Sunday, June 29, 2014

[* Longmans Green, London, 1907, price 3.6]
            “They that know the Day of Brahman to endure for a thousand ages, and the Night thereof to endure  for a thousand ages are the knowers of night and day” (Bhagavad-gita).
            The author of this small but interesting and important volume endeavors to show that the visible universe as known to us, is but one in a chain of similar universe contained one within the other, and differing only in the size of their elementary constituent particles. The atoms of one universe are the suns of the next fine universe; the electrons are its planets; the next universe below ours in the scale of sizes may be called the infra-world; the next above, the supra-world; these are the two new worlds referred to in the title, but they may of course be an infinite series in both directions. The units of time and length in these several universes are changed in the same proportions; thus the units of length and time in the infra-world are reduced 10 times, leaving velocity unaltered, for one infra-centimeter per infra-second exactly equals one centimeter per second. The relativity of time and space, even from the point of view of physical science is clearly brought out. These conceptions are indeed not things outside of ourselves, but part of our mental machinery only, by which we perceive things apart, and without which no conception of plurality would be possible.
            The author proceeds in a series of clearly presented arguments to sketch the conditions prevailing in the infra-universe, where each of our atoms is a sun, and each of our electrons a planet. The infra-universe is so small that its ‘starry heavens’ appear to us as a minute microscopic speck; yet there is no reason to suppose that life, not unlike our own may not exist upon its planets, for size is a purely relative affair! An infra-year is what we call a thousand billionth of a second. The life of our sun, estimated at 50 or 100 of million of our years, would amount to about a ten-millionth of a second on the supra-world scale. And so the relation of universe to universe is sketched out, presenting to the mind an infinity, not only of the physical universe as known to us, but of orders of universes larger and smaller, and as the scheme is elaborated in detail.
            The chief interest of this work to us seems to be in the psychological deductions which can be drawn, and at which the author hints not obscurely. Just as Indian thinkers, by pure thinking, intuitively perceived the fundamental postulate of true philosophy, viz., the entire subjectivity of time, space and causality, and Western science in the person of Kant reached the same result by the other way, of abstract reasoning and scientific proof, so here we have a physical illustration in exact scientific terms, of the Hindu conceptions of enormous distances and times obtaining in other spheres than ours. For example, a kalpa is a period of 4320 millions of our years, at the end of which the world is resolved into its constituent elements: - an approximation of at least the same order as that taken by the author of our book (p. 32) viz., 2000 million years as the life of the solar system.* [* I do not, of course, lay any stress upon the actual numbers, only upon the identity of idea, arrived at independently and by quite different processes.] The kalpa is spoken of as a day of Brahma, of which thirty form a month, and of these months 12 a year, and 100 of these years the period of his life (as a conditioned Iswara or personal God): -words that our author almost echoes, when he says that “there must be a supra-world – a world of a higher scale inhabited by beings for whom a trillion years are as a day, and the sun’s life-period the shortest measurable interval of time”!
            The author does not hesitate to consider the relation of ‘soul’ to the infinite series of physical universes: certainly the possibilities are strange enough. For example, our visible universe, represents to supra-man an object some ⅛ supra-inch in diameter.” It contains about 1000 million stars, or about as many stars as the lowliest organism known to us contains atoms. For aught we know it may be an organism”. Is there a cosmic soul forming the sum total of the individual consciousness manifesting in the universe, and concerning which supra-man may speculate concerning the soul of an amoeba? There can be no doubt that spiritual evolution consists in the expansion of consciousness (release from the bonds of personality); have we then to attain consciousness on a, to us, cosmic scale, only to be ‘born’ as an ‘amoeba’ in a supra-world? Here is suggested a physical parallel to the idea of “progressive emancipation” by the devayana, the “path of the gods’; it is probably interesting only as such a parallel. For after all we have so far been dealing only with physical universe, of which ours is the pattern. From a Vedantic point of view, of course, all these worlds are part of the samsara, and we as Atman, are incarnate in them all though conscious only of our individual atman in each. And we do not really know, speaking in the terms so far used, into what world we are born at death. “We may be landed in some other link of the chain of worlds, or in an entirely different kind of world.” For observe and this our author, who is no crude materialist, expressly indicates the existence of this infinite series of physical universe does not preclude the existence of other kinds of universe – ‘other worlds’ or ‘lokas’, with the conditions of which we have at present little in common. Of these also more knowledge may be possible in the future; for, “In taking control of nature, man has lost many spiritual gifts once possessed by his ancestors. Clairvoyance and telepathy were once almost universal. They have been deliberately atrophied in order to fit man for the conquest of nature. The human mind not only requires delicate senses and perception; it also requires certain blindness’s and insensibilities. Some sensibilities have been crusted over. Man has become a crustacean as regards some of his faculties. These have become ‘occult.’ When they are once more required, they will again come forth. They are beginning to come forth even now.”
            The author anticipates an enormous increase in man’s control of nature; and then what follows? A greater and greater control of the means of existence, with no more consideration for its meaning and goal than the present world be a growing nightmare, from which the evidence of the re-acquisition of lost spiritual faculties is the promise of deliverance. When the bulk of knowledge increases to ten and fifty fold the present, “when activities have to be spread over geological periods instead of lifetimes, man will, in order to cope with them, either have to prolong his life, or find a new way of permanently recording his experiences. Both ends may possibly be accomplished by a thinning of the veil which divides embodied man from the accumulated intelligence of his ancestors, who poured forth by the million every year into that unknown realm of existence with which the human race, for good reasons of its own, has severed almost all conscious connection.” This may be taken to refer not only to communication with spirits of departed human beings; but of intuition, the method of genius. One cannot but believe that all knowledge is really an absolute thing, and that man in his progress, rather discovers than creates it. What are we to think of the mathematical genius, who gives without a moment’s reflection the (correct) answer to questions involving enormously difficult mathematical calculations, say the cube root of some very large number? and of the similar phenomena of genius in other branches of knowledge? It is more than possible that intuition of this sort, belonging to the imaginative or real side of man which is not fettered by conditions of time, space, etc., is a higher and more enduring, and ultimately mere certain faculty than reason; though now requiring to be checked and controlled by that very person itself, which is bound up with, and alone can be said to understand, this phenomenal world.\
            To return to the main thesis of the volume, it may appear that the conception of an infinity of material universes lacks a unifying principle and presses upon the mind with all the weight of an incubus. Where is that unifying principle upon which we may rely to deliver us from the intolerable complexity of phenomena? The true answer has been given in India long ago. It may be summarized in the compound word, brahma-atma-aikyam, “unity of the Brahman and the atman.” All consciousness is really one; and it is upon that consciousness that phenomena in all their complexity depend. The same answer was given by Plato when he perceived the world as idea, and by Kant, when he perceived the world as Will. Our author’s position is the same. “I prefer,” he says “to look upon material phenomena, as symbols of mental phenomena.” That it should be necessary to ask at all where there can be found an unifying principle such as we have spoken of, “shows how a mechanical view of natural phenomena has obscured our appreciation of the realities underlying all human understanding. Atoms, electrons, material objects generally are not realities. They are our conceptions of realities which affect or sensorium, constructed in our minds from materials supplied by pur past experiences. Our experiences are the only realities of which we have definite evidence, and these are finally resolvable into sensations and memories of sensations. By an act of faith we extend our own sphere of sensations to include spheres which we perceive to be similar, and we thus are enabled to see with other person’s eyes and remember with other person’s memories. By another act of faith we postulate an ‘object’ behind a bundle of permanent or recurring sensations. These sensations are the symbol of that object, the sings by which it reveals its presence to us. No doubt the object contains some ultimate reality but what that ultimate reality may be, what the rest of its properties are, we can only faintly guess. We have only one key. In ourselves we can observe both the inner reality of a thing and its external and visible symbol.” 
            Thus our author speaks almost in the terms of Indian philosophy. An extract from Professor Deussen’s Philosophy of the Upanishads” will emphasize the identity of the point of view: - “If ever a general solution is reached of the great riddle, which presents itself to the philosopher in the nature of things all the more clearly the further our knowledge extends, the key can only be found where alone the secret of nature from lies open to us from within, that is to say, in our innermost self. It was here that for the first time the original thinkers of the Upanishads ‘to their immortal honor, found it when they recognized our atman, our inmost individual being, as the Brahman’ the inmost being of universal nature and all her phenomena.”
            Materialism in Western science has been a passing phase; it belongs already to the last generation. For the accumulation of facts does but give the opportunity for wider and wider generalizations of which the last and most fundamental consists in the reduction of all variety to that one unifying principle by which, when known all is known. Thus Western thought is progressing extraordinarily fast in the direction of Indian idealism. At the same time there is in the West a growing appreciation of the ideals of Indian civilization. I do not doubt that within a hundred years the culture of India will be valued in the west as that of Greece is to day; her achievements in philosophy, literature, science and art cannot ultimately be ignored, but must take their right place in the scheme of human culture and civilization.
            Meanwhile, very much the reverse is true of English educational ideals and methods in India. The subject is too wide to enter upon here, but in relation to science, it may be said that it is absurd to think that teaching the facts of science, in a superstitions and realistic manner, is offering intellectual emancipation to a country that evolved a truly scientific theory of the universe so long ago, and in whose daily life the philosophical point of view is taken a matter of course. Scientific facts are of extraordinary are from an utilitarian point of view; they may also, properly treated, be a means of culture and the very means of salvation from the ‘intolerable complexity’ of the phenomena which at first it seems to intensify. I say ‘may,’ because although science may speak of inert atoms and electrons as realities, without troubling about the ultimate reality behind them, yet that is going only halfway on the road which leads to intellectual emancipation. “Our next step in the exploration of the universe must be to get at its inner soul and meaning.” No hint of these in the teaching of science in India! But the idea is an integral element in Indian culture; and only those can truly serve India who come to fulfil, not to destroy her culture. Science will not serve her, if she is to give up philosophy in exchange for it.
            Meanwhile India must take her place again amongst the scientific peoples, not as a follower, but again as a leader, India is a congeries of little and great peoples, united by one historical tradition and national sentiment; may not all these contribute to the scientific picture of the world which mankind is making for its behoof? The value and vitality of the culture of many so called lesser peoples has been surprisingly demonstrated of late in Europe, and the volume under notice is an illustration of the vitality of their intellectual life; and of their essentialness in the scheme of civilization; for imagination as necessary in science as in art, is in smoke strong amongst the Kelts and it is accordingly not surprising to find that its author is an Irishman, and this year President of the Pan-Keltic Congress held in Edinburgh.

             Dr. A. K. COOMARASWAMY, D. Sc.,

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