In Theory


In Theory

The final article of a series of three by Paul Ellson, author of The Beautiful Union of science, philosophy and religion.


Although we are merely one tiny element in one star system amongst millions of stars that reside in just one galaxy amongst millions of galaxies, whether looking for signs of life out there in the cosmos or for the secrets of life around us, we quite naturally look from a human perspective. But why believe that our expectations, our methods of investigation, the ‘objective’ techniques, our limited senses and limited intelligence, are able to define what life is? The signs of life that we recognise may be too narrow in definition; we may be missing the real thing, right here. Conversely, it may even be that life on this planet, right down to the building blocks, is a local mutation so different from the real thing, the universal norm, that we can neither seek that norm nor know it. Nevertheless, driven by our innate curiosity, we advance our anthropocentric enquiries across the board.

Worldwide, many scientists are working towards a common goal: a ‘theory of everything’, in scientific parlance: a unified field theory. Einstein created that term. To date, he is the most successful scientific theorist. However, theory is theory and nothing more. Published in 1915, Einstein’s General Theory focussed upon gravity. In this theory, the geometrical properties of space-time are conceived as modified locally by the presence of a body with mass such as a star or a planet. It has been a mainstay of scientific thought and has given far-reaching predictions that are close to a wide range of experimental results and discoveries made since that time. However, it is important to note that in a number of cases the predictions are far from perfect.

Questioning theories

One would expect a successful theory of gravity to explain the laws that govern the movement of pendulums, but Einstein’s theory entirely fails to explain certain anomalies, particularly their behaviour during an eclipse of the sun. In 1954 French economist and engineer, Maurice Allais of the School of Mining in Paris, undertook a number of pendulum experiments. It has long been accepted that a free-swinging pendulum will always trace the same path. Under lab conditions it can be shown that the plane of this path will rotate slowly, this is due to the rotation of the planet. These results correlate with Einstein’s theory which gives an explanation of the geometry governing the situation. But Allais’ thorough research showed that the pendulum’s rotation rate varied during the course of the day and that during a partial eclipse of the sun on 30th June 1954, the pendulum behaved very differently. The plane of its swing began to rotate backwards. The timing of its behaviour showed that it had been affected by the eclipse. Something was going on in the relationship between the Sun, Moon and the Earth that was not explained by Einstein’s theory. Over the years, further experiments by Allais and a number of others have confirmed the anomaly.1

Allais, the 1998 Nobel prizewinner for economics, believes that the pendulum evidence points to the existence of the ether, cited as the prime element by natural philosophers through the ages. It certainly shows that General Theory, whilst giving a great boost to the advance of science, is flawed and that there is more to the workings of gravity than most scientists currently accept. There are further questions regarding General Theory, including frequent debates as to the constancy of the speed of light; a pivotal element. In fact, Dr Lijun Wang of the NEC research institute at Princeton University has shown that, under special conditions, pulses of light can be accelerated up to 300 times their norm of 186,000 miles per second.2 Beyond the lab, serious questions as to the consistency of the speed of light have been raised through observations of very distant objects, particularly a quasar – a distant star-like object – that seems to be some 10 billion light years away. I say, ‘seems to be’ because there is evidence that, in this case, either the electron charge3or the speed of light has changed. This is problematical because both are supposed to be constant. Professor Paul Davies of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia believes that, of the two, the speed of light is more likely to have changed. “Its entirely possible that the speed of light would have got greater and greater as you go back (through time) towards the Big Bang and if so it could explain some of the great mysteries of cosmology.”4 Such questions over the constancy of the speed of light undermine the basis of much that science espouses.

As is better known, General Theory does not to fit with the behaviour of particles in the micro world of quantum physics. This fact, above all, brought home the realisation that if there is one guiding law for the universe, General Theory does not describe it. Consequent work by quantum physicists has led to the emergence of a number of unified field theories.

Currently the consensus amongst scientists is that the most likely candidate in the race for a successful unified field theory would be a ‘superstring theory’ or string theory for short. Actually there are a number of string theories, in common, they suggest that incredibly tiny, one-dimensional, vibrating strings, a billion, billion times smaller than a proton,5 are active at the basis of creation. A universe based upon vibrating strings lends itself well to musical analogy and has something in common with early theological teachings where ‘the music of the spheres’ was a frequent topic. The leading superstring theory, known as M theory has managed to unify a number of earlier string theories. It resolves problems that they encountered by theorising multi-dimensions in terms of membranes. Each dimension is likened to a universe in parallel to our own. There are eleven of these membrane-like dimensions. It is imagined that these eleven dimensions curl up into one vibrating string. In his book Parallel Worlds, physicist Michio Kaku posits that eleven membranes might curl up into one sphere-like dimension that collapses in on itself, leaving its equator as a vibrating closed string.6

Despite the persuasive fame of string theory, it should be noted that even on the purely mathematical level, twenty years of work by many brilliant minds has failed to give convincing mathematical proof of any string hypothesis. Einstein, who questioned much of early quantum theory, would smile; it was he who said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”As regards the experimental level, no physical scientific equipment has been developed that could handle the ultra-minute elements theorised. Nor could it be developed, Nobel prize-winning physicist Sheldon Lee Glashow has pointed out that: “No experiment can ever be done at the distances that are being studied. The theory is permanently safe.”7 By the same token, the theory would forever rest on very questionable ground.

When to theorise

Theory is an ancient word, one that F M Cornford interpreted as ‘passionate, sympathetic contemplation’.8 Coming from the Greek, theos: God. The word relates directly to the study of the divine. In my previous article, note was made regarding the use of contemplation in the quest for knowledge. Today, contemplation is viewed as a religious pursuit: subjective, and therefore seen as imprecise in its result. But past records tell us otherwise. Luminaries such as Pythagoras used contemplative techniques to extend the boundaries of knowledge. Using contemplation, the scientists of old would gain experience through both physical and mental experiment and, having done so, would then theorise upon what was beyond. In Sanskrit we have a clue to the root of theos in the word tiras meaning ‘beyond’. Certainly, string theorists are needing help from beyond: “We don’t know what we are talking about“, said Nobel laureate, David Gross, when summing up at the December 2005, Solvay Conference, ‘The Quantum Structure of Space and Time’, in Brussels. Gross, a former leading advocate of string theory, now believes that physicists are missing something absolutely fundamental in their search for a successful unified field theory.

There is nothing wrong with theorising, there has to be theory, but it needs to happen at the appropriate time: when all of the available information, both objective and subjective, have been pulled together and a final answer is still found wanting. String theorists talk in terms of parallel worlds and multi-dimensions but as yet they still approach these possibilities in three-dimensional, materialistic point of view. The one thing that we all have ready access to that is truly multi-dimensional is consciousness; mind-stuff. It sleeps, it dreams, it imagines, it conceives well beyond the three-dimensional. Do the theorists ask themselves, what is this that spurs us on our path of inquiry in the first place? What is it that enables us to conceive of these multi-dimensions? Nowhere in their theories is consciousness featured and yet it is fundamental – a word that through the Latin, fundare – to found, and mentis – the mind, indicates that the ancients taught that the basis of all is founded in the mind.

Scientists are seeking a theory of everything but how can their search come to fruition until every parameter has been investigated and taken into account? It is evident that none of the prevalent scientific works take consciousness and the role of the subjective seriously enough. Whilst a small number of scientists are tentatively venturing into the ‘consciousness problem’, they still attempt to explore it through objective measurement and continue to avoid the subjective element; the person taking the measurements, the observer; the human self – us! Their narrow, pseudo-objective, approach will prove impossible. Why jump to theory when not all of the experimental avenues have been taken? Where there is another source of information, a related but as yet un-investigated field, then surely, it should be investigated with great rigour prior to theorising. A greater understanding of the relation between science and religion will help enable this investigation to truly begin. Clues to the past closeness of that relationship are coming to light.

In the spring of 1985, NASA researcher Rick Briggs wrote an article in A.I., Artificial Intelligence magazine.9 He wrote about NASA’s twenty-year attempt to develop a truly scientific language as precise as mathematics, natural languages being too cumbersome and ambiguous to work with the clarity and efficiency required in the computer oriented world of artificial intelligence. Briggs explained that almost all languages deviated from the precision required – all except for one: NASA researchers had realised that “there was a language spoken among an ancient scientific community that has a deviation of zero.” Still in use, that language is Sanskrit, the world’s most ancient spiritual language is now recognised as a scientific language too.

Our scientists use mathematics extensively but do not have a spoken language to match. This leads to problems regarding the understanding and take up of science by the general public: the knowledge is restricted to the few who are well versed both in the mathematics and in the specially created terminology that goes with the subject. As a scientific language Sanskrit had the potential to transmit a deeper understanding of the workings of nature to a wider public,

It is a vertical language enabling a well-structured exposition of the ancient law of ‘as above – so below.10This law does not mean that the micro and the macro and every level in between are exactly the same. It is more a guide to patterning. From the visual perspective, modern scientific confirmation of this comes through the application of microscopic and telescopic technologies that have enabled the investigation of fractals. A fractal is an entity created through diminishing subdivisions of a given shape. Often associated with geometric form and computer graphics, fractals present themselves all around us in the natural world. An oft-quoted example is the image of a rugged coastline pictured from above. Zooming in on a subdivision of that image we find a similar image; zooming in again to a yet more detailed scale, we find another similar image, and so on, right down to the tiniest grain in close focus. A more universal exposition was published in the book The Powers of Ten11 where consecutive images are shown subdividing by powers of ten. The baseline is the everyday human scale where a man is seen sleeping on a picnic blanket in a park in the city of Chicago. The picture shows an area of one square metre. From this point, at the rate of the power of ten, the images zoom in to the human body through the skin to the cellular level, on to the atomic level and further to the sub-atomic level; similarly a set of images zoom out from the human level, through to the planetary level, the solar level, the galactic level and further out into deep space, always looking back toward the park in Chicago, the sleeping man and his subatomic structure. At I found these stills displayed, moving from the outermost to the innermost and accompanied by a commentary by Bruce Bryson. Whether galaxies, solar systems, suns, cells, electrons, or protons etc., the similarities in patterns of distribution are striking. We live in a fractal, as above – so below, universe. A moving image, zooming in from outer space to inner space, would show even more clearly, how nature moves in a patterned, rhythmic fashion from the spacious to the dense, back to the spacious and so on. Were the people of long ago who coined ‘as above – so below’, aware of this? It is recorded that Sanskrit was cognised by Seers and that Seers were also the writers of the Veda. We cannot dismiss the inference that they cognised these patterns through the art of contemplation for they were revered in scripture as experts in the art.

Throughout nature, the relationship between form and function is implicit. In the above paragraph we focussed on ‘as above – so below’, regarding visual form, but the Sanskrit language naturally used its vertical attributes to describe function too; the similarity of administrative patterning throughout the universe. In such a scientifically precise language, metaphor is a potent force. With this facility, one could gain an appreciation of the laws that guide life beyond the earthly senses. A striking example is the word bhurij. It has three levels of meaning, relating to the body of the universe, the human body and the objective world of humankind. The linking theme is ‘things that come together’. Reflecting the three levels, bhurij can be translated as, ‘heaven and earth’; ‘arms’, hands’; ‘scissors’ or ‘a carpenter’s vice’. 12

Throughout the language, the rules of metaphor are grounded in practical, worldly terms. The Vedic culture was largely agrarian where domesticated animals were put to work, therefore that spirited creature, the horse, is a symbol of power and spiritual strength. The Sanskrit word for ‘cow’. go´ or gau´s,is noteworthy, it also means ‘light’ or ‘ray of light’. Light, as the sustainer, the giver of life and energy, was reflected in their understanding of the role of the cow in their way of life. To this day, in the high Himalayas, human life is utterly dependent upon bovine herds. The vertical meaning rises through to the ultimate: in Hymns To The Mystic Fire,a translation of many Vedic texts, Sri Aurobindo explains that “The cows of the Veda were the herds of the sun . . . the rays of Truth and Light and Knowledge”.13

We know that, millennia ago, Sanskrit was in broad everyday use over a significant area of southern Asia. It is also the root language for all of our major western languages. These facts should prompt us to take a closer look at the work and methods of the scientists of old. Whilst taking in the subjective, their standards were comparable to scientific standards of today. New information was not simply accepted. Mentoring was a fundamental part of this tradition, and there was the ability to check one’s experiences against thousands of years of expertise leading to an accretion of knowledge in coherent fashion. This scientifically oriented tradition can be tracked from the early Vedas through to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali14 where numerous subjective experiments and their results were logged in detail. Patanjali’s reputation has stood the test of time. This is because when the experiments are properly prepared for, the results are consistent. As noted previously, this preparation is at the heart of re-ligio. Recall that Pythagoras utilised contemplation as a scientific tool. In this he followed the ancient tradition where, utilising a stilled mind, simple questioning with an open sense of wonder brought results. A stilled mind helped ensure that interference by one’s personal expectations and agenda did not take place, the best conditions being where the researcher was not repressing their expectations but did not actually have any; this is one reason why the power of innocence and humility is promoted in scripture.

Re-ligio Research

Rare is the individual who, without straining, has great peace of mind. Therefore, a major goal of religious techniques such as meditation, japa (repetition) and certain prayers is to cultivate a stillness of mind wherein, unlike the stillness of deep sleep, one remains conscious. Only when meditation has done its work can true contemplation take place. Meditation stills the mind, contemplation uses the mind to wonder broadly, yet in a focused fashion, thereby inducing the knowledge of the part in relation to the whole.

Based upon a profound grasp of psycho-physiological processes, various re-ligio systems were developed. Techniques used in the process of ‘binding back’ are still to be found in the religions of today. Usually, the initial focus is the body and its relation to the mind; the localised consciousness. Here pure diet and detailed exercises are often prescribed to help balance bodily energies thus avoiding illness. If the body is ill, it is likely to be an obstacle to contemplation.

Some religions use a great number of symbols and images in order to inculcate psychological growth and balance. There is more imagery in pantheistic systems. This is not to say that a pantheistic religion is not focused upon one God. The varied imagery is used to balance inner resources and the images usually relate to the worldly experience of the participant so that a meaning can be grasped through an understanding of natural relationships. In India, the half human, half elephant god, Ganesha represents patience, persistence, inner strength and wisdom. It is held to be the remover of all obstacles especially of obstacles in the way of spiritual progress. The idea is that, step by step through identifying with Ganesha, the devotee develops their latent qualities of patience, persistence etc. thus balancing a flighty or quick tempered nature. Pantheons may use humanlike forms and creature-like forms but they have high attributes. They enable the aspirant to move from the earthly toward the divine, progressively being taken from a knowledge of the material world to a knowledge of the subtle and cosmological worlds. This is possible on a consistent basis through a simultaneous regime of physiological and mental purification. Guidance from a more experienced practitioner is also part of the package.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are still in use and continue to deliver consistent and verifiable results to the well-prepared and earnest enquirer. Patanjali’s works are seen as ‘mumbo-jumbo’ by the sceptical, and mystical by believers. But there is no need for continued scepticism or blind belief in mysteries that can actually be unravelled. As the word infers, experiment gives experience, not simply intellectual understanding. With real experience comes a more complete understanding. As a result, knowledge replaces belief and its bedfellow, theory. Here lies the potential to unite religion and science and also philosophy.

It is time that science understood why re-ligio is closely associated with ritual. Any experiment needs to be repeatable and, in the repeating, to gain consistent results. This is the usefulness of ritual; prescribed format; standardised approach, the fixed rules for experimentation. The English words right and ritual come from the Sanskrit rita meaning right, proper, worshipped, respected, enlightened and luminous. And, a main key is the quality of the equipment used. For re-ligio research, the main equipment is the human being. It must be cleared of impurities, hence the rigorous systems of care and cleansing of both mind and body, found in yogic practices. This is reflected in modern scientific research, where with the right equipment and the correct approach, consistent results can be obtained.

Science is a methodology that aims at precision. It aspires to clarity through thoroughness and with this approach it aims to discover even the ultimate truth. But precision should not mean narrowness of mindset and dismissal of other means of knowledge acquisition. The perceived limits of the human mind must be transcended. Subjective research will reveal the secret of science’s greatest challenge, consciousness. What will follow are the gifts that transcendent states can bring including the fullest union with the heart of religion and philosophy.

Paul Ellson.


The above text is based upon extracts from The Beautiful Union of science, philosophy and religion.

Paul Ellson is a natural philosopher. The Beautiful Union of science, philosophy and religion is available via his website and from other outlets.

Notes and References

Notes and References

  1. Shadow Over Gravity, by Govert Schilling, New Scientist magazine 27th Nov 2004.
  2. The Sunday Times, June 4th 2000.
  3. Electrons are negatively charged elementary particles occurring in all atoms. The electron charge at 1.6 x 10-19C is held to be a constant.
  4. BBC News Online, 8th August 2002.
  5. A proton is an elementary particle of positive charge and unit atomic mass, the atom of the lightest isotope of hydrogen without its electron.
  6. Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds, p198. Pub. Penguin, Allen Lane, London 2005.
  7. The Theory of Everything: Einstein’s Dream, C4TV, 2nd November 2003.
  8. Frances McDonald Cornford From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation pub., Princeton University Press 1991.
  9. Rick Briggs, Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence. AI Volume 6(1); Spring 1985, 32-39.
  10. Perhaps the best known reference to this law is found on The Emerald Tablet. This tablet, thought to be of Egyptian origin, is accepted as the source of Hermetic Philosophy and Alchemy and has been known to scholars and philosophers since the 10th century.
  11. The Powers of Ten by Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison. Pub., W H Freeman & Co. (revised edition) September 1994.
  12. A Sanskrit – English Dictionary, Ed. Sir Monier Monier-Williams, 1st edition, OUP 1899. p 425. Note: All Sanskrit definitions are taken from this source.
  13. Hymns To The Mystic Fire, Trans. Sri Aurobindo, p11. Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 6th impression 1998.
  14. bce, dates unclear.