|Dr K Radhakrisnan|
Photo courtesy the Frontline
Man cannot live by reason alone, if I may paraphrase Jesus so. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone.” A friend of mine added humorously, “Man needs butter too.” Jesus is believed to have meant that people need spiritual food in addition to material bread. The chief of Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO], K. Radhakrishnan, paid obeisance to the deity in the Venkateswara temple in Tirupati before the launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission last November. The Frontline has published a brilliant article about the issue.
Can a scientist of Radhakrishnan’s stature afford to be as superstitious as to go with a miniature model of his rocket to a mute statue and seek its blessings? Isn’t it his duty to transcend the need for the “psychological boost” provided by such an infantile exercise?
Or is Radharkrishnan giving us a convincing proof that man cannot live by reason alone?
Man is not as much a rational being as Aristotle would have us believe. There is a beast within every human being, man or woman, a beast driven by passions. The rational faculty enables us to keep that emotional beast under control. But reason is a very dry thing; there’s no fun in it, as Oscar Wilde would say. What’s interesting about a mathematical equation or a scientific theory? If any of the numbers or letters in the equation or the theory could lose their temper once and start fighting, or fall in love with each other… if they show some emotion, they would be interesting.
Religion offers that sort of ‘entertainment’ in the times of conflicts or riots. Some of our political leaders offer us that sort of entertainment in addition to their usual gimmickry in their respective motleys. But the kind of religion that Radhakrishnan sought for was different. “Psychological boost,” he called it.
Karl Marx defined religion as the opium of the masses. The pie in the sky promised by almost all religions is the panacea for all the ills on the earth. Bear with the all the evils here, and you will get paradise there: that’ the promise. Religion is a good palliative, an effective drug.
Should scientists take recourse to such a drug? Shouldn’t they be guided by reason alone? Well, scientists are human beings too, you see. They too need, occasionally at least, the illusory consolations that the gods can provide.
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” Orated Shakespeare’s Hamlet who must have been familiar with the philosophical notion about the great chain of being, according to which God reigned supreme at the top of the hierarchy among beings, angels and spirits occupying the lower rung, human beings in the middle, with animals followed by inanimate objects creeping in the lowest realms.
Man is the paragon of animals. He is between the spirits and the animals, sharing the qualities of both: the light of reason as well as the darkness of instincts. Man is the best animal, in other words. Animal, and hence no escape from the instincts and passions, for him. That’s why he is driven, occasionally albeit, with his miniature scientific models to gigantic though mute idols.
After reading the Frontline article (cited above), I was left wondering whether gods and angels might be beings of pure reason without any passions or emotions. No, it can’t be, I think. Without passions like love and beauty, and emotions like compassion, how can any being be perfect? A being with purely rational perfection would be an abstraction. A mere thought? A mere dream?
So I conclude that passions and emotions are necessary for real beings. But should these passions and emotions drive one to superstitious practices? Doesn’t such quest for a “psychological boost” reveal a lack of confidence in one’s faculty which created the technology? I would have found it acceptable if the scientist had given a different excuse (or reason, if you prefer). If the scientist had said that his religious ritual was a symbol of his surrender to the ultimate mystery that lies beyond his reason, a sign of his humble admission of the limitations of his faculty, I would have accepted it happily. Humility is a virtue. Nonsense is not compatible with science.