We have long thought that the model of Mathematics and Sciences is flawed, i.e., there cannot be a system based on proofs that explains the Universe in its entirety. Contrary to the relatively recent field of mathematics, Ancient Indian Philosophy has a different approach to explaining the working of the Universe and how to use it to our advantage.
This article highlights the difference in the approaches of the Scientific method and the compilation of the Vedas [Knowledge]. It will also attempt to provide evidence that, maybe with the progress of modern science we are just rediscovering something already discovered by the scientists of 1500 BCE.
An interesting Scenario
Two artists are painting the same scenery. The first artist is Sam, and the other is Tam.
So, this is what happens once they both arrive: Sam sets up the canvas and his palate of primary colours. He then starts to paint from the left corner of the scenery. As Sam progresses and notices some beautiful things, he invents the required colours. He is soon stuck as he is unable to paint what he sees. Not wanting to give up, he continues, in the hope to get back once he has the right colours. It takes him a long but enjoyable time to complete the painting. He is proud and excited to share his journey and how he managed to complete the painting.
On the other hand, Tam, upon arrival, just sat in his chair and absorbed every part of the scenery. Then he chose the colours that were required and let the scenery speak through him. After Tam completed it, he admired the painting and the scenery and allowed the people to enjoy it. He then moved on to the next one, helping people achieve the same and living happily.
It is important to note that in the end, both seem satisfied and happy and that the goal, in this case, was finite/achievable.
This idea can be seen as analogous to the Scientific Method and Indian Philosophy. The Scenery is the ‘Universe’, and the ‘Painting’ is explaining or understanding it. Also, maybe use this knowledge to our benefit. Before we dive deep in, let us look at how the Scientific Method is defined and about an idea that shows us how Math and Science may not be the right way to approach this problem.
The Scientific Method, developed in the 300 century BC, involves six steps – asking a question, looking at existing ideas, constructing a hypothesis, testing it, analysing the results, and sharing them. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was among the first known people to promote that observation and reasoning must be applied to understand how nature works.
There are some basic ideas that everyone must agree upon. They can’t be proved but are a product of simple logic. They are called Axioms. All theorems of Math must be expressed in terms of the axioms. This ensures that all the proofs obtained are true and describe the Universe correctly. Scientists are continuing to develop the scientific method with advancement in new techniques.
Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem
In the 20th century, the world saw two ground-breaking theorems by Kurt Gödel, which comprise Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem. Though widely used in Computer Science, it can be helpful to gain perspective.
The Incompleteness theorem states:
- There is no consistent system of axioms that is listed as algorithms which can prove all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers. For such a formal system, there will always be unprovable true statements.
- The system can’t demonstrate its own consistency.
The proof included simply rewriting the statement “This statement can’t be proved” as a mathematical statement. If it is false, then it can be proved that the statement can’t be proved, which makes it a contradicting result. Hence, the statement must be true, but can’t be proved. This is one of the ways he shows that a system with axioms and algorithms will always have unprovable true statements.
In our attempt to describe the Universe this is a hurdle, as we cannot have a system that explains the universe completely, that is based on axioms.
How do the Vedas help?
Now that it is evident that we can’t use Math and with extension, Physics to explain the entirety of the Universe. One may think, if only we had a system not based on axioms and not made by us. Then you may not be far from another approach. Such a system was already developed by ancient Indian scientists. The approach was similar to Tam from our thought experiment. Though the details of the structure and how of the Vedas are extremely advanced to be discussed here, we can get an idea by considering the following situation: It all started with the basic observation that we are not the creators of the Universe. Therefore, if we can communicate with the ‘creator’ we could obtain a deeper understanding of the Universe and maybe use it to make our lives easier and better. The next logical step would be to figure out how to communicate.
When we look at other living organisms we observe – Somehow, they know exactly what do to, how to walk, eat, etc. but they are limited by no freedom of choice or discrimination, unlike humans. Therefore, it can be concluded that the animals are governed by the ‘creator’, and we can communicate by becoming a part of nature or in other words, live in harmony with what the Universe wants. Note that this does not imply that the attributes of humans like intellect, ego, mind, etc. are lost. They just become flourished or heightened. This is what the scientists of the era did. Soon, they compiled all their conversations or observations on the Universe. This compilation is the Vedas and other scriptures. It is important to note that the documentation is just an expression of the experience (knowledge), but it can’t be expressed through any language as that will be our creation. The best they can do is guide us to learn this on our own.
For example, Indian Astrology called “Jyotisha” is a system to help people live their lives with the least suffering possible and guide them to make the right choices. It was developed centuries before Newton and regarded the Earth as spherical and also succeeded in accurately measuring planetary motion. The ideas used the basics of Mechanics and mathematics as a tool.
In another example, the idea of infinity/zero was expressed in the following prose –
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते ।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥
Om Puurnnam-Adah Puurnnam-Idam Puurnnaat-Puurnnam-Udacyate |
Puurnnasya Puurnnam-Aadaaya Puurnnam-Eva-Avashissyate ||
The meaning can be interpreted as This is whole (A), that is whole (B) and the sum of these (A+B) is also whole. Even when removing A form B the remainder is the whole. Here, A and B are infinity/zero.
Further, there were many engineering marvels, for example, in aviation, the concept and making of aeroplanes (Pushpakviman) was a well-known concept. Baradwaj Vaimanik Shastra is an ancient scripture, written about 5000 years ago, where Rishi Baradwaj explains how to make a plane. It is complete with diagrams and methodology. But modern planes have come into scientific history only in the past century.
It is also seen throughout the Vedas that mathematics is a tool to use and manipulate patterns. It is an integral part of all explanations and not treated as a separate subject or field.
The system used has no axioms as the information is not built on something but just as it is. This resolves the issue of proving consistency.
It can also be interpreted as, instead of fitting the Universe in a model created by humans, we take the Universe itself to be the model.
Note that these results are not a consequence of any systemic definition or theories. They are just ideas presented that can be used to satisfy any specific requirement. This contrasts with today’s research that looks for consequences of theoretical facts that are confirmed by reality.
Even if we agree with this, Maths and Physics have been extremely useful in this world. Maybe not for a deeper understanding but on the superficial level, we have achieved a lot.
How to use this idea?
The system of Indian philosophy is extremely helpful. It allows us to create multiple systems that don’t need to be compatible with the others. Here the presence of axioms may not be an issue as we are trying to use it for one specific field or idea. We could have a system on some axioms for a specific task. It will create multiple disciplines that all explain the same thing, but one is more suitable for what we require, giving us more options and liberties than what we were first able to.
This is like creating tools for different types of things, but our limitations are none. We can use anything we learn from the Universe to apply to the benefit of humans. It can be partly seen in how we use Newton’s Laws for things that are relatively our size, even though at the quantum level we require a different kind of physics. No one Physics needs to be true, as all ultimately can’t explain the Universe in its entirety. This way we can use many new tools previously unknown. We will also gain a massive boost in innovation, as the understanding of the Universe is something that is already discovered.
The Scientific Method was developed to organize and create a system that will be beneficial to mankind. So far, we have gained far more than anyone ever imagined and have established various new fields of science. But as we progress some drawbacks of the method become evident and limiting.
The proposed idea allows us to modify Science and gain immense perspective into the working of the Universe through Science. Looking forward to a world of limitless possibilities coming true, we arrive at the question –
“Are we rediscovering the discovered?”