Dr. Nalin de Silva bemoans the “The Cultural Narrative of Western Science” – yet again!
Posted on August 13th, 2020

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Nalin the Silva refers to an article in the recent issue of Science (dated 11August 2020 although Science is a weekly journal) entitled:
Senior U.S. lawmaker wants National Academies to scrutinize racism in science”,
and uses this to jump to another topic, which he says is NOT discussed in the above article. In Dr. Nalin de Silva’s article (published in his website Kalaya),  entitled  බටහිර විද්‍යාවේ ජාතිවාදය”, or Racism of Western Science”, he uses the Science” article to give seeming  credence to a point of view totally unconnected with the article.

He uses the Science article on racism among scientists  to elaborate on what is the cultural narrative available for Western Science, other than the Western Christian Culture?  (බටහිර විද්‍යාවේ බටහිර ක්‍රිස්තියානි සංස්කෘතියෙන් පිට සංස්කෘතියක සංස්කරණය කෙරෙන කතන්දරයක් (ප්‍රවාදයක්) පිළිගැනීමට ඇති සම්භාවිතාව කුමක් ද?)”. This becomes a spring board  to beat his favourite  bête noire – namely, Western Science” which is a ”Patta-pal-boruwa” (i.e., well-fermented lie) concocted within the Western Christian Narrative, and hence having no validity in other cultures. Of course, Dr Silva prefers to ignore that all this  has nothing to with the fact that some scientists happen to be  racists, just as some Buddhists and some Christians happen to be racists.  

Dr. Nalin de Silva and others like him fail to distinguish between (a) the cultural adaptations or doings of practitioners of various professions  who  may use universal truths in their professional work, and (b) the universal truths themselves. This is true in every type of human endevour, not only in science but even in a narrative” like Buddhism that Dr. Silva has not yet openly rejected as a mere cultural concoction.

For instance, there is a distinction between the Buddha’s teaching (the facts” discovered and enunciated by the Buddha), and the practices and  beliefs  of Buddhism as enacted by various Buddhist cultures. For instance, the Buddha rejects the caste system based on birth,  but various monks, or groups of temples belonging to a Nikaaya”  will practice it.

The Buddhist teaching itself is presented in different forms, in different cultures. For example, the Dhyaana tradition in India becomes the Zen tradition of Japan and takes priority over other practices. The entirely pacific teachings of the Buddha are modified and even martial arts are included in some forms of oriental Buddhism, ostensibly  for keeping fit.  Then it is further  justified as being for self-defence though the concept of the self is non-existent in early Buddhism. These modifications and cultural adaptations” are corruptions of the original universal teaching of the Buddha. Even the Buddhist Saints (Arhants) and Bodhisatvas are re-interpreted to fit in with the demands of various nationalisms. For instance, God Natha, the serpent-headed divine figure venerated by the Naga people is re-interpreted as  Mathreeya   Bodhisatva. Divine figures of other religions are given a place as other Bodhisatvas or at least as Buddhist devas. The mighty Greek  conqueror Alexander – Iskander in Persian, becomes God Skandha and a  shrine in the south of Sri Lanka is ascribed to him. So, Alexander   is  venerated as a Buddhist” divine figure.
However, these modifications do NOT mean that the  universal truths taught by the Buddha are merely a matter of culture, and have no validity beyond confines of those cultures. Only the cultural practices, which have nothing to do with the original Arya Sathya”, and other teachings are subject to cultural relativism.

Dr. Nalin de Silva is well known as a person who has claimed that science is a well-fermented lie – a Patta Pal Boruwa”, although he earned his living by practicing this alleged lie, and misguiding young Sri Lanka students away from it, and adulating occult, unsubstantiated belief systems like astrology and divine revelation. I  think, in replying to a query by Dr. Carlo Fonseka, Dr. Nalin de Silva wrote ,අපි පේන අසමු, කේන්දර බලමු, ….etc, on 16-June 2015 අපට වෙච්ච දේ – 2) and embrace  the very Brahmajaala” that the Buddha condemned. In effect, science is a well-fermented lie, while reading horoscopes is a way to getting at the truth, according to this ex-Dean of Science.

The basis of Dr. Nalin de Silva’s objections to science seems to be  that scientific truths are  (according to him) just cultural artifacts which are in essence lies.  So, the claim that the earth is a spheroid (and not more or less flat) is a patta-pal-boruwak”, while  the laws of electromagnetism” that make computers possible are a mere manifestation of a Western Cultural Construction. According to Dr. de Silva and his followers, when science”  is properly de-constructed”, there is nothing in it but a patta-pal-boruwa”.

 And yet, Dr. Silva would say that although science is a patta-pal-boruwa”, one can use it for practical purposes (e.g, use a computer or listen to TV) as a set of   useful lies” that work! So he admits that science is a lie” that works in every culture! This is nothing but sheer casuistry.

What is the underlying cultural narrative of science?  The cultural narrative of science was laid down by the Greeks, with Archimedes using the experimental method to study floating bodies, levers and pulley systems, while the use of mathematics in these investigations was laid down by people like Heraclitus and Pythagoras. They in turn inherited the analytical and rational approach contained in the Buddhist teachings (e.g., the Gnana Sutta and the Kalama Sutta) that had  reached them through the silk road a century earlier. It was the Buddha who said, if you have to determine if a piece of metal is a base metal, or a Nobel metal, then you use the touch stone to test it. In the same way, Monks, you determine the truth of the Dhamma by trying it out”. That was the first clear exposition of the experimental method, several centuries before Archimedes.  I have discussed the links of Greek Science  with early Buddhist thought in my book A Physicist’s view of Matter and Mind” (World Scientific, 2014).

But science  has come a long way since the time of Archimedes, Ptolemy and others. What are the universal truths of science? Science holds that there are several types of energy fields. The energy in these fields can manifest in the form of particles or waves which are called excitations”. There are several types of  excitations (particles), these being. e.g.,  quarks, leptons, photons, or gravitons. Whether the excitations are waves, or particles, is determined by the boundary condition” used to specify the action of the measuring apparatus on the system under observation. How the particles (or waves)  interact, what laws they obey etc., can  mostly be deduced from simple assumptions like the isotropy of space and time (together forming at least four dimensions), and basic symmetries (gauge symmetry, Lorentz symmetry).  The movements of particles obey a minimum principle known as the principle of least action”. It is that principle that makes a ray of light follow the shortest path between two points. Aristotle was intrigued by this teleology”, but today we understand it fully as a consequence of gauge symmetry”. Using these, one can deduce the various equations” that govern the universe, and arrive at the equations of Einstein, Dirac, Maxwell, Schrodinger and others.

There is nothing Christian” in all this. In fact, some writers have claimed that the narrative” in terms  of energy fields is very much in  line with Buddhist and other Indian thought systems.

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