Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 8: The World of Science

The effect, in the end, of the process of knowledge which posits an external world is, that for all practical purposes, the world and the individual are independent entities, a position that is affirmed by sense-perception and corroborated by a judgment of the mind. To live in a world which is not vitally connected with oneself may involve a curious moment-to-moment adjustment to suit the moods and the vagaries of the world, which has its seasons, its winds and storms, its rains and droughts, its quakes and tornadoes rising from the sea which covers the whole earth as a belt, and several other inscrutable behaviours of Nature, with which the individual has to put up, somehow. The insecurity consequent upon having to live in a world standing outside the knowledge and capacity of the individual keeps everyone restless, wonderstruck and curious as to how the physical world behaves in the manner it does. What is it that motivates the changes in Nature, the precise movements of the solar and stellar systems, the wide galaxies and the endless space with an endless time attached to it? Here comes the effort of the individual to make a scientifically calculated study of Nature and its ways.

Common sense has it that the world is just a large mass of earth-stuff with water, air and heat as well as light coming from the sun. Originally, it was thought that the earth was flat and the sun moved round it in a circular fashion. If the earth had been really flat like a pancake, the rise of the sun at one end of the world would have illumined the entire world in one instant. But, the sun does not illumine the earth that way. The fact that the mornings and the noons and the evenings of some part of the world need not be such to certain other parts of the world, would be enough to tell us that the earth is perhaps round in its shape and is not flat. Ancient astronomers in India like Aryabhata and Copernicus in the West maintained that the sun does not go round the earth, but that it is the earth that goes round the sun. Indications to this effect can be found even in the mass of literature known as the Vedas with their Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Even advanced scientists like Newton held the view that space is like a vast receptacle in which the entire material world is contained, with no living connection between the content and the container. Objects in the world were considered to attract each other with a pull known as gravitation with reference to their mass and distance. It took a long time to discover through the further history of science that the material world is not just contained in space as in a cup but there is an inseparable relation between matter on one hand and space and time on the other. It was observed that space and the world of earth, water, fire and air are internally related and the whole thing constitutes an endless electromagnetic force, as it were, with more or less pressure in different parts of this field which has its undulations like waves, causing concentration of substance in different areas, gradually concretising itself as gas, heat, liquid and solid. We may notice here, perhaps, the first step in the world of science to visualise a universal continuum, man himself not standing outside it but included in it, thus the entire Nature being a self-contained whole.

Also, matter was originally said to be constituted of minute particles called molecules which are chemical in their nature, differing from one another because of their chemical composition. Researchers held that the molecules are made up of a minuter body of stuff called atoms, which, in turn, were noticed to be tiny centres of force rather than things in themselves, gyrating with velocity, with a nucleus within and wavelike particles moving around, known as electrons. The solar system with the sun in the centre and the planets revolving round the sun can be compared to the structure of the atom, wherein the sun would be the nucleus of this larger 'atom' of the solar system and the planets would be in the position of electrons, thereby indicating, again, that even the bodies of planets may not be the large bundles of heavy material as they appear to ordinary perception, but are immensely large packets of force concentrated in varying extensions of the pressure of force. This sub-atomic substance became the object of more and more concentrated investigations as to its true nature. The quantum theory of physics proclaimed that matter is a series of wave patterns or particles of light which behave like waves, and matter is convertible into light and energy. It may be that light and energy, too, can be converted into matter as it seems to have happened when gases became liquids and liquids became solid substances with heat involved in the process of motion and friction. The world stood before the scientist as a gigantic miracle of power and radiance, rather than as a stuff looking like dead matter and unintelligent crudity.

It is the Theory of Relativity that actually shook the world of science from its very roots, which, while it accepted that matter and energy are interconvertible (E = mc2), ruse up to the necessity to investigate the very structure of Space and Time in its relation to Gravitation. The Relativity position is difficult to explain in a few words, but suffice it to say that it discovered that Space is not like a sheet spread out in a three-dimensional fashion, and Time is not just linear motion. Space and Time go together to constitute what may be called Space-Time and form a four-dimensional continuum, very uncomfortably breaking down all the rules, laws and regulations of the three-dimensional world of common perception. Even the Space-Time continuum should not be regarded as a substance somewhat like a tangible something. Rather, the Space-Time of Relativity is a conceptual field of mathematical point-events, reducing staggeringly the whole world to the nature of a universal mind-stuff. "The stuff of the world is consciousness," said Arthur Eddington, and "God is a cosmic mathematical Thought," said James Jeans. We have gone too far from the rural conception of a farmer's field of harvest and plantation to the field of universal relativity, which looks more like God thinking His own Thought, rather than anything else, if we could be permitted to employ this phrase which we cannot avoid one day or the other.

The interconnectedness of phenomena in the so-called events of the world taking place not in Space or in Time, but in a four-dimensional Space-Time continuum, was taken up with its more advanced implications for consideration by Alfred North Whitehead. In his philosophy of the 'Organism', Whitehead arrived at the conclusion that there are no set causes producing set effects, but anything can be an effect or a cause in a symmetrical manner of action and reaction, since the world as it is discovered by the Theory of Relativity is an organism with its parts integrally related to it. Cause and effect are continuous, the absence of which continuity would sever any possible relation between cause and effect. Things in the world are called 'actual occasions', the potential concentrated points of force whose very existence as well as structure are conditioned by the existence and structure of other 'actual occasions' which fill the cosmos as its constituents. The world is not a solid substance but is more like a field of law and order, an idea of total inclusiveness, a system of internal give-and-take policy obtaining among the individualities known as 'actual occasions', transforming the location of individuals into a fluid movement of a liquefied connection, as it were, with everything else also in the world. Super-individual intentions, known as 'eternal objects', in the language of Whitehead, like the 'Ideas' of Plato, 'ingress' into the body of the 'actual occasions' and make them appear to be what they are. Even the God of religion, according to Whitehead, exists as a determining factor of the determination of 'actual occasions' by the 'eternal objects', and He Himself stands, therefore, determined in a way by the prehensive and apprehensive activities of the 'actual occasions', thus bringing about a mutual action and reaction process between God and the individuals. The far-reaching thought of Whitehead would not forbid the conclusion that God has, at the same time, to be transcendent to the world of the 'actual occasions', though they are there just because He Himself is.

The specially religious import of modern physical science is highlighted also in the system of Samuel Alexander, which he purports to explain in his book entitled "Space, Time and Deity". According to Alexander, Space-Time is the matrix of all things, the very substance of the universe, a clue that he gathers from the Theory of Relativity. The Space-Time matrix causes motion and force, and brings about the three-dimensional picture of what are known as primary qualities, like length, breadth and height, substance, volume and content. The perception of these primary qualities happens to be through the secondary qualities arising as a sort of action-reaction process obtaining between the object of perception, namely, a primary quality and the perceiving mind. To cite an instance, a leaf looks green in colour not because there is such a thing called greenness in Nature itself, but because of an abstraction of properties automatically taking place in the internal structure of the leaf excluding all other characteristics in Nature apart from what looks like green. So is the case with other colours and forms of objects. Sensations of every kind form, again, a set of secondary qualities, that is to say, no one can know what the world is in itself as a set of primary qualities. Mind, intellect and reason are the further manifestations or evolutes of the Space-Time continuum or matrix, which point to the manifestation of a controlling principle called Deity, and every succeeding stage can be regarded as a Deity to the preceding stage. According to Alexander, the final Deity is yet to be manifested completely, which, when achieved, will be the end of the cosmic process. Perhaps, here, Alexander intends to say, which he actually does not, that the end of the cosmic process of evolution is the attainment of God. Also, a God who is yet to be will not have the character of Eternity, and God, then, would cease to be God.