Science & Philosophy - Yin & Yang of Innovation!

Recently, during a talk on innovation as I explained the significance of philosophy and spiritualty, in the process of innovation, I was interrupted. The young woman at the premiere institute was skeptical about even getting into philosophy as we spoke innovation. Technology, Science, AI and existing models were enough to her. Why even bother about philosophy and spirituality, she was flummoxed. It is important for us to know who we are, where we have come from and where we are going, I explained. She wasn’t convinced. Some of the smartphone toting people think that the world prior to the 20th century was an antecedent to the stone ages. When they think science, more often than not, they are thinking of technology. I tried to explain that Science has always been evolving and in the process of discovery, using a scientific temperament of reason and logic.

The world today is going through a phenomenal metamorphosis that is affecting all. Be it the climate change or economic downturn, political shifts or the rising unease in certain parts of the world, everyone is affected. We need to come together as a human race rather than drift apart. We should leverage any and all kinds of knowledge and wisdom, to augment the quality of our lives. I find myself straddling two worlds, all the time - science & spirituality, east & west, masculinity & femininity - yin & yang. Despite the dichotomy, coexistence is not a choice. It’s a necessity.

As a kid, visiting a rail yard with my Nanaji - maternal grandfather - and seeing the humongous locomotives shunting the bogies was beguiling. Occasionally, Nanaji would allow us kids to get into an engine, that the staff was just too eager to oblige anyway. Learning is fun when your entire being is involved. Years later, in the physics and math classes, relative speeds of trains moving in the same versus the opposite directions and relativity made much more sense with the sounds and screeches from the rail yard in the childhood, still echoing in my head. Occasional admonishing from Nanaji for not jumping off the moving toy train, on the idea of relative motion and why one would fall after jumping off a moving object rings crystal clear till date.

During my spiritual travails, living in the Himalayas with my Guruji was learning and realizations of a higher dimension. Spirituality is too simple a term for the multi-dimensional, experiential learning. The key to such are knowing one’s breath and meditation. A simpleton likes to call it obscurantist psychobabble. These are the kind of people who want to learn Math without knowing numbers. Travesty at best!

The most fundamental discoveries that changed the course of modern science aren’t bereft of esoteric wisdom. Be it Heisenberg’s Principle or Planck’s Constant, Kekulé's Benzene ring or Schrödinger's experiments that they arrived at, in their visions or dreams, these were not freak coincidences. These scientists were effectively in deep meditative states, emanating from extreme focus - likely from their work. This made them tap into the Turiya or the 4th state of awareness beyond waking, dreaming and sleeping. In this state, a person is able to tap into the higher dimensions and potentially experience supernatural phenomena. When one has not found that special calling and as a result, can’t get into the deeply meditative states that these Scientists did, the alternative is, spiritual practices. Rather a precursor to it.

An excerpt from People and Discoveries section, PBS channel:

“In 1927, Werner Heisenberg was in Denmark working at Niels Bohr's research institute in Copenhagen. The two scientists worked closely on theoretical investigations into quantum theory and the nature of physics. Bohr was away on a skiing holiday, and Heisenberg was left to mull things over himself. He had a shocking but clear realization about the limits of physical knowledge: the act of observing alters the reality being observed. At least at the subatomic level. To measure the properties of a particle such as an electron, one needs to use a measuring device, usually light or radiation. But the energy in this radiation affects the particle being observed. If you adjust the light beam to accurately measure position, you need a short-wavelength, high-energy beam. It would tell you position, but its energy would throw off the momentum of the particle. Then, if you adjust the beam to a longer wavelength and lower energy, you could more closely measure momentum, but position would be inaccurate.”

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is fascinating! While it speaks of the dynamics at a subatomic level, this is what life is at a physical human level as well. ‘Stillness’ is what a spiritual master would tell you to achieve, in order for the desired result to come to culmination.

An excerpt from Michael Verderese and Professor Heinz D. Roth’s writings on Kekulé, below:

“In 1890, at the 25th anniversary of the benzene structure discovery, Friedrich August Kekulé, a German chemist, reminisced about his major accomplishments and told of two dreams that he had at key moments of his work. In his first dream, in 1865, he saw atoms dance around and link to one another. He awakened and immediately began to sketch what he saw in his dream.

Later, Kekulé had another dream, in which he saw atoms dance around, then form themselves into strings, moving about in a snake-like fashion. This vision continued until the snake of atoms formed itself into an image of a snake eating its own tail. This dream gave Kekulé the idea of the cyclic structure of benzene.”

For people who are familiar with eastern and specifically Indian spiritual practices of Sanatan Dharma, would understand the symbolism of a snake. Yet, here Kekulé dreamt it and drew it. Technically, Science is firmly rooted in Spirituality while keeping the temperament throughout.

In spiritual practices, the roles of Karta, Drushta & Sakshi or Doer, Observer and Witness are levels of awareness, whereas in the scientific world, they are different people. However in Kekulé’s vision, he was in spiritual realm.

Srinivasa Iyengar Ramanujan, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 19th century, had no formal training in Mathematics. Although a precocious young man, he was from an extremely poor family and was always on the brink of starvation. Yet, the formulae he propounded then are being used to understand black holes, almost a century later.

All that he learnt was through the power of the mantras. An anecdote from his life goes like this, “When super genius Indian Mathematician Srinivasan Ramanujan arrived at London, he was greeted by Professor Godfrey Harold Hardy. To break the ice, Hardy made a innocent remark that the number of the taxi, he came in is 1729 -- looks like a boring number, to kick start a conversation -- instead of the usual English weather. Ramanujan had a cursory glance at the taxi number plate himself and replied casually in a knee jerk manner "Oh No, actually it is a very interesting number. It is the smallest natural number representable in two different ways as the sum of two cubes" --and then this brilliant man told the equation on the spot – 1729 = 1^3 + 12^3 = 9^3 + 10^3”

As I finished explaining, seemingly convinced, the student sat down and listened on. This argument seems to cut little ice with the youth. Primarily because of the overly specialized and segmented world of compartmentalized thinking, is leading us to an analysis-paralysis of sorts. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we will never be more than who we are. We need a holistic perspective as well as a specialized one - somewhere in between ‘boiling an egg’ and ‘boiling an ocean’. Experiential learning has to be integral.

The highest creativity is sparked not in being able to do what Kekulé did after he discovered the Benzene ring or before he got to the dream, it is really in that state he was, when he had the vision. The goal should then be to attain that state, without any external intervention. While it’s important, we waste undue time in understanding the person and what they did before or after and miss the real cookie. The focus should really be in attaining the state that person was in, while awakening to the invention, discovery or innovation.

Whether it is breaking down to the smallest truth or aggregating up to the ultimate reality, the journey is ongoing. Veering off to either side may not yield, but the middle path will always see fruition.

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