I don't know whether such a concept exists.
It's a little complicated because with electric charge (for electrons electrons) we have just one quantum number, but with the strong nuclear force (for example) we are talking about the gluon virtual exchange particle which has 'colour charge'... unlike electricity which comes as + or - (- being nothing but the anti+), so called 'colour charge' comes in three flavours and their anti-flavours... making six combinations for that quantum number. I seem to remember other quantum numbers associated with gluons too, but I couldn't quote them. Gluons are weird. For those who don't know they are exchange particles that also interract with each other. This means that a gluon field becomes stronger the further apart two quarks get. This is why quarks have not been isolated (unless they have in the last three years that I don't know of), they always come in pairs (two quarks with opposite colour charges) or in threes (a combination of three colour charges). When we speak of 'colour charge' we don't mean they are different colours... its just a label to help us identify the phenomena thus labelled. I urge you to look up the standard model, it could explain it much more clearly than I can.
Dhammabodhi wrote:I hope a physicist among us can help us out

... or just confuse everyone. Sorry, I'm not a great teacher and its hard to condense a massive subject like the standard model into a short post without leaving out massive amounts of essential background information.

The main things I objected to in this post were that QM and string theory seemed to be getting mixed together, and that electric monopoles are in someway special.

Right, onwards...

...To be continued...
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:26 pm

Manapa wrote:most of us aren't scientists here, andthe rudimentary knowledge some of us have may be adequate for a bit of fun conjeture it isn't adequate to actuly disern the truth of the subject. if you want science go to a scientst forum! or a science class

Good advice!
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:27 pm

Dhammabodhi wrote:Could you point out the inaccuracies in my posts above?

Erm, I tried ... I hope I've helped but I imagine I've just muddied the waters.... sorry!
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Wed Oct 28, 2009 2:34 pm

fig tree wrote:I don't think quantum physics contradicts Buddhist teachings.
[snip]
These different descriptions are often termed interpretations. (See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretation_of_quantum_mechanics.)
[snip]
My gut feeling is that quantum physics is actually more naturally compatible with Buddhism than previous theories of physics were.

Nice to see another physicist amongst us! I couldn't fault anything you said. I never really got on well with the interpretations of QM, I prefered to just focus on using it to make predictions... and pass exams :) I agree with you though, classical physics seems to me to be almost deterministic. Quantum physics, on the other hand, is far from it.... but it's not random either :)

Every few months a question about quantum physics seems to come up. Recently I got into a discussion with a self-professed 'practicing shaman' about QM and it was clear he was in-love with the interpretations but he had no knowledge of Bra-ket notation or the TDSE or perturbation theory or etc or etc or etc. Maybe a well balanced 'physics with philosophy' masters degree should be proposed, I don't know.

Anyway, back to the OP, as I said before... I don't think QM at all contradicts Buddhism. QM is a set of models used to make predictions. That is all.
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Wed Oct 28, 2009 3:59 pm

clw_uk wrote:Modern Science in the form of Quantum mechanics has shown that you can actually get sub-atomic particles coming out of nothing with no cause and hence no interdependent arising. Does this cancel out a fundemental Buddhist doctrine or interdependence?
metta


Let me bounce this one off ya. Virtual particles do arise, but not from nothing. In QM a chunk of space is a thing with measurable properties. So there are pre-existing conditions necessary for the arising of a virtual particle: the existence of space for it to arise in, and either some large fluctuation in the vacuum energy or some external energy source.

Might be right.
User avatar
catmoon
 
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 1:59 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Dhammabodhi » Fri Oct 30, 2009 7:55 pm

Thanks a ton for the clarifications, Mawkish!

I hope your wife gets better soon!

Metta, :anjali:
Dhammabodhi
-Samāhitam cittam yathābhutam pajānāti.

समाहितं चित्तं यथाभूतं पजानाती |

A concentrated mind sees things as they really are.

-Ujuko nāma so maggo, abhayā nāma sā disā.

उजुको नाम सो माग्गो, अभया नाम सा दिसा |

'Straight' is this path, fearlessness is its way.
User avatar
Dhammabodhi
 
Posts: 205
Joined: Thu May 21, 2009 12:25 pm
Location: Rome, Italy

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Individual » Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:14 pm

Something else I thought I should say:

I think quantum physics complements Buddhism well because a certain problem of quantum physics seems to parallel a similar philosophical problem in Buddhism. In physics, there is the problem of figuring out how quantum reactions relate to larger scale physical reactions, like our everyday experiences, such as gravity. There is scientific verification of both, yet the mathematics of each contradict one another.

In Buddhism, the unconditioned (Nibbana) and the conditioned are both said to exist, yet again, it is difficult to understand how they might relate one another. One can verify the existence of Nibbana anywhere by envisioning the cessation of the Five Aggregates of clinging, and acting upon that foundation. And yet, any action we take still falls within the framework of a conditioned reality, so is anything ever truly Unconditioned?
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
Individual
 
Posts: 1970
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:19 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Kare » Sat Oct 31, 2009 1:21 am

Quantum mechanics is extremely fascinating - but whenever I see buddhists discussing QM, not to mention when I try to understand a bit of it myself, I can't help remembering the famous quote by Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." :roll:
Mettāya,
Kåre
User avatar
Kare
 
Posts: 669
Joined: Sun Feb 01, 2009 10:58 am
Location: Norway

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Sat Oct 31, 2009 4:10 am

Kare wrote:Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."

I remember having a chat with a lady who worked at the cafeteria at uni once. My friends and I were talking about some physics topic (I can't remember what, but we were all at uni studying physics remember) and this cafeteria lady overheard us and remarked "if it's so difficult, why bother?"

I don't understand why mass factors in inertia, but I use the fact that it does to maintain safe stopping distances when I drive. There is as yet no theory relating inertial mass to gravitational mass, yet the two are taken as being the same. Quite simply, no-one understands mass, but we can use this concept to make the maths work.

Quantum mechanics is, again, a tool. The quantum numbers are abstract human creations to make the maths work... but the maths DOES work. I don't understand why the quantum numbers should be as they are, but the maths works. When Feynman made this famous quote I think this is what he meant. He's not saying "be like the cafeteria lady and avoid difficult subjects", he's saying "No-one knows why, but the maths works".

This is why, every few months when I see quantum mechanics discussed in a religious forum, I despair. In general, few people know what a Hamiltonian operator is, so how can I explain quantum mechanics without maths? There is a reason quantum mechanics is barely mentioned at school, it's hard! Only at university level do we get into the guts of it, when we have all the relevant background in mathematics and classical physics.

So when I see small mistakes in a forum of friends about a topic I know, what should I do? Confuse everyone with maths? Tell everyone to be like the cafeteria lady? Try to correct mistakes as well as I can using hand-waving arguements? I go for the latter but provide topics the reader can go away and research further if they are interested. I'm a crap teacher but what else can I do?

If you prefer, Kare, I can avoid correcting mistakes. I can say "no-one knows" and leave people believing physicists are like alchemists or magicians, but that's not true. People DO understand quantum mechanics: they understand it's purpose, it's use and it's limitations. Bottom line is this, the transistors in your computer rely on knowledge of quantum mechanics, and they weren't designed and fabricated by chance.

"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Huh? I would change that to "If you think you understand interpretations of quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 31, 2009 5:31 am

Kare wrote:Quantum mechanics is extremely fascinating - but whenever I see buddhists discussing QM, not to mention when I try to understand a bit of it myself, I can't help remembering the famous quote by Richard Feynman: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." :roll:


Another nice quote goes like this:


Student: I just don't understand this quantum mechanics stuff.
Professor: Nobody understands it. You just get used to it.
User avatar
catmoon
 
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 1:59 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 31, 2009 5:35 am

Mawkish1983 wrote:
This is why, every few months when I see quantum mechanics discussed in a religious forum, I despair. In general, few people know what a Hamiltonian operator is, so how can I explain quantum mechanics without maths?



OMG you understand Hamiltonians? That's the concept that stopped me in my tracks. I would be greatly in your debt if you could clear that blockage for me. I can tolerate small doses of linear algebra.
User avatar
catmoon
 
Posts: 368
Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2009 1:59 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Dugu » Sat Oct 31, 2009 7:06 am

I am humble by everyone's intelligence. What you guys discuss fly over my head. :jumping:
User avatar
Dugu
 
Posts: 112
Joined: Fri Oct 16, 2009 4:39 am

Re: Does Quantum Mechanics contradict Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Sat Oct 31, 2009 8:10 am

catmoon wrote:OMG you understand Hamiltonians? That's the concept that stopped me in my tracks. I would be greatly in your debt if you could clear that blockage for me. I can tolerate small doses of linear algebra.

Well, Hermetian operators in general aren't too tricky. Think of them as computer programme subroutines. The important thing is to do the subroutines in the right order. I thoroughly recommend you take it to a physics forum though. :)
Mawkish1983
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 9:46 am
Location: Essex, UK

PreviousNext

Return to General Theravāda discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests