Why Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s concept of ‘scientific temper’ is very critical to the future of our children?

The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.
Jawaharlal Nehru

Nehru’s birthday, November 14, as we all know, is celebrated as Children’s Day every year in India. On this occasion, it is appropriate to pay tribute to a formative leader of India who illuminated a lot during his lifetime and beyond. Through his intellectual legacy, he continues until this day to guide India on the path of liberal democracy. His vision of India was that of a secular and modern nation. A flamboyant personality and yet a clear thinker, he held his own during much of the freedom struggle.

Nehru led from the front, expressing his positions during the course of various constitutional, political and other debates in the colonial period thereby indelibly stamping free India-to-come with his vision. He became India’s first Prime Minister and held that post for almost 17 years. He has been described severally as architect of modern India, world statesman and great administrator.

In the days that freedom fighters were incarcerated, many of them took to writing. Nehru showed his capacity as a historian of the first order, even though his own first degree at Trinity College, Cambridge, England was in the natural sciences. The strength of his scholarship lingers on in the form of the ‘Discovery of India’, ‘Glimpses of World History’ and ‘An Autobiography.’ It is difficult to condense the thought of such a complex body of work in such a short space. In this post, I choose to focus on the concept of “scientific temper” that was very dear to Nehru. He considered science to be rational, universal and inspired by the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment.

This was not to be mistaken with scientific expertise or building resources in science and technology, the latter having been pursued in different ways. For Nehru, who was an agnostic, science had multiple functions to perform: not only was it an instrument to solve the economic problems of a developing society like ours, it also had to make India a strong and self-reliant country with scientists competent to hold their own in the world scientific community. Part of this policy was the building of top-notch scientific educational and research institutions that Nehru promoted like the IIT’s, CSIR, ICMR, ICAR,  and, aided by business houses, institutions like the IISc and the TIFR.

While many celebrate the fact today that its India’s large pool of managerial and scientific manpower that is winning accolades worldwide and also bringing in the moolah, very few acknowledge that it was Nehru’s educational and scientific policies that made possible such an achievement including the Indian “IT revolution” [R. Guha, p. 1962]. That makes him a great visionary who though much derided for his economic policies could peep into the future and build the foundation for the Knowledge-based Economy (KBE) that we are all busy celebrating as the current and future source of wealth-generation.

What was important to Nehru was not just the change in the mere economic status of his country but also a change in the attitudes or the narrow-mindedness of its citizens. He said, “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. . . . Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid.”

But what did he mean by scientific temper? Srirupa Roy in her book “Beyond belief: India and the politics of postcolonial nationalism” notes that Nehru’s emphasis on the need for scientific temper predated independence (p.123). The features of scientific temper were mainly two-fold as Roy elaborates:

1. Scientific temper referred to a mentality or an outlook rather than a specialized body of knowledge. It addressed itself to universalist concerns of “values of life” rather than to narrow and specialized questions of scientific research and application (Roy, p.124)

2. Unlike scientific expertise alone, the project of scientific temper was a call for the diffusion of “science mindedness” throughout the population. The growth of scientific temper was measured by the extent to which ordinary people were using the methods of science to life’s problems (Roy, p.125)

Clearly what the above meant was that science would not just play a role in building scientific expertise but also help reject superstition, prejudice and injustice As Prof. Yashpal has noted, “science will also have to come forward in changing our thoughts and eradicating various social evils, including casteism, extremism…”(Times of India, 16th May 2005). India, in Nehru’s vision, could become a great country if the people adopted such a ‘scientific temper.’ Nehru pointed to the contradictions in the lives of scientists themselves who uphold science in the laboratories but discard science in everything else they do in their life.

Beyond Nehru’s lifetime, the propagation of the concept of ‘scientific temper’ was negligible and became reduced to a debate among intellectuals of various hues. As part of the 42nd amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1976, ‘scientific temper’ joined the list of Fundamental Duties of every Indian citizen vide Part IV-A, Article 51-A (h): ‘to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.’

A group of intellectuals led by P. N. Haksar released a “Statement on Scientific Temper” in October 1980. It has on and off been noticed at the highest levels of governance as a concept bearing great transformative potential. In his first Independence Day address to the nation from the Red Fort in 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also called for the promotion of scientific temper, which he added must become a “national movement” and not a prisoner of bureaucracy or ideology.

A full and proper assessment of the impact of ‘scientific temper’ in the 62 years since independence is yet to be made. There is countervailing data that superstition, occult, irrationality, prejudice, gender inequality and injustices are very resilient in Indian private and public life, in other words, the idea of ‘scientific temper’ has not sufficiently penetrated Indian society. These days, because of the electronic media, news travels faster and there is greater awareness of these issues. A positive fallout of such media analysis and debates might be greater skepticism of superstitions and their peddlers. A moot point for research could be the ways in which the concept has panned out in the context of urbanization.

In the final analysis, to do justice to Nehru’s vision for India, ‘scientific temper could be a useful concept in ‘deschooling’ our society from received wisdom about obscurantist and superstitious practices that it is led to believe is in its interest. Scientific temper has to be an essential component of the socialization of our populace and needs to be promoted as an integral approach to nation-building. If that succeeds, then there can be no greater tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru and the millions of children who form the destiny of our nation.


1. R. Guha, ‘Verdicts on Nehru’, Economic and Political Weekly, May 7, 2005.
2. Srirupa Roy, “Beyond belief: India and the politics of postcolonial nationalism”(Duke University Press, USA: 2007).

***An important recent contribution to the discussion on scientific temper is Prof. Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian : Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity (Penguin, 2006).
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  1. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 14, 2009, 5:12 pm:

    Excellent post Abdul. You are right, people that pin every malaise that ails our country on Nehru, don’t bother to give him the credit for creating the higher education system which has become the backbone of the IT Industry which in turn has become the cornerstone of India’s economy.

    I didn’t realize Scientific Temper is a fundamental duty. That is very interesting.

    What do you think we should do to spread Scientific Temper? Why is our education system not spreading Scientific Temper?

  2. Quote

    Thanks Sukumar for your kind words. What needs to be done to spread scientific temper is a bigger question.

    For the moment, if one were to reflect on why the education system is not spreading scientific temper, there are several reasons, some of which are:

    lack of awareness and insufficient publicizing among educational administrators about the value of scientific temper;

    the differentiation yet to have taken place between practices that need to be supported and those that need to be avoided (e.g. a child from an upper strata family being told not to play with “dark-skinned” children); and

    finally, conflicting messages between parents and teachers to the child as to acceptable and approved forms of conduct.

  3. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 14, 2009, 6:18 pm:

    thanks Abdul. i guess it is a complex problem.

  4. Quote

    Thanks Sukumar. It is not only complex but also contentious and insufficiently understood.

  5. Quote

    Abdul, This is a great post. In my opinion, Scientific Temper can be delinked with education and if learned can improve human life multi-fold. In today’s economy, Agriculture is fading and loosing its charm. We need a special focus on Agri, enabling the farmers with Scientific Temper, may revolutionize this field.

  6. Quote

    Great Article Abdul!! It is a time to acknowledge Nehru’s thoughts and his vision…..

  7. Quote

    Thanks Darshan. Well-said!

  8. Quote
    Narayanan said November 15, 2009, 7:20 pm:

    I agree with Sukumar, an excellent post. This is amazing and relevant to the times we are in.

    To start with I feel in present times we are stuck with two trends of thoughts; one based on beliefs; an unquestioned & unqualified acceptance of authority, and the other based on science which is, the right to question and the commitment to form one’s opinion based on the evidence\data.

    So one way to spread the acceptance; and if I may say so, ‘Promotion of Scientific temper’ would be focusing on the “Art of asking questions”.

    Today’s education system lacks largely in this. The availability of a huge repository of answers’ “ The Worldwide Web” to be precise ensure most of the education is a cut and paste operation rather than answers formed based on one’s decisions, within a framework of objectivity, reason and rationality.

    So one starting point could be answering questions’ when posed; encouraging healthy debates, not belittle any thought\question thereby encourages the community to ask questions.

    But true it is complex and a continuous process and needs Leaders with a vision, starting from the Home and the various Schools of Education.

    Finally if we all shed the rigid and intolerant approach to any thought, event, ideas and accept a more tolerant and objective approach to life we will have started on our first steps towards the spread of Scientific Temper.

  9. Quote

    Abdul, When I read Discovery Of India, I never realized that Jawaharlal Nehru was a Natural Sciences student. Amazing. Nehru is a mystery for me even today. He is full of paradoxes and sounds very original.

    Coming to the current post – just like Sukumar I was surprised that it is a fundamental duty. Our educational system is very rigid with very less % for exploration. May be ravamping to make 50% on practicals could be a good idea.

  10. Quote


    Good one. I interpret “scientific temper” as the basic way we look at life with a scientific perspective. Rather than science as a tool to get admission to a good college or get a good job.

    However our education system is not equipped to teach “life-skills”.

    But I request patience, there are changes happening in the education system. some evidences
    1.The public exams have been moved to only 12th standard. This will help children understand and study.
    2.The evalution methods of children have also been changed. The total marks is split for other thing mentioned below other than just marks.
    * How good is the student in answering questions?
    * How good is the student in doing his projects?
    * How good is the student in asking questions in the class?
    * How good is the student’s behaviour towards fellow students/teachers?

    Interesting evalaution perspective than just written answers. However I am worried if the teachers are skilled currently to do all the above with being biased. There is a lot of subjectivity. Classical HR type of issue here.

    FANTASY – “If only I could witch the salaried of IT professionals with teachers with a magic wand”. :-) :-)

  11. Quote
    surendar (subscribed) said November 16, 2009, 3:51 pm:

    ‘m curious to know what he meant by scientific temper? did Nehru feel that all Indians should be agnostics

  12. Quote
    Paromita (subscribed) said November 16, 2009, 4:35 pm:

    Hi Abdul,

    Finally, I do get a topic where I can put in my comments and two cents of knowledge…. :) not so much about Nehru though… but on the changes in the education system which is perhaps going to conform to your “scientific temper” in the mind of today’s children and tomorrow’s thinking nation!.

    Slowly but surely schools are changing their streotypical ways of teaching through a chalk & duster. Today teachers are in fact being trainied to use the computer and advanced technologies which in eductaional terminology we say ‘Technology Aided Learining (TAL)’. “ICT in education” indeed is a very positive step towards inculcating “sientific temper”.

    Today, most of the schools are adapting the ‘learning by doing’ concepts thats why no subjetcs are taught in the classrooms but topics are….say for example, “water cycle” is chosen as a typical topic for a month and all the subject teachers will teach only keeping in mind the topic…so typically a science teacher may teach the science of water cycle but at the same time the english language teacher will only teach the stroies, essays and poetries related to the topic. Infact, students are encouraged to write stories and poems, etc….Thus, the outcome is students are more participatory and learning becomes only natural.

    Well without further digressing, I would like to sum up that this new way of teaching and learining actually helps in better learning and knowlegde dissemination as students become more logical and rational…which perhaphs is the first baby step towards developing “scientific temper” as an attitude!

  13. Quote

    Thanks Yoosuf. What you are saying is very crucial to also look at the experience of scientific temper beyond the educational process and not to lock it within that.

    As far as agriculture is concerned, day in and day out, we are witness to several kinds of reports telling us about what is happenning in the fields and subsequently the markets whether it is rice/wheat production, vegetables and so on. You have emphasized a fundamental and revolutionary thought there in as much if the Indian farmer is more empowered with scientific temper, then we may have great results in rural India. This is where one might just say Gandhi and Nehru meet in their vision!

  14. Quote

    Great comment PGN. Thanks. The art of asking questions, sounding irreverent to existing forms of knowledge (not even authority) and challenging received wisdom as you have so nicely put:

    “Finally if we all shed the rigid and intolerant approach to any thought, event, ideas and accept a more tolerant and objective approach to life we will have started on our first steps towards the spread of Scientific Temper.”

    I could not help paraphrase that again as you have expressed it so well. This is at the core of liberal democracy and secular modernity that Nehru valued so much.

  15. Quote

    Thanks Vamsi. Nehru was indeed very original. Besides the three books that I mentioned authored by him, there are also collected works published of his letters and other writings.

    Definitely, more time needs to be given to our schoolchildren to explore knowledge outside the straitjacketed exam and curricula system.

  16. Quote

    Thanks Kumaran for your detailed comment with the diverse possibilities of evaluation. Indeed, a critical factor is enhancing the compensation and benefits for teachers to attract creative and novel talent to the profession.

  17. Quote

    Thanks Surendar for that incisive question.

    Nehru chose agnosticism as his personal choice. Far from wanting that to be the choice of all Indians, he was deeply aware of the spiritual and religious character of the nation, from none other than his master, Mahatma Gandhi. Also, if you look at Articles 25 to 28, Right to Freedom of Religion was enshrined as a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution and he was very much part of the process that defined these rights in the Constituent Assembly.

    What he did not want was superstition, ‘deadening customs’ (as he called them), prejudice and injustice to come in the way of the development of his motherland, this included social evils such as casteism, extremism, intolerance and so on.

    So, to answer your question he was fully aware of religion, religious rituals and spirituality but he knew the problem that he was referring to lay elsewhere for which ‘scientific temper’ was a solution.

  18. Quote

    I should say, its yet another personification post. I have a doubt, if personification is part of the scientific temper. :)

    And is there anything “Nehru’s concept of Scientific Temper”? i am amused this very statement, because in my understanding, scientific temper is a generic concept, used for training minds for rational analysis.

  19. Quote


    Just a small correction to your comment “Thanks Kumaran for your detailed comment with the diverse possibilities of evaluation.”

    What I listed are not possibilities but actually implementations in PSBB as of today. :-) :-)

  20. Quote

    Excellent and erudite post. Thanks for sharing this. As I said before, we couldn’t comprehend the leader’s visions upfront, what ever they do would yield a good result in future. My believe is, India “Science Temper” not flourish as one expected because of overwhelming conservative and superstitious nature of people. Most of the time I used to fail with my argument which supports scientific with my friends and relatives back in India. A classmate of mine who is Doctor now, he knew the entire +2 books by heart and if you ask the content from any page by number, he used to tell the content. Now he is treating patience by saying “believe in god, you will be alright” I doubt he knows all latest science developments, he used to donate 10% of his income to Tirupathi. This is a simple metaphor of well “educated” Indians also. I’m not blaming him nor god, we are very emotional and highly illogical to believe all and goes by heart all the time and do not use brain.

  21. Quote

    I would like to separate this post in to two entities for further discussion.

    1. The need of scientific temper, for the children of india
    2. Jawaharlal Nehru

    In my opinion, both the above two points are unrelated, because, if Nehru is supposed to have the scientific temper as projected in this post, india would have not been suffering much of its problems, right from kashmir to tibetan problem to the poverty and corruption.

    When I read the true accounts of nehru’s legacy, without any hero worship, nor the personified history of his biographers, there is every reason for me to doubt, if Nehru indeed had the kind of grey matter inside his head, that is needed for scientific temper :) (atleast, we may want to know if any post mortem is done on his head to find if any such existed :) )

    Fine.. more about Nehru later.. I will first pick on the scientific temper..

  22. Quote

    While dealing with concepts like scientific reasoning or temper, we have to first realise that science has so far NOT able to reason out the human intelligence. Nor science could explain many of the physical features of this world, for example, the magnetism.

    But many of the persons, often lock themselves under scientific perception, and call everything else as superstition and ridicule them.

    Such extreme stance is to be avoided..

    Scientific temper as a concept, should be a tool to open up human mind, rather than lock itself within a narrow perception of “I will accept only when proved” ..

    More over, science deals with properties and behaviour of elements in this world, which are constant, (as per human perception). But what about the reasoning, logic and analysis, which entirely depends on a different but virtual plane called human intelligence?

  23. Quote

    Scientific temper is based upon discussion, arguments and logical analysis.. In that aspect, i should say, such temper existed during vedic era itself.

    We had a separate field called “Dharga shastram”, which means the field of argumentation. Although, we cannot equate those things with present science, they are very well based upon the sciences of prevailing at those times.

  24. Quote

    And finally, how can we apply scientific temper, to human relations, societal relations, and the associated culture? Scientific temper, relies on universal theories or values, but can we apply a universal law to all humans of a country?
    For example, how do the cultures relate to scientific temper?

    The reason for today’s state of education in india is because, it has been a system of producing clerks for britishers, which unfortunately Nehru did not do anything at that time. Any education system, which trains students to think, understand and analyse, could be the one, which can promote scientific temper. None of the governments in india, had ever done that. The last NDA government under vajpayee, attempted few reforms, but that was only a starting.

    What should we do to make students to think?

    * First we need to eradicate the system of mark and exam based evaluation. To memorize and write up in exams is as worse as not studying at all.

    * The education should be linked up to societal needs and industrial needs. The student should spend time with real life problems and learn from there. Only when anyone faces real life situations, they put all their senses, in dealing with that situation and learn from it.

    * The 12 years of education should be done away and skill based training should be give, beyond certain limit, like for example, when a student completes 5th std, he should switch over to skill based training.

    * No education system can function properly, without a proper teachers. Teachers should be first trained to think and analyse. For that, they should also be linked to real time requirements of the societies and industries.

    In short, the current education system (including engineering courses) is nothing but a propoganda machinery. We need to first stop that at any cost.

  25. Quote

    I also oppose the author calling the practices of our society as superstitions, eventhough she doesnt mention anything particular.

    We have no business in interfering with the social practice.. we should only give education about science and implant skills to the people, so that they could survive. If we attempt to brand societal practices, then we are becoming intellectual aggressors.

    /** He said, “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people. . . . Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid.”

    Every nation had its own science. India too had. But Nehru had abandoned the indigenous knowledge, and allowed it to be lost out of neglection.

    For eradicating hunger and poverty, we have to produce more food, and feed people. For that we need not have rocket science. Rather, we need agricultural practices.

    India had an agricultural practices, that evolved around 5000 years old, and a highly diverse agricultural practice according to vast and distributed climatic and regional characteristics. All those knowledge was lost, by the blunderous policies of Nehru. the indigenous medical knowledge, the indigenous agriculture..

    The native kings of the pre-independant india had established vast networks of canals, and water channels, to support agriculture even in interior lands. But during british rule, these infrastructures were not maintained properly. But after independance, Nehru’s continous neglect of rural infrastructure, had collapsed the agriculture, and created poverty . Then again without any thought of own, the american expertise was sought, which again introduced artificial, unhealthy and infact cruel agricultural practices, that further weakened the system.

    Its not just science.. but the society, the associated culture, and the relative work ethics, social stability and cohesion, all are factors for eradicating poverty.. Science along cannot eradicate poverty..

    Atleast, we have to think practically, rather than illusionary speeches of nehru.. and by quoting his speech here, i can only say, nehru’s ignorance is reporduced here..

    Science is a continuous process. It has to enhance what is already existing. But, if we see the past 60 years after freedom, we find that all knowledge we possessed has been erased, because of the Nehru’s blind westernised policies, which later became socialistic ones.

    To give a best analogy, the garland of india, was given to a monkey, to be torn to pieces.

  26. Quote

    Thanks Subba for your kind words. As you can see from one of my other comments above, religion and spirituality per se do not come in the way of scientific temper but other factors discussed in my post.

  27. Quote

    IF we review the history of India, and particular the sequence of events just before and after independance, we will find that Nehru himself had not applied any scientific temper to many of india’s problem.. I will list out my points below.

    * Nehru’s candidature as first PM, was opposed by all congress cabinet members. But because of gandhi’s intervention, nehru was imposed on india. Thus, the very selection is undemocratic, illegitimate.

    * After Nehru became PM, he was of the view, that india doesnt need an army, as we have got independance. Thanks to pakistan war, the army was not disbanded at that time. But his neglect for indian army continued till china gave a severe blow to us during 1962.

    Readers of this post should think over, what kind of scientific temper, was this, for a national PM, to think, his country doesnt need an army..

    *During India Pakistan War, indian army drove away the invaders, and when we are within one week of fully recovering our territory, Nehru took this issue to UN, amid strong opposition from cabinet and indian army. As per many accounts (and news reports), Nehru’s illicit affair over Edwina, was being used by Mountbatten to persuade him to take the case to UN, and through this, enabling UK and US a hold over india, for decades to come.

    Again, the supporters of Nehru has to think over, what kind of scientific temper is to voluntarily bring in third party, when we are at the verge of winning.

    * Through out his life, Nehru considered congress and India as his personal property. He gave away the rights of india over tibet to China, almost without any returns or benefit, except for Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai.
    When china encroached parts of Ladakh area, he answered in parliament, that those area were not suited for habitation, and hence we need not worry over the loss.

    Later, nehru realised his illusion over china, and all of a sudden, ordered the army to throw away chinese in the frontier posts, without ever thinking about logistics and current army capacity.
    He never upgraded army infrastructure, nor strengthened it, from independence till 1962. After weakening the army through his neglection, he suddenly forced a war on it, causing immense loss to the army personnel life.

    * What kind of temper is this, for a PM of india, to have illicit affair with a foreign lady, that too a wife of another man, and mortgage india’s interest for his illicit love? Nehru has sent a warship, to mourn for the death of edwina.

    * Nehru is the last english man, as per his own account. Thus, Indians were thrust upon a leader, who never understood their culture, nor respected them, thus virtually being a slave to an brown britisher, even after independance.

    * Nehru is being credited for establishing IIT. I ask this question. Suppose if Patel was the PM, wont he started even better universities for India?
    Also, every country, establishes the university to help their own society and industries. Do any one have any account of how much the IIT’s had helped for the indian society or the indian university?
    For few decades, all those who passed out of IIT flocked to Foreign countries to have their own career. Thus, IIT became a subsidised institution, for people to get free education and serve foreign countries. A subsidy at the cost of Indian public, to create talents for the foreign firms.

  28. Quote

    when Nehru was to be accountable for so much of india’s mess, is it a kind of scientific temper, where the indian elites and intellgentia, unanimously absolved him from all of india’s problems?

    Are Nehru, not responsible for the loss of so much of indian army men’s lives, because of his bad decisions? Should we not hold him responsible for voluntarily giving away Tibet, just like giving his own property?

    Has the scientific temper of the indian elites, ever questioned the very high handed and undemocratic attitude of Nehru, in almost all the decisions he made?

  29. Quote

    This post starts by quoting the Nehru’s birthday as Children’s day. However, as per the book “Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate” by Walter Crocker , Nehru’s fond for children is a stage managed act, which the author himself had witnessed.

    The author quotes as below.

    “Nehru certainly did some acting on public occasions and before TV cameras… The acting was never worse than the pose of Chacha Nehru with the children. This was at its worst on his birthday for a few years when sycophants organised groups of children, with flowers and copious photographing, to parade with him. It was out of character; his interest in children was slender.”

  30. Quote


    I understand your problem with personification with individuals like Nehru/Gandhi.

    But the following points you need to consider
    1. Any post made here is read by fairly balanced headed individuals so , you need not worry they getting carried away. These are not innocent common people who will cast their vote for briyani or a Rs.500 .
    2. In all posts look for the theme and please comment on the theme. For example in this post the theme is “Scientific temper” or in my previous post it was “Ahimsa”.
    3.Please ignore the person who quoted the theme, it is really irrelevant.
    4.To me any message is delivered by some messenger. Dont waste your bullets shooting the messenger. My previous post’s theme was Ahimsa , but the comments got diverted to a discussion on “Gandhi”.
    5.Last but not the least, there is no point in invalidating a theme or concept just because the person who told that did not believe in it or practice it or personally he was bad. ABSOLUTELY IRRELEVANT. This is not a court you show a person’s character to be bad to invalidate this thoughts/ideas. We should be above that ideas/thoughts/concepts should be treated impersonally and professionally.

    Please ignore the person. Only comment on the theme on the post. Comments on Nehru in this post maybe true but “IRRELEVANT” to this context.

  31. Quote

    Good one Kumaran. Senthil, please follow Kumaran’s guidelines when you respond to posts.

  32. Quote


    When i started commenting, i clearly separated the message and messenger. I wholeheartedly welcome the concept of “Scientific Temper” for further discussion. At the same time, we have to note that, the focus on the so called messenger is more than the focus on the message.

    I have to shoot the messenger, because i wanted to liberate the message from the prison of the messenger. :) (whether its nehru or gandhi as in your previous post). I pointed out, how even the so called messenger did not follow the message that was said to be championed by them.

    I agree with you on focussing on the theme, but please consider the very title of this post.. “Nehru’s concept of Scientific Temper”. Does it not give importance to nehru rather than the scientific temper?

    I would value “Abdul Fakhri’s vision of scientific temper for modern india” very much, because, as a reader, i can discuss with the originator of the ideas. Abdul can further explain her vision, and such discussion would be a dynamic one.

    But, when we say “Nehru’s concept of scientific temper”, it becomes just an information by abdul. If i disagree with nehru’s concept, I can only talk to Nehru’s ghost :) ..

    I dont want to ghostification of ideas :) :)

  33. Quote

    Btw, is NOT the concept of messenger, against the spirit of scientific temper? The concept of messenger implies that only one person is intelligent enough to give message and all others should only follow it. This will create an atmosphere where we are pushed to either supporting or opposing or praising the messenger for the message, rather than discussing the message w.r.t practical situation.

  34. Quote

    If scientific temper is supposed to eradicate casteism, and communalism, how is that many of the european scientists were racist during 18th and 19th century, and continues even till today (eg: australia)?

    Today’s science evolved from european institutions, and most importantly triggered by industrial revolution. Scientific research kickstarted and gained momentum right from 17th century. But, racism was prevalent in among european scientists, that they tried to scuttle major inventions of indian scientists. Eg: J.C. Bose’s invention was scuttled by italian scientists.

    So the question arises, how far would scientific temper alone help the society?

  35. Quote

    Response to following comment of abdul..
    /** You have emphasized a fundamental and revolutionary thought there in as much if the Indian farmer is more empowered with scientific temper, then we may have great results in rural India.

    Actually, the indian farmers have that scientific temper. They are quick to adapt any scientific progress available. But its the government, which had failed miserably in providing the necessary support for the farmers.

    Inspite of lack of government support, the indian farmers have adopted electric pumpsets, tractors, tillers, and during 1990’s, they had even adopted “Bio Gas” production from cow dung. PVC pipes were utilised to plan their irrigation supply to lands distant from the wells. They utilised borewells to bring out water from interior areas.

    Today, the farmers had adopted various irrigation techniques like drip irrigation, sprinkler, rain gun etc. Shading nets are used in many places to grow vegetables in offseason times.

    But the problem is that both the agri department and the agri universities, who are supposed to provide support and guidance to farmers, are lethargic, and corrupted. What could a farmer do, in such situations?

    For the country with 60% of population in agriculture, there are only few agri universities. In tamilnadu, there are more than 300 engg colleges to supply work force for IT, but only 4 agri universities, to support half the population who are in farming.
    A grave injustice because of anti-agrarian mindset, initiated by Nehru, and continued by successive governments.

    Before we suggest or comment anything on farmers, the urbanites and indian elites have to realise that they have cornered much of the resources for themselves, by depriving the large section of farmers.

    Even today, 10,000 crores are earmarked for Metro rail alone in chennai. But only negligible funds for agriculture.

  36. Quote


    /* But, when we say “Nehru’s concept of scientific temper”, it becomes just an information by abdul. If i disagree with nehru’s concept, I can only talk to Nehru’s ghost .. */
    I understand your concern about the live below. But this is valid only if the person who is writing the post absolves himself of the theme. I doubt if that would be the case. All posters will explain and defend the theme.

    Let us hit the specifc case of a writer of a post says -“I am not sure XYX said that and I quoted it. Dont ask me defend it”. When this happens, I will support you on “shooting the messenger” :-)

    But when we quote people who said, it is also to give proper acknowledgement/context. Even Buddha/Mahavir talked about Ahimsa. In my post teh reference to Gandhi is just a contectual information.

    But only the THEME is important. Look forwward to your comments on the theme.

  37. Quote

    Thanks Paromita for sharing information about the innovative and participatory methods of education that are being promoted. ‘Learning by doing’ method sounds great and hopefully all this will contribute to a greater scientific temper.

  38. Quote

    Thanks kumaran.. I will leave the messenger and move to the theme..

    I would like to your views on racism existing among scientists.. how is abdul’s claim that scientific temper will solve casteist problem be practical, when the same could not abolish racism for the past 3 centuries..

  39. Quote


    Racism definitely exists among scientitsts. I know close friends of mine who work facing this. But it comes down. If you are asking me has it helped, it would be univocal “Yes”. There is lesser racism among scientists than maybe a common profession like banking or even IT for that matter. If you work in a MNC this is visible under the covers. But the % varies from company to company but it is there.

    Having said the above, I think racism will exist in one form or other as long as humanity is there. I see new races called “managers”, “execs with MBA”, “architects” evolving. So there is no end to it as somehow race also get connected to waht people identify themselves as. A perspective of someoneth a MBA is never the same as one without a MBA in a corporate board room.

    But I do believe that practising more of “scientific temper” will help keep racism in check but I dont believe it can be removed. In a utopian world all humans will treat others equally. I dont even dream of that happening when “stone dunk”. :-) :-)

  40. Quote

    So in that case, can we come to a conclusion that scientific temper alone cannot solve social issues? Science deals with materialistic physical properties. Scientific temper will help us to understand those physical characteristics of materials around us, and also in the universe.

    But racism, casteism, communalism, untouchability, slavery all are humane problem, and are strongly connected with human minds.. Not just one mind, but collective mind of the society.. Mind is not a physical entity, and so as the other emotions. Also the intelligence is not a physical entity.

    So, when we are dealing with society, we have to deal with inter-human relations, and the collective psyche of the community or society. Society comprises of relations and relatives not just among individuals but among communities and clans, which again is not a physical entity. I feel, the intellectuals and social thinkers do not recognise this angle.

    I would like to know if you agree with me on the above. If so, then what else is needed for solving social problems?

  41. Quote

    /** Having said the above, I think racism will exist in one form or other as long as humanity is there. I see new races called “managers”, “execs with MBA”, “architects” evolving.

    Very practical comment Kumaran.. Its same with castes too.. Even if we destroy all castes today, a new set of castes will emerge. That’s the reality. Do we accept that too.. (I am not starting another caste debate here.. just linking your point with mine :) )

  42. Quote

    Racism exists amongst Scientists, ergo Scientific Temper cannot solve social issues? – What type of logic is this? It is like saying – even with all the police force, we have crimes, so let us get rid of the police.

    New types of castes like MBAs, engineers are coming up, so it is okay to have the caste system – another piece of wierd logic.

    A caste system determined by birth and a caste system that enforces a rigid pecking order is what we are objecting to. The only way it will go is by inculcating Scientific Temper.

    If you have some other methods of eliminating these archaic and harmful practices, please write a post on your blog on how you will do it.

  43. Quote

    /** Racism exists amongst Scientists, ergo Scientific Temper cannot solve social issues? – What type of logic is this? It is like saying – even with all the police force, we have crimes, so let us get rid of the police.


    Do you feel police force alone prevents crime in a society?

  44. Quote

    I gave an example to explain why your logic is faulty. Do you agree that your logic is faulty? Whether police alone can prevent crime, is not a point we are arguing in this post.

    Please come back with valid logical arguments, if you can. First, you try to slander Nehru. Next you write some comment with faulty logic. Why don’t you spend some time, think through what you are trying to say and then say it. I have even offered to publish your post on this blog, if you can write either a well-researched post or a well-thought out post on these topics with which you don’t seem to agree with us at all.

  45. Quote


    I dont understand how my logic is faulty.. Infact i have explained my point in detail in my previous comment.

    On your example of police and crime, its a question to ponder over, why crimes exist inspite of police force.. Similarly, we have to analyse why racism existed among scientist, who are supposed to have highest amount of scientific temper.. I would like to know if there is any answer/explanation available to the above question.. Its very important, since abdul says scientific temper will unleash changes in society thus solving all problems, which i feel is not possible..

  46. Quote


    The point I was trying to make is that “scientific temper” is one of the tools used to control the human psyche and it’s fallacies.

    It is very much needed to handle human mind’s confusions but the other point was it is not a magic wand which will make all our problems go away.

    As life evolves we solve some problems. Some of these solution create other problems which we need to solve. Sometimes the progress we make creates awareness of more problems. So is a continous cycle of improvement mankind goes thorugh. “Scientific temper” is one tool use in the above process and it will go on and on.

  47. Quote


    First time I have heard the term “scientific temper”. I struggled a bit to understand what scientific temper was and how it could help us as a society. The definition in wikipedia nailed it for me – “Scientific temper describes an attitude which involves the application of logic and the avoidance of bias and preconceived notions. ” Application of logic is inherently scientific in that it is left brained. But the concepts of avoiding bias and preconceived notions was what hit the nerve.

    Now, if we can take those pieces – avoiding bias and preconceived notions – and inculcate the concepts right from childhood, that would be great. And I see that described in various comments.

    Beyond that how can we take these biases and shoot them down via science? Can each bias be picked apart using science and logic as the tools? It is not just enough that our education system changes to accommodate this. Parents need to be forced into this as well. Perhaps the current technology driven openness can be leveraged for this.

    Nice post Abdul.

  48. Quote

    Thanks Ganesh for your kind words.

    You have almost sought to figure it out from its first principles except that the material at your hand was woefully inadequate: the Wikipedia definition for scientific temper is barely a couple of lines.

    When you have time at your hands, I suggest the Amartya Sen book in my list of references at the end of the post.

    Regardless of the ill-informed critics of Panditji, please be assured that the last word on scientific temper has not been said yet. History has, does and shall continue to bear witness.

  49. Quote

    Superb comment Ganesh. You nailed it.

  50. Quote


    I agree with you. Only thing is that i want comprehensive view of the concepts, and NOT exclusiveness of the ideas. In that case, the following combination will be an effective tools box..

    Scientific Temper + Moral Temper + Emotional Quotient + culture => Stable society

    We are finding that even underworld dons Use scientific temper to deal with their business. So as the big criminals and frauds..

    Scientific Temper without morality will not give any positive result.. Since we all posses the moral aspect implicit by our culture, we are not realising it..

  51. Quote

    /** Beyond that how can we take these biases and shoot them down via science? Can each bias be picked apart using science and logic as the tools? It is not just enough that our education system changes to accommodate this. Parents need to be forced into this as well.

    Before we can force parents, we need to introspect ourselves.. how many of us can claim to be completely free from bias? If there is bias, how much are we biased, and in what way?

  52. Quote


    Will certainly give Amartya Sen’s book a read. As inadequate as wikipedia might have been, I think it gave me a foundation to start. Sometimes a single line definition gives the kick that is needed (at least for me) rather than a dissertation. Please do let me know if the definition in wikipedia itself was wrong.

    And about Panditji, I frankly and abashedly have to admit that I do not know enough about him to be a critic. But, I know just enough to salute him for his contributions to India.

  53. Quote
    pk.karthik said November 25, 2009, 1:52 am:


    Excellant post on scientific temper.I am total agree about inculcating this into our education system.

    I do have a difference of opionion about Nehru being instrumental in brinning this into our system.We Indians have been having it all along for generations , but religion and superstion played a havoc for past few 100 years.

    In will be very difficult in a nation like India where religion takes a strong precedence over science,as the unknown and the unexplored are generally attributed to God.Only when we come out of this mind set can we really appreciate this concept.Relegion should be kept mutually exclusive to science.

  54. Quote

    Thanks Ganesh. The definition in Wikipedia was perfect for a start. I think with Sukumar that your analysis was superb using that bare definition.

    Its just that scientific temper in the context of Indian society is a big topic and hence needs some more reading material. Please see this link for a brief review of what Prof Amartya Sen’s book has to offer:

    Like you say its difficult to deny Nehru’s contributions to modern India. What is puzzling is the amazing resistance to give him his due.

    As Prof Sen shows we Indians may have demonstrated scientific temper over the ages but what is important is its translation, its interlocution, its popularization and making it as a part of State-thinking that Nehru achieved for scientific temper in independent India.

    Every concept in a particular epoch has a champion and scientific temper found Nehru as its champion in the nation-building exercise after 1947 to the point of its final inclusion in the Constitution in 1976.

  55. Quote

    Thanks Karthik for your kind words.

  56. Quote

    Great Post Abdul…Scientific Temper needs to be incorporated in young minds to change the world into a better planet…but again the work should start from grass root level i.e. from primary school level onwards. Unfortunately our education system is mark, rank and admission oriented and always the children are under immense competitive pressure to get high scores. This system clouds the childs thoughts and does no facilitate rational and logical thinking…

    Implemeting Scientific Temper calls for drastic educational and social reforms…

    I still remember,in his victory speech in 1999, the then PM AB Vajpayee emphasised the need for inclulcating ‘Scientific Temper’ in education in an implicit way through formulation of a plan based on the inculcating reasoning based study in all fields of education.

  57. Quote

    Thanks Deepak. Moving away from the rote and exam system is the first step. You have very aptly expressed it that the existing system ‘clouds the childs thoughts.’

    A first step probably lies at the levels at which we understand the educational process for what it seeks to help attain: data, information, knowledge and wisdom. Scientific temper works at the level of knowledge and wisdom.

    Most educational experience from you have stated in your comment is a mere attainment of data and information translated into skills to perform jobs competently. Attainment of knowledge and wisdom through a process of patient learning and questioning is an altogether different experience.

  58. Quote


    /** We Indians have been having it all along for generations , but religion and superstion played a havoc for past few 100 years **/

    What about other parts of the world? If the whole world had been enlightened with scientific temper, and if we had lagged, then what you are saying might be right. But, history shows, that galileo had been murdered by semitic religionist, just because he said something against what is said the books. Compared to that, in india, it had been an relatively open society.

    SO, where the havoc happened is important. Also, we should have comparative analysis, when we are dealing with history..

    /** In will be very difficult in a nation like India where religion takes a strong precedence over science,as the unknown and the unexplored are generally attributed to God.

    Can you cite examples, where in india religion took precedence over science ? Specifically for indic religions, science and religion are NOT much in contradictory. Religion starts where science ends.. and you have stated it, religious explanation are attributed where science fails to explain.

    Generally speaking, it is book based religions, that has major problems with science, because there is no mechanism to resolve when science contradicts with religions books, which is strictly followed. That’s why, when galileo said earth is round, the catholic church at that time could not tolerate and hence killed him.

  59. Quote


    /** Only when we come out of this mind set can we really appreciate this concept.Relegion should be kept mutually exclusive to science.

    almost all the scientists in india had been scientists and also religious. For example, the mathematician Ramanuja is said to be avid devotee of Laxmi Narasimhar, where he said that the devi would appear in his dreams and reveal the mathematic theorems.

    And J.C. Bose, who invented radio, also proved that Plants too have life, and he proved it. Prior to that, the europeans believed that plants are non living things. But Bose said that this is not his invention, but this knowledge is existing for thousands of years in indian civilization.

    I am sharing an interesting article in Nytimes, on how science and faith co-existed in the chandrayaan project..

    “Fly Me to the Deity”

    Although we talk a lot about scientific temper, we are hesitating to apply it for sensitive topics like religion..

    I also wonder, how abdul could keep religion away from scientific temper, while she conveniently brings in caste and other beliefs in to its purview.

  60. Quote
    pk.karthik said November 25, 2009, 10:13 pm:

    Senthil ,

    Answer to ur question 1 .Why not other parts of the world? I dont care about it really as ST is not a fundamental right there and it is not personally affecting me.But here in India its a fundamental right so I need to question religion and superstition here ( a beautiful aspect of Indian Democracy).

    You want me to cite examples :Here you go-Chicken Pox and Small pox being attributed to goddess and instead of trying to find a treatment we blamed a God for bringing it on us.But my question is why would any God be partial to these 2.I mean u have deadlier ones like Plague and so on.Now when a a guy called Edward Jenner questioned it we have accepted that Small Pox could be eradicated.Dont you think we should have “left ” it to God?

    I would like to counter yor Galileo argument with one simple reasoning .Just because Catholic Church does a stupidity ,doesnt mean Hindus should do the same.If we need to repeat all follies of the west then we should invade the world like Hitler.Do you think that it is feasible ,logically and reasonable.

  61. Quote


    My question#1 was raised, bcoz you have accused that indian religion and superstition played havoc for few centuries. ST is a fundamental right only from 1947, but that is a non-issue here. I am highlighting the point that, we are self-denigrating ourselves here.
    If you say, that i dont care about what happened in other parts of the world, but i would criticise myself for all mistakes, the its not a pragmatic stance.

    Next, let me come to chicken pox.. I dont know how you have taken treatment for it in your childhood. But i will explain, the treatment that is part of the religious practice here.

    1. First the patient is isolated and surrounded with neem leaves and turmeric water is sprayed.
    2. Till the chicken pox subsides, the patient is given only light food, like “Rice kanji”.
    3. To keep the body cool, tender coconut is given.
    4. Also, the mother’s gold chain, is worn by the patient.
    5. Within 4 days the diseases subsides, and the patient is asked to bath heavily, to cool down the body. This would continue for around 15 days.
    6. Slowly the heavy food is introduced to the patient.

    In case of small pox, there will be fluid filled blisters all over the body. In that case, a paste prepared using neem leaves, turmeric and castor seeds is applied over that.

    I do agree, that the chicken pox is attributed to goddess, but please tell me, if any of the above procedures is against scientific temper?

    I may tell a dozens of reasoning, why it is attributed to god.. but why anything related to god is always rejected as superstition? Till today, in rural areas, the chicken pox and small poxes are handled using the above procedures, along with faith in god..

    Now i am asking you, that does any one object when we explain them the scientific reasoning? Or do any one issue a decree against you for speaking against their beliefs?

    When science has not matured, they had a form of practices, to handle a disease, and associated it to god. Now no one objects to scientific reasoning of the same.. Then why we are ostracizing the rural beliefs?

    This is where i am dead against.. the intellectual denigration of the rural beliefs which we dont like.. I dont know about others, but i came from that part of life style, and what i am seeing from the intellectuals and urbanites are the utter contempt for the rural people and their practices.

    We need scientific temper, and its good to find scientific reasoning for many of the things, and it is also necessary to impart this scientific temper among our people.

    But why should make the rural society and their practices as the villain, for us to become the hero? Why cant we deal this positively, without denigrating anything else?

  62. Quote

    /** I would like to counter yor Galileo argument with one simple reasoning .Just because Catholic Church does a stupidity ,doesnt mean Hindus should do the same.If we need to repeat all follies of the west then we should invade the world like Hitler.Do you think that it is feasible ,logically and reasonable.

    Karthick.. You have understood my comment wrongly.. I did not say, we should follow what the catholic church did.. Rather, i highlighted this point, to convey the message that indian society or religion is relatively open than those western societies, and that we need not denigrate ourselves in an isolated manner.

    When we are judging about past history of india, we have to do it in a comparative and relativistic way and find whether we are better or worse than the rest of the world. There is no single place in this world, even today, that is all perfect, and we should not be idealistic.

  63. Quote


    Even today, there is no effective allopathic treatment for jaundice. There are only vaccines for hapatatis virus, but no curative one.

    People today look towards ayurvedic treatment for this, and its a working model in rural and semi rural areas.

  64. Quote

    Abdul’s quote of the online book review in The Hindu is excellent.. The review is very positive.

    I am reproducing a quote from the same review, which i feel it as important point of sen..

    Another insightful essay in the book is `The Reach of Reason.’ Western thought identifies reason with the age of enlightenment and that the ideas of individual liberty, democracy and ethics came into societal practice from that period. Western scholars identify these as `modern’ and tend to point out that these thoughts were introduced by them into the colonies. Sen slams this type of `Samuel Huntingtonism’ and points out how values such as rationalistic and liberal ideas, analytical scrutiny, open debate, political tolerance and agreement, rights and justice — and science — were part of the multicultural Indian tradition since the days of Ashoka, Tiruvalluvar, Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Madhwacharya, Nanak, Kabir, Akbar, Gandhi, Tagore and Nehru.

  65. Quote


    I think ST has been part of our cultural for quite some years. The famous Thiruvilayadal about “scent in a woman’s hair” is an example of that. Nakkeeran is a pure logic based guy, I am not telling this is true but the author had thought about this.

    On the other there are 2 issues

    Believers take a stance – “Every superstition/religous belief is the only way to do things”
    Non-Believers take a stance – “Every superstition/religous belief is the stupid and non-sense”

    As rationalilty demands I think ST should help our mind take a middle ground. “Non-stupid until proven” kind of argument.

  66. Quote


    Like the excerpt from your comment which I have copied below, there are several places in your comments in this post where you refer to me as “her/she.” This is not correct. Abdul is a man’s name.

    Extract from your comment: “I would value “Abdul Fakhri’s vision of scientific temper for modern india” very much, because, as a reader, i can discuss with the originator of the ideas. Abdul can further explain her vision, and such discussion would be a dynamic one.”

    Thanks for your extensive participation.

  67. Quote


    I am very sorry for this grave mistake.. I regret for this.. Dont know how i got your image as feminine.. I will correct myself..

  68. Quote


    I agree with you.. the subject of thiruvilayadal debate may be not important.. but the ample scope for debate allowed in indian society, on any topics, is demonstrated in that..

  69. Quote

    One more link, which would like to share here..


    Its book review on america’s healthcare.. The author T.R. Reid had experimented all medical treatments around the world to cure his shoulder pain..

    Where the america’s scientific allopathic system could not cure, india’s so called unscientific, superstitious ayurvedic medical system, cured it.. Interestingly, before starting the treatment, they looked in to Reid’s astrology to find if the treatment will work..

    More details in the above link..

  70. Quote

    It may be a surprise news for many.. ST is being implemented practically in gujarat..


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