Sunday, August 11, 2019

Modern Superstitions and Scientific Approach to Life

(Lewis Dartnell)

“And in spite of this, we are currently living in a world of alternative facts, in which there are climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers.’ ‘Many of the challenges we have been facing recently are because people have, to certain extent, rejected science….I think the solution isn’t to teach people scientific facts but to teach people a more scientific way of thinking, of thinking logically about what might be the better solution.” – Lewis Dartnell, Astrobiologist. (Quoted from an article by Rushati Mukherjee published in the Hindu Sunday Magazine dated 11/8/2019)

World population could now be divided into two: one section practicing a scientific approach to life and the other, the illogical section that lives in ‘modern superstitions’. By modern superstition what I mean is what exactly Lewis Dartnell means, a way of life dominated by ‘alternative facts’ where people believe that everything that they do with the environment is good and one does not need to vaccinate for prevention of life threatening or incapacitating sicknesses. People practice modern superstition by employing the scientific innovations and technology in order to perpetuate blind faiths and age old superstitions. For instance, a larger section of the people in the world who use smartphones with internet connections to pass on trivia, fake news, unconfirmed reports and age old superstitions. Word of mouth now has been replaced by ultra-modern technology and the scope of its reach has been multiplied into unimaginable numbers.

Unfortunately, the people who perpetuate modern superstitions are far more in number and they could easily outdo the section of people who practice a scientific approach to life. Scientific approach to life is always contested and looked down upon by the majority mainly because it discards the religious beliefs and the rituals associated with them. They think that an uncontested and unquestioned life is not worth living. But they are up against a huge wall which has been raised by the religious believes over the centuries using well-crafted mythologies, superstitions, metaphysics, spiritualism and fatalism. Together they support the political ideologies that come to dominate the socio-cultural and economic spheres anywhere in the world. Dominant ideologies, for their perpetuation and survival need the fuel of modern superstition as well as modernizing superstitions; market and the life style products are such modernizing superstitions.

(Dr.Krishnan Balendran)

Superstitions of all kinds have survived time and adversities mainly because the politico-economic powers have always supported them. Against this substantially deep and binding impact of the superstitions, scientific world views though will have fewer takers for the time being, make a strong presence and bring about certain lasting changes in the society. Unscientific statements made by the political leaders for ideological expediency often contradict themselves by using the most modern technologies and by living a no-nonsense life. Scientific approach has been trying to expose this and also developing and implementing new parameters to enhance social life and longevity so that slowly but steadily more people are looking up to it for a much more sophisticated and comfortable life. Old habits die hard; that is the only problem now people are facing when they attempt to discard the old superstitious ways. It will take time but it is bound to happen.

When an internationally reputed scientist like Dartnell says that scientific approach is what we needed people sit up and listen. However, here in our place too we have egalitarian social thinkers, scientists and doctors who speak in the same line. Task at their hand is more difficult than that before Dartnell, especially when we consider the deeply superstitious societies within which our scientific people have to work. Dartnell is right when he says that it is not important to teach people about scientific facts for they may find it absolutely dense and repelling; superstitions are easier to comprehend because they come in small doze of parables, allegories and socio-cultural entertainments. Science does not impact the society through stories and myths. As I understand it, science does not have a story to tell but it has many examples, which have been successfully tested with evidence and positive results, to display. While an anti-vaxxer insists that vaccination is against belief, it is for the multinational corporations, it is against faith healing, it is for economic domination and so on, he has only partial records, projection and spurious data to substantiate his arguments, meanwhile ‘vaxxers’ have solid data to prove that how vaccinations have helped people in different contexts by saving and improving their lives.


Though they do not enjoy the fame of a scientist like Dartnell, Dr.Krishan Balendran, a famous forensic surgeon in Kerala has been propagating the very same idea in his speeches and writings for a long time. According to him, our ‘scientists’ who take the ‘chandrayan’ (homemade space shuttle) model to the Tirupati Temple for divine blessings before the actual launching of the rocket, are not scientists but people who do scientific work in a detached way. Dr.Krishnan categorically says, “Many of our scientists are not scientific,” and in the same breath he adds that many scientific people are not scientists either. Same is the idea expressed by Maitreyan, a social thinker and activist who takes a wholistic analytical approach to anything that is either presented as facts (even scientific facts) or commonly held beliefs. During the last few years Maitreyan also has been pointing out how our scientists are losing out in scientific spirit and are getting into the esoteric zones of metaphysics and magic. Sunny M.Kapikkad, noted social thinker raises this point in one of his highly impactful public speeches and asks why a post graduate in Science (MSc) still thinks that the Dalits who have passed the same examination and come out with first classes and ranks are ‘lower’ in merit than an upper caste person. According to Sunny Kapikkad, the scientific education that he gained has not impacted him at all. If he understood what he had learnt in the university such a doubt would never have raised its ugly head in him.

To develop scientific approach we do not need degrees in science. Nor do we need to read scientific journals and keep in company with scientists. We just need to develop an attitude that goes in tune with scientific spirit, which is not superstitious and retrogressive. There rationalists and atheists who try to spread scientific spirit in the society. But their problem is, if I go by the views of Dartnell, that they try to teach people ‘facts’ scientifically and try to teach them scientific facts ‘logically.’ It is the same coin of superstition flipped the other way round. We have emphatic logicians who knock in facts into the minds of people who go back in a zombie state with undigested facts and live in conflict with the superstitiously conditioned social ethics that includes believing in god, doing charity, visiting temples and going with the majority opinion. To develop scientific approach in life one needs to nurture an open view of the world. One should understand that oneness is not created out of one but many. One should also understand that world functions based on law of science not out of the diktats of a furious god or a pantheon of godheads. Mythologies are literature generated out of limited physical and intellectual resources with glimpses of liberal and intuitive world views. But it cannot be taken for the guiding principles of today’s life. A flood cannot be stopped by sincere prayers. A flood could be tackled only through scientific methods.

(Sunny M Kapikkad)

I am not a scientist nor do I read a lot of scientific literature. But I keenly discern the scientific out of a host of superstitious life practices and reject the latter without a second thought. When in the right company that makes you think and act, you tend to be scientific than in the wrong company that compels you to act out of a spur of emotion. With scientific approach to life every parameter changes and with that you become a new human entity that would surprise you upon encountering it in the street of emotions and inconsiderate actions.

n  JohnyML

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