Study of the Upanishads reveals that the ancient seers had insights into the unified, complimentary, indeterminate and relative nature of the universe. The later findings of the modern physics too brought out a world view quiet akin to the Seers’ mystic findings. Both were led by some creative visions which appear more or less equal in their findings. History of thought is colored with the argumentative stand of science and spirituality with their ideas often running in contrast to each other. However it all ended with the advent of visionaries like Einstein, Bohr, Planck, Heisenberg, Bohm etc. These scientists changed the very world view of science which gradually began to acknowledge spirituality and the idea of absolute consciousness. Many modern scientists realized the significance of Eastern philosophy, especially upanishadic philosophy. The leading exponent of quantum mechanics, Erwin Schrodinger concluded that the basis of the world is undifferentiated consciousness. Later this was further confirmed by physicists like David Bohm, Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler. They were followed by physicists and psychologists like Fritjof Capra, Ken Wilber, Amit Goswami, Deepak Chopra, Subhash Kak and others. The general world view has changed a lot due to the inventions of the new science. There came a paradigm shift in the world of science from mere materialism to something based on consciousness as the cause of every occurrence in the universe. As scientific thought and objective enquiry progressed the idea of consciousness began to loom important in the world of science. Amit Goswami says:
“It took seven decades for us to see that this question of quantum physics has the paradigm-shifting consequence of reconciling science and spiritually, but the basic idea is extremely simple: the agency of transforming possibility into actuality is consciousness. It is a fact that whenever we observe, we see actuality not possibility. Thus conscious observation is a sufficient condition for the collapse of the possibility wave. The mathematician John von Neumann argued long ago that consciousness is also a necessary condition for collapse. All objects obey quantum mechanics; this includes any machine that we employ to facilitate our observation. Any such measuring-aid machine. In order to initiate collapse, an agency is needed that is outside the jurisdiction of quantum mechanics. For von Neumann, there is only one such agency, our consciousness”.
There are many significant parallels between upanishadic thought and quantum physics. True, parallelism may not be taken for similarities. Yet there exists more or less the same world views as presented by the both. The following lines from Ken Wilber’s Quantum Questions on the mystical attitude of some of the prominent modern physicists appear worth quoting:
“There is the great difference between the old and new physics-both are dealing with shadows, but the old physics didn’t recognize that fact. If you are in the cave of shadows and don’t even know it, then of course you have no reason or desire to try to escape to the light beyond. The shadows appear to the whole world, and no other reality is acknowledged or even suspected- this tended to be philosophic effect of the old physics. But with the new physics, the shadowy character of the whole enterprise became much more obvious, and sensitive physicists by the droves- including all of those in this volume – began to look beyond the cave (and beyond physics) altogether. “The symbolic nature of physics,” Eddington explains, “is generally recognized, and the scheme of physics is formulated in such a way as to make it almost self evident that it is a partial aspect of something wider according to these physicists, about this “something wider” physics tells us – and can tell us – nothing whatsoever… As Eddington carefully explains: “Briefly the position is this. We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating feeling that there must be more behind, we return to our starting point in human consciousness – the one center where more might become known. [There in immediate inward consciousness] we find other stirrings, other revelations than those conditioned by the world of symbols …physics most strongly insists that its method do not penetrate behind symbolism. Surely that mental and spiritual nature of ourselves, known in our minds by an intimate contact transcending the methods of physics, supplies just that…which science is admittedly unable to give”.
Both science and upanishadic seers tried to understand universe in both macrosmic and the microscopic realms. They seriously addressed to the question of existence, but from different perspectives and through different methods. The method of science was purely objective, with the aid of external experiments and observation combined with philosophical analysis. Reason helped them peep into the secrets of universe. In science verified truth is called theory. Before verification it is only a hypothesis. Stephen Hawking says that a hypothesis cannot be distinguished from a theory. In fact every finding, according to him, is only a hypothesis:
“Any physical theory is only provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the results will not contradict the theory”.
The seers of the ancient period unraveled the mysteries of the world with the inner eye, eye of wisdom, an instrument sharpened by their intellectual exercise of meditation. Schumacher in Small Is Beautiful speaks of the holistic nature of knowledge or explains how knowledge rises to wisdom. According to him: “All subjects, no matter how specialized, are connected with a center; they are like rays emanating from a sun. The center is constituted by our most basic convictions, by those ideas which really have the power to move us. In other words, the center consists of metaphysics and ethics, of ideas that-weather we like it or not- transcend the world of facts, they cannot be proved or disproved by ordinary scientific method”.
Western scientists resorted to thought experiments and the rational insights but did not proceed on to the path of wisdom but sought the help of equipment’s and instruments which they themselves made with preconceived notions. Ken Wilber writes in his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul: “The real problem with these rational, mental or linguistic plausibility arguments is that they are attempting to use the eye of the mind to see that which can be seen only with the eye of contemplation. …
The seer looked upon the world with his mind and heart and was able to have the vision of reality without any external aid. The scientists stood for an objective reality whereas for the seer the reality was one with himself. He was able to have the lofty vision of his own self in all things and all things in his own self. The thoughts and attitudes of the scientists of the new era have undergone great changes resulting in the dawn of wisdom on the scientists whose dogmatic stubbornness began to cease when they found that the world which they so far believed was deterministic has really a bizarre nature which could in no way be predicted or observed with objective accuracy. They came to the amazing discovery that the picture of a compartmentalized and deterministic universe drawn by their ancestors was not real; on the contrary the universe was an interconnected and intertwined web of phenomena, about which nothing can be said with absolute certainty. The word coined by Bohr for this all-inclusive, indeterminacy of the reality is “complimentarity” with which one sees certain similarity with the neti- neti (not this, not this) of the upanishadic thought. According to physicist Paul Davies,
Taken to its logical conclusion, it is possible to imagine a supermind existing since the creation, encompassing all the fundamental fields of nature, and taking upon itself the task of converting an incoherent big bang into the complex and orderly cosmos we now observe; all accomplished entirely within the framework of the laws of physics. This would not be a god who created everything by supernatural means, but a directing, controlling, universal mind pervading the cosmos and operating the laws of nature to achieve some specific purpose. We could describe this state of affairs by saying that nature is a product of its own technology, and the universe is a mind: a self- observing as well as selforganizing, system. Our own minds could then be viewed as localized ‘islands’ of consciousness in a sea of mind, an idea that is reminiscent of the Oriental conception of mysticism, where God is then regarded as the unifying consciousness of all things into which the human minds will be absorbed, losing its individual identity, when it achieves an appropriate level of spiritual advancement.
Findings of the new physics thus appear to be as coming in agreement with the spiritual experiences the Upanishadic Seers speak of. Their similarities could be reviewed in the context of classical physicist’s finding that energy is neither created nor destroyed though it can be transformed, a premise all the theories of universe are based on. This idea was expressed by the Seers according to whom in the state of pralaya the Ultimate One draws back everything to itself just to see them manifest into the many but again to draw them back to the unified whole. The Hindu view of manifestation put forth by the Seers comes in similarity with the conservation of energy theorized by scientists. Gita says, ‘that which does not exist cannot be something and that which exists cannot be nothing’ (nasato vidyate bhavo nabhavo vidyate satah). The modern science’s view on the world’s origin resembles the Upanishadic theory of manifestation. To quote Swami Vivekananda:
Manifestation, and not creation, is the world of science today, and the Hindu is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language, and with further light, from the latest conclusions of science.
Modern physics has it that the net energy of the universe is Zero and that whatever may go out of Zero the Zero would remain in tact. This again remains one of what is said in the Shantiphata of ishopanishad:
om purnamada purnamidam ||
purnasya purnamadaya ||
Purana according to Sanskrit definition is ‘perfect’ and infinite which is without beginning and end symbolized through the sign ‘0’. Whatever was infinite was worshiped and revered. Hence the word pujya (revered) to denote the infinite the ‘0’ symbolized. purna could thus be well equated with ‘0’. Hence the translation of the above cited upanishadic statement as follows: ‘This is purna (’0’) and that is purna (‘0’). purna would come only out of purna (’0’). If purna (‘0’) is subtracted from purna (‘0’) the remaining balance would be purna (‘0’). Simply substitute, Zero would come only out of Zero, and Zero subtracted from Zero would give Zero as balance. Suffice it to say, the Zero volume would remain as such however much it may be transformed or truncated. This was the ancient Indian counterpart of the law of conservation of energy.
The theory of relativity that revolutionized the world with its new findings on space and time and motion served as an eye opener to the scientists who were at the threshold of something new, on the path towards discovering consciousness. The scientists who were once uncompromisingly arrogant in presenting their final judgment about the world warped in materialism, mechanism and determinism soon began doubt their own theories when they knew about a great mystery behind all observable phenomena, which had an inalienable relation with ones own self. The theory of relativity challenged many hitherto accepted ideas about the universe. Einstein’s special relativity theory dealt a blow to the ‘absolute’ and universal nature of time. Time according to him is elastic which can be stretched and shrunk by motion. A man traveling at the speed of light has no past, present or future. Einstein himself said that the distinction between past, present and future is an illusion, however persistent the idea of that distinction may be. Time does not move. Change occurs because objects move about through space in time. In relativity theory there is no absolute time. Each individual has his own personal time depending on the rate of motion and his location. Past, present and future cannot be considered as distinct. They are only creation of the mind and mere linguistic expressions. The future, long awaited, is already there; one may reach it earlier and one later and hence the reference to past and future. Time does not move, it is we who move and our movement determines time. The quantum theory of indeterminacy seems to contradict the theory that the future is already here. The claim that future is completely determined can be refuted and the theory of the atom’s quantum nature may be explained in the light of Wheeler’s participatory universe. Possibilities exist in the future; the actualization takes place only when consciousness or the mind plays its role of collapsing the possibilities into actualities. Thus there is neither complete determinism nor indeterminism.
When the quantum consciousness is decohered due to the environment, the future seems to be determined and doomed. When the consciousness attains coherence and regains its quantum nature it can collapse the possibilities into a fortunate and free one. A modern writer gives the following explanation: Two of Berkeley physicists Freedman and Clauser further confirmed one of the alternatives in the Bell theorem, i.e., quantum theory’s assumption regarding the existence of mysterious correlations between isolated events. This aspect of modern physics confirms the assertion of Upanishads that deep in the heart of things lay a core of freewill (probability in contrast to the operations of causality and determinism in the outer manifested realm.
According to the relativity theory time and space are not two different entities. Time is the fourth dimension of the space which is three dimensional. Hence the four dimensional space-time continuum. As Kant has opined, space and time are only the apriori forms of mind which help attain knowledge. Einstein too has demonstrated how space and time are relative aspects of the universe through his special and general theories of relativity. Before examining the ideas of time and space given in the Upanishads one had better refer to the twin paradox cited by the physicists: Consider a pair of twins. Suppose that one twin goes to live on the top of a mountain while the other stays at sea level. The first twin would age faster than the second. Thus, if they met again, one would be older than the other. In this case, the difference in ages would be very small, but it would be much larger if one of the twins went for a long trip in a space ship at nearly the speed of light. When he returned, he would be much younger than the one who stayed on Earth. This is known as the twins paradox, but it is a paradox only
if one has the idea of absolute time at the back of one’s mind.
Even to a layman engaged in an interesting act an hour would pass like a second. On the contrary when engaged in a monotonous job time would appear at snail’s pace. If one examines the state of dream the relative nature of time and space appears as of clairvoyance. In dream one travels long distances within no time. This leads us to the conclusion that time and space are relative to our consciousness. According to Vedanta time and space are not realities existing alongside Brahman because if it is so it would be against the Absolute nature of Brahman. The puranas compare ocean to space and time to Adiseshan and Anantasayanam or eternal repose of Vishnu the Lord to Brahman. Time and space are thus recoiled in Absolute Consciousness or Brahman. As Sri Aurobindo points out, “Brahman self-extended in Space and Time is the Universe”. Time and space are only the operative attributes of the Ultimate. Space time itself is described by modern science in much the same language that describes the Atman in these verses of the Isa Upanishad. It is inside everything, It is outside everything. It moves and it moves not. It is one and indivisible, but It appears to be divided by the passing events of the world of sense experience.