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Monday 16 January 2012

On so called scientific knowledge – XI

A paradigm in the sense of Kuhn and not in the sense of Sri Lankan academia and NGO establishment is a base in which theories are constructed. It should be mentioned that according to the western sociologists of knowledge, knowledge is constructed and not discovered and moreover it is done in a social context. It is clear that Einstein, if born in Continental Europe in the eighteenth century would not have come up with the theory of relativity nor would he have constructed his theory if he was born in England in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He would have been out of space and time or space - time to construct his theory in either case. Incidentally Kalaya, Deshaya and Dveepaya are among the pasmaha belum or five great observations that the Bodhisatva was interested in before he was born as Prince Siddhartha Gauthama. If he was born as an Eskimo he would not have attained Buddhathva. When Einstein was born in general the whole of Western Europe was deeply immersed in the notions of absolute space and absolute time which may be called part of Newtonian paradigm and most of the theories from Astronomy to Zoology had been constructed in that paradigm. Einstein essentially changed the paradigm and introduced the space – time paradigm which was given a Mathematical formulation by Minkowski. Another paradigm shift which is even more revolutionary than Einsteinian paradigm shift has been the Quantum paradigm shift. Though many people would not have realized it then the Thermodynamics paradigm shift had been another paradigm shift in the history of western science. What we have essentially done is to claim that knowledge is constructed in a Chinthanaya, which could have several paradigms, and is created relative to the sense organs, the mind and the culture of the creator. The creator could be a western scientist, a Sinhala Buddhist or any sathva (living being).

It is clear that Kuhn does not recognize even construction of ordinary theories or “discoveries” as revolutionary science. Not all Nobel Prize winners have been paradigm shifters but sometimes would have revolutionized western science. For example Perlmutter and Reiss who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011 for “discovering” the acceleration of the universe were only working within the Einsteinian paradigm, though they have revolutionized western cosmology that had believed that the universe expanded with a deceleration. Since 1998, the western cosmologists believe that the universe expands with an acceleration following Perlmutter and Reiss having recognized the work of the latter with a Nobel Prize. If the theoretical work carried out by my students at the University of Kelaniya is correct the universe has to enter into a decelerating phase again if it has not already done so, but I doubt very much that their work will be recognized even by the Physicists in Sri Lanka, even if they are proved to be correct, due to academic politics, which appears to be the worst type of politics. In any event Kuhn thought of paradigm shifts when he talked of revolutions in western science. Following Kuhn we may categorize western science under four headings. They are (i) the paradigm shifting science, (ii) new theories and discoveries within existing paradigms (iii) very ordinary science involved with problem solving usually in the periphery using established theories and finally (iv) the undergraduate and school children science which is very often involved with verification of already known results.

Is there a so called method adopted by paradigm shifters? Unfortunately for the philosophers of western science there is no such method. What is the so called scientific method that Einstein used? Apparently he did not know the results of the Michelson Morley experiment which was finally explained by his special theory of relativity. He was thinking of a different problem in electrodynamics. The dynamo can be looked at as resulting from either the movement of a static magnet surrounded by a revolving circuit or the movement of a magnet in a static circuit. Though the results are the same the Maxwell’s equation of electromagnetism had to be used in two different ways to obtain the results. Einstein who was interested in symmetries did not like this two tongue approach so to say, shifted the paradigm from space and time to space - time and also showed that Maxwell’s equations took the same form (or invariant) with respect to observers moving relative to one another under his relativistic transformations which are also known as Lorentz Transformations. Incidentally Maxwell’s Equations were not invariant in the Newtonian paradigm and hence needed two methods in that paradigm to explain the dynamo problem. Einstein was interested in a fundamental problem that could not be solved in the then existing paradigms. There was no method that he could follow and it was left to his remarkable insight to come out with a solution. It is the insight and intuition that is involved with creation or construction whether in western science, art, music, mathematics or any other field western or eastern. It appears that creation of paradigms or even theories within a paradigm in what may be called shastra is rare than creations in shilpa. What is the method of creating a work of art? There is no method as such and what helps one to create in Art or Music is one’s intuition and insight, which of course is relative to one’s culture. It is said that there is an underline relationship between the works of Dostoevsky, Einstein and Picasso as far as abstractness is concerned. They represented a European abstract chinthanaya and were more or less contemporaries.

The category (ii) mentioned above is more creative than category (iii) with which almost all so called research done is involved with. There is both a method and intuition involved with (ii), which I might add are not “rational”, and those who are adherents of methods without an insight or intuition are bound to end up in category (iii). However, this so called method is not at all creative and it is only a set of rules not different from what is found in cookery. It is all about selection of samples, testing and analysing and is similar to selecting 10 eggs, 500 grams of flour etc. making a mixture heating to a certain temperature, maintaining at that temperature for so many minutes and of course writing a report if necessary. One has an intuition and an insight in one’s culture and the main reason that non western scientists cannot do category (ii) western science is that western science works in a culture that is different from the cultures of non western scientists. As far as the western scientists in the non western cultures are concerned category (i) western science is a non starter. In category (iii) western science very often scientists in their research proposals have to write down testing of what is known as a hypothesis. There are no hypotheses that western scientists in Sri Lanka are testing and very often the hypothesis amounts to something such as oxygen is present in air. One can write a so called research paper irrespective of whether oxygen is found in air or not provided the scientist manages to survive through and after testing.

It has to be mentioned that Kuhn did not emphasize on a method, and neither did he deny the existence of a so called scientific method. It was left to Feyerabend to finally demolish this myth of a scientific method, and he did so beautifully in his “Against Method”. He wrote a number of papers and books after the publication of Against Method, including “Farewell to Reason”. The western scientists are not different from other mortals in other fields such as Art and Music and also from other people involved with different shastras in other parts of the world. Western science is creation by a few without adhering to a so called method but depending on insight and intuition in Judaic Christian culture, and very ordinary problem solving by the vast majority who have neither intuition nor insight using a method not very much different from that is practised in cookery. Incidentally it should be noted that tuition kills intuition. (To be continued)

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva