Rough Interface

Simply put, science had no theoretical framework on which it could hang these experimental data. Consciousness was banned altogether in the behaviorist psychology theories of the day. Consciousness was an unquantifiable, unknowable phenomenon for the strict mechanists. Philosophy, the caretaker of the other half of Descartes' world, had made some progress in the field of mind, but in a way that was not subject to rigorous experiment. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had said that the effort to understand our sense data caused part of the reality which we falsely attribute to an objectively existing world, a strikingly Svatantrik position which in no small way prodded the work of Bohr and his colleagues in Copenhagen. One of them, Johann von Neumann, went so far as to say that it is not possible to formulate the laws of physics without direct reference to human consciousness. (22) He argued that if the unmeasured electrons are merely potentialities, as the wave equation of Schrodinger describes them, the particles that compose the measuring device which records the electrons must also be mere potentia, unable to collapse their own or any other wave potential into existence. His conclusion was that consciousness is directly responsible for calling any particle into being. Here it almost seems as if quantum physics and Madhyamika independently produced a related concepts of what happens at the subject-object "boundary". (23)

Physicists of a more 'realist' bent often claim that there is a boundary between events on the subatomic scale and events at our macroscopic scale. The momentum uncertainty is dependent on the mass of the particle in question, and the value of Planck's constant h is so small that any object much larger than the atomic scale will no longer be susceptible to uncertainty. (24) However this does not excuse physics from having to explain how any number of subatomic particles, whose existence is dependent on conceptual designation, can get together to create objects that are not also dependent on conceptualization. This awkwardness, caused by the fundamental incompatibility of classical and quantum physics, remains a thorn in the side of modern physics.

In contrast, the Madhyamika paradigm has no need to posit this seemingly arbitrary boundary between micro and macro. Madhyamika makes no statements concerning uncertainty or wave-particle duality, nor does it refer to any Newtonian laws of motion, thus it avoids the paradoxes that inhere in descriptions of objects when they are cast into the molds of classical and quantum physics. The issue at hand is not whether our current laws of physics are valid or complete, but rather to understand why the paradoxes exist for us. Is it possible the western tradition's axiomatic belief in absolute ontology is the problem in physics, and might the relative ontology of Madhyamika offer a way forward through the quantum paradoxes and impasses?

The intersection of Western science and Madhyamika principles is explored by B. Alan Wallace, a physicist trained in Buddhist doctrine, in his book Choosing Reality. He states in the introduction that to the best of his knowledge his is the first attempt to "apply the mode of inquiry of the Buddhist centrist view to the foundation of physics". (25) Wallace describes a spectrum of attitudes about the nature of scientific theory and discovery, bounded by the two extremes of 'realism' and 'instrumentalism'. This spectrum closely parallels the extremes of permanence and nihilism in Madhyamika. The truth, in both systems, is found somewhere between the extremes.

Further -->

Back to the Index

End Notes and Works Cited

Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig