THE NATURE OF MATTER
Matter is Consciousness...
S. C. Malik
Mysticism and Science
The movement from a religious metaphor guiding the ancient past to a scientific metaphor of modern times continues to go further ahead, since the latter is increasingly being recognised as incomplete for telling us about the various contemporary issues, the crisis, such as environmental pollution, ecological imba-lances, and so on. The modern movement marked a departure from the old dynamics of life when humankind lived closer to nature, sustained and motivated by an understanding of our higher nature — an understanding that came easily and naturally to them; as against the confidence of the modern era to achieve better living conditions, through progress in terms of conquest of nature — introducing both physical and psychological new parameters, separating man from nature, from the universe and hence not being responsible for an overall harmony by being subservient to the cosmos, but pretending to be the dominant force himself. Thus being good and bad became mere matters of technical feasibility, since moral, spiritual and other dimensions had little to do with material solid practicality of material comforts. Now, all this is outdated in view of some developments in Science which are ahead of the times, ahead of this reductionistic paradigm which alienated man from the cosmos. It is in this context that scientists are moving in both the inner and outer dimensions, science and religion, between matter and consciousness even if physics and chemistry are inadequate to deal with such problems since so far science has no moral dimensions to it (Weber:1986).
Physics has developed wonderfully and become very important, interesting and a useful science. But it is not very self-consistent, and it does not even try to cover the existence of consciousness or life. Also quantum theory and relativity are not really reconciled with each other. More investigations are necessary. The description of the world and its unity by quantum theory is very different from that of old-fashioned physics, that is macroscopic physics and also that of general relativity. But contradic-tions in physics are noticed in a particular theory or system of logic only when we apply it to a new situation and the theory predicts results that are not compatible with the observed phenomena. And, this may be understood in terms of quantum mechanics that describes probabilities — probability connections between subsequent observations. Sciences thus speak in terms of approximations, and this is good since physics deals with inanimate nature. It has not gone into the study of Consciousness, just like at one time it did not consider itself ready to study microstructures, as atoms and molecules. Earlier physics dealt with magnetism, electricity and mechanics, etc. So today, while it deals with atoms and molecules, nevertheless human beings are more than just that. Yet, sciences do not yet consider consciousness to be part of their study — no more than the social sciences and humanities unfortunately do. Perhaps because consciousness is considered something non-physical, since the definition of physical is restricted just as Newtonian physics considered atomic physics outside physics. Today, even chemistry and physics is incorporated within each other, if not biology or microbiology.
Perhaps new tools and language is necessary to understand consciousness, just as it was necessary to develop a new tool to understand chemistry, i.e., quantum theory. The questions then raised would be different, does self-identity demand consciousness, or does the latter create identity, viz., I know that I am I because consciousness tells me so; is it a product of something, as an emergence of evolution more or less accepted by everyone, or is the quantum of consciousness in every living entity the same in its nature or ability? The mechanical nature of each body may be different. Maybe just as atoms are not products of something, but are certainly state of matter by transformations, so is consciousness a state of being. Maybe it is either a transformation of matter or it is totally a non-material principle. At any rate, in terms of present science of physics and chemistry, a definition and description of matter will not tell us about consciousness; just as one could say that Newton’s theory did not describe the emission of energy, heat and light by the sun — maybe it was not expected to, even though the sun was always there. Today one speaks of heat and light as transformations of material energy. Maybe a basic ground work of theories will have to be changed to include a study of consciousness — something new has to be introduced, a new art and laboratory of observation, i.e., consciousness itself becomes a baseline for the art of observation — it is observing itself ! It involves a shift from particular entities, atoms and the rest as discrete entities to relational phenomena of events as Alfred Whitehead suggested. Physics and mathematics is no longer unidirectional in characterising things, these are processes and probabilities. Maybe this is more akin to the processual idea of Buddhists, rather than that of individual jivas as living beings as entities, existing separately (Weber: Ibid.).
The suggestion is that it is important to live in an open-ended system, as a human-being and not merely as a good scientist; for example, molecular biologists think that the whole of nature of life can be comprehended in terms of molecular biology — this is a mechanistic way of thinking, this is what science is about and that is all that matters. Thus, the open-mindedness of science is limited within established ideas or paradigms — just as many religions also say the same thing, or social scientists who think that the framework or content one is examining is the whole thing itself. Although the rational approach is very useful in many productive ways, it has ignored psychological and spiritual dimensions, especially the area of consciousness — areas often relegated to a waste of time, or stupidity. This narrow vision, extreme specialisation — while at the same time claiming open-endedness — is very neurotic and hence destructive, consequences that are very much upon us in this century. For example, even the role of intuition is not recognised in the work of the scientist himself, or his own creative process of which little is know — not to speak of knowing himself before knowing the universe.
The unity of things, man and nature, consciousness and matter, inner and outer, subject and object — these can only be reconciled not only when there is no separation between one’s personal and professional life but also when exploring their unity, and seen as a spiritual odyssey — no separation between creative scientists, artists, humanists and the Sufis, saints, sages and mystics — no reference to conventional scientists and religious figures and institutions. This struggle for harmony, for integration and a search for wholeness is a priority with which nothing else can compare. A coherent vision is possible by searching for deep structures, whether in nature, the area of brain-mind, or mystic realms — this is not possible through contemporary analytical philosophy which has become merely intellectual, ignoring simplicity and unity. The move towards metaphysics from physics, or towards unity, has as yet penetrated only a minority of the researchers in all disciplines. The search for wisdom is as yet suspect, if not outrightly ridiculed. For any search for a holistic perspective, rigorous examination is necessary both in science and the study of consciousness. This is said emphatically since it is erroneously thought that methodology may be dispensed with in this search for wisdom; the objection is to all isms.
The philosophy of science rests largely on empirical methodology; involves formulating one’s hypothesis, subjecting it to empirical experiment via carefully collected data that verify or falsify the hypothesis, in order to draw conclusions that will become a theory or perhaps a law — using equation and mathematics which is its handmaiden. Science is thus concerned with concrete details and abstract reasoning, between inductive and deductive ways; it has a very sophisticated structure. However, unless the thing at hand under study is both itself and something beyond itself, it loses meaning or becomes destructive in the long run — as we see science and technology turning into scientism and empiricism. Scientific details only acquire meaning when they glow with another metascientific reality. The collections of sense data about data is not a mere collection but depicts not describes, like poetry and art does a single reality of grandeur and beauty, which may be experienced on multiple levels — only a handful of scientists like Einstein express it publicly. Feeling and experiencing this oneness is, if it must be defined, mysticism. Science, originating from philosophical searches, also arises from the idea of wonder and awe; there is both an ethical and aesthetic side to it. Perhaps now it explains the mystery of being, while mysticism experiences it; the former is limited while the latter in unbounded. Nevertheless, both seek unity, a unified field of existence which forms the link, the substratum. What is this, and how is it tied to the existence of the scientist itself? It is possible that now one is speaking of a realm that is beyond language, schema-symbols too feeble to translate that ineffable domain, of Silence. Nevertheless, it is knowable, communicable even if whatever one says about it becomes an untruth. Like in physics, there can only be approximations of the statements one makes.
Perhaps, one may call science outer empiricism and the inner exploration as inner empiricism, then the common ground is unity, linking the microcosm and the macrocosm, nature and man, the observer and the observed. Max Planck acknowledged it well, "Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature . . . because in the last analysis we are ourselves part of nature, and, therefore, part of the mystery that we are trying to solve." Man, however, is the crucial clue to the mystery himself. From time to time some scientists have realised this, and the relationship between mysticism and science is re-emerging in a modern form of the ancient relationship between the two approaches. But are these two reconcilable: one is quantitative, the other is qualitative; one’s methodology is rigorous formalisation, the other’s meditation; one’s mastery is over gross matter, the other is over subtle matter (of inner bodies and so on) which has its own laws, logic, insight and workings analogous to science. In the latter too subtle matter has begun to appear in the theories of the twentieth-century physicist; it is no longer value-free even if it is cognitive in nature and understands phenomena by piece-meal analysis — precisely its weakness. The mystic’s laboratory is the inner one, and of course in this quest he may equally be lost, forgetting the outer particular things. There is thus a relationship between simplicity and multiplicity, the universal and the particular. Viewing it like this, for instance in chemistry in a homogenous solution chromium stays invisible until it is coaxed to reveal itself through some appropriate steps; similarly there is the enigmatic metaphor of creation in the Svetasvatara Upanisad, " Like butter hidden in cream is the (pure consciousness) source which pervades all things."
In short, in Indian cosmology, the phenomenal world is the solid, the precipitate which becomes crystallised in space and time by cosmic consciousness in which it floats. David Bohm speaks of the implicate order cosmology, with its schema of dense and subtle matter, referring to a single source underlying the universe. Immanence and transcendence becomes one — divinity in everything — in this model where the finite unites with the infinite. The universe is materialised Brahman. Such a reversible equation recalls Einstein’s equivalence of matter and energy, and the particle and wave identity of quantum mechanics. One may even go to the extent of saying that it — mysticism — that is pursuing with ruthless logic the Grand Unified Theory — the one that includes the questioner in its answer. Science wants to leave the scientist outside this search.
Perhaps, the dilemma that while it is easier to deconstruct nature and the other exoteric stuff by the mind, the latter as ego finds it difficult to deconstruct and reconstruct itself. For, in both cases in doing this that an enormous amount of energy is released. The binding power which keeps the atom together and the ego in another sense, will only reveal that energy and dimension hitherto undreamt of, so to speak. Like there is no ultimate building block, only transformational energy, so there is no fixed entity as the personality, independent and free. Once this is clear through different methodologies, techniques, the resultant staggering energy is a channel to limitless universal energy — Cosmic Consciousness. In both cases, it is the unfoldment of immense energy — potential in nature and the human realm through the substratum which one was seldom aware of experientially. This is not hair-splitting but atom-splitting and ego-splitting ! Both are arduous paths that cannot be treaded lightly, since both require an attitude of sacredness — otherwise it becomes negative, pathological and destructive as we all well know by now both in physical and psychological contexts.
These states of the release of energy are quantum transformational jumps with all kinds of possibilities; the mystic altered states of consciousness, harmonise the awareness of that individual, as in some ways his awareness alters the subatomic structure of which he is made up of to the deep structures we referred to above. In this sense, the mystic is a true alchemist since he brings the micro and macro levels together; he lives psychologically in the mode of creation, manifestation, dissolution of every particle of subtle matter and energy — he can let go and dies to each moment so that the next moment is afresh and a rebirth. In short, he lives in the timeless present, the now — the presence.
Scientist too talk of beauty, elegance, the good and true of reality, in this search for the Unity; it is not merely a mechanical search of an equation, or a single comprehensive law, in a conventional sense, bereft of aesthetics. In this sense its search is also spiritual, since behind the intellectual drive of the great creators of science, a deeper force is at work. Without this idea or something like that, if one hesitates calling it consciousness or intelligence, it is difficult to account for the way scientific genius operates, as behind the multiplicity of appearances lies the unity of an intrinsic reality.7
All this is not to devalue science, but it cannot answer questions as, what happened before the Big-Bang, what lies beyond the edge of the universe, what started it and why? Mysticism at least points to a direction, i.e., universe originates in consciousness as subtle matter which gives rise to dense matter, but all matter forms a continuum. The subtler the matter — purer the mind — the closer it gets to consciousness and ultimately cannot be distinguishable. But neither matter nor consciousness, even if they form one continuum are, according to the mystics, the ultimate. Both have a source in something which is beyond themselves, and cannot become an object of knowledge — not even in non-ordinary states of altered consciousness when there is unity of space, matter and consciousness, minus the person, or the ego.
In these ontological-experiential states, the distinction between inner and outer space, nature and self, consciousness and matter are lost. If science produces pure energy from dense matter, the mystic way transforms the dancer as the dance itself, as Consciousness is aware of consciousness itself. As is the Zen saying, "The eye which I see is the very eye which sees me". The participatory universe, however, demands a dialogue, in terms of the I-Thou experience of Martin Buber. Dialogue reflects the insights of each partner at this moment in time, and does not negate the fact that another moment may call forth another response. In this sense, dialogue is creativity, exchanging energies and insights, adding something afresh to the happenings of the universe in this encounter. Scientists like John Wheeler, Prigogine, Heisenberg, and others support this view and advocate it. Bohm goes even further to state that meaning is a form of being. In the very act of interpreting the universe we are creating the universe. Through our meanings we change nature’s being. What the cosmos is doing as dialogue is to change its idea of itself in its questions and answers, its struggling to decipher its own being (Weber: Ibid.).
Correlating matter with consciousness in science, has been a long-standing puzzle. Recent developments since 1970 in cognitive science has attempted to unravel this puzzle somewhat. Especially the developments of quantum physics and chaos theory have shown us that in any strict sense, science cannot predict and control always. Some say that after a certain point in time, in evolution, consciousness comes into play which is qualitatively different than reductionist causes of science. Maybe the hypothesis of an all-pervasive energetic field of quantum zero-point energy is the all-pervasive field, which Consciousness of the esoteric traditions talks about too.
However, all recent attempts basically retain the old tested approach of science, which wants to understand it from down-upwards causation. First one must understand this, and then reverse this approach; direct it towards an all-inclusive holistic one, an up-downwards causation. Implying thereby that the basic stuff of the universe to study is the physical energy, matter, even if it is terms of fundamental particles and their associated interrelationships. It has been a mistake of modern science to assume that ultimately reductionistic scientific causes are explanations of everything. It is not an adequate world-view, since it has resulted in gaining control through manipulation of the physical — and the psychological-cultural implications thereby — environment albeit within that context everything seems to work well. It leading to conflicts, confrontational dualities between science and religion, free will versus determinism, you versus me, and so on.
Of course, these foundational assumptions have been modified with the advent of quantum physics, particularly by the indeterminacy principle and the inherent statistical nature of measurement of the very small. Agreement is spreading among the few that science must develop the ability to look at things, particularly living things, more holistically. There is evidence that everything physical and mental that is experienced is part of an intercommunicating unity, a oneness, and there is no justification of the assumption of separateness. However, within specific contexts, isolating parts from the whole the ordinary concepts of scientific causation do also apply.
In other words, if we include both ways, inner and outer, into account then we know that one reality is to known in two ways that are not separate but interlinked. The epistemological issue involved is our encountering of reality limited to being aware of, and giving meaning to the messages from our physical senses (objective), or does it not also include a subjective aspect in an intuitive, aesthetic, spiritual, noetic and mystical sense? In any case, in normal science ethics and aesthetics (elegance) enters in various ways. In a restructuring of our view of science, of matter, inner explorers may be included. In doing so, science would be more inclusive and this is not to invalidate any of the physical and biological sciences. One may thus be both distancing oneself and be also participatory, in being one with the subject.
The goal of the above discussion is to point out new directions of holistic science, of oneness — Consciousness — as the new foundations and metaphysics, then whole new vistas are open before us. Many anomalies, paranormal phenomena, will begin to fit in this framework, that does not insist on fitting everything into a reductionistic science and that we humans are here solely through random causes, in a meaningless universe; nor that our consciousness is merely the chemical and physical processes of the brain.
Few scientists are willing to question the philosophical issues underlying their work; that they are part of the underlying definition of science — say the objectivist, positivistic, determinist, and reductionist assumptions of logical empiricism. Not that these have not served science and technological development well, less so in biology even though the new gospel is molecular biology; but when the social scientist have aped these approaches it has been a disaster.
Most scientists would assert that science has moved away from all this for over half a century ago. But it is not clear, towards what; and consciousness has not come into the picture yet even though major paradoxes are facing science today, namely:
Given the above puzzles, researchers are moving into new areas to understand matter and consciousness, unthinkable a couple of decades ago. It requires a restructuring of the approach towards a oneness picture, a wholeness science as some would like to call it. This is to say one experiences the world from inside as consciousness, which is the whole also since the outside experienced by the senses is its external manifestation. Evolutionary speaking, evolution is the manifestation of consciousness, not just a single track of separate evolution from times immemorial. Consciousness, thus becomes an agency, in the relevant data which we desire to create for our images and pictures of reality.
This approach thus implies a sensitisation of the observer, whereby he/she is altered and is willing to be transformed in an ongoing dialogue — with whatever — which is the essence of creation and not any rigid stand of authority, expertise that leads to entropy. This transformation happens, if it is true for the anthropologist, psychotherapist and so it would be true for the scientist who wishes to study meditation and altered states of consciousness. Maybe the movement is up and down, like an hour glass or a spiral. This process of conscious awareness, involves unconscious processes, volition and the concept of the self and so on. In scale, depending on the level — where one is placed — that matter becomes consciousness and consciousness, matter. It all is real or unreal — whatever suits one’s terminology.
Naturally, in the new approach (e.g., not that bodies have consciousness, but consciousness has bodies) the questions asked will radically change; how does separateness arise, if all is one; does the brain act as a filtering and reductive mechanism? No longer will one ask questions of how to integrate the universe but how does it feel separate; how to explain the interconnections — not through linear processes of the big-bang; of seeking a unified theory involving many different fields (gravitational, electromagnetic, morphogenetic, string theory, etc.) the various energies. Once, following Einstein who took light’s velocity to be basic, consciousness becomes the base line and different explanations will follow — a quantum jump ! It will serve us well in individual and societal development as well. Openness to alternative theories in this scheme, explanations and healthy scepticism remains a part and parcel of it. In brief, the new approach of research scientific endeavours include both direct experience of the inner senses and the outer physical ones as a unity of consciousness; and is not based on any principle of exclusion of any human experience.
In short, the view of this paper has been to emphasise the fact that there is an urgent need to change the basic paradigm globally from a mechanistic one to holistic one in the physio-psychic realm. The split-dualistic is built into the very texture of the scientific study of matter, of thought, in all walks of life. Its limitations have to be seen in order that a unified mode is available as has been shown by particle physics, extra-galactic cosmology, through post-Einsteinian physics, and by Heisenberg and others — in the dissolution of solid matter into waves of probability. The shift indicates that Consciousness is not an epi-phenomenon of matter but the very matrix and the Context of all contexts within which everything functions, i.e., it is the way of perception itself.
When one considers the brain-body system separate from the external circumstances, then it is the old approach to considering oneself outside the picture, a mere observer. The mental setup is made up of the socio-cultural world and the individual personality is not a free independent unit with its own will to play as it wishes; this is the belief one works in the world to solve any crisis. It is like repairing a motor vehicle which is constantly involved in accidents without taking into account the fact that the driver is constantly drunk and that is where the problem ought to be looked into. If one leaves the brain-body system out of reckoning in this attempt to rectify matters, then the most important variable is left out. But one plods along as if the individual, this unit, the brain is all right and all one has to do is to cure the socio-economic conditions for the utopia to come into existence.
Now, the organism, the body-brain mechanism itself, is being hard put to understand all these goings on; it is struggling to know this state of affairs of utter conflict and contradiction since in its very depth of being it knows it is made up of all the elements of the universe. It is in fact in all of its activities trying to relate and communicate by its surroundings, the environment. But this conditioning is so deep rooted, as a separate self, as an identity that obviously it causes agony and alienation as well since it seems to give an empty feeling about one’s identity. This so-called separate self unconsciously cannot really discover any solid, stable ‘me’ or an answer to , who am I? In normal life, all one does is to play the various social roles that are based on a reaction-reaction system within the relatedness to the other functionally given. Without the other, there is no separate identity even at the social level.
Nevertheless, since the conditioning is so strong, the brain struggles to search for its real identity and not finding one in what it has learnt within that limited dimension, it is thoroughly exasperated; it goes berserk despite trying to maintain some semblance to sanity, it becomes frantic, and it is in despair and totally alienated both within and without. One may ask, since the separate self has always been there, why is the turmoil so great today? Earlier, perhaps by and large individuals functioned within certain stable social setups that were not governed by rapid changes and one’s position in society was relatively secure in terms of who’s who and what was one’s position. This gave a certain kind of stability within the given world-views which were accepted as one’s context of existence in the universe. The same has no longer been true, with the beginning of the modern era in the seventeenth century and the rapid growth of industrialization, urbanization and the philosophy of cross consumerism that has become the global way of life, barring some minor exceptions. All socio-cultural boundaries have been eroded, quickly and there is no certitude even in any world-views, unless it is a reversion to fundamentalism as a last ditch battle. The brain has no time to adjust to changes occurring externally in walks of life, not excluding the environmental changes. A new order based on intrinsic equality is a long way off, just like is the case in terms of socio-political and economic equality. The different parts are not co-ordinated, especially psychologically since thought itself is based, as yet, on hierarchy and domination and subordination principles.
Thus nothing is clear even externally, in this age of transition when even the views of the cosmos are far from clear and the old ones no longer provide any adequate answers. Perhaps, these are phase-changes, like what Prigogine (Artigiani:1990) speaks of the time of dissipative structures. One can imagine the state of affairs in the brain, given the enormity of the problem briefly stated above. This is the uncertainty, and the cause of violence, upheavals since every aspects of life is destablised into several contending problems, their solutions, theories, etc. But the more weight one gives to creating artificial identities, old or new formulations, these are still not one’s natural or spontaneous creations. These formulations are made more out of a sense of insecurity, clinging to a so-called reinterpreted past. These are reactive attempts which do not create security since it is a reaction to the others who also are against it as mutually dependent enemies.
The inner psyche is still looking for ‘who am I?’,who one is, and no amount of external solutions, in the absence of the overarching umbrella of Consciousness, will bring about any lasting peace or contentment. The organism somehow knows its true nature, or at least that what is given is not so. But in the present trance-like conditioning one continues to grope in the hope of ‘tomorrow and tomorrow’ little realising that mirages continuously recede and will never marterialise. The first signs of the awakening of Consciousness is to be aware of this false image, the false changes, this hope against hope, this untruth. This is the first step towards a new dimension which without being stated may bring about the 18010 degrees transformation that is so imperative in bringing about the shift in Global Consciousness in all walks of life.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi