Friday, July 22, 2016

ABC of Advaita

ABC of Advaita:


The concept of  a 'me' and a 'mind' as an 'independent self' is required in the service of the upkeep and maintenance as well as feeding of the body-organism. That sense of 'self' as the center of actions helps in the performance of all actions that are required for the minimum maintenance of the body for its span of life.

 Such actions that go for that specific purpose do not have 'carry-forward' effects as Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-Gita.

Therefore, one need not consider those actions for philosophical discussions.

A seeker needs to watch all other actions that go with a motivation, a purpose, a desire for self-aggrandizement or  protection (from insults etc.) of the self-image. These actions go with a deep sense of ownership for things, doership for decisions taken and agency of all the actions done.

With the arising of 'agency' of actions, you become the 'karta' (doer) and hence you will necessarily experience the consequences of the actions (you will be the 'bhokta' (experiencer)). There is no escape from this.

When you are the bhokta, you will find that some results will be pleasant and some unpleasant. You desire to welcome the pleasant ones and avoid the unpleasant ones. You then struggle with what is 'happening' - judging the happenings in terms of what is 'good' for you or 'bad' for you. You create a world of your own where you keep running away (avoiding with fire walls) what is not good and building 'welcome gates' for what is good.
All this struggle will result in suffering for the 'bhokta.'

You want freedom from that 'suffering.' You seek powerful 'gods' who can protect you and you create elaborate belief systems and processes to perpetuate the gods as well as your faith.

Gita suggests that you should "give up" all such actions. If you cannot, at least practice performance of action without looking for the 'fruits.' If even this is not possible, begin actions by offering whatever you do to brahman (brahmArpaNa mastu). If you follow a personified god,  perform the actions offering to Him (e.g. KrishnArpaNa mastu).

Hopefully, this process will retrain your mind and gradually lead to dropping all motivations and desires (achieving vairAgya) and thus naishkarmya siddhi (being unaffected by the results of actions done). naishkarmya siddhi is "action in inaction."

By this way, you may or may not successfully achieve reorientation of your mind and obtain naishkarmya siddhi right in this life of yours.

What do you do then?
You will hope to achieve naishkarmya siddhi some time in the future, maybe in the next life and that requires you to necessarily believe in rebirth, a continuity of the same 'me' and all the story that goes with it.

Therefore, while we may continue to adopt the above method, we should also find out who that ahaM ("I") is when Gita says ahamkAra vimUDhAtmA karta ahamiti manyate (III-7) -- who or what exactly is that foolish fellow?

What to do to find out who am "I"?

One is the traditional way to find out who is it that thinks "I am  the doer" . 

In this method, you first listen to the final answer from a reliable source (Apta vAkya) from a Guru / scripture).  This is called shravaNa

Next you mull over in your mind what you heard and deeply reflect over it until you get fully convinced (to the extent that not even an iota of doubt is left in you). This is called manana

After that you adopt all sorts of techniques to constantly remember every moment of your waking, dreaming, deep sleep life about what you got convinced -- the One-ness of the individual and brahman (jIvabrahmaikyatva). This is called nididhyAsana.

[The three steps (shravaNa-manana- nididhyAsana) need not go one after another in a progressive or gradational fashion. One may skip some step or other, all the three may happen simultaneously and  so on - many variations can occur.]

I will like to give an analogy to help in our remembrance of Oneness.

Think of a large uniform clean, neat shining white bed sheet nicely stretched and spread flat without wrinkles. Is any one particular spot on the sheet distinguishable from the other? No, all spots (locations) are uniform, identical and homogeneous -- in fact, there is no possible way to demarcate or distinguish a specific spot to be unique with a set of contours giving a shape to it. Every spot you may select is indistinguishably within that One continuous whole sheet which is undivided into parts.

Now give a shake holding a corner or a side of the sheet.
What will happen?

 Some waves will form and as you lay the sheet down, the flatness is gone. The sheet gets folded. It raises up as hills in some places. At some other places, it shows depressions. Some depressions may be big; others narrow and small. Some hills may be conical and so on and on. Many shapes and sizes can be distinguished. The One huge uniform sheet lost its absolute symmetry. Several shapes and boundaries for those shapes can be identified. You can give distinct names to those shapes like a hill, a cone, a depression, a long valley etc. It looks like a composite of several shapes conglomerated together (See the figure at the right). The sheet does not look as an undivided whole anymore. 

Imagine one more thing. Think that the sheet is fluorescent.  When it was in the undisturbed flat disposition, it would have been appearing  like a single sheet of self-luminescent brilliantly shining light plane. This luminescence has also the power to sense and know things like a sensor (detector probe).  But there is no-thing outside itself to sense or detect. It is all One Infinite wholeness.

After the perturbation (because of the shake), the hills and valleys cause apparent variations (shades) in the the luminescent  light. Some spots may appear slightly less bright (in a relative sense only - remember that the entire sheet is self-luminescent, there are originally no inherent differences in the luminosity). 

Now add another layer of imagination.
Think that one little depression, not exactly circular but having an odd shape imagines itself to be different and thinks that it exists separate from the rest of the sheet. 

Its ability to imagine, sense and know another (e.g. the hill nearby) still exists because of the self-luminescence at every spot of the big sheet.  

The small depressed spot feels begins to feel bad that its shape is odd, it is lying lower to the tall fellow, the hill, next to it. The hill appears to it as if shining with more light and spreading its brilliance to a greater distance. The little depression feels sad because it is not like that hill. It wants to become like that hill. When it learns finally that it cannot succeed in its aim, it may even want to destroy the hill.

You can concoct all sorts of stories further. Say a sudden gust of wind and water eroded or alter the size or shape of that hill. The depression may misappropriate to itself some power for having reduced the size of the hill. Or it may think that its worship of a powerful 'god of storm' helped achieve its desire ---------- and so on. 

Stop here for a minute. Hold your horses of  weaving imaginative stories.

Question yourself now.

Was that 'depression' at any point of time separate from the totality of the sheet? Is it really different and independent of the hills and other shapes which it imagined to be outside itself?

Is there any action it can take to become the whole one sheet again? Has it at any point of time stopped being the whole sheet?

What action should it take to feel itself to be within the Totality of Oneness?

It has to just remember that it never left the whole Oneness. It is only its fanciful thinking that it is separate brings in the "feel" of separation.  Actually no rigid brick-wall like boundaries exist around itself but for its own mistaking of the 'shades' (caused by the changes in relief) as walls of separation.

Yes, when the depression feels hungry needing some energy input, it may look for food. It eats what it gets. But it knows one day that the boundary wall around itself will collapse and it will die. When the (imagined) wall is gone, it is automatically within the whole Oneness. [Some even imagine five layered walls - panca kosha)

Even after it realized that it was never a separate entity, the past memory of being a 'separate ' may come back to it out of sheer habit.  It then has to make an effort not to forget that it was never separated from the Totality.

The shravaNa-manana-nididhyAsana method is called the Cosmological or progressive Path which is taken up after an intensive pre-requisites are fulfilled. In the Direct Path -- essentially taught by Sages like Atmananda Krishna Menon, Nisargadatta Maharaj and to some extent Ramana Maharshi -- the most important key element is to first totally UNDERSTAND and be convinced that the small luminescent depression (the separate self, a Me) is non-different and within the totality of the planar sheet, the Oneness which only exists. And then to aide in that understanding.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Teaching Vedanta in Germany

Teaching Vedanta in Germany

By Sitara Mittag

[I am grateful to Sitara for her ready consent to post her article at our Blog. For an Introduction about Sitara please see here -- ramesam.]


I feel blessed to have the opportunity of teaching Advaita Vedanta to select students who are sincerely committed to explore the ultimate truth. The program I adopt is highly flexible and tailored to the particular needs of the students, yet I have a general approach that I apply with variations.
 I have to admit that my way of teaching is quite time consuming compared to other teachers. But it works. That’s why so far I keep sticking with it. In the future I may have to change it because with more and more students joining I will have to find more practical solutions.
Medium of Instruction:
The medium of instruction is German, and usually I do not give classes in English. Even though most Germans have a working knowledge of English, some don’t (especially those who grew up in Eastern Germany where they learned Russian, and not English, as the second language). Most of my students are very intelligent and educated, but I also have a few who failed in school and do not know English. What I look for in a student is whether he/she wants to discover the ultimate truth and yearns for liberation (mumukshatvam). So if they have mumukshutvam, I accept them as students, with or without English. However, as the student advances in his studies, it usually becomes necessary to shift to English because I find that there are no suitable German translations of Vedantic texts, let alone Shankara’s commentaries on the Upanishads etc. Fortunately for us, so far there has always been one or the other student who could translate the texts from English to German with me carrying out the corrections. I use these translations in my classes.
Outline of the usual Program:
To begin with so far it has always been necessary for me to correct the perspective of the Western student’s mindset consisting in numerous pseudo-spiritual concepts – be they psychological, esoteric, or certain religious ideas. I do this in open talks with each student where I encourage him/her to ask any question that comes to mind. This initial deliberation helps the student to develop enough trust in what is on offer in Advaita Vedanta.
After a few such meetings, we start to go through the spiritual essays I published at my website (there are many more than just the ones translated into English). We discuss the topics in detail answering all the questions that may come up. In the course of that I familiarize them with certain Vedantic concepts without going too much in depth at this stage. If more than one student happens to start at about the same time, I conduct these sessions for all of them together.
As the time ripens for them to take up Vedanta in a more intensive way I first provide them with the background of Vedic culture by exposing them to select videos about India. I explicitly point out to my students that in this context we focus entirely on the upsides of the Indian world. Without this step, I realized that many things mentioned in the scriptures remain a complete mystery, resulting in misunderstandings that become impediments later. At this stage I take up Sw. Paramarthananda’s introduction to Vedanta, adding my own texts on the same issues written with the Western perspective in mind. Ideally there is more than one student in these meetings. After these 16 lessons, I give out a questionnaire that helps in self-assessment about what they have grasped so far. Once they know the basic terminology and concepts used in Vedantic teaching we study other treatises (prakaraNa grantha-s) and also Upanishads as appropriate. I use the commentaries published by Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in these classes. If they are not available, I take those from the Chinmaya Mission.
My students come from many areas in Germany (and some from other countries). The classes are conducted through telephone or skype conferences, which works very well for us. I purposely restrict the number of participants to be small. Also I take care to see that as we study the different texts, all the questions of the students are answered. My experience is that these interactive sessions are very successful when done with 4-6 people. I carefully choose the participating students for a class because I do not want some to get bored while others feel overly challenged.
Vedanta Seminars
I also have been offering a 6-day Vedanta-seminar suited to all levels twice a year. The participants observe silence for most of the time with me introducing certain processes (prakriya-s) and related concepts for them to dwell on. The whole process is based on a structure that is a mixture of silent sitting, listening to me as well as to (Indian) music, movement, going for walks, resting. Also all through the seminar everyone gets a chance to have special short meetings with me in order to clear his/her mind of any questions and doubts. We are going to have more of such seminars during 2017 in other areas of Germany. Taking part in the seminars is essential to the students. 
Meer Suddorf
(Photo: By Kerstin)
So far the seminars have been conducted on an island (see photo above) with just the sea and the sky and very few people around helping the minds of the participants to become exceptionally alert and imbibe the teaching in depth. New students get a really good start into Vedantic study while the advanced ones report that with each time they go through this process their minds become more and more subtle and sharp.
´Western students usually require a bit of motivation in taking up Vedanta in a systematic manner because there is so much on offer promising big gains with little effort to be made by the student. But quite soon they realize the value of studying Vedanta with resolve and commitment. The results of such a study are truly solid and every committed student is making steady and often surprisingly fast progress.
Acknowledgement:  Ramesam inquired about the way I teach students in Germany. After receiving my answer he suggested to post it on Advaita Vision and also at this Blog site. He was so kind as to help me put it into better English.

Friday, May 20, 2016

dhyAna and samAdhi

dhyAna and samAdhi

[I copy the article published on May 11, 2016 at Advaita Vision (see here) for wider dissemination -- ramesam ]


Meditation dhyAna and samAdhi are  quite fascinating, pretty alluring and romantically inspiring terms for an aspirant on the spiritual path. They are almost always spoken in a tone that creates an awe. They sound mysterious, other worldly and ethereal. Many stories are told in the Purana-s about highly revered Sages lost in deep meditation or samAdhi to the extent that they were unaware of their own body being buried in heaps of sand or eaten away by critters and crawlers. Hair-rising narratives too are often reeled out about the powers that dhyAna and samAdhi lead one to – clairvoyance, multiple accomplishments (aNimAdi siddhi-s), infinite longevity (ciranjIvatva), visitations to subtler worlds inaccessible to normal human beings and so on. There is hardly a spiritual Guru who does not harangue about the glories a seeker will be bestowed through practicing  dhyAna and samAdhi. Some teachers would even make these as a pre-requisite before any true ‘knowledge’ is imparted. As a result, the words  dhyAna  and  samAdhi acquired varying meaning. Teachers too historically used or interpreted them in different ways. We shall attempt to take a synoptic view particularly from a Non-dual perspective what these terms connote and their role and relevance for a seeker who has adopted the jnAna mArga (The Knowledge Path) in his/her pursuit of liberation.
The write up is structured as a Power Point Presentation downloadable as a pdf file at:  http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/downloads/dhyAna_samAdhi.pdf.
The principal argument I make here is that just like bodily physical exercises (of PT,haTha yogaAsana-s. tai chai etc.), meditation is an exercise for the mind — an action done by a doer.
All actions will inevitably yield their results and surely whatever meditation technique one may use (mantra-based, breath-based, object-based, deity-based, Compassion meditation, focused meditation, mindfulness meditation etc.), one can expect certain outcomes.
The Neuroscientific evidence (taking into account the initial work done by the TM people, and later the research carried out at the Penn state University by Andrew Newberg, at Wisconsin by Dr. Richard Davidson and his group and many researchers at several other scientific Institutions across the world) shows that Meditation practices have a direct effect on the brain – a physical ‘object’ in the world.
The fact that meditation has an effect on the brain (which is a part of the body) implicitly means that the usually advocated “techniques” of meditation are useful in the wakeful state in the awake world. They help in relaxation, towards sharpening of the brain, in obtaining special skills, in increased thickness and increased number of folds in the top layer of the brain (cortex), in the generation of the neurotransmitters and hormones like opioids and cannabinoids (anandamide) etc. which give a happy feeling or produce squirts of dopamine.
But in Advaita, we consider the awake world and the actions that go on in the awake state are ‘mithya‘ (fallacious).
Further, Vedantic understanding says:
i)   Actions arise in ignorance (karma ajnAna janitaM).
ii)  Liberation cannot be ‘obtained’ as a “result” of an action done.
That being the case, how can Meditation, an action, a daily practice, lead to moksha, the pursuit of a seeker on the Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga)?  It cannot. The real Meditation, as is understood in Advaita, is not something to be “done.” Meditation is the ending of the triad (observer-observing-the observed). It is just a “happening” like ‘Life happens.’
Some Teachers use the word “samAdhi” to indicate such a type of True Meditation.
Patanjali sUtra-s define meditation and samAdhi in a different way than the above understanding. Hence, dhyAna and samAdhi can be pretty confusing words unless one is clear about the system being followed.
However, one should state that Meditation as a ‘to do’ practice, along with actions like charity, pilgrimage etc. are useful in training the mind in the beginning stages for a seeker. Meditation may also help in the post-realization phase of a seeker towards stabilizing oneself in the abidance of an unbroken brahman-thought.
Slides # 1 – 5: 
General Intro.
Slides # 6 – 33:
The first part of the slides deal with the Neuroscientific findings as evidence to show that different types of meditation affect different parts of the brain with  attendant  behavioral changes in the practitioner. (I have a couple of Video clips also in this part).
Slide # 34:
A short clip from a Talk by the Professor of Neuroscience, Nancy Kanwisher of MIT shows the discovery of the ‘Face recognition area’ in the brain. It also demos how the electromagnetic field in the brain impacts on what you see “out there.”  A change in the electrical field will distort or alter your perception. This aspect is exploited in the technique of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) used to bring about a change in the neural connections of a patient suffering from depression, anorexia and certain other disorders. But the interesting point coming out from an Advaita perspective is that it is a projection of the waves in your brain that show you what you ‘think’ you see located somewhere there outside you. It is not that a thing is ‘already there’ and you see it as ‘it exactly is.’
Slide # 35 – 41:
We discuss here the issues of self-control and emotional maturity and the parts of the body and brain related to these behaviors. Present Neuroscientific findings lead one to conclude that ‘self-control’ is a finite resource and is not inexhaustively available for use. A period of recuperation is required for the resource to get replenished. We also try to locate the six enemies (arishadvarga-s) and the corresponding endocrinal glands in the body.
Slides 42 – 46:
There is a difference between obtaining mind-based worldly knowledge and the Non-dual Self-Knowledge as explained by Shankara. We also examine the role ‘attention’ plays in giving us ‘knowledge’ and contrast it with Consciousness which is the ‘True Knowledge.’
Slides # 47 – 72:
Next I take up the definitions of dhyAna and samAdhi as used in different texts like  aparokshAnubhUti, vivekacUDAmaNi, Yogavasishta etc. We consider the Vedantic view as expressed by Shankara with a few quotes from BG and so on. I try to bring out the difference in the usage of the terms in Patanjali  yogasUtra-s and Advaita. Finally I show that action will help to attain  citta sudddhi which leads to  citta naishcalyaM, but the next stage of realizing  jIvabrahmaikatva  jnAna,  the vastu tantra jnana, is not a direct result obtained from the state of a  placid mind. It has to happen by Itself (tat prasAdAt).
I attempt to show that the terms  “dhyAna and samAdhi,”  though highly technical, have been used to mean different things by different teachers historically and that there is  no rigorous standardized universally accepted process or method that the words indicate. The slide # 51 presents the teaching of Sage Vasishta that realization of the Oneness of subject-object (i.e. Liberation) dawns on him who achieves ‘desirelessness.’
Slides # 73 – 75:
We end with an invocative prayer from mahAnArAyaNa upanishad:
आर्द्रं ज्वलतिज्योतिरहमस्मि । ज्योतिज्वॅलति ब्रह्माहमस्मि । योऽहमस्मि ।
अहमस्मि ब्रह्माहमस्मि । अहमेवाहं मां जुहोमि स्वाहा ॥ ….. 67.
Meaning: I realize this Identity of Jiva &  Brahman  by offering myself i.e., the jIvatva (the finite self) as an oblation into the Fire of Infinite brahman which I am forever. May this oblation be well reached for achieving  jIva-brahma  Identity.
(The above is a part of the अघमर्षण मन्त्र  (aghamarShaNa mantra), seeking the blessings of Sage  aghamarShaNa,  recited ritualistically by traditional seekers while bathing or during the observation of  other ablutions. The word aghamarShaNa also means the cleanser of demerit).
Acknowledgements:  I am grateful to the authors of the various sources from which I have freely adopted the material. As far as possible, I have given the references so that the reader can further pursue the matter, if interested.  My thanks are also due to Dennis who kindly had a preview of the slides and made helpful observations. He has been kind to create the downloadable link for the pdf of the 75 slides.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

[Basil Hiley, David Bohm’s longtime collaborator and co-author of his final book,The Undivided Universe is a theoretical physicist at Birkbeck College of the University of London.  Reproduced below are a few excerpts from an abridged transcript of his chat in 2013 with Dr. George Musser of the Scientific American. Sourced from here – ramesam]

Physics of Reality - 8: Prof. Basil Hiley's Views

We were interested in undivided whole. How do you describe wholeness without breaking it up into pieces? Bohr said you can’t analyze any further: don’t make the division between the subject and the observing apparatus, because everything is a whole, and as soon as you break it into pieces, you’ve lost it; you’ve changed the phenomenon. I took a lot of insight from Bohr. If you read our book, we never say Bohr was wrong, whereas most other people say Copenhagen is nonsense. What we disagreed with Bohr about is that he couldn’t analyze it further. What we’ve been trying to do is analyze it further.
Our idea was to say, yes, you can do it. You can talk about the individual, but it’s the quantum potential which puts in what you’ve left out. So it brings the information of the environmental conditions, the boundary conditions, and feeds it to this local entity–so this local entity knows that it’s part of the whole.

How this does it, I don’t know. But what David and I suggested was that the quantum potential is actually an information potential, and we introduced the idea of active information. I was very worried about using the word “information” because everybody would immediately go to Shannon information. Shannon information is not information; it’s just information capacity. There’s no meaning there, and the whole point was to get meaning into this and that this was information for theparticle.

Then, of course, they thought we’d gone mystically East. But I mean the quantum potential is not a classical force. It’s not a classical potential. It’s something extraordinary, very strange. It doesn’t get propagated, as far as we can find out. But that was the way I reconciled wholeness with divisibility. If we divide, we must have something to put it all back together again.

**
Nature is more organic than we think it is. And then you can understand why life arose, because if nature is organic, it has the possibility of life in it.
Let’s start this way. You’re looking for a fundamental particle. So you divide the material into atoms and think: this is where the real essence lies. Rutherford divided the atom and found the nucleus. OK. The nucleus is where matter resides. And then you look inside the nucleus and you find neutrons. OK, now we’re there. But then there’s quarks and we’ve never got a hold of a quark. We take a proton, an anti-proton, and it goes, poof, into radiation. So where is the solidity of matter? Where does it lie? Because wherever we look at it … [it falls through our fingers.]

Suppose we start with something likeprocess–no particles, just activity, just energy. Then the first battle was: what the hell do you mean?
I started reading. I read Grassmann, for example, and Grassmann was saying that mathematics was not about things in space and time, but it was about thought–it was about the order of thought. And he obtained his Grassmann algebra from that kind of consideration. And I readClifford‘s original books, original papers, and it was all about process. Two times three is equal to six–it’s not two objects times three. It’s the doubling of three objects. It’s a process.

We’re not used to thinking about process. We communicate with an object-based language. David invented a thing called “rheomode“–language in which we speak to each other in a flowing mode. There are some ancient languages which do this–Hopi Indian and some others. In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, you’ll find a chapter on language, in which he discusses this rheomode. It didn’t work, because we were still thinking of objects.

Every day in our life, we always have to be careful of the order. You’ve got a cup in the cupboard. You’ve got to open the cupboard door before you can the cup out. All our experience is doing things in the right order, so our activity is noncommutative. It comes into quantum mechanics because Heisenberg sought to explain atomic energy levels and what he found was he had to make his objects into things that didn’t commute with each other. The order was vital. There was a difference between first measuring the momentum and then measuring the position, from measuring the position and then measuring the momentum. That became the basis of his Uncertainty Principle.
It seemed to me that he was actually discussing a process. He was talking about how something goes from one to the other, and he called that a momentum transition, and a position from one position to another.

You’re creating your space and time, People say, “Well, what do you mean we’re creating space and time?” Well, the world out there, there’s not a geometry which you somehow just discover by looking at it. You actually use physical processes to describe that geometry. How do we get the geometry of space? With a radar set and a clock. We send the light signal out, send it back again, and we construct the Lorentz transformation by what matter is doing.

Why would we expect the fundamentals of nature to be the same as we experience in the macroscopic world? This idea is to say, no, the real world is not. If you look behind it, it’s a mirage in a way. The algebra is the implicate order. It’s the structure that’s there. Properties are given by the whole, but we’re taking them out and we are making an explicate order.

[The explicate order is what we perceive.]

And it’s not everything. What the old classical physics said was that we just want to stand god-like outside and just look at everything without us being in there. We can’t. We’re in there, whether we like it or not. We’re inside looking out, not outside looking in. What the implicate is, you can’t explicate, but you must have different views because you’re inside it. You can’t stand outside it. You only get a partial view.



When I lecture on this, I always use the old lady/young lady–the gestalt. The lines are there, but what they mean depends how you explicate one order over the other. Because a lot of things are based on things that you can’t explicate at the same time. Nature is such that you cannot actually explicate the position space and the momentum space.

So instead having just a trajectory, you have an unfolding and enfolding process. The past actively works in the present. It reverberates in the present to produce the future. What looks like a particle tracking across, isn’t a particle tracking across. It’s just an explication.

[One shouldn’t think of this particle as a persistent entity drifting through a void?]

You’ve got to think of your entity not as billiard ball. Its properties are not independent of the underlying process. Change the underlying process, and the properties of this thing change. Don’t treat it as being separate. Because its properties depend upon the environment. You’re making objects out of things which continuously transform, but always into themselves. It takes a bit of getting used to!

Do we create what we see? Maybe we do. I know people say, “Oh, it’s all subjective.” But there are only certain things you can do with it. You can’t magic things up. You can reorder things. You can rearrange things when you are making your reality. We’re rearranging the processes. We are part of the process.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Physics of Reality – 7: Are We Living in a Hologram?

Physics of Reality – 7: Are We Living in a Hologram?
by Charles Phelan

[Intro about Charles at Part 4]

Part 1    




In prior segments reviewing the work of Leonard Susskind on Black Hole Complementarity, we saw how modern physics is pointing toward an observer-dependent reality rather than a single objective universe. In discussing the black hole information loss paradox first identified by Stephen Hawking in the 1970s, and the subsequent battle in physics eventually won by Susskind, I omitted an important development that happened along the way, and will return to it now. This is the Holographic Principle, first proposed by Susskind in the 1990s as a consequence of his work on string theory.

One of the weirdest results of all the research on black hole entropy and information loss was a mathematical calculation that determined how much "information" could be stored in a black hole. If the event horizon – the point of no return – can be visualized as the surface of a hollow sphere surrounding the singularity at the center, then logically we would expect the calculation to yield a volume result since any sphere is three dimensional. However, the bizarre outcome was that the information capacity of a black hole is limited to the area of the surface of the event horizon, a two-dimensional result instead of three-dimensional! It is difficult to convey how truly strange this is!

Think of it this way. Let's say the Earth was hollow except for a tiny diamond at the center, so the surface of the Earth is like the event horizon, and the diamond takes the place of the singularity at the center. Let's be quaint and take information in the form of computer printouts filled with ones and zeroes, and then use all that paper to fill up the hollow sphere between the crust and the center. If you were to calculate how much paper (information) could be held inside of the hollow sphere, the result would be based on a volume calculation for a sphere the size of Earth, taking into account the size and thickness of the paper used for printing the data and how much information could fit on one sheet.

Yet the result calculated by Jacob Bekenstein – work that Susskind later built on to develop his Holographic Principle – showed that it doesn't work that way for black holes. Again, instead of a volume result, the equations produce an area result. It's as though no matter how many sheets of paper with information on them are poured into the sphere, the result for maximum information capacity will always be the surface of the sphere and not its volume. It would be like dumping papers into the hollow sphere but never being able to fit more than would cover the surface of the Earth. For all practical purposes, an entire dimension is lost, and 3D becomes 2D.

Translating this astonishing finding back to black holes, it is as though there is no “inside” of the event horizon, that as far as anything outside the event horizon is concerned, nothing on the other side actually exists. So from the view outside the horizon, the information available is limited to the area of the surface of the horizon's sphere. If this does not boggle your mind, then you're not quite grasping the strangeness of it.

So far I haven't touched on the issue of how information capacity could actually be calculated in the first place, as this leads into difficult territory like Shannon entropy and the Planck length limitation, which are beyond the scope of this article. But the short version is that there is a smallest possible size for a single bit of information, which allows an immense but finite amount of information to be stored on the surface of a black hole's event horizon. But why only an area? Why not a volume? Susskind's answer is the Holographic Principle. Consider a simple hologram, where three-dimensional information is inscribed in two dimensions on the surface of a plastic card or other material. A three-dimensional projection appears at a distance from the two-dimensional substrate and any one portion of the substrate contains information about the whole.

Susskind's work involved analyzing the mathematics of a special type of theoretical universe called an anti deSitter universe. Anti de-Sitter space has a negative curvature, which results in strange anomalies compared to a universe like our own, which is flat and positively curved  by comparison. For example, an object thrown with sufficient velocity along a straight line in anti de-Sitter space would eventually return to its original starting point!

As it happens, a universe made from anti de-Sitter space is an ideal universe in which to do certain complex calculations. Within the specific framework of the anti deSitter space, Susskind was able to show that the total information capacity was equivalent to the area of the cosmic boundary, and this led to his application of the term “holographic." It is as though any apparent 3D events are really just projections from the distant 2D information field encoded on the cosmic boundary.

It has not been proven yet that our universe is holographic, but there has been considerable momentum in that direction, in terms of thousands of physics papers supporting the principle, and not just for anti deSitter space but also for regular space like our own. At this point in the progress of modern theoretical physics, there are still critics taking aim at potential flaws in the Holographic Principle. But it remains a solid theory that probably deserves to be called a consensus. It really does appear that our apparently 3D universe is just a projection from a 2D information matrix encoded on the distant cosmic boundary horizon.

How does the Holographic Principle pertain to Advaita, or further our understanding of the nondual perspective? Advaita teaches that the apparent creation is not actually real, that it is mithyA, a dependent reality. The Upanishads teach that the apparent reality we observe with our senses, and even the mental world we observe with our minds, is all just a trick by mAyA. It is all just a magic show where things appear to be one way but are not actually as we observe. Science is beginning to tease out how some of mAyA's tricks work. Drill down into matter with a microscope and mathematics, and the result is nothing. Molecules contain atoms, which contain particles like electrons or protons, which in turn contain quarks and other members of the quantum zoo of particles, which contain – what? Tiny one-dimensional vibrating strings that change depending on one's frame of reference?

Drill down far enough and there is only speculative mathematics and nothing more, nothing that is ever unchanging or actually solid. I believe we can fairly describe all of this as mithyA, the snake in the rope, or the ghost in the post. If it can ultimately be proven with certainty that our 3D universe is actually just a hologram projected from a distant 2D cosmic horizon, this would mean that the mithyA nature of creation, known to Vedic sages for millennia, had actually been demonstrated and accepted by modern science.

Further from the perspective of the student of Advaita, it is fascinating to observe that modern physicists often dance very close to discussing the role of Consciousness, but never quite go there. Yet if reality is observer dependent, then where does the observer come from? This is not a question addressed by physics, let alone answered by it. Yet in result after result, modern physics seems to be converging to a view that reality is indeed observer dependent. No observer means no universe. If we jettison the God's eye view of reality and accept that each so-called individual has their own reality cone, then the apparent paradoxes drop away and all becomes much clearer. So perhaps it is only a matter of time before some young physicist gets the bright idea to propose that Consciousness is primary and that all else arises within it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Actor Is Action

Actor Is Action 

In our day to day world the "Doer" of any deed is the subject. She/he is the 'agent' of the action taken.  In other words, no action can happen without the actor.

The Advaita holds that the Actor is non-different from the Action. The Actor and Action are not two.

Here is a short excerpt on the above matter taken from Chapter 3: Origination (utpatti prakaraNa) of Yogavasishta (being serialized at Advaita Vision).

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(From sarga 95, utpatti prakaraNayogavAsiShTha):


Sage Vasishta: A flower bloomed. Fragrance spread. Which is born first? It is not possible to say which originated first. Both are born simultaneously. Similarly the doer and the action are not born separately. They are born at the same time. Both have their roots in ignorance. Individual beings also have their origin in ignorance.

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Mind is the result of ignorance. The action is the effect of mind. Ignorance is like the branch (of a tree).  Mind is a flower. Action is the fragrance. People normally say that the flower has come out of the branch and the fragrance has come out of the flower. This formulation is true in some sense, but it is not the whole truth. Both the flower and the fragrance have come out of the branch and they have come at the same time. This is the actual truth.

Similarly, mind has come out of ignorance. Mind is the doer. The actions have sprung out of the mind. So the sequence ‘ignorance -- mind -- action’ is the understanding in common parlance. It is like the sequence ‘clay powder -- lump of clay --  pot.’  

In a sense the pot is clay and the clay is pot. Likewise, mind is action and action is mind. Or actor is action and action is the actor. But what I proposed is still subtler than that.

There is a time lag between the lump of clay and its appearance as a pot. But there is no such time gap between the flower and its fragrance. Fragrance does not have a distinct form of its own different from the flower. Hence we are bound to accept that flower and fragrance are born out of the branch simultaneously and that the flower and fragrance are not two entities.

The position with respect to the mind and action is also exactly the same. Both manifest simultaneously from ignorance and are identical.  The real cause for the emergence of a sense of separate self is ignorance. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Physics of Reality – 6: Entanglement, Wormholes, and Firewalls by Charles Phelan

Physics of Reality – 6

Quantum Entanglement, Wormholes, and the Firewall Problem
by Charles Phelan

[Intro about Charles at Part 4]

Part 1    


In the previous two articles, we reviewed Leonard Susskind's mind-blowing theory of Black Hole Complementarity (BHC), which tells us that two completely contradictory observations are both true for their respective observers. We also noted that BHC is purely theoretical, not yet settled science. In this article, we'll examine a recent challenge to the theory of BHC called the “firewall paradox,” as well as Susskind's brilliant response to it.

Let's start with a quick review on Black Hole Complementarity. At the center of a black hole is a singularity, where matter has been squeezed to an infinitesimally small point. The gravitational force of a singularity is so strong that nothing can escape it, not even light itself. Hence the phrase “black hole,” originally coined by physicist John Wheeler. The point of no return where an object falling toward the black hole can no longer escape is called the event horizon.

According to BHC as well as Einstein's Equivalence Principle, our intrepid explorer Alice will experience nothing unusual as she passes through the event horizon. She will only become human “spaghetti” when she hits the singularity later, which could take anywhere from less than a second to many years, depending on the size of the black hole.

Meanwhile, Alice's partner Bob has remained behind to observe what happens to her, and he sees a completely different picture. Bob sees Alice move toward the event horizon but never reach it due to the time dilation effect described by Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Both stories are true for their respective observers, with the catch being that they cannot communicate with one another (i.e. pass information back and forth).

This lands us squarely in an observer-dependent universe, and leads to reality-bending ambiguities in the bargain. For example, a particle may be either a microscopically small object or a smeared out probability distribution that covers the entire event horizon of an enormous black hole, with both views being “true” depending on the observer's frame of reference!

Clearly, if BHC is valid, then it forces us to change our thinking about an objective reality “out there” that is reliably the same for all observers. While Susskind's BHC proposal was initially not widely accepted, after advances in String Theory and other related subfields of physics, it did come to be accepted by most physicists. There remain vocal critics, of course, and papers challenging the math and logic behind Susskind's theory.

The most significant attack came in 2012, when four physicists (Almheiri, Marolf, Polchinski, and Sully) published a paper proposing a solution to a perceived inconsistency in BHC theory. The solution proposed was called the “firewall phenomenon,” and the proposal became known as the “AMPS firewall,” AMPS being an acronym for the authors' last names.

In order to understand the AMPS firewall, we first need to discuss the concept of quantum entanglement. When pairs of particles are entangled, there can be no independent description of the separate particles. Essentially, quantum entanglement tells us that such particle pairs are a whole and must be described as a system, rather than as separate entities. While this may not seem like such a big deal, it leads to some astonishing conclusions that completely defy logic. For example, measurements on entangled particle pairs are always correlated, no matter how far apart physically the pairs have been separated. If we measure the “spin” property of a particle, it's counterpart will always measure with an opposite spin, even if the entangled particles are split to opposite sides of the universe before they are measured!

At first glance, quantum entanglement appears to violate Einstein's discovery that nothing whatsoever can exceed the speed of light. If information is somehow transmitted between a pair of entangled particles instantaneously, that would constitute a violation of General Relativity, a theory that has been proven over and over again via astronomical and other physical observations. In fact, Einstein, together with his colleagues Boris Podolosky and Nathan Rosen, published a paper critical of QM theory that became known as the EPR paradox. The popular phrase used by Einstein to describe such instantaneous transmission was “spooky action at a distance.”

Another term for this is nonlocality, where particles are considered as a whole rather than a discrete system of two separate entities. It's a proven fact of physics that Einstein was wrong about this issue. Nonlocality has been successfully demonstrated in entangled particle pairs, beginning with the ground-breaking experimental work of Alain Aspect in 1982, and continuing with many independent confirmations since. At least within the context of quantum particle pairs, the universe is indeed nonlocal.

Is nonlocality not suggestive of nonduality as conceived by Advaita? To be precise, we must note that “quantum entanglement” refers specifically to the description of a theoretical particle-pair, and we should not leap to conclusions that “QM proves nonduality.” That caveat notwithstanding, nonlocality does look like one of Maya's magic tricks. Measure the spin of a particle, and its companion will collapse to the other spin state, even if the two particles are in a condition of space-like separation that would entail transmission of information faster than light-speed. Due to QM being based on probabilities rather than certainties, all this happens without violating General Relativity. Nothing can travel faster than light, and yet particle pairs are apparently linked across vast stretches of spacetime. Such phenomena appear to show us the "footprints" of nonduality, stamped squarely on such paradoxes as wave-particle duality and quantum nonlocality.

Returning to the AMPS paper's rebuttal to Black Hole Complementarity, the authors showed that there is a potential flaw in the theory. To understand this criticism, we first need to know that highly entangled particle pairs may only be party to “monogamous” entanglements. This means that one particle is entangled with another, and cannot be the subject of multiple entanglements. Yet there are at least two potential entanglements if all the assumptions inherent in BHC are maintained.

Recalling our previous discussion on information loss in black holes, we know information is reflected off the event horizon in the form of Hawking radiation. So we have information falling into the black hole entangled with information coming out of it, and also entangled with prior Hawking radiation particles, leaving one entanglement too many. Their solution demonstrated that a break of entanglement at the event horizon would lead to a buildup of energy, hence the term “firewall.”

The AMPS paper skillfully argued that some key assumption must give way to resolve the inconsistency of multiple entanglements. Joe Polchinski, the “P” in AMPS, argued that the Equivalence Principle must fail at the event horizon, and that instead of “No Drama” scenario experienced by Alice, she will burn up when she hits the wall of energy there. The AMPS paper, if correct, would resolve the apparent inconsistency in BHC where Bob and Alice experience contradictory stories that are both true. And it would do so by breaking the entanglement of particles at the event horizon. In effect, the authors were saying there is no “inside” to a black hole, as nothing can get past the event horizon.



How did Susskind respond? Working with Juan Maldacena, a fellow physicist from the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, Susskind published a paper titled, “Cool Horizons for Entangled Black Holes,” in which he proposed an answer to the firewall problem as proposed by AMPS. The short version of their response was:

ER = EPR

This means that entangled pairs are linked through wormholes that tunnel outside the event horizon, thus resolving the apparent identification of one too many entanglements by AMPS.

The above explanation is very compact, so let's break it down and elaborate a bit further. We've already touched on EPR above, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox of non-locality, or “spooky action at a distance.” The “ER” in ER=EPR stands for Einstein-Rosen bridges, and refers to a paper the two men published about wormholes connecting black holes across distant regions of space.


Einstein and his colleagues did not link the two concepts, but Susskind and Maldacena did. The idea is that entangled particles (EPR) are connected by wormhole bridges with their counterparts outside the event horizon (ER). One of the their key arguments was that the AMPS authors had assumed there could be no connection between space inside and outside the event horizon. The ER = EPR solution provides for particles inside the event horizon to remain entangled with their counterparts in the cloud of Hawking radiation particles previously leaving the black hole. Thus there is no need to break entanglement at the event horizon, and therefore no firewall. This is why Susskind and Maldacena used the phrase “cool horizons” in the title of their paper. ER = EPR preserves the “No Drama” interpretation of BHC, Alice feels nothing at the event horizon, and she still turns into spaghetti when she hits the singularity later.

As so often happens with cutting edge research, however, this proposal implies much more significant possibilities than a resolution to the AMPS firewall paradox. The ER = EPR theory points to a deep connectedness underlying all of spacetime. We have already seen this with nonlocal entanglement, and also with the wormhole idea. This approach says that ER and EPR are two sides of the same phenomenon, the same thing viewed from different angles. This is precisely why there is an equals sign in the equation! And the “spooky action at a distance” that gave Einstein fits may actually be what literally stitches together spacetime. As Maldacena put it, “... the solid and reliable structure of spacetime is due to the ghostly features of entanglement.” Further, the long-term physics project of uniting the conflicting theories of gravity between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics may be facilitated by approaches such as ER = EPR.

As we have seen over and over again in these articles, modern physics is converging to an understanding of reality as observer-dependent. It seems we are coming closer to a scientific view that supports the ancient Advaita perspective that “perception creates the world.” We will never be able to say that science or physics has “proved” nonduality conclusively, simply because any such knowledge or proof must always be less than the Whole. But it certainly appears that we are starting to understanding some of Maya's tricks. Look out to the extremes of the universe, at both macro and micro levels, and it's possible to notice some of the rough edges. Quantum foam that allows something to come from nothing, entangled particles, wormholes, and black holes are some of those edges.

It seems there is no limit to the bizarreness of some of the new proposals in physics. Could science actually prove that the entire empirical universe is nothing more than a snake-in-the-rope illusion, as Adi Shankara advised us 1,200 years ago? Perhaps so! 


( QM, 2015)


(To Continue .... Physics of Reality - 7
In the next article, we'll talk about the Holographic Principle, which says that we are living in a hologram).