Bharat has a great tradition of instruments of knowledge and validity of knowledge experience, inference, logic, etc. Exploring all those instruments in a systematic way and integrating that for inventions and technological innovation is the key issue that needs to be addressed. All the path-breaking scientific innovations including Jagadish Chandra Basu, Satyendra Nath Basu, S Ramanujan, CV Raman etc have adopted the same path. Organiser presents such path-breaking scientists and their contributions to the world of science
We frequently come across the debates on Indian contribution to sciences and witness that people take sides without understanding the real issue. All the disciplines of sciences are deeply rooted in historicity, without which we cannot understand that branch of science.
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For instance, we talk of India’s leadership in the field of Information Technology. Any such evolution is possible only when a vision is created. We cannot comprehend India’s journey in the field of IT unless we understand that vision. It was Rajiv Gandhi, who introduced computers to India and it was Atalji who provided vision while integrating it with the economic potential. As I was part of the process, I can say that unless there was a clear vision based on economics and IT, what we are witnessing today would not have been possible. But there is a bigger legacy to this. Atomic Energy Commission, space programme, electronic revolution, etc all visionary initiatives preceded before the advent of IT. Without understanding them, we cannot appreciate post-Independence India’s journey in Science and Technology. From Vikram Sarabhai to Mangalyan there is a tradition.
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Learning from history is very important aspect for building future, which till now we have neglected. It is all the more important for ancient but aspiring nation like us. We did the same for IT. While developing vision for IT as India’s tomorrow, we studied space, atomic energy, electronics, etc and then we worked on IT. Unfortunately, we ourselves are not aware of our own achievements that need to be put forth. For many of us, science is the gift of Western Europe, which is not true. From Vedic times till today we have made major contributions. When I met the famous mathematician Dr Manjul Bhargav last year in the Indian Science Congress he said that teachings from my grandfather in Sanskrit have provided me with a totally different perspective to learn mathematics. He categorically said that without the reference to the Āryabhatīya and Bhaskaracharya’s Leelavati his understanding of mathematics would not have been complete. This should be inculcated right from school level to higher research level.
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Firstly, we have to understand that science is nothing but understanding the nature of reality. At that level, there is no much difference between Indian and Western approach. The basic difference is Indian approach looked at science with integral perspective while western approach is fragmented. Western science focuses on physical reality as Man vs Nature or Subject Vs Object approach, while for us it is holistic perspective from Individual to the Universe. Fortunately, modern science after research in Quantum Mechanics is adopting this perspective. The science has compelled that integration. The classical Western science is about understanding the reality outside you which is objective but it is the subject who is trying to understand that reality. Without taking the consciousness of that subject and its relation with the cosmos into account one cannot understand the complete reality. Indian thinking has considered that factor from the beginning. Western scientists also accepted that without taking Indian abstract concepts into account, consciousness cannot be analysed. Unfortunately, we do not accept our own contributions without being told by the westerners.
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The biggest Indian contribution to sciences has been in the form of tools, which are called as pramana (proofs). Ancient and medieval Indian thinkers identified six Pramanas as correct means of accurate knowledge and to truths: Pratyaksha (perception), Anumāna (inference), Upamāna (comparison and analogy), Arthāpatti (postulation, derivation from circumstances), Anupalabdi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof) and Śabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts). These tools or methods are recognised as modern scientific methods of learning.
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Our contribution from mathematics to metallurgy is immense. The archaeological evidences of Mohenjo-daro and Saraswati civilisation suggest that our ancestors had definite knowledge in the filds of geometry, civil engineering, town planning, etc. The greatest places of learning like Takshashila and Nalanda were also based on scientific learning. But I think the real contribution is in philosophical basis. Indians saw reality from physical, biological, psychological, ecological and cosmic level. We integrated all levels through abstractions like Panch Mahabhootas (five elements). This could enable us to discuss about many fundamentals and ideas that enriched our scientific tradition.
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Unfortunately, we are the ones who fail to recognise this as our national strength, mainly because of half knowledge. Many of the scientists themselves do not have their roots in Sanskrit. I myself turned to Sanskrit only after studying modern science which I regret till date. Once you start asking deeper questions about life, you have no option but get insights from Sanskrit. When I had to work on key board mapping for Indian languages and phonetics, I had no option but to refer to Panini’s grammar. Then I started appreciating and admiring the roots of Sanskrit. We failed to project our knowledge system in the scientific way, therefore, many tend to reject everything told referred as Indian as mere myths. Many links are destroyed due to external aggressions also. But we need to connect the threads and build bridges with the modern science.
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Fortunately, present state of research in science is taking care of integrating Indian and western approaches, as I explained in the case of Quantum Mechanics and analyzing consciousness. Even in languages, it was William Jones who studied comparative languages and told us that Sanskrit is the most scientific language; it is the mother of most of the languages. It is in NASA many people are studying Panini’s Ashtadhyayee than us. Computer languages are of simple processing while human languages give meaningful and express scientific views. The scientist Rick Briggs, who wanted to develop a human like language computers and reached to Sanskrit says, “Let us not forget that among the great accomplishments of the Indian thinkers were the invention of zero, and of the binary number system a thousand years before the West re-invented them. Their analysis of language casts doubt on the humanistic distinction between natural and artificial intelligence, and may throw light on how research in Artificial Intelligence may finally solve the natural language understanding and machine translation problems.” This clearly indicates that we need to create people who are equipped in Sanskrit and computers both. It is necessary for integrating symbols processing and meaning processing. For that we need to realise that we are the cradle of civilisation with a great scientific tradition.
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To address and explore integral dimension of sciences, we have introduced the concept called ‘multiversity’, rooted in the integrative education. Multiversity is striving to bring about the synthesis of Science, Spirituality and Culture to impart holistic knowledge to its aspiring learners. Multiversity’s education system is being built on the foundations of the Indian Knowledge System enshrined in Upanishdas, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma-Sutra, the triad of Indian philosophy, which explores and enunciates the nature of Ultimate Reality, which is the very purpose of education.
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The initiatives like Swadeshi Science Movement Science are looking at this issue. The movement build-up by organisation like Vijnana Bharati is providing study material to students and conducting competitive examinations based on this. It is a very popular experiment not only in India but even outside India. We have great tradition of instruments of knowledge and validity of knowledge experience, inference, logic etc. Exploring all those instruments in a systematic way and integrating that for inventions and technological innovation is the key issue that needs to be addressed. All the path-breaking scientific innovations including Jagadish Chandra Basu, Satyendra Nath Basu, S Ramanujan, CV Raman, etc have adopted the same path. We should follow their footsteps to revive the scientific glory of this country for the great future.
Vijay Bhatkar (The writer is one of the most acclaimed scientists and IT leaders of India. He is best known as the architect of India's first supercomputer and as the founder Executive Director of C-DAC, India's national initiative in supercomputing. He spoke to Organiser on India’s scientific contributions to the world at large)