SCIENCE IN ANCIENT INDIA Reality versus Myth-3


This is third article on  “SCIENCE IN ANCIENT INDIA Reality versus Myth” series. We think history of science should be analyzed without any biasness and should not be used in a propagandist way. Collective effort is required to stop spreading of lies and to protect the history from manipulation. These articles are being published keeping that goal in front.

Stem cells, organ transplantation, genetic


Claims have been made in different quarters. It has been claimed
that the birth of one hundred Kauravas by Mother Gandhari was possible
with the help of ‘stem cell’ technology. It has been claimed that Karna’s
birth was possible due to development in genetic engineering. It has been
claimed that the ancients knew the technology of organ transplantation—
how else could an elephant’s head be planted on a human torso to give
shape to Lord Ganesha?
The claim of organ transplantation in ancient India is baseless, because
placing of elephant’s head on human body is quite impossible. In
spite of the huge development of human knowledge, one cannot defy
natural laws. We can only know the natural laws and can use them for
the benefit of humankind. The nervous system and the blood circulation
system of an elephant and of a man are entirely different. The nerves,
veins and arteries are positioned differently. That is why, if one places
the head of an elephant on the neck of aman, the nervous pathways and
the blood circulation channels cannot be connected, and so this organic
transplantation is impossible. Moreover, the ability of an elephant’s brain
is far inferior to that of the human brain. Even if such a transplant were
possible, the resulting being would not be capable of thinking. Even
placing a severed human head to a human torso is still not achievable.
Similar are the tales of Kunti’s hundred sons and the birth of Karna.
These are just mythological stories, and any attempt to find scientific
meaning to these leads to many inconsistencies. In Mahabharata, the
story of Karna’s birth goes as follows. As a young woman Kunti had been
granted a boon by sage Durvasa to be able to invoke any deity to give her
a child. Eager to test the power, while still unmarried, she called upon the
solar deity Surya and was handed a son Karna wearing armour (Kavacha)
and a pair of earrings (Kundala). Afraid of being an unwed mother and
having a bastard, Kunti placed the baby in a basket and set him afloat on
a river. Does it sound like she went to a biotechnology laboratory to have
the baby?


And quantum mechanics, particle physics,


It is also being opined in various quarters that most of the ideas of
modern science—particularly quantum mechanics, particle physics, electromagnetic
theory, and the theory of relativity—were discovered by the
Vedic sages many millennia before these were “rediscovered” by modern
science. The proponents cite a few Sanskrit shlokas which contain words
like kana (particle), taranga (wave), shakti (energy), etc.
Prof. S. Balachandra Rao calls these “squeezing science out of the
Vedas” [7]. The actual meaning of the Sanskrit texts have no relation with
what they are claimed to be in an overzealous spirit of religious revivalism.
For example, there is a Rigveda mantra:
Yuvam padave puruvaaramashvinaa spridham shwetam
tarutaaram duvasyathah
sharyairabhidyumpritanaasu dushtaram
charkrityamindramiva charshaneesaham

                                                      (Rig VedaMandala 1, Shukta 119,Man. 10)

From this shloka Dayananda Saraswati extracts the meaning “Learn
the secret of telegraphy the benefits of which are manifold. It helps to
produce quick locomotion to achieve best results. The wire must be made
of pure metal charged with electricity. It can be used again and again
after charging with electricity.” But the actualmeaning of the shloka is:
“O Ashwi, you give the king Padu the white horse, which was desired by
all and which was capable of defeating the enemies. The unconquerable,
brilliant and multi-purpose horse was like Indra who triumphed over
Most of the references to ancient texts are of similar nature. Mostly
the Sanskrit texts are misrepresented or wrongly translated to fit certain
whimsical ideas. In many cases the text only contain words that have
commonplace meanings (like “wave”—which could simply mean the
waves seen on the surface of a pond, but are lifted out of context to mean
electromagnetic waves).

There are two theoretical reasons why these knowledge could not
have been obtained in antiquity. Firstly, all developments in science occur
on the basis of some earlier knowledge. In order to have an understanding
of electromagnetic waves, one has to know the character of electricity as
well as of magnetism and the laws governing their mutual interaction.
Einstein could formulate the arguments that led to the theory of relativity
based on the knowledge of the Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell’s
theory of electromagnetism. Quantum mechanics could be developed
only after we learned about radioactivity, photo electricity, and the character
of radiation emerging out of heated substances. None of these
developments happened in knowledge isolation. In fact, no development
in science can happen without the benefit of earlier knowledge. And
when the fringe groups make claim of some discovery in the antiquity,
they never make any claim on the antecedent discoveries.
Secondly, all these claims come only after a particular discovery has
been made by modern science. The fringe groups talk about the discovery
of atom bombs, aircraft, or theory of fundamental particles only after
these discoveries have been made by modern science. If these were really
discovered in the antiquity and are available in the Vedic literature, why
cannot someone make the discoveries using the Vedic texts? Why has
that never happened? That is because this knowledge was not there in the
antiquity. It cannot be there because knowledge advances progressively,
each generation making new advances on the basis of the knowledge
gained by the previous generation.


*This article was published in the book “Science in Ancient India—Reality versus Myth” published by Breakthrough Science Society.

**Articles will be published one by one in the course of time.


SCIENCE IN ANCIENT INDIA Reality versus Myth-2

Was the Ram Setu really built by Lord Rama?


According to the Ramayana, Lord Rama had built a bridge to reach the
island kingdom of Lanka with the help of his vanara-sena or the army of
monkeys. Citing a satellite image of the region between Tamil Nadu and
Sri Lanka (Fig-1), the fringe groups are claiming that the mythological
Ram setu really exists and assert that it is an ancient engineering marvel.
Regarding the so-called ‘Ram Setu’ it may be stated that the Archaeological
Survey of India has concluded and even reported to the Supreme
Court of India that there is no scientific evidence that the Ram Setu ever
existed. The fringe groups have misinterpreted the images taken by the
NASA. Refuting their claims the NASA spokesman Michael Braukus said:
“The age, substratum, geological structure or anthropological status of
the ocean bed in Palk strait cannot be determined by the astronauts’
photographs. So there is no basis for these claims.” Another NASA officer
Mark Hess said, “Remote sensing images or photographs from orbit
cannot provide direct information about the origin or age of a chain of
islands, and certainly cannot determine whether humans were involved
in producing any of the patterns seen.” He added, “The mysterious
bridge was nothingmore than a 30 km long, naturally-occurring chain of
sandbanks called Adam’s bridge. NASA had been taking pictures of these
shoals for years. Its images had never resulted in any scientific discovery
in the area.” [Source: Photos no proof of Ram Setu; The Hindustan Times,
14 September – 2007]
The fact is that such naturally occurring bridges between two landmasses
occur at many places in the world (see Fig-2), and are called
Tombolo. These form because the ocean currents are impeded by the
existence of an island on the way, causing movement of suspended
matter like silt and sand from one place to another and deposition at
specific places. As waves near an island, they are slowed by the shallow


Fig-1:A satellite picture showing the submerged tombolo between the
Southern tip of India and Sri Lanka

water surrounding it. These waves then bend around the island to the
opposite side as they approach. The wave pattern created by this water
movement causes a convergence of longshore drift on the opposite side
of the island, resulting in deposition of sediments. The beach sediments
that are moving by lateral transport on the lee side of the island will
accumulate there. Eventually, when enough sediment has built up, the
beach shoreline connects with an island and forms a tombolo.
Interestingly, a few videos are being circulated on YouTube
which claim that the monkey-army built the bridge with the help of stones
that float. The videos apparently show a stone floating in water. It is
known that all stones have specific gravity greater than that of water, and
so stones cannot float. However, there are some rocks formed out of
solidification of volcanic material, where air pockets are trapped. Hence


Figure-2: Examples of tombolos in different parts of the world. Would
the proponents of “Ram-setu” theory have us believe that these were also
constructed by monkey-armies of those lands?


these rocks, called geodes, are hollow—giving them a lower specific
gravity. But even geodes have specific gravity exceeding that of water,
and cannot float—though the possibility exists that in extremely rare
circumstances such amount of air may be trapped that may make them
float. But abundance of such rocks in sufficient numbers to forma 40 km
long bridge is impossible.
Moreover, can one really build bridges with floating rocks? Won’t the
flowing water move them away and scatter them around as soon as these
are placed to float in the ocean? The fringe groups are hoodwinking the
people with such videos, shot using artificial material constituting the
“rock” (possibly fiber-glass) and/or “water” (probably some transparent
liquid with larger density).


*This article was published in the book “Science in Ancient India—Reality versus Myth” published by Breakthrough Science Society.

**Articles will be published one by one in the course of time.



The part of the world which is known today as India had a rich
scientific tradition in the past. When we study the relics of the ancient
times—from the pre-Vedic Indus Valley civilization, through the Vedic
age and to the post-Vedic or Siddhantic period—we find evidence of this
scientific tradition. This land witnessed a gradual enrichment of human
knowledge about nature and the natural processes, each generation
building on the knowledge acquired by the earlier ones. In certain periods,
the social conditions and the prevalent philosophical outlook accelerated
the pace of development of science in this land, and in some other times
it retarded the process.
Yet, instead of being proud of this scientific heritage and building
on it, we are witnessing a disturbingly growing trend. The spread of
unscientific beliefs is on the rise and ludicrous claims are being made
about the achievements in of science in ancient India. In particular, a
fanciful picture of the Vedic period is being painted with the express view
to foment obscurantismand religious jingoism, which, if successful, will
strike the death knell of the development of a scientific culture in India.
Here we intend to do a thorough reality check. What were
the real contributions of this land in science? We approach this question
with an unprejudiced mind, and rely only on dependable and objective
evidence to piece together the achievements in different areas of science
and technology, in different periods of our history. We also examine the
credibility of the various myths being deliberately created and circulated
by passing off mythology as history.
We hope that these articles will contribute to creating scientific and
secular ethos in the country, left to us by the great personalities of the
Renaissance and the Indian freedom struggle.

Were there flying machines in ancient India?


In addition to the above, many other wild claims are being made in
different forums. Importantly, the following claims were made in the
Indian Science Congress held in Mumbai from 3rd to 7th January 2015.

1. Ancient Indian sages built cars and airplanes in Vedic period around
7000 years ago.
2. Those planes could move forward as well as backward and in left and
right directions.
3. The planes used mercury vapour, solar energy, as well as atmospheric
air as fuel.
4. These planes could travel not only from one country to other but also
to other planets.
5. Some of the planes were over 200 feet. Five-storied Sundara Vimana
could fly with a speed of 12800 mph with a fuel made of urine of cows
and elephants.
6. The pilots’ clothes were made of underwater vegetation.

These claims were made on the basis of a book titled Vaimanika
Shastra claimed to have been written by a mythological figure—Maharshi
Bhardwaj. Five scientists of the Aeronautical Engineering Department
of the Indian institute of Science, Bangalore—Prof. J. S. Mukund, S. M.
Deshpande, H. R. Nagendra, A. Prabhu and S. P. Govindraj—studied the
book carefully and wrote a research paper titled, ‘Critical Study of the
Work Vaimanika Shastra’, which was published in 1974. They proved that
the so called Vaimanika Shastra was not written 7000 years ago, rather
it was the brain-child of a Sanskrit scholar Subbaraya Shastri who wrote
it in 1923! This book was made public in 1951 by Sri A. M. Joysar, the
founder of International Sanskrit Academy ofMysore. The sketches of the
planes depicted in the book (some of which are shown in Fig. 6.2) were
drawn by Sri Alappa, a draftsman of an engineering college of Bangalore
and inserted in the English edition of this book in 1973. They proved
that it was not possible for those planes to fly according to the laws of
aerodynamics and Newton’s laws of motion; any plane manufactured
based on these ideas would surely have met with a horrible accident.
Earlier in his book Rigveda Bhaashya Bhoomika,MaharishiDayananda
Saraswati tried to establish that flying machines existed in India during
the Vedic period by citing the following mantra:

… Trayah skambhaasah skabhitaasah aarabhe
trirnaktam yaathastrirvityashwinaa diwaa…
(Rig. ashta 1; adh. 3; varga 4; man.2)
He translates it as “… going from one island to another with these (air-)
crafts in three days and nights …”


fig: The sketches of the so-called Rukma Vimana, Shakuna Vimana,
                                  Sundara Vimana, and Tripura Vimana.

While Dayananda Saraswati sees “aircraft” in the mantras, it is interesting
to see what the celebrated commentator Saayana had to say on this shloka:

“There are three wheels to your honey-bearing chariot as all
the gods have known it to be when attending the marriage of Vena, the
beloved of Soma; O Ashwins, there are three pillars fixed in the chariot
for support and in it thrice you drive by night and thrice by day.”

Dayananda Saraswati had wrongly translated the Sanskrit text to fit his
fanciful ideas.
If the claimed aeroplanes really existed at some time in the past, some
relics—metallic fragments of the engines, wings, and other components—
must be found in the archaeological sites. None has been found so far—
not a single broken piece. Again, if ancient India possessed planes and
modern war-machinery, why could it not defeat the invaders? There is no
answer to such natural questions.
The most important point is that the idea of a technological marvel
like an aeroplane does not emerge out of nothing. Only when our understanding
of the laws of thermodynamics, aerodynamics, metallurgy and a
host of other fields developed to a certain extent, the idea of construction
of a flying machine could develop. Ideas from all these fields go into the
making of an aircraft. Hence it is not possible for aircraft to exist in ancient
India unless the knowledge in these fields developed before that. There is
no evidence of any advancement in aerodynamics, thermodynamics etc.
in the Vedic literature (interestingly, the proponents have not claimed
that also).
Anybody conversant with rudimentary chemistry knows that the
urine of cows and elephants cannot be used as fuel. Mercury vapour
also cannot be used as fuel because it does not produce heat when it
reacts with oxygen. Air aids burning because of the presence of oxygen in
it, but cannot itself be used as fuel. Solar energy can provide power for
various purposes, but the rate at which solar energy is incident on the
Earth’s surface (about 1 kW/m2) is not sufficient to power aircraft made
with metal.
The drawings of the aircraft in the book Vaimanika Shastra (Fig. 6.2)
show propellers. Even if we assume that propellers had been invented by
the Vedic sages, they cannot work in vacuum. How can such aircraft fly to
other planets? Anybody conversant with anthropology knows that 7000 years ago
man was still in the stone age. Would the proponents have us believe that
the aircraft were made of stone?


*This article was published in the book “Science in Ancient India—Reality versus Myth” published by Breakthrough Science Society.

**Articles will be published one by one in the course of time.


March For Science Mumbai

Mumbai academia decided to march along with the world on 14th of April protesting against the fund cuts in the education sector, declination of scientific temperament and against the government policies taken without caring for any scientific evidence. “Today, science is under threat. We are in a situation like never before. The scientific community is being attacked from all quarters with fund cuts and an increasing shift towards pseudo-scientific ideas,” said T Jayaraman, Centre for Science, Technology and Society, School of Habitat Studies School of Research Methodology at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “When the Prime Minister says that Ganesha is an example of plastic surgery, he is propagating ideas that have no scientific evidence. One cannot keep scientific temper in a box and restricted to superstition,” said Jayaraman, while addressing the protestors. “Through this March, we are trying to tell the world that the scientific community is taking note of what is happening in the country. It will be countered and restricted, not just by academics and scientists but by teachers and students as well,” said Vivek Monteiro, of Navnirmiti, an organisation that promotes scientific thinking and innovation.

With around 350 participants, the turnout was higher compared to last year, with an evident rise in student participation.  Spontaneous participations were seen from institutions like TIFR, IITB, TISS, CEBS, BARC. According to the organizers this was not a sudden turn up. Follow up programs were taken after the event of  IMFC,2017 with an attempt of not to make the march just an annual event. Last year’s march has culminated into a ‘Curiosity Circle’ wherein groups of scientists and academicians visit educational campuses and hold public dialogues to talk about science. Several talks and poster making programs were taken in IITB, CEBS to mobilize people to join this march. Colleges were also contacted. Students were seen taking self-initiation in preparing posters and all.


What science entails, beyond practical science (By Prof S G Dani)

1. How it all began

In the primitive world, as know-how began to be gathered the initial impulse was
only to harness it towards meeting the basic needs. Gradually questions arose
in the minds of people about the nature of the world around and in particular
whether it has implications to human behaviour on a broader scale, at social as
well as individual level. Since no coherent model for the happenings in nature
could be thought of with the limited inputs at hand, a feeling evolved that
nature is governed by something supernatural, or extraneous. The motivation
then shifted to trying to identify how the supernatural intervened in the natural
course, and to benet from the understanding (both in terms of setting up goals
– going to heaven, concern for consequences of actions during one’s life to after
death or rebirth, attaining moksha etc. – as well as appeasing the postulated
agencies of the supernatural to gain functional benets in everyday life). Many
principles emanating from this model (e.g. good behaviour so as not to incur
the wrath of the agencies of the supernatural) served also as fruitful devices on
account of their potential to bring stability of the societies. On the other hand,
to be sure, doubters of such a models have existed through the ages. A notable
instance in the Indian context would be the Charvaka tradition from around
600 BCE. Incidentally though the Charvakas have been much maligned in the
traditional milieu, their norms of behaviour were perhaps quite consistent with
the modern day norms. *

2. The scientic revolution

The scientic revolution (during 15th to 17th centuries) brought in, apart from
the massive technological boons, the profound realisation there is really no limit
to the amount of knowledge that humans can acquire about nature, into its
deeper and deeper manifestations, at macro as well as micro levels. One major
consequence of this to the thought process was to reduce the role of the super-
natural agencies. The scientic method that evolved alongside the technological
revolution did not need to accord any role to the supernatural. Being able to ar-
rive at explanations of phenomena in nature without recourse to the supernatural
was seen to enhance one’s ability to comprehend nature more eectively and to
use it fruitfully in practice. As a consequence it also came to be incorporated as
a crucial ethical principle in the practice of science { whatever the predilections
of the individual practitioners in this respect, the scientic community expected
that all reasoning and validation of knowledge be done through arguments in-
ternal to the system, not involving anything supernatural. For validation of
knowledge material evidence was a fundamental criterion, and all inferences this
had to be based on sound, independently conrmed, principles of logic.
As it crystallized, the scientic method of acquisition of knowledge may be
described as a system going through the following steps. It begins with obser-
vations concerning things or phenomena that we encounter, which then often
develop into ideas or hypotheses about how nature functions, in whatever spe-
cic context is concerned. The best hypotheses lead to predictions that can be
tested in various ways. The most reliable tests of hypotheses come from carefully
controlled experiments and logical analysis of empirical data. Depending on how
well additional tests match the predictions, the original hypothesis may require
renement, alteration, expansion or outright rejection. If a particular hypothesis
becomes very well supported, a general theory emerges.
This sets a model, or template (to use a more current word), for enquiry into
the nature of things and validation of knowledge. A crucial point is that the
method is of signicance far beyond the everyday practices of science. Admit-
tedly the method is not workable with equal facility in all contexts. There are a
variety of diculties, both at operational and theoretical levels. However there
are some fundamental features that stand out and adopting them would stand
us in good stead in our endeavour to acquire and validate knowledge concerning
various aspects of life, that are not directly concerned practice of science itself.  **

3.  Falsiability

Firstly, testability of a hypothesis is of paramount importance. A hypothesis
which can not be tested (e.g. the earth being supported on the hood of a giant
Sesha, a serpant) has no place in the body of knowledge, even as a candidate.
“Falsiability” is viewed as a primary criterion – if you can not have a test which
has a possibility of throwing up a negative outcome in case the statement is to
be false, the statement is worthless and may be safely set aside.
A colleague ones raised the issue as to how can you rule of the hypothesis
that “if a cat crosses your path something bad will happen to you”? If many
people nd it to be the case, it would be unscientic to deny it! The hypothesis
is in fact not falsiable, since what is “something bad” is not well dened, and
subject to one’s point of view, which even in the case of particular individual
could vary. On the other hand, if the statement were something like “if a cat
crosses your path your blood pressure will go up in the next ve minutes” is a
testable hypothesis, even though it is unlikely to come up. The more common
response on the part of most “reasoning” people would be say “how would the
cat know?” or in other words rely on our sense of causality, which is a part of our
accumulated knowledge about nature. The causality test would fail in respect
of both the questions as above. However, while causality provides a good test
in practical contexts there is a limitation associated with that the phenomenon
may be valid and yet you may not have means of knowing the cause.

4. Role of Questions

Second major feature is the importance of coming up with Questions, as a
means of enhancing knowledge. Since a question can in principle be answered
in a variety of ways (say blah, blah) we need also to have the means of judging
the merit of the answers. When a child I had read a wise-guy story in which the
king asks the number of crows in the city. The wise guy cites a reasonably big
random number (2573). The king wants it conrmed, but is soon informed that
to conrm it one would rst have to ensure that no crow should enter or exit the
city pending the process. Abreast of the diculty of the task at hand the king
closes the matter appreciating the smartness of the wise guy and rewarding him
for it. Even as a child I remember feeling that there was something wrong with
the answer; if many answers of can be give that are just as good as another, what
is the merit of any individual answer? Whatever the merits, or the amusement
value, of the story, as far as the issue of acquisition of knowledge is concerned it
is a big no no.
The art of acquiring knowledge, whether in practical science or in other as-
pects of life, consists of asking good questions and being able to correctly eval-
uate the answers. A more typical and concrete situation involved in acquisition
of knowledge is when together with the question you have a list of plausible an-
swers, with a possibility and potential for the list expanding it, depending on
the outcomes as they evolve in the process of testing the possible answers. This
is not a very restrictive scenario, given that testing hypotheses is an important
part of the process of augmentation of knowledge. If you can not think of any
possible answers to the question, there would be nothing to test, and no possible
valid answers to the question. Of course, initial list need not be adhered to. You
may happen to start with a question like what is the color of the bird that is
ying across the garden, and while your initial list may consist of some primary
colors, on closer inspection you may consider adding more of them or even add
something like a shade between this and that.
The answers, and understanding on most issues, usually develops in steps.
The subsequent answers may rule out the earlier answers; it is the brain that
does the thinking and not the heart as was once thought! (The original idea
would have been based on the response felt in the heart to various intense mo-
ments, and would have been “conrmed” by certain tests, the idea had to be
discarded following better understanding of biology, via other tests; the tests at
any particular time can have limitations and the eects may be overcome by
improved tests, that bettwer t with a larger collection observations. Questions
like whether intake of vitamin C improves body resistance have seen see-saw
developments. On the other hand in some instances later answers may subsume
the earlier answers, as in the case of the relativistic mechanics incorporating
Newtonian mechanics as a limiting case.

5. How and Why

There is a general cliche that science concerns itself with questions of “how”
while metaphysical pursuits are equipped to answer “why” questions. But this
is very misleading. It is indeed true that science concerns “how”? The issue
about “why” is rather complicated or complex. In some questions it is simply
equivalent to “how”; why does the earth go around the sun? we use “why”
here rather than how, since the latter would normally correspond to description
of the path (round, elliptical, oval etc) whereas the issue involved is something
else; but if you modify the question to “how does the trajectory of the earth
get determined?” and use our knowledge of Newtonian theory of gravitation we
have answer to “why the earth goes around the sun”. Many questions asking for
“scientic explanation” often get posed in this way e.g. why is the weather in
Mumbai humid? which are equivalent to “how” questions. On the other hand
there are “why” questions of other kind which are actually pointless: “why is
man endowed with food sources on earth?”. The possible answer “by God’s will”
is meaningless as it is neither falsiable nor testable. The question is pointless,
since if there were no food sources, we would not be here to ask or answer the
questions. A question can not treated as meaningful or deserving of an answer
simply by the test of following rules of grammar. Other “why” questions like
“why are metals hard and vegetables soft?” have a mixed avour depending on
the context in which you view them; from the point of view of condensed matter
physics it can be viewed as a “how” question while in a lay context it is pointless
– we simply accept them as their properties.
It may be claried here that this is not a critique, or an argument against,
asking why questions. In practice we do need them and they are quite important.
The point being made is that a “why” question is good and meaningful basically
when it can be converted into a “how” question, perhaps an awkward one in
terms of grammar, and the “why” is essentially a short or more elegant form for
the other formulation.

6. Pitfalls in the process

Let me begin this section with a quotation from Ibn Al-Haytham (Alhzen in
Latinized form), the Arab polymath who ourished in 10th century in Basra,
Iraq, renowned for his work on Optics. By some accounts he is the earliest
practitioner of the scientic method.
The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if
       learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that
       he reads, and … attack it from every side. He should also suspect
       himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may
       avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency.
Ibn Al-Haytham
In practice however it is a far cry to meet such a obligation in pursuit of
truth. The practitioners are all too human and are prone to biases of various
kinds and these aect both the choice of the questions and the ndings: it may
be worth categorising these as follows depending on their sources.
  Predilections arising from personal motivations.
  Preferences borne out of professional considerations.
  Biases arising from parochial tendencies.

6.1 Personal aspects

In the course of our early development we acquire a variety of prejudices, pref-
erences, likes and dislikes. When a person engages himself/herself in scientic
pursuits, the projects as well as reported ndings may be aected by these.
By some accounts Copernicus was inclined to uphold the heliocentric theory
out of faith in “Sun God”. It seems also that some early works in bacteriology
fudged the ndings, purely out of personal convictions. These are instances
where a bias led to breaking away from dogma. However, it could happen that
personal biases lead to holding onto theories which may eventually be proved
wrong, wasting a fair amount of work.

6.2 Professional issues

There are a variety of professional pressures which lead to withholding or fudging
ones ndings. Gauss was aware of existence of non-euclidean geometries before
they were discovered independently by Lobachevsky and Bolyai, but did not
come out with it as he feared that it would seem rather crazy and harm his
reputation. Apparently the charge of the electron determined by Millikan by the
oil-drop experiment was actually higher, but several successive experimenters
adopted values closer to Millikan’s, discarding readings which were away from
that, and the value stabilized only over a period of 20 years.
When a researcher takes up a project there also a pressure to bring out
something “interesting” out of it. An anthropologist is more likely to highlight
positive qualities of the subject tribe (unless negatively disposed from the outset,
when the focus would be on negative qualities). Such a thing seems to have
happened in early studies in Indology, which later had a backlash where other
authors began to aggressively fault the ndings.
There are also issues about motivations coming from who is funding the
research. Especially in medical sciences, environmental sciences, this seems a
major issue.

6.3 Parochial issues

Though not so much in mainstream science, in studies in history, anthropology,
sociology, etc. parochial considerations seem to aect research. Many projects
are coming up on exploring benecial eects of gomutra, etc. and in the current
environment, with heavy revivalist overtones, one would wonder how much cred-
ibility can be granted to the ndings, which are in any case unlikely to be open
to scientic debates.

7. In place of a conclusion

This discussion is meant to be a rudimentary exposition of what science entails,
beyond direct aspects of scientic practice. There are inevitably many matters
of detail involved; some of the issues about them are resolved at a technical or
philosophical, while others may be unresolved. Evidently there are also practical
diculties in following the method at an individual level, with the limited time
and resources at one’s disposal. One way of meeting this shortcoming would be
to have a networking of people sharing the underlying ideas concerning scientic
inquiry and adhering to the basic principles with regard to validation of knowl-
edge. Actively pursuing it as our dharma would no doubt bring further clarity.
It would be of utmost importance however to sustain this valuable gift of science
to the broader cause of charting our way through life, in the individual as well
as social context.


* One oft quoted verse about them is
“yavad jeevet sukham jeevet, rnam krtwa ghritam pibet
bhasmibhutasya dehasya punaragam kutah.”
As long as you live, live happily; take loan to consume ghee
Once the body is cremated how will it come back?

** It is unclear whether this is an original formulations from the tradition or is a distorted version propagated by some detractors aiming to malign them, through what apparently appears an irresponsible advice on their part. Notwithstanding the status in this respect, it may be noted that even in that form it is far from being unreasonable, when seen in the right spirit. Contrary to the common (manufactured) perception the suggestion to take loan does not mean you may readily default on them – in a stable society, in equilibrium, loans are possible only when there is some way of ensuring that they would be recovered, at least to a suitable measure. Thus the advice would normally incorporate also a commitment to repay the debt. It may also be pointed out that loan is advised for ghee, and not alcohol for instance; consuming ghee was associated in the traditional society with keeping good health, which would in turn facilitate meeting one’s responsibilities in life. – I may mention that these observations were made in a book by Sharad Bedekar, a prolic writer on related issues in Marathi, but do not have precise reference.