Interview: Dr Ramakrishna Puligandla -Part III

Editor’s Note: Following is the third & concluding part of our interview with our new Medha Gold personality, our Resident Philosopher.

The interviewer’s relevant comments, which are a part of the conversational flow, are shown in brackets, in gray font.

Thanks for reading on…

Ravi of Medha Journal has interviewed Dr Puligandla at his home. Gracious host as ever, he spent the better part of a relaxed afternoon answering the curious seeker, the new Medhavi, as it were.

The Interview Session continues…

For Part 1, see: Interview: Dr Ramakrishna Puligandla -Part I

For Part 2, see: Interview: Dr Ramakrishna Puligandla -Part II

(Questions and Answers)

Q: I think the next question you’ve already answered in bits previously, but I will ask anyway, What is your view of today’s dichotomy between the labels “Arts” and “Sciences” explicitly, when in the view of traditional Indian education, both are called as “Vidya” ?

A: Correct. They’re both Vidyas. (You yourself are trained in classical Indian music, play Sitar & Piano, which all , from a traditional point of view, are Vidyas) Yes. It’s also very interesting to see these days, textbooks in Logic written as ‘The art and Science of Reasoning” (Laughs) (So they now want to project it as “Art And Science”, whereas earlier it used to be only Science) Yes.

And even when High Science is done, there is an Artistic component to it. There is a lot of intuition that goes into those things. People do not achieve extraordinary scientific achievements by following a book. No! (laughs) There is a lot that goes on there. Unconscious as well as totally intuitive. That’s where the art element comes in. That’s why one should remember, whan people talk about the left side & right side of the brain, and so on, when they say the left is analytical and the right is intuitive, it’s not as thought they function separately. Very often they function together. It’s only for the sake of clarity of distinction, we talk about the left as analytical, and right as intuitive.


That does not mean they’re separate, i.e. ‘from morning 10-11 the left side functions, then the afternoon it’s the right’s turn…’ it’s not that way. They work together. That’s why, even in science, and rigorous intellectual inquiries, there is always that artistic… (intuitive) …Oh yes , absolutely. And the scientist himself cannot explain.

For example I’m sure you’ve heard of the great French Scientist, Mathematician, Physicist Andre Poincare, he was working on a problem, tried for many many weeks and months, couldn’t get anywhere. Then one day he was going to Ecole to teach, and he was just getting into the bus/streetcar, and he sat down, and got the Poincare transformation. Poincare himself was surprised. (He could not trace the path between not knowing & knowing) No…And it came when he was not thinking at all about it. And similarly, Kekule, how he discovered the formulation of Benzene (Right…Benzene Rings) Yes! So that’s where this happens.

It’s always good to be both a scientist and an artist.

For example, the great American Physicist Richard Feynman, when he’s not doing Physics, he will go to a nightclub, and play conga drums with them (laughs heartily)

(So to be a holistic human being you have to have both) Yes.


Q: Another slightly different one. Among the many honors bestowed to you, which is the one you cherish the most?

A: Well,..Distinguished Visiting Professorships, Fulbrights, they’re all nice & so on, But as my friend Prof VV Raman told me, to receive a Festschrift, it is a big fulfillment. (So we’re talking of this book in your honor, ‘Breaking Barriers. Essays in honor of Ramakrishna Puligandla” ?) Yes. Because a Festschrift is a recognition by your peers. (You didn’t ask for it but it came..) I didn’t ask for it, in fact I discouraged them! (Oh Ok) I discouraged those two boys. (Frank Hoffman and Godabarisha Mishra) Yes. Westchester in University of Pensylvania. Once I went to Univ of PA to give a colloquium.

{He details out the story (See Audio) of how the two authors decided to do this honor to him, and how he discouraged them, in fact firmly rejected the idea, based on his own experience when doing this for another colleague Norm Jacobson –Buddhism Scholar -himself. It took him 4 hard years to get it out, and he didn’t want these young men to get away from their career focus for this reason. But they didn’t listen , and the result is the above mentioned Festschrift. More discussions on the whole process, in the Audio}

So to get back to you question, Yes, I agree with Raman, to receive a Festschrift is good, in fact when my friend Wally Martin, Prof of Eng. Lit at University of Toledo, told me “Rama, you are the only faculty member of the entire history of the University who received a Festschrift.” I said Yes, I’m aware of it. (It’s that unique? )Yes (Oh..I didn’t know that) Because to get a Festschrift, firstly you have to have a considerable amount of work. And the work should be known to a lot of people in your profession. When the invitations were being sent, it was given to my former student Thomas Jackson, who is now Prof. At University of Hawaii, so he did it. And then they had a long list, and they showed me the list. I said fine. Then I said if you send to all those people, Some will be willing, but due to many considerations like time etc, some may not be able, so send only so many, and then if some people are left, then take from the rest and send it.

So yes (it’s something that you cherish..) Yes. It’s a recognition, by your peers, in various parts of the world, that they recognize your work, and they are quite familiar with the work and so on, so they are very happy to write their reflections on the various aspects of my work. (That’s kind of a measure of the effect you had on the field.) Right


Q: You’re still an active Physicist. Could you share with readers your recent Endeavors, where, if I recall you right, with a former student, you’ve written a proposal that can test some of the foundational hypotheses of sub atomic physics.

A: Yes. See the problem we have taken up is a very interesting problem of Quantum Physics. And the experimental fact has been established in 1981, in France by a man called Alain Aspect, in his Doctoral dissertation. What he showed there was something that Einstein claimed in 1935 that cannot happen, has actually happened. (So..ok..Einstein claimed it wouldn’t happen, but it happened?)

Yes. In 1935, Einstein and his two Colleagues, Podolsky & Rosen, wrote a paper. That paper is called EPR Paradox. Einstein-Podolsky Rosen Paradox.

Einstein was never happy with Quantum Mechanics. Einstein wanted to refute the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle etc. So he devised some thought experiments, and if those experiments were actually conducted, Einstein said “If Quantum Mechanics is as it stands, then these kind of things should happen, but I’m showing you here, that such kind of things cannot, in principle, happen. And it was there like that since 1935.

And then in 1960s, a young Irish Physicist called John Bell, was working at CERN in Switzerland. He worked on that problem, on Einstein’s EPR Paradox paper, and then he went on to say, this is how this, EPR, is to be tested. And what is interesting is he came up with three equations called Bell’s inequalities, and he arrived at them, without using Quantum Mechanics at all. (So it’s a completely independent method suggesting that the same thing happens?) Yes. And then he said, If the Einsteinian claim is true, this & this should happen. Bell’s inequalities should hold.

And it was there for another 14-15 years. Then Alain Aspect in Sorbonne, he took that up to set up an experiment to test Bell’s claim. Then when he did it in 1981, Bell’s Inequalities were violated. Therefore he claimed the Einsteinian thesis is wrong.

What he did was, to put it very roughly, he too a high energy Gamma Ray, and allowed the Gamma Ray to pass close to a heavy Nucleus, and the Nucleus would rock. That’s all. It has no other interaction. It will just rock. And the Gamma Ray will disappear. And in it’s place you will have an E-plus, and an E-minus. An electron and a positron. They travel in opposite directions. They have the same masses, but opposite charges, and spins.

So what he did was, he separated them in a tunnel, thru a long distance of several kilometers, and then he took one of the particles. Now assume that particle was having a clockwise spin, a magnetic field is superimposed on it, then the spin change clockwise to anti-clockwise. Then what he found was, that particle (the counterpart) so many kilometers away, it has automatically changed it’s spin, without any time lapse. (So..information hasn’t traveled..) So… according to Einstein, that kind of thing cannot happen.

Because, for Einstein, all causality is local. That means cause and effect are always in the same spatio-temporal region. You cannot have a cause here, and an effect on Andromeda. So this they called Non-Local Causation, that’s the word they gave for it.

And after Alain Aspect published the results, several Physicists all over the world said No there must be some serious experimental error, it is not the case, & so on…I mean these were the big boys… Then, Alain Aspect’s tests were reproduced (reproduced?) oh yeah, there were also reproduced in Bombay. They said ‘we have no doubts about the experiment’, (tone gets serious) it’s a fact. So they used the word Non-Local-Causation because this particle, when it has changed it’s spin, it served as the cause for that one. That phrase itself is wrong, Non-Local-Causation.

So the problem has been there, and no one took it up, how to explain this.

(So everybody agrees now, this is what we’ve seen) Oh Yes. It’s confirmed, because they’ve duplicated it in so many places. (But now they want to figure out how the logic..) How to explain!

And one day my former student stopped by and came over and he said “I have been bumming around, I have not been doing any great work. Why don’t you give me a problem to think about.” He also has an Honors degree in Physics and he took his MA in Philosophy from me. I told him, “Mark, what problem do you want, Logic, or Physics, or what?” He said “Why not Physics?” So I told him I have been myself thinking of taking up this problem, so – “Try it out!”

That’s how it began.

So he came back after a few months, and he said, “The approach I’m presenting, you think about it and what it is” So we looked at it, and so we wrote up the paper, and then we sent a copy to George Sudarshan . and George said “Yes. It’s a very interesting idea. You boys are onto something really great. Then you also need to give some experimental procedure to test your claims as to how it happened.”

So what we did was, if there is no time lapse, from that it follows that there is no information signal going from one to the other. And even if there were information signals, it cannot travel faster than light. So there must be e a time lapse. And even if you admit superluminal speeds, – George Sudarshan, who wrote several papers on Tachyons, which are particles that travel faster than light . Even if there are Tachyons at superluminal speeds, there should still be a time lapse! (Ok…it has to take some time to travel..) Yes..

But since there is no time lapse, it is absolutely clear that there are no causal connections. No cause producing an effect there. Correct? So what we did was , we took a model from Topology. In Topology there is a strip called Mobius strip. It is like a ribbon which has length and breadth, but infinitesimal thickness. So essentially this strip is 2 dimensional. You take the strip, you lift the ends of the strip, and then turn one end of the strip through 180 degrees, and then attach it to the other end. And put a scotch tape there, and take this loop against the wall, take a pencil and draw a line, without lifting the pencil, and when we come back to the starting point, you cut the strip, you will see a line on both sides, because of the 180-degree twist. That is what a Mobius strip does.

So what we wanted to argue is that Particles appear to us in 3 dimensions of space and one dimension of time, X-Y-Z-t, as E-plus and E-minus. However, we suggested that ‘Imagine a Mobius strip in X-Y-Z-t, -events are happening- and then take the strip and lift it –for lifting it, you need an extra dimension- cos just as I needed a Z dimension to lift the ribbon’, -you follow- (Right right…) I need the extra dimension to lift the X-Y-Zt strip. And then , take, stick/join it . Then, what appears to you as E-plus and E-minus are the SAME REALITY (Ohhh…OK..) and Sudarshan said “Don’t use the word particles” Yes.(Laughs) Because particles are due to X-Y-Z –t (Spatially located..) Yes

So, they are the same reality, and because of this twist, they appear to us as E-plus and..(Ohh..Ok..) E-minus. Therefore no signals are needed. So we concluded that – Sudarshan even told me, Don’t call that 5th dimensional either Spatial or Temporal. Just simply call it the Omega Dimension and leave it. Don’t say anything about it.

(Laughs)…Ok. Because once we come to the spatial dimension, the questions will come.. “So you people think there is another dimension of space?”, & so on. So say “I just need a dimension in which I lifted the strip & put it there. Then what appeared to us as E-plus and E-minus, are one and the same. Just as what appears to us as the top surface and bottom surface, seen from here, is one and the same surface seen from….there! (Oh…due to the other dimension) Yes

(So as a crude analogy, would it be fair to say…I’m trying to really really…reduce it …like a mirror image of something…like you take a ball and spin it, the mirror image also spins the other way.) Yes (It doesn’t have an independent existence) No. But what we want to show is, Since we do know experimentally that there are no informational signals going from one to the other, the mathematical model we came up with is this. When you take a ribbon you have a top surface and a bottom surface. But seen from the standpoint of a Mobius strip, those two surfaces are the same surface. So what appears to you as E-plus and E-minus, they are the same reality, therefore there are no information signals needed.

Then George Sudarshan said, “Why don’t you boys come up with an experimental procedure”. So we wrote up the experimental procedure. What we did was, -we computed- You need to produce at least 10,000 pairs of the E-plus & E-minus particles. And Sudarshan said that is extremely expensive, it will be the GNP of a small country. (Laughs) And then he said I could have done it here, at Texas itself, because I have ingenious young experimenters. But unfortunately the Senate stopped giving money and they closed down the Superconductivity Laboratory.

So what we said was, “you produce about 10,000 particles, E-pus will be going this way, and E-minus that way, then send a high energy laser beam in the space between. When you do that, if our theory is correct, the high-energy beam will deviate from a straight line. (So the beam is going orthogonal to the particle stream…) yes. (Both particle sets are going opposite to each other) Yes (Then the beam will deviate towards one of the sets?) yes. We also calculated the order of distance that the beam will deviate.

Now the question, “What is causing the beam to twist like this, to deviate? If our theory is correct, the ribbon is twisted, thus it produces a distortion in the space-time curvature. And wherever this happens, light, instead of traveling straight, will follow this space-time curvature! You follow? (Yes, kind of gravity bending..) Yes, otherwise it will go straight. So the question is, whenever particle pairs are produced, there is a space time curvature distortion. (Ok..inferring back from the bent laser…) Yes. We computed the order of the number of particles we need to have observable effects, and the order of deviation. And we sent it to Sudarshan.

Then he suggested, since I cannot test it, send it to Vienna, Austria, to Helmut Routh, the Director of the Atomic Research Institute of Austria. So we sent the synopsis of the paper. Then Helmut asked us to come to the Institute & present the paper, to see what they would do. So Mark & I we went to Vienna and presented the paper. They were very nice. Eight or nine people came from Grenoble, France, since they also have big Nuclear Research Laboratories. Then Helmut said this is a very interesting paper, but testing will cost a lot of money, – they drink beer with everything – (laughs loudly) even in the morning with breakfast they have beer. My friend Mark took a Budweiser made in Vienna…Then we discussed the things for 5 days.

During the discussions, it came up as to why they didn’t think about it till now, and the response was “We’re experimenters, not Theoreticians.” But we always have to interact. Because when Theoreticians propose things, experimenters have to test it. Or if the experimentalist comes up with a new fact, theoreticians have to provide the explanation, justification. (Is it that they feel they shouldn’t be treading on other people’s turf, or they..) No they are so busy with the experimental goals, very occasionally you will find people who are both experimentalists and theoreticians.

So it is still under testing. Recently I contacted Helmut who said “We still want to test it here, we will take some time. But if conditions become difficult, we will arrange it to be tested at CERN”.

Q: The last thing from you, perhaps some advice for the young seeker. A seeker, be it in the Philosophic domain, or the Scientific domain. Just some general last minute words would be nice.

A: A very general piece of advice. When people want to study philosophy, I have always suggested, over the years, that while studying philosophy, at the same time they should also study one hard science. Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Genetics…(anything that qualifies as a hard science) Yes. Sometimes people study Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and social sciences, & so on.. I’d allow even that. That means the students should have some kind of a background and grounding in Science. Because later on when they become Philosophers of Science, how can they philosophize about science, if they themselves never studied science ? (Laughs) See? Most Philosophers of Science, they never studied science.

By the same token, I would also advise any student who is majoring in science, to take at the same time, some work in philosophy. That way, beside the rote learning, he would also have the opportunity and learning to enquire into the foundations of the discipline ( you’ve explained the categories of knowledge in your book “Jnana Yoga”) Right. How to do those things .

So in that way, you keep the two things together, Science and Philosophy.

(Great!. Thank you so much.) Very Good. Yes. Nice.

[Editor’s Note: We now conclude this wonderfully stimulating interview with Dr Puligandla in this part, Part III. Please come back & check Medha Gold for more in-depth interviews & Wisdom works soon!

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