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May 30, 2014

Role of Scientific temper

 The role of reason is to apply scientific knowledge to problems, to grapple with them through the method of scientific inquiry and to work for social transformation inspired by Scientific Temper.

HAVING outlined the essential elements of Scientific Temper, let us survey our national scene. Despite Jawaharlal Nehru’s advocacy of Scientific Temper, we are witnessing a phenomenal growth of superstitious beliefs and obscurantist practices. The influence of a variety of godmen and miracle makers is increasing alarmingly. The modern tools of propaganda and communication are being used to give an impression that there exist instant and magical solutions for the problems that confront our people.

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In an age when man has travelled to the moon and returned safely, astrological predictions based on the movements of planets or the lines of one’s palm or the number of alphabets in one’s name, are widely believed. Food fads, irrational health practices are on the increase. In a poor country where millions live below the poverty line, vast amount of wealth is consigned in havanas and yagnas.

Myths are created about our past. The origin and role of the caste system is explained in a way that would justify it and imply that some castes are inherently superior. The ancient period of our history is interpreted to inculcate chauvinism which is false pride; the medieval period is misinterpreted in a way that would fan communalism: and the struggle of our people for freedom is over-simplified as if it was the handiwork of a few great leaders and the masses of our people did not matter.

While it is important to understand the origin of these unscientific beliefs, the more immediate and pressing problem is to understand the remarkable phenomenon or their persistence and the resulting social consequences.

The sustenance of such beliefs and superstitions must be recognised primarily as a historical and social process. Such beliefs continue, because they have ready relevance to the personal situations of the majority of our people. Vast uncertainties of our daily lives, frustration of hopes and aspirations of millions, denial of any vision which would sustain the spirit drives millions to seek mental equilibrium in faith healing. Thus, when one believes that one’s miserable personal situation cannot be improved, acceptance of fatalism becomes natural. Beliefs then rationalise the status quo and breed fatalistic doctrines. In such a situation of social and cultural malaise, a major role of Scientific Temper is to revive confidence and hope and to dispel fatalistic outlook. The campaign to promote Scientific Temper must inculcate values like equality and dignity of all human beings, distributive justice, dignity of labour, and social accountability of one’s actions. All these are essential for bringing about social, economic and cultural transformation of our country.

The emphasis on the method of science does not imply that science and technology have solutions to all human problems at any given time. Indeed, Scientific Temper warns one against the simplistic view that through the introduction and pursuit of science and technology, most social problems and contradictions will automatically get resolved. The role of reason is to apply scientific knowledge to problems, to grapple with them through the method of scientific inquiry and to work for social transformation inspired by Scientific Temper.

We must equally combat the tendency to treat science and technology as a sort of magic. It should be explained that it is unscientific to believe that if scientific and technological solutions exist to a range of problems, these will be automatically adopted. The nature of social stratification and the power structure in a society prevents the acceptance of such solutions. Technologically, one may be able to grow enough food for everyone, but the pattern or income distribution prevents the benefits of increased food production reaching large segments of the population. When the social structure and stratification prevent the application of rational and scientifically proven solutions, the role of Scientific Temper is to lay bare the anatomy of such social barriers.

If we have to regain our place in the world and are not to be relegated once again to the dustbin of history; if we wish to offer a life of fulfilment to our destitute millions; indeed, if the light of our civilisation is not to be extinguished, we have to undertake, on a priority basis, the task of nurturing Scientific Temper. All of us scientists, technologists, social scientists, educationists, teachers, and media men have to join hands and undertake this task. We draw inspiration from the way our people in all walks of life joined hands and struggled against colonial domination of our land and of our minds. We believe, it can be done again if only we have the will. And it must be done without any loss of time. Our nation’s survival and its future depend on upholding Scientific Temper. Superstition shall not pass and darken our portals.

(This extract is part 3 of a 3 part series from the essay “A statement on scientific temper”. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

Photo: calsidyrose


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