Friday, March 30, 2018

Can religion and science coexist?

Yesterday, when I logged into Twitter, I found a tweet on my home timeline:

Yesterday, there was also a news item that 1,24,144 students in Kerala preferred not to state their religion and caste while filling application forms for admission to schools, ranging from Std I to Std XII.

There is not enough statistics to make any deductions as to whether children are losing their belief in religion or they are turning agnostic. It's also not possible to determine the significance of that number for the state of Kerala, where there is a history of communist movement which purportedly abjures belief in god and religion.

Nevertheless, there is a perception that the more educated people are, they become more scientific in their attitude to life, and parallelly they begin losing their belief in god and religion.

What does it mean to be scientific?

It can mean that you believe in principles of science. It can also mean, in a figurative sense, that you are methodical, analytical, and you base your beliefs in evidences that are objective.

Scientific theories and principles are confirmed only when experiments come up with consistent results irrespective of who do them or where they are done.

Scientific experiments have given us reasons why certain things happen the way they actually do. So, we know that water boils at 100 degree Celsius. Or, that condensation of water vapour brings rain.

We also practise many things in our daily lives, based on scientific principles. So, we have healthy nutritional habits, or we drive with care in order to avoid accidents; or doctors conduct surgeries in a particular manner for it to be successful.

Generally, education is meant to foster in children scientific attitudes; so that they are able to find reasons for problems that people face, and also find solutions to them.

What does it mean to be religious?

It means you believe in superhuman powers; you worship god, and you have faith in certain rituals and traditions. These could be based on sound reasons or it can be just a blind faith, as in a superstition. You could be also religious based on your belief in some tenets that have come down generations.   

But the crucial point here is one person's religiosity is different from another person's religiosity. But, scientific principles are the same for everyone.

You could also have beliefs irrespective of whether you are religious or you believe in god.

We all repose our faith and trust -- in people, things and/or god. We decide to take a flight because we have faith in the pilot (whom we don't know) and/ or in the flight infrastructure. We listen to our friend because we believe in what she says, at least till some point of time, when our belief is questioned and replaced by something else.

In a very loose sense, we are all "religious" in some way, believing in our own "religion". That "religion" could be one of those well-known ones like Hinduism, Christianity or Islam etc. Or that "religion" could also be something we have devised on our own. It's a very personal thing. It's better we don't try to probe other people's "religious" beliefs.

Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius whether you boil it or I boil it. Scientific experiments in the same condition produce the same result irrespective of who do them.

All doctors will do a particular surgery in a particular way for it to be successful. But some doctors might also practise a particular personal belief, for the operation to be successful. A particular doctor might wear a cream-coloured shirt for every surgery in order to bring about a positive outcome (for whatever reason). That need not be true for every doctor.

What makes one scientific and religious?

Education is thought to make one scientific. But, life's experiences make one religious.

Can religious and scientific beliefs coexist?     

They can. Why? Because, beyond a certain point, there are imponderables that make actions based scientific principles difficult to predict. Cause-and-effect relationships are based on scientific theories only up to a point. Beyond that point, there are factors which are difficult to assess or understand, that influence the result of one's actions.

Our daily lives are full of examples of this. There are people who are extremely careful when they drive, but have been involved in accidents because of the carelessness of someone else. There are also people who drive recklessly all the time, and they never ever get involved in accidents.

The application or practice of a scientific principle or theory will be same for everyone. How much religious one is, can vary from person to person. It all depends on their individual and personal experiences in their lives.

Therefore, students, engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers -- all of us, actually -- can believe in and practise scientific principles, as well as be religious in a unique and personal way.

(You may also like to read: It is faith that keeps us all going)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Beggars, the sad face of humanity

Beggars on the streets. Every day, as I approach the Metro station to board the train, I see at least one person; sometimes three or four.

The person I see regularly is an old man, a bit on the heavier side, bearded and fully clothed; must be in his late sixties, doesn't look crippled. He looks at me, as he must be at every one who passes by.

On some other days, I see a few more: two women in their late thirties or early forties; and two small children of around ten years. I don't know where they disappear on other days.

They are not the only ones we see in Bengaluru. According to government of India statistics, there are over four lakh beggars in India, with the highest number in West Bengal, 81,244. Karnataka, of which Bengaluru is the capital, has 12,270. This surely is a very conservative figure. There are many more who are unaccounted for.

Do give or not to give

Different people have different approaches to beggars. There are some who never ever give anything to them. I know a friend who gives a rupee to the first beggar he sees in a day. It's not that I haven't ever given them a rupee or two. But I do that very rarely, unless I am really moved. Actually, the one or two rupees that I or anyone gives, is hardly any help.

They may be on their own, or they might be part of an organised network, as some people say. I have also heard people say that some beggars aren't actually in such pathetic condition as they appear. They are just made to look like that to provoke sympathy of passersby, so that they get some money. Some people say, by giving alms to beggars you are perpetuating the social problem.

Irrespective of all that, their suffering remains the same. And, it's indeed extremely distressing to see them.

These beggars also make me think how lucky I am, to have a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear; physically and mentally able to work, and have a steady income to take care of myself and my family.

At another level, the sheer number of beggars has also made me sort of immune to their presence. They are just another of those unpleasant things or aberrations one gets accustomed to.

It might not be practically possible to rid the world completely of all suffering. But what could possibly be done by each one of us is to extend a helping hand, and do something substantial for someone around us, who really needs assistance.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Hospital admission vs home care

In school, we loved to fall sick. That is because, if you were ill, you got an exemption from many activities like attending parades, physical training, compulsory study sessions, etc. Besides that, you were looked after like a king in the hospital.

Post student days, when we are on our own, it's a different ball game. Forget getting admitted, a visit to a hospital for consultation itself comes a big cost, unlike in the school days. Many doctors would recommend umpteen tests as a part of the diagnosis. I won't blame the doctors. Because unlike earlier days, today we have very sophisticated instruments and tests. Why shouldn't a doctor use them, if that can help him understand the symptoms better.

If one's condition necessitates admission, then that can prove to be quite expensive. Of course, if there is medical insurance, that can partly take the load; but then it's still quite a hassle.

I recently read an article in The New York Times Are Hospitals Becoming Obsolete?

It had pointers to some interesting trends. Apparently, the age-old practice was to get treated at home. Only people who were extremely sick went to a hospital. And, not many came back alive.

Gradually, a spate of inventions and discoveries led to an increase in the number of people who visited hospital or got admitted.

But in the US, that trend has now bucked, so much so that the number of hospitals itself is on the decline. 

The maximum number of hospitalizations in the United States was in the year 1981. The article says:
"That year, there were over 39 million hospitalizations — 171 admissions per 1,000 Americans. Thirty-five years later, the population has increased by 40 percent, but hospitalizations have decreased by more than 10 percent. There is now a lower rate of hospitalizations than in 1946. As a result, the number of hospitals has declined to 5,534 this year from 6,933 in 1981."
The clock has come a full circle. Chances of survival in hospitals are coming down, because of various factors like contracting infections. There were 1.7 million cases of hospital-acquired infections that caused nearly 100,000 deaths, the article says.

The new trend is for home care, where the environment is more conducive for a patient's recovery. There is now a better market for home nurses, community health care workers and staff at outpatient centers.

I don't think hospitals will ever become less relevant or they will vanish all together. If one's health condition is too bad, one has to visit a hospital or get admitted. Or else, the condition will deteriorate. I know so many cases, when hospitalization was required to treat the illness. Often hospitalization has given them a new life altogether.

That doesn't mean we run to a doctor for very discomfort one feels. Our body does heal naturally. So, give it some time, before approaching a doctor.

Where home care will work are in conditions that don't require major inventions, like surgery, and constant monitoring. It's quite possible that post illness recovery could be quicker at home than in hospitals.

What are your thoughts?