The following is the transcript of the fourth episode of my podcast. This episode talks about an alternative model of evolution based upon the notions of matter derived from quantum physics rather than classical physics. In classical physics, a particle established continuity between successive states, but in quantum physics there are successive states but no continuity. The episode discusses how in Vedic philosophy this continuity is established by the presence of the soul due to which even though the bodies are changing through birth, childhood, youth, and old age, the soul remains the same. Also, unlike classical physics where only one state is possible and real at a given time, in quantum physics all the states are possible but only one state becomes real. So, when these material states are understood as different kinds of bodies, then all the bodies are possible at all times but only some bodies become real at a given time. It follows that the species are not evolving into other species. Rather, the soul is evolving through the various species. The episode goes on to discuss three definitions of the species in Vedic philosophy, and how they appear in language as first, second, and third-person experiences. Modern science only studies third-person experience and therefore body is also defined only in terms of third-person properties. But in Vedic philosophy, the body is additionally described in terms of first- and second-person experiences and properties.
Question 1: Models of Continuity and Discreteness
In your book Signs of Life as well as in several blog posts you have talked about an alternative to modern evolutionary theory. What is the model you are talking about, and how is it different from the current models in evolution? Can you elaborate?
Well, first of all we are not opposed to evolution. We are rather opposed to the evolution of species. Since most people will be confused by this distinction, let me try to elaborate.
Suppose you are walking on a street. You have a body at position X and then a body at position Y. Are these the same bodies, or are they different bodies? Most people will like to say that it is basically the same body with very small changes to the biological constitution. This model of change is taken from classical physics where a particle moves from one position to another but remains the same particle. The only difference is that the particle has acquired a new property—i.e. a new position.
In Vedic philosophy, this basic idea about motion is disputed. The Bhagavad-Gita states that the body is not moving. Rather we are changing bodies. This idea can be illustrated easily by contrasting the motion of a classical particle with the apparent motion that appears from the succession of blinking lights. You would have seen neon signs in which small light bulbs switch on and off in a succession. Each bulb is a different physical entity and yet when these bulbs switch on and off in succession, it gives us the impression of a moving light. Factually the bulbs are not moving, but there is the impression of motion. The Bhagavad-Gita states that in the same way, the body is not moving. Rather the bodies are changing like the different bulbs that switch on and off to create the impression of motion.
This model of change is generalized for all kinds of change, both within this life and across lifetimes. The Bhagavad-Gita says that just as the body changes in this life through the stages of birth, childhood, youth, and old age, similarly, the body changes at the time of death. The change of body in this life and at the time of death obey the same basic principle and this means first and foremost that we have to revise our notion of change during this life. It is not succession of positions of the same body. Rather it is a succession of bodies which have only minor differences from each other.
Of course, when we talk about change, we have to talk about that which is unchanging. In classical physics, that unchanging thing is the particle, and in Vedic philosophy that unchanging thing is the soul. The particle establishes a sense of continuity in motion, and the soul establishes the continuity through the succession of bodies. Just like the successive positions are the states of the particle, similarly, the succession of bodies are the states of the soul. The novelty in this description is that the body is not an object. Rather the body is a state. Matter is therefore not objects per se. It is only states. The object is the soul, and when it acquires different bodies, it is like changing the state of the object.
The object is conscious, but the states of this object are not conscious. In a simple sense, the soul has self-consciousness, but the states are not self-conscious. The self-conscious thing can exist by itself. But the non-self-conscious thing cannot exist on its own. Therefore, material properties can never exist by themselves. They are always existing as states of some soul. However, the soul can exist by itself. Thus, wherever there is matter, there must be a soul. However, wherever there is a soul, matter is not necessary. The soul can exist embodied or disembodied. However, if there is any kind of body, it must belong to some soul. Hence, there is nothing totally lifeless; everything is the body of some soul. When the soul enters a body it can be called the change of the state of the soul. These states can be described in science, and hence the succession of bodies is amenable to a scientific description. However, the bodies are all discrete states, while the soul is the thing that maintains the continuity in motion.
Now those who know classical physics will recall that in classical physics the continuity of successive states is created through infinitesimal changes in the state. In atomic theory, this continuity is a complete illusion because there are only successions of discrete states. This gives rise to the problem that you can speak about discrete states, but you cannot say that these are states of something because that thing must establish continuity and there is no continuity in atomic theory. Vedic philosophy states that matter is discrete states, and the soul is the object that establishes the continuity. Due the soul, we can say that even though my body has changed from childhood to youth to old age, I am still the same person. So the bodily changes are the discreteness, and the soul is the continuity. Scientifically speaking the particle or the soul is the same, but it has acquired successive discrete states.
Now this model of motion entails that matter exists as a possibility but it is converted into the reality or the experience of a soul when the soul comes in contact with this possibility. All the possible states of matter exist simultaneously. They are like light bulbs that have been switched off and therefore they are not visible. For example, even while I am talking to you, there is a state of possibility in which I’m silent, and a state of possibility in which I’m lying on the bed. All the possible states or all the bodies are existing at once and they are therefore simultaneously real, although they cannot be observed at once. So here we have a reality that exists but is not observable, because it exists as a possibility.
As the soul enters bodies one by one, the possibility is converted into a reality. Quite like the bulbs in the moving light exist simultaneously, but they are lighted up one by one. Just because we don’t find all the bulbs lighted at once doesn’t mean that they are non-existent. It also means that the bulbs exist but they are not being fed the energy that can light it up. When the energy is fed, the bulb lights up.
It follows that because all the bodies exist simultaneously in a dormant state, therefore, all the species also exist simultaneously. Just as one bulb doesn’t become another bulb, similarly, the bodies don’t transform into other bodies. Rather, the possibility of the body is converted to reality by the presence of the soul. Hence, there is evolution of the soul as the soul moves through one body after another, but there is no evolution of the body because the bodies are not moving. None of the possible bodies is transformed into another body; rather, one body becomes invisible and another body becomes visible. As a result there is evolution of the soul, but no evolution of the body. There is no evolution of species, but there is evolution of the soul through successive species. If the soul enters a new kind of body that was previously invisible, a new species is said to have been born. But this species was existing eternally as a possibility. Possibilities don’t change into each other; possibility changes into reality.
Therefore, the basis of the dispute with the modern theory of evolution of species is this new understanding of motion, which is motion of the soul, not the motion of the body. This concept about change is supported by atomic theory but not supported by classical physics. Since this idea about motion is compatible with atomic physics, we can deal with this problem in a scientific way although we would have to think of motion as motion of the soul, rather than motion of matter. The idea that species do not evolve follows from the motion of the soul through successive bodies. So we can explain the process of evolution through the evolution of the soul rather than the evolution of bodies. There can be a different kind of evolutionary theory based on a different theory of motion.
Obviously, to talk about this new evolutionary theory we have to understand a new theory of motion. The former is a theory in biology but the latter is a theory in physics. So, this new theory of evolution in biology cannot come unless we have a new theory of motion in physics. And even this new theory of motion in physics has to be based on the idea that matter is discrete possibilities which are connected together to create the sense of continuity by the soul. If we don’t have continuity we can say something is changing but what remains unchanging cannot be spoken about. And unless you can formulate an understanding of what remains unchanged during change, science remains incomplete. So I’m talking about a much broader problem of change and constant which arises in modern physics, and using the solution to that problem of change and constant to revise the notion of evolution as well.
Question 2: Possibility and Reality
It is interesting that you talk about this anti-evolutionary model based on quantum physics as opposed to classical physics. You are saying the body is a state rather than an object. And you are using the distinction between object and state to say that the states are all discrete and eternally existing as a possibility. Can you shed some more light on this possibility?
The issue of possibility goes to the core of the nature of reality in science. In classical physics, if something exists, it must be observable. In atomic theory, things exist as a possibility, and they are converted into an observable reality by something that we still don’t understand very well. John von Neumann said that this problem could be explained by supposing that matter is possibility and consciousness selects among these possibilities. So consciousness is like a choice, and matter is like a possibility. But because Neumann did not elaborate on the mechanism of how possibilities become reality this idea is not given adequate attention.
Before we can understand the interaction between choice and possibility we have to understand the nature of possibility itself. In Vedic philosophy, there are three kinds of possibilities. The first type of possibility is our personality of desires or likes and dislikes. There are many things we like and many things we dislike. So, to pick one thing out of the many things we like, there has to be a choice, and our likes are the possibility of becoming a reality when one of these likes is chosen. Then the second type of possibility is the idea of a species, but this idea is not based on the bodily form, shape, and size. It is rather based on the behavior. So, for example, a lion has a particular type of behavior in relation to the other species of life. If something behaves like the lion then it must be a lion. These behaviors are defined by the role or relation between different species or the individuals among those species. Since a soul can accept many such roles and exhibit many such behaviors, the behavior, role, or relationship among the species or individuals of the species is the second type of possibility.
The third type of possibility is the body. This body has a form, shape, size, etc. but not everything in the body is causally active all the time. For example, you have your hands and legs which cna be used to run, but while we are talking to each other these hands and legs are not being used. We can say that your hands and legs are lying in a state of possibility because the power or ability in the hands and legs is not being exhibited. So, the body is also a possibility, and it is the third kind of possibility after the possibilities of desires and behaviors. Generally in Vedic philosophy we say that desires or likes and dislikes are the highest, then following these desires are the roles and relations to the world, and finally, the body of possibilities or abilities is manifest. Birth is described as an effect of these three things. First of all the soul has a desire which he wants to be fulfilled, then due to this desire the soul is placed in an ecosystem or place in this world in relation to other living entities thereby giving him a position in the world, and once the soul has been placed in the world, then the body develops.
So, the body that modern science studies is the last of the three steps. And while we do not deny that we can describe the species by the characteristics of the body, there are two deeper levels where the species can be described. The first level is that each species has a particular type desire, likes, dislikes, happiness, etc. The second level is that each species has a particular behavior and relation to the world. For example, deer eat grass while the lions eat deer. The lions don’t eat grass, which means that the deer and grass have a relation but the lion doesn’t have a direct relation to grass. So, the species that we presently describe by the study of the body can also be described in terms of behavior and desires. In fact each of these three things are partial descriptions because there are many kinds of desires, many kinds of behaviors, and many kinds of bodies. A type of body can exhibit a different kind of behavior, so describing the body doesn’t fix the behavior. Similarly, given a certain kind of behavior, there can be different kinds of pleasures enjoyed through the same behavior.
Therefore, each of the three descriptions of body, behavior, and desire are incomplete in themselves. But when they are combined together they become complete. Which means that there is role for choice is picking some body, some behavior, and some desire. And then these three things — i.e. a particular body, a particular behavior, and a particular desires — are combined to create our experience. So before we can study the interaction between choice and possibility, we have to realize that there are three kinds of possibilities which combine, so there must be three kinds of choices that are used to select from these three kinds of possibilities to create a reality.
So, when we speak about the primordial reality being a possibility, there is a sophisticated theory of three kinds of possibilities, and how reality is created from their combination. In modern science we think that the world is already objective, but in Vedic philosophy these objects are produced from possibility combination. So we don’t take the objects as reality, we rather treat them as phenomena. To study reality we ask: What are these objects produced from? And the answer is not that bigger objects are built from smaller objects. Rather the answer is that possibilities and choices are combining to produce the reality. So we go back into the nature of the possibilities and choices and that’s when a new kind of science begins, which is completely different from the science of modern times.
Question 3: Realism and Idealism
While we can intuitively understand the world as a possibility, science has been about empirical observations. If we cannot perceive something, then it cannot exist. So, the criterion of empiricism rules out the existence of possibilities. How do you think we can speak about possibilities when we cannot perceive them empirically?
This is a very old philosophical problem about realism. For instance, if you do not look at the world, does the world disappear? If you are an idealist, you would say that the world only exists as an idea within me, and that there is no external world, because even if such a world existed, its existence could not be confirmed by the senses because what I know is what I see at the point of seeing. Therefore, the idealist will say that if I don’t see something then it doesn’t exist. This idealism creates a problem about intersubjective communication between individuals. If the world is simply my idea, then someone else must have another idea, and we won’t even know if we are talking about the same thing. So, idealism implies that we are trapped in the hell-hole of our private illusions with no hope for escape.
Realism on the other hand says that the world exists outside of our awareness, and I see the world because it exists before I see it. The problem is that we don’t know in what form the world exists before we see it. This problem has occupied philosophers for ages in trying to justify realism. There is naive realism which says that the world exactly how I see it, and there is scientific realism which says that there is an objective world of physical properties which are then converted into sensations, and reality is physical but we perceive sensations. The problem with naive realism is that if we were seeing exactly how the world exists, then there could be no hallucinations. And the problem with scientific realism is that if the world is physical properties, how can we ever explain how the properties become sensations?
So, neither idealism nor realism actually works consistently. Within each of these positions there are subdivisions and even these divisions don’t work very well. So there has been a crisis about the nature of reality in science since the beginning of Western philosophy, and that crises is now coming to a hilt in modern science where the world is neither my idea nor an objective reality. It is rather a possibility from which both my ideas and an objective reality are produced. So in this context we can say that the world exists as a possibility before I see it. But even this idea leads to a problem, namely that of the conversion of possibility and reality. That’s where we have to invoke Vedic philosophy where reality is being created by the combination of three kinds of possibilities. So what we call “reality” as something that exists before I perceive is actually a possibility, in fact three kinds of possibilities. And what we call “phenomena” is the combination of these three kinds of possibilities. So individually, the three possibilities are real, and in combination they create phenomena.
Our senses can observe the phenomena, but how do we perceive the possibilities when they like in an uncombined state? This is where perception by the mind becomes important. The mind is able to perceive possibilities, while the senses only see phenomena. So, by the mind we can see that which exists but cannot be seen by the senses. Since all this is perceived by the mind, therefore the possibilities can only be described as concepts, rather than as sensations. In Vedic philosophy, the mind is said to be the sixth sense”, or mana sasthāni. This mind perceives the possibilities while the senses perceive the combinations of possibilities. On that count, empiricism based on sense perception is false becuase you can see the phenomena but you cannot know what exists before you perceived the phenomena.
Now, based on this new idea about reality we can talk about a different understanding of evolution. This evolution is happening at two levels. First there is evolution of the possibilities themselves, and there is evolution of the combination of possibilities. So change can come about because something that was possible in the past is now impossible or vice versa. And change can come about because certain possibilities that were previously uncombined are now being combined. These two ideas about evolution constitute the global and individual evolutions. The global evolution is that certain types of bodies, desires, and behaviors will appear and disappear from the world. And the individual evolution is that a certain individual soul will combine a particular type of body, behavior, and desire.
In modern biology we only talk about the global evolution and not the individual evolution. But we describe this global evolution based on reality rather than possibilities. And because we neglect the existence of possibility, we neglect the existence of three kinds of possibility. And due to this neglect we don’t understand that desires and behaviors are also objective reality apart from the body types, and even this body type is a possibility rather than an object. So, the current evolutionary theory is missing so many key ideas because it hasn’t yet begun to explore the consequences of atomic theory for evolution. Once we understand what atomic theory means, then evolution will be both global and individual, and the global evolution will simply indicate the possibilities and the indiviudal evolution also involve choices that combine these possibilities. So, not only will there be different laws of possibility at the global level, there will be laws of choice at the individual level. So, atomic theory is very important if one wants to understand where the modern evolutionary theory is going wrong.
Question 4: Three Definitions of Species
You are saying that a species is a pure idea, which is instantiated into an individual and this individual is then divided into body parts, and these body parts have abilities. And when these abilities are used by our desires for pleasure than the ability is transformed into an observation. And this general paradigm of conversion from possibility to reality changes the nature of evolution.
Yes, a species can be defined in three different ways—namely subjective, intersubjective, and objective. The subjective criterion is that each species of life enjoys different kinds of pleasures. The intersubjective definition of a species is that each species plays a certain role in an ecosystem, so that behavior or role in relation to other species is the definition of a species. And finally the objective criterion is that each species has a certain type of body, shape, size, form, etc. Beyond the subjective, intersubjective, and objective realities, is the soul perceiving these realities.
In grammar, we use the terms first-person, second-person, and third-person to express these ideas. A living entity’s pleasure or ananda is the first-person experience because it is totally private. You can never know exactly how a person feels, even though you may have been in the same situation before. Only a person can themselves truly know their own feelings so this first person experience is totally private. A living entity’s relations or sat is second-person experience as it is behavior in relation to another individual. For example, we can talk about a father-child relationship. The child sees the fatherly behavior of the person, and others people who are brothers, sisters, mothers, friends, etc. will see the same person in a different way. So the same person is known by other people, but each time this knowledge is different. That knowledge is unique to the pairwise relationship. Unlike feelings which are totally private to a person, the relationships are intersubjective but not public, so we can call this the second-person knowledge. Finally, a living entity’s body or chit is third-person knowledge because everybody can know the body and there is no uniqueness of a pairwise a per-relation basis, nor is there privacy of the first-person experience. In Sanskrit grammar these are called ‘one’, ‘two’ and ‘many’, and in English they are called first, second, and third person. The third-person experience is the experience of ‘many’ so these are nearly identical concepts and denote three ways of knowing.
Modern science studies everything in the third-person manner, and so by a species we mean that which is known in the third-person manner. Advances in science show that even this third-person reality is actually a possibility and not a definite fact. Facts emerge from this possibility. Then there is interpersonal reality or second-person reality which also defines a species. And finally there is a first-person reality which defines a species. So, in modern science we only talk about the third-person reality but in Vedic philosophy we also talk about the second-person and the first-person reality.
Thomas Nagel wrote an interesting paper on this question called “What is it like to be a bat?” and he goes on to state that this first-person sense of being cannot be reduced to third-person observation of material states. As we talked about earlier, this first-person sense of being precedes the third-person expansion of this being into a body. However, even this first person sense of being is material in Vedic philosophy. There is nothing spiritual about the feeling of a certain type of emotion. These are material identities, and therefore the states of the soul. Because they are material they can be talked about objectively as anyone can adopt this material identity so it is first-person objective. That is, if you have personal feelings these feelings are not you, and someone else can have the same feelings. And yet, if you are having a feeling nobody can know exactly what you are feeling, so they can never claim that I am feeling exactly how you are feeling. The feeling always remains private experience.
Question 5: First and Second Person Experience
It is interesting that you bring up Thomas Nagel. You are saying that this first and second person account of being a particular type of species is the primary sense in which we should talk about species, instead of the third-person account of the body types.
Yes, to talk about humanity we have to ask – What is it to be a human? It is a completely different question than the question in modern science which is – How do you identify something as a human body? The answer to the question “What is it to be a human?” is that there are certain types of unique emotions or feelings in a human which are not found in other species. Similarly, there are certain unique types of behaviors that qualify as being human, not just the body of a human being. There is a subtle sense in which we define the feeling of humanity as compassion, contentment, detachment, responsibility, enlightenment, which cannot be found in other species of life. Similarly, there are behaviors of humanity such as charity, dutifulness, truthfulness, organization, etc. which are absent from other species of life. These things constitute our emotional and moral sense of individuality, namely that because I am a human, I must feel the emotions of a human and exhibit humanity.
The human body that doesn’t feel the human emotions or doesn’t exhibit humanity is not truly a human. So, there are situations in which the human body is not exhibiting the moral virtues of humanity, and not feeling the emotions of being a human, and that’s when we can draw a distinction between the ideas of being human vs. human being. The human being can be defined by the bodily characteristics and abilities in a third-person manner but being human is defined by a feeling and a moral standard.
So, there is a completely different criterion for identifying a species based on their first- and second-person experiences. For example, a lion has the value system that killing other animals is acceptable, but the lion will not eat the prey killed by another animal or even another lion. A jackal on the other hand doesn’t mind killing other animals, and it doesn’t mind eating the prey killed by another animal. The sense of pride that comes with a lion life doesn’t come with the jackal. A lion will only eat fresh meat but a jackal doesn’t mind eating stale flesh. In a sense the lion is a warrior but pure and proud. A jackal on the other hand is also a killer but it lacks the honesty of a warrior and the pride that comes with it.
So in the Vedic system this moral sense of honesty, pride in the status, and assertiveness over others, being a ruler or domination, etc. are the characteristics of being a lion. Similarly, the feelings of each type of species of life are also different. The genes and body types are just suited to exhibit these values and feelings, but one could have the body of a lion and still exhibit the moral and emotional characteristics of a jackal – e.g. the lion may begin eating someone else’s kills, or sneaking around to snatch food from other jackals, or waiting for other lions to have eaten before they eat themselves.
The body of the lion is compatible with jackal-like behaviors, so the body doesn’t distinguish the morality of a lion from that of the jackal. Therefore, the body type is not sufficient to qualify as a lion. One must exhibit the values of a lion to be called a lion. There is a role that the lion plays in an ecosystem – the king of the jungle – and the propensity to being a king is the defining value of a lion. The jackal doesn’t have it, therefore, the jackal is a different species because being jackal is different.
Question 6: The Meaning of Humanity
It is generally believed that morality is a universal set of values, but you are saying that each species has its own morality, and the species are to be distinguished by the values they uphold. Doesn’t that contextualize morality to a species and it follows that there are different kinds of moralities or the second person sense of being which define each species? It would mean that humans who don’t have the same moral values are either not humans or a different kind of a human, even though they have the same or similar bodily characteristics.
Yes, exactly. In Vedic philosophy, there are 400,000 types of humans. We can probably distinguish between a few races such as Caucasian, Asian, South Asian, South American, African, etc. But in the Vedic system this is not the basis of species. The Caucasian and African can have dissimilar bodies but the same moral virtues of kindness, truthfulness, pride in their work, charity to others, etc. So they might look different, but they might be having the same meaning of what is it to be human.
Some humans value ideas and intellectual progress, others value power and control, some people desire to own a lot of property and wealth, while others are happy in just serving others and not being responsible for the decisions by depending on the leadership of others. The values of a leader and a follower are quite different, the values of an intellectual and artist are quite different. They may have more or less similar types of bodies, but they have radically different behaviors due to their value system. Accordingly, they are best suited to play different kinds of roles in society.
So when Brahma creates the species, he basically creates the second-person sense of being a type of species. This is the creation of many types of value systems, and these value systems defind the second-person sense of a species. The soul chooses the first-person sense of being of the type of happiness they want to enjoy. Each soul has some desires on what they want to be, a kind of self-image of what kind of person they are. These desires are called guna. Thus, based on the desires, the soul acquires a personality, this personality then acquires a role or relationship to the world, and then this relational position of the soul develops into a body. So, the body we see and study in science is the last step in the creation of the species. Before the body come the desires and the roles. Brahma doesn’t create body types. He only creates the different types of roles or behaviors. And when the soul adopts a type of role and behavior, then he automatically gets a body.
This is an important idea to understand the transmigration of the soul through different species. The transmigration is occuring at every moment. The deeper level changes, namely the first and second person changes of a species are responsible for the third-person change of the body at the time of death. Thus, if a person lives in the body of a human, but plays the role of a dog – e.g. loyalty to a master, aggression towards those who are not connected to the master, etc. – then he or she would be later born in the body of a dog. The time of death simply involves a change in the body type, which is perceivable in the third person manner. The person having a human body but the role of a dog, is actually a dog according to the Vedic system. From a first-person perspective he enjoys being a dog, and from a second person perspective he behaves like a dog in relation to some master. From a third person perspective he may or may not have the body of a dog.
Regardless of what body type he has, his role creates the second-person sense of being and his different type of pleasure creates his first-person sense of being. Therefore, even though if someone has a human body, but if the body is not exhibiting the role of a human being, and not enjoying the types of pleasures humans are supposed to enjoy, the nature will move that person to a new type of body.
Question 7: The Extinction of Species
So you are saying that by revising what we mean by a species, we come up with a different idea about evolution in which the body is not evolving into other species, but rather the soul is moving through many species. Are you saying that all the species (in terms of body) are forever existing? Because we clearly have empirical evidence against that.
No, I’m not saying that all the body types are visible always. I’m saying that all the types of pleasure and all the roles are eternal, and the body types are also eternal as possibilities, but a soul is accorded a particular type of body based on the type of pleasure and behavior.
For instance, if you wish to exhibit the loyalty and aggression of a dog, it is ideal that you have a master who owns you. That ownership of a pet is not allowed in human society; you cannot buy a human being in a market of pets and chain him using a leash to a post. So, human life is not suited for a dog’s ideals, and therefore to fulfill the ideals the soul has to be born in a body where buying and selling of pets is allowed, the pet also enjoys being subservient to the master, and exhibits loyalty. Cats for instance also love to be pets, but they are not loyal. They don’t like to be chained and they don’t want a master to take them out for a walk. A cat is a loner; he or she will hunt and eat, doesn’t need the master all around, and resents overdependence on the master. So, that’s another kind of value system.
So, if there is no soul who desires cat-like behavior, then cats will disappear from earth. It is not because the cat behavior has become impossible. It is only that nobody enjoys cat pleasure for the time being so no cats will be seen. So, all the species are eternally existing as abilities, behaviors, and pleasures. But they are not necessarily visible at all places and time.
As a certain type of pleasure and behavior becomes scarce, the population of that species having that body type also reduces, and eventually they become extinct. So, I’m not rejecting the appearance and disappearance of species as body types. I’m rejecting the idea that one type of pleasure, body, or behavior is evolving into another type of pleasure, body, and behavior through mutation and selection. I’m saying that there are certain predefined types of pleasure, bodies, and behaviors which exist eternally but are occasionally manifest.
Question 8: Individual vs. Cosmic Evolution
Still, since species become populous and extinct at different times, there are obviously many souls who are accepting a type of body at certain time, and then rejecting that body type at other times. How can we decide what multiple souls will do at certain times, when the choices of being a species is individual? For example, if someone wants to be a dinosaur, and they develop the morality of a dinosaur, will dinosaurs appear in a few years from now? Such an appearance would make prediction of evolution impossible because it completely becomes an individual prerogative to be a certain type of species. How do you respond to that?
This is a great question, and it is a segue into another problem. Let me just state how Vedic philosophy answers this problem, and then we will talk about the theory underlying it. When a dinosaur becomes extinct on earth, the dinosaur hasn’t completely become extinct from the universe. Remember that dinosaur is the possibility of body, behavior, and desire. As pure possibilities they are never extinct. However, this possibility also has a place and time, and the possibilities can appear and disappear at differnet places and times due to the global evolution. So for example, dinosaurs can become extinct from the earth, and they will become manifest elsewhere. The soul with a dinosaur body will be born elsewhere in a different part of the universe. So, even if I develop a dinosaur pleasure and behavior in this life, I am not going to be born as a dinosaur on earth, though I will be born as a dinosaur in another place where these dinosaurs are existing at the present.
This is probably the hardest part of the Vedic view, because it is entwined with Vedic cosmology. The key point to note here is that life exists all across the universe, not just on earth. And this life is created as a possibility when the ecosystems for that type of life are created. For example, there is a certain type of ecosystem required for the dinosaurs to exist. If the ecosystem is destroyed then the dinosaurs will cease to exist. However, even if the ecosystem is present, you and I are not compelled to enter that ecosystem as dinosaurs. In that sense, the ecosystem is the global possibility and then there is choice in the individual soul whether he wants to enter that ecosystem. So, at the level of cosmology we talk about the evolution of the ecosystems, and then at the indiviudal level we talk about who enters which ecosystem in what type of body, role, and desire. So it is possible to predict evolution at the macroscopic level because it appears as possibility. The individual soul has a choice to be a certain type of animal, but that choice can only be fulfilled in certain fixed places at any time.
In modern science, we speak about the ecosystems as material things, but we have to think of the ecosystem in a more abstract way as a collection of interrelations and roles. As we have said, the lion body doesn’t determine all the lion behaviors; some of the behaviors are consistent with jackals too. Therefore, the bodily description of the lion is insufficient to describe the role or behavior that a lion plays in an ecosystem. We have to separately speak about the lion behaviors based on their role and value system.
So there are two kinds of questions that we have to answer. First, which soul will be born as a dinosaur? Second, where and when will the dinosaur be born? Modern evolution preempts the first question completely, but even on the second question given that there is no predictive ability this question cannot be answered. In Vedic philosophy we can answer both questions, and the second question of where and when the dinosaur will be born is based on the creation of full ecosystems. Interestingly, both answers are based on the role and values, and not on body types. Basically, we have to delve into the evolution of the ecosystems as they go from one set of roles into another, and then we can talk about how the individual species which has that values will be born into that ecosystem.
Question 9: Biology and Cosmology
This is interesting because you are saying that the question of evolution – i.e. where and when the species will be born into an ecosystem – cannot be answered without the understanding of cosmology and the predictions will be based on cosmic rather than individual evolution. So, there is a single theory that has to explain both biological and cosmological evolution.
Yes indeed. There is a single theory for all kinds of collective evolutions or what we generally call history which includes social, economic, cultural, ideological, and biological evolution. The collective evolution question is different from the individual evolution issues. Generally, in the past, we have only spoken about the individual evolution question – namely that the soul evolves from one species to another –which proves inadequate in addressing the types of issues modern evolutionary theory raises. For example, modern evolutionary theory talks about when and where dinosaurs were present and why they became extinct, without delving into who (which soul) became a dinosaur.
So, there is a science for individual evolution across species, and then a science for collective evolution in time and place. Both these are co-dependent and mutually complementary. The outcomes we observe in evolution are because at a certain time and place dinosaurs will be born, and some soul chooses to be that dinosaur based upon their preferred morality and the role they want to play.
The world has to be described as a drama in which there are predefined roles according to the script of the drama, and then there are specific actors who accept roles within that script. The script is evolving independent of the actors; the individuals just fit into the script of the drama. In modern evolution there are only actors but no script of the drama. Therefore, we never speak about the interaction between the body and the role, and hence there is no consideration for the role, and hence for values.
The scientific addition or shift that we are talking about is the idea that the universe is a pre-scripted drama which is defined using the roles, and individuals just choose the roles. The bodies – which are like dresses donned by the actors – come only after the actor chooses a role. For example, the height and weight of the actor are not very important considerations in a drama as long as the actor can deliver the dialogues as per the script. The exact clothes worn by the actor are not very important as long as the role is fulfilled. Modern evolutionary theory focuses on the height, weight, and clothes of the actors, while the Vedic evolutionary theory focuses on the dialogues to be delivered by the actors. The former theory will incompletely explain the behavior, which is why it can at best remain incomplete. In trying to complete the theory we will realize that the material ontology is inadequate to describe behaviors so we have to add another ontology – of value system and roles – to complement this ontology. When values are added, we also find that there are desires about what kind of values we wish to adopt.
So, the ontology expands from objects to roles to choice, or chit, sat, and ananda, respectively. All these three ontologies must be combined for a complete explanation, and any theory that doesn’t take all the ontologies will be incomplete. In that sense modern evolutionary theory is incomplete. However, if you try to overcome this incompleteness within the material ontology, supposing that there are some ‘hidden variables’ that we haven’t yet accounted for, then the theory will become inconsistent. This is the general pattern for all theories in science as we have talked in a previous conversation.
Question 10: Why Modern Evolutionary Theory is Incomplete
Yes, we talked about this pattern of inconsistency vs. incompleteness last time in the context of mathematics and physics. Can you give examples of how this applies to evolution?
Yes of course, the simple problem is that if the mutations are random, then they will create far more incompatibility than compatibility. You can imagine a room full of people who toss coins independently. What are the chances that the coin tosses of two people standing next to each other will turn out to be identical? If they are not identical there cannot be compatibility between the organism and the environment, and hence the species cannot emerge. This is the problem of abiogenesis. And, to make the analogy closer to reality, imagine those coins having a huge number of faces, not just two.
The fact is that the very idea of natural selection or compatibility between the organism and its environment will kill all the species, or never allow the emergence of any species, because nature is at war with itself.
If instead we argue that mutations are not independent, but correlated to the environment changing, then natural selection will never make any species extinct because all species will always adapt to the changing environment. If species are never extinct, then there can never be evolution.
So, there are two alternatives – either species mutate in response to environment, or they mutate independently on their own. In the former case you get eternal species, and in the latter no species. So, we can see that current evolutionary theory isn’t the right explanation for the emergence of biodiversity and for the extinction of species. This doesn’t mean evolution is wrong; it only means the evolutionary theory is wrong. The real answer is that ecosystems evolve as a whole collectively and the species which cannot adapt to the changing environment are eliminated. So we are not trying to explain the evolution of species, but rather the evolution of the ecosystem, and the evolution of species is a natural outcome of the ecosystem evolution. The theory however has to explain how the macroscopic evolution comes before the microscopic evolution. This explanation is like saying that the script of the entire drama is evolving and the actors are being added and removed as the script of the drama changes.
The actors in the drama are participating in the drama because they enjoy that role and they are capable of playing the role. So this explanation of evolution is not only more powerful from an explanatory standpoint of the observed facts, but also consistent with the first and second person experiences.