Published in philoso.philica.com
twenty-five centuries old paradigm has passed its expiry date. It is no
longer appropriate to ask: what are the ultimate building blocks and
how do they interact and combine? The right questions proceed from the
assumption that what ultimately exists is a single, intrinsically
ineffable Being. How does this manifest itself? How does it come to
constitute an apparent multitude of objects? After treating you to the
answers from contemporary physics, I turn to the deeper answers from
Indian philosophy in general and Sri Aurobindo in particular. That
intrinsically ineffable Being relates to its manifestation in a
threefold manner: it is the substance that constitutes, the
consciousness that contains, and an infinite Quality-Delight that
expresses and experiences itself. By a multiple exclusive concentration
it assumes, first, the aspect of a multitude of separate selves and,
last, the aspect of a multitude of formless particles — the latter in
order to set the stage for the Adventure of Evolution. I conclude by
explaining why the laws of physics are essentially tautological: if you
want to set the stage for evolution via a process that results in a
multitude of formless particles, then these laws must have exactly the
form that they do.
1. Quantum matters (sat)
mechanics is the general theoretical framework of contemporary physics.
When properly interrogated, it tells us that a twenty-five centuries
old paradigm has passed its expiry date. It is no longer appropriate to
ask: what are the ultimate building blocks and how do they interact and
combine? The notorious difficulty of making sense of the quantum world
is not that we don't understand Nature's answers. It is due to the fact
that Nature fails to make sense of our questions.
right questions to ask proceed from the assumption that what ultimately
exists is a single, intrinsically ineffable Being. How does this
manifest itself? How does it come to constitute an apparent multitude
of objects? How does it realize their properties? If you turn to
quantum mechanics with questions of this sort, you will be surprised at
the simplicity and straightness of the answers you get. Among them is
the most economical creation story ever told: by entering into spatial
relations with itself, that intrinsically ineffable Being gives rise to
both matter and space, for space is nothing but the totality of
existing spatial relations, while matter is simply the corresponding
apparent multitude of relata — apparent because the relations are self-relations.
If you consider the so-called "ultimate constituents of matter" by
themselves, out of relation to each other, they lack properties. The
reason this is so is that all physical properties are defined in terms
of relations. This includes the shapes of things. The form of
a composite object is the totality of its internal spatial relations.
Objects lacking internal relations, such as quarks and electrons, are
formless. In addition to that, quantum mechanics rules out the
existence of intrinsically distinct substances.
So if you contemplate any two of the so-called "ultimate constituents"
of matter by themselves, you are contemplating one and the same thing twice. The true number of "ultimate constituents" is one.
said, the right questions to ask proceed from the assumption that what
ultimately exists is a single, intrinsically ineffable Being. Why intrinsically ineffable?
Well, if properties resolve themselves into relations between Being and
Being, there is no property that can be attributed to Being itself.
Of all the weird features of the quantum world, none is more baffling than the supervenience of the microworld on the macroworld. Supervenience
is a philosophical term for a relation between two types of properties.
Properties of type B are said to supervene on properties of type A if
objects cannot differ in their B-properties without differing in their
A-properties. Here is an example from neurophilosophy: for a devout
materialist, mind states supervene on brain states. This means that if
two brains are exa tly alike then the corresponding minds must have
exactly the same thoughts, sensations, perceptions, etc.
microworld supervenes on the macroworld in the sense that molecules,
atoms, and subatomic particles have the properties that they do because
of what happens or is the case in the macroworld of tables, chairs, and
lab equipment. The properties of the microworld depend on the
properties of the macroworld rather than the other way round as we are
wont to think. In the quantum world, to be is to be measured.
A property exists only if, only when, and only to the extent that its
possession is indicated by a macroscopic event or state of affairs.
If quantum theory tells us how the world is manifested,
rather than how it is put together, then this dependence of the small
on the large is not so very hard to understand. Quantum mechanics
affords us a glimpse "behind" the manifested world — the macroworld —
at formless particles, non-visualizable atoms, and partly visualizable
molecules, which, instead of being the world's constituent parts or
structures, are instrumental in its manifestation. But we
cannot describe what lies "behind" the manifested world except in terms
of the finished product — the manifested world. Here is an analogy: if
you experience something the like of which you never experienced
before, you are obliged to describe it in terms of things that you did experience before. The reason for the supervenience of the microscopic on the macroscopic, however, is not merely a lack of descriptive terms but a lack of attributable properties.
is an example. We tend to think of space as an intrinsically divided
expanse, which is to say as something that has parts. Hence if we
imagine an object and a part or region of space, we tend to think that
this object — at any rate, its center-of-mass — has to be either inside
or outside that region. In reality, a region of space only exists if it
is physically realized — made real — for instance by being the
sensitive region of a detector. To be able to say truthfully that a
particle is inside a certain region, we need a detector not merely for indicating
the particle's presence inside that region. In the first place, the
detector is needed in order that that region be real and the property
of being in it be available for attribution to the particle. If the
region is not realized, then it is neither true nor false but meaningless to say that the particle is in it.
2. Involution (chit)
the quantum world is mysterious, so is consciousness. How can a
material thing be conscious? How can there be consciousness of material
things? The answer — at any rate, the short version of it — is that
there is no such thing as a material thing. There is a single,
intrinsically ineffable Being. This manifests itself, and quantum
mechanics tells us how. But it does not only manifest itself. It
manifests itself to itself. It is not only that by which the world exists but also the self for which the world exists. It is not only the substance that constitutes but also the consciousness that contains. It is both the sat and the chit of the Vedantic trinity sachchidananda (sat-chit-ananda).
have seen, however fleetingly, how the one ineffable Being becomes —
without ceasing to be the one ineffable Being — an apparent multitude
of propertyless particles. How does the one Self become an apparent
multitude of individual selves? We all know first-hand what it means to
imagine things. So we can conceive of a consciousness that creates its
own content. With a little effort we can also conceive of this
consciousness as simultaneously adopting a multitude of viewpoints
within its content. We also know first-hand the phenomenon of exclusive
concentration, when awareness is focused on a single object or task
while other goings-on are registered or attended to subconsciously, if
at all. As Sri Aurobindo explains, it is by such a multiple exclusive concentration
that the one Self assumes the aspect of a multitude of individual
selves and loses sight, in each self, of its identity with the other
selves and with the Self of all selves.
Once we have a multiple
concentration of consciousness, the action by which the one Self
creates its content differentiates into a subjective action on the part
of each individual qua self and an objective action on the part of each
individual qua substance. And once we have an exclusive concentration of consciousness — which means ignorance, the Vedantic avidya
— these actions further differentiate, the subjective one into a
conscious and a subconscious part, the objective one into a voluntary
and an involuntary part.
Ignorance, as we all know, has its degrees. Sachchidananda can deepen its multiple exclusive concentration to the point that its individualized subjective action — which is one of Sri Aurobindo's definitions of mind — ceases. It can farther deepen its multiple exclusive concentration to the point that even its individualized objective action — which of Sri Aurobindo's definitions of life — ceases. What then exists is a multitude of formless individuals, for it is life (in this particular sense) that is responsible for the existence of individual forms.
it is one and the same process — namely, a multiple exclusive
concentration — that produces the multitude of selves and, when carried
to its farthest extreme, the multitude of formless particles.
3. The adventure of evolution (ananda)
ultimately exists relates to its manifestation in a threefold manner:
it is the substance that constitutes, it is the consciousness that
contains, and it is (subjectively speaking) an infinite bliss — ananda — and (objectively speaking) an infinite quality infinitely expressing and experiencing itself.
why does it hide in formless particles? Why does it subject their
relations to apparently self-effective laws? In this world, sachchidananda is playing
Houdini, imprisoning and enchaining itself as rigorously as it can,
challenging itself to escape, to re-discover and re-affirm its powers
in what seems to be a universe of mechanical forces and random events.
Its multiple exclusive concentration allows it to enter various states
of ignorance and incapacity so as to experience growth in knowledge and
power, the excitement of conquest and discovery, the surprise of the
unknown, the challenge of opposition, the triumph of victory.
4. Closing the circle
to physics. Since the word "fundamental" does not have a comparative, a
theory is either fundamental or it is not. If a physical theory is
fundamental and complete, then it is capable of explaining everything
else and therefore incapable of being explained by anything else —
except teleologically, by pointing out the reasons why it has the
particular form that it does.
of the reasons why the general theoretical framework of contemporary
physics has the particular form that it does, is that without it stable
objects could not exist, specifically, objects that
have spatial extent (they "occupy space"),
are composed of a (large but) finite number of objects without spatial extent (particles that do not "occupy space"),
and are stable (they neither explode nor collapse as soon as they are created).
The existence of such objects requires the fundamental theoretical framework of contemporary physics to be exactly what it is, namely quantum mechanics.
mechanics is a probability calculus. Given the outcomes of measurements
that have been made, it allows us to calculate the probabilities of the
possible outcomes of measurements that may be made. And that's it.
quantum mechanics presupposes measurements, its consistency requires
the existence of measurements. And it is eminently plausible that the
existence of measurements in turn requires the validity of all empirically tested physical theories
— namely, the so-called "standard model" and Einstein's theory of
gravity — at least as effective theories (Mohrhoff, 2002, 2006 ). (An
effective theory is a theory that is valid over some but not all scales
This is a humbling conclusion, for it means that all empirically tested physical theories are essentially tautological.
If you want spatially extended objects that neither explode nor
collapse the moment they are formed, the validity of these theories is
a must. To be precise, their validity is guaranteed if
spatially extended objects are composed of objects that lack spatial
extent. This is the sole nontrivial input and the only real mystery. Why are things that "occupy space" made of finite numbers of things that don't?
We have seen why. The creation of a world of formless particles is the final stage of an involution that has set the stage for the adventure of evolution.
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Presented at The Collective Yoga of Man: A World in Process, conference held at Auroville, India, January 12-14, 2007.
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This Article was published on 18th January, 2007 at 03:25:09 and has been viewed 40 times.
1 added 18th January, 2007 at 03:41:33
long a (with a macron on top) showed up correctly in the preview. Here
it shows up as a question mark. Apologies! Furthermore, this silly
interface wants my apology to be at least 200 words long. So I’ll give
you a beautiful quote from Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem “Savitri”:
When darkness deepens strangling the earth’s breast
And man’s corporeal mind is the only lamp,
As a thief’s in the night shall be the covert tread
Of one who steps unseen into his house.
A Voice ill-heard shall speak, the soul obey,
A Power into mind’s inner chamber steal,
A charm and sweetness open life’s closed doors
And beauty conquer the resisting world,
The Truth-Light capture Nature by surprise,
A stealth of God compel the heart to bliss
And earth grow unexpectedly divine.
In Matter shall be lit the spirit’s glow,
In body and body kindled the sacred birth;
Night shall awake to the anthem of the stars,
The days become a happy pilgrim march,
Our will a force of the Eternal’s power,
And thought the rays of a spiritual sun.
A few shall see what none yet understands;
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done.