Friday, November 23, 2007

V. V. Raman's marriage of ratio and religion

The last edition of Speaking of Faith invited the physicist V. V. Raman to speak of his way of combining science and his Hindu religion. As usual the program offers a transcript and one can acclaim this particular episode with a few wonderful quotes from Mr. Raman.
I have the greatest respect for reason and rationality, but I also think of, you know, from the Ecclesiastics who may say, "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven," which has been articulated by thinkers through the ages in all the cultures, I would say. When Pascal wrote his famous statement, you know, "Le cour a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point" — "the heart has its reasons which reason doesn't understand" — those are ways by which the enlightened thinkers and visionaries understood that the world is far too complex for us to really rigidly put everything under the straitjacket of reason, as it were.

in the Rig Veda, the most important aphorism or statement is "Truth is one and the people call it by different names." And in Sanskrit, the word "truth" or sat — it's called ekam sat, "there is but one truth." I like to look at it as follows: If we talk about music, how many music are there? Even the question doesn't sound right. However, in order for anybody to understand or appreciate music, one can only do it in terms of a particular song or sonata or concert

Appropriately, you can analyze a poem and this understanding of the structure of the poem is a significant accomplishment but it tells us nothing about the meaning behind the poem or about the inspiration that the poem might give. And the universe, to me, is somewhat like that. Science enables us to understand the laws and principles by which the universe is constructed, its functions, and that is no trivial accomplishment. And I think that's one of the greatest intellectual achievements of the human mind, is what modern science has been able to do.

But there is always the question of meaning. And while it is possible to derive meaning without going beyond the physical world — and many people do it — it is no less inspiring and fulfilling to find meaning within religious framework insofar as it is not irrational. There's a difference between irrationality and transrationality, and, to me, many of the deeper messages of religions, such as the values it does or must inspire us to, such as caring and compassion and respect for others, helping others, love, reverence. These are not rational — these are not irrational, but these are transrational and they have their sources in the many religious frameworks of humankind. They not only carry the weight of centuries, but they also have something deep in them in the human cultural psyche.
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