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Buddhism as the Foundation of Science

Bhikkhu Prayudh Payutto

National Science Day Lecture, given at the University of Chiang Mai,
Northern Thailand, on August 16, 1991.


The limitations of scientific knowledge

NOW I WOULD LIKE to speak about the limitations of science's exploration and knowledge. Going back just a little, I said that there are differences in the nature and scope of our object of knowledge, which prompts a number of observations. I have said that Buddhism conducts its research within the human being, and asserts that to thoroughly know the truth of a human being is to know the whole universe, while science studies only the external material world, the knowledge of which leads only to an understanding of the physical world. At the most it can lead only to the frontiers of the mind, as it influences the material world (and vice versa), which is of limited scope.

I have also mentioned that science, and in particular, physics, has made such great advances that it can almost be said to have reached the limits of its field of knowledge. Previously, science believed that it could obtain an understanding of the whole universe simply by knowing the external physical world, through scientific observation based on the five senses. Science took the view that all phenomena relating to the mind were rooted in matter. By understanding matter completely, the mind would also be understood. Nowadays only few scientists still believe this, because the enormous amount of knowledge amassed about matter has not shed any light at all on the mind.

At the present time, concepts about the reality of matter and mind fall into two main categories, or models:

1. That the world of matter and the world of mind are like two sides of one coin. That is, they are separate, but they interact with each other. This first group believes that these two realities are on opposite sides, and each side must be independently studied and then integrated into one body of knowledge.

2. That the world of matter and the world of mind are like two rings in the same circle. This second group sees the borders of knowledge as being a big circle, having an inner ring and an outer ring. The inner ring is limited to its own circumference, while the outer ring covers both its own area and that of the smaller ring. That is, one ring surrounds the other. If the larger ring is understood, then all is understood, but if only the smaller ring is understood, such knowledge is still incomplete, because the outer ring is still not known.

Now if, in this model, the knowledge of matter is the smaller ring, even if our knowledge covers the entire world of matter, still it is only the smaller ring that is understood. The outer ring, which includes the mind, is still not known. If, on the other hand, the outer ring is matter, then to know the truth of matter will automatically be to know everything. Now which model is more correct? I will not attempt to give an answer here, but leave it to those concerned to figure it out.

In any case, many eminent physicists have said that the knowledge of science is only partial, and is only a beginning. In terms of the model of the rings, it would seem that the knowledge of matter is only the inner ring of the circle, because it is limited to the five senses, ignoring the sixth. Beyond these senses we arrive at the world of symbols, mathematical proofs, in relation to which we have Sir Arthur Eddington's words:

"We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of the physical sciences leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols."

Another eminent physicist is Mr. Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918, and is regarded as the father of modern Quantum Theory. Planck was known to have stated that no sooner was one of science's mysteries solved than another would arise in its place. He conceded the limitations of scientific truth in even clearer words:

" ... Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature, and, therefore, part of the mystery that we are trying to solve."

One scientist went so far as to write:

" ...the most outstanding achievement of twentieth century physics is not the theory of relativity with its welding together of space and time, or the theory of quanta with its present apparent negation of the laws of causation, or the dissection of the atom with the resultant discovery that things are not what they seem; it is the general recognition that we are not yet in contact with ultimate reality."

So it has reached this stage! This is the most significant advance of science: the realization that it is incapable of reaching the truth. All it can lead to is a shadow world of symbols. If science accepts this situation then it must be time to choose a new path: either to redefine its scope, or to expand its field of research in order to attain the complete truth of nature.

If science is content to limit itself to its original scope, it will become just another specialized field, incapable of seeing the overall picture of the way things are. If, on the other hand, science really wants to lead mankind to a true understanding of nature, it must extend its field of thought, redefining its fundamental meaning and stepping out of its present limitations.

The material world: science's unfinished work

In the present time, even in the world of matter, in which, as we said, science specializes, the fundamental truth is still beyond the powers of science to explain. There are still many things that science cannot explain, or were once thought to be understood but which now are no longer on sure ground.

One example is the 'quark'. The quark is the basic or smallest constituent of matter, but it is not yet certain whether it really is the fundamental particle or not. It is still a matter of doubt. At the moment, it is believed to be the fundamental particle, but some are not so sure whether it really is, or whether another more fundamental particle will be discovered, or even whether this particle exists at all!

The quanta are in a similar position. Quanta are fundamental units of energy, but once again these are not irrefutably known to exist, they are still only understood or believed to exist.

We are still not sure that matter and energy are like two faces of the same thing. If that's the case, then how can they be interchanged? Even light, which scientists have been studying for so long, is still not clearly defined. What is the fundamental nature of light? This is still considered to be one of the deeper mysteries of science. Light is an energy force that is at once a wave and a particle. How can this be so? And how can it be a fixed velocity when, in the Theory of Relativity, even time can be stretched and shrunk?

The electro-magnetic field is another mystery, another energy source which is not yet clearly defined as a wave or a particle. Where do cosmic rays come from? We don't know. Even gravitation is still not completely understood. How does it work? We know that it's a law, and we can use it, but how does it work? We don't know. And the Theory of Relativity tells us that the space-time mass can be warped. How is that? It is very difficult for ordinary people to understand these things.

All in all, science still does not clearly know how the universe and life came about. The ultimate point of research in science is the origin of the universe and the birth of life. At the present time, the Big Bang Theory is in fashion. But how did the Big Bang occur? Where did the original atom come from? The questions roll on endlessly. Even the question, "What is life?" is a mystery.

In short, we can say that the nature of reality on the fundamental level is still beyond the scope of research. Some scientists even say that there is no way that science will ever directly know these things.

It might be said that it's only natural that if we confine our research to the material world, we cannot attain to the fundamental truth. Even the most fundamental truth of the physical universe cannot be understood by searching on only one side, the material world, because in fact all things in the universe are inter-connected. Being inter-connected, looking at only one side will not lead to a final answer. Truth from the other side must also be incorporated, because the remaining fragment of the mystery might exist on the other side of reality, the side that is being ignored.

When science reaches this point in its research, it will be forced to take an interest in answering the problems of mind. At the present time we can see many scientists and physicists beginning to turn around and look at the mind and how it works.

Some people say that even the Theory of Relativity is simply a philosophical system, a product of thought, a concept. Space and time depend on consciousness, the mind. The mundane perception of human beings of form and size of matter are not merely the workings of the sense organs, but must also rely on thinking. They are a judgement of the mind, not just an impression through the five senses. Eye sees form, but it doesn't know size or shape. The apprehension of size and shape are functions of the mind. Therefore knowledge from the five senses is not the end of the matter.

What is it that knows science? The mind. But science does not yet know the nature of this mind. If science wants to know the ultimate truth, it must know the mind. In recent times the problem of the observer and the observed has emerged. Are they two different things or are they one and the same?

Some scientists are beginning to puzzle over the nature of mind, trying to ascertain what it actually is. Is the mind merely an event that arises within the workings of matter, like a computer? Then we get the questions on whether a computer can have a mind. Numerous books have been written on this subject. I have seen the one by Penrose, which was a national best-seller. His conclusion is that the computer cannot possibly have a mind.

In any case, it seems that doubt will not be dispelled until science takes on the field of 'mind' as well. Soon there will be the problem of whether mind and matter are one and the same thing or separate. This problem has existed since the time of the Buddha, and is related in the Abyakata panha (the questions the Buddha wouldn't answer), which consisted of questions such as: "Are the life force and the body one thing, or are they different?"

In the present time, leaders in the field of science seem to be divided into four main groups of theories or approaches to the nature of reality.

The first group, known to the others as the orthodox group, stands by their conviction that science can eventually answer all questions, and that science is the only way to really attain an understanding of reality.

The second group, a group of 'new' scientists, concedes that science is not able to explain the reality of the mind, but they feel that both sides should be allowed to continue their work independently. This group does not agree with the group who believes only in physics, nor with the 'new' physicists, with their attempts to integrate physics with Eastern religions.

The third group is another group of new physicists who believe that physics is compatible with the Eastern religions. They believe that the Eastern religions help to explain the nature of reality, and point the direction for physics to grow in the future. An example of this group is Fritjof Capra, although Capra's ideas are not accepted by the mainstream of the physics world.

The fourth group is another group of new physicists, but this group maintains that the material world is one level of reality which is contained within the realm of the mind. This is the model I mentioned earlier, of the circle with the smaller ring inside it.

All this is a matter for science to sort out for itself. I don't wish to evaluate it here, but instead would like to start on a new topic. I would like now to proceed into the world of the mind, and in particular, values, the area science has yet to research. In this limited time I will have to limit myself to one example, and here I will talk about ethics.

Ethics: a truth awaiting verification

Ethics is one of those things I call 'values', that is, it is related to good and evil. Good and evil are values or principles. Ethics is a very broad and important subject, one which is normally considered a religious matter, but here we will consider it in relation to science.

Some people go so far as to say that good and evil are merely social conventions, a matter of preference. They believe that good and evil can be defined any way one pleases. Such an idea seems to contain some measure of truth, when we consider how in some societies certain actions are deemed good, but in other societies those very same actions are deemed evil.

However, th is kind of perception arises from confusion of the factors involved. It stems from:

1. A failure to differentiate between ethics and conventions.
2. A failure to see the relationship that connects ethics with reality.

From this we get three points for consideration: reality, ethics and convention. We must understand the difference and the relationship between these three levels. The chain of factors involved has connections throughout, ranging from the qualities of good and evil, which are true conditions in reality, and spreading outwards to become good and evil actions and speech, which are ethics, and from there connecting outwards once more to become the laws and conventions of society, these being conventions.

This system of reality, ethics and regulations is very similar to the scientific system. The basis of science, which is Pure Science, is reality. Resting on this base we have the Applied Sciences and technology. If Pure Science is faulty, then Applied Sciences and technology suffer. From the Applied Sciences and technology we reach the third level, which is the forms technology takes. These will be many and varied. One of the reasons for this is that technology seeks to work with the laws of nature in the most efficient way. The forms of technology will vary in efficiency because they are more or less consistent with the laws of nature. Those forms of technology which are most consistent with the laws of nature, acting as channels for the optimal functioning of those laws concerned, will be the most efficient, and vice versa.

Reality can be compared to Pure Science.
Ethics can be compared to Applied Science and technology.

Regulations or conventions can be compared to the forms that technology takes.

Societies determine conventions or regulations to regulate themselves. This is convention, which can be determined according to preference. For example, in Thailand the regulation is that cars drive on the left hand side of the road, while in America cars drive on the right hand side. Different countries have determined different regulations. Now, which is good and which is evil? Can Thailand say that the Americans are bad because they drive on the right hand side of the road, or can America say the opposite? Of course not. These regulations are the standard for each country, and each country is free to make its own standards. This is convention.

However, convention is not simply a matter of preference, there are reasons behind it. Even in very simple matters, such as deciding which side of the road cars must drive, there is an objective in mind. What is that objective? The objective is order and harmony on the road, and wellbeing for people in a social context. This is what both countries want, and this is a concern of ethics. American society wants this quality, and so does the Thai society. Even though their conventions differ, the ethical quality desired by both societies is the same. In this instance we can see that there is a difference in the regulations made, but in essence, in the ethical sense, there is consistency.

Now the problem arises, which regulation gives better results? This is the crucial point. It may be asked which is the more conducive to order and harmony between the regulations of keeping to the right in America and keeping to the left in Thailand. There may be some difference of opinion in regard to the regulations themselves, but this does not mean that societies merely determine these regulations out of preference.

This is the relationship between ethics and convention, or regulation. Regulations are made to provide an ethical result. In Buddhist monastic terms, the monks put it very simply by saying "vinaya is for developing sila" ... Vinaya refers to the rules and regulations of society, but the objective of these is sila, which is ethics.

There is an exception in cases where regulations have indeed been made out of partiality, for the benefit or advantage of a select few. For example, there are times when we suspect that certain laws have been made to protect the interests of a select group. In this case we say that corruption has arisen within the regulating process, which will in turn cause a degeneration of ethics. When the root of the legal structure is rotten, it will be very unlikely to produce a good result. Even so, societies do determine many rules and regulations out of a pure intention to create an ethical result.

Because there is this common objective, ethics, but the forms of the regulations which result differ, we must learn how to distinguish clearly between ethics and conventions. We can see a lot of these differences in the conventions, customs and traditions of different societies - family customs, for example. In one society, a woman is allowed so many husbands, a man is allowed so many wives, while in other societies, the customs will differ. Nevertheless, overall, what is the objective here? The objective is order and harmony within the family. This is their objective, and this is ethics.

However, in the determining of regulations for society, people have varying levels of intelligence and wisdom, and different intentions, sometimes honest, sometimes not. Societies have different environments, different histories. With so many varying factors, the result in terms of ethics also differs, being more or less efficacious as the case may be. From time to time these regulations must be reevaluated. Conventions are thus tied to specific situations and considerations of time and place. The consideration of time and place is a concern of conventions, but the ethical objectives are universal.

Therefore, by looking at the situation in the right manner, even though there may be some discrepancies in the form regulations take, we can see that they are in fact the results of humanity's efforts to create a harmonious society. That is, conventions are not the end result, but rather the means devised by mankind to attain an ethical standard, more or less effective, depending on the intelligence and honesty of the people determining them.

Bearing this in mind, we can avoid the mistaken belief that good and evil are merely social conventions, or are determined by preference. We must look on these regulations as mankind's attempts to find ethics, to attain true goodness. No matter how useful or ineffective regulations may be, our objective remains an ethical one.

The success of regulations is very much tied to the presence of an ethical standard within the people who are determining them, and whether or not they have made their decisions intelligently.

Now for the problem of whether ethics is a real condition or not, we must refer to the principle that ethics is based on reality or truth. That is, ethics must be in conformity with the process of cause and effect, or causes and conditions. In the field of convention, whenever a regulation is created which brings about an ethically satisfactory result, we say that it has been useful. For example, if we regulate that cars must run on the left' or right-hand side of the road, and this regulation is conducive to order and harmony, then we say that that regulation has fulfilled its purpose.

Reality (saccadhamma), ethics (cariyadhamma) and convention (pannattidhamma) are abstract qualities. Because ethics is tied to reality, it follows that it is one factor in the whole stream of causes and conditions. The causes and conditions involved in human behaviour are so complex, much harder to predict than the weather!

If we do not understand or see the relationship and connection between reality, ethics and convention, we will not be able to enter into a thorough consideration of values, which are mental properties, and see their proper place within the laws of nature, functioning according to causes and conditions.

'What is' versus 'what should be'

Now let us make one more comparison between science and Buddhism. I have already mentioned that science does not include the human condition in its research, because it has veered away from it into the direction of material things.

Buddhism learns the laws of nature, and then applies them back to an ethical perspective. When people practise in accordance with ethics, they receive the results in accordance with the natural law of cause and effect, and attain a good life, which is their objective. This gives us a cycle with three stages: 1) Knowing or realizing the truth; 2) Practising in an ethical way; 3) Attaining a good life.

Science knows the truths of nature, but only on the material side, and then sends the knowledge gained to technology, attaining the life of abundance in accordance with its objectives.

One path leads to a healthy life, while the other path leads to abundance; one way deals with the nature of man, the other way deals with the nature of material things. Science does not connect the truth to ethics, but instead, because it deals only with the material world, connects it to technology.

It is generally understood that science concerns itself exclusively with the question "What is," shrugging off any concern with "What should be?" as a concern of values or ethics, which lies beyond its scope. Science does not see that ethics is based on reality because it fails to see the connection between "What is?" and "What should be?". On the material plane, however, science does address the question of "What should be?", albeit unknowingly, but the question is handed over to technology.

For example, Pure Science tells us that water will freeze when the temperature drops to zero degrees Celsius. Technology then steps in and considers what is to be done to get ice, which is to develop some way of making the temperature drop to zero degrees Celsius. The principle and the means must be in conformity like this. This is why I said that Pure Science looks for the truths of nature, while technology and Applied Science put that knowledge into effect.

Science applies itself to problems on the material plane, but on ethical questions it is silent. Suppose we saw a huge pit, full of fire, with a temperature of thousands of degrees. We tell someone, "The human body is only able to endure up to a certain temperature. If it enters into that fire it will be burnt to a crisp." This is the truth. Now suppose we further say, "If you don't want to be burnt to a crisp, don't go into that pit." In this case, the level of science tells us that the hole is of such and such a temperature, and that the human body cannot withstand such a temperature. Ethics is the code of practice which says, "If you don't want to be burnt to a crisp, don't go into that fire."

In the same way that technology must be based on the truths of Pure Science, ethics must be based on reality. And just as any technology which is not founded on scientific truth will be unworkable, so too will any ethic not founded on natural truth be a false ethic. The subject of ethics covers both "What should be?" and "What is?", in that it deals with the truth of human nature, which is that aspect of natural truth overlooked by science. For that reason, a true understanding of reality, which includes an understanding of human nature, is impossible without a clear understanding of genuine ethics. The question is, what kind of reality, and how much of it, and in what degree, is sufficient to bring about an understanding of genuine ethics?

True religion is the foundation of science

The domain of science stops at the material world, it doesn't include the human being. For this reason, science does not have any advice on how human beings are to live or behave, it doesn't venture into the field of ethics. But then, it is because of the mind that science has emerged and progressed to where it has. The origin and inspiration for the birth and growth of science has been this desire to know the truth, together with the conviction in the laws of nature, which are mental qualities. Even the values which were incorporated into this aspiration at a later date, such as the aspiration to conquer nature, are all mental processes.

Not only the aspiration for knowledge and the conviction just mentioned, but even the great discoveries of science have been products of the mind. Some scientists possessed a quality we could call 'intuition', and could envisage the truths that they discovered in their mind's eye before they actually verified them in the physical world. Before many of the major breakthroughs in science, there tended to be some degree of intuition involved ... the scientist would see something 'in his mind's eye', which would become the initiative to conduct research into the matter.

Without this quality of intuition and foresight, science might have become just another baseless branch of knowledge, or largely a matter of guesswork. It would have lacked direction or goal. Intuition and foresight have played a vital role in the history of science. For many eminent scientists this intuition was involved in the process of making their most important discoveries. An inkling of some train of thought or research, never before thought of, would arise in the scientist's mind, initiating the systematic reasoning, the formulation of a hypothesis and the experimentation, resulting eventually in a new theory.

All the advances of science made so far have arisen through faith, conviction, aspiration to know, intuition and so on. In the minds of the most eminent scientists, those who made the most far-reaching breakthroughs, these qualities could be found in abundance.

Even observation begins with a thought, which establishes a path of investigation, and constrains observation to the relevant framework. For example, Newton saw the apple fall and understood the Law of Gravity. According to the story, he saw the apple fall and immediately had a realization, but in fact Newton had been pondering the nature of motion for months at that time. It was a mental process in his mind, which culminated as a realization on seeing the apple fall.

Sometimes this happens to us. We may be thinking of some particular problem to no avail for quite a long time, and then, while we happen to be just sitting quietly, the answer suddenly flashes into the mind. These answers don't just arise randomly or by accident. In fact, the mind has been functioning on a subtle level. The realization is the result of a cause and effect process.

Mind, through faith and motivation, is the origin of science; through intuition and foresight it is the force through which science has been able to progress; and through the goals and objectives which are envisioned and aspired to in the mind, it is the direction for science's future advancement. The search for basic truths is possible because the mind conceives that such truths do exist.

Having reached this point, I will tell you the name of the eminent scientist who gave me the ideas for the title of this talk. He is none other than Albert Einstein. He didn't, however, say the exact words I have used. I have paraphrased him.

What Einstein did say was:

" ... in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people ...'

Einstein felt that in this age it is hard to find people with religion. Only the scientists who study science with a pure heart have true religion. Following that, he says,

" ... but science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding ... those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge ...''

The desire to know the truth, and the faith that behind nature there are laws which are constant truths throughout the entire universe - this is what Einstein calls religious feeling, or more specifically, 'cosmic religious feeling'. Then he goes on to say,

" ... cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research".

And again:

" ... Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this ..."

Einstein says that Buddhism has a high degree of this cosmic religious feeling, and this cosmic religious feeling is the origin or seed of scientific research. So you can decide for yourselves whether the title I have used for this talk is suitable or not.

I have mentioned this to show in what manner it can be said that Buddhism is the foundation of science, but please don't attach too much importance to this idea, because I don't completely agree with Einstein's view. My disagreement is not with what he said, but that he said too little. What Einstein called this 'cosmic religious feeling' is only part of what religious feeling is, because religion should always come back to the human being, to the nature of being human, including how human beings should behave towards nature, both internally and externally. I cannot see that Einstein's words clearly include self-knowledge and benefit to the human being. However that may be, from Einstein's words, we can see that he felt that science had its roots in the human desire for knowledge, and conviction in the order of nature.

But now, having reached this point, I did say that I don't want you to be too concerned over whether Buddhism really is the foundation of science or not. In fact it might be better to change the title of this talk, to something like ... "What would the science which has Buddhism as its foundation be like?" This may give us some new perspectives to think about.

The statement "Buddhism is the foundation of science", is just an opinion, and some may say it is a conceited one at that. And that would get us nowhere. But if we say "How should science be in order to be founded on Buddhism?", this will be much more constructive, giving us some practical and concrete points to consider.

This is a very important question, one which demands some reflection. I can offer an answer, and I will try to keep it to within the context of the points already covered during this talk, so that it serves as a kind of summary.

Firstly, we must expand the meaning of the word 'religion' or 'religious feeling' in order to correspond to Buddhism:

A) The words 'cosmic religious feeling' must cover both the external natural world and the natural world within the human being, or both the physical universe and the abstract, or mental, which includes values.

B) The definition of science as originating from the aspiration to know the truth must be complemented by a desire to attain the highest good, which Buddhism calls 'freedom from human imperfection'.

In point A, we are extending the definition of that nature which is to be realized. In point B, we are reiterating those values which are in conformity with the highest good, ensuring that the aspiration for truth is pure and clear, and closing off the chance for lesser values to corrupt our aspiration.

With these two points in mind, we can now answer, "The science which accords with Buddhism is the science which aspires to understand natural truth, in conjunction with the development of the human being and the attainment of the highest good". Or we could say: "The science which is founded on Buddhism arises from an aspiration for knowledge of nature, together with a desire to attain the highest good, which is the foundation for constructive human development."

This kind of definition may seem to be bordering onto Applied Science, but it isn't really. From one perspective, the natural sciences of the last age were influenced by the selfish motives already mentioned, which were not very good. For that reason we offer these alternative incentives, to prevent those previous ones from arising, replacing the desire to conquer nature and produce an abundance of material wealth with the aspiration for freedom from suffering.

To rephrase the above definition, we could say "The science which attains a true and comprehensive knowledge of reality will be the integration of the physical sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. All sciences will be connected and as one." Or to put it another way, "Once science extends the limits of its fundamental definition and improves its techniques for research and study, the truths of the social sciences and humanities will be attainable through the study of science."

This statement is not said in jest or in carelessness. In the present day, the advances of the sciences and human society within the global environment have necessitated some cohesiveness in the search for knowledge. You could say the time is ripe. If we don't deal with it in the proper way, that ripeness may become rotten, like an over-ripe fruit. The question is, "Will science take on the responsibility of leading mankind to this unification of learning?"

On the second level, that is, the principle of commitment to knowledge that is useful, knowledge of truth should be divided into two categories:

A) Knowledge that is necessary, or truth that is useful, that is, knowledge that is necessary to a good life, and is possible for a human being to attain within the limits of one lifetime.

B) Other kinds of knowledge which are not necessary, or truth which is not useful. Those things which have not yet been verified can be looked into until they are verified, but a good life should not be dependent on them, nor have to wait for an answer from them.

The human life-span is limited and soon comes to an end. Quality of life, or the highest good, are things which should be attainable for a human being within this limited life-span. Scientific knowledge tends to say, "Wait until I've verified this first, and then you will know what to do." This attitude should be changed, clearly distinguishing between the different kinds of knowledge mentioned above. If science is to be a truly comprehensive body of learning, it must relate correctly to these two kinds of truth.

On the other hand, if science is to continue its present course, it might seek completion through cooperation by referring to Buddhism for the answer to those questions which demand immediate answers, so that the attainment of the highest good in this very life is possible, while science can seek answers to those questions which, even if not answered, do not affect our ability to live in peace and well-being.

Accepting the sixth sense

The reason we need to clarify intermediate aims is that if Pure Science does not determine its own set of values, it will not be able to escape the influence of other interests. Outside parties with personal interests have determined science's values in the past, values which have led to the destruction of nature in the search for material wealth. This has led to science being called a 'servant of industry'. A servant of industry is not a servant of humanity. These days some say that industry is destroying mankind, a point that bears consideration. If scientists do not establish their own values, someone else will.

Human heings are beings possessing intention. This is one of mankind's unique qualities. This means the search for knowledge cannot be totally without values. Because human beings are the highest kind of being, capable of attaining a realization of the truth and the highest good, they should aspire to realize this potential.

As long as Science lacks clarity on its position in relation to values, and yet exists within a world of values, it will have its direction determined by other interests. As a result, scientists will feel cheated and frustrated in the pursuit of their research. As long as industry is society's 'star player', it can exert a powertul influence over science, through government channels, with its influence over government policies, and through financial institutions, with grants for scientific research. For cxample, if a scientific institute submits a proposal for research in a particular field, but such research is not in the interests of industry, the industrial sector has the power to withhold support, thus pressuring the government to do likewise. When this happens the scientists may get discouraged and end up like Sir Isaac Newton.

Newton was very heavily influenced by values in his research. Newton discovered the Law of Gravity when he was only about 24 years old. However, some of his ideas clashed with the establishment of the time. The old school of scientists ridiculed him. Newton was a very moody fellow, and easily hurt. He didn't like to associate with other people. As soon as people started to criticize his work, he got upset and abandoned it. He gave up science completely, and wouldn't go anywhere near it for twenty-two years.

Now Edmond Halley, the scientist who predicted the cycles of the comet named after him, saw the value of Newton's work, and so he went to Newton and comforted and encouraged him, until Newton began to feel more heartened, and started to work on the momentous book, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

But then, when he had only finished two thirds of the manuscript, another scientist, who, during the twenty-two years that Newton had refused to put his ideas to print, had come to an understanding of the Law of Gravity and calculus, claimed that he had discovered all this before Newton.

When Newton heard this he went off into another sulk. He wasn't going to write the book after all. He had only written two thirds of it, when he gave up once more. Halley had to go to him again and give him another pep talk to coax him into continuing his work, after which he finally completed it.

This is a good example of how values can completely overwhelm a scientist, with repercussions for the whole scientific world. If Newton, who was a genius, had had a strong heart, not giving in to feelings of hurt and indignation, he may have been able to give the scientific world so much more than he did, but because of his moods he threw science away for over twenty years.

In the present time, when the industrial and financial sectors are all-powerful, science must have the strength of its own values to prevent external values from overwhelming it. In this age of environmental ruin, some of the truths being discovered by science may not be in the interests of some of the industrial and financial sectors.

We hear statements in the USA by certain research teams that the greenhouse scare is unfounded; that the world isn't going to heat up, they have results from their research to prove it. Then, at a later time, another group of researchers tells us that the first group was influenced by financial considerations from certain industrial sectors in the assessment of its results. The situation is very complicated. Personal advantage begins to play a role in scientific research, and subjects it even more to the influence of values. Even the knowledge and research being conducted in the present time concerning the environmental situation is a concern of values; that is, it is dedicated to realizing specific needs, but in this case they are positive or constructive values.

At the very least, ethics teaches scientists to have a pure aspiration for knowledge. This is the most powerful force the progress of science can have. At the present moment we are surrounded by a world which is teeming with values, mostly negative. In the past, science and industry worked together, like husband and wife. There were great advances. Industry spurred science on, and science helped industry to grow. But in the coming age, because some of the interests of industry are becoming a problem in the natural environment, and because science is being questioned about this, the answers to some of these questions are going to embarrass the industrial sector. It may be necessary for science and industry to part their ways, or at least to experience some tension in their relationship. Science may be forced to find a new friend, one who will help and encourage it to find knowledge that is useful to the human race.

As science approaches the frontiers of the mind, the question arises, "Will science recognize the sixth sense and the data which are experienced there? Or will scientists continue to try to verify moods and thoughts by looking at the chemicals secreted by the brain, or measuring the brain's waves on a machine, and thereby looking at mere shadows of the truth?" This would be like trying to study a stone from the 'plops' it makes in the water, or from the ripples that arise on the water's surface. They might measure the waves that correspond to stones of different sizes - if there is such a sound that means the stone must be of such a size - they might turn it into a mathematical equation, predicting the size of stones, corresponding to the various 'plops!' in the water, or estimating the mass of the stone that's fallen into the water by measuring the ripples extending from it.

Has this been the approach of science's study of nature? The fact is, they never actually pick up a stone! If this is the case, science may have to take a look at some of the ways of observing and experimenting used in other traditions, such as Buddhism, which maintains that observation and experiment carried out from direct experience in the mind is a valid way of observing the laws of nature.

...... It is not necessary for science to try to evade values. It is more a matter of trying to clarify the values that science does have ...


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See also: Vietnamese translation by Venerable Thich Tam-Quang

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updated: 27-10-2001