“A Truth supreme has forced the world to be;
It has wrapped itself in Matter as in a shroud,
A shroud of Death, a shroud of Ignorance.
It compelled the suns to burn through silent Space,
Flame-signs of its uncomprehended Thought
In a wide brooding ether’s formless muse:
It made of Knowledge a veiled and struggling light,
Of Being a substance nescient, dense and dumb,
Of Bliss the beauty of an insentient world.”
(CWSA 34: 658)
Science is the study of material and physical existence. The contemporary era of humanity has been marked by its defining characteristic of the rise of Science, which has encompassed everything from our material processes to our psychology and even our basic thinking. Everything has to be defined and justified in ‘scientific’ terms even to our own selves. So enamored have we become with the dazzling inventions of Science that, as a collectivity, we are increasingly moving away from our deeper, inner truth and getting immersed completely in outer instrumentation. And the more we are thus taken farther away from our soul, the more – in a truer sense – the outer world seems to be going out of our control. During the past few decades, under the pressure of the Utilitarian Spirit, science has been increasingly turning towards the pursuit of discoveries aimed at bringing about and delivering ever greater physical comfort and ease to the masses.
The attempt to govern and organise human life by verifiable Science, by a law, a truth of things, an order and principles which all can observe and verify has been the culminating movement of European civilisation which is being progressively subscribed to by humanity at large. However, Science’s quest to foreground a unifying theory – a theory of everything – to explain the universe as being constituted by fundamental particles of matter has been thwarted by conflicting findings time and again. Many of the most profound and far-reaching scientific hypotheses of the last century in the field of the structure of the cosmos have not been borne out by the latest findings using the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.
Physicists – The Modern Myth-Makers:
“In 1900 physicists were feeling pretty smug. Many of them thought they had the universe taped. The majestic clockwork wound up by Isaac Newton was running exactly as predicted. Subsequent discoveries in fields as diverse as heat, light and electricity all seemed to fit into the grand scheme of things. New telescopes were mapping the heavens and revealing that the earth and its sun were part of a huge but measurable star system, the Milky Way, that seemed to encompass the whole universe. Exactly what an atom was remained to be determined, and there were a few puzzling discoveries, such as cathode rays and radioactivity. But these could surely be fitted in. Basically, it was just a matter of dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s.
A few years later, it was all over. People realised that far from knowing everything, they knew almost nothing. Two hypotheses, quantum theory and relativity, and two discoveries, the atomic nucleus and the fact that the Milky Way was not alone, but was one of a zillion similar galaxies, did not merely upset the apple cart, they scattered its contents right over the road. It has taken a century to pick the apples up and order them neatly again.
The result is impressive. Quantum theory, first proposed by Max Planck in 1900, has been elaborated into a comprehensive description of the very small. It is riddled with weirdness, mostly the result of Werner Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle (namely, that it is impossible to be sure, at the same time, where an object is and how fast it is travelling). But it provides an accurate description of the way things are, down to the smallest objects that machines can measure. At the other end of the scale, Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity (the special theory, proposed in 1905, and the general theory, proposed in 1916), describe the way things are up to the largest objects that machines can measure.
Using these theories and those machines, physicists have discovered many of the fundamental particles of which the universe is made, the forces that hold them together, and how those particles and forces interact to produce a bestiary of other objects – atomic nuclei and galaxies included – that were unknown in 1900. A coherent picture of sub-atomic physics, known as the Standard Model, has been painstakingly put together, and almost all the observations seem to fit into it. Similarly a coherent picture of the universe, known as the Big Bang cosmology, has emerged. Again, almost all the observations seem to fit.
This time, though, no one is feeling smug. For one thing, good as quantum theory and relativity are at explaining things, neither can be explained in terms of the other. Like parallel lines, they never meet. Nor, even in its own terms, is either of them a ‘theory of everything’. At one level, both explain the universe very well indeed. At another, they explain nothing – for although they give a good description of the way things are, they are silent about why they are that way.
Moreover, there is that weasel phrase ‘almost all the observations seem to fit’. As with cathode rays and radioactivity a century ago, some false notes are emerging. And there are a few dissenters, especially on the cosmological side, who doubt that some of the observations are actually good enough to support the theories built on them. With luck, new machines that are now coming into service, or will do so soon, will be able to address these problems. These machines will gather more and better data to quell the dissidents (or maybe prove them right) and to help to decide between the competing theories which try to embrace those observations that do not currently fit.
The next decade or so is likely to be a battleground between those theories. There are many ideas around, some extremely strange by everyday standards, and not all of them easily testable. What these ideas represent is the latest chapter in the construction of a modern creation-myth. For, unlike most branches of science, fundamental physics – the study of the very small and the very large – is not undertaken in the hope of tangible benefit. It is done to answer the question ‘Why?’ In some ways, therefore, it resembles a branch of theology.
Like the theologies of earlier days it demands huge temples for its worship. These temples are not cathedrals and mosques, but telescopes and particle accelerators. Their guardians – the successors of Newton, Planck, Einstein and myriad others, less famous in the wider world – are sometimes, jokingly, referred to as the priests of science. But the joke has a hard edge to it. In some senses they do have a priestly role. For they are the creators of the real story of creation: the modern myth-makers.” (The Economist, January 5-11, 2002, pages 47-48)
The Curve of Scientific Progress:
The scientific method of knowledge is to “…induce Nature and Being to reveal their own way of being and proceeding, not hastening to put upon them our own impositions of idea and imagination…” (CWSA 13: 195) While suppressed earlier by the ages of Philosophy and Religion during the medieval era in Europe, Science reached its full flowering with the rise of the individualistic age of mankind in the 18th and 19th centuries. The individualistic age coincided with the centuries of the Renaissance characterised by the play of Reason, Secularism and the scientific questioning of everything.
The modern age of science has yielded us pathbreaking theories to explain the universe. However brilliant and satisfactory their explanation of the universe has been – and it has been undoubtedly so – their unsolved riddles and mutual contradictions have become overpowering – so much so that they have brought the progress of Science in the area of fundamental physics to an unexpected halt. Writing in the second decade of the last century Sri Aurobindo had the perception of such a turn in the future when he wrote, “We shall perceive that until the possibilities of mind and spirit are better explored and their truths better known, we cannot yet pronounce the last all-ensphering formula of universal existence. Very early in this process the materialistic circle will be seen opening up on all its sides until it rapidly breaks up and disappears.” (CWSA 13: 195)
“In the past few centuries physics has transformed both daily life and world history with novelties ranging from electricity to nuclear bombs. Physicists have also broadened humanity’s horizons, literally and metaphorically. Time and again, they have overturned notions of reality previously held – often by the self same physicists – to be fundamental. They could be about to do so once more.
On a cosmic scale, a universe that was once thought to be a few thousand years old, and to consist of a handful of orbs circling Earth against a fixed backdrop of stars, has been shown to have an age of 13.77bn years – a value believed to be known to within a precision of three parts in a thousand. That universe may also be infinite in size. Certainly it stretches at least as far as the distance that light can have travelled in the period since its birth, for what can be seen of it with telescopes has no boundary.
Physics has also revealed what everything is made of, up to a point. It has turned the atom, once a figment of philosophy, into a quotidian object to be trapped, observed, put to work and split – sometimes to produce energy, sometimes to produce knowledge. It has now assembled a plausible catalogue of the components of these atoms and of the components of some of those components, together with a list of the forces that hold everything together. But progress in this area has come to an unexpected halt.
Physicists have got used to the idea that mathematical theories can be turned into reliable representations of reality, thus producing understanding. And one discovery based on maths that physicists were pretty confident of making was of a phenomenon called Supersymmetry, which gives coherence to the current, rather ad hoc explanation of the menagerie of fundamental particles that has been collected since the 1890s. Supersymmetry is a stalking horse for a yet-deeper idea, string theory, which posits that everything is ultimately made of infinitesimally small objects that are most easily conceptualised by those without the maths to understand them properly as taut, vibrating strings.
So sure were most physicists that these ideas would turn out to be true that they were prepared to move hubristically forward with their theorising without experimental backup – because, for the first decades of Supersymmetry’s existence, no machine powerful enough to test its predictions existed. But now, in the form of the Large Hadron Collider, near Geneva, one does. And hubris is turning rapidly to nemesis, for of the particles predicted by Supersymmetry there is no sign.
Suddenly, the subject looks wide open again. The Supersymmetricians have their tails between their legs as new theories of everything to fill the vacuum left by string theory’s implosion are coming in left, right and centre. All of these are mind-bending. One modestly seeks to overturn the principle of causality. Another suggests that everything in the universe really is connected to everything else, and that it is from this simultaneous connection of all with all that the fabric of reality emerges. Time and space are, on this view, not fundamentals of nature, but merely the effects of deeper processes.
Such ideas are in the grand tradition of physics upsetting what seems, to the limited outlook of the human intellect, to be common sense.” (The Economist, August 28 to September 3, 2021, page 10)
Questioning the Fundamentals:
A recent debate on the fundamentals of Science has been ignited with the steady questioning that is taking place of theories that are seen to constitute the understanding of the basis of reality. These theories provide information about the basic building blocks of Matter, of the fundamental forces of universe and what the nature of cosmos really is. Scientific theories such as Standard Model, Quantum Theory, and Relativity seek to describe the nature of the universe. These decades-old theories have sought to be supplemented by theories such as Supersymmetry and String theory, which had claimed to complete the gaps arising out of the earlier theories and tried to reconcile their mutual opposing aspects.
However, the enterprise towards a successful reconciliation of these theories to create a grand unifying framework that can explain the universe as the ‘ultimate theory of everything’ seems to have failed yet again – this time due to its assumptions not being borne by scientific experimentations. The recent questioning of Supersymmetry and its more elaborate complement, String Theory, by physicists, has opened up the field anew. Supersymmetry is a scientific theory that seeks to answer the incompleteness of the Standard Model of Particle Physics. According to the Standard Model, the universe is made up of fundamental particles that constitute matter and is governed by four fundamental forces. The model has, for decades, explained various fundamental physical phenomena. However, of its four fundamental forces that make up the universe – strong force, weak force, electromagnetic force and gravity – it has not been able to explain gravity within its framework. For, Standard Model explains the subatomic world wherein particles are almost weightless or heavier particles do not persist and lapse back to their stable state.
Fundamental theories such as the Quantum Theory that explains the micro workings of the universe and General Relativity that explains the macro working of the universe have proven difficult in being compatible with each other and fitting with each other within a single, unified framework of the Standard Model. The Model has not been able to explain fundamental questions regarding the dark matter, different masses of particles, and the fundamental particle called Higgs Boson. In 2012, experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) yielded a particle of mass 126 GeV similar to the Higgs Boson. Scientists proposed the Higgs field that pervades the universe, with any particles interacting with this field acquiring a mass and becoming heavier. However, the reason for the lightweight of Higgs Boson remained perplexing.
The Standard Model that explains the fundamentals of the universe for decades has not been able to sit comfortably with these theories and the quest for a theory of everything remains unfulfilled. A separate concept of Supersymmetry tried to fill the gaps in the Standard Model by predicting a partner particle for each particle in the Standard Model – which, if true, would appear in collision at the LHC – and which would cancel out the contributing weight of the particles interacting with the Higgs Boson, thereby explaining why it is light. Supersymmetric particles have also been explained to have the characteristics required to explain the dark matter that makes up most of the universe. Finally, supersymmetry – as a part of the Standard Model – would make it possible that the fundamental forces of the universe would have the exact same strengths at different energies, thereby yielding a grant unified theory that explains the whole universe and fits everything within its framework.
However, these assumptions – mathematical representations of reality and deductions about the universe – have seen a break, as experiments at the LHC have shown no signs of revealing the supersymmetric particles on which the entire edifice of the unifying theory of universe rests. With this dominance of fundamental theories about the universe being challenged, various other assumptions are under a cloud, with different theories seeking to question the principle of causality, of time and space and by proposing that things in the universe are connected thereby making time and space merely outer attributes of deeper, unrevealed processes rather than fundamentals.
Over the last few years, labs in China, Australia and others are experimenting with ‘quantum switch’ – first demonstrated in 2017 – wherein cause and effect are not seen as fundamental, with possibilities of simultaneous causations (Wolchover, Quanta Magazine 2021). The decades-old and discarded ‘bootstrap theory’ is also reviving since the last few years. The theory’s basic premise is that everything that in Nature derives is consistent in itself and that Nature cannot be reduced to a set of few ‘fundamental’ laws. Recently, scientists are once again applying this theory to the field of quantum physics, with the implication that would “mean that the basic structures of the material world are determined ultimately, by the way we look at this world; that the observed patterns of matter are reflections of patterns of mind” (The Turning Point, pp. 84-84). This would mean including the studies of human consciousness in the fields of scientific experiments. Despite the fact that the term ‘consciousness’ and its study in Science has been taboo throughout the 20th century, in recent times, this is being explored in the field of medicine and neuroscience, in order to evolve a variety of treatments for the nervous system (Sohn 2019).
This revisitation of Science and the questioning of the principles of causation and space-time is not merely a challenge to the scientific world, but also to the fundamental material basis of the everyday world people live in and perceive. Even then, the field of Science is far from the true reality of Nature and the universe. This is because of its fundamental nature as a study of external, observable phenomenon. The recent wave of questionings raised in the field of Science and its inability to find the right place of ‘consciousness’ in human beings, will yet remain at the level of questionings only and is not likely to go to the root to discover the reality. For, Science, even when it acknowledges its own inability to solve certain puzzles of the universe and deeper, mystical realities like consciousness, is not equipped with the instrumentation to explore the worlds beyond and behind the physical.
Closely tied to our involvement in the outer consciousness, Science’s horizons cannot go much beyond the mixed report given by our senses and the heavy baggage of outer limitations and bonds that enslave us. As the Mother has said, “Every moment all the unforeseen, the unexpected, the unknown is before us, every moment the universe is created anew in its entirety and in every one of its parts. And if we had a truly living faith, if we had the absolute certitude of Thy omnipotence and Thy sole reality, Thy manifestation could at each moment become so evident that the whole universe would be transformed by it. But we are so enslaved to everything that is around us and has gone before us, we are so influenced by the whole totality of manifested things, and our faith is so weak that we are yet unable to serve as intermediaries for the great miracle of transfiguration…” (CWM 1:54).
The Findings of the Spiritual Approach to the Nature of the Supreme Reality:
While the approach of materialistic science is limited to the outward and the external, the spiritual approach goes inward and upward in the regions of our inner being to which there can hardly be any limit. This approach, though it carries us much farther than what Science can ever do, also stops short of the Ultimate Reality – the Unknowable – because knowledge, by its very nature, cannot carry us beyond the outer courts of the Divine Mansion. The following are some important selections from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother which throw light on the nature of the Supreme Reality. It can be seen from these that the latest findings of Science only confirm a little of what has been known to spiritual seekers from times immemorial.
“The more you go inward or upward, the more the view of things changes and the outer knowledge Science organises takes its real and very limited place. Science, like most mental and external knowledge, gives you only truth of process. I would add that it cannot give you even the whole truth of process; for you seize some of the ponderables, but miss the all-important imponderables; you get, hardly even the how, but the conditions under which things happen in Nature. After all the triumphs and marvels of Science the explaining principle, the rationale, the significance of the whole is left as dark, as mysterious and even more mysterious than ever. The scheme it has built up of the evolution not only of this rich and vast and variegated material world, but of life and consciousness and mind and their workings out of a brute mass of electrons, identical and varied only in arrangement and number, is an irrational magic more baffling than any the most mystic imagination could conceive. Science in the end lands us in a paradox effectuated, an organised and rigidly determined accident, an impossibility that has somehow happened, – it has shown us a new, a material Maya, aghaFana-ghaFana-paFnyasn, very clever at bringing about the impossible, a miracle that cannot logically be and yet somehow is there actual, irresistibly organised, but still irrational and inexplicable. And this is evidently because Science has missed something essential; it has seen and scrutinised what has happened and in a way how it happened, but it has shut its eyes to something that made this impossible possible, something that it is there to express. There is no fundamental significance in things if you miss the Divine Reality; for you remain embedded in a huge surface crust of manageable and utilisable appearance. It is the magic of the Magician you are trying to analyse, but only when you enter into the consciousness of the Magician himself can you begin to experience the true origination, significance and circles of the Lila.” – Sri Aurobindo (CWSA 28: 331-32).
Now, as we have seen, Science is arriving at the discovery that principles such as causation and space-time are not absolute. From the spiritual point of view it was already known that the universe is not governed by any absolute laws, but what appears to us as laws are simply habits of nature that become patterns and breaches in these are commonly termed as miracles. Of space and time, the Mother has clearly explained that in the Supreme consciousness there is neither Space nor Time, as everything exists simultaneously. It is only with an objectivisation of consciousness that the perception of Space and Time begins. As the Mother has said, “No, Time is a succession; you must be able to conceive that the Supreme Consciousness, before objectifying itself, becomes aware of Itself in Itself. There is a global, total and simultaneous perception and there, there is no Time. Likewise one cannot speak of “Space”, for the same reason, because all is simultaneous. It is something more; it corresponds to a state of consciousness subjective rather than objective, for the aim, the motive of creation is objectivisation; but there is a first step in this objectivisation in which there is a plenary consciousness, total and simultaneous, beyond Time and Space, of what will constitute the content of this universe; and there, the universe is pre-existent, but not manifested, and Time begins with objectivisation.” (CWM 4: 162).
“From the negative point of view – I mean the difficulties to be overcome – one of the most serious obstacles is that the ignorant and falsifying outer consciousness, the ordinary consciousness legitimizes all the so-called physical laws, causes, effects and consequences, all that science has discovered physically and materially. All this is an unquestionable reality to the consciousness, a reality that remains independent and absolute even in the face of the eternal divine Reality.
And it is so automatic that it is unconscious.
When it is a question of movements like anger, desire, etc., you recognize that they are wrong and must disappear, but when material laws are in question – laws of the body, for example, its needs, its health, its nourishment, all those things – they have such a solid, compact, established and concrete reality that it appears absolutely unquestionable.
Well, to be able to cure that, which of all the obstacles is the greatest (I mean the habit of putting spiritual life on one side and material life on the other, of acknowledging the right of material laws to exist), one must make a resolution never to legitimize any of these movements, at any cost.
To be able to see the problem as it is, it is absolutely indispensable, as a first step, to get out of the mental consciousness, even out of a mental transcription (in the highest mind) of the supramental vision and truth. A thing cannot be seen as it is, in its truth, except in the supramental consciousness, and if you try to explain, it immediately begins to escape you because you are obliged to give it a mental formulation.
As for me, I saw the thing only at the time of this experience, and as a result of this experience. But it is impossible to formulate even the experience itself, and as soon as I endeavored to formulate it and the more I was able to formulate it, the more the thing faded, escaped.
Consequently, if you do not remember having had the experience, you are left in the same condition as before, but with the difference that now you know, you can know, that these material laws do not correspond to the truth – that’s all. They do not at all correspond to the truth, so consequently, if you want to be faithful to your aspiration, you must in no way legitimize all that. Rather, you must say that it is an infirmity from which we are suffering for the moment, for an intermediate period – it is an infirmity and an ignorance – for it really is an ignorance (this is not just a word): it is ignorance, it is not the thing as it is, even in regard to our present material bodies. Therefore, we will not legitimize anything. What we say is this – it is an infirmity which has to be endured for the time being, until we get out of it, but we do NOT ACKNOWLEDGE all this as a concrete reality. It does NOT have a concrete reality, it has a false reality – what we call concrete reality is a false reality.” (Mother’s Agenda 1, 158-59)
“…if you take the material world and go down to the most minute element – you know, don’t you, that they have come to absolutely invisible things, innumerable things – if you take this element as the basis and the material world as the whole, and if you imagine a Consciousness or a Will playing with all these elements at making all the possible combinations without ever repeating a single one… we come to the conclusion that the universe is new at each moment of eternity. And if the universe is new at each moment of eternity, we have to acknowledge that absolutely nothing is impossible; not only that, but that what we call logic is not necessarily true, and that the logic, one could almost say the fantasy of the Creator, is unlimited…” (CWM 8: 312)
“…questions.. were asked some time ago about the so-called laws of Nature, causes and effects, “inevitable” consequences in the material field, and more particularly from the point of view of health; for example, that if one doesn’t take certain precautions, if one doesn’t eat as one should, doesn’t follow certain rules, necessarily there are consequences.
It is true. But if this is seen in the light of what I have just said, that no two universal combinations are alike, how can laws be established and what is the absolute truth of these laws?… It does not exist.
For, if you are logical, of course with a little higher logic, since no two things, two combinations, two universal manifestations are ever the same, how can anything repeat itself? It can only be an appearance but is not a fact. And to fix rigid laws in this way – not that you cut yourself off from the apparent surface laws, for the mind makes many laws, and the surface very obligingly seems to comply with these laws, but it is only an appearance – but anyway this cuts you off from the creative Power of the Spirit, it cuts you off from the true Power of the Grace, for you can understand that if by your aspiration or your attitude you introduce a higher element, a new element – what we may now call a supramental element – into the existing combinations, you can suddenly change their nature, and all these so-called necessary and ineluctable laws become absurdities. That is to say that you yourself, with your conception, with your attitude and your acceptance of certain alleged principles, you yourself close the door upon the possibility of the miracle – they are not miracles when one knows how they happen, but obviously for the outer consciousness they seem miraculous. And it is you yourself, saying to yourself with a logic that seems quite reasonable, “Well, if I do this, that will necessarily happen, or if I don’t do that, necessarily this other thing will happen”, it is you yourself who close the door – it is as though you were putting an iron curtain between yourself and the free action of the Grace.
How nice it would be to imagine that the Supreme Consciousness, essentially free, presiding at the universal Manifestation, could be full of fantasy in its choice and make things follow one another not according to a logic accessible to human thought but in accordance with another kind of logic, that of the unforeseen!
Then there would no longer be any limits to the possibilities, to the unexpected, the marvellous; and one could hope for the most splendid, the most delightful things from this sovereignly free Will, playing eternally with all the elements and creating unceasingly a new world which logically would have absolutely nothing to do with the preceding one.
Don’t you think it would be charming? We have had enough of the world as it is! Why not let it become at least what we think it ought to be?
And I am telling you all this in order that each one of you may put as few barriers as you can in the way of the possibilities to come. That’s my conclusion.” (CWM 8, , pp. 315-16).
“Our habitual state of consciousness is to do something FOR something. The Rishis, for example, composed their hymns with an end in view: life had a purpose – for them, the end was to find Immortality or Truth. But at any level whatsoever, there is always a goal. Even we speak of the ‘supramental realization’ as the goal. Just recently, though, I don’t know what happened, but something seemed to take hold of me…There used to be a kind of mainspring, which had its raison d’être and so persisted: do this to arrive at that, and this leads to that (it’s more subtle, of course); but this mainspring suddenly seems to have been abolished, because it became useless.
Now a kind of absoluteness prevails at each and every second, in each movement, from the most subtle, the most spiritual, to the most material. The sense of linking has disappeared: that isn’t the ‘cause’ of this, and this isn’t done ‘for’ that; there is no ‘there’ one is heading towards – it all seems… An absolute – innumerable, perpetual and simultaneous… The sense of connection has gone, the sense of cause and effect has gone – all that belongs to the world of space and time… Each ‘thing’ carries in itself its own absolute law… no more sequence, no more linking of cause and effect, no more goal, no more purpose, no more intention – a kind of Absolute which does not exclude the creation… Something which has neither cause nor effect nor prolongation (Mother makes a horizontal motion) nor purpose nor intention – intention to do what?! There is nothing to be done!” (Agenda 2: 187-89).
“The illumination of the vijnana, when it is complete, shows us not a collective material unity, a sum of physical units, but a real unity. It reveals to us Space, Time and the chain of apparent circumstance to be merely conventions & symbols seen in His own being by One Seer and dependent purely on a greater transcendental existence of which they are not separate realities & divisions but the manifold expressions of its single Truth. It is this knowledge that gives us freedom. We escape from the enchanted forest, we know once more the world outside this petty world, see the boundless heavens above & breast the wide & circumambient air of our infinite existence” (CWSA 18: 428-29).
“In the last resort it will be found that there is no reason why one event should ‘cause’ another except that it is the Divine Will that it should do so, i.e. that ‘causation’ springs from free Divine Willing.” (Yogi Sri Krishnaprem: 168)
In the light of the above we can say that, all our knowings and our perceptions, at best amount, ultimately, to no more than a way of looking at things.
The Future Possibilities of the Scientific Age
Presently, we are in an age which is commonly referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It presents a great advance over the Industrial age which was inaugurated in the 18th century – an age of discovery and an age of incipient beginnings of Utilitarianism, when Science was first made the handmaiden of human vital satisfaction, and all western moral theories ranging from liberalism to socialism to communism masked a utilitarian core in their application to life. This was followed by the second industrial revolution marked by mass production and then, since the 1950s, the third industrial revolution or the information era, wherein digital technologies such as computers disrupted the existing systems. Since that era, we have made leaps and bounds of scientific progress, culminating in a massive and still unfolding technological revolution.
In the present times, the fourth industrial revolution is characterized by the blurring of the lines between physical, digital, and biological worlds. These fruits of the scientific age are marked by the rise and mutual intermingling of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, genetic engineering, quantum computing, blockchain technology etc. Based on the application of ‘smart’ technology to all aspects of human lives and system, it has become the collective force behind many products and services that have become indispensable to modern life. The implementation of such technology to our everyday lives and workplaces means that cconnected machines will interact, visualize the entire production chain and make decisions autonomously (Marr 2018).
Fundamentally, this age of machine intelligence is based on a simple principle of causality viz. that we program machines or automated systems in such a way and through such commands or principles that they will yield a certain, given output or result. Thus, the mechanization or application of certain principles is expected to produce certain results. This has been the core understanding of scientific inventions since decades. It becomes even more pronounced now, in an automated age.
We see this in numerous applications to human life. Technology has enabled us to rely on machines for computing solutions through complex databases as well as for storing, classifying and applying such data, in the fields of personal databases, financial databases, taxation systems, digital wallets, salaries, money transactions, law enforcement, social security and social distribution, entertainment and endless other public and private applications. Every common person with a basic smart device can use these services. So pervasive have these small usages and transactions become to our everyday routine that we hardly ever notice them, let alone examine where they are leading us.
As a result, it is only understandable that we do not notice how Science has brought automation to our doorstep and made our lives entangled in this automated mind-set, eluding the cause and effect of everything around us through the following –
First, the massive amount of human capital that is, ironically, employed to continuously make these automated systems function, and,
Second, the endless glitches that come to light in the working of these systems everyday, minor as they are till now. Even occasional major glitches like massive public data leakages are ignored by us as a part of life with machinery.
It is precisely to address these everyday problems that continuous human intervention is required, raising significantly the maintenance cost of these systems. Ironically, such continuous and minute human intervention completely belies the assumption that a smooth principle of causation can enable this machinery to function seamlessly and automatically to produce the desired result.
A very recent example can be seen from India itself, when the Union government expressed displeasure with Infosys for repeatedly failing to address the glitches in the functioning of the digital e-filing system of Income Tax. Due to the faulty functioning of the portal, the government had to extend the deadline for e-filing of returns twice and Infosys CEO was given a deadline to address these technical glitches. This was a case that made headlines. Indeed, we see it in our everyday private lives also, where we continuously have to intervene to sort out one problem or the other with the operative machinery. Or, we often question why massive leakages of our personal and financial data occur, but the reasons and deeper implications escape us. But it escapes our notice to question why this happens, as individual level occurrences hardly disturb anything.
However, as seen in the Infosys case, when the application of automated systems becomes more and more subtle, generalized and far-reaching in every domain, such that critical national projects and works begin to depend on it, then such glitches do not bode well for the country. For, they can disrupt and hold up the entire governmental functioning till sorted out. And this process is recurrent, as a whole lot of manpower is deployed to keep these systems functioning.
In effect, this entire machinery is not based on the principle of cause-and-effect but operates on the basis of certain habits which become recurrent patterns, but the deeper we go and analyze these habits, the more it becomes evident that there are no fixed laws behind anything and that these things can and do change every instant. We are simply capturing the habits of material nature and constructing fixed formulas out of those recurrent patterns or habits to make it serviceable to our needs and wants. Accordingly, we have to keep revising our perception of the so-called ‘laws’ and the principles again and again and yet whatever we come close to are simply approximations or statistical probabilities, but never any fixed laws of causation. Ironically, as the influence of machinery becomes more subtly all-pervasive, we find that the habits of material nature that we sought to make serviceable will not even remain serviceable to us, as their glaring inadequacies and pitfalls become obvious. This calls their reliability into question.
For, if fundamentally – as we have seen – there is no fixed law of cause-and-effect, then such a law cannot even operate in the applications, and all that does operate are approximations and probabilities that are always susceptible to failures. With the rise of artificial intelligence and biological engineering, implying ever subtler manipulations, their functioning is going to be increasingly susceptible to potential disasters. Thus, the curve of Science and Technology based on the investigations and manipulations of the surface appearances of the divine Reality, seems to have reached its saturation & close, as, with the present scientific methods we can only transcribe greater and greater circles of discovery, but are not be able to go beyond these circles to the heart and the root of the real forces of cosmos and the divine Reality that moves these and us. As a result, newer material inventions – like the older ones – and discoveries will remain stamped with insufficiency and fallibility. But unlike the older ones, the latest discoveries and inventions will be more exposed to failures that can be seen and questioned, due to their greater and subtler expansion amongst nations and masses, putting an ever subtler and increasingly pervasive burden on the principle of cause and effect.
Marr, B. 2018. Forbes. August 13. Accessed November 8, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/08/13/the-4th-industrial-revolution-is-here-are-you-ready/?sh=185701ab628b.
Sohn, Emily. 2019. Nature. July 24. Accessed October 28, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02207-1.
Mother’s Agenda, Volumes 1 and 2, Institute De Recherches Evolutives, 1978
Sri Aurobindo, Complete Woks of Sri Aurobindo, Volumes 13, 18, 28 and 34, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry.
- The Atlantic. December 23. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/12/physics-philosophy-string-theory/421569/.
The Economist 2002 and 2021, January 5-11, 2002, pp. 47-48 and August 28 to September 3, 2021, page, 10.
The Mother, Collected Works, Volumes 1, 4 and 8, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry, 2004.
Wolchover, N. 2021. Quanta Magazine. March 11. Accessed October 21, 2021. https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-mischief-rewrites-the-laws-of-cause-and-effect-20210311/.
Yogi Sri Krishnaprema: D. K. Roy, Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Bombay, 1975.