Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Reality, a process: Interdependence, Emptiness and Physics

     In early Buddhism, dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada) was primarily used to explain the law of causation, the chain of cause, effect, and conditioning:

Ignorance > Karma > Consciousness > Name-Form > Senses > Contact > Feeling > Craving > Grasping > Becoming > Old age and death > Rebirth

The fundamental state of being is ignorance, conditioned by the imprints or seeds of past actions, habits and relationships (karma), which gives rise to consciousness, which is joined to name-form (the psycho-physical entity, specifically the embryo in the womb), which activates the six-senses; the senses come into contact with objects of desire and as a result, feeling, craving and grasping arise; these factors cause and condition the becoming of life and all that is becoming (existing) is subject to old age and death, and with the theory of rebirth, everything is set to be repeated in a future life, a continuum of consciousness within an seemingly endless cycle of birth and death.

 

 

By the time the Mahayana tradition was established, the focus of the analysis was less on how things come to be and more about how nothing can exist by itself, that everything is interconnected and inter-related. This is one reason why I interpret  pratitya-samutpada as interdependence. Dependent origination or dependent arising sounds too much like a form of creationism.For Nagarjuna, the architect of Madhyamaka philosophy (you can learn more about Madhyamaka here) interdependence was synonymous with emptiness (sunyata).The true nature of reality (paramarthasatya) can be termed as the “emptiness of own-being” (svabhava-sunyata) and “interdependency” (pratitya-samutpada). Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka’s taught that neither an individual nor dharma have an own-being that exists by its own right.

The Sanskrit word parikalpita, meaning imaginary or the “imagined.” In Chinese Buddhist terms defines it as “Counting everything as real, the way of the unenlightened; The nature of the unenlightened, holding to the tenet that everything is calculable or reliable, i.e. is what it appears to be.” Paraikapita is one of the three natures (tri-svabhava) that imagines a duality between subject and object. This imagined reality is an illusion, a thought construction superimposed on the true reality. Like a veil, it conceals the truth of emptiness/interdependency and all we see in our ordinary experience is an apparent reality, in which things appear to exist by their own right and seem to possess a nature or being that is permanent, independent, unconditioned and designed.

In Madhyamaka philosophy, any duality between subject and object is considered to be imagined (parikalpita again); there is no independently existing ‘experiencer’ apart from the experience, and experience can be also designated as a process.In the world of subatomic physics there are no objects, only processes. Atoms consist of particles but these particles are literally empty. So, we are aware now that reality is not particle-like but more like the nature of space. The common idea of space is an empty three-dimensional area. But there is no empty space (if by empty space, one means nothingness), space is actually permeated with an impalpable continuum. But the three dimensional aspect we perceive is somewhat of an illusion, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it is not the full reality.

Finally, interdependency or pratitya-samutpada – the insubstantiality, the interconnectedness, the expansiveness of reality – is not only the foundation for all the diverse concepts in Buddhism, it is also the ground of the diverse world. Emptiness is the cause of interdependency and emptiness is not only a synonym for interdependence, it is also a synonym for something else

“That which is of the nature of coming and going, arising and perishing, in its saha (mundane) nature is itself Nirvana in its unconditioned (ultimate) nature.”

-Nagarjuna, “Treatise on the Maha Prajna-Paramita Sutra”

 

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Quantum Mechanics 101

From time to time in Philosophy this semester we’ve stumbled into metaphysical issues brought about by Vincent quantum mechanics. To help scaffold these conversations through the balance of the semester, or merely for your own curiosity, here are a few short videos on the key concepts in the field.

Demystifying Tough Physics in Four Lessons

Ready to level up your working knowledge of quantum mechanics? Check out these four TED-Ed Lessons written by Chad Orzel, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Union College and author of How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog.

You’ll find the four short lessons linked below:

  1. Particles and Waves: The Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics
  2. Schrodinger’s Cat: A Thought Experiment in Quantum Mechanics
  3. Einstein’s Brilliant Mistake: Entangled States
  4. What is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle? 
 

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Uncertainty About Uncertainty: Quantum Mechanics

Recently we had a lifeboat survival activity and one of my class mates was given the job of quantum physicist youtube star, so I decided to take a dive into quantum physics and get an idea of what actually goes on in this probability, statistic oriented science.

\Delta x\cdot\Delta p_x \geqslant \frac{\hbar}{2}

This equation, most commonly known as Hiesenberg’s Uncertainty Principle describes that as a particle/wave is given less area to travel within, its direction becomes more unpredictable. This can cause particles at the sub-atomic level to do really weird things that don’t seem to apply to our current laws of physics at the atomic scale. Such as being anywhere within an atom until they are located, its as if they are everywhere, and then when you look for them, they stay in one place. Quantum entanglement is just another example of the crazy weirdness that envelops the subatomic level. When two particles are entangled, and then separated (while retaining the information) by a distance light years apart, one can measure the rotation of one of those particles, and the other will always have the opposite rotation. Its as if the particles can communicate with each other instantaneously across massive distances. This same principle applies to two particles that are again entangled, however with the right technique, one can teleport one subatomic to another location instantaneously.

QT

 

Essentially, the particle you want to teleport is destroyed, and the particle on the other side of the world becomes an exact copy of the original. We have no idea why quantum entanglement works, but we do know that it works. Tests show a near hundred percent accuracy, but the physics behind the mechanisms that make quantum entanglement work are unknown. Basically were like cave people playing with fire, completely unaware of its mechanisms yet somewhat aware of its utility.

 

 

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An Epicurean Philosophy – Aidan

File:Epikur.jpg

I would do an epic pun, but that would be too easy.

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who saw the rise and division of the Macedonian Empire, would probably have better fit in today than he did in his time.  He lived in the Aegean archipelago in Samos, Greece from 341 – 270 BC, dying at the age of 72.  He studied and was influenced by other philosophers such as Plato and Democritus.  Some of his work is comparable to a peer philosopher, Zeno, in this comedic short:

His legacy includes many teachings such as that pleasure is the measure of good and pain/suffering is the measure of evil.  It’s worth noting that he never married or had children, suffered from kidney stones and dysentery, and was probably a vegetarian.

Epicurus believed in the existence of atoms.  Imagine in 300 BC the idea of atoms being considered.  The definition was that the universe was made of tiny indivisible particles bouncing around in empty space and therefore every occurrence is a result of these indivisibles interacting with one another.  In addition, Epicurus believed the atoms have an underlying element of chaos which make their paths unpredictable and therefore affirming the idea of free will and opposing determinism.  Compared with modern theories of quantum physics, Epicurus was more clairvoyant than Nostradamus could have ever predicted!

“It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (i.e. agreeing neither to harm nor be harmed), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  -Epicurus

Other legacies of Epicurus include but are not limited to:  pleasure and suffering being the embodiment of good and evil (including gluttonous pleasure as a form of suffering and experiencing some suffering as a means to greater pleasure), a formulation of the Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. Golden Rule: see above), and The Epicurean Paradox (see below) since he believes that the gods are not concerned with humans.

 

The Epicurean Paradox:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?

Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God?

 

Epicurus’ ideas can be seen in many aspects of society.  For example, his statement on the Ethic of Reciprocity inspired the ideas of John Locke which called for the right to “life, liberty and property” whereas property is also defined as one’s own person.  Those ideas were in turn borrowed by Thomas Jefferson, a self-described Epicurean, for the foundation of The United States of America which advocated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I was surprised to see that a man who lived in 300 BC would be so involved in the ideas that the world consisted of atoms and that he would challenge the idea of gods so radically.  I was really inspired by his ideas of pleasure vs. pain and suffering and how he wrote in a letter to a friend as he was dying of the kidney stone pain that it was a happy day for him.  Epicurus did not believe in fearing death as being dead was of no concern to a person after having died.

Although there are other aspects of his life I have not touched upon due to the nature of this being a post on metaphysics, I highly recommend to anyone interested in a very Stoic-style of thinking to look up Epicurus and his teachings.  One of my favourite things I read while studying him was the inscription on the gate of his garden that he used to host philosophical teachings and discussions to which women were to be admitted as a rule rather than an exception.  The inscription reads as such:

“Stranger, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.”

*Tarry: v. Stay longer than intended; delay leaving a place.

 
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