The Possibility of Metaphysical Knowledge and Insight from Huping Hu's blog

Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research has just published Volume 2 Issue 8. It is a Focus Issue on "The Possibility of Metaphysical Knowledge and Insight" edited by Graham P. Smetham, JCER Editor-at-Large.

In his Editorial "The Possibility of Metaphysics", Graham P. Smetham introduces the issue: "Although the title of this focus issue is ‘The Possibility of Metaphysics’ the first part has as its focus not only metaphysics in general but Buddhist metaphysics in particular. This is because the motivation for this focus issue was sparked by an email from a colleague who asked for my opinion of a book written by Robert Ellis. The aspect of the ‘experimental metaphysics’ of quantum theory is examined in detail in the first article "The Matter of Mindnature" The Buddhist metaphysical viewpoint tells as the nature of ultimate reality is best understood as a fundamentally interrelated and interpenetrating field of Mind-like energy, or Mindnature, and such a view is clearly supported by the quantum violation of Bell’s inequalities. In this article I examine Ellis’s notion of the impossibility of metaphysics in the light of both philosophical considerations and the implications of the quantum evidence. The next article "Taking the‘Meta’ Out of Physics" is Ellis’s response to my criticisms of his work. I leave it to readers to come to conclusions without further comment from me. It is my hope that there will be feedback concerning the issues raised as I am personally convinced that Ellis’s position is untenable but am curious to know whether my viewpoint is widely held. Certainly the last two articles from James Kowall, ‘What is Reality in a Holographic World?’, and Brian Whitworth, ‘Introducing The Virtual Reality Conjecture’, seem to support my position."

In his Article entitled "The Matter of Mindnature", Smetham discusses Bell’s Theorem Tolls for Dogmatic ‘Middle Way’ Scepticism and Rings Out for ‘Experimental Metaphysics’ and ‘Quantum Mindnature’. He states "In recent years there has developed a movement in the West which seeks to convince people that the original teachings of the Buddha were far more mundane than his later followers would have us believe. An extreme recent example of this is the book The Trouble with Buddhism in which Dr. Robert Ellis claims that every Buddhist who has ever lived has been ‘scandalously” confused about the central doctrines of Buddhism, especially the ‘Middle Way’ philosophy, which is a central teaching of all Buddhist schools. He also claims that if one takes Humean scepticism ‘seriously’, as he thinks one should do, it follows that it is impossible to know anything with any certainty. Metaphysics therefore become a ‘foolish’ dream. In fact according to Ellis it is “foolish” to think that quantum physics supplies “evidence about the universe itself.” This article considers Ellis’s claims regarding metaphysics and physics in detail, particularly focusing on the implications of the quantum violation of Bell’s theorem, in order to show that we must be sceptical of extreme scepticism."

In response to Graham Smetham’s ‘The Matter of Mindnature’, Robert M. Ellis in his Article entitled "Taking the ‘Meta’ out of Physics" defend the approach of metaphysical agnosticism on philosophical grounds. He argues that "Pyrrhonian (agnostic) sceptical approaches are distinguished from Academic ones and shown not to be contradictory provided one does not begin with unnecessary metaphysical assumptions. The burden of proof needs to be put on those who make metaphysical claims rather than those who stick to experience as a point of reference, and falsification involves a provisional, not an absolute, process of elimination of theories that do not fit the evidence. Smetham’s appeals to certain results from quantum physics as exceptional are shown to be unacceptable on the grounds that no scientific observation can confirm metaphysical claims that lie beyond their scope. A wider psychological, moral and linguistic context is given for the argument that we should avoid the adoption of a metaphysical framework of understanding."

Then, in his Article entitled "The ‘Epiontic’ Dependently Originating Process of Cyclic Existence According to Early Buddhist Metaphysics", Smetham discusses the following: "Some modern Western interpreters of Buddhist teachings and philosophy claim that the original teachings of the Pali Canon were staunchly anti-metaphysical. In this article I exa-mine the early Buddhist worldview and demonstration that this assertion is deeply mistaken. Whilst the early teachings of the Buddha clearly rejected dogmatic metaphysical positions which the Buddha characterised as being ‘extreme’, he also implicitly, yet clearly, taught a subtle metaphysical view of the process of reality which is consistent with the modern quantum ‘epiontic’ (epistemological perception creates ontology) perspective of ‘quantum Darwinism.’ Central to this viewpoint is 1) a non-materialism which indicates that the ultimate process of reality is of the nature of mind; 2) the assertion that the ultimate nature of reality lies between the extremes of ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’, ‘eternalism’ and ‘nihilism’; 3) the assertion that the epiontic mechanism operates as ‘kamma’, or ‘karma’, a central mechanism for the functioning of conditioned samsaric (cycle of dissatisfactory lives) reality. On the basis of these fundamental insights the doctrines of ‘rebirth’ and ‘dependent origination’ are shown to be crucial metaphysical components of the overall early Buddhist worldview as taught by the Buddha. These doctrines are also shown to be consistent with modern quantum theory. On the basis of this investigation recent claims that the 3-lifetimes model of dependent origination is mistaken are shown to be desperately misleading."

Further, in his Article entitled "The Quantum Truth of the Buddhist Metaphysics of the ‘Two Truths’ or ‘Two Realities’", Smetham proposes and discusses the following: "According to the ‘Buddhist’ writer Stephen Batchelor the core Buddhist doctrine of the ‘two truths’ or ‘two realities’ is a major mistake on the part of Buddhist practitioners and philosophers throughout the ages. Although this doctrine has been central to Buddhist thinking since the time of the Buddha, Batchelor says that it is a serious mistake, and is completely unscientific. This article show that it is Batchelor who is desperately mistaken because modern quantum theory has validated the metaphysical claim that the ‘classical’ or ‘conventional’ world is an illusion which is derived from the deeper quantum realm. Thus the division into the ‘classical’ realm and the ‘quantum’ realm maps onto the Buddhist distinction between the ‘conventional’ mode of reality and the ‘ultimate’ mode of reality. Far from Buddhist philosophy being ‘unscientific’, it is Batchelor who displays ignorance of modern science."

In his Article entitled "What is Reality in a Holographic World?", James Kowell proposes the following: "The nature of a holographic world is described. This scientific description of the world is based upon the assumptions of modern theoretical physics. These natural assumptions are inherent in any unified theory, such as string theory, and in any theory of the creation of the world, such as inflationary cosmology. At their most basic level, these are the assumptions of the equivalence, uncertainty and action principles, along with the second law of thermodynamics. Any world consistent with these fundamental principles is easily shown to be a holographic world. The mathematical consistency of such a holographic world also implies something about the nature of consciousness. If that mathematical consistency is followed to its logical conclusion, in the sense of the Gödel incompleteness theorems, this scientific description of the world also has something to tell us about the nature of reality. What this scientific description of the world tells us about the nature of reality is compared to what mystics have told us about reality throughout human history."

Finally, in his Article entitled "The Virtual Reality Conjecture", Brian Whitworth suggests the following: "We take our world to be an objective reality, but is it? The assumption that the physical world exists in and of itself has struggled to assimilate the findings of modern physics for some time now. For example, an objective space and time would just "be", but in relativity, space contracts and time dilates. Likewise objective "things" should just inherently exist, but the entities of quantum theory are probability of existence smears, that spread, tunnel, superpose and entangle in physically impossible ways. Cosmology even tells us that our entire physical universe just "popped up", from nowhere, about 14 billion years ago. This is not how an objectively real world should behave! Yet traditional alternatives don't work much better. That the world is just an illusion of the mind doesn't explain its consistent realism and Descartes dualism, that another reality beyond the physical exists, just doubles the existential problem. It is time to consider an option we might normally dismiss out of hand. This essay explores the virtual reality conjecture, that the physical world is the digital output of non-physical quantum processing. It finds it neither illogical, nor unscientific, nor incompatible with current physics."

Huping Hu & Maoxin Wu

November 8, 2011

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