Understanding Time – Part II – Subjectivity
Types of physical laws
We have seen from the previous post that there are three types of physical laws:
- Deterministic Laws – which determine the chain between cause and effect with 100% certainty.
- Probabilistic Laws – which talk about the probability of an effect given a cause.
- Uncertainty principles – which impose limitations on the simultaneous measurability of various quantities such as position and momentum, energy and time etc.
Probabilistic laws are capable of triggering multiple effects from the same cause. Hence these laws offer the possibility of alternate realities. In fact, this belief in alternatives manifests itself in the most outstanding way in the “Multiple Universe theory”. (See here for example) This is not to say that probabilistic laws triggered the multiple universes theory. It was more of an outcome of cosmological studies.
Probabilistic laws also preserve free will. If multiple alternatives are available then the free will has the ability to choose one among them. Hence these laws offer a reprieve for morality.
Uncertainty principle has the potential for the biggest philosophical impact. In my view, this offers us the ultimate link between objectivity and subjectivity. For instance, since energy and time cannot be simultaneously measured, the “decision” to measure either energy or time, becomes very important. So by choosing energy for instance as the quantity to be measured, one voluntarily gives up information on time and vice-versa. This means that the act of observation is an important event that involves a subjective decision on the part of the observer. This decision has the potential to alter nature itself. How is that? Because, by choosing one quantity as an observable, mankind has given nature the potential to “sneak” a change in the other. So for instance, by choosing to measure energy we have created an opportunity to “change” the time since there is a vast uncertainty introduced in the measurement of time. This is not just a theory but forms the basis behind the postulate of virtual particles in quantum mechanics.
Virtual particles are an outcome of uncertainty. Energy and time are conjugate entities according to the uncertainty principle – i.e. they cannot be simultaneously measured with full precision. Hence the law of conservation of energy gets violated by nature for a brief interval of time. Excess energy gets manifested for a fraction of a second as a particle in compliance with the well known E = mc². Hence particles can get created for fleeting periods of time thereby creating a particle “field”. Now these virtual particles behave like real particles when they are “detected” – we will discuss this in a moment . An undetected particle manifests itself as a carrier of force. Every force has been attributed to some kind of virtual particle. For instance, electromagnetic forces are carried by photons. These particles get created and destroyed before someone “notices” them. But their effects are nevertheless felt. See here for more information. This theory of explaining forces using virtual particles, has been successful to explain the “action at a distance” quandary that initially confounded the likes of Isaac Newton.
Virtual particles are important for this discussion because they behave like real particles if they are observed. What this means is that the moment a virtual particle is observed, it becomes real. What this also means is that at the microscopic level – i.e. at the level of sub atomic particles, the act of observation determines the way nature works! Now this is a path breaking observation since now the decision to observe, changes nature itself. Hence our subjective decisions affect objective data. So the “tree in the forest” analogy comes back with full force. We are saying that at the sub atomic level, nature behaves differently when observed!
Is Nature subjective?
If objective investigations into nature lead us to the conclusion that nature is subjective, it validates the claim of eastern mystics that by delving “inside” rather than “outside”, we would be able to arrive at the truth. Let us now pause for a few and look at Time and physical laws from an eastern (more specifically Indian Hindu ) perspective.
Subjective Theory of Nature
It is hard to pin point one specific theory and promote it to the status of Hinduism’s de facto belief. Hinduism by its very nature is not a religion. It is a system of beliefs that have been molded over centuries by different individuals. Each one of them has fine tuned these beliefs to adapt to their individual personality. Hence you have dvaita, advaita, vedanta, karma yoga, bhakti and jnana yoga rubbing shoulders with more atheistic, pantheistic, agnostic and animist beliefs. Hinduism absorbs them all and exhorts its believers to still experiment and come up with another belief if none of the ones available fit them!
But once the dust has settled down – when layers upon layers of obfuscation, contradictions and individual idiosyncrasies have been cleared – all that remains is a unifying principle of incredible simplicity. This can be stated as “Aham Brahmasmi” viz. I am Brahman. What this means would form the gist of the rest of the blog post.
The great rishis were mystified by nature as well. Who can escape the incredible grandeur of the mountains, rivers,oceans and the forests? Who can stay oblivious of the cataclysms that occur everyday around us? The rishis turned inward for the solution rather than trying to seek it from the world around. This may sound counter intuitive but think about this! We observe Nature through our sense organs. To assume that our sense organs are adequate perceivers of reality, is to err on the side of complacency. Hence the great rishis whose greatest trait is their humbleness, acknowledged their own inadequacy as perceivers of reality. They focussed inwards for the solution. Let us try to recapitulate some of the reasoning that the rishis used in their quest for the mysteries of the Universe. This reasoning is primarily main as I don’t have the privilege of interacting with a living and breathing saint. But I believe it is close to the truth since it has been garnered from multiple books and my own rumination. So let us get on with the reasoning.
Our sense organs help us to perceive reality. But they are not “the perceivers” of reality because sense organs, by themselves are inert. Hence sense organs broadcast their perception to something more “conscious” – something that is more central to our being. This takes us back a notch in quest of the answer to the fundamental question viz. Who are we? We are not the body. Are we the brain? Not if we consider the brain as the physical organ that occupies our head since that organ also is inert. The rishis tried to probe to the “consciousness” that animates our body, allowing us to function, think, feel, act and perceive. What is this consciousness that is within us? Is there a consciousness that spans across all living beings as well? Looks like there should be a consciousness that enforces an order across the Universe. Otherwise, who is the one that is enforcing the law of conservation of energy? So at the outset, there seem to be two “consciousnesses” (if that is the word I want) – one that animates an individual body and the other the one that pervades across all the material in the Universe. The rishis called these two as the Atman and the Paramatman. The Atman is individual and the Paramatman (or Brahman) is the one that pervades the universe. So there should be as many Atmans as the number of beings in the Universe. Now, suddenly we seem to have proliferated the number of Atmans extant in the Universe to a mind boggling number!
So the rishis started to train their sensory organs to “perceive” this Atman and Paramatman. And then an astounding thing happened! They realized that once the body has been “trained” to perceive and be aware of the Atman, then a sudden realization dawned on the rishis. They realized that the Atman and the Paramatman are one and the same. This “Eureka” moment is the time when the mortal human being realizes that he or she is inseparable from the rest of the Universe – that they together form a cohesive, undivided whole. This state of firm realization is called Enlightenment, Nirvana, Nirvikalpa Samadhi or other terms depending on the actual faith of the protoganist.
So the question arises as follows – Now that we have this information and have intellectually assimilated it, have we attained Enlightenment? The answer is a clear and unambiguous No! A mere realization at the intellectual level does not constitute realization. An intellectual realization does not alter our approach to life nor does it affect our day to day living except in a very trifling manner. Intelllectual realization is seen as the first step towards the ascent to actual Enlightenment. The body, mind and intelligence must be trained for this perception. And our entire life is seen as an attempt to get to this level of attunement with the Spirit.
We will attempt to delve a little bit more into this in subsequent blog posts. For now, let us summarize this by saying that the seamless attunement between the Atman and the Paramatman is the ultimate goal of any being’s life (be it human, animal or even a plant) We will see that once we accept this then other beliefs stemmed from this realization.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti!