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January 22, 2012

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If you believe in reincarnation, then you might as well believe in god, there is no epistimolegical difference. The plain meaning of karma involves reincarnation, hence a supernatural claim.

Cause and effect, insofar as science is concerned, is that a particular cause is observed to have a particular effect, which is objectively verifiable. Science makes accurate limited statements only insofar as they can be born out by evidence.

Statements such as everything is connected are not scientific, this is a broad metaphysical claim. To be scientific, you would need to specifically say all things having mass exert a specific type of effect, gravitational attraction which varies depending on the masses involved and the distance between them. However, not everything need cause an effect on everything else. For example, you cannot tell what I am thinking, nor do my thoughts effect reality.

George, I agree with you as regards what Flanagan calls karma "untamed." Meaning, the notion of karma with supernatural elements added on.

Otherwise, though, karma is just another word for "cause and effect." Yes, we associate that word with supernatural elements, but Flanagan notes that sometimes Buddhists (and others) speak of karma in a completely scientific and naturalistic way.

For example, if I scream at somebody and call them insulting, profane names, that action will incur karma. It will have an effect both on the other person, and on me. Also, on anyone else within earshot.

But believing I might have to be reborn so that this person can clear my karmic debt by screaming at ME -- that's obviously a faith-based belief similar to a belief in God, as you noted.

Cause and effect is simply cause and effect. It is fact, not philosophy.
Who cares what the Dali Lama or any other quasi-religious figure has to say about it?

Gravity is simply gravity. Space is space. But the Dali Lama does not seem to have anything to say about those. (?) Obviously (though he might sidestep the religious myth-alications) we are supposed to *care* (compassionate Buddhas) how our actions effect other beings and the future generations on this watery marble in space we call home. Why should we? Well, we just should? That's not very scientific!

Things, events-- and all life ---(including people) bump about, smash head-on, effect the trajectory of other things, etc. Planet earth. Big deal. Who gives a darn about karmic causality in a scientific fashion? Shit happens. Bumper cars bump. What the fruck doth the Dali Lama got to do with it?

Brian,

Sort of i suppose, but if everything is cause and effect, then how did the first cause come about? What does Buddhism have to say on that?

I understood from Jon that Buddhism avoids metaphysical positions, but if reality is completely deterministic, as Buddhism contends with its universal law of cause and effect, then to test this we have to ask the basic question, what was the first cause?

George, good question. But asking about a first cause assumes that time began at some, well, time. Otherwise "first" would have no meaning. If the cosmos is eternal, there's no such thing as a first cause.

Buddhism, to my understanding, doesn't posit a creator god, or a creation. So in that regard it seems to have the same attitude as modern science: no one knows what occurred before the big bang, or if time even has a meaning before time as we know it began.

But consider this, science, and insofar as a I understand Buddhism, both agree that we have a world of things (not just creations of the mind).

Cause and effect, says that things effect other things, this is strict determinism, it is karma, it is even probably akin to the classical clockwork universe of laplace and newton, it needed a first cause, and this first cause was God.

Science has tried to remove this need for a first cause, by using quantum mechanics, which is based on indeterminacy (or probability) rather than determinacy. In the quantum mechanical world things (virtual particles) spring into and out of existence, uncaused by others things.

Even if the cosmos is eternal and time is cyclical rather than linear, there is a flow or an arrow in one-direction only, that is what cause and effect is saying, i.e. that a first event causes a second event to occur and so on. So if this is so, what was the orginal cause from which all other events precede? Actually, I need to think about this more, rapidly dissapearing up me own ass. Night.

There are several seeming unanswerable questions - unanswerable to the limited capacities of the human organism, that is.

The three that I remember making my head itch as a small child were:

Where does space end? And what's beyond that?

When does space end in the other direction? Meaning, however smaller and smaller we go into things, it seems inconceivable (and against mathematical principles) that there could be an end point. When we reach that apparent point, we can (at least theoretically) halve it.

When did time begin? Whatever point we posit, we can ask, what came before? (Similar logic would apply to time ending.)

Now I know that there are theories abound that attempt to deal with these type of questions. But I for one am not completely convinced. The more we get into these realms, the more we rely on speculative theory - some of which border on the fantastic and very much remind me of the dialectical arguments of religious intellectuals and philosophers.

I don't find this frustrating at all, in fact I find it exiting. That which gives rise to and sustains reality with its boundless order and (dare I say) intelligence (why should the religious stake a claim to this word!) is truly mysterious and enlivening.

The ancients found this so but made the fatal mistake of anthropomorphizing it. Science has come along and is doing a fine job of demolishing that wrong turn - but yet the essential mystery remains.


Jon, absolutely. I share your feeling that its amazingly wonderful how the cosmos is just so damn mysterious and unfathomable.

For me, a prime mind-boggler is the notion that all 100 billion or so galaxies, each with 100 billion or so stars, once was much smaller than an atom at the moment of the big bang.

Come on... Can't be true... Or, can it?

I love how reality doesn't conform to my ability to understand it. Also, I hate it. But does reality care about my loves and hates? Nyah. Reality just is what it is, and does what it does.

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