The Laws of Nature in Vedic Philosophy

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Laws in Western and Vedic Thinking

Modern science uses two kinds of laws—these are called “conservation laws” and “predictive laws”. A conservation law states what cannot happen, and a predictive law states what must happen. For example, the law of conservation of energy says that if two particles collide then the sum of their energies cannot increase or decrease. The conservation of energy law doesn’t say what the individual particle energies will be after the collision—for instance, the particles could split or merge, and because that splitting and merging cannot be predicted, therefore, the conservation law itself doesn’t predict what will happen. To make that prediction, another type of predictive law is required.

I will use this article to discuss why Vedic philosophy doesn’t list any conservation or predictive laws, although there are such laws. All these laws however reduce to a single law called “duality” in Vedic philosophy. How that reduction of infinite laws to one law occurs can be quite illustrative.

Two Kinds of Natural Laws

Let’s begin with the problem of mathematical laws. The basic question is: Who computes these laws? Where are they computed? And how are they being computed? Most people find this a little confusing. They think that if we do 2 + 2, then the result is always 4, and it doesn’t require a computation. But that’s because they are thinking in terms of conservation laws. If something is conserved, then the conservation property itself requires that 2 + 2 = 4, without a computation. However, that is certainly not the case with predictive laws. When two particles collide, they could merge, split, and acquire different energies. Which of these energy distributions will occur?

In Newton’s physics, for example, there are three conservation laws—those of the conservation of energy, momentum, and angular momentum. And there is one predictive law—the Gravitational law. The conservation laws say what cannot happen, and the predictive law says what will happen.

While conservation laws involve simple arithmetic addition and subtraction, the predictive laws require the complexity of differential equations, apart from all the arithmetic complexity itself. Arithmetic has been known for thousands of years, but that itself did not lead to science. Modern science began with Newton when he invented calculus or differential equations. But his physics also defined the above noted three conservation laws by defining the nature of space and time within which science will be conducted. The conservation of momentum is the byproduct of the homogeneity of space, the conservation of energy is the byproduct of the homogeneity of time, and the conservation of angular momentum is the byproduct of the isotropicity of space. In short, the conservation laws are due to the nature of space and time in which science is conducted, and predictive laws define trajectories in space and time. Again, you can see why you need two kinds of laws—you need a space and time, and you need trajectories in this space and time. The former defines what cannot happen in nature, and the latter defines what will happen in nature.

As science progressed after Newton, new kinds of conservation and predictive laws were invented. Each time, science needed a new kind of space, time, and some differential equation for that space and time. That space and time would define what cannot happen, and the differential equation will predict what will happen.

In principle, these two kinds of laws are fungible. That is, you can (generally) reduce parts of some predictive law (that chooses one out of many possible outcomes) into a conservation law (formulated in some unique space). Due to this fungibility, there are many equivalent formulations of a physical theory, but the basic distinction between what will happen, and what cannot happen, never goes away. In short, we cannot reduce all predictive laws to conservation laws or vice versa. We do, however, try to reduce the number of predictive laws by creating more conservation laws—i.e., define the nature of space itself.

All these conservation laws are thereby also called the symmetries of nature, and a predictive law is called a broken symmetry. The term “symmetry of nature” derives from its Newtonian basis in which space and time are symmetric (homogeneity and isotropicity) and conservation laws are owed to that symmetry of space and time. We can equate the nature of space and time to conservation laws to symmetries. Conversely, symmetry breaking represents all the predictive laws, and the universe is said to emerge from a perfectly symmetrical state to some broken symmetry state. Why that symmetry breaks is not known, but the basic idea is that there is a state of the universe in which there is only conservation and then there is a state of the universe in which there are both conservation and prediction laws. Most of the mathematical complexity of modern science is due to the nature of symmetry breaking or the predictive laws. The conservation laws are relatively simpler.

The Problem of Computational Complexity

To illustrate by the example of Newton’s physics, suppose there are N particles in the universe. To compute the Gravitational law, we need to compute N(N-1)/2 pairwise equations. If the universe has 3 particles, then we have to compute 3 equations. If the universe has 4 particles, then we have to compute 6 equations. For 5 particles, we need to compute 10 equations. In short, the number of equations to compute always exceeds the number of particles, for any universe with greater than 3 particles. Each predictive law has some basic algorithmic complexity, which requires some minimal-sized computer to compute the result. But as the number of particles increases, the memory and time needed to compute these laws increase faster than the increase in the number of particles themselves.

In simple words, in order to compute these laws (for any universe greater than 3 particles), you need a computer far bigger than the universe. If N increases linearly, then the computational complexity increases N2. Clearly, we cannot say that the universe is computing its own laws, because the computer needed to compute such laws is far bigger than the universe. Then, where are the laws of nature being computed? If you say that perhaps there is a universal computer—far bigger than this universe—which computes the laws of this universe, then that computer needs another computer—far bigger than the computer—for it to function. Even that bigger computer needs yet another bigger computer. Thus, for a single universe to work, we need infinite computers, governed by the formula—(((((N2) 2) 2) 2) 2) 2 ….—where N is the smallest universe. Each of these computers—as they are bigger than the previous universe—also requires exponentially more energy for just a single universe to function.

This problem of the computation of mathematical laws makes any real universe impossible. Sure, in theory, some universe could exist, supported by infinite such universes, but because we cannot find the biggest universe, therefore, none of the universes can be real. The only condition in which anything can exist is if there is a self-computing universe, whose computational complexity is precisely the size of the universe (in terms of space, time, matter, and energy). Since there is no scientific theory at present in which the computational complexity of the universe is identical to the size of the universe, therefore, all the present theories of modern science are false. They exist as theoretical fictions, which can never be realized because the computational complexity of the universe according to that theory exceeds the size of the universe. In simple terms, we cannot just invent scientific theories willy-nilly. We must ensure that the scientific theory must only be as computationally complex as the size of the universe.

A larger universe could therefore have more complex laws, and a smaller universe must have simpler laws. That’s when we can say that each universe is a self-sufficient entity—it works off its own accord—and it doesn’t require anything else. There is no scientific theory today that supports a self-sufficient universe. Whether or not we believe in God, the computational complexity of scientific theories necessitates the existence of a Super Being to compute the laws of this universe. Of course, I’m not going to argue that just because modern science indicates that such a Super Being must exist, that He indeed computes, as that would burden Him with nothing more than computation. However, that kind of argument could be made in principle—just not by me. I will instead say that the universe must be self-sufficient in computing its own laws, and this self-sufficiency constitutes its own completeness.

What is completeness? It is nothing more than self-sufficiency in maintaining its own existence.

The Completeness of the Universe

This basic idea about the universe is presented in the Iśopaniśad which states—om pūrnamadaha (I have emanated from the complete), pūrnamidam (this universe is complete), pūrnāt pūrnam udachyate (from the complete emerges the complete), pūrnasya pūrnam ādaya (after the complete has emerged from the complete), pūrnam eva vaishisyate (certainly the balance is also complete).

As an aside, the term OM can refer to the self, and it can refer to the Supreme Being. Either of these translations leads to the same conclusion. Even when OM refers to the self—the “I am”—it means that I have emerged from the complete. When it refers to the Supreme Being, it means that the Complete Being emanated the Complete World. Either way, I am not complete, but the world is complete. In simple terms, each of us needs some society to live, but the universe itself is complete in itself.

For the universe to be complete, we need to rethink the laws of nature—with just one criterion in mind: The computational complexity of the universe cannot exceed the size of the universe. In short, the universe as a whole must be self-computing, although the individuals in the universe may not.

The Principle of Duality

All the laws of nature in Vedic philosophy, reduce to one principle called duality. Let’s understand the meaning of duality, and how it leads to all the laws of nature. This discussion will then help us understand how a self-computing universe is possible, and why the universe is said to be complete in Vedic philosophy. That discussion will also solve the problems of current science noted above.

Let’s begin our discussion with how duality appears as logic because logic is considered the most fundamental law, and the foundation of everything else (including all of the subsequent science).

What is logic? It is three principles called identity, mutual exclusion, and non-contradiction. The law of mutual exclusion can be stated simply: You cannot have your cake and eat it too. The law of non-contradiction can be stated similarly: You must either eat your cake or have it. And the law of identity can be stated as follows: If you have eaten your cake, then you don’t have your cake. All of these laws seem to state rather similar things, and we don’t need to get into the details of why three laws are needed. That will take us beyond the scope of the present discussion and is unnecessary.

It is however important to understand the nature of non-duality, where you can eat your cake and have it too, if you have eaten your cake, you can still have it, and you can choose to neither eat the cake nor have it. The transcendental world is called non-dual because it violates the principles of duality. In that world, people eat the cake, and the cake is not destroyed. The impersonalists cannot conceive of this type of reality. So, they say—there must not be anything called “you” and the “cake”. Rather, you and the cake must be just one thing, so the question of eating and disappearing doesn’t arise. Let’s keep that discussion also aside for the moment, as we are primarily interested in the duality of this world.

From Duality to Natural Laws

The laws of logic manifest, in the above example, into conservation laws. You could say that if you have eaten the cake, then the energy goes into your body, and the cake is transformed into bodily energy. However, the eating of the cake could just make your body very hot, rather than making it capable of work. Therefore, an additional law is required that states that eating the cake will not just make your body warm, but also give you the potential to perform some work. In short, part of the energy of the cake becomes heat, and another part becomes the capacity to do some work. Since the energy in the cake is split into two parts—heat and work—therefore, an additional law of nature is required. This law of nature is just like the predictive laws—some cake transforms into some heat and some work.

The problem is that if you think of the world as just some energy—i.e., a quantity without any quality—then you cannot derive the predictive law (of how much cake produces how much heat and work) from logic itself. Instead, for each type of quality in nature, you need additional mathematical laws that say how much cake becomes how much heat, and how much work. Science creates such laws.

The problem is that if nature has infinite qualities, then you must end up with infinite laws—that try to capture the effects of qualities into some quantitative prediction of that quality. One of the cornerstones of modern science is the idea that there are only a few quantitative properties—e.g., mass, charge, energy, momentum, angular momentum, etc. Of course, science is unable to factually reduce our perceptual qualities to such quantities. For example, you cannot reduce your taste and smell to some energy, mass, charge, or momentum. When you fail to perform this reduction, you try to add new properties, add some more laws, and try to create a more complicated mathematical theory.

The qualities of nature in Vedic philosophy are infinite—although they are produced from three fundamental qualities called the guna. But if our science neglects these qualities, and postulates some physical properties as the real properties of nature, then we need infinite properties, which need infinite laws, and that makes the computational complexity of the universe infinite. If you don’t have infinite laws, then your theories are incomplete. And if you have infinite laws, then the computational complexity of making a prediction is infinite. As science becomes more complete, it adds more laws, and the computational complexity increases. If you reduce the computational complexity, then science becomes incomplete—i.e., it cannot predict something that is happening in nature.

As an example, modern nutritionists reduce all food to calories. The problem is that they cannot predict why some calories (e.g., oil) become more heat and less work and why some calories (e.g., grains) become more work and less heat. The calorie conservation law is not a predictive law, so you need additional laws. The question is: How many additional laws? And the answer is: infinite. There must be a separate law for pizzas than for cakes; indeed, there must be unique laws for each type of pizza. This is because some pizza produces more heat and less work, while another pizza produces more work and less heat. If you don’t have infinite laws, then your predictions would always be inaccurate. Since each pizza requires so many mathematical laws to convert calories to heat and work, the computation of these laws needs much more heat and work than actually producing the useful heat and work.

Two Kinds of Laws Under Duality

The problem of computational complexity arises because nature has infinite qualities, produced from three qualities. As we try to capture these qualities into quantities, we get infinite laws. Those infinite laws require a universe far greater than the present universe. If we want to have a science in which the universe is self-sufficient, then we need to go back to duality—three qualities with the property that presence of one quality is the exclusion of the other qualities. This exclusion creates conservation laws and predictive laws—e.g., if you add one quality, then another quality disappears. The addition of which quality will cause which other quality to disappear is the predictive law. And even if some quality has disappeared, it has factually not disappeared; it has just become unmanifest. That eternity of all qualities with their occasional manifestation and unmanifestation is the conservation law.

Thus, all the laws of modern science—both prediction and conservation—reduce to just the three qualities of nature (which are called sattva, rajas, and tamas). The qualities never transform into other qualities. Rather, the qualities are hidden and manifest. For example, when you add heat, the quality of coldness is not destroyed. It is rather hidden. Since nothing is destroyed, therefore, everything is always conserved, and you don’t need a set of conservation laws. Or, rather, this conservation law is simply stated as the eternity of the Prakriti. You still need predictive laws, and that law can be summarized as the principle of duality—if quality X appears, then some quality Y will disappear. Why? The answer is logic. Logic requires that mutually opposed qualities cannot exist simultaneously. Logic (when based on qualities) also indicates that when quality X begins to dominate, then the quality Y begins to be subordinated.

The conclusion is that the conservation laws simply reduce to the eternity of Prakriti. And the predictive laws reduce to the duality (or mutual exclusion) of the three qualities. Now, all your conservation and predictive laws require as much complexity as there are qualities. If the universe grows larger and manifests more qualities, then the laws superficially seem to be more complex, but they are fundamentally the same. And if the universe grows smaller, and manifests fewer qualities, then the laws superficially seem simpler, but factually they are fundamentally the same laws of qualities.

The Problem of Modern Science Vis-à-Vis Qualities

The mutually opposed nature of qualities implies that nature is not fundamentally consistent. Why? Because the qualities are contradictory. Nature evolves due to inner contradictions, a process that requires a completely different way of thinking about logic, in which logic is about creating a balance between opposing contradictions and removing one side of the contradiction to reduce the conflict.

The outcome of these contradictions is that there can never be a mathematically consistent theory of reality under current logical assumptions about consistency. As you add more qualities and laws, you will find that these theories of nature are mutually contradictory, and you cannot reconcile them. And if you remove some qualities, then the theories become predictively incomplete. This leads to the fundamental conundrum of mathematics—and all of modern science—that science as a whole can never be both consistent and complete. This result is the consequence of the duality (i.e., mutual exclusiveness) of the three qualities. Similarly, the growing complexity of mathematical theories, such that the computation of scientific laws far exceeds the size of the universe, is also a consequence of the fact that three qualities combine to produce infinite qualities, which require infinite laws, and complexity.

The solution to both these problems—of consistency vs. completeness, and growing complexity beyond the universe itself—lies in the alternative view of nature where the duality of three qualities defines both logic (as duality) and matter (as three qualities). This science can be consistent and complete in the sense of being able to describe everything within a single theory. And it can be complete in the sense of computational complexity such that each universe is self-sufficient and capable of supporting itself.

Matter, Mind, and Mathematics

Modern science studies matter as devoid of meaning—i.e., the mind. And the laws of this science are supposed to be in a Platonic world, because mathematics (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4) lies in the Platonic world. But in Vedic philosophy, matter, mind, and mathematics are not separate things. Matter itself is qualities that are presently assumed to reside in the mind. And the laws of science are byproducts of the duality of the three qualities. Thus, matter is meaning, and logic is material. I use two terms to describe these two properties—semantic reality and semantic logic. It is different from modern conceptions of reality and logic because matter is itself meaning, and the logic by which it is governed is matter itself.

When concepts and logic are reduced to matter, then we don’t need a separate mind or computer thinking about the laws of nature, or computing these laws. Matter itself is thought and computation. This thought and logic is not modern science, mathematical laws, and logic. But it is conceptually far superior to that science because this science is consistent and complete, and computationally self-sufficient. All problems of modern science can be reduced to the problem of meaning and its associated logic. And the solution to these problems also lies in the nature of meaning and its logic.

Dualism and Non-Dualism

This diagnosis of the problem and its solution paves the way to a superior science. Moreover, the principle of three qualities with different kinds of logics (i.e., duality vs. non-duality) also paves the way to the understanding of the soul, God, and their relationship (which is called religion). Thus, when the mind-matter-mathematics separation is dissolved, then religion emerges out of the science itself. This new science—which is non-dualistic—can also be called “science” in the sense that it is logical, rational, and empirical. But it is still called parā-vidya because it is non-dualistic. The material science is called aparā-vidya because it is dualistic. Both sciences use three qualities, but their associated logics are different. Material logic is dualistic (i.e., mutual exclusion) and spiritual logic is non-dualistic.

Therefore, all advanced practitioners of Vedic philosophy see both these realities as being “scientific”. The mundane scientific and religious people think that matter is governed by current science and religion has no science. That contradiction leads to many problems—for instance, the spiritual truth cannot exist in the material world, the form of God cannot appear in this world, or everything in this world must be material. These are the problems of materialism, impersonalism, and voidism, but they are married to every spiritual philosophy unless duality and non-duality are understood. For example, the prohibition of the deities of the Lord, or even many forms of the Lord (which is supposed to be “monotheism”) is the result of not understanding non-duality, or how many forms can be one. This so-called monotheism appears as a contradiction to polytheism when it is assumed that there is only one kind of logic—dualistic logic. When we develop an advanced understanding, however, the spiritual reality also exists in the material world, although it follows a different—non-dualistic—logic.

In simple terms, we can say that when God appears in this world He is not “governed” by material laws. Why? Because non-duality can exist in this world. Likewise, the soul who is liberated from matter is not “governed” by material laws. Does that mean that they operate randomly and irrationally? Certainly not. They are also working with rationality, logically, but that rationality and logic are not the (mutually exclusionary) dualities of the material world. Thus, the spirit can exist in matter, but the laws of spirit don’t apply to matter, and vice versa. Since those laws are simply different kinds of (dualistic and non-dualistic) logic, some parts of this world can be governed by a dualistic logic and another part by another non-dualistic logic. That simple and elegant principle of changing the logic to change the law that governs the three qualities defines the difference between spirit and matter.

In one sense, all religious practice is meant simply to help us understand non-dualism. In another sense, all non-dualism is within the reach of a scientific understanding—if we can understand dualism first. This prospect of perfect knowledge—of this world and the other—is possible within this world because something in this world can be non-dualistic, even though the rest of the world is duality.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Laws of Nature in Vedic Philosophy," in Shabda Journal, June 29, 2021,