Friday, April 17, 2009
Book Review: "The Universe in a Single Atom"
The Universe in a Single Atom
By The Dalai Lama
I read The Universe in a Single Atom by recommendation of a friend. Considering the fact that I'm a big fan of science, he thought that I might be a good start for me to see how science and Buddhism follow each other. I am extremely interested in finding what scientific evidence follows the different religions of the world and how the different religous adherents respond to scientific conflicts, so I was quite excited to read this book.
In this book, the Dalai Lama gives a layman's view of a few disciplines in science. He shows how they coincide with Buddhist doctrine and how they differ. Unfortunately, in the introduction to the book, the Dalai Lama makes it clear that he does not intend to try to reconcile conflicts; he is simply stating the facts of science and the doctrines of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama starts with explaining his fascination with science. He discusses the scientific topics of Evolution, Big Bang cosmology, and quantum physics. He ten spends three chapters discussing scientific theories of consciousness and their relation to Buddhist doctrines. He finishes with a short discussion on genetic engineering and the ethics involved.
I was bored with the chapters on Evolution and the Big Bang. Mainly, because of the fact that the Dalai Lama concluded the chapter on the Big Bang conceeding that the Big Bang stands in direct conflict with Buddhist cosmology (I'm glad he recognized it), but he did not make an attempt to reconcile the views. The chapter on Evolution was the basic stuff I've heard in the popular press, nothing new. He didn't make much of an attempt to show how Evolution ties into the Buddhist idea of sentience, so that was disappointing also.
The chapters on quantum physics and consciousness were much more interesting to me. The Dalai Lama pointed out several physical (not thought) experiements that seem to go against Einstinian relativity. I had heard that the two were in conflict (that's why scientists are looking for a special "theory of everything"- string or "m" theory is the most popular right now), but I wasn't sure where at; now I have a basic idea of what to research more. The three chapters spent on consciousness indicate the most congurency between science and Buddhism. The book definately piqued my interest in these two disciplines.
It was a fascinating read. I had higher hopes for the book, but they were dashed in the introducton, so I didn't keep the hopes to the end of the book or even the chapters. I would recommend that if you wish to read it, do some research into the doctrines of Buddhism first; the Dalai Lama doesn't explain a whole lot about some of the doctrines. Also, if you're pretty entrenched in the specific topics that he discusses, you might find them shallow. I think the audience here is probably a Buddhist who is wanting some exposure to science, or someone curious about possible consistencies between the two, but not resolution of conflicts.
I can recommend this book for three reasons:
1. You are a Buddhist looking for basic exposure to science
2. You are interested in theories of consciousness and Buddhism (Chapters 6-8)
3. You want to read something by the Dalai Lama