Current understanding of physics leads
down a path which is essentially mystical.
Physics returns to the beginning.
The evolution of Western
science spirals along its path, beginning with the mystical philosophies
of the early Greeks and
rising and unfolding in an impressive
development of intellectual thought that increasingly turned away from its
Western science is finally accepting
the value of early Greek
and Eastern philosophies.
Proof is not based only on
intuition, but also on
experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and
consistent mathematical formalism .
The roots of
physics, as of all Western
science, are to be found in the first period of Greek philosophy in the
sixth century B.C., in a culture where
religion were not seperated.
The sages of the Milesian school in Ionia were not concerned with such
distinctions. Their aim was to discover the essential nature, or
real construction of things which they
called "physis." The term "physics" is derived from this Greek word and
originally meant the endeavor of seeing the
essential nature of all things.
The Milesians were called
"hylozoists," or "those who think matter is
the later Greeks, because
they saw no distinction between animate and inanimate, spirit and
fact, they did not even have a word
for matter, since they saw all
forms of existence as manifestations of the "physis," endowed with life and
spirituality. Thus Thales declared all things to be full of gods. Anaximander
saw the universe as a category of organism which was supported by "pneuma," the
Cosmic Breath, in the same way as the
human body is supported by air.
and sacrifice view of the Milesians was very close to that of ancient
Indian and Chinese philosophy, and the
parallels to Eastern thought are even stronger in the philosophy of
Heraclitus of Ephesus.
believed in a reality of
perpetual change, of Eternal Creation.
Heraclitus all static existence was a deception as his
first principle was fire;
a symbol for the continuous flow and change
of all things.
Heraclitus taught that all
changes in the world arise from the dynamic and cyclic interplay of
Heraclitus saw any pair of
opposites as a unity.
unity, which contains and
transcends all opposing forces, he
called the Logos.
The split of this
unity began with the Eleatic
school of thought, which assumed a divine principle standing above all gods and
men. This principle was first
identified with the unity of
the universe, but was later seen as an intelligent and
personal God who stands
above the world and directs it. Thus began a trend of thought which led,
ultimately, to the
separation of spirit and matter and to a
dualism which became
characteristic of Western philosophy.
A drastic step in this direction was taken
by Parmenides of Elea, who was in strong opposition to
conceptualized existence as unique and invariable. Parmenides considered change
to be impossible and
regarded the changes we appear to
perceive as mere
illusions of the senses. The concept of
an indestructible substance
as the subject of varying properties grew out of this philosophy and became one
of the fundamental concepts of Western thought.
In the fifth century
BC, the Greek
philosophers tried to overcome the sharp contrast between the views of
Parmenides and Heraclitus.
In order to reconcile the idea of unchangeable (of Parmenides) with that of
Eternal Creation (of
Heraclitus), they assumed
that existence is manifest in certain invariable substances, the mixture and
separation of which gives rise to the
This led to the concept of
the atom, the smallest indivisible unit
of matter, which found its clearest expression in the philosophy of Ieucippus
and Democritus. The Greek atomists
drew a clear line between spirit and matter, picturing matter as being made of
several "basic building blocks."
These were purely passive and
intrinsically dead particles moving in the void. The cause of their motion was
not explained, but was often associated with external forces which were assumed
to be of spiritual origin and fundamentally different from matter. In
subsequent centuries, this image became an essential element of Western
thought, of the dualism between
mind and matter, between
body and soul.
As the idea of a division between spirit and matter took hold,
the philosophers turned
their attention to the spiritual world, rather than the material, to the
Eternal Soul and the problems of
ethics. These questions were central to Western thought for more than two
thousand years after the culmination of Greek science and culture in the fifth
and fourth centuries BC.
knowledge of antiquity was systematized and organized by
Aristotle, who devised the
scheme which was to be the basis of the
Western worldview of reality for two thousand years.
Even so Aristotle believed that
questions concerning the Eternal
Soul and the contemplation of the
Creator and Sustainer's Creation
were much more valuable than investigations of the material world.
reason the Aristotelian model of the universe remained unchallenged for so long
was precisely this lack of interest in the material world, and the strong hold
of the Roman Catholic church which supported Aristotle's doctrines throughout
the Middle Ages.
Further development of Western science had to wait
until the Renaissance, when men began to free themselves from the
Aristotle and the
Roman Catholic church and showed
a new interest in nature. In the late fifteenth century, the study of nature
was approached, for the first time, in a truly scientific spirit and
experiments were undertaken to test speculative ideas. As this development was
paralleled by a growing interest in mathematics, it finally led to the
formulation of scientific
theories, based on experiment and
expressed in mathematical language.
Galileo Galilei was the first to combine
empirical knowledge with mathematics and is therefore seen as the father of
The birth of modern
science was preceded and accompanied by a development of philosophical thought
which led to an extreme formulation of the
This formulation appeared in the seventeenth century
in the philosophy of Rene Descartes
who based his view of nature on
a fundamental division
into two separate and independent realms: that of mind (res cogitans), and that
of matter (res extensa).
allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and completely separate from
themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects
assembled in a huge machine.
worldview was held by Isaac Newton, who constructed his mechanics on its
basis and made it the Foundation of
and the mechanistic
worldview have thus been beneficial and detrimental at the same time. They
were extremely successful in the development of classical physics and
technology, but had many
Twentieth century science, which
originated in the Cartesian split and in
worldview, and which indeed only became possible because of such a
structure, now overcomes this
fragmentation and leads back
to the idea of unity
expressed in the early Greek and Eastern philosophies.
In contrast to
worldview, the Eastern view of the world is "organic." For the Eastern
mystic, all things and events
perceived by the
senses are interrelated, connected, and are but different aspects or
manifestations of noumenon.
Our tendency to divide perceived reality
into individual and separate things and to experience ourselves as isolated
egos in this reality is an
illusion which comes from our measuring and categorizing mentality. It is
called avidya, or
Buddhist philosophy, and is seen as
the state of a disturbed mind
which has to be overcome:
mind is disturbed,
multiplicity of things is produced,
but when the
mind is quieted,
multiplicity of things disappears.
"We all interact with others in our environment at least
partly on the basis of categories.
Categorization has profound consequences
for intergroup interaction.
Categories are not just accidental, but are
often purposely created."
- Jeffery Pfeffer*
the various schools of Eastern mysticism differ in many
details, they all emphasize the
basic unity of the universe
which is the central feature of their teachings.
The highest aim
for their followers - whether they are
is to become aware of the
unity and mutual interrelation of all things, to
transcend the notion of
an isolated individual self,
and to identify self with
emergence of this awareness - known as 'enlightenment' - is
not only an intellectual act,
but is an experience
which involves the whole
individual and is relgious
in its ultimate nature.
For this reason, most Eastern
essentially relgious philosophies.
Eastern worldview, then,
the division of nature into separate
objects is not fundamental and any such objects have a fluid and
worldview is therefore
intrinsically dynamic and contains time and change as essential features.
The cosmos is seen as one
inseparable reality forever in motion,
alive, sacrifice; spiritual and
material at the same time.
Since motion and
change are essential properties of things, the forces causing the motion are
not outside the objects, as in the classical Greek view, but are an intrinsic
Correspondingly, the Eastern image of the
Divine is not that of a ruler who directs the
world from above, but of a principle
that controls everything from within:
He who, dwelling in all
Yet is other than all things,
things do not know,
Whose body all things are,
Who controls all things
He is your
controller, your Eternal
worldview is also the worldview of modern physics.
Eastern thought - and, more generally, mystical thought - provides a consistent and
relevant philosophical background to the theories of contemporary
science; a conception of
the World in which scientific discoveries can be in perfect
harmony with spiritual aims
and religious beliefs.
The two basic themes of this
conception are the
unity and interrelation of
all phenomena and the
intrinsically dynamic nature of the universe. The further we penetrate into the
submicroscopic world, the more we realize how the modern
physicist, like the
Eastern mystic, has come to see
the world as a system of inseparable, interacting,
and ever moving components, with
the observer being an integral part
of this system.
"ecological" worldview of
the Eastern philosophies is no doubt one of the main
reasons for the immense popularity
they have recently gained in
culture, which is still dominated by the mechanistic, fragmented view of
the world, is the underlying reason for the widespread dissatisfaction in our
society and an increasing number of people have seen this.
history, it has been recognized that the human mind is capable of rationalizing
two forms of knowledge, or
two modes of
consciousness, which have often been termed the
rational and the
intuitive, and have
traditionally been associated
with science and religion, respectively.
These two types of knowledge
may be termed logos and
the West, the intuitive, relgious type
of knowledge is often devalued in favor of rational, scientific knowledge,
whereas the traditional Eastern attitude is generally just the
statements about knowledge by two great minds of the West and the East typify
the two positions.
Greece made the famous statement, "I know that I know nothing."
Lao Tze in China said, "Not knowing
that one desire is best."
In the East, the values attributed to
the two kinds of knowledge are often already apparent from the names given to
them. The Upanishads, for example, speak about a higher and a lower knowledge
and associate the lower knowledge with various sciences, the higher with
Buddhists talk about 'relative' and
'absolute' knowledge, or
about 'conditional truth'
and 'transcendental truth.'
Chinese philosophy has always emphasized the complementary
nature of the intuitive
and the rational by representing them in
the archetypical pair Yin and Yang
which form the basis of Chinese thought.
Accordingly, two complementary
philosophical traditions - Taoism and Confucianism developed in ancient China
to deal with the two kinds of knowledge.
Rational knowledge is
derived from the
experience we have with objects and events in our everyday
knowledge belongs to the realm of the
intellect, whose function it is to discriminate, divide, compare, measure and
categorize. In this way, a
world of intellectual distinctions is created;
of opposites which can exist
only in relation to each other, which is why
Buddhists call this type of
Abstraction is a crucial
feature of this knowledge, because in order to compare and to classify the
immense variety of shapes,
structures, and phenomena around
us we cannot take all their features into account, but have to select a few
significant ones. Thus we construct
an intellectual 'map of
reality' in which things are reduced to their general outlines.
Rational knowledge is thus a
system of abstract concepts and symbols,
characterized by the linear, sequential structure which is typical of our
thinking and speaking.
In most languages this
linear structure is made explicit by the use of alphabets which serve to
communicate experience and thought in long lines of symbols.
natural world, on the other hand, is one of infinite varieties and
complexities, a multidimensional world which contains no straight lines or
completely regular shapes, where things do not happen in sequences, but all
It is clear
that our abstract system of conceptual thinking can never describe or
understand the noumenon completely.
In thinking about reality we
are faced with the same category of problem as the cartographer who tries to
cover the curved face of the Earth with a sequence of plane
We can only expect an
approximate representation of reality from such a procedure, and all
rational knowledge is therefore
of rational knowledge is, of course, the realm of science which measures and
quantifies, classifies and analyzes.
The limitations of any
knowledge obtained by these methods have become increasingly apparent in modern
science , and in particular in modern physics which has taught us, in the words
of Werner Heisenberg, "that every word or concept, clear as it may appear to
be, has only a limited range of applicability."
For most of us it is very difficult
to be constantly aware of the limitations and of the relativity of rational
As our representation of reality
is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to
confuse the two and to take our
concepts and symbols for reality. It is one of the main aims of Eastern
mysticism to rid us of this
say that a finger is needed to
point at the moon, but that
we should not trouble ourselves with the finger once the
Taoist sage Chuang Tzu wrote: Fishing baskets are employed
to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets; snares
are employed to catch hares; but when the hares are not, men forget the snares.
Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, men forget
In the West, the semanticist
Alfred Korzybski made
exactly the same point with his powerful
map is not the territory."
Eastern mystics are concerned with is a
direct experience of reality which
transcends not only intellectual
thinking but also sensory perception. In the words of the
is soundless, touchless, formless, imperishable,
likewise tasteless, constant, odorless,
beginning, without end, higher than the
by discerning that, one is
liberated from the
mouth of death.
Knowledge which comes from such an
experience is called absolute
knowledge by Buddhists because
it does not rely on the discriminations,
classifications of the
intellect which, as we have seen, are always relative and approximate.
It is, so we are told by Buddhists, the direct experience of
undifferentiated, undivided, indeterminate "suchness." Complete
this suchness is not only the core of Eastern mysticism, but is the central characteristic
of all mystical
The Eastern mystics repeatedly insist on the
fact that the
noumenon can never be an object
of reasoning or of demonstrable knowledge. It
can never be adequately described by words because it lies beyond the realms of
the senses and of the intellect from which our words and concepts are
derived. The Upanishads say about it:
There the eye goes not,
speech goes not, nor the mind.
we know not,
we understand not how
one would teach it.
Tze, who calls reality the Tao, states the same
fact in the opening line of the
Tao De Ching: "The Tao that can
be expressed is not the eternal Tao."
obvious from any
reading of the
newspapers - that
humanity has not become much wiser over the past two thousand years, in spite
of a prodigious increase in rational knowledge, is ample evidence of the
difficulty of communicating
true knowledge through
the use of symbols or words.
As Chuang Tzu said, "If it could be talked about, everybody would
have told their brother." (ascertained by professional
actors - don't try this at home!
knowledge is thus an entirely
nonintellectual experience of reality, an experience arising in a
non-ordinary state of consciousness which may be
called a 'meditative',
disassociated state of
consciousness. That such a state exists has not only been testified by
numerous mystics in the East and West but
is also indicated by psychological research.
the words of William James:
"Our normal waking consciousness,
rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness,
whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie
potential forms of consciousness entirely different."
physicists are mainly concerned with
rational knowledge and mystics with
intuitive knowledge or
both types of knowledge occur in
both fields. This becomes apparent when we examine how
knowledge is obtained and how it
is expressed, both in physics and Eastern mysticism.
In physics, knowledge is acquired through the process of
scientific research which can be
seen to proceed in three stages.
The first stage consists in gathering
experimental evidence about the phenomena to be explained.
In the second stage, the experimental
facts are correlated with
mathematical symbols and a mathematical scheme is worked out which
interconnects these symbols in a precise and consistent way.
scheme is usually called a mathematical model or, if it is more comprehensive,
This theory is then used to
predict the results of further experiments
which are undertaken to check all its implications.
At this stage,
physicists may be satisfied when they
have found a mathematical scheme
and know how to use it to predict experiments.
But eventually, they
will want to talk about their results to non
physicists and will therefore have to
express results in common
Even for the physicists themselves, the formulation of
such a verbal model, which constitutes the third stage of research, will be a
criterion of the understanding they have reached.
In practice, of
course, the three stages are not neatly seperated and do not always occur in
the same order. For example, a physicist may be led to a particular
model by some philosophical belief he (or she) holds,
which he may continue to believe in, even when contrary experimental evidence
arises. He will then - and this happens in
fact very often - try to modify his
model so that it can account for the new experiments. But if experimental
evidence continues to contradict the model, he
will eventually be forced to drop it.
This way of
basing all theories firmly on experiment
is known as the scientific method, and we shall see that it has its counterpart
in Eastern philosophy. Greek philosophy,
on the other hand, was
fundamentally different in that regard. Although
Greek philosophers had
extremely ingenious ideas about nature which often come very close to modern
scientific models, the enormous
difference between the two is the empirical attitude of modern science which
was by and large foreign to the Greek mind.
The Greeks obtained their
from some fundamental axiom or principle and not inductively from what
had been observed. On the other
hand, of course, the Greek art of deductive logical reasoning is an
essential ingredient in the second stage of scientific research, the
formulation of a consistent mathematical model, and thus an essential part of
Rational knowledge and rational
activities certainly constitute the major part of scientific research, but are
not all there is to it. The rational part of research would, in
fact, be useless if it were not
complemented by the intuition that gives
scientists new insights
and makes them creative.
insights tend to come
suddenly and, characteristically, not when sitting at a desk working out the
equations, but when relaxing in the bath, during a walk in the
woods, on the beach, etcetera.
During these periods
of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind
appears to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give
so much joy and delight to scientific research.
insights, however, are
of no use to physics unless they can be formulated in a consistent mathematical
framework, supplemented by an
interpretation in plain
Abstraction is a crucial
feature of this framework.
It consists, as mentioned before,
of a system of concepts and symbols which constitute a map of reality.
This map represents only some
features of reality; we do not know exactly which these are, since we started
compiling our map gradually and without critical analysis in our childhood.
The words of our
language are thus not clearly defined.
They have several
meanings, many of which pass only
vaguely through our mind
and remain largely in our subconscious when we
hear a word.
The inaccuracy and
ambiguity of our language is
essential for poets who work largely
with its subconscious
layers and associations. Science, on
the other hand, aims for clear definitions and unambiguous connections, and
therefore it abstracts
language further by limiting the meaning of its words and by
standardizing its structure, in accordance with the rules of logic. The
takes place in mathematics where words are replaced by symbols and where the
operations of connecting the symbols are rigorously defined. In this way,
scientists can condense information into one equation, i.e. into one single
line of symbols, for which they would need several pages of ordinary writing.
The view that mathematics is nothing but an extremely
abstracted and compressed
language does not go unchallenged. Many mathematicians believe that mathematics
is not just a language to describe nature, but is inherent in nature itself.
The originator of this belief was
Pythagoras who made the famous statement, "All things are numbers," and
developed a very special category of mathematical mysticism.
philosophy thus introduced
logical reasoning into
the domain of religion, a development which, according to
Bertrand Russell, was decisive for
Western relgious philosophy:
"The relgious philosophy and
theology, which began with
relgious philosophy in Greece, in the Middle Ages, and in modern times down to
Spinoza, and Leibniz there is an
intimate blending of religion and reasoning, of moral aspiration with
logical admiration of what is timeless,
which comes from Pythagoras, and distinguishes
the intellectualized theology
of Europe from the more straightforward mysticism of Asia."
method of abstraction is
very efficient and powerful, but we have to pay a price for it. As we define
our system of concepts more precisely,
as we streamline it and make the connections more and more rigorous, it becomes
increasingly detached from the reality of the Earth.
analogy of the
map and the territory, we could say that
ordinary language is a map which, due to its
intrinsic inaccuracy, has a certain flexibility so that it can follow the
curved shape of the territory to some degree. As we make it more rigorous, this
flexibility gradually disappears, and with the language of mathematics we have
reached a point where the links with reality are so tenuous that the relation
of the symbols to our sensory experience is no longer evident. This is why we
have to supplement our mathematical models and theories with verbal interpretations, again
using concepts which can be understood
intuitively, but which
are slightly ambiguous and inaccurate.
It is important to
realize the difference
between the mathematical models and their verbal counterparts. The former are
rigorous and consistent as far as their internal structure is concerned, but
their symbols are not directly related to our experience. The verbal models,
on the other hand, use concepts
which can be understood intuitively, but are
always inaccurate and ambiguous. They are in this regard not different from
philosophical models of reality, and thus the two can very well be compared.
mystical experience is at the core of all
schools of Eastern
mysticism. Even those mystics who are
engaged in the most sophisticated argumentation never see
the intellect as their
source of knowledge but use it
merely to analyze and
experience. All knowledge is firmly
based on this experience, thus giving the Eastern traditions a strong empirical
character that is always emphasized by its proponents.
D. T. Suzuki, for example, writes of
Personal experience is the
foundation of Buddhist philosophy. In this sense Buddhism is radical empiricism
or experimentialism, whatever dialectic later developed to explore the meaning
The firm basis of
knowledge on experience in
Eastern mysticism suggests a parallel to
the firm basis of scientific knowledge on experiment. This parallel is further
enforced by the nature of the
mystical experience. It is described in
the Eastern traditions as a direct
insight which lies
outside the realm of the
intellect and is obtained by watching rather than thinking; by looking
inside oneself; by observation.
In Taoism, this notion of observation is embodied in the
names for Taoist temples, kuan, which originally meant "to look." Taoist thus
regarded their temples as places of observation. In Ch'an Buddhism, the
Chinese version of Zen,
often referred to as 'the
vision of the Tao' - true vision is regarded
as the basis of knowing in all Buddhist schools.
The first item of the
Eightfold Path, the
Gautama gave us for self-realization, is
true vision, followed
by true knowledge.
"The 'seeing' plays the most
important role in Buddhist
epistemology, for seeing is at the
basis of knowing. Knowing is
impossible without seeing; all 'knowledge' has its origin in
seeing." - DT
Therefore knowing and
seeing are thus found
generally united in the Zen of
The Zen of Siddhartha Gautama ultimately
points to seeing reality as reality truly is.
true reality is
a journey inward, is no more unique than an experiment in
scientists and mystics have developed
highly sophisticated methods of delving
from a journal of modern experimental physics,
designed to confuse and flabbergast
BIS banksters, is as mysterious
to the uninitiated as a Tibetan
adapted from Franz Capra
back to stacks
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