Saturday, November 01, 2014

Modi's recent pronouncements on ancient Indian science

From The Hindu op-ed:
"Speaking at the inauguration of the Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre last Saturday, he said: “Mahabharat ka kehna hai ki Karn maa ki godh se paida nahi hua tha. Iska matlab yeh hai ki us samaye genetic science mojud tha … Hum Ganeshji ki puja kiya karte hain, koi to plastic surgeon hoga us zamane main, jisne manushye ke sharir par haathi ka sar rakh kar ke plastic surgery ka prarambh kiya hoga.” [It is said in the Mahabharata that Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means in the times in which the epic was written genetic science was very much present. We all worship Lord Ganesha; for sure there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, to fit an elephant’s head on the body of a human being.] "
There was the famous Sushruta in the indeterminate past who is supposed to have done plastic surery but not feats of the above order. The Hindu goes on to wonder "Nor, to my astonishment, has any Indian scientist refuted the Prime Minister’s claims. Their silence is perplexing"
A.K.Ramanujam had a shot at the answer long ago. From the article "The twin-lobed brahmin";
"The problem was posed for me personally at the age of 20 in the image of my father I My father's clothes represented his inner life very well. He was a south Indian brahmin gentleman. He wore neat white turbans, a Sri Vaishnava caste mark (in his earlier pictures, a diamond earring), yet wore Tootal ties, Kromentz buttons and collar studs, and donned English serge jackets over his muslin dhotis which he wore draped in traditional brahmin style I "He was a mathematician, an astronomer. But he was also a Sanskrit scholar, an expert astrologer I had just been converted by Russell to the 'scientific attitude'. I (and my generation) was troubled by his holding together in one brain both astronomy and astrology; I looked for consistency in him, a constituency he didn't seem to care about, or even think about. When I asked him what the discovery of Pluto and Neptune did to his archaic nine-planet astrology, he said, 'You make the necessary corrections, that's all'. Or, in answer to how he could read the Gita religiously, having bathed and painted on his forehead the red and white feet of Vishnu, and later talk appreciatively about Bertrand Russell and even Ingersoll, he said, 'The Gita is part of one's hygiene. Besides, don't you know, the brain has two lobes?'"
And more in the article.
P.S. According to The Hindu article 
"Under Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution it’s the fundamental duty of every citizen to develop a scientific temper."
P.P.S. There is an exchange on Facebook with my friend Rao Nagisetty, where I posted the above links.
Rao: I am afraid these articles are confusing. It is common in India to have such idiots. Don't need to be educated to talk like that.
Me: I think that Ramanujan's point is that they compartmentalize different parts of life. The problem is when the separation is not clear cut, particularly if it is a leader like Modi. You seem to be getting into the habit of calling people idiots who do not share your ideas and opinions . I do not agree with you on many things. But I do not mind being called an idiot by you. But others may.
Rao: Very diplomatic. Thanks. Yes I should not use that word because it is offensive. Compartmentalization seems to occur naturally. Otherwise either I become a zombie or go mad. The mind with which I grasp this world is always jumping around sometimes with a purpose and most of the time it is a crazy dance. So I have to put away the goblins in separate prisons to function in this world. Science tells me that many species have become extinct over time and predict that human species will too. If that is the case what is the point of all this discussion? Sorry to bother you with my idiotic questions.
Me: I think that the world is too complex and we (at least I) cannot really understand it and trying make sense of it is a sort of disease for which various religions have developed as a response. Possibly we are also limited by our own childhood. We can take some clues from diverse writers and also empirical studies of how people actually coped in different situations. This seems to be missing from religion or big theories of every thing. But there are some empirical studies by Michael Mann, Elinor Ostrom, Emmanuel Todd and others. I find those who start with a theoretical frame work, even people like K.Balagopal whom I admire, problematic. But the big questions about the future, to me or to the world, do not seem to bother me very much. It is more of what is happening to people now and how it can be alleviated that occupy me (these also give some indications for the future). For example, I am waiting to see how Russia will cope with the sanctions. That may show show us some ways of coping with globalization which Keynes already warned in 1933. Similarly Ocalan's ideas interest me and how they are able to manage a bit in spite of tremendous odds....
Rao: That is quite a good analysis of your own philosophy. Thanks for sharing. That tells me where you are coming from. I am simple and the world is simple. That is that.

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