Friday, May 11, 2007

Reincarnation & Cognitive Science

The idea of reincarnation for me at the moment is more based on faith, rather than being a belief based on logic - but with the advances of Cognitive Science, that could change. The door began to open after listening to an amazing talk by Lama Zopa Rinpoche (LZR) where the walls seem to flutter and everything melt around me. This talk was on emptiness, but touched on reincarnation.

He described the Buddhist logic that, according to the law of cause and effect (which says the result must be of the same nature of the cause - an oak tree will not grow from the seed of a cedar tree for example) our consciousness can not arise from matter, as consciousness is not in the nature of matter. Consciousness is formless, it is immaterial. It is defined as that which is clear (formless) and knowing. Therefore the first moment of consciousness in our life needed a previous moment to come into existence. It would be impossble for it to arise from matter, or from nothing, in the same way it would be impossible to get ice by boiling water or have $10 appear in my hand from no where. There has to be a cause, and if the cause is not in the same nature as the result, that result can not be got!

So our body is material, sperm/egg is material - how can it then be the basis of a moment of consciousness, which is immaterial? That the consciousness combines with matter, is interdependent with matter, is not the issue. Matter can not be the cause of non-matter.

It was convincing from a logical point of view - IF YOU ACCEPT that consciousness is not matter.

In Cognitive Science these days, what is Human Consciousness is the big question, and they are gradually but surely facing down the Materialists who insist its basis is purely the brain organ. There is a crack in this edifice of materialism, in much the same way that Descartes' idea of objective certainty was finally questioned by Hiesenburg's Uncertainly Principle, and so, with Einsten's help, tearing apart Newton's vision of the world by ushering in the mysterious world of quantum physics, and in the process putting into place a firm, scientific basis for Buddha's description of reality as being a relationship between form and emptiness - i.e. emptiness is form, form is emptiness - neither eternalism or nilhism, but a delicate balance that has elements of both, but is in fact neither.

In much the same way today - if Scientists do finally conclude that consciousness is other than matter, then LZR's logic becomes impeccable from a leading edge Scientific perspective.

Voila reincarnation!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting in that Tibetan Buddhism would posit consciousness as an immaterial reality, but I don't think that a Thai or Burmese Buddhist would do that - it is not part of the Theravada Dhamma. Here in the Northern tradition there is a much stronger metaphysical content.

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