4 Nov 2016
Dear Dr Rammanohar Reddy,
Thank you for your response.
I was under the impression that the Reader’s Editor is not a mere glorified post box, to forward mail to the editor, as you say you have done. In the event of a disagreement with the editor, I imagined that the Reader’s Editor performs an independent function. In the present circumstances there are several issues, as listed below.
My article was taken down by Scroll.in when the Conversation took it down. There was no legal requirement to do so, since the Conversation articles are under a Creative Commons license. Please give your judgment on whether the failure on your part to exercise independent editorial judgment in taking down the article is justified.
The wider context of the article is a big political agitation going on in South African universities where whites dominate the academic system (only 5% of black students succeed in higher education).
The immediate context is false history which was the traditional justification for the promoting the belief in racial superiority of whites, and was explicitly used for that purpose by numerous prominent Western philosophers such as Hume, Kant, Hegel etc. Macaulay similarly justified colonialism using the same false history. My article challenged an earlier article in Conversation which reiterated that false history saying “Much, though certainly not all, math was the creation of dead white men”.
I asserted, to the contrary, that people should stand up to the false history and bad philosophy of math. Under these circumstances even a political novice would have been sceptical of a vague “editorial reason” offered for taking down an article which went viral. That was an unambiguous act of censorship. And your act of taking down the article, without applying your mind, amounts to extending support for that censorship to defend the claims of racist history. If there was anything wrong in the article you could have have carried a rebuttal. That would have given correct information to your readers instead of mere insinuations used by you to support racist history (whatever your intentions).
In fact, there is no way to contest my claims on factual grounds. My Rs 2 lakh prize for Euclid stands unscathed, even after the article was pulled down. You or your readers are welcome to try their hand at it. But instead you have chosen to insinuate that there was something wrong with the article.
So, once again, please state your judgment as Reader’s Editor whether the Scroll editor erred in taking down the article without applying his mind to its contents and to the political context of the prevalent racism in South Africa, which my article provided a concrete way to oppose.
False history of the kind that “Much, though certainly not all, mathematics was the creation of dead white men” has been traditionally used to defend racism. My Euclid challenge prize for Rs 2 lakhs is offered to demonstrate that this racist history is based on faith not any facts. Therefore, the only way to save that rotten history is to prevent its articulation. Hence the Conversation took down my article “To decolonise math, stand up to its false history and bad philosophy.” Here are two protest letters and an article.
2. Protest letter from Mr S. M. Mohamed Idris, Chairman, Citizens International, to International Association of Universities.
Note: Am locked out of my website. The following “abstract” is for the forthcoming 39th Indian Social Science Congress, Mangalore, a talk at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and an international meeting on plurality in math in Kolkata. The idea is to talk and discuss publicly, not publish in secretively reviewed journals.
Ganita vs mathematics
Ten myths underlying formal math and the need to reject them
C. K. Raju
Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New Delhi
We reject the myth that Western math is universal. That was always a normative universality: while it was admitted that other ways of doing math existed, it was claimed that Western math was “superior”. This claim of “superiority” (e.g. the claim that metaphysical proofs are “superior” to empirical proofs) rests merely on some anti-scientific church dogmas born of hate politics. Further, the purported “superiority” of Western math, exactly like racist claims of “superiority”, is supported by the very same fabricated church/racist/colonial history (e.g. the myth of Euclid and the myth of his deductive proofs).
Any serious study of plurality in math must critically re-examine other ways of doing math, and select the better way of doing math. Which math should be taught in schools and universities? We cannot just assume that existing (colonial) math education should persist. Nor even can we continue to justify it merely on unexamined Western myths and dogmas, even if they are widely believed today (just because colonial education propagates them). Indeed, since math is taught as a compulsory subject in schools today, if the present way of teaching it rests on (and subtly propagates) religious dogmas, and related myths, as it does, its teaching must be changed in schools in any secular country.
To this end, of deciding which math is better, we compare formal math with religiously-neutral Indian ganita (together with the explicit philosophy of zeroism). We have selected ganita not for reasons of its Indian origins, but because it concerns practical value, which is surely more universal than Western dogmatic metaphysics. Further, most math taught in schools today (arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, probability) historically originated as ganita. Also, those same ganita techniques of calculation continue to be used today for almost all practical applications of math to commerce, science and engineering (and indeed in all computer-based numerical calculations, such as those used to send a spacecraft to Mars, or to make stock-market predictions).
While the West imported ganita for its practical value, its epistemology clashed with the religiously-loaded epistemology of math in the West (e.g. all computer-based numerical calculations are today declared “erroneous”). Ganita was made theologically correct by (a) giving it a veneer of metaphysics (e.g. the use of metaphysical limits in calculus, to align its notion of infinity with church dogmas about eternity), and (b) packaging it with a false history (e.g. that Newton and Leibniz invented the calculus). This cocktail of practical value, religious metaphysics, and false history, was just declared “superior” and globalised by colonial education. Selecting ganita over formal math preserves the practical value, while eliminating the false history and bad metaphysics. Indeed practical value is enhanced: e.g., eliminating Newton’s conceptual confusion about calculus leads to a better theory of gravity. Or, e.g., teaching calculus as ganita enables students do harder problems.
However, the bad metaphysics and false history, underlying formal math, is a key part of colonial indoctrination (“education”). The indoctrinated cling to myths: when one myth is challenged, they try to “save” it by appealing to another (e.g. if the myth of Euclid is challenged they invoke the myth of deductive proofs in the Elements). Hence, to decolonise, the whole collectivity of myths must be simultaneously denied. If this denial is to be intelligible, it cannot also be brief: for brevity assumes shared beliefs. Thus a demand for brevity, in this context, becomes a trick to block dissent.
Many traditionalists whether in India or in Iran regard secularism in education as the biggest enemy of traditional values. (A recent example of this thinking is Bharat Gupt’s article posted at http://indiafacts.co.in/religious-pluralism-and-distorted-notions-of-secularism-in-education/ ) These traditionalists are dead wrong: the church has succeeded so well because those it considers its biggest enemies don’t even recognize it as an enemy.
The biggest enemy of traditional values are the church dogmas, which have crept even into mathematics and hard sciences, and which are so much a part and parcel of colonial education.
The primary problem facing Indian education today is that it is a thoughtless continuation of colonial education, which itself was a continuation of church education. (The first bill for secular education in Britain dates to 1872, so Western education was 100% church education when it first came to India.) Church education, designed to produce missionaries, teaches subordination to church/Western authority. That suited colonialism but does not suit a free country.
Decolonisation of education is needed even in the hard sciences such as mathematics and physics. Few have noticed that church dogmas creep even into mathematics and science as taught in our universities today. For example, physics uses differential equations which require calculus. But calculus as taught in our universities requires that time should be like the real line. However, all Indian values, especially the value of moksha (or nirvana), are based on the notion of quasi-cyclic time.1 So, just teaching calculus, in the present way, teaches that those Indian values are fundamentally wrong and anti-science, hence lack credibility.
As part of a series of workshops on science and various religions, there was a day-long workshop on science and Islam at the Universiti Sains Islamic Malaysia.
This developed the paper on Islam and science presented as a keynote address at a previous international conference on Islam and Multiculturalism at the University of Malaya.
Became an honorary member of the the Institute of Complex Thought at the University Ricardo Palma. Good to know that they want to try the 5-day course on calculus.
A few years ago, when a friend, Jorge Ishizawa from Lima, asked for a copy of my book Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, I wondered what he would do with it. (I sent it, but it bounced back.) On a recent visit to Peru, I had a conversation with people at his organization PRATEC, which works with traditional Andean knowledge. Interestingly, many of them were aware of my work.
Found out that Bolivia has a full-fledged Ministry for Decolonisation! India should have one too!
Recently I participated in a panel on science and religion in the Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology. The students who were brought up indoctrinated with Western stories of the conflict between science and religion were dumbfounded when I asked the following question. If science and religion were at war, why then did the church bring science to India? For the manifest fact, contrary to the story of a conflict between science and church, is that the best science colleges in India are still mostly church institutions. The students appreciated it, though it is hard for them to get out of the mental frame imposed by the story. Hopefully, it will set some of them thinking about the use of scientific authority to impose church dogmas.
There was little time to explain it during the panel, but Buddhism accepts only the two principles of pramana (proof): namely, pratyaksa (empirically manifest) and anumana (inference). Those two means of proof are also the basis of (real) science. Specifically, Buddhism rejects authority-based proofs, such as the authority of editors of Western scientific journals, based on secretive refereeing, and their ranking system. Buddhists point out that authority must either be manifest or based on inference. Therefore, what possible source of conflict can there be between Buddhism and (real) science?
Clearly, the only source of conflict is similar to that between science in theory, and science as practised, for science in practice relies heavily on authority, such as editorial authority. It also relies on secrecy (such as secretive refereeing) to preserve authorised knowledge in the manner of the church. Finally, most people cannot judge the validity of science on their own and rely on stories about who can be trusted, and who not. Naturally, they get taken for a ride.
There are other differences. Thus, for example, ethics is an important aspect of Buddhism. (Those interested in seeing how Buddhist ethics relate to present day science may like to see my paper on “Harmony Principle”, in Philosophy East and West and elsewhere.) Practising scientists, however, often disregard ethics. A whole lot of Nobel prizes were given to people who participated in the Manhattan project and then coolly washed their hands off the blood of millions affected by the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The same thing can be said of medical practitioners today who are almost totally sold out to the pharmaceutical companies, and care little for patients. Thus, practising scientists are required to be loyal to their masters, the state or capital, and suppress ethical objections.
Though there is no conflict between Buddhism and real science, there can be a conflict between Buddhism and science as it exists, because of intrusion of church dogmas in the content of present-day science and mathematics. I have commented on this intrusion of dogma into science in the context of Stephen Hawking, in the my paper on Science and Islam, and in the public debate with a Christian evangelist with a PhD from Cambridge, intent on turning the classroom into a pulpit. In all cases, the attempt was to use the authority of science to impose dogmas of Christian theology, as in claims about eternal laws of nature, or “causality” (meaning mechanistic causality), or Hawking’s singularities interpreted to suit creationism. The above paper on the harmony principle also briefly indicates why the correct scientific position is not mechanistic causality but very similar to conditioned coorigination (that the future co-originates, conditioned by the past, but not decided by it). That is also the central Buddhist principle of paticca samuppada. (more…)
Some months ago, I was invited to Patna for a meeting organized by Sanjay Paswan, dalit leader and former Union Minister of State for HRD. Unfortunately, I had to cancel the visit at the last minute, but wrote a short account of my speech. The speech was a response to Sanjay Paswan’s learned book Cultural Nationalism and Dalit which makes the point that the conditions for lower castes were not so oppressive in pre-colonial times. He has documented numerous cases of famous lower-caste religious figures from the ancient Valmiki to Kabir and Ravidas. Of course, he includes Dharmpal’s point about the prominence of dalit teachers and students in pre-colonial education according to British statistics. The same thesis is illustrated by Sri Narayana Guru.
This thesis is important. My point is that the thesis is a priori credible, for. when Buddhism flourished, in India, or, later, when there were many powerful Islamic rulers, it would have been easy for dalits to opt out of the caste system by converting. This was what Ambedkar emphasized when he proclaimed that he was born a Hindu but would not die one. Therefore, also, he converted to Buddhism and urged other dalits to do so. Therefore, also, there should not be a law against conversion, since that would be anti-dalit.
In my planned speech, apart from putting this forward, I also thought of extending the thesis argued by Sanjay Paswan by pointing out that famous dalits included scientific figures like Aryabhata, not only religious one’s. That Aryabhata was dalit is clear from his name Aryabhata, often misspelled as Aryabhatta. As any Sanskrit dictionary will confirm, bhata refers to a slave, a soldier etc., while bhatta is the title of a learned Brahmin. Thus, the misspelling changes Aryabhata from a dalit to a Brahmin. In some cases this misspelling may be due to sheer ignorance, but in some cases it is surely due to mischief, as I pointed out many years ago.
My article published today in The Hindu, was heavily abbreviated. The more detailed original article in about 1200 words is easier to understand. The petition to teach religiously neutral math, and related material is already on this blog. A draft of a more detailed paper on “Eternity and Infinity” delineating how the West misunderstood Indian math, and its consequences for science today is also posted online for those who want to go into depth about the connections of present-day formal math to church theology on the one hand, and its failures in present-day science on the other. Imitating the West in mathematics is bad idea.
As for actual alternatives in math education, my experiments with my decolonised course on calculus have already been reported in scholarly articles such as