Critique of Meera Nanda's "Postmodernism and Vedic Science," by Srikant

This rejoinder to Meera Nanda’s above article is from Srikant who argues the
contrary. (Is this perhaps the same Sri Kanth who has posted previously to SCIY?)


Rejoinder to Meera Nanda's article: “Postmodernism, Hindu Nationalism and Vedic Science”


By
“Srikant”

 


May 13, 2005

In
an article ‘Postmodernism, Hindu Nationalism and Vedic science’ in the
Frontline magazine (December 20,2003 – January 02, 2004), Meera Nanda
criticizes the Postmodernists for their inadvertent support of the
Hindutva points of view that present an integrating perspective of
modern science and the Vedic wisdom.

First the author presents a general idea about Postmodernism. It is
described as a mood or disposition that is opposed to the
‘Enlightenment’, which is considered as the core of modernism. The
‘Enlightenment’ in this context is explained as “a general attitude
fostered in the 17th and 18th centuries on the heels of the Scientific
Revolution.” Its aim was “to replace superstition and authority of
traditions and established religions with critical reason represented,
above all, by the growth of modern science. The Enlightenment project
was based upon a hope that improvement in secular scientific knowledge
will lead to an improvement of the human condition, not just materially
but also ethically and culturally.”

The author says that the Postmodernists are disillusioned with this
‘triumphalist’ view of science that claims dispelling ignorance and
making a better world. In a mood of despair they question the
possibility of this ‘Enlightenment’ leading humanity to progress
towards some universal truth. They seem to prefer local traditions even
if they are not led by rational criteria and make room for sacred and
even the irrational. And they are attracted to the ideas of the ‘social
constructivist theories of science’, put forth by some schools of
thought originated in Edinburgh, Paris, etc., who basically assert that
modern science, which was considered as moving closer to objective
truth about nature, is only just one culture-bound way to look at
nature. They consider that the content of all knowledge is socially
constructed and the supposed ‘facts’ of modern science are ‘Western’
constructions reflecting dominant interests and cultural biases of
Western societies.

The author seems to be perturbed by the fact that the Indian critics of
science, especially those led by the neo-Gandhians, other well-known
intellectuals and even those who were with the traditional left-wing
causes, are moving towards Postmodernism. The author points out that it
has also numerous sympathizers among ‘patriotic science’ and the
environmentalist and feminist movements.

In this article cluttered with biased attacks on Hindutva, the author
also makes sweeping statements as follows: “In reality, everything we
know about the workings of nature through the methods of modern science
radically disconfirms the presence of any morally significant gunas, or
shakti, or any other form of consciousness in nature, as taught by the
Vedic cosmology which treats nature as a manifestation of divine
consciousness. Far from there being ‘no conflict’ between science and
Hinduism, a scientific understanding of nature completely and radically
negates the ‘eternal laws’ of Hindu dharma which teach an identity
between spirit and matter.”

Science is Not a Closed System

The above-mentioned passage highlights the author’s belief that
scientific inquiry has reached its culmination and has discovered the
whole truth and one can declare the above ‘fact’ from the present
knowledge of science.

‘The Hindu’ Magazine (June 11, 2000) had published an interview with
Sir Roger Penrose. (Introducing the scientist, the following note was
given: “Sir Roger Penrose, Professor of Mathematics at the University
of Oxford, renowned for his contributions to three distinct fields of
modern scientific inquiry, who has devoted much of his career to
unifying the physics of the large – the general theory of relativity –
with the physics of the small – quantum mechanics – into a single
comprehensive theory. In this endeavor, he has collaborated with some
of the greatest minds of the 20th Century including Stephen Hawkins.
Penrose’s third major passion has been the workings of the human mind
and whether these can be reproduced in the form of artificial
intelligence. In an exclusive interview with Nikhil Padgaokar in New
Delhi, Penrose shares his views on these subjects and on the challenges
they pose this century.)

Now let us examine the reputed scientist’s view about the present
position of modern science. While discussing on the nature of human
mind and computation, the following question was asked:

“You do not however question the notion that whatever is going in the mind can indeed be explained in terms of physical laws.”


“I do not believe that whatever is going on is beyond the scope of
science. However, it does lead me to believe that we have to go beyond
existing science. Science today can only approximately emulate what is
going on in the mind, which suggests that there is something else going
on out there in our conscious thinking and perception and whatever else
is involved in mentality. So we need something other than computation,
but I am not saying it stands outside the scope of some future science.
Whatever that future science is – and we can point to the direction it
may take – it will have quite a different character from the science of
today. What we have today cannot come to terms with what mentality is.”

Another question asked was this: “In your writings one detects three
basic sets of concerns – the mind, mathematics and the laws of physics.
In your opinion, are they all three different aspects of the same
phenomenon or structure, or are they entirely distinct and unrelated in
your thinking?’

He answers: “In my second book, The Shadows of the Mind, I have drawn a
diagram, which reflects this trinity of notions. On the one hand, we
have the physical world, then we have the mental one of our
perceptions, understanding and free will. The third notion is the world
of absolutes – a platonic world of the truth, the beautiful and the
good – and, in particular of mathematical absolutes. I am prepared to
accept that all these things have some form of absolute existence,
which we can relate to in some way. It has to do with our awareness.
Mathematics, of course, is intrinsic to our understanding of the
physical world, and may even control it. These are all mysteries, and
the third mystery is how our mind comes about when we have the right
physical structures. We have to look at these three things together and
get a holistic picture of how they relate to one another.”

Fadists and the Explorers

There are two types of people who champion the cause of science –
science enthusiasts or faddists and active explorers. The former often
revel in closing the doors of science in the name of science and the
latter who have made great contributions for the advancement of science
and having the humility and true scientific spirit, keep the doors of
science wide open.

Mark the words: “and the mystery is how our mind comes about when we
have the right physical structures.”
A spider makes a web or a bee
makes its comb with exact mathematical precision and a sparrow builds
its nest with an artistic excellence. At their stage of physical
structure the ability simply expresses in them in the natural course.
One can simply say it is all ‘instinct’. But just an utterance of a
word is not an explanation. It is a ‘mystery’ to a true inquirer, and a
true scientist will patiently work to unravel any such mystery. He
knows there is nothing irrational. There are only gaps. A dog or cat
goes out and eats grass when it has some stomach problem without any
doctor’s advice. The knowledge comes to them. Without experimentation,
but through meditation the knowledge of suitable medicinal herbs came
to the consciousness of the great explorers of yore who gave form to
the science of Ayurveda. This system of medicine has been flourishing
because its efficacy has been verified through generations after
generations. This is also quite rational. Because, besides the
analytical capacity, the human mind has also a faculty called
intuition, which still remains a mystery for science to solve.
Analytical faculty of mind is easily applicable but intuition often
needs cultivation. Denying blindly that which we do not understand will
not annihilate a fact. Inquiring scientists would never make such
sweeping and unfounded remarks as. “Far from there being ‘no conflict’
between science and Hinduism, a scientific understanding of nature
completely and radically negates the ‘eternal laws’ of Hindu dharma
which teach an identity between spirit and matter.”

Mind has emerged at the stage of human structure, and when it becomes
receptive or made receptive, for which meditation is prescribed as a
method, the faculty of intuition gets activated and knowledge naturally
comes to the mind. Through intuition profound knowledge came to the
Vedic Rishis. Are the unique intellectual ideas in the Upanishads to be
just relegated as mere ‘religious’ views? Topmost scientists and
philosophers of the world look at them with great admiration and
reverence.

Yoga as a Science

Yoga in its own right is a science because it has a precise
methodology. Yogic science prescribes three steps pratyahara, dharana
and dhyana. Prayahara is withdrawing the mind from the external world,
dharana is fixing on that which is being explored and dhyana is
exploration into what is being sought. This is a verifiable science,
not a belief. You tell some one that water is formed of hydrogen and
oxygen. And if that man stubbornly opposes saying it is a superstition
because two invisible gases can never form water, which is visible, you
are helpless. At the most you can tell him to go and first to have some
preliminary knowledge about chemistry and then experiment himself.
Still if he maintains it is all mere superstition, it is better to
leave him and mind your own business. Spirituality is a verifiable
science and if one is prepared to do the experiment then only one can
know whether there is an immanent Spirit or not. When one drinks
water one quenches one’s thirst, but one cannot by that act quench
another’s thirst. The other person can shout from the top of his voice
that water can never quench anybody’s thirst. And the world will
dismiss such a person as of unsound mind and ignore him. It is common
knowledge that when a person undergoes even the basic disciplines of
yoga he experiences the reinforcement of his physical, mental and
spiritual faculties. Yoga and spirituality are sciences of human
evolution having a methodology like any experimental science. It can be
safely dismissed as due to mere ignorance when one demands that Hindu
Dharma should conform to the criteria of the constantly changing and
imperfect modern science, which the author says “radically disconfirms
and negates the ‘eternal laws’ of Hindu dharma, which teach an identity
between spirit and matter” to prove its validity!

Like Sir Roger Penrose, the eminent nuclear physicist Werner
Heisenberg, also leaves wide open the doors of science when he says,
“…the concepts of ‘soul’ or ‘life’ certainly do not occur in atomic
physics and they could not, even indirectly be derived as complicated
consequences of some natural laws. Their existence certainly does not
indicate the presence of any fundamental substance other than energy
but it shows only action of other kinds of forms, which we cannot match
with the mathematical form of modern atomic physics. It follows that
the mathematical structures of atomic physics are limited in their
applicability to certain fields of experience and that if we want to
describe living or mental process, we shall have to introduce yet other
concepts which can be linked, without contradictions with our existing
system of concepts. It may also become necessary to limit the range of
previous concepts of atomic theory attaching specific new conditions to
them. In both cases we would regard such an extension as a broadened
form of atomic theory and not as a theory describing any fundamentally
different events. If we accept such a wide definition of atomic theory
we can immediately see how far removed we are from its completion.”

Yet, it is strange that some people try to force us into a belief that
science has reached its zenith and it has once for all rejected the
‘immanent Spirit’!

And Max Planck, one of the founders of modern nuclear physics, rather
begs the science enthusiasts to be more sensible and give consideration
and due respect to the larger issues for the advancement of knowledge,
in the following words: “As a physicist, i.e., as a man who has devoted
to the most matter of fact branch of science, namely the investigation
of matter, I am surely free of any suspicion of fanaticism. And so
after my research into the atom I say this to you: there is no such
thing as mater per se! All matter originated from and consists of a
force, which sets the atomic particles in oscillation and concentrates
them into minute solar systems of the atom. But as there is neither
intelligence nor an internal force in the universe we must assume a
conscious intelligent spirit behind the force. This spirit is the basic
principle of all matter…”

Thus the doors are kept open by the stalwarts of science and the
science moves ahead. Here we must give special attention to the
following statement of Werner Heisenberg while considering the further
advancement of scientific knowledge: “It follows that the mathematical
structures of atomic physics are limited in their applicability to
certain fields of experience and that if we want to describe living or
mental process, we shall have to introduce yet other concepts which can
be linked, without contradictions with our existing system of
concepts.”

Human brain has a certain structure and potentials and faculties.
Scientists have pointed out that since thousands of years there has not
occurred any mentionable structural change in the human brain. It
follows that it can discover what it requires irrespective of the time
factor, employing these potentials and faculties. The structure of the
human brain and its faculties in the Vedic times could not have been
different from that of the 21st century human brain. And many
inexplicable facts relating to it can be observed to those who have the
mind to wonder and the eyes to see, and, of course, not to those who
are sitting in some ivory tower and telling us what science is! Little
Clint of Kerala began his paintings just when he was only two years old
and before his passing away at the age of eight he drew about twenty
thousand pictures in color and B&W, including that of Gods and
Goddesses, landscapes, etc!. There is a permanent arrangement to
display his paintings in Trivandrum. Normally it would take years of
analytical study and training to draw such paintings. Analytical study
adopted by science is only one method of acquiring knowledge. Human
brain has other methods to acquire knowledge. The Vedic master-minds
used both the analytical and intuitional methods for acquiring wisdom.
There are mysteries which science cannot solve with its present
knowledge. An open-minded true scientist will gladly take them, as the
eminent biologist Julian Huxley says, as clues to explore into deeper
facts of life and universe.

Modern science helped liberate human mind from dogmatic religious
concepts of the West. It was begun as a reaction in the West against
the thralldom imposed on the human mind by an organized structure of
religion that suppressed all inquiry. Any student of history knows how
cruel that suppression was. And the author tries to equate those
conditions to the free intellectual climate that prevailed in India!
Freedom of inquiry is the hall mark of Indian culture. One should have
at least read the renowned historian A.L. Basham’s book The Wonder that
was India
. Such books would help one to avoid making wild statements
disparaging Hindu culture. The brains of the explorers of the Vedic
times were as alert and structurally as efficient as the brains of the
scientists of our times and they employed them very well as they had
enjoyed thorough freedom of inquiry. They discovered many facts of life
and universe through their own methods of exploration – through
analytical study as well as intuition. Let those who have an open mind
and patience explore into the various branches of knowledge they
possessed – the philosophy and traditional sciences that shed light on
the deepest dimensions of life, wonderful mathematical precision and
engineering skill involved in their architectural styles, sculptures,
astronomy, the marvelous nuances of the dance forms, the literary
excellence!

A Scientist’s Views on India’s Ancient Wisdom

Let me quote here a few passages from a book, in which one ordinarily
cannot expect any reference about the ancient sages of India. This book
is entitled Dialectical Materialism, written by Professor Alexander
Spirkin. The book was published in 1983 by Progress Publishers, Moscow.
In the blurb of the book, Professor Spirkin is described as follows:
“Professor Alexander Spirkin is a well-known Soviet philosopher and
psychologist. He is a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of
Sciences and director of the Department of General Problems of
Dialectical Materialism at the Academy’s Institute of Philosophy. He
also heads the section of the methodological problems of cybernetics in
the Scientific Council for Cybernetics of the Presidium of the USSR
Academy of Sciences and the bioelectronics section of the A.S. Popov
All-Union Society of Radioengineering, Electronics and Communications.”

Now, let us see what such an eminent scientist has to say about the
sage explorers of India. I am quoting the whole passage. A repeated
reading of it and its assimilation will help some of our West-oriented
intellectuals to remove their mental blocks. On the page 339 of this
book, the scientist says: “The sages of ancient India discovered
astonishingly subtle and profound psycho-biophysical connections
between the human organism and cosmic and subterranean processes. They
knew much that even today is beyond the ken of European scientific
thought, or that it ignores, often trying to conceal its helplessness
by asserting that oriental wisdom is mere mysticism, and thus showing
its inability to distinguish the rational but not yet fully
understandable essence from various figments of imagination. It is
sometimes difficult for us to penetrate the profound language of
symbolic forms in which this wisdom is couched, to get at the essence
of that wisdom. A full understanding of these complex problems can be
achieved only in the broad context of history and culture. Historical
experience offers us some instructive lessons for the present day. If
we look around thoughtfully at the path humanity has passed, it is not
difficult to see that the minds of the makers of culture have been
guided by the desire to achieve an understanding and a rational
transformation of the human being himself, his bodily and spiritual
organization, the preservation and strengthening of his health.
Socio-political, philosophical, religious, moral, aesthetic and all
cultural efforts in general have tended towards this goal.




“The culture of the ancient Orient affirmed not only ideas of man’s
dependence on the supernatural forces that were external to him; there
was also a tendency to cultivate certain rules of behaviour in relation
to these forces, including techniques of training the body in relation
to these forces to regulate and perfect bodily and spiritual processes.
Various systems of exercises linked with religious beliefs were evolved
to change the state of the mind, the consciousness, to achieve complete
unity with the universe, to become one with the energy of nature. These
techniques for influencing one’s own organism through the mechanisms of
psycho-physiological self-regulation and control – techniques that are
much in fashion today – could not have survived for centuries and have
penetrated other cultures with a different ethnos, if they had not
contained some real knowledge of the most subtle and hidden structural.
Energo-informational neuro-psychical and humoral potentials, which even
now sometimes seem fantastic to the analytical European mind,
particularly when it is fettered by stereotypes.




“Oriental culture is full of beliefs about the role of the way of life
and its various components – breathing techniques, the ability to
commune very subtly with nature, acupuncture, cauterizing, and other
ways of influencing the biologically active centers of the organism,
herbo-medicine, diagnostics by means of the iris of the eye, pulse and
olfactory diagnostics, consideration of the position of the earth in
relation to the celestial bodies in medicine, the time of year and day
and of the properties of water in relation to the state of the earth
strata and the character of its flow in connection with the geo
magnetic phenomena – all this and much else has contributed to the
great wisdom of the Eastern peoples, the wealth of their culture and
man’s place therein, their understanding of the mechanisms of
regulation of his life activity and vital potentials. Thus already in
the distant past, in the mists of mythological world views the precious
crystals of knowledge, tested by the experience of centuries, of skills
in beneficially influencing man’s body gradually accumulated. How could
people of those far off times know so much without any experiments or
apparatus about the conditions and factors that regulate the course of
the vital processes and the character of the interaction between man
and nature, particularly the influence of the celestial bodies, the sun
and the moon and various radiations proceeding from outer space and the
bowels of the earth!? And all this was taken into consideration both in
diagnosing and in treatment! Does this not go to show an astonishingly
high level of culture that should arouse our admiration, gratitude and
desire to study! This knowledge could not have retained its vitality if
it had not again and again been confirmed by practice.”

It is regrettable that while a scientist in a distant country could
make such a disinterested, objective and deep assessment of the
relentless explorations of knowledge that had taken place in India,
some of our writers choose to brand those valiant explorers together as
a superstitious folk and block enquiry and research on this great mass
of knowledge that we inherit from them! Here we must again give special
attention to the following statement of Werner Heisenberg while
considering the further advancement of scientific knowledge: “It
follows that the mathematical structures of atomic physics are limited
in their applicability to certain fields of experience and that if we
want to describe living or mental process, we shall have to introduce
yet other concepts which can be linked, without contradictions with our
existing system of concepts.”
The above passages of Professor Alexander
Spirkin clearly indicate this mass of knowledge that evolved in ancient
India if researched and filtered (no doubt much dross has also been
gathered around this knowledge through the ages) would supplement the
concepts necessary, as Heisenburg says, which can be linked with modern
science for a deeper understanding of life and universe.

It is not the “mixing up of the mythos of the Vedas with the logos of
science” as the author says, but the historical necessity of a
synthesis to expand the present-day scientific concepts that is taking
place today. While this integration proceeds, in the initial phase
naturally there will be imperfections and shortcomings, which will
gradually be rectified and a greater amalgamation will take place
eventually that would benefit humanity. The author says it “must be of
great concern not just to the scientific community, but also to the
religious people, for it is a distortion of both science and
spirituality.” On the other hand, it offers great opportunity for both
the people of science and religion because it will be well heeding the
following warning of Albert Einstein: “Science without religion is
lame; religion without science is blind.”
It will bring about the
expansion of concepts.

There should not be a compartmentalization of knowledge that comes to
humanity from one source or the other. We must constantly look for
areas of unity, which will be advantageous to mankind. The following
observation of the renowned mathematician and philosopher Alfred North
Whitehead on the clash between religion and science, published in the
book Science: Method and Meaning (New York University) is very
thought-provoking in this context: “We would believe nothing in either
sphere of thought which does not appear to us to be certified by solid
reasons based upon the critical research either of ourselves or of
competent authorities. But granting that we have honestly taken this
precaution, a clash between the two on points of detail where they
overlap should not lead us hastily to abandon doctrines for which we
have solid evidence. It may be that we are more interested in one set
of doctrines than in the other. But, if we have any sense of
perspective and of the history of thought, we shall wait and refrain
from mutual anathemas. We should wait; but we should not wait passively
or in despair. The clash is a sign that there are wider truths and
finer perspective within which reconciliation of a deeper religion and
a more subtle science will be found.”

Scanty Knowledge of Indian Philosophy

The author of the essay seems to be out rightly rejecting the Vedantic
concept that “matter and spirit are not separate and distinct entities,
but rather the spiritual principle constitutes the very fabric of the
material world”
and criticizes the presentation of the gunas in a book
published by VHP, which refers to it as something fundamental to the
universe. It is the scanty knowledge of Indian philosophy that often
prompts one to present such profound concepts as the gunas as some
puerile idea that dawned in some primitive mind, as the author seems to
think.

According to the Sankhya philosophy, one of the six paths of
exploration mentioned in the Vedas, there are three major conditioning
forces in Nature which are the basic modes causing all forms of actions
and reactions and the manifestation of the phenomenal worlds from a
subtle Reality, whether we choose to call it Energy or Brahman. They
are the three gunas. (One who has the patience to explore will find
that these are very well coordinated fields of knowledge which can
contribute to modern science the new concepts to expand its horizon. At
least a moderate study would have prevented this author from making so
casual a reference about the gunas. What is required today is bridging
of the gaps between the ancient knowledge and the modern scientific
perspective. That requires inquiry, not blind contempt or rejection.)
According to the Sankhya view, before cosmic evolution begins these
three modes of Nature are in a state of equilibrium. One can say the
universe is in a state of zero manifestation, as some of the modern
scientists prefer to present this state. Let us now look into some
views of modern science on cosmic evolution. Stephen Hawkins in his Brief History of Time mentions on the basis of Hubbles space telescope observations
that “there was a time called the big bang, when the universe was
infinitesimally small and infinitely dense.”
(Compare this statement
with the Upanishadic words about Reality ‘anavo-raneeyam,
mahato-mayeeyam’ – smaller than the smallest, bigger than the biggest.)
He says that under such a condition, the laws of science will have no
relevance if there were events earlier than this time and: “Their
existence would be ignored because it would not have any
relationship
with events that have happened after the big bang.”

This is the view of the scientist. But the ancient seekers could not
thus ‘ignore’ anything and they endeavored to explore everything. As
mentioned above, according to the Sankhya philosophy, before the cosmic
evolution begins the three modes of Nature are in a state of
equilibrium. Through a certain mode of scientific presentation
Stephen Hawkins tries to prove that the total energy of the universe is
zero. He says: “In the case of a universe that is approximately uniform
in space, one can show that this negative gravitational energy exactly
cancels the positive energy represented by matter. So the total energy
of the universe is zero.”
While discarding the Western religious view
that the universe is an arbitrary creation of God, Stephen Hawkins
points out that in the process of the evolution of the world there does
not appear any arbitrary interference of God but it evolves “in a very
regular way according to certain laws”
. He concludes that even in the
initial phase it is logical to think that certain laws might have been
responsible, not an arbitrary God. He states, “It therefore seems
equally reasonable to suppose that there are also laws governing the
initial state.”

However, the ancient explorers of India discovered that the fabric of
the universe is not an insensate energy, but it is an
Intelligence-Energy substratum that manifests itself as the universe.
Certainly the Reality has its laws in the manifestation. The physical
scientist of the nineteenth century thought that the universe was built
up of an infinite number of independent, indivisible and insensate
atoms. This belief was eventually replaced by the awareness of the
sub-atomic energy particles, which keep themselves in a state of
dynamic movements both creative and destructive, as the basis of the
universe. We should remember the fact that centuries before the modern
scientists discovered the energy basis of the universe the explorers of
India had announced this. They said that universe has an
intelligence-energy basis.

Before the Big Bang (a state Hawkins prefers to neglect) one can
presume, as the Sankhya philosophy states, these three modes of Nature
– thamas, rajas and sattva were in a state of perfect equilibrium. ( It
offers a good field of enquiry for modern science to probe into the
subtle facts involved in these three modes of Nature.) While the
universe was thus in a state of zero manifestation, the Reality, as the
Upanishads say, remained itself potentially as anavo-raneeyan and
mahato-maheeyaan – smaller than the smallest and bigger than the
biggest, a language the modern nuclear physicist will not find much
difficult to follow.

The manifestation begins from this state, it is said, by the breaking
of this equilibrium of the gunas and along with it the process of
evolution sets in. The Sankhya system declares that there is thus a Law
involved in the manifestation of the universe and its evolution.
Universe is not an arbitrary creation of a whimsical God. It is the
manifestation of an Intelligent-Energy ‘suchness’ (or ‘Beness’ as
Stephen Hawkins prefers to call it although he does not have an idea of
the Intelligence involved in Energy.) From the present state of
scientific knowledge it is an open question for science whether
Intelligence or Mind is involved in energy. Sir Roger Penrose leaves it
for future concepts to explore into this question. And as Professor
Alexander Spirkin considers the science to explore and find an answer.
Heisenberg says we have to introduce other deeper concepts for the
further expansion of science. In this context, deeper studies on the
findings of India’s sages would enlarge the horizon of today’s
scientific knowledge.

Sir Julien Huxley, the neo Darwinist and eminent biologist makes some
thought-provoking observations in this contest in his essay ‘Philosophy
in a World at War’. He says, “The notion that there is something of the
same nature as human mind in lifeless matter at first sight appears
incredible or ridiculous.”
However, he points out that electricity was
once considered as a form of energy external to the atom, but later it
became clear that electrical properties are most essential to matter.
He says: “One may suggest that the same sort of thing has happened with
mind. All the activities of the world-stuff are accompanied by mental
as well as by material happenings; in most cases, however, the mental
happenings are at such a low level of intensity that we cannot detect
them; we may perhaps call them ‘psychoid’ happenings, to emphasize
their difference in intensity and quality from our own psychical or
mental activities. In those organs that we call brains, however, the
psychoid activities are in some way, made to reinforce each other
until, as is clearly the case in higher animals, they reach a high
level of intensity; and they are the dominant and specific function of
the brain of man. Until we learn to detect psychoid activities of low
intensity, as we have learned to do with electrical happenings, we
cannot prove this. But already it has become the simplest hypothesis
that will fit the facts of developmental and evolutionary continuity.”

This hypothesis of a great modern scientist shows that science is not a
closed affair as the author of the article would like to make us
believe. This also shows that the Vedantic idea of the involvement of
mind in matter remains an open question with eminent scientists, and
not something to be inadvertently rejected as the author does. It is
unfortunate that the ignorance of some people mislead many because it
gets publicity.

Verbiage cannot be a Substitute for In-depth Ideas

Mere lavish use of worn out words and verbiage some people think they
can market their opinionated views. It is an in-depth vision that is
required. After all, is science the only way to know the deeper facts
of life and the universe? The German biologist Prof. Dr. Joachim Illies
raises the following points in an article “Does Universe Hold Other
Intelligent Beings”, published in the Universitas:


“Is science really the only authority from which we expect answers to
our questions? There are pre-scientific experiences, unconscious
certainties, hopes and conjectures, and especially the vast energy
center of emotional life. All these media are, just like science,
antennae for feeling our way in the world we live in. Even the
certainties of science did mostly originate in a flash of genius, a
hunch, and intuition; and it was often only after this that the
scientist went to work, painstakingly elaborating the logical proof for
what he had known all along. Let us, therefore, learn this from the
great discoverers and research workers, not to scorn the power of our
own intuitive feelings which supplement that of our universally valid
reason.”

Let us keep in mind the following advice of Werner Heisenberg to an
assembly of science students: “Take from your scientific work a serious
and incorruptible method of thought; help to spread it because no
understanding is possible without it. Revere those things beyond
science which really matter about which it is so difficult to speak.”

The ancient explorers of India, those who gave form to the Vedas, the
Upanishads and the Puranas delved deep into that which is ‘so difficult
to speak’. Modern world has to discover it anew.

(The several grotesque and distorted arguments of the author, like the
‘Narcissism’ of Hindu culture and statements representing the most
noble and perennial Vedic ideas, as instruments of self aggrandizement,
etc., are ignored because they appear to be vicious and challenge even
one’s commonsense.)

The Postmodernists are on the right track. Their disillusion with the
so-called ‘Enlightenment’ of the Scientific Revolution is justified.
This sort of ‘Enlightenment’ will create, as we have seen, only
terrible weapons of mass destruction, domination, exploitation and it
will convert human life into a mindless machine, unless, as Sir Roger
Penrose hopes, a future science with a quite a different ethos emerges
from the science of today, for he says “What we have today cannot come
to terms with what mentality is.”
All those with an open mind like
Professor Alexander Spirkin and a host of modern scientists today are
becoming aware of the fact that profound, unbiased and sincere inquires
and explorations conducted by the ancient sages of India can provide
the necessary new concepts for this transformation of modern science.
As Professor Alexander Spirkin says it “should arouse our admiration,
gratitude and desire to study!”
When we shed our present lethargy and
go deeper into their discoveries we shall certainly be contributing to
the emergence of that ‘future science with a heart ’. Let the
Postmodernists follow the footsteps of Max Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg
and great sages of all lands for the evolution of a saner and humane
world.

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4 thoughts on “Critique of Meera Nanda's "Postmodernism and Vedic Science," by Srikant

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sri Kant presents a well thought out and most intelligent defense of both postmodernism and Vedic Culture. In his reply he correctly identifies the scientific fundamentalism of Meera Nanda which would subsume all other forms of knowing into a monolitic epistemology controlled by the expert class of scientist and technocrats. Moreover, he argues his case by quoting some of the greatest scientist of the 20th century
    Rather than surplant scientific knowledge, post-modernism
    argues the equal validity of other (including indiginous) ways of knowing in making value judgements about the world.
    Post-modernist do not disdain the western scientific tradition, but rather seek to uncover the cultural and historic assumptions underlying its paradigms. It neither tries to prove science false or devalue its methodolgy in approach to the problems it seeks to solve. However it does question the totalizing assumptions that scientist coming out of the tradition of logical-positivism make about the world. On closer examiation these assumptions prove to be just that. For instant the early 19th century view that the universe could be reduced to matter was turned on its head when matter was found to be identical to energy.
    To discount vedic science because modern science has not invented the instrumentation to measure its effects and observe its workings, which may operate outside the sphere of scientific methodology, is itself a type of superstition based upon the arrogant assumption that the western scientific method already wields a perfect omniscient vehicle for understanding the world.
    The more interesting thing in Sri Kants reply however is how the post-modernist style of inquiry may be utilized as a solvant for a multiplicity of belief and knowledge systems
    to dissolve ideological assumptions and divisions and enable a wider inter-subjective, inter-communal dialog.
    In this way the value systems of individual traditions such as Hinduism can be honored and allowed to contibute to global knowledge while simultaneously eshewing chauvanistic orthodox tendencies which prohibit inter-communal dialog

  2. Anonymous says:

    For those interested in following up on this post, I just came across an interesting dialogue between Meera Nanda and various critics of her perspective. It begins with a summary artice by Nanda titled: “The doublespeak of Vedic science,” and continues with a vigorous discussion between her and her critics, including some authors who say she misrepresented their positions. Here's the url:
    http://www.svabhinava.org/HinduCivilization/Dialogues/MeeraNanda.htm
    ~ ron

  3. Anonymous says:

    This lady has the same mindset of the people who waved Dennet and Crick, and call it non-biased science, because it reduces life to number and algorithms. Its not only an Indian debate, but a cross cultural one which include on one side various indigenous traditions and post-structural scholarship and on the other, modernist scientist, and the virtual class.
    For their part the modernist scientist whose view Meera Nanda represents still follow ideas of positivist reduction, are in general still enamored by the idea that science may itself provide a panacea for all the worlds ills and stupidities, who view cultutal evolution as progressive, if led by the experts of the virtual class. This world view presents science as occurring in an idealized vacuum, detached from its environment, pursuing knowledge (mental) for knowledge (mental) sake. Their formulas are testable, but only within the confines of their worldview in which the categorical abstraction of number from matter is primary.
    The view is largely the logical side of logical-positivism, in that it tends to be Cartesian, as the raw stuff of the physical is metalized in abstractions and concieved as numbers, symbols, and formulas. which then become its ideological assumptions about the universe. Namely, that it is possible to abstract computational information from its embodied context and call it reality.
    It is ironic that the vedic science she demeans is expressed mantricly also through numbers symbols, formulas, and dizzying calculations!
    On the one hand (modern science) omniscient logic is abstracted from matter, on the other hand (vedic) omnipotent spirit is discerned.
    Therefore, I believe it would be then proper to say that both Nanda and the Vedic science she accuses of solipistic are founded upon metaphysical assumptions!
    and metaphysical assumptions often overlook an encounter with questions of economics and power, and tend to ignore dialog with those with other metaphysical assumptions, which allow them to uncritically adopt a world view which sees the operating system of civilization best left to the programing of a class of experts e.g. Brahmans, Scientist.
    rich

  4. Anonymous says:

    Rich says:
    1) >“This lady has the same mindset of the people who waved Dennet and Crick…”
    Yep, and of the people who recently canceled India's contract with the OLPC program (One Laptop Per Child), at least partly because they couldn't deal with the laptops actually belonging to the kids! They were scandalized by the idea that OLPC would enable their kids to connect with the Net from practically anywhere without adult supervision.
    And these are the folks (see NKC background materials) that want to control the future education of tens of millions of Indian kids, thus entrenching India's future as a cheap IT labor source for the more visionary Western entrepreneurs. Paradoxically, these inspired entrepreneurs are increasingly the SoL type folks who are adopting the Ba type meditative methodologies that originated in the Vedic traditions that India's techno-modernists like Meera Nanda are so vigorously rejecting in the name of obsolescent Western “scientific” logical positivism. Sheesh!
    2) >“…both Nanda and the Vedic science she accuses of solipistic are founded upon metaphysical assumptions! and metaphysical assumptions often overlook an encounter with questions of economics and power, and tend to ignore dialog with those with other metaphysical assumptions, which allow them to uncritically adopt a world view which sees the operating system of civilization best left to the programing of a class of experts e.g. Brahmans, Scientist.”
    Great point Rich! As I think about her reaction, which as you say, mirrors those of NKC folks like its Vice Chairman Dr. Pushba Bhargava, I'm noting the similarity to the original motivations of the modernist attitude, namely the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment” period, whose aim, in Nanda's words, was “…to replace superstition and authority of traditions and established religions with critical reason represented, above all, by the growth of modern science.”
    This apparent similarity allows me to empathize a bit more with the motivations of these well-meaning, and I think mostly politically liberal, Indians. Perhaps they are simply repeating the Western reaction to the excesses of religious orthodoxies (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church's horrific treatment of “heretics,” the Salem witch trials with their vicious macho male suppression of women, etc.) with a similar reaction to the excesses of Indian religiosity? Especially those misinterpretations (?) of the Veda appropriated by the rightwing elements of the Hindutva movement?
    ~ ron

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