Scientific Method: Elegant & Intricate

Sometime ago I wrote a blog article, briefly summarizing scientific method as illustrated by Karl Popper.

Popper describes it using a metaphor of equilateral triangle with three corners of ‘Explanation – Prediction – Testing’.   I have found Popper’s metaphor of ‘equilateral triangle’ with three corner points extremely useful.
The referred blog article is here:
https://nileshoak.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/tri-murti-of-scientific-method/

While reading Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, I came across a Sutra (Aphorism) and instantly realized that I had landed on more intricate and elegant scientific method**.


Patanjali Yoga-Sutra: (समाधिपाद)* – Sutra# 7

प्रत्यक्षानुमानागमाः प्रमाणानि ॥७॥   (pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni)

Traditionally this Sutra is translated along the lines of….
“Insight arises from direct perception, conclusions, or learning that are based on reliable sources”
Or
“Three varieties (or methods) of Pramana (Proof, evidence, Testimony) are Pratyaksha, Anumana and Agama.

I want to present alternate explanation for this Sutra that is further enriching and exhibits iterative and sophisticated view of acquiring knowledge:

(1)  Pratyaksha – Prati (before) + Aksha (Eyes).
This then literally refers to ‘before eyes’, however not limited to eyes bur rater refers to direct evidence. This is the subject independent testing aka objective evidence one refers to in science.
Popper’s equivalent corner point would be that of ‘Testing’.

(2) AnuMana – Anu (following, agreeably to, subordinate to) + Mana (imagination, opinion, thought, idea, mind)
This then is the stuff of conceiving/imagining a theory and then deriving specific ‘testable’ consequences due to very result of a theory.
AnuMana thus can be translated as plausible outcome, conclusion, inference or deduction based on Guess, conjecture or a theory.
Popper’s equivalent corner point would be that of ‘Prediction’

(3) PraMana – Pra (fulfilling) + Mana (imagination, opinion, thought, idea, mind)
I prefer to translate ‘PraMana’, at least in the current context (scientific method) as ‘Insight’ or ‘Explanation’, instead of merely ‘proof’, ‘evidence’ or ‘testimony’.
Popper’s equivalent corner point would be that of ‘Explanation’.

(4) Agama (established knowledge, assumptions, traditional doctrine & precepts)

 In Popper’s terminology, equivalent for ‘Agama’ are ‘background knowledge’ and ‘assumptions’

Popper’s original contribution, at least in our times, is to recognize that ‘Growth of knowledge’ comes from not any one of these corner points (Explanation – Prediction-Testing) but rather due to successful triangulation of these three when combined with bold theories and background knowledge.

What exactly Sage Patanjali thought about triangulation of these corner points (Pramana-Anumana-Pratyaksha) against the background of bold theories and background knowledge (Agama) is not clear (at least to me) based on this Sutra (#7). It would be unfair to expect one to explain it via an Aphorism. However we can still speculate (Cupiditas Speculandi!)

The fact Patanjali Yoga-Sutra presents wonderful illustration of this triangulation, albeit to be tested only subjectively (at least until now), and thus retain scientific characteristics of his aphorisms means that he would have had this triangulation in mind.

On the other hand, anytime ‘Agama’ was misunderstood and was interpreted as ‘knowledge beyond doubt, skepticism or criticism’, humanity has landed in big trouble.

I will give two illustrations:

  • Christianity included Aristotelian science as part of their Holy literature, turning it into dogma (i.e. to be accepted uncritically aka not to be questioned), it stagnated growth of knowledge and ensued dark age of Science in Europe.
  •  It appears that some of the Indian traditions modified Patanjali’s original ‘Pratyaksha-AnuMana-Agama-Pramana’ into ‘Pratyaksha-AnuMana-Shabda’ as means of ‘Pramana’. These traditions twisted this further by ignoring (or forgetting) the necessity of triangulation and also intrinsic role of ‘Pramana’ as part of this triangulation. Worse, they emphasized limitations of ‘Pratyaksha’ and ‘AnuMana’. This by itself was not wrong as they were emphasizing the trivially true! However the worst part of this twisting was their dogmatic insistence on Shabda (Authority-read-uttarance/opinion of Gurus, Godmen, Teachers, Professors, elders) that, IMHO, led to Dark Age of Science in India.

    ** I should add that Popper’s metaphor of Equilateral triangle with three corner points of (Explanation, Testing, and Prediction) does assume generation of Hypothesis (as part of Explanation), resultant consequences (as part of prediction) and also background knowledge.
    *Patanjali Yoga-Sutra (योग सूत्रानि पतञ्जलि) has four parts – Samadhi Pada (समाधिपाद), Sadhana Pada (साधनपाद), Vibhuti Pada(विभूतिपाद) and Kaivalya Pada (कैवल्यपाद)
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