Theories of Our World – Scientific Overview

 August 9, 2020

 We will first briefly discuss three main theories of our world. Then we will start a broader discussion of Buddha’s description of this world.

Theories of Our World – According to Modern Science

1. Western science has been studying our world since the time of the ancient Greeks. But its focus has been on the material world. There have been investigations on TWO fronts. The structure of matter and the origin of life.

  • Investigations on the structure of matter started with Socrates and Aristotle. As discussed in the previous post, Democritus proposed the first atomic theory, and it has evolved into current studies on quantum physics. See, “Introduction – A Scientific Approach to Buddha Dhamma” and Ref. 1 below.
  • The second front is on the origin of life or the study of the living world. That includes plants and conscious life. See, “History of biology.” Modern science believes that living cells evolved FROM inert matter (“abiogenesis.”) See Ref. 2 for more details.
  • Both conscious and non-conscious (plant) life have living cells as the basis.   See, “Origin of Life – There is No Traceable Origin.”
  • There is a separate area of research looking into the question of how consciousness (or mental phenomena) can arise from inert matter. See “Consciousness.” As discussed there, modern science CANNOT explain the origin of conscious life.
Theories of Our World – Religious Explanation

2. Of course, the other prevailing explanation of the origin of life is that a Creator created the whole world, including all the stars, planets, our Earth, and the first forms of life on Earth.

  • Even though easiest to state, this explanation has no factual basis. One HAS TO accept it based purely on the faith of a Creator.
  • See, for example, “Evidence for Creation.”
Theories of Our World – Buddhist Explanation

3. Even though Buddha Dhamma (commonly known as Buddhism) is normally considered a religion, it is NOT a religion in the sense described in #2. It can be treated as a scientific theory, as we will do in this series of posts.

  • Buddha Dhamma provides a complete description of our world.
  • However, the Buddha did not try to provide detailed descriptions of material phenomena. He taught that finding out such details will only take precious time away from the urgent need to find the truth about the unimaginable suffering associated with the rebirth process.
  • Therefore, much of the Sutta Piṭaka and the Vinaya Piṭaka focus on the “problem of suffering” and how to stop future suffering in the rebirth process.
  • As we know, Buddha’s teachings are contained in three Piṭaka or Tipiṭaka. The third one, Abhidhamma Piṭaka, describes in great detail the building blocks of our world. That includes both material (rupa) and mental (citta and cetasika) aspects. If one is interested in figuring out those details, not in the other two Piṭaka, one needs to understand the Abhidhamma material.
  • However, it is not necessary to go to great depths of Abhidhamma to get an idea about the underlying principles. In the upcoming posts, we will do such a simplified analysis. That discussion will augment the series of posts on “Origin of Life.”
Overview of Modern Science

4. The focus of modern science is on figuring out the origin and the behavior of matter. Scientists consider mental phenomena to be secondary and to arise from inert matter! Most scientists believe that mental phenomena arise in the brain.

  • There are several proposals on how the mind (or thoughts) can arise from matter. But there is no credible theory that comes even close to begin to explain it. See “Consciousness.”
  • A critical outcome of this approach is that modern science falls under the “annihilation view” (uccheda diṭṭhi.) That wrong view says that life ENDS at the death of the physical body. 
Evidence Against Proposed Scientific Theories of the Mind

5. Since mental phenomena are supposed to arise in the brain, that conclusion (in red in #4) leads to two critical implications.

  • The death of the brain — thus the death of a human — is the ABSOLUTE end of that life. There no way to “transfer” the memories of one life to another. Thus, the rebirth process is COMPLETELY ruled out in modern science.
  • Furthermore, it also RULES OUT the possibility of Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) including Near-Death Experiences (NDE.)
  • Let us briefly discuss evidence regarding those three areas.
Evidence from Rebirth Accounts

6. I will just provide one account here. In their book, “Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot”, by Bruce and Andrea Leininger detail the amazing story of their son’s recount of a past life.

Here is a recent youtube video on it:

Evidence from Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE)

7. In his book, “Travels,” the famous author of the Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton (1988, p. 307) mentions his ability to “shift my awareness out of my body and move it around the bedroom,” and he says, “..I didn’t think anything about it… I assumed that anybody could do it..”.

Evidence from Near-Death Experiences (NDE)

8. Only a few people have the ability to experience OBE at will. Typically, OBE happens under stressful conditions, most commonly during heart operations. These have a special name of near-death experiences (NDE.) The following video provides a good summary of NDE accounts.

  • There are many books on NDE.  “Consciousness Beyond Life” by Pim van Lommel (2010) gives detailed accounts of case studies of NDE experienced by people undergoing heart operations.
  • A recent book, “Dying to be me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing,” by Anita Moorjani (2012), describes the NDE experience of her in detail.
Current Philosophical Ideas on Consciousness

9. When science is unable to make much progress, philosophers put forth their ideas. In fact, physics evolved from philosophy.

  • There are many ideas in philosophy about consciousness, including one (for example, by Daniel Dennett) that says consciousness is not real!
  • The following video is a presentation by David Chalmers, a leading philosopher on consciousness. He makes much more sense and gets to the heart of the issue.

Consciousness Is a Fundamental Aspect of Nature

10. In the following video presentation, David Chalmers makes some points that are important.

  • Around 8 minutes, he explains that current theories of our world cannot accommodate consciousness.
  • Then he proposes to investigate the possibility that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of nature that CANNOT be derived from other entities (such as matter.)
  • Another philosopher who also believes that consciousness cannot be derived is Thomas Nagel. He discusses that in his book in Ref. 3.   That is indeed what the Buddha explained, as we will discuss in the next post.

Further Information

1. The scientific effort on a single theory to explain material phenomena, “Grand Unified Theory.”

2. Scientific studies on the emergence of life from inert matter, “Abiogenesis.”

3. Thomas Nagel, “Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” (2012).

4. There is evidence emerging from several investigations that a brain is not necessary to have conscious experiences. I encourage watching the following video.

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