Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Cosmic Dance and Physics

I was recently reminded of subatomic physics and its parallel with the Hindu philosophy. So, I read the relevant chapter in the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Captra and wanted to share the story. Disclaimer: this is not a religious post. I talk about science and stories, not religion because I believe religion is a personal choice quite unsuited for discussion. Philosophy and spirituality on the other hand are the underlying basis of humanity and quite open for debate. I digress here, what I mean to say is proceed reading for an interesting parallel between the cosmic dance of Nataraja and the sub-atomic particles.

From the dawn of recorded science, all forces in nature have been classified into four types alone. The strongest of these forces are those found within an atom. We have all learnt that an atom has three primary subatomic particles - protons, electrons and neutrons. The nucleus is comprised of protons and neutrons. We also know that like charges repel. The force of repulsion between two like charges is stronger as they come closer. Now imagine what you may have done as a kid, held two repelling magnets together. Imagine you had to wrestle a force much larger as two protons in a nucleus are unimaginably close together in the nucleus! And to top it off, you don't just have two protons in a typical nucleus but much more. The nuclear force holds all these protons that are struggling to release, together. This makes it extremely powerful. This is high energy physics.

Now inside this exciting nucleus where all these interactions are happening, the discussion of matter and anti-matter is inevitable. Thanks to Dan Brown, everyone has heard of anti-matter. It directly follows from the duality of mass and energy, how mass can be converted into energy and vice versa. Antimatter is a form of energy that is massless and may have charge. It is very difficult to visualize it as our notions of mass and charge are vague spherical bodies in our textbooks. Within a nucleus, collisions of particles lead to a cycle of creation and destruction of matter though the overall is stable at a macro view. It is an intricate and orderly chaos.

Indians are very familiar with the cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. The image of the dancing Nataraja is something I was very drawn to. In those yellowing history textbooks about the bronze images created by the Cholas, I saw something of a genius there that lay forgotten. Years later when my interest in dance was renewed, I could not help noticing the beautiful balance of grace and wildness, the masculine and the feminine. The Yin and the Yang.

The image of Nataraja signifies that Shiva is in an eternal cosmic dance to keep the universe in order. Again, chaos for order. In the midst of fire, the high energy and rhythm, the dance resonates with time and space. The drum signifies vibration as the source of all activity and eventually, life. His hands signify both creation and destruction. One of them also reassures us that all will be will in this endless activity as he stands on the head of ignorance. His face is the central point of focus, the detached calm point of equality.

The parallels are staggering. I do not claim that our ancestors discovered the God particle years ago, I believe their senses of science and observation were immaculate. Their reasoning about the world lead them to distil away all distractions and hone in on one simple unchanging truth - change and repetition are the only facts in this world - chaos and order.

We are merely elements of this spectacular dance.

Nataraja gifted by India to CERN