Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society

Whenever scientists achieve a breakthrough in understanding the fundamental laws of nature, it is often accompanied by an age-old question: has science nailed its final nail on the coffin of religion? This debate was reignited in 2016 with the detection of gravitational waves.

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Merging of two black holes [Source: Wikimedia Commons]
On 11 February 2016, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) announced that the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) detectors in the US in Hanford, Washington and in Livingston, Louisiana had directly observed gravitational waves on 14 September 2015. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 on the basis of his theory of general relativity. These waves are ripples in space-time (space and time as a continuum of four dimensions) created by large cosmic events such as the merger of two massive black holes. The 2015 LIGO detection not only confirmed Einstein’s prediction but also strengthened the emerging field of gravitational-wave astronomy, allowing us to observe early cosmic processes, including events that immediately followed the Big Bang. Does the observation of gravitational waves have any significance for understanding the relation between scientific knowledge and religious faith? What are the societal implications for this never-ending debate? Continue reading “Revealing fact or reinforcing faith: Gravitational waves and religion in Indian society”

Our gift to Mother Earth: The Anthropocene

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Atomic bombing of Nagasaki [Image: Wikipedia Commons]
A friend recently had an uninvited guest visiting his car – a rat. Unfortunately, my friend came to know of the guest only after the visitor passed on to the netherworld when it got stuck with the wires in the car trunk, disrupting the car’s air-conditioning system. The departed visitor had gifted a bill of Rs. 5,000 to my friend towards restoring the car to its former glory.

To my surprise, my friend was not frustrated with the unwelcome rat. Rather, he felt remorse for having entered the rat’s ecosystem by purchasing a flat on the outskirts of Hyderabad. This part of the city was once part of a large wilderness, he said, and he wondered how much further damage his household had caused to the Earth’s once-pristine surroundings.

Not all of us would share my friend’s guilt, but it is a fact that the Earth has lost a considerable lot of its wilderness in recent years. One study estimates that one-tenth of global wilderness has been lost since 1990. This loss of wilderness has created disruptions in maintaining biodiversity, contributed to climate change and also disturbed indigenous populations. While it is easy to suggest that policy makers have to done more to conserve the environment, we as individuals and as members of the human race have to take responsibility. Continue reading “Our gift to Mother Earth: The Anthropocene”

Redefining the romance between the egg and the sperm

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Image source: Wikipedia Commons

Stephen and Kathleen Man Gyllenhaal’s upcoming documentary In Utero (“in the womb”) promises to be a fascinating look at life within the womb and its lasting impact on human behavior. The film’s trailer offers many diverse perspectives into how our experiences within the womb shape our future and the future of the world. Among the many revelations in the film, the directors suggest that the way we understand sex – that, a strong and active male sperm shoots up the vaginal canal to storm a weak, passive female egg – could be wrong. This submission, based on recent science, can redefine the male-centric narration of biological reproduction. Continue reading “Redefining the romance between the egg and the sperm”

Echoes of the Silent Spring

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Rachel Carson [Image via Wikipedia Commons]
The renowned nature writer Rachel Carson, a marine biologist by training, was at her poetic best when writing about the interconnectedness of nature with all living things. Humanity’s unquestioned faith in the power of science and technology was at its highest, post the Second World War. It was then that Carson combined meticulous research and eloquent writing skills to expose the vulnerability of nature to one of the technological byproducts of the World Wars: synthetic, agricultural pesticides. In 1945, Carson began documenting the environmental hazards associated with the most powerful pesticide the world knew then, DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane). She started work on her book in 1958 and the result was one of the 25 greatest science books of all time, Silent Spring.

Even five decades after its publication in 1962, Silent Spring continues to inspire (or instigate, depending on whom one is speaking with) and is often credited with stirring the modern environmental movement. The book contains detailed descriptions of how DDT contaminated the food chain, caused cancer and other serious, harmful effects. The book’s most (in)famous depiction is that of an unnamed American town, where all life – birds, fruits and humans – has vanished, “silenced” by the effects of DDT. Despite fierce opposition from the pesticide industry, Rachel Carson’s book became a best seller and was instrumental in the eventual ban of DDT in the USA. Continue reading “Echoes of the Silent Spring”

Can parents be gardeners of children’s creativity?

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Image source via Wikipedia Commons

In the 1964 classic How Children Fail, John Holt concluded that traditional methods of school-based teaching did/do more harm than good to children’s natural ability and desire to learn. His book was a game-changer in alternate ideas on child-rearing.

In her review of Alison Gopnik’s 2016 book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, science journalist Josie Glausiusz remarks that the multi-billion dollar industry of ‘right parenting’ is not exactly on the “right” track. Gopnik, a developmental psychologist and philosopher, argues that using expertise to sculpt your child into a “successful” adult is akin to a carpenter making a product – like a chair with perfect symmetry and function. But there is little scientific evidence to show that expert child-rearing techniques (such as sleep-training) have any predictable positive effects on how children turn out in the long run. Alternately, she suggests the gardening metaphor: parents have to “dig and wallow” in a messy environment, to nurture creativity and innovation in their children because children are born to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative. Parents, as gardeners, can create a secure and loving environment (the “manure”) for children to innovate and survive in an unpredictable world. Continue reading “Can parents be gardeners of children’s creativity?”