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Of attitude, application and action

A seminar on `Scientific Temper', organised by the P.M. Bhargava Foundation, validated the fostering of a scientific temper as it promotes rational thinking and influences the political, economic, cultural and educational problems of society. ARUNA MASARGUPPI reports.

Graphics: K.B. Jawaharr

THE UNDERLYING theme of the seminar on `Scientific Temper', organised by the P.M. Bhargava Foundation was, `science is king', with some allowances made for the existence of god.Though Dr. Bhargava, former chairman CCMB, said that studies have established a scientific explanation for freewill that exists in man, it has still a long way to go. The vibhuti of Sai Baba, which is a regular target of all rationalists and scientists, came in for much ridicule at this seminar too. Paramananda, the well-known rationalist and freedom fighter produced similar vibhuti and distributed it among the crowd. The irony is that despite constant attacks, Sai Baba continues to draw crowds . Thisneeds to be reflected upon by the scientific community, for obviously he has to offer something to the people which science, does not seem to have discovered yet. This and many other aspects of science vis--vis religion, spirituality, education, biology and morality , were debated by eminent people like Dr. Raja Ramanna, Abid Hussain, N. Vittal, Dr. Anil Sadgopal, Muchkund Dubey and others. All had varying views, but agreed that religious fundamentalism and our education by rote were the major stumbling blocks for fostering scientific temper iIndia.

The topic of the seminar naturally became `fostering scientific temper', because a need was felt for it, with the growing religious fundamentalist tendencies the world over and in our country, and the dismal state of our people despite our country having the maximum number of technically qualified people in the world. It was felt the diffusion of science and technology into the societal fabric at all levels would foster scientific temper among the people and give rise to a rational attitude, the importance of which was emphasised time and again. But as Jawarharlal Nehru said, "It has to be fostered at the individual, institutional, social and political levels."

The question of god vs. science has been bothering people over the ages, a statement on scientific temper prepared by the Nehru Centre, Mumbai, also articulates it. It says, "It is often argued, with seeming profundity, that while scientific temper is alright, it does not satisfy humanity's spiritual needs; that the entire realm of art and music, poetry and drama fall outside its ambit."

To illustrate science's spiritual inadequacy, Dr. Anil Sadgopal, an eminent educationist, had this experience to narrate, which happened in the villages of Madhya Pradesh. He says, he and his team went from village to village performing and explaining the tricks, which travelling godmen perform and con villagers. The villagers agreed that it was magic, but the minute the team left the village, they went back to the godmen saying that in the hands of these people of god it was not magic but divine acts.

While this concerns the spiritual needs of the simple villagers, Dr. Bhargava says, 90 of his 100 scientist colleagues refused to sign a statement back in 1964, which stated that `Human problems can only be solved by human effort without involving the divine'. This dilemma was dwelt upon by Nehru too, who said in the Discovery of India, "The real problems for me remain problems of individual and social life, of harmonious living, of proper balancing of individual's inner and outer life, of an adjustment of the relations between individuals and between groups, of a continuous becoming something better and higher, of social development of the ceaseless adventure of man. In the solution of these problems the way of observation and precise knowledge and deliberate reasoning, according to the method of science, must be followed. This method may not always be applicable in our quest of truth, for art and poetry and certain psychic experience seem to belong to a different order of things and to elude the objective methods of science. So let us not rule out intuition and other methods of sensing truth and reality. They are necessary even for purpose of science. But always we must hold our anchor of precise knowledge tested by reason....".

Abid Hussain, former ambassador to US and member Planning Commission, said, religion has done little to help humanity. Quoting freely from the Gita and Buddhist scriptures, he said they encouraged questioning and discrimination of thought. They insisted the person believe not because the guru said so, but because the person's intellect guided him to believe so or he personally experienced that truth. Unlike in religion, there is no finality in science, therefore it fosters an open-minded outlook of life.

Dr. Raja Ramanna, former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, was of the opinion that obscurantist social and religious customs are followed even today. He said, "Our entire educational system works in an atmosphere of conformity, and non-questioning and obedience to authority. Teachers do not supplement the knowledge with proof nor ask students to try and independently prove whatever they are taught". Therefore he says, we are only producing technicians and not scientists. Taking up from him, Dr. Sadgopal said, the science of today is also far removed from the ways of our society. He illustrated it with an example where the tribal children could accurately measure the area of land by the seed rate. That is, the number of seeds sown in a given line. This they converted to area and the quantity of seeds was measured in a standard vessel called Pi. So every Pi of seed sown meant so many acres of land. He says such native skills are never factored in while teaching of science, this is where schools stop learning from society. Science, which is taught is cold and unintelligible. He says, even Gautam Buddha had to change his mindset, which was earlier influenced by the patriarchal traditions. He agreed to start religious education for women by setting up Sanghas, when he realised that they were contributing more to the spread to Buddhism. This underlines the necessity of a mind open to learning and assimilating. Like N. Vittal, former Vigilance Commissioner said, in our society, our attitude should be like scientists, when something is said, who said should not be important, but what is said should be. This is scientific temper. Spread of scientific temper in society is much more than the spread of science and technology. Scientific temper is neither a collection of knowledge or facts, although it promotes such knowledge; nor is it rationalism although it promotes rational thinking. It is something more. It is an attitude of mind, which calls for a particular outlook and pattern of behaviour. It is of universal applicability and has to permeate through our society as the dominant value system powerfully influencing the way we think and approach our problems -- political, economic, cultural and educational.

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