KARL  JASPERS  FORUM

TA 109 (Bhatt)

 

(C9, Addition)

 

CULTURE AND SCIENCE: IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT

Conference on Science and Culture

RKMI: Kolkota: April 4, 2009

(Keynote Address by V. V. Raman)

 

Posted in KJF  30 May 2009

 

[This communication was posted by L Sundararajan, in the ‘Dialogues’ mailings.  It fits well with the topic of TA 109.   I have added paragraph numbers to aid in the discussion.   -   HFJM]

 

 

<1>

Introduction

 

In the grand scheme of things all creatures are co-passengers on this our beautiful blue planet.  Every creature is unique in its own way, and imagines that the world was created for it alone.  All human beings belong to the same species.  This scientific truth is expressed in religious-cultural terms by saying that we all belong to the same human family, that we are all children of the same cosmic creative principle.

 

<2>

It has been both a blessing and a curse on the human condition that though biologically speaking we belong to the same species, we have formed groups and subgroups which are sometimes mutually cooperative and sometimes unpleasantly combative.  Humanity is a mosaic of countless sectors on the basis of three powerful factors: race, religion, and language.  Our genetic features are biologically determined. The language we speak and the religion we profess come from upbringing.  Race, religion, and language unite us and divide us as cultural beings.  Because of global interactions and intermingling in non-homogeneous nations, cultures have also become disfigured by politics, rivalries, and chauvinistic breast-beating.

 

<3>

Race is an outmoded concept because it gave rise to some pernicious practices.  We rather talk about ethnic identity these days.  Call it what you will, human beings do have superficial dissimilarities, and we refer to people as white, black, brown and such. But what matters is not how we classify ourselves, whether on the basis of the color of our skin, the religion we profess, or the language we speak: What really matters is how we regard and treat fellow humans.

 

<4>

Our cultural bonds are strengthened by emotional attachment and allegiance to traditions, as also by pride of  ancestry.  One may respect and appreciate other cultures, but one’s own culture has no meaning if one’s heart does not resonate with it.  Culture demands both understanding and affiliation. The lack of warmth often becomes transparent  in the works of some scholars who write on cultures not their own. Cultural commonalty draws people closer than the local language, the mainstream religion of the people among whom we live, and their race.  Thus, Bengali citizens in the U.S. are Bengalis first, then Americans; black citizens of Britain are Africans first, then Britons;  Arabs in France are Muslims first, then Frenchmen.  Language, religion, and race trump over the passport we carry.

 

 

<5>

Three dimensions of culture.

 

Culture enshrines the finest  and the noblest of all that has been conceived, articulated and created by the mind and hands of human beings, and left as part of humanity’s heritage.  It finds expression in a myriad ways, but its three important dimensions are aesthetics, ethics, and worldviews.  Of these, the aesthetic dimension of culture is the most enjoyable.  It includes music and dance, play and poetry, cooking and cuisine, and in our own times, movies also.  Historically, in all cultures these were often linked to the religions that inspire and enrich the people of the land.  But now it does not necessarily have to be so.

 

 

<6>

Aesthetic dimension of Indian culture.

 

India’s culture is uncommonly rich, multifaceted, and extraordinarily  diverse too.  In few other nations of the modern world do we find such an amazing range of languages and dialects, images and symbols, let alone customs, costumes, and culinary delights.  Blood of every race and religion courses through  our veins, and we represent practically every genetic group.  This may explain the creativity, complexity, and capacity for diverging discourse of the Indian people.

 

<7>

The science of aesthetics was elaborately studied by ancient Indian thinkers.  The aesthetic expressions of Indic culture include magnificent sculptures that grace India’s landscape.  These  range from miniature vigrahas in modest shrines to mammoth rock sculptures immortalizing our epics.  Not just the majesty of  the dancing divine in Chidambaram or the eerie Mother-Goddess overseeing this great city, but every murti (icon) in a Hindu temple may be seen, beyond its spiritual essence, as a meticulous work of art also.  Unfortunately, the names and dates of practically all the great sculptors of classical India were seldom inscribed in the archives.  So they have all faded away with the memories of distant generations.  We therefore have no Michelangelo to recall when we stroll through Mahabalipuram or stand in silent admiration at the fantastic carvings at Khajurao, nor a Rafael or a Rubens in the context of Ajanta and Ellora.

 

<8>

Then there is all the magnificence of Indian music which finds joyous expression as much in the simple melodies of folk songs as in elaborate recitals  that may last for a few hours to several days.  Indic musical tradition goes back, as we all know, to the serene hymns of the Samaveda, and have emerged in countless complex ragas articulated by the human voice as also through an impressive range of instruments from bansuri and mrdangam to veena, sitar and much more. Here we must mention the considerable Islamic contributions to Indian music, in composition and in execution.  So are the majestic monuments and architecture that have Muslim inspiration.  In more recent times, enrichments have also come from the cultural treasure chests of the West. Indian culture is rich because it has always been open, welcoming, and transforming.

 

<9>

Then there are the grand epics which have breathed life into Indic civilization and beyond.  They have inspired vast outpourings of poetry, music and dance.  Add to these the stories and plays that adorn every language of the country including English, and we have an idea of the breadth and range of Indian culture.

 

<10>

Swami Vivekananda once thundered that here arose the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the existence of a super-immanent God in Nature and in Man, and here the highest ideals of religion and philosophy  attained their culminating points.  He thus eloquently described the religious splendor that lights up the Indian spirit.  He could also have said that this is the land where geometry made its way through patterns in sacrificial fire altars, where star-gazers catalogues constellations, where mathematical minds concocted the crucial  concept of the zero, probed into the roots of the quadratic equation, and came up with trigonometric formulas, where Shusruta initiated surgery and Charaka formulated the principles of ayurveda.

 

<11>

Hinduism is a mighty complex system with a thousand shades and sects.  It  ranges from materialism and hedonism to adherence to very ancient convictions.  And here may also be found some of the most sublime instances of spiritual awakening.

 

<12>

Aside from Hinduism, the  citizens of this great nation belong to practically every faith and creed: not just Jains and Buddhists and Sikhs of Indic vintage, but also Parsees,  Muslims, Christians, and Jews may be counted here.  There are also countless others who consider themselves humanists, skeptics, and atheists.  By and large, the people of this culturally blessed land coexist in happy harmony and share their respective religious richness with others.  Not just India’s intrinsic character, but her glory and greatness lie in this unsurpassed diversity of faiths and rich variety of creeds no less than in all her material resources.  The tolerance of faiths, the accommodation of ideas and the celebration of different worship modes are reverberations of  the vision of the Vedic sage-poet who declared pithily that there is but one truth, articulated in multiple ways.

 

<13>

This openness is a precious gift, and we may hope and pray that, even under political pressures and cultural threats, we will never forsake it.  Indeed, India’s religious openness and respect for the other must serve as a beacon  to our muddled world that is troubled and tarnished by fanaticism, intolerance, and hatred.

 

 

<14>

Disappearance of distinctiveness.

 

The distinctiveness and local evolution of cultures in different countries gave rise to immense richness to humanity as a whole, making cultures like flowers in a beautiful bouquet.  Kalidasa and Kamban, Dante and Cervantes, Shakespeare and Goethe, and such others gave special luster to their respective languages, as did Thyagaraja and Tagore, Bach and Beethoven to the music of their traditions.  There is a living spirit in every culture, a uniqueness with deep roots, and that uniqueness has local fragrance like the flora and fauna of a geographical zone.

 

<15>

Up until recently, the ancient roots stayed separate and sturdy, and the emergent cultural trees grew taller and more vigorous, shooting out branches along different directions.  All the branches of the tree drew nourishment primarily from the same indigenous  roots.  In art and poetry, music and dance, sects and schools arose in different regions, but in each instance, even with interactions and influences, the core stayed safe and secure.

 

<16>

In the current global context, it is both inevitable and to an extent appropriate  that cultures mingle and mildly modify one another.  Already in ancient times, such influences existed. In the eighteenth century, Goethe and Schiller and Schopenhauer in Germany, for example,  were moved by Kalidasa and the Upanishads, and in the following century the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau were touched by the Bhagavad Gita.  Conversely, many nineteenth century Indian writers were inspired by translations of English and French literary masterpieces into Indian languages, and this changed the course of literary history in India.

 

 

<17>

Fusion and confusion.

 

However, all that was different from the so-called fusion experiments going on today.  There is surely charm in Yehudin Menuhin and Ravi Shankar fusing to create a new kind of a synthesis between Indian and Western music, as there is colorful entertainment when Bollywood imitates Hollywood. But sometimes such things may be carried too far.  Western, and especially American cultural sweep strikes many thoughtful people as more detrimental and dangerous than desirable.

 

<18>

Non-Western peoples  tend to think that this is a problem they alone face, but in fact people in France and Italy, in Finland and Russia, and in other Western counties also fear that their local languages and cultures are being diluted, tainted, and even deleted by an all-devouring Americanism whose crass manifestations include McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coca Cola and Walmart.  These intrusions, like MTV and the display of scantily attired females as objects of entertainment, are either clumsily mimicked, zealously embraced in their totality or mindlessly aped, at the risk of marginalizing regional varieties of food and drink, music, art and dance.

 

<19>

Sometimes these result in crude caricatures, as  when aloo-roti is transformed to aloo-pizza and restaurants offer chicken masala dosa or spaghetti semya.  It will be comical and catastrophic if Kali puja is turned into a Woodstock hippie festival, and bhajans are   sung with guitars and electronic key-boards.  Such metamorphoses will discolor and distort traditional cultures that have withstood the jolts of centuries while evolving themselves through indigenous creativity.  Now they are shaken by hegemonic thunderbolts from extraneous sources.  Blind transplantation of alien cultural modes have the potential for uprooting what is intrinsic to a culture.

 

 

<20>
Ethical dimension.

 

The second important aspect of culture is the ethical dimension.  Traditionally, in most civilizations this was framed by the religions of the people.  The source of traditional morality may be traced to  the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Dharma Shastra, the Sharia, and so on.  Most of the injunctions formulated in these  relate to our conduct towards fellow humans, to self-restraint, and to our attitudes towards God.  They are rarely abstract ideas of a universal nature, except in some prayers like the shanti mantra and  loka samasthâ sukhino bavanthu.

 

<21>

In this regard, there have been important awakenings of the collective human consciousness  as a result of what is referred to the Enlightenment in the West.  Emerging from modern scientific perspectives are calls for social justice and  human rights, and stern condemnation of slavery, gender oppression, exploitation of the underclass, and the like.   These and similar universal values are part of what could well be called an enlightened outlook.

 

<22>

Then again, the recognition of the historical roots of culture and religion is a precondition for attitudes that transcend sub-cultural barriers.  The concepts of a chosen people, of a personal monolingual God who made specific geographical locations his hallowed spot, of superior and inferior castes, of a master race, and the like have little appeal in this framework.

 

 

<23>

Worldview.

 

The third important dimension of culture pertains to our worldview. Now worldview has two distinct components: the first pertains to our interpretation of the physical world: this constitutes modern science. The second is related to our understanding of the roots of the human mind and of human consciousness.

 

 

<24>

The scientific revolution.

 

The history of human civilization is marked by several major revolutions, some slow and some abrupt, some dramatic and some subtle, some of local significance and some of global impact. Among  these are the agricultural revolution which introduced sowing, harvesting, and storage of crops; the cultural revolution from which arose abstract thoughts and ethical frameworks, philosophies and religious systems; the scientific revolution which displaced our location from cosmic center to a modest niche in a cold  and vast expanse; and the industrial-technological revolution which harnesses matter and energy from an understanding of the workings of the world.

 

<25>

It would be a misreading, indeed a distortion  of history to say that in earlier times there was neither science nor technology. From the unrecorded dawn of consciousness, when the human mind wondered and human hands turned a stone or a stick this way and that to feel and fathom what it was, science has been there in every culture. In periods long past, scientific creativity and discovery flourished in India and China, in Egypt and Mesopotamia,  in Greece and elsewhere. Devices have been contrived to lessen muscular effort and facilitate human manipulation of the world since time immemorial. Wonderment about the surrounding, and eagerness to diminish sweat and work are inherent to the human spirit.

 

<26>

However, what occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe was in every sense a new approach to unscrambling the complexities of the phenomenal world. A new methodology emerged that relied on careful experimentation, on the use of specifically constructed instruments such as lenses, telescopes and microscopes, and also on an increasing application of quantitative methods and mathematical analysis.

 

<27>

The scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries was significant not so much in the discarding of geocentricism though this was one of its earliest steps; not so much in the discovery of elliptical planetary orbits though this opened up our visions to hitherto hidden aspects of the universe; not even in the formulation of the laws of motion, though these led to deeper understandings of the physical world. It was significant because it initiated a universality which has transformed the very nature of the enterprise.

 

 

<28>

International of science.

 

Since the rise of modern science, the enormous range of scientific efforts in different countries, and then in different continents, have come to be subsumed under a single umbrella. This is made up of an abstract international body of scientific practice and culture. The nations of the world have their own research laboratories and publications.  Yet, the works carried out and published there are interwoven into a web that is held firm by invisible bonds.  These bonds know no borders, and they feel no cultural differences.  The meter and  the  kilogram are precisely the same in every national bureau of standards, no matter what the religion or form of government.

 

<29>

Science certainly has its local interests, narrow nationalism, and petty fights over priorities too.  There are rivalries in the pursuit of knowledge.  There are races in competition in discoveries.  There is national pride when an international prize is announced.  After all, science is only a human enterprise.  With all that, the technical works of scientists are blind to nationalities.  They overlap and mingle like sounds from different instruments in an orchestra to create the grand symphony of science.  The strength and stature of modern science lies in its universality. Science is  a collective quest, a restless drive to eradicate every misunderstanding about   every occurrence from the micro to the macrocosm.  Its goal is to dispel every mystery and clear every doubt and darkness in the inquiring mind.

 

<30>

In no other context: not in art, not in music, not in sports, much less in politics, do men and women of all races, languages and religions, hold hands as comrades in a common pursuit. This speaks more  to the glory of science than all its technological triumphs. Modern  science is not Western any more than that zero is Hindu or that gunpowder Chinese, except in their geographical origin. For better or for worse, the scientific revolution has merged diverse streams of search into a single surging river.

 

 

<31>

Ubiquity of technology.

 

What characterizes modern times is not only transnational science, but also the ubiquity of modern technology. There is no member state of the United Nations Organization where science is not taught, or where planes don't land. In spite of all our national differences and cultural diversity, the one common thread that connects the minds of men and women in today's world is international science. So too, what is common to all towns and cities all over the world are electric lights and communication systems, automobiles and computers, all products of modern science.

 

<32>

If we look around any spot on earth that has found its way into the mainstream of human history,  we cannot escape the presence of  wheels and wires, of gadgets and generators, of vaccines and pills. The material impacts of science, the magic and madness of machines are omnipresent.

 

 

<33>

Postmodernist challenges to the universality of science

 

The postmodernist movement which emerged in the West in the last century has had many positive impacts on human values and perspectives.  It recognized the intrinsic worth of all cultures, insisted on the dignity and self-respect of all civilizations, and rejected hegemonic attitudes in any field of human endeavor.  Cultures are no longer classified as primitive and advanced, no religion is intrinsically superior or inferior to another. These are among the many contributions of the postmodernist movement.

 

<34>

In this framework, some post-modernist thinkers have argued that no judgment on an issue is necessarily better or worse, and that no answer to a complex question is right or wrong.  This led some to assert that science has no absolute validity, that it is essentially a cultural construct, devoid of the objectivity it claims.  Such contentions are not without some academic interest. Indeed they have generated a vast corpus of books and articles.

 

<35>

Those who rebel against the globalization of scientific worldviews may certainly  do so at the philosophical level.  They may loudly decry the truth-claims of modern science, but they cannot communicate their views to the world without using the devices and instruments that have been constructed by the application of the scientific knowledge they call into question.  More seriously, cultures and countries that reject the validity and internationalism of modern science, will do so at their own peril.  They will be kept in a permanent state of disadvantage vis-à-vis  more materially advanced and scientifically awakened nations.  If this narrow vision of science is adopted beyond the academic ivory tower in emerging nations, it will affect us adversely in immeasurable ways.

 

<36>

Fortunately, already from the last decades of the 19th century, wise leaders and enlightened thinkers in India embraced modern science.  As a  result, today thousands of Indians are making contributions to the world of science, both from the universities and laboratories of India, and from beyond.  They are also contributing to science education in many developing countries of the world.

 

<37>

It is the modern scientific approach that makes archeology and dispassionate history possible.  It is the scholarship and curiosity emerging from modern science which deciphered  hieroglyphics and cuneiform tablets, brought to light the glories of ancient Egypt and Babylon, unearthed Mohan-jo-daro and the Ashoka pillar, revived Charaka and Aryabhata, and resuscitated much of India’s past glory.

 

 

<38>

The Angst of modernity

 

None of this is to say that modernity has been a blessing without any blemish.  All of us know, and know only too well, the havoc caused by the technological rampage initiated by the industrialized West, and now mimicked mindlessly by the rest of the world. That modernity has made us lose some precious dimensions of being fully human – such as our capacity to be enthralled by the magic of myths and the poetry of puranic tales – is true also.  Most seriously, the spiritual experience of life has been immeasurably diluted – not to say obliterated – as a result of the so-called modernist/materialist worldview.  Given all this, it is understandable that many thoughtful people all over the world (not just in India) are not very thrilled by the catastrophic onslaught of maddening modernity.  Unfortunately, however, all the negative side-effects are the price that all cultures (and that includes the West) have paid, and are paying,  for quite a few non-trivial compensations that modernity has also provided: ranging from the elimination of superstitions and epidemics and famines to ease of communication and travel, uplifting the quality of life of the masses in societies, and much more.  The evils of modernity cannot, alas, be filtered out through a choice-sieve to make only the benefits flow through.

 

<39>

However, it is important to distinguish the modernity and the industry that have resulted from the emergence of modern science from the science itself, exactly as it is important to distinguish the evils (superstitions, casteism, and suttee) that resulted from some ancient Hindu beliefs from the core of Hinduism itself. Science is a collective effort by the human mind, irrespective of class or creed, nationality or skin color, to unravel the complexities of perceived reality through systematic study in order to provide a coherent, consistent, rational, and universally acceptable interpretations of the phenomenal world.  There is no Hindu or French, Islamic or Chinese, African or Japanese science per se, only varying degrees of opportunities and interests in different nations for pursuing different branches of science. Scientific understanding is accomplished with the aid of meticulous observations, ingenious experiments with sophisticated instruments, and (when possible) mathematical analysis.  To say that all this is part of a colonialist agenda may soothe our historical rancor, but it never sat well with the pioneers of science in India, from P.C. Ray and S. N. Bose, and M. N. Saha to C. V. Raman, S. Chandrasekhar and Homi Bhabha, and such who brought name and honor to India.  Nor will such a view be taken seriously by any practicing Indian scientist today anywhere in the world, including India.

 

<40>

A major psychological, emotional, and cultural problem that all groups face in our own times more than ever before pertains to one’s cultural identity.  Whenever a group is a minority in a society (Bengalees in Assam, Tamils in Maharasthra, non-Hindi speakers in India, Koreans in Japan, Blacks in White America, Muslims in the Netherlands, ….) the ethnic identity problem crops up, mildly or in stark terms, out of an understandable fear that the majority might some day subdue the minority.  Therefore, cultural identity often tends to find expression not so much in legitimate pride in one’s culture  as in animosity towards the (more powerful majority).  In the current global context, every nation is a minority vis-à-vis the hegemonic West/America.  Therefore, the suspicion of a colonialist agenda (especially given  the history of the past three hundred years) is perfectly understandable, if not warranted.  However, it would be wise not to be swept away by those feelings in matters pertaining to science proper.

 

<41>

What is one to do under these conditions?  It seems to me that, aside from making oneself strong as a nation (army, navy, air-force, espionage, economic productivity, technological breakthrough, scientific advances, mass education), one should cultivate the aesthetic aspects of one’s culture and refine its ethical aspects by erasing its anachronistic and unconscionable elements.  India’s cultural heritage in art, music, poetry, philosophy, sculpture, costumes, greeting modes,  and cuisine have always provoked enthusiastic recognition from people who have come to know about these. We would do well to propagate these with greater vigor.  The respect India enjoys, and will enjoy even more, from these aspects of our culture will be far greater than any prestige she may have gained from her status as a nuclear power  or even by launching a rocket to the moon, both by acquiring the so-called Western scientific knowledge  (not that these should not be done).  Likewise, Indian scientists (and through them India) are gaining respect by the contributions they make to world science much more than  to Hindu spirituality.  India could certainly teach the world about the value of cultivating and nurturing spirituality for our psychological wellbeing.  (Yoga is already becoming more popular among students and professionals in the U.S. than they probably are in India.)  The wisdom and subtleties of Indian philosophy deserve perennial exploration also.

 

 

<42>
Mind and consciousness.

 

The other dimension of worldviews is the exploration and unscrambling of the nature of the human mind and the enigma of human consciousness Indian visions, both classical and modern, could have a significant role to play here.

 

<43>

The voluminous classical philosophical writings in India are often regarded as yet another interesting body of speculative thought about the world and human existence.  From this perspective, one may look upon these as rich in the variety of problems they explore, impressive in their scope and range.  These works strike us as creative and  imaginative in their analogies and hypotheses, and tantaliz­ing in their picturesque descriptions of the world. Few who have even scratched  the surface of Indian philosophy can deny that the thinkers who originated them were mighty intellects by any standard.

 

<44>
From another perspective, even with mutually opposing positions as to the identity or distinctiveness of jivatman and paramatman, and other irreconcilable metaphysical assertions, Indic reflections convey some profound insights into the nature of ultimate reality and the human experience.  Their basic theses do not simply sub­tend speculative systems, any more than Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism is mere mathematics.  Rather, Indian visions are telling us something that is not only meaningful, but revelatory about the nature of consciousness and the cosmos.  They are not building a system of philosophy so much as unveiling a not-so-apparent dimension of Reality with a capital R.  Their assertions are not just doodles on the mental plane.  They arose rather from experiential certitudes resulting from sustained investigations of the subtlest centers of the inscrutable Self.  So their words and wisdom are to be taken, not as grand imaginative poetry, but as findings and discoveries about the physical universe, exactly as 20th century science, after persistent probes into the heart of matter and energy, after countless hours of search and reflection, has erected its own views of fundamental reality.

 

<45>

If this were so, if spiritual probing via yogic techniques do lead to discoveries about aspects of the nature of physical reality, while scientific peelings of the layers of matter via experimental ingenuities and mathematical formalisms lead also to the deep-down details of that same reality, then one would expect the two lines of quest to merge, somewhat as travelers by jet planes and by ocean liners, starting from the same point, but taking different modes of movement, could ultimately meet at the same destination.

 

<46>

This, in the view of some, is precisely what is happening in our own times.  For, the philosophical quagmire into which quantum physics has been sliding during the past few decades has turned topsy-turvy our common sense pictures of a solid substantial world of cause and law, of rigid particles and conserved quantities, of smooth flowing time and three dimensional space. As we delve deeper into the recesses of atoms and nuclei, funny things begin to happen :  Mathematical clouds of probability take over, electrons seem to know, photons are entangled and information get transmitted instantaneously, everything shows signs of being interconnected, and a good many more strange things are taking place in the microcosm. In the depths of black holes and in the singularities of quarks, space and time and physical laws themselves get warped and dissolved.

 

<47>

Now we begin to wonder if those deep thinkers of ancient India had not after all tumbled upon some profound truths about the perceived world which, because of their very nature, could not be adequately expressed even in Sanskrit.  They were perhaps quite right in insisting that in the stark denuded aspect, stripped of mute matter and measuring mind, there is a level of reality that only pure consciousness can experience, and pure consciousness can only experience, not articulate in words, nor convey through imagery.  Could it be that now at long last, after countless tortuous turns of reason and experimentation, of mathematics and microscopes, science is slowly beginning to get a glimpse of what the sages were speaking about?

 

<48>

Quite a few modern investigators are persuaded by this possibility.  That is why in our own times some eminent physicists and philosophers of the quantum world, commentators and speculative thinkers are drawn more and more towards ancient insights.  It would seem that there is much to be gained if the yogic quest on the one hand, stripped of its mumble-jumble, and no-nonsense empirical science on the other, stripped of its rationalistic straight-jacket and model-building mind-set about what can and what cannot be, com­bine forces in unscrambling the deeper mysteries of the world of experience.

 

 

<49>

Concluding thoughts.

 

We are nearing the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Every informed inhabitant of the planet will agree that its record thus far has not been glorious. Inter-racial tensions, inter-cultural wars, international and intra-national conflicts have all resulted from or tied to the matter-energy crisis, to social injustice, to historical rancor, and such.  As if all this is not enough, there have been several ecological disasters like deforestation, extinction of some precious species, and most serious of all, the treat of drastic climate change.  Practically all of this is related to our cultural dimensions and scientific advances.  On closer examination it would appear that the unhealthy consequences have resulted from a distortion of whatever is best in cultures and an over-use, even misuse, of the potentials of scientific knowledge.

 

<50>

In order to rescue ourselves from the ugliness, burden, and destructive threats confronting us, we need a clearer grasp, and in some instances a drastic  revision, of formerly held truths  on race and religion, science and civilization.  We need to eradicate  the view of culture and religion  as competing forces among the peoples of the world, emphasize their aesthetic and uplifting  dimensions, and take ethics to loftier  levels that are caring and compassionate towards the less fortunate.  At the same time, we need to be clear about science not only as a collective effort to understand and appreciate the physical universe, but also as one of the noblest expressions of the human spirit.  We have to make a commitment to use scientific knowledge with careful awareness of its impact on the biosphere.  For this we need a balanced appraisal of the power of science and a conscious acknowledgment of the limitations of rationalistic science in the face of huge human problems.

 

<51>

The symbolism behind Arjuna, the most intelligent, bright, and gifted of the Pandava brothers falling at the feet of Krishna in the middle of the battlefield (in the Bhagavad Gita) is that in the context of the moral predicament that we as a species are facing in the strife and tumble of daily life and chores, intelligence and knowledge alone will not suffice: We direly need the wisdom that comes down to us from enlightened sources.

 

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Varadaraja V Raman
     e-mail <
VVRSPS (at) ritvax.isc.rit.edu>