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Multiple Universes

Episode 4 of the PBS show Fabric of the Cosmos is truly mind bending. In this episode Brian Greene talks about multiple universes and how the math proves that many universes could theoretically exist. The evidence for this comes from the fact that the universe is expanding and the math of string theory. The possibility that there could be another copy of me in another universe with a blog which has more than ten readers is very disturbing.

You can watch all the four episodes of Fabric of Cosmos online.

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Multiple Big Bangs and Hindu Cosmology

Recently Briane Greene was on National Public Radio regarding his new book The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos which talks about brain churning concepts like parallel universes. He also theorizes that the universe did not have a single begining, instead there were multiple big bangs which created multiple universes. At this point the host said it reminded him of Hindu cosmology.

I am not sure if Hindu cosmology talks about multiple universes and their creation and destruction, or just about the creation and destruction of one universe. Much before Brian Greene, Carl Sagan had noted in Cosmos

“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.
…A millennium before Europeans were wiling to divest themselves of the Biblical idea that the world was a few thousand years old, the Mayans were thinking of millions and the Hindus billions”

In his new book Indian Culture And Indias Future Michel Danino writes about the achievements of Āryabhaṭa (476 CE) like computing π, values of sines, diameter of earth, and computation of orbits of planets. Āryabhaṭa was also fascinated with the concept of yugas, in which the universe (in singular) is destroyed and re-created. He wrote “Time is without begining or end”

 

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Briefly Noted: Creation (2009)

Creation (2009)In his new book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking states that God is not part of the grand design of the universe. In The Brief History of Time, he tried to grok the mind of God and left it at that. Now with the No-boundary proposal, top-down cosmology and the latest discoveries in M-theory, he argues that gravity and quantum theory are sufficient to explain how multiple universes are spontaneously created from nothing. If there is God maybe he could have chosen the initial state; he then goes on to say that even that would not be possible for there are laws for the initial state too.

More than 150 years back another Englishman too killed God. In this movie, Darwin is still working on his manuscript on the theory of evolution. In one of the earliest scenes Charles Darwin is visited by Joseph Dalton Hooker (botanist and explorer, who was once held prisoner by the King of Sikkim) and Thomas Henry Huxley (biologist). Encouraged by the abstracts he had seen and with the desire to see archbishops and their threats of eternal punishment removed from society, Huxley encourages Darwin to publish his book. But Darwin is not in the mood, “There is no book”, he dismisses. Huxley still does not give up. “You have killed God, sir”, he says, “And I, for once, say good riddance to the vindictive old bugger.” For Darwin, the church, however imperfect, is the one which holds society together. 

But Darwin had become a different man following the death of his daughter;he had prayed to God to save her. Following Annie’s death, Darwin’s wife sought refuge in religion, while he turned away from it like Mark Twain, who wrote novels like The Mysterious Stranger after the death of his daughter Susy.

He was convinced about his theory but had not published it due to his wife. He was worried that if he wrote about a world in which God, love, trust etc were not required and that the world just depended on survival, it would break her heart. His wife was worried that he would never enter heaven and they both would be separated for eternity.

The important thread in this slow movie is not Darwin’s relation with his wife, but with his daughter Annie to whom he narrated tales of his journeys. Annie appears to Darwin as hallucinations and in flashbacks as the script moves back and forth in time; she had died of sickness.The script finds patterns: in Annie’s death and the death of Jenny the Orangutan who too fell sick; in the water treatment Darwin and Annie took; in the suggestion of a pigeon breeder that relatives should not get married and a similar conversation between Darwin and his wife. 

In the final scene, Darwin walks with the manuscript, with his wife’s approval, and hands it over to the postman who rides off in his carriage.  The book was sold out in a day. His idea changed the world, except for few like US Senate candidate Christine O’ Donnell, who in 1998 wondered why monkeys are not evolving in front of her eyes.

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The Lost-Wax Method

During the third millennium BCE that trade relations between India and Mesopotamia prospered: Burial sites in Mesopotamia had shell-made lamps and cups produced from a conch shell found only in India; Early Dynastic Mesopotamians were consumers of the Harappan carnelian bead. Also the Gujaratis were exporting hardwood and there are even unverified reports of spices from the Malabar coast reaching Mesopotamia. But now there is a debate over if a colony of Indians lived in Mesopotamia —  in a Meluhhan village — at that time[Trading Hubs of the Old World – Part 2]

During this period, texts from Uruk in Mesopotamia mention copper, mainly copper from Dilmun (Bahrain), which originally came from Magan (Oman). In return the Mesopotamians exported barley[1]. The Harappans too used copper extensively. While one copper source was Oman, the other was the Jodhpura-Ganeshwar culture of Rajasthan[2].

Skipping a few millennia, a 10th century BCE copper production center was discovered in the Negev desert and was claimed to be King Solomon’s mines, though there is debate over if there was a King Solomon. One of the artifact from that era is the twin-headed ibex and swords, found in Israel’s Cave of the Treasure.

Ancient artisans — in Mesopotamia, Greece, China — used a technique called the Lost-Wax method to produce works of art, but that technique is not used much any more. One place where this technique still survives is in Tanjavur district – the realm of the Chola empire. It was here, as Vilayannur Ramachandran explains, that Hindu artistes exaggerated feminine beauty to jolt the aesthetic sense of the viewers.

When a picture of the twin-headed ibex and swords was given to the sthapathi in Swamimalai he was able to create the same using a process which has been around for millennia.


References:

  1. Nicole Boivin and Dorian Fuller, “Shell Middens, Ships and Seeds: Exploring Coastal Subsistence, Maritime Trade and the Dispersal of Domesticates in and Around the Ancient Arabian Peninsula,” Journal of World Prehistory 22, no. 2 (June 1, 2009): 180, 113.
  2. Jane R. McIntosh, The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives, 1st ed. (ABC-CLIO, 2007).
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In Mint: The Fight over Darwin

(This piece was published in the Sept 15th issue of Mint)

In 2009, while the world is celebrating Charles Darwin’s 200th birth anniversary, American scientists have a unique challenge: convince 60% of their fellow countrymen that God did not create man. It might seem odd that a country which has won the maximum number of Nobel prizes, sent man to the moon, and has the best universities in the world, takes the antediluvian creation myth in the book of Genesis literally.

A 2009 Gallup poll revealed that only 39% of Americans believed in evolution.  There were two reasons for this: education and religion. Among the high school educated, only 21% believed in evolution and 52% had no opinion; among those with a college degree, 29% did not believe and 30% had no opinion. For the religious, Darwin contradicts the word of God and those who attended church regularly were found to not believe in evolution.

To analyze the role of religion in this debate, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life asked major religious groups in United States on what they thought about evolution. The study found that at the bottom of the chart were Jehovah’s Witnesses: only 8% of their members believed in evolution. Slightly better were Mormons (22%), Evangelical Protestants (24%), Historically Black Protestants (38%) and Muslims (45%). Among the Catholics and Protestants, more than 50% believed in evolution.

A major problem facing America is that religious groups which deny evolution are out to impose their views as science on everyone by modifying science text books. In 2004, 150 years after Darwin published his seminal work, the Cobb County Board of Education in Atlanta affixed a sticker on thousands of public school textbooks which stated that evolution is a theory, not a fact. In Dover, Pennysylvania, the school board decided to teach that an “intelligent agent” created various species.

The same Pew Research poll which found that only 8% of Jehovah’s Witnesses believed in evolution also found that 81% of Buddhists believed in evolution along with 80% of Hindus. Like the story of creation in the book of Genesis, Hindus too have creation myths, but in India,  where the most American-Hindus are from, these creation myths stay in religious books, not in school text books. Also there are no Hindu or Buddhist groups questioning a fact which has been debated, analysed and tested for 150 years.

While various American Christian groups are vehemently anti-evolution, it cannot be generalized that it is a common behavior of all Abrahamic religions, since the group which stands third in ranking, after Hindus and Buddhists, are Jews with 77% believing in evolution.

The Pew religious survey found  one thing in common between American Hindus, Buddhists and Jews: members of these religions lead the religious groups in terms of education and were most likely to have a post-graduate degree. This ties with the Gallup poll which found that 74% of Americans who had a post-graduate degree believed in evolution. This also explains the frenetic effort among religious groups to subvert the education system

There is one more difference. In India, the syllabus is decided by the government — both state and central — whereas in United States, local school boards have the authority to decide tests, texts and teaching materials. Thus depending on the religious beliefs of the school board members, insane ideas can be taught and science can be redefined.  To prevent this, parents have to file law suits or vote the school board out – both disruptive activities.

Courts in United States have found that teaching “intelligent design”, a euphemism for creationism, violates the constitution. The creationists now are fighting for academic rights, so that educators can teach “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”Fortunately, this is a fight we don’t have in India.

Postscript
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  1. A British film about Charles Darwin cannot find a US distributor.
  2. Texas public schools are required to teach Bible this year. According to second most powerful member of the Texas House, evolution is an anti-religious Jewish plot.
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