Welcome to our second newsletter from the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies. For us this year has been challenging yet productive. The recent lockdowns proved a blessing in that our scholars have been able to work together more closely using Zoom. We have replaced jet lag with Zoom lag - with intercontinental meetings through multiple time zones!
We are still remodeling our recently acquired BIHS headquarters, the former home of the president of the University of Florida. Through the generosity of Dr. Howard J. Resnick (Hridayananda das Goswami), we have a permanent headquarters with a Vaishnava archivist and a significant library donated by retired professors. This place will serve as Dr. Resnick’s residence and as a retreat center where scholars can gather and collaborate. We also have access to the local city library and the full library of the University of Florida. Our scholars have been exploring issues in consciousness, cosmology, ethics, evolutionary theory, artificial intelligence, sustainability, and more. From this work we intend to produce books and multimedia presentations.
We have formed a partnership with the Institute for Vaishnava Studies, publisher of the Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Sharing the media facilities and library at the BIHS house, the IVS will focus on the humanities, the BIHS on science. If you are interested in assisting the BIHS through scholarship, financial support, editorial assistance, social media, or other ways, please write to me directly at [email protected] We look forward to your comments and participation.
PURPOSE OF THE BIHS by Prishni Sutton
The Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS) is a center for the research and dissemination of a nonmechanistic scientific view of reality. The main purpose of the Institute is to explore the implications of Bhagavata Vedanta philosophy as it bears upon human culture and to present the Institute’s findings in courses, lectures, conferences, monographs, digital media, and books. Our work contributes a nonmechanistic view of matter and consciousness to scientific discourse, exploring consciousness as an irreducible aspect of reality.
A central doctrine of modern science is that all phenomena, including those of life and consciousness, can be explained and understood by recourse to matter alone. The Vedas, on the other hand, teach that conscious life is original, fundamental, and eternal. The Bhaktivedanta Institute is dedicated to disseminating this most fundamental knowledge throughout the world.
Srila Prabhupada described in a letter to Thomas Doliner (Dravida Dasa) dated April 2, 1977:
We have formed the Bhaktivedanta Institute for organizing scientific presentations of Krishna Consciousness. This party is our most important preaching arm... I want them to travel vigorously throughout the world to lecture in all universities and other institutions.
In a conversation held in Los Angeles in 1973, Prabhupada further clarified the Institute’s relationship to the scientific community in a conversation with Dr. Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics at the University of California: “I don't decry your scientific discoveries. We welcome you. You are a scientist, and we appreciate your labor. But we criticize you only because you forget Krishna.”
Richard L. Thompson (Sadaputa Dasa), a founding member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, also commented on the project’s aspirations in an article published in Perspectives on Bhaktivedanta Institute (1979):
In the vision of Srila Prabhupada, the theoretical system of modern science is a relatively undeveloped and tentative description of reality that should be corrected and extended within the broader context of the spiritual science described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. (p.25)
Since its founding over four decades ago, the Bhaktivedanta Institute has kept the same purpose: to articulate a disciplined presentation of Vedic knowledge established upon a genuine scientific basis.
BIHS ACQUIRES A LIBRARY by Bob Cohen (Brahmatirtha Dasa)
The BIHS is currently developing a substantial library, housed at our new headquarters in Gainesville. Initial contributions came from two retiring University of Florida professors, who donated their extensive academic libraries to the BI. A Vaishnava archivist also donated his extensive library, which includes original Bhaktivinoda editions, before his passing away. This seed library already contains over 3000 volumes, with many more on the way. Our library resource and our BI facilities will be dedicated as a research retreat for visiting scholars. In addition to this resource, local BI scholars have access to the entire University of Florida collection as well as the County’s vast public interlibrary loan network.
LEGACY OF RICHARD L. THOMPSON PRESERVED IN RLT ARCHIVES by S.E. Kreitzer
Dr. Richard L. Thompson (1947–2008), also known by his Vaishnava name Sadaputa Dasa, was a mathematician, scientist, philosopher, author, researcher of ancient cosmology, and devoted practitioner of bhakti-yoga. In 1974 he received his PhD from Cornell University, where he specialized in probability theory and statistical mechanics. During this time, he found inspiration in the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and became a dedicated follower of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, popularly known in the West as the Hare Krishna movement. He later served as a founding member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute.
The archives of Richard L. Thompson reflect his interest in the discourse between science and religion concerning the natural world. The archives include articles he produced for peer-reviewed scientific journals and also writings exploring the theistic tradition of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. As such, he was genuinely interested in the profound questions of the long discourse of science and religion and the natural world, with specific application to the Vaishnava tradition. Please click here for a fuller biography.
Alongside his prolific output, encompassing both his professional and Bhaktivedanta Institute work, Thompson kept extensive personal files. These materials, which were offered to the Archives by Thompson’s family, have been collected, digitized, and organized by S.E. Kreitzer, who holds a PhD in the history of science, and Christopher Beetle, who served as Thompson’s research assistant for sixteen years. In 2015, Richard L. Thompson Archives (RLTA) formally incorporated with an aim to preserve the works and memory of Richard L. Thompson and make these resources available to interested parties. RLTA projects include, but are not restricted to, the systematic preservation and cataloging of his papers and other research materials, the creation and maintenance of the archival memorial website, the oral history project, as well as continuing research with reference to his legacy as a founding member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute. With additional assistance from Saul Porecki and Prishni Sutton, other works by Thompson were gradually added to the collection, including 130 recorded lectures. In 2018, with assistance from Uddhi Marcoti, IT manager for Krishna.com, the Archives launched a website (www.rltarchives.com), which includes historical documents key to the founding of the Bhaktivedanta Institute during the 1970s, along with a full collection of Thompson's essays for Back to Godhead (BTG), the official magazine of the Hare Krishna Movement, and links to other published works, including his professional papers and his proposals for planetarium and museum exhibits. The site is designed to provide access for ongoing research and independent study. It is clear that Thompson left a significant legacy that not only bequeathed an imprint upon many key ISKCON projects such as the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, but it also offers the potential to inspire future generations to do their own research on the big questions of life.
The RLTA is a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. The project wholeheartedly thanks Dr. Thompson’s family for generously making his personal papers available for continuing scholarship and thanks the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust for its timely grant that helped establish this project.
ASK A NERD
What is “Dark Energy”?
by Doug Watson
Cosmologists have known for over a century that galaxies all throughout the universe are moving away from us and each other. Space itself is getting bigger! We would expect this expansion to slow over time because gravity causes objects to attract one another; however, a little over twenty years ago we discovered that not only is the universe expanding but the rate of that expansion is speeding up. The expansion of the universe is accelerating!
Einstein showed us that even empty space has energy, so-called vacuum energy or “dark energy.” We say that this hypothetical energy is dark because we are unable to directly observe it; we can only measure its effects. Dark energy acts as a repulsive force, pushing on space. One would think that the density of the universe would decrease as the volume of the universe increases, but the density of dark energy remains persistent even as the universe expands. Weird! This leads to even more bizarre questions, like “What is space expanding into?” and “Will the accelerated expansion ever stop?”
The nature of dark energy still eludes scientists. It may be Einstein’s vacuum energy or it may be something entirely different. One thing is for sure: the quest to understand dark energy is one of the most important tasks of twenty-first century cosmology.
BI CONNECT by Ryan Bisset
Bhaktivedanta Institute Connect (“BI Connect”) is a free virtual space in which scientifically trained devotees connect and collaborate and continue Srila Prabhupada's desire to share Krishna consciousness in ways that will engage the intellectuals of society. BI Connect regularly holds Bhagavad-gita discussions, plans to introduce forums for cross-pollination of ideas, and ultimately aims at developing projects with output in the form of research and publications.
BI Connect currently has twenty-six PhD members from various scientific fields as well as medical doctors and others with postgraduate scientific training. If you are qualified in a STEM or related field, or in the history and philosophy of science, please apply for membership by completing this quick survey.
THE ISKCON COMMUNICATIONS JOURNAL RETURNS by Tattvavit Dasa
An important publication in pursuit of ISKCON’s mission sees new life.
For a little more than a decade, Shaunaka Rishi Dasa, from Ireland, published the original ISKCON Communications Journal (ICJ) in England in his capacity as the director of ISKCON Communications Europe. Biannual issues appeared from 1993 through 1999, and five issues between 2000 and 2005. The digital back issues are online (content.iskcon.org). The journal presented to the general public ISKCON’s values and understandings on a variety of topics, while also promoting internal analysis among its membership.
Shaunaka Rishi wrote and published, in 1999, the first statement on interfaith dialogue specific to the Caitanya Vaisnava tradition: “ISKCON in Relation to People of Faith in God.” Thanks to his perseverance, articles by scholars from within and outside ISKCON addressed dozens of issues and challenges that ISKCON was navigating. But because he needed to serve exclusively as the executive director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, the ICJ became dormant after 2005.
The ICJ was reawakened and revived this year in Belgium by Mahaprabhu Dasa, the current director of ISKCON Communications Europe. The ICJ returns to continue the work begun almost thirty years ago of covering topics crucial to ISKCON. ICJ will again contain scholarly articles on obstacles to religious freedom, moral and ethical challenges, scientific and philosophical thought, abuse (child, domestic, pastoral), and topics about or directly related to ISKCON. The audience includes academics, the media, faith communities, political and cultural leaders, and more.
Akhandadhi Dasa, Founder of the Science and Philosophy Initiative, contributed an article to the 2021 Journal based on a talk he presented at the "Consciousness in Science" Conference in Gainesville, Florida (January 2019): “Why Consciousness Is a Big Deal for Science.” The Bhaktivedanta Institute members are welcome to submit ICJ articles.
Anuttama Dasa, the Global Minister of ISKCON Communications, mentions in his introduction to this revived and revamped journal, that ISKCON “has much to offer the world and much to learn from the world.” By publishing this needed communication, ICJ will help ISKCON fulfill its ambitious purposes and inspired mission.
To order the 2021 ICJ, contact Ijya Dasa at Krishna.com or contact Bhaktivedanta Library Services (BLS), Petite Somme 2, 6940 Durbuy, Belgium; [email protected]; www.blservices.com; phone: +32 (0)86 32 32 80. To subscribe to ISKCON Communications Journal contact BLS.
Tattvavit Dasa co-edited the first issue of the revivedISKCON Communications Journal.
THE ATMA PARADIGM by Akhandadhi Dasa
Atma Paradigm Webinar Course
In 2020, Akhandadhi Dasa presented a webinar series entitled The Atma Paradigm. The series explored elements of Bhagavata philosophy relevant to major issues in modern science and philosophy. The thirty-five talks in the series covered four topics: -Consciousness, mind, and perception
-Matter, reality, information, and interaction with conscious agency
-Life - its characteristics, appearance and development -The origins and metaphysics of the universe and beyond
This material has been developed over the past 15 years as a philosophically-based framework that is science-consistent. Though academically rigorous, the presentation speaks to a general audience. This series includes additional material that enables followers of Vedic traditions to appreciate the sources of many traditional ideas that overlap and corroborate with recent scientific research.
The BIHS assisted the Science & Philosophy Initiative (S-Pi) in the UK in producing and reviewing the presentations, as well as by providing full transcripts of all 35 talks. The series will be produced as an Atma Paradigm reference book to be available both in print and online.
In April, Alex Gallagher, the presenter of the YouTube channel Theology Unleashed hosted a discussion between Akhandadhi Dasa and David Papineau, professor of philosophy at King’s College University in London, regarding physicalism in relation to the philosophy of mind.
A synopsis of the Atma Paradigm was presented online at "Beyond Thought," an online seminar organized by the BI in Russia. The talk included an analysis of the interaction of mind and body, refuting the standard objections raised by the concepts of Cartesian Dualism.
In May, Akhandadhi Dasa was a panel speaker at the online conference of "Ethics of Artificial Intelligence," organized in India by O. P. Jindal Global University in partnership with the United Nations. He spoke on whether we can regard robots as having moral agency. Watch Day One of the event here.
WORLD LOGIC DAY by Ricardo Silvestre
The Logic and Religion Project joined the dozens of worldwide initiatives in celebration of World Logic Day and promoted, on January 14, 2021, the free online event "Logic and Religion" on the World Logic Day 2021. Talks were streamed via the Logic and Religion YouTube channel. More than 500 people watched them, which is significant for an academic conference.
Among the renowned scholars who spoke at the conference we can mention Piergiorgio Odifreddi (University of Turin, Italy), Stanislaw Krajewski (University of Warsaw, Poland), Stephen Priest (University of Oxford, UK), Kelly Clark (Grand Valley State University, USA) and Howard Resnick (Hridayananda das Goswami), from the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (Gainesville, USA). Dr. Resnick’s lecture, entitled “Reason (Buddhi) in Bhagavad-Gītā,'' was well received and provided an important contribution of the bhakti tradition to the debate on logic and religion, reason and faith, rational inquiry and divine revelation.
BI SCHOLAR PROFILE: DOUG WATSON
Doug was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1977. He has a PhD in Physics from Vanderbilt University, where his research focused on a theoretical framework for the formation and evolution of galaxies in the universe. Doug was a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, the fellowship supported independent research in cutting-edge theoretical physics as well as education initiatives for underserved communities. During his undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin, he was a member of the men’s soccer team, which won both the NCAA and Big Ten Championships. He later played soccer professionally in the U.S. and Chile. These days, Doug is an avid ultramarathon runner, having competed in numerous races from 50 miles up to 250 miles.
Doug became involved with the BIHS in 2019 after an inspiring conversation with Dr. Howard Resnick (Hrydayanada Das Goswami.) Since then he has joined several specialized groups of scientists who are exploring modern cosmology as they relate to the Second, Third, and Fifth Cantos of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and are working on research that aims to find correlations between the physical cosmology observed astronomically and theoretically and their Vedic counterparts. Doug’s goals for his work and research with the BIHS include presenting these topics to his colleagues in the sciences, making these topics accessible to the general public, and engaging and collaborating with academia. In 2020 he and his wife Saranagati relocated from Los Angeles, California, to Alachua County Florida.
PUBLICATIONS IN PROGRESS
Krishna and the Quark
by Mauricio Garrido A semi-autobiographical book that highlights the distinctions and commonalities between modern physics and Krishna consciousness.
by Mauricio Garrido
“A Mathematical Model of the Gunas as a Foundation for Expanded Understanding of Decision-Making Process.”
Based on empirical validation (Stempel (2006); Wolf (1999)) of the constructs of the three gunas, as described in the Vedic literatures, a mathematical model depicting the mechanism of action of the gunas was developed. This model was evaluated using data from a group design study on the effects of maha mantra meditation. Analysis demonstrated substantive validity for this mathematical model of the three gunas, or modes of material nature – sattva (enlightenment), rajas (activity), and tamas (inertia).
“Bhu-mandala as the Horizontal Plane.”
Taking Bhu-mandala as the horizontal plane serves several practical purposes: 1) Sadaputa Prabhu’s 4 models come together, 2) the sequence of planets as given in the Bhagavatam makes sense according to jyotisa, 3) the cosmography models of Antardwip and Pavaneshwar are accommodated, and 4) the Fifth Canto description of the universe becomes relevant and practical to Maharaja Pariksit.
“Perception according to Sankhya.”
A preliminary investigation of perception using descriptions of the tan-matras found in the Sankhya sections of the Yoga Sutras may help explain the mechanisms involved in our inability to see the higher realms of Puranic cosmology.
A Flat Book on the Round Globe
– Bhaktivedanta Institute Collaborators
This project examines flat vs. globular Earth models from the perspective of Puranic, Jyotish, and modern astronomical paradigms. The book also addresses the role of ISKCON scholars’ contribution to contemporary cosmological discussions that have also been ongoing for over 1500 years.
On the Philosophy of Cosmology
by Douglas Watson Aims to address significant shortcomings of the standard Bayesian mathematical analysis of the universe. More specifically, it would appear that the highest posterior probabilities associated with observations do not point to the mathematically absolutely simplest theories, and as such, previous authors have suggested that a theory that maximizes goodness may be the simplest and most accurate way to describe the world– the Optimal Argument for the Existence of God.
by Vasyl Semenov
A sequel to his original article “Vertical dimension and the size of Puranic Universe,” this article further explores Vedic correlations with modern astronomy by introducing jyotisa perspectives from the Surya-siddhanta and Siddhanta-siromani.
DONATE AND SUPPORT OUR WORK
Your donations to the BIHS support our research efforts, seminars, outreach programs and workshops in various subject matters including: consciousness, evolution, artificial intelligence, sustainability and metaphysics. Become a monthly and allow us to further our mission and engage devotee scholars from around the world in continuing the bridges begun by Srila Prabhupada in his first book: Easy Journey to Other Planets