Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Remove the red lights atop the cars!

In today’s ET there is good diagnosis about Science and development by Kiran Karnik particularly the following paragraphs are noteworthy:

  • “This year marks the 400th anniversary of the use of an invention that not only revolutionised science, but had a radical impact on our collective identity. The telescope, invented in Holland in the early 17th century and used by Galileo in 1609 for astronomical study — for the first time ever — was certainly a tool that greatly boosted the ancient science of astronomy; but it also marked the beginning of the end of the Christian religious belief in geo-centrism, that is, that Earth was the centre of the universe. Man was suddenly reduced to a puny being on a small planet at the fringes of the universe. The Christian religious establishment considered all this as blasphemy. Galileo, suspected of heresy by the Inquisition, was forced to recant, but spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Science had collided, head-on, with religious dogma.
  • Clearly, science has long since won this battle: that Earth is but a minor planet of a small solar system, tucked away in a corner of the universe, is no longer generally disputed. Yet, has it won the war? Have dogmas — religious or secular — edicts, fiats and fatwas been trumped by science? Science — and particularly its hand-maiden, technology — has been recognised as not only a vital part of the civilisational project, but as a determinant and driver of the economic and political power of the State. Promoting and nurturing science has, therefore, become critically important.
  • The Buddha himself suggested that “do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books (or) merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” What better exposition of the method of science, where, with new data or fresh insights, the theories of today may well be thrown by the wayside tomorrow? Little wonder, then, that in the heyday of Buddhist philosophy in India, places like Nalanda and Takshashila were global centres of research and scholarship.
  • Leaders who throttle dissent and debate, nanny governments that want to perpetually prescribe what adults should not do, teachers who discourage questions, all contribute to a stifling of free thought and enquiry — the essence of science. Science thrives best in a free and tolerant environment, where questioning accepted practice or belief is not taboo. Any society that bans books, plays or films, because they offend some group or the other, is anti-science and hence a brake on development.
  • There are many — especially in the burgeoning middle class — who hanker for a command-and-control system, as a short-cut to discipline and efficiency: the bug-bears of India. Such a system may well deliver — but only in the short term and at huge cost to individual autonomy, freedom and development. The societal costs may be visible only in the long run, but are forbidding. Citizens soon become subjects.”

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