Thursday, October 03, 2019

India has no native religions - a summary

From Dr Pingali Gopal's book summary of Europe, India and the Limits of Secularism by Jakob de Roover.

The two important properties of religion are: first, it must make a claim about the origin and purpose of the world (the how and why of the Cosmos); and secondly, this message must be true This is the ‘metaphysical’ position of any religion.

Based on the metaphysical conditions, Indian traditions are not possibly religions. They do not properly raise the issue of origin of the Cosmos. Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanas, Puranas, Itihaasas have multiple stories of creation and purposes of Cosmos. The ideas in the multiple stories say just about everything and everything. Depending on the context, an individual in the multiple narratives may call the question of Cosmos origin illegitimate; or consider it pure speculation lacking any truth value; or say that all claims are true; or even suggest that Cosmos has no origin and is always present. The Buddhists and the Jains have no conception of a God in the first place! Strangely, in Indian tradition and culture, a person can equally believe all the stories and may equally reject all of them. Finally, it looks almost as if the ‘origin’ question and the place of God are irrelevant.

Religion is thus impossible in a culture where the questions of origins can be an illegitimate one. The Western world is always in a grip of historicity trying to find the truth value of its scriptures. The Biblical history is right in the center of investigation with advocates and opponents on either side of the battle line trying to prove or disprove. This attitude hardly excites or disturbs their counterparts in India. It is the attitude of a culture towards the holy books that generates questions or fails to do so. Literature investigating the truth claims made by ‘religious texts’ is absent in India. To ask whether they are true or false is to exhibit a profound ignorance of the culture whose stories they are.
As another component, there must be certain sociological conditions absolutely required for guaranteeing the identity of religions. These are:
  • a world-view codified in a textual source called a ‘holy-book’ and must be widely known
  •  a standard world-view with clear boundaries and which cannot undergo changes across generations
  • an authority to settle disputes in transmission and interpretation of stories and legends (thus having a hierarchy of texts)
  • a source of excommunication when two interpretations collide (say Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism)
  • an organization to transmit and propagate its world-views.
These five sociological conditions are necessary to allow the transmission of the world-views across space and time so that they may preserve their identity over generations. None of these conditions fulfil in India with respect to Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and so on. Hence, in metaphysical and sociological terms, it is an impossibility that Indian culture knows of religions or its secularized version-a world view.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Jammu & Kashmir - flashback to 1948

October 5th 1948:
Pakistan most certainly will not give Kashmir up in the face of Indian threats.  To many Pakistani officers it seems probable that the war in Kashmir is at present essential to the existence of the Indian Union.   They see it as the one common factor uniting all the different forces, which, if left to themselves, would pull the State to pieces.  Without a "popular war" the Nehru Administration would have to settle the conflicting claims of its own members, satisfy the Sikhs, reconcile labour and capital, deal with the Communists and take drastic and unpopular measures to stop the drift of the national economy towards complete chaos.  Hyderabad was a card which was good as long as it was held; now that it has been played there remains only Kashmir and the stakes on that card have been made so heavy in both men, money and prestige, that it cannot remain unplayed much longer.  Recent speeches by Union Ministers do tend the suggest the obtrusion [sic? intrusion] of the U.N.O. into the relations between India and her State of Kashmir has been a tedious restraint on the Union's ability to manage her own affairs efficiently.  Patel going so far as to remark on October 1st, that "if the Security Council releases us from that embarrassment we shall perform that operation also (i.e., Kashmir) with the least amount of danger." A singularly vacuous remark if ever there was one! Either Mr. Patel was using Hyderabad as a yard-stick to measure the Indian Army's martial prowess, or else he was completely ignorant of the military implications and the political consequences of a Union advance upto the Pakistan border.
This is from Adrian Reed (Junior Staff Member, Lahore Deputy High Commission posted to Rawalpindi) to Olver  (?Stephen Olver, Pakistan Foreign Service in Karachi).

(# 70 in "Towards a Ceasefire in Kashmir, British Official Reports from South Asia, 18 September - 31 December 1948", Editor: Lionel Carter).

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The obliquity of the ecliptic

On IndiaFacts, Anil Narayanan makes the case that the astronomers who wrote the Surya Siddhanta measured the obliquity of the ecliptic to be arcsin(1397/3438) = 23.975° and not 24° as has been translated by Whitney et. al. since 1858; since 24° would be expressed as arcsin(1398/3438) or arcsin(1399/3438) and never arcsin(1397/3438).
This is an important observation which bears repeating: The precision of the Indian R-Sine is 1/3438.

This puts the Surya Siddhanta to some 3000 BC.  Anil Narayanan promises more to support this date.
We currently know of at least 3 other items in Indian astronomy that point to 3000 BC, or thereabouts.

1) The value of the Sun’s equation-of-center given in the SS indicates a time range of 3000 BC or older;

2) The ubiquitously mentioned pole-star in Indian astronomy and literature, namely Dhruva (modern name Thuban), indicates a period about 3000 BC;

3) It is mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana text that the Krittika Nakshatra rises exactly in the East, which occurred only in ancient times, around 3000 BC. Nowadays Krittika rises between East and North-East.

We will discuss these in other articles.
If Anil Narayanan is right, then he is also right about this:
The misconception, which has to do with the tilt, or obliquity, of the earth’s axis, also ranks among the most clever and successful obfuscations in Indian astronomy carried out by the European scholars of yesteryear. They skillfully achieved the difficult task of hiding the treasure in plain sight, so to speak.
The two questions that I have are - how was this angle measured or inferred, and what is the origin of the Indian standard radius of 3438?

Answer to 3438 - it is the approximate radius of the circle in minutes (the exact value is  3437.74677078...).

My criticism of Anil Narayanan's article - see Aryabhatta's sine table on Wiki.  1397 comes from a linear interpolation for 24° between rows 6 and 7 of that table.

That is,
22° 30' = 1350' has jya = 1315
26° 15' = 1575' has jya = 1520
What is the angle whose jya = 1397?
The linear interpolation answer is 1350' + (1397 - 1315) * (1575' - 1350')/(1520 - 1315)
= 1350' + 82 * 225'/ 205 = 1440' (exactly!)
1440' = 24°.

This is probably how Whitney et. al. came to 24°.   The question then was linear interpolation the method of calculation used? e.g., see the same Wiki article.  I think to establish the point made Anil Narayana's article, we have to know how intermediate values in the R-sine table were computed.

Or, following Anil Narayanan's philosophy, that the precision of the Indian R-Sine is 1/3438, the obliquity of the ecliptic in the Surya Siddhanta is not an approximate 24°:
According to Mr. Bentley, the Hindu astronomers (unless in cases where extraordinary accuracy is required) make it a rule, in observing, to take the nearest round numbers, rejecting fractional quantities: so that we have only to suppose that the observer who fixed the obliquity of the ecliptic at 24 degrees, actually found it to be 23 and 1/2.
 Rather the measured obliquity of the ecliptic is bounded by arcsin(1396/3438) and arcsin(1398/3438), i.e, between 23° 59' and 24° 1'  (23.983° and 24.017°).

Using the formula here:

or a more exactly formula one can estimate the range of times of that observation.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Talk by Bibek Debroy | The relevance of Mahabharata for our times

Monday, August 12, 2019

The start of India's space program

On the centenary birthday of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, some remembrance of the beginnings of the Indian space program.

A Brief History of Rocketry in ISRO (2012)
PV Manoranjan Rao & P Radhakrishnan
Universities Press (India) ISBN 978-81-7371-763-5
page 2

"Independent India was lucky to have Jawaharlal Nehru as its first Prime Minister, for he shared a common ideal with Bhabha and Sarabhai.  He believed that modern science and technology were indispensable to the development of the country......Bhabha, in the 1950s and 60s, was considered the czar of organized research in India and, more importantly, had Nehru's ear!  Thus, when Sarabhai, with Bhabha's support, came up with a space initiative for the country, Nehru said 'yes' even though  the country was passing through a very difficult phase both economically and politically.

From Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet: India's Space Journey (2015)
Chief Editor P.V. Manoranjan Rao
HarperCollins, ISBN 978-93-517-689-5
page xix

"At that time India was facing severe economic and political hardships - there was a food shortage and that humiliating war in the north east.   Yet when Bhabha and Sarabhai came up with the space initiative, Nehru lent his wholehearted support.

India's Rise as a Space Power (2014)
Professor U.R. Rao
Foundation Books, ISBN 978-93-82993-48-3
Pages 7-8

"Given the background work of Dr Sarabhai and his co-workers at PRL and the expertise developed by Prof. Bernard Peters, Prof. M.G.K. Menon and their colleagues at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, who had flown a number of balloons from Hyderabad to carry out cosmic ray investigations,  Dr Homi Bhaba [sic] invited Dr Vikram Sarabhai to become a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and initiate space activity under the the umbrella of the Department of Atomic Energy.  Dr V. Sarabhai constituted the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Prof. E.V. Chitnis, ...."
Vikram Sarabhai - A Life (2007)
Amrita Shah
Penguin Books India, ISBN 978-0-67099-951-4
Pages 120-122, scattered excerpts

"When exactly Vikram came up with the notion of a space programme for India is not known.  R.G. Rastogi, his former student, claims to have heard him talk prophetically of setting up a rocket-launching programme 'by 1963' as far back as in the 1950s.  Praful Bhavsar, who had taken a leave of absence from PRL to do post-doctorate work at the University of Minnesota, recalls Vikram telling him something similar in 1959..."
"According to Rastogi, even Vikram's co-director at PRL, K.R. Ramanathan, was openly skeptical. 'He is too young, he has no idea how the government functions.  He will not get the money nor will establishment scientists allow it to happen.'...But Ramanathan had not counted on the chief weapon in Vikram's formidable arsenal of contacts: Homi J. Bhabha. 
It is tempting to speculate that Vikram and Bhabha, the two princes of Indian science, used their youthful days in Bangalore to spin up dreams for the future......It is tempting because of the uncanny sureness with which they set about their plans and their suggestion of complicity in so many of their actions. 
In August 1961, for instance, more than a year before the Chinese invasion and at a time when Nehru was still very much at the helm of the country's affairs, the union government, urged by Bhabha, identified an area known as 'space research and the peaceful uses of outer space' and placed it within the jurisdiction of the DAE.  As a part of the move, PRL was recognized as the 'appropriate centre' for research and development in space sciences.  And Vikram was co-opted into the board of the AEC.  More interestingly, in February 1962, the DAE created the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under Vikram's chairmanship to oversee all aspects of space research in the country.  Vikram had overcome the first seemingly impossible hurdle.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

History and Modernity

Bernard Cohn (1928-2003) was a professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago who studied India extensively.  In his essay, "The Pasts of an Indian Village" (1961), Cohn examines the various pasts as remembered by the peoples of Senapur village in Uttar Pradesh, India.  The various groups, Thakurs, Chamars, Brahmins, Muslims and Telis, all have a different narrative regarding their  "legendary" past, as well as that of the past several generations.

Cohn goes on to note:

All Americans share a past created by our educational system and media of mass communication.  We can invoke this past and have it be meaningful across regional and class lines.  Indians do not as yet share such a past.  An appeal for action on the part of the central government, based on what is thought to be a universal identification with a traditional or historic past, is meaningless or leads to antagonistic reactions of major parts of the population...... 
I would speculate that a society is modern when it does have a past, when this past is shared by the vast majority of the society, and when it can be used on a national basis to determine and validate behavior. 
A shared history that can be used to determine and validate behavior.  I wonder if such exists even in that bastion of modernity, the United States of America, where there are many competing histories - of the Yankee North, of the Lost Cause South, of the African-Americans, of the Latinos, of the native Americans; and those of the various immigrant groups.   In terms of sheer numbers, perhaps the first two are the most important. 

But it was just a speculation on Cohn's part.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Harper’s Index: thermostat and test scores

Percentage change in women’s math test scores in a room that is between 80° and 90° F rather than 60° and 70° F : +27
In men’s math test scores : –7
Traced the source to:
Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance

The math test in question was adding pairs of five digit numbers, 50 pairs in five minutes.
The verbal test was given the letters ADEHINRSTU, build as many (German) words as possible in 5 minutes.
"Our sample consisted exclusively out of students from universities in Berlin. The advantages of this subject pool is that they are relatively easy to recruit and homogenous in their cognitive skills. The disadvantage of this subject pool is that it is not representative of the whole population with respect to age and education level. 
About the results:
"Taken together, these results show that within a temperature range of 16 and 33 degrees Celsius, females generally exhibit better cognitive performance at the warmer end of the temperature distribution while men do better at colder temperatures. The increase in female cognitive performance appears to be driven largely by an increase in the number of submitted answers. We interpret this as evidence that the increased performance is driven in part by an increase in effort. Similarly, the decrease in male cognitive performance is partially driven by a decrease in observable effort. Importantly, the increase in female cognitive performance is larger and more precisely estimated than the decrease in male performance."
 What this result establishes, IMO, is that each person, or at least student in Berlin, tends to put forth most effort in a indoor temperature setting that suits them.   This may have some relevance to supposedly gender-neutral tests, the test setting may be important.