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Friday, 8 July 2011

Devivaru, Arsenic and Science - II

A number of Sri Lankan “scientists” have expressed their opinions on Arsenic and Rajarata Chronic Kidney Disease (RCKD) and also on the so called scientific method. Prof. Ajit Abeysekera is mainly interested in seeing that our work is published in a peer reviewed journal so that the information is available in the public domain. We are in the process of publishing our results in a journal or proceedings of a scientific session of an “accepted” association but in the meantime I must say if anybody is interested in our method of detecting Arsenic in “hard water” found in Rajarata areas we could provide it without waiting for the publication, provided of course we are requested to do so in writing. In fact we have provided the method to Water Resource Board and they have tested positive for Arsenic and also for Mercury in samples provided by the Sri Lankan customs. Thus in a sense the information is already in the public domain though the “publications are not peer reviewed as such”. I thank Prof. Abeysekera for his suggestion but I have to reiterate my position, albeit not that of the Kelaniya group, that I prefer to publish my original work in newspapers as they can be judged by a bigger audience, though they may not be so called experts in the field. I must also sate that peer reviewing does not make sure that a paper is “correct” as it is judged by only two experts and I doubt very much that the reviewers carry out the experiments themselves to see that the methods and contents are correct. In fact in certain cases the samples are not available to them and they can only check whether the standard procedure had been followed. The real testing comes only after the publication, by other groups interested in the work and in our case any group is free to test our method in their laboratories without waiting for the publication. The case pointed out by Prof. Upali Samarajeewa regarding a paper published in Nature which had to be apparently withdrawn subsequently, in fact goes against what he wishes to establish. I will discuss this in more detail later when I come to the articles by Professors Ileperuma and Samrajeewa hopefully in the next installment.
For the moment I would like to concentrate on what Prof. Carlo Fonseka has written on Arsenic, RCKD and scientific process. While Professors Ileperuma and Samarajeewa, attempt to find fault with “playing god” Prof. Fonseka has no objection to receiving ideas from devivaru. I quote Prof. Fonseka at length from his article on “Aesenic, RCKD and scientific process” published on 22nd June in the Midweek Review. “In practice the scientific process is HYPOTHETICO-DEDUCTIVE. This means that it essentially involves formulating a hypothesis to explain a given set of observations in the real world and then deducing consequences from the hypothesis which can be rigorously tested experimentally to see whether the results square with the hypothesis. A hypothesis is simply an explanatory conjecture. Therefore formulating a hypothesis means nothing more than having some explanatory idea. The process of having ideas itself is, of course, outside logic. Therefore Prof. Nalin de Silva’s claim that the idea (hypothesis) that Rajarata Chronic Kidney Disease (RCKD) is caused by arsenic came from devivaru is totally acceptable as a hypothesis. The pragmatist American philosopher C.S. Peirce (1839 – 1914) once said that hypotheses often come from "the spontaneous conjectures of instinctive reasoning." Thus, how the hypothesis that RCKD is caused by arsenic came to Prof. de Silva does not matter at all. The important thing is to test it rigorously to see whether it is true. Prof. Ajit has lucidly laid down the procedure acceptable to modern science for doing so.
I believe that what scientists should do is to offer explanations for things that happen in real life that others can verify for themselves for the purpose of promoting human welfare. Nobel Laureate for Medicine Sir Peter Medawar, FRS, once remarked that are building explanatory structures, telling stories which are scrupulously tested to see if they are stories about real life." The Kelaniya group of scientists are also telling us stories and they must be scrupulously tested along the lines suggested by Prof. Ajit. Who knows, they may turn out to be true. For my part, I do not believe that devivaru can help us one bit to achieve anything worthwhile in this world. In fact, I have been in the business of trying to demonstrate scientifically that some ‘miraculous’ things allegedly done entirely through the help of devivaru can be done without their help at all. I know, however, that for me to claim that my demonstrations are ‘scientific’ I am obliged to go through the process that Scientist Ajit Abeysekera has prescribed. Forty-one years ago I presented evidence to the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) that fire-walking can be done without divine aid. I give notice here that this year I expect to present evidence to SLAAS that there is nothing supernatural about the ritualistic ‘hanging on hooks’.”
I believe in the Sinhala Buddhist approach and for me “ehi passiko” or come and see is a better method than quoting experts, specialists or books. I am not a person who would quote chapter a verse an essentially Biblical approach. Our methods of detecting Arsenic in hard water and other substances are there for anybody to see, and if they come to our laboratories, after testing them in the tradition of Mahavira Bhikkus who tested Ven. Buddhaghosa Thera we will allow them to work there and see for themselves whether the method is correct. However, at the same time I know that the western Judaic Christian tradition is hegemonic at present and for the sake of western scientists trained in that tradition we have to adopt their methods as well if we want to get our results accepted by them. Personally that problem does not occur to me as I am not interested in their acceptance of my ideas and methods.
Prof. Peirce may be a world renowned philosopher as they say but even without him we know that ideas do not come in a logical manner. The logic, which is none other than the Aristotelian logic for the overwhelming majority of scientists is only an abstraction of day to day sensory perceptible experience. The problem is that there are extra sensory perceptible experience where Aristotelian logic is thoroughly inadequate. In our day to day experience we know that an object can be only at one position at a given time (it has to be emphasised that even time is an abstract concept, and cannot be perceived by human beings. Time is our creation or “pannaththi” in the words of Ven. Buddhaghosa Thera. Time arises or this particular concept – pannaththi is created by human beings, and perhaps by some other animals as well, due to change and our memory. If there is no change or no memory there is no need for the pannaththi called time) but it is possible for some objects (for example Quantum particles) to exist at more than one place at a given time. Prof. Fonseka who is familiar with Buddhist ideas would probably remember the story of Ven. Cullapanthaka Tissa Thera in this regard, though the Thera cannot be compared with Quantum particles. However, sometime ago when I was working on a reinterpretation of Quantum Mechanics I got the idea of a particle existing at different places at the same time from the story of Ven. Cullapanthaka Tissa Thera in our culture.
The ideas come in different ways to different people and I am glad that unlike Prof. Ileperuma and Samarajeewa Prof. Fonseka has no quarrel about the origin of ideas. However, it appears that even with respect to western Philosophy of Science Prof. Fonseka still lives in a pre Popperian world and he does not seem to follow Popper, Kuhn, Feyarabend or any other modern western philosophers of science. I must say that I am not insisting that Prof. Fonseka should follow them. However, the so called hypothetico – deductive method is not consistent with the development of western science. (To be continued) (2011/06/29 -The Island)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva