Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dalai Lama, Scientist?

The Dalai Lama gave a talk to the Society for Neuroscience on Saturday. From press reports, it seems that his talk was more about the philosophy or ethics of science, rather than about science or technology itself.

There was a movement to keep him from speaking at the event. An online petition garnered about 800 signatures of those requesting his invitation to speak be withdrawn. Although the Washington Post article doesn't mention it, I did read in another wire report that the preponderance of those signatures were Chinese, which suggests possible political motives rather than scientific.

It is of course entirely proper, and desirable, for people who are trained in ethics to dialogue with those who are trained in science and technology. In the big picture of humanity's progress, science unfettered by morals has visited enormous horrors on this earth. The best exposition of this that I have ever read is Michael Polanyi's essay, "Why Did We Destroy Europe?" I can't find an online source for it, but here's a work of his along a similar theme.

But there is always the danger of one's religious tenets blocking scientific or intellectual progress. We all know the example of Galileo, and now we have the contemporary example of Intelligent Design. In Buddhism, many adhere to a belief in reincarnation, tho it is not at all supported by science.

Indeed, within the Dalai Lama's own Tibetan brand of Buddhism, there is much mysticism and belief in minor protector deities and demons. H.H. the D.L. himself is venerated as an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of Compassion.

A few years ago, some Tibetan monks visited Camden, Maine. On one evening, one of the monks gave a talk on Tibetan medicinal practices. Several local psychologists attended, and gave him some well-deserved hard questions about his assertions that any disease in the body was ultimately a product of an impure mind. Indeed, as much as he was a spiritual authority, his knowledge of simple biology was dwarfed by my vague recollections from high school classes.

I can't wrap up this post with "the answer," as much as I'd like to. I do know that there has to be interaction between moralists and scientists to prevent scary outcomes. But when one side always gets the upper hand, look out. It'll be worse than having one party control the government.



Categories: , , , , ,

Technorati tags: ,