Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ganita vs mathematics: Ten myths of Western math

C. K. Raju

Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New Delhi

Extended abstract

We reject the myth that Western math is universal. That was always anormative universality: while it was admitted that other ways of doing math existed, it was claimed that Western math was “superior”. This claim of “superiority” (e.g. the claim that metaphysical proofs are “superior” to empirical proofs) rests merely on some anti-scientific church dogmas born of hate politics. Further, the purported “superiority” of Western math, exactly like racist claims of “superiority”, is supported by the very same fabricated church/racist/colonial history (e.g. the myth of Euclid and the myth of his deductive proofs).
Any serious study of plurality in math must critically re-examine other ways of doing math, and select the better way of doing math. Whichmath should be taught in schools and universities? We cannot just assume that existing (colonial) math education should persist. Nor even can we continue to justify it merely on unexamined Western myths and dogmas, even if they are widely believed today (justbecause colonial education propagates them). Indeed, since math is taught as a compulsory subject in schools today, if the present way of teaching it rests on (and subtly propagates) religious dogmas, and related myths, as it does, its teaching must be changed in schools in any secular country.
To this end, of deciding which math is better, we compare formal math with religiously-neutral Indian ganita (together with the explicit philosophy of zeroism). We have selected ganita not for reasons of its Indian origins, but because it concerns practical value, which is surely more universal than Western dogmatic metaphysics. Further, most math taught in schools today (arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, probability) historically originated as ganita. Also, those same ganita techniques of calculation continue to be used today for almost all practical applications of math to commerce, science and engineering (and indeed in all computer-based numerical calculations, such as those used to send a spacecraft to Mars, or to make stock-market predictions).
While the West imported ganita for its practical value, its epistemology clashed with the religiously-loaded epistemology of math in the West (e.g. all computer-based numerical calculations are today declared “erroneous”). Ganita was made theologically correct by (a) giving it a veneer of metaphysics (e.g. the use of metaphysical limits in calculus, to align its notion of infinity with church dogmas about eternity), and (b) packaging it with a false history (e.g. that Newton and Leibniz invented the calculus). This cocktail of practical value, religious metaphysics, and false history, was just declared “superior” and globalised by colonial education. Selecting ganita over formal math preserves the practical value, while eliminating the false history and bad metaphysics. Indeed practical value is enhanced: e.g., eliminating Newton’s conceptual confusion about calculus leads to a better theory of gravity. Or, e.g., teaching calculus as ganita enables students do harder problems.
However, the bad metaphysics and false history, underlying formal math, is a key part of colonial indoctrination (“education”). The indoctrinated cling to myths: when one myth is challenged, they try to “save” it by appealing to another (e.g. if the myth of Euclid is challenged they invoke the myth of deductive proofs in the Elements). Hence, to decolonise, the whole collectivity of myths must be simultaneously denied. If this denial is to be intelligible, it cannot also be brief: for brevity assumes shared beliefs. Thus a demand for brevity, in this context, becomes a trick to block dissent.

No comments: