There is so much mystery to be understood in the material world, that inventing other realities is not necessary. We, as a species have perceived the atom, peered inside it and realised its ethereal nature. Atoms comprise the obvious material world which our sense organs have evolved to perceive, but this is only one frequency of reality. When our brains evolved intellectual capacity (millions of years after our physical life form emerged), we were eventually able to think our way beyond, behind and through the atomic wall of conventional logic, and understand that atoms a) exist, b) are mostly space, and c) comprised of sub-atomic particles that flicker continuously in and out of existence within what scientists refer to as the ‘void’. As matters stand, the physical universe is comprised of electrons and quarks, with a number of theories about what may lie beyond this.
The ancient Greeks conceived of an atom that was so small that it could not be perceived with the human eye (an average human hair is one million atoms wide), but which could theoretically be known to exist through philosophical speculation and mathematical equation. The Greeks were correct to identify the atom as the building block of physical existence, but incorrect to assume that there was nothing smaller than the atom (such as sub-atomic particles). The giant leap here achieved by the Greeks was to shift the human mind from its previous dependency upon myths and legends, and into a regular usage of developmental logic and reason. My view is that logic and reason did emerge in other (older) cultures, but that its usage was spasmodic and inconsistent until the times of the ancient Greeks. The Greeks managed to draw a clear methodological distinction between logic and myth, clearly define both categories and demonstrate their usage.
Indian Buddhism, on the other, which is either contemporary with or older than ancient or classical Greek thought, remains the only Asian philosophy which conceived of an atom-like structure. Within the Pali language, the Buddha referred to the atom as ‘paramanu’, which is said to be so small that it occupies a minute portion of space (akasa-kotthasika). Indeed, Although the different Buddhist schools argued over the existence or nature of the atom, the Theravada thinkers conceived of an atom comprised of ‘space’ and ‘sub-particles’ (dravya-paramanu) which is physically complex (rupa-kalapa), When pressed to describe the function of the atom, the Buddha suggested that it ‘flickered’ in and out of existence. Is it perhaps possible that the intuitive mind is able to perceive the underlying nature of reality prior to that experience being filtered through the human intellectual? A mind sat in pristine meditation may gain an insight into atomic and sub-atomic manifestations, but it is through the activation of the intellect that the ‘science’ of these structures is eventually discovered and understood. The Buddha intuitively perceived atoms and then fed this experience through his intellect and developed a very sophisticated philosophical and moral science. Modern science, on the other hand, does not really upon intuition, but rather concrete facts as a means to convey knowledge (with the caveat that many great advances in science have originated not within exquisite mathematical formulas, but rather in the fertile imaginations of would be inventors).
As particle physics advances in exploration of the building blocks of the material world, there is no doubt that human intellect and conscious awareness is leading the way in abstract and rarefied research. It is intriguing to consider that the Buddha was able to personally experience the ‘void’ (which he stated contains all things), in a manner very different to the reductionalistic system of observation employed by modern science. Although both system make use of the human mind, the Buddha is subjective, whilst science is objective. The Buddha looks within the fabric of his own conscious experience to understand reality, whilst science understands the same reality by gathering data about it. It can be argued that the same reality is being studied and understood, but that two starkly different methodologies are at work. Are scientists externally heading into a void that the Buddha subjectively found to be the essence of all perception? Will there be a realisation that the essence of the material universe is also the essence of the mind as it emerges from the brain?