The Invention of Zero

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Zero and Conscious Experience

It is often said that Indians invented the zero, which then allowed the invention of negative numbers, complex numbers, and then modern mathematics and physics. The Roman numeral system (which followed the Greek system of counting) did not have zero. After all, zero represented “nothing”, which was purely conceptual but not physical. When zero is defined as nothing, then negative numbers become less than nothing. What could be less than nothing? You cannot call it “nothing” as it is more than negative numbers.

In this article, I will discuss an alternative grounding of numbers in conscious experience, where zero is the state of deep sleep, or the unconscious, from which conscious experience springs. We will discuss the meaning of positive and negative numbers in the context of conscious experience. How this alternative grounding of numbers in conscious experience leads to an alternative science will take us on a longish journey through many different concepts in Vedic philosophy.

In the end, we will return to understand how zero is not small, let alone nothing. It is so enormous that everything springs out of zero. Finally, we will discuss the relationship between nothing and falsity, an equivalence that is used in computers when 1 and 0 are called True and False, although the reasons for it are not well-understood at present.

Four Levels of Experience

If you look into the world, then you experience its presence. We generally call this the waking experience, or empirically verifiable experience. How we distinguish a dream from waking is a topic that I won’t get into right now. For the moment, we can say that we experience a presence during waking.

But you can also feel the absence of something, making it conspicuous by its absence. Such a thing has two components—a desire which appears as absence and then invokes a sensual and mental picture from our memory as the conspicuity. For example, if you remove a sofa from a place that you have gotten accustomed to seeing every day, then when you pass by that place you feel something is “missing”. You feel an absence, which then invokes a mental picture of the sofa. This mental image has no corresponding external reality. It is like a dream during the waking experience. It appears after the experience of an absence, which is triggered by a habit of seeing something in a particular place. Dreams are also triggered by absences in the mind and the senses. They could be unfulfilled fantasies fulfilled in a dream. They could be unresolved fears that trigger traumatic memories. They could be unsolved problems that you see the solution to in a dream. It may be the desire to know the future or past that is fulfilled in a dream. The essential cause of the dream is an absence.

Beyond the experience of presence (i.e., observation of the external world) and the experience of absence (i.e., some unfulfilled desire, unsolved problem, or fear that evokes an experience without an external reality) is the absence of experience—the literal “nothing”, which is felt neither as a presence nor as an absence. It is that state in which you see nothing and feel nothing. It constitutes the state of deep sleep. The experience of absence is not the absence of experience. The former is triggered by emotion and the latter is deep sleep.

Finally, there is the presence of experience which we call “being aware”, or the awareness of having an experience, or knowing that I know something. It is what we call self-consciousness, or “I know that I exist as a knower”.

  • The presence of experience
    • Self-awareness, parā in Sāñkhya and turīya in Yoga
  • The absence of experience
    • Deep sleep, paśyanti in Sāñkhya and suśupti in Yoga
  • The experience of absence
    • Dreaming, madhyamā in Sāñkhya and svapna in Yoga
  • The experience of presence
    • Waking, vaikharī in Sāñkhya and jāgrata in Yoga

The four-tier model of reality is a model of experience, constructed from three categories of awareness, presence, and absence. That “awareness” is a relation to a presence or absence. The absence is an emotional reality and the presence is a cognitive reality. By the combination of three categories of emotion, relation, and cognition, we can construct these four tiers of existence.

The Causal Role of Absence

In every awareness of presence, an awareness of absence is involved. For instance, if you have two things in front of you, the reason you focus on one of them and not the other is that you “miss” one thing more than the other. That absence leads to a choice by which you prioritize one thing over another. But after a while, you miss the thing that you had previously neglected, which compels you to shift your focus to it. Thus, all experience is constructed by combining presence, absence, and awareness. We can also call these emotion, relation, and cognition; the absence is the emotion, the nature of the thing that you see is its cognition, and awareness of that cognition is a relation to it.

If you have food in front of you, the awareness moves from taste, to smell, to touch, to sight, to sound, in some non-deterministic order. If you are seeing the food, there is the absence of smell and taste, which causes you to shift your attention to it. But while tasting and smelling, you are not seeing the food, which causes you to shift your attention again to sight. All the senses can work simultaneously, but we don’t use all the senses simultaneously. We move from one percept to another because something is absent in something else.

The absence of other things in one thing is therefore the cause of change. This is the opposite of how science describes change—as the result of presence rather than absence—which then gives birth to materialism in which the present state determines the future state because you don’t choose, determine a goal, and change your focus as a result of choice. If the causal model is based on absence, then there is a choice because each thing is not many other things, and you could choose to shift attention to one of those many missing things.

A deep-seated idea in all of the modern thinking is that what doesn’t exist cannot cause a change. This idea is inverted when we speak about change being triggered by what is missing. It doesn’t mean that there is no presence. It means that the presence is incomplete. It is not something else, which triggers a desire, which pushes the awareness to something else. If nothing was missing, then the attention would never move, because what we are experiencing is complete. It satisfies us and doesn’t require us to move our attention away from it.

For instance, when someone begins chanting the names of the Lord, the mind wanders everywhere. Over time, the mind is more focused on sound because everything is present in that sound, and nothing is absent. These sounds are unlike ordinary sounds in which taste, smell, touch, and sight are missing. This is how the mind is satisfied by chanting because everything is present and nothing is absent. Finally, in the perfectional stage of chanting, the mind never wanders because that name is itself the complete truth. Everything is in the name, and nothing is absent. The mind wanders due to boredom and it stops wandering when happiness in chanting is experienced and boredom is completely destroyed. For ordinary sounds, boredom increases with repetition. But for the chanting of the mantra, the boredom reduces with repetition.

The Process of Scientific Discovery

Scientific discoveries are only very loosely based on observation and reason. Observation creates unexplained data, i.e., a problem. To explain it, we try to find a model of reality. The desire for the model is the absence in the mind, which then triggers something from the latent impressions and a picture of reality emerges. A scientist then tries to describe that picture in terms of some axioms and logic—the purported model of reality. The model of reality comes after the mental picture. The mental picture comes after the desire to explain the data. And the desire to explain the data comes after the observation. The crucial link between empirical observation and the rational model of reality involves two other things—the desire to explain the data and the latent impressions that are triggered by the desire to explain the data.

In 2019 there was a round-table conference of Nobel laureates in which they were asked: “How do you discover new things?” And the answer was: “We don’t know. Ideas just pop up in our minds, out of the blue, fully formed. Then that picture of reality is converted into a mathematical model.” New theories are not directly inspired by observation because that same observation could be explained by different models. Not all models are useful everywhere and all the time because they might be useful only for some observations. The progress of science involves a very crucial mental component in which a desire combines with a repository of latent impressions to generate a model of reality.

This process of scientific discovery is just like dreaming. We can call it imagination, creativity, speculation, and inspiration. If a scientist doesn’t have latent impressions, then he cannot get the model to explain the data. Even if he finds something that explains the data, there are other ways to explain the same data, which remain unknown because they are not latent memories.

The Present State of Science

Till the first half of the 20th century, highly creative people came to science. They had diverse latent impressions and their desire to explain the observations triggered novel models of reality. Philosophy was the handmaiden of science and thought experiments preceded many actual experiments. Scientists worried about the nature of reality and mathematics was an afterthought. But after WWII, American Pragmatism undermined philosophy and emphasized mathematics. To be a good scientist, you had to be a good mathematician. Creative people could not succeed in science if they were not mathematicians. They moved out of science, into creative pursuits like law, art, and music. Or, they dropped the idea of being a theoretician and became experimentalists.

Meanwhile, mathematicians who abhorred philosophy came to dominate science. The result was the abject poverty of imagination. Every problem had to be solved by adding dimensions, variables, constants, and equations, not by discussing whether any of these additions made any sense. The Standard Model of particle physics, for instance, was constructed by adding arbitrary constants, properties, and equations. As long as the mathematics worked, questions like “why is it like this, and not otherwise” were totally irrelevant. Then came String Theory in which the focus on mathematics was disconnected even from experimental verification, let alone philosophy. What could be discussed in ordinary language and found in ordinary experience was not a source of inspiration unless it was backed by a mathematical equation. Even if you presented a theory based on ordinary intuitions, those who read your work would disregard the intuitions to exclusively focus on mathematics. Those who wanted to discuss fundamental issues in science were pushed out of science into the “philosophy” department. If they overstepped their charter, then the “scientists” would ridicule them as “philosophers” and “pseudo-scientists”.

By this progressive dereliction of the creative process, science has lost creative people. Children who excel in mathematics get a degree in science and then jump into the banking and financial industry because they know (a) it pays more, (b) they are still doing mathematics, and (c) the process is still adding arbitrary dimensions, constants, variables, and equations to model financial markets. There is no difference between physics and the financial and banking industry because in both cases you don’t think about reality. You just need to make the correct prediction for the next month, quarter, or year.

If the present trajectory continues, then experimentalists will be replaced by robots collecting data and theoreticians will be replaced by AI algorithms. Nobody will think about the nature of reality. After all, their goal is approximate predictions, and the underlying formula is inconsequential. Therefore, if the present trajectory continues, by the time we reach the 2050s, a century of American Pragmatism would have replaced scientists with robots and algorithms. Robots and algorithms will then “teach” science to other robots. This is of course cheaper and no worse than what science is doing today.

The Meaning of Science

All our experiences are qualitative—from sense perception qualities like taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight, to concepts like table and chair, to judgments of truth, right, and good, to the feeling of happiness and unhappiness, the associated sense of proximity and distance as near and far, and the attraction or revulsion that establishes a relation to the world in a perspective.

All these qualities are mutually defined and conceptually inseparable. There is no justification for modeling the world as separable objects, counted by numbers, changed by forces, and modeled according to some mathematical equations. And yet, the science of separate objects, measured by instruments, counted by numbers, changed by forces, and predicted by mathematical equations arises if (a) there is a desire for individualism, objectification, separability, forcible control, and pursuit of power (b) latent impressions of models exist axiomatically in the memory. If such desires and/or impressions did not exist, then the model explaining observations would also be different.

If we have the correct model of scientific discovery, namely that it involves (1) observation, (2) a desire to explain it in a certain preferred way, (3) a latent repository of impressions conforming to the preferred method of explanation, and (4) the recognition that the model appears suddenly based on the desire and the latent impressions, then we will not insist that there is only one kind of science. Rather, the current model of science would be contingent upon (a) our desire to explain the observation using separated objects, described using numbers, controlled by forces, and (b) the latent impressions of separation, quantification, and forcefulness. If our desire and impressions change, the model of reality will change with the same observations. Such a science will be empirical (because it uses observations) and rational (because it uses an alternative model of reality) but it would not be current science.

“Science” is a common noun, that means “reason and observation”. It is not a proper noun in which reason equals mathematics and observation equals instrument measurement. Most people, however, reduce the common noun to a proper noun. In their vision, there is only one kind of science that the West envisioned at the dawn of Enlightenment, and everything else is unscientific pseudo-science. That equality is the result of neglecting the process of scientific discovery and removing the subjective aspects—i.e., preference for some models and latent impressions of those models—from the process of scientific discovery and retaining only objective aspects—i.e., equations and data.

Classification of Mentalities

There are many types of scientific models, which can be classified into six broad categories if we understand the classifications of mental desires, thoughts, and activities. We have to psychoanalyze scientists to divide their theories, ideas, and models into different kinds of mentalities. There is no universal science because the mentality of people is not universal. However, in so far as there are better and worse mentalities, there can be better and worse sciences.

I described these six categories of mentalities in an earlier article—force, profit, duty, self-absorption, respect, and love—in the context of dharma. Dharma is our natural attraction and desire, the ideas or models we apply to ourselves and things in the world, and how we use them to organize a society. I sometimes call these three cognitions, emotions, and relations. For instance, the dharma of a warrior (i.e., desire and proclivity) is to be aggressive, the dharma of a warrior (i.e., duty) is to protect the weak, and the dharma of a warrior (i.e., ability) is that he can be trained in weapons and warfare. When we classify dharma into mutually exclusive categories, we identify internally consistent models of reality that cut across cognitions, relations, and emotions, or natural sciences, social sciences, and mind sciences. The same approach is used for nature, society, and persons to be internally consistent. With that brief background, I will now turn to summarize these six categories previously discussed.

Six Models of Reality

The person with the desire for domination invokes latent impressions of control to create a scientific model of objectification, separation, quantification, force, and mathematical laws to exploit nature. He organizes society based on the exploitation of people and resources and considers this ideology of coercion, domination, power, and supremacy, the natural way of reality.

Conversely, a person with the desire and impressions of rights, fairness, and equality, invokes latent impressions of mutually beneficial transactions to create a model of reality in which everything works for its self-interest, but with fairness and equality, without disregarding the benefits, rights, and interests of others, and without exerting force, power, coercion, or supremacy over others.

A person with the desire and impressions of dutifulness sacrifices notions of personal rights and supersedes them with the mandate of duties. Such a person sacrifices their personal benefits in order to fulfill their responsibilities. When this is a model of reality, then everything works in an orderly manner not out of force, and not for personal rights and profits, but simply because it is one’s duty.

Similarly, there are transcendent models of reality based on self-absorption (in which there are no laws, no rights or duties because everything is free, egalitarian, self-reliant, and self-sufficient), respect (in which there are no rights and duties, there is complete freedom and self-reliance, and yet, the order in the world and society is created out of respect for others), and love (in which the affection for others takes precedence over any former preoccupation with freedom, egalitarianism, or self-absorption, although there are still no mandates of duty, desires or rights for profits, or obedience to forceful laws).

The Manifestation of Reality

The dharma of love includes the best aspects of the other five types of dharma while disregarding their worst aspects. For instance, the best aspect of force—ensuring someone’s happiness—exists in love, but the worst aspect of exploitation is absent. The best aspect of rights—as the authority over the loved one to ensure their happiness—exists in love, but the worst aspect of entitlement is absent. The best aspect of duty—sacrifice for the other person—exists in love, but the worst aspect of not going beyond the call of duty is absent. The best aspect of self-absorption—being self-satisfied and self-reliant—exists in love, but the worst aspect of self-centeredness is absent. The best aspect of respect—using our freedom and power to serve the respected one—exists in love, but the worst aspect of distantness is absent.

Thereby, the dharma for love is the most perfect, complete, and fundamental reality from which other realities are produced by hiding the best and revealing the worst. The process of hiding and revealing involves the addition of egotism, distantness, and separation in a person. When egotism is added to love, then the distance of respect is created. When egotism is added to respect, then the isolation of self-absorption is created. When egotism is added to self-absorption, then the defiance of sacrifice in duty is created. When egotism is added to duty, then the entitlement to personal rights is created. When egotism is added to rights, then the coercive force of exploitation is created. Thereby, the most fundamental reality is love. But when egotism is added to it progressively, then five different kinds of realities are successively produced.

Most of the above are straightforward, but the idea that duties involve the ego needs some discussion. A trivial example is that when a couple fights, then the person who feels hurt suddenly starts cleaning the closet, washing the dishes, mopping the floor, cooking the meal, or taking extra care of the kids, which they would not do otherwise, just to make their partner feel guilty about not doing enough. Their accidental busyness is meant to demonstrate how dutiful and responsible they are in contrast to their partner. They don’t want to abandon the relationship but they want acknowledgment. Their demonstration of dutifulness is an act of defiance demanding their place under the sun.

Similarly, if a person does not want to go beyond the call of their duty, they will generally say “I am just doing my duty”. The egotism of duty is the boundaries on what a person will and will not do. Generally, most people can go beyond the call of their duty, not necessarily for profit, but to help others. That help is a mark of concern, respect, camaraderie, or affection for the other person. Therefore, if a person takes shelter of their duty to not go beyond the call of duty, they reveal a lack of concern, respect, camaraderie, or affection for the other person. “I will do just what I am required to do and no more” is ego.

When the ego is progressively removed, then one progresses through six steps from an ideology of force to profit, duty, self-absorption, respect, and love. When the ego is progressively added, then one regresses from the ideology of love to that of respect, self-absorption, duty, profit, and force. The ideology of love is the highest, and that of force is the lowest, defined by the quality of happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment. The ideology of force is hidden in the world of love, and the ideology of love is hidden in the world of force. Thus, these worlds are distinct, but they are not totally separate, because what is hidden also exists, although remains invisible or unmanifest. Hence, the correct statement is that these worlds are distinct but mutually inseparable.

Revelation and Hiding

The process of revelation is described in a preliminary form by identifying two categories called Brahman and māyā. Brahman is the fundamental, complete, and perfect truth, and māyā—which means “that which is not”—is the agency of hiding. When some aspect of the complete truth is hidden, then another aspect is revealed. Since something is always revealed by hiding something else, therefore, māyā is also sometimes described as an agency for revelation. Generally, māyā is described as the agency of revelation when an inferior aspect is hidden and a superior aspect is revealed. Conversely, māyā is described as hiding when a superior aspect is hidden and an inferior aspect is revealed.

This dual aspect of māyā can be understood through the problem of universals. A universal, such as a “man”—is impossible to define, if we want to include all and only men in that category. For example, if we define “man” as a “two-legged animal” (as Aristotle did), then the man who has lost one leg in a war would no longer be a man, while penguins would be deemed men. If we enhance the definition to “an intelligent two-legged animal”, then dumb humans would be excluded from humanity and intelligent penguins would be included in humanity. Every definition of “man” is either too broad or too narrow and sometimes both—it is too narrow in one way and too broad in another way.

Socrates demonstrated this problem of universals by debating with Greeks at street corners. He showed that whatever definition they came up with, was problematic. Socrates was then put to death on the charge of “corrupting the youth”. But the problem did not disappear with the death of Socrates.

Plato, who succeeded Socrates, then devised a clever scheme in which there is a world of “pure forms” in which an “ideal man” exists, and men on earth are but poor reflections of that ideality—i.e., they are less- than-ideal men. For instance, a man who has lost one leg in a war is a non-ideal man. The ingenuity of this scheme is that you can add numerous attributes to define an ideal man—e.g., the capacity to play tennis, write books, perform in an orchestra, lead a government, and so on—to preclude penguins, horses, birds, trees, and fishes from the definition of man. The definition of man is now very narrow, and most men would be precluded from the notion of an ideal man. To bring all these excluded men back to manliness, you can call them non-ideal men. Plato’s ingenuity is that the word “man” means an “ideal man”, and by adding “non-ideal” to “man” you can describe ordinary men. Just like a black table is also a table, similarly, a non-ideal man is still a man, although not an ideal man. Non-ideality is therefore an additional trait that hides some aspect of the ideal man to produce a non-ideal man world. Penguins and horses can be excluded from “man” while men with one leg and of less intelligence are included.

The problem with Platonism is that there is no clear definition of which aspects of an ideal man can be hidden, and to which extent, before a man becomes a penguin. If an ideal man is defined by some traits, and we remove those traits one by one, at what point of removal do we say—”we have crossed over from the domain of non-ideal men into that of non-ideal penguins”? We can try solving this problem by defining some “essential traits of manliness” without which someone will not be a man. While the ideal man is the largest superset of manly traits, the essential man would be the smallest subset of necessary traits for manliness. Obviously, a man’s hands and legs would be excluded from the definition of the essential man. Likewise, oratory, leadership, or athleticism could be inessential. If you ponder this problem sufficiently, you will realize that there is no universal definition of essential traits. What people consider the smallest subset of manly traits to identify someone as a man, changes with time, place, and situation. Some people might say that the essential trait for manliness is the XY chromosomes. Others might require men to be responsible and hardworking. We can also define classes of men—e.g., intellectuals, warriors, businessmen, and workers—with different traits included or excluded from manliness, thus undermining the very notion of essential manliness.

This problem can only be solved by saying that the “ideal man” is a fundamental concept and not a concept constructed by adding or removing traits that are then considered more fundamental than the “ideal man”. The traits that qualify a man—e.g., a “tall man”—are removals from the “ideal man”, rather than the “man” being a sum of traits like tallness. By adding more traits, we hide some aspects of an ideal man. Thus, the ideal man is of an ideal height, while “short man” and “tall man” are non-ideal qualifiers of the “ideal man”.

Platonism fails if we make height and weight fundamental concepts, and “ideal man” as a derived concept produced by aggregating height and weight—because even if we can define an ideal man as the superset of traits, we cannot define the smallest subset of traits to preclude non-men. Platonism can be successful only if “man” is a fundamental concept, and height and weight are derived concepts.

Therefore, Vedic philosophy states that Brahman is the “ideal person”, and māyā is the qualifier of Brahman that hides aspects of Brahman. We cannot construct a “person” from traits like height, weight, color, and so on. If we try, then we will not have a way to determine non-person. However, if the “ideal person” is a fundamental concept, then we can hide aspects of that ideality to speak about a “tall person” and a “short person”. Now, everything would be a person, because everything is a qualifier of the ideal or complete person. Traits like height and weight would merely be aspects of the ideal man, rather than fundamental traits that construct a person. The claim that traits construct a person is impersonalism. But the claim that traits are aspects of a person is personalism and properties like height and weight have no fundamental reality. They are less real compared to the ideal person, which is the fundamental concept, and height and weight are merely aspects of that person.

Now we have solved all the problems of Platonism—(a) there is a complete and ideal man, (b) this complete man is not constructed by aggregating traits, (c) a non-ideal man may lack nearly all the traits of an ideal man, but he would still be a man if he is derived from the ideal man by hiding his traits, (d) we don’t need to define an essential man to delimit men, (e) we rely on knowing what a given creature was derived from to know if he is a man or a penguin, (f) the source of that derivation becomes the essential man immanent in men although many of manly qualities may be hidden, (g) men and penguin are partial aspects of the complete person, (h) all concepts in the Platonic world are not equally fundamental, (i) only two concepts—Brahman and māyā—are fundamental, and (j) everything else is a derived concept.

The Nature of Whole and Part

When we think of aspects of something, we think in terms of whole and part, generally influenced by reductionism in which there is no whole other than the parts. The anti-reductionist idea in which the whole is the fundamental concept and the parts are derived concepts, mandates a reversal in which the whole truth is also an aspect of the truth, that is logically prior to all the other aspects.

We can explicate this through examples. The whole elephant is the fundamental concept, and its trunk, tail, stomach, legs, and ears are derived concepts. The five blind men see the five parts, but the sixth visionary man sees the whole elephant, although, while seeing the whole elephant, his attention is withdrawn from the details about the trunk, tail, stomach, legs, and ears. By the fact that the visionary man doesn’t see what the blind men see, he too is in some sense “blind” although he sees the whole truth. Thus, if the whole of Brahman is seen, then the partial products created by māyā would not be seen. The vision created by māyā is seen by blind men. By the fact that the vision created by māyā is hidden, there is a sense in which the whole truth is one aspect of the truth.

This principle is described succinctly by emphasizing both “God and His energies”. God is complete truth, and His energies (all described as māyā) are partial truths. If God is seen, then the material world disappears from the vision. The complete vision, therefore, is that of seeing the world in God because it is like seeing the elephant along with all its parts. By that vision, the world is a part of God, and present in God. However, God is not reduced if we don’t see the world. The limitation is therefore in our vision and not in God.

Likewise, the whole forest is a fundamental concept, and the trees with leaves on them are derived concepts. The visionary man sees the whole forest, but not the leaves in them. The blind men see the veins on the individual leaves, but not the whole forest. Thereby, the whole forest is one aspect of the truth, just like the veins on the leaves. And yet, they are not equal to each other. Rather, some aspects are superior, greater, bigger, and prior to the other inferior, lower, smaller, and later aspects. Thereby, when māyā reveals the complete Brahman, the vision is that of the whole truth. When māyā reveals a partial aspect of Brahman, the vision is a partial truth. When māyā hides Brahman completely, then there is no vision of the truth. Hence, the whole vision, partial vision, and no vision are aspects of the complete truth, produced by māyā hiding and revealing Brahman in many different ways (for different observers).

Seer, Seen, and Seeing

Once we demarcate the whole truth from the partial vision of the truth created by māyā, then the next question is: Who is having the vision? Flawed answers to this question have led to 1200 years of debate in Vedanta philosophy. The most flawed answer in Advaita is that Brahman is the seer and māyā is the seen. The correct answer is that everything can be a seer, seeing, and seen, but not at once. Seer, seeing, and seen are potentials that are converted into a reality alternately due to time or due to choice (cosmic time is also a cosmic choice).

Thus, we are seers, and we can see, but we can also be seen. You might see a table, and think it is an “inert object”. That will make you the seer and the table the seen. But the table is also a seer that is seeing you to convert you into a seen. If you walk naked in a room thinking that nobody is seeing you, the room and other things in it are seeing you, although you may not know that.

The difference between the table and you is that the table is predominantly in the seen mode, while you are equally in the seer, seeing, and seen modes. But if you become a rockstar to perform on a stage, then you would also be predominantly in the seen mode, while the seeing and seer modes will decline significantly. By being a rockstar, you become an “object” like a table—mostly seen, but not much capable of seeing or being a seer. Thereby, a rockstar loses his sense of self and is disconnected from reality, because he is too busy being the seen, which then reduces the occasions on which he is the seer and seeing.

Objectivity and personhood are therefore two logical extremes on a spectrum of the seer, seeing, and seen. An object is that which is seen but is mostly not seeing and a seer. A person is that which is a seer, is seeing, and is being seen almost equally. But if someone decorates their body provocatively or does outlandish things to draw attention to themselves, they are seen prominently, but lose the seer and seeing modes of existence. They might be popular, but they forget who they are, and lose touch with the reality around them.

Therefore, when materialism rises, everything—including the seers who can be seeing—is objectified as the seen. To recover from the illness of materialism, a person is advised to detach from the world and stop seeing and being the seen. Instead, they must introspect and meditate to realize that they are the seers. When the seer mode becomes predominant, then they can also start seeing and being seen. But they know that they are distinct from the seen, and they can then see reality correctly. Withdrawing from the world is therefore one of the processes for seeing the world correctly—in contrast to materialism. For instance, if you are struggling with a problem, then withdrawing from it for a short while before returning to it generally quickens its solution. Thereby, what you are not seeing often becomes self-evident by withdrawing from it.

Thereby, Brahman and māyā are not separate things; they are rather the seen and seeing modes of the same reality. Likewise, when Brahman enters into the seer mode, then it is called the ātmā, or the self, in which the seer, seeing, and seen are merged in the experience of self-awareness by self-absorption. When self-absorption disappears, then seer, seeing, and seen are separated, and the same thing can alternately be the seer, seeing, and seen. Brahman, māyā, and the ātmā are thus separated by ending self-absorption. But once they are separated, they don’t lose the seer, seeing, and seen modalities. They can instead shift from one modality to another to see, be seen, or be a seer.

The Lawfulness of Reality

The process of “seeing” is constraining the seen to fit into the seer. As we have discussed, someone might want to see the world as separated objects, moved by forces, known by measurement, while another person may see that the same world is inextricably bound by love, moved by love, and known by love. Therefore, “seeing” is not one kind of thing; it can be divided into six different broad categories. By the different types of seeing, the same thing would be seen differently. The seer is the choice of the type of seeing, which then becomes the choice of the seen (as a part of the complete truth that could be seen). Thereby, if your method of seeing is force, separation, and measurement then you will be excluded from contact with loving people. But if your method of seeing is love, then you will be excluded from contact with materialistic people.

This is the basic “law of nature”—the type of seer, seeing, and seen are matched to (a) let them see what it is to be on the other side of the seer-seeing-seen equation, and (b) let them choose if they want to find a different seen, by adopting a different method of seeing, and being a different kind of seer.

The first part of this “law” is called responsibility or tit-for-tat, the second part is called choice, and to make alternative choices, there is the third part of the possibility of alternative realities. Thus, we can summarize everything in three words—possibility, choice, and responsibility. There are many possible worlds. You can choose to be in the world you like by picking a method of seeing. But if your choices change and differ from that world’s ideology, then you will be moved into the world most adapted to your ideology where you can be among the people who are just like you, and who will treat you just as you treat others.

If you think that the world is random, then you will be moved into a place of lawlessness. Some days you will get electricity and water, and on other days not. Some months you will get a salary, and in other months not. On some days your behavior will be rewarded and on other days the same behavior will be punished. Exhausted by this randomness, you might say: “I want a lawful and ordered world” or “the world should be ordered”. And then you will be moved into such a place, provided you deserve to be in a better world. If you break the order in the better world, then you will be back to the disordered world where your ideology will be rewarded by bringing you face to face with it.

Thus, there is no contradiction between lawfulness, choice, and lawlessness. It is not that every world is perfectly lawful, organized, and ordered. However, the process of moving a person into a lawless world is lawful. Similarly, there is no contradiction between choice, possibility, and reality. Reality is all that is possible. You can choose that part of reality governed by the type of ideology that you want to be governed by. You will then enter a reality governed by a different model of reality, ideally suited to the mentality of your choosing.

Factually, the person who espouses randomness does so only as long as his life is ordered. The person who espouses determinism does so only as long as he has freedom. The person who says might is right does so only as long as he has the might to fulfill his rights. The tit-for-tat law changes the situation and the advocates of randomness lose order in their life, the advocates of determinism lose freedom in their life, and the advocates of might is right lose their might and their rights. Then, unhappy due to the inability to accept what they were earlier professing, they are compelled to change their ideology.

The Epistemological Journey of Life

The experiments we do in the present world, and the laws we infer from them, are not universal. They are byproducts of our previous choices that have confined us to a world where we will experience a certain type of reality, that behaves in a certain way, based on our earlier choices. False ideologies are therefore falsified over time, in different places, for the people who hold those ideologies. Reason and observation over a narrow span of time and space do not give a person the truth. Rather, each person has to expand the times and places to get to the truth because enough times and places are required to falsify a false idea by subjecting them to the world precisely of their thinking.

The ultimate truth is that which you want to be true, and which you can accept to be true, over infinite time. A falsity is that which you will not want to be true over infinite time, but you might advocate it temporarily because you haven’t yet faced the world that works according to your claims. Therefore, the truth will never force itself on you. Rather, the truth will force your ideology on you. If you happen to like the world modeled after your ideas, then your life in that world will be permanent. But if you dislike living in a world modeled precisely after your ideology, then your life in that world will be temporary, because you insist on calling your previous claims false and dream of a better world.

I say these things because people ask me: “Why do you believe in X?” The simple answer is: “I like it”. And I know that it is the only thing that you will like after you have faced the world modeled after your ideas. For example, some people enjoy power and prosperity by exploiting others. They advocate hyper-individualism until they are exploited in the same way. Reason and observation do not always lead to the truth because the exploiters and the exploited people don’t have the same observations. They use different reasons to explain their different observations. To arrive at a common understanding of truth, one has to face the world of their own making. They have to be the seer of what they have created as the seen for others. When they have the same experience, then they will have the same reasoning, and then they will arrive at the same conclusion—namely, love and respect are better than force and profit.

The law of nature is identical to the epistemological journey of life by which you accept the truth. It is ultimately your choice, but the law of nature will make you realize the best choice by subjecting you to a reality based on your mentality, whereupon you will reject the inferior ideas. Observation and reason are neither necessary nor sufficient if we look at a subset of space and time events. They are necessary and sufficient if we look at all places, times, and events.

The material world is not necessarily opposed to the spiritual world because everyone can live by the ideology of love and respect even in the material world. But the material world is considered opposed to the spiritual world because most of the jīvā in this world have the ideology of force and profit. The birds of the same feather are flocked together, by the tit-for-tat law. Those who improve their mentality escape to a better world. Therefore, over time, only those who retain their inferior mentality are left to live with others of the same mentality. The popularity of that mentality doesn’t mean it is true because everyone will deem it false after they have faced it. The truth is only that which you will not deem false after you have faced its consequences. If you love to live with the birds of your feather over infinite time, then that feather is itself the truth.

Varied Laws of Change

The six ideologies of force, profit, duty, self-awareness, respect, and love must be applied to the laws of epistemological change themselves. For instance, the person with the ideology of force will be forced by subjugation to change his mentality to that of profit. The person under the ideology of profit will be motivated by profit to change his mentality to that of duty. The person under the ideology of duty will be motivated by duty to change his mentality to that of self-realization. The person under the ideology of self-realization will see greater self-realization in the mentality of respecting others. A person with the ideology of respect will find greater respect for others in the mentality of loving others.

Thus, a mentality is an upward and downward ladder to a better or worse mentality. If one likes a mentality, one rises upward. If they dislike a mentality, they fall downward. The mentality is cognition, the like or dislike is emotion, and the upward or downward change is a relation. Thus, one can slowly fall from love to respect to self-absorption to duty to profit to force, or they can progressively rise upward. We can also leapfrog some mentalities. All these upwards and downward trajectories are simply potential paths. The best path is that which leapfrogs a person from the lowest to the highest. But it is not the only path. Nor is the best path necessarily contradictory to other upward paths.

Change is not necessarily forced. Change can also be motivated by the desire for profit, duty, self-realization, respect, and love. The laws of force, coercion, separation, objectification, quantification, measurement, and determinism apply only to those under this mentality, by placing them with others of the same mentality. For those with a better mentality, the world changes.

A person can be motivated to change for profit. Then they can realize that instead of searching for profit, there is greater profit in doing one’s duty and not thinking about profit. Then they can realize that the greatest duty is to know oneself. Then they can realize that knowing oneself is incomplete and restricted without knowing and understanding persons with greater self-realization. Finally, they can realize that we cannot know the better person completely without loving and serving them. This is the meaning of progressive realization, progressive path, progressive life, and progressive truth. As one progresses, the underlying causality of change, the laws of change, and the nature of the experienced reality themselves change. Each type of mentality and reality is governed by a different model of causality and hence a lawfulness of change.

Numbers and Experience

This long journey about the four tiers of experience, the process of scientific discovery, how it is influenced by our desires and ideologies and can be classified into six categories, how six categories are created from one by adding egotism, which hides the best reality to reveal the worst reality, how one can reverse the path from the worst to the best reality, why there are multiple upward and downward paths, and why they involve different types of causation and lawfulness, was important to make one point—if we base numbers on experience, then we will produce a completely different conception of reality, the idea of space and world, move from one place to another, and laws.

People enamored by numbers, geometry, quantification, measurement, and determinism think that there is only one idea of number and if we lost that idea then we will not have science. This is not true. An alternative idea of numbers rooted in experience will create an alternative idea of science. With that background, I will now return to the place from where we started, namely, talking about the four levels of experience—waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and self-awareness—and talk about what we mean by a positive number, negative number, zero, and the number itself in terms of conscious experience.

  • Number – the self-absorbed thing-in-itself
    • Called self-awareness, turīya, and parā
  • Zero – the unconscious ideology as the root of a world
    • Called deep sleep, paśyanti, and suśupti
  • Negative – desires, thoughts, and percepts
    • Called dreaming, madhyamā, and svapna
  • Positive – the external world of things
    • Called waking, vaikharī, and jāgrata

Each person is a number, an object, or a thing-in-itself. However, in their self-absorbed state, they do not know what number they are. To know oneself—namely, to know what number one is—one has to relate, contrast, and compare themselves to other numbers. The process of relating, contrasting, and sequencing begins with the acceptance of a method of distinguishing, sequencing, and identifying called a mentality. This method leads to different self-created desires, imaginations, and perceptions called dreams. Finally, these self-created dreams are either verified or falsified by the external world.

The external world, or the experience of presence, corresponds to what we call “positive numbers”; if you observe it, you get the experience of presence. The external world is what confirms or disconfirms the truthfulness, righteousness, and goodness of sensual and mental desires. The sensual and mental realm of desires is the sense of incompleteness or the experience of absence; it corresponds to what we call “negative numbers”. They select latent impressions from an unconscious realm to produce sensual and mental dreams, artistic creations, visions of the future, and scientific inventions. The unconscious realm is the absence of experience. It cannot be known although it is the cause of all dreaming. It comprises latent impressions acquired over numerous lifetimes. It can be made conscious either by external worldly triggers or the triggers of sensual and mental desires. This unconscious realm is called “zero”. Finally, beyond the unconscious realm is the jīvā trapped by the unconscious, controlled by the conscious realm of desires, and helpless against the external world of objects and changes. Each jīvā is a unique individual which means we can count the jīvā and they can be designated by some “number”.

The Enormity of Zero

Whatever people call zero, and what was deemed as “nothing” by Greeks, is huge because it constitutes the unconscious realm from which a conscious realm of dreams, creativity, and theories spring, which are then verified or refuted by the external world. This unconscious realm is a part of the broad six types of mentalities we have discussed above. It is in turn divided into three components—the chitta, guna, and karma—in Sāñkhya philosophy.

The chitta determines the theoretical models of reality. The guna determines the sensual and mental desires and what types of thoughts and sensations we will like and dislike. Karma determines the body and the world in which the person is placed, and the interrelations between the various bodies.

The unconscious is experientially nothing because the chitta, guna, and karma are separated in the unconscious. An experience is produced when parts of chitta, guna, and karma are mixed by time. Since each of these is enormous, therefore, the mixing by time produces enormous amounts of experiential variety. For instance, the same desire with a different set of impressions leads to a different percept and concept. Likewise, the same percept and concept are either validated or refuted by a different external world phenomena.

The unconscious chitta, guna, and karma are never experienced directly, but they are the origin of the experiential space, which is why we say it is the “zero” of a personal coordinate reference frame. There is also a cosmic “zero” which constitutes the origin of the entire universe, and it also has three components—niyati (everyone’s karma), prakriti (everyone’s guna), and mahattattva (everyone’s chitta). These three are also sometimes collectively called pradhāna. The universe springs out of pradhāna when the ātmā is injected into it. Essentially, the ātmā is covered by some unconscious realm, which then gives rise to a dreaming experience, which gives birth to the waking experience.

The chitta, guna, and karma are the three components from which experienced space is constructed by combination. We can compare them to the three “dimensions” of space, in a loose sense, that a point in coordinate geometry is written as a tuple {X, Y, Z} which combines different points on the dimensions. Similarly, conscious experience is {chitta, guna, karma} tuples. These tuples are parts of the complete space of chitta, guna, and karma. The jīvā—the particle—moves because every successive state is some {chitta, guna, karma} tuple.

We can contrast this idea to that of motion in classical mechanics: There is a particle as the jīvā, which has some properties as chitta, guna, and karma, which are mixed by the effect of time, and the result of mixing is the movement of the particle. Note that there is no external “force” causing the motion. The motion is the result of the particle’s own properties, namely, chitta, guna, and karma. Thereby, all the properties are not simultaneously active. Rather, as time passes, different aspects of chitta, guna, and karma are seen. But they were always there in a hidden, latent, or unmanifest form. Even when it seems that something external is pushing us, we are in that precise situation to be pushed by something external because of our chitta, guna, and karma.

The chitta, guna, and karma are the causation and the external world correlates to this cause. If we are ridiculed, then the true cause is chitta, guna, and karma, and the action of the person who ridicules us is a correlate of our experience. If we say “he humiliated me”, we attribute the cause to someone else, although he is just a correlate, not a cause.  Likewise, if we say “he praised me”, we attribute the cause to someone else, although he is just a correlate, not a cause. The result of this causal model is that even if one person did not praise or humiliate us, another person would. This is how the science of chitta, guna, and karma makes each person individually responsible for their experiences.

The mixtures produced by chitta, guna, and karma, under the influence of time, can be accepted or rejected by jīvā’s choice. For instance, even if time triggers some desire in our minds, the jīvā can dissociate from that desire and stop the production of subsequent action. This is how jīvā’s choice changes the chitta, guna, and karma, and the trajectory of the jīvā’s motion is not deterministic.

Modern science reduces the properties of a particle to position and momentum, and an external force is postulated to change these two properties. Thereby, the cause of change—i.e., the force—is external, and nobody is responsible for their actions and experience because they are deterministically pushed by forces. We also need to know all the particles in the universe, and their positions and momenta to explain and predict your trajectory, you are not responsible for what happens to you, and you have no choice in changing your path.

Therefore, “zero” is not a small thing. It is three separate “dimensions” that seem like nothing because they are separated in the unconscious state. We can say that “zero” is “space” and the jīvā is the particle that moves in that space by combining coordinate values as an effect of time. Every experience is within “zero”. However, those experiences are not simultaneously manifest. In the deep sleep state, nothing is manifest, and in the conscious state, they are manifest one by one. Time and choice are the causes of manifesting them one by one, changing the unconscious repository, or keeping it intact during deep sleep. Hence, “zero” is not a small thing; it is as big as space itself. The observed space springs out of “zero” by combining the three dimensions of “zero”.

So, did Indians invent zero? No. It is part of the timeless Sāñkhya philosophy in which “everything comes out of nothing”, although “nothing” is enormous for each person, and different for each person. It is each person’s unconscious that exists even during deep sleep and is hence called “nothing”. Nothing simply means “no thing”, which can be expanded into no percept, no concept, no judgment, no desire, no aversion, no pain, no pleasure, and no world. It is the absence of conscious experience. But it is not the absence of the person. Rather the person is in deep sleep to lose self-awareness. When he wakes up, then “everything comes out of nothing” as if it had never ceased to exist.

Alternative Ideas of Numbers

The four-tiered system of description of number, zero, negative, and positive numbers, constitutes Sāñkhya, which means “counting”. It is a description of how an individual number—unaware of what its true nature is—is covered by an unconscious property to transform it into a zero, from which negative and positive numbers expand like different values of the same number. That is, the same number changes its values, and that change is called the experience of a jīvā. These expanded values are not always observable. Rather, at every moment, the expanded experience changes, and that change is called dreaming and waking conscious experience. Over a long duration, the zero also changes, which is called the change in mentality from which a new set of dreaming and waking conscious experiences spring forth. The goal of life is to move the number out of the material realm—i.e., pradhāna—into a realm beyond it, and put it in a realm where the property of number is just that number.

For instance, if the number is 2, and the material covering is 5, then everything produced from 5 is not the nature of 2. Even if the material covering changes over time to 6, 7, 8, etc. it is still not 2. Getting out of the material covering means that 2 is covered by 2, such that there is a number two with the property of twoness. Now, two is the jīvā, and twoness is the jīvā’s body. The jīvā is the object and the body is its property. The jīvā and the body in this state become non-different. Once they are non-different, then there is no more change in the jīvā’s body, world, and relationships because they are perfectly reconciled.

Thereby, both matter and spirit are just mathematics. Every moment in life is just a change of number. But it is not the mathematics of physical quantities. It is rather mathematics in which a soul is a unique object-number, covered by a different property-number to create its temporary property relations to other property-numbers. For instance, a big object-number temporarily becomes a small property-number, and a small object-number temporarily becomes a big property-number. This change is a material experience. Similarly, a spiritual experience is that a number reveals a fractional aspect in some situation, and a different fractional aspect in another situation, without changing itself. There is hence a difference between changing the number and revealing or hiding a fraction of the number. Both look like changing numbers, and can be called “motion”, but the underlying mechanism of that motion is different.

In modern science, energy is conserved but particles are not. Whatever is not conserved is unreal. This unreality of objects leads to indeterminism in science—e.g., the same energy can be redistributed into a greater or lesser number of particles, quite like you can pour a certain amount of water into a greater or lesser number of buckets. These “buckets” are particles, and they are not conserved, but the water is conserved. This fundamental problem was used in Advaita philosophy to speak about ghatākāśh (water in an earthen pot) and mahākāśh (water itself as an ocean) to say that all the pots are temporary while the water itself is eternal. This analogy however applies to energy only in the modern scientific sense—where pots (i.e., individual body) are not conserved. It doesn’t mean that the individuality of the body is itself the individual of the jīvā. Advaita philosophy is the materialism of modern science now because energy is conserved but its distribution into particles is not. Since energy can create greater or fewer particles, hence, all particles are unreal. Accordingly, all person individuals are not real entities. They are just temporary illusions, which are not conserved, and if all the pots are broken, only water remains.

In all physical theories, a “particle” never enters the mathematical formalism. Each physical theory only speaks about the change of properties, which are not properties of a particle. A particle is only a tuple of properties like {E, P, L, S} (energy, momentum, angular momentum, and spin). Since this combination is temporary, the particle is not real, because reality is only that which is conserved. Every physical theory is thereby indeterministic and anti-realist.

When we speak about motion in Sāñkhya, the puruṣa is the particle and prakriti is the property. Both are conserved separately, and hence, both are real. The puruṣa can change its prakriti, which means that the soul can acquire a new body of properties. But because we can count the puruṣa as an eternal individual, therefore, the puruṣa has an intrinsic nature denoted by its number. Likewise, even the parts of prakriti are countable because each part is an atomic property, and all the atoms are eternally real, although they are not always manifest. Due to manifestation, energy transforms from the potential to the kinetic state, and then back from the kinetic to the potential state. Thus, Sāñkhya accepts the conservation of properties and particles, but modern science only accepts the conservation of properties. We can say that the unconscious realm is enormous amounts of potential energy and it becomes kinetic energy over time; this is called unmanifest and manifest. Thus, there are many ways to compare and contrast Sāñkhya and modern science.

Mathematics and Architecture

This timeless philosophy of number, zero, positive, and negative numbers rooted in experience was converted into a system of quantities and geometry by masons wanting to construct temples. In temple architecture, there is an origin of the local space, at which the deity of the Lord is placed, and everything expands outward from this origin. Whether it is up or down, to the front or back, to the left or right, is less important than the center at which the deity is placed. The temple is expanded from the deity, and hence the deity is the origin of the temple, the primary ātmā in the space. The temple is His personal space.

In this personal space, directions have meanings because there is a difference between “being in front”, “being at the back”, “being on the right side”, and “being on the left side” of a person. Space is not uniform because all directions in space are not the same. Likewise, all distances are not the same.

Similarly, because each ātmā constructs a personal space rooted in the ātmā, therefore, we can talk about relative spaces. It doesn’t undermine the notion of an absolute space because there is a Supreme Person who originates the universe as His temple, just like every other ātmā creates their personal space. The universe is therefore described as a temple of the Lord, and the temple architecture often depicted the universe by showing the various levels of material reality on the temple dome and walls. The masons popularized the idea that the universe has an Architect, and architecture is meant to create sacred buildings in which the Architect lived with His expanded creations.

However, this mathematics has no foundation in the sense that we cannot produce all numbers out of the numeral zero, even though zero is the origin of space. In fact, we cannot even talk about “number” as a thing-in-itself. It has to be reduced to the set of all possible positive and negative integers. Since these integers cannot be derived from zero, and there is no such thing as “number”, therefore, all the numbers must exist eternally. All the talk about the origin of the universe is nonsense because to do that we should be able to construct infinite numbers out of zero, and the universe must expand and contract by numbers expanding out of zero and contracting into zero. Since there is no mechanism for this, therefore “Big Bang” and “Big Crunch” can have no theory. It doesn’t mean the universe will never expand or contract. It just means that we can never have a mathematical theory for it. The foundations of number theory are also the foundations of cosmology because by the expansion and contraction of numbers from zero we can talk about the expansion and contraction of space and the universe. If there is no theoretical foundation for numbers, then there can be no foundation for cosmology either.

The key point is that mathematics is just a useful tool, like a screwdriver or hammer. You don’t call a screwdriver and hammer a fundamental truth. But you can use it to solve many problems. That doesn’t mean it will solve all problems. Mathematics can be applied to a limited set of problems, just like a screwdriver or hammer are useful only in some cases. Of course, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail to you. That is exactly what modern science is. All they have is mathematics, which they got for free from masons, and they want to use it like a hammer for everything in the world.

The change in thinking requires personalism. Even to rise from the ideology of force to profit—e.g., business economics—we have to think in terms of persons. A person has desires and goals, can perceive and conceive, and choose to buy some things and produce some things. If this personalism is recognized, then we can gradually rise from profit to duty, self-awareness, respect, and love.

But if personalism is the fundamental reality, then even seemingly inanimate things must be treated as persons. Rivers, oceans, mountains, deserts, plains, forests, trees, animals, societies, and nations, must all have rights like humans. They can participate in mutually beneficial business transactions only if that transaction benefits both parties. The ideology of domination, coercion, exploitation, and subjugation must be replaced by one of mutual profit. It may not be the best ideology, but it is superior to the present ideology of force.

Nothingness and Thing Negation

Numbers are used in three ways in computers—(a) values, (b) instructions, and (c) truth values. Thereby, a program is a long number, a data input to that program can be a long or short number, and if the program is used to evaluate the validity or the input data, then it can decide to halt or continue which represents a truth value (i.e., whether the input is valid or not). These three meanings of numbers were used by Alan Turing to create the Halting Problem according to which we cannot pass a program as an input to another program and expect it to determine whether it will halt or continue indefinitely.

These three notions of number are segregated in Sāñkhya as three kinds of perceptions—by the knowledge senses (data), by the action senses (instruction), and by the intellect (truth value). We run into paradoxes if we do not make such distinctions. Since these issues are not of primary interest here, I will focus my attention on the truth value of zero. Why does zero denote something false? Since zero exists as a digit, how can we call existence a falsity?

This problem is mischaracterized in Advaita by calling Brahman truth, and its negation by māyā—the world—as falsity. This leads to many problems if falsity is interpreted as non-existence, illusion, and unreality when it should merely be seen as hiding one truth to reveal another. To understand the alternative view, we have to treat Brahman semantically rather than physically.

Brahman is like a sentence, and its negation is the converse of the sentence. If you say “it is raining” and I say “false”, the conclusion would be “it is not raining”. That is not necessarily an illusion, unreality, or non-existence. A sentence exists, it has a meaning, which can be true. When we negate a sentence, we negate the meaning, rather than existence. Hence, the world exists as negated sentences. They are negations of “truth is loving”, “truth is respectful”, “truth is self-evident”, etc. Their negation, as we have discussed, reveals an alternative reality of duty, profit, and force. These are not the highest, and yet they exist. Hence, the material world exists as an inferior reality.

The superior and inferior realities are distinguished as parā and aparā. The general rule in Sanskrit is that when a- is prefixed to anything, the meaning is non- rather than not-. For instance, advaya means non-dual, abheda means non-separated, and avyatireka means non-separated. Similarly, aparā means non-supreme. The material world is not the best place, but it exists. This non-supreme becomes an illusion if and only if we say—”there is nothing better than this”. For example, materialists say—”there is nothing beyond this world”. That is an illusion. Since almost everyone works and lives as if this life is the end-all and be-all, that there is no life after death, and no better world than the present one, therefore, almost everyone is illusioned. The world is not illusory; it is simply non-supreme. But we are illusioned into thinking that there is nothing better than this, nothing after this, and nothing beyond this.

This illusion is created by using binary logic on existence: If this world exists then it’s opposite must not. This is the result of conflating meaning with existence. The negation of existence means non-existence. But the negation of a sentence means the opposite is true for here, now, and me. Hence, if my reality, here and now, is deterministic, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a place of freedom.

Advaita falsely characterizes this world as mere existence rather than both existence and meaning. Then it characterizes this existence as a falsity, which means non-existent, unreal, or illusory, rather than false meanings. Then it concludes that Brahman is simply existence without any meaning. This problem can never be resolved without semanticism. Unless the original reality is like a sentence, its negations cannot be like sentences. If the negation is physical, then the original thing must be physical. Then, the negation of the physical thing must simply not exist, making this world a non-existent illusion.

The Personification of Reality

The rejection of Advaita is not merely that this world is unreal, but also that it is meaningless or false. When this world is sentences with both existence and meaning, then we have to evaluate which sentences are true. The complete truth can exist in this world, just as truthful people. The complete truth would be spoken by the most truthful. Who is truthful and what truth is, requires philosophy and science, a path toward perfection, and confirmation by practice.

Books, deities, food, mantras, and activities are not necessarily false, immoral, or unhappy. They are most truthful, righteous, and happy if they teach love, and progressively less truthful, righteous, and happy as we descend lower; the ideology of force is the least truthful, righteous, and happy. However, because these ideologies are not truly separable, therefore, force exists even in the world of love and love exists even in the world of force. The difference is that force is least prominent in the world of love, and love is least prominent in the world of force. Thereby, even in this world, we can find truthfulness, righteousness, and happiness—if we seek perfection here. It will not be prominent, popular, widespread, or common. But it can be found if we are sincerely seeking it.

That perfect truth exists in this world in the form of the Vedas, the deities of the Lord, His pure devotees, the chanting of pure mantras, and activities for His service. These are rare, uncommon, unpopular, and marginalized. Ignorance, immorality, and unhappiness are common, popular, prevalent, and prominent. However, since perfect truth can be found, therefore, perfection exists even within imperfection; it has to be sought, studied, and served.

The deity in the temple is such a transcendent reality. The deity is a seer, seen, and seeing, in as much as a table and chair are seer, seen, and seeing. However, by associating with the deity, our capacity to see increases, while that capacity remains unchanged by associating with a table or chair. Hence, seeing the deity and studying a truthful book are both darshan—the visions of the truth. Those who are inclined toward analyzing finer points are therefore recommended the book darshan. But those who are inclined toward cooking, decorating, dancing, and singing are recommended the deity darshan. These may seem superficially different to us, but they have the same effect—the expansion of our seeing capacities. Two causes that produce the same effect are therefore called non-different. Not identical in the cause, but not different in effect. Studying philosophy and worshipping deities are non-different from each other.

The seeing aspect of the deity gives Him or Her a unique personality—a particular way in which the deity sees. That deity is Brahman, but because Brahman is seeing in a different way than other deities, hence, the way of seeing is called guna (qualities) and the deity is called Saguna Brahman. It doesn’t mean that Brahman itself is formless, qualityless, indescribable, etc. It is just that the infinite potential in Brahman could be restricted in the deity. Thereby, we can have deities that represent the origins of the worlds of force, profit, self-absorption, respect, and love. It is true that when the deity of love is presented, then the other forms of respect, self-absorption, duty, profit, and force are hidden. But since that form is the origin of all other forms, therefore, the hiding of other inferior forms is perfection rather than a flaw.

The process of seeing is māyā. Therefore, even the form of love is “covered” by māyā, or that which is not, which simply means that the forms of respect, self-absorption, duty, profit, and force are hidden, and distinguished from the form of love. By hiding the other forms, the form of pure love becomes visible. This vision is not an illusion; it is rather the complete, perfect, and original truth. The form of love is the “complete man”, the “original man”, the “supreme being”, and “the cause of all causes”, from which everything else springs.

However, because this form is visible after hiding the other forms, therefore, He is not the other forms, and yet, He contains all the forms. That hiding of other forms is māyā. It denotes what He is not. And yet, that not is not separation or dissociation from the other forms. It is hiding the other forms within Himself. Just like a salesman hides his selfish motives and talks about the customer’s benefits during a sales pitch, similarly, the complete form hides all the inferior aspects of His personality to reveal the form of love, if we so wish.

The Science of the Vedas

Those who don’t know Vedic philosophy mischaracterize it as polytheism or impersonalism. Those who remain dissatisfied with the religion of force and profit reject religion as the source of many evils and advance materialism, which is also the ideology of force and profit, only without a soul and God. Those who are sick of the religions of force and profit, and realize that materialism is also nothing but force and profit, reject both and aspire to enter a state of deep sleep. All these people can benefit from Vedic philosophy and its scientific descriptions of “many worlds” and how to go from one to the other.

This scientific description is also number, geometry, space, time, causality, and law, but it is not modern science in which everything is merely seen. Objects are replaced by persons in this science because everything is seer, seen, and seeing. The science of objects is incomplete because the idea of reality as that which is only seen is false. The science is complete if everything is seer, seen, and seeing. Thus, truth is defined only as that which is complete.

This science can begin with the reevaluation of what “nothing” is, defining it as deep sleep, and then expanding it into conscious experience. By that, we can fulfill the scientific dream of constructing everything from nothing and the religious dream of everything expanding from a Supreme Person. When both goals can be achieved simultaneously, then there is no need for science-religion conflict. That philosophy, science, and religion that fulfills seemingly discordant goals is perfect. It does not reject anything, it accommodates everything, and yet, it is precise. Thus, everyone can gain something from Vedic philosophy, including the highest, greatest, and supreme goal of life.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Invention of Zero," in Shabda Journal, October 22, 2022,