Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Harking back back to a glorious past - II

It is claimed that Pythagoras theorem was known in India before Pythagoras. This  is an example of a partial truth - a statement that can't be rejected outright because it has some elements of truth but it can't be accepted without qualification because it is some way from the whole truth. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, scientist and philosopher,  said that the most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.

From what I have read, there were civilizations that knew about the theorem before Pythagoras.and they used it frequently in their construction activities. But they knew specific instances of the theorem. It was true for the instances they checked but they had no way of knowing whether it was true for an infinity of right angled triangles.  The theorem is named after Pythagoras because he was the first person to give a mathematical proof using variables to show that it was true for all right angled triangles.So till Pythagoras provided the proof, the equation was a conjecture.

The PM stated that the creation of Ganesha is proof of the existence of plastic surgeons thousands of years ago. He said that an elephant's head had been grafted on a person's body to create the god. There were claims that Kauravas were born using stem cell technology, that cars and TV existed in Mahabharat times, that a helmet used in the Mahabharata war is found on Mars, that there were inter-planet planes during the Vedic age...the claims keep getting more bizarre. Some of these claims were made at the Indian Science Congress. Here is a discussion about it. By such glorification of myths the real achievement of ancient India like creation of the number zero is  in danger of being brushed under the carpet.

The argument that science has often been wrong and the ancient sages always knew the right thing is underwhelming. Each generation finds out something about the universe that is more true than what the previous generation knew. Isaac Asimov illustrates this idea in a piece he wrote called The Relativity of Wrong in which he said that if you said that the earth is flat, you would be wrong; if you said that the earth was spherical, you would still be wrong; but the first statement is more wrong than the second. Asimov writes:
What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.
In IIT Madras, one Dr. A. B. Sudhakara Sastry delivered a speech on the topic of “Vedic Sciences: A Treasure waiting for YOU”. He said' 'Vedic literature has every speck of knowledge we need for today. There is no need to invent; we just need to discover what’s already there.' Judging from the videos of the event (Part 1, Part 2), he had a testing time. As Tagore said:
That our forefathers, three thousand years ago, had finished extracting all that was of value from the universe, is not a worthy thought. We are not so unfortunate, nor the universe, so poor.'
It is all designed to evoke a false sense of pride among the gullible. It is an extension of the trend of taking pride in what you are not. Résumés are about showcasing the outstanding personality that you are not. The inflated marks in schools are about projecting you as the brilliant student that you are not. Liberal use of fashion accessories is about showing off the trendy, debonair person that you are not. In one commentary stint, Sunil Gavaskar called this generation 'the hyped generation'. It is all about hype and show; about exaggeration and chest-beating; and reality be damned.

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