Quantum Bull#hit

"Buddhists read — in whacky books for whacky people — that the “observer” must be a conscious mind.
Since this suits their rhetorical purposes they do not follow up and thus never discover that the idea is discredited.
No one ever stops to wonder what the statement means, because if they did they’d see that it’s meaningless.
Thus, Buddhists who use quantum mechanics to make Buddhism look more interesting are not concerned with the truth.
They do not read widely on the subject, but simply adopt the minority view that chimes with their preconceptions and use this as a lever.
For example, I cannot ever recall such rhetoric ever making clear that the cat-in-the-box thought experiment was proposed by Schrödinger to discredit the Copenhagen interpretation.
It is presented as the opposite.
Again, there is a lack of regard for the truth.
Nor do Buddhists ever present criticisms of the Copenhagen interpretations such as those that emerge from Everett’s interpretation. Other criticisms are available.
And this disregard for the truth combined with a concerted attempt to persuade an audience of some arbitrary argument is classic bullshit (as described by Harry Frankfurt).
Buddhists who write about quantum mechanics are, on the whole, bullshitters.
They are not concerned with the nature of reality, they are concerned with status, especially the kind of status derived from being a keeper of secret knowledge.
It’s past time to call out the bullshitters. They only hurt Buddhism by continuing to peddle bullshit.
The irony is that the truth of Buddhism is far more interesting than the bullshit; it’s just much harder to leverage for status or wealth.

I’m glad @jayarava wrote the article. It is time someone do something about this quantum gomaya!


A lot of people think that the double slit experiment means that consciousness collapses the wave function. That’s not true. The experimenters where looking the whole time, watching both the interference pattern and the lack of one. The camera collapsed the wave function. Power to the cameras.


I think it’s not just Buddhists who are to blame for this sad situation. The interpretation of quantum mechanics remains a contested area, and the preservation of funding and viability of competing research programs depends to some extent on selling sexy and exciting scientific ideas to the public. That leads some to market these ideas as a manifestation of mysterious “oriental wisdom.”


“As far as the mainstream of quantum mechanics is concerned, consciousness plays no part whatsoever in quantum mechanics.”

Yes, because most of physics has chosen to just ignore consciousness (arguably the most important aspect of reality).

The metaphysical belief of many physicists (such as Sean Carroll, correct me if I’m wrong) seems to be that they are studying things that exist independently of their conscious experience of it, and therefore it’s not necessary to take the conscious experience of it into account.

Sure, that’s a metaphysical assumption you can make so you don’t have to deal with consciousness.

Buddhism has a different set of metaphysical assumptions though, and it could be the case that quantum physics could use those assumptions to advance the understanding of quantum theory.

I think many people understand that studying the world without accounting for its most defining feature, conscious experience, cannot be very satisfactory.

Basically, it’s about the metaphysics, not the math, IMO.


The issue posed by the OP isn’t whether some kind of non-physical consciousness is or is not part of reality. The issue is whether there is anything in quantum mechanics to which one can appeal for evidence for such a non-physical phenomenon.

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Yes, that is the idea.
Also, we could discuss in a friendly way how incompatible with the path is this trend of trying to make Buddhism look smart and super scientific only for the sake of bull#hitting, or even worse, getting money and fame!

Caveat Emptor. In Buddhism, in science, in everything. Anyone taking the words of another as unadulterated truth is going to be disappointed.

Most educated people in the West are moving away from world views based on superstition and faith based mythology. Being the recipient of a modern education they reject superstition and instead seek a better understanding of the world based on an accurate, or as accurate as is humanly possible, representation of objective reality. An understanding of objective reality that is not filtered through the old and now rejected lens of faith, myth and sheer unadulterated fantasy.

With the rise of interest in Buddhism in the west, science based interpretation of the dhamma is only going to become MORE prevalent not less. Lamenting the arising of science based interpretation of the dhamma (no matter how flawed) is not going to invalidate observations gained through that lens of understanding. The only thing it will achieve is to turn potentially interested western readers away from Buddhism.

If proponents of Buddhism wish to engage westerners who are completely disillusioned by myth based interpretations of the world then science is actually the best tool to do that. Writing reactionary articles bashing people who attempt to do this is only going to turn westerners away from Buddhism, not draw them toward it. At the end of the day these writers are only seeking to understand the world and instigate a discussion using the tools with which they are familiar in order to attempt to do it.

Such reactionary views as those written about above do not help, they are actually an impediment that turns people away from dhamma. Westerners see these sorts of treatises lamenting the intrusion of science into Buddhism as a faith based attack on scientific method, logic and reason, the very methods by which they seek to understand and interpret the world.

Furthermore, scientific method is wholly consistent with the Buddha’s teachings. There is nothing in scientific method that is inconsistent with the Buddhas teachings on how to investigate phenomena.

And while it may well be that profit motive plays a role in the writing of these books that is not to say the writing of the author has no value for the reader. The authors are not monks, they have to earn a living so attacking these treatises because the author is making a living from writing these books does not invalidate any observations and/or speculation about objective reality contained therein.

All it does is highlight a defensive and reactionary stance that views science as the enemy. A negative and oppositional stance. I thought Buddhism was supposed to be a bit more understanding and inclusive and not so openly seeking to promote division and disharmony.

Skeptical westerners who view the world based upon a rational scientific world view will be turned away by this negative attitude. At the end of the day if you are just preaching to the converted in the echo chamber of Buddhist thought then it doesn’t matter. On the other hand if you hope to attract any of those skeptical westerners to Buddhist investigation of the world then this negative article that openly attacks people attempting to develop a nuanced understanding of the world will only serve as an impediment.

Just my five cents worth. Caveat emptor, don’t take any of my words too seriously. Don’t take them as being true or correct. Like the above article and like the original article or book being attacked, they are just views. Don’t take any of it too seriously, it’s not worth getting worked up over.

I don’t think the article is reactionary. It doesn’t promote returning to some kind of purer, pre-modern or pre-scientific form of Buddhist thought. Itstead it properly criticizes some Buddhists for attempting to draw conclusions from contemporary fundamental physics that are not warranted, and for using those unwarranted conclusions for defending one particular version of Buddhist metaphysics.

This has come up before, but it is very hard to classify the metaphysical framework of the EBTs as either dualist or “materialist”. It is simply not developed in enough detail to be able to say.

I think we should recognize that intellectual craving is just another form of craving. People with very active and hungry intellects have often not been satisfied with the Buddha’s teaching of a path to the end of suffering. They also want a path to the satisfaction of their megalomaniacal intellectual cravings to have the secrets of the universe revealed to them, including the depths of past and the future. This is vainglorious egotism. But it always a prominent feature of Buddhist discourse, because people with this kind of temperament tend to talk a lot, and take their intellects out for lengthy walks.


It’s all just views. Mine, your’s and his lol. And I was probably wrongheaded may have needed to sit for a while before hitting send, then I probably would have just hit ‘delete’ instead.


I don’t think the article takes any general position on the use of science for understanding aspects of Buddhism. It just criticizes Buddhists for bullshitting about quantum mechanics. There other ways in which people have attempted to use science to understand aspects of Buddhism - for example, the psychological and physiological study of meditation states - and the article says nothing negative about that approach.

This really goes beyond anything in the essay. Whether to count the kind of direct observation of one’s mental states that we do when we meditate as a kind of science is a question that Jayarava doesn’t address.

I also think Buddhism’s strongest appeal for westerners who are not interested in traditional Buddhism’s picture of the cosmos is that Buddhism offers a psychologically incisive account of how our minds work and why we suffer, and a way of life and meditation practice conducive to ending that suffering.

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You are right.

It helps when you actually read the essay and stop criticising other people for knee jerk reactions when you are doing the exact same thing yourself lol My own understanding of the essay improved dramatically when I actually read it, instead of relying on one short quote. so I have to say I was wrong and wrong headed about it. Everything is a lesson although I seem to be a bit of a slow learner.



I am puzzled by that affirmation. Could you elaborate?

To me, scientific method and Buddhism have very different goals and scopes.

Buddhism and its method boils down, as per the four noble truths, a. fully understanding suffering and how it is caused, b. letting go of the causes of suffering, c. verifying the end of suffering once its causes are abandoned and, of course, d. cultivating the path towards that verification.

Scientific methods are all about systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses. Suffering is not one of the objects of scientific methods and cannot be even subject to those as it pertains to the realm of subjective experiences.


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The Buddha teaches that in order to realise the fruits of the path you need to ‘see’ for yourself, that you need to gain insight in order to understand. Someone else, even the Buddha can tell you something about the way the mind works but it is not truly understood until it is ‘realised’ or seen by the individual.

In order to realise that knowledge for oneself one has to put into practice the methods of training the mind as espoused by the Buddha. When this is skillfully done then one sees for themselves and develops a full understanding (well hopefully anyway). So in order to derive understanding one must first ‘see’ first and then one can infer meaning and understanding.

Although more structurally codified and aimed at external phenomena and not phenomena of the mind, scientific investigation of the external world follows the same basic principle, one observes phenomena to ‘see’ what occurs. From the results one can then infer meaning. Understanding comes from seeing the results, in the same way understanding of the dhamma comes from ‘seeing’ the results.

In this way, science and dhamma are the same. Both are methods for gaining understanding of the world.

The goal of science is to derive meaning and understanding of the world by the direct observation of measurable phenomena. Buddhist investigation of the mind/body duality seeks to do the exact same thing - directly observe phenomena in order to gain understanding - with the added goal of attaining liberation based upon that understanding.

So while the ultimate goals are different they are not mutually exclusive nor are they incompatible systems of investigation as they do in fact share the same basic goals, to develop knowledge and understanding. The other main difference is that one is applied largely to the external world and the other to the internal world of experience but at the end of the day both methods involve observation of phenomena in order to gain knowledge and understanding of them.

regards :slight_smile:

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I always had trouble with this notion of internal and external.
Can it be experienced that this is internal and that is external?
Is it simply a mental add-on to bare level phenomena to generate the reality we inhabit?

On one level everything that we sense is created internally. We know from studies of anatomy and neuroscience that all animals with a central nervous system create their internal understanding of the external material world based on external sense stimuli, i.e. on the material level we actually ‘hallucinate’ or create what is sensed of the external world inside our own head.

There is no light that penetrates beyond the eye to the visual cortex, likewise no sound waves penetrate beyond the ear canal into the superior temporal gyrus where sound is processed in the brain. What we sense of the external world and infer meaning from actually comes from internally generated electrical impulses and chemical messages that arise due to external stimuli.

So on that level there really is no external, it’s all internal.


I would like to add that knowledge of how the physical body is constructed level by level, each successive level teetering precariously upon the results of the level below, each new level increasingly complex and subject to error - from subatomic particles to atoms, atoms to molecules, molecules to organelles, to cells, tissues, organs, organ systems and finally the organism level where you say you have ‘one whole person’ helps one to understand many of the Buddha’s teachings. One can also see in greater detail the true impermanence of the human body and how it is constructed by causes, causes that are subject to entropy and decay.

You’re illustrating my point very well here; someone who is a Cartesian dualist will never see evidence for consciousness in quantum mechanics. What would evidence for the non-physical in the physical even look like? It’s an impossibility.

However, if you drop the Cartesian dualism, new ways to understand quantum mechanics arise.

We’re always interpreting the world through an untested metaphysical lense, there is no evidence that simply ‘speaks for itself’.

The idea that there is an objective reality that exists independently of observation, that we can learn unchanging facts about, is also just another metaphysical assumption fashionable to 21st century intellectual tastes.

I didn’t say that there was, nor did I imply it. Trying to leave metaphysical questions about the nature of reality alone, I have enough to contemplate already. :smiley:

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I have seen new-age types indulge in this kind of thing, eg Deepak Chopra.


Agreed, it was just an example of a particular metaphysical stance and I wanted to point it out :slight_smile:

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