|Posted: December 7, 2006, 6:51 am - IP Logged|
Few Americans are aware of the immense scientific contributions of India and China.
Albert Einstein wrote: “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.”
The number zero was introduced by an Indian mathematician named Aryabhatta. We take the significance of the number zero for granted.
Yet, until one thousand five hundred (1500) years ago, mathematicians did not realize that it was necessary to include zero in their number system.
Today, the binary system of zeros and ones is the absolute cornerstone of computing.
It would have been impossible to develop computers based on the Roman system of numerals. Therefore, I argue that the introduction of zero into our number system is the greatest scientific achievement of all time.
It is difficult to disagree with the American writer Mark Twain, then, who said:
“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grand mother of tradition.”
Yet, in the main, American history books omit the contributions of India. They omit the contributions of Arab scholars. They omit the contributions of China.
The science of astronomy was also spurred by the need to have accurate calendars and a better understanding of climate and rainfall patterns for timely sowing and choice of crops. At the same time, religion and astrology also played a role in creating an interest in astronomy and a negative fallout of this irrational influence was the rejection of scientific theories that were far ahead of their time. One of the greatest scientists of the Gupta period - Aryabhatta (born in 476 AD, Kusumpura, Bihar) provided a systematic treatment of the position of the planets in space. He correctly posited the axial rotation of the earth, and inferred correctly that the orbits of the planets were ellipses. He also correctly deduced that the moon and the planets shined by reflected sunlight and provided a valid explanation for the solar and lunar eclipses rejecting the superstitions and mythical belief systems surrounding the phenomenon. Although Bhaskar I (born Saurashtra, 6th C, and follower of the Asmaka school of science, Nizamabad, Andhra ) recognized his genius and the tremendous value of his scientific contributions, some later astronomers continued to believe in a static earth and rejected his rational explanations of the eclipses. But in spite of such setbacks, Aryabhatta had a profound influence on the astronomers and mathematicians who followed him, particularly on those from the Asmaka school.
Mathematics played a vital role in Aryabhatta's revolutionary understanding of the solar system. His calculations on pi, the circumferance of the earth (62832 miles) and the length of the solar year (within about 13 minutes of the modern calculation) were remarkably close approximations. In making such calculations, Aryabhatta had to solve several mathematical problems that had not been addressed before including problems in algebra (beej-ganit) and trigonometry (trikonmiti).
Carl Segan, a renowned astronomer at Cornell University, who hosted the public television series "Cosmos" in 1985, pointed out that Hindus were the only ones who came anywhere close to correctly estimating the real age of the universe. Unlike many cultural traditions which treat science and religion as antithetical to each other, the Hindu tradition encourages the study of physics and metaphysics both for a comparative understanding of the true nature of the cosmic mystery surrounding and pervading the universe