Hindu Mind of Science

Posted November 14, 2012 by Ranbir Singh in Gods of Science and Discovery

In our modernist parlance science and religion are held to be polar opposites. Scientific is equated with being rational, logical and in tune with reason. Religion however is seen as backward, laughable and regressive, as well as totally obscurantist. Yet how does this equate with the fact that many of the scientific strides came from India, a land and civilisation which has endured from ancient times and retains its core spirituality?

The ancient Indus Valley Civilisation dates back 5000 years. Yet the earliest excavations revealed that it must have been developed by a highly complex and intelligent society. Urban centres were planned on a chequerboard pattern with sophisticated drainage and sanitation. The same scientific knowledge was responsible for the reservoir and drainage systems which fed the agricultural base.

Further centuries saw incredible developments in the forging of bronze and iron weapons. Treatment of diseases such as leprosy, cataracts and smallpox. Trigonometric functions were used by the mathematician Aryabhata in the fifth century. The calculus theorem now known as “Rolle’s theorem” was stated by mathematician Bhāskara II, in the twelfth century. It is that to which we now turn.

The Vedic texts treated numbers as sacred and developed highly complex mathematics, especially in geometric constructions. Despite being known today as ‘Arabic’ the decimal number system originated from India. This is one of the most important gifts Hindu civilisation gave to the world. Modern calculations would be unthinkable without this. Key to this is the use of zero, which represents the empty set, nothing, no value.

To us it seems normal but it was an incredible feat of the ancient Hindu mind to realise that ‘nothing’ could be represented. Is it so logical? After all nothing is ‘nothing’? So why represent it? We cannot possible understand this unless we understand the mind which gave rise to the possibility that even ‘nothing’ could be understood in symbolic terms. And to do this that mind had to think both abstractly and delve into deep spiritual consciousness. This means we must revaluate our prognosis that science and spirituality stand at polar opposites of the spectrum in human understanding.

What led to ‘nothing’ be represented by the now familiar circular symbol which we call ‘zero’? Only a human mind which could understand the idea of ‘nothingness’. In this state of eternal bliss free from materialistic ties. This can only be achieved by moksha which is escape from the cycle of rebirth which one is fated to endure. If the mind is obsessed by hedonism and materialism it is destined to be tied to the wheel of reincarnation. But to achieve moksha is to be liberated from this.

It is the understanding of moksha which led the ancient Indian mind to understand that the empty set had a value, a very important value, the most profound value. Hence in ancient India the spiritual and scientific worlds were united and never separate. That is why Hindu civilisation has endured while others have perished. That is also why what we deem as western scientific development has at its core the essence of Indian spirituality.

Let us end this by looking at the most obvious example. Computing could not have developed without binary. And binary could not have developed without zero. Here ‘nothing’ as a value is essential. It is in fact so essential that without ‘nothing’ there would have been no computing. Technologically we would have all remained in the dark ages. So we can thank the ancient Hindu mind for showing us the light.



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Ranbir Singh

Writer and Lecturer : BA (Honours) History, MA History from School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London : Chair of Hindu Human Rights Group, Have lectured previously at De Montfort University, London School of Economics, Sternberg Centre for Reform Judaism. Contributor to various political and human rights discussion outfits.

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