The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality
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Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Niels Bohr, Einstein. Their insights shook our perception of who we are and where we stand in the world, and in their wake have left an uneasy coexistence: science vs. religion, faith vs. empirical inquiry. Which is the keeper of truth? Which is the true path to understanding reality?
After forty years of study with some of the greatest scientific minds, as well as a lifetime of meditative, spiritual, and philosophic study, the Dalai Lama presents a brilliant analysis of why all avenues of inquiry—scientific as well as spiritual—must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the truth. Through an examination of Darwinism and karma, quantum mechanics and philosophical insight into the nature of reality, neurobiology and the study of consciousness, the Dalai Lama draws significant parallels between contemplative and scientific examinations of reality.
This breathtakingly personal examination is a tribute to the Dalai Lama’s teachers—both of science and spirituality. The legacy of this book is a vision of the world in which our different approaches to understanding ourselves, our universe, and one another can be brought together in the service of humanity.
and philosophical inquiry into the basic constituents of matter is to find matter’s irreducible building block. This is true not only of ancient Indian philosophy and modern physics but also of the ancient Greek scientists, such as the “atomists.” Effectively, this is a quest for the ultimate nature of reality, however one may define it. Buddhist thought argues on logical grounds that this search is misguided. At one stage science believed that in finding the atom it had found the ultimate
its root, the philosophical problem confronting physics in the wake of quantum mechanics is whether the very notion of reality—defined in terms of essentially real constituents of matter—is tenable. What the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness can offer is a coherent model of understanding reality that is non-essentialist. Whether this could prove useful only time will tell. Who has not felt a sense of awe while looking deep into the skies lit with countless stars on a clear night? Who has
lengthy informal discussions on various occasions, I was fortunate to receive some formal tutorial sessions from von Weizsäcker on scientific topics. These were conducted in a style not so different from the one-to-one knowledge transmissions that are a familiar form of teaching in my own Tibetan Buddhist tradition. On more than one occasion, we were able to set aside two full days for a retreat when von Weizsäcker gave me an intensive tutorial on quantum physics and its philosophical
understanding of empiricism, which includes meditative states as well as the evidence of the senses. Because of the development of technology in the last two hundred years, science has been able to extend the capacity of the senses to degrees unimaginable in earlier times. Hence scientists can use the naked eye, admittedly with the help of powerful instruments like microscopes and telescopes, to observe both remarkably minute phenomena, like cells and complex atomic structures, and the vast
structures of the cosmos. On the basis of the expanded horizons of the senses, science has been able to push the limits of inference further than human knowledge has ever reached. Now, in response to traces left in bubble chambers, physicists can infer the existence of the constitutive particles of atoms, including even the elements within the neutron, such as quarks and gluons. When I was a child experimenting with the telescope belonging to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, I had a vivid experience