On Thich Nhat Hanh, Fear of Death and the Consolations of Science


2:30 p.m. (HST) Friday November, 12, 2021

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Presented by
Dr. Bronwyn Finnigan
The Australian National University

This talk critically examines Thich Nhat Hanh’s attempt to interface Buddhist views about fear with science. He claims that all fears are rooted in a fundamental fear of annihilation, which he elaborates by reference to evolutionary biology (1). He also argues that this fear is undermined and thereby overcome by the Buddha’s teaching of no-self and basic laws in physics (2). I first critically engage (2), arguing that the appeal to physics is misapplied and that the Buddha’s teaching is not necessarily consoling. I then positively engage (1), arguing that while its similarity to mainstream science of fear might seem to lend it credibility, there are important disanalogies that reveal tensions between the metaphysical commitments of the relevant sciences and Buddhism.

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