Interestingly enough, these types of questions go far beyond the musings of sages and philosophers and enters the realm of scientific theorists. If you’ve ever read other science-related books like “Astrophysics For People In A Hurry” by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or seen any science-based documentaries like “Cosmos,” you likely have begun to notice a striking parallel between traditional yogic frameworks and the pursuit for scientific discoveries.
That’s because science is merely the yardstick for which we express validity through logical thinking; but it is philosophy (yes, yogic understanding gets lumped in here as well) that is at the forefront of that discovery itself. And, in my opinion, Brian Greene’s most recent book, “Until The End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe,” is the greatest expression of combining science and mysticism I’ve come across thus far.
Definitely not one for unfounded metaphysical superstition, Brian Greene’s book tackles many of the questions most of us in the yogic community have pondered, but never had the understanding or tools to explore at adequate depth.
In the fullness of time all that lives will die.
A widely accepted and commonly held axiom within many spiritual communities. But when placed in the context of science and looked through with a logical and pragmatic (essentially reductionist) lens, we can fully grasp the meaning behind this concept.
Sure, we may consciously know that all things will live and die. Having this understanding be backed by science allows us to more analytically and conservatively judge a situation appropriately. Is it true that breathatarians and enlightened sages can live forever? Perhaps, but the science doesn’t really back this claim.
The universe we have come to know is transitory. From planets to stars, solar systems to galaxies, black holes to swirling nebulae, nothing is everlasting.
According to science, it’s not just us humans that are susceptible to this finality. Even in the grandness of space and looking at the universe a whole, everything will die. There is nothing greater which can escape this one universal law.
What can we take away from this scientific understanding? That nothing will truly last in this life. As such, we must each learn to accept this finality and appreciate the finite time that we have left. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into people in my life who are abhorrently obsessed with the rat-race that they’ve put themselves on, all because of the way society has shaped and pushed their grander agenda; failing to realize the true gift that is there right in front of them. The present moment.
How often do we each run from one thing to the next, then to the next, then to the next, simply because we are on a mindless grind towards completing our set tasks? Stop and come to realize that this all will end (often a lot sooner than we’d like to think), and what will you have to show for it at the end? Piles of cash that you can’t take with you when you’re gone? A fully checked-off task list? Or memories that you can cherish and hold with you as you head into the next “life”?
The science here helps us realize this more rationally.
Nothing is permanent. Nothing is absolute.
The entire universe is in a constant state of change. Nothing that you see in this moment will be there in the next (even if it may appear to be that way to you). Atoms are constantly swirling and rearranging themselves on a molecular level that we can only truly comprehend through science.
What can we gain from this? The understanding that everything is transient in life and that what you may currently be going through will not be this way forever. All the pain, all the joy, all the sorrow, all the romance, is fleeting. Just remember: this too shall pass—so either endure it, or appreciate it—because it won’t be here forever.
We are a species that delights in story. We look out on reality, we grasp patterns, and we join them into narratives that captivate, inform, startle, amuse and thrill.
This is probably my most-favourite scientific understanding which has also been echoed in the book, Sapiens. This scientific outlook, examining humans through the anthropological lens of being just another species here on earth has even helped drive my own professional career as a marketer. It’s important to realize that all life is just a story we tell ourselves, and we can either actively choose to shape these stories for ourselves or not.
What does this mean for us individually? It means that some of the things that we believe are true, and that some of them are not true. It’s all about the story that we decide to derive from the patterns that we grasp all around us.
Does wearing those “lucky socks” really help your favourite sports team score more points in a game? Does a crystal really help shape your mood or are you choosing to have your mood be shaped by that crystal? Will a Sun Salutation in the morning help you greet the day, or is the excess blood flow helping to wake up your joints and move more blood flow through your entire body allowing you to feel more awake? Correlation is not causation.
We are a creature of habits whose habits are specifically chosen to help ease the mind and lubricate the goings-on of the day. Understanding that there are always two sides to every story and what you believe may not always be the truth is essential in the development of your own sovereignty in life.
Believing things at face value without looking into them further is not sovereignty, but sheep mentality. Building a critical eye through scientific literacy and inquiry is an essential first step in taking back your own power.
For us to survive, the environment must absorb and carry away all the waste, all the entropy, we generate.
This is a fascinating one to think about. Whatever we expel gets absorbed by our environment and whatever we take in from our environment gets absorbed by us.
According to science and spirituality, we truly are singular beings dancing in the singular encapsulation of all that surrounds us. We truly are the wave which has forgotten that it is also the ocean. We are truly one being in the oneness of the entire universe.
Grind up anything previously alive, pry apart its complex molecular machinery, and you’ll find an abundance of the same six types of atoms: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur.
We are each just an expression of the universe bound by the universe itself. We are the universe becoming self-aware and realizing itself. We are the universe at play in its own creation. We are all one in Oneness.
Whether it be through science or sacred text, both are pointing to the same truth about the world that we live in. We aren’t separate from the things that are surrounding us; we are in a symbiotic relationship with our environment because we are the universe in the universe. Never forget this relationship, and it will help you to build perspective, understanding and acceptance over everything that is in your life.
We are physical creatures subject to physical law.
This is perhaps the most important takeaway from the entire book itself. Action-reaction. Cause-and-effect. This is the foundation for determinism. The physical world is bound by physical rules, physical calculations, physical inputs and outputs, physical projections.
If everything is caused by something, then what does that mean for free will? Do we truly have cognizant choice over our actions or are we merely watching the story of the world unfold with a front row seat to this cosmic play?
I know what you’re thinking, “but what about my thoughts? I’m free to think what I want!” Do your best to trace the origin of that thought. It will have ultimately been triggered by some impetus. Then trace the origin of that impetus and you will find yet another impetus. So on and so forth, ad infinitum. If there is cause and effect, there is determinism.
Your next argument to this point will probably be, “but my thoughts are metaphysical.” Sure, they may be metaphysical, but they are still bound by the synapses of your brain. There are countless stories of people who have experienced head trauma (damage to their brain) whose personalities have completely changed or their memories have been jogged somehow. How can you be yourself if your ‘self’ is subject to a brain which can easily be changed and manipulated? We are physical creatures subject to physical law.
What does this mean for your life? It means you should not take things too seriously and learn to enjoy and appreciate the show. There are countless analogies within yoga, religion, and spirituality which can attest to determinism being at play. In Hinduism, they call it Lila; in Norse Mythology, they attribute it to the Norns (or Sisters of Fate); in Greek Mythology, they venerated the Oracles of Delphi; in the Abrahamic Religions, they call it God’s Plan; and within the scientific community, they describe it all through Mathematics.
When life starts getting to you and you begin to feel overwhelmed, try and remember that it is all just a cosmic play and all you can do is appreciate the show.
Without giving too much more of the book away, because I truly believe everyone should read this book, I think you can now see that science and mysticism have a lot more in common than you initially thought; with science building the foundation for mysticism to come alive.
Ready for the twist? That’s because yoga was the science of their time. Ancient yogis simply didn’t have the instruments to measure their anecdotal experiences which they constantly codified and explored. Just like contemporary scientists, they were constantly experimenting, constantly refining their understanding. I’m sure if the ancient yogis were around today, they would quickly be lumped in with more people like Brian Greene, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Albert Einstein; all highly introspective intellectuals hell-bent on understanding the meaning of life.
An interesting thing I’ve noticed in the contemporary yoga community is a distinct aversion towards validation through science—but if you don’t study ideas thoroughly enough, how can you attest to those ideas being actually true, and not just “true to you”?
Always strive to pair science with spirituality. Only then will you ever be able to bridge the gap between true knowledge and disillusion.