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Friday, January 21, 2022

Shared Mythology for the 21st century: Pathway to a Shared Sacred Mother Earth (3)

 We now have better understanding of the physical aspects of this Universe, our planet and of life. Our scientific advances have helped spawn several new technologies which were never even dreamed of, except by a few science fiction writers and visionaries. These technological advances have enriched our lives. They have contributed to elimination or better control of diseases, longer life, rapid travel, rapid communication, space travel etc.,

For example, when I traveled to USA from India in 1958, the duration of the journey had already been shortened from several months by ship to a few days by planes. Yet, the jet age had not arrived, and the travel took multiple hops and three days. We can now fly, even without supersonic speeds, in about 16 hours.

And humans can now fly to the moon and be back safely and can take a space flight around the earth if one can afford to pay.

In the 1950’s I did not have any phone communication with my family for 5 years (from 1958 to 1963).  For one thing everyone in India did not have personal telephone line. Besides the transatlantic underwater cable collections were poor and the costs were prohibitive.

Where are we now? I know of daughters who live in USA now who are on Facetime or Skype with their mothers in India to get cooking instructions. Music lessons are conducted online. We can see and talk with anyone, anywhere in the world at any time. Meetings, Conventions and Conferences attended by hundreds of participants are conducted on virtual platforms.

In the 1950’s, when I was working on research projects, we did not have the internet. To do my literature research, I had to go to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia which had the largest collection of medical journals going back to the late 1800’s. Journals from each year were bound into volumes and kept in their stacks in the basement of the building. We could not go to the stacks and pick out the volume we wanted. We had to go to the beautiful large reading room at the College and fill out a request slip with the details of the name of the journal, volume number and the year. An attendant will go down to the stacks and bring the volume we requested. Since I was in training, the only days I could go to the College of Physicians Library were Saturdays. I usually waited till I had a list of 10 or more references to look up before I went there.


Fast forward to 2021, what is the status now?  I can sit in my own study and look up almost any research article I need by scrolling the computer screen and clicking! Indeed, that is how I obtained data on Infant Mortality and Life expectancy for an earlier paragraph.


But science and technology have come with their own burdens. In other words, they have contributed to human welfare; but they have also contributed to some of the dangers we face today.


We develop evidence-based approaches and new technologies to solve specific problems. But every problem cannot be solved by scientific and technological solutions because every technology will have its “downside” unless we use them wisely. As quoted by Garrett Hardin in his classic article on Tragedy of the Commons (Garret Hardon, 1968), when Wiesner and York were asked to advice the US Government on the problem of nuclear proliferation and the arms race, they said that “ If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the result will be to worsen the situation." The implication was that we must change our human behavior to solve some of the problems. This is true for our current problems such as climate change, disappearance of species, rapid spread of both viruses and misinformation.


What are the strengths and weaknesses of science and technology?


Facts and objectivity are the strengths of science. But it tends to ignore, marginalize, or minimize the importance of emotions and subjective experience.


Measurements and quantitation are its strengths. But it tends to quantify even qualities which cannot be measured. Putting a number on a quality and measuring does not make it scientific.


It breaks down a field of knowledge into parts and makes it understandable. But it struggles to make a whole from its parts. It knows the trees, but not the forest. As pointed out by Vine Deloria, “…..modern man has foreclosed the possibility of experiencing life in favor of explaining it”. (God is Red, Grosset Books, 973, page 298)


Demonstrable evidence makes the conclusions arrived by scientific method reliable and useful for better understanding. But complete knowledge requires the faculties of our body, mind with its reason and emotion and the spirit. Science does not allow for information from two of those four domains.


Science helps us to know about a thing as perceived, but not a thing as is.


By its very nature, conclusions arrived at by scientific inquiry are tentative. They do change and should change when new facts emerge to give a better explanation. This is its strength. But this strength is misunderstood as weakness (“scientists do not know. They keep changing their mind” is the way some folks see) and this misunderstanding is used to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the public by politicians and industries.


Scientists are often not able to bring their knowledge to the common folks in a language they can understand. Sometimes they even look down upon common folks. By insisting that everything gets approved by “science”, they tend to ignore the wisdom of the native and indigenous people and their “lived” experiences. In short, science is making the same mistake religions did for a long time insisting that everything – even evident facts – had to be approved by the religious heads. (Remember what happened to Galileo)


To the common man, scientific knowledge appears to be too objective, too cold, sterile, and value-less.

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