Vanity thought #1744. VC – the world is a message

I’m still on “common sense” chapters of “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. It was supposed to be an introduction to Sāṅkhya now but Dalela gets to it very slowly. Maybe he dwells on these things because he wants to understand them better himself, maybe it truly is for our benefit so that we grasped them firmly before moving on – a lot of it looks repetitive.

In any case, it’s important to get the sequence – first we have ideas, then we convert them into things, then from our creation we develop theories (or symbols), and then these symbols become our goggles through which we look at the world. One American general once famously said: “If all you have is a hammer then every problem starts looking like a nail”. That’s what our goggles are. Then we get new ideas to advance our theories and so we apply this process again and again indefinitely.

The world around us, therefore, is an embodiment of ideas, embodiment of symbols. Even our words are physical objects, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to hear them. Words are messages conveying meanings. These messages can be sent in other physical forms, too – like a flower or a scented envelope. The book insists that everything we perceive is messages and embodiment of symbols, embodiment of ideas.

Meanings, however, are not messages, they exist a priori, it’s important to remember that, too. When we receive a message we need two things to decode it – we must know the meaning and we must know the language of decoding. By “meaning” the book means pre-existing ideas that allow you to comprehend the message, otherwise it would be gibberish. You need to know what horses are before you can understand a message that there are five horse riders coming your way – that sort of thing.

The language through which we understand these messages is our goggles. If the source and the recipient wear the same goggles they can understand each other perfectly, otherwise five different people would read the same message differently – according to their different goggles. I’m not talking about “language” as strictly English or German but rather our theories about how the world works so that even speakers of English can understand same messages in opposite ways.

To understand every idea in the world we only need to know the language, but to know the language we must have some ideas, too – they’d be much simpler, though. This all means that the fundamental ingredients of the world are not things but ideas, memes and grammar of the language. The book says that this concept is known as semiotics and it’s popular in continental Europe. It’s common sense, really, but, apparently, not that common.

Now I suppose we can accept that this is how the world works but it doesn’t say anything about the starting point yet, nor does it say anything whether the messages we hear are true. We might have a perfect understanding of what we hear on TV but it doesn’t mean that what they say is true. How can we know what is true and what is false then?

The book offers two choices – we can look for internal consistency of the argument and judge it true, but that would depend on the “trueness” of the underlying axioms. Secondly, we can empirically test the statement – like science loves to do, but we can’t test if all the facts conform with the statement ever, and from the same science we know that for any theory there must be some facts that do not fit it. Or, if we look at two statements, they might be consistent with each other but there might be other statements which contradict them but which we haven’t yet encountered.

The book states that it’s a fundamentally unsolvable problem because it depends on unquestionable axioms that we accept a priori, and then it devotes a chapter to arguing that truth itself must be accepted a priori, too. If all the politicians say the same thing it would be true that they said it and all their statements would be consistent but our perception of it would depend on whether we believe them or not in the first place. We must have that initial trust to believe in everything that follows.

The book compares this to the previously discussed primacy of meanings – “truth”, “trust” and “ideas” must exist first. It uses the Descartes example in an interesting way. Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am”, and then he said many other things that followed from that postulate. They were true when he was alive, but are they true now? He doesn’t “think” anymore so they must be false, right?

Just as with Descartes, everyone’s knowledge must collapse to some fundamental axioms, a fundamental theory of the world. It could be “I think”, it could be “aham brahmasmi”, it could be “neti neti”, but it should be “vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti”, everything else will eventually end in failure. We must know it for real, too, to finally become devotees.

How can we know if our assumptions are true is another question. What if our friends tell us the opposite? Should we stick with our guns? What if we have a business idea that fails again and again no matter what we try? An average millionaire succeeds on the twentieth attempt, I heard. On one hand, it’s admirable to follow your path no matter the opposition and the rewards can be great. On the other hand, it could be just stubbornness and you’ll end up as a failure anyway. There’s a chapter for this problem as well.

How do we actually choose which axioms are correct? On what basis? Obviously there must be some confirmation available to us first. Our initial theory must explain some empirical facts to make us believe in it. No theory can explain all the facts, however. Communism explained a great deal to those who followed it and they even build a huge empire spanning half the world on this theory, but it didn’t explain actual supermarkets and all the food that was there but wasn’t supposed to be according to communist theory.

Communism was internally consistent but it wasn’t complete, and if we mix it with capitalism then we might achieve completeness but lose consistency. This contradiction between completeness and consistency is a fundamental problem for ALL the theories out there. The book goes into some detail on this point but essentially it’s this – we have quantum mechanics to explain sub-atomic world, we have thermodynamics to explain macroscopic objects, and we have relativity to explain the universe. Each of these theories are internally consistent but they are incomplete because they don’t work outside their boundaries. And we can’t combine them together either because they are mutually incompatible.

This doesn’t explain our initial choice what to believe, however. Perhaps this chapter wasn’t what it was advertised to be, but it still makes sense. We can put this question before atheists as well – what is the source of their initial beliefs? What is the source of their scientific theories? Are these sources reliable and do they hold true at all times? If they don’t hold true at all times then they must be false or they must be incomplete. Why do they insist on being correct then? I’m not sure it would be a fruitful discussion but this approach is something we can explore on our own – how to successfully challenge atheistic assumptions and what these assumptions are in the first place.

Anyway, it’s enough for today. Can’t wait when I’ll get to actual sāṅkhya. Next chapter should get me into it already.

Vanity thought #1743. VC – wearing goggles

The next few chapters in “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology” are dedicated to proving that ideas must exist before things. This is the essence of Vedic understanding of the world but it’s not so obvious to materialists. The book here attempts to highlight often overlooked facts and philosophical developments to prove this point from western point of view.

I’m not sure it’s going to be very convincing to atheists who might simply stick to their guns and insist on their own interpretation of history. They might say our presentation deserves some merit but it’s simply a curiosity because actual studying of history leads to atheism, so it’s only a matter of finding faults with us rather than challenging their own assumptions. They’d say that people with bigger brains than ours and with much better knowledge of western philosophy have concluded differently and so they won’t take us seriously.

That is a problem with any argument relying on western school of thought – it can’t come to different conclusions and if it does it means there’s something seriously wrong with it, it’s just not immediately obvious what.

That’s why we can’t prove God, or Kṛṣṇa, or existence of the soul, or that life can’t come from dead matter, or that Sun is closer to the Earth than the Moon. There needs to be a switch turned on inside people’s souls to accept any of those propositions. We can’t flip it on, it depends on soul’s choice and Supersoul’s help, not on externally heard arguments. That’s why when we preach we should pray to guru and Lord Nityānanda to change the hearts of people we are talking to and to elicit mercy of Lord Caitanya. Whatever we say with our mouths is just fluff, unless there’s mercy of the Lord it won’t change anything.

Devotees, otoh, would look at these arguments that ideas must come before things and accept them as self-obvious. We might not be able to convince atheists but if we convince ourselves that’s already a major achievement in developing our own Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Not as valuable as converting others but still.

In the book it all sprouts from counting, which I talked about in the last post on this topic. In order to count we must be able to do two things first – distinguish the objects and order them as first, second etc. The first one is obvious – if you want to count zebras you must know them from horses or giraffes first. The second one not so much but you must be able to tell the first zebra from the second, too. They should either be slightly different or they should be standing in different places – otherwise you would never know if you counted this particular zebra already or not. In this sense both abilities – to distinguish and to order – become interdependent, and they both must exist before you start any counting.

The book then says that this principle, that you must know things and have some ideas first, is applicable to any act of perception and cognition. To me it looks obvious – if you reading something about a country you’ve never heard of before it is probably explained in the language you already understand – that they have some kind of societal structure, religion, customs etc which are relatable to something you already know. That’s why we can make sense of Mayan human sacrifices, for example.

The challenge to empiricists here is that this means we must be born with some preconceived notions, not as blank states. The book recalls John Locke’s argument that we ARE blank states and our knowledge and ideas gradually emerge from our experiences and the book rejects it here because we need some prior knowledge to process any experience. The book goes for Cant’s principle of synthetic a priori instead which claims that we must posses some non-trivial ideas before we can have meaningful experiences. The example given is that of tone deaf people who can’t be taught music because that’s just the way they are. If we were all blank states than anyone going to musical school must graduate as a genius but the reality is that you must have some music in you before you can be taught it.

At this point the book calls these prior existing ideas “goggles” already. The term was introduces subtly but it will become very prominent later on because our “goggles” determine what we see in the world regardless of what is actually there. So far it’s used in the procession of having an idea of a car, then building an actual car, then recognizing other cars built by others. That last step is “goggles” here – we look at things and we recognize them as something we know already. Goggles make sense of things to US, not determine what they are. That’s why Mayans probably thought that their sacrifices were the pinnacle of society’s evolution while we see them as barbaric. We have different goggles and recognize things differently.

Next question the book asks is how many such goggles are possible and the answer is infinity, which probably means figuratively speaking, but that’s a different subject – Vedic universe is NOT infinite. Anyway, the book says that infinite number of preconceived ideas doesn’t mean each one of us must have them in full. SOMEONE before us must have them and that’s enough. That person would objectivize his idea into a symbol, teach that symbol to us, and from that symbol we can reconstruct the original idea as necessary. That’s how we explain things like democracy – we’ve been taught what it means and now we can apply our knowledge to explain other political systems in democratic terms, how to make China democratic, for example.

The book goes into nature of languages here where words act as symbols of meaningful ideas and we, as receivers, can use these symbols to understand ideas we’ve never heard of before. The existence of actual things, btw, is irrelevant here. Quite often we can understand people’s feelings without having actual empirical experiences ourselves.

Knowing language (mappings of ideas to symbols to experiences) does not mean we know everything in the universe but it’s a method to potentially learn that everything. Once we know the language everything CAN be revealed even though normally it doesn’t. Based on our innate language, something linguists discovered half a century ago, we can learn other languages as well and thus expand our tools in researching the universe. Without that innate language, otoh, we can’t learn anything. To function as human beings we must be born with some kind of goggles first – that’s what the book tries to argue here.

I think it’s useful to ponder the sequence again – creative people convert ideas into things and then these things become goggles for other people who can now recognize these inventions elsewhere. There’s more to this propagation of ideas but it’s enough for today.

PS. One more thing – I don’t think I’ll be able to keep posting an article per day here to keep my usual pace. By the end of this week I should start chemotherapy for a cancer with survival rate of 25%, and it’s the kind of therapy that must be done in a hospital. I don’t know how much energy I will have there and whether I’ll have enough free time. I’m not sure I can even keep up with my chanting. For now my mind is still capable of writing something here and so I’ll keep doing it as my service, but maybe not as often, and maybe I’ll have to change the topic to something more important than understanding Vedic cosmos or making sense of our internal squabbles about women. I might have more pressing matters to attend to but it’s the service to the Lord that defines us as devotees. Everyone can go on about his own situation forever, who cares, there’s no use in it for our mission.

Vanity thought #1742. WMM – final words

The “Women: Masters or Mothers” saga is drawing to a close, at least for me. Earlier this week Bhakti Vikāsa Swāmī put up more stuff related to it on his website – videos of his lectures addressing the criticism of the book, reactions from various devotees, and, finally, his own thoughts on the whole thing. Much of that revolves around his email communication with GBC that was disclosed there previously.

I say the issue has been settled because GBC is not going to reverse their “ban” and the public is not going to change their minds about it. There’s nothing more to add to this discussion.

There’s an argument from the author of that GBC resolution 313 at the bottom that it’s not really a ban because devotees are not prohibited from reading the book and it’s not declared “heretical” the way rittvik or no-jiva fall literature is.

That didn’t go well with the commentariat and with Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī himself and they immediately whipped up a list of questionable books that are allowed to be sold on ISKCON premises while WMM isn’t. Personally, I can’t find any faults with this criticism – if the book might confuse non-devotees then why ban it in Vṛndāvana where this all banning business started, for example? There’s no “imprimatur” system in ISKCON either where everything sold at our shops is automatically assumed to be GBC’s official position. Some pointed out at literature on all kinds of “eastern” subjects written by god knows who available in Bhaktivedanta Manor which clearly doesn’t have GBC’s stamp of approval, and yet it’s not banned while books expounding on quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda is.

It all looks very bad for the resolution. I haven’t seen arguments FOR it yet, maybe because they don’t exist, but, in any case, it turned out into a PR disaster, though our PR department is outward looking, it doesn’t seem to care about our internal reactions so they can say it has nothing to do with them. No one wants to be left holding this bag, it’s bad news.

On the other hand, there are no good reasons to reverse the resolution either because it would expose people’s mistakes, both of the person who authored the resolution and those who voted for it, plus those who didn’t give Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī a chance to present his defense. And all these people are GBCs, our ultimate managing and spiritual authorities – they can’t be ever wrong, nor can they be seen as mistakenly banning book of expanded quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda.

I’ve said it twice now – “expanded quotes” – because that’s how I see it. I haven’t read it but I’ve listened to more than enough lectures by Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī to know his position on the issues covered in the book – he only takes what Śrīla Prabhupāda said on the matter and runs with it, there are no other sources for his ideas and convictions. There are might be OTHER sides to Prabhupāda’s preaching, the ones deemed as more important by those against the book, but that is another issue which doesn’t take anything away from Maharājā’s purity.

I’ve watched his lengthy video reply to objections raised against his book and he is perfectly aware that those other sides exist and they have their own place in our movement. He is not imposing his understanding of varṇāśrama on anyone and against anyone’s will. He sets it as a long term goal requiring many compromises on the way, thus allowing plenty of space for devotees with “other sides” in mind.

So, as I said, GBC can’t be seen as admitting what it is accused of – banning Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own preaching on marriage, strī dharma, raising children and so on. For one thing that’s not what they did – this accusation, even though it looks fair, is too ridiculous to entertain seriously. Equally, GBC can’t be seen as admitting feminism penetrating their ranks. “Fascist feminists” are the words actually used by “defenders” of the book in their submissions to Sampradaya Sun. With this kind of friends Mahārāja doesn’t need any enemies.

However justified the attack on GBC might look to those railing against it GBC can’t give in as a matter of principle. What they probably need is to communicate their correct understanding of the issue. What was formulated in the resolution itself is clearly not enough. GBC isn’t an always switched on body either, if we are awaiting a response from it right now there’s no one minding the shop – the full body won’t meet until next Māyāpura festival and until then no one can speak on behalf of the whole committee. Individual opinions of GBC members expressed now won’t count until they are properly authorized. Mātājī Urmila Prabhu, for example, was appalled at how communications between Mahārāja and GBC played out and she was probably the one who voted for or against the ban, but it’s out of her hands now.

Unless one understands and respects how GBC works he shouldn’t expect any favorable reaction at the moment so asking GBC for this or that only serves one’s own desire to speak. All the articles, including mine, are just noise now.

Even if no one can articulate GBC position at this point I sort of understand their dilemma – ban the book and face the backlash from devotees, let the book be sold and risk alienating the congregation. I’ve said it before – when a GBC member says that “ISKCON’s very existence in his country would be jeopardised” he is probably not kidding. This should be the case of threading the path very carefully, as advocated by Bhakti Vikāsa Swami himself. We can blame the GBC for letting ISKCON existence to become dependent on such untrustworthy congregation but blaming people won’t change the fact that there are certain things we can’t say in public anymore.

There’s a simple explanation for that – in our fifty year old history we have been training people to advance in their spiritual lives and we hope they have not only became qualified brāhmaṇas but even proper vaiṣṇavas. The society we live in, however, has been progressing in the opposite direction. The gap has become unreachable on so many issues – women’s roles, attitudes to marriage, education, homosexuality, every year they seem to come up with something new and something they accept as axiomatic. From our standpoint it’s all nonsense but this is the society we operate in and we have to be mindful of what we say there. We can’t use uniform language all across ISKCON strata. What we say among the best of our devotees should be different from what we say on the streets, and now it should be different from what we say to our congregation, too. The way ISKCON and the rest of the world are going it’s simply unavoidable.

I think if GBC explained it this way most of the devotees would understand the necessity of the “ban”. And it’s still not a “ban” in a full sense of the word – whoever wants the book can easily buy it online, Kindle edition cost less than half the paperback, so not having it on display at ISKCON stores isn’t that big of an obstacle. Perhaps it’s a challenge to those who promote Mahārāja’s ideas to personally seek and approach people who would appreciate this kind of talk and who are ready to read this book. I don’t think there would be anything wrong with that and it’s not prohibited by the GBC resolution either. This is what they will probably do anyway.

Arguing any further about the resolution is not going to improve anything, imo, and therefore I think these are my last words on the matter.

Vanity thought #1741. VC – more scientific assumptions challenged

I’ve missed a couple of days because I was too busy with hospitals. There’s something wrong with my body and so far I don’t know the reason why. They have taken some tests and ruled plenty of reasons out but we still have to wait for results to, perhaps, know something definitely.

About a month or two ago I got this idea in my mind that I might just die, like right now. The planet governing this period of my life also happens to be what is called “maraka” in astrology so the potential is there, even though no astrologer ever took it seriously so far.

My first reaction to this thought was welcome as I remembered cases like that of Gopiparāṇadhana Prabhu who was called back to Kṛṣṇa out of the blue without any visible reasons for his sudden departure. The reaction of my mind was different and it became preoccupied with inconveniences my death would cause to others and I remember spending the rest of my japa devising a proper way to leave my final instructions, like a self-mailing e-mail that goes off if I don’t stop it in time.

Shortly after that I started noticing deterioration in some aspects of my health that eventually forced me to go to the hospital for a check up. All the test parameters were perfect, save for one that I knew from the start was off. First, I had a concerned nurse to come up to me while I was waiting for the results to ask me if that one metric was in this range ever before. It wasn’t. Then I was sent to two specialists, the first one immediately put me in wheel chair. Then he ruled his area out and sent me to another doctor who ordered me a blood transfusion, which I refused. For one thing I don’t want any of these meat-eating bastards blood in my body, and it’s not a cure anyway, just a temporary treatment which I don’t really need.

I spent whole day in the hospital and could barely finish my rounds, forget the blog. Next day, yesterday, I went there again for a biopsy and for insurance purposes they had to keep me there whole day to qualify for a claim. That was supposed to be Nirjāla ekādaśī but I was not in the position to refuse food and water there. Nurses also came every five minutes to check on this and that and I had to time chanting my rounds in between their visits. I couldn’t do twenty five but I will make up for it either today or whenever I get a chance.

It might all look silly once this health scare is over but there’s a chance that my body won’t last more than a few months. I was about to buy a new, “ergonomic” chair but at this point it really looks like a waste of money, no one is going to use when I’m gone. Being in a hospital and in constant contact with these “health care providers” robbed me of any chance of introspection so I don’t know what I really think yet. I need to chant my rounds in peace and quiet first, maybe I will need that chair after all.

Anyway, back to the “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. Last time I said that scientific view of the universe is one-dimensional because it ignores types and methods by which physical objects are produced. Actual universe is a semantic tree branching here and there and attempts by the scientists to construct a model of it is like drawing imaginary lines between leaves. These lines do not exist but we can imagine that if they were there then the distance between the Earth and the Moon would be 384,000 km. In Vedic cosmology it’s a meaningless number because light does not travel in space at a constant speed but its path is negotiated by the nodes on the tree and its speed depends on semantic differences between the nodes – child to parent up a tree until it reaches the fork and then parent-child until it reaches our measuring instruments. There will be more on this later.

It’s a part of the book dedicated to exposing mistakes in scientific approach but there’s chapter stuck in between on the purpose of the book itself. I’ve already discussed this in the first post in this series – it wants to demonstrate how Vedic cosmology explains appearance of scientific models and not vice versa, which would make Vedic cosmology inherently superior. Another interesting point in that chapter is criticism of English translations of Vedic works – they have never been done by people who understood what they were talking about. It’s like translating a book on quantum mechanics by a person with no scientific background whatsoever. It will no doubt look like gibberish. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books were the first to present devotional parts of the Vedic literature by a person who knows what devotion is, and this “Mystic Universe” is an attempt to do the same but for cosmology part of Vedas.

Then we get treated to an explanation of what numbers and counting mean in science, I’m not going to repeat it here but the conclusion is that ideas of numbers and counting must come before things we count. In short it’s like this – you can’t count five cats unless you know what “cat” and “five” are. You have to learn to count first, obviously, and you have to make sure that your set of cats doesn’t have a horse between them. This means that you can’t look at things and describe them as “five cats” unless you have prior ideas about what you see. Science, OTOH, insists that things must come first and ideas would arise from their observation. This can lead to a long and fruitless argument but the crux of it is this – in order to make sense of the world we need consciousness and abstract ideas first. Ideas precede perception of things.

Dalela talks about problem of recursion here – “to know something you must know it before hand”, meaning to recognize five cats you need to know what “five cats” are. His argument why it would be impossible from POV of science where ideas rise from chemical interactions in the brain is too complex for me and I don’t think I could answer all objections to it successfully. At this point I’ll just let it stand because it sounds right. Just ponder this quote: “It follows that if our minds were byproducts of the chemistry in the brain, then we could not know anything because whatever material state in the brain represents the ideas in itself requires some ideas which cannot be known unless those ideas were preexisting.” If it’s clear as day to you then you are lucky.

There will be another long series of chapters on problems with modern Cosmology itself but for now Dalela will be discussing implications of this “ideas must come first” principle for the modern science. More on it later.

Vanity thought #1740. VC – scientific shortcomings

My commentary on “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology” has reached a series of chapters explaining deficiencies of modern science, how they rely on assumptions that are fundamentally wrong and so all the theories they produce from these assumptions will always be inadequate.

Yesterday I got to the criticism of the parallax method of calculating distances to stars. The assumption made in this method is that the space is uniform and linear, that light goes in a straight line from one cosmic object to another. In a semantic universe such straight lines do not exist. One would have to go up the semantic tree until he reaches the node where he can take another branch leading to his destination. Perhaps it’s time for an illustration:


A and B look very close here, which means semantically they are not very different, and C and D look farther apart, but to travel from A to B takes longer than to travel from C to D because one needs to go up to the higher node on the tree. We can also see here how semantic connections might cross each other without creating a crossing node. On a political spectrum it could be a situation where generally leftist Democrats might find some of their members to the right of some Republicans, who are generally rightist. They come from different ideologies taking different directions but due to variations within each ideology some overlap might take place. This might not be permissible in the current partisan US politics but one can compare modern Republicans and Democrats with Reagan to see this overlap.

The main point of this illustration, however, is that semantic proximity does not mean shorter semantic travel time. As an example we can imagine a museum where two space rockets from fifty years ago, one US and one Soviet, are displayed side by side. To an observer they look pretty much the same and they perform same tasks, indicating semantic proximity. A scientifically minded can measure the differences – the size of the engines, the composition of materials, paints, electric wiring, nuts, bolts, etc. That would be an equivalent of measuring distance to the Moon using scientific approach – telescopes, whatever they use now.

However, despite these similarities, it would have been impossible for Americans to build a Soviet rocket and for Soviets to build an American because their approaches to manufacturing were fundamentally different. One used metric and another imperial measurements, for example, meaning that it would have been impossible to get the exact size of each component right without switching their entire industrial complex to another system. Where is that fork in history where Americans decided to stay imperial while the rest of the world went metric? Two hundred years ago?

Another irreconcilable difference lies in socialist vs capitalist systems, a split started in the 19th century. These systems rely on different motivations which means people involved in the production of space rockets had very different experiences and pursued very different goals. One system relies on greed to force people to make sacrifices and improvements in exchange for material benefits, another uses party ideology and doesn’t promise any rewards whatsoever.

There were overlaps, too – both worked for their country and both were partial to boasting, both wanted to be Number One in the world, but that is irrelevant to our discussion here. The point is that for Soviets to build an American rocket they would have to go two hundred years back in time and construct their entire society in a very different way. Despite semantic similarity between two rockets the semantic distance between them is huge.

Another point is that while two rockets might be considered as two fixed semantic objects, comparing them side by side, which I likened to measuring distance to the Moon, is different from explaining their semantic ancestry and is negotiated by different semantic entities, and is not as straightforward as it looks. The ability to measure things depends on the demigods controlling eyesight and touch and interpreting the observations depends on some other demigods, too. It means that we need to use a different part of the overall tree of the universe that has different connections, different nodes, and different paths linking the same two rockets.

In the illustration above we’d need to add some more nodes with more connections to separate attempts at physical measurements from connections that created the Moon and the Earth (or A and B) in the first place. In any case, it won’t be a straight line because there will be brains, eyes, telescopes and so many other things in between.

In Vedic cosmology the light from a distant star does not travel to our eyes in a straight line but goes through a series of connections, and it’s passage is mostly negotiated by Śiśumara system of planets that will be explained later in the book. The slight change in the position of the star against the background that is the basis of the parallax method becomes meaningless if the light does not travel in a straight line, as science assumes.

To know actual distances between cosmic objects, even on the physical plane, we need to know semantic paths traversed by light, which is revealed in Vedic cosmology but is hidden for modern astronomers. Plus travelling to these destinations is not going to be along the same path as taken by the light, and getting their in the Vedic way – by being born on that planet and being able to enjoy all it has to offer is totally different, too.

In the next chapter the book talks about false assumptions in Euclidean geometry that forms the basis of all our understanding of space and the universe (general relativity modified some of Euclidean postulates but not all). The very first postulate is that the space is a collection of points and each point can be connected to any other by a straight line. The book rejects this postulate on the grounds that the points themselves are not a priori real but are rather results of processes by which they are created. There are no lines between them either – only adding or abstracting details to “travel” up and down the semantic tree. Unless this process of abstraction and detailing is completed the end point does not even exist.

In Euclidean geometry we can draw a line between a chair and a table but in Vedic universe chairs and tables are objects of different types and has to be connected trough a more abstract concept of “furniture”. Science discards this difference in types and creates a flat and linear model of space instead, but it’s not the space described in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and we have to keep this difference in mind when we want to present a Vedic model of the universe.

Vedic space consists of objects AND the methods used to produce them. The same method can be used to produce many different objects and the same objects can be produced in many different ways, so to know the object in Vedic space one needs to know not only what it is but HOW it was produced and from WHICH abstract idea. The starting abstract idea in this case is represented by sattva-guṇa, the process applied to this idea is represented by rajo-guṇa, and the resulting object is a manifestation of tamo-guṇa. This object then becomes a starting point, an abstract governed by sattva for the next round of creation where rajo-guṇa is applied to it and tamo-guṇa produces a new, contingent object with more details than the original.

Euclidean view of space is “one-dimensional” instead because it disregards TYPES of the objects and METHODS by which they were produced. This deficiency becomes apparent even in the science itself when it comes to quantum level where we can’t know both the location and the state of a particle at the same time, and neither the locations nor states of particles are continuous, as assumed in Euclidean vision of space. That’s why quantum mechanics is so counter-intuitive for someone who grew up on school level geometry and Newtonian physics.

There’s a lot more to follow on this topic but all in due time.

Vanity thought #1739. VC – the bigger picture

For the past couple of days I’ve been discussing production of the details in the universe as described in “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. There’s one chapter left there that describes the bigger picture and then the book goes on to highlight problems with scientific approach to measurements. Let’s see how far I’ll get today.

The biggest picture we’ve seen so far is that of the universe as an inverted tree but our universe is only a small part of the material creation, in fact the smallest, as will be argued later. To us it looks like a complete tree but actually it’s just a small branch on the tree of the entire material world.

The material world first exists as pradhāna, the sum total of material elements which stays unmanifested and undifferentiated. The Lord – sometimes described as Sadā Śiva, sometimes as Śambhu, sometimes as Viṣṇu, which leads to occasional confusion about who is superior – casts a glance on this pradhāna and brings it in motion. In the book pradhāna is described as material guṇas being in balance and the glance of the Lord as a push to tip that balance off. One guṇa then become more prominent than the others and these others then start the eternal game of catch up, it creates ripples in pradhāna, as I understand. Agitated pradhāna is called prakṛti. In each location in pradhāna the combination of guṇas is different and each particular combination is described as mahat-tattva.

From this mahat-tattva a certain kind of prakṛti specific to the selected universe is further elaborated and this is how each universe starts. There are only three guṇas but their combinations are unlimited and so each particular combination can be accepted as a set of axioms true for each universe. The same three guṇas work on this set further and further in a pretty much mechanical way. This process, or a method or production, or a theory of universe creation, is the same for each and every universe but due to the different set of axioms, different starting point in agitated prahāna no universe is like any other.

This complements yesterdays’ topic of how knowing one node of the universal tree in full is sufficient to know the rest of the universe, except in this case one needs to know the starting set of axioms, the mahat-tattva. If you know the mahat-tattva for any particular universe then you can apply the “universal” theory of creation and describe this universe in full detail.

Jumping a little ahead I can say that our universe has four axioms, or four moral principles, and therefore our Lord Brahmā has four heads. Everything within our universe is produced by subdividing these four principles by three guṇas. Other Brahmās have more heads, more moral principles, and thus greater variety within their universes.

The number of moral principles, ie the principal ways of enjoyment, and their particular combination depends on universe’s location within pradhāna with its unique combination of guṇas. Once you know that location, which isn’t physical, of course – because morals aren’t physical objects, you can know absolutely everything about the insides of the universe that sprouted from there. I don’t think anyone observing material creation from that level of abstraction cares to dive into it and know all the details but it is possible by the cit potency present not only in the Lord but in every jīva as well.

Our Lord Brahmā, btw, knows everything inside our universe but not the complete truth about it because he is still inside it, still conditioned by a given set for morals. He can’t judge the truth of his axioms from within the system because they are self-obvious to him. To know their relative position compared to other sets of axioms he needs to transcend the entire material creation.

Next the book goes into discussing how assumptions made in science mislead the scientists when they try to judge distances to stars, for example. One of the ways to measure distances to cosmic objects is “parallax method”, which means we use two places to look at a star and then compare this star’s positions against the background of the cosmos. It’s exactly how we judge distances by using two eyes – pictures from the left and right eye are slightly different. Greater difference means the object is closer and smaller difference means its far away. Or we could say we triangulate the position of the star, same principle. To create this “stereo” vision astronomers look at stars from two opposing points of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, say in June and December. This takes us as far apart as physically possible. The method is pretty simple though it has become very sophisticated to account for all possible factors. It still relies on universe being open, flat, and linear, and it’s this assumption that makes all such measurements completely unreliable.

Astronomers might observe a change in star’s position between June and December, so their parallax is real even from Vedic POV, but they assume that light travels in a straight line through open and uniformed space, but that’s now how information (light is information) travels in Vedic cosmology. Information travels up and down the semantic tree instead, and not at the speed of light either.

It can be compared to measuring distances between cities. We can open Google maps, right click, select “Measure distance”, and Google will tell us the distance in a straight line. To know the actual distance you have to travel, however, you need to right click and select “Directons” instead, and the Google will draw you several paths you can reach the destination and they will all be longer than the straight line.

The same principle applies to the universe as well – to travel from one location to another one needs to traverse the semantic tree pretty much the same as one has to follow roads when traveling the Earth. The distances measured with parallax method, therefore, are irrelevant for the purpose of Vedic space travel.

This is a big topic I don’t think I grasped in full and it probably needs more consideration but an example to illustrate it is given as this – a pupil and a teacher might be in close physical proximity but it doesn’t say anything about the semantic distance between them. Semantic difference between a teacher and a student lies in how well they both know the subject, meaning how much needs to be taught, and also in how fast the student can absorb the information and how quickly a teacher can deliver it.

This would mean that distance to the Moon calculated by astronomers might be relatively small but it doesn’t say anything about distance needed to be covered to EXPERIENCE the Moon.

There’s one caveat here, though – in both examples we still assume that light travels in a straight line between two objects so it’s possible to measure “straight” distance between them, which we then differentiate from semantic distance, but in Vedic cosmology this straight line travel doesn’t exist. What we interpret as a straight light travel still goes up and down the semantic tree and there is no other way. I hope I will be able to explain this confusion in the next post. It seems like a very important point to understand if we ever want to reconcile the modern and the Vedic models of the universe.

Vanity thought #1738. VC – the universe is not scientific

Continuing with “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. Śrīla Prabhupāda always talked about Krishna consciousness as science. Maybe spiritual science but science nevertheless. It’s supposed to be logical and accurate description of the world and this book about Vedic cosmology continues in the same vein, and yet there’s one important point to remember – Vedic universe is NOT scientific to its observers. Let me explain.

From the later chapters on Sāṅkhya we are going to learn how exactly material elements emerge one from another. This process is scientific – there are three guṇas, there are four moral principles, there’s time, and there’s no random interactions between them. The universe is a tree but there are no random branches on it, the pattern of its creation replicates itself over and over again following the same formula.

This means, theoretically, that if we know one part of the universe we can accurately describe the following branches, too, just like an experienced movie producer can predict how the movie will be made exactly and on what time table. We can also know the branches preceding ours – the nodes on the tree of hierarchy, and by extension, the rest of the universe.

This principle is not well understood by lay people but it’s very useful in science. I still don’t understand the magic behind holograms, for example. It’s a two dimensional image, in that sense no different from a common drawing, but it contains information about a three dimensional object – all of it – so that when the hologram is illuminated by a laser a 3D image sprites up and you can walk around it and see it from different angles. Somehow, when you know how the image is encoded, know the “formula”, you don’t need an actual third dimension to record it.

There’s a similar trick with digital data encoding, too, it was very popular in the 90s when internet was very slow and prone to downloading errors. A person preparing a file for download, say 100 MB in size, also prepares a smaller “par” file, say only 5 MB. You download the big file and let’s say you got only 98 MB and 2 MB got lost in transit. If it’s a movie then you have no idea where these missing 2 MB are – in the beginning, in the middle, in the end, or if they are split in smaller missing chunks all over. The magic of a “par” file is that as long as it’s bigger than the missing chunk it can repair ANY part of the original. This I just don’t understand. I imagine this “par” to be just a segment of the video but no, it isn’t. It’s some sort of meta-information that can be used to restore any missing chunk of data. I have no idea how it works but I accept the principle.

The same should be true of the universe as well but in our experience it clearly isn’t. It’s plainly not enough to know our part of the universe to construct an accurate picture of the rest of it, even if that’s what science tries to achieve.

Two days ago I talked about how knowing the Supersoul lets us know the entire universe for real and that’s because of the same principle described above – if you know details of your abstraction for real, with the same understanding as the Supersoul, it’s equivalent to knowing the entire universe, you just have to zoom in and out and traverse the universal tree applying the same understanding of the process you achieved at your own level of abstraction. The universe is absolutely predictable in every sense once you able to do that.

The problem is that we are covered by guṇa and karma, or prakṛti and karma, as is said in this chapter of the book. Due to guṇa we prefer only some of the perspectives available in our condition and due to karma we have some perspectives hidden from us completely. Our own perspective might be real and valid but guṇa and karma hide the rest of the knowledge which should be available to us on our node of the universal tree.

If we free ourselves from limitations of guṇa and karma we get to know our node as it is and, by extension, the rest of the universe as well. By withdrawing our senses and then collapsing our mind, intelligence, and false ego, we slip away from our prakṛti, our karma stops affecting us, and we get to see the Supersoul and the rest of the creation. No physical travel to the Moon becomes necessary.

There’s only one theory of the universe which describes both the production and experience in each particular model constructed for each particular node on the semantic tree. This theory, however, is available only to the Supersoul and sometimes revealed to liberated jīvas. The rest of us live with our own limited theories of what the universe is and what is going on around us.

Science works from the perspective made available by prakṛti and, interestingly, it even formalizes ignoring parts of the reality as a valid method. A scientific theory never tries to explain ALL the facts but rather makes a selection which it thinks is relevant to it. The rest of the data is deemed either as irrelevant or too weird to be accepted. That is the only way a theory can be constructed. There’s a hope that eventually a theory would explain all the other data, too but that never happens in reality and new theories are formed instead. The point is that you NEED to exclude some data to even start forming a theory out of apparent chaos. You have to select patterns and separate them from the rest of the experience.

In Vedic science that would be a sure way to keep yourself in illusion. Knowledge means knowing absolutely all the facts at any given level, not excluding anything. Maybe that’s why Vedic knowledge is accepted as absolute even as no one can practically see it so and we find lots of contradictions there.

Scientific research is also limited by karma, meaning some aspects of reality are completely hidden from our view. Due to karma we have no way of perceiving it, we have no way of knowing it’s even there. We can take evolution of science itself as an example – five hundred years ago Newton had no idea of the atoms, two hundred years ago scientists had no idea of the radio waves, and quantum mechanics with all its sub-atomic particles were hidden from scientists who were at the time enamored with Einstein’s relativity.

In science it’s called a “discovery” but what is relevant to us is that some parts of the reality are always hidden. They might be “discovered” in the future or they might not, what it means for any given moment is that from Vedic standpoint absolute knowledge is never possible and universe can never be scientifically known by conditioned souls. This isn’t a discovery made by this particular book but it explains what we have known all along from a different perspective. Different approach – same conclusion, and that’s why I think this book can be largely trusted.

Vanity thought #1737. VC – zooming, not traveling

On with “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. In a modern physical universe we assume we can easily travel from planet to planet and from place to place because physical universe is “flat”. In Vedic cosmology, otoh, such traveling doesn’t make sense or at best treated as trivial, it’s more like zooming in and out instead.

Vedic universe is hierarchical, you can’t just jump from leaf to leaf or from branch to branch, you can only go up and down your particular branch until you meet a fork. Forget cross-branch traveling for a moment, let’s talk about movement up and down instead.

We are talking about semantic universe, the universe of meanings and these meanings can be abstract or detailed. If you look at a tree leaf, for example, you don’t see it’s cellular structure – that’s one level of zoom. If you look through a microscope you can see the cells that make up a leaf but you don’t see the “leaf” anymore. I you use a more powerful microscope you could possibly see molecules, proteins and other tiny machines than make up cells and on that level of zoom you won’t be able to see previously observed cellular structures that were responsible for photosynthesis, for example.

That’s how the entire universe spreads out – by adding more and more details to abstractions, which can be compared to zooming in and out for a theoretical observer. As humans we see what we call macroscopic objects, that’s our native level of zoom. We need some sophisticated tools to see more details and we generally trust those instruments – that what they show to us on the microscopic level is “real”.

We have a much bigger problem with trying to zoom out, especially under current Kali Yuga conditions. Under the influence of atheism we refuse to accept thoughts, ideas, and consciousness as real but rather treat them as complicated interactions of physical matter. The funny thing is that no one really does that because it goes against our self-experience as conscious beings inherently superior to dead matter. We, even the scientists among us, assume that our consciousness makes us the controllers rather than slaves to molecular interactions.

Really clever among us, however, exploit the obvious superiority of ideas to their full satisfaction. Take modern entertainment, for example. One can discuss some recent movie in minute details, the acting, the plot, special effects etc but to studio owners it’s not much more than “let’s make another Superhero movie, people will pay to watch it.” They do not dwell on details of production, they have thousands and thousands of people ready to make this rather abstract idea into reality.

One can treat it even on a more abstract level than that – “this year we need a romantic comedy for February, superhero blockbuster for summer, an animation, an action movie, and something about Santa Claus for Christmas. That’s it, my job for the year is done, let the hired hands make it happen because I can’t be bothered with any of it myself”.

Hollywood is choke full of creative types, or so we heard, who run around pitching their ideas to studio executives. They know that it’s all they need – to have a good idea. Once the idea is recognized the rest will magically happen by itself, millions of dollars will be spent and you can be set for rest of your life.

Consequently the reality of Hollywood life is very different depending on where you are in its hierarchy. Movie stars see it one way, movie producers see it from a different perspective, and perception of caterers, extras, CGI animators are totally different from those, too.

All of these descriptions are real for those who observe them. We can recognize that the reality of Hollywood is different for others but we can’t really experience it for ourselves and so we treat experiences of other people as “surreal” instead – be it the struggle to make ends meet for those at the bottom or wasteful spending of millions of dollars by those at the top.

The funny thing is that for a scientist it won’t make any sense and none of the above can be considered as real – all these dramas, emotions, struggles, or gloating and overindulgence – it’s nothing but neuron interactions in people’s brains. Unlike Hollywood experienced by those living there, science does not recognize its hierarchy. Unlike for scientists, for real people physically traveling to Hollywood is a meaningless action unless you specify in what role you go there – as a tourist gawking at mansions, as a illegal gardener, as an aspiring actor etc.

That’s another thing I wanted to clarify – when the book talks about universe of meanings it doesn’t mean that all the ideas are the same. The universe is not mental, we are talking about ideas that lead to meaningful experiences, not just random thoughts of an unhinged brain. The universe provides us with experiences and these experiences come at different levels of abstractions.

A studio executive decides to make a movie about robots, for example. It offers a job to a director who thinks that making such a movie would be perfect for him. The studio exec is obviously not going to do this directing stuff himself, he’s above it. The direction, in turn, is not going to do any acting, he might only give general ideas of what he wants to see but he is not going to spend hours learning the lines and perfecting facial expressions. Actors, in turn, are not going to waste time on doing make up, they have someone else who is perfectly content with fixing their hair and applying lipstick. All these experiences are hierarchical and most of the time they are closed to those on different rungs of the ladder.

We can discuss this theoretically and it will be pretty much like zooming in and out on different levels of a power pyramid, which in Vedic cosmology is described as a tree. We can be content simply knowing that someone would be there to turn the lights on or we could ask that person about his life, his wife, his kids and all the other things that make him come to work everyday and do his job.

In this way we can get a pretty good idea of what a particular society is, how it is seen from different perspectives, what kind of sense enjoyment is available at each level, what flavors are savored at the top and what passes as “happiness” at the bottom.

Physical location itself, within physical universe, is of very little concern here, and yet atheists tell us that it’s physics that are “real” and all the experiences described above are not. In the meantime no one, not even atheists themselves, wait for the science to come up with “accurate” description of Hollywood (or whatever society you happen to live in) from subatomic particles perspective. To us it’s the experiences that are real, not quarks and fermions.

Vanity thought #1736. VC – semantics

Before delving into the nature of “semantic space-time” as the universe is described in “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology” I want to go back an reiterate a couple of points from yesterday.

Apart from the word “semantic”, the meaning of which as it relates to the universe will be discussed today, two other words will appear over and over again for at least the first half of the book. They are “model” and “abstract”, and also “contingent”, but that last one will be self-explanatory. Maybe it’s my personal hangup but “model” for me usually means something different so I need to internalize the meaning used in this book.

For me “model” of a train would mean a plastic toy with wheels and stickers and it would be a replica of an actual train with an actual locomotive with identifying serial numbers and such. The model in this view is an abstraction of a real thing – it only looks the same but it has no engine and only a minimal number of moving parts. The book uses “model” in a different sense where it would be comparable to actual train’s design, blueprients etc.

We have, for example, a model of TOVP but TOVP is not finished yet, our model is a representation of an abstract that exists only in our imagination. Plus sketches, of course, but at the time the model was first made there were probably no blueprints. Model here means visual manifestation of design, of an abstract idea to have a temple or a train, as the case may be. The appearance of the model is thus contingent on the abstract, not on the real thing already existing in the world. It’s not a toy train. It’s “I have an idea, let me draw it to show what it would look like in real life”. We wouldn’t normally call this sketch a “model” but that’s how the word is used in the book. It’s adding details to abstractions, fleshing them out, as they say. Whenever you have an abstract idea and start adding details, or the book call it “adding information”, you have yourself the next step in the creation of the universe.

Another question might arise is that if we say the Vedic universe is the universe of ideas, not things, would it mean that all our thoughts are real? In a sense – yes, in as much as we are secondary tools of creation, but what is actually real is what’s on the mind of God, not ours. Our ideas might or might not manifest in reality, it would depend on guṇa and karma, but Lord’s ideas always come through.

Take the example of US elections where the idea of Donald Trump as the president could become real but we have no way of knowing whether it would actually happen. This example also illustrates that, unlike physical space in modern science, the universe of ideas is closed and non-linear. We do not have unlimited number of choices for the next president – means it’s not an open but a closed set, and even if candidates like Hillary Clinton adopt some of the policies of her nomination rival, Bernie Sanders, it won’t become a perfect blend where each imaginary point between their policies becomes manifested. No, she will take this idea and that idea but not all the others – meaning the policy/idea space won’t be linear and can’t be represented as a line on the plot. In physical space-time every point between two objects exists, we don’t think that there’s some space for the light to travel as it enters our telescopes, then there’s a gap where there’s no space, and then space reappears again in the proximity of the observed star.

In semantic space-time we have abstracts and contingencies. The universe is an inverted tree, as we know from Bhagavad Gītā, and the root of the tree is the most abstract view of the world. By adding more details, or more information, or describing the abstract, we produce semantic trunks, branches, twigs, leaves etc. Going backwards, if we disregard details and “look at the big picture” we travel back up the semantic tree. Each node on this tree is a particular view of the universe, seeing it in more or less detail, and each node is populated by conscious entities who like these particular perspectives.

For Lord Śeṣa, for example, all the universes look like mustard seeds on His hood – because He takes the most abstract view of the material creation, He doesn’t see or dwell on details of universes themselves. As Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu enters into each universe He becomes aware of the insides – details added to the abstract of a “mustard seed”. As the Lord enters into a heart of every living being as the Supersoul He observes all possible details of all possible life forms. It is the most detailed view and it can’t subdivide any further. There are multiple steps in between – the appearance of the Lord Brahmā, for example, who then adds more details and creates various planetary systems. There’s also creation of habitats which then follows by creation of living beings suitable to them.

Interestingly, we as humans are aware of our bodies but only about our major functions, not the details. The bacteria living inside us, however, deals with molecular exchanges, meaning it’s kind of more evolved then us because for the bacteria we are the great unknown abstract. They are not even sure we are alive, just like we humans are not sure if the Earth itself is a living being – it’s too abstract for us to comprehend.

This creation of more and more detailed descriptions looks like evolution but in terms of consciousness it is not – demigods are more evolved then us and Lord Brahmā is the most evolved being in the universe, but the process of creation goes in a different direction – by creating dumber and dumber things which concern themselves with smaller and smaller details of the creation and losing the sight of the big picture altogether. Here on Earth we argue whether God exists or not, the idea of this “mother abstract” is familiar to us, but not to the animals and bacteria, they are too absorbed with details of their lives.

Circling back to the Lord – if a yogī sees the Supersoul he would also see all the details in the world. If he doesn’t see the Lord his ideas of it are just mental images in his illusion – because the Supersoul presides over real, manifested details. If you see Him, you see the reality, if you don’t see Him, you see illusion. I’m not sure I agree with this idea wholeheartedly but it’s there in the book. I think it’s speculative but not impossible.

On the other end of the scale, if one leaves the universe and sees Mahā-Viṣṇu then he loses the sight of all the details because for Mahā-Viṣṇu the universe is just a dream, and it that dream there appears Lord Śeṣa with universes as mustard seeds on His head. For one in the spiritual world even Mahā-Viṣṇu becomes a detail he can’t see anymore because he deals with higher abstracts like Vaikuṇṭhas.

The nature of this semantic tree, its different nodes, and why it’s called semantic rather than physical will be gradually explained in the following chapters.

Vanity thought #1735. VC – the Vedic way

On to the next chapter in Ashish Dalela’s book “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”. It’s called “The Vedic View of the Universe”, as opposed to modern scientific approach where people get confused by differences between theories and models, inherent indeterminism etc.

This isn’t exactly the Vedic view yet, however, it’s Vedic view explained in the language of westerners, an explanation in terms we know. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t use these terms and so much of what is said in this chapter does not appear in our books. As far as I can tell, it isn’t contradictory either, it’s just one way to explain the same things. Kudos to Dalela for doing that because it certainly makes our understanding easier. Genuine Vedic explanation will come in later chapters on Sāṅkhya and on the universe itself.

The main and most crucial difference between Vedic and modern understanding of the universe is that Vedas talk about semantic space-time whereas science talks about physical space-time. Dalela says that physical space-time is open, flat, and linear. I’m not sure I understand it correctly but to me it means that all objects in the universe are equal, made of the same elementary particles and perceived equally, all have the same features and properties. In that sense the universe is flat. Physical space time is also potentially unlimited, which makes it open. These days we can’t talk about the universe without evoking the concept of infinity. We agree that our universe has boundaries, which are believed to be expanding, but there’s no theoretical limit to this expansion. Similarly, there’s no theoretical limit to how small things can get. Linear means that we believe there are no gaps in the space of our universe. There might be vacuum between stars but the space still exists and light would travel through each and every point in this space. The number of these points is also unlimited, just like the number of points on a line.

To be honest, I always thought that the Vedic universe is the same. It does have fixed outer boundary but I thought there’s no limit to how small things can get here. It’s also made more or less of the same stuff, ie “flat”, it’s just that some stuff here has subtle properties, like demigods and their planets, and some stuff is gross, like sewage down here. It’s still more or less the same stuff from top of the universe to the bottom. That’s also how we draw the Vedic universe – all the fourteen worlds on the same piece of paper at the same time. I also assumed that the universe is linear in a sense that if one travels from the Earth to Brahmāloka he’d pass through each and every point in between, and the number of these points is similarly unlimited.

The universe is also linear in a sense that time always goes from past to the future, never mind repeating days, weeks, months, years, yugas etc. This is also a concept carried over from western understanding.

Semantic space-time is closed, hierarchical, and cyclic. The universe is not unlimited in any direction but there’s a discreet number of objects here. It’s a pretty big number but no more than that. Objects here are also not equal so you can’t really draw Brahmaloka and the Earth on the same diagram, they are not perceived simultaneously and their lives do not cross just like lives of Walmart family and Walmart cashiers never cross. This hierarchical nature will be explained later. The universe is also not linear and there ARE gaps between objects here, plus there are no direct connections between objects, and there’s no empty space between them either – that space simply does not exist.

Vedic universe is a universe of models of some abstracts (which exist prior to the models). Explaining these models is equal to producing them. All the objects in the universe are conceptual and not physical. They are just ideas being explained in more and more detail and at some point in these explanations we, the earthlings, call them physical.

Semantic universe means the universe of meanings, not of things. From now on the book will talk about semantic universe over and over again and it’s a concept that we must fully grasp if we want to succeed here. In semantic universe the meanings are real but in scientific view only sub-atomic particles are real and our perceptions of objects made up of atoms and molecules are not. When we say “diamond” we really mean a combination of carbon atoms, that’s all there is to a diamond, and all our ideas about its beauty and value are products of neurons firing in our brains. Consciousness is also the property of matter, of course, and giant stars millions and millions light years away are made of the same sub-atomic particles as we are. Neil deGrasse Tyson loves to say that our bodies carry some of the star dust produced in the Big Bang. The universe is only matter and its properties.

In semantic universe the ideas are real. Giving them a detailed description produces models, and adding further details produces what we call “matter”. This process will be described in chapters on Sāṅkhya.

The word “model” here is used differently. We make models of “things” that exists – the model of the universe, the model of the solar system, the model of the atom etc, while in the semantic universe models ARE “things”, they are incarnations of abstractions.

In modern understanding models abstract some details from reality and therefore create a limited picture of it. If we talk about forest we neglect trees, if we talk about trees we neglect leaves, if we talk about leaves we neglect their cellular structure. As I said earlier, all these models are not really real in modern science, it’s all just atoms. For these things to become real in the Vedic universe the abstract objects such as “tree” or “forest” or “leaf” must exists BEFORE actual trees, forests, leaves, and even atoms.

In Vedic universe first there’s an idea of a forest. As you describe it in greater detail you produce the idea of a tree. When you describe trees you produce the idea of leaves and so on. Atoms come last, and only then we, the earthlings, can start to perceive these trees and forests and they become “real” to us. In Vedic universe they have been real all along because it’s the universe of meanings, not of things.

This is just the beginning of the explanation of this “semantic space-time”, there’s a lot more to follow and I hope it will become clearer as I move along.