What is Real? Discussions with Ranga.

Tue, May 22, 2007 at 2:13 PM

I go on to explore the role of light in sensing and argue that the specialness of the speed of light in our reality hinges on the fact that ours is a reality created using light. Much like the speed of sound would be special in a bat’s reality created using echolocation, as you said.

Sound is important to a bat, but is not the only way it perceives the external world let alone its own body. So is light for humans. To focus on light as a research strategy is different from saying that light is fundamentally special to us. So, in terms of AR or even R, light has no special place as such. Also, R has to be defined more clearly as applicable to all beings, or only to humans, or only to you. This itself is a conceptual maze- if you have thought about it.

I don’t suggest that the absolute reality can be understood or known using our investigations in our phenomenal world. But, it may be possible use the fact that the abs. reality IS different from our perception of it. For instance, if we model (for the sake of argument) an absolute reality that obeys classical (Galilean) relativity and work out the process of sensing through light, we get a perceptual reality very similar to what Einstein describes in SR. This should indicate that classical mechanics is a good model for AR. But, as you rightly pointed out, classical mechanics is another manifestation of our perception and it cannot be all there is to AR.IOW, we don’t need to know what absolute reality IS, we just need to know that it IS NOT what we perceive. With this knowledge or distinction seriously applied to astrophysical phenomena, we can already come up with good explanations for GRB and radio jets. In fact, we can even explain cosmological features like the CMBR and the expanding universe.

Here is where one has to tread waters carefully. You can be inspired by the metaphysical distinction between absolute and phenomenal reality, this inspiration leading you to appreciate the nature and limitations of reality we perceive. This appreciation may help you to see things in a new light, so to speak. But your explanations of the phenomenal world (for example GRBs) are not based on any aspect of AR at all, as it is not accessible to us, by our own definition. So, starting off with a framework of AR (as in your block diagram of AR->Perception/Cognition->Perceived Reality->Measurements->Science) is 1) misleading 2) not necessary as it is not used at all in the explanation of GRB. The critical point in the explanation of GRB is the questioning of the light barrier which was created by a previous theory and not by any aspect of this framework. This new theory has to be explained in terms of how to falsify and test it. With more perceptual observations one can then prove or disprove this theory. If one does not recognize this one gets into conceptual confusion. Further, one may mislead people into believing that science by rigorous analysis can help to see absolute reality (even if one intends not to perpetuate this notion). I think you should especially avoid this notion in your book.

As I have said earlier, numerous scientists have been inspired by the metaphysical concept of AR, leading them to see problems with our perception. In neuroscience, work on bistable percepts, binocular rivalry, blind sight, and so on and so forth have come from the insight that there is “error” in our perception. In social sciences, the notion of perceived time dilation during very low and very high stimulus complexity has also been worked on to a quite a degree. In these cases, scientists have recognized that clarifying perceptual errors is beset with further perceptual errors.

Well, if Brahman doesn’t cause Maya, who/what does?

This question is based on the assumption of a traditional notion of causation that something has to cause something else. When you are still working within this premise, you are still asking such questions. The notion of causality itself needs to be questioned. Do check J. Pearl (2000) – Causality: models, reasoning and inference and other related works. The concept of Brahman and Atman, and that of Sunyata in Buddhism, questioned causation even before Hume did it. We have to guard our scientific arrogance against taking a superiority attitude – we have yet to fathom some of these concepts.

What this means to me is that, Brahman and Maya are one and the same.

As all statements in Hinduism, this one also is mystical 🙂 They are the same, but they are also distinct from each other as you point out below.

Our “scientific attitude” makes us hypocritical about other ideas, concepts and fields of knowledge. More importantly, it has forced us to take positions. It has to be either this or that, if not it is “mystical”. When one cannot relate to or understand simultaneity of seemingly contradictory ideas one relegates them to the “mystical”. This is a malady with science that one has to get away from. A certain humility and perplexity at things that one does not understand is very necessary. Many things that science is coming to grips with now, was previously thought to be mysterious. Many conclusions arrived in Hinduism or any other older methods of enquiry were based on subjective reflection, perhaps, not on the so called “objective” analysis, but it was just another method, and it had its merits. The notion of something being different at the same time being same is one of these difficult concepts. Science has to learn to accept contradictions and stay with contradictions without taking position – but that is questioning the very method of science itself.

To make this more understandable to ourselves, at the cost of fouling it up – it can be seen as the constant flux in the Brahman, constant interaction of the universe the objects and beings in it as manifestation of the phenomenon. This interaction begets a certain differentiation the identification of objects and beings as individuals and the need for the survival of these individuals. The birth of this differentiation is the beginning of the phenomenal world I’m not talking in terms of evolution or emergence of life here. The critical insight that we are actually part of a whole is the death of this differentiation and the resubmission to the Brahman the realization of this is called Atman. This does not happen in us, allegedly, except in extreme circumstances (so-called Nirvana or Samadhi) and certainly not in a sustained way. And hence, our constant need to be individualist and different and to prove our difference and make theories about the world we see around us.

I think normal death (not Nirvana or Samadhi) is the end of the individual differentiation, knowledge etc. To the extent that we remember nothing and know (first hand) nothing from before our birth, we come from nothing. And our death has to be a merging with nothingness or everythingness that is Brahman.

One can say that too. The reason I mentioned Samadhi is that it is considered to be a state of being with awareness and yet a sublimation into the Brahman. However, I have not experienced Samadhi or death (oxymoron), a state of non-being, so I cannot say. But it is anybody’s guess.

So, to sum it up, the point I would like to make is that the notion of Absolute Reality separate from Reality is flawed.

This point, I’m not sure I agree with. To the extent that Maya is a manifestation or projection of Brahman, they are the same. But they are also distinct as sound is different from air pressure waves or smell is different from chemicals. (Or, as a Njana yoga book put it, heat is different from fire).

Can one be without the other? Can sound be without air pressure waves? That is where it is questioned whether Maya can exist without Brahman or vice versa. Reductionism, is many sometimes a limitation.

The notion that one can reach the AR through better analysis of R is even more flawed.

This I agree with. But we may not have to get to AR to understand our perceived R better.

I would say “to understand our perceived R in a different way” – better or worse is one’s point of view.

So, what does that leave us with? That if you explain something (such as GRBs), you are explaining both the AR and R because they are intertwined. Further, the beauty of this that any theory conceivable (proven or disproven, falsifiable or not in a scientific method) explains both AR and R, because the explanations are products of our senses and intellect, which are parts of our world. If we have perceived it, it should be in the world AR or R or otherwise.

In my view, when thinking about these issues, there is a danger of coagulating into one of two notions. One is that AR or Brahman is incomprehensible and way beyond our reach and we shouldn’t worry about its properties. The other is that to the extent that PR or Maya is all we have to work with, our theorizings should be confined to it. Which, I believe, is the basis of scientific realism. My book is probably an exploration in finding a middle ground, successful or not. You seem to entertain both these notions.

One does not have to take a stand (as normally done in Science). One can live with the contradictions – of the incomprehensible AR and the eventuality of working with the limitations of our senses and intellect. Even if you say that you are working towards the middle ground you are in fact still working within the confines of your senses and intellect. From my point of view, you have been inspired by the metaphysical notions of reality and that has helped you to see the problems of physics in a different way. It is a ground that is neither middle nor on the edges – it is the only ground you can walk on. It is a ground that others have walked on too, in other ways. Still, it is a ground that can be a wonderful garden (being poetic here 🙂 and full of joy for you. >

In the end, what we don’t know is what we don’t know. We can come up with different views and beliefs and methods to attack our ignorance, but at some stage, we just have to accept that there are limits to what we can know.

Indeed. What I think one should watch out for is scientific arrogance. Arrogance that scientific methods we put forward alone can answer our questions. A certain humility and perplexity at things around us will do us all good.

Anyways, it has been a while since I had conversations of this kind. Good to rekindle these thoughts, thanks.



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