Monday, May 28, 2012

Dripping crucifix vs Indian heretic

Bombay is a city with some of the best string theorists in the world (or at least the best ones among those who aren't affiliated with the most prominent U.S. schools) – and maybe the highest theoretical physics production per dollar in the world.

There are many crazy things going on in the Western countries but it's plausible that things may be even crazier in the third world, if you allow me to use this term, and perhaps even in India, a country trying to get rid of the third-world label (although, historically, India was obviously the main condensation core of what became known as the third world).

Hinduism is the main religion in India but various other religions – and Christianity is an important one – are allowed to control their respective subenviroments in this heavily multicultural society.

Yesterday, AFP told us that a
dripping crucifix sparks Indian blasphemy row.
See also Courier Mail.

What happened? Well, some tears appeared on the sculpture of Mr Jesus Christ above. What's the right explanation? The scientific consensus was speaking a clear language. About 97%-98% of the experts on the streets of this suburb of Bombay determined that it had to be a divine sign from God: Jesus Christ is crying.

However, Sanal Edamaruku, a 56-years-old president of a skeptical society with more than 100,000 members, visited the spot and dared to suggest an alternative theory: a leaking toilet drainage. One of the recommendations that follow from this heretical theory is that it may be medically or aesthetically threatening to imbibe.

The reaction was swift, especially after an emotional 30-minute TV debate.

Apparatchiks in various Catholic organizations instantly filed complaints with police. They objected the skeptic's "very obvious and stridenly anti-Christian bias". The scientific consensus of the street says that it's not a miracle yet – an official Church pronouncement is needed to transform leaking urine to a miracle – but the same consensus also rejects the skeptic's explanation because it is inconvenient. So the complete explanation remains "elusive", you're obliged to say.

The laws in India are preventing you from saying anything that is inconvenient to any large enough religious group (while sane people who believe scientific or rational explanations are apparently not allowed to consider themselves religious). So he may face several years in prison. Of course, the skeptic feels elevated, important, and optimistic so far.

I just can't imagine how it works in cities such as Bombay which must reconcile not only many different religions but also the superstitious society of the 17th century (if not minus 17th century) with the theoretical physics research of the 21st century (where string theory accidentally fell from the 22nd century). The belief in the crying Jesus isn't just a common Western Catholic Christianity; it's hybridized with some of the old-fashioned pagan superstitions, too.

Those superstitious Catholics must be ignorant about the fact that there is e.g. the Tata Institute in their city or about the fact that everyone in that institute considers a urine leak to be a more likely explanation of the phenomenon than a divine intervention. In fact, those people are investigating theories that are a million times more advanced, ambitious, and reductionist – and therefore blasphemous, I guess – than anything that Edamaraku could have considered in his life. They are working on theories that explain not only the crying Jesus but also any other observation in the world as the vibrations, splitting, and joining of building blocks that make up sculptures, urine, and everything else: strings and branes.

Your humble correspondent sincerely hopes that none of the weird bigots in Bombay will be able to surpass the expected intellectual level of sources he is reading by more than five sigma. If someone managed to include himself among the TRF readers, the Tata Institute and many others could be in trouble. ;-)

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