We, in the Hindu culture, have a unique opportunity of windows, a variety of them, through which we can shape our personal lives, our intellectual quests, our explorations into nature, and our experience of the universe.
“Stop,” said Sudhakar Kasturi. I paused the slideshow of pictures of the Darasuram Temple and looked at the face of the author of science-fiction (sci-fi) novels that have become quite a phenomenal success in Tamil. Kasturi’s novel 6174 (2012), a sci-fi fantasy thriller, has mathematical concepts running throughout its pages, connecting the architectural marvels and poetic wonders of ancient India.
“Do you recognise what this is?” Kasturi asked me. Seeing me draw a blank, he asked, “Do you remember that passage in my novel where they discuss in a seminar rectangular Fibonacci kolams?” Right in front of me, filtering sunlight, digitally frozen, was throwing up silhouette patterns in that old temple. Now, I remembered. Dr Naranan, a real-life physicist living in Chennai, has been studying the mathematical patterns in them for years, if not decades. And he had discovered in them rectangular Hemachandra-Fibonacci kolams. Kasturi had brought into this real mathematics of kolams – specifically these kolams in his novel, and, right in front of our eyes, he showed the same patterns appearing in the window sculpture of the Chola temple built eight centuries earlier.
The windows of ancient temples in South India are fascinating. Through patterns embedded in them, they shape our view of reality. They are the interface between the observer and the observed. The astonishing varieties of windows we encounter in those ancient temples, whether those built by Pallavas, Chalukyas, or Cholas, to name a few, perhaps also reflect the astonishing epistemological pluralism available to us in our Hindu culture to view and experience reality.
Maya is one such window, or perhaps, the window of windows. She is at once both the interface and the co-creator of reality as we perceive it. Then she allows us to understand the reality between the apparent binaries. While maya has often been portrayed as a kind of illusion and even an obstruction to realising the reality, Adi Sankara clearly points to her being essential for the ultimate realisation. He speaks of maya thus:
She is the undefined (Avyaktanaamnee) and the power of the Paramesa (Paramesa Sakthi); She is without beginning and is Avidya. She is the inner soul of three Gunas (Trigunaatmika). She is the highest inner Principle (Para); She can be inferred through the effects and can be done so only by those clear reasoning; Such is She the Maya through whom emerges the entire existence.Vivekachudamani (crest-jewel of discrimination: verse 108)
Of primary importance is the use of the term Avyakta. In the Saptabhangi or Syadvada of the Jains, Avyakta becomes an important component. Of the seven states, four have Avyakta in them. Sri Lalita Sahasranama makes each of the defining names given by Adi Sankara to Maya, the name of the goddess Herself. Thus, she is Avyakta; she is Trigunaatmika; she is para; she is Avidya.
In the sequence of names, while Avyakta is a separate name for the goddess, its opposite state, Vyakta, is not so. Instead, it is Vyakta-Avyakta – there is no manifest system that does not have undefinedness or Avyakta in it.
What kind of visions can such a window help us see?
In a recent article, neurobiologists Todd E Feinberg and Jon Mallatt outline a crucial problem in the study of consciousness – ‘an epistemic barrier’ called ‘auto-irreducibility’.
Auto-irreducibility means that once conscious is created, we have no knowledge of what neural processes are causing our experiences. In other words, we have no direct access to our neurons, only to the experiences they create. This barrier was first pointed out by Gordon Globus who called this an aspect of the “world knot,” a term coined by Schopenhauer to describe the multiple enigmas that are confronted when trying to explain the relationship between the brain and consciousness.‘Unlocking the Mystery of Consciousness’ (Scientific American, 17 October 2018)
The authors have already seen this as an evolutionary development. According to them, subjectivity itself “evolved such that it cannot be objectively ‘experienced’” (The Ancient Origins of Consciousness, MIT Press, 2016). Gordon Globus himself has pointed out, in his original paper, ‘The nervous system has no sensory apparatus directed to its own structure’.
Dr Globus, now a professor of psychiatry and philosophy, had put forth this problem that consciousness studies face, in his 1973 paper:
The enigma of the relationship between mind and matter ... was termed by Schopenhauer the ‘world knot’ presumably because so many issues are tangled up in it. ...Mental evens contain no information about any neural embodiments, ... Just as mental events contain no information about neural embodiments, the neural events per se contain no information that these events are neurally embedded.Unexpected Symmetries in the “World Knot”, Science, 15 June 1973: Volume 180, Issue 4091, pages 1129-1136
He formulated two identities – one is the subjective (S) perspective of a mental event that he called psychoevent identity, and another, the perspective of observer (O) in which the “S's mental events are strictly identical with S's neural events (psychoneural identity).” These two perspectives should be treated using Niels Bohr’s principle of complementarity to move forward, Gordon asserted:
Although equal in status, the perspectives cannot be applied concurrently and each provides different accounts of reality, just as light appears to be a wave or a particle depending on the method of observation, which methods cannot be applied simultaneously. Thus psychoevent and psychoneural identity are complementary in Bohr’s sense. ... The relationship of the present application of Bohr’s complementarity principle to the problem of mind and matter would seem to be deeper than a simple analogy to its application in quantum physics. Rather, both applications illustrate the use of a general philosophical principle.Unexpected Symmetries in the “World Knot”, Science, 15 June 1973: Volume 180, Issue 4091, pages 1129-1136
Indian physicist and educationist D S Kothari (1906-1993), too, had pointed out in his last paper how Bohr’s complementarity principle is a larger darshana (big picture) that can be applied in many domains of science. He also pointed out how this resonates with traditional Vedantic and Jain approaches to seemingly opposite perspectives:
The core of the profound ethical and spiritual insights propounded in the Upanishads, Buddhism, and Jainism rests essentially on the complementarity approach to the problems of life and existence though the formulations may vary.The Complementarity Principle and Eastern philosophy, Niels Bohr Centenary Volume, Harvard University Press, 1985, pages 325-331
Then, he quotes Sri Aurobindo’s commentary on Isa Upanishad, where the seer lists binary pairs starting from the conscious Purusha and phenomenal Prakriti and, among others, the one stable Brahman and the multiple Movement, being and becoming, the Active Lord, and the indifferent Akshara Brahman, Vidya and Avidya, etc. Particular emphasis on Kothari’s paper is on Avyakta in the fourth predication of reality in Syadvada, which he applied to wave-particle duality.
As seen already, Adi Sankara identifies Avyakta as Maya. Now we shall see how Globus moves progressively towards embracing maya in formulating a system for studying and understanding consciousness.
In 1986-87, Globus published his study of the phenomenon of dreaming – his “strategy for discovering” being “an investigation of dreaming might illuminate waking”. And he discovered himself getting “much closer ontologically to ancient Indian philosophy, to the doctrine of maya”.
The present investigation of twentieth-century approaches to dreaming has led to the concept of producing/product that converges on the concept of maya.Dream Life, Wake Life Human Conditions through Dreams, SUNY Press, 1987
However, there are certain differences. Because, after all, Hinduism also has the divine craftsman Viswakarma and, hence, maya is still a mechanism for the world as “a God operating the machine”. Then, with remarkable insight, Dr Globus cautions that the Hindu “All-maker as artisan” should not be taken literally as “there are deeper currents to Hindu philosophy”. Here, he points to maya being the “‘art of the god Rudra, who sketches images in our dreaming minds” and who is also “formatively creative”. He concludes:
Although the continuum the spirit/matter dough of reality appears undifferentiated (a chaos of vibratory interference), possibilities are enfolded to it, unfolding to Rudra’s touch, like Bohm’s holomovement unfolds explicate existentia from the implicate order.Dream Life, Wake Life Human Conditions through Dreams, SUNY Press, 1987
In other words, maya encountered what Adi Sankara calls ‘Paramesa Sakthi’.
In 1995, Globus, studying brain and consciousness, stated that the primacy should not be given to either “subject (as it is in idealism) or object (as in materialism) but a dynamical process in which subject/object and all the other metaphysical dualities are derived”. This process is the maya, which he discerned as “a dynamical self-organizing, nondual, holonomic movement, during both waking and dreaming” (The Postmodern Brain).
By 2003, quantum mechanics has emerged as a serious contending position in the study of consciousness and brain processes. Globus points out:
Now, for the first time, Maya is explained in terms of physical reality, rather than being merely a false belief. We wrongly give a transcendent autonomy to what is actually derived in the between, putting the cart before the dual horses. The presencing of world is continually hoisted, not self-subsistent. ... Quantum theory thus extends its revolution through dual mode quantum brain dynamics to our very existence, docking in surprising symmetry at the postphenomenological landing. ...Each Dasein (entity), as Da-sein (being-there), is utterly isolated. The quotidian world-in-common is a phantasm of the logos. We are really alone, ensconsed in parallel worlds that are hoisted in our respective betweens, whilst clinging in common to maya.‘Thinking-together postphenomenology and quantum brain dynamics’, 2003
Again, in a paper discussing quantum brain dynamics, he elaborated a view that resonates with the conception of maya in Saiva Siddhanta:
The monad is filled with possibility. The possibilities are interpenetrated, a quantum superposition, a plenum of enfolded possibilia, a holoworld. The possibilities are traces of actualities, all “enfolded” to a holoworld of weighted (“tuned”) possibilia. Actualization of a possibility is an internal process of the monad. The monad’s holoworld meets representatives of physical reality . . . and world-thrownness unfolds in their vacuum state ∼conjugate match. Unexpectedly, this is consistent with the perennial philosophy’s maya doctrine. ... In the common interpretation maya is a potentially correctable cognitive illusion, whereas in the monadic interpretation maya is ... an inescapable ontological illusion.‘Consciousness and Quantum Brain Dynamics’ in The Emerging Physics of Consciousness (Edited by Jack A Tuszynski), Springer, 2006, pages 371-85
Then, in 2009, Globus tries “to give transparent worldthrownness a quantum neurophilosophical interpretation coherent with process philosophy”. Though the West does have a long tradition of process philosophers, from Heraclitus to Alfred North Whitehead, it has been relegated to the sidelines. Whereas in Hinduism, not only does it predate the West, but as a darshana is well-enshrined in the culture itself, as depicted in the Dance of Siva. In this work, Globus calls Maya Goddess when discussing the philosophical issues central to quantum brain dynamics:
By conceiving of the brain as a dissipative system Vitiello to some extent dethrones consciousness, making it subject to the between of the environment mode and the symmetron memory traces of the system mode. But Vitiello still distinguishes consciousness from an external world. ... This world, with which we are so fascinated, about which we care so intensely, is central to philosophical deliberations. But focus easily slips away from world as a consequence of the transparent power of brain to matter-of-factly disclose it. The Goddess Maya drops her veil, hiding the quantum “machinery” that keeps the illusion of transcendency going.The Transparent Becoming of World: A Crossing Between Process Philosophy and Quantum Neurophilosophy, 2009
Diﬀerent emergent symmetries in diﬀerent brain regions have diﬀerent qualities. Constraints on the belonging-together of the between-two derive from extrinsic sensory input, intrinsic intentional input and re-traces of recognitions. ... Given similar inputs and given similar attunement (by social consensus in local communities), similar worlds are unfolded in parallel and easily mistaken for one world-in-common-diﬀerently-interpretedacross-locales. In the transparency of quantum brain functioning the Goddess Maya casually reigns.The Transparent Becoming of World: A Crossing Between Process Philosophy and Quantum Neurophilosophy, 2009
Coming back to the windows, it is not about Globus and his approach to reality being right or wrong; although, he definitely provides an instance of how the Hindu Darshanas can provide impetus to do and experience science. Each Darshana and concept can thus become a window. In fact, in formulating the concept of ‘world knot’, Arthur Schopenhauer showed a very strong influence of Hindu thought. Instead of getting into the usual Western mind-body duality, Schopenhauer moves into the problem of the knower-knowing and the known:
Accordingly, the subject knows itself only as a willer, not as a knower. For the ego that represents, thus the subject of knowing, can itself never become representation or object, since, as the necessary correlative of all representations, it is their condition. On the contrary, the fine passage from the sacred Upanishad applies: “It is not to be seen: it sees everything; it is not be heard: it hears everything; it is not to be known: it knows everything: and it is not to be recognized: it recognizes everything. Besides this seeing, knowing, hearing and recognizing entity there is no other.” Consequently there is no knowledge of knowing, since this would require that the subject separated itself from knowing and yet knew that knowing; and this is impossible. ... Now the identity of the subject of willing with that of knowing by virtue whereof (and indeed necessarily) the word ‘I’ includes and indicates both, is the knot of the world (Weltknoten) and hence inexplicable. ... But whoever really grasps the inexplicable nature of this identity, will with me call it the miracle par excellence.On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (1813:1847)
Bohr, whose complementarity principle, which Globus and Kothari see as offering a solution to the ‘world knot’, which is identified as a fundamental problem in studying consciousness, also was influenced by the Upanishads. Physicist John Wheeler acknowledged this in a letter dated 10 June 1999 to Swami Jitatmananda of Sri Ramakrishna Mission:
My wonderful mentor, Niels Bohr, had gone into deep interest into the Upanishads —more, he told me, in the questions than in the answers. I like to think that someone will trace out how the deepest thinking of India made its way to Greece and from there to the philosophy of our times.
This is not to say that we know everything already; rather, this is to say that we have a unique opportunity of windows, a variety of them, through which we can shape our personal lives, our intellectual quests, our explorations into nature, and our experience of the universe. Hindu culture in its entirety is then the grand temple of ages, and what beautiful windows they have – ones worthy of being guarded by gods themselves!