October 16, 2015

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October 16, 2015

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Relational Cosmology, Buddhism and Art

October 16, 2015




This mandala-inspired painting is titled Nature.  The mandala is commonly said to symbolically represent the universe. Traditional mandalas are used in meditation as an aid to inner development.  My mandala paintings are simply for visual enjoyment.  There are more esoteric meanings of mandala and I recommend this article from buddhanet.net, for those interested in this subject.


The approach to cosmology that I find most convincing is called relational cosmology.  Its basic premise is that the universe is best understood as a network of relationships.  In relational cosmology the ideas of independently existing fundamental particles and of a fixed background of space and time are refuted.  One of the leading proponents of this model is Lee Smolin.  Earlier proponents included Bohm, Mach, Leibniz and Einstein.  (Link to transcript of a wonderful TED talk by Smolin on this subject)


About ten years ago I had an epiphany.  Buddhism has something important in common with relational cosmology - it too is relational.  Once one starts to draw comparisons between the spiritual domain and the scientific they can become an easy target for critics.  There are many ill-informed writers who make these comparisons and this has compounded the problem.  Thus, I know that this endeavor has to be approached with great attention to detail and with respect to the great body of knowledge in both domains.  With this in mind, I wrote a fifteen page article on cosmology about ten years ago.  It is titled, Quantum Weirdness Revisited - Maybe It's not So Weird After All.  I identified a group of seven relational principles of Zen Buddhism and used this group to help clarify some important issues in quantum physics.

Returning to to the main subject.  Dependent Origination is a central tenet of Buddhism.  It states that all things co-arise.  Nothing comes into being completely independently.  There are no "independently existing" things.  Dependent Origination is a parallel concept to the concept in relational cosmology - that the universe is best understood as a network of relationships.  In Buddhism, ontology (what is considered to real/objective) is limited to recognizing the relational nature of things.  In physics there is a very strong tendency to hold on to at least some remnant of there being something fundamental and to there being an objective reality (sometimes referred to as RWOT - real world out there).  Even Smolin takes time to be fundamental (source Smolin on the nature of time  - interview in Physics World).  I believe an in-depth understanding of Dependent Origination can help us to take the final step towards excepting a form of relational cosmology in which there are no fundamental things.  Einstein's theory of general relativity forced us out of Newton's view based on a fixed space - time background.  Now, its time for us to realize that, like Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore!  We are of the universe, not in it.  I am working on a new article that explores the profound implications of the relational model.






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