The problem of infinity in Buddhism
The problem of infinity in Buddhism
In the interview between B.Sujato, A. Brahmali and B.Bodhi, B.Sujato asked the infinity problem to B.Bodhi. B.Bodhi didn't know how to answer it so he said "perhaps consciousness can emerge" contradicting what Buddha taught about existing since forever.
I was asked this problem by my gf too a couple of weeks ago: If we exist since forever, why did we not get enlightened already ? A monkey typing at a computer for infinity will one day type a book by Shakespeare. Actually, she will type that book for an infinity of times.
I didn't really know what to answer so I started elucubrating nonsese. My nonsense was pretty smart and I managed to convince my gf for the moment but she later said it is unconvincing. I too realized my nonsense was unconvincing and said I'm gona fix this problem in the future. You can't really have a gross logical contradiction like that in Buddhism. It's quite a problem.
So what did I do ? Only now, weeks after the problem, I decided to google it. Turns out it's a very simple problem:
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_ ... rect_proof
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_surely
I even did statistics in collage and knew this stuff is complicated and it's good to google it. No need to reinvent the wheel by myself, I am not a Da Vinci living on an island. This problem would have taken me what ? A lifetime to solve in a good case ?
Therefore, a complicated problem in buddhism that made B.Bodhi go into wrong view because of not understanding statistics has been solved through the use of google. Someone should send this to him.
I was asked this problem by my gf too a couple of weeks ago: If we exist since forever, why did we not get enlightened already ? A monkey typing at a computer for infinity will one day type a book by Shakespeare. Actually, she will type that book for an infinity of times.
I didn't really know what to answer so I started elucubrating nonsese. My nonsense was pretty smart and I managed to convince my gf for the moment but she later said it is unconvincing. I too realized my nonsense was unconvincing and said I'm gona fix this problem in the future. You can't really have a gross logical contradiction like that in Buddhism. It's quite a problem.
So what did I do ? Only now, weeks after the problem, I decided to google it. Turns out it's a very simple problem:
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_ ... rect_proof
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_surely
I even did statistics in collage and knew this stuff is complicated and it's good to google it. No need to reinvent the wheel by myself, I am not a Da Vinci living on an island. This problem would have taken me what ? A lifetime to solve in a good case ?
Therefore, a complicated problem in buddhism that made B.Bodhi go into wrong view because of not understanding statistics has been solved through the use of google. Someone should send this to him.
Last edited by Circle5 on Sat Jul 01, 2017 1:04 am, edited 1 time in total.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
What is the interview you are talking about? Are you interested in others' opinions and ideas? Then you should best provide a clear reference (link to online copy of that interview in some form would be optimal).Circle5 wrote:In the interview between B.Sujato, A. Brahmali and B.Bodhi, B.Sujato asked the infinity problem to B.Bodhi.
It is incredibly annoying when people make unclear references to some material, assuming that everybody knows what it is.
This is nonsense, based on nonsensical implicit assumptions: that there may be only a finite number of states of things in the universe or something like that, etc. blah blah. Like Nietzsche with his idea of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche was annoying, too. This idea is annoying.Circle5 wrote:A monkey typing at a computer for infinity will one day type a book by Shakespeare. Actually, she will type that book for an infinity of times.
Maybe read the section about Applications and criticisms to the monkey Wikipedia article. Not sure if there are some arguments in there to show it is not applicable to reality.
If a monkey typed for gazillions of years with an infinite amount of paper and ink available, he might write a Shakespear novel by accident. But there would be no context available in which such a sequence of strange symbols would make any sense. The "words" written there would not refer to anything, would not make any sense to anyone. There would be just this crazy monkey in this strange and absurd world. It would just be some random pattern without meaning. Similar as with this OP. There is some reference to something, supposedly, but it is unclear what it is.
No clarity on what this may be referring to. I have a suspicion that this post was typed by a monkey, randomly, after thousands of years of trial and error, and by chance he was connected to the internet and logged in with this username and correct password and happened to click on the right spot on the screen in the end.Circle5 wrote:Therefore, a complicated problem in buddhism that made B.Bodhi go into wrong view because of not understanding statistics has been solved through the use of google. Someone should send this to him.
But I would still be interested what it was exactly that Bhikkhu Bodhi had to say about something in regard to consciousness and infinite time.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Here it is: https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/in ... ubodhi/64What is the interview you are talking about? Are you interested in others' opinions and ideas? Then you should provide a clear reference (link to online copy of that interview in some form would be optimal).
But there would still be the Shakespeare writing right there on the piece of paper. The monkey is there, the typing machine is there, the piece of art is there. Weather there is a human to read it or not, the piece of art is there due to the conditions (monkey, typing machine, etc)The "words" written there would not refer to anything, would not make any sense to anyone. There would be just this crazy monkey in this strange and absurd world. It would just be some random pattern without meaning.
That is not the proper way to refute it. The proper way to refute it is not some kind of postmodernist type of thinking. I tried going that direction too but there is no way to refute it like that. The way to refute it is through statistics by showing it's a wrong conclusion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_surely
Without understanding of statistics, we can stay a lifetime in the dark just like B.Bodhi, trying to reinvent the wheel by ourselves.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Here is what B.Bodhi had to say about the problem, demonstrating a superficial knowledge of statistics and holding wrong views due to that:
AB: Bhante, I had another speculative question, which I was going to leave out, but since we've now brought it up ... Saṁsāra is considered to be without beginning, without discoverable beginning. So in theory there would have been an innumerable number of Buddhas in the past. If there have been an innumerable number of Buddhas, but there is only a finite number of beings, then why isn’t everybody enlightened already? How come we're still here?
BB: Perhaps consciousnesses can emerge.
BB: In infinite time, if you sat a large numbers of monkeys at computers typing away, they are bound to type the Majjhima Nikāya. (laughs)
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Thanks! I will look at it when I have time.Circle5 wrote:Here it is: https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/in ... ubodhi/64
But it is not a piece of art! There is no context to make sense of it. Language only exists in the context of people who understand it. A universe with an infinitely typing monkey with an infinite amount of ink and paper has no room for the rest of the world as we know it.Circle5 wrote:But there would still be the Shakespeare writing right there on the piece of paper. The monkey is there, the typing machine is there, the piece of art is there. Weather there is a human to read it or not, the piece of art is there due to the conditions (monkey, typing machine, etc)
What "postmodernist type of thinking"? Please be clearer. Explain how a sequence of symbols on paper can have meaning without anyone else giving meaning to it from a cultural context. I believe my argument has nothing to do with "postmodernism" (although I am not really sure what "postmodernism" means, except as some form of derogatory slur for some kind of sophistry).Circle5 wrote:That is not the proper way to refute it. The proper way to refute it is not some kind of postmodernist type of thinking. I tried going that direction too but there is no way to refute it like that.
Okay, thanks to your following post I now see the Nietzschean nonsense that Bhikkhu Bodhi has fallen victim to. But maybe you can elaborate a bit on what it is that you mean to refute by statistics and with this specific reference to the definition of "Almost surely" and how this refutes anything.Circle5 wrote:The way to refute it is through statistics by showing it's a wrong conclusion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almost_surely
Without understanding of statistics, we can stay a lifetime in the dark just like B.Bodhi, trying to reinvent the wheel by ourselves.
I venture to suggest that "it does not make sense" and "it has nothing to do with this case".
Do you simply mean that "almost surely" is not the same as "surely" and this is the refutation? I would venture to say that we don't even have a valid statistical model for the universe to begin with. But any model in which any state happens infinitely often "almost surely" probably assumes only a finite number of possible states. I don't believe there are only a finite number of possible states. I think statistics is not useful in this context, since we don't have a definite statistical model to work with.
PS: But I am leaving now and probably not coming back too soon.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
And this is completely irrelevant in refuting the problem. Yes, without a being made out of 5 aggregates, one of them being the aggregate of perception, there would be nobody to perceive that piece of paper or interpret it as a work of art. But that piece of paper with those unintelligible symbols on it would still be there. Unless you are a solipsist and claim the other 4 aggregates come from the perception aggregate. But this is irrelevant in the context of buddhism wich believes in the 5 aggregate model or in the context of statistics where nobody really cares about solipsism.But it is not a piece of art! There is no context to make sense of it. Language only exists in the context of people who understand it. A universe with an infinitely typing monkey with an infinite amount of ink and paper has no room for the rest of the world as we know it.
What I as a Buddhist (and not a solipsist) was concerned was a refutation of this through nonsolipsist means because I am not a solipsist, I am a Buddhist.
It takes a little bit of understanding of statistics and contemplation of the problem. A good place to start are the examples with throwing a dart or tossing a coin from the wiki article.Okay, thanks to your following post I now see the Nietzschean nonsense that Bhikkhu Bodhi has fallen victim to. But maybe you can elaborate a bit on what it is that you mean to refute by statistics and with this specific reference to the definition of "Almost surely" and how this refutes anything.
In a model assuming a finite number, "almost surely" transforms into "surely". In a problem concerning infinity, such as our problem in question, almost surely does not transform into surely. A thing can be almost surely and not happen. That's where the "almost" comes from.Do you simply mean that "almost surely" is not the same as "surely" and this is the refutation? I would venture to say that we don't even have a valid statistical model for the universe to begin with. But any model in which any state happens infinitely often "almost surely" probably assumes only a finite number of possible states. I don't believe there are only a finite number of possible states. I think statistics is not useful in this context, since we don't have a definite statistical model to work with.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
I have to admit this gave me quite a headache. If this was wrong, then Buddhism would be wrong. There is no way to change the "we exist since forever"  that is the logical conclusion of conditionality. It's no way to juggle yourself around that. The only possibility was for the "we should be enlightened already due to the monkey typing at a computer problem" to be statistically wrong. If this was not wrong, then Buddhism would be wrong. It was the first really difficult problem I was faced with in Buddhism cause there is no way to solve it without reading about what statistics have to say, unless you are a statistical genius and rediscover it by yourself.
Bottom line: We exist since forever and there is no statistical contradiction in this. The possibility of existing since forever and not getting enlightened exists and that's what is happening.
Also, the possibility of never getting enlightened exists. This is why Buddha did not answer that question and did not agree with the idea that all beings will get enlightened eventually. It is a small probability but it exists, therefore it can happen.
Bottom line: We exist since forever and there is no statistical contradiction in this. The possibility of existing since forever and not getting enlightened exists and that's what is happening.
Also, the possibility of never getting enlightened exists. This is why Buddha did not answer that question and did not agree with the idea that all beings will get enlightened eventually. It is a small probability but it exists, therefore it can happen.
Last edited by Circle5 on Fri Jun 30, 2017 5:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
I can't believe that you guys have thought for a reasonable amount of time about this problem. It is very easy. You think it is a random process, this is where you go wrong. The outcome is under selectionpressure like with evolution. The pressure here is of course tanha.
An example:
If you leave an infinite amount of heroin users in an infinite big room with infinite heroin supply and you look into it after an infinite amount of years it would be very stupid to assume that all users are now clean.
An example:
If you leave an infinite amount of heroin users in an infinite big room with infinite heroin supply and you look into it after an infinite amount of years it would be very stupid to assume that all users are now clean.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
That's a very good point. But even with that point, I would argue that the statistical proof this is possible is still needed cause we are dealing here with just one heroin addict not an infinite number of them. One can still argue that the more time that passes, the possibility of a particular heroin addict quitting increases statistically until it reaches almost zero. And in fact, he might argue that when you reach infinity, zero is implied by this infinity. And theoretically it actually is implied. But also theoretically, that does not remove the possibility of it not happening. Witch is why it is just "almost surely". That zero does not imply impossibility of a certain situation happening.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
There is only a finite number of beings?Circle5 wrote:AB: Bhante, I had another speculative question, which I was going to leave out, but since we've now brought it up ... Saṁsāra is considered to be without beginning, without discoverable beginning. So in theory there would have been an innumerable number of Buddhas in the past. If there have been an innumerable number of Buddhas, but there is only a finite number of beings, then why isn’t everybody enlightened already? How come we're still here?
Reference, please!

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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Afaik:
Without a Beginning is not the same as infinite existence. So the question she asks is based on assumption that existence follows a linear timeline where past conditions future, essentially applying property of infinity to "Local Realist" view on existence.
The beginning cannot be known because the act of looking[remembering] creates the past narrative[existence]. Existence is ultimately momentary.
There is no easy way to explain this without getting into momentary existence and specifics of ultimate and conceptual reality. Time and Space do not ultimately exists therefore infinite timeline does not apply. If she says "oh how convenient" you can school her on nonlocality proven by physics, that should be surprisingly easy and beyond doubt show that the problem is in the question.
Without a Beginning is not the same as infinite existence. So the question she asks is based on assumption that existence follows a linear timeline where past conditions future, essentially applying property of infinity to "Local Realist" view on existence.
The beginning cannot be known because the act of looking[remembering] creates the past narrative[existence]. Existence is ultimately momentary.
There is no easy way to explain this without getting into momentary existence and specifics of ultimate and conceptual reality. Time and Space do not ultimately exists therefore infinite timeline does not apply. If she says "oh how convenient" you can school her on nonlocality proven by physics, that should be surprisingly easy and beyond doubt show that the problem is in the question.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
A quick search at ATI reveals that "beginningless" is a word that Bhikkhu Boddhi uses.
While Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders the formula thus: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. "
Ie., the beginning is inconstruable, not evident, he doesn't render it as there not being a beginning.
While Thanissaro Bhikkhu renders the formula thus: "From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. "
Ie., the beginning is inconstruable, not evident, he doesn't render it as there not being a beginning.
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Then there is also the idea that paticcasamupaddha is structural, not temporal.R1111 wrote:So the question she asks is based on assumption that existence follows a linear timeline where past conditions future, essentially applying property of infinity to "Local Realist" view on existence.

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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
I like the term inconstructable, you can construct yourself some past but not a beginning:)
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
This isn't just something touching on statistics, but is also the result of a number of strange mathematical properties of infinity.Circle5 wrote:That's a very good point. But even with that point, I would argue that the statistical proof this is possible is still needed cause we are dealing here with just one heroin addict not an infinite number of them.
Remember that an infinitely large set has subsets of it that are also infinite. For example, the set of all natural numbers is infinite, but the set of all even numbers is also infinite even though it is a subset of the natural numbers. I'll come back to this property in a little bit to resolve the paradox.
Remember that in statistics having a probability of 0 doesn't mean that the thing under question definitely won't happen. It means that the probability of it is vanishing. That's why the terms almost surely or almost never are used instead of surely or never.One can still argue that the more time that passes, the possibility of a particular heroin addict quitting increases statistically until it reaches almost zero. And in fact, he might argue that when you reach infinity, zero is implied by this infinity. And theoretically it actually is implied. But also theoretically, that does not remove the possibility of it not happening. Witch is why it is just "almost surely". That zero does not imply impossibility of a certain situation happening.
Here's my proposal for resolving the paradox. Consider the set of all sentient beings who have ever existed, which is infinite. Let's also assume that given any span of time there is a small chance of them being born as a human in contact with the Dhamma, and of those, there is a chance of such a person attaining at least stream entry and therefore eventually attaining Arahantship and not being reborn again. Consider what happens as time passes. In this infinite set over a set period of time (a Mahakalpa for instance) there is always a portion of people who become enlightened and are not reborn, and a portion of people who are left over.
For the sake of convenience let's assume that the chance of a given being attaining Arahantship during a Mahakalpa to be 1%. After every Mahakalpa, for every 99 beings who are not liberated, there is one who is liberated. But because the original set is infinite, each of these subsets is also infinite. (to probe this just consider that you can set up a bijection between these two sets and the set of natural numbers on the one hand, and the set of all multiples of 100 on the other). After every iteration, the number of unliberated beings is still infinite, no matter how many times the iteration repeats. In fact, you can even have a scenario in which every single sentient being is liberated eventually, and yet the total number of remaining sentient beings is always infinite.
The nondoing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Hmm. This makes me think of Vacchagotta.
"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"
"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'"  AggiVacchagotta Sutta
'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.'  Genesis 3:19
"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'"  AggiVacchagotta Sutta
'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.'  Genesis 3:19
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
The infinity issue is not just a problem for Buddhism, but all of us even existing. The universe or some previous version of the universe, before the big bang appears to be infinite, continually expanding with less contraction and more expansion. Since the universe appears infinite, we shouldn't even be here. This is because if the universe is infinite with infinite possibilities then surely some aliens would have wiped us out by now.
Maybe the universe and time can be infinite, but without infinite possibilities? Not sure though, might be a good question for a mathematician for the logicalmath angle. In the same way we can't reach and visit other planets with life due to the great distances between us, they can't reach us either and maybe in that way the universe is infinite, but not necessarily infinite possibilities?
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Maybe the universe and time can be infinite, but without infinite possibilities? Not sure though, might be a good question for a mathematician for the logicalmath angle. In the same way we can't reach and visit other planets with life due to the great distances between us, they can't reach us either and maybe in that way the universe is infinite, but not necessarily infinite possibilities?
Maybe there's a good reason for the imponderables.Pseudobabble wrote:Hmm. This makes me think of Vacchagotta.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
@R111 and Binocular: What you are writing there is not the historical Buddha position. The historical Buddha position is that we exist since forever. That there was another life before this, and another, and another going back to infinity. It is meant in exactly what you called "realist" way, not in some postmodernist way. This is what the historical Buddha view was.
To understand the position of the historical Buddha, we generally need to know more about the subject than one sutta. For example if you know just the sutta about "samsara is beginningless" then you can spin that around and not know in what way did Buddha meant it: in a normal, realist way or in a postodernist way ? But if you know more suttas and are more informed about his position, you can know witch one of these 2 he meant. What I recommend reading is the subchapter "On without discoverable beginning" from SN to complete our information about the Buddha position. Otherwise:
To understand the position of the historical Buddha, we generally need to know more about the subject than one sutta. For example if you know just the sutta about "samsara is beginningless" then you can spin that around and not know in what way did Buddha meant it: in a normal, realist way or in a postodernist way ? But if you know more suttas and are more informed about his position, you can know witch one of these 2 he meant. What I recommend reading is the subchapter "On without discoverable beginning" from SN to complete our information about the Buddha position. Otherwise:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html"Monks, these two slander the Tathagata. Which two? He who explains a discourse whose meaning needs to be inferred as one whose meaning has already been fully drawn out. And he who explains a discourse whose meaning has already been fully drawn out as one whose meaning needs to be inferred. These are two who slander the Tathagata."
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
Indeed A.Brahmali was writing wrong things over there. Nowhere does it say there is a finite number of being in the universe.binocular wrote:There is only a finite number of beings?Circle5 wrote:AB: Bhante, I had another speculative question, which I was going to leave out, but since we've now brought it up ... Saṁsāra is considered to be without beginning, without discoverable beginning. So in theory there would have been an innumerable number of Buddhas in the past. If there have been an innumerable number of Buddhas, but there is only a finite number of beings, then why isn’t everybody enlightened already? How come we're still here?
Reference, please!
Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism
If the universe is infinite and has existed for an infinite amount of time does that mean that eveything that everyone has imagined will happen or has already happened?
If the universe is infinite and has existed for an infinite amount of time couldn't something arise after an infinite amount of time has passed, persist for a finite length of time, and then cease to exist and never to arise again?
If the universe is infinite and has existed for an infinite amount of time does this mean that whatever is happening has happened before?....and will happen again?
If there was a cosmic wall which extends infinitely in both directions then the universe on one side would be infinite and the universe on the other side would be infinite in such a way that the two universes would never touch and be mutually unknowable.
Can a universe which is constrained to be within some fixed finite dimensions of space and time still be infinite?
Would a universe which has existed for an infinite lenght of time and then winked out of existence still be considered infinite?
Would a universe which started at some definite time and having finite dimentions when it started expand for an infinite length of time and thus be considered infinite in time and space?
Etc.
chownah
If the universe is infinite and has existed for an infinite amount of time couldn't something arise after an infinite amount of time has passed, persist for a finite length of time, and then cease to exist and never to arise again?
If the universe is infinite and has existed for an infinite amount of time does this mean that whatever is happening has happened before?....and will happen again?
If there was a cosmic wall which extends infinitely in both directions then the universe on one side would be infinite and the universe on the other side would be infinite in such a way that the two universes would never touch and be mutually unknowable.
Can a universe which is constrained to be within some fixed finite dimensions of space and time still be infinite?
Would a universe which has existed for an infinite lenght of time and then winked out of existence still be considered infinite?
Would a universe which started at some definite time and having finite dimentions when it started expand for an infinite length of time and thus be considered infinite in time and space?
Etc.
chownah
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