Sri A.V. Balasubramanian's write-up on Is Indigenous Technology Simple' (vide PPST Bulletin No. 11, June 1987) while providing information on some ancient technologies, fails to answer his own question adequately. No doubt, Indigenous Sciences and Technologies (S and T) need to be studied and understood in our own terms and in relation to our society, our history and our needs; one may go further and maintain that they should have been applied in the present times so that the S and T base is widened appreciably and usefully. However, a direct comparison of Eastern (Indian) and Modem (Western) S and T becomes difficult since the respective cosmologies and hence, the linguistic and semantic contents of S and T itself is divergent. It is, further, not a question of right or wrong of a given method; it is rather its appropriateness with respect to a' situation, given the fact that human beings around the world are not completely different, but have the common goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama and sometimes, Moksa to top it all. This paper provides an example in the S and T practiced in the ancient worlds with comparisons1 of the Western world-view and purports to provide an answer to Sri Balasubramanian's query.

All ancient technologies, be it Indian, Chinese or American Indian - have a holistic and theocentric conception of the universe with the position and role of humans well defined. The Western science' and hence, technology is still homocentric or anthropocentric. This difference in outlook is basically due to the cosmological models pursued by each of the two cultures. Indeed, one may even go to the most basic of all concepts in the phenomenal world to appreciate this dichotomy - namely, the ideas regarding time and space which differentiates these two cultural outlooks. In the Indian view, space and time are mere phenomenal appearances while in the Western view; a linear homogeneous existence is ascribed to these fundamental entities. Quoting K.N. Nayak (cultural relativity: A unified theory of knowledge, Vol. 1, Saddharma Prakasaka, Mangalore 1982, p.2-3)

‘Frames of references generated by taking for granted the positive existence of time and space, with linearity and homogeneity as their respective characteristics, can be characterized as exclusive frames. Conversely, the frame of reference generated without commitment in advance to any type of existence of time and space in any definite terms can be characterized as an inclusive frame. These two types emerge because a frame of reference which is 'positive' rather than simply 'neutral' about time and space forecloses its own reform and thus restricts inquiry. It thereby becomes an exclusive frame in comparison to a reference frame which renders its own reform unnecessary by means of non-commitment or 'neutrality' as to any conclusions whatsoever about time and space - an inclusive frame which will not exclude any inquiry and ultimate conclusion. The exclusive frame excludes the inclusive frame and the inclusive frame includes the exclusive frame. Thus, the exclusive and inclusive frames are the opposite poles "on a continuum of the entire ideological frame-spectrum rather than a pair of opposites' (author's emphasis).

Thus we see an antipodal approach to space and time, diverging views on cosmology and the role of humans, as well as the evolution of man that emerge from the Indian and the Western view, respectively! Naturally, the S and T base emerging out of these world views are different. For example while Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Yoga etc., emphasize the cosmic energy flow and balance of humors in the body vis-a-vis their interactions with cosmological factors, modem Medicine is preoccupied with the pathological basis and individual organ abnormality without any relation to the environment, both internal and external. Only now, modern Medicine has turned its attention to the psychosomatic basis of disease processes implying a mind-body link even if an imbalance is apparent only in the body.


Simplicity or otherwise of any process should be defined from the point of view of people interacting maximally with the system. Since 'Simplicity' implies accessibility to most people, people coming across such a technology will be tempted to buy the end product of the technology. However, unlike what is made out in the above cited paper, simplicity need not imply increased cost nor even increased neither energy consumption nor degradation of the environment. Balasubramanian gives the example of a bicycle - its complex design; however, it is obvious that this mode of transportation is probably the least expensive, it is least polluting and consumes very little energy during normal use. Indeed one might say, under specific circumstances, it even improves the health of an otherwise sedentary urban user.

Simplicity is also related to the overall cosmological perspective involved in the development of an ideology. Naturally, a complex cosmology will give rise to a complex interaction pattern whose specific outcome is difficult to discern. For example, there are 72,000 nadis in the human body (as per Ayurveda and Yoga) each interlinked with others, crisscrossing through various chakra points and passing close to the skin at more than 300 points. Stimulation of the 300 odd points on the body surface through heat or a needle (as per Acupuncture) will open and close channels at distant locations in the body thus balancing the humeral outflows. It will take several years of hard work for a traditional acupuncturist to learn all these intricate networks, apart from reading of nadi (pulse), looking at the eyes, observing myriad reactions of the body, tracking the pattern of mind, correlating astrological charts, detecting family traits, etc. Thus, a traditional acupuncturist is at once an astrologer, nadi examiner, cosmologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nature cure expert, physiotherapist and not the least, a good friend of the patient.

Modern Medicine is an off-shoot of the anthropocentric science of the middle ages. While modern (meaning Western) science has succeeded in throwing off the shackles of anthropocentric and reductionist attitudes of the middle ages and of the late nineteenth century, Biology, Psychology and related medical sciences have yet to gain such insights. They are still groping with materiocentric concepts in trying to understand life and evolution. Thus, the role of the mind, subtle energies and environmental factors in health and disease are not under stood and not even properly formulated thus far. Hence, the modern medical sciences are 'simplistic' in outlook, though the technological support for this simplistic attitude has become very complex and expensive. One wonders what technological innovations will come to pass when this simplistic outlook of modern science gets knocked down and more sophisticated and inescapable concepts of mind - ecology - God are introduced!

Turning once again to the ancient medical technologies, only a select few with occult abilities, deep understanding of human nature and an unswerving dedication to the sick are selected to serve the sick. In contrast, almost anyone with a mediocre knowledge and a smattering of and casual acquaintance with medical terminology could practice modem medicine. Avail ability of a set of powerful drugs, powerful imaging technology methods and a simple cosmology has produced a large number of medical technologists who can deal adequately with many diseases.


In the light of the above examples, it is obvious that simplicity in S and T is related more to the philosophy backing the S and T rather than to the equipment, cost and energy inputs the process requires. This is to be expected as the inclusive frame includes the cosmos, the human and the anu (atom) in one sweep/ integrating their interdependence and, hence energy exchanges in a complex way. Thus, the inclusive frame of medical practices (Ayurveda, Acupuncture, Yoga, American Indian Medicine etc) are more sophisticated in concept and hence in practice,1 than the exclusive frame of modern medicine. This is further obvious from the earlier definition of Dr. Nayak wherein it was mentioned that the inclusive frame includes the exclusive frame, while the converse is not true. Further, since in the inclusive frame, position of human beings is non-central, and since nature is central, the technological innovations are related to maximizing natural processes and not necessarily to maximize the insatiable desire of humans, thus, the examples cited by Balasubramanian and others in agriculture, water management, forestry, development of tools and technologies (all nature-centered) satisfy the criterion of maintaining and sustaining natural cyclicity. However, any human who works under constraints of egoistic ends, ends up as an agency reduced to 'mere button pushing. This is not related to the cosmic philosophy of the S and T, rather on individual philosophy..A woman who carries water from a well two miles away is as much a button pusher as*a woman who is bent over a conveyor belt picking out improper electronic components in an air-conditioned factory. Here, the attitude to work rather than the work itself in question. A philosophy which is able to sustain an attitude of self-less service perhaps to the family and then to the society - is one that makes a person transcend the mere, egocentric experience of button pushing. The Indian philosophies indeed emphasize such self¬less service; perhaps this is why our population is still able to retain semblance of sanity. Needless to say, n practice, the modern Indian falls far short of such lofty goals, while one finds people in a less profound philosophical environment, practicing more profound attitudes of charity and love. Only time and attitudes of people can tell if we could ascend to the levels of glory .in this country where no one is in the centre, and yet, everyone is a complete human being.

Author:Prof. T.M. Srinivasan

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