Debating evidence, method & Inferences: Oak vs Koch – Part 1

Shri Dieter Koch wrote an article titled ‘Arundhati, Vasishtha, and Nilesh Oak’s Dating of the Mahabharata War. A Critical Examination by Dieter Koch’ sometime in late March/early April 2017.

I was copied on it. I responded to his article and we exchanged couple of times before he decides to quit the discussion.

The discussion is important for various reasons and I plan to present it here in parts, for its archival value.

What follows is part 1

Dieter Koch writes,

Vasishtha and Arundhati In Bhishmaparva 2, Vyasa informs King Dhritarashtra about omens that took place shortly before the war and allegedly indicated a great bloodshed. One of his verses reads as follows (translation mine):

या चैषा विश्रुता राजंस्त्रैलोक्ये साधुसंमता अरुन्धती तयाप्येष िवसष्ठः पृष्ठतः कृतः (31)
yā caiṣā viśrutā rājaṃstrailokye sādhusaṃmatā arundhatī tayāpyeṣa vasiṣṭhaḥ pṛṣṭhataḥ kṛtaḥ (31)

And, O king, she who is praised in the three worlds and esteemed highly by the Sādhus, Arundhatī, she has even placed [her husband] Vasiṣṭha on her back (or put him behind herself?).

While everybody agrees that Arundhati and Vasishtha are the two stars Mizar and Alcor in the constellation Ursa Major, the exact astronomical meaning of the verse remains a mystery. Nilesh Oak proposes that it refers to the distance in right ascension between the two stars. Although their positions relative to each other are very stable in a sidereal reference system, the precession of the earth axis causes an apparent change of their orientation within the equatorial coordinate system. As a result, the following phenomenon could have been observed in the remote past: Before about 11.089 BCE (or slightly earlier according to Oak), the star Vasishtha transited the meridian1 before the star Arundhati. After that, between 11.089 BCE and 4508 BCE, Arundhati transited the meridian shortly before Vasishtha. And finally, since the year 4508, Vasishtha has transited the meridian again before Arundhati. Nilesh Oak believes that Vyasa’s verse refers to this phenomenon.

This is a reasonably accurate depiction of my claim.  Only thing I would change is the last sentence.  I do not believe, but am ‘asserting’ that Vyasa’s verse refers to this phenomenon.  Big difference since assertion is to be backed by evidence. Belief does not need any evidence.

Dieter Koch writes,

The astronomical calculations of Mr. Oak are no doubt correct—if it is assumed that the sidereal proper motions of the stars are constant over a period of several thousand years. Since this is a difficult and unresolved question, let us assume the years calculated by Oak and myself are correct.

Again, we have no reason to argue here about minor variations.  I am comfortable stating that Epoch of Arundhati (when Arundhati could be seen walking ahead of Vasishtha) goes from 11000 BCE through 4500 BCE and I am good with that, since it does not affect my assertion for 5561 BCE as the year of Mahabharata war.  Such issues of accuracies may become critical if someone proposes a year for the Mahabharata war that falls, inside this epoch of Arundhati but very near 11000 BCE or 4500 BCE.

At this point, Shri Dieter Koch enter into his first faulty inference, from which he would not recover….

Dieter Koch writes…

But does this solution make sense? From the calculation, it seems to follow, at first glance, that the Mahabharata War must have taken place around 11.000 BCE. However, this is very unlikely.

That the Mahabharata war must have taken place around 11000 BCE is not my interference but rather that of Dieter Koch.  It is faulty inference driven by some logic that Dieter Koch must walk us through.  In addition, there is nothing ‘likely’ or ‘unlikely’ about this time.  In fact, scientifically speaking any year within the span of about 6500 years (11000 BCE -4500 BCE) of this Epoch of Arundhati are as likely as any other, based on the inference of this single AV observation.

It appears that his faulty inference above might be driven by the following equally faulty argument.  Of course, he can tell us otherwise.

Dieter Koch writes,

Archaeological and historical facts, including historical information given in the Puranas, indicate that the war must have taken place after 2000 BCE, even more likely after 1500 BCE. In addition, it does not seem very likely that a memory of astronomical content, which is handed down only among stargazers, survives uncorrupted over more than 10 millennia. Well, of course “unlikely” does not mean “impossible”.

I am at loss to even guess what archaeological and/or historical facts he might be referring to.  In a serious investigation of this kind, anyone claiming an evidence from another (for that matter ‘any’ discipline) should not assume anything and lay bare facts on the table.  Thus, I request Shri Dieter Koch to state in no uncertain terms the archaeological and historical facts, including historical information given in the Puranas that lead to his claim of 2000 BCE or for after 1500 BCE as the timing of Mahabharata war.

Scientific theories are never judged by ordinary understanding of probabilities such as very likely and unlikely.  Before a theory is tested, a theory closest to the truth has very high improbability of being true.  I would end this subject of (likely, very likely, does not seem very likely and impossible) by referring Shri Dieter Koch and other readers to writing of Sir Karl Popper.

Dieter Koch writes,

Now Mr. Oak does not date the war to 11.000 BCE, but as late as 5561 BCE, i.e. about 5500 years after Arundhati and Vasishtha had “commuted” their positions. Of course, this is still a lot too early from an historical and archaeological point of view, but let us leave this point aside because Oak does not accept this kind of evidence, as is obvious e.g. from his interview with Koenraad Elst on the following page:

https://vimeo.com/200132339  .

It is factually correct that the year proposed by me – 5561 BCE (originally proposed by Dr. P V Vartak) for the year of Mahabharata war is indeed about 5500 years after Arundhati could be seen walking ahead of Vasishtha for the first time. This is a trivially true factual statement.  BTW, there is nothing – NADA, ‘too early’ from an historical and archaeological point of view’ as stated by Dieter Koch.  I would request Dieter Koch to explain what he means by such a statement.

Dieter Koch then agrees to leave this point aside. He should not.  I insist that he does not and rather explain what he means by that.  Further, he completely misrepresents my position regard ‘this kind’ of evidence when he states that “because Oak does not accept this kind of evidence”.  He refers to my debate with Shri Koenraad Elst.

This is pure misrepresentation of my position.  What I have stated regarding archaeological evidence is that I accept available archaeological evidence as ‘impeccable.  What I disagree with is the inference drawn from such evidence with the faulty logic of ‘Absence of evidence= evidence of absence’.  Is Dieter Koch suggesting that he finds the logic of ‘Absence of evidence= evidence of absence’ acceptable?  He should state his position in no uncertain terms.

To be continued….

 

 

 

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One thought on “Debating evidence, method & Inferences: Oak vs Koch – Part 1

  1. Superb. Simply superb.

    I would like to point out a flaw in this observation:

    Archaeological and historical facts, ……, it does not seem very likely that a memory of astronomical content, which is handed down only among stargazers, survives uncorrupted over more than 10 millennia. Well, of course “unlikely” does not mean “impossible”.

    The oral route had been our tradition since many thousands of years. And the whole method of chanting the Vedas in the various `pathas`, `sangeeta, krama, ghana and the others(thirteen types), was exactly done for that purpose.

    God bless you Nilesh, you are doing a great `Dharma` and service to the society.

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