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QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Form VI

In Anthologies, philosophy, Quran, universe, Words of Gold: The Quran on April 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

Metaphors are utilised in the Qur’an in the even broader sense of ‘isomorphism’. As readers of this blog might recall↓, isomorphism is the mirroring of one set of information onto another. This might be examplified by the usage of symbols and literary metaphors or in the way brain processes information coming in from the world, or in the way on-screen pixels take the shape of live-action images in real world.

Thus, whereas in case of metaphors similarity lies in between one piece to another piece of information (source and target), isomorphism is more broad-scale with likenings (or, structural mappings, using Lakoff’s terms) between two series of information.

Evidence of isomorphism in the Qur’an

 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِن كُنتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِّنَ الْبَعْثِ

فَإِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ مِن نُّطْفَةٍ ثُمَّ مِنْ عَلَقَةٍ ثُمَّ مِن مُّضْغَةٍ مُّخَلَّقَةٍ وَغَيْرِ مُخَلَّقَةٍ لِّنُبَيِّنَ لَكُمْ ۚ

وَنُقِرُّ فِي الْأَرْحَامِ مَا نَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى ثُمَّ نُخْرِجُكُمْ طِفْلًا ثُمَّ لِتَبْلُغُوا أَشُدَّكُمْ ۖ

وَمِنكُم مَّن يُتَوَفَّىٰ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْلَا يَعْلَمَ مِن بَعْدِ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا ۚ

وَتَرَى الْأَرْضَ هَامِدَةً فَإِذَا أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْهَا الْمَاءَ اهْتَزَّتْ وَرَبَتْ وَأَنبَتَتْ مِن كُلِّ زَوْجٍ بَهِيجٍ 

O PEOPLE, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed,
We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot,
and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed – that We may show you.
And We settle in the wombs whom We will for a specified term,
then We bring you out as a child, and then [We develop you] that you may reach your [time of] maturity.
And among you is he who is taken in [early] death,
and among you is he who is returned to the most decrepit [old] age so that he knows, after [once having] knowledge, nothing.
And you see the earth barren, but when We send down upon it rain,
it quivers and swells and grows [something] of every beautiful kind. [Al-Hajj 5]
 
 In the above ayah, three different types of growths have been likened to each other:
  1.  development of the embryo inside the mother’s womb,
  2. progression of the born human from birth till senile age, and,
  3. the blossoming of foliage from barren earth into beautiful grass.

The common thread between all three types of growths is the fruition from a non-existent or immature stage to the fully developed stage. The wilting of luscious grass into brown hay is not mentioned here but has been mentioned in similar vein otherwise. Each living thing’s cycle of growth infact shows similar progression with basically the same two end-points: a) beginning of life and b) reversal of prime followed by death. The ayah thus succintly points out that no matter which stage or whose growth one might look at they all mirror the same pattern. This isomorphism in turn strongly suggests the sameness of the penultimate source of this cycle, in contrast to ‘random mistakes’ as suggested by the evolutionists.

 

 وَلَقَدْ جِئْتُمُونَا فُرَادَىٰ كَمَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ وَتَرَكْتُم مَّا خَوَّلْنَاكُمْ وَرَاءَ ظُهُورِكُمْ 

“AND you have certainly come to Us alone as We created you the first time, and you have left whatever We bestowed upon you behind you.” [in Al-An’am 94]

As per the above ayah, the two end-points of the cycle of growth themselves mirror each other: a progression from nothing to nothing. We are born empty-handed. Whaterver we acquire during our lifetimes (money, property, skills) is a part of the process of growing up in the world. In the end we leave empty-handed again. This mirroring was also catptured in the second example of the above ayah: God reminded there that after our birth we progress until old age where we become ignorant and unaware just as we were when we were born. The special aspect of the particular ayah now referred is that the sameness of the two unobserved phases of human existence has been implied: the phase before our birth and the phase after our deaths. We came from nothing (nothing here means only in the ‘physical sense’) and we return to nothing: matter and material are a midway stage observed only in this finite world.

 

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّـهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

Indeed, the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, “Be,” and he was. [Al-i-Imran 59]

On a theological subject, the Quran here points out the inherent sameness in the birth of Hazrats Adam and of Isa (alaihima-s-salaam). The Christian tendency is to regard Isa as (na-‘uzubi-Allah) Son of God on account of his fatherless birth to Bibi Maryam. Allah (subhanahu ta’ala) here gently points out how Hazrat Adam was created from scratch without a father or a mother. Birth to all sorts of creation in this world, of indeed the whole universe, and of the universe of heaven and hell that is invisible to us, is by virtue of God’s powers. It is after having descended Hazrat Adam onto earth with wife Hawwa that the familiar system of human reproduction was put in place. However, it goes without saying, that the Creator can re-create another sample of any being in whatever manner He wishes as a miraculous reminder of His Great Powers. Thus the birth of all human beings, indeed all living beings in this world are isomorphic to each other. This agains points to the unity of the Source of all this creation.

 

Usage of isomorphism in the Qur’an

The three examples we have considered are sufficient to illustrate how isomorphism differs from metaphors in their more narrowed, literary sense. Isomorphisms point out the correspondence and basic sameness of apparently different phenomenae. They seem to be more factual, used to point out big cosmic realities. On the other hand, literary metaphors might be used more often as examples and illustration.

 

Notes

All exposition regarding the ayahs relies on basic exegises as found in Maulana Maududi’s Tafheem-ul-Qur’an and Mir Taqi Uthmani’s Ma’ariful Qur’an.

 

 

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MIND’S I EXPLORATIONS: The Wise Window on the World

In consciousness, Mind's I Explorations, Mind|Body|World, perception, psychology, psychology of religion, Psychology|Religion, Quran, sources of knowledge, The Method, universe on September 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm

This is the second edition of Mind’s I Explorations, a series I began with a view to base my reflections on the nature of reality (and how we come to learn it) on the anthology: The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.

 

On having no head

The second piece of the anthology is a ‘charmingly childish’* narration of how one day in the Hamalyas, the author↓1  discovered (or rather realized) that he had in fact no head on his shoulders! In his own words, the discovery (or rediscovery) was an ultimate outcome of pondering a question for a long time: “What am I?”

*according to editors of the anthology, in their commnetary following the original piece.

If there was no head, what was there?:

It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow-peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

Indeed imagine not having grown up mentally, only developing the sharpened skill of seeing. And what would you have seen? No, you won’t see a head on your shoulders!

We conclude the presence of this head by comparing ourselves with others who have two sets of limbs and an overall physique similar to ours, and who speak, walk, eat and generally live like us. And based on this comparison, we deduce, that if they have a head, we must have one too. For although we can see our heads in the mirrors, can the testimony of a mirror (in a way, an optical illusion) be trusted?

This is the apparently naive explanation of the author. It’s not a philosophical explanation, rather it’s intuitive, describing things on an strictly ‘as is’ basis rather than distorting the first native experience of the world through rational logic. When we are born we have no idea of how the ‘uppermost part’ of our body looks. Our view is just like those film camera views when the directors are trying to show things from the ‘eyes’ of a particular character. Again, no head is visible in that view, only the body and limbs. And in place of the head is the view, the scene, itself.

In the author’s own words:

It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind … It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see.

The essence of this way of thinking really is: that the experience we go through at first hand must always be fundamentally different from all others. Yet, in this subjective experience lies a greater and more peaceful unity with the external world, than in reliance on logically deduced objective experiences.↓2(the anthology editors who comment on every piece seem to have interpreted it slightly differently).

All twoness—all duality of subject and object—has vanished.

 

The subject and the object: dichotomous, complementary, or uniform?

A duality or dichotomy refers to “two mutually exclusive, opposed or contradictory groups (such as): a dichotomy between thought and action”. Such dichotomies or dualities are of concern in nearly all major fields of knowledge. In human sciences and philosophy, often such dichotomies are subject of much debate as to their respective significance in some area and as to how much in distinction &/or opposition they stand with respect to each other. Examples include wave-particle duality, mind and matter/body, good and evil, creationism vs evolution, etc. Complement is what supplies the lack of another entity; literally, something which makes another thing complete, whole, or perfect. Uniformity may refer to an overall sameness, homogeneity and regularity.

In philosophy, the subject-object problem is concerned with delineating what is objective and what is subjective in our experience. As a starting point, we can think of ‘objects’, different beings in the universe, being perceived by an observer: the ‘subject’.  Thus on the face of it, the two entities appear to be dichotomous. However, we encounter various problems when we attempt to further elaborate this basic premise. For instance, if we depend on our own sensory experience to perceive an object, discerning only those properties which our capacities enable us to, can we really know the object objectively, as it really is?↓3 This also relates to the ‘observer vs the observed’ problem in physics epitomzied by the uncertainty principle so recently discussed on this blog. And then, to what extent our own properties (i.e. the subject’s) affect what has been observed?  

Thus, the way we actually experience the object (or the universe) certaintly seems to unify us (the subject) with it (the object). This is despite the fact that, through logical analysis, we may feel certain that the object (or the universe) has its own reality independent of our sensibility of it↓4, and also despite the fact that the total dependence for our own experience on our own devises of sensation and perception may also lead us to doubt whether ‘it’s all in the head’ or not↓5. Perhaps it’s best to say that what is out there complements what is in here (in me and in you), and that they are unified into one experience by the device of the mind which has no way to see the separation of the two.

Now, let us return to the original piece for further deliberations:

 

On regaining the pure nativity of one’s original perspective on the world:

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking … as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories … like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming.

I had been blind to the one thing that is always present, and without which I am blind indeed—to this marvellous substitute-for-a-head, this unbounded clarity, this luminous and absolutely pure void, which nevertheless is—rather than contains—all things.

…no arguement can add to or take away from an experience which is as plain and incotrovertible as hearing middle-C* or tasting strawberry jam.

— *a note in music

There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

—-

These quotes let us infer four different aspects about the experience.

i) Our intuitive experience is pre-verbal; language is not involved. All thinking and speaking is learned from the world. The nature of the kind of thinking and speaking we learn from the world is rational: we learn to associate features with specific objects, objects with specific categories. We usually learn not to cross-over between concepts. As we grow older our creativity dies down since we are taught to think in terms of what’s rational and familiar, not what’s new and different.

ii) The ‘burden’ of all this rational knowledge and way of thinking tends to bury our own sources of pre-verbal thought (let’s call them intuition and the freshness and naitvity of creativity) farther and farther beyond the boundaries of conscious life. Whereas, the fact remains that this intuitive thought is as basic and primary to us as ‘tasting jam’ or hearing a melody.

iii) The burden is not just metaphorical, it’s literal: The more thought we put into issues, the more we experience generally negative emotions and the more the issue (that we have been thinking on) seems like a ‘pressure’ or ‘full of stress’. The most peaceful moments of our lives are indeed those when we are simply submerged in an experience rather than caught in the tangles of thought.

iv) Hence, the sense of joy and peace on having reconnected with one’s innate perspective on the world: that the whole world is unified by the fabric of first-hand experience. It’s the artifact of logic that ‘divides’ the world into things and categories and hierarchies, and into I and it. This is this and that is that. The author has replaced it with the original ‘I≡universe≡reality’ kind of experience that would have remained in our consciousness if we had not been trained otherwise by the rigors of reason.

In addition to explaining how we come to loose the freshness of our inborn perspective, these conclusions also touch upon another commonly discussed ‘duality’: nature and environment. However, the whole discussion might remain a heady philosphical or incomprehensibly mystical narrative if not made plainer.

 

How the world conditions us

The best way to clarify the subject is to recast it in terms of a famous (though not very widely known in mass media) person-centered theory of personality by Carl Rogers. In addition to becoming more familiar, an additional advantage in speaking in terms of this theory is that a lot of general psychological insights abour how life works might be gained.

In Rogers’ theory, the counterpart of the ‘native perspective on things’ is a process called ‘organismic valuing’. The counterpart for ‘the perspective the world imposes on us’ is ‘conditions of worth’. Before coming to these concepts, however, we must first consider what Rogers meant by conditional and unconditional positive regard.

When we give a person our trust and acceptance, with an expression of genuine positive sentiment towards them, despite their shortcomings, faults and mistakes, they have recieved ‘unconditional positive regard’.

On the other hand, when we treat a person based on how they behave, and how well they perform tasks, we are treating them with conditional positive regard: we love them when they are good to us, and neglect or mistreat them when they are incapable of goodness. In a way, we expect them to ‘conform’ to our standards of behavior; if they don’t meet those standards they are somehow worthy of inferior treatment.

These standards that others must meet to obtain our regard are what Rogers called as the conditions of worth.

Typically, learning takes place through the application of these conditions on the growing child. The child is given the impression of being a ‘bad child’ and treated with various forms of punishments (at the very least, the withdrawal of positive objects such as attention, praise or toys), when he/she fails in behaving as expected. It is the incentives of parents’ love and attention (positive regard) that prompts the child to learn speech, get toilet-trained, and learn to eat with manners. If parents are not very mindful of the balance in their attitude (specifically, in giving the child a steady sense of unconditional positive regard through all the ups and downs of child development) the child might well loose the innate interest and ‘fun’ in learning and exploring new things. As such, the child will learn to do every new thing just to obtain someone’s regard or to avoid someone’s punishment. That is also how many children come to despise any new learning, except what they learn from play-at-will.

Many a children have ‘discovered’ that playing with a certain child was ‘bad’ given his/her background; that someone we never thought of as good or bad is now definitely good or certainly bad since we have heard some of our elders announce and reinforce that; that even thought the idea that an act of dishonesty is unjust and harmful makes perfect sense, whether it’s ok to engage in it or not depends on who does it. Thus even when children have received noble and valuable guidelines for living at a formal level, they are more often than not negated by actual conditioning.

In adulthood, the primary forms of conditions may be replaced by other more sophisticated ones: money, power, status, achievement, renown and fame, and a luxurious life. Even though we come to experience them as our own needs, their common sense definitions contain the sense of comparison with ‘others’: more money than others, power over others, satus higher than others, achievement better than or different from others’, renown and fame among others, more luxury and comfort than others…. Our life is reduced to nothing but a race for meeting more and more worthy conditions of being.

 

What we loose in the process

What we loose in the process is our own pre-verbal, intuitive, and emotionally tinged sense of things—what Rogers called as ‘organismic valuing’. According to Rogers, all organisms (humans or lower) have a tendecy to develop as fully as possible. For lower organisms, this is restricted more or less to the physical sense: body needs and survival. For humans however, there is an additional dimension called as self-actualizing. This tendency refers to our innermost urge to realize all the possibilities of experience and capacity innate to us. This urge creates in us ‘organismic valuing’: an inner voice (of course, experienced as a feeling rather than a thought) that tells us that some things are superior and make us more content and peacefully satisfied from the inside than some other things, without anybody’s commentary as a go-between. In cases where conditioning has been rather foolproof, we never even come to realize that there are whole undiscovered, and unexplored sides of us suppressed beneath the life of society-imposed ‘values’ we are pursuing.

This rosy existence is unfortunately uncommon. We remain pressurized by the need to do more for others and for ourselves as our worth has been attached to certain objects valued by our society. We have to force ourselves to ways of behaving and thinking that are inferior in our own eyes, but suit others. We have to hide our true inclinations, attitudes, and opinions on grave matters of character and way of life so that they don’t meet with censure, ridicule, indifference, bigotry, or plain misunderstanding. Our happiness comes to reside solely in other’s being happy with us; moments of peace, contentment, and joy that originate solely from inside are few and far between.

And buried deep beneath the compost of all the negated inner and intuitive knowledge of good and right, bad and wrong, must be that original and fresh perspective on the world: of being at one with the whole universe, of experiencing the whole universe at first hand.↓6

 

Where do our innate knowledge and perspective come from

Scientists may call it nature; but nature means what is there already existing before worldly learning takes place. Hence ‘nature’ is not an answer to the above question; if used, it’d merely be a ‘circular’ definition. Nature is what has been created by God:

فِطْرَتَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا

 … this (faith) being the nature designed by Allah on which He has originated mankind. (in Ar-Rum, 30)

According to the Ma’ariful- Qur’an, English version,  two interpretations of ‘nature’ are derivable from sources. One is that nature here means Islam, in reference to the following Ahadith in Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 6:

There is none born but is created to his true nature. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Majoosi… (#6423)

and:

Every new-born babe is born on the millat, and remains on this until his tongue is enabled to express himself. (#6427)

According to the second, equally acceptable interpretation, “Allah Ta’ala has bestowed the capability to every human being to discern his Creator and believe in Him”. Once this capacity is allowed to develop, it will ultimately lead the person to submission to God in the form of Islam. In fact, Maulana Taqi (the author of the Tafseer) presents arguments clarifying that the meaning that resonates with both the context of the full ayah and the ahadith quoted above is this second one:

All children are born with the natural instinct to perceive and identify the truth through an observation of their environment; however, once they develop the skill of speaking (which actually means the ability to understand logical concepts and think accordingly) their conscious development falls dependent on the teachings of their respective social environments.

 

Where does it all fit in the subject-object problem?

 In Qur’an the world has been described many times as a thing of play and pastime:

وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ

… the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play… (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

And it’s objects a vehicle of deception:

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

THE worldly life is no more than a deceitful possession. (in Al-i-Imran, 185)

And it has indeed succeded in deceiving a majority of the people:

وَغَرَّتْهُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا

 … and they have been deceived by the life in this world… (in Al-An’am, 70)

And the real life will be the one to come after:

وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ 

whereas, the life in the hereafter is indeed the real life: if they but knew this! (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

 

Even research in astrophysics has progressed to the point that some authors have speculated on the ‘tentative’ and ‘image-like’ nature of this world. According to Michael Talbot, in his book The Holographic Universe:

… there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.

The interesting part is that the way we experience it, we are never in a position to ascertain whether this world is a literal inter-play of light and other energies. All our experience tells us directly is the uniqueness of one’s own window on the world — a window we cannot share with anyone else, nor can we ever succeed in ‘peeping’ out from any one else’s window. What we call red, is what we have heard others calling red and teaching us to do the same; we are not even sure (by direct experience) that what looks as red in our eyes looks the same in anyone else’s eye or not!

On the other hand, the tangibility of the objects of this world is also directly experienced by us. So we can’t be inherently sure of any ‘philosophical idealism’ either (the idea that we experience nothing but what our minds make up). Moreover, at the level of daily life, questions of what is good and bad behavior, what is just and unjust, etc affect us more though deeper deliberations do have their effect.

We also get a similar attitude from the Qur’an. While, at least at the meaningful level, the belief in the transience of this life (meant to be ever inexplicable at the level of this world and this humanity) is a direct corollary of the belief in a more real and eternal life; pondering too much on ‘how to explain it all in terms understandable to us’ won’t serve us in any practical matters:

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ

وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا

وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord’; and only people of who are wise take heed.  (Al-i-Imran, 7)    

 

This wisdom is again pre-endowed; the same inner wisdom that begins to loose its voice pressured by the outward-imposed ‘lessons’. Attempts to scientifically analyze and study this wisdom will again fail; one cannot expect the ‘subject’ to turn back on itself and to study itself ‘objectively’. This wisdom is our side of the reality: our window of the world, whether blurred termporarily by the conditions of worth; or, open and receptive and accepting of all the mysticalities of the world, humbly accepting its own and the world’s true nature for what it is.  

This wise consciousness could well be the primary fact of life; that elusive insightfulness that imbues with belief on and certain and intimate knowledge of the only Source deservant of that belief. Interestingly, I stumbled upon but last night on an online ‘course on the consciousness‘ by a Professor Emeritus in physics, in the University of Virginia, Stanley Sobottka. It resonates nearly perfectly with the above conclusion:

Because most scientists of all types are mentally wedded to a belief in an external reality, they are unable to see an alternative picture. In particular, they are unable to see that Consciousness, rather than external reality, is the fundamental Reality. Thus, they persist in attempting (and in failing) to create an objective theory of Consciousness. When the contents of Awareness try to objectify Awareness, it is like a puppet trying to “puppetize” the puppet master, a picture on a movie screen trying to “pictureize” the actors, a shadow striving to “shadowize” the object that is casting it, or humans trying to “humanize” God.

The problem of trying to create an objective theory of subjective experience has been labeled the “hard problem” of consciousness by David Chalmers… In fact, there is no hard problem for those who are aware they are aware.↓7  

 

Notes

1. D. E. Harding was a mystical writer on the nature of self and reality.

2. The commenting editors have not articulated this angle. To read the chapter along with the commentary, click this link.

3. Read “the problem of substance” on the pertinent wikipedia page. I mentioned a relevant example formerly in Prophetic revelation and subjectivity.

4. A view called as philosophical realism.

5. The issue is examplified by this famous question that if there is no one in the jungle to hear a sound produced, can we say that the sound was really there? Yes is the answer given by subjective idealists who say, in essence, that the mind makes the world (or the subject makes the object).

6. This idea, of course, is not part of Rogers theory but links this psychological discourse with the more philosophical one we began with.

7. For flow reading I have removed internal hyperlinks in the quote pointing to sections in the course which have already elaborated in various points in here. I have also removed the cross-reference to David Chalmers. To see the original go to the section of the course here: http://faculty.virginia.edu/consciousness/new_page_13.htm#9.6

 

Related posts from this blog:

On scientific speculativeness vs certainty of Divine knowledge: Assumptions vs Certainty (Synopsis)

Note that all the related links noted down in the above-linked post page are relevant to this discussion as well.

Also, more on mysteries of consciousness ordinarily hidden from our perception: Outrageous Sensations: What can we learn from LSD?

 

RUMI REVELATIONS: Eternal reality and the journey towards God

In excerpts and quotes, God, poetry, Rumi Revelations, spirituality, universe on August 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

COME BEGGARS ↓1

Come beggars

sit with open hands

at the gate

of nothingness

God will bring bread

without the medium

of bread

sweetness

without honey or bee

when past and future

dissolve

there is only you

senseless as a lute

upon the breast of God

———————————

From:

LOOK AT LOVE ↓2

why are you so busy

with this or that or good or bad

pay attention to how things blend

why talk about all

the known and the unknown

see how unknown merges into the known

why think separately

of this life and the next

when one is born from the last

look at water and fire

earth and wind

enemies and friends all at once

you too must mingle my friends

since the earth and the sky

are mingled just for you and me

my beloved grows

right out of my own heart

how much more union can there be

 

My two cents

Light and atom seem to join the Eternal and the transient, the Divine and the earthly in an inseparable relationship…

This enigmatic interaction created for the purpose of testing the man…. does he run away… or comes forward?

Rumi invites us to come boldly

and to plunge into the realms of eternity despite the confines of this world.

Notes

1. Translated by Daniel Liebert, in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI.

2. Translated by Nadir Khalili, in above.

QUR’AN IN RAMADAAN: The enjoining Light

In God, Quran, science, universe on August 5, 2011 at 4:48 am

2nd Ramadaan, 1432:

Ramadaan Mubarak to all the readers of this blog and to all Muslims in general.

Two years ago I began the Quran in Ramadaan series on my blog and wished to continue it beyond Ramadaan as The Qur’an Cycle. However things don’t always go as intended. Beginning from last year, I have taken a long gap in my blogging, the reason of which I will explain InshaAllah on my post re 14th August. May Allah accept my intentions this year to continue my blogging especially my Qur’an Cycle series, Amen.

 As I began the yearly Quran recitation cycle most of us complete in Ramadaan, I was struck by this ayah as related to a recent advance in my knowledge that had hit me as worth sharing with my readers:

صِبْغَةَ اللَّـهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ مِنَ اللَّـهِ صِبْغَةً  

THE Color of Allah… And who can be better than Allah in color… (in Al-Baqarah, 138)

I have used the literal dictionary meaning of the Arabic word sibghah over here, as translators generally place the word in a context and replace it’s literal English equivalent with some meaningful concept helpful in tafseer. I have also provided a link to the Beautiful Online Quran at tanzeel.info so that readers can go through the different meaningful renderings of the word themselves.

Color, Light and the Creator of the Universe

We all know that ‘color’ is nothing but a byproduct of how light interacts with objects. Sunlight has all the primary colors in it (different wavelenghts corresponding to different hues). When light falls upon an object, the object absorbs some wavelenghts and reflects back the rest. This ‘reflected’ combination of wavelengths, upon reaching our eyes, literally colors the object with its particular shade. When an object absorbs all the wavelengths, we see it as black. Objects look white when all of light is reflected back, none is abosrbed.  That is why black objects are warmest while white objects are coolest, since we know light is a form of energy and energy prodcues heat.

We also know, that while Allah Ta’ala is incomparable and indescribable, the closest real-world entity with which He associates Himself is Light.  In one of the most beautiful ayahs in the whole Qur’an Allah Ta’ala says:

اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ

 ALLAH is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp __the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star __kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (in An-Nur, ayah 35)

This ayah is rare in the Qur’an not only because of its sonic and literary beauty or because it uses such a sparkling series of metaphors; but also because this is the only ayah in Qur’an where Allah describes His nature other than by referring to His actions and powers.

He proclaims He is Light, and that same light which the whole universe depends on. It’s as if the whole universe springs from Allah, that His Being spans and pervades the whole universe, and indeed these are the belief-points about Allah that are familiar Muslim household lessons.

Light and the Creatures of the Creator

Those familiar with the Qur’an know that light is also mentioned in connection with the creatures of the universe, in particular us humans.

Surah Hadeed, in particular, describes how Light is one of the Blessings of God that will help the good Muslims on the Day of Judgment:

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَىٰ نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم

ON that day you will see the faithful men and the faithful women– their light running before them and on their right hand– (in ayah 12) 

وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرُسُلِهِ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الصِّدِّيقُونَ ۖ وَالشُّهَدَاءُ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ وَنُورُهُمْ

THOSE who believe in Allah and His Messengers are the sincere and the martyrs before their Lord, they shall have their reward and their light. (in ayah 19) 

In Surah Tahreem we are taught how to ask for this blessing of light:

رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

‘OUR Lord, complete our light for us and forgive us. Surely, You have power over all things.’ (in ayah 8 )

 At other places in the Qur’an the good people are described as having shining faces on the day of Judgment, whereas the bad ones are described as having black faces. For instance, in Al-i-Imran:

يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ ۚ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُم بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَكْفُرُونَ

THE Day when faces will be whitened and faces blackened. To those whose faces have become blackened it will be said: ‘Did you disbelieve after you had believed? Then taste the punishment for that you disbelieved’. (Ayah 106)
And then:
 
AS for those whose faces will be whitened, they shall be in the Mercy of Allah for ever. (Ayah 107)
 
Light and the Human Body
 
It seems Light does have a connection with the human body, tied to the purity of one’s character. But the things of that world will be revealed in that world, not here. However, one wonders, does light have a connection with the human body even in this world?
 
 
 
My attempt to move towards possible answerws must begin with the counterpart of light — matter. Everything in this world, living or non-living is made up of atoms. An atoms itself is a dynamic arrangement of particles: neutrons, protons, and electrons. Nearly every process that takes place in this world is influenced by a constant interaction between light and atom, when looked at the atomic level. Making and breaking of things, heating up and cooling down, etc. Even processes of life (taking place in the body) are influenced. This is because all processes involve either  joining or unjoining of atoms (chemical bonds), or involve movement of electrons from one state to another and both these processes include light particles (photons) as a must.
 
Photons are either released or absorbed when electrons move between states and depending upon the direction of movement a chemical bond may be formed or broken. This is what effects both color (when the photons involved are at the level detectable by the eye) and heat. There are familiar examples in the living world already: All plants rely on photosynthesis, the absorption of light to create food energy. Many living things exhibit glowing in the dark (bioluminescence), a process that involves the release of light. In humans most electron-photon interactions take place at levels that do not translate into visible light, however visible light does effect well-known biological processes, such as:  as metabolism (making and breaking of food for energy and storage), circadian rhythms (roughly 24-hour cycles of various behaviors and bodily life processes), and even reproduction↓1.
 
So far so good; we are on familiar ground.
 
However, what inspired me to write this post was how a bunch of scientists are attempting to find bolder instances of how light interacts with our body, in particular with our DNA and our brain. The light involved in body processes may be termed as biophysical light, to distinguish it from more familiar light of the outside world.
 
Light and the DNA? … and the Brain?
 
That DNA interacts with light was a fact known before (though I had no idea) but which remains unexplained (reference, p. 27).  However, a group of Russian scientists (whose reference I have provided) have used this ability of DNA to influence it’s basic task: development of an organism. For instance, by manipulating this ability, scientists have achieved “superfast growth of potatoes” and a “statistically authentic ‘resuscitation’ of dead seeds [of a plant] taken from the Chernobyl area in 1987”.
 
More importantly, these experiments support the “contention that this newly detected phenomenon of quantized optical activity can be considered as the means by which the organism obtains unlimited optical information on its own metabolism.” Specifically, the patterns of polarization that interaction with light creates is a direct and holistic source of information for the DNA and for every gene located on it. These scientists, hence, propose that DNA and gene have a holographic memory through which they can read the genetic information as a text in context.
 
We all know that DNA is composed of a series of genes, each gene storing a particular bit of information about the organism. Each gene is made up of series of 3 nucleotides (called as codons). Actually, each gene stores the recipe for making of a particular body protien which in turn influences a particular life process. Now, proteins are essentially chains of amino acids. Well, each codon of a gene holds information about a particular amino acid. Each codon itself is a series of three neucleotides . All students of bio-chemistry know that transcripts of any given gene chain-of-codons is ‘run’ like a tape on ribosomes and turn by trun the amino acids coded by the codons are brought on-site and joined up one by one to create the protein chain. However, it seems that “that only the first two elements of the DNA codon triplet … are the significant ones”, giving rise to the question that “how does the reading ribosome know which protein has to be generated, if the third nucleotide in codon’s triplet does not of itself provide the answer with total certainty?” 
 
Based on the knowledge of DNA’s interaction with light (and related quantum phenomena), combined with their experimental and theoretical research, the quoted group of scientists conclude the above under-lined statement. Simply, that “this ambiguity might be resolved by some kind of context dependent reading similar to that inherent in human speech and language understanding.”  That is Genes and DNA have a ‘holistic’ awareness of the information contained by them, which in turn guides the selection of specific amino acids for specific proteins. This holistic awareness is likened to a holographic memory since it supposedly arises from the wave pattern that interactions with photons produce throughout the DNA in each cell of the body. For more curious readers wishing to clarify themselves what a ‘holographic memory’ is and why are DNA’s capabilities being likened to it, I point you to the crystal-clear post of an interesting fellow blogger Jim Cranford.
 
Another scientist Karl Pribram had similarly proposed that the cereberal cortex (the intelligent part of the brain) also has holographic memory. Read his quote below taken from a fellow blogger (see the source here):
 

“ …brain models need to take into account the type of processing performed
by optical systems. Such optical information processing is called
holography, and holograms display exactly the same sort of
imaging properties observed for brain…”

Source

To understand further we first need to reconsider how a hologram works. By splitting a light beam into two beams after it has passed through a crystal (and is thus amplified) and focusing the two beams on the subject from two different angles, the recording of unlimited bits of information about the subject is made. When light rays strike an object in front of us and the information reaches our brain, the effect is similar; plus the totality of information about the subject (e.g. sounds, taste etc. as the case may be, even feelings and thoughts) is stored in a holistic way. Not only that, as we have seen, actual interactions of electrons and photons are involved in the brain. So the recording of information holistically may be holographic in a way similar to that of the DNA. Our memories, our intelligence, our personalities, all work holistically, nobody needs to tell us that. We don’t think one little piece of thought at a time. A multitude of images, feelings, stimuli, opinions, habit patters impinge upon us at the same time any single moment of our life. Some metaphyhsical authors are even wondering if the ventricles (the liquid-filled chambers deep within the brain) really act as  crystals in an ongoing holographic process resulting in consciousness.

 
So much for science talk, but what are the points of awe and wonder that inspired me to write this post?
 
Light — the spiritual connection between this world and the next?
 
There are a lot of references in Qur’an and Hadith which inform us that this world has been designed as a stage. Qur’an uses words such as lahv (useless thing), la’b (plaything), and ghuroor (deception) to describe the world and its objects. One Hadith likens this world to a drop of sea-water. Contrast with the Ocean, likened to the eternal world, or let us say, the reality before, behind, and after this deceiving useless for-play dunya (world). Naturally, as one hadith informs us, God’s Eye doesn’t weigh this world even as much as a wing of a mosquito. This world was created as a test for the will of humans (and jinns), and will be destroyed after all the generations destined to be born have completed their alloted life-spans. Not just this world, the whole universe will be destroyed and then made in a new shape when the Day of Judgment arrives. Our bodies will have been lost long before that day; new ones will be made for us and our souls (recalled from the World of the Barzakh) will be reunited with them. All of this is salient in the open-to-all sources of Quran and Sahih Hadith.
 
Light is the one familiar thing from this world, however, which has been given special status. Looking deeply, each and every object of this world is made up of atoms. And all that happens at the physical level and chemical level (e.g. movement, breaking, joining or combining of things, etc) takes place at that level and often involves the interaction of atom’s particles with the particles of light, photons. Not only light interacts significantly with the human body, there are pointers in still developing fields of science that light circulates inside and guides the two basic structures of the human body which ‘run’ it in the most literal sense. 
 
God has said that:
 

 AND of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction. (Al-Zariyat, ayah 49)

Is it that light forms a pair with matter (atom), the former being the fluid, immaterial yet more lasting (indeed, ever-lasting), intrusive, all-pervasive, partner of the pair; while the latter remains the more limited, temporary and destructible partner? Indeed, scientists have already procurred evidence that atom and photon can share the same information. Just as Atom is the essense of this world, may be light is the essence of the other one? It must be, if the very Al-mighty Lord likens Himself to it. May be that is why the properties of the two correspond perfectly with the two worlds they are associated with, this stage-like world and the Real Eternal world behind it all..

Indeed mind-boggling research on light-related quantum phenomena have already lead authors such as Michael Talbot to propose that this whole universe is nothing but a phantasm, a giant hologram!

Source

 

Notes

1. Scholarly reference here.

 

SCIENCE|RELIGION: Observations of a Scientist upon Science and Reality

In philosophy, science, universe on May 6, 2009 at 5:58 pm

John Templeton FoundationBernard d’Espagnat is a French theoretical physicist and a philosopher of science. He received the Templeton Prize in March this year upon work that shows how science cannot fully explain reality. The Templeton is the largest prize in the world in terms of monetary value and is annually awarded by the Templeton Foundation to acknowledge work that finds a common ground between science and religion and to individuals who reaffirm the spiritual dimension of life.

Bernard d’Espagnat’s major contribution in science is his work on several aspects of quantum mechanics. It was this work which lead him to explore the nature of reality and to question the disregarding attitude many scientists have towards the philosophical questions thrown up by quantum physics.

d’Espagnat’s ideas on the doomed division between science and ‘ultimate reality’

From The Guardian:

“What quantum mechanics tells us, I believe, is surprising to say the least. It tells us that the basic components of objects – the particles, electrons, quarks etc. – cannot be thought of as “self-existent”. The reality that they, and hence all objects, are components of is merely “empirical reality”.

This reality is something that, while not a purely mind-made construct as radical idealism would have it, can be but the picture our mind forces us to form of … Of what ? The only answer I am able to provide is that underlying this empirical reality is a mysterious, non-conceptualisable “ultimate reality”, not embedded in space and (presumably) not in time either.”

From Princeton University Press (In a review of his book On Physics and Philosophy):

d Espagnat's bookHis overall conclusion is that while the physical implications of quantum theory suggest that scientific knowledge will never truly describe mind-independent reality, the notion of such an ultimate reality–one we can never access directly or rationally and which he calls “veiled reality”–remains conceptually necessary nonetheless.

From his Templeton page:

“the things we observe may be tentatively interpreted as signs providing us with some perhaps not entirely misleading glimpses of a higher reality and, therefore, that higher forms of spirituality are fully compatible with what seems to emerge from contemporary physics.”

In a statement prepared for the news conference, d’Espagnat pointed out that since science cannot tell us anything certain about the nature of being, clearly it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not.

From the BBC report on the news:

His concept of an ultimate reality – as he terms it, “the ground of things” – is only glimpsed, not explicitly described, by science.

Science, he said, “is aimed not at describing ‘reality as it really is’ but at predicting what will be observed in such-and-such circumstances”.

From the statement delivered by d’Espagnat on the prize ceremony:

At this point I’d like to draw your attention on the fact that, if true, this conception of mine has two significant consequences.

One of them is that if indeed it is our mind that, due to its own structure, carves all objects out of the “ground of things,” obviously we cannot any more picture mind to ourselves as being itself an emanation of (some class of) objects. If the notion “emanation” is here to be kept, we may only claim that mind emanates “from the ground of things.” As we shall immediately see, the difference is far from being a negligible one.

For indeed – and this is nothing else than the second consequence I just mentioned – this “ground of things,” this Real, quite obviously is not a thing. Clearly it is not imbedded in space, and presumably not in time either. Let us call it “Being” if you like. Or “the One,” following
Plotinus.


SCIENCE|RELIGION: The Holographic Principle and Loh-e-Mehfooz

In Islam, Quran, universe on April 12, 2009 at 8:41 am

Scientists are wondering if our world is a three-dimensional projection from a two-dimensional source of information. The basic assertion in what is called the holographic principle was put forth first by Gerard t’ Hooft: All the information contained in some region of space is encoded on the boundary of that region.

the-life-magazine-hologram-MIT-museumThe name of the principle derives from holography. Holography is a technique which records light rays reflected in all directions from an object. When the image is projected from a holographic film in space, the image appears three-dimensional just as the object looked originally – a 3D figure from a 2D source.

This principle had its first known application to black holes. However, applied to the universe at large, the principle asserts that “the entire universe can be seen as a two-dimensional information structure “painted” on the cosmological horizon.”

To those interested in physics….

A paradox about black holes was puzzling scientists back in the 1970s. If any object entered a black hole, all information in the object was lost. This included information about entropy (in other words, ‘information describing its microscopic parts). This, however, violated the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system will increase over time if the system is not in equilibrium.

black hole

At the same time, there was another fact known about the black holes: that the surface area of a black hole’s boundary always grew when objects fell into it. t’ Hooft showed that the information ‘lost’ by an object falling into the black hole was actually stored by a corresponding alteration on the boundary of the black hole.

During the 1990s, scientists finally applied the same principle to the whole universe. The idea gained credibility among the scientific community because it was in line with the string theory, the wacky explains-all theory which integrates all known ideas about particles, energy and gravity.

To those interested in religion….

In Qur’an there is repeated mention of a kitaab – a book – that has everything recorded in it. The literal meaning of the word kitaab in Arabic is ‘anything that is written’. Everything that’s in the universe and everything that has happened or will happen is recorded in this book. This includes Qur’an, with respect to which, this master register of everything has been called as Loh-e-Mehfooz, where loh means a page or a paper and mehfooz means safe. The strict conceptual meaning of loh-e-mehfooz would be ‘a two-dimensional, permanent and secure record of information’.

Do you not know that Allah knows all that occurs in heaven as well as on earth? All this, behold, is in a record: verily, this is easy for Allah. [Sura Al-Haj, ayah 70]

He has the keys to the things that are beyond the reach of a created being’s perception: none knows them but He. And He knows all that is on land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls but He knows it; and neither is there a grain in the earth’s deep darkness, nor anything living or dead, but is recorded in [His] clear decree. [Sura Al-An’am, ayah 59]

Nay, but this [divine writ they reject] is a discourse sublime (ayah 21), Upon an imperishable tablet [inscribed] (ayah 22). [Sura Al-Buruj]

A few pinches of salt

1. Discussions on some of the websites (for examples check this out) sound as if the ‘hologram’ analogy is being applied to literally by the readers. But such thinking is incorrect. The holographic principle does not actually imply that the three dimensional observable world is an illusion, just as a holographic image literally is. Raphael Bousso helps clarify: The world doesn’t appear to us like a hologram, but in terms of the information needed to describe it, it is one.

holographic-principleThe holographic principle, hence, really asserts that information describing everything that is in the world is recorded on it’s 2D boundary. It may be of interest here that Allah has actually described the world as la’ib and lahw:

And nothing is the life of this world but a play and a passing delight; [in Sura Al-An’am, ayah 32]

However, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this interpretation of ‘life in this world’ that everything we see is literally an illusion.

2. The scientific status of the holographic principle, and the larger string theory in which it is grounded, is THEORY. Theoretical physics is (and has always been) way ahead of experimental physics (the one which provides evidence for the theories). Theoretical physics relies on mathematics and the holographic principle is the outcome of a series of elaborate math equations which help explain the known oddities about black holes and fit in with string theory – another (rather a set of  several) series of equations… There’s simply not enough technology available to test any of this. For a long time to come, any ‘evidence’ that supports the principle is likely to be circumstantial. That is, it will be a piece of observation that could be related to the theory – it will still be far from a conclusive piece of evidence.

3. Even if the holographic principle was true, it does not necessarily mean that this is REALLY WHAT Allah means by umm-ul-kitaab.  Only Allah has the full knowledge and only He possesses the true knowledge of such concepts which can never by ascertained to a 100% gaurantuee by the most advanced of sciences.

subhanallah**~~**

Here is more on the relationship between Qur’anic knowledge and scientific knowledge from this blog:

On Prophetic Revelation and Subjectivity