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All enlightened beings since the first Arahant have confirmed the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path to be true through their own experience. So there is a community of Ariya Sangha who accept them to be the truth. Isn't this better than the peer review evaluation used in the "Scientific Method"? Many findings that were previously accepted under the scientific method as scientific knowledge have since been rejected, but no enlightened being has ever changed his mind to say that the four noble truths or the noble eightfold path are false.

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    This question doesn't seem a good fit. "Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise." – MatthewMartin Jun 29 '14 at 18:27
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    Is this a question or an opinion disguised as a question? – Andrei Volkov Jun 29 '14 at 18:33
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    "Scientific knowledge later being proven wrong" is a fact. "No enlightened being has ever changed his mind" can also be taken as something that hasn't been disproven. So the only opinion is the question title itself. :) – Sankha Kulathantille Jun 29 '14 at 18:54
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    Voting to close on the basis of that any answer is going to be purely based on an opinion with at most limited expert value. – Hrafn Jun 29 '14 at 22:34
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    rationalwiki is probably not a good source for unbiased information; they're pretty hard-core materialist. – yuttadhammo Jun 30 '14 at 22:56
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I like this question (I've cleaned it up a bit for clarity).

Basically, what it's asking is whether Buddhist practice should be considered more or less scientific than the scientific method. I've tried to make this argument before - most recently in a talk at the University of South Florida. The concepts are still a bit vague, but I think the argument is sound.

The problem is in defining what constitutes valid scientific inquiry, and what is meant by knowledge.

In material science, the frame of reference is an interpersonal environment where the requirement for evidence is third-person verifiability. A theory is only considered scientific if there is some means of impersonal falsifiability (i.e. can it be disproved by a third person through experimental means). Observations should be made by an impartial third party (preferably a double blind where the observer and the administer are two different people) reproducible by others undertaking the same experiments as the original observer.

In insight meditation, the frame of reference is internal and so any observations must be made by the individual themselves. Thus, their observations are seen as unreliable by the modern scientific community. Within the context of an interpersonal frame of reference, this makes sense.

An argument in defence is that the frame of reference in Buddhism is not interpersonal - i.e. it doesn't matter whether I "really" made observation X; what is important is that I perceived it as being observation X. Using this premise as a basis for investigation, I think it is still possible to separate objective observations from subjective ones, though it is of course more difficult.

The difficulty I've found is in explaining Buddhist insight practice as objectively objective; how can one prove that the act of reminding oneself "seeing" actually allows oneself to be completely objective? I think there is some logic behind the fact that reminding oneself of the inherent nature of the observation creates objectivity, but it is still an uncertain hypothesis.

I think the answer lies in the expected outcome; we would expect experimentation A to be objective if it brought about consistent, reproducible (again, only by the individual) results in all situations. Subjective experimentation would lead to inconsistent results. Objective experimentation would also be expected to lead to clear definition of the nature of the objects of observation (i.e. object X appears to invariably display property A).

Such principles could then be verified between experimenters; interviewing individual meditators could potentially lead to patterns of observations of the sort mentioned above.

The point of all this is that there is at least a quasi-scientific aspect to personal meditation; it need not be discarded as purely subjective, especially since it is acknowledged that the mind does seem to follow orderly principles.

Where this all gets interesting is at the level of enlightenment, where a meditator actually claims to be certain of their observations, due to overwhelming personal evidence of its truth. Obviously such certainty is useless in an interpersonal frame of reference, but for the meditator themselves, such statements can perhaps be examined and differentiated between. For example, a meditator may come to a certainty through faith, in which case it will be of a specific quality that must be different from that arrived at through overwhelming evidence. The former would be subject to alteration in the face of further observation (or even over time), whereas the latter would only be confirmed through further observation.

From the frame of reference of the individual, then, it wouldn't matter what anyone else said about the subjectivity or invalidity of their claim; since their every observation reaffirmed the certainty of their conclusion, they would feel their claim to be scientifically arrived at, and it would be impossible to shake them of that conviction without resorting to tactics like brainwashing.

Further, once a meditator attains nibbana, even brainwashing would be unable to shake their conviction, since their very being would be changed by the realization; not clinging to body and mind, they would be impervious to all attempts at subversion.

The point here is that they would regard their certainty as scientifically gained; i.e. through what they felt to be objective observation. The obvious criticism is that anyone can claim such objectivity, even in the case of those under the influence of subjective partiality. Again, this is only important in the case of an interpersonal frame of reference. Within one's own mind, it is completely up to the individual to critique their own observations, since it is indeed only they who can possibly determine whether an observation is objective or not.

We therefore place the onus on the individual to critique themselves, and assume that there is indeed a means by which one can distinguish a subjective state from an objective one. Defining criteria by which one could undertake such discernment would assumedly look a lot like the Buddha's own methodology of separating experience out into constituents parts and subjecting each aspect to rigorous inspection to determine natures of each aspect and relationships between aspects.

In the end, then, the idea would be that the meditator would be able to cultivate an increasingly objective outlook on their own experience, eventually culminating in a paradigm shift from subjective partiality to objective observation, at which point they would intuitively understand the nature of observable phenomena.

The purpose of this would be a heightened level of "knowledge" (i.e. certainty) about a given claim, e.g. "no experience is worth clinging to". The idea here is that such knowledge would be weaker without such cultivation.

The question, then, is whether such knowledge is superior to material scientific knowledge. Obviously, it is inferior in the sense that it cannot be directly shared with others, but given the premise that anyone can undertake the same practices, with the claim that they will achieve the same level of knowledge, even this is a poor argument. Equally obvious is the superiority in the sense of the level of individual certainty which, according to an arahant themselves, would be absolutely and eternally unshakable.

The only really valid criticism is as to whether such certainty can be in any way distinguished from simple brainwashing. The defence against this criticism, I think, lies in the ability of an individual to distinguish between states of knowledge; in fact, there is the sense that brainwashing is not knowledge in any real sense of the word, since the certainty would go against one's own experience.

Which is another key point (sorry for my meandering thoughts) - that there are two levels of observation - the conceptual and the ultimate. Whereas the nature of and relationship between concepts can be changed, those of the building blocks of experiential reality are immutable.

For example, an experimenter may administer an experience to trick the subject into finding a correlation between stimulus A and result X where there wouldn't naturally be one (e.g. A Clockwork Orange). What the experimenter cannot do is affect the perceptions of the individual itself. So, while it is possible to brainwash someone into believing that violence is a cause of nausea, it is not possible to alter their observations of the experience of the violence and the nausea, because the building blocks that make up the experience cannot be changed, nor can their relationships. This seems like a reasonable premise, one which allows an individual to potentially discriminate between brainwashing and true knowledge.

Obviously, since there is no potential for peer review, such discrimination is extremely unlikely to occur in the average individual, hence the esteem given to the Buddha; still, this doesn't invalidate the claim that it is technically possible, given the right tools and determination. The important point is that it is not only possible, but absolutely preferable given the inherent strength of such knowledge, even over peer-reviewed material scientific knowledge.

Or something like that :)

  • Thank you for the comprehensive answer, Bhante! I've heard that, back in Buddha's time, there were Arihants with the ability to read others' minds. They could verify if one has attained Nibbana. Even the gods who haven't attained enlightenment seemed to have read the minds of the Sangha to see if they are enlightened. The Buddha himself had special Nanas that could be used to measure one's level of attainment. ex: Indriya Paropariyatte Nana, Asaynusaya Nana. So we could have a 3rd person observation within the community of Sangha. – Sankha Kulathantille Jun 30 '14 at 14:42
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    The statement "The important point is that it is not only possible, but absolutely preferable given the inherent strength of such [Buddhist] knowledge, even over peer-reviewed material scientific knowledge." is another instance of "begging the question." In addition, the answer contains many other unsupported assertions such as "Equally obvious is the superiority in the sense of the level of individual certainty which, according to an arahant themselves, would be absolutely and eternally unshakable." – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 0:54
  • @empty you are taking this to be an argument within the frame of reference of material science; I am assuming a basic premise of Buddhism. Rather than arguing whether the statements made by Buddhists are true, I'm focusing on whether the statements made by Buddhists, if true, constitute a better sort of knowledge than that claimed by material science. There is no question-begging in that regard here. – yuttadhammo Jul 2 '14 at 11:26
  • Just as a side note, historically, I see that science owns a field whenever, in such field, "tools to see" are developed -- allowing an improved degree in precision on discussions and comparisons. Before such tools and techniques (and the vocabulary that follows), discussions are vague, opinion-driven, and often religious in nature (eg. anything, like medicine millenia ago). With that mind, anything that would help us see/discriminate "internal states" would likely be huge for helping us evaluating, understanding, and training, like "here, that's how your brain waves should be like in jhana". – Thiago Aug 16 '14 at 17:48
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There is a potential false dichotomy here in distinguishing between the two types of knowledge. There has always been a respectable line of thinking -- not universally accepted, but respectable nonetheless -- that all knowledge is subjective. The rise of Quantum Mechanics in the early 20th century merely gave us some experiments that made that possibility even more obvious.

What seems different, at first sight, about science (specifically, Physics) is that it is, to use Bernard d'Espagnat's term, inter-subjective. In other words, when I view photons coming through slits I collapse their waveforms in just the same way that you do when you view them.

But, crucially, those are two separate experiments and observations. You are not confirming, when you see an interference pattern (or otherwise) that I saw what I saw. One consciousness simply cannot, as far as we can see, experience another consciousnesses experiences. That privacy of observation is, on one account, precisely what it means to be a consciousness. As a result, science is not objective.

Given all of that, I still find it hard to see why observations in Physics are, in principle, any more reliable than those in Vipassana. In practice, of course, there's a difference. I can set up our double slit experiments in ten minutes, and we can both be comparing notes five minutes thereafter. To set up our respective Vipassana "experiments" can take many years. (Of course, the same can be said, in the realm of Physics, with the amount of time it takes to build up the expertise needed to run advanced experiments).

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yeah... it depends who you ask. research conceptual truth vs ultimate truth.

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I would like to begin with the all important question : why does this matter? ;) I don't think that we must or can agree to a better path of anything. Especially when often times it might be a sad excuse for an ego trip.

When we look at knowledge from the perspective of emptiness, every thought concept is a created one. This implies that to follow any means of written knowledge or personal realization, we must have a certain level of faith. Science is the dropping of the self in order to have a modeled version of reality. This selfless evaluation is otherwise called an objective perception. How can we give importance to anything we find, when we don't know what we are? Of course this is not a valid question to ask, because we are using words. Words are just another form of conventional thinking that we created in order to limit the ineffable. Questioning their integrity is a pointless task. Especially since one would question it outside of its perceptual frame. This is the opposite of considering. It's a shunning of knowledge based on the fact that if you take a perspective that is incompatible with the knowledge itself, you will conclude that it is wrong.

That being said science and all forms of shared knowledge, are conventions that allow for utility in our world.

Buddhism has the opposite original goal as compared to science. It is going into this self and seeing the meaning behind our senses (including the 6th Buddhist sense: the mind)*. It is trying to give meaning behind what we are and what we can know. This yields many similar conclusions as science does. But in the end, all the written texts in Buddhism are conventions that we can state.

Buddhist conventions share a common thing with all other conventions; utility in our world. The main difference, lies in what aspects of the human world experience.

There's the material, and the spiritual. Saying that one is more valuable than the other, is pointless because we must take the opposite view in order to prove our point which is a redundant way of making enemies. ;)

Science points to us how we can use the world. Buddhism points to us how we can use the self. Both of them being important, but different.

In the end it really depends on if you can trust yourself, or if you can trust others.

The funny thing is that ultimately the teachings are compatible.

*this is again, only a convention.

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Just because things are accepted as truth does not necessarily mean that they are. As the Buddha would say, figure it out for your self, do not rely on others to give you the answers. Since I am not liberated, and I do not believe you claim to be, it is hard for either of us to know who actually is other than the Buddha himself; this is meant to emphasize the Buddha's idea that we should figure things out for ourselves.

An argument could be made that given science is willing to admit mistakes that it is a better source.

  • In the same way, just because things are accepted as truth in science doesn't mean that they are. I'm not sure how willing is mainstream science to admit mistakes. They are still pretty much hard-core materialists and denies the Nama(mental aspect) of the universe. Buddhism is willing to admit mistakes if you are capable of pointing out any. :) – Sankha Kulathantille Jul 1 '14 at 19:43
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    This logical fallacy is known as "begging the question" or "circular reasoning". – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 0:43
  • @empty can you expand on that? What is the logical fallacy? – user70 Jul 2 '14 at 0:59
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    "Begging the question" is when a statement has an unproven premise. By using the "weasel words" "I'm not sure how willing..." SK is able to make the unsupported attack that science doesn't admit to error. In addition to this being an ad hominem attack, it enables SK to set up a "straw man" argument. – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 1:05
  • I suggest that the critical reader parse all the arguments on this page with the list of logical and rhetorical fallacies enumerated in rationalwiki.org/wiki/The_Fine_Art_of_Baloney_Detection – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 1:09

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