Has Science Lost its Heart 

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My recent article on science and its fallouts was published with a very provocative heading (“The fault is not in astrology…”, Open Page, May 1) that got me so many hate letters in addition to many more fan mail. By and large people who misunderstand the purpose of one’s writing and its holistic context only respond with hate mail.

One such was an eye opener from Trissur in Kerala. The gentleman wrote that he has even lost respect for my university because a man like me is the Vice-Chancellor. He went on to pontificate that he disagreed with every single alphabet in the article! I wrote a nice letter to him keeping him in my guru’s place asking him to tell me the correct version of what I wrote. My humble letter must have punctured his balloon of pride and he admitted that he was anything but a scientist! In his second letter he agreed that my university is very great and he even has changed his opinion about me. It makes me very sad that people, many times even journalists, condemn anything without going into the whole gamut of the gravity of the problem! They do not give a damn to the fact that there could (is) always be the other side of the argument. It is the wearer of the shoes that feels the pinch.

I think it is time we did an objective audit of western science to demystify the myth built around the western thought from the time of the British rule in this country. It is understandable that the British wanted us to be kept in the dark lest thinking people here should revolt against imposition of alien thought. I am sure many of our students would not know what the “great” scientist Albert Einstein wrote about India. “We are indebted to India for all scientific progress because it is they who taught us how to calculate; without which no progress in science could have been achieved.”

Replicative Research
I recently met an Andhra Pradesh farmer who has documents to prove that he could grow five times more rice, wheat or any other crop using the time honoured natural manure, compared to any of the western methods. The world is slowly recognizing his contribution to agriculture, but no one has given him any value here. If, on the contrary, you do some “replicative research” on the western methods of chemical fertilizer or gene modification you are called a scientist of great repute.

The recent news item that Hill Gates gave $1 million to a research team in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for finding a very inexpensive method of treatment of childhood diarrhoea with local talent and cheap ingredients, should make us fed that God has nor lost faith in mankind after all. This new cheap oral rehydration fluid has the potential to save millions of children’s lives in the third world countries. May God bless Melinda and Bill Gates for their generosity. Now let me tell you what our people have done in the same field of diarrhoeal deaths in India.

Guinea-Pigs
There was a study of diarrhoeal deaths in a very poor Indian village in collaboration with a very prestigious American university. The team, consisting of an Indian professor and his American counterpart and their juniors, was financed from America and the amount involved was $ 100,000. The hypothesis was: “Traces of zinc supplements in diet would significantly reduce diarrhoeal deaths in children.” To prove this they needed a place where such deaths are so many in a year that the study with two comparable groups (controlled studies) would have enough number of deaths to have statistical significance. They had the right village here which had only one common water source, a small pond, where the animals took bath, women washed their clothes, children used the same water for ablution and the whole village used the water from that pond for drinking.

The study was a runaway success and the paper is already published in a “prestigious journal” and the company now markets zinc as a life saving drug. The study would be replicated in Zanzibar next! The poor villagers did not realize that they were being used as guinea pigs. If a small part of that money were to be used for providing clean drinking water to that village no child would have died! But science is proving a hypothesis and had to be done that way. Many think that science has no heart to feel! Could you now see how we fall a prey to western thought? If a new device is invented in the West, that has to be first tried on humans in a third world country to be licensed on their soil. Pig’s heart transplant story should be fresh in the readers’ minds. That much for drugs and technology in science.

Let us examine basic sciences next Ever since European universities started functioning around the twelfth century, science was following linear mathematics. Linear mathematics does not always work in this dynamic universe. Let us examine something very simple. Hydrogen is a very volatile atom while oxygen abets volatility. The two atoms combined together, the resulting molecule must be terribly volatile! Let us take water (H20) as a good example and set fire to it. Does it burn? The moral of the story is that the whole need not be the sum total of the bits always. This is the essence of Indian Vedic non-linear laws of the universe. If one concentrates just on the final outcomes of this kind of research we come across better realization of the futility of this kind of scientific pursuits.

Alfred Nobel discovered the dynamite, one of the milestone studies in chemistry and made millions, but killed millions in the bargain with his dynamite. There is no space here to talk about the dangers of chemical warfare, which is threatening to engulf the world, thanks to chemistry. The whole lot of artificial chemicals produced for pesticides and germicides would eventually reach the drinking water table one day, if they have already not found their way into our system through the vegetables and fruits. Hormones have got into us in a big way through chicken legs on the plate and the milk from cows. Today girls aged eight-nine start menarche and grow breasts!

Alexander Fleming and Florey discovered penicillin in the 40s and the era of antibiotics started; hailed as the greatest milestone in science. Today most of, if not all, the germs have learnt to live on antibiotics. Man has created a monster in the “super bugs” that refuse to be killed by any means. The very idea that germs are there to kill man is not the whole truth. Many of them are our friends and they live in symbiosis with us. It is estimated that in the human gut alone (between the mouth and the anus) there are about 1013 germs (ten thousand billion germs, that is). The English poet Auden wrote a masterpiece on the germs on his skin! When we try to kill them with chemicals we are going against nature and they try to mutate very fast. This is the natural phenomenon. Whereas the AIDS virus has mutated more than 15 times in the last 20 years, it would take us millions of years to mutate to resist the AIDS virus.

Arms industry
Horrifying reports of drug resistant AIDS virus and multiple drugs resistant TB have come from Britain this week. Some of the hospitals in England had to close down their operation theatres because of the presence of super bugs there. Prince Edward Hospital in Wales had to use maggots (old fashioned and irrational for a rationalist) to save a patient’s leg that had developed gangrene with super bugs following a road accident Doctors use honey to dress wounds. Honey does not allow existing germs to multiply and prevents new germs from getting into the wound (another Indian method of yore disliked by pure scientists). Despite all this horror the arms industry must be having the last laugh. They now have a large harvest of~ deadly germs, in addition to anthrax germs, for the germ warfare weaponry! They would make a very good business in future. Biologists successfully created genetically modified potatoes (many other things) which could stand the vagaries of the weather for months even thrown outside, another breakthrough. They have used the genes of an Arctic virus to do that. Eventually this might make the potato mutate to become non-edible like hundreds of other cousins of

potato in the wild that are not edible! Let us not forget that the natural potato kept people alive in Ireland during the great famine! We have many genetically modified edible crops that cannot stand changes in the environment like the normal varieties and a day may not be far away when we might lose all those.

More sensible research would have been to search for the edible alternatives to the cereals that we use as there are estimated to be hundreds of variants of rice, wheat and maize in the wild. But western oriented science does not encourage that and one does not get funding for that kind of research and, of course, no western awards. The latter is a great incentive for our people.

Technology has created some monsters in biological sciences. Only one example would suffice. We have some gadgets in medicine; one of them was audited recently, which have been shown to have the power to kill many of the patients who would have otherwise survived. There is a plea for a moratorium on some of them. The story of many of the drugs in use is still more pathetic.

Physics, the king of sciences, got kudos for the discovery of atomic energy. It was Albert Einstein that wrote a “letter of conscience” to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, renouncing his lifelong pacifism! He wrote: “Certain aspects of the situation call for quick action… to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large amounts of new radium like elements would be generated” on August 2, 1939 sowing the seed of the bomb that killed thousands of human beings like us in a few minutes on that fateful day in Hiroshima and later in Nagasaki. I do not know what happened to Einstein’s conscience on that day!

Max Planck, the father of quantum physics, was unhappy when his three Nobel laureate students, Oppenheimer, Neils Bohr and Enrico Fermi were trying to split an atom. He exclaimed, “I admire the cleverness of my pupils, how I wish they had used a bit of their wisdom instead”. The results are there for all of us to see. The stock of plutonium waste that has accumulated now, if released, could destroy all living things on this planet for millions of years and not even a blade of grass would grow. Do our scientists and rationalists know where and how to safe-deposit this plutonium?

Invention and discovery
What intrigues me is that all these “great” scientists get Nobel Prizes and other awards. Have they invented any­thing? Did Einstein invent energy? Did the quantum physicists invent the atomic energy? They only unraveled the secrets of Nature. It should, log­ically and rationally, be Nature that should get the Nobel for its capacity. On the contrary, we make men proud with honours and they compete with one another for new discoveries. In­vention is far removed from discovery as one kindergarten child once told the teacher using the two words in one sentence: “My dad discovered my mother and then invented me.” Our scientists only discovered the secrets of the working of this Nature, which has been going on for millions of years and shall go on forever in spite of all sciences and scientists. Nature creates us from carbon, hy­drogen, oxygen, nitrogen and a few trace metals only to be returned to the same elements at the end of our jour­ney here. Prof. Loony’s work elegantly showed how a dead pig in a Tennessee forest was eaten by 522 species of organisms after its death in the natural set­up! From dust unto dust we move, but acquire pride in between to claim all the credit for what Nature does.

Political activity is another anti-com­mon man affair. Be it democracy, plu­tocracy, autocracy or aristocracy it is the less powerful those are at the receiv­ing end. Our country is the best example of the decay that has set in there. Monetary economy is another one of those nooses around the common man’s neck. An elegant book Perpetuating Poverty (CATO Institute, Wash­ington) is an eye opener to a serious student of economics as to how the two “great” bodies like the IMF and the World Bank have been striving to keep the poor in perpetual poverty over the years!

Legal system is another myth. Man does have the same emotions, whether in the palace or pad, castle or cottage, Bench or the Bar! The day one gets ele­vated to the Bench from the Bar does not make him/her a god. No one is in­fallible in this world. Justice system cannot be an exception. I do not have a quick fix solution for this, either. This brings to mind the debate about legalizing euthanasia. Man in the form of a doctor could not be trusted with the power to terminate someone else’s life. Even the exact definition of life and death has defied science so far. That apart, one could always misuse that power for greed.

I am sure I have made the reader realize the need for humanism in science, nay in all areas of human activity. Sci­ence needs a conscience to see that its activities should be there for the good of humanity at large and not work at cross-purposes. If there is anything that helps man to live happily on earth that should be scientifically examined to see if it is really good. Astrology, God concept, spirituality and the whole lot of non-science activities should be viewed with this background of science audit. The bottom line should be hu­man welfare, nay welfare of all living things, sarvabhootapreeti

It is not science or astrology that is bad but the man behind both could be bad. Just because there are bad astrolo­gers as there are bad scientists, their studies need not be condemned. Ratio­nalism should be a holistic approach to anything. The present reductionist sci­ences that have branched into narrow specialities would have to eventually disappear following their own First Law of Thermodynamics. There is the rising sun of the holistic science of CHAOS waiting to be discovered. If not checkmated, man could destroy the entire God-given resources of Nature with his greed and his proclivity for comfort. My plea is for parsimony in our over enthusiasm to make science and other activities totally rational and reductionist. May this world be a safe place for man to live, for which we need safeguards in every area.

Has Science Lost its Heart
The fault is not in astrology…
The Science of Astrology

 

Prof. B. M. Hegde
Manjunath
Chilimbi Hill, Bejai Post
Mangalore – 575004
E-mail: bmhegde@manipal.edu