JavaScript Menu, DHTML Menu Powered By Milonic
Go to Radio Sai Home Page
Go to H2H Portal Page
link_icon Bookmark and Share  
Home > Features >
By Prof. G. Venkataraman

Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. I hope you have taken note of the fact, that in the last issue we sort of crossed an important border, moving from the realm of physics to metaphysics. When we parted company, I was telling you about how Physics is strongly suggesting that there is a subtle connectivity underlying the entire physical Universe.

In Quest of Infinity
artist depiction of a field of consciousness

That also is what Vedanta says, namely that the Creator is the underpinning for the whole of Creation. Those of you who are familiar with the Gita would recall that exactly is what Krishna taught Arjuna, namely that the Atma is the underpinning for all that we see and experience in the Universe. Which is why it is often said: “For the seen, the unseen is the basis.”

In the above, I have tried to hint or suggest that the underpinning discovered by Physics is but an aspect of the Atma or Universal Consciousness, which according to Vedanta is the foundation for Creation. The question now arises: “In Cosmology, we ask how the Universe came into existence.

Today, there seems to be strong evidence that the physical Universe came from an event we call the Big Bang. In view of the tantalising connection between Physics and Vedanta, can we say anything about Creation according to Vedanta and its relationship to the Big Bang?

The Link between Physics and Vedanta

This is an interesting question, and let me say right away that no one can answer this question to the satisfaction of all. The reason for this is simple. Scientists would tend to consider their entire discussion within the framework of Space and Time, both of which come into existence only after the birth of the Universe. Therefore, there is really no way Physics by itself can link to Vedanta. However, it is plausible to argue, and this I shall do presently, that Physics and Vedanta do not necessarily contradict each other.

Let me start with the figure presented below [Fig. 1], which seeks to tie up the Vedantic idea of Creation with what Science tells us about the Creation and the subsequent evolution of the Physical Universe. Before I make any further observations, I must of course caution you that this is a highly schematic figure.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 1: This figure, taken from the book Message of the Lord referred to in the text, seeks to place in juxtaposition, the view of Creation in the Vedantic picture on the one hand and modern science on the other. Vedanta helps in understanding [to some extent] what preceded the Big Bang, an issue where science leaves us in the dark. On the other hand, science does a pretty good job of filling in with numerous details, where Vedanta sort of just fades away. It is as if two people are walking along the same road, one from one end and the other from the other end.

Each has a good picture of the ground he has traversed, but a total description of the entire road is lacking because the two travellers have not met. Will they ever meet? That is an interesting question to think about! One thing is clear though at present. While Vedanta does not either dismiss or scoff at science, many scientists readily dismiss Vedanta as mere idle speculation. It would appear that excessive rationality can sometimes lead to false beliefs even as superstition is supposed to!

Let us start by looking at the Vedantic side of Figure 1, i.e., the portion on the left. Starting from the top, we have Brahman or Atma or God, call it what you will. In Vedanta we accept the existence of Brahman/Atma as an axiom and therefore cannot question it. It is like accepting the Playfair’s axiom, modern statement of Euclid’s ancient proposition about parallel lines meeting only at infinity and then going on to build up the whole of Euclidian geometry [or the geometry of flat space]. OK, so we have Brahman/Atma existing all by itself, and there is no Universe. How then does the Universe suddenly pop up?

In Quest of Infinity
"Message of the Lord"
by Prof. Venkataraman

Vedantic philosophers have discussed this question in detail and a brief summary of this is given in the book Message of the Lord [Part IV, Chapter 9, p. 419 etc.] published by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publication Trust [the book carries no author’s name but was actually written by me and first published by the Sai Organisation of New Zealand, who later gave the copyright to SSSBPT]. I shall not go into all those details here but shall lean on Aurobindo who said that the Divine Energy associated with Brahman cascades down several steps before it becomes feasible for matter to emerge out of energy.

As we all know [thanks of course to Einstein] that physical matter and physical energy are inter-convertible. So, if Brahman wills that there shall be a Physical Universe, then one presumes there would be an energy cascade right down from the level of Brahman to create an energy deposit for the material universe to appear – that is the essence of the left part of Fig. 1. On the right we have a terse summary of what we have been going through for over two years now – from the Big Bang all the way to atoms and molecules, from which we get everything from frogs and snakes and humans to space crafts and i-pods!

As the figure shows, there are two huge gaps in the figure; the first of this is related to the right side, where we are left clueless to what existed or preceded the Big Bang? This is the gap on the scientific side if I might call it that. Similarly, on the right side, there is a gap which is referred to as the “missing link”. This of course is about the gap that Vedanta leaves relating to how, from the energy deposit that Brahman made available, the physical Universe emerged.

In a manner, these two “gaps” show our own mental blocks in approaching the entire issue of God, man and the relationship between the two. Maybe I shall say more about that later, since it is in some respect related to debates currently going on like “Intelligent Design,” for example. For the present, an interesting question to ask would be:

In view of the remarkable findings of Science concerning a kind of “Universal entanglement” suggesting a strange and baffling underlying Universal connectivity, can one link it in some way to Universal Consciousness, which according to Vedanta, is the “Mother” of the Universe? More specifically, is there any scientific evidence at the present time, about the connection between Mind and matter?  

It turns out that this question has been receiving attention from many, although mainstream scientists are generally sceptical of all such enquiry, to put it mildly.

Science and Thought Experiments

The study of psychic phenomena forms a part of the larger domain of the mind-matter question. While most scientists concede that the latter subject is a respectable one (although one is not in a position to shed much light on it), few would care to regard psychic phenomena as anything other than a fraud or an illusion. But curiously, at the turn of the century, there was so much interest in parapsychology that both in England and in America, societies for psychical research were formed.

The British Society for Psychic Research (SPR) had amongst its members, three Nobel winners and ten Fellows of the Royal Society, including such notables as Lord Rayleigh, Sir J.J.Thomson, and Sir William Crooke. The Society even brought out a Proceedings containing papers on telepathy and clairvoyance. Later, interest in psychic phenomena not only dropped but scientists began to view them with great scepticism.

In Quest of Infinity spacer In Quest of Infinity spacer In Quest of Infinity
Sir J. J. Thompson
Sir William Crooke
Lord Rayleigh

More recently, however, a few scientists have dared to approach the subject without any pre-conceived bias. Prominent among them is Robert Jahn, a former Dean of the School of Engineering of Princeton University. Describing how he came to be involved with para-psychic experiments, he says:

My formal training is that of an engineer and applied physicist, and the bulk of my research has been concerned with aerospace sciences.... I have occasion to be involved with an even broader selection of topics.... and it was in that context some years ago [i.e., in 1978] that I was requested by one of our very best students to supervise a study of psychic phenomena.... Although I had no previous experience, professional or personal,... I agreed. My initial oversight role in this project led to a degree of personal involvement with it, and that to a growing intellectual bemusement, to the extent that by the time the student graduated, I was persuaded that this was a legitimate field for a high technologist to study and that I would enjoy continuing to do so.

Jahn now got deeply involved in parapsychic experiments, and published many interesting scientific papers on the subject. He was always very professional in his approach, absolutely thorough in planning the experiments, meticulous in the analysis of data, and he reported the results without bias or comments. Subsequent to Jahn, many other professionals too dared to take up experiments, unmindful of what the sceptics (who are in the majority) might say.

It would need a whole volume to describe the various investigations performed in the area of para-psychic phenomena. As a flavour of what has been done, I shall describe two experiments, the first one being due to Robert Jahn, and involving a random-event generator.

Jahn’s Random Event Generator

A random-event generator (REG) is an electronic instrument that produces a random series of events, say, a sequence of pulses that occur at random instants of time – see Fig. 2.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 2: Shown here in (a) are a sequence of pulses that occur in a random sequence. The REG of Prof. Jahn, produced such a sequence. The machine produces both positive and negative pulses. (b) shows the time axis divided into equal intervals, each of the same duration T say. The experiment consists in counting the number P of positive and N the number of negative pulses for each interval T, and then determining the number (P – N). This number (P – N) could be positive, negative or even zero.  

Suppose one divides time into equal interval slots and then counts how many pulses occur in each slot, one will find that the number does not remain the same. It would vary, even as different numbers turn up when a dice is thrown repeatedly. Suppose the distribution of the numbers in the time slots (of interval T) is plotted; one would expect a curve as shown in Fig. 3. In fact, this curve is the signature of random events, and the instrument is designed to yield this result.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 3: This figure shows a schematic of the results obtained by Prof. Jahn in his psycho-kinetic experiments using a REG. What is plotted is the distribution of the number (P – N). For example, when P – N is 4, it might happen that 4 occurs 87 times in the experiment. Similarly, -3 might occur 35 times and so on. If the REG is operated without human interference, then the curve without human intervention is what is obtained. Notice that it is symmetric about 0. However, if a human volunteer is made to focus on the REG and disturb it as discussed in the text, then the result changes, the shifted curve being an example. For scientists, this is a totally-unexpected result. What it implies is that the human mind can influence an inert machine!

In the experiment that Jahn performed, he asked the volunteer to direct his/her attention to a REG, and mentally influence the outcome of the random events - see Fig. 4.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 4: This is a schematic of the Jahn experiment. It shows a volunteer sitting in front of a REG, concentrating his mind on the machine and attempting to influence its pulse train by pure thought intervention.

In practical terms, what this means is that if a person is able to exert such influence on the REG, then the curve in Fig. 3 that is representative of random events must either get distorted or shifted or both. On the face of it, one does not expect such a thing to happen - at least the so-called rational scientists would laugh and scoff at the idea. It is to the credit of Prof. Jahn that he decided to try the experiment without any bias - he did not care about the outcome.

In Quest of Infinity spacer
Robert Jahn

Personally, he started as a sceptic; but he was not ready to dismiss the idea glibly. Instead, he carried out experiments, very careful experiments in fact, so that no holes could be picked in the analysis of the results.

Much to his surprise as well as amazement, Jahn found that the curve representative of random events DID get shifted when there was human intervention – see Fig. 3. Why did such a shift take place and how did it occur? Jahn had no reply. He merely reported what he found.

For nearly twenty years, Jahn has been conducting such experiments in Princeton University as a part of a full-fledged research program called Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR).

Jahn's work has inspired many others, and the University of Nevada has what is called the Consciousness Research Laboratory. Likewise, in Geneva, there is a Foundation for Psycho-Physical Research of which Marcel Odier is the President. Describing the objectives and the work of his Foundation, Odier says:

My rationalist education has obliged me to remain somewhat skeptical towards phenomena which cannot he explained by science.... I reasoned therefore that in the first stage it would be warranted to remake experiments that had already been dealt with by renowned researchers such as Professor Rhine at Duke University, and more recently by Professor Jahn at Princeton University.... I wanted to see for myself and draw my own conclusions.

Odier adds:

While we are not dogmatic, we insist on the rigorous and exemplary use of scientific methods, both by ourselves and our associates, when compiling data and interpreting results.

The Baby Chicks and the Robot Experiment

Odier's Foundation has carried out many interesting experiments; one of these which involves animal psycho-kinesis is described below. In this experiment, there is no human being who is consciously trying to interact with a randomly operating machine. Instead, there is a robot that moves randomly, and the influence on this robot produced by group of chicks is studied! The robot (called Tychoscope by the investigators), moves within a rectangular area. It is controlled by a REG, and therefore its movements are random.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 5: This shows the trajectory of the Tychoscope, moving about in a rectangular area when no chicks are present. As can be seen, the machine wanders throughout the available space without any specific bias. This is typical of the behaviour expected from a random system. 

Figure 5 shows a plot of the Tychoscope movement during a control experiment, when there was no "disturbing influence" present, i.e., no chicks in the neighbourhood. Experiments were then conducted with groups of fifteen chicks. Eighty different experiments were performed.

The experiment was inspired by the finding of Nobelist Konrad Lorenz that many species of baby birds adopt the first moving object which is close to them as their mother. The birds were first conditioned suitably so that they would regard the Tychoscope as their mother. After this, the random walk of the robot was initiated, with the chick group at one end of the movement area. Figure 6 shows the robot trajectory in this case, and one can see an unmistakable tendency for the Tychoscope to hover closer to the chicks than away from them.

In Quest of Infinity
In Quest of Infinity

FIGURE 6: This shows an example of the trajectory of the robot Tychoscope when chicks are present in a cage at one end. Clearly, in this case, the machine tends to hover around in the neighbourhood of the chicks. The behaviour is thus definitely not random; rather, it is biased. This bias is interpreted as being due to the mental influence exerted by the chicks on the machine.

As the author of the experiment remarked, the results seem to affirm that the chicks did influence the movement of the robot (which they thought was their mother). Even if one does not quite accept this view, the dramatic deviation from pure random behaviour is clearly evident and cannot be dismissed, especially as this type of deviation was present in over seventy percent of the experiments carried out.

In passing, one is here reminded of what our Swami said on one occasion in His previous Avatar at Shirdi (quoted in Shri Sai Sat Charita). Shirdi Sai said that the Lord protects by His mere glance;

Just as the tortoise feeds her young ones whether they are near her or away from her on the other side of the river bank, by her loving looks.... The [mother] tortoise is on one bank and her young ones are on the other side. She gives neither milk nor warmth to them. Her mere glance gives them nutrition. The young ones do nothing but remember [meditate upon] their mother. The glance of the tortoise is, to the young ones, a down-pour of nectar.

What Does Science tell us about Consciousness?

A sample of two different experiments has been given, one involving humans and the other involving animals. In both cases, the experimenters, who were to start with not ready to believe that man-machine interaction was possible, found unmistakable experimental evidence that some kind of a mind-matter interaction was in fact taking place. The question now is: "How does a physical system (i.e., an inanimate, mechanical system) targeted by an observer 'know' that the observer is focusing his/her attention on it (i.e., the system)?"

In Quest of Infinity
Science is still not ready to accept the connection between mind and 'consciousness'

For the record, I should mention that these experiments have been widely attacked by the “purists”, it being alleged that the experiments lack sufficient statistical rigour and control. There may be some validity to this criticism, although, I am not prepared to believe that Prof Jahn, for example, is unaware of his responsibilities.

Actually, there is a huge psychological barrier here that traditional scientists are not willing to admit exists. As Prof. Jahn has pointed out sometime ago in a lengthy and scholarly article, experiments that involve mind-matter interaction [of the type Jahn and others are exploring] do not always yield reproducible results. This is inevitable, since the human mind is involved, and as we all know, the human mind can wander so widely and erratically.

Thus, while one volunteer might concentrate heavily and be able to influence the REG effectively, another might not. Hence, unlike in conventional scientific experiments where certain macro reproducibility might be expected even with random fluctuations at the micro level, in para-psycho experiments occasional deviations from norm should not be summarily dismissed as evidence for lack of control or whatever. Right now, the bias in the establishment is so strong that not many are prepared to believe these experiments even though they are as good as one can devise them. Clearly, the establishment is not yet ready to come to terms with Consciousness!

At the same time, researchers like Jahn are not deterred and based on their experiments, they are ready to go beyond the frontiers of conventional science to postulate the existence of a "consciousness field" (physicist's jargon) to come to terms with the unexpected results (of the type described above). The following are some of the properties demanded for this field:

  • Consciousness extends beyond the individual and has field-like properties (meaning, like electric, magnetic and gravitational fields).
  • Consciousness injects order into systems, in proportion to the "strength" of the consciousness present. Everything responds to a consciousness field by becoming more ordered. Inanimate objects (like rocks) will respond to order induced by consciousness as well as animate ones.
  • The strength of consciousness in an individual depends upon the concentration of the individual. The greater the concentration, the greater is the strength. Ordinary awareness has a low strength since the focus is low.
  • A group of individuals has "group consciousness". This group consciousness is a blend of the individual consciousness. If all the individuals focus intensely on the same subject, topic or object, then the group consciousness becomes very powerful on account of mutual coherence.

So that gives you a brief overview of the brave attempt made by some active scientists to use the tools of science to check if the Mind can directly influence matter. The available results suggest that there does appear to be some evidence that the Mind can influence matter and this occurs through the agency of Consciousness. The question now becomes: “This consciousness field that these brave pioneers are talking about – is it the same as what Vedantins talk about? Or, is it something totally different? Or, are the two related in some sense?

That question requires a long answer, which obviously cannot be provided in this issue. So why don’t we get together again next month to take all this further? Meanwhile, I thank you for being with me again, and let me also say that I am deeply touched by the mails sent by many people from different parts of the globe; that helps me a lot in assuring me that I am not really wasting your time!

Thanks a lot and see you again. Till then, all the best. JAI SAI RAM.

(To be continued...)

Dear reader, how do you like this series? Please share your impressions about this article by writing to mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.


link_icon Write to Us at H2H
Vol 7 Issue 06 - JUNE 2009
Best viewed in Internet Explorer 7 - 1024 x 768 resolution.
© Copyright 2009 Radio Sai Global Harmony
DHTML Menu by Milonic