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Indian Perspectives on The Physical World
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Indian Perspectives on The Physical World
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About the Book

The volumes of the Project on The History of Science, Philosophy and Culture In Indian Civilization aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. These volumes, in spite of their unitary look, recognize the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. The Project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In fact contributions are made by different scholars with different ideological persuasions and methodological approaches. The Project is marked by what may be called 'methodological pluralism'. In spite of its primary historical character, this Project, both in its conceptualization and execution, has been shaped by many scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is for the first time that an endeavour of such a unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically a major world civilization like India.

In tune with the Volumes published or contemplated, under the PHISPC, which aim at presenting India's multi-faceted heritage in an interrelated manner, this Volume too tries to throw light on the varied, but integrated, thought-structures pertaining to the physical world. The intellectual endeavours of Indian savants, both orthodox and heterodox, encompassed not only the attempts to find out the 'essence' behind all manifestations, but also the problems of substance, qualities and motion; atomism; space and time; heat and light. Some epistemological attempts too were made with a view to seeking the rationality or the validity of their knowledge. Such knowledge, however, was an integral part of a holistic vision of Man in Nature and in recognition of the consonance between microcosm and macrocosm.

This Volume is in the nature of a perspective on these and related Indian thoughts. Wherever necessary and possible, a brief review of the concerned ideas in the other culture-areas has been given to facilitate a comparative understanding, besides a chapter on Modern Perspective on the Physical World. Relevant original passages in Sanskrit under References, an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources, and a glossary of technical words have been included in this Volume. It is hoped that these will stimulate interested readers towards further intensive studies.

 

About the Author

D.P. CHATTOPADHYAYA, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt (Honoris Causa) researched, studied Law, Philosophy and History and taught at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954-1994. Founder- Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary 96-Vol. Project of History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (PHISPC) and Chairman of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Among his 32 publications ( authored 17 and edited 15), are Individuals and Societies (1967), Individuals and World (1976), Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988), Anthropology and Historiography of Science (1990), Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991), Sociology, Ideology and Utopia (1997), Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000), Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue (2002) and Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and Other Essays (2003). Besides, he held high public Offices like Union Cabinet Ministership and State Governorship.

B.Y. SUBBARAYAPPA (b.1925), an Editorial Fellow of PHISPC, is Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He was formerly Executive Secretary of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi; first Project-Coordinator and Member-Secretary of the National Commission for History of Science in India; Professor of History of Science at Birla Institute of Science and Technology, Pilani; and Director, Discovery of India project, Nehru Centre, Bombay. He is the Editor/author of several books on history of science in India and has published nearly a hundred papers on this subject in national and international journals and other publications. He was the President (first non-Westerner to be so elected) of the Science Division of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, related to UNESCO (1998-2001); elected Member of the International Academy of History of Science, Paris (1987); recipient of Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bologna, Italy; and R.C. Gupta Endowment Prize and Medal (2003) for History of Science from the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad.

 

Preface

Over the ages, an incessant human endeavour has been to understand, among others, the observed world of matter, energy, qualities, motion, space and time. Alongside, the pristine origin of the Universe as well as the knowledge of the terrestrial-celestial relationship or the microcosmic- macroscopic consonance also engaged the attention of thinkers of ancient cultures in one form or the other. Such knowledge, however, was an integral part of a holistic vision of Man in Nature and seldom in terms of a dichotomy of Man and Nature or Man against Nature.

Of all the ancient cultures, the Indian culture-area has been noted for fostering a holistic view of the 'Universe on the matrix of which several concepts were developed encompassing matter or the substance, its diverse qualities, atomism, motion, space and time. Some epistemological attempts too were made for their rational interpretation, albeit their limitations. The sources dealing with these ideas are in Sanskrit and not unoften mixed with ontological or metaphysical issues. The viewpoints of both the orthodox and heterodox systems (the Bauddha, Jaina, Carvaka and the like) have been examined in the context of their approach to the physical world.

An attempt is thus made in this Volume to present a perspective on these and related Indian thoughts. Wherever necessary and possible, a brief review of the concerned ideas of the other cultures has been given to facilitate a comparative understanding. Relevant Sanskrit passages have also been given under references with a view to enabling an interested reader to have access to the original sources for further critical evaluation. An extensive bibliography along with a glossary of Sanskrit terms has been appended in the hope that they would enhance the value of this publication.

I am grateful to Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya Ji, Chairman, CSC and Project Director, PHISPC for his constant encouragement. My special thanks are due to Professor Bhuvan Chandel, Project-Coordinator, PHISPC and Shri S. Sreekumaran, Administration-cum-Accounts Officer of PHISPC for their help in various ways. I am indeed beholden to Professor D. Prahladachar, Vice-Chancellor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, for going through the manuscript in detail and giving several suggestions, specially with regard to the portion relating to the Nyaya-Vaisesika. He has also kindly agreed to include his two articles (Appendices 3 and 4) in this volume. I am grateful to Swamy Prabhananda, Secretary, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata for according permission to reproduce the article: "Geographical Knowledge in Ancient and Medieval India" (Appendix 2) written by Sashibhushan Chaudhuri and published in The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol VI. 2001, pp. 5-17.

The permission granted by the Permissions Administrator of Mz's. Taylor and Francis Group, London, for the reproduction of the article: 'Time and Eternity in Indian Thought' (Appendix 1) published in Man and Time, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1958, pp. 173-200, is gratefully acknowledged.

I am deeply appreciative of the assistance of Professor C. Ramanathan who worked as Research Associate throughout the preparation of this Volume. I offer my special thanks to Dr. Sudha Gopinath (Bangalore University) for reading the manuscript as well as giving suggestions, and to Dr. B.S. Ramakrishna Rao who has spared no efforts in going through the proofs meticulously. It gives me great pleasure to thank specially Ms. Bindu Menon for going through the proofs thoroughly and meticulously. Her devoted efforts are indeed exemplary. Thanks are also due to S.G. Srinivasa Murthy for efficient typing, and to Digigrafics as well as Pauls Press for their concerted efforts which have led to this elegant publication.

 

General Introduction

I
It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life-world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.

One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also present in our body-mind complex, enabling us to adjust ourselves to our environment. Not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production-related tradition, history and culture.

Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second group of writers, unlike the generalists or transcendentalists, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people's consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local as well as common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one' part of theworld to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living.

In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthropologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the rites, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, try to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are 'essentially' or 'secretly' interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry prosody. All these show how the 'matters' and 'forms' of life are so subtly interwoven.

II
The PHISPC publications on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of its unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non-Indian thinkers.

The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have in India many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa. Some of these writings are objective and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, religious and political conviction, of the writers.

Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or 'real' and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is 'anarchic' and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it.

But its character is basically dependent upon the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for moulding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. His interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian's main interest centres round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study. Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularist. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical event and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or other. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.

III
The aim of this Project is to discover the main aspects of Indian culture and present them in an interrelated way. Since our culture has influenced, and has been influenced by, the neighbouring cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia, attempts have been made here to trace and study these influences in their mutuality. It is well known that during the last three centuries, European presence, both political and cultural, in India has - been very widespread. In many volumes of the Project considerable attention has been paid to Europe and, through Europe, to other parts of the world. For the purpose of a comprehensive cultural study of India, the existing political boundaries of the South Asia of today are more of a hindrance than help .. Cultures, like languages, often transcend the bounds of changing political territories.

If the inconstant political geography is not a reliable help to the understanding of the layered structure and spread of culture, a somewhat comparable problem is encountered in the area of historical per iodization. Per iodization or segmenting time is a very tricky affair. When exactly one period ends and another begins is not precisely ascertainable. The periods of history designated as ancient, medieval and modern are purely conventional and merely heuristic in character. The varyingscope of history, local, national and continental or universal, somewhat like the periods of history, are unavoidably fuzzy and shifting. Amidst all these difficulties, the volume-wise details have been planned and worked out by the editors in consultation with the Project Director and the General Editor. I believe that the editors of different volumes have also profited from the reactions and suggestions of the contributors of individual chapters in planning the volumes.

Another aspect of Indian history which the volume editors and contributors of the Project have carefully dealt with is the distinction and relation between civilization and culture. The material conditions which substantially shaped Indian civilization have been discussed in detail. From agriculture and industry to metallurgy and technology, from physics and chemical practices to the life sciences and different systems of medicines-all the branches of knowledge and skill which directly affect human life-form the heart of this Project. Since the periods covered by the PHISPC are extensive-prehistory, proto-history, early history, medieval history and modern history of India-we do not claim to have gone into all the relevant material conditions of human life. We had to be selective. Therefore, one should not be surprised if one finds that only some material aspects of Indian civilization have received our pointed attention, while the rest have been dealt with in principle or only alluded to.

One of the main aims of the Project has been to spell out the first principles of the philosophy of different schools, both pro-Vedic and anti-Vedic. The basic ideas of Buddhism, Jainism and Islam have been given their due importance. The special position accorded to philosophy is to be understood partly in terms of its proclaimed unifying character and partly it is to be explained in terms of the fact that different philosophical systems represent alternative world-views, cultural perspectives, their conflict and mutual assimilation.

Most of the volume editors and at their instance the concerned contributors have followed a middle path between the extremes of narrativism and theoreticism. The underlying idea has been this: If in the process of working out a comprehensive Project like this every contributor attempts to narrate all those interesting things that he has in the back of his mind, the enterprise is likely to prove unmanageable. If, on the other hand, particular details are consciously forced into a fixed mould or pre-supposed theoretical structure, the details lose their particularity and interesting character. Therefore, depending on the nature of the problem of discourse, most of the writers have tried to reconcile in their presentation, the specificity of narrativism and the generality of theoretical orientation. This is a conscious editorial decision because, in the absence of a theory, however inarticulate it may be, the factual details tend to fall apart. Spiritual network or theoretical orientation makes historical details not only meaningful but also interesting and enjoyable.

Another editorial decision which deserves spelling out is the necessity or avoid ability of duplication of the same theme in different volumes or even in the same volume. Certainly, this Project is not an assortment of several volumes. Noris any volume intended to be a miscellany. This Project has been designed with a definite end in view and has a structure of its own. The character of the structure has admittedly been influenced by the variety of the themes accommodated within it. Again it must be understood that the complexity of structure is rooted in the aimed integrality of the Project itself.

IV
Long and in-depth editorial discussion has led us to several unanimous conclusions. Firstly, our Project is going to be unique, unrivalled and discursive in its attempt to integrate different forms of science, technology, philosophy and culture. Its comprehensive scope, continuous character and accent on culture distinguish it from the works of such Indian authors as P.c. Ray, B.N. Seal, Binoy Kumar Sarkar and S.N. Sen and also from such Euro-Arnerican writers as Lynn Thorndike, George Sarton and Joseph Needham. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that it is for the first time that an endeavour of so comprehensive a character, in its exploration of the social, philosophical and cultural characteristics of a distinctive world civilization-that of India-has been attempted in the domain of scholarship.

Secondly, we try to show the linkages between different branches of learning as different modes of experience in an organic manner and without resorting to a kind of reductionism, materialistic or spiritualistic. The internal dialectics of organicism without reductionism allows fuzziness, discontinuity and discreteness within limits.

Thirdly, positively speaking, different modes of human experience-scientific, artistic, etc. have their own individuality, not necessarily autonomy. Since all these modes are modification and articulation of human experience, these are bound to have between them some finely graded commonness. At the same time, it has been recognized that reflection on different areas of experience and investigation brings to light new insights and findings. Growth of knowledge requires humans, in general, and scholars, in particular, to identify the distinctness of different branches of learning.

Fourthly, to follow simultaneously the twin principles of: (a) individuality of human experience as a whole, and (b) individuality of diverse disciplines,. are not at all an easy task. Overlap of themes and duplication of the terms of discourse become unavoidable at times. For example, in the context of Dharmasiistra, the writer is bound to discuss the concept of value. The same concept also figures in economic discourse and also occurs in a discussion on fine arts. The conscious editorial decision has been that, while duplication should be kept to its minimum, for the sake of intended clarity of the themes under discussion, their reiteration must not be avoided at high intellectual cost.

Fifthly, the scholars working on the Project are drawn from widely different disciplines. They have brought to our notice an important fact that has clear relevance to our work. Many of our contemporary disciplines like economics and sociology did not exist, at least not in their present form, just two centuries ago or so. For example, before the middle of nineteenth century, sociology as a distinct branch of knowledge was unknown. The term is said to have been coined first by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in 1838. Obviously, this does not mean that the issues discussed in sociology were not there. Similarly, Adam Smith's (1723- 90) famous work The Wealth of Nations is often referred to as the first authoritative statement of the principles of (what we now call) economics. Interestingly enough, the author was equally interested in ethics and jurisprudence. It is clear from history that the nature and scope of different disciplines undergo change, at times very radically, over time. For example, in India arthasiistra does not mean the science of economics as understood today. Besides the principles of economics, it discusses at length those of governance, diplomacy and military science.

Sixthly, this brings us to the next editorial policy followed in the Project. We have tried to remain very conscious of what may be called indeterminacy or inexactness of translation. When a word or expression of one language is translated into another, some loss of meaning or exactitude seems to be unavoidable. This is true not only in the bilingual relations like Sanskrit-English and Sanskrit-Arabic, but also in those of Hindi-Tamil and Hindi-Bengali. In recognition of the importance of language-bound and context-relative character of meaning we have solicited from many learned scholars, contributions, written in vernacular languages. In order to minimize the miseffect of semantic inexactitude we have solicited translational help of that type of bilingual scholars who know both English and the concerned vernacular language, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali or Marathi.

Seventhly and finally, perhaps the place of technology as a branch of knowledge in the composite universe of science and art merits some elucidation. Technology has been conceived in very many ways, e.g. as autonomous, as 'standing reserve', as liberating or enlarge mental, and alienative or estrange mental force The studies undertaken by the Project show that, in spite of its much emphasized mechanical and alienative characteristics, technology embodies a very useful mode of knowledge that is peculiar to man. The Greek root words of technology are techne (art) and logos (science). This is the basic justification of recognizing technology as closely related to both epistemology, the discipline of valid knowledge, and axiology, the discipline of freedom and values. It is in this context that we are reminded of the definition of man as homo technikos. In Sanskrit, the word closest to techne is kala which means any practical art, any mechanical or fine art. In the Indian tradition, in Saivatantra, for example, among the arts (kala) are counted dance, drama, music, architecture, metallurgy, knowledge of dictionary, encyclopaedia and prosody. The closeness of the relation between arts and sciences, technology and other forms of knowledge are evident from these examples and was known to the ancient people. The human quest for knowledge involves the use of both head and hand. Without mind, the body is a corpse and the disembodied mind is a bare abstraction. Even for our appreciationof what is beautiful and the creation of what is valuable, we are required to exercise both our intellectual competence and physical capacity. In a manner of speaking, one might rightly affirm that our psychosomatic structure is a functional connector between what we are and what we could be, between the physical and the beyond. To suppose that there is a clear-cut distinction between the physical world and the psychosomatic one amounts to denial of the possible emergence of higher logico-mathematical, musical and other capacities. The very availability of aesthetic experience and creation proves that the supposed distinction is somehow overcome by what may be called the bodily self or embodied mind.

 

Contents

 

  Preface XI
  General Introduction XIII
1 An Overview 1
2 Unitary Conceptions 50
3 Five Elements 73
4 Substance, Qualities and Motion 107
5 Atomism 130
6 Epistemology: Its Ultimate Aim 153
7 Space and Time 193
8 Heat, Light and Sound 239
9 Weights and Measures 249
10 Modern Perspective on the Physical World 274
  Appendices 319
  Abbreviations 379
  Glossary 380
  General Bibliography 397
  Index 421

 

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Indian Perspectives on The Physical World

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About the Book

The volumes of the Project on The History of Science, Philosophy and Culture In Indian Civilization aim at discovering the main aspects of India's heritage and present them in an interrelated way. These volumes, in spite of their unitary look, recognize the difference between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. The Project is not being executed by a single group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In fact contributions are made by different scholars with different ideological persuasions and methodological approaches. The Project is marked by what may be called 'methodological pluralism'. In spite of its primary historical character, this Project, both in its conceptualization and execution, has been shaped by many scholars drawn from different disciplines. It is for the first time that an endeavour of such a unique and comprehensive character has been undertaken to study critically a major world civilization like India.

In tune with the Volumes published or contemplated, under the PHISPC, which aim at presenting India's multi-faceted heritage in an interrelated manner, this Volume too tries to throw light on the varied, but integrated, thought-structures pertaining to the physical world. The intellectual endeavours of Indian savants, both orthodox and heterodox, encompassed not only the attempts to find out the 'essence' behind all manifestations, but also the problems of substance, qualities and motion; atomism; space and time; heat and light. Some epistemological attempts too were made with a view to seeking the rationality or the validity of their knowledge. Such knowledge, however, was an integral part of a holistic vision of Man in Nature and in recognition of the consonance between microcosm and macrocosm.

This Volume is in the nature of a perspective on these and related Indian thoughts. Wherever necessary and possible, a brief review of the concerned ideas in the other culture-areas has been given to facilitate a comparative understanding, besides a chapter on Modern Perspective on the Physical World. Relevant original passages in Sanskrit under References, an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources, and a glossary of technical words have been included in this Volume. It is hoped that these will stimulate interested readers towards further intensive studies.

 

About the Author

D.P. CHATTOPADHYAYA, M.A., LL.B., Ph.D. (Calcutta and London School of Economics), D. Litt (Honoris Causa) researched, studied Law, Philosophy and History and taught at various Universities in India, Asia, Europe and USA from 1954-1994. Founder- Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (1981-1990) and President-cum-Chairman of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1984-1991), Chattopadhyaya is currently the Project Director of the multidisciplinary 96-Vol. Project of History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (PHISPC) and Chairman of the Centre for Studies in Civilizations (CSC). Among his 32 publications ( authored 17 and edited 15), are Individuals and Societies (1967), Individuals and World (1976), Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx (1988), Anthropology and Historiography of Science (1990), Induction, Probability and Skepticism (1991), Sociology, Ideology and Utopia (1997), Societies, Cultures and Ideologies (2000), Interdisciplinary Studies in Science, Society, Value and Civilizational Dialogue (2002) and Philosophy of Science, Phenomenology and Other Essays (2003). Besides, he held high public Offices like Union Cabinet Ministership and State Governorship.

B.Y. SUBBARAYAPPA (b.1925), an Editorial Fellow of PHISPC, is Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He was formerly Executive Secretary of the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi; first Project-Coordinator and Member-Secretary of the National Commission for History of Science in India; Professor of History of Science at Birla Institute of Science and Technology, Pilani; and Director, Discovery of India project, Nehru Centre, Bombay. He is the Editor/author of several books on history of science in India and has published nearly a hundred papers on this subject in national and international journals and other publications. He was the President (first non-Westerner to be so elected) of the Science Division of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science, related to UNESCO (1998-2001); elected Member of the International Academy of History of Science, Paris (1987); recipient of Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bologna, Italy; and R.C. Gupta Endowment Prize and Medal (2003) for History of Science from the National Academy of Sciences, Allahabad.

 

Preface

Over the ages, an incessant human endeavour has been to understand, among others, the observed world of matter, energy, qualities, motion, space and time. Alongside, the pristine origin of the Universe as well as the knowledge of the terrestrial-celestial relationship or the microcosmic- macroscopic consonance also engaged the attention of thinkers of ancient cultures in one form or the other. Such knowledge, however, was an integral part of a holistic vision of Man in Nature and seldom in terms of a dichotomy of Man and Nature or Man against Nature.

Of all the ancient cultures, the Indian culture-area has been noted for fostering a holistic view of the 'Universe on the matrix of which several concepts were developed encompassing matter or the substance, its diverse qualities, atomism, motion, space and time. Some epistemological attempts too were made for their rational interpretation, albeit their limitations. The sources dealing with these ideas are in Sanskrit and not unoften mixed with ontological or metaphysical issues. The viewpoints of both the orthodox and heterodox systems (the Bauddha, Jaina, Carvaka and the like) have been examined in the context of their approach to the physical world.

An attempt is thus made in this Volume to present a perspective on these and related Indian thoughts. Wherever necessary and possible, a brief review of the concerned ideas of the other cultures has been given to facilitate a comparative understanding. Relevant Sanskrit passages have also been given under references with a view to enabling an interested reader to have access to the original sources for further critical evaluation. An extensive bibliography along with a glossary of Sanskrit terms has been appended in the hope that they would enhance the value of this publication.

I am grateful to Professor D.P. Chattopadhyaya Ji, Chairman, CSC and Project Director, PHISPC for his constant encouragement. My special thanks are due to Professor Bhuvan Chandel, Project-Coordinator, PHISPC and Shri S. Sreekumaran, Administration-cum-Accounts Officer of PHISPC for their help in various ways. I am indeed beholden to Professor D. Prahladachar, Vice-Chancellor, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati, for going through the manuscript in detail and giving several suggestions, specially with regard to the portion relating to the Nyaya-Vaisesika. He has also kindly agreed to include his two articles (Appendices 3 and 4) in this volume. I am grateful to Swamy Prabhananda, Secretary, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata for according permission to reproduce the article: "Geographical Knowledge in Ancient and Medieval India" (Appendix 2) written by Sashibhushan Chaudhuri and published in The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol VI. 2001, pp. 5-17.

The permission granted by the Permissions Administrator of Mz's. Taylor and Francis Group, London, for the reproduction of the article: 'Time and Eternity in Indian Thought' (Appendix 1) published in Man and Time, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1958, pp. 173-200, is gratefully acknowledged.

I am deeply appreciative of the assistance of Professor C. Ramanathan who worked as Research Associate throughout the preparation of this Volume. I offer my special thanks to Dr. Sudha Gopinath (Bangalore University) for reading the manuscript as well as giving suggestions, and to Dr. B.S. Ramakrishna Rao who has spared no efforts in going through the proofs meticulously. It gives me great pleasure to thank specially Ms. Bindu Menon for going through the proofs thoroughly and meticulously. Her devoted efforts are indeed exemplary. Thanks are also due to S.G. Srinivasa Murthy for efficient typing, and to Digigrafics as well as Pauls Press for their concerted efforts which have led to this elegant publication.

 

General Introduction

I
It is understandable that man, shaped by Nature, would like to know Nature. The human ways of knowing Nature are evidently diverse, theoretical and practical, scientific and technological, artistic and spiritual. This diversity has, on scrutiny, been found to be neither exhaustive nor exclusive. The complexity of physical nature, life-world and, particularly, human mind is so enormous that it is futile to follow a single method for comprehending all the aspects of the world in which we are situated.

One need not feel bewildered by the variety and complexity of the worldly phenomena. After all, both from traditional wisdom and our daily experience, we know that our own nature is not quite alien to the structure of the world. Positively speaking, the elements and forces that are out there in the world are also present in our body-mind complex, enabling us to adjust ourselves to our environment. Not only the natural conditions but also the social conditions of life have instructive similarities between them. This is not to underrate in any way the difference between the human ways of life all over the world. It is partly due to the variation in climatic conditions and partly due to the distinctness of production-related tradition, history and culture.

Three broad approaches are discernible in the works on historiography of civilization, comprising science and technology, art and architecture, social sciences and institutions. Firstly, some writers are primarily interested in discovering the general laws which govern all civilizations spread over different continents. They tend to underplay what they call the noisy local events of the external world and peculiarities of different languages, literatures and histories. Their accent is on the unity of Nature, the unity of science and the unity of mankind. The second group of writers, unlike the generalists or transcendentalists, attach primary importance to the distinctiveness of every culture. To these writers human freedom and creativity are extremely important and basic in character. Social institutions and the cultural articulations of human consciousness, they argue, are bound to be expressive of the concerned people's consciousness. By implication they tend to reject concepts like archetypal consciousness, universal mind and providential history. There is a third group of writers who offer a composite picture of civilizations, drawing elements both from their local as well as common characteristics. Every culture has its local roots and peculiarities. At the same time, it is pointed out that due to demographic migration and immigration over the centuries an element of compositeness emerges almost in every culture. When due to a natural calamity or political exigencies people move from one' part of theworld to another, they carry with them, among other things, their language, cultural inheritance and their ways of living.

In the light of the above facts, it is not at all surprising that comparative anthropologists and philologists are intrigued by the striking similarity between different language families and the rites, rituals and myths of different peoples. Speculative philosophers of history, heavily relying on the findings of epigraphy, ethnography, archaeology and theology, try to show in very general terms that the particulars and universals of culture are 'essentially' or 'secretly' interrelated. The spiritual aspects of culture like dance and music, beliefs pertaining to life, death and duties, on analysis, are found to be mediated by the material forms of life like weather forecasting, food production, urbanization and invention of script. The transition from the oral culture to the written one was made possible because of the mastery of symbols and rules of measurement. Speech precedes grammar, poetry prosody. All these show how the 'matters' and 'forms' of life are so subtly interwoven.

II
The PHISPC publications on History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, in spite of its unitary look, do recognize the differences between the areas of material civilization and those of ideational culture. It is not a work of a single author. Nor is it being executed by a group of thinkers and writers who are methodologically uniform or ideologically identical in their commitments. In conceiving the Project we have interacted with, and been influenced by, the writings and views of many Indian and non-Indian thinkers.

The attempted unity of this Project lies in its aim and inspiration. We have in India many scholarly works written by Indians on different aspects of our civilization and culture. Right from the pre-Christian era to our own time, India has drawn the attention of various countries of Asia, Europe and Africa. Some of these writings are objective and informative and many others are based on insufficient information and hearsay, and therefore not quite reliable, but they have their own value. Quality and view-points keep on changing not only because of the adequacy and inadequacy of evidence but also, and perhaps more so, because of the bias and prejudice, religious and political conviction, of the writers.

Besides, it is to be remembered that history, like Nature, is not an open book to be read alike by all. The past is mainly enclosed and only partially disclosed. History is, therefore, partly objective or 'real' and largely a matter of construction. This is one of the reasons why some historians themselves think that it is a form of literature or art. However, it does not mean that historical construction is 'anarchic' and arbitrary. Certainly, imagination plays an important role in it.

But its character is basically dependent upon the questions which the historian raises and wants to understand or answer in terms of the ideas and actions of human beings in the past ages. In a way, history, somewhat like the natural sciences, is engaged in answering questions and in exploring relationships of cause and effect between events and developments across time. While in the natural sciences, the scientist poses questions about nature in the form of hypotheses, expecting to elicit authoritative answers to such questions, the historian studies the past, partly for the sake of understanding it for its own sake and partly also for the light which the past throws upon the present, and the possibilities which it opens up for moulding the future. But the difference between the two approaches must not be lost sight of. The scientist is primarily interested in discovering laws and framing theories, in terms of which different events and processes can be connected and anticipated. His interest in the conditions or circumstances attending the concerned events is secondary. Therefore, scientific laws turn out to be basically abstract and easily expressible in terms of mathematical language. In contrast, the historian's main interest centres round the specific events, human ideas and actions, not general laws. So, the historian, unlike the scientist, is obliged to pay primary attention to the circumstances of the events he wants to study. Consequently, history, like most other humanistic disciplines, is concrete and particularist. This is not to deny the obvious truth that historical event and processes consisting of human ideas and actions show some trend or other and weave some pattern or other. If these trends and patterns were not there at all in history, the study of history as a branch of knowledge would not have been profitable or instructive. But one must recognize that historical trends and patterns, unlike scientific laws and theories, are not general or purported to be universal in their scope.

III
The aim of this Project is to discover the main aspects of Indian culture and present them in an interrelated way. Since our culture has influenced, and has been influenced by, the neighbouring cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia, attempts have been made here to trace and study these influences in their mutuality. It is well known that during the last three centuries, European presence, both political and cultural, in India has - been very widespread. In many volumes of the Project considerable attention has been paid to Europe and, through Europe, to other parts of the world. For the purpose of a comprehensive cultural study of India, the existing political boundaries of the South Asia of today are more of a hindrance than help .. Cultures, like languages, often transcend the bounds of changing political territories.

If the inconstant political geography is not a reliable help to the understanding of the layered structure and spread of culture, a somewhat comparable problem is encountered in the area of historical per iodization. Per iodization or segmenting time is a very tricky affair. When exactly one period ends and another begins is not precisely ascertainable. The periods of history designated as ancient, medieval and modern are purely conventional and merely heuristic in character. The varyingscope of history, local, national and continental or universal, somewhat like the periods of history, are unavoidably fuzzy and shifting. Amidst all these difficulties, the volume-wise details have been planned and worked out by the editors in consultation with the Project Director and the General Editor. I believe that the editors of different volumes have also profited from the reactions and suggestions of the contributors of individual chapters in planning the volumes.

Another aspect of Indian history which the volume editors and contributors of the Project have carefully dealt with is the distinction and relation between civilization and culture. The material conditions which substantially shaped Indian civilization have been discussed in detail. From agriculture and industry to metallurgy and technology, from physics and chemical practices to the life sciences and different systems of medicines-all the branches of knowledge and skill which directly affect human life-form the heart of this Project. Since the periods covered by the PHISPC are extensive-prehistory, proto-history, early history, medieval history and modern history of India-we do not claim to have gone into all the relevant material conditions of human life. We had to be selective. Therefore, one should not be surprised if one finds that only some material aspects of Indian civilization have received our pointed attention, while the rest have been dealt with in principle or only alluded to.

One of the main aims of the Project has been to spell out the first principles of the philosophy of different schools, both pro-Vedic and anti-Vedic. The basic ideas of Buddhism, Jainism and Islam have been given their due importance. The special position accorded to philosophy is to be understood partly in terms of its proclaimed unifying character and partly it is to be explained in terms of the fact that different philosophical systems represent alternative world-views, cultural perspectives, their conflict and mutual assimilation.

Most of the volume editors and at their instance the concerned contributors have followed a middle path between the extremes of narrativism and theoreticism. The underlying idea has been this: If in the process of working out a comprehensive Project like this every contributor attempts to narrate all those interesting things that he has in the back of his mind, the enterprise is likely to prove unmanageable. If, on the other hand, particular details are consciously forced into a fixed mould or pre-supposed theoretical structure, the details lose their particularity and interesting character. Therefore, depending on the nature of the problem of discourse, most of the writers have tried to reconcile in their presentation, the specificity of narrativism and the generality of theoretical orientation. This is a conscious editorial decision because, in the absence of a theory, however inarticulate it may be, the factual details tend to fall apart. Spiritual network or theoretical orientation makes historical details not only meaningful but also interesting and enjoyable.

Another editorial decision which deserves spelling out is the necessity or avoid ability of duplication of the same theme in different volumes or even in the same volume. Certainly, this Project is not an assortment of several volumes. Noris any volume intended to be a miscellany. This Project has been designed with a definite end in view and has a structure of its own. The character of the structure has admittedly been influenced by the variety of the themes accommodated within it. Again it must be understood that the complexity of structure is rooted in the aimed integrality of the Project itself.

IV
Long and in-depth editorial discussion has led us to several unanimous conclusions. Firstly, our Project is going to be unique, unrivalled and discursive in its attempt to integrate different forms of science, technology, philosophy and culture. Its comprehensive scope, continuous character and accent on culture distinguish it from the works of such Indian authors as P.c. Ray, B.N. Seal, Binoy Kumar Sarkar and S.N. Sen and also from such Euro-Arnerican writers as Lynn Thorndike, George Sarton and Joseph Needham. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that it is for the first time that an endeavour of so comprehensive a character, in its exploration of the social, philosophical and cultural characteristics of a distinctive world civilization-that of India-has been attempted in the domain of scholarship.

Secondly, we try to show the linkages between different branches of learning as different modes of experience in an organic manner and without resorting to a kind of reductionism, materialistic or spiritualistic. The internal dialectics of organicism without reductionism allows fuzziness, discontinuity and discreteness within limits.

Thirdly, positively speaking, different modes of human experience-scientific, artistic, etc. have their own individuality, not necessarily autonomy. Since all these modes are modification and articulation of human experience, these are bound to have between them some finely graded commonness. At the same time, it has been recognized that reflection on different areas of experience and investigation brings to light new insights and findings. Growth of knowledge requires humans, in general, and scholars, in particular, to identify the distinctness of different branches of learning.

Fourthly, to follow simultaneously the twin principles of: (a) individuality of human experience as a whole, and (b) individuality of diverse disciplines,. are not at all an easy task. Overlap of themes and duplication of the terms of discourse become unavoidable at times. For example, in the context of Dharmasiistra, the writer is bound to discuss the concept of value. The same concept also figures in economic discourse and also occurs in a discussion on fine arts. The conscious editorial decision has been that, while duplication should be kept to its minimum, for the sake of intended clarity of the themes under discussion, their reiteration must not be avoided at high intellectual cost.

Fifthly, the scholars working on the Project are drawn from widely different disciplines. They have brought to our notice an important fact that has clear relevance to our work. Many of our contemporary disciplines like economics and sociology did not exist, at least not in their present form, just two centuries ago or so. For example, before the middle of nineteenth century, sociology as a distinct branch of knowledge was unknown. The term is said to have been coined first by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in 1838. Obviously, this does not mean that the issues discussed in sociology were not there. Similarly, Adam Smith's (1723- 90) famous work The Wealth of Nations is often referred to as the first authoritative statement of the principles of (what we now call) economics. Interestingly enough, the author was equally interested in ethics and jurisprudence. It is clear from history that the nature and scope of different disciplines undergo change, at times very radically, over time. For example, in India arthasiistra does not mean the science of economics as understood today. Besides the principles of economics, it discusses at length those of governance, diplomacy and military science.

Sixthly, this brings us to the next editorial policy followed in the Project. We have tried to remain very conscious of what may be called indeterminacy or inexactness of translation. When a word or expression of one language is translated into another, some loss of meaning or exactitude seems to be unavoidable. This is true not only in the bilingual relations like Sanskrit-English and Sanskrit-Arabic, but also in those of Hindi-Tamil and Hindi-Bengali. In recognition of the importance of language-bound and context-relative character of meaning we have solicited from many learned scholars, contributions, written in vernacular languages. In order to minimize the miseffect of semantic inexactitude we have solicited translational help of that type of bilingual scholars who know both English and the concerned vernacular language, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali or Marathi.

Seventhly and finally, perhaps the place of technology as a branch of knowledge in the composite universe of science and art merits some elucidation. Technology has been conceived in very many ways, e.g. as autonomous, as 'standing reserve', as liberating or enlarge mental, and alienative or estrange mental force The studies undertaken by the Project show that, in spite of its much emphasized mechanical and alienative characteristics, technology embodies a very useful mode of knowledge that is peculiar to man. The Greek root words of technology are techne (art) and logos (science). This is the basic justification of recognizing technology as closely related to both epistemology, the discipline of valid knowledge, and axiology, the discipline of freedom and values. It is in this context that we are reminded of the definition of man as homo technikos. In Sanskrit, the word closest to techne is kala which means any practical art, any mechanical or fine art. In the Indian tradition, in Saivatantra, for example, among the arts (kala) are counted dance, drama, music, architecture, metallurgy, knowledge of dictionary, encyclopaedia and prosody. The closeness of the relation between arts and sciences, technology and other forms of knowledge are evident from these examples and was known to the ancient people. The human quest for knowledge involves the use of both head and hand. Without mind, the body is a corpse and the disembodied mind is a bare abstraction. Even for our appreciationof what is beautiful and the creation of what is valuable, we are required to exercise both our intellectual competence and physical capacity. In a manner of speaking, one might rightly affirm that our psychosomatic structure is a functional connector between what we are and what we could be, between the physical and the beyond. To suppose that there is a clear-cut distinction between the physical world and the psychosomatic one amounts to denial of the possible emergence of higher logico-mathematical, musical and other capacities. The very availability of aesthetic experience and creation proves that the supposed distinction is somehow overcome by what may be called the bodily self or embodied mind.

 

Contents

 

  Preface XI
  General Introduction XIII
1 An Overview 1
2 Unitary Conceptions 50
3 Five Elements 73
4 Substance, Qualities and Motion 107
5 Atomism 130
6 Epistemology: Its Ultimate Aim 153
7 Space and Time 193
8 Heat, Light and Sound 239
9 Weights and Measures 249
10 Modern Perspective on the Physical World 274
  Appendices 319
  Abbreviations 379
  Glossary 380
  General Bibliography 397
  Index 421

 

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