Saturday, October 5, 2013

Differences between hindu and western sciences.

The objectives of this paper are as follows:

1) To describe traditional Indian knowledge systems in branches of science and tech and qualify their scientific nature.
2) To show how Indian knowledge systems differed from the western knowledge systems
3) To explore possibilities of inter-linkages and cooperation with western knowledge systems.

1) To describe traditional Indian knowledge systems in branches of science and tech and qualify their scientific nature: 

The author identifies a knowledge system in an ancient civilization as scientific if it shows the following three characteristics: - methodological, epistemological and sociological. 
Methodological criteria:

1) That it is based on a sufficiently large body of observational data.
2) It has a sufficiently elaborate theoretical framework to classify the data.
3) The basis of legitimisation of theoretical speculation is based in observation.

Epistemological criteria:

1) The above method is a legitimate method for acquiring knowledge about reality.
2) The knowledge so acquired is always limited and subject to modification in the light of new data.

Sociological criteria:

1) In the society there is a professional community of practitioners of knowledge in the above sense, well governed by some social norms.

The paper then continues and describes such criteria in traditional medicine as an example.

2) To show how Indian knowledge systems differed from the western knowledge systems

The author finds that traditional knowledge systems differed from the western systems in the social organization of knowledge, the nature of the parameter used to build scientific theories and measurement quantification and achieving rigor. With respect to social organization, the author finds that in the instance of traditional medicine, there is a classical system as well as the folk system. The classical system consists of the codified systems such as Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani traditions. These have institutionally trained practitioners, a body of texts and highly developed theories to support their practices. The folk tradition is passed down from one generation to another. With respect to theory construction, in the Indian tradition there is a lack of formalization in the sense that theories cannot be applied outside of the context of formulation. The institutionalized theories match folk tradition to a great degree and hence less centralized in terms of people knowing it. In terms of parameters used to build theories, the choice of parameters is such that they are universal and can be generalized for all conditions. The author gives the example of the Ayurvedic view that all disease is caused by the imbalance of Vatta, Pitta or Kapha (these are the parameters that Ayurveda uses). While Western sciences use numerical values in universal units to make precise measurements, traditional knowledge systems use different kinds of units. For instance, a person's height is measured in units of Anguli - which is the dimension of a finger of the same person rather than a universal standard external to the individual. 

3) To explore possibilities of inter-linkages and cooperation with western knowledge systems.

The author notes that the current status of interaction between western and Indian scientific tradition suffers from several limitations which is a result of the colonial hangover. He takes a look at two of them - (1) the current trend of 'prospecting' traditional knowledge and (2) the assumed universality and neutrality of the methodology of modern science. Prospecting traditional knowledge means to look at physical resources, technologies and knowledge as a raw material that needs to be scanned, prospected and refined with the aim to incorporate it into modern/western framework. While this can lead to outstanding success stories, such as making quinine from the Cinchona bark, it does not cause the revitalization of traditional knowledge and endogenous development of the local communities. The author gives the example of the plant Rauvolfa Serpentin which was abundant in India and was well known for treating hypertension. Exploitation of this plant has led to it being driven to the brink of extinction. The effects of prospecting also include patenting of knowledge and violating the intellectual property rights of the original carriers of the knowledge. With respect to the assumed universality and methodology of modern science, the author observes that modern scientific methods at their root have a stamp of their origin. He gives an example of how the modern scientific method of drug assessment by employing blind trials, double blind trials and placebos at their root assume that the patient is a passive recipient of therapy. In Ayurvedic treatments where a patient has to follow a certain ritual, the same method cannot apply. Thus, the modern method is the product of a cultural context where the patient is a passive recipient of the treatment.

To improve collaboration between Western and Indian scientific traditions, the author suggests again with the example of the medical field how either modern medicine or traditional medicine may form the main line of treatment based on the disease while the other plays a complementary role. Such collaborations are now happening at the level of institutions. 

The author concludes that throughout the course of history, every geographical location of the world has nurtured and produced sciences and technologies that resemble the nature of the civilization of the people therein. It was found that western tradition of science and technology is not universal and unique, and there is an urgent need to have a second look on traditional sciences, technologies and knowledge systems to revive them before they are lost.

A thanks to @KVSarmaJ on twitter for sending me this paper.

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