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THE TAO OF PHYSICS

Argumentation

'It is probably a general truth that in the history of spirituality, the most remarkable
progresses are produced at the meeting point of two thinking currents. These can
have their origin in different cultures, eras or religious traditions, but providing
there is a contact established between them, we can expect fascianting
transformations.'
(W. Heisenberg)

Physics and science have always had a decisive influence on all levels of human life. They
are the basis of all natural sciences and, by combining them with technology, we were
allowed to build the world we see today. Whether positive or negative, the impact of
physics on mankind has changed both our world and our way of thinking. The research
and development in this field have given us insight on the Universe.

The different stages physics has went through in time have forced scientists to revise and
change its fundamental concepts and laws, thus giving birth to new ideas and theories
that completely change the way we view our world.

'I think that it's important for scientists to explain their work,
particularly in cosmology. This now answers many questions once
asked of religion. We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a
minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the
Universe. That makes us something very special.' (S.Hawking)

Rarely have the physicists of the last decades compared the scientific progress and our
new discoveries with the dogmas and ideas of Oriental mysticism. However, those few
who have, such as J. R. Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr or Werner Heisenberg, have surely
realized there are many parallels between the two apparently very different fields.

It seems that the scientific view of the Universe is becoming, in essence, very similar to
that of the Asian religions, mainly Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism. It is worth mentioning
that not only the ideas of Oriental religions coincide with those of modern physics, but
there are also links to be found in any other culture's mysticism.

It would seem we were outdone by the ancient wisdom which we can now rediscover in an
unprecedented manner: by confirming its ideology.

Religion has always played a central role in Asian life. In contrast to European religions,
they have never been set aside and occupy an important place in the Asian way of
thinking to this very day. The marginal role of religious ideas in the western world left
place for the development of new ones that were constantly distancing themselves from
the theological original.
1. PHYSICS

The origins of physics lay in the Greek culture of the sixth century BC, at a time when
religion, philosophy and science were regarded as one.

The philosophers of the Milet school were searching for the essence or truth of all things,
which they called physis – hence the term 'physics' we use today. Their ideas were very
different from what physics would evolve into over the next millenia: the Milesian thinkers
were hilosoits, meaning 'they who believe nature is alive'. They did not distinguish
between spirit and matter and to them, everything was merely a manifestation of physis.
Anaximander claimed the Universe was like a living human organism animated by 'cosmic
breath', which he called pneuma.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the fifth century BC, believed there was a perpetual
change taking place in the Universe at all times. He thought fire was the universal
principle, being the symbol of flowing and permanent change. According to him, the
dynamics of the Universe came from the cycle of contraries that form an entity called
Logos. He believed this was the actual law that governed the world.

The Eleat school is the first to disassemble this entity by putting a divine principle above
all of mankind and all of the gods. This principle will gradually evolve from 'unity of the
Universe' to a defined, intelligent deity that leads and controls the world. It is the
equivalent of spirit separated from matter.

The idea of this division is supported by Parmenides, Leucippus and Democritus. The last
two state that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible
elements called atoms, therefore atomist philosophers clearly separate the material world
from the spiritual one. Aristotle, who built a theory that resumed the ancient knowlegde –
a theory accepted for nearly two millenia – tought that the spiritual investigation is of
more importance to man than the material one and so there is a tendence to analyse
spirit, morals and ethics.

During the Renaissance, the attention focused on the return to nature as the links
between man and Church were weakened and Aristotle 'set aside'. The fifteenth century
stands under the mark of a scientific view and investigation of nature. Due to the fact that,
at the same time, mathematics evolved, man could now back up his theories with
mathematical formulas based on experiments, he now had a language that was more
accurate in describing what he observed. The first to do so was Galileo Galilei and he is
therefore considered to be the father of modern science.

The philosophy also evolved during this period of time, making the separation of spirit
from matter even more pronounced. René Descartes' absolute division definitely affected
the view of philosophers and scientists alike: there was the spiritual world (res cogitans)
and the material world (res extensa) ; the object of study – the matter – was 'dead',
isolated, independent of anything around it, even of its observer. The concept that
emerged from Descartes' theories was that the world is made of a multitude of objects
assembled to build a grand machine.

At the beginning of this century, physicians and scientists found that the fundaments of
the very concepts that have been accepted to that point to describe our view of the
material world were shaken from the ground by new discoveries. Concepts such as time,
space, matter, object, cause and effect had to be profoundly revised. The results of the
various experiments and research came much as a shock to scientists, as Albert Einstein
wrote:

'All of my trials to adapt the fundaments of physics to our newly found discoveries
have failed. It is as if theground were running from underneath our feet and as if
there weren't any solid base which we could build upon.'

The transition from classical to modern physics was a relatively rapid one. The old
concepts were based on the Newtonian model of the Universe, which had been the
foundation of classical physics for about three centuries.

The Newtonian model describes the Universe as a three-dimensional space based on


Euclidian geometry, called absolute space, always motionless and never changing. Time is
viewed as a different dimension, separately from space, therefore independent of the
material world, following its own course from past toward future, unaltered by any
external factor – it is called absolute time. The elements of this Universe are material
particles, moving through absolute space and absolute time. The idea is, they were
conceived as small, solid and indestructable objects which form matter – an idea very
similar to that of the Greek atomists. Newton gives a precise description of the interacting
forces between the particles – a force, in his vision, depending only on the particles'
masses and the distance between them. He called this the gravitational force, which,
according to classical physics, only applies to objects on which Newton believed it had an
influence. However, the existence and very creation of these interacting particles is
attributed to God, as Newton himself describes it in his Optica.

Basically, all physical phenomena were reduced to the movement of particles through
space, a movement caused by gravitational forces. Having obtained a new theory, Newton
had to express the effect of his new-found force mathematically and, since there were no
ways of calculating at the time which could apply properly … he invented them! It is what
we call today differential calculus and it turned out to be one of the major contributions to
thinking brought by a single man. Thus, Newton had the possibility of conceiving
mathematical equations and his mechanicist theory became the basis of classical physics
as it could apply to the movement of planets and explain the structure of the Solar System
and every phenomenon linked to gravity. It was also successful when applied to liquids
and vibrations of elastic bodies.

One of the laws of the mechanicist theory was that, provided we know a certain object's
state at a certain moment in time, we can accurately predict its state for any other given
moment. The conclusion had been reached that the world can be objectively described
without considering the human factor and that the Universe was a gigantic system that
apparently worked perfectly according to Newton's laws.

The nineteenth century, however, initiated a series of discoveries that lead to the
disapproval of mechanicist laws. Magnetic and electric phenomena could not be explained
by the classical theories, implying a new type of force. Scientists such as Faraday and
Maxwell contributed to the birth of modern science both practically and theoretically.

The birth of modern physics is most often associated with Albert Einstein. He has had two
immense contributions that opened doors to scientific thinking and gave new insight on
the Universe. These two contributions are the theory of relativity and a new way of
approaching the study of electromagnetism, which has lead to quantum physics.

According to the theory of relativity, time is not a separate entity. We live in a four-
dimensional continuum called space-time, whose elements are events ocuuring in certain
places at certain moments of time. One cannot refer to space without mentioning time
and viceversa - they are inseparable. What's more, every observation is strictly linked to
the observer: if different observers move with different velocities toward or away from the
object of focus, the order in time of the events may vary from one observer to the other –
one can witness the events as taking place simultaneously while the other may observe
them as successive. This proves that there is no such thing as absolute space and
absolute time. A few years later, Einstein extended the results of his research and
formulated the theory of general relativity. This could be applied to all gravitational
phenomena, such as the attraction between two bodies with mass. One important
consequence was that because of the gravitational fields generated by the Earth (the
body with mass), the space-time in its vecinity is curved in such shape that the curvature
depends on the planet's mass.

Since space is influenced by matter and space and time are regarded as one, time is also
affected by the presence of matter, leading us to the conclusion that time goes by with
different speeds in different areas of space-time. All measures including space or time are
relative, as none of the two is constant and the entire space-time structure depends on
the distribution of matter throughout the Universe.

The consequences of these new concepts are essential to science and its philosophy,
changing the way we view our world. Einstein's theories are used today in cosmology and
astrophysics, although the theories of classical physics still stand – they apply to more
simple matters where objects are large (therefore not dealt with in quantum physics) and
travelling slowly compared to the speed of light.
2. RELIGION

a. Hinduism

Hinduism is one of the oldest surviving Asian religions, mainly practised on the Indian
subcontinent. It is a complex socio-religious organism, rather than merely a philosophy. It
implies rituals, ceremonies, various spiritual disciplines and an impressive number of male
and female deities.
The roots of Hinduism are to be found in the Vedas – an anthology of ancient texts written
by anonymus authors in Sanskrit. The latest of these writings are the Upanishads and they
hold the spiritual teachings of Hinduism. However most of the people have learned the
essence of this religion through a vast series of epic poems or myths, more accessible to
the common man. The main idea is that all phenomena are different manifestations of the
same reality or divine essence of the Universe – Brahman. Brahman is infinite and it
cannot be understood with intellectual effort, nor can it be expressed in words. That is
why Hinduists have made Brahman a god - to be more accessible through myth and
symbols. All other gods are simply manifestations or different aspects of Brahman.
The most important Hindu gods are Vishnu, Shiva and the Great Goddess. Shiva has many
different manifestations and, when representing Brahman, he is called Mahesvara or the
Supreme God. The most popular representation of Shiva is that of the Dancing God – the
Dance of Shiva creates and destroys worlds and through the rhythm he keeps the
Universe moving. Vishnu, often identified with Krishna, has the role of organising the
Universe. The Great Goddess, Shakti, wife of Shiva, is often depicted with her husband in
passionate embrace.
Hinduism does not condemn sensuality – in contrast to western religions – and has always
believed in the sacred unity of spirit and body. The vast number of gods, both male and
female, has been quite shocking to Europeans who failed to understand that all of these
were merely different incarnations and hypostasises of the divine principle – Brahman.
Among the ideas of Hinduism, one of the most striking ones is that it is believed the
Universe was created through the god's sacrifice (in the sence of sacredness) – a creation
called Iila. According to Hinduists, the god gives birth to the world that will evetually
return to him. One of the fundamental concepts of Indian belief is maya and, in time, it
has changed its meaning from 'magical creative power' to the state of the one in awe
before the magical creation. If one confuses the different aspects of Iila with actual reality,
he is trapped in maya – the illusion that concepts are realities themselves. Furthermore,
what we see is believed to be an illusion – everything adds up to Brahman – the ultimate
reality.
The multiplicity of reality is fluid, changing and dynamic thanks to a force called karma
which literally means 'action'. It is considered to be the force that brings everything to life.
Psichologically, karma means that we are 'chained' in the reality we perceive with our
senses and fail to realise that it all forms a single entity. One must set himself loose of
maya and karma to acheive revelation and to completely understand the Universe. The
experience through which one directly percieves the world is moksha – the supreme goal
of Hinduists.
The Hinduists have various ways through which they can achieve moksha: daily
meditation, spiritual exercises, the practice of yoga or transforming the Divine entity into
different deities.

b. Buddhism

The founder of Buddhism is the Indian Siddharta Gautama or Buddha, whose name
translates as 'the awaken one'. Buddhism tends to focus on the human condition,
suffering and frustration, searching for a psichological 'cure' rather than having a religious
doctrine and it is insisted upon the fact that man is free from any spiritual authority, as
religion is viewed as a path leading to illumination.
There are two Buddhist schools: Hinayana and Mahayana, the last being less strict in the
interpretation of Buddha's teachings and the dominating one today. Because of the
spreading of its doctrine through vast teritories and different cultures, Buddhism was
adapted to merge with the ideas of the people who added original details to its essence.
The ideas of Buddhism are drawn from Siddharta's personal experiences, as intellect is
merely an instrument with which one can prepare for the direct and spiritual experience
called illumination. Once illumination is achieved, one is free from the limitations of senses
and rational thinking, acknowledging that reality is a single entity. Among Buddha's most
important teachings are the Four Truths:
1. there is suffering – duhkha – because of the difficulty of understanding that
everything is ephemeral
2. trishna is the cause of duhkha: willpower. Yearning for something based on an
eroneous view of life
3. frustration and suffering can be ended through nirvana – illumination
4. the way that leads to the extinction of suffering: the Eight Fold Path (observation,
self-awareness, meditation)
Buddhism states that reality cannot be chained in ideas and concepts. Reality is a void
named sunyata, meaning that the intellect with which man operates lacks substance.
When viewed as a void, reality is the source of life and the essence of all forms. The main
goal of nirvana is not to put one into a completely unknown state, but to awaken
conscience and help one realise that this is his original state of man:
'Each individual is a god. Each individual knows absolutely everything. We only need an
open mind to become aware of our own wisdom.' (Buddha)

c. Zen Buddhism

The origins of Zen Buddhism lay in the Chinese spiritual discipline Cha'an which was a
result of the clash between Buddhism and the Chinese way of thinking. Zen is a mixture of
three main Oriental religions: the mysticism of Hinduism, the spontaneity of Taoism and
the pragmatism of Confucianism.
The main - and only - goal of Zen Buddhism is illumination: satori. Zen has no doctrine or
religious system and no philosophy. D.T. Suzuki said 'Zen is discipline in illumination' and
it is the spiritual freedom that allwos Zen practicants to focus on activities that lead to
satori.
In Zen it is also believed, like in many other Oriental religions, that words cannot fully
comprise the essence of that which is intended, therefore language is insufficient. Zen
literature is almost integrally written under the form of dialogue and the masters have
dedicated themselves to illustrate verbal insufficiency through koans. A koan is a story,
dialogue, question or statement containing aspects that are inaccessible to rational
understanding, yet that may be accessible to intuition. The goal is to move the disciple's
attention from abstract ideas and concrete reality.
Satori does not imply isolation, but observation of common things, experiencing them in a
new way. There are two schools which aim for illumination, but plan to achieve it through
different methods: Rinzai (uses koans, meditation and master-disciple discussions) and
Soto (illumination by performing daily tasks and meditation). The Rinzai school applies the
'shock' method by producing different sounds or movements that can immediately put the
disciple into satori. Both schools practise meditation: the zazen posture and breathing
method are essential for preparing the disciple for illumination.
The influence of Zen in the Japanese way of life is obvious: the spiritual coordination
necessary for the practise of martial arts, the spontaneity needed in calligraphy and the
slow, focused but relaxed movement during the tea ceremony. True mastery is achieved
when technique goes beyond art, flowing from the subconscious.

d. Taoism

Chinese philosophy has focused on two different aspects of human life: social interaction
and religious belief. The first is illustrated by Confuciansim and the second by Taoism.
Confucianism has originated from the teachings of Kong Fu-Tse (or Confucius) and
incorporates the philosophy of moral and social conduct, being more practical. Taoism
involves observing nature and achieving happiness through following the natural flow of
things and being in constant harmony with the Universe.
The founder of Taoism is Lao Tse, his name literally meaning 'the old master'. The
fundamental texts that illustrate the Taoist concepts are Tao Te Ching – whose purpose is
to prove the ambiguity of verbal expression – and Chuang Tse. Both are compact and
suggestive, leaving abstract logics out and aiming to awake feelings in the reader rather
than to challenge his mind. Because of the grammar used in these texts, there are
multiple interpretations that are lost in attempts of translating them.
The central idea of Taoism is that the ultimate reality is hidden in all things and events.
This reality is called Tao or the Path, symbolising the order of the world. The Universe is
believed to be intrinsicly dynamic and all things and beings are a part of that movement,
drawing the conclusion that the world is permanently changing. This transformation is an
essential attribute of nature which takes place following a certain structure:
One of the characteristics of Tao is the cyclicity of the transformation, the expansion and
the contraction – movement based on opposites. The Chinese say that every time a state
evolves to its extreme, it returns and transforms into its opposite. The best illustration of
the two contraries is the pair Yin-Yang. They are the contrasting poles of one and the
same thing and their dynamic game (their movement or interaction) generates Tao.
The various combinations of Yin and Yang are described in I Ching or The Book of Change:
there are 64 hexagrams which are used as oracles. Each of these is formed of 3 lines ( –
– or ––– ) symbolising the two opposite principles Yin and Yang and each has its own
name and description which helps with the interpretation. However, the I Ching is used
more like an advisor rather than an oracle because it refers to the present and to taking
the best decision.
Taoism focuses only on intuitive understanding and despises rational thinking: one must
be free of intellectual barriers in order to access true consciousness. Taoists observe
nature when attempting to find the principle that governs the Universe and rely on
mysticism and intuition. Transformation and change are simply manifestations of the
dynamic interaction of Yin and Yang. Also, the unity of all things must be understood by
going beyond paradoxes and contraries, by understanding that opposites are
complements.
The Chinese say that every time you want to achieve something, you must start with its
opposite. Whenever you want to receive, you must first give away. Where there is light
there is darkness and where there is darkness there is light. The double nature of all
things makes reality relative and dependent on the observer.
Another important idea is that change is not the effect of any force, but an interior
tendency of things. Tao is spontaneous, natural and comes from within. A Chinese Taoist
said that 'One must float like a leaf on the river of life'. So we must not interfere or do
anything against nature – to not disturb it and the natural flow of things.

3. PARALLELS

Unexpectedly, the study of modern physics has revealed results of striking resemblance to
the fundamental ideas of Asian religions. Among these we find the unity of all things, the
perpetual cycle of the world, the cosmic dance of energy, the unity of contraries and the
insufficiency of language. Quantum physics, astrophysics, relativity all lead to the
conclusion that, for the last two millenia, we have been going around in a circle, only to
end up where we began and discovering that the fundamental truth of the Universe has
always been present in mysticism.

The most important ideas of Oriental religions are the unity of all things, seen as
manifestations of one single primordial entity or principle (Tao, Brahman) and the
intercorelation of all events as causes and effects. The understanding of this is illumination
(satori, nirvana), possible only through personal and direct experience and intuitive
comprehension, far from any intellectual effort. Normally, in every day life, we are not
aware of the unity of all things and perceive only fragments of reality, phenomena which
we classify and analyse. This is only an abstractisation scorned by intellect, an illusion
which we must not confuse with ultimate reality. Asian religion reorientates the mind
through meditation and distracts it from the false reality.
The idea that all things are a manifestation of the ultimate reality or the divine principle is
very well illustrated in Buddhism:
'The colour of the mountain
The echo of the valley,
All things are
The mind and the holy posture
Of Buddha Shakyamuni.'
(San Sho Do Ei by Dogen)
In modern physics – quantum physics to be exact – we come across the same idea: the
subatomic particles depend on each other and are interconnected, so they cannot be
viewed as separate entities. Physical reality is made of the object (such as an atom) and
the observer or observing system (apparatus and human observers). The observing
system is described with classical physics, which has been proven flawed when dealing
with quantum physics, but it is the only language that can express the results of the
obsrevation. The observed objects are described by probabilities: we can only make
predictions regarding the position of a particle or a phenomena. It is hard to tell at what
precise moment in time and into what combination of particles a particle disintegrates, so
there is no exact data, only speculation. Subatomic particles cannot be pinpointed, they
only have a 'localisation tendency' and the same is valid for atomic events. We cannot
predict where an electron of an atom is exactly, so we have images with 'probability
clouds' where the more intense the 'cloud', the bigger the chance to find an electron
there:

The problem is, when applied, the system of observation must be isolated from the object,
but theoretically the object depends on the observer and must therefore interact with it. In
quantum theory, different entities are idealisations that only make sense if there is a great
distance between them, preferably infinite. So there is no such thing as an isolated
particle: the properties of particles can only be observed when they interact with external
systems. Quantum theory forces scientists to see the Universe not as a gigantic collection
of objects, but as a system with complex connections between all of its elements,
something like a 'cosmic web'.
Oriental mystics see the Universe in the same way: all is intertwined, including the human
observer of nature and his conscience. As Heisenberg said, '…natural sciences are not
limited to describing nature and explaining it; they represent an aspect of our interaction
with nature.' The human cannot be neutral in science either, he takes part in the observer-
object interaction.
The idea that man is a participant to the direct, personal experience of illumination is also
to be found in physics where the researcher is a participant in the conducted experiment.
Quantum physics has abolished the idea of single, separated, isolated objects – the
Universe is a complex system of connections and interactions.

According to Asian mysticism, all things are manifestations of the Unique, but they aren't
necessarily equal: they are seen as both individuals and as an entity. The unity of the two
contraries makes them complementary. Contraries or opposites are concepts of intellect,
and since Orientals do not trust intellect when it comes to discovering the ultimate reality,
the concepts are believed to be relative. Mystics are able to go beyond paradoxes and are
aware of the polar relations of contraries.
'The basic idea in Buddhism is of transcending the world of contraries, a world built
on the distinctions of intellect and emotional states, and becoming conscious of the
spiritual world of non-discrimination, which implies the adopting an absolute point of
view. (D.T. Suzuki)

Zen Buddhism has a rich collection of riddles or koans, paradoxes on which the aspiring
one must meditate. An challenging example is one found in Fukanzazenji:
'To think from the depths of non-thinking;
To not think from the depths of thinking;
How to think without thinking?
How not to think by thinking?
This is hishiryo, the realm beyond thinking.
This is the secret of zazen.'

In Taoism, the dynamics of the cycle Yin-Yang illustrates the above-mentioned idea: both
Yin and Yang, the two opposites, are different aspects of Tao, therefore they are one and
the same thing, but viewed in two different ways.

In Hinduism, the female and male gods and goddesses are different manifestations of the
ultimate reality, Brahman.

The unity of opposites is also present in the world of modern physics. Because the
conceptual system of contraries born from daily experience cannot explain certain aspects
of quantum physics, there has been a change in the subatomic field, where the theory of
relativity has been validated. This theory is based on a four-dimensional continuum
formed of space and time – called space-time. In the past (classical physics) these two
concepts have been regarded as separate, unconnected and even as opposites. Modern
physics tells us that space-time is the fundamental entity on which the Universe is based
and that it is intrinsically dynamic, objects are at the same time processes and forms are
dynamic structures, in continuous motion.

The theory of relativity has also explained the paradox of classical physics: the double
nature of matter, which can be regarded as particles (discontinuous) or as fields
(continuous). The dificulties of accepting and understanding that these opposites are two
different manifestation forms of matter lies within the transition from classical to modern
physics: our concepts were based on a three-dimensional space, which our mind was
capable of picturing. However, the visualisation or understanding of space-time is far more
demanding and one must have a rich imagination to conceive a four-dimensional world.
Therefore it is hard to see that contraries are, in fact, one and the same thing.
At atomic level, matter has a dual character – it is both ondulatory and corpuscular,
manifesting itself sometimes as one and sometimes as the other, depending on the
situation: light and electromagnetic radiation behave in two ways:
Light appears as a particle in its emission and absorbtion points, but during its
propagation it appears to be a wave. It is known that there is no such thing as a particle
moving on ondulating trajectories. Matter manifests itself in two ways that seem to
exclude each other, hence the difficulty in accepting its dual nature. Atomic particles can
only be described with probabilities, so to solve the contradiction between particles and
waves there are so-called 'probability waves' (= mathematical abstractisations, functions
corelated with probabilities of finding particles with certain properties in certain points in
space). This solution, however, leads to another paradox: we cannot say wether the
particle exists in a certain point, nor that it doesn't exist – it has the tendency to exist. By
accepting this, science transcends the paradoxes, as do Oriental mysics.

As the following lines from the Zen poem 'Sandokai' say:


'In darkness there is light,
Do not look with darkened sight.
In light there is darkness,
Do not look with bright sight.'

Where there is one, there is the other, where there is Yin, there is Yang.

Physics has successfully went beyond the most radical contradictions, such as force and
matter, particle and wave, movement and resting, existenece and non-existence, realising
that they are merely manifestations of the same thing. We see that both scientists and
mystics must adept a special way of thinking, with a free and flexible mind to reach the
conclusion that 'That which is is neither existence, nor non-existence, niether something
that would unite these two at the same time, nor something that would exclude these two
at the same time.' (Ashvagosha) and 'Contraria sunt complementa' (Niels Bohr).

The limits of resources used to describe nature and the Universe have been confirmed by
both scientists and mystics. Language and concepts are creations of the human intellect,
inaccurate and unable to express personal experience and the ultimate truth:
'The river holds a long talk
Without interruption, from midnight to dawn,
He sings 84 000 sutras.
How could I the next day,
Make you understand all of its meanings?'
(Taisen Deshimaru)

In classical physics, geometry was the basis of philosophies, sciences and ways of seeing
the world. The Orientals have always thought geometry was simply a construction of the
human mind, inaccurate for the description of reality, limited, abstract and inefficient,
therefore never used to define truths. Also, Europeans failed to understand the meaning of
time because they viewed it separately from space, unlike the Asians.

The theory of relativity has proven that all space and time measurements are relative:
space depends on a point of reference (2D) and of the observer (3D), and time depends
on the speed with which the observer is travelling, as one may witness events
simultaneously while the other sees them successively. The differences or inaccuracies in
measurements based on classical physics are barely detectable in everyday life, but they
are significant when dealing with objects travelling at high speeds (closer to the speed of
light). Space and time are, conclusively, elements of language that differ from one
obserever to another. According to Einstein's principle of relativity, valid universal laws or
theories must be the same for every observer and for every coordinate system.

The difficulty in accepting what the theory of relativity implies lays in the apparent
paradoxes, the same difficulty with which common man is faced when trying to
understand Asian mysticism.
'Evolution has ensured that our brains just aren't equipped to visualise 11
dimensions directly. However, from a purely mathematical point of view it's just as
easy to think in 11 dimensions, as it is to think in three or four. ' (S. Hawking)

Orinetals transcend the 3D space and experience a multi-dimensional reality. In addition,


they have a powerful intuition of space-time interconnection:
'Looking around we notice that every object is linked to the other not only spacially
but also temporally. There is no space without time, there is no time without space;
they merge.' (D.T. Suzuki)

The general theory of relativity states that space-time is curved. We can always find out if
a surface is curved or not by measuring it and comparing theses values to the predicted
results of euclidian geometry. If there are differences, the surface is curved and the bigger
the difference, the greater the curvure. If space-time is curved, then the mass distribution
varies from one area to the other, and since time passes with different speeds throughout
the Universe according to mass-distribution, we draw the conclusion that time is also
relative and it changes its speed in the vicinity of massed bodies. The consequences of
relativity have been confirmed by astrophysics, while classical physics is still used today
because the gravitational effects are smaller and can be neglected when applied to our
world.

Transcending the common notions of 'space' and 'time' is the only way we can explain the
Universe. This involves re-inventing concepts such as 'past', 'future', 'present', 'moment',
etc. It has been proven in theory that the chronological order of events is relative and it is
possible to go not only from past to future, but also backwards in time. The following
example illustrates this new idea.
The arrows represent the movement in space-time of a particle. If the arrow is parallel to
the time axis, the particle does not change its position in space, it only travells through
time. The greater the inclination angle of the arrow, the greater the speed of the particle.
The arrows are called 'universe lines'.

It is known that each particle has an antiparticle (= a particle with equal mass, but with
opposite electric charge). For our example we will use electrons (e–) and photons (). The
antipaqrticle of the electron is the positron (e+) and that of the photon is the photon itself
(it has no electric charge).
The direction of a particle doesn't have to be specified, as it only moves forward in time,
so:

= particle = antiparticle

The same collision process between a photon and an antiparticle will look like this:

We can interpretate this second figure in two ways: 1. a positron is moving forward in time
2. an electron moving backward in time
Mathematically, both interpretations are correct, respecting the symmetry to the time
axis.
To avoid difficulty in interpretation, we view diagrams as 4D structures of intercorelated
events with no particular direction in time, as time is relative. Relativist space-time is, in
conclusion, timeless because we cannot predict the order of the events in time: there is no
'before', 'after', past, present or future, and consequentially no cause and effect.
Everything is relative and intercorelated with everything else.

Brahman for Hinduists, Dharmakaya or Tathata for Buddhists and Tao for Taoists - all
these names stand for the divine principle that governs the Universe, a reality beyond
conceptualising that defies all attempts of definition. The dynamics of this cosmic entity
are known to the mystic who observes the many manifestations of it, manifestations that
live and die, forming a cycle. We live in a world of movement, transformation, flow,
change, a living cosmic web that continuously evolves.

The term 'Brahman' comes from 'brih', literally meaning growth, and it stands for the
principle described by the Hinduists as 'the immortal, the moving'. The word 'Rita' (from
the Rig Veda) translates as 'movement'. 'Karma' means action or motion. 'Tao' signifies
cyclicity and change. It would seem that all of the three Orinetal religions (Taoism,
Buddhism and Hinduism) agree with the fact that the Universe is always moving and
continuously evolving.

The dynamic character of the Universe can also be found in physics, at a subatomic level,
and in astrophysics: the particles and the cosmic bodies.
In astrophysics, we can observe the dynamic structures when looking at stars, planets or
galaxies. The movement and change are present in the evolution of the stars: they are
formed by interstelar gas, a process followed by contraction, which will lead to expansion
and the final collapse of the star. So we can say that the stars are, indeed, always
evolving and changing, making the entire Universe dynamic.
Thanks to Edwin Hubble's observations of space and galaxies, we now know that our
Universe is expanding. Hubble noticed, by observing the light of other galaxies that reach
us, that these are moving away from us and that the closer they are to our galaxy, the
faster they move away. He had come to the conclusion that the Universe is expanding in
multi-dimensional space. This process is often compared to blowing air into a balloon, the
balloon growing and the points on its surface (equivalents of the galaxies) moving farther
away from each other. We were able to calculate the starting point of the expansion:
about 10.000 mil. years ago. It was supposedly caused by the explosion of the 'primordial
fireball' – an event called the Big Bang. The expansion is considered to be the reminiscent
impulse of the initial Bang. The conclusion is, we are still exploding.

With the Big Bang came time and space – properties of the Universe – but we don't know
what was there before that. One of the theories, also present in Hinduism, is that after the
exlposion has reached a certain point, the Universe will contract and re-become a 'ball' of
matter which will again explode, thus continuing the cycle. Hinduists describe the
Universe as being in a continuous expansion as well.
In quantum physics, it has been noticed that whenever a particle is constrainted to remain
in a small area of space, it reacts by rotating in that area: the bigger the constraint, the
greater the speed of rotation. Since particles are the 'building blocks' of matter, their
movement applies to all things, proving that the Universe is in motion. Things appear to
be passive, but at a closer look we find that they are all active and always changing. The
atom is a perfect illustration of this dynamic balance: the electrons are tied to the nucleus
through electrical forces, keeping the structure compact, which is equivalent to
constraints, hence the high speed of rotation.

A consequence of Einstein's theory of relativity from the equation E=mc2 (where E is


energy, m is mass and c is the speed of light ≈300.000km/s), is that mass is a form of
energy. This means that mass is not indestructable, but transformable into other forms of
energy. For example, as a result of the collision of two subatomic particles, the particles
are destroyed, but the energy of their mass becomes kinetic energy which is passed on to
the other particles that participate in the process. Another possibility is that two high
velocity particles collide, releasing kinetic energy that becomes mass which is distributed
to newly created particles.

They are destroyed and recreated, a process that very much resembles the Oriental idea
of a continuous cosmic dance – the Dance of Shiva, which through its dynamics creates
and destroyes worlds. Particles are conglomerates of energy, which implies dynamics, and
through their 'regenerations', they represent a process themselves – of creation and
destruction.

The central idea of this experiment is present in the Asian religions, too. To the Buddhists,
all things are ephemeral and there is no such thing as material substance. In their view,
everything is part of a universal flux, nothing is static or eternal and all things lack
substance. To quote the Buddhist Milindapanha sutra:
'O, Great King! Here man is born and dies, there he dies and is born, then he is born
again and dies again, he is born, he dies…O, Great King, this is samsara. […] It is like
the mango seed which you plant to eat the fruit. When the tree has grown and has
fruits, people eat the fruits, then plant the seeds. And from these seeds, a big mango
tree grows, which makes fruits. That way the tree cannot have an end.'

In classical physics, particles are consiedered to be solids that move in viod. However, this
idea has been reconsidered because of the results of research in modern physics. The
concept 'void' has changed its meaning with the evolution of physics and has become a
very important dynamic size.

The term 'field' was first introduced into physics by Faraday and Maxwell and was used to
describe the interaction between electric charges and electric current. The electric field is
a form of existence around a body which is electrically charged, generating a force
exerted on every other charged object in its vicinity. Relativity has unified concepts such
as charge and current or electric field and magnetic field, making its theories even more
elegant: electric charge can manifest itself as current, so its electric field can manifest
itself as a magnetic field, resulting in the electromagnetic field. In addition, we have the
gravitational field which only acts on massed bodies. According to the theory of relativity,
a massed body influences the surrounding space more than an electrically charged body
influences the electrodynamic field, therefore space is in such a 'state' that every other
body can feel a force, but geometry and space structure are also affected. Where there is
a massed body, there is a gravitational field, resulting in a curvure of the surrounding
space (space-time).

The term 'quantum field' defines a physical and fundamental entity that is to be found
everywhere in space. The particle is considered to be a local field condensation that
comes and goes, merging into the field. The idea is also present in Asian mysticism: all
phenomenological manifestations are passive. Scientists have tried to unite all types of
field to obtain a fundamental one that includes and explains all physical phenomena. This
trial to unite everything under one name in physics can be identified with the Brahman,
Dharmakaya or Tao of mystics, which represent the ultimate reality, transcending any
form and defying descriptions or specifics.
In Oriental religions, this divine principle is often referred to as 'void', not in a way that
would signify emptiness, but rather the essence of all things and life itself, as so often
mentioned in Buddhism and the Upanishads. In Taoism it is said that 'The Tao of the Skies
is empty and without shape'. The void of mystics holds an immense capacity of creating, it
generates an infinite variety of forms, sustains them and reabsorbs them. Its
manifestations are dynamic and ephemeral, resembling the continuous 'dance' of energy
in physics. There is also the idea that, because the world originated from void, it has no
fundamental identity and that all is passive and inpersistent. The Buddhists deny the
existence of matter, to them everything is an illusion. To the Chinese, Tao is void and
shapeless, yet produces everything we see, it is associated with the gas or ether known as
ch'i which animates the cosmos and is responsible for all interactions.
In physics, the field is an everpresent continuum, yet the form of its particles appears to
be discontinuous, emphasising the contradiction, the opposites that both mystics and
scientists must go beyond to understand the Universe. According to the Orientals, void
and form are a cycle, opposites that succeed each other the same way Yin and Yang do.
A very important principle of classical physics is that the repelling of two identically
charged particles (e.g. electrons) is caused by a force of interaction between them.
Modern physics has disproved this theory and proven that there is no force between the
two, only a certain form of interaction:

Notice that the interaction between the two electrons is not simply a repelling, but the
exchange of a photon. This would mean that the force consists merely of the exchange of
a particle and the trajectory deviations of the two electrons, making the concept of 'force'
useless to quantum physics. In electromagnetism, the process is identical. In the nuclear
area, where nucleons interact at a much higher level, there is an exchange of mesons: the
closer the nucleons, the morenumerous and the faster the mesons. The mesons
themselves interact through particle exchange. Quantum theory states that every
interaction between particles can be represented as space-time diagrams (called Feynman
diagrams – after Richard Feynman) and to each diagram we can associate mathematical
expressions that enable us to calculate the appearing probabilities of the process of
particle exchange. The destruction of photons can only be explained in quantum physics,
where particles are not indestructable, but dynamic, changing structures implying
energies that are redistributed to other structures around it. Creating a massed particle is
only possible as the result of a collision between two other particles, which will produce
the necessary energy. Sometimes (when dealt with powerful interactions) the released
energy isn't big enough, so theoretically it would be impossible for the mesons (in our
example pions) to transfer. Yet, they do:

The two protons exchange a pion because the amount of time needed for their interaction
is so small that there is some uncertainty in knowing the energy – enough uncertainty to
allow meson creation and eliberation. This meson is a 'virtual' particle, different from 'real'
mesons because it only exists in an interval of time equal to that allowed by the principle.
In quantum field theory, all interactions are exchanges of virtual particles. Nucleons can
emit and reabsorb virtual particles, for example, without having to interact with other
particles. This process is called 'auto-interaction'. The process is very frequent in quantum
physics and the nucleons are always surrounded by a 'cloud' of virtual particles. The
clouds are created because the virtual mesons must disappear soon after they are
created, so they must stay close to the nucleon, which explains why the cloud is so small.
These mesons have a short life, being reabsorbed, unless the nucleon hits another high
speed particle, eliberating energy which sets mesons free, creating 'real' mesons out of
'virtual' ones.

The conclusion is, force is a consequence of particle exchange, it is intrinsic and identifies
with matter. There is a similar concept in Eastern religions, that motion and change are
intrinsic properties of all things, as Chuang Tse said:
'The laws of nature are not forces imposed from outside, but by the harmony of the
interior movement.'
Modern physics has abolished the idea that matter and void are two diferent things, as
particles cannot be separated from their surrounding space. Void and matter are
condensations of the everpresent space, illustrated by the fact that particles can appear
and disappear just as well without interactions: coming and going from nowhere to
nowhere. Thus, void is not empty, but it contains continuous formings and destructions of
particles, or, according to mystics, they are they potential existence of every possible
form.

Mystics and Orientals have agreed that nature has a dynamic character, the particles
which are the building blocks of the world are dynamic structures that represent the
foundation of a gigantic cosmic web. The Universe is based on a continuous cycle of
interactions, on the key processes of creation and destruction. It appears that the
Universe finds itself in a cosmic dance of energy based on a certain structure or pattern.
'The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not
happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain
underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. ' (S. Hawking)
We know that everything is built of cells, molecules, atoms, particles. Particles can be
classified into protons, neutrons, electrons and photons (photons have no mass and are
electromagnetic radiation). While protons, electrons and photons are stable (which means
that they have a long life provided that they do not collide with other particles), neutrons
have the capacity of spontaneously disintegrating, a process known as 'beta
disintegration', where a neutron becomes a proton and in addition creates an electron and
a neutrino. This means that an atom containing a neutron that takes part in that process
can change into a different type of atom.

Today, we only know few particles, all of them participating in various types of interaction.
Most of them are involved in powerful ones, such as nuclear interactions (e.g. the forming
of a nucleus). These particles are called hadrons and they divide into mesons and barions.
Other types of interaction are electromagnetic, weak and gravitational interactions. The
last one is so weak that it is undetectable, but we know it's there because it generates the
gravitational force and thus forms planetary, stelar and galactic systems.
The electromagnetic interactions form atoms and molecules.

Particles called leptons (such as neutrinos, electrons and miuons) participate in weak
interactions, where there are small radiuses of interaction and they consist of collision
processes or disintegration. When weak interactions combine with powerful ones in high
energy physics, they produce a complex sequence of events: collision, destruction and
creation of particles. The results can be observed in a bubble room:
The greater the initial energy of these processes, the more particles created.

Today we can artificially produce particle collisions, in laboratories with high speed
accelerators, where particles are accelerated until they reach the necessary energy for the
desired collision. This kind of collision isn't naturally present on Earth, where energies are
lower, but they are in cosmic space, appearing as natural phenomena. These events
produce radiation: radio waves, light beams, X-rays or cosmic radiation. Cosmic radiation
is still a mystery to scientists today, as it is caused not only by photons, but also by high
energy protons (impossible to recreate on Earth) and other unknown particles. Cosmic
rays hit the Earth's atmosphere where they collide with molecules in the air, creating new
particles that either disintegrate or participate in other collisions. The result of this series
of events is particles hitting the Earth's surface, a spectacle of particle 'shower', beautiful
when observed.

The same process takes place in the Earth's atmosphere, at greater intensity than
artificially created collisions. It has been referred to as 'the rhythmic dance of creation and
annihilation' of particles. (F. Capra)
Also, these processes include the creation and disintegration of virtual particles that don't
live long enough to be observed. An example would be the collision of a proton and an
anti-proton:
This leads to the conclusion that the traces detected in the bubble room are not
everything. The real process is far more complicated: every involved particle emits and
creates virtual particles in such a short period of time that they are barely observable.

It is important to keep in mind that all of these processes belong to the field of quantum
physics and that they more likely represent probabilities than real processes.

When describing these events and experiments, scientists tend to use such expressions
as 'dance of energy' or 'dance of creation and destruction' (K.W. Ford), imagining the flux
created by these collisions, as rhythm and motion are essential to modern physics.
Everything participates in this cosmic dance.
Mystics have also used the metaphor of 'dance' when speaking about the uninterrupted
cycle of succession, of life and death. Perhaps the most beautiful illustration of the cosmic
dance is the Hinduist god Shiva, also referred to as the King of Dancers. Life is regarded
as a rhythmic process, a cycle of degradation and regeneration, creation and destruction.
This cycle keeps everything in balance. The Dance of Shiva is therefore a metaphor for the
dynamics of the entire Universe.

Scientists have understood that creation and annihilation are the basis of all existence,
fact also proven with anorganic matter. Particles auto-interact, giving birth to virtual
particles which they reabsorb. The particles are in themselves the dance of the cosmos.
Both the picture taken in the bubble room and the bronze statues depicting the Dancing
God of Hinduists are beautiful metaphors for the flow and dance of the Universe –
'Poetry, nevertheless science' (Coomaraswami).

The overall conclusion of this analysis is that modern physics theories seem to somehow
blend in to the ideas of Oriental mysticism and viceversa, building our image of the
Universe. In the end, these two apparently very different points of view seem to illustrate
the same ideas, merging into the big picture. The two philosophies that for so many years
have seemed incompatible are proving to be merely two manifestations of the ultimate
reality we are all seeking to understand. In themselves, physics and religion can be
regarded as the Yin and Yang of human ideology, both expressing the same concepts,
both relieing on the same fundaments, both trying to tell the same truth.
Author: Marinescu Emanuela
XI.B

Resources:

Books: The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra


A Brief Histroy of Time – Stephen Hawking
Zen and everyday life – Taisen Deshimaru
Internet: http://www.wikipedia.org
http://www.hi.is/~hj/QuantumMechanics/quantum.html