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Hinduism for physicists

Or why non-Abrahamic Eastern religions do not have any conflict with science

Guest blog by Kashyap Vasavada, professor emeritus of physics, Purdue/Indianapolis universities

First of all, I thank Luboš for giving me an opportunity to express my views on this guest blog. I think, most of you, like me, read his blog to understand recent developments in physics. Luboš does an outstanding job in explaining these matters from a technical point of view and fills the gap between popular articles and original papers admirably. Social and political issues are also discussed here often, but you may be wondering whether this blog belongs here. I am hoping that you will find it interesting. At the very outset, let me make it absolutely clear that there is no question about the great success of scientific method during the last few hundred years. As is well known, the scientific method consists of making observations with the sense organs (mainly eyes with the help of devices like telescopes, microscopes, electronics etc.); making models using our brains and checking if these models agree with the observations. This trivial statement will be important when we talk about the other method. By following the scientific method, we now know unbelievably large amount about the universe we live in. It will be foolish for anyone to suggest that scientists should abandon this method for investigating the universe. Thus I would be arguing for, not science or religion, but rather for science and religion. In my opinion both science and religion have limitations and both are useful for the good of the mankind.

The immediate reason for writing this blog is a recent survey that only about 21% of Americans believe in Big Bang theory, 27% in 4.5 Billion years old Earth and 31% in theory of evolution. Assuming that the survey was correct, such a low rate of belief in science is probably based on literal interpretation by the participants, of their scriptures which were written thousands of years back. In the blog about that survey, I made a comment that Eastern religions (in particular Hinduism and Buddhism) do not have any problem with science whatsoever. In the following I will try to explain this assertion. In fact you would have hard time finding a single Indian (or someone from many other Asian countries) who believes in young Earth creationism or is against Big Bang theory or theory of evolution.

I will start with the concept of God in Hinduism. In some sense, Hinduism is the most misunderstood religion in the West, starting with its name! The real name is “Sanatana Dharma” meaning universal duty, responsibility or a prescribed way. The word “Hindu” was coined probably by Persians thousands of years back. They called people living near the river Sindhu (Indus) as Hindus! Unfortunately the word Hinduism is stuck like God particle for Higgs boson! So I will have to use it. The main scriptures are called “Vedas”, “Upanishads” and “Bhagvad Gita”. The religion did not originate from one prophet, but a number of sages contributed to the Vedic vision portrayed in the scriptures. Founding fathers of quantum theory like Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Bohr were familiar with these scriptures. These scriptures talk about (in Sanskrit) a formless, shapeless, omnipresent, omniscient God as Brahman. It is a universal, ultimate, super consciousness. It is supposed to be present in every particle of the universe. Thus the Hindu concept is: God is not like a king emperor who created the universe and rules arbitrarily from outside but it is an all pervading eternal entity. This consciousness may be present in every living and non-living matter i.e. in every single part of the universe and it would be synonymous with the laws of nature. The expression of consciousness in different systems may be different. So how do you realize it? Well, the sages say that you have to prepare your mind to receive it. Even in a scientific lab you have to prepare your system to observe any effect. In a sense this is similar to the fact that electromagnetic waves (including CMB) are present all around us and we do not realize their existence unless we have radio, TV, microwave detectors etc. Remember, Higgs field is all around us but we had to build a $10 billion LHC to find Higgs particle! To realize this super consciousness, the prescription is to meditate, calm down your mind completely and only then you would realize it after a lot of hard effort. The scriptures say you do not have to believe it. If you are willing to put in effort you will verify it. This is a big hang up. It is not something which, like the result of a scientific experiment, can be seen by a crowd on a TV monitor. It is one on one. This is an experience outside our sense perception. How do I know it is real? Well, honestly, I do not have any personal experience. But I believe it is possible because I know some yogis have achieved it and they describe the experience.

There is a beautiful interesting illustration in Vedas which Schrödinger mentions in his book on “what is life”. The question is why consciousness looks similar when our bodies look different. The answer in Vedas is that the source of consciousness is outside. We are merely reflecting it as multiple mirrors would reflect a single object!

Then what about all these images and statues of hundreds of gods you see in a Hindu temple? The answer is: everyone is not equipped to understand Brahman in the pure form. One needs some advancement. Suppose you are a physics teacher who is discussing electricity-magnetism. Your discussion depends on whether the students are in a primary school, high school, undergraduate program, graduate program or doing post-doctoral work. Similarly, everyone is not at the same spiritual level. The suggestion is that, if it is too difficult for you to do meditation on the ultimate consciousness, it is OK to worship God in whatever deity form you are comfortable with. This gave rise to a concept of large number of different forms of God (Avatars or incarnations) in whom you can find solace and get guidance. Over thousands of years a number of mythological stories also came up. Faithful believe that these deities are incarnations of God who came to Earth in specific forms to achieve some purpose, typically to destroy evil and establish goodness. They may exist in a realm which is not directly accessible to our senses. Usually there are moral lessons also associated with Avatars. People may have their favorite deities to worship. The faith evolved over several thousand years as a kind of cafeteria system. You worship a deity depending on your comfort level and ability. Usually one’s upbringing also plays a role. In the end it does not make any difference whom you worship. Everyone realizes what the icons represent symbolically. One strong point of Hinduism is the tolerance or (better) acceptance of different viewpoints. The belief is that there are thousand paths to realize God and everyone can choose his/her own path. Some followers believe in miracles but not too strongly to challenge science! It is well known and even scientifically established that faith does work wonders and there is a close connection between body and mind.In my personal case, I find association with the temple activities very enriching. Not only that there is no anti-science talk, but also the prevalent view is that most or all activities are compatible with science. It does help that Hinduism is flexible and non-rigid. So I can continue my interest in learning and teaching physics and learn about metaphysics as part of religion too. One point I should emphasize to Western readers: in Hinduism, philosophy, metaphysics and religious ritual practice are all mixed together. We think this is a strength rather than weakness. In a typical Hindu temple, you will find rituals going on all the time, together with philosophical talks. Rituals are prescribed for an average person because, at least for that time period he/she is engaged in thinking about God instead of mundane affairs of life and that would lead to cleansing of mind and get inspiration to lead a good life. Personally, I prefer philosophical, metaphysical discourses to rituals, but participating in rituals is also fine with me.

As in other religions, Hinduism has commandments for leading a good life e.g., speaking truth, non-violence, love, compassion, ethics, morality etc. Hinduism believes that whatever one does, has consequences as a Karmic relationship. This would be similar to the law of action and reaction in physics. Admittedly, here, the mechanism for consequences remains unknown. But the belief is that one can wipe out bad Karmas with good Karmas. This may take several births. So Hinduism firmly believes in reincarnation, i.e. everyone has a soul (called Atman) which migrates from one body to another on death. Ultimately when one is completely free from Karmic bondage, he/she gets liberation called Moksha or Nirvana. Obviously, there is no scientific or material proof of these beliefs.

Now let us consider two main issues in which some Westerners see conflict with science: age of Universe and theory of evolution. On both of these issues, the Hindu sages got approximately correct ideas in agreement with science. Just by thought processes they realized that universe must be billions of years old, as noted by Carl Sagan in his book on cosmos. The other realization was that there must be some connection between animals and human beings. If human beings have souls, then animals too have souls. That gave rise to mythological stories that God came to Earth in the form of first sea animals, then land animals and then human beings. These are ten Avatars of god Vishnu.

How about origin of universe? Of course one cannot say that the ancient sages’ knowledge was anywhere comparable to the current knowledge. But just see the astonishing description of origin from a scripture known as Vayupuran:

“In the beginning, there was nothing in the universe. The Brahman (the divine essence) alone was everywhere. The Brahman had neither color nor scent; it could not be felt or touched. It had no origin, no beginning or no end. The Brahman was constant and it was the origin of everything that was destined to be in the universe and the universe was shrouded in darkness.”
Interesting! It was dark because visible light was not created yet!! In all Hindu scriptures, multiverse and cycles of creation and destruction of universe lasting billions and trillions of years are frequently mentioned.

Another excerpt from Vedas:
“The universe is brought about by the collapse of fullness in the transcendental field in which reside all the laws of nature responsible for the creation of the entire manifest universe. How is the transcendental level functioning? It is functioning from its unbounded nature to point to itself. He who does not know that initial pure consciousness state, ultimate reality, what can the laws of nature accomplish for him? He who knows it, remains established in evenness, unity, wholeness of life”.
Since Brahman was by itself, it is clear that it interacted with itself i.e. self-referral (like inflaton!!!) and eventually manifested in every particle of the universe. It is a very interesting parallel with modern cosmology. Strictly speaking the word “manifestation” rather than “creation” is used in Vedic cosmology with a subtle meaning.

Now let us examine a frequent argument that science is based on logic and reason while religion is based strictly on faith. Well, our everyday logic and intuition are based on our life experiences with the world at the classical level. Modern physics has demolished this argument. If you say that only thing physics should care for, is develop mathematically consistent models, (no matter how bizarre they appear to our intuition) and try to see if they are in agreement with experiments, then you are perfectly ok. In a sense, I agree with Luboš that as far as science is concerned, there is no need to look at the meaning of models. But the moment you look for meaning of the equations you get into mess (metaphysical if you will). As everyone on this blog knows, the world is made out of fuzzy wavelike dynamic stuff and not solid rigid objects we see around. The particles are in some sense both here and there at the same time and are described by a wave function, a superposition of seemingly contradictory properties. This closely parallels description of Brahman in Hindu scriptures
“It moves and it moves not; it is far and it is near; it is within all this and it is also outside all this.”
The ultimate shock of quantum mechanics, for visualization in terms of our everyday life, came with Bell’s theorem and corresponding experiments on entanglements. Luboš has written about this topic because of its importance. One has to choose between locality and reality. I think most physicists choose to keep locality to save theory of relativity at the cost of reality i.e. the particles are believed to be in some kind of suspended state devoid of any specific properties until they are observed. It is well known that Einstein did not like this. Another basic finding of quantum theory is the involvement of the observer in the observed things. It is impossible to separate the effect of the measuring apparatus from the object measured. Detachment of the two is just not possible. As John Wheeler said “universe is indeed participatory!” Max Planck regarded consciousness as fundamental and matter as derivative from consciousness. At one time Wigner expressed his view that consciousness creates collapse of wave function. There have been debates for some 90 years about interpretation of quantum mechanics without any resolution in sight. Ideas about the entanglement of the observer and the object of observation are also emphasized in Upanishads. In the Hindu concept the observer (Brahman) is in the system itself and is time independent.

There is a similar situation with theory of relativity, namely relativity of time for different observers, curving of space-time by matter in its neighborhood and possible singularity at the big bang. This theory has again challenged our intuition. Here also ancient Hindu sages did not have any problem. In certain scripture, you can find a statement that 100,000 human years is equivalent to 1 second of divine time! They also talk about simultaneous visions of past, present and future and time travel!

The readers of this blog already know about leading physicists discussing a multi-dimensional world of string theory. Hardly anyone would say that it is intuitive. More recently, if BICEP2 experiment and its interpretation are verified, it would mean that our observable universe started with a size of smaller than a proton and grew by a factor of e80 or more by expansion of space. The conclusion is that our everyday logic just does not work in Modern Physics, although Mathematics works superbly.

I am not saying that arguments of modern cosmology and modern physics are on the same footing as the metaphysical thoughts about universe and God in Hindu scriptures, but it sure should make one stop for a moment and think about the ultimate nature of reality in the two pictures. Again, all these intriguing developments are fine if you do not insist on visualizing by our poor little brains! I would say that one should not require higher standards of our intuitive understanding for religion than for science!

My basic suggestion is that let us be modest. Although we can be proud of our achievement in understanding so much about the universe, just think for a moment. We are on a measly little planet bound to an average star in an average galaxy with more than 100 Billion stars. There are more than 100 Billion galaxies in our observable universe. There could be an infinite number of such universes. Our eyes and brains evolved in a specific manner on Earth. Both of these have limitations. For example, our eyes are only sensitive to visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum only. Thus it would be height of arrogance and even stupidity to assume that what we can find with our sense organs and understand with our brains is all there is to it in the universe. Although direct verification is hard at this point, it is not unreasonable to assume that there could be a world beyond our sensory perceptions.

The reader might say that all this sounds like new age pundits talking mysticism! Well it is but there may be an underlying subtle reality! A number of authors have written books comparing modern physics with metaphysics of East. There are mystical ideas floating around about quantum consciousness and unified field of consciousness. There is a Harvard trained theoretical physicist John Hagelin who is a professor of physics at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. He has written mathematical equations for such fields (using Lagrangian formalism like a respectable conventional theoretical physics). While these attempts are fine, my feeling is that they are somewhat premature for theoretical physics. It is not clear how one can verify the solutions of these equations which can satisfy scientists. Then there are also serious scientific models by Penrose-Hameroff, Stapp and some others looking for quantum mechanical processes in our brain which could explain consciousness. As of now they are inconclusive and have not been widely accepted. The main issue is that, as yet, neuroscientists have not understood consciousness. It is not clear how far down some kind of primitive consciousness goes in the tree of life. Suggestion that there could be some presence of consciousness in non-living systems would be called metaphysical at best, although some argue that the quantum dynamics already resembles a kind of consciousness. So consciousness may be much more subtle than our brain functions, thought processes etc. But we have to travel a long way to theoretical physics if indeed these ideas work out. I just want the readers to be aware that such models could be part of reality whatever it turns out to be.

Although I do not wish to belabor the point, question of existence of God is similar to some statements in Gödel’s theorems. He has proved that within a mathematical system, there would always be some statements which cannot be proved or disproved.

To summarize: I am not saying that Hinduism is based on statements which have material, scientific proof. But at this point there is no direct contradiction with any facts which science can establish. Hinduism goes beyond a point where science stops. It has concentrated on inner (non-sensory) understanding of reality through methodology known as Yoga. In terms of our concepts of reality, it seems that a previously assumed rigid line between physics and metaphysics may be rapidly disappearing! Normally I stay on the physics side of the line. But some time I am not so sure!

I have described Hinduism in some detail but not Buddhism. Buddhism arose in India as an off-shoot of Hinduism but became a completely independent religion in several other Asian countries. It has many similarities with Hinduism and believes in Karmic consequences. The belief is that humans can achieve ultimate liberation (Nirvana) by following the rightful behavior recommended by Buddha. According to Buddha, explaining the concept of God would be very difficult; hence Buddha neither rejected nor accepted the existence of a creator deity.

Now I will make few remarks about religions in general. Personally I am comfortable with most religions at the commandments level. Most religions maintain that morality, ethics, love, compassion etc. are integral parts of good life. Religious people believe that these commandments came as revelations from God. Whether one believes in God or not, we have to accept that these are good principles for the society. Unfortunately, many people (believers and non-believers) do not follows them. While it is possible to be virtuous and spiritual without being religious, believers would have special reasons to follow these. I can sense an immediate response from the readers about some religious zealots who maintain that if you do not believe in their God, they would kill you. While this is true unfortunately (in a small number of cases) this is not that wide spread and we have to work to eliminate these tendencies by education. In addition, there are social problems of drugs, high crime rates, murders etc. for which religious institutions can play an important role. I do not have to remind this scientific readership that dangerous weapons of mass destruction created by science, namely nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, can bring an end to all human life and perhaps the entire life on this planet. Thus we have to find some way of living with each other in a peaceful manner. My suggestion is that religion if properly followed can play a useful role, without which there would be nothing to hang on.

Although the main focus of this blog is to inform the readers about Hinduism and its lack of conflict with science, I conclude with some general remarks about science and religion. I would say this to the general readership: debate about science and religion is not all black or white. There are many scientists who are believers. Some surveys indicate 30 to 50% of all scientists are believers to a certain extent. Some of these are high profile scientists, at least one Nobel Laureate in physics. They realize that there are some finer, subtle points about their particular religions. At the same time, scientists should protest against ideas of young Earth creationism, intelligent design and anti-evolution propaganda. In addition, they should insist that they are the ones who decide what to teach in science classes in schools and they should not let non-scientists dictate it. Europeans may find this funny but this simple issue is becoming important in U.S.! There are frequent court battles about whether teachers should teach creationism as part of a science class! I routinely write in our local newspaper on these issues. On the other hand, I do not care also for tirades against religion in which some prominent physicists and other scientists have engaged. I think science and religion can have a peaceful coexistence and can enrich human life. In a way I am calling for moderation and acceptance of importance of each other by both sides. Let us have a balanced view of science and religion.

By Kashyap Vasavada

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reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Kashyap, for this inspiring post.

A friend of mine believes all kinds of spiritual things but she's arguably closest to Hinduism by these descriptions. She also gave me a book on the holy grail, which I just finished reading, which also echoes your idea of the divinities that represent other divinities in various spiritually less and less advanced worlds. An interesting concept. Otherwise the author of the book also believes all kinds of things - including crops in circle, holy places, various rituals - that, in my opinion, do contradict science. It was a powerful stuff to read it.

She also wanted me to watch the "Quantum Activist" about Amit Goswami now

which I only did partially. There are of course things that I agree with wholeheartedly but I think that the rest has to be filled by things that must be wrong, am I wrong? ;-) The video is similar in spirit to how you approach it and his father was a Hindu but I am not sure whether Goswami counts himself as a Hindu, too.

I didn't know that Bohr and Heisenberg were into Eastern religions. On the other hand, it's disputable whether Schrödinger may be counted as the full-fledged founding father of quantum mechanics. There seems to be an uncertainty principle here going on! ;-)

At any rate, thank you.

reader Michael said...


concerning: "Luboš does an outstanding job in explaining these matters from a technical point of view and fills the gap between popular articles and original papers admirably."

While I'm sure you just meant to find nice words and compliment the host, I wish to point out that your description misses the mark. This blog contains original insights relevant to cutting edge research and often not found elsewhere. To name just two examples, Luboš was the first to point out that Verlinde's entropic gravity would destroy readily observed interference patterns and he isolated sufficient evidence to make it plain that the reasoning of the original firewall paper was flawed.

In both cases it was a combination of acute original insight and the liberty to ignore the rules of political correctness constraining the academic establishment that made this blog the most valuable source of information available anywhere. I hope you agree that this contribution goes way beyond filling some gap in the popularization of science.

Furthermore there are several fundamental issues bright graduate students should be concerned with that are nowhere explained as clearly as on this blog. Again, I'd like to just point out two examples, though there are plenty more: the fundamental status and proper interpretation of the axioms of quantum mechanics and the meaning and validity of the second law of thermodynamics (--> arrow of time). While these issues were settled for good decades ago, it is of utmost importance for aspiring researchers to gain the clean and unambiguous understanding set forth on this blog. This is especially true since these issues, sadly, continue to confuse even some full research professors at prestigious universities.

OK, I am now going to continue reading your article. I couldn't make it past the first paragraph without writing this, though.


reader Eclectikus said...

Thanks Kashyap (and Lubos), I really enjoyed reading the article, not only for its disclosure of Hinduism, but by its conciliatory spirit between Science and Faith, and its conclusion that both can be (they are, in fact) compatibles. As a "native agnostic" I should not worry about these issues, however the continuous (and unfounded) rants against believers get me always cranky. I have no problem recognizing the many problems created by Judeo-Christian religions throughout history, but it seems unfair to scorn its, also many, benefits for the West. So I think your last two sentences are a good summary of my thinking: "I am calling for moderation and acceptance of importance of each other by both sides. Let us have a balanced view of science and religion." I believe those sentences represent a principle that could be assumed by any sensible person, believer, atheist or agnostic.

reader Shannon said...

Thank you for this very instructive article on Hinduism vs Science, Pr Vasavada (and Luboš). It still sounds very exotic to me ;-), at least in its practice (I had a Catholic upbringing but I put Science before religion). Is Hinduism similar to Buddhism on this "non attachment" philosophy?

reader Dilaton said...

Comparing the Brahman to the (fundamental) laws of nature makes some kind of sense to me:
To understand fundamental physics is hard work too, you have to prepare yourself to understand it (learn maths and physics), and representing fundamental physics on TV etc to people who are absolutely not prepared for it, is not always a good idea ...

BTW learning about cool physics and understanding more and more, often gives me quite a nice calm and happy meditative "Zen" feeling :-)

Reading on now ...

reader Casper said...

I started reading this article but lost interest after a few paragraphs.

reader Leo Vuyk said...

Dear Kashyap: The veda says:

The answer in Vedas is that the source of consciousness is outside. We are merely reflecting it as multiple mirrors would reflect a single object!

Could you imagine that the reflecting mirrors are entangled (anti-material) copies of me, living in entangled universes far away? The creation of the multiverse, which makes the big bang a symmetrical ( Charge Parity) process?

reader JonnyDamnnox said...

Yes, except that they have gods and deitys. And that everything is just a great coincidence.

reader Bill Bogus said...

I would loved to see more discussion on Buddhism, as I have the impression that it is an even more insightful improvement of Hinduism, but regardless great read thanks for sharing.

reader Peter F. said...

This guest article proves to me yet again how commendably tolerant and broad-minded Lubos is (up to certain points).

Call me prejudiced, but I have little time for anyone trying to encourage others to accept religious beliefs based on argumentation pitched around and presumed to gain kudos from a mention of the fact that "There are many scientists who are believers.".

reader Arafat said...

This article has nothing to do with science. I don't see the point of sharing it.

reader Vasiliy said...

I'd like to note that coincidences mantioned in the article most likely occur because of fuzzy formulation of Vedas' scriptures. They are like Nostradamus' predictions. I don't like talks that truth can be achieved through divine revelation, meditation etc. Of course I can't object when one says that he or she has been given divine revelation. But I can't check it. Therefore it doesn't satisfy verification principle, which I believe every genuine theory should obey. I'd like to note that if science and religion don't contradict each other it doesn't mean that religious knowledge is truth. Therefore I think that religious texts are false. Kashyap has said that Hinduism goes beyond a point where science stops but I can cite words of Wittgenstein who said: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." So I think we shouldn't speak about what we didn't know so far.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Yes I agree Lubos is indeed broad minded.You are entitled to your opinions. As I stated in the article, variety of opinions are fine with me. BTW,"There are many scientists who are believers." is not just a lose statement. Although hard data are difficult to find because many scientists, although believers, may not publicly announce their religious beliefs. I can at least quote a few confirmed cases.Physics Nobel Laureate William Phillips (I had e-mail correspondence with him),current director of NIH, Francis Collins and British physicist John Polkinghorne (an ordained minister) are examples of Christian believers. George Sudarshan,a very high profile theoretical physicist, is an example of a Hindu believer scientist. There may be many others I do not know about.Just look at the statement of National Academy of science about religion.It is balanced. It does not attack religions.

reader Vasiliy said...

I'd like to note that coincidences mantioned in the article most likely occur because of fuzzy formulation of Vedas' scriptures. They are like Nostradamus' predictions. I don't like talks that truth can be achieved through divine revelation, meditation etc. Of course I can't object when one says that he or she has been given divine revelation. But I can't check it. Therefore it doesn't satisfy verification principle, which I believe every genuine theory should obey. I'd like to note that if science and religion don't contradict each other it doesn't mean that religious knowledge is truth. Therefore I think that religious texts are false. Kashyap has said that Hinduism goes beyond a point where science stops but I can cite words of Wittgenstein who said: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." So I think we shouldn't speak about what we don't know so far.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Lubos, I thought you might be interested in this new article by John Cook, The Quantum Theory of Climate, in which he says that "deniers" are inconsistent - "climate denial has no internal consistency" - and this is "nonsensical behavior." For example, a denier may deny warming, then turn right around and accept it but say that it's not anthropogenic or not a big problem.

I think his argument is stupid, and I wonder if you agree. I say there's nothing wrong with arguing multiple criticisms, because the knowledge is provisional; this might be wrong, that might be wrong, etc. I've told people so many times in the past.

reader Vasiliy said...

I'd like to note that coincidences mantioned in the article most likely occur because of fuzzy formulation of Vedas' scriptures. They are like Nostradamus' predictions. I don't like talks that truth can be achieved through divine revelation, meditation etc. Of course I can't object when one says that he or she has been given divine revelation. But I can't check it. Therefore it doesn't satisfy verification principle, which I believe every genuine theory should obey. I'd like to note that if science and religion don't contradict each other it doesn't mean that religious knowledge is truth. Therefore I think that religious texts are false. Kashyap has said that Hinduism goes beyond a point where science stops but I can cite words of Wittgenstein who said: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." So I think we shouldn't speak about what we don't know so far.

reader Vasiliy said...

I'd like to note that coincidences mantioned in the article most likely occur because of fuzzy formulation of Vedas' scriptures. They are like Nostradamus' predictions. I don't like talks that truth can be achieved through divine revelation, meditation etc. Of course I can't object when one says that he or she has been given divine revelation. But I can't check it. Therefore it doesn't satisfy verification principle, which I believe every genuine theory should obey. I'd like to note that if science and religion don't contradict each other it doesn't mean that religious knowledge is truth. Therefore I think that religious texts are false. Kashyap has said that Hinduism goes beyond a point where science stops but I can cite words of Wittgenstein who said: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." So I think we shouldn't speak about what we don't know so far.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

First of all Lubos, thank you for publishing the guest blog. I was afraid it was becoming too long and you might ask me to cut parts of it. Also thanks for pulling out my youthful picture from my webpage. I did not know you
were going to do that. I should change that picture in the interest of truth in advertisement! At 76, almost 77, I do not look like that at all!! Yes. One can find
all kinds of ideas, superstitions etc. in connection with religions. We have a
difficult job of sorting them out. Schrodinger mentions Vedas for sure. I have
to double check what Heisenberg and Bohr said. They did talk about Yin-Yang duality
of opposites. But that is more Chinese, Taoist philosophy, although I must say
that entanglement of opposites is mentioned in Hindu scriptures also. Yes. Amit Goswami is very much Hindu. I have read his books. He has a powerful message about consciousness. But just like all new age Pundits he may be over doing. Of
course, the final truth, if there is one, is unknown at this point. I will watch the videos you mentioned and I may have something to say later. The equivalence of Brahman with inflaton is stated as an amusing correspondence. I do not mean that they had any field theory concepts. As for how they got the numbers about age of universe, it is surprising and amusing. The calculation goes this way. At the time of creation or manifestation, Brahman manifested in three
forms: Brahma as creator, Vishnu as preserver and Mahesh (Shiva) as destroyer. One second of Brahma (creator or manifestor) is equal to 100,000 human years.
Brahma’s day and night equals one cycle of universe from birth to death.The calculation comes out to be 8.64 Billion years, little bit short of the current age estimate! We have already exceeded it. It needs higher order perturbative corrections or better non perturbative calculation!!! Well, seriously, the actual number is not important. What surprises me is the correct order of magnitude.In those days people could count only on ten fingers. They never needed these huge numbers to count cows! How on earth they came up with this fantastic number when other religions or cultures were talking about age of universe to be in thousands of years (as the survey shows some Americans still do!) This is
unbelievable. Any way thanks again. Keep up the good work of blogging.
Although, I did some theoretical physics in old days, I am far behind in understanding modern theoretical physics.

reader physicsnut said...

the wiki page on quaternions says Gauss also discovered quaternions in 1819 - not published until 1900 !

reader Hacienda said...

Interesting to read a "Hindu" physicists perspective. This post sits really well with my Eastern intuitions of cosmology. Of course Western religions and Eastern religions can hardly be classified as same type. How can one say that Christianity and Hinduism are in the same ballpark? They are not even apples to oranges. More like rabbits to acorns.

That meditation could lead to intuitions that are non-contradictory to modern physics, if not very close to its ideas maybe shouldn't be a surprise. Meditation is non-mathematical, while mathematics is core language of physics. Yet, number are an invention. There is no proof of the existence of 1 or 2 or
any other type of number. Yet, no one can argue the utility of numbers and their organizational value. Despite this numbers are a kind of illusion, a necessary illusion for the modern world. Meditation then is a liberation from this illusion and could help us get to the essence of the universe is. Unfortunately, having no symbols to communicate by yogis and other Eastern spiritually advanced persons can't relate what it is they experience. A completely individual, yet universal experience.

reader Svik said...

What is next ufo.s.
Ur friend into which craft
Just a friendly warning.

Try for some old earth perspectives.

Bye bye. Lubos

And god bless you

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Thanks. I agree completely with you. Lubos does do much more than just explaining modern theoretical physics to people who are not in current research.In fact I am surprised how he gets time to read and explain all this stuff.This is absolutely unique blog in theoretical physics for people who are active in research and also perfect for people like me who cannot keep up with super fast developments and yet would like to understand theoretical physics at a level higher than popular articles.

reader TM said...

if someone takes the efforts he can prove that almost every religion is not in conflict with science. Well, maybe some statements about some facts can be manifestly wrong, but they can be easily adapted to become just right.
As a matter of fact, religions believes are so vague and ill-defined that they can fit almost every physical theory. From phlogiston to black hole termodynamics, from cartesian vortex to string theory...
I'm afraid but this long (and well written i have to admit) post is, in my opinion, almost completely non-sense. As for the truth, religions (all of them basically) and science are on opposites sides. Religions have already all the answers, science is finding them.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks for this link, Smoking Frog!

There is, of course, no inconsistency. I endorse the three claims "it is not happening at all", "it is happening but it's not mostly us", and "it's happening and it's us but it's not bad" at various moments and it's just fine because the word "it" has different meanings in different sentences. For example, "global warming as a trend since mid 1990s" is not happening at all. "Global warming as a trend since 1800" was happening but it wasn't us. "Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere" is happening and it's us but it's beneficial. And there are many other meanings of "it" that may be substituted.

There are millions of various related "it's" - all of them have different explanations and different truth values. This very point is something entirely incomprehensible for the alarmist peabrains like Kook John - because their whole brain is completely consumed by a single "it". They believe in one majestic "IT" and this "IT" is responsible for everything in the world and everyone has to worship this "IT". This "IT" of theirs is exactly like God - it is equally ill-defined, equally omnipresent, equally omniscient, equally omnipotent - well, it is God on steroids. ;-)

reader Tom said...

Thank you Prof. Vasavada for your insightful article. As one who has always found allure in Eastern thought, your comments, grounded as they are in your deep physical intuition, I find very interesting indeed.

Your sentences [The answer in Vedas is that the source of consciousness is outside. We are merely reflecting it as multiple mirrors would reflect a single object!] delineate a fundamental divide in metaphysical thought. For myself, I think the exact opposite holds: Exterior reality is an operator on your organic being, your consciousness, as energy density rooted in organic existence, must be exactly one of the discrete energy levels the operator allows. Perhaps all this new brain scan technology will allow extraction of empirics sufficient to flesh out the QM picture I believe holds.

Also, I am in perfect agreement with you penultimate paragraph.

reader FlanObrien said...

I would like to ask Kashyap Vasavada if he thinks the scientific method can be employed by those with brains and bodies honed for higher perception?

But first, let me suggest a trivial but necessary requirement that needs adding to his definition of science: observations+models+corroboration by others.

From the research and books of Gopi Krishna I would say that the "honed persons" have been making the corroborated observations with models going back thousands of years. Observations are not invalidated just because they are perceived directly in the brains of "luminaries", as opposed to through the 5 senses with the aid of man made instruments.

Incidentally, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker professor of Life Sciences at the Max Planck Institute supported Krishna's basic theory by writing a preface to Krishna's first book on consciousness in 1972: "The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius". His theory - that the honing of the luminary is a metabolic process that can be measured was new. Prior to this theory, all we had to go on to explain "luminaries" was New Age claptrap. Unfortunately, von Weizsäcker's interest was one of only two or three prominent scientists to take an interest, and the subject died a death. The books are still around though.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, Peter, honestly speaking :-), you must be right - too bad that I don't view this "broad-mindedness", even though it's probably something intrinsic to me, as a virtue to be proud about. It's very easy to be "broad-minded", especially in a superficial way.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Thanks.Well. Yes it is exotic! Do you think theories of modern physics are not exotic if you ask for meaning in them? For Buddhism, please see my reply to Bill Bogus. Yes. If by "non attachment" you mean the message that you do your duty and do not get attached to the world, both Hinduism and Buddhism are similar.

reader Eugene S said...

Many thanks to Kashyap for this guest article and to Luboš for hosting it.

Here is my take on it. As a source of science, Hinduism, like all other religions, is totally worthless. As a wellspring of inspiration, as a prod to productive intuitions, and as a spur to fruitful speculation about questions in science, Hinduism may well be more useful than other religions. But of course, such inspiration can only be the first step in a long journey; all subsequent steps then must employ the scientific method.

I have a personal connection to India through my parents, who owned a business importing silk, cotton and garments made according to their designs from India, as well as trinkets made of ivory (now illegal!), brass, etc. My father was the first in Germany after World War II to start importing such items from India to Germany and he traveled to India many times to meet with his suppliers and discuss colors, grades of silk, and tailoring. He later took on an Indian as his business partners and we would often have visitors from India over as guests.

Over time, my dad immersed himself in the culture and Hindu religion, teaching himself basic Hindi and amassing hundreds of books. He has continued an active interest and involvement in the country after retirement. Ten years ago, as a "senior student" at university, he went on a months-long field trip to Orissa where he studied local crafts techniques and wrote a paper on them.

I think we Westerners can only scratch the surface of Indian strangeness. It is a fantastically diverse country -- languages, religions, ethnicities, customs -- and sometimes I feel it is mysterious even to Indians themselves. Even a photograph of a street scene will reveal some of this strangeness. In a single frame, one can find highly educated businesspeople in Western garb, peasants behind an oxcart, an almost naked sadhu... and nobody turns up his nose at anyone else, they each pursue their personal ways with an air of benign tolerance. Perhaps this diversity makes for more broad-mindedness and a greater willingness to explore ideas off the beaten path.

Many things in India are upside down from what we are accustomed in the West. As my dad's partner told me, in the West people rebel against their parents and society early in life and later on become more conformist. Whereas in India, youngsters are highly obedient to their parents and societal expectations but may join an ashram and withdraw from the world of commerce later in life.

As someone who has lived in and experienced both worlds, you have enviable insight into the differences between these cultures.

Regarding the panoply of Indian gods, I am intrigued by the possibility to choose which gods or avatars to worship. Here, I find not all choices made by Indians to be benign. Quite frankly, the worshippers of Kali Durga sometimes scare me. I know that in a country to the south of India which I shall not name, Buddhist citizens will sometimes visit Hindu temples in order to obtain curses for their hated neighbor. And such curses "work", sad to say, though I am unable to explain how and why.

Personally, I am a fan of Ganesh, patron god of businesspeople, for his jolly elephantine physique and for the promise of getting a leg up in this world.

The early scientific achievements of Indians are simply stunning. I would especially emphasize their astronomical observatories, which continue to amaze and impress by their combination of astronomical utility and esthetic impact, centuries after their construction.

Finally, a typo correction: it's Indianapolis not Indianopolis. I guess it was inevitable that you would have taught there (just kidding).

reader kashyap vasavada said...

@ Bill Bogus and Shannon: Yes. It would be nice if someone who is knowledgeable about both science and Buddhism would write a blog. I did not say much about Buddhism, because of my limited knowledge of it and the blog was already becoming too long. In the original Vedic period, they just believed
in shapeless, formless Brahman. There were no deities or temples. Each house would have an altar (a square pit) and they would perform worships to invoke various elements, fire, wind, rain (water in general), Sun, Moon and planets as representatives of Brahman. Later on the concept of deities (via statues) came as a symbolic solution for people who cannot meditate. Buddha was born in India in about 5th or 6th century B.C.E. He agreed that there should be a way for people to get rid of misery and ultimately get salvation. But he did not like deities. He did not want to even insist on the concept of God. In many ways Buddhism is similar to the original form of Hinduism. Buddhism’s eightfold way
for achieving Nirvana is similar to Patanjali’s Ashtang (8) Yoga. For a number of centuries, both religions prospered in India. Some kings were Buddhists, some were Hindus. After about 8th century C.E. Shankaracharya help reestablish Hinduism with a full force. He wrote commentaries on various ancient scriptures and firmly said that Brahman is the only truth. The whole world is illusion! But for devotional practice, if you want to worship deities it is OK. Path of devotion and path of knowledge would lead you to the same place. Buddhism’s influence in India gradually diminished and it moved to other Asian countries. Currently, there are very few Buddhists left in India although the place where Buddha was born is kept as a shrine. It is an interesting irony of history that because of Chinese oppression of Tibet, Dalai Lama and many of his Buddhist followers moved back to India. They found India to be a welcoming, hospitable country. So life moves in circles!

reader lukelea said...

This raises the issue of why science arose in the West and not in India. I like Rodney Starks answer:

“Religion was the ballgame. The Judeo-Christian concept of God held the key to the rise of the West — the belief in a rational Creator God. That had the implication that the Creation was rational, that it obeys rules. Hence humans have the ability to reason, it might be possible to discover the rules of Creation. That was the basis of science. Science only happened in the West.”

Here's an essay of his.

His books are even better. I liked ths one especially.

reader John Archer said...

What a riveting yarn you tell, Casper!

Do you have any more like that?

reader John Archer said...

Psst! For the avoidance of doubt:


reader kashyap vasavada said...

I do not have a very convincing answer for why science flourished in west and not in India.But let me say little bit.Ancient Indians were good astronomers and mathematicians.They knew about precession of equinoxes and most likely guessed that earth was going around sun, rather than the other way.Now it is gradually admitted by west that Indians discovered zero and decimal system.Europe learned about it through Arabs and it became known as Arabic system.They knew independently about quadratic equations,pi and infinite series.There is a Sanskrit poem about digits of pi! Some people say they had some primitive idea of limits and calculus.They had fairly good medicinal chemistry, presumably by trial and error. I can go on and on.But, one excuse why the science did not continue, is that historically India was invaded and occupied for thousands of years,beginning with Huns, Genghis khan and subsequent Muslim invaders.The invaders would routinely burn libraries.After that British occupied it for more than 200 years. Probably slavery is not conducive to scientific research!! In spite of this, surprisingly isolated home grown geniuses like C.V. Raman (physics Nobel winner), S. N. Bose of Bose statistics (Bosons), Srinivasa Ramanujan, a great mathematician, did come up . But now the tables may be turning.Basic research in U.S. is suffering quite a bit because of short sightedness of political leadership,whereas in China and India, govt. is making big investment in research. So who knows what next 100 years will bring?

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Interesting comment. I may have a detailed comment later. But as for typo in the name Indianapolis, Lubos actually wrote that part. He is so busy one can excuse this.In fact only thing he had was my university e-mail address. I should thank him for spending some time to look me up. If I had that typo in the name of the university, they would have fired me long time back! But obviously I survived!

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Your ideas are interesting. But first let us solve problem of consciousness in this universe if we can.The first problem is how far it goes down in the tree of life.I suppose cats and dogs have some consciousness, the way they look at you. Are Amoebas conscious? They wiggle when light shines on. Scientists are finding out that trees, even though they do not have central nervous system, take care of their offsprings.There are rivalries between different families to get sunlight and food. Also I heard from a Biology professor that trees like to be touched! What is the diffrence between just a life process for survival and consciousness?
But you may have a point that all these issues may be tangled up with ideas of multiverse.

reader Leo Vuyk said...


reader kashyap vasavada said...


reader kashyap vasavada said...

I agree I should have added "corroboration by others". Thanks,I am not familiar with any "honed" person doing science.As we know, great scientists have tremendous ability to deeply think and concentrate on one issue for a long time. But I do not know if being able to meditate is the same ability. Perhaps it is.Yes.Scriptures do say that if you meditate you will realize. You do not have to trust other people's experiences. The problem in calling this a science is that people will say, these are day dreams ,delusion etc. Under influence of LSD you may have a similar feeling. I do not have an answer for this criticism. But it is nice to see that Gopi Krishna did some research on it and prof. Weizsäcker thought highly of it. My guess is that this field will advance inch by inch. Rapid advance will take place if physics hits a brick wall in answering fundamental questions!

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Your model will not explain why it is same in all humans.The external source explains why we developed receptors (mirrors if you will) during evolution and why our consciousness may look superior to that of lower animals. At this point it is not clear how far down in the tree of life consciousness goes. Surely cats and dogs have some consciousness the way they look at us. But does Amoeba have a consciousness? It wiggles when you shine light on it.Scientists are gradually finding out that without nervous system, plants and trees show some behavior we associate with consciousness like taking care of offsprings, rivalries to get food and sunlight, like being touched(!), feeling of pain when you cut a branch etc.My wild guess is that it is universal, all over ,even in non living things. Just like DNA it may be expressed by different amounts in different systems. Admittedly this is not science. Just a wild guess.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Well. Going beyond a point where science stops is the whole point! Science cannot talk about non-sensory perception. Yogis can talk about metaphysics. Whether you believe in it or not is separate question.

reader lukelea said...

No doubt India has made some great contributions in mathematics, starting with zero! One nice thing about human culture is that a new idea or invention by one genius, no matter where he lives, has the potential to enrich everyone. Of course that applies to modern science too.

reader Doug said...

Or she :)

reader kashyap vasavada said...

You have some good points.There are written documents of Yogic experiences. But words do not describe them properly.So there is no real substitute for personal experience. This is pretty much like when people try to put equations of modern physics in words,they look strange and mysterious and do not really serve any purpose.

reader Doug said...

I think the idea would be to find a "universal" theory for the relatively long distance scales at which neural activity occurs. Presumably this would be some sort of complicated operator in the quantum description, and would have to describe classically non-linear behavior. But yeah, that's how it would be "the same in all humans," which is satisfactory to me.

reader Doug said...

They can talk, but can they say anything meaningful?

reader Don said...

This is timely. I just started a 10 part essay/blog that uses Hindu yoga to explain science:

You might wish to start at part 1:

reader Don said...

India did invent a science. It is called yoga. There are many sources to learn about this. However, the Indian's were smart enough to question first the nature of the human mind before trying to describe the objects of perception. The West was pretty daft by first describing the objects of perception without understanding how the mind works.

reader Don said...

This is not really a well informed opinion. First, Hindus have only one God, Brahman. All the other "gods" are facets or functions of Brahman. Further, Indian's, while they often translate their own various concepts to the Western word "God", they do not think of these forces as we do. They are all processes in nature. Our concept of "force" is a better translation of many of their concepts.

Second, your concept of "early scientific achievements" of India is completely cultural-centric. Their ongoing achievements in science have always been stunning and completely dwarf anything accomplished in the West. We are bumbling idiots in comparison to the heights of Indian science. Indian science is about the nature of the mind. Western science is about how world appears as presented to the senses of the human being. Our sciences are the sciences of how our sensory systems work, with the occasional lucky breakthrough into slightly deeper levels. Because the Indians sought to first understand the mind, they ended up with a much deeper understanding of the world and the things in the world, which they call "gunas". Everything in the world are gunas. We only discovered this with Einstein's ideas, but still have not fully grasped the significance. You are a smart person so you can go look up the gunas. I have a brief description here:

reader John Archer said...

I knew next to nothing about Hinduism before this, so thank you.

I have a few questions (but unfortunately none is in connection with your central theme — the relation between science and religion).

From what very little I know about them, and from your essay, Eastern religions don't seem to be as rule-laden and prescriptive as those in the West. They seem more fluid and DIY, individualistic even (which—oddly enough—I always thought more a characteristic of the West). Would you say that that was true? If so, maybe you could expand on it a little please.

In particular, are there any conflicting sects in Hinduism that would be a rough parallel to the—previously deep but latterly less so—division between say Catholicism and Protestantism? This latter probably has a number of threads to it but mostly I think it was/is a combination of the pure doctrinal and the more mundane political (power of the clergy in secular matters, especially the Pope's). I imagine the answer might be no.

The relation of Hinduism to the caste system: is there any? If so, how does it work? Briefly if necessary, to save you writing screeds.

Morality: it's a big subject but I'm interested only in the general attitude to it. Take a topic such as abortion.

In the West, for some, 'the religious', the question is simple I guess — it's against "the teachings of the church" or whatever, so it's not permissible, presumably under any circumstances. Maybe it is for some. I don't know.

For others, who are not religious, the decision is not clear cut — it can depend on such things as mere convenience at one extreme to, say, rape at the other. It seems to me that most people in this category, if they have a view at all, first have a gut feeling then invent ad hoc arguments to rationalise it. (Of course, this gut feeling can include all sorts —for example, mucho political animus in the case of the committed feminazi.)

I don't want to discuss abortion per se but how Hindus approach this sort of thing. I imagine they are not like the religious Westerner here, but to what extent are they like the Western 'seculars' above? I mean, how are these things discussed and argued? Indeed, is there any discussion at all, or are these things, most things, considered private matters?

reader John Archer said...


Everything about the written positional ('decimal') system is inherent in the workings of the abacus — including zero, both as a digit/'missing place holder' and as a number in its own right — yet it took centuries to write it down and broadcast it.

I find that strange.

Still, kudos to the Indians for being the first.

reader Smoking Frog said...

I agree that for Cook and his kind there's one big "IT," but I go further, as I said. Even if the "IT" referent is not varied, it is perfectly OK to make two or more critical arguments with conflicting premises.

(Given who you are) I hesitate to mention that I think he gets QM wrong, but in any case his QM analogy is childish and worthless.

As the comedian Tommy Smothers used to say of any stupid person, he's less than fully swift.

reader Casper said...

I am sorry to have offended readers with my obnoxious brevity. I could ramble on for a few pages about tedious religio-scientific waffle written by a neophyte of monumental proportions and of no consequence but I felt that this would not solve anything in particular.

I hope that this exigesis of the cryptic text is more helpful to the confused readers.

reader Gene Day said...

Your brevity was not offensive, Casper; it was your insufferable pomposity.

reader Leo Vuyk said...

Perhaps this is a small support for your: The Vedic Rgveda Astronomical Code,

Dr. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, PhD, did research on this subject, which is published in his book: "Vedic Physics" 1999, “scientific origin of Hinduism”. Published by Golden Egg Publishing. Toronto CA. Foreword by Prof.Subhash Kak, author of “The Astronomical Code of the Rgveda”.

Hidden meaning seems to be most significant in the way that the Rgveda speaks a lot of the sacrifice of different named Gods to become an other (multiple) God.

The God Perusa (the Big Bang Black Hole, BBBH) could be interpreted as the vacuum particle based black hole and particle origin of everything in the universe and this God does its work by the sacrifice of itself into different pieces and different forms.

It is an interesting effort to compare the indications of Rgveda hymns with the new Fractal based Big Bang model.

see also:

reader visiting guest said...

Thanks for this blog entry kashyap. I enjoyed reading it. I am also a physicist and I practice yoga for over 20 yrs. I have no roots in India. I consider various religions as distinct representations of the same "group". All these representation contain also a lot of noise (cultural, historical, political and other reasons), but I still find them useful. My favorite representations are hinduism and to some degree also christianity and buddhism. As for e.g. reincarnation, you said "Obviously, there is no scientific or material proof of these beliefs." I agree only partially. I find the research about reincarnation performed at University of Virginia by Ian Stevenson and now Jim Tucker quite compelling. Also research by Sam Parnia in the AWARE project researching near-death experiences (to be published soon) brings new compelling results. So the above mentioned two lines of research are certainly not proofs, but they are at least hints that something may be going on.

It is interesting to observe how indian know-how is florishing in the West. When I started to practice yoga over 2 decades ago, it was something very exotic. Now at least physical part of the yoga is mainstream and there are also many studies published in leading journals showing usefulness of mediation for overall well-being. More deep mystical aspects of yoga are still far from generally accepted, but this is also slowly changing. This is also related to the fact that one can get results like improving health and calming the mind by practicing yoga quite quickly (on the scale of months), while it takes usually many years to achieve at least some inner results described e.g. in yoga sutras. Thank you for your entry again. I usually read this blog to check news from physics and I was quite surprised to read about this topic here.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Thanks. I will learn something from your essays.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Thanks. You put it in a much better way than I did!

reader kashyap vasavada said...

Thanks again for the comment.

reader kashyap vasavada said...

It depends on your perception. Communication depends on two sides. A transmitter and a receiver!

reader Don said...

Thank you. Please feel free to leave critical comments. I too am a scientist and used to peer review.

reader Leo Vuyk said...

Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ph.D. wrote a book named:

Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism.

Roy comes to the conclusion that the Rgveda is in actuality, an accurate record of cosmology,
So all Gods could be interpreted as quantum particles or cosmological processes.


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