In response to Karan Thapar’s article which appeared in The Hindu a few days back, (which also inspired my last blog: From myths toward mathematics), an ISRO scientist writes in today’s Hindu: “I am a retired scientist/engineer who worked in one of India’s premier scientific organisations, ISRO, for 38 years. I believe in Ganesha, and that Shiva exists in Kailash, often riding on his bull. Can anybody accuse me of having two faces?”
I can and I do, dear scientist. The myths to which Ganesha and Shiva belong and the science which you make use of for probing into the outer space far beyond Mount Kailash are not compatible. One destroys the other. Science replaces myths with facts, and myths have always killed scientists literally and metaphorically. Don’t forget the scientists who were subjected to inquisition and incarceration during the medieval period. Don’t ignore the crusade that continues even today against science in other names such as jihad.
But I won’t take away your freedom to believe in whatever you wish to. That is your right. I can only question the validity of such a belief. I can only “accuse” (to use your word) you of being two-faced, serving two masters: irrational belief and rational science.
Irrational, religious beliefs can be psychological buffers that make the sailing appear smooth when it is actually storm-driven. We all live in a world beset with umpteen problems and would love to have solutions to the problems. There are scientific solutions but they are limited. There are psychological solutions of all sorts. I’m making use of one such psychological solution when I write, especially fiction and poetry. They call it ‘sublimation’ in psychology. But I won’t ever claim that my fiction is scientific truth. Poetic truths are no more scientific than religious truths. Putting it another way, religious truths are no more rational than the truths in fiction though they may act as Anacin in times of headache.
Yet poetry and fiction contain many truths, more, perhaps, than science contains. That’s why I won’t take away your right to believe in certain religious truths. But how “true” are they?
When Shakespeare’s Earl of Kent (King Lear) says, “It’s the stars, / The stars above us, govern our conditions,” he was speaking a truth which is made clearer elsewhere in the play when another character says, “This is the excellent foppery of the world! that, when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behaviour), we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the stars: as if they were villains by necessity.”
It is up to each reader to take whichever dialogue as his truth. The former will shift the blame for our disasters on to the stars which, ISRO should know well, are as innocent as the golden grains of sand on our beaches unless they are polluted by ourselves.
Can a scientist who studies and has also learnt much about the stars and their spaces actually “believe” that “Shiva exists in Kailash, often riding on his bull”? He can because religious belief is usually an irrational psychological need. Science is rational. But human beings are both rational and irrational. Human emotions are far from being rational. And the emotions often demand truths beyond the circumscribed realm of rationality.
Yet how irrational can a scientist afford to be? One who displays such a dichotomy in his outlooks as the scientist mentioned in this blog does display two faces. The dichotomy in his worldview is stark enough.