Building a Scientific Temper - My Experiences

—D V Raju

In scientific work, those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact.
—Thomas Huxley

What is Scientific Temper?

Scientific temper is not confined to science subjects alone or to laws, theories and formulas. Instead, it is what we call a state of mind that always questions everything; seeks knowledge and is satisfied only when proven with substantial evidence. Around us when new leaves grow, the older ones wither away. The plant shows us what it means to be flexible and undogmatic. To put it simply, it shows us how to stay dynamic and adaptable. That is what scientific temper is all about. Understanding the basic methods of science is scientific temper. Scientific knowledge is verifiable, repeatable and falsifiable. It keeps on changing and there is no ultimate truth.
Dissemination of scientific information in modes and means understandable by masses is the key. Communication has been the backbone of man’s progress since beginning. Efficient and speedy communication of scientific information as well as its instant access has been crucial for overall development of mankind. Dissemination of scientific knowledge to the masses, in other words, “scientific temper”, has broken many cultural, social and religious dogmas that were otherwise hindering the progress of the human civilization. Acquisition of scientific temper is a must for any society to progress and those who failed to acquire lagged behind in time and space. Science deals with the domain of positive knowledge but the temper which it should produce goes beyond that domain.

Search ... Enquire … The Scientific Way

The spirit of the Upanishads and the teachings of the Buddha, basically, were the methods of science: search, enquire and apply your mind to it, and maybe something more than the mind but it was search by experience and by reasoning. We live in an age of science and technology. Almost everything that you see around you is a product of science. But I am particularly referring to the temper of science, the mental approach, that is, not an approach of a bigot, not the approach of a closed mind, but of an open mind, of enquiry, realizing a special way of thinking as it used to be in India.
My Experiences: Finally, what do I tell the readers of this magazine? The essence of scientific temper was this … questioning mind, pushing the limits, not getting encumbered or structured by narrow limited concerns, not afraid of accepting changing facts and circumstances but always proceeding on the basis of objective realities, not the prisoner of any dogma, modern or archaic. And let me tell you … modern-day dogmas can be as devastating as ancient ones.
I speak from experience as someone who had willingly taken to the challenging Indian Space Program of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in 1968, immediately after obtaining M.Tech (Electronics & Instrumentation) from REC (presently NIT), Warangal.
The Indian Space Program was in its nascent stage (hardly 5 years old) when I joined as a first generation space scientist without an iota of knowledge about rocketry and satellites. But the scientific environment at ISRO, led by the renowned scientist Dr. Vikram Sarabai, was extremely conducive and encouraging for the budding scientists like most of us (more than 90%) to experiment with new technologies and latest devices and come out with the kind of systems that would sustain the rigours of space environment.

Some of the outstanding scientific approaches of ISRO merit a mention here:

• Encouragement given to the engineers/scientists in trying out different approaches, concurrently, to arrive at the most optimum solution.
• Allowing broad-based technology development by more than one group attempting to develop the same systems with the avowed objective of arriving at the best designs in a given time in consonance with the project/program time schedules.
• Taking failures in its stride, not discouraging the developers.
• Developing elaborate mechanisms to review periodically to take corrective measures and preventing likely failures in actual launches.
• Timely promotions to deserving people without having to wait for vacancies as against vacancy-based promotions followed by all government aided/funded departments.

Time-bound programs encouraging the young engineers/scientists (average age 27-28 years during the late 60s & early 70s) to stretch to the limits in accomplishing the targets, though more than 90% of materials/devices were imported. In most of those initial periods, the entire work force including the top brass worked for more than 12-14 hours a day, thus making it possible to meet the timelines. Establishing the required infrastructure and involving industry to get things done.
All this was made possible by a far-sighted founder-leader, followed by his successors, adopting a very flexible and open scientific mind for realizing the missions with a vision that India, despite being industrially backward in those times, was capable of adopting most advanced technologies and be counted upon. Thus India became, in a very short time, the 5th nation to have its first satellite ARYABHAT in space.
I would like to recall an interesting episode involving the NASA (USA) Administrator and us at Bengaluru in late 1973 when he challenged that it would be impossible to have our first satellite launched in the first half of 1975 (activity started in late 1972) working in those sheds at Peenya Industrial Estate with dirt all around us and he traded his right ear if India were to do so. No doubt we won (and never demanded his ear) and he was all praise for our accomplishment. Why did he challenge us? Even such advanced countries like USA, USSR, FRANCE and GREAT BRITAIN took longer time to have their birds in space.
Concluding this article, I would like to add that scientific temper can’t be built/developed overnight and it should begin right from the school, where the students ought to be given the opportunity to be more interactive. Similarly, the parents need to spare some time for the children, who can be taken through the why, what, how and when type of reasoning, thereby imparting the rudiments essential for broadening their horizon of knowledge. This will certainly help, as they grow, in developing a mental frame that would always seek to improve their skills, mental approach and reasoning, essential for developing scientific temper.

About the Author
Mr Raju is a postgraduate in Electrical Engineering and a former space scientist with over 24 years of experience in developing various satellite systems and ground tracking systems and has a further industrial experience of 18 years in developing various tracking solutions. A prolific writer and a voracious reader, Mr Raju has authored several articles.

• Scientific temper goes beyond the study of science. It is a state of mind.
• It is an intelligent search and enquiry about the phenomena around us.
• Scientific temper cannot be built overnight. It should be sown at an early age in young minds

Article 51 A (h) of the Indian Constitution mentions, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism, spirit of inquiry and reform.” However, for that to happen it is vital that we first understand what scientific temper means. This is one term that is grossly misunderstood in our nation.

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