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The Enigma Of The Universe : II. The Mechanical Argument

Published: 30.12.2014
Updated: 13.01.2015

The main argument put forward by the materialists to sustain their view is based on the law of the conservation of matter and energy (or mattergy).[1] According to this law, the total amount of matter and energy (or mattergy) always remains constant; it can neither be increased nor diminished. All becoming consists only of the transmutation of energy into different forms. Now, the materialists contend that if we assume a psychical substance (mind or consciousness) as something distinct from body and non-physical, the above law gets violated. For, if the life-energy, which is found to get increased as a result of the reactions of the physical substances (such as food, water, heat) is different from the physical energy, it would mean that the energy in the form of increased life-energy is newly created (for it being non-physical, it cannot be considered to be the transmutation of physical energy). Again, if the nonphysical mind causes the physiological motion, (such as contraction of muscles) through its own initiative, it would mean that new energy is created in the form of the physiological motion(for the resultant energy being physical, it cannot be considered as the transmutation of non-physical energy). Thus the above assumption contradicts the principle of the conservation of mattergy and it is therefore to be rejected as unscientific.[2]

Now this argument of the materialists can be disproved thus: [3]

The application and validity of the principle of the conservation of mattergy is limited to physical and chemical processes. But this law is utterly inadequate for the explanation of vital processes. The centralized organisation of all organic beings, the remarkable adaption of all parts to a common purpose, all this cannot be explained in physico-chemical terms. As a matter of fact, the mechanical argument is not an argument, but merely a presupposition. It is only by assuming from the start that every process i.e., vital as well as physical can be explained and described according to the physico-chemical laws, that this protest of the materialists against the violation of the principle of the conservation of mattergy can have any meaning. But if we are guided by the facts, rather than by a definite theory, we must concede that the principle of the constancy of energy contributes absolutely nothing towards simplifying and explaining what really takes place in the sphere of the organic and psychical. The facts which have been established at this point, as well as the present stage of mental evolution, much rather require an entirely different principle of explanation. As a matter of fact, this is conceded by noted scientists. As Wundt[4] has shown, there is a kind of creative synthesis active here, whose nature and governing principles still require more careful investigation. The mechanical argument loses its force the moment we relinquish the materialist presupposition and abide by the most unassailable facts of our own experience.

Further, when we examine the above argument in the light of the Jain Philosophy we at once get convinced of the former's futility. It may be recalled here that according to the Jain view:-´

  1. Each of the five astikāyas constituting the universe is an independent reality.
  2. The principle of conservation is contained in the very definition of reality[5], according to which it is created and destroyed with respect to its modes while it remains constant with respect to its substance. It follows, then, the pudgala (mattergy) ever remains pudgala and soul ever persists as soul, in spite of the incessant changes in their modes; that is to say, soul never transforms into matter nor does matter transform into soul.
  3. Consequently, there are two independent principles of conservation: The principle of the conservation of pudgala and that of the conservation of soul. According to the former, the total amount of pudgala (which would include both matter and all kinds of material energy) remains constant, while according to the latter, the spiritual reality (which would include the soul and its energy) never perishes. The former one is the same as the scientific law of the conservation of mattergy.

Now, on the basis of these facts, the above contention of the materialists can easily be refuted. It can be seen that the vital processes are governed by both the soul's energy as well as physiological (physical) energy. The former is inherent in the soul itself while the latter is obtained through transmutation of physical substances (food, water, etc.) into the basic elements of the body (blood, chyme, semen, etc.) which subsequently gets transformed into the form of physiological energy. Now, in the above argument the term 'life-energy' is used in the sense of energy created by the transmutation of food, etc., but it is clear that the processes involving such a transmutation are essentially paudgalika (or we may say mattergy). Hence, the energy created thus cannot be considered to be different from physical energy. In other words, the soul's energy cannot be created through the transformation of food etc. It is, in fact, inherent in the soul itself. When the vital energy of the body is said to get increased it means that the physiological processes transmute food, etc. into the basic elements of the body which serve as the sources of the physiological (physical) energy for carrying on the life-processes. Thus, there is no question of creation of new energy and hence, the law of the conservation is not at all contradicted.

Further, in the reverse process, when it is said that the soul causes the physiological movements through its own initiative, it does not mean that new energy is created in the form of physiological motion. Actually the physiological motion is produced through the transmutation of the physiological energy already stored in the body. The soul's energy (or the will-power) inherent in the soul acting as a governing agent causes the transmutation to take place without itself being diminished. Hence, in this case also, there is no contradiction of the law of the conservation and consequently, the materialists' argument becomes untenable.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Astikāyas
  2. Body
  3. Consciousness
  4. Jain Philosophy
  5. Pudgala
  6. Science
  7. Soul
  8. Spiritual Reality
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