The View From 1776

Kartik Ariyur Answers Steve Kellmeyer

The fascinating discussion of basic principle continues.

The following points relate to three preceding postings:  No Religion, No Science, Kartik Ariyur’s Observations, and Steve Kellmeyer’s Rebuttal.

I would first like to thank Steve Kellmeyer for making more precise the parameters of the debate. Herein I continue the process, through which, hopefully, we will all understand the issues better. At this time however, many questions are, to my mind, unanswered.

Firstly, it is not true that Indian accomplishments in various fields are isolated. Grammar, mathematics—indeed, a large part of its foundation (including the zero, infinity, and the decimal representation), and other schools of philosophy (some empirical), music as a science (understanding of frequency ratios and harmonics, the system of musical scales), and even economics (The Arthasastra—which indeed noted how some rulers inflated currency in 300 BC) were all devised by schools of scholars. This is evident from the fact that they mentioned schools of scholars investigating problems, and referred to several preceding texts, now unavailable (most destroyed, some available in Arabic translation, though not in the original).

Most such large scale studies were ended by the Islamic invasion and occupation of India, during which the universities of ancient India (the ones at Taxila and Nalanda were around for more than a 1000 years), and other institutions of learning were destroyed (millions of books were burned because some of the invaders believed that anything not in the Koran was not knowledge—unlike the Arabs of just a few centuries before). However, some schools existed in regions in the deep South outside Islamic control—there a school of mathematicians, for example developed a lot of the calculus 200 years before Newton and Leibniz (from what we know now, they were not the first; Archimedes got several results of the integral calculus, as shown by a newly discovered book of his).

It was only in the 17th or 18th centuries that physical knowledge, and income in the West began to overtake that in India and China. For most of history, these nations have been the richest in the world, because they had more knowledge than other nations. Gunpowder, the magnetic compass, paper, and printing were all invented in the East (China/India). A question that arises now is whether three hundred years of greater European progress in science suffices to draw the conclusion that the outlook of Eastern religion prevents scientific progress?

The growth of scientific knowledge in the Western world appears to have begun when it obtained through the Arabs, the learning of Greece (e.g., Homer, the dramatists and philosophers, and Euclidean geometry), and India (e.g., algebra, trigonometry, and the number system). So a question that arises naturally is—why did little or no progress take place before? Why was the library of Alexandria destroyed (or permitted to burn)? Why were the Greek schools of philosophy destroyed? Would we ascribe all these to Christianity?

Coming to more recent times, should we ascribe Marxism, Darwinian evolution, and Freudian psychology to Western Christianity? May it not be that it just took time for the masses in the West to begin to understand the Bible, a process continuing to this day?

Other questions arise from the statements in the Bible itself. Does not Jesus counsel seeking first the kingdom of God, and to ?Sell that ye have and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, where no moth corrupteth,?? Similar commandments are followed by Christian monks and nuns throughout the world, and by religious communities such as the Amish. And is it not possible that the Lord Jesus or Saint Francis knew much more about Reality and the laws governing it than we generally know today, given the actions they accomplished? So the more interesting question is—how did so much material progress happen in the West in spite of a religion of renunciation?

May it not be that the difficulties of survival in cold weather may have a part in the development? For the greatest contributions to science in the Western world have been from the colder climes. Why have Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Balkans, and Latin America not contributed much to this progress?

It is true that the religious ideal has drawn the most intelligent in India (and to some extent in China as well) to become monks and nuns. The Hindu scriptures define the Creator as ever existing, ever conscious, ever new Bliss. This Bliss is perceived as the consciousness is freed of desires for sensory gratification.

What Steve calls Eastern mysticism is a systematic procedure of moral discipline that enables one to regain one?s lost memory of oneness with the Uncreated Infinite (there is nothing mysterious about it—the methods are available in print). Such a system of moral discipline is not unique to the East; similar methods are found in the Bible as well. But it is also true that very few individuals in any generation have been able to follow these steps precisely, because they are difficult.

However, there have always been enough saints (mostly serving society by working in humble obscurity) that at least one individual in almost every family in India has seen what would be commonly called a miracle—this is the reason for the enduring faith of the masses. I, for example, having seen, have no option but to believe. I know that the Bliss of God is much more tempting than any other temptation, and under Its influence, there is no desire but to do His Will. So I can understand why many donated their wealth to charity, left home and comfort to seek the Divine.

But certainly, the pursuit of Truth, to the exclusion of all material responsibilities by the most intelligent, while producing a few spiritual giants has deprived society of much material progress (relative to other nations) in the past few centuries. The West, on the other hand, has focussed primarily on material progress in recent centuries, resulting in moral and thence social problems (though these have been mitigated by the emphasis on charity and religious organization in Western Christianity). Clearly, a balance is needed between spiritual and material pursuits so that we have sustainable development of societies. This balance is coming about, certainly in the USA as individuals give more time to religious activity. 

I next come to the point of whether Christianity or Platonic philosophy consider Reality to be perceptible by the senses. Clearly, Christ said that the Kingdom of God is within you?doesn?t it point to Reality being discoverable within? Didn?t St. Thomas Aquinas throw away his books into the fire when he perceived the Truth (the Formless Christ) within?

The Holy Ghost brings all things to remembrance—isn?t it saying that we inherently know all things? The statement that man is made in the image of God also says we inherently know all things. Is our religious faith based on sensory evidence? The Biblical definition of faith, ?Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,? appears contrary to such a view. We think because we exist, and the assumption of our existence and that of a Substance of which the objects of senses are properties, precedes all of our thought processes, and not vice versa.

Now, even if only intuition were to provide understanding of ultimate Reality, there is no reason why individuals and society should not ascertain causal relationships empirically, even if they not be absolute (may not apply to all of space-time) or if they are transient (recent experiments measuring the velocity of light reveal a possible time-variation), in order to reduce the uncertainty of our lives and thereby to increase our happiness.

Socrates states in the Phaedo that the senses are deceitful, and in the Meno, the doctrine of anamnesis is laid out—that the soul has known all things before, and by asking the slave the correct sequence of questions, Socrates gets him to arrive at the area of a square whose side is the diagonal of another (irrational number). Many great mathematicians and scientists were Platonists (Einstein, Godel,...)—as are several of my colleagues. They believe in the eternal existence of ideas, which are discoverable by the mind. We do know that all of the abstractions of mathematics are never exactly realized in the world—there are no straight lines, or triangles or circles outside of our thoughts. And Einstein expressed this as, ?As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.? 

This is because all our measurements necessarily have noise in them and the conclusions from those measurements therefore are uncertain to the extent that the measurements are uncertain. Noise always means the part of the measurement that we cannot understand or control. The simplest representation of the universe is the universe itself—unless you measured all of space-time, you would always have uncertain measurements.

The principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics (?p*?x??/2 for the three components of momentum and position, and ?E*?t??/2 for energy and time) is a statement of the fundamental limits of our processes of measurement, the extensions of our senses; indeed it is derivable from the Cramer-Rao inequality of classical measurement theory. Hence, our measurements only permit theories about the relations between emergent or collective phenomena of the microscopic world?they do not permit direct measurements of the quanta.

Any of a number of mathematical equations can fit all of the data?in fact, this is true in quantum mechanics?there are alternate theories based on looking on the subatomic particles as charge distributions (originally the view of Millikan) and they yield agreement on the spectra of the hydrogen atom, the Rydberg constant, and other standard tests of quantum theory. For further understanding, I would recommend study of the book Collective Electrodynamics: Quantum Foundations of Electromagnetism, by Carver Mead (has some mathematics, but should be readable even for the mathematically untrained) ( ), and A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, by Robert B. Laughlin ( ).

But if we are made in the image of God, is it not possible that we may receive within our perception, all of space-time?

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