I want to discuss the confusion with elements a bit more. Not because I know what the gross material elements mentioned in the śāstra are but because it’s an interesting subject for speculation.
Yesterday I said that they are not the same substances water, air, fire, and earth refer to now. Ether is a bit special because we have proven that it doesn’t exist. Question – if it doesn’t exist and is imperceptible, why did ancients ever mention it at all? With Greeks one could say they were speculating and invented it as a filler for the heavenly sky as opposed to air we find on Earth. For the medieval scientists we could say it was a mistaken theory that they thought could explain light travelling in vacuum and necessity for such substance was later rejected.
In both these cases our assumption is that ancients were speculating and trying to explain what they couldn’t reach with their senses on the basis of what was perceptible to them. Greeks loved to speculate, we know that, but they assigned ether to the realm of gods and assigned gods to preside over it. I don’t think we have the proof that ether was ever invented by men. Ether first makes its appearance in a book by Plato and the book is speculative, no doubt about that, but it talks about EXISTING concepts, not invents new ones, and it talks about the Creator.
To us it would mean that Plato was engaged in a philosophical speculation – trying to understand how God’s creation works rather than mental speculation of inventing his own stuff for the sake of his vanity. It doesn’t mean, at least to me, that he invented ether but tried to reconcile its a priori given existence with inadequate human perception. In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we are trying to do the same – take infallible words of śāstra and try to explain how our current perception fits.
So, the ether was always there, we just never knew what it was and it’s not our invention to fill gaps in our knowledge. Vedic sages are not known to invent stuff up either and they had nothing to do with Greeks, and yet they had existence of ether from the start.
We could argue whether Vedic version of creation is mythological or a God given record but that besides the point here, which is that gross material elements mentioned in śāstra are not the same things we call water, fire, air etc now. We don’t perceive ether and so we don’t use the word anymore but for the Vedic sages sensory perception was immaterial, the terms they were dealing with were coming from beyond their direct perception, too.
Nowadays by fire we mean fire but a better translation would probably be energy. Better does not mean the best, however. “Energy” to us an ever evolving concept and it evolves in the wrong direction, it’s just that at this point it probably is the closest to Vedic fire.
Yesterday I talked about the earth, how we can use the sense of touch to determine whether something is earth or not. Touch indicates the presence of air, however, not earth. Okay, we can also look at the thing and see whether it qualifies as earth, too, but seeing is the sense triggered by presence of fire, which gives shapes. Here how it is different from energy because we can’t see the energy. On the other hand, we know that energy does have shapes and we can draw energy fields, or even watch its shape through infrared camera.
This is the problem with our eyes – we can see presence of fire, or energy, but our eyes are grossly inadequate and we need to supplement them with instruments or with theories. Energy fields are invisible even in infrared. We have radio telescopes for other frequencies but still can’t perceive 95% of what makes up the universe – the dark matter. Our current state of eye extensions does not allow us to see it and we have no idea how to make it possible.
With the element of fire we can agree that its presence is indicated by presence of energy but we are still severely restricted from perceiving it even with the best instruments. We also have the matter-energy co-dependence from Einstein’s relativity so everything IS energy and fire must be all pervasive and simply takes different forms.
Air is more of a mystery to us because we can’t separate it from subsequent elements anymore, it doesn’t exist in its pure Vedic form. Śāstra says that air is movement introduced into ether, an appearance of the force. We can’t separate force from energy now, the time when we began to study the universe they were already inseparable. With relativity we can’t separate space from energy and matter either so we can’t separate either from the elements that followed, too, they came to us as a complete set.
Water is even more mysterious and the best I can come up with is that it’s gravity. Water binds things, afaik, and so gravity is the best fit, plus gravity is believed to be a force of its own because scientists haven’t been able to explain it on quantum level, to reduce it further – it’s just there and it follows its own laws.
The sense given to us to perceive water is taste and good luck with tasting gravity, it just doesn’t make sense. None of the relations between elements and senses makes sense if we try to explain the elements in modern scientific terms, we just have to live with it – there are no better explanations to what water is than the the Vedic one. We can’t explain it in our own scientific terms, it can’t be reduced to anything other than Vedic fire and air, for which we have no equivalents either.
As for the earth – in science we can take atoms, put them together in molecules, get these molecules together, and create earth in the form of rocks or crystals. That’s what “earth” is to atheists and that’s how they dismiss religious science based on scriptures. Well, according to Vedic science earth is already present in the universe and already all-pervasive. You don’t create it because it’s already there in all your ingredients. We can say that Vedic earth is probably the quarks scientists have been studying in quantum mechanics. Their quarks also have energy and they move – fire and air, and there’s probably water in there somehow, too.
The best we can come up with right now is theoretical equivalents for our Vedic elements – the concepts of space, force, movement, energy etc. It’s beyond me to speculate whether these concepts are properties of matter according to scientific understanding or they could be seen as fundamental to the existence of the universe – which is what śāstra says. What was created during Big Bang fore example? Space, force, energy etc or material elements with space and energy as only their properties. Looks no brainer to me but needs a proper scientific explanation.
Can the scientists explain evolution of force from space, energy from force, gravitation from energy, and quarks from gravitation? I don’t think so, but if they looked at it this way the can surely come with something interesting.
Our position is that we can’t wait for science to catch up and that this knowledge is immaterial to our spiritual needs which are best fulfilled by chanting, not by speculations. We don’t accept the typical proposition that we should wait until the science proves Vedas before taking up Vedic instructions as our life guide. I don’t like this whole idea that we should rely on what science says at all, but that’s a subject for another post.