INCO 796: Cosmology and Our View of the World

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Dialogues Between Mystics and Scientists

Eberhard Möbius

This seminar talk different than all my other seminar talks. It was prepared with the feeling what I wanted to say, not so much with a logic plan. I started with the marked pages which somehow contain ideas what I wanted to talk about. But only afterwards I organized the material again, and yet most of it seemed to fall into place nicely. Contrary to science talks I may operate with a preconceived notion here, which I hope (I really hope) we can debate later in the discussion. But if you can't follow my arguments which are going along my own thinking and may not coincide with the thinking of any of you, please interrupt me that we can work on a clarification right away. However, the discussion about the validity of assumptions, different perspectives of views etc., I would like to spare this for the end of the presentation.

Let me start the seminar with my personal view and with a look back in time in my life. I feel that talking about mysticism involves the self and so we have to be personally present in this event.

Let me start with a question which really intrigued me already when I was still a child:

I thought of the universe as a room with a boundary, an edge, or some wall around it

full view of the universe, what is behind the boundary of the universe

another bigger universe? which imbeds our universe, but what behind the boundary of that one? etc. Slide 1

The old mechanistic view of the world

It is the same question which Renee Weber asks the scientists: (0)

"What lies beyond the edge of the universe?" etc. (RW, p. 15)

Or to go beyond this picture: What happened at the beginning of the universe, since now we know in science that there was a definite beginning, like was told us in many different creation legends in many religions.

It was certainly also this question which among other issues like the curiosity into technology and that I did well with math finally brought me into physics

Looking at the other side my standing versus religion and mysticism. (For true religion is somehow synonymous, but opposed to churches or organizations)

Religion: as a child it involved the feeling that I had to obey a higher principle and that the way to do this was written in our Christian books. There was the element of fear, that something happens as a result of misbehavior.

However, along my way of studying science, in particular, in high school doubts about the validity of the religious words emerged

The knowledge in science seemed to replace the mysteries taught in religion.

I backed down in some way , but discussed with friends. The doubts remained and I was at odds with religion.

But I had to learn ultimately that science could not be closed ->

1) I saw the basic limitations in quantum mechanics (I will come back to this point) to measure things accurately enough to make predictions

2) our world as a whole does not fit anymore the paradigm of studying science:

Descartes: separation of object (matter world) and subject (our mind) which observes the world. You have to separate experiment from the experimenter

In the ultimate question, namely when we try to see our universe (which naturally includes ourselves) as a whole, this must break down

"The Gallery", M.C. Escher Slide 2

We see an intertwined world (of matter and mind) like in this picture by M.C. Escher. To me this ultimately means that there must be something beyond our notation of science. The beauty of the models of our world in science and their enigmatic and puzzling conclusions are a good part of coming to the point that there is a beyond again.

With Renee Weber (1)

Reflecting the progress of science, I come upon a surprising conclusion, faintly reminiscent of a Zen Koan. As Science unravels more and more of the puzzles, the mystery of nature does not diminish but deepens. (RW, p. 16 bottom)


I would visualize this statement on the blackboard: Our knowledge grows like the area when I add pieces of land to it, but as we increase the area its boundary to the unknown increases also. And as many signs in science relay to us our world is boundless, thus this is a no win situation. Although we will increase our knowledge ever and ever, when we are lucky with a great new theory close a large gap, the number of unknown riddles will also increase.

For me this means:

Before I studied science, there was religion as part of my (child) world. When I first took up the study of science there seemed to be no longer the necessity of religion (although somehow blinked), but now that I've got some understanding in science, there is religion again as an integral part of my life and understanding of the world.

This sounds a bit like the Zen parable in Weber's book (2):

Before I studied Zen, mountains were just mountains and rivers were just rivers. When I first took up the study of Zen, mountains were no longer mountains and rivers no longer rivers.But now that I've really got some understanding of Zen, mountains are once again mountains and rivers once again rivers. (RW, p. 17)

Along with this realization the involvement in Yoga and ideas of mysticism through my wife brought me into looking beyond that homemade constraint in science. Realized that many scientists, in particular, physicists who were involved in the change of paradigms in this century through QM and Relativity thought along that line in texts which go beyond their original work in physics:

like:Bohm, Bohr, Born, Eddington, Einstein, Heisenberg, Jeans, Jordan, Pauli, Planck, Schrödinger and Weizsäcker

The list may not be complete, but gives a good illustration, how widespread this thinking may really be. Here I feel in good company, although not all of us scientists have given up on the idea that the ultimate explanation may be in reach somewhere. They point to the fact that all new mysteries have finally been resolved, and so the yet new ones will again be solved.

Well, to flash this out I have chosen a set of quotes from the book on the

stand between science and mysticism: (3)

Hawking: I think it's a cop-out. If you find theoretical physics and mathematics too hard, you turn to mysticism.

Bohm: We could think of the mystic as coming into contact with tremendous depths of the subtlety of matter or of mind, whatever you want to call it.

Hawking: We still believe that the universe should be logical and beautiful; we just dropped the word "God".

Bohm: I would put another way: people had insight in the past about a form of intelligence that had organized the universe and they had personalized it and called it "God".

My basis, my mindset:(4)

Elkana: There is nothing in science or in religion for that matter, to convince us that the evidence of the senses carries greater or lesser weight as a source of knowledge than does revelation. (YE, p. 21)

Analogy for evolution between Science and Mysticism

I really feel that we ultimately need both very contrary sources of information to understand who we are and what our world is about. and it looks like that some bridges are being built.

The evolution which we may see coming along, historically, looks like an analogy to me with the growing up of children with different sex:

• as a small child they play together innocently, the sex doesn't matter at all

<-> in the dawn of mankind, mind and matter, religion and science, were just one. The view of our world, although infantile, as we would see it now, was a great unification of All

• in youth: the separation the opposite sexes don't want to deal with each other

<-> chism between religion (church) on one side and science on the other

• Then comes the first flirt

<-> The first discussions between science And religion as they are starting now

• Hopefully this will evolve into a mature partnership between the two, like in a true love and not in a divorce with both sides feeling bad about each other!


Arguments from the side of Science

Let me start from the side of science, which I know more about:

What are the arguments and counter arguments for or against an approach between the two sides? And how to resolve this?

Increased understanding

On one hand we have made enormous strides in the understanding of our world, and beliefs manifested in religious dogmas had to be overthrown the many. And this always caused a strong struggle and big pain. However, the religions have to be confronted with it and their teachers have to be open in such discussions, since otherwise big question marks appear around the rest of the message. And it is in a constant retreat from positions. This has been true for the anorganical world as well as for the evolution of life on this planet.

Arguments for a part of the world beyond (science)

However, science can also provide arguments for something beyond matter>

Well I named already the basic limitations of science:

We are looking at an infinite world <-> but have at any time only a finite knowledge

Well, we have learned to deal with infinities in math and can encompass them into our knowledge base, but there are some which are harder to swallow.

1) Let's start with quantum mechanics (don't be afraid I am not going to lecture on subtleties here, I am not the instant expert either), but the basic principle:

If we describe a motion in physics we need to know

Where the particle is and

How fast and in which direction it is heading

Then everything is known.

QM tells us that in principle we cannot get both location and velocity accurate at the same time (mass*velocity) * (location) > h (Planck's quantum)

h is extremely small, so no problem in the kitchen to find something or know how fast a car moves and where, but for atoms and nuclear particles.

This is no technical problem, it is ultimate!!

We may be able to understand it in the following way:

To determine where something is and to know it, we have to hit it with light , for example, but then it has moved. It is kind of a catch 22 situation.

Here physics sets its own strict limitations!!

2) Chaotic behavior

Although this acts on the smallest scale, it can have profound consequences on the large scale:

For example if we try to forecast the weather pattern smaller and smaller forces become important the more we go back in time. Looking 1 week ahead, the stroke of the wing of a butterfly may determine whether there is a storm coming up or not. The pattern depends on every single atom's behavior at some time before. Physicists and mathematicians have been able to model situations, where an infinitesimal difference in the beginning leads to totally opposite behavior ( as analogy just the path of two billiard balls with multiple collisions: experts can be pretty impressive to aim at another ball even with 3 collisions in between. But after 10 there is no way any more: Even the deviation of the surface of the ball from a sphere by 1 atom diameter would be enough change the direction after 10 collisions by more than 180o) So it is completely random now! But to make it so uncertain ultimately the heat motion of the atoms is enough to make the surface different. Sketch

A difference smaller than we can measure in principle forbids us to know the path of the ball exactly, or to forecast beyond a certain time.

small disturbance -> big difference

Example: the stroke of the wing of a butterfly may decide whether there will be a storm or not in a week.

A single atom at the edge of the universe will still influence something here, although imeasurable, the influence is there, unknown!!

3) There is Goedel's theorem in math and logic: no theory can be closed in itself -> we have to step outside in order to set the axioms.

We just accept a few ground rules as given, and then we start: like 1+ 1 = 2

this is something we accept and cannot prove, but we use it finally to prove everything else. We will need a theory about the basic mathematic theory to prove this, but then the same game starts all over again.

4) Anthropic Principle

We can play around with the important universal constants in physics and look what would have happened, if they were different: the constant which tells us how strong gravity is and the one how strong electric forces are etc. These constants are not determined by a theory. We just measure them to find their values, and they have to be incredibly exactly the way they are. Otherwise there were a totally different world, one in which there would have been no life possible at all!!

Scientists like Hawking contend: Well then there are zillions of universes, which have been and are created. Ours is just the one with the right parameters: Well we can only see it since we are here, since the parameters are right! But to my opinion this only shifts the problems to the next stage and will never solve it.

What I want to say with this is that science is not closed. We have always 2 possibilities between which we cannot ultimately decide by pure scientific means:

a) there may be a plan or a higher order (which we interpret as God)

b) the correct world comes by chance (we go into statistics)

Then we have to ask ourselves what makes the most sense.

As a consequence: we make progress and progress, but every new explanation is based again on something which is a mere assumption (Goedel) -> There will be no last and ultimate explanation.

God in the outer world

We replace wonders by knowledge -> push God aside constant retreat

This is the danger, if you put God out into the unknown mystery. there is always a retreat, although with infinite terrain left, but still it would be strange.

In this perspective we would have

either no God or with the constant retreat

A God only for the unknown with the boundary always changing

There is something seriously wrong with this: The problem seems to lie in the fact that in many western religions God has been put out somewhere beyond our reach. But with all these wonders he would be better placed everywhere and reachable in the interior of ourselves.

God in the inner world

Indeed we find deeper truth in old religious writings, if we strip off the foreground wording, which reflect the cultural context

Like the creation story: In the beginning there was Chaos -> light etc.

This seems to fit quite well with our perception of the Big Bang!!

If we strip away all the outer draperies which have been wrapped around by the respective culture in which the text was written, the sequence of events sounds right!

We have to go down to our own interpretation of the meaning of the words! But if we always have to read through the cultural context first, how can we be sure that we get the right message?

Modern Anthropology of science about sources of knowledge explicitly includes both sides. See above


Judgement of knowledge sources

In sciences the judgement is clear:

Scientific Model: -> explain observations

prediction -> test 3 possibilities



modification needed

Clearcut test!

But in religion, if we go into ourselves we talk about mysticism:

you have to ask your inner self, what is consistent with your judgement

Problem: Words are not adequate: They do not reflect thinking well enough

words in different language <-> different meaning

-> cultural context

Silence as possible solution in mysticism

(5) Meister Eckhart states this very clearly: "Why do you prate of God? Don't you know that whatever you say of Him is untrue?" (RW, p.7)

What we think and feel is in ourselves, but we don't have the way to say it. Words are not enough.

as a consequence he suggests:

"There is nothing in all the universe so much like God as silence" (dto.)

It can only mean that in Mysticism you have make use of your source of knowledge through experience, i.e., everybody has to do it on its own. Everybody needs to be taught to be independent.

Reasoning vs. inner experience

But what is this: to experience something on your own: I would call it the Aha Effect!!

In science you have to work hard to understand and go along the logic path, Here you better relax (not willing is the key) and then all of a sudden the right idea, the right experience may pop up. This is by the way, not restricted to mysticism: It works for science as well: sometimes after you tried very hard for days or weeks to solve a problem, it didn't work. And finally you want to give up, and then when you relax from the concentration eventually the solution may just show up.

Example: Kekule: he saw the Benzol ring molecule with the bindings changing position in a dream.

A personal experience in autogenic training: It didn't work for me with many explanations, but when I heard the example: after a long strenuous walk your legs are heavy and when you lay down in bed after a walk you for sure will fall asleep easily with that feeling.

So try this exercise: recall this known feeling and then try to relax yourself:

And it worked. I felt yes, I experienced this and I could recall this experience and then use the same technique in parallel way for other exercises.

This may work for one person, like it worked for me, but for another person there has to be just another experience, maybe. It is not the words, which brought the deep understanding about, it was the own experience. And this is the way I see, one can be able to tap the sources of Knowledge in mysticism.

Solution or Blasphemy?

But how can we be so bold to question any information with our own experience inside. Isn't this the greatest sin we are told about? We should believe!! When I first heard this very intensely during a Yoga vacation in Switzerland from our Yoga teacher Yesudian: "We are God in the deepest of ourself" And " I am aiming for the highest, less will not be sufficient for me", I have to admit, it sounded blasphemic to me, but after all these thoughts it seems to make perfect sense to me. Since words from other human beings are not adequate, we have to do this all within ourselves.

Govinda:(quoting Buddha) goes exactly in line with this: (6) It is not what you believe that is important, but what you do and what you are and what you feel. Only if a teaching is consistent with your own experience should you accept it from your own point of view. (RW, p. 57)

I think this word really leaves the room for science to fill in wherever it works out. In particular, we will not always collide with religion, whenever a new piece of scientific knowledge fits into place, which may contradict a religious saying. The latter is just words within a certain cultural context, but the true meaning is buried underneath and may have to be brought up. We can even use science to judge our view of the experience in some cases. This Buddhistic view leaves the door wide open to do so.

Govinda suggests that Meditation should be learned without teaching, or better teaching to independence

Opposite to what most churches have done in the past.

However, as I have tried to fill in earlier this is not restricted to the Eastern religions (as demonstrated here at the example from Buddhism). The quotes from Meister Eckhart (in the Christian mystic tradition) about silence and the way we cloud our view of God using words show the same direction. And these thoughts were the ones which brought for example Meister Eckhart in conflict with the Pope.

Hermetian Principle

Further on Govinda suggests a way to bring both sides together (RW, p. 57) by aknowledging the Dualism first

matter <-> mind

right and left brain

matter of factness and imaginativeness

If we use one of the most important principles of Hermetian Philosophy (7a)

As above so below: (RW, p. 7)

We can see this as a corollary to the

dualism of wave and particle for light in physics

which can only be resolved in QM

Here we have the Dualism

Science and Mysticism

(7b) As I reflect on their essence, I perceive Science and mysticism as two approaches to nature. (RW, pp. 5 - 6)

Employing this Hermetian principle we can try to exactly do this what Govinda suggests: namely by analogy, we can try to ask how some thoughts of mystics may look from the perspective of science. This technique has helped me quite a lot (it can be no such test as we execute in science, it just looks for plausibility):

It is amazing to see light used in mysticism as a symbol, which seems to have some resemblence in physics, if we compare it with our modern interpretation of light as a messenger through space and time:

Mystic example looked from the perspective of science

1) example: Buddistic light meditation (Bohm) (8) light in relativity <-> light in mysticism (RW, pp. 44-47)

to be light in physics means that no time elapses, although the message from one point to another takes the travel time of light. But in the light itself the time doesn't exist anymore.

So light meditation, to think one is light seems to make sense as the vehicle to get in touch with everything.

As I have just said the way this parallel thinking is introduced follows along the path of the old Hermetian philosophy (as above so below) + Bohm ff. (RW, pp. 7-8)

2) Let us take the words of the Dalai Lama about emptyness and mind consciousness (9)

Or in eastern religion(Dalai Lama) (RW, p. 135)

Emptyness -> mind consciousness

He states: empty is still something: Well in physics this statement means: there is still the space which is there. Otherwise empty is meaningless

The mind consciousness reminds me perfectly of what Eccles (the Australian brain researcher states about the final self which needs to put the information together which comes from the eye or the ear. It is not bits and pieces anymore, it is one impression, we get.

3) And finally

Meister Eckhart again: (10) (RW, p. 3)

"To find nature herself, all her forms must be shattered"

Again physics: this comes very close to our understanding:

matter was thought solid -> but then it consists of atoms -> these are almost empty-> the nucleus is only 10-5 of the atom in diameter (almost complete vacuum) -> but elementary particles can be made to energy. They are just a fluke. What is left of the solid matter? What is our understanding of reality?

To me it seems very similar to Meister Eckhart's words.

Do we really see reality or is it just an image we create in our mind with some preconceived notion? We are back to the duality between matter and mind, namely in order to make the atom real in QM we have to observe it, only then it decides where it is!! Very funny.

Potential Synthesis

There has to be a connection:

Let me try to suggest to you one view of the universe with an analogy which would bring both matter and mind together, if things were that simple (well it happens to have my name in it already, but to say this upfront. I don't know whether there is any connection between my ancestors and the mathematician Möbius):

Möbius loop

We have the 2 sides of reality: Matter and Mind

The Möbius loop combines them both in one.

( )

Awe of Einstein:

We are able to see the creation going on from within. from outside (whatever this means in our language, which is not meant to describe this) it is just the instant of creation. beyond any space and time.

So we observe the ongoing creation within ourselves.

This view would be in line with the view of the sleeping Buddha in Boddhanilkanta (Nepal) Slide 3

He sleeps and dreams the creation of the world.

Let me close with two quotes about the potential purpose behind All, mysticism and Science:

(RW, p. 17) (11)

Einstein: "I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research"

Meister Eckhart:

If the soul could have have known God without the world, the world would never have been created.




RW: Dialogues with Scientists and Sages, Renee Weber

YE: A Programmatic Attempt to an Anthropology of Knowledge, Yehuda Elkana; in: Sociology of the Sciences, Mendelsohn and Elkana, eds., Vol. V, p 1-76, 1981, Reidel.

Other Sources:

Wir sind nicht nur von dieser Welt, Hoimar v. Ditfurth, DTV, München, 1981.

(We are not solely from this world)

Physik und Transzendenz, H.-P. Dürr (Ed.), Scherz, Bern, 1988.

(Physics and transcendence)


Meister Eckharts Mystik, J. Linnewedel, Quell Verlag, Stuttgart, 1983.

(Meister Eckhart's mysticism)