Do we really know what is meant by scientific temper?

A geologist pinged me today to ask, “Nehru studied geology at Cambridge University … I wonder how much he used his science in office?”

I’m not great with history, but I know many fellow Indians are aware that “to develop scientific temper” is the constitutional duty of every citizen. I’ve heard that quoted by those who understand the value of science, but what about others?

And how many of those who understand the value of science understand what is really meant by scientific temper? I think it’s worth repeating what Nehru said in “The Discovery of India”, which he wrote while he was imprisoned following the Quit India movement.

[What is needed] is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind—all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.

Among our elders we still have those who lived under imperial rule, but there are fewer of them every passing year. That may be one reason another quote of Nehru may not have the effect that he intended.

While religion tends to close the mind and produce intolerance, credulity and superstition, emotionalism and irrationalism [sic], and a temper of a dependent, unfree person, a scientific temper is the temper of a free man.

If you have a few minutes to spare today, I wish you will give these words some thought.

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About Akshat Rathi

Science and Technology Journalist
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