Is there a god? My talk with Hindu Swami Purnananda at UCD Philosophy Society

by Michael Nugent on October 26, 2014

This is my full discussion with Hindu Swami Purnananda at University College Dublin Philosophy Society.

Swami Purnananda is also a member of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. Apologies for poor image quality.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jan Steen October 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

Swami is also a member of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. Apologies for poor image quality.

“Swami” is a kind of title, so I think you should either write “The swami” or “Swami Purnananda”.

/pedant mode

2 Cathal Ó Broin October 26, 2014 at 11:58 am

21:30: “All we have is uncertainty as the foundation of reality. This is because of relativity and quantum physics, and uncertainty underlines both of them”
There is only uncertainty in quantum physics, relativity is just as deterministic as classical physics. Further, this confuses scientific theories with a statement about ontology. He keeps bringing up quantum physics and relativity, but really they have no bearing on the question whether there is a god or not at all.

At 34:00 Nugent has it right; you don’t need to talk about or consider quantum mechanics or relativity in considering the everyday world we experience. This is why Newtonian physics worked so well, and is still in use.

“The whole nature of the quantum physics is the conscious observer” No not at all. Only one, unpopular, interpretation involves a consciousness causes collapse idea, but there is zero reason to think it does. Measuring devices measuring things cause collapse as well. The mechanism of collapse is currently unknown, and saying the unknown part is “the whole nature” of quantum physics is highly misleading. It’s like saying the whole nature of cosmology is what happens in the time after our physical theories break down. The most correct answer is: we don’t know.

The Swami also confuses that the reason quantum mechanics is relevant to black holes is that they are very small and very dense, while everyday objects are not very small and very dense. For macroscopic objects, there is the correspondence principle to everyday objects of experience. I’m fairly sure that Sean Carroll wouldn’t agree with the interpretation Swami is proposing, since it is using the language of fundamental physics to try and describe everyday life when it’s generally more appropriate to describe it with biology and classical physics. Further, even if we observe quantum mechanics on a macroscopic scale in certain circumstances, it has no bearing on the discussion.

A unified field theory does not mean any biological or chemical knowledge is going to be influenced in anyway, the only impacts will be to have a firm theoretical basis for physical theories of fundamental particles, and so help cosmology and the theory of black holes etc.

At time 40:40, the Swami appears to misunderstand relativity. There is no absolute stationary frame of reference. I’ve no idea what he’s talking about at 42:00, does not follow from what he said earlier, and seems empty.

At time 51:53, he again gives intentionality to atoms and physical law which is profoundly meaningless. Atoms and molecules don’t have intentions, they are merely parts of the physical universe that follow physical laws. They have no desires or intentions. Is description of the physics of a molecule is also just straight up wrong and bizarre. His talk of what he considers the “3 great energies” is also rather strange and seems liberally sprinkled with nonsensical phrasing. What he might have more usefully talked about was the four fundamental forces, 3 of which have been unified into the electroweak theory, and the remaining gravitational force which has not.

On a factual note, Heisenberg didn’t quote the Vedas as I can tell, unless someone can cite the original texts. Schrödinger can be described as a pantheist, but Heisenberg was a lutheran, Bohr was an atheist in that he did not have a religious belief. Wolfgang Pauli was a mystic. Einstein could be described as an agnostic/atheist/pantheist; he wasn’t exactly clear about his religious beliefs, presumably because of the dislike of atheists at the time. While he didn’t like the label of atheist, his views are clearly atheistic. Hendrik Lorentz was a freethinker. Rutherford didn’t care about religion at all, so non-religious at the least. Paul Langevin being a member of the communist party, was probably an atheist. Max Planck could be described as a deist or “spiritual”. Basically, the early physicists of quantum mechanics had a variety of religious views, as do any modern bunch of scientists on any topic.

3 Michael Nugent October 26, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Thanks, Jan.

Shows how far into life I have got while knowing so little about Hinduism.

4 Michael Nugent October 27, 2014 at 1:34 am

That’s really interesting, Cathal. Is it common knowledge that they attribute that quote to Heisenberg, and if so where do they suggest that it comes from without providing original documents?

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