January 2001

» About This Issue - Editorial
» Violence and Non-Violence - Professor Huston Smith   

» Non-Violence: A Spiritual Perspective - Swami Prabuddhanda
» Non-Violence and the Crisis of Materialism - Professor Michael Nagler
» Scale Dependence of Meaning for the Concept of "Violence" - Professor Geoffrey Chew

Editorial - About This Issue

Perspectives on Violence

On the theme, Violence -- Spiritual and Scientific Perspectives, several informative and very thought-provoking talks were presented at the AHIMSA Conference on Oct. 18, 2000. This issue of Ahimsa Voices contains the transcripts of four talks; the others will be published in the next issue. Professor Huston Smith discusses the three spheres in which violence occurs in the human world, namely the public sphere, the interpersonal sphere, and the personal sphere. He used anecdotes from everyday life to suggest that the current Freudian model of the two basic human drives, sex and aggression, is being replaced by the traditional model of love and interconnectedness. Swami Prabuddhanda provides an insight into Vedanta's approach on the meaning and significance of both violent and non-violent actions from different standpoints. He concludes that the true purpose of religion is to help man transcend animal nature and move toward human nature, and finally, discover the divine nature which is the basis for universal love. Professor Michael Nagler presents a historical perspective on development of the classical mechanics model of the universe which laid the foundation of materialism and violence. He foresees the need for development of a science of consciousness before humanity will acquire a peaceful and nonviolent culture. Professor Geoffrey Chew steps outside the human sphere to discuss non-material and non-observable processes occurring in our biosphere. In his search for meaning behind the violent processes at the cosmic level, he uses the terms "gentle events" and "violent events" to distinguish between categories of happenings whose time and spatial scales are different from the scales characterizing the living world.

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Violence and Non-Violence

Huston Smith

Violence can occur in many spheres of life and I will note three: the public sphere (the crisis in the Middle East is a current example of that), the interpersonal sphere, and the personal sphere (we can be violent towards ourselves). I'm going to begin with the public sphere. The greatest danger or threat to peace in the nineteenth century was nationalism. The greatest threat to peace in the twentieth century was ideology as nations lined up on both sides of the iron curtain. But with the collapse of ideology and the end of the cold war, the greatest danger to peace in the twenty-first century is going to be ethnic conflict. As a student of religion, I'll say these conflicts are not really religious anymore. When new religions emerged -- Buddhism out of Hinduism, and Christianity out of Judaism, and Islam out of those two, there were religious wars because it was differences in theology that brought the conflict. But now, despite what the media tells us, these are not religious wars. They are political wars. In the Middle East today the Muslims couldn't care less what the Jews believe. Actually the difference in beliefs between the two factions is negligible compared with the burning issue of hatred and the memories of atrocities unavenged. I caught a news clip when Bosnia was a center of ethnic conflict and it went like this: the interviewer said, "Are there any Serbians here?" (This was in a Serbian village.)

The interviewer said to the Serb, "Are there any Muslims in your village?"
She said, "No." What would you do if there was one?"
Well! We would tell him to leave and if he didn't, we would kill him."
"Because that's what they did to us four hundred years ago."

This is the burning factor in ethnic conflicts today ?atrocities that have not been avenged. And somehow or other, we're going to have to stop driving ahead while looking only at the rear-view mirror, but that's going to be very difficult to do. Fortunately, with enough problems to make one despair, we do have great heroes and we have great successes. Chief among them, is Mahatma Gandhi, who freed a continent through non-violence from the two hundred years' oppression of colonialism. His followers, Martin Luther King, who succeeded in the basic aim of the Afro-American freedom movement in the U.S., and Nelson Mandela in South Africa made a wise statement when he was elected president; he said, "There has been great suffering caused by the Caucasian Afrikaner to our people and we can't just sweep it under the rug. However, there can be no future without forgiveness." So he proposed that any Afrikaner who would come forward and confess the injustice unwittingly he or she had inflicted on the native people, those people would be exonerated. For others, there would have to be some mode of accountability.

I'll stop discussing the public violence and move to the interpersonal. This is affected so much by the press, television and video. The amount of violence that doubles for entertainment is just horrendous. I've heard that the mothers are thinking of getting together and organizing a march maybe across the Bay Bridge or somewhere else to boycott the advertisers that turn to violence as the chief mode of selling products. Here is one incident that happened just this last week. We work closely with Tibetan immigrants and actually have a single mother and her son living in our basement apartment downstairs. And she was telling about a friend of hers, another Tibetan family. They have a boy, four years old, and one of the children during a visit said something that the four year-old didn't like. He went out into the kitchen and got a butcher knife and came in and said, 똈'm going to kill you!" What appalled the Tibetan in our house telling this story was that the boy's mother laughed. The person telling this story was appalled that this has become a laughable matter in our culture. In the interpersonal relations, so much depends on the words we use. In a book, Non-Violent Communication, the author points out how much depends on language -- the tone and the words that are used -- some can push levers of anger and others may have an opposite effect.

I'll tell you a different incident that happened the day before yesterday, the day when the trains weren't running from Berkeley to San Francisco. I needed to go in for at an editorial conference and I don't drive in the San Francisco area. I went to the Berkeley station and got the news that there were no trains. There were hardly any people at the station. I needed to get the word to my publisher that I wouldn't be there for the one o'clock appointment but my ears can't manage modern phones. I tried, and a taped voice gave me some choices and I couldn't figure out what I was doing. There was one man nearby and he may have been a street person. He certainly was a very poorly dressed Afro-American, and I approached him. This isn't out of my virtue. It was out of my need. I needed help. And so, I explained my situation and asked him if he would listen to the response and tell me how to proceed. At first, at my approach he seemed sort of alarmed and uncomfortable. But when he found a person in need and that he could help, his manner changed completely. He was just as helpful as he could be, and my message went across. I thanked him sincerely. And that happened to be one of the "up" moment on interpersonal communications.

And now, I want to come to what is we don't think about as often. I may not have thought about it if I hadn't been married to a psychologist. But the third, is the private dimension of violence. There can be violence to one's self, born of self-hatred. There was a book that I came upon written by a psychoanalyst. I can't even remember the title, but it had a shocking thesis that often people's major problems is they set up actions that are sure to fail because this would reinforce their deep conviction that they personally are worthless. Psychological studies have shown that people when asked to put down their good points and their bad points invariably have a far longer list of bad points -- maybe three times as long, but certainly longer than the list of virtues they acknowledged. Now all of this, and here I come to my concluding thesis, comes down to the modern behavioral model of the human self. Dan Goldman, who is the Behavioral Science Editor for the New York Times, says that the closest we come to having a model of the human self is Freudianism. And it is not an inspiring model because, as you know, it proposes that the basic human drives are sex and aggression. Human beings are animals who draw pictures of themselves in their mind and then spend their life to living up to their pictures. Now, with such a poor model of the human self that comes closest to any we have, is it any wonder that we are seen to live and behave badly? Now what I just want to say is that not all human history has depicted humans living in terms of a poor model of the human self. Quite the opposite. Until the modern era, everybody (and this is an area I have some expertise), all the other cultures believed that we human beings were descendants from the divine. And that means that we have the reflection of the divine within us, as Swami Prabuddhananda said in his closing statement. I will give you just two examples coming out of this traditional view. We have a six year-old grandson in San Jose and once a month we drive down to recharge our batteries by keeping him out of school. We don't go on the same day because neither of us is willing to share his attention with the other. And this story again, comes from Kendra the last time she went down. When they went to the neighborhood playground, they found two children already on the swings and slide. A girl of about eight, a boy, maybe five, presumably her brother. And, you know how children are. Without any patience or of preliminary, the girl asked Kendra what are we. Kendra squinted a little bit and said, "Well, I don't kn..."


"No!" With a touch of irritation entering. And when Kendra ventured a third mistaken guess, why the irritation erupted. She said "No, what are we?" And Kendra at that point, thinking that maybe if the girl knew the answer she would paraphrase the question a little bit better. And so she just said, "I give up, what are you?" And the girl said, "We are brother and sister, and so we love each other. And our grandmother tells us that if we love her, when we become grandparents, our grandchildren will love us." Well, out of the mouth of babes. In our secular, cynical times, it may take a child who hasn't been too much indoctrinated and maybe one of Asian extraction too, first of all, to pose the right question, not "who are we?" which points to differences, but "what are we?" What is our basic nature and her answer was equally on the mark. Our basic nature is relatedness. We are brother and sister, and the heart of that relatedness is love. Now there is a view of human nature that can inspire.

A very encouraging sign in the West is a revised theory of human nature that stems basically from the work of little-known psychologist, Ian Suttee, a Scot who spent his life in studying child development. And his thesis was that Freud's postulate of the two basic drives -- sex and aggression -- was wrong. From years of watching infants, he became convinced that the primary impulse in the child is an outreach for communion and communication. In that earliest situation, the only thing it has to give to its mother is its body and the child's adoring eyes on the mother's face, which of course, elicits an adoring returning gaze. The infant will drop a nipple and gurgle and smile around it and then the mother's response is escalated and joy in seeing that. That response is a mode of flirtation. And Ian Suttee said that is the most primitive, most original outreach from the child. No one knows Suttee but everybody in psychology knows the person who picked up his theory, John Bulby. And so, I leave you with a note of hope that perhaps our uninspiring vision of our self may will be replaced by the traditional inspiring vision of goodness as being the most fundamental element within us.

-- Huston Smith is a well known philosopher and author in the area of World Religions. He is a member of the AHIMSA Advisory Board.

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Non-Violence: A Spiritual Perspective

Swami Prabuddhananda

Non-violence or harmlessness (Ahimsa) is one of the 26 qualities of an individual born with divine nature as described by Lord Krishna (Bhagvad Gita, Chapter 16). Among other qualities are fearlessness, purity of heart, truthfulness, absence of greed and hatred, gentleness, forgiveness, and fortitude. In my brief presentation I would like to give you a spiritual perspective on non-violence.

There is a saying in one of the Sanskrit texts which means "Life lives on life." That is how things are, and this is very evident in the animal kingdom where we find survival of the fittest -- one animal eating up another animal, and that animal being eaten up by a bigger animal. There is a story in the Indian mythology about a dog that was being chased by a wolf. It approached a holy man and asked, "What shall I do?" The holy man said, "Well, I will use my powers and convert you into a wolf." So he turned the dog into a wolf. Afterwards, the wolf became afraid of the tiger and it went to the holy man again who said, "All right, I will make you a tiger." Then afterwards the tiger was afraid of a lion. Like this, the story goes on, and the dog became a huge animal. One day, in search of food it came across the holy man, and said, "I will eat you up." So the holy man said, "You fellow, I helped you outgrow all the fear and now you are going to eat me up. Let me curse you to become a dog again." So he turned it into a dog again.

What is the moral of this story? At animal level, might is right. It is called Animal Dharma or Jungle Law. The Jungle Law is: the cat goes and eats up the rat, and then the cat is eaten by something else. Like that, life depends on life. It is acceptable as far as the animal kingdom is concerned, but when we come to human beings, this is not acceptable. At one time in human history, there was cannibalism; people used to eat people. And they found this wasn't an appropriate behavior for man. So the ancient Dharma prohibited this. Dharma defines the way of life or lifestyle by which we should live. The jungle lifestyle is that one animal survives by eating another animal. But, when it comes to human beings, they were told, "Your lifestyle should be Ahimsa, not to hurt others. What is harmful to you, you shall not do to others. This is the essence of ancient Dharma -- do not harm others.

There are other meanings of Dharma. One meaning is that whatever sustains is Dharma. Whatever strengthens and whatever brings integration is Dharma. If there is no Dharma, society will break down. So it is Dharma which holds society together. What is the power that integrates; it is non-violence. Violence causes disintegration, it breaks society into pieces. Ahimsa or non-violence stands for the highest degree of harmlessness. Mahatma Gandhi believed Ahimsa to be a universal law.

Though the word, "Ahimsa," or "non-violence" has a negative combination let us examine the dictionary meaning of the word. The dictionary meaning of "violence,?is the use of physical force. You hurt someone with physical force. That is violence. But this is a very primitive definition. When we come to Human Dharma, this definition is not enough. I can hurt you through my words. I can hurt you through my thoughts. Swami Vivekananda used to say that jealousy is the worst form of injury. So "Ahimsa?means that one should not hurt anyone by thought, word, and deed. Not only that, there is a positive side -- you should help and love others.

Again, sometimes what appears to be violence is not really so. Think of a surgeon. He plunges his knife into the chest of a patience. This is an act of compassion. A teacher or a mother disciplines a child, and the child feels hurt. But discipline is necessary for the good of the child and then, there are others who are doing their job or their duty to protect society, like policemen or soldiers. So, in the course of their work, they may have to hurt others, but that is not violence. Therefore, the question arises: what really is violence? To answer this question we have to determine first what is the motive behind the act. Motivation becomes more important than appearance of the act itself. Externally, the violent act is there but at the same time another dimension has come. It is the thought or the motive behind the act. Now, first the jungle law is ruled out because it is not for human beings. Next, you add another dimension -- the mental dimension. Because as human beings, we do live or we should live in our minds more than in our bodies (the physical level). Therefore, our teachers say that when you talk about violence, you should take into consideration the motive, the intention behind the act.

Vedanta philosophy teaches, "For the health of your mind, let alone other people and do not hurt them. If you hurt others, you will lose your mental health." The great philosopher, Patanjali, says that the main obstructions to mental health are killing, falsehood, anger, and ignorance. Ignorance ends up in misery. And if you become miserable, you'll make others also miserable. Swami Vivekananda explain this as follows. Every vicious thought will rebound. Ever thought of hatred which you may have cherished, even when sitting in a cave, turns up and will one day come back to you with tremendous power and will make you suffer. If you project hatred and jealousy, they will rebound on you. No power can avert them. When once you have put them in motion, you will have to bear their fruit. Remembering this will prevent you form doing wicked things. Not that someone else will hit you, you are going to hit yourself.

So, many methods are given on how to rise above violence such as Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga teaches how to live and work in this world. Karma yogi is a person who understands how to use non-violent resistance as the highest manifestation of power. Resisting of evil is but a step on the way towards manifestation of the power of non-violence. Before reaching this highest ideal, man's duty is to resist evil, if necessary by brutal force. It's not that resist no evil; resist evil but it depends on how you resist. Only when you have gained the moral strength to resist non-violently, will non-resistance become a virtue. Even Mahatma Gandhi used to say that non-violence is the weapon of the brave, weapon of the strong. He also said that violence is better than cowardice, so weakness is not acceptable in the name of non-violence.

What is the rationale behind non-violence? This is what Vedanta philosophy has to say. There is unity of existence; it is all one without a second -- there is one alone in this world. Any sense of otherness brings all problems. Fear, violence, hatred, all this comes because there is sense of otherness. The wise man beholds all beings in oneself, and the self in all beings. For that reason he does not hate anyone. To the seer all things have really become the self. What delusion, what sorrow can there be for him who behold this oneness? So the solution is oneness. By being violent, you are cutting at your own root. And that is why we suffer. Wherever we sacrifice truth, we suffer. The truth is that we're all one. Don't break this law. Just as when we break the health law, we suffer. Like that, this is the spiritual law that we're all one. If you break it, you're going to suffer. And your mental health is going to suffer. One thing will lead to another. Other problems will come, that is why you should not be violent.

Finally, in spite of our best efforts, we see so much suffering in the world -- an earthquake, a flood, a famine, an epidemic, etc. If we look at the big picture we may say that a lot of violence is going on everywhere: death, disease, sufferings, so much pain -- can we stop that? Our teachers say that the cosmic-level violence is a part of nature, a part of the divine scheme, and it goes on all of the time. It is a cosmic play -- Divine Mother's play. But does this mean that we are justified in behaving like an animal. No, not at all. We must take a bigger and bigger view of things. A person who sees everything as divine play can become a person of great love. First, a person has to transcend the animal nature, then transcend the human nature too and become divine. There is a definition of religion -- from man the brute to man the god -- and that is our purpose in life. One side is the law of the jungle, in the middle one is Ahimsa -- the great Dharma of harmlessness, and afterwards beyond all Dharmas and beyond violence and non-violence is all love. Then you will see the divine hand behind love, peace, and the so-called violence. Whether our human heart likes it or not, wars go on. Thousands of people are killed. How shall we look upon that? We should look with all sympathy, all love, and at the same time seeing the divine play or the divine power behind it. So we accept that just as we accept something very pleasant. A man of God salutes the unpleasant too because he sees the divine play there too. So, this is a way of looking from different sides to get different views on this important subject, "non-violence."

-- Swami Prabuddhananda is the Head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California. He is a member of the AHIMSA Advisory Board.

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Non-Violence and the Crisis of Materialism

Michael Nagler

So, first I would like to make a few remarks about the history of science?You can look upon science as an attempt to find ever-subtler explanations of phenomena. I say this as a Greek scholar. The ancient Greek puzzled over how it could be that a person eats a piece of bread and that piece of bread becomes part of that person's body. I mean, there's nothing in the arm that looks much like bread, especially not much like Greek bread, but somehow this bread has been taken apart and put together to make up a human being. And on the strength of that observation, they deduced without having any equipment, without having any capacity to confirm it experimentally as we like to do today, that matter must be composed of atoms. And Democritus and other earlier atomists were the authors of that theory, which reached a kind of theoretical climax with Sir Isaac Newton when he produced his book on optics in 1704. And it is sort of interesting that the greatest contribution of Newton was a theory of optics, just as the greatest contribution of Raman was his theory of colors and light because after all, as modern physicists now tell us, matter is basically frozen light. I don't know what they mean by that, however, as a former poetry scholar I assume I don't need to, but it is a wonderful thing to say. Newton's definition of atoms is as follows:

God in the beginning formed matter in solid, hard, impenetrable movable particles of such sizes and figures and with such other properties and in such proportion to space as most conducive to the end for which he formed them. And that these primitive particles, being solids are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them like ours, for example. Even so hard as never to wear or break in pieces. No ordinary power is able to divide what God himself made in the first creation.

That's Sir Isaac Newton in 1704. In other words, God really wanted matter to hang around. He wanted matter to be permanent. Now it did seem that this theory was dramatically confirmed, in the beginning of the 20th century, with Einstein's observation from the motion of dust particles in the air and Brownian movement, that you would see under a microscope slide, atoms must exist. I've always been thrilled by the way he made that discovery because of a statement from one of the Vadantic texts, the Yoga Vashishta, which says?

Just as particles of dust cannot be seen unless the rays of the sun enter through the window, so the spiritual nature of the world cannot be apprehended without the realization of Paramatma, the supreme changeless reality.

In other words, without consciousness you would not be able to perceive the nature of the world, just as without light you'd never be able to ascertain the nature of dust particles from which Einstein deduced that atoms must exist. But, as I think we all know by now, the atomic theory and with it the confirmation of the material nature of the universe, were first confirmed and then abolished within a short time. Within years of Einstein's demonstration that matter was composed of atoms came the realization that subatomic particles were not material. To sum up in one phrase the contributions of quantum theory and string theory and others, let me read to you a few sentences from a paper by Henry Stepp, who works at the LBL (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory). He wrote a paper called "Quantum Theory and Human Values". He and I have both been trying to put these two apparently irreconcilable areas of experience together for decades. Neither of us have succeeded but he can write formulas to explain his failures, so he's doing much better in the eyes of the world. Quantum theory is the most solidly established theory that science has ever produced. No one has been able to disestablish quantum theory, even Einstein who tried. According to the orthodox quantum theory, Henry Stepp says,

The actual things from which the universe is built are not persisting entities. Not little black balls that say "plus one" on them and little yellow balls that say "minus one" on them. Not persisting entities at all as in classical physics which goes back to Newton, but are rather sudden events called quantum jumps.

I'm now going to quote from another individual: "Consciousness I regard as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative of consciousness. Everything that we regard as existing postulates consciousness." If I were to ask a monk who wrote that, he'd probably say it was the Buddha or somebody like that, but actually, it was Max Planck. In other words, quantum theory has shown us that the solid, hard, permanent particulate material world is a kind of illusion, which is what the Vedanta philophers said thousands of years ago. It is all "Maya", or made up of a deceptive appearance. On the positive side Vedanta has shown us that nothing in human experience, and I mean absolutely nothing can be even thought to exist without consciousness. The assimilation of this quantum concept of man into the cultural environment of the twentieth century must inevitably produce a shift in values conducive to human survival. The quantum concept gives an enlarged sense of self. The assimilation of this quantum concept of man will result in the revision of our conception of who we are, which will result in the gradual elimination of violence from human experience. The only problem is that the assimilation hasn't happened, although quantum theory has been around since 1902. Physics, economics, politics, and literary criticism are all still being practiced as though God in the beginning formed matter in solid, hard, impenetrable particles.

So the point that I'm trying to make is the reason why we have so utterly and signally failed in reducing violence in our experience, whether it be public violence or interpersonal or intrapersonal violence. One of the reasons we've made no progress in reducing violent experience in these areas is our overwhelming and seemingly impenetrable commitment to materialism. As long as we have materialism, we're going to go on experiencing violence, and this works out in many different ways. For example, as long as we have materialism we are going to experience the world through what Ivan Ilich used to call a "paradigm of scarcity". There will never be enough stuff to go around. Whereas, if we were to experience ourselves in the world as formed primarily of consciousness, as Max Planck has told us that it actually is, there will never be scarcity. We will never run out of God's love. We'll never run out of awareness. We'll never run out of joy because those things grow with the employment. Whereas matter is destroyed in its employment. That's only one of many ways in which as long as we remain committed to a materialist conception of the world and of ourselves in the world, we will never escape from these cycles of violence. So, on one hand we have been pumping the minds of our children with violence, on the other hand we have failed to see nonviolence even when it happens right before our eyes. We don't perceive it because we have no model in our minds or hearts that says that something like this could happen. For example, in El Salvador in 1943, there was a violent armed insurrection against a truly brutal and disgusting dictator. On a political level, this violent insurrection failed. Two years later, there was a nonviolent civil insurrection, which succeeded and dictator had to flee the country. Every year in El Salvador there is a celebration for the martyrs of the violent insurrection who failed. There is nothing for the nonviolent insurrectionists who succeeded. We simply don't have any model; it could not have happened. There is no imagination in our head ready to receive this. The Emperor Frederick the Great went to meet the Sultan of Jerusalem, and succeeded in getting from him a number of handsome concessions such that Christians would be able to visit the holy places in Jerusalem. When he went home, he was promptly condemned by the Church for being soft on heresy. Two generations later, King Louis of France raised an enormous army, besieged Jerusalem, lost almost his entire army, came limping back having demolished everything that Frederick had succeeded in achieving through nonviolence, and Louis was immediately sainted. Not only that, but a city in Missouri, USA, is named after him.

During the Cold War, there was an unprecedented upsurge of popular resistance to the war system. You had a phenomenon of more than a million people marching in New York. I mean, I'm from New York, I know a million people do not march in that town unless you want to raise the subway fare or you are threatening the entire planet with annihilation. In this case it was the latter -- a legitimization of anti-war sentiment such as we have never had before. However, all of the attention was focused on the technology of war. Everyone wanted to figure out which of these ghastly weapons was the doomsday weapon -- take that thing apart and we would be safe. But as historian E. P. Thompson has pointed out: the deformed human mind is the ultimate doomsday weapon. What I propose in hindsight is: what if we had taken that enormous popular feeling, that enormous legitimization, those millions of people, and had them all working on the mass media? We would be living in a much safer world today now -- anything that we can do to apply this to our own experience and to give it a patina of scientific validation, which we need. I want to quote to you a remarkable sentence that I was reading last night from a remarkable human being. One of the disciplines that I practice is spiritual reading and one of the books I've stumbled upon recently is by an Indian mystic, Sundar Singh. He was a Christian who went to Tibet and had an amazing experience there. He had a vision of Jesus whom he referred to as the Master. Anyway, a seeker once said to him, "You speak of discernment. Can you explain further what you mean?' And Sundar Singh immediately responded, "Human consciousness is very subtle and sensitive. We can receive impressions from the unseen spiritual world which express themselves in ideas and concepts familiar to us."

In 1964, in Birmingham there was a big march. The issue was voter registration. The marchers suddenly found themselves confronted by police and firemen. They hadn't anticipated this. Without knowing what else to do, they got down on the sidewalk and prayed. After praying for a while in that hot, grim sidewalk in Birmingham, in the words of one of them, they suddenly were all at the same time spiritually "intoxicated". This is not my word, this is the word that come from one of the marchers. They got up and continued to walk across the street right into the barricades backed by the police and firemen. The person in charge, the Police Commissioner was a notorious segregationist, Bull Connor. And he shouted, 똖urn on the hoses." But the firemen were unable to move. When the marchers reached them, they noticed that many of the firemen were crying. Even the dogs were lying down in tranquility on the sidewalk. The marchers looked them in the eye (a dangerous procedure) and said, "How do you feel about what you're doing here? We're here to get our freedom and we're not going back." And they walked right through that line. Now I would propose that there is no way that we can understand what happened here without a theory of consciousness, without a theory of ourselves as conscious beings. So anything that we can do to disestablish materialism and dehumanization will lay the groundwork for a disestablishment of violence.

Let me now turn to the Columbine High School massacre. One commentator after that event pointed out that two boys in trench coats walked into the high school and shot twelve students and one of the teachers. So, the response has been to ban trench coats. What would be a more intelligent response -- a consciousness-aware response: how did those boys get that way? Well, one expert has pointed out that they were uncannily superb marksmen. After six months of FBI training, you cannot shoot as accurately as those two boys shot, none of whom had ever handled a real pistol. How did they get that way? The answer is: video games. Video games have two purposes. Not just to teach you marksmanship, but to teach you dehumanization. The United States military now uses exactly the same video games which are marketed to our children to get soldiers to shoot. I didn't know if you were aware of this but as recently as World War II, the firing accuracy rate of soldiers in combat was about fifteen percent. That is, if you had a hundred men in a company, fifteen of them would actually be shooting at the enemy. The other eighty-five would be hunkered down somewhere hoping for it all to be over soon. Well the army decided that it had to get the firing rate up. And I'm sorry to say that they succeeded. By the time of the Vietnam War, the firing rate was up ninety-five percent. The way they did it was to use exactly the same technology that we are now selling to our children. To make them, on the one hand, expert marksmen, but to make them on the other hand, unaware that the things they're shooting at are human beings, our brothers and sisters just like yourselves. So these are the areas I propose on which we should work if we want to see a century without violence for our children and our children's children.

-- Michael Nagler, Professor Emeritus of Classics, currently chairs the Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the AHIMSA Advisory Board.

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Scale Dependence of Meaning for the Concept of "Violence"

Geoffrey Chew

The "violence" addressed by AHIMSA Conference today relates to human affairs. In this arena I have no expertise and nothing interesting to say. Nevertheless it may prove interesting to hear from someone engaged in nonhumanistic research who attributes centrality to the concept of "violence" -- recognizing a meaning that transcends not only humanity but the entire biosphere.

Over two decades my research has been leading me to use the terms "gentle event" and "violent event" to distinguish, within the history of our universe, categories of "happenings" whose time and spatial scales lie far below the scales characterizing living matter. For the last two years I have been appreciating usefulness of gentle-violent distinction for happenings that involve the entire universe. I shall attempt here to explain how, for me, the adjectives "gentle" and "violent" enjoy meanings that depend on the scale of their context.

Reality Through Process

The celebrated mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, developed during the nineteen twenties the underpinning for my research; the basis is succinctly characterized by the title of his most famous book -- "Process and Reality". I became engaged by Whitehead's process ideas when I realized how profoundly they impact the concepts of "matter" and "reproducible measurement" on which science is based. Gradually I have been developing a mathematical model to quantify this impact, taking advantage of scientific discoveries during the twentieth century's latter half that were not available to Whitehead.

Fundamental to Whitehead's notion of "reality" is neither matter nor the recently popular idea of "consciousness" but rather "process". Whitehead saw matter as a very special "enduring" pattern of process, characterized by a certain scale, whose endurance allows approximate reproducibility. "Measurement" or the more general notion of "observation" corresponds to a process pattern whose scale is larger than that of elementary matter, while consciousness corresponds to a pattern of still larger scale. These latter process patterns both may be regarded as complexifications of material process, depending very much on the feature of endurance. Most of the process that builds our universe, although essential to the behavior of matter (as I shall endeavor to explain), does not exhibit the rigid straight line structure -- "inertia"-- that at once defines matter and endows material behavior with a degree of reproducibility and "causality".

Matter further possesses a property physicists call "rest mass," may be "observed" by other "massive" matter, via a zero-rest-mass form of matter called "light." Scientists have been led by observation-process to think of the universe as reproducibly material. But the vast majority of Whiteheadian process is not enduring (not inertial) and must be recognized as nonmaterial, nonobservable and nonreproducible.

A name familiar in science that may be attached to nonmaterial process is "vacuum". You no doubt have heard the universe described as largely empty space but, with Whitehead, I am convinced this emptiness houses profoundly influential (even though not observable) nonmaterial process. Although such an idea may to some listeners sound "spiritual", material process and vacuum process in the model I am pursuing are described by a common mathematical structure.

Whitehead invoked the easily misunderstood term "God", leading many philosophers to dismiss his thinking as fuzzy. A philosopher-friend of mine, Philip Clayton, has persuaded me to exercise caution and to confine my language to the term "nonmaterial". You will hear at the end of these remarks, if my dense style of presentation does not put you to sleep, a forecast that scientists will recognize at least two functions of nonmaterial process.

Because nonmaterial nonobservable vacuum process has enormously -- high density compared to that of material process, interaction between dense vacuum and dilute matter supports the illusion, on which human science is based, that matter behavior obeys universal laws -- the same at all spatial locations and at all times. But "history" -- a synonym for process -- never repeats itself; the expanding universe is limitlessly inventive. The scientific idea of reproducible experiment is an approximation whose accuracy is based on the largeness of our age since big bang together with the huge although finite density of unobservable vacuum history -- a density that makes "empty space" appear to us as homogeneous both spatially and temporally. The elegance of a mathematical representation of vacuum homogeneity and associated matter -- behavior reproducibility -- a representation associated with the French theorist Henri Poincare -- encouraged 20th century physicists to accept "Poincare invariance" as an absolute requirement. It is because Whiteheadian process is not Poincare invariant that science has so far elected to ignore Whitehead's reality.

Importantly, contributing to the illusion of material -- process reproducibility is the small time scale of any human experiment compared to the total age of the involved local processes. Early in the twentieth century the astronomer Hubble discovered this total age -- that is to say, "our" age since big bang -- to be about ten billion years.

Discreteness of Process Whitehead recognized all process to be discrete --proceeding in steps that he called "occasions". It is necessary to distinguish "global occasions" that involve the entire universe from local occasions such as this meeting today which is a complex local occasion -- a pattern comprising a huge set of "primitive" local occasions. The local notion of "observation" associates with a pattern of primitive local occasions that may be smaller than the scale of our meeting but is still extremely complex. The smallest possible time scale for an "observation" is set by the local duration of a global occasion.

Although a global occasion spatially spans the entire universe, its time duration varies importantly with distance from universe center. (Near universe center all process is nonmaterial.) Henceforth when I speak of "global-occasion duration" I mean in our region (which locates so far from universe center as to render this center inaccessible to our observation). Our global-occasion duration I believe to be on atomic scale -- the time, roughly speaking, taken by an electron to circulate once around a nucleus. With the help of a colleague, Henry Stepp, I have developed a mathematical representation of the global-local distinction; the mathematics provides separate but compatible meanings for "global time" and "local time". (Contrary to what you might surmise, the age measured by Hubble is local, referring to "here and now".)

Loosely speaking, a violent local occasion produces change of some object's identity while a gentle local occasion preserves identity. Such a distinction cannot be precise because the meaning of "object identity" depends on scale. The identity of an elementary particle associates with a time scale that is smaller than global-occasion duration by a huge factor. Your identity associates with a time scale larger than global-occasion duration by a huge factor.

Because global time accords no significance to "before big bang", the first global occasion -- the big bang itself -- unequivocally deserves the adjective "violent". Change in universe identity at big bang was total. The "object" in question here is the entire universe, scale being set by global-occasion duration at universe center.

Subsequent global occasions have been progressively less violent, altering universe identity to a smaller and smaller degree, and at present each global occasion is sufficiently gentle that we usually are unaware of the discreteness recognized by Whitehead. (My model estimates the total number of global occasions since big bang to be ~10.35.)

Although human sensory apparatus normally leads us to think of global time as increasing continuously, discreteness is manifested by the phenomenon of radioactivity discovered toward the end of the nineteenth century. Certain atomic nuclei were found to change identity suddenly, with creation of new particles; there was nothing gradual about this process. The amazing discovery no doubt influenced Whitehead's thinking.

The discontinuous nature of nuclear decay reflects the discreteness of global time, not local time. (A single global occasion encompasses many nuclear decays throughout the universe.) The discreteness of local time is on a far smaller scale -- so tiny as to be disregarded by almost all physicists, who treat local time as continuous despite their awareness of nuclear decay. The mathematical structure of my model has nevertheless led me to share Whitehead's belief that local process, as well as global, is discrete. Attributes of elementary matter, otherwise mysterious, seem to me to be explained by discreteness within the local rigid (inertial) Whiteheadian pattern of process that corresponds to what physicists call an "elementary particle".

Such a view is far from standard. Although science has long accepted the discrete particle concept (a discreteness linked to the discreteness of radioactive decay) most physicists continue an effort to represent the local behavior of particles through the continuous mathematics invented by Isaac Newton.

Whitehead, on the other hand, understood the identity of a particle to be defined by a pattern of discrete local process. All aspects of Whitehead's reality reflect discrete process, the discreteness being local as well as global even though (according to my model) the time interval separating primitive local occasions is minuscule compared to our duration of global occasion. In fact a single global occasion may embrace a huge collection of complex local occasions. (The local-time "extension" of a nuclear decay lies far below global-occasion duration, even though any decay comprises an immense number of primitive local occasions.)

Gentle Versus Violent Process; Continuous Versus Discrete Mathematics

Can Whitehead's discrete-process posture somehow adapt to the orthodox view that, although some universe aspects are discrete, others are continuous? I have helped my personal thinking to adapt by using the adjectives "gentle" and "violent" to characterize different patterns of Whiteheadian process. The sudden decay of an individual nucleus may be described as "violent" because it noticeably changes nuclear identity. In a gentle event material identity seems not to change. Gentleness characterizes process that is approximately representable by continuous mathematics while violent process is more naturally represented by discrete mathematics. Vacuum process, even though discrete at extremely small scales, lacks inertial rigidity and, already at scales accommodating the rigid process patterns interpretable as elementary particles, exhibits a gentleness amenable to continuous mathematics. Hence there has been success, in describing spacetime from a material standpoint, of that branch of continuous mathematics called "geometry".

Emptiness, even though materially influential, is incapable of changing the observable identity of an elementary particle -- which includes a rest mass. On the other hand, I shall later argue that emptiness helps create this identity by generating rest mass through a pattern of violent process whose scale lies far below that of observation.

Creation or annihilation of an elementary particle constitutes a violent (complex local) event at subatomic scales of interest to particle physicists, but at atomic and higher scales the coordinated creation-annihilation of huge numbers of photons is a gentle process pattern describable by continuous electric and magnetic fields. Such electromagnetic gentleness underlies the meaning of "observation" -- a process pattern that transfers "information" to an "observer" about an "observee" while little disturbing the identity of either. Any pattern that can be called "observation" satisfies the meaning of "gentle". On the other hand, any process pattern that "significantly" alters material identity should not be considered an "observation" -- being "violent" at those scales where such identity is definable. (Looking is gentle; touching may be violent.)


Astronomers, dealing with larger scales than those usually of concern to physicists, are better tuned to process understanding of the universe even while restricting themselves to continuous mathematics. Although objectifying material process by names such as "comet", "planet", "star", "galaxy" and "black hole", the evolution -- i.e., the perpetually changing identity -- of such objects is never forgotten in the way physicists forget that their "elementary particles" lack absolute identity. (An electron is an electron is an electron.) The material evolution seen as violent by some astronomer concerned with one scale may be regarded as gentle by another astronomer who considers a different scale.

Even though astronomy deals with a wide range of different scales, ratios between neighboring astronomical scales never approach that between global and (primitive) local -- process steps. The super-hugeness of this global-local ratio has deluded brilliant physicists into supposing that a continuous-mathematical "theory of everything material" may ignore the nonmaterial. The celebrated equations of continuous-mathematical physics ignore nonmaterial local violence at the minuscule scale of interaction between matter and vacuum.

The Dirac Equation

An example is the elctron-describing equation, invented 70 years ago by the British theorist Paul Dirac, an equation that won Dirac a Nobel prize by accurately predicting the existence of an electron partner -- the positron. To describe what he supposed to be continuous electron motion, Dirac invoked the continuous mathematics used by physicists since Newton. There seemed no discreteness -- no violence -- in what Dirac was describing. The rest mass of the electron was accepted as an arbitrary parameter in the equation -- not to be explained and regarded as a "fundamental natural constant." On the other hand, according to Whitehead's view (as elaborated by my model), the electron's measured rest mass reflects repeated vacuum "buffeting" of the rigidly-regular process corresponding to an elementary electron, without rest mass, that moves at maximum velocity -- the same velocity as exhibited by light. On the time scale of particle events, vacuum buffeting is violent (each impact reversing electron velocity) but, on an observation scale larger than the duration of a global occasion, vacuum process appears homogenous. The net result of many buffetings is merely diminution electron average velocity -- a diminution phenomenologically representable by assigning rest mass to the electron. At the "large" scale of observation, the effect of "small-scale" violence in vacuum-matter interactions merely enforcement of a below-maximum electron speed (the average speed related, through quantum mechanics, to ratio between electron momentum and rest mass).

Because rest mass is essential not only to material identify but also to observability of matter by matter, transmutation into observation-scale rest mass of subatomic violent vacuum impact on matter underpins the way we perceive our universe. Although not so far mentioned in my remarks today, the phenomenon called gravity I believe manifests a slight "polarization" of almost-homogeneous vacuum -- a polarization induced by interaction between dense nonmaterial processes and dilute material process.

Nonmaterial process participates in functions other than generation of rest mass and gravity, some of which (such as advancement of present in a global occasion and collapse of material wave function) I expect philosophers to find interesting. Theologians interest themselves in still other functions. Nevertheless, although science may define itself to be unconcerned about many aspects of nonmaterial process, rest mass and gravity it will not ignore.

Let me close with a summarizing general observation that recognizes, as far more thoroughly studied than subatomic process, the transmutation of violent atomic collisions into gentle observation-scale thermodynamics. Perpetuating the utility of Newton's continuous mathematics, science during the last century has, in a variety of contexts, become comfortable with scale changes that allow violence to be seen as gentle process.

-- Geoffrey F. Chew is a Professor Emeritus in Physics at University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the AHIMSA Advisory Board.

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