Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Logic and Science

Advisor: This is my blog, hence everything thats written here are my thoughts. You have the job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

From dictionary.com:

Logic: The study of the principles of reasoning, especially of the structure of propositions as distinguished from their content and of method and validity in deductive reasoning.

Reasoning: An underlying fact or cause that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence

Scientific principles rely on logic and reasoning for their support. Throw away those two, and the entire structure crumbles. The term logical sense in the definition of reasoning is important here. It means what appears logical to us, what seems to be common sense. But, as we know from a century (or more?) of upheaval of our understanding of physics, what appears to be common sense need not be true.

A couple of thousand years ago, common sense dictated that the earth was flat. Till about a hundred years ago, common sense told us that speeds of two objects approaching each other should simply be added to each other to obtain relative speeds. Einsten proved that it is only an approximation at low speeds, and the correct equation is a little more complex.

Many a times, a radical approach at thinking, which does not confirm to common sense, fits our observations better. Quantum physics is a continuing example of this. The point I am trying to make here is that simply because certain ideas do not appeal to common sense, one must not disregard them as ridiculous. They might just turn up to be one of the more profound ideas that have been tought of. Science, as it describes the universe, is not perfect. It is not wrong, rather it is incomplete. There are still huge gaps in observable phenomenon that have not yet been explained. But science will get there, one baby step by baby step. Eventually.

Unobserved phenomena. If it's not seen, it's not true. Right? Not necessarily. Consider these examples. The so-called "primitive tribes" have a very close association with nature (in my opinion, that in itself is enough to make them more advanced than us modern beings, considering our near total lack of understanding of how nature works). Some tribes claim that they "talk" to animals, other claim that they "talk" to plants. Of course, it is a silly notion, how could we ever talk to plants or animals? Or can't we? The point is that we do not know. It may well be true, and in our arrogance and belief in our supposed superiority, we cannot believe that the "primitive" people have a more intimate knowledge of nature. These people have entire belief systems that worship nature, and make the best use of what nature has to offer to make their lives easier. The Hindus have a religion that has a very close association with nature as well. Consider the neem (tulsi) for example. Some Hindus worship the plant. I do not see what is wrong in that. We know that the tulsi has many medicinal properties that the medicinal community has acknowledged. But these properties can be easily verified. The practices of many tribes are, at worst, obscure, but that is no reason to dismiss them as superstition.

The Dogons are a tribe in the Republic of Mali that worship the star Sirius. They are believed to have been in existance from about 3000 B.C. Every 50 years, they celebrate a festival and pray to God (the star) that it be freed from the clutches of evil (I am not sure about the exact details of the celebration here). Superstition, you say! In fact, Sirius has a companion star, Sirius B, which orbits Sirius every 50 years, and the timing of their festival coincides with (you guessed it!) the eclipse of the companion by the main star. And we advanced people obtained this knowledge only in the 1970's.

On a more grandoise scale, Hindu stories are full of descriptions of warfare using weapons that can be initiated with a mantra. The ancient people had weapons that had nuclear radiation (sic) in them, weapons that could accurately track their victims (by following the energy signature of a person, which as a concept, is absolute magic to us!), and three-storied vehicles that could fly, and resembled entire cities, with vertical lift-offs, an invisible mode, et al. Today, we are quick to dismiss these stories as mythology*.

But remember that in those times, humans had a much closer association with nature. Today, we are almost hopelessly out of tune with nature (although that is changing for the good). We cannot believe that such claims by the tribes and such things as described in the texts are possible. We have imagined technology (and our intellect) to have always advanced as time progressed.

Have you even entertained the idea that our paradigm of technology progess may not true, that mankind once possessed such knowledge as we can only dream of today? That perhaps, at some point in time, something happened and a whole knowledge system was lost, save in bits and pieces that we see as practices by primitive people? We should step down from our high pedestal, and objectively look into the reasoning behind practices of the tribes. There is a whole wealth of information in there, more than you can imagine. And yes, this includes Hindu scriptures, whose knowledge we have been quick to disregard with the advent of the colonial conquest of India.

Give "primitive practices" a chance.


Mythology means "A body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes." (again, from dictionary.com) I believe it is really unfair to call Hindu stories mythologies, especially when Christians call theirs as history! (or am i getting paranoid?) Of course, not all Christians call it history, those involved in scholarly research call it mythology, but the difference is that all Hindus call their stories mythology (another colonial initiative).

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Clarifications on my previous post

Since my response to the first two comments cannot fit in the comments section, I am adding them as a separate post.

A few clarifications here. First, I do not believe in the concept of intelligent design. This means some external God creating the universe, which, as I submitted, does not make any sense. Instead, the God I am talking about is the "consciousness" that permeates everything in the universe. This energy is called differently by different people. I don't know if the scientists have a name for it, but I do know the Buddhists call it Reiki. It is this consciousness that "runs" the entire universe, intrinsically, as part of it. I believe this is what Nikhil talks about in his post. Same idea, different words.

Secondly, I am not trying to prove the philosophies of Hinduism by scientific techniques. That is just not possible, because science develops theories by only looking at the material universe, whereas to understand Hindu philosophy, you have to transcend the material universe to the deeper consciousness thats present everywhere. The reason for mentioning the implications of quantum mechanics was to show that the Hindu philosophy of oneness is not as outlandish as it would have sounded otherwise. The idea is not easy to understand in the first place; I just did not want it to appear as if it is some religious dogma.

I understand that the theories of science are just "best-fit" models to explain observable data, and can be superceded by better theories. But I never was using that as a "proof" of any Hindu concept, just as a tool to buttress the mind for the philosphies. The ideas I present here are purely from a Hindu perspective, and NOT from a scientific perspective. It has a two-fold purpose - to educate others about Hindu philosophy, and to help me understand them better. I do realise there may be some errors in my posts, and I'd be grateful if they are corrected, or if some comments further my understanding.

The idea of a higher dimensional universe is just a reference to the complexity of the universe. The key point is that the universe appears different to us simply because we see a very degenerate form of it. What the pure form is, is something that cannot be realised by just looking at the material universe; meditation alone will get you there.

People commit the mistake of assuming that science and religion are contradictory. They are not. An example is the theory of evolution. Hinduism also supports this theory. Dashavataram of Vishnu is a symbolism that alludes to this. But this does not mean that science and religion talk about the same things. Science talks about the material universe, and religion transcends that and talks about what goes beyond that. Eventually, both will meet. But we are a long way from that, and for now, they are both complimentary.

To really appreciate the philosophies of Hinduism, you need to consider its correct name - Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana means eternal, and Dharma means the higher truth. Sanatana Dharma means the laws of the universe that have always existed. Thus, it is not a religion created by human minds, but rather a religion of the essential truths that have been "realised" by sages. You are, of course, welcome to either agree or disagree with it.

What is, however, true is that an increasing number of scientists are beginning to appreciate the eastern philophies, and are willing to consider the possibility that they might be true. A few of them (not a significant number, though) look at eastern philosophies and try to use that as a "best-fit" to observable data. It can be viewed as an early attempt to link science and spirituality. Science must, however, follow its own path to arrive at the truth, and eastern philosophies can only really serve as a directional beacon in that quest.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Religion and Science

Discussions with a couple of friends have inspired me to write this post.

The question of God seems to bring about a lot of controversy these days. People who strongly believe in God are dubbed conservatives, and in some cases, prudes. Others proudly proclaim that they do not believe in God as "the concept is not based on logic and requires blind faith". Then there is the question of religion, with every person claiming that his religion is the only "true" religion (eastern religions are an exception here).

When we speak of God, the image created in most people's minds is of some wise person who sits outside this entire universe and controls it, right from creation to destruction. This, however, is not the way God is described in all religions. The above concept of God certainly seems contradictory to logic, and with every passing day, science is a step closer to actually proving that such a God cannot exist. The proponents of this image of God would have us believe that science is a creation of the devil to lead us astray. I will not argue with them on their beliefs. My purpose in this post is to present an image of God that is in tune with the beliefs of eastern religions. An image that will appeal to logic.

Now, I claim that I am a Hindu and I feel strongly about it. So if you feel any bias in this post, it is probably true.

Hinduism claims that this universe is a hologram (hence the name of this blog). A hologram is something that has a unique property. Each and every part of the hologram contains the same information as the entire hologram itself. If you break a hologram into a thousand pieces, each piece has the same information as the whole. Quantum mechanics, as a result of Bell's theorem, confirms the fact that the universe is a hologram. What this means is that every point in this universe is the same as every other point. Now, this in itself is an astonishing property. What is more so, is that Hinduism, which is over thousands of years old, claims the same thing.

Thus, clearly, there is some form of consciousness that is present all over the universe. This is the only thing that exists throughout the universe. This consciousness is what Hinduism calls God. God is present in everything, and we are all one. (This is not quite the same thing as saying that I am God!)

The question arises - if everything is the same as everything else, why do we see the universe as a collection of different objects? The answer to that is that we see the universe in only three dimensions. The actual universe is present in a much higher dimension (11, 24 or infinite, according to various theories), and we only see a projection in lower dimensions. This is something like a picture, which is a projection of the 3D world into a 2D image. It is in the higher dimensional universe that all points are the same as every other. It is the projection that makes us see the universe as different.

Further, Hinduism claims that the entire universe is only an illusion that has been created by your mind (Hinduism is not alone in this, Buddhism claims the same thing). The absolute reality is, in fact, unchanging. This reality is called Brahman. The universe that we see is only a manifestation of Brahman. Brahman (not to be confused with Brahma) is also known as Nirguna Brahman - without any personal attributes - and is without beginning or end. It is indescribable, omniscient, transcendent, incorporeal and the absolute infinite existance. In other words, it is absolute "nothingness". Imagine that the universe did not exist. Imagine that nothing exists at all. This state is called Brahman, and this is the God that Hinduism worships.

The different Gods that we see in Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) are just symbolic representations to present God in a more tangible form. All the Gods that are described are just aspects of a single God, Shiva-Shakti, which is the Saguna Brahman, or God with personal attributes.

Now these are extremely deep (and fascinating!) philosophical ideas. Understanding the concept of Brahman is supposed to be the ultimate aim of a human. It is called attaining Moksha (Nirvana in Buddhism). In Hindu philosphy, the ideas of the universe being a hologram and truth of the unchanging reality are interchangable ideas. Each implies the other. If the unchanging reality is the truth, why would the manifested universe be different at different points? If every point is the same as every other, the single point is everything in the universe, which is the same as saying that it is nothing. I do not pretend that I understand these ideas fully, but I personally think that they are not far from the truth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Some interesting blogs

Ever since I started my own blog, I've been overcome by this craze of reading other blogs. Blog hopping, I call it. Start off with a random blog, then onto some random blog from among those that the person writing the first random blog reads, and so on. And its amazing the kind of blogs that you find. Some make you think. Some are simply too hilarious. And some make you go wow!

A bra flinging story, a post on perspective and a story about a unique statue of the four-armed Vishnu are some postings that I really liked (and they have no relation to each other). I liked the one on perspective the most. The idea is somewhat obvious, but still required someone to write it. I could summarise it in one line - एकम् सत्, िवप्र बहुध वदंती (sorry that didnt quite come out right), translated as "The truth is one, but the wise see it in many ways" (from the Rig-veda). And if that seems too philosophical and esoteric, how about "Open mind for a different view, and nothing else matters"? (Thank you Koxy!)

Finally rounding off today's post is a picture of Bay Area in San Fransisco. Looks so similar to Mumbai, and so refreshing that it makes New York look artificial. The pic made me want to cry. Nostalgia?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The first one

Q: How long does it take one to start a blog?
A: A couple of minutes on blogspot.com in general, a couple of years if you are me!

Well finally I have a blog, after my cousin remarked that it improves ones creative writing. I'm only here to test the hypothesis. I already think that it might be true, after all I never thought I could start a column (or a blog, for that matter) with a Q and A! General survey question to anyone who, having nothing better to do, or alternately, having some pity on me, finds him/herself reading this excuse for a blog - does blogging improve your creative writing?