Swamijis and Science

Dear Spiritually Enlightened Person on TV in the mornings (and late nights),

I must first thank you for sharing your wisdom and understanding of the human condition with the masses. In the frenetic rat race we call urban life, your skillfully presented nuggets of common sense, wrapped in insightful readings of mythology and scripture, provide a small yet valuable window of time for people to introspect.

But I have problem when you pontificate on the impact of modern science and technology on the masses. So far, every one of you seems to belong to the camp that has declared technology to be the bane of our contemporary lives. You declare modern medicine to be a sham and urge people to value spiritual truth over scientific veracity, as if both of these were mutually exclusive entities. So I am afraid I am going to be a little blunt here.

By perpetrating the falsehood that scientifically verifiable truths are somehow inferior and trivial, you are being disingenuous. Science is a method, and technology, one of the tangible outcomes of applying that method. Like any subject of knowledge, there is nothing inherently good or evil about science. It’s what you do with it. Nuclear Bombs or mobile phone induced attention deficit disorder, it’s human choice, a behavioral flaw that you, with your insight into human nature, can effectively help address. But instead, what I find is this half-baked dismissal of science and technology on the whole, continual urgings to believe in mysteries and sadly, repeated warnings to not question certain religious truths. Every time an elderly relative of mine tells me with glee “Can your science explain this?” and point to some random occurrence of nature, I cringe and can’t help wonder how much your daily morning preaching on TV contributed to his cyclically reaffirming faith in the mysterious.

The other fallacy you often perpetrate is this whole “In those days…” nostaliga thing. While it’s important to appreciate the contribution of the past, our collective tendency, happily cheered on by you, to somehow believe that our glorious past was this paradise of peace, knowledge and pushpaka vimaanas serving gourmet meals in economy class, sweeps under the bed the harder to digest lessons of female infanticide, women’s rights, caste bigotry and gratuitous violence. Give credit where it’s due, but please do send the collection agents to defaulters once in a while.

So in a sense, you reinforce the average person’s convenient misconceptions (and ignorance) about the laws of nature. By dismissing scientists as being vain characters who have not come anywhere close to deciphering the mysteries of the cosmos, you are revealing a stunning ignorance of the advancement of human knowledge from a geocentric universe to dark matter, Quasars and Supernovas. By dismissing modern medicine, you conveniently ignore the shots of polio vaccine you likely received as a child that probably kept you from belonging to the infant mortality column, a rather common occurrence in those days incidentally. Life expectancy has gone up by almost 20 years (at least in Urban India) primarily because of better neo-natal care and advances in geriatrics.

Last but not the least, sitting in front of a television camera, a technological marvel that began its journey with Anton Van Leeuwhenhoek’s use of lenses for microscopy onwards to Galileo’s telescope, to John Logie Baird’s contraption to capture moving images, and speaking into a microphone, where vibrations from your voice causes a capacitor to generate an electric current proportional to the nuances in your voice, to transmit it across a wire that, along with the video signal, is amplitude and frequency modulated and beamed up to a satellite that was launched with a deep, mathematically precise understanding of escape velocities and embedded with gadgetry that takes your message and beams it to the world, your dismissal of science and technology causes me, and anyone with even a smidgeon of understanding of science to say – “WTF?”


Or, as Lollu Cat would say in such situtations,

photo © James Jones for openphoto.net CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

Pray, this is not arrogance speaking. Scientists question each other openly without fear of religion style recrimination, and also continuously build on each others knowledge. Your knowledge of human nature comes to you from your own keen observations and the abstraction of such knowledge over history by philosophers who used symbolism in the form of mythologies to embed such key observations. The symbols in our epics are memes, much like Lolcat is. In an era when we need a all-round understanding of both the scientific method and the spiritual truths about human nature that are so beautifully woven into the fabric of our mythology, you are doing, rather literally, a half-baked job. So if you are going to pass judgement on science, please do so after first understanding what it is. As the professor of calculus once said – “If you can’t differentiate, don’t integrate”. You are all extremely intelligent people. Not misrepresenting the scientific method is not that hard. Till then, apples and oranges please.

Actually, I am not asking you to just consider science and spirituality as apples and oranges. I’m really saying that I prefer Panchaamrutham. At the moment, you are discarding perfectly healthy oranges.

Update: The above-mentioned spiritually enlightened godman who wasn’t a fan of science was undone recently by an apparatus involving CCD sensors, some flash memory and a battery. Just FYI