Bhagavatam vs Science – finally, a leap ahead
Sitalatma Das: Srila Prabhupada asked us to defeat science, particularly their bogus propaganda that God doesn’t exist and that life and consciousness come from matter. We haven’t be able to do that. Moreover, we haven’t been able to thoroughly convince even our own devotees, despite everyone honestly professing their faith in Srila Prabhupada and shastra – when it comes to science we often believe what we want to believe and justify it to ourselves with “Prabhupada said” quotes, thanks to easy access to Folio or Vanisource where one can find support for almost any particular view. Bitter split over the Earth being flat or round is probably the prime example of our own uncertainty as a group. We all want to take shelter in Srimad Bhagavatam and comply with its description of the universe but modern science provides irrefutable proofs, too. Reconciling these two views has been so far impossible and the safest course of action taken by majority of devotees has been to avoid this conflict altogether. By avoiding this conflict we avoid the solution, too, however.
As it happens, some of our devotees insist on Bhagavatam description of Bhu Mandala and cite common Flat Earth arguments as examples of empirical evidence. Other devotees reply that this “evidence” is profoundly unscientific and if we keep advancing it we’ll be branded as fanatical illiterates and never taken seriously. How can we defeat science this way? Some say that if we get large enough numbers and make loud enough noise then science will naturally become irrelevant. Maybe, but that’s not how Srila Prabhupada wanted us to achieve that – not by denying empirical reality and, most importantly, not by discarding logic and rationality as demonstrated by makers of Flat Earth youtube videos we take our “evidence” from.
Luckily, a completely different approach to science has been in the works for several years now and the following “guide” has been published as a blog article for an easy introduction to what is being proposed. I reproduce it here with author’s permission. I still want to say a few introductory words, though.
The key stumbling block to reconciling modern science with that of Srimad Bhagavatam has been our own deeply materialistic view of the world which we imbibed by taking birth under the aegis of “Western culture”. We want to understand Vedic science with the mindset and tools of atheists – the background and methods we have been taught in schools and colleges. Despite becoming devotees, we still assume that the world is made of objects moved around by forces, for example. We might agree with Moon being a subtle planet but still talk about distance to the Moon in miles – because we have embraced materialistic concept of “distance” between “objects” in “space”. These notions were originally taken from deluded conditioned beings (Ancient Greeks who are called yavanas in our books for a reason), not from Bhagavatam. In fact, we can start even from Bhagavad Gita, the very basics of spiritual science.
In this sense the approach presented in the books I recommend here is simple. It’s based on simple truths – the soul changes bodies, and the world can be modeled as an upside down tree. Modern science, on the other hand, is based on the assumption that the same unchanging body/object can move through space, and that the world should be modeled as if assembled from a large number of fundamental units (subatomic particles, at this stage), and this randomly occurring assembly gives rise to emergent properties such as consciousness. These false assumptions give rise to incorrect mathematics and physics instead and those, in turn, give rise to intractable problems of indermination, inconsistency, and incompleteness in science. At this point these problems have been proven as fundamentally unsolvable but have been accepted more as “features” than “bugs”, while vast majority of the population is still stuck in the “classic” era of the 19th century when science was expected to provide a deterministic, consistent, and complete picture of reality. Even as devotees we happen to fall into in this group, too.
Rethinking basic notions of objects, space, and relationships between them as derived from Bhagavatam and particularly Sankhya leads to a complete overhaul of practically all of modern science from ground up, and yet it does not dispute existence of any empirical evidence. The books below present Vedic explanations for a wide range or fields, from cosmology to evolution to quantum mechanics to number theory to relativity to thermodynamics. As one reads through a list of subjects covered one will certainly marvel at the breadth of this effort. If one reads the books themselves I can assure you there’s enough depth to them as well. In fact, if one understands how we should approach science this way he will not be intimidated to engage even the most qualified specialists in these fields – because we attack the very foundation of their impressive academic towers and they are not prepared to defend that. In fact, it is impossible to defend these foundations because they are based on wrong assumptions about the world. It is rather simple, but not always easy.
One of our own atavistic assumptions is that we can gain some new level of knowledge but still remain who we are – just like scientists who remain “normal” people who drink their wine and taste their cheese. It means we can simply add knowledge to our existing body instead of changing into a new body, so it’s a wrong assumption. If we are attached to our current body, to who we think we are right now, then that’s the body we will get after completing our course of study and newly acquired knowledge will never fully manifest. It is impossible to gain Vedic view of the world and maintain our material attachments just as it is impossible to train dogs in Krishna consciousness – religion is meant for humans, not animals, and gaining knowledge means developing a better body. When Krishna (BG 13.8-12) gives a list of what constitutes knowledge, beginning with humility, we still somehow expect that outcome of our learning how the universe works will be knowing the distance between planets and such, not ācāryopāsanaṁ or vairāgyam. However, Krishna concludes that list by saying that anything besides it is ignorance. The process of devotion is simple, the solution to approaching science proposed here is simple, but letting our upadhis go is not easy. We just keep holding on to our anarthas – things we think are true and so have value, like knowing true size of the Earth, for example. Can we ask ourselves “why do I need to know that”? I’m afraid quite often the answer would be “to feel myself superior”.
We need to explain modern science from Vedic perspective for preaching, true, but we also need to dispel our own doubts, so everybody who still feels that science presents an alternative to Vedic view at least in some areas would be served well to read these books or at least know they exist and they prove that Vedic explanation of the world is the only valid one. Understanding Vedic science will also lead to humility, not pride (pridelessness is second on Krishna’s list).
So, what follows is a guide to a dozen books on all these matters. Some have been previously presented on Dandavats already. They are not gospel truth and at times might appear speculative but the validity of their fundamental approach is undeniable. We all can certainly benefit from studying it. In fact, any other approach to dealing with science seems inadequate now. These are not my books – to clear any possible confusion, but I will quote the article title verbatim. Note about the author is at the end.
A Brief Guide to My Books
Over the years as I have written many books, new readers often want to know where to begin, how to proceed systematically, so that understanding them would become easier. Implicit in this request is the problem that the books are not easy reading, especially if you don’t read them in order. While I try to summarize the relevant ideas at the beginning of each book, that summary might sometimes be breezy, and if you are not used to the novelty, then the rest of the reading can seem harder. With that problem at hand, this post describes a progression from one book to another. These books were not necessarily written in that order; sometimes I leapt forward, and then came back to plug a gap. Due to that back and forth, there is some repetition in different books, which I think is good because the only way to familiarize oneself to a new way of thinking is to go over it multiple times. I might also note that the books have more than what I outline below, but this is a summary of the progression.
Gödel’s Mistake – The Role of Meaning in Mathematics
Overtly, this book deals with some fundamental paradoxes in number theory and computing theory, and discusses their significance. But covertly this book is about the three modes of nature of Sāńkhya which manifest as manas (concept), prāna (activity), and vāk (objects). The book deliberately never discusses Sāńkhya directly because the goal is to derive the above said distinction from problems within mathematics. The book shows how numbers are sometimes concepts (ordinals), sometimes activities (programs), and sometimes objects (cardinals). The inability to distinguish between these three types of numbers leads to numerous paradoxes with mathematics, which the book discusses.
The lesson of these paradoxes is that we must describe numbers—and hence everything that uses mathematics—in terms of the three categories (concepts, activities, and objects). If we use only one category—e.g. objects, or cardinal numbers, as science does at the present when it describes the world as quantities—then it can be consistent but incomplete (because the other two categories are missing). But if we try to reduce any category to any other category, we end up in a contradiction. Thus, the three categories are necessary and sufficient in order to make mathematics consistent and complete.
How the three categories of numbers co-exist and combine forms the biggest outstanding problem of modern mathematics, and the book illustrates that the solution to this problem is to describe a theory in which concepts are converted by a process into an object. In mathematical parlance, concepts are sets, processes are functions, and objects are quantities. There is a long tradition in mathematics that treats sets and functions also as objects, which constitutes a category mistake and creates paradoxes.
This reduction arises due to a materialistic view in which the world is only objects, and ideas and processes must therefore be reduced to objects. The book shows that unless this category mistake and the resulting reduction is corrected, mathematics will be either inconsistent or incomplete.
Quantum Meaning – A Sematic Interpretation of Quantum Theory
If you have followed the thesis of the previous book, it should be evident that if processes are used to convert ideas into objects, then these objects must be treated as symbols of the ideas. Objects are not therefore meaningless entities; to every object we must attach a meaning. In the everyday world, we identify these objects as tables, chairs, cars, houses, etc. which are things, but they are also symbols of ideas denoted by the same word. Philosophers—owing to the use of the same word—have tried to reduce ideas and processes to things, which, as we saw above, is a category mistake.
Just as mathematics is inconsistent when this reduction is carried out, and incomplete if the other categories are disregarded, a similar problem must appear in a physical theory too. The theory must be incomplete if we don’t induct ideas and processes, and inconsistent if we reduce one to the other. This book shows how the problems of current atomic theory mimic those of mathematics above.
The most prominent example of quantum incompleteness is probabilities and it arises when we treat objects as things instead of symbols. You can measure symbol probability in a text but you won’t be able to predict the word order because the order is semantic but probabilities are physical. We might say that the effect of word order is empirical, but the cause of that symbol order is not empirical.
Quantum theorists have shown that if we try to predict symbol order using additional ‘hidden variables’ we end up in a logical contradiction. In one sense, there is nothing hidden because the symbol order is empirical. And yet, that symbol order is not a physical object. Thus, the quantum problem is identical to the problem in mathematics—if we ignore ideas then we get incompleteness but if we reduce ideas to objects then we get inconsistency. Therefore we need three categories (idea, process, and objects) two of which exist in physics already: the ‘process’ is bosons, and ‘objects’ are fermions. But without the ideas to which a process is applied to make things, processes and things remain probabilistic.
All standard interpretations of atomic theory try to explain away the probabilities as a feature of reality, or hope that these will one day be replaced by determinism. This interpretation instead shows that neither is probability a feature of reality, nor will it ever be replaced by determinism. However, it can be replaced by the three modes of nature in which things are symbols of ideas, produced by a process.
Sāńkhya and Science – Applications of Vedic Philosophy to Modern Science
If you followed the thesis of the previous book, you would have noticed that there are effects that can be perceived by the senses but they cannot be explained by what the senses perceive. We noted one such effect, namely, the meaning that creates the order of words, but it is not the only effect.
Sāńkhya describes multiple levels of deeper realities beyond the mind: these are called intellect (which judges the truth), ego (which judges the goodness), and mahattattva (which judges the rightness). If the mind’s existence creates the problem of word order, then others must have effects too.
The effect of intellect is that only logically consistent meanings can exist together because they affirm each other’s truth. Inconsistent meanings cannot coexist; they will be pushed apart. Therefore the truth of the meaning causes aggregation and disaggregation, and having seen the effects caused by meaning, there must now be effects caused by truth. This effect can be explained by treating the intellect as a cause which seeks consistency among propositions. The modern explanation of ‘attractive’ and ‘repulsive’ forces as the cause of molecules and chemical reactions must now be replaced by the idea that these molecules are produced in the process of creating semantic consistency.
This theory of aggregation will explain some chemical reactions but prove inadequate because other reactions are caused by incompleteness. This is because after a consistency is created, we need to preserve what we have and provide what we lack. That which lacks is the incompleteness and manifests as desire. And that which is considered irrelevant is the fullness which manifests as revulsion. Both hinge upon a purpose which causes a change. In order to explain this change, we need a new property called the ego in Sāńkhya; it creates purpose that looks like attraction and repulsion but it is neither a physical force, nor semantic consistency. Why does an already consistent system expand, at the risk of destablizing itself? This needs a new explanation caused by incompleteness.
Then we will find situations in which reactions don’t occur even when both desire and its object are present. This is the counterpart of the fact that just because you desire things you see, doesn’t mean you get them. Similarly, sometimes reactions will occur fortuitously without incompleteness, which is the counterpart of the fact that often we get things without desiring them. We are still talking about motion, but now the explanation needs morality and the consequences of previous actions which sometimes prevent the fulfillment of desires, and at other times deliver results without such desires.
The existence of mind, intellect, ego, and morality can thus be made relevant to the discussion of the behavior of atoms and molecules, successively bringing insights from within the observer to explain what lies outside. This is the new philosophy of science in which introspection, rather than sense perception, is the method for the advancement of science, even for physics and chemistry.
Moral Materialism – A Semantic Theory of Ethical Naturalism
We have talked a lot about the nature of matter so far. Now we will talk about the interaction between matter and the soul. The central problem here is free will. It conflicts with the idea of determinism in science, which is needed in order to predict the future state of the universe. If this state is determined by my free will then I could (based on morality) predict my future, but not the universe’s future.
This book discusses a reconciliation of free will and determinism in which the world is like a drama whose script is fixed in advance, but the actors in the drama are yet to be decided. The script defines the events but it doesn’t determine the actors. Since the script is predefined, you can deterministically predict all that will happen in the universe—past, present, and future—and yet you cannot predict who will do what. The universe is what (will happen) deterministic, but who (will do it) indeterministic.
As we established the properties of the individual experience semantically, we now talk about the universal space and time semantically. Both are hierarchical and closed. Hierarchical space means that the boundary of your house constitutes a space, which is embedded in the boundary of the space demarcated by a city, and so forth. Space is not flat and open; there are imperceptible boundaries which create effects, which cannot be explained without the hierarchical view. Hierarchical time means that a faster clock exists inside a slower clock, like seconds are within hours, hours are within days. Thus, the entire universe is closed, and it evolves cyclically. This structure can be described as a tree.
There are thus two kinds of laws in this space and time. The first is the cyclic creation of events of the drama. The second is that which connects the events into trajectories—individual life stories. Both laws are predictive; the former says what will happen, and the latter defines who will do it.
Trajectories are drawn after the events are defined, which means that individual action cannot change the course of the universe. Rather, individuals will grab the roles from the available ones, and if you vacate a role then someone else will take it. Thus the universe has a fixed destiny but individuals can choose their own destiny. The interaction of these two laws constitutes the crux of this book.
Signs of Life – A Semantic Critique of the Theory of Evolution
It was important to establish the idea that the universal evolution is independent of individual evolution, because it leads us to a different understanding of the evolution of species which is caused by changes in cosmic events rather than the random mutation and natural selection of individual bodies.
The evolution of species is caused by the changes to the roles being created in the cosmic drama and the individual living entity is simply an actor in that drama, not the cause of the drama itself. Thus, some species will automatically appear and disappear at different times, quite like the king and queen in a drama go backstage to allow other scenes to be enacted before they return to the stage. Given that the drama is cyclic, just because you don’t see the king and queen on the stage doesn’t mean they have ceased to exist. The roles of king and queen—the different species—exist permanently. And yet they become visible or invisible at different places and times, due to script of the drama.
Thus all species are eternal, and yet they appear and disappear. Indeed, there are patterns of this evolution shared with the evolution of ideas, cultural evolution, the rise and fall of civilizations, boom and bust in the economy, the changing of seasons and weather patterns, and many others.
A crucial factor in each of these cases is that the system is closed and each closed system oscillates in certain predefined normal modes like a drum which can produce many sounds depending on where it is hit. The cause of such cycles is outside the system—like a hand that hits the drum to trigger a new vibration—and individuals in the system cannot create a new cycle, but they can participate in a cycle. The book presents flaws in the idea of individual change causing macroscopic change, through theories and examples drawn from physics, mathematics, computing theory, game theory, etc.
Uncommon Wisdom – Fault Lines in the Foundations of Atheism
We started by discussing the problems in mathematics; we then took it to a discussion of issues in modern physics; we then discussed how this paradigm will be extended into chemistry; we then talked about the separation between individual experience and cosmic events, describing the nature of space and time; we used this foundation to discuss the flaws in evolutionary theory. Every foundational idea in modern thinking—reductionism, materialism, relativism, determinism, and evolutionism—was critiqued in the process, showing how science needs to think differently than it has so far.
We can now use this foundation to critique atheism, as this book does. Materialism is false because even to explain physics and chemistry we need to invoke mind, intellect, ego, and morality. Reduction is false because ideas and processes are required in addition to material objects. Determinism is true, but not in the sense that we conceive it—i.e. as the contradiction of free will. Evolutionism is false because the individual actions (mutations and selection) don’t influence the macroscopic change; rather macroscopic change creates the avenues in which individual actors can participate. Relativism is wrong because an absolute space and time creates macroscopic change independent of individual changes. Atheism therefore is an ideological dogma that has no foundation in real science.
As we saw above, even to explain sense experience we have to delve deeper into the recesses of the observer. But if a person is not introspective themselves, then the insights of an introspective person can be used to formulate new theories although the non-introspective person will not perceive the new reality sensually (because it can only be observed introspectively). Thus we can talk about an epistemology in which faith in the words of perceptually advanced individuals are used as springboards of intuition but reason and experiment are used to verify these intuitions in science. This process is akin to accepting a password from one who knows it, and then verifying if the password works correctly.
Reason and experience are useful in verifying the password, but faith is useful in discovering the password if we don’t know it. In that sense, revealed knowledge is valuable source of passwords, in lieu of our own perceptual advancement because we haven’t yet looked inward.
Emotion – A Soul-Based Theory of Its Origins and Mechanisms
Once we have rejected evolution, set aside the challenges of reductionism and determinism, and demonstrated the use of introspection in the progress of material science, we can now begin looking at the question of meaning and purpose in life by understanding the nature of the soul.
The soul in Vedic philosophy has three aspects—chit or cognition, sat or relation, and ananda or emotion. These three are also the judgments of truth, right, and good, respectively. In the material world, the judgment of right appears in the moral sense, the judgment of good in the ego, and the judgment of truth in the intellect. The judgment of truth operates on meaning in the mind, those meanings are derived from sensations, and the sensations are produced from the material objects.
Individually, relation, cognition, and emotion are incomplete; we can experience them in a first-person manner, but we cannot see their effects in the third-person manner. Therefore, the three must combine, although when they combine, one of three dominates while the others become subordinate. This dominant-subordinate relation changes with time, as a result of which sometimes we prioritize our duties, at other times our desires, and then at yet other times the nature of reality.
The three aspects of the soul are often internally inconsistent, and in the material world this inconsistency drives the soul to prioritize different things at different times. This model of the soul can be used as the paradigm for change in the material world; that change includes the shifts in our personality, and the transmigration of the soul through bodies. The model is also useful in formulating a theory of the body in which three aspects must be balanced in order to maintain health.
It means sometimes emotion dominates cognition, and at other times cognition overpowers emotion. Sometimes we do things as the situation demands, and other times we bend the situation to our demands. Attaining this balance by allowing different aspects to dominate at different times is the essence of choice. But we are also expected to use this choice correctly, which means different things can dominate at different times, places, and situations. If choice is used as expected, then we can be happy; if this choice is misused or its effects are not understood then we become unhappy.
Six Causes – The Vedic Theory of Creation
If the nature of the soul within this world is understood, then we can also ask how the soul enters this world, why the world is created, and how it is created. These questions require us to go beyond the soul into the nature of God, the relation between the soul and God, and between God and matter.
Every living entity has a need to know itself and express itself. Like an artist who creates a work of art in order to express his personality and then admires this work as a reflection of his persona, similarly, both the soul and God create to express their personality and by that expression know themselves. The power of action is used to externalize the personality, and the power of knowing is used to internalize it.
But these powers are inert in themselves unless there is a motivation to express and know. That motivation can further be divided into three parts—the idea to be expressed and known, the desire to express and know that idea, and the judgment if that expression and knowledge is appropriate.
The activity of expressing and knowing, together with the three aspects of internal motivation are collectively called thinking, feeling, willing, knowing, and acting. These are the five primordial stages of creation, which require an explicit understanding of the creator as a person. The product of God’s thinking is pradhāna, the product of His feeling is prakriti, the product of His willing is mahattattva, the product of His knowing is ahamkāra, and the product of His acting is prāna. Once ahamkāra and prāna are created, the rest of the process of universal creation follows as described in Sāńkhya.
This book discusses six kinds of causes; God who stands prior to the process of creation is the personal cause; the five steps through which He creates a primordial reality are the efficient cause; the senses, mind, intellect, ego, and morality are the instrumental cause; the material elements that these senses perceive, understand, judge, desire, and value are the material cause; the result of the contact between the instruments and the objects is forms which constitute the formal cause; and the combination of these into living, breathing, and working systems through prāna is the systemic cause.
This constitutes the philosophy of creation in Vedic texts. Greek philosophers had conceived of four causes—formal, material, efficient, and final; to this, we add instrumental and systemic causes, and both God and soul are the final cause or the purpose for which the universe exists. This is a convenient method to understand Vedic creationism for those who have prior familiarity with similar attempts in Greek philosophy where matter was only one of the four causes. Taking a broader approach to causality makes for a more comprehensive view of the universe.
Mystic Universe – An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology
Now that we have the philosophy of creation, we can talk about the actual universe. This is a complex book because it deals with many complex problems, namely flat vs. round earth, linear vs. cyclic time, clock time vs. conscious time, geocentric vs. heliocentric models, higher vs. lower planetary systems, heaven and hell, the invisible mountains, rivers, oceans, and islands, the motion of the planets and their effects on human lives, and finally the role of understanding cosmology in astrology.
If this wasn’t enough, there are also conflicts with modern cosmology regarding distances to different planets, the existence of multiple galaxies (which are rejected in Vedic cosmology) and multiple universes (accepted in Vedic cosmology, but not understood in modern cosmology). Problems of a Big Bang stemming from cosmic microwave radiation, the problem of dark energy (which causes a faster expansion) and dark matter (which must slow the expansion), exotic objects such as black holes and supernovae, and why everything we know from modern science is only 4% of the universe.
Tackling all these questions becomes possible only when we have a profound understanding of Sāńkhya, how it changes the structure of space and time into a tree, how causality in this tree-like space and time is different, and why atomic problems entails that light never travels in space although there is remote and non-local causation which indeed takes a finite amount of time that we currently attribute to travel rather than change. The book covers these at some length because if these are not grasped then everything else in cosmology would appear to be meaningless. All these constitute the theory of matter (space, time, matter, causality) before we understand the model of the universe.
Cosmic Theogony – The Personalization of Nature
This book is not out yet, but it will be in a couple of months. Whereas the previous book delved into the structure of the universe, but did not discuss the personalities which rule over these places, this one delves into the personalities. It discusses why there are 12 signs of the zodiac, 28 star signs, 15 phases of the moon, and how each of these are individually personalized as different types in nature. With this understanding we can also talk about the origin of the solar, lunar, and sidereal calendars.
Based on this we discuss Vedic Theogony—the 36 demigods that control the entire universe. These demigods are representations of a trinity—Viṣṇu, Shiva, and Brahma—due to which sometimes the trinity is taken out of the 36 demigods and only 33 demigods are considered in the Theogony.
The purpose of this book is to describe how nature is personalized through the control of higher living beings, which means the laws of nature are normative. They are like laws of society; they can be broken, but they are followed due to moral imperatives. The planets move in their orbits not due to gravity but because demigods perform their duties under the direction of Viṣṇu, Shiva, and Brahma. Our contact with material objects is also mediated by the influence of demigods, which is a new type of causal model in which a demigod delivers our karma or destiny based on our material desires.
Once this model is known, then we can understand how the worship of the trinity of Viṣṇu, Shiva, and Brahma led to the worship of sun, moon, and stars, which then morphed into three religious ideologies—polytheism, monotheism, and monism—which dominate all over the world today. These ideologies carry numerous shades of the sun, moon, and star worship from the past, as well as the ideas of the trinity noted above. These might appear to be conflicting ideologies but they are not; they stem from the three aspects of the soul, as the trinity represents the three features of the soul.
Based on the understanding of the soul, and its representation in the trinity, we can conceive of a religious universalism, in which polytheism, monism, and monotheism are progressive ideas about religion; they were part of a single system earlier, but were split into conflicting ideologies as the understanding of the soul, and its progressive journey of realization was forgotten.
Books from Blogs
In between conceptualizing, writing, and publishing the books, I had occasion to post many blogs, which were sometimes driven by questions from readers, sometimes served as overview of the books, and at other times discussed topics that are not yet covered in any of the books.
I collected a few posts in a book entitled “Is the Apple Really Red?” and in a book entitled “Western Questions, Eastern Answers”. They serve as gentle introductions to ideas that often share the subject with the above books but in cases are complementary to the content in the above books.
NB. One must inquire about the identity of the author – Ashish Dalela/Risiraja Das, and where all of this is coming from. Personally, I think the best answer to this question lies in his own blog post, which is a historical record worth reading regardless: