Weekly Digest #4

Tushar Sharma
Jun 28, 2020 · 2 min read

Nehru beautifully describes India, “like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed , and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.”

But some layers remained completely obscured for centuries.

Buddhism rapidly gained popularity across the subcontinent during the reign of Ashoka, who summoned the influence and might of the Mauryan empire to spread the gospel of Buddha. But after flourishing for centuries, it began to decline. The causes for this gradual decline are still disputed, but assimilation by Hinduism, arrival of Islam, and the divergence between different sects within Buddhism are the most likely reasons that led to its disappearance.

But few British officers and civil servants, who were inquisitive enough to learn more about the land they were inhabiting, would eventually help in re-discovering the lost emperor, Ashoka, and the influence of Buddhism on modern Indian thought.

And the layer that was obscured, perhaps deliberately, came back into view on the palimpsest that is India.

There is a thin line that divides magic and science. “The magician, probing nature’s secrets, served as a template for the scientist”

The new mechanical philosophers, striving to create a science free of occult qualities, believed in matter without magic — inanimate brute matter, as Newton often called it. The virtuosi of the Royal Society wished to remove themselves from charlatans, to build all explanations from reason and not miracles. But magic persisted. Astronomers still doubled as astrologers; Kepler and Galileo had trafficked in horoscopes. The magician, probing nature’s secrets, served as a template for the scientist. “Do you believe then,” Nietzsche asked two centuries later, “that the sciences would ever have arisen and become great if there had not beforehand been magicians, alchemists, astrologers and wizards, who thirsted and hungered after abscondite and forbidden powers?”

-James Gleick, Isaac Newton

But the real “magic” happens when common sense is wrecked by new facts.

Although a scientific theory being overturned completely is a near impossibility, even small disproved pieces of one can be hugely valuable, as these holes then frequently lead to newfangled discoveries, ones that were previously unimaginable. Because each reworking of a theory will contain more knowledge, more analytical oomph than the last, our understanding of things can become more accurate and embellished over time.
That is really what science is — fluctuation, a process of reconfiguration of observable truths, something that challenges our most deeply held assumptions and wreaks a delightful havoc with common sense.

-Eating the Sun, Ella Sanders

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The Weekly Digest

Every week’s entry will contain snippets from the books I’m reading and some links to interesting articles, blog posts or tweets.

Tushar Sharma

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The Weekly Digest

Every week’s entry will contain snippets from the books I’m reading and some links to interesting articles, blog posts or tweets.