AT THE STROKE OF A STROKE...
Exactly a week ago, I set out for the Symposium on the Foundations of Theoretical Physics at the Institute of High Energy Physics in the University of Cologne, June 1 to 5, 1993. This was something I had very much looked forward to, but it was not to be, like on many previous occasions when I was about to play a significant role in an international event, the Lord willed that it was not to be. On my way from Oxford to Cologne, a mild stroke paralysed my left side. I did not realise until much later that it was a stroke. This is the eighth day after I was admitted in the emergency clinic of Krankenhaus Sankt Josef in Wuppertal Elberfeld, and was in the intensive care section for twenty-four hours, since the doctors suspected a coronary thrombosis. The doctors are sure, from examining my ECG, that I had a heart lesion quite some years ago. I have no memory of it, nor have any of the Indian cardiologists who had examined my ECG in the past ever told me of such a lesion. The doctor here, a very good, kind and obviously competent man, with very competent colleagues and quite sophisticated diagnostic equipment, tells me that the lesion in the heart wall may have caused some blood coagulation inside the heart, and some of the coagulated blood particles may have conveyed by the circulatory system into the blood vessels of the brain, causing capillary rupture or microembolism in the right hemisphere of the brain. They have looked for the scar of the heart lesion with their very sophisticated cardioscope, but evidently they could not spot anything. They will do some more tests. For the moment, I am able to sit up (with a lot of help -- by myself I am still pretty helpless in one half of my body) and operate my Notebook computer with one hand.
God has been immensely good to me. Even in London’s Heathrow airport, I found it difficult to carry my hand baggage from the Oxford-Heathrow bus to the check-in counter or away from it. If a kind lady, a total stranger, had not helped me with the luggage, I would have found it difficult to check in at all. I was getting very weary, dragging my left side which was already going limp, while leaning on and pushing a luggage cart with my hand baggage -- the computer, my walking stick I acquired the previous day, and a light briefcase with my money and valuables--along the vast tracts of passageways from check-in and immigration control to the boarding gate, at least a mile in this case. I had gone half the distance to the boarding gate when I saw an elderly airlines staff person taking a wheelchair. I told him that I need a wheelchair for myself if I were to get to the plane. I did not expect him to take me seriously. It was my fault that I was too diffident at the time of check in to ask for a wheelchair for myself. The man saw the rather pathetic look on my face and asked which gate I wanted to get to. My voice was very weak and I told him: “gate six”. He had heard me wrong and asked me: “eighty six? Where is that?”. I told him, “six”. He said, “I am not going there, but I will take you there all the same”. He was most kind. I got through the remaining half mile without much effort, and boarded the Lufthansa flight for Cologne.
I thanked God not only for all the help I had received, but also for the fact that ordinary people in the west were still so kind, considerate and helpful to the disabled.
My knowledge of the physical sciences, theoretical or practical, is deplorably low, never having studied physics, chemistry or biology beyond a very elementary level, such as was available in Indian schools sixty years ago. Even in my heroic efforts in the past thirty years or so, I have not managed to grasp the two great aspects of the advancement of modern science -- namely the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics -- which have in our century made classical Newtonian mechanics no longer acceptable as the foundation for seeing reality ‘as it is’. It is true that even today many people, including a number of practising scientists take the naive realism view of reality, which holds that things are what they look like. Ever since Immanuel Kant established for the West the great insight that human reason can perceive reality only as shaped and imprinted by the given structure of the perceiving mind, naive realism should have gone out of fashion in the west. The whole struggle of modern scientific research is to unravel the hiddenness of things, for things certainly appear to be something else than what they appear to be on the surface. The phenomena or phainomena which in Greek means “those things which appear or shine forth” are themselves hidden and have to be coaxed out into appearance. Who could have guessed even eighty years ago that there actually existed phenomena to be identified and baptized later on (in some cases baptized even before being experimentally identified!) as baryons and leptons, mesons and pions, nucleons and neutrions, muons and finally, six quarks which constitute hadrons or mesons and baryons of different kinds? The Quantal Realm alone has brought forth so many new phenomena which help explain, at least in part, why matter-energy behaves the way it does. Similar giant strides have been made in astrophysics and biochemistry.
Our understanding of time has changed in so many respects: e.g. its irreversibility and unidirectionality, stochastic (trial and error) processes in biological morphogenesis pointing to purposive or teleological causation in physical and biological evolution, the theoretical possibility that the ‘cyclical’ and ‘linear’ views of time may both be phases, one at the giga or mega level and the other at the ordinary macro level, of the one reality of time and so on.
I had been hoping that the Cologne Symposium would consider its central theme, namely some conceptual formulation of the interface between Newtonian or Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics, in the context of some larger philosophical considerations, like the very nature of time, space, causality and measurement.
I had also hoped that there would be room to consider some non-Western conceptualisations, particularly in the Buddhist thought of India’s Nagarjuna and China’s Hua Yen(Avatamsakasutra). I think the late renowned British theoretical physicist, David Bohm, got his ideas about ‘implicate order’ and ‘holographic universe in the rheomode with total mutual inter-connectedness’ from Hua Yen. David had been present at the last similar symposium I had attended some six years ago at the University of Joensuu in Finland. He was the one leading physicist who stood against the widely accepted ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ of what happens when a quantal event is measured in classical terms. The latter interpretation was developed by physicists like Niels Bohr at Copenhagen University.
[Look up some reference to make sure that my interpretation of CI is basically accurate. Then go on to Hua Yen and then to Nagarjuna as interpreted by the Japanese and by David Kalupahana].