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A new messiah in Nalin de Silva

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

(July 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The university teachers, particularly those who teach science subjects have condemned the attitude taken by Prof Nalin de Silva about the scientific method. They claim that Nalin’s statements and actions that ridicule scientific method have led to a very bad impression about the University of Kelaniya in general and the Faculty of Science in particular, among the public and the scientific community. Accordingly this situation degrades the reputation of the Faculty which was achieved with great effort in the last 45 years, and also jeopardizes the recognition of the graduates passing out from the Faculty in future. I find it amusing that a giant philosopher of the Sinhala patriotism has become a great villain in the eyes of those who considered him to be some sort of messiah that has emerged to save the country from Tamil nationalism. 

Obviously I am not directing the accusing finger at the entire academic community. But certainly some of those who are violently agitated about Nalin’s heresy were defending him as a true intellectual of Lanka, only few years ago. It is not that Nalin has developed into a monster in the last few months; even ten years ago Nalin used to deliver similar idealistic mystical statements. But as long as he was attacking devolution of power to the Tamil nationality he was treated as a great teacher. So the crisis is not in the thinking of Nalin but it is in the Sinhala chauvinist camp. Clearly this camp has started to disintegrate. President Mahinda has clashed with the leaders of Hela Urumaya. Arsenic is only one issue, actually they are now divided on many issues. As usual Nalin is violently coming out against the ruling elites who have abandoned the “traditions of this country”. Those days he used to talk about Mahasona; now he talks about Natha deviyo. He says these are concepts to identify various powers; just as much the science uses concepts such as current and electron to explain movements and power!

Complete understating

It is easy to see that the scientific method is limited and it becomes problematic when we move out of the middle space. Human practise is very much limited to the middle space in which humans exist. When we go beyond into micro or macro spaces, logic alone cannot give us a complete understating everywhere. This has been discovered long time back. Buddha said that very clearly, when he proposed to understand the fundamental nature of reality, the use norms of impermanence. Norms and rules of impermanence have to be used in addition to logic to understand “thing in itself”. In order to go beyond the scientific method, if one does not want to follow the path of dialectics then one is compelled to explain things in terms of gods and spirits. What science fails to explain has to be explained in terms of rules of negation and impermanence, if not it will be taken over by mysticism. A school book that explains scientific method says “The Foundation of scientific method - logical reality checks, You can understand and enjoy the adventure of science, because the thinking used in science is not strange and mysterious, it’s the same thinking you use in daily life. In scientific logic, as in daily life, you use reality checks to decide whether “the way you think the world is” matches “the way the world really is.” We’ll begin by looking at the central activity of modern scientific method, when OBSERVATIONS (from an Experiment) and PREDICTIONS (based on a Theory) are compared in a REALITY CHECK that is a test of quality for a Theory.”

That I would say a very good introduction to the scientific method. It is this method of daily life that Buddha classified as “anusotha gami” path, the method of ordinary mind. It was left to the scientist, Kuhn who died recently, to show clearly to the western world the limitation of scientific method.Thomas Kuhn looked at the history of science and argued that science does not simply progress by stages based upon neutral observations. Like Popper, he agrees that all observation is theory laden. Scientists have a worldview or “paradigm”. The paradigm of Newton’s mechanical universe is very different to the paradigm of Einstein’s relativistic universe; each paradigm is an interpretation of the world, rather than an objective explanation. For Kuhn the history of science is characterised by revolutions in scientific outlook. Scientists accept the dominant paradigm until anomalies are thrown up. Scientists then begin to question the basis of the paradigm itself, new theories emerge which challenge the dominant paradigm and eventually one of these new theories becomes accepted as the new paradigm. Not only that, Kuhn found that the ancient paradigm that got replaced by the Newtonian system has a formal similarity to the paradigm of Einstein. In other words even the paradigm shift take place according to the Hegelian rule of negation of the negation.

Reality into account

We used to argue on these decades ago. While we agreed on the limitations of the scientific method or the logical positivist view of the world, we disagreed on the path beyond the norms of science. Science is valid in the immediate reality , in a limited time -space . As Marxists we claimed that the fundamental reality , including micro and macro dimensions, could be understood by taking the norms of such reality into account; impermanence , unity of motion & matter, and negation of negation. Nalin insisted on mystical super knowledge which was not acceptable to many. He maintained what he pronounced is Buddhist explanation of reality, which even Prof Karunadasa and others could not accept. In spite of all this, Nalin was considered to be a leading intellectual by the radical nationalists. One such writer wrote in Lakbimanesws some years ago “ If they want an example, take the case of Prof. Nalin De Silva, who during the heyday of the Federalist/Eelam push (especially post-1994), was stripped of a job and forced to live on the paltry sums he got paid (irregularly) for his newspaper columns. He wrote and wrote and wrote. Week after week after week. Three columns. He almost single-handedly turned things around and buried the carefully constructed lie that the LTTE could not be militarily defeated and the pernicious line authored by the same people that indeed it should not be militarily engaged. Without any bucks or political patronage or any special support of the private media. He did not crawl. There’s a lesson there.”

What happened to this grand master! Today Lanka is in trouble. Those world powers who backed the war against Tamil liberation are threatening Mahinda regime. Tamil Diaspora has become more powerful than the Lankan regime. Workers ,professionals, fishers and youth are on the war path. Divisions within the nationalist regime is very clear. In this scenario the wise man of the Sinhala nationalists has become an object of ridicule of his students. Nothing to be surprised ; because every thing has to obey the law of negation of the negation.

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