The Illusion of Nationhood

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An earlier post outlined the differences between physical space and conceptual space. The next post then outlined how the conceptual space is suited to describe societies and ecosystems. This post discusses how the conceptual space creates the phenomena and the illusion of physical space. In this illusion, the weakly interacting locations (in conceptual space) appear to be far in the physical space while the strongly interacting locations (in conceptual space) appear to be near in the physical space. Thus, we can change our distance to an object without motion by changing the part of the world we interact with. One consequence of this fact is that nationhood—based on physical proximity—is an illusion. It is created not by proximity to the people of a “nation” but because our material bodies and minds have causal interactions with other material bodies and minds which makes us think that we are physically close to them. We might see the semantic distance between their body types, minds, intellects, egos, or moralities, but we neglect those distances. We prefer to just see the bodily proximity.

The Foreground-Background Contrast

One way to understand how conceptual space is different is to realize that in this space we cannot draw national boundaries like we do in political maps of the globe. The different locations in a conceptual space are ideological “positions”, which can be found in people across many nations. For example, left-wing ideologues can be found in all nations, just as right-wing ideologues are found in many places. Religious fanatics can be found all over the globe, just as atheists and agnostics can be found everywhere. In the conceptual space, there is a region for atheists, another region for agnostics, and yet another region for religious fanatics. The land called “Earth” (Bharatvarsha) is not therefore divided by countries. It is rather partitioned by ideologies. It doesn’t matter which country you think you are part of, but only how you think, perceive, and act, because the idea of geographical proximity is based on a physical notion of space, and physical space is an illusion. In short, all countries are perceptual illusions.

How is this illusion created? All perception involves a foreground-background contrast. If something appears vivid relative to other objects, then we consider it closer. Conversely, if something appears hazier relative to other objects, then we consider it farther. This is also how pictures create depth perception by making the distant areas faded or darker when actually they are all situated on a flat canvas. Thus, if an object is more vivid, it would seem closer. Conversely, if it is less vivid, it will seem farther. Whatever interacts with us strongly becomes vivid for us. Conversely, whatever interacts weakly becomes distant for us. The illusion of proximity is based not on actual distance in the semantic space but on whether I am interacting strongly or weakly and therefore receiving detailed or abstract information from an object.

This is also how the underlying principle based on which modern cosmology measures distances to other planets and galaxies and is called the Inverse Square Law of luminosity: as the brightness decreases, the distance is expected to increase. Since this brightness is based on the distance to the object, therefore, physical proximity reduces to the question: Am I interacting strongly or weakly?

Once the question is posed this way, then it becomes amenable to a scientific explanation based on the strength of interaction. This near and far has no relation to the actual conceptual distance. It is just a perceptual illusion. Many people will disagree with the idea of a perceptual illusion because billions of people seem to have the illusion. How can all of us be wrong? The answer is that all of us see railway tracks converging at a distance. All of us see sky and land meet into the horizon. All of us can see depth in a picture that is painted on a flat canvas. This has to do with the nature of the senses and not merely with the person. That is, our eyes infer distance based on detail and intensity. And therefore they can be fooled. It has nothing to do with a particular person’s perception because it is a property of the senses.

Forest, Trees, and Leaves

The material world in Vedic philosophy is organized as a conceptual hierarchy. We can think of this hierarchy as the information about a forest, trees, and leaves. If you receive information only about the forest (and not about the trees and leaves) your senses will create the perceptual illusion that you are far from the forest (because you don’t see the trees and leaves). If, on the other hand, you receive information only about the leaves (and not about the trees and the forest) your senses will create the perceptual illusion that you are close to the leaves, and therefore you don’t see the forest.

You, or the trees, or the forest don’t have to move an inch. Without any motion, the perceived distance between you and the forest can be changed simply by altering the level of information that your senses are fed. Physical proximity is an illusion created by information transfer. At present, science doesn’t describe causality as information transfer, and so we treat this illusion as reality. That is, we convert the idea of perceived physical distance into the belief about real-world distance.

Therefore, when different individuals come in close contact with each other it is interpreted as nationhood, even though their bodies, minds, intellects, egos, and moralities may be far away. Nationhood is therefore a Social Construct created through interaction but has no real basis in an objective reality. At best you can say that you see the bodies closely so they are in the nation.

Two Notions of a Country – India vs. Bharat

When Vedic texts talk about a land such as Bharata, the description doesn’t pertain to the country called India. It rather pertains to the ideological “land” inhabited by bodies and minds of a certain kind. If these bodies and minds interact with other similar bodies and minds, then the “physical nation” created out of this social interaction would be congruous to the ideological proximity. This congruity is an outcome of karma that produces interactions with other people. If the karma is uniformly good, then you have to interact only with good people. If the karma is uniformly bad, then you have to only interact with bad people. In short, good people interact with other good people, and bad people interact with other bad people. And therefore you can claim a congruity between the physical land and the ideological land.

This division fails when people have mixed karma—i.e. both good and bad. In today’s time, people are not completely good or entirely bad. Mostly everyone has some good qualities and karma, and mostly everyone has some bad qualities and karma. The result of this mixed guna and karma is that you have to interact with other people who are not entirely good or bad either. This is the genesis of the mixing of races, cultures, languages, etc. Now, the ideological land is demarcated but the physical land is confused because it has people of all qualities mixing.

When the karma is pure, then we could equate the physical country called India with the ideological views called Bharata. Indeed, Bharata has been described as a triangular land south of the Himalayas, which matches the physical topography of the country called India today. But today Bharata as the ideological land is not congruous with the physical land called India because (1) many people in India do not follow the Bharata ideology, and (2) many people outside India follow Bharata ideology. As a result, people with similar ideologies are interacting with other countries, while people within the country may not interact as they are not supposed to exchange information due to karma.

The key point is that Bharata is a region in idea space, while India is a country in physical space. The country India is an illusion of physical space, while the land Bharata is real. If the thinking that constitutes Bharata can be spread to other parts of the (physical) space, then even those lands will be Bharata, although they may consider themselves different countries due to the illusion of physical space. Similarly, everyone living in India is not living in Bharata because India and Bharata are not congruous.