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Sunday 30 October 2011

On so called scientific knowledge – VI

Western science especially its role model western Physics is abstract than any other system of knowledge that I can think of. I do not claim to know all the systems of knowledge but it can be safely said that western system is the most abstract of the systems of knowledge known to most of us. The concepts such as absolute space, absolute time, inertial frame of reference, object, gravitation, electromagnetism, quantum waves, space time curvature, string in modern Physics, to name a few are very abstract and an ordinary person would find it very difficult to grasp these concepts. Western knowledge in general, modelled after western Physics is abstract trying to concentrate on general systems rather than individual concrete systems. This is something that can be found not only in western science but also in western art, western music, western literature etc. There is an interaction between all these different disciplines and there are commonalities that can be found in western systems. For example it is said that Dostoevsky was one of the most abstract novelists and that his novels have influenced Einstein who happened to have one of the most abstract minds that the world has seen. In this regard a comment made by Martin Wickramesinghe who was the most abstract Sinhala novelist made on Kumaratunga Munidasa’s Piyasamara. Wickramesinghe had said that had Kumaratunga Munidasa tried to generalize the personal experience of the latter and created a work on the memory of a father in general Piyasamara would have become great poetry. The western novel in general creates generalized characters and in spite of “Gamperaliya” not representing a so called transformation of a village in the south it attempts do so with Piyal, Nanda, Kaisaruwatte and others supposed to be representing generalized characters. Kumaratunga Munidasa’s Piyasamara on the other hand was on the memory of his father and he never attempted to generalize his experience to present us a “generalized” father so to speak of. Gunadasa Amarasekera contrary to his writings in younger days is even more concrete in his nine volumes from Gamanaka Mula to Gamanaka Aga, and Piyadasa cannot be considered as an abstract character generalizing the “middle class” that the authour would have liked to portray sticking to his “philosophy” on novels. Piyadasa is not an abstract Piyal, and Amarsekera’s characters are more concrete than of Martin Wickremesinghe. In Amarasekera’s recent stories it is not very difficult to identify the characters with those around us but in the case of Wickremesinghe it is not easy to do so. The Sinhala Buddhist tradition has been very much concrete and in the Jathaka Kathas the Buduhamuduruwo himself identifies the characters without giving them a semblance of abstractness. The Sinhala Buddhists are very concrete people and no wonder that we have not been able to produce a western abstract novelist who could be compared with Martin Wickremesinghe during the last fifty years or so. Wickremesinghe was the first and the last Sinhala novelist who could be considered as a novelist who created somewhat abstract and generalized characters, though he was nowhere near a Dostoevsky.

In western Mathematics the concepts are very abstract and even if some of the Sinhala Buddhists were able to grasp these it has become almost impossible for them to create or construct new western Mathematical concepts. Take the case of a supposed to be the simple concept of a straight line. A straight line in western Mathematics has no breadth or with and one cannot imagine such a line (geometrical object) if one tries to do so. One imagines in images (in pictures, sounds etc) of sensory perceptible objects and it is needless to say that there are no straight lines in the “external” world for one to “see” them. What we used to draw as straight lines in the schools are not straight lines in a western Mathematical sense and a straight line could be drawn not with a very sharp pencil as the teachers used to tell us but with pencils with no point at all either blunt or sharp. It is not difficult to obtain A’s and distinctions in western Mathematics at GCE (O/L and A/L) examinations and also first classes and Ph. D’s in areas related to western Mathematics with not very refined Mathematical concepts but creating abstract concepts is a different kettle of fish all together.

The point about abstract concepts is that they cannot be “visualized”. On the other hand one cannot generalize without resorting to abstract concepts and western science has had to face this dilemma from the very beginning. Western science is said to belong to the empirical tradition and it is assumed that knowledge of the so called external world begins with sensory perceptions. Even if one assumes that there is an external world for the sake of argument, western science is interested in generalized knowledge and not in customized versions if I may use the jargon of computer people. The generalized versions of “nature” assuming that such “nature” exists independent observers as an objective reality cannot be “visualized” or grasped as sensory perceptible objects and what one “sees” is not a generalized abstract concept. Thus testing deductions of abstract generalized theories with concrete phenomena can be compared with a no win situation and western knowledge, especially in western Physics has almost reached the end of the road. The so called empiricism in western science may start with observations in concrete situations, then theorize in a general context in abstract concepts, deduce results from these abstract theories using dry abstract Aristotelian logic which itself is a generalization of concrete situations and then compare the deduced results with concrete situations. This is one of the most contradictory processes of constructing knowledge that has been created and is bound to fail sooner than later. This way of constructing knowledge has been already dropped in Computer Science (it is not a western science though it is called a science) and they are interested in customizing knowledge rather than in constructing generalized knowledge.

Western knowledge is obsessed with something called Truth which for the western knowledge workers (can we call the intellectuals knowledge workers the way that prostitutes have been called sex workers probably by knowledge workers? In any event there is not much of a difference between knowledge workers and sex workers who are also working with an abstract man who can stand for Piyal, rather than with a concrete man like Piyadasa) has to be formulated in generalized abstract concepts. Western science is supposed to be moving towards this abstract truth but unfortunately there is no way of knowing that western science is approaching this truth. In order to know that western science is moving towards the Truth one should know what Truth is because without knowing Truth in advance it is not possible to assert that western science is approaching truth with a t or T. Newton was of the opinion that particles and objects could move with any velocity and there was no barrier for the speed of particles. However, Einstein came out with his Theory of Special Relativity in 1905 more than hundred years ago which said that no communication is possible with velocities greater than of light. However, in Quantum Mechanics entangled particles have been communicating with each other with superluminal velocities at least theoretically since the latter part of twenties with Bohr and “experimentally” since 1982 with the experiments carried out by Aspect. The recent “discovery” that neutrinos travel with superluminal velocities may or may not be correct as there could be experimental errors but the western Physicists have no alternative but to question the wisdom of Einstein. Now what is the truth? Could the particles travel with superluminal velocities as Newton assumed or not as was the opinion of Einstein? If the western Physicists are in the process of going back to Newton where does Truth lie? Are we to say that Truth lies with lies? Or that there is no difference between lies and Truth in an abstract way?

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva