What is the one scientific discovery that can prove or disprove the Vedic view of the universe?
What is the one scientific discovery/process that would “prove” that would disprove the Vedic view of the universe? or put in another way, what are the “scientific” discoveries that can never happen because of what we know in the Vedic literature e.g. bringing back a dead person to life etc.?
Answer: This question is related with the argument of falsifiability that was propagated by the philosopher of science name Karl Popper who said that only those propositions can be considered scientific which can be falsified. That means that when science proposes any particular theory, then there has to be some way to prove it false and if a scientific theory cannot violate its proposition itself give a criteria for falsification then that theory cannot be considered to be scientific. So for example, I will start with a simple example, if somebody says that all birds are black or all ravens are black, ravens are a particular kind of bird. So then this theory itself gives us the criteria of falsifiability that is, if there is a white raven, then the discovery of a white raven will prove that the black raven is false, that the theory that all ravens are black is false.
So now similarly there is the Einstein theory of relativity which proposes that, nothing can travel faster than speed of light. So if say that theory, if something can be shown to be traveling faster than the speed of light, then the theory of relativity will be considered false. However Karl Popper’s criteria of falsifiability was eventually rejected by science itself was being too narrow and too restrictive because many theories in science itself proposes they don’t have falsifiability criteria and often the theories survive because there are influential scientists backing it, even when there is a strong evidence which seems to falsify, for example the theory of evolution is today continuing on because it offers materialistic science a strong way to deal religion as unscientific. So although according to evolutionary theory there can be no existence of advanced life forms millions of years ago and certainly no human beings millions of years ago but although fossils have been found out which indicate that advanced human beings like homosapiens have existed long long ago in antiquity.
Dr Michael cremo has written a full book about this called forbidden archeology but still this evidence is neglected, derided, rejected and the theory goes on. So here I am giving a example of falsifiability being rejected by a main stream theory like evolution. So say tomorrow, if it is found out some scientists say they already found it out that some objects, some atomic particles can move faster than the speed of light, would this falsify relativity, no those who believe in relativity, they will say that ok this is something exceptional, we don’t know how it happens but relativity works in so many other places so we should believe in relativity and treat this as an exception. So the overall point which I am making is falsifiability as a criteria has not been accepted even in science, so therefore there is no need for us to expect Vedic scriptures to submit to a criteria which even so called rational objective science can’t submit to.
So more scientific theories are not falsifiable and when they are rejected it is not so much because of the preponderance of evidence against them but it is because the socio cultural environment changes and the body of scientists becomes because of __________ ready to change. So this is being documented by Thomas Kuhn in his classic book “structure of scientific revolutions” where he points out that pyridines change within science only after a long effort and it’s not a linear progression, it is a sudden disruption that happens when one pyridine of science changes into another. So a criteria that doesn’t apply even to science cannot be expected to be applied to spirituality, the Vedic scriptures. Additionally we have to understand that what is falsifiability mean, actually how do we know something is false. We can know it either from pratyaksha or we can know it form anuman and pratyaksha and anuman are from the point of view of Vedic epistemology.
Epistemology is the branch of knowledge that studies knowledge. It is the branch of knowledge that studies the nature of knowledge, the means of acquiring knowledge and the examination of which means of acquiring knowledge are reliable. So according to Vedic epistemology shabdha scripture is the only way to acquire knowledge in a definitive way. Pratyaksha, anuman are not rejected but are subordinated to shabdha because shabdha is like a mother and pratyaksha and anuman are like children. So even in modern science and modern philosophy there is a quarrel between pratyaksha and anuman. Those who stick to pratyaksha are called as empiricists and those who stick to anuman are called as rationalists and Einstein himself was torn between these two schools of thought. At one time Einstein said that the purpose of all scientific theories is to explain the world as we observe it. So here he is giving empirical observation the primary basis and he is saying that theory that means anuman is meant to explain pratyaksha. Then another time he said that if a theory is elegant (I am paraphrasing over here), if a theory is elegant, if a theory is mathematically accurate, then it doesn’t matter whether it corresponds with observe reality or not. That means here he is focusing on the anuman is primary and he is saying pratyaksha doesn’t matter at all. So this has been a major debate within modern science and modern philosophy, which is higher, pratyaksha or anuman.
So to some extent with science becoming more and more abstract especially particle physics and pandering of from reality into it’s own counterintuitive constructs like quantum physics, science has seen the triumph of rationalism over empiricism as _______ article of famous physicists, when he was asked about quantum physics by a student, he says how do you make sense of it just shut up and calculate. So he says you can’t visualize this, you cannot visualize the world of quantum physics with the eyes or even with the conceptuality, just you have to use mathematics as a tool for making the calculations and getting the results. So pratyaksha and anuman even within modern analysis system are not definitive. They are quarreling among themselves. So seeing is believing has long ago being rejected as outdated by science. So I wrote the article in the god particle. So the whole concept of a god particle is not just invisible in practice it is even invisible even in principle. So that’s why the idea of proving and disproving which we use in a normal conventional sense has been rejected even by science as outdated. So for science today proof, primarily it means agreement based on the mathematical consistency of the theories and especially particle physics is very much disconnected from any experimental verification as it happens in quantum physics, as it happens in string theory, as it happens in the overall standard model that underlies modern physics.
So therefore we cannot have these imperfect and internecine, internecine means mutually quarreling among each other in a destructive way. Internecine schools of knowledge, pratyaksha and anuman are being used to prove or disprove the Vedic scriptures. So are there certain things which science if it does it will prove the Vedic scriptures and the message wrong, no not necessarily, for example suppose tomorrow it is found that human beings are able to go to other planets. So does that in principle approve Vedic scriptures wrong. No because infact the Vedic scriptures are filled with the descriptions of travel to other planets. So Ravana went to a higher planet to attack the Svargaloka. So when Srila Prabhupada challenged the moon expedition and the euphoria that surrounded it, His primary focus was not that man did no go to the moon, his focus was that what is the big deal of going to the moon if your not making any tangible advancement in our understanding of the purpose of life and fulfilling that purpose of life. So you see even if go to the moon what will we do, eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. What did Ravana do after going to Svargaloka. He tried to eat, sleep, mate and defend better like the style in which Indira was doing that with the apsaras over there. So there is no improvement in the quality of life. So even if in the future say scientists are able to do travel ______ out of space that does not in any way prove the Vedic version wrong.
So now in general the Vedic scriptures also talk about remarkable technologies, for example say suppose scientists bring a dead person back to life. So will that in and of itself disprove the idea that the Vedic teaching that we are not the body we are the soul, not necessarily because even in the Vedic times there was this technology, it is a material technology. It is not a cordless material technology, it was a godly material technology. What is the difference between cordless and godly. In the Vedic scriptures knowledge is divided into three broad categories paravidya, aparavidya and avidya. So paravidya refers to spiritual knowledge, aparavidya refers to material knowledge that is harmony with spiritual principles, for example ayurveda it accepts the existence of god in soul and then it gives some material medicines for curing us. Similarly there is vastu shastra, there is Vedic mathematics, all this is are material branches of knowledge but they are in harmony with spiritual knowledge with the understanding of existence of god and the ultimate purpose of returning back to god by practicing devotional life. Apart from that there is avidya, avidya doesn’t mean in and of itself ignorance it means knowledge that is in disharmony with paravidya.
So much of modern of modern science which is based on reductionism and mechanistic understanding of the universe which denies the existence of any higher power or beings apart from material forces and material laws which are also somehow considered to be material. Reductionistic science because it is explicitly in its formulations and its implications disharmonious with the principles of the scriptures, so it is considered avidya but the point is that in the Vedic scriptures according to aparavidya that is material knowledge in harmony with spiritual knowledge but that people can be brought back to life. In the Ramayan when the Sanjeevani _______ is used. Sanjeevani is only one of four different mystical herbs that are brought by Hanuman from the Himalayan Mountains. Basically many of the warriors they are practically dead and they are brought back to life. So what did happen to the soul over there, the soul was there and then the bodily vehicle became usable once again because of the attacks of Indirajit and the other warriors, the bodily vehicle had become so severely damaged that was no longer functional but when by the effect of sanjeevani, the bodily vehicle again became functional, then the soul reentered over there, of course for Lakshman there is no difference between the body and the soul, His body is transcendental but I am talking here about the other Vanaras. Similarly in the eight canto of Srimad Bhagavam it is described how Mayadanav, he brought back the dead asuras to life. Indira’s thunderbolt had killed Bali Maharaj, of course there are different stories, Sukracharya once brought Bali Maharaj back to life, another time when the demons had been killed, Mayadanav brought him back to life.
So bringing a dead person back to life is an in and of itself not anyway disproving the soul. So if in the future scientist can find out some technology by which they can bring a dead person back to life, does that prove the non existence of soul, no all that it proves is that the soul was hovering around in the vicinity and because of the hope of entering back into the body and when the bodily condition was restored. So the bodily condition can be restored either by aparavidya or by avidya. So aparavidya, so what was used, in ancient times, now science may use avidya and may also bring back a person to life. So all that is happened over there is that the bodily vehicle has been made ready again to act as a suitable residence and instrument for the soul. So therefore in principle pratyaksha and anuman cannot give us definitive knowledge even about the material realm, what to speak of then pratyaksha and anuman giving us definitive knowledge that will refute shabda. So science may be built to achieve certain things which is not achieved today but technological advancements in and of itself does not disprove the idea of the essential teachings of the Vedic scriptures which are that we are the soul and the soul is a eternal relationship with Krishna.
So therefore we don’t use these criteria of falsifiability rather we focus on the criteria of inner verifiability. Krishna describes in the scriptures 9.2 Bhagavad Gita that pratyakshava gamam dharmyam susukam kartum avyayam, pratyakshava gamam dharmyam that this is verified by direct experience within one’s own heart. So just as today, how does science work, most scientists don’t use the criteria of falsifiability for their theories. We are not saying here science per say is correct but we are just drawings parallels over here. Science in its own ways within the material arena can be true also. Pratyaksha and anuman are not entirely unreliable. So the point is we are just looking at parallels over here. So scientists primarily see not that whether the theory can be falsified or not, whether theory gives us a better understanding of the particular subject that is being studied. If it does then the theory is accepted and if the theory can also explain additional related areas of knowledge, then that may give the theory even more credibility.
So, similarly as devotees if we base our faith in scriptures based on the material inherency of the scriptures then we will always stay insecure. Its ok may be will this theory, will this finding prove that scriptures are wrong, will this finding prove that scriptures are wrong, this sort of fear will always keep us insecure. So that is because we will stay at the intellectual level and we will stay doubting. From the other hand if we focus on the practice of the essential teachings that are given in the scriptures, that is the practice of devotional service in Krishna consciousness then we experience the inner purification and transformation that happens in our lives and by that actually our faith increases. So therefore, you can hear the lecture that I have given on the topic of how to understand the relationship between science and scriptures. So there you will get a comparative understanding of science and scriptures and what are three different models when science and scriptures seems to contradict, science may be incorrect, science may be incomplete or science and scriptures may be observing from different scales of observation. These are three main things that I explained in that lecture. So that will give a broader understanding of whole complex relationship between science and scriptures but broadly speaking we base our faith in scriptures and not so much in the material inherency of the scriptures because what is ________ and what is correct, ultimately if we have to judge it by pratyaksha and anuman, pratyaksha and anuman are themselves are not free from error. So therefore the essential gift of the scriptures is that spiritual transformational knowledge that they have given us and when we practice the process and experience the transformation the results from that knowledge then our faith moves from shraddha to nishta. Shraddha is tender shakable faith and nishta is strong unshakable faith. On the other hand if we try to focus on the material inherency then we will never have developed a secured faith because we will not be focusing on the inner experiencetial confirmation that is actually the essential gift of the scriptures.
Thank you for the answer Prabhuji. My question was motivated by the several conversation that Srila Prabhupada had with several scientists challenging them to “create life from chemicals” etc. However, I really appreciate your explanation from.