Brain & Mind Indian philosophy

On same-ness and different-ness

Last week was another momentous week in the history of humanity, as we managed to add four new elements to the list of basic building blocks of our universe. IUPAC admitted ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium and ununoctium to the periodic table, making the total list of elements go up to 118. (If these names confuse you, please note that they are temporary and descriptive, as un stands for 1 and sept for 7, making un-un-septium to be 117, the atomic number of the element).

With these additions, scientists obsessed with finding an order are now at peace with periodic table as with seventh row completed, table has a fairly finished look.

Unfortunately, this sense of completion is false. As, even though we have come a long way in understanding matter, the process has only unveiled deeper structures of reality that have made our eternal struggle of understanding workings of the reality even more difficult.

For eons, we have tried to find out true nature of our reality. We have mused over this subject through philosophy and have worked hard on it through empirical processes of science. The eternal aim for both philosophers and scientists has been same, i.e. what our reality is made of.

When we look at world around us, it looks full of diversity; and yet, if we get up close and personal, the universe seems to be made of the same stuff.

We appear to have two fundamental aspects of reality, the same stuff that it is made of and laws that make this same stuff manifest in different forms.

In terms of the stuff, we have a reasonable consensus of it being energy, but in terms of the laws, we are still struggling to find a unifying idea.

If we look at the kind of laws that govern our reality, they seem to be scale-driven. The bigger things like planets, stars or galaxies follow one set of laws, while really small things like subatomic particles have their own set of rules. All efforts of unifying the macro and micro levels of reality have failed, especially when things get too small or too massive.
The modern physics as we know of has been a continuous struggle for this unification. For some reason, we appear to be of a firm opinion that same-ness exists and different-ness is just an illusive manifestation of the same-ness that we are yet to decipher.

If we look at this statement, it resonates well with Indian philosophical ideas too. Unfortunately, this aspect of our philosophical heritage keeps getting wrongly linked with science in a lot of agenda-driven claims, but it is also an indicator of another possibility, and that is, may be, connected with the way human brain works.

The probable reason why science and philosophy converged on one point is because of the nature of our brain and not because the nature of reality. We humans often forget that our brain is logical machine in constant search of logical order because once order is deduced, it makes the job easier next time. This works wonderfully well in most cases, but it also has a downside, as brain has developed a tendency to presume order.

The reality may or may not have sameness across its all levels, brain wishes for it by its very nature. It is entirely possible that the very brain that has helped unveil reality till this point could become a stumbling block hard to get past. For physicists of next generation, the challenge would be two pronged: from within and without. Let us hope that they find a way to transcend it and unveil the truth, whatever it may be.

DNA: 10/1/16

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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