Filmed during Mind & Life Institute’s “Mind & Life XXVI: Mind, Brain and Matter” on January 18, 2013. 

Day Two: Physics

Quantum Physics and Reality
SPEAKERS: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Arthur Zajonc, PhD, and Michel Bitbol, PhD

The traditional view of reality seeks to identify the intrinsic or “real” properties of things, such as their size, location, velocity, and mass. Physics has increasingly come to appreciate the futility of such an undertaking, and instead realizes that properties only exist relative to measuring instruments. This deprives properties of any absolute status. Modern theories of relativity and quantum mechanics underscore the necessity of replacing all absolute properties with relational “observables.” For example, lengths are shortened in the directions of motion according to Einstein’s relativity theory. The implications of this and similar facts for our notion of reality are profound. For example, objects do not have an intrinsic size, velocity or mass. Even the number of particles in a box can depend on its state of relative motion. In light of these discoveries of physics, we are called upon to set aside realistic, reductive views in favor of those that have a more phenomenological character. Arthur Zajonc described particular experiments that contradict the search for intrinsic properties and realistic theories, and Michel Bitbol spoke about the philosophical implications of such experiments and theories. These challenges from the new physics open up important themes for dialogue with Buddhist philosophy concerning the ultimate nature of reality and its relation to human experience. 

MODERATOR: Anne Harrington, PhD

INTERPRETER: Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Quantum Physics and Its Implications
SPEAKERS: Arthur Zajonc, PhD, Michel Bitbol, PhD, and Thupten Jinpa, PhD 

Quantum physics is grounded on a set of puzzling experiments that resist all efforts to understand them based on normal human experience and classical scientific theory. Arthur Zajonc will describe the key experimental foundations of quantum physics and identify the crucial non-classical aspects of each experiment. These experiments point to a “quantum holism” that demands we reconsider the possibility of a new kind of interconnectedness to reality. The very notion of localized objects with intrinsic properties is challenged by quantum experiments. All attempts at “picturing” the quantum world in terms of conventional concepts based on sense experience are seen to fail. The inherently probabilistic character of quantum physics raises other important questions concerning microscopic causality. Are all events, including the radioactive decay of a single nucleus, caused? Michel Bitbol will describe the philosophical implications of these experiments and the “paradoxes” of quantum physics for our view of reality. One important alternative to “interpretations” of quantum theories is to forego the desire to have a representation of the world at all. “No view” is a well-established tradition within certain schools of Buddhist philosophy. Thupten Jinpa, as the Buddhist respondent, will take up this and related issues in his response to the presentations. 

MODERATOR: Anne Harrington, PhD

Khen Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden
Richard Davidson
Sona Dimidjian
James R. Doty
John Durant
Wendy Hasenkamp
Bryce Johnson
Geshe Lhakdor
Rajesh Kasturirangan
Christof Koch
Geshe Dadul Namgyal
Lobsang Tenzin Negi
Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath
Matthieu Ricard
Geshe Ngawang Samten
Tania Singer
Aaron Stern
Diana Chapman Walsh
Carol Worthman


Arthur Zajonc, PhD

Mind & Life Institute

Michel Bitbol, MD, PhD

Archives Husserl, École Normale Supérieure

Anne Harrington, PhD

Harvard University

Thupten Jinpa Langri, PhD

McGill University

Mind & Life Connections