The importance of knowing what we don’t know

We speak of the hegemony of the west. After the British left us, there is the cultural tsunami that cannot be eradicated. We wear western clothes. We drive modern vehicles that are the cultural relic of a process that started with the steam engine, the internal combustion engine, James Watt and Nicolai Tesla. We talk to each other by a process that started with the telegraph and Morse’s now soon to be forgotten code, evolving through the telephones supported by endless transatlantic cables and ultimately by sleek squares that connect you to everyone else by invisible waves, re-transmitted by satellites in outer space. Everyone is a node in a vast interconnected virtual brain and when you want to plug in, you just press -or swipe. When we build houses we use the mathematics of space and structural engineering that started with the experimental validation of the mathematics of ancient Greece and India by Galileo and Isaac Newton. We strut around saying that we are capable of using the power of the atom, unleashed by a chain of events that involved Mendeleev, Rutherford, Bohr and Einstein.

When we get sick, many of us go to a Doctor trained by a doctor, who’s Professor was most probably taught by teachers trained with the Royal College of Physicians or Surgeons. This was the same tradition of healing, in which Dr.Mayo, who founded the iconic Mayo clinic, at one time said:

“I have only two medicines that work- Opium and the hacksaw. All the other medicines are Bullshit. Whenever a patient has severe infection or injury to a leg or hand, I can chop it off with the hacksaw. It prevents the infection that will kill him otherwise. The opium relieves pain. Both of them work all the time. Rest are all eyewash.” – Maybe not his exact words; but that is what he said.

Today we can replace organs and re-attach severed limbs. Diabetes was a terminal illness just a century ago. You get severe Diabetes- you are dead within two years. Joslin’s great book on Diabetes, a hundred years ago says- ‘If you contract severe Diabetes, by starving, you can live two years, with luck. The updated versions of Joslin’s Book on Diabetes are still coming out. The book doesn’t say the same thing. Not by a long shot.

Tuberculosis, leprosy and most infectious diseases are now easily cured. George Orwell, David Thoreau, Jane Austin and Alexander Graham Bell died of Tuberculosis.

So, even in this land of ours, who boast of Aryabhatta, Susrutha and Charaka, we have become shamelessly, thoroughly and so overwhelmingly, invaded by western science.

But remember, so have everyone else. China is not a military power due to Kung-fu and Dragon boats. It is due to nuclear missiles and fighter jets. They are not an economic power by traditional Chinese silk and ceramic hand-made pots, but by modern high volume precision manufacturing. So have Japan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, South Africa and Kenya.

How did this come about?

The history of science is a long one. There is a clue in what the revered doctor Mayo said. Don’t think that in those times physicians were bungling non-entities. They were highly respected professionals. They had hundreds of medicinal concoctions blended and crushed together into precise proportions, just like our traditional healers. They could pretend that that was all there is to know.

But they didn’t.

About five hundred years ago, there emerged a spark in human thinking. It happened to be in Europe. The reasons are complex. But it was revolutionary.

People began to realise that they were ignorant about most things.

Now it looks incredibly obvious to us. But at the time it was earth-shaking. See- most of Europe thought that one book and one Institution knew everything. The Arabs thought the same.

The Chinese were notorious in thinking so. They thought everyone else were morons. We were not far behind. Every single culture believed that there was a golden past and one should just follow the wise ancients.

But suddenly, the Europeans realised that the maps were not complete. There were worlds to discover. Their thinking could be improved. Americas could be discovered. Knowing Indians will help enrich themselves, and even conquer and exploit them.

Maybe we should just stop saying Western Science. Science is a common legacy of man. Ancient Indians contributed. The Greece, the Alexandrians, the Arabs. It was a long process.

But the spark that ignited the modern scientific steam roller was realisation of our own ignorance.

We still don’t know many things. There are many thoughts to perfect. Many worlds of the mind left to conquer. Let us start now.

Dr Jimmy

I am a Doctor, Writer and Science Communicator. I am a member of Info- Clinic, and have written a few books. This site features my blog posts and stories. Thank you for visiting. ഞാൻ എഴുതാൻ ഇഷ്ടമുള്ള ഉള്ള ഒരു ഡോക്ടർ ആണ് . നിങ്ങളുടെ താത്പര്യത്തിന് നന്ദി .