by Arjun Walia
April 01, 2016
although there are some differences,
I think Buddhist philosophy and
can shake hands on their view
of the world.
We can see in these great
examples the fruits of human thinking.
Regardless of the admiration we
for these great thinkers,
we should not lose sight of the
that they were human beings
just as we are.”
The Dalai Lama
Scientists and Buddhists from all over the world are starting to see
the similarities between their disciplines, and the research which
is emerging as a result is truly exciting.
A classic example of a scientist diving
into ancient wisdom is Nikola Tesla, whose work was heavily
influenced by Vedic philosophy. You can read more about that here.
Here is a great clip of world renowned quantum physicist Dr. John
Hagelin at an event discussing transcendental meditation.
Findings within neuroscience, dealing with things like past lives
and reincarnation, also correlate with Buddhist philosophy; perhaps
this is why Carl Sagan said that reincarnation deserves serious
study, and since his passing, it has received some.
In 2008 University of Virginia
psychiatrist Jim Tucker, for example, published a review of cases
suggestive of reincarnation in the journal Explore. You can read
that study and find out more about it here.
Without a doubt, various ancient Eastern traditions are closely tied
with certain aspects of modern day science. Though it may seem
counterintuitive to some, it seems as though science is actually
working to catch up to the teachings of ancient philosophy and
mysticism rather than the other way around.
Neuroscientists & Buddhists Agree: “Consciousness Is Everywhere”
“I regard consciousness as
fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.
We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk
about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates
physicist who originated quantum theory,
which won him the
Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918
It's great to see that in today's day and age, multiple prominent
scientists from all over the world have started to study
non-physical phenomena and human consciousness.
Christof Koch, the Chief Scientific Officer at the Allen Institute
for Brain Science and a leading American neuroscientist, has
illustrated how new theories in neuroscience suggest that
consciousness is present in all things. A couple of years ago he
took a trip to India to discuss the topic with a group of Buddhist
monks and ended up debating with the Dalai Lama for an entire day.
During his conversation with the Dalai Lama, Koch was most struck by
his ideas about ‘panpsychism': the belief that consciousness is
everywhere, “and that we have to reduce the suffering of all
Sam Littlefair Wallace from Lion's Roar offers some insight into
Koch's background and views:
Koch, who became interested in
Buddhism in college, says that his personal worldview has come
to overlap with the Buddhist teachings on non-self,
impermanence, atheism, and panpsychism.
His interest in
Buddhism, he says, represents a significant shift from his Roman
Catholic upbringing. When he started studying consciousness
working with Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick - Koch believed
that the only explanation for experience would have to invoke
But, instead of affirming religion, Koch and Crick together
established consciousness as a respected branch of neuroscience
and invited Buddhist teachers into the discussion.
Below is the video of Koch at the event
Integrated Information Theory (IIT)
IIT is a theoretical framework for understanding consciousness which
was developed by Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD, from the Center for Sleep
and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
collaborates with Tononi on a regular basis, and believes ITT to be
the only truly promising fundamental theory of consciousness.
The theory states that physical systems all contain consciousness,
and that this consciousness can be measured as a theoretical
quantity, which they are calling 'phi'.
Tononi has developed a measuring system for phi in the human brain,
where scientists send a magnetic pulse into a human brain and
observe the pulse echo through the neurons. The idea is that the
longer and clearer the reverberation, the higher the tested
subject's level of consciousness.
The test can be used to tell
whether a patient is awake, asleep, or anesthetized.
What Tononi and his team are trying to do is measure consciousness.
The fact that it has yet to be measured explains why a large portion
of mainstream academia rejects the notion of consciousness existing
as a separate entity, outside of the brain.
Tononi and Koch recently published a paper in 'Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society B' (Consciousness
- Here, There and Everywhere?), emphasizing that consciousness
is a fundamental aspect of reality, like other aspects that we can
see and perceive with our senses.
The theory states that any object with a 'phi' greater than zero
This would mean that even protons are
conscious beings, which wouldn't be too far off considering that
when you observe them at the quantum level, their behavior changes,
almost as if they know they are being watched.
In the video, Koch describes how Buddhist teachings led him to study
I was confronted with the Buddhist teaching that sentience is
probably everywhere at varying levels, and that inspired me to take
the consequences of this theory seriously...
When I see insects
in my home, I don't kill them.
It's fantastic to see this merging of science and philosophy, even
if determining the source of consciousness remains a task beyond our
Scientific theories like IIT help to further push the
much-needed study of consciousness into mainstream academia.
At the end of the nineteenth century, physicists discovered
empirical phenomena that could not be explained by classical
physics. This led to the development, during the 1920s and early
1930s, of a revolutionary new branch of physics called quantum
QM has questioned the material foundations of the
world by showing that atoms and subatomic particles are not really
solid objects - they do not exist with certainty at definite spatial
locations and definite times.
Most importantly, QM explicitly
introduced the mind into its basic conceptual structure since it was
found that particles being observed and the observer - the physicist
and the method used for observation - are linked.
suggest that the physical world is no longer the primary or sole
component of reality, and that it cannot be fully understood without
making reference to the mind.
Dr. Gary Schwartz
Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Neurology,
and Surgery at the University of Arizona
Below is a great video from Dr. Gary Schwartz (quoted above) in
which he discusses whether consciousness is the product of the brain
or a receiver of it.
It's a fantastic and short overview of an
immense amount of research.
This subject has tons of peer-reviewed
scientific research behind it which not many people have the time to
go through themselves, and he has thoughtfully condensed that
research to allow more people access to it.