How Vaiśeṣika Explains the Immune System

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Cognition and Adaptation in Disease

The world is today gripped by the CoVID pandemic. Every few days new vaccines and virus variants are talked about. The governments are pressured into vaccination, the doctors have no time (and limited ability) to test if a person is already immune to CoVID before administering a vaccine. And nobody can say if a vaccine creates immunity against the new variants. All these problems can be debated at the level of politics, but that’s not what I will do here. I will try to describe fundamental flaws in the modern understanding of matter, and why that understanding creates difficulties in describing the cognitive and adaptive abilities in the immune system, leading to numerous other downstream problems.

The Cartesian Mind-Body Divide

The problem begins in the Cartesian mind-body divide. The mind has capacities for recognition, but matter doesn’t. Why? Because “knowledge” is in the mind, and matter only works due to “force”. Similarly, the mind has the capacity for adaptation to new questions or problems, but matter doesn’t. Matter only acts due to blind forces; it doesn’t react selectively or differently to a “problem”. Why? Because matter has no problem. Problems only exist for the minds, not for matter. The mind wants to solve problems, but matter has no such purpose. Without a purpose, there cannot be an adaptation.

This dogma incarnates in biology in the doctrine of genes. Your immune response requires some unique proteins and the gene codes for all possible proteins. If there is a gene encoding for the protein, then you have immunity against a certain disease. Otherwise, not. Since the genetic markers are fixed at birth, you are predestined to be non-immune to the diseases for which the proteins are not encoded (unless, of course, you are immunized against that disease).

Now, contrast this claim to how we solve day-to-day problems—by recognition and adaptation. If you don’t have the best tools in your toolbox of solutions, then you have two choices. First, you can create the tool best suited to solve the problem, and then use it. Second, you can use a combination of existing tools to solve the problem, although the solution may be less effective. The fact that you don’t have a unique tool suite for a specific problem doesn’t prevent you from solving those problems. And the reason is that you recognize the problem, devise a new tool, or combine existing tools to solve the problem. This is what I mean by “recognition” and “adaptation” to problems.

When the body is described as a machine, then it cannot have capacities for recognition and adaptation. It must rather already be preprogrammed with some tools to solve problems. There must be specificity between tools and problems, and new combinations of existing tools cannot be created, because the specificity of the problem and tool is predetermined. Likewise, there is no ability to create new tools, because the so-called genetic markers have preprogrammed all the possible tools.

How the Cartesian Divide Impacts Immunology

The Cartesian divide explicitly removes from the study of matter the mental capacity for solving problems by recognition of the problem and the adaptation of the tools to solve it. The real meaning of the mind-body divide is that matter cannot have recognition and adaptation.

Now the fact that the immune system has cognitive and adaptive capacities must be paradigmatically outside the study of matter. At least, it requires additional capacities of recognition and adaptation, which cannot in principle be reduced to matter, and without those capacities, there is no immunity. All immunity now reduces to vaccination—you must be given what you don’t have through an injection.

The problem is that the number of potential diseases is infinite. How many times, and for what things, must you be injected? Why does the body not have the capacity for recognition and adaptation, when even by evolutionary accounts, this presents a far greater evolutionary advantage? But the issue is that we don’t know how to reduce adaptation and recognition to molecules. While we can see that all immune systems are capable of handling millions of disease variants, they do fail sometimes. Why they fail is erroneously attributed to a missing tool, ignoring the fact that in other cases of disease resistance, a combination of tools is used, and in some cases, entirely new tools are created in real-time.

The genetic dogma now says: Let’s inject the tools into the system, to help it solve a new problem. Thus, the fundamental questions about the cognitive and adaptive nature of the immune system are neglected. The fact that we don’t have the capability to understand these are seldom recognized.

The Vaiśeṣika Description of Matter

I will now turn to summarize the Vaiśeṣika understanding of material interactions. For those who don’t know, the Vaiśeṣika system is the Vedic philosophical system that describes the nature of atoms.

Without getting into too much detail (I’m writing a commentary on the Vaiśeṣika Sutras, which should be out sometime later this year), the Vaiśeṣika process comprises of the following four steps:

  • Matter exists in a state of potentiality, and everything that exists potentially is not always visible. It rather becomes visible when that potentiality is subjected to a problem.
  • Material objects interact with other objects to create a “knowledge” of the external reality within themselves. A picture of the external world is produced internally by an interaction.
  • Once the external reality is pictured within, it is sometimes recognized as a problem. This problem is called the “absence” (or something is missing). It is a state begging for a solution.
  • Once the problem is created within, one of the many states from the states of preexisting potentialities is selected as a solution. This selection of potentiality becomes an “activity”.

The first step of these four steps is recognized in modern atomic theory, where matter is said to exist as potentials. But how that potential “collapses” into reality is unknown. Vaiśeṣika answers that question: The potential collapses into a solution when it is subjected to a problem. Then, the potential is the solution to a problem. If the problem doesn’t arise, then the potential remains a potentiality.

However, this solution to the quantum measurement problem also requires us to understand how the external world is “represented” inside as “knowledge”, and how that “knowledge” is then recognized as a “problem”, and how that problem then selects a preexisting tool from the toolkit of potential answers to produce an “activity”. All these require us to treat matter as meaning—and therefore mind-like—rather than matter in a Cartesian sense. If we cannot treat matter in that way, we can never solve the collapse problem. And if we cannot solve that problem, then everything seems to occur randomly.

The difference between Vaiśeṣika and modern materialism is subtle but important. In materialism, matter acts according to force—which applies to all things, everywhere, all the time. In Vaiśeṣika, matter acts depending on a problem—which applies if the problem appears, selectively in relation to that problem, only where the problem exists, and only when the problem appears. In simple terms, in Vaiśeṣika, matter is already “intelligent”—adaptive, cognitive, and responsive to problems.

The Application of Vaiśeṣika to Problems of Immunity

Now, we can use this basic understanding of Vaiśeṣika to understand its application to immunity.

  • Immunity exists in everyone as a potentiality. What that potential is, is not always visible because that potentiality has not yet been subjected to a question or a problem.
  • When a disease enters a body—say a virus or bacteria—the cell creates an information representation or “knowledge” of the world internally. This is a picture of reality.
  • This “knowledge” is now processed to determine that there is a problem. This problem now creates an “absence” which is the preliminary step to solving the problem.
  • The problem or “absence” scans and interacts with the preexisting potentiality to identify a solution. That potential is activated and that is when potentiality becomes “activity”.

Thus, to understand immunity, we should use a different language comprising of words such as potentiality, knowledge, problem, and activity. We cannot superimpose this language on the world of atoms and molecules, because an atom is never knowledge, problem, or solution. It is sometimes a possibility, and then a reality. The mechanism of “collapse” of possibility to reality is absent because the mechanism requires knowledge representation, problem recognition, and solution selection, which can never be attained through the physical properties. It requires matter to be semantic.

The Truth in Immunology and Its Limitations

Since immunity exists as a potentiality, it is quite possible that different individuals have different potentials. When a person is injected with a vaccine, it is the injection of new knowledge into the system, which then alters the potentiality, which then lies dormant unless a new disease appears. Thus, immunization has a basis even if we accept the Vaiśeṣika principles—it adds knowledge to the system.

But this doesn’t end the discourse. There are three other questions. First, why could this knowledge not have been acquired through other means? Or, more precisely, why does it exist in some individuals and not in others? Second, why could it not have been derived from preexisting knowledge? Surely, the novelty in a new disease is very small; the commonalities with the other diseases are huge. Third, why could a set of preexisting tools not be adapted for application to the new problem? Sure, they may be slightly more complex and slower, but are they really so novel to resist any existing solution?

Immunology ignores these questions and settles quickly on identifying a vaccine. This has more to do with the business models of medicine than with the understanding of biology and medication.

Classical systems of medicine have always focused on the three questions not addressed by immunology. For example, if person X has immunity against disease and Y doesn’t, then what were the key differences in the X’s lifestyle, food habits, mental states, and other such factors, compared to Y? By identifying these differences, they are also able to prescribe cures, in which knowledge is injected into a system, but that knowledge is generic in nature, rather than specific to a particular disease.

Just like by acquiring an understanding of some natural theory, we are able to solve a wide variety of problems, but if you are given a complicated machine, you can solve a fewer number of problems.

The difference in knowledge is with regard to its nature—abstract and general vs. detailed and specific. The classical systems of medicine focus on providing abstract and general information, which is then combined with the preexisting information to produce adequate responses to a wide variety of immune problems. The modern systems of medicine focus on providing detailed and specific information, which is then used to solve a very specific problem, which proves ineffective for other cases. Indeed, in some cases, it might interact with other knowledge, and destroy the immunity for other diseases.

Classical Medicine is Based on Qualities

Classical medicine studied matter as qualities. These qualities were described in terms of their taste, smell, touch, color, form, etc. When a disease was identified, it was traced to the absence of a certain quality, which was compensated by the consumption of different foods and natural herbs. These foods and herbs then created the missing quality. In short, immunization was replaced by food and herbs as the source of missing information or qualities due to a person’s differing lifestyle, habits, etc.

Once these qualities were naturally acquired and assimilated, they acted as abstract information, which can be used to solve a wide variety of problems, not limited to that specific disease. Since that knowledge has now disappeared, and the study of matter is based on physical quantities rather than perceptual qualities, therefore, the scientific basis of classical medicine has also declined. It is not extinct, however. Its application requires the revival of a qualitative study of matter.

Should You Vaccinate or Not?

I’m sure many of you might be eager to jump to an answer to some practical things you can do. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question, because there is no comparative study of people who had immunity and who had not, and the differences between lifestyle, food habits, and mental states between these two groups. Without that comparative study—which is quickly preempted in favor of immunization—there is not enough data to identify the correct classical medicine.

So, I cannot provide you an answer regarding vaccination, one way or another. But I can tell you what the problem is, why it arises due to the dogmas of modern science, which then incarnate in medicine, what their solution is, and how that solution differs from the currently prevalent solutions. That recipe for solving problems is also knowledge, but it must be cooked in practice before you can consume it.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "How Vaiśeṣika Explains the Immune System," in Shabda Journal, May 6, 2021,