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Physics And Vedanta

By John Dobson
Published 2004-10-22 13:46:28
From 2002

Physics And Vedanta Copyright 2002 John Dobson

"The constitution of the Universe may be put in first place among all natural things that can be known." - Galileo


That, of course, is the task of the physicist, to see if he can figure out the constitution of the Universe. And I went to the University of California in 1934 to study bio-chemistry in the hope of keeping Einstein alive, so the he could figure it out. But I now believe that it is impossible to figure it out without the help of the Vedantins.


What we now call the philosophy of Vedanta (and I don't mean the practice, but the philosophy behind the practice of what we call Advaita Vedanta) was apparently invented by some very sharp physicists in India a long time ago, because a great deal of that old physics, including the identity of mass and energy (which, in modern times, went from Swami Vivekananda through Tesla to Mileve Einstein) is built into the Sanskrit language, and the language is very old. And those physicists discovered some very interesting and important physics, which we desperately need now if we're going to figure this thing out.


The Sanskrit word for this Universe if Jagat, the changing. But those old physicists were smart enough to see that, since change is seen against the changeless, there must be, underlying this changing Universe, an existence not in time and space, and therefore, neither changing, finite, not divided. That they called Brahman. The problem then arose, "How, then, do we see change? If what exists is changeless, how do we see a Universe of change?" and they said, "It can only be by mistake." So they studied mistakes, if they hadn't studied mistakes, they might not have seen it.


They pointed out that in order to mistake a rope for a snake, there are three things that one must do. First, one must fail to see that it's a rope. (That they called the veiling power of the mistake, Avarana Shakti.) Next, one must jump to the conclusion that it's a snake. (That they called the projecting power of the mistake, Vikshepa Shakti.) And finally, one must have seen the length and diameter of a snake. (That they called the revealing power of the mistake, Prakasha Shakti.) And that is what is so very important to our physics. It is because of the revealing power, the changeless, the infinite, the undivided must show in the physics.


Those old physicists sometimes referred to these three aspects of a misperception as red, white, and black. Black refers to the darkness of evening twilight; white, to the partial light of twilight (if you hadn't seen the rope, you never would have mistaken it for a snake), and red, to the fact that the perception was colored by imagination. They also referred to these three aspects as the three Gunas (Tamas, Raja, and Sattva).


The mistake of seeing the underlying existence in time and space they called Maya or Prakriti, the first cause, and it is said to made of these three Gunas. Tamas is said to have the veiling power. Rajas is said to have the projecting power. And Sattva is said to have the revealing power. (The veiling and projecting powers are presumably native to the genetic programming, but the revealing power, which is important to our physics, is native to sentiency itself.) To quote the Panchamahabhuta Sutras, "As if, being hidden, through the veiling power of Tamas, the nature of Brahman, through the revealing power of Sattva, shone in the otherness for which, through the projecting power of Rajas, it is, as it were, mistaken." What we see as energy is the result of this mistake, because the underlying existence (the changeless, the infinite, the undivided) must show through in what we see.


The concept of energy did not arise in European physics till 1845 with Thomas Young, but htose older physicists saw that the whole Universe is made out of energy, which they called Shakti. According to them, energy is that underlying existence, which they called Brahman, as seen in time and space. And they could see that the underlying existence has to be changeless, has to be infinite, has to be undivided, and that it has to show through in our physics.


According to the Vedantins, the first cause of our physics is Vivarta, apparition. It is the mistake of seeing the underlying existence as in time and space. After that, things proceed by Parinama, transformational causation, because the underlying existence shows through in the mistake as energy, as gravity, electricity and inertia, which cause the transformations. Parinama is what we European physicists usually think of as causation. It is governed by the conservation laws. The form of the energy may change but the amount of energy, in any change, does not change.


The electrical energy of an electrical particle would go to zero if, and only if, the size of that particle went to infinity, and the gravitational energy of the Universe would go to zero if, and only if, the dividedness of the Universe went to zero. (Infinity and undividedness are written into our physics. And changelessness is written in as inertia.)


Had those old physicists known what we know now, that the Universe is made of hydrogen and that the hydrogen is made of electrons and proton, they would have seen that the changeless shows through in the hydrogen as its inertia; the infinite, as its electricity; and the undivided, as its gravity and attraction between opposites. Richard Feynman has pointed out that although we (in Europe) know how things fall, we have kno knowledge of why they fall, and that although we know how things coast, we have no knowledge of things coast, we have no knowledge of why they coast. And Einstein has made a similar remark about electricity, namely, that we cannot comprehend, on theoretical grounds, why matter should appear as discrete electrical particles. Those older physicists knew why.


Only the primordial hydrogen arises by Vivarta from the changeless, the infinite, the undivided showing through in time and space. Everything else that we see arises from that hydrogen by Parinama. And the details are in Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle, "Synthesis of the Elements in Stars." We know now that the hydrogen falls together by transformational causation to galaxies and stars, planets, and people. Even the bodies of living organisms arise by transformational causation, but the notion that one is such a body is, again, a Vivarta, a personal mistake.


The practices of the Advaita Vedantins take all this old physics for granted. It is even taken for granted that there is but one reality behind both the individual and the Universe, Ayam Atma Brahma, this Atman is Brahman. (Atman is the reality behind the ego, and Brahman is the reality behind the Universe.) And it is taken for granted that if seeing it thus is a mistake, it must be possible to see through it; that it must be possible to see through the ego to the Atman, and through the Universe to Brahman.


Now those old Vedantins were not content simply to understand all this in their intellects. When they discovered that there must be an existence underlying the world which we see, their question was, "Can we teach it?" That was the effort that swept India in those days, and may yet sweep Europe and America. And that is why we have the Upanishads with all those stirring declarations.


"All this Brahman. Let a man meditate on that visible world as beginning, ending and breathing in it, the Brahman."


"Not there the Sun shines, nor moon nor star. There the lightning does not flash, how could this fire? That shining, after-shines all this. By its light all this is lit."


"That which is beyond this world is without form and without suffering. Those who know it become immortal."


"I know that great Purusha of sun-like luster beyond the darkness. A man who knows Him truly passes over death. There is no other path to go."


"Only when men shall roll up the sky like a hide will there be an end of misery unless That has first been known."


"The infinite alone is happiness. There is no happiness in the small."


But still, for us physicists, there is a question. Why is that underlying existence seen as hydrogen? Perhaps those older physicists would have pointed out that in order to see, in space and time, that which is not in space and time there is a problem. If the one were to be seen as two, the undividedness showing through, would bring the two together. What could stop it? Similarly, if the one were to be seen as many, the undivivedness, showing through, would bring the manyness together. But if the one were to been as a duality within a plurality, as we see it in hydrogen, then the plurality could keep the duality up, and the duality could keep the plurality up, because neither can be seen alone. This would not be interesting, of course, if it didn't show up this way in our physics, but it does.


What we see in this Universe is an electrical duality (the electrons and the protons of the hydrogen atoms) against a gravitational plurality (the dispersion of the atoms through space). And the undividedness shows through as gravity (in the plurality) and as the attraction between plus and minus (in the duality). But the collapse of the electrical duality in the hydrogen atom is prevented by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, because the proton is involved in the gravitational plurality and the electron is not. And the collapse of the gravitational plurality is prevented by Pauli's exclusion principle, because the neutrons have only one half of a spin duality.


Heisenberg's uncertainty principle does not prevent the collapse of the duality of the electron and the positron (an electron with a positive charge) because gravity is not involved in the rest energy of either particle. But it does prevent the collapse of the electrical duality in the hydrogen atom because the rest energy of the proton is related to its gravitational separation from all the rest of the matter in the observable Universe. As Richard Feynman has pointed out, "The electron is purely 'electrical' the proton is not."


And Pauli's exclusion principle does not prevent Bose particles (without the spin duality) from sitting together.


The spiritual practices of the Advaita Vedantins follow the cosmology of those old physicists. If we have mistaken the real for the make believe, there are four things to do about it. First, discriminate between the real and the make believe! Next, give up the make believe! Give up the attachment to the fruits of your actions! Give up the expectation that through transformational causation you'll reach the underlying existence! That's Karma Yoga, the path of action. And finally, keep your body and mind in such fantastic shape that you can get the job done! That's called Raja Yoga, the royal path.


Sri Ramakrishna saw the underlying existence, manifest in time and space, as Mother, and said that we are not the doers. Mother is the doer. And Lao Tzu said, "To Her only I bow, trusting Her now and forever."


If it were impossible to see through this mistake to the underlying existence, we would not have the Upanishads and the lives of the saints.


Mother is the hydrogen. Mother is the star. She fall it all together to make us what we are. She makes the heavy elements and throws them to the ground. To make the rocky planets with soil on the ground. She scatters the ingredients across the planet Earth. Assembling them with sunlight to give us all our birth. She shines the sun on all these plants; the oxygen is waste. We munch the plants, and huff and puff, and run around in haste. But we, poor dears, so mean of heart, assume we're in the know, And thinking we can manage, fail to see Who runs the show.


If, in time and space, the changeless didn't show through, we wouldn't have inertia. If the infinite didn't show through, we wouldn't have electricity. And if the undivided didn't show through, we wouldn't have gravity and the attraction between opposites. Also, if the duality didn't keep up the plurality, we wouldn't have the atomic table. And if the plurality didn't keep up the duality, we wouldn't have atoms at all. That's how I see it.


"Space is not that which separates the many, but that which seems to separate the one. And in that space that oneness shines, therefore falls whatever falls."


John L. Dobson

February 28, 2002