So, this is Kuhn's idea. I don't want to argue about whether Kuhn is correct or not, but merely point out that Kuhn, among others, has contributed to this feeling that science doesn't have the absolute answers. Thus modern science presents less of a unified front, less of an absolute bastion of truth. Certainly many people still see themselves as living in a black and white world, and that is probably true of the natural scientists.
While I was working on this paper, one of my natural science teachers said, "Well you know those quantum physicists; I mean, they are way out there, and everything is relative to them. But I will tell you that in my field, there are still biologists who put their necks on the line to say that everything is black and white. It's absolutely this way." And yet, in just the last few years, there has been a growing body of evidence in the biological sciences that hints at a major paradigm shift developing there as well.
In general, many scientists are coming to define their discipline in a more humble and tentative way. Science for people at the turn of the century was absolute, fixed truths and principles that held good forever and described the total nature of an absolute and unchanging reality, or a reality that was changing according to very predictable laws. Now a better working definition would be: "a form of inquiry into natural phenomena; a consensus of information held at any one time and all of which may be modified by new discoveries and new interpretations at any moment." In contemporary science, uncertainty seems to be the rule.
The science that my grandparents looked forward to would not be a science that they could recognize today, and not just because of theoretical ambiguities and uncertainties. Modern science has become something we look at with deep ambivalence; we love what it can do for us, yet dread what it can do to us. The scientifically "advanced" weapons of mass destruction of two world wars, the messing with nature in terms of environmental pollution, the experiments with human embryos, genetically engineered life, chemical-biological warfare—all have created a very strange climate now. This anxiety about "Prometheus unbound"—the unchecked power of science—makes us more alert to the need to somehow reconcile our facts and our values, our morals and our machines, or as it is often expressed, "science and spirituality." This contemporary longing makes Buddhism more rather than less attractive. People are even more drawn to Buddhism, especially in the West, because they see it as a spiritual teaching that can mesh with and mitigate modern science.
In this last part, I want to look at how close this relationship is between Buddhism and modern science. Initially, many thinkers, both Eastern and Western, heralded the coming age where Eastern religion and Western science would unite in a perfect marriage. D. T. Suzuki certainly thought this way (although later, as we shall see, he had a change of mind). The notable physicist Niels Bohr, as early as the 1940's, sensed this congruence between modern science and what he called "Eastern mysticism."
As he was looking into atomic physics and for a unified field of reality, he remarked, "This reminds me of Eastern religion." He said, "When searching for harmony in life, one must never forget that in the drama of existence we have both spectators and actors." Bohr, a very popular lecturer, often used the Buddha and Lao Tzu in his discussions on physics in his classes. He made up his own coat of arms with the yin/ yang symbol on it. This was a physicist in the 1940's already sensing the hopeful possibilities of blending Buddhism and science.
Later on Friedof Capra came out with his Tao of Physics, and he expanded on some of Bohr's tentative impressions. Capra argues not only that modern science and Eastern mysticism offer parallel insights into the ultimate nature of reality, but that the profound harmony between these concepts as expressed in systems language and the corresponding ideas of Eastern mysticism is impressive evidence for my claim that the essence of mystical (also known as perennial) philosophy, offers the most consistent philosophical background to our modern scientific theories. So this is one thing. Now people often turn to a couple of passages in a Buddhist text that I am going to read tonight to show that, "Yes, they are immensely congruent—Buddhism and modern science." Most people are familiar with a famous Sutta called the Kalama Sutta. The Kalamas were a group of people who lived in India. The Buddha was wandering around and he came to this village, and I will just read you this passage. "The Buddha once visited a small town in the Kingdom of Kosala and the inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama." The Kalamas voiced their doubts, their perplexity in determining truth or falsehood, because all the competing teachers and doctrines at the time had come in and expounded different notions of the truth, just like in our modern world today.
To be continued