Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Existence of Soul

The current post will not conclusively answer if souls exist or not. What it will definitely do is develop a scientific line of inquiry that may lead to an answer about the existence of souls. But before that, what do we mean by a soul? Google it and this is what Wikipedia has to say – “A soul – in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions – is the incorporeal essence of a person, living thing, or object”. The catch here is that the soul, if it exists, is incorporeal, not matter.

All possible efforts shall be made to argue with in the realms of reason and not resort to scriptural dogmatism. Since we are discussing the question of existence, let’s see what can possibly be valid proofs of some object’s existence. We will start with some very obvious objects/phenomena/property. Take the sun. We know that it exists, because we can directly perceive it (through our faculty of vision). Another example – sound waves exist because we can directly perceive them (through our faculty of hearing).

Let’s complicate a little. The nucleus of an atom – Direct perception is not possible here, courtesy the limitation of our vision. What do we do now? We perform Rutherford’s alpha rays scattering experiment and infer that an atom has something called the ‘nucleus’. The spin of an electron, wave-particle duality, electricity, magnetism are other examples where our senses fail us in direct perception. The more we move away from the limited sphere covered by our senses, the greater is the need for inferential arguments.

The point of the above discussion is this – if direct perception fails us in distinguishing certain states of matter, then it will surely fail in that which is immaterial/ incorporeal- a soul. So we have to cook up an inferential inquiry. If there is a soul in humans, then an individual can be thought of to have three parts – the physical body, the brain and a soul. If we can somehow ‘switch off’ the physiological body and the brain, whatever remains will provide an answer about the soul’s existence. This is no ingenious technique – this is exactly what you’d do if your house’s electrical wiring goes awry – check each wire one by one after switching off the rest.

It is no easy task to switch off our physiological and mental components (I, for one, prefer agnosticism in this regard) How do we control the heart, or our digestive system? And that’s only half the story. The brain is even queerer. It doesn’t stop for one moment. You might think that it does when you sleep – but it doesn’t. Here is a simple explanation – if the brain does stop when you are asleep, how is it that dreams are registered? The brain never stops.

To sum up, because we do not directly perceive the soul cannot be a reason to deny its existence. Advice on how to control the physical and the mental might provide an answer to the soul’s existence. The system of Yoga addresses this need.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Science and the many gods in Hinduism

Within the confines of theism, the need for a multitude of Gods in Hinduism is not very clear, if not confusing. This apparent redundancy can be reconciled on a scientific basis. Before that, it is worthwhile to consider the basic premise of science. By this, I intend to ask the following question: “What lends credibility to a scientific law?”

Consider the Boyle’s law, discovered as early as in the 17th century. Now, to a current student of chemistry, the assurance given is that, under iso-thermal conditions, the product of pressure and volume of a fixed amount of gas is constant; and more importantly, this is verifiable and repeatable. Any scientific discovery gains credibility from its nature to be infinitely verifiable and repeatable. No matter how many times one repeats the experiment under specified conditions, Boyle’s law stands verified. Thus, infinite repeatability is what lends credibility to a scientific fact. Also, this infinite repeatability should be both in space and as well as in time. Any and every law will be verified by the many generations to come. Also, it wouldn’t do if Boyle’s law was verifiable only in India and not elsewhere. (Repeatability in space should be included, lest the Bermuda Triangle should come under the class of scientific phenomena). Singular occurrences cannot and do not come under the umbrella of science.

The phenomenon of God incarnating as Man can be harmonized with science if and only if it can be verified an infinite number of times. Thus, we are forced to concede infinite incarnations - both in space (across continents) and time (through the ages). This does not mean that the essence of each manifestation is different. It is the same principle repeating itself. In summary, the many gods in Hinduism is but a logical necessity within the confines of theism. The correctness of theism is a different discussion altogether.