I have just been scanning through some of my favourite books and I rediscovered a passage which is in close accord with one of the more audacious claims I make in:
An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe
In the above book I consider how the qualities of humans are different from the qualities of everything in the universe (to put it rather crudely). By 'everything in the universe' I have in mind things such as the basic constituents of the universe ('atoms', 'ultimates', 'BC'... there are many more names we could use to refer to these constituents!) and everything that these constituents form when they come into particular arrangements - things we call 'stars', 'tables', 'oranges', 'seagulls', 'submarines' and 'humans'.
Humans are clearly part of 'everything in the universe' but do they have qualities which 'everything in the universe' does not (to be clear - to talk of everything is to talk of every thing...no thing lacks this thing. This might not actually be clear, for: What is a 'thing'? For now, let us say that 'things' are things such as 'atoms', 'stars', 'tables', 'oranges', 'seagulls', 'submarines' and 'humans'). If humans have quality B*, but 'everything in the universe' also has quality B*, then humans are clearly not distinguished from 'everything in the universe' through B*.
From the Evolutionary Perspective I make the case that humans only have 2 senses which distinguish them from 'everything in the universe'. Compare a human with an atom and consider the 'senses'; what distinguishes human from atom? The human has 2 senses (seeing and hearing). What are generally considered as the other three human senses (touch, taste, smell) are also qualities of the atom. Humans are distinguished from 'everything in the universe' because of the possession of 2 senses.
So, to the passage which I rediscovered ('The Universe in a Single Atom' by the Dalai Lama, 2006, p. 55):
"The early Buddhist theory of atoms, which has not undergone major revision, proposes that matter is constituted by a collection of eight so-called atomic substances: earth, water, fire and air...and form, smell, taste and tactility..an 'atom' is seen as a composite of these eight substances, and on the basis of the aggregation of such composite 'atoms', the existence of the objects in the macroscopic world is explained."
So, according to the Buddhist theory of atoms, it is the case that 'everything in the universe' is smelling/touching/tasting. In terms of the senses, humans are distinguished from 'everything in the universe' through the possession of two senses. This is a hard thing for many to make sense of. Indeed, in the above work the Dalai Lama claims:
"Personally, I have never understood the idea that qualities like smell, taste and tactility are basic constituents of material objects". (p.58)
and, therefore that:
"this aspect of Buddhist thought...must now be modified in light of modern physics' detailed and experimentally verified understanding of the basic constituents of matter in terms of particles such as electrons revolving around a nucleus of protons and neutrons." (pp. 58-9)
I am personally greatly saddened that the Dalai Lama should feel the need to abandon the long-standing Buddhist theory of atoms on the basis of modern physics. For, modern physics has nothing whatsoever to say on the issue of whether or not 'everything in the universe' smells/touches/tastes. Indeed, as I urge, the Evolutionary Perspective (which is partially grounded in modern science) gives us good reason to believe that the Buddhist theory of atoms has been right all along!