Karma, intuition, and the impotence of science

Karma, destiny, and related ideas aren’t things that I have thought a whole lot about in my time spent being alive. For most of my life, I’ve held a scientific worldview — one in which ideas like karma don’t really have a place, due to a lack of observable evidence (to me). I think it is generally accepted that these ideas are outside the domain of science;  because these ideas are not falsifiable, science cannot not address them. I would even go as far as to say that science is powerless to address them. That seems like a better description, because science — the scientific method that many of us use to understand the universe and our place in the universe — fails us when it comes to the metaphysical. And there are many important metaphysical questions that all of us think about.

I recently came back from a trip to Asia. Among the places I visited was Vietnam, where my parents are from. I had visited Vietnam once before, in the mid-’90s, but I was too young to truly appreciate my experiences. A little before, a lot during, and now after this trip, I am starting to really ponder ideas like karma. I started thinking about karma because my mother holds Bhuddhist beliefs, and during our trip, she took time to make donations to a village elementary school, and also to give out rice and medicine to the poor:

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My mom, Luyen, standing under a banner, holding a plaque for her donation to a Vietnamese elementary school.

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My mom purchased hundreds of kilograms of rice to give away.

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My mom giving away rice and medicine.

In my head and in my day-to-day life, I think that there is no such thing as karma or other similar ideas. But to my self, upon reflection, somehow that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s not only that the emptiness is unsatisfying in an existential way; it’s also that it feels intuitively inadequate in a way that is difficult to describe. As someone who considers themself scientific, I feel distrustful of this kind of intuiting (even when it is done by me), but there is much “intuiting” done (read: instinct behaviour) by creatures on earth that is powerful and that plays an important role in the existence of said creatures in their place in the universe. Isn’t that true? Then intuition, even about “wild” ideas, shouldn’t be entirely disregarded… should it?

Maybe science won’t be so powerless in the end. Perhaps quantum physicists or cosmologists who study dark matter will be able to give us answers to our metaphysical questions eventually.

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