”The causality-bound aspect of Nature is not the whole truth. Ultimate Reality is invading our consciousness from some other directions as well, and the purely intellectual method of overcoming Nature is not the only way.” (Iqbal)
“The abstract of all the sequences is Time and the abstract of all the co-existences is Space.”(Herbert Spencer)
Dr. Muhammd Iqbal (1870-1938), the poet-philosopher, says that the ultimate Reality is External Beauty, whose very nature consists in seeing its own “face” reflected in the universe’s mirror. Carl Sagan views the same aspect of universe and explains it in his following beautiful passage:
‘The universe has a reeling and ecstatic grandeur.’ In fact the entire universe is a manifestation of God’s beauty. Stephen W. Hawking says that ‘it would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.’ The earth is really a beautiful abode of man who is also the most beautiful creature of God. This beauty, prevailing everywhere in the universe, is the source of the awakening of man’s intellect. The beauty edifies belief and passion in the heart of a person. According to Kant, ‘the belief in a wise and great author of the world is generated solely by the glorious order, beauty, and providential care everywhere displayed in nature.’1 The book of Nature in material space ‘is not less real when read with intelligent apprehension of yet a more glorious vision of reality in the ever free transmission of thought in closer or more intimate communion with the Absolute; that divine spiritual light divested from matter and emancipated from space where the mind soars with freedom, and the spirit of man becomes a part of the Divine.’2
Regarding the movement of the universe ‘in time’ Iqbal says: ‘The world process or the movement of the universe in time, is certainly devoid of the purpose, if by purpose we mean a foreseen end – a far off fixed destination to which the whole creation moves. To endow the world process with purpose in this sense is to rob of its originality and its creative character. Its ends are terminations of a career; they are ends to come and not necessarily premeditated. A time process cannot be conceived as a line already drawn. It is line in the drawing --- an actualisation of open possibilities. It is purposive only in this sense that it is selective in character, and brings itself to some sort of a present fulfilment by actively preserving and supplementing the past. To my mind nothing is more alien to the Quranic outlook than the idea that the universe is the temporal working out of a preconceived plan. … According to the Qur’an the universe is liable to increase (in scientific term the universe is ‘expanding’). It is growing universe and not an already completed product which left the hands of its maker ages ago, and is now lying stretched in space as a dead mass of matter to which time does nothing, and consequently is nothing.’3
Iqbal describes the views of Fakhr al-Din Iraqi (1098-1131) as expressed in his tractate on time and space, Ghayat al-Imkan fi Dirayat al-Makan, edited by Rahim Farmanish (Tehan 1959): The Sufi poet Iraqi conceives infinite varieties of time relative to the varying grades of being, intervening between materiality and pure spirituality. The time of gross bodies which arises from the revolution of the heavens is divisible into past, present, and future; and its nature is such that as long as one day does not pass away the succeeding day does not come. The time of immaterial beings is also serial in character, but its passage is such that a whole year in the time of gross bodies is not more than a day in the time of immaterial being. Rising higher and higher in the scale of immaterial beings we reach Divine time – time which is absolutely free from the quality of passage, and consequently does not admit of divisibility, sequence, and change. It is above eternity; it has neither beginning nor end. The eye of God sees all the visibles, and His ear hears all the audibles in one indivisible act of perception. The priority of God is not the priority of time, on the other hand, the priority of time is due to God’s priority. Thus the Divine time is what the Qur’an describes as the ‘Mother of Books’4 in which the whole of history, freed from the net of causal sequence, is gathered up in a single super-eternal ‘now’.5
Talking about space Iraqi says: ‘Divine life is in touch with the whole universe on the analogy of the soul’s contact with the body. The soul is neither inside nor outside the body; neither proximate to nor separate from it. Yet its contact with every item of the body is real, and it is impossible to conceive this contact except by positing some kind of space which befits the subtleness of the soul. The existence of space in relation to the life of God, therefore, cannot be denied; only we should carefully define the kind of space which may be predicated of the Absoluteness of God. Now, there are three kind of spaces --- the space of material bodies, the space of immaterial beings, and the space of God.6 The space of material beings is further divided into three kinds. First, the space of gross bodies of which we predicate roominess. In this space movement takes time, bodies occupy their respective places and resist displacement. Secondly, the space of subtle bodies, e.g. air and sound. In this space two bodies resist each other, and their movement is measurable in terms of time which, however, appears to be different to the time of gross bodies. The air in a tube must be displaced before other air can enter into it; and the time of sound-waves is practically nothing compared to the time of gross bodies. Thirdly, we have the space of light. The light of the sun instantly reaches the remotest limits of the earth. Thus in the velocity of light and sound time is reduced almost to zero. It is, therefore, clear that the space of light is different to the space of air and sound. There is, however, a more effective argument than this. The light of a candle spreads in all directions in a room without displacing the air in the room; and this shows that the space of light is more subtle than the space of air which has no entry into the space of light.7 In view of the close proximity of these spaces, however, it is not possible to distinguish the one from the other except by purely intellectual analysis and spiritual experience. … The highest point in the scale spatial freedom is reached by the human soul which, in its unique essence, is neither at rest nor in motion. Thus passing through infinite varieties of space we reach the Divine space which is absolutely free from all dimensions and constitutes the meeting point of all infinities.’8
At this stage it is interesting to learn that according to Einstein ‘there is an infinite number of spaces, which are in motion with respect to each other. The concept of space as something existing objectively and independent of things belongs to pre-scientific thought, but not so the idea of the existence of an infinite number of spaces in motion relatively to each other. This latter idea is logically unavoidable, but is far from having played a considerable role even in scientific thought.’9
From this summary of Iraqi’s view you will see how a cultured Muslim Sufi intellectually interpreted his spiritual experience of time and space in an age which had no idea of the theories and concepts of modern mathematics and physics. Iqbal belongs to modern Muslim thinkers. It will not, therefore, be out of place to know some of his ideas on this subject, expressed in his poetry and prose. A few of his scattered reflections are cited below:
- ‘In fact, the theory of a plural space may be taken as a primitive stage in the modern hyperspace movement.’
- ‘Issue of time and space and movement (Zaman-o-Makan o Harakat) is among the most important philosophical and scientific questions of our day. Introducing to the West the point of view expounded by the Muslims Sufis and the sages is beneficial.’
- ‘Insofar as the metaphysics of time is concerned there are more than one points of contact between Muslim thought and modern western thought.’
- ‘The philosophical discussion of this important subject, as it develops, in the history of Muslim thought and modern western thought and experience gives some idea of spiritual kinship between Islam and the West.’
- The importance of our concept of space and time has only recently been realised by modern physics.
- ‘The philosophical path that leads to God as an Omni-psyche of the universe lies through the discovery of Living thought as the ultimate principle of space-time.
- ‘The ultimate reality is time – the stuff out of which all things are made – a Becoming, movement, life and time are only synonymous expressions.’
Henry Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher, says that we get to know a thing either by circling around it or by entering into it. He says that “the second approach alone enables me to reach the reality which does not depend on my position and is, in that sense absolute.”10 By ‘entering into a thing’, he says, ‘is to use intelligence, the human way of thinking. This has been given to us as instinct to a bee, to direct our conduct.’11 “And thy Lord revealed the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations.”12 As described earlier al-Ikhwan treat space as a form metaphysically intuited. To them it is an abstract, simple and intelligible idea, a form abstracted from matter and existing only in consciousness.
According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), an eminent philosopher, “absolute necessity is a necessity that is found in thought alone. This belief must therefore have been due to a certain regulative principle.”13 This regulative principle, he says directs us to look upon all connections in the world as originated from an all-sufficient necessary cause. Elaborating further the idea of “all sufficient necessary cause”, Kant says; “We proceed here just as we do in case of space. Space is only a principle of sensibility, but since it is the primary source of shapes, which are only so many limitations of itself, it is taken as something absolutely necessary, existing in its own right, and as an object given a priory in itself. In the same way, since the systematic unity of nature cannot be prescribed as a principle for the empirical employment of our reason, except insofar as we presuppose the idea of an ens realissimum as the supreme cause, it is quite natural that this latter idea should be represented as an actual object, which, in its character of supreme condition, is also necessary – thus changing a regulative into a constitutive principle. That such a substitution has been made becomes evident, when we consider this supreme being, which relatively to the world is absolutely (unconditionally) necessary, as a thing in and by itself.”14
Immanuel Kant considers space and time both as forms of sensible intuition. To prove his contention against the possibility of space and time being ‘determinations’ or relations of things he comments firstly on space:
- That space is not an empirical concept, which has been derived from outer experiences. To him the representation of space cannot be empirically obtained from the relations of outer experience. On the contrary, this outer experience is itself only possible through that representation.
- That space is a necessary a priory, which underlies all outer intuitions. He says that we can never represent to ourselves in the absence of space, though we can quite well think it as empty of objects. It must therefore be regarded as the condition of the possibility of appearances, and not as determination dependent upon them. It is an a priori representation, which necessarily underlies our appearances.
- That space is a pure intuition. He also rules that space is essentially one and that we can represent to ourselves only one space; and if we speak of diverse spaces, we mean thereby only parts of one and the same unique space.
- Consequently, he says, that the original representation of space is an a priory intuition , not a concept.
Finally after his above analysis Kant concludes; ‘(1) Space is not an empirical concept which has been derived from outer experiences. (2) Space is a necessary a priori representation, which underlies all outer intuitions. (3) Space is not discursive or, as we say, general concept of relations of things in general, but a pure intuition. (4) Space is represented as an infinite given magnitude’. (Immanuel Kant’s Critic of Pure Reason).15
Commenting on ‘time’ Kant says that ‘we can never know what a thing is in itself’. Although the time is not a material object but the rule applies to it as well, as the knowledge obtained through the medium of human senses always has a limit. But there are other sources at the disposal of man to learn more about these things. Time is a complex issue. We know only that time formulated by the rotation of day and night. This is also clock time through which we manage and plan our day to day business. This time is physical time and is like a straight line drawn on a sheet of paper; it is divisible as well as having a past, present and future in it. As a matter of fact this time is a finite time and belongs to a finite world. The realm of real time is infinity; it has no past, no present and no future. In simple words clock time, or serial time, is physical time related to the physical world. Metaphysically intuited time is pure duration and is really real. Kant offers Metaphysical Exposition of the Concept of Time:
- ‘Time is not an empirical concept that has been derived from any experience. … Only on the pre- supposition of time can we represent to ourselves a number of things as existing at one and the same time (simultaneously) or at different time (successively).
- ‘Time is a necessary representation that underlies all intuitions. We cannot, in respect of appearances in general, remove time itself, though we can quite well think time as void of appearances. Time is, therefore, given a priory. In it alone is the actuality of appearances possible at all.
- ‘Time has only one dimension; different times are not simultaneous but successive. These principles cannot be derived from experience. We should only be able to say that common experience teaches us that it is so; not that it must be so.
- ‘Time is not a discursive, or what is called a general concept, but a pure form of sensible intuition. Different times are but parts of the same and one time; and the representation which can be given only through a single object is intuition.
‘The infinitude of time signifies nothing more than that every determinate magnitude of time is possible only through the limitations of the one single time that underlies it.’ (Immanuel Kant’s Critic of Pure Reason) 16
After his detailed comments on space and time as given above, Kant sums up his contention to time being related to things or appearances. According to him time is the form of inner sense, i.e. the intuition of ourselves and of our inner state. But to him, “space, as the pure form of all outer intuition, is so far limited; it serves as the a priory condition only of outer appearances.” Since all representations belong, by determination of mind, to our inner state; and this inner state stands under the formal condition of inner intuition, and as such belongs to time, according to him time is an a priory condition of all appearances. He further elaborates that time is the immediate condition of inner appearances (of our soul), and thereby the mediate condition of outer appearance. He concludes this paragraph: “I can also say, from the principle of inner sense, that all appearances whatsoever, that is, all objects of the senses, are in time, and necessarily stand in time-relation.”17
Suheyl Umar, an eminent philosopher, a theologian, a scholar and an authority on Iqbal, writes: ‘time and Space are necessary conditions and modes of awareness pertaining to a specific state of existence. Applied to a different level of being and to a different object of perception Space and time may not retain the conditions that they require in the case of say, the world of senses, the visible world or they could become subject to such a modification in their nature as would require to change their basic definition. Priority, posteriority, movement and the quality of being a container may not be applicable to the other and higher levels of being that lie beyond our immediate world as they only apply to the spatio-temporal world of our experience, the visible world in their present determination. No doubt that the signifying position or status of Time and Space, i.e. Time and Space as points of reference for something in a particular condition of existence or a state is necessarily present in all the levels of manifestation of Reality but their signification would undergo a change in relation to their level of being.
‘From a certain point of view the whole gamut of Being could, in principle, be divided into two levels or domains: temporally originated and finite or infinite and Pre-Eternal. The former is the domain of movement-sequence while in the latter “being” is known to breathe in the air of changlessness-spontaneity. As Time and Space continuum is, in fact, the total “environment” of being in a particular level of being, the alteration that appear while rising through the entire gamut of Being have their bearing on the conditions and modalities of Time and Space as a necessity. Characteristic modalities of a specific order of being, that is, the modalities of manifestation pertaining to that order and its existential determination demand a concomitant change not only in the attendant modalities and conditions of Time and Space but may alter the essential constitution of Time and Space to bring it in “harmony” with the order of being to which it ‘now’ pertains.
‘Metaphysically thought, would, therefore, proceed from the triad of premises; priority of Being, multiplicity of the levels of manifestation and relativity of Time and Space. All three constituent elements/components carry such an identity in their dimension of actuality with one another that is absolute while being relative and relative with absoluteness.’
Iqbal says that ‘the theory of Einstein has given us a new vision of the universe and suggests new ways of looking at the problems common to both religion and philosophy. According to him ‘the great point in Christianity is the search of an independent content for spiritual life, which according to the insight of its founder, could be elevated, not by the forces of a world external to the soul of man, but by the revelation of a new world within the soul. Islam fully agrees with this insight and supplements it by the further insight that the illumination of the new world thus revealed is not something foreign to the world of matter but permeates it through and through.’ Both these great religions, according to Iqbal, ‘demand the affirmation of the spiritual self in man, with the difference only that Islam, recognising the contact of the ideal with the real, says “yes” to the world of matter and points the way to master it with a view to discover a basis for a realistic regulation of life’. Iqbal quotes the following verses of Qur’an in support of his argument:
‘What, then, according to Qur’an, is the character of the universe which we inhabit? In the first place, it is not the result of a mere creative sport:
“We have not created the Heavens and the earth and whatever in between them in sport. We have not created them for a serious end: but the great part of them understand it not” (44: 38-9).
‘It is reality to be reckoned with:
“Verily in the creation of the Heavens and the earth, and in the succession of the night and the day are signs of men of understanding; who standing and sitting and reclining bear God in mind and reflect on the creation of the Heavens and of the earth, and say:
‘Oh, our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain”’ (3:190-91).
‘Again the universe is so constituted that it is capable of extension:
“He (God) adds to his creation what He wills” (35:1).
‘It is not a block universe, a finished product, immobile and incapable of change. Deep in its inner being lies, perhaps, the dream of a new birth:
“Say – go through the earth and see how God hath brought forth all creation; hereafter will He give it another birth” (29:20).
‘In fact, this mysterious swing of universe, this noiseless swim of time which appears to us, human beings, as the movement of day and night, is regarded by the Qur’an as one of the greatest signs of God;
“God causeth the day and the night to take their turn. Verily in this is teaching for men of insight” (24-44).
‘ This is why the prophet said: “Do not vilify time, for time is God.’’ And this immensity of time and space carries in it the promise of a complete subjugation by man whose duty is to reflect on the signs of God, and thus discover the means of realising his conquest of Nature as an actual fact.’18
To Iqbal the concept of matter has received the greatest blow from the hands of Einstein, an eminent physicist, whose discoveries have laid the foundations of a revolution in the entire domain of human thought. Iqbal quotes Bertrand Russell’s comments that ‘the theory of Relativity by merging time into space-time has damaged the traditional notion of substance more than all the arguments of the philosophers. Matter, for common sense, is something which persists in time and moves in space. But for the modern relativity-physics this view is no longer tenable. A piece of matter has become not a persistent thing with varying states, but a system of inter-related events. The old solidity is gone, and with it the characteristics that to the materialist made matter seem more real than fleeting thoughts.’19
With Einstein, says Iqbal, ‘Space is real, but relative to the observer. He rejects the Newtonian concept of an absolute space. The object observed is variable, it is relative to the observer, its mass, shape, and size change as the observer’s position and speed change. Movement and rest, too, are relative to the observer. There is, therefore, no such thing as a self-subsistent materiality of classical physics. It is, however, necessary here to guard against a misunderstanding. The use of the word ‘observer’ in this connection has mislead Wildon Carr into the view that the theory of Relativity inevitably leads to Monadistic Idealism. It is true that according to the theory the shapes, sizes and durations of phenomenon are not absolute. But as Professor Nunn points out, the space-time frame does not depend on observer’s mind; it depends on the point of the material universe to which his body is attached. In fact, the ‘observer’ can be easily replaced by a recording apparatus. Personally I believe that the ultimate character of Reality is spiritual; but in order to avoid a widespread misunderstanding it is necessary to point out that Einstein’s theory, which, as a scientific theory, deals only with the structure of things, throws no light on the ultimate nature of things which possess that structure. The philosophical value of theory is two fold. First, it destroys, not the objectivity of Nature, but the view of substance as simple location in space --- a view which led to materialism in Classical Physics. ‘Substance’ for modern Relativity Physics is not a persistent thing with variable states, but a system of inter-related events. In Whitehead’s presentation of the theory the notion of ‘matter’ is entirely replaced by the notion of ‘organism’. Secondly, the theory makes space dependent on matter. The universe, according to Einstein, is not a kind of island in an infinite space; it is finite but boundless; beyond it there is no empty space. In the absence of matter the universe would shrink to a point. Looking, however, at the theory from the standpoint that I have taken, Einstein Relativity presents one great difficulty, i.e. the unreality of time.’20
The most wonderful contribution of modern science is that it has explored definite laws which govern all the movements and events in the universe. Paul Davies says that ‘the laws are possessed of an elegant simplicity and have often commended themselves to scientists on grounds of beauty alone.’ In fact the real beauty lies in God, which is manifested in all of His creations. There is a well known Sufi’s saying, ‘God is beautiful and He loves beauty.’ The order and beauty is manifested in the cosmos as well as in everything on earth, in ourselves and around us. God says:
“We have indeed decorated the lower heaven with beauty (in) the stars.”21; And “It is He (God) Who created all things and ordered them in due proportion.”22
The man is the best and most beautiful creation of God. Qur’an explains the fact in these words:
“From a sperm drop He hath created him and then mouldeth him in due proportion.”23
The Real is beautifully manifested throughout the cosmos. The cosmos is a book, of which every page that we turn and read leads us beyond the physical world towards the ultimate reality. Dante says that ‘in the depth I saw ingathered, bound by love in one single volume, that which is dispersed in leaves through the universe: substances and accidents and their relations, as though fused together in such a way that what I tell is but a single light.’ Dante has in fact intuited God in the universe. He has said that God is light, which is very much a reality – “God is the light of the heavens and the earth” – says Qur’an.24
Scientists are mostly religious, some of them practice conventional religion while others do not. Paul Davies says that among those scientists who are not religious in a conventional sense many confess that there is something behind the surface of reality of daily experience. According to him even staunch atheists have a sense of reverence for nature, a fascination and respect of its depth, beauty and subtlety. Paul Davies himself is a great scientist besides one of the most responsible and reliable writers of our age. In spite of the fact that he is not a conventional religious person his belief in God as the Creator is firm. If we study the life and the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Boyle we find that their faith in God is, in no way, less than that of a saint or Sufi. Iqbal brackets ‘Science’ with ‘God consciousness’. Paul Davies believes that the universe is not a purposeless accident and writess that ‘the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact.’. He adds: ‘There must, it seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation. Whether one wishes to call that deeper level “God” is a matter of taste and definition. Furthermore, I have come to the point of view that mind – i.e. conscious awareness of the world – is not a meaningless and incidental quirk of nature, but an absolutely fundamental facet of reality.’25 John Boslough believes that cosmology is a most sublime kind of knowledge. According to him, cosmologists have become members of an exclusive community that is the perfect priesthood for a secular age. They are not religious leaders but they now reveal secrets of the universe, not in the guise of spiritual epiphany, but in the form of equations.
While describing Johannes Kepler’s rich contribution toward cosmology in previous pages we mentioned briefly about his book, The Harmonies of the World, as well as Kepler’s aesthetic perception of the universe. His most astonishing and unique discovery is the presence of music in the universe which Kepler heard in the air. He believes that the speed of all planets produces a symphony of voices and ‘The movement of every planet corresponds to certain notes in the Latinate musical scale – ‘do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do.’. He also noticed that ‘in the harmony of the spheres, the tones of earth are fa and mi’… . Kepler describes his feelings after this discovery in the folowing words:
“With the symphony of voices man can play through the eternity of time … and can taste in small measure the delight of God, the Supreme Artist. … I yield freely to the sacred frenzy … the die is cast, and I am writing the book – to be read either now or by posterity, it matters not. It can wait a century for a reader, as God Himself has waited 6,000 years for a witness.”26
The poet-philosopher Iqbal also seems to have felt the existence of music in the universe of ‘colour and scent.’ He describes his feelings in a Persian poem as following:
Jahan-i rang-o-boo paida tu mee goee key raz-ast en; Yakey khud ra ba-tarash zan key too mizrab-o Sazast en
The world of colour and scent is manifest; you say that it is mystery; Just strike its string with yourself, for you are the pick and it, the instrument.27
It seems that Iqbal had intuited the music coming out from the movement of planets in the universe, since his expressions match strikingly with Johannes Kepler. For example in one of his Urdu poems ‘Shama aur Sha-ir’ he says:
Kiyun chaman men bae saada misl-i ram-i shabnam hai too;
Lab kusha hoj sarood-i barbat-i alam hai too.
Why are you silent in the garden like dew’s retreat;
Open your lips, you are the music of the world’s symphony.28
Note: TIME will be studied in “Our Universe - part III”) which will follow.
ABBREVIATIONS AND BIBLIOGAPHY
AER Albert Eistein Relativity (by Albert Einstein), English
Translation first published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.,
London. (Reprin 1962).
BID Bang-i-dara by Dr.Muhammad Iqbal, published by Sh.Ghulam Ali & Sons, Lahore, Pakistan (37th edition 1980).
CE Creative Evolution by Henri Bergson, translated by Arthur Mitchell,Published by Macmillan & Co Ltd., London (1922).
COS COSMAS by Carl Sagan. First published in Great Britian in 1981 by Macdonald & Co Ltd., London & Sydney (reprinted 1991).
EOL The Emergence of Life b y John Butler Burkey, published By Oxford University Press London (1931).
IK 1 Critic of pure reason (1787), translated by Norman Kemp Smith Revised edition 1970, printed in Great Britian by Red Wood Press Ltd., Trowbridge London.
LZB BERGSON by Leszek Kolakowski, published by oxford University Press (1985).
RRT The Rec onstruction of Religious Thought in Islam by Dr.Muhammad Iqbal, first published in 1934 by Oxford University Press, reprinted and published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan in 1989.
TMG The Mind of God by Paul Davies, published in Penguin Books Ltd., 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ., UK (1993).
TIME Time eternalized – an article unpublished by Suheyl Umar, Director Iqbal Academy, Pakistan.
ZBA Zabur-i-Ajam by Iqbal, Published by Sheikh Ghulam Ali & Sons Lahore, thirteenth edition 1989.
(PS: Qur’an & Hadith as mentioned in the text also referred.)
RRT p. 44 – ”He adds to Creation as He pleases: for God has power over all things.” (Qur’an 35:1).
Prophet said: ’Do not vilify time, time is God.’
Cf. The mathematical principles of Natural Philsophy, Vol. 1, definition viii, Scholium 1.
RRT p. 30-31 (Also cf Hans Reichenbach., ’The Philosohical
significance of the Theory of Relativity’,