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Sunday 1 July 2012

Prathyaksha of the Buddha

Written by  Dr Usha Perera
Sunday, 17 June 2012 00:00

His academic career has been a colorful one with many controversies regarding his teachings and views. Those who followed his career generally fell into two main categories with them either being his ardent students or the harshest of critics. But an unavoidable truth is that whenever he makes a statement or expresses his opinion, a highly participatory and lively debate takes place with or without his participation which is an indicator of his stature. One such occurrence was the debate that followed after he wrote an essay which was published in the internet on “Quantum physics in Sinhala Buddhist Culture” in February 2012. He elaborated on the topic in an interview with The Nation.

Q.    What is the difference between classical physics and
    quantum physics?
The question needs some explanation on western science. Knowledge is created within a certain culture which can be termed as Chintana to which there is no effective translation but which is inclusive of certain attitudes, philosophy and epistology. At the end of the 15th Century in Europe a new chintana was formulated with the pioneering activities of the artists of that era such as Micheal Angelo and Leornado da Vinci which can be termed as the Greek Judaic Christian (GJC) chintana. There were a number of characteristics of this and the statue of David created by Micheal Angelo in Florence, Italy symbolizes this. Galileo and Martin Luther King were those who were born into this existing chintana of which one main characteristic was abstraction as compared to the more concrete sensory chintana of the Catholic Church.
For instance, Galileo said that it was the earth that was moving around the earth rather than the popular belief that it was the sun that moved around the earth. This is something that one cannot sense through one’s sensory perception as a person cannot actually feel the earth moving. It was the same with Newton who said that the apple falls to the ground due to gravitation and similarly we cannot feel gravitation. So these were all only stories with no proof. Later Einstein tried to prove Newton’s theory through his relativity theory. Generally all scientists, when they want to prove a point, first observe and then conduct experiments. Because they cannot experiment with the whole world they take only a sample from the population and then try to fit their findings from the sample to the whole world assuming that the world is represented in their sample which often is not. Then they do various tests to test the significance and then report their findings quoting probabilities which are not actual proof. Of course in classical physics a sample may represent the population very much more than in biological sciences, but still they are all stories which are very abstract. Even Adam Smith the scientist was very abstract in his work, which was very different to the catholic culture before the 15th Century.

Q.     How can this relate to the Sri Lankan context?
In our culture too we create stories, but ours are more individual in nature. We do not generalize as the Western culture does so with sampling. Also Sinhala Buddhists are not story tellers in a general sense. We are more concerned with acquiring knowledge through Prathyaksha which is not sensory perception as it also involves the mind. In Buddhism there are six sensory organs and not the classical five as the mind is also considered a sensory organ and with the mind we are convinced of certain things and there are certain prathyakshas which are those of the Buddha and the Arahant’s alone and we believe in them because of our Shradda. Therefore Buddhism is not a scientific religion even though many Buddhists would like to believe this as they would want to believe that what Buddha taught is very much higher than what has been taught by anyone else.

Q.     How would you explain western science?
In the West science uses induction and there are no deductions even though you have been told that we deduce answers after experimenting. For instance, if A = B = C, we would deduce that A = C. But how do we actually know that A = C and that in some part of the universe it would not be so? For instance take synergism that is being taught in universities. It says, Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal. But how do we know that all men are mortal? When we say that all men are mortal we have already assumed that Socrates is mortal so it is really induction. Even Aristolean logic is induction and all classical physics is based on the GJC principle that I explained earlier.

Q.     How does quantum physics differ?
Quantum physics deal with very very tiny particles or electrons that cannot be observed. In fact the electron is only a concept, which so far has not been observed and the only observation is of its tracts. Therefore we connect these paths and say that this is the path of the electron, even though no one has even observed its travel. This was actually based on Young’s experiment where he showed that when a ray of light moves through one slit and then another, the waves intercept each other which can either enhance or destruct the waves. In quantum physics if there are two slits we don’t know through which slit the particle travels. But now all scientists have been convinced that the particle or electron travel through both slits simultaneously.
This cannot be explained using the GJC chintananya, as according to the GJC, a particle at one point cannot be at another point at the very same time and this is the crux of the problem. Aristotle didn’t know anything about this and he inducted that one particle should be at one point at one time such as if A = B, A cannot be equal to B, on which GJC chintanaya is based. Quantum physics is something that cannot be inducted. Our experience is generally with day to day things, such as this chair which is here cannot be at another place at the very same time. I cannot walk through two doors at the same time, but a particle or an electron can, as it is everywhere at the same time.
I was concerned about this issue when I was asked to teach quantum mechanics from the time I was at the University of Colombo more than 25 years ago. When we are teachers we have to think about what we are teaching and I realized that Western science such as physics, chemistry and even economics is not found in our culture. I was not of this opinion before but I began to change my mind in about 1982 or so. I realized that ours is a different culture altogether and that is why we do not have Nobel Prize winners among Sinhala Buddhists because we are not people to construct theories.

Q.     What about those scientists such as Darwin who were
    apparently against Christian teachings?
Darwin was nothing but a creationist. If we read the Bible we see that in Genesis it says God first created light, sky, earth, then trees, animals and then the man. Darwin says the same thing in a different way. In fact Darwin was a very good Christian just as Newton was and they were simply trying to find out how God created the world. But now we Buddhists are at a loss, because Buddhism is not scientific, is not induction, is not abstract but is of prathyaksha of Buddha and the Arahat’s. My first inclination was to construct theories in a Sinhala Buddhist culture. Now I realize that it is wrong I realize that we cannot create theories in our culture as ours is built on prathyaksha. Even though we realized this at some point, we still had to create stories ourselves to counteract theories coming from the West.

Q.     You mean theories regarding physics?
Yes, in physics I tried to create not so much a theory but an interpretation of quantum mechanics. Finally when I was at Kelaniya University I arrived at it, so I call it the ‘Vidyalankara Interpretation’, which is that quantum mechanics is a branch of physics that cannot be constructed in GJC Chintanaya, and the western theorists have moved away from the GJC without even realizing it just like Galileo who did not know that he was moving away from the Catholic Chintanaya. Since Westerners have created a theory that is not in their Chintanaya, they find it very difficult to come to terms with it.
Feinemann, a Nobel Prize winner said that no one can understand quantum physics, but we, Sinhala Buddhists can understand how a particle can be at two or more different places at the very same time because we have such stories in our literature of Gods and Arahants being at different places at the same time. As children we have heard stories about this and also in our literature we have a logic called Chatuskoti, Tetralemma or the four fold logic which goes as if ‘A’ is true, not ‘A’ is also true, if ‘A’ is false and not ‘A’ is also false.
This is different to the Catholic Chintanaya which says that Jesus is God as well as the Son of God. Tetralemma is how we explain rebirth, which says that if one is born in the next bhava, he is neither you nor someone else. If one assumes that it is the same person, then you assume a soul, because Buddhism is a soulless doctrine. Therefore quantum physics can be explained in a Sinhala Buddhist culture but not within GJC.

Q.     What is your theory on the creation of the universe?
In Buddhism we don’t say that the universe started from a single point. We theorize that it expands and contracts and that it goes on without ending. In the western theory there may not be a creator but there is a creation. Similarly Buddhists should also be able to theorize according to their belief or so I thought about two years ago.

Q.     What do you mean?
Now I feel that constructing theories is not in a Buddhist culture as Buddhism is not inductive, and it is not prathyaksha and that it is through bhavana (meditation) that we can obtain knowledge. Of course bhavana is ultimately not meant to attain knowledge but is to attain nibbana, but this comes as a bonus. I know of certain doctors who treat through nila vedakama and who have contacts with gods and have gained knowledge through meditation. I have taken treatment from them on several occasions where I have been completely cured. This is true prathyaksha. They treat a person on an individual basis and not as a sample.

Q.     So you don’t believe that theories should be constructed in a Sinhala Buddhist culture?
Yes, I believe that Sinhala Buddhists cannot create theories, but having said that there are times that we have to have our own theories to counteract other people’s theories as you can’t tell them “this is my prathyaksha, you either believe it or not”. So because of that only I may create theories even though it is not quite correct as the correct way is to attain the knowledge through bhavana. Consequently I have done two things. One is giving a new interpretation to quantum mechanics within a Sinhala Buddhist culture through the four fold theory. Secondly I have constructed a theory of the universe – that it is expanding and contracting. Fifteen years ago an American group and an Australian group found that the universe was expanding and expanding with acceleration. I did this with the help of two of my students, Wasantha Katugampola and P Hemantha. They are both just about to submit their PhD’s. The theory is not very revolutionary, but we took Einstein’s theory and applied it in a different way.

Q.     Can you elaborate on the theory?
The most important thing is that energy, we all know, cannot be either destroyed or created and one can only convert it into different forms. Space time energy also can be converted into different types, and the universe is expanding with acceleration due to space time energy. We Sinhala Buddhists know space time energy as Viswa Shakthi. Finally it will reach a point where instead of acceleration there will be deceleration and there will be a standstill and finally contract. This is the Buddhist view of the universe.  In the Aganna Sutra which spells out the prathyaksha of Buddha it says that the universe is constantly being Sanvatta and Vivatta which translates into acceleration and deceleration. So even though we theorize, it is really again not theory as it is the Prathyaksha of Buddha, and I would put it as the Prathyaksha of Buddha is theorized me, so that anybody who does not have prathyaksha will be able to understand.