(Interactive session on 20th August, 2016)
Keynote addresses by Mr. Prasanta Ray & Mr. Angsuman Chakraborty
(Other participants: Mr. Krishnapada Sarkar, Mr. Subrato Basu, Mr. Niloy Ghosh, Mr. Amalendu Dasgupta, Ms. Sunipa Basu, Mr. Sudeep Ray, Mr. Falguni Mitra etc.)
Opening Song: Ms. Ruma Banerjee
Anchoring, Introduction & concluding remarks: Asish K. Raha
INTRODUCTION – WHAT IS MAYA?
The Sanskrit word ‘Maya’, essentially a philosophical concept associated with Advaita Vedanta or Vedantic non-dualism used in the Upanishadas and Bhagavat Gita is often used in the sense of ‘illusion’ or ‘delusion’. However, according to Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest Vedantists of all times, Maya is neither illusion nor delusion, neither idealism nor realism, nor a theory, but a statement of facts (refer “Maya & Illusion, vol. 2 of Complete Works). According to Sri Shankaracharya, one of the greatest spiritual scholars of India, Maya is the distorted reflection of the reality like reflection of sunlight on sand (mirage) being taken for water or snake taken for a rope in darkness. Thus, according to him, Maya makes unreal appear as real. In the above context, we have to determine in the beginning what precisely does Maya connote.
Interestingly, while the term Maya is seen to have been used in the early Vedic period, notably in the Rig Veda, its meaning has undergone a significant change in the Upanishadas. To elucidate, the Rig Veda uses the term in the sense of delusion created by magical power, like: “Through his Maya, Indra assumed various forms.” In the Upanishadas such as the Svetasvatara (refer verses 9 & 10 of Chapter 4) the term came to be identified with Prakriti through which Brahman (Pure Consciousness or God) evolved Itself into or created the universes. The said verses are reproduced below:
Ashman mayee srijate Vishvametam
Ashminschanyo mayaya sanniruddhav II – 9
Mayam tu prakritim vidyanmayinam cha Maheshvaram I
Tasyabayabbhutaistu vyaptam sarvamidam jagat II – 10
[“By Its Maya, Brahman creates this universe of mortals and by the same mechanism (Maya) all the souls get entrapped in this universe. Prakriti is the substance by which this world of mortals is created. Know this Prakriti as Maya and know the Maheshvar (read Brahman) as the Mayin (Creator of the Maya)”]
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Br.II.V.19) states that Brahman on account of his Maya is perceived manifold, while Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha. VIII. iii. 1-2) proclaims that all that can be desired is covered by falsehood. Sage Uddalak’s proclamation to his son Shvetaketu – Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That) made in Chhandogya Upanishad (Cha. VI. Xiii.3) reveals that Brahman as either the creator or the core sentient element, as the case may be, is both the efficient and the material cause of this universe. Uddalak used a practical illustration to elucidate his point. He asked his son to mix a lump of salt in water in a container and bring that container to him next morning. When the son complied with the instruction, he was asked to drink the water from the top, the middle and the bottom and to tell the sage how it tasted. Shvetaketu informed his father that the water tasted salty uniformly. Uddalak explained that the salt, which was no longer visible, was the material as also the efficient cause of the salty water. Brahman like the salt was the subtlest soul of this universe, not seen but yet present in minutest particles of the universe. “Shvetaketu, Tat Tvam Asi:” or “That Thou Art” was the cardinal message conveyed in the Upanishada that resonates even today as the Vedantic message to the whole of humanity. ‘That’ meaning Brahman is the reality while ‘Thou’ meaning individual entities is the Maya. The question that has been troubling Vedantists of all schools is whether the said ‘Thou’ is existing or non-existing in reality.
The Advaita (non-dualist) school represented by Shankaracharya, posits that Brahman is the only reality while Tvam or ‘Thou’ or for that matter, the entire creation is nothing but Maya, or illusion/delusion, and unreal. It is like mistaking rope for a snake. The Dvaita (Dualist) school represented by Nimbarka, Madhavacharya, Sri Chaitanya etc. on the contrary holds that the Creator cannot be the same as the creation and the former is the efficient cause of the latter, but not the material cause. To this school, the creation is as much real as the Creator. The Vishistadvaita (Qualified non-dualist) school represented by Sri Ramanuja strikes a synthesis between the above two schools of apparently conflicting thoughts holding out in Sri Bhasya of Brahma Sutra (Interpretation of Brahma Sutra of Veda Vyasa by Sri Ramanuja) that the Brahman as the Creator is both efficient and material cause of the creation. It is already explained above that the concept of Tat Tvam Asi appears to support above line of thinking.
Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest commentators of Vedanta, is clearly reluctant to use the term Maya in the sense of illusion or delusion, but as a statement of fact. To be more precise, in Shankaracharya’s illustration of rope and snake, both cannot exist together and simultaneously. When we are deluded, the snake exists and not the rope. But when we are not, the rope exists and not the snake. But when we take Maya as a statement of fact, we do not deny its existence. Nor do we deny the reality that Brahman is the efficient and material cause of the Maya. The Tat Tvam Asi (That Thou Art) proclamation goes even farther into suggesting that Brahman is Maya and in that case there may not be any causal connection between the two.
In the above perspective of Maya, and having regard to our emphasis on science, apart from philosophy, the following questions arise for determination
- Do we exist with our physical identity in this phenomenal world?
- Does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?
- Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?
Before we address the above three posers, let us first briefly understand certain findings and/or hypotheses of modern science, that may be considered as relevant to our subject.
[Following write-up is based on the power point presentation by Mr. Prasanta Ray]
(1) Old Physics (Science)
(A) Philosophical Basis
- All observation shows reality as it truly is.
- Space and Time are absolute, sovereign, stand-alone, abstract entities : the setting of phenomena. Mass (loosely, weight,) is also similar.
- Space, Time and Mass have the same measure for ― are measured identically by ― all observers, whether moving with different uniform speeds with respect to the ‘measured’ or ‘observed’, or accelerating.
- Thus, ‘observation’ of an object or event is absolutely ‘objective’ ― totally independent of the observer or his status; the ‘observer’ and the ‘observed’ are wholly distinct from each other, each stand-alone.
- Thus, to the observer, the object or event ― the ‘objective’ world ― really exists or happens ‘out there’ on its own, independently of the observer. Such world would exist as it is even sans the observer/s or observation : ‘objective reality’.
- The object or event itself is observed, values of their properties are measured ― and measured unerringly and with complete certainty ― in an ‘observation’.
- Objects and events get to be ‘known’ and ‘understood’ in science.
- There are perfect and ‘objective’ causalities underlying events of the world ― else, indeed, there could be no science. By discovering and logically (often mathematically) formulating the causalities, science makes possible the exact, unerring prediction of results of experiments : measurement of values of properties. The results or measurements can and do tally exactly with predictions.
- The universe is static.
- In the ultimate analysis, doing science means making ‘models’ of the world, its objects and events, and such models are ‘correct’ representations of the world ― of its objects and events and causal relations among them.
- Only the observer ― and other sentient creatures ― have consciousness; everything else is unconscious.
(B) Some Important Attainments
- Galileo-Newton’s mechanistic (mathematical) model of the world. All motions (of everything) are governed by a small set of laws (mathematical / quantitative relations) where the entity ‘force’ generates change in velocity (loosely, speed,) ― positive (acceleration) or negative (deceleration). The world is a huge ― and unconscious ― ‘machine’, which exists by itself without regard to observer/s or observation, and whose behaviour is exactly, completely and unerringly predictable by the model.
- Newton’s ‘Gravitation’. Every ‘body’ ― entity with mass ― attracts every other body through empty space in three dimensions as per a certain mathematical relation : ‘gravitation’. Gravitation explains the ‘fall’ of bodies and also their ‘orbiting’ around other (usually heavier) bodies; also comets.
- Any change in the position or mass of the attracting body would have instant effect on the attracted body : so-called ‘action-at-a-distance’ principle.
- ‘Field’. A body has an infinitely spread out gravitational ‘field’, which field makes any other body in it experience gravitational pull. There are similar fields for electric charge and magnetic poles.
- The above ‘findings’ spectacularly explained everyday motions and correctly predicted motions under given sets of conditions.
- Light ― initially ‘modelled’ as (a stream of) ‘particles’ ― was later modelled as waves, considered correct. The medium of the waves was (modelled as) undetected, surmised, ‘luminiferous aether’. (See below).
- This too successfully explained and predicted light’s behaviour under given conditions.
- Heat and mechanical energy equivalence. Heat is the aggregate mechanical energy of all molecules of a substance, solid, liquid or gas. Temperature is roughly the average energy per molecule.
- ‘Entropy’. The ‘entropy’ of a system is a measure of the total ‘disorder’ in the system. Most natural events or processes increase total entropy or disorder. The universe is proceeding towards increasing disorder : the ‘arrow of time’.
(2) New Physics (Science)
(Rough descriptions that are not wholly correct but serve the immediate purpose.)
(A) Special Relativity (SR) : Space, Time, Mass, Energy
- What is light ― particles (‘corpuscles’) or waves? There were two schools of thinking : (a) of Isaac Newton and others, that light is particles, and (b) of Christiaan Huygens and others, that light is waves.
- Thomas Young passed single-coloured light through two very fine slits situated very close together. If light is particles, passing through the slits, it would spread into two patches on a screen situated behind, as would happen with say machine gun bullets. In the event, a series of light and dark bands – ‘fringes’ – were formed. This implied that light is waves, forming the wave-like criss-cross pattern of a close pair of waves. The mathematics of waves perfectly explained the fringes.
- Entirely mathematically also, without experimentation, light ― and all electromagnetic radiation, which includes light, x-rays, heat, microwaves, radio-waves, and others ― was shown by James Clerk-Maxwell to be (electromagnetic) waves propagating at the speed, c (= 300,000 Km/sec), of light. This was experimentally detected shortly after.
- But waves have to be waves of something – the medium – as for example, of water, air, or violin strings (solid metal). As mentioned above, (‘aether’) ‘ether’ was conjectured to be that (as yet undetected) medium.
- Michelson and Morley conducted an experiment to measure the speed of light in and against the direction of earth’s motion, in the expectation that the difference in the speeds would give a measure of earth’s speed through ether.
- The result was startling : light’s speed was found to be the same ― c ― in both directions. It was as if (a) light was waves of nothingness, or (b) the earth was motionless. Neither was acceptable.
- This led Albert Einstein to formulate Special Relativity (SR). Ramifications :
- Light has no relative speed; its speed is measured at the same c by observers moving at different speeds.
- Light’s speed c is the absolute speed limit of Nature. Nothing, no particle, matter, wave, electromagnetic radiation, can exceed that speed; not even by adding two speeds (like for a man running on a moving ship). So, no signal, no information, can travel faster than c.
- Each observer has his own Space-Time-Mass ‘frame of reference’; (measures of) space, time, mass are not absolute or objective but depend on the subject-observer’s speed.
- Two spatially-separated events seen as simultaneous by a certain observer will not be seen so by another observer moving relative to the first observer.
- Space (itself, and not an object in space,) shrinks, time slows, and mass increases with increasing speed. (If anything travels at light’s speed, then its length would become zero, its clock would stop, and its mass would become infinite).
- Space and time are not different entities ― they are two aspects of one entity : ‘spacetime’.
- Mass (m) and energy (E) are interconvertible as per the famous equation E = mc2.
- All these have since been verified by experiments.
(B) General Relativity (GR) : Space, Time, Gravitation
- While special relativity dealt with observers moving with uniform speeds, Albert Einstein next focussed his attention on changing speed ― acceleration.
- He reasoned that a person in a ‘frame (of space-time-mass) of reference’ that is accelerating upward (say, in a rocket,) would have the very same experiences as those of an observer standing on a massive ‘gravitating’ (gravitationally attracting) body like the earth. It would be impossible to distinguish one from the other; without referring to anything external, the person in the rocket would not know whether he was in an accelerating rocket or in a gravitation field. In every way, they are the same.
- Mathematical processing showed that :
- a ‘gravitating’ body warps 3-dimensional spacetime around it; and
- that is how straight lines of such ‘warped’ spacetime seem to be curved ― as straight latitudes seem curved on the curved surface of the earth; and
- thus lighter bodies seem to be ‘attracted’ by, and ‘orbit’, heavier bodies (like planets around the sun), the bent trajectories or closed orbits actually being straight lines in ‘warped’ spacetime; and
- thus, there is no so-called ‘gravitational attraction’ per se ― it is only geometry of (warped) spacetime.
- Some implications / predictions were :
- Time would run differently depending on the state of acceleration of the clock and the strength of the gravitation in which the clock is.
- Light rays would bend when going past heavy bodies like the sun, creating positional errors in observing stars near the sun, and ‘gravitational lens’ that would produce false, ‘duplicate’ images.
- Changes and motions of heavy gravitating bodies would create ‘gravitation waves’ of spacetime.
- Massive bodies growing progressively super-massive through gravitational accretion of more and more mass could conceivably so warp spacetime as to form a hole in it from which nothing would escape, not even light.
- All implications / predictions of General Relativity (GR) have been experimentally verified. The hole in spacetime is the well-known ‘black hole’, and ‘gravitation waves’ were experimentally detected for the first time in 2015.
(C) Philosophical Issues of Special and General Relativity
- If measures of space, time and mass depend on the observer’s (measurer’s) speed with relation to the measured (object), then are space, time and mass not sovereign, absolute and objective ― independent of the status of observer/s?
- Does it then mean that the so-called ‘objective’ is not comprehensively ‘objective’ after all? Is the (status of the) subject-observer involved in creating the so-called (and debatable) ‘objective reality’?
- If space and time together constitute one single entity, spacetime, then is the (so long accepted) reductionist scientific model of space and time being absolutely distinct from each other comprehensively wrong ― to be discarded?
- If mass and energy ― so totally dissimilar-looking ― are different aspects of one entity, then again, is the (so long accepted) reductionist scientific model of mass and energy being absolutely distinct from each other comprehensively wrong ― to be discarded?
- If curvature of spacetime is gravitational force, then does it mean that force is nothing more substantial than geometry (of spacetime)?
- If space and time, spacetime, can shrink or undulate, or crumple into a hole, then are space and time not a constant ‘setting’ ― as so far axiomatically understood by the lay and physicists ― but rather, perceivable, measurable, objects (or an object, spacetime,) in an as yet unknown and unconceived of setting?
- Is there any meaning ― even existence ― of ‘space’ and ‘time’ sans objects and events, i.e., without having any spatial dimensions or time duration (of an object or event) to observe / measure? Are ‘space’ and ‘time’ myths?
- Thus, are some of our ― and science’s ― most fundamental everyday ideas axiomatically, unquestioningly, held as ‘true’, not true after all?
(D) Quantum Physics (QP): Discretization, Quantization
- Electromagnetic waves (radiation) ― see above ― have different frequencies (rapidity of vibration), which difference shows up as light, heat, x-ray, etc. The distribution (relative proportions) of such frequencies of electromagnetic radiation in a closed space was known from experiments.
- There already were mathematical formulations that successfully explained similar distribution of speeds of molecules in closed space : proportions of the total population of molecules vis-à-vis their speeds. But those mathematical formulations failed in the case of frequencies of electromagnetic waves.
- Max Planck postulated that electromagnetic radiation energy is not absorbed or emitted in (continuously, unbrokenly, variable) arbitrary amounts but in (steps of) integral multiples of a unit of energy, E, that is proportional ― proportionality factor h (‘Planck’s constant’) ― to the frequency, ν : E = hν. The mathematical formulation based on this postulate of ‘wave-packet’ (later, ‘quantum’, ‘photon’,) successfully explained the frequency distribution of electromagnetic waves.
- ‘Photo-electric effect’ is a process whereby light, or other electromagnetic radiation such as x-ray, ejects electrons (sub-atomic particles carrying negative electric charge) from substances by striking them. The relationship of the quantity of ejected electrons to (a) the intensity of the electromagnetic radiation, and (b) the frequency of such radiation, was known from experiments. However, extant concepts and mathematics of pure particles or pure waves were unsuccessful in explaining photo-electric effect.
- Albert Einstein used the Planck concept of ‘wave-packet’ to develop a new mathematical formulation of electromagnetic radiation that successfully explained the ‘photo-electric effect’. Electromagnetic radiation was not only absorbed and emitted in integral multiples of units, hν, but actually consisted of such units.
- Thus, electromagnetic radiation and its energy were ‘discretized’ or ‘quantized’ : energy varied not unbrokenly but discretely in steps, the size of the steps depending on the frequency.
- And thus, light ― and all electromagnetic radiation ― came to be seen to possess mysterious ‘wave-particle duality’.
- The atom was modelled as a tiny nucleus with electrons whirling around it, not with any arbitrary energy and at any arbitrary distance from the nucleus, but with quantized energies in quantized orbits.
(E) Quantum Mechanics (QM) : Observer, Observation and Result
- Two new concepts emerged from the above Planck-Einstein formulations of electromagnetic radiation :
- the concept of wave-particle duality ― neither particles per se, nor waves per se ― quanta, photons, which are ‘particle-like’ ‘wave-packets’, and
- the ‘quantization’, or discretization, of energy.
- De Broglie conceived the reverse case : if energy, which is (electromagnetic) waves, can be particle-like, particles (at extreme speeds) should be wave-like. He formulated a mathematics to relate the speed (momentum) and (kinetic) energy of particles (like, say, electrons) to wavelength and frequency (of vibration) of his conjectured waves associated with high-speed particles. This was experimentally confirmed : ‘fringes’ like in the double-slit experiment with light were produced. ‘Matter-wave’ was born : another class of ‘wave-particle’ duality.
- Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger formulated beautiful mathematical procedures to deal with the (a) discretization or quantization, and (b) wave-particle duality. Quantum mechanics (QM) was born.
- Paul Dirac and others brought QM to maturity. Some basic concepts and principles :
- ‘Observables’ and ‘observation’. There can be no physics (science) of that which cannot be, or is not, ‘observed’. Thus, science is of ‘observables’ and ‘observation’.
- ‘Uncertainty’ or ‘Indeterminacy’ in measurement (observation). In some (not unusual) circumstances, two properties, ― for example, the position, x, and the momentum, p, of a given particle (quantum) ― cannot be simultaneously measured with 100% certainty : the more certainty / determinacy in the measurement of the one, the more uncertainty / indeterminacy in the measurement of the other. The product of the uncertainty, dx, of position, and the uncertainty, dp, of momentum ― dxdp ― is always greater than a minimum amount. (If measurement of the one is absolutely certain, that of the other is absolutely uncertain). This is not on account of defects in the measuring mechanism ― which defects can conceivably be reduced without limit ― but is a feature of (observed) Nature itself; it is an objective fact and not any subjective shortcoming.
- Physics ― or the mathematics of QM ― can predict only the probability of a particular value of a property, say, energy, resulting from (measured in) an observation, and not the value itself. (It is like predicting the probability heads-tails 50-50 in a coin toss but not whether heads or tails in a given toss).
- In a more recent experiment, the double-slit experiment was conducted with electrons shot one by one to produce spots on a detector screen. Even though the spots appeared individually one after another at unpredictable locations, collectively, the same ‘fringe’ pattern got built up.
- The QM mathematics ― often called the ‘wavefunction’ ― represents the entire set of all possible results (measured values) of an observation latent before observation (somewhat, but not really, like a tossed coin in unarrested flight), and the observation seems to actualize one result ― the so-called ‘collapse of the wavefunction’ to one particular value (somewhat, but not really, like a tossed coin arrested, to show head or tail) ― which value is not definitely predictable but its probability is predictable.
- Most implications / predictions of QM have been experimentally verified.
- Albert Einstein and others formulated what came to be known as ‘quantum entanglement’. If two (or several) particles are born in one single event, or if they interact and separate, then their mathematics ― wavefunction ― will be one, not two (or several) : they will become ‘quantum entangled’. The upshot is that the two together will have a constant, predictable, value of a property ― like, say, ‘spin’. As such, the measurement of such property carried out on one will be sufficient to fully and instantly determine the (complementary) value of that property of the other without any measurement carried out on that other ― even when the particles are separated by large distances, conceivably millions of kilometres. Most importantly, this happens even though the measured value actualizes upon measurement and not before.
- If any information were imagined to flow from the observed particle to the unobserved, then it would exceed the relativistic speed limit of light’s speed, c, which is not possible. In fact, since time interval is itself relativistic (see above), in some situations, depending on the observer’s speed, the unobserved particle’s result could happen before the observed particle is observed, and yet the two results would be mutually consistent : the unobserved particle’s result, ‘effect’, would happen before the (possible) ‘cause’, namely, the observation of the observed particle.
- Quantum entanglement has been experimentally verified, up to roughly 150 Km separation. Nothing has been found that disproves it or calls it into question.
- In the so-called ‘quantum eraser’ experiment, a pair, A and B, of entangled photons was (repeatedly) created. A went straight to a detector and B to another detector but through a double-slit, creating the expected ‘fringes’ (see above). Then a device was inserted to record ‘which slit’ B passed through. This localization (to a particular slit) being possible only with particles and not waves, the fringes vanished and was replaced by two patches. Next a device was inserted in the path of (entangled) A to erase, via entanglement, the recording of ‘which slit’ in B’s path after such recording. The fringes reappeared, as if the photons were waves.
(F) Fields and Quantum Field Theory (QFT)
- As mentioned above, there was the concept of a ‘field’ associated with gravitating particles (gravitational field), electric charges (electric field), and so on, in old physics. This concept carried over to quantum objects and phenomena too, giving rise to Quantum Field Theory ― actually theories; special relativity (SR) too is incorporated to formulate Relativistic Quantum Field Theories (aka, simply, Quantum Field Theories).
- The universe is considered to be filled with ‘fields’ of various kinds ― for example, electron field, photon field, and so on. There is no real vacuum; it is field-filled. Disturbances (‘excitations’) in each kind of field represents the corresponding particle or quantum : electrons in electron field, photons in electromagnetic field, and so on.
- Reconciling the wave mode and the particle mode of the wave-particle duality, quantum field theories posit that particles are ‘quantized’ (discretized) ‘excitations’ (energizations) in their corresponding fields, such excitations rippling through the field representing (movement of the) particles (energy and mass being inter-convertible as per of SR).
- The fields are considered more fundamental, more real, than the corresponding particles / quanta : e.g., the electromagnetic field is more fundamental than a given photon. It can be said that it is the fields that give birth to the corresponding particles, and not vice versa, and decide their behaviour and interactions amongst them.
- The fields are essentially mathematical constructs ― not material. Yet, it cannot be too wrong to say that there is neither the wave nor the particle of the wave-particles, or ‘wavicles’ ― there is just the ‘field’.
- A perfectly placid field represents complete absence of particles / photons, a kind of vacuum. However, the uncertainty principle of QM (see above) does not permit such perfect placidity ― a zero measure of energy every time. Sometimes a non-zero amount of energy will be, and is, measured ― called ‘vacuum fluctuation’ or ‘quantum fluctuation’ ― and this represents a particle-pair which survives for something like a trillionth of a second. Quantum fluctuation is not any real fluctuation of anything; it is merely quantum uncertainty induced variations in results of repeated observations. The particles are called ‘virtual particles’. The universe teems with virtual particles, popping up and popping out after lasting for immeasurably super-small fractions of a second. (It is to be noted that even a ‘real particle’ is just an excitation of a field (see above), not quite a particle, and virtual particles are even less so).
- Unification of fundamental forces. In early, old physics, three fundamental forces were recognized :
The electric and magnetic forces were later seen as different manifestations of one force : electromagnetic. Then, in new physics, two new fundamental forces were discovered :
- Weak (nuclear) force, and
- Strong (nuclear) force.
Of these, the electromagnetic and weak forces were found to be different aspects of one ‘electroweak’ force. So, now, there are three forces to reckon with :
- Electroweak, and
Thus, the so-called ‘unification of forces’ has been making progress.
- Physicists now see the forces as being on account of exchange of virtual particles.
- Efforts are on to unify all forces into one force : the ‘grand unification’ of Unified Field Theory.
- QFT is considered quite a successful model of Nature.
(G) Philosophical Issues of Quantum Mechanics
- The ‘deterministic’ model of an experiment repeated giving a particular value of a certain property on measurement every time seems to be wrong.
- The ‘deterministic’ model of values of properties being measured with exactitude seems to be wrong.
- ‘Objective reality’ ― a model of a fully objective and real world existing stand-alone all by itself regardless of observers and observation ― seems to be in need of re-examination.
- Interpretation of the mathematics of QM, and the understanding of ‘quantum events’; many deep and unprecedented issues :
- Does physics have any legitimate and meaningful jurisdiction to ‘interpret’ the mathematics and events of physics? Or must it be content to only present the mathematics and results of experimental observations, period?
- If the mathematics is unable to predict any definite result, how come it can yet predict the (wavelike distribution of) probabilities of particular results?
- How is it that when spots (on detectors) evidence particles, their distribution is represented by the mathematics of waves?
- Even though individual spots are created randomly by (presumed) individual particles, how is it that the particles collectively form the ‘fringes’? Is there collective ‘awareness’ among the particles?
- What really happens between the ‘shooting’ of an electron (from a source) and its detection as a spot on a screen? Is there really any such thing as the real electron and does it have any such thing as a real trajectory between the source and the screen? What is ‘perceived’ is not really an electron but a sign (spot) of an imagined electron. The experiment does not at all ‘track’ any electron all the way.
- If one out of all possible values actualizes upon observation, who or what actualizes that particular value ― in other words, gets the wavefunction to collapse to that value (to the exclusion of other values)? Could it be that the observer’s consciousness or mind plays a role in the selection?
- Does the mathematics represent anything real ― like, for instance, undulations in spacetime ― or is it just a logical mechanism that by itself represents nothing real but simply predicts probabilities of results?
- Is it that scientists ― and laymen too ― deal with interactions of something (not known} with the observing / measuring apparatus, even including the human senses and mind, and cannot ever deal with that (unknown) something?
- Interpretation of ‘quantum entanglement’ :
- Is any interpretation in terms of familiar experience and understanding at all possible? Is it even incumbent upon physics to supply it? ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out hownature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature…’ ― Niels Bohr, Nobel physicist
- If, in deep Nature, one observation serves for all entangled particles, and if there is instantaneous information flow, then is it that what is considered to be cause-and-effect ― causality ― is a myth?
- Could it not be that, in quantum entanglement, the apparently distinct, separate particles are actually one (thing) and not several?
- Time is a phenomenon that emerges from quantum entanglement.
- If the universe began in one point-particle, could it be that the entire universe is entangled?
- Interpretation of ‘quantum eraser’ experiment :
- Do the photons get to know what kind of experiment is being carried on with them and adopt behaviour accordingly?
- Thus, is there awareness among the photons?
- Interpretation of QFT :
- If the fields are more fundamental than the particles, then can the birth of particles be imagined to represent the substantial being born in the substantial?
- If the universe fairly teems with virtual particles, then is it that (a) movement-less ‘quantum fluctuations’ only ‘appear to be’ real matter, and (b) while science develops the ‘virtually real’, the world is really virtual?
(H) Astrophysics and Cosmology
- The common belief of old astronomy was that the universe is static. General Relativity calculations however indicated that the universe is either expanding or contracting. In order to make it conform to this static universe idea, Einstein surmised a (fictitious) ‘cosmological constant’ in GR.
- Astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that stars and galaxies receded from the earth with speeds that are proportional to their distances from the earth : ‘Hubble’s Law’. This implied an expanding universe. Accepting the expanding universe idea and realizing his mistake of proposing the fictitious ‘cosmological constant’, Einstein later wrote that the cosmological constant ‘was the biggest blunder of his life’.
- Development of sophisticated and high-resolution optical, radio, infra-red, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma-ray, telescopes enabled observations and studies of very deep space. This enabled the formulation of alternative concepts of the universe. The expanding universe concept now prevails.
- The most accepted concept of the expanding universe is the so-called ‘Big Bang’ theory : the universe beginning in a super-dense, super-hot and super-high-energy point some 13.8 billion years ago and expanding ever since.
- Study of cosmic rays ― usually of super-high energies ― helps scientists understand the universe at various stages of its expansion. Also, large particle accelerators / colliders, such as the large hadron collider of CERN, does the same by replicating such super-high-energy events in the laboratory and to the scientists’ specifications.
- The present model of the expanding universe is something like this :
- Beginning of universe (BB) some 13.8 billion years ago, in an unimaginably dense and super-high-energy point (inconceivable point / moment of infinite density)… Breakdown of all laws of physics including GR.
- At age of something like one millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, one primordial force divides into ‘gravitational’ and ‘electronuclear’ forces…
- Over a span of a trillion seconds after that, the electronuclear force further divides into the ‘strong’ and ‘electroweak’ forces… Homogeneous matter begins to emerge… The electroweak force further breaks up into the electromagnetic and weak forces… quarks, leptons, photons emerge as ‘boiling soup’…
- At age 135 seconds, universe is a super-hot, super-dense rock, vapourizing… Helium forming…
- At age 10,000 years, temperature is 4500 degrees Kelvin (roughly Celsius)… Light breaking…
- At a hundred million years, universe is a sea of hydrogen and helium… Protogalaxies forming…
- At one billion years, galaxies and first infant stars are being born…
- ‘Big crunch’ has been proposed as a possible ‘ultimate fate’ scenario of the universe. But, so far there is no experimental evidence of this. In fact, accelerating expansion seems to have been observed.
- (Unobserved and unknown) ‘dark energy’ has been hypothesized to explain the accelerating expansion. At the same time, measurements of accelerations of stars and galaxies indicate gravitational effects far in excess of what visible and detected / known matter of the universe can explain; this has led to the inference that (unobserved) ‘dark matter’ exists, which accounts for the apparent gravitational effect anomaly. In fact, some estimates of dark energy and dark matter in the universe are that dark matter accounts for 85% of the universe’s mass, and dark energy plus dark matter account for 95% of the universe’s total mass-energy.
- The universe must have a certain minimum ― ‘critical’ ― mass for the big crunch to happen, and the present directly observed mass of the universe falls short of it by far.
- If dark matter does exist, it may conceivably lead to the big crunch scenario.
- So-called ‘black holes’ ― an increasingly massive body collapsing under gravity to an extremely small volume, with gravitation becoming so strong as to hold back all matter and even all electromagnetic waves, including light, so that the black hole itself cannot be perceived by any means ― is theoretically predicted and now experimentally ‘observed’ indirectly by studying motions of neighbouring stars and galaxies. At its heart, a black hole is theorized to have infinite density.
- ‘Gravitation waves’ of GR, created by a pair of merging black holes, was detected in 2015.
(I) Philosophical Issues of Latest Cosmology
- If dark energy and dark matter actually pervade the universe, then is it that the universe so far perceived, known, via optical and other kinds of telescopes and inferences made therefrom, are significantly incomplete ― even error-fraught?
- If sufficient dark matter is eventually discovered, then will the ‘big crunch’ become acceptable?
- If space and time are products of creation, then how could such creation begin at a certain point in space and a certain point in time?
- If space is included in the universe ― as it indeed is ― the what is the universe expanding into?
(3) Advaita Vedanta Concepts relating to Maya
(A) Brahman & Absolute Existence (Truth) : sat, Atman
- (One meaning of Vedanta is : the end, or consummation, of knowledge).
- That alone is Truth that exists absolutely, unchangeably, eternally :
- Brahman is the ultimate and only Truth : sat. All else are untruths :
- Brahman is sat (absolute existence) + chit (absolute consciousness / knowledge) + ananda (absolute bliss) = It is not ‘existent’, ‘conscious’, ‘blissful’ : Adjectives do not apply to Brahman because it is absolute, not relative.
- Brahman is One-and-Only =
- Brahman is absolute, consciousness, infinitude, im-material, indestructible, undifferentiated, unqualifiable, indescribable.
- Atman (individual sentient creature’s essence, soul) is Brahman – ayam atma brahma. (Roughly like a wave of a boundless sea being the same as the sea).
- All so-called knowledge or understanding is and of the relative : involving mediateness, comparison, classification, etc. At least two are necessary ― duality.
- (Therefore, absolute, non-relative, one-and-only,) Brahman ― advaita ― is beyond access of speech and mind = (Who will know, and know what, and who speak?)
- Normal ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ is nothing but familiarity, acquaintance.
- The Atman (= Brahman) cannot be attained by explanations, nor by intelligence, nor through much hearing – na yam atma pravacanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna shrutena. It can be attained by im-mediate, aparoksha, experience ― yoga.
- Such experience cannot be described by common language which is born of mediate, empirical experience.
- How will the knower be known? (Can the eye see itself?).
- Everything originates in, subsists in, and merges in, Brahman.
- All this (the perceived, conceived, performed) is Brahman only = sarvam khalu idam brahma. Advaita Vedanta is not monotheism ― it is monism, more correctly, non-pluralism.
(B) Maya & ‘Appearance’ of Brahman
- There is Brahman per se, and there is Brahman’s appearance. ‘Appearance’ or ‘manifestation’ of Brahman is comprehensively different from Brahman per se.
- Yet ― all that appears is Brahman : sarvam khalu idam brahma.
- Appearance happens per Maya : Maya deludes.
- Maya is neither real nor unreal; like darkness – absence of light – is neither real nor unreal. Maya is indescribable, (super-)mysterious.
- Maya covers Reality (sat) ― Brahman ― and projects phantasms, unreality (asat).
- ‘Appearance’ – perception – involves (a) (so-called) subject and (so-called) object, a spurious division, and (b) the mechanism of the senses + mind + intellect (+ scientific instruments) ― making for mediate, paroksha, experience, which distorts. (‘The senses cheat you day and night.’ ― Vivekananda).
- Only im-mediate, aparoksha, experience – per yoga (= ‘yoke’, ‘join’) ― is correct. Im-mediate experience is indescribable, anirvachaniya, because it is transcendental, having nothing to do with the senses or mind or anything relative or empirical that form the basis of ‘normal’, and even ‘scientific’, perception-cognition and understanding.
- Brahman is ‘noumenon’ (‘thing-in-itself’) ― that which ‘appears’ or seems ― and Maya is phenomena ― the ‘appearance’ or ‘seeming-ness’ of noumenon. The whole world is Maya.
- Noumenon ― Brahman ― is the one reality, existence, sat; phenomena ― the world ― are falsities, asat : brahma satya, jagat mithya, jiva brhamaiva, na aparah – Brahman is true, the world is false, sentient creatures are Brahman only, not different.
- However, as long as you are in and of the world (phenomena), the above statement uttered by you is rendered false thereby – Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
- The highest, most comprehensive, appearance, manifestation, of Brahman is Ishwar (God) : the universe.
- Perception-cognition involves that which is perceived-cognized plus the mind. If the noumenon (thing-in-itself) of the external world is x, then the perception-cognition of such external world is x + mind. Similarly, if the noumenon of the internal world is y, its perception-cognition is y + mind. What we observe, perceive, know, understand is never x or y but x + mind or y + mind. x and y per se are ever unknowable… ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
- All perception-cognition is via interactions (that distort). ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
- ‘External nature is only internal nature writ large’. ― Vivekananda
(C) Change, Involution & Evolution
- Empirical entities ― everything of the perceived world ― go through six stages : birth, growth, stability, change, decay, death; thus for atoms, galaxies, stars, universe, bacteria, humans ― everything.
- ‘Change’ involves (a) material cause (like clay), and (b) efficient cause (like the potter).
- As per Advaita, Brahman may be seen as the material and the efficient cause, both.
- The properties of the cause inhere in the effect.
- Therefore, essentially, all things, creatures, events are Brahman-like : one unity (or inseparably interconnected), infinite, shot through with consciousness ― in varying degrees; nothing is really ‘local’, it is all ‘global’, ‘universal’, infinite, eternal, one.
- ‘Mayik’ appearance or manifestation of the One-and-Only Brahman seems many per the specious and beguiling mechanism of name-cum-form ― namarupa : the sticking of name-tags on spuriously isolated parts ― really ‘forms’ ― of the real one integral whole, the One-and-Only.
- Thus, a multiplicity of things, events, entities are created by the ‘observer’ by speciously defining forms via namarupa. (‘You limit a thing by defining it.’ ― Vivekananda.)
- Thus, every thing, creature, event of Maya is a mix of Brahman-like-ness and namarupa : asti (being existent, from sat,) + bhati (being cognizable (through senses and mind), from chit,) + priya (being attractive (to someone), from ananda,) + nama (name) + rupa (form) = asti-bhati-priya-nama-rupa.
- All perception / knowledge, common or scientific, is of bhati, appearance, ― via mediative, distorting, interaction ― and never of asti, that which really exists.
- That which changes is not sat. (Roughly speaking : a cloud can successively take on forms of an elephant, a horse, a cow, and then vanish : the elephant, horse, cow are asat. A clay ‘dog’ can be made short to tall and then slapped out of existence; such dog is asat but the clay is sat).
- Namarupa is Maya : delusion
- Space, time, causality ― desh-kala-nimitta ― is Maya : delusion
- Since the absolute, the independent, cannot have a cause, therefore, Maya is Brahman’s sport only ―
- Change can be (a) real change, as in a potter changing a lump of clay into a pot, or (b) as per Advaita, only apparent change, per fake superposition ― adhyas / adhyaropa ― as a non-existent, fake, snake seen in a rope.
- Thus, evolution could be (a) real evolution ― parinam(vada), or (b) pseudo evolution ― vivarta(vada) ― of Advaita.
- That which does not exist cannot come into existence (a kind of conservation law). So, there can never be any real increase, but there can be apparent decrease ―through covering or non- or fractional manifestation.
- Therefore, there can be no evolution unless there is involution first.
- Thus, so-called evolution of science is involution + evolution = srishti (creation) + sthiti (subsistence) + pralaya (dissolution) = kalpa. Kalpas
- Maya is the very first stage of srishti ― also described as agyan (ignorance, nescience); everything after that is Maya-shrouded, delusive.
- Srishti is pran progressively acting on akash. Pran may be considered to be akin to primordial energy ― motive power, changing power. Akash may be considered to be akin to the primordial substance that is moved or changed.
- Roughly : pran = efficient cause; akash = material cause.
- (So-called) scientific evolution is absolute Brahman, first, in srishti, ‘appearing’ as progressively relative, less conscious, more finite, more material / physical, more differentiated, less permanent, more numerous… and then, reversing the process, in pralaya, to become progressively less relative, more conscious, less finite, less material / physical, less differentiated, more permanent, more one.
- In the beginning of creation, ‘That One’ began to vibrate without motion’ ― anidabatam.
- In the non-physical is born the physical, in the insubstantial, the substantial, in the abstract, the concrete.
- Universal srishti-sthiti-pralaya happens ― mahapralaya ― but there can also be local srishti-sthiti-pralaya also – Vivekananda (paraphrased).
- In the course of creation, srishti, there ‘appear’ (or ‘manifest’) (a) finest to finer to fine to gross to grosser to grossest particles / matter, (b) tanmatras ― rudimentary, ‘virtual’, particles ― that do not participate in processes, (c) the senses and mind and intelllect, (d) sentient creatures in subtle forms, and (e) sentient creatures in gross forms.
- In the ultimate analysis, there is no such thing as cause and effect; cause-and-effect, causality, is a myth. ― Vivekananda (paraphrased).
- Maya, Nature, is aghatana-ghatana-patiyasi – skilful in making the impossible happen : thus, non-causality.
(D) Some (Advaita) Vedantic Prognoses About New Science
- The concepts of most entities of physics / science, including fundamental quantities of ‘space’, ‘time’, ‘mass’, will need to be rethought, and possibly, revised.
- The absoluteness and sovereignty of space and time will be called into question; as will be their very existence as entities or settings (‘reference frames’).
- A more holistic picture of nature will emerge; the apparently disparate will be seen more and more as aspects of an integral whole.
- The idea of independent, stand-alone existence of an ‘objective world’ will be revisited.
- It will be realized that all perception-cognition, by ordinary or scientific means, is mediate, and im-mediate perception-cognition is not possible through such means.
- It will be realized that, thus, it is the combination of the (so-called and conjectured) ‘perceived’ plus the ‘perception’ / ‘observation’ process that is erroneously considered to be ‘perception of objects per se’. What the (conjectured) ‘perceived’ is and whether there is at all any such ‘perceived’ all by itself, and if yes, whether the ‘perceived’ exist/s in plurality or is singular ― one ― cannot be known through such means.
- Common or scientific knowledge and understanding involves conjecturing reality ― and not apprehending reality per se.
- A beginning of srishti ― so-called conventional ‘evolution’ ― will be discovered; also, progressive creation of variety and multiplicity from oneness will be found. A certain end of evolution will seem probable.
- More fineness, more oneness and more awareness will be found in events closer to the beginning of srishti.
- In objects and events, whether (a) finite or infinite, (b) temporary or eternal, (c) plurality or unity, (d) various or same, (e) conscious or unconscious, will be moot scientific issues.
- Whether so-called scientific ‘entities’ are really so and whether, if so, they exist by themselves, will need to be examined.
- The issue of innate and sure causality among events will be called into question.
- Whether, at bottom, everything is chancy and disconnected will become a valid question.
The following three posers were set out in the Introduction:
- Do we exist with our physical identity in this phenomenal world?
- Does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?
- Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?
Before we address the first poser, let us come to a logical finding about the concept of Maya.
Maya, in sum, is a concept that has undergone changes over a period of time from early Vedic period till modern time. The earliest use of the term ‘Maya’ was in Rig Veda implying somewhat like magic to befool or befuddle people. During later Vedic period, the term was used to denote Prakriti (Nature) through which Brahman created the universe. Still later, when Sri Shankara developed Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta as a distinct philosophy by interpreting the Upanishadic verses compiled in the Brahma Sutras by Badarayana, Maya was taken for delusion / illusion. However, the same Brahma Sutras were interpreted differently by Dualists (Dvaita Vadis) such as Nimbarka, Madhavacharya, Sri Chaitanya etc. and qualified non-dualists (Vishistadvaita Vadis) such as Sri Ramanuja. The former accepted the universe as real and Maya as irrelevant, while the latter accepted and synthesized both the concepts, and did not reject the concept of Maya like the dualists did.
We, however, find the interpretation of Swami Vivekananda in this regard as the most logical. According to him, the Maya of the Vedanta is “neither Idealism, nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts – what we are and what we see around us.” Explaining the concept of Maya further, he states that the world around us has no absolute existence. “We see this world with the five senses but if we had another sense, we would see in it something more. If we had yet another sense, it would appear as something still different. It has, therefore, no real existence; it has no unchangeable, immovable and infinite existence. Nor can it be called non-existence, seeing that it exists, and we have to work in and through it. It is a mixture of existence and non-existence” (refer: his lecture on Maya & Illusion, London, 1896).
In order to understand how senses operate in this phenomenal world, let us take a practical example. Man, as we all know, is a 3-dimensional creature. How a man would look like to a single dimensional and a 2-dimensional creature? A man would appear to be no larger than a dot to a single dimensional creature, and not larger than multiple lines to a 2-dimensional creature. But we know that above-said appearances are not actual physical representation of a man. Likewise, a 4-dimensional creature or for that matter a creature having an extra sense of perception may find a man quite differently, assuming that higher the dimension, higher the senses. According to string theorists, each additional dimension after the 4th one is understood with reference to additional curves of microscopic sizes. And we have practically no idea as to how a man would look like from a higher dimension. Thus what we see in this 3-dimensional world cannot be an absolute reality, even in physical sense. Therefore, our existence with our respective physical identities in this phenomenal world is a relative truth at best, conditioned by dimensional cum sensory limits.
Let us now address the second poser; viz. does the philosophical concept of Maya stand the scrutiny of quantum science, as known today?
One of the well known hypotheses of quantum mechanics is that particles exist as particles as long as these are under conscious observation / watch. When not under observation, particles behave like wave and have no separate identity as particles. Above hypothesis is based on scientific experiments and cannot be brushed aside as unreliable or flawed. If we apply above find of quantum scientists to the concept of Maya, we may come to the same conclusion that what is apparent in the phenomenal world is not necessarily real. Perhaps in reality there is no phenomenon. From above quantum perspective, whatever we see or sense may not be real even in material sense. Thus we find a striking similarity between quantum uncertainty and the concept of Maya. Assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / remove?
Our last poser is: assuming that Maya is a statement of fact, can it be eliminated / removed?
The above poser has a spiritual angle, as it involves consciousness and, therefore, falls outside the ambit of quantum science. From spiritual perspective, the poser is re-framed as follows: ‘how the veil of the Maya can be lifted’? We find that in Bhagavat Gita a categorical answer to the above poser has been provided by Sri Krishna, which is as follows.
In Chapter VII, verse 14, of the Gita, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna:
“Daivi hi esa gunamayee mama maya duratyaya I
Mameba ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te II – 14”
[Since my divine Maya constituted by the Gunas or qualities (Sattva, Rajas and Tama) is hard to cross over, there is no other way but to take refuge in Me to cross over this Maya.]
In verses 5 onward, chapter 14, Krishna explains that the three Gunas (qualities) born of nature (Prakriti) bind the immutable soul to the body through numerous attachments. As to the question how this Maya can be transcended, Krishna answers in verses 24 to 26 of chapter 14 that the one to whom happiness and sorrow, censure and praise, honour and dishonour, friend and foe are alike, the one who is established in his own Self, the one to whom a lump of earth, iron and gold are the same, can transcend the three Gunas or the Maya. In other words, a man of complete equanimity alone can transcend Maya. It was believed that Suka, the son of Veda Vyasa, was one such person who was not subdued by Maya.