Friday, 17 January 2014

Swami Vivekananda and Modern Physics

Swami Vivekananda was not only a monk of great sastraic erudition, a magnificent orator with an imposing appearance endowed with a keen, incisive mind and an incredible memory,  but also a great scholar in science.  It is his ability to interpret Vedic Science with the idioms of Modern Science that endeared him to the west and made them appreciate the great scientific truths enshrined in the Vedas.   We shall briefly see his vision in Modern Physics.  (I will be hereafter referring to Swami Vivekananda as Swamiji only.)

Science of Swamiji’s day swore by positivism, which refused to accept anything that was not verifiable by senses or experiments.  Swamiji stressed there is also place for intuitionism in quest of science for ultimate truth quoting the Vedas, where the rishis in their search for Truth turned inwards their thoughts and arrived at profound scientific conclusions.  He pointed out “The senses cheat you day and night.  Vedanta found that ages ago; Modern science is just discovering the same fact” (7,74)  He said that intuition is the natural culmination of reason. On instinct, reason and intuition, he said, “Reason is the vehicle one rides to reach a certain point beyond which one cannot move. Intuition goes beyond reason but reason with unbiased mind is the only guide to reach there. Instinct is like ice, reason is like water and intuition is the subtlest form like vapor and each one follows the other”.  Today, with the developments in particle physics which deals with sub-atomic particles like quarks and leptons that are only inferred and still not isolated to be studied separately and the vindication of uncertainty theory of Heisenberg, the limitations of experimental physics and positivism are exposed.  Einstein who started as a strong votary of positivism later declared, “In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality as the ancients dreamed”. 

Physics of Swamiji’s time is now called classical physics as compared to the present day’s Modern Physics.  In classical physics mass, energy, space and time were all considered independent entities.  Swamiji with his Vedantic knowledge declared that these four are not only inter-related but also that energy and matter are interchangeable in the space and time domains.  In the Raja Yoga lecture Swamiji  delivered in New York, he explained the oneness of matter and energy by defining them as Akasa and Prana, that are produced from the Universal mind, Mahat, using Sankhyan terminology.  All forces are expressions of one single force, Prana; and all matters are derived from one basic matter, Akasa and both come from Mahat, which itself  is a projection of Absolute, he declared.  Nicholas Tesla, the famous U.S. electrical engineer and inventor, was greatly impressed with the idea and later had discussions with Swamiji.   Swamiji later wrote to an English friend, “Mr. Tesla thinks he can demonstrate mathematically that force and matter are reducible to potential energy. I am to go and see him next week, to get this new mathematical demonstration”(5,77).  In this letter Swamiji has used the terms force and matter for energy and mass.  Tesla did not succeed and only ten years later Einstein came with the equation E=mc2, to demonstrate the oneness of mass and energy.  It is to be noted here that after meeting Swamiji, Tesla who was struck by the resemblance between the Sankhya theory of matter and energy and that of modern physics, took great interest in Eastern Science and even started using the words Akasa and Prana for matter and energy.  Swamiji  later remarked during a lecture in India, "I myself have been told by some of the best scientific minds of the day, how wonderfully rational the conclusions of the Vedanta are. I know of one of them personally, who scarcely has time to eat his meal, or go out of his laboratory, but who would stand by the hour to attend my lectures on the Vedanta; for, as he expresses it, they are so scientific, they so exactly harmonize with the aspirations of the age and with the conclusions”

Regarding time,space and causation, let me quote Swamiji's words as expressed in the lecture in London in 1896. "The one peculiar attribute we find in time, space, and causation is that they cannot exist separate from other things. Try to think of space without colour, or limits, or any connection with the things around-just abstract space. You cannot; you have to think of it as the space between two limits or between three objects.  It has to be connected with some object to have any existence.  So with time; you cannot have any idea of abstract time, but you have to take two events, one preceding and the other succeeding, and join the two events by the idea of succession.  Time depends on two events, just as space has to be related to outside objects.  And the idea of causation is inseparable from time and space.  This is the peculiar thing about them having no independent existence.------ They have no real existence; yet they are not non-existent, seeing that through them all things are manifesting as this universe.  Thus we see that the combination of time, space, and causation has neither existence nor non-existence.-----This is Maya".  These words regarding time, space, and causation were revolutionary then but now with the theory of relativity and studies in particle physics, it is a common knowledge in science circles that there is no absolute time, space or causation.  Michael Talbot in his book ‘Mysticism and New Physics”  says ”Vivekananda further expresses a view that has become the backbone of the quantum theory.  There is no such thing as causality”

"Science is nothing but the finding of unity.  As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal" declared Swamiji in the paper on Hinduism he submitted in the Parliament of Religions in 1893.  This “unity” is expressed in Vedanta through the MahavakyaTat Tvam Asi” (Thou art That) which can be expressed as an equation Athma=Brahman, that can be interpreted as the identification of macrocosm and microcosm.  Swamiji referred to this unity with these words, “Though an atom is invisible, unthinkable, yet in it are the whole power and potency of the Universe.  This is exactly what the Vedantists say of Athma”(7,50);  “Man is the most representative being in the universe, the microcosm, a small universe in himself”(4,49).  The unity that Swamiji envisioned is now the goal of scientists can be seen from the Nobel laureate Dr. David Bohm’s words in his book “Wholeness and the Implicate order”; “science itself is demanding a new, non-fragmentary world view, in the sense that the present approach of analysis of the world into independently existent parts does not work very well in modern physics. It is shown that both in relativity theory and quantum theory, notions implying the undivided wholeness of the universe would provide a much more orderly way of considering the general nature of reality.”

Swamiji called Newton and Galileo 'Prophets of physical science’ and Upanishadic Rishis ‘Prophets of spirituality’ and declared that “the whole universe, mental and material, will be fused into one”(6,4). He prophesied the convergence of modern science with the Advaita Vedanta and the consequent spiritualization of religion and civilisation when he declared in Harvard in 1895, "Civilization is the manifestation of divinity in man".  No wonder A.D.Reincourt observed in his book 'The eye of Shiva',"From its modern awakening with Sri Ramakrishna  and Swami Vivekananda, Eastern mysticism has begun to adapt its revelations to the entirely different cultural framework provided by science and technology, without in any way sacrificing what is valid in its traditional understanding of the phenomenon itself ----Indian mysticism has evolved as the science of physics itself".

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