Monday, April 13, 2009

The Universe in a Single Atom

The Universe in a Single Atom: the Convergence of Science and Spirituality
© 2005 Tenzin Gyatso
224 pages

This week marked the first time that I read something by the Dalai Lama that was not concerned primarily with ethics. The book begins with "Reflections", as author Tenzin Gyatso tells of how he became fascinated by the world of science and technology. He then launches into the book proper, looking for connections between Buddhism and modern science. His opening chapters deal with "Emptiness, Relativity, and Quantum Physics", which reminded me of Doug Muder's essay Humanist Spirituality in which he begins by dispelling the idea that quantum mechanics is mystical. (I have run into this attitude myself, in meditating with a friend. When I asked him to explain his belief in chi, he asked me if I believed in quantum mechanics.) His next chapters deal with the evolution of sentience and cosmological evolution, in which he compares the Buddhist idea of the "beginningless universe" to the big bang. Several chapters on consciousness follow, and he ends with a chapter on the ethics of genetic manipulation.

It's hard to comment on the book: doing so would require greater understanding of the ideas he is comparing. I thought the chapters on consciousness were interesting, and he seems generally fair about the idea of genetic engineering in plants. He's also critical of "scientific materialism" and enjoys using "reductionism" and variations thereof. I didn't find what I was expecting in this book, namely biological reasons for acting ethically. I suppose I shall have to stick to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, since in it he explores the idea of altruism being beneficial to us.


  1. I have a few books on Buddhism and its apparent relationship to modern physics. I've only skim read some of them so can't say if they're any good or not.

    I actually did my MA dissertation on Magic & Quantum Mechanics (my supervisor just rolled her eyes when I told her the subject) so I'm aware of some of the apparent similarities between the two.

  2. Given how difficult it is to grasp, it's easy enough to see how people read mystical interpretations into it.


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