Fundamental Forces and Chopping Wood

Hartosh Singh Bal interviews Professor T Padmanabhan about the work for which he was awarded the 2009 Infosys Prize for the Physical Sciences, in Open Magazine:

Q You combine your interest in science with pursuits that can loosely be termed ‘spiritual’. Are these not at odds? What do you make of the assault on religion by someone like Richard Dawkins?

ScreenHunter_01 Feb. 16 11.33 A Dawkins has erected a straw man and knocked it down. I have no respect for this. It is very easy to knock down a particular class of models for God and religion. Russell and others, for example, have already done this a long time ago and far more effectively.

My take is that my concept of fundamental reality does not require any support from science or vice-versa. The two things lie in different domains and represent different types of knowledge. One is by its nature introverted, an inner knowledge, and the other is extroverted. Together, they complement each other.

Q Where does this other knowledge come from?

A The idea of direct experience lies beyond Aristotelian logic. It is born out of a personal knowledge—say, through a meditative experience. It is not translatable into the normal grammar of ideas, but nothing in ordinary logic precludes its existence.

Q Once you step beyond Aristotelian logic, what keeps you interested in physics? Does it not then become just a game?

A There was an enlightened Zen master who was asked what he did before enlightenment, and he replied, “I used to fetch water and chop wood.” And asked what he does now after gaining enlightenment, he said he fetches water and chops wood. Nothing external changes. Doing physics is like chopping wood and fetching water!

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