What We Cannot Know

What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge
by Marcus du Sautoy

Review by Dr Pingali Gopal
(Blog site at pingaligopi.wordpess.com)


Science has achieved a lot; and it promises to do so in the future. The spirit of scientific enquiry based on theory and experiment is the bedrock on which humanity has progressed. The humans have this unique thirst to know which set them apart from other conscious beings. The spirit of knowledge and enquiry has made our lives comfortable over so many centuries. It has its own detractors. Science has given us the atom bomb too and the methods of mass destruction. Maybe, science has also equipped us with destroying ourselves. But, the fact remains that scientific enquiry will never stop so long as humans are alive, because the spirit of knowing more about the world is one of the prime movers in the individual and the collective scheme of things. However, there comes a point when the scientists must give up, put their hands up in despair, and shout,’ We cannot go any further’. There are certain edges beyond which everything is in a state of permanent fog and a mist. The author calls them the ‘known unknowns’. The book is a brilliant exposition of these edges of science which are beyond the grasp of the human mind presently. Continue reading

adhyAsa (part 3)

Notes on Shankara’s examination of the nature of ‘Error’ in the introduction to the brahmasUtra.

Read Part 2 of the series

Analogy of the Rope and the Snake
This example originates from the commentaries of gaudapAda on the mANDUkya upaniShad. Seeing a rope in the dark, it is mistaken for a snake – an error or adhyAsa. We mistakenly superimpose the image of an illusory snake onto the real rope. In just such a way we superimpose the illusion of objects etc. upon the one Atman .

If there is total dark, we would not see the rope so could not imagine it to be a snake. Hence ‘ignorance is bliss’, as in deep sleep – there can be no error. Similarly, if there is total light we see the rope clearly – in complete knowledge, we know everything to be brahman. Knowledge is also bliss! The error occurs only in partial light or when the eyes are defective. Then there is partial knowledge; we know that some ‘thing’ exists. This part, that is not covered by darkness or hidden by ignorance is called the ‘general part’ and is ‘uncovered’ or ‘real’. That the ‘thing’ is actually a rope is hidden because of the inadequate light or knowledge. This specific feature of the thing, that it is a rope, is called the ‘particular part’ and is covered. In place of the covered part, the mind substitutes or ‘projects’ something of its own, namely the snake. Continue reading

Physics and Vedanta – 3/6

Physics and Vedanta – 3/6

[An INTERVIEW BY Paula Marvelly – Sixteen searching  Questions probing the Depths of Physics and Advaita Vedanta – Responses from Dr. Ramesam Vemuri – 2011]  Part – 1, Part – 2

Part 3: Gamma wave synchrony, God Particle and Super String Theory:

6.  Returning to the subject of the mind and the brain, what is gamma wave synchrony and how does it tie in with our view of the world?

You see, we are conscious of a world out there and we are also conscious that we are conscious. How does this happen? Where is the seat of consciousness? The ancient Indian sages postulated an invisible entity about the size of the digit of the thumb to be residing in the heart overseeing the bodily functions and also providing consciousness to a human being.

To the extent my knowledge goes, the ancient scriptures did not talk of neurons or equivalent units or the working of the brain. They did, however, talk of nerves. They conceived the nerves to be the conduits of not only the life-forces but also food and other material. They said that all these nerves join in the heart. The Western philosophers, however, use consciousness in a different way. They thought of a soul.  Perhaps it was Descartes who identified the pineal gland in the brain as representing the soul. Continue reading

New interview

For those interested, here is a link to a recent interview with myself conducted by Creative India magazine. It provides a general introduction to the nature of Advaita and background to my own involvement. The only aspect that readers of this site might find novel is a disagreement I had with respect to the Sringeri Acharya’s definition of Astika!

Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Tattvabodha – Part 24

Part 24 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 24 asks how we become ‘liberated’ and begins the description of a jIvanmukta.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Two questions in QUORA

Q&As in Quora)

What are some essential self awareness exercises?

M. None, unless attention… Greg Goode (a Non-dualist teacher) recommends ‘Standing as Awareness’. That is the title of a booklet by him.

In Advaita Vedanta Gaudapada and Shankara did not recommend any exercises except, perhaps, Asparsha yoga (which means, ‘no-relationship – with anything), and only as a preparation for less-gifted students. All experiences derived from exercises, including Samadhi, are only temporary. Advaita is not Yoga, and there are no injunctions or exercises in it – only Intuition and reasoning based on it. There is the triple way or method: ‘hearing’ (the scriptures= Upanishads), reflecting on what has been read or listened to (if one has a guide or teacher), and contemplation (nididhyasana). That is all. (There are other answers to this question and the following one).

Will we as humans be able to distinguish between our conscious and electrical conscious?

M. I don’t understand what you mean by ‘electrical conscious’. Do you mean the electro-chemical signals between synapses in the brain which transmit and share information between neurons? That is only the physical basis or vehicle for consciousness. Consciousness is not a phenomenon, it is an (ontological) reality – ‘what is’ – beyond even conceptualization, and not physical. Consciousness is indescribable and unknowable by the mind (brain-based mind, again, being a vehicle or ‘transducer’), and, thus, a metaphysical or spiritual reality.


Physics and Vedanta – 2/6

Physics and Vedanta – 2/6 

[An INTERVIEW BY Paula Marvelly – Sixteen searching  Questions probing the Depths of Physics and Advaita Vedanta – Responses from Dr. Ramesam Vemuri – 2011]

Part – 1

Part 2: Origin of the Universe and What was there before the Big Bang:

4.  Why did the universe come into being?

Science has no answer as far as the ‘why’ question goes. No apparent ‘purpose’ is obvious and evolutionary biologists would like to say it is just ‘blind’ – no specific objective or goal to be attained.

The undiluted and unadulterated Advaitic view is that the universe is just an imagination, a fantasy. One may imagine a universe as per one’s own predilections and then one sees only such a universe. We have very interesting stories about the various types of universes imagined by different characters, fictitious or real, in Yogavaasishta to illustrate this point, for example.

In spite of the fact that the universe is purely imaginary, still we do perceive something solid out there, transact within it and identify our ‘life’ with it. Even if we say that the ‘how’ of the universe is answered to be no more than a ‘thought process’, why should it still be what it is? Continue reading