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Thursday, 27 May 2021

Author’s response to Dr. Abhas Mitra’s review of the book THE 8-FOLD WAY OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD

Dr. Abhas Mitra, author of the bestseller book The Rise and Fall of the Blackhole Paradigm (2021), has published an Amazon-India review of my book, which I reproduce below. This is followed by my clarification of some of the points made by him. The points I respond to are marked with superscripts (i)(ii), etc.




Dr. Mitra’s review reads as follows:
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* * * * * One of the most valued books I have ever read, though the cheapest one
It may sound disappointing that many scientists practising science do so as a routine profession without worrying too much about “Scientific Methods”. Of course good scientists and good science students do possess some ideas about the scientific methods to be employed while doing science. However even the good scientists may not feel the requirement to delve into various latent dimensions of correct scientific methods and might occasionally be tempted to arrive at wrong scientific conclusions. For instance, many physicists now think that String Theory, one of the most hyped topics of theoretical physics ever, might have been degenerated into some sort of pseudo science even when most brilliant theoretical physicists have struggled to develop it over past four decades. And of course general public is liable to be enamored by even pseudo-sciences, for instance by astrology.


To the best of my knowledge, the present book might be the only one on the science and philosophy of scientific methods after the publication of The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), a book about the philosophy of science by the philosopher Karl Popper, in which the author argued that science should adopt a methodology based on falsifiability. This is so because no number of experiments can ever prove a theory, but a reproducible experiment or observation can refute one. In his book, the author first dwells on the eight tenets of the Scientific Method, namely, (1) Right questions, (2) Right (objective or empirical) observations, (3) Right hypothesis to explain the observations, (4) Right testing of predictions of the hypothesis, (5) Right theory, (6) Right language and logic, (7) Right (minimum number of) axioms and (8) Rightly worded (falsifiable) statements. And the author asserts that these eight tenets are someway analogous to the eight steps to Nirvana emphasized by Buddha: (1) Right beliefs, (2) Right intentions, (3) Right speech, (4) Right conduct, (5) Right livelihood, (6) Right effort, (7) Right mindfulness and finally (8) Right concentration.


As the author succinctly puts it: A crucial aspect of science is systematizing the knowledge acquired and, even more importantly, of making the knowledge available to everybody for scrutiny. Thus at least in principle, science is always self-correcting. For instance, in 2020, all top scientists believed that Covid-19 virus does not float in air for too long and hence the disease does not propagate through air. But by May 2021, it appears that Covid-19 viruses are likely to freely propagate through air. Such a logical virtue of science might however be dishonored by the intellectual arrogance of the proponents of hypotheses which are not verifiable by observations and experimentations, as is the case with several aspects of Theoretical Physics and in particular the String Theory.


But this book goes much beyond such mundane aspects as the author points out that all phenomena are natural and there is really nothing “supernatural”. If so, in some way religion and mysticism too come under the purview of science in a broader sense. Simultaneously, he delves deeper into some complex issues of scientific interest. Accordingly, the 2nd part of this book explores newer dimensions. For instance, there are small chapters entitled “How to Live Well Forever” and “Reversal of Chronic Diseases”. However, I have not yet gone through these chapters and feel that such topics do not gel well with the general character of this great book and were avoidable (they could be published separately).(i)

The author is bold and his book even contains a subsection “The end of theoretical physics as we know it?”. Unfortunately this subsection is based entirely on a recent popular physics book by the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder. And though I personally like this content, I feel it has (not) been organically connected with his overall book.(ii) The 2nd part also contains insightful long discussions on works of Stephan Wolfram on complexity. I am afraid, such sections though highly valuable in their own rights, look like add-ons and have been some sort of distraction from the central theme of the book.(iii)

On the other hand, I feel that the section entitled “Which is the most scientific natural language?” is important for a comprehensive appreciation of scientific methods because computer science has started aiding science in a major way. The author points out that for artificial intelligence, and computational linguistics, there is a subfield called natural language processing (NLP), or computer linguistics, which is about using computational techniques to learn, understand and produce human language content. Here the author highlights that Sanskrit language whose literal meaning is ‘sculpted to perfection’ is the most scientific natural language. In this context, he explains why long ago, Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871), who is sometimes called as “father of computers’’ mentioned that “The structure of Pāinian Grammar is nothing but a computer program.”


The author is an atheist and rationalist in the true sense and not as an intellectual fashion statement so prevalent in modern India. Accordingly, the author has no inhibition in highlighting the ‘thought and philosophy’ behind Vedas the same way Ernest Schrodinger had no hesitation in comparing the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics to some of the oriental mysticism. In particular, the author points out that the ancient Indian school of philosophy, Nyāya, considers the five elements essential to correct reasoning, beginning with the statement that “The reason (evidence) must be present in the case under consideration.’


Overall, it’s a rich and exotic concoction of conventional studies on methodologies of science, history, philosophy both western and Indian. Though it is no easy read, this is one of most valuable books I have ever read. However, I have a complaint against the author. Such a unique and precocious book ought to be published through some reputable international publisher in order that it would garner real international traction that it deserves. Unfortunately, it has been self-published.(iv) Yet I strongly recommend that all science lovers should enrich their collection by this gem whose e-version is available almost free (Rs. 149 or US $2.0).
==========

I am thankful to Dr. Mitra for his kind words about the book. Here is my response to some of the points raised by him (marked above with superscripts).


(i) Why are there as many as three chapters on human health and longevity in a book on the Scientific Method? There are at least two reasons for this:


(a) One underlying thought that influenced my entire planning and writing of this book was that science has to now find ways to go beyond its conventional reductionistic approach, so as to be able to investigate even complex systems effectively. The present century will be the century of complexity science. To bring home to the lay reader the fact that complex systems are all around us, I picked up the example of the human mindbody, which has consciousness as one of its ‘emergent’ properties. Our health and longevity issues are something that interest everybody. The chapter ‘How to Live Well Forever’ provides a powerful example of how modern science and technology (an outcome of the Scientific Method) enables us to realistically cherish the hope of living well forever, if we wish to. Similarly, the chapter ‘Reversal of Chronic Diseases’ serves to hold the hope that so many chronic diseases can indeed the reversed, thanks to the fruits of the application of the Scientific Method to the health sciences.

(b) By now it is well established that ancient Indian science and technology, as also philosophy and mathematics, got very bad treatment at the hands of Western historians of science, as also their misguided and/or politically motivated Indian cohorts (see, e.g., Kak (2021): ‘A Brief History of Indian Science’, (99+) (PDF) A Brief History of Indian Science | Subhash Kak - Academia.edu). In this book I have done my bit to restore the balance to some extent by including a chapter on the history of science. But the achievements of pre-modern India were so prolific that I had trouble keeping that chapter reasonably brief. One thing I have done is to move some part of the material to a chapter on the ‘The 8-Fold Yogic Way of Living’. So this is the third chapter on the health sciences. The three chapter together also served to enable me to compare the three approaches to human health and longevity. It goes without saying that the yogic way of living is the best: for the individual, for society, for world peace, and for living in complete harmony with Nature.


(ii) ‘The end of theoretical physics as we know it?’ is a section in the chapter ‘Going Beyond Reductionism in Science’. Dr. Mitra would agree with me readily that we have all been pining for long for the next golden age in theoretical physics. There has been a stalemate of sorts for the last several decades. No fundamental breakthroughs have come. People have been wondering why. Sabine Hossenfelder (2018) in her book has opined that perhaps it is because of our excessive obsession with the beauty and symmetry of the equations that embody our theories. That is one opinion. In fact I myself highlighted the crucial role played by conservation theorems in the discoveries of hidden (broken) symmetries (Wadhawan (2018): Latent, Manifest, and Broken Symmetry). So this approach has paid rich dividends. But perhaps we have already milked this cow too much. Other approaches are needed. The same chapter in the book gives a lot of space to the work of Stephen Wolfram, who has been advocating the use of cellular automata and local interactions for getting the hang of all sorts of research problems, including those in theoretical physics. I think theoretical physicists should take Wolfram’s claims more seriously. Who knows, they may end up getting the breakthrough ideas so sorely needed at the present juncture in the history of theoretical science.


(iii) Giving so much space to Wolfram’s work is also because of my agenda to highlight every possible approach that can help make progress in complexity science. So much so that I end up making some suggestions for relaxing the very strict Scientific Method a bit so as to bring the study of even highly complex systems (like the consciousness aspect of the human mindbody) into mainstream science.


(iv) This is perhaps the first and the only comprehensive book on the scientific method. And availability of such a book in high-school and college libraries can go a long way in promoting scientific temper in society. But there may well be scope for improvement of the book. For this I keep inviting suggestions and critical comments. Since I am also the publisher of the book, it is very easy for me to make corrections and improvements continuously. What is more, it would take me just a day or two to bring out a corrected / improved version, or even a new edition: All I have to do for this is to upload a revised pdf file. So please keep giving me your feedback.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Vinod Wadhawan’s new book ‘The 8-Fold Way of the Scientific Method’


The 8-Fold Way of the Scientific Method:

What science has been all about so far,

and how it should be done now

 

Vinod Kumar Wadhawan

Published by the author

Powered by Pothi.com, India

2021


This 'Print on Demand' book can be ordered from the following websites:

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Advance Praise for the Book

‘Most people think that science is a body of knowledge which uses a lot of jargon and math. Dr. Vinod Wadhawan makes it clear that science is, first and foremost, a method for producing reliable knowledge. The book also serves as a ready reference for a vast collection of scientific ideas. Not just ‘hard science’ but also ideas like logical fallacies, the nature of evidence, and philosophical concepts like falsifiability. All of these are invaluable for aspiring rationalists, especially if they are (like myself) themselves not scientists. The author also suggests ways in which science can go beyond reductionism to further the study of complex systems’.

— Ambar Nag

Data scientist and rationalist

Quora: https://www.quora.com/profile/Ambar-Nag 

Medium: https://atheistblogger101.medium.com/

 

‘The noted particle-physicist Murray Gell-Mann was inspired by the grand Eightfold Path of Buddhism when he invoked it for describing the deep interlinkings among the fundamental particles. Vinod Wadhawan’s book is comparable more to the Buddhist 8-fold way than to Gell-Mann’s material and prosaic 8-fold way. This book is a profound inner view of not only science, but also of history of science, philosophy, ontology, epistemology, partly sociology, and overall about life itself. 

‘The book contains not just eight chapters about the methodology of science, but its reach is much wider, as unfolded in six more chapters. Though the author is a noted physicist, and has no hesitation in saying that he is an atheist, he is not dogmatic like many other atheists. His atheism is no fashionable declaration to announce “I am an intellectual”. His atheism is an outcome of honest pursuit of scientific methodology which does not restrain him from delving into the golden pots of the Vedas and the Upanishads, or quoting that “Pāini’s grammar, Aṣṭādhyāyī, is the only complete, explicit and rule-bound grammar of any human language and as such has been appreciated as “the greatest monument of human intelligence”. His mind is free from all prejudices and so is the book. 

‘Several chapters are dedicated to important aspects of life, including how to live well and longer. I am not exaggerating, this book has touched an epic character, and that too not just any epic. The only epic I can compare it with is The Mahabharata for the grandeur of the Scientific Method and for the “good life inspired by love and guided by knowledge”’.

— Abhas Mitra

Astrophysicist

Author of The Rise and Fall of the Black Hole Paradigm (2021)

 

‘Whereas science has this geeky reputation and gives one a vision of a mad scientist with wild hair in a dusty lab among books and beakers, one doesn’t realize that the Scientific Method, which is a prerequisite for good science, is ubiquitous. For example, not many people realize that our legal and legislative systems are based on the Scientific Method or that the stock market is designed using the Scientific Method.

‘Dr. Wadhawan has used the medium of this book to share his insights on this less discussed but all-important subject. Coming from a real-life man of science, the book explores the practice of science, transcending realms ranging from philosophy to science with a uniquely Indian perspective. It answers real questions ranging from those asked by a curious lay person to an academic philosopher. In the knowledge economy that we find ourselves in, a book like this should be made mandatory reading for all college courses, setting the stage for real-world miracles, and ushering in a sustainable better quality of life for our next generation’.

— Anjan Madhwesh

IT professional, science enthusiast, science vlogger

https://youtube.com/channel/UCCTJvufWrgHs6G41HoakhRw

 

‘A compelling read covering a wide range of everyday topics around science. Emphasizes independent thinking and forming unbiased opinions based on scientific facts, rather than going with blind faith. Dr. Wadhawan also delves into how we can live well forever by adopting a yogic way of living and following guidelines of good nutrition and regular exercise. Very fitting for a 21st century growth mindset’.

— Namrata Joshi

IT professional


‘Dr. Vinod Wadhawan — an accomplished scientist — has distilled and synthesised available published knowledge with rare insight, explored the traditional wisdom of ancient Indian Rishis, and added new scholarly interpretations in describing the 8-fold way of the Scientific Method for attaining “intellectual nirvana”. And he has succeeded in doing this in a user-friendly manner in this book. Homo sapiens — a geologically insignificant and young entity — have evolved from an animal species of little significance to ride the cognitive revolution since the last 70,000 years, and are now leading the Anthropocene changes on planet Earth. The Scientific Method has been a leading enabling factor in all this during the last few centuries.

‘Scientists with their Scientific Method should also serve society and constructively guide its aspirational growth. It is my firm belief that this book will ignite interest amongst student scholars and the general public about scientific matters, and will motivate them to unlearn certain limiting deficiencies like superstitions, blind faith, and other irrational belief systems’.

— Sudesh K. Wadhawan

Former Director General, Geological Survey of India

 

‘In this remarkable book the author has uniquely and thoroughly analysed the ‘conventional’ way of doing science, namely the one based on experimental observations, that has led scientists to make several fundamental discoveries and great inventions. But in his opinion, we must now add another important dimension to scientific investigations for understanding natural phenomena more inclusively. This requires the use of direct experiential evidence as well, so far excluded from the ambit of science. The author gives many examples to make this point. His arguments are convincing and impressive. He also proposes that the term ‘complexity science’ should now be used as a technical term for that part of science which goes beyond reductionism, and which relaxes some of the eight tenets of the very strict Scientific Method, so that even experiential evidence can be used directly. The informed reader would almost certainly accept his line of reasoning.

‘Exposure to the scientific approach to things will help eradicate, or at least minimize, pseudoscientific practices that are fooling innocent people all over the world. Wider and deeper prevalence of the much-desired scientific temperament and science literacy in the general public is a must, and this book will help promote that. The book is truly thought-provoking. The author’s presentation of the facts and arguments is very powerful. It is a must-read book by both scientific as well as enlightened non-scientific members of the society’.

— Rakesh K. Bhandari

Former Director, Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata

Distinguished Scientist, Department of Atomic Energy, Govt. of India

 

‘I liked the way the book brings out the importance of asking the right questions, presents the role of subjective information in a field dominated by objective information, highlights errors of reasoning such as confirmation bias, and tells us about the importance of simplicity and parsimony of assumptions in the form of Ockham’s razor. I also appreciate Dr. Wadhawan pointing out how, through complexity-science research, science has been moving beyond reductionism; that is, understanding the world through the interactions of its parts and sub-parts, rather than just actions and reactions. I hope the book inspires the young and the old in adopting scientific temperament in daily life’.

— Vinay Dabholkar

Consultant, teacher, co-author of 8 Steps to Innovation (2013),

and author of Mindfulness: Connecting with the Real You (2019)


‘From a post-truth context, this book helps everyone to understand themselves on the ways needed to steer one’s passion towards happiness by the knowledge route. The large number of quotes help one to do self-reflection from several perspectives as the author connects their relevance aptly through the prism of science. Dr Vinod reminds us what Einstein said — ‘the important thing is to never stop questioning’ — and takes us through the beautiful intellectual panorama of how the urge to question is to be managed’.

— Pradeep Kumar

Engineering Leader


‘Vinod Wadhawan in his book embarks on a noteworthy voyage to discover for us the intricacies of the ‘Scientific Method’ — a catchphrase most of us take for granted, but understand so little, and practise even less. The extent of our ignorance about it, or at best our patchy understanding of it, dawns upon us page after page, thanks to the lucid narrative achieved by the author by way of expression as well as explanation.  No sacred cows here; only the guiding principles of cold logic and reason — spurred by a passionate search for The Truth and a zest for enquiry into the unknown. That is why the book is a voyage of discovery — perhaps as much for the author as for the reader. The book addresses not only people in the scientific community, but also those who have any interest in knowing about the unknown and the barely known’.

— Upendra Rawat

Banker, poet, science enthusiast


‘The book concerns the science behind the Scientific Method itself — a strict formalized prescription for how science has to be done.  Under the overarching umbrella of the Scientific Method a diverse range of topics has been covered with great erudition. Nothing seems to have escaped the attention of Vinod Wadhawan, be it astronomy, science, philosophy, religion, mathematics, linguistics, grammar, health, medicine, neuroscience, quantum physics, logic, computers, technology, education, and most importantly the knowledge from pre-modern India, to name some.  The latter finds a place of pride in the book. Also, there is elaborate discussion on esoteric complex phenomena like the emergence of consciousness that do not seem to fit into the domain of the classical 8-fold way of the Scientific Method. Vinod proposes a guarded relaxation of some of the tenets of this method for making scientific studies more inclusive, so that experiential evidence and other subjective information also finds direct use in science.

‘The achievements of ancient India were outstanding, yet not widely known even today. There is good exposition in the book of this profound wisdom and knowledge that came from pre-modern ascetics (who were detached from the mundane!). Historically it has all but gone into oblivion, or has been lost due to destruction by invaders. It is great that it is now finding attention, exploration and scientific scrutiny by several investigators.  The very scientific presentation of all this in the book is extremely valuable and should help ignite interest afresh, and lead to a renaissance in re-discovering and understanding our past epochal achievements. 

‘The science of complex systems has been the forte of Vinod. In this context he has aptly exploited the second law of thermodynamics in his description of the emergence of complexity. As he said somewhere, the second law for open thermodynamic systems is the mother of all organising principles. And this is also an important component in the narrative of his present book. The book undoubtedly is a culmination of long years of an intense thought process, along with research, and collection, compilation and meticulous organization of a large body of precious distilled knowledge from the past and present. At the fundamental level, it was interesting to read about the significance of simple rules, and how they can produce the complexity of a system. The computational approach of Stephen Wolfram is very interesting in the same context, as it shows graphically how a simple rule to begin with can give rise to fascinatingly complex patterns. 

‘There can be queries that go beyond the ambit of the Scientific Method. The God question is one. Creator or no creator, super-being or none, etc.? This has occupied many minds. The arguments in support are circular and do not as such stand the scrutiny of the Scientific Method. The book gives a lot of coverage to this. The question remains unanswered, though. The mind-body question and consciousness are all relevant questions that the author addresses in an eloquent manner. He has coined the term ‘mindbody’ as an improvement over ‘mind-body’ to connote a single entity, and I believe he hence also subscribes to the notion of consciousness as contained in the mindbody, and not distinct from it. There is a wealth of information in the book to relish and to learn from’.

— Veer Chand Rakhecha

Former senior physicist, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai

 


Contents

 

Foreword 1                                                  xvii

 

Foreword 2                                                   xix

 

Preface                                                        xxv

 

Part I. THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD SO FAR

 

1. Introduction and Overview                            3

1.1    The Scientific Method 4

1.2    The nature of reality 9

1.3    Scientific pantheism 12

1.4    The first and the second laws of thermodynamics 13

1.5    Probability, statistics 24

1.6    Information theory 27

1.7    Complex systems 31

1.8    Evolution 37

1.9    Cognitive science 41

1.10  Does the Scientific Method have limitations? 46

1.11  Childhood conditioning and scientific temper in society 47

1.12  Organisation of the book 50

 

2. Asking the Right Question                           53

2.1    Some famous right questions 53

2.2    Asking scientific questions 56

2.3    Cutting-edge science, protoscience 56

2.4    Non-scientific questions 57

2.5    Science and pseudoscience 58

 

3.   Objective Observation of the World           67

3.1    Empirical vs. rational evidence 67

3.2    Quantitative vs. qualitative data 68

3.3    Empirical, experiential, and anecdotal information 69

3.4    Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled

clinical trials 70

3.5    Correlation is not necessarily causation also 72

3.6    Objective vs. subjective information 74

3.7    The nature of evidence 75

3.8    Thought experiments 76

 

4.   Coming up with Hypotheses for Understanding the Data 79

4.1    Hypothesis in science 79

4.2    Hypothesis in formal logic 81

4.3    Working hypothesis 81

4.4    The creative aspect of coming up with a hypothesis 82

4.5    The God hypothesis 83

4.6    Vedas and the hypotheses of quantum mechanics 87

 

5.   Reproducible Verification of Predictions of Hypotheses 91

5.1    The rigours of verification of scientific hypotheses 91

5.2    Hempel’s and Popper’s approaches to verification

of hypotheses 92

 

6.   A Theory for Explaining the Hypothesis      95

6.1    What is a theory? 95

6.2    Good theories and bad theories 96

6.3    Has physics gone off the rails in the 21st century? 99

 

7.   The Language and Logic of Science          101

7.1    Language and humans 102

7.2    The role of language in science 103

7.3    Which is the most scientific natural language? 104

7.4    Logical systems 108

7.5    Logic in Vedic thought and philosophy 110

7.6    Roots of modern logic 117

7.7    Logical fallacies 119

7.8    What is a good argument? 129

 

8.   Choice of the Smallest Necessary Set of Axioms      133

8.1    The principle of maximum parsimony 133

8.2    Ockham’s razor and the Copenhagen interpretation 136

 

9. The Falsifiability Requirement                   139

9.1    Falsifiability and inductive reasoning 140

9.2    Hempel’s raven paradox 142

 

Part II. MY VIEWS ON SOME COMPLEX ISSUES

 OF SCIENTIFIC INTEREST

 

10. Going Beyond Reductionism in Science     149

10.1  Complex adaptive systems 149

10.2  ‘A New Kind of Science’ (NKS) 157

10.3  Universal cellular automata 159

10.4  Wolfram’s principle of computational equivalence 160

10.5  Fifteen years after the NKS book 161

10.6  The end of theoretical physics as we know it? 169

10.7  Our mindbody, the quintessential

complex adaptive system 171

 

11. How to Live Well Forever                        175

11.1  The problem with modern health sciences 175

11.2  A matter of hardware-software incompatibility 177

11.3  Nine steps to living well forever 179

 

12. Reversal of Chronic Diseases                   201

12.1  The Ornish way of reversing chronic diseases 201

12.2  Eat well 209

12.3  Move more 210

12.4  Stress less 210

12.5  Love more 212

 

13. The 8-Fold Yogic Way of Living                215

 

14. Historical                                               227

14.1  The philosophy of science after the 10th century 228

14.2 Epistemology: empiricism, rationalism, skepticism, and constructivism after the 10th century 230

14.3 The Vedas and the Upanishads 232

14.4 Philosophy, science, mathematics, and technology

before the 10th century 235

14.5 Astrology 251

14.6 The educational system in ancient India 252

 

15. Concluding Remarks and a Proposal         257

15.1  Why so much difference of opinion

even among the experts? 258

15.2  Health sciences 263

15.3  Consciousness 266

15.4  The Scientific Method needs to be revisited 269

15.5  The scientist as role model, influencer, ‘hero’ 274

 Bibliography                                                 275

Index                                                           291

Acknowledgements                                       295

About the Author                                         297

 

Foreword 1

Have you ever wondered what the scientific method is all about? Ask a scientist and you will probably get many different answers, none of them utterly satisfactory. Ask a member of the public, and you will probably gain no more insight into the question. The standard answer is something to do with the notion of objectivity, namely that a scientific discovery or result should be testable, reproducible and arrived at without the personal influence of the scientist who made the discovery. In practice, in my experience, this high ideal is rarely met, if ever.

Vinod Wadhawan, in this new book, sets out to dispel many of the myths about the scientific method and about the notion of science itself. It will come as no surprise to the reader that, like me, he does not believe in a God that rules the world we live in. Instead, rational arguments have to be made, with no recourse to the mystic universe, paranormal and pseudoscience.

Vinod begins with the concept of the scientific method and exposes some of its triumphs and weaknesses as practiced by real scientists. All scientists are human beings, of course, and so are liable to be led astray, no matter how strictly they try to follow a rigorously objective route. I know from my own work as a scientist working in the field of crystallography, how tempting it is to come to a conclusion based on slender, and possibly even questionable, evidence, and then go on to defend it, even when evidence is later produced to refute the original conclusion. We do not like to be proved wrong: a human frailty with which I think we all suffer. Also, we scientists tend to see ourselves as being apart from the general masses, with some justification because we have knowledge that others do not. Despite this, one of the problems today is the scientific illiteracy that pervades the general public and the political classes who rule us.

You can see an example of this with the antivaxxer movements around the world. Despite the horrors of the current pandemic, irrational notions are strong enough to prevent people from realising that vaccination is a good thing to have. This is despite its long history of success (for example the complete elimination of small pox). Such pseudoscientific notions are harmful to society.  To some extent this comes from scepticism and distrust of experts, rather in the way we tend to distrust the political class, but also to a general ignorance of science and what it means. As Vinod explains, the answer to this is to go out and explain science to the public, but do it in a way that makes them feel that they are part of the discussion. The other day, I heard a medical expert explaining to a group of people how the SARS-Cov2 virus attacks the human cells. He made no attempt at talking down to them, and was using fairly technical language about spike proteins, messenger RNA, ACE1 on the surface of cells, and so on. When it came to questions, it became clear that the audience, despite never having had any scientific training, had taken it all on board and enthusiastically began to ask rather advanced questions such as one might expect from scientifically literate persons. It shows that if you do not dumb down your scientific presentation, there is a good chance that you will be listened to and understood. This notion is one of the objectives of the book. I recall a similar experience many years ago when I explained some ideas about quantum theory and relativity to a few people gathered together in a pub. They became really interested, despite not having much educational background, and from their comments it was clear that they had followed the main arguments, and best of all, they were fascinated by the concepts. 

Scientific illiteracy in my view is a curse. It gets in the way of proper understanding of the world and can even impede progress. My own bugbear is with the crystal healing community. Just type the word crystal into Google and immediately you find thousands of websites talking about crystals, not in order for you to study, but for you to use in some mystic ceremony that will influence your wellbeing. Thus you find something called a “Positive mind” set of crystals. Or what to do with a quartz crystal in order to find peace of mind. There are many books published on the healing powers of crystals. Some of them begin rationally enough, explaining what is meant by a crystal and even using the correct jargon that we crystallographers use. But the cat is out of the bag pretty soon when they start talking about “energy levels”, as if the author has the faintest notion of quantum mechanics. But it gets worse when you read instructions on how to treat your crystal, talk to it in the right way, pray to it and how to use the energy emanating from the crystal. This reminds me that a few years ago I saw a beautiful crystal of calcite in a shop window, and so I went in and bought it. The shop assistant instructed me to place it beside my bed and that this would ensure a harmonious night’s sleep. I tried it. It didn’t.  I usually upset such people when I explain to them that crystals are the “deadest” objects in the universe. No energy is emitted, no auras, nothing — absolutely cold stone; lifeless. I once even had my life threatened when I explained this to a believer. People do not like having their beliefs attacked. So, from my perspective, I am pleased to read a book in which scientific rationality is championed. It is vital that we scientists explain to the public what we are doing, what excites us and, most importantly of all, how to discriminate between scientific and unscientific “fake news”.

The belief in the supernatural is a feature of humankind and has a long history. For example, it has been discovered that at the sites of ancient hominids, homo erectus, living over one million years ago, there are collections of quartz crystals. Interestingly, they are not modified in any way, and have not been used as tools. It seems that the ancient hominids found some value in the quartz crystals, and possibly this was the beginning of magical thinking. It has been pointed out that in their world, they hardly ever saw any straight lines (rivers, trees, mountains – all curves). The discovery of crystals must have seemed especially striking to them, and like the monolith in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey, this may have awakened in them the first ideas to investigate the world around them.  Since then, of course, magical thinking has pervaded human history, but gradually as rational thinking began to dominate, the scientific revolutions became possible. Nonetheless, it is surprising that in the 21st century there is still so much belief in magic. One can excuse the uneducated, I suppose, but for me it is difficult to understand educated scientists who still hold on to these ancient ideas. There are many physicists who still believe in the notion of God, and attend religious ceremonies. Yet, when they publish their scientific work, they never include in their conclusions the notion of divine intervention as one of the possible explanations of their observations.

The book describes what Vinod calls the 8-fold way of the scientific method, which is roughly what we have been doing up till now. Now, while there is still much to be discovered through the standard scientific methods, it is becoming clearer, as Vinod points out, that we need to adjust our way of thinking to deal with ever more complex situations. In science, we have a tendency to reduce complicated problems to simpler situations which we can solve, and then expect that the results apply more broadly. There is that famous joke about a group of veterinary surgeons, statisticians and theoretical physicists being commissioned by a race-horse owners association to determine how to breed faster race-horses. After a year they went back to learn about the results. The veterinary surgeons said that they had dissected one hundred horses and discovered that to breed better horses, one should concentrate on those with strong back legs. The statisticians said that they had studied the statistics of all the races since 1900 and found a small, but significant, correlation between the winners and the colour of the horses. It seems that chestnut horses have a slight edge over all others. The theoretical physicists reported that they had managed to solve the spherical horse model, but now needed further funding to go on to the ellipsoidal horse case! The fact is that we humans look for simplicity even when encountering difficult subjects. But there is increasing evidence that simple, apparently beautiful interpretations actually can mislead us from understanding the true nature of the world.

So, in conclusion, Vinod’s latest book is a fascinating collection of ideas and philosophy of science, which certainly made me reassess my own thoughts on what science actually means. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

A. Mike Glazer

Oxford

Emeritus Professor of Physics and Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford

Visiting Professor at the University of Warwick

Crystallographer

Editor of the Newsletter of the International Union of Crystallography

https://www.iucr.org/news/newsletter

February 2021

  

Foreword 2

Vinod Wadhawan and I have been friends for more than half a century. We started our career in the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at the same time, and I have seen him grow in stature as a researcher in his professional career, and later as an author of some outstanding books. I am an admirer of his capabilities in crystallography, and in expressing his thoughts, often on complex subjects, lucidly and accurately. A few years back I was attending a session in an international conference on materials science, where a renowned Professor from the Carnegie Mellon University, sitting next to me, asked whether I knew Vinod Wadhawan. On my affirmative answer he commented on Wadhawan’s book entitled ‘Introduction to Ferroic Materials’. He made a categorical statement that this book is undoubtedly the best book on the subject. That was indeed a proud moment for me to let him know that I have a long and close association with Vinod.

When Vinod asked me to write my impressions on this book, I was thrilled. As I received the final version about two weeks back, I started reading it and I realised that the task was not so easy. This is not a book which one can read fast, as there is a lot to digest. Let me admit that I am writing my comments without fully digesting all the messages which he has communicated in this book after spending considerable time in deep thinking on subjects which are of fundamental importance, not just in science but also in philosophy and in our existence. When I received an ultimatum from him for giving my views within 48 hours, and knowing how tough a task master he is, I started penning down these ‘first impressions’.

Vinod’s research career has been in experimental solid-state physics, with a clear emphasis on crystallography and crystal physics. What I enjoyed most in this book is that he has treated the complex subject of the nature of science itself from the perspective of an experimental physicist. He is totally sincere in expressing his thoughts and has not tempered with anything to suit commonly prevailing views. There is no dispute on the eight tenets of the Scientific Method, namely, Right questions — Right (objective or empirical) observations — Right hypothesis to explain the observations — Right testing of predictions of the hypothesis — Right theory — Right language and logic — Right (minimum number of) axioms – and Rightly worded (falsifiable) statements. These are generally accepted in the scientific literature. What I find novel is his assertion that they have an analogy with the eight steps to Nirvana as taught by Buddha: Right beliefs — Right intentions — Right speech —Right conduct — Right livelihood — Right effort — Right mindfulness — Right concentration.

There is no doubt that both in science and philosophy our understanding gets enriched by the ‘courage of our questions and the depth of our answers’. Extending such discussions, Vinod takes us to the question of the existence of God. He has picked up many quotable quotes from great thinkers, primarily from the realm of science. The fundamental questions which have been arising in our minds from times immemorial are: Who is the creator of all that we see around us in nature happening with clockwork precision? ‘If there is watch there must be a watchmaker’; who is it? When all the things and phenomena came into being? What is our destiny? Is there any deeper meaning to all that is happening in the universe? Or is it that all that we see is meaningless? Just maya? Science has attempted answering a few of these questions. There has been a fairly universal agreement on the Big Bang theory which says that the universe we live in started about 14 billion years back, and provides a time line of significant events for the evolution of the universe. The evolution of living beings on our planet has also been charted by detailed scientific work. Still, many of the questions mentioned above remain unanswered. Wherever we find no answer, we resort to God. But there is no unique concept of God, as the human mind has conceptualised it in multiple variants. As of today, our knowledge of the human mind itself is abysmally poor and so is the case with our feelings and sentiments. There is no escape but to rely on poets, philosophers and thinkers for dealing with these issues.

As far as my understanding goes, there is one point of convergence in the views of scientists and philosophers: Astrophysicists confirm today that not all the elements present in our planet and in our body were generated in our solar system. Nucleosynthesis of several heavy elements required an event like a merger of neutron stars or a supernova explosion. Therefore all of us, living and nonliving, carry a part, howsoever small it is, of the products that resulted from such big events. Therefore we all are directly connected with this big universe. In the same manner the billions of micro-organisms residing in our bodies are responsible for important functions such as digestion of food and production of vitamins. Scientists are in full agreement that the harmonious presence of the entire biota, not only of a local region but of the whole planet, is essential for our very existence. A cruel illustration of this fact is getting revealed in recent times in the occurrence of the present pandemic. This important fact of our links with the whole universe from both macroscopic and microscopic dimensions had been sensed by poets and philosophers, even of ancient times. They also raised the question ‘Where from come the creative traits of the human mind?’. In Einstein’s words ‘the intellect has little to do on the road to discovery.

Often there comes a leap in your consciousness, call it intuition ……. The solution comes to you and you don’t know why’. The great mathematician Ramanujan believed that much of his original work was due to divine grace. This totality of nature encompasses everything, material and mental, in the universe, and we as individuals are connected in a cosmic web. Tagore narrates this concept of unison of individuals and nature as a whole in a beautiful way in many of his poems and songs. Indian philosophy goes one step further. The monist view proclaims that an individual and the whole of the nature are not just linked, but they are indeed one and indivisible. I don’t think we can design an experiment to prove or disprove this hypothesis. But this concept has no contradictions with the scientific knowledge of today. Vinod in his book describes this viewpoint as scientific pantheism, or the naturalistic worldview. The science of complexity has been discussed in this book and in his previous book, with a number of illustrations and plenty of quotations. Vinod has been working in this area for a while, and the depth of his understanding is reflected in the lucidity of his presentation on this ‘complex’ subject.

The thermodynamic basis of the process of evolution has been quite enjoyable for me to read. Conceptually the process of crystallisation from a liquid or an amorphous structure can very well be considered as building up a three-dimensional edifice with a periodic arrangement of units or motifs using a given algorithm. If a translational periodicity is invoked one generates an infinitely large perfect crystal. With two or more units and a set of rules, defining translational periodicity, a three-dimensional space, expanding to infinity, can as well be created. The result is a quasi-crystalline structure, which was initially conceived as a result of a mathematical game and later proved to occur in real systems. The concept of infinity which is difficult to visualise, but encountered in irrational numbers and infinite series, can thus be illustrated in real terms. The two basic principles, one of lowering of the free energy of the system, and the other of increasing of the entropy of the assembly of the system and its surroundings, govern the processes of evolution in nature. Vinod has explained this with the help of first and second laws of thermodynamics. This part is not just enjoyable reading for those who are familiar with these concepts, but are extremely valuable for those who are getting introduced to this subject. In these discussions I can easily identify the author who has extensive experience in the field of phase transitions. The issues connected with stability, metastability and un-stability, elaborated in the book with the help of a figure of a Mexican-hat shaped potential, are definitely of importance from pedagogic considerations.

The book, as I have scanned through so far, is not something that you read up in a continuous stretch. You need to take a pause, spend time to think, often go back to earlier pages, jump some pages and read a new chapter, and so on. It is a companion book which provides you food for thought. It is a storehouse of valuable quotes. It makes you think, it helps you inculcate the habit of objective and rational decision-making in complex situations. It gives some useful health tips and even gives solace in difficult circumstances. The book goes much beyond what its title may convey. This is a book written by an experimental scientist with an Indian mind, who is trying to understand things in nature and events happening around him with his personal scientific insights. I welcome this valuable addition to literature in the domain bordering science and philosophy, and I congratulate the author.

Srikumar Banerjee

Chancellor, Homi Bhabha National Institute (DAE), Mumbai

Former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission of India

February 21, 2021

 

Preface

This book celebrates science and the Scientific Method. It takes you into the world of science and scientists, and explains how natural phenomena are investigated. The term ‘Nature’ means all that there is, so there is nothing outside or ‘above’ Nature. Therefore, all phenomena are natural phenomena; nothing is ‘supernatural’. In science we investigate all natural phenomena; with varying degrees of success, of course.

As Brian Cox said, ‘science is too important not to be a part of popular culture’. Our collective intelligence has enabled us to evolve the all-important Scientific Method for investigating natural phenomena. But science is not just about investigations. It also has the crucial feature of systematizing the knowledge acquired and, even more importantly, of making the knowledge available to everybody for scrutiny. Scientists do further research based on what is known and published in journals of science. This leads to continual progress in our quest for knowledge and understanding. Newton put it very aptly: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants’. The cumulative (and exponentially rapid) growth in our knowledge would not have been possible in the absence of knowledge-sharing.

A great feature of the Scientific Method is that it is self-correcting. This makes science a dependable and exciting venture. In fact, the (empirical-evidence based) Scientific Method is the only method we have for arriving at objective knowledge that we can trust with a high degree of confidence. ‘The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it’ (Neil deGrasse Tyson).

Just imagine what our lives would be like without all the science and technology at our disposal today. And there is promise of exponentially increasing rates of progress in the days to come. All this has become possible because we humans have invented and perfected what I call the 8-fold way of the Scientific Method for understanding natural phenomena. Here is a glimpse of what it is all about:

Suppose we are curious about some natural phenomenon and we have made some observations about it. We want to understand it, and to generalize the conclusions if possible. Here is how we go about doing this in science: We begin by asking a well-formulated question we want to answer. Then we make observations and measurements that we believe will help answer the question. The next thing to do is to make a guess, i.e., formulate a hypothesis, that can explain what we have observed and measured. The fourth step is to argue that if our guess is correct, we should also observe in Nature certain consequences of our guess, apart from understanding our initial set of observations. That is, we make predictions and verify them. If the verification is not satisfactory, we go back to modifying the guess, or even coming up with a different one. We may also have to go back to making more extensive and accurate observations of what we want to understand. Finally, if the hypothesis and the predictions made by it stand verified, we gain confidence in it. It may turn out that another related set of observations or phenomena can be explained by another good hypothesis. One or more good and related hypotheses in a scientific discipline of enquiry deserve a logical explanation as to why they work. This is done by formulating a theory. A classic example is Newton’s theory of gravity for explaining Kepler’s analysis and generalisation of observations about planetary motion.

But is that all there is to the scientific process? No. The above five steps of the Scientific Method for arriving at objective truths are actually embedded in an ecosystem defined by the following three additional stipulations or tenets:

1. For describing anything we need a language. The language used in science must always have a strict and unambiguous logical structure. In science we impose the severe restriction that each word used must be defined so unambiguously that it means the same thing to everybody. Moreover the rules of logic must be self-consistent, and universally acceptable.

2. For formulating a hypothesis or a theory, and for other discourse on the subject, we should work with only a minimum necessary set of axioms. The axioms may be truths already established, or they may be something just presumed to be tentatively valid. And the litmus test for the presumed axioms is that the conclusions drawn from them must agree with objectively obtained experimental data (or empirical evidence).

3. Finally we have the so-called falsifiability (or refutability) requirement. It says that only those claims or conclusions are permitted in science that are so worded that it should be possible to prove them false by a suitable experiment or argument.

This 8-fold way (the set of eight tenets) of the Scientific Method has been assisting humanity in attaining progressively a kind of intellectual Nirvana, by conquering ignorance bit by bit. We are mortals, but the Scientific Method enables us to achieve a kind of immortality in the ever-expanding and self-correcting edifice of scientific knowledge we create in common; that is, by acquiring, interpreting, sharing and recording (for ourselves and for posterity) empirical information and tentative conclusions about natural phenomena.

A common perception, particularly among those exposed entirely to what is called ‘Western science’, is that the Scientific Method for investigating natural phenomena is about 400 years old only, if not less. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the Scientific Method is ‘a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses’. Science has indeed made very rapid strides in the last 400 years. But it would be wrong to think that there was no scientific activity before this period. This issue is also examined in this book. I am an Indian brought up in India. Therefore I am in a somewhat better position to empathise with the Indian claims about the philosophic, scientific, technological, and mathematical achievements in our hoary past.

Here is an English translation (by A. L. Basham) of the Nasadiya Sukta, also known as the Hymn of Creation; it is from the Rigveda (10:129) and is about cosmology and the question of the origin of the universe:

Then even nothingness was not, nor existence,

There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it.

What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?

Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?

 

Then there was neither death nor immortality

nor was there then the torch of night and day.

The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.

There was that One then, and there was no other.

 

At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.

All this was only unillumined cosmic water.

That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,

arose at last, born of the power of heat.

 

In the beginning desire descended on it -

that was the primal seed, born of the mind.

The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom

know that which is kin to that which is not.

 

And they have stretched their cord across the void,

and know what was above, and what below.

Seminal powers made fertile mighty forces.

Below was strength, and over it was impulse.

 

But, after all, who knows, and who can say

Whence it all came, and how creation happened?

The Devas (minor gods) themselves are later than creation,

so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

 

Whence all creation had its origin,

he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,

he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,

he knows - or maybe even he does not know.

I love that last line: ‘he knows - or maybe even he does not know’ (emphasis added). That is the essence of what the Scientific Method is all about. An open mind. A rational approach. Skepticism. Willingness to change one’s views in the light of new information, making it a self-correcting venture.

This book has four main objectives. The first is to describe the methodology used in science for investigating natural phenomena objectively. The fairly detailed account of the process is intended to give the reader a feel for the pains scientists take for ensuring that the empirical knowledge so gained has the highest attainable degree of credibility. The self-correcting feature of the Scientific Method is highlighted, as also the high degree of skepticism adopted by scientists in their quest for knowledge. The level of presentation is designed to take the message of science to as many people as possible, but without dumbing down the narrative unnecessarily.

The second objective is to emphasize why the scientific approach should not be confined to the laboratory alone, but should be applied to all human dealings and discourses. Scientific temper in society is a must, and this book is one more effort for promoting that.

My third objective is to highlight the empowering effect of science literacy on all of us. After all, science is done by humans, and the human mindbody is a highly complex system. This fact of life colours just about every aspect of the world of science and scientists. Science literacy in the public at large is a must for distinguishing between the scientific and the unscientific (or pseudoscientific). Science literacy is also important for your physical and mental wellbeing: Your very choice of proper doctors and other health and nutrition experts depends on how well you are already informed about the basics of the health sciences, as also of the machinations of some big pharma companies for increasing the sales of their merchandise.

Fourthly I make a case that there is now a need to make scientific investigations more inclusive by guardedly relaxing some of the tenets of the very strict 8-fold way of the Scientific Method that we have been following so far (with astounding successes, no doubt). This has become necessary for making headway in the science of what are technically called ‘complex systems’. The human mindbody is among the most complex of them all, and many people, including several eminent mainstream scientists, take the concept of human consciousness very seriously. At present, experiential knowledge, so characteristic of a sentient being, is largely kept outside the purview of science because of our insistence that any statement or claim in science must be reproducible by everybody, everywhere, any time. Some proposals are made in this book as to how we could possibly enlarge the scope of the Scientific Method by including for investigation in mainstream science certain esoteric phenomena occurring in complex systems, rather than letting studies on them continue to lurk in the shadows. Science should aim at investigating all natural phenomena, including those occurring in the experiential domain. New nomenclature is proposed in this context, assigning distinct technical meanings to the terms ‘science’ and ‘complexity science’. The former will continue to have the meaning it has at present, along with strict adherence to the Scientific Method applied till date. And the technical term ‘complexity science’ should henceforth be used for that science in which some of the eight tenets of the present Scientific Method are relaxed a bit to give ‘complexity science’ a more inclusive scope for bringing concepts like consciousness into mainstream science. All this calls for a debate, though.

Vinod Wadhawan

New Delhi

February 2021