Kartwheels

This page is dedicated to discussions on divinity, spirituality, faith and self-realization (a never-ending process). The page is called ‘Kartwheels’ because of the dynamism one can and probably should annotate to religious principles and the need for dialogue, interpretation and appreciation of ideas by all and sundry of various concepts in religious texts and teachings.

The word ‘Kart’, in Finno-Ugric religion, refers to the sacrificial priest of the Mari people of the middle Volga River valley and was derived from a Tatar word meaning “elder.” Here, it is to represent the idea of religion and spirituality, which needs to be discussed and debated at times (dynamism in the ‘Wheels’). 

On Compassion, Faith and Quantum ‘Subjectivity’

This one’s to share a small experience I had which has affected me deeply.
So, recently on a couple of occasions I have been to Peter and Taryn Prescott’s home in Cambridge. They are a lovely couple with a few-months old son – Isaac (who interestingly seems pretty intimidated by my glasses, I guess).  We have a get-together and lunch, then a little gospel reading and general discussions about life ( I also read from the Bhagavad Gita today). We read an excerpt each time we meet and today I was asked to do so. Today’s verses were from Mark 11,

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ 

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Very powerful verses and statements intricately woven into the verses. For one, the whole idea of belief in a higher form, a higher symmetry. And by that one is referring to unconditional reverence to the higher power, which can fundamentally change the way in which nature responds and situations evolve. Interestingly, much like the apparent ‘subjectivity’ arising in the interaction of observers with a physical system in Quantum Physics. So, the whole idea is that the way in which you interact with a system fundamentally defines the way and state in which the system will be and evolve thereafter. If we believe in the idea of multiverses (multiple universes), the idea that you are in this universe because of the way in which elements are presently interacting and have interacted leaves this inherent space for the lack of realism and determinism, unless one goes by what are known as ‘Hidden Variable’ theories (which say that we actually just observe a portion of a much larger theory where realism and determinism and the whole idea of objective reality does exist).

Nature-Stone-Beach-Wallpaper-Photos

This in turn raises the question, which also gets raised while discussing the idea of Deism (that God just made the universe and then left it to evolve by itself without any intervention): where does the idea of God come in? Does ‘God’ make or represents the laws that govern the physical system or does he define the way in which objective reality evolves, leaving aside the nuances related to Creation for now? In case he does define the objective reality, then how can our belief (rather why should our belief) in God change the course of nature? Or is it just that the framework under which the course of nature evolves was made by him and not necessarily what transpires in it. So, if one were to believe that nature does evolve and change as per our active interaction and belief, is it not intriguing how quantum physics and the teachings of the Church do match at some points and yet leave subtle and yet glaring distinctions? Such as the whole idea of consciousness playing the part of an observing and reasoning agent, which fundamentally defines characteristics of the system we are a part of, as in quantum physics, in opposition to how consciousness and belief can play a fundamental role in changing the course of nature, as I understood from these verses.

synagogue

The second point, which does stand out is of course the ill-use of God’s name for mercantile pursuits, which is sadly visible in almost every religious order today in some form or other. What is interesting though (a question Peter raised) is what does one then say about products sold for the dissemination of knowledge and for the purpose of helping others, such as religious books (which often define social norms and virtues rather than necessarily ways to realize the higher order or symmetry in things). Well, from what the Bhagavad Gita (portions of which I read out today, albeit in Srimad Prabhupada’s translated version) says about Karma-Yoga, that anything you do for unselfish purposes and with full conviction in what you are doing is  a form of devotion, and not at all a wrong act. However, what one could surely dislike or speak up against is the conduct of how the ‘Houses of God’ are used for business activities. The Temples, the Churches, the Mosques, the Synagogues are surely not places to elk out business strategies to milk money out of the genuine (and sometimes not-so-genuine) belief in the higher form.

bhagavad

The last point of interest, for me, that is raised in the very last verse in this excerpt is that as you forgive others so shall you be forgiven. Thinking about it, it sounds a little conditional and not quite as expected from a higher form, if one ascribes these virtues with the higher power. But I believe it has more to do with not only a teaching of altruism but the fact that to be one with that higher symmetry, you have to condition yourself to be suitable to be a part of that. Again, a debatable topic but one that is also mentioned in Srimad Bhagavad Gita about the satt-purush or the virtuous ones. But what struck me more was the fact that the act of forgiveness is shown to need immense courage and belief (like ‘moving a mountain into the seas’) and this struck me as a powerful statement, which is very true. Today, more often that not, the entire basis for strife and conflict is often not letting things go and holding on to a sense of bitterness. We are so disillusioned at times about what life is and who we are. I guess when we start taking life too seriously and forget that we are here for a few days that we start holding grudges.

​The other day I was reading about this girl who has terminal cancer (named Kathryn; picture above) and wishes to experience some joys of life she may never experience. For one, she may never experience pure love for anyone and all the material happiness that goes with it. She may never experience the joy of maybe even knowing what life could have been if given a few more years to live. So, she made this bucket list of things she wants. One was wearing a wedding gown and getting clicked in that. Ha ha. Sweet, silly girl maybe but that just shows what it is. Life is so much to live for and yet so transient. There a moment and not there anymore.

What religion is, as it stands, often needs dialogue and a dynamic tradition of interpretation and re-evaluation over time. One cannot claim to have the understanding of various nuances of even a single religion, but if one closely looks at aspects one sees an inherent beauty and logic in these teachings, be it those of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or Jainism.
An interesting session and experience surely!

To Spae, as Spinoza?

The idea of God and a higher form/energy has probably intrigued every single person at some point of his/her life. It may have arisen due to existential questions and to rationalize seemingly absurd trappings of life, or it may have arisen, as in the case of a number of theoretical physicists, by trying to understand the order and symmetry of our Cosmos. Einstein was one of the key figures from the twentieth century scientific community who discussed his ideas on God at length. The interesting part in this arises from the essential grounding of his ideas in Spinozism.

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So what is Spinozism?

Spinozism is a philosophical system of ideas put forth by Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch philosopher, who defined “God” as a singular self-reliant entity, with matter and thought being attributes of this form.

spinoza

Spinoza

According to Spinoza, our universe is a mode associated with the two attributes of Thought and Extension. While the former term is self-explanatory, one may mention a little about what the latter refers to. Metaphysics says that extension can be thought of in terms of the property of “taking up space“. Descartes defines extension as the property of existing in more than one dimension. For Descartes, the primary characteristic of matter is extension, just as the primary characteristic of mind is consciousness. Going back to Spinoza’s views, he believed that God has infinitely many other attributes which are not present in our physical world.

Spinoza’s words “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature) highlight this aspect beautifully. For him, God is a dynamic nature in action, evolving and changing. There are two key points to be mentioned here: firstly, even God under the attributes of thought and extension cannot be identified strictly with our world since these attributes form just a subset of God’s (note the conspicuous dissociation of God from a ‘Him’ or ‘Her’) infinitely many attributes. Secondly, Spinoza insists that one cannot conceive any attribute of a substance that, in itself, leads to the division of that substance, and that “a substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible” (Ethics, Part I). So, Spinoza showed, by his arguments, that the world is a subset of God. So the world is essentially in and made of the all-pervading entity known as God, and just as the Pantheists posit, one does not seemingly have a distinct anthropomorphic (the property of attributing human form or other characteristics to a thing other than a human being) God. Much like the idea of Krishna consciousness, put forth in Hinduism, or the principles of Taoism, I would say.  This idea was a bone of contention for quite some time, with the Spinozists being labelled as Heretics, evidently because it went against certain ideas and concepts of divinity as laid down in certain religions. For Spinoza, all that exists share a common unity, all that happens has a certain regularity and one has the distinct ideas of the spirit and nature, which can be described in terms of the attributes of God. 

So where does Einstein come into all this?

Well, for starters, Einstein did say the famous words: 

“I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind…”

Einstein’s admiration for Spinoza is clearly visible in his letter to Dr. Dagobert Runes, philosopher and founder of the Philosophical Library, where he posits his ideas on the ethical significance of Spinoza’s philosophy. Here I’ll quote a small section of that letter

“I do not have the professional knowledge to write a scholarly article about Spinoza. But what I think about this man I can express in a few words. Spinoza was the first to apply with strict consistency the idea of an all-pervasive determinism to human thought, feeling, and action. In my opinion, his point of view has not gained general acceptance by all those striving for clarity and logical rigor only because it requires not only consistency of thought, but also unusual integrity, magnamity, and — modesty.”

In fact, Einstein even wrote a poem for Spinoza, a portion of which is

How much do I love that noble man
More than I could tell with words
I fear though he’ll remain alone
With a holy halo of his own.

Einstein, much like the followers of Spinoza, saw God in the order and ‘lawfulness’ of all that exists. Sigmund Freud famously contested the very idea of ‘God’ and believed that ‘God’ was just an illusion, borne out of the need for a father figure and the central pole of religions, which according to him, were created to help mankind restrain the violent impulses of man during the development of civilization. Einstein, however, draws clear from following this line. He felt that such a belief seemingly put forth the lack of any transcendental outlook of life.

Einstein mentions, in one of his letters to a Talmudic scholar, that the idea of a ‘personal God’ was primarily an anthropomorphic concept, which could not be taken seriously. He found too constraining a view and conception of God; one which was centered around the proverbial human sphere. For Einstein, “admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly” was the key to understanding what God could be.

Einstein, like Spinoza, never sought a traditional ‘God’ or felt the need for moral instruction from religious orders, even though Spinoza was from a line of ‘Conversos’ (those who had been converted forcefully due to the Portugese Inquisition) who were extremely proud of their Jewish identity and order (they re-converted enmasse after the Decree of Toleration, 1579 was passed by the Union of Utrecht). According to Einstein, “[T]here is nothing divine about morality. It is a purely human affair.” Even though neither followed any religious order per se, neither man could imagine a universe completely devoid of a higher power. As per Einstein, the puniness of man which he realizes upon observing the subtle nuances and elegance of the laws of nature, of evolution, gives us a rationale for appreciating a higher order and symmetry in God.

Einstein also believed that onceour scientific understanding has reached the most fundamental level, the laws will explain themselves. One would not need external constraints or extra variables to explain any portion of the theory. Conspicuous signs of a singular, self-subsisting God-liness. This belief was instrumental in Einstein’s drive, right up to the end of his life, for finding a unified theory—a “Theory of Everything” that could unambiguously reveal God’s hand in the world around us. He viewed the quest for science as a form of devotion, and since this is a belief that I strongly align with, I rest my case with the following words by Spinoza, from Ethics Part I Proposition XIV, but with the open invitation to not accept what others have put forth to describe God but to keep trudging along the path of self-realization to truly attest or negate what Einstein and Spinoza so strongly believed in.

Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

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