What does it mean when we claim that we have to test a specific piece of evidence in an objective fashion?
Recently someone wrote to me in the context of my chronology research of Rigveda.
But isn’t Rig Veda poetic?
Why do we take the possible poetic exaggeration of River Saraswathi as the grandest and tend to stick with that? Poems can be taken in the poetic essence, meaning if a poem praises a king, it doesn’t mean the king is genuinely good. Normally it can also be the case that poets often praise kings for other benefits.
I am just wondering what the emotional attachment of the poet who lived near the drying up Saraswathi could have praised Saraswathi as a grand river. So I thought it could be poetic exaggerations.
Let’s explore this possibility. Of course, anything is possible and all we can do, science-speak that is, is to explore and test various conjectures for ‘more likely’ vs ‘less likely’ scenarios.
In any scientific testing, many researchers, unknowingly or unknowingly, end up explaining things, and as there are multiple translations and interpretations, there can be many explanations and inferences. Precisely for this reason, one should evaluate corroboration (i.e. any attempt at corroboration) of evidence by insisting on two critical factors
(1) does it explain the observation
(2) what are the inference/constraints that the corroboration provides, which is the valuable piece of information and the very reason a specific evidence is tested?
If one makes a conjecture that the poet was exaggerating river Sarasvati and calling up ‘drying Sarasvati’ as one going from high mountains to the sea, or the grandest of the grand river, etc. let’s see how it fairs against our ‘objective testing’ criteria.
(1) all the grand description of Sarasvati are explained (poetic exaggerations).
One may then look for other instances of such exaggerations in that poetry to see if additional corroboration exists for such a conjecture. This would involve looking for series of poetic exaggerations in Rigveda (or epics). This is required for the consistency of a theory (conjecture).
(2) The next part is very critical and the very reason this entire exercise is conducted. To find constraints due to a specific piece of evidence that would, in turn, allow the range over which the solution to the problem (when? where? how? what? which? why? etc.) is to be found.
If it is a poetic exaggeration, it can happen anytime. In that sense, the explanation is useless for drawing an objective inference. At best, we may say that since it is an exaggeration and not the description of the actual scenario, this could have only happened after 20,000 BCE when no longer the grand Sarasvati exists (as shown by me in my presentation). In this case, the evidence is not very useful to determine the timing of Rigveda composition. At best, we might say that it definitely did not happen before 20,000 BCE!
Now, I hope you see the turning and twisting involved in supporting this conjecture of ‘poetic exaggeration’. Other than the fact that poets do exaggerate, there is no objectively testable evidence that can ever verify that this indeed happened in this case. On the other hand, all available and testable evidence (beyond river Sarasvati) corroborates the alternate scenario.
In short, Occam’s razor would come in the picture (it better!) and would demand that we give up our conjecture of ‘poetic exaggeration.
Of course, we should ask the proponents of such a conjecture what specific constrained timeline can be inferred based on conjecture of ‘poetic exaggeration’. The answer would tell us lot more about the validity of their conjectures but also the motives of those who want to propose such a conjecture (see below).
If they fail to provide alternate meaningful explanation/constraints/inference then they are doing ‘Vitanda’. स्वप्रतिपक्षस्थापनाहीनो “वितंडा ”
[BTW, identical logic and equally pathetic arguments have been offered by well known Mahabharata researchers for my AV observation. (replace ‘poetic exaggeration’ with ‘evil omen’]
Finally, we can explore the motive of the individual proposing the theory.
(1) Is s/he proposing it to solve a specific problem, identify constraints based on the corroboration of evidence and resulting inferences OR
(2) if s/he is trying to explain it away so as to either maintain ‘a status quo (i.e. to justify the conclusion that the specific evidence is of no use in solving the problem) or to avoid falsification of his/her own claim? (i.e. their prime motive being that of वितंडा) – स्वप्रतिपक्षस्थापनाहीनो “वितंडा “