Monday, September 1, 2014

Training the mind - 7

Scattered by the Sun at its zenith
Lengthening at night
Shadows of doubt, a paper tiger
Fighting its creator, light

Celestial events like the solar eclipse have captured human imagination since ancient times. Rise and fall of kingdoms, victory or defeat in battle and many other significant events of the time were thought to be influenced by the shadow cast by the moon as it passed between the sun and the earth. Highly imaginative folklore since ancient times have invoked various reasons for the predictable natural phenomena of solar and lunar eclipses. Greeks considered eclipses as a sign of anger amongst the Gods. The Mayans thought that a Jaguar ate the sun. The Chinese and East Indians invoked a mythical dragon that periodically devoured the sun. Scientific advances in the last century have obtained very useful information from eclipses. One such advance was confirming Einstein’s general theory of relativity by Eddington’s observations. The eclipse of May 29, 1919 provided the opportunity to measure the bending of light from stars by the strong gravitational field of the sun, as predicted by Einstein’s equations. His predictions were confirmed, and the Newtonian theory of the universe faded. This finding has had immense practical and scientific applications. For example, every day use of the GPS would not be possible affecting everything from satellites to cars on the street.

The sun is about 400 times the size of the moon. A relatively small object like our moon is able to totally eclipse the sun creating a giant shadow on earth. At times, the sun and the moon appear about the same size to our human eye. The sun also happens to be about 400 times farther away from the earth than the moon making them appear similar in size. The human eye has an aperture, called the pupil, that lets in light. On average it measures about 4 mm, about the size of a pinhole camera. It is a great wonder that we are able to visualize the immense scale of the cosmos through two tiny holes in our heads. We live under a great shadow, otherwise known as the mind. Like our ancients who could not explain natural phenomena such as eclipses, bridging gaps in that knowledge with imaginary demons and animals devouring the sun, we cannot fully explain the mind. Relatively recent inventions such as radio telescopes can tell us a lot about our cosmos that our naked eyes cannot see, but we are yet to invent a tool to study the workings of the mind. There are numerous examples of things that seemed impossible a hundred years ago being commonplace today. Arthur C. Clarke said, “The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible”.

Every great discovery starts with imagination. Mark Twain said, “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.” The history of how mankind discovered atoms, the fundamental building blocks of matter, started well before the invention of instruments to prove their existence. Around 460 BC, the Greek philosopher Democritus theorized the existence of the tiniest bits of matter, which he termed atoms. This idea lay dormant for a couple of thousand years until the 1800s, when John Dalton, the English chemist showed experimentally that matter consisted of fundamental particles. In 1897, J. J. Thompson discovered the electron, negatively charged particles that orbits the nucleus of atoms. He speculated that matter carried a positive charge. We now know that atoms can either emit light or absorb it. When it absorbs light, electrons are released. This observation, called the photoelectric effect, made by Einstein in 1905, won him the Nobel Prize in 1921. In 1919, Ernest Rutherford discovered positively charged particles in the nucleus of atoms and called them protons. The orbital trajectory of electrons is not necessarily circular, it could be elliptical. In addition, electrons spin as they orbit around the nucleus (observations made by Bohr, Sommerfeld and Pauli). This structure of atoms blown up on a gigantic scale appears similar to our solar system, with the sun representing the nucleus and the orbiting planets, the electrons. The missing piece of the puzzle relating to the nucleus of an atom was solved in 1932, when James Chadwick discovered the neutron. Most of the mass of an atom is contained in the nucleus. We now know that atoms are not the fundamental particles of matter. There are even smaller particles called, quarks, which are the building blocks of protons and neutrons. Now, scientists are discovering and proving the existence of forces that keep the protons and neutrons together, by appropriately naming some of these fundamental particles, “gluons”. A huge multinational effort created a giant particle collider that finally, in 2012, proved the existence of the Higgs Boson particle or popularly known as the “God particle”. This particle is part of a field, called that Higgs field, creates mass in fundamental particles like quarks and electrons. The Higgs Boson particle is the tiniest part of the Higgs field, which permeates the entire universe. There may be even more fundamental Higgs like particles that science is yet to discover. The physical body has trillions of atoms and each one these atoms is part of the Higgs field.

In 2011, prior to the official confirmation of the Higgs Boson particle, Prof. Rolf Heuer, Director General of CERN said, “Be prudent, we have not found it yet, we have not excluded it yet…”. We call the basic building blocks of the mind, thoughts. We may be able to describe the content, context and emotional aspects of thoughts but we are yet to discover the fundamental structure of thoughts, if there is one. Just because it cannot be proven by currently known means, does not exclude its existence. Gross matter has a very subtle basis in the form of subatomic particles. Thoughts are not tangible in the physical sense, but we all know they exist. Just as gross matter that we are able to perceive through our physical senses is comprised of very small fundamental particles, perhaps thoughts have a even more subtle fundamental structure. This must be explained as part of the further understanding of the ultimate reality. As mentioned above, there are similarities between the structure of atoms and that of the solar system. There is a great amount of space between the sun, the center of the solar system, and the planets. The amount of space between the nucleus of an atom and its orbiting electrons is hundred times larger, in relative terms compared to that of the solar system. Perhaps, the structure of the mind and thought is also similar. The space in the mind is potentially limitless. The mind may be narrowed down to fill it with the thought of an injured finger nail causing a great deal of pain, or expand it to hold the image of the entire universe as a single pixel in the giant screen of the mind. The plasticity of the mind is truly astounding, far exceeding neuroplasticity found in the neural pathways and synapses of the physical brain. I would like to theorize here, if nothing else a thought provoking experiment, that there is a fundamental structure for a thought. If there is such a thing, what would this structure look like?

Like the solar system and the atoms with its orbiting electrons around the nucleus, let’s suppose the mind has a similar architecture. What we call the mind, could be a single master thought around which the entire mind complex is built, including the conscious and subconscious realm. The prevailing theory of the Big Bang is that the entire universe started from a single point of infinitely dense energy. Every human also starts from a single cell with immense potential that ultimately turns into a thinking being. Could the evolution of the mind perhaps also follow this pattern? If there is a master thought from which springs the mind, we could speculate how it might appear. Like an atom, it might have a central core around which orbits, what I would like to term, “an emotional cloud”. In newborn, this emotional cloud is primitive and it grows larger and larger as the body grows. New experiences, memories, all of which are subjective entities are added to this emotional cloud. We interpret the information that is constantly being accumulated in this emotional cloud. Giving this accumulated information a context in terms of time and distance may be creating the illusion, we call the mind. The amount of information stored increases with time, just as the second law of Thermodynamics states that entropy or disorder of a system increases to a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, that is maximum disorder. The emotional cloud should have the property of accumulating information over time towards the point of having all the information contained in the known and unknown universe. Of course, we all know that this not practically possible, but the principle may be applied to the emotional cloud.

Orbiting electrons follow certain rules, as proposed by Niels Bohr in 1912.  His rules fit the observation that electrons do not crash into the nucleus. We also see this in the solar system, where the planets orbit the sun, held there by gravity but they do not spiral into the sun. Similarly, this emotional cloud could be built layer upon layer from the core of the master thought and this emotional cloud may not combine with the core of the master thought. As an example, an angry outburst may be traced back to a deeper underlying emotion as we strip away the layers. It could stem from negativities such as fear, greed, jealousy etc. These three entities may also serve as the basis of other emotions that may be displayed in innumerable combinations as we interact with the surrounding world. Similarly, happiness is also experienced in a variety of ways. Experiences that bring us happiness are much sought after day after day. On the surface, this emotion may be transferred to money, bodily comfort, material belongings etc. Since happiness is transferrable from one object to another, loss of one or more objects does not make one permanently unhappy. Something else takes its place, turning temporary unhappiness into happiness again. This cycle repeats endlessly. But is this what the great mystery of life is all about, chasing evanescent happiness? In emotional cloud, there may be memories of happy experiences. But one is always left with the feeling that there is something more that we may need in order to be truly happy. Fulfilling negative emotions like anger, greed, jealousy etc also offers transient happiness that comes from its fulfilment, but the long term repercussions may be very different.

There is a lot of information that may be stored in this emotional cloud and it may very likely form the basis of what we view as everyday life. There may exist a great deal of uncertainty in the emotional cloud. There are infinite varieties of interactions between the constant stream of incoming information and what is already stored there. The outcomes of these interactions are too random to be predicted. Consider this hypothetical situation. Let’s say one has a meeting with another individual in 48 hours time. The basic structure of what may be discussed at that meeting may be known 2 days in advance. But how each individual’s mind would react on that particular day at the time of the meeting cannot be accurately predicted. A lot could change in terms of subjective experiences in a day’s time. Even if these experiences are subtle, these could change the course of the mind which may then alter the state of the mind in the immediate and distant future. The other individual at the hypothetical meeting could also have a changing mindset, based on evolving circumstances and new streams of information, which could throw up other possibilities and combinations. This uncertainty principle is well documented in electrons. Called the “Heisenberg uncertainty principle”, first proposed theoretically by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, it states that both the position and speed of quantum particles such as electrons cannot be measured simultaneously. In other words, the best one can do to predict the location of electrons around the nucleus of an atom is to create a probability distribution map, which appears as an “electron cloud”.

All of the subjective information we carry may be stored in this emotional cloud, just as encoded genetic information is carried by DNA. The DNA in each cell is composed of billions of atoms. Single atoms are too unpredictable to hold information for very long, but billions of atoms can be rearranged to hold information. Without atoms, DNA would not exist. As an example, thousands of bricks are arranged to to form the walls and roof of a house. One may take shelter in this house of bricks but one cannot do so under a single brick. At the same time, without bricks, the house would not exist. The emotional cloud may encode subjective information and perhaps not the master thought. But without the theoretical master thought (comparable to an atom), the emotional cloud may not exist.

Now what would the core of the master thought look like? Like the nucleus of the atom, with its positively charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons, it could theoretically have two halves. One, I postulate would be the active part and the other the passive part. Let’s call the active part, the “H particle”, or unsullied happiness that were are all looking for, the end point of man’s eternal quest. The other passive part may be compared to a mirror. It reflects the H particle onto the developing emotional cloud. The happiness we seek in everything we do is perhaps our search for this faint signal coming from the H particle at the center of the master thought. Let’s say that this H particle is unsplittable as a fundamental particle described by particle physics. Scientists theorize that when the Big Bang happened some 14.7 billion years ago, these fundamental particles coalesced to form atoms and matter. All the energy and mass in the universe may be projected back to a single point called singularity. At singularity, the currently known laws of physics break down. If you consider individual human minds as individual clusters of emotional cloud all arising from the same H particle in the master thought, the energy of this H particle must be equal to or greater than the sum total of all the energies contained in all of the emotional clouds.

What could be the basis of the H particle or where does it come from? Scientists consider that relative time started at the Big Bang. A theoretical correlate of the Big Bang in the mind is the rapid expansion of the emotional cloud from the H particle of the master thought. Time, divided into the past, present and future exists in the emotional cloud as old experiences, current experiences and probable future experiences. For the H particle to be unchangeable, it must not be a storehouse of experiences, and it must not be subject to time, i.e., there is no past, present or future. The ultimate reality cannot possibly be subject to time, as time implies change. Identifying this theoretical H particle within ourselves and dispelling the relativities of the emotional cloud may be the goal of meditative practices (of whatever type), if taken in the objective sense putting aside differences in approaches to concentrating the mind. Repetitive effort may required, any technique that is repeated over and over could likely yield results. Another way of looking at meditation is considering it as a technique of projecting the energy in the emotional cloud back to the source. Conversely, ordinary living may be looked at projecting the same energy of the emotional cloud into the outer world. We are good at one and not the other. For thousands of years, mankind has searched for happiness in the outer world and has not found it. Perhaps, it exists beyond the emotional cloud as the H particle. Some of the approaches to concentrating the mind include contemplative thinking including deep scientific inquiry, selfless activity, devotional practices. All these activities have a thing is common, “living high, training low”, just as elite athletes do to maximize the physiology of oxygen extraction by muscles. High ideals are stored in the mind while the hands are busy in the everyday world contributing to further progress of humanity. It is great that we have so many different approaches to concentrating the mind, as no two humans think exactly alike and some may like one way and others another. As long as the end result is a higher state of happiness with less and less dependence on the world to derive it and more importantly, not inconveniencing other people in the process of getting happiness (through bad thought, talk and action), the means to achieve it is not that important. We are all bogged down by the notion that one way is better than the other. When we drive on the road, we follow the rules of the road, and when we arrive at our destination, we get off the road making way for others to complete their journey at their speed and convenience. Each technique may be considered a road with its set of rules. Going halfway down one road, turning back and going down another and so on will delay getting to the destination. Similarly, we should be more focussed on increasing the quantum (used metaphorically) of our happiness by digging deeper within ourselves and depend less on others to fulfil it.

When we think of the sun as a whole, it is one among billions of stars in the milky way. When we think of the earth, it is one among many planets, when we think of our country, it is one among many on earth. This line of thought may be extended beyond our galaxy to the universe which may be one among many. It can also be drawn in the opposite direction. Each human is one among billions and each subjective thought is one among billions and so on. It can extend from the biggest scale to the tiniest. The common thing is that each one is looked upon as a whole unit. This whole unit may be as big as the universe or as small as a tiny subatomic particle. Each is a discrete entity within something else. From an individual’s perspective, the concept of ego makes us look at ourselves as distinct individuals. Ego when applied to the mind, makes the emotional cloud appear as “distinct thoughts”. Let’s take this concept down to the H particle and consider this particle as a very condensed form of energy. We assumed that it is at the center of the master thought. Is it divisible or where did this energy come from is the next great question?

To be continued...