Science behind Superstitions

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Four centuries after Bruno was burnt alive and Galileo was made to apologise for experimentally proving the facts of Earth's rotation and revolution, the Pope had to beg for pardon. Since then science has come long way in dispelling plethora of myths prevailing in the societies. Today, the right of Scientific Outlook, in the field of knowledge, to discover and pronounce what is truth and what is not, is indisputably established.

One of the major challenges facing developing countries like India is to make science and technology an essential part of the culture of the people. A number of historical, cultural, political, social, and economic situations have given rise to the need to develop strategies that favour the popularization of science and technology in developing countries.

Using different scientific principles to facilitate mind-bending magic is an art which simultaneously amazes and teaches, apart from making science popular among masses. However, the grim reality of our nation is that the magics which are possible only because of science become the reason for distancing masses from it.

The phenomenon exhibited using scientific principles are sold in the name of miracles, thus creating numerous godmen (prefer not to capitalize as I believe their acts are nothing but science) in our country. The very same acts, which could have connected and created awareness about science, form the foundation of superstitions.

Superstition is fossilised, pious ignorance of gullible pious people that assures them emotional protection, but at the same time promotes their exploitation. It is true that a large chunk of their followers are illiterate and disconnected from science, other than being poor and needy of basic needs of life which such godmen provide. Nonetheless, their popularity and blind faith in them cross beyond extreme because of few well known personalities becoming their followers. Discussion of various facets of godmen is another article; only thing emphasized here is that the miracles which give them God like status is all about science, whether it is appearance of anyone at stage or producing ash from the air.

For a country like ours where miracles are really a part of common psychology, be it popular television drama like Chandrakanta or drinking of milk by idols incident, the scientific temperament is always thought as distant dream.

The time for action is now due to the increasing availability of new technologies, cheaper internet access, and spectacular growth in mobile penetration. The areas to be reached by science and technology must be broadened to integrate formal education and communication with informal efforts in both fields, academic discourse with colloquial language, and laboratory materials with domestic objects and ordinary daily achievements. It is also essential to make scientific and technological knowledge available to the ordinary citizen, in order to allow him or her to form opinions on such matters that can form part of daily conversations in the same way as politics and sport.

The popularization of science and technology must contribute to the difficult task of separating transcendental knowledge and information from that which is banal, superficial, ephemeral or unnecessary. In the words of Groucho Marx –“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere,” nothing else.

Postdoctoral Fellow
Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland

Dr. Siddharth Suman is a freelancer writing especially on societal issues, science, and education in both Hindi and English for various online media houses. In addition, he loves to write poetry and short story for the expression of personal emotions and thoughts. His poetry book titled 'Evaporating Soul — between love and life' may be read at Kindle.


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