Buddha versus Popper: Do we live in the present or do we plan for the future? Rohit Parikh (CUNY)

February 22, 2019 @ 4:10 pm
Faculty House, Columbia U
116th St & Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

There are two approaches to life. The first one, which we are identifying with Sir Karl Popper, is to think before we act and to let our hypotheses die in our stead when the overall outcome is likely to be negative. We act now for a better future, and we think now which action will bring the best future. Both decision theory and backward induction are technical versions of this train of thought.  The second approach, which we will identify with the Buddha, is to live in the present and not allow the future to pull us away from living in the ever present  Now. The Buddha’s approach is echoed in many others who came after him, Jelaluddin Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, and even perhaps Jesus.  It occurs in many contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Thich Nhat Hanh.  We may call Popper’s approach “futurism” and the Buddha’s approach “presentism.”

In this talk, we will discuss various aspects of the discourse on presentism and futurism. The purpose is to contrast one with the other. We will not attempt to side with one against the other, and instead leave it as a future project to find a prescriptive action-guiding choice between the two. We merely conjecture that a better optimal choice between these two positions may be somewhere in between. (This is joint work with Jongjin Kim.)

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