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Sunday 30 September 2012

On Science and Culture

Prof. N. A. de S. Amaratunga in his letter to the opinion page on 17th September 2012 states: “Thomas Kuhn (and Michael Polyani) believed that scientists’ subjective experience made science a relativized discipline (see – "The Structure of Scientific Revolution", 1962). The subjective experience as we all know could be influenced by culture. Briefly speaking it is this idea that has made writers, both in the East and the West, say that science is based on culture.” Kuhn never said (western) science was a relativised discipline in “The Structure of Scientific Revolution”. Kuhn was neither a relativist nor Post modernist. He only opposed Popper’s Falsification Theory which said (western) science developed by the attempt of (western) scientists to falsify existing theories in western science. Kuhn challenged this theory and said western scientists almost all the time did some experiments to prove the existing theories and that only during what he called revolutionary times scientists came out with new paradigms. If Kuhn has said that (western) science is created relative to a culture or words to that effect Prof. de S. Amaratunga should quote the relevant passage(s) from “The Structure of Scientific Revolution” without quoting others without references on Kuhn and his so called relativism. After attributing to Kuhn a statement to the effect that science is a relativized discipline the Professor says subjective experience could be influenced by culture, as if it came from Kuhn. In any event western science is subjective like any other system of knowledge and even according to Prof. de S. Amaratunga subjective experience could be relative.

Some postmodernists may be realtivists but their main characteristics are deconstruction, claiming that there are no meta narratives, not mega narratives as one well known literary figure in Sri Lanka believed, but Kuhn does not subscribe to any of these. He was accepted as a conventional Philosopher of Science who taught at MIT though there may be a few around the world who think of Kuhn as a postmodernist and a relativist. If Prof. de S. Amaratunga refers to Feyerabend as a relativist I have no objection but I must say that Kuhn was never a relativist. His incommensurability simply said theories cannot be compared as they use different conceptual apparati and has not said that theories in western science are created relative to culture. As I have said I am not after recognition and I would be grateful to Prof. de S. Amaratunga to quote the relevant passage(s) of author(s) who have said that knowledge (not only western science) is created relative to the sense organs, mind and the culture based on a Chinthanya. S. Amartunga is interested in finding out how people have come to the conclusion that (western) science is relative to the culture. I do not know about the authours whom Prof. de S. Amaratunga mentions including Kuhn who in the view of the learned Professor has come to that conclusion but I have justified in my works why I claim that knowledge (I emphasize knowledge and not merely western science) is relative to sense organs mind and culture based on a Chinthanya. It is by reading books and articles on theory of knowledge and related subjects, and contemplating on what I have read and of course creating my own theories in a consistent way that I have come to the above conclusion, which is a method that has been used by ordinary people such as me long before Galileo, Newton and other great scientists who are supposed to have discovered a so called scientific method. Agganna Sutta and Darwin’s Theory with Big Bang are poles apart and they are relative to different cultures based on different Chinthanayas. Interestingly Prof. de S. Amaratunga has said: “according to both theories, life starts in water. Perhaps in the future Western scientists like Richard Dawkins, due to the influence of Buddhism, may give up their adherence to the linear process of evolution despite their culture. Such metamorphoses have occurred in the minds of Western philosophers and scientists in the past e.g. Arthur Schopenhauer, Niels Bohr.” In one of the theories life has come to earth from Abhassara Brahma Lokaya while in the other theory life as evolved from inorganic matter going through organic matter then through a single cell. However Prof. de S. Amaratunga says one day western scientists due to the influence of Buddhism, may give up their adherence to the linear process of evolution despite their culture. This is something that I have tried to explain in my “theory”. When western scientists give up their adherence to linear processes they are no more in their culture. It is not despite their culture this “metamorphism” takes place but coming out from their culture. Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation is outside the western Chrtistian culture with its two valued Aristotelian Logic, and he was influenced by Ying Yang Philosophy of the Chinese, which has a three valued logic as I understand it. However he could not proceed much further and most of the western Physicists now have doubts about the Copenhagen Interpretation. This interpretation can be further developed in Sinhala Buddhist culture and already some work has been done in this regard.

In Theravada Buddhism there is no thithi and hence there is no existence. I as an entity does not exist and the ancient Buddhists had a tough time explaining to the Brahmins how karma effects a “person” who goes in to another Bhava. Thithi, Kshanavada were all created in order to explain some kind of existence. It is those who believe in some form of existence who have to explain how Nibbana is attained without annihilating (uchchedavada) an existing athma (soul). In Kacchayana Sutta Sammasambuddha says if A then B, and if not A then not B, and nothing else. I am definitely not a Sauthrathinka as I do not believe in thithi. If one assumes that things exist without being relative to something then one has to either assume that they last forever (shasvathavada) or are destroyed after some time (uchchhedavada). I am not only neither a shasvatavadin nor an uchchedavadin but I do not exist as such.

Copyright Prof. Nalin De Silva