Friday, January 09, 2015

Vedic Nonsense about Science

I am quite used to feckless idiots influencing science policy, but the situation in India is taking a turn for the worse.

The proponents of Vedic science are now in a position of power and they are keen to shape the realities of scientific research in India to their psychological needs.

Before we get to why I think this is the wrong thing to do, lets get out what is known about ancient India through physical evidence.

Like many ancient civilizations, India had knowledge of using astronomical cycles as time-keeping devices. The exact choice of natural clocks may have had something to do with ease of observation, but ancient Indians had the mathematical and measurement tools needed to handle this work. Without this India would not have had a calendar of any kind that was remotely usable.

There is clear physical evidence of stable furnace temperatures in the late Iron age, as we have located pottery glazes that can only be created in extremely hot furnaces. There is evidence of alloys and coatings being made in several idols and monuments. The exact dates on which these were structures fabricated cannot be established with high levels of accuracy. Again this is not unique to India, many other places have that and it impossible to prove it was done in India first.

All the other stuff - ancient vimanas, space travel, super-weapons etc... etc... is all rubbish you can find elsewhere also. The only thing that says is that ancient India definitely had imagination.

Now I am a very reasonable and rational person, if any of these proponents of Vedic science can use their superior knowledge of the Vedas and the science within it to build a time-machine and get us some physical evidence of these great discoveries of ancient India, I am willing to change my opinion.

Now lets get to why I think it is wrong to to use Vedic sounding stuff to justify scientific efforts in India.

Firstly, the implicit claim made by these Vedic science people today is that India was an awesome place, and it underwent a technological regression. When asked why did it regress, I am certain the answer will be "Muslims, Buddhists, Christians etc...". This is all a sophisticated ploy to sow the seeds of sectarian hatred. That is a fantastically stupid premise to base scientific inquiry on.

Secondly, if we ignore the implicit claim, and use the Vedic science approach of looking for "inspiration" in the Vedas, we will end up staring at documents written in a dead language, sorting through tidbits of information wrapped up in layers of pseudo-science, spiritual rubbish etc... Seriously if I ask you to find a cure for cancer in India, and you decide to go to the "Vedas for inspiration" - where will you start? in an upanishad? in a samhita? a sutta? or the actual Rg Veda? and how will you know that you interpretation is correct?

Thirdly, if I do some path-breaking science in India, I want the credit for it. I don't want the credit to go to some unnamed ancient Indian sage who is in a Vedic text as interpreted by some "Vedic Science Scholars" who understand exactly jack about what I have discovered. I am very proud of whatever science and technology was created in ancient India, but I don't want to share credit for what I spend blood, sweat and tears (mostly of my grad-students actually... but still) with some ancient dude whose work I have no way of using. And I take a dim view of scientific papers which start by a reference to Einstein, Turing, or the nearest Nobel laureate's paper.

I am told I am being too extreme when I compare the situation in India to the early days of Nazi Germany, and yet this kind "Vedic slanting" was at the core of the Aryan Science crap that the Nazis peddled. The only difference was that the Nazis claimed that they were the real inheritors of the legacy of the veda-spouting Aryan forefathers.

Seriously guys, a nation of 1.25 Billion Indians most of who cannot read or understand Sanskrit can do without this nonsense.