Materialism, Immaterialism, Logic [Resources]

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Beyond true and false: Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions. Now modern logic is learning why that might be a good thing

Western philosophers have not, on the whole, regarded Buddhist thought with much enthusiasm. As a colleague once said to me: ‘It’s all just mysticism.’ This attitude is due, in part, to ignorance. But it is also due to incomprehension. When Western philosophers look East, they find things they do not understand – not least the fact that the Asian traditions seem to accept, and even endorse, contradictions.
Now, in logic, one is generally interested in whether a given claim is true or false. Logicians call true and false truth values. Normally, and following Aristotle, it is assumed that ‘value of’ is a function: the value of any given assertion is exactly one of true (or T), and false (or F). In this way, the principles of excluded middle (PEM) and non-contradiction (PNC) are built into the mathematics from the start. But they needn’t be.

To get back to something that the Buddha might recognise, all we need to do is make value of into a relation instead of a function. Thus T might be a value of a sentence, as can F, both, or neither. We now have four possibilities: {T}, {F}, {T,F} and { }. might be wondering how on earth something could be both true and false, or neither true nor false. In fact, the idea that some claims are neither true nor false is a very old one in Western philosophy. None other than Aristotle himself argued for one kind of example. In the somewhat infamous Chapter 9 of De Interpretatione, he claims that contingent statements about the future, such as ‘the first pope in the 22nd century will be African’, are neither true nor false. The future is, as yet, indeterminate. So much for his arguments in the Metaphysics.

The notion that some things might be both true and false is much more unorthodox. But here, too, we can find some plausible examples. Take the notorious ‘paradoxes of self-reference’, the oldest of which, reputedly discovered by Eubulides in the fourth century BCE, is called the Liar Paradox. Here’s its commonest expression:

This statement is false.

Where’s the paradox? If the statement is true, then it is indeed false. But if it is false, well, then it is true. So it seems to be both true and false.

Many similar puzzles turned up at the end of the 19th century, to the dismay of the scholars who were then trying to place mathematics as a whole on solid foundations.


Bruce Greyson mentions the four-fold Buddhist logic in his discussion about how to understand NDEs, in this clip posted previously by John Maguire.

Paul Levy also mentions it in his essay dealing with the more spiritual writings of the forefathers of QM.

In confronting the deeper paradox at the heart of the wave–particle duality, Bohr came up with the idea of “complementarity.” His idea was that the incompatible and seemingly contradictory opposites of, for example, waves and particles were not just contradictory but also complementary and necessary descriptions of the same underlying reality. In other words, waves and particles are two aspects of the same thing, which makes no sense as long as we are entrenched in the dualistic viewpoint of classical reality. Seeing the complementary nature of these apparent contradictions involves a higher form of logic known as “paralogic,” what is called “four-valued logic” [34] in Buddhism. Neither of these two descriptions─wave or particle─is exhaustive; the very quest for a single model has to be given up. [35] Each description is only partially correct and has a limited range of application.


The Trilemma of Agrippa:

'If we ask of any knowledge: "How do I know that it's true?", we may provide proof; yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that we have only three options when providing proof in this situation:

  • The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point)
  • The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
  • The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)
The first two methods of reasoning are fundamentally weak, and because the Greek skeptics advocated deep questioning of all accepted values they refused to accept proofs of the third sort. The trilemma, then, is the decision among the three equally unsatisfying options.'


Maybe Logic - Reddit

(Also check out MysticG's excellent break down of Creative Agnosticism)

'A community grounded in the philosophy and perspective of maybe logic, an approach which emphasizes the fallibility and relativity of perception and tends to approach information and observations with questions, probabilities and multiple perspectives rather than absolute truths. This "model agnosticism" informs all maybe logic discourse by maintaining an experimental attitude towards any particular paradigm, theory or model of reality.'

A biography of the man who coined the term.

Guerrilla ontologist. Psychedelic magician. Outer head of the Illuminati. Quantum psychologist. Sit-down comic/philosopher. Discordian Pope. Whatever the label and rank, Robert Anton Wilson is undeniably one of the foundations of 21th Century Western counterculture. Maybe Logic - The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson is a cinematic alchemy that conjures it all together in a hilarious and mind-bending journey guaranteed to increase your brain size 2 - 3 inches! From the water coolers and staff meetings of Playboy and the earth-shattering transmission of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, to fire-breathing senior citizen and Taoist sage, Robert Anton Wilson is a man who has passed through the trials of chapel perilous and found himself on wondrous ground where nothing is for certain, even the treasured companionship of a six-foot-tall white rabbit. Featuring RAW video spanning 25 years and the best of over 100 hours of footage thoroughly tweaked...


Just adding things I recall from other old threads.

The biologist Kauffman, in discussing his 'Res Potentia' - the realm of possibility - and its relation to consciousness also touches on the Law of Excluded Middle:

Here is the Law of the Excluded Middle in logic: The statements “A” or “Not A” are all that can be true; there is nothing in the middle between “A” or “Not A.” The union of the statements “A AND Not A” is a contradiction, always false. The Law of the Excluded Middle applies full force to classical physics, (and to algorithmic Turing Machines). Now think of a probability statement, “The probability of 4,599 heads in 10,000 flips of a fair coin is 0.021”. The statement is either true or false. There is nothing in the middle. “The probability of 4,599 heads in 10,000 flips of a fair coin IS 0.021.” AND “The probability of 4,599 heads in 10,000 flips of a fair coin IS NOT 0.021.” is a contradiction and always false.

Now consider Feynman’s statement above about the photon “Possibly passing through or simultaneously possibly not passing through the left slit.” Now consider the union: “The photon possibly does pass through the left slit and simultaneously possibly does not pass through the left slit.” AND “The photon possibly does not pass through the left slit and simultaneously does pass through the left slit.” This is not a contradiction. Feynman’s statement does not obey the Law of the Excluded Middle. Feynman’s statement, which is part of a full formulation of quantum mechanics, is consistent with being a statement about Pierce’s “Possibles.”

Due to superpositions of the solutions of the time reversible linear Schrodinger wave equation, many of the “weird” quantum effects arise. Thus, before measurement occurs, “Schrodinger’s cat is simultaneously possibly dead and possibly alive.”

I therefore think it is of importance to consider Whitehead’s and Heisenberg’s view again.