Considering its evolution in the past 500 years, Physics’ understanding of the nature of the Universe seems to be heading towards the description of the Universe as propounded in the BhagawadGita.
In this article, we shall first have a cursory look at the evolution of Physics’ understanding of the Universe and then compare it with the description of the Universe proclaimed emphatically in the BhagawadGita.
The Evolution of Physics – Unification
Classical Physics began in Europe with Galileo and Newton. They believed in three basic premises about the Universe.
1) There is matter which always follows the same laws.
2) There is absolute space which is static and independent of matter and time.
3) There is universal time which is same in all reference frames and is independent of matter and space.
Then, there was a Newton’s law of Gravitation which was supposed to be valid in all reference frames and independent of space and time. Apart from mechanics we had some people like Snell and Huygens developing Optics – the science of light. We also had people like Coulomb and Gauss developing the theory of Electricity and Gilbert trying to pioneer Magnetism.
By 1800’s, a fascinating subject called Classical Physics had come to the fore which explained diverse phenomena and had diverse theories – different theories for different types of phenomena.
In a nutshell, Universe in the view of Classical Physics contained certain entities like mass, charge, space, time, energy, waves, magnets and light. These interacted with each other in accordance with certain laws. These laws were separate water-tight entities and had no bearing on each other. For example, the law of gravitation applied only to masses and magnets had nothing to do with it, while the charge followed the Coulomb’s law but had nothing to do with Snell’s law of Refraction. But soon, a grand episode was to unfold.
In 1800’s, Maxwell published his work on electricity and magnetism and showed that electric and magnetic forces are not different independent forces, but rather, are different manifestations of the same force – the Electromagnetic force. Thus, the 2 great theories of Classical Physics merged into one and the 2 great forces also merged into one. From now on, magnets and charges were not seen as independent entities but rather, magnets were seen as special types of dynamic arrangements of charges.
This was only the beginning. Soon, Hertz came up with experiments confirming Maxwell’s theory and also discovered that light is actually a wave of electric and magnetic fields and is produced due to vibrations of charges! Thus, the third great branch of Classical Physics viz. Optics merged into the Theory of Electromagnetism. A single theory which could explain the diverse phenomena pertaining to charges, magnets and light. But the most ground-breaking revelation was still to come.
A genius called Einstein completely changed our notion about the Universe with his theory of Relativity. Relativity completely shattered the basic assumptions of Classical Physics. The space and the time which were independent entities in Newton’s model of the Universe were now woven into a single entity – the space-time fabric. According to Einstein, not only are the space and time interdependent but also this single space-time fabric is affected by mass(matter) present in it. A mass located in the space-time fabric turns and twists it. It is this turning and twisting of the space-time fabric that appears as the force of gravitation to the mortals like us. Not only that, he further went on claiming that this mass which creates convolutions in the space-time fabric is nothing different from energy! Mass is a condensed form of energy! What Einstein’s theory also implies is that the mass is not conserved and hence the momentum and energy are also not. Possibly, [mass+energy] is conserved. Just as Maxwell had woven charges, magnets and light together, so did Einstein weave mass, space, time and energy into a single theory.
Another blow to classical physics came in early 1900’s, when Heisenberg proposed the uncertainty principle which implies that it is impossible to simultaneously measure the present position while also determining the future motion of a particle! This principle completely shattered the notion of fixed laws of classical physics that were supposed to be valid in all inertial reference frames! Rather than fixed laws predicting a fixed outcome, we now had probabilities of the outcomes. In fact, Einstein was so averse to the ideas of quantum mechanics that once he famously quoted “God doesn’t play dice with the world.” Even the Einstein’s theory of Relativity had no place for uncertainties. Nevertheless, quantum mechanics has since evolved over the years into a new subject.
By Einstein’s time, physicists believed that there are four fundamental independent forces in nature.
3.) Weak interaction
4.) Strong interaction
But the next blow to Physics was about to come.
In late 1900’s, Abdus Salam, Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg formulated the Electroweak Unification theory, which showed that the Electromagnetic force and the Weak Interaction force were different aspects of the same Electroweak force! The Electromagnetic Theory, which itself was a result of merging of the theories of electricity, magnetism and light, was further merged into the ElectroWeak Theory!
All these shocks to the classical conception of a diverse universe have forced the Scientists to speculate the existence of a single theory – The theory of Everything. A theory that would explain not only the phenomena associated with a BlackHole but also those associated with electrons and protons. A theory that would explain not only the certainties of Relativity but also the uncertainties of Quantum Mechanics. Today, this is a major research area in Theoretical Physics. One such important theory, in its nascent stages of development, that aims to explain everything, is the String Theory, which views everything in the Universe as composed of tiny strings of energy which give rise to all the phenomena that we observe.
We can conclude that the journey of Physics has been that of Unification and shattering of the old norms. Our understanding of the Universe seems to be converging to one law that would explain all the diverse phenomena.
Universe according to BhagawadGita
How did our ancestors perceive the universe ? Let’s check out the BhagawadGita’s description. BhagawadGita talks about an all-pervading, indestructible entity variously referred to as ब्रह्म, परमात्मा, अव्यय and by many other names throughout the text. Though this entity is referred to many times in the text, it is described in detail in chapter 13. Below I present some slokas of this chapter, with their closest translations, describing the ब्रह्म. These slokas were spoken by Krishna to Arjun.
ज्ञेयं यत् तत् प्रवक्ष्यामि यत् ज्ञात्वा अमृतं अश्नुते।
अनादिमत् परं ब्रह्म न सद् तत् न असत् उच्यते॥ (13|12)
I will explain to you that thing which should be known to you. Having known it you will feel immortal. That thing is ब्रह्म. It has no beginning, it is beyond everything. That ब्रह्म is not even changing nor is it unchanging. (Hence, time does not exist for ब्रह्म since time is meaningful only for those things which either change or do not change!)
बहिः अन्तः च भूतानां अचरं चरं एव च।
सूक्ष्मत्वात् तत् अविज्ञेयं दूरस्थं अन्तिके च तत्॥ (13|15)
That ब्रह्म is outside every object, it is also inside every object, it takes the form of the movable objects and it is the one that becomes immovable objects. And due to its fineness and subtlety, it is impossible to be understood. That ब्रह्म is situated far away from every object and it is also situated near every object.
अविभक्तं च भूतेषु विभक्तं इव च स्थितम्।
भूतभर्तृ च तत् ज्ञेयं ग्रसिष्णु प्रभविष्णु च॥ (13|16)
That ब्रह्म appears to be divided in the form of different objects even though it is indivisible. It should be known that it is the ब्रह्म which is sustaining all the objects and is also responsible for the destruction and creation of all objects.
समं सर्वेषु भूतेषु तिष्ठन्तं परमेश्वरम्।
विनश्यत्सु अविनश्यन्तं यः पश्यति स पश्यति॥ (13|27)
One who sees that परमात्मा (ब्रह्म) situated in all the objects and not getting destroyed even in the objects that are getting destroyed, actually sees the truth.
यदा भूतपृथग्भावं एकस्थं अनुपश्यति।
ततः एव च विस्तारं ब्रह्म सम्पद्यते तदा॥ (13|31)
When a person converts his notion of different objects into the notion of a single all-pervading entity, it is only then that this all-extensive ब्रह्म becomes visible.
The above slokas talk of an entity which is everywhere, indestructible, which takes the form of different objects and is sustaining the universe. This notion is very similar to the strings of energy that pervade the entire universe as per the String Theory.
Though this all-pervading ब्रह्म is mentioned at many places in the text, it is not possible to explain them all in one article. For a better understanding, I would recommend reading and contemplating over the BhagawadGita in original Sanskrit without relying upon translations. I end this section of the article with the sloka 18|20 of the BhagawadGita.
सर्वभूतेषु येन एकं भावं अव्ययं ईक्षते।
अविभक्तं विभक्तेषु तत् ज्ञानं विद्धि सात्त्विकम्॥ (18|20)
Consider that knowledge as genuine which enables a person in seeing a single indestructible, indivisible entity in all the different objects.
Hence, the knowledge of Physics will become genuine when the physicists will figure out one law/theory/entity that governs the complete universe. However, I doubt if that single theory will ever be discovered through our coarse experiments and hollow skepticism.
So what do we conclude from the above comparison ? Do we conclude that our ancestors had discovered modern physics millennia before the Europeans ? Actually, that conclusion would be misleading because the existence of a single all-pervading entity was not a discovery for our ancestors, rather, it was a basic premise on which they built this eternal civilization. Below I write down what I conclude from the above.
Conclusion 1: Science is not a yardstick to measure the correctness of everything. Something does not become correct or incorrect, just because some theory of science proves or disproves it. As we saw, Science itself keeps on evolving and scientists keep on changing their opinion. If a contemporary of Newton claimed that the speed of light is always constant, he would be considered superstitious and bluntly wrong by the ignorant skeptics. The same ignorant skeptics today would consider that person knowledgeable. Science, which gives an unstable picture of the Universe, cannot always be used to hold some premise correct or incorrect. This also demonstrates the weakness of the models created by humans to explain common phenomena. Afterall, modern science is not the truth, it is only a collection of speculative models aimed at attempting to explain the observations. So, when someone asks “Is relativity correct ?” An ignorant science buff would answer “Obviously, yes!”. But a wise person will answer “It seems to explain the observations, but we do not know if it’s correct!”
Conclusion 2: Religion and Science were not different in ancient India. This can be observed in the fact that AryaBhatt reveres विष्णु (the all-pervading ब्रह्म) in his treatise on Astronomy. For our ancestors, Science was same as Religion was same as Free Thought. The distinction between Science and Religion is a foreign concept which we have blindly ingrained in our culture from the barbaric and selfish European invaders.
Conclusion3: Modern Science and Ancient Indian religion are just the different attempts at describing one truth. As the Vedas proudly proclaim, एकं सद् विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति। which means..Different wise men tell the same truth in different ways. If someone asks “Is light a wave or a particle ?” A Max Plank would say “Of course, light is made of particles called quanta“. A Fresnel would say “Of course, it’s a wave, that too electromagnetic in nature.” But a wise(vedic) person will say “They are just the different ways of describing the same light.”
A tribute to the similarity between the religion of our ancestors and modern science is the special affection that many modern physicists had for the BhagawadGita, the Upanishads and the Vedas. I give below some high points of this affection.
“A millennium before Europeans were willing to divest themselves of the Biblical idea that the world was a few thousand years old, the Mayans were thinking of millions and the Hindus billions” – Carl Sagan (This refers to the duration of a day and a night of ब्रह्म as mentioned in the Gita.)
“Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries” – Robert Oppenheimer (Inventor of Atomic Bomb)
In the next article, we shall dwell further into the structure of the Universe as described in the BhagawadGita.