Center for Foundational Study (CFS), PPISR, Sadashivnagar, Bangalore- 560 080

A Dialog across Traditions: Modern science and ancient insights on reality 

Poornaprajna Institute of Scientific Research, Bengaluru

Sponsored by: Indian Council for Philosophical Research, New Delhi 

OCT 25-27, 2016


  1. H. H. Shri Vishwapriya Theertha Swamiji, Udupi Shri Admar Mutt
  2. Prof. B. V. Sreekantan, NIAS, Bangalore
  3. Geshe Dr. Dorji Damdul, Director, Tibet House, Delhi
  4. Prof. Jonardon Ganeri, University of Sussex
  5. Prof. Mihir Chakraborty, Dept. of Pure Mathematics, University of Calcutta


Prof. A. B. Halgeri, Director, PPISR

Prof. K. Srihari, Secretary, AMEF


  1. Sisir Roy, NIAS, Bengaluru
  2. Debajyoti Gangopadhyay, VBU, Hazaribag
  3. R. Srikanth, PPISR, Bengaluru
  4. Shrinivasa Varakhedi, KSU, Bengaluru

Local Organizing Committee:

  1. Prof Udupi Ramagopal (PPISR)
  2. Dr. Sujit Sarkar (PPISR)
  3. Dr. Ananda K. (PPISR)
  4. Mr S. Aravinda (PPISR)


PPISR, Bidalur, Greater Bangalore.

Participants and submitted articles

Information on our past activity: Nalanda Dialog forum

Overarching science-philosophy framework of our Dialogs

Related discussions on Indian philosophy blog


R. Srikanth, PPISR (

Poornaprajna Institute of Scientific Research (PPISR) will conduct a 3-day ICPR (Indian Council for Philosophical Research) sponsored conference during Oct 25--27, 2016, at our campus in Bidalur (about 45 km from NIAS), held under the aegis of the Center for Foundational Study (CFS), PPISR and as the Bangalore chapter of the Nalanda Dialogs, held almost yearly since 2005.

Brief introduction to PPISR: Poornaprajna Institute of Scientific Research (PPISR), a unit of Admar Mutt Education Foundation (AMEF), is situated near Bengaluru International Airport on a sprawling campus spread over 32 acres. It was conceptualized and founded by the pontiff of Admar Mutt His Holiness late Sri Vibudhesha Theertha Swamiji. It was his vision to create a serene and congenial environment, where scientists would be inspired to carry out innovative and original research in fundamental and applied sciences. It is presently enthusiastically carried forward by the present Chairman HH Sri Vishwapriya Theertha Swamiji to fulfill the dreams of his Guruji. The foundation stone for the research campus was laid in 1998 by the then Prime Minister of India Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The institute is recognized by Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Govt. of India, New Delhi and Manipal University, Karnataka, as an R&D centre.

Institute web page:

CFS web page;


The scientific enterprise presupposes that scientists are objective observers, who can study the world around as something external to themselves. But Oriental philosophy tends to be introspective, every now and then turning the gaze inward at the observer herself. The tools of science are experiments and rational analysis. By contrast, those of philosophy are typically a sharpened introspective intuition, certain faith-based or intuitive postulates and rational analysis based on them. The objectives, methodology and language of science and philosophy are quite divergent.

Experience has shown that it is difficult to establish a coherent dialog between the scientific and philosophical communities. Yet their two approaches are complementary and can enrich each other. Philosophy can impart depth, while science imparts rigor. The challenge, then, is to establish a dialog across these two traditions!

Oriental philosophical traditions, for example Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism or Sankhya are usually a combination of a rich metaphysics (including a cosmogony), logic and soteriology. In order for them to make contact with science, what is required is their formal characterization, for example as a Logic based on any one of these systems of knowledge, for example  Kashmir Shaivism. The extent to which such a characterization is possible is interesting.

A particular instance where such an exercise has enjoyed some success is the interpretation of Buddhist logic (the tetralemma) and Jaina logic (saptabhangi)  as paraconsistent logics. In orthodox logic, contradictory premises lead to triviality, i.e., anything can be inferred. A paraconsistent logic allows us to accommodate even inconsistent statements in a sensible way, so that contradictions are not treated as  trivial but informative.

The "Center for Foundational Study" (CFS) at PPISR attempts to bridge these two knowledge systems, as a particular interpretation of the dream held by Senior Swamiji HH Shri Vibhudesha Teertha Swamiji. The present meeting is an initial step in that direction.

The meeting host panel discussions addressing the following issues:                 

  1. Identity and Individuality
  2. Origin of the Universe (Space, time & matter) and the quantum vacuum
  3. Quantum entanglement and metaphysics of relationships
  4. Quest for ultimate reality: Modern physics and ancient wisdom
  5. Nature of time
  6. Free will, uncomputability and undefinability

The above issues in detail.

I. Identity and Individuality.

The concept of identity and individuality of objects has attracted lot of attention among physicists and philosophers in twentieth century since the discovery of statistics of counting of quantum entities like electrons, protons, neutrons etc. Identity and individuality have been discussed by philosophers for many centuries. It is generally considered that chairs, trees, rocks, people and many of the so-called ‘everyday’ objects we encounter can be regarded as individuals. The issue, then, is how this individuality is to be understood, or what constitutes the ‘principle’ of individuality.

Leibniz states that no two distinct things exactly resemble each other. This is known as Leibniz law “The Identity of Indiscernible” which may mean that no two objects have exactly the same properties. Recent works on the interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests that this principle of “Identity of Indiscernible” fails in the quantum domain.

Let us try to elaborate first what is meant by identity and indistinguishability in the context of physics in classical (for objects in everyday world or macroscopic world) as well as in quantum physics (for objects like electron, proton, photon etc. in microscopic world).

By identity we mean a relation which exists between items, say “a” and “b”, in a particular domain. Now “item a” is said to be identical to “item b”, symbolically written as ‘a = b’, which simply means that there are here not two distinct items in reality , but only one, which may be named as either “a” or “b”. Thus when we say “particles a and b” are identical, it implies that there are not two particles at all but only one.

By indistinguishability we mean a relation of identity which may exist between certain kinds of attributes of two or more individuals. In the context of physics, two or more particles are said to be indistinguishable if they share the same set of “intrinsic” “state-independent properties” such as ‘rest mass”, “charge” , “spin” etc. Thus particles of the same species-- say having same charges (for example - electron) are said to be indistinguishable.

However, there lies a fundamental difference between the classical and quantum particles with respect to the concept of individuality and indistinguishability. Classical objects which belong to the same species like chair may be indistinguishable in the above sense but they are considered to be distinct individuals since they occupy different locations. Permutations of these objects give rise to a new complexion which is distinct from the unpermuted one. Here, the labelling individuals  (say) with respect to position is possible. On the other hand, this type of permutations for quantum objects do not give rise to new complexion – simply because any such labelling is not possible for quantum objects. This was taken to imply that the objects had  ‘lost’ their identity and were, in some sense, non-individuals. If the quantum objects are not considered like classical objects like gas molecules, table, chair, book , Leibniz’s famous Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles is in fact violated.

The identity of indiscernibles is an ontological principle that states that there cannot be distinct objects or entities that have all their properties in common. That is, entities x and y are identical if every predicate possessed by x is also possessed by y and vice versa; to suppose two things indiscernible is to suppose the same thing under two names. It states that no two distinct things (such as snowflakes) can be exactly alike, but this is intended as a metaphysical principle rather than “an operational principle” of natural science.

It is to be noted that the Pauli exclusion principle plays an important role in the understanding the arrangement of atoms in various structures of the objects in nature. For example, the arrangement of various elements in Periodic table for all the elements like Hydrogen Helium etc can be explained using Pauli’s exclusion principle. According to this principle, no two Fermions like electrons ( identical with respect to all their properties like, mass, charge, spin etc) can occupy the same state with same spin state. On the other hand , the particle we call Boson like photons can occupy the same state all at a time.

The elementary particles or entities in nature are broadly divided into two categories according to their property called spin – either Boson (honoring Indian scientist S.N. Bose) or Fermion (honoring Italian scientist Enrico Fermi). This behavior of fermions or Bosons has given rise to new debate regarding the identity and individuality of the particles at the quantum domain.

Guiding Question for Dialogue:

In physics (both in classical as well as in quantum physics) the property like charge, spin etc. are considered to be “intrinsic property” of the object. In Buddhist philosophy especially in “madhyamik philosophy” no such concept of “intrinsic property” or svabhava exists in contrast to Vedantic view, where the “operational self” (ahamkāra) is underpinned by the “ontological self” (jiivātman), which denotes the intrinsic identity.

  1. What are the views on identity and individuality of the objects according to various traditions?
  2. Is the concept of identity, like that of truth in mathematical logic, a meta-theoretic one, and is the problem posed by quantum mechanics for the nature of individual identity really a sign of this?
  3. The concept of identity in Vedanta (e.g., the Shrimadbhagavad Gita, VishishtAdvaita) and Kashmir Shaivism (e.g., in Abhinava Gupta’s exposition) posit an operational identity (Ego / ahamkaara) and an ontic identity (substratal self / jiivatman). Can this pair of concepts be related as analogous to the pair of truth in a theory and in a meta-theory a la Tarski in the undefinability result? This may entail arguing that identities on the operational level are undefinable on that level, and must be defined on the ontic (i.e., meta) level. Extending this approach, can Vishishtadvaita be described as a theory in which the concept of the Ultimate Reality can be derived as the limit identity obtained by meta-theoretic recursion of identities?  

II. Origin of the Universe ( Space, time and matter) and Quantum Vacuum

We make an attempt to answer the question of whether the problem of the origin of the world currently evades philosophers (and theologians) and passes completely to the realm of science (i.e. physics, astronomy and cosmology), or whether science by itself is not able to solve this problem. In the latter case one would have to acknowledge that metaphysics, the philosophy of nature and epistemology, provides important premises, assumptions and methods indispensable for this solution.

There exist various cosmogonies, i.e., accounts of the origin of the universe – out of nothing or out of the vacuum. In Christian theology and European philosophy supernatural conceptions of creations out of “nothing” which refers to God are well known. Albert Einstein discovered a rigorous framework called General Theory Relativity, where the origin and structure of the universe were discussed in a comprehensive manner (Weinberg, Gravitation and Cosmology, 1972). Within the framework of General Theory of Relativity, Penrose and Hawking (The Nature of Space and Time, 1996) proposed that matter, time and space arise out of “nothing”, an event that serves both as a beginning of the world and at the same time as the beginning of time ( St. Augustine's conception).

However, since General theory of Relativity cannot suggest any mechanism of transition from the “state of nothingness” to the “state of existence” of the Universe , the conceptions of creation out of “nothing” began to adduce quantum principle. According to the recent formulation of cosmology (i.e. the origin and structure of the universe), the universe originates from the fluctuations of the Quantum Vacuum (Bojowald, Quantum Cosmology, 2011).

Vacuum in Modern Physics is not exactly nothing, but rather a “something called nothing”, meaning that it is replete with activity governed by the principle of quantum theory. According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (for energy and time), it is possible to have enormous fluctuation of energy during a very short duration of time. This fluctuation of energy is due to the fluctuation of quantum vacuum popularly known as quantum fluctuations, which has been proposed as having given birth to the physical universe. It is worth mentioning that Heisenberg uncertainty principle is assumed to be valid over all space and time.

From philosophical perspective what is significant is the division of creative conceptions into those which assume that the Universe arose from "nothingness" in the strong ontological meaning of the word vs. those which lead to the conclusion that it was originated from a certain "poorer" physical reality, usually called "quantum vacuum" or space-time endowed with fluctuation.

In the latter case i.e. as per modern cosmology the universe arises in the process of “fluctuation of quantum vacuum”, not out of “nothing” but out of a certain physical reality. This vacuum or ontologically speaking a substratum exists which is devoid of any matter but full of activities or full of potentialities. These potentialities give rise to various attributes of the physical universe. For example, there exist four fundamental forces in physical universe – namely, the electromagnetic force, gravitational force, strong nuclear force and weak force. These fundamental forces are associated with corresponding fields – like electromagnetic, gravitational fields etc. Each field has its own distinct characteristics. These characteristics are supposed to have some kind of imprints or seeds in “quantum vacuum” (via symmetry breaking). So these characteristics or attributes arise out of the fluctuation of the “quantum vacuum” with potentialities.

Here, the scientists are yet to find the answer to the question of how the attributes of the physical universe arise out of “fluctuation of quantum vacuum with some seeds or potentialities” or a space-time endowed with fluctuation without having specific “attributes” of the various fields.

It is possible that the underlying space-time as a substratum may have larger number of dimensions than simply becoming four dimensional one. The large number of dimensions ( more than four dimension) in underlying substratum may help us to understand the manifestation of various attributes in the physical universe. It immediately raises the challenging issues, such as why spacetime is endowed with four dimensions in the manifested universe. Einstein introduced the concept of four-dimensional world in special theory of relativity to envisage an observer independent reality.

It is amazing to note that whenever we like to measure or observe, we do it in three dimensional world of space or one dimensional world of time. It is a projection of four-dimensional world into the three-dimensional one. It is not possible to make any observation in four-dimensional world. Is it the case that  an action takes place in a higher dimensional world but that the observation happens in a lower dimensional world ?

It is worth mentioning that though several concepts of vacuum like “true vacuum”. “false vacuum” are proposed in modern cosmology, yet none of them is “nothingness” in the strict ontological sense of the word. In the context of these theses on the creation of the universe out of “nothingness”, “tunneling out of nothingness” or “fluctuation of nothingness” are not purely scientific theses.

Now even if one does not consider the concept of energy, mass, stress tensor as characteristics of nothingness but that of spacetime (which we call dynamic geometry), then one should recognize the existence of a law of nature at the “very beginning” according to which “nothingness creates the world”.

Clearly, such a law would appear to go beyond any known physical laws, and presumably it is subject to causal laws that invoke some world of logic and mathematics, because we believe (almost religiously!)  that an explanation of the origin of the universe cannot do without assumption of structure of rationality.

This entails that, in understanding the question of the “beginning of universe” the involvement of philosophy is inevitable in the following sense. Cosmology as an empirical science is predicated on the structure and evolution of only a small observable part of the universe (like correctness of inflation), but not the universe as a whole – for example, we are not able to check the correctness of a rule for initial  conditions from a scientific point of view. It is to be noted that extrapolations of local physics onto the whole observable Universe cannot do without cosmological principles, about which what we know is basically of a philosophical character. of view. It is to be noted that extrapolations of local ph

Guiding Question for the Dialogue:

  1. Is the emptiness of quantum vacuum similar to the emptiness of Buddhist philosophy or Akasa in Vedanta?
  2. In Vedantic tradition, the conception of Saguna from Nirguna Brahman (attributive Reality from attributeless underlying Reality) or potentialities in emptiness/shūnyatā in Buddhist philosophy may shed some insights in understanding the manifestation of attributes of the physical universe out of the fluctuation of underlying “physical substratum” known as “quantum vacuum”.
  3. Is this fluctuation similar to spanda in Kashmiri Shaivism?
  4. Can we construct a reasonable “quantum cosmogony” by combining creation accounts from any of these schools of philosophy and modern physics?

III. Quantum Entanglement and Metaphysics of Relations

The remarkable progress in modern physics in the twentieth century raises lot of interest on the metaphysical aspects of quantum theory. According to quantum theory the physical world is nonlocal. Einstein in his famous paper known as EPR (Einstein-Podolsky and Rosen, 1935) considered a Gedankin experiment where the state of two quantum objects like electron, photon ( i.e sub-atomic particles) is prepared in a manner such that when the state of one quantum object is measured, that of the other is instantaneously affected (no matter how far these objects are being separated), but in the subtle way that the effect can be found out only in conjunction with knowledge of the action on the other particle. This “spooky action-at-a-distance” is called “nonlocal”.. Quantum entanglement is a property of a nonlocal  quantum state. Objects in an entangled state are non-separable. This leads us to think of entanglement as a sort of holism. Holism is the thesis which claims that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

One can conceive of an intrinsic property of the quantum whole which does not supervene on intrinsic properties of the parts. In other words, the intrinsic property of the quantum whole or the relation between the quantum objects making the whole contain the information about the relata (i.e. the individual quantum objects), though the relata do not necessarily need to have intrinsic properties. Intrinsic properties are those properties that a thing has, irrespective of whether or not there are other contingent things. All other qualitative properties are extrinsic or relational. So characterizing the entanglement in terms of non-separability for quantum systems is a metaphysical proposal and a matter of philosophical argumentation.

In western philosophy, various theories of relations have been discussed popularly known as medieval theories of relations. Aristotle in his treatise the Categories initiated a systematic investigation on the philosophy of relations. He suggested that whenever two or more objects or substances are related, that is to be explained by the inherent or intrinsic properties of the relata. Aristotelian thoughts made a tremendous influence on the philosophers of middle ages on the nature and ontological status of relations. Various schools of Indian philosophy including Buddhist one discuss the nature and the ontological status of relations in great details.

According to Ithaca Interpretation of Quantum Theory as elaborated by David Mermin:

The only proper subjects of physics are correlations among different parts of the physical world. Correlations are fundamental, irreducible, and objective. They constitute the full content of physical reality. There is no absolute state of being; there are only correlations between subsystems.

In this framework, one speaks in favour of metaphysics of relations that do not require any intrinsic properties of the related quantum systems. From a different perspective, Rovelli proposed that

Quantum states were nothing more than expressions of relations between subsystems.

Quantum Entanglement can be thought of as a relation having the following characteristics:

(1) This kind of relation is not causal.

(2) It is beyond the space-time description.

(3) The relation contains the information about the relata.

(4) The relation has intrinsic property.

(5) The relata does not have intrinsic properties.

(6) Some quantum entities can be entangled although quantum theory can describe some entities which are not entangled (product states).

(7) Since this relation is acausal and beyond space-time description, is it a mental construct, i.e., purely epistemic?

(8) The concept of entanglement can be used to produce teleportation of quantum objects This can be produced even in the laboratory.

So the entanglement is real but not in the sense of reality of relata.

Guiding Question for the Dialogue:

Buddhist scholar Dharmakirti studied extensively about the reality of relations in his treatise on relations (sambandhapariksha). Jaina scholars also discussed about the relation and its reality.  Many other eminent scholars from other traditions in Indian philosophy like Vedantin  and Nyaya school debated on the issue of reality of relations.

  1. What are views on reality of relations?
  2. Is  the relation equally real as a relatum? Can it be more real?

IV      Quest for Ultimate Reality: Modern Physics and Ancient Wisdom

Both Scientists and Philosophers are trying to understand the ultimate reality. However, it is necessary to understand first what is meant by “ultimate reality” in Physics and Philosophy. T.R.V. Murti (1956) stated: If nothing can be predicated of the Absolute and no terms can be applied to it, how then do we continue to speak of it ? How can it be cognized at all as the ultimately real?

The question is: as “absolute” or ultimate reality (paramartha) is not delimited by any attribute. It is Unknowable or “anakshara”, (inexpressible) because it cannot be the object of any Knowing. How then can it be cognized and attested to exist? In the drk-drshya-viveka approach (i.e., discrimination between the subjective seer and the objective seen), one adduces a hierarchy of higher level realities, such that any given level of reality is cognized by the next higher level. In Vedanta, the deepest level of reality indicated (but not reached in any finite number of inductive steps) by this method of induction is identified with the Self or brahman. The above philosophical problem is then solved in Vedanta by the idea that brahma-vit brahma-iva bhavati-- meaning, “the knower of brahman becomes brahman” (i.e., the ultimate knowing is by being one with That absolute).

In physics, we can witness an analogous situation where more general or fundamental theories replace more restricted theories. For example, the discovery of General Theory of Relativity by Einstein changed the Newtonian paradigm. It does not imply the falsehood of Newtonian theory of Gravity. Einstein’s framework is more general than the Newtonian one, which has limited validity with respect to the Einsteinian one. Both depict the same Reality however, but at different levels, with the Einsteinian perspective being deeper.

As another example, the discovery of quantum theory at the beginning of the twentieth century changed our understanding of reality. Quantum theory is considered to be valid at the level of elementary entities i.e. photon, electron etc known as the microscopic level, where the scale of length and time are different from that at everyday life. To understand the reality at everyday life (called as the macroscopic level), Bohr introduced the principle of correspondence so that under certain limiting condition (say in the limit of Planck’s constant h tends to zero) the behavior of every day or macroscopic objects can be explained within the paradigm of quantum theory. Similarly, scientists use the limiting procedure of the speed of light tends to zero within the theory of special relativity and get back to Newtonian framework.

In other words, such a limiting procedure allows us to traverse a parametrization of levels of reality. However, a careful analysis clearly demonstrates the inadequacy of these limiting procedures since the value of speed of light as well as that of Planck constant have constant values at all levels of reality.

It is clear from the above analysis that scientists and philosophers both require a hierarchy of realities. However, their approach in the matter is complementary. Whereas Vedanta posits such an ultimate Reality from direct intuition, scientists approach the reality in a top-down fashion, starting from the macroscopic level to subatomic scale to the scale of strings and then to the ultimate level of physical universe called Planck scale.

In physics it is meaningful to define “degrees of reality” based on the observation process for acquiring knowledge. To realize the various levels of reality we use different symbols and methods. It is worth mentioning that after a long “manipulations of symbolic process” (generally known as “mathematical calculation”) or in the process of deep thinking scientists also experience something which gives rise to a completely new description of reality. At this stage, the physicist faces a kind of experience of the “wise” as in case of experiencing “ultimate reality” in ancient wisdom. This seems to be first person experience similar to that in various schools of Indian philosophy. Thus, the physicist’s approach is not entirely unlike the Vedantin’s bottom-up approach!

Some schools in our ancient wisdom (for example Yoga, Tantra etc) also emphasize the use of techniques and methods in search of the Ultimate Reality. They also use various symbols and geometric diagrams to understand the Ultimate Reality. Philosophy asks “Why this existence?”, while Science asks “How this existence?” The moment you ask the “how” question, technique become important.

Guiding Question for the Dialogue:

In science we use symbols and deal with conceptualized knowledge at each level of reality.

  1. Whether methods and techniques are also needed in Indian Philosophy to realize the ultimate reality?  
  2. Can the Vedantic hierarchy of realities be mathematically interpreted as a hierarchy of meta-theories in mathematical logic. This would be allow for theorems in mathematical philosophy to be mapped to Vedantic discoveries. Thus is the Vedantic idea that brahman cannot be cognized through an iterative process of Knowing, but only through Direct Intuition, be mapped to transfinite induction?
  3. Is it necessary to go beyond conceptualized knowledge in our quest for the Ultimate Reality?

V. The Nature of Time

The concept of time as discretized appear in physics, neuroscience and certain schools of philosophy, although the atomicity of time is motivated differently.

In physics. In our physical universe there exists the smallest duration of time and space called Planck time and Planck length, below which concept of space , time  and causality do not exist. The value of this smallest duration of time depends on the values of the fundamental constants like the “c” the speed of the light, “G” gravitational constant and “h”, Planck constant. They have fixed numerical values. At the level of Planck scale, space and time are discrete. One the other hand at the level of elementary entities like electrons, protons etc. as well as in our everyday life (called macroscopic level), space and time are continuous.

One of the challenging issues in the 21st century physics is how the continuum space time emerges from discrete structure or causality arises. Again as time is discrete at the lowest level ( Planck level), it raises serious issue related to the principle of causality i.e. cause and effect relationship below the Planck time limit.

In neuroscience. There exist “quanta of time” or “shortest time duration” in modern neuroscience. Gamma oscillation (40--100) Hz is found to be dominant in wakeful as well in REM sleep. A smallest duration of time in the millisecond range exists in the brain corresponding to gamma oscillation. It plays an important role in conscious activities.

One's experience is reported to be discontinuous-- a moment of consciousness arises, appears to dwell for an instant, and then vanishes, to be replaced by the next moment. Is this description of experience (the kind of description of actual human experience that we have been asking for) consonant or not consonant with descriptions that we get from neuroscience?

The term “perceptual framing” has been extensively discussed in neuroscience and psychology which deals with sensorimotor rhythmicity and parsing. One of the most well known phenomena studied in these literature is called "perceptual simultaneity" or "apparent motion." For example, if two lights are shown successively with an interval less than a period of 0.1-0.2 seconds, they will be seen as simultaneous, or in apparent simultaneity. If the interval is slightly increased, the flashing lights will appear to be in rapid motion.

The issue now arises of the correspondence of simultaneity between events in the external world and the corresponding perception events in the internal cognitive space. The motion of an object in the external world within the “psychological atom of time” engenders a collapse of space and time events in its counter space in the internal world. Since the delay in conduction speeds along different axons and the integration time for individual neuronal elements in the circuit are both of the same order of magnitude as the temporal quanta, so in spite of such delays, the concept of simultaneity of the external event will be considered valid for functional space, i.e. as an operational definition of simultaneity is taken to be valid.. The brain is supposed to be an instrument having resolution power of 10-12 ms. Everything that falls within a frame will be treated by the subject as if it were within one time span, one "now”.

Recent Magnetic and electric recordings from the human brain have revealed the existence of coherent oscillatory activity near 40 Hz. A magneto-encephalography (MEG) system was used by Joliot et al. (1994) to test whether the 40 Hz oscillatory activity relates to the temporal binding of sensory stimuli. The results showed that the 40 Hz oscillations not only relate to primary sensory processing, but also could reflect the temporal binding underlying cognition. Experimental results have shown that there exists a time interval of 10–14 ms (corresponding to the up trajectory of 40Hz oscillations) that is the minimum time required for the binding of event. This was proposed as the cognitive ‘‘quantum of time’’.

In philosophy. The concepts of “instant or kshana” as well as “atomic unit of time” have been extensively discussed in Yoga, Sankhya as well as in Jain Philosophy. Moreover, controversies exist in Buddhist doctrine of momentariness (“kshanika vaada”).

Time and consciousness have been extensively discussed by various schools of Indian Philosophy. For example, in Sankhya philosophy the problem of time coincides with the problem of change. The pattern of conceiving change in this system with reference to underlying substratum called prakriti is different from that of Buddhist conception of change. The postulate of two principles – Purusha and Prakriti – as ultimate and ontologically independent of one another is highly important for the study of time and consciousness. There exist internal differences regarding the doctrine of momentariness within Buddhist tradition. A dialectical analysis of the problem of time has been discussed in Nagarjuna’s “Madhyamika Karika” ( kalapariksa) which has been further elaborated by Chandrakirti. The aim was to expose the untenability not only of any idea of time as unitary and absolute, but also of the notion of the reality of time as instant.

In Yoga philosophy the ideas of “kshana’ and “karma” i.e. moment/instant and sequence have been discussed in Yoga sutra III. In the commentary of Vyasa it is said “ just as the atom is the minimal limit of matter, so the moment is the minimal duration taken by an atom to change its position”. Moreover, Yoga advocates the discrete view of time. The atomic concept of time has been extensively discussed in Jaina text (Pancastikayasara) where time-atoms are distinct and can never be mixed up. This is brought out by saying that “kala” has one “pradesha” only i.e. the time-atoms can never be combined. This indicates the difference between the atoms of space, matter, etc from that of time. To an Advaitin, the reality of time as a separate ontological category is considered to be wholly superfluous.

Guiding Question for the Dialogue:

Various Indian schools of Philosophy have discussed about the instant of time (kshana) as well the existence of the smallest unit of time. The ontology of spacetime , spacetime as network of relations, cause and effect relationship have been studied by various Indian schools for many centuries.

  1. What are their views on the smallest unit of time ( atomic unit) in comparison to “kshana” or instant of time,
  2. How does the discrete or continuum nature of time affect the  ontology of space time, and causality?
  3. There exists a “cognitive quantum of time” or momentariness associated to brain, related with the rhythmicity of brain. How can this be related to the experience of “unchanging or pure consciousness“ in deep meditative experience?

VI. Free will, uncomputability and undefinability

We intuitively feel that we are free in the choices we make. The belief that humans are endowed with free will touches almost every aspect of human life: relationships, religion, morality and public policy. Our views in each of these areas presuppose that any person is the ultimate origin her or his thoughts and actions. And yet is not clear that free will is not an incoherent concept.  Perhaps the problem of free will is only second to the problem of consciousness, in terms of being intimate as well as elusive. It is also one where scientists and philosophers can hope to gain the most by interaction.

Neuroscience perspective. Neuroscientific experiments suggest that free will may be an illusion, because a person’s choice apparently emerges from a background of neurochemical causes that one is not aware of and that is not under one’s conscious control.  Brain studies reveal that there is an enormous “neurobuzz”, or spontaneous neural noise, whose origin, statistics and function is not well understood. A pattern of nonrandom (i.e., which is not white noise or some such “natural” noise like Gaussian) spontaneity in this neurobuzz, which is observed from fruit flies to humans, is believed to provide the neurobiological basis of free will.

Philosophy. We find in the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Vedanta (and perhaps also others) that the concept of free will is compatibilistic, rather than (metaphysical) libertarian or free will skeptic. The idea is that spiritual self-discipline enhances free will in the sense of helping one to overcome constraints imposed by lower nature on one’s  ability to execute the will of the higher self.  Thus free will is not only the resource whose abuse constitutes the “poison” that generates karmic bondage, but it is also the”cure” that eliminates karma.

Computability and undefinability. Logically, free will seems to be paradoxical in that it is neither deterministic nor (to avoid the threat of randomness) indeterministic. This, in a nutshell, is the free will dilemma. One way out of this contradiction may be analogous to the Tarskian response to the liar’s paradox in terms of the indefinability of the concept of truth: to invoke a Cartesian duality of mind and matter as equivalent to a formal meta-language and language, and then associate free will with metaphysical causes that act as origins of free choices in the physical. To avert the dilemma as applied to the mind, one may posit a meta-metaphysical layer, and so on, ad infinitum. Perhaps it is this infinitely recursive meta-causation that captures the intuitive essence of free will?

If we associate this recursion step with a Turing jump, we obtain a possible relation of free will with computability theory. Combining this with ideas from probability theory and statistics, maybe high free will is (in the compatibilist framework) one where the free choice is “almost surely” determined by the higher self, but there is an uncomputable zero-measure set Z of deviations due to lower nature. That the choice “almost never” deviates from the higher intent denotes the “will” part of “free will”, while the uncomputability of Z betokens the “free” part of “free will”  in the sense of being unpredictable.

Guiding questions for the Dialog.

  1. How to define, identify and quantify or grade free will in human, animal or plant behavior?
  2. Is there evidence from neuroscience or genetics that would help localize and understand the brain circuits that form  the neurological basis for spontaneous behavior and, potentially, for free will?
  3. The brain consumes an enormous amount of energy to maintain spontaneous neurobuzz, which is directed towards no known cause. If we accept the hypothesis that free will makes the brain causally open, then there should be slight deviations from energy conservation associated with free choice. We note that in the dynamic reduction program approach to open quantum systems, the “hits” may be considered as such free-willed acts and are known to lead to a small amount of energy violation associated with the reduction of the wave function. Does one of the functions of the neurobuzz consist in guaranteeing homeostasis in the face of this situation?
  4. The above model of free will based on infinite Turing degree implies that free choice is a miracle of sorts that computes the uncomputable. How to model its activation during free choice?
  5. This spontaneous neurobuzz is like a neural noise, whose distribution is believed to provide each individual’s “spectral signature”. What is the statistical distribution of this signature noise? Is free choice encoded in subtle deviations of the spectral signature from some putative default distribution?