Friday, July 04, 2008

Praying Scientists of India

‘Scientists must not pray in labs’
TIMES NEWS NETWORK (July 3rd, p. 5)

Hyderabad: The Centre for Inquiry on Wednesday urged scientists not to conduct religious ceremonies in scientific laboratories. A recent survey by the Centre of Inquiry in association with a few other bodies discovered that a majority of the country’s scientists were “religious and even superstitious”.
The survey report was based on inputs from institutes all over the country, including Acharya Nagarjuna University, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Centre for DNA and Finger Printing and Diagnostics, Deccan College of Engineering and Technology, Kakatiya University, Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology and SV University from the state.
The survey said 44% of scientists believe in astrology while 41% believe in conducting ‘pujas’ before starting any major scientific activity. According to the members, scientists are setting a bad example to the rest of the country by believing in superstitions including vedic astrology. “There are many cases where scientists do pujas in their labs. This should not be permitted as there should be no observation of religious rites in any of the government institutions,” former CCMB director P M Bhargava said.
“A majority of the scientists said they believe in some super non-human power which protects all,” social activist Chandana Chakraborthy said. According to the founder member of the organisation, N Innaiah, many scientists believe in godmen too. Since the survey deals with scientists who come from different elite institutes in the country it is alarming to see these many people believing in superstitions.

Couldn't make out what percentage of Indian scientists are atheists. Is it 51%? Are all the believers of Astrology(44%), a subset of believers of prayer(49%)? Or are there atheists among believers in Astrology? But if one believes in Astrology, is s/he an atheist by the definition of it?


Maju said...

But if one believes in Astrology, is s/he an atheist by the definition of it?

Astrology in itself doesn't imply any religion or god. The most conflictive issue could be the meaning of the lunar nodes and stuff like that, at least in Western Astrology (not sure about Indian) they are generally thought to imply karmic issues and therefore reincarnation (funny for a world region that has no reincarnationist religions, at least mainstream).

Astrology in principle could be just electromagnetism, who knows? It has never been seriously researched (with very limited exceptions). Some astronomers have noticed that sunspots and planetary positions are strongly correlated in a very astrological style (see: It's possible that what astrologers see in their own imperfect traditional code is nothing but the effect of such EM disturbances. This field (electromagnteic interactions in the Solar System and their effects) is still poorly researched and should yield interesting surprises in the centuries to come (if humankind survives).

Anyhow, I used to be radically atheist and astrology (which seems to work, at least to some extent) made me doubt. But never showed me the hand of any god: just a mystery.

I would not consider astrology a mere superstition. I am persuaded there is something to it, even if many elements are wrongly understood by astrologers who, mostly, only work by tradition and intuition.

For the rest I have not much to say. Certainly secularism should be preserved in public institutions. I'd support that everywhere. It's a healthy discipline no matter which are your particular beliefs.

Manjunat said...

I'll come to this later. My feeling is that there is no proper definition for Atheism hence this confusion. I think astrology had the beginning in the fear of uncertain future. The fear of uncertain future was probably one of the building blocks of theism too.

Maju said...

You may be right about that of course. But I also think there are other elements:

In the case of theism, there is a principle of philosophy into them (before they become dogmatic): we see reality, how did it came into existence? Theisms can be an explanation certainly. Some people also experience mystical visions, either spontaneously or induced by drugs or fasting. It can be a psychological illusion but for them an illusion that needs an explanation: a reality beyond the material one.

In the case of astrology you see patterns: patterns in the sky (and that is mere astronomy) but then you also see (at least I do) a correlation of patterns on Earth. Maybe it's just a fantasy, an illusion (after all we humans are just too good at pattern-recognition and often we see patterns where they are not). But my experience says it is not: that people seem really affected by something as apparently unrelated as the positions of the Sun, Moon and planets.

I am pretty sure that a psychological tests can be designed that allows to classify people according to their Solar (or Lunar) signs (the most simple thing in astrology) with statistically significative precission (something like 50% right, much more than the 7% you'd get randomly in any case).

Of course I may be wrong. But for me is not as much a matter of predicting the future (a very difficult discipline) but of explaining reality. I see people being like their natal charts suggest, even looking physically like them in many cases. And I can't help that: it really broke my belief system (atheism) - but never offered me a new one (except that life seems to be like a too realistic videogame - with more hidden "dimensions" than what is available to mere rationalism).

Manjunat said...

As far as I know there has already been an experiment on electromagnetic influence of other planets on human beings. And the conclusion was strength is too weak to have any influence. I couldn't find that study online (I didn't try till now).

Some people also experience mystical visions, either spontaneously or induced by drugs or fasting. It can be a psychological illusion but for them an illusion that needs an explanation: a reality beyond the material one.

Frankly, doesn't it sound rather stupid?

Manjunat said...

Probably this is a good article on that.

Maju said...

As far as I know there has already been an experiment on electromagnetic influence of other planets on human beings. And the conclusion was strength is too weak to have any influence.

You are probably thinking about gravity, not magnetism. I remember well the epysode of "Cosmos" where Carl Sagan explained that, what at the time I found very reasonable. But it's a different matter: gravity can't be but electromagnetism can. It's not the direct effect of planets as such (if so they could not influence either something as massively energetic as the Sun) but the distortions they cause in the EM field created (mostly) by the Sun and it's effect on Earth's own magnetic field. Well, maybe it is. I'm just asking for a good research anyhow.

Frankly, doesn't it sound rather stupid?

Maybe. The case is that people along history have not the vast knowledge about the universe nor the faith (trust) on science we have now. They experienced such things and required explanations. The divine is a good explanation.

Carl Sagan was a "materialist pantheist" (or "mystical atehist") who said:

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by 'God,' one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.

The case is that the law of gravity and much more complex and mysterious things happen in our universe every day. Our rational mind approaches them with cold rationalism but our emotional mind needs something more, and there is where deities and other magical/mystical explanations play a role.

Some pray, others meditate, others try to approach it rationally only...

For me the real problem comes when irrationality overcomes rationality, blinding and even curtailing critical thought. fanatism and dogmatism is a serious problem.

But rationality alone may be not enough for most people: it doesn't give much sense to personal or even collective existence, everything becomes trivial under that perspective, death always wins the game from the viewpoint of cold rationality. This is a logical overflow that needs some sort of emotional adequation.

Otherwise you have an equation whose unique solution is just zero: lack of meaning. That's not valid either: it's not emotionally valid. If everything is just meaningless, why to write these lines?, why to even eat?

That's why people tell stories. And often these stories hide some deep meaning, a meaning that is not merely rational but emotional, psychological, integrative. Of course they are just stories... but if they tick your entrails in a meaningful manner, then they may help you to enjoy life more and better. They motivate you and keep you going.

Humankind did not reach out to the Moon, or even to the bakery at the corner (ask any depressed person), just because of equations and experiments... we did because we had illusions, hopes, expectatives, fantasies maybe... but fantasies that make reality meaningful, even if in a blurry manner.

Long before actually reaching the Moon in a rudimentary spaceship, we had reached it with our imagination a zillion times. I suspect that every single person who has been alive long enough to know about the Moon has imagined at least once, meaybe when they were kids only, maybe not just then, how it would be to reach out to the Moon. That's what brought us to it: our dreams.

Of course, with dreams alone we would have never arrived. But without them we would have never even figured out the equations and the technology to do such thing. Do you think that Einstein's mind lived only of equations? He was actually pretty bad at maths... until he foun he needed them to explain and give form to his ideas.

Do you think Sagan was just a mere rationalist? Then why was he an avid marihuana smoker? (A private secret that only became public after his death, as he had written an apologetic book on cannabis under the silly pseudonym of "Mr. X"). He obviously had dreams, even if he would never describe them in metaphysical terms. He was also a good story-teller: that's why his series was so popular.

Maju said...

Probably this is a good article on that.

It's a mediocre skeptical article and certainly not a good scientific article. There's a difference: skeptics are not trying to find out the truth but to disprove a hypothesis they consider weird and for that they may hand out for fallacious arguments. I'll be condescending and think they are just not as clever as they think they are - otherwise I would have to think they are mischievous and I don't want to think that of anybody before knowing them more in depth.

From the article:

So if anything, the Sun should be the only source of astrological effects.

I would agree with that. The EM field that pervades the whole Solar System is a creation of the Sun.

Additionally, IMO, the Sun is the most important placement in any astrological chart.

Either way, the planets' combined force is miniscule compared to the Sun's. If EM is the force behind astrology, the planets could be safely ignored.

Wrong. Two possibilities may be awaiting test:

1. Planetary magnetic fields (all have one, either intrinsecal or induced) may affect the whole Solar magnetic field, altering it in a way that is reflected on Earth.

2. Additionally some particularly large planets like Jupiter (that is so large that doesn't even orbit the Sun as such but makes the Sun itself dance with it around a gravitationally neutral spot over/outside the Sun) may affect the Sun's plasma circulation gravitationally, altering the way the very Solar magnetic field is generated.

And then we have Earth's own magnetic field immersed inside that gigantic Solar EM dynamo, that is not static but is very likely affected by the planets.

This overall doesn't prove anything (nor is probably comprehensive of the full set of forces acting in the interplanetary medium) but just constitutes a tentative hypothesis to be explored seriously not just debunked in four lines of self-gratifying prose.

The observations of Nelson certainly seem to prove, not Astrology, but the presence of a correlation between planetary positions, sunspots and electronic interferences. According to Nelson, when several planets formed what astrologers would call a square (90º angle aprox), interferences were stronger, when they made what astrologers call a trine (120º) the quality of radio-communication was optimal. I just don't believe this can affect radio and not other aspects of Earth existence, specially when there is a traditional corpus, much older than Nelson and his interesting observations, that suggest exactly the same kind of correlations (disharmonic for 90º, harmonic for 120º).

But I can think of other experiments, like simple psychological tests to blindly classify people by their Sun sign. Surely accuracy would not be total but statistically significative I believe it should be easy to achieve.

Nobody has tried that yet though. I once read of some supposed car insurance stats but I have never seen the original, only references. But serious skeptics and astologers could join their forces to devise such test.

Manjunat said...

I think that is a well written article. In fact, it is an easy read than your comments. My weak emotional brain is satisfied with the simple explanation given by an astronomer than your multi-layered comments. In fact, I didn't want to comment initially as I hardly got your flow.

Is it like,
1. people are emotionally weak and they need mystic consolation(Carl Sagan).
2. I am for that(I was a strong atheist until...)
3. Let me strongly defend astrology and make sure that we can't prove it(humankind will perish before that).
4. Let it live in its improvable possibility(let skeptics and astrologers come together and devise such test).

As I said before I didn't get your flow.

Maju said...

Yah, astrology is not for emotional satisfaction like prayer: it's either for trivial chat or (for some) exploring the reality behind. I'd say it's rather unsatisfying emotionally: it ofers no consolation, either it's true or not, like the gravity, the Big Bang or panspermia.

Manjunat said...

In India astrologers can deliver you from your future dangers. I think that is a big consolation. May be they can also create a great future by by controlling EM, I guess.

Now did you take panspermia in the same breath as gravity and the Big Bang?

Maju said...

In India astrologers can deliver you from your future dangers. I think that is a big consolation. May be they can also create a great future by by controlling EM, I guess.

So they claim. I don't think it's necesarily true. My experience with Astrology means that it's a lot harder to predict and to advise than some claim. Said that, I can't know if a few really have enough wisdom as to really be of some help.

For me it's just an intriguing discpline anyhow, something that seems to correlate to the underlying reality as much as clouds relate to rain.

Now did you take panspermia in the same breath as gravity and the Big Bang?

I was thinking in examples of great cosmic mysteries. Gravity may be something as quotidain as falling to the ground or something as "esotheric" as what the heck happens in a black hole. It rules the Universe at the larger scale but still has many mysteries in it, like how does it realte with the electronuclear force or with the cosmological constant or with spacetime. Is it something quotidiain that gravity curves spacetime, the ultimate implications of this Einstenian principle are probably not yet well understood.

And gravity is maybe the most "simple" of the the aforementioned examlples but the more complex too maybe.

The Big Bang is so far paradigmatic, part of the current scientific consensus but we know nigh to nothing about the Big Bang itself. Is it a white hole? How did matter behave inside it? Where did it came from?

Panspermia, well, is just another cosmological mystery. I don't think the red cells that fell in India are but blood cells but it's not really impossible at all that microbial life may have a scope much larger than just planets and that it can travel around the universe via comets and meteorites, just like seeds travel in the wind or the bellies of animals.

There are many mysteries. The Universe is really big and complex, and we certainly don't (nor probably can) understand everything. The scientific method is most valuable but there is nothing like an absolute scientific truth. The map is not reality and the power of our minds, even when working together in massive connection as happens now, ca't but have a limit. A limit that by definition is smaller than the Universe, smaller than reality.