(CHAKRA Blogs) I am sharing some of my thoughts on Science, vedAnta and free-will. I will be looking at these ideas through the Vedic lens, incorporating them into our present scientific understanding.
Science does not ‘define’ fundamentals, it ‘describes’ phenomenons and interactions. Science helps us see connections and make material sense of this jagat by coming up with more and more refined models. Science is not an absolute; rather, it is the best fitting approximation working within certain constraints, satisfying certain parameters which are known. When a parameter is not fulfilled, the model has to be replaced with a better one. This self-correcting mechanism of science according to me is its greatest glory, wherein it holds no inertia in dismissing what has been disproven- this is one of the highest forms of intellectual honesty.
As science gets grittier on the micro-scale and enters the Quantum realm, the distinction between subject/object, knower/known gets blurred (of course this is a foreshadowing of what advaita presents us, wherein it ultimately dismisses duality through the knowledge of brahman- but that is a different subject for another day)
Now, science has its fixed domain, this domain is the objective world, the world of ‘stuff’- of tangibles and transactions (this needs to be discussed first, before diving into the topic of free-will).
Classical transactions themselves are of two types:
1) The ones following Newtonian/Einsteinian laws- motion, colliding bodies, the various forces acting upon them, space-time etc. These are predictable and their future positions/states can be formulated by understanding their present positions/state to a high degree, though never fully (Google Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’). This we can classify as a deterministic transaction, and is mostly calculable.
2) The ones that do not follow the smooth laws of motion and space-time, but are foamy, jumpy and quirky and unpredictable in nature (kind of what I was like as a child ;)). Their present states do not determine their future states (though probabilities can be assigned to them). This can be classified as an in-deterministic transaction, and is mostly randomized/chaotic.
One must understand that there is NO solid line of difference between deterministic and in-deterministic behavior, it is a smooth transition.
Of course on the quantum scale one assumes quarks, electrons etc. to display in-determinism, and on the large scales we generally accept things to follow simple, linear laws of motions (like cars, rocket-ships, baseballs etc). So what are some things that can turn large scale objects into displaying chaotic behavior? The answer is ‘complexity’.
Consider the following example (ignore numbers). Let us suppose you have only one planet in the solar system, say earth, without any external gravitational influence except for the sun. The motion of earth around the sun can easily help one draw a predictable orbit. You would have a fairly good idea where the planet would be situated six months from now, with say a 99.9% confidence level. Let’s complicate things now and add 3-4 more planets. Each of them exert a gravitational tug on the other, the uncertainty rises, and so does the error margin. Now you can only calculate the orbit 6 months now with maybe an 80% confidence level. Add another 100 planets, and the accuracy may be just a couple of percent. Add a few million, and it will burn the circuitry of a supercomputer. Thus as we increase the complexity of a system, it becomes more unpredictable in nature. This is not mystical, but simply attested by the fact that one can never have complete knowledge of a single component, when you add more components the resulting uncertainties increase exponentially, which we term as ‘chaotic’.
Now, this is where things get tricky. If something is fully deterministic, it cannot be said to possess free will, because it follows a fixed, predictable pattern. On the other hand, can one look at an erratic movement and consider it a product of free-will? The answer here is less obvious, but still NO, because my free-will allows me to determine what I will be doing 60 seconds from now
So free will seems to borrow some of its properties from determinism, and some from chaos, and yet it is neither. This is where we bid a temporary farewell to science.
Since the instruments of science are physical, they can only enquire into the physical/tangible world- what we call the sthUla prapanchAt, what individuals transact ‘with’ and ‘within’. There is, however, another component to this jagat, the sUkshma prapaNchAt (subtle world) which goes neglected. Just as we have ‘physical stuff’ making up the physical world, similarly we have subtle “stuff” that makes up our thoughts, dreams etc.
While body in itself is an empty, lifeless shell, what lends it sentiency is the sUkshma sharira (subtle body/antaHkaraNa- inner-organ), which in turn is lent sentiency by chit (consciousness).
A deeper reading of the very first verse of kenopanishad reveals something new- I’m a fool for not making this connection earlier. The student asks: keneshitam patati presitam manaH? (What is that in the presence of which the mind moves towards its objects?) Since free-will allows me to direct my mind (and actions) in the place I want, this implies free-will is an intrinsic property of the antaHkaraNa
Now that we know the locus of free-will lies (in the mind- sUkshma sharira), we will understand its nature by first exploring its origins. Hold this thought as we re-trace our steps back to where it all began, then it will all fit nicely together.
The un-manifest world is present in its seed form, this is the causal state. The causal universe is the dormant mAyA shakti which has its base in brahman. When the mAyA shakti is activated, brahman now plays the role of Ishvara.
This shakti can be divided into 3 components: ichchA shakti- the ability to will, jNana shakti- the ability to know, and kriyA shakti- the ability to ‘do/act’. Ishvara is first identified with the causal universe, and is termed as antaryAmi. The causal universe manifests into the sUkshma bhUtAs (subtle elements- AkAsh, vAyu, agni, ApaH, pRthvi) and forms the sUkshma prapanchAt (subtle universe), and Ishvara is now termed as ‘hiranyagarbhA’. Some portions of the subtle universe undergo grossification, and the pancha bhUtAs combine to form the pancha bhautiKas, which form the physical universe we see around us, which now gives Ishvara the new title- ‘virAT’.
Here is the secret: Some remnants of the mAyA shakti that went into the manifestation of universe is also within the control of the manifested jIvas. While Ishvara can have the will to bring about a highly complex jagat into being (ichchA shakti), the jIva has the will to fulfill a few of his measly desires. While Ishvara is savajNa- all knowing (jNAna shakti), the jiva knows a few things about Engineering, Accounting etc. While Ishvara can manifest this world, the poor jiva can maybe use some of that material to build a clay pot, or a building. While Ishvara possesses limitless mAyA shakti, the jIva possesses very limited mAyA shakti.
FREE WILL IS A MANIFESTATION OF ISHVARA’S ICCHA SHAKTI, JNANA SHAKTI, KRIYA SHAKTI EXPRESSED IN LIMITED MEASURE THROUGH THE JIVA.
With this understanding, we can say the following: The epi-phenomenon of complexities within a system (jIva) enables the expression of mAyA shakti manifesting as free-wil. hariH Om