Determinism vs Intrinsic randomness which one is preferred by Buddhist philosophy?

I think the emotional reaction people usually have to “determinism” is nihilism: the feeling that what they decide doesn’t matter because everything is predetermined anyway. But to me this isn’t logical. “Determinism” doesn’t mean that choices don’t have consequences just that choices are predictable. Are my decisions predictable? Probably :man_shrugging: Are they important? Definitely.

I like to use the analogy of a computer controlling a light water reactor. If it decides to raise the control rods too long, that decision will have consequences even though you wouldn’t say that the computer has free will.

And if we pull in the Halting Problem we see that determinism isn’t so bad as it seems at first blush: even if you’re just a computer program, the only way to perfectly predict you is to run you. As Dr Seuss said,

Today you are You,
that is truer than true.
There is no one alive
who is Youer than You

In other words: you are the program that gets to dictate what you will decide. And if that’s not free will, I don’t know what is!


So so far, it seems that intrinsic randomness is less appealing compared to determinism.

I’ve often thought that the free will vs. determinism problem is really an epistemological problem masquerading in egoistic guise, and I agree with Sujato regarding Buddhism. There’s an oversimplified version that uses cause and effect language, and a more fine detailed version of Buddhist philosophy that recognizes that to be arbitrary (or relativistic) labeling. You have to choose a standpoint to decide one thing is a cause and the next thing is an effect. If you choose a different one, the labels can change.

But, to me, the idea of randomness is really the confusion we have when we realize we don’t recognize a pattern that we can comprehend. No pattern = randomness. But just because we can’t see the pattern doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying deterministic process happening.

Modern science has uncovered that, on the microscopic level, there’s an unimaginably large number of cause-effect events taking place, which is simply too multitudinous for a human mind to directly observe. So, we speak of probabilities to abstract all of those events into a small enough set of categories that we can think about. I’m thinking of things larger than subatomic particles like the biochemistry that takes place inside of each cell that exists. All of the complex reactions taking place inside one cell is beyond human comprehension, so we have to speak of it in terms of probabilities and statistics to understand it. We can look at individual molecules and understand them very well, understand the rules and possibilities involved in their reactions, but we can’t deterministically know the results of every single reaction that takes place.

So, randomness and probabilities to me are how we cope with this inability to know exactly what is happening. That doesn’t mean everything that happens is actually random or probabilistic, just that we don’t know everything that happens. Our understanding is limited to a fuzzy set of likely outcomes based on observations over time.

Even economics and and sociology becomes too complex for us to comprehend very well. People tend to become biased, I think, because of that. Uncertainty causes anxiety, so people simply pick a reason for x or y, form a pattern in their minds, and believe they understand what is happening around them. It’s just easier emotionally and intellectually to do that. Which confirms to me the ancient Buddhist observation that society as a whole tends to be deluded in its thinking.


Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying that determinism is appealing vis-a-vis quantum randomness. I was only arguing that if the physical universe happens to be deterministic that that doesn’t have to sink free will in any meaningful sense.

Randomness could have a similar emotional problem: causing people to feel that the universe is chaotic and therefore their actions are meaningless. Thankfully modern statistics is advanced enough that this problem doesn’t manifest much. We know that e.g. poker has randomness, but our actions still help to decide the outcome. So I didn’t address randomness not because it’s less appealing but because it’s less often used to justify nihilism.

Personally, I side with most physicists in preferring a multiple universes interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which case the whole problem of determinism vs randomness kind of goes away: all possible things do happen, your consciousness just travels the path of your karma. But I’ll let those more knowledgeable speak to that.

Quote away! Nothing is mine!

Right, it’s largely an emotional problem, which can end up masquerading as a philosophical one.

Interesting; which means also run your history and context and the history of the entire world and the history of the entire universe. And even then, to prove determinism, you’d have to run it a whole bunch of times and get the same results! While remaining an independent observer. Determinism, in other words, isn’t a testable theory: it’s magic.

And as well as an emotional problem, it’s

I’m more and more starting to think that the attempt to apply scientific method to social and pscychological fields was a mistake. Scientific method works well in a few fields, and we just kind of assumed it would work elsewhere. What if it just … doesn’t?


11 posts were split to a new topic: The Social and Psychological fields - Arts or Sciences?

That’s the cool thing about quantum. If we accept certain interpretations, without hidden variables, there really is nothing underneath that determines the randomness. The randomness is intrinsic, fundamentally different from the classical randomness we think because we lack information. There is no information in nature to tell us why this result for this particular electron and that result for the exact same electron without any difference in preparation (same cause and condition) but have different effects.

Many theorems are there, including Bell + Leggett’s inequality to rule out many types of hidden variable theories.

Your description corresponds almost exactly with a more modern mathematical notion of randomness. The Kolmogorov complexity of data is the length of the shortest algorithm that can reproduce that data (basically general-purpose compression). If I toss a coin several hundred times and record the results as a bring of 0s and 1s, then, virtually always, I won’t be able to compress the resulting data (or usually even if I can, not by much). Any algorithm to represent it will likely be at least as long (basically be something like a simple lookup table). Of course, a minority of such strings will be compressible when there is some kind of pattern, e.g. alternating 1s and 0s or all 0s etc. So, as you say, we can have a kind of randomness (Kolmogorov randomness) even in the context of determinism.

To nitpick a little, that’s really only true if the Turing machine has a potentially infinite tape (infinite memory). An algorithm run on a finite computer will have only a finite (though potentially very large) number of states, which will have to cycle into some kind of finite repeating loop eventually! Though, in the Buddhist case, we are supposed to have a fairly unbounded chain of past lives running backwards in time (perhaps somewhat analogous to an unbounded tape :slight_smile: :man_shrugging: )?

Right, but the OP is also asking about whether quantum mechanics proves that the universe is ultimately randomized or if there’s something deterministic underlying it. We obviously can come to conclusions about what we observe on the subatomic level, but we don’t understand it entirely. I’m just saying that may be simply because we’ve reached the limits of observability.

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Whether the universe is ultimately deterministic or not depends on which interpretation of quantum do you believe. I am still on the research and writing it furiously fast during this month to take advantage of NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month).

So far at least 15 interpretations will be covered. And many of them are very obscure and not popular at all, so hard to get easy to read materials on them.

Regardless of the interpretation, functionally, instrumentally, experimentally, randomness is what we get. We cannot predict with certainty the results of individual experiments, only the probability distribution.

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Thanks for clarifying. I would say that we need to be careful to distinguish being able to use quantum mechanics, and feeling that we really understand the implications.

In fact, the same applies even in more classical circumstances. For example, we know how to calculate the motion of a projectile under the influence of gravity. We could start worrying about unanswered questions such as why gravity exists, why it is always attractive (as opposed to electromagnetic phenomena), and on so on (see the Simile of the Arrow :)), but those questions do not need to be answered if all we want to do is calculate how high the ball we threw will go.


For those who wants to read as it’s written here’s the earlier parts.

Determinism is the current of samsara, which results from ignorance. In Buddhism itself determinism is developed through application of the path. Desire for existence and sensual desire have a function of continuity within samsara and are not random, for example natural selection has specific outcomes. Escape from the cycle is achieved through consciously applying appropriate attention. The word ‘selection’ indicates how in order to counter samsara, focussed effort must be exerted and equinimity alone would not suffice.

From Wikipedia:

By the Humean empiricist view that humans observe sequences of events, (not cause and effect, as causality and causal mechanisms are unobservable), the DN model neglects causality beyond mere constant conjunction, first event A and then always event B

I find that Buddhism has many things in alignment with logical positivism, like both agrees with the criterion of verification (rather than falsifiability).

Rebirth is verified by recollection of past lifes seeing, instead of falsification criterion.

Phenomenon are verified to be impermanent, suffering, not self.

If you cannot observe it, it’s metaphysics (Buddha said the all is 6 sense bases).

Buddha didn’t speak about things we couldn’t verify via supernormal powers or via our senses, saying that if another person claims something beyond what he declared as the all, there’s no basis to declare them.

I ask because the Copenhagen interpretation is influenced by Logical positivism, and it’s the most popular interpretation of quantum physics. It might be because of that that many Buddhists think that quantum agrees with Buddhism, but it might be that Logical positivism influence is acting through this. There are certainly other interpretations of quantum physics which have like no impact on Buddhism.

The following seems like an application of falsification criteria to me… :thinking:

Bhikkhus, you may well acquire that possession that is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and that might endure as long as eternity. But do you see any such possession, bhikkhus?”—“No, venerable sir.”—“Good, bhikkhus. I too do not see any possession that is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and that might endure as long as eternity.

Ok good point. I mean falsification of the claim that rebirth exist. If we flip it to falsification of the notion of there’s nothing after death, just one rebirth evidence case does that already.

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Go to the blog for earlier parts.

Now is the time to recap on what concepts are at stake in various quantum interpretations, and the comments involving Buddhism, whether Buddhism prefers an interpretation to have this or that quality. You’ll have familiarity with most of them by now after reviewing so many experiments.

I will mainly discuss the list on the table of comparisons taken from wikipedia. Table at the interlude: A quantum game.


Meaning: results are not probabilistic in principle. In practice, quantum does look probabilistic (refer to Stern-Gerlach experiment), but with a certain interpretation, it can be transformed back into deterministic nature of things. This determinism is a bit softer than super-determinism, it just means we can in principle rule out intrinsic randomness. The choice is between determinism and intrinsic randomness.

Classical preference: deterministic. Many of the difficulties some classical thinking people have with quantum is the probabilistic results that we get from quantum. In classical theories, probability means we do not know the full picture, if we know everything that there is to know to determine the results of a roll of a dice, including wind speed, minor variation in gravity, the exact position and velocity of the dice, the exact rotational motion of the dice, the friction, heat loss etc, we can in principle calculate the result of a dice roll before it stops. The fault of probability in classical world is ignorance. In quantum, if we believe that the wavefunction is complete (Copenhagen like interpretations), then randomness is intrinsic, there’s no underlying mechanism which will guarantee this or that result, it’s not ignorance that we do not know, it’s nature that doesn’t have such values in it.

A Buddhist’s comment (basically me lah): On the one hand, we do not admit the existence of fatalism or fate, on the other hand, we don’t believe things happen for no reason. There was a heretical teacher back in Buddha’s time called Makkhali Gosala. Makkhali teaches the doctrine of fatalism. Everything is fixed, predetermined, there’s no role for effort in morality.

From sutta DN2, we get a glimpse of his teachings, which seems to include both fatalism and no causes.

“Great king, there is no cause or condition for the corruption of sentient beings. Sentient beings are corrupted without cause or condition. There’s no cause or condition for the purification of sentient beings. Sentient beings are purified without cause or condition. One does not act of one’s own volition, one does not act of another’s volition, one does not act from a person’s volition. There is no power, no energy, no manly strength or vigor. All sentient beings, all living creatures, all beings, all souls lack control, power, and energy. Molded by destiny, circumstance, and nature, they experience pleasure and pain in the six classes of rebirth. There are 1.4 million main wombs, and 6,000, and 600. There are 500 deeds, and five, and three. There are deeds and half-deeds. There are 62 paths, 62 sub-eons, six classes of rebirth, and eight stages in a person’s life. There are 4,900 Ājīvaka ascetics, 4,900 wanderers, and 4,900 naked ascetics. There are 2,000 faculties, 3,000 hells, and 36 realms of dust. There are seven percipient embryos, seven non-percipient embryos, and seven embryos without attachments. There are seven gods, seven humans, and seven goblins. There are seven lakes, seven winds, 700 winds, seven cliffs, and 700 cliffs. There are seven dreams and 700 dreams. There are 8.4 million great eons through which the foolish and the astute transmigrate before making an end of suffering. And here there is no such thing as this: “By this precept or observance or mortification or spiritual life I shall force unripened deeds to bear their fruit, or eliminate old deeds by experiencing their results little by little,” for that cannot be. Pleasure and pain are allotted. Transmigration lasts only for a limited period, so there’s no increase or decrease, no getting better or worse. It’s like how, when you toss a ball of string, it rolls away unraveling. In the same way, after transmigrating the foolish and the astute will make an end of suffering.”

Here’s the Buddha’s critique on him, from the sutta AN1:319

“Mendicants, I do not see a single other person who acts for the hurt and unhappiness of the people, for the harm, hurt, and suffering of many people, of gods and humans like that silly man, Makkhali. Just as a trap set at the mouth of a river would bring harm, suffering, calamity, and disaster for many fish, so too that silly man, Makkhali, is a trap for humans, it seems to me. He has arisen in the world for the harm, suffering, calamity, and disaster of many beings.”

In practise terms, we should acknowledge that there are causes which we can built to attain to liberation from suffering, effort is important. Causes are important. So morality observance is not wasted, it is encouraged. The law of kamma does argue against suffering happening for no cause and against suffering is fated to happen. It gives hope in that in the present moment, we can plant good seeds to ripen to good results. The patterns from old kamma by itself doesn’t predetermine all future, the input from present moment is important too.

So in choosing between determinism and intrinsic randomness, it is a toss up. If we can be assured that this kind of determinism does not lead to superdeterminism (which is basically fatalism), it’s a better choice. If not, intrinsic randomness of quantum can be made to not contradict Buddhism. The results of individual experiments cannot be pointed to have one cause or another. To see this, refer to Stern-Gerlach experiment, same set up, that is same cause and conditions, different results of up and down for each identically prepared particles. Remember the exercise in ruling out hidden variables, there’s no underlying difference between one particle and the next already, if we believe that wavefunction is complete. So this seems to violate cause plus conditions equals results in kammic teaching. Yet, it allows for the future to have different paths even if the past is exactly the same.

Richard A. Muller in his book the Physics of Now, argues that physics cannot rule out free will based on quantum phenomenon. His work as an experimental physicists allowed him to analyse pions (one of the many subatomic particles in particle physics) in particle accelerators. Two pions he had observed interfere with each other, that shows that their wavefunctions are exactly the same. So same cause and condition. However, the pions disintegrated at different times, so different results. Thus it would seem that quantum rules out fatalism if we interpret wavefunction as the complete description of the quantum system. The price we pay is, we cannot point to a reason why this pion decay faster than that one. If we light up two dynamites, they explode at the same time, not so with two identically created pions which are born in the same instance.

Also, when quantum is decohered up to the Newtonian physics, this quantum randomness hardly shows up in the macroscopic realm, well except for the radioactive decay which is used in the popular example of Schrödinger’s cat. So we cannot claim that there’s no cause for things based on mere acceptance of intrinsic quantum randomness. The results of quantum experiments are also pretty well defined to be in a range, eg. The spin result in Stern Gerlach is only up or down in the measurement axis. There’s no unpredictable thing like the electrons suddenly group together to become a dragon for no reason. So the cause-condition-result relationship can be restored, if we expand the definition of result to be quantum probabilistic range of result, and the probability distribution function is well defined and deterministic based on the experimental set up. For example, pion is created as cause and condition, result is, pion will decay. The time for the decay of pion matters not much.

Thus, there might be a stronger push to reject determinism.

Ontic wavefunction

Meaning: taking the wavefunction as a real physical, existing thing as opposed to just representing our knowledge. This is how Jim Baggott split up the various interpretations in his book Quantum reality.

Realist Proposition #3: The base concepts appearing in scientific theories represent the real properties and behaviours of real physical things. In quantum mechanics, the ‘base concept’ is the wavefunction.

Classical preference: classically, if the theory works and it has the base concepts in it, we take the base concept of the theory seriously as real. For example, General relativity. Spacetime is taken as dynamic and real entities due to our confidence in seeing the various predictions of general relativity being realized. We even built very expensive gravitational wave detectors to detect ripples in spacetime (that’s what gravitational waves are), and observed many events of gravitational waves via LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) from 2016 onwards. We know that spacetime is still a concept as loop quantum gravity denies that spacetime is fundamental, but build up from loops of quantum excitations of the Faraday lines of force of the gravitational field. Given that quantum uses wavefunction so extensively, some people think it’s really real out there.

A Buddhist’s comment: Well, the Buddha never mentioned wavefunctions as far as I know, so doesn’t really matters either way. Repeating the response in the motivation, the base concepts in classical theories just live in the heads of the physicists. Nature works as it is, the understanding of nature is also dependently arising, empty of inherent nature. This is how we can let go of even physics theories. Those who are more keen on practise may lean more towards seeing wavefunction as mere reflection of our knowledge rather than a real thing. As anything we deem real, we tend to attach to as we have the mistaken notion that real means permanent, reliable. As attachment causes suffering, we can save ourselves the trouble of suffering by not taking the reality of wavefunctions too seriously.

Unique History

Meaning: The world has a definite history, not split into many worlds, for the future or past. I suspect this category is created just for those few interpretations which goes wild into splitting worlds.

Classical preference: Yes, classically, we prefer to refer to history as unique.

A Buddhist’s comment: The past and future strictly speaking exist only in our minds. We can only have access to the present moment, the here and now. We remember the past (and due to light speed delay, we essentially see the past light cones reaching our eyes, but in practise we call it present), we can project the future. So having split past or split futures doesn’t really matter. However, the Buddha when he relates to his past lives didn’t change his story everytime, and he didn’t acknowledge a fixed future as the discussion on fatalism above shows. Thus the Buddhist philosophy of time also fits in growing box theory of time with the past is fixed, present exist, but future is free.

So we are more comfortable with splitting the future rather than the past.

Hidden Variables

Meaning: The wavefunction is not a complete description of the quantum system, there are some other things (variables) which are hidden from us and experiments and might be still underlying the mechanism of quantum, but we do not know. Historically, the main motivation to posit hidden variables is to oppose intrinsic randomness and recover determinism. However, Stochastic interpretation is not deterministic yet have hidden variables, and many worlds and many mind interpretations are deterministic yet do not have hidden variables.

Classical preference: Yes for hidden variables, if only to avoid intrinsic randomness, and to be able to tell what happens under the hood, behind the quantum stage show.

A Buddhist’s comment: this seems like a good opportunity to insert the influence of mind on matter. We can even put kamma as a nice touch on how kammic actions, generated by the mind (intentions) can have physical effects in the world, not just mental results. However, there’s no reason to insist on it. The variables are hidden anyway, thus no way to test for it.

Collapsing wavefunction

Meaning: That the interpretation admits the process of measurement collapses the wavefunction. This collapse is frown upon by many because it seems to imply two separate processes for quantum evolution

1.The deterministic, unitary, continuous time evolution of an isolated system (wavefunction) that obeys the Schrödinger equation (or a relativistic equivalent, i.e. the Dirac equation).

2.The probabilistic, non-unitary, non-local, discontinuous change brought about by observation and measurement, the collapse of wavefunction, which is only there to link the quantum formalism to observation.

Further problem includes that there’s nothing in the maths to tell us when and where does the collapse happens, usually called the measurement problem. A further problem is the irreversibility of the collapse.

Classical preference: Well, classically, we don’t have two separate process of evolution in the maths, so there’s profound discomfort if we don’t address what exactly is the collapse or get rid of it altogether. No clear choice. Most classical equations, however, are in principle reversible, so collapse of wavefunction is one of the weird non classical parts of quantum.

A Buddhist’s comment: This doesn’t really concern Buddhism. Irreversible, reversible, all part of impermanence.

Observer’s role

Meaning: do observers like humans play a fundamental role in the quantum interpretation? If not, physicists can be comfortable with a notion of reality which is independent of humans. If yes, then might the moon not be there when we are not looking? What role do we play if any in quantum interpretations?

Classical preference: Observer has no role. Reality shouldn’t be influenced just by observation.

A Buddhist’s comment: Just by studying quantum physics, we are participating in it. We cannot verify if reality is independent of observer as an observer. As highlighted in the motivation, an universe without sentient beings in there is metaphysics to us, as we are limited to observation from the vantage point of a sentient being. However, this is more of a tautology we would say the same to classical physics. Does observer play a fundamental role in quantum? Maybe, maybe not. Good if there is, then there can be more serious consideration to observe what does the observer do. In meditation, we call this mindfulness of the mind. Too often we don’t observe the observer. That’s where a lot of trouble starts.

Local dynamics

Meaning: is quantum local or nonlocal? Local here means only depends on surrounding phenomenon, limited by speed of light influences. Nonlocal here implies faster than light effect, in essence, more towards the spooky action at a distance. This is more towards the internal story of the interpretations. In practice, instrumentally, we use the term quantum non-locality to refer to quantum entanglement and it’s a real effect, but it is not signalling. Any interpretations which are non-local may utilise that wavefunction can literally transmit influences faster than light, but overall still have to somehow hide it from the experimenter to make sure that it cannot be used to send signals faster than light.

Classical preference: Local. This is not so much motivated by history, as Newtonian gravity is non-local, it acts instantaneously, only when gravity is explained by general relativity does it becomes local, so only from 1915 onward did classical physics fully embrace locality. Gravitational effects and gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, the maximum speed limit for information, mass, and matter. Quantum field theories, produced by combining quantum physics with special relativity is strictly local and highly successful, thus it also provides a strong incentive to prefer local interpretations by classically thinking physicists.

A Buddhist’s comment: Local or non local doesn’t really matter to Buddhists. There are many instances in the suttas where the devas and brahmas disappear from their realm and appear on earth to meet the Buddha. Depending on the nature of these beings, we might have claims that Buddhism allows for faster than light or not. However, the strongest motivation to disallow faster than light is the time travel conundrum. Since speed of light limits are not important or even hinted at in the suttas, there seems to be no reason for Buddhists to insist on locality, other than to adopt the concern of physicists.

Counterfactually definite

Meaning: Reality is there. There are definite properties of things we did not measure. Example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that nature does not have 100% exact values for both position and momentum of a particle at the same time. Measuring one very accurately would make the other have much larger uncertainty. The same is true of Stern Gerlach experiments on spin. An electron does not have simultaneously a definite value for spin for both x-axis and z-axis. These are the experimental results which seem to show that unmeasured properties do not exist, rejecting counterfactual definiteness. We had also seen how Leggett’s inequality and Bell’s inequality together hit a strong nail on reality existing. Yet, some quantum interpretations still managed to recover this reality as part of the story of how quantum really works.

Classical preference: of course we prefer reality is there. The moon is still there even if no one is looking at it.

A Buddhist’s comment: It’s not hard for Buddhists to reject counterfactual definiteness. After all, the measurement is not done, why should we expect the properties to be underlying there in waiting? This is one of the strongest thing people identify intuitively when they read about quantum physics and then Buddhism or the other way around. Similar comments from the observer role can apply here too. We cannot verify if reality is independent of observer as an observer. We cannot say reality is there without measuring it. This is also a strong push for investigation by the Buddha. He asked us to come and see, investigate his words. He even showed a method to attain to the 4th Jhana, then develop the powers to recollect past lives to verify rebirth, the powers of divine eye to see the life, action, death, results of various beings to verify kamma. Thus Buddhism is not interested in metaphysics. And insisting on properties of things to be there without measuring it seems to be metaphysics. Of course, still, we believe that kamma and rebirth still works as usual even if we don’t develop those powers to directly verify it. Thus Buddhists do believe in counterfactual definiteness for these properties as well. Perhaps we are being too hasty in abandoning this concept?

Extant universal wavefunction

Meaning: If we believe that quantum is complete, it is fundamental, it in principle describes the whole universe, then might not we combine quantum systems descriptions say one atom plus one atom becomes wavefunction describing two atoms, and combine all the way to compass the whole universe? Then we would have a wavefunction describing the whole universe, called universal wavefunction. If we believe in the axioms of quantum, then this wavefunction is complete, it contains all possible description of the universe. It follows the time-dependent Schrödinger equation, thus it is deterministic unless you’re into consciousness causes collapse or consistent histories. No collapse of wavefunction is possible because there’s nothing outside the universe to observe/ measure this wavefunction and collapse it, unless you’re into the consciousness causes collapse interpretation or Bohm’s pilot wave mechanics. It feels like every time I try to formulate a general statement some interpretations keeps getting in the way by being the exceptions.

Classical preference: Well, hard to say, there’s no wavefunction classically, but I am leaning more towards yes, if quantum is in principle fundamental and describing the small, then it should still be valid when combined to compass the whole universe.

A Buddhist’s comment: There are things outside of the universe. In sutta DN27:

There comes a time when, Vāseṭṭha, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos contracts. As the cosmos contracts, sentient beings are mostly headed for the realm of streaming radiance. There they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

There comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos expands. As the cosmos expands, sentient beings mostly pass away from that host of radiant deities and come back to this realm. Here they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

In sutta DN 1, there’s more details on the first being to be reborn back into the universe.

There comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this cosmos expands. As it expands an empty mansion of Brahmā appears. Then a certain sentient being—due to the running out of their life-span or merit—passes away from that host of radiant deities and is reborn in that empty mansion of Brahmā. There they are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

But after staying there all alone for a long time, they become dissatisfied and anxious: ‘Oh, if only another being would come to this state of existence.’ Then other sentient beings—due to the running out of their life-span or merit—pass away from that host of radiant deities and are reborn in that empty mansion of Brahmā in company with that being. There they too are mind-made, feeding on rapture, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

Now, the being who was reborn there first thinks: ‘I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the Best, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born. These beings were created by me! Why is that? Because first I thought:

“Oh, if only another being would come to this state of existence.” Such was my heart’s wish, and then these creatures came to this state of existence.’

And the beings who were reborn there later also think: ‘This must be Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the Best, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born. And we have been created by him. Why is that? Because we see that he was reborn here first, and we arrived later.’

And the being who was reborn first is more long-lived, beautiful, and illustrious than those who arrived later.

It’s possible that one of those beings passes away from that host and is reborn in this state of existence. Having done so, they go forth from the lay life to homelessness. By dint of keen, resolute, committed, and diligent effort, and right focus, they experience an immersion of the heart of such a kind that they recollect that past life, but no further.

They say: ‘He who is Brahmā—the Great Brahmā, the Undefeated, the Champion, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord God, the Maker, the Author, the Best, the Begetter, the Controller, the Father of those who have been born and those yet to be born—is permanent, everlasting, eternal, imperishable, remaining the same for all eternity. We who were created by that Brahmā are impermanent, not lasting, short-lived, perishable, and have come to this state of existence. This is the first ground on which some ascetics and brahmins rely to assert that the self and the cosmos are partially eternal.

Thus, there’s no issue with universal wavefunction, the Brahms from the realm of streaming radiance (2nd Jhana Brahma realm) might act as the observer to collapse the wavefunction of the universe if need be. By the way, the above quote shows the Buddhist conception of how the ideal of a creator God comes to be.

Anyway this universal wavefunction along with the unique history are usually not a thorny issue that people argue about when they discuss preferences for interpretations, unless they have nothing much else to talk about.

Now that we have covered the relevant concepts, the classical preferences for them and a Buddhist’s comment about them, here’s some reflection. Buddhism is generally more open compared to classical thinking in accepting many strange features of various quantum interpretations. Buddhism is also less decisive in placing bets on what the “real” interpretation should look like or have certain properties, except for the clear rejection of superdeterminism.

Thus, from here we can dash out any hope of trying to use Buddhism as a guide to select interpretations. Still, certain interpretations will resonate with Buddhist concepts more strongly compared to others, but the preliminary analysis here seems to suggest that we do not place hope on advancing the physics interpretation cases via philosophical inputs from Buddhism. What about the payoff for Buddhists? We can still go through the interpretations and then Buddhists can realise that we cannot make simple statements like quantum supports Buddhist philosophical concepts. Many of the interpretations might not be relevant or resonate with Buddhist concepts and some might resonate strongly. It’s important to keep in mind that as interpretations, experiments had not yet been able to rule one or another out yet, and it’s a religion (personal preferences) for physicists to choose one over another based on which classical concepts they are more attached to.


I would agree that there is no such thing as causality in the EBTs. Dependent origination, for instance, is about dependency and conditionality, not causality. At the same time, I am not sure that there are only “patterns”. The EBTs do present certain kinds of conditional relationships as if they were invariable laws, not merely descriptions of nature.

Perhaps the most important example of this is the dependent nature of the factors in dependent origination. “Willed actions” (saṅkhārā) depend on ignorance (avijjā), and so it goes all the way to the end of DO. This is specifically stated to be an invariable law. There is no possibility of “willed actions” if ignorance comes to an end. This is not causality, yet it more than a “pattern”.

I am wondering whether there is a distinction to be made between the physical and the mental. The physical world as conceived in physics, although ultimately based on experience, is really just an abstraction of the experiential world we live in. It is hard to see how we could ever be directly aware of causal relationships in such a world. But in the mental world of direct experience, where the clarity is proportional to the stillness of the mind, it is not unreasonable to think that we should be able, based on deep meditation, to infer laws that are more than just correlation. It seems to me that this is why the Buddha can state that the dependency in DO is a fixed law of nature.


Physicist views it the other way around. Because of lack of training of stillness, their mind causal relationships is not clear to them.

But having models of physical world and experiments verify them to a very high degree of significant figures and able to predict new phenomena and discover it renders those models as super real to them and the story the model tells is to be taken seriously.

Hence another reason for the interest in the interpretations, the story behind the successful quantum theory. We know it works very well, we cannot agree upon what story it tells us about nature. That to me is the real quantum weirdness. I plan to end this part of quantum interpretation and buddhism comparison Physics and Buddhism

By noticing that there’s no quantumness of quantum, except maybe contextuality. It is empty of inherent nature.

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