Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Primitive Science Of The Vedas - Garbha Upanishad

The source that I use for this article is this translation by Subhash Kak. Kak is well respected in the Hindu apologist circles, so I think I’m using the “right interpretation” of the original text. The Garbha Upanishad has some valid observations about the human body. I’m not contesting that. What I’m interested in is the things it gets wrong. To see why, read the introduction for the primitive science series.

The source doesn’t have verse numbers for me to refer to, but the text is small in size and it is easy to see which part I’m referring to. I’ll put the what the text says in italics followed by my comments on it in normal typeface.

Matter is made up of five elements. I don’t think I need to explain how primitive this is. A glance at the periodic table should suffice.

Heart is the source of fire, which can be interpreted as to mean that the heart generates body heat. The people who wrote the text must have known that the heart pumps blood and hence may have concluded that heat is generated in the heart and carried to other parts of the body by blood. Today we know that heat is also generated in other organs of the body like in the brain, liver and in the muscles. Our skin also plays an important role in maintaining body heat. For example, when the outside temperature is hot, the skin sweats the evaporation of which cools the body. More on body heat here.

Males are born if father's seed is strong. Females are born if mother's seed is strong. If strengths are equal, intersexuals are born. Thanks to science, today we know the actual processes involved in sex determination. It is the male who primarily decides the sex of the offspring. Females have XX chromosome pair and males have XY chromosome pair. If the male contributes X chromosome to the embryo, the baby will be a female. And if the male contributes Y chromosome, the baby will be male.

If [at the time of impregnation] the parents are agitated, the child will be blind, crippled, hunch-backed or stunted. Such things are congenital disorders which occur due to a number of reasons. They have little to do with the how agitated the parents are at the time of sex.

If the vital air moves around, the seed enters in two parts, resulting in twins. Again through science we know that there are two cases for twins - fraternal twins are born when two eggs are fertilized by two different sperm cells and identical twins are born when a fertilized embryo splits into two. There is no “vital air” which splits the seed.

In the ninth month, the baby is reminded of previous birth. Also the baby is born into grief. It has to accept the path of Samkya Yoga to achieve liberation. This is mere speculation. There is zero evidence for past births.

Inside the womb, the baby knows about previous births. Once the baby comes out, maya engulfs the baby. The text views the baby coming out of the vagina as breaking of some sort of a barrier. From the time of fertilization, the baby is always tied to the natural world that Vedic followers love to deride as being merely material. The barrier of maya is imaginary. An interesting thing to note is the barrier exists in a different sense. It is where the baby acquires its bacterial microbiome which will play a vital role throughout the baby’s life.

If you read through the whole text, you will see that the Vedic seers haven't even expressed the possibility that what they say can be wrong. Since they are "enlightened souls", whatever they say has to be true. Such arrogance is truly the domain of religion. Contrast this with science, which doesn't make such absolutist statements. When something is true according to science, the implicit assumption is that it remains true only as long as evidence supports it. Should new evidence which contradicts it turn up, science humbly accepts that it was wrong and updates its knowledge. So much for the "scientific nature" of the Vedas.


Water Engineer said...

Why do you look for emptyness in the glass? That too after "The Garbha Upanishad has some valid observations about the human body. I’m not contesting that."

Why don't you admire the valid points, considering how much empirical observations must have gone into it before all that was written? That too in the distant past, without benefit of modern equipment like microscopes, all with naked eyes?

Lije said...

You took the trouble to quote a sentence from the article, but have you taken the trouble to read the link at the end of that paragraph before pondering about glasses, their contents, emptiness and what not?

Anonymous said...

matter is made up of 5 elements simply means- there are 5 states of matter. land, water, fire, air and space were the words used to denote solid, liquid, gas, plasma and ether.
But i dont believe, vedas knew everything. science itself means to know and hence scientific developments can never stop because there is always something or the other to know in this vast universe.
Vedas were very good source of knowledge 3000 years ago and even untill the europe was in dark ages. they knew more the the europeans but suffered from the stagnation of centuries and hence today are outdated.
Claims like these are made by the religious fanatics who want to impose the superiority of their religion. same thing can be seen with muslims defending quran and sometimes even christians defending bible.

Anonymous said...

The reviewer is probably unaware of the panchikarana process by which five mahabhutas are supposed to evolve. These are not exclusively and necessarily material objects; they are perceptual qualities (tanmatras) and their associated physicality which when intermixed gives us full-blown sensory data of five senses in the form of earth. So, here tanmatras are nothing but later day (18th century) monads of Leibniz. In essence, since th theory does not talk about exclusive physical objects but perceptual entities this becomes a meta-theory and applying science to it is superfluous. ... Gobind

Anonymous said...

I am not contesting the views of the reviewer here as everyone is permitted their own view of anything not withstanding what is true or not. My question here is about the heading where a Upanishad is used to call the vedas as primitive. Upanishads are not vedas nor are vedas derived from Upanishad.

exploringduke said...

I read some of your blogs and although you tried to explore aspects of hinduism and the vedas, you do seem to have a distinct anti-hindu feeling. Hinduism does not impose its values on anyone nor is it involved in evangelist practices. So dont be put off by some persons who might have bugged you with their beliefs. Yes, there would be misconceptions in the understanding of the ancient hindus but give them a break my friend. They have actually tried to understand various physical and biological processes scientifically and you need to give them credit for getting quite a few things right. Hinduism has got the concept of a singularity from which everything originates and ultimately ends - 'big bang' anyone. Their cosmological timescale is pretty accurate given that they did not have the benefits of modern science. Sure, modern human evolution timescales don't fit into their calculations, but parallel universes do. Of course we can argue that a very abstract idea can lend itself to many inferences.

Ayurveda, meditation etc have all had their origins and developments in Hinduism. Ayurveda has got concrete medical science behind it - take a look at the NIH papers and you can see proofs.

I appreciate your effort to separate the wheat from the chaff, but do open your mind up a little more.