ONE IS ONLY micrometers wide. The other is billions of light-years across. One shows neurons in a mouse brain. The other is a simulated image of the universe. Together they suggest the surprisingly similar patterns found in vastly different natural phenomena.
Mark Miller, a doctoral student at Brandeis University, is researching how particular types of neurons in the brain are connected to one another. The image [on the left] shows three neuron cells on the left (two red and one yellow) and their connections.
An international group of astrophysicists used a computer simulation last year to recreate how the universe grew and evolved. The simulation image [on the right] is a snapshot of the present universes that features a large cluster of galaxies (bright yellow) surrounded by thousands of stars, galaxies and dark matter (web).
What struck me about this is not the similarity between neuron and universe, though it’s striking — rather it’s the continuity of parallels one finds whenever one looks into the structures of nature.
From Hermetics to the Tao of Physics — A Universe of Parallels
“As above, so below,” goes the Hermetic belief — “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing”. In Eastern thought, this idea is often paraphrased as “As is the microcosm, so is the microcosm.”
I first came across these concepts in my reading of Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, which opened the eyes of many in the west — and helped spawn the New Age movement — by detailing the close, often uncanny parallels between Eastern, metaphysical cosmology and the furthest reaches of western, theoretical physics.
While derided by some scientists as superficial and misleading, Capra had his allies among the luminaries of physics. Interviewed by Renee Weber in the book The Holographic Paradigm, Capra describes his discussions with Werner Heisenberg:
“I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript [of The Tao of Physics] chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of [poet Rabindrinath] Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy.
“Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.”
Subjective and Objective, Physiology and Veda
My own explorations on the subject have come not from the objectivist tradition of western science, but rather from many years practicing meditation and studying the consciousness-centered paradigm explored by the Upanishads and other Vedic literature. I have also seen some very interesting conversations between Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and leading scientists such as Nobel laureate and “human thermodynamics” pioneer Ilya Prigogene.
Over the course of his career, Maharishi pushed to validate the subjectively derived insights of meditation through western science, and to ground the discoveries and theories of physics, chemistry and biology into Vedic structures of reality. Maharishi later commissioned MIT research physician Tony Nader to locate the entire structure of Vedic literature in the brain physiology and central nervous system, which Nader published as Human Physiology: Expression of the Veda and Vedic Literature.
In one of the more fanciful sections of the book, Nader even finds a close resemblance between the shape of the hippocampus—responsible for memory forming, organizing, and storing—and images of the elephant-headed god Ganesh.
In the Chinese tradition (to pick almost at random from the analogs found in the mythos of ancient civilization) physical and mathematical structures like chaos seem clearly laid out, as well:
Chaos is the supreme ideal of Taoism. Chaos is wholeness, oneness and Nature. Chaos represents the natural state of the world. Digging holes on the head of Chaos means destroying the natural state of the cosmos. Therefore, to the ancient Chinese people chaos not only has the meaning of disorder but also presents a respectable aesthetic state. This idea of chaos may be very different from its western counterpart.
(From “A Brief History of the Concept of Chaos”—Huajie Liu, Dept of Philosophy, Peking University)
Given all of which, it should hardly be surprising that a neuron (microcosm) should resemble the universe (macrocosm). While modern science has been a little slow to concede the chain of parallels, one can almost see the ancient rishis rolling their eyes and saying, “Duh!”