Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Life after death: mental processes continue after brain processes shut down





From The Telegraph 

First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study
"Southampton University scientists have found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after clinical death which was previously thought impossible.

...The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.

It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.

But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.

 One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room.

Despite being unconscious and ‘dead’ for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines.

“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now at the State University of New York, who led the study.

“But in this case, conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.

“The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.

“He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened.”

Of 2060 cardiac arrest patients studied, 330 survived and 140 said they had experienced some kind of awareness while being resuscitated.

Although many could not recall specific details, some themes emerged. One in five said they had felt an unusual sense of peacefulness while nearly one third said time had slowed down or speeded up.

Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the Sun shining. Others recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water. 13 per cent said they had felt separated from their bodies and the same number said their sensed had been heightened...

 

Mental processes don't depend on mechanistic processes

What this study demonstrates is that there are two kinds of processes at work in our lives: mechanistic and mental. 

Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics. The brain is a physical machine no different in principle from a computer, and carries out mechanistic processes.  However mental processes are completely different.

Mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or aboutness (the power of minds to be about, to represent, experience, cognise or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs).    


When mechanistic processes shut down, mental processes can still continue.

For a more detailed explanation of mental and mechanistic processes see Buddhist Philosophy.

 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Buddhist Philosophy





1.Introduction

Buddhism is founded on two fundamental beliefs, from which the rest of the philosophy is derived. These two basic premises are:


(i) The underlying nature of reality is process and change, rather than stable entities.

(ii) Processes can be divided into two categories -  mental processes  and mechanistic processes.

 

1.1 The process nature of reality.
 
The basis of reality consists of processes rather than static ‘things’.  If any ‘thing’ is analysed in enough depth, and observed over a long enough timescale, it can be seen to be part of a dynamic process rather than a static, stable thing-in-itself.  This becomes obvious when we remember that the universe is itself a process (a continuing  expansion from the Big Bang), and so all that it contains are subprocesses of the whole.



1.2 Mechanistic and mental processes


There are two kinds of processes in the world, mechanistic and mental. Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics.

Mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or aboutness (the power of minds to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs). 


1.3  The Buddhist viewpoint


This introduction to Buddhist philosophy will review how process philosophy has long been neglected in the West, but has undergone a recent revival due to the process perspectives of modern science.

I will show how the key Buddhist concepts of impermanence and emptiness are logical consequences of a process view of the world.   I will then discuss why  mechanistic processes cannot account for such mental phenomena as qualitative experience, and ‘aboutness’ (intentionality). This inadequacy of a purely mechanistic worldview is known as ‘The Explanatory Gap’, or ‘The Hard Problem'. 

Finally, I’ll examine how delusions result from the failure of mechanistic processes to give a true picture of reality, followed by some techniques for liberating the mind and transcending these delusional constraints.




2 Process Philosophy

Everything is process



For anyone  new to Buddhist Philosophy, the main thing to bear in mind is that Buddhism is process philosophy, in contrast to most familiar varieties of Western philosophy which are substantialist philosophies.  

Process philosophies hold that the fundamental nature of reality is one of constant change and dynamism, and phenomena that we think of as permanent substances or things, are just snapshots of processes at different stages.   


If we observe any seemingly permanent entity in enough detail over a long enough timescale, then we will indeed discover it is a stage of a process or processes. Thus ‘permanent’  features such mountains and hills are stages of processes involving plate tectonics and erosion etc.  Even the most fundamental particles are processes rather than things, as they exist as ever-changing wave-functions that only appear as well-defined ‘things’ at the moment of observation.

Substantialist philosophies, in contrast, hold that things and substances, or their ‘essential natures’, are the primary fundamental basis of reality, with processes being secondary phenomena.

Substantialism is strongly linked to the idea of essentialism - that things and substances have an ‘essential nature’ that makes them what they are. 



2.1  Neglect of Process Philosophy in the West

Process Philosophy holds that the underlying basis of reality is change, process and impermanence. Becoming is more basic than being, and existence is really just impermanence in slow-motion.

The converse view - Substantialism, holds that true reality is 'timeless' and based on permanent ideal forms. Change is accidental, whereas the substance is essential.

Traditional Western philosophy has always denied any full reality to change, which is conceived as only accidental and not essential.

Substantialism has dominated Western philosophy from the time of Plato until the early twentieth century, and is still deeply embedded within our culture.

There were indeed Process Philosophers among the early Greeks. For example Heraclitus pointed out that no-one can step into the same river twice. It's not the same river nor is it the same person.

Nevertheless, the early process philosophers were ignored or forgotten, and the theory of ideal forms propounded by Plato was adopted by the later Greeks and dominated Western thought until the early twentieth century.  As the modern process philosopher Whitehead remarked, most of the western philosophy carried out during the intervening centuries was 'a series of footnotes to Plato'.



2.2  The scientific perspective on Process Philosophy

From the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth, a series of revolutions took place in science which changed the scientific outlook from substantialist to process-based, and simultaneously demolished the 'essentialist' view of material objects and living things.  


2.2.1 How process thinking became dominant in physics and biology

 

2.2.1.1  Evolution 


 Until Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859, almost everyone believed that species are unchanging and derive their forms by reference to a divine blueprint. Theology had long been dominated by the ideas of Plato, who taught that the species were invariant, deriving their characteristics from reference to 'essences' or 'ideal forms' which were fixed, eternal and inherently existent.

However, Darwin showed that new species are formed by processes of gradual change from simpler forms. All primates (including humans and apes) have a common ancestor. Going back further, all species of mammals diverged from a common ancestor, and so on into the dim and distant past until we reach one common ancestor of all lifeforms, which originated the DNA coding which is universal for all plants, animals, fungi and bacteria on earth.

Consequently, to evolutionists the biological species concept does not reflect any underlying reality. A species is purely a snapshot of an interbreeding population of organisms at a particular epoch in time, and as time progresses the characteristics of that population will gradually change in response to selective pressures.  The process of evolution is the fundamental basis of all biology, whereas the species of living things are secondary and transient outputs of this process.



2.2.1.2 The non-existent Luminiferous Aether


Just as the theory of evolution emphasised dynamic processes, rather than static species, as the fundamental realities of biology,  a similar transformation of thinking was to affect physics a few years later with the negative result of the Michelson–Morley experiment.

Until the nineteenth century, it was believed that all waves must propagate through matter. In other words, processes such as sound and water waves needed some substance to support their existence.   It was therefore assumed that space was filled with a 'luminiferous aether' through which electromagnetic waves such as light, heat, radio waves, X-rays etc propagated like ripples on a pond.  But the Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that this aether did not exist, and thus electromagnetic waves were standalone processes with no supporting substance.   Quantum physics was later to show that the fundamental particles of matter are also processes.



2.2.1.3 Quantum Physics
 
In the early twentieth century, developments in quantum physics revealed that fundamental particles weren't the little irreducible billiard balls of classical physics  The particles, which had previously been regarded as little pieces of matter, are instead processes consisting of continuously evolving and changing wavefunctions.  These processes only give the appearance of discrete and localized particles at the moment they are observed.

So particles are forever changing, and they 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. 




2.3  Process and Essentialism 

Essentialism is the belief that, for any specific entity (such as an animal, a group of people, a physical object, a substance), there is a defining essence within them that makes those things, groups and substances what they are.

For the best part of two thousand years essentialism held sway over the Western mind, firstly in the form of Platonic essences, then as the unchanging species of the Bible, and finally as nineteenth century atomic substantialism.

Essentialism underpins substantialism, and has no place in process philosophy.  Essentialism has been undermined by the same scientific discoveries that undermined substantialism.





2.3.1  Classical physics

 
The first cracks in the essentialist edifice are apparent, in retrospect, with Newton's discovery of the laws of motion.

Before Newton, the heavenly bodies wandered around the firmament according to their different essential natures as decreed by the 'Unmoved Mover'.

After Newton, the stars, planets, moons, comets and asteroids moved according to the same mathematical relationships.

Before Newton, stars, planets, moons, comets and asteroids were separate entities. After Newton there was a continuity in size and composition from the tiniest 'grain of sand shooting star' through meteorites, asteroids, comets, moons, miniplanets, small planets, gas giants, brown dwarfs and all the different sizes of stars.

Before Newton there was the concept of the 'Unmoved Mover'. After Newton every action had an equal and opposite reaction. As a consequence anything that produced a change was itself changed. Therefore ALL functioning things must be impermanent. These observations were never taken to their logical conclusion by European philosophers in Newton's day, possibly because heresy still attracted severe punishment in most European countries.



2.3.2 Chemistry and Particle Physics

 
Chemistry provided a bastion for essentialism up to the late nineteenth century. All substances were composed of atoms of about 80 (then) known elements. Every atom of a particular element was identical with another atom of the same element, and derived its properties from the essential nature of that element. The atom was fundamental and unchangeable.

The first hint of atomic substructures came from the work of Mendeleev, who published his periodic table in 1869. He left gaps in his table for as yet undiscovered elements and was able to predict their properties.

Work on radioactivity in the early 20th century demonstrated that atoms were not fundamental but were composed of elementary particles - electrons, protons and neutrons. It was found to be the number of these particles within each atom of an element that determined the properties of that element, not some inherent substantial essence.


In addition,  these elementary particles did not act like classical 'things'. They were only knowable by interactions with other particles, and the mere act of observation changed their properties in an indeterminate way.

Even worse, their 'essential nature' seemed to change radically according to how they were observed. If you set up your experiment to observe them as particles, then they behaved as particles. If you set it up to observe them as waves, then they behaved as waves.



2.3.3 Evolution and Genesis

 
'The Origin of the Species' was the first major blow against essentialism in the West. In 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea' Daniel Dennett writes  '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.'

So the full implications of the collapse of essentialism have yet to fully permeate the western psyche. But the radical change in the way that science views the world which took place between 1850 and 1950, has brought western thought far more in line with Buddhist philosophy than at any time in the past 2500 years. This may partly explain the rapidly growing interest in Buddhism among scientifically literate westerners.
 



2.4  Impermanence and existence

The impermanence of all functioning phenomena is an inevitable logical consequence of their emptiness of inherent existence.

No functioning phenomenon can be static, because to function it must change and be changed, it must give something of itself or receive something into itself. A truly unchanging phenomenon would reside in splendid isolation and could never even be known to exist. All functioning phenomena are composite and impermanent.  What we term ‘existence’ is really just impermanence in slow-motion.





2.5  Emptiness

No phenomenon is a ‘thing in itself’.  The more you look for it, the less you find it. Things disappear under analysis.  A car exists as a conventional truth, convenient for our everyday lives - a kind of working approximation.  But on dissection, logical analysis can find no ‘essential’ car, just a heap of parts that at a certain arbitrary stage of assembly is designated ‘car’, and at a certain arbitrary stage of disassembly is designated 'pile of junk'.

Outside our mind there is no defining ‘carness’ .  Similarly,  if you gradually decrease the height of the sides of a box until it becomes a tray, there is no point at which 'boxiness' leaves and 'trayfullness' jumps into the structure, with the box being automatically transformed into a tray. It’s all arbitrary mental designation.  This arbitrariness is the ultimate truth of how things exist to our minds. And it goes all the way down to the fundamental particles of matter.






2.6  The two truths: conventional and ultimate

Although it may be true that all functioning things are processes, it doesn't help us to find our way around the everyday world. Conventionally, we regard any object that exists relatively unchanged for a long enough duration to be useful, as a 'thing' rather than a process.

This is similar to the situation where knowing that matter is 99.9% empty space is of no use whatsoever when we're building a brick wall.

So reification (regarding processes as things) of functioning phenomena is a conventional truth - a working approximation that allows us to function in, and find our way around the world.

In Buddhist ontology process is primary, substance is secondary. So ultimately the entire world that we function in, and find our way around, is itself a process, and will eventually cease to exist. The world and all that's in it lack any enduring identity that has the power to prevent impermanence from sweeping them all away. That is their ultimate truth.
 

And even the concept of 'existence' is itself a conventional truth. To say that any functioning phenomenon 'exists' is a commonsense approximation to saying that it endures for a relatively long time. 'Existence' is really nothing other than a less blatant form of impermanence.

So both conventional truth and ultimate truth are valid for their respective purposes, in the same way that classical and quantum physics are both valid.

If we want to design and build a bridge, we think in terms of classical physics. If we want to explore the ultimate nature of matter, we think in terms of quantum physics.

Likewise, if we want to build a Dharma center, then we use conventional truths to assemble all the conventionally existing things that are needed - stones, bricks, beams, windows, doors, cables, pipes etc.

If we then want to sit inside the finished Dharma-center and contemplate ultimate truth, we may reflect on how the ultimate truth of the Dharma-center is that it exists dependently upon the causes and conditions that built it, the parts from which it was built, and our mental labelling of it as 'Dharma-center'.

But the more you look for it, the less you find it. If we think that the Dharma-center actually exists from its own side, then we may try to pinpoint the exact stage of its construction at which 'heap of bricks' suddenly ceased to exist and the 'essence of Dharma-center' jumped into the structure to make it the thing that it is.

And of course we'll never find that sudden transformation, because 'essence of Dharma-center' only exists in our own mind, not within the structure of the Dharma-center.




3 Minds and mechanisms 



Alan Turing


"When the body dies, the 'mechanism' of the body holding the spirit is gone, and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later, perhaps immediately."
– Alan Turing on the death of his boyfriend.

There are two kinds of processes in the world, mechanistic and mental.

Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics.   All mechanistic processes can explained, modelled and simulated by Turing machines

What Turing referred to as the 'spirit' would be what Buddhists would call the 'mental continuum', a process that knows its objects (generates intentionality) and experiences qualitative states such as aversion and attachment, pleasure and pain.  

Thoughts about things, and minds of attachment and aversion (eg an angry mind) arise as subprocesses of this primary mental continuum, and then dissolve back into it, a phenomenon that can be observed in mindfulness meditations.
 

Mental processes can continue to operate when the mechanism of the brain  has shut down.

These mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example neither qualia (qualitative experiences), nor intentionality (the power of minds to be about, to represent, to give meaning or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs) can be modelled, simulated or explained in terms of a Turing machine or combination of Turing machines.

Mental processes do not appear to be physical, for when we seek to bridge the gap from the processes taking place in the brain to those the mind, we inevitably reach a point where the methods of investigation, explanation and simulation pursued by mechanistic science (in the form of Turing machines)  are exhausted, and 'physical' understanding comes to an end.  Logical continuity between matter and mind disappears, and we are left in a perplexed contemplation of mysterianism. 

This explanatory gap is known as 'The Hard Problem of Consciousness'.





4 Delusions

Are we all deluded?


There are two kinds of delusions - innate delusions and intellectually formed delusions

Innate delusions result from our non-physical mental processes being attached to our bio-physical bodily processes, including those of the nervous system and brain, which have been driven by evolution
to give us a picture of the world that is merely fit for purpose, rather than one that represents some true underlying reality. 

Intellectually-formed delusions consist of pernicious mind viruses, memes and memeplexes such as bogus religions.  Another intellectually formed delusion is that of materialism, which is to some extent inspired as a reaction against the excesses of memetic religions.



4.1 Innate delusions

4.1.1  Reification

To reify is usually defined as mistakenly regarding an abstraction as a thing. It is derived from the Latin word res meaning 'thing'.

Reification in Western philosophy means treating an abstract belief or hypothetical construct as if it were a concrete, physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.

In Buddhist philosophy the concept of reification goes further. Reification means treating any functioning phenomenon as if it were a real, permanent 'thing', rather than an impermanent process.


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.

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. 


 


4.1.2  Other biologically based  delusions
All animals, including ourselves, have genetically programmed drives to eat, reproduce, fight for territory and mates, kill prey, help our kin and so on. These drives appear to our mind as attachment and aversion.

Manifestations of attachment include sexual desire, hunger and the need for security. Manifestations of aversion include fighting, fleeing and avoiding painful and dangerous situations. All these mental reactions have evolved because they gave our ancestors a selective advantage. They are, or were, essential for preservation of the individual and procreation of its genes.


We humans can to some extent distance ourselves from these drives. We can examine them and if necessary rebel against them. From the Buddhist point of view this is especially significant when these instinctive drives become pathological and turn into harmful 'innate delusions', giving rise to mental states such as anger, hatred, sadism, jealousy, greed, miserliness, sexual abuse and so on.


4.2  Intellectually formed delusions

4.2.1  Viruses of the mind
 'Mind viruses' (otherwise known as malignant memes and memeplexes) are contagious delusions, which harness the three poisons of the mind to spread like infectious diseases.  Jihadism is such a meme, which is 'as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog', to quote Winston Churchill. 

The study of memes, memeplexes and their mechanisms of infection is known as memetics.


The Quran is the meme that provides the justification for beheadings, rapes, mutilations, genocides etc carried out by the Islamic State and their co-religionists.

The Quran demonstrates the self-reference and circularity typical of many memes. The Quran says it's the word of God, and believers know what it says is true because it's God's word!   Therefore its incitement to rape, murder, extort and pillage the kuffars must be obeyed without question.

Of course any logical analysis shows the Quran's truth claims to be a hoax, but logical analysis, and indeed any forms of rationalism, are strongly discouraged by Jihadists. In addition, divinely sanctioned rape, murder, extortion and pillage provide a very useful excuse for the criminal activities so evident among Jihadists in kuffar countries. No wonder Jihadism is spreading so rapidly in jails: it's a criminals' charter.  Just as typhus was the Victorian 'jail fever', jihadism is the modern prison epidemic.

 


4.2.2 Scientism and materialism.

Materialism is the belief that matter is the only reality in life and everything else, such as mind, feelings, emotions, beauty etc are just the by-products of the brain's physical and chemical activity, with no independent existence of their own.  Once their material basis is gone, mind and consciousness just disappear without trace.   Needless to say, materialism denies the validity of all religions and spiritual paths, not just Buddhism.

The debilitating effects of materialism don't just affect religions; they despiritualise all in their path, degrading art and encouraging brutalism.


Philosopher Roger Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

Although materialism undermines the basis of all religions, nevertheless, materialism is of special interest to Buddhists, because Buddhism is the only religion that has a sufficiently strong philosophical basis to confront it.   Buddhism can argue rationally against materialism, whereas less  intellectually grounded religions can only bury their heads in the sand and ignore it, while their congregations decline and their institutions get taken over by small cliques of extremists.
 

As the Abrahamic religions have failed to tackle materialism, and instead are  degenerating into antiscience, idiocy and bigotry, Buddhism could become the only object of refuge for intelligent spiritual seekers wanting to escape the bleak and barren consequences of materialism.



5. Liberation of the Mind


Get me out of here!

5.1 Stepping outside the system

The concept of liberation from delusions by 'stepping outside the system', or ‘jumping outside the loop’ occurs repeatedly in different contexts within Buddhist philosophy and practice.  The archetypical example is, of course, the Buddha himself, who escaped from the endless loop of Samsara (cyclic existence) when he became enlightened.

In a philosophical and religious context, this stepping outside a system is known as transcendence, but there are also more mundane examples that serve as useful analogies.

 

5.2 Cultivating qualitative states of mind

Both formal meditational practice and a more informal approach using art may be employed to produce beneficial mental states.


5.2.1  Meditation

Many meditations consist of a two-stage process, analytical meditation followed by placement meditation. For example, in meditation on compassion a procedural mental process is used to generate a qualitative state of mind.  The qualitative mental feeling of compassion is what is known in Western philosophy as a 'quale' (singular of qualia).   It is an internal subjective state generated from the observation or recollection of external eventsThe objective of the placement stage is to familiarise and 'mix' the root mind with this beneficial state.

The ultimate and most profound meditation is that of tantric bliss and emptiness.



5.2.2  Art and aesthetics

"The experience of art often fulfills yearnings similar to the inspiration offered by religion. One more profound relationship between art and religion has historically been how it acts as a vehicle for expressing religious teachings. The worldly appreciation of cultural beauty is infused with a sincere belief that the aesthetic of religious art is not for its own sake, but to transmit ultimate truths..."

'Scruton believes that all great art has a 'spiritual' dimension, even if it is not overtly religious. It is this transcendence of the mundane that we recognise as 'beauty'.

In Buddhist terminology we would say that true art, even when it reflects samsara (the realms of chaos, addiction, squalor and suffering), shows that there is a path out, and often acts as signposts along the path.' 



'The three main ways of accessing intuitive levels of the mind are symbolism, visualisation and ritual. Symbolism may be used on its own, or in combination with visualisation and ritual.

The concept of symbolism has two aspects - Representational Symbolism and Evocative Symbolism, though sometimes a representational symbol can, with familiarity, become an evocative symbol.

Evocative symbols are interpreted by and affect the more subtle levels of the mind.  Evocative symbolism is associated with art, architecture and poetry, especially where there is a spiritual aspect. Examples of evocative symbolism in the visual arts are icons, thangkas, mandalas, stained glass windows and statues of holy beings.

Evocative symbolism often doesn't use direct representation, reference or explicit analogy. As the symbolist Mallarme said "Don't paint the thing itself, paint the effect that it produces".


"Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This "nothingness" is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality.[5] If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated. This appreciation of nature has been fundamental to many Japanese aesthetic ideals, "arts," and other cultural elements. In this respect, the notion of "art" (or its conceptual equivalent) is also quite different from Western traditions"
 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Islam will destroy Buddhism

Islam will dominate the world and destroy Buddhism

The non-Muslim world was horrified recently when the Islamic State (aka The Caliphate, ISIS, ISIL)  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, d e, f, g]       .     


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 befallen the Yazidis is a forestaste of what will happen to Buddhists as the Caliphate extends its reach globally [ a, b, c, d, e,  f, g, h, i, j]

Some  naïve Westerners have been puzzled why 'moderate' Muslims have not condemned the Caliphate’s genocidal activities, [a, b, c]  but the reason is that the Islamic State’s actions are in complete accordance with the Koran, [a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h  i,  j , k, l, m, n ,o, p, q] so to condemn them would be to condemn the Koran and its author, which is blasphemous and punishable by death [ a, b, c, d, e f g h ] .



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

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


The Islamic State’s neighbor and ally [a, b ], 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 [a, b, c, d, e, f, g ,i ] 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.    This supremacist combination of ignorance and arrogance, with reliance on violence in place of reasoned argument, is in marked contrast to the rationality of Buddhism.
 

It is clear that Islam is not a religion in any normal sense [a] , but has more in common with those vicious tyrannies Nazism and Stalinism [a].  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. 

Islam is a classic mind virus - a contageous meme causing aggressive insanity which shares many of the features of rabies.


How Islam sees others
Islam divides humanity into two implacably antagonistic groups - Muslims (collectively known as the Ummah) versus Kaffirs (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 Kafirs, especially by sexual humiliation and gang-rape of their children, is extremely important to Jihadists, with Islamic child abductions and gang-rapes being a feature of jihad in such widely different locations as Iraq, Russia, Nigeria, Britain and Burma  [ a b c d e f g h, i, j , k, l, m, n, o, p, q]

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, b].  

 
'The Qur’an tells Muslims that they are the “best of people” (3:110), while unbelievers are “the most vile of created beings” (98:6), and that this dichotomy inculcates a pride and arrogance'[a].  Muslims describe Buddhists as 'Mushrik' or 'Mushrikun' (idolaters) - a term of abuse which places them in the lowest category of '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, after prolonged torture,  of James Foley for being a harbi  [a ,b, c, d, e, f]  

Jihadist children are taught from an early age to hate and kill harbis [a, b, c, d ]


Harbi doll --  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 [a] and are non-negotiable in the long term, though the practice of taqiyya (holy deception) allows temporary deceptive peace agreements (’Hudna’) to be made while the forces of Islam are too weak to attack the Harbis successfully [a, b].






Islamization of Dar al-Harb



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].     



Religious liberty under Islam

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.   We can expect the anti-Buddhist jihad to intensify globally, with the increasing likelihood of attacks on Buddhists and Buddhist institutions in the West, as well as the usual terrorist operations in Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka etc  [ a, b, c, d, e,  f , g, h, i, j, k, l , m, n ]


Islam cannot coexist with Buddhism or other religions


Islam is a brutal, hyper-masculine, barbarian, tribal warrior cult that glories in machismo, murder, mutilation, gang-rape, genocide, terrorism, destruction and anarchy.

Islam is as ruthless as the rabies virus in ensuring is own propagation. It appeals to the lowest motives in human nature, with its divine approval for murder, sadism, extortion and rape in this life, and the promise of an afterlife spent in Allah's brothel in the sky with 72 subservient virgins.

Women, girls and all the feminine aspects of human nature are chattelised and subjugated. Weakness is despised and seen as ripe for predation. Women and children are gang-raped, and kuffar captives and defenseless minorities tortured and slaughtered.

With its institutionalized misogyny, Koran-sanctioned wife-beating and prophet-inspired pedophilia, Islam is a predatory, bullying, domineering despoiler and destroyer of all that is beautiful, spiritual, gentle, peaceful, innocent and vulnerable.

In the face of this militant all-conquering savagery, Buddhism doesn't stand a chance!
 




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.


In the late nineteenth century, the theory of evolution made processes rather than static species the fundamental realities of biology. A similar transformation of thinking was to affect physics with the negative result of the Michelson–Morley experiment.  

Until the nineteenth century, it was thought that all waves must propagate through matter. In other words, processes such as sound and water waves needed some substance to support their existence.   It was therefore assumed that space was filled with a 'luminiferous aether' through which electromagnetic waves such as light, heat, radio waves, X-rays etc propagated like ripples on a pond.  But the Michelson–Morley experiment demonstrated that this aether did not exist, and thus electromagnetic waves were standalone processes with no supporting substance.

Therefore, at a very generalized level, since the nineteenth century 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.