Cosmic love affair


Pankaj S Joshi

Ramana Maharshi would ask his visitors to ponder who they really were. ‘Are you just the physical body and organs that you sense and care for all the time? Are you the mind that’s filled with constant thoughts and registers pleasure, pain, and emotion?’To arrive at an answer, Ramana Maharshi told his visitors to be calm and quiet inside, contemplating the question. He advised them to proceed from the gross to subtle regimes of existence, probing the experience of deeper awareness, the Self.The same investigation reappears in You Are The Universe,where Deepak Chopra, supported by the physics of co-author Menas Kafatos,argues lucidly for the literal truth of their book’s title.Their conclusion is that the physical universe ‘out there’is essentially a product of human experience;therefore, You Are The Universe,offers the only path of reality, inner and outer. No doubt humans and the cosmos have an intriguing relationship.

Can one do without the other? We’re all deeply attached to inner and outer reality — so much so that we forget ourselves, which was Ramana Maharshi’s point. Chopra and Kafatos offer a scientific foundation for ancient eastern teaching that makes our place in the cosmos completely intimate, a love affair that we reclaim when we remember who we really are. Can physics abide a human universe, which would replace the objective universe? The authors hold that reality cannot be separated from our experience of it.To support this contention,which plays into the basic quantum issue of the role of the observer,their book presents baffling,yet open-ended questions facing current cosmology.

Unresolved Issues :
These unresolved issues include how to comprehend the reality preceding the Big Bang; the emergence of time; the place of purpose and design in the evolving universe; an interesting discussion on the possibility of a conscious universe, and more.These chapters interweave the existential question of who we are and our purpose for being here with parallel scientific understanding about the nature and structure of the universe, fundamental laws that govern it, and what the future holds cosmically. These are hardly new questions.Ancient sages like Adi Shankara thought as deeply about them as a modern physicist like Stephen Hawking. What sets You Are The Universe apart is the authors’ contention that the two approaches,from inner experience and objective data collection, belong on a level playing field.We are so involved with our immediate day-to-day struggles and lost in social relationships that hypnotise us into forgetting any deeper reality. Even so, our common experience is to arrive at moments when we find ourselves pondering why we’re really here and what the purpose of it all is: questions that are only answerable when the barriers between science and subjectivity are torn down.

Human Universe :
Proposing a human universe is timely, given that physics and cosmology are in the throes of a paradigm shift.The most famous paradigm shift in the twentieth century overturned Newtonian physics in favour of the breakthroughs by Planck,Einstein,Bohr,and their generation of quantum pioneers.Where Newtonian physics assumed that the intervals being measured in space and time were absolute, Einstein unified space and time into a relativistic scheme.At the same time, the wave-particle duality at the heart of quantum mechanics overturned the Newtonian conception of solid objects with fixed mass and energy. There are still long-standing discrepancies between Einstein’s theory of gravitation,which describes large-scale objects such as stars and galaxies, and quantum mechanics,which has proved incredibly precise about describing smallscale reality at the atomic level and below. But while delving into this divide — which physics has been trying to heal for decades — Chopra and Kafatos argue that on any scale of reality, the observer plays a key role. Measurement is never absolute but depends on the status and position of the one doing the measuring.
The argument goes even further than John Archibald Wheeler’s contention that we live in a participatory universe,enmeshed in every fibre of its existence.For Chopra and Kafatos, the observer’s consciousness is inseparable from reality ‘out there’, to the extent that nothing can be deemed real outside our experience.

The Reality :
If there is a reality, they argue, that lies outside human experience,we can never know it. Across the horizon of space, time, matter, and energy lies a void, the so-called quantum vacuum state. In present-day physics, the vacuum state is modelled almost entirely by mathematics. In a radical departure, Chopra and Kafatos argue that the precreated state contained consciousness and everything that can emerge in human awareness. Their rationale, they believe, is to build upon what quantum physics knows and also what it doesn’t know.However, huge questions remain on the nature of reality itself. In showing how riddled with gaps and conjectures our current models are, this book argues that if we want to move on to a higher level of cosmic understanding, a huge paradigm shift is in order. Moreover, the shift is already occurring. Modern physics chose early on to prefer experimentation that validated quantum mechanics and relativity while turning its back on the radical philosophical speculations of all the great quantum pioneers.In fact,the notion that Bohr,Heisenberg, and Schrödinger challenged the very existence of a physical universe ‘out there’ became an embarrassment.Now some theorists are willing to take them seriously, especially when confronting the baffling riddles about space, time, matter, and energy that refuse to go away when confronted with the conventional methods of empirical science. Chopra and Kafatos are really echoing and updating the insights of quantum pioneers who argued for removing the distinction between the observer and the universe, or consciousness and cosmos.The ancients had their own version of unifying the two, as when Krishna in the Bhagwad Gita declares, “I am the field and the knower of the field.” You Are The Universe presents a compelling thought process to link consciousness and cosmos, at the very least bringing in a breeze of fresh ideas, well worth considering by all who are interested in the nature of reality and the part humans play in it. But return to Ramana Maharshi and imagine his reaction if he were presented with this book. He might well say, with an enigmatic smile,“Well boys, instead of going a million miles into outer space, if you went a little deep into your own heart, focusing on the Self, you would know,Yatha Pinde Tatha Brahmande…, which is roughly translated, ‘As it is above, so it is below. As is the universe, so is the human body.’ If the book were presented to Einstein he might have mused, “Interesting, but don’t bother me. I’m working out a unified field theory,and it’s so close.”The value of Chopra and Kafatos is that they so confidently bridge both reactions.

(The writer, theoretical physicist and cosmologist is senior professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai)

Source: The Sangai Express


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