Entirely possible

An Indian minister has claimed that Indian scholars discovered gravity centuries before Issac Newton’s famous encounter with an apple, and called on the country’s scientists to promote more homegrown theories.

Sure*, why not? Wouldn’t surprise if some very clever people had worked out reality.

Charaka was a scholar who developed the concept of Ayurvedic medicine and learning around 300 BC, while Aryabhata was a 5th century mathematician and astronomer.

Show us the texts and we can have a look, eh?

*Telegraph apparently has this story on the wrong URL…..

38 thoughts on “Entirely possible”

  1. How does anyone “discover” something that isn’t lost? Possibly putting a name to a reality that everyone had always taken for granted maybe, but not “discovered”.

  2. It’s not that the West had a monopoly on clever people but that there was a system and means of sharing ideas that enabled the community to build upon and expand them. Call it, I dunno…… Science.

    Too bad we’re currently allowing the liars to destroy it.

  3. Everyone discovers gravity at a young age. Those that don’t die young. Describing it in a way that makes sense and is universally consistent is science.

  4. There is a surge in Indian nationalism that involves claiming that x was previously discovered by a famous Indian scholar hundreds of years before it was rediscovered in the west. I went down the twitter rabbit hole on this a few months back. Needless to say, the texts do not support the contention without the most liberal of readings.

  5. I think that there’s a big difference between noticing something and writing about it, perhaps as a basic organizing principle (“I have noticed elephants falling to the ground, and fruits also; it seems to me that this is not a principle of the earth itself but of all things, that they mutually attract”) and what Newton did (“… and the force of said attraction may be expressed precisely as the equation F = m0 x m1/ d x d”)

    The latter formulation being useful, the former being a vaguely philosophical speculation on everyday observation.

    While one should be vaguely suspicious of Wikipedia, the entry on Aryabhata provides no hints whatsoever that he “discovered gravity”. He did however do good basic ‘astronomy’, though apparently he described the paths of planets and sun in geocentric terms (it’s apparently claimed that he *really* thought of it as a heliocentric system, just never described it thus). The other bloke appears not to be relevant here.

    In short, it’s the standard inferiority complex of highly-placed Indian society playing silly buggers again. Didn’t we go though a phase where everything had been discovered/invented/perfected by Russians?

  6. Anyone who fell out of a tree discovered gravity. As Douglas Adams wrote, discovering it was easy, they even kept it on at weekends.

  7. @BiTiN
    Indeed. Giving the law of gravitation as an inverse square law applying to all objects and deducing that orbits (of planets around the sun) should form conic sections-that’s science (and mathematics). Saying that massive objects appear to attract each other (or, even less generally, that the earth attracts things) that’s the intial observation which has to be turned into science.

    I have no doubt that this proto-observation was made many times before Newton- for goodness sake, John Philoponus compared rates of fall back in C6th and concluded that variation was very small for large objects of different weights!

  8. I’d suspect many of the supposed originators of scientific principles have been somewhat over credited. Things like Archimedes’ Principal & Pythagoras’ Theorem are intrinsic in doing certain crafts and were common knowledge a thousand years before they claimed them. If Newton’s laws of gravity had a practical use, you can bet on someone having discovered them before Newton.

  9. Next they will be announcing Cliff Richard – Indian!

    Bloke in Germany – we had a system of sharing ideas, we didn’t call it Science at the time. We called it The Church.

  10. India has a very very good claim to have invented David Treddinick centuries before he himself was re-born as a Tory MP.

  11. Martin,
    Voodoo, Twitter and drunken rants down the pub are systems of sharing ideas.
    Sifting, logically evaluating, proving or disproving ideas… something different.

  12. @Martin… One would have thought that the church didn’t “share” ideas – it generally suppressed them or at best made them available to a very select few.

  13. @Baron [email protected]… One would have thought that the church didn’t “share” ideas – it generally suppressed them or at best made them available to a very select few.

    A role now taken over with enthusiasm by the university system.

  14. The point being that there is a great deal of difference between “discovery” and “useful application”.

    The first toddler that tried to walk, then fell “Discovered gravity”, but that doesn’t mean they had anything useful to give us.

    Show me an Indian text illustrating how the planets orbit the sun with any reasonable level of accuracy and predictability (as Newtonian physics does) and I’m more than happy to say “Sure a guy from Gujarat discovered gravity” (not India, since that is a colonial concept, even today)

    Frankly, I’m not seeing or hearing that, just a bunch of Indian nationalist / anti-colonialist / anti-white bleating about how the sweet dreams of India (like the caste system and suttee) were crushed by colonialist oppression.

  15. fnord: The Guardian’s current clarion call is for people to be licensed being being allowed to “do” science. If anything’s going to destroy the country, being banned from applying logical thinking before somebody allows you to will do it.

  16. Dunno. If it only applied to “Climate Science” then it would probably kill it off once and for all.

    “St. Greta of Thunberg, Licenced Climate Scientist, today said ‘The sky is falling. The sky is falling.’. Government is investigating the potential use of sky bolsters to keep it up.

    At some point we have to acknowledge that climate science is lost and must be abandoned, which will be a shame for the genuine climate scientists (as opposed to railway engineers and social studies lecturers posing as climate scientists)

    When gangrene is found, it’s too late to save the leg, concentrate on saving the patient.

  17. JS – indeed, which is why many scientists were also priests. Lots of experience debating ideas.

    And when the only people able to read were priests … who would read your work?

  18. Martin, the theologically acceptable ideas you mean.
    For much of European history to not be seen to be religious was to risk fines, career ruin or worse.
    Many sons of the wealthy and the aristocracy (the most likely demographic to become scientists) were virtually forced into the priesthood, just as many were thrust, more or less unwillingly, into the military.

  19. One needs to educate Martin in the concept of the “living”. Whence someone with a modicum of the divinities was given the care of a parish & the income went with it. And thus while away their time as the fancy took them. Their duties being small & unencumbering.

  20. next- the potato’s original theory of gravity . secondly gravity should be taxed. thirdly why gravity is causing global catastrophe. Fourthly The rich are using gravity as a tax haven so it should be nationalized . Fifthly -why Newton didn’t understand gravity and was wrong. sixthly give us a knighthood.

  21. Yeah, and ancient Indians invented chips too. Not the potato sort, obvs.

    Their descendants still sport them on their shoulders.

  22. @ bis
    So you are claiming that the scientists were lazy. Interesting viewpoint! Maybe you can provide some supporting evidence.
    A better argument would be that some vicars with inherited wealth could employ servants so that the time not spent on preparing sermons or attending to the spiritual needs of parishioners was available for scientific research.

  23. …Newton didn’t understand gravity and was wrong.

    He didn’t and he was. Which makes it all the funnier having revisionist third worlders claiming to have been wrong first.

    There is no force of gravity; there is the geometry of space-time altered by mass.

    It’s an attractive theory.

    They can get bent.

  24. There is no force of gravity; there is the geometry of space-time altered by mass

    Technically, yes. What we call “gravity” is just the distortion of space-time by mass. In defence though, we have referred to that distortion of space-time by mass as “gravity” for longer than we’ve understood the concept of space-time, so as a term of art and as an aid to the wider understanding of science, I think “gravity” as a concept (albeit a short-hand for something else) is still valid.

    Sometimes we need to call a manual dirt relocation tool a “spade”.

  25. “there is the geometry of space-time altered by mass.”

    I always enjoy pop accounts of distorted space-time which end up by implying that an object then naturally falls down a declivity.

    Is it any sillier than the popular account of how aerofoils work? A matter of taste, I suppose.

  26. ‘If Newton’s laws of gravity had a practical use, you can bet on someone having discovered them before Newton.’

    I imagine a fair few artillery men and archers would have a limited understanding of some of the concepts

  27. I’m intrigued by the notion of the Russians having perfected western ideas. Presumably they perfected WW2 BMW motorcycles by building inferior copies unchanged for decades. Or perhaps they set new standards in automotive technology by producing 1960s Fiats in the 1980s.

  28. It kind of depends on what his definition of ‘discovered’ is.

    Because people ‘discovered’ gravity a couple million years before Newton.

  29. @ john77 I would have thought the evidence was provided by the number of Rev’s found time from their exhausting ecclesiastical duties to write treatises on matters scientific, tales of their travels etc etc. Even the odd novel. Also that several of them seemed to have nailed down several ‘livings’ simultaneously.
    It’s not exactly different now, is it? Be a relief if the current incumbent of Canterbury spent a little more time on the godbothering & a little less on opining on topics are FA to do with him.

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