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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The scientific method is not the only one

The recent and generally frequent tussle between Baba Ramdev and the AMA regarding ayurveda and allopathy is amusing though not at all surprising. What is particularly interesting is the extreme over reaction of the AMA as exemplified by their rather ridiculous demand for sedition charges and a 1000 crore defamation suit against Ramdev merely for criticizing allopathy whereas Ramdev and ayurveda in general have been routinely ridiculed by a section of the medical fraternity.

This is not only because of a genuine financial threat to pharmaceutical companies from Patanjali but also because it is fashionable to denounce anything Bharatiya which again is primarily because the large majority of Bharatiyas having received a western form of education are sub consciously still enslaved to western thinking. They are therefore convinced about the absolute omnipotence of modern (largely western) science and insist that any discovery must necessarily conform to the tenets of modern scientific methodology.

“Where is the scientific evidence” they demand and then dismiss all knowledge not acquired by the scientific method as being pseudo science and therefore quite useless. The response to this lobby would be that modern science in spite of having made mind boggling progress has still only uncovered a tiny fraction of the mysteries of this vast universe and this approach is certainly NOT the only one for arriving at the truth.

Take yoga for instance which is universally accepted as the ultimate for physical wellness (with the more profound spiritual aspects being still largely ignored). All the yogic asanas were not discovered through the modern scientific methodology. On the contrary it is modern science that is only now gradually beginning to understand and provide evidence for the efficacy of Yoga for physical well being.

It is therefore perfectly reasonable to argue that the methodology by which yoga was discovered 5000 , or as some claim, 15000 years ago is at least different from if not superior to the modern scientific approach, barely 500 years old, which is only now, after a lot of huffing and puffing, just beginning to understand it. The Yogi can very justifiably say to the modern scientist that what we knew several thousand years ago you are now just beginning to understand and yet you insist that our method of discovery should be validated by yours .

Yoga and Ayurveda are just a few of the many examples one can give of knowledge acquired in ancient India long long before modern science discovered them. And yet most people (particularly those who know little science) swear by the assertion that the scientific method is the only method. It is therefore time for the world to realize that while modern scientists can be patted on the back for doing a tremendous job, the alternate apparently superior approach used by ancient Bharatiyas to uncover the mysteries of life has to be recognized and accepted as a separate method and should be encouraged to flourish and re-establish itself according to its own norms and methodology.

The problem is that modern, largely western, science has been essentially confined to the physical world whereas the ancient Bharatiya approach has been predominantly spiritual and therefore more esoteric and difficult to comprehend. Western medical science for instance is reductionist in nature and primarily focused on the physical body whereas the Bharatiya system is more holistic and is based on the strong coupling of the mind and the body.

Modern Science builds and uses the most sophisticated and complex instruments to investigate the physical world whereas the Bharatiya approach is to use the human mind, by far the most powerful tool available to humankind, for exploring the universe The mind, also called the human consciousness is not the brain and is therefore the more elusive but certainly the more powerful component. It is believed for instance that although all the instructions of life are written in our genetic code, whether we listen to these instructions is decided by the mind. There are thus the well documented examples of the placebo effect in medical science and of numerous other examples where patients have miraculously recovered from supposedly incurable diseases by using the mind to control the body. Such cases are termed miraculous simply because modern medical science cannot explain them but may perhaps be easily understood by the alternate approach that uses the mind to perceive things.

The human consciousness or Chitta as it is known in yogic terminology is belived to be pure intelligence and is in contrast to the intellect (buddhi) which is associated with identity or ego (ahankara) and memory (manas). It is this intellect, severely limited by memory and identity, that people generally use whereas pure intelligence is unbound and limitless. Thus an individual who is conscious in the yogic sense would be in an exalted position to unravel the mysteries of life.

For example it is known that Ramanujan, although he had almost no formal training in pure mathematics, could conjure up the most exquisite equations and theorems unknown to modern mathematics which were only subsequently proved through his collaborative work with G H Hardy at Cambridge. Even when close to his death, Ramanujan was prolific in his output and he is known to have confessed that his extraordinary mathematical knowledge was revealed to him by his family Goddess Namagiri while sitting in the Narasimha swamy temple.

In essence a process that uses the human mind to perceive things can see much further than one that is restricted to just the physical world involving the use of the five senses as in the case of modern science. This may sound very abstract and fanciful but then so do the complex scientific theories to the uninitiated. Just as in the scientific method there are well defined laws and theories based on which further exploration is carried out, there would be similar laws in the spiritual method based on which one could utilize the full potential of one’s mind to explore the Universe.

The knowledge available in ancient Bharat provides proof that the spiritual method leads to more holistic and irrefutable information about the cosmos. Thus rather than look for scientific validation for knowledge generated by the spiritual method, our approach should be to view it as an alternate method and concentrate more on enumerating the laws and principles of this method so that it can be universally accepted and practiced for maximum benefit.

An obvious illustration of the limitations of the scientific method of which, as a practicing scientist, I was constantly reminded of by my father, a noted scholar of English literature, was that although science has made incredible progress in the physical world, the human mind has remained as primitive as that of the caveman with the same failings of hatred, anger, jealousy, greed and the instinct to kill. Humans have used science and technology to parasitically modify the physical world, even at the risk of destroying it, for their own pleasure and convenience but have been a total failure in improving their inner self.

There is therefore a crying need for an approach involving the development of the human mind which will also lead to a more sustainable and humanistic, rather than a greed driven, development of the physical world . The ancient Bharatiya spiritual approach of visualizing the universe through the mind rather than our five senses is an obvious solution.

One of the most beautiful definitions of knowledge is that it is like a lighted circle surrounded by darkness and as this circle of knowledge expands it touches more points of darkness. In plainer English, those who know little are convinced that there is not too much more to know and certainly what they do not know doesn’t exist. In contrast, the more knowledgeable person realizes the vastness of the unknown and the endless possibilities that exist for uncovering the truth.

Thus the ancient Bharatiya spiritual method of understanding our Universe was and still is very well recognized and revered by most of the greatest scientific minds and intellectuals from the west. It is the more ordinary mortal who is absolutely convinced about the modern scientific method being the only tool for exploring our world. The ease of understanding the more tangible physical state and the very well documented laws of the scientific approach provides further credence to this belief.

What is needed therefore is for the people at large and particularly the scientific community in Bharat to participate in the recognition and resurgence of our spiritual method and embrace it instead of turning away from it. The two approaches can co-exist and enrich each other and one could work towards developing an integrated approach. This is already being practiced to some extent with several medical doctors prescribing yogic exercises along with allopathic medicines for the welfare of their patients but this synergy can and needs to be utilized on a much larger scale.

On the other hand the proponents of the spiritual approach must strive to present their methodology in a more cogent and organized manner for its wider dissemination. Some spiritual leaders in Bharat have already initiated this process even at the risk of being disparaged by the ignorant as being commercial or publicity seekers and fortunately the best academic Institutions in the world are evincing a very keen interest in what these spiritual gurus espouse.

Modern western scientists today are very eager to explore the potential of the ancient Bharatiya approach, particularly in the areas of ayurveda and other alternate systems of medicine with their holistic approach and focus on prevention because of the unsustainable cost of healthcare in the West. It is high time therefore that the potential of our unique ancient method of discovering the world through our consciousness is revived, encouraged and fully unleashed by freeing it from the shackles of our age old tradition of selective transmission of knowledge, so that the maximum people can benefit from it. The whole world stands to gain.

By Dr. Arunabha Datta (Director grade Scientist for about 13 years at the Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) Dehradun, a constituent Lab of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). After superannuating from IIP he joined the Central University of Jharkhand(CUJ) Ranchi in a permanent position as a Professor in the Department of Chemistry and was the Dean Academics till his superannuation)

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