By Dr Seema Pavgi Upadhyay
India’s oldest scientific gathering Indian Science Congress (ISC) is gaining much attention worldwide these days, not only because breakthrough discoveries are coming out of sessions but also because we have started to take dig the past for more imaginative thinking. Many call it Indian Science and many call it PseudoScience. In this article we will see as much detail as possible to understand Science, Pseudoscience, Non Science, Religious beliefs and current scenarion in Indian perspective in Science. In this way in future, we can think of a special session in each event which will focus on Sci-fi, so that interested people would discuss what they think beyond reality and how it can come near to reality.
The protest came out immediately and could not halt even for conclusion of the event ‘’106th Indian Science congress’’ which was held on 4-7th January 2018 in Lovely Professional University. India’s oldest event for Science people is gaining much attention in past few years because of some statement coming out from some speakers, according to some science people of the country.
The protest was started on Sunday Morning of 4th January in IISc by some highly irritated Scientists whom which March for Science, a science society was looking furious as its member Prajval Shastri, a retired professor from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics who joined the protest on Sunday made agitated statements against people who promoted pseudoscience in 106th ISC. The protest came immediately after the comments on Friday, by Andhra University vice-chancellor G Nageswara Rao, who claimed at one session that the Kauravas from the Mahabharata were test-tube babies, that Ravana, from the Ramayana, possessed 24 aircraft and that Sri Lanka at the time had airports. Prajval Shastri recalled, ‘ISC has lost its charm and became a circus’’, was said by Venkatraman Ramakrishnan once. ISC in its current event could not attract big names out of every corner of India like it used to earlier. But it continues to be a high-profile event because it has the government’s endorsement and funding, she said. Inaugurated by the prime minister, it invites well-known scientists, even Nobel laureates, from abroad.
Similar pseudoscientific comment were made earlier also in previous events like told by Rajani KS, the
Karnataka state secretary to an online news. At the 102nd edition in Mumbai that year, a speaker who had retired from a pilot-training school, claimed Indian invented aeroplanes 7,000 years ago. “The first time it happened, we ran an online petition and we also submitted a memorandum to the president of the Indian Science Congress,” said Rajani. “The president that time said there were many committees and that one let these papers slip due to oversight.” But every science congress since has drawn public attention less for science and more for such statements.
“At the 103rd Science Congress in Mysore, one paper said if you sit on a tiger skin and do Yoga, you don’t grow old or can reverse the process of ageing,” said Rajani. “We had protested then as well – right in front of University of Mysore.” The next one at Tirupati was “full of religious content” and the next at Imphal had the science minister Harsh Vardhan attributing to Stephen Hawking a comment on the Vedas containing a better theory than Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. “Most scientists are ashamed and feel this will make Indian science a butt of jokes,” added Rajani. “Already a recent survey has shown that there are only 10 Indians on the list of 4,000 most highly-cited scientists compared to over 400 from China – this is ridiculous.”
Principal Scientific Advisor to PM, India also wrote a full fledged article ‘‘Pseudoscience: Gorillas are Out’’
showing his anger toward thinking of some of the leaders of the country. Although he did not quote anyone but the act by him gave us all a strong message that it is time to think again what can be Pseudoscience and what cannot?
What is PseudoScience and how it is different from Science?
To understand Science and to differentiate it with Psudoscience we need to understand first the differences between two. According to Scientific American Magazine, Distinguishing between science and pseudoscience is problematic. In his 2010 book Nonsense on Stilts (University of Chicago Press), philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci concedes that there is “no litmus test,” because “the boundaries separating science, nonscience, and pseudoscience are much fuzzier and more permeable than Popper (or, for that matter, most scientists) would have us believe.” Science-Science is defined as the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena. Whereas, PseudoScience is a discipline or approach that pretends to be or has a close resemblance to science (www.collinsdictionary.com).
Examples of PseudoScience are Astrology , Homeopathy, Creation science, Crop circles, Ufology, Aromatherapy, Applied Kinesiology, Magnetic therapy, The Bermuda Triangle, Meditation, Polygraph testing and many more.
Interestingly, in one negative context of pseudo-sciences, the late scientist Carl Sagan made an insightful observation of using them as tools for arousing scientific interest in the otherwise dull curriculum: As per his writing, If science is presented poorly in schools and the media, perhaps some interest can be aroused by well-prepared, comprehensible public discussions at the edge of science. The mythological extravaganza and the poetic hyperbole of ancient Indian epics with their astounding weapons and intelligent apes and flying machines can definitely help an eager mind to break free and imagine widely. Hindu mythology can be a fertile teaching aid to make young minds get acquainted with every wild idea that comes up in science: parallel universes to time travel to extraterrestrial life.
Global examples of PseudoScience in history and cultures
Among the most notable developments in the history of pseudoscience in the 19th century are the rise of Spiritualism (traced in America to 1848). During 2006, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) issued an executive summary of a paper on science and engineering which briefly discussed the prevalence of pseudoscience in modern times. It said, «belief in pseudoscience is widespread” and, referencing a Gallup Poll, stated that belief in the 10 commonly believed examples of paranormal phenomena listed in the poll were “pseudoscientific beliefs”. (Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation) Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a style of traditional medicine based on more than 2,500 years of Chinese medical practice that includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy. A Nature editorial described TCM as «fraught with pseudoscience”, and said that the most obvious reason it hasn’t delivered many cures is that the majority of its treatments have no logical mechanism of action.
Homeopathy or homoeopathy is a system of alternative medicine created in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann (Germany). Homeopathy is a pseudoscience – a belief that is incorrectly presented as scientific. ( “A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy”. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 54 (6): 577–82. doi:10.1046/ j.13652125.2002.01699.x. PMC 1874503. PMID 12492603)
There are many more examples but the three we have discussed are from the top 3 economical and scientific advance economies i.e. USA, China and Europe.
Current agitation for PseudoScience in India
In India the term Pseudoscience has given to some beliefs by Principal Scientific Advisor of India to the people who are taking examples of Hindu Mythology as a ground of Scientific imagination and inventions. The stage was created by Prime Minister Narender Modi as quoted by newspapers and ever since then statements are coming which are unscientific, according to some researchers.
We will discuss here what was discussed and how it was communicated. We are not only discussing about PseudoScience but also the Indian Science because some form of PseudoScience is present on every continent and in every culture, like discussed in examples above.
Example 1: In 2014, at the inauguration of a hospital in Mumbai, he related the successful implant of an elephant’s head on Lord Ganesh to the superior knowledge of cosmetic surgery among the ancients. There might have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery. In the same speech he said, Karna in Mahabharata, who was not born of his mother’s womb, might have been a living example of stem cell technology thousands of years ago. In 2018, Prof Nageshwar Rao, VC of Andhra University cited example of 100 son of Kauravas where he emphasized the use of stem cell technology again.
Xenotransplantation (interspecies graft) can be an answer to the first example of PM’s statement about cosmetic surgery. According to FDA, Xenotransplantation is any procedure that involves the transplantation, implantation or infusion into a human recipient of either (a) live cells, tissues, or organs from a nonhuman animal source, or (b) human body fluids, cells, tissues or organs that have had ex vivo contact with live nonhuman animal cells, tissues or organs. However any example of successful Xenotransplantation of organs is still a fantasy like Modi’s statement on cosmetic surgery, but that does not stopping researchers to do more research in Xenotransplantation.
Similarly, birth of Karna in Mahabhatra seems not impossible by stem (or any other) cell technology which might had been practicized in past in different unknown way or if not then atleast our ancestors could think of this much development of Science and an ancient cloning done in a way like done for ‘‘Dolly The Sheep’’. Today we all know that all we need are gametes, fertilization and gestation atmosphere, the former two we have achieved, embryo outside the body has been created which can be transplanted in uterus in surrogate mother through IVF.
Example 2: In 2017, at the inaugural session of the 105th Indian Science Congress, Union Minister for Science & Technology Dr. Harsh Vardhan said “Each and every custom and ritual of Hindus is steeped in science and every modern Indian achievement is infact a continuation of our ancient India’s scientific achievements. We recently lost a renowned scientist, renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking. He also emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory which is superior to Einstein’s theory of E=mc^2.
However, we could not find proof of this citation but we could find love of Stephen Hawking for Hindu Vedas. In his book ‘’A Brief History of Time’’, cosmologist Stephen Hawking wrote, It is not surprising, given the many creation myths from around the world and from different ages, that our modern scientific theories of cosmogenesis should have some resemblance to one or another of these earlier stories of the origin of the universe. Two years ago, while selecting texts for a course exploring the religious quests of people from prehistoric times down to the present, I came across the Nasadiya Sukta in the Hindu Rig Veda and the sage Uddalaka Aruni’s instruction to his son Svetaketu in chapter 6 of the Chandogya Upanishad and was struck by the similarities of these two ancient cosmogonies, especially that of Uddalaka Aruni, to our modern scientific creation story, the expanding universe theory, which is popularly known as the big bang theory.
Example 3: Dr Harsh Vardhan has also said India will demonstrate to the world the importance of the cow by carrying out verifiable scientific research into benefits derived from ‘panchgavya’ or five elements of the cow.
According to Dhama K et. Al., the ancient ayurvedic literature (Vir Charak Samhita, Sushrut, Gad Nigrah) suggests a number of pharmacological applications of the substances obtained from Panchgavya. These substances are abundantly used in Ayurveda for treatment of several disorders such as leucoderma, hyperlipidemia, arthritis, renal disorders, dietary disorders, gastrointestinal track disorders, acidity, asthma etc. These remedies seem to be potent anticancer and anti HIV agents.
Example 3: Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister and current BJP MP Ramesh Pokhriyal shared his thoughts inside the parliament. Pokhriyal not only was sure that there was advance medical science in ancient India, but further went on to claim that an ancient sage, Kanad, who is believed to have lived around the 2nd century BC, had conducted a nuclear test during his time.
On analyzing this claim we could not find any evidence for the testing of atomic bomb, however we could find that that the atomic theory of Acharya Kanad though may not be considered empirical, but its official place in the field of modern science is still heavily debated, its philosophical and cultural merits cannot be disputed. Though his theory of the atom was abstract and leaned towards philosophy and logic than personal experience or experimentation, it is praised even in modern times as a brilliant and imaginative explanation of the physical structure of the world and for largely agreeing with the discoveries of modern physics.
Example 4: Former Mumbai Police Commissioner and current MoS Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh said was the first to invent the airplane eight years before the Wright brothers.
We found that Talpade’s airplane was named Marutsakhā, derived from the Sanskrit Marut (‘air’ or ‘stream’) and sakhā (‹friend›) which together mean ‹Friend of wind›. As suggested by D. K. Kanjilal’s 1985 (before 1903) Vimana in Ancient India: Aeroplanes Or Flying Machines in Ancient India, as well as contemporary reports in the Marāthi-language newspaper Kesari, Marutsakhā is supposed to have been inspired from Vimāna, ancient flying-machines in Hindu mythology. One of Talpade’s students, Pt. S. D. Satawlekar, wrote that Marutsakhā sustained flight for a few minutes. According to K.R.N. Swamy “a curious scholarly audience headed by a famous Indian judge and a nationalist, Mahadeva Govinda Ranade and H H Sayaji Rao Gaekwad, respectively, had the good fortune to see the unmanned aircraft named as ‘Marutsakthi’ take off, fly to a height of 1500 feet and then fall down to earth”. The presence of Mahadev Govind Ranade and Sayajirao Gaekwad III during the flight is also cited in «Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute”.
Example 5: Dr Satyapal Singh himself, who is incidentally an MPhil in Chemistry discredit Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Singh had the best/ worst logic possible – Nobody saw ape turning into humans.
Discussion on evolution is never ending process. We still are evaluating how Universe was made and thus
statement of Dr Singh is just a Democratic view like others.
Example 6: According to Rajasthan Education Minister Vasudev Devnani it was an Indian who came up with the gravitational law first. Brahmagupta II, a seventh century astronomer gave the law of gravitation 1,000 years before Newton.
In our research of literature we found that Brahmagupta is a known name among disciples. According to sources, Aryabhata first identified the force to explain why objects do not fall when the Earth rotates, and developed a geocentric solar system of gravitation, with an eccentric elliptical model of the planets, where the planets spin on their axes and follow elliptical orbits, the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth in epicycles. Indian astronomer and mathematician Brahmagupta described gravity as an attractive force and used the term «gurutavakarshan” for gravity.
Sources: Pickover, Clifford (2008). Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them.
Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-979268-9, Bose, Mainak Kumar (1988).
Late classical India. A. Mukherjee & Co. and Sen, Amartya (2005). The Argumentative Indian. Allen Lane. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-7139-9687-6
Example 7: Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is of the opinion that people suffer from life-threatening diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past which he called «divine justice».
As per our estimates, Divine justice is the topic of religion and has nothing to do with Science. Obviously if you do smoke and drink a lot, these are your sins and you have to suffer but again it is contradictory because people who do not smoke or drink still have cancer.
Example 8: Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Deb came up with the idea that «internet existed in the days of Mahabharata. In Mahabharata, Sanjay was blind but he narrated what was happening on the battlefield to Dhritarashtra anyway. This was due to internet and technology. The satellite also existed during that period,” he said.
This also looks contradictory to scientific beliefs because if internet or communication was there then the
king would not have any need of messengers who had to travel across the seas by foot or early means of transport. Similarly, if such technologies were there then Lord Hanuman could simply pass the message to Lord Ram via internet instead of coming back to Lord Ram.
Example 9: Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani feels Narada Muni from Indian mythology and Google are similar as the sage “was a man of information; who had information of the whole world, he acted on these information, collecting information was his dharma.
This has nothing to do with science but could be a good thought to make a connection between universal information source like Google. It is depicted in Hindu Mythology that Narad Muni had all information of worldly affairs like google is considered now.
Example 10: An education minister of a state went a step ahead, claiming that the cow is the only animal in the world that breathed oxygen in and out.
This is totally wrong and was a mistake of Minister to make such claims. No animal can exhale oxygen.
What to conclude?
Now, here the question is what to take forward instead of blaming who is right or wrong. As pointed out by an unnamed source, we can do three things in light of this chaos, First, As a Scientific mind we need to become inquisitive to know whether the statement has any Scientific possibility, second is to get answer of proposed theory or to leave the things which are beyond our imaginations for other Science people, thirdly and most importantly we should repeatedly ask questions that look pertinent because what was impossible in past, is now possible because of recent advancements in Science.
Although we cannot answer all the questions for what we see around us but certainly things are there which look miraculous. In the article written earlier by Kamal Pratap Singh, editor of Biotech Express Magazine he took various examples that were documented in Hindu Mythology like example of multiple heads if Ravan had or not, today we can see people and even other animals who have two heads and multiple organs, so why it looks pseudo when someone suggest it to us.
Here we all like to promote Indian Sciences like every other country/civilization does, we get very excited when we see many series on Alliens for just the possibility but we have not seen even a single one on this planet. Similarly, Airplane could have become reality because Leonardo da Vinci made a drawing of it and now we all know very well who is Leonardo da vinci and their other discoveries.
As we are talking about examples, it might was pseudoscience 3-400 years back when some people lost their lives because they tried to make some aeroplanes and vaccines (in 1976) but slowly and gradually an aeroplane came which now can carry 300 passengers in one flight and vaccine came out as wonder which can save millions of people from death around the world.
Science is all about questioning either from new information or existing information and when we are pouring crores of public money then why not ask some questions that may or may not be relevant to science but looks like scientific topics as they have imaginations in right direction. Research is a process where you add brick in a wall and it takes time.
Opinions of PSA to PMO
Dr K Vijayraghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on the other hand have criticized the remarks and asked attendees and other Science academies to file a complaint aganist people who are spreading Pseudoscience. Mr. VijayRaghavan said, “When lay people, including politicians, make random and erroneous statements linking religion, culture, history etc, to science, the problem must be addressed by collegial communication. Dr VijayRaghavan, a biologist and a former Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, listed out examples of how pseudoscience, when it made its way into policy, caused harm. For instance, when former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msiang advocated that HIV didn’t cause AIDS, it led to unnecessary loss of lives. The same threat continues to be posed by powerful leaders who deny climate change.
Dr K Vijayraghavan made a statement using a phrase ‘’Gorillas are outside’’ which means that there are many out there who think and does science in pseudoscientific way.
On being anonymous one scientist said, outcry of Dr VijayRaghavan looks immature because he is Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt. of India, if he had some problem then instead of asking others he should have gone to competent authority, and could take appropriate action. In case he is unable to do so then he should resign from the post. Statement of Dr VijayRaghavan seems contrary to the view of Current Govt. as Prime Minister himself has advocated some practices of ancient sciences which can be connected to science. If it comes from the highest Civilian, it raises some concern over firm belief and some attention should be given to some forms of eligible pseudoscience, it can be good food for thoughts like what we discussed by taking example of Carl Sagan. He added, there are many gorillas out there like Lions and Elephants too.
Note 1 from Writer: Pseudo Science is a broad term and we should understand ourselves what to believe and what not in light of evidences. The thin line between Science and PseudoScience depends on many factor like beliefs, evidences, time, etc., So the writer advise readers to understand PseudoScience in your Capabilities. Just for an example Homeopathy is considered as PseudoScience, but according to www.transparencymarketresearch.com, the global homeopathy product market stood at US$3.8 billion in 2015 and is projected to proliferate at a CAGR of 18.2% during 2016–2024. By the end of the forecast period, the market will earn a revenue worth of US$17.4 billion.
Note 2: All views expressed here are of purely writer’s view.
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