In the first two lectures of this seminar, Thompson reviews questions involving the brain and the conscious self. He considers four points in particular: 1) qualia and the subjective properties of experience, 2) attempts to explain consciousness within a reductionist framework, 3) Cartesian analyses of the dualistic interaction between a non-physical mind and the physical body, and 4) empirical evidence that appears to challenge orthodox scientific explanations.
Thompson proposes that complex descriptions found in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that reflect upon Bhu-mandala as a cosmic earth disc, offer an enigma. Thompson draws upon his training as a professional mathematician to examine the mathematical concept of “higher dimension” as potentially offering a complement of practical analytical tools.
Thompson’s lecture begins with a discussion of three-dimensional holograms produced by the interference patterns of light waves. Thompson postulates: suppose scientists could similarly manipulate quantum waves? In principle, this could produce tangible forms in a series of events suggestive of Visnu’s maya potency, a faculty that manifests form by manipulating elemental structures identified within Vedic literature as “ether.”
Prominent features of the apparent conflict between science and religion stem from the idea that nature exclusively follows physical laws, a conviction established in Western thought during the late 17th century. Subsequent Newtonian concepts of determinism supported deistic notions, and perhaps even the notion that “God is dead” (or at the least exceedingly dormant) in relation to the physical world. Later, during the 19th century, Darwinian theory established similar views within biological studies.
Thompson reflects upon his personal history: studying mathematics as a Cornell University graduate student and subsequently becoming disenchanted with material reductionism. This eventually led to his exploration of the process of bhakti yoga as a means for attaining a higher level of knowledge. He admits that his turning away from a scientific worldview, dominant at that time, created an existential dilemma that left him experiencing a sense of cognitive dissonance.
Thompson considers the question, “Can a computer have intelligence, as we understand it in human beings?” In response, he examines a variety of concerns involving the human intellect, which contains subtle features that challenge an exclusively algorithmic analysis. Thompson proposes that creativity, language, learning ability, and facial recognition, could all invite the necessity of a “programmer” outside of an exclusively mechanistic system.
Thompson describes how contemporary cosmological models consider that the universe begins as a singularity that explodes at a certain point, before exponentially expanding. As the temperature subsequently drops, matter is described as sequentially coalescing into atoms, gas clouds, stars, planets, and finally, organic life. Thompson then follows with a critique of this Big Bang Theory by focusing on one of its fundamental postulates, the cosmic distance ladder.
Thompson demonstrates that the term translated from the Srimad-Bhagavatam as “planetary height,” corresponds well with “orbital inclination,” a term used in Western astronomy. He then considers how the image of a subway map could prove useful for appreciating various descriptions of Bhu-mandala: the marked stops of a subway map could correspond to geographic features, and likewise, the pathways in between do not always represent a straight line.
Thompson considers parallels between descriptions in the Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 5 of the rings of Bhu-mandala, and the planetary orbits observed by contemporary astronomers. He then proposes that the mathematical closeness of fit of these features precludes coincidence and therefore suggests systematic astronomical knowledge. Thompson illustrates how numerous geographic descriptions found in this Puranic account could mirror a variety of complex modern constructs, such as quantum jumps, higher dimensions, and wave/particle duality.
The second presentation of the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education seminar on astronomy focuses upon “the nature of matter.” Thompson begins by examining a number of mathematical relatively sophisticated constructs found in Vedic texts, such as the Pythagorean theorem, accurate estimates for pi, and complex algebraic and trigonometric calculations.