R. C. Tampi – India
[Prof. R. C. Tampi is a former president of the Kerala Federation and a national lecturer of the Theosophical Society in India. He has been organizing School of the Wisdom classes in Adyar for several years. Prof. Tampi’s article was published in the Theosophist 133.9 (June, 2012): 12-16. A few editorial changes have been made in accordance with Theosophy Forward style.]
Perspectives and Values: If we just cast a glance around, we would be shaken by the sickening sights of pain and penury, war and violence — the result of the perverted perception of man. Surprisingly, the US astronauts and the Soviet cosmonauts who had a view of Earth from space were alike struck not only by the beauty of the continents but also by their closeness to one another and their essential unity. An astronaut who saw Earth from space as a shining blue pearl in the surrounding vastness confessed to a spiritually transforming experience. The broader the perspective, the higher will be the values it engenders.
As science advances, it provides man with a firmer and more comprehensive perspective of the universe. It, in turn, leads to a nobler sense of values. In the course of its spectacular history, modern science with its shifting worldviews brought about a diverse sense of values in consonance with the perceived reality. From the deeply egocentric separative tendency nourished by narrow perceptions of the world, humans are led by postmodern science to a loftier perspective of unity, wholeness, and harmony. Under its impact, human nature progressively reveals a higher sense of values like love, goodness, and sacrifice.
The Domineering Man: Modern science had its beginnings in the sixteenth century. It has become a world movement directly influencing all departments of life. It had its beginning when the geocentric conception of the world lingered in the mind of people — the ignorant and the learned alike. The altered view of the central position of the earth influenced an inflated sense of self--importance and domination of nature. Francis Bacon, who was not a scientist at all, was the proponent of the scientific approach. He was a Machiavellian in outlook who denied the necessity of morality in public life and believed that craft and cunning were justified in the realization of one’s ambitious goal. It is an irony that one who was not a scientist and who did not set much store by moral principles was vested by circumstance with the prerogative of defining the scientific outlook, to which some scientists still adhere. His attitude to nature was imperious and irreverent. He said: “We must put nature to the rack and with screws secure her secrets.” In his view, nature had to be “‘bound into service” and “made a slave.”
Dualism: Descartes and Newton were the most important figures who influenced worldview up to the nineteenth century. Descartes’ analytical method led to fragmentation in human thinking and reductionism in science. Cartesian division into body and mind, mind and matter, and the observer and the observed had a great impact on the Western mind. Heisenberg observed thus on the far reaching impact of Descartes’ dualism: “This partition has penetrated deeply into the human mind during the three cen¬turies following Descartes and it will take a long time for it to be replaced by a really different attitude toward the problem of reality.”
The Mechanistic Approach: Descartes’ world was nothing but a machine with replaceable parts. Newton also established in the eighteenth century his picture of the world as a machine. This mechanical model of reality introduced by physics was thrown overboard by physics four centuries later. However, these entrenched notions were not easily erased from the human mind.
Newton’s Clockwork Model: Isaac Newton was the real founder of pre-twentieth- century physics. He was one of the greatest scientific geniuses. Even the poet Wordsworth, who disliked scientists as a class, paid this tribute to Newton when looking at his marble bust: “The marble index of a mighty mind, voyaging through the strange sea of thought alone.” Newton changed the picture of the world and his mechanistic view influenced other sciences.
Newton’s view had many drawbacks. A machine cannot change or evolve and hence cannot symbolize evolving life. The entities forming parts of a machine exist independently in different regions of space. The force through which the parts of the machine interact can bring about no essential change in their nature. Each part of the machine is made independently of others and they interact with one another only externally.
Newton’s clockwork model of reality assumes that space and time are absolute and adopts matter as the basic underlying block of the world. Following Newton, many others treated other objects as machines. For Newton himself, stars were machines. Hobbes, the social activist, treated society as a machine. La Mattrie (a French physician and philosopher, 1709-51) considered human beings as machines. Psychologists and physiologists like B. F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov considered human behaviour to be mechanical.
The mechanistic world view treated reality as something existing outside. It is objective and concrete.
The mechanistic, materialistic, reductionist world picture suffered a setback toward the close of the nineteenth century. This time ushered in a new world based on unity, nonmateriality and organic interconnectedness.
Fields Replace Forces: The first sign of this revolution was the change in the concept of separate forces into force fields, like the gravitational field. Further, different force fields were unified, as in the electromagnetic field. Newton’s law of gravitation unified all mass in the universe. James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity and magnetism. Einstein unified matter and energy (E = mc2) and space and time. He hoped that all the forces in the universe could be unified through a grand unified field theory. Thus, at the dawn of the twentieth century, science had changed its understanding of the universe as being a field of energy and not as a materialistic model.
J. C. Bose Saw the One in All: An epoch-making event which should have changed the future course of the history of modem science took place in London on 10 May 1901. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose presented before the Royal Society in London experimental proof for the fundamental unity of life, showing that the boundary line dividing the so-called nonliving metals, living plants, and human beings is only an imaginary one. On his achievement, The Times of London reported thus: “While we in England were still steeped in the rude empiricism of barbaric life, the subtle Easterner had swept the universe into synthesis and had seen the ONE in all the changing manifestations.” It is not surprising that in the then-prevailing atmosphere of prejudice and conservatism even in the scientific community, this unforgettable incident was allowed to fade into oblivion.
Relativity: In 1905 and 1915 Einstein showed through his theories of relativity that space and time were interwoven inextricably as a space-time-continuum. His most famous finding was that mass is a form of energy. He also showed that observation of space and time was not independent of the observer’s own situation. Einstein achieved the stunning synthesis of space, time, gravity, and matter and thus completely modified our world perspective.
The Quantum and a Crazy World: A fundamental and total reconceptualization in physics took place in the beginning of the twentieth century. Great scientists like Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and Werner Heisenberg lifted the veil on the mysterious subatomic quantum world, with its quaint laws and baffling paradoxical behavior. The world of quantum physics is a web of dynamic interconnections. The entire universe is viewed as an unbroken whole where every element (wave/particle) depends on the environment. It reveals a mysterious nonlocal, noncausal relationship of elements distant from each other. Ideas of separateness, independence, and objectivity are irrelevant and have no meaning in the quantum world. This “unifying ground” has primacy over all separate parts (not the other way around — as in reductionism). “We came at present to the insight that we are embedded in the world as a whole” (Illya Prigogine, Nobel Laureate in chemistry).
The world view emerging from this insight is described by Erwin Schrödinger, the cofounder of quantum mechanics thus: “Inconceivable as it seems to ordinary reason . . . you and all other conscious beings as such are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense, the WHOLE.
It was experimentally proved that through nonlocality, feelings could be shared by more than one living being. Schrödinger has also shown that consciousness which is the ground of all existence is a single unbroken wholeness.
Implicate and Explicate Order: An illuminating theory presented by David Bohm, considering the universe as an undivided and unbroken whole, is that of implicate and explicate order. He compared the visible or explicate order to vortices on the stream and the unending unseen source or the implicate order to the stream itself. Bohm’s theory lays stress on the wholeness, multidimensionality, dynamism of existence, and primacy of consciousness. The implicate order has infinite depth and in its inward recesses both matter and consciousness have their source.
Morphogenetic Field: Rupert Sheldrake explains many mysteries of nature through his hypothesis of a morphogenetic field. This accounts for the guiding influence that moulds living organisms as they grow. The morphogenetic field is the blueprint of forms as well as the means of communication within the same species over great distances and even the future times. The process of transmission is through morphic resonance. The “hundredth monkey phenomenon” (by which a behavior or thought spreads rapidly from one group to all related groups once a critical number is reached) and the behaviour of the dog at home when the master leaves office far away are evidences of nonlocal communication.
Immensity: Yet another element of profound significance that influences the perspective of thought today is a realization of the vast immensity of the universe of which we are a part. In the conception of scientists at the beginning of modern science, the earth was just replaced by the sun as the center of the world. Now the sun is seen in the remote outskirts of a lens-shaped galaxy, comprising 400 billion other suns. Moreover, at the beginning of the twentieth century, it was thought that the Milky Way was the only existing galaxy. Now we have the astounding realization that there are a hundred billion other galaxies, “all fleeing from one another, as if they are the remnants of an enormous explosion, the Big Bang” (Carl Sagan). It is an exciting realization for us to recognize our oneness with that all surpassing immensity.
Converging Values and the New Vocabulary: The awareness of an all-embracing unity and interconnectedness leads to empathy with all. It also expresses itself as reverence for universal life, compassion, and commitment to heal the wounded earth and its bleeding inhabitants.
This reverential attitude is evident from the fact that words like religion, God, spirituality, consciousness, and love, which were once considered unmentionable by science, have been enthroned in the heart of science with enormous semantic value. The following statements from the most renowned scientists bear testimony to the shift in values caused by the change in perspective:
“Science is an attempt to understand reality. Science is a quasi-religious activity in the broadest sense of the term” (George Wald, biologist, philosopher, Nobel Laureate).
“Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire” (Teilhard de Chardin, paleontologist).
Like Fritz Kunz, David Bohm seemed imbued with a feeling that whatever lies behind nature is holy.
“Science is reticent . . . when it is a question of the great Unity . . . of which we all somehow form a part, to which we belong. The most popular name for it in our time is God” (Erwin Schrödinger).
“I take the view that creation ultimately depends on some nonphysical or transphysical reality, spiritual in nature” (Rupert Sheldrake).
“Love is not peculiar to man. We should assume its presence, at least in an in-choate form, in everything that is.” (Teilhard de Chardin)
Edi Bilimoria – the UK
This is in response to the Theosophist article on ‘Changing Perspectives’ by Professor Tampi shown above. In it, he quotes Wordsworth’s contention that Newton’s “mechanistic view influenced other sciences” – a view that the rest of his exposition on ‘Newton’s Clockwork Model’ seems to uphold in statements such as “Newton’s view had many drawbacks. A machine cannot change or evolve and hence cannot symbolize evolving life.”
But in point of fact, nothing could be further from the truth regarding Newton’s supposedly ‘mechanistic view’. Most certainly did post-Newtonian scientists in their droves (Laplace, just one example and incidentally Napoleon queried Laplace’s mechanistic dogma to his face) ascribe the clockwork model to Newton, but this was not what the great Newton believed in or taught. Refer to a selection of slides that demonstrate how, in H. P. B’s words, “the innermost thoughts and ideas of Newton were perverted, and of his great mathematical learning only the mere physical husk was turned to account. Had poor Sir Isaac foreseen to what use his successors and followers would apply his “gravity,” that pious and religious man would surely have quietly eaten his apple, and never breathed a word about any mechanical ideas connected with its fall.” (SD1,I,3.III). The operative phrase there as H. P. B. so remarkably underscored is ‘mechanical ideas’. H. P. B. is at pains to draw our attention to the difference between the map and the territory, to use a modern phrase; in this case the map – or ‘mechanical ideas’ – and the ineffable reality.
H. P. B. says: “At the outset of his “Principia,” Sir Isaac Newton took the greatest care to impress upon his school that he did not use the word “attraction” with regard to the mutual action of bodies in a physical [or, mechanical] sense. To him it was, he said, a purely mathematical conception involving no consideration of real and primary physical causes [to do with machine-like concepts]”. (SD1,I,3.IV).
Then examining the Principia itself what do we find? Exactly what H. P. B. has said.
The remaining images to show for Newton, Divinity was the primary and the Universe and Nature a LIVING BEING.
In conclusion then, the great sage Paul Brunton had a wonderful saying: “small mentalities will always mangle a large truth”. And yes, not for the first time have lesser scientists flattened and distorted the primeval grandeur of their master – preserved the verbal form, but lost the animating spirit. But that this should happen to the teachings of Newton, we can no more hold him responsible than we can hold poor H. P. B. accountable for all the problems that have afflicted TS.