14 Mar

Space as a Model of Society and Ecosystems

In Vedic cosmology space is meant for living beings, because the material universe exists for the purposes of such beings. When space is the canvas on which we describe living phenomena, then macroscopic phenomena in the space constitute the evolution of society, while the microscopic phenomena indicate the evolution of the individual living entity. Sāńkhya is a detailed theory of the individual phenomena—i.e. a person’s perception, actions, and its consequences. Vedic cosmology, on the other hand, is a detailed description of the macroscopic phenomena—e.g. the tiers of society, the periodic creation and destruction of life forms, and the rise and fall of civilizations and cultures. This post discusses how space is a canvas for the evolution of society, and how cyclic time produces periodic undulations in an ecosystem.

The Problem of Fermi’s Paradox

Enrico Fermi formulated a paradox called Fermi’s Paradox about why we don’t see life from other planets. The idea is that if laws of nature are uniform everywhere, then the same kind of life should be uniformly created everywhere. Given that there are so many of them, we should have heard and seen them by now. Why we don’t see the aliens from other planets, presents a paradox. Now, some of you might argue that aliens have indeed visited us, citing evidence about UFOs, but what we know about these UFOs is not an actual encounter with another type of life form.

Of course, the idea of uniformity also flies in the face of biological diversity on this planet. If nature is uniform, then why do we see different species in different places? Charles Darwin formulated the Theory of Evolution principally to address this problem. His theory postulates that the reason we don’t see the same species everywhere is due to random mutations followed by environmental selection. If you are persistent, you might ask how the environment was created, and the answer would be another random change. In other words, some random event becomes the environment, which then selects the viability of other successive random events. We can therefore reduce all nature to just randomness. So, would we be surprised if we saw common patterns in nature which contradict both the above ideas—namely, uniformity and randomness?

The fact is that we are surrounded by a pattern called the Bell Curve or Normal Distribution which is neither uniformity nor randomness. The shape of the curve indicates that populations are not uniformly distributed over any variable. And the well-defined shape of the Bell Curve indicates that the distribution of a population over a variable is not random. For some reason, numerous aspects related to a population tend to follow the Bell Curve, whether it is genetics, diseases, or socio-economic attributes such as income or education levels. So, the answer to the problem arising from uniformity is not randomness, because that proposal doesn’t match numerous observations.

Once we set aside both uniformity and randomness, we have to find an explanation for the Bell Curve. Why does nature obey this pattern? The standard scientific explanation involves conceiving a “closed space” of all possible alternatives and arguing that we see a concentration in the middle because it is the most likely alternative. The problem with this explanation is that we closed the space of alternatives to begin with. When fundamental theories of matter (e.g. in physics) do not support such closure, on what basis do we use them in biology or sociology?

The Bell Curve can be explained if we close the space with limits, which means that we need to change our understanding of space itself. The resolution of Fermi’s paradox is that a planet is not a lump of matter but a region of space demarcated by conceptual extremes. So, we don’t expect to see similar life forms in other parts of the universe, or even in different parts of the Earth. Rather, we expect that (a) life in each planet and various parts of the planet would be different, and (b) life would be limited by a planet’s respective conceptual boundaries. The fact that we don’t have interactions with other planetary life is because each planet’s life is constrained by its conceptual boundaries.

Why the Bell Curve is Pervasive?

To understand the genesis of the Bell Curve, we must understand how it is a pattern for exponential increase and decrease. One way to understand exponentiation is to think of a musical scale. The scale comprises of octaves, and each successive octave begins at twice the starting frequency of the previous octave. For example, on an 88-key piano, the successive octaves begin at 16.352 Hz, 32.703 Hz, 65.406 Hz, etc., each time doubling the frequency. If we draw a frequency chart with a 88-key piano, we will find a pattern of x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x, etc. If we know the size of the piano (i.e. the distance to the farthest end) then we can also scale it as 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, etc.

The difference between a Bell Curve and the piano is that the higher frequencies are in the middle of the Bell Curve while they are on the right of the piano. If we split the Bell Curve into two halves at the center, then the right part would resemble an inverted piano (high frequencies on left and low frequencies on right). Therefore, we need to reverse the piano and represent it as wavelengths instead of frequencies (wavelengths indicate expanse in space and frequencies indicate duration in time).

To conserve the energy in this space, we need to transform the energy from one form to another. This transformation involves a shift from higher amplitudes to higher frequencies. On the right side of this space, the wavelength is high (and therefore the frequency is low), and therefore the amplitude must be high (to conserve the energy). On the left side of the space, the wavelength is small (and therefore frequency is high), and therefore the amplitude must be low. In short, piano keys on the left and right produce equal energies only when we play the low frequency sound (on the right) louder than the high frequency sound (on the left). The result of applying energy conservation to this space is that the sizes get exponentially bigger, and the instances get exponentially fewer. This model basically says that the population density on the right side of the scale is low, although it creates much bigger ideas over much larger time periods. Conversely, the population on the left side of the scale is dense, although it only creates rapid but small changes.

In short, the Bell Curve is the product of a space in which individual locations are like the keys of a piano. Like successive octaves on a piano are physically equidistant although at exponentially higher frequencies, similarly, individuals appear to exist in a uniform space but actually they are situated in a space of increasing frequencies. If we want to combine two distinct ideas (uniform distances and exponential changes) then we have to treat the locations in space as notes—i.e. symbols of meanings. The physical objects in space—i.e. keys of a piano—become symbols of meaning as they denote notes.

Ideological Oppositions in Semantic Space

The above picture only depicts half the story—one half of the Bell Curve, and one side of a semantic distinction. As we have noted above, no idea stands in isolation, and so the Bell Curve actually has two sides. We can easily extend the exponential change pattern to the other side as below.

Note how the total energy on the outside and the inside remains constant. On the outside, the frequency is small and the amplitudes are larger, but on the inside the frequency is high and the amplitudes are smaller. As energy flows from the outside to the inside, it changes form (from high frequency and low amplitude to low frequency and high amplitude). The reverse change occurs as the energy travels from the inside to the outside. These transformations create the Bell Curve.

As the energy travels inwards it interferes with the opposite waves, which creates what we commonly call a Standing Wave. The sound in a musical wind or string instrument is due to this standing wave. This sound is the product of defining a space that is “bound” at the ends—e.g. that the strings of a violin or guitar are clamped at two ends, or that the two ends of a flute or trombone are fixed. Once we fix the two ends, and generate a vibration at one end, the vibration goes to the other end, and it then reflected backwards and the interference of the opposite wave patterns creates a standing wave.

Space as a Description of Society

We can now describe the above model in everyday terms. The Bell Curve arises because there are bounds in space. Some individuals live on the fringes of the society—i.e. on the ideological extremes. Other individuals live in the middle of the society—i.e. in relatively moderate positions. Those on the fringes of society create large changes over longer periods of time. Conversely, near the center, there are rapid and small changes. The Bell Curve therefore represents a class system in which the outliers create big ideas over long periods of time. The classes on the inside bring smaller changes over shorter times. Effectively, the innermost class is those individuals who perform the fast and repetitive work, while the outermost class is those individuals who perform the slow and creative work.

We can ask why the intellectuals are at the fringes and not in the center. Don’t we expect the highest social class to be at the core of a moderate society to balance the fringe extremities? The problem with this approach is that the largest section of society would become engaged in rapidly producing new ideas with minor novelties while the grunt work of translating these ideas into useful products would happen slowly at the fringes. In other words, society would be a collection of armchair philosophers surrounded by lazy workers. We cannot expect this model to succeed even though it seems attractive from a distance.

This space has an in-built opposition, which means that whenever a new idea is created, it will propagate to the other extreme and produce an opposition. If the system is well-designed, then the opposite waves will be balanced, and produce a pattern just like a musical note. If the system is not well-designed, then the forward and backward sounds will clash and appear to be noise.

Steepening and Flattening Bell Curves

In modern times, the social Bell Curve has steepened—i.e. risen very high in the middle and falls very sharply thereafter. This fact is often described as the disparity in society where 99% of the population is in the middle and does all the work, while 1% of the population holds most of the wealth. Since the Bell Curve has steepened so much, other classes beyond the workers and businessmen—i.e. real leaders of society and intellectuals—have almost disappeared. In terms of the Vedic social model (which we discussed previously), 99% of the society is Sudra and 1% of society is Vaisya, while Kshatriya and Brahmana don’t exist.

The fix for the current problems of society requires flattening the Bell Curve. If the curve is steep, the population that occupies the outer regions of space (i.e. the intellectual class) is destroyed. If the curve is flattened, the outer regions of the idea space are sufficiently populated. Vedic philosophy describes how time is cyclic change, and we can understand the effect of time as the periodic steepening and flattening of the Bell Curve.

During Satya-yuga, the Bell Curve is flattened which means that the outer regions of space are well-populated. As time progresses through Tretā-yuga, Dvāpara-yuga, and finally Kali-yuga, the Bell Curve steepens. Eventually, towards the end of the Kali-yuga, the entire population reduces to nearly a vertical line. There is no variety, personality, or diversity. Nearly everyone is reduced to a worker, and the distinction between humans and animals (in terms of their ideology, morality, and thinking) disappears. This is a terrifying prospect that faces modern society. The effect of time in a semantic space can be understood as the periodic rising and falling of the social Bell Curve.

The Discontinuity in Time Cycles

The social cycle involves an abrupt transition from Kali-yuga to Satya-yuga. If time were like the smoothly moving hands of a clock, then we would imagine that the risen Bell Curve would flatten gradually, but it doesn’t. Instead, the steep concentration in the middle suddenly flips into a flat distribution. The hands of a clock, if we were looking at a mechanical clock, of course, rotate smoothly. But the living society shifts dramatically.

This shift involves two kinds of events. First, new phenomena emerge out of nowhere; the Cambrian Explosion in which suddenly a number of species appear is a good example. Second, we can see a long period of slow rise ending into a sudden fall; the sudden disappearance of large cultures such as the Indus Valley Civilization, the Mayan Civilization, and the Babylonian Civilization, are good examples. The continuous evolution is hard to detect. But the sudden discontinuity is easily detected.

The cycle in time produces two opposite effects: (a) it suddenly destroys an established system and (b) suddenly creates a new system. Since the old and new ideologies are radically different, they don’t occur at the same location even in idea space; they are not contiguous in physical space either. This makes explanation impossible in physical space. We can expect the phenomena to be explained in an idea space as the sudden decline of old thinking and the sudden appearance of a new thinking.

Thomas Kuhn called this “Paradigm Shift” in the landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, outlining how new visions of the world don’t appear gradually. Rather, a mass of contradicting evidence accumulates gradually until the gap between the evidence and the ideology becomes so wide that the old worldview is suddenly discarded in its entirety and replaced by a new worldview. This is also what management thinkers such as Malcolm Gladwell call The Tipping Point in which small acts accumulate to suddenly create a very big change. The cycles of economic boom and bust are too legend to discuss in detail here; the economy gradually rises up and then suddenly falls. In other words, you abruptly fall off a cliff after appearing for a long time to be on a never ending rising slope.

I believe that modern science will also suddenly fall off a cliff, when the right time for the advent of semantic ideas arrives. The world will undergo a transition similar to that from Kali-yuga to Satya-yuga when the Bell Curve will be flattened. This flattening will produce a better distribution of wealth, administered by moral rulers, and guided by true intellectuals who can spread the real knowledge about matter and spirit. It will happen so suddenly that historians will wonder what really happened. It would be a case of “slow rise and sudden fall” which is typical of time crossing over from the end of an era to a beginning of a new era. The change is under the control of time, and such changes cannot occur before or after their designated hour.

Why are Vedic Planets Flat?

Once we understand how a straight line denotes a class hierarchy and how its undulation gives rise to the social dynamic, then it becomes easy to understand the flat two dimensional space: this space is a collection of lines rotated at different angles and each line represents one particular sequence for ordering living beings. If you are given the task of counting all living beings, then you would count humans from left to right based on their differences, and then count the dogs from left to right based on their differences, then count the birds based on their differences, and so forth. We cannot include humans in the sequence of dogs, or vice versa. In that sense, each type of living entity is situated on its own line (which identifies a spectrum of such living beings), and thereby constitutes what we call a species. The different lines on the plane are rotated at different angles which means their minds are different from the minds of the other species (although one can understand how they think if we know the angle at which they are rotated).

As the straight line denotes the dynamics of a species, the flat two dimensional surface denotes the dynamics of an ecosystem. This ecology has two kinds of dynamics: (1) the reflection of opposites to create a standing wave in the ideal balanced condition, and (2) the rotation of the lines to create what we call the “food cycle”. Based on this “food cycle” (i.e. the day-to-day material interactions and transactions), there is also a cycle of the soul transmigrating through the different species, and therefore “rotating” in the material space.

Each species is the food of another species, and the waste from one species becomes the food of another. The “food cycle” in nature can be represented as a wheel in which a pair of spokes constitutes the balance of opposites within a species, while the different spoke pairs (at different angles to each other) constitute the different species. For the ecosystem to function correctly, this conceptual wheel must rotate (it’s not for nothing that we call it a “food cycle”). In short, a system as complex as an ecosystem can be represented by a very simple looking model, although the similarity between the model and the actual working of an ecosystem hides a lot of complexity.

The Wheel of Dharma

For several thousands of years, a wheel has been used in Hinduism and Buddhism to represent dharma, which is a name for: (a) natural processes, and (b) society doing its prescribed duties. Thus, nature itself is dharma because it undergoes a periodic cycle of change, thus creating day and night, the changing seasons, the rise of fall of civilizations, etc. Within this natural dharma is each individual performing their duty in accordance with the universal cycle of changes. The wheel represents space in Vedic cosmology, and space (as we have seen) is a synonym for society. Similarly, the pulsation and rotation of this wheel represents time—i.e. social evolution. Sometimes, the wheel is also described as a “lotus flower” with its petals opened up just like the spokes in a wheel.

The description of flat space is not a description of a physical flatland, as most people commonly tend to think. Rather, the flat space is a conceptual model of an ecosystem. It is not what we perceive by our senses. It is rather how we would conceive the universe based on the mental diversity of the living beings in it. In that sense, this flat space is a subtle space of ideas in which living beings are described as ideas, rather than just sensations (if you are familiar with Sāńkhya, then sensations too are ideas).

The differences between conceptual models and experimental verification have been well-known in science; for example, an atomic object is described as a vibrating form in a complex number space, but when we perceive this world, we observe instantaneous incidents of colorful blips. The difference between reality and its perception is a testimony of the advancement of science whereby it has been able to bring diverse phenomena under the same theory and concepts. Such advancement is not evident in all areas of science. For example, geography continues to think of reality as observations, primarily because geography isn’t an advanced subject today that unifies a set of diverse phenomena—e.g. the changes in weather, the relation between geography and ecology, and the evolution of ecosystems.

Since modern geography isn’t an advanced science, a comparison between the perceptual models in geography with the conceptual models of space (in a unified theory of ecology, evolution, weather, and geography) produces many contradictions. Those who make such comparisons simply don’t seem to understand that the description isn’t about geography per se. It is rather a description of the variety of life forms as they exist in certain regions of the universe, and describing that life means describing the morals, intents, beliefs, concepts, senses, sensations, and objects—all as concepts, rather than percepts.