SCIENCE for MONKS

creating science learning communities with tibetan buddhist monastics since 2001

Cosmology & Consciousness Conference Abstracts

Particle and Wav

Tim Maudlin bio
New York University

Light and matter behave in a way that is characteristic of waves and also in a way that is characteristic of particles. The particle aspect involves effects that appear at precise locations, and the wave aspects are interference effects. We will discuss these behaviors and some experiments that show both at the same time.

A Quantum Mechanical Experiment

Barry Loewer bio
Rutgers University

I will describe experiments involving electrons (simplified versions of the famous two slit experiment) that illustrate the uncertainty principle and whose results seem to undermine ordinary logic. The experiments also seem to show that observing an electron in some way changes its behavior even without an ordinary physical interaction. It is this feature of quantum mechanics phenomena that has led to some to think that there is a special role for observation and consciousness in quantum mechanics. Then I briefly describe how QM describes these experiments in terms of wave functions and superpositions.

Foundations of Buddhist Emptiness

Geshe Lhakdor bio
Library of Tibetan Works & Archives

One of the most important philosophical insights in Buddhism is the theory of emptiness. Understanding this view is not just for the sake of intellectual exercise but it is for the ultimate solution for all the ills that we experience in this world. This is so because there is a fundamental disparity between the way we perceive the world and the way things actually exist. In our day-to -day experience, we tend to relate to the world and to ourselves as having intrinsic, independent existence. This is not only a fundamental error but also the basis for attachment, clinging, and the development of our numerous prejudices. This fundamental truth of “the way things really are” is described in the Buddhist writings as “emptiness,” or shunyata in Sanskrit. The understanding of emptiness is really calling for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes other’s interest alongside our own. The physicist David Bohm during one of the meetings with His Holiness the Dalai Lama says “If we examine the various ideologies that tend to divide humanity, such as racism, extreme nationalism and the Marxist class struggle, one of the key factors of the origin is the tendency to perceive things as inherently divided and disconnected. From this misconception springs the belief that each of these divisions is essentially independent and self-existent.” It is an observable reality that things are interdependent and interconnected. Therefore the understanding of emptiness or interdependence is really the bedrock for harmony, morality and long-lasting happiness.

Cosmology and the Void

Chris Impey bio
University of Arizona, Tucson

The concept and physical nature of emptiness is central to modern cosmology. The observable universe is 13.8 billion years old, 92 billion light years in size, and the space between the 100 billion galaxies is an almost perfect vacuum. The physical universe is probably much larger than the observable universe. The dominant component of the universe is a manifestation of the vacuum called dark energy, which is causing space-time to expand at an accelerating rate. If the universe experienced an early episode of exponential expansion called inflation, then the seeds for galaxies were quantum scale and the entire universe could have arisen from a quantum fluctuation. The frontier of cosmology involves understanding the physical nature of the vacuum and reconciling gravity and quantum physics.

Buddhist Philosophy of Particles

Thabkhe bio
Sera Jey Monastery

In Buddhism the concept of part-less particles is described with noted differences between the four major philosophical schools of Buddhism. My presentation will describe the different schools and how we understand particles from a philosophical perspective. These schools describe both a quantized and continuum understanding of the nature matter, space, and time. My position is that both philosophical positions are possible and provide a valid interpretation of reality. In Buddhism, and common across all the philosophical schools, there is always a causal relationship, no effect can occur without a cause.

Distant Connections in Quantum Theory

Tim Maudlin bio
New York University

In classical physics, causes and effects are always connected in space and time. Something that happens in one place can only influence what happens somewhere else through a connected series of effects. According to the Theory of Relativity, such effects cannot travel faster than light. I will present an experiment from quantum theory that cannot be explained using classical physics. It shows that even very distant events must be connected physically, in a way that even effects that move as fast as light could not explain. p>

The Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechanics

Barry Loewer bio
Rutgers University

On the standard text-book account of quantum mechanics the quantum state evolves so that macroscopic objects can end up in quantum states that are superpositions of macroscopic properties. For example, a cat may evolve so that it is in a superposition of being alive and being dead. This is the famous Schrödinger cat paradox. The orthodox account of quantum mechanics responds to it by proposing that the quantum state evolves in a special way when observations are made. So when the cat is observed the ordinary evolution is replaced by one in which the quantum state jumps to one corresponding to the cat’s being alive or to one corresponding to its being dead. This makes observation play a fundamental role in physics. I point out problems with this idea and briefly sketch some alternative versions of quantum mechanics in which observation does not play this role.

Bohmian Mechanics applied to Consciousness

Father Mathew Chandrankunnel bio
Dharmaram College

The orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics developed by Niels Bohr and his associates were unacceptable to many founders of quantum mechanics. The wave-particle duality as complimentarity, the probability interpretation, indeterminism, and the collapse of the wave function were shown as problematic by the quantum mechanics critics. Meanwhile a mathematical formalism was developed by the supporters of quantum mechanics to deny any other interpretation of quantum mechanics claiming that there is only one interpretation and it is the orthodox interpretation supported by them. Bohm proposed a new interpretation with a deterministic philosophical position. He proposed that the particle is followed by a quantum potential or wave and he developed a mathematical structure. This particle-quantum potential proposal can be applied to mind-matter problem where the mind leads the body. There are some experimental evidences already discovered for this interpretation though all the scientific community could not agree on this quantum mechanics interpretation and its application to the mind-body problem.

Mind and Conscious Experience

Katalin Balog bio
Rutgers University

Some philosophers think that everything, including our mind and conscious experience is fully constituted by physical processes. I will discuss a case involving a very knowledgeable neuro-scientist who studies color vision but has never seen colors herself. This case has been used to argue against the physical nature of conscious experience.

Nonlocal Reasoning: Philosophy and Science across Cultures

Rajesh Kasturirangan bio
National Institute of Advanced Studies

Quantum Non-locality and Emptiness are among the deepest explorations of reality in their respective intellectual traditions. Both, in their own way, are empirical discoveries (or at least claimed to be so); Nonlocality in the Lab and Emptiness in the depths of contemplation, but both also lend themselves to (endless?) philosophical elaboration as well. While we are mostly discussing the two topics somewhat separately, it's worth asking whether the conceptual frameworks stand to benefit from talking to each other. Even if such a dialog is attractive in principle, it looks difficult in practice, for the concerns of the two communities are rather different. My goal in this presentation is to ask how (or if) we can go beyond mutual appreciation to a deeper engagement with each others discoveries. As someone who is an expert in neither, I feel entirely qualified for the task.

The Spiritual Experience of Emptiness

Khangser Rinpoche bio
Sera Jey Monastery

Emptiness is among the most profound philosophies in Buddhist practice. It is considered the antidote to selfishness and self-grasping which is the ultimate root cause of suffering. Through a process of analyzing and familiarizing oneself with the philosophy of emptiness, self-grasping and attachment is diminished, and equality between self and other is cultivated. Eventually this practice leads to enlightenment, but even for the novice it can have transformative effects on how they you see themselves and others in the world.

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