Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
[Part of the Ditching the Raft Series.] Well, they’ve gone and done it. They have fully replaced all the difficult dharma of Buddhism with Quantum Field Theory. David Tong at the Royal Institute (2017) explains that the fundamental features of the universe are not particles (alone) but quantum fields. This lecture on quantum field theory explains that everything we experience in the universe is made of interacting quantum fields: 12 particle fields and 4 force fields. Moreover, he explains that there are not separate quantum fields for you and another for me (or one for White people and another for Black people; or better yet, one for Males and another for Females), but one set of quantum fields that makes up you and me and all of us together and everything else that exists in the universe. (So there really is no ‘self’, i.e. no individual being, and this proves it.) And he also explains the physical concept of “emptiness”. Go for it.
So that’s it folks. It’s the Unified Field Theory of Self and World in a one-hour lecture. David is also really entertaining, so enjoy it.
But I will say this, as a critique from a sociology of religion perspective: this is still the “‘Sky God” theory of the universe. It has replaced ‘god’ and ‘Buddha’ with quantum field theory, but it is still about stuff ‘out there’ in the ever-expanding sky. His lecture replaces the periodic table of elements with a ‘periodic table of quantum fields’. But it’s the periodic table of elements in chemistry that explains the molecular bio-chemistry of life and the origin of life on this planet, life that we are rapidly losing. (The theory of life is a theory of complexity and emergence, which is what Dependent Origination is about). The Sky God theory of the world explains how “it’s all connected,” but it doesn’t explain or compel us to care about the condition of life on the planet. Nor does it account for our suffering as living beings and what we can do about it. That’s an ethical concern, and the existential crisis that we are faced with at point in human history: how to care enough about life to take care of the condition of the planet.
The concern is not that there is no rebirth, scientifically speaking, but that there might be no future generations that we could (plausibly) be born into. No Future Generations. If the story of rebirth tells us anything (metaphorically, not metaphysically), it’s that we must be concerned about the consequences of our actions to the Seventh Generation, as the Native Americans say, and beyond. Because what we do in our lives today will “live on” in future generations. Or what’s even more tragic, what we do today could cause conditions such that there are no Future Generations.
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