Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta vs. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen

What Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta, Prof. In Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata takes Nobel Laureate Amartya Kumar Sen in an historical very authoritative and detailed article on the subject of the history of Indian Ancient Indian Mathematics, I quote here certain portions from the article related to the mathematics in Vedas:

1

Swami Vivekananda in a speech “India’s Gift to the World” delivered at the New York City in 1895 ([33], Vol. II, p. 511):

“. . . the ten numerals, the very cornerstone of all present civilization, were discovered in India, and are, in reality, Sanskrit words.”

2

Mathematicians have expressed their admiration for the two brilliant innovations involved in the decimal notation: the idea of “place-value” and the concept of “zero”. The great French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace writes (1814 CE):

“It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity, the great ease which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.” (p. 19.)

The power of the place-value of zero has been beautifully highlighted by the American mathematician G.B. Halsted ([p. 20):

“The importance of the creation of the zero mark can never be exaggerated. This giving to airy nothing, not merely a local habitation and a name, a picture, a symbol, but helpful power, is the characteristic of the Hindu race whence it sprang. It is like coining the Nirvana into dynamos. No single mathematical creation has been more potent for the general on-go of intelligence and

3

Bibhutibhusan Datta (emulating a verse of K ̄alid ̄asa) in the Preface of his book:

“How great is the science which revealed itself in the Sulba, and how meagre is my intellect!

I have aspired to cross the unconquerable ocean in a mere raft.”

4

……..a passage from his ( Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen’s popular book “The Argumentative Indian” (2005) (pp 66–67) which has been the raison d’eˆtre for the present article (italics are ours):

“As it happens, despite the richness of the Vedas in many other respects, there is no sophisticated mathematics in them, nor anything that can be called rigorous science. There was, however, much of both in India in the first millennium CE. These contributions were early enough in the history of mathematics and science to demand respectful attention, but the BJP-created proposed textbooks tried, with little reason and even less evidence, to place the origin of some of these contributions in the much earlier, Vedic period.

Are we not reminded of Seidenberg’s phrase “haughty dismissals” (of Vedic contributions to sophisticated mathematics)? The contrast with the humility in Bibhuthibhusan Datta’s tribute (quoted earlier) is striking. That such a passage can occur in a book by one of India’s finest intellectuals 130 years after the publication of Thibaut, 73 years after the book by B. Datta and 27 years after the papers of Seidenberg, is a damning comment on the level of awareness about ancient Indian (especially the Vedic) legacy among the modern Indian elite.

Prof. Sen further says:

“For the sake of clarity, we have to distinguish between three distinct errors that are conflated together in this invented history: . . . (3) the manifestly false affirmation that the Vedas contain much sophisticated mathematics and many scientific discoveries (even though non-partisan readers cannot find them there).”

… Then comes a bizzare remark:

“The third claim, by the way,also has the effect of implicitly asserting that Aryabhatta or Brahmagupta or Varahmihira were not original in the fifth to the seventh centuries”.

Does an eulogy of an Archimedes amount to an implicit assertion that a Newton or an Euler or a Gauss were not original in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries? The Vedic seers gave the (oral) decimal system, the post-Vedic mathematicians brought out in the open certain algebraic concepts dormant in the system; moreover, the system facilitated their original research on indeterminate equations and their computations in astronomy. The Sulba authors taught the theorem on the square of the diagonal of a rectangle and results on the circle; the post-Vedic mathematicians used them to develop trigonometry and the theory of quadrilaterals inside the circle.

But Amartya Sen continued his tirade. In the 98th Indian Science Congress (2011), Chennai, Amartya Sen proclaimed (as reported in The Statesman, Kolkata, 5.1.2011):

“those who are looking for the origin of Indian mathematics in the Vedas would be “completely barking up the wrong tree”.’

We are not aware of any large-scale protest or expression of disapproval from Indian scientists and intellectuals. If we accept the quoted statements as axioms, it would then follow as a corollary that Swami Vivekananda, Bibhutibhusan Datta and most of the scholars listed in the References are “partisan” and “barking up the wrong tree”!

Among a considerable section of scientists and intellectuals, there is an anxiety that an aware- ness about ancient Indian (especially Vedic) achievements will lead to a pernicious “glorification” of the past, which has to be resisted by all means — by “haughty dismissals” if necessary.

I have not added anything from my side. Please judge and comment…if you are interested in the subject of mathematics and ancient India’s contributions.

Read the complete article and share with those you know of their this interest: https://www.isical.ac.in/~amartya/rkmv_platinum%20(1).pdf

Are such controversy responsible for the present attitude in our youth in India? It surprises when many educated Indians today just talk in so irresponsible a way without the past achievements of India. Till India remained though divided in smaller states under Indian rulers many of whom promoted its age old cultures and education based on our ancient scriptures starting from Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagwad Gita, and many more.

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