Higher Dimensional Science
Thompson reviews the central arguments of the BBT magazine, Origins: Higher Dimensions in Science, in the conclusion to this series of lectures. He considers how both the second law of thermodynamics and information theory present challenges for introducing complexity into a closed system. Thompson proposes that analyses that include an ultimate principle more sophisticated than mechanistic reductionism could offer a superior comprehensive analysis.
TRANSCRIPT: Higher Dimensional Science. Origins Magazine Seminar 11: San Diego - c. 1986 / (011)
So I guess we could discuss some of the matters dealt within the last article of this magazine. We’ve been discussing of course various topics here. So in this last article the first thing that is done is that an argument is presented for the existence of God as a Supreme Person, who is creating, maintaining, and ultimately annihilating all phenomena with in the material world. So we make an argument for that. Here the way we go about it is to take advantage of points that were made earlier in the magazine. The first point that we make is that within in this universe we see highly complex forms. Now we’ve already discussed in some detail the point that one cannot really understand how such forms could come into being starting with material elements in a chaotic state and then allowing these elements to interact with one another according to physical laws of the kind understood in modern science. So basically the reason that you wouldn’t expect a process like that to produce highly specific complex forms, such as the structures found in living organisms and so on, is that the laws of physics are essentially quite simple in nature. They involve attraction and repulsion and things like that. So how could they produce a highly elaborate, detailed, complex structure? They could produce something that is complicated but haphazard.
For example, if you just throw together a bunch of tinker toys parts you could produce some complicated glob of some sort. That could be done according to simple laws and random steps. But say to put together the tinker toys parts into a model of a windmill, let’s say, in which the veins turn around and are connected by a pulley to a motor and so forth, you couldn’t expect that just by joining pieces at random according to some simple rules that you would produce something like that. So we’ve made that argument. So we do find in the universe that there are highly complex structures. So the question is, what can one say about the origin of these things? Well it would seem a basic conclusion that comes both from a consideration of science and mathematics and also from a consideration of the Vedic literatures is that the only thing that can generate complexity is something even more complex. Ultimately to deal with complex things you have to operate on a complex level. You can’t get complex order coming out of something simpler or something chaotic. So since there is complex order in the universe that would mean that there has to be complex order in the cause behind the universe.
So one thing that has been suggested from time to time, is that, “Well, the cause behind the universe is just the universe itself – matter is eternal.” So the buck stops there. Because if one says, “What is the origin of matter?” and you say, “Well, God is the origin of matter!” Then someone can say, “What is the origin of god?” Then if you say, “God has no origin, He’s self-sustaining. He’s the original cause.” Then someone can say, “Well, wait a minute, why not just say that matter is self-sustaining and that’s the original cause.” In fact this is often said, that’s a point that Carl Sagan made in his famous Cosmos series. He said, “Why go a further step to God because once you go to God, you’re going to say God has no further cause? So why not just go as far as matter and say matter has no further cause?” So the answer to that is that we see that material forms tend to disintegrate. So matter does not have, is not of such a nature that is can preserve complicated form for eternity, or even for very long. You can impose complex form on a lump of matter just as a sculptor can take some clay, which by nature is shapeless, and he can form that into a statue. But in due course of time the statue is going to disintegrate. That’s the nature of material interactions. And it will disintegrate not into a new and better statue – it’s not that if you build that statue and you let time pass that eventually that’s going to form a more beautiful statue or something like that. Instead it’s just going to fall to pieces. Eventually it will be just formless clay again.
And that’s true of any material form. And indeed from the study of the laws of physics you can see that it must happen that way. Disorder and chaos tend to increase in a system governed by the laws of physics. It couldn’t be that this form exists eternally in matter, unless of course you postulate a special kind of matter somewhere which is different from the matter we know, which permanently records this form. So just for the fun of it we suggested here, “Well, maybe there is something like that in the universe somewhere, and this is a sort of cosmic information source.” So you could have your complex form internally stored up there. But then you’d have to have some procedure for going from the form stored up in this eternal information source to various material objects. You’d have to have some process transmitting the information like a computer read out. If you have the eternal ‘read only memory,’ you’d have to have some read out system. So it wouldn’t be enough just to posit something static that exists somewhere and has all this information. It would have to be active. It would have to have the ways and means of taking that information and manifesting different things. So you’d have to be imagining a sort of eternal operating entity which stores up vast quantities of information. So that’s like following the science fiction-type vein here; you might say that there’s an adi-robot, which stores up all this information.
So at that point one can bring in the question of consciousness. Now we discuss consciousness quite a bit and we concluded that consciousness cannot be understood in material terms. Specifically by material terms we mean quantitative terms, in terms of what can be measured or described in terms of numbers or geometrical concepts such as points and lines and so forth. So consciousness is something that cannot be understood in those terms and yet consciousness exists. We know that we are conscious. So one can go through that whole discussion. But if consciousness exists, what can you say about the origins of consciousness? Well, some people will want to say, “Well, consciousness emerges into existence at a certain point in time when matter has obtained a certain point of organisation.” So they try to advance the theory like this. But the problem with that theory is that since we can’t understand consciousness in terms of matter, we have no reason to suppose that consciousness is going to come into being no matter what matter does.
Let’s say that matter does gradually develop into a certain state of organisation, why should consciousness ever come into the picture since we can’t understand it at all in terms of matter? So this idea is essentially fallacious. And in fact if you want to posit that consciousness comes into being at a certain phase of material development, then you need some kind of law or some kind of operating procedure which will say “Well ok, now at this point consciousness comes in.” But whatever that law or that procedure or that entity is that does that, it has to at least have consciousness itself or something as good as consciousness. Otherwise how can it manifest consciousness? If it is simply a material thing, then once again, since consciousness can’t even be understood in the terms of material things, it couldn’t manifest consciousness. So you either have to have something that can produce consciousness – but we don’t know what it is – that eternally exists, or you can say consciousness eternally exists. Either way you positing something very remarkable that has no place in modern science.
So perhaps the simplest idea is to just say that “Well, consciousness eternally exists.” And anyway, that agrees with the Vedic conception and it doesn't disagree with anything that we can see and observe. So we propose here, “Let us suppose that consciousness is always existing.” Now in practice we see that consciousness tends to be associated with what we call intelligent action. Now by action I’m referring to movement of material things. And there’s such a thing as intelligent action; that is, if you see a person doing certain things – talking or building something, so on and so forth – you call that intelligent action. Whereas if you just see water in the river flowing downstream or something like that, that's action but you wouldn't call intelligent. Or if you see just a plant growing you, wouldn't call that intelligent. But at least in human beings we tend to see that consciousness is associated with intelligent action, and when a person becomes unconscious the intelligent action stops. So there seems to be a connection. In fact, we understand that consciousness is the source ultimately of the actions. That is, if I perform some intelligent action it's because within my conscious mind I desired to do that. Desire is something that is a feature of consciousness. It makes no sense to speak of an unconscious desire for example. What would an unconscious desire be? Because desire is something you feel.
So now since we have posited that this universal entity which stores up information and creates things using that information, that is certain certainly intelligent action. So is it so unreasonable to suppose this universal entity would be conscious. Well you can’t say that we’ve proven in any sense that that would have to be, but it certainly makes sense. And it doesn't contradict anything that we know. So one can suppose that this universal entity which stores up vast amounts of information and is eternally existing is also conscious. So, and that would mean also that it can't be understood in material terms. Of course we've already said that, since it eternally stores up information, and matter couldn't do that. But anyway, what it amounts to is that practically we have some kind of an idea of God at this point on the basis of reasoning.
So if you want to really criticize this presentation you can say that nothing has been proven here. All we’ve done is sketch out a reasonable possibility. But still it is reasonable and there are limits to what you can prove anyway. If one studies the whole question of what is provable you will see that you could only prove something if you start with some assumptions. If you don't start with any assumptions you can't prove anything. But the assumptions themselves are not proven. By definition the assumptions are what you start with. So that means that any proof can always be questioned because someone can always go back to the assumption and say, “Well wait a minute, you didn't prove that?” And if you add a proof for your assumptions it has to be based on still earlier assumptions, and then they can go back and say, “Well, you didn't prove that.” Well this is just the nature of proof – there are limits to what you can prove. So, but one can make a plausible and reasonable case that there is some kind of eternally existent intelligent entity which stores up vast amounts of information. Or once we say this is an intelligent entity, one wouldn't call it information, one would call it knowledge. So an eternally existing entity that has a vast amount of knowledge and is using that knowledge to create things in the material world – that's a reasonable conclusion just based on thinking about things and observing things.
So of course the approach in the Vedic literature ultimately is that we don't propose to prove everything because we recognize that ultimately you can’t prove anything. But since we have this idea that complex knowledge or information ultimately has to come from a complex source – you can’t generate it out of nothing – the Vedic idea is to obtain knowledge about very complex and deep subject matters from this original source. So by doing some reasoning we've come to the conclusion that is quite plausible that such an original source could exist. It’s a very reasonable thing. And we can understand that real knowledge can only be obtained from that source, just as all the different forms manifested within the material world have to come from that source. So knowledge about that nature of that source, or what it's really like, would also have to come from that source. Just by sitting here and reasoning we’re not going to ultimately be able to come to solid answers. But by reasoning we can conclude that we have to somehow link up with that source to obtain that information.
So the Vedic process is to use the descending process for obtaining knowledge. Now of course for the descending process to work you have to have the cooperation of this eternally existing Being who has all the knowledge. So the descending process is based on the idea of surrender to the Supreme. One depends on the mercy of the Supreme because if the Supreme Intelligent Being is not willing to provide knowledge to us, then we’re certainly not going to get any knowledge from that Being. We’re not in the position to force the hand of the Supreme Being. So in this sense the Vedic approach is very different than the approach in modern science. The whole idea in modern science is that we’re going to take nature by storm. We will conquer nature. The scientist is saying that, “Using our clever reasoning and our different experimental techniques we will ask questions of nature in such a way that we will force nature to answer our questions; we will extract knowledge out of the material world.” So that’s the scientific approach. Or at least that’s the predominant approach of modern science.
Well, that is completely the opposite of the Vedic approach. So the idea in the Vedic approach is that since ultimately we want to find out about this Supreme Being who is manifesting all of these different things in the material world. because after all if all these different manifestations are coming from a Supreme Being, if we ultimately want to understand what these manifestations are, we have to understand the source that their coming from. What’s the use of just studying the manifestations if we don't understand that ultimate source? Because then we won't really understand what's really going on; and we can only understand that source by the mercy of that source. If that source is so powerful as we are proposing, then there's no way that you can force that ultimate source to reveal itself. So the Vedic system is based on the idea of surrender to the Supreme Lord. Now Srila Prabhupada has many times said that this Krishna consciousness is a great science. He’s very often used that phrase. Now many people, if you say that to them, will say, “You're just trying to borrow the glories of science to present your religious dogma, because people respect science so much these days you have to say that your dogmas are scientific and you're doing that just to get people to accept them. But this is just a cheating process because all you’ve got are just some religious dogmas which are contained in your sacred books. So this isn't science – this is just faith. This is just blind acceptance of something written in some old scripture. So you shouldn't say that you have a science!” And so one could also argue that if our procedure for obtaining knowledge of the nature of the Supreme Being is a descending process, then how can we say that it is scientific? After all, I just said our approach is very different than that of modern science. Well, nonetheless, there is a significant and meaningful sense in which you can say that Krishna consciousness is scientific. And you can say that it’s scientific in that the procedure for obtaining realization of this knowledge which one obtains by the descending process involves the same procedures applied to one's own self that the scientist uses when he is examining matter.
So when the scientist is examining matter he has to consider very carefully what is happening. He makes experiments and he makes observations; he has theoretical principles. Based on the theoretical principles he sees if what is happening is consistent with one interpretation or another, and based on what he concludes he decides, “Well maybe I should change the experiment and do it this way because it's not working in this particular way,” and so on. So that's the way a scientist deals with matter. Well similarly, an advancing spiritualist deals with his own state of consciousness in that way, because ultimately we always start in spiritual life, that is if we're conditioned souls, from a platform of not understanding. And initially even if we receive knowledge from Vedic sources, in the beginning we don't understand it. We may superficially understand it. Initially when we first hear it, we may get a certain impression as to what it all might mean, but we don't really understand it if we are neophytes, that is. If you meet someone who upon first reading the Bhagavad-gita immediately has a very deep understanding of it, then you can be sure that that is a person that has been a devotee in some past life, actually. He’s an advanced personality.
So in order for the conditioned souls to come to a stage of great spiritual advancement he has to go through a process of realization and personal understanding. And that involves the development of his own state of consciousness and that does involve experiment, so to speak. You can say that a devotee engaged in sadhana-bhakti is engaged in an experiment. He’s following certain procedures, spiritual procedures. The relevance of the procedures is that by following these procedures one’s state of consciousness should change. One should eventually realize one’s spiritual nature. Ultimately one should come to the phase of raganuga-bhakti in which one actually sees Krishna face-to-face and actually has a realized understanding of one's relationship with Krishna. So this is all a matter of observation and experience. And there are very subtle rules governing this process. So for example, we have four regulative principles which are very elementary rules, which are necessary to make advancement in spiritual consciousness. So you can make an analogy between these regulative principles and the conditions required for a scientific experiment to work.
For example, just to give one example, there is an experiment to measure the gravitational constant called G, and this experiment was first performed by someone named Cavendish in England. So the idea is that two objects attract one another gravitationally. Given the mass of the objects, the force by which they attract each other, if they're at a given distance, measures the strength of gravitation. So the idea in physics is that gravitation is really quite weak, because if you take two irons balls and hold them next to each other you don't feel any pull between them. But according to the theory there's a pull there nonetheless. So the question is, can you measure that? So there's an experiment to measure it; so the way it works is that you have two iron balls and a very thin wire and you place two other iron balls next to these in such a way that the pull should twist the wire in one direction. So then you let the thing settle down and using a mirror that is mounted on the thing and reflecting light from it, you can tell exactly how the wire is twisting. So now you place the other two balls on the other side so that they’re pulling in the other direction and you let the things settle down. So now it's pulling in the other way, it should twist the wire the opposite way and you should see that the reflected light has move to a different position. And knowing the torsion characteristics of the wire and the various things like that you should be able to calculate the force of gravity. So people have done this experiment. That’s how they calculate that quantity.
So the point that I am making in describing this experiment is that this is a very delicate experiment. If there are vibrations the balls will never settle down and you'll see the light just bounces around, and if you try and make the measurements you won't get reliable answers at all. I knew a fellow once that was doing this experiment, and he had to make his measurements at midnight because the apparatus was so sensitive that if cars went by on the road outside it would just cause everything to vibrate so that he just couldn't get any readings. And the road actually was about 50 feet away. So this is an example showing that for a certain experiment to produce the indicated results you have to have very precise conditions set up. Well the same thing is true of yoga, including bhakti yoga. In order to get the desired results certain conditions are required. So these regulative principles establish certain basic conditions, and without those conditions being met, you’ll never make any progress in bhakti yoga.
So that shows that this is actually a science in the sense that it’s like a science, like physics, in which certain conditions are required. And an order to really make advancement further more subtle conditions have to be developed. One has to develop actual humility. One has to recognize the function of one's false ego, because otherwise one can engage in an illusory trip of some kind in the name of devotional service. There are various weeds that can conflict with the devotional creeper. One may have the weed of desire for material position and thus when one engages in devotional service one may establish oneself in an important position thinking, “Well, you have to do this for devotional service.” A devotee who is really doing something on a large scale receives all kinds of honor; he may be in an opulent position. So you may think, “I'm doing this for devotional service,” but actually you may be doing it for material ambition. So that's a weed that resembles the devotional creeper. One has to recognize these weeds, so that requires careful discrimination. This is similar also to the scientific process in which one may be performing the experiment and the results won't come out right. So one might think, “Oh well, wait! There's a certain oscillation in the apparatus that tends to develop because of feedback or this or that or the other thing. So now we have to redesign the apparatus so as to eliminate that in order to make the desired reading” and so forth. So one can draw analogies, but actually the procedures are quite similar. The basic principle is that there are what you could call theoretical rules governing how devotional service works. And one can read about these in the scriptures, and then one can try to apply them in practice, and on the basis of the results one can try and correct one’s practice. And ultimately there are the actual results which confirm that one is doing the right thing.
So this is quite analogous as to what goes on in physics or something like that. So in that sense you can say that this is a science. But it's a much more subtle science than something like physics because in physics you're dealing with gross things. You’re dealing with an apparatus made of glass and metal. You turn knobs and you measure voltages and so on; but here you're dealing with your inner state of consciousness, which is a much more subtle thing to deal with. So actually this is a higher science. So it can be said that this is a science. One can note here also that people will object to our statement that Krishna consciousness is scientific and just say, “Well, there are so many different religious faiths and they all claim that they have the absolute truth” and so on. So in response to that we can say that, “Well, we have this process. Our scriptures reveal an actual process which you can follow to obtain realised knowledge.” So to that someone may reply, “Oh, you're saying that you have the only way? Well they all say that!” But the point is, we would say that there are other systems of religion and interpretations of religion in which people are not following a process of actual realization. So such systems can hardly be called scientific. On the other hand, we have no reason to want to say that all other systems of religion are not scientific in the sense that we are using the word scientific. There could very well be some other system that is being practiced which is quite valid and scientific, we have no objection to that. What we’re dealing with is not a question of saying that, “I’m right and the others are wrong;” what we’re dealing with are basic philosophical principles. So if the workable principles are there, then we are all in favor of that system of religion. If the workable principles that actually lead to spiritual realization are not there, then we would not recommend that system.
For example, yesterday Badrinarayana gave me this clipping about a group of scholars who are trying to decide which parts of the New Testament are really correct. So they’re going through the different sayings of Jesus and they’re trying to figure out whether Jesus actually said that or not and are trying to see, “Well maybe some other writer, some gospel writer, just wrote that in. So it's described that a group of about 30 scholars were gathered together and they were voting on whether or not a given saying should be attributed to Jesus or not. So each scholar had four beads: a red bead which meant ‘yes this is definitely coming from Jesus,’ a pink bead which meant ‘maybe,’ a grey bead which meant ‘probably not,’ and then a black bead which meant ‘definitely not.’ So they would go to a given saying of Jesus such as ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light,’ or something like that. And they would put their beads in the box and count up the beads, and in this way they would decide. So this is process being carried out by these scholars. And they were saying, “Well, we have to do this because this is the only way to exhibit intellectual integrity. We can't just naïvely accept this New Testament on face value because we know there are so many contradictions in the text and so forth. So to be intellectually honest we have to proceed in this way.”
And they were thinking of coming out with a Bible edition in which his sayings that were definitely coming from Christ were written in red and the sayings that were definitely not from Christ were in black and so forth. So this is what they're doing in the Christian seminaries. But the point is this is totally hopeless. They may as well not waste their time. The very fact that they’re voting means that they'll never know. They can't even vote definitely ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – they had to have ‘maybe.’ Maybe yes and maybe no. And even if one votes ‘definitely no,’ another may vote ‘yes.’ So this process of obtaining knowledge that they're using is fundamentally flawed from the very start. So they may as well not waste their time. So their situation is that they don't have any basis for obtaining spiritual knowledge because they doubt the reliability of their scriptures, their descending process. Their reasoning cannot give them anything definite which is shown by the fact they vote. So what have they got? Nothing! So they may as well become taxicab drivers or something like that. So let's see well it’s 6 o'clock so I'll stop here. Are there any questions?
Answer: Well you have to go through it and of course the truth is you don't really know what the result is going to be until such a time as you actually know. Because if we, for example, let’s say we read the Bhagavad-gita and we say, “I accept what it says.” Well if I don't understand it, how can it be said that I accept it? Because I may say ”Whatever is written there I accept it.” In fact I don't even have to open the book, I'll just say, “Whatever's in that book I accept that.” But could you say I really accepted if I don't really know what it is? And if I read it but I don't really understand it, then do I really know what it is? So actually we’ll only really know what the Bhagavad-gita says when we’re actually realized, which is an interesting point. But that's one point, but another point to make here though that is less esoteric actually, is that in science, there is what you could call normal science and extraordinary science. These terms were used by Thomas Kuhn. So normal science, as you can tell from the name, is what normally happens in scientific research. Now there, one does not expect anything unusual from one’s experiments. The idea is to work out certain consequences of a theory and develop them more and more, but you are fully confident that things are going to happen according to what the theory predicts.
For example, let's say, like I was talking with this physicist yesterday, we were mentioning the Josephson Effect. So Josephson originally worked at this effect for temperatures near absolute zero. And there's a theory describing it based on quantum mechanics, and this theory is based on first principles of quantum mechanics. It’s not that there is a new theory made up for this phenomenon. But what actually happened is you take the basic principles of quantum mechanics that were already there and what Josephson did was say, “Ah ha! From these principles we can conclude that such and such a thing should happen.” And then they found that it really did happen. So he did that for very low temperatures, but now you can ask, “Well, what would happen at somewhat higher temperatures?” So let’s first of all work out the theory, and this doesn't mean inventing anything new. This means working out what the consequences of the existing theory are and understanding them. So this is a question of understanding what’s there. Initially you've, say, learned the theory and you understand something about it, but you don't understand everything. By further thought you understand more. And then you see, “Ah ha, now that I understand more about the theory I see that a certain thing should happen, so let’s do that experiment,” and then you see, ah, it does happen.
So that's the way normal science works. And 99 point many, many 9s percent of the work done in science is just like that. So there, it’s not that the scientist is typically sitting down and coming up with something new. In fact it is exceedingly rare for a scientist to come up with something new. In fact it's socially not acceptable among scientists, because if you do try to come up with something new, for one thing that really sets off people’s ego sensitivities because it means that you're making a bid to be an Einstein or something like that. And most people know that they can never be Einsteins, so they don't want anyone else to be in that category either. So if you start actually proposing something new then the viewpoint of most scientists is: it better be something good, because if it’s not we're going to cut you down like anything. Actually there's a sort of cutthroat atmosphere in scientific circles. It’s very enlivening you might say. But mostly they're not coming up with anything new. So in that sense, if that can be called science, then what we're doing can be called science, because it's true, we’re not coming up with anything new. We’re trying to realize what's already there. And for us that's something new because we haven't realized it yet. So, and also there is no limit to how much you can realize because even if you become a vastly learned sage like the four Kumaras or something like that, which have been living for the last several billion years and discussing Vedic knowledge on the demigod level of intelligence during all that time, they still have new things to realize. Because ultimately Krishna is unlimited. So it's not, another thing people will say is, “Well, you just have a closed system, how boring, and there’s no room for excitement there because everything is already there and it’s all finished.” But that's not true because Krishna is unlimited.