Friday, May 26, 2006

I think, therefore I am - Cogito ergo sum

One question that has perplexed man since the beginning of civilization is the nature of life. What is life? What happens when we die? Is there such a thing as soul and does it survive the death of the body? All these questions and our desperation in seeking their answers have led to the sham of organized religion.

We still cannot say for certainty whether there is life after death or not, for there is no clinching scientific evidence in support or against it as yet. However, it does seem that we humans, or rather all living beings, have something more than just our physical existence. Something, that could be called consciousness in scientific parlance or soul in religious terms. But let us first define what is physical existence.

We consider matter as existing and what does not have material existence as non-existing. At least this is the materialistic definition of existence. Nevertheless this is not a comprehensive definition. There are realities that do exist yet they do not have a material existence. As a matter of fact can we assert with certainty whether matter itself has any real existence? Isn’t matter, energy in motion?

The smallest building block of matter is the atom. It is made of electrons that are whirling about the nucleus (composed of electrons and protons) that is spinning in the center of the atom. If we drew the atom to scale and made protons and neutrons a centimeter in diameter, then the electrons and quarks would be less than the diameter of a hair and the entire atom's diameter would be greater than the length of thirty football fields! Most (almost 99.999999999999%) of an atom's volume is just empty space (if space can be called empty).

So as we can see what appears to be solid matter is mostly empty space. If we squish the atoms of the Earth to fill up all the empty spaces, this planet of ours will become smaller than a pea. In fact something similar happens when black holes are formed. Black holes are thought to form from stars or other massive objects if and when they collapse from their own gravity to form an object whose density is infinite: in other words, a singularity. During most of a star's lifetime, nuclear fusion in the core generates electromagnetic radiation, including photons - the particles of light. This radiation exerts an outward pressure that exactly balances the inward pull of gravity caused by the star's mass. As the nuclear fuel is exhausted, the outward forces of radiation diminish, allowing the gravitational force to compress the star inward. The contraction of the core causes its temperature to rise and allows remaining nuclear material to be used as fuel. The star is saved from further collapse -- but only for a while. Eventually, all possible nuclear fuel is used up and the core collapses. How far it collapses, into what kind of object, and at what rate, is determined by the star's final mass and the remaining outward pressure that the burnt-up nuclear residue can muster. If the star is sufficiently massive or compressible, it may collapse to a black hole. If it is less massive, its fate is different: it may become a white dwarf or a neutron star. The theoretical upper limit of the mass of a white dwarf is determined by the Chandrasekhar Limit (approximately 1.4 solar masses) that was first discovered by the Indian physicist S Chandrasekhar.

Electrons are leptons; they are believed to be fundamentals, i.e. the smallest indivisible particle of matter. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons. They are made of quarks. Quarks are also believed to be fundamentals. All we know is that quarks and leptons are smaller than 10-19 meters in radius. As far as we can tell, they have no internal structure or even any size. It is possible that future evidence will, once again, show this understanding to be an illusion and demonstrate that there is substructure within the particles that we now view as fundamental.We still do not know what the basic nature of matter is. What we know is that matter and energy are intimately related. According to the law of mass-energy equivalence, developed by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of relativity, a quantity of matter of mass m possesses an intrinsic rest mass energy E given by E= mc2, where c is the speed of light. This equivalence is dramatically demonstrated in the phenomena of nuclear fission and fusion in which a small amount of matter is converted to a substantially large amount of energy. The converse reaction, the conversion of energy to matter, has been observed frequently in the creation of many new elementary particles; however it hasn’t yet been attempted successfully under laboratory conditions.

So, if one cracks the atom or the particles composing it he will find that in reality it does not have any tangible existence. All existence, even the material world is nothing but a perception. This world that we see and experience is only a chimera. It has no existence beyond our perceptions. This is the scientific definition of matter. By this definition can we say that matter has any existence?

So, as we see “existence” is a relative term. If we were so tiny that we could live inside an atom, this material world would not be tangible to us. Actually we cannot even say “inside” the atom because atoms do not have boundaries. Atoms are just an open space - a field of probabilities. The electrons that whirl about the nucleus in orbits form a cloud of charge. These orbits are referred to as “shells” but in reality they are not.

Therefore matter does not exist. Matter is energy and energy is insubstantial. We perceive the matter as existing. Yet it really does not exist beyond our perception. Now, suppose we were made of an immaterial substance. In that case we will have a total different perception of the matter and the material world. So matter is an “inexistent” existence that our senses perceive.

Let us clarify this with an example. Take the example of sounds. Our ears perceive the waves with certain lengths as sound. Any wavelength longer or shorter cannot be heard. Other animals such as bats can hear wavelengths that we do not. We cannot say that because we do not hear that wavelength, that sound does not exist. If bats hear it, it must exist. There are creatures, e.g. earthworms that do not need to hear anything for their survival. For them sounds have no existence. They perceive the world through other senses but not through sounds. Earthworms have a sensitive skin that is able to pick up nearby vibrations from surrounding sources. If we were earthworms we could argue that there is no such thing as sound. Then, there are creatures like cockroaches that have no sense of sight. They can feel objects though their sensitive antennae. For such creatures light does not exist. We can also, see only a certain band of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. We cannot see anything outside of those wavelengths and therefore we are not aware of the existence of other lights or colors even though they exist and some other animals and insects see them. In fact, to go on a slightly different track, some biologists believe that we really perceive more that what our eyes actually are seeing (sum is greater than the parts). Our brains fill in the rest of the meaning for us.

To paraphrase, the world that we know is a world that we perceive through our senses. It does not have any reality beyond our perceptions. Therefore it is not outlandish to believe that the world as we perceive it exists only in our minds. Other animals and creatures perceive it differently. The perceived world is just that. It is only relative to us. In reality it has no “real” existence. The only reality is perception.

Now we have to ask ourselves whether there are existences that are beyond our perception. Let us see what is Life? Can we say that an animate being has something that an inanimate thing does not have? Can we say that Life is a reality that “exists” in living beings, which does not exist in dead or inanimate objects? If so then Life is an existing reality. What is the difference between a live being and a dead one? One HAS something that the other does not have. This “thing” is Life. So Life exists. It is a reality that transcends matter, a reality that distinguishes living from the non-living or the dead. And it is reasonable to suppose that if matter can exist without life, life (or consciousness) can also exist without matter.

Now we have two forms of existence: Matter and Life. One can be sensed and the other is the sensor. Is that all or are there other existences? What is Intelligence? Does Intelligence have existence? One can argue that Intelligence does not exist and it is just the function of the brain. But then, so is Life. Life is the function of Matter. Life is generated when molecules interact. Yet we agree that it has its own existence. The same thing can be said about the Matter. Matter as we discussed above has no independent reality. It is the function of speed and energy. E=MC2. However speed and energy do not have any independent existence. Therefore it is fair to say that Intelligence is no less a being than Life and Matter.

As we see, existence does not begin and end with Matter only. There are other levels of existence that are perceived albeit not with senses. Now we have to ask ourselves whether existence is limited to what we sense and perceive? Are we humans the measure of all things? As we saw in the above discussion, this Universe does not exist beyond our perception. This Universe is made of atoms and when we crack the atom we find nothing therein. So we can conclude that the essence of the Universe is nothing. When Matter is nothing, its functions are also nothing. There is “nothing” to discuss about. If everything is nothing then who am I? I must exist in order to pose this question or to doubt. “Cogito ergo sum”, as Descartes, concluded. Yes I must exist but my existence is only a function of nothing. We are all functions of nothing. But can something come out of nothing? Logic says no! Then, wherefrom comes this Universe, with its pulsating life and all its functions?

One must admit that there is another Reality that is neither part nor apart from the Universe. This Universe, with all its material and immaterial intricacies that we sense and perceive is only a reflection of that Reality. From nothingness this Universe came into being by reflecting the existence of that absolute Reality (In an interesting aside, the quantum theory conclusively proves that the sum total of all forces and energies in the universe is zero. Hence this universe has indeed come out of nothing) . So Matter as well as Life, Love, Intelligence and other realities are reflections of a Reality that is absolute. Without the absolute Reality everything is but nothing.

This absolute reality is not a being. It is not a thing. Therefore it is not a person, a spirit or a god. It is HOW; how things happen; how things work. It is the law of the evolution. This Reality is the Single Principle underlying the creation. If this principle is HOW, the creation is WHAT. That is all there is: HOW and WHAT. The WHAT depends on the HOW but HOW depends on nothing. The HOW is self-subsisting, is eternal and is omnipresent. The HOW is the Principle of all things.
The Principle is neither forgiving nor vindictive. It is neither loving nor hating. It is neither wise nor ignorant. These are human attributes. These are functions of Life and Matter. The Principle is above all these attributes. However, there is a law of cause and effect, you reap what you sow.
In other words, this world that we perceive is nothing but a reflection from a higher Reality. It does not have any real existence. It is just a shadow, an image of a non-being Reality. This is an old concept of which many seers and mystics have spoken. Now what about the soul? Does soul exist? As we saw above, everything is a function of other functions. By that definition we can say that the soul is also a function of other functions such as Consciousness, Love, Intelligence, etc. That does not mean that it is any less real than other beings. The soul has its own independent existence, just like Love, just like Life and just like Matter. It has a functional existence that is as real, perhaps even more real than Matter itself. The soul is as real as the body. But while one can perceive bodies through senses while one cannot perceive the soul through senses.
We do perceive Love, Intelligence, Consciousness and other functions somehow, even if not through our senses. Therefore we accept that these realities do exist. Yet how can we be sure of such a thing as the soul when we cannot perceive it in anyways?

Well, we do actually! The soul is the ultimate function of a living being that makes it work. If our body can be compared to hardware our soul is the software that makes it work. If the hardware crashes, the software will cease to work but if the software is damaged the hardware will produce garbage. The soul and the body are interdependent. What is the difference between a person who is alive in one moment and is not in the next? Her body is the same. All her organs could be working independently and can be transplanted to other persons. All the cells of her body are still alive and will continue to live for several more days. Her hairs and nails will keep growing. Her organs are living. Yet she is dead. What is missing is the soul. The software that made it work is missing. Something in the hardware was damaged and the software stopped working.

Now will the soul survive after the death occurs? If we think of the soul as the function of Life, Consciousness, Intelligence, Love, etc, how can a function survive when the instrument that makes that function does no more exist? It is like saying that the music of a violin will survive after the violin is broken. But then again my voice is a function of me. After I die I can no more make sounds yet the sounds I generated during my lifetime will survive my death. The sound wave is indestructible. Theoretically, we could listen to the sounds of creatures long dead. So the sounds we utter are eternal even if we are mortals. Thus, if sound that is a function of us can survive our death, why can’t our soul? Also, extending the software analogy used above, it is the hardware that is damaged, leading to non functioning of the software. If the software is transposed to another piece of functioning hardware it will work just as well.

To sum it up, the only reality is perception. This universe does not exist except in the perception of one who perceives it. We do not perceive the Reality with our senses for the Reality is intangible but we can witness the functions of that reality. This would not exist if there were no one perceiving it as such, just as sounds do not exist unless there is someone listening to it. The sounds that dogs can hear, to us humans are not sounds. We call only those wavelengths sounds, which we can hear. Likewise, the Universe is our perception of the function of the Reality. The reality is a non-being that paradoxically is the only thing that exists. To put this in terms that religious people could also understand, let us say God is the only reality that exists and nothing beyond God exists. Yet God is the non-being that is the mother of all beings.

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