Archives for category: dharma

Benjamin Lee Whorf seems to have been the first person to point out how much English, and other European languages, are ‘thing-languages’, ‘object-languages’. By far the most important part of speech is the noun and though it is now accepted that not all sentences are of the subject-predicate form, once regarded as universal, quite a lot are. We have a person or thing, the grammatical subject, and the rest of the sentence tells us something about this thing, for example localizes it (‘The cat was sitting on the mat’), or enumerates some property possessed by the ‘thing’ in question (‘The cover of the book is red’). And if we have an active verb, we normally have an agent doing the acting, a person or thing.
There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with such a linguistic structure, of course, but we are so used to it we tend to assume it’s perfectly  reasonable and irreplaceable by any other basic structure. However, as Whorf points out, it is not just applied to sentences of the type ‘A is such-and-such’, where it is appropriate, but also to sentences where it makes little sense. “We are constantly reading into nature fictional acting entities, simply because our verbs must have substantives. We have to say “It flashed” or “A light flashed”, setting up an actor to perform what we call an action, “to flash”. Yet the flashing and the light are one and the same!” (from Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality p. 242, M.I.T. edition).
The quantum physicist and philosopher, David Bohm,  seemingly unaware of Whorf’s prior work, makes exactly the same point.  “Consider the sentence ‘It is raining.’ Where is the ‘It’ that would, according to the sentence, be ‘the rainer that is doing the raining’? Clearly, it is more accurate to say: ‘Rain is going on’ (from Bohm, Wholeness and the Inplicate Order p. 29 ).
Whorf and Bohm clearly have a point here and the general hostility of the academic world to Whorf’s ‘Theory of Linguistic Relativity’ is doubtless in part due to their irritation at an outsider ─ Whorf trained as a chemical engineer ─ pointing out the obvious. Moreover, one would expect the syntax and vocabulary of languages to tell you something about the general conceptions, day to day concerns and modes of thought of the people whose language it is. After all, people talk about what interests them, and languages typically evolve to make communication about common interests more efficient (Note 1).

Even if this is granted for the sake of argument, one might still object that the subject-predicate structure and the role of nouns in English simply reflects ‘how things are’ ─ and there is only ‘one way for things to be’. Since ‘reality’ consists essentially of ‘things’, and relations between these things, isn’t it inevitable that nouns should have pride of place? Well, maybe, but maybe not. And Whorf, one of the very first ‘Westerners’ to actually speak various American Indian languages, was in a good position to question what practically everyone else had so far taken for granted. Amerindian native languages certainly are very different from any European or even Indo-European language. For a start, “Nearly all American Indian languages are either distinctly ‘polysynthetic’ or have a tendency to be so. At the risk of oversimplification, polysynthetic languages can be thought of as consisting of words that in European languages would occupy whole sentences” (from Lord, Comparative Linguistics). Out and out literal  translations from other European languages into English may sound clunky but are perfectly comprehensible, but literal translations from Shawnee or Nitinat sound, not just awkward, but half crazy. Whorf writes, “We might ape such a compound sentence in English thus: ‘There is one who is a man who is yonder who does running which traverses-it which is a street which elongates’ …... the proper translation [being] ‘A man yonder is running down the long street’.” Whorf adds, “Of such a polysynthetic tongue it is sometimes said that all the words are verbs, or again that all the words are nouns with verb-forming elements added. Actually the terms verb and noun in such a language [as Nitinat] are meaningless.”

Secondly, approaching things from the physical/conceptual side, there can be no doubt that native American tribal societies, untouched as they were by Christianity or Newtonian physics, really did have very different conceptions about the world from those of the incoming European settlers, which is one reason why this meeting of the cultures was so catastrophic. Sapir (Whorf’s first teacher) and Whorf believed that this double dissimilarity was not an accident and that the structure of native American languages indeed reflected a very different ‘view of the world’.
So what, in a nutshell, were these linguistic and ‘metaphysical’ differences? According to Whorf, most Amerindian languages are ‘verb-based’ rather than ‘noun-based’ ─ “Most metaphysical words in Hopi are verbs, not nouns as in European languages”. Worse still, “When we come to Nootka, the sentence without subject or predicate is the only type….Nootka has no parts of speech”. Why were they ‘verb-based’, or at any rate not ‘noun-based’? Because, Whorf argues, the Amerindian world-view was not ‘thing-based’ or ‘object-based’ but ‘event-based’. “The SAE (Standard Average European) microcosm has analysed reality largely in terms of what it calls ‘things’ (bodies and quasibodies) plus modes of extensional but formless existence that it calls ’substances’ or ‘matter’. The Hopi microcosm seems to have analysed reality largely in terms of EVENTS” (Whorf, op. cit. p. 147).

         Again, there seems little to quarrel with in Whorf’s claim that the SAE world-view, which we can trace right back to Greek atomism for its physics, really was ‘thing-based’ ─ “Nothing exists except atoms and void” as Democritus put it. The subsequent, more sophisticated Newtonian world-view nonetheless reduces to a world consisting of ‘hard, massy’, indestructible atoms colliding with each other and influencing each other from afar through universal attraction. Whether, the world of native American Indians really was ‘event-based’ in the way Whorf imagined it to be, few of us today are qualified to say ─ since hardly anyone speaks Hopi any more and even the most remote Amerindian tribes have long since ceased to be independent cultural entities. In any case, the complex metaphysics/physics of the Hopi as interpreted by Whorf is in itself interesting and original enough to be well worth investigating further.

To return to language. Assuming for the moment there is some truth in the Sapir-Whorf theory that language structure reflects underlying physical and metaphysical preconceptions,  what sort of structures would one expect an ‘event-language’ to have?  Bohm asked himself this but sensibly concluded  that “to invent a whole new language  implying a radically different structure of thought is….not practicable”. I asked myself a similar question when,  in my unfinished SF novel The Web of Aoullnnia,  I tried to rough out the principles underlying ‘Lenwhil Katylin’, a future language invented by the Sarlang, the first of the  Parthenogenic types that dominate Sarwhirlia (the future Earth).
For his part, Bohm proposes to introduce, “provisionally and experimentally”, a new mode into English that he calls the rheomode (‘rheo’ comes from the Greek ‘to flow’). This mode is meant to signal and reflect the “movement of growth, development and evolution of living things” in accordance with Bohm’s ‘holistic’ philosophy. Whorf, for his part, finds most of what Bohm is looking for already present in the Hopi language which typically emphasizes ‘process’ and continuity rather than focusing on specific objects and/or moments of time. Although both these thinkers were looking for  a ‘verb-based’ language, they were also firm believers in continuity and the ‘field’ concept in physics (as opposed to the particle concept). My preferences, or prejudices if you like, take me in the opposite direction, towards a physics and a language that reflect and represent  a ‘universe’ made up of staccato events that never last long enough to become ‘things’ and never overlap enough with their successor events to become bona fide processes.

Thus, in Lenwhil Katylin, a language deliberately concocted to reflect the Sarlang world-view, the verb (for want of a better term) is the pivot of every communication and refers to an event of some kind. In many cases there is no need for  a grammatical subject at all: events simply happen, or rather ‘become occurrent’, like the ‘lightning flash’ mentioned by Whorf ─ in the Sarlang world-view, all events are, at bottom,  ‘lightning flashes’. The rest of a typical LK sentence provides the ‘environment’ or ‘localization’ of the central event, e.g. for a ‘lightning-flash’ the equivalent of our ‘sky’, and also gives the causal origin of the event (if one exists). We have thus a basic structure Event/Localization/Origin ─ although in many cases the ‘localization’ and ‘origin’ might well be what for us is one and the same entity.
As to the central events themselves, the Katylin language applies an  inflection to show whether the event is ‘occurrent’ or, alternatively, ‘non-occurrent’. One might compare the inflection with Bohm’s ‘is going on’ in his formulation “Rain is going on” ― in LK we just get Irhil~ where ‘~’ signifies “is occurrent”. Being ‘occurrent’ means that an event occupies a definite location on the Event Locality and has demonstrable physical consequences, i.e. brings into existence at least one other event. Such an event is what we would perhaps call an ‘objective’ event such as a blow with a hammer, as opposed to a subjective one like a wish to be somewhere else (which does not get you there). But the category ‘non-occurrent’ is much larger than our ‘subjective’ since it covers all ‘general’ entities, indeed everything that is not specific and precisely localized in space and time (as we would put it). On the other hand, the Sarlang consider a mental event that is infused with deep emotion, such as a flash of hatred or empathy, to be ‘occurrent’ even if it is completely private since, they would argue, such events can have observable physical consequences. This is somewhat similar to the Buddhist distinction between ‘karmic’ and ‘non-karmic’ events: the first have consequences (‘karma’ means ‘action’ or ‘activity’) while the second do not.
After the ‘occurrent/non-occurrent’ dichotomy, the most important category in Lenwhil Katylin is discontinuity/continuity. Although the Sarlang believe that, in the last analysis, all events are a succession of point-like ‘ultimate events’ (the dharma(s) of Hinayana Buddhism), they nonetheless distinguish between ‘strike-events’ such as a blow and ‘extend-events’ such as a ‘walk’, a ‘run’ and so on. Suffixes or inflections make it clear, for example, whether the equivalent of the verb ‘to look’ means a single glance or an extended survey. And the suffix –y or –yia turns a ‘strike-event’ into an ‘extend-event’  when both cases are possible. Moreover, ‘spread-out’ verbs themselves fall into two classes, those that are repetitions of a selfsame ‘strike-event’ and those that contain dissimilar ‘strike-events’. The monotonous beating of a drum is, for example, a ‘strike spread-event’ while even a single note played on a violin is classed as a ‘spread strike-event’ because of the overtones that are immediately brought into play.
A further linguistic category distinguishes between events which are caused by events of the same type and events brought about by events of an altogether different type. In particular, a physical event brought about by a physical event is sharply distinguished from a physical event brought about by a mental or emotional event: the latter case exhibits ‘cause-effect-dissimilarity’ and is usually, though not invariably, signalled by the suffix -ez. This linguistic distinction has its origin in the division of perceived reality into what is termed ‘the Manifest Occurrent’, very roughly the equivalent of our objective physical universe, and the Manifest Non-Occurrent which consists of wishes, dreams, desires, myths, legends, archetypes, indeed the whole gamut of mental and internal emotional occurrences. Nonetheless, these two domains are not absolutely independent and the Sarlang themselves claimed to have developed a technique (known as witr-conseil) that transferred whole complexes of events from the Manifest Non-Occurrent into the Manifest Occurrent and, more rarely, in the opposite direction. Whatever the truth of this claim, the technique, supposing it ever existed, was lost for ever when the Sarlang, reaching the end of their term, committed mass extinction.                                       SH  13/1/18

Note 1 The standard argument against the ‘Linguistic Relativity Theory’ is that, if it were correct, translation would be impossible which is not the case. This argument carries some weight but we must remember that almost all books successfully translated into English come from societies which share the same general religious and philosophic background and whose languages employ similar grammatical structures. Few books have been translated from so-called ‘primitive’ societies because such societies had a predominantly oral culture, while Biblical translators ‘going the other way’ have typically found it extremely difficult to get their message across when communicating with  animists.
There may be something in Whorf’s claim that the Hopi world-view was closer to the modern ‘field of energy’ paradigm than to the ‘force and particle’ paradigm of classical physics. ‘Energy’ (a term never used by Newton) is essentially a ‘potential’ entity since it refers to what an object ‘possesses  within itself’, not what it is actually doing at any particular moment. Generally speaking, primitive societies were quite happy with ‘potential’ concepts, with the idea of a ‘latent’ force locked up within an object but which was not accessible to the five senses directly. It is in fact possible to formulate mechanics strictly in energy terms (via the Hamiltonian) rather than on the basis of Newton’s laws of motion, but no one ever learned mechanics this way, and doubtless never will, because it requires such advanced mathematics. It is hard to imagine a society committed from the start to an ‘energy’ viewpoint on the world ever being able to develop an adequate symbolic system to flesh out such a vision.

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Two Models of the Beginning of the Universe

 There are basically two models for how the universe began. According to the first, the universe, by which we should understand the whole of physical reality, was deliberately created by a unique Being. This is the well-known Judaeo-Christian schema which until recently reigned supreme.
According to the second schema, the universe simply came about spontaneously: no one planned  it and no one made it happen. It ‘need not have been’, was essentially  ‘the product of chance’. This seems to be the Eastern view, though we also  come across it in some Western societies at an early stage of their development for example in Greece (Note 1).
Although for a long time the inhabitants of the Christian West were totally uninterested in the workings of the natural world, the ‘Creationist’ model eventually led on to the development of science as we know it. For, so it was argued, if the universe was deliberately created, its creator must have had certain rules and guidelines that He imposed on his creation. These rules could conceivably be discovered, in which case many of the mysteries of the physical universe would be explained. Moreover, if the Supreme Designer or Engineer really was all-knowing, one set of rules would suffice for all time. This was basically the world-view of the men who masterminded the scientific revolution in the West,  men such as Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Leibnitz, all firm believers in both God and the power of mathematics which they viewed as the ‘language of God’ inasmuch as He had one.
If, on the other hand, the universe was the product of chance, one would not expect it to necessarily obey a set of rules, and if the universe was in charge of itself, as it were, things could change abruptly at any moment. In such a case, clever people might indeed notice certain regularities in the natural world but there would be no guarantee that these regularities were binding or would continue indefinitely. The Chinese equivalent of Euclid was the Y Ching, The Book of Changes, where the very title indicates a radically different world view. The universe is something that is in a perpetual state of flux, while nonetheless remaining ‘in essence’ always the same. According to Needham, the main reason why the scientific and technological revolution did not happen in China rather than the West, given that China was for a long time centuries ahead of the West technically, was that Chinese thinkers lacked  the crucial notion of unchanging ‘laws of Nature’ (Note 2).
Interestingly, there is a noticeable shift in Western thought towards the second model : the consensus today is that the universe did indeed come about ‘by chance’ and the same goes for life. However, contemporary physicists still hold tenaciously onto the idea that there are nonetheless certain more or less unchanging physical laws and rational principles which are in some sense ‘outside Nature’ and independent of it.  So the laws remain even though the Lawmaker has long since died quietly in his bed.

Emergent Order and Chaos

Models of the second ‘Spontaneous Emergence’ type generally posit an initial ‘Chaos’ which eventually settles down into a semblance of Order. True Chaos (not the contemporary physical theory of the same name (Note 3)) is a disordered free-for-all: everything runs into everything else and the world, life, us, are at best an ephemeral emergent order that suddenly occurs like the ripples the wind makes on the surface of a pond ─ and may just as suddenly disappear.
Despite the general triumph of Order over Chaos in Western thinking, even in the 19th century a few discordant voices dissented from the prevailing  orthodoxy ─ but none of them were practising scientists. Nietzsche, in a remarkable passage quoted by Sheldrake, writes:

“The origin of the mechanical world would be a lawless game which would ultimately acquire such consistency as the organic laws seem to have… All our mechanical laws would not be eternal but would have survived innumerable alternative mechanical laws” (Note 4)

Note that, according to this view, even the ‘laws of Nature’ are not fixed once and for all : they are subject to a sort of natural selection process just like everything else. This is essentially the viewpoint adopted in Ultimate Event Theory i.e. the universe was self-created, it has ascertainable ‘laws’ but these regularities need not be unchanging nor binding in all eventualities.

In the Beginning…. Random Ultimate Events  

In the beginning was the Void but the Void contained within itself the potential for ‘something’. For some reason a portion of the Void became active and random fluctuations appeared across its surface. These flashes that I call ‘ultimate events’ carved out for themselves emplacements within or on the Void, spots where they could and did have occurrence. Part at least of the Void had become a place where ultimate events could happen, i.e. an Event Locality. Such emplacements or ‘event-pits’ do not, by assumption, have a fixed shape but they do have fixed ‘extent’.
Usually, ultimate events occur once and disappear for ever, having existed for the ‘space’ of a single ksana only. However, if this was all that happened ever, there would be no universe, no matter, no solar system, no us. There must, then, seemingly have been some mechanism which allowed for the eventual formation of relatively persistent event clusters and event-chains : randomness must ultimately be able to give rise to its opposite, causal order. This is reasonable enough since if a ‘system’ is truly random, and is allowed to go on long enough, it will eventually cover all possibilities, and the emergence of ‘order’ is one of them.
As William James writes:
“There must have been a far-off antiquity, one is tempted to suppose, when things were really chaotic. Little by little, out of all the haphazard possibilities of that time, a few connected things and habits arose, and the rudiments of regular performance began.”

This suggests the most likely mechanism : repetition which in time gave rise to ingrained habits. Such a simple progression requires no directing intelligence and no complicated physical laws.
Suppose an ultimate event has occurrence at a particular spot on the Locality; it then disappears for ever. However, one might imagine that the ‘empty space’ remains, at least for a certain time. (Or, more correctly, the emplacement repeats, even though its original occupant is long gone). The Void has thus ceased to be completely homogeneous because it is no longer completely empty: there are certain mini-regions where emplacements for further ultimate events persist. These spots  might attract further ultimate events since the emplacement is there already, does not have to be created.
This goes on for a certain time until a critical point is reached. Then something completely new happens: an ultimate event repeats in the ‘same’ spot at the very next ksana, and, having done this once, carries on repeating for a certain time. The original ultimate event has thus acquired the miraculous property of persistence and an event-chain is born. Nothing succeeds like success and the persistence of one  event-chain makes the surrounding region more propitious for the development of similar rudimentary event-chains which, when close enough, combine to form repeating event-clusters. This is roughly how I see the ‘creation’ of the massive repeating event-cluster we call the universe. Whether the latter emerged at one fell swoop (Big Bang Theory) or bit by bit as in Hoyle’s modified Steady State Theory is not the crucial point and will be decided by observation. However, I must admit that piecemeal manifestation seems more likely a priori. Either way, according to UET, the process of event-chain formation ‘from nothing’ is still going on. 

The Occurrence Function  

This, then, is the general schema proposed ─ how to model it mathematically? We require a ‘Probability Occurrence Function’ which increases very slowly but, once it has reached a critical point, becomes unity or slightly greater than unity.
The Void or Origin, referred to in UET as K0 , is ‘endless’ but we shall only concerned with a small section of it. When empty of ultimate events, K0  is featureless but, when active, it has the capacity to  provide emplacements for ultimate events ─ for otherwise they would not occur. A particular region of K0 can accommodate a maximum of, say, N ultimate events at one and the same ksana. N is a large, but not ‘infinite’ number ─ ‘infinity’ and ‘infinitesimals’ are completely excluded from UET. If there are N potential emplacements and the events appear at random, there is initially a 1/N chance of an ultimate event occurring at one particular emplacement.
However, once an ultimate event has occurred somewhere (and subsequently disappeared), the emplacement remains and the re-occurrence of an event at this spot, or within a certain radius of this spot,  becomes very slightly more likely, i.e. the probability is greater than 1/N. For no two events are ever completely independent in Ultimate Event Theory. Gradually, as more events have occurrence within this mini-region, the radius of probable re-occurrence narrows and  eventually an ultimate event acquires the miraculous property of repeating at the same spot (strictly speaking, the equivalent spot at a subsequent ksana). In other words, the probability of re-occurrence is now a certainty and the ultimate event has turned into an event-chain.
As a first very crude approximation I suggest something along the following lines. P(m) stands for the probability of the occurrence of an ultimate event at a particular spot. The Rule is : 

P(m+1) = P(m) (1/N) ek    m = (–1),0,1, 2, 3…..

P(0) = 1     P(1) = (1/N)

Then,

P(2) = (1/N) (1/N) ek = (1/N2) ek
P(3) = ((1/N2) ek) (1/N) ek = (1/N3) e2k
P(4) = (1/N3) e2k (1/N) ek = (1/N4) e3k
P(5) = (1/N4) e4k (1/N) ek = (1/N5) e4k
P(m+1) = (1/Nm+1) emk  

Now, to have P(m+1) ≥ 1  we require

(1/Nm+1) emk ≥ 1
emk ≥  Nm+1
 mk ≥ (m+1) ln N     (taking logs base e on both sides)
k ≥ ((m+1)/m) ln N  

       If we set k as the first integer > ln N  this will do the trick.
For example, if we take N = 1050   ln N = 115.129….
       Then, e116(m+1)  > (1050)m+1 for any m ≥ 0 

However, we do not wish the function to get to unity or above straightaway. Rather, we wish for some function of N which converges very slowly to ln N  or rather to some value slightly above ln N (so that it can attain ln N). Thus k = f(N) such that ef(N)(m+1) ≥ Nm+1
       I leave someone more competent than myself to provide the details of such a function.
This ‘Probability Occurrence Function’ is the most important function in Ultimate Event Theory since without it  there would be no universe, no us, indeed nothing at all except random ultimate events firing off aimlessly for all eternity. Of course, when I speak of a mathematical function providing a mechanism for the emergence of the universe,  I do not mean to imply that a mathematical formula in any way ‘controls’ reality, or is even a ‘blueprint’ for reality. From the standpoint of UET, a mathematical formula is simply a description in terms comprehensible to humans of what apparently goes on and,  given the basic premises of UET, must go on.

Note the assumptions made. They are that:

(1) There is a region of K0 which can accommodate N ultimate events within a single ksana, i.e. can become an Event Locality with event capacity N;
(2) Ultimate events occur at random and continue to occur at random except inasmuch as they are more likely to re-appear at a spot where they have previously appeared;
(3) ‘Time’ in the sense of a succession of moments of equal duration, i.e. ksanas, exists from the very beginning, but not ‘space’;
(4) ‘Space’ comes into existence in a piecemeal fashion as, or maybe just before, ultimate events have occurrence — without events there is no need for space;
(5) Causality comes into existence when the first event-chain is formed : prior to that, there is no causality, only random emergence of events from wherever events come from (Note 5).

What happens once an event-chain has been formed? Does the Occurrence Function remain ≥ 1 or does it decline again? There are two reasons why the Probability Occurrence Function probably (sic) does at some stage decline, one theoretical and one observational. Everything in UET, except K0 the Origin, is finite ─ and K0 should be viewed as being neither finite nor infinite, ‘para-finite’ perhaps. Therefore, no event can keep on repeating indefinitely : all event-chains must eventually terminate, either giving rise to different event-chains or simply disappearing back into the Void from which they emerged. This is the theoretical reason.
Now for the observational reason. As it happens, we know today that the vast majority of ‘elementary particles’ are very short-lived and since all particles are, from the UET point of view, relatively persistent event-chains or event-clusters, we can conclude that most event-chains do not last for very long. On the other hand, certain particles like the proton and the neutrino are so long-lasting as to be virtually immortal. The cause of ‘spontaneous’ radio-active decay is incidentally not known, indeed the process is considered to be completely random (for a particular particle) which is tantamount to saying there is no cause. This is interesting since it shows that randomness re-emerges and re-emerges where it was least expected. I conceive of event-chains that have lost their causal bonding dwindling away in much the same way as they began only in reverse. There is a sort of pleasing symmetry here : randomness gives rise to order which gives rise to randomness once more.
There is the question of how we are to conceive the ‘build up’ of probability in the occurrence function : exactly where does this occur? Since this process has observable effects, it is more than a mathematical fiction. One could imagine that this slow build-up, and eventual weakening and fading away, takes place in a sort of semi-real domain, a hinterland between K0 and K1 the physical universe. I note this as K01.
I am incidentally perfectly serious in this suggestion. Some such half-real domain is required  to cope, amongst many other things, with the notorious ‘probabilities’ — more correctly ‘potentialities’ — of the Quantum Wave Function. The notion of a semi-real region where ‘semi-entities’ gradually become more and more real, i.e. closer to finalization, is a perfectly respectable idea in Hinayana Buddhism ─ many  authors speak of 17 stages in all,  though I am not so sure about that. Western science and thought generally has considerable difficulty coping with phenomena that are clearly neither completely actual nor completely imaginary (Note 6); this is so because of the dogmatic philosophic materialism that we inherit from the Enlightenment and Newtonian physics. Physicists generally avoid confronting the issue, taking refuge behind a smoke-screen of mathematical abstraction.                                                                SH  8/6/14

Note 1  This tends to be the Eastern view : neither the Chinese nor the Hindus seem to have felt much need for a purposeful all-powerful creator God. For the Chinese, there were certain patterns and trends to be discerned but nothing more, a ceaseless flux with one situation engendering another like the hexagrams of the Y Ching. Consulting the Y Ching involves a chance event, the fall of the yarrow sticks that the consultant throws at random. Whereas in divination chance is essential, in science every vestige of randomness is eliminatedas much as is humanly possible.
For the Hindus, the universe was not an artefact as it was for Boyle who likened it to the Strasbourg clock : it was a ‘dance’, that of Shiva. This is a very different conception since dances do not have either meaning or purpose apart from display and self-gratification. Also, although they may be largely repetitive, the (solitary) dancer is at liberty to introduce new movements at any moment.
As for the Buddhists, there was never any question of the universe being created : the emergence of the physical world was regarded as an accident with tragic consequences.

Note 2 “Needham tells of the irony with which Chinese men of letters of the eighteenth century greeted the Jesuits’ announcement of the triumphs of modern science. The idea that nature was governed by simple, knowable laws appeared to them as a perfect example of anthropomorphic foolishness. (…) If any law were involved [in the harmony and regularity of phenomena] it would be a law that no one, neither God nor man, had ever conceived of. Such a law would also have to be expressed in a language undecipherable by man and not be a law established by a creator conceived in our own image.”
Prigogine, Order out of Chaos p. 48 

Note 3  Contemporary Chaos Theory deals with systems that are deterministic in principle but unpredictable in practice. This is because of their sensitive dependence on initial conditions which can never be known exactly. True chaos cannot be modelled by Chaos Theory so-called. 

Note 4 See pages 12-14 of Rupert Sheldrake’s remarkable book, The Presence of the Past where he quotes this passage, likewise that from Nietzsche. Dr Sheldrake has perhaps contributed more than any other single person to the re-emergence of the ‘randomness/order’ paradigm. In his vision, ‘eternal physical laws’ are essentially reduced to habits and the universe as a whole is viewed as in some sense a living entity. “The cosmos now seems more like a growing and developing organism than like an eternal machine. In this context, habits may be more natural than immutable laws” ( Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past, Introduction).
  Stefan Wolfram also adopts a similar philosophic position, believing as he does that not only can randomness give rise to complex order, but must eventually do so. Both thinkers would probably concur with the idea that “systems with complex behaviour in nature must be driven by the same kind of essential spirit as humans” (Wolfram, A New Kind of Science p. 845)

Note 5.  This idea that causality comes into existence when, and only when, the first event-chains are formed, may be compared to the Buddhist doctrine that ‘karma’ ceases in nirvana, or rather that nirvana is to be defined as the complete absence of karma. Karma literally means ‘activity’ and there is no activity in the Void, or K0. Ultimate events are the equivalent of the Buddhist dharma ─ actually it should be dharmas plural but I cannot bring myself to write dharmas. Reality is basically composed of three ‘entities’, nirvana, karma, dharma, whose equivalents within Ultimate Event Theory are K0 or the Void, Causality (or Dominance) and Ultimate Events. All three are required for a description of phenomenal reality because the ultimate events must come from somewhere and must cohere together if they are to form ‘objects’, the causal force providing the force of cohesion. There is no need to mention matter nor for that matter (sic) God.

Note 6   “ ‘The possible’ cannot interact with the real: non-existent entities cannot deflect real ones from their paths. If a photon is deflected, it must have been deflected by something, and I have called that thing a ‘shadow photon’. Giving it a name does not make it real, but it cannot be true that an actual event, such as the arrival and detection of a tangible photon, is caused by an imaginary event such as what that photon ‘could have done’ but did not do. It is only what really happens that can cause other things really to happen. If the complex motions of the shadow photon in an interference experiment were mere possibilities that did not in fact take place, then the interference phenomena se see would not, in fact, take place.”       David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality pp.48-9

Comment by SH
 : This is fine but I cannot go along with Deutsch’s resolution of the problem by having an infinite number of different worlds, indeed I regard it as crazy.

 


It is said that certain Gnostic sects which flourished in North Africa during the first few centuries of our era not only encouraged but actually required candidates to give a written or verbal account of how they thought the universe began (Note 1). It would be interesting to know what these people came up with and, most likely, amongst a great deal of chaff there were occasional anticipations of current scientific theories. It is mistaken to imagine that great ideas go hand in hand with experimentation and mathematical implementation : on the contrary, important ideas often predate true discovery by centuries or even millennia. Democritus’ atomic theory (VIth century BC) could not possibly have been ‘proved’ prior to modern times and he certainly could not possibly have put it in quantum or even Newtonian mathematical form. Similarly, one or two brave people put forward the germ theory of disease while the ‘miasmic’ theory was still orthodoxy ─ and were usually dismissed as cranks.
As a body of beliefs, ‘science’ is currently entering a period of consolidation comparable to that experienced by the early Church after its final victory over paganism. Materialism has decisively vanquished idealism and religion is no longer a force to be reckoned with, at least in the West. Along with increasing potency and accuracy goes a certain narrowing of focus and a growing intolerance : science is now a university phenomenon with all that this implies and no .longer a ‘pastime of leisured persons’. To some extent, this tendency towards orthodoxy is inevitable, even beneficial : as someone said it doesn’t matter too much if a poet departs from  the prescribed form of a sonnet, but it may matter a great deal if a bridge builder uses the wrong equations. Nonetheless, there are warning signs : ‘scientific correctness’ has replaced not only free enquiry but the very idea of scientific validity. Professional scientists worry, not so much about whether their results are flawed or their theories tentative, as to whether they are going to get in trouble with the establishment, and offending the latter can have grave career and financial consequences.

        It is true that free, indeed often extremely erratic  speculation, is still allowed  in certain areas, especially cosmology and particle physics. But it is subject to certain serious constraints. Firstly, it is only permitted to persons who already hold more than one degree and who are able to couch their theories in such abstruse mathematics that journals find it difficult to find anyone to peer review the work. Is not this how it should be? Maybe not. Certainly, you are likely to need some knowledge of a subject before cobbling together a theory but there is such a thing as knowing too much. Once someone has been through the mill and spent years doing things in the prescribed manner, it is well nigh impossible to break out of the mental mould ─ and this is most likely the reason why really new ideas in science come from people in their twenties (Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac, Gamow et al. et al.), not because of any miraculous effect of youth as such.

        So. Where’s all this leading?  I didn’t do science at university or even at school which puts me in many respects at an enormous disadvantage, but this has certain good aspects as well. I have no vested interest in orthodoxy and only accept something because I am convinced that it really is true, or is at least the best theory going for the time being. Almost all current would be innovators in science, however maverick they may appear at first sight, take on  board certain key doctrines of modern science such as the conservation of energy or the laws of thermo-dynamics. But one might as well  be killed for a sheep as a lamb and I have finally decided to take the plunge and, instead of trying to fit my ideas into an existing official framework, to swim out into the open sea, starting as far back as possible and  assuming only what seems to be essential. I originally envisaged ‘Ultimate Event Theory’ as a sort of ‘new science’  but now realize that what I really have been trying to do is give birth to a new ‘paradigm’ ─ a ‘paradigm’ being a systematic way of viewing the world or reality. Should this paradigm ever come to fruition, it will engender new sciences and new technologies, but the first step is to start thinking within a different framework and draw conclusions. In other words, one is obliged to start with theory ─ not experiment or mathematics though certainly I hope eventually experiments will give support to the key concepts and that a new symbolic system will be forthcoming (Note 2).

       Four Paradigms

 To date there have been basically four ways of viewing the world, three all-englobing ‘paradigms’ : (1) The Animistic paradigm; (2) the Mechanistic paradigm; and (3) the Information Paradigm and (4) the Event Paradigm.
According to (1) the universe is full of life, replete with ‘beings’ in many respects like ourselves inasmuch as ‘they’ have emotions and wills and cause things deliberately to happen. This conception goes far beyond mere belief in a pantheon of gods and goddesses : as Thales is supposed to have said, if a lodestone draws a piece of iron it is exercising ‘will’ and “All things are full of gods”. This world-view lasted a very long time and, even though it is largely discredited today, it still has plenty of life  left in it which is why we still speak of ‘charm’, ’charisma’, ‘fate’, and so on and why, despite two centuries of rationalistic propaganda, most of the population still believes in ‘jinxes’ and in ‘spirits’ (as I myself do at least part of the time).
The countless deities and “thrones, principalities and powers” against whom Saint Paul warns the budding Christian eventually gave way to a single all-powerful Creator God who made the world by a deliberate act of will. In its crudest form, Mechanism views the universe as a vast and complicated piece of clockwork  entirely controlled by physical and mathematical laws, some of which we already know. No living things of any sort here unless we make an exception for humanity and, even if we do make such an exception, it is hard to see how free will can enter the picture. Modern science has dispensed with the  Creator retained the mechanistic vision somewhat updated by quantum uncertainty and other exotic side effects.
The invention of the computer and its resounding success sometimes seems to be ushering in a new paradigm: the universe is an enormous integrated circuit endowed with intelligence of a sort and we are the humble bits. Seductive though this vision is in certain respects, it is not without serious dangers for the faithful since it looks disturbingly like a sort of reversion to the most ancient paradigm of all, the animistic one ─ the universe is alive and capable of creating itself and everything else out of itself.
The paradigm that I am working with harks back to certain Indian Buddhist thinkers of the early centuries AD though I originally discovered it for myself when I knew nothing about Buddhism and Taoism. No Creator God, no matter or mind as such, only evanescent point-like entities (‘dharmas’, ‘ultimate events’) forming relatively persistent patterns on a featureless backdrop which will eventually be returned to the original emptiness (‘sunyata’) from which the “thousand things” emerged.

Broad schema of Eventrics 

Following my own instincts and the larger cosmology of Taoism and other mystical belief systems, I divide reality into two broad categories, what I call the Manifest and the Unmanifest, each of which is further divided into two, the Non-Occurrent and the Occurent. If one feels more comfortable with a symbolic notation, we can speak of K0  and K1 with further regions K00 and K01, K10 and K11.  Of the Unmanifest Non-Occurrent, K00, little need or can be said. It is the ultimate origin of everything, the original Tao, Ain Soph (‘the Boundless’) of Jewish mysticism, the Emptiness of nirvana, the vacuum of certain contemporary physical theories (perhaps).

To be continued)

Note 1  As soon as Christianity, or a particular version of it, became the official religion of the declining Roman Empire, all such cosmological speculation was actively discouraged and penalized.

Pagoda

The speaker alias myself commenced by saying he aimed to give a rapid overview of the subject 1 as a mathematical and physical concept 2 its connection to religion and mysticism and 3 possible social and technological consequences of the elimination of the concept from science and mathematics.      

Definition I defined ‘infinity’ as “a process that can be started but never concluded”. Usually the process involves making something ‘bigger and bigger’ or ‘smaller and smaller’ as in Calculus. “Infinity is a process or procedure, not a quantity”. I should have added that I was well aware that are more precise, also more sophistical, mathematical definitions but at the end of the day we come down to this  that  infinity is a procedure or activity that never terminates and never can.

Is the concept attractive ? “Not to me,” the speaker  said. “My dislike of infinity dates back to my childhood when a familiar sight on the breakfast table was a brand of honey which had a bear on the label. The bear was holding a jar of honey with a bear on it holding a jar of honey and so on….This used to torture me at night until I fell asleep with exhaustion.

Necessary as a concept?  The Greeks got on very well indeed without it though, arguably, their finitism stopped them developing the science of dynamics. It would have been possible in my view to have developed the calculus without dragging in the infinite but the Greeks just stopped short of doing this though Archimedes came near.  Fast forward to the Renaissance. This  was a period when the West was liberated from the medieval obsession with ‘infinite time’ (eternity), and the new optic gave rise to the exploration of the physical world  by navigation and the loving depiction of the human body in painting and sculpture. “However, the concept of infinity made its fateful appearance with Galileo and others leading eventually to the ‘Infinitesimal Calculus’ (as it was called until very recently) though Newton seems to have had some doubts about the validity of his great invention.”  The grip of infinity finally began to loosen at the end of the pragmatic nineteenth century but then mathematics plunged ever deeper into the mire of infinity with Cantor’s theory of the Transfinite, infinity gone mad (and Cantor himself did) . Adapting a simile from Nietzsche, I said that the concept of infinity was like the gigantic statue of a dead god whose baleful shadow lay across the valley below terrifying the inhabitants and stopping them going about their daily business.

The Revealing Case of Pascal “Le silence absolu des espaces infinis m’effraient” (The absolute silence of infinite space terrifies me). Pascal wrote this.
Pascal“It is interesting that Pascal, the man who discovered the Law of Uniform Pressure for Gases, built the first working calculator and contributed to the Calculus, had a mystical experience one night around this time of year and from then on abandoned the ‘sterile infinity of mathematics’ for the warmth of a personal relationship with God.”
“But,” I added, “if Pascal had been alive today he would perhaps not have needed to abandon the world and science. For we now know that the universe is not finite ─ we can even judge its extent ─   and it is not silent since we hear it if not with our ears at least with radio telescopes. The universe is no longer  forbidding and distant; we know, or think we know, the constituents of the stars and galaxies, however huge, are like grains of sand scattered across the ground. We are part of the universe since, as this gentleman will tell you, [a chemist in the audience] the carbon and other elements in our bodies comes from exploded stars.”

Everything physical is finite  At one time almost everything was thought to be ‘infinite,’ ‘eternal’. But we now know, for example, that the speed of light is  not infinite, that the universe itself had a beginning in time and has a specific size. Energy is not continuous but can only be  distributed in definite quantities (the famous quanta of Quantum Mechanics); molecules and atoms can even be ‘seen’ by electron microscopes.
The Differential Calculus is basically the study of how two sets of quantities change with respect to each other, one variable ‘depending’ on the other. In mathematics the independent variable can be made arbitrarily small. But if you reduce the input of a  mechanical system beyond a certain point, this input is unable to overcome internal friction and there is no output whatsoever. And this limit is miles away far from the mathematical one. “Touch the person next to you as lightly as possible. Then lighter still. You will soon get to the point when this person does not recognize the pressure of your hand. Everything is like this, there is always a smallest and largest possible amount in real life. Calculus models an ideal world, not the real one.”
Today there is some talk of there being a finite ‘smallest length’, the Planck scale (10 (exp) –34), but very rarely talk of there being a smallest interval of time, what I call the ksana (from Sanscrit for ‘instant’). Time is actually the most important dimension since, as Pearce wrote, “one can imagine a world without space but not a world without time”. Although the ‘space’ of our dreams is completely distorted, this does not happen with time : one event leads to another just as in real life. In dreams as in real life you never get stuck in a vicious circle going round and round for ever: there is a ceaseless drive onwards and in a single direction. Time is cvery different from space since it only has one ‘dimension’ and it is dislocated from the three spatial dimensions, “the spatial three-dimensional reality must disappear when time is introduced since otherwise there would be no difference from what exists at one moment and the next”.

The Infinite compared with the ‘Non-finite’

Is the universe self-sufficient and self-explanatory? It would seem not since even science is now seriously talking about it coming from something that was there before, and which will perhaps give rise to other, different, universes. This deeper reality, the ‘Origin’, Ain Soph, call it what you will, has (so I would claim) nothing in common with the mathematical concept of infinity – the Buddha is credited with the just observation that “nirvana is neither finite nor infinite”.
The speaker said he envisaged ‘reality’ as made up of two regions with a veil separating them (the veil of Isis). Mystics have lifted a corner of this veil and have sometimes described what they have seen on the other side. The Beyond is so completely different from everything in the physical universe that mystics, quite rightly describe it in contradictory or negative terms. On the other side there is no number, no shape, no name, no elementary particles, no difference between the part and the whole “All is One”.
However, we live on this side of the veil, in the world of separation, the world of extension and number and mathematics and physics should confine themselves to what is measurable and/or deducible from our (ordinary) sense impressions.  Above all we should not bring into science and mathematics any knowledge (or delusory imaginings) concerning the ‘non-finite’ domain of reality.
“The Tao that can be named is not the origin al Tao” – the first line of the Tao Te Ching. In Lao Tse’s time, language was the most accurate analytic tool known to mankind : if Lao Tse were alive today he would have written “The Tao that can be numbered or mathematized is not the original Tao”.
I have found this stratagem of separating reality into two, and only two, incompatible regions, one finite, specific, measurable, the other non-finite and immeasurable very useful indeed (Note 1).
Strangely enough, the bridge, inasmuch as there is one, between the two realms is not to be found by reaching out into the vastness with  bigger telescopes and torturing oneself with the concept of the infinite, but on the contraryby focussing on the present moment, any moment, this moment. I pointed to the sunlight falling on the grass alongside where we were standing.

Is it possible to show that there is a ‘smallest interval of time’? Is the hypothesis testable?

I made the prediction in one of the early posts on this site, that “during this century science will be able to determine the ratio of the smallest interval of distance to that of the smallest interval of time”. I added that I thought this would not happen in my lifetime. But to my astonishment, someone (Craig Hogan) is currently building a machine he calls an Interferometer in Chicago precisely to show that, as he conceives things, “Space/Time is grainy” or in the current jargon “At a certain level the universe is digital.” Hogan is looking for a basic ‘static’ that goes deeper even than fluctuations of the quantum vacuum and which he sees as the “froth of Space/Time” (Note 2).

There are, incidentally, several thinkers today who view the universe as a giant computer and this came up in the discussion later. “What I note is that a digital computer is made up of a finite collection of bits, carries out finite series of operations sequentially  and has two and only two ‘states’, ‘on’ and ‘off’.” In life terms, ‘on’ is ‘existent’ and ‘off’ is ‘inexistent’ and reality is flickering on and off perpetually. “We are bits”, and the person who raised issue, somewhat to my surprise, did not take this as an insult but nodded in agreement.

I also noted that the universe is expanding faster and it does not look like it will ever contract again now. Everything has its time, “You will die, I will die and the universe will die”, the speaker said somewhat melodramatically.

Social and technological aspects of ‘infinity’

The speaker, i.e. myself, did not have time to say too much about social and technological matters because of the cold.  He would have liked to say more about how science and mathematics, now everywhere triumphant, have made the world and life almost totally incomprehensible (hence the heasdlong flight towards religious fundamentalism). Theoretical scientists and mathematicians seem to be engaged in a sort of competition, on the one hand they say “See all the improbable or impossible things I can believe in and you can’t!”  and on the other “See all the stipid things you believe in and I don’t”. (Things like free will and that you have the ability to change your life overnight if you really want to.)   We are moving at an alarming rate towards scientific totalitarianism: science has ceased to be a free enquiry but a matter of signing up to a credo and watch your step if you disagree with Richard Dawkins & co. on any point for you’ll live to regret it — if you’re a professional scientist that is, I can think what I want.
I believe all knowledge is based on sense impressions and this is the point where we should start. No exception should be made for mathematics and speculative science. What is dismissed by science as ‘anecdotal’ is actually in a way more genuine and more real than what is carried out in the artificial environment of laboratories. A practising chemist at a family gathering discussingthese sort of issues, said like a bolt from the blue to everyone;’s astonishment, “Only the experiment is real, all the rest is theory”. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t go one step further and say “Only the experience is real”.
On the social level, he/I referred to a book popular for as a while in the Sixties but now forgotten, Cain’s Book by Alexander Trocchi. In this book, the central character lives on a boat moored near New York. He is paid to be there by the owner and does not have to do anything much except potter around so he has plenty of time on his hands. He sees in the distance the vast city that he calls “the city of outrageous purpose” (an excellent phrase) but rarely ventures into it. He spends his time desultorily (but on the whole enjoyably) looking at the water and occasionally meeting one or two drop outs. He contrasts “the city of outrageous purpose” (spatial) with “the meaningless texture of the present moment” (temporal). He prefers the second to the first obviously – though unfortunately Trocchi’s interest in the ‘texture of the present moment’ took him into hard drugs, an unnecessary and counter-productive move.

Spatial and Temporal Cultures

      We live in a spatial civilisation which prizes ‘things’ above sensations. We have an ‘object-orientated outlook’which ultimately goes back to the Greeks whose greatest achievements were strictly spatial (geometry and sculpture). Democritus supposedly said “Nothing exists except atoms and void” and his atoms, like Newton’s, were indestructible and eternal. This view of the world, duly extended  by Galileo and Newton, has taken us to where we are now and I certainly don’t want to disparage the fantastic achievements dependent upon it.
But at around the same time as Democritus was active (VIth cetury BC) a homeless wanderer came to exactly the opposite conclusion, namely that “Everything is ephemeral, a ceaseless succession of point-like instants in a state of commotion”. This is the great thought of a timelike civilization and, strangely, though it has given rise to great art and poetry, it never gave rise to a form of science and technology like the spatial take on reality (Note 3). The speaker  stated cryptically that the concept of ‘the moment’ will soon give rise to a different kind of science and even a new technology. (My ponderings on this theme will be the subject of a subsequent post.)

Conclusion

I concluded by saying that it was completely appropriate that this discussion was taking place in (or rather just outside) an edifice built in honour of the Buddha. The briefest summary of (Hinayana) Buddhism is the following credo
“The Great Recluse identified the elements of existence (dharma), their causal interconnection (karma) and their ultimate extinction (nirvana)”.

Finally – and this was completely unplanned and a surprise even to me – I said “My message to you is ‘Hold fast to the moment’, ‘Seize the moment’ ”.

Intelligent discussion followed from the audience but we had to call it a day because of the weather.

Postscript Subsequently, I formed the project of giving a series of talks on related subjects in the open air at the Pagoda, probably on the last Sunday of each month (watch this space). If no one turns up it doesn’t really matter as it is a good place to be.      SH   15/12/12

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Note 1   This principle of the ‘Seaparation of the Spheres” enables me to dismiss at one fell swoop the Theory of the Transfinite and all the Set Theory that depends on it as nonsense which indeed is how it appears to the ordinary person (if such still exist). I must admit to having some trouble deciding how to fit the ‘reality’, if it be reality, of what is described by the wave function in Quantum Mechanics into my schema — does the Schrodinger equation describe anything that really exists or not? But I’m in good company here since debate on the subject still rages unabated. .

Note 2.  See article Scientific American, February 2012   “Craig Hogan believes that the world is fuzzy…… [he] thinks that if we were to peer down at the tiniest subdivisions of space and time, we would find a universe filled with an intrinsic jitter, the busy hum of static. This hum does not come from particles bouncing in and out of being or other kinds of quantum froth that the physicists have argued about in the past. Rather Hogan’s noise would come about if space was not, as we have long assumed, smooth and continuous, a glassy backdrop to the dance of fields and particles. Hogan’s noise arises if space is made of chunks. Blocks. Bits. Hogan’s noise would imply that the universe is digital.
He has devised an experiment to explore the buzzing at the universe’s most fundamental scales.”   Scientific American, February 2012

As I see it, if Hogan picks up an irreducible ‘static’ that is regular, this may well be caused by the spatial shift from one ksana to another. If, however, as I would expect, the noise is random, it would not come from ‘Space/Time’ (what I call the Locality) but from stray ‘ultimate events’ springing into existence and then disappearing without being able to form stable event-chains. There are, I suspect, very many more (I nearly said an ‘infinite number’ of) ultimate events that ‘do not make it’ and merely disappear for ever —  just as there are many many more elementary particles than the ones that form themselves into stable atoms.

Note 3  The men who elaborated the ‘dharma theory’ certainly had the clarity and intelligence to initiate a scientific revolution but their principal or exclusive concern was ‘soteriological’ : to provide a cure for mankind’s unhappiness. There was no point in delving deeper into the mechanisms underlying the physical (pseudo)world, the world of maya, and so, although the developed a system of logic and psychology (to help people towards enlioghtenment), they never developed a systematic physics.       SH  

 

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)

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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.

  1. Physical reality is everything that has occurrence, ultimate reality is the source of everything that can        have occurrence.

  1.   2. Physical reality has a source, K0, which is not itself an event or a collection of events — rather, events are to be viewed as ephemeral and peripheral disturbances of this source.
  2. 3. All physical and mental phenomena are composed of these disturbances called ‘ultimate events’ or, by Buddhists, dharmas.
  3. 4. What we perceive as solid objects are in reality ‘flashings into existence’ of the dharmas (ultimate events).
  4. 5. Certain ultimate events acquire persistence and form stable sequences that have the power to influence other event-chains.
  5.  6. A binding force (karma) holds these event-clusters and event-chains together.
  6.  7. This binding force can be, and sometimes is, abolished in which case the event-chain dissociates and its constituent events soon  cease to repeat.
  7. 8. The complete abolition of all dominance (the power to affect other event-chains and to persist as a distinct event-chain) returns the physical universe to a quiescent state (nirvana) indistinguishable from the backdrop K0 itself. Whether the backdrop will give rise to other universes and realities need not concern us : our universe will have come to an end.     ¶

Ultimate reality can be known — inasmuch as such a thing can be known — because we, like everything else, are grounded in this ultimate reality.   ¶

Physical reality is not governed by eternal laws : all observed regularities are relatively persistent patterns, no more, no less. These patterns, being patterns rather than laws, can change, can evolve. The entire universe, as Descartes said, is at every instant creating itself out of nothing and subsiding into nothing — except that this ‘Nothing’ is the ground of everything.  ¶

Ultimate Event Theory is a new, or rather resuscitated paradigm, a paradigm which, it is suggested, could have given rise to the natural sciences but which, for various cultural and historical reasons, did not. This paradigm originated in Northern India in the first few centuries AD. The process of meditation itself was seen as a metaphor for the evolution of the entire universe, since the aim of meditation is to still the restless, ceaselessly active mind. ‘Deliverance’ is deliverance from this commotion = the stilling of the excitation that is the mind and ultimately the universe itself.
But it is not important where this paradigm came from : the important question is whether it is apt and whether it can be transformed into the bare bones of a physical theory. Matter has traditionally been  viewed as a ‘given’, as something both solid and persistent : this was Newton’s view and Western science stems from the Greek atomists via Galileo and Newton. According to Ultimate Event Theory ‘matter’ is neither enduring nor ‘solid’ : it is made up of evanescent flashes that sometimes form relatively stable and persistent patterns. These flashings are disturbances on the ‘periphery’ of the only ‘thing’ that really exists, and will one day disappear. Instead of atoms being eternal (as Newton imagined) the only ‘eternal’ thing is, thus, the underlying substance itself, K0,  and K0 does not apparently exist in an unchanging state, on the contrary, it is always evolving — though it must presumably possess a core that does not change. In any case this core does not concern us here : it is only the evolution of the surface fluctuations that are amenable to direct observation and experiment.   ¶

Image  :  Instead of a co-ordinate system with continuity built into it, we should rather think in terms of a three-dimensional ‘reality’ flashing on and off with definite gaps between each flash. Every event-line should strictly speaking be represented as a sequence of dots : there are, in Ultimate Event Theory,  no continuous functions or processes, only more or less dense and regular ones.
The gaps between ultimate events are not metrical, that is, although there is a definite size to each event-globule, the distances between globules have no absolute specific ‘length’, are ‘elastic’ if you like. We could imagine reality to consist of certain hard seeds (ultimate events) swimming around in a jelly (the Locality K0) except that this image is only valid for a single ksana (instant) — the jelly and the seeds appear, disappear, appear and so on indefinitely ( but not etenrally).    S.H. 9/8/12