Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality. — Carl Sagan
Let me start by asking a simple question to follow a simple approach to understand ‘Scientific Temper‘.
How many of you ever asked this – Why do we perform certain rituals only on some specific days? Are some days auspicious than others?
I am not saying whether performing a certain ritual is right or wrong. I am just enquiring do we ever try to figure out the reason for doing so! It is quite obvious that most of us simply follow rituals without ever asking the reason for doing it.
What do you think about your response in following certain rituals?
Accepting everything without ever asking the reason may lead us to a vulnerable situation. It is giving control of your life to someone else. Giving your precious freedom away for nothing!
Don’t you think that you should be taking the control of your life in your hands?
So, it becomes very important to possess a way of life where we have complete control over our own life and here lies the significance of what we call the scientific temper.
In this article, you will learn what scientific temper is and how is it different from having scientific knowledge. You will also learn about the best strategies in developing a scientific temper.
What is Scientific Temper?
Scientific temper is not merely a topic to be covered in a text-book of science but it is more of an attitude to be developed and a way of life to be incorporated in our personality.
Technically speaking, scientific temper is a way of life – a process of thinking and acting – which uses a scientific method and involves: questioning, observing reality, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing and forming a concrete theory.
It further describes an attitude which involves the application of logic. It is not a question of either this or something else, it must be a part of our lifestyle without any second thought.
In simple words, a refusal to accept anything without testing and trial is the beginning of a scientific temper. The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru used this phrase for the first time in 1946 where he coined it in his famous book ‘The history of India’.
Without having any prejudice towards a ritual (or any act for that matter), if we just start asking a question before doing it, that will be enough to sow the seeds of scientific temper.
Now, we can at least start seeing things as they are compared to what they are told to us. Isn’t that amazing?
Why do we need to have a scientific temper?
Having learnt what scientific temper is, the next question that should strike our mind is – Why do I need to develop it?
Generally speaking, there are two ways of doing things.
First, you don’t know the reason for doing it but you are simply following others. Similarly, other people are also unaware of the reason but they too are following what is prevalent in society. This is a dangerous situation to be in and most of us follow this approach.
Second, you are more aware of the outcome of your action. You know the reason for doing it. What do you think is the better approach?
I strongly believe that having a scientific temper gives you an edge, to have a better understanding pre-hand about the outcome certain activities can yield. It is like having a blueprint in advance for a given task. So, it becomes fairly simple to carry on with the work with great strength and motivation.
Scientific temper is in concurrence with the development. Society always evolves by questioning our current way of living and seeking opportunities to improve. However, the existing dogmatic and religious beliefs have always created hurdles in the path of a progressing society.
Had the cave-dwellers not questioned their way of living in past, we would still be cave-dwellers!
Scientific knowledge is different from having a scientific temper
Let me make it very clear, having higher education or holding important positions in science and technology is in NO way a guarantee of bearing scientific temper. In reality, a greater percentage of highly educated Indians still have a strong belief in superstitions and conservative ideas.
For instance, it is a well-established practice in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), wherein they take the prototype of every new Satellite it launch in the Lord Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati to seek the blessings of a deity. Now imagine if scientists from the most premier scientific body in India can do it, what to talk about common people having little information about science.
Moreover, having scientific knowledge is different from scientific temper. Scientific knowledge can make you familiar with various processes and mechanisms about how things work. Such knowledge is always backed by numerous experimental results. It is of no use if this knowledge is not applied in a proper manner.
However, scientific temper requires the application of scientific knowledge in letter and spirit. For example, if you know the astronomical details about the planet Mars (Mangal) – this is scientific knowledge. When you use this knowledge to debunk the myth about ‘Manglik’ (having strong Martian influence) – this is scientific temper.
Now being aware of the importance of having a scientific temper, let’s move on to know some ways to add this enriching trait in our personality.
Best Strategies in developing a scientific temper
Inspired by TEDx talk on Scientific temper by Prakash Shesh, Alumni of IIM, Ahmedabad, here are few worthy and sound strategies (as suggested by him) which may help in developing the scientific temper:
Studies have revealed that good questioning challenges the higher-order reasoning and thinking skills of a person. The spirit of scientific temper begins by asking questions and then by seeking answers.
Questioning has been a core principle in ancient Indian educational system. Embedded inside the Atharva Veda, the ‘Prashna Upanishad’ encourage the disciples to ask six fundamental questions to their teacher. Socrates is well known for using ‘questioning’ to examine the validity of an assumption, analyze the logic and explore the unknown.
As per the latest research, questioning is an integral part of meaningful learning and scientific enquiry. Studies have further shown that asking and answering your own questions help you learn effectively, understand better and assist in remembering.
Now to transform the scientific temper into a way of life, I respectfully ask – who is stopping you to begin asking good questions? Nicely said by Confucious “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life”
(2) Sharpen your curiosity
Curiosity – this is again a nice quality to have in your personality. Interestingly, questioning is the foundation on which this quality stands. So, once you start asking a question you are naturally heading towards the right direction in developing scientific temper.
Again, let me ask you a few thought-provoking questions to show how casually we take our present way of living:
Do you know the meaning of our ‘National-Anthem’?
We all have been singing it since our childhood without understanding its meaning. The important point which I want to draw here is unless we ask the reason for doing something we are bound to fall in the trap of mediocrity and mundane lifestyle.
There are innumerable such examples where we simply keep on obeying some customs without asking why we do it! I am quoting some of these in the form of questions:
- Why do we do ‘Prakrima’ (moving around a deity) when we go to temple?
- To protect our good-luck, why do we say ‘touch-wood’?
- While putting-off a burning flame is considered bad in our culture, why do we blow-off candles on a birthday celebration?
Now, mind you if you also do not know the answers to these questions and have been following these practices. You do need to upgrade yourself in terms of looking for genuine reasons for doing something.
(3) Believe only if conclusions are statistically valid
The third strategy to develop scientific temper is to believe only if conclusions may satisfy the criteria of statistical validation. This implies that if the probability of success rate for a given event is found to be more than 60 per cent, only then it should be considered good to follow.
I will make my point clear by using a very popular example:
Consultation of some astrologer to match the horoscopes of a marrying couple has become a fashion these days. But do we ever question the claims of these astrologers?
Padma Vibhushan Awardee, renowned astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar, once conducted a statistical survey about astrological predictions. He collected around 100 horoscopes, made thousands of photocopies while hiding the details of owners of horoscopes.
He then invited as many astrologers as he could and ask them to tell him just three simple questions related to those 100 horoscopes:
- Does this horoscope belong to dead or alive person?
- Is that person married or a bachelor?
- Is that person male or female?
He then gave them a week to answer these three simple questions. The sample size of his experiment was 18000 (substantial data-size). He finally concluded that the success rate of his experiment was far below 30 per cent, which means astrological predictions don’t have a statistical basis.
(4) Oppose public obstinacy
Next strategy to boost your scientific temper is by opposing public obstinacy.
You might have seen it very often in your day to day life, that politicians often take undue advantage of people by invoking religious sentiments for issues that have nothing to do with religion. This criminal intent of our politicians has certainly picked up a great pace in the last 5 years. People with no scientific temper continue to fall prey to such malicious traps.
Typical examples of such public obstinacies are:
- Opposition to sex education in schools.
- Branding homosexuality as evil to our culture.
In both these cases, the public obstinacy is often expressed linking these issues to religion. You might find people saying these are against our religious sentiments, these issues are aliens to us and so on.
Baba Ramdev even went to the height of stupidity when he called homosexuality a disease. Not only this he even claimed to have discovered a remedy for curing it. You can imagine the vicious intent behind coming up with a vaccine for just an absurd idea!
My sincere suggestion: Even if you can’t actively participate to suppress such evil-designs, you can at least oppose them with reason and critical thinking wherever you come across it.
(5) Understanding your religion through its philosophy instead of rituals
With regard to justifying many drawbacks of the existing rituals, people often point their recognition by holy-books. The problem with such radical elements is they simply take the words in these scriptures literally disregarding the context in which the message is conveyed.
Being born in a Hindu family, I know my religion a little more than I know about other religions. So, I’m picking an example from Hinduism.
One of the fundamental principles of Hinduism is ‘Adwait’ (meaning Non-duality). It says the creator and the creation are one and not separate entities, which implies that Hinduism is broad enough to take even atheism in its fold. It allows you to be an atheist and still be Hindu.
However, contrary to this you might regularly hear incidents of people being lynched and forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
What I intend to say is having a scientific temper helps you in understanding your religion better. Endowed with the scientific temper you are naturally inclined to be more humane to show empathy for others. You will be more sensitive to the needs of others, look at things very clearly and act decisively.
The best way to sum up this article would be to re-emphasize that developing scientific temper is urgently needed for the overall development.
It is not a fight between science and religion. It is a fight between you and irrationality. –Prakash Shesh
The best time to start building a scientific temper was yesterday, the second-best time is today!
I would love to know your experiences and views on developing scientific temper in the comment section below.