Descartes, Einstein, and Signs of the Divine by Navin Doshi (September 17, 2009

Descartes’ contribution to the field of science and philosophy was to distinguish mind and body, making him one of the first in the West responsible for separating the two selves. He was able to define the mind, unlike matter, as non-local (it does not have any location in space), not divisible, and existing independently of matter. Matter, unlike mind, is divisible and has a location. This separation of body and mind has been described in Eastern traditions thousands of years back even more clearly.

But Descartes also made a profound over-simplification in claiming consciousness as the property of mind. The implication here is that he believed in upward causation, meaning matter was first, followed by mind which was equated with consciousness. Eastern traditions believe in downward causation where consciousness, that is Brahman (God), is the highest state of being, followed by the mind and the body that is matter.

The Upanishads describe Brahman as Satchidananda—the true Absolute reality, which not separately but simultaneously is Sat, or Truth, Chit or Consciousness or Light, and Ananda or Bliss. They describe it as non-dual: That which is One-without-a second, That from which nothing is separate, That which is not conditioned by time, space and causation, That which is self-existent, and That which is devoid of attributes. It does not have any limits because it is beyond space, for limits of something or someone can only be cognized within the contours of space. It is changeless because change can only be conceived within the parameters of time. It is without a beginning or an end because the beginning or end can only be perceived within the confines of time and space. It is self-effulgent for It is Consciousness itself; its effulgence is not dependent on anything, for It is beyond causation. Because nothing in the cosmos is separate from the Brahman, It has manifested this universe from its own body, first engendering time and space and then entering into them, just as a spider creates its web from its own saliva.

The Divine or God in most major traditions is characterized by Light. The Brahmasutras and Upanishads define Brahman as self-effulgent. One of the prayers in the Upanishads specifically speaks about taking one from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality equating the characteristic of the Divine with truth and light. Diwali, the festival of light, in most Indian traditions represent the triumph of good over evil or an attainment of nirvana in Buddhist and Jain traditions. Genesis explains that at the time of creation God said, “Let there be light” and from light the whole universe came into play. People who have had near-death experiences recount them as godly tête-à-tête with light. The Tibetan Book of the Dead contends that as soon as an individual dies, it has an encounter with “Clear Light of Reality.” It is not able to hold that state because its karmic propensities bring it to lesser and lesser states until it is reborn. Ramakrishna, describing his experiences in featureless or nirvikalpa samadhi, stated that he saw an ocean of light having no beginning or end. Many mystics from different traditions have also experienced and recorded spiritual encounters as light. Even in movies like The Abyss and The Ghost, they project higher beings as self-effulgent.

It is not surprising that decades after Descartes conceptually separated mind and matter, Albert Einstein, who had a deep exposure to Indian spiritual traditions, came out with his Theory of Relativity and the E=MC2 equation, where the speed of light is the unchanging constant. However, mass and energy—and if we take his entire Theory of Relativity into account, space and time also—being attributes of Nature, are changing. Everything in Nature is changing and relative (though never absolute) except light. It is true that the velocity of light changes when it is approaching a black hole, but not the speed. Light, constituted of photons, has zero mass. So, the speed of light is not affected by the gravitational force exerted by a black hole–only the direction is affected.

Light therefore becomes the conduit to the Divine and connects it with Nature. The goal of a transcending philosopher is to acquire the highest mental state of being, the spiritual self. The insight here is to becoming selfless, egoless—that is, mass-less and light like, approaching the attribute known as unchanging. It is amazing and significant that Einstein was able to uncover the relative nature of Nature by associating light with the realm of the Divine, which happens also to be the view of the world’s great religious traditions.

Before Einstein had made such a discovery, Descartes made a second error. He believed that the non-material world, though separate from, interacted with the localized material world. It reminds me of the story from Reader’s Digest recited by my teacher some time in 1940s in India, about scientists in the US trying to see if the escaping soul can be detected employing very sophisticated instruments of the time. Obviously they could not detect an escaping soul from the dying body.

People who are agnostic or atheist should consider the following a few signs of the Divine. As explained in my book, Transcendence, Ruta is the first evolute, the first cause, the first sign of the Absolute, and samskara acquired through hard training becomes the first link, the first several steps to transcend to the ultimate state of Godhood. If we believe in downward causation, we have to believe in God. Downward causation occurs in a non-ordinary, non-local state of consciousness that we call “God-consciousness.” If we believe that we have a soul (Atman), then we have to believe in God (Brahman). If we accept that we have the power of creativity, then we must accept the existence of God. Creativity often is instantaneous and spontaneous because we are connected with consciousness. Ruta and samskara linked with Ruta, are very much instrumental to experience creativity. If we accept the non-local non-ordinary working of quantum physics, we are indeed a lover of God. Only downward causation can help us resolve the mystery of fossil gaps in the theory of evolution.

The fact that we perceive, communicate, and understand each other is due to our connection to consciousness. If we believe that mind could help heal the body, then consciousness is the cause. If the reader is interested in discovering more in detail, the reader should consider reading the book, The Signatures of the Divine, written by Professor Amit Goswami. As explained earlier, Einstein’s insight of connecting unchanging nature of light with the traditional view of the first glimpse of the Absolute is, I believe, one of the strongest proofs of the existence of the Absolute. If we believe in Humanism, then certainly God loves us all. Following is a very appropriate poem written by James Henry Leigh Hunt:

Abu Ben Adhem
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”
The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
answered, ‘The names of those who love the Lord.’
‘And is mine one?’ said Abu.
‘Nay, not so,’
replied the angel.
Abu spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said,
‘I pray thee then,
Write me as one that
loves his fellow men.’
The angel wrote, and vanished.
The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”

To read more on related matters, click here to view Navin Doshi & Sujay Desai’s Irrational Optimism (October 8th).

(Navin Doshi, September 17th, 2009)
(Articles of Mr. Doshi, a writer and a philanthropist, are available on

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