Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Mathematical Theory of Reality

Srinivasa Ramanujan, born in 1887, was a renowned and celebrated Indian mathematician, much of who's work still to this day is just being understood by academic scholars around the world. Ramanujan was born the son of a Brahman family, and though poor and with almost no access to formal mathematical texts or teachers, formulated some of the most extraordinary, almost mystical equations the world had known to that point. His theories shook the very foundation of theoretical mathematics, and even today, still have a direct impact and application in such fields as physics, astronomy and chemistry.

In the extraordinary book, 'The Man Who Knew Infinity', written by Robert Kanigel, the author details Ramanujan's attempt to link his spirituality with his love of mathematics. Even thought he was a Hindu by birth, he expressed interest in all the religions and spiritual ideas of the day. He surmised that Oneness or God or Absoluteness could somehow be formulated in a mathematical expression. Even today, some of these theory's are quite controversial and hotly debated among mathematicians and philosophers alike. I'm not very good at math, but one of these formulas Kanigel explained struck me as highly peculiar, yet somehow seemed to have remarkable logical reasoning behind it, especially in the context of Buddhist teachings.

In theoretical mathematics, it is very important to understand that the number zero does not represent nothingness or void-ness, but rather represents potential. It is the only natural number that is neither positive nor negative, and denotes something which has the latent capacity for any numerical eventuality. On the Kelvin scale in quantum physics, absolute zero represents the coldest temperature possible in the universe, where there are no particles nor energy nor light. Anyway, here is Ramanujan's simple 'Theory of Reality' for you all to ponder.

0 = Absolute Reality and (Infinity) ∞ = the "myriad manifestations of that reality" Therefore, he claimed (0) (∞) (zero x infinity) = "All Numbers, or every individual act of creation." This might be a bit confusing, but perhaps if we think about it in terms of "We are what we think" and the Buddha's notion of what emptiness is, it may strike a chord with you?


  1. And we're also not what we think as the number one is the only number that is also not a number.

  2. Your last post talked about being a Western Buddhist. One thing that I think we inherit, that say, Tibetan Buddhism doesn't, is the legacy of the European Enlightenment. "Dare to Know" as they said. "You can ask any question you want," says the Enlightenment, as you can in Buddhism--although we come at it here from a slightly different perspective because of the Enlightenment.

    One thing that I've found helpful, though, is to gain a wider perspective, and know that Enlightenment science and math doesn't reveal everything... Isaiah Berlin can be helpful here (pdf).

  3. Ted – Precisely, Ramanajun also said that God or Oneness = 1. Even though we know these are just numbers, it is interesting and enjoyable at some level to talk about them. :-)
    J – I completely agree, science can’t answer all the questions, but it certainly can help us both understand and expand our reasoning and judgment. It’s all about balance. Thank you for those links!