Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Advaita and Superstring Theory

I should say a million times, that Advaita is not physics. Especially after the publication of such books as "The Tao of Physics" and the endless Deepak Chopra stuff there is a great danger that what I have to say here will be misunderstood.

Superstring Theory says that everything in the universe and the space-time within which everything in the universe exists is a manifestation of superstrings.

In this sense, string theory is a monistic theory.

The only reason to mention string theory is to remind people that they are familiar with monism, even if they didn't know it.

Advaita is a monistic philosophy. It however takes consciousness to be the root of everything, not strings. In a physical theory like string theory, consciousness is a side-product of sufficiently complex agglomerations of matter, like our brains and accompanying bodies. In Advaita, space, time, matter are side-products of consciousness.

Advaita cannot be a theory of physics, nor be mathematical.

The last thing to mention is that as per Advaita, this insight into the nature of things is available directly to the awareness. It does not require mathematics, or particle colliders to confirm this, as per Advaita, it takes a prepared mind.

A whole system of ethics and an entire culture flow from the (Hindu) accretions around this core idea. However, Hinduism is much more than Advaita and includes denials of the core idea as well.

Note that just as one could have and does have several religions around the transcendent personal god of Judaism/Christianity/Islam, one could have several religions about this absolute monism. The "religious" component of Advaita comes from the specific practices and traditions that it has bound to itself from Hinduism.

So is my current understanding. It is of course, subject to revision, upon greater understanding.

Is Advaita true? Fortunately, it doesn't matter. Yes, I know I have made an extremely provocative statement. The point is that there is no value in belief or non-belief in Advaita, what matters is what you do. Following the golden rule ("do unto others as you would have done unto you") is an excellent starting point, for instance. There are many "derivations" of the golden rule in different cultures. In Advaita, the derivation is that the others **are** you. You have to see this directly, and making a habit of the rule helps, supposedly.

2 comments:

pennathur said...

Arun,
I am posting a huge chunk from here from Ambedkar's Riddles in Hinduism Part 3. I am not quote mining and readers are free to go thru the document on their own and make what they will out of it.

We will now leave it to the diamond wit of Dr. Ambedkar for an application of Advaita

The Hindu social system is undemocratic not by accident. It is designed to be undemocratic. Its division of society into varnas and castes, and of castes and outcastes are not theories but are decrees. They are all barricades raised against democracy.

From this it would appear that the doctrine of fraternity was unknown to the Hindu Religious and Philosophic thought. But such a conclusion would not be warranted by the facts of history. The Hindu Religious and Philosophic thought gave rise to an idea which had greater potentialities for producing social democracy than the idea of fraternity. It is the doctrine of Brahmaism*[f3] .

It would not be surprising if some one asked what is this Brahmaism? It is something new even to Hindus. The Hindus are familiar with Vedanta. They are familar with Brahmanism. But they are certainly not familiar with Brahmaism. Before proceeding further a few words of explanation are necessary.

There are three strands in the philosophic and religious thought of the Hindus. They may be designaged as (1) Brahmaism (2) Vedanta and (3) Brahmanism. Although they are correlated they stand for three different and distinct ideologies.

The essence of Brahmaism is summed up in a dogma which is stated in three different forms. They are (i) Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma— All this is Brahma. (ii) Aham Brahmasmi— Atmana (Self) is the same as Brahma.

Therefore I am Brahma. (iii) Tattvamasi— Atmana (Self) is the same as Brahma.

Therefore thou art also Brahma.

They are called Mahavakyas which means Great Sayings and they sum up the essence of Brahmaism.

The following are the dogmas which sum up the teachings of Vedant—

I Brahma is the only reality.

II The world is maya or unreal. III Jiva and Brahma are— (i) according to one school identical; (ii) according to another not identical but are elements of him and not separate from him;

(iii) according to the third school they are distinct and separate.

The creed of Bramhanism may be summed up in the following dogmas— (i) Belief in the chaturvarna. (ii) Sanctity and infallibility of the Vedas. (iii) Sacrifices to Gods the only way to salvation. Most people know the distinction between the Vedanta and Brahmanism and the points of controversy between them. But very few people know the distinction between Brahmaism and Vedanta. Even Hindus are not aware of the doctrine of Brahmaism and the distinction between it and Vedanta. But the distinction is obvious. While Brahmaism and Vedanta agree that Atman is the same as Brahma. But the two differ in that Brahmaism does not treat the world as unreal, Vedanta does. This is the fundamental difference between the two.

The essence of Brahmaism is that the world is real and the reality behind the world is Brahma. Everything therefore is of the essence of Brahma.

There are two criticisms which have been levelled against Brahmaism. It is said that Brahmaism is piece of impudence. For a man to say " I am Brahma " is a kind of arrogance. The other criticism levelled against Brahmaism is the inability of man to know Brahma. 'I am Brahma' may appear to be impudence. But it can also be an assertion of one's own worth. In a world where humanity suffers so much from an inferiority complex such an assertion on the part of man is to be welcomed. Democracy demands that each individual shall have every opportunity for realizing its worth. It also requites that each individual shall know that he is as good as everybody else. Those who sneer at Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahma) as an impudent Utterance forget the other part of the Maha Vakya namely Tatvamasi (Thou art also Brahma). If Aham Brahmasmi has stood alone without the conjunct of Tatvamasi it may not have been possible to sneer at it. But with the conjunct of Tatvanmsi the charge of selfish arrogance cannot stand against Brahmaism.

It may well be that Brahma is unknowable. But all the same this theory of Brahma has certain social implications which have a tremendous value as a foundation for Democracy. If all persons are parts of Brahma then all are equal and all must enjoy the same liberty which is what Democracy means. Looked at from this point of view Brahma may be unknowable. But there cannot be slightest doubt that no doctrine could furnish a stronger foundation for Democracy than the doctrine of Brahma.

To support Democracy because we are all children of God is a very weak foundation for Democracy to rest on. That is why Democracy is so shaky wherever it made to rest on such a foundation. But to recognize and realize that you and I are parts of the same cosmic principle leaves room for no other theory of associated life except democracy. It does not merely preach Democracy. It makes democracy an obligation of one and all.

Western students of Democracy have spread the belief that Democracy has stemmed either from Christianity or from Plato and that there is no other source of inspiration for democracy. If they had known that India too had developed the doctrine of Brahmaism which furnishes a better foundation for Democracy they would not have been so dogmatic. India too must be admitted to have a contribution towards a theoretical fouodation for Democracy.

The question is what happened to this doctrine of Brahmaism? It is quite obvious that Brahmaism had no social effects. It was not made the basis of Dharma. When .asked why this happened the answer is that Brahmaism is only philosophy, as though philosophy arises not out of social life but out of nothing and for nothing. Philosophy is no purely theoretic matter. It has practical potentialities. Philosophy has its roots in the problems of life and whatever theories philosophy propounds must return to society as instruments of re-constructing society. It is not enough to know. Those who know must endeavour to fulfil.

Deepak said...

I realise this is an older post. But interesting for me.

As you will find people carry multiple interpretations of the superstring theory depending on how close or farther away they are with the theory, the same holds for Advaita. As a means of understanding it requires a certain amount of personal discipline to understand and work with, similar to the effort a scientist puts to understanding a theory. In that context, it appears your comments on Advaita show the understanding is not complete in some places.

To define it as a monistic theory/philosophy itself is clearly dealt with and logically surmised as incorrect in many well established schools of thought. If one understands Advaita it is very clear how it is not monism (monism still requires the acknowledgement of truth based on a subject).However I will not draw attention to this part. I would rather draw attention to 2 points you make:
1. Consciousness being a side-product in string theory, while it is the starting point/root in Advaita:

Advaita does not treat anything as a side product, that would be contrary to its premise. In its truest sense it simply is interested in establishing the Truth through means available to human capacity. Yes Advaita is not physics or mathematics, but not being able to classify it itself does not make for a point. It acknowledges the 'buddhi' through which physics or mathematics is a discernable means of understanding the physical world. Where it points to is that any way of studying the physical world needs to assume both the object and subject. Scientific approach completely ignores the subject, or at best makes an assumption on its behalf. It cannot grapple with the 'fact' any objective fact or observation is totally irrelevant and immaterial without the subject. While it tries to find a consistent story in the objective realm, it simply assumes the subject is a constant or ignores it. Advaita uses the means of scientific reason and logic to address this study.(it uses the same tools that a scientific mind uses viz direct observation, inferential capacity (indirect), proof through axiomatic assumption (pramana) to address this study.It is not interested in postulating anything eventually.Infact, when understood, it in essence negates itself.

2.As with the second point on needing a prepared mind to experience insight into nature on things - it is established right in the beginning that the Truth or reality is not experiencable through the mind. If it is experiencable (in any way) then there is subject-object. A prepared mind is required not to realise gain the insight, but to really undertake a genuine self-equiry. And that is a study, a logical, clinical process of uncovering and bringing the ignorance to light. That is about it.

As with the 'religious' practices, rituals and ceremonial aspect around this path, infact it has very less to do with the Advaitic study itself. Advaita does not reject anything including any kind of practise or study. It however does not recommend any specific approach or path over the other. That is not of interest.