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LATEST DIALOGUES The Historic Einstein-Tagore Meeting: Is Truth Independent of us?

einstein and tagore
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

~ Stream of Life, a Bengali poem from Gitanjali written by Rabindranath Tagore

 

It was on the edge of Berlin on July 14, 1930, that science and spirituality came together in one of the most intellectually stimulating conversations in history, as Albert Einstein met with the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore in his own house.

The conversation that ensued is detailed in Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore by David L. Gosling, a book that covers the blossoming of intellectual thought in early twentieth century India, amid the already strong Indian spiritual traditions.

In excerpts from that meeting, the conversation between Einstein and Tagore is a wonderful exploration of the fundamental questions of existence, touching on science, philosophy, consciousness and beauty.

Similar to the way the Dalai Lama embraces the latest developments in science, especially in relation to the long Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Tagore uses the language of science to explain his views, such as when he compares human society in terms of fundamental particles.

“Matter is composed of protons and electrons, with gaps between them; but matter may seem to be solid. Similarly humanity is composed of individuals, yet they have their interconnection of human relationship, which gives living unity to man’s world.”

And when the conversation shifts to the nature of reality — whether Truth can exist independently of humanity — Einstein admits that his beliefs may not rely solely on what he can know through science.

“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.”

Although this interaction between science and spirituality took place over eighty years ago, it is still relevant today. In spite of all the advances in science since that point — especially in quantum physics — the questions of the very nature of the universe, from fundamental Truths to Beauty, still resonate with us today.

Click here to read the full conversation “ON THE NATURE OF REALITY” between Albert and Rabindranath Tagore.

First published here in January, 2015

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Shawn Radcliffe is a science writer, yoga instructor and creator of fiction and humor. He has written about science, health, meditation and yoga for Healthline.com, Men's Fitness, Greater Good and more. He also tackles the humorous implications of spirituality and science on his blog, Branáin - Ravenously Curious.
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17 Responses to “The Historic Einstein-Tagore Meeting: Is Truth Independent of us?”

  1. September 04, 2014 at 11:49 am, Mit Jones said:

    “The world we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far,
    creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level of consciousness at which we created them… We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humankind is to survive.”

    Albert Einstein, Nobel Laureate

    • March 19, 2015 at 6:42 am, Theodore Hoppe said:

      “Einstein, as he aged, adhered to a belief in realism – that the physical world has objectivity that transcends direct experience, and that propositions are true or false independent of our ability to discern which they are.”

      • March 19, 2015 at 7:47 pm, Mit Jones said:

        As we get older we learn to accept what is. Sometimes we spend a lifetime swimming up stream not knowing, the current will take us home.

        Do you think in the end he believed in free will ?

        • March 19, 2015 at 9:59 pm, Theodore Hoppe said:

          I certainly hope not.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfOMqehl-ZA

          • March 20, 2015 at 12:56 pm, Mit Jones said:

            I think you may enjoy this.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HeXehs-SwU

          • March 21, 2015 at 12:25 am, Theodore Hoppe said:

            I find it interesting that your focus is on the individual instead of the condition. This is where most make the mistake in a nature/ nurture environment.

          • March 21, 2015 at 2:41 am, Mit Jones said:

            I don’t follow, what individual are you referring to and what condition ?

            The video you suggested was on free will, the video I recommended was also on free will.

            I am not beyond mistakes but if one is being made it appears to be one we are sharing.

    • January 14, 2016 at 7:13 am, Amelios said:

      if humankind is meant to survive then the new manner of thinking will appear at the right time.

  2. September 04, 2014 at 2:06 pm, Steve Rice said:

    Science is our brain spirit and poetry our heart. Our body needs both to survive. Both have evolved and are needed for us to be complete beings, Rabinderath sings to the universe while the universe sings to Einstein. Amen

  3. September 04, 2014 at 7:44 pm, Philip Arthur Huebsch said:

    One aspect of the connection between spirit and matter fascinates me; I think of how the atoms and molecules that my body is made up of at this moment will change with time yet I remain the same individual. Also, some of my atoms and molecules could have been part of some ancient prehistoric creature and were, without doubt, at one time part of the earliest lifeless matter from which the earth is made and will return that state one day, while my invisible individuality will continue to exist. [For eternity?]

  4. September 08, 2014 at 9:30 am, John Paily said:

    Science and spirituality can unite and liberate humanity
    from clutches religions – if only west is ready to rethink its foundation and visualize
    universe as living as the ancient east thought – http://www.scribd.com/doc/220409302/Grand-Design-and-Truth-of-Nature-Reinventing-Big-Bang-Origin

  5. September 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm, Jonathan S said:

    Einstein said ‘I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man” – which may well be true, but it nevertheless can only be understood by a rational intelligence. So it may be independent of your mind, or of my mind, but it is only perceptible to a mind.

  6. September 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm, Ma Nita said:

    What a fabulous encounter indeed 🙂

    • March 19, 2015 at 6:41 am, Theodore Hoppe said:

      They had several discussions. This one is incomplete.

  7. October 24, 2015 at 5:23 pm, Derryl Hermanutz said:

    Einstein: “The problem is whether truth is independent of our consciousness.”

    I think Einstein is conflating “reality” with “truth”. William James clarified this. Reality is neither true nor false. Reality just “is”. Reality’s job is to exist. Our job is to get to know reality. Our knowledge of reality can be true or false. Our conscious awareness is electrically connected to our body’s sense receptors and neural processing electronics, which enable us to consciously “perceive reality”. We form ideas — conceptions and perceptions — about reality, loosely based on our sensory-perceptual experiences “of reality”. Our ideas are true or false insofar as they are accurate mental replications of the realities they purport to “know”. If the world that exists inside my head is a more or less accurate mental replication (however incomplete it may be) of the world that exists outside of my head, then I “know reality truly”.

    On this view, truth is a correspondence relationship between reality as it exists “in here” in my conscious knowing, and “out there” in external reality. This view assumes metaphysical dualism: the distinction between a conscious knower (epistemology) and the realities that are known (ontology). Both the conscious knower and the reality that is known are “real”. But reality, and knowing reality, are two different kinds of things.

    Reality exists independent of consciousness. And consciousness does not directly “know reality”, so that “seeing/consciously perceiving” a rock involves somehow having the objective reality of the rock — the physical rock — in your consciousness. Consciousness knows information about reality, not objective reality directly. Errors in the information transmission system can cause errors in perception and conception. And errors of conception can cause errors in perception. We don’t necessarily see what is actually out there. We see a worldview-conditioned version of reality, which is often skewed, biased, and myopically selective rather than “objective”.

    I think Einstein means to ask whether “reality” exists independent of our consciousness. He seems to believe it does, which makes him a metaphysical dualist who recognizes the difference between reality, and some conscious mind knowing reality.

    Einstein never accepted that reality itself is probabilistic rather than deterministic: “God does not roll dice!” His revolutionary “relativity” simply stated that there is no preferred position that we can call “fixed”, and measure the “objective” motion of everything else from that preferred position. All motion occurs within a frame of reference, and the frame is chosen arbitrarily by the framer to suit his purposes. Motion is relative to the conscious observer who is “seeing/perceiving” the motion. Einstein unmoored us from the fixed (but false) platform Newton measured motion from. Einstein educated our knowing. He did not alter the way objective reality is. Relativity — like heliocentrism — is an epistemological revolution, not an alteration of ontological reality. The Earth revolved around the Sun long before Copernicus said so. Geocentric “ideas about” reality were false. Ontological reality is not affected by false beliefs about how reality is.

    Heisenberg explained an epistemological limitation: we cannot precisely measure the position and the velocity of a small fast entity (like an electron) at the same time. So we cannot precisely “know” the full quantum state of the electron. Which means we can never know the full bottom-up initial state of any real system made of protons, neutrons and electrons, then apply our knowledge of its operating mechanics to precisely predict future states of that system.

    Heisenberg explained why we will never be able to scientifically predict the future of any real system (though computers can predict the future states of mathematical models that arbitrarily specify a full set of initial conditions). Heisenberg uncertainty doesn’t say anything about ontology, only the limitation of our “knowing”. We can assume that an electron is always in a particular position while it is moving at a specific velocity; and we can know that the position is pretty much always changing because the electron is pretty much always moving. But to see where and how fast the electron is going we have to observe its motion. And to see where it is we have to do a stop-motion snapshot. We cannot simultaneously watch it moving and watch it stopped. So we can never precisely know its position and velocity at the same time, to get a full description of its initial quantum state.

    There seems to be a lot of conflation happening in theoretical physics between epistemological phenomena (knowing) and ontological phenomena (reality). We can only know quantum reality probabilistically — within a range of values — due to Heisenberg epistemological limitations. Many physicists seem to just assume this means reality itself is indefinite and probabilistic rather than concrete and deterministic.

    The trouble is, we can never get outside of our conscious perceiving, conceiving and knowing to somehow directly know objective reality as it “really is”. As far as we are able to empirically observe and theoretically understand, knowing only “happens” in a conscious mind. All of our empirical knowing is mediated by sensory information, that dualists assume is coming “from reality”. But there is no way to get outside of our conscious perceiving and knowing to “see” and thereby empirically “know” how reality is in itself, when nobody is there “seeing it”.

    And we can neither logically nor empirically “prove” to a dedicated immaterialist that there is an objective reality out there that is “causing” his conscious perceptual experiences “of reality”. We can cause him to have perceptual experiences of us shouting at him, but we cannot convince him that we are really “out here” causing him to have those experiences. We exist merely as perceptions in his consciousness. Nevertheless, a far more logically and empirically coherent case can be made for metaphysical dualism than for any of the attempts to reduce reality to either entirely conscious (immaterialism) or entirely physical (materialism).

    • January 01, 2016 at 8:15 am, Atula Siriwardane said:

      Truth is being aware of our consciousness and the mind and body as a whole…

  8. January 01, 2016 at 8:12 am, Atula Siriwardane said:

    According to Buddha here and now is the truth.. What we experience is limited to what we select, because we like or dislike. The rest of the is ignored. When we like or dislike we distort the truth with our liking or disliking which is dependent of the many factors of here and now. In the winter we like hot food. In the summer we prefer them cold. What we see is relative to us. If we can see our liking and disliking also a part of the here and now we are aware and equanimous. That state of being purifies the being which leads to suffer less and become enlightened at the end…

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