Over the past couple of years, I've been intrigued by experiments carried out by scientists in Switzerland hunting for the illusive Higgs Bosun, or 'God Particle' as it has been called in the national press. These experiments have been conducted using a sophisticated piece of equipment, the Large Hadron Collider, to fire protons in opposite directions around a rink at high speeds in sub-zero temperatures, conjuring images of bobsleigh teams taking part in races at the Winter Olympics. The vital exception, however, is that these protons are hurtling towards each other on a collision course so that particle physicists can record what happens at their moment of impact. Such a simulation is believed to recreate conditions of the Big Bang, a scientific theory of how the universe was created.
Rumours are starting to circulate from sources in Geneva that these experiments have been a success, that the fundamental building block and missing link in the formation of matter has been located. If these rumours are true, one of the most important advances in human understanding of the physical world could soon be announced, putting an end once and for all to archetypal myths of creation involving a superior being or God as the mastermind behind the construction of life as we know it.
Sceptics and non-believers may soon be in possession of a powerful piece of information to trump all arguments concerning deities of any religious faith. 'How can you believe that' they might ask, 'in light of this scientific evidence?' To insist upon the verity of scripture as provider of answers to cosmic questions may come to be seen as a confession of insanity.
Subverting Nietzsche for a moment, results from the LHC could pronounce in sonorous tones once and for all that 'God is dead.'
Whilst this may or may not sound the death knell for Western religions predicated on divine creation, surely, from an Advaitin point of view, science is only demonstrating what the sages have said all along? The discovery of the Higgs Bosun, if indeed it has been made, only strengthens arguments for interconnectivity or non-duality rather than dissolving them like ghostly vapours caught in a hurricane.
For Advaita, what difference would such a scientific discovery make? Would the naming and demonstration of the Higgs Bosun affect our understanding of the mind, of the nature of reality? Would it help us to accept our place in the grand scheme of things, to recognised the unity masked by conjuring of unenlightened thought? Will it have any impact on the interpretation of scripture?
No doubt, some dogmatic faiths could be in for a bumpy ride in years to come. Much of the Old Testament of Christian doctrine will be rendered obsolete for those who still adhere to such principles as 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' and believe in a wrathful Being paused above clouds with lightening bolt in hand, waiting to strike down sinners for their transgressions. Some religious fanatics will be unswayed, refusing to take notice of scientific data that interferes with their beliefs. Advaita, however, should remain largely unaffected.
'Why is this?' some might ask. Like many Eastern schools of thought, Advaita doesn't rely on it's adherents subscribing to a belief system. Knowledge espoused through its texts insist upon conformance with pramanas or methods through which knowledge can be attained. Whilst there are six types of pramana, the three principle ones are perception, testimony, and inference.
Perception is what we see for ourselves, what is validated through personal experience. Whilst there may be records from sages claiming direct contact with ethereal beings, can we validate this through our own experience, our own perception of the world? Maybe after too many beers, we might convince ourselves of divine contact, but unless the experience is verified through repetition without beer-goggles, it can't conform to any notion of reality.
There may be references to spiritual beings in scripture that could fall under the category of testimony, through sacred texts like Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas. Advaitins are encouraged to reflect, or to meditate upon such testimonies, but not to directly believe in what is written because the Big Book says it is right. On doing so, metaphors prevalent within such teachings unravel, revealing knowledge through narrative. If such knowledge then conforms with our perception of the world, we can consider it valid.
Finally, we come to inference, which is perhaps more open to suggestive interpretation. Conclusions are drawn that seem to conform with other information at our disposal. As Dennis Waite explains in 'The Book of One', 'we inferred the earth to be spherical, because we saw ships gradually 'disappearing' over the horizon before space travel actually showed it to be so.
Validating knowledge through pramanas accords with scientific methods of discovery. We read what the experts say, and see if it conforms to our own experience through reflection or experimentation. We may draw inferences based upon conclusions we reach through reading, but until such conclusions are verified through personal experience, these remain as suppositions. Advaita isn't predicated on taking someone else's word as gospel. It's predicated on self-knowledge, or seeing things as they really are through self-enquiry.
So whilst the isolation and identification of the Higgs Bosun or 'God Particle' may herald a momentous advance in mankind's understanding of the physical world, it will mean little when it comes to self-enquiry. Knowing how matter is created won't help us realise our interconnectivity with life. That still, and will always, remain a personal challenge for each individual, to experience what it means to be One with all around us.