Etymology of the word: “aether”

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Update on 29th June 2020, 09:15 PM: I’ve added my translation of the song (from the usual songs-section); see at the end of this post.


1. The historic Greeks:

The Wiki on “Aether_(classical_element)” [^] says:

Aether comes from αἰθήρ.

The word αἰθήρ (aithḗr) in Homeric Greek means “pure, fresh air” or “clear sky”.

In Greek mythology, it was thought to be the pure essence that the gods breathed, filling the space where they lived, analogous to the air breathed by mortals.

Aether is related to αἴθω “to incinerate”, and intransitive “to burn, to shine”.

In Plato’s Timaeus speaking about air, Plato mentions that “there is the most translucent kind which is called by the name of aether (αἰθήρ).

Aristotle, who had been Plato’s student at the Akademia, agreed on this point with his former mentor, emphasizing additionally that fire has sometimes been mistaken for aether.

This is as good as the Wiki gets, but what we are looking for is some serious etymology. So, let’s pursue Wiktionary. Look up “αἰθήρ” (the word “aether” in Greek), here [^]: It says:

Etymology [of αἰθήρ (aithḗr)]:

From αἴθω (aíthō).

Noun

αἰθήρ • (aithḗr) m (genitive αἰθέρος); third declension

1. heaven
2. aether; ether
3. theoretical medium of great elasticity and extreme thinness of consistency supposed to fill all unoccupied space and transmit light and heat
4. The upper or purer air as opposed to erebus (Ἔρεβος (Érebos)), the lower or dirtier air; the clear sky.

Immediately, on to Wiktionary for “αἴθω (aíthō)”, which is at the root of “αἰθήρ (aithḗr)”. See here [^]:

Etymology [of “αἴθω (aíthō)”]

From Proto-Indo-European *h₂eydʰ- (“burn; fire”). Cognate with Latin aestus, aestās, and aedis, and Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé, “to light, set on fire”).

We are on the right track.

The general rule for etymology of terms having ancient roots is this: Pursue Wiktionary a bit rapidly to as much depth and width (of links) as is needed, but go slow once they begin to mention PIE (Proto-Indo-European). The appearance of the PIE is the clearest indication that we are about to reach the right “rack” soon enough, the one that has संस्कृत (Sanskrit) in it. (PIE is just a smoke-screen erected by the Western (Abrahamic) intellectuals to let them continue to feel a shade slightly better. It’s going to go away within a century or so. It never existed in the forms and with the direction among the links which they imagine and stubbornly stick.)

As to our current pursuit, at this juncture, we are also lucky. We got to Sanskrit right in the above link. (Looking at the cognates is not at all a bad idea. For that matter, even the idea that linguistic forms such as PIE might have existed, isn’t wrong by itself. The wrong idea is the blind assertion that the roots of Sanskrit lie in the PIE and cannot have any linkages any other way around. This wrong idea is what turns the idea of PIE into a smoke-screen. But as I said, the smoke-screen is going to go away within a century—mainly because of the exponential rise in the varieties of rich communication media, and the exponential decrease in their price/affordability. It will have its own effects. It will make it easier for truth to prevail.)

Coming back to “αἴθω (aíthō)”, my “ear” suggested that the Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé, “to light, set on fire”) cannot have something very direct to do with the Greek term. What to do?

One very definitely reliable source (wrong far less number of times than today’s Western people imagine) seems to be on the side of my “ear”, viz., Aristotle. He had heard it right, and he / his students noted it right. Aristotle had emphasized “additionally that fire has sometimes been mistaken for aether”, as we gathered above. (The strategy of literature search from the general to the  specific always pays off.)

So, now, we have to go, look up: “*h₂eydʰ-” . Fortunately for us, the tireless people at Wiktionary have put up an entry for it too. (We say thank you to them.)

The Wiktionary for “*h₂eydʰ-” [^] says:

Root is: *h₂eydʰ-

1. to ignite
2. fire

Derived terms:

— h₂éydʰ-os ~ *h₂éydʰ-es-: Sanskrit: एधस् (édhas)

*h₂éydʰ-o-s: Sanskrit: एध (édha)

As I said, we thank the Wiktionary people and even the Western etymologists. However, for reasons of proper pursuit of truth, we ignore the inversions of hierarchies which they do effect. Accordingly, both PIE roots and the assumed direction for the PIE-Derived terms, are to be seen as अपभ्रंश (“apabhramsh”, distortion, corruption, esp. of words).

On the plus side, we have the एध (édha) / एधस् (édhas) terms (just grammatical variations). Why do I said “plus” side? Simple. Say these terms aloud, repeatedly, as if in a मंत्र “mantra” chanting or recitation of verses. Simultaneously, imagine a very curious and sincere foreign student sitting near you. How would he transcribe what you are saying in his language? Is इन्द्धे (inddhé) closer to αἰθήρ (aithḗr) or is it एध (édha)/एधस् (édhas)/एधते (édhate)?


2. Approaching the ancient Indians:

Look up एधते (édhate) in the Wiktionary, here [^]. Forget the cyclic links, and the references going back to burning. We thus get to:

एधते • (édhate) (root एध्, class 1 Ā) (Vedic áidhatai)

Verb: to prosper, increase, grow

Synonyms: वर्धते (várdhate), ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti)

1. to spread, extend
2. to swell

Related terms

एध (édha, “fuel, firewood”)
एधस् (édhas, “fuel, happiness”)

Aha! Now we know why these Europeans and Americans go running around in circles. They don’t mind synonymizing  एधते (édhate) with वर्धते (várdhate), and the latter with ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti). Here, the sense of Sanskrit we naturally develop in India comes in handy. (All Indian languages reflect a heavy influence of Sanskrit.) With our sense of Sanskrit, we know that the last two terms just cannot be very much synonymous. Anything being described with वर्धते (várdhate) cannot be cyclical in nature, andgiven the root ऋ involved in it, ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti) might have cyclical nature. Obviously, any etymology that throws the two as synonymns cannot be very rigourous… But we won’t get into this side issue. For the time being, let’s continue to focus on एधते (édhate).  In the “Related terms” sections, we find “fuel” and “happiness”. … Again an issue of words that just cannot be synonymns!

Come on, except in the state of Texas in the USA and in the Gulf countries, does any one else even associate “fuel” with “happiness”, let alone treat them as similar in some sense (in some contexts)? Which language would do that? Would a classical language whose form has for the most part demonstrably lasted for more than 10 millenia, and one which takes pride in having deliberated out every seed, every root, every variation, have something like “fuel” and “happiness”—at the root level? Once again, it’s the intimate familiarity with Sanskrit which comes in handy, really speaking. The answer is a resounding “no”!

Intermediate conclusion: It’s going to take a bit of thinking to sort out things here.

OK. On to checking for Wiktionary on एध (édha). It exists! Here is the link [^]. It says

एध (édha)
1. To grow, increase
2. to prosper, become happy, live in comfort; द्वावेतौ सुखमेधेते Pt.1.318.
3. to grow strong, become great.
4. to extend.
5. to swell, rise.
6. (causative) to cause to grow or increase; to greet, celebrate, honour;

Deliberate over this list for a bit.


3. My analysis:

3.1 एध (édha) as the proper root for the aether:

Referring to the last list, viz., that for एध (édha), ask this question to yourself:

Question: Which meaning is more primary (“primitive”), basic, or more generic, or more fundamental?

My answer: The most primary/primitive/generic/basic/fundamental has to be 4 (to extend). Then, 1 (to grow, increase), 5 (to swell, rise). Then 6 (causative of to grow or increase, but skipping the rest of the meanings). Only then 2 (to prosper, become happy, live in comfort). And only then, the skipped parts of 6 (to greet, to celebrate, to honour).

Now, we are in a position to draw a tentative conclusion:

The words ether/aether come not from “I burn” (as mentioned somewhere else on the Wiki) or even just “burns” or the more alluring “shines”. It comes from some words that had the verb एध (édha) whose primitive, general meaning is: “to extend”, and “to grow, increase” at their root.

3.2 How the connetions to इन्द्धे (inddhé) and इन्धन (indhan, fuel) might have arisen:

Wiktionary states a connection of the same root, viz. एध (édha), with इन्द्धे (inddhé) and इन्धन (indhan, fuel). Clearly, the direction of “fuel” is different from that of “to extend, grow, increase”, etc. So, we have to look into what a fuel does.

In ancient times, the fuel was not the petrol or diesel (aka “gas” in a certain country in the West). In the ancient times, the fuel was: the wood. In later times, it was also the cow-dung cakes.

So, imagine this scenario:

You have something (like some cut pieces of wood) in front of you. Wood. A material body. Very much visible, very much solid. You kindle it. (Kindling presupposes an already existing fire; not starting fire afresh via friction, say by rubbing two quartz stones (with a string that goes to and fro to create rotation, as in making butter out of curds).) The fuel catches on the fire, and burns. Eventually, what’s left is a relatively a small volume of ashes. The purer the fuel, the lesser the amount of ash. So, some things, some essences, must have left the initial solid thing.

OK. What else is there? Burning—the process. Hence the wrong meaning attached to the word “aether”, which Aristotle rightly rejects. [This guy must’ve had a tremendous sense of meaning, of making careful statements. Frankly, I envy him.]

What else? Smoke. What is the material end product which comes from the process of burning? a product other than from ash? Smoke.

What are the characteristics of smoke? what does it do? Smoke is misty, cloudy—which also happen to be the secondary meanings associated with the word aether. (We didn’t pursue the links to them, but they are listed elsewhere.)

But what does it do? It rises, and goes here and there unpredictably, and in the process, it disperses—the whitish thing becomes bigger, more voluminous. Notice: Rising and dispersing also are the secondary meanings associated with the word: aether. And then? It disappears. Becomes completely invisible.

How do we capture this process in terms of slightly more abstract description?

An इन्धन (indhan, fuel) is a material object which can undergo a certain action upon burning. It goes from being a small solid thing to something that extends, expands and becomes invisibly big.

3.3 Isolating the meaning of एध (édha):

We want to isolate the specific meaning of एध (édha) i.e. aether, from the process mentioned in the previous sub-section, somehow.

Now, crucially, some extra knowledge (in the context) of Sanskrit comes in handy. There is some essence to this above-mentioned action which is not captured by certain other Sanskrit terms like जो (“jo”, brightness, luminous things—but not high temperature), ज्वलन (“jwalan”, burning), तपस् (“tapas”, heating, hotness), उषा (“ushaa”, the glow in the sky which appears much before the sun rises), etc. The compilers (संस्करणकर्ता “sanskaraNakartaa”) of Sanskrit obviously had something else in mind when they admitted एध (édha) into the proper vocabulary. For senses like burning, glowing, etc. they had many other terms.

Similarly, there are words to describe “expansion” and “thinning” too. (Let’s not get into them.)

So, what could be the point behind adopting an additional term of एध (édha) the verb?

Focus on the fact that एध (édha) is a verb, whereas “aether” is an object. How do we go from a verb to its objectification? An explanation in terms of modern maths, esp. calculus, really makes it simple. However, we would rather pick up the threads of thought that would be accessible even to a layman.

The idea goes like this: You have wood (a small solid chip). The same thing turns to ash + smoke, occupying a bigger volume. Naturally, it is thinner, less dense. Can’t be grabbed by fingers. Then, the smoke further disperses. But it still remains material. Its materiality traces itself back to the wood. (Notice, I am going through all these pains, because I want to avoid directly invoking the hypothesis of atomism.) So, in a sense, it is the same material, but spread out over greater region of space. Perhaps split up into parts.

So, from a further abstract viewpoint, two things go on:

  1. The material parts making up the smoke go further and further away from each other.
  2. But the transformation still remain the same original that can still be identified: This patch of smoke, now, here. Grows. The same smoke, now become a big patch, there. Etc.

So, what is it which is increasing in this process of spreading from a small volume to a big volume? What is different as the smoke spreads? What is the differentiator? Answer: Spatial separation.

And what is it which stays intact throughout this process? Answer: The fact that despite rarification, something has to be imagined as continuing to hold together the parts that are going further and further away from each other. So, what is the common part? What is the integrator? Answer: Some invisible essence that holds the visible parts together no matter how far away they go, filling the space between them.

Obviously, compilers (संस्करणकर्ता “sanskaraNakartaa”) of Sanskrit viewed एध (édha) as a process, not so much of a transformation of a thing as in burning, but rather, a process of bringing out or releasing forth a certain essence that already was present in the material (the fuel), an essence which showed this property or characteristic of extending, growing, even as rising (though it is not the most core essential), and still continuing to hold the parts of the original material thing together, even when they disperse so much that as to go into invisibility.

3.4 Contrast: What happens when a good term falls in the wrong hands:

Cf. Greek mythology of chaos, Ἔρεβος (“erebos”, Sanskrit रजस् “rajas” night), nyx (Sanskrit नक्ति “nakti”, night), aether, and all that. These intellectually sloppy/insufficiently prepared ancient Western people substituted “darkness” for the invisibility implied in the term “aether”, and they merged the context with night (रजनी), and they merged it with mythology, and all that.

They not only continued on this tradition of utter sloppiness, but even enriched it very considerably, in the late 19-th and early 20-th century, when they whole-sale denied the existence of the aether.

3.5 To conclude our analysis:

To conclude: Aether is a derivative of the original Sanskrit एध (édha). As such, it cannot capture the “burning” part of it. What the term isolates from its context (spelt above), are the characteristics of the action of extending, growing, as in the process of rising up of a smoke, and ultimately growing so thin as to go into invisibility—all the while retaining the “holding together” function.

Qua transformation into a noun, what an objectified verb एध (édha) must indicate is:

A material essence that is invisible, thin, not itself made of material parts, but performs the function of holding the material parts together regardless of how much space they occupy.

The process of burning merely lets us identify this essence, because it illustrates how this essence comes to play a progressively more dominant role in the evident spreading of the smoke.

But we need to understand the “growth” and “extension” aspects, involved in the isolation of the concept of aether, a bit better. We will do that by considering contrast to some terms that also indicate “volume-ness,” “spatial extension”, “unspecified limit/boundaries”, “fillability”, etc., but don’t quite exactly bring out the “all holding”, “all thin” part of “aether”. Once you look at these other terms, you will become fully convinced about the objectified एध (édha) i.e. aether .


4. Contrast from other Sanskrit terms:

4.1 Contrast from some other terms quoted as synonymns:

To see the contrast of  एध (édha) from other terms that indicate growth, consider terms like वर्धते (“varadhate”, to grow), ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti).

To see the contrast of एध (édha) from other terms that supposedly indicate an all-spread, all-pervasive aspect, consider terms like विष्णु (“vishNu”, supposedly an all-pervasive principle).

These terms do sound very similar to the idea behind the aether, if you consider their English translations alone. But actually, in original Sanskrit, they aren’t.

वर्धते (vardhate) applies to growth as that from a seed to the tree, or from a child to an adult to an old man—not the growth in the volume of an already thin, ungraspable thing like smoke undergoing further dispersing, ultimately becoming the thinnest and most ungraspable thing—which leads to the concept of the thinnest holding essence i.e. the aether.

विष्णु (“vishNu”), vaguely, means that an enclosure which keeps all things within itself. However, contrary to a very wide-spread misconception (held by both laymen and scholars), the idea of an “all pervasive”-ness is not a primitive here. The root of the Sanskrit word विष्णु (“vishNu”)  goes via विवेष्टि (“viveShTi”, enclosed, being wound within by something on the outside, engulfing). The “engufing” part is important, not the “all-pervading” part. Thus, in fact, the “protector” God named with this term. In contrast, एध (edha) refers to the action of rarifying and still holding or connecting other parts at the same time as the growing and pervading is going on.

Sanskrit has several different terms that mean similar, but you have to understand the nuances.

Aether has sometimes been taken to translate to terms like the following, though the correspondence is not at all in terms of essentials. Just look at the original Sanskrit meanings of these alternative terms (mistakenly adopted for the meaning of “aether”).

  • आकाश (“aakaash”): Sky, void, but the primary meaning here is: that thing which comes with shining; that thing which lights up and shines upon or brightens (every thing else)
  • नभ (“nabha”) Sky, atmosphere, but primary meaning here is: that which itself cannot materialize or become evident by itself.
  • अवकाश (“avakaash”) Space, the primary idea here is this: There is a characteristic of interval, of being extended, in the concept of आकाश (“aakaash”), and अवकाश (“avakaash”) focusses on this characteristic. This interval is to be taken in the sense of “volumeness” or “fillability” but, unlike what too many Westerners think, it is not to be taken in the sense of a “void” (the word for which is शुन्य (“shunya”, which itself is different from शून्य “shoonya”, the blank left after removing something). Thus अवकाश (“avakaash”) primarily means the characteristic of extended-ness, and only then, in turn, Space.
  • गगन (“gagan”): Sky, but the exact primary meaning here is: that in which motion (or movement/velocity/going) occurs,
  • खगोल (“khagol”): Usually taken to mean “space beyond the earth’s atmosphere”. However, the exact primary meaning here is: that roundness (circle/sphere/oval/ovoid) which can be/has been filled with something material.
  • शब्द (“shabda”): Usually taken to mean: “word”, even in established Sanskrit. Sometimes, taken to mean the premordial sound, and hence, connected with premordial vibrations, and hence with the aether. However, in terms of the most primitive roots शब्द (“shabda”) means: the material aspect of a vibration/action of [a material-spiritual integrated being], complete in itself, and given [to you] a priori in [your] evidence. Pretty difficult a concept, though the roots are so few and so “simple”: श (“sha”) + ब (“ba”) + द (“da”). What is being highlighted here is not the written word, the Sanskrit term for which is: अक्षर (“akshar”, lit. that which does not decay or dissolve). It also is not sound, the Sanskrit term for which is: ध्वनि (“dhwani”, lit.: the material emission of periodicity/rhythm, and hence vibrations in air). Though used also in Sanskrit for things to do with vocabulary, people sometimes use शब्द (“shabda”) to denote the aether, which is not a very apt usage. Neither एध (édha) nor aether is concerned with details or particulars such as vibrations or their nature, though they both are concerned that a primary thing/existent be denoted.

I am sure there are tens of more such terms (if not hundreds). This was just an indicative list. What is more important to us, for the present purposes, is this:

None of them is directly relevant to the etymology of the aether. Only एधते (édhate), in the sense explained here, is.

4.2 Which term comes closest? My personal opinion:

If you ask for my personal opinion, in terms of the most primitive seeds and meanings, I would pick out नभ (“nabha”) as being closest to the objectification of the verb एध (édha). However, its usage as a sky is far too firmly established. So, this is one reason to avoid it—else, people are likely to confuse “air” with aether. Further, because of the seed भ (“bha”, indicating materialization, manifestation), नभ (“nabha”) does do well to indicate the distinction of aether from the gross material objects. ( Princess Caroline once wrote to her former tutor Leibniz that ‘what these gentlemen call vacuum is really nothing but something which is not matter.’ [^]). However, there is another issue: It fails to capture the “holding together/connecting” aspect of एध (édha).

4.3 Why एध (édha) is most fitting: Its seeds:

Note, the seed ध (“dha”) lies at the root of words like धरणी (“dharaNee”, soil, earth, the earth, beam, etc.), धैर्य (“dhairya”, courage, ability to hold on), etc., and the seed ए (“e”) lies at the root of words like एक (“eka”, one, the one, the singular), एतत् (“etat”, “this”, as after considering all aspects of a composite or complex thing), etc.

The objectification of एध (édha) yields a term which means: that which holds (or connects or spans) composite things together.

Yessss! Finally, I think we’ve got to the point of context and clarity that I am happy with.

Home-work: Work through the primary referents, and hence basic meaning, of the Sanskrit word: अश्वमेध (“ashwamedh”). Hint: Nothing to do with “sacrifice”. Latch on to what the अश्व (“ashwa”, horse) does, and what its actions are taken to imply, in particular, how the “एध (édha)” part denotes “spanning, holding together, connecting into one”.

4.4 A bit of polemics:

The ancient Greeks got it wrong. They did a package-deal with many other things.

But they did have a saving grace. They didn’t send Aristotle out of unemployment for any long period of time. In fact, they gave him the biggest possible funding of that era (for his researches in biology). As we noted earlier, Aristotle’s sense of words was, if you ask me, plain envy-some.

So, thanks to thinkers like Aristotle, the original right meaning of “aether”, as springing from एधते (édhate), also managed exist in the ancient Greece, though it had to sit together with many other idiocies too (like “I burn”).

4.5 The aether is included in the ontology behind my new approach to quantum mechanics:

How does the implication of the Sanskrit etymology compare with the view of aether I put forth last year—including the mathematical reasons why it must exist, not just philosophical and physical? See here [^] (and also the posts before and after it, as necessary), and decide for yourself.

(No, I had not looked at the original Sanskrit एधते (édhate) etc., when I formulated my view. I have developed my view over time of decades. The biggest challenge for me was to convince myself that a non-material but physical thing can exist. It was a challenge, because I had to pin-point the differences. Initially, in 1990s, I tried “mass” etc. During my PhD-time papers, I characterized it in the terms just mentioned: as a non-material but physically existent thing. I refined the understanding in the subsequent years, see the topics on the “Less transient” page (which, I know, you won’t) [^].


5. ब्रम्हा, विष्णु, शिव (“bramhaa”, “vishNu”, “shiva”):

Finally, because some of my Indian readers might be interested in knowing more about the त्रिमूर्ति (“trimoorti”, the three-forms-in-one God), simply because I happened to mention the principle that is विष्णु (“vishNu”) in the earlier discussion.

OK. First, a note: In the brief discussion below, I will go by the Sanskrit roots, and thus, by the exact meaning conveyed by Sanskrit. I will not care to even touch upon the layers and layers of meanings heaped on the original terms by the religious practices, priests, or the culture, as the usage of these terms underwent changes over time-spans of millenia. Thus, I will not always add “in the primary/primitive/most basic and generic/fundamental/seed sense, the term means” every time. I will directly proceed to outlining the meanings in precisely such a sense—not any other.

ब्रम्ह (“bramha”) means that principle which causes expansion. Thus, it is the cause for the extended-ness. After invoking the thesis of अद्वैत (“adwait”, the non-duality between the material on the one hand and the non-material i.e. the spiritual on the other), the term  ब्रम्ह (“bramha”)  also stands for the one who causes expansion, growth, in every thing, and now, by implication, also in every one. ब्रम्हा (“bramhaa”, with an additional “a”) means that spiritual and/or material existent or person who manifests such a principle—-actually, the sense here is: that one who can be called or addressed or pleaded to. In a vague sense, this is a God of growth. In no sense is it a God of birth or of creation. The latter is a slapped on, and I dare say, corrupt, meaning. The roots here are: ब + र + म + ह (“ba” + “ra” + “ma” + “ha”), respectively connoting: 1. concrete change/degradation/contraction; 2. removal; 3. a grasp on the level of the feeling or the immediate concretes alone (and hence transforming the jointed preceding 1. and 2. into a principle), and 4. a linguistic device that connotes a break, taking away, and completion. What do we get by putting these seeds in this sequence together? Answer: The principle which removes the tendency to get stuck and degrade into smallness or to collapse. That’s what the ब्रम्ह (“bramha”) the principle stands for. I am not quite sure if ब्रम्हा (“bramhaa”) is even a very strict linguistic construction, but more on it, a bit later. [But note, my Sanskrit is merely at the level of an amateur.]

विष्णु (“vishNu”) means that principle which (or who) surrounds or encloses or engulfs every thing; and hence, implicitly assuming a benevolent capacity, a principle that / who also protects every thing (and every one). Further, after invoking the thesis of divisibility of things and the universality of this principle, it also becomes the principle/who that engulfs every part of a thing, and as such, may therefore be seen as being all pervading. The primary/primitive sense is just this much: “engulfs”, “surrounds”. The meaning is neither “protector” nor “all-pervading essence”, let alone a personified God—not in the primary sense of the roots involved.

शिव (“shiva”) is the most abstract term among the three, going by the Sanskrit language alone. ब्र, the root also in words like बृहद- (“bruhad”, greater, bigger, expanded) is pretty easily put to use for rather mundane things too, e.g., बृहन्मुंबई (“bruhanmumbai”, greater Mumbai, Bombay after expansion), etc. Also the root in विष्णु (“vishNu”), i.e. विवेष्टि (“viveSTi”, being contained in) gets used quite mundanely, as in विवेष्टित (“viveshTit”, enclosed, covered). शिव (“shiva”) is not put to mundane matters. Reason 1: The term is abstract. Reason 2: Because of Reason 1, it also has been very heavily misinterpreted.

शिव (“shiva”) has these roots: श (“sha”) + इ (“i”) + व (“va”). श (“sha”) stands for the body, the material aspect of a living being, especially as in the sense of the degradation which occurs after discarding the essential of something (which is, spirit), as in शव (“shava”, the corpse). इ (“i”) is the “softer” form of spiritual energy, something like the Latin “vis”, but remember, इ (“i”) is not a स्वर (“swara”). स्वर (“swar”) lit. means that sound which stands on its own, i.e., a consonant. But इ (“i”) is a vowel; it denotes a characteristic, an energy, of something to which the vowel attaches. Now, the preceding श (“sha”) makes it clear that the इ (“i”) here is to be taken to indicate the spiritual “energy”. Being a seed-sound, and being preceded by the rather sharp and important श (“sha”, in itself an attribute), इ (“i”) here is to be taken in as pure a sense (of spiritual energy) as is possible. Next, व (“va”) connotes the action of throwing out, being emitted, issuing from, coming forth from, etc.

So, putting the seed-sounds together, शिव (“shiva”) is: that principle which (or the one who) is a manifestation of the integration of the purest material aspects (body) and the purest and most singular form of the softer (less intense) spiritual energy.

शीव (“sheeva”) takes the whole thing to the other extreme: to the most intense spiritual energy. Note: No one goes around the business of worshipping that (i.e.शीव (“sheeva”))! … शिव (“shiva”) is difficult already!

Now, coming to the point I want to make: There is absolutely nothing whatsoever in the Sanskrit language which even by remotest interpretation in the wildest imagination can ever suggest: “the destroyer” for शिव (“shiva”) .

Attaching the meaning of “destroyer” to शिव (“shiva”) is a very careless, and possibly also a malicious, act of mixing up things (i.e. principles, even gods).

It’s the रुद्र (“rudra”, lit.: the hollering, the dreadful, the terrible, the attacking and looting one) which can be a destroyer. Not शिव (“shiva”). Further, it’s शीवन् (“sheevan”) which variously means: a large snake, a python (as in the snake, not as in the programming language which I use), lying (as in lying down, and not as in telling lies), etc. But, in contrast, शिव (“shiva”) means “the blissed living man or a comparable integration of the material and the spiritual”. [However, it not just the “bliss”, as many commentators lead you to believe—the material aspect or the body is necessarily present in the meaning of शिव (“shiva”)].

Even महेश (“mahesh”) does not mean “destroyer”. It’s a short-form of the original महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) a combination of महा (“mahaa”, great, heroic, massive, valorous, epic) + ईश्वर (“eeshwar”, the one with the sharp ई (“ee”).  महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) literally means: a total controller, a total ruler, the one whose orders cannot be violated.

The meaning spelt for the second word here, viz., ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) means some principle / some one whose laws cannot be violated. Note, the word is “cannot”, and not “should not”. ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) stands for such a principle that you have no choice but to submit—one way or the other. The idea that it may be possible (though not desirable) to violate the law/the will, and the subsequently arising issues like the nature and quantum of punishment etc. simply do not arise here. The very possibility of violating the law laid out of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) is denied. That’s the meaning of that term. It means: The inviolate law of nature, the very order of the nature itself (as in the law of karma). [Remind me some time later to write a bit on the etymology of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) and कर्म “karma”. Both are interesting terms!]

Given the meaning of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”), the adjective महा (“mahaa”, great, massive, etc.) is quite un-necessary. Clearly, the composite word महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) got coined during some lesser period in India.

But given the term as it comes to us,  by its primary meaning, महेश (“mahesh”) can be taken to mean: the greatest inviolate law of nature, the very order of the nature itself (as in the law of karma).

Of course, in practice, it’s possible also to call a great totalitarian ruler as महेश (“mahesh”). However, in Sanskrit there are terms other than ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) to denote the degenerate life-forms of the latter kind. So, taken by itself, महेश (“mahesh”) should, first and foremost, mean what was italicized above, viz., the greatest principle that is an inviolate law of nature.

Now, by also invoking the thesis of अद्वैत (“adwait”, the non-duality), the word would stand for the spirtiual–material integration of such a principle, as is manifested in a man. Thus, the meaning now becomes something like: A great man who personifies the inviolate order of nature. A great man who carries no contradiction.

Now, where is the destroyer? You tell me!

Idiots!


6. No Trinity of Creator-Protector-Destroyer is implied by the original Sanskrit words ब्रम्हा, विष्णु, शिव/महेश (“bramhaa”, “vishNu”, “shiva”/”mahesh”):

The idea of there being this “Hindu” Trinity of the Creator, the Protector, and the Destroyer is a merely a figment of an overactive and, I must add, far too careless, an imagination—or something worse.

If you know Sanskrit, you know that there is no Creator in here, only an “expander” or “enabler of growth”. That’s what ब्रम्हा means. However, I am doubtful about the authenticity of this name too; it could very well be the case that ब्रम्हा “bramhaa” is merely a short-form for ब्रम्हदेव “bramhadeva”, as in calling or addressing. But in any case, “bramhaa” is not a creator. Even प्रजापति (“prajaapati”, the chief of people) is not. And then, one question: Can you read प्रजापति (“prajaapati”) as प्रजननपति (“prajananpati”, the chief of reproduction—let alone of creation)? I cannot.

Similarly, you know that there is a protector, but only by implication. What the principle / the god actually is, is only an “all-engulfing” one. It’s only by implication that he ends up also protecting, but that’s “merely” because he has already engulfed you, and because he is a god anyway.

Similarly, you know that there is only a manifestation of the body and the purest form there can be of the soft kind of a spiritual energy. There is no destroyer. Not even just to pack you off very lovingly to the heavens, whatever that means. No “packing off”, “taking out”, or something similar is included in this term.


Caveat Emptor: One final word. Don’t take my word for anything in this post. Instead, go consult the actual Sanskrit experts.

In my experience at least, Sanskrit experts these days are both very willing, easily accessible, and helpful. [In short, they are unlike the “intellectual” masses drawing heavy salaries in the IT industry in Pune.]

As to me: Consider me to be among the most amateurish Sanskrit dilettantes there are out there. I have not studied Sanskrit systematically (except for two years for 1/2 part of one language subject—the Hindi+Sanskrit). I just rely on good reference materials/sources (like dictionaries), readings of spiritual material and even scriptures, my own thinking and logic, as also my sense of the Sanskrit and Marathi words and their contexts. Also, infrequently, conversations with people who know Sanskrit. And I combine it all with my sense of pursuing truth. (That’s how I pursued also Aristotle, and Ayn Rand too.) So, there.

But yes, I am confident that there was no error in putting forth the view in section 6. above. I am quite confident of the process I followed, the sources I consulted, and the logic I employed.


TBD: Will try to streamline the content and edit to bring out the more exact shades, esp. in my critical comments. The whole thing was written last night very much on the fly.

Update on 2020.06.27 18:55 IST. Done. In fact considerably expanded (from 4000 words to 6000 words). Added the “all encompassing” aspect of एधते (édhate) and hence of aether. In fact, after giving the meaning of the seeds of एध (édha), the meaning of the aether is fully pinned down now. Also added the discussion of शब्द (“shabda”), further comments on नभ (“nabha”), etc. Now, will leave this post in whatever shape it is in—regardless of any short-comings / lacunae / misleading phrases / typos / errors etc. (High time for me to move on to some “useful” work regarding QM and also Data Science.)


A song I like:

(Hindi) मन रे, तू काहे न धीर धरे (“man re, too kaahe naa dheer dhare”)
Singer: Mohammad Rafi
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi

[Credits happily listed in a random order. One of the songs I grew up with. There are songs that you don’t register when it comes to making short-lists, but still, without you knowing it, they have already made a neat, cozy place in your heart. This song is one of them. I remember humming this one even as far back as when I was in school, and I also remember never including it in the short-lists I enthusiastically made in my youth, say while in the hostels of COEP/IITM/UAB. (I frankly don’t know the reason for such omissions.)… Coming back to the present: Also try Lata’s rendering from her series of the tributes she paid to the other greats. Her version is very good too, though she would have done much better had she tried it some 10–15 years earlier.]

Update on 2020.06.29 21:15 IST:

After posting the last updates, I checked out the song on the ‘net. I saw some English translations that I thought weren’t exactly to the point. In fact, in some parts, these were even outright misleading.

People tend to bring in a inter-personal relationships angle, esp. the romantic relationships angle, in every Hindi film song—whether such relationships forms its primary concern or not. But people habitually do that. This predilection tends to even colour their entire translation.

But to be fair, this song is particularly hard to translate. (I enjoyed giving my shot to it!) Sahir was a gifted lyricist, with a finest mind and a finest sensitivity. Also, he had a serious, reflective mind; it often bordered on, or and sometimes went right into, the matters philosophical.

Master lyricists/poets often have this mischievous habit. They like to put a song or a poem somewhere in that vague twilight zone, somewhere in between the much relationship-oriented and the definitely philosophical. For instance, this song. That’s why it’s particularly tricky.

In my translation below, I’ve tried to be as exact to the original words as possible, sacrificing all lyrical flow in the interest of clarity. … Even if I were to try hard, I wouldn’t ever be able to put out anything lyrical anyway! So, the “clarity” etc. way of translating is entirely to my advantage 😉

Anyway, here is my translation (as of today). It looks ugly, unflowy. But it’s as near to exact shades of the original Hindi words/expressions as I can manage:

Refrain:

मन रे तू काहे ना धीर धरे
Oh mind, why do you not hold on to courage [?]

वो निर्मोही मोह ना जाने
That one, The One-Without-Illusory-Temptations, can’t [even] know

जिनका मोह करे
those illusory [things/people] for which you keep [having/generating] temptations.

मन रे …
Oh mind…

Stanza 1:

इस जीवन की चढ़ती ढलती
Of this life’s ascending and descending

धूप को किसने बांधा
sunlight, who bound it [its regularity/lawfulness ?]

रंग पे किसने पहरे डाले
Who kept guard on [the flow of] the color [of life?]

रुप को किसने बांधा
Who put the bounds on the form [put forth by life?]

काहे ये जतन करे
For what Purpose [does He] continue preserving these [?]

मन रे …
Oh mind…

Stanza 2:

उतना ही उपकार समझ कोई
As much of a favour [it is], understand, that someone

जितना साथ निभा दे
gives as much of a companionship with which [he/she] stands by [you].

जनम मरण का मेल है सपना
Life and death’s meeting is a dream,

ये सपना बिसरा दे
Have [it arranged that you come to] forget this dream.

कोई न संग मरे
No one else dies along.

मन रे …
Oh mind…

–Sahir Ludhianvi

Note: The literal translation of the last line of the second stanza would run like: “Some one else can’t die along [in the same event that is someone’s/your death].” In short, time-wise simultaneous deaths don’t count as “dying along/dying together”! There may be time-wise simultaneous deaths, but these still remain individually separate deaths of many different individuals, not a single death undergone by all those many different individual. Quite tricky, it was, to convey this sense!! The expression doesn’t seem to be one of expressing futility or frustration (at finding no companion who won’t part company even in death); rather, it seems to underlie a more basic fact pertaining to the phenomenon that is life itself.

Tricky to translate also was that “मोह करे” (“moh kare”) phrase from the refrain. People take मोह “moh” to mean affection, love, infatuation, immature yearning, undue level of attraction, etc. Wrong. “Moh” is primarily not at all an affection/love, it is not even “just” a temptation/seduction. For that matter, in Hindi, “moh” is not even just an illusion. (In Sanskrit, it can be.) In Hindi, मोह “moh” is that temptation for or bonding felt towards something/someone which results from an illusion-abiding mindset. … You more or less know (or at least very strongly suspect) that it’s an illusion, and still remain attached to that illusion, because you “love” it. That’s the sense here. मोह “moh” is not a temptation or affection or love or yearning for something which you know is true or isn’t illusory. That’s the difference; that’s the meaning of मोह “moh”! … Now, God may be Omniscient (all-knowing), but He still will be incapable of understanding such a temptation—because it involves illusion. That’s the surprising part, that’s the subtle twist, that’s the fine emphasis which Sahir has put in, in the stanza here. … Too bad to miss it altogether!

Determinism, Indeterminism, and the nature of the laws of physics…

The laws of physics are causal, but this fact does not imply that they can be used to determine each and everything that you feel should be determinable using them, in each and every context in which they apply. What matters is the nature of the laws themselves. The laws of physics are not literally boundless; nothing in the universe is. They are logically bounded by the kind of abstractions they are.


Let’s take a concrete example.

Take a bottle, pour a little water and detergent in it, shake well, and have fun watching the Technicolor wonder which results. Bubbles form; they show resplendent colors. Then, some of them shrink, others grow, one or two of them eventually collapse, and the rest of the network of the similar bubbles adjusts itself. The process continues.

Looking at it in an idle way can be fun: those colorful tendrils of water sliding over those thin little surfaces, those fascinating hues and geometric patterns… That dynamics which unfolds at such a leisurely pace. … Just watching it all can make for a neat time-sink—at least for a while.

But merely having fun watching bubbles collapse is not physics. Physics proper begins with a lawful description of the many different aspects of the visually evident spectacle—be it the explanation as to how those unreal-looking colors come about, or be it an explanation of the mechanisms involved in their shrinkage or growth, and eventual collapse, … Or, a prediction of exactly which bubble is going to collapse next.


For now, consider the problem of determining, given a configuration of some bubbles at a certain time t_0, predicting exactly which bubble is going to collapse next, and why… To solve this problem, we have to study many different processes involved in the bubbles dynamics…


Theories do exist to predict various aspects of the bubble collapse process taken individually. Further it should also be possible to combine them together. The explanation involves such theories as: the Navier-Stokes equations, which govern the flow of soap water in the thin films, and of the motion of the air entrapped within each bubble; the phenomenon of film-breakage, which can involves either the particles-based approaches to modeling of fluids, or, if you insist on a continuum theory, then theories of crack initiatiation and growth in thin lamella/shells; the propagation of a film-breakage, and the propagation of the stress-strain waves associated with the process; and also, theories concerning how the collapse process gets preferentially localized to only one (or at most few) bubbles, which involves again, nonlinear theories from mechanics of materials, and material science.

All these are causal theories. It should also be possible to “throw them together” in a multi-physics simulation.

But even then, they still are not very useful in predicting which bubble in your particular setup is going to collapse next, and when, because not the combination of these theories, but even each theory involved is too complex.

The fact of the matter is, we cannot in practice predict precisely which bubble is going to collapse next.


The reason for our inability to predict, in this context, does not have to do just with the precision of the initial conditions. It’s also their vastness.

And, the known, causal, physical laws which tell us how a sensitive dependence on the smallest changes in the initial conditions deterministically leads to such huge changes in the outcomes, that using these laws to actually make a prediction squarely lies outside of our capacity to calculate.

Even simple (first- or second-order) variations to the initial conditions specified over a very small part of the network can have repercussions for the entire evolution, which is ultimately responsible for predicting which bubble is going to collapse next.


I mention this situation because it is amply illustrative of a special kind of problems which we encounter in physics today. The laws governing the system evolution are known. Yet, in practice, they cannot be applied for performing calculations in every given situation which falls under their purview. The reason for this circumstance is that the very paradigm of formulating physical laws falls short. Let me explain what I mean very briefly here.


All physical laws are essentially quantitative in nature, and can be thought of as “functions,” i.e., as mappings from a specific set of inputs to a specific set of outputs. Since the universe is lawful, given a certain set of values for the inputs, and the specific function (the law) which does the mapping, the output is  uniquely determined. Such a nature of the physical laws has come to be known as determinism. (At least that’s what the working physicist understands by the term “determinism.”) The initial conditions together with the governing equation completely determine the final outcome.

However, there are situations in which even if the laws themselves are deterministic, they still cannot practically be put to use in order to determine the outcomes. One such a situation is what we discussed above: the problem of predicting the next bubble which will collapse.

Where is the catch? It is in here:

When you say that a physical law performs a mapping from a set of input to the set of outputs, this description is actually vastly more general than what appears on the first sight.

Consider another example, the law of Newtonian gravity.

If you have only two bodies interacting gravitationally, i.e., if all other bodies in the universe can be ignored (because their influence on the two bodies is negligibly small in the problem as posed), then the set of the required input data is indeed very small. The system itself is simple because there is only one interaction going on—that between two bodies. The simplicity of the problem design lends a certain simplicity to the system behaviour: If you vary the set of input conditions slightly, then the output changes proportionately. In other words, the change in the output is proportionately small. The system configuration itself is simple enough to ensure that such a linear relation exists between the variations in the input, and the variations in the output. Therefore, in practice, even if you specify the input conditions somewhat loosely, your prediction does err, but not too much. Its error too remains bounded well enough that we can say that the description is deterministic. In other words, we can say that the system is deterministic, only because the input–output mapping is robust under minor changes to the input.

However, if you consider the N-body problem in all its generality, then the very size of the input set itself becomes big. Any two bodies from the N-bodies form a simple interacting pair. But the number of pairs is large, and worse, they all are coupled to each other through the positions of the bodies. Further, the nonlinearities involved in such a problem statement work to take away the robustness in the solution procedure. Not only is the size of the input set big, the end-solution too varies wildly with even a small variation in the input set. If you failed to specify even a single part of the input set to an adequate precision, then the predicted end-state can deterministically become very wildly different. The input–output mapping is deterministic—but it is not robust under minor changes to the input. A small change in the initial angle can lead to an object ending up either on this side of the Sun or that. Small changes produce big variations in predictions.

So, even if the mapping is known and is known to work (deterministically), you still cannot use this “knowledge” to actually perform the mapping from the input to the output, because the mapping is not robust to small variations in the input.

Ditto, for the soap bubbles collapse problem. If you change the initial configuration ever so slightly—e.g., if there was just a small air current in one setup and a more perfect stillness in another setup, it can lead to wildly different predictions as to which bubble will collapse next.

What holds for the N-body problem also holds for the bubble collapse process. The similarity is that these are complex systems. Their parts may be simple, and the physical laws governing such simple parts may be completely deterministic. Yet, there are a great many parts, and they all are coupled together such that a small change in one part—one interaction—gets multiplied and felt in all other parts, making the overall system fragile to small changes in the input specifications.

Let me add: What holds for the N-body problem or the bubble-collapse problems also holds for quantum-mechanical measurement processes. The latter too involves a large number of parts that are nonlinearly coupled to each other, and hence, forms a complex system. It is as futile to expect that you would be able to predict the exact time of the next atomic decay as it is to expect that you will be able to predict which bubble collapses next.

But all the above still does not mean that the laws themselves are indeterministic, or that, therefore, physical theories must be regarded as indeterministic. The complex systems may not be robust. But they still are composed from deterministically operating parts. It’s just that the configuration of these parts is far too complex.


It would be far too naive to think that it should be possible to make exact (non-probabilistic) predictions even in the context of systems that are nonlinear, and whose parts are coupled together in complex manner. It smacks of harboring irresponsible attitudes to take this naive expectation as the standard by which to judge physical theories, and since they don’t come up to your expectations, to jump to the conclusion that physical theories are indeterministic in nature. That’s what has happened to QM.

It should have been clear to the critic of the science that the truth-hood of an assertion (or a law, or a theory) is not subject to whether every complex manner in which it can be recombined with other theoretical elements leads to robust formulations or not. The truth-hood of an assertion is subject only to whether it by itself and in its own context corresponds to reality or not.

The error involved here is similar, in many ways, to expecting that if a substance is good for your health in a certain quantity, then it must be good in every quantity, or that if two medicines are without side-effects when taken individually, they must remain without any harmful effects even when taken in any combination—that there should be no interaction effects. It’s the same error, albeit couched in physicists’ and philosopher’s terms, that’s all.

… Too much emphasis on “math,” and too little an appreciation of the qualitative features, only helps in compounding the error.


A preliminary version of this post appeared as a comment on Roger Schlafly’s blog, here [^]. Schlafly has often wondered about the determinism vs. indeterminism issue on his blog, and often, seems to have taken positions similar to what I expressed here in this post.

The posting of this entry was motivated out of noticing certain remarks in Lee Smolin’s response to The Edge Question, 2013 edition [^], which I recently mentioned at my own blog, here [^].


A song I like:
(Marathi) “kaa re duraavaa, kaa re abolaa…”
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Music: Sudhir Phadke
Lyrics: Ga. Di. Madgulkar


[In the interests of providing better clarity, this post shall undergo further unannounced changes/updates over the due course of time.

Revision history:
2019.04.24 23:05: First published
2019.04.25 14:41: Posted a fully revised and enlarged version.
]

Stay tuned to the NSF on the next evening…

Update on 2019.04.10 18:50 IST: 

Dimitrios Psaltis, University of Arizona in Tucson, EHT project scientist [^]:

The size and shape of the shadow matches the precise predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, increasing our confidence in this century-old theory. Imaging a black hole is just the beginning of our effort to develop new tools that will enable us to interpret the massively complex data that nature gives us.”

Update over.


Stay tuned to the NSF on the next evening (on 10th April 2019 at 06:30 PM IST) for an announcement of astronomical proportions. Or so it is, I gather. See: “For Media” from NSF [^]. Another media advisory made by NSF roughly 9 days ago, i.e. on the Fool’s Day, here [^]. Their news “report”s [^].


No, I don’t understand the relativity theory. Not even the “special” one (when it’s taken outside of its context of the so-called “classical” electrodynamics)—let alone the “general” one. It’s not one of my fields of knowledge.

But if I had to bet my money then, based purely on my grasp of the sociological factors these days operative in science as practised in the Western world, then I would bet a good amount (even Indian Rs. 1,000/-) that the announcement would be just a further confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

That’s how such things go, in the Western world, today.

In other words, I would be very, very, very surprised—I mean to say, about my grasp of the sociology of science in the Western world—if they found something (anything) going even apparently contrary to any one of the implications of any one of Einstein’s theories. Here, emphatically, his theory of the General Relativity.


That’s all for now, folks! Bye for now. Will update this post in a minor way when the facts are on the table.


TBD: The songs section. Will do that too, within the next 24 hours. That’s a promise. For sure. (Or, may be, right tonight, if a song nice enough to listen to, strikes me within the next half an hour or so… Bye, really, for now.)


A song I like:

(Hindi) “ek haseen shaam ko, dil meraa kho_ gayaa…”
Lyrics: Raajaa Mehdi Ali Khaan
Music: Madan Mohan
Singer: Mohammad Rafi [Some beautiful singing here…]