Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Hindu View of Scientific Skepticism

In my previous post, I talked briefly about how I am beginning to see the wisdom behind some of the traditional Hindu practices. I definitely don't mean to say that all practices are great and should be continued, because it is also true that over generations many of these practices have devolved into rigid mindless rituals that harm the environment and even our minds. Most mindless stuff end up harming us in the long run.

It was not always easy for me to understand and appreciate the value in Hindu rituals. However, over the years, as I have gained more knowledge in the areas of psychology, sociology, and different Western and Indian philosophies, I have come to appreciate how some traditional rituals must have benefited (and continue to benefit) the overall society and the individual members within it.

However, since traditions—even scientific ones—can easily become mindless and irrelevant over time, it is necessary to have a bit of healthy skepticism towards them. In the language of yoga, we need to use our gyana (knowledge) and viveka (the ability to discriminate between real and unreal) to scrutinize our practices with a scientific bent of mind. 

Unfortunately, many people's understanding of science is completely convoluted. In their minds, anything associated with so called modern life is scientific, and worse, everything traditional is frivolous and superstitious. At the other extreme, we see people who will declare anything traditional or ancient as scientific. This is not very different from the "appeal to nature" fallacy, according to which anything natural is assumed to be valid, good and beneficial.

In science, students are encouraged to develop scientific skepticism to everything. Unfortunately sometimes scientists also take this skepticism to the extreme. They become blind believers of their version of 'scientific method' and deny the existence of anything that hasn't been successfully measured and verified. That's why I like the ideas of gyana and viveka, because there are no absolutes in the concepts of gyana and viveka. These are faculties that we have to develop throughout our life, but even a lifetime will not be sufficient to have fully developed gyana and viveka.

So we will always act according to our extant gyana and viveka. What we consider appropriate (or inappropriate) now is only based on our current gyana and viveka, so as these faculties develop, we may later see things very differently. This doesn't mean that truth changed. It only means that our enhanced gyana and viveka is helping us see certain truths that were previously invisible to us. The important thing is to never stop striving to enhance these faculties within ourselves.

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