Jan 21, 2010

Jainism and Relativity

By Chaturvedi Badrinath

The Jaina perspectives of syadavada hold that a proposition is true only = conditionally and not absolutely. This is because it depends on the parti=cular standpoint, naya, from which it is being made; that logically a thing can=be perceived from at least seven different standpoints, saptabhangi-naya; =which lead us to the awareness of the many-sidedness of reality, or truth, anekanta-=vada.

Realist Ethics
At no time were these limited to epistemological questions, of concern =only to the philosophers. Since human relationships, personal or social, are determi=ned by our perceptions of ourselves and of others, which we mostly assume also =to be true absolutely, giving rise to conflicts and violence because the others beli=eve the same about their judgments, the very first step towards living creatively=is to acknowledge the relativistic nature of our judgments, and hence their lim=its. While being a distinct contribution to the development of Indian logic, =the Jaina syada-vada has been, most of all, a realist ethics of not-violence, ahims=a. The two are inter-related intimately.

An article, 'Syada-vada, Relativity and Complementarity' by Prof. Partha=Ghose, a theoretical physicist says that P C Mahalanobis was the first to point =out, in 1954, that "the Jaina Syada-vada provided the right logical framework for=modern statistical theory in a qualitative form, a framework missing in classica=l western logic." J B S Haldane saw a wider relevance of syada-vada to modern scien=ce. And Prof. Ghose speaks of the "most striking" similarity of syada-vada to Nie=ls Bohr's Principle of Complementarity, first noticed by D C Kothari. Furthermore,=he says: "The logic of Einstein's special theory of relativity is also very simila=r to syada-vada."
In Einstein's relativity theory, Prof. Ghose points out, "the conventiona=l attributes of mass, length, energy and time lose their absolute significa=nce"; whereas in Bohr's complementarity theory, "the conventional attributes =of waves and particles lose their absolute significance." As in syadavada, what =that means is that the physical value of the former is only relative to the theoreti=cal framework in which they are being viewed, and to the position from which =they are being viewed. None of them is a fixed, absolute truth about the physical =universe, as was assumed in the Newtonian physics. It would soon be discovered, =too, that they are relative also to the observer who observed them.

The upanishad-s and the Jaina syada-vada had argued that reality carries =within itself also opposites as its inherent attributes; and, therefore, no abso=lute statements can be made about it. But no sooner was this said than it was =shown itself to be subject to the same limitation.
In the wake of the relativity theory, which had already shattered the cla=ssical notions of physical order, de Broglie, a French prince, demonstrated, in =1924, that an electron is both a particle and a wave, whereas quantum mechanics=had held the particle-wave duality. This discovery was even more upsetting, but = experimentally proved.

The most upsetting was the subsequent proof, provided by Werner Heisenber=g in 1927, that no events, not even atomic events, can be described with any =certainty; whereas the natural sciences were rooted until then, and are so even now,=in the mistaken notion that scientific rationality and its method gave us exact =and certain knowledge of the universe. Heisenberg called it the 'Principle =of Uncertainty'. Its substance was not only that human knowledge is limited =but also that it is uncertain. That is to say, there are aspects of reality about =which nothing definite can be said - the avyaktam, or the 'indeterminate', of =the Jaina syada-vada.

Subsequent Proof
In his book The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, =published in 1979, Gary Zukay said: "The wave-particle duality marked the end of =the 'either-or' way of looking at the world. Physicists no longer could acce=pt the preposition that light is either a particle or a wave because they had ="proved" to themselves that it was both, depending on how they looked at it."

Syada-vada, and with it anekanta-vada, had held that there are several =different ways of perceiving reality, each valid in its place, and none of them tru=e absolutely. But how do we judge the validity of our perceptions, by what =criteria, by what method? These are the main questions of epistemology. Since mode=m science has been a method of perceiving reality, even if only physical reality, =it is epistemology with a certain method. Einstein had placed great emphasis =upon that fact; and he was one scientist of modern times who had placed also the =greatest emphasis upon the question of method in theoretical physics. His writing=s in that regard are to be found in his Ideas and Opinions, published in 1954. He =said: "Epistemology without contact with science becomes an empty scheme. Scie=nce without epistemology is - insofar as it is thinkable at all - primitive =and muddled."

Limits of Logic
Concerning the method, as physics advanced, it became clear that the theo=retical element in scientific laws cannot be abstracted from empirical data, nor =can it be of pure logical induction. There is no bridge between the two of a kind =that one necessarily implied the other. According to Einstein, the "axiomatic bas=is of theoretical physics cannot be abstracted from experience but must be free=ly invented"; "experience may suggest the appropriate mathematical concepts,=but they most certainly cannot be deduced from it." Neither can pure logic give =us knowledge of the physical world. On this point also, Einstein was unambi=guous. "Pure logical thinking cannot yield us any knowledge of the empirical wor=ld", he says; "all knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. =Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as =regards reality." The passage from sense impressions to scientific theory, Einste=in says, is through "intuition and sympathetic understanding."

In brief, the two revolutions of relativity theory and quantum mechanics =and what followed, had rendered naive realism, pure empiricism, pure logical think=ing, and materialism, when each claimed to be the only way to knowledge and its =certainty, to be incompatible with scientific method. What had hitherto been assumed=to be the scientific method and, therefore, also the only true rationality, and=was sought to be imposed upon the rest of the world was, in its absoluteness,=discarded, And in all those movements of the New Physics, the Jaina syada=-vada and anekanta-vada are clearly manifest.

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