Mind and Life

Mind and Life: Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Mind and Life
    Book Description:

    For over a decade, a small group of scientists and philosophers-members of the Mind and Life Institute-have met regularly to explore the intersection between science and the spirit. At one of these meetings, the themes discussed were both fundamental and profound: can physics, chemistry, and biology explain the mystery of life? How do our philosophical assumptions influence science and the ethics we bring to biotechnology? And how does an ancient spiritual tradition throw new light on these questions?

    Pier Luigi Luisi not only reproduces this dramatic, cross-cultural dialogue, in which world-class scientists, philosophers, and Buddhist scholars develop a holistic approach to the scientific exploration of reality, but also adds scientific background to their presentations, as well as supplementary discussions with prominent participants and attendees. Interviews with His Holiness the Karmapa, the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, and the actor and longtime human rights advocate Richard Gere take the proceedings into new directions, enriching the material with personal viewpoints and lively conversation about such topics as the origin of matter, the properties of cells, the nature of evolution, the ethics of genetic manipulation, and the question of consciousness and ethics.

    A keen study of character, Luisi incorporates his own amusing observations into this fascinating dialogue, painting a very human portrait of some of our greatest-and most intimidating-thinkers. Deeply textured and cleverly crafted, Mind and Life is an excellent opportunity for any reader to join in the debate surrounding this cutting-edge field of inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52970-9
    Subjects: Religion, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    The dalai lama entered the room, whispering greetings one by one to familiar faces among the guests who were standing to meet him. He stopped for a special greeting for the only child present, Francisco Varela’s son Gabo, and tousled his hair. Then he settled into his seat. Our host in his own home, he seemed completely at ease.

    With him in an informal circle around the low coffee table were other representatives of two great knowledge traditions, Western science and Buddhism. Biologists Ursula Goodenough and Eric Lander would have their turns in the “hot seat,” as the presenter’s chair...

  5. 1 How Real Are the Elementary Particles?
    (pp. 16-49)

    As outlined in arthur Zajonc’s introduction, the tenth Mind and Life meeting took us on a long journey, from the simplest constituents of matter far into the complexity of human consciousness. This book tracks that journey as it played out over the course of a week in a packed room at the Dalai Lama’s home on the threshold of the Himalayas. How to begin tracing this ambitious, seemingly immense arc?¹ We will start with the statement that launched a presentation by Steven Chu, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist: “The single most important thing we know is that the world is made...

  6. 2 The Emergence of Complexity; AND AN INTERVIEW WITH MATTHIEU RICARD
    (pp. 50-72)

    The previous chapter described how complex matter can be formed from the aggregation of atoms. The aggregation of small particles into larger ones is the basic mechanism by which our life and our universe unfold: cosmic dust particles form stars and planets, atoms build molecules, molecules build complex organic structures that in turn build cells, which aggregate to build multicellular organisms, tissues, organs, mammals…. The scientific scenario for the origin of life traces how small molecules, through a continuous accretion of complexity, become entities that can reproduce themselves: the first units of life.

    There are two main concepts related to...

  7. 3 Toward the Complexity of Life
    (pp. 73-109)

    If life itself can be considered an emergent property, is it no more then than a particular property of matter? It is now time to consider this question, and it was my task to present to His Holiness what science has learned about the mysterious transition between the world of matter and the world of the living.

    I was sitting in the hot seat and His Holiness was looking at me, waiting for my first words. I had rehearsed them many times, but now that I had to utter them they felt inadequate, inappropriate. As many talks as I have...

    (pp. 110-139)

    We have followed how science describes the transition from inanimate matter to life as an allegedly spontaneous and extremely lengthy increase of molecular complexity that eventually reached the point where the first family of cells formed. These pristine cells were capable of self-reproduction and could therefore propagate and multiply. This is the point where the discussion on the origin of life ended, giving place to the next conversation, on cellular evolution. Arthur Zajonc opened the day’s meeting, summarizing the ground we had covered thus far but also commenting on what he perceived as “the joy of being a Buddhist intellectual.”...

  9. 5 The Magic of the Human Genome and Its Ethical Problems; AND AN INTERVIEW WITH HIS HOLINESS THE KARMAPA
    (pp. 140-165)

    It is now time to move one step further up the ladder of complexity of life and consider genetic heredity. One of the most basic laws of nature is the conservation of species: from one generation of roses arises the next generation of roses; elephants produce elephants again and again; and so it is for fruit flies and green peas and daisies. Heredity became a scientific question in the nineteenth century with the acceptance of the view, by around 1860, that all plants and animals consisted of cells, and that cells give rise to new cells through division: omnia cellula...

  10. 6 From Consciousness to Ethics
    (pp. 166-193)

    Throughout the conference, the themes of consciousness and ethics surfaced often in the informal discussions that followed each morning’s scientific presentation. We have seen these themes foreshadowed at various points, such as Michel Bitbol’s contribution relating emergence and consciousness or the understanding of cellular awareness at the foundations of life that is part of Francisco Varela’s legacy. Eric Lander brought to our attention many of the ethical dilemmas that have surfaced recently as a consequence of progress in the study of genetics and the human genome. Ursula Goodenough also talked about the possible biological basis for compassion and empathy, as...

  11. 7 Last Words
    (pp. 194-200)

    As the final afternoon of our week together drew to a close, Arthur Zajonc asked each of the participants to speak for just a minute or two about the most significant impressions that we would carry home from our dialogue. What had we learned, what had we gained by being here?

    Eric Lander spoke first. “I knew nothing about Buddhism when I came here, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the basis in ethics, the belief in the importance of relieving pain and suffering, and the importance of logic and reason, evidence and debate. In many ways this is...

  12. About the Mind and Life Institute
    (pp. 201-206)
    R. Adam Engle and Zara Houshmand

    The mind and life dialogues between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Western scientists were initiated in 1984 by R. Adam Engle, a North American businessman, and Francisco J. Varela, a Chilean-born neuroscientist then working in Paris. Both were Buddhist practitioners and aware of the Dalai Lama’s desire to deepen his understanding of Western science, in which he held a long-standing and keen interest, and to share Eastern contemplative knowledge with Western scientists. Engle and Varela each independently conceived of a series of cross-cultural meetings where the Dalai Lama and scientists from the West would engage in extended discussions over...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 207-210)
  14. Index
    (pp. 211-218)