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Re: ARTICLE : Modern Discoveries in Ancient Works

Posted By Rajan P. Parrikar (parrikar@spot.Colorado.EDU)
Fri, 3 Jan 1997 17:32:30 -0700 (MST)

In article <ghenE3EvA4.6u1@netcom.com>, <Madhava.Kumar@lana.zippo.com> wrote:
> Modern Discoveries in Ancient Works
> ===================================
>
> By : Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati
>
>There are a few scientific discoveries that are not found
>mentioned in Varahamihira's "BRUhat-Samhita".
>
>How do heavenly bodies remain in the skies? How is it that
>they do not fall? Everybody thinks that it was Newton who
>found the answer to such questions. They very first stanza
>in the "Suryasiddhanta", which is a very ancient treatise,
>states that it is the force of attraction that keeps the
>earth from falling.
>
>In Sankara's commentary on the Upanishads there is a
>reference to the earth's force of attraction. If we throw up
>an object it falls to the ground. This is not due to the
>nature of the object but due to the earth's force of
>attraction. "Akrasana-sakti" is force of attraction, the
>power of drawing or pulling something. The breath is called
>"prana" goes up, "apana" pulls it down. So the force that
>pulls something downward is apana.
>
>The Acharya says that the earth has "apana-sakti". The
>Prasopanishad (3.8) states: "The deity of the earth inspires
>the human body with apana." In his commentary on this
>Sankara observes that, just as an object thrown up is
>attracted by the earth, so prana that goes up is pulled down
>by apana. This means that our Upanishads have a reference
>to the law of gravitation.

It is true that Hindu mathematical and scientific thought has not
gotten the recognition that it merits. For instance, it is common in
certain western circles to dismiss Hindu contributions to mathematics
by saying that it didn't have the symbolic form or the rigour that the
Greeks exhibited and hence doesn't amount to very much in today's
scientific practice. Even when a seminal idea points to an Indian origin
there is a strong a priori tendency to show that it must have travelled
from Greece to India - in short, everything good in Indian heritage MUST
have had a western origin. Today, this attitude is partly born out of
superficial knowledge of Hindu contributions and partly out of a supercilious
Eurocentrism that generally pervades intellectual discourse and writing in
the west. In this particular instance the positive fallout was that it
motivated V. George to write his wonderful book "Crest of the Peacock:
Non-European Roots of Mathematics" (sadly out of print today) and also
Prof. T. Bhanu Murthy to write his monograph "Ancient Indian Mathematics."
Be that as it may, there is dire need of modern Indian intellectuals
competent in the sciences to undertake extensive study of the no-doubt
impressive contributions of their own civilization. The aim of this effort
should be to document, highlight and put on a firm footing (in modern
scientific terms) the indigenous contributions and NOT to repudiate or
diminish the worth of the impressive feats of modern western scientific
thought (universal in character today).

Which brings me to the main purpose of this rejoinder. Such silly, sloppy
and slippery writing as witnessed in the quoted article does more harm
than good to the cause I just described. Every nugget of this flapdoodle
makes the task of the genuine conscientious student of ancient Indian
scientific/mathematical thought that much harder. For besides discrediting
legitimate Hindu achievements it also provides muscle to the perception that
the only thing we were good at was handwaving and mouthing recondite
philosophical jargon.

See for instance how the great intellectual accomplishment that Newton's
generalization, the law of gravitation, represents is here dismissed and
substituted with a facile one or two-liner purporting to convince us
of an Indian precursor to the idea. And following that the entry of the
Upanishads as fonts and repositories of scientific knowledge. What is
conclusive from all this is the author's tenuous grasp of science and the
scientific method. Also suggestive is the author's innocence of the nature of
Upanishads themselves. The track eventually winds up trivializing the
profoundity of Upanishadic thought while simultaneously contributing zilch
to the advancement of any scientific material of historical value.

Before I quit here's another piece of nonsense:

>"BhoogOLa SAStra", not just "bhoo-SAStra". We have known
>from early times that the earth is a "gola", a sphere.
>we call the universe, with all its galaxies, "Brahmanda".
>It means the egg created by Brahma (the cosmig egg). An egg
>is not exactly spherical in shape, but oval. According to
>modren science the universe too is oval in shape.

<rest deleted>

Let us for the moment assume that you've gotten the last sentence
right. Then, quackass, modern science may tomorrow, due to newer
theoretical imperatives or fresher rounds of observation, alter its
hypothesis and propose a different shape for the universe. If it turns
out to be, say, cuboid, I can tell that Brahma ain't going to have
a very pleasant time laying those eggs.

Regards,

r

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