Science Sustainability and Indian National Resurgence


When Dr. J. K. Bajaj and Dr. M. D. Srinivas came to me and asked for a set of my speeches, I had no inkling that they would come back and present me a compilation of twenty-four speeches, very assiduously collated by them. These speeches were delivered by me as the Minister for Human Resource Development, Science and Technology and Ocean Development at various national and international forums during 1998-2002. Speeches when presented in the form of a book must include the chapter and verse of the quotations which occur in the text, but that was a difficult task; while writing these speeches, I had never thought that Bajaj and Srinivas would someday undertake this exercise. It was with some hard work that they could lay their hands on almost all of the references quoted in the speeches. If there is any material where the source has not been mentioned, the fault is mine, for most of my notes were on loose papers and some of them got lost. Be as it may, now the book is being published in its present form, under the title, Science, Sustainability and Indian Resurgence.

I have been interested in the history of science since my student days. The interaction between science, technology and society and the consequent transformation of not only the social systems but also of the political and economic structures, has been a fascinating subject for me. Over the centuries, some of the finest brains have engaged themselves in the relationship between science on the one hand, and philosophy, spirituality, religion and culture on the other. Technology has been used as a very powerful tool to transform the economy by several countries and has ushered in a new techno-economic world order in which technologically advanced countries are in a commanding position. Some of the speeches have dealt with the global situation emerging out of this new world order, its infirmities and the possible Indian approach for reducing the widening asymmetries among the nations and between the rich and poor within a nation. Some of the speeches discuss how science and technology are related to this trajectory of current economic, as well as social, cultural and ethical aspects of human life. The interrelationship between the scientific developments and the current world order needs an in-depth investigation.

The scientific revolution in the West was in a sense initiated by Nicolas Copernicus in the sixteenth century. He was followed by Johannes Kepler, who formulated his laws of planetary motion supporting Copernicus. It was Galileo Galilei who first combined experimental observations with mathematical formulations expressing the laws of nature. Galileo, therefore, can be regarded as the founder of Western science. This mathematical representation of natural laws continues to be as important today in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventeenth. Francis Bacon, the British scientist and philosopher of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, introduced the inductive procedure along with an emphasis on experimentation. Bacon believed in using scientific knowledge to dominate and control nature. Nature in his view had to be `hounded in her wanderings', `bound into service', and made a `slave'. And the aim of scientists was to `torture nature's secrets from her'.1

Ren‚ Descartes (1596-1650), the renowned French mathematician and philosopher is credited with the founding of the analytical method of reasoning that involves first breaking up ideas and problems into small components and then rearranging them in a logical sequence. One can say that the basic tenet of Descartes' philosophy is doubt. Doubting everything, he ultimately reaches a point where he cannot doubt as a thinker, that point is his own self. His famous statement, Cogito, ergo sum, meaning `I think, therefore I exist', has revolutionised Western thinking. It is this approach in which mind becomes more important than matter, and ultimately produces the mind-matter dichotomy that posits mind and matter to be separate and essentially different.

Descartes undoubtedly introduced the picture of universe as a perfect machine, for him the universe was nothing more than a machine; but, it was Isaac Newton who through his theories gave powerful support to this view. Newtonian physics was considered a great success during the seventeenth century and provided a worldview that remained the basic tenet of scientific thought till the early part of the twentieth century. This mechanistic worldview, or the so-called reductionist approach, was in fact responsible for amazing scientific and technological wonders.

During the past two centuries, we have witnessed unprecedented advancements in science and technology. Man's rendezvous in space was hailed as a first step towards conquering other planets. Developments in nuclear power, cybernetics, lasers, information and communications technology, biotechnology, medicine and surgery, genetic engineering, materials science, nanotechnology, etc., have all resulted in staggering heights of affluence and unprecedented levels of consumption. But despite this great success story, human society finds itself engulfed in a multidimensional crisis, a crisis that encompasses all aspects of human life Ý social, political, techno-economic, cultural and spiritual.

All nations whether developed or developing are going through serious stresses and strains. Apart from the rising graph of sex and drug related crimes, decline in moral and ethical values, sharpening of civilisational conflicts, widespread religious bigotry, increasing violence, proliferation of terrorism on a global scale and other serious psychological disturbances, humankind is also experiencing fragmentation of societies and atomisation of families to such an extent that individuals have begun to feel completely uprooted. The situation is further confounded by rapid degradation of the environment, serious climatic changes and widening of economic disparities. And, all these have largely contributed to produce a web of world problematique.

The irony of the matter is that, despite all the technological development and sophisticated tools of analysis available to him, the modern expert is unable to provide any tangible solutions to the complex problems of the modern world. This then is the predicament that confronts human society today. The roots of this predicament lie in the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview in which life and problems are studied and understood by reducing them into smaller and smaller components and then reassembling them to obtain a clear picture of the problem and a tangible solution. Further, Bacon's philosophy, according to which science is all about torturing nature to reveal her secrets and to enslave her, has given legitimacy to human efforts at manipulating nature and using its resources indiscriminately.

In the ultimate analysis, seeds of an exploitative world order were sown when scientists and philosophers accepted the reductionist approach of Bacon, Descartes and Newton, without understanding its grave philosophical implications. Pointing towards the influence of the Cartesian divide, Noble Laureate Werner Heisenberg once said,2 ßThis partition has penetrated deeply into the human mind during the three centuries following Descartes and it will take a long time for it to be replaced by a really different attitude toward the problem of reality.û The consequences of this approach have to be carefully analysed. Some of the speeches have dealt with the nature and complexity of this predicament that the human society is facing today.

The speeches grouped together in the section entitled `Science Technology and Sustainable Consumption' underscore how the levels of consumption available to about twenty percent of the population of the world have created serious distortions and imminent threats to global sustainability. Gisbert Glaser, senior advisor to the International Council for Science, has defined sustainable development as a moving target that represents a continuous effort to balance and integrate the three pillars of social well-being, economic prosperity and environmental protection for the benefit of the present and future generations.

What has been the result of pursuing economic policies supposedly directed towards sustainable development: a world out of balance, tormented by increasing violence and galloping inequalities. The report of the Conference on Redefining the American Dream held at Virginia in 1995 has poignantly brought out the fact that the highly unequal levels of consumption have contributed to the worsening of an already violent situation, putting many poor people in high security prisons, many rich people in caged compounds and everybody in insecurity. Global trends in disparity of consumption show that the gap between the rich and poor has widened from 30:1 in 1974 to 74:1 today; and, the trend continues in the same direction.

What are the implications of this imbalance? I have been cautioning during my addresses to various international forums that the concept of unlimited growth on a limited planet is untenable. I have always argued in these conferences that the consequences of this imbalance are frightening. If there is one single cause that can produce global turmoil and grave threat to world peace, it is this imbalance produced by unsustainable consumption patterns of the developed world.

In an education conference held in 2003 in India, attended by several representatives of the UNESCO and international financial institutions, I pointed out this increasing imbalance, and the attitude of the developed world, which instead of reducing the imbalance was continuing to worsen it. The representative of the World Bank handed me the speech by James D. Wolfensohn, President, World Bank Group delivered to the Boards of Governors in Dubai in September 2003. The speech is a confession that the present world order is against the poor and the deprived. Arguing for rebalancing the world, Wolfensohn says:3

…We must address the fundamental forces shaping our world. In many respects, they are forces that have caused the imbalance.

In our world of six billion people, one billion own 80 percent of the global GDP, while another billion struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. This is a world out of balance.

ßOver the next 25 years, 50 million people will be added to the population of the rich countries. About one and half billion people will be added to the population of the poor countries. Many will experience poverty and unemployment, and disillusion with what they will see as an inequitable global system. A growing number will leave their home countries to find work. Migration will become a critical issue. … …

  • Mr. Chairman, it is time to take a cold, hard look at the future. Our planet is not balanced. Too few control too much, and too many have too little to hope for. Too much turmoil, too many wars, too much suffering.

  • The demographics of the future speak to a growing imbalance of people, resources and the environment. If we act together now, we can change the world for the better. If we do not, we shall leave greater and more intractable problems for our children.

  • We must rebalance our world to give everyone a chance for life that is secure … …We all share one planet. It is time to restore balance to the way we use it. Let us move forward to fight poverty, to establish equity, and to assure peace for the next generation.û

Serious concerns regarding the growing disparity among and within the nations have been raised also by Joseph Stiglitz in his seminal work, Globalisation and its Discontents, published in 2001. He argues that globalisation was not working in the interest of the poor nations and of the poor within the nations. However, he suggests that the situation had arisen because globalisation was not being managed properly. In my opinion the ever-growing disparity is not due to any mismanagement of globalisation but due to the wrong fundamentals on which globalisation is operating. It is, in the ultimate analysis, a consequence of continued unsustainable consumption by the rich of the world who form just one-sixth of the population of the world.

Consumption patterns in the industrialized world have assumed staggeringly high levels, which cannot be sustained. If these very levels were to be attained by the remaining five-sixth of the world's population, the resulting demand for energy, water and other resources, both renewable and non-renewable, would result in a total collapse of the ecosystem. It is evident that the existing techno-economic model cannot sustain the type of global economic development which has been propagated till now.

Several scientific reports on environmental pollution and indiscriminate use of natural resources have appeared during the last two decades. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also published an assessment report in 2001. The reports provide a deeper understanding of the likely global scenario if we continue with our present rate of growth. It is estimated that by 2050, CO2 content in the atmosphere would reach the threshold of 500 ppm. The consequent global-warming and its concomitant hazards have been described recently by V. Ramanathan and Peter Cox. According to them, we have perhaps already reached a situation that leads to the point of no return in global-warming.

We have to act urgently to save our planet from irreversible damage. We have to change our mindset and start thinking and acting towards developing a new model based on sustainable consumption to replace the current economic model that is based on a mechanistic and fragmentary worldview and is propelled by market forces alone. Failure to do so will seriously impinge upon the rights of the future generations to sustain their lives on earth.

Much of the web of problems is created because we consider science and technology in isolation, disregarding the fact that all problems, social, economic, cultural, political and ethical, are connected together and cannot be considered in fragments. Life and its affairs cannot be discussed in parts; there has to be a holistic approach. If, however, one continues to pursue the fragmentary approach, then confusion is bound to be created.

As David Bohm argues,4 ß…men who are guided by such a fragmentary-self worldview cannot do other, in the long run, than to try in their actions to break themselves and the world into pieces, corresponding to their general mode of thinking. … Likewise, when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical, technical work, a similar state of … disunity will develop. The same sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself from society. The unity in the individual and between man and nature, as well as between man and man, can rise only in a form of action that does not attempt to fragment the whole of reality.û

It is evident that the roots of this widespread range of crises Ý social, political, economic, environmental, psychological and even moral and spiritual Ý in the individual, groups of people and humankind as a whole, lie in the fragmentary or mechanistic worldview. The solution lies in adopting a holistic approach.

It was only towards the last quarter of the twentieth century that scientists started thinking seriously about the dangers looming large due to the rapid degradation of environment and indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources. It was then realised that there was no coherent vision of the planet Earth. However, some scientists, including James Lovelock who proposed the Gaia hypothesis in 1972, have vigorously argued about the Earth being a self-regulatory system. The idea was accepted by scientists from four international research programmes gathered in a meeting held in Amsterdam in 2001. A declaration was made, stating, ßThe Earth system behaves as a single, self-regulating system, comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components. The interactions and feedbacks between the component parts are complex and exhibit complex and multi-scale temporal and spatial variability.û

Lovelock has emphasised the urgency of recognising Earth as a living thing. He has argued that, ßMetaphor is important, because to deal with, understand, and ameliorate the fix we are now in over global change, requires us to know the true nature of the Earth and imagine it as the largest living thing in the solar system, not something inanimate like the disreputable contraption, `Spaceship Earth'. Until change of heart and mind happens, we will not instinctively sense that we live on a live planet, that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy.û Albert Schweitzer once said, ßMan has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.û An alternative paradigm is urgently needed.

The Atharvaveda has a long chapter on the Earth; here the Vedic Rishi announces categorically that the Earth is his mother and he is her son. In one of the hymns [XII.1.12], he sings, ßWhat is thy middle, O! Earth, and what thy navel, what refreshment arose out of thy body, in them do they set us; be purifying towards us; Earth is mother, I am Earth's son; Parjanya is Father, let him save us.û

The parameters of using the natural resources are defined in another hymn [XII.1.35], which says, ßWhat of thee, O! Earth, I dig out, let that quickly grow over; let me not hit thy vitals, nor thy heart, O! Cleansing One.û In yet another hymn [XII.1.45], the Rishi, recognising that people with diverse languages, laws and customs inhabit this planet, requests `the Mother Earth to yield a thousand streams of affluence, like a steady, unresisting cow.'

The Hindu approach towards Mother Earth is one of deep reverence and gratitude for sustaining life; we may draw sustenance from Mother Earth, we cannot exploit it. Just as a child can obtain feed from the mother, but cannot be allowed to torture and bleed her, Mother Earth cannot be subjected to torture and exploitation. Vedic Rishis consider the world as a family and not as a market. This family includes the entire universe, living and non-living, animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, along with the entire biosphere. And this family is sustained by Mother Earth.

Modern scientists have yet to recognise this ancient Indian wisdom. However, they do recognise the need for protecting and preserving the environment and preventing indiscriminate and rapid exploitation of natural resources. Sustainable consumption, and not the mad race for growth in the name of sustainable development, is the new paradigm that is relevant in this context.

In the early phases of development of civilisation, the human mind pursued a `holistic' approach for comprehending the reality. Ancient Indian philosophy and religion emphasise `wholeness' and not any reductionist approach for understanding the universe. The Indian worldview denies fragmentation and division. Western science is based on the assumption that the reality is constituted of separate and separable parts. In order to comprehend reality, scientists continued to explore, till recently, as to how these separate parts are related to each other. After the advent of quantum mechanics, however, the situation has radically changed and the separate parts do not appear to be separate anymore. ßPartsû, says David Bohm, ßare seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationship depends, in an irreducible way, on the state of the whole system.û Further, he asserts, ßThus one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of the analysability of the world into separately and independently existing parts. …û Heisenberg's uncertainty principle shows that it is a participatory universe; in other words, whatever properties of the world `out there' are observed are enmeshed in our own perceptions, both psychologically and ontologically.

It may be also recognised that Bohr's principle of complementarity deals with the issues of consciousness also. Penrose argues that consciousness is a part of our universe, and the physical theories must make a proper accommodation of consciousness in order to provide a complete and genuine picture of the universe. According to this view, unless consciousness is included in the physical theories, it is not possible to form a coherent worldview. Once the modern physical theories incorporate consciousness in their description of the universe, an entirely different worldview will emerge, that would profoundly alter the Cartesian paradigm.

Several millennia before the twentieth century debate regarding consciousness appeared in Western science, Indian genius had recognised that consciousness was integral to any coherent description of the universe. The Upanishadic Rishis had realised that âtman is Brahman. The Rishi states, ßBrahman alone exists without a second; âtman itself is Brahman; All is Brahman, I am Brahman and so are thou. The All-pervading Brahman is subtler than the subtle and larger than the largest.û

Thus, according to the Upanishadic view, the cosmic consciousness is pervading everywhere and connects every `being' with everything. Perhaps nowhere else has this fundamental unity in the apparent diversity of the universe been so positively affirmed as in the Upanishadic thought. This holistic worldview recognises consciousness as a fundamental ingredient of the universe and also the interconnectedness of the physical, intellectual, psychological and spiritual aspects of creation.

The holistic worldview, therefore, offers a new approach to `nature'. It recognises an unbroken relationship between humankind and the ecosystem. The relationship is organic and symbiotic. In consequence, the holistic paradigm completely prohibits the exploitation of nature. The principle of organic relationship among socio-economic systems and ecosystem does not permit us to seek solutions to problems in parts. In other words, the dynamic balance between humankind and ecosystems cannot be disturbed beyond a certain limit.

Socio-economic systems built on this concept are, therefore, necessarily anchored in a set of values. Any human activity not based on a value system ultimately produces unbearable stresses and strains, leading to a violent collapse of the system. Moral and ethical codes of conduct are necessary concomitants of a holistic approach and provide an inbuilt ability to harmonise the conflicts as and when they arise. Consequently, socio-economic systems based on `holism' are both `non-exploitative' and `non-violent'.

Who can then harmonise? The answer to this very important question lies in having an inviolable code of conduct. According to the Hindu seers and philosophers, it is the `innate law' or `Dharma' that decides the propriety of individual and social behaviour in a particular situation. It is Dharma which strikes the balance between `whole' and its `parts'.

The inescapable conclusion of the holistic worldview is that the whole is not merely the algebraic sum of its parts, but is something more than that. The all-pervading cosmic consciousness provides a fundamental bond between the `whole' and its `parts'. It also recognises that all aspects of human life, material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, are inseparable, mutually interactive and interdependent. Any interference with anyone is bound to affect all others. Therefore, problems should be understood in totality and cannot be solved in parts.

This also means that the concepts of growth and development that have prevailed till now have to be redefined. Science and technology should serve the entire humankind and not a particular group alone; technology should neither degrade the environment, nor dehumanise the society. Technology, according to the holistic approach, should have a human face and should serve both human society and nature. Technologies, apart from developing a society materially, also affect its social and cultural life. The techno-economic system based on the Cartesian paradigm has produced a value system that has led to the development of a highly insensitive and individualistic society propelled by the market forces. Concern for the suffering humanity and a sense of compassion for it requires a different value system at individual, social, national and global levels.

India, with her deep-rooted spirituality and holistic vision, had pronounced at the very dawn of civilisation that `the world is like a family', vasudhaiva kuñumbakam. India has always considered the issue of values to be of paramount importance and their immutability and primacy has always been an important theme of scientific and philosophical enquiry. India can, therefore, play a definitive role in evolving a value system which would instil a sense of deep compassion and concern, not only for fellow members of this world-family, but also for the eco-system. Some of the speeches collected here have dealt with the relationship of Science, Religion and Spirituality and their convergence.

India is at a crucial juncture of her history. If India has to survive as a nation, then she has to carve out a niche in the front row of the comity of nations. For this to happen, India has to self-evaluate and redefine her path for the future. There are moments when a country faces a dilemma about its direction. India today has to rediscover her world-vision and redefine her path for the future. As the renowned Gandhian thinker, Dharampal, has said, ßFor every civilisation, there comes a time when the people of that civilisation have to remind themselves of their fundamental civilisational consciousness and their understanding of the Universe and the Time.û5 For India, that time has come now.

India's understanding of the Universe and Time has been clearly defined by her seers and philosophers. It is only on this basis of her glorious past that she can raise her head high. India has to integrate science and technology with her cosmic vision in a manner that harmonises not only the present day conflicts within India, but also serves as a beacon light to the rest of humanity.

I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to

Dr. J. K. Bajaj and Dr. M. D. Srinivas for bringing out this compilation. It is their patience and painstaking effort in collecting my scattered speeches, and searching for the references, that has made this publication possible. I am also indebted to the Centre for Policy Studies for publishing this compilation.

New Delhi

Ràmanavamã, Kali 5110

April 14, 2008 M. M. Joshi