The Illusion of Space, Time, and Motion

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The Description of the World as Māyā

Modern science emerged from the distinction between space, time, and motion. It required the space, time, and motion to be continuous and smooth, which were formulated as axioms in calclus. The concepts of continuity and smoothness in calculus are false because bodies (such as our hands) can move discontinuously and unsmoothly (e.g., while writing some text).

Continuity and disrecreteness, however, are simultaneously true properties of consciousness. Each choice is discrete but the person who makes that choice is continuous. Due to continuity, the choices of a person are rewarded and punished long after the choice causing them is over.

The ideas of continuous and smooth space, time, and motion has became a hindrance to the resolution of quantized and relativized notions of reality and observation. Such problems, however, do not arise if continuity and disreteness are assigned to consciousness.

In this article, I will discuss how the illusion of Newtonian space, time, and motion is created due to sense perception and instrument measurement, while the reality is three types of distances, durations, and changes—conceptual, relational, and emotional. I have discussed this before, however, when the issue is complex, more discussion can only benefit it.

Due to the illusion of a Newtonian or Euclidean space and time, the material world is called māyā in all Vedic texts. Cosmology, by comparison, is described in a few texts, and always after the world is called māyā. Thus, māyā is not just the more pervasive name for the world but always prior to cosmology. Under the influence of māyā, what is quite near may appear to be quite far and what is quite far may appear to be quite near. Of the many kinds of adverse effects of māyā, distance is one. Decluttering the meaning of distance is therefore essential before we discuss Vedic cosmology. Without it, Vedic cosmolgy is incomprehensible.

The Mechanism for Creating Illusions

Imagine there are two computers—A and B—that exchange messages with each other. Each message contains three things—(a) the addresses of the source and destination computers, (b) a type of property, and (c) a value of the property. For instance, a message can be: “My size is 10”. Here, “my” is the address of the message sender, size is the type of property, and 10 is the value of that property. The receiving computer takes the message at face value—i.e., trusts the sender—to conclude that the sender’s size is 10.

If the two computers periodically send the same message to each other, each computer will conclude: The size is unchanged, therefore, the other computer is not moving. So, assume that after some time, one or both of the computers send a different message to each other: “My size is 15”. Compared to the previous message, the size has increased, so the receiver will conclude: “The other computer is coming closer to me”. If instead, one or both of the computers send a different message to each other: “My size is 5”, compared to the previous message, the size has decreased, so the receiver will conclude: “The other computer is going farther from me”. The computers aren’t moving. But an illusion of motion is created by message exchange as we compare the past and present content of messages, and infer increasing size as decreasing distance, or vice versa.

A different method of distance measure is used in modern cosmology by gauging red and blue shifts of light. One party sends a message to the other: “My frequency is 10”. If this is constant over time, then the sender is static relative to the receiver. If the message changes to “My frequency is 15”, then the sender is moving closer to the receiver, due to a “blue shift” (increased frequency). If the message changes to “My frequency is 5”, then the sender is moving farther from the receiver, due to a “red shift” (decreased frequency). The sender and receiver are not moving. But there is an illusion of motion.

Epistemology: Four Defects of Living Entities

In Vedic texts, all living entities are said to have four defects: (a) hallucination, (b) misperception, (c) misinterpretation, and (d) cheating. Each of these four defects can be understood in terms of the above message exchange:

  • Hallucination: A sends a message to itself: “B’s size is 10” and believes it to be true although B did not send that message. A hallucination of B is created by a self-addressed message.
  • Misperception: A receives a message “B’s size is 10”. But A is using a binary number system instead of a decimal number system. So, A interprets 10 as 2 to conclude: B’s size is 2.
  • Misinterpretation: The above examples, where we interpret messages with changing property values as the effect of the motion of the sender and receiver, are examples of misinterpretation.
  • Cheating: B sends a message to A: “My size is 20” when the size is actually 10. A receives this message, trusts the sender’s verdict, and incorrectly concludes: B is twice as big as me.

People sometimes ask: What is Vedic epistemology? The correct answer is—Every living entity in the material world is suffering from hallucinations, misperceptions, misinterpretations, and cheating propensity, which is why the world is called māyā. To understand how the world is māyā, we must use semantics—e.g., that causal interaction is not based on force but on message transfers. The māyā description is different from objective realism of modern science.

Instruments also work based on message exchanges because they too are parts of māyā. Hence, instrument measurements are not better than sense perception. Thus, epistemology is (a) understanding how an illusion is created, (b) the nature of reality as meanings and messages, and (c) the various types of meanings required to exchange messages.

For instance, a message will not be sent deterministically. There has to be some purpose for sending a message. When a message is sent, it may not be sent to everyone; therefore, everyone will not know the existence of everything. The messages sent to different receivers can vary in content and/or periodicity, so when they know, they know it differently and occasionally. A message can be understood only by putting the sender and receiver in a common linguistic convention. Otherwise, the message means one thing, and we think it means something else. The message content can be false, therefore, even sense perception or instrument measurement is not reliable. When sense perception or instrument measurement is elevated to the level of reliable truth then the interpretations that follow are always false.

Meaningful and Purposeful Reality

All messages have many properties—(a) they exist, (b) they have a meaning, (c) the meaning can be false, (d) the truth depends on the linguistic convention, (e) the message is sent for some purpose, (f) the message can be sent to select recipients, (g) messages sent to different recipients can be different, (h) messages sent to different recipients can have variable periodicities, and (i) when the purpose of the senders and the receivers changes, then the content, linguistic convention, truth, periodicity, and recipients can change.

Thereby, a meaningless and purposeless world works differently than a meaningful and purposeful world. The causal mechanisms in a meaningless and purposeless world are not the sources of illusion, but they are the sources of illusion in a meaningful and purposeful world.

Modern science replaces messages with force particles such as photons and gravitons. If the message periodicity changes or the delay between the messages is altered, we attribute these to greater or lesser distances rather than a changing purpose. When the message content changes, we infer these to be the truth, when they can also be false, or merely the result of a changing purpose. When a message is received, we assume that everyone must be receiving the same message. Force particles do not need linguistic conventions while messages do. Thus, a physical conception of reality interacting through forces creates many misconceptions. We measure the length, weight, and speed of a message, ignoring what it means, and whether it is true. By adopting a physical conception, the observers take illusions to be truths.

Therefore, when we substitute the physical concepts of photons and gravitons with messages—and call it semantics—we are trying to explain how the world is māyā. If we don’t begin with the basic premise, namely, that the world is māyā, then we cannot explain the four defects of all living entities. However, when we change the conception of reality then the conceptions of space, time, and motion are also illusions. The reality is that a message was received. The illusion is that the content of the message was misinterpreted to create a false notion of space, time, and motion. So, the reality is deluding. The illusion is not comprehended because messages between senders and receivers are replaced with photons and gravitons.

Epistemology Naturally Leads to Ontology

With this understanding of māyā, we get an ontology, namely, that there is a world of senders, receivers, and messages. There is a “distance” between senders and receivers based on:

  • What kinds of messages do they send to themselves, receive, and call reality,
  • What kinds of messages are they able to receive and parse correctly or incorrectly,
  • What kinds of received messages do they trust to be true or distrust to be false,
  • What kinds of messages—honest or deceptive—do they prefer to send or receive.

Similarly, there is a conception of “duration” between senders and receivers based on:

  • How long it takes them to send messages to themselves and receive them,
  • How long it takes them to parse received messages correctly or incorrectly,
  • How long it takes them to accept the process of sending-receiving messages,
  • How long it takes them to construct an honest or deceptive message.

Finally, there is a conception of change or “evolution” of the senders and receivers:

  • Is their self-sending of messages with varied contents increasing or decreasing?
  • Is their parsing of messages with varied types of content improving or worsening?
  • Is their judgment of what are trustworthy messages improving or worsening?
  • Is their inclination toward honest or deceptive messages increasing or decreasing?

The Philosophy of the Soul and its Delusion

The soul is described as sat-chit-ānanda, which can be described through many trichotomies such as (a) truth, right, and good, (b) logos, ethos, pathos, and (b) rational, emotional, and practical. When māyā covers the soul as its mind and body, then each of these three aspects of the soul is covered to create various kinds of illusions. Therefore, when we study the world in science, we shoud be studying māyā—(a) the various types of māyā, (b) how māyā that covers also changes with time, and (c) what the soul experiences as a result of māyā.

Based on the above principle of māyā covering the soul, we can divide māyā based on the three aspects of the soul, the three qualities of māyā that cover each of the three aspects of the soul, the changes to these three qualities as evolution, and the time it takes to change the three qualities of māyā to get another kind of māyā. This is how we get space (distance between the different kinds of māyā), time (duration it takes to convert one type of māyā into another), and change (the path that a person follows to go from one type of māyā to another).

Since moving objects are not moving, and yet, seem to be moving due to message exchanges, therefore, Vedic philosophy is not interested in the study of motion. It is only interested in the progressive or regressive paths of the soul. There is an alternative science of change for that.

If at any moment, the soul trusts māyā as truth, he gets attached to the māyā and stops evolving. It continues the process of sending and receiving message of a certain type and considers that motion. However, the soul cannot get out of the universe through such motion. One has to reject one type of māyā and either seek the perfect truth or another kind of māyā. To escape the world of illusion, one has to be skeptical about sense perception itself. With such skepticism, the soul transcends matter. Skepticism of one type of māyā but trust of another, naturally takes the soul from one type of māyā to another. The soul is thus deluded by māyā.

Vedic cosmology presents an understanding of how long the material journey can be. The various parts of the material world are various kinds of māyā. A soul can move from one part of the universe to another, appreciate it more than the previous part of the world, until it rejects all forms of illusions. The illusion can get more enticing and alluring. Different parts of the cosmos offer different kinds of enticements and allurements. We are attracted to these only if we don’t remember that this was described as māyā at the outset. This means, that as soon as one is enticed and allured into some māyā, he starts trusting it. That trust will be eventually broken. When it is broken, a person feels cheated and embittered. Therefore, a fair warning is given through cosmology—there are many kinds of māyā, so remain skeptical throughout.

The True Cause of the Material Illusion

Of the four problems of epistemology, cheating is the most fundamental. It arises in the desire to get something without giving something in return, and called  selfishness. But a person can be honestly or dishonestly selfish. Honest selfishness is beyond the material world and called Brahman. The person who transcends the material world is selfish, but he is not dishonest. In contrast, mostly everyone in the material world is not just selfish but also dishonest.

The material world fundamentally exists to correct the flaw of the cheating propensity in the soul. A cheater is corrected through cheating in precisely those ways (a) that he wants to be cheated or (b) he has been cheating others. The material energy uses misinterpretation, misperception, and hallucination to cheat a person, while each person is trying to cheat another person. Hence, every cheater is cheated by material energy and by other cheaters.

We see something and we interpret it in some way because we want it to be like that. The desire precedes the māyā. We misperceive reality because we want it to be like that. But it is not like that. We hallucinate in some way because we want it to be like that. But it is not like that. The world is māyā or delusion because we have a cheating propensity. It cannot be corrected except by cheating the cheater. Cheating is justice for the cheater.

Thus, even as māyā has three forms—hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation—they are also secondary outcomes of the primary form of cheating propensity. Western epistemology talks about the secondary problems of hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation. But no Western academic talks about the primary problem of cheating.

In fact, most people are offended if we say that modern science is cheating. They believe that while doing an academic, scientific, and epistemological discussion, we should only criticize science in terms of hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation, but never question the motives and integrity of a scientist. But without the primary motive, we can never explain why the secondary effects of hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation even exist.

Therefore, we have to ask: How did we get into the situation where we have epistemological problems? Why don’t we have senses and minds that give us the truth? Why are most people wrong for the most part most of the time in most of the possible ways? What is the reason that we are continuously deceived through hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation?

Eastern vs. Western Epistemologies

In Western epistemology, people ask: How can we know? But in the Vedic epistemology, we can ask a more fundamental question: Can we know? The possibility of knowledge is assumed in Western epistemology. But because the world is an illusion in Vedic philosophy, almost everyone is ignorant by default. Knowledge can be obtained only by giving up the cheating propensity. Thus, everyone will not know because they will not give up their cheating.

A theory of knowledge can never be a universal “scientific method” adopted by everyone to know everything at all places and times without changing a person’s attitude. A scientific method that disregards or separates the knower’s attitudes from the knowing process can never lead to the truth, because it discounts the very reason that a person is in a certain type of world at a place and time. The method of knowing is deeply personal and not objective.

Thus, there is no answer to “How can we know?” because there is no answer to the problem of hallucination, misperception, misinterpretation, and cheating. Even if we meet a teacher, we don’t know if he is not a cheater. Even if we see him, you don’t know if this is not merely our hallucination. Even if we hear him speaking, you don’t know if we are not misperceiving the sounds of his speech. Even if he speaks simply, we don’t know if we are misinterpreting what he is saying. Every “solution” to the four problems of epistemology suffers from one or more of the same four problems. Hence, there is no objective answer to the problem of knowing.

The subjective answer to the problems of epistemology is that we have to give up the cheating propensity. If we remove cheating, then other forms of māyā—hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation—automatically disappear. Therefore, near exclusive focus in the Vedic system is no removing cheating, because that naturally removes māyā. When our cheating is removed, then we get a true teacher. Otherwise, we only get cheaters. When our cheating is removed, then the problems of hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation are also resolved through careful hearing from the teacher, while shunning or avoiding all cheaters.

The True Cure of the Material Illusion

The first step in knowledge is morality. We do not begin with microscopes and telescopes because they too are suffering from the four human defects. We do not try to create more or better mathematics because these are suffering from the four human defects. We always begin with character development because this is the only way to know the truth.

The degrees and certificates accumulated by a person do not make him a teacher. We can go to the best colleges, get the most advanced degrees, and yet not know anything because the criterion for knowing is the removal of the four human defects. A school that doesn’t impart moral education as the most essential foundation of knowledge imparts ignorance.

The modern education system deemphasizes morality, which is considered the entry gate into knowledge in Vedic epistemology. Students going to schools and colleges are involved in illicit sexual affairs, intoxication, meat eating, and deceiving. The teachers imparting education in such schools and colleges are often involved in the same types of immoralities, if not much worse. Their criteria for graduation is passing examinations by cramming books without character development. Hence, the education system can never produce knowledge.

Religions and the Problem of Morality

Thus, the fundamental difference between a Brahmana and an academic is morality. Both can read books. Both can learn languages. But the Brahmana knows due to the cultivation of morality while the academic is ignorant due to neglect of morality. The Vedic system rejects the opinions of those who haven’t undergone moral development, which means giving up the cheating propensity. It can take many forms, such as (a) making sacrifices for others, (b) showing kindness toward others, (c) never lying, and (d) presenting the truth in the least ambiguous manner. If these principles are practiced in life, then māyā stops deluding us.

Religions are not immune to cheating. If a religion tries to maximize the taking and minimize the giving, then it is rooted in cheating. Thereby, all religions are not divine. Some are also the byproducts of delusion. Material energy produces delusional sciences and religions. In a delusional science, a false conception of the world is presented. In a delusional religion, a false conception of the self is presented. Generally, a false conception of the world emerges from a false conception of the self. Therefore, if some science has followed some religion that provided a false conception of the self, then the science that follows it will always be false.

Thus, purifying the conception of the self through a moral life of kindness, cleanliness, austerity, and truthfulness is the preliminary and fundamental criterion to know the truth. We have to remove the cheating from a person’s heart before hallucinations, misperceptions, and misinterpretations will be removed. The removal of the cheating propensity is each person’s prerogative. The subsequent removal of hallucination, misperception, and misinterpretation is automatically the effect of the removal of adverse effects on a person by nature.

All epistemological problems begin with entry into māyā, which happens due to cheating, so the process can only be reversed by removing the cheating. A teacher can tell us that the world is meaningful and purposeful and by disregarding that meaning and purpose we are in delusion. But the teacher cannot cleanse a person’s heart of the cheating propensity. That every student has to do himself. Since very few do it, therefore, very few are knowledgeable.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Illusion of Space, Time, and Motion," in Shabda Journal, March 22, 2023,