Forward: Nothing But Mentality

What is reality? That seemingly simple question with seemingly apparent answers has, in fact, bothered humanity since pre-Socratic Greek philosophers. For thousands of years since then, humankind has sensed that the phenomenal reality they lived in was not quite as real as it appeared, but it has never been able to figure out the reason.

1) Pythagoras of Samos is a pre-Socratic ancient Greek philosopher. Pythagoras, of course, is well known for the Pythagoras Theorem, which many studied in high school. However, his influence far exceeds his eponymous Theorem. Pythagoras was a polymath with a substantial impact on numerology, politics, religion, music, mathematics, astronomy, art and architecture, and even mysticism and the transmigration of souls. He influenced Plato and Aristotle and, through them, Western philosophy in general. Famous scientists, such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, all professed some degree of influence from Pythagoras in their works. Pythagoras was thought to have coined the term “philosophy” and used the word “cosmos” to describe the universe. Additionally, according to Bryan Magee, the author of “The Story of Philosophy,” Pythagoras “was the first person to have the idea that all the workings of the material universe are expressible in terms of mathematics.” His profound insight is still valid for scientists today.

2. Thales of Miletus was another influential pre-Socratic ancient Greek philosopher. “He was one of the Seven Sages, founding figures of Ancient Greece. Many regard him as the first philosopher in the Greek Tradition, breaking from the prior use of mythology to explain the world and instead using natural philosophy. He is thus otherwise credited as the first to have engaged in mathematics, science, and deductive reason.” 

While the details of his life are unknown, he is well-known for Thales’s Theorem in geometry. He was also credited with accurately predicting the solar eclipse in 585 BC. 

However, the question that most occupied his mind was, “What is the world made of?” Unable to find an answer, he theorized that everything must ultimately be reducible to a single substance. While he was wrong in deciding that the substance was water, his insight that material reality is ultimately reducible to one element is quite impressive, as his insight is still valid today.  

Since ancient Greece, humanity has depended on observation to investigate reality. However, understanding reality based on observation has never been reliable and is often subject to change.  

Euclid was an ancient Greek mathematician and was considered the “father of geometry.” His geometry is called “planar geometry” because he thought the earth was flat based on his observations. Later, when scientists found the earth spherical, they expanded Euclid’s planar geometry to non-Euclidean geometry, which significantly helped navigations around the globe.

In the Middle Ages, geocentrism, the idea that the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, stars, and planets revolving around it, was the predominant view regarding the shape of the universe. However, in the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Renaissance astronomer and Catholic cleric, overthrew the idea and presented a mathematical model of heliocentrism, suggesting that the earth evolved around the sun. Galileo Galilei then provided supporting evidence through observation through a telescope. 

Modern scientific understanding of reality started with Newton and his Classical Mechanics theory. For his Classical Mechanics theory, Newton needed forces to act between physical particles. However, finding no precedent for his ideas, Newton decided to invoke the name of his God and suggested God created everything he needed. 

According to author Fritjof Capra of The Tao of Physics, Newton wrote the following in his Opticks, “It seems probable to me that God in the beginning formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space, as most conduced to the end for which he formed them; and that these primitive particles being solids, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them; even so very hard, as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first creation.” 

The author added, “In the Newtonian view, God had created, in the beginning, the material particles, the forces between them, and the fundamental laws of motion.” 

While Newton’s mechanical universe worked exceptionally well for hundreds of years and is still in use today, his methodology of investigating reality changed significantly from that of scientists before him. While Copernicus and Euclid explored nature by observing reality directly, Newton started by assuming that the reality he desired was created for him by his God. From there, Newton formulated his theory of Classical Mechanics. Newton then used observation to verify the correctness of his theory.

Newton’s methodology represented a fundamental change in how scientists investigated reality from those before him. Newton’s Classical Mechanics was not about proving whether “solid, massy, hard, impenetrable” particles even exist in nature. Instead, his inquiry focused on proving his proposed theory of Classical Mechanics right in its explanation of how nature functioned using mathematics. However, it has nothing to do with the nature of reality itself.  

Physicists after Newton enthusiastically embraced his methodology and formalized it as the Scientific Method. Like Newton’s methodology, the Scientific Method starts with an assumption from which a theory is formulated. Experiments are then conducted to verify whether the results confirm the hypothesis. Like Newton, the focus is on proving whether the proposed mechanisms can correctly explain how nature functions using mathematics but not on the nature of reality itself.  

In this video, Absolute Truth on Big Think, Dr. Sylvester J. Gates offered his opinion on this methodology and said, “All we can do in science is construct theories, and that means, for example, that what we are ultimately doing is not about the truth…..Science is not about finding the truth. Science is about making our beliefs of nature less false. These are two different things.” 

In their efforts to make the beliefs of nature less false, physicists have advanced their methodology by defining a concept called energy. 

According to this article, energy, “in physics,” is a “quantitative property that is transferred to a body or a physical system, recognizable in the performance of work and in the form of heat and light. Energy is a conserved quantity—the law of conservation of energy states that energy can be converted in form, but not created or destroyed.” 

As a man-made quantitative property transferred to the physical universe, energy is a numerical quantity, not a reality in nature. However, by assigning quantitative properties to a body or a physical system, the Scientific Method makes it possible for “all the workings of the material universe to be expressible in terms of mathematics,” as Pythagoras predicted.

But what about reality? What about Thales of Miletus’ insight that material reality is ultimately reducible to one element? Unfortunately, with the advent of quantum mechanics, even if material reality can ultimately be reducible to one element, that element can no longer be material.  

According to quantum mechanics, Newton’s God never created “solid, massy, hard, impenetrable” particles. Indeed, particles are not even a phenomenon anymore. Instead, particles have become epiphenomena, secondary phenomena derived from the ripples in fluctuating quantum energy fields. Furthermore, the fluctuating quantum fields have replaced particles as the foundational block of the universe. When everything is made of fluctuating quantum energy fields, nothing that looks and feels solid is solid anymore. Indeed, given that energy is a quantitative property and not a reality in nature, quantum scientists like Dr. David Tong admit in this video lecture, “Quantum Fields: The Real Building Blocks of the Universe,” that the reality constructed of quantum energy is “abstract and nebulous.”

Indeed, with the advent of quantum mechanics, humanity has lost its sense of what is real.

However, teaching that fluctuating quantum energy fields are the building blocks of the universe represents quantum mechanics taking a giant step in the direction of Buddhism. Indeed, among the 8 Different Theories on the Origin of the Universe, Buddha chooses the Quantum Fluctuating Theory as the closest to reality. Buddha also teaches that the universe arises from a fluctuating field. However, what fluctuates in Buddha’s field is not quantum energy but mentality.

As the title of this article states, “Reality is an illusion: The scientific proof everything is energy and reality isn’t real,” everything is energy in quantum mechanics. In Buddhism, however, everything is mentality because the universe originated from a fluctuating field of mentality.

So, in Buddha’s universe, where there is “Nothing but Mentality,” Thales of Miletus’ insight that material reality is ultimately reducible to one element was still correct, except that the single element is not material but mental. “Nothing But Mentality” is Buddha’s answer to the questions, “What are we made of?” and “What is reality?”

In Buddha’s universe, mentality is the only independently verifiable and perduring reality in the cosmos. Everything in the phenomenal universe, all its “forms, bodies, and materiality,” came from a fluctuating field of mentality. Because everything is made of fluctuating mentality in Buddha’s universe, not only can human babies be born conscious, but consciousness can be present in amoeba and their preyplantsmemory in water, and other mammals.

The article “Reality is an illusion: The scientific proof everything is energy and reality isn’t real,” suggests that reality is illusional because “reality does not exist without an observer to observe it.” However, the article also indicates that the statement can only be made if energy becomes mentality. Buddha provides what the quantum scientists need.

Buddhism is the most misunderstood teaching in the world. It has been shrouded in mystery since its origin hundreds of years ago. Buddha’s teaching is so counter-intuitive that some call it “oriental mysticism.” Others deem it “foreign faith.” Even some so-called Buddhists want to change Buddhism into Arhatism by deeming Arhat as “the ideal spiritual type.” Unfortunately, when appropriately understood, Buddhism is not mystical, religious, or about the “spiritual type.” In its essence, Buddhism is Buddha’s teaching about the nature of reality underlying the phenomenal world. Buddhism, like quantum mechanics, is counter-intuitiveness. Between the imperceivable and the seemingly solid perceivable phenomenal realities that we live in, Buddha teaches that the imperceivable one is real. The mystery of Buddhism is the mystery of the cosmos and where everything in it comes from.

Without Buddhism, scientists and philosophers can only continue to debate centuries-long questions such as “Why a Mind-Body Problem?” “Why is Consciousness so Mysterious?” “Is Consciousness Ultimate Reality?” 

Without Buddhism, contemporary scientists can only wonder Why the Cosmological Constant Problem? What was there before the universeWhat holds the key to a full understanding of nature? Why the Central Mystery of Quantum Mechanics? Why the Observer Effect

With Buddhism, all these mysteries disappear, as will be discussed in future posts!

If you are interested in Buddhism or just curious, please join us on this journey of discovery in Buddhism. On the other hand, if you do not have faith in Buddhism or are a doubtful Buddhist, you are welcome to join this journey and see if interpreting Buddhism using scientific mechanisms and epistemology changes your opinion. If you are religious, please understand that Buddhism and religion share many similarities. You can still go to heaven, except that St. Peter will not be there to meet you. If you have doubts about an anthropomorphic creator, you should know that the manifestation of the universe is a natural event in Buddhism.

If you are not scientific, please do not worry, as I am not a scientist either. The difference between a waving ocean and a peaceful ocean is about as profound as we need to go scientifically. Furthermore, Buddhist dictionaries will help clarify all Buddhist concepts.

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