Physics and Metaphysics: Are They Really Antithetical?
From Physics to Metaphysics
- Pravesh K. Singh
Many times Science and Spirituality, Physics and Metaphysics, are seen to be at loggerheads to each other, each trying to make impressive boastful claims about it, to show that it alone is true, while trying to belittle the importance of the other, showing the other in poor light. All this creates an impression that the two are really opposed to each other, incompatible with each other, mutually exclusive so to speak; as if, one of them must be wrong and, therefore, worthy of outright rejection. Living as we are in an age which is dominated by giant strides made by science in general, and by materialistic urges forming deep & strong roots in our minds, science is generally seen to have taken a derisive offensive against spirituality, writing it off as an outdated philosophy, opium of masses etc.; some scientists even pride in calling themselves atheists or non-believers as they consider spirituality to be without a credible & demonstrable basis. However, a close & dispassionate analysis would establish that the reality is something entirely different and that the theory of mutual conflict between the two does not hold any water, that the two are not mutually exclusive; rather they are, and should be, complimentary to, supportive of each other. Each one physics as well as metaphysics has its own role to play in the society to ensure the latter's all round, balanced & integrated development though their respective domains remain distinct. To me, all the advancements in the field of science seem to be taking the humanity closer to the spirituality, closer to the God. And, this also is the position taken by most of the greatest scientists such as Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Aryabhatta, Varahmihir etc. as becomes evident by their quotes. Evolution of Mechanistic paradigm, Discovery of quarks, Evolution of the String Theory, Quantum Mechanics, Uncertainty Principle, and an intent observation of cosmic phenomena etc. have placed spirituality on an even firmer footing than before and, therefore, must make more believers than atheists. This article thus takes a syncretistic view of things and proposes to paint a harmonious relationship between the two.
Before proceeding further, let's us first have a look at the standard definitions of the terms `physics', `metaphysics', `spirituality' and `science'. Oxford Dictionary defines these as follows:
`Physics' ==> the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy.
`Metaphysics' ==> philosophy concerned with abstract ideas such as the nature of existence, truth and knowledge. The word `Metaphysics' has originated from the Greek`ta meta ta phusika' meaning `the things after physics'.
`Science' ==> the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment
The field of spirituality, somewhat interestingly, appears to be a relatively later development in the western philosophy as is evident in how it has been defined in the Oxford Dictionary. The following definition does not convey the true purport of the term `spirituality' as the term is used and understood today.
`Spiritual' ==> having to do with the human spirit as opposed to physical things, having to do with religion or religious belief. [Spiritualism refers to the belief that it is possible to communicate with the spirits of the dead.]
Science â Atheism
Scientific investigations follow a certain sequence. We proceed with a hypothesis, carry out a large number of experiments and based on the observations draw inferences which ultimately lead to the formation of laws or theories. These laws have to be continuously monitored for their validation; they must be capable of explaining observed phenomena falling under the ambit of the law. If instances can be identified which are violating of the law, then the law has to be either suitably modified or discarded to be replaced by a new one.
Looked at from this angle, scientific temper can not be held to be synonymous with atheism. For instance, to say that God exists is not being truly scientific, for it is impossible to prove the existence of God with known scientific tools, methods or laws which are too gross to grasp Him. However, to say that God does not exist is equally unscientific. One can not say that God does not exist simply because He can not be seen. Can we say that the wall in front of a blind man does not exist just because he can't see it? Also, we now know that from a given point on the earth, only one face or half of the moon can be seen. Does it mean, therefore, that the other side of the moon does not exist? Sitting in our room we can not see a match being played thousands of kilometres away with our own eyes, but if we have suitable receivers which can catch the signals which are present in room, we can watch the match live on our TV sets. Our eyes, or other organs, can't sense the signals that are very much there, but the TV receiver can. These signals are too fine or suitable to be received and suitably transformed by our eyes. Similarly, can't the instruments or gadgets developed with our current scientific knowhow be unable to sense the presence of God? Sages who by applying well laid out procedures in our Holy Scriptures have raised their consciousness to the level where they say they have seen Him just as we see each other. There is a well laid out method which, if meticulously followed, may combine Hydrogen and Oxygen gases to form water. Similarly, Upanishads and sants worldwide have laid out methods and techniques which if assiduously followed can enable us to realize Him. Several people have seen Him. So, why do we disbelieve them? Negating them & their experience as hallucination or self-hypnotism can be treated as, or is tantamount to, lacking the honesty to accept the limitations of current accomplishments of science, does not it?
Physics â' Metaphysics
Developments in Physics make my conviction in metaphysics even stronger; take me even closer towards metaphysics.
Over the past few centuries, the discipline of physics has grown quite nicely and has been able to come up with laws/theories which can explain a large number of natural phenomena. It has spurred the growth of newer and newer technologies which have made our life on earth so cosy, so comfortable enabling us to weather the adversities of nature. Technological advancements in machineries, transport sector, automation and information technology have shrunk the globe into a tiny village, where information travels from one part of the planet to the other and even to places outside the earth at lightning speeds.
Man, by his ingenuity, intelligence and diligence, has contrived a number of amazing instruments, equipments, machines etc., has registered many a technological advances. Man and man-made space vehicles have reached distant celestial objects like the Moon, Mars, Saturn etc. Several gadgets for personal comfort and luxury have been made. However, none of these appliances or contraptions has been fully free of faults, snags or failures. On the other hand, cast a glance at the vast cosmos. Such a gigantic object as the Earth, which has been incessantly revolving round the Sun at an astounding speed of nearly 30 km per second (108,000 km per hour) since past billions of years without having caused or met with any accident, is only a small planet within the solar system which itself has been circumambulating in its orbit spanning merely a small portion within the galaxy called the Milky Way. The Milky Way comprises of millions of such and much larger solar systems. Innumerable such galaxies, millions of light years apart from each other, have been doing rounds since one-does-not-know-when! Physics has provided all this knowledge to us. What appears to me as the most mind-boggling is that this incredible cosmic system keeps on operating so systematically and immaculately that we are able to precisely ascertain their current and future locations. Occurrences of celestial phenomena like lunar and solar eclipses, arrival times of comets, grouping together of different stellar bodies in special & interesting orientations etc. can be predicted with accuracy of minutes or seconds! What an admirable planning, design as well as execution it must have taken, on such a mammoth scale? Is it not truly mesmerising? Now, if with the best of our efforts and brains we are not able to come up with a single fault-free mechanical system, are we ready to believe that such a vast cosmological set up is running without any systematic and well thought-out plan? Had it been so, as some of the theories of cosmic evolution would want us to believe, these gargantuan stellar objects racing at such breath-taking speeds would have been catastrophically colliding with each other every moment, and our dear Earth and the so many lovely creatures it nurtures would have been destroyed much ago. If this has not happened and is not happening, it is only because there exists ONE universal power that has created it and which is regulating and sustaining it, as Maharshi Mehi Paramhans has put it, " the Absolute Power by which this cosmic system is guided and operated like a huge machinery or appliance ". The earth rotates on its axis at a speed of 1000 miles (1600 km approx) an hour at the equator. Had it been rotating at 100 miles an hour, our days and nights would be ten times longer, and the hot sun would have likely burnt up our vegetation each long day while any surviving sprout would well have frozen during the long nights. Distance of the moon (having an impact on tides), slant of the earth (influencing change of seasons) etc. all are so amazingly planned that one is left lost wondering at the marvel of the design. Seeing all this, the most versatile scientist of all times, Isaac Newton, had exclaimed in amazement: "When I look at the solar system, I see the earth at the right distance from the sun to receive the proper amounts of heat and light. This did not happen by chance."
Physics tells us that each substance is formed of microscopic atoms which themselves consist of elementary particles - a large number of negatively-charged electrons revolving at great speeds in the empty space surrounding its nucleus which is formed of positively-charged protons and neutrons having no net charge. Subsequently it was discovered that even these elementary particles are not as elementary as they were once thought to be. Science went on to discover that there are sub-atomic particles called Quarks which are said to be the building blocks of even these fundamental particles. Thus, whatever exists in the whole of Gross Universe big or small, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial, animate or inanimate can be ultimately broken down to the level of quarks which, thus, underscore or hint at the underlying unity of the universe. And now we are told that even these quarks are made of tiny vibrating strings of energy.
Our sages thousands and thousands years ago have told us that everything, everything animate and inanimate, is permeated by that universal vibration/energy/sound/word ("In the beginning was the Word..." The Bible) emanating from Him and science is creeping at snails pace, slowly but surely towards a realisation that points in the same direction of thinking. Interesting, isn't it?
QUANTUM PHYSICS is at the cutting edge of western thought. The interesting thing about quantum physics is that the original impetus that gave rise to it, namely the pursuit of the elemental building blocks of the Universe (separate elementary particles), has become meaningless with the discovery that the Universe appears to be an undivided Whole in a perpetual state of dynamic flux.
Like Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Quantum Physics reveals the Universe to be a single gigantic field of energy in which matter is just a 'slowed down' form of energy. Swami Vivekanand had in the nineteenth century proclaimed, "All matter is a frozen wave". Further, Quantum Physics has discovered that matter/energy does not exist with any certainty in definite places, but rather shows 'tendencies' to exist (The Uncertainty Principle). Even more intriguing is the notion that the existence of an observer is fundamental to the existence of the Universe - a concept known as 'The Observer Effect' - implying that the Universe is a product of consciousness. (the Mind of God). Compare this observation with what our sages have told about this "drishya jagat" (seeable world)! The ultimate pedestal/stage of meditation lies there where consciousness is so concentrated that the triad (`triputi") of "Seer, seeing and scene" or of "Knower, knowing and the knowable" vanishes, and what is left is the one and only one all-encompassing, omnipresent entity called God.
The American physicist, Barbara Brennan, states in her book 'The Hands of Light':
"Through experiments over the past few decades physicists have discovered matter to be completely mutable into other particles or energy and vice-versa and on a subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty in definite places, but rather shows 'tendencies' to exist. Quantum physics is beginning to realise that the Universe appears to be a dynamic web of interconnected and inseparable energy patterns. If the universe is indeed composed of such a web, there is logically no such thing as a part. This implies we are not separated parts of a whole but rather we are the Whole." Does not it sound more like quotations from a Rishi than coming from a scientist?
Quantum Physicist, Dr David Bohm in his book, 'The Implicate Order', states that
"primary physical laws cannot be discovered by a science that attempts to break the world into its parts." Yet this is the exact methodology of contemporary Western science which is still taught in most of our educational institutions globally today.
Bohm talks of an "implicate enfolded order" which exists in an un-manifested state and which is the foundation upon which all manifest reality rests. Bohm calls this manifest reality as "the explicate unfolded order". Bohm further remarks "parts are seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationships depend in an irreducible way on the state of the whole system . . . Thus, one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analyzability of the world into separately and independently existent parts." Our sages have been telling us since times immemorial that everything we see or feel is, in essence, His manifestation only. We souls are inseparable or unbroken parts of that wholeness that is, the God.
So, where is the conflict between Physics and Spirituality? Every new finding in Physics takes us closer and closer to spirituality; turns us into more of a believer. And that is why Einstein had to admit, "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe a spirit which is vastly superior to that of man and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble."
Symbiosis of Science & Spirituality is the key!
Both the fields of enquiry Science and Spirituality should realize it fully well that each of the two is essentially driven by the same fundamental urge to seek the truth. Science operates in the field of temporal knowledge which is human, while spirituality operates in the field of understanding which is divine. The two fields, therefore, should complement each other, as every human being partakes of the divine, to make the spectrum of understanding complete. The society should also accept the additional role of spirituality as that of a moderator for the science; spirituality should curb the undesirable exuberances of science in the wrong unethical directions. Science can devise a powerful motorcycle with a breath-taking acceleration, smoothest of controls, and the most efficient of brakes, and may also detail the steps of training a driver in the art of riding it, but it does not teach the motor cyclist who is driving at a thrilling speed of 100 kmph to apply screeching brakes when a child suddenly comes in front of it. That wise counsel has to come from the other domain that of spirituality. Now-a-days, we also hear of `rogue' scientists who are ready to sell the secrets capable of genocide, or undertake such research and apply it in such a way that can have catastrophic consequences for the mankind. Spirituality can impart that desired sobering and sensitizing effect. It can also provide the competence to understand and, therefore, take in stride the trials & tribulations of the worldly life and professional demands in their true perspective and thus to cope with or overcome the consequent stresses of life which are the root cause of widely proliferating psycho-somatic ailments tormenting the humanity today. While scientific pursuits can give the impetus to development prospects ameliorating the plight of the poor, the crippled and the diseased, spirituality can work wonders in promoting the ideals of right ethical lifestyle and in expounding the real purpose of human life, of our existence. Thus a symbiotic co-existence of the two is the crying need of the hour. Let all the wise and sane voices unite and work towards accomplishing this, seemingly utopian but truly achievable, ideal! Jai Guru!