Who Decides what is Real?

I look out on the sea of shaved heads and maroon robes. The monks sit on thin mats cross-legged in the plain classroom. The air shimmers with monsoon heat. One young monk puts up his hand. “Is the big bang real?” He asks. I pause before answering. The fact that the universe evolved an early, hot and dense phase is supported by a web of observational evidence. On the other hand, the origin is projected to be smaller than a sub-atomic particle, a state of infinite temperature and density that can’t be understood in any physical theory. “I don’t know,” is my honest answer.For a decade, I’ve been traveling to the Himalayan foothills to teach Buddhist monks (and more recently, nuns) cosmology. “Science for Monks” was started at the direction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was worried that the Buddhist monastic tradition did not include math and modern science. These monks are Tibetans living in exile in India. Most left Tibet as small children and many will never see their families aga…

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