# COMPLEXITY EXPLAINED: 17. Epilogue

Written by April 4, 2010 7:09 pm 16 comments

The complete series, Complexity Explained by Dr. Vinod Wadhawan, can be accessed here.

In this concluding part of the series on complexity I recapitulate the basic ideas about complexity, and then revisit the questions about the origin of the universe we live in, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. The bottom line is that the word ‘origin’ should be replaced by ‘evolution.’ And what evolves with time is complexity, resulting in the emergence of new properties or phenomena which could not have been anticipated.

17.1 Recapitulation of the Main Ideas in Complexity Science

With reductionism comes the conviction that a court proceeding to try a man for murder is “really” nothing but the movement of atoms, electrons, and other particles in space, quantum and classical events, and ultimately to be explained by, say, string theory.

Stuart Kauffman (2006)

1. Classical microscopic laws of physics are characterized by determinism and time-reversal symmetry. Determinism means that if the position and the momentum of a particle are known at any instant of time, then the laws of classical mechanics determine the position and momentum at all instants of time, both future and past. The success of space missions is an example of the applicability of the deterministic equations of motion to simple (or simplifiable) systems (in contrast to complex systems). Simple systems have the linearity feature: The inevitable imprecision in our knowledge of the physical parameters of such a system does not lead to disastrous or runaway consequences in our predictions about the mechanics of the system.
2. By contrast, chaotic systems, though deterministic, are governed by nonlinear equations of motion, and consequently we cannot predict their behaviour far into the future. Chaos is an example of the fact that determinism does not necessarily imply predictability.
3. The familiar second law of thermodynamics is a striking example of emergence in complex systems. The laws of mechanics (classical or quantum) applicable to any microscopic particle comprising a macroscopic system are time-symmetric; but the macroscopic system has the emergent property of time-asymmetry, embodied in the fact that the entropy of the system cannot decease with the passage of time.
4. In the macroscopic world, we associate the direction of increasing entropy with the direction of increasing time. Entropy is a measure of disorder, and negative entropy or negentropy is a measure of information.
5. The emergence feature of complex systems makes the reductionistic approach to understanding complex natural phenomena quite inapplicable. But that does not mean that we should swing to the other extreme and adopt only a holistic approach. It is important to understand the distinction between chaotic, random, and complex systems. In a chaotic system there is determinism without predictability. Order and disorder coexist in a complex system. And randomness means a complete lack of structure or order (‘algorithmic irreducibility’). I shall be addressing these issues in a forthcoming book.
6. Complex systems have a hierarchical structure of complexity. The structure at one level leads to the next level of complexity, and each level of complexity often results in the emergence of new laws.
7. The new laws do not violate any of the laws operating at the lower levels of complexity. There is no question of ‘downward causality’ because, deep down under, everything interacts with everything else and we only have interactions, rather than actions and reactions (or causes and effects).
8. Physical laws, though always valid, are not always convenient or relevant for explaining, say, the chemical behaviour of a system. Similarly, biology is not always conveniently understood in terms of the laws of chemistry or physics alone. Nevertheless, if we consider only neighbouring or contiguous levels of hierarchical complexity, a reductionistic or constructionistic approach can often be useful.
9. Flow of energy through an open thermodynamic system can take the system so far away from equilibrium that there is a bifurcation in phase space, resulting in self-organization. Such bifurcations can occur repeatedly in a complex system, and there is no way to predict as to which branch of a bifurcation will be chosen, because the choice depends on random fluctuations at the moment of the bifurcation. This fact lies at the heart of (unpredictable) emergence of novel features during the time-evolution of a complex system.
10. Simple local rules can lead to the emergence of complex overall patterns, behaviour, or properties. This is how swarm intelligence emerges.
11. The flow of energy through a complex system results in a build up of the information content of the system. A state of complete order, as also a state of complete randomness, has low information content and a low degree of complexity. The more interesting complex systems usually fall in-between these two extremes.
12. Complexity thrives best at the ‘edge’ between order and disorder. Complex adaptive systems tend to self-organize so as to inch towards this so-called ‘edge of chaos.’
13. Per Bak’s notion of self-organized criticality provided important insights into how and why complex systems move to a state at or near the edge of chaos.
14. Positive feedback is an important mechanism of how self-organization can occur. However, it is not the only possible mechanism for this. Often, chain reactions achieve something similar. And negative feedback provides the necessary antidote for maintaining a state of optimal balance and perpetual novelty.

17.2 How did the Universe Emerge out of ‘Nothing’?

Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.

Diogenes Laertius IX

This is the toughest of the three questions I revisit in this article. I wrote about cosmic evolution in Part 7 of this series, but want to make up here for some important omissions.

What happened immediately before the Big Bang? The answer to this question is important for understanding some observations in astronomy. How can energy be created out of nothing, and how is it continuing to increase as the universe expands? I quoted Seth Lloyd (2006) in Part 7: ‘Quantum mechanics describes energy in terms of quantum fields, a kind of underlying fabric of the universe, whose weave makes up the elementary particles – photons, electrons, quarks. The energy we see around us, then – in the form of Earth, stars, light, heat – was drawn out of the underlying quantum fields by the expansion of our universe. Gravity is an attractive force that pulls things together. . . As the universe expands (which it continues to do), gravity sucks energy out of the quantum fields. The energy in the quantum fields is almost always positive, and this positive energy is exactly balanced by the negative energy of gravitational attraction. As the expansion proceeds, more and more positive energy becomes available, in the form of matter and light – compensated for by the negative energy in the attractive force of the gravitational field.’

Apart from quantum-mechanical effects and the gravitational interaction, other dominant factors in the early stages were the immensely high temperatures and pressures. In the beginning it was all radiation, and no matter. And the energy content and the information content were very small. The energy content and the information content built up as the universe expanded and extracted more and more energy out of the underlying quantum fabric of space and time.

According to the current theories, the energy grew very rapidly in the beginning (by a process called inflation), and the amount of information grew less rapidly. Immediately after the Big Bang there was a hot plasma of elementary particles, which expanded and cooled very quickly. In fact, the first structures got formed within a fraction of a second after the explosion. Protons and neutrons were formed from quarks.

One minute after the Big Bang, helium nuclei were formed. Soon, a full 24% of all matter was in the form of helium nuclei. Radiation interacts primarily with ions (rather than atoms).A few tens of thousand of years after the Big Bang, the first electrically neutral matter was formed, when protons and electrons combined to form atoms of hydrogen. This marked the separation of electrically neutral matter from radiation. On further cooling, gravitational effects became more and more important, as electrically neutral atoms could now clump together because of gravitational attraction. This clumping went on to produce galaxies ultimately.

There are gaps in our understanding of how structure arose out of what was a structureless field of radiation in the beginning. In particular, we do not yet know whether there are forms of matter other than what we already know. Even as early as in the 1930s, it was known that gravitational effects in large galactic clusters are much higher than what can be expected from the known amount of matter there. Apparently, there is another, unknown, form of matter that is a full 90% of all matter, as indicated indirectly by the gravitational effects. It is called dark matter because we are unable to observe it; we infer its existence only through its gravitational effects.

Perhaps neutrinos have something to do with this dark matter. Or perhaps some still undiscovered elementary particles, including some very heavy (but unobserved) ones, may be involved. These particles might have got formed in the very hot conditions soon after the Big Bang.

The reasons for the occurrence of the Big Bang are still a puzzle. Another puzzle in modern cosmology is the fact that matter and the cosmic background radiation are distributed quite homogeneously throughout the observable universe. Consider a galaxy that is 5000 million light years away today from our galaxy, namely the Milky Way. When the universe was, say, just one million years old, it (the universe) was only a thousandth of its present size. Therefore at that time the two galaxies must have been 5 million years apart. But since the age of the universe at that time was only one million years, not enough time was available for the two galaxies to have exchanged signals of any kind (assuming that nothing travels faster than the speed of light). There could not have been any kind of communication between the contents of one galaxy and the other. So how did the homogenization of the shock waves associated with the Big Bang occur?

There is general agreement that the emergence of matter from the early radiation field was a kind of symmetry-breaking phase transition. This can be likened to the phase transition from liquid water (which is homogeneous, or translation-invariant) to ice (which is not translation-invariant). The radiation field was translation-invariant, and the appearance of matter broke this translational symmetry. A hypothetical field called the Higgs field has been introduced in cosmology to understand these phenomena. This field breaks the symmetries of the interactions among the elementary particles, and gives the particles their mass.

The Higgs-field theory predicts the existence of a cosmological constant. Such a constant was indeed introduced much earlier by Einstein, and then withdrawn because it amounted to introducing into his theory of gravitation a parameter ‘by hand,’ with no theoretical justification. Einstein’s cosmological constant was intended to provide the repulsive force needed to compensate for the attractive force of long-distance gravity. In other words, if gravity could be switched off, Einstein’s cosmological constant would result in a rapid inflation of the universe. But once it was known that the universe is expanding, it became unnecessary to try to counterbalance the attractive gravitational force.

The Higgs field results in the existence of a new cosmological constant, which turns ‘empty’ space into a space that has an energy content. The problem at present is that the predicted cosmological constant has too large a value for a correct understanding of the observed cosmic evolution. It is believed that perhaps the Higgs cosmological constant had a large value right after the Big Bang, resulting in a violent and very rapid expansion (or inflation) of the universe. At a certain stage of this inflation, a cosmic phase transition occurred, which freed enormous amounts of energy (rather like the release of latent heat when steam condenses to liquid water). In a way, this energy flash or Big Bang marked the actual birth of our cosmos. After this prelude of inflation and cosmic phase transition, the normal (much slower) expansion of the universe set in, and has continued ever since.

During the inflation prelude, the universe grew extremely rapidly from a volume smaller than that of the nucleus of an atom to the size of a tennis ball. If we associate the Big Bang with the moment at the end of the (very quick) inflation episode, certain cosmological mysteries get resolved. When the universe was just the size of a tennis ball, regions that are far apart today could have been in contact then, thus resulting in the observed homogenization of the universe.

This new model of the Big Bang (i.e. a phase transition after the inflation prelude) answers a few additional perplexing questions as well. The model implies that the observable cosmos is a part of a much bigger system. Our Big Bang occurred in a certain region of the cosmos, leaving other regions untouched. More Big Bangs can keep occurring in other regions of the cosmos, opening up the possibility of parallel universes. There is thus a multiverse, rather than a universe.

In a multiverse, Big Bangs occur repeatedly, and each resulting universe has values of fundamental constants that just happen to be what they are. The universe we live in happens to have values of fundamental constants that make our emergence and existence possible. Otherwise we would not have emerged and evolved. This brings us to the much-maligned anthropic principle. The principle states that: The parameters and the laws of physics in our universe can be taken as fixed; it is simply that we humans have appeared in the universe to ask such questions at a time when the conditions were just right for our life. I have not included a discussion of this principle in the present series because it is covered in another article (on biocentrism) on this website, which I coauthored with Ajita Kamal.

Although there is no law saying that the degree of complexity of the universe must always increase, an empirical observation is that it is increasing, and increasing at an exponential rate. There can be some local decreases in complexity (there is even an anthropocentric angle to this issue), but the overall complexity of our universe is increasing. This has been explained in terms of the fact that our universe is expanding, and thus getting a continuous supply of free energy or negentropy (cf. Part 7).

But how long will the universe continue to expand? Did time begin? Will time end? Here are three likely answers given by the noted cosmologist Paul Frampton in a recent (2010) book:

Most likely: The present expansion will end after a finite amount of time, the universe will contract, bounce and repeat the cycle. In this cyclic universe, time had no beginning, and will have no end.

Next most likely: The present expansion will end after a finite time in a Big Rip. Time began in the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago, and will end some trillion years in the future.

Least likely: The present expansion will continue for an infinite time. Time began 13.7 billion years ago, and will never end. In his book Prof. Frampton challenges this prevailing ‘conventional wisdom.’

17.3 How did Life Emerge out of No-Life?

It was discovered that RNA molecules can not only carry genetic information, but act as enzymes, speeding chemical reactions. Work is underway to create an RNA enzyme, or ribozyme, that can copy any RNA molecule including itself. The probability that an RNA molecule can catalyze a given reaction is roughly 10 divided by 10 raised to the 15th power. It is conceivable that such a molecule can arise by chance, but it faces the difficulty that were it to copy itself and make errors, those error copies would be more error prone than the initial copy, and a run away error catastrophe might ensue.

Stuart Kauffman (2006)

As discussed in Part 10, it is not easy to define life. One consequence of this situation is that life must have emerged very very gradually. Thus it is meaningless to try to identify a point of time which marked the ‘origin’ of life on Earth. As discussed in Parts 8, 9, and 12, a whole lot of chemical evolution of complexity preceded the emergence of what we intuitively understand as life.

I discussed only two models of the likely origins of life in Part 12. For a more comprehensive description, please see the 2006 online article by Stuart Kauffman.

I described Kauffman’s work on autocatalytic sets of molecules in Part 9, and his RBNs (random Boolean networks) in Part 12. He has been emphasizing the importance of the self-organization feature of complex systems in the evolution of biological complexity. He uses the phrase ‘order for free‘ for this non-Darwinian evolution of complexity:

Kauffman’s work brings out the inevitability of the emergence of life. The prevailing conditions were such that life just had to appear because of the relentless evolution of complexity. A knowledgeable alien would be very surprised if life had not emerged here. Thus, the ‘origin’ of life is the easiest of the three questions I am revisiting in this article. There is nothing miraculous or supernatural about the origin of life.

17.4 How does Consciousness Arise?

Meanwhile, my approximate theory is that mind is acausal, quantum mechanics is acausal on the familiar Born interpretation of the Schrödinger equation, (to the grief of Einstein), that consciousness is due to a special state where a system is persistently poised between quantum and classical behaviour, that the emergence of classical behaviour in the mind-brain system, perhaps by decoherence, is the “mind making something actual” happen in the physical world, and – big jump – that consciousness itself consists in this quantum coherent state as lived by the organism. This is a long jump, but not impossible. I don’t even think it is stupider than other theories of consciousness, and may be true. Whatever the case, consciousness is ontologically emergent in this universe.

Stuart Kauffman (2006)

The problem with the word ‘consciousness’ is that it is what Marvin Minsky calls a ‘suitcase word.’ It stands for a whole set of processes. Naturally, it is difficult to discuss it in a scientific manner. From the complexity perspective, consciousness arises from swarm intelligence, the swarm here being that of neurons. In a large swarm, local rules can lead to astonishingly complex behaviour and novel phenomena and sensations.

The self-referential nature of consciousness is what makes it look so puzzling. But the fact is that, long ago (in 1931), Kurt Gödel shook the foundations of mathematics by proving that even such an innocuous thing as the formal system of positive integers can have self-referential properties. Self-reference and formal rules can make systems acquire meaning, despite the fact that each constituent of the system in without meaning.

Nevertheless, there are difficulties galore:

All the limitative theorems of metamathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Church’s Undecidability Theorem, Turing’s Halting Theorem, Tarski’s Truth Theorem — all have the flavour of some ancient fairy tale which warns you that “To seek self-knowledge is to embark on a journey which … will always be incomplete, cannot be charted on any map, will never halt, cannot be described.”(Douglas Hofstadter 1979)

The debate on consciousness is not likely to end anytime soon.

17.5 Acknowledgements

The idea of writing this series of articles was suggested by Mr. Ajita Kamal, Editor of Nirmukta. Ajita has been of great help throughout, and made several useful suggestions.

My Ph. D. student Indranil Bhaumik was immensely helpful by sending me several important books in pdf format.

Ms. Malgorzata Koraszewska took the trouble of translating these articles into Polish and publishing them at www.racjonalista.pl. She has done a thorough job indeed, consulting experts when in doubt about the exact Polish equivalent of a technical word in English. The Polish versions of these articles were discussed in a much more lively way than the originals in English. Unfortunately I could not take part there because of the language barrier, but was happy to answer some questions forwarded to me by Malgorzata.

I not only enjoyed writing these articles, it was also a great learning experience for me because of the comments and questions posted on nirmukta.com, as also on richarddawkins.net and some other websites which picked up some of these articles. I also received a lot of feedback from scientists-friends through private emails.

I shall feel amply rewarded for the time and effort I have put into the writing of these articles if I have succeeded in inducing even a few of the readers to shun all kinds of irrational belief systems.

Science is rational. Science is fun. Science has both a humbling and a liberating influence on those who have imbibed the spirit of the scientific method. The skepticism inherent in the scientific method, and its emphasis on making only falsifiable statements, are essential tools for acquiring knowledge we can trust with a high degree of confidence.

Nature is highly creative, and this creativity comes from the relentless evolution of complexity. A flower is a piece of art, and complexity science tells us how this ‘natural art’ can arise (emerge) without the need for the existence of the artist or the creator.

Dr. Vinod Kumar Wadhawan is a Raja Ramanna Fellow at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai and an Associate Editor of the journal PHASE TRANSITIONS. All parts of Dr. Wadhawan’s series on Complexity Explained can be found here.

#### This post was written by:

- who has written 36 posts on Nirmukta.

Dr. Vinod Wadhawan is a scientist, rationalist, author, and blogger. He has written books on ferroic materials, smart structures, complexity science, and symmetry. More information about him is available at his website. Since October 2011 he has been writing at The Vinod Wadhawan Blog, which celebrates the spirit of science and the scientific method.

• Kauffman’s work brings out the inevitability of the emergence of life. The prevailing conditions were such that life just had to appear because of the relentless evolution of complexity. A knowledgeable alien would be very surprised if life had not emerged here.

Very interesting. In my opinion, the quintessential question is not why life emerged in this universe ( I have a philosophy similar to Kauffman’s ). But about why the conditions in this universe are such that complexity keeps on ever increasing ?

Is this due to a chance ordering of initial conditions of the universe ? Or is it tied to a deeper level to the very physical laws at the microscopic level (which at the moment, we assume to be time-symmetric) ? I would like to keep my options open on these questions. Apart from the 2nd law of thermodynamics which talks about increasing entropy in large systems, there is also the decay of Beta particles due to the weak force, which is known to be assymetric in time. Or these types of assymetry related at a fundamental level ? In which case, we don’t have to suppose about these “magical” initial conditions in the universe. There could have been nothing left to chance, the increase of complexity could be something extremely essential to any logical possible set of physical laws in a universe.

I think you should mention the connection to this evolutionist perspective of the universe with the Indian philosophy of Samkhya (enumeration). The fundamental difference where you might disagree with Samkhya is on the notion of Purusha which is held to be distinct from nature (Prakriti). But the question of Purusha is not related to the notion of consciousness (self-image) but to the notion of qualia (or the so called hard problem of consciousness). The philosophy of Samkhya puts ego (self-image) within the domain of nature and argues forcefully how it arises automatically from the evolution of nature. So, if you can take the perspective of ignoring qualia altogether (be agnostic about it : whether they exist or not, it doesn’t matter to nature’s evolution), you can use the framework of Samkhya to explain this theory of evolution of complexity.

‘Very interesting. In my opinion, the quintessential question is not why life emerged in this universe ( I have a philosophy similar to Kauffman’s ). But about why the conditions in this universe are such that complexity keeps on ever increasing ? Is this due to a chance ordering of initial conditions of the universe ? Or is it tied to a deeper level to the very physical laws at the microscopic level (which at the moment, we assume to be time-symmetric) ? I would like to keep my options open on these questions.’

My answer is there is Part 7 of this series, and I reproduce it here:

7.7 Why is There so Much Complexity in the Universe?

At the moment of the Big Bang, the information content of the universe was probably zero, assuming that there was only one possible initial state and only one self-consistent set of physical laws. Existence of information means that there are alternatives available; e.g. 0 or 1. If there were no alternatives to the initial state of the universe, then it did not require any bits of information to describe it. Soon after time and space began, the quantum fields contained very little information and energy to begin with. Thus, in the beginning, the effective complexity, the logical depth, and the thermodynamic depth (cf. Part 5) were all zero, or nearly zero. This view is consistent with the fact that the universe emerged out of nothing.

As the early universe expanded, it pulled in more and more energy out of the quantum fabric of space and time. Under continuing expansion, a variety of elementary particles got created, and the energy drawn from the underlying quantum fields got converted into heat, meaning that the initial elementary particles were very hot and increasing in number rapidly, and therefore the entropy of the universe increased rapidly. And high entropy means that the particles require a large amount of information to specify their coordinates and momenta. This is how the degree of complexity of the universe grew in the beginning.

Soon after that, quantum fluctuations resulting in density fluctuations and clumping of matter made gravitational effects more and more important with increasing time. The extremely large information content of the universe results, in part, from the quantum-mechanical nature of the laws of physics. The language of quantum mechanics is in terms of probabilities, and not certainties. This inherent uncertainty in the description of the present universe means that a very large amount of information is needed for the description. This is just another way of saying that the present degree of complexity of the universe is very large.

But why does the degree of complexity go on increasing? In Part 5 we introduced the metaphor of a monkey typing away randomly on the keyboard of a computer. We concluded that Ockham’s razor ensures that short and simple programs are the most likely to explain natural phenomena, which in the present context means the explanation of the evolution of complexity in the universe. The quantum-mechanical laws of physics are the ‘simple programs’, as well as the computer. But what is the equivalent of the monkey, or rather a large number of monkeys, injecting more and more information and complexity into the universe by programming it with a string of random bits? According to Seth Lloyd (2006), ‘quantum fluctuations are the monkeys that program the universe’.

The current thinking is that the universe will continue to expand, and that it is spatially infinite. But the speed of light is not infinite. Therefore, the causally connected part of the universe has a finite size, limited by what has been called the ‘horizon’ (Lloyd 2006). The quantum computation being carried out by the universe is confined to this part. Thus, for all practical purposes, the part of the universe within the horizon is what we can call ‘the universe’. As this universe expands, the size of the causally connected region increases, which in turn means that the number of bits of information within the horizon increases, as does the number of computational operations. Thus the expanding universe is the reason for the continuing increase in the degree of complexity of the universe.

I have written a blog post recently on the Samkhya system of philosophy and how it is related to the system of counting with zeros. Samkhya literally means enumeration and it is inevitable that it is tied to the Indian method of enumeration with zeros, so I am very surprised that nobody has analysed it with this perspective so far. The general reaction of western academics is to couple it with the philosophy of Decartes (and with the Cartesian duality of body and mind) which gives a completely wrong idea about this system.

I would be immensely pleased if you read my blog and comment on how and where you disagree with this philosophical system.

Dear Ray Lightning:

Gregory Chaitin is a co-founder of the field of algorithmic information theory. One of his recent books deals at length with the problem of enumeration and real numbers. If you will give me your email ID, I can send you the soft copy of that book.

Considering how young you are, I am very impressed by your deep understanding of philosophy.

• Thanks very much for your kind words, Vinod Sir I didn’t know about the connection between the expansion of the universe and the increase of entropy. I will read your other articles in this series and try understand it better.

Also, I will be very happy to receive the soft copy of the book by Gregory Chaitin. I am currently writing up my PhD thesis so actually I don’t have time to read much. But I hopefully will find time later in the holidays after my thesis defence. My email is vakibs AT gmail

I was waiting for this epilogue, when you told me in our personal meeting 10 days back.

You have done wonderful work, complexity has been a topic shunned naturally by working scientists. They would rather be interested in simplifying situations they handle in their immediate assignments.

The complexity analysis on the other hand needs larger perspective and desire to rise above immediate concerns. Even if the immediate concerns are perfectly valid scientific goals.

I will be reading full series again and again.

Thanks.

I am tempted here to quote following report

not as a distraction, but to underline the fact that no scientific work can ever be termed finished in this complex universe.

It is also understood that, sitting in a corner and meditating will not resolve the complex scientific questions either.

Science, and in particular physics as we have both have experience in, grew out of efforts to ‘quantify’ carefully collected data and observations.

Even the abstract theories have ultimately been tested on numerically verified evidence of predictions from those theories.
And only then the theories were adopted in the vast body of modern scientific knowledge.

In contrast, the ancient Indian knowledge, certainly does not involve similar methodology. And although many mathematically profound statements can be traced scattered within great epics and various texts etc. no such mathematical modelling and eventual predictive methodology appears there-in.

Why most analysts are greatly enamoured or vastly disappointed (dependent on their ideological leanings) with Indian ancient writings is that, these ancient texts recurrently refer to ideas of cosmological proportions.

The scientifically minded rationalists are aghast at this audacity of Rishis.

While analyst like me simply want to acknowledge that, there is no way we can dictate to past thinkers: On what subject they should have commented or not commented on is totally beyond our control.

And there is also the big question too.

Were these thinkers just audacious lots – – nothing more? and wherther they should be shunned for their audacity alone?

Or perhaps, they did have some inhuman inkling on the nature of universe? Were these thoughts much bigger for their stone age brains to be able to really handle?

There is a definite singularity here. The way we understand human evolution on planet earth , and the way Rishis appear more advanced for their geological ages.

To me the Sanskrit language itself present as a great singularity.

From premitive, almost non-existent PIE to most evolved million word vocabulary, infinitely poetic, rhythymic, and clear ( not at all obscure like many of the ancient and archaic languages including old english) construct is greatest of mysteries .

In my opinion, that is. (I will however not like to contest the opinion of those who know more than me on this subject.)

Therefore, is it possible that proof of existence of the galaxies in the observable universe, billions of years older even at the time ( 13.75 billion year ago) when big bang ocuurred, could warrant new thinking on our current understanding of the univesre?

For me, conceptually it is not difficult to understand that one sequence of universe could have started with big bang, even when there were galaxies existing from even older big bangs.

The idea of origin of space-time itself coupled to the origin of big bang, goes kaput with such thought, but why should that be very sacrosanct either?

So the new picture could be, …. series of big bangs intertwined in time space ……

Since I am not writing a scientific piece here, for (scientific) sanity sake I must stop at this point.

Suffice it to say that, a recurrent idea in indian thoughts is that of universe with no beginning and no end.
No other religious/non religious ancient body of knowledge even attepmts a cosmology.
For us scientific minded to be angry at the … ‘audacity’ … is not a very rational response , I think.

The possibility exists that new scientific findings, and new research efforts could keep validating some ideas from ancient thinkers also. That has been my position. That leaves me flexibility to be flexible without being unscientific.

Human intelligence when undertakes honest pursuits, it can keep surprising itself immensely.

-RKK

Dear Ravi:

As you are aware, I have been doing a lot of writing (research papers, books, articles). And often I express open admiration for the originality and the brilliance of certain scientists from all over the world. As a proud Indian I shall be only too happy to be able to cite the work of great Indians of the past. I am not able to do that often. I have been thinking about why this is so. To get a proper answer, we should first make a clear distinction between science, mathematics, and philosophy. My impression is that, while ancient Indian philosophy and mathematics were great, our ancestors somehow missed the bus regarding science. The essence of the scientific mehod is foreign to our soil. Of course, I shall be only too happy to be proved wrong.

Please correct me if you can.

I had a look at the website link you suggested. Let us wait and see what the LHC experiments will tell us.

• Ravi,

I think there can be times when philosophers and mathematicians can stumble onto empirical truths about the universe, owing to their quest for finding beauty and symmetry in everything.

Take the example of Pythagoras, who thought that the earth was a sphere. Why ? Because, for him, a sphere is the most perfect shape, absolutely symmetric in all directions. Pythagoras’ idea was not popular at that moment in Greece, but ultimately he is found to be right. And the reason why the earth is a sphere is also related to his love for symmetry : the gravitational force is symmetric in all directions. Of course, we now know that the earth is not a “perfect” sphere and more like an ellipsoid.

In a similar way, I think we can rationalize some of the insights of ancient Indians. Not because of some supernatural gifts from the sky, but because of clear and lucid thinking, a few Indians might have stumbled onto truths. However, there is a pitfall for this love for beauty and symmetry. Often, nature will catch us off-guard and has properties absolutely absurd with no meaning whatsoever underneath. Or may be, that “meaning” can only be comprehended only by more lucid minds that ours.

Whether that state of total lucidity to see the whole universe and make sense out of it all is capable to the reach of human beings, I don’t know. But I’d like to dream that it is so.

The points are well taken. The advent of modern science has been truly overwhelming. It also helped drive away the ‘ghosts’ both imaginary and literary types from the minds of human population. An average human being is now much more liberated, well informed and able to democratically enjoy the fruits of science –be it flying in the aeroplanes or get best medical treatment in the hospitals and so on.

We all have a stake in propogating scientific advancement as much as the real scientific temperament, including myself.

That science will ultimately find answers to most problems of existence etc. is also reasonable expectation.

No problems with this.

The view point I have developed additionally is this:

‘Science’ is not same as ‘desription of science’. Take for example the paper on human genome research in Nature.

Due to restriction on number of words for a given type of communication, large effort is spent on drafting of scientific papers, and this is common knowledge. In these current times, and prevailing scientific environment, certain phrases, abbreviations, implications and styling of conclusions etc. will be normally used, and this will clearly reflect in the presentation of the paper.

So will be the case for most other scientific research and technological achievements.

Let me introduce a hypothetical scenario here:

Suppose at this juncture, we are struck by a natural calamity — of global proportions, or even by a limited/unlimited nuclear war. Much of the infrastructure is rendered useless or even turned to dust, but written words in digital and or paper form survive the destruction, let us say because these were kept in the safe vaults.

A thousand years then pass, in great dis-array and it then again happens that scientific brains of unusual calibre gather to start rebuilding the knowledge base. Fresh, from scratch.

Obviously, they do not necessarily speak and write in English. At least do not use same sophistication and use only a remnant language rebuilt totally differently. The conventions in existence today about what makes for a good scientific communication is no longer known to them. In short, what we do as moderns today, can be perceived as very archaic after thousands of years, particularly so if destruction of global proportins were to annihilate much of the working proofs of our modern achievements.

Will the printed word alone (without proof of any of the working devices, HPLC machines and techniques of DNA research, no high purity chemicals and no electrophoresis plates etc.) still have same sanctity to the greatly handicapped investigators of future?

Same way as it happens today? — even to the lay analysts who are more than willing to comment on any thing that human genome may be inferring or not? Whole DNA paterning of African mother to Aryan race to polynesian braves to apes and missing links— any thing goes in the name of science when going is good.

The ‘proofs’ for older knowledge when much of the information is destroyed, and when we have perforce to work with only random scaterred remnants of information, will naturally be missing.

What I do, in such scenario is to look for coherence in thoughts, in old texts, without ascribing or imposing my preconceived ideas of the presumed intelligence, honesty or capability of the unknown, – unnamed authors there in.

The reward is not only in terms of some fesh ways of thinking, but also of literary type. Such beautiful poetry, such evolved thoughts on possibilities of human mind, and such penchant for vivid imagery, in itself is the reward.

I do hope earnestly that, we do not get to suffer any calamities of global scale, which force us into oblivion , before we unravel the mysteries of universe using all the current level scientific knowledge and methods. And we do not have to suffer the same fate as our ancestral thinkers.

( I am not suggesting that a meteor struck the post vedic earth, here; but as Lord Krishna says in Gita, that HE ‘had’ given his knowledge to sun, who also was known as Vaivaswat manu, but in time the knowledge was lost. And HE was then forced to come to the ‘mrytyu loka’ again to revive the knowledge and tell this to Arjun….)

Ravi Khardekar

Philosophers can certainly stumble upon great truths sometimes. And it is the job of the scientist to verify the verifiable truths. Till the verification occurs, it is only a matter of opinion whether something is true or not. Of course, one can also use logic sometimes to reject certain statements as not true.

I said ‘verifiable truths’. Can there be unverifiable truths also? Yes indeed. Gödel and Turing (and more recently Chaitin) showed that a number of statements in a formal system are true for no reason, i.e. it is not possible to prove their truth by using the existing axioms of the formal system. In other words, more axioms have to be added to the formal system. This is a very tantalizing situation indeed. It blurs the distinction between what is done in mathematics and what is done in physics.

More later.

Somebody has asked me to give an example of something that is true without any reason. I thought I should do it on this website so that others can also participate in the fun. The most famous example is the Gödel statement:

‘THIS STATEMENT IS UNPROVABLE.’

It is either false or true. If it is false, then it is provable, but that is absurd because then it contradicts itself.

If it is true, then it is unprovable, meaning that it is true without any reason.

It turns out that in any formal system there can be any number of statements or theorems which are true without any reason. There are axioms and there are formal rules of logic in a formal system, and a statement or a theorem is said to be true for a reason if it can be derived from the axioms by applying the logic rules. But it turns out that there are many theorems which are true for no reason.

Gödel’s statement was the culmination of a long succession of historical developments. I shall mention just one example of such a paradoxical situation (from the work of Bertrand Russell). There is a small town with just one barber. He shaves all those and only those who do not shave themselves. The troublesome question is: Does he shave himself?

He shaves himself if and only if he does not shave himself! This is known as the Russell paradox.

• Hello Ray,

I should not prolong the discussions here. But your blog site does not allow comments.

We had a lucky 3000 odd years, in which ideas of greek-roman philosophers not only survived but also formed the basis for modern science.

Out of curiosity, I looked in wikipedia, before writing this comment. Pythogorous is well known to the scientific community for his famous theorem, which later mathematicians used to develop the discipline further.

Wikipedia also mentions about ‘Pythogorian religion’ founded by him, and also the fact that he was a mystic.

His theorem survived tests of time, but other work didnot. As Dr. Wadhawan rightly pointed out , the scientific method has a built-in scrutiny, according to which, timeless & useful will survive.

Esoteric or unfalsifible may also survive but will have limited use.

Kepler’s theorem did wonders for our understanding of planetary science and force of gravity. But he himself in his later days was lost in some pursuit that he could not communicate coherently about.

Life has its charms, both ways. We should pursue and profess science as more verifiable common heritage of modern man. If some of us can draw inspiration from earlier esoteric works to create some new work, even this should be acceptable.

I will be reading Kapila Muni more seriously, thanks to you.

-rkk

Mythology and folklore (even philosophy) make a large number of unfalsifiable statements. What should one do with such statements? As a scientist I can only ignore them, and treat them as not a part of science. It is entirely possible (even permissible or desirable) that some enthusiast takes them very seriously and then recasts them into falsifiable form. They can then become a part of science if verified to be true.

I can describe something as sublime philosophy, but then what? Somebody should be able to convert it into science; otherwise it is just a curiosity that somebody could think up such interesting, even profound, things. I am very impressed by what Kapil Muni propounded, but it cannot gain widespread acceptance and importance unless it leads to progress in science.

What else can anybody do except to follow the scientific method of acquiring knowledge and understanding that one can trust with a high degree of confidence?

• Dr. Vinod Wadhawan your series of articles on complexity are a masterpiece. Very concise, beautifully simple. You should write a book.

Congratulations.