Saturday, July 30, 2005


In his post, Hirak talks about the Dalai Lama's talk in Washington D.C. The Dalai Lama intends to speak about the potential benefits of meditation and spiritual Buddhist methods. Apparently, some scientists are circulating a petition against the talk, claiming that it has more political and religious ramifications than scientific, and hence should be cancelled...

Gimme a break!...this is a country where fanatic evangelists talk about 'scientific creationism' all the time and are actually funded and encouraged by the Govt and private organizations. It's plain lame and hypocritical not to allow an innocuous, and potentially beneficial event like this to happen. Actually, these scientists who are petitioning against the talk are stifling their own agenda and philosophy; ideally, science should not have any problem whatsoever in investigating religious claims and beliefs in an objective way. The whole purpose of science is objective evaluation; as far as a good controlled experiment can be set up, scientists should approach meditation and the behaviour of alpha particles with the same detached attitude, no matter what the other political, religious, or any other ramifications the issue has.

In fact such opportunities are golden ones for scientists. They offer them a peek into issues which have always been at loggerheads with their scientific wisdom. In fact, many people assume that science and religion are INHERENTLY in conflict with each other. That's not true. In fact, science is not 'inherently' in conflict with ANYTHING. Science merely asks to investigate, objectify and quantify. Even if it cannot do these things with some body of thought of opinion, or finds that body to be in antagonism with its methods, it still has no personal agenda against it, but it quite rightfully and simply announces that body as 'unscientific'. I think that there is a psychological problem that people have, in having their opinions and ideas denoted as 'unscientific'.

Which is interesting, because after all, we HAVE accepted, for example, human emotions as unscientific without any problems. Love is unscientific, and I don't think a person who is in love will take it as a personal affront if someone says that his feelings are unscientific. So if that's the case, why aren't religious people comfortable with having their ideas labeled as unscientific? Nobody is belittling them or looking down upon them here. In fact, what makes me really suspect their motives and integrity is their constant drive to impart 'scientific' explanations to religious phenomena, all under the guise of trying to 'unify' science and religion. This actually makes them appear even more dubious and hypocritical, than what they would have, had they faithfully stuck to their religious faith. If they are so sure about their faith, why do they always need to justify it, and especially by resorting to 'scientific' arguments? Interestingly on the other hand, they don't allow scientists to actually perform objective evaluations of their ideas, and even reject the conclusions of such evaluations, if they don't agree wiith their beliefs. That means they are admitting the sanity of scientific arguments in explaining the world around us through the backdoor, while publicly denouncing the same science. I have no argument (or let's a smaller argument!) with someone who denies evolution, than with someone who actually tries to give me a 'scientific' explanation for divine creation.

The worst offenders in my opinion, ar the ones who try to completely turn the tables by announcing scientists themselves as 'unscientific'. I remember a lecture by Richard Feynman, in which he recounts an amusing encounter with a UFO buff. The UFO man asks him whether he believes in UFOs. Feynman says no. The UFO man then asks Feynman whether he is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT sure that UFOs don't exist. In fact, precisely because Feynman is such a honest and fine scientist, he says that no, he is not one hundred percent sure, but he is fairly sure. And that makes the UFO man say that Feynman is 'unscientific'!! If he doesn't have all the data, how can he say that he is sure that they don't exist? Well, sure, you can ask the same question about the law of gravitation. Are you SURE that it's true?? Isn't there a 'finite, non-zero' probability that the exponent in the law is not 2 but 2.0000000456?? Well there is, but it's so small that it can be neglected for all, and I mean all, pratical purposes, from the sundry to the grand. The problem is, many of these laymen don't understand the difference between error that is inherent in some law or its measurement, and error that will actually obviate the law itself. Take quantum mechanics, the most famous example. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle does NOT make everything uncertain. In fact, without it, we would have none of the calculations that make possible the things which we take for granted today; computers, semi and superconductors, lasers, chemistry and biology. So, as Hans Bethe says, it should really be called the 'certainty principle'! I think that a course in truly understanding the meaning of the 'scientific method' should be mandatory in all schools and colleges.

So we should welcome the Dalai Lama's talk, as an opportunity to bridge the 'two cultures'.


Blogger Hirak said...

Well said! Exactly, what I wanted to say.Obviously, the Nature article mentioned the ironic fact that there were only 50 signatories.
This field - the scientific study of meditation - is going to grow and for the better.

2:40 PM  

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