Karma and Newton's Laws

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Buckwheat
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Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

I would like to compare/contrast Karma and Newston's Third Law of Motion, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." I would like to leave rebirth out of this discussion.

They seem like very similar concepts to me, both inferring that all actions have consequences. It seems Karma is roughly like an extension of Newton's Law, it goes beyond the current moment and includes the statistical probabilities of actions that are out in the world. If I agitate the world, there is more agitation as a consequence. If I calm the world, there is more peace for me to enjoy. If I strike an object with my fist, it strikes me back. If I gently nudge and object, it gently nudges me back. If I send anger and violence out into the world, anger and violence are my consequence. If I send joy and happiness out in to the world, joy and happiness are my reward.

There is a clear difference between the two in that Newton was dealing with physical matter and their motions, while karma deals with the moral dimension of our actions and experience. But there also seem to be some similarities between the two concepts.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but my general theme is that it seems to me one doesn't need a "magical" force to understand Karma, and it is not a stretch of the imagination to realize that consequences always come around sooner or later. I know sometimes in life it feels like you can "get away with" something, but it seems like there is always some consequence, even if it's just guilt, shame, and lost night's sleep, or a hit to one's reputation. More often than not, we really do face the direct consequences of our actions. I never seem to "get away with" anything!! :D

(Edits in red)
Last edited by Buckwheat on Mon Nov 28, 2011 6:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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daverupa
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by daverupa »

Buckwheat wrote:If I send anger and violence out into the world, anger and violence are my consequence. If I send joy and happiness out in to the world, joy and happiness are my reward.... one doesn't need a "magical" force to understand Karma
But this idea of sending is quite magical... it's also making the identity mistake, which anatta denies.

Saying kamma operates in a similar way to physical forces requires a physical component to kamma - so, what carries this kamma? Gravity? A certain quark? Perhaps, like the Jains, you think kamma is itself a particulate? Without a hypothesis on this matter, you're left with magical thinking any way you slice it; it so happens that paticcasamuppada is the way the Buddha conveyed an explanation of the matter.

Teasing this process apart is the key, not incorporating physical laws into ethical reasoning. Try scrapping the first four links of it, and get a handle on the latter eight links, to begin making sense of it in a simple, practical way.

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    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

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Buckwheat
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

I am not trying to reduce kamma to a scientific or physical principle, only to set up an analogy (not a direct parallel) between karma and physics. My purpose is to take another look at kamma from another perspective so that I can deepen my understanding. Dependent origination seems to me very similar to the fundamental assumption of physical laws, that of cause and effect. However, I acknowledge that Buddhism and physics study very, very different aspects of experience.

I don't see how "sending" is magical. If I shoot the stray cat across the street, that is sending violence into the neighborhood. Nothing magical. Despicable, but not magical.

You point out a limitation to the analogy that one must not posit a "force carrying particle" when considering karma. Agreed!! Understanding "this cause" leads to "that effect" is the focus, along with realizing that once certain causes appear the effects are as inviolable as gravity itself. I like your comment about the identity mistake. It's making me think (in a good way :). I do tend to study anatta and kamma as two separate topics, but combining them is interesting.

Kamma always seems to be described as belonging to an individual, I believe the line is something like, "...I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma...". Yet anatta says that this is "not me/not mine". I think resolving this is the primary motive behind creating this thread. If anybody has a unique analogy or idea for drilling this into my practice, I would love to hear those ideas. And if it fits into my karma-physics analogy, bonus points. But more important is just resolving my perceived kamma/anatta conflict.

I also want to add that anatta has not been my focus lately, because when I was focusing on it a while back I started to lose my identity in ways that were clearly unhealthy. I decided to return to the fundamentals of generosity and virtue so that I can get myself in a position to take on anatta without falling apart at the seems.
Last edited by Buckwheat on Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Gena1480
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Gena1480 »

as far as Buddhist law goes
what ever ceases first, arises last
what ever ceases last, arises first
thus the cycle continues.
it is not the same as Newton's law.
metta.
chownah
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by chownah »

Gena1480 wrote:as far as Buddhist law goes
what ever ceases first, arises last
what ever ceases last, arises first
thus the cycle continues.
it is not the same as Newton's law.
metta.
I've never heard of this Buddhist law....where is it from?
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by DNS »

Buckwheat wrote:I would like to compare/contrast Karma and Newston's Third Law of Motion, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." I would like to leave rebirth out of this discussion.
I like the analogy. I know some people don't like the math/science analogies to the Dhamma, but I like them, if they help. The physical element are the aggregates and the six senses. The Buddha made the statement that when one person attacks another through speech, two people get hurt. The one being attacked gets hurt and the one delivering the attack also gets hurt. It is like throwing a hot coal on someone. Sure, the person getting hit with the hot coal gets hurt. But first you get hurt as you get burned picking up the hot coal. This sounds similar to the Third Law of Motion.

Some noobies to Buddhism ask, who controls, who directs kamma? This analogy may help to show that it is a natural law, natural process. There is no designer, no creator controlling the process.
Buckwheat
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

David N. Snyder wrote:
I like the analogy. I know some people don't like the math/science analogies to the Dhamma, but I like them, if they help.
Thanks, David. You're the first response that seems to understand that I am not trying to make a direct parallel, but a loose analogy that we can toy with to develop a new perspective and deeper understanding of Karma.
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Buckwheat
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

Gena1480 wrote:as far as Buddhist law goes
what ever ceases first, arises last
what ever ceases last, arises first
thus the cycle continues.
it is not the same as Newton's law.
metta.
Please cite a reference. This sounds kind of cryptic without the context. I know I've heard something similar before, but it needs context.

Also, please note that I did not title this post "Karma = Physics". I am throwing out two concepts for us to compare and contrast. One of my fundamental assumptions is that they are indeed very different from each other.
Last edited by Buckwheat on Thu Dec 01, 2011 5:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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danieLion
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by danieLion »

Forgive me if this is off topic, but the Laws the Law of Kamma most remind me of are The Law of Effect (cf. E.L. Thorndike et al) and The Law of Reinforcement (cf. B.F. SKinner et al). They deal with the same subject: behaving.
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by m0rl0ck »

If you are looking for a metaphor, i like the "stone dropped into a still pool" better. It at least allows for more complex relationships. Despite what newton, the materialists, and b.f. skinnner say, we dont live in a universe simple enough to allow for simplistic one to one causal relationships.
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Buckwheat
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

m0rl0ck wrote:If you are looking for a metaphor, i like the "stone dropped into a still pool" better. It at least allows for more complex relationships. Despite what newton, the materialists, and b.f. skinnner say, we dont live in a universe simple enough to allow for simplistic one to one causal relationships.
Good post, although in open channel hydraulics, even the most complex wave patterns and interdependent webs of physical causes and effects still fit within the domain Newtons Laws (Manning and Bernoulli derived their equations from Newtons laws making certain assumptions about fluids and channels). Newton is not limited to one to one relationships, and can get very complex as in finite element analysis. Nice try, though. :) In fact, I think you just gave me the nice picture to go with my conceptual model.

A difficulty I still have understanding karma is that just because there is a web of cause and effect does not ensure that the person committing unskillful action will be the person paying the consequences. I understand intent plays a role here, but how does intent fit into the model of a stone dropped in still water?

The reason I am so stubborn is that on some levels I see karma very clearly, but it seems the Buddha takes karma further than I can see it. I am hoping the right model and some cushion time will help me open my eyes sooner rather than later so that I can clearly see the full implications of karma.

danieLion wrote:Forgive me if this is off topic, but the Laws the Law of Kamma most remind me of are The Law of Effect (cf. E.L. Thorndike et al) and The Law of Reinforcement (cf. B.F. SKinner et al). They deal with the same subject: behaving.
D :heart:
That's interesting. I'm unfamiliar with these topics. From what I gathered on Wikipedia (I know, I know...) they deal with how one reacts to rewards and consequences, learning to do what brings about the best results. Does this only apply to immediate gratification, or is it also a similar psychological process for learning to relinquishing a small pleasure now for the durable satisfaction of acting skillfully? If so, the practice of virtue and meditation may be taking advantage of these laws by conditioning the mind to see the benefits of skillful action. I'm not sure this falls under karma, but it is clearly important for the middle way. Thank you for your thought.
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by danieLion »

Buckwheat wrote:
danieLion wrote:Forgive me if this is off topic, but the Laws the Law of Kamma most remind me of are The Law of Effect (cf. E.L. Thorndike et al) and The Law of Reinforcement (cf. B.F. SKinner et al). They deal with the same subject: behaving.
D :heart:
That's interesting. I'm unfamiliar with these topics. From what I gathered on Wikipedia (I know, I know...) they deal with how one reacts to rewards and consequences, learning to do what brings about the best results. Does this only apply to immediate gratification, or is it also a similar psychological process for learning to relinquishing a small pleasure now for the durable satisfaction of acting skillfully? If so, the practice of virtue and meditation may be taking advantage of these laws by conditioning the mind to see the benefits of skillful action. I'm not sure this falls under karma, but it is clearly important for the middle way. Thank you for your thought.
Yes, it is a conditioning effort. Using kamma skillfully is similar to operantly conditioning ourselves, and bhavana (meditation/mental cultivation) a popular strategy. But the Buddha's "behaviorism" contains a much strong ethical directive than that of a science of behavior.

The "behaviorism" of the Buddha looks something like this:
To begin with this/that conditionality: This principle accounts not only for the complexity of the kammic process, but also for its being regular without at the same time being rigidly deterministic. The non-linearity of this/that conditionality also accounts for the fact that the process can be successfully dismantled by radical attention to the present moment.

Unlike the theory of linear causality — which led the Vedists and Jains to see the relationship between an act and its result as predictable and tit-for-tat — the principle of this/that conditionality makes that relationship inherently complex. The results of kamma experienced at any one point in time come not only from past kamma, but also from present kamma. This means that, although there are general patterns relating habitual acts to corresponding results, there is no set one-for-one, tit-for-tat, relationship between a particular action and its results. Instead, the results are determined by the context of the act, both in terms of actions that preceded or followed it and in terms one's state of mind at the time of acting or experiencing the result. As we noted in the Introduction, the feedback loops inherent in this/that conditionality mean that the working out of any particular cause-effect relationship can be very complex indeed. This explains why the Buddha says in that the results of kamma are imponderable. Only a person who has developed the mental range of a Buddha — another imponderable itself — would be able to trace the intricacies of the kammic network. The basic premise of kamma is simple — that skillful intentions lead to favorable results, and unskillful ones to unfavorable results — but the process by which those results work themselves out is so intricate that it cannot be fully mapped. We can compare this with the Mandelbrot set, a mathematical set generated by a simple equation, but whose graph is so complex that it will probably never be completely explored.
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "Kamma & the Ending of Kamma" (Wings to Awakening: Part I, Basic Principles.)
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Buckwheat
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Buckwheat »

danieLion wrote:Buddha says in that the results of kamma are imponderable.
To see if I am understanding.... there is past karma influencing the events of life, there is also the present moment choice of how we perceive and react to those karmic fruits. The present moment is the opportunity to bend the curve toward liberation. All of this happens in a very complex world, so determining the exact fruit of a karmic action is not predictable. Karma achieves a precise and delicate balance. It is rigid enough to ensure that skillful actions lead to liberation without being deterministic, while being flexible enough that results are beyond comprehension without falling to utter chaos.

This seems like an amazing balance to me. Is there a way to assure myself, through direct experience, that this balance exists? I suppose this is the only approach that leaves liberation from suffering as a possibility, so if I have faith that the Buddha achieved liberation, than karma must have such a balance. Is there additional evidence?

Side Note - I'm a bit leary of the Mandlebrot Set analogy, but only because I find mathematics to be too rigid and deterministic. I much more appreciate the physical sciences because they seem more attuned to uncertainty, probability, and require one to realize that mathematical models of reality must not be confused for actual reality (Einstein: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."). That being said, of course math is a powerful tool that makes the world a better place.
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by JeffR »

m0rl0ck wrote:If you are looking for a metaphor, i like the "stone dropped into a still pool" better. It at least allows for more complex relationships. Despite what newton, the materialists, and b.f. skinnner say, we dont live in a universe simple enough to allow for simplistic one to one causal relationships.
This metaphor IS a direct example of Newton's law of motion. A one to one causal relationship.

I like the example in the OP also. Perhaps because I enjoy science. To truly understand Kamma though, we must let go of the physical altogether.

The physical metaphors are simply metaphors that help to lead a persons' thinking in a direction towards understanding. It's difficult for most people to get a grip on things that cannot be perceived in the physical or related to the physical, metaphors dealing with what is understood can get one going in the right direction.

I like the pool metaphor also, it also demonstrates how others are affected by our actions.
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Re: Karma and Newton's Laws

Post by Gena1480 »

what ceases first, it is verbal fabrications
what arises last ,it is verbal fabrications
what arises first, it is mental fabrications
what ceases last, it is mental fabrications
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