“Beauty is truth’s smile”, observed Rabindranath Tagore. “Our task must be to free ourselves, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty”, said Albert Einstein.
The Chinese philosopher Confucius was more grand: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it”. Science is not just a rational pursuit of the reality trying to unravel the mystery of nature around us, but at the core of it all, there lies great beauty and aesthetics. Thus, “one of the strongest motives leading to Arts and Science is a flight from everyday life with its painful coarseness and bleak tediousness”, observed Albert Einstein.
During a series of discussions between Einstein and Tagore in the 1930’s the concept of truth and beauty was debated intensely without arriving at a coherent conclusion. The east clashed with the west, the dialogue eventually got horribly entangled with the eternal conflict of the Plurality of the western philosophy with the Singularity of the Eastern philosophy.
Plurality means that there are worlds that are absolutely unrelated to each other, singularity implies that multiplicity of worlds is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind, one world. This is the fundamental doctrine of the Upanishads. Einstein argued, “Truth, then or Beauty is not independent of Man?” Tagore replied: “No”. Einstein: If there be no human beings any more, the Apollo of Belvedere will no longer be beautiful!” Tagore: “No”. Einstein: “I agree with regard to this conception of Beauty, but with regard to Truth… Tagore: “Why not? Truth is realized only through man.
Beauty is the ideal of perfect harmony which is the universal being, Truth is the perfect comprehension of the Universal mind. We individuals approach it through our own mistakes and blunders, through our accumulated experiences, through our illuminated consciousness. How otherwise, can we know Truth?” Einstein: “I cannot prove scientifically that Truth must be conceived as a Truth that is valid independent of humanity; but I believe it firmly. I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man.
Anyway, if there is a reality independent of man, there is also a Truth relative to this reality; and in the same way the negation of the first engenders a negation of the existence of the latter”. Tagore: “Truth, which is one with the Universal Being, must essentially be human, otherwise we individuals realize as true can never be called Truth ~ at least the Truth which is described as scientific and which only can be reached through the process of logic, in other words, by an organ of thoughts.
According to Indian philosophy, there is Brahman, the absolute Truth, which cannot be conceived by the isolation of the individual mind or described by words but can only be realised by completely merging the individual in its infinity.” Einstein invokes religion, Tagore invokes Brahman, his own religion in a sense, neither could agree with the outlook of the other, the conflict persisted. Truth, existing in abstract has no meaning but Truth perceived by man depends on his religion, if any, his cultural roots, his social norms, indeed his perception of beauty or its absence.
So, Ganesh drinking milk is a valid reality for some but to a scientifically tempered mind, it is merely surface tension. In the poem entitled “I” in Shyamali, Rabindranath put the entire debate in the soulful perception of consciousness, “The colour of my consciousness / Turned emerald to green / Ruby turned crimson / ‘I’ looked up to the sky / The light was lit / I looked at the roses, said beautiful / They become beautiful / But truth and beauty cannot be conceived without space where they flourish, at a particular time when they happen. What is then space? What is time?”
Neither space nor time surfaced in the dialogue between Einstein and Tagore. Is truth timeless? Is space irrelevant to beauty? Is truth independent of space? Is beauty timeless? The answer to all four questions is a resounding No! What is truth today may not have been the truth at the very beginning of the Universe, the very first moments of the Big Bang. Space is certainly not irrelevant to beauty. A beautiful flower in a desert, alone and wilting, is pathetic but a beautiful flower in full bloom in a garden is enduring.
Then, truth is certainly not independent of space. Truth on the lunar landscape is somewhat different from the truth in an earth’s surface, the only prevailing truth is that gravitational pull on earth is larger than on the moon. It is immediately clear that there are some truths which are fundamental, independent of the beholder and these are certain truths which are determined by the very nature of space. Truth perceived on a very curved space a la Einstein is somewhat different from the flat space on the earth.
The concept of time and its eternal journey was put across in a stark but lyrical perspective by Tagore himself in “Sesher Kobita”, “The poem at the end”. “Have you heard? / Have you heard? /The whisper of the eternal journey of time / starting the beat of life / Heart breaking cry of the stars / Crushed in the darkness, by the wheel of time”. Now, that is enchantingly beautiful and aesthetically startling. Space and time are inclusive coordinates of all science, indeed all perception from Newtonian gravitation to Einsteinian gravitation of curved space and time, from millions of neurons in our brain to billions of stars in the cosmos, from the microcosmos to the macrocosmos, from the quarks, forever trapped inside the protons, to the molecules of our DNA, from the electromagnetic waves to gravitational waves, from plurality to singularity, from life unto death, in fact from the very beginning to the end.
But across the entire world of space and time, there is that tranquil all-pervading beauty. How is space created? How is time created? We know from Hawking and Penrose that the singularity of space and time was the point when the Universe was created in a Big Bang. At the point of Big Bang there was no space and no time; so, in a sense it is natural to start counting our moments, time, from that point onwards; similarly three dimensional space could also have started from that point.
In short, space and time are emergent concepts. Our friend Roger Penrose of course has as an even more dramatic picture of time. He argues in his latest theory that before the Big Bang in another “aeon”, the last universe existed. At the end of its tenure, the other universe turned very very cold with the expansion in space and time, all the billions of black holes in the old universe had a temperature, somewhat larger then the ambient temperature of the universe. Result, all the billions of black holes started popping, creating an awesome energy. Well, Roger claims that is the energy of our Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. So, from one aeon the Universe goes on to another aeon, another Big Bang and on and on. Time has no beginning or end only “Cycles of time”.
The idea is so utterly beautiful, aesthetically so very pleasing! Curiously enough, before Einstein’s theory of relativity, special and general surfaced in the world, space and time were considered as sort of “inert”, these coordinates were there for convenience but nobody took any notice of them. The year 1905 saw the birth of the special theory, connecting a link between space and time, each one changed with the other.
With the rise of the general theory in 1915-16, Einstein pointed out that under gravity, space and time got curved. The famous experiment of Eddington from Trinity College, Cambridge carried out during the total solar eclipse made Einstein a legend overnight. He became a world figure, slightly dreamy and gloomy, with a mane of hair, up to almost his shoulder.
(To be concluded)
(The writer is former Homi Bhabha Professor, Department of Atomic Energy, former Director VECC and SINP)