Saturday, September 08, 2007

East meets west

The NewScientist, has a section called Last Word, where readers ask some interesting questions and other readers, including some experts and specialists try to answer the question. Many other publications ( including The Hindu) have this feature, but I am picking out the NewScientist, because I happened to read a compilation of the questions and answers published in a book titled, “ Why don’t penguins’ feet freeze?

One of the questions asked was: “Is it true that the living outnumber the dead?”

The first to send in a reply was a Roger Thatcher, presumably from England. He went into detailed calculations published by the International Statistical Institute and other estimates provided by historians with access to census data over the centuries. He finally concluded that the total number of deaths between 40000 BC and the present comes to something like 60 billion. The present population is around 6-7 billion. Therefore, the belief that the living outnumber the dead is clearly a myth, he submitted..

The final contributor was a Shah Ahmed, presumably from the Indian sub-continent, who explained, “ In the Indian epic, Mahabharata, the eldest Pandava, Yudishtira was asked many questions, including the one posed above, by the God Yama, who was the keeper of the underworld and all that is righteous, to test Yudhistira’s knowledge, power of reasoning and truthfulness. When Yama asked, “Who are the more numerous, the living or the dead?” Yudishtira answered without blinking, “The living, because the dead are no more!” Shah Ahmed did not even state his conclusion; he must have felt that it was a no-brainer.

The answers, one by a person used to western methods of logical reasoning, measurement and analysis and another by a person steeped in Indian tradition of seeking philosophical explanations, reveal much. Same conclusion was reached, but using two different approaches.
Update 09/09/07 : As pointed out by Usha and anon, I have goofed. Conclusions are actually different. East is east and west is west. Twain shall never meet. Please adjust.


Anonymous said...

Same conclusion was reached??..More like different conclusions isn't it..

Usha said...

Aiyo I am confused didn't the second one say that the living outnumber the dead?

Raj said...

anon, Usha, you are right. Conclusions are different. East and west don't meet

Kiran said...

Another Question in New 'Raj' Scientist!
Q: Logic vs Wisdom...which one is more important?
A: Each one is as important and equal to the other...essentially reaching similar conclusions
Q: But how - aren't they inherently contradictory?
A: Saarrrr!! Both are same sarrr...if not, Svalpa adjust maadi saarr!!

:D :P (On a serious note, admire the variety of topics you pick to write about!)

Raj said...

kiran, don't rub it in. I am struggling to wipe the mud off my face ...