Buddhism and Science colloquium

4th-5th March 2010

I attended the second day of a ‘Buddhism and Science’ colloquium at Oxford University and joined in with the concluding discussion which focused mainly on the practice side of Buddhism and its relation to Science. The discussion covered the areas of ‘Buddhist ethics and social relevance,’ ’emptiness as an experience and method’ and the practical implications of the Buddhist doctrine of ‘non-self:’ what Buddhists actually do. The proceedings were video-recorded and are available on the ‘Voices From Oxford’ website.

My contribution is in the closing discussion: at 6:20 addressing the question of Buddhist ethics and social relevance; and at 41:00 in relation to the meaning of ‘non-self.’

I couldn’t get to the first day because it was oversubscribed, but the organisers kindly let me come to the second day when I told them I had been writing on the topic of ‘Buddhism and Science’ and was thinking that I might be able to contribute. The colloquium took place in the Sherrington room of the Physiology Department. In my mind I had expected that to be a 300-seater lecture theatre, but when I got there it turned out to be a classroom seating 70 people. On the wall was an oil painting of Sherrington, who had won the Nobel prize for Physiology in 1932. The audience was a mixture of Buddhist practitioners, Buddhist scholars, scientists, and academics from different fields. On the first day there had been an introduction by Professor Denis Noble, well known in the world of biology for ‘systems biology,’ which gives an alternative viewpoint to Richard Dawkins book ‘The Selfish Gene.’ He had co-organised the colloquium along with B. Alan Wallace, who is well known for his written work on ‘Buddhism and Science,’ and his wife Vesna, the new chair of Buddhist Studies at Oxford. There were then a number of half hour presentations from a range of Buddhist scholars and scientists, mostly from the UK and France, and the first day concluded with a general discussion.

Buddhism and Science Colloquium – Day 1

Time: March 4-5, 2010

Location: University of Oxford, Department of Physiology, Sherrington Room Co-sponsored by Physiology Department and Oriental Institute of the University of Oxford, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies.

The parallels between Buddhist ideas and those of modern science have been noted frequently. Examples include the ideas of emptiness and relativity theories, those of non-Self and physiology, mental cultivation and cognitive sciences. Are these parallels coincidental or do they represent a convergence that is necessary in comparing the results of introspective and objective methods? This colloquium will bring some of the leading scientists who have explored this convergence in a critical and analytical way, together with philosophers of science, in debate with Buddhist scholars investigating the relations between Buddhism and science in the ancient and contemporary worlds. The participating scientists include relativity and quantum mechanics theorists, systems biologists, clinicians, and cognitive scientists. The Buddhist scholars include the new Oxford professor of Buddhist studies, and two Tibetan Buddhist scholars who have engaged in a collaborative research with scientists. The colloquium will provide ample opportunity for questions and discussion.


March 4: Schedule


Morning Session


9:00-9:20 Refreshments

9:20-9:30 Welcome by Professor Denis Noble

9:30-10:00 Vesna Wallace, Numata Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Oxford: “Introduction: Is there a Buddhist science?” text

10:00-10:30 Laurent Nottale, Astrophysicist, Directeur de recherche au CNRS et chercheur  l’observatoire de Paris-Meudon: “Relativity and Emptiness”

10:30-11:00 Charles Auffray, Research Director at CNRS, heading the Genexpress team in Functional Genomics and Systems Biology for Health: “Systems biology and relativity”

11:00-11:15 Tea break 11:15-11:45 Denis Noble, Burdon Sanderson Professor Emeritus of Cardiovascular Physiology, University of Oxford: “Systems biology concepts of the self (anatman)”

12:30-1:00 B. Alan Wallace, President, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness: “Toward a three-dimensional science of the mind”   Chapter 1 of book

1:00-2:00 Lunch break


Afternoon Session


2:00-2:30 Mark G. Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness: “Mindfulness in clinical psychology”

2:30-3:00 John Peacock, Associate Director of the Mindfulness Centre: “Constructing reality: cognitivism and Buddhist psychology”

3:00-3:30 Michel Bitbol, Directeur de Recherche au CNRS, CREA/Ecole Polytechnique: “Buddhism and science: interdependence, from classical causality to quantum entanglement”

3:30-4:00 Tea break

4:00-4:30 General discussion

On the second day there was a ‘response’ to the first day from the Oxford scholar Peter Hacker – who has spent nearly twenty years co-authoring the ‘Analytical Commentary on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.’ He critiques the viewpoint that sees philosophy as productive of knowledge rather than understanding and has written as such about the field of neuroscience. Hie presentation was followed by a closing discussion.

March 5: Schedule


9:30-10:00: Refreshments 10:00-11:00:

Response by Dr. Peter Hacker, Emeritus Research Fellow, St John’s College, University of Oxford, followed by panel discussion  remarks

11:00-11:15: Tea break 11:15-1:00:

Closing discussion with audience

Articles from the key speakers are available on the website of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies: http://www.ocbs.org

Who was who at the colloquium:

Denis Noble – one of the foremost critics of Richard Dawkins and his notion of the selfish gene.

Neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis and selfish genes: are they of use in physiology? – article (2011.)

Evolution and physiology: a new synthesis – Lecture delivered as the opening plenary at the IUPS 2013 World Congress: in front of 3000 delegates at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, UK, proposing major changes in biological ideas and the theory of evolution.

Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology – article on which lecture is based.


Author: Mahabodhi

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