An increasing number of scientists are aware that mystical thought provides a consistent and relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary science.
A meeting of two queens
Mrs. Vijaya Raje Scindia, a senior parliamentarian, is the Rajmata (Queen Mother) of what was earlier the Gwalior state in Central India. Charming and highly disciplined, the seventy-one year old Rajmata is also the vice-president of the second largest party in parliament, the Bharitya Janata party. Beset as it is with nepotism, Indian politics cannot boast of many fearless politicians like her - she has virtually disowned her only son due to political differences. Nor are there many politicians like her, who in spite of publicly declaring that Mahatma Gandhi was a hypocrite can still win an election. She draws huge crowds when her helicopter lands in the rural areas of Madhya Pradesh and neighboring states, and she never tires of telling the urban intelligentsia as well as the illiterate folk that Hinduism is the answer to India’s ills.
To support her claim, the Rajmata often recounts the story of her meeting with Queen Frederika of Greece at a reception. Queen Frederika had come to pay homage to her guru, one of the Shankaracharyas,1 following his book on non-dualism -i.e., absolute monism, also called Advaita (or Advaita Vendanta). This book was an exposition of the teachings of the ancient Hindu scriptures called the Upanishads, or Vedanta.2
The Queen of Gwalior asked the Queen of Greece what it was that had drawn her to a guru who did not have much of a following even within India. Queen Frederika said that it was her advanced research in physics that had started her on a spiritual quest. It culminated in her accepting the non-dualism or absolute monism of Shankara as her philosophy of life and science. That explanation, though interesting, did not make much sense to the Rajmata, who had often heard that is was drugs and sex that attracted Westerners - initially the hippies - to Hinduism. So she probed deeper. Frederika explained that in the nineteenth century, scientists had thought that the cosmos was made up of ninety-two basic elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen and iron, which were indestructible. This implied that the universe had a diversity of independently existing materials. However, during this century research had revealed that all elements were in fact made up of a single energy. The cosmos was therefore intrinsically one, whether it appeared as a speck of dust, a tree, a Nobel Prize-winning genius or a black-hole beyond the galaxies. The differences were merely appearances. Our senses give us a knowledge of what is apparent, but not of the underlying one reality of the cosmos. This one energy which permeates the whole of creation, Frederika continued, was what Hinduism calls ‘brahma’. Long before physics discovered it, Shankara had argued that the world of sense experience, that is the world of matter, was a world of appearance (maya), because at the root of each individual existence is the same energy which forms the cosmos. The human self (atman) is ultimately not distinct from the universal self (brahma). Duality is illusion. Reality is not dual, but one. Science, said Frederika, has yet to catch up with what the seers in India had already understood over 2500 years ago. Therefore, she said to the Rajmata, ‘You are fortunate to inherit such knowledge. I envy you. While Greece is the country of my birth, India is the country of my soul.’
Queen Frederika is by no means an oddity. For similar reasons, thousands of PhDs have followed, for however brief a time, a guru like Mahesh Yogi, the popularizer of transcendental meditation. Physicists such as Fritjof Capra have seriously argued that the conclusions of the New Physics are best understood in the philosophical framework of Eastern mysticism, such as Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The purpose of this appendix is to examine this claim, with special reference to Hinduism. Before getting into the details of their arguments, it is important for us to grasp the historical significance of the trend which scientists turned-mystics such as Dr. Capra and Queen Frederika represent. Many of these people are honest scientists who are no longer willing to silence the voice of their conscience in order to conform to the mainstream philosophy of science (called scientism), which they can no longer accept with intellectual integrity. They have risked their careers in rejecting mechanistic science, because to them its philosophical basis is obviously untrue.
Modern science: The fall of the last citadel of rationalism
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientific genius of our century, said: ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.’ Not only is there energy, there are also laws that govern it, to give order to the energy; an order that is discoverable by the human mind. This thought Einstein, was the ultimate riddle of science.
That the human mind can understand something of nature, whether or not it has a proper philosophy of science, is obvious to all. But if you ask the question, what makes our minds capable of comprehending the cosmos? You get at least three completely different answers.
Creation by a rational God: The Judaeo-Christian belief
The founders of what is called ‘modern science’, such as Francis Bacon, Galileo, and Isaac Newton, were by no means consistently Christian in their thinking or practice. Nevertheless they accepted the biblical view that man can understand nature because the divine mind which created the world also created the human mind in is own image so that we may understand and govern the world on his behalf. In other words, the universe is comprehensible because there is a given (or divinely ordained) correlation between rationality in nature and rationality in man. Francis Bacon used to be called the father of modern science because he was the first to articulate the ‘scientific method’ or the ‘inductive procedure’, which is to make experiments and to draw general conclusions from them, to be tested in further experiments. Bacon is often condemned today for his use of harsh language in describing human authority over physical nature. I sympathize with his critics, but coming as I do from a culture which worships trees, rivers, mountains, rats, snakes, monkeys and cows, I also understand why a person seeking to change his culture’s subservient attitude to nature would be tempted to use his kind of extreme language. Be that as it may, the point here is that Bacon believed that the pursuit of science is a theological duty. In his Novum Organum Scientiarum (1620), for example, he wrote, ‘Man, by the Fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some parts repaired, the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.3
In Judaeo-Christian culture, scientific investigation proceeded in a systematic rational manner because of what A. N. Whitehead (1904-67) called ‘the medieval insistence on the rationality of God’ or the confidence ‘in the intelligible rationality of a personal being’. In his Harvard University Lowell Lectures, entitled Science and the Modern World, Whitehead explained that because of their confidence in the rationality of God, the early scientists had an ‘inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with is antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope.’4
The biblical revelation gave birth to the scientific method because it taught that man was created to govern nature. Therefore, even though human reason was finite, it could be used to understand and manage nature.
Creation by non-rational chance: Scientism
The Judaeo-Christian belief in a common rationality between the cosmos and man was gradually undercut by rationalism, which began with the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650). Rationalism dominated philosophy from the seventeenth to the earth twentieth centuries. Descartes was a believer in God and considered himself to be a devout Catholic. In his philosophy, however, he rejected ‘faith’ in God’s revelation. He insisted that in searching for truth we must ‘reject all knowledge which is merely probable and judge that only those things should be believed which are perfectly known and about which there can be no doubts’. In other words, we should believe that which is discovered and proved by man’s reason. Descartes argued that he could doubt everything, but he could not logically doubt that he doubted. That would be self-contradictory and therefore untrue.
Almost as soon as they were put forward, philosophers demolished Descartes’ arguments in defense of his faith in reason. His successors in philosophy showed that in order to be truly consistent with his own logic, Descartes could only believe that doubting or thinking existed. He could not possibly argue that thinking must be caused by a thinker, without first proving that every effect must have a cause. There is no way we can ‘prove’ that this law of causation is a universal fact.
Philosophers such as Berkeley and Hume in England and Kant in Germany greatly weakened the logical foundations of the faith in the sufficiency of reason as a means for knowing reality as it really is. The age of skepticism had begun after Kant. But it was Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, who exploded the myth that humans are rational creatures. His discovery of the ‘unconscious’ mind, and its primacy over the conscious mind, implied that more often that not, the behavior of human beings is conditioned by irrational drives and biochemical impulses.
Now, of course, not even scientists accept the idea that knowledge comes to us through completely objective observation. We choose what we will observe. The choice is determined by some assumptions of faith. We have to ‘believe’ in order to know anything.
By presupposing that blind chance was behind creation, scientism had already denied that there was rationality behind nature. The visible order of the universe was understood as the pattern human rationality sees in what is the product of blind chance. But after Freud it became impossible to believe that even human beings were totally rational. However, the philosophers and psychologists were not able to shake the popular faith in reason. The continuing success of the scientific method seemed to vindicate man’s confidence in the capacity of human reason to unravel the mystery of life and the universe. Science thus became the last citadel of rationalism. It was only in this century, as we will see later, that the physicists themselves reached what appeared to be a dead end with rationalism. Then the foundations of scientism shook and the citadel began to fall apart. Sensitive individuals such as Queen Frederika saw that even though science works, scientism is intrinsically a self-defeating philosophy. It says that human reason can comprehend the universe, while insisting that there is no rationality behind the universe-which is a product of blind, random chance. How can a universe which is non-rational be understood rationally?
If you compare a painting such as ‘The Raising of the Cross’ by Rembrandt with modern art such as Jackson Pollock’s ‘Convergence’, which is deliberately painted ‘by chance’, you can understand the former rationally, but the latter can only be felt. It makes no sense. Or, if you listen to a composer like Back and compare his music with that of a ‘chance’ composer such as John Cage, you cannot make sense of the latter, because it is a product not of the rational mind, but of blind chance. The fact that the universe is in fact comprehensible drove scientists like Einstein back to a belief in a rational creation, but scientists such as Capra and Queen Frederika moved towards a third possible answer to the question why the universe is comprehensible.
Creation as consciousness: Mysticism
Put simply, the third answer is that the universe is understandable by the human mind, up to a point, because it is a ‘creation’ of our mind. That is, consciousness in man is the universal consciousness at the root of all reality. Descartes and his successors in science believed that mind and matter are two distinct entities. Mysticism says that they are one and the same thing. It is human ignorance, or what Shankara called avidhya, which makes us ascribe an independent and absolute reality to the world. The true essence of reality, according to this view, is neither matter nor energy, but consciousness.
The ordinary, rational consciousness within our brains, which we experience as a part of our daily life, is said to be a small part of the whole. Through mystical techniques it is considered possible to go beyond the limited experience of rational consciousness and experience universal consciousness, that is, the oneness of everything within our own ‘expanded’ consciousness.
Why is it that, having rejected scientism, so many scientists prefer to find a new philosophy of science in Hinduism, Buddhism or Taoism instead of returning to the original world-view of modern science? As we shall see at the end of this appendix, the real reason is a negative one. On the surface, however, there do appear to be some attractive and positive reasons for such a choice. Let us examine these first.
Understanding the parallels between the New Physics and mysticism
We can appreciate and evaluate the attraction of a mysticism that seems to follow the rejection of materialistic science if we understand the following concepts: the oneness of the cosmos; the cosmos as appearance; and the limits of logical reason.
The oneness of the cosmos: Non-dualism
While many people feel that through his famous equation E = mc2, Einstein ushered in the terrifying age of nuclear war, oppression and destruction, New Age thinkers maintain that in fact he helped usher in the age of cosmic oneness and harmony by proving the oneness of matter and energy.
The oneness of matter and energy
At the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was demonstrated that X-rays could penetrate matter, it was already understood that the atom was not the solid, indestructible substance that physicists had earlier believed it to be. Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (1905) was understood to mean that energy and matter were interchangeable.
The energy (E) contained in a piece of matter is equal to its mass (m), times c2, where c is the speed of light.
The formulation of this theory had two profound philosophical consequences. First, it was no longer possible to be a strict materialist, in the old sense, since matter as such was not the ultimate reality. Second, it was impossible now to believe in the plurality of independently existing material elements. The hundred-odd elements of chemistry had become the one energy of physics in a single stroke of an Einstein equation. As Fritjof Capra puts it,
This is how modern physics reveals the basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any basic building blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole.5
The relativity of space and time
Nineteenth-century scientists not only believed that the various elements were distinct substances, they also believed that space and time were distinct, absolute and given facts of the universe. This dualism of space and time had been a central pillar of Newtonian physics. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity demolished this belief. He showed that space and time were relative to each other and therefore inseparable. Time now became the fourth dimension of the space-time continuum.
The interconnectedness of electrons
The oneness of the cosmos is not simply the potential oneness of elements in their pre-material energy form. Even as ‘matter’ the cosmos seems to be profoundly interconnected. This interconnectedness is best explained by what in known as the EPR experiment and Bell’s Theorem.
It will be easier to understand the problem using an imaginary illustration. Suppose two coins behave in such a way that when they are flipped at the same time, they always fall at the same moment in the opposite way - if A is ‘heads’, then B will always be ‘tails’, or vice versa. Suppose now that we separate the coins by thousands of miles and then flip them and they still behave in the same way. We would then naturally ask, How does coin B ‘know’ the positions coin A is taking at the very moment several thousands miles away? Since the theory of relativity assumes that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, there is no known way through which the information could be transmitted to coin B instantaneously. Therefore, one valid explanation for the phenomenon would be that the two coins, though apparently distinct and spatially separated, may be in some mysterious way a ‘single system’.
The EPR paradox was put forward by Einstein and his two young colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen in a joint paper in 1935. Their argument was that the quantum theory is incomplete because it does not explain how two subatomic particles could remain ‘correlated’ over vast distance without being connected by the law of cause and effect. The following form of this EPR paradox, first proposed by the physicist David Bohm, has become popular in New Age circles.
Imagine two electrons, A and B, are spinning in opposite directions in such a way that the total value of their spin is zero. Before measuring their spin, and without affecting their spin, we separate the two by thousands of miles - say we put on in New Delhi and the other in New York. One special feature of the behaviour of the now distantly separated electrons is that unlike other spinning objects that we normally encounter (such as a spinning-top), we can decide at the last minute whether our axis of measurement will be vertical or horizontal. The instant we perform our measurement on electron A, the second one, electron B, will acquire a definite spin - ‘up’ or ‘down’ if we have chosen the vertical axis, ‘left’ or ‘right’ if we have chosen the horizontal axis, in the direction opposite to that of electron A. Until 1964 the EPR paradox was only a curious theoretical issue which did not really bother physicists. But in that year John Bell devised a theorem which made it possible to test and confirm the EPR paradox experimentally in a lab. For short distances the paradox has in fact been experimentally confirmed, and if the quantum theory is correct, then the two particles must continue to be ‘correlated’ even if separated by light years.
Since Bell’s theorem it has become impossible to ignore the question, What connects the two particles? Bohm has supported the assumption that some type of field, as yet unexplored, connects the two particles in a single quantum system. While some Christians may be tempted to read into this phenomenon a scientific justification for the New Testament teaching that ‘He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God. . . all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’ (Col. 1:15-17), the mystics see it as a scientific basis for their world-view. Capra says that the two electrons behave in this manner because even though they are physically separated in space, they are >nevertheless linked by instantaneous, non-local connections=.6
The physicist Henry Pierce Stapp draws even more radical implications from Bell’s Theorem. He asserts that it proves >the profound truth that the world is either fundamentally lawless or fundamentally inseparable=.7 Another physicist, Nick Herbert, considers this behaviour of the electrons a scientific proof of mysticism. The effect in electron B, he says, is not caused by a transfer of information, at least not in the usual sense. Rather, ‘it is a simple consequence of the oneness of apparently separate objects. . . a Quantum loophole through which physics admits not merely the possibility but the necessity of the mystic’s unitary vision: we are all one.’8 Mrs. Shakuntala Devi, India’s mathematical prodigy, also believes that this interconnectedness of the electrons entails the interconnectedness of the cosmos. She interprets it as a scientific justification for belief in astrology. If the universe is so connected, then it is legitimate to assume that the movement of the stars will affect the destinies of individual lives on this planet.
Most believers in psychic phenomena turn to this aspect of quantum mechanics to explain how extra-sensory perception, telepathy and psychokinesis (e.g., metal spoon-bending) are theoretically possible.
Rupert Sheldrake, a British plant physiologist, postulated in his books A New Science of Life and The Presence of the Past that all patterns in the universe, from electrons to human minds to galaxies, are linked by ‘morphogenetic fields’ (M-fields). These M-fields operate without transmitting energy (i.e., instantaneously) on a sub-quantum stratum outside the categories of space and time. These hypothetical M-fields explain how quantum information can get around so fast, why phenomena such as extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis are possible, and how the laws of karma might operate.
Indeed the EPR paradox suggests that quantum mechanics is an incomplete theory and that the quest of physics must therefore continue beyond it. But is it legitimate to build an entire world- and life-view on the strength of an as yet unexplained phenomenon? In a 1988 lecture entitled ‘New Physics and Mysticism’, an Australian professor of quantum physics, Dr. Frank Stootman, rejects as ‘unscientific extrapolation’ this method of constructing a world-view on such slim and unexplained evidence. Just because two electrons are found to be mysteriously connected, does that give us sufficient reason to assume that everything in the cosmos is connected and is one? Just because a scientist knows that mass and physical energy are two aspects of the same reality, can he then, as a scientist, take a blind leap of faith and assume that physical energy is the same as psychic energy?
Another physicist, Dr. Fred Skiff, said in a lecture delivered in June 1990 at St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, that the scientific method has been to observe facts, then to construct a theory to explain those facts, and then to deduce logical conclusions from the theory that can be tested experimentally. The theory is modifiable by the experiments and becomes the grid through which we observe facts. Scientists who are propounding mysticism as a world-view on the basis of an as yet unexplained interconnectedness of the electrons are deliberately rejecting the scientific method. Scientists such as Capra can claim to be doing science only if they attempt to come up with an experimentally verifiable theory to explain the puzzling behaviour of electrons. Instead, it seems that they just choose to give up empirical methods of science because a certain phenomenon is not understood at present, preferring to opt for a mystical unverifiable approach to knowledge. What is often missed by the readers of authors to such as Capra is that when he is propounding a mystical world-view, he is not speaking as a scientist at all, but as someone who is denying science and yet invoking his prestige as a scientist to make his readers accept an extra-scientific proposition.
According to the skeptics, the plain truth is that the two identical coins in the earlier illustration, minted at the same time from the same material, do not seem to be interconnected. Nor is our consciousness so connected with them as to enable us to choose, when we flip a coin, whether it will fall ‘heads’ or ‘tails’. We will return to this view again.
The inseparability of the human observer and the observed matter
For centuries a key principle of science was that the researcher (subject) must not influence the facts (objects) he is observing. Science must be based on completely objective observation. This principle assumed that you (the subject) are separate from the physical world (the object). This dualism of subject and object could allow an ‘objective’ study of the cosmos. It should be obvious, however, that this dualistic assumption on which the scientific method is based undercuts the monism of the mystics which teaches that ‘you’ and ‘the world’ are somehow one. Therefore, it is not acceptable to them. Their case against this dualism of subject and object is based on two scientific considerations.
(i) When physicists started studying subatomic particles in a ‘cloud chamber’ they found that it simply is not possible to observe the experiment without affecting it. The choice of what to observe in and of itself affected the outcome. This suggests that in the final analysis it may not be right to maintain the traditional dualism of subject and object. To quote Capra again:
The crucial feature of Quantum Theory is that the observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but it is necessary to even bring about these properties. My conscious decision about how to observe, say an electron, will determine the electron’s properties to some extent. If I ask it a particle question, it will give me a particle answer, if I ask it a wave question, it will give me a wave answer. The electron does not have objective properties independent of my mind. In atomic physics the sharp Cartesian division between the observer and the observed can no longer be maintained.9
(ii) A subtler, but in some ways a more fundamental consideration, is that human beings can never experience (see, hear, touch, smell or taste) the world as it really is. What our senses receive are waves at different frequencies. These waves are interpreted by our brains as objective realities. We have no means of independently verifying whether or not the image of the world in our mind corresponds to a world actually out there. This, as we say in chapter 1, leads some mystics to argue that the cosmos does not exist objectively, in its own right, but that ‘we create our own reality’.
As we have seen, physicists such as Dr. Stootman regard this conclusion as ‘sheer extrapolation’. Just because objectivity is restricted at quantum level, it does not give us the right to assume that an objective reality does not exist at all. While it can be conceded that absolute objectivity is beyond the reach of finite men, it does not follow that we are not capable of a measure of objectivity, and that a scientist should not strive to be at least sufficiently objective for another scientist who may disagree with him to be able to obtain the same results by repeating his experiments. This rejection of objective reality leads us to our second consideration, that is, the view of the cosmos as a projection of the mind - an appearance.
The cosmos as appearance: Maya
Besides non-dualism or ‘oneness’, the Upanishads also teach the doctrine of maya. That is, the cosmos is ultimately only an illusion. Many serious scientists no longer consider this to be an absurd idea, for the following reasons.
The solidity of the world as an appearance
If an atom could be blown up to the size of a football field, its nucleus would be about the size of a fly in the center of the field. The electrons would be smaller than the grains of sand on the periphery of the field. This means that atoms are anything but solid substances. Equally important is the fact that even the electrons are not solid substances like a grain of sand. These ‘particles’ are better described as ‘patterns of activity’ that have both space and time aspects. Their space aspect makes them appear as objects with a certain mass. Their time aspect makes them appear as processes involving equivalent energy. The interrelationship of these energy patterns of the subatomic world is what finally appears to us as the solid, stable, predictable cosmos. If what is fluid and dynamic only appears solid and stable, then it is indeed tempting to accept Shankara’s concept of maya. Capra says:
‘Maya’ does not mean that the world is an illusion, as it is often wrongly stated. The illusion merely lies in our point of view, if we think that the shapes and structures, things and events, around us are realities of nature, instead of realizing that they are concepts of our measuring and categorizing minds. Maya is the illusion of taking these concepts for reality, of confusing the map with the territory.10
Simply put, mystics are saying that the next time you hold your husband or wife in your arms, you must know that it is not a reality in your arms, but a concept your mind has fabricated from the raw energy that forms the universe.
The external world as a manifestation of the invisible
The ‘peace invocation’ that prefaces the Isa Upanishad, the first of the ten major Upanishads, begins with the statement:
‘The (Brahma) is the Full. This (world) is the Full. From the Full (invisible), the Full (visible) has come.’
‘That’ and ‘This’ are technical terms in Vedanta. ‘This’ refers to the cosmos within the grasp of the senses. ‘That’, which is the source of ‘This’ world, is beyond the senses, known only in the mystical experience. This teaching has a striking parallel in the work of the physicist David Bohm, a protégé of Einstein. He calls the unmanifest dimension of the universe ‘the implicate order’ - that is, the fluid, interconnected energy patterns which underlie the explicate order of the solid, separate, stable world of matter.
The earlier scientists had assumed that the manifest world was the only real world. The first serious challenge to that assumption came (as we saw in chapter 1) from the paleontologist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Science, he said, had thus far been preoccupied with the ‘without’ of things. In his classic work The Phenomenon of Man de Chardin wrote that to ignore the existence of a ‘within’ was understandable in physics, in bacteriology, and to some extent in botany as well. But
It tends to become a gamble in the case of a biologist studying the behaviour of insects or Coelenterates. It seems merely futile with regard to the vertebrates. Finally, it breaks down completely with man, in whom the existence of the within can no longer be evaded, because it is the object of a direct intuition and the substance of all knowledge.11
Commenting on de Chardin, one of the most respected Vedantic scholars in India, Swami Ranganathanda of the Ramakrishna Mission, says that Vedanta also ‘speaks of Brahma as the inactive state and Maya or Sakti as the active state of one and the same primordial non-dual reality’.12 New Age thinkers say that this parallel between New Science and Vedanta is supported by physicists such as David Bohm. Marilyn Ferguson sums up Bohm’s view in these words:
What appears to be a stable, tangible, visible, audible, world, said Bohm, is an illusion. It is dynamic, Kaleidoscopic - not really there. What we normally see is the explicate or the unfolded order of things, rather like watching a move. But there is an underlying order that is father to this second generation reality. He called the other order implicate, or enfolded. The enfolded order harbour our reality, much as the DNA in the nucleus of the cell harbours potential life and directs the nature of its unfolding.13
The cosmos as a hologram
Holography is three-dimensional photography using laser beams. When a normal, two-dimensional photograph gets damaged, it is damaged for good. But one characteristic of a hologram is that if it is broken, any part of it can be used to reproduce the whole image. In a mysterious way, every part of the hologram contains the whole within itself.
This phenomenon is similar to the way our brain seems to function. Neuroscientist Karl Primbram was associated with the attempt to find the precise location of memory in the brain. He learned that the memory is not localized in a particular place. If one part of the brain is damaged, another part takes over the function.
How do we see, hear, taste or smell something? Primbram argues that the brain simply receives the frequencies of the data. It performs complex mathematical calculations on these frequencies and then translates them into hardness or coldness or redness or smell. The hard rock that we see and touch is in fact only a particular frequency mathematically interpreted by the brain to be a rock: ‘These mathematical processes have little common sense relationships to the real world as we perceive it.’14 Thus, according to Primbram, what exist are frequencies which our brain uses to construct a three-dimensional image of the universe, much like a complete holographic picture which is constructed from a tiny fragment of the whole. In Marilyn Ferguson’s words, this view implies that, >If the nature of reality is itself holographic and the brain operates holographically, then the world is indeed, as Eastern religions have said, Maya, a magic show. Its concreteness is an illusion.=15
Capra explains this concept with the help of a metaphor:
In the heaven of (god) Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact is everything else. ‘In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number’.16
The limits of logic
Over two thousand years ago, Hindu seers had rejected faith in human rationality. The Katha Upanishad, which is considered to be the backbone of philosophical Hinduism, says: Aaniyan hi atarkyam anupramanuat: ‘[The illumination is] not a subject to be grasped by logical reason (tarka), because it is subtler than the subtlest.’ And Naisa tarkena matirapaneya: ‘This spiritual understanding cannot be attained by logic (tarka).’
The emerging tradition of scientific mysticism claims that the New Physics has reached similar conclusions. Capra claims: ‘Physicists have come to see that all their theories of natural phenomena, including the ‘laws’ they describe, are creations of the human mind: properties of our conceptual map of reality rather than of reality itself.’17 This is said to be true for a number of reasons.
a) The law of non-contradiction. An apple is an apple and cannot be a banana at the same time, says the simplified version of the law of non-contradiction. This has been a basic tenet of logic since the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC). Descartes assumed the validity of this law when he said that he could not logically doubt that he was doubting. It would be untrue, because it would be self-contradictory. Since Descartes, the law of non-contradiction was accepted as an a priori truth in a scientific method. An a priori truth is one which has to be assumed before we can prove anything at all. What is a priori cannot be proven itself, but it must be assumed, otherwise no knowledge is possible.
Twentieth-century physics, however, began to raise questions about the absolute nature of the law of non-contradiction when it faced the apparent paradox that light was particles as well as waves. If an apple cannot be a banana, how can a particle appear to be a wave when viewed differently? As Swami Ranganathanda says, ‘First fact, then logic, and if fact does not fit into logic, it is logic that has to go.’18
b) The law of causation. If we cause water to be heated beyond 4 BC it will expand. Every cause has an effect, and every effect has a cause. In identical circumstances a given cause will always have the same effect. This law of cause and effect was another a priori assumption of modern science. If heat will always cause water to expand, then the universe has a uniformity which makes technology then the universe has a uniformity which makes technology such as a steam engine possible. But the discoveries of the New Physics in the twentieth century have raised doubts about the absolute nature of this law as well.
For example, in any one year there is a 1 in 2340 chance that an atom of radium (226 Ra) will undergo radioactive decay by emitting an alpha particle. Thus if we had 2340 atoms of 226 Ra we could expect, on average, to see one radioactive decay event in one year. Or if we had 2340 x 365 atoms of 226 Ra we might expect one decay even each day. But we have no way of knowing which particular atom it might be in any one day, or why it decays.
It has been assumed that the scientist’s job is to find out exactly what causes a phenomenon. If we can know the cause, we can predict the effect, such as which atom will emit the particle and when it will do so. Modern science was built on the assumption that every effect must have a cause. Any effect which did not have a knowable cause could not happen, as far as science was concerned. Outside science, it was called ‘magic’ or ‘miracle’. Experimentally and mathematically, physicists became convinced that there were no hidden causes which could not one day be found with more sophisticated techniques.
The rise of modern quantum mechanics, however, had challenged this long-held view. For example, Werner Heisenberg showed in 1927 that in accordance with quantum principles it is impossible to measure simultaneously with precision the position and momentum of a particle. In fact, the uncertainty of the position multiplied by the uncertainty in momentum must always exceed Planck’s constant (the ratio between a particle’s energy and its corresponding wave frequency); this relationship is known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Thus, for example, if we were to fix the position of an electron beam by passing it through a narrow slit, the result would be diffraction - a sideways spreading of the beam, rendering its direction and momentum uncertain. The implication is that this uncertainty is not due to some hidden cause which one day will be discovered, but rather the uncertainty is intrinsic to the accepted model of quantum mechanics itself. At the subatomic level, then, a certain randomness or unknowableness is inherent in our understanding of basic reality.
For some thinkers, but by no means all, this has raised the question whether randomness or non-rationality is not the basic truth of the cosmos. If human senses and logic are not reliable means of knowing the truth, perhaps we have to transcend them in a mystical experience to get a direct (non-logical, non-sensory) experience of ultimate reality. But what will that do to science and progress? Will it spell their doom? Gary Zukav, another mystic physicist, whose book The Dancing Wu-Li Masters covers the same ground as Capra’s The Tao of Physics, confesses that one implication of their world-view may be the end of classical ‘objective’ science. Marilyn Ferguson states his conclusions thus:
In one sense, Zukav said, we may be approaching ‘the end of science’. Even as we continue to seek understanding, we are learning to accept the limits of our reductionist methods. Only direct mystical experience can give a sense of this non-logical universe, this realm of connectedness (of quantum physics). Enlarged awareness - as in meditation - may carry us past the limits of our logic to more complete knowledge.19
Will this ‘direct experience’ or ‘complete knowledge’ be science? For example, when someone feels ‘enlightened’ during meditation, will that prove that he did in fact have an experience of the universal divine consciousness? Or will it merely prove that he ‘felt’ enlightened, with no way of verifying or disproving his experience? It was such considerations that forced Einstein to respond to a lady in Vienna in 1955 with this statement: ‘The mystical trend of our times, which is manifested in the rampant growth of the so-called Theosophy and Spiritualism is, for me, no more than a symptom of weakness, confusion and a convenient vehicle for exploitation.’
Be that as it may. Since there are compelling reasons why scientists who reject scientism turn to mysticism in search of a better philosophy of life, we need to examine whether their choice is in fact justified. Or would a return to the original world-view which made science possible be a more sensible alternative?
The parallels: Real or apparent?
In the previous section we looked at the three related concepts of the oneness of the cosmos (non-dualism); the cosmos as appearance (maya); and the unreliability of rationality, which seems to justify mysticism. In this section we will look at these same concepts critically, to examine if the New Physics does lead one towards the mystical non-dualism of Hinduism, or whether the similarities are themselves merely maya, and illusion.
Oneness in physics and non-dualism in Hinduism
Is the energy of physics that permeates the cosmos the same as the One Consciousness of Hinduism which alone is said to be real? Or are the two systems talking about completely different things?
When the Upanishads say Tat Tvamasi (‘That thou art’) or Aham Brahmasmi (‘I am Brahma’, they are talking about the oneness of the human self and the divine self. According to Vedanta our experience of finite individuality is our bondage. Liberation means the realization of our divinity, or the merging of our finite consciousness in the infinite Cosmic Consciousness.
While the Upanishads emphasize the oneness of the human and divine self, they do not teach the oneness of the material body and the conscious self, let alone the oneness of self and the material world. At death, the Upanishads teach, the material body (called sthula sarira) remains on the earth, while the sublet body (suksma sarira) separates from the former and goes to the astral world. The ‘subtle body’ is what is called the ‘soul’ in English. The soul is not the self.
At the ‘soul’ stage the notion of individuality remains intact. It therefore reincarnates repeatedly in other material bodies until the ‘self’ is realized. When that happens, we are delivered from bondage to the material world and the subtle astral body (soul) and cease to reincarnate.
The experience of self-realization is not an experience of the oneness of the material body and the soul. In self-realization, called nirvikalpa samadhi, you experience the oneness of your consciousness with what is called the divine consciousness. However, your consciousness does not merge with the consciousness of others. Even the consciousness of the guru and the disciple do not merge. For example, when Totapuri, a naked guru, helped Ramakrishna Paramhansa to attain nirvikalpa samadhi, Ramakrishna sat in his room for three days and nights while Totapuri remained outside, wondering what was happening to his disciple. When he finally entered the room he saw the corpse-like body of Ramakrishna and struggled to bring him back to normal consciousness. The consciousness of the enlightened guru had not become one with the consciousness of the disciple-in-enlightenment.
There is an extreme interpretation according to which non-dualism in Vedanta can mean the oneness of everything, including body, soul and self. That is, if the material world is considered to be totally an illusion - if maya is understood to mean that Brahma (universal consciousness) alone exists, and the rest is its dream. Few modern gurus accept that interpretation of maya, because it completely rules out the possibility of science developing in India. Science can only develop in a culture which has a high view of the material world: its objectivity, rationality and value.
The discoveries of the oneness of matter and energy, the interconnectedness of electrons, the relativity of space and time, and the inseparability of the subject and object have naturally encouraged scientists to assume that the physical universe is a single system. As such, we should be able to construct one unified theory which will explain all its facets. Many scientists believe that a successful Grand Unification Theory will emerge when relativity and quantum theories are united.
Will such a theory give a unified explanation of the physical universe only, or of its non-physical dimensions as well? For example, will it explain how the one energy functions, and also why it does so? Or why laws that do not exist at an inorganic level of the cosmos appear at the organic level? Indeed, one of the most fundamental problems in science is, where do the laws that govern the energy and give it a definitive force and order come from? Can we believe in laws without a law-giver?
Einstein, who struggled till the end of his life to find the Grand Unified Theory, did not imagine that he was exploring the oneness of the creator and the creation, but only the oneness of the physical order. When he argued against the uncertainty principle of the quantum theorists and said, ‘I cannot believe God plays dice with the universe,’ he implied that the laws that regulate the cosmos come from outside the physical system itself, and that they are a separate, non-physical realm of reality.
Even if it is taken for granted that physics has already proved the oneness of physical creation, it is at this stage a totally unsubstantiated extension of this belief to imply that ‘oneness’ means the oneness of creator and creation. Physicists who think that consciousness is both the creator as well as the creation do so purely as a matter of faith. They acknowledge that they do not yet have even a theoretical framework for such an assumption, let alone any experimental justification for it. Capra, for example, hopes that one day physicists will construct a unified theory which may include an explanation of consciousness.20
By ‘oneness’, modern physics generally means the oneness of the physical universe. The question of the oneness of matter and consciousness has not even been studied yet. But consciousness is not the only non-material reality we live with. Normally we consider love, beauty, morals, creativity, freedom, language, the awareness of individuality, etc., to be non-mechanical phenomena, and therefore marks of personality rather than matter. These are not even thought of as a part of consciousness. Insects have consciousness, but we do not normally think of them as persons with moral and aesthetic choices.
Is personality real or illusory? Are love and morals also a part of the physical order physicists talk about? Shirley MacLaine went to meet Professor Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University, seeking to get the approval of one of the foremost physicists of our times for her view that ‘oneness’ in physics means the oneness of everything, including the oneness of energy and personality. Their conversation specifically considered whether moral behaviour and love are part of the oneness of reality with which physics deals. Ms. MacLaine asked Professor Hawking:
‘Are we evolving then? . . . Or are we going to destroy ourselves?’
‘There is quite a chance we will destroy ourselves,’ he answered. . .
‘The universe,’ he went on, ‘and everything in it, can be explained by well-defined laws . . .’
‘You mean there are no accidents?’ I asked.
‘Then is our behaviour also a part of well-defined laws?’ I asked.
‘No,’ he answered. ‘Our behaviour is part of our human nature. . .’
(Implying that moral behaviour is personal, non-mechanical and therefore unpredictable. Man is free to destroy or develop himself. Morality or personality is outside the sphere of mechanical ‘oneness’ physics talks about.)
Ms. MacLaine then turned the discussion to the question of love. She continued:
‘You said everything could be explained by laws.’
‘Well then, that means that the universe operates within a harmony, doesn’t it?’
‘Well, isn’t harmonic energy loving?’
‘I don’t know,” he answered, ‘that there is anything loving about energy. I don’t think loving is a word I could ascribe to the universe.’
‘That is a word you could use?’
He thought for a moment. ‘Order,’ he said. ‘The universe is a well-defined order.’21
Love and morality are part of personality, not a machine. But are these personal traits part of the oneness of the physical energy of the cosmos, or are they independent realities? It seems reasonable to think that they are not part of the cosmic oneness. The oneness of the universe that can be explained by a Grand Unified Theory will have to be a mechanical oneness. What is non-mechanical cannot fit into mathematical equations. Be that as it may, the least we can say with total certainty is that, so far, physics has not even begun to study these questions. By “the oneness of the universe” physicists mean only the oneness of the physical, non-personal, mechanical universe. Dr. Fred Skiff has argues that ‘unification’ in physics simply means finding a common basis necessary for communication, while in mysticism it means finding common, undifferentiated unity, thereby erasing all boundaries between things. The two are completely different concepts.
Therefore, the attempt to assert that the interconnectedness of electrons proves the absolute oneness of everything, including the oneness of personality and matter, is at best an unscientific extrapolation. At worst, theologians may be tempted to call it a diabolical deception which makes creation the creator - exactly what Satan said to Eve in the Garden of Eden: ‘You will be like God’ (Gen. 3:5).
Brahma and maya in Vedanta and physics
It is tempting to see the Brahma of the Vedanta as the equivalent of the ‘iniplicate order’ of David Bohm or the ‘within’ of Teilhard de Chardin, for it is indeed conceived of in Vedanta as the unmanifest ground of all the manifest reality. Likewise, it is not difficult to understand why so many are tempted to see maya as the equivalent of the ‘explicate order’- or the “without” of things. Vedanta does say that the visible comes out of the invisible by the power of maya, and is therefore maya. But closer study shows the concepts of Brahma and maya in Vedanta are in fact the opposite of what the New Physics is actually saying.
A major discovery of physics is that the energy which is the unmanifest ground of the material world is dynamic and active. Energy packages are being continuously created and destroyed, though energy itself is not being created or destroyed. They move not at mind-boggling speed, but as a computer-boggling pace. On the other hand, and relatively speaking, the world of matter is stable, solid and predictable.
Vedanta, in contrast, says that the unmanifest Brahma is the unmoved, unchanging stillness, void or nothingness. It is the manifest world of maya that is dynamic and subject to constant change and decay. As Swami Ranganathanda succinctly puts it in his commentary on the Isa Upanishad, >Vedanta speaks of Brahma as the inactive state and Maya or Sakti as the active state of one and the same primordial non-dual reality.=22
If the mystical experience of an Advaitin Hindu is indeed the experience of the ultimate reality, it is anything but an experience of the implicate order of the physical universe which is dynamic not still. Also, the experience is understood within Vedanta not as getting at the root of the material reality, but as getting away from it.
If a scientist-turned-mystic were able to go to the root or the essence of physical reality in a direct, conscious experience, in such a way that he became one with the universal mind, we would expect him to come up with a Grand Unification Theory as well as a solution to the scientific, technological and ecological problems of the world. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi accepts that the above should be the logical result of an experience of the ultimate reality. But traditionally the logic of mysticism has led mystics to lose interest in physical reality altogether. Totapuri, who guided Ramakrishna Paramahansa in enlightenment, is a typical example. He attained enlightenment after forty years of
unremitting spiritual practice performed on the banks of the sacred Narmada river in Central India. He obtained the fruit of his path of the Advaita Vedanta, the experience of nirvikalpa Samadhi, the impersonal, unconditional state ... Having achieved this blessed experience, Totapuri wandered from place to place without any aim or purpose of his own ... realizing Brahma as the one reality, and looking upon the world as an appearance [maya], Totapuri spent his life under the canopy of heaven, alike in storm and sunshine, maintaining himself on alms.23
I know personally two physicists who have become mystics -one a Hindu and another a Buddhist. Their life-styles can be described in identical terms to Totapuri's, except that they wear clothes. They admit that it is their mystic experience which leads them away from physical reality and not to its deeper and fuller appreciation.
Whatever a mystical experience may be, it certainly does not appear to be an experience of the essence of the physical reality with which a scientist has to grapple. It has a tendency to take one away from the sphere of scientific investigation. Therefore it is naive to accept the viewpoint which
says either that the conclusions of modern science point to-wards mysticism or that mystical, non-dualistic philosophy provides an intellectual framework for modern science. One can arrive at this conclusion only if one chooses to look at the parallels between physics and mysticism in a superficial way.
Senses and logic in Vedanta and science
It is true that Vedanta teaches categorically that dependence on the senses and logic has to be discarded if we want to know the true nature of the universe. In his authoritative work Bliss Divine, Swami Sivananda states unequivocally that the vedantic view is that we must seek to ‘consciously destroy the mind by Sadhna and Samadhi’.24 And again: ‘Do not use your reason too much in the selection of your Guru’;25 ‘Keep your intellect at a respectable distance when you study mythology. Intellect is a hindrance’;26 ‘That which separates you from God [Brahma] is mind.’27
Vedanta says that it is the human intellect which is the cause of our ignorance and bondage. The techniques of achieving mystical experience, of seeing the true nature of reality are techniques of transcending the intellect or 'killing the mind', as the late Osho Raineesh used to say. The New Physics, on the other hand, has by no means undercut the effectiveness of the scientific method.
The sensory observation of reality
It is true that our senses often deceive us. When we see that each day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, we infer that the sun revolves around the earth. However, the fact that the truth is the opposite is discovered not by rejecting sensory observation, but by being more meticulous in observing the phenomena of nature.
We observe matter as solid. Therefore it is easy to assume that atoms, or at least subatomic particles, must be solid. We learn that the truth is the opposite not by rejecting our reliance on sense observation, but by being more careful in our observations and their logical inferences.
Logical inferences from observation
It is easy for Swami Ranganathanda to say, 'If facts do not fit logic, it is logic that has to go.' The question is, however, how do we know what the facts are?
Whatever his other mistakes, Kant was right in his insistence that logic is a priori. If we cannot assume the validity of logic, we cannot know any facts. We can see the smoke and the fire, but we cannot conclude that the smoke is caused by the fire without first assuming causation - that an effect must have a cause, which is one of the fundamental laws of logic.
The paradox of light appearing both as a particle and as a wave does not imply that the law of non-contradiction is invalid, that an apple can also be a banana. The fact is that light is neither a particle nor a wave. It is something for which we have no parallel in the macroscopic world, therefore we tend to describe its space dimension as a particle and its time dimension as a wave. Physicists now prefer to call it a wavicle - a name which means nothing concrete to us, because it has no parallel in our macroscopic experience. But it establishes a principle that if at present our language does not adequately describe a particular reality, what we need is not to abolish language, but to coin a new word or phrase.
Likewise, the ‘uncertainty’ of the behaviour of the electrons is because there are no ‘local’ hidden variables or causes. It does not prove that there are no 'non-local' hidden causes which could explain the behaviour. Capra himself illustrates this quite simply by differentiating between the concept of probability in classical physics and in quantum physics. When we throw a dice, he says,
we could - in principle - predict the outcome if we knew all the details of the objects involved: the exact composition of the die, of the surface on which it falls and so on. These details are called local variables because they reside within the objects involved. Local variables are important in atomic and subatomic physics too. Here they are separated by connections between spatially separated events through signals - particles and networks of particles - that respect the usual laws of spatial separation. For example, no signal can be transmitted faster than the speed of light. But beyond these local connections are other, non‑local connections that are instantaneous and cannot be predicted, at present, in a precise mathematical way. These non‑local connections are the essence of Quantum reality. Each event is influenced by the whole universe, and although we cannot describe this influence in detail, we recognize some order that can be expressed in terms of statistical laws.28
This admission by Capra is a big climbdown from the earlier view, presented in influential books such as Marilyn Ferguson's Aquarian Conspiracy. Then, New Age thinkers assumed that the absence of hidden variables proved that the laws of logic, such as causation, were invalid. Therefore, they argued, since we cannot trust our senses and logic, we cannot assume that an objective universe exists outside our consciousness. Ferguson argued that since what the brain receives are frequencies, we cannot assume that the frequencies are caused by a real material world.
Building on the conclusions of the neuro-scientist Karl Primbram and the physicist David Bohm, Ferguson argued that the universe is a hologram or maya. Capra concurred with that view in The Tao of Physics. But in The Turning Point he drew back from the edge of the precipice to say, 'David Bohm realizes that the hologram is too static to be used as a scientific model for the implicate order at the subatomic level. Bohm's theory is still tentative.’ And again, ‘The universe is definitely not a hologram.’29 In other words, the universe may have a reality, rationality and order of its own, independent of our consciousness, but discoverable by it.
The above discussion brings us back to the basic riddle of science ‑ what makes the universe comprehensible? The New Age rejection of scientism is valid if it is assumed that the universe is a product of blind chance. On the other hand, if we assume the universe to be consciousness, as the New Age claims, then that can be 'realized' only in a mystical experience, by going beyond reason or logic and the very presupposition of science that the physical universe and its laws exist objectively, independent of the human mind. This philosophy, as mentioned earlier, has proved itself historically to be barren as far as its ability to give birth to science and nurture it is concerned. Dr. Raimundo Panikkar, famous for his book The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, concedes that the concept of cosmic order (rta) in Hinduism rules out the possibility of morals, thinking, science and technology. In his foreword to Jeanine Miller's book The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Vedas, Panikkar writes:
There is no law of rta [cosmic order]. There is rta and rta is harmony; but this harmony is not subjected to any ulterior law. There is no mind behind. To live in a rtic universe represents a fundamental human experience different from that of believing [we] live in a logical world or in a universe, governed by law ... This is what the upanishads will try to qualify later. Being is free, ultimately even from thinking. No need of ethical norms at the ultimate level. No need of fear, 'Angst', anxiety, regarding ultimate questions. Rta is there, but not as a refuge. No need to control everything, to be certain of all things, to know everything.30
The above should make it clear that the cosmic order of mystical thought, far from providing a 'consistent and relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary science' (Capra), in fact undercuts the very foundation and possibility of science. If this is so, then what attracts some scientists to mysticism?
I suggest that the real attraction is a negative one, as I shall now show.
The relationship between science and the Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist world‑views Puritans and Anglicans played a decisive role in the founding of the Royal Society for Science during 1660‑2, in part because of their commitment to the Bible. They believed that God wanted them to understand nature and have dominion over it. George M. Trevelyan writes in English Social History:
Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and the early members of the Royal Society were religious men, who repudiated the skeptical doctrines of Hobbes. But they familiarized the minds of their countrymen with the idea of law in the universe and with scientific methods of inquiring to discover truth. It was believed that these methods would never lead to any conclusions inconsistent with biblical history and miraculous religion. Newton lived and died in that faith. 31
Trevelyan's observations are important to remember, because the conflict between the Church and science had begun long before the founding of the Royal Society. It arose because scientific observations did not fit with specific dogmas of the Church which were not biblical, such as geocentric Aristotelian astronomy. At this stage there was no conflict between science and the biblical worldview itself. For example, when the Roman Church attacked Copernicus and Galileo for teaching that it was not the sun that revolved around the earth, but the earth which revolved around the sun, Galileo (1564-1642) wrote defending the compatibility of Copernicus and the Bible. This was one of the factors which brought about Galileo's trial. But gradually, when the scientists began to give up faith in revelation and believe only what could be proved by the scientific method, it began to be considered unscientific to believe in the creator himself.
An all-out conflict between Christianity and science became inevitable when scientism insisted on completely separating reason from faith. The umbilical cord between the mother (Christianity) and the child (science) was cut and Western Christianity by and large chose faith in the heavenly Father and gave up her loyalty to the rebellious child. This separation of faith and reason weakened both Christianity and science. The Church isolated itself from the intellectual arena and became preoccupied with faith and personal piety. Reason, cut off from faith in a rational creator, could not stand on its own for long either. If the universe was a product of random chance, how could it be understood by reason? From the beginning scientism was an absurd and self-defeating philosophy. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, science had acquired power and Christianity had become weak. Therefore it could not effectively point out that reason could not possibly comprehend a non-rational universe, and that scientism was an emperor without clothes.
As this inherent contradiction within scientism became apparent, and it could not logically defend its faith in reason, it was left to Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism to mount the attack on the absurdity of scientism. Hinduism could attack scientism because it had never had the kinds of problems which Christianity had had with science. In the heyday of science, Hinduism had never had to cross swords with scientism. Thus after science, cut off from its roots, had already become vulnerable, unable to defend its faith in reason, Hinduism could fearlessly attack it and appear as conqueror. The loss of scientism became the gain of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism.
But what seems to be overlooked by sincere individuals such as Queen Frederika is that systems of thought such as Hinduism never had a conflict with science, because, as we shall see later, they could never produce and nurture science. To say that Hinduism could not produce science is not the same as saying that India did not have a scientific genius. Indian culture did make a promising start. But it did not result in science for two reasons. First, Hindu polytheism deified natural forces and taught the worship of creation. This made the Indian mind-set too weak to seek dominion over nature. Later, the Hindu monism made the material world unreal (maya), and this undercut the possibility of the pursuit of a systematic study of nature. What is true of Hinduism at this point is also true of Taoism, the Chinese world-view. In spite of a very early and profound understanding of the world, the Chinese could not develop this understanding as full-fledged science. Joseph Needham, well known for his authoritative five-volume study of science and civilization in China, says in The Grand Titration (1969) that there was in their worldview 'No confidence that the code of Nature's laws could ever by unveiled and read, because there was no assurance that a divine being, even more rational than ourselves, had ever formulated such a code capable of being read'.32
Buddhism reinforced the anti-scientific stance of Hinduism by seeing the cosmos as intrinsically evil, the source of suffering. For Buddha, enlightenment required that we close our eyes to the world outside and shut the doors of our minds to all physical sensations and intellectual thoughts. For Buddha, bliss was inside human consciousness.
Capra himself admits that modern science became possible because of the biblical mind-set in the West:
The notion of fundamental laws of nature was derived from the belief in a divine lawgiver which was deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. In the words of Thomas Aquinas: 'There is a certain eternal law, to wit, Reason, existing in the mind of God and governing the whole universe.'
This notion of an eternal, divine law of nature greatly influenced Western philosophy and
science. Descartes wrote about the six laws which God has put into nature, and Newton believed that the highest aim of his scientific work was to give evidence of the six laws impressed upon nature by God.33
In contrast to Buddhism, the biblical world-view insists that the physical and social environment of man was intended by God to be the real source of our bliss (Eden). The earth produces 'thorns and thistles' after the fall; but it has to be brought under our stewardship and made useful to us and other creatures, including coming generations.
The recovery of science
Scientism has failed to provide a satisfying philosophy of science, and mysticism is a blind alley which destroys the possibility of science. However, it is possible to go back to the original assumption of the founders of modern science, that the world is comprehensible by human reason because it is created by a rational Being who has also created us in his own image to govern the earth. When our brains receive energy frequencies, we have an adequate basis for assuming that they come from a real world, because God says that he created a world out there. The founders of modern science were able to affirm the reality, rationality and value of the cosmos because they did not hold the humanistic presupposition that man has to find truth either by his own reason or by his sense experience. They believed that ultimately knowledge comes to us by God's revelation. For them the Bible was the book of God's word and nature was the book of God's works. They could trust their senses and their logic because God's word told them that a real world existed which they were created to govern. The universe was not a creation of their consciousness. It had an objective and orderly existence of its own. Objective science was therefore possible.
The one and the many
How are we to account for the oneness that physicists encounter when they investigate the subatomic world? From a biblical perspective the discovery of oneness should not be at all surprising. The biblical world-view insists on the dualism of the creator and his creation as well as on that of the personal and the non-personal, but it does not teach the plurality of eternally existing elements: everything is made by one word (Logos):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
The Bible also affirms that the one reality that underlies the universe (the implicate order?) is not open to observation by the senses: 'By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen now was not made out of what was visible' (Hab. 13:3).
The real scientific problem is not how to explain the oneness of the cosmos, but its diversity. Why does one undifferentiated energy, call it Brahma if you like, appear as completely different objects - from atoms of hydrogen to the molecules of heavy water, from single-celled bacteria to people of different languages -so that even though they are supposed to share a common consciousness, they cannot understand each other? What are the laws that ensure that on this planet energy forms x amount of hydrogen and y amount of oxygen, and that ensured that all oxygen does not react with hydrogen to form water or with carbon to form carbon monoxide - that enough free oxygen remains to make life possible?
The passage quoted above says that the laws that regulate the one energy are the commands of the creator. No explanation of why one energy exists in such diverse and well-balanced forms surpasses the biblical explanation given in the Genesis account of creation, where the act of creation is often described as the separation of one into many at God's command:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [time-space and matter]. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day', and the darkness he called 'night'. And there was evening, and there was a morning - the first day.
And God said, 'Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water. So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so ... (Gen. 1:1-7).
It is important to repeat that the real marvel in the universe is not the oneness of creation. The oneness is given. What demands an explanation is why the one appears as separate entities.
Physicists acknowledge that one dynamic, fluid, ever-changing energy forms stable and solid elements in just the right proportion on the planet to make life possible, because the behaviour of the energy is governed by strong conservation laws. Where do these laws come from? A dream? Human imagination? No. Science is possible because the creation obeys the commands of its creator. Some of these laws do not appear at the nuclear level, where the reality is 'formless' and 'void', that is, devoid of the 'shapes' and 'forms' that fill the earth. But at the atomic and molecular levels some of the previously non-existent laws become operational, just as the moral (or aesthetic) laws do not appear at non-human levels, but they make an appearance at the human level, where God commanded them.
Again it is energy's obedience to the creator's command which gives it uniformity, predictability and rationality at atomic and molecular levels - which makes the universe comprehensible to us, who are also made from the earth, yet separated from it by virtue of the fact that we bear the image of the personal creator. This makes science or a study of natural laws not only possible, but our religious duty as well. As Francis Bacon put it, 'Let no man out of weak conceit or sobriety, or in ill-applied moderation, think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's words, or in the book of God's works.' For Bacon, the book of God's words was the Bible and the book of God's works was the cosmos which God had made. To the physicists who cannot find an explanation for what causes certain aspects of the behaviour of electrons, Bacon would say, do not give up the study of the book of God's works for mysticism. To assume that you have already reached the limits of knowledge is either 'weak conceit' or 'ill-applied moderation'. True humility is to go on asking questions of the book of God's works as well as of the book of God's words.
The biblical world-view which says that behind the visible universe is the invisible Word of God not only explains the one and the many (unity and diversity); it also gives a high view to the world of senses. When the universe is seen as the creative work of a great designer, rather than a mere appearance, dream, or illusion, we have a basis for affirming not only its rationality, but its intrinsic goodness as well. The creation account in Genesis I repeatedly says that God looked at what he had 'made' (separated out of the previous oneness), and 'saw that it was good'. When creation on this planet had been completed, the Bible says, 'God saw all that he had made, and it was very good' (Gen. 1:31). God was pleased with the results of his creative act.
Creation is neither eternal nor infinite. Yet it is real and good. This high view of the physical universe is a necessary presupposition of science. Men and women can find their true self, their identity, not by getting away from the physical world through mystical experience, but in a creative relationship with the world, as its manager.
by Vishal Mangalwadi
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Notes for the Appendix of “When the New Age Gets Old”
1 Adi Shankaracharya (AD 785-820), who interpreted the Upanishads as a philosophy of absolute monism, established four centers in India. Later a fifth one was also added. The head of each center is called Shakaracharya.
2 The Upanishads are the last part of the Vedic literature written as philosophic discources by the hermit gurus before the Christians era.
3 Quoted in Farncis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan , NJ: Fleming M. Revell, 1976(, p. 134
4 ibid., pp. 132-3
5 Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point (London: Flamingo, 1990), p. 70
6 ibid., pp.73-75
7 ibid., p.75
8 Quoted by Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy (Los Angeles: J.P. Archer, 1987), p. 172
9 Capra, The Turning Point, p. 72
10 Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (London: Flamingo, 1990), p.100
11 Teillard de Chardin, The Phenonenon of Man (Mew York: Haprer and Row, 1975) p.55
12 Swami Ranganathanda, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (Bombay: Bharitya, Vidhya Bhawan, 1971).
13 Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy p. 150
14 ibid., p.17
15 ibid., p.180
16 Capra, The Tao of Physics, p. 328
17 ibid., p.317
18 Ranganathanda, The Philosophy of the Upnaishads, p. 172
19 Ferguson, The Aqwuarian Conspiracy, p.172
20 Capra, The Turning Point, p.87
21 Shirley MacLaine, Going Within (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), pp. 304-5.
22 Rangangathanda, The Philosophy of the Upnaishads, p.65
23 ibid., pp. 226-7
24 Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine (Divine Life Society, 1974), p.106
25 ibid., p.206
26 ibid., p.236
27 ibid., p.392
28 Capra, The Turning Point, p. 71
29 ibid., pp.88,329
30 Raimundo Pannikar, ‘Foreword’, Jeanine Miller, The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Vedas (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985), p. xix.
31 Quoted in Schaeffer, How Should WE The Live?, p. 136
32 ibid., p.142
33 Capra, The Tao of Physics, p.317