Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Quantum physics and Advaita Vedanta

Quantum theory and Einstein's theory of relativity form the basis for the modern physics. Quantum theory is the theoretical basis of modern physics that explains the nature and behaviour of matter and energy at the atomic and subatomic level.  The nature and behaviour of matter and energy at that level is also referred to as quantum physics and quantum mechanics. So we can say quantum physics is the study of the behaviour of matter and energy at the molecular, atomic, nuclear, and even still smaller microscopic levels like quarks.  "Quantum" comes from the Latin, meaning "how much." It refers to the discrete units of matter and energy that are predicted by and observed in quantum physics. Even space and time, which appear to be extremely continuous, have smallest possible values.  Quantum theory can be defined as a collection of ideas that scientists use to describe the way this microscopic world operates.  In the early 20th century, it was discovered that the laws that govern macroscopic world do not function the same in respect of microscopic world.   Quantum physics has brought science closer to Advaita Vedanta.  This is not to quote science to validate Advaita or to authenticate Advaita through science but to showcase how modern science today as quantum physics is approximating to the ancient truths propounded in Advaita Vedanta. 

Let us see how small the elementary particles that we are discussing about are.  The diameter of an atom is one hundred millionth of a centimetre. As it is difficult to conceive, let us see it through an example.  When an orange is blown to the size of the earth, then the atom will be of the size of cherry. If the atom is blown to the size of the St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome, the biggest dome on earth, then the nucleus of the blown up atom will be the size of a grain of dust on it. And protons and neutrons are constituents of nucleus. Protons are so small that in a little dot (.) we can pack 500 billion ie. 500,000,000,000 protons.  As for electron, if it is to be blown up fourteen trillion and two hundred billion ie.14,200,000,000,000 times, then it will be the size of an apple of four centimeter radius.    
Ernest Rutherford demonstrated that the atom is not the solid building block, but it has an internal structure consisting of small dense nucleus about which electrons circle in orbits.  Electrons are held in their orbits through the electrical attraction between positive nucleus and negative electrons.  Nucleus was later found to contain positive protons and neutral neutrons. Protons, neutrons and electrons were collectively called as nucleons and taken to be the ultimate indestructible unit of matter.  In 1930, new particles were discovered as scientists refined their experimental techniques and today we know over hundred ‘elementary’ particles, which are divided into two groups of hadrons and leptons and scientists are nowhere near finding the ultimate indestructible unit of matter, if it exists.  For hadrons are composite particles made of quarks and antiquarks.  But, quarks, which at present is treated as fundamental matter principle, cannot be isolated and studied and is also not stable.  The electrons have been studied in depth and it is the findings thereof that made the Western Scientists turn towards Advaita Vedanta and the Upanishad truths on which it is based.
There is an interesting aspect about subatomic particles. They behave as if they have split personality with wave-particle duality.  For they can move both as particles and as waves; particle being one confined to a small space while wave is one spread over a vast region of space. For example light can take the form of electro-magnetic waves or particles called photons.  Further the particles will behave one way or another depending upon the way the observer chooses to measure it.  This means that in the realm of quantum physics, observing something actually influences the physical processes taking place. So, the data is not independent of the way the observer measures it and the observer is also part of the project and is now called the participator.  Again the wave functions, associated with subatomic particles, are abstract mathematical quantities based upon the probabilities of finding the particles in various places with various properties.  This has made Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, celebrated physicist called “The Father of atomic bomb” remark “If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same we must say ‘No’.  If we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time we must say “No”.  If we ask whether electron is at rest we must say “No”, if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say “No”.”  That means science is talking the language of the Upanishads, describing the Indescribable in paradoxes.  For example, Isavasya Upanishad describes the indescribable Brahman through paradoxes.  “That moves; That moves not; That is at a distance; That is very near;  That is inside everything; That is outside everything” (Mantra 5)

In the double-slit experiments it has been found that photons, particles of light that start as particles and end as particles change to waves and back in between on their own, as if they have a will of their own.  Such a change on its own without external interference is possible only among sentient beings.  The change could be inferred but point of change and re-change could not be detected.  E.H.Walker, an American physicist, openly concluded that the photons may be conscious.  What are photons but only subatomic particles!  And these subatomic particles only make up matter.   That means matter has also potential consciousness which is the view propounded by Advaita.  Advaita philosophy states that matter has also consciousness but in unmanifest form as everything in universe, matter and non-matter, is Brahman only. 

Initially it was assumed that electrons move around nucleus in fixed orbits like the planets around the sun.  Now it is discovered that electrons don’t have a trajectory or an orbit like the ball shot in the air or whirled around a chord.  Not only is it not possible to say where an electron will be at a particular time but it is also not possible to establish a causal relationship between two known positions of the electron.  Only the probability of it being at a particular time at a particular place can be given.  Dr.Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems theorist, remarks “Being a probability pattern, the particle has tendencies to exist in various places and thus manifests a strange kind of physical reality between existence and non existence” This type of reality, which can be neither termed as existent, nor dismissed as non-existent is not unknown to Advaita.  This is the property of Maya, power of Brahman, which can neither be said to be existent nor nonexistent. This property is termed Satasat Vilakshanam; Sat means existence, Asat   nonexistence and Vilakshanam devoid of (here of both).   Swami Vivekananda defines Maya as mere statement of facts as they exist.  Yes, Maya is the statement of facts as it exists in the subatomic world.

“Subatomic particles are Maya” means the world that is made of subatomic particles is a product of Maya.  Advaita has a word for it, Vyavaharika Satyam, relative reality. So quantum physics leads us to the conclusion that the world is a relative reality, not absolute reality which is what the Advaita philosophy had been proclaiming for ages earning for its votaries the derision of all schools of dualists as Mayawadhis.  

This indeterminacy in subatomic world is outlined in Heisenberg’s theory of uncertainty, which raised a hornet’s nest when it was propounded.  Einstein who set out to disprove this theory declaring “God does not play dice” became himself unknowingly the cause for strengthening it, by leading scientists after his time to the postulation of Bell’s theorem and to the concept of quantum entanglement.   Entanglement is when two particles (for example photons) are intimately connected so that measurement on one instantly affects the other, no matter how far away it is.  One entangled particle can be seen to affect the other instantly, no matter how far apart they are.

Bell’s theorem and the successful experiment by Alain Aspect, the French physicist, have shown that two electrons of an entangled pair, i.e. pair of electrons that have a total spin of zero, react to each other instantaneously irrespective of the distances separating them.  This has made Henry Stapp, another American physicist   remark “An elementary particle is not an independently existing analysable entity.  It is in essence a set of relationships that reach out to others”.  The bootstrap hypothesis of Geoffrey Chew, an American theoretical physicist, clearly states that the world cannot be understood as an assemblage of entities which cannot be analysed further, a view held earlier in classical physics or classical mechanics.  The universe is seen now as an ‘unbroken wholeness’, a dynamic web of   interrelated events, which is the similar to the conception of universe in Upanishads as Virat Purusha, a whole person, an organic dynamic whole where each part is interconnected and interrelated to every other part.  Idiom is different but idea is the same.

Extending this to human beings who are also assemblage of subatomic particles, every one of them is interconnected to every other human being in a subtle way irrespective of the race, religion, language or sex.  This is the key message of Advaita, a message of oneness of all living beings in their essential nature, much more so, of the human beings as their Athma (soul) is one and eternal, only their names and forms are different and finite. Even if we stop at interconnectedness without extending it to oneness that understanding itself will lead to the philosophy of Sanathana Dharma,Vasudaiva Kudumbakam’  (the whole world is one family); and on that basis a stable world peace and world order can be achieved.

1 comment:

  1. Oh! great. I thought u r an English literature student interested in Vedantic studies! Excellent. Thanks and congratulations.