Thursday, 28 August 2014

No future for Buddhism in an Islamized World

The non-Muslim world was horrified recently when the Islamic State (or Caliphate)  attacked a small population of Yazidis (an ancient religious group), raped and enslaved  the women, murdered the men and tried to starve fleeing survivors [a, b, c, ]       .     

The Islamic State has also attacked Christians, though not with the same ferocity. Christians have been able to buy their lives by paying huge amounts of protection money under the Koranic 'jizya' dispensation, which allows three groups of people, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who are known as 'people of the book', to retain their religion and their lives by accepting 'dhimmi' status.   

Yazidis and Buddhists are not ‘people of the book’ and are not eligible for dhimmi status (or dhimmitude, as it is known) and must convert or be exterminated, or in the case of the Yazidis, simply be exterminated.  So what has happened to the Yazidis is a forestaste of what will happen to Buddhists as the Caliphate extends its reach globally.

Some  naïve Westerners have been puzzled why 'moderate' Muslims have not condemned the Caliphate’s genocidal activities, [a]  but the reason is that the Islamic State’s actions are in complete accordance with the Koran, so to condemn them would be to condemn the Koran, which is blasphemous and  punishable by death.

Extreme versus moderate Islam
Islam is a supremacist, totalitarian system that cannot and will not coexist on equal terms with any other worldview, and seeks to impose its own ideology throughout the world [a].  

This imposition cannot be brought about by rational argument, since Islam rejected reason long ago [a].  But instead, Islam spreads by political subversion and military force. 

The Islamic State’s neighbor and ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said:  “There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” [a]     and  “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers” [a]      

Coercion, intimidation, thuggery and outright terrorism are  intrinsic and essential features of Islam, without which it could not spread, or even survive [a].  Islam is so intellectually moribund and ethically repulsive that it cannot compete for followers in a free marketplace of ideas, but must eliminate its competitors  by whatever means may be necessary.   

It is clear that Islam is not a religion in any normal sense, but has more in common with those vicious tyrannies Nazism and Stalinism.  The religious aspect is a thin veneer to dupe and manipulate  the gullible masses, and raise an army of sexually frustrated youths hoping for 72 virgins in Allah's brothel in the sky, while the leaders enjoy the fruits of their powers.

How Islam sees others
Islam divides humanity into two implacably antagonistic groups - Muslims (collectively known as the Ummah) versus Kaff
irs (aka Kufr, Kuffars, Infidels or non-believers).

Kaffirs are subdivided further - Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians who accept the supremacy of Islam are known as Dhimmis, and are allowed to live as second-class citizens, provided they pay the extortionate Jizya (infidel tax) to their Muslim masters. The state of being a submissive Dhimmi is known as Dhimmitude.
[a].  Humiliation of Kaffirs, especially by sexual humiliation and gang-rape, is especially important to Jihadists [ a b].
Buddhists, Pagans and members of all other 'non-Abrahamic' religions, together with secularists, and those Jews and Christians who do not accept Muslim domination, are regarded as Harbis - targets of war destined for extermination.  However ultimately ALL Jews, even those who live submissively under Islamic domination, will be exterminated [a].  

(In fact some Muslims describe Buddhists as 'Mushrik' - idolaters - a Muslim term of abuse which places them even lower than 'najis kafirs'.)

Execution of a harbi

Islam is at permanent war with harbis, even if the harbis don't actually do anything to annoy Muslims. The harbis' mere existence is itself an act of war. A Harbi has no rights, not even the right to live, as was shown recently in the caliphate's execution of James Foley for being a harbi [a,b, c ]  

Jihadist children are taught from an early age to hate and kill harbis...

Child's play --  before...

 ...and after

Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam
Areas under Muslim control are known as Dar al-Islam. Areas under Harbi control are known as Dar al-Harb - the domain of war. The Koran commands Muslims to wage perpetual war (Jihad) against Dar al-Harb until the entire world is Dar al-Islam. These attacks are ordained by Allah and are non-negotiable in the long term, though the practice of taqiyya (holy deception) allows temporary deceptive peace agreements (’Hudna’) to be made if the forces of Islam are too weak to attack the Harbis successfully.

Buddhists as Harbis
Buddhists have always been favorite targets for jihad because:

(1) The Koran (Surah 9, ayah 5) commands that polytheists and idolaters should be exterminated  wherever they are found. Buddhist statues and icons provided the perfect excuse for a bloodbath. Modern Muslims continue to believe that since Buddhists are not monotheists they must be forced to convert to Islam or be killed.

(2) Being pacifists, Buddhists were unable to defend themselves.

Given this long history of uncompromising hostility towards Buddhism, which has 'sanctified' the slaughter of Buddhist sangha and destroyed Buddhist civilizations throughout Asia,  the future of Buddhism looks bleak indeed, as the Caliphate commands the loyalty of more and more Muslims and spreads throughout the world [a].     

The Islamic memeplex is terrifyingly unstoppable [a,b]. Hence Buddhism is unlikely to survive as the world inevitably becomes more Islamized by conquest, subversion, immigration and demographic growth.

More on Buddhism and Islam

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Delusions in Buddhism

The basis of Buddhism is that we all suffer from delusions, and only by reducing, and eventually completely removing those delusions, will we find happiness.

Most people, on first meeting these teachings, are likely to be extremely skeptical. After all, most of us don’t see pink elephants,  think that we’re Napoleon, or believe politicians' promises. So in what way are we deluded?

The basic delusion of ‘inherent existence’ or ‘svabhava’

The basic delusion is that we believe that all substances, objects and people have an unchanging, stable, defining nature ‘from their own side’ that makes them what they are. This delusion of intrinsic nature, is known as ‘svabhava’  (Sanskrit for ‘inherent existence’), and can be refuted philosophically by the 'emptiness' argument, and scientifically by recognising the process nature of reality.

In Buddhist philosophy, all functioning phenomena exist dependently upon (i) their causes, (ii) their parts and (iii) the mental designation by an observer.   There is no extra or more fundamental ‘essence’ that makes a thing what it is beyond or beneath these three attributes of existence.  

Although we may understand intellectually that inherent-existence is impossible, nevertheless we still have great difficulty of ridding ourselves of this delusion.  The reason that svabhava is so deep-rooted, pervasive and systematic is that our brains and perceptual systems have evolved to use svabhava as a useful working approximation (or ‘conventional truth’) to represent commonsense reality. 

This ‘working approximation’ functions quite well in our everyday life, and only breaks down when we analyse phenomena in depth, either philosophically, or scientifically as with particle physics, where we are forced to realise that the observer is an inextricable part of the system. 

Why is the delusion of inherent existence so strong?

Our brains have evolved to present a useful model of reality to our minds as quickly  and efficiently as possible.   To do this they must sample reality, rather than monitor it continuously.    By analogy, think of  a movie camera that takes a series of frames as  samples of continuous reality, or a CD that samples a continuously varying soundtrack as a series of discrete numbers.  Sampling is essential because continuous monitoring would produce an information overload.

Our brains do a similar sampling job, along spatial and conceptual dimensions as well as along temporal ones.  Hence we normally see the universe as composed of discrete things, rather than continuously varying processes.

But if we analyse carefully, and on a long enough timescale, we realise that everything in the universe is impermanent, and part of continuously changing processes.   Even the universe itself is a process, starting out from the big bang.  At the other end of the scale, subatomic particles are processes - continuously varying wavefunctions, which only appear as distinct particles at the moment they are sampled.

However, our brains haven’t evolved for philosophical reflection. They have evolved  to present a workable view of reality which identifies threats, opportunities and resources as rapidly as possible.   Natural selection cannot select directly for true beliefs, but only for advantageous behaviors. 

So the brain is giving us a picture of the world that is merely fit for purpose, rather than one that represents some true underlying reality.      This is the explanation for the two truths - conventional truth versus ultimate truth.    Conventional truth applies to those entities in the world that are stable and persistent for long enough for us to regard them as things.   The ultimate truth is that all those things are actually impermanent when viewed on a long enough timescale, and have no defining existence within themselves.   

As Wiki puts it:
Ignorance isn't just an inability to apprehend the truth but an active misapprehension of the status of oneself and all other objects—one's own mind or body, other people, and so forth. It is the conception or assumption that phenomena exist in a far more concrete way than they actually do.
Based on this misapprehension of the status of persons and things, we are drawn into afflictive desire and hatred [i.e. attachment and aversion]... Not knowing the real nature of phenomena, we are driven to generate desire for what we like and hatred for what we do not like and for what blocks our desires. These three—ignorance, desire, and hatred—are called the three poisons; they pervert our mental outlook. 

Conventional truth enables us to go about our daily business. Ultimate truth enables us to perform philosophical analysis.  For further discussion  on this  topic see Evolution, Emptiness and Delusions of the Darwinian Brain. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

'Autoerotic Spirituality' - The Roman Catholic Understanding of Buddhism and Masturbation

Updated August 2014

'Autoerotic spirituality' is how Pope Benedict described Buddhism, according to a recent article by Catholic writer George Neumayr.

'Autoerotic' is Vatican terminology for masturbation, consequently the Pope is accusing Buddhists of self-grasping.  Autoeroticism (otherwise known as 'Onanism' or 'self-abuse') is one of the most heinous sins in Catholicism, which is why Catholic priests have traditionally employed altar boys to give them hand and mouth jobs so they don't have to touch themselves sexually and risk an eternity in hell.

(Contrast this Papal confrontationalism with the ecumenical attitude of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that it would be OK for Prince George, the future leader of the Church of England, to become a Buddhist.)

Getting a Grip on Buddhism
The Catholic church seems to be giving Buddhism a hard time (if you'll pardon the expression), with two anti-Buddhist critiques being published by prominent Catholic intellectuals in recent weeks.

As well as the Pope's description of Buddhists as compulsive masturbators, George Neumayr's article describes Buddhism as 'one of the world’s largest half-baked religions', 'absurd and dangerous', 'a more cushy false religion than Islam', and 'tends to make people indifferent, not holy'.   None of these allegations are supported by any factual evidence or reasoned arguments, and there is little logical progression in his narrative beyond the Pope's jacking-off jibe.

Neumayr then goes on to link Buddhism with terrorism, in the person of Aaron Alexis, a paranoid schizophrenic who attempted to control his mental illness by Buddhist meditation, but eventually went postal in the Washington Navy Yard   

In terms of a more detailed critique of Buddhist philosophy, Mr Neumayr contends that  'As a non-judgmental, navel-gazing religion, it asks little of its adherents and accommodates all sorts of wild contradictions, producing not a holy fear of God but sometimes just emboldened self-indulgence and a frantic search for fulfillment through willy-nilly negation'.

Dr Regis Martin's critical analysis of Buddhism.
The second and more academic article is by a leading Catholic theologian, Dr Regis Martin, professor of theology at the prestigious Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Professor Martin uses a similar line of argument to George Neumayr, consisting of unsupported allegations and attempts to link Buddhism to terrorism.

The first few paragraphs of the article are a discussion of how the Buddha never opened his eyes (however there's no historical evidence for this assertion). This is followed by a lament about the lack of Catholic intellectual rigor in the current generation of students.  

Professor Martin then goes on to construct his logical case against Buddhism by using ad hominem reasoning, starting with calling the Buddha 'a plump fatuous looking fellow, sitting cross-legged on the floor with eyes closed upon the world', and Buddhists as '...what’s wrong with these people?  How does one set about disabusing such folk of nothingness, nada?  Not only has their pilot light gone out, which would be deplorable enough, but they actually seem to prefer wandering about in the darkness.  Indeed, the darkness is the light.  Such sublime imbecility is no easy matter to overcome.'

Like George Neumayr, Regis Martin also tries to link Buddhist meditation with terrorism, in this case meditation on emptiness: 'In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, when the need to know why was on everyone’s mind, I remember reading about one of the teachers who had tried to tutor the young man, the student-turned-killer, but gave up because, as she put it, there was such an emptiness she felt whenever he came into the room.'

Dr Martin's understanding of Buddhist philosophy is summed up by his conclusion: 'And what does the Buddha give?  Nothingness.' 

Why Christians misunderstand Buddhism.
The critiques of Buddhism by these two leading Catholic scholars are unfortunately typical of many Christian attempts to understand Buddhist philosophy. They seem to have particular problems with the concept of emptiness, equating it with nothingness, as we have seen with Regis Martin's concluding statement.

It's not that there's anything difficult about Buddhist philosophy, it's just that it's very different from traditional Western philosophy.  But once the basis of the difference is understood, everything should become clearer.

Process versus Substantialist Philosophy
One of the main difficulties many Christians have with understanding Buddhist philosophy is that they don't realise that Buddhism is a 'process philosophy', which is radically unlike most Western philosophical systems. The mainstream Western philosophical tradition has been overwhelmingly 'substantialist' until the 20th century, and in most academic philosophy departments substantialist thinking (the opposite of process thinking) still dominates.

Buddhism is a process philosophy, in that it holds that the ultimate nature of reality is change and flux, with all functioning things being impermanent, and having no static intrinsic nature.  Everything interacts with something else, and whenever it causes a change it is itself changed.  All functioning entities are composite, and nothing at all exists independently in splendid isolation.

In contrast, from the time of the ancient Greeks until very recently, Western philosophy has been dominated by unexamined 'substantialist' presuppositions, which assume that there is some permanent stable basis for reality, including fundamental self-established entities, and unchanging 'essences' from which things (such as chariots and roses) take their form.

Buddhism states that no such self-established entities are to be found, and modern science tends to confirm this, in that there are no permanent unchanging substances or particles at the foundations of reality.   

Whether we look at the largest scales or the smallest, everything seems part of a process, and everything is impermanent.  Existence is impermanence in slow motion, and all composite things eventually disintegrate.  Modern science also casts doubt on the existence of essential natures, such as those that specify the characteristics of species.

The Scientific case for Process Philosophy
Process philosophy is counterintuitive, because the human perceptual system has evolved to present substantialist delusions to the mind.  However, a careful examination of modern physics will show that the universe and everything in it are indeed processes. 

At the topmost level, the universe as a whole is a process of expansion and cooling, with matter being constantly recombined, transmuted and recycled by stellar subprocesses.

At the bottommost level, fundamental particles
, which in classical physics were once thought of as little pieces of matter, are now regarded as processes consisting of continuously evolving and changing wavefunctions.  These processes give the appearance of discrete and localized particles only at the moment they are observed. 

So particles are forever changing, and lack any inherent existence independent of the act of observation.    Consequently, everything composed of particles is also impermanent and continually changing, and no static, stable basis for its existence can be found.

Therefore, at a very generalized level, the scientific view of the world has converged with the Buddhist view.  The underlying basis of reality is change, process and impermanence.
  In the transition from classical to modern physics, atomic theory has changed from traditional substantialism, to being in agreement with the Buddhist 'process' view of reality.

The logical fallacy of regarding things and substances as the building blocks of reality is known as 'substance metaphysics' or reification.

Mind and Soul in Buddhism - Extinction or Purification?
The aspect of Buddhist philosophy and psychology that most perplexes Catholics is the status of the mind and soul in Buddhism.

Professor Martin demonstrates this confusion is his comment on nirvana:
'Why would any sane person want nirvana anyway?  I mean, look at the etymology of the word: it means being extinguished, vaporized, the sheer evacuation of existence.  From the Sanskrit verb nirva, which is the act of being blown out like a candle, the word implies a state of complete cessation, of no longer being there, a condition of absence, vacancy.  How can this be bliss? '

And in a later article he totally misunderstands Buddhist psychology:

'And if they still persist in the blindness of their belief that the only way to escape suffering is to extinguish desire, and thereby embrace the nothingness of nirvana, are we not obliged to point out the sheer suicide of the self such madness invites?'  
In fact, nirvana refers to the blowing out of the fires of attachment, hatred and delusion, not the total cessation of consciousness.  The Buddhist doesn't seek to extinguish all desire, but only those desires for ephemeral worldly things which can ultimately never be satisfied, and which are the cause of suffering.  

When a Buddhist takes the Bodhisattva vow, she promises to increase her desire to liberate all sentient beings, both human and animal from suffering. This is the 'Superior Intention' - the desire that is not extinguished by Buddhist practice, but burns all the brighter as the Bodhisattva progresses along her path.     

"Desire is a natural part of life that provides the motivating force for our achievements,” says Dr. Arthur Zajonc, Mind and Life’s president.  “Our highest aspirations are animated by desire. Yet, when desire becomes obsession or craving, we cross over into the territory of suffering. What before was an aid to accomplishment can devolve into a source of personal anguish and social violence."

In Catholic theology the soul is believed to be the seat of consciousness that only humans but no other animals possess.   Animals are automata put on earth by God to be used by humans. They are machine-like entities with no consciousness in the human sense, and their minds cease at death.  The difference between humans and animals is absolute, and there is no continuity.

This discontinuous view of humans and animals has obvious problems in terms of evolution.  When and how did God equip the ape-men (and ape-women) with souls?   Did it happen all at once, so every living ape-person from the youngest to the eldest was equipped with a soul on one particular day in the distant past; or were all ape-infants born after a certain date given souls, so during the transition period  soulful ape-kids would be parented by soulless adults?

Physical and Non-physical processes
Buddhism doesn't have these problems, because it doesn't regard the soul as a 'thing' but as a process. (Buddhist philosophers tend to avoid the word 'soul' because of its reifying connotations, and use the terms 'mindstream' or 'mental continuum'  instead, to denote that the mind is a process, albeit a non-physical one.)

The great Buddhist philosopher Alan Turing established a clear demarcation between physical processes (including chemical and biological processes)  and cognitive processes (including qualia and intentionality).  Those processes that can be modelled, predicted and understood in terms of Turing machines (or algorithms) are physical. Those that cannot in principle be thus modelled are cognitive or 'mental'.   

The interface between these two types of process is very much a mystery, and is known by modern Buddhist philosophers as the Hard Problem, (not to be confused with the hard problem that the Pope had in mind with his comments on Buddhists bashing the bishops, or when Buddhists hold their own in debates with Catholics... anyhow, enough of these standing jokes,  I really must get a grip on myself... 

P.S  For any Catholic seeking an introduction to  Buddhism beyond that provided by Joseph Ratzinger, George Neumayr and Regis Martin, this is a good place to start.

For a more detailed discussion of Process Philosophy see here.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Limits of Scientific Explanation

Time is what clocks measure

Are there some things that science just can’t explain?
When asked to explain time,  Einstein famously remarked ‘Time is what clocks measure’.   In other words, time is a primal, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not explainable in terms of anything else.  If you try to explain time you end up with a circular definition.  

There are other primal aspects of the universe, for example, space, energy and charge, which are irreducible and not explainable in terms of any other phenomena.

So is mind one of these fundamental, irreducible aspects of reality?

Is there any scientific explanation for the mind?
What distinguishes Buddhists from materialists is that Buddhists believe that the mind is a primal aspect of existence, which is not explainable in terms of physics.  The mind is not mechanistic or deterministic and has no scientific explanation.

Let’s illustrate this with two examples.

(1)  When you hit your thumb with a hammer, nerve impulses are generated which are transmitted to the brain.

(2)  When you hit your thumb with a hammer, nerve impulses are generated which are transmitted to the brain,  and you feel pain.

The first statement is a purely mechanistic explanation of what happens.  The mechanical damage to the tissue, the chemical changes resulting from the compression and the electro-chemical transmission of the nerve impulses into the brain are all mechanistic processes, which can be modelled as a chain of physical causes and effects, by for example, a computer simulation.

The second statement has something extra - the result is a subjective feeling, an aspect of the mind, for which there is no mechanistic (scientific)  explanation.  It seems to be impossible to envisage any mechanism which can produce a mental state from any physical configuration of neural states.  The chain of cause and effect stops just short of its final link.   This is known by philosophers as 'The Hard Problem' or explanatory gap.  

The Buddhist would say that there is indeed no physical causal mechanism beyond the configuration of neural states. Everything that happens thereafter to complete the experience, flows in the reverse direction, and comes from the side of the mind.    The mind is drawn to the neural correlate of pain and recognises it as an object of aversion. In other words the mind develops ‘intentionality’ towards the brain state, and this intentionality, along with the actual subjective feeling of pain, does not have a scientific explanation.

But surely everything has a scientific explanation?
To say that mental phenomena exist that have no scientific explanation may seem provocative, possible almost heretical to some materialists. Yet there is strong evidence, from the very nature of science, that this is indeed the case.   

If we a have clear-cut definition of what constitutes a scientific explanation, then we will be able to see its limits.   That clear-cut definition exists in the form of the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle, which states that every physical process can be simulated by a Turing machine.   Since all chemical, biochemical and biological processes are ultimately physical, according to the CTD principle they can all be simulated by a Turing machine. Any phenomenon that cannot be simulated by a Turing machine must therefore be non-physical.

The Turing machine is not necessarily an actual machine or even a physical device (although physical demonstrations have been constructed) . Its primary purpose is as a thought-experiment, or a precisely defined simple mathematical object, whose precision and simplicity produce a rigorous definition of the fundamental behavior of all mechanistic systems and mathematical procedures.

In practice, a large unwieldy Turing machine may implemented as a series of small separate Turing machines (a process known as algorithmic decomposition)  which may consist of mathematical formulae such a Newton’s laws of motion, or conditional statements such as  IF … THEN … ELSE .

Any equation, mathematical or logical function, or statement in a computer language can be regarded as a mini-Turing machine dedicated to a single purpose, as can any combination of statements or functions.  A computer is a general purpose Turing machine (usually implemented as a combination of mini-Turing machines  known as 'opcodes', which constitute its instruction set

The computer language conditional  statement  IF … THEN … ELSE   is equivalent to the conjunction ‘because’ in normal explanatory discourse. 


From a back of envelope explanation to a computer simulation
Consider the following series of increasingly detailed scientific explanations:

‘Human life might be  wiped out in 2880 AD because asteroid 1950 DA might collide  with the earth.'

To put that in a more Turing-machine compatible form we might say.

IF asteroid collides with earth
THEN humans become extinct
ELSE life goes on

We could make this explanation more detailed and accurate  by replacing ‘asteroid collides with earth’ by various equations describing the orbits of the asteroid and the earth.    The whole thing would probably fit on the back of an envelope.  All the statements and equations on the envelope are reducible to a chain or network of Turing machines.

The next step, especially if we wanted an explanation of what would happen if we tried to alter the course of the asteroid (nuke it, or zap it with a laser, or spray it with WD40) would be to set up a computer simulation.

Computers are functionally equivalent to Turing machines, though again for convenience they are ‘decomposed’ into smaller mini Turing machines.  And it is actually quite surprising just how few varieties of these mini Turing machines (‘opcodes’) are needed to simulate any physical system - fewer than 20:


The conditional combination of  COMPARE, JUMP, JUMP-CONDITIONALLY form the IF … THEN … ELSE  statements  of higher level language.

Why mind is outside the scope of scientific explanation

So why is it that we can never simulate the mind using a computer,  (or even the back of an envelope)?       

The problem lies with the fundamental intrinsic limitations of the Turing machine, which affects every simulation and explanation built out of Turing machines, including all physical explanations and hence all other scientific explanations.    

If we return to the experience of pain caused by hitting the thumb with a hammer, we see that there are two mental processes, intentionality and qualitative experience,  which the Turing machine is incapable of simulating, as a result of its structural limitations. 

A Turing machine consists of just two main components:
(i) A tape of characters, which may be limited to just 1’s and 0’s.
(ii)  A table of actions, which instructs the machine what to do with each character.

There are also two minor components:
(iii) A read/write head, which simply transfers symbols from the tape to the table and vice versa,
(iv)  A register that holds the numeric identifier for the machine’s current state.

The tape consists of a string of characters drawn from a defined alphabet, where the term ‘alphabet’ is used in a rather technical sense of a restricted  set of characters, such as the 26 characters of the  Latin alphabet, the 33 characters of Russian alphabet, the four characters of the DNA alphabet, or the two characters of the binary alphabet.   The size of the alphabet makes no difference to the capabilities of the Turing Machine, since all characters are capable of being encoded as binary.

The table consists of five columns, with as many rows of instructions as are needed to do the job.  The columns are:

1  The row's machine state identifier to be tested against the actual machine state.
2  The row's character to be tested against the current character as read from the tape.
3  The identifier of the new state to which the machine will change
  The new character to be written to the tape.
5  An instruction to move the head one character right or left along the tape.

So there is no capability whatsover to make any intentional reference about anything outside the system.

Neither is there any ability to hold any internal qualitative state.  The only internal state it can have is the number in its register.    Even if additional registers were added, they could only contain ‘alphabetic’ characters or state numbers, for there is nothing else in the machine and nothing else can get into the machine.  

So to expect a Turing machine, or any narrative based upon Turing machines to be able to explain such basic mental processes as qualia and 'aboutness' is a category error.   And, according to the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle, all physical narratives must inevitably be isomorphic (functionally identical) with Turing machines. Hence we can conclude that there are basic mental processes which are, by the very definition of what is physical, forever outside the scope of physics.

As Particle physicist Peter J Bussey says:

"When we are investigating a physical system, physics tries to answer three kinds of question – composition, arrangement and behaviour. In other words, what is it made of, how are the parts put together and what laws of nature are operating? The answers provide a “physical explanation” of the system and its properties, and in this way physics achieves much insight into the world around us. In fact, there are those who claim that everything reduces to physics. But there are areas where physics cannot give answers, one such being metaphysics: questions about physics.

More importantly, physics cannot deal with our conscious mental nature and our nature as human persons. The nature of consciousness is beyond the methodology and conceptual apparatus of physics, which confines itself to objective, universal facts, whereas my conscious awareness is associated just with me. Cleverer physical theories are of no avail here – physics has a limited remit and is not set up to address what it really means to be human. Procrustean philosophies that try to cut humanity down to fit into a bed of physics are a dangerous illusion and should be shunned. They are true neither to humanity nor to physics."

More at Mind and Mechanism – Buddhism and the Turing Machine 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

New Scientist rejects Scientism



I came across this short New Scientist video (preceded by an even shorter sponsor's ad) illustrating some ideas that have been bouncing around the Buddhoblogosphere for a few years in one form or another.

The video points out the logical contradictions of reductionism ("the mind is nothing but the brain, which is nothing but a biological machine, which nothing but etc..."). This is something of a change of direction for this magazine, which has previously tended to support physicalism and scientism.

What the video is saying is that all attempts at reductionism end in circularity, and you need consciousness to explain consciousness (a philosophical position known as Ontologicial Mysterianism). 

I have a few quibbles about oversimplification, but maybe this is necessary to get the message across. The video concentrates exclusively on structure, and ignores process and operations.  This becomes apparent in the oversimplification of the Von Neumann derivation of numbers, where numbers spontanously appear out of nothing.  In fact it is the operation of the mind on the empty set which produces these numbers.

The video is saying that...

- Mathematics is reducible to mind.

- Mind is reducible to biological macromolecules.

- Biological macromolecules are reducible to organic chemicals.

- Organic chemicals are reducible to atoms.

- Atoms are reducible to mathematics.

Mathematics is reducible to mind.

... which is where we came in!

I would reformulate this as ...

- The structures and operations of mathematics are reducible to the concepts and operations of the mind.

- The structures and  operations of the mind are reducible to the structures and operations of biological macromolecules.

- The structures and operations of biological macromolecules are reducible to the structures and operations of organic chemicals.

- The structures and operations of organic chemicals are reducible to the structures and operations of atoms.

- The structures and operations of atoms are reducible to the structures and operations of mathematics.

- The structures and operations of mathematics are reducible to the concepts and operations of the mind... 
(deja vu)

This is, of course, another illustration of emptiness, in that no rock-bottom foundation for any phenomenon is findable. 

Here it is enjoy WHAT IS REALITY

 ...and if you are interested in further disproofs of materialistic reductionism, then consider that...

The behavior of all machines, computers and physical systems is reducible without remainder to the operations of a Turing machine.

The behavior of the mind shows at least two functions - 'aboutness'  and qualitative experience - that cannot in principle be reduced to the operation of a Turing machine.

Therefore, there are some aspects of the mind that are non-mechanistic and non-physical.

- Sean Robsville

Related Articles

Mind and Mechanism – Buddhism and the Turing Machine

Buddhism and Science

The Mind in Kadampa Buddhism



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Future of Buddhism in the West: SWOT Analysis

In recent years, Buddhism has been undergoing a rapid expansion in the West, especially America. But what of the future?   This article applies a simple SWOT business analysis to the potentials and limitations affecting the growth of Buddhism in the West.  

SWOT stands for

- Strengths: characteristics of the 'business' that give it an advantage over others.

- Weaknesses (or Limitations): are characteristics that place the business at a disadvantage relative to others.

- Opportunities: external chances to improve performance in the 'business  environment'.

- Threats: external elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business. (The threats to Buddhism in countries where is established - eg Korea, Mongolia, Burma, Thailand - are outside the scope of this analysis. I hope to look at them in future articles.)


1.1 Diversity in presentation.

Buddhism can be presented as an applied psychology or philosophy, as well as a religion. And we can get a lot of mileage from the first two aspects before we need to invoke religious faith.

1.2 Lack of sectarianism.

Another aspect of Buddhist diversity is that the various traditions of Buddhism coexist without mutual animosity.

1.3 Intellectual  openness.

Among religions, Buddhism is uniquely open to examination and rationalism.  Unlike most religions, which don't like their dogmas to be questioned, Buddha said that subjecting his teachings to searching critical analysis would help us understand them.

1.4 Compliance with science.

The worldview of modern science, in areas such as quantum physics, computer science and biology, has become increasingly in agreement to that of Buddhism, especially as essentialism has declined.   Buddhism has no anti-rational foundational tenets such as creationism and 'young earth'.

1.5 Convergence with Western Philosophy

Essentialism has taken longer to disappear from philosophy than it has from science. To quote Daniel Dennett:

'Even today Darwin's overthrow of essentialism has not been completely assimilated .... the Darwinian mutation, which at first seemed to be just a new way of thinking about kinds in biology, can spread to other phenomena and other disciplines, as we shall see. There are persistent problems both inside and outside biology that readily dissolve once we adopt the Darwinian perspective on what makes a thing the sort of thing it is, but the tradition-bound resistance to this idea persists.' (Daniel Dennett in Darwin's Dangerous Idea , p 39)

But as essentialism declines, newer philosophical approaches such as Process Philosophy are far closer to Buddhist thought than the old 'footnotes to Plato' that have dominated Western Philosophy throughout the Christian era.

1.6  Critique of materialism

Buddhism is the only religion that can offer a convincing philosophical challenge to the bleak doctrine of materialism - the default 'scientism' that the mind is the product of machine-like neural activity and there is no spiritual dimension to existence.

For a discussion of why the mind is a non-physical, fundamental aspect of the universe which is not derived from anything else, see Confronting Materialism and the Delusion of the Mechanical Mind.

1.7 Medical applications

Buddhist techiques are becoming accepted in mainstream medical practice as treatments for a variety of psychological disorders.

1.8  Corporate Buddhism

Techniques of mindfulness and Buddhist based meditation (though often in a secularized form) are also finding their way into business organizations.  However this has its downside, see 4.2

1.9 Honoring the feminine.

The Abrahamic religions are patriarchal and misogynistic to greater or lesser extent. Buddhism, like Paganism, honors the feminine aspect of humanity. One of the favorite devotional Buddhas is the female Buddha Tara.

1.10  Grieving for dead animals

Only Buddhism offers solace and rituals for the death of pets. In contrast, Christianity regards animals as mindless machines whose souls do not survive death. 

1.11 No historical baggage

Buddhism in the West does not have the burden of historical baggage carried by other religions (inquisition, witch hunts, Galileo, religious wars, 911, institutionalized child-abuse etc). This is not to say that Buddhism's record is spotless, but its trangressions are fewer and less well known in the West than those of the usual suspects.

1.12 Rising status of Buddhism. 

At a time when other religions are coming under increasing attack from the 'New Atheists' for their absurdities, illogicalities and ingrained intolerance, Buddhism is escaping unscathed.  This is possibly in part to due its lack of an anthropomorphic Samsaric God (though Buddhism isn't necessarliy atheist), and in part due to its rising intellectual status, especially among the medical profession.

1.13 'Take what you want' versus 'All or nothing'

One of the attractions of Buddhism is that you can take what you want from it (eg meditation techniques) without being required to swallow a whole load of dogma.  This allows people to move into Buddhism at their own speed, as far as they want, by acceptance of those  aspects which are useful to them.  So Jews, Christians and secularists can all incorporate some Buddhist practices and philosophical views without needing to cease  identifying with their cultural or ancestral belief-systems.


2.1 Coldness and aloofness

Buddhism is sometimes perceived as being cold, intellectual and aloof.  This may in part result from contrasting traditional visual representations of Buddha and Jesus.  Whereas Buddha is portrayed as serene but detached, Jesus is seen interacting with people.

2.2  Not family-friendly

Related to 2.1, though perhaps arising from different causes, dharma centers in the West have not in the past been particularly welcoming to children.   This may be a result of rapid growth and demographics, as many new Buddhists are often young students.  'Many U.S. Buddhists say that meditation centers aren’t especially welcoming of children, and some worry it will cost them the next generation of adherents'

2.3 Cultural 'otherness' and exclusion

When the Christian Church spread across pagan Europe, it did so by a process of 'transculturation', where local pagan customs were adapted rather than repressed, and given Christian significance. Hence pagan Eostre became Christian Easter, Yule became Christmas, Imbolc became Candlemas etc.
Although the exocitism of Buddhism has its attractions, this should not be at the expense of Western Buddhists withdrawing from their traditional culture and festivals. Like Lisa Simpson in 'She of Little Faith', Western kids won't take to any religion that prevents them celebrating Christmas and Halloween.

2.4 Misunderstanding and Misrepresentation

In the past, Buddhism has often been misrepresented by proponents of other religions, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes out of ignorance.

A favorite accusation is that of idolatry.  As accurate information is now available via the internet, this is becoming less of a problem. The anti-Buddhist propagandists are simply making themselves look stupid. For the usual anti-Buddhist arguments, and answers to them,  see here.

2.5 Lack of Philosophical Presence in Academia

Buddhist Philosophy (eg Madhyamaka - The Middle Way) is seldom studied in Western university philosophy departments, and when it is studied, it is often treated as of cultural, historical or anthropological interest only. 

Contemporary topics that can be addressed from the Madhyamaka perspective include:


3.1 'Spiritual but not religious'

The decline of traditional religions is leaving a spiritual gap which less doctrinaire faiths can fill.

There seem to be a number of factors at work:
3.1.1  Militant atheism
3.1.2  Collateral damage to other Abrahamic religions from Islam.
3.1.3  Decline of Catholicism due to child abuse scandals.
3.1.4  Perceived homophobia and bigotry
3.1.5  Anti-rationalism. Many evangelical Protestants have shackled themselves to a corpse in their commitment to the literal truth of Genesis and rejection of evolution.

Nevertheless, although the claim to be 'spiritual but not religious' has become something of a cliche, this reflects a need for some form of spiritual nourishment as an alternative to bleak materialism.  This is mostly being filled by 'New Age' spirituality, where you can pick and mix whatever beliefs and practises you like without any reference to doctrinal authority.  

As meditation and rebirth are popular New Age themes, bits of Buddhism usually get incorporated into the mix alongside Paganism, Celtic spirituality, crystals, geomancy etc.

3.2  Increasing the awareness of the medical benefits of Buddhist practice.  

Although Buddhist meditational techniques have gained orthodox medical approval to an extent unthinkable 20 years ago, there is probably still scope for expansion nere.

3.3 Increasing the awareness of the parallels of Buddhism and science.

Most westerners, because of the increasingly bitter battle between evolution and creationism, assume that religion and science must always and inevitably be in conflict. There is consequently immense scope for public education in the compatiblity of Buddhism and science.

3.4  Celebrating the Feminine

The Abrahamic religions started out as Bronze Age warrior cults, and it still shows. Their attitude to women, and the feminine side of human nature in general, varies from bad to appalling.   Buddhism can do more to establish its  reputation as the one major religion that doesn't denigrate women.

3.5  Acceptance of LGBT  people

Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people find the Abrahamic religions unwelcoming, if not downright hostile.  Buddhism provides them with an object of refuge.

3.6 Pop Buddhism and Buddha Chic

Ever since those long ago days of hippies and flower power, Buddhism has enjoyed a certain chic status among creative and artistic people. This aspect of pop Buddhism has become more widespread in recent years, with Buddhas appearing in suburban gardens, magazine advertisements and even nightclubs.

...but unlike showbiz, all publicity isn't necessarily good publicity, and there's an ill-defined boundary where Buddha chic turns into Buddha kitsch, and Pop Buddhism becomes trivializing...


4.1 Pop Buddhism and Buddha Chic (revisited)

The danger of Buddha kitsch is that Buddhism will be trivialized and may even become to regarded as a quick fix for Samsara (which is, of course, ultimately unfixable). 

Sogyal Rinpoche discusses this threat:

"How will Buddhism in the future find the way to make its fullest contribution towards the transformation of society? And yet how can we avoid it being absorbed and neutralized by its encounter with the contemporary world, so that it is reduced to yet another tool to numb us, conscripted and ‘integrated’ into western society, to become simply an interesting offshoot of psychology, a branch of the New Age, or part of the health movement? Many of the Tibetan masters I know today have the same concerns and are asking themselves the same questions as western Buddhists, as we pass through this period of transition together. They also have concerns of their own. They see a number of warning signs for the future.

When we see Buddhist images on advertising hoardings, in Hollywood films and as icons of the chic, it is a testimony to the popularity of Buddhism, which can be gratifying, even exhilarating—but at the same time chilling. Because where will the popularity of Buddhism lead? Are we witnessing the conversion of Buddhism into a product, something which is quick and easy to master, and which ignores the patient discipline and application that is really needed on the Buddhist path, like on any other spiritual path? Then what are the dangers of trying to make Buddhism too palatable for American tastes and fashions, so that we are subtly editing or re-writing the teachings of Buddha? Is there a risk of Buddhism being ‘sold’ too hard, and being too pushy, even evangelical? Commercial-style grasping seems foreign to Buddhism, where the emphasis has always been on examining ourselves. Driven by our compulsive desire for something ‘new’, what will be the long term result of seeking to put a little bit of knowledge into action too soon: rushing in too early, only in order to be productive? My feeling, and that of the masters I know, is that practicality should never take priority over the authenticity of the teachings."

4.2 Secularization   

In attempting to impose 'scientism' and physicalist philosophical views on Buddhism,  the secularizers risk throwing out all the spiritual and mystical aspects leaving an arid, spiritually-barren, materialist philosophy. This has been critiqued by Alan Wallace.

4.3 New Age

Another double-edged sword is the New Age. Although some New Agers may incorporate selected Buddhist beliefs and practices into their worldview, there is a danger that authentic dharma will become diluted,  garbled and corrupted by mixing with everything and anything, in multiple New Age spiritual fruit salads.   

4.4 Competing religions.

Apart from the New Age, which is so syncretistic that it's unclear whether it's competing or complementary to Buddhism, there are other possible threats:

4.4.1 Christianity

Although evangelical Christianity is a major threat to Buddhism in traditionally Buddhist countries like Mongolia and Korea, it doesn't seem to be in competion with Buddhism in the West. This is probably because most Western Buddhists are people who have already abandoned their Judeo-Christian religion before developing an interest in Buddhism, and are unlikely to go back to their ancestral faiths for a variety of pre-existing reasons.

The current meltdown in the Catholic Church will leave a spiritual vacuum worldwide that something will have to fill, though that something may not be Buddhism.

4.4.2 Paganism

Some versions of paganism, such as Wicca, are fishing in the same pool as Buddhism, in that they attract post-Christians who are looking for spirituality without the dogma, misogyny, judgementalism and homophobia that infest their ancestral religions.

4.4.3 Jihadism

As regards competing for converts with Buddhism in the West, Jihadism is a non-starter.  The growth of Jihadism in Europe and North America is due to immigration and massive birthrates.  Conversions of westerners are mostly among dissaffected sections of society such as street gangs and jail inmates, who are attracted by the violence, machismo and promise of divine approval for predatory and anti-social activities.

Conversions of 'normal' Westerners are so rare that Jihadists make a huge publicity circus whenever a prominent Westerner converts, in contrast to conversion to Buddhism, which is so commonplace it goes unremarked.

Jihadism is definitely not fishing for converts in the same pool as Buddhism.

The main danger of Jihadism is that the aggression, destruction and violence that has characterized its attacks on Buddhism wherever the two have met throughout Asia, will carry over to the West.  Jihadism doesn't play nicely with others, and won't compete on a level playing field...

...Coercion, intimidation, thuggery and outright terrorism are intrinsic and essential features of Jihadism.

Jihadism is so intellectually moribund and ethically repulsive that it cannot compete for followers in a free marketplace of ideas, but must eliminate its competitors by whatever means may be necessary. 

Attacks on synagogues and churches are beginning in America and Europe, and it's only a matter of time before Buddhist centers and individual Buddhists are also victims of the growing Jihad in the West.  Buddhists  all over the world are, to some jihadists, fair targets for real or imagined grievances in other countries.

The jihadist problem is potentially worse for Buddhists than for other religions, since Jews and Christians are allowed to live as 'people of the book', but Buddhists must be exterminated, as Lama Ole Nydahl explains

“If we go southward in Afghanistan from Mazar-i-Sharif and down to Kandahar and then east, we will find the old Buddhist core area that was destroyed by three Muslim invasions over the period from 900 to 1100. That was Ashoka’s [1] old core area and where Buddhism originated. Later Islam began to penetrate down through India. And, according to new Indian research, the Muslims killed some 80 million Indians from ca. A.D. 1200 up until the English stopped it in the 18th century. We are talking about Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and others. If you peruse Arabian sources, the term “budh” — the root word of Buddha and Buddhism — denotes someone worshipping many gods and whom Muhammed says must be killed under all circumstances. Who cannot even obtain dhimmi-status. Even the original Buddhist ‘little road’ through Central Asia was destroyed by Muslims. So one might say that we have had much to thank Islam for throughout the years.”

Embarrassing pacifism
– Why didn’t the Buddhists fight back?

“Having a waterproof, completely logical system is very dangerous. When you do, you will have a tendency to bring all your friends along with you into an ivory tower and forget all the ordinary people running around down below. What will people do whose religion resembles a Swiss cheese – full of holes and devoid of logic and thus standing on feet of clay? Well, the more porous one's religion is, the more one will try to convince others in order to convince oneself. All according to the well-known principle: billions of flies eat manure, billions of flies cannot be wrong.”

Ole Nydahl emphasizes that there is nothing wrong with Jesus encouraging his adherents to make all people his disciples. After all, Nydahl himself tries to convince people of the blessings of Buddhism. What he rejects is the practice of subjugating the infidels by means of the sword.

– Are there no examples of Buddhists having taken up arms? Have they all adhered to a radical pacifism?

“Yes, I’m afraid so. I am not aware of any adequate resistance to aggression. And that is really embarrassing when you see your wife, your children, your loved ones, your friends being butchered, and you have not armed yourself to protect them. It must be terrible...”

See   No future for Buddhism in an Islamized World