Pagoda I want to start by expressing my gratitude to MeetUp in general and the London Futurists in particular for enabling this event to take place at all, the first time ever that my ideas have been aired in a public place. I intended to conclude the meeting with an expression of my debt to MeetUp,  the Futurists and founder/organiser David Wood, but unfortunately this slipped my mind as the meeting broke up fairly rapidly after a full hour in the cold. (A summary of my talk will be given in a subsequent post.)
The meeting at the Pagoda on Sunday was, as far as I am concerned, well attended — I did not expect or desire  crowds. All those present seem to have had serious intent and to judge by the thoughtful comments made in the discussion afterwards (drastically curtailed because of the cold) they grasped the main drift of my argument. Some missed the meeting because of the weather or did not find us because we were hidden behind a wall on the south side of the Pagoda.

Two persons have already said they would like to have heard the talk and wondered whether there could be a repeat. However, I feel that my ideas are rather far from the framework and general ethos of the London Futurists — though naturally if asked I would be glad to repeat the talk indoors somewhere at a later date. Instead, I plan to have a monthly series of talks/discussions on various issues arising from ‘Ultimate Event Theory’, the scientific and philosophical system I am currently developing. The place will remain the Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park, South facing wall, at 2 p.m. on a date to be announced, probably the last Sunday of each month — watch this site in January. If no one comes at all, the session won’t be wasted since I will be periodically renewing my contact with the ideas of the Buddha via the beautiful edifice in Battersea Park.

What follows is ‘matters arising’ from the talk:

Three stages

It is said that every new scientific idea goes through three stages : Firstly, they say it is not true, secondly, they say it is not important and, thirdly, they credit the wrong person.
Although I am to my knowledge the first person to have taken the world-view of Hinayana Buddhism seriously as a physical theory (as opposed to a religious or metaphysical doctrine), it is entirely appropriate that the first time Ultimate Event Theory was presented verbally to the public the venue was the Peace Pagoda (built by practising Buddhist craftsmen) since the theory I am developing, “Ultimate Event Theory”, can be traced back to the founder of one of the five great world religions, Buddhism.
Our science stems from the Greeks, in particular the atomist Democritus of Abdera  whose works have unfortunately been lost. He is credited with the amazing statement — reductionist if ever there was one —  “Nothing exists except atoms and void“. These atoms Democritus (and Newton) believed to be indestructile and eternal. Although we now know that some atoms decay, the statement is not so far out : around us are protons and neutrinos that have existed since the Big Bang nearly 15 billion years ago (or very soon afterwards). And as for the void, it is healthier and more vibrant than ever, since it is seething with quantum activity (Note 1).
Dharma    But around the same time when Democritus decided that the ultimate elements of existence were eternal atoms, Gautama Buddha in India reached exactly the opposite conclusion, namely that the dharma (‘elements’) were evanescent and that everything (except nirvana) ‘lasted for a moment only’.  A Buddhist credo summarised the teaching of the Buddha thus: “The Great Recluse identified the elements of existence (dharma), their causal interconnection (karma) and their ultimate extinction (nirvana)” (Stcherbatsky, The Central Conception of Buddhism).
I must emphasize that the theory I am developing, Ultimate Event Theory, is a physical theory (though it has ramifications far beyond physics) and does not presuppose any religious belief, still less is it an underhand way of ‘preaching Buddhism’ or any other form of religion. The Buddha himself founded no Church and spent the latter part of his long life wandering around India giving talks in the open air to anyone who cared to listen. My original interest in Buddhist theory was ‘scientific/philosophical’ rather than ‘spiritual’.  It seemed to me that Gautama Buddha had, through the practice of meditation, intuited certain basic features of physical and mental reality, and concluded correctly that matter, mind, soul, personality and so on are all ‘secondary’ not primary entities — in today’s parlance they are ’emergent’ entities. He also saw, or rather felt, that ‘existence’ was not continuous but that everything (incuding the physical universe) is, as it were, being destroyed and recreated at every instant (the Theory of Instantaneous Being). I do not personally, however, conclude that the personality, consciousness, free will and so on are ‘illusory’ as the Buddhist tradition seems to have inferred, merely not primary, not basic.  At bottom we are seemingly all made up of elementary particles and forces between these particles but at a deeper level still I believe that everything is composed of momentary ‘ultimate events’ flashing into existence and then disappearing for ever. As far as I am concerned the buck stops here : beyond the dharma lies only the Absolute, the ground of all being, and this, though it can perhaps be glimpsed by mystics, is wholly outside the domain of science, rational thought and mathematics. “The Tao that can be named (or measured)  is not the original Tao”.      SH  5 December 2012

Note 1  For the claim that Space/Time is “grainy” see Is Space Digital by Michael Moyer, Scientific American Feb. 2012, also  “How big is a grain of space-time?”  by Anil Ananthaswamy (New Scientist 9 July 2011)


Genesis of Ultimate Event Theory :  My life could be divided into two periods, the first ending one morning in the late seventies when I came across a curious book with the bizarre title Buddhist Logic in Balham Public Library, Battersea, London.  In this book for the first time I came across the idea that had always seemed to me intuitively to be true, that reality and existence were not continuous but discontinuous and, moreover, punctured by gaps — as the German philosopher Heidegger put it  “Being is shot through with nothingness”. A whole school of thinkers, those of the latter Hinayana, took this statement as so obvious it was hardly worth arguing about (though they did produce arguments to persuade their opponents, hence the title of the book).
This well-written tome of Stcherbatsky, not himself a practising Buddhist, thus introduced me to the ideas of certain Hinayana thinkers during the first few centuries of the modern era (Dignaga, Vasubandhu et al.)  I saw at once how ‘modern’ their views were and how, with a certain ingenuity, one could perhaps transform their ‘metaphysics’ into a physical theory very diffferent from what is taught today in schools. These deep and subtle thinkers, in every way the equal of the Greeks, had no interest in developing a physical theory for its own sake since their concern was with personal ‘enlightenment’ rather than the elucidation of the physical world.  Had they and their followers wished it, quite conceivably the world-wide scientific revolution would have taken place, not in the then backward West, but in India. But maybe the time was has now come for the insights of these men to take root some 1,800 years later on the other side of the world and to eventually become the basis of a new science and a new technology. Matter is getting thinner and thinner in contemporary physics so why not drop it entirely and stop viewing the world as the interaction of atoms or elementary particles ? According to Buddhism the ‘natural’ tendency of everything is not to last for ever (like Newton’s atoms) but to disappear and the relative persistence of certain rare event-chains is to be ascribed to a causal binding force, sort of physical equivalent of karma. There is no Space/Time continuum, only a connected discontinuum which is full of gaps. The universe itself will come to an end and everything will return to the absolute quiescence3 of nirvana — though some later Buddhist thinkers, like some conteomporary cosmologists, envisage a never-ending cycle of emergence/extinction/emergence……

Recommended Reading  Those interested in Buddhism as a ‘way of life’ are recommended to start (and also perhaps finish) with Conze, A Short History of Buddhism. This book really is short (132 small size pages) and so good that I seriously doubt whether anyone really needs to read any other book on the subject (unless they want to follow up a particular aspect of the theory) : the writing is clear, concise, comprehensive, pungent. If I were allowed to take only twenty books on a desert island, this would be one of them.
The Russian scholar Stcherbatsky whose books had such a big effect on me has written three seminal works covering the three main aspects of (Hinayana) Buddhism. The Central Conception of Buddhism concerns what I call ‘ultimate events’ (dharma),  Buddhist Logic deals in the main with causality (karma) and The Buddhist Conception of Nirvana with nirvana as one might expect.  Although it is the second book, Buddhist Logic (Volume 1 only), that influenced me, most interested readers would probably find it forbidding in aspect and would be advised to read the Central Conception of Buddhism first (100 pages only) , and not to bother at all with The Buddhist Conception of Nirvana which I found quite poor.