Thursday, 23 June 2011

Half knowledge, science and atheism

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Half knowledge and extrapolating with that is extremely dangerous"

We like to think of ourselves as modern. We like to think of ourselves as people who have a scientific bent of mind. The problem is that, we have reached great levels of complacency in this area - of our confidence to extrapolate our minuscule knowledge to areas that we don't even understand and even go to levels of judging them.

I recently happened to stumble across a post where a man goes on rambling about the Vedas, saying that they are merely literature that have no value per se, saying that they are terribly flawed and are books that can be read by anyone. He goes on to say that the religious people are actually creating a blockade by saying that only enlightened people under enlightened gurus can understand them, and ordinary people can't. He rubbishes all this, and explains his version of what he thinks is right. He also goes on to say that there is nothing deep hidden in them... His name is Neo by the way and here is the post.

Alright, one approach to this is to accept what he says is right. Perhaps it is. However, let's take another approach - The Vedas have always been considered to be the greatest literature of all time. If it was not, there would not be so many great geniuses in the past such that each was writing his own interpretation of the Vedas and related scriptures. If it was as easy as Neo was saying, then my belief is that everyone should have been writing same conclusions. It's like watching a movie or reading yet another novel and asking for their conclusions. Should be the same.

However, it is not always the case - at least not in Hinduism. For one, most of the information is stored in code. The simplest and best example to be given in this respect is the idol of Lord Ganesha. If I were to explain to you, a very complex metaphysical concept which involved terms like transcendental and metaphysical, you would be blown off by the jargon. Leave alone the complex concept. However, if you put all of this into a picture (A picture is worth a thousand words) it is easier to remember the concept. The idol of Ganesha is supposed to indicate a lot of concepts - why His eyes are shown small, why He has one tusk, why He ties a snake around His belly, what does the snake represent, and so on. However, talking about things like Kundalini and other things are very confusing to an average person. So the ancient Hindus decided to make stories - mythological stories that tell you that Ganesha's belly exploded because he overate and thus he tied a snake. It's a simple story for everyone to remember... The underlying concept is now no longer known directly to a person who reads the story.

Note what happened here. Now people only know the stories, not the actual concept that was originally hidden inside for remembering. Or at least inducing faith. Now, the modern Hindu would perhaps denounce it as idol worship or perhaps make fun saying that Hindu Gods were mutants because of their out-of-the-world appearance. Even Vishnu's four arms, what is held in each hand has a great deal of symbolic representation. Similarly Brahma and Shiva.

Another example - there is a hymn which is to Lord Krishna. Yes, at the outset, it is just a hymn. But, in Sanskrit, each letter is given a numeric value (used in Vedic mathematics) and if that is used in the hymn, you get the value of pi up to 61 places. Now tell me, do you think any ordinary guy who reads that hymn will decode it? He will obviously think this is a praise to Krishna.

Now you tell me - do you think you know how many things have been encoded in the Vedas? Do you know which part is encoded and which is literal? And this, perhaps is the very reason why there are so many different interpretations of the same text. Only people who have a vast understanding of concepts can truly appreciate it. Otherwise anyone who knew basic Sanskrit (like Neo) would be reading it. Reading it is not a big deal, understanding is.

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Sriranga Chidambara

Neo has encouraged 'common men' to read the vedas. Is it so esoteric that we must only believe what some baba says?

Nikhil Baliga
I have written this at the end

"Only people who have a vast understanding of concepts can truly appreciate it. Otherwise anyone who knew basic Sanskrit (like Neo) would be reading it. Reading it is not a big deal, understanding is."

Even I would encourage you to read it. You would read it like it was poetry/literature. But whether you can truly understand all the concepts of the Vedas is a question. It is not necessary that some baba has to tell it to you. If you are intelligent you can figure it out yourself :)

Sriranga Chidambara
and if you figure out that it's not all mind blowing and earth shattering, you aren't intelligent enough :P

This is the kind of circular reasoning Neo talks about :)

Ramesh Radhakrishna
What makes me lean towards neo is that, everyone goes on praising vedas ... But, I havent seen a 'single' person who comes forward and says this is what it means and hence it is great ... This reminds me of a physics professor who kept saying Quantum physics is amazing, greatest and the most wonderful thing. When approached he would escape giving reasons ... He didn't know what quantum physics meant .. I bet there will be at least 9 in 10 who will follow the hype ... I feel that "might" have happened ..... To really praise vedas and write for it, I feel one has to understand and feel it's greatness first before proclaiming it is great

No. half knowledge about vedas and yet praising vedas is also not so healthy .... -> One of my cousin used to do this and we usually end up having a fight ... :-) :-)

Nikhil Baliga
‎@Ranga - Yeah, but that IS the fact. Like I told you, would you be able to decipher pi to the 60+ places from a sloka dedicated to Krishna? Similarly, you don't have sufficient data to pass a judgement. You just are not intelligent enough, and that is a fact...

@Ramesh - Yeah, I agree. The converse is also true. Which is why Neo is wrong. You just don't know enough to pass judgements on either side. Which is why one must either study it deeply or refrain from commenting.

Ramesh Radhakrishna
But, no wrong in having an opinion and expressing it ... Holds good for arguments on either side ... If 'no/half knowledged' people express and spread their opinion that vedas are the ultimate ... I guess same half knowledged can say vedas are ordinary ... Do correct me if I am wrong ... :-)

Nikhil Baliga
Yes, you are wrong :P I'll correct you.

When a person says something is good, there is a chance that someone will try it. When someone says something is not good, there are very high chances that people won't try it.

If many tell you that SX4 or City is a good car, you might consider it while buying it. If many tell that they are horrible, your mindset is against it. Your inclination towards it drops radically - although logically you should try in either case, that's not how humans are. Am I right?

Nikhil Baliga

Ramesh Radhakrishna
See ... Now I know more and found the link very interesting .... Very nice link ... People do not know or say the hidden meanings ... How are we supposed to know the real meaning ? Half/No knowledged people speaking highly about vedas are the ones to be blamed.... They blatantly go praising without knowing and once we sit down to see if it is valid we get no data and end up thinking it might not mean much ...

It is these guys who need to be blamed for making people get a feel that vedas are indeed very ordinary ....

Reminds me of KRV ... Going on a donkey to promote a language makes foreigners to the language get a negative feel ...

Do share any other things that you might have ...

Sriranga Chidambara
why did they encode pi in some mantra? That baffles me! If it was read with a religious mindset, I am sure people wouldn't have found about all this. Calling Vedas 'literature' is not an insult! A good thing about them is that no-one claims it is the word of god. We must be proud of human intellect that had the foresight to come up with such good works.

In your post you have called Ganesha, Shiva et al to be symbolic. I like that thought and glad you didn't go on to provide links which prove Ravana actually had 10 heads and a jet!!

Also, we must understand that Vedas are indeed a wealth of knowledge, but everything in it is not necessarily true!! Ancient people thought Earth is the center of the universe! They thought eclipses were some evil force and it took us some time to debunk those myths!

"would you be able to decipher pi to the 60+ places from a sloka dedicated to Krishna?"

No. Never and I would like to know how the person who discovered it knew it would contain the value of pi!

"You just are not intelligent enough, and that is a fact". Again, you are discouraging a person from even attempting to read the vedas! How is one supposed to know that there is hidden information(I wouldn't call it hidden meaning) if the book doesn't give clues about it? If it does, I'd probably figure it out. Who knows!!

So, this is like hiding all the valuable information in the world in a decent movie using something like steganography and calling all those people who watched it, and called it OK, unintelligent coz they didn't understand the hidden meaning! (Extreme example, just so that you get the point!)

Nikhil Baliga
Ok, why they encoded pi? Good question. But they encoded it. So, that means that Vedas and related scriptures do contain a wealth of information. Whether everything in the Vedas is true or not? We don't know. We can't judge it at our current levels of knowledge. That Hindu Gods are symbolic is known to people who go under the surface. Read about concepts like Nirguna Brahman and Vishnu (Brahman with form) - that is truly Hinduism. Puranic stories were created to teach a lot of things, make it truly beautiful instead of making it theory :) I love the stories from the Puranas.

I am not discouraging you from learning. I am discouraging you from judging before learning. Why don't you first stop thinking of yourself as an agnostic/atheist, and keep an open mind. Think of all possibilities. Try and understand what's written, what it could mean, what others took it as... Even then if you felt it was yet another philosophy book, then I will agree to you. Right now, you just don't have adequate knowledge. Maybe Ravana did have a jet :) You don't know.

Aditya Padaki
I agree with Nik when he says we should completely understand OR refrain from commenting. The authenticity and implications may go beyond our understanding on a casual read. Now why Vedas have been encoded in such a complicated manner (with all the steganography ;) ) is a question whose answer we are unsure of. We should be open to the fact that there may indeed be a very solid reason to encode it in such an abstruse manner even if the reason is not evident/obvious.

Just like understanding any science or any form of knowledge needs a concentrated effort and guidance, Vedas also need high amounts of dedication and guidance to completely comprehend them. Vedas are surely not like any general knowledge storehouse that can be understood by a casual read but are very elaborate than that. Unknowingly trivialising such scriptures is definitely not correct.

Sriranga Chidambara
Hey! Just read your comments on the original blog.

The early morning sun rays contains UV rays of a wavelength that split the cow dung into formaldehyde, and that mixed with water gives formalin, a known disinfectant that keeps your surroundings germ free.

I bet my life that the ancient Indians didn't know that UV rays split cow dung into formaldehyde! It was mere experimentation with various stuff around them that has been in use for long and now we know all the science behind it coz we 'questioned' the practice and did not take such practices as 'veda vakya'!

"If you eat a lot of peanuts, you feel thirsty" - so this is my observation! after some years (or already) if someone finds the science behind this, can I claim I knew it all along?

And I think we are digressing here. I don't think everything our ancestors performed as rituals is 'dumb' nor do I feel there is some hidden meaning in every action! We must understand that they, like us were also humans and made mistakes. (ex. eclipses)

Nikhil Baliga
‎@Ranga - You are going back to the square one by saying they didn't know about formaldehyde. How do YOU know what they knew and didn't know? It can never be conclusively proved. You can hypothesise or assume. I am not saying they knew exactly about the UV rays, but they would have seen that germs don't thrive in areas where this is done.

They would have discovered it by accident only, like so many other accidental discoveries. In fact, when I say "experimentation", it means I am trying out something. How would someone know what fruits are poisonous and which herbs are healing? Of course it is trial and error, and they did make mistakes. However, they would have, after a lot of trials and errors, compiled things that they are sure as correct.

Whether it is correct or not - You can go and read and understand and compare it with your test results and see if they match or not. If I tell you that you will die if you fall from the tenth floor, you don't have to try because you know it now. But tell me in reality, if you hadn't read about this, nor seen it, would you? Just like that, the scriptures are means of teaching things so that you don't go through them to discover what is already known.

My point is singular - Don't trash something without knowing it. What might seem ordinary to you MIGHT be having hidden knowledge like the pi one, the rituals MIGHT have originally had some meaning that might be lost subsequently - but YOU don't have adequate knowledge to judge it

Sriranga Chidambara
The ifs, mights and buts! Like someone has posted on Neo's blog - Do you accept if someone says today there is a live pig orbiting the sun? If you don't can I say YOU don't have the knowledge to judge it?

Loved one of the comments on Neo's blogs:

Quoting Bertrand Russel, if u were told that there is a teapot that orbits around the Sun in the solar system, it would be very difficult to disprove it, but to accept it just bcoz it cant be disproved sounds totally insane.

Nikhil Baliga
Just because you don't understand something, doesn't make it wrong. That's what I am saying. Like the tea pot, sure, there could be a tea pot orbiting. Why do you think it is insane?

I'll tell you why you think it is insane. You will wonder how did a tea pot get over there? This is based on the assumption that all tea pots in the universe are from earth, and that someone from earth should have put it there - There! You have already limited your thoughts. Why do you think all tea pots are from earth? Who else will make tea pots you ask?

Doesn't that show a second limitation? You are now assuming that life exists only on earth, only earthlings make tea pots. There are other possibilities. You are not considering them because you are not exposed to them at this point.

A simple example - Would you believe it possible to make a train that weighs several tonnes to float? Leave along float, but to make it float and move? After seeing Maglevs, yes, it is possible. Before Maglev, you would have said it is ridiculous to make a train float... So, similarly, you have no idea - it may sound fancy, impossible and whimsical. Lots of things sounded like that till they were achieved. Do you think a 15th century guy would believe if you would say that you can make a metallic bird? Today we have gone out of the earth. Same way - Just because your knowledge is limited, you are trying to say it is not possible. You don't have adequate data to judge some things. So, refrain from judging it

Sriranga Chidambara
Believing what is possible is different from believing that it already exists! I believe a lot of things are _possible_ but can't believe that Ravana flew a metallic bird just coz I don't have proof against it!

Nikhil Baliga
Why can't you believe it?

Sriranga Chidambara
coz development of an aircraft was not spontaneous. There have been many developments before an aircraft was developed that aided in making of an air craft!

Why can't we begin by assuming it didn't exist and you can go ahead and prove it did. :P

Nikhil Baliga Ok :-) Have you heard about Vymanika Shastra?

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