Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science: [3.0.2] A Critique - Problem Of Language

Published: 10.02.2008
Updated: 13.08.2008

Now both the ancient meditators and the modern physicists must communicate the knowledge gained by each of them to others. Both the problem of language to interpret knowledge gained from a direct insight or the observations of an experiment is exactly the same. Thus, whenever the knowledge about reality from whatever source is analysed by intellect, it must appear absurd or paradoxical.

The knowledge about matter, particularly at the subatomic level is not derived from sensory experience and therefore, ordinary language is not adequate to describe the observed phenomena. Like the meditator, the physicist deals with a non-sensory experience of Reality, and thus, modern physics becomes akin to philosophy. But the question of nature of language is a fundamental problem that underlies all discussions of knowledge, be it scientific or philosophical. Language is a useful tool for conveying information, but if one tries to communicate one's experiences through it, it simply does not work. All a language can do is to talk about an experience, but even the best description of an experience is not the experience, but a talk about it.

In atomic physics, as we have seen in the 1st chapter, many paradoxical situations arise because of the dual nature of electro-magnetic radiation. The question, which puzzled physicists, was how radiations could simultaneously consist of particles, which are confined to a very small space, and also of waves, which are spread over a large area. Neither language nor imagination could deal with this kind of reality satisfactorily.

The Jain Philosophers, as we have seen in the 2nd chapter, have developed a unique way of dealing with paradoxical aspect of the Reality.

The most striking parallel between the notions of atomic physics and those of Jain philosophy is the principle of the unification of the opposites. In philosophy, the problems of ONE and MANY as well as of permanence and change are as old as philosophy itself. In modern science, the recent exploration of the subatomic world has revealed unification of concepts, which had hitherto seemed opposite and irreconcilable.

Ancient Jain philosophers have been aware of the relativity and polar relationship of all opposites. "Opposites" assert Jains, "are abstract concepts belonging to the realm of thought and as such are relative."

Awareness that only what is permanent can change is the mainstay of the law of Non-absolutism (anekantavada). Similarly, large and small, heavy and light, cold and hot, hard and soft are polar opposites. The Jains always emphasized the paradoxical opposites, instead of by passing or concealing them as done, usually, by the absolutist philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism. The dual and paradoxical aspect of matter at atomic and subatomic level can be properly understood if one applies the principle of anekantavada. Since this is a metaphysical subject, it would be more appropriate to deal with it in the succeeding section.

In the mediaeval period, there flourished many Jain scholars, whose interests were wholly literary or spiritual. Even though they contributed a great deal in the fields of mathematics, logic and perhaps astronomy, their contribution to the growth of scientific knowledge was almost negligible. In the meantime, modern sciences had become firmly established by a wholly independent growth in the West, and was almost wholly put to a material end, with utter disregard to the existence of consciousness, thereby removing any plausible basis for comparison between modern science of the West and traditional knowledge of the East. Surprisingly, however, as we have seen in first chapter (see p. 51), some of the eminent physicists (e.g. David Bohm and Goeffrey Chew) have come to recognise that (non-material) consciousness, an essential constituent of the universe, will have to be included in the future theory of physical phenomena.

In this regard, the words of an eminent physicist Werner Heisenberg seem to be very relevant. He writes: "It is probably true, quite generally, that in the history of human thinking, the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet. These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human culture, in different times, different environments or different religious traditions: hence if they do meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new, interesting and useful developments will follow." [W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, p. 202] It is however extremely difficult to adjudge how much scientific the Jain thinkers have been or how far from it. But the Jain scholars did develop an adequate methodology and an admirable terminology for the presentation of their findings, which one is free to accept or reject.

The purpose of the following discussion cannot be to make predictions but it may be possible to define some points from which the interaction between the ideas of modern science and the older tradition may begin.

  • Jain Vishva Barati Institute, Ladnun, India
  • Edited by Muni Mahendra Kumar
  • 3rd Edition 1995

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekantavada
  2. Buddhism
  3. Consciousness
  4. Heisenberg
  5. Jain Philosophy
  6. Non-absolutism
  7. Science
  8. Space
  9. Vedanta
  10. Werner Heisenberg
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