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Thread: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

  1. #1

    Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    So, my experiences with Buddhism and Emergence theory (beginning, interestingly enough, simultaneously) converged to a point at which I began to consider determinism as a possible overarching structure to the universe. Emergence theory, as I learned about it, is the idea that simple rules lead to complex interactions (see examples at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langton's_ant or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life). The idea, then, is that from the moment of the creation of the universe (assuming the big bang theory), a sequence of events occurred based on very simple rules governing the interaction of objects in the universe that produced everything as we know it today- all the complex and glorious forms of life and non-life we see today. This idea of determinism, however, precludes the idea of free will (though, imho, to operate under the assumption that we do not have free will is potentially fatal, lol). It also removes blame from any one person and instantly creates a form of fate. Like the answer to a mathematical equation, this deterministic universe cannot be predicted - you must run through the iterations, through each "time-step" before you can know what is to have happened. by that time, the future becomes hindsight and everything makes sense. But (and I think, though correct me if I'm wrong, this is where Heisenberg's uncertainty principle comes in) we can never know all the pieces and thus can never go through the iterations on paper before they occur in real life.

    Now, I'm not one to believe in something devoutly without leaving the door open to changing my mind, but I love this idea - I readily challenge any and all to defeat this notion of fate via determinism that I've worked up. I throw it at my friends who rigidly insist that their MUST be free will, though they never actually poke holes in my argument so much as dance around it. And so, for a few years, this determinism has stuck with me as the current "working theory" on the universe.

    Enter Alan Watts. I was blown away the other day when reading Watts' "The Book" - it was as though he was speaking to me directly:

    "A similar solution aplies to the ancient problem of cause and effect. We believe that every thing and every event must have a cause, that is, some OTHER thing(s) or event(s), and that it will in its turn be the cause of other effects. So how does a cause lead to an effect? To make it much worse, if all that I think or do is a set of effects, there must be causes for all of them going back into an indefinite past. If so, I can't help what I do. I am simply a puppet pulled by strings that go back into times far beyond my vision

    Again, this is a problem which comes from asking the wrong question. Here is someone who has never seen a cat. He is looking through a narrow sit in a fence, and, on the other side, a cat walks by. He sees first the head, then the less distinctly shaped furry trunk, and then the tail. Extraordinary! The cat turns round and walks back, and again he sees the head, and a little later, the tail. This sequence begins to look like something regular and reliable. Yet again, the cat turns round, and he witnesses the same regular sequence: first the head, and later the tail. Thereupon he reasons that the event HEAD is the invariable and necessary cause of the event TAIL, which is the head's effect. This absurd and confusing gobbledygook comes from his failure to see that head and tail go together; they are all one cat.

    The cat wasn't born as a head which, sometime later, caused a tail; it was born all of a piece, a head-tailed cat. Our observer's trouble was that he was watching it through a narrow slit, and couldn't see the whole cat at once.

    The narrow slit in the fence is much like the way in which we look at life by conscious attnetion, for when we attend to something we ignore everything else. Attention is narrowed perception. It is a way of looking at life bit by bit, using memory to sting the bits together - as when examining a dark room with a flashlight having a very narrow beam. Perceotion thus narrowed has the advantage of being sharp and bright, but is has to focus on one area of the world after another, and one feature after another. And where there are no features, only space or uniform surfaces, it somehow gets bored and searches about for more features. Attention is therefore something like a scanning mechanism in radar or television, and Norbert Wiener and his colleagues found some evidence that there is a similar process in the brain.

    But a scanning process that observes the world bit by bit soon persuades its user that the world IS a great collection of bits, and these he calls separate things or events. We often say that you can only think of one thing at a time. The truth is that in looking at the world bit by bit we convince ourselves that it consists of separate things, and so give ourselves the problemof how these things are connected and how they cause and effect each other. The problem would never have arisen if we had been aware that it was just our way of looking at the world which had chopped it up into separate bits, things, events, causes, and effects. We do not see that the world is all of a piece like the head-tailed cat."


    So what does everyone think about this?

    I often considered Karma a sort of cause and effect, though perhaps a little more mysterious given the "oneness" of the universe etc., but if the world and all events are one and extant all at once, how does this play into karma?

    I'm intellectualizing this too much and not "just sitting" enough, heh, but these kinds of logic-of-the-universe puzzles fascinate me, and, personally, I think they help me reach a better understanding the more cryptic, dense texts within Buddhism, though they don't speak, necessarily, to the heart of practice.

  2. #2

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    If the world and all events are one and extant all at once, how does this play into karma?
    That's like saying, "If all parts of a cake are part of the same cake, then what does that say about the parts?"

  3. #3

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Hi Frank,

    I am also fascinated by "emergence", and I have been working (without end) on a book which touches on that. The book will be finished about the time the last galaxies burn out. :?

    Anyway, Nishijima Roshi, in the book I translated with him a few years back, had a pretty good section on this: How we can be bound by causes, yet have great freedom. I think it is as good a solution as one will ever get to the old "free will vs. determinism" dilemma, for any armchair philosophers out there.

    If you are interested in the subject, here is what he wrote, which (in my free will, due to endless causes and conditions ) I have decided to slightly abridge:



    21. CONTRADICTIONS IN HUMAN FREEDOM


    Sekishin: [If] I recall from our recent discussions, I think it was said by you that human beings are bound hard and fast, top to bottom, by the ‘Law of Cause & Effect’ …..

    Gudo: Yes, that is right. The perspective of the ‘Law of Cause & Effect’ is that our every action, without exception, has its origin in a priori causes stemming from our actions, as well as environmental and other factors which occurred in the past.

    Sekishin: But if that is the case, I believe that there are some strange implications. For example, if we posit that we are so firmly bound by ‘Cause & Effect,’ by a priori causes, then we human beings truly lack freedom of action, freedom of choice and free will. And if that is so, [free choice] loses all real meaning … What was the means [in Buddhism] to resolve the contradiction?

    Gudo: That means of resolution was found in a concept of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe.’

    Sekishin: The ‘instantaneousness of the universe?’ ….. What is that?’

    Gudo: If I were to describe in a very few words the meaning of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe,’ I would say this: ‘Each and all of that which exists in this world in which we reside arises and take places moment by moment, all while vanishing and passing away moment by moment.’

    Sekishin: That seems like a rather strange idea …..

    Gudo: Well, if we look at it from our ordinary, common sense viewpoints ….. it could be seen as strange. However, if we look at it from a Buddhist perspective, we see that the idea is straight on the mark as a statement of Reality, and constitutes one of the pillars of Buddhist thought.

    Sekishin: Might I trouble you to explain it in a way that may be easier to understand?

    Gudo: [The] one and only time in which we can live is in this present. Yet, this ‘present’ in time is continuously, moment by moment, but the future becoming the present as the present turns into the past ….. Thereby, this time which is the ‘present’ can never be but the continuous ‘moment to moment.’

    If we think from a common sense view, we human beings feel, in some vague manner, that we are existing somewhere in an expanse of time, at a point on a ‘time line,’ stretching from the past into the present connecting to the future. However, in our daily lives as human beings, if we try to think realistically about the situation, we are not living in some expanse of time stretching from the past into the present and connecting to the future. Instead, we must perceive that we are ever, always living just in this present, and nowhere else. We are living in the moment which is this very present that arises and passes away, in each smallest instant. And because this very time in which we are living is this moment, this very instant which is the present that arises and passes away moment by moment, when we hold up this world in which we live against such a vision of time, we must see that this world too, and all this world contains, arises and passes away, comes and vanishes moment by moment, instant by instant.

    Sekishin: I see….. This is something that we usually do not realize in our daily life, but when you state it in such manner, I see how we could think in that way.

    Gudo: Certainly, it is not something that we become aware of easily in our day-to-day lives, but this instantaneous world that I have described is the world in which we are actually living. And this idea of the nature of the world constitutes the Buddhist concept of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe,’ in Japanese ….. setsuna-shoumetsu. The word ‘setsuna’ derives from the Sanskrit term ‘kshana,’ an extremely small measure of time which we might refer to, in modern language, as ‘an instant,’ ‘a moment.’

    Sekishin: But how does this concept of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe’ serve to settle the contradictions regarding human freedom ... and the idea of the ‘Law of Cause & Effect?’

    Gudo: With regard to that matter, Master Dogen, in the Hotsu-Bodaishin chapter of the Shobogenzo for example, stated such ideas as, ‘If all things did not arise and vanish instantaneously, bad done in the previous instant would not depart. If bad done in the previous instant had not yet departed, good of the next instant could not be realized in the present.’ Namely, in this very world in which we live, precisely because it is arising and passing away, coming and going moment by moment ….. the good of the present moment can occur despite the bad which occurred in the moment before. The reason that it is possible for the good of the present moment to occur despite the bad which occurred in the moment before is just because this world is arising and passing away, coming and vanishing moment by moment, instant by instant. In other words, the events and circumstances of the moment before fade, thereby clearing space for the events of the current moment to happen …. If circumstances did not change moment by moment, the world would be frozen and static. Thus, the freedom of action which we possess in the present moment can be sought in the fact that the time which is the present is an instantaneous existence.

    Let us imagine that we are standing atop a place as thin and narrow as the blade edge of the sharpest razor ….. Just as we would then have the freedom to fall to the left or to fall to the right, the time of the present which is the stage for all our actions, the one and only foundation for our lives, is also a momentary existence of the thinnest and narrowest width, whereby ….. although we are bound within the world of reality, the world of actions ….. yet, we are free, and although we are free ….. yet are we bound.

    Sekishin-san, have you ever heard, as one term representative of Buddhist thought, the phrase ‘shogyoumujou,’ meaning the impermanence, the transitory nature of all worldly phenomena? It means that all our various actions are instantaneous existences, not possessing any lasting nature. Such thinking is the same as the idea of the ‘instantaneousness of the universe,’ but viewed from its other side …… meaning that our actions in the present, precisely because they are impermanent and transitory ….. are free yet fully bound by the past, and while fully bound by the past ….. yet are we free.
    We also had a wider discussion of "Karma" (or, at least, some views on Karma) on this thread ...

    viewtopic.php?p=17953#p17953

    PS - Frank, you may be interested in the work of David Bohm, a physicist who became a bit "Eastern" in his later years. Especially this book

    1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-7100-0971-2, 1983 Ark paperback: ISBN 0-7448-0000-5, 2002 paperback: ISBN 0-415-28979-3

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wholeness_ ... cate_Order

  4. #4

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Gotta love these brain bakers, eh!?

    Do I have free will or do I just think I have free will because that is how this facet of the universe evolved over time: To think it has free will?
    This is a powerful insight into "inter-being" or the connectedness of the universe. Your own sense of self may be a linchpin of the grand plan you are a part of... (Which is what Buddhists have been saying all along!)

    This free will vs. determinism discussion is reviewed in "I am a Strange Loop" which is a fascinating book written by a cognitive scientist (Douglas R. Hofstadter).
    It includes several Zen themes including the illusion of the self.
    The illusion stems from the brain's need to create an internal representation of its surrounding (for survival purposes), and part of this representation necessarily includes the brain itself. The “I” is a mechanism that represents itself and thereby leads to its very existence.
    Thus: "I am a strange loop!" (Hofstadter originally wanted to call the book "'I' IS a strange loop" but felt it was too odd to the uninitiated. Once you read the book, though, you realize it's a much better title!)
    What's a strange loop? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_loop

    So YES there is determinism and YES there is free-will. (Which is what Nishijima is saying!) You are bound by your past (determinism) to be able to create your future (free-will). Your existence is both conditioned and conditioning. You are the source of your own creation.

    Put more succinctly:
    Your thoughts are the results of interactions between neurons that create an illusion of a self (so called "upward causality"). But then those thoughts can go on to create actions that result in the interaction between neurons ("downward causality").

    So the big question is: how is it that a whole bunch of causes and effects (from beginningless time onward) led to YOU who can now become the SOURCE of more causes and effects?
    Chicken, egg, chicken, egg. Makes your head hurt if you think about it too much. And so:

    Cease practice based
    On intellectual understanding,
    Pursuing words and
    Following after speech.
    Learn the backward
    Step that turns
    Your light inward
    To illuminate within.
    Body and mind of themselves
    Will drop away
    And your original face will be manifest.
    — Dogen
    I'm gonna go sit...
    Gassho,
    -K2

  5. #5

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    I think the past puts limits on present actions but an infinite number of actions are possible within those limits. Ex: I must turn left or right at the end of the road I am on, but I choose how I turn my car. Do I turn quickly? Do I slam on my breaks? Do I stare at the hot girl on the sidewalk? I could write possibilities without end; for any situation. This is sort of analogous to the fact that between two integers, say 1 and 2, there are an infinite number of real numbers. So is it the past events that determine the present action (strict determinism)? How could things already finished and living in the past (inactive) choose from an infinite number of possibilities right now? I do not think this is possible. But I think sentient beings can stare the infinite down and make a choice. I think the present determines the past, but the past only influences the present. From all limited-infinite possibilities in the present, the action of a will produces the past on the fly while in the present moment (strictest sense)... or perhaps, generally speaking, energy acting through matter. I think the past is our prisoner.

    So, I suppose the future is also influenced by the past since the present is... but I like to think of the future as being the same thing as the present. E.I., I am not becoming a buddha. I do zazen so I am a buddha. I am not becoming a kung master, I am that master right now because I practice my kung fu. I am a master and a buddha that needs lots of practice and learning (but at what point is that not the case? Forget "points".). LOL. And so the zazen and kung fu practice go on and on and those "goals" or "levels of achievement" never come. This is perfectly fine; I am at the goal right now because I am living these things right now. I could go on, but I am quite sleepy.

    A short generalization above... leaving out that spooky quantum theory.

    Cam

  6. #6

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Thank you for the responses!!

    @Kevin:

    I feel it's more like saying, "If the most basic ingredient in cake is just cake, then how does one make cake?" Not sure that that's a better question :P

    @Jundo:

    Mmm... that makes sense. I'll have to revisit the Shobogenzo as well as looking at Bohm's work... so interesting! Thanks for the links and book information!

    @Kliff:

    Interesting... I'll be doing more reading on strange loops, haha. I've heard of hofstadter before, but never really looked in-depth. I'lll add him to my list as well! As to your final quote...

    yeah, I need some zazen. :P

    @deadbuddha:

    Originally, I felt that way, too. However, I soon began to consider that you can break those choices down - when you turn left at the intersection, you don't even choose HOW you do it. Does turning quickly make you uneasy? If so you won't turn quickly - that's something determined a priori. Are you gay or straight, or do you think it's rude to stare at hot girls, or are you in a committed relationship that leaves you indifferent to hot girls? Any of these will determine whether you stare at the hot girl, and all of these will have been determined, again, a priori. I agree, however that past is our prisoner. I have considered that perhaps the breaking of habit energies is this "staring down infinity" that you speak of, enabling us to transcend those a priori facets of ourselves and act with true freedom.

    Finally, I'm down for some quantum theory, if you've got it...



    Again, thanks everyone for the responses!

  7. #7
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Thank you K2, great post but please check your Dogen translation...

    Learn the backward
    Step that turns
    Your light inward
    To illuminate within.
    The actual radiance is not directed neither within nor without. It just is.

    Bows

    Taigu

  8. #8

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Thank you, Taigu!

    I actually pulled that quote off of Wikipedia while surfing the net.
    As you know, Wikipedia is not always authoritative nor accurate.
    I thought the quote was appropriate as it seemed to be saying "quit talking about Quantum theory and Shrodinger's Cat and sit zazen!"

    In any case, I'm not sure if this was originally from Shobogenzo or not. It sounded familiar.

    Gassho,
    -K2

  9. #9

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Quote Originally Posted by kliffkapus

    So YES there is determinism and YES there is free-will. (Which is what Nishijima is saying!) You are bound by your past (determinism) to be able to create your future (free-will). Your existence is both conditioned and conditioning. You are the source of your own creation.

    Put more succinctly:
    Your thoughts are the results of interactions between neurons that create an illusion of a self (so called "upward causality"). But then those thoughts can go on to create actions that result in the interaction between neurons ("downward causality").

    So the big question is: how is it that a whole bunch of causes and effects (from beginningless time onward) led to YOU who can now become the SOURCE of more causes and effects?
    Chicken, egg, chicken, egg. Makes your head hurt if you think about it too much. And so:
    I am not one who needs to see that modern science "proves" Buddhism ... any more than modern science "proves" the value of art or music. Art and music, like Buddhist practice, stand on their own without need for scientific explanation as to why they are valuable to human beings.

    However, I do find it important that modern scientific understanding seems to confirm several of the most basic perspectives of Buddhist philosophy: (1) that our sense of "self" is, from one perspective, an illusion created in very much the way that traditional Buddhist psychology describes as a kind of self-image in the mind built from sense data; (2) that there is deep interpenetration and inter-causality in the world, such that we cannot say clearly that life-world-self-others are truly separate things; (3) that how we perceive and think within our mind about the world does, in fact, create much of what we take to be the world outside us. for example, cancer and hurricanes are just cancer and hurricanes [even having some positive aspects when seen from the grand scale of evolution and the planet], but we humans judge them as "bad" because of their impact on our little self (4) that we live in a world where things have complex causes, yet we are free to act ... and our actions have effects on our self and those around us ... in other words, people's harmful or "negative" thoughts, words and actions create so many of the social and personal "problems" they find themselves in, and for those around them too.

    There are other areas too where modern scientific ideas and Buddhist ideas certainly are in harmony, or at least, do not conflict.

    To get off the subject a little, a book I have been working on writing forever is trying to make one more such link. It is about something called the "Anthropic Coincidences", that we live in a universe seemingly very hospitable to life (and especially intelligent life, even human life in particular). In fact, we live in a universe where every twist and turn of chemistry, physics, biology, star and planetary development, geology, evolution ... you name it without exception, from the Big Bang to the moment of our births, twisted and turned "just right" to allow it all (meaning that, if there had been even a single twist when there needed to be a turn at any single point over the 13.7 Billion year history of this universe ... well, I would not be writing this posting right now, and you would not be here to read it). Some Christian thinkers and believers have co-opted these ideas, and they have gotten lost in something called the "Intelligent Design" mess as a means to prove the Christian view of God.

    I, and a lot of folks ... not all religious ... find the idea of the "Anthropic Coincidences" to be very important, and are trying to rescue them from being associated only with Creationists and the whole "Darwin v. Jesus" debate and such. My book will see what they might say from a Buddhist perspective, and whether there are any implications for the system of "Karma".

    Anyway, I will finish it someday ... probably within another 13.7 Billion years.

    Gassho, J

  10. #10

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    I like the "Anthropoic Coincidence" idea! I did a Google search and read up on it a little.
    It sounds a bit like the "Paley's Watch" argument for God, though.
    Paley's Watch gets a lot of action on the Pro-God side but the atheists simply assert that in an infinite universe, what appears to be spooky coincidence may simply be serendipity and we only read into that the implication of God.
    That, and if you lock a million monkeys in a room for a million years with a typewriter, Shakespeare will ensue...
    (In case you're unfamiliar, Paley's Watch is an argument that if you discover a rock, you can chalk that up to coincidence but if you discover a watch, which is inherently complicated, that implies that there was an intelligence to create the watch in the first place. Therefore, since the Earth is so very complex and seems fortuitously amenable to life, God MUST exist.)
    For more on this, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmaker_analogy
    Still, I've heard the endless expositions of the Judeo-Christian viewpoint on this. It would be unique to hear the Buddhist perspective!

    And for the record: Jundo, I agree with you entirely about relationship between science and religion.
    It's always exciting when science confirms Buddhism but totally unnecessary.
    I don't need to know how the car works to be a good driver!
    And intimate knowledge of the workings of the internal combustion engine isn't going to help me if a truck jack-knifes in front of me at 60 miles per hour!
    Still, studying physics can help a skilled driver get even better. And putting down the owner's manual and spending some time behind the wheel is a good thing too.

    Oops. My inner nerd is showing, isn't it?
    I'll shut up now...

    Gassho,
    -K2

  11. #11

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Quote Originally Posted by Frankiel

    @deadbuddha:

    Originally, I felt that way, too. However, I soon began to consider that you can break those choices down - when you turn left at the intersection, you don't even choose HOW you do it. Does turning quickly make you uneasy? If so you won't turn quickly - that's something determined a priori. Are you gay or straight, or do you think it's rude to stare at hot girls, or are you in a committed relationship that leaves you indifferent to hot girls? Any of these will determine whether you stare at the hot girl, and all of these will have been determined, again, a priori. I agree, however that past is our prisoner. I have considered that perhaps the breaking of habit energies is this "staring down infinity" that you speak of, enabling us to transcend those a priori facets of ourselves and act with true freedom.

    Finally, I'm down for some quantum theory, if you've got it...
    You can always look at every event, whatever, and see there were necessary conditions that preceded it. That is not to say that the present moment (the alive, un-graspable, undetermined, ineffable, actionable moment) is itself a direct product of these past conditions. In a sense, I think the present is not even of the same substance as the past. Can the present be a thing, as things go? I don't see the present as an event at any rate, not like the past; The present is happening. The present is "is" and is "happening". I think this is quite obvious sitting zazen. I'm starting to really feel that our "normal" concept of time is not complete. One may consider the present as a series of moments, like I'm grocery shopping.... Ex: I've been here 45 mins, I put the bag of oranges in my basket, I notice the floor is dirty, I check my watch, I go stand in line, I think,"Man oh man, this grocery shopping is taking forever today. I have more important stuff to do (LOL!)". But the true grocery shopping is THE shopping of groceries and everything in between and around and before and after as it is happening. Therefore, it is not the protracted event (1 hour in the grocery store), but the doing. So what I'm saying is, you can consider a nearly infinite string of events or "causes"(things of duration), but that does not change the nature of the present, i.e freedom.

    I suppose if one wants to get all logical and argue that determinism makes sense and we cannot prove it is not true... I would say that we cannot prove it is true either. What does that leave us with? Belief. Either way. I would rather believe I have freedom in the present moment because that accords with human experience and convention. Besides ignorant fatalism is depressing, i.e.,"I don't know what's going to happen, but the causes are all there somewhere in the past so why put effort into anything? There's no need to give consideration to things so I'll just be a passive zombie or wholeheartedly go with the flow(a very rigid flow )".

    At any rate, I'm gonna sit. I think the answer is right there.

    " I have considered that perhaps the breaking of habit energies is this "staring down infinity" that you speak of, enabling us to transcend those a priori facets of ourselves and act with true freedom."

    I like that, thank you... I've considered something like this before but not in that way exactly. I'm not sure habit energies covers it all, but I do agree our habits need attention.

    Cam

  12. #12

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Quote Originally Posted by kliffkapus
    I like the "Anthropoic Coincidence" idea! I did a Google search and read up on it a little.
    It sounds a bit like the "Paley's Watch" argument for God, though.
    Paley's Watch gets a lot of action on the Pro-God side but the atheists simply assert that in an infinite universe, what appears to be spooky coincidence may simply be serendipity and we only read into that the implication of God.
    That, and if you lock a million monkeys in a room for a million years with a typewriter, Shakespeare will ensue...
    (In case you're unfamiliar, Paley's Watch is an argument that if you discover a rock, you can chalk that up to coincidence but if you discover a watch, which is inherently complicated, that implies that there was an intelligence to create the watch in the first place. Therefore, since the Earth is so very complex and seems fortuitously amenable to life, God MUST exist.)
    For more on this, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmaker_analogy
    Still, I've heard the endless expositions of the Judeo-Christian viewpoint on this. It would be unique to hear the Buddhist perspective!
    WARNING: The following is not a discussion of a particularly "Buddhist" idea ... just a particular subject that I, Jundo, happen to also be interested in.

    My book on the anthropic coincidences looks at each of 13.7 billion years of physical, chemical, astronomical, environmental, evolutionary and historical twists and turns that had to twist and turn 'just right' for our particular world and for our particular lives 'Kliff & Jundo'. I do make the argument that there is something special (not about some intelligent life having popped up somewhere in this universe, or on some world somewhere in a vast multi-verse), but in events having led so nicely to the very world, the very you and me, that you and I so selfishly needed ... with me, Jundo, able to be here to ponder it all and write these words, with you to read them.

    Yes, the argument is often made that any intelligent life, anywhere in the universe, able to ponder such a question would find their existence just as queer as I do. That is true. Any lottery number coming up seems a strange coincidence until we recall that some number was bound to come up, and all were equally unlikely.

    Still, I ask ... is it not strange that I (meaning, me, selfishly, and not some other guy) am the lottery winner who happens to be here to find it queer? Is it not strange that all the perfect twists and turns happened to lead to my door, and not to some other creature and/or (as seems more likely) to my non-existence? In fact, was not the seeming randomness of the process such that my being here at all (as opposed to not being here) appears such a ridiculously unlikely outcome that it is the equivalent of "winning a lottery" at every second, and every historical twist and turn, through all time in this universe (something only I, selfishly, dare find interesting ... but which I believe very significant nonetheless).

    My book just looks at several perspectives that might explain why things might have worked out so well for the result I (and you too) so selfishly needed. Buddhism does offer several perspectives that might help explain things in part (related to the illusion of self, Karma, and several others).

    Anyway, you will have to wait for the book.

  13. #13
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    We're talking massive numbers and a very large amount of time. The unique event that created a planet in the particular place where life exists may be a once in a billion event - but even then, there are enough stars and planets that this would still leave us with six billion such planets (according to The God Delusion or The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins - I forget which it is as I read them in rapid succession).

    As for the theory of design, there are enough whacked out cul-de-sacs in the designs of ourselves and other animals that no design is indicated. Many structures in the body would not have been built the way they were by any designer who had the full freedom to 'start back at the drawing board' - no, natural selection created new uses for old equipment - all of which had to work while in transition and more than likely had to work better than the original equipment. Which is also pretty amazing when you think about it!

    Also, the watch or the monkeys with typewriters analogy doesn't work. The real analogy would be monkeys at word processors - except every time the monkey hit the right key, the word processor would advance to the next space until the monkey hit the correct key randomly again. Natural selection destroys or weeds out incorrect mutations - but an adaptive mutation continues and thrives...so bit by bit, over a very long time, adaptive mutations fit a species so well into it's environment that it appears 'designed'.

    Chet

  14. #14

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Hi,

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    We're talking massive numbers and a very large amount of time.
    Yep. What appears to be very complex in hindsight may turn out to be not so complex after all. One model (which will in fact become physically executable once the required resources are available) of computable universes shows that, given enough time and resources, very short algorithms can compute universes of arbitrary complexity. So all a proposed 'Great Programmer' (who needn't be so great after all...) would need to do is let that simple program run, see what kind of universes it spits out, and wait for a 'keeper' to come along. Most of them spit out will be irregular (i.e. garbage). Ours appears to be one of the few which are quite regular. Anyone interested in details should take a look at Jürgen Schmidhuber's work. For example:

    Quote Originally Posted by [i]A Computer Scientist's View of Life, the Universe, and Everything[/i] by Jürgen Schmidhuber":74unmwhl]

    [b]All Universes are Cheaper Than Just One[/b]
    In general, computing all evolutions of all universes is much cheaper in terms of information requirements than computing just one particular, arbitrarily chosen evolution. Why? Because the Great Programmer's algorithm that systematically enumerates and runs all universes (with all imaginable types of physical laws, wave functions, noise etc.) is very short (although it takes time). On the other hand, computing just one particular universe's evolution (with, say, one particular instance of noise), without computing the others, tends to be very expensive, because almost all individual universes are incompressible, as has been shown above. More is less!

    [url]ftp://ftp.idsia.ch/pub/juergen/everything.pdf[/url]
    [/quote]

    Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that we live in such a universe (although it can't be ruled out), but it does show that we don't need to resort to all manner of grand theories and explanations about life, the universe and everything. Simple, 'boring' solutions will work just as well.

    [b]In any case, this kind of knowledge or speculation will not liberate a single sentient being.[/b] That's where the Buddhadharma comes in. :wink:

    [quote="acinteyya

    lit. 'That which cannot or should not be thought, the unthinkable, incomprehensible, impenetrable, that which transcends the limits of thinking and over which therefore one should not ponder.

    These 4 unthinkables are:

    - the sphere of a Buddha (buddha-visaya),
    - of the meditative absorptions (jh?na-visaya),
    - of karma-result (kamma-vip?ka), and
    - brooding over the world (loka-cint?), especially over an absolute first beginning of it
    (s. A.IV.77).

    "Therefore, o monks, do not brood over the world as to whether it is eternal or temporal, limited or endless .... Such brooding, O monks, is senseless, has nothing to do with genuine pure conduct (s. ?dibrahmacariyaka-s?la), does not lead to aversion, detachment, extinction, nor to peace, to full comprehension, enlightenment and Nibb?na, etc." (S.56.41).

    http://www.palikanon.com/english/wtb/a/acinteyya.htm
    Gassho
    Bansho

  15. #15
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    It may liberate us from superstitious belief - and that's a beginning!


    Chet

  16. #16

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Quote Originally Posted by "[i
    A Computer Scientist's View of Life, the Universe, and Everything[/i] by Jürgen Schmidhuber":vqaez3uw]

    All Universes are Cheaper Than Just One
    In general, computing all evolutions of all universes is much cheaper in terms of information requirements than computing just one particular, arbitrarily chosen evolution. Why? Because the Great Programmer's algorithm that systematically enumerates and runs all universes (with all imaginable types of physical laws, wave functions, noise etc.) is very short (although it takes time). On the other hand, computing just one particular universe's evolution (with, say, one particular instance of noise), without computing the others, tends to be very expensive, because almost all individual universes are incompressible, as has been shown above. More is less!

    ftp://ftp.idsia.ch/pub/juergen/everything.pdf
    This is actually what got me here, only I did it sort of in reverse. Looking at emergence theory and seeing that simple rules can lead to complex interactions made me question the existence of free will. If simple algorithms can produce our incredibly complex universe, then my question was, "can this simple algorithm produce randomness?"

    The way I see/saw it (hahaha actually, looking at it, a see-saw is an excellent metaphor for my feelings on this), if randomness could be produced, then we could have free will, the ability to make a choice that has nothing or little to do with a prioi circumstances. Granted that may be a jump with a logical hole (which, in the interest of better understanding the framework within which this argument is based, you should feel free to correct or inform me), but it seemed to make sense at the time.

    As for not brooding on it too much...

    Well, I wouldn't say I'm brooding too much - it's quite like solving a crossword or playing sudoku to me; I'm just expressing my wonder with the universe and its complexity, and, in my own way, paying homage to the nebulous nature of existence. :P

    In the meantime, I'll work on sitting...

    Sincerely,
    One-Who-Sits-Least-Yet-Talks-Most :P

  17. #17

    Re: Determinism, Cause Effect, and the head-tailed cat

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    We're talking massive numbers and a very large amount of time. The unique event that created a planet in the particular place where life exists may be a once in a billion event - but even then, there are enough stars and planets that this would still leave us with six billion such planets (according to The God Delusion or The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins - I forget which it is as I read them in rapid succession).
    Hey Chet,

    WARNING: The following is not a discussion of a particularly "Buddhist" idea ... just a particular subject that I, Jundo, happen to also be interested in.

    There may be countless life-friendly planets in this universe, and countless universes ... but, still, I am left to ask, selfishly, why the particular planet, the particular narrow circumstances that I (and same for you too) happened to need happened to work out so right to let me think it so. I mean, under our present way of looking at events, it was always possible that our planet would be here, having all conditions so generally hospitable to life, with all events "just right" to lead to our little births and little lives (even if lives not always exactly to our liking) ... but so much more seemingly probable that, at any single stage along the way, any one domino in the needed chain would have fallen in a different direction

    And even if there were countless worlds in the cosmos, each a little different, such that a "Jundo" and a "Chet" had to be born somewhere, sometime eventually (maybe many times) ... that would, under our present image of who we personally are, not explain how this particular "Jundo" and "Chet" were so incredibly lucky to end up here, on this pretty good world that we need now.

    Thus, I believe, our present view of causation and how these events play out is likely wrong ... the dice are loaded in some way, or we are not quite who and what we think we are. (Read book for possible explanations).

    Buddhism has a couple of apt images. The Mahayana speaks of countless worlds, countless sentient beings.

    But it also speaks of each of us having our own particular stream of causation.

    It also speak of our self being not just this small little "self" we might call "Jundo" or "Chet".

    It also offers this famous image ...

    A Blind Turtle in Search of a Floating Wood

    In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha used the metaphor of a blind turtle in a vast ocean to explain how difficult it is to be reborn as a human being and at the same time to have the chance of hearing the Dharma.

    Suppose there is a small piece of wood floating on a vast ocean. The wood has a small hole the size of which is just enough for the head of a turtle to pop into. There is a long-lived sea turtle in the ocean. Once every one hundred years, this turtle comes out from the bottom of the ocean and pops his head into the hole of the wood.

    To be able to hear the Dharma is just as hard as for the blind turtle to encounter the small piece of wood on a vast ocean and let its head go through the hole in the wood piece.



    As for the theory of design, there are enough whacked out cul-de-sacs in the designs of ourselves and other animals that no design is indicated. Many structures in the body would not have been built the way they were by any designer who had the full freedom to 'start back at the drawing board' - no, natural selection created new uses for old equipment - all of which had to work while in transition and more than likely had to work better than the original equipment. Which is also pretty amazing when you think about it!
    Personally, I happen to believe that Darwin's vision of evolution and natural selection is correct. I also feel that it is not the complete story. Much as a movie which has recorded the process of wild natural selection, when replayed, would appear to the viewer as wild natural selection ... but yet be fully determined as a movie ... or the way in which a computer simulation of natural selection would be partly determined and limited in its outcome by the programming of the software ... natural selection may exist, yet not be the full story.

    I do not say that the process is like that (a movie, programmed software) ... just that I do not think that science yet has the complete story. The dice, I believe, were loaded in some way, and our "ridiculously unlikely" birth was not a complete crap shoot.

    Obviously, our world and the processes of nature are wild, organic, based on competition and many dice rolls ... yet they may also be weighted toward certain outcomes. Much as a garden is wild, ever changing, many "dead ends" and disasters, subject to any number of variables, a place of change and birth and death ... yet also weighted toward certain outcomes by an intervening gardener's hand (I'm not saying who or what that "gardener" is, by the way)

    Gassho, Jundo

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