A study of the intersections between the teachings of Buddhism and the tenets of modern science.
Ricard (The Monk and the Philosopher, 1999) is a Tibetan monk who was trained in France as a molecular biologist. Thuan (The Secret Melody, 1995) is an astrophysicist who was raised as a Buddhist in Vietnam. Their conversations about the relationship between Buddhism and science navigate some remarkable terrain. Thuan is most impressed with the fact that the two fundamental notions of modern physics, quantum mechanics and relativity, are very similar to the Buddhist precepts of emptiness and interdependence. The differences between the two philosophies are striking as well. Buddhism rejects the scientific principle of creation (the Big Bang) because it does not believe that phenomena can exist independently, and it therefore denies the need to explain the beginnings of them. The two agree that science has no inherent ethics, and both suggest that this absence gives it the power to do incalculable harm. Although they acknowledge that their discussion is merely a small part of a longstanding dialogue between practitioners of both disciplines, they provide regrettably little detail about either the context of their discussions or their own backgrounds (Ricard claims to speak for Buddhism but does not situate his own beliefs within a specific tradition). Except for the introduction and conclusion, there is no narrative here—only transcribed dialogue. This format reflects the Q&A style of both Buddhist teaching and scientific inquiry, compelling the reader to draw conclusions and comparisons unaided. Unfortunately, it also obscures some of the most fascinating arguments and points of departure between them—the authors would have done better to provide readers with a bit more guidance and structure.
A useful exploration that suffers from its own lack of organization.