Wednesday 15 October 2014

Need for Integral Education…

Manjul Bhargava became one of the youngest fulltime professors at Princeton University when he was 28. At 40 he is again one of the youngest mathematician to have won the prestigious ‘Fields Medal’ the Nobel equivalent for Mathematics. His work extends the work of classical mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. His parents, especially his mother Mira Bhargava, herself a mathematician and grandparents interested him in Sanskrit literature. Bhargava sees his work as a continuation of the legacy of Brahmagupta. The young cheerful professor of mathematics said thus in a recent interview:

Growing up, I had a chance to read some of the works of the masters: the great linguists/poets such as Panini, Pingala, and Hemachandra, as well as the great mathematicians Aryabhata, Bhaskara, and of course Brahmagupta.  Their works contain incredible mathematical discoveries, and were very inspirational to me as a young mathematician. The classic works of Pingala, Hemachandra, and Brahmagupta have been particularly influential in my own work. … While growing up, I learned from my grandfather how much incredible mathematics was discovered in ancient times by scholars who considered themselves not mathematicians, but poets (or linguists).  Linguists such as Panini, Pingala, Hemachandra, and Narayana discovered some wonderful and deep mathematical concepts while studying poetry.  The stories that my grandfather told me about them were very inspirational to me.

Yuva Bharathi congratulates the young mathematician on this achievement wishing him all the best in his exploration into the fascinating realm of numbers.

This is not the first time the Indic heritage has provided a basis for Indian achievement in modern science. Eminent Neurologist V.S.Ramachandran has provided neurological basis for Advaitic experiences and their relation to the formulation of ethics. Theoretical physicist E.C.George Sudarshan has pointed out how Vaishesika conceptualization of atom is closer to the modern quantum mechanics than the Greek model of atom developed by Democritus. Prof. G.N.Ramachandran employed Syaad Nyaaya of Jain tradition to evolve a new formulation of sentential logic. He created a matrix for the identification of possible molecular structures of complicated bio-molecules. Prof. Subash Kak works on integrating some basic aspects of quantum phenomena and the problem of consciousness. He acknowledges the influence and guidance of Indic knowledge tradition. 

Yet these are exceptions. The understanding of the philosophical heritage of Indic knowledge systems came to each of these individuals either through their family milieu or through their individual efforts. There is no system in Indian education to make the students familiarize themselves with the approaches of Indic systems to the basic questions of Existence. The relevance of Panini to linguistics and that of Patanjali to neurology of religion remain largely untouched by Indian researchers. The West has already started systematizing these knowledge realms.    

Let us consider the following. It is impossible for a serious student of modern physics in the West to get her PhD without knowing Plato, Pythagoras, Aristotle and Democritus. Yet it is perfectly natural in India for a physics research scholar to remain ignorant of Ganatha and Kapila. The way pre-Christian Greek philosophical traditions have influenced the development of modern physics in the West cannot be overstated. Werner Heisenberg, one of the principal architects of quantum mechanics points out the continuity:

With regard to this question modern physics takes a definite stand against the materialism of Democritus and for Plato and the Pythagoreans. ... But the resemblance of the modern views to those of Plato and the Pythagoreans can be carried somewhat further. The elementary particles in Plato's Timaeus are finally not substances but mathematical forms.  (Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, p.71)

Interestingly in a confident understanding of the worldview revealed by the modern physics, Heisenberg was helped by Indian philosophical systems. Physicist Fritjof Capra records:

In  1929  Heisenberg  spent  some  time  in  India  as  the  guest of  the  celebrated  Indian  poet  Rabindranath  Tagore,  with  whom he  had  long  conversations  about  science  and  Indian  philosophy. This  introduction  to  Indian  thought  brought  Heisenberg  great comfort,  he  told  me.  He  began to  see  that  the  recognition  of  relativity,  interconnectedness,  and  impermanence  as  fundamental aspects  of  physical  reality,  which  had  been  so  difficult  for  himself  and  his  fellow  physicists,  was  the  very  basis  of  the  Indian spiritual  traditions.  "After  these  conversations  with  Tagore,"  he said,  "some  of  the  ideas  that  had  seemed  so  crazy  suddenly made much more sense.  That was a great help for me." (Capra, ‘Uncommon Wisdom’, 1988, p.43)

What these show is that with the artificial removal of Indian metaphysics from the curriculum the educational system is absolutely wasting its scientific human resource by denying them exposure to Indic knowledge systems. This artificial divorce between Indic tradition and educational curriculum effected during the Nehruvian regime has cost us heavily. It has alienated the Indian mind from the pursuit of science. The result is that though India produces the highest number of science graduates in the world, the same graduates are among the least innovative.

We need to integrate the philosophical systems of India with the modern curriculum. It is neither false glorification of past nor inventing science in ancient scriptures. In fact it is not about beliefs but inducing the human mind to fearlessly explore the mysteries of existence with rootedness. This should not definitely be the juvenile attempt to read the new discoveries of science in religious scriptures as done by some fundamentalists. On the contrary this demands hard work on the part of curriculum framers. They have to thoroughly grasp the Indic philosophical traditions, their relevance in providing epistemological tools in exploring the deeper questions of science (e.g. the hard problem of consciousness).  Then the curriculum framers have to design modules to suit the different grades in schools and different streams in the colleges.

Workshops on consciousness studies by both scientists and scholars of Indian philosophy conducted by Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Culture, is a welcome step in this direction at the level of research.  The textbook 'The Systems View of Life: A unifying vision' by Fritjof Capra and biochemist Pier Luigi Luisi (Cambridge University Press, 2014) is another important book in this respect.  Here the autopoietic networks of cognition replacing the mechanistic deterministic models defining life at the basic level. Again Eastern wisdom traditions from Vedanta to Buddhism have much to offer in providing philosophical substratum for such scientific explorations. This has implications for biological, ecological, psychological and social sciences, particularly for developing societies like India.

The Government of India today is committed to the rejuvenation of the nation. For this pedagogic systems integrating Indic philosophical traditions with modern education need to be created. So while Yuva Bharathi with rightful pride congratulates Prof. Manjul Bhargava, we also emphasize the need to work hard to create the integral educational system that will make more Bhargavas flower in our campuses as a routine rather than as exceptions. 
S. Aravindan Neelakandan