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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hindutva and Scientific Temper

“When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong - faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it's too late.”
― Frank Herbert

Ancient Indian science was definitely beyond just the rudimentary stage. To what extent it was developed is yet to be established so I see no point debating that. I see two possibilities though that either our thinking and creativity was at an advanced stage which thought of Vimanas, atomic weapons, television etc., or the science was actually at an advanced stage during that period, both of which are good. There is nothing inherently wrong in stating the possibility of Ganesha's head being joined by a plastic surgeon or pondering over the possibility of having Vimanas in those times. There has been an evidence of brain surgery in Harappan civilization and certain other civilizations as well. From the skeletons found in Mehrgarh, there is an evidence of drilling the teeth and filling the cavities in teeth. Knowledge of astronomy as well as surya siddhanta and observations on sun for over 10000 years point to institutionalized scientific enquiry in that period. Evidences from Gulf of Khambat point to the precision achieved in town planning akin to modern cities. There are many other compelling evidences which point to at least some level of development of technology during that period. When the debate arises between classical and modern technology however, for the purpose of policy making we should have a rational approach and choose to fund the policy which generates the best risk adjusted expected returns in terms of innovation created instead of just manipulating and trying to take advantage of the mass sentiment.

A significant section of the service sector in India is based on the outsourced work from the developed nations which find us a cheap source of labour. As far as people involved in artistic pursuits are concerned, the phenomenon of superstars effect dominates wherein only a small proportion of individuals get a large chunk of the wages in that sector. This kills the incentive for innovation, and by constricting our minds for narrowly confined industry requirements, it leads to lack of development of scientific temper for the country as a whole. It becomes essential to understand the causes of this lack of scientific temper. However, caution should be exercised before terming this as the ultimate cause as the problem for us as society is much deeper and more historical in nature and we cannot limit our attention to spot variables only. But as a preliminary step, we can direct our focus towards two of the fundamental sources of this lack of scientific temper apart from the governance – our schooling system and the family structure.

The problem starts with our schooling system, which tries to curb innovation and gets us ready for this very employment relation. The curriculum is based more on rote learning rather on problem solving and there is a general lack of non-scholastic activities. The vision of an individual tapers like a horse with blinders. Our business schools focus to a large extent on creating good employees rather than creating employers.

Another major innovation killer is the family system where a person starts with say, a given amount of money inherited from his parents and his focus is on leading a stable life. Such a culture is creating a generation of highly risk averse individuals leading to lack of innovation. Women are often expected to marry early, thus expunging almost half the population from the pool of contributors to the arts and sciences. A large proportion of our talent isn’t working in their core competencies which they have developed through the years, but doing some generic work. 

Though, I agree about the lack of scientific temper in India despite it being the duty of an individual enshrined in the constitution, the causes should be understood and cured by providing incentives – a real reason to contribute and add value through his work. If Modi ji gives such statements with an intention to boost the public sentiment and encourage research towards utilizing ancient Indian science and certain ideas enshrined therein to our advantage then it is appreciated. However, it is futile to give such statements just as a consolation for the sad state of affairs in the nation. 

The bottom line is that only very limited public funding should be provided towards research methods based on speculation rather than insight and that public policy should be independent of religious affiliations and more incentives should be provided towards creative pursuits, right from the primary education level as art and science have an inextricable link.