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.


Nikhil said...

Taking nothing away from you, it has become very fashionable of people to try & prove religions scientifically "correct" (ala Intelligent design theory).

None of the theories of Hinduism are provable. They are just statements. & A very small number of which coincidently are similar today's scientific conclusions. Know well that even these scientific conclusions can very well be superceded tomorrow by better theories.

"The actual universe is present in a much higher dimension" - Not at all proven by any theory. Just one of the assumptions made in physical studies to try & understand the nature of the universe or to find a common law explaining the 4 fundamental forces.

Suprisingly rather than religious texts, I find more believable representation of GOD in science fiction such as Arthur Clarke's 2001, or Carl Sagan's Contact.

PS said...

Theres an inherent problem with scientific theories proving the existence of God, which is Godel's Incompleteness theorem.
It basically says that any consistent axiomatic formulation includes undecidable propositions.

I personally like the Zen idea of having to transcend duality in order to get closer to attaining Nirvana.

Sanjit said...

Ps, Not sure what the zen idea of transcending duality is but transcending duality (duality created because of Ego) is the way to nirvana in hindu philosophy (as in the Gita) too.

I am not sure of how many dimensions the universe is made of but yes all the delusion in Hindu philosophy is broadly attributed to ego that makes one feel different from the other.

To me it is more prudent to accept religion as a way of life that was proposed by the wise over ages of human existence than to assume that in religion lie answers to fundamental questions of universe's existence that the scientists of today have not been able to answer or have answered differently or incompletely. A religion is a set of rules or guidelines that should be interpreted in the context of today. It is very plausible to me that the idea of God as one and only one, the all powerful, was proposed to force some sanity into human civilization through fear of the unknown. The rest I would categorize as philosophy (Hindu philosophy as explored by Sailesh) that tries to answer the difficult questions like when did the universe emerge or how did it emerge, will it ever end, is there any other universe. Is the universe a mere delusion? Unfortunately philosophy doesn’t provide concrete evidence that science is able to by carrying out experiments or by showing presence of phenomenon that seem to support a scientific theory. Also, today the few who claim to be exponents of religion and philosophy are charlatans having a large following of ignorant people who find solace in what the self-proclaimed Gods say.

Sailesh Ganesh said...

Sanjit, an excellent summary in all respects, especially the way you separated the religion from the philosophy. In my posts, it is the philosophy that I am talking about. Religion, as you make it out, is for the less developed minds. Philosophy is not really unprovable, only that since you need to go into meditation to see the truth, only you can see the proof, it cannot be proof for others.

The charlatans that you speak of talk only about the religious aspects, and they get that wrong almost all the time too. The true exponents of a religion are its philosophers, such as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekanand, et al.

Nikhil said...

Yeah agree with Sanjit's view. Nicely written.

But Sailesh..
"Philosophy is not really unprovable, only that since you need to go into meditation to see the truth, only you can see the proof, it cannot be proof for others."
This is the exactly the kind of defense "holy"men use to acheive their "exalted" status. That they can "see" things which ordinary people can't. My view - If you can't see, don't believe that anyone else can. That will be blind faith

Anonymous said...


this is very interesting.. I read it to Manni also. She said that all these are in Devi Bhagavatham which she reads regularly.. she was praising your presentation and language. the level at which you have written is at an abstract lelve.. relating that to the daily life as to the human body works and what is life etc are available from other great souls..
if you would be interested, I can send some more details.. rgds sriram

Sailesh Ganesh said...

Nikhil, just because a few "holy" men abuse the system to claim an "exalted" status does not make the entire philosophy incorrect. There have been countless examples of people who have achieved realization, such as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda (recently) and Gautam Buddha. Surely you are not claiming that they "lied" about having attained moksha?

I do not call it blind faith, since it is open to experimentation at a personal level.