Tuesday, July 13, 2004


There are two textile mills, one in Manchester and the other in England. There is a change of shift at 12.00 a.m. in both factories. Just before 12.00 a.m. in both factories, a bell rings which signals the end of the shift. I make two observations, day after day and observe the same thing every single time; whenever the bell rings in London, the workers change their shift in Manchester. The clocks and the bells in both factories are perfectly synchronised. Hence, I conclude that the bell ringing in London is the CAUSE of the workers in Manchester changing their shift. Without performing a single experiment and just by thinking about it, can you prove me wrong? This is obviously a fallacious conclusion that I am drawing, but can you prove me wrong?... That is the great debate about causality...(For those with the Latin bent, this is well known as "Post hoc ergo propter hoc")


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, you are undoubtedly right about causality. But of course, the onus of proof is on the one who makes the claim, not on the bystander.
Case in point: When astrology as a course was started at Lucknow University (perhaps), Jayant Naralikar was vociferously against this. Why should he be against it, when this was a golden chance to (dis)prove astrology once and for all.
But of course, JVN knew that onus of proof of astrology was on astrologers and not on him.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Well, I believe that the reason JVN argued vociferously against the inclusion of astrology in Universities was that Astrology is certainly not an exact science. In fact, its tenets are such that its hard to classify it as a science at all. I think he was only against teaching astrology as a science. In fact, even when you are teaching social sciences like History, you are essentially talking about facts, which can be more or less verified well. However, if you are teaching Astrology, what counts as facts? That planets in certain positions will bring about certain events in your life? But that is certainly not true all the time. Since astrology is all about probabilities, astrogers have a standard way of putting you in a catch 22 situation. If you argue that their predictions have not been true, they will say that since it was probabilistic, it was not going to be 100% true anyway. Of course, even Quantum Theory is probabilistic. But the fact is that, using Quantum Theory, you can actually build a better transistor or laser, make true predictions about energy levels in atoms, or predict the properties of molecules very accurately. Astrology cannot make any time tested practical prediction at all. But you are absolutely right in saying that the onus of proof is on them. Unfortunately, our society is such that people would accept many things on faith. In including Astrology in University curricula, we increase the risk of that already widespread blind faith proliferating to more and more people under the guise of "science" and so we too have to make our move sometimes. I guess that's what JVN did. Its our own small service to science.
Anyway, thanks for visiting my blog!

12:16 PM  

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