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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do we need to redefine science? (continued 6)

Openness is one of the cornerstones of scientific approach. The old Newtonian laws that had been taken as correct for long, were revised, with no hesitation, in the light of new findings by Einstein There are many cases in the history of science where we have openly discarded old theories and accepted new ones that survived the test of scientific validity. 
But in the case of several mysterious practices, this openness is a taboo. The propagators of such practices claim them to be eternally true and unquestionable. Though none of them stand the test of science, can we at least glean whatever is worth from these theories and practices by relaxing some of the stringent yardsticks of science? How do we do that?

I have suggested one way in my book Important missing dimensions in our current understanding of the Mind. In that book I have considered a range of ancient philosophies that deal with Mind and reality, to see what we can learn from them. The criteria I have laid down for this purpose are the following.

We need to check whether
  • The theory is self consistent: i.e. it has no internal conflicts. If the theory or practice is proposed in a book, then no part of the book should contradict any other part of the same book. Sometimes, there may be several books dealing with similar ideas and related to each other. In that case also they have to be consistent across.If someone talks about a theory claiming it to be based on some book or sage, and if the said book or the words of the sage don’t support that view or contradict that view, then also there is an internal conflict.
  • The theory is unambiguous:  i.e. it has clearly defined concepts. Most of the times, mysterious theories are defined in terms of ambiguous terms. They could also be vague statements immersed in several obviously true statements that have no relation to the statement being made. Such suggestive implications often pass off as logically arrived conclusions.
  • The theory is conflict free: i.e. it does not seriously conflict with well known scientific results. There are many scientific facts that have remained unchallenged for long. If some mysterious theory challenges such facts, then it better have very strong evidence. Or else it is likely to be false or fraudulent.
  • The theory is useful: i.e. it provides additional insights beyond what science can, as of today, and may provide answers to some of the unanswered questions as well. Usefulness does not make the theory right. But it could be accepted as ‘to be verified’ theory/practice as long as it is not harmful. Many of our faiths and beliefs fall in this category. They are not proven valid, but may be useful and not known to be harmful.
Now, subject each of the things I discussed in my earlier posts – Homeopathy, Kundalini explanation to Yoga, Mantra, Mudra – to the above criteria and see how many of these survive the test? 

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Do we need to redefine science? (continued 5)

Every person who knowingly or unknowingly propagates a mysterious theory or practice as valid may not have arrived at those theories by being at “super-conscious states” or acquired it by scientific means or from a reliable source. That being the case, it is in our interest that we ask  the following questions.
  • What is the basis of their theory?                                  
  • Can they explain it logically?
  • Even if they cannot explain how it works, can they at least show that it works in a sufficiently large scale, without being a chance happening? Mere anecdotal evidence – “you try it out and see it for yourself” - is not sufficient.

If answers to these questions are in the negative, then it is most likely that the theory/practice propounded is not worth considering. For all you know, they can be harmful as well. Not just because of the theory, but because of the malintentions of the propagator of such a theory/practice.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Do we need to redefine science? (continued 4)

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (~300 B.C.) is generally considered to be the father of modern scientific approach. Aristotle recommended observation, classification, and deduction of implications, as the sole basis of understanding nature. Or in other words, he laid emphasis on sense perception, objectivity, deduction, as we have today in our scientific approach.
Even ancient Indians considered the same – sense perception (pratyaksa), deduction (anumäna) and valid testimony (äpta väkya) - as the basis of understanding anything. But they added a rejoinder that "this approach is restricted only to knowledge related to material things. When it comes to things that are not material in nature, this approach does not work and one needs to resort to knowledge attained in super conscious state or samädhi". The statements of a person who has attained the said knowledge in such a state can be taken as “valid testimony” though it is not based on sense perception.

This is often taken as an escape route to justify all mysterious theories and explanations. In such cases we need to satisfy ourselves the credentials of the persons propagating such theories and whether they are indeed capable of transgressing the material limits. We need to be very careful before accepting such claims since in most cases they are no “valid testimony” in the strictest sense. 

If it indeed turns out that such theories are true, then we need to expand the scope of science to include such findings. Definitely not otherwise.