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Sunday 5 February 2012

On so called scientific knowledge – XII

Feyerabend has shown in his “Against method” that there is no scientific method as such and that in fact anything goes as a so called method in western science. There is no method adopted by the paradigm shifters described in the previous instalment and very often they carry on without any experimental evidence as such. In Theoretical Physics there is no way to verify experimentally some of the predictions and it exemplifies how western science has progressed in the last four centuries after Galileo. The research methodologies taught to students in the Universities are good for those who have no insight or intuition and nothing more than lessons in cookery. The selection procedures, sampling techniques, so called testing, analysis statistical or otherwise do not create any new ideas as such and the teachers as well as the students just go on repeating statements without understanding what they talk about. The discussion among academics in the pages of this paper on the Z score at the GCE (A/L) examination provides ample testimony to this sad state of affairs. There are scholars who think that pooling is not for different populations, and if it is the case what is the use of pooling, and where would it be useful. On the other hand a formula has been introduced to pool different populations apparently without understanding the basic idea behind pooling. One would say that it is not an example that can be used against the existence of a scientific method, but I cannot see any of the scholars in Sri Lanka following a so called scientific method as such with respect to solving the Z score problem. Finally the problem would be “solved” in a court of law where very often a judge who is not familiar with science or “scientific method” would give the final word after listening to some so called expert opinions. In fact Feyerabend points out the example of judges without any formal training in science deciding on so called scientific matters only after listening to “expert opinions”, when the experts have different opinions. It is a funny situation where the experts differ, a non expert or a layman whether he/she is a judge or not, deciding which of the opinions should be applied in a particular case. If the experts in science can differ then there is no reason why the experts in law should agree on something and the “blindfolded” lady with the scales in her hand would not know even if the scales have been tilted one way or the other, or to make it worse whether the scales are bottomless or not.

It is well known that people had experimented before Galileo and from the day we are born in this world each and every one of us has experimented in many a field. As we have said Galileo did not “discover” anything new at Pisa but only demonstrated what he had been thinking on what are called freely falling objects. On the other hand it is wrong to say that Aristotle or whoever responsible had said that the massive particle falls to the ground before the light particle without doing any experiment. It is not merely speculation but is based on day to day experience or what may be called observations. It is well known that if a feather and a stone are dropped (released from rest in the jargon of Western Physics) from the same height at the same time then the stone falls to the ground before the feather. There may be feathers heavier than some stones but I am referring to what may be called standard feathers and stones. Of course one would say it is due to air resistance that the feather does not fall to the ground as quickly as the stone but Galileo (or his friend) did not carry out the experiment in a vacuum in Pisa. Neither did he experiment with feathers and stones, but with balls though of different masses, and it is clear that he did his experiments in order to demonstrate that objects dropped from the same height at the same time fall to the ground simultaneously. Had he dropped feathers and stones he would not have been able to demonstrate that his “theory” was correct. At least Aristotle or whoever it was responsible had been honest and had accepted what had been “demonstrated” by nature. People had been observing and experimenting from time immemorial and what Galileo had done was to add an element of cheating to this process.

People had been “theorizing” before Newton and even in the western world Aristotle (most probably like Euclid Aristotle put down in writing what he had known at that time) had so many theories to his credit. The Athma theory is a theory that had been accepted both in the west and the east before it was denied in Buddhism. However Buddhism has not been successful in dispelling the Athma theory even after two thousand six hundred years most probably due to the fact it offers no alternative theory as such. Denying an existing theory without replacing it by a new theory is very difficult in a culture that is used to some kind of theories. There are no theories as such in Buddhism, and one of the reasons that Buddhism has taken roots in the Sinhala society is that Sinhala culture is somewhat immune to general theories. The Sinhalas are fond of concrete “theories” applicable to individual cases but not of abstract concrete theories.

If the people had been observing, experimenting and even theorizing somewhat abstractly as in the case of Vedic culture culminating with Advaitha Vedantha of Sankaracharaya the question may be asked as to how western science differs from other systems of knowledge. There is a school of thought that is of the opinion that western science originated by copying or borrowing knowledge from the others especially in the east whether it is from Bharath, the Arab world, China, Western Asia and North Africa. It is true that the west since the days of Copernicus and Galileo had absorbed knowledge from the other parts of the world, but that does not mean that the western science is merely a continuation of the other systems of knowledge. When the west absorbed knowledge from other parts of the world it was not a case of imitating those systems. They assimilated the knowledge of the others into their culture and constructed a new system which is identified as western science today. We on the other hand having contributed to the initiation of western science merely imitate the west when we want to use their knowledge. We do not absorb western science or any western knowledge for that matter into our culture but are satisfied with mere imitation. One of the reasons why western science remains outside the Asian and African cultures is our inability to absorb that knowledge into our cultures. Even India which had produced some abstract theories in the past has not been able to absorb abstract thinking in western science into their cultures. Though India boasts of the third largest community of western scientists, they have not produced a single paradigm shifter, and have come up with only a handful of Nobel Prize winners. Vedic Mathematics is more concrete than abstract and though they knew the result of the Pythagoras Theorem, and had methods of calculating the length of the hypotenuse in suthras they could not generalize those results into an abstract theorem as such. Even our carpenters are masons (basunnehes) know how to construct right angles though they have no idea of the Pythagoras Theorem. The essence of the work of Galileo and Newton which paved the way for western science was neither an experimental method nor scientific method but abstract thinking that was borrowed from the ancient Greeks and the Jews into a new Chinthanaya that had revolutionized Europe with the beginning of the sixteenth century. Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Galileo, Newton, Shakespeare had been pioneers of this Chinthanaya which I call the Greek Judaic Christian Chinthanaya and it is this Chinthanaya much broader than a paradigm that created not only western science but non Roman Catholic Christianity (Reformation), so called enlightenment and Capitalism. In that sense Michelangelo, Luther, Galileo, Newton, and Shakespeare may be called Chinthana shifters.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva