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Dark Energy, Dark Matter - Enigmas for Physicists and Cosmologists
Posted: 04 December 2007 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 76 ]
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Doug,

I do agree with you that taoism, hinduism and buddhism do not contribute to science.  Also that reincarnation and karma are bunk.  In my view, literal nirvana is a Utopian construct.  I do not consider myself to be a taoist or a buddhist.  But I think that there is much that is worthwhile that can be learned from taoism and buddhism.  Albeit, not about science.

Buddhist morality, for example, is self motivated and non-authoritarian.  Quite compatible with humanism in that regard.  Also, the exercise of mindfulness and concentration through meditation and concerted effort in daily life has no highly developed equivalent in the west that I can think of.  While I don’t believe that meditation has ever helped anyone to understand anything scientific, unless we consider just thinking about things to be meditation, I do believe that the exercise of mindfulness and concentration can assist a person in becoming… well… more mindful and concentrated.  This can reduce stress and help a person to relax and focus within and toward one’s own life.

Taoism, per se, offers similar contributions to mindfulness and concentration in such activities as tai chi and qigong.  Now before you refer me to the pseudoscience section of this forum, please allow me to be clear.  I do not regard qigong to be a form of medicine or science.  I do not believe there to be any literal sort of chi that inhabits the body.  However, I do think that certain tai chi and qigong exercises have value, specifically, as a means of relaxation, gentle physical exercise, and the development of mindfulness and concentration.

Alongside confucianism, I think that taoism is much more difficult to define than is buddhism.  Not just because of the mysticism of its early writings but also because it is not really an independent religion.  Taoism is, unlike buddhism, quite distinctively Chinese, and the ideas of taoism are much more generically embraced across Chinese culture than are the ideas of buddhism.  What constitutes taoism, in my mind, is more of an “ism” in the sense of a sub-milieu within the broader context of traditional Chinese thought.  Kind of like understanding the differences between classicism, romanticism, impressionism, expressionism, minimalism, etc. in western art.  Of course there is Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, but there is also the so-called “naturalistic taoism” of Wang Chung, “taoistic confucianism,” “neo-taoism” and about a thousand mixes and matches of various trends of thought that span several centuries.

Getting back to the title of this thread, dark energy and dark matter are enigmas for physicists and cosmologists.  But they are also enigmas for everyone else.  I think this thread would be more aptly named:

Dark Energy, Dark Matter - Enigmas

How we got into discussion about taoism and buddhism from this makes no sense to me, although I’ve obviously gone with it.  I would like to pursue these discussions further on this forum.  Elsewhere perhaps.

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Posted: 04 December 2007 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 77 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 04 December 2007 01:48 PM

Buddhist morality, for example, is self motivated and non-authoritarian.  Quite compatible with humanism in that regard.  Also, the exercise of mindfulness and concentration through meditation and concerted effort in daily life has no highly developed equivalent in the west that I can think of.  While I don’t believe that meditation has ever helped anyone to understand anything scientific, unless we consider just thinking about things to be meditation, I do believe that the exercise of mindfulness and concentration can assist a person in becoming… well… more mindful and concentrated.  This can reduce stress and help a person to relax and focus within and toward one’s own life.

Taoism, per se, offers similar contributions to mindfulness and concentration in such activities as tai chi and qigong.  Now before you refer me to the pseudoscience section of this forum, please allow me to be clear.  I do not regard qigong to be a form of medicine or science.  I do not believe there to be any literal sort of chi that inhabits the body.  However, I do think that certain tai chi and qigong exercises have value, specifically, as a means of relaxation, gentle physical exercise, and the development of mindfulness and concentration.

Sure. There is a lot of value in Buddhist teachings, and I did enjoy meditating when I practiced it several years ago. I’d just caution against overdoing the claims that these religions are somehow akin to science, etc.

erasmusinfinity - 04 December 2007 01:48 PM

How we got into discussion about taoism and buddhism from this makes no sense to me, although I’ve obviously gone with it.  I would like to pursue these discussions further on this forum.  Elsewhere perhaps.

Go ahead. I find Buddhism quite interesting—which is why I studied it for awhile. I’m sure careful study of Taoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc., would be rewarding. But let’s do study them objectively, not by trying to read modern science back into them. That’s just anachronism.

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Posted: 05 December 2007 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 78 ]
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A Taoist philosophy:

http://users.cyberone.com.au/myers/daoist.html

Daoism is a metaphysics. But it makes no grand claims; it cannot be used to predict the future; it offers no casuistry. It gives advice, not orders; it leaves much to good sense and intuition. It has been found relevant for thousands of years, by scholars and mystics alike. Bertrand Russell and Arnold Toynbee quoted from the Tao Te Ching ; Thomas Merton edited the writings of another Daoist, Chuang Tzu, and wrote, “I have enjoyed writing this book more than any other I can remember”. Merton notes similarities with The Book of Ecclesiastes and certain Christian writings which emphasise simplicity. Needham (abridged by Ronan) calls Taoism “the only system of mysticism the world has ever seen that was not profoundly anti-scientific”; the Tao Te Ching “perhaps the most profound and beautiful work in the Chinese language”. Wing-Tsit Chan says, “No one can hope to understand Chinese philosophy, religion, government, art, medicine, and even cooking without a real appreciation of the profound philosophy taught in this little book” (The Way of Lao Tzu). Its advice is in the form of aphorisms - proverbs - which compare with the Wisdom literature of the Middle East. They are universalistic and, amazingly for texts of 2500 years ago, secular: the wisdom is the advice of people from the past, rather than the instructions of gods. To my mind, all such books and oral traditions, of all peoples big and small, should be treasured by the whole of humanity - whether we agree with their advice or not. They are a prized part of the human heritage; yet are not humanistic in the sense of human-centred: they recognise that the cosmos as a whole, or life as a whole, is greater than humanity, and that we should be humble before it.

It is non-linear, whereas Western culture takes Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle too seriously, and is immersed in linear thought patterns;

The desire to finalise debate, to attain certainty, to shut the door on one issue after another, is a feature which academic humanism has inherited from the dogmatism of the Catholic Church [footnote 1]. There is no need for a secular equivalent for these dogmas - whether the dogmatism of Marx, of Radical Feminism, of simplistic versions of the Evolution theory, or of the Big Bang theory. The Daoist approach is to leave all debates open. Living with uncertainty is part of the “negative way”; it is in keeping with the best scientific method expressed by Karl Popper: unless a proposition has been disproved, it may be true.

The Dogmatic Sceptics, instead, assume a proposition wrong unless it has been proved true; their “sticks and stones” viewpoint was credible in decades past, when it was thought that the nature of “matter” had been finalised; today, the nature of matter is as uncertain as it has ever been, and so the rock of certainty that the dogmatic sceptics thought they were standing on, turns out to be an illusion. Even the nature of “proof” is problematical: is a hypothesis “proved” or “disproved” (or should some secular equivalent of the Pope declare it so) when 51% of the experts in that field agree so; or when 100% agree; or 99%? Could not all 100% agree, and yet later be found wrong? Should the views of credible people who are generalists, or experts in another field, be taken into account (Fred Hoyle, for example, constantly escapes from his little “box” of expertise)? Who is the arbiter of credibility - who decides admission to the debate? Or publishability? Is not such a person, necessarily, the secular equivalent of the Pope? These are problems not about the nature of reality but about the limitations of our knowledge. Leaving all debates open is a way of recognising that limitation, of allowing for uncertainty. It is a matter not of solipsism, absurdity or relativism, but of prudence. We need not change our language, inserting a percentage-of-probability into every sentence; or become indecisive, unable to perform our daily work under the weight of the uncertainty. It should inhibit us no more than does rash certainty. We know that chairs are not solid as they seem, but are mostly “space” (whatever that is [footnote 2]) or “void”; but that does not stop us from sitting on them.

From the essay on Taoism and Modernity:

Tao or Dao, a Chinese word meaning “way” or “path”, delineates an enlightened perception of the mysterious ways of life. The path of life is revealed professedly only through spontaneous insights and creative breakthroughs. The alternating, self-renewing and circular phenomenon of nature such as day following night following day is an illuminating Taoist paradigm. The life-regenerating cycle of the seasons is another example. Taoists believe all in life to be inseparably interrelated. Taoists consider conventional wisdom illusionary. They point out that concepts are merely cognitive extremes of a consciousness continuum. Extremes exist only as contrasting points to give distinctive meanings to the unthinking, but in truth, these extremes are inseparable interdependent polarities. There can be no life without death, no goodness without evil and no happiness without tragedy. Light shines only in darkness. We only know something has been forgotten after we remember it. There is no modernity without tradition. Behind this dualistic illusion, a unifying, primary principle of life endures. It is called Tao. ...

Yet it would be a mistake to regard Taoism as fatalistic and pessimistic, instead of the ultimate sophistication in optimism that it is. Controlled quantities of the bad can be good. Excessive amounts of the good can be bad. Poison kills. But when handled properly, it can cure diseases. Without poison, there can be no medicine. To employ poison to attack poison is a Taoist principle, which is validated in modern medical the practice of vaccination, the use of antibiotics and chemotherapy treatments. ...

It is a Taoist axiom that intellectual scholarship and analytical logic can only serve to dissect and categorize information. Knowledge, different from information, is achieved only through knowing. Ultimately, only intuitive understanding can provide wisdom. Truth, while elusive, exists. But it is obscured by search, because purposeful search will inevitably mislead the searcher from truth. By focusing on the purpose, the searcher can only find what he is looking for. How does one know what questions to ask about truth if one does not know what the elusive answers should be? Conversely, if one knows already what the answers should be, why does one need to ask questions? Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) would unknowingly be a Taoist.

Taoism as religion is generally regarded by intellectuals as a corruption of its essence as philosophy. Having evolved originally from a mystic search for truth, Taoism has gradually degenerated into practices of secular alchemy aiming to achieve the transformation of commonplace metals into gold, and to discover cures for diseases and formulae for longevity and secrets to immortality. ...

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Posted: 05 December 2007 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 79 ]
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dougsmith - 04 December 2007 02:01 PM

I’d just caution against overdoing the claims that these religions are somehow akin to science, etc.

dougsmith - 04 December 2007 02:01 PM

I’m sure careful study of Taoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc., would be rewarding. But let’s do study them objectively, not by trying to read modern science back into them. That’s just anachronism.

I agree completely.

kkwan - 05 December 2007 03:17 AM

Daoism is a metaphysics. But it makes no grand claims; it cannot be used to predict the future; it offers no casuistry. It gives advice, not orders; it leaves much to good sense and intuition.

Well.  This does depend on how much we cherry pick the diaspora of taoist thought.  There is much that calls itself taoism that does make grand claims and offer casuistry.  Also, remember that christians, muslims, jews, hindus, etc. regard their belief about “god” to be based on “good sense” and intuition.

kkwan - 05 December 2007 03:17 AM

They are a prized part of the human heritage; yet are not humanistic in the sense of human-centred: they recognise that the cosmos as a whole, or life as a whole, is greater than humanity, and that we should be humble before it.

The name is a bit misleading, but humanism is not necessarily “human centered.”  It is not a religion of humanity.  It is a milieu that takes its name from certain western enlightenment principles.  I consider myself to be a naturalist as much as I do a humanist and I think that most humanists probably do.

kkwan - 05 December 2007 03:17 AM

The desire to finalise debate, to attain certainty, to shut the door on one issue after another, is a feature which academic humanism has inherited from the dogmatism of the Catholic Church [footnote 1]. There is no need for a secular equivalent for these dogmas - whether the dogmatism of Marx, of Radical Feminism, of simplistic versions of the Evolution theory, or of the Big Bang theory.  The Daoist approach is to leave all debates open. Living with uncertainty is part of the “negative way”; it is in keeping with the best scientific method expressed by Karl Popper: unless a proposition has been disproved, it may be true.

“Academic humanism” as you are calling it doesn’t shut the door on anything.  It opens the door to everything and most certainly does not seek to finalize debate.  It is about total freedom of inquiry.

Also, I can see something of a dogma in Marxism, but what would you consider dogmatic about “Radical Feminism?”  Is it “dogmatic” that women might want political equality or some of the same freedoms and luxeries that are afforded to men?  As for evolution and the big bang, doesn’t the point that they are “theories” attest to their openness and willingness to change as new evidence comes along?  From my point of view, they are the utmost of anti-dogma.

kkwan - 05 December 2007 03:17 AM

The Dogmatic Sceptics, instead, assume a proposition wrong unless it has been proved true; their “sticks and stones” viewpoint was credible in decades past, when it was thought that the nature of “matter” had been finalised;

LOL  OK now stop.  To call skepticism dogmatic is the utmost of absurdity.

kkwan - 05 December 2007 03:17 AM

Tao or Dao, a Chinese word meaning “way” or “path”, delineates an enlightened perception of the mysterious ways of life.

This would be my main issue with much of taoism in practice.  If tao were “perceived” it would not be mysterious.  There is no such thing as magic.  This is anti-naturalistic and a direct contradiction to the naturalism that makes taoism otherwise attractive.

The problem is that anyone with a position of authority can tell someone else that they need to do something that is in accordance to “the tao” without providing qualification as to why or what they really means.  Thus, centuries of taoist thinkers have defined “the tao” in vastly opposed and irreconcilably different ways.  This illustrates dogma, not an “enlightened perception.”

I would personally be more interested in finding ways in which certain taoist ideas can be more aligned with a scientifically informed perception of reality.

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Posted: 10 December 2007 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 80 ]
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I thought it might be interesting for some to paste in this Sam Harris quote regarding meditation.  Taken from the Huffington Post back on February 2, 2006 HERE

[quote author=“Sam Harris”]Needless to say, any truths uncovered about the human mind through meditation cannot be “Buddhist”. And if meditation ever becomes widely adopted as a tool of science, it will be quickly stripped of its Buddhist roots. There are, after all, very good reasons we don’t talk about “Christian physics” or “Muslim algebra”. Physics and algebra are genuine domains of human inquiry, and as such, they transcend the cultural conditions out of which they arose. Today, anyone emphasizing the religious roots of these intellectual disciplines would stand convicted of not understanding them at all. In the same way, if we ever develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, speaking of “Buddhist” meditation will be synonymous with a failure to assimilate the changes that will have occurred in our understanding of the human mind.

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Posted: 10 December 2007 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 81 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 10 December 2007 05:55 AM

I thought it might be interesting for some to paste in this Sam Harris quote regarding meditation.  Taken from the Huffington Post back on February 2, 2006 HERE

[quote author=“Sam Harris”]Needless to say, any truths uncovered about the human mind through meditation cannot be “Buddhist”. And if meditation ever becomes widely adopted as a tool of science, it will be quickly stripped of its Buddhist roots. There are, after all, very good reasons we don’t talk about “Christian physics” or “Muslim algebra”. Physics and algebra are genuine domains of human inquiry, and as such, they transcend the cultural conditions out of which they arose. Today, anyone emphasizing the religious roots of these intellectual disciplines would stand convicted of not understanding them at all. In the same way, if we ever develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, speaking of “Buddhist” meditation will be synonymous with a failure to assimilate the changes that will have occurred in our understanding of the human mind.

Sounds like Harris should have responded to Paul Davies in that other thread ... just because some Christians were involved in creating physics doesn’t mean that physics is Christian, nor that it’s monotheist ...

Harris is quite right of course. Science is a perfectly secular and “transnational” enterprise.

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Posted: 10 December 2007 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 82 ]
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[ Edited: 22 January 2008 08:01 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 30 December 2007 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 83 ]
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HERE is an interesting article to explain the enigmas of DM/DE and to postulate the existence of dark energy stars to replace black holes.

DARK energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin. A new and as yet undiscovered kind of star could explain both phenomena and, in turn, remove black holes from the lexicon of cosmology.

The most intriguing fallout from this idea has to do with the strength of the vacuum energy inside the dark energy star. This energy is related to the star’s size, and for a star as big as our universe the calculated vacuum energy inside its shell matches the value of dark energy seen in the universe today. “It’s like we are living inside a giant dark energy star,” Chapline says. There is, of course, no explanation yet for how a universe-sized star could come into being.

At the other end of the size scale, small versions of these stars could explain dark matter. “The big bang would have created zillions of tiny dark energy stars out of the vacuum,” says Chapline, who worked on this idea with Mazur. “Our universe is pervaded by dark energy, with tiny dark energy stars peppered across it.” These small dark energy stars would behave just like dark matter particles: their gravity would tug on the matter around them, but they would otherwise be invisible.

On the other hand, HERE is a more pessimistic perspective.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a theorist at Case Western Reserve, said not long ago at a public panel on cosmology in Chicago. “If you got rid of us, and all the stars and all the galaxies and all the planets and all the aliens and everybody, then the universe would be largely the same. We’re completely irrelevant.”

Juan Collar might be among them. “I know I speak for a generation of people who have been looking for dark-matter particles since they were grad students,” he said one wintry afternoon in his University of Chicago office. “I doubt how many of us will remain in the field if the L.H.C. brings home bad news. I have been looking for dark-matter particles for more than 15 years. I’m 42. So most of my colleagues, my age, we are kind of going through a midlife crisis.” He laughed. “When we get together and we drink enough beer, we start howling at the moon.”

Yet in a way it has. In the observation-and-theory, call-and-response system of investigating nature that scientists have refined over the past 400 years, the dark side of the universe represents a disruption. General relativity helped explain the observations of the expanding universe, which led to the idea of the big bang, which anticipated the observations of the cosmic-microwave background, which led to the revival of Einstein’s cosmological constant, which anticipated the observations of supernovae, which led to dark energy. And dark energy is ... ?

The difficulty in answering that question has led some cosmologists to ask an even deeper question: Does dark energy even exist? Or is it perhaps an inference too far? Cosmologists have another saying they like to cite: “You get to invoke the tooth fairy only once,” meaning dark matter, “but now we have to invoke the tooth fairy twice,” meaning dark energy.

In physics, gravity is the ur-inference. Even Newton admitted that he was making it up as he went along. That a force of attraction might exist between two distant objects, he once wrote in a letter, is “so great an Absurdity that I believe no Man who has in philosophical Matters a competent Faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.” Yet fall into it we all do on a daily basis, and physicists are no exception. “I don’t think we really understand what gravity is,” Vera Rubin says. “So in some sense we’re doing an awful lot on something we don’t know much about.”

The only way out, cosmologists and particle physicists agree, would be a “new physics” — a reconciliation of general relativity and quantum mechanics. “Understanding dark energy,” Riess says, “seems to really require understanding and using both of those theories at the same time.”

“If the brilliant idea doesn’t come along,” Riess says, “then we will say dark energy has exactly these properties, it acts exactly like this. And then” — a shrug — “we will put it in a box.” And there it will remain, residing perhaps not far from the box labeled “Dark Matter,” and the two of them bookending the biggest box of them all, “Gravity,” to await a future Newton or Einstein to open — or not.

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