Verse 15: No Big Bang

Verse 15 was challenging for me to digest. It offers a rigorous logical analysis demonstrating why there must be an Unmanifest. For me, this verse has both an “elephant in the room” and a “mouse in the room” that need to be addressed.

I want to first get the “mouse” out of the way. The commentaries around the argument for “finiteness of special objects” raise two aspects. On the one hand, there is a methodical argument against infinite regression. I have tried to both grasp and convey this in the summary though it continues to feel to me both intuitively clear and intellectually slippery. Some of the “slipperiness” is addressed in the commentary by pointing to the finite-ness of the 25 principles of Samkhya which have not been presented yet. I have avoided including this in the verse summary because that would violate my assumption that the text is a generative sequence. So the summary remains true to the conciseness of the text, but it may leave something to be desired in the logic of the argument.

This brings me to the “Elephant in the room” – causality! I consider myself a rigorous thinker. However, I consider myself to be at best a moderate logician, so I may be missing something here (and it may have to do with the “mouse”). After all the time spent with this verse, I continue to feel there is an unspoken and unreasoned assumption lurking in it.

There is an argument being made here that since causality is empirical in the Manifest it must also be true in the relationship between the Manifest and Unmanifest. In the verse, causality is an inference bridge that leads from the Manifest to the Unmanifest. But I am left wondering why that is? Why can’t the Manifest be bound to causality while the Unmanifest is free from it? Why can’t the underlying nature of the world be, for example, random, wild, and inexplicable?

I don’t have a good answer to this question. But chewing on it has made me wonder about the approach taken here in Samkhya compared to modern theoretical science. I remembered this quote:

As Terence McKenna observed, “Modern science is based on the principle: ‘Give us one free miracle and we’ll explain the rest.’ The one free miracle is the appearance of all the mass and energy in the universe and all the laws that govern it in a single instant from nothing.”

Rupert Sheldrake

It seems to me that the near-metaphysical branches of modern science are filled with hypothetical ideas which are not empirical. These ideas seem to be born from theories (that point to things that may or may not exist) and mathematical equations that need to be balanced. Scientists then seem to go looking for empirical evidence to test their theories and equations. Maybe I am presenting a bias here, but there seems to me to be a difference between investigating a phenomenon that is perceived compared to chasing a hypothetical phenomenon. There is, in my mind, a discernment to be made between seeking to understand experience vs. seeking experience to confirm an understanding. The latter feels to me like a volatile overreach and, ironically, like a leap of faith!

Samkhya also seems to be making a leap of faith in its attempt to point to an underlying Unmanifest that causes the Manifest. It is also trying to understand empirical experience. However, it avoids the trap of seeking experience to confirm this understanding by placing the Unmanifest safely beyond the reach of experience and comprehension. Samkhya seems to be asking: what if things are as they seem to be? If causality seems to be such a dominant aspect of my lived experience why not assume that it also pertains to the underlying nature of the world? Why would causality cease to be valid when it comes to the Unmanifest? To my mind, this grants Samkhya a quality of internal integrity.

Samkhya doesn’t seem to have or need a “Big Bang” kind of miracle to get everything started. The next verses will offer a view of a simultaneously causal and random Guna world … without a Big Bang.

Mystical Extra Credit: What if our inquisitive relationship with the universe is not just a relationship of discovery but also a relationship of creation? What if there aren’t fixed laws of nature, but evolving habits in nature? What if, through our intense scientific inquiry, we are not “discovering fixed laws” but “forming habits”? What if by choosing what we seek to understand we are not just perceiving nature but affecting it? What if by “looking for” mechanistic subatomic particles we are “generating” them? How would that affect the questions we ask and the way we ask them?

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