Workshop & Lecture Series: Buddhism, Physics, and Philosophy Redux

Date:  April 16-18, 2021

Venue: University of California, Berkeley, 315 Wheeler Hall (Maude Fife Room)

Workshop: Buddhism, Physics, and Philosophy Redux


The philosophical problems that emerged with the advent of quantum mechanics in the early 20th century are still very much with us. Issues like the measurement problem, entanglement and nonlocality, wave-particle complementarity, and so on, force us to ask: do the formulations of QM refer to a real, mind-independent world, or are they merely a means of predicting what appears when we go looking? Do concepts like “wave-function,” “particle,” “field,” “time,” and so on reference things that exist in and of themselves, or are they merely nominal or pragmatic constructs? Much has been written on these questions over the last century, yet there is still nothing like consensus on the issues.

Curiously, many analogous philosophical quandaries emerged in Buddhist thought centuries ago, as Buddhist philosophers struggled to understand the relationship between how the world appears and how the world is, as well as the status of our theories about the appearance-reality distinction. Buddhist notions of “dependent origination” (pratītyasamutpāda), and “discriminative construction” (vikalpa), for example, raise issues that are structurally analogous to the problems raised by the measurement problem and wave-particle complementarity, and the competing Buddhist approaches to these problems parallel, in many respects, competing theories in QM.

The early attempts in the 70s to initiate a conversation between Buddhism and theoretical physics are now widely disparaged. The problem, in part, is that the participants in those early conversations, while knowledgeable about QM, often lacked a sophisticated appreciation of Asian and Buddhist philosophy. This workshop will bring together a small group of physicists, philosophers, and scholars of Buddhism to see if it might be possible and fruitful to restart the conversation.


Panel 1: 1:00-4:00 pm:

Michel Bitbol, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique: “A Physics of Interdependence”

Adam Frank, University of Rochester: “The Relative and the Absolute: Buddhist Philosophy, The Boundaries of Physics and the Physics of Boundaries”

Chris Fuchs, University of Massachusetts Boston: “QBism for Buddhism”

Panel 2: 4:30-6:30 pm:

Jay Garfield, Smith College: “Emptiness and Temporality: What Madhyamaka and Yogācāra Can Tell us About Time and How We Experience It”

Jessica Wilson, University of Toronto: “Quantum Indeterminacy and Buddhist Interdependence”

Panel 3: 9:30 am-12:30 pm:

Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth College: “Cosmos, Self, Time: A Critical Evaluation”

John Dunne, University of Wisconsin, Madison: “Empty Explanations”

Jenann Ismael, Columbia University: “Time and the Visual Imagination: A Recipe For Philosophical Confusion”

Panel 4: 2:00-4:00 pm:

Craig Callender, University of California, San Diego: “The Flowing Self”

Robert Sharf, University of California, Berkeley: “On What Physicists Can Learn from Medieval Buddhist Debates over the Nature of Time”

Panel 5: 4:30-6:30 pm:

Evan Thompson, University of British Columbia: “Is the Illusion of an Enduring Self Responsible for the Illusion of the Flow of Time?”

Huw Price, University of Cambridge: “Time for Pragmatism”

Panel 6: 9:30 am-12:30 pm:

Francesca Vidotto, University of Western Ontario: “The Relational Ontology of Contemporary Physics”

Alva Noë, University of California, Berkeley: “What is the Naive View of Reality?”

Carlo Rovelli, Aix-Marseille Université: “The ‘Relational’ Interpretation of Quantum Theory and Nāgārjuna’s Arguments against Independent Existence”

Panel 7: 12:30-1:00 pm: open discussion

See “Workshop & Lecture Series: Buddhism, Physics, and Philosophy Redux” abstracts here. 

This workshop is made possible by generous gifts from Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao, the Glorisun Global Buddhist Network, the Tianzhu Global Network for the Study of Buddhist Cultures, and the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai.

[Original event posting]