Spiritualising the rational - - - Scientific imitation of mysticism


Human history has evolved as a perpetual response to natural mysteries and the methodologies invoked to contemplate these cosmic mysteries have been undergoing a paradigm shift from time to time. One of the antique and ancient methods to grasp reality, in essence, is of mysticism that is purely subjective, non-demonstrable, pragmatic and ultra-rational. As opposed to it the most recent of all methodologies at our discretion is that of science, whose objective as David Bohm, puts in his magnum opus “The special theory of relativity” that “science is mainly a way of extending our perpetual contact with the world, rather than of accumulating knowledge about it”. It seems highly pertinent to call science a “universal version of natural philosophy formulated in the language of mathematics” and akin to philosophy science has kept changing its forms and extending its postulates in an attempt to unlock the realities of universe and to synchronise our reasoning with our observations. The formulation of the theory of relativity by Einstein followed by paradigm shift brought about by the explosion of Quantum mechanics on the scientific realm at the inception of 20th century overturned the notions of space, time, matter, energy, causation and other fundamental concepts that our species had held for millennia in a dramatic way. Out of ruins of classical picture of universe that stood on the pillars of absolute space time, matter-energy dualism and wave-particle dichotomy there emerged a perplexing probabilistic and so called Quantum picture of our cosmos, with uncertainty of present and unpredictability of future, monism, and relational aspect of physical phenomenon as its ‘sine quo non’. Right from its onset this transformation in our notions has been rigorously discussed by philosophers and scientists from various angels over past decades, but they have overlooked the verity and essential aspect that all these developments seem to lead us in the same direction, towards a view of the world which is very similar to the views enshrined in teachings of mystic of all ages and traditions. There runs deep parallelism not only between modern physics and Vedas of Hinduism, the I Ch’ing or the Buddhist Sutras but also the teachings of Heraclitus and Sufism of Ibn Arabi tally well with the dictions of modern physics. Appreciating this nexus, acclaimed physicist Neil’s Bohr accentuates that:-
“For a parallel to the lessons of atomic theory ....we must turn to those kinds of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence”.
In the same queue Gedeliah Shaffer, in his dextrous article “Jew Mysticism” acknowledges that:-
“The dramatic discoveries in the physical sciences during this century have not as yet profoundly affected this aspect of modern man's basic weltanschauung. However, if one explores the philosophical ramifications of some of these discoveries, what emerges from this analysis is a scientific perception of the universe which has, to a great extent, converged on that of the traditional mystical viewpoint that is central to religious thought.”
The roots of science, philosophy and religion are be traceable to the inception of Greek civilization, where science, philosophy and religion were not crystallized separately, but were concerted together in the form of single subject with its final aim to investigate the reality of nature and the real constitution of cosmos. With the evolution of time and the emergence of diversity from unity science later adopted methodology of logical positivism, whereas mysticism (mostly a reflection of religious aspirations) took the path of intuition, spiritual awakening and ultra-intellectual comprehensive approach towards analyzability of ultimate reality. This unique stance exhorted upon mystics a privileged vintage for having direct observation of reality as opposed to so called tri-axial scientific methodology in the form of experimentation, observation and prediction whereby reality is synthesized by a collective consortium of all three phases and thus it bridles science to piece meal attitude. Owing to this vintage the revelations of modern physics that seem exotic even to dextrous researchers of the field tally with the dictums of eastern mysticism up to an unexpected degree of compatibility and thus mystics seem to comprehend these findings more vividly than the scientists themselves do. As a citation, the relativistic effects seem weird to us as it is impossible to conceive the four dimensional space-time world with our senses that have all along their evolution developed in 3D world and thus in an attempt to visualize the four dimensional cosmos we are behest with an array of paradoxes and problems. But as opposed to our common sense notions and sensory perceptions eastern mystics seem to be able to attain non-ordinary consciousness in which they transcend the three dimensional world of everyday life to experience a higher, multidimensional reality which not only transcends intellectual thinking but also sensory perceptions. Likewise the conundrum of atomic consciousness that has long been haunting atomic physicists has been long before addressed by “hylozoists” of Milesia by virtue of their intuitionalism. But the most staggering equivalence between modern physics and eastern mysticism lies in “monistic picture of universe”, that has been long entangled with spiritualism and is a common thread between spectrum of diverse mystic schools of thought. This monism has become evident with the exploration of sub-atomic world where unity of all opposites becomes evident and pluralism melts into monism and all things appear to be adumbrations of a common universal element. Fritjof Capra in his masterwork “The Tao of Physics” glibly sums this fact as:-
“Quantum theory forces us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole”.
Likewise the reciprocal inter-conversion of matter energy has uprooted the dichotomy of physical (matter) and spiritual (energy) dualism and has established matter as well as energy both the manifestations of divine will that can be freely interchanged and transformed into one another. This belief of unity is further reinforced by the theory of Quantum Electrodynamics that does not see universe as static but a dynamic arena where matter and energy are spontaneously created and destroyed and particle anti-particle annihilative dance keeps the stage rocking. Likewise the long hold distinction of “observed – observer” has also been abolished by Quantum norms as the observer (subject) and observed (object) can only be described as parts of a total all-encompassing system. Thus it can be safely inferred that internal life & the external universe, man & his environment constitute one indissoluble entity. This tallies very well with one of the basic mystic tenets that holds profoundly holistic image of man as plenum of reality. This is expressed by the microcosm-macrocosm apposition in which the universe -- the macrocosm is regarded as a reflection and manifestation of the archetype man -- while simultaneously man reflects and manifests the structure of the universe. The theory underlying this reciprocal relationship is that every aspect of the universe is a revelation of Divine creative energies. Hence at every level of the cosmogenic process there is expressed the pattern of the same primal Divine creative energies -- a "homeomorphism" -- at the level of the individual, human society and the totality of the universe.
In the ending pages of his “The Tao of Physics” Fritjof Capra, himself a distinguished physicist eloquently remarks that “principal theories and models of modern physics lead to a view of the world which is internally consistent and in perfect harmony with the views of eastern mysticism”. Aversely the mis-representation of mysticism has created a chaos and conflict amidst modern minds upto such magnitude that mysticism has been out rightly tagged as anti-rational and im-pragmatic but the reality bears that it is only mysticism that binds all religions and ethnicities in a common thread and invokes in man his quintessence. It creates multi-fold relations between man, universe and god in and the nexus of these relations lies the secret of existence.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])