Monday, November 26, 2018

Sachdev: ancient Indian airplanes are harmful

While the West is bombarded by hostile comments directed against theoretical physics, it is somewhat refreshing to look at related – but unequivalent – stories that folks have to deal with in very different cultural conditions.

An ancient Incas' airplane which is over 1,000 years old. Click for an article by Lumír Janků that also describes the ancient Indian, Egyptian, and Slavic-edition-of-Biblical aircraft etc.

Subir Sachdev is a top condensed matter physicist, I know him somewhat well, he's been the most important condensed matter physicist who embraced AdS/CFT in his research, and he's currently the chairman of the Harvard physics department where I have spent six years. He just gave an interview to an Indian publication in New England,
Harvard University Physics Chair Subir Sachdev: “It is Very Harmful to Make False Claims About India’s Contribution” to Science and Technology
He says that the actual contributions of Indian folks to science is good enough and adding superstitions to it is actively harmful because intelligent kids such as himself decades ago become skeptical about the true statements as well – after they figure out that most of the claims out there are nonsense.

It's very true, what he has described is another mechanism how the distortions in the media damage the future of science and technology.

When it comes to the Indian contributions, he mentions the decadic-style place-based system around 500 AD, mathematicians I don't actively know (Aryabhatta, Bhaskara, Brahmagupta), as well as mathematics and physics minds whom I know very well such as Ramanujan, Raman, Bose, Chandrasekhar.

But some folks want the Indian contribution to the scientific and technological civilization to be more profound:
INE: What about ancient India? Some high-level Indian officials have been making claims of airplanes existing in ancient India. How much truth is there?

SS: There is no shortage of great scientific and mathematical achievements in ancient India, but there is simply no truth to outlandish claims like airplanes.
Indian patriots are great and I tend to think that I would vote for such parties if I were Indian. On the other hand, saying that the ancient Indian civilization had airplanes is batšit crazy.

Certain knowledge and careful refinements were clearly needed to build airplanes and there are good reasons to think that these advances only materialized a century ago or so. That's one part of the argument that the ancient Indians didn't have airplanes.

But you may also argue by looking at the hypothesis from the opposite temporal direction. Imagine they could have built airplanes. Wouldn't it be surprising that Indians forgot these things – and many easier things – in the following millenniums? There are many things that are strictly simpler than airplanes – but Indians still didn't have them 500 or 200 years ago. Why?

To forget this technological know-how would amount to a nearly complete collapse of the civilization. India arguably stagnated after the Vedic period or whatever you choose as the golden era. But there has been no complete collapse that would allow them to forget advanced technology, see history of India.

Don't get me wrong: I do find the similarity between the old golden Incas' "airplane" at the top and the modern airplanes scary. But the old folks must have been jealous about the birds' ability to fly and they could have thought about an "artificial bird" – and the airplane sculpture is a rather natural man-made simplification of the bird concept. The ancient statue is a hybrid of a bird, a human with two pairs of limbs, plates that may be artificially produced, and a penis. It just happens that such a hybrid is unavoidably close to modern airplanes. However, the path from this "sketch" to a working prototype is long.

People like me have had the pleasure to meet numerous brilliant and charming Indian thinkers – especially theoretical physicists. But I am not impressionable enough to imagine that they are representative of the Indian society. Well, this viral video is how I imagine the average Indian experimental physicists in electrodynamics:

The Indian counterpart of Alessandro Volta ;-) just walked on the train, casually grabbing the high voltage wires in his hands. What the result could be? Well, sadly, it was as spectacular as you could expect. It seems to me that not only the Darwin Prize winner but lots of others around him must have been clueless about the danger he was facing.

Needless to say, the Western Muslim part of the old India, Pakistan, has suffered from similar silly superstitions as the ancient Indian airplanes, see e.g. the 2012 Pakistani water-powered car. This shouldn't be confused with the newest Czech air-powered Musk-killer rockets, SABRE. Use Google Translate to see the content of an interview with a top Czech SABRE guy. So far, I believe that this air-breathing fuel approach is possible.

I think that India is an important region or civilization that everyone else can learn from. It seems clear to me that lots of people over there fail to be very intelligent – the average Indian IQ is actually quoted as 82 and similar numbers – but top Indian theoretical physicists still managed to survive (if they really had the ancient airplanes, those didn't survive and that's too bad).

I actually believe that the caste system has been essential for this survival and the West will have to develop a similar structure to segregate and therefore protect the classes if it wants to defend e.g. the string theory elite from the aggressive pseudointellectual "warriors" that belong to a different caste.