Cultural Assumptions in European Science

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The Problem of Simplicity and Complexity

All the fundamental differences between European science and the Vedic system can be traced back to an assumption about simplicity in European thinking. Factually, ordinary sense perception is immensely complex. Food, for instance, has taste, smell, color, taste, texture, shape, weight, hardness, and so on. Clothing, housing, families, societies, flora, and fauna are also immensely complex. Moreover, no two things in the world are identical. No two people, apples, oranges, deers, or societies are identical. When we put two things into the same class, we ignore their differences, such as when we call two things “apples”.

The assumption that reality is simple can be traced back to Greek times in the formulation called universalism under which concepts such as an “apple” are the true nature of things when they are merely an approximation. The term “apple” simply tells us that it is not an orange, banana, or grape. It does not say that two things in the “apple” class are identical. Classes are methods of identifying similarities between things rather than their identity. Any system of knowledge that equates similarity to identity runs the risk of oversimplification.

These problems were faced in Greek times in the attempt to define ordinary concepts such as “man”. A man who has lost one leg in a war is still called a man although we cannot equate this designation to identity with other men. At best, these are similarities. Greeks solved this problem by talking about an ideal man, that exists in a Platonic world of pure forms. Everyone else in this world then became a non-ideal man. The result of this postulate was that in the other world, all men must look, behave, think, and feel identically. Whatever seemed to deviate from a pre-defined norm of ideality became non-ideal, evil, devilish, and so forth.

When applied to ordinary things, such as food and clothing, it means that there must be good and evil foods and clothes. Since there can only be one ideal food, therefore, everyone who eats just that one thing is good but everyone else who eats other things is evil. All who wear one type of clothes must be good and everyone else who wears other clothes are evil. Thus simplification became universalism and the destruction of variety. Simplicity was forced on everyone by calling one thing ideal and everything else non-ideal, evil, devilish, and so forth.

Mathematical Origins of Simplicity

The Greek attitude toward simplification originates in geometry. There is a precise definition of words like circle, rectangle, and triangle. A triangular thing, with non-straight edges, is not truly a triangle. It is just a non-ideal triangle. A rectangular thing, with non-right-angle corners, is not truly a rectangle. It is just a non-ideal rectangle. A circular thing, which is not perfectly round, is not truly a circle. It is just a non-ideal circle. Thereby, truth in Greek thinking pertains to the ideal and falsity to the non-ideal. Aristotle called these ideality theoretical forms and truth was equated to precise alignment with an ideal form.

Problems with Greek attitudes then appeared in arithmetic. For instance, ideal numbers could only be whole numbers. A fractional number was non-ideal. Zero, which signified something absent or non-existent, could not be ideal because it did not exist. Negative numbers, which denoted less than nothing also could not be ideal. Pythagoras thought of the ideal world in terms of whole numbers, and Greeks could not develop a formal system of arithmetic because fractions, zero, and negative numbers were considered non-ideal, evil, devlish, etc.

Contrasting Attitudes in the Vedic System

The Vedic system also accepts ideality. But it is defined in terms of a purpose rather than an idea. Different kinds of foods serve different purposes. Spicy food serves to cure the ill-effects of cold and soothing food serves to cure the ill-effects of heat. We can wear light and airy clothes during summar and heavy and protective clothes during winter. Therefore, different foods and clothes are ideal for different situations because they serve the purpose better in different cases.

Truth now requires us to identify a Supreme Purpose. If life is lived to serve the Supreme Purpose, then different foods and clothes during summer and winter are both ideal. Variety is not evil, devlish, or non-ideal then. Conversely, the same variety becomes evil, devilish, or non-ideal when used inappropriately out of context. Nothing is good or evil per se because everything can be used in some situation and context. If there is a context in which something can be used permanently to serve the Supreme Purpose, then it is is ideal for that context.

In contrast to universalism, therefore, the Vedic system accomodates infinite variety as long as it is used in the most appropriate context. Rarely useful things are just rarely useful, not evil, devilish, or non-ideal. Often useful things are just common, not necessarily good and ideal. In a different time, place, or context, the same thing could become rarely useful.

Necessary Complexity in the Vedic System

When the Vedic system abandons universalism, and accomodates infinite variety, it also introduces a role for individuality and contextuality in addition to universality. My unique skills are my individual nature, useful in some contexts, useless in others, and harmful in yet others. As long as I use my skills in the useful (and not the useless and harmful) ways, I am ideal although I don’t conform to a universal definition of man.

A word like “man” still denotes an ideal man, with abilities of an Original Man, called Manu. I am called a “man” due to the similarity with Manu and because I have descended from Manu. But I cease to be an ideal man when I stop using my abilities in the ideal way that Manu will use them. At that juncture, I become a non-ideal, evil, or devlish man. I am still man in terms of my abilities. But I am no longer a man because I don’t use my abilities appropriately.

This is how we get the necessity of non-binary logic, namely, that I am man in the sense of my abilities but not man in terms of using my abilities inappropriately. I could lose some of the abilities, such as a leg during a war, but continue to use the remaining abilities appropriately. I would then be not an ideal man in terms of abilities but still an ideal man in terms of using the remaining abilities most appropriately. Non-binary logic becomes essential when the same thing is a man and not man, or an ideal man and not ideal man.

Non-binary logics require modalities. I could be a man in one sense and not man in another sense, or an ideal man in one sense and not ideal man in another sense. These “senses” are the “modes”. Ability and activity are two such modes, although there are infinite others. Binary logic always produces a contradiction when the same thing is called a man and not man. Modal logics do not do that. This is a virtue because it allows us to speak about a man with abilities using them inappropriately, or a man without abilities using them appropriately. This process is called completeness. Binary logic is always incomplete because contradictions are produced while speaking of capable men using their abilities inappropriately.

Complexity is Hard for the Universalist

Many people have complained that my writing is very complicated. They would like simplicity. Nearly all the people complaining about complexity have an ideological background in Western universalism. Nearly all the people reluctantly accepting this complexity are Indian, because even the Indian mind has been universalized due to the influence of impersonalism and European science. Someone wrote to me recently: “One reason I never get anywhere reading your books is that I feel like I either have to hold too much in my head at once to proceed with understanding, or I need to ask for clarification right from the start and very often thereafter”.

This problem is a natural result of oversimplification due to universalism, which postulates that reality must be reduced to fewer types of things, that the best situation of reality is that everything is just one type of thing. The Vedic system is just the opposite. There are infinite unique things with a common purpose. The uniqueness is individuality; the purpose is universality; and the use of uniqueness to fulfill the purpose in select times, places, and situation is contextuality. One thing could be X and not-X in different senses. This is necessary complexity. Anything less than this is incomplete in the desire to keep consistency.

East-West Cultural Contrasts

Complexity comes naturally to Indians and is very difficult for the West. I can cite some examples.

In Europe, for the longest time, the staple diet was meat and potatoes. Even bread was added very late in the diet. Until quite recently, the staple diet in America was meat, potatoes, bread, and peas or corn. There was only one spice—pepper. Contrast this to India. There are over 50 types of spices, over 10,000 dishes, and over 25 cuisines. Everything changes with the seasons. Each dish has 6 or 7 spices, and three or four ingredients, and is cooked in various stages such as frying followed by boiling, or boiling followed by frying. Everyone is used to immense variety and enjoys it in the same thing. Each cook makes the same dish differently. Each dish may have a different set of spices. Some spice was fried. Some spice was boiled. Some spice was roasted. The cuisine changes from place to place. The meal changes from season to season.

In Europe, for the longest time, there was only one dress. Shirts and pants for men and a blouse and skirt for women. Everything was in one color—mostly black or white. Contrast this to India. Before India’s colonization, every woman had a unique collection of sarees. No two women had the same saree. That is because each saree was handwoven. Women would go to a weaver, and he had a big album of patterns, motifs, and colors. There were various types of threads based on mixing silk and cotton. Each woman would choose a unique set of threads, patterns, motifs, and colors and ask a weaver to weave a unique saree. Each woman was a unique customer. So how could she wear a common saree? If you mass-produced sarees in one design, nobody would buy them.

In Europe, religion means kneeling before God and repeating the same prayer every day. In India, there are hundreds of festivals and dozens of deities. Each deity has a unique mantra. Each deity eats a unique kind of food. There is a unique ritual for each deity.

I have been to the US at least a dozen times. Every time I spent about a month, sometimes 6 months. Every city looks more or less the same. Houses followed by malls followed by houses followed by malls. This is the result of univeralism and simplification. In India, there is a car park on the first floor, a mall on the second floor, an office on the third floor, and homes on the fourth floor. It looks crazy, but it is also reality. We cannot reduce a building to one name or type of thing because it is many types of things at once.

Cultural Axioms Underlying Sciences

European science is built on the European lifestyle, namely, that reality is very simple. Everything is a particle. There are only two properties called position and momentum. And what doesn’t fit into this European science is rejected as pseudo-science.

Vedic science is built on the Indian lifestyle, namely, that everything is very complicated. No two sarees are alike. No two dishes are alike. No two people are alike. No two deities are alike. No two festivals are alike. No two prayers are alike. No two seasons are alike.

Europeans started with the assumption that reality is simple. European science tries to simplify everything. Simplification is the scientific method in European science. Whenever you face complexity, you have to begin with simplifying assumptions. But Indians don’t have that assumption. Reality is very complicated. We embrace this complexity. We enjoy this complexity. Then we try to understand and explain this complexity.

Therefore, while trying to understand the Vedic system, we have to begin with the problem in European science, namely, is reality so simple? We can study every subject and understand how much complexity exists and why no simple model works. When one simple model fails, then another simple model is created. In this way, we get thousands of models. No model can be reconciled with the other model. The attempt to attain simplicity results in immense complexity. Once we are convinced that the basic assumption of simplicity is false, then we can appreicate the Vedic system and understand complexity. If we don’t know that simplicity doesn’t work then we can never appreciate complexity. Our assumption has to be falsified by deep study.

Cultural Axioms Underlying Sciences

Ideas of simplicity and universalism in European thinking come from the Hellenistic and Mediterranean creation models in which the world is a combat between order and chaos. Order was masculine and chaos was feminine. The world was said to have been chaos in the beginning and then gods conquered the chaos and created order. The gods were good and the chaos was evil. To go to heaven, one had to conquer chaos and establish order. Order was equated to simplicity and chaos was equated to complexity.

We can contrast this to Indian thinking. Order is still masculine and chaos is still feminine. But chaos is a part of order and order is part of chaos. There is unity in diversity and there is diversity in unity. There is simplicity in complexity and there is complexity in simplicity. The masculine is inside the feminine and the feminine is inside the masculine.

The masculine and feminine are not in combat. They are playing with each other. The masculine doesn’t conquer the feminine. He surrenders to the feminine. The feminine is the cook making thousands of dishes, dressed in unique beautiful sarees. The masculine sees this variety and says: I did not know that this was possible. But he enjoys it. The masculine is the enjoyer eating thousands of dishes admiring the versatility of the beautiful feminine making thousands of dishes dressed in gorgeous sarees.

The European mind simplifies reality. The Indian mind embraces complexity, understands it, and then explains it. The feminine is complexity and the masculine is simplicity. Everything is a combination of complexity and simplicity. Simplicity does not destroy complexity. They coexist and enjoy with each other happily.

Cultural Crimes of Universalism

European mentality of simplicity and universalism was responsible for the crimes of colonialism, the destruction of native cultures, and the denigration of ideologies far superior to Western thinking. Europeans considered monotheistic simplicity order and polytheistic complexity chaos. The order had to destroy chaos. The good had to kill the evil. The man was good and the woman was evil. Things are not very different at present.

But India doesn’t consider women an evil. She is complexity and variety, the spices of life. The Vedic system is not monotheism because at the minimum there is a masculine and a feminine. Then that feminine is of immense complexity. The world she creates is also immensely complicated. Anyone trying to subdue this complexity with simplicity will run into a conflict with the woman, precisely reflecting the problem of describing complexity in terms of simplicity and running into incompleteness. Universalism has resulted in man-woman conflicts, because they are indeed opposite poles meant to dance together.

The Problems of Universalism

These problems are inescapable in Western thinking since the Hellenistic period. Christianity calls it monotheism. Enlightenment made it simple laws of nature. These are not true.

Therefore, we have to go back to the basics and ask: Is reality simple? Or, is it just a cultural assumption of Europeans? We can study each subject and discover its complexity. Then we study how different types of complexities are modeled by different sets of contradictory claims. When contradictory theories become the norm, then simplicity is refuted and replaced by immense complexity. Then we can never find unity in diversity because we began with the assumption that reality is simplicity.

Reality is not simple in the Vedic system. It is immensely complicated. But there is a unity in this variety. We don’t understand unity by discarding variety. We embrace the complexity and then try to find the order in it.

The graphic at the top of the article shows how God is a geometer measuring reality with a protractor. This is a pictorial depiction of European science. Oversimplified, neglecting nuances and details, disregarding the variety, and reducing the universe to an angle and a length.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "Cultural Assumptions in European Science," in Shabda Journal, June 3, 2023,