Minimum Working Hypothesis About Life

by | Oct 1, 2023

It is normal to consider the meaning of life after leading a fulfilling life. I lived an active life that included travel, met many saints, outstanding people, and celebrities, and had my due share of disappointments and accomplishments. Life is not about making merry or amassing more wealth than necessary. It is also not about exerting power over other people. All those who set these as their objectives failed, regretted, and died unfulfilled. Why should I do that? And why should you? 

Life is meant to work, that much is certain. Work has varied meanings at various phases of life. Education and skill building are priorities for young children and growing teenagers; for adults, it is to have a good livelihood, start a family, and attain peace and comfort. Those who are able to do this are fortunate enough to have a contented life in their old age before finally departing. It is heartbreaking to witness elderly individuals who are uncared for, exasperated, disoriented, and living in poverty.  

I have read scriptures – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, books by Swami Vivekananda and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, and about Western philosophy. Victor Hugo and Leo Tolstoy, French and Russian authors respectively whose English translations I read, are unparalleled in terms of writing prose. My favorite English author is Aldous Huxley. From Vyas, Homer, Virgil, and Dante, to Shakespeare – poets whom I believe to be incarnations of superhuman genius – I have read them all.  

What characterizes a brilliant writer? There are three categories of written expression. One is concerned with current events. If something is written honestly, it will always survive the life of the author. Because of their validity, the writings of the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, who visited India in the seventh century, have survived. Then there are writers who examine human nature and history with a penetrating eye and write about the reasons for the events of their era. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is legendary for having this feature. Finally, lifelong writers who write frequently share their emotions and thoughts based on their personal experiences. Carl Jung was one of them. Aldous Huxley produced 50 books of various genres throughout the course of his 69-year life.

Huxley was a pacifist who rejected militarism and war practices in his country England. The concept of ahimsa, or “do no harm,” captivated and led him to universalism and philosophical mysticism. He even authored The Doors of Perception after consuming psychedelic drugs and described altered states of consciousness. His Brave New World and final book, Island, which describes dystopian and utopian concepts, are considered his masterpieces. Huxley’s “Minimum Working Hypothesis” is my personal compass.

Like every other scientific field, our sense experience of life must have a theory. Without a working hypothesis, there is no purpose in doing research, no justification for choosing one experiment over another, and no means of giving meaning or order to the facts that have been observed. Similarly, without a theory of life, we end up living like some fool lost in a vanity fair. Whatever we do looks good while it is done, and futile after it is done – “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” to quote Macbeth by Shakespeare. There has to be some plot to live a purposeful life, and an overall understanding of what is going on. 

On the other hand, if you have too many working hypotheses, you end up living by your whims and fancies. Being too sure about your knowledge is an error that makes most people fail. Always distorting reality to adapt to their ideas, they end up living bogus lives. When they should be changing their lives according to their circumstances, they go about pushing things to suit them. 

There are sentimental humanists. For them, life is the pursuit of happiness. They work, eat, and sleep.  At the other end of the scale are the Catholics, the Jews, and the Moslems, mindful of non-sensuous reality. They consider this life, of say a hundred years, to better their chances in the eternal afterlife. Then there are Hindus and Buddhists – believers in reincarnation. Chinese tradition is built around good conduct. And so on. 

All major religions’ adherents have created their own unique definitions and interpretations of what is good, less good, and even bad. Records of the less trustworthy and infinitely fewer valuable intuitions of psychics into the lower levels of non-sensuous reality are mixed with records of great saints’ infallible insights into the highest spiritual reality. These records are then supplemented with mere fantasies, discursive arguments, and sentimentalisms that become the religious life as practiced by billions of people across the world. 

So, Huxley articulated a “Minimum Working Hypothesis” that presents the essence of the world’s great religions for anyone willing to live a good life. I quote Huxley’s article published in Vedanta for The Western World in Great Britain in 1948:

“That there is a Godhead, Ground, Brahman, Clear Light of the Void, which is the unmanifested principle of all manifestations.

That the Ground is at once transcendent [boundless] and immanent [indwelling].

That it is possible for human beings to love, know, and, virtually, become identical with the divine Ground.

To achieve this unitive knowledge of the Godhead is the final end and purpose of human existence.

That there is a Law or Dharma which must be obeyed, a Tao or Way which must be followed if men are to achieve their final end.”

Simply put, there is a reality beyond what is seen and felt by our senses and comprehended by our intellect, science, and all the world’s knowledge. Being in touch with this reality – Godhead or Ground – is a unique quality of human life. Not using it amounts to squandering a great gift. A reflective, pure, and unhurried way of life presents before seekers all the ways and means to progress. By being mindful of the unseen, we find the ways and means to live a good life.

Generative AI has arrived. People are enjoying ChatGPT. Soon, lives and events will be controlled by the unseen intelligence that is building upon itself and free from any human control – at once transcendent and immanent, as Huxley put it.  

Various world religions remained limited by their distinctive historical and cultural contexts. Each religion possesses a genuine but ultimately unsatisfactory understanding of the unifying reality. There are, therefore, many equally valid religions. It is natural that the world is full of religious strife, violence, and even outright discrimination and persecution, where people of different faiths are living together, and the power structure is not balanced.

As generative AI gains more control, a universal truth will surely emerge and strife will be replaced with synergy, conflict with harmony, and competition with cooperation. Sooner than later, mankind will obey certain Universal Laws, following a Way that would be the only viable way, and humanity will flourish, living in abundance. This is my optimistic view, through rose-coloured glasses perhaps, in line with Aldous Huxley’s words: “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”

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14 Comments

  1. Thought provoking insight into the unique quality of human life Prof Tiwariji !

    Your optimism on evolution of universal laws for mankind will go long way in flourishing humanity !!

  2. Thank you for writing this very thoughtful blog. I have been reflecting upon the idea of secular spirituality without adherence to a religion. Why can’t the inner peace of the individual be defined as independent of a relationship with the divine? The search for meaning outside of a religious institution, one’s relationship with the self, others, nature, and whatever else one considers to be the ultimate with a goal of happily and helping others looks perfectly sensible and practical.

    Being brought up in a religious family, I find spirituality and religion rather coextensive. I also find spirituality not incompatible with or opposed to science or the scientific outlook. I can be naturalized spiritually without any need for the ‘other‐worldly’. Secular spirituality adapts so well to modern world views and is therefore compatible with other modern beliefs and ways of life, building community through shared experiences of “awe.”. Keep raising up these issues of great significance.

  3. What a great way to define God! The five points in the “Minimum Working Hypothesis” captures the essence of every religion. By closing our eyes and turning our attention inside we can feel the Divine Ground inside our own body. By looking at the Moon and Stars we can feel the connection between the inner and the Outer Divine Ground and know that it is only one. All our problems are rooted in ignoring this simple fact of our existence.

  4. There can be nothing simpler definition of God than the “Minimum Working Hypothesis”

    1. There is a Divine Ground with no attributes and features that energizes everything

    2. This is both outside (cosmos) and inside (living bodies)

    3. Human beings have the capacity to connect with the Divine Ground.

    4. The purpose of a human birth is to connect with the Divine Ground.

    5. For this there is a Law which must be obeyed and a Way which must be followed.

    Thank you Tauji. No one can hereafter say that it is not told.

  5. Sir, this blog reminds me of a great poem by American writer and civil activist James Weldon Johnson.

    Up from the bed of the river
    God scooped the clay;
    And by the bank of the river
    He kneeled him down;
    And there the great God Almighty
    Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
    Who flung the stars to the farthest corner of the night,
    Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
    This great God,
    Like a mammy bending over her baby,
    Kneeled down in the dust
    Toiling over a lump of clay
    Till he shaped it in his own image;
    Then into it, he blew the breath of life,
    And man became a living soul.

    The purpose of life is to know yourself and others around you as spirits of one source. Totally agree with the Minimum Working Hypothesis.

  6. Respected Sir, nice to read about Aldous Huxley. I have read his novel Brave New World, in my youth and was fascinated by his imagination of a future in which universal happiness is only achieved by thoroughly dehumanizing humanity. His famous saying that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history. I can see AI soon putting the hubris of human genius in its place.

  7. संसार में अनेक प्रकार के मत प्रचलित हैं। उनकी जो मान्यताएँ सत्य के अनुकूल हैं सबके लिए कल्याणकारी हैं वे धार्मिक हैं तथा जो असत्य तथा किसी भी मनुष्य वा प्राणी के लिए हानिकारक हैं, जैसे हिंसा, स्वप्रशंसा, परम निन्दा, धर्मान्तरण आदि ये सभी अधर्म के कार्य हैं जिन्हें त्याग देना चाहिए। बच्चों को धैर्य, क्षमा, इन्द्रियों पर नियंत्रण, संयम, अपरिग्रह, अनुचित इच्छा और द्वेष का त्याग, ज्ञान और बुद्धि से युक्त होना सिखाना चाहिए। जब तक ऐसा नहीं होगा तब तक विश्व व मानव समाज का कल्याण नहीं हो सकता। धर्म का अर्थ सभी मनुष्यों का कल्याण करना है। कोई भी कार्य जिससे स्वयं को या दूसरों को हानि पहुंचती हो, वह अधर्म है।

  8. All great thinks say…”don’t let the child in you die ever”.

  9. Arun Bhai, Really not easy for anyone to write in such a comprehensive manner.
    Your reading and writing ability is a GOD gift to you , which you have nurtured over the years and day by day it in going up by its level. Best regards.

  10. Life is meant to work, that much is certain. Work has varied meanings at various phases of life. Education and skill building are priorities for young children and growing teenagers; for adults, it is to have a good livelihood, start a family, and attain peace and comfort. Those who are able to do this are fortunate enough to have a contented life in their old age before finally departing. It is heartbreaking to witness elderly individuals who are uncared for, exasperated, disoriented, and living in poverty.
    Very fitting reflection Prof Tiwari!

  11. Your last paragraph is very interesting!! And key.

    How do you do that?

    By keeping greed and other basal instincts in check.

  12. Dear Sir, A very well-written and explained in the most simple and clear language. As rightly brought out, we have to have a clear purpose and goal. We need to know our limits and set the target so that the disappointments are minimal. The message is simple, set clear goals take all aspects into consideration and try to reach them. Leading a contended life is the bottom line for living a fulfilling and meaningful life. Thank you once again for simplifying the philosophy of life.

  13. Beautiful piece!

    Thank you for the inspiration to live lives purposefully, fully aware of the beginning and end.

    In military campaigns, good planners envision and articulate the strategic endstate. All lines of operation work towards the achievement of the endstate.

    Likewise, a good life is only realized with a clear hypothesis.

  14. Very well articulated. One should know where to begin and where to end with a reasonable goal in mind. There is no end to what a person can achieve in a life time but defining goals and milestones helps one achieve the goals with contentment.

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