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LATEST CONVERSATIONS: Equilibrium – A scientific analysis of spirituality

Hi All,

I recently found and joined SAND; which to me was a great discovery – I thought until now that I might have been alone!!! 🙂 It seems not…
I can see everybody is focussed on papers for the next conference, but after a chat with Maurizio I decided to post an account here as I cant make the US event. I am stuck here on the little muddy Island (GB).
So, if you get REALLY REALLY REALLY bored; please have a read of this, its guaranteed to help finish you off! 🙂
It was produced before I found SAND (so it may spell out the obvious in parts) and until now I have only shared it with Scientific professionals that are friends, and certain members of a Buddhist Org.. Its not meant to be ground breaking, because it isn’t, but it is meant to help capture the imagination and support from Scientist and Engineers that are yet to share the vision….

Equilibrium – A scientific analysis of spirituality

Imagine a world where Science has been used to prove a religion or spiritual path. A development of understanding, grown through trial and error, and not born of a leap of faith. A journey of objective experiments and practical experience enabling conclusions to be drawn, challenged, and ratified by Scientific scholars and peers leading to a common proven acceptance. What further questions would remain if two distinct and often opposing paths of human experience – science and spirituality collide unveiling the very nature of being?

As humans it is our nature to attach measures and dimensions to the things that we perceive. As such, one of the ultimate questions we ask, which has a bearing to our very existence is – where and when did it all start? Sticking to commonly accepted theory, what was here before the so called Big Bang? We now accept that time and space are the same quantity – Einstein’s great discovery. The Universe pre Big Bang is often considered by physicist to have been a kind of pure energy, empty of matter and existing in a infinitely small space vacuum. Based on Einstein’s time-space principle it seems perfectly fair to contemplate that prior to this epic episode that the lack of physical activity of any matter (as space was not yet produced) actually negated the ‘need’ for time as we know it. Time, did not exist. The universe was by definition beginning-less – a theory often accepted within physics, from relativity through to Chaotic Inflation, Big Bounce and Big Crunch theories.

I recall reading that every planet, every star, every galaxy is moving through space outwardly from the epicentre of the start of the universe – the Big Bang. So, even though our planet orbits our sun, our whole solar system is moving at great speed (approx. 800 thousand km/hr) around the Milky Way. And like all entities in space the Milky Way is itself moving outwardly – at an incredible 600km/second. This movement combined with gravitational forces that we cannot feel or directly perceive creates (or is) our concept of time. If we were to imagine that the planets and galaxies suddenly came to a holt and reversed back towards the origin of the Big Bang epicentre then time would simply scale back accordingly and eventually lose its duration (I use this term as opposed to speed up) to the point where it is zero again – none existent. So, ironically there may be no need to ask what was here ‘before’, because it is feasible based on Einsteins work that time stood still until some macroscopic change in a Universal property caused a physical movement and time and space were allowed to coexist as the effect.

Einstein’s work was very much focused on large scale phenomena such as the extents and make up of our Solar System and Universe. Einstein predicted that nothing in our physical Universe can travel faster than the speed of light. Einstein himself felt an attachment to physical phenomena and the human instinct to be able to measure, determine and predict the nature of things. The notion that nothing can travel faster than light gave the universe deterministic almost physical boundaries allowing scientist to make anchor in the vastness of Universal discovery.

Einstein is known to have proclaimed that “god does not play dice” when confronted with the growing aspects of quantum physics – a discipline based on predicting the probability of sub atomic particle behaviour which has proposed that nature has some unpredictable fundamental qualities. As a determinist Einstein felt that the true nature of things was measurable and must follow some kind of great natural law. Einstein continued to impress this notion during the advancement of Quantum Physics leading to many healthy but controversial counter debates with the famous Quantum Physicist Neil’s Bohr. These debates are well documented and due to the esteem of both counterparts have benefitted science greatly. The whole scientific fraternity was suddenly contemplating the underlying nature of reality, the frenzy of debate attracting Philosophers, Chemists, Biologists, Sociologists, even religious figures. Science’s wonders of the Universe were slowly shifting to the wonders of reality itself.

With a view to the question of reality, Quantum Physics looks at the relationships between energy and matter at nanoscopic scales. In laymans terms it defines mans quest to understand the makeup of the physical world by looking deeper and closer into the construction and behaviour of all physical matter, human or otherwise. It’s theories propose that at these minute scales all matter lives a double life. In one respect as physical particles and in another as a wave form. As human-beings it is much easier for us to relate to the concept of a physical particle, something that we can try to see and touch. However, when considering that everything that we see also exists in a subatomic waveform, which in principle has unlimited range – Science starts to become ‘spooky’, a term commonly used by Einstein to explain (or not) aspects of quantum behaviour that he struggled to accept. Quantum Physics proposes that all matter in its waveform could overlap and intertwine in an ubiquitous manner possibly across the whole Universe. This fires up ones imagination to contemplate that ‘we’ human beings could be connected to each other, and everything else if we accept this theory of Wave-Particle Duality – as it is known. We see or perceive through a physical medium – matter; or if you like our bodies, but we also exist as a waveform. Given the idea that everything could be intrinsically linked in the waveform state starts to raise philosophical and even spiritual questions. Humans rely on our five common senses, but the idea of a waveform to serve as a basis for a further sense does start to sound feasible, especially if we consider that this may explain the actions of simpler animal forms such as migratory fish, or formatting birds; these animal actions are commonly questioned regards being active outside of intellect or the five common senses as we know them.

One of the most fascinating (to me at least) aspects of Quantum Physics is the study of quantum entanglement and non-locality. This to some extent offers a practical approach to show how physical things can be intrinsically yet dependently related. This was one area of science that Einstein could not accept as it puts into great question his theory that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Quantum entanglement proposes that any two particles that have interacted with each other, if left to extend or travel great distance across the physical Universe will remain ‘entangled’ such that if one particle is interacted with in any way, the other will be effected regardless of the distance between them. This theory has been tested by physicist and has been scientifically proven – physical particles can somehow communicate at vast (potentially infinite) distances in an instantaneous manner. This spooky action as Einstein called it is now commonly accepted by physicist. The obvious thing to contemplate here is that this may be possible due to the dual existence of particles. The waveform may extend infinite distances negating the need for the particles to communicate in physical space.

Another area that caught my attention on a ‘spooky’ level, whilst studying mechanics several years ago was Thermodynamics. When I first heard the first law – which in one context says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, I left the classroom questioning my whole existence. Granted I was the only student bouncing off their chair! But for me the basic notion that the universe may recycle energy – possibly at a human level left a real mark in my mind. The second law of thermodynamics introduces the concept of Entropy. Entropy is the term that is given to energy that cannot be used to provide work, for example if we burn wood the second law dictates that not all of the energy is transferred into heat or smoke or other vapours – some of it must diverge away into the universe in an unusable and chaotic manner (at least within the constraints of our understanding of conventual physics). I recall asking my tutor as to where Entropy might go – his response was “let’s not be concerned with that, now that we have accounted for it we can complete the equation”. A response that left my mouth wide open looking around the room. Everyone else was content with the reply. I was left pondering on the possibility that maybe Entropy could explain the expanding and ever changing Universe. As entropy spreads away from a given system, and is chaotic in nature, could this relationship through cause and effect give rise to an expanding and highly probabilistic Universe? Possibly even without the need for a Big Bang theory – a subject for another day.

One thing that is fundamental to conventional Physics and Thermodynamics is the concept of equilibrium.  Both mechanical and fluid based systems will naturally attempt to find a balanced state, and given the right conditions they eventually will, just as water finds it’s own level, or the heat within a system mixes and settles. Most things in Physics act in a cyclic or wave like fashion and will resonate until a state of physical equilibrium is found. This does pose the question that if humans are simply particles of energy (photons, electrons, nuclei, quarks, and strings) as commonly accepted in Physics nowadays then could we be simply moving or even striving towards a state of equilibrium? Could the peaks and troughs of positive and negative experience that we all endure simply be energy attempting to find a balanced state, just like a thermodynamic system? Maybe it is these shifts in energy that dictate our moods, actions and possibly even our trajectories through life.

Now, we could readdress the thought propositioned in the opening paragraph of this article, but now mindful of some fundamental and commonly accepted Physics based theories. We could ask ourselves – could we adapt and apply principles of Science to improve our lives, and maybe even find some common ground with non scientific philosophies, faiths, possibly even religions?

To explore that further, let’s take it for granted just as a Physicist would, that we are made up of energy – photons (light), electrons, atoms, quarks, strings and other commonly referenced energy based quantities (or quantums). Obviously not forgetting our waveform duality! If we accept that our energies are acting in a cyclic or resonating fashion then could we try to balance that resonance and reduce the amplitude of the peaks and troughs that we experience to find scientific equilibrium. From a quantum physics view point, could we find a way to reduce the probabilities of negative occurrences by simply pacifying, reducing or removing the initial causes. If we consider that we are intrinsically connected to everything through waveform duality, our friends, our family our pets, the whole Universe. Then finding a way of putting ourselves in a state of equilibrium could impact our existence in an almost immediate way. The same would of course need to be true for any action not aimed at finding equilibrium some of which could instigate further causes that could lead to higher amplitudes and/or increased resonance, just as it would in a mechanical system. Hence, one would need to remain cognisant of the variables involved.  

So how could we pursue this state of equilibrium in a practical manner and remove the potential for resonating energy within the human system. There are many religious or philosophical practices such as prayer and meditation that lean towards fulfilling this function. However, the use of non scientific descriptions and the difficulty in making deterministic measurements in these processes gives rise to a need to use more subjective analysis. For many scientist (myself included) it is often the use of cultural, historical, or faith based descriptions that can deter scientific thought for investigation. It is not unreasonable though to compare an analysis of meditation to that of a Physiology or Psychology experiment – both being mainstream sciences.  This view could allow us to investigate methods of historical means such as meditation to pursue its potential to assist in a physics based approach to achieving energy equanimity.

As already discussed, it is commonly accepted by physicist that the universe pre Big Bang was essentially pure, void and empty. So, maybe the obvious strategy here is to aim our concerns at that Universal condition, and find a way to tune into the Universe’s natural state. A condition where total and pure equilibrium must have existed, at least prior to the macroscopic change that brought about the cycle of cause and effect that created space and time.

Meditation can mean many things to many people. To some it is a recreational activity aimed to relax ones body and mind, but to for example, a Buddhist monk, it is something of a very profound nature. To a Buddhist meditation master, meditation is a means to connect with the true nature of reality – emptiness. This makes for interesting investigation, as there seem to be some similarities here between scientific equilibrium and spirituality based equanimity. Buddhist meditation explores the Jhanas – realms of concentrative effort that lead to pure heightened states of mind. Progressing through the Jhanas it is common practice for a trained Buddhist meditator to submit all internal thoughts and mental commentary to a point where the sense of self or mind are completely relieved. Often this experience includes a connection to a Nimata – a sense or vision (often referenced as a bright light) of complete equanimity. In this state of emptiness (not be confused with nothingness) Buddhist experience that Karma is balanced which gives merit to spiritual advancement and peace. These practices like science are commonly accepted in countries such as India, Tibet and parts of South East Asia, they are not isolated nor emergent.

Karma is simply a rough translation of the word ‘action’. I understand that it is used in reference to the process of cause and effect, nothing more, where ones actions can, and have led to effects. The word ‘Karma’ is a great example of how historical terms have collected ‘baggage’ or labels that can often present a mythical or supernatural guise, when the irony is that that was probably against their initial intention. The same could apply to terms such as heaven, purgatory, or even hell. These are all terms that give rise to thought based on man made concepts that have overtime been illustrated in many ways including historical paintings, often gothic in nature, that may precondition our minds, or even our beliefs. Maybe after critical investigation we can find ways to appreciate such concepts in a more practical and subjective manner – something that maybe a scientific approach could help with.

It is feasible that the basic intent of most religions or faiths is to allow human energy to find a perfect balance both during and after the life that we experience. In Buddhism the inability of a sentient being (a human or animal that affords a consciousness) to balance their actions and effects leads to a perpetual imbalance where suffering continues to arise. This cycle is known as the Samsara. Again this concept has endured centuries of cultural influence resulting in man made interpretations. I can picture one illustrated interpretation of the Buddhist concept of the Samsara depicted by a giant wheel, with human (or sentient beings) clinging to it in desperation, seemingly suffering perpetual cycles of rebirth. Of course use of an illustration makes some basic points fairly clearly, but pictorial illustrations can encourage the observer to perceive the suggested process in a culturally influenced way. In some respects even the use of words could deter us from appreciating the simple, let’s say Universal meanings of such concepts. Maybe looking at things from a scientific or even numerical perspective could help lift any artistic or cultural influences, and potentially strengthen our understanding of any spiritual concept under investigation.

A basic investigation of meditation certainly strongly suggests that the practice of aligning oneself with the essential nature of Universal equilibrium is already in practice.  It also seems natural to hypothesise here that the Buddhist interpretation of emptiness is aligned with Physics theory of a timeless pre Universal pure state – a vacumous and empty condition not immune to cause and effect, resulting in the propagation of Universal growth. Also, from a scientific view point, the Buddhist concept of the Samsara could simply refer to the cycle of unbalanced energy experienced by human based systems. This hypothesis being based upon commonly accepted scientific theory that human composition is made up of quantum elements such as atoms, photons (light), quarks, strings and other energy based quanta. Taking this view, the need to establish faith in finding equanimity becomes less important. Cultural and artistic influences could no longer be effecting our view points or beliefs in this investigative approach. We could use science to understand the parameters of what we are, and then make steps to improve those conditions. Given time, maybe we could adopt this poise to investigate all, or at least further areas of spirituality and religious faiths.

Concluding comments

My own synopsis following recent months of investigative thought clearly sways toward the idea that we, human beings, are most likely some form of resonating energy; and like all physical systems have the potential and a natural tendency to establish equilibrium. Whether this occurs in a single lifetime, some form of afterlife, or following endless recycles, seems to be academic and to some extent irrelevant, as from a scientific point of view (concerning energy laws) each seems as feasible as the next. A review of quantum physics supports a proven theory that everything has potential to be connected through wave-particle duality, possibly even all human consciousness. The process of quantum entanglement suggests that every action that we take, almost certainly has potential to effect things and people that we have shared experience with; interestingly, experimental evidence of this informs us that this is an instantaneous event, regardless of the distance between entities. Notwithstanding that if the Big Bang Theory is accepted as the truth, then all matter as we know it, in quantum terms stems from the same initial event; thus everything seemingly has potential to be considered as ‘one’ by definition.

As human beings we have cause to attach to our thoughts, actions and beliefs to form the conceptual worlds that we perceive. With a view to finding equilibrium, or in humanistic terms – a state of peace, we can consider which thoughts, actions, and beliefs are most likely to reduce the amplitude and frequency of our energy peaks and troughs (+-). We can, after all decide which things we cling to and which things we let go of. We can use tools such as meditative concentration and even prayer to explore and deeply contemplate our route to Universal equilibrium or even ‘enlightenment’. Science may offer a neutral and objective ground for all faiths and religions to meet and potentially align beliefs through the benign use of numeracy and scientific formulae, particularly within nations that already have established common ground within Science.

As the Dalai Lama himself put it “Regardless of religion, we have a Universal Responsibility”. Wise words to end on.

Authors Notes:

This paper was purposely written to be based upon commonly accepted theories and religious practices. As such, no specific references are cited. The following links and information sources are provided to help interested parties with further investigation. I hope you enjoyed the paper and will pursue this line of enquiry further.

Thermodynamics: For Physicists, Chemists and Materials Scientists [Book]
E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation [Book]
Quantum Physics: A Fundamental Approach to Modern Physics [Book]
The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by the Dalai Lama [Book]
How to Understand the Mind: The Nature and Power of the Mind by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso [Book]
# Quantum Entanglement – youtube or search engine
# Quantum Physics – youtube or search engine
# Buddhist emptiness – youtube or search engine
# Prayer and meditation – youtube or search engine

Neil A Ham
Feb 2015

Equilibrium – A scientific analysis of spirituality

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Scientist/Engineer living in Salisbury UK with a keen interest in the crossovers between Science and Spirituality – particularly Buddhist based philosophy and Quantum Physics. Science strikes me as a neutral ground to search for a common faith.


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