Reunion of Physics And Metaphysics - Part 1: The New Physics

Daniel Hawley, Ph.D., USA

In the present day there is a growing movement toward the unity of knowledge, the unification of various sciences. There is, moreover, a rapidly increasing interest in the unity of science and metaphysics. Physicists in particular have begun to see a harmonious relationship between their view of the world and the esoteric systems of eastern thought such as yoga. Many physicists, led by Nobel Prize winner Eugene P. Wigner, anticipate and argue for the eventual explicit inclusion of consciousness into the equations of physics. After all, there is always a conscious observer who designs the experiments, makes the measurements and reflects on their meaning. Quantum mechanics implies that the observer cannot be separated from what he is observing, that the act of observing changes what is to be observed, that the way in which nature is questioned influences the kind of answers she gives.

The unificatory trend between science and metaphysics does not represent a new phenomenon. They were formerly not separated. Long ago Plato said that to be complete, science must include philosophy, religion and art. It was only with the advent of the scientific revolution that science became the domain of the intellect alone, and all other aspects of man's being were relegated to religion. After Galileo, 'scientists began to pride themselves on asking how things are instead of why, separated themselves from the idea of purpose in the universe, and moved to the desire to manipulate nature rather than to progress in consciousness growth.'*1

The business of scientists became that of examining carefully all those things which can be perceived through the senses, of measuring, quantifying, analysing and organising, of producing theories that generalise and predict how the world will act on the senses and measuring devices in given situations. Because the results had to be reproducible by any competent observer, he was required to have only an intellectual involvement with, and no influence upon, what he was measuring. Considerations of whether the patterns and consistencies found in nature might suggest a meaning in the lives of the scientists themselves came to be outside the scope of science.


Before the scientific revolution observations of empirical phenomena and their systemisation were not taken as ends in themselves, but were internalised and used as part of a spiritual path. The predecessors of modern physicists, the alchemists, are a case in point. They were working not for the transmutation of metals, as they allowed the public to believe, but rather for the transmutation of their own total being. They preserved a tradition from the 'Herrnetica' of ancient Greece, which develops the concept of man, the microcosm, being a mirror of the universe and cosmic order, the macrocosm ('as above, so below'). In these Hermetic writings are hints of a personal discipline which is said to enable man to experience in himself the laws of a divinely ordered universe. By looking within, man can understand the process of the universe, and by looking at the cosmos he can see the reality in himself.

Some modern physicists, the new alchemists, are again returning to this more holistic view of themselves and their work Physicist Fritjof Capra sees physics and religion as complementary aspects of man's nature.*2 Through intellectual understanding, man's mind can be convinced of the necessity for him to undergo change so that he can directly experience esoteric knowledge. Furthermore, the discipline of gaining intellectual knowledge through careful observation and mathematical reasoning helps to prepare the mind for metaphysical knowledge and may define a path to that knowledge. Capra sees physics itself as a possible path to enlightenment. As Jacob Needleman points out, this can be true only if physicists put to use in their own lives the insights they come to in their discoveries at the frontiers of physics.

The goal of physics has been to acquire knowledge about the world. But according to Emmanuel Kant we can never know the causes of our sensations, what is behind the sensations or the 'things-in-themselves', by acquiring more and more accurate sensations. Aldous Huxley wrote in the 'Perennial Philosophy' that one's knowledge is a function of his state of being. Needleman expressed it by saying that understanding is a function of one's level of consciousness, so that to have a higher knowledge necessitates being in a higher state of consciousness. One must be it to know it. Swami Satyananda Saraswati has said that when anahata chakra is awakened there is no difference between 'what I am' and 'what I know'.

In this light, the ultimate purpose of the new ideas from the discoveries of physics must not only be for the intellect to analyse, categorise and theorise, but to provide guides for the inner struggle to reach a higher consciousness. The goal of the new kind of physicist has expanded to include self-knowledge as well as empirical knowledge. Self-knowledge comes through the practice of yoga which expands the consciousness so that it can know the reality behind the senses. The new physicist performs his research as a karma yogi and meditates on the symbols and harmonies he discovers in nature as they are reflected in himself.

The momentum of the mind

To demonstrate the macrocosm/microcosm principle of reflection and to show how it can provide symbols to inspire the spirit, let us examine an example from astrophysics, the world of the very large, which must be described by some theory of gravitation such as Einstein's general theory of relativity. The inner microcosmic process of the transformation of consciousness to the enlightened state, the collapse of consciousness down to a single point and then the expansion to the infinite, is mirrored on a grand scale in the universe by objects called black holes, gravitationally collapsing stars.

But before we consider black holes, we can see the macrocosm/microcosm principle in gravitational phenomena even before general relativity, in Galileo's simple heliocentric picture of the earth circling around and around the sun, attracted inward by the force of gravity, but maintaining the same distance from the sun because of its angular momentum or state of motion around the sun. This view of the universe governed by Newton's laws provides an analogy for man, symbolic of his spiritual growth, The mind is like the earth, continuously moving from thought to thought, emotion to emotion, illuminated from the centre by the light of pure consciousness, our internal sun, but unable to approach that light because it cannot stop its incessant circular motion.

According to Newton's law of gravitation, if the earth were to stop in its path, it would immediately begin to fall straight in toward the sun. In the same way, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, when the mind is arrested and realises its true nature, it 'naturally gravitates toward the state of liberation.'*3 The Bhagavad Gita says that when the mind stops, 'when the intelligence, bewildered by vedic texts, shall stand unshaken and stable in spirit (samadhi), thou shalt attain to insight (yoga).'*4


*1. J. Needleman, A Sense of the Cosmos, E.P. Dutton and Go. Inc., New York, 1965.

*2. F. Capra, The Tao of Physics, Bantam Books, New York, 1975.

*3. H. Aranga, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali, University of Calcutta, 1977.

*4. S. Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavad Gita, Harper and Row, New York, 1948.