Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Samsara=nirvana and the end of time

In the book, the end of time, by julian barbour, the interpertation of the absence of time in the equation of quantum gravity is taken literally.

That is our parallel to nirvana. The way time and change emerge is via looking at a subset of the universe, and run it relative to the rest of the universe. Thus, samsara exists when one does not completely understand dependent origination.

And since the difference is only in how one perceive it, then samsara is equal to nirvana. Even in physics, it has been recently shown that the mind can alter results of an quantum experiment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Guide to ultimate physics according to dependent origination philosophy

This article is written for Physics using the central philosophy in Buddhism as a guiding principle to select the assumptions in the theories to construct and how to interpret them. In particular, the philosopher Nagarjuna with the philosophy of the Middle Way, which emphasizes on the emptiness (non-independent arising) is used.

The philosophy of Middle Way uses the examples to illustrate the relativity of concepts. A thing that is long is only long relative to something else. In Physics, this principle can translate into relativity of everything that needs to be compared to make sense.

Position relativity is one of the cornerstone that explains the conservation of momentum in Physics. So to there are time relativity, size, etc... most of the principles of symmetry in Physics that can be used, should be used to construct a theory.

Also another principle we can use is non-independent existence of phenomena without observation.

Quantum Physics has this principle in its mathematics when it describes the collapse of wave-function due to measurement. According to Buddhist philosophy then, it is pointless to speculate on the philosophical nature of wave-function before collapse. Operational quantum physics approach as in taking care of the input and output of the theory as opposed to the philosophical interpretations would be the result of applying that philosophy.

More parallels should be available as I learn more about speculative physics, but as of now, I am not in a position to indulge in that yet.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Universal Characteristics and Physics

Impermanence, non-self and dissatisfaction are what Buddhism deems to be the universal characteristics of all conditioned phenomena, that is everything except for the unconditioned. We shall attempt to see if the current Physics understanding of the world does or doesn't agree with the claims of Buddhism.

Impermanence means that all things are subject to change, nothing last forever, not even nothing. This seems like a simple observation but we don't really realise it all the time. Although we all die someday, we tend to live as if we will live forever. For physicists in particular, we think that somehow if we can make the greatest contribution to the world, then the books of the future will immortalize us like Newton and Einstein. Even if we just make a contribution like having our name on the equation we discovered, it's a great honour. No doubt it is, yet we tend to forget that languages changes, our knowledge of the world changes, humanity may remember Einstein until the end of the Universe, but the Universe will end nontheless.

How can we be sure that the universe will end? Ever since the discovery of the second law of thermodynamics we are sure. The second law states that entropy of a closed system tends to increase with time. That is things will tend towards disorder. If we regard the universe as a closed system then it will go towards a heat death, whereby all things will have the same temperature and then largely nothing happens. Even then, that state is bounded by impermanence as given infinite time, a large fluctuation can create another big bang. Just like shaking a box of white and black balls, once in a long time, you get order from disorder. Other than the heat death, other possible end of the universe are the Big Crunch, whereby gravity pulls everything back to a singularity, possibly followed by the Big Bounce and Big Rip, whereby the repulsive force of dark energy rips everything apart to quarks and then the quarks themselves create more quarks out of the energy and so on.

Even so, there is a subtler notion of impermanence in Buddhism, that is that all things that arises would cease and in particular, form (physical things) rises and ceases so fast that we don't notice it, unless we meditate to calm the mind to a very deep level and then observe the world. This seems to parallel the concept of quantum foam in Physics. Quantum foam is the fluctuations in the smallest of spacetime patch of every field due to uncertainty principle. So in a very short amount of time, any matter-antimatter pair can be created and destroyed with energy borrowed and returned to the vacuum. Casimir effect, experimentally well established is well explained by the quantum foam. Wait a second, quantum foams are virtual particles, they do not interact with real particles do they? Well, they do. We model them by using Feymann's diagram. Now this is speculative but it's possible that real particles seems to last so long because they are constantly being replaced by virtual particles that pop up just beside it and it gets destroyed by its antiparticle. After all, if virtual particle turning real happens at event horizons of black holes (an effect called Hawking radiation), why not to every single particle we think of as real?

So far, we had seen that impermanence is indeed a common property of everything (at least all physical thing) according to both Buddhism and Physics, how about non-self?

In Buddhism, non-self carries the meaning of emptiness too. Emptiness does not mean nothingness. It means empty of an independent essence. Everything that depends on conditions are empty because when the conditions changes, the thing changes as well. In Physics, conditions of a thing is typically represented by a variable. Equations in physics is merely a description of how different things changes depending on different conditions. Think of all the equations in Physics now, from classical mechanics, to thermodynamics; from electromagnetism to modern Physics, are they all describing the inherent emptiness of all phenomena that they describe?

A good example in Buddhism that exemplifies emptiness is taking an example of a table. A table is empty. Why? Because it's actually wood made into that shape, it depends on wood, having a carpenter, the concept of a table among other things. The table is empty of inherent "tableness". Even the concept of the table depends on the shape of humans, a good mind to think, and so on. Wood itself is empty of "woodness". It depends on having a tree, loggers, etc. A tree is empty of "treeness", it depends on a seed, soil, sunlight, water. Sunlight is empty too, it depends crucially that the Big Bang happened which produced majority hydrogen and the laws of gravity for the hydrogen to gather together and form stars. I doubt if Carl Sagan learned emptiness before, but he is right when he said, "if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." In Buddhism we have the saying that you can see a whole universe in a flower.
Usually people would stop at this point and let the concept of emptiness sink in. Done? Ok then, let's go further shall we? The Big Bang depended on initial conditions and the right quantum gravity laws nearer the singularity. Now, we have arrived at what physicists with reductionist tendency tend to end up with. The Newtonian paradigm of initial conditions and laws of the universe as the ultimate essence of the universe and everything in it. The ultimate aim of a theory of everything is to see if we can find a deeper law that is necessary and inevitable, hence unique. There is some philosophy that hope that it can even explain the initial conditions (that determine the values of mass of elementary particles and constants) away. Thus we would have arrived at the essence of truth.

In essence, the truth we seek should have these qualities: Space and time independence (in general relativity this can be generalized to reference frame independence and many other symmetry), applies to all, and inevitable. These are what Master Hsing Yun of Fo Guang Shan taught to be criterion of truths as well. 

Dwelling further into the issue, we can ask are the initial conditions empty? What do they depend upon? Answer: the previous conditions and laws of physics. Then are the laws of Physics empty? Newtonian gravity depends on the condition of low energy and speed. General Relativity requires low energy. Quantum Physics depends on the quantum coherence of the system described. Maybe we can find a quantum gravity that does not depend on any conditions, or maybe the search is endless. Even if the quantum gravity that is universal is found, can it really be said to be not empty? It would change into General Relativity at low energy, into quantum Physics at small distances.

 The Buddha did not give a whole lecture of how to find the theory of everything in Physics, but He straightaway go to the point of impermanence, non-self and dissatisfaction. He was interested only in teaching dissatisfaction and the way out, thus anything else, including physics, that does not help would not be in his interest to share.

Dissatisfaction is not really within the realm of Physics right? Yet, Physicists as humans can identify with this statement: There is dissatisfaction in life. Yes, there is the obvious suffering of physical pain, and the mental pain of getting papers rejected, the stress of research, the depression of graduate school and so on. There is also the happiness of getting paper published, solving great difficult problems and getting tenure. Yet, even those happiness does not last forever. Impermanence ensures that the happy feeling dies down. It may last a day, a week or even years, but one is simply not happy forever. Even neutral feeling is dissatisfactory as it would change too. Thus dissatisfaction permeates everything that is impermanent.

Now we had seen that as human physicists, we can intellectually verify that indeed there are these three universal characteristics of everything. Enlightened people are those who realizes, not just intellectually understand, this truth with a deep calm mind that sees the world with the light of wisdom and let go of craving and clinging to the world, the cause of dissatisfaction, thus ending dissatisfaction. That's the essence of the Buddhist training.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Logical reasoning

The premise of this blog is using mainly logical reasoning to map out the philosophical interactions between physics and Buddhism.

Logical reasoning has its limits, that it cannot arrive at the truth on its own. If the premise is false, the conclusion can be false.

Logical reasoning as well as 9 other sources (divine revelations, traditions, rumours, scriptures, on the view that it seems rational, reflection on mere appearances, agreement with one's own opinions, authorities or experts, one's own teacher) are said by the Buddha to not be relied upon as sole sources of the truth.

Only via experience, experimentation should a truth be discerned. I hope you would bear that in mind as you read all the rest of this blog.

Yet, there are other traditions who has meditated and reached a different conclusion with respect to Buddhism. The reason that Buddhism claim is that the others let their likes and dislikes to a certain view to colour their conclusion.

Thus to gain enlightenment, you'll have to let go of all the views explored here. They are not conducive towards enlightenment. The only role I hope for these articles is that it inspires enough faith in you to draw close to a teacher, to sit nearby, to lend your ear, to listen to the Dhamma, to remember it, then test the meaning, testing the meaning, things are approved of, being approved, there arose desire, with desire, you make an effort, with the effort, you weight it up (contemplate), having weight it up, you strives, finally being self resolute, you realises the highest truth.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Kamma in Bohm's Interpertation

This post is a sequel to previous two posts, the Karma-Quantum Interpretations-Bell's inequality, and Physics needs Buddhism. I am still reading the book "Time Reborn" by Lee Smolin and the second part is quite heavy in terms of food for thought, so I decide to just run the articles as I read along.

I'm reading now about Smolin's preference to the hidden variable interpretations of quantum physics, lead by de Broglie and Bohm. The reason behind the preference of this as the more fundamental explanation to quantum theory is to do away with the inherent randomness of quantum physics which violates the principle of sufficient reason. The principle of sufficient reason means that any reasonable questions should have an answer. Intrinsic randomness (without cause) is the ultimate bummer to this principle, there is no reason for the result to happen, it just happened to happen! Recall in the Karma-Quantum article, I mentioned that from a superficial outlook, karma in Buddhism which rejects no causes for things to happen and super-determinism seems to favour the hidden variable theories. This article explores this line of thinking further.

Smolin posits his own version of the hidden variable versions, that is real-ensemble interpretation. The usual ensemble interpretations involves interaction of single systems with imaginary group of ensembles and the usual sampling from statistics explains the randomness in quantum theory. Smolin modified this by rejecting the interaction with imaginary groups (which violates the principle that nothing outside the universe can act on something inside it), and says that the group that quantum systems compare to does not have to be local. Now it has been proven that local hidden variable are not possible in nature, so all hidden variable theories includes non-locality. Thus, the example of an electron would have it's copy of ensembles far away, but the universe has many of those identical fundamental particles. However, when it comes to macroscopic things like humans, we are unique, therefore there is no exact copy elsewhere in the universe and thus the quantum effects disappears.

Before he presents his theory, he speculates that the hidden variable inside quantum systems that determine the results of measurements are inherently linked to everything else in the universe via the principle of maximum freedom. This principle is that quantum physics maximizes the amount of information you need per choice. It describes the universe which can have probabilistic predictions of how systems behave where the systems has as much freedom from determinism as any physical system described by probabilities can have. So in the sense that quantum systems are free, they are maximally free. It means that the properties of each particle in the universe are maximally tied up in hidden relations to the universe as a whole. (Sorry a lot of direct copying of his exact words, I find it hard to paraphrase and still mean the same thing.)

Now onto the creative part. If we use a naive approach and directly input kamma as part of the mechanism or relations that describes these relational hidden variables, how can that help in the research in Physics from the interaction between Physics and Buddhism?

So having just thought about it, here is my naive conception of how this might work out. Below are just an overall plan, with no details of the theory, just an outline of the direction of research to work out for the idea.

From the previous post of Physics needs Buddhism, I had argued for the inclusion of mind-matter interaction relations to be described in Physics before any theory can claim the title of theory of everything. Kamma can enter into Physics via the hidden variables version of quantum physics.

First we need to know how the physical world affects and influences the mental world. This ranges from studies of biology, neuroscience (how the physical world affects the brain which in turns affects the mind), to psychology and a bit of Buddhism. Most importantly perhaps is if Penrose's speculation that the mind is quantum mechanical, is true, then this would be a major contribution.

Second, is how the mind takes the data input from the physical world and processes it to eventually translate it to further actions (kamma). This is the part where Buddhism can help fill in the blank, because it is how mind interacts with mind itself. The dependent origination and Abhidhamma explained in the previous post exactly addresses this gap.

Third is to see how action (kamma) translates to changes in the hidden variables. This is one of the mind-matter interactions which is a variable theory to be discovered and researched. Some complications may present itself here. Kamma is not only physical actions and speech, it includes mental actions. How does this translates to hidden variables is anyone's guess. However, one can speculate that mental thoughts is correlated with electrical signals in the brain, and thus can investigate how that affects the hidden variables (maybe mainly around the brain) was modified from there and how it changes a human.

Conventional kamma action theory from Buddhism can help in a rough guide here. Conventionally, what we put out in the world, goes around and changes it a little, so that it is no surprise if it comes back and hit you one day. That's social kamma. Also there is psychological kamma, which is just like the book the Secret. What you think about, you are getting prepared for it, eventually, when the opportunity comes, you'll get it naturally as much easier as compared to you not having thinking about it. But the most mysterious part of kamma is the one that just says, doer of good deeds will get their results when the conditions are right and vice versa, even onto the next life and beyond. This kinds of posits an imaginary account for kamma which the individual carries around all the time until the results ripen. In fact, Mahayana Buddhism has the eight consciousness just for this, the storehouse of kamma. The potential of relational hidden variable theory is to put this imaginary account onto the physical world or at least provides a relationship to the physical world which somehow puts the theory of how kamma works on a more rational (possibly predictable) and less mysterious track. But to complete this theory, we need one more element.

Fourth, we need to see how the hidden variables that was modified by kamma interacts with other hidden variables and comes back to hit the doer of the kamma. And this would link back to the first knowledge above, completing this chain. This might be the hardest part to figure out as it is purely a physical phenomena on unobservable quantities. The theories constructed on this part must be tested together with theories constructed for the third part and best estimates from the first part to fit in with the second part (which we currently take that Buddhism works well to describe the theory for the mind) to reproduce the description of how kamma works in Buddhism (which for this case we assume to be true and the goal of the research). So for the best case scenario that the first knowledge can be obtained from neuroscience quite well, we have four parts of a theory, 2 known, 2 unknown to equate to 1 description of kamma, which is known. We have one degree of freedom here.

I would suggest that this degree of freedom be modified to test against predictions from this theory on supernatural observations. No, I am not talking about fictional accounts of ghosts and such beings, nor claims that has been proven to be fake. We should only consider cases where it has been well documented, long standing cases which cannot be easily explained away by conventional means. And also employ experienced frauds, skeptics and neutral scientists to decide the cases to consider.

Another feature is that I believe the theory of how rebirth happens might have to be written down (or better yet, predicted from the previous theory) somewhere to guide the construction of the theory. Then the theory can be modified to fit accounts of cases of rebirth claims that has been verified which numbers thousands of data. Using this, we might be able to produce the physics of supernatural beings, predict the workings of kamma and rebirth on a person and so on to construct experiments and further test the theories.

One example of how kamma might work is that each time an action is done, it shifts the hidden variable around the doer a bit. However, habitual kamma can accumulate the shift to be significant so that it comes back to the doer in a heavy force. Being non-local, kamma may also not be stored around the doer, but actually affects the whole universe.

Another power of this description is that the concern raised by Sean Carroll here about modifying the equations of physics to fit in interactions between mind and matter is addressed. Physics at everyday scales need not change, we only need the seemingly random results of quantum measurements. We need them because they are actually a complicated play of mind-matter interactions.

Now, I hope that this article shows that the dialogue between Buddhism and Physics can drive a certain direction of research in Physics. If you are uncomfortable with thinking that Buddhism as a religion, think of the statements from Buddhism as working hypothesis or conjectures by learned ancient scholars, or one wise dude (the Buddha) who has no intention to convert anyone, just to discover the truth to live a happier life and share it.

There are just two warnings for those who wants to pursue this. First, the relational hidden variable theories may not be correct. This is one fair warning, but it never stopped theoretical physicists before. Second, The Buddha did put up a warning that to contemplate the exact workings of kamma may make one go insane. But he also said that about thinking of the origin of the universe, and this didn't stop cosmologists from discovering almost everything right down to just after the Big Bang. It might be that these statements were true to the people of that time. (Imagine them having to learn/discover modern physics first before able to start to think about these questions.) We might have some advantages due to the advances in theory made in the past. Yet, to be fair, we still do not know the origin of the universe for sure yet, thus, it might be possible that we may also not ever be able to complete the plan outlined above to complete satisfaction.

Anyway, once again I apologize for the large number of assumed knowledge of Physics and Buddhism on the part of the reader and my laziness to cite things I mentioned here. I'll do it next time.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Physics needs Buddhism

Physics has been wildly successful in describing the physical universe. However, the answer to what is consciousness and the mind differs if you ask one physicist to another. There is this reductionism tendency to regard the whole is just the sum of it's parts, thus the mind is psychology, which is applied neuroscience, which is part of biology, which is applied chemistry, which is applied physics. Thus fundamentally, the mind is subject to physics laws and principles.

This view can no longer hold sway, as we discover and acknowledge the science of chaos, which states that it is not possible to predict deterministic outcomes in chaos situation. And the science of complexity, which studies the emergent properties of systems at the edge of order and chaos. Implicit in the assumption of emergence is that the emergent phenomena does not influence the more fundamental phenomena from which it is emergent from, but the other way around is true. Biological systems which reverses local entropy has to be an open system, but the concept of life has no impact on physics.

In the book time reborn by Lee smolin, he advocated some principles for building a true cosmological theory that describes and explains everything in the universe. The problem he finds with the current cosmological models is that there can be many fundamental quantum gravity laws that fits into the approximate theories of quantum, general relativity, and standard model. Not only that, there is also the freedom of choice for the initial conditions in cosmology. The thing is, we only have one observable universe. Thus the laws might easily apply to many different kinds of Multiverse which can be in principle unobservable.

This he says is the problem of applying the Newtonian paradigm to the whole universe. The Newtonian paradigm is to do Physics in a box. That means isolate a subsystem of the universe and then change the initial conditions in it to deduce the laws that apply to that phenomenon. Once we have the laws, we can predict all future and the past of the system with only information about the present. (In principle, the dynamics of quantum physics is deterministic until measurement, which is interaction with something outside the box, thus if the system is truly isolated, the wavefunction should not collapse.) Lee says because at least gravity is not blockable, no system within the universe is truly isolated, we cannot draw a box and assume that all that is in it is changing, but outside things are not changing. Thus he proposed that a true theory of the cosmos should dispense with Newtonian paradigm and describe the relationship of change between all things in the universe, no exceptions allowed, not even the differential structure of curved space time, or symmetry. He even elevated this to a principle, the principle of no unresipocated action.

So taking that principle and using it on the most basic fact of life we experience everyday, we see that the mind and matter has interactions between them. Matter affects the mind, this is clearly seen everytime we eat something good and felt happy, also the condition of the brain affects how our mind functions. Mind also affects matter, our decision to eat meat drives the economy of may production which contributes significantly to global warming, the connections in our brain is also rewired depending on how we train our mind.

A theory of everything cannot leave out this obvious fact of life. The interaction between mind and matter has to be figured out regardless of the philosophy and theories of what anyone has about what is the mind. It maybe same as the brain, it maybe the heart, it maybe a whole new separate thing, it may also be emergent. All these doesn't matter much in the exploration of the laws of the interaction between mind and matter.

It is wise to employ a tool of the mind to study the mind just as we employed matter to study matter. Meditation, a practise that has been secularly and scientifically confirmed to be effective in letting the user observe oneself and becoming happier is the ideal tool for the studies of the mind.

The idea is to gain a working knowledge of the laws of the mind, then see how the mind influences matter and the other way around.

So far there is no Buddhism in this discussion yet, now I am bringing it in.

Buddhism features amazingly detailed description on how the mind works. Most notably in the Abhidhamma, where the mind is classified to consciousness and mental factors. The model is linear in time, each consciousness arises for one thought moment before disappearing and the next one replaces it. Each consciousness is accompanied by several mental factors that drives it. According to the Theravada Abhidhamma, there are 89 or 121 different types of consciousness and 52 mental factors. Consciousness includes mostly functional aspects of the mind, wholesome and unwholesome mind and also states of deep meditation. Mental factors includes hatred, loving-kindness, feelings, perception, wisdom, delusion, and also volition. Having the basic building blocks, the Abhidhamma also describes what are the thought processes that arises from the input of our 5 senses and the subsequent analysis of the 6th sense, the mind itself to sense mental objects. So thoughts are mental objects and can be endless and infinite. What's more amazing is that the relationship and interactions between the mind itself, mind and matter, and between matter itself are described. 24 conditionality, which can be condensed into 4 are what links causes to effects. 

There is also the links of dependant origination. From ignorance is conditioned volitional actions, which conditions rebirth consciousness, which conditions mind and matter, which conditions the 6 sense bases, which conditions contact, which conditions feelings, which conditions craving, which conditions attachment, which conditions actions for becoming, which conditions birth, which conditions death, decay and suffering. It is primary concerned with the mind, but there is the clue on how the mind rebirth consciousness conditions which mind and body that the new life inhibits. This is one of the crucial links between mind and matter that should be considered and included in any theory ambitious enough to want to explain the cosmos. Implicit here is the assumption of the facts of rebirth, which many with a western, materialistic, and Abrahamic faiths and education would have prejudice against. My opinion of it is that it has enough empirical evidence to warrant it a naturalistic fact and scientific attention, unbiased thought, analysis and experimentation.

So far it is in my view that in order to advance Physics, the theories about the mind and it's interaction with matter cannot be ignored. Having found the analysis of exactly these in Buddhism, I conclude that more physicists and scholars of Buddhism should work together to crack up a theory that can be tested by scientific studies so that even the anti religion people would have to agree with the findings.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The End of Time, non-self and Nibbana

Julian Barbour wrote a popular science book, advocating his idea of a particular interpretation of the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. The name of the book is called the end of time. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation is an early attempt to combine both quantum and gravity. The search for quantum gravity still continues today, possibly because of one problem that the Wheeler-DeWitt equation posed: there is no time in it.

Having read the book, I had saw many parallels in Buddhism that matches the description by Barbour. This article is an attempt to list down the parallels. However closely Barbour's interpretation might appear to fit in with Buddhism, I do not claim that Buddhism requires this interpretation to be the true picture of reality. This is because I have neither the empirical realisation of the truths claimed in Buddhism nor do we have the experimental data to test Barbour's interpretation. The emphasis on empirical data is in accordance to Buddhism's spirit that the ultimate arbiter of what is right is empirical experience. However philosophically, it can be said that Buddhism supports certain parts of Barbour's interpretation. I invite the readers to form their own conclusion.

I shall describe The End if Time in brief and draw the parallels with Buddhist concepts along the way when suitable. I've found that a dialogue form is nicer to read, and easier to write. So here's P, a physicist and B, a Buddhist who are knowledgeable in their area but also knows the other side well too.

P: Time does not exist in the ultimate sense. That is the hypothesis by Barbour. Time is only an agreement to track changes we see in the world with another thing that changes that are more regular and accurate. In a universe with only one particle, like an electron, there is no time, because there is nothing else to keep track of any change.

B: Indeed, for Buddhist there is only the present moment, the past is gone, the future has not come.

P: Good, but that's not what Barbour's picture is. Now Barbour invites us to image a universe with three particles only. It is possible to track their evolution by taking successive "instants of time" or pictures, with only these pictures, one can rearrange the order of them and extrapolate it's path in the past and to the future. To those three particles, what is intuitive is not the Newtonian absolute space and time we develop having lived on earth, but what is real to them is only the relative configurations of their positions. Each moment in time is just a representation of these relative configurations. The collection of all possible configurations is called Platonia, it represents all that can be. These moments in time are all also called Nows, if we add in more particles until we put in the whole universe, then Platonia becomes the space of all possible configurations.

B: That sounds more like everything exist, a doctrine of the Sarvastivada school of Buddhism.  He who affirms the existence of the dharmas of the three time periods [past, present and future] is held to be a Sarvastivadin. It might be that the Sarvastivada school acknowledged that time travel as General Relativity allows is possible but the other schools do not bother with it.

P: Time travel in Barbour's picture is possible. A point in Spacetime in General Relativity represents an event, a point in Platonia represents a Now. So in general Relativity, time travel is a closed loop around a point, but this is pointless in Platonia, the time travellers only has memory of when they came from if the Now they occupy is close but not exactly the same as Now they wanted to go back to. Barbour postulate that if time travel is possible, then it has very low probability of being realised. Of course time here is conventional speech, ultimately time does not exist. You might think that time is still needed to talk about progressions from one Now to another in Platonia. However, it is possible to attribute this persistent illusion of time and motion as just memories and histories. Barbour calls things that records the past as time capsules. We only remember and infer the existence of a time before us in the Now. It is because of time capsules that we were made to believe that we travelled in time from the past to the future when in fact, there is no travelling, no motion. Just that the person in each Now are aware of the experience of their Now including time capsules. Thus each person in their Now thinks that they came from someone from another Now (in their so-called past). 

B: Memory, it's part of the aggregate of perception in Buddhism. In Buddhism, we believe that ultimately a person is made up of 5 aggregates, of form (anything material), sensation, perception, mental factors, and consciousness. Barbour's picture if imported into Buddhist terms, would have Platonia including not just the physical world, but also at least the perception aggregate too.

P: It should include all 5 aggregate to be worthy to be called Platonia.

B: Doubtless. However, the thing is, in Buddhism we recognize 4 elements that makes up the form: Earth which represents solidity, water which represents cohesion, fire which represents heat and air which represents motion. And then there is space too. What is curious is that Barbour denies the air element. I don't think it would fit in with Buddhism anyway.

P: But don't forget, the 4 elements are meditation teachings on what humans can directly sense, not necessarily it is the fundamental way the world works.

B: It's debatable, but anyway, how do you fit in entropy here then?

P: The distinction between the past and future is only because the smaller volume and thus smaller entropy Nows are correlated with the past, while the Nows with bigger volume, are the ones with higher entropy and they also has the ability to contain time capsules that describes other Nows with lower entropy, thus they are perceived as the future.

B: I still find it hard to believe that there's a me out there in Platonia doing everything else.

P: Not all Nows are created equal. The Nows that life are breathe into are the most frequent one. This can be predicted by the wave function of the universe which is given by solving the Wheeler-DeWitt equation for the whole universe. The way to solve it is to look at the structure of all that is possible and then let them cancel each other out until you get the most likely path. It's inspired by the Hamiltonian mechanics principle of least action. Since the equation applies to the whole of Platonia which is timeless, there is no time in the equation. So our existence, what we do now, is a sum of all possible us.

B: That smacks of the lack of free will. Of fatalism. Back in Buddha's time there was many other teachers teaching many other philosophy, one of which is fatalism, Makkhali Gosala. He taught that there is no point in doing good or striving, when a person's life cycle is finished, he will automatically attain to the end of rebirth. In Buddhism, a person has the habits due to unmindfulness, which leads them to be quite predictable as a biological, social, psychological machine. Yet, if we are mindful, we can choose not to be angry when the situation presents itself. We can exercise free will to change the course of our life. It is because of free will that people can choose to follow the path of Buddhism to enlightenment.

P: Barbour calls his picture as beyond free will and beautiful. You are what you are (Now) because you are what you are (in the whole of Platonia). There's also multiple instants, so instead of one possibility, if there is choices, the wave function can split up and follow those possibilities. However, each person only sees their possibility when the choice is made. I use person here as a conventional speech, ultimately each Now has a different person in it. There's no one person who travelled from one Now to another. There's just memory of each person thinking that they did.

B: This no self thing rings well with Buddhism. The parallels I can see with Buddhism is that a central concept in Buddhism is that we are deluded into thinking that something are permanent, happy and have a self. Whereas the ultimate view if we have a clear mind is to realize that all conditioned phenomenon are impermanent, unsatisfactory and thus doesn't have an independent existence as a self. This is usually summarized as non self or emptiness, empty of inherent existence. The reasoning is that all things depend on one another, for example, the fact that you are reading this is conditioned by you having the time, energy, and relatively healthy. It is also only possible if I wrote it in the first place, and it is published. And all these can be traced back to the conditions that allow humans to exist, the conditions to form earth, the sun and indeed the whole universe. So nothing ever exist independently of other things. 

P: On the surface, Barbour's picture seemed to agree with the non self of Buddhism. Yet within each Nows, Barbour allows for independently existing entities that are not subjected to causation because there is no time for cause to become effect. There are just all the possible configurations of the world including the Now in which a person experiencing the effect remembers another Now in which he or she had done a cause for the effect. There is another Now in which the memory is different but the likelihood of that inconsistent history to happen is low. Or at least Barbour claim that it should be low if we ever manage to solve the Wheeler-DeWitt equation to that detail. Herein lies that falsibility of his theory or interpretation. 

B: Thus these independent Nows are against the spirit of non-self. Yet, one can also argue that the Nows are not entirely independent, but are bound somewhat by the Wheeler-DeWitt equation which solution in turn depends on the structure of each Nows. 

P: Wow, we might need a philosopher in here to sort out our mess.

B: One last thing, another parallel concept I see is Nibbana. You kept on using conventional and ultimate view. In Buddhism we have that too. The conventional view is that the world has time, everything changes, with it, it has no self, and is suffering. However, in Nibbana, there is no time, no impermanence, still no self and no suffering. Two out of three makes Nibbana sounds like Platonia.

P: Indeed, if Barbour is right, there's nothing really to worry about death. No one died, it's just one Nows of the Platonia, memories and so on. Maybe realizing Platonia is equal to realizing Nibbana.

B: Well, some Mahayana teachings has this thing that Samsara (the conventional world, the rounds of rebirth) is the same as Nibbana, once you realize this, you realize Nibbana. These looks nice, but I doubt it, first off, Physics has practically no idea how to quantify suffering or unsatisfaction, much less the cause and the way out of it. Buddhism however is quite expert in it.

P: Sounds to me like we should construct the mathematics of suffering to introduce to the Physics world.

B: Anyway let's have a warp. A recap of the parallels and differences.

Barbour's Picture Buddhism
Time does not exist in the ultimate sense The past is gone the future has not come
Nows All exist doctrine
No one passed from one Now to another Non-self
Platonia Nibbana?
"Beyond free will" Free will is important, exercised when mindful.
Denies motion Form has the air element
Independently existing Nows?  Against the spirit of non-self.

P: So we have about 4 parallels, and 3 differences. Well, that's certainly strange, when I first read the book, I thought that it would fit in quite well. 

B: Well, that's Physics and Buddhism for you folks. No real answer, I'm going back to practicing for enlightenment. See ya! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Immediate rebirth or not?

In Buddhism the idea of rebirth is split into two main schools: The Theravada school with its Abhidhamma would insist that the continuum of consciousness from one body to another has no gaps between it. The Mahayana and Vajrayana (and the Pali source text) would suggest that there is an in-between stage between rebirths.

For the book Rebirth by Francis Story where he described some of the case interviews, he encountered a few describing in-between memories of rebirth. For Theravada scholars, they interpret it as being temporary in hungry ghost realm, it is a form of rebirth.

Bring in Physics, and we can see that there might be a sort of resolution to this disagreement. In Physics, specifically in general relativity or just special relativity, time is relative, it is personal, depending on the relative velocity of the observer. So, if the kamma and ignorance, or whatever that passes on from one life to another is transferred, if they are physical or information, then they can be subject to the laws of Physics. Then the transfer cannot be faster than the speed of light at least according to special relativity. And if it is massless, it should travel at the speed of light, where at that speed, to itself, it doesn't experience time passing from its starting location to its destination. (Same reason as photons not having experiencing time.)

Yet to an outside observer, there is some time lapse between the death and the subsequent rebirth if the distance is non-zero. Thus, to the person experiencing rebirth, there is no gap in between one body and the next. But to everyone else, there is a time gap. Satisfying both views from different schools. Yet, I suspect that this explanation would not work as in the case studies stories, the ghost in between lives seems to hang around some place, not moving, and since they can describe the experience, that means they experience time during the gap. Thus this is a nice idea, but refuted by evidence.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Time and Enlightenment

Dear readers,

Sorry for the lack of updates recently and of 2013. But I think I don't have the time now to write a full well done article too, yet I must write this note down to be expanded further later on before I forget it. Please excuse the brief and non-explanatory, non-citing nature of the following words.

From this article: https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/d5d3dc850933
Physicists has experimental verification that time is emergent from quantum entanglement and not absolute. There has been books like "the end of time" by Julien Barbour which uses the Wheeler-Dewitt equation (that unites quantum and gravity) as the main basis for the interpretation in Physics that there's no time, but the idea in the article above is less interpretation, more hypothesis that is tested.

Time exists only for the observer inside the universe that entangles with the entangled particles in the universe itself. If an external observer uses a clock to measure absolute time against entangled particles in the universe, there is no observable change. The experiment is done using a toy model of the universe and verifies the hypothesis.

This reminds me strongly of the experience of enlightened beings vs unenlightened beings in Buddhism. I do not know if enlightened beings dwell outside of the universe, but it is said that Nibbana, where enlightened beings attain to, is not a place, does not change, is timeless, unconditioned, without suffering. This is in direct contrast with all conditioned things in the world. All conditioned things are subject to change, therefore they are not free from suffering. To attain to Nibbana, one has to see the impermanence, non-self and suffering nature of all conditioned phenomena and let go of all clinging of the five aggregates which compromises our world. To let go of clinging sounds to me like disentangling oneself from the rest of the universe which is changing, then in Nibbana, you see that there's no changing.

Yet there are some problems to be addressed in this parallel, is it true that all of the universe would stop for an outside observer or just the entangled parts, or is everything entangled to each other despite decoherence? The paper is in ArXiV now, so it has not been peer reviewed, it might contain some mistake.

There are also beings like Brahma, form and formless, who might conceivably live outside of the universe, then where does that leave Nibbana to? Why does Physics presents so close a story to Buddhism? Perhaps only a Buddha can answer these questions.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Higgs boson vs Rebirth

I've recently attended a talk on "Investigating Effects of Past Life on Present Life". The speakers include Ajahn Brahm and Peter Mack. Ajahn Brahm in particular had mentioned that the Higgs boson which recently had a Nobel Prize to its name have less evidence for it than rebirth, he has a Physics degree. 
For the uninitiated, Higgs boson is the last entry in the Standard Model of particle physics, the particle that explains how the rest of the fundamental particles acquire their mass. The Standard Model is used to build up subatomic particles, which leads to atoms, molecules, cells, living beings, the earth, and everything in the universe (not counting dark matter and dark energy). 
Rebirth is saying that after death, if one still have ignorance and craving, there would be a birth again, depending on the kamma (actions) of the individual, the form of the rebirth maybe in human or in other realms (most obvious to us, animal realms). So after death, the kamma and ignorance (including memories, some personalities) are transferred from one body to another. 
Well, seeing that I have a Physics degree too and I'm a Buddhist too, I decided to investigate this.
http://cms.web.cern.ch/news/observation-new-particle-mass-125-gev http://www.atlas.ch/news/2012/latest-results-from-higgs-search.html
From these two websites, the way to find Higgs, an elementary particle is to find the evidence of the things it decays into. If there are events above and beyond the known background noise, then above a certain threshold (which is 5 sigma, or one in a million chance that this is due to the background noise) then the discovery can be claimed. The fact that two different detectors did it without sharing data to each other makes it all the more certain that this is not a fluke, it's real. The way that they know how to find these events is also to gather a lot of data, throw out the useless ones that doesn't fit into the model for detection, and then choose the ones that gives the signal. In a sense, even through it is just two different laboratory announcing the same discovery, the discovery was made by at least a thousand events on each energy levels (or a few hundred events above the background noise) selected among many more collisions events per second, running 24 hours daily in the LHC back in 2012.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037026931200857X This paper detailed how some events are only predicted and expected to be observed to have about 100 or less events per energy level for the distribution. Regardless of the actual no. of events, the statistical analysis would confidently suggests that the Higgs is very unlikely to be a fluke and thus verified.

Now let's see the evidences for rebirth.
It would be instructive to see a case for rebirth first. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT0B4V_kowo
James, a little boy in an American Christian family knows a lot about planes have nightmares about crashing in planes. He said that he was fighting the Japanese in World War Two in a boat called Natoma, as in a previous life where his name was James. There was no normal way for the boy to learn about planes as he was looking at children programmes. Investigation by the skeptical parents and Carol Bowman eventually revealed that there was a pilot named James in the mission in world war two, the plane crashed, and the pilot died. They eventually found previous life James' sister and information no one else could have known were shared. They also had a closing burial for the previous James in the middle of the sea where the boy James broke down and cried. 
This paper by Ian Stevenson on cases on reported rebirth by American children gave an indication on how the cases for rebirth are investigated. It is mainly through interviews, and cases are considered solved only if there are verifiable names or details about the previous lives that could be found in the real world but would not be possible for the child to learn in any normal way possible (abnormal way would include telepathy, the hypothesis about rebirth is that the knowledge came from memory of the past life). Not only they have to provide the verifiable details many of them are around 20+ details, those details has to confirm with what is found in reality for the cases to be solved.

The paper, published in 1983 said that there was over 2000 cases of such types around the world, assuming half of them are from India, which has 77% of solved cases, it means 770 cases of solid rebirth data to support the theory of rebirth. However, we need to think if we only need one data to show that the worldview of "there is no rebirth" to be false and untenable or do we need more? Typically, more is better, as statistics can be used to determine if the case is by chance or a fluke. However, it is hard to imagine how one can fluke a solid case of rebirth where according to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-1BvpDZwiw and various other sources, there are cases where the family is not a believer of rebirth, there are cases where the children and family do not stand to gain by giving such data to the researchers and there are cases where it is impossible to explain the particular knowledge to be gained by the children other than rebirth. The knowledge can be the habits of the previous lives, the exact hiding place for a secret stash of cash, the shortcuts and knowledge of roads far from the main street, the knowledge of how things were arranged when they were alive in the previous life, and most of all, the emotional connection that cannot be faked between the previous family and the new child.

Criticism of such research can be that rebirth cases are mainly by one person: Ian stevenson, what if he decided to fake all his data? http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/past-life-research.html this website shows a lists of past life researchers: J├╝rgen Keil, Ian Stevenson, Jim B. Tucker, Satwant K. Pasricha, Erlendur Haraldsson, Majd Abu-Izzeddin, Titus Rivas, Antonia Mills, and many others. This list itself has more support than Higgs boson in terms of no. of independent observation of data of rebirth.

In addition, many books has been published for the public over the years on this type of research: http://letusponder.hubpages.com/hub/10-books-about-Reincarnation this website lists 10 books.

Looking at the evidences part, I would say that rebirth has a stronger case for it if only because the evidences and research for it has been around longer than the Higgs, and there are many more independent researchers on the same topic.

The main difference between these two is obviously public opinion which is largely shaped by opinions of scientists and certain religions. http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation3.html#reincarnation3 in this website for example, the author had looked at evidences for rebirth, even in early Christianity, yet reject it because of philosophical grounds (that if rebirth and kamma are true, there would be no beginning and no end, obviously the author has not come across the 4 Noble Truths) and attachment to certain words in the current Bible. The bias in public opinion is not only fueled by attachments to current forms of certain religion (the YOLO, you only live once, meme popular nowadays can also count as part of a belief system) it is also fueled by scientific dogmatism.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg Ajahn brahm also mentioned this, the video has actually been removed from the official TEDx website. In this video, it says that the worldview of most people are that science has explained everything we know about the world and the rest is just details to be filled in. This is a belief system. He said that there are 10 dogmas we take for granted from this belief system, none of them stand up very well under close observation.
  1. Nature is mechanical, we are machines,
  2. Nature is unconscious, we are just an illusion of consciousness since we are made up of atoms, 
  3. Laws of Nature are fixed and the same,
  4. The total amount of energy and matter is always the same,
  5. There are no purposes in nature, evolution, etc...
  6. Biological heredity is material,
  7. Memories are stored in the brain, via connections,
  8. Mind is inside our heads,
  9. Psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible, 
  10. Mechanistic medicine is the only one that really works, the others maybe placebo effect etc..
These are the default worldview of "educated" people. The speaker, a scientists says that we overlook data that suggests that the constants of nature change (measurements of these changes over time and are averaged out, even these changes over the years, but it's a constant! So nobody bothered to investigate why.), or that our minds extends out of our brains (we can feel if people stare at us from behind). 
Alan Wallace in his book Hidden Dimensions, argued that currently the investigation of science is limited by these scientific dogma, not allowing proper research into phenomenons produced by the mind and insisting on unsuitable scientific method to investigate such a different phenomena. In the science of contemplation, he says, one should not demand that all datas to be objective, but subjective, personal experiences of an individual should be a valid data point as a foundation to begin research into the phenomena of the mind. When we investigate biology, we don't use the language of particle physics. 
I believe that due to this widespread delusion that scientific dogmatism is scientific method, support and acceptance for rebirth is not there even when the data in this field has been established for so long. Contrasting it with the science which has Albert Einstein, produced quantum physics, the basis of our electronic appliances, atom bombs, Physics has it easy to have the Higgs receiving so much more recognition by the public even before the scientists themselves are completely sure they have discovered it. 
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their book The Grand Design said that a good model is
  1. elegant
  2. contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements
  3. Agrees with and explains all existing observations
  4. Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.
In this sense, comparing two competing hypothesis of "there is rebirth" and "there's no rebirth, all evidences are coincidences or a conspiracy or anything else", we can see the hypothesis that satisfies the criterias above. 
  1. Rebirth, having a simple, well defined way of how it happens (via kamma) and transmission of kamma and ignorance (includes memory here) from one body to another seems much more elegant compared to having to utilize all sorts of different explanations depending on the weakness of a particular case of rebirth. 
  2. Rebirth contains far less arbitrary or adjustable elements (when combined with kamma) to explain why a person is borned poor or rich etc....as compared to the simple luck element which is just a summary of many different complicated variables suggested by the no rebirth theory. Besides, having to use different explanations to refute each individual cases, the no rebirth theory would have much more adjustable elements compared to rebirth theory.
  3. Rebirth theory can explain all data suggesting rebirth, no rebirth theory would have a very hard time to explain most of them, in some cases, it is impossible to explain the case without assuming rebirth or very performed telepathy/ miracle. The alternative explanations to rebirth is also not as elegant or they have more adjustable elements.
  4. The alternative hypothesis of no rebirth cannot predict any possible thing to verify or falsify. In contrast, there is this prediction system amongst the Tulkus in Tibet where a great master would leave a prediction letter of where to find his or her next life after his passing away.  http://www.dalailama.com/biography/reincarnation
Thus having read all these, I hope that you would leave behind your scientific dogmatism, use an open and critical mind to investigate the links above, especially on evidences of rebirth to see if you're really unbiased, really scientific, what's your honest conclusion?

For me, it's as Ajahn Brahm said, rebirth has already been proven. To avoid this to be a dogma, please do your own research and read up. I did mine. Here's another case to get you started: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCcmr6UeNSY