Vanity thought #1795. VC – Putting Vedas back into Cosmology again

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

We are near the end of the section on problems with modern science. I think most of them have been presented already, leaving only a discussion on dark energy and dark matter which be the subject of the next couple of chapters. So far we’ve covered things like speed of light, Doppler effects, parallax, luminosity, thermodynamics, general relativity and some aspects of quantum theory. I might be missing something but it’s a long list as it is. In every case the book highlights problems with each discipline and explains them through semantic theory where these problems do not arise. Semantic theory, in turn, needs an induction of several principles so far completely absent from modern science and in today’s chapter there’s an attempt to describe these principle in Vedic terms, then somehow the discussion shifts to dark matter and conversion flows gently into the next chapter where some outrageous things are stated, but all in good time.

Should dark matter and energy have gotten their own chapter instead of stealing the show in the middle of the Vedic explanation of things? Probably, but the reason they are brought here is that there’s a nice semantic explanation of what “dark” means which ties it up back Sāṅkhya. Should I follow chapter’s narrative or should I re-organize the ideas in some other way? Probably, but I’m not sure my alternative would be better. Reorganizing ideas is a good exercise which leads to deeper understanding so I’ll try for a change. There are two hooks into Sāṅkhya in this chapter and we can start with semantics first and then describe these hooks later.

First of all, in Sāṅkhya the universe is a space-time tree and objects in this tree represent not only mass, which is the view of general relativity and gravitational theory, but any kind of semantic information. Various forms of semantic information are related to each other as abstracts and contingents. The most contingent forms are sense objects and that’s all we can perceive directly. Sense objects are produced from sensations which, in turn, are produced from senses.

We all have senses, there should be no argument about that, so we can perceive colors and sounds, but the author makes an interesting twist here – can we see color itself? We can see red and we can see blue but those are properties of color, as in “red color” or “blue color”. We see red and blue but not “color”. Similarly, we can hear musical notes but can’t hear the tone itself. To make tone perceptible it must have added details to produce a contingent object, like C#. In the same vein we have vision but can’t see vision itself not can we hear hearing. Concepts such as color and tone are abstract and by adding details to them we can produces perceptible contingents, such as sense objects, and it works in the down-up direction as well.

In this way the universal tree can be traversed up to the root. From sense objects to sensations, from sensations to senses, from senses to mind, from mind to intelligence, and from intelligence to ego. Each step is more abstract than the next. When we go from the top down we get progressively contingent objects with more details added to previous abstracts.

In our everyday life we all have language terms to discuss those abstracts and our common sense understanding of reality is not that different from Sānkhya. Consider intentions, for example. We all have them but we can’t see them directly. To demonstrate one’s intention it has to be converted into perceptible actions with perceptible sense objects. That way intentions can be “proven”. Intentions are causes of our actions but they are not seen, only their effects are visible.

Problem for science here is that intentions are excluded and ignored, except for humanities maybe. In hard science causes are attributed to visible objects and their properties, e.g. mass causes gravitational pull. All other things like intentions, guṇa, karma, mind, intelligence etc are physically imperceptible and therefore, from science point of view, are “dark”.

That’s where there’s a hook between Sāṅkhya and science in this chapter – empirical observations of movements of stars and galaxies do not conform with predictions of gravitational theory and their causes are attributed to “dark matter” and “dark energy”. Dark matter pulls stars together and is responsible for celestial objects rotating slower than they should, as if planetary systems or galaxies had a large core of invisible mass. Dark energy works in the opposite direction and forces galaxies to speed away. We can see that, no one is denying it, but the causes of these effects remain hidden and called “dark”. It’s worth repeating that together this dark mass and dark energy account for 95% of the total matter in the universe.

If only they could accept existence of abstract objects instead of only physically perceptible ones everything would become so much easier.

The second hook into Sāṅkhya, actually the first in the chapter, is that all interactions in Vedic universe are governed by guṇa and karma. These two have no equivalents in modern science and they are also dark and imperceptible but in this chapter they are linked to quantum theory. Remember that chapter on slit experiment a while back? The conclusion there was that the number of slits affects the outcome and this is what guṇa is compared to here.

Guṇa is part of our existence which modifies incoming information and which determines how it is perceived. In my mind I keep comparing guṇa to goggle with which we filter our existence. In slit chapter it was compared to base counting system – decimal, binary etc, but this kind of notation doesn’t change transmitted number itself the way pink glasses affect our vision.

Karma is channels established in the transmission of light, or any kind of information. These channels were discussed when we talked about light not going in all directions but being transmitted straight to the destination. There was source S, destination D, and cause C. Karma is this cause which connects S and D and enables information transfer. Guṇa, for some reason is compared here to D, or the part of our body which receives the light. It could be a leg or mind or eyes, I figure, but it’s an unusual way to talk about guṇa that’s for sure. It will make sense in the section on astrology, I guess, where guṇa and karma are described as two distinct celestial systems. This will come up in the next chapter as well but only briefly.

That’s it, a rather long chapter is done in one post. I might have missed a couple of paragraphs but nothing important. next chapter is very short and there’s a chance of finishing the entire section this week.


Vanity thought #1772. VC – keep your head level at all times

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

The last chapter in the section on Vedic view of causality is very short so it’s very likely that I’ll start the next section today. The injunction to keep balance, however, is applicable to both, as I hope to demonstrate later.

We’ll start with “Theory of Balance” as it applies in ayurveda. Too much of kaphā can cause rigidity in the system and nothing can move, just like an obese person can’t function normally. Too much pitta means “paralysis by analysis”, in author’s words. There are tons of genuine ayurvedic symptoms of pitta imbalance and to me they look like they all relate to excessive processing creating extra “fire”. Pitta works on producing contingent details out of abstracts of kaphā. It takes things and breaks them down, releasing energy in the process. This “breaking down” can, indeed, be described as analyzing larger concepts and converting them into collection of details. If this is all what the body does then it can lead to “paralysis by analysis”. Makes sense. Vāta means changes and excess of it manifests as instability in all aspects and improper coordination of various functions.

The point is that imbalance of any of the three is called disease in ayurveda and it’s for this reason that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are not called guṇas but doṣas instead. In Vedic terms guṇa signify good qualities while doṣa bad. When qualities are in balance they are guṇas, when they go off-kilter they become doṣas. “Everything is good in moderation,” as they say. The author also says that kaphā, vāta, and pitta are related not only to gross bodies but manifest themselves in the mind as well, and in any kind of organism or organisation, too.

In a business company kaphā is the big goals and goal posts set by top management and sales and marketing, pitta is engineers working on translating this big vision into products and services, and vāta, or prāṇa, is the operations department that keeps it all in proper motion. If kaphā predominates then the company becomes big on announcements but short on delivery. If pitta predominates then engineers lose the sight of the goal and come up with tons of irrelevant stuff. If prāṇa predominates then everyone is made to run around like headless chicken and nothing gets accomplished at all. That’s my rendering of that paragraph and I think it’s pretty close to author’s own words.

The point is that kaphā, pitta, and vāta are universal and manifest in every system, not just our bodies, and that we should always keep them in proper balance. And that’s how the section ends.

Next we get to problems of modern cosmology and the first chapter is the overview of the Big Bang theory. It has a Gītā quote as an epigraph and I noticed that it’s taken from “as it is” 1972 edition, not the current BBT version. I hope it doesn’t mean that the author is on the same “no editing allowed” bandwagon as serial offenders from ex-ISKCON circles. The possibility that the author holds a critical view of BBT policies should not be discounted, however. It means that when we look at his work we should always be alert to whether it fully complies with our siddhānta or not. So far it deals with subjects that are not controversial but the explanation of “free will” offered here opens the door for disagreements.

I’m saying this to stress importance of balance, and I need a reminder of it myself – I can’t forget Śrīla Prabhupāda’s explanation of our philosophy in lieu of Sāṅkhya. As soon as Sāṅkhya as presented in the book becomes at odds with our teachings it needs to be reconciled one way or another, we shouldn’t take it for granted and we shouldn’t take it as an authority over Prabhupāda.

The short story of Big Bang is another example of the need for balance. The author’s version looks generally okay to me but when he says that the universe was created from “nothing” (even if “nothing” is in quotes) I bet lots of scientifically educated people would disagree. Btw, the previous chapter contained a spelling mistake in a phrase “..the observer is changings its mental..” and the last sentence of the first paragraph in this chapter has an unnecessary comma: “The nature of this ‘nothing’ and why it exploded in the first place, remains the subject of much debate and research to this day.” I don’t think I’ve seen any editing errors elsewhere and two of them appearing so close to each other are easily noticeable. I’m a sucker for unnecessary commas myself but my ramblings here are not a published book.

The next paragraph presents an overview of how different theories fit together – gravitation governs the behavior of stars and galaxies and when the matter is condensed it falls into the domain of quantum theory. After Einstein came up with theory of general relativity in 1915 our views on what gravity is changed dramatically. It’s not longer a force, as it has been thought of since Newton times, and its propagation isn’t instant either. So now we have general relativity for stars and big objects and quantum theory for everything else. It appears that quantum theory can explain behavior of our everyday macroscopic objects but we, as a whole, are not yet ready to talk about “two trains leaving station A” in the language of quantum particles. It becomes mindbogglingly complex.

Next the author discusses implications of the universe starting with a huge explosion. In Einstein’s time people thought the universe was static but if it started with a massive expansion then all kinds of scenarios become possible. We have the energy that drives the stars apart and we have gravity that pulls them back together. Is their speed enough to escape the gravitational pull of the rest of the universe? If it isn’t they are ought to come back and collapse into each other like failed rocket launches into space. If they are fast enough it would mean the universe is expanding.

The author demonstrates several scenarios – Big Crunch, where the universe expands initially but then stars are pulled back and collapse, Flat Expansion where initial blast eventually evens out with gravitation and universe becomes stable, Open Expansion where the universe expands but at a steady rate, and Accelerated Expansion where gravity pull becomes weaker and weaker and stars speed up to expand universal frontiers faster and faster.

I’ll leave history of scientific experiments to confirm or reject any of these models for another time.

Vanity thought #1757. VC – prana

Link: “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Yesterday it was established that gravity is only one case of the workings of prāṇa and so to understand gravity we need to know how prāṇa works, first. The book notes several times on this matter that while gravity itself is simple in science (two bodies with mass attract each other), its explanation in Sāṅkhya is rather complicated. The reason for this is that once science builds theories to explain gravity and something else, like speed of light or time, their theories become far more complicated than Sāṅkhya and there’s no resolution in sight. Simplicity in one area covers complexity in other related fields, while Sāṅkhya’s prāṇa is “learn once, apply everywhere”.

Prāṅa is a curious thing because it pops up everywhere in our literature, including the eighth verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka where Kṛṣṇa is addressed by Rādhārāṇī as Prāṇa-nātha, the “Lord of My Life” (CC Antya 20.47), but it is never listed among material elements nor by Kṛṣṇa nor by Lord Kapila, nor by Prabhupāda, nor in any other Sāṅkhya literature, afaik. It looks like one of those “everybody knows” concepts we have not been initiated into. It is central to many descriptions of how the world works in Sāṅkhya but never explained in it. Yoga, Sāṅkhya’s sister disciple, is all about controlling prāṇa, too.

There’s an upaniṣad dedicated to prāṇa but there it’s approached in a different context and replies of the sage talking about it are too cryptic to make sense here. There’s one point, however, that looks straightforward and relevant to us – prāṇa manifests itself through the mind. It’s an intermediary, like the mind itself is, between the subtle and gross body, creating movement of physical reality. I have more questions about it but this will do for now.

The book lists five major “winds” of prāṇa and names them. I see no point in listing them because we’d forget these Sanskrit words immediately. I know I would. The first one is called “prāṇa” and it attracts elements into a system. Another one digests inducted elements. The third one distributes digested information, the fourth one expels the waste, and the fifth one is the “outgoing wind” that moves our senses of action and makes us talk, walk etc.

Perhaps I should back up here and remind us that we are talking about systems with boundaries – selected sets of elements. It could be a body, it could be a country, it could be a planet – any selection of elements and distinction into “this is me and this is not me” will do. It could be an ecosystem, it could be a book club, it could be biological species – prāṇa works everywhere. It’s not clear from the book but, I guess, these needs to be living systems with an observer attached to them. In this sense we can understand how the Earth is a personality in Vedic world and mountains are living beings, too. The planets are governed by their respective demigods – there’s life everywhere. At the level of the universe itself there’s Lord Brahmā and Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Contrary to modern science there has never been a time when universe was there but there was no life. It doesn’t mean that chairs and tables have souls, too, but they could be included in our possessions and act as part of our extended self where they’d be governed by our prāṇa. This, perhaps, needs to be investigated further.

Another point is that prāṇa here deals with the movement of information. Information is not a word used in Vedic science but it’s easy to us to understand and it’s used in the book extensively. Information can come in many forms, it can be physical, like food, and it can be subtle, like ideas in a book. If we are talking about prāṇa in relation to the body then information could be air we breath in, too. Information is inducted into the system by the wind called “prāṇa”, as I mentioned earlier, and this new information needs to be analyzed for its composition and functions, or “digested”, so to speak. This process repeats itself over and over again as air passes through lungs and enters the bloodstream and then gets transported through the body to each individual cell requiring it. At every step it needs to be inducted into the next system and “digested” there.

Once new information has been processed it needs to be distributed to relevant parts and there’s a special wind for that, too. Blood could play this role on the scale of the body. Neurons pass information around the brain, media distributes news through the society – you get what I mean. There’s also the need to discard waste – veins collect used, oxygen depleted blood, trash collectors collect trash, toilets connect to sewage and so on.

Another interesting aspect of praṇa is the “outgoing wind” which creates things out of information. It manifests speech out of thoughts, produces articles out of news reports, makes us walk and, generally, fulfills our desires. The previous four winds deal with incoming information but this last one converts this abstract information into contingent form of matter, creates a carrier for it so that other systems can receive it.

We should understand that prāṇa works at every level of detail. If we take our body it works from the top, like putting food into our mouths, and then the same actions are repeated at each subsequent level down to the cell and to the molecules and atoms. Protein gets broken down into amino-acids and reassembled again into more useful forms – it’s prāṇa, too. Converting incoming photons into perceptions of blue or red is also prāṇa. Zooming back out we get passing stool and urine, which is the function of the wind of “waste” but also the “outgoing” wind when it is what we explicitly desire to do. We don’t have to be aware of all these things going on in our bodies, there probably are individual observers for each stage beside us. I suspect demigods controlling our senses here but it’s not stated in the book.

Going back to gravity – the Earth has a use for all the stuff that exists here and expelling this stuff meets with resistance – prāṇa wants it. NASA, in turn, wants to hurl stuff into space, out of Earth’s reach, and that desire is fulfilled by NASA’s outgoing wind. Sending rockets into space, therefore, is seen as a negotiation between two systems with two opposite goals. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes another. To determine the outcome other parameters need to be brought in, and that’s the subject matter of the next chapter – how time and karma complement prāṇa.

Vanity thought #1756. VC – gravity

Next section in “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Suddenly, we’ve come to end of the section on Introduction to Sāṅkhya. As far as I remember it was always “we’ll get to real Sāṅkhya real soon, practically in the next chapter” and then I flipped the page and it was already over. Quite unexpected.

I see two reasons not to delve deeper in Sāṅkhya now – it was only an introduction, after all, and, secondly, the section gave us a solid formula on which the rest of Sāṅkhya is based. It can be described in different ways but what I, personally, took from it is that three guṇas elaborate existing concepts and then produce a new type of object from it. For each new type of object there’s a new observer. When this new object requires absolute knowledge God Himself becomes its observer and emjoyer and when the new object requires ignorance of the rest of the reality ordinary living entities become its knowers.

On this I’d like to remind us of the difference between the seer and the seen expounded by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. In the material world we are the seers, or we are knowers of our fields, as Kṛṣṇa described us in Bhagavad Gītā. In relation to Kṛṣṇa, however, we become not seers but seen. We become fields of Kṛṣṇa’s enjoyment. In the material world we are given bodies and we spend our lives watching how three guṇas and karma act on them, turning them this way and that. We are the seers of our bodies. If we direct our attention to Kṛṣṇa we might attempt to see Him as another object of our observation and that would be a clever move because He, unlike the material nature, can fulfill ALL of our desires, but this attitude is fundamentally different from bhakti.

In the material world we learn new things and we grasp new concepts all the time. Kṛṣṇa cannot be grasped, however, knowing Him means letting Him to know ourselves, letting Him to grasp us. Normally, there’s nothing in our personalities that could be of interest to Kṛṣṇa so we are often told not to try to see the Lord but act in such a way that He agrees to see us.

Sāṅkhya makes perfect sense here again, but it’s time to move on, and, not to disappoint, the next chapter explains Vedic understanding of gravity. I’ve never seen it anywhere before, not even an attempt to explain it. The section is called “Vedic view of causality” and gravity is explained with direction of causality in mind here.

Typically, we take gravity for granted, not even pausing to think it exists. Lord Śeṣa holds all the universes on His hoods and to Him they appear as small as mustard seeds. This implies that universes are heavy and their weight presses down on Lord Śeṣa’s heads – that there’s gravity there. Similarly, we say that by Lord’s arrangement all the planets in the universe float in their orbits without falling down – implying that without Lord’s intervention they would plunge into the Garbhudaka ocean, because gravity. Once the entire Bhū-maṇḍala fell to the bottom of the ocean and Lord Varaha had to appear, find it, and lift it back up – because gravity. What we were thinking? We just projected our experiences here on the surface of the Earth, where everything is pulled down by gravity, to the rest of the universe and even the realm outside it. We assumed that if things fall down here they’d fall down everywhere else, too.

Luckily, Sāṅkhya gives us a Vedic explanation for this phenomenon. Where exactly the author pulled this explanation from is unclear, our literature does not describe the workings of prāṇa in great detail but, otherwise, it’s common knowledge for students of yoga.

In modern science gravity is a force that rules the movement of planets, stars, and galaxies. In Vedic cosmology, this force does not exist and the phenomenon of objects falling down is described in a different way. I don’t think it has been explained before, but in Vedic cosmology all objects are collections with boundaries and meanings. Meanings were discussed extensively but here there’s an addition that meanings describe systems consisting of multiple parts. That is to say that our bodies are made up of two dozen of subtle and gross elements but bodies have a meaning of their own as a whole, they’re not just the sum of the parts.

All these system have an innate desire to maintain coherence – “defending” in our list of four main activities of conditioned beings. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how it maps to four fundamental virtues, four sins, and four regulative principles but I don’t want to delve into it now. As the guṇas keep working on us this coherence is always disturbed, some elements go missing and we need to induct new stuff to replace them. New stuff can be pushed on us by others, too, and, and some of the incoming stuff might be unnecessary or harmful and we’d need to expel it. Our entire lives are constant interactions with the world, constant addition and subtraction from our system. We see things and they add information to us, we eat things, we forget things, we pass urine and stool, we talk and we walk, at the very least we breath – we are very restless this way and we are never in balance. Practice of yoga is supposed to stop all these activities and it achieves it by control of prāṇa.

So, when a system is missing a function performed by missing part the desire for preservation generated “attraction” that inducts the missing function, and when the system contains a part inconsistent with the whole it generates “repulsion” that ejects the unnecessary function.

This repulsion and attraction appear to us as physical forces but they are not causes of action, as in material science, rather they are effects of the desire to maintain coherence.

Sometimes the universe must destroy things and in those times coherence cannot be preserved but we usually fight against our fate. When the time comes, the universe might push harmful functions into our bodies that will render then inoperable and we call these functions “diseases”. We fight them but we may or may not succeed. Sometimes we ourselves cause destruction of others. Actually, we do it all the time – jīvo jīvasya jīvanam – one living being is food for another.

This interaction between systems is not new by any means and it’s studied in great detail in biology, social sciences, and ecology, it’s the physics that is missing it. I’m not sure that this statement is entirely correct – I’m talking about people who claim to explain all these interaction from mere physics point of view while in branches of science dealing with living beings they are accepted as axiomatic. It’s not the time to discuss contradictions between different fields of science, though.

I want to stop today by repeating that what we call gravity is only a case of another natural law at work – system preservation and coherence. I’ll discuss how exactly that law applies to gravity tomorrow.