XXI Century Science

Far away in the heavenly abode of the Great God Indra, the protector and nurturer of life, there is a wonderful net which stretches out indefinitely in all directions, in accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities.
At the net's every node, is hung a single glittering jewel and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold.
If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, which sparkle in the magnificence of its totality.
Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite. As each gem reflects every other one and everything else in the universe, so are you affected by every other system in the universe.
From The Avatamsaka Sutra; Francis H. Cook
Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra 1977


From the beginning of the XVII century the philosophical and scientific mindsets and ideals of the west followed the principles of reductionism which was brought to light by Rene Descartes. In his book “The Passions of the Soul” (“Les passions de l’âme", 1649) Descartes claims that: “…the body of a living man differs from the body of a dead man in just the same way that a watch or other automaton <…> when it is wound up and contains within itself the physical source of the movements for which it is designed, <…> differs from the same watch or machine when it is broken and the source of its movement has stopped working” (Part I; 6). In the place known as the world there are no possibilities of metaphysical reasoning, that is to say a complicated system is able to be divided up into smaller, simpler pieces which can be analyzed in full detail and the sum of all these elements makes up the entire system.

The scientific mind is always attempting to dive deeper into the reasons behind the relationships which penetrate natural order and social structure. These kinds of ideals began to develop in the middle of the XX century, for example through the catastrophe theory in mathematics and the theory of dissipative structures in thermodynamics it becomes obvious that the linear, mechanistic approach appears to be unsatisfactory when the system becomes too complex. More often than not, such structures possess new characteristics which are not inherent in their singular elements. The appearance of these “extra”, so-called “emergent”, characteristics suggests that the system can not be reduced to the simple sum of its parts and indicates the existence of synergic effect, or as it was simply put long ago by Aristotle in his “Metaphysics”: “The whole is larger than the sum of its parts”.

The idea that everything is connected and intertwined in nature has become commonplace. If we consider our planet a network of interacting components then it’s not hard to see that, for example, there is a link between the air temperature in the Himalayan Plateau and the gathering of a large amount of manta rays in the Maldivian bays in June – September. The warm air rising above the land creates an area of low atmospheric pressure which causes the air above the Indian Ocean to move and creates the stable, seasonal wind directed in-land which is known as the “monsoon”. The monsoon in turn creates is an influx of oceanic water reach with plankton, towards the Maldivian shores where manta rays, for which plankton is a staple food, wait for the seasonal feast. This example is only one microscopic link in an endless network of connections which is the material world. One can untangle these chains of causes and consequences in any direction and examine them from the different angles neglecting the parameters irrelevant from the viewpoint of a particular scientific field. What remains important is that every observable process or phenomena does not exist in isolation but correlates with numerous other processes generating something worth more than the trivial sum of elements. Truth which has become a truism is still the truth.

Understanding this fact inevitably brings us to the necessity to reflect about the responsibility of scientists in a modern world. It goes without saying that this problem has been here since a long time ago, and that any new discovery can be as beneficial to humanity as it can be damaging. The audacity and curiosity of science has always been that engine that pushes humanity from one solved mystery forward into the unknown. However the specifics of the current moment lay in an unpredictability of the scale of the possible effects of our recent discoveries. In the documentary on the history of the Manhattan project “The Day After Trinity” Freeman Dyson, one of the creators of quantum electrodynamics, states: “…this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.” Unfortunately the technological and scientific progress is a few steps ahead of the moral development of society and to anyone who realizes the complexity and diversity of this world the most difficult question arises: Is humanity ready for my discovery?