Space as a Model of Society and Ecosystems

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Introduction and Overview

In Vedic cosmology, space is meant for living beings, because the material universe exists for life. When space is the canvas on which we describe living phenomena, then macroscopic phenomena in the space constitute the evolution of society, while the microscopic phenomena indicate the evolution of the individual living entity. Sāńkhya is a detailed theory of the individual phenomena—i.e. a person’s perception, actions, and its consequences. Vedic cosmology, on the other hand, is a detailed description of the macroscopic phenomena—e.g. the tiers of life forms, the periodic creation and destruction of life forms, and the rise and fall of civilizations and cultures. This article discusses how space is a canvas for the evolution of life forms, and how cyclic time produces periodic undulations in an ecosystem.

The Problem of Fermi’s Paradox

Enrico Fermi formulated a paradox called Fermi’s Paradox about why we don’t see life from other planets. The idea is that if laws of nature are uniform everywhere, then the same kind of life should be uniformly created everywhere. Given that there are so many planets in the universe, there must have been life produced everywhere. And if indeed such life was uniformly created, then we should have found some evidence of them by now. Why we don’t see the aliens from other planets, presents a paradox. Now, some of you might argue that aliens have indeed visited us, citing evidence about UFOs, but what we know about these UFOs is not an actual encounter with a life form.

The idea of uniformity also flies in the face of biological diversity on this planet. If nature is uniform, then why do we see different species in different places? Charles Darwin formulated the Theory of Evolution principally to address this problem. His theory postulates that the reason we don’t see the same species everywhere is due to random mutations followed by environmental selection. The theory suggests that mutations are uniform everywhere but the environment is not uniform, which causes biodiversity. Now, if you are persistent, you can ask why the environment is not uniform, and the answer would be another random change, but this time there is nothing to select the environmental change. Biodiversity therefore ultimately reduces to the randomness of the environment. So, would we be surprised if we saw common patterns in nature that contradict both the above ideas—namely, uniformity and randomness?

The fact is that we are surrounded by a pattern called the Bell Curve or Normal Distribution which is neither uniformity nor randomness. The shape of the curve indicates that populations are not uniformly distributed. And the well-defined shape of the Bell Curve indicates that the distribution of a population over a variable is not random. For some reason, numerous aspects related to living populations tend to follow the Bell Curve, whether it is genetics, diseases, height, weight, or socioeconomic attributes such as income or education levels. So, the answer to the problem arising from uniformity is not randomness, because that proposal doesn’t match numerous observations.

Once we set aside uniformity and randomness, we have to find an explanation for the Bell Curve. Why does nature obey this pattern? The standard explanation involves conceiving a “closed space” of all alternatives and arguing that we see a concentration in the middle because it is the most likely alternative. The problem in this explanation is that we closed the space of alternatives, to begin with. When no fundamental theory of nature in physics supports such closure, on what basis do we use them in biology or sociology?

The Bell Curve can be explained if we close the space with limits, and the space denotes possibilities. The problem is that we don’t have a good understanding of nature as a set of possibilities that exist in a closed space of alternatives. Making such a claim entails that we have to treat space as a domain of possibilities with closure. The resolution of Fermi’s paradox is that a planet is not a lump of matter but a region of space demarcated by conceptual extremes. We don’t see similar life forms everywhere due to the nature of space. Rather, we expect that (a) life in each planet would be different, and (b) life would be limited by a planet’s respective conceptual boundaries. The fact that we don’t have interactions with other planetary life is because each planet’s life is closed for interactions by its conceptual boundaries.

Why the Bell Curve is Pervasive?

To understand the genesis of the Bell Curve, we must understand how it is a pattern for an exponential increase and decrease. One convenient way to understand exponentiation is to think of a musical scale. The scale comprises octaves, and each successive octave begins at twice the starting frequency of the previous octave. For example, on an 88-key piano, the successive octaves begin at 16.352 Hz, 32.703 Hz, 65.406 Hz, etc., and each octave doubles the previous octave’s frequency. If we draw a frequency chart with an 88-key piano, we will find a pattern of x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x, etc. If we know the piano’s length then we can map the frequencies to the distance as 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, etc.

The difference between a Bell Curve and the piano is that the higher frequencies are in the middle of the Bell Curve while they are on the right of the piano. If we split the Bell Curve into two halves at the center, then the left part would resemble a normal piano while the right side would be an inverted piano. In the following paragraphs, I will describe the right side of the Bell Curve (inverted piano) and represent it as wavelengths. That is, the frequencies are greatest as we approach the center, and therefore the wavelength decreases.

To conserve the energy in this space, we need to transform the energy from one form to another. This transformation involves a shift from higher amplitudes to higher frequencies. On the right side of this space, the wavelength is high (and therefore the frequency is low), and therefore the amplitude must be high (to conserve the energy). On the left side of the space, the wavelength is small (and therefore frequency is high), and therefore the amplitude must be low. In short, piano keys on the left and right produce equal energies only when we play the low-frequency sound (on the right) louder than the high-frequency sound (on the left). The result of applying energy conservation to this space is that the sizes get exponentially bigger, and the instances get exponentially fewer. This model basically says that the population density on the right side of the scale is low, although it creates much bigger changes over much larger time periods. Conversely, the population on the left side of the scale is dense, although it only creates rapid changes; however, these changes are small.

Inverted Piano Scale Expressed in Wavelengths

In short, the Bell Curve is like a space in which individual locations are like the keys of a piano. Like successive octaves on a piano are physically equidistant although at exponentially higher frequencies, similarly, individuals appear to exist in a uniform space but they are in a space of increasing frequencies. If we want to combine two distinct ideas (uniform distances and exponential changes) then we have to treat the locations in space as notes—i.e. symbols of meanings. The objects in space—i.e. keys of a piano—become symbols of meaning (notes).

Ideological Oppositions in Semantic Space

The above picture only depicts half the story—the right half of the Bell Curve (denoted by the inverted piano scale), and one side of a semantic distinction. As we have noted above, no idea stands in isolation, because ideas are always created in mutual opposition. Therefore, the Bell Curve actually has two sides. We can easily extend the exponential change pattern to the other side as below.

Full Piano Scale Expressed in Wavelengths

Note how the total energy on the outside and the inside remains constant. On the outside, the frequency is small but the amplitudes are correspondingly larger. However, on the inside the frequency is high and the amplitudes are correspondingly smaller. As energy flows from the outside to the inside, it changes form (from high frequency and low amplitude to low frequency and high amplitude). The reverse change occurs as the energy travels from the inside to the outside. These transformations create the Bell Curve.

As the energy travels inwards it interferes with the opposite waves, which creates what we commonly call a Standing Wave. The sound in a musical wind or string instrument is due to this standing wave. This sound is the product of defining a space that is “bound” at the ends—e.g. that the strings of a violin or guitar are clamped at two ends, or that the two ends of a flute or trombone are fixed. Once we fix the two ends and generate vibration at one end, the vibration traverses from one end to another, and it is then reflected back from the other end to the beginning. These two vibrations then interfere with each other, and the interference of the opposite waves creates a standing wave.

Space as a Description of Society

We can now describe the Bell Curve using the above model. The Bell Curve arises due to bounds in space. Some individuals live on society’s fringes—i.e. on the ideological extremes. Other individuals live in society’s middle—i.e. in relatively moderate positions.

Those people living on the fringes of society create large changes over longer periods of time. Conversely, near the center of the sociological space, there are rapid but small changes. The Bell Curve, therefore, represents a class system in which the outliers create big changes over longer times. The classes on the inside bring smaller changes over shorter times. Effectively, the innermost class is those individuals who perform the fast and repetitive work, while the outermost class is those individuals who perform the slow and creative work.

We can ask why the intellectuals are at the fringes and not in the center. Don’t we expect the highest class to be at the core of society to balance the fringe extremities? The problem with this approach is that the largest section of society would become engaged in rapidly producing new ideas with minor novelties while the grunt work of translating these ideas into useful products would happen slowly at the fringes. In other words, society would be a collection of armchair philosophers surrounded by lazy workers. We cannot expect this model to succeed even though it seems attractive. And, of course, the Bell Curve rises in the middle and not at the edges and has a long tail.

This space has in-built oppositions, which means that whenever a new idea is created, it will propagate to the other extreme and produce a reflection in the opposite direction. The reflection requires a boundary. If the system is well-designed, then the opposite waves will be balanced, and produce a pattern just like a musical note. If the system is not well-designed, then the forward and backward sounds will clash and produce noise. The design of the system is akin to the length of the musical instruments like a guitar or a flute.

Steepening and Flattening Bell Curves

In modern times, the social Bell Curve has steepened in the middle and falls very sharply thereafter. This fact is often described as the disparity in a society where 99% of the population is in the middle and does all the work, while 1% of the population holds most of the wealth. Since the Bell Curve has steepened, other classes beyond the workers and businessmen—i.e. leaders who can guide the society toward a moral and decent life and intellectuals who can aide this guidance—have almost disappeared. In terms of the Vedic social model (which we discussed previously), 99% of the society is Sudra and 1% of society is Vaisya, while Kshatriya and Brahmana don’t exist.

The fix for the current problems of society requires flattening the Bell Curve. If the curve is steep, the population that occupies the outer regions of space (i.e. the intellectual class) is destroyed. If the curve is flattened, the outer regions of the idea space are sufficiently populated. Vedic philosophy describes how time is cyclic and causes the periodic steepening and flattening of the Bell Curve.

During Satya-yuga, the Bell Curve is flattened which means that the outer regions of the conceptual space are populated. As time progresses through Tretā-yuga, Dvāpara-yuga, and finally Kali-yuga, the Bell Curve steepens. Eventually, towards the end of the Kali-yuga, the entire population reduces to nearly a vertical line. There is no variety, personality, or diversity. Nearly everyone is reduced to a worker, and the distinction between humans and animals (in terms of their ideology, morality, and thinking) disappears. This is a terrifying prospect that faces modern society. The effect of time in a semantic space can be understood as the periodic rising and falling of the social Bell Curve.

The Discontinuity in Time Cycles

The social cycle involves an abrupt transition from Kali-yuga to Satya-yuga. If time were like the smoothly moving hands of a clock, then we would imagine that the risen Bell Curve would flatten gradually, but it doesn’t. Instead, the steep concentration in the middle suddenly flips into a flat distribution. The hands of a clock, of course, rotate smoothly. But the living society shifts dramatically.

This shift involves two kinds of events. First, new phenomena emerge out of nowhere; the Cambrian Explosion in which suddenly a number of species appear is a good example of this fact. Second, we can see a long period of slow rise ending in a sudden fall; the sudden disappearance of large cultures such as the Indus Valley Civilization, the Māyān Civilization, and the Babylonian Civilization, are good examples of this. The continuous evolution is hard to detect. But the sudden discontinuity is easily detected.

The cycle in time produces two kinds of opposite effects: (a) it suddenly destroys an established system and (b) suddenly creates a new system. Since the old and new ideologies are radically different, they don’t occur at the same location even in idea space; they are not contiguous in physical space either. This makes explanation impossible in physical space. We can expect the phenomena to be explained in an idea space as the sudden decline of old thinking and the sudden appearance of new thinking.

Thomas Kuhn called this “Paradigm Shift” in the landmark book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, outlining how new visions of the world don’t appear gradually. Rather, a mass of contradicting evidence accumulates gradually until the gap between the evidence and the ideology becomes so wide that the old worldview is suddenly discarded in its entirety and replaced by a new worldview. This is also what management thinkers such as Malcolm Gladwell call The Tipping Point in which small acts accumulate to suddenly create a very big change. The cycles of economic boom and bust are too legend to discuss in detail here; the economy gradually rises up and then suddenly falls. In other words, you abruptly fall off a cliff after appearing for a long time to be on a never-ending rising slope.

I believe that modern science will also suddenly fall off a cliff when the time arrives. The world will undergo a transition similar to that from Kali-yuga to Satya-yuga when the Bell Curve will be flattened. This flattening will produce a better distribution of wealth, administered by moral rulers, and guided by true intellectuals who can spread real knowledge about matter and spirit. It will happen so suddenly that historians will wonder what really happened. It would be an example of “slow rise and sudden fall” which is typical of time crossing from one era to another. The change is under the control of time, and such changes cannot occur before or after their designated hour.

Why are Vedic Planets Flat?

Once we understand the social dynamic in a single dimension, then it becomes easy to extend this into a two-dimensional space: this space is a collection of curves rotated at different angles which constitute the dynamics of different species. If you are given the task of counting all living beings, then you would count humans from left to right based on their differences, and then count the dogs from left to right based on their differences, then count the birds based on their differences, and so forth. We cannot include humans in the sequence of dogs, or vice versa. In that sense, each type of living entity is situated on its own line (which identifies a spectrum of such living beings) and thereby constitutes what we call a species. The different lines on the plane are rotated at different angles which means their minds are different from the minds of the other species (although one can understand how they think if we know the angle at which they are rotated).

As a single dimension denotes the dynamics of a species, the flat surface denotes the dynamics of an ecosystem. This ecology has two kinds of dynamics: (1) the reflection of opposites to create a standing wave in the ideal balanced condition, and (2) the rotation of the lines to create what we call the “food cycle”. Based on this “food cycle” (i.e. the day-to-day material interactions and transactions between the species), there is also a cycle of the soul transmigrating through the different species, and therefore “rotating” in the material space.

Each species is the food of another. The “food cycle” can be represented as a wheel in which a pair of opposite spokes constitutes the balance of opposites within a species, while the different spoke pairs (at different angles to each other) constitute the different species. For the ecosystem to function correctly, this conceptual wheel must rotate. In short, a system as complex as an ecosystem can be represented by a simple-looking model, although the similarity between the model and the actual working of an ecosystem hides a lot of complexity.

The Wheel of Dharma

For several thousands of years, a wheel has been used in Hinduism and Buddhism to represent dharma, which is a name for: (a) natural processes, and (b) society doing its prescribed duties. Thus, nature itself is dharma because it undergoes a periodic cycle of change, thus creating day and night, the changing seasons, the rise of fall of civilizations, etc. Within this natural dharma is each individual performing their duty in accordance with the universal cycle of changes. The wheel represents space in Vedic cosmology, and space when treated semantically (as we have seen) can be used to denote society. Similarly, the pulsation and rotation of this wheel represents time—i.e. social evolution. Sometimes, the wheel is also described as a “lotus flower” with its petals opened up just like the spokes in a wheel.

The description of flat space is not a description of a physical flatland, as most people commonly tend to think. Rather, the flat space is a conceptual model of an ecosystem. It is not what we perceive by our senses. It is rather how we would conceive the universe based on the mental and conceptual diversity of the living beings in it. In that sense, this flat space is a subtle space of ideas in which living beings are described as ideas, rather than just sensations (if you are familiar with Sāńkhya, then sensations too are ideas).

The differences between conceptual models and experimental verification have been well-known in science; for example, an atomic object is described as a vibrating form in a complex number space, but when we perceive this world, we observe instantaneous incidents of colorful blips. The difference between reality and its perception is a testimony of the advancement of science where it brings diverse phenomena under the same theory and concepts. Such advancement is not evident in all areas of science. For example, geography continues to think of reality as observations, primarily because geography isn’t an advanced subject today that unifies a set of diverse phenomena—e.g. the changes in weather, the relation between geography and ecology, the evolution of ecosystems, or the evolution of society.

Since modern geography isn’t advanced, a comparison between the perceptual models in geography with the conceptual models of space (in a unified theory of ecology, evolution, weather, and geography) produces contradictions. Those who make such comparisons don’t seem to understand that the description isn’t about geography. It is rather a description of the variety of life as it exists in the universe, and describing that life means describing the morals, intents, beliefs, concepts, senses, sensations, and objects—all as concepts.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Space as a Model of Society and Ecosystems," in Shabda Journal, March 14, 2017,