Sunyata, Materialism, and Mathematics

The Perfection of Wisdom Texts from Mahayana Buddhism say that, “Phenomena are neither existent, nor non-existent, but are marked by sunyata, emptiness, an absence of any essential unchanging nature.” This means that there is always a difference in the state of affairs at different points in time, and this fact is sufficiently destabilizing that it should dethrone binary thinking: existence vs. non-existence. Let’s explore what this implies for materialism if true:

Materialism holds that the only things that exist are matter and energy, that all things are composed of material, that all actions require energy, and that all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. But if there is always a difference in the state of affairs at different points in time, this means that we should not think of matter and energy as existing. If we say that they exist, then we will falsely imagine there are things preserved through time. But remember, if we apply the Mahayana lens, this is wrong because no matter how closely you zoom in between time intervals, there will always be more differences to find. You can infinitely zoom in and you will never find the “thing,” just more change.
We should also not say that matter and energy don’t exist, because then we will falsely imagine that there is nothingness, or have to successfully fight materialism with another view. Rather, to synchronize these views we must say, “there exist matter and energy, both fully and entirely inseparable from the substance of change.” (Emphasizing the last part, and saying the first part timidly.)

Now let’s see how to fit it into mathematics:

In mathematics, existence is asserted by a quantifier, the existential quantifier, one of two quantifiers (the other being the universal quantifier). And the properties of the existential quantifier are established by axioms.                                                                Maybe it is possible to discover/create axioms that produce an existential quantifier which allows for more than just asserting existence over non-existence, and instead points to the changing nature. Or more ambitiously, maybe we can create an entirely different quantifier besides the existential and universal quantifiers: the sunyata quantifier.                                                                                                                                              If it turns out that mathematics blocks these moves, then this might be a blow to the idea that sunyata/emptiness/all-pervading-change is truly in it’s own category, separate from existence and non-existence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s