Just Believe: Foreword and Chapter 1

Just Believe

 P. Desikan

Foreword

Every man believes that whatever he believes in is either true, or should be true, because otherwise he would not be believing in it. Often, he leaves the burden of proving the truth of his beliefs to persons whom he believes to be wiser than himself, such as his elders and teachers, authors of text books especially in Science, other reputed scientists, elders respected by his family or community for their knowledge and wisdom and so on. While it would indeed be satisfactory for all men to be sure of the veracity of what they believe in, life requires everyone to believe in several truths without the luxury of personal verification.

In the paragraph above and in the chapters that follow, I seek the reader’s indulgence in two things. One is the subject itself. In each chapter that follows, I am going to analyse and present some things you can just believe in, instead of straining yourselves to arrive first at their credibility through your own exertions. The second is my tendency to represent just for convenience, the male human being, namely man, in examples, for phenomena or acts general to both genders. If the reader substitutes the female human being, namely woman, the statements would equally be valid. While I believe that I am not a chauvinist, I have been around for over eight decades and have learnt to write in the old-fashioned way. I beg forgiveness from the better half of my readership and their eager young champions belonging to my gender.

In humanitarian discourses, the antiquity of wisdom is valued. The older a cultural traditional practice happens to be, the greater it has proved itself to be. The capacity for sustenance that it has demonstrated through its long life proves its worth to its adherents. When new wisdom tries to prove anything undesirable in its makeup, the proponents of the new wisdom have indeed a very hard time proving its worth. Civilizations have been marching on, both through conservative preservation of tested old values and practices and through radical introduction of new values and ideas challenging the old ones. Attempting to make a mark in the field of Sanskrit literature, especially as a playwright, youthful Kalidasa introduces his maiden play, Malavkagnimitra with a defiant fourliner which states,

All things are not good just because they are old (purana);

Nor does a literary effort (kavya) become unmentionable, just because it is new (nava).

Great men (santa:) examine an entry and decide its merit either way;

Only a fool expects his thinking (and decision) to be guided by the analysis of others!

While in literature and the Arts, old can often indeed be gold as Kalidasa was afraid of, for reasons which are compelling, this is not so in Science. The newest finding on any issue has the greatest chance of being right (at least till it is disproved). Because of this convenience, I shall devote my first in a series of blogs through as many chapters, to belief in Science. Scepticism and not just believing is the hallmark of scientific activity. So, we will not linger too long in the Science chapter.

Chapter 1. Believe in what Science tells you now

When a child is created by the coming together in love of its parents, information from a few generations in its ancestral lines is brought into its physical and mental makeup. From its seventh month in the mother’s womb, when the neural pathways are complete, the foetus starts feeling through its own senses and accumulates more knowledge. Acquisition, processing, storage and recall at will of knowledge in the brain of the new individual continues throughout the life of the individual through several learning methods.

The knowledge that a man possesses can be classified in several ways. For the purposes of the present study, we will classify it into two divisions, verifiable and unverifiable. The verifiable part can also be called true, at least until new knowledge is able to disprove it. The unverifiable part too is retained by the man in his mind because of one or more of the following reasons. One, it is part of a fictional account, which he enjoyed going through. Two, he believes in it, because some wise men and groups authoritatively claim it as verifiable, at least up to the time of the claim. The contents of Science texts and treatises hold such information and he has either studied them himself or been informed by reliable sources about them. Three, it has been acquired through traditions and belief systems because of his belonging to cultural, religious, or other social groups. In some cases, he too has learnt to believe them and in other cases he enjoys them without feeling the need to verify them.

For the purposes of this chapter, let us discuss only what Science tells man. Scientific knowledge has been accumulated and refined by human effort. Man observes phenomena around him through his senses and reflects on them using his brain. He gets ideas about how the phenomena occur through the neural processes in his brain. He sets up practical tests to verify these ideas and when the test results are positive, scientific truths are born. Scientists continue to think about these results and refined hypotheses are born and the results are improved or totally renewed. The old truth is no longer valid. Man has, however, learned to continually record truths obtained. Thus, old knowledge can also be recalled, whenever required, for reinvestigation.  Tools, devices, or machines either entirely based on a scientific finding or using it along with other skills and theories, get made in factories and they get outmoded when new ideas enable replacements. These function better in various ways. Thus, Science keeps advancing.

Basic theories of Science take a long time to change. It is therefore possible for school and college text books to retain them for a long time. Students can just believe them, because they are true till other theories overtake them.

Applications of the theories in Technology and Engineering, which involve a variety of continuing innovations in materials, processing methods and processing conditions involve a greater extent of tests both for operational ease and for safety for customers using them. Guarantees of different kinds involving legal protections act as a safeguard. Manufacturers of products based on such applications have a system of sequential tests incorporating feedback from trials in the market. Firms develop brands which, based on customer feedback, develop high confidence levels, and people start believing them. Firms with established brand names are thus able to introduce improved innovations without much difficulty. Advertising plays a big part, but reliability in product specifications cannot be compromised. The consumer must choose his product brand wisely, but once he has done that he has just to believe that he is getting value for his money.

We will not consider the effect of dishonesty, greed, and corruption in making such belief impossible or less than possible. Society devises from time to time with varying levels of efficiency measures to secure the ordinary citizen from nasty surprises. Where one finds that academicians and professionals have  reached and maintain a high level of integrity and efficiency, it should indeed be possible for scholars to believe the contents of Science text books and treatises, and for consumers to rely on products and services purchased by them.

Modern media can convey significant changes in scientific thinking with respect to human applications such as in food science, pharmaceuticals, textiles, building materials and so on, as soon as scientists are able to release them based on the latest finding. Technology and business will then have to take a pause and modify or reverse the steps in the manufacture of the corresponding products or product components. Society has no option other than to believe that the best interests of the consumer will continue to be attended to with diligence, except when surprised by deviations.

I share a feeling along with several others that truth seeks a person who seeks it but arrives in doses which depend upon the makeup and capacity of the seeker. Modern man has had the wisdom of creating societies of Scientists in various scientific sub- disciplines, which collectively have the capacity to seek truth with greater intensity and preparation than the individuals who constitute them. If we often obtain scientific truths which need to keep getting modified, sometimes seriously, it is in the very nature of human aspirations and limitations. The intelligent new entrants to the portals of science soon acquire the knack to discern the greater truths established in their field of study which can comfortably be taken as axioms, and to work on other truths which require more clarification, refinement, elaboration, or authoritative final sealing.

Without my saying so, all such scholars working in various disciplines of science, along with other scholars using science in parts of their investigations in other fields are likely to agree with me that they do not have to reinvestigate every published truth which they use. They would be wasting precious time and resources if they engage in such pursuits. They should just believe in what Science tells them at the time they are obliged to use its findings. Whenever the expectations of such trust are belied by nasty accidents or surprises, scientists get busy sifting the truths involved and start investigations on the ones found wanting. Non-scientists who can just be expected to be generally informed of the latest situation on the frontiers of Science where their objectives have a play, ought just to believe the information thus available at the frontier.

 

 

 

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8 Replies to “Just Believe: Foreword and Chapter 1”

  1. Very clear and beautifully written as always, Shri Partha! I enjoyed the fact that we live with many truths at once. The only question that arose in me was: What about the use of ‘alternatives’? For example, we have always had the traditional systems (let’s take home remedy, for ease – though this is the original, it is always relegated to the ‘alternate’ state). This is now a parallel system to modern synthetic medicine. I feel that there is no way we can compare the two as there are more contrasts. At best, we can gauge which is the best for a given requirement and go ahead with it.
    Looking fwd to reading the rest of the series…

  2. Dear Yamuna,
    Thank you for your kind words. The second chapter has also been published
    Alternatives always compete for our attention.
    But we have the option always to choose as wisely as we can.
    Science should result whenever answers are obtained to questions rising in human minds, without exception. But such a comprehensive attribute is being acquired by some avenues of Science such as Physics only recently and only in stages. Till Science matures to include more ‘true’ knowledge, we can still laud its tremendous advances but use only its latest results, whenever we are obliged to. We often are.

  3. I have few fundamental questions.

    1. Do we really ‘believe’..?
    2. Why should we ‘believe’..?

    I think from experience we all know that everything is subject to change. So we actually have a doubt on everything and accept that everything can go wrong/opposite to what we think now. But we act as if we are believing it, because there is nothing else we could do.

    Why should we even believe..? Upanishads tell us to question everything, contemplate everything. Science tells us the same. They all convey the ‘anityatva’ of everything here. So why do we really need to believe anything..?

    Everything, for every individual is just their current level of understanding and it keeps evolving. Is it not..?

    Just some loud thinking..

    -TBT

  4. You are quite right about our knowing something or other at any given instant. To the non scientist, the knowledge of the scientist at a given time is conveyed for consumption. When he uses the knowledge, he has the option of not believing the scientific development and feeling insecure, or believing its veracity out of respect for the scientists involved and feeling safe.
    You have correctly assessed the scientific nature of Upanishadic pronouncements including in cosmology. Acting in belief is acting in alignment and therefore it is acting in comfort. The very old and therefore the very highly evolved Prakriti of which I talk in Chapter 2, is of course very safe to align with and believe in.
    When I ask you to believe contemporary scientific results, I do imply that you cannot any more believe the earlier results on which they are an improvement.

    1. Just loud thinking again.

      Why should we not feel insecure..? Instead why should we chose the path of believing in something because it is said by somebody..? If we believe someone because of respect, then that we should focus on message and not on messenger gets falsified right..?

      I am just thinking, is not the right way, is to feel insecure, but may chose to (or not to) follow, constantly having a doubt and clarifying..?

      Apologies if it appears as distractions..

      -TBT

  5. Very clear, readable and understandable. I think our knowledge is based on interpretation and understanding. When new information arises in the scientific world and is sound it goes beyond existing understanding. What happens is that with each interpretation our understanding changes. We have to say at this time I am seeing this, so to speak, because later it can change.
    Thank you Sir, jim

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