Science, religion not at cross purposes

Big salute to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) recent launch of 104 satellites in one go, the culmination of successive efforts of space scientists like Kota Harinarayana, Vikram Sarabhai, U R Rao and others beating the Russian record of 37-satellite launch. We can anticipate similar strides in physics, engineering, mathematics, communication, astrophysics and other sciences.

Beginning with invention of wheel, scientific breakthroughs like revelation of law of gravitation, identifying the radioactive element, invention of electric bulb, discovery of bacteria of tuberculosis, and so on, the entire world is grateful to the plethora of scientists who put their heart and soul and brought sunshine to the lives of people. Eminent scientist C V Raman discovered on February 28 in 1928 what came to be called the “Ram­an Effect” for which he was conferred the Nobel Prize in physics.

The National Science Day today acknowledges the contribution of Indian scientists and technocrats in bringing ease, comfort and glory to our lives and promoting scientific spirit among students and others.

This year’s theme is, “Science and Technology for Specially-Abled Persons”. Educational institutions organise science melas, meetings, poster competitions and other events to promote scientific spirit, recognise young scientists in particular and stay away from superstitions and dogmatic rituals as pleaded by thinkers like Swami Vivekananda.

However, dazzled by the wonders that scientific discoveries and inventions bring to fore, we often tend to undermine the particular mindsets, the driving forces behind it. It is the thought process that makes difference.

Thought is a continuum; it begins even before we are born. “Whatever the mind can conceive, it can achieve” says Napoleon Hill, the author of motivational Think and Grow Rich fame. The moment a woman conceives (and not just wants to have a child), a conscious life comes into being in the foetus – such is the power of thought. Again, thinking process sets in from the embryonic stage itself and goes on till the end of life.

The most beautiful aspect of a human being, asserts Hill, is his capability to stuff his mind with whatever he chooses from a plethora of options. It can be a philanthropic mission, wealth accumulation, creative excellence, leadership, etc. When the stuff is an intense ambition, it becomes a ‘dominating thought’ and success is guaranteed. The choice thus assumes a crucial role in shaping of destinies.

Scientific thinking involves application of logic, reason, commonsense in routine and special activities and the ability to adjudge what is eventually in public interest. It is not confined to lab, and also encompasses how people dispose of the garbage and act in social and family relationships. It is marked by clarity of objective, fidelity to facts and discarding the superfluous — the very bedrock of religion — as well so that the two are not at loggerheads as one may believe.

Mystiques of nature

The mystiques of nature, at times unfolding but often deriding the scientific endeavours, warn us that not all crucial concepts, processes and events are verifiable and quantifiable. “Our esteem for facts has not neutralised in us religiousness... Our scientific temper is devout” said American philosopher William James.

There are scientists without scientific mindset and others whose thought, actions, behaviour and approach are very scientific. Preoccupation with scientific activities does not ipso facto inculcate scientific temper.

My notion of scientists reflexively unaware of the ticking of clock immersed in experiments was shaken during my stint as an editor at two premier scientific institutes. Without wrist watch or a clock, I could gather it was 4.45 pm — 15 minutes for office to close — when scientists rushed to the washroom beside my cabin, to comb and leave.

Scientific thinking implies openness to new ideas, acceptance of innovations because it is by making place for the new that evolution can take place. Former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who set the foundation for scientific temper in the country, went to the extent of declaring: “The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.”

Claims about scientific acco­mplishments or infatuation with digital gadgets that impinge on human values do not reflect scientific thinking. Scientific thinking has to percolate down to social, economic and farming sectors and evolve mechanisms that address the social issues to improve the quality of life.

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