Truth about science

Tags: Knowledge

Contrary to popular belief, a scientifically tempered society does not exclude creative pursuits, but is in fact consolidated by them

Science, etymologically, is simply knowledge. Thereby, we have the words prescient and omniscient among others — meaning respectively knowing beforehand and knowing everything. It follows from this premise that ‘scientific temper’ is merely the keenness or proclivity to know. Thereby, science ideally should stand for everything and anything that humankind can know. Therefore, science should not be construed in the narrow sense, it is often used in, when, for instance, X Standard students have to opt for a stream of education on entering college — arts, science and commerce. The sciences could be hierarchically categorised into, from the lower stratum to the uppermost, natural and social sciences, applied sciences, meta-sciences and the supreme or transcendental science/s.

Romanticists, who may not agree to this universalised definition of science, would reject the idea of constructing a scientifically-tempered society altogether, for romanticism and reason seldom see eye to eye. However, if romanticists are defined as those drawn to creative pursuits like painting, poetry, music and drama, which conventionally would not be clubbed under the sciences, then they can take heart in the fact that they would have a key role to play in a scientifically-tempered society. The artistic temper extant in society can be used as a tool to consolidate scientific temper — imagine disseminating scientific knowledge the unconventional way; through music (song and dance), paintings, and poetry. Conflicts, if any, between scientists on the one hand, and artists on the other, can thus be rendered purely imaginary.

The Nobel prize winning physicistAlbert Einstein held the belief: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Jawaharlal Nehru, in his book The Discovery of India (1946), observed that while scientific temper should be the guiding principle in governing human actions, some reliance on moral, spiritual, and idealistic conceptions was necessary.

The scientist and the statesman thus did not diverge in their opinions about the science versus religion debate in spirit and principle, though they would have expressed their respective opinions in different words. The church may have hounded men of science in Europe and elsewhere, but in India, religion has not necessarily been in conflict with scientific temper and rational thinking. Sample what the Buddha asked of his disciples — “Believe nothing merely because you have told it or you have imagined it; believe not what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for him.”

Curiously enough, the upward path of knowledge (or the sciences, for that matter) is analogous to the four parts of the vedas, each of which is a vade mecum to a Hindu in the four stages (or ashramas) of life. It would be apt to mention that the root of vedas is the same as that of Germanic words like vitenskap or videnskap both of which mean science. The vedas could well be considered to be the fount of all sciences — the supreme. It is not difficult to see the ladder of the natural/social sciences, applied sciences, meta-sciences and the supreme science being mirrored in the vedas, and the dutiful path a human being is instructed to take in his life, from childhood to old age.

Scientific temper, it follows, ought to bring in its wake, dutifulness and humility. Self-proclaimed atheists, who reject the idea of god, often in the name of science, and profess so-called free-thinking, do so because they find the acceptance of the triviality of knowledge gained from the lower-level sciences by its eventual integration-annihilation discouraging and unnerving. Further, it is ironical that they do so in the name of science and deny the need to know god.

Let us try to understand the knowledge-links up the hierarchy of the sciences. Knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics (natural sciences), as well as history and geography (social sciences) is vital for engineers of various disciplines (mechanical, electrical, civil and electronics) to fashion and develop the energy-sector that makes lives livable and has been instrumental in solving several problems of humankind. The scientific temper associated with the natural/social and applied sciences that harnesses (and often exploits) nature to improve standards of living, can only go so far. Limits to growth is often deemed to be unscientific and defeatist. This is where the scientific temper has to wake up from its self-congratulatory stupor and advance upward. Semantically, advancing forward in this case, is different from advancing upward. The meta-sciences would help a truly scientifically-tempered person understand the veracity of this. This would be the bridge to the other shore, so to say, the shore on which, the scientist transcends earthly knowledge and knows in the true sense of the term. The knowledge of the supreme science — we may call it spirituality to differentiate it from the lower sciences of the body (sensing), mind (thinking) and heart (feeling) — liberates the seeker of truth; while those who reject the existence of any such supreme science, keep coming up against wall after wall, of their own creation.

Centuries before Jesus Christ was born, seers and sages in India, had already depicted the sun as the truth behind all energy on the surface of the earth. As you move down the ladder to understand, you realise at once by applying deductive reasoning (a meta-scientific tool if one may dub it so), that every form of energy that energy engineers are associated with and natural scientists provide understanding for — wind, tidal, biomass, fossil, geothermal, hydropower — finds its genesis in the sun. From each of these deductions then, you can induce that all energy forms stem from solar energy. That is already there in the texts like the vedas that instruct the seeker in quest of the ‘supreme science’.

Even though scientific knowledge among the public has been increasing over the years, there is also, as some say, an increasing lack of trust in science and technology. However, some terms have to be clarified here. What is the scientific knowledge that is increasing over the years? Is it just of the natural, social and applied sciences? What is implied by science and technology? Does the term refer to the natural-applied sciences duo only?

If the answers to the second and the fourth questions are both in the affirmative, it does not come as a surprise at all. That is the way it is bound to be. The world is on the right track. This actually is proof that scientific temper understood in its right sense, pervades the world. There is now stagnation at the level of the natural/social and applied sciences, but scientifically-tempered people, not content with knowing the lesser truths are feverishly seeking the higher ones, en route to the highest truth, to be found at the apex of the pyramid of sciences. zz

(The writer is a post doctoral researcher at the department of hydraulic and environmental

engineering of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in

Trondheim, Norway)

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