Archive for the ‘History of Astronomy’ Category

Astrology in university education – twenty years after

Saturday, September 11th, 2021

(Note: The following article speaks the truth, instead of taking sides. However, the Indian media being totally polarised, I could not publish the article in either English or Hindi. Hence, am now posting it on my blog, since I feel it is important for me to take a stand on the matter.)

Astrology is a superstition, but why are the colonised unwilling to admit that Johannes Kepler was a superstitious astrologer, who got his livelihood from astrology, and wrote in praise of astrology.  And what of Isaac Newton who superstitiously believed in Biblical creationism and apocalypse. His superstitions rubbed off into science and math as in the “eternal laws of nature”, not to mention his superstitions about the Indian calculus, all of which church superstition we happily teach in schools today.  But there is no outrage among the colonised who blindly accept all church superstitions in mathematics and science. That is exactly why it was the church which brought Western ethnoscience and Western ethnomath to the colonised in general and to India in particular. The real issue is about Western dominance, not science vs superstition.

The Indira Gandhi National Open University recently introduced a postgraduate course in astrology. A similar issue had arisen twenty years ago when the University Grants Commission (UGC) announced a scheme to open 16 university departments, to teach astrology across the country, in 2001. This was hugely opposed, and the late Kapila Vatsyayana organized a public debate, between scientists and astrologers, in the India International Centre, on the desirability of astrology in university education. The late Pushpa Bhargava, Raja Ramanna and I represented scientists. But the astrologers ran away from the debate, though I did later discuss this issue publicly with some other astrologers in other forums. The UGC eventually scrapped the scheme. However, some clarifications given 20 years ago are still relevant.

First, the term “jyotish”, which means time-keeping (through astronomy), is wrongly confounded with astrology (called “phalit jyotish”). The earlier UGC scheme was announced as pertaining to Vedic astrology. However, there is no mention of astrology in the Veda-s. Then, at the India International Centre, I had challenged the assembled scholars, in front of the international press, to show me a single sentence on astrology in the core text of Vedanga Jyotish.1 No one could do so, and some started asking for my copy of the Vedanga Jyotish, which they had obviously never seen before. The Vedanga Jyotishe is a manual of timekeeping, completely disjoint from astrology.

Indians persistently separated astronomy from astrology, which separation is not limited to the Vedanga Jyotish, last updated around -1500 CE. Thus, Nilakantha’s commentary on the Aryabhatiya is dated to +1500 CE.2 During this 3000 year period, there were numerous books written on astronomy in India. These included the Surya Siddhanta, the Aryabhatiya, the Laghu and Maha Bhaskariya of Bhaskar 1, the Brahmasphutasiddhanta of Brahmagupta, the Shishyadhivrddhida of Lalla, Vateshwar Siddhanta, and Gola, Tantrasangraha, Yuktidipika, etc. In none of these books do we find a single sentence related to astrology. The beginning of astrology in India is credited to the 6th c. Varahamihira, and his Brihat samhita, but even Varahamihira’s astronomy book Pancasiddhantika does not have a single sentence on astrology.

However the colonially educated are deluded that jyotish means astrology. The same colonial education also impacts nationalists. Hence, they repeatedly return to the claim that astrology was an important aspect of Indian tradition since Vedic times. Twenty years ago, Pushpa Bhargava had challenged the teaching of astrology in the Madras High Court. In response, the UGC had said that astrology was an important aspect of ancient Indian tradition, a claim happily accepted by the judge (Kalifulla J.) Nobody asked for evidence that astrology was a significant part of Indian tradition, and nobody offered it.

To the contrary, the Buddha explained3 that common people praise him because he does not earn a livelihood by the unethical means of predicting uncertain future events, such as predicting the victory or defeat of kings in a war, or predicting good or bad rainfall. This was not any specifically Buddhist ethics, since it was the common people (then pre-Buddhist Hindus) who praised the Buddha thus.

In contrast, the West traditionally believed in prophecy. Herodotus4 begins his History with the story of Croesus, from Lydia (Turkey), who first made Ionian Greeks his vassals. Before fighting the Persians, Croesus checked the outcome with the Oracle of Delphi. “A great empire will fall” was the prophecy. Unsure about which Empire would fall, Croesus again sent an emissary to ask how long his own rule would last. “Until a mule rules the Medes (Persia)”. Croesus thought that hardly likely and battled Cyrus the Great and lost. The prophecy was then explained that Cyrus  was the mule since he was of mixed descent. Of course, had the outcome been different, there would have been no need for an explanation. This illustrates how foretelling the future was traditionally based on subtle con-tricks.

Prophets were given a very high religious status in the West. Hence, during the Crusades, the church tried to put down Muslims by the criticism that Paigambar Muhammad made no prophecy. Unfortunately, the strange response of Muslims to this critique has been to translate Paigambar (meaning messenger) as Prophet!

Traditional Western superstitions did not magically disappear with the advent of science. Johannes Kepler, famous for his “laws” of planetary motion, wrote on the fundamentals of astrology.5 Before he grabbed the high church position of Astronomer Royal to the Holy Roman Empire, Kepler was a practising astrologer, and he wrote that providing astrology as a means of livelihood to astronomers was proof the of pre-established harmony created by God!

Even Isaac Newton superstitiously believed in Biblical creation, some 6000 years ago. He explicitly used it to deny the antiquity of Egypt.6 He also believed the Bible correctly foretold the future apocalypse of the world at the “seventh trumpet”.7 Indeed, belief in prophecy, or the belief that the future can be foretold, persists in the scientific belief in the mechanistic evolution of the world according to some “eternal laws of nature”. This belief in “eternal laws of nature” is a Christian dogma first propounded by Thomas Aquinas.8 This dogma, is not, for example, acceptable in Buddhism,9 or Islam,10 or Hinduism.11

But, both Newton and Kepler believed in this dogma, and we teach it in our schools today.12 This dogma asserts that the future is determined and predictable by the knowledgeable, like prophets and Laplace’s demon. (On Karl Popper’s formulation, Laplace’s demon is a super-scientist, who knows all the laws of nature, a super-observer, and a super-computer, who can hence calculate the future.13) Of course, no one knows how the “laws of nature” or equations of physics (supposedly) causally determine human actions, any more than anyone knows how planets determine human actions. So, the difference between the demon and astrology is a matter of technique, not of principle.

The colonially educated believe Indians were especially superstitious. But the experimental method was used in India, long before Bacon,14 and many traditional Indian astronomers spoke out against superstition. For example, it is said that Indians believed that Rahu  and Ketu are the cause of eclipses. This myth is undoubtedly found in the Purana-s. However, the eighth century Lalla titled the 20th chapter of his Sisyadhivrdhida15 as the “Correction of mythical knowledge”. Here he gives several arguments why demons such as Rahu, cannot be the cause of an eclipse. In the 26th sloka he says “In a solar eclipse, people in different parts (of the earth) see different portions of the Sun eclipsed. Some do not see (the eclipse) at all. Knowing this, who can maintain that an eclipse is caused by Rahu?” Further, Lalla (20:22) asks why eclipses occur only near the full moon or new-moon. In contrast, the Bible (Luke 23:44-45) states the superstition that God caused a solar eclipse at noon on the crucifixion of Jesus, which is impossible, because Easter, or the supposed date of resurrection of Jesus, is linked to the full moon when a solar eclipse is impossible. Before the 19th c., which Western astronomer rejected this Biblical assertion as a superstition?

The conclusion is that scientific thinking is a much older part of Indian tradition than astrology which was probably imported in the 6th c., and true nationalists ought to encourage that older tradition. On the other hand, church superstitions still flourish in science (and math) and the tail-wagging colonised who believe science is a matter of Western approval, not critical thinking, need to understand that.

1K. V. Sarma, ed., Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadh, trans. & notes T. S. Kupanna Sastri (New Delhi: INSA, 1985).

2K. Sambasiva Sastri, ed., Aryabhatiya of Aryabhatacarya with the Bhasya of Nılakanthasomasutvan (University of Kerala, Trivandrum, 1930).

3Maurice Walshe, trans., Digha Nikaya: Long Discourses of the Buddha (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995), 68–72 Brahmajala sutta, section on Mahashila.

4Herodotus, The History, trans. G. C. Macaulay, n.d., https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2707/2707-h/2707-h.htm.

5J. Bruce Brackenridge and Mary Ann Rossi, ‘Johannes Kepler’s on the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology Prague 1601’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 123, no. 2 (1979): 85–116.

6Isaac Newton, “Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms amended”, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15784/15784-h/15784-h.htm#chapII.

7C. K. Raju, The Eleven Pictures of Time: The Physics, Philosophy and Politics of Time Beliefs (Sage, 2003) chp. 4, ‘Newton’s time’.

8Thomas Aquinas, Sumnma Theologica, First part of the second part, 91,1, n.d., http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2091.htm.

9C. K. Raju, ‘Buddhism and Science’, 2016, https://youtu.be/SkS1HM6g0O4, a conversation with the Dalai Lama.

10C. K. Raju, ‘Islam and Science’, keynote address, in Islam and Multiculturalism: Islam, Modern Science, and Technology, ed. Asia-Europe Institute University of Malaya and Japan Organization for Islamic Area Studies Waseda University, 2013, 1–14, http://ckraju.net/hps-aiu/Islam-and-Science-kl-paper.pdf.

11Minutes of a meeting in the University Sains Malaysia, 2011, to discuss whether the belief in “laws of nature” should be part of a course in the philosophy of science. http://ckraju.net/usm/PSc-minutes.html.

12See, e.g., the 2021-22 NCERT text on science for class IX, chp. 10, p. 133. http://ckraju.net/papers/presentations/images/NCERT-class-IX-science-chp-10..pdf

13For Laplace’s demon see C. K. Raju, Time: Towards a Consistent Theory (Springer, 1994).

15For a general account, see “Indians against superstition”, extract from “Proofs and Refutations in Mathematics and Physics: an Indian Perspective”, in History of Science and Philosophy of Science, ed., P. K. Sengupta, Pearson Longman, 2012. For the original source see Lalla, ‘शिष्यधीवृद्धिद’, ed. Bina Chatterjee (Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1981).

Did Indian learn trigonometry from Greeks? Responses to the Aryan race conjecture in the African context, and the relevance to Indology

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Recently, I presented my talk on “Pre-colonial appropriations of Indian ganita: epistemic issues”. This was at a round table at IIAS Shimla which replaced the now-postponed conference on Indology. My talk was primarily about the inferior math we teach in school today based on the European misunderstanding of the Indian ganita which Europe imported.

Shimla Indology lecture

But as a sidelight, I took up a novel aspect of the Aryan race conjecture. Indologists have so far talked about the Aryan conjecture solely in the Indian context. However, I pointed out the need to link this discussion also to the Aryan race model as it applies to the African context. In particular, to the issue of the Aryan model vs Ancient model as in Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, vol. 1: The fabrication of ancient Greece 1785-1985. (The date of 1785 alludes to William Jones whose philological researches started these wild speculations on race.)

The fabrication of ancient Greece has a direct bearing on the history of Indian math. But first let us understand how racists did it.

Racist history

Bernal’s key point was that after 1785 racist historians systematically rewrote history to appropriate all achievements of Black Egyptians to White Greeks. This aligned with George James’ Stolen Legacy: Greek philosophy is stolen Egyptian philosophy. But instead of philosophy, Bernal applied it, for example, to architecture where the evidence of Greeks copying Egyptians is not easily contested: the so-called Greek architecture of columns is manifestly copied from Egypt and Iran (Persepolis).

Bernal made only scattered remarks on math and science, perhaps out of deference to his father J. D. Bernal, who wrote his famous (but now hopelessly dated) volumes on the history of science. However, after going through my PHISPC volume Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, Bernal (Jr) strongly encouraged me to look at the related issues of concern to the history of math where undue credit has been given to Greeks (as explained in an earlier blog “Greediots and Pythagoras”, which also provides the relevant background to this post).

One point in my above book relates closely to Afrocentrist concerns about undue credit to Greeks in the history of math.

Thus, my point (later summarised e.g. in Is Science Western in Origin?) was that the church falsified history even before racist historians. This process of falsifying history went virulent during the Crusades against Muslims. (Bernal agreed with me here.) The Toledo mass translations of Arabic texts into Latin, beginning 1125, involved learning from the books of the religious enemy. The church, which had earlier consistently burnt heretical books, needed to justify learning from the books of the religious enemy. It provided this justification through the coarse falsehood that all scientific knowledge in Arabic books came from the sole “friends of Christians”, the early Greeks. As such, it claimed that knowledge in Arabic books as a Christian inheritance: and that Arabs contributed nothing to it. Later racist historians modified the church thesis by insisting that the authors of Greek books, even in Africa, were white-skinned, hence claimed it as part of White achievements. The racist historian Florian Cajori is an example of how religious chauvinism was absorbed into racist chauvinism. No evidence exists, and none was needed!

Egyptian and Persian texts were translated into Greek, by Alexander and the Ptolemy dynasty, but any material coming from these texts was all attributed by racist historians to Greeks. Western historians against Afrocentrism, such as Lefkowitz, falsely state that there is no evidence for such translation. As I pointed out in my UNISA lectures, Zoroastrians have been complaining about the burning and Greek translation of their texts for over 2000 years. Western historians rightly assume that their parochial readers would be unfamiliar with those texts. Obviously, also, for the Greediotic brain it is equally easy to imagine (when required) that skin color relates to the language of the text: thus, any Indian author writing in English, such as this one, must be white-skinned! There are no early original Greek sources available, but even if they were a claim of any Greek originality (e.g. on Sphere and Cylinder, attributed to Archimedes), would need proof, since this is also found in the Ahmes papyrus from a thousand years earlier, as pointed out by Diop. Lefkowitz has only some utterly foolish comments to offer claiming that Archimedes compared the area of a cylinder to the volume of a sphere. That is the typical standard of racist historians.

Relevance to Indology

Anyway, the fact is (1) that the Abbasid khilafat in Baghdad made huge investments in knowledge (e.g. Bayt al Hikma), so that, following the knowledge gradient, numerous Arabic texts were translated FROM Arabic into Byzantine Greek (then Constantinople was a tributary of Baghdad). The fact also is that (2) much Indian knowledge travelled to Baghdad, as is well known and as repeated and explained during my talk (e.g. al Khwarizmi’s Hisab al Hind). As stated in the abstract, a striking example of both (1) and (2) is the case of the Panchatantra which was translated from Sanskrit to Farsi to Arabic and then to Byzantine Greek to other European languages as Aesop’s fables. Knowledge of Indian math could similarly have got into late Arabic and Byzantine Greek texts.

So, the question that arises, and was raised in Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, was this: could Indian knowledge have been mis-attributed to Greeks in the process of appropriating Arabic texts to Greeks? Specifically, on the strength of this appropriation, people like Pingree and his students have been clamouring that trigonometry was transmitted from Greeks (“Ptolemy”) to Indians. My question challenged this claim (and Pingree ducked the challenge in 2004 when, on a trip to the US, I directly challenged him to publicly debate the claim).

My counter-points to that claim are the following. (more…)

Alternative math: media reports

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Here are the media reports for the Rajju Ganit workshop from Dainik Bhaskar, Nai Duniya, Talk show by Global Herald, and Free Press Journal

Global Herald talk show प्रसिद्ध गणितज्ञ सीके राजू से खास चर्चा

Global Herald talk show

Dainik Bhaskar

Dainik Bhaskar Indore 26 June 2018

Nai Duniya26 June 2018

Nai Duniya Indore 26 June 2018

Global Herald e-paper 30 June 2018

Global Heral news

Free Press journal

Free Press journal, Indore, 27 June 2018

Decolonisation of education (Math, science, and History and philosophy of science) links

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

New videos

Here is a link to a video interview (over 9 hours) with Claude Alvares on a variety of issues concerning decolonisation of education. This has been posted by Multiversity TV, and I should have posted it long ago on my blog.

Preview

http://tvmultiversity.blogspot.in/2014/02/c-k-raju-interviewed-by-claude-alvares.html

History and Philosophy of Science

Part 5 of the above video series has interviews with students of the new “decolonised” course on History and Philosophy of Science (HPS). Some details of the new course, pictures of students etc. were earlier posted on this blog at

http://ckraju.net/blog/?p=89

The genesis of the HPS curriculum, the international conference which preceded it, and minutes of discussion at Universiti Sains Malaysia are posted at

http://ckraju.net/blog/?p=73

The actual curriculum of the courses which ran at AiU are posted at

HPS-1

http://ckraju.net/hps-aiu/History-and-Philosophy-of-Science-curriculum.pdf

HPS-2

http://ckraju.net/hps2-aiu/HPS-2-syllabus.pdf

Math education

As for math education, my experiments with my decolonised course on calculus have already been reported in scholarly articles such as

(more…)

History and Philosophy of Science: a new course

Monday, May 6th, 2013

This new course is a world first. It was formulated after an intensive curriculum deelopment workshop already mentioned in an earlier blog.

The West has systematically produced false history as propaganda to glorify itself and belittle others. This has further resulted in a bad philosophy of science and math. Typical courses in HPS in Western universities blank out the non-West. Western academics (like Wikipedists) seem incapable of debating the point seriously: they merely strike superior poses, pile on the falsehoods, vilify, censor, etc. Clearly they aim for the dim-witted and gullible.

For example, Kuhn’s “Copernican revolution” was written AFTER it became known to Western scholars that Copernicus was merely a priest who copied Ibn Shatir’s work from its Greek translation (available in the Vatican) and was too frightened of the Inquisition to acknowledge his non-Christian sources . As for the myth of Claudius Ptolemy, the Almagest is manifestly an accretive work with the current pole star at the head of its star list, and some parameters given to an accuracy of 13 decimal places, while the length of the year is wrong in the second decimal place. Indeed, Greeks and Romans were a superstitious lot who regarded astronomy as a crime, and punished it with death, as in the case of Socrates or Anaxagoras. The Julian calendar reformed the Greek, but remained hopelsssly unscientific (as the Gregorian still is). The wrong length of the year in it for centuries proves the Greeks and Romans never had any access to any advanced astronomy! (Hence, the long-standing confusion about the dates of Easter; they have just celebrated Easter in Palestine in May.)

Likewise the tale of the Newtonian revolution is bunkum. As I have shown in my book on Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, the calculus developed in India over a thousand year period, and was imported to Europe by Jesuits based in Cochin. Europeans, with their primitive and religious understanding of mathematics, failed to understand the infinite series and blundered like Descartes or even Newton with his “fluxions”.

The truth comes out from simple things like the inability of Westerners to measure the size of the earth until 1672, which is something that was well known in the non-West, from more than a thousand years earlier, at least since Aryabhata (5th c.), Bhaskara I (7th c.), al Mamun (9th c.), al Biruni (10th c.) etc, and probably since the Egyptians.

Unlike the parochial HPS courses in Western universities, the new HPS course suits the international character of the students of AlBukhary International University. Here the students of the new HPS course take a trip near equinox to see how simple it is to measure the size of the earth, so they can have a good laugh at those false Western tales.

Students of AlBukhary International University setting out to measure the earth

At the observation point, after sunset

National year of mathematics and delayed monsoon

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

But why a year on the Christian calendar? That calendar embodies the European ignorance of elementary arithmetic and simple fractions (hence their persistent inability to determine Easter correctly until the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582 when they got the length of the year from Indian books). Click the image for the text version. This newspaper has a circulation of 40 million.

Even so, the Gregorian calendar retains the unscientifc chaos about months. This is a disaster for Indian agriculture. (More details of the monsoon mess in my book Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, or an early preliminary article at http://www.indianscience.org/essays/t_es_raju_monsoon.shtml.)

More recent newspaper clips on the “delayed monsoon” effect are at http://ckraju.net/papers/Monsoon-pages-from-calclnm.pdf.

 

 

Islam and the Philosophy of Science

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

The Pusat Islam organized a talk on Islam and the philosophy of science. (Click the image for the paper. But the paper does not cover the queston of ethics of science, taken up during the talk.)

New curriculum for history and philosophy of science

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

A workshop was held at Al-Bukhari International University to formulate a new curriculum for the history and philosophy of science. Scholars from 3 countries participated. Here is the announcement for the workshop, and an earlier one on the Multiversity site.

The issue is part of the decolonisation agenda, but was precipitated when a person who trained as a missionary in Singapore Bible College, and never acquired any knowledge of science or philosophy, but got a PhD from Cambridge in the philosophy of science, started trying to use the classroom as a pulpit. See the minutes of the discussion, and the draft syllabus.

Here is a group photo

and a press report in Alef (Iran). (Click image to go to site, and use Google translate for hilarious results.)

Ending Academic Imperialism: a Beginning

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Here is my new book (ISBN: 978-983-3046-15-7).

 

Academic imperialism begins with Western education, which has not been seriously challenged in hard sciences. Colonialism changed the system of education to stabilise Western rule through indoctrination. The change was possible (e.g. by Macaulay in India) just because a large section of the colonised elite had already swallowed the 18th c. racist history, that only the West had innovated in science. That bad history was bolstered by a bad philosophy of science, both fundamentally warped by the religious fanaticism which overwhelmed Europe from the Crusades in the 11th c. until the 17th c. Therefore, to end academic imperialism it is necessary to take the following steps.

(more…)

Khwaza Nasiruddin Tusi and Copernicus

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

Believing the propaganda regarding trouble in Iran, I nearly postponed my visit there. However, the situation was entirely peaceful, even at Khorramshahr, the border with Iraq. There was an invasion of dust, so all flights were cancelled, and we had to travel back to Tehran by road, a distance of some 18 hours.  Here is what the dust haze looked like.

A sunken ship as seen in the dust haze
 
Remarkably, the Iranian Deputy Minister for Education, who was among those who attended the meet at Khorramshahr, also travelled back by bus, and stopped at wayside dhabas to eat and watch TV. I  did not see any guns, except those pointed at Iraq. I cannot imagine an Indian minister travelling thus, for they are always fearful, and seen only with gunmen even in meetings of philosophers in this “stable democracy” called India. Even the centre of Delhi is infested with guns, but no one says there is any trouble in India!

But then, this sort of propaganda is to be expected from those who passed off the priest Copernicus as a revolutionary scientist, though all he did was to translate the work of Ibn Shatir and the Maragheh  astronomers from Greek (into which it had already been translated) to Latin. Of course, he claimed “independent rediscovery”, as Europeans invariably did, for he could hardly have risked being tortured by the Inquisition like his friend Scultetus.

It was a real treat to visit Maragheh and see Tusi’s observatory at first hand.

 Nasiruddin Tusi\'s Observatory