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Archive for February, 2010

I have always felt in a profound way the beauty of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening”. Who indeed hasnt?

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

But recently something made me think about the poem again. I read in the newspaper, in some other context, an English teacher describing how he explained this poem to his students.

The scene, the woods filling up with snow, described, in this teacher’s explanation, the meeting of death and life, the woods symbolized life while snow symbolized death. Thus these four lines described a deep event, the meeting of life and death.

But this was not at all how the poem affects me. Do we really have to find a deeper meaning for the woods and the snow? Is it not already exquisite enough? Just the visual conjured up by these lines has a magical effect on me. The dark woods filling up with snow, the silence, the loneliness, the stillness; the unbelievable beauty conjured up by this has a profound effect on me. I do not have to think about whether the snow means death, the woods life, or anything (more…)

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In trying to form a metaphysical explanation for the world, we can argue through these four steps which lead ultimately to the Advaita Vedanta conception of god.

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

2. There is an absolute principle which exists beyond the world.

3. This absolute principle also forms the basis for existence of the individual consciousness.

4. The individual consciousness can ‘touch’ this absolute consciousness for a mystical experience.

4 Steps to Brahman

4 steps to God/Brahman/Absolute

1. The world is a non-absolute or relative reality.

This is something which is pointed at by quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. which all show that the world does not have an absolute reality. Of course, this has also been argued quite effectively by Advaita Vedanta and also western philosophers like Hume. Advaita Vedanta has always said that the world is only relatively real. This was considered a play of words by other philosophers or something which was too high to understand. But now modern science through Quantum Physics and Relativity has said exactly the same thing.

Because science has proven this step of logic of Advaita Vedanta, there is often a tendency to say that science has proven Advaita Vedanta in total. But I would not like to claim this. In my view, it is only this first step that has been proven till now by science, the further steps of Advaita Vedanta philosophy are something which science has not gone into as yet, although we can hope that perhaps this too will happen someday.

2. There is an Absolute Existence beyond this worldly existence.

Let us take an example. Take a candle which burns from wax and dissipates into smoke and heat. Now as the candle changes its form, we know that there was one thing which was constant, it was the matter in the form of molecules and energy. It was this matter-energy which was initially in the form of a candle, later in the form of dissolved wax, smoke and flame and finally dissolved altogether into the air as smoke. So in this, it was matter-energy which was the constant, the absolute reality behind the ‘fuzzy’ reality of the candle. I am using the word ‘fuzzy’ here to show the non-absolute reality of the candle, in that it can change its form and disappear.

Now, we know from physics that matter and energy are two ends of the same spectrum of existence, they are like two sides of the same coin. They are equivalent, and this equivalence is determined by E=MC2. So this suggests that there must be something which is common to both. Now we know that matter and energy has opposite properties in the present universe. So that which is common to both must be neither but something from which both can be manifested, hence it must be something which has the absoluteness which can manifest both these contradictory properties. It has to be something which is ‘beyond’ both matter and energy, which lies at the base of matter and energy. (To read more on matter-energy equivalence, please go to my website article, Mass-Energy Equivalence.)

Similarly, we know that time-space is connected to matter-energy, it is related only to this, and time-space is relative. So that from which matter and energy is manifested has also time-space manifested at the same time. So the absolute is something which lies ‘beyond’ time and space, something from which time and space are manifested. It is this Absolute which is the Brahman or the Absolute Principle of Advaita.

Lack of absolute reality as in Quantum Physics and Relativity means not in the sense that the world or particles do not exist, but that theories like quantum physics ascribe opposing properties to particles which are paradoxical and  which cannot be explained by the present theory in itself . To explain such phenomenon, quantum physics would have to define something beyond the phenomena itself, a theory at a deeper level, just as relative mechanics lies beyond Newtonian mechanics, particles lie beyond atoms, etc. In this way,  physics would have to go on defining more and more general theories till one day it comes to a theory of an Absolute Field. The theory of an absolute field of Brahman would be consistent by explaining such phenomena. (To read more on the interplay of Advaita for quantum physics, please go to my article, Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics.)

As can be seen from this definition, the Brahman here is not a creative God, it is not a God to whom we can pray or ask for blessings. It is a principle only. In fact, any scientist can believe up to this point and still consider himself or herself an Atheist. It is only when going beyond this stage that Advaita Vedanta becomes a spiritual path and not a physical explanation for the world.

The alternative to this explanation is that ‘there is no Absolute beyond this worldly existence’ This is an alternative conclusion and is also a valid conclusion. This is the Buddhist conclusion. Starting from here, Buddhists go on to explain that since there is nothing permanent, sorrow also is not permanent, hence can be got rid of following the eight fold path and so on. Some atheists can also follow this conclusion and follow alternative paths of their own system of ethics and philosophy.

There is really no third conclusion, once we accept that the world which we experience has relative reality, (more…)

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Positions taken on determinism in modern times invariably have to contend with the fact that indeterminism has been proved quite comprehensively in the quantum world.

Determinism however is maintained for the world at large by saying that quantum indeterminacy is a strange little phenomenon that is confined only to quantum events and has no relevancy at all for our macroscopic world. Quantum indeterminacy is thus boxed in in a safe little world of quantum events and is not allowed to intrude into the discussion about determinism at large.

But when there is indeterminacy at any level, it is bound to cause the hole chain of determinacy to collapse. Determinacy involves arguments regarding cause and effect, a chain of cause and effect tightly following each other. After Hume of course, the very mention of a cause and effect relationship ought to raise a red flag. Determinists would argue that when an ocean wave crashes on the shore, each bubble is ultimately dependent on factors involving the formation of the wave and there is no random event even here. Thus events since the big bang itself have ensured that a particular wave would crash at a particular shore causing a particular amount of bubbles.

However, quantum indeterminacy can and does intrude into this cozy chain of cause and effect.

For example, when we take a kettle boiling and ultimately blowing off its lid, we have an example where activity at the quantum level intrudes ultimately into the macroscopic world. As the temperature of the water rises, the electrons absorb energy and buzz around, jumping from lower to higher orbits, and ultimately the atoms in the steam vibrate with a great deal of energy. As these atoms vibrate, they vibrate as molecular phenomena and the element of indeterminacy is present in their interactions, until the point when the vibrations burst off the lid.  When the kettle blows off its lid, the angle is determined by randomness. No determinism in larger events outside determine this and quantum fluctuations certainly play a large part. The final vector of force which acts on the lid is the sum of all the random vectors of each molecule, and this is entirely random.

These systems also work in other macroscopic events. In analyzing volcanoes, we can infer that there must have been millions of such ‘kettle pot’ phenomena deep inside and these random phenomena finally decided when the volcano was going to go off and on which side the lava would flow.

Similarly, the direction taken by a spark when two quartz are rubbed together, determines a fire in a forest.

Also, in a wave crashing on a shore, we can infer millions of such miniature ‘kettle pot’ events which would ultimately determine the events, so that the bubbles would truly be random.

Thus randomness in quantum events cannot be confined to quantum levels only. This randomness no doubt determines events in the macroscopic world too, and so maintaining a position of determinism for the macroscopic world when we know that it does not exist for the quantum world is untenable.

If you wish to read more on this topic,  you can look up my book, The Circle of Fire- the Metaphysics of Yoga. You can also look up topics on the relation of science and Advaita Vedanta like Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics on my site, www.thecircleoffire.com

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