Compounding errors in basic science and confronting the Buddha’s teaching.
Posted on May 17th, 2015
By Bodhi Dhanapala, Quebec, Canada
It was the Buddha who, some twenty six centuries ago presented a system of moral action indicating what humans OUGHT to do if they are to escape from the malaise of suffering associated with life, leading to old age, sickness and death. The Buddha taught that because conditioned phenomena are impermanent, attachment to them becomes the cause of suffering (dukkha).
Just recently, in a number of publications (e.g., in www1.Kalaya.org, , entitled බුදුදහමට පටහැනි ශක්ති සංස්ථිති නියමය, i.e., The Energy conservation law contrary to Buddhism), Dr. Nalin de Silva has attempted to put Buddhism in a confrontational position with science by focusing on his version of “the Law of conservation of energy”. The conservation law has stood rigorous testing over a period of three centuries, and even became the law of conservation of mass and energy as re-stated by Einstein.
The conservation law says that energy in a closed system is a constant amount as energy cannot be destroyed or created, but can only be changed from one state to another (e.g., heat energy to electric energy or mass). Is Dr. Nalin de Silva’s confrontational pronouncement a result of a gross misunderstanding of the law of conservation of energy as well as the main tenets of Buddhism? Or is it pure philosophical mischief?
The concept of “change”, or impermanence is itself a very abstract idea that was hotly debated in the ancient world, with some philosophers claiming that change is merely an illusion or “Maya”. A popular take-off from such discussions is the paradox of Zeno about the “impossibility” of motion. However, beginning from abstract philosophical ideas of anithya, patichcha samuthpaada etc., Buddhism presents a system of practical moral action.
Dr. Nalin de Silva has claimed that everything other than his own thoughts are an illusion (“maya”), as his thoughts are all he knows about. Furthermore, he has claimed that Buddhist Seers (Arhants) have revealed that everything stated by all pruthajana (ordinary laity including himself) are falsehoods (“musa”). He has tried to escape form the logical errors and paradoxes committed in these statements by a variety of subterfuges like the “third-man argument” which had in fact been discussed by ancient writers, and shown to be of no use.
The new claim of the conflict of the law of energy conservation and the law of impermanence is equally erroneous. Dr. Silva states the following: “The energy conservation law says that there is something that cannot be destroyed in the Universe. Energy can be changed from one kind to another. But it cannot be destroyed. We ask a very simple question. Is the total energy of the universe unchanging? (ශක්ති සංස්ථිති නියමයෙන් කියෑවෙන්නේ විනාශ කළ නොහැකි යමක් විශ්වයේ පවතින බව ය. ශක්තිවල මුළු එකතුව විනාශ කළ නො හැකි ය. ශක්තිය එක් ප්රභේදයකින් තවත් ප්රභේදයකට මාරු කළ හැකි ය. එහෙත් ශක්තිය විනාශ කළ නො හැකි ය. අප අසන්නේ ඉතා සරල ප්රශ්නයකි. ශක්තිය, එනම් විශ්වයේ මුළු ශක්තිය නිත්ය ද?)”
Dr. Nalin de Silva makes the revelation that “The energy in a world created by God does not change (දෙවියන් වහන්සේ මැවූ ලෝකයෙහි ශක්තිය වෙනස් නො වේ. එය නිත්ය ව පවතියි.)”. Where did this come from? Has Dr. Silva got this from the Vedas?, The Bible, the Koran, the God Natha, or has he mischievously made this up with no justification what so ever?” He also says “That law is contrary to impermanence (“එකී නියමය අනිත්යයට පටහැනි ය)”.
Buddhism talks of change. In fact, if there is destruction, there will be subsequent recreation as stated in the Samutta Nikaaya (“Whatever is subject to origination [samudaya] is subject to cessation [nirodha]”). Dr. Silva grants that “energy can be changed from one kind to another”. So there is change. Furthermore, the law of energy conservation says that the amount of energy of a “closed system” remains unchanged but allows it to change in form. What is Dr. Silva’s model of the Universe? A closed system, or an open system? The energy of the Universe remains constant (while changing in form) in a closed universe. The total amount of energy and the form taken by energy can both change in an open Universe. How ever, all references to change or constancy should also refer to the time scales over which the observation is made to determine if a change occurs or not. Such time scales are in fact included in all physics models.
Furthermore, both Buddhism and Science admit that there are meaningless, or unanswerable questions.
When Dr. Silva asks the “very simple question”, “is the energy of the Universe constant”, he does not tell us how he is going to determine if the answer is correct or not, what instruments he will use to straddle the “whole universe”, and what timescales are adequate to say that there is no change. Is he ready to wait an eternity? What is eternity? Questions that look too simple to simple minded people turn out to be not so simple.
Fred Hoyle considered a model of a universe where matter was continuously created to have a constant total energy, while today that cosmology has been overthrown as it is in conflict with observations as well as theory. Hence, the sum total of energy is changing in current models of the Universe as energy leaks away, never to return, at the edge of the universe as well as at its singularities (e.g., black holes).
Clearly, the Buddha’s teaching is in complete agreement with the scientific theory of conservation of energy. However, when the blind leads the blind, young students can be misled into spinning yarns which are NOT supported by experimental evidence. Dr. Silva admits to this by stating that “An M.Sc student at the Kelaniya University submitted a model of a universe contrary to the law of conservation of energy ( “කැලණිය විශ්වවිද්යලයෙහි ශාස්ත්රපති උපාධියකට එක් ශිෂ්යයෙක් ශක්ති සංස්ථිති නියමයට පටහැනි විශ්වයක් සඳහා ආකෘතියක් ඉදිරිපත් කළේ ය”). As we explained earlier, the law of conservation of energy is posited ONLY for closed systems. Lack of clarity on basic matters can make teachers waste student’s time, and destroy their careers.
Many of these basic errors can be avoided if those who write Vidusara articles or dictate to students would only subject their theories to other competent colleagues (informal peer review) for comment, and also think of experimental evidence to support the proposed perversions or improvements of the theory they are thinking of. I try to show everything I discuss what I write with knowledgeable colleagues and peers as it is easy to not to see one’s own mistakes.
It is not just the law of conservation of energy, but also the law of conservation of energy and matter (E=mc2) that has been mis- interpreted by some writers who have shown themselves to be uncritical imitator intellectuals (අනුකාරක උගත්තු ). As adefined by Dr. Nalin de Silva, these are individuals who may read Jim Baggots book and repeat its contents even without noticing its the errors.
Are there simple experiments to expose some of these errors? Let us look at Dr. Silva’s claim that a “photon which a frequency v has a mass m=hv/c2”. In order to justify this, Dr. Silva reworked a standard exercise found in the standard text book by Taylor and Wheeler on how two masses moving at near relativistic speeds collide. So, if two photons (i.e., two light beams) with frequencies u and v were to collide, they would collide like two marbles with masses hu/c2 and hv/c2! But even a child can check this by taking two flashlights and making the two beams of light collide. The light beams do not “collide” but pass through each other.
Fig.1 here (Flashlights)
It is well known that photons pass through each other as if there are no collisions, disproving the result presented by Dr. Silva. Dr. Silva’s result for two marble-like photon beams s is envisaged below.
The correct calculation for the collision of two photons was given by Heisenberg and Euler in 1936, and yet, in 2015, false results are being presented in Sri Lankan news media. One can surely look up the correct treatment in a suitable text book. (“Collisions” between photons occur only in the fourth order of the interaction)!
It is clear that Dr. Silva is totally intrigued as to why Einstein’s energy-mass conservation yields, for him, a mass m=hv/c2 for the photon. The answer may perhaps dawn on him if he would only notice the missing elements in his logic. May be he should think of the wavefunction of the photon and its spectral decomposition, since the photon is a quantum object.
Has the culture of science in Sri Lanka dropped to such a pathetic nadir that systemic misinformation happenss with little reaction from the academic community? Why does the Vidusara newspaper continue to publish articles from Dr. Silva without any oversight? Is it not a continuing injury to our reading public that the incorrect pronunciation of de Broglie is being repeated in print as de Broolie even after it was pointed out to be de Broy? In our view, journal editors can no longer shirk their responsibility by taking cover under the fact that the offending writer is a Ph.D. Science articles of Repeat offenders should be peer-reviewed for basic errors before they are let loose on the public.