Unity is indivisible non-duality and lies at the heart of disparate scientific, philosophical and spiritual pursuits of mankind over the years. It has intrigued and fascinated all and sundry, as much as, if not more than, the conceptual element of symmetry. Swami Vivekananda spoke of unity being the cornerstone of Dharmic spiritualism, on 19 September 1893 in Chicago.
Unity of thought, of phenomena, of experience, of reality. Oneness of the essence of everything that there is, in the Universe.
Just like gold in different forms and names is still gold, so also was the multiplicity manifested in the Universe spoken of in terms of an underlying oneness, in ancient Indic thought. The discussion of Brahman in the Upanishads is related to the ontological, metaphysical, epistemological as well as soteriological oneness inherent in a certain primordial reality that gives rise to, maintains and withdraws within the Universe. The concept is best encapsulated in the Mahāvākya सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म, meaning “All this is Brahman”, from the third Prapāṭhaka of the Chandogya Upanishad. The “essence and everything innate in all that exists inside, outside and everywhere”, as described by Paul Deussen.
The Ionian School of Pre-Socratic thought in Greece discussed the idea of Physis, from whence has come to the nomenclature for Physics, to describe `all things’ in a comprehensive manner under one umbrella. Confucius’ Tiān (天) or the Dao (道)of Taoism refer to the oneness inherent in the `way things are’. Ibn al-‘Arabi, a renowned Sufi philosopher, advanced the metaphysics of Wahdat al-wujud (`oneness of being’), which centred on the Islamic concept of توحيد (Tawhid) that talks of absolute truth, a distinct and indivisible being that exists and transcends the world. The Christian worldview affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe, albeit God (called אבא – `Abba’ in Aramaic by Jesus in Mark 14:36) is set apart from and transcends his creation.
The world of science has always engaged with the idea of the unification of scientific theories to best describe nature under a single conceptual umbrella. The idea of unified science or an underlying hierarchy for the sciences is motivated by simple but powerful insights. Social phenomena emerge out of complex relations of individuals, each being advanced biological and psychological systems, acting in intricate ways. Within each individual, physiology as well as psychology is defined by the functionalities of biological subsystems. The nuances of biology are premised on the choreography of molecular reactions occurring within and beyond individual cells. Chemical reactions involve the formation and breaking of bonds, which fall in the realm of microphysics. All-natural phenomena can then be seen as a rather complex hierarchy of transactions between physical constituents of matter, whose unified description is the aim of any candidate `theory of everything’.
In this way we see a hierarchy going from social sciences to biology to chemistry to physics and mathematics. Ernest Nagel’s idea of the reducibility of one theory in terms of another if the axioms of one can be derived in terms of the other’s enables the operative modus operandi to instantiate this hierarchy. The plethora of elements, entities, particles and fields in the physical substratum that seemingly underlies this hierarchy can be explained in terms of certain fundamental conceptions of nature. String Theory, Loop Quantum Gravity, Causal Sets and Superfluid Vacuum Theory give us ways, to begin with, a single axiomatic premise, such as the conception of the elementary building blocks to be strings or loops or even just sets of causative relations and try to explain the various phenomena we see in terms of this premise.
However, each of these theories has not obtained conclusive empirical verification and attestation, be it the lack of experimental proof of supersymmetry in String Theory or the lack of a resolution of how relativity can be reconciled with a formulation of the fundamental vacuum in the Universe as a superfluid. This is the most recent of a series of innovations and theorisations for attaining unity in our description of our physical universe, beginning with Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magnetism, going over the electroweak unification of the 1960s to the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson that is an important jigsaw in the puzzle that the unification of Physics poses.
On the other hand, there may be multiple theories, such as 108 theories of supergravity, that may converge on predicting accessible empirical findings but may diverge in regions of energy and scale that have not yet been experimentally explored, in this quest for physicalist unity. Different theories predict different energies of unification, with the more established ones predicting the energy where electroweak and strong interactions get unified to be about 1016 GeV and the energy where the strong-electroweak forces unify with gravity to be about 1019 GeV. This is more than a trillion times higher than the energies explored by our most advanced probe of high-energy physics today – the Large Hadron Collider, which is around 104 GeV.
Regardless of the manner of pursuing truth, what seems ubiquitous is the predilection for finding unity in it. Be it diachronic or synchronic unity, ontological or epistemological unity, global or local unity, the concept of unity has been present in various shapes and forms. But an important question here is:
Why must there be unity or multiplicity?
Is the oneness functional or an expression of reductionism?
Is there any absoluteness one can assign to the multiplicity we see around us or the unity we seek to drive towards?
Western philosophers since Nietzsche, who comprise the schools of late modernity, have moved away from the quest for ultimate unity, and have caused the status of unity to have become profoundly uncertain and transmuted. Nietzsche himself posited that we may lack interpretability of the overall character of existence by the means of a concept of ‘unity‘ or the concept of ‘truth’, thereby championing the idea that reality is a chaotic plurality.
This rejection of any foundational metaphysics of unity is shared by poststructuralists, naturalists and those following philosophical hermeneutics of the twentieth century. It is only with Martin Heidegger that we find what can be regarded as a post-metaphysical rearticulation of the quest for unity. He speaks of a contextual, dynamic and heterogenous unity of existence within which the distinct dimensions of existential temporality intertwine. Heidegger’s post-metaphysics deals with a local and situated unity of an event of meaning that is set in a multidimensional meaning-context.
I would like to go one step further in stating that the unity of the Western philosophers as well as the dualities or multiplicities are themselves part of a binary. Whether that binary is entrenched in a more fundamental reality, a more essential unity is a point to meditate on and explore, by experience and investigations, by each one of us. And that is the indescribable and possibly unconceivable `unity’ that both science and spiritualism seek to attain, in their pursuit of truth.