Myth, math, and censorship

My article on “Mathematics and censorship” appeared in Kafila on 25 June 2017.

The original censored article “To decolonise math stand up to its false history and bad philosophy” was first published in the Conversation (global edition), in October 2016. It went viral and was removed by the South Africa editor on the lame ground that “You sited [sic] yourself”. Meaning, you brown man, what right do you have to talk of a new philosophy of mathematics? What right do you have to demand evidence for Greeks like Euclid? What right do you have to say that mathematics may have had a black mother not a white father? Don’t you know Conversation boasts of academic rigor, and that means you can only cite the work of others approved by White/Western reviewers. That is our (unstated) editorial standard.

In India the censored article was re-published by Wire and Scroll. Both took it down when the Conversation did. But Wire put it back with an apology. The article currently survives here on this blog, on Wire, and on Science 2.0. The article was recently reproduced in full as part of a peer-reviewed scholarly article published in Journal of Black Studies, a draft of which is available online.

To reiterate the Conversation failed to find anything wrong with the article. It was unable to refute a single point or a single sentence in the censored article. So, the real reason to censor the article was to protect vested interests. What are those vested interests?

One such vested interest obviously relates to White domination, which persists not only in post-apartheid South Africa but elsewhere. On a myth that is still taught to Indian school children “Euclid” is declared the father of mathematics and our school texts carry an image of him as white-skinned.

However, as my censored article pointed out, there is nil evidence for the very existence of Euclid leave alone for the color of this skin. I objected to it, but the NCERT did nothing; Narlikar, Sinclair and Co,  wanted to propagate false stories. To drive the point home, I then offered a prize of Rs 2 lakhs for the slightest serious evidence about Euclid. No one claimed the prize.

Obviously there is ample counter evidence that the book Elements attributed to Euclid, was written long after his purported time, by someone else, a woman who was in all probability black as portrayed on the cover of my book Euclid and Jesus.

Black mother of math?

This “black mother of mathematics” was raped and killed on the altar of a church (though the censored article did not mention this last fact because it was tightly edited in collaboration with the Conversation editor and limited to 1000 words,). Myths are a source of power, so this attack on their myths enraged the racist Whites in South Africa. They first tried the usual technique of “proof by abuse”. When that failed, censorship was applied.

However, the actual vested interests are deeper than one imagines. One sign of this is widespread superstitions. Whoever put pressure to censor the article in South Africa, in India this censorship was supported by colonial superstitions. Thus, the Scroll explained that the article was “retracted” because of “bad math”. When asked to specify the bad math the editor admitted he knew no math: obviously he had put that heading just because of the firm conviction that South Africa was a utopia and the editor of Conversation acted justly and in the best interests of blacks and Indians against the article which sought to decolonise math. Strong beliefs combined with ignorance are a sure sign of superstition. These editorial attitudes, which support censorship, help to prevent a critical public discussion, and preserve the bad colonial math taught in school which results in the difficulties of math that millions of students experience.

But such widespread superstitions are a sure indication of an even deeper vested interest, for the superstitions are widespread just because some institution systematically spread those superstitions.

The deeper vested interest in formal math is that of the church. The myths of math help to preserve the teaching of the church theology of reason through formal math.

The colonised mind is thunderstruck at the thought of a connection between math and religion, though it is (a) ignorant of how Plato’s Socrates connected geometry to mathesis and the soul, (b) ignorant of the (post-Crusade) church theology of reason, (c) it never understood why the church used geometry (and “Euclid”) for centuries to teach reasoning to its priests, (d) it is equally ignorant of the actual contents of the book “Euclid” supposedly wrote, and (e) how or whether that book relates to the philosophy of formal math.

The colonised mind does not think that removing its ignorance is a possibility: it proceeds on the strength of guesswork, as it is taught to do. And, like an animal its guesses side with authority. So it is absolutely convinced that there can be no connection between formal math and (post-Crusade) church theology. (One can prove anything by ignorance.) The church education of the colonised (in schools and universities) ensures that there is very little critique of the church by those who seek to decolonise. It is time to throw aside these ignorant and superstitious people who cannot overcome their indoctrination.

My demand is that we should teach normal math or religiously neutral math, not formal math. This is the math of practical value. But no discussion on this demand is possible because of censorship. This was not the first time that this point of view was censored. When the Reader’s Editor of Scroll, Ram Manohar Reddy, was the editor of the EPW, he refused to carry my article “Teach religiously neutral math”. Normally, when an article is rejected, some reason needs to be offered. But EPW could offer no reason. Obviously it had none, apart from prejudice, so this was just a form of academic censorship. It refused even the courtesy of a response.

Similarly Minati Panda who is more ignorant of math than her colleague Dhruv Raina,  but does math education in JNU, invited me in 2014 to lecture in JNU. But then she suddenly stopped answering all emails. First invite and then refuse even the courtesy of a response! That is, my invited lecture on this in JNU was censored. Because people like Minati Panda and her colleague Dhruv Raina are all so totally ignorant of math (Dhruv Raina and S. Irfan Habib made a bloomer on an elementary mathematical point in their paper), and they know they have no academic answer to me, they are scared. So, they will not permit any articulation of this linkage of formal math to church theology. These defenders of church superstitions are all the very people who will shout loudest about freedom of speech! What they mean is freedom of speech only to those who respect their colonial prejudices and superstitions.

What exactly is the difference between formal math and normal math? Formal math prohibits empirical proofs. In fact, it prohibits any contact with the empirical. Thus, the first lesson in formal math in our class 6 NCERT text is this: a geometric point is invisible. So, how does one know about a point? Since a point is not accessible to the senses, the student has no direct way of knowing about it. Nor is there any way to indirectly infer the existence of a point. This is the first lesson in formal math: don’t trust your senses, or common sense, trust the authority of the text. Obviously talk of invisible and inaccessible things is a typical church con-trick. Nevertheless, there are million of “educated” colonised minds who carry this foolish belief into their old age without the slightest scepticism. They may state the belief in various ways: a point has no size, it has no height, length or breadth, it has no dimensions, etc., etc. But they can’t explain their source of knowledge about invisible points, or points without size etc.

Invisible points whose existence cannot also be inferred are as much a fantasy as the emperor’s new clothes. Those millions of colonised minds who believed in invisible points all their lives did so purely on the strength of authority. These colonised minds who preach the virtues of imitating the West were, at an early age, dupes of a superstition spread by the West, that this way of blindly relying on authority is a “superior” way of doing math.

The colonised mind will defend its foolish beliefs with another story (stories are all that the colonised mind learns). Math is used for science, to send a rocket to the moon. True. However, the math used to send a man to the moon is done on computers. Anything which can be done with computers is normal math, for a computer cannot work with fantasies or do the metaphysics of infinity characteristic of formal math at all stages. (E.g. there is an infinity of points on a line, an infinity of natural numbers etc.) Obviously, formal math being about a fantasy world offers no practical value to the learner, the way normal math does. Thus, what one needs in a grocer’s shop is a method of efficient calculation not Russell’s 368 page proof of 1+1=2 which is worthless to anyone who does not share his metaphysics.

However, I am tired of explaining these things again and again to the indoctrinated colonised mind which knows nothing except its stories, and holds on to those stories and foolish beliefs for dear life without the slightest thought about why or how it has been conned for two centuries.

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