2017-02-17 SICON02 S3 gaNita shAstra & Western Mathematics

Swadeshi Indology Conference 2
Gaṇita Śāstra & Western Mathematics – S Mukhopadhayay

Śāstras are an integral part of Indian knowledge systems and provide systematic procedures to accomplish specific objectives in diverse fields like mathematics, philosophy, architecture, politics, economy and others. Noted Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock however views śāstras as a problem, and sees a dichotomy between śāstra (theory) and prayoga (practical activity) in Sanskritic culture. He considers śāstras to be backward looking and merely a regressive reformulation of the contents of the Vedas. This is, in his opinion, the opposite of Western knowledge tradition which is always forward looking and based on logic and experimentation. This paper is meant to be a refutation of some of Pollock’s core assumptions, by taking gaṇita śāstra and western mathematics as a case study.

We demonstrate that from the earliest to premodern times, gaṇita in India has relentlessly focused on real-life problems, developing logical and efficient algorithms for problem solving, even among Jain and Buddhist scholars, who do not regard Vedas as a pramāṇa. Gaṇita, similar to all Indian schools of thought and modern science, accepts pratyakṣa pramāṇa or empirical evidence, as the first means of knowledge. Formal western mathematics however depends entirely on axioms, binary logic and eternally valid proofs (theory), as opposed to calculations (prayoga). Mathematics categorically rejects the empirical world and is imbued with theological dogma. Moreover binary logic is not normative as Buddhist Catuṣkoṭi and Jain Syādavāda follow different approaches. Western mathematics, which is the only type of mathematics taught in schools today, therefore comes across as arcane, abstract and complicated to most non-specialists, and has become a tool of cultural hegemony.

Key Readings
1. Pollock, S. (1985). The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History.
2. Pollock, S. (2005). The ends of man at the end of premodernity.
3. Malhotra, R. (2016). The Battle for Sanskrit.
4. Raju, C. (2012). Euclid and Jesus – How and why the church changed mathematics and Christianity across two religious wars.
5. Srinivas, M. D. (2016). On the Nature of Mathematics and Scientific Knowledge in Indian Tradition.

17-19th Feb, 2017
IGNCA, New Delhi

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