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Physics to Metaphysics
by Naveen Jagan Bookmark and Share

For India's great realizers, the primary evidence in support of their thesis is revealed scripture (sastra), such as the Vedanta-sutras. This evidence is considered to originate beyond the limits of human reasoning. Yet, especially for Westerners, as an introduction to the virtues of scriptural evidence, it may be prudent to first discuss the concept of a transcendental personal Godhead in the context of modern science and quantum mechanics in particular.

In the transition from Newtonian classical physics to quantum mechanics, several scientists have explored the possibility of a connection between physics and transcendence. This may be due to the more abstract nature of quantum mechanics as opposed to classical physic. For example, classical physics attempts to describe the physical reality in concrete, easily understandable terms, while quantum mechanics deals in probabilities and wave functions.  

Quantum mechanics, however, is much more rigorous in its attempt to describe reality and it explains phenomena that classical physics fails to account for. The "quantum leap" has given several physicists the hope that the transcendentalist's experience of consciousness can be explained by quantum mechanical theory. Although quantum theory does not account for consciousness, it has become popular to attempt to bridge the gap between the transcendentalist's experience and the quantum mechanic worldview. Some people have loosely called this attempt the "new physics."

The rational, spiritually minded community cheered the appearance of Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's Dancing Wu Li Masters. Several years later, David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order was similarly praised. Although there is good reason to applaud these authors' work and the work of others like them, their theories, scientifically speaking, do not bridge the gap between physics and transcendence. However, these scientists have to some extent become "believers," and their theories have turned many educated people in the spiritual direction.

Of all the recent attempts to show the "oneness" in what physicists and transcendentalists speak of, Bohm's implicate order theory is the most worthy of consideration. In comparison, Capra's "realization" that the dance of Siva and the movement of atomic particles is one and the same-although profoundly beautiful-falls more in the realm of poetry than science.

Bohm's explanation of reality involves what he calls an "implicate" and "explicate" order, with vague references to love, compassion, and other similar attributes that may lie beyond both the implicate and explicate orders. The implicate order is the ultimate reality, which underlies our present perception of the world. The reality that we perceive is what Bohm calls the explicate order. All order and variety, according to Bohm, is stored at all times in the implicate order in an enfolded or unmanifested state. Information continually unfolds, or becomes manifest, from the implicate order as the explicate order of our experience.

Bohm uses the example of the hologram to help explain his theory. A hologram is a photographic plate on which information is recorded as a series of density variations. Because holography is a method of lens less photography, the photographic plate appears as a meaningless pattern of swirls. When a coherent beam of light-typically a laser-interacts with the plate, the resultant emerging light is highly ordered and is perceived as an image in three dimensions. The image has depth and solidity, and by looking at it from different angles, one will see different sides of the image. Any part of the hologram will reproduce the whole image (although with less resolution). Bohm would say that the three-dimensional form of the image is enfolded or stored in the pattern of density variations on the hologram.

A further understanding of the nature of Bohm's implicate order is somewhat more difficult to grasp. In the transition from the classical description of physical objects to a quantum mechanical description, one is forced to use mutually incompatible descriptions. The concept of complementarities, conceived of in the 1920s by the physicist Niels Bohr, says that to understand the behavior of electrons, it is necessary to describe them as point like particles and extended waves. This leads naturally to the thought that electrons or their ultimate substrate, may not actually be fully describable in mathematical terms. Thus the ultimate physical reality may be only partially definable, because some of the partial descriptions will inevitably contradict each other. This is Bohm's idea regarding the nature of his implicate order.  

Although Bohm accepts a whole containing distinguishable parts, he maintains that ultimately reality is fundamentally devoid of variety or individuality. Bohm believes that individuality is a temporal or illusory state of perception. According to his theory, although the parts appear to be distinct from the whole, in fact, because they "enfold" or include the whole, they are identical with the whole.

The hologram provides an easily understandable example. If portions of a hologram are blocked off, the resultant image remains basically the same. This helps to illustrate metaphorically the concept that the whole is present in each of its parts. Consider, then, a continuum in which all patterns ever manifested in any part of the continuum are represented equally in all parts. Loosely speaking, one could then say that the whole of the continuum in both space and time is present in any part of the continuum. If we invoke the precedent of quantum mechanical indefineability, we could leap to the idea of a unified consciousness encompassing all space and time in which each part of the consciousness contains the whole of the consciousness and thus is identical to it.

Although Bohm's theory of the implicate order is partially based on the standard methodology of physics, it is also apparent that it involves ideas not found in traditional science. Most of these ideas are clearly the influence of a preconceived notion of non-dualism. Richard Thompson, author of Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Sciences, has brought out some of the weaknesses in Bohm's theory, which he feels are due to Bohm's prejudice toward monism.

Thompson points out in his critique that while Bohm emphatically states that it is not possible for unaided human thought to rise above the realm of manifest matter (explicate order), he proceeds to carry on a lengthy discussion about the unmanifest (implicate order). Bohm also states that all things are timeless and unitary, and therefore incapable of being changed. Later, he proposes that through collective human endeavor the state of affairs can be changed. This is similar to the contradiction of advaita-vedanta in which ultimate oneness is thought to be attained even though it is beyond time and is forever uninfluenced by our actions. 

Bohm's theory is sorely in need of a logical source of compassion so as to provide inspiration enabling finite beings to know the infinite. Although he speaks of compassion, it is only in a vague reference to an abstract attribute. The idea of an entity possessing compassion is avoided by Bohm (although he almost admits the need). He retreats from this idea because the standard notions of a personal God are dualistic and thus undermine the sense that reality at the most fundamental plane is unified.

Bohm's idea that the parts of the implicate order actually include the whole is not fully supported by his physical examples alone. Indeed, this is impossible to demonstrate mathematically. The part of the hologram is not fully representative of the whole. The part suffers from lack of resolution. It is qualitatively one but quantitatively different.

Bohm's explanation for the corruption in human society is another shortcoming in his theory. The theory alleges that evil arises from the explicate order. This is in contradiction with the basis of the theory, which states that everything in the explicate order unfolds from the implicate order. This means that evil and human society, or something at least resembling them, must be originally present in the implicate order. But what would lead us to believe that an undifferentiated entity would store anything even remotely resembling human society? How could there be evil in the implicate order if it is the source of love and compassion?

These are some of the scientific and philosophical problems with the theory of the implicate order pointed out by Thompson. These problems are resolved by Thompson, however, by replacing advaita-vedanta with acintya-bhedabheda. Simply stated, acintya-bhedabheda means that reality is inconceivably one and different at the same time. Acintya-bhedabheda holds that the world of material variety is illusory but not altogether false. It insists that there is a transcendental variety and spiritual individuality that lies beyond illusion.

The history of philosophy bears evidence that neither the concepts of oneness (nondualism) or difference (dualism) are adequate to fully describe the nature of being. Exclusive emphasis on oneness leads to the denial of the world and our very sense of self as an individual-viewing them as illusion. Exclusive emphasis on difference divides reality, creating an unbridgeable gap between man and God. Yet both concepts are essential inasmuch as unity is a necessary demand of our reason, while difference is an undeniable fact of our experience. A synthesis of the two can be seen as the goal of philosophy. In the theory of acintya-bhedabheda, the concepts of oneness and difference are transcended and reconciled into a higher synthesis; thus, they become complementary aspects of Godhead, for whom all things are possible.

The word acintya is central to the theory. It can be defined as the power to reconcile the impossible. Acintya is that which is inconceivable, because it involves contradictory notions, yet it can be appreciated through logical implication. Acintya,inconceivable, is different from anirvacaniya, or indescribable, which is said to be the nature of transcendence in the monistic school of thought. Anirvacaniya is the joining of the opposing concepts of reality and illusion, producing a canceling effect-a negative effect. Acintya, on the other hand, signifies a marriage of opposite concepts leading to a more complete unity-a positive effect.

An example drawn from material nature may help us understand the concept ofacintya-bhedabheda. We cannot think of fire without the power of burning; similarly, we cannot think of the power of burning without fire. Both are identical. While fire is nothing but that which burns; the power of burning is but fire in action. Fire and its burning power are not absolutely the same, however. If they were absolutely the same, there would be no need to warn children that fire burns. It would be sufficient to say "fire." In reality, the fire is the energetic source of the power to burn. From this example drawn from the world of our experience, we can deduce that the principle of simultaneous oneness and difference is all-pervading, appearing even in material objects.

Just as there is neither absolute oneness nor absolute difference in the material example of fire and burning power, there is neither absolute oneness nor absolute difference between Godhead and his energies. Godhead consists of both the energetic and the energy, which are one yet different. Godhead is complete without his various emanations. This is absolute completeness. No matter how much energy he distributes, he remains the complete balance. 

In the theory of acintya-bhedabheda, the personal form of God exists beyond material time in a trans-temporal state, where eternality and the passage of time are harmonized by the principle of simultaneous oneness and variedness. This principle also applies to transcendental form. In the material conception of form, the whole can be reduced to a mere juxtaposition of the parts. This makes the form secondary. In the theory of acintya-bhedabheda, the material conception of form is transcended. The Supreme Being is fully present in all the parts that make up the total reality and thus is one unified principle underlying all variegated manifestations. Yet he has his own personality and is different from his parts or energies at the same time. Each of the parts of Godhead's form are equal to each other and to the whole form as well. At the same time, each of the parts remains a part. This is fundamental to the philosophical outlook of acintya-bhedabheda. It allows for the eternal individuality of all things without the loss of oneness or harmony. It also allows for the possibility that human beings, even while possessing limited mind and senses, can come to know about the nature of transcendence. The infinite, being so, can and does reveal himself to the finite. Just as the eye cannot see the mind but can be in connection with it if the mind chooses to think about it, the finite can know about the infinite by the grace of the infinite.

If Godhead has personal form, it is reasonable to conclude that a transcendental society exists that resembles human society and could unfold as the explicate order. In this conception, the explicate order is a perverted reflection of the ultimate reality existing in the transcendental realm. The reflection of that realm, appearing as the explicate order, is the kingdom of God without God. It is without God inasmuch as God, being the center of the ultimate reality, no longer appears to be the center. This produces illusion and thus corruption. The basis of corruption is the misplaced sense of proprietorship resulting in the utterly false notions of "I" and "mine." 

According to acintya-bhedabheda, the individual self is a minute particle of will or consciousness-a sentient being-endowed with a serving tendency. This tendency for service is a result of the individual self's dependency on the Supreme Self. The Supreme Self is the maintainer, while the individual self is maintained. This minute self is transcendental to matter and qualitatively one with Godhead while quantitatively different. The inherent smallness of the atomic soul in contrast to Godhead makes the atomic soul prone to illusion, whereas Godhead is not. This is analogous to the example of the hologram in which only a portion of the holographic plate is illuminated. The resultant image, although apparently complete, is slightly fuzzy and does not give the total three-dimensional view from all directions that one would observe if the entire holographic plate were illuminated.

Living in illusion, the atomic soul sees herself as separate from Godhead. As a result of imperfect sense perception, she makes false distinctions, such as good and bad, happy and sad. The minute self can also live in an enlightened state in complete harmony with the Godhead by the latter's grace-which is attracted by sincere petition or devotion. This is so because while independent and unlimited, Godhead is affectionately disposed to the atomic souls. The very nature of devotion is that it is of another world, and for it to be devotion in the full sense, it must be engaged in for its own sake and nothing else. This act of devotion is the purified function of the inherent serving tendency of the self. It makes possible a communion with Godhead. In this communion, the self becomes one in purpose with Godhead and eternally serves Godhead with no sense of separateness from him. If we accept this theory, there is scope for action from within the explicate order, such as prayer or meditation, to have influence upon the whole. At least it appears as though the atomic soul can have influence on the whole, although in reality the inspiration for prayer and meditation comes from Godhead.

Acintya-bhedabheda cannot be fully appreciated without reference to the Vedic literature, or revealed scripture. The truth of the personality of Godhead, a supreme controller and enjoyer, will never be demonstrated in the laboratory of the controlled experiment. We can only control that which is inferior to ourselves. Revealed scripture is one of the principal means through which Godhead chooses to make himself known to us. While we can explain Sri Chaitanya's theory of acintya-bhedabheda and conception of a divine person to some extent in the language of logic and modern science, a more comprehensive understanding of his truth is derived from the essence of the revealed scripture.  

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