Skip to main content

Questioning Modernity

-->
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding of Modern Civilization
{The material used here is from my close friends and as such I claim no originality for the thoughts below. I’ve merely attempted to give them a shape. My thanks to all those geniuses who had brought these issues to me}
“To hold a pen is to be at war.” – Voltaire

Riding high on the technological progress achieved in recent years, the power of modern sciences and arts which had taken the credit for the advancement, has become unquestionable. On the surface, the conquest of earth by humanity appears complete, and science had been the tool which was instrumental for this long-sought victory. Man is the indisputable ruler of the world and all the other animals exist strictly at his mercy. Or is he really?
Man of yore was supposed to be barbarian and he has descended from apes as per Charles Darwin. Modern civilization is the haven for happiness and science its promoter. We aren’t supposed to believe anything unless and until we receive evidence through rational means. And the result achieved thus is absolute truth until again, another person proves it untrue. Somewhere, something is amiss some feel. But, there is no place for faith in modern sciences, remember! All is believed only when proved through senses.
Indian Epics and histories are dubbed as “mythologies” (behold the (in)appropriateness of the word) precisely because they don’t fit into the ‘reality’ of westerners. But, the question is how they know that there are correct either. Now, I’m neither for blind adoration of Indian way nor blind accusation of Western. So far, they were questioning our system, I merely want to point that their credibility is also not beyond question.
First and foremost, I would like to bring it to one’s notice, that faith is the most inbuilt mechanism of human mind and almost all activities pursued by man are by virtue of his faith that they shall be accomplished successfully. Hence, contrary to what few would like us to believe, faith is the sign of a sound person and not superstitious ones. Doesn’t a scientist have faith in the proof of his own senses? Doesn’t a philosopher have faith in his abstractions? Faith is then the fundamental base of all human understanding and to say anything to the contrary is the worst superstition.
Reality to us has no meaning except through the perception of senses. When you are interacting with anything your concern is what your eyes can see, what your skin could feel, your nose smell and what your ears hear, the taste through mouth. These are what come to your mind and anything that’s not within the scope of these senses is a non-entity to you. Till recent past, man was unaware of ultra-violet rays (invisible to naked eye) and certain frequencies of sound inaudible to man but perceived by some animals. Now that they were discovered we’re aware of its existence but what about other entities which are still not within our reach. So much for our so-called rational knowledge!
Most of us are marvel at our discovery of the laws of nature (chemistry, physics etc). But, what is the law of nature as such for us? We are not acquainted with it by itself, but through its effects. Thus, what we actually know is only it’s relation with our senses and our comprehension ends then and there. What thoroughly amazes us and what we assume to be the consistency of these laws might then as well be the coincidence of our perception toward them and at bottom means that we see the relationship in quite the same way. The sameness then is not necessarily in the nature but might also be within ourselves. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.
All the scientific research begins with the presumption that all could be translated into a mathematical model & build upon certain hypothesis. What if we question those hypotheses upon which giant calculations are based on? What if, Maths is not the adequate representation of all reality? What if these calculations tend to infinity wherein our limitations acquire predominance? We assume that an infinitesimally small part of a circle is a straight line (Calculus), but that isn’t so, just as a point is not a part of a line.
Winston Churchill once said “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” How true! We fall into the trap of stereotyping our concepts to fall into a pattern which causes error in judgment.
The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice. And the recent recession is the proof that our error extend to economics as well. Almost uniformly none of those umpteen economists were able to predict it, although now everyone has an explanation for the occurrence. Alan Greenspan, the former Fed Reserve Chairman and a close associate of Ayn Rand (priestess & philosopher of capitalism) was a great ideologue of pure capitalism. After a lifetime of bold acclamation of capitalism and advocating a departure from mixed economy of US, he confessed as one who’s shocked by the vulnerability of his long held belief & ideal that markets didn’t function as he had expected them to all along. People don’t necessarily take rational decision and free-markets are not self-corrective after all.
But what about philosophers who’re after all the main drivers of civilization? The problem is that they haven’t been as objective in their pursuit of truth and most of their achievements are blurred by personal experiences. Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy is directly connected to his unhappy beginnings and chiefly his bad relationship with his mother. Ayn Rand’s overtly strong advocacy of capitalism has much to do with her childhood in Soviet Russia where her father’s pharmacy shop was confiscated by decree of state. Nietzsche’s will-to-power is attempted to self-deceive his over soft and timid self into believing that he’s the overman. Spinoza’s tranquillity is a product of his life-long suffering which he however faced calmly.
My contention is that man experiences certain things and deceives himself into believing that the whole world consists of only those experiences which occurred to him. It mostly misses his intellect that others don’t necessarily feel the same emotions. To extrapolate his feelings to suit the world is the error from which even great philosophers are not exempted. Spinoza rightly said “I believe that, if a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular, while a circle would say that the divine nature is eminently circular. Thus each would ascribe to God its own attributes, would assume itself to be like God, and look on everything else as ill-shaped.”
And then, we come at the crossroads of faith and reason, I’m not sure that I have a readymade answer. But I see however incompletely that modern society doesn’t provide all the answers. Then, what are we questioning? Reality? No. We are questioning only ourselves. I invite all those who’re having their opinions concerning this discussion to share it with me. If you’ve reached this point (which most won’t) I’m sure you would surely feel some strong emotion igniting some thought process. And that precisely is my aim.

Comments

  1. I really appreciate you for your thinking beyond ones expectations. Very well written madhav..Its a very vast topic and i am feeling like describing in mere words its impossible for me..I agree with your statements.Here are my comments (trying to cover my points in short and precise manner). In my opinion, When we seek anything, we find something for our thinking, and when we go beyond it we find mystery behind the mystery. When the thinking itself takes further evolution, it leads us to what is behind everything. Example is discovery of our human existence.. I remember a powerpoint presentation which i have seen.. we find the contructive and destructive powers in the form of atoms and cells in the human body.Positive and negative cells are there giving full description of their existense.Now if we proceed on our thinking.what is there above and below???( above 10 power of 23 and ab elow of 10 power-21 ie quark)..when modern efforts are made towards going deep in to anything it simply means that it has raised a path or shown a path which can be endless or you may say ultimate.After every adventure, we initiate the value of our existence and felt the cooperation of the highest power that is around us.I think i am clear..There is the big difference between science and technology. Science teaches us something related to theories, hypothesis etc where as technology as far as i believe translates the knowledge in to the practical life. In my opinion we have solved the mystery, if somehow we are able to solve our problem of life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Problems of life are arise from within. External factors are of course responsible but their relation with ourselves & hence our reaction causes joy or suffering.Did advancement of SciTech solve human problems? Aren't people suffering at ditto the same rate as before. SciTech is merely a catalyst, happiness is of mind alone."The student of human learning expects to make something of his studies for the benefit of himself or others as he likes. Do these explorers into the divine operations hope that when they have discovered by what forces the various phenomena occur, they will create winds and waters at will and fruitful seasons? Will they manipulate these and the like to suit their needs?"

    ReplyDelete
  3. Finally I read it fully. I literally laughed at the point "If you’ve reached this point (which most won’t)" and felt very nice, that I finally reached the point in the 3rd Go... Hehehe...

    Jokes apart, It's well written as always. The best part about your blogs is that there is never a conclusion at the end. It is always left for the reader.

    Here are my thoughts:
    Science is only testing again and again and again to prove the validity of some assumptions which they call hypotheses. And the basic hypothesis of science is that science only gives hypotheses, never proofs.t’s all hypothesis. Everything they say is hypothetical. If, under certain circumstance, this, that, the other. Circumstances change, values change, results change. It is no surprise that Nobel prizes have been given to two different scientists for saying exactly the opposite thing in a span of fifty years, because it is research, and the Nobel Committee decides in its wisdom that this was wonderful. So he got the Nobel Prize for saying, “Yes, it exists.” Thirty-five years later another man got for saying, “No, it doesn’t exist.” There is no inherent contradiction. Science, after all, deals with changing phenomena. And if they are intelligent they will take refuge under things like the principle of indeterminacy, and so on. So, it is not the lack of intellect but the presence of intellect because of which he is able to show that the whole world consists of only those experiences which occurred to him. and if we are having more intellect, we can contradict. if not, we appreciate the discovery.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You remind me of a Neils Bohr quote "There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true." My point is what big would you achieve by sophistication if you can't change your desires. If you're forced by natural conditions such as disease, death and conceit...what you achieve by advancement is merely bring your conflicts to higher levels of sophistry usually employed for the same mean things...You say gun is better than sword...But I say what the big deal if they both are for the same purpose..Thats my point in whole

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Madhav... for I am a product of this same thought myself. I, for one, do not believe in God as per the usual Hindu traditions or customs, but I do have the belief that a higher force does control our lives from somewhere up there. That is MY faith, and no one can shake that off from me. And why can't science and religion coexist? For me, the 'force' that guides us is deep rooted in scientific principles. It is basic human nature to have faith in what one believes!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The concept of Dharma in Ramayana

The concept of Dharma is not adequately understood by Hindus themselves, not to mention others. Dharma is not a set of do’s and don’t’s or a simplistic evaluation of good and bad. It requires considerable intellectual exertion to even begin understanding Dharma, let alone mastering its use.

Is Dharma Translatable?
Few words of a language cannot be faithfully translated into another without injuring its meaning, context & spirit. English translations of Dharma are blurred and yield words like religion, sense of righteousness, discrimination between good and bad, morals and ethics or that which is lawful. All these fall short of fully grasping the essence of Dharma.
Every language has an ecosystem of words, categories and grammar which allow a user to stitch words together to maximum effect such that meaning permeates the text without necessarily being explicitly explained at each point. Sanskrit words such dharma, karma, sloka, mantra, guru etc., now incorporated in English, lose thei…

The Controversial Caste System of Hinduism

Imagine concepts like feudal system, slavery, capitalistic exploitation and anti-Semitism being used to define the core of Christianity! Christians will be outraged at this inappropriate mixing of the core universal values of Christians and societal & historical aspects which merely existed in a Christian world.
Now this raises the question – why is caste system defined as the core of Hinduism? Especially as “caste” itself is a western construct. Sounds irrelevant?
Okay. Now imagine concepts like slave-trade, war on infidels, brutal subjugation of masses, temple destruction, and forceful conversions marking the core of Islam.
It is considered sensible to first understand what the core scriptures speak about the religion and its universal values. The ills of the community & its societal aspects are differentiated from its core philosophy.
Now, this brings us to the most interesting question – why is Caste System (caste based on birth) propagated to be the defining feature of Hindu…

How Linguistic States strengthened Indian Unity

Be like a garland maker, O king; not like a charcoal burner.” --Mahabharata
[It asks the king to preserve and protect diversity, in a coherent way. The metaphor used is that of a garland, in which flowers of many colors and forms are strung together for a pleasing effect. The contrast is given against charcoal, which is the result of burning all kinds of wood and reducing diversity to homogeneous dead matter. The charcoal burner is reductionist and destroys diversity, whereas the garland maker celebrates diversity.]
Unification of Germany and Italy populated by similar people was achieved by huge armies spanning across decades. In sharp contrast, India under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel managed to unite a much larger area divided by culture & languages within few years.
The European experience where new nations were carved over little differences in identity, made the Indian experiment appear poised for a breakup sooner than later. Yet, India managed to stay united though the journey wa…