Ill-digested science and garbled Buddhist metaphysics
Posted on May 28th, 2013

R Chandrasoma

In the world of physical knowledge an overarching law is that called the Second Law of Thermodynamics (The Law of Increasing Entropy) which says that in a closed physical system, disorder or chaoticity alone can increase with the passage of time. Any overall initial organization can only weaken as the system ages. Note the important caveat – given by the words ‘overall’ and ‘closed’. Within a closed system there can be subsystems that are anti-entropic – in which order increases at the expense of the general trend of disorder in the system as a whole. Life – and living systems – are oases of ant-entropic complexity in a physical universe that is running down. Indeed, this is the striking fact – that life (and complexity in general) has prevailed in a universe governed by physical laws that do not give any hint of this potential. The rise of complexity and organization in a universe governed by physical laws that predict the very opposite is the central mystery of the universe as we know it. To suggest (as does Prof. Suwanda H J Sugunasiri in a recent contribution to LankaWeb) that perishibility and decay constitute the essence that unites science and religion is a misdirection in both areas of knowledge. Let us note, first, that religion and science are ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ and the concepts of the one are not readily transferable to the other. Thus, the three cardinal attributes of all that exists are anicca, anatta and dukkha according to the grounding metaphysics of Buddhism. Of these, the first (anicca – the process or fluxional nature of all aspects of nature) and the second (anatta – the denial of enduring essences) can link with basic notions of science such as system dynamicity and integration – but dukkha is a purely religious term and hinges upon the metaphysical reaction of a conscious agent to the inexorably fluxional nature of things and events. When the Buddha reflected sadly on the fact that ‘all component things are subject to decay’ he did not have in mind the Law of Increasing Entropy – he alluded to the fact that the Eternal must be Unchanging and final ‘release’ of a karmic being comes with the total cessation of the Birth-Death cycle that enslaves us. (Nirvana). This vision goes well beyond science and its understanding of the dynamics of change. The numinous is categorically different from the mundane.

Let me conclude with a few words about the metaphysics of decay that is hugely over-emphasized in ‘popular’ versions of Buddhism. It is true that we are finite beings living briefly and, perhaps, dying ingloriously. Yet there is burgeoning and beauty in nature that briefly defies the universal law of decay. A beautiful flower, a young prancing animal or a haunting melody bespeak of an aspect of nature that rises above the ugly reality of time and decay. Its brevity and transience does not diminish its importance as a glorious aspect of the puzzling reality in which we are trapped as mortal beings. This must be celebrated even when the metaphysics of sorrow seem to overwhelm us.

5 Responses to “Ill-digested science and garbled Buddhist metaphysics”

  1. aloy Says:

    This law implies that the entropy tends to increase unless there is an external force acting on the system.

  2. aloy Says:

    The external force accounts for what the writer says on following:
    “A beautiful flower, a young prancing animal or a haunting melody bespeak of an aspect of nature that rises above the ugly reality of time and decay.”
    Coming down to the earth why not we apply this law to the system of governance we have in SL: The president stays outside the system and applies pressure for it to work smoothly. In the case of a refrigerator the outside power source make the system pump heat from the lower end to the higher end, unlike what happens in nature.

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    I read this amazing story about a KEROSENE DANSALA by a person named SADHARANA MUDALALI (Thissa Hewawasam).

    He gives free kerosene oil to poor people in Badulla every Wesak day. He also pays electricity bills of poor temples.

    I think we should trace this person and help him financially to do MORE.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    I agree with Lorenzo.
    Sadharana Mudalali is a true local Hero. He has translated Dhana into ‘out of the box’ thinking.

    We wish he would guide the Buddhist Temples to use their land to grow organic crops, mainly Soy, with use of Dhayakayas from each area. The crops can be shared as payment. Alternately, soy crops can be sold and money given to workers. They can expand their crop uses to tasty veggie burghers and soy milk, thus saving (eliminating) the need for too many cows.

    Entropy sets in when complacency sets in with rigid social systems. But each human being is designed to seek the Truth (God/Allah), Peace & Happiness. It comes with the chip inside. Even if Entropy sets into a social system, it is short lived. It will be challenged from both within and without.

  5. kavdayako Says:

    I am afraid “Suvanada” (?) is clueless about thermodynamics. So let us just ignore him

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