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Reductionist Maxim – Basudev Mishra

Reductionist Maxim - Basudev Mishra

On my post on the maxim of the six blind men and the elephant, a friend has raised some important questions. Here is my reply to him.

How did the blind persons really touched different parts of one and the same elephant?                                     

In one variant of the story, they were not physically blind, but were boasting of their great knowledge. Hence to expose their vanity, the king took the blind folded to a hard curtain with a small aperture. An elephant was paced in the other side of the curtain and only one of its body parts were placed near the aperture, so that the blind folded persons could touch only one part of the same elephant. In other variants, the blind persons were guided to only one part of the same elephant. In any case, this is trivial, because it is not physically impossible. Hence we should concentrate on the other major issue.

Before answering the question, it would be necessary to differentiate between knowledge and science. Branching out from a common source (saamaanya) to different constituent parts (vishesha) to know the truth about that segment, is called Science (Vaisheshika). Here the segment is a derivative of the common source – hence must follow the rule of causality, i.e., the specialties must have been derived from the commonality under specific circumstances and conditions. The opposite – moving from the mix of general and special characteristics of each segment and synthesizing them towards the commonality in everything (Yoga) – is knowledge. Hence we use terms like physical sciences, chemical sciences, biological sciences, etc. for the same body. But we do not use such terms for knowledge (though we use terms like knowledge of physical sciences, it does not contradict the earlier statement, as knowledge is a collective of ALL sciences).

When we encounter divergent doctrines and points of view, we usually do NOT know whether they really relate to the same topic or whether they are mutually compatible and can be harmonized from the perspective of a Higher Truth or not. That is why require a competent Guru – a qualified guide to properly navigate us through the labyrinths of confusion. Otherwise, though technically the ergodic monkey typing at random may be able to produce a great novel after infinite trials, such chances are ruled out during our short life span.

When ANY person makes ANY statement, it is not a random occurrence. It is backed by a certain chain of thought and command based on his 1) natural instinct based on his DNA (indriyaartha sannikarshaat), 2) past experiences involving similar or related events (abhyaasaat), 3) socio-cultural upbringing (abhimaanaat), 4) accidental encounter that revive forgotten memories (pratyabhijnaat). These are called Preeti Sootram or the theory of attachment. These conditions are unique to each individual. Hence each perception is unique. This makes different persons perceiving the same object or event differently. But can we say any of these wrong? Suppose one uses a colored eye-piece or someone, who is color blind. Can we say his/her vision as wrong? Under those conditions, he/she is right. However, when we deal with the material word, such blurred vision does not produce the expected result. Hence it is wrong. Because proof is defined as that which produces invariant and expected results of the same object or events under similar conditions irrespective of place and time of occurrence. Hence if we go by proof, which only leads to knowledge, such vision or description is wrong in the ultimate analysis. But if we go by science, such visions are expected under those circumstances. To that extent, they are not wrong. This second vision is called Avidyaa. Though the term has other meanings, here it implies ultimate ignorance. For this reason, “ALL theories are fragments of the same (alleged) Truth”.

There may be mistaken or erroneous conjectures and theories from the universal point of view, but for a specific person in a specific context, it is not wrong. This is what Ted Howard calls “a model of a model of a model of a model of reality”. We cannot ignore that because the person’s behavior depends on that perception and it may affect us.

Now, the all-important question: “how are we to winnow the wheat from the chaff — how are we to separate the RIGHT theories from the WRONG ones and to preserve only the former, while remorselessly discarding the latter”? The Vedas and Upanishads have given elaborate commentaries on this under the Ashwattha Vidyaa or the theory of the inverted Ficus religiosa or sacred fig tree – also called Bodhi tree – a species of fig native to the Indian subcontinent and Indochina. The tree is called Ashwattha, which literally means that which goes on evolving and expanding. The tree is pictured as inverted: with its roots at the top against its normal position. A tree evolves from its seeds to roots and two leaves. The root forms its base – here the universe. The two leaves represent matter and energy. It evolves to the trunk, the branches, the sub-branches, ultimately the leaves, flowers and fruits. Two birds are pictured to be sitting on the tree: one eating the fruits and the other observing it. These two are the physical and the conscious aspects of the universe. It is a big analysis and I can discuss it at some other time.

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