By Jaganmohini Devi Dasi
When one studies the life and works of several prominent scientists, such as Newton, Planck, Pasteur, Einstein and Schrödinger, one discovers that they were inclined towards spirituality in comprehending their worldview of nature and reality. Their reflections are thus great assets to the works of Bhaktivedanta Institute that focuses on ‘Theistic interpretation of empirical observation’. Srila Prabhupada, the founder acharya of BI had a strong message for the scientific community, that life cannot originate from a combination of chemicals, but ‘Life Comes From Life’ and that ‘Matter is from Life.’ After Srila Prabhupada appointed H.H. Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami as director of BI since its inception, the former was very eager to see some big event happen where scientists gather and talk about Life and its origin such that both scientific and alternative paradigms are discussed. Though considered weak by scientific community, still Srila Prabhupada wanted the alternative theistic paradigm to find place in the discussions of scientific community in all their areas as a plausible option to resolve the question of evolution and life’s origin and many other problems associated with philosophical and ethical concerns. In this regard, he had also provided appropriate guidelines in his commentary to S.B. verse 1.5.22 – “Human intellect is developed for advancement of learning in art, science, philosophy, physics, chemistry, psychology, economics, politics, etc. By culture of such knowledge the human society can attain perfection of life. This perfection of life culminates in the realization of the Supreme Being-Vishnu. When advancement of knowledge is applied in the service of the Lord, the whole process becomes absolute…….Advanced people are eager to understand Absolute Truth through the medium of science and therefore a great scientist should endeavour to prove the existence of the Lord on a scientific basis. Similarly, philosophical speculations should be utilized to establish the Supreme Truth as sentient and all-powerful…”.
As per Srila Prabhupada’s desire, the first international conference on the theme ‘Life Comes From Life’, was organized by Srila Sripada Maharaj at Sri Vrndavan from Oct 14 to Oct 16, 1977 a month before former’s departure from this world. Srila Prabhupada was pleased and anxious simultaneously, to know the reactions of scholars who had gathered to study the alternative paradigm of Life and its origin. After reading the press reports (one report pasted here from statesman, the most important newspaper in India then), Srila Prabhupada said to guests (room conversation VRN, Oct. 27th, 1977),
‘Bhaktivedanta Institute is doing something scientifically to understand God consciousness. That is proof. And it is well advertised. And we shall go on proceeding like that more and more. So many scientists, foreign and local, they participated, discussed. It is not ordinary thing. Hm?’ and he said, ‘The Bhaktivedanta Institute is now recognized’.
He thus became very hopeful that scientists worldwide in the future would examine this alternative paradigm and try to prove the existence of Supreme Life or God scientifically and philosophically.
Taking several instructions given by Srila Prabhupada for BI like ‘The subject matter should not be different from what is in the temples” and others like “When the scientist, philosopher and medical man will get the opportunity to study systematically what is God, what are His energies, what is my (our) relationship (with Him), how to approach Him, then only there will be paradise.”, Srila Sripada Maharaj by the grace of his spiritual master Srila Prabhupada was blessed with highest degree of intellectual humility and could thus present successfully, the alternative view point which is ‘Theistic interpretation of empirical observation’ among the scientists and Nobel Laureates.
Indeed discussing about God within core scientific circle is not everybody’s cup of tea as can be seen by the dialogue presented below between Nobel Laureate in Physics Prof. Charles Townes(Inventor of Laser and Maser) and Srila Sripada Maharaj(Dr. T.D. Singh) excerpted from the book ‘God is a Person’ published by Bhaktivedanta Institute, Kolkata.
“At each stage (in science), entirely new laws, concepts and generalizations are necessary, requiring creativity and inspiration to just as a great degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. “(P. W. Anderson (1972). More is different, Science, New Series, 177, No. 4047, 393 – 396.)
The issue it seems is how observer-observed paradox is resolved in science by including observer information without learning the basic principles and axioms of the observer. Without this we are circling and circling but not zeroing upon the fundamental problem.
Excerpts from ‘God is a Person’ follow:
CHT: Well, understanding God is certainly very difficult. I would say there is some spiritual force out there that has planned this universe and is affecting us, and I feel a very close personal interaction. It is very important to me.
TDS: What about the argument within scientific communities that the universe is fine tuned? You yourself have mentioned that the universe is very special and unique. The fundamental constants, especially, are made in such a unique way; any slight change in these constants might lead to a completely different type of universe. The universe as we know it would be completely different. I would like to say that this type of interpretation could be taken as a theistic interpretation of empirical observation; the constants have been empirically observed, and from there we can reach a conclusion. Would you like to comment on whether this interpretation is acceptable?
CHT: Well, it is certainly very clear that this universe is very special. It is remarkable and highly improbable that its creation is random. So how did it happen? Well, there are several possibilities. One possibility is that it was planned by a fantastic intelligence you might call God, who planned the universe and the laws of physics. People who don’t want to believe in a spiritual energy might say, “The only explanation is that we agree that it is highly improbable, but maybe there is an infinite number of universes, all having different laws of physics, and the only one that happened to turn out right is this one. Since this is the only one that turned out right, that is the reason we are here.” That is, of course, just imagination, since we don’t do any scientific testing to find out if they are there. Now the other difficulty with that is, why is it that the laws of physics would change from one universe to another? We don’t know what makes the laws of physics the way they are – it is a great puzzle. Maybe the simplest concept is that this was all planned by a superior intelligence somehow. However, one can make other postulates such as the existence of an infinite number of universes, or that somehow the laws of physics have to be the way they are, although we don’t know why they have to be that way.
TDS: Now if we adopt that conception or understanding, then we could say that all scientific knowledge or knowledge per se, could be understood as divinely inspired. In science, for example, I think there is the sense of inspiration and intuition where very wonderful ideas appear from time to time in the minds of scientists such as yourself. I remember you mentioning to me that when you discovered the laser it came all of a sudden as an inspiration or revelation, from what I could call a divine source. According to Vedanta – the Hindu tradition, – there are three aspects of God. The first is Brahman, or the impersonal all-pervading aspect. This is similar to Einstein’s impersonal conception of God, as the beautiful and fantastic laws of nature – a phenomenon in nature. The second aspect is known as Paramatma, which is translated as the Supersoul. Paramatma is a localized aspect of God. Paramatma is within every living being and is the source of inspiration and intuition. The third aspect is known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I would appreciate your comment on these aspects of God as explained in Vedanta.
CHT: Very interesting. I think we have to be very open-minded. I would say that God is everything. It is very difficult for us to define God.
TDS: Do you think some spiritual being is guiding us?
CHT: That’s right. Some spiritual being or spiritual ideas are guiding us, and we simply can’t conceive of them. There are many things we don’t understand. What is a human? Where is a human? Are we somewhere up in the top of our head? Where is this person? How do we have free will? How can we make choices? And so on. There are many things we don’t understand. There are forces in nature and within our universe that we don’t understand. We have to accept the idea that they are probably there. We can feel and sense them, but we cannot understand them.
TDS: You have said that the true spirit of science is the search for truth, and that it is also meant to discover the unseen laws of nature. In this regard, you have also said that science is not necessarily materialistic. In other words, science is not to be termed as completely materialistic. Very interestingly, Prof. Karl Pribram(a neuropsychologist from the Georgetown University, Washington D.C. and Professor emeritus, Stanford and Radford Universities) said, “Science is Spiritual”, in our interview with him, which was published with the title Science is Spiritual in the first issue of our Sa-vijnanam journal. Also, you said that in the search for truth it would certainly be beneficial if scientists can incorporate spiritual principles in their scientific works. It would be good if you could elaborate on this. I’d like to mention in this connection that it would be very beneficial to incorporate principles like the role of God in scientific research, especially in connection with the study of life and its origin. Regarding life’s origin, chemical evolutionists claim that chemical reactions as a function of the cosmic life scale are the dynamics of matter that will lead to life. They proclaim that billions of years of chemical reactions will give rise to life. In other words, the chemical evolutionists state that life or living being is a product of chemical reactions. But this conception still remains as an ideal only, and this idea could be certainly wrong. I personally feel very strongly that a divine mechanism could be more realistic. In a divine paradigm, the argument is like this: The seed of life, or to be more precise, life itself, exists as a fundamental spiritual particle. As an example, when the sperm cell of the father in which life is already present interacts and combines with the egg from the mother, the bodily form of life particle develops. So, from the very beginning, an animated physical body grows when the life particle is present, and not the other way around – that the body has developed first and life enters later on. So, applying the argument of the Vedantic conception of creation, life would have to be present from the beginning. Thus the Vedantic conception holds that from the beginning of the existence of the Universe, not just the earth, life as a fundamental spiritual particle has existed along with the fundamental material elements and has been integral to be the development of the various bodily forms that we know of today. I would appreciate your comments in this regard.
CHT: Very interesting. Well, I think it is important to recognize that from the traditional scientific viewpoint we have no idea what the probability of life is. We can be pretty sure that it happened only once on earth, because we are all related – all species on earth are related. All are built of the same type of molecules – left handed types. Left handed molecules and right handed molecules are equally valid. Why aren’t there are any right handed types of amino acids in protein molecules? That means that life probably formed here only once, certainly not more than two or three times. The probability of the beginning of life must be very small. The Earth is a very favourable place for life to form, but it formed only once, some few billions of years ago. So, the probability is very small. How small? We don’t know that. We don’t know how it started. There are many puzzles, and I think we must recognize them. Some scientists say, “Well, of course, it is just chemistry. So chemicals come together, never mind how. And in any case, no problem.” But they have to come together in a very special way, and we don’t know the probability of that. It must be very, very small. Now, in addition to that, the idea of consciousness is strange. You see, molecules – we think of them as materialistic things. Then, what is consciousness? We have difficulty even in defining consciousness, or the conscious being. There may be other forces involved outside of what our science presently knows.
TDS: We can call them the spiritual forces.
CHT: Spiritual forces, or other forces. In physics now, we are finding more and more unknown things that we recognize must be present. For example, most of the matter in our universe that we know must be there, we can’t see. We don’t know what most of the matter is. We can see and detect only five percent of the matter in our universe. We don’t know what the rest is. We are finding new forces in our universe, and there is no reason to think that there aren’t additional forces present. So, we try hard to understand. Science is an effort to understand how the universe works. We try hard and hope we can find out more and more and more. But we must also recognize that there is much we don’t understand, and we must accept that.
TDS: Well, if life comes about only once and the conditions were rightly formed from the beginning and life is viewed as a spiritual force or other forces that was always present, then this could be in harmony with the theistic conception – God as the source of both the material energy, or force, and life.
CHT: Yes, it certainly corresponds with the theistic interpretation. That’s quite correct.
Jaganmohini D. Dasi (Disciple of H.H. Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami)