Musings on the Nature of Reality

Editorial, The Star of the East, 1987

As modern science and modern philosophy develop, two separate cleavages appear. The first we seem unable to resolve; the second, some scientists hope can be resolved, though at present we cannot.

The first and irresolvable cleavage is between consciousness and world, between our "inner'' or mental perceptions of reality and the "outer" or material world as it is. Most people, including scientists, often assume that the first is a direct copy of the second. People knowledgeable in physics and philosophy cannot so easily make that mistake. Even Marxist theoreticians are abandoning the "copy theory" of the mental image and prefer to speak of a faithful reflection in consciousness of an objectively existing world. Philosophically even this is difficult to sustain. For we know biologically that perceiver and perceived are part of a single system; that it is the nature of our perceiving equipment (our body, our senses, our mind, our prejudices, our cultural paradigms) that makes the perceived look like what it seems to be. There is no perspective outside the system from which the human perceiver can look at the whole in some objective way unaffected by our perceiving apparatus.

The early Madhyamika Buddhists of India understood this two thousand years ago-- that the perceived world of manifolds, change, and conflict is simply a phenomenon arising under certain conditions. These conditions are partly in the perceiver's consciousness and partly in reality itself. The Hindu Vedantins preferred to speak of a "projection" (vikshepa) by a factor called avidya (non - enlightenment) from one perception and maya (playful projection) from the other. The Buddhist spoke of pratityasamutpada or dependent co-origination.

Christians on the other hand spoke of this world as “passing away” or as ultimately to be dissolved and disappear. The attempt on the part of a “secularisation theology” to affirm that the Christian faith has to do with this world (of time) and no other, now appears quite juvenile and uninformed. It was only an emotional and irrational reaction against the exclusive other-worldliness, which characterized much Christian thought.

Indian Christians have a responsibility to come to terms with the fact that “reality” of this world is highly dialectical. Obviously, since we have been put here by the Creator, since we believe that God created this world, and since the Son of God was incarnate in this world, we have to take it quite seriously. But not so seriously as to forget the fact that the Incarnate One ascended into another dimension of the universe of which we cannot have any conceptual grasp. But our “citizenship is in heaven”; (Phil 3: 20) we are citizens of the eternal city, sojourners and pilgrims in this world. The ancient Patristic understanding of “heaven” (not as “up there” – that was Bultmam’s mis-reading of the tradition) as the dimensions beyond those open to our senses now, begins to make sense in modern astronomy, cosmology and physics. And if Christian theology is to become truly vital and coherent, it will have to move out of its epistemological parochialism. The world as we experience it is, at best, our version of one dimension of the universe.

The other cleavage, also unveiled by modern science, is between the so called “laws of nature” at the micro and macro levels. We have two sets of scientific laws now -- Newtonian Classical Mechanics (CM) at the macro-level and Quantum Mechanics (QM) at the micro-level. These laws are in obvious conflict with each other. Scientists are generally unwilling to recognize the scope and significance of this contradiction at the heart of modern scientific knowledge.

After all the “laws” of science are human creations. They are all philosophically unproveable, but simply deductions from a limited number of experiences under particular conditions. Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics are not “ultimate” laws; these have been created by the scientific community to “account” for the data of experience at macro and micro levels. The two, some say, are not in conflict. QM is the general or universal law; CM is only a limiting case in a world governed by Quantum Mechanics, according to these. Other scientists would look for a Unified Field Theory (UFT) or General Theory of Relativity (GTR) which would reconcile the conflict between the two sets of laws.

As I was musing on these questions sitting in an international symposium on The Theoretical Foundation of Modern Physics (University of Joensuu, Finland, August 6 - 8, 1987) and listening to such savants as David Bohm and Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker, I wondered. Would these equations of a GTR or UFT be forthcoming in my life-time? If we finally get the equations which connect all the weak and strong forces that hold our universe together and make it go as it does, would the fundamental questions about the nature of reality then become answerable?

At the moment we have some fairly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. For example, unlike the other three, i.e. electro-magnetic, weak and strong forces, gravity seems to arise from the cosmic curvature – not from any dynamic force, though its effects (like water flow) can be converted into other forces. May be the cosmic curvature (as also its consequence, gravity) is a product of the Fall! And maybe only we who inhabit this universe experience it ! The other obstacle is that we cannot get rid of this basic dualism between Force and Field. What is a field where there is no space? Is the force really distinguishable from its field?

David Bohm tells me that the whole Cosmos is governed by a wide and complex set of laws, and that what appears like a conflict between QM and CM will be resolved only when we discover the nature of the “implicate order” of the Universe.

There are more laws to be discovered besides CM and QM. The overall universe, in classical wisdom, is a subtle, unmanifest (avyakrta or avyakta in Sanskrit) system of increasingly dynamic energy waves. The Unmanifest reveals only some of its dimensions in the Manifest world. There are many dimensions not yet manifest (to us). When these are known, the classically paradoxical behaviour of particles (undetermined position or momentum) in the two-slit or Einstein-Podolski-Rosew experiment will be resolved – says Bohm.

“That is a Hidden Variable hypothesis, and until the variable is identified, the scientific community cannot accept such a vague hypothesis”, say other scientists, criticizing David Bohm. Bohm seems to be a firm believer in Causality, despite all of Jung’s and Pauli’s arguments against it. Maybe science has to do some homework in consultation with philosophers and try to specify why they insist on causality as the only satisfactory explanation, why scientists find notions like “freedom” (indeterminacy) and “purpose” (directedness towards more effective and evolved forms) so uninviting.

Meanwhile Christian theology has to be very careful not to fall into the trap of an exclusively socio-economic interpretation of the consequences of the Incarnation, limiting those consequences to historical time, which means rewriting most of recent theology.