2009.08.21 - No Limits

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    Here is the text of a dialogue held by Piet Hut (in SL: Pema Pera) and Steven Tainer (in SL: Stim Morane), in Second Life on August 21, 2009.

     

    S: Didn't you also bring up the "going beyond all limits" angle yesterday?
    P: yes, the notion that no limit is absolute,
    P: that any limit always is given together with a story, a framework
    S: Well, I remember previous discussions about this, where that part was
       mentioned
    S: So are you still working with that?
    P: well, I can see it as a general principle underlying my interest in
       no-beings, no-if besides no-time and no-self, etc
    P: or really the heart sutra, you could also say
    P: each time I read the heart sutra, I'm amazed to see everything there
    S: Well it's really just talking about the "emptiness" emphasis, and
       how it applies to a list of traditional topics.
    S: I don't know if this has much to say about your own concern with limits.
    P: "No suffering, no cause or end to suffering, no path,
        No wisdom and no gain.  No gain --- thus
        Bodhisattvas live this Prajna Paramita
        With no hindrance of mind --- no hindrance therefore no fear"
    S: Yes, I remember. Were these the sorts of things you had in mind
       regarding "limits"?
    P: the "no suffering, no path, no wisdom, no gain" do seem to point to that, yes
    P: somehow I seem to have an intuitive connection with the heart sutra
    P: the "no hindrance therefore no fear" part I had asked to be painted,
       in the form of calligraphy, 25 years ago in Japan town in San Francisco
    S: that's nice
    P: during a kind of festival, by an older Buddhist Priest there -- I still
       see it every day when I am at home, where it hangs in the kitchen
    P: intuitively those words did strike me as the core
    S: I see
    P: the first time I heard the heart sutra was when I was 19, in the Kosmos, a
       meditation center in Amsterdam
    P: I started to cry at the first line, not knowing why, after hearing
       (in the English translation) the words of Avalokiteshvara and Sariputra
    P: and I felt a very deep connection, but without having any clue as
       to how and why at that point
    P: I attendde a small gathering of people interested in zen meditation
    P: i had no interest at all in sutras or any rituals for that matter
    P: and only reluctantly sat there in the room when someone insisted we
       should include such elements too :)
    P: until then we had had a few meetings in which we discussed zen and
       tried to do some sitting meditation, but none of us ever had been to
       a zen center or met a zen teacher, so we thought zen was only about
       sitting . . .  so it was a surprise for us to hear otherwise, from a
       visitor from the U.S., who had just arrived in Amsterdam.
    P: Nancy was her name, I remember, she had been at the San Francisco
       Zen center for a while
    P: It was a month or so after Suzuki roshi had died
    P: and she was so sad, she left the center, and started traveling in Europe
    P: it's a small world . . . .
    S: nice reminder of many things
    P: yes, you must have come to Berkeley a year and a bit before that
    S: Yes
    S: I think the basic quote about limits is something Namkhai Norbu R.
       mentioned, drawn from a Dzogchen source?
    S: Is that your recollection too?
    P: which basic quote?
    S: Going beyond all limits
    P: I don't think so . . .
    P: for me, in the strange and winding path of my life, it was
       triggered I think by the Sloan workshop where I met Roger Shepard
    P: in April 1994
    P: before that, I don't think it was a concern to me, at least not in
       using the word "limit"
    P: The workshop was titled "limits to scientific knowledge"
    P: what was a concern to me already much longer was that I was
       interested in how things really are
    P: ultimate reality
    P: and I had realized that only the most radical kind of unification would do
    P: in parallel with physics
    P: when I was 17 I expected physics to move on to a unification of
       matter and mind
    P: as the next big thing, after the unification of increasingly more
       unlikely pairs, such as matter and energy, space and time, etc.
    P: so implicit in that view of ongoing unification, you could say, was
       an attitude of seeing limits as pointers indicating the degree of
       unification achieved so far -- a state of affairs just waiting to be
       overcome by transcending all that in the next more unified framework
    P: As for Namhkhai Norbu, I was impressed by the simplicity of it all . . . .
       by his description of three approaches: avoiding, transforming, seeing
    S: There is definitely a Buddhist quote to that effect, pretty much
       exactly "go beyond all limits", either from Vajrayana or Dzogchen, i'm
       not sure anymore.
    P: that does sound right, in physics and in contemplation :-)
    S: So in addition to what the Heart Sutra is concerned with, you seem
       also interested in other kinds of limits.
    P: oh sure: as soon as you *discern* a limit, half the work is done is
       transcending it
    P: when you notice a fence, you can sit on it, and get off with your
       feet at the other side
    S: Well, yes ... That's my point -- what constitutes a "limit"
    P: but the trick is to note them. . . .
    S: I assume you are not saying that every theory has to be superceded ...
    P: I do say that -- in the sense that every framework of every theory
       *can* be transcended -- not that there is a higher, bigger, better
       theory within that framework
    P: it's not the theory necessarily that is limited, it's the framework,
       way of thinking/seeing in which it is given that definitely always is
       limited
    P: and the heart sutra seems to say that too
    S: So you're describing a need for the Buddhist "emptiness", or for an
       infinite chain of framework-expansions?
    P: the notion of an endless chain is a notion that by necessity is
       limited too, and since it is a concept, it just is asking to be
       transcended . . . .
    S: So you're opting for the Buddhist emptiness, then?
    P: in physics, the actual ways of transcending are always stunning,
       completely unexpected, cannot be reached by any simple extrapolation
       of the old framework: to wit, quantum mechanics
    P: so the best way to describe the first glimpse of the wider framework
       is to call it "empty"
    P: empty from all that you held on before
    P: qm is empty of anything that was there in classical mechanics
    P: and all the words used today, like entanglement
    P: are a kind of blasphemy, you could even call it; something totally improper
    P: *if* there were classical things
    P: then we would have to conclude that they are terribly and
       hopelessly entangled :-)
    P: but fortunately there are no classical things: qm is totally empty of that
    P: so it is only when we haven't fully given up our way of reifying things
       that we talk in terms of "entanglement"
    S: Sure, but then the "stunningly radical" thing that comes along
       would also have to be replaced too, by something even more radical,
       etc etc etc ... Hence my reference to "infinite"...
    P: (by the way, the only person I ever met who seemed to see that totally
       clearly was David Finkelstein; he taught me to see qm in that way, from
       the qm side, for the first time in my life, more than 20 years after I
       learned qm!)
    P: not necessarily infinite
    P: that would be using the logic from the limited side of the fence
    S: I don't think so
    P: the next fence may be so radical, and the other side view may be so
       totaliter aliter that such reasoning looses grip, can't hold anymore
    P: for example,
    P: and I hesitate to say this
    P: since I'm now violating the rule, but trying to talk from the
       limited side of the fence
    P: but let me try anyway:
    P: the notion of "frameworks" is bound to fall away at some point,
       while crossing some limit
    P: and by that time the notion of going beyond may not work anymore
    P: that could then be 3rd level tsk, or what the heart sutra talks
       about, or the unity of the three kayas in Buddhism
    S: Yes, I thought that was where you were headed ...
    P: but note my "I hesitate" -- this can't capture it, these words
    P: but they may point . . . .
    S: i think your comments work as long as you want to go in the
       direction of starting with science and ending up with TSK
    S: This is actually why i began asking these questions in the 1st place
    S: Specifically, would you consider tsk itself as a limit?
    P: the words sure are, of course, and the story of how it came to be,
       and the package in the book, that we both clearly agree upon
    P: so to answer your question, it's a bit tricky . . . . depends on
       what you exactly mean with the question
    S: Well, it was your emphasis on no limits that made me curious about
       how far you would go
    P: if I may, as a footnote:
    P: there are many examples of people who like to elevate what they do
       to the status of science
    P: from library science to Christian science
    P: (much as I respect the latter in many ways)
    P: but what I find myself doing is the other way around -- the "other
       direction" theme you and I seem to always find ourselves in
    P: namely following science itself to the end
    P: without any need of taking something else and pointing to that as
       the ultimate science
    P: end of footnote :)
    P: so I could try to answer your question as follows:
    P: what tsk points to, and PaB inherits, is beyond all limits I could
       possibly conceive, even dimly, even intuitively
    P: who am I to say that it is beyond all limits?
    P: it may, since it is hard to see what could be beyong Being
    P: but of course all my talking and thinking is woefully limited
    P: including the picture of Being that I may be holding right now
    P: and all experiences and intuitions I ever had about Being
    P: however, what the word "Being" points to is in some sense defined
       as being beyond limits, axiomatically you could say --
    P: -- but that is in the language of my side of the fence
    P: a paper tiger :-)
    P: end of "answer"
    P: footnote:
    P: the practical implication, the only reason to even engage in all this, is:
    P: don't be afraid of limits, don't let them stop you
    P: on the contrary, go toward the most formidable limit, since there
       is where a wider view is waiting to be discovered
    P: i.e. Einstein with absolute space and time
    P: David Finkelstein taught me what I already intuited more clearly:
       the word absolute is a flag to point to further progress
    P: so while that attitude may seem rebellious or even blasphemous
    P: it is neither, at least neither for its own sake
    P: it is simply looking for shortcuts
    P: the most lazy approach
    P: least action idea in exploration
    P: so that is also behind my, dare I mention it again, no-karma interest . . . .
    P: not that I want to ignore it, but that's where the light shines brightest
    P: does that make sense?
    S: Well, it answers my question about your concern with limits.
    S: :)

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