Science and Religion (humanity!): Gravity and Love

Some of the recent happenings, which influenced me significantly, led me to think about gravity and love. While I cannot mention all those things in this blog, I should point out two. One is the last blog I wrote about the borders in Science and Nations (1). Many have discussed about the border between Science and Religion. Another is a recent article published in the Journal Judgment and Decision Making titled On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound b—s— . (2)

I am almost convinced that many would have compared gravity and love and I am writing this blog without doing a Google search on these words together or a search in science or philosophical Journals. So this is my views, not influenced by others as yet. I started thinking about this analogy when I saw the authoritative article on pseudo-profund b—s—. I am reproducing one statement from the abstract:  “Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge b—s— statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief)”. Now you see why I thought of religion. This article appears to be an empirical study to understand why some people believe in statements that clearly appear to be ‘b—s—‘ to a Scientist or perhaps, a rationalist. Such empirical studies are accepted as good scientific procedures! The authors point out that “Despite these seemingly commonplace observations, we know of no psychological research on b—s—.” Such justifications are important for a scientific investigation on any problem.

Though all of us know gravity, we still do not know how gravity works. For example, if we have to take a mango (let me use a fruit that is native to where we live) from a tree, you can get a really long rod or tie together small rods with ropes, and tie a scythe at the end. Have a ladder or stool or go to the rooftop. Use this rod to reach the mango and cut it off from the branch by using the scythe. I have seen my father in law doing it in their house many times. Once the  mango is cutoff from the branch, it falls down. Gravity has helped us now. Mango was bound to the branch physically and a scythe was used to cutoff the link. Why does the mango fall down and not stay where it was or go up, when it’s link is cutoff! Of course, we all know it is due to gravity now.

We know electric and magnetic fields and we know that the opposite charges (poles) attract and like charges (poles) repel. Most students in physics may have done some experiments to look at the line of forces acting on magnetic materials. How does the earth pull the mango down? There are some speculations about ‘gravitons‘ which are hypothetical elementary particles that mediate the force of gravity. The wikipedia page on graviton looks reasonable (3). Basically we have a rope made of gravitons, that we cannot see, and it has pulled the mango down. Beyond this invisible gravitons, we know how gravity works. We can do experiments, make predictions, others can repeat our experiments and we all come to the same conclusions. Though, ‘graviton‘ cannot be seen, gravity is science!

Now let us look at how two people are attracted. We say they are in ‘love’ with each other. May be some one has done an empirical study, like the study on b—s— and come to conclusions about which two individuals may fall in love. I am not aware of them.’Love at first sight’ is a phrase commonly used. It is there from our Ramayanam (for Tamils, Ramayana for others) and the great poet Kamban says ‘அண்ணலும் நோக்கினார்  அவளும் நோக்கினாள்’ (‘annalum nokkinaar avalum nokkinaal’ which translates to ‘Rama looked at Sita and Sita looked at Rama at the same time). They fell in love and we have an epic. Do we have ‘lovons‘ that was mediating between Rama and Sita? Though they both fell in love, their marriage happens after Rama wins her in a contest and it was arranged.

I come from a background in which arranged marriage is still common and ‘love’ starts post marriage and it has worked very well for the most part. From the day of marriage, husband and wife live together and ‘love’ or affinity develops over a period of time. As I knew this would be the case in my life, and I really didn’t want to challenge this practice, I have somehow ensured that I would not possess any ‘lovons‘ or in case a girl were to send ‘lovons‘ to me, I would be transparent. It seems like, this attractive force of ‘love’ which could operate through the ‘imaginary particle lovon‘ can be controlled by humans, who have been conditioned to grow in a certain way. I do realize that, irrespective of the surroundings, some individuals can transmit and receive ‘lovons‘ and when they say they are in ‘love’, we cannot ask them to prove it. We have to accept it. I am not aware of any experiments that can be done to measure the ‘forces’ operating between them.

As with gravity, love is also attractive. If we have only attractive forces, it will be fatal and I am sure, many would have heard this term ‘fatal attraction’. When the mango falls down due to gravity, it will be crushed. We need to counter it with some repulsive forces, such as a cushioned bag, to collect the mango when it falls so that mango is not hurt and then taste the king of fruit. Even as I write, my love for mango is kindling my emotions and my mouth started watering. My love for mango started working. The gravitational force between earth and moon is balanced by the centrifugal force as they revolve around themselves and also the sun, resulting in a stable orbit. Between two people who are attracted by love, there has to be a ‘repulsive force’, one can see this as the space required for the individuals to exist independently, for a stable relationship. If this space is not provided, ‘love’ would not be enough to hold them together.

This article on ‘profound b—s—‘ concludes that those who are religious tend to accept ‘profound b—s—‘ more readily than others. Every religion promotes love. I come from a ‘shaivite’ family (people worshiping Shiva’ and we say ‘அன்பே சிவம்’ (anbae sivam, which means Shiva is nothing but love’) Christ said ‘love thy neighbour’. I am not sure if scientists will ever be able to explain the forces of ‘love’. That is for philosophers, I suppose. If only we can find ways to promote love, world will be a great place. We may never be able to discover ‘lovons‘ but we know love is real, may be not scientific. We may or may not be able to discover ‘gravitons‘ but we know gravity is real and scientific.

Perhaps we should stop comparing science and religion. Perhaps we should start giving equal emphasis for science and social science in schools and colleges. Without a doubt, religion has been used to exploit people and and kill each other as well. Religion does not encourage questioning and science does. Faith by definition cannot be questioned. Science starts by questioning what we observe. Ideally religion should promote love and science could be indifferent to this. Did Einstein say “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind’? (4) I have also heard people saying ‘love is blind’.

  1. Accessed on 24 September 2016.
  2. Accessed 24 September 2016
  3. Accessed 24 September 2016.
  4. 4. Accessed on 24 September 2016



Pillaiyaar and Periyaar!

If you have read my earlier blog on ‘God as a partner in crime and quid pro quo’, you may have known how Pillaiyaar, the elder son of Shivan, commonly known as the elephant God, played a crucial role at a defining moment in my life. However, from my earlier days, I say the name of ‘Murugan’ anytime I think of God. He is the second son of Shivan, popularly known as the God of Tamils, people speaking my mother tongue. I generally don’t ask or pray with any specific request. Any time I go to a temple/mosque/church or any other divine worship place, I just say ‘Kadavulae, Murugaa, Sivaa, Sithaiyaa’ and end there. Sithar is Shivan too and He is our family God. Kadavul is God in Tamil.

I come from a very religious family and religion was there in everything we did in our way of life. I studied in TVS High School, Madurai, perhaps the best school in Madurai and was blessed to have great teachers. Every morning, we did have prayer in school which included a hymn on God and also one on T. V. Sundaram Iyengar who founded the TVS establishment. TVS in Madurai can be compared to Tata in India. Madurai had TVS Bus service, running local city transport when I was young. It was known for its punctuality. You could watch the bus coming to a bus stop and set your watch! They run many successful businesses and academic institutions.

After my MSc in IIT Madras, I did not want to go abroad as going to Madras itself was somewhat scary for me. I was born and raised in Madurai until I was 20 years old and lived in a secure environment well protected by a large family and friends. GATE was just introduced for postgraduate admission and many of us wrote GATE. I skipped GRE and TOEFL. I ended up in IIT Delhi to do an MTech on chemical analysis. After  my MSc at IIT Madras, the course was a big let down and one of my friend left the course. For me it was more useful for personal development. I could get my MTech degree with 9.88/10.00 grade points and got  my first publication as well.

During my MTech, I finally wrote GRE, TOEFL and AGRE. Also, I figured out that if I could live in Delhi, I could live in USA as well. For someone from Tamil Nadu, in some sense, both are foreign. Though I did learn some elementary Hindi, I was more comfortable in English, after Tamil. It would take two days to reach my home in Madurai, from either Delhi or America. I only applied to Universities that had no application fees. I accepted the first offer that came my way and went to the Kansas State University. As I was getting ready to leave, I received a letter from the International Student Center at KSU. It warned: ‘You are coming to a far away place to a country very different from yours. Be aware that you may have a cultural shock’. I couldn’t have learned much about life in the USA but I really did not have a cultural shock when I landed in the USA. I did have my first cultural shock when I returned after my studies to work in Kanpur!

Twenty years ago, on the day of Buddha Purnima, I went to Bithur, 18 km from the IIT Campus in Kanpur by bicycle with a friend of mine. Bithur is a very important town for Hindus and there used to be a board there claiming it to be the centre of Universe. Besides, it is believed to be the birthplace of Lava and Kusha, the twin sons of Rama and Sita. Also, Sita was supposed to have entered the earth in this place, on the banks of the holy river Ganges. I was very curious to visit and when I did, it was very disappointing. It would be difficult to grow in India without listening about Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Now the Government wants these to be taught in schools and I don’t like this idea. In any case, when most in India revere Ramayana, it was saddening to see the Lava-Kusha Janmastan (birth place) in such a terrible condition. It has not been maintained at all. I am surprised why all those who talk emotionally about Ramayana don’t do anything to maintain places like this.

Coming from Madurai, which boasts of a unique city festival, Chitra festival (April-May every year), I am very much used to huge crowds and enjoy being in the crowd. It happens during the full moon day in the Tamil month of Chithirai. Every year, the newspapers would mention that 5 lakh people attended the festival (0.5 million). The crowd I saw in Bithur during the Buddhapurnima (another full moon day) was too much even for me. I suspect it could be several millions. Taking a dip in Ganges during such an auspicious day is considered holy and it seemed like everyone was there.

Ganges in that place looks far from clean. I had gone to Rishikesh where I had a nice bath. I told my friend that taking a dip in that place would be tough and I might have neither the immunity nor faith. We decided to cross the river and walk upstream until there were no more people and take a dip. There were no permanent bridge but a temporary one was made out of big barrels. The barrels with big holes were kept and a wooden bridge was made on top of these barrels. A boat could go through a barrel.

There was too much crowd and the bridge had no place empty. I wondered if the area of the bridge would be almost the same as the foot print of all the people standing on the bridge. Even in that crowd, there was some order and you could join the crowd moving in one direction or other. One barely moved and the human wave was crossing the bridge. Suddenly, some security and police came with some lathi (a stick to beat the crowd) and was shouting. No one was beaten and everybody was being pushed away from one barrel. I was worried about a stampede. Then I saw a boat from my left side approaching the barrel. The boat had some ‘purohits’ or ‘brahmins’ being taken somewhere. The occupants of the boat did not want to have any human being standing on the bridge while the boat crossed. There could have really been a stampede at that time. Thankfully Pillaiyaar was still watching and no untoward incident happened. However, I was shocked looking at the faces of the occupants. They had so much hatred and contempt on their face, shouting away the people standing on top of the bridge and the police were helping them. Weren’t the people on bridge fellow humans too?

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I never had any such experience during my stay in Tamil Nadu. I have read about some groups not being allowed inside temples. I have read about the priests throwing ‘viboothi’ on the ground for some group of people as they were inferior. I have myself not seen such acts. I was thinking to myself. If such an incident were to happen in Tamil Nadu, some one could have jumped on the boat and beaten the hell out of the occupants. People had learned self-respect. Someone called Periyaar had fought against oppression and instilled confidence and respect among the population that has been suppressed for long. People in Bithur chose suffering and put themselves in a lot of discomfort and let the boat pass through. I was squeezed from all sides and luckily no one had any major injury or lost their  life. It could have happened. I hope such things don’t happen there any more.

I witnessed many such events during my stay in Kanpur.  People were treated without any respect or dignity. Most of them accepted such treatments without questioning them. I read the following news in the Hindu today. The Prime Minister of India is being warned by the priests:

Shrikant Mishra, one of the main priests at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, who officiated the rituals when Mr. Modi visited the temple after winning the general election, says the belief about the Kaal Bhairav temple is a “shastriya parampara” or classical one. “Kaal Bhairavji is considered Dandapani or one who can mete out punishment, therefore anyone who visits Kashi has to pay obeisance to him first. If the BJP leadership here has sent a word to the Prime Minister, it is not wrong,” he said.” (1)

This, I see is a major problem among the Hindu way of life. That God will meet out punishment if you don’t pay obeisance to Him first! Of course all my friends will quote from any number of books that this is misinterpretation. God is all love and is not looking for your petty obeisance. You only have to live a life following some ethics. I was pleased to read the response of A R Rahman when he was issued a fatwa. If the Prime Minister can be warned this way, you can imagine what our priests can do to the ordinary people. I wish every state had a Periyaar in India. If not, these priests would have ensured that we continue to live in an imagined glory without trusting our own skills.

We can still look forward to a God who would come in the future and relieve us of all our worries without trying what we could. Or course, we can also realise that God wants you to look after yourself. If not, the ocean would have drinking water and all the energy in the key board or pen or your shirt would have been usable. If you want drinkable water and usable energy, go figure out. That is what God has told you clearly and loudly. Those, who want to cheat you in the name of God, would like you to believe otherwise. Be wary of them. That is what Periyaar told us. Tamil Nadu and Kerala are far more progressive than Gujarat when it comes to all indices based on human development. It may not be the case when it comes to investment today. We have learned very well that growth is not just some rich people making more money! If not we would not have witnessed the American economy collapse in 2006-07 and Obama getting elected in 2008. It is in your hand to learn what you need to take care of you and your family. God is with you and (s)he is not going to help you, if you don’t do your work.




God as a partner in crime and quid pro quo

When George Bush started a ‘pre-emptive’ war on Iraq, he said ‘God is with us’. The USA won the unprovoked war and innumerable innocent lives were lost. One of the following conclusions could be drawn: 1) God was indeed with George Bush and helped him win the war 2) God was not with George Bush but could not do anything about the loss of innocent lives (this would not agree with any definition of God) 3) God was not with George Bush but chose not to do anything about the loss of innocent lives.

Third choice can equally be interpreted as God does not take any side and does not intervene in human affairs.  Might is right in the earthly affairs. Democracy is a mild threat to might but it is no guaranty against injustice. The USA likes to follow the rules. George Bush amended the US law which prohibited preemptive attack on another nation. He got bipartisan support for this unjust war, as God was with him.  A whole country can be fooled without much difficulty and who can argue against patriotism! The God of the might then turns out to be the most potent. If we would like our God to be the most potent, we need to grow in stature in the world.

I come from a surrounding where people pray to God to get a cure from common cold to passing JEE. There were specific promises to the God that on getting this favor, some thing will be done in return.  This could be breaking coconuts, lighting lamps, shaving off one’s head, money in the Temple Hundi …. you name it. I have seen people carrying out the promise when their wish came true. I always wondered what was done when it did not come true or when the deal was not kept. God perhaps never bothered about individual promises and was not keeping track.

During my youth, I prayed to God with specific promises for personal favors on a few occasions. One was when a new-born child in our close family circle was in a serious condition. I had a silent prayer and promised to God that I would do something if the child survived. The child did and I kept my promise to God.  In the next few years, we had another young relative in serious condition and I made the same offer to God. This young relative did not survive. For some reason, I thought I should still keep my promise to God and did. God must have tried hard and the efforts must be rewarded, not the end result.

People around me had Murugan as their favorite God. Bathing Him in milk was often a promise to get something from Him. I remember carrying a pot full of milk (Paal kudam) when I was a kid during a specific festival known as Paal kudam. Devotees would become hysterical as they carry the Paal kudam towards Thirupparankunram, one of the six temples of Murugan. I was carrying the Paal kudam with no emotion whatsoever.

Another occasion I prayed to God was when I wrote the entrance exam for IIT Madras, MSc admission. Unlike the other two incidents mentioned above, this was in a lighter vein. Just for the sake of it, I prayed that we will give a ‘milk bath’ to Vinayagan, the elephant God, brother of Murugan. I thought Murugan was getting far too much milk and Vinayagan did not get any share. The deal was complicated. Myself AND a friend of mine should both get admission to IIT Madras. He was a top ranker and I was a reasonably good student. We both made it and as a bonus, two more of our classmates got admission. One of them was a christian! They were both good students too.

Now we were in some kind of a shock and denial. Many temples of Murugan do this routinely and at that time I was not aware of Vinayagan temples doing this. My friend asked me, where should we do this now? We had our own Vinayagan temple in front of our house where we lived all our childhood. I told him that we would do it in that temple and he agreed. We arranged a function and did do what is known as ‘Paalabhishekam’ or giving the statue a milk bath. Until that time, I had not witnessed such a ritual in Vinayagan temples. To our surprise, when we reached IIT Madras, there was a Vinayagan temple in the woods. We accidentally walked through the temple on our first day and there we witnessed the same event once again. It was an incredible sight.

Selection was based on the performance in the exam and as long as God helped us perform better, it would be alright. I hope the God did not do anything to favor us at the cost of another more deserving student and that would be unlike God. Often when my students ask me about God and religion, I tell them this: When your experiment works if you want to thank God, go ahead. When it does not work, don’t tell me that you have prayed to God. Better sit in the lab and fix it.

If you look at the world today, it would not be difficult to identify the major causes for conflict. One is energy and another is water. Iraq war was not for restoring democracy. I was born in Tamil Nadu and work in Karnataka and our states fight for water, even when India and Bangladesh seem to have some water sharing agreement. However, if you look around, both water and energy are available in plenty. Two thirds of our earth is water and everything is energy (E = mc^2). The trouble is that portable water and usable energy are not freely available. For that, you need to understand and make efforts. Clearly, God wants you and me to work. If not, ocean could have drinking water and the energy in my pen could be used readily.

In the recent days, I have been reading about so many murders in the name of God. I have also read news paper reports about large amounts of cash and Jewels being deposited in the Temple Hundis. The common perception is that this is a share from ill-gotten wealth. Fortunately for God, none of the Lokpal bills (anti-corruption bill in Hindi) have any provision to touch God even if God were given a good share of the loot.

I must add one thing before concluding.  I have seen this in India. People who grow by cheating a system eventually suffer even if they had given a fair share to God. May be one life-time is not enough to see what happens to a country or group, which in the name of God commits atrocities. May be the law of nature or God will eventually make things even. How can I ensure that no one blames God for killing another person? The nation-states of today should ensure that.