Report on First National Symposium
A Perceptual Account of Nature’s Organization: Natural Philosophy to Natural Science
Department of Philosophy, University of Pune, 18-19 January 2010
Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, Vadodara and Department of Philosophy, University of Pune jointly organized a National Symposium on “A Perpetual Account of Nature’s Organization” during January 18-19, 2010 at University of Pune in which distinguished scientists and philosophers from different parts of the country participated.
The Symposium was based on the conviction that the facts about Nature are important, but more important is to understand them and to gain insight from such understanding. It is a matter of concern that the world presented by science seems to be drifting away from the world perceived by philosophy. So the Symposium was an attempt to examine science and its limitations in relation to philosophical understanding of Nature. This Symposium provided a platform to discuss the ways of Nature, a topic that is broad enough to include thoughts about Nature’s way in all academic disciplines from anthropology to astrophysics, from quantum mechanics to biomechanics, and from physical to mental phenomena. The questions addressed in the symposium were: (a) Is human understanding of Nature moving from fragmentation to integration?; (b) Should the world be identified with phenomenal reality, or with a perceptual one?; (c) Why is Nature the way it is? Or why are we the way we are, and not different?; (d) What is the future of our species?
The Symposium commenced with an inaugural function chaired by S. S. Deshpande. S. E. Bhelke welcomed the participants and gave a brief thematic introduction. Prafulla C. Kar talked about the activities of Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences and its vision. He also threw light on the relevance of the Symposium and the need to build bridges between disciplines like Natural Sciences and Human Sciences. Arun Adusal, the Vice Chancellor, University of Pune in his inaugural address appreciated the unique concept of the symposium and observed that a convergence of disciplines would contribute to knowledge acquisition and dissemination. Kalpataru Kanungo delivered the keynote address and Surjeet Kaur Chahal proposed the vote of thanks.
Kalpataru Kanungo, in his erudite keynote address observed that although Nature was and still is considered to be the behavior of inner things, ancient philosophers, through matter and motion, connected the inner to the outer cosmos. He pointed out that for the present purpose, Nature with capital ‘N’ denotes things contained in the universe and nature with small ‘n’ represents behavior of inner things. Kanungo argued that Nature is a dynamic phenomenon that is manifested through the entities in the universe and from the perceptual standpoint, Nature can be defined as the outward experience of a conscious observing entity. He marveled at the fact that diverse structural elements within one structure, the universe, interconnected as they are, become the exhibitor of not only of diversity but also of a grand phenomenon called Nature. Thus, it is reasonable to state that Nature follows one rule: follow the path of diversity. In order to elucidate and substantiate his argument, Kanungo said that in principle, Nature’s way to diversify is fundamentally invariant with time or human acknowledgement. He further explained that research in various fields has revealed Nature’s organization from microdomain (probabilistic quantum level) to macrodomain (deterministic entity level). In the macrodomain, several consequences of diversity — such as patterns, non-linear behavior, self-organization, emergence — can be discerned. He elaborated on how these phenomena, which arise from the dynamic evolutionary tendencies of Nature, collectively point to the conclusion that the diversity of Nature (or of Knowledge) is not an artifact; it is a logical imperative.
According to Kanungo, the most important consequence of Nature’s diversity is the production of varieties of complex systems whose description extends from celestial mechanics to quantum mechanics. Complex systems possess certain degree of order because of connectivity. Spontaneous self-organization is an attribute of nonlinear reactions. When nonlinear reactions (interactions) cross a threshold, it enters a new domain where new properties emerge spontaneously. These new properties cannot be predicted from the properties of interacting parts; rules of nonlinearity forbid prediction. He arrived at an interesting conclusion that Nature has been in existence before the origin of humans, or even the existence of the planet that the humans now inhabit; it has challenged human ingenuity from time immemorial and will continue to do so as long as humans endure.
Presentations by Participants
The papers presented during the Symposium dealt with a variety of themes and addressed several scientific and philosophical issues, besides triggering discussion in many allied areas. Parameswar R. Bhatt from IIT Bombay in his paper titled “Knowledge, Reality and Value: Their Objective Status” presented an age old crisis in determining the significance of subjectivity and objectivity as far as knowledge is concerned. He observed that insistence on objectivity might be due to the human tendency to ensure certainty about knowledge. While trying to analyze, ‘what is not objective’ he also explored the perplexing nature of binary relations as well. In the context of values and laws of nature, he argued that the possibility of having objective realities is quite strong. Another similar, yet different crisis in methodology was discussed by Dr. Himanshu Damle. His paper, “Philosophies of Nature in the differentials of Ian Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier” was an attempt to look at the differential (as in interventionist) readings undertaken by speculative realists Ian Hamilton and Ray Brassier. The former thinker concentrated on reading Schelling’s naturalism relating to reason and the latter claimed the constancy of thought’s connection to thought. The paper analyzed the similarities and differences in the ideas and conceptualizations of these thinkers.
From methodological studies in the understanding the philosophy of nature and Nature, the next session proceeded to the analysis of the methods for scientific studies. “Active Galaxies as Cosmological Distance Candles” was the title of the paper presented by Vijayakumar H. Doddamani from Bangalore University. It was an analysis of active galaxies and various methods of studying their spectra. The paper gave a detailed account of UV Spectral Studies, classification, continuum flux measurement, distance estimation and their implications on the large scale structure of the Cosmos.
The borderlines between the scientific and the philosophical blurs in terms of method and ideas when in comes to certain thinkers. Gulshan Majeed’s paper, titled “Al Razi’s Concept of Matter” explored the revolutionary ideas of the 9th Century Muslim Philosopher, Al Razi who denied any place for religion, prophethood, scriptures and angels in the rational thinking of man. Al Razi emphasized the importance of reason and composed a medical compendium. Gulshan Majeed talked in detail about how Al Razi’s conceptualizations of matter and reality opened up new avenues of ideas.
The curious blend of the philosophy of man and a scientific understanding of the workings of his body and mind is implicit in Indian thought. In his paper titled, “Man as Universe and Universe in Man: The Indian Perspective on Nature”, S.E. Bhelke tried to throw light on the Indian philosophical and scientific traditions and evaluated the relationship between man and Nature. Alluding to Ayurveda, he emphasized that healthy life is a realization of the cosmic order in the life of man. He expressed his concern that though man and Nature are isomorphic, there is a scope for deviation from the natural course in the case of man and suggested that human freedom should be regulated in concordance with the Nature.
The methods and philosophy of natural sciences are intriguing. Dr. M.G. Narasimhan’s paper, “Varieties of Reductionism and Anti reductionism in Philosophy of Biology” took one through the studies and findings of many scientists and thus tried to evaluate the impact of reductionist approach in biology as a discipline. He illustrated how the problem of reductionism has undergone several revivals despite strong rebuttals. The paper offered an analytical overview of the fascinating duel between reductionism and anti-reductionism in the philosophy of Biology and indicated the ways of coming to terms with a methodologically necessitating approach to reductionism.
Anthropology, Biology and allied disciplines have influenced the science and craft of cultural studies. A nuanced study of evolution and its biological and cultural impacts was done in S.R. Walimbe’s paper, “Natural Selection: Biological and Cultural Issues of Human Evolution”. Being a scholar in the Department of Anthropology, University of Pune, he could bring out the complex interrelatedness of evolution and culture through several telling examples including indo-Aryan migration in the Indian subcontinent.
Mind is a concept so complex and one does not know whether science or philosophy would prove useful in comprehending it. Surjeer Kaur Chahal’s paper titled “Neuroscience and the Matter of the Mind” illustrated how researches in neuroscience are changing concepts like soul, self and free will. Chahal discussed the conflict between reductionists and autonomists in the philosophy of psychology. She pointed out the autonomist’s concern about reducing psychology to physics. She raised significant questions such as whether neuroscience explains multiple realizations and does it address to the matter of mind or the function of mind.
Mind is a ‘gendered’ phenomenon, like the body. In her paper titled “Sex and Gender: Naturalizing the Mind/Body Problem”, Kanchana Mahadevan from University of Mumbai argued that in many methods of analysis, women’s experience is neglected due to the emphasis on stability either of the consciousness or of the body. The paper evaluated feminist problematization of the embodied or natural dimension of consciousness by alluding to the relation between biological sex and socially constructed gender of the mind. Kanchana observed that the debate between sex and gender replaces that of the mind and body. The paper, by way of conclusion, discussed the possibility of moving beyond the sex/gender dichotomy to comprehend nature or biological sex or the body in ways that are non-exploitative.
Spiritual texts have presented several theories about the mind body dynamics of human beings in this world and other possible worlds. Sadananda More’s paper was titled “Humanistic Perspective of Looking at the Nature” and it was an enquiry into the anthropocentric point of view on nature that certain schools of humanism proposes as a contrast to the conceptualization of nature and its relationship with man as explained in spiritual texts like the Bhagavadgita which see nature as a creation of god. According to Sadananda, the Bhagavadgita’s way of looking at man and nature has many moral, ethical and spiritual connotations and it airs strong views about environmental ethics as well.
Many attempts were made to read the past and present of humanity using scientific and philosophical methods in the course of the Symposium. A glimpse of the future of humanity through philosophical and spiritual predictions and scientific foresight was also given in some papers. Basu Maan Daas, from Karimganj College, Assam, had given a rhetoric question “Is Man Accomplished of Correctly Predicting the Future?” as the title of his paper and started his argument by pointing out the symbiotic correlation between nature and research in scientific laboratories. Discussing various scientific inventions that have changed the course of human existence, Daas also warned about the consequences of ruthless exploitation of nature done in the guise of human advancement through the means of science. He pointed out that the whims of nature that come in the forms of catastrophes and calamities are well beyond predictability or human comprehension and science witnesses these phenomena helplessly. Alluding to the prediction of doomsday by the Mayan scholars, he wondered what science could possibly do.
The papers discussed many issues of contemporary relevance and scholars benefited immensely from formal discussions in the sessions and informal ones during breaks and evenings. The Symposium was a successful attempt to bridge the gap between scientific and philosophic perceptions on Nature and nature.