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ARTICLE : Jainism & relativity

Posted By Ashok V Chowgule (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)
Sat, 24 May 97 16:39:57 EDT

Title : Jainism & relativity
Author : Chaturvedi Badrinath
Publication : The Times of India
Date : May 15, 1997

The Jaina perspectives of syadavada hold that a proposition is true only =

conditionally and not absolutely. This is because it depends on the parti=
cular
standpoint, naya, from which it is being made; that logically a thing can=
be
perceived from at least seven different standpoints, saptabhangi-naya; =
which lead
us to the awareness of the many-sidedness of reality, or truth, anekanta-=
vada.

Realist Ethics

At no time were these limited to epistemological questions, of concern =
only to the
philosophers. Since human relationships, personal or social, are determi=
ned by
our perceptions of ourselves and of others, which we mostly assume also =
to be true
absolutely, giving rise to conflicts and violence because the others beli=
eve the
same about their judgments, the very first step towards living creatively=
is to
acknowledge the relativistic nature of our judgments, and hence their lim=
its.
While being a distinct contribution to the development of Indian logic, =
the Jaina
syada-vada has been, most of all, a realist ethics of not-violence, ahims=
a. The
two are inter-related intimately.

An article, 'Syada-vada, Relativity and Complementarity' by Prof. Partha=
Ghose, a
theoretical physicist says that P C Mahalanobis was the first to point =
out, in
1954, that "the Jaina Syada-vada provided the right logical framework for=
modern
statistical theory in a qualitative form, a framework missing in classica=
l western
logic." J B S Haldane saw a wider relevance of syada-vada to modern scien=
ce. And
Prof. Ghose speaks of the "most striking" similarity of syada-vada to Nie=
ls Bohr's
Principle of Complementarity, first noticed by D C Kothari. Furthermore,=
he says:
"The logic of Einstein's special theory of relativity is also very simila=
r to
syada-vada."

In Einstein's relativity theory, Prof. Ghose points out, "the conventiona=
l
attributes of mass, length, energy and time lose their absolute significa=
nce";
whereas in Bohr's complementarity theory, "the conventional attributes =
of waves
and particles lose their absolute significance." As in syadavada, what =
that means
is that the physical value of the former is only relative to the theoreti=
cal
framework in which they are being viewed, and to the position from which =
they are
being viewed. None of them is a fixed, absolute truth about the physical =
universe,
as was assumed in the Newtonian physics. It would soon be discovered, =
too, that
they are relative also to the observer who observed them.

The upanishad-s and the Jaina syada-vada had argued that reality carries =
within
itself also opposites as its inherent attributes; and, therefore, no abso=
lute
statements can be made about it. But no sooner was this said than it was =
shown
itself to be subject to the same limitation.

In the wake of the relativity theory, which had already shattered the cla=
ssical
notions of physical order, de Broglie, a French prince, demonstrated, in =
1924,
that an electron is both a particle and a wave, whereas quantum mechanics=
had held
the particle-wave duality. This discovery was even more upsetting, but =

experimentally proved.

The most upsetting was the subsequent proof, provided by Werner Heisenber=
g in
1927, that no events, not even atomic events, can be described with any =
certainty;
whereas the natural sciences were rooted until then, and are so even now,=
in the
mistaken notion that scientific rationality and its method gave us exact =
and
certain knowledge of the universe. Heisenberg called it the 'Principle =
of
Uncertainty'. Its substance was not only that human knowledge is limited =
but also
that it is uncertain. That is to say, there are aspects of reality about =
which
nothing definite can be said - the avyaktam, or the 'indeterminate', of =
the Jaina
syada-vada.

Subsequent Proof

In his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, =
published
in 1979, Gary Zukay said: "The wave-particle duality marked the end of =
the
'either-or' way of looking at the world. Physicists no longer could acce=
pt the
preposition that light is either a particle or a wave because they had =
"proved" to
themselves that it was both, depending on how they looked at it."

Syada-vada, and with it anekanta-vada, had held that there are several =
different
ways of perceiving reality, each valid in its place, and none of them tru=
e
absolutely. But how do we judge the validity of our perceptions, by what =
criteria,
by what method? These are the main questions of epistemology. Since mode=
m science
has been a method of perceiving reality, even if only physical reality, =
it is
epistemology with a certain method. Einstein had placed great emphasis =
upon that
fact; and he was one scientist of modern times who had placed also the =
greatest
emphasis upon the question of method in theoretical physics. His writing=
s in that
regard are to be found in his Ideas and Opinions, published in 1954. He =
said:
"Epistemology without contact with science becomes an empty scheme. Scie=
nce
without epistemology is - insofar as it is thinkable at all - primitive =
and
muddled."

Limits of Logic

Concerning the method, as physics advanced, it became clear that the theo=
retical
element in scientific laws cannot be abstracted from empirical data, nor =
can it be
of pure logical induction. There is no bridge between the two of a kind =
that one
necessarily implied the other. According to Einstein, the "axiomatic bas=
is of
theoretical physics cannot be abstracted from experience but must be free=
ly
invented"; "experience may suggest the appropriate mathematical concepts,=
but they
most certainly cannot be deduced from it." Neither can pure logic give =
us
knowledge of the physical world. On this point also, Einstein was unambi=
guous.
"Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical wor=
ld", he
says; "all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. =

Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as =
regards
reality." The passage from sense impressions to scientific theory, Einste=
in says,
is through "intuition and sympathetic understanding."

In brief, the two revolutions of relativity theory and quantum mechanics =
and what
followed, had rendered naive realism, pure empiricism, pure logical think=
ing, and
materialism, when each claimed to be the only way to knowledge and its =
certainty,
to be incompatible with scientific method. What had hitherto been assumed=
to be
the scientific method and, therefore, also the only true rationality, and=
was
sought to be imposed upon the rest of the world was, in its absoluteness,=

discarded, And in all those movements of the New Physics, the Jaina syada=
-vada and
anekanta-vada are clearly manifest.

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