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"Physicists have found it impossible to give a satisfactory description of atomic phenomena without reference to the consciousness."
1963 Nobel Laureate, Physics
Scientists of the Bhaktivedanta Institute examine key underlying
concepts of the modern life sciences in light of India's ageold Vedic
knowledge. With an introductory survey of the issues by the Institute's
founder, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In cultures throughout the world, people have traditionally believed that the innermost self of each human being is an entity that is distinct from the gross physical body. Many religious authorities have maintained that this self, or soul, possesses properties that are quite different from those of matter, and that it survives the death of the physical body. In recent years, however, with the development of modern empirical science, great skepticism has arisen in the minds of many educated people about the existence of the self as a distinct entity.
Investigators in different scientific fields such as chemistry, biology, and psychology have found no clear evidence for the existence of a nonphysical conscious entity, although they have been able to make many advances in their efforts to explain the physical phenomena of the body in mechanistic terms. Philosophers, far from demonstrating the existence of such an entity, have been unable to reach any clear consensus on what its properties may be, and the adherents of many different religious sects have been unable to agree on a consistent description of the nonphysical self that is capable of practical verification. As a result, many scientists have completely rejected the idea of a nonphysical self and have adopted the view that the self is nothing more than an interplay of phenomena within the brain that completely obey known physical laws. Owing to the prestige of modern science, this view has been widely accepted by educated people throughout the world.
The thesis of this book is that scientists have adopted these conclusions prematurely. It is indeed true that modern Western science, in its present state of development, has been unable to shed any light on the possible characteristics of the transcendental self. Nonetheless, a genuine science of the nonphysical self is not only possible but already exists, and it has been known since time immemorial. This is the science of self-realization expounded in the Vedic literatures of India, such as Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
Like any genuine science, the science of self-realization consists of both theoretical principles and practical methods whereby these principles can be verified by direct experience. The exponents of Vedic science agree with modern scientific researchers in viewing the body as an elaborate machine. However, they go beyond the limited mechanistic viewpoint and present a detailed description of the conscious self and its relation with the material body that is unrivaled for its clarity and logical coherence. Even though it entails many concepts that lie beyond the scope of current scientific investigations, this description is not simply an arbitrary body of dogma, for it is accompanied by exacting procedures of verification and is of great practical value. As such, the Vedic science of self-realization invites modern scientists to modify and enlarge their scientific world view.
In the first part of this book the basic principles of this science are discussed in a conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the world's foremost authority on Vedic philosophy, and Dr. Gregory Benford, a professor of physics from the University of California. Shrila Prabhupada points out that Vedic principles, when properly understood, do not conflict with the factual findings of modern Western science. He observes, however, that the predominant perspective of modern science is too narrow, and that scientists err when they jump to the conclusion that their present picture of reality is complete in its essential features. He suggests that scientists can extend and perfect their understanding by systematically taking into account the higher principles of the Vedic science of self-realization.
The remainder of this book presents three essays showing that this suggestion can be practically carried out. These essays were written by two professional scientists, Dr. T. D. Singh (Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami) and Sadaputa dasa, who are both disciples of Shrila Prabhupada. In the first two essays, Sadaputa dasa discusses some of the modern scientific theories about the nature of the conscious mind and shows how these theories can be improved and extended when considered in the light of Vedic scientific knowledge. In the third essay, Dr. Singh discusses the Vedic concept of the nonphysical self in detail and shows how the science of self-realization is of great practical value in everyday life.
Says biophysicist D. P. Dubey of Harvard Medical School, "We may lead ourselves down a blind alley by adhering dogmatically to the assumption that life can be explained entirely by what we now know of the laws of nature.... By remaining open to the ideas embodied in the Vedic tradition of India, modern scientists can see their own disciplines from a new perspective and further the real aim of all scientific endeavor: the search for truth."