1 of 20

Slide Notes

The focus of this small scale qualitative study is to explore an alternative way of gaining knowledge about the 'world' and the impact this has on pre-service secondary science trainees in England.

This study will examine the interplay between Buddhism and science with a particular emphasis on the Abhidhamma. Abhidhamma translates as 'higher reality' or 'higher teaching' from the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. (Gorkom, 2014, p1)

The original presentation was delivered to the UEL Research Conference in June 2015.
This updated presentation will be delivered to the Edulearn 2017 Research Conference in Barcelona, between 3-5th July 2017. An accompanying paper will be available from the Edulearn Proceedings.

Author: Alan Weller, Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of East London (UEL).

Picture shows student accommodation at Docklands UEL campus. The windows resemble the portholes of the ancient ships which used to dock there.

---

'Higher reality'? Higher learning.

Published on Nov 06, 2015

Buddhism versus science. How they work to understand the world.

PRESENTATION OUTLINE

'Higher reality', higher learning? Challenging trainee science teacher’s conceptions of the Nature of the World and the Nature of Science.

The focus of this small scale qualitative study is to explore an alternative way of gaining knowledge about the 'world' and the impact this has on pre-service secondary science trainees in England.

This study will examine the interplay between Buddhism and science with a particular emphasis on the Abhidhamma. Abhidhamma translates as 'higher reality' or 'higher teaching' from the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. (Gorkom, 2014, p1)

The original presentation was delivered to the UEL Research Conference in June 2015.
This updated presentation will be delivered to the Edulearn 2017 Research Conference in Barcelona, between 3-5th July 2017. An accompanying paper will be available from the Edulearn Proceedings.

Author: Alan Weller, Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of East London (UEL).

Picture shows student accommodation at Docklands UEL campus. The windows resemble the portholes of the ancient ships which used to dock there.

---
Photo by qwertyuiop

The National Curriculum guidance for RE:

"...encourages pupils to learn from different religions, beliefs, values and traditions while exploring their own beliefs and questions of meaning. It challenges pupils to reflect on, consider, analyse interpret and evaluate issues of truth, belief, faith and ethics and to communicate their responses."

Trainee science teachers are challenged in their understanding of five areas:

1. 'How Science Works' by using the example of the evidence for the Earth being round.

2. Their fundamental understanding of reality itself.

3. The domain of science.

4. The dangers of science when it overstretches itself with its domain of understanding.

5. Going 'against the stream of common thought'
Photo by Bill Liao

Can you cycle faster than the speed of light?

"Can you cycle faster than the speed of light?" This question was put to a year 8 class (12 year old school pupils) at a special outreach project at university. Most pupils answered that you could not cycle faster than the speed of light. One pupil answered that you can. When questioned further he explained that I would not put such an obvious question to the class. It must be a trick question!

There is an assumption behind the answer namely that the speed of light is 300 million metres per second. It is , but only in a vacuum.The speed of light can be slowed down to 17 metres per second in some substances and you can cycle faster than that! (Lene Hau,2015).

The pupil was thinking out of the box he went 'against the stream of common thought'. Our great scientists of history also had to do this. Darwin and Galileo going against the ideas of the church at that time. Einstein going against the established wave nature of light with his photoelectric effect and going against the whole of classical mechanics with his theory of relativity. We make assumumptions not only about religion but also about reality itself.

The last challenge for the trainees is to be able to go 'against the stream of common thought'.
Photo by Tau Zero

How Science Works

Card Exchange
The above Card Exchange (Kind, 2008)is a typical activity for science teacher trainees to clarify their views on the nature of science. Cards are sorted in order, according to their closest match to the way science works. The above highlighted statements sit very uncomfortably in the mix.

Emerging from this is a key issue.

Photo: Alan Weller

Is there another way which can tell us what is really true about the world?

All of the understanding we have of the world is through intellectual understanding (conceptual understanding) no matter it is science, maths, politics, history. But is there another way of understanding the world? And if so, how does it work?

Some trainees are of the opinion that science is the only way in which the natural world can be understood.

HArmony or Conflict?

Science and Buddhism
There are two heavyweights at understanding the world: Buddhism and Science.

Is one right, the other wrong? What is the relationship between them? Can we know the relationship between them? Are there any conflicts? Is there a parallel universe? Science operates on one and Buddhism on the other?

Buddhism claims to know the truth about the world, about life, but does not mention any science. No Newtons laws, no theory of evolution, no cures for disease.
We would resonably assume (the common thought) that it is old and has been superseeded by modern developments.

What do they have in common?

Looking at 14 Big Ideas of Science (Harlen et al., 2010), and 14 Big Ideas of Buddhism ('14 Big Ideas of Buddhism', 2015). They only have 1 Big Idea in common.



Photo by asafantman

What do they have in common?

All 'wordly' Phenomena are conditioned.
All 'worldly' phenomena are conditioned.

However Buddhism extends this principal also to mental phenomena such as anger, kindness, generosity, seeing and hearing, racism. Therefore immorality is also conditioned.

Perhaps science teachers may make better Religious Education teachers of this topic as they are used to working with this idea?
Photo by OCReactive

The Earth is round? What is the evidence?

This task is put to trainees to come up with the evidence for the Earth being round.

Conventional evidence comes in the form of; ships masts on the horizon; angle of the sun at different circumferences; pictures from space; circumnavigating the world.

Note the Greeks calculated the radius of the Earth to a good approximation around 200bc. ('Eratosthenes', 2015)

Higher Learning, Higher Pedagogy?

  • Diagnostic Test
  • The Science
  • Lego
  • Shortbread biscuits
An opposing view, a different way of looking at reality, a different lens, is put using four strategies underpinned by a single pedagogy.

The background picture comes from the Matrix:

The lead character Neo lived in an 'artificially fabricated reality'. He was in fact plugged in to a super computer which controlled all his perceptions.

Analogous to this we live now in a 'fabricated reality' a parallel universe.

In order to get a glimpse of this we have to recognize what is truly real and what is merely an idea or false perception.

We use concepts in the right way to make known realities.

We have already seen that both science and Buddism have the idea that phenomena are conditioned to arise. This higher understanding of the 'world' we are seeking is not intellectual understanding. However it has conditions to arise which are dependent on the intellectual understanding of the difference between concept and reality. This is the mechanism by which it arises, the conceptual understanding of realities is the condition. There is no self or person who can cause this understanding to arise. Intention to have it cannot condition it to arise. Sitting cannot condition it to arise.

What do you see?

The diagnostic test. Two simple questions, two simple answers, but enough to diagnose understanding of reality?

What do you see?
How many objects can you touch?

Photo by Ju Muncinelli

Lego

The Art of Brick
With just three colours, an idea of person is formed. The process is the same no matter we are seeing 'real people' or in a film. Person is an idea, conditioned by the visible object which is seen.

Picture (brickartist, 2015).
Photo by chooyutshing

The Eye is only sensitive to colour.

The eye is only sensitive to colour. There are no rods and cone sensitive to person, chair, bus. These concepts are formed up almost instantantly by thinking and memory.

The description of what is seen typically computer screen, person, table. However this does not accurately describe what is seen. There will always be an object that is missed out. Seeing sees what is visible, immediately this is followed by thinking in concepts.

Person, computer, table, chairs cannot be seen, they are perceived. The reality which is seen is hidden, it is in our parallel universe. If you see something it indicates that there is ignorance of reality.
Photo by labguest

I LIKE the TASTE of shortbread biscuits.
I am in a lecture theatre LISTENING to Alan SPEAK.
I SEE on the board several statements concerning concepts and REALITIES.
I LIKE the SOUND of Jimi Hendrix's guitar.
When I TOUCH the gas tap my finger FEELS COLD.
I THINK therefore I am.
The UNDERSTANDING which understands conditioned REALITIES is also conditioned

The words in capitals represent real phenomena. They arise whether we think or do not think.

The lower caps words only arise with thinking, they are concepts the object of thinking.We are using words to make known realities (in capitals).

There are two types of reality, physical and mental. Mental phenenomena experience an object e.g hearing. Sound is a physical phenemona which does not experince anything. What we take for the world person are mental phenomena and physical phenomena arising and falling away in a split second.

BUDDHISM:
Understanding has a 'reality' as its object.

SCIENCE:
Understanding has a concept as its object.

The right intellectual understanding of the teachings I.e. difference between realities and concepts, the conditionality of phenomena and the true nature of each reality, forms up a condition for the studying of reality with awareness. When realities are studied in this way, understanding can grow to reveal characteristics of reality as they are by direct experience.

Going back to the round Earth. What is seen, no matter the Earth or a football, is not round. What is seen is visible object. Roundness, football are concepts the objects of thinking conditioned by the seeing and remembrance of concepts. The Earth is still round, this is conventional truth. However what is seen is not something, this is a fundamental misconception of reality. This wrong understanding of reality should be got rid of, it will bring unhappiness?

Photo by Camil Tulcan

Resident 'Devastated'

Poundland shop to open in Tunbridge Wells
Understanding characteristics of reality as they are leads to detachment from them.

Attachment is a condition for aversion. This can be towards ideas as well as sense objects. During the session several daily examples were put up for discussion. For example:

The cat jumps in front of the television when Strictly Come Dancing (or our favourite programme) is on.

The Tunbridge Wells resident (upmarket-town) is devastated when Poundland (down-market shop) comes to the City Centre. (Have I got news for you, BBC1)

The wife gets agitated when coffee is poured into a tea mug.

The devastated teenager whose smartphone has run out of battery.

The unhappy mother who cannot cross the road with her baby due to traffic queuing for a superstore.
Photo by jovike

The understanding science has of reality is zero?

An online survey was conducted after the session. The following questions were put:
Attachment is a condition for aversion?
8 yes, 3 sometimes, 0 no

The session puts forward the idea that science has a concept as its object of understanding; Buddhism has a reality as its object of understanding?
4 true, 6 possibly true, 1 false

The understanding that science has of reality is zero?
4 true, 6 depends on the definition of reality, 1 false

Do you consider the session relevant to your teaching?
11 yes (100%)

Do you consider the session to be relevant to your teaching?


"Because it encouraged us to consider other world views, & other views on reality, which is, ultimately, what most scientists would like to consider science as being about."

The understanding of the Abhidhamma is a serious challenge to science teacher trainees. It can not only challenge them in the nature of reality itself but also help them clarify their ideas of 'How science works'. It offers them a different perspective on the nature of the world, a glimpse at another way of understanding. Abhidhamma can help move school science forwards. We live in the world of virtual reality headsets, flight simulators. Our scientists need to understand how to trick the mind into this other reality.
Photo by yewenyi

"Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel."

Science is a 'magnificent force' to understand and benefit this world. However, Science has a domain in which it operates and it is overstretching itself with the domain of this understanding. This ‘human vessel’ is blocking the understanding of the world. It is not interested to develop another way of understanding. It studies only concepts about the world, but never studies reality. We understand temperature as the average kinetic energy of molecules but science does not know how to study the reality of temperature when it appears through the body-sense. If there is no studying of the world, there will not be any knowledge of it.



Photo: Alan Weller

Alan Weller
Senior Physics Lecturer University of East London

Author: Alan Weller, Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of East London.
30/5/17

References

14 Big Ideas of Buddhism [WWW Document], 2015. URL https://www.haikudeck.com/14-big-ideas-of-buddhism-education-presentation-JO34vH3Vnm (accessed 5.22.15).

Boriharnwanaket, S., 2006. A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas. zolag, London.

brickartist [WWW Document], 2015. URL http://www.brickartist.com/ (accessed 5.22.15).

Eratosthenes, 2015. . Wikipedia Free Encycl.

Gorkom, N.V., 2014. Abhidhamma in Daily Life, Fourth revision edition. ed. zolag, S.l.

Gorkom, N. van, 2009. The Buddhist Teaching on Physical Phenomena. zolag.

Harlen, W., Bell, D., Association for Science Education, 2010. Principles and big ideas of science education. Association for Science Education, Hatfield.

Have I got news for you, 2015. April 29th BBC1.

Holt, J., 2015. Religious Education in the Secondary School: An introduction to teaching, learning and the World Religions (Paperback) - Routledge.

Kind, V., 2008. Teaching Secondary "How Science Works", Pap/Cdr St edition. ed. Hodder Education, London.

Lene Hau [WWW Document], 2015. URL http://www.physicscentral.com/explore/people/hau.cfm (accessed 5.22.15).

Photo by 3dom

Alan Weller

Haiku Deck Pro User