Modern Physics and Jain Darshan

Narendra Bhandari

We examine here the question whether any common ground exists between Modern physics and religion, particularly the Jain Darshan. The question has arisen because some religious leaders as well as proponents of modern physics think that they belong to different spheres of activity, one dealing with soul and spirituality (which are not physical entities) and the other with matter and the physical world . The laws that govern these two are exclusive to their domain and hence it is futile to look for any overlaps between them. The religion has declared one as vidya and the other as avidya and there the partition has started. However if we consider that no religion can ignore or wish away the ground truth on which the physical universe operates, (whether some call it an illusion a la Shankara, or not), they must not only incorporate each other but be based on each other. I personally believe that any religion must encompass various aspects of physical reality as we experience in our daily life. In fact, Darshan and physics must be complementary and have similarity of concepts and postulates of these two complementary aspects of our existence i.e. Physics and spirituality must coexist. At the least, they cannot be contradictory and in reality they should derive strength from each other.

Physics believes in laws of nature but not in God. On the other hand religion believes in God as well as laws. Therefore laws provide a common ground where physics and religion may overlap. Foundations of Physics are based on certain laws, theories and principles which are derived from observations and deductions. As examples we may cite Newton’s Law of Gravitation, or Kepler’s laws of Planetary motion , Quantum theory or the Big Bang theory and principles of conservation of physical entities or attributes. In contrast, religions are based on faith, philosophical deductions and revelations. The physical laws are deduced from observations or from theoretical deductions and although the laws of physics control the physical world in a fundamental way, they are not fundamental concepts of physics. Take for example the Law of gravitation. It says that attraction between two bodies depends on their mass and varies inversely as the square of the distance between them. This affects all the physical universe but is a consequence of the principle of gravitational attraction. This immediately leads us to even more fundamental question of the origin of Mass. We may recall here Mach’s principle , which deals with the concept of origin of inertial mass. Broadly speaking Mach’s principle states that the inertial mass of a body is solely due to interaction of other bodies in the universe. Heller (1975) mentions it in the following way” The local inertial frames are entirely determined by the distribution and motion of all matter present in the universe” and Einstein formulated it as ” the entire inertia of a point mass is the effect of the presence of all other masses, deriving from a kind of interaction from the latter” There is yet no “proof” for this principle but Einstein is said to have derived much inspiration from the Mach’s principle for development of his Theory of Relativity.

The implication is that inertial mass cannot exist in isolation. Now we may ask if this principle can be extended to other physical entities or even spiritual entities? Is everything interactive. Are we living in a totally interactive world and everything here is interactive. The same may be postulated for life or consciousness. Life certainly cannot exist in isolation. If all living species, except one, in the universe or even on Earth vanish, the last one also will not be able to survive. Therefore the life is a result of interdependence (or interaction) with other living species. The principle of non-violence immediately follows since the whole becomes a cause for the existence of a part of it and both are indistinguishable. In effect, when, one does any harm or kills some body, howsoever primitive, one is killing a part of one self, because his very existence is interactive in nature. It is like committing a small suicide, howsoever small the quantum may be. Thus the inertial mass, which is a physical entity and the consciousness, which is a spiritual attribute, are both interactive in nature and their origin is a consequence of interaction.

Many great minds who developed the basic concepts of modern physics have written about things beyond physics. To cite a few of them, we may mention the book on “Physics and Philosophy” and “Physics and beyond” by Werner Heisenberg who gave the concept of the Uncertainty principle. There are others like Feynman (The character of Physical Law), Einstein (Ideas and Opinions) and various essays and books that deal with science, philosophy, religion, society and reality.

The crowning glory of modern physics has been the Quantum mechanics. The laws of classical physics ie of macro world are not found to be valid in microworld. It took lot of debate to understand the quantum theory and Feynman, one of the greatest minds of the modern era said “nobody understands quantum mechanics….. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that may be she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, enchanting thing. Do not keep saying to yourself…. ‘how it can it be like that?’ Because you will get into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped . No body know how it behaves like that.” Some Quantum phenomena can not be described in a language, they are “crazy beyond words”, and can not be comprehended.

The quantum mechanics puts severe constraints on certainty of our knowledge. Two tenets of quantum mechanics that are relevant here can be crudely described as follows. One is that the universe does not exist if you don’t observe it, equivalent to the paradox of the Schrődinger’s cat. This implies that universe and the observer exist as pairs and neither can exist without the other. The other is that a particle knows how it should behave. This is the famous two-slit experiment which is the backbone of quantum mechanics and particle wave duality. If one goes to still finer constituents of nature beyond electrons, photons and even quarks, the duality may be replaced by multifacetedness or manifoldedness. The atma is considered to be ati-sukshma, so it may be reasonable to expect that it will have more attributes, may be infinity of attributes.

Let us first talk about Complementarity and Anekāntvād. Even Neils Bohr who propounded the basics of quantum mechanics had great difficulty explaining it. And he did it through his principle of Complementarity. The principle of Complementarity, is the most revolutionary and significant concepts of modern physics. The Western philosophers and scientists had a lot of difficulty in understanding and developing quantum mechanics. The contradictory results indicated that photon (or electrons) sometimes behaves as a particle and sometimes as a wave. This could not be reconciled because of the basic problem that wave and particles were considered to be exclusive or different. Bohr explained by saying that contradictory behaviour is complementary and
used the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang, which are both opposite but exist together and are required for completeness. Ekantvad has been variously described as the theory of many-foldedness, non absolutism, non equivocality. Literally it is defined as the theory of non-one sided ness, implying the many sided nature of reality. Some times anekāntvād is contrasted with Ekantvad which stands for definite and categorical asserted philosophical position

In the physical world, as in philosophy, things or ideas have plurality of attributes and these can be apparently contradictory or conflicting. Anekāntvād successfully harmonises or accommodates such views and completes the description of physical reality. But when we talk of manyfoldedness, the question obviously arises, how many. Certainly more than one but can it be infinite? saptbhangi or sevenfoldedness is a corollary of Anekantvad. This has been very clearly explained by D.S.Kothari in his essay on” Complementarity principle and Eastern philosophy”.

Anekāntvād not only explains seemingly contradictory propositions in daily life, philosophy, macroworld, mental exercises and in spiritual domain,it brought in the concept of Avyakta or inexpressibility of certain states. Questions which can not be answered in affirmative or negative, like the existence of soul, could be dealt with in the framework of Anekāntvād. It is , it is not; it is and yet it is not, it can not be expressed and so on. This concept is common to Quantum behaviour, which can not always be expressed in language. Anekāntvād is not simply a multiview perception theory. It is not a limitation of consciousness that it has limited capability of perception of the physical world . Thus it is not looking at an object from different perspectives but that the object can not be known from all the perspectives. Anekāntvād is as fundamental as the uncertainty principle, which states that some properties can not be measured accurately, not because of instrumental limitations but because of inherent limitation of knowledge.

Syādvād, another corollary of Anekantvad, is also a cornerstone of Jainism.. It has been translated as “perhaps”, or “May be”. That appears to me as a qualitative (or crude) definition. Can we extend and quantify it to include the uncertainty principle or derive the uncertainty principles from the framework of Syādvād? Uncertainty principle is one of the most fundamental principles applicable equally well to the realms of all physical microworld and may be (in my opinion), the cause of biological evolution. The uncertainty, e.g. in energy levels give a choice for a variance in combination or in taking part in different chemical reactions. Without uncertainty biology will be like ordinary organic chemistry such as polymerization and animate could not have evolved from
inanimate. Syādvād therefore must be thought of as going beyond “may be”, or used as an instrument for tolerance in society but should be seen to lead to indeterminacy and to the principle of uncertainty (ΔpΔx=h; ΔEΔt=h). In manyfoldedness, or anekantvad, the uncertainty can be defined in a more profound way and for other parameters. This is the Syadvad in physical terms.

According to the principle of Saptabhangi reality can be described in seven ways i.e. it exists, it does not exist, it exists and yet it does not exist, indeterminable, its existence is indeterminable, its non existence is indeterminable and its existence as well as non existence is indeterminable or inexpressible. Saptabhangi has been explained very succinctly by Kothari in a quantum mechanical way by taking the example of a particle in a box which is divided by a partition with a hole into two compartments. Because of the particle-wave duality, the particle can be in compartment A, or in compartment B, In A and still not in A , In B and still not in B, not in A and B, in A as well as in B and in an indeterminate state (avyakta).The same solutions emerge from the considerations of quantum mechanics as has been shown mathematically by taking wave functions.

Sometimes light or a photon behaves like a compact object i.e. a particle and some times like a wave such as a ripple we see in a pond. A photon or an electron, for example, “knows” when it should behave like a particle and when it should behave like a wave. In the famous two slit experiment, a beam of photon shines through two slits and hits upon a photographic plate behind the slits. The experiment can be run in two ways: one with photon detectors right beside each slit so that the photons can be observed as they pass through the slits and or with detectors removed so that the photons can travel unobserved. When the detectors are in use, every photon is observed to pass through one slit or the other. Essentially the photons behave like particles. However, when the photon detectors are removed , a pattern of alternating light and dark spots, produced by interference of light are observed indicating that the photons behave like waves, with
individual photon spreading out and surging against both the slits at once. The outcome of the experiment then depends on what the scientists want to measure.

Before we end this discussion, it is pertinent to ask “what benefit will accrue by seeing a common ground between religion and physics. Well the answer is obvious but must be stated here for clarity. Firstly if the religion is based on physics then the intra-religion contradictions can be dispensed with.

Every one believes in physical laws because they are experienced in daily life. So if religion has a basis in the well established physical laws then there is no need to compartmentalize various religions. The apparent contradictions may be simply due to different emphasis on different aspects of physical laws and when they are complete, they will probably all become the same.


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