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Sunday 21 February 2016

Does observation of gravitational waves make Einstein’s space-time a patta aththa? The article that "The Island" did not carry

The following article by Dr. Janaka Wansapura, senior lecturer in Physics at the university of Colombo is a reply to an article by  Mr. Bodhi Dhanapala published in "The Island" . I have been informed that The Island did not carry the reply.-- Nalin de Silva

Does observation of gravitational waves make Einstein’s space-time a patta aththa?

Janaka Wansapura

Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einsteina century ago. A group of physicists (LIGO) based in the USA built a fine instrument to detect them and they recently found what they had believed to exist. A Canadian technical college teacher, Bodhi Dhanapala, enrolling the dead scientist’s involuntary aid, implies (Island 13/2/16) that this discovery falsifies Nalin de Silva’s claim that the theory of gravitation is a blatant lie (patta pal boru). Clearly there is a mismatch in what we and Bodhi Dhanapala understand as patta pal boru.

Nalin de Silva’s, thesis work was on relativistic gravitational effects in Astrophysics for which he earned his PhD from the University of Sussex in 1970. Years later, scientists were able to confirm Dr. Nalin de Silva’s predictions on dragging of inertial frames through observations and his results had been published in the prestigious Nature magazine. Therefore it should be clear that when Nalin de Silva says that the theory of gravitation is a blatant lie, he means it in a philosophical context. It seems that Dhanapala failed to grasp the idea.

Theravadin Bhuddhists believe in the idea of there being no self or that “I” is a lie (boru, musa, maya, unreal, etc.). If “I” is a lie then all experiences of “I” must be lies as well. If this “I” then goes on to create abstract stories about its experiences (which happened to be lies) then those stories ought to be called blatant lies (patta pal boru). In this sense if some story is a patta pal boruwa then it cannot claim to be about an absolute reality (patta aththa). Both Newton and Einstein created abstract stories about things falling to the ground. They are both patta pal boru in the above sense. 

If “I” is a lie and that I’s experiences are lies, it is not problematic to use blatant lies to explain “I” or its experiences, provided they work. It should be emphasized that the boruwa “I” works very well. Therefore Newton’s law, since they work, can be used to send rockets even though it is patta pal boruwa, and Einstein’s space-time does not have to be absolutely real for scientists to observe gravitational waves.

Newton’s story imagined gravity as a force; Einstein’s story did not have such forces. In Newton’s story space and time were given. In Einstein’s story space-time was determined by objects and radiation. Einstein’s story was not an extension of Newton’s story it is paradigmatically a different story. Most western Physicists agree on this.

Newton’s theory cannot explain the gravitational waves found in Einstein’s general relativity. Trying to explain gravitational waves with Newton’s theory would be like asking a blind man to describe color of an object while agreeing on the shape. But the question is if both theories were about the same absolute reality why it is not possible to work within Newton’s theoretical frame work and come up with gravitational waves? In other words, if there is an absolute reality can there be two conceptually incompatible stories about it? Most western Physicists avoid this question hence people like Bodhi Dhanapala do not know what to say in this regard.

However Theravadin Buddhists have an answer to this question. Both stories are patta pal boru; meaning that they are figments of the respective author’s imaginations and has nothing to do with a so called absolute reality. These stories do agree with themselves and certain human observations, which are themselves boru, only because they were designed to be so. But they do not correspond to an absolute reality. This is what Bodhi Dhanapala seems to have a problem with. He wants to think that both Newton and Einstein theorized about gravitational force that exist in an absolute sense and that Einstein was closer to reality than Newton. However, in another 50 years or so there will be a another story about gravitation and it will explain gravitational waves plus much more than we know at present, if people like Bodhi are around they will be the first to claim that space-time is no longer the reality but something else is; this can go on forever. 

Unfortunately scientists who claim to be Theravadin Buddhists do not ask themselves whether “I” exist in the same sense that space-time exists.