(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 13 December 2003.)
A NANOMETRE is one billionih of a metre or roughly one-thousandth of the width of a single human hair, so saith the sages of the 'small' revolution. Too tiny to trace? Think again.
Napotechnologists don't ihink it's too slight. In fact, they're beginning to assume godlike power and cqntrol the basic forces of matter and energy.
This technology includes the amazing ability to manipulate genes into self-replicating living organisms -- bio-molecular manufacturing if you will -- to 'control ihe material world', in the words of the founder of Foresight Institute.
But atomic measurement is -- surprise, surprise -- not really new. Mantras in ihe Svetashvatara Upanishad and the Bhagavat state that the size of the soul is one ten thousandth the tip of a human hair. The Sanskrit word Shata-Bhagasya is found in these two books, referring to dividing a human hair tip into 10,000 parts. Presto! Nanotechnology. And without the aid of an electron microscope.
Human beings are now, more than ever, obsessed with measuring all things from planets and microbes to health and happiness. One may question the precision of these hair's breadih calculations. What is the dimension of hair or an atom's nucleus? Even if stem cell research improves the quality of life long-term, or even short-term, we can rightly object to the rush to market with GE seeds, and nanotechnology. A lack of foresight has to be addressed. It's worrying.
There's an intoxicating drive that converts luxuries into needs. Before 1750 there was no refined sugar in England. And some historians say cane plantatidns in the West Indies, is what got that empire headed toward world domination. Small things, like a stalk of sugar cane, can become big. Many modern 'miracles' in the fields of travel, communication, medicine, education, and entertainment have already attained super stardom and become part of everyday reality. Now nanotechnology and other micro marvels bedazzle us: flat TV screens, designer implants and tiny mobile phones. We look to technology as the way forward, but we need to stop and think.
Let's look back for a moment, but without becoming 'backward'. The science is back there. The technology is there. 'Material scientists,' as one yogi put it, 'may learn someday how to communicate with the spiritual world.' Then we'll have gone full circle and finally got somewhere.
The writer is emeritus member of the ISKCON governing body commission.