Archives for category: nirvana

“In the last analysis it is the ultimate picture which an age forms of the nature of its world that is its most fundamental possession”
   Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science

Today, since the cultural environment is so violently anti-metaphysical, it has become fashionable for physical theories to be almost entirely mathematical. Not so long ago, people we now refer to as scientists regarded themselves as ‘natural philosophers’ which is why Newton’s great work is entitled Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. When developing a radically new ‘world-view’, the ‘reality-schema’ must come first and the mathematics second, since new symbolic systems may well be required to flesh out the new vision ─ in Newton’s case Calculus (though he makes very sparing use of it in the Principia).
Newton set out his philosophic assumptions very clearly at the beginning, in particular his belief in ‘absolute positioning’ and ‘absolute time’ ─ “All things are placed in time as to order of succession; and in space as to order of situation” (Scholium to Definition VIII). And, as it happened, the decisive break with the Newtonian world-view did not come about because of any new mathematics, nor even primarily because of new data, but simply because Einstein denied what everyone had so far taken for granted, namely that “all things are placed in time as to order of succession” ─ in Special Relativity ‘space-like separated’ pairs of events do not have an unambiguous temporal ordering. The case of QM is more nuanced since the mathematics did come first but it was the apparent violation of causal process that made the theory so revolutionary (and which incidentally outraged Einstein).
The trouble with the current emphasis on mathematics is that, from an ‘eventric’ point of view, the tail is wagging the dog. What is real is what actually happens, not what is supposed to happen.
Moreover, mathematics is very far from being so free from metaphysical and ‘intuitive’ assumptions as is generally assumed.  Arithmetic and number theory go right back to Pythagoras who seems to have believed that, at bottom, everything could be explained in terms of whole number relations, hence the watchword “All is Number” (where number meant ‘ratio between positive integers’). And this ancient paradigm received unexpected support from the 20th century discovery that chemistry depends on whole number ratios between the elements (Note 1).
The rival theory of continuous quantity goes back to Plato who, essentially for philosophic reasons, skewed higher mathematics decisively towards the geometrical which is why even those parts of Euclid that deal with (Whole) Number Theory (Books VII ─ X) present numbers as continuous line segments rather than as arrays of dots. And Newton invented his Fluxions (what is now known as the calculus) because he believed reality was ‘continuous, ─ “I consider mathematical Quantities in this place not as consisting of very small parts but as described by a continued Motion…..These Geneses really exist, really take place in the Nature of Things” (Newton, De Quadratura).
The hold of the continuous, as opposed to the discrete, over mathematicians and physicists alike has been extraordinarily strong and held up the eventual triumph of the atomic hypothesis. Planck, the man who introduced ‘quanta’ into physics, wrote “Despite the great success that the atomic theory has so far involved, ultimately it will have to be abandoned in favour of the assumption of continuous matter”.
        Even contemporary branches of mathematics are far from being so ‘abstract’ as their authors claim, witness the excessive importance of the misleading image of the ‘Number Line’ and the general prejudice in favour of the continuous. Only logic is ‘reality-schema free’ and even here, there are systems of ‘deviant logic’ that attempt to make sense of the quantum world. The wholesale mathematisation of physics has itself been given philosophic support by authors such as Tegmark who claim that “at bottom reality is mathematical, not physical”.
All this to say that I make no apology for presenting a broad-brushed reality-schema or ‘world-view’ before attempting to develop a symbolic model and make predictions. It seems  we need some sort of general ‘metaphysical’ schema if only as a form of intellectual housekeeping, and it is much better to lay one’s cards on the table from the very beginning (as Newton does).
So, what is the schema of Eventrics and Ultimate Event Theory? The fundamental notion is of the ultimate event (an event that cannot be further decomposed). I believe there are such things as events and that they are (at least for the purposes of this theory) more fundamental than ‘things’. I also claim that events must ‘have occurrence’ somewhere ─ hence the need for an Event Locality which either precedes all events or is brought into existence as and when events ‘have occurrence’. Secondly, since most of the events that I and other humans are familiar with seem to be caused by other, usually preceding,  events, I feel that this datum needs to be introduced into the theory at the very start. There is thus, by hypothesis, a Casual Force operating on and between (most) events. This force I term Dominance in order to emphasize its usually one-sided operation, and perhaps also to be able to extend the sense a little (Note 2).
I have thus already found it necessary in a theory of events to introduce two entities that are not events, namely the Locality and Dominance. Nonetheless, they are very closely tied up with the production of events, since without the first nothing at all could happen (as I see it), and, without the second, all events would be disconnected from each other and reality would be a permanent vast blooming confusion which, reputedly, it is for the new-born infant.
Are all events caused by other events? This is the deterministic view which was for a long time favoured by the scientific community. The 19th century cosmologist Laplace went so far as to claim that if the positions and momenta of all bodies at the present moment were known, the entire future evolution of the universe could be deduced using only Newton’s laws. But, as we know, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle has put paid to such naïve assumptions; the notion of a strictly random event has now become entirely respectable. It can be loosely defined as “an event without causal predecessors” or, in the jargon of UET, “an event that has no passive relation of dominance to any other event that has occurrence on the Locality”. Because of QM and other considerations, I thus found it essential from the very outset to leave some room for ‘undominated’ or ‘random’ events in the general schema. (Not only that, I shall argue that, at one time, random events greatly outnumbered ordinary caused events.)
This naturally leads on to the question of origins and whether we need any. Most ‘origin-schemas’ require the prior existence either of ‘beings of another order’ (Brahman, God, Allah, Norse gods &c.) or of states that are barely conceivable to us mere mortals (Nirvana, the original Tao, the Quantum Vacuum &c.). All such beings/states/entities are other, fundamentally different from the world we (think we) know and the beings within it.
A few ‘origin-schemas’ envisage the universe as remaining basically the same at all times, or at most evolving from something not fundamentally different from the world we now (think we) inhabit. The Stoic cosmology of Eternal Recurrence, Fred Hoyle’s Steady State and perhaps the Hawking-Hartle ‘No Boundary’ theory fall into this  class. For the partisans of these schemas, the present universe is ‘self-explanatory’ and self-sufficient, requiring nothing outside itself for its existence or explication (Note 3).
For a long time modern science did indeed adhere to the ‘self-explanatory’ point of view, but current physical orthodoxy is a strange mixture of ‘other-‘ and ‘no-other’ origin-schemas. After dismissing for decades the question of “What was there before the Big Bang?” as meaningless, most current cosmological theories involve pre Big Bang uni- or multi-verses very different from our own but still ‘obeying the laws of physics’ which, though distilled uniquely from observations of this world, have  somehow become timeless and transcendent, in effect replacing the role of God Himself.
Partly for rational and partly for non-rational, i.e. temperamental, reasons I subscribe firmly to the first class of ‘origin theories’. I do not believe the physical universe is ‘self-explanatory’ notwithstanding the amazing success of the natural sciences, and it is significant that present cosmological theorists  have themselves found it necessary to push back into uncharted and inaccessible territory in their search for ultimate origins. The quasi-universality of religious belief throughout history, which, pared down to its essentials, means belief in a Beyond (Note 4) is today explained away as an ingrained habit of wishful thinking, useful perhaps when times are bad but  which humanity will eventually outgrow. However, I don’t find this explanation entirely convincing. There is perhaps more to it than that; this feeling that there is a reality beyond the physical sounds more like a faint but strangely persistent memory that the world of matter and its enforcers have never been able to completely obliterate. (This was precisely the view of the Gnostics.)
Be that as it may, I do assume an ultimate origin for events, a  source which is definitely not itself composed of events and is largely independent even of the Locality. This source ejects events randomly from itself, as it were, or events keep ‘leaking out’ of it to change the metaphor. The source is familiar to anyone who is conversant  with mysticism, it is the Brahman of Hinduism, the original Tao of Lao Tse, Ain Soph, the Boundless, of the Kabbalah, and what Bohm calls the ‘Explicate Order’. It is  unfashionable today to think in terms of ‘potentiality’ and contrast it with ‘actuality’, but it could be said that this source is “nothing in actuality but everything in potentiality”. Ain Soph is, as Bohm emphasizes, immeasurable in the strong sense ─ measurement is completely irrelevant to it. Since science and mathematics deal only with the measurable and the formal, Ain Soph does not fall within their remit ─ but equally well one can maintain, as all mystics do, that such a thing/place/entity is beyond our comprehension (but perhaps not entirely beyond our apprehension).
What, however, above all one must not do is to mix the measurable and the immeasurable ─ which is exactly what Cantor did, to the great detriment of modern mathematics. Inasmuch as the Unknowable can be known, science and mathematics are definitely not suitable means: ritual, ecstatic dance or directed meditation are traditionally regarded as more suitable ─ and part of their purpose is precisely to quieten or sideline the rational faculty which is, in this context, a hindrance rather than a help.
     Ain Soph, or whatever one wants to call the source, should not have any role to play in a physical or mathematical theory except, at most to function as the ultimate origin of uncaused events. We can, in practice, forgot about it. This means, however,  that ‘infinity’, ‘eternity’ and suchlike (pseudo)concepts should have no place in science or in mathematics since they belong entirely to the immeasurable (Note 5).
‘Reality’ thus splits up into two ‘regions’, which I name the Unmanifest and the Manifest. The former is the ultimate source of all events but does not itself consist of events, whilst the latter is ‘manifest’ (to us or other conscious beings) precisely because it is composed of events that we can observe.
These two regions  themselves divide into two giving the schema:
        (1) The Unmanifest Non-Occurrent
        (2) The Unmanifest Pre-Ocurrent
        (3) The Manifest Occurrent
        (4) The Manifest Post-Occurrent.

Why do we need (2.) and (4.)?
We need (2) largely because of Quantum Mechanics ─ more precisely because of the ‘orthodox’ Copenhagen interpretation of QM. This interpretation in effect splits the physical world into two layers, one of which is described by the wave function in its ‘independent state’ while the other arises when a human intervention causes the wave function to ‘collapse’ — an interesting metaphor. In the former (pure) state, whatever ‘goes on’ (and something apparently does) lacks entirely the specificity and discreteness of an ultimate event. We are, for example, invited to believe that a ‘photon’ (or rather a photo-wavicle) has no specific location prior to an intervention on our part ─ rather misleadingly termed a ‘measurement’. There is thus a layer of reality, and ‘physical reality’ at that, which does not consist of events but which seemingly does in some sense exist, and is all around and even in us. There is thus the need for an intermediary level between the remoteness of the true Unmanifest and the immediacy of the world of actual events we are familiar with (Note 6).
What of (4.), the Manifest Post-Occurrent ? It would seem that there are ‘entities’ of some sort which are not observable, not composed of bona fide observable events, but which are  nonetheless capable of giving rise to observable phenomena. I am thinking of such things as archetypes, myths, belief systems, generalized abstractions such as Nation, State, Humanity, perhaps even the self, Dawkins’s memes and so on. Logic and rational discourse tend to dismiss such things as pseudo-entities: there is the well-known anecdote of the tourist being shown around the Oxford colleges and asking where the university is. But the ‘university’ does have a reality of a sort, something in between the clearcut reality of a blow to the head and the unreality of a meaningless squiggle.
Moreover, it is in (4.) that I place such things as mathematical and physical theories. As far as I am concerned it is not the Oxford tourist but people like Tegmark (and Plato) who are guilty of a ‘category mistake’: in my terms, they situate mathematics in (1.), the Unmanifest Non-Occurrent, rather than in (4.) the Manifest Post-Occurrent. (1.) is a wholly transcendent level of reality, while (4.) is a manufactured realm which, though giving an appearance of solidity, would not exist, and would never have existed, if there had never been any human mathematicians (or other conscious beings). The Platonic view of mathematics, though tempting, is, I believe, a delusion: mathematics was made by man(kind) and was, originally at any rate, an extrapolation from human sense-impressions, though admittedly it is a very successful one.                                      SH 20/12/19 

 

Note 1. See the chapter on the ‘New Pythagoreanism’ in Shanks’s excellent book, Number Theory, or, for a more accessible treatment, in Valens’s The Number of Things.
Note 2 Dominance is roughly the equivalent of the Buddhist/Hindu concept of karma ─ but applied to all categories of events, not just morally significant ones.
Note 3. Newton granted a small role to God in the evolution of the universe, for example stopping heavenly bodies converging together, but Leibnitz argued that it was blasphemous to suppose any such intervention was needed since this implied that the Creator had not been a good enough designer in the first place. “No need for miracles” became a principal tenet of the Enlightenment though most thinkers found it necessary to introduce a Prime Mover to ‘get the ball rolling’, so to speak. Even this shadowy deus ex cathedra faded away into nothingness by the time of Laplace who famously informed Napoleon, “I had no need of that hypothesis” ─ the hypothesis in question being the existence of God.

Note 4 The Koran, for example, addresses itself specifically to “those who believe in the unseen” (Koran sutra 2 ‘The Heifer’ v. 3).

Note 5. This is precisely the point made by Lao Tse in the very first line of the Tao Te Ching which may be translated, “The Tao that can be named is not the original Tao”. Lao Tse was writing at a time when language, not mathematics or physics, was the most advanced intellectual achievement, and, were he alive today  would doubtless have written “The Tao that can be mathematized is not the original Tao”.

 Note 6.    QM is, incidentally, not the only system that posits an intermediary realm between the Limitless and the Limited. Hinayana Buddhism has a curious theory about ‘events’ passing through various stages of progressive ‘realization’ before becoming actual ─ most Indian author for some reason cite 17.

 

 

 

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

_______________________________

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