Monday, July 27, 2009

Can a true rational person compartmentalize inquisitiveness and rational thinking?

The basic qualities of a scientist or any truly educated person are rational thinking and inquisitiveness. I think a true scientific mind can never restrict his/her abilities limited only to his/her area of work but will apply to each and every aspect of life. Sometimes it may create problems for the person to live a “normal” life, mainly in a conservative society in countries like India. It can also become a bit painful experience when s/he start applying these qualities to ask questions and re-visit traditions, religion and religious beliefs that we imbibe since our childhood; from our parents, relatives and society. I know it is always a tricky issue to mix science with religion and tradition. I also should make it clear that my intention is not to hurt any religious sentiment here.

Let me give an example. In India majority are Hindus and so are majority of Indian “scientists”. Many of us believe that beef eating is not allowed in Hinduism, which is clearly not true, as per historians and social scientists. Many of Hindu “scientists” religiously follow that so-called religious custom and never eat beef for “religious” reason. There are many such rituals that we follow in the name of tradition and religion. This attitude gave rise to a very conservative and close society even among so-called educated people, as I think. It has a bigger impact on society when an established “scientist” follows such rituals. It strengthens many superstitions in the name of religion/tradition among common Indian people, who are not that much literate or well informed. I think I should make it clear that respect to one’s heritage and acknowledgement of one’s past is a different issue as compared to accepting and encouraging distorted version of religion and negative aspects of tradition. 

We need to keep in mind that single most important reason of killing people is religion since pre-historic time and India has more than fair share in that number. Mass murder, brutal torture of weaker sections of our society (e.g against women) in the name of religion/tradition is still a burning issue in Indian society which mainly originates from ill-informed notion about “religion” and lack of transparent, rational thinking.

I am not advocating that all scientists or truly educated people to start a mass movement to eradicate religious superstitions and social prejudices leaving less time for their main profession. I am wondering how hard it will be for us to set examples to others (mainly to our students and juniors) by our own deeds in personal lives. I do not think it will take any extra time away from our research or teaching. I have seen many Indian “scientists” wearing rings with gem stones to rectify some "rogue" star/planets to change their misfortunes. Whatever such scientist/teachers teach in a class or in his/her lab, is not going to make his/her students more rational and “educated” in real sense.

What we do has more profound impact on our students and juniors than what we actually preach in classes. As a teacher our duty is not only to train some techniques and transfer information in the name of “education” and “professionalism”, but also to train them, to encourage them to become a better human being, to gather the courage and wisdom not only to remain personally honest but to oppose corruption in an effective way. I am not asking my students or juniors or friends to become a martyr by opposing crimes and corruption of powerful people in a country like India but simply asking them to think of a better way to do it without sacrificing too much. The best and most effective way we can do, as I think, is by setting standard for ourselves.

My questions are:
1. Does a truly educated person have the social responsibility to behave a bit more responsibly with more open, logical attitude outside of his/her area of work?
2. If the answer to my previous question is yes; then, can we afford to continue compartmentalizing inquisitiveness and rational thinking?
3. Lastly, is it at all possible to become rational in some issues but not in many others?

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  1. Anonymous8:27 AM

    I read your blog throughout and it looks sensible.

  2. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Setting an example by 'rational' day to day living, at the minimum not causing pain to the weaker sectors in the name of tradition or religion is a great idea.

  3. If you asked the questions to get views from other people, then here is mine:
    My questions are:
    1. Does a truly educated person have the social responsibility to behave a bit more responsibly with more open, logical attitude outside of his/her area of work?
    A truly educated person should behave rationally and logically even beyond the work area. It has nothing to do with the work area or being in a certain profession (Scientist) that you have the responsibility. Being Rational/logical is the most important characteristic we learn over the years. This behavior makes difference between a kid and a matured person. It also differentiates us from other intelligent animals on earth.
    2. If the answer to my previous question is yes; then, can we afford to continue compartmentalizing inquisitiveness and rational thinking?
    When a person is rational, he will try to be inquisitive to find out why certain customs or rituals are followed. Generally, it is hard to convince a logical people to do a job without explaining why it is done that way, because they are inquisitive and that’s why raising the questions. So, these two are interrelated.
    3. Lastly, is it at all possible to become rational in some issues but not in many others?
    Yes, I believe so in a lighter tone. Sometimes we get irrational in some matters, like why we get so emotional looking at sunset. Why we become happy, getting the smell of earth after the first rain? May be sometimes we should be irrational otherwise life would be so predictable and boring.
    But I strongly support your views regarding the serious evils of our society. Only by following customs without raising questions we are allowing it to spread. Just to be another person in the crowd we don’t raise our voice. We can definitely do small things within our circle to convince people about the dark sides of an age-old tradition. Sometimes following a tradition may not harm you or your closed ones directly, but it may have far-reaching consequences. So, if we are role-model to even to a kid in our family we should not propagate wrong messages which can cause harm directly or indirectly to anybody residing even to the opposite corner of the world.

  4. well i hv learnt about Aristotle known for naming here its your own titled"iDream,iDare,iDo" and i hope u yourself are quite inquisitive to get to the bottom of it!
    But as for India,the great bulk of our country dwellers are poor-terribly poor living huddled together in dismal,dark and stinking slums.But as for their extreme belief in "god" renders me speechless..and this same practise to a normal man is his routine work, may be really without any understanding of why he confides in that while on the other hand it is,to a scientist,pure Dogmatism.
    Human mind, according to some scientists,is a tabula rasa with no content,structure and it was entirely shaped by the environment.
    But whatsoever, i believe,while certain customs or rituals are merely to mesmerise people,some surely have a significance
    But i would still like to thank society for getting itself rid of malpractises like "sati-daho" and many more..
    But things cannot always depend on mere rationalism..
    But for all these the first and foremost thing to be looked into would be the eradication of ignorance in any form and educating people more to make them conscious of the social evils!

  5. Jayanta2:39 PM

    One can read a nice article on great Indian scientist, Acharaya Profulla Chandra Roy in 2nd February 2011 issue of Bengali magazine "Desh". It mainly related to the same issue discussed here.

  6. sucha nice fact very few in our culture can claim to be rational...indian tradition as we interpret these days leaves no room for being rational ...

  7. Anonymous5:43 PM

    I see you have spread yourself a bit thin and touched on many topics.

    Starting with your first question - Responsible and rationally acceptable behavior automatically follows when one is 'truly educated' (whatever you take that to mean).

    I am lost on the second thinking. I was nearly led to think you were talking of compartmentalizing faith and rational thinking. But you are referring to something I am not able to comprehend.

    As for the last question, I would think it is a yes. Areas of thinking that do not conflict with your core beliefs are easy to handle and one can afford to be all 'rational' about it. On the contrary, if one is wedded to certain convictions and those happen to be their driving force, then the true test begins.


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