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:
* * * * * 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 Pāṇinian 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.