The Quest

The pleasure of a man is better than the pleasure of a pig, said a wise man. The pleasure of man is better than of pig because man is never satisfied with himself and he longs to know the unknown while a pig is preoccupied with self-indulgence and satisfied with its existence. The inmost being of man is always thirsty for something that is yet unknown to him. This inner core of his existence always spurs him to move on in quest of the unknown. In his quest for the unknown, man is able to formulate and put straight questions to him, and seek answers to them. And more than that, he is able to wonder. This, his unique ability, alone has propelled humankind’s civilizations on an ever higher trajectory and this has enabled it to reach the dizzying height where it is today.

The very existence of world is a great wonder. Everything in this world is wonderful and, among all these things, life is wonder of all wonders. And, the crown of life – human being – is the greatest of all these wonders.

All these things, when pondered over by man, raise serious questions about them. The more man becomes enlightened, the more questions arise for his attention. Why and how did he usurp the place of the sole leader of an earthly caravan of varied life forms? Why this life-caravan is solitary, as far as he knows, in a unfathomed universe? Where this earthly caravan of life’s evolution is heading for? We put questions to ourselves to seek answers about all these things but still we do not put enough questions. We remain primarily and for most of our lifetime pre-occupied with ourselves – making provisions for our food, cloths, pleasures and petty needs – and our thoughts remain centered on them, and acts remain guided by these motives.

Putting question is the secret key for opening the Gates of the Unknown. Every question, howsoever insignificant it might be, if put with diligence and investigated with due earnestness for an answer makes a discovery. For example, you ask: why is the sun the way it is – always shining and pouring light all around? You search for the answer and you find the nuclear fusion. You ask: why do apples fall from the tree down to the ground only and not go up above and you make the discovery of gravity.

The greatest quality of human mind is to experience wonder: wonder at things and at the way they are, wonder at the mystery behind all that exist and at the amazing phenomena behind all this creation. Human mind is his sole powerhouse that propels his development, his civilization and his evolution.

Man is at the apex of life-evolution on earth. He has mind capable of wondering and questioning. It is worthy of him to wonder, to question and to seek answers. A civilization that encourages human beings to seek pleasure in and remain satisfied with their self-indulgence is below the dignity and the esteem of mankind, which is the leader of life evolution on earth. Man has risen above animal and its kingdom’s rules by his persistent struggle with himself. He has come out of his self-indulgent animal existence by evolving Mind and putting questions. He has to go forward, and not backward, on the life’s evolutionary path.

It is worth human dignity that enquiring man rises above his petty pre-occupation of self-indulgence and gains freedom for his mind from the slavery of body needs and biased seeking by a goal oriented society. It is to his own advantage that he designs a civilization that encourages people to pursue this unbiased search and provides citizens the required leisure for this undertaking. It is also in his own interest that he bestows social recognition and appreciation on them whose labors bear the fruits of discovery.

It requires the boldness of mind and sincerity of heart to put questions, for to put questions one has to rise above petty-minded self-indulgent culture. Let man put enough questions and seek answers to them. There are more than enough wonders around him to be amazed at and to be explored for answers.

At the one extreme are the universe – infinite and mysterious – and its riddle, and at the other is the man himself who is more mysterious than the mystery of entire universe. We search the material universe and discover galactic systems with their solar systems, black holes and its (universe’s) creation with a Big Bang, and space-time continuum. At the other end, we search the life and discover its blue print – the genetic code. We search the consciousness of mind and beyond and discover the existence of Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), Near Death Experience (NDE), Life after Death and Rebirth, Planes of Consciousness that are higher than man’s Mind, Jesus Christ’s God, Lord Buddha’s Nirvana et al. Of the countless questions that one may ask and search for answers, the most natural one – and the most important too to him – is to ask: ‘Who am 1’? Today man, with all his amazing science and developed evolutionary stage at his side, is capable of putting this pristine question to himself and of seeking an answer to it.

Man goes about his daily life, without understanding almost anything of the world around him. He finds no place in his mind for any thought about the machinery that generates the sunlight that makes life possible, the gravity that glues him to the earth that would otherwise send him spinning off into space, or the atoms of which he is made and on whose stability he fundamentally depends. Few of our race, which we call a race of rational beings, spend any considerable time wondering why nature is the way it is. Or, asking where the cosmos came from or whether it was always here; if time will one day flow backward and effects will precede causes; or whether there are ultimate limits to what we humans can know. However, children are much more imaginative and inquiring of questions than we – the adults – but for that very reason we dismiss them as being childish and worth not paying any serious attention.

It is worth human beings to put questions; let us be humans and not animals; let us put questions to ourselves and not remain content in petty self-indulgence.

A wise person aptly observed, “I Think, therefore I am.” We may go a bit further and add: “Because I am, the world is there.” Yes, the world is there for all of us to see, live in and judge by. But how did this world start from its initial point? And, did it ever start at all?

Eminent British physicist Stephen W. Hawkins in his celebrated book ‘A Brief History of Time’ vividly reveals the depth of these questions when he says: “In order to predict how the universe should have started off one need laws that hold at the beginning of time. If the classical theory of general relativity was correct, the singularity theorems that Roger and Penrose and I proved show that the beginning of time would have been a point of infinite density and infinite curvature of space-time. All the known laws of science would break down at such a point. One might suppose that there were new laws that held at singularities, but it would be very difficult even to formulate such laws at such badly behaved points, and we would have no guide from observations as to what those laws might be…We don’t yet have a complete and consistent theory that combines quantum mechanics and gravity. However, we are fairly certain of some features that such a unified theory should have…To avoid the technical difficulties with Feynman’s sum over histories, one must use imaginary time. That is to say, for the purposes of the calculation one must measure time using imaginary numbers, rather than real ones. This has an interesting effect on space-time: the distinction between time and space disappears completely….If the universe really is in such a quantum state, there would be no singularities in the histories of the universe in imaginary time. … This might suggest that the so-called imaginary time is really the real-time, and that what we call real-time is just a figment of our imagination. In real-time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down. But in imaginary time, there are no singularities. So maybe what we call imaginary time is really more basic, and what we call real is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is like. But according to the approach I described in Chapter 1, a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds. So it is meaningless to ask, “Which is real, ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’ time?” It is simply a matter of which is more useful description”.

We are dealing here with the beginning of Time, the singularity of time and space. (It is not the so-called beginning of the time with the Big Bangs of Black Holes.) But in the context of the singularity of time and space, which one of the pulses of Time are we talking here? We are living in “our” time and if we go backward in this our time, we would reach its starting point or the singularity of the space-time of “our this” universe. But if this our time has a commencing point, was there “another” run of time earlier? And, if there was another run earlier also, then in this cyclic run when was the commencement of the cyclic process? What would be the nature of laws ruling the cyclic-runs of Time? These are the questions of the highest order of the human intellect. Unfortunately we are living in “our this” time only and can talk meaningfully about this time alone.

At the initial point – the singularity point – of space-time, we are told by these scientists, there must be the infinite density and curvature (of this universe’s space-time continuum). What do we understand by the infinite density of this continuum? Our universe is existing in the four-dimensional space-time continuum and if we are able somehow to squeeze and confine this universe’s mass into a narrower space, it would be denser. If we go on with this process of squeezing, how much dense would it become? We put this universal mass (which is only relative!) onto a single point of space (again, space is only relative!) and get its most dense state. But still it is not infinite.

What about the infinite curvature of our universe’s space-time continuum? Corresponding to the increased density of mass, the curvature of space too increases. An infinite curvature of the space created by the infinite density of mass of our universe would be a closed point on all its sides if the curvature is positive and an open point on all its sides if the curvature is negative. Can we visualize such a state of our universe as existing without time and without space? Existence without time and space would seem a contradiction in terms but contradictory things do exist in Nature. Our universe is material. What is matter?

All that exists is essentially ‘matter’ and we do not know anything existing that is not material. What is it that we call ‘matter’? We all live in and deal with ‘space’ and seem to know what it is. Do we really know what ‘space’ is? And, our ‘developed’ civilization is almost wholly dependent on our dealing with ‘time’. Does ‘time’ really exist? Matter, space and time are eternal in existence and man’s presence has no impact on the mystery of this ‘existence’.

However, now human being has come on the scene to marvel at them and to fathom their mysteries. But then, is the ‘human being’ not a creation of this trio of matter, space and time? And then, does the ‘human being’ not amount to this trio marveling at it and trying to fathom their secrets? These are the mysteries of the supreme order. Let man compare his proud possession of modern scientific knowledge with all that he yet has to know and let him question the legitimacy of his arrogant attitude towards the truth spoken of by people like Buddha and Christ. He is still an infant trying to grasp the meaning of world around him.

In addition to humility, man requires patience on his part. The uncovering of mysterious truth behind matter, space and time is the sole business of science and human mind powering this pursuit is doing its job marvelously. Though the human mind on account of its analytical process of comprehension has limited scope of knowing the truth of the world around him with full spectrum, the search itself makes human mind conscious of its inherent limitations and prepares man to go beyond mind. Science is not only uncovering the truth behind things step by step but also slowly preparing human mind to accept that there may be truths that are beyond the pale of mind’s consciousness and that there may be other and better ways to know them than by mind. The universe and things therein, is not only complex in nature but also are immense in dimension.

What is the biggest formation in our universe? And, what is the smallest one there? With the help of technology at our disposal, we find that these are indeed bewildering immensities. We stand somewhere in between and wonder at our destiny in the whole scheme. Visions pass before our eyes of man and the earth. Primitive man at the debut out of his pre-human existence for the first time peeps out of a dark cave and stares up at the sky until the distant stars, which kindles a light of response in his eyes. A vague uneasiness creeps in his breast at the void lying before him. What else does he have to measure this un-fathomed void but a song being sung before the fire-side? Since then centuries and millennia have rolled by and the concepts of the earth and heaven have expanded in his consciousness to the dimensions of the universe. Human thought has had to grope its way over time through murky mazes and dead ends, it resorted to hibernation for centuries to wait for its hour and floundered in the pitfalls of delusions and contradictions, yet man has inevitably emerged triumphant from his struggle with eternal, inexhaustible Nature. And now, too, his mind seeks to probe the depths of the universe and the fundamentals of matter. Man stands at a crossroads of infinities. Here, one road leads him into a world of galaxies, where fleeing matter soars to sub-light speed and the other, into a micro world of vanishingly small spatial and temporal dimensions and the strange world of dual manifestations where the perplexing laws of probability rule.

Today at the stage of science that is available to us and with the help of knowledge that is part of our consciousness, let us try to fathom the hazy voids. The known portion of the universe extends for approximately 1010 light years, or 1028 cm. Man is smaller than the universe by a factor of 1026. The dimensions of our planet make it impossible for us to comprehend even approximately the vastness and frightening meaning of this difference. But man is great if only because he has succeeded in spanning it. Take the other road to infinity, which leads into the world of elementary particles. The smallest of the known distance is 10 – 14 cm. It differs from the greatest by a factor of 1042. These are the limits of modern knowledge, the measured sections of the roads.

The number 1042 are so great that it is impossible to offer a meaningful picture of its true magnitude. An example from Kenneth Ford’s book, The World of Elementary Particles, in which he attempts to assess the number 1042 in terms of conventional images, is as good as any other. Suppose the number of people increased to 1042. The globe is capable of holding some 1015 persons standing side by side. There are around 1023 stars in the universe. Assuming that each star has 10 planets, there are 1024 planets. Well, by standing people side by side on all of them we could make place for 1039 persons, still much fewer than 1042.

This playing with numbers is with regard to space. What about time? Let us consider the measures of time also. Man’s average life expectancy is 70 years. Civilization is several thousand years old. It will be for other civilizations to judge what we have achieved, or failed to achieve in the time at our disposal. The smallest known distance is 10 -14 cm. Light travels it in 10 – 24 sec. This, then, is the smallest time interval, and it lies far beyond the limits of all known methods of time measurement. The greatest time interval we know is the ‘lifetime of the universe’. By this is meant the time the universe has been expanding, estimated at anywhere between 10,000 million and 30,000 million years, or about 1018 sec. A comparison of these intervals yields the staggering number 1042 sec. These are the temporal dimensions with which man, which lives 108 sec, has to deal. Incidentally, the coincidence of the time and distance intervals is not fortuitous. The remotest sections of the universe are receding from us at velocities approaching that of light. These, too, are the velocities of particles of the micro world. The speed of light unites the two infinities, the infinity of vastness and the infinity of minuteness.

And we are at the crossroads. The habitual everyday world about us knows no such speeds. Only the human intellect can cope with domains where light is a measure of speed. These are the dimensions of space and time. There remains matter. It changes with time and moves through space, it constitutes our essence: Nature realizes itself in Homo sapiens. Matter has many faces and its manifestations are infinite. But there is one thing characteristic of all matter: mass. Let us try to assess the approximate mass of the universe. It contains 1023 stars. An average star weighs 1035 g. Hence, the mass of the universe is something like 1058 grams. Each gram contains about 1024 protons. A rough estimate thus yields that the known portion of the universe contains 1082 protons. A man weighs about 105 g. and contains approximately 1029 protons. His brain, however, is capable of comprehending the number 1082 and ‘weighing’ the universe.

This is the image of man put in the perspectives of space and time. And this is the image of his thoughts – thoughts when he was living in caves and today when he zooms in spacecrafts. Man has traveled a long distance from his cave dwelling to a star-counter. It is why the mysteries of space, time and matter excite and attract his imagination so much. Not for the sake of the cold light of abstract truth does man so stubbornly assault the secrets of the universe. It is not only for the sake of technological progress and material affluence that he seeks to fathom the depths of the macro- and micro world. Man’s main, and not always realized, incentive for quest lies within him. When one speaks of the limits of the universe he implies the limits of knowledge. Temporary limits, to be sure, but nevertheless limits. In probing the universe man probes his own brain. The nature of his boldest and ‘maddest’ theories is determined by his way of thinking. That is why the secrets of the cosmos and the micro world excite and attract us. They are (as if) a mirror, which reflects our capability for knowledge. And man is born for knowledge. This is the meaning and the purpose of civilization. This is why man will never stop looking into the mirror of the universe.

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