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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.

 

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Eternity or Transience?

In Quran, Ramadaan on September 4, 2009 at 4:36 am

1430, 07 Ramadaan:

زُيِّنَ لِلنّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوٰتِ مِنَ النِّساءِ وَالبَنينَ وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالفِضَّةِ وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ وَالأَنعٰمِ وَالحَرثِ ۗ ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا ۖ وَاللَّهُ عِندَهُ حُسنُ المَـٔابِ

  Translation: ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and sown fields. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all returns is with God.

This is ayah no. 14, Sura Aal-Imran in the 3rd juz and summarizes one of the most basic psychological needs of any human being. It is also one of those acoustically, and literarily satisfying verses of Quran that quotes lists as several examples of a certain concept. In Arabic, the items of a list follow each other with the conjunction letter وَ between them, and it’s a pleasure to read these lists in the true Arabic accent as per the rules of tajweed. 

Sources of psychological motivation

 I will use terms from Henry Murray‘s concepts in his theory of psychogenic needs to discuss the list of needs indicated here, that he describes in detail in his classic book Explorations in Personality. Apart from the psychological needs described below, the list also refers to certain basic bodily needs in the terms ‘women’ and ‘cattle and sown fields’, which will not be focused upon.

Note: The small n is used to refer to the word ‘need’ following Murray.

Love needs

The first two terms of the list – women and children – represents a group of needs with the commonality of affection between them. Murray included 5 different needs in this category of which three are relevant here.

Affiliation – Our need to relate to a person or a social group. “The aim of the need Affiliation is to form a synergy: a mutually enjoyed, enduring, harmoniously co-operating and reciprocating relation with another person” (p. 174). It is this need which generates in us the positive sentiments of trust, good-will, love, and a sympathetic empathy. It is this need that makes us seek out acquaintances, to do things that please those we love, to wish to stay with and among people, to discuss, share and exchange information, opinions, personal troubles and gifts with people. It is the basis for our moral tendencies of cooperation and loyalty.

Taking the idea of women and children together, Murray’s concept of the complementary need pair of nurturance and succorance immediately springs to mind. Nurturance refers to the need to take care of and/or attend to (whether socially or materially) another person in need. Succorance is the complementary need to feel supported, and to have one’s needs (psychological or basic) gratified by another. Both, of course, are fused with Affiliation: the element of relating to another is essentially present.

The need for nurturance is what makes us listen with sympathy to someone in trouble, to feel moved at the sight of distress or maltreatment, to actually offer our support by sharing our time, effort, resources and ideas with those we love or are in need. It makes us enjoy the company of children, to be lenient and forgiving to our juniors, and to refrain from bothering or annoying someone we care for. Succorance, on the other hand, is the receiving end of nurturance. It makes us crave the care of our parents, and to seek for help, advice, sympathy, consolation, and forgiveness from friends, family, experts, and other superiors. 

Materialistic needs

Gathered treasures of silver and gold…. In a few words, the spirit of the need for Acquisition is captured with the whole range of its varieties implied. Murray’s concept of n Acquisition describes the desire for material possessions and acts designed to satisfy this desire. In the most ordinary sense, this need is expressed when we work for money or food. However, the lust of this need does not stick to our basic physical requirements. It soon blossoms into behaviors such as bargaining, purchasing, collecting, storing, and hording. In Murray’s terms, the n for Retention (keeping, collecting) is often fused with it. The actual examples used (ornamental metals) are those that typify the ‘greed for more’ underlying these behaviors; the mutually reinforcing words وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ so aptly reflect our urge to keep and hold on to these objects forever. A whole range of objects and a variety of stores fall in the range implied: stores of food, brimming deep freezers, filled up wardrobes, diverse collections of jewelry, shoes, handbags, ties, watches, utensils and crockery, bank balance, shares, interest, property, saving or lottery certificates… the list continues.  

Power needs

The next term of the list “horses branded (for excellence)” could be taken as another item in the implied treasures, but in the Arab culture horses stood for much more than riches. Horses were the primary means of travel and communication in those times as well as a major war resource along with weaponry. They meant speedy connection across settlements and easy manoeuvering and execution in battle fights. Thus they were an essential part of the assemblage of any emperor or sultan who meant to keep or extend his power over the lands. When Quran warns muslims to keep prepared against any possibility of encounters with enemy, horses are mentioned as representative of military power. [Sura Al-Anfal, 60].

            Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs includes several needs with the common feature of power; the most relevant of which is Dominance. n Dominance is the need for control of one’s environment. This need is what moves people to take up influential, leading, persuasive, supervising, organizing, judging, law-making, or ruling positions and professions. The most penultimate manifestation of the need for Dominance is the emperor with perfect control over the masses, resources and institutions of a country with added opportunity to extend the range of his dominance by taking over surrounding countries. The phrase وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ  could be taken as a symbol for such thorough need for dominance.

            The n Aggression is commonly fused with Dominance – the need to forcefully overcome opposition and hindrances in one’s way. Again military power – implied in the Quranic phrase – is a joint vehicle of force and control.

Needs associated with cultural activities

The last terms of the list are cattle and sown fields. These two concepts do not just reflect the primary need for food, nor do they merely imply property. Rather, they are symbols for agriculture, which in itself is tied with the idea of culture and civilization. As such they subsume several psychogenic needs that are manifested through such cultural activities.

When managing our basic needs and comforts in settlements and communities, we seek to explore and discover (n Cognizance) creative and economic ways of ensuring adequate and constant supplies and storage in a neat and organized fashion (n Order). There’s the need to design, combine and create tools, technologies, systems and institions to help in the many practical stages of management (n Construction). Finally, the pool of knowledge and skills needs to be communicated to the next generation by providing information, explaining and demonstrating (n Exposition) in order to ensure the continuity of the system in the future generations.

Finally, there is an urge in all of us to utilize our efforts, skills and resources accomplish our tasks in the optimal fashion. This is that famous need for achievement that Murray described as our need for mastery and to perform at a high standard autonomously,  and that McClelland focused on in his landmark research.

Common qualities of the psychogenic needs

One of the foremost qualities of these needs is that their objects are alluring, beguiling and enticing. In addition to impinging upon the above discussed psychological motivations, they entice our senses  and satisfy our sense of beauty. In fact Allah Subhanahu Ta’aala Himself identifies their allure as a significant factor as to why people pursue these needs. With the use of the word زُيِّنَ, He clearly associates this particular dimension of human motivation that is referred to as n Sentience by Murray.  

Another common feature is the transient nature of the gratification of these needs. All human process take place in a cyclic fashion – so with these needs. We experience love for people, but do not feel it on the uppermost levels of our mind all the time; we forget, turn indifferent, or are distracted by other needs. This doesn’t stop us, however, from feeling needy after a time lapse or given some trigger. Same with all of them, inclusive of course, of the more basic level needs such as hunger and thirst. There is no satisfying us for good. Like that hapless dog whose tongue falls out as soon as his stomach is empty again.

A final and  common feature of all these needs is that their objects are all limited to this world [ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا]. These needs cannot answer us in the post-death scenario where existence continues on a different plane. More important, these needs are often not enough to fully realize our humanity and yet have the potential to engross us too much in themselves so that we forget there are sides to us still undeveloped.

This higher-level need – the need to experience something bigger and higher than ourselves – has been called as the spiritual need and, from the psychological perspective, can best be summarized by referring to Abraham Maslow:

He rejects the idea of limiting the experience of the holy to only one day of the week, when everything is miraculous. He argues that the sacred is in the ordinary, in people, in one’s own backyard (Maslow, 1970b). Looking for miracles is a display of ignorance that everything is miraculous. All kinds of serious people are found to be capable of discovering the sacred anywhere and everywhere in life (Maslow, 1970b). He comments that when the organised religion splits off the sacred from the profane, the sacred, no longer belonging to everyone, becomes the property of a certain few—an elite cadre, select guardians of a private “hotline” to heaven, “the elect”  (Maslow, 1970b). Maslow comments that when the holy is confined to one day of the week, people may feel free from the necessity of religious experi­ence at any other time. [Source: Mario Fernando]

How God promises to fulfill our spiritual sides

وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسٰنَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ

NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. [Sura Qaf, 16]

 
 

 

وَإِذا سَأَلَكَ عِبادى عَنّى فَإِنّى قَريبٌ ۖ أُجيبُ دَعوَةَ الدّاعِ إِذا دَعانِ ۖ فَليَستَجيبوا لى وَليُؤمِنوا بى لَعَلَّهُم يَرشُدونَ
 
 (Al-Baqarah, 186) AND IF My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way.
 

God promises us His attentions to us on a one to one basis and at a close, private, intimate, highly interpersonal level. The exquisite experience of relating to the Creator of this universe in such a manner is by itself extremely gratifying and uplifting and an immense source of strength and support in times of stress. This is the core experience of spirituality which is available to all of us, regardless of our external differences, as clear from these two ayahs.

Another way, our spirituality is gratified in this world is by encouraging in us those character qualities which all religions and even the contemporary literature on spirituality identifies as universally desirable and as in the upper echelons of psychological development.  Since the major take in this article is psychological, I once again refer to Maslow’s list of B-values (the values deemed desirable by those striving to fulfil their being – that is, higher level – needs) and select those that correspond with the concept of Ehsan in Islam [Source: George Norwood].

  • Wholeness/Unity/Oneness
  • Perfection/Just-so-ness
  • Completion/Finality/Ending
  • Justice/Fairness
  • Aliveness/Full-Functioning
  • Simplicity/Essential/Honesty
  • Goodness/Oughtness
  • Truth/Reality/Beauty/Pure
  • Self-Sufficiency/Independence

There is another and certainly the Perfect and the Absolute way that God promises to cater to our needs which will still be alive and impinging in the Afterlife. Among all the various rewards of the Afterlife mentioned throughout the Qur’an, objects catering to one or another of the various psychological needs can be identified. The rewards presented as the most valuable are, again of the highest kind: meeting Him directly and earning His praises.

Thus God is the ultimate means of the fulfillment of our needs in both the worlds. While the fulfillment of the earthier needs in this world is open to all within physical and curcumstantial constraints of the world, none of the needs can be fulfilled in the Afterlife until we first earn this status through our actions in this world.

Ameen.

 

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.