Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics


Mankind’s first forays into physics, the understanding of the physical world, has always been led by the desire to find the most fundamental elements from which all others can be derived.

The first forays into physics, the understanding of the physical world, were made by the Vaisesikas of India, who formulated the concept of ‘anu’, the atom. Pythogoras after his visit to India formulated a similar concept in Greece, the concept of the atom.

This concept continued unchanged into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries till Rutherford broke up the atom into nucleus and electrons.

This finally has been broken down by quantum physics. Unlike the previous theories, the quantum theory has a far more solid base. Its equations and theories have always been supported perfectly by experiments. There is hardly any other theory which has been experimented more and which has achieved such absolutely perfect results.

Quantum physics breaks down the protons, neutrons and electrons of the atom into further subdivisions, called sub particles. This arrangement of sub particles is called the ‘standard model’. The sub particles and their interactions in the standard model has been proven irrevocably by numerous experiments.

standard model

In this table, the 12 Fermions comprising the Quarks and the leptons can be called the ‘matter’ particles and the 4 Bosons the ‘force’ particles though this is not really true, since matter particles also have force or energy and force particles except for the photon also have mass. 16 such particles are depicted here but depending on the counting, there are even more and can be considered to be upto 200, because each particle has its anti-particle and so on. Most importantly, gravity is left out altogether in this Standard Model.

Beyond these symbols expressing the different particles, there is one vital presence not denoted by any of these, standing in the shadows as it were, but whose presence alone gives the standard model its existence, the Higg’s field.

The Higg’s field is an intrinsic part of the standard model and it is this which gives the particles their masses. Without the Higg’s field and the action by which it gives mass to the particles, the Higg’s mechanism, the particles would have been nothing but undifferentiated points of energy. The universe as it exists today exists only because of the Higg’s field.

The Higg’s field can be quite a startling concept when one first hears of it. What it says is that basically the whole of this space, through which we are walking and seeing, is actually filled up with what is termed ‘virtual’ mass. That is, it is not empty but filled an infinite number of mass particles, but they are virtual, which is meant to imply that they are not yet manifested. Because of the nature of the Higg’s field, they are ready to get manifested, and manifest by coupling with a particle when it passes through it. Right at the beginning of the Big Bang, the Higg’s was superheated, and the mass particles did not have a tendency to manifest, but as it cooled down, the symmetry was broken and they were struggling to become manifested, and the particles give them a chance to do this.

Before this manifestation from Higg’s, all other particles were energy particles only, and they were undifferentiated, and in a fluid state, so to say. It was only once the Higg’s symmetry was broken and the particles had mass that the universe as we know it began.

Thus in the standard model, energy and mass are seen as two different fundamental essences, both arising at the time of the Big Bang, energy arising as an infinitude of charged undifferentiated energy particles and mass being hidden in the super fluidity of the Higg’s field. It was only slightly after the Big Bang when there was some amount of cooling that the two joined to form the particles we know now.

While quantum physics explains mass and energy in this way, there is another way in which the two are connected, coming this time from the opposite side, the ‘large’ side of physics. The laws of Special Relativity connect energy and mass by E=MC². This means that energy and mass are equivalent, and can be expressed in terms of each other. They can be ‘converted’ to each other. (actually they are not really converted to each other, I use this word only for convenience, see Mass Energy equivalence).

This law is also one of the, or rather, the, most important laws in quantum physics also. This is specially in high velocity physics, accelerator physics. In accelerator reactions, there is frequent exchange of mass and energy in the reactions, but they always steadfastedly follow both the laws of conservation of mass and conservation of energy simultaneously, both are always conserved at the same time.

Thus both energy and mass are always manifested together, as two sides of the same coin, connected by E=MC². This means that at some level, the two are connected and there is something, some sub–origin, of which both matter and energy are two manifestations as it were, and which can manifest as both energy and matter simultaneously. But in the present Standard Model, the two have very different origins and are considered two different entities, there is nothing intrinsic which connects them. Thus the present Standard Model cannot be final. There must be a layer underneath it, something which connects mass and energy. For example, if we say that the superstrings theory is true, then we could say that both matter and energy are manifestations of these superstrings, perhaps matter is a compressed manifestation and energy is a dispersed manifestation. A sub–structure beyond the present standard model is indicated by this dichotomy between matter and energy in the standard model.

In fact, not just matter–energy issues but a number of issues show that there is a substructure beyond the Standard Model. Physicists are the first to realize this, and that is why there are a host of theories which explain the world at a deeper level than the standard model. There are so many theories: GUT theories, String theory, Technicolor theory, etc.

What then is the importance of Advaita Vedanta in this?

The importance of Advaita Vedanta is that it makes the claim that at the ultimate level, the universe will be seen to have as its origin, not discrete, multiple particles, but a single homogenous structure beyond time and space.

Advaita Vedanta does not say that the Standard Model is wrong. Nor will it claim that something deeper like the String theory is wrong. But what Advaita Vedanta says is that till this homogenous continuous entity is reached as the basis, physics will never achieve a complete solution and we will have to continue digging deeper and deeper. All questions will finally be answered only when we reach the rock bottom, at which we will find this homogenous structure.

It is like Mendelev’s Periodic table, which was so successful in classifying the properties of different elements and could even predict new elements before they were discovered. But this was done without knowing the root cause of why it worked, and it was only when the work of Pauli and other quantum physicists showed that it was the position of the electrons in their orbits that determined the valences and thus the behavior of the elements that the Periodic Table was really understood. So also although the Standard Model works perfectly now and is correct in itself, it is only when the deepest layer is uncovered that it will be fully understood.

In theories like the standard model and also the superstrings theory beyond it, the final level is seen to be composed of multiple entities. The Standard Model has about 26 particles and four forces. The Superstrings theory, still very much in the conceptual stage, has an even higher number of particles. But the claim of Advaita Vedanta is that at the end, there will be found to be only one Substance as the origin of the universe. This Substance will be continuous and not particulate, ie, analogue and not digital, so to say. But it will also not be of wave type, since it is homogenous, without change in any direction. It will turn out to be a ‘single block’ of substance, perfectly homogenous and unchanging in any way.

Besides this, this Substance will be independent of time and space, it will not be affected by time and space. The particles of the Standard Model are very much within time and space. In the superstrings theory, there are proposed some eleven dimensions of space–time, which are curled up. In the Absolute theory of Advaita Vedanta, this Substance is beyond space–time altogether, not affected by space–time, which is a part of the universe only and not of this absolute substance. (see Is Advaita Vedanta provable).

It is this Absolute Substance which is the spiritual goal of Advaita Vedanta and is named Brahman.

Buddhism however takes the polar opposite view: here there is no Absolute beyond the world and the final reduction will find the world to be discrete and particularized without any absolute reality: a stand very similar to the Standard Model, the String theory, etc. (see Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism for this.)

The same arguements that Advaita Vedanta used against the Buddhist view is applicable against the views of quantum physics like the Standard Model and String theory. What is particularized and discrete can never be the final truth. At the final reduction, the world must be one, must have a single truth as its basis. This is because we see a basic commonality between all the varied things of the world, because of which they interact with each other. We can see that within the standard model also, the various particles can interact with each other and reappear as each other. For example, one reaction goes:

d→ u + e‾+ v¯ e

Here, a down quark changes into an up quark, emitting an electron and an antineutrino.

This indicates that between all these particles like up quarks,down quarks, electrons, anti-neurinos, etc. there is a commonality since they can change into each other. The commonality between mass and energy is also proved by E=MC² as already discussed.

It is not enough even to have only two fundamentals, a fundamental particle and a fundamental force, because even these two must interact and so there must be a single common entity beyond them. All this indicates that there is a common 'substance' behind everything. Such a common ‘single’ substance will always be indicated whenever we try to reduce the universe to its fundamental origins, and atomic theories like the Standard Model or String theory will never be complete. At the end, there must always be a 'single substance'.

This is the crux of the logic of the Advaita Vedanta theory.

Now, the question arises, that even if we do accept this Advaita Vedanta theory and accept that the ultimate reduction may arrive at such an Absolute Substance, why should we accept this as a spiritual goal?

Physicists during their years of learning quantum physics have learnt to accept one impossible fact every morning before breakfast, so that they are capable of believing anything as long as it is supported by theory and experiment. If theory one day indicates such an Absolute Substance as the base and some sort of experiment can derive it, there would not be any problem for science in accepting this. Indeed, the aesthetics of having a single substance at the root would be as satisfying for physicists as for others. But why should this be a spiritual goal? If the standard model had been proved for example, it would have been very satisfying but it certainly would not have a spiritual meaning. So also for superstrings and other such theories. Why should a theory of a single substance of the type defined by Advaita Vedanta have any such spiritual meaning?

The answer is that in Advaita Vedanta, this Absolute Substance, this Brahman, is posited as the source of not just our material universe, but of our consciousness also. Our consciousness is very much a part of the universe, it cannot have a different origin than the material universe. If Brahman is the source of the material universe, it means that Brahman must be the source of our consciousness also.

The fact that Brahman is the source of our consciousness leads to next conclusion of Advaita Vedanta, that this Brahman is hence introspectible. It can be the subject of our consciousness, it can be something that we can experience. Hence the spirituality: this means that we have a spiritual goal, of directly experiencing with our consciousness this Brahman, this ultimate Truth. This experience can be got through Yoga. ( See Advaita Vedanta, Consciousness and the mystical experience)

This then is the final meaning of Advaita Vedanta. The same Absolute Substance, called the Brahman, is the origin of both our material universe and our consciousness, and this Brahman can be experienced within our consciousness, and this is the spiritual goal of our life.

* People who read this also read:

* To read more on Advaita Vedanta and Yoga and its harmony with modern science and reason, you can go through my book on Amazon:

Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga

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