Varadaraja V. Raman

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Varadaraja V. Raman
VVRaman.jpg
Born May 28, 1932
Calcutta, India
Citizenship Indian, USA
Institutions Rochester Institute of Technology
Alma mater University of Calcutta, Theoretical Physics, 1958
Known for Religion/Science dialogues, champion of science and enlightened values, bridge-building efforts between cultures, and a sense of humor
Notable awards Metanexus Fellow, Raja Rao Award, Acharya Vidyasagar, IRAS Academic Fellow Award, Nazareth College Interfaith Partnership Award, RITirees Award

Varadaraja V. Raman (born May 28, 1932) is Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has lectured and written Indian heritage and culture and authored numerous books, book reviews and articles on science and religion. He is considered expert in the Hindu religion, espectially as how it relates to modern science.[1] In 2005 he was elected Senior Fellow of the Metanexus Institute. In 2006 he was the recipient of the Raja Rao Award which recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the literature of the South Asian Diaspora.[2] On May 18, 2007, Navya Shastra, a reformist Hindu organization, conferred on him the title Acharya Vidyasagar in recognition of his contributions to Hinduism.[3]

He has guided our endeavors as an advisor and friend. His sagacious interpretations of Hindu culture are profoundly attuned to a timeless spiritual sensibility. At the same time, he unapologetically rejects outmoded practices that have no place in the modern world (…) In ancient India , a man like Professor Raman was called an acharya, a teacher of profound truths, a guide on the spiritual path, and someone an entire community looked up to. We at Navya Shastra are honored to proclaim Professor Raman – Acharya Vidyasagar- an embodiment of the ocean of wisdom.

Biography[edit]

Varadaraja V. Raman (called V V by his friends) is a multifaceted personality. He is an eminent philosopher, physicist, writer and author of original work in each of those categories. He was the recipient of the 2006 Raja Rao Award.[4]

To those who know him from close, Raman is also an intelligent and inspired prankster. This unusual but charming facet of his that arises from his great sense of humor reminds one of Krishna. Listening to Raman is always an educational experience. Conversing with him is always a pleasant event. It is impossible to come in contact with this person without coming away awed, inspired, and warmed. The enormous work that Raman has done even in his 'retired' years is definitely deserving of the Raja Rao award. - Prof. Nitant Kenkre [5]

Raman was born to a Tamil family which had settled down in Bengal. Blends of opposites, as of the North and the South in the case of his upbringing as a child, characterize him and may explain the keen insights he always displays into the nature of his surroundings. As a small boy, he learned to recite Vedic hymns in Sanskrit and Pater Noster in Latin. He read the Koran and the Torah. He has an impressive facility in French, German and Spanish, in handling equations of theoretical physics and in constructing verses, in pragmatic practice and historical scholarship, in science and art. His undergraduate work was in physics, his first postgraduate degree in mathematics. His doctoral work in Paris, carried out in the medium of the French language under the supervision of the Nobel laureate Louis de Broglie, was in theoretical physics, specifically on the mathematical underpinning of quantum mechanics.

He was fascinated by the depth and scope of meaningful knowledge that science has brought to humanity, and impressed by the power and coherence of scientific methodology. He grew up reading and reflecting on humanity's heritage. With strong links to his own tradition, he now regards himself as a human being most of all, with respect and sympathy for all that is enriching, ennobling, and enlightening in human culture.

After obtaining his doctorate from the Sorbonne, and publishing his research in the Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, he returned to India and worked at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. He served the UNESCO for a few years, during which time he became more interested in the history and philosophy of science. His varied interests took him into avenues of work well outside the confines to which many physicists are limited. Eventually, he settled down at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the USA as a professor of Physics and Humanities.[6]

He went on to publish extensively on the historical, philosophical, and social aspects of science. His scholarly papers on those matters have been on the history of thermodynamics, the origins of physical chemistry, the genesis of the Schrödinger equation, the early reactions to Einstein's theory of relativity, the impact of the Copernican revolution, and on the Euler-D'Alembert controversy in 18th century mathematical physics. He has also written on such topics as the history of the theory of gravitation, of the energy conservation principle, and of acoustics.[7]

In 1988, he was nominated by his university's president, and was a recipient of the Outstanding Educator award, presented in Washington D.C. by the American Association for Higher Education & Accreditation.[8]

He has lectured profusely on many aspects of Indian heritage and culture. In the early 1980s he initiated a journal called INDHER (Indian Heritage) to educate children of Indian origin living beyond the shores of India on aspects of their culture and heritage. Out of the articles in this journal grew two books: "Glimpses of Indian Heritage," and "Satanama: Hundred Names from India's Past," both published by Popular Prakashan in India. He gave a series of lectures on Verses from the Bhagavad Gita of relevance to the Modern World, which were published later as "Nuggets from the Gita" by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. He wrote a series of articles on Indian perspectives for India Abroad which are the basis of his "Reflections from Alien Shores," also a Bhavan's Book.

Raman has been a member of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, Philosophy of Science Association and History of Science Society. He has served as the President of various cultural/social organizations including The Interfaith Forum of Rochester, [India Community Center of Rochester, The Bengali Association of Rochester, the Rochester Tamil Sangam which he founded, the Martin Luther King Commission of Rochester. He was elected the 2004-2005 Metanexus Institute Fellow on Science and Religion, in which capacity he delivered six lectures at the Hillel Hall of the University of Pennsylvania on Indic Visions in an Age of Science.[9]

Raman is characterized in a conference program of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science as a trans-cultural voyager, who finds meaning in life as he courses from language to language, from physics to philosophy, from music to metaphysics, from Gita to Gregorian Chants, from Mozart to Musicals, from Shankara to Kant, from feasting to fasting, who experiences mystical thrills as much from Maxwell's equations as from meditation, addicted to alliterations, deeply committed to spreading science and Enlightenment, and very aware of the positive contributions of religions, a dedicated bridge-builder who thinks that what really matters in life is whether one has been kind and compassionate to fellow beings, and brought smiles and laughter to those with whom one interacts.[10]

Religious Naturalism in an Age of Science[edit]

Dr. Raman has been for many years a member and lecturer at the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) where he has been active in the discussions on the development of Religious Naturalism. He offers both the perspective of a scientist (physicist) and that of a teacher of religion (Hinduism). The basic Hindu view that there is sanctity in all life and in all Nature, a spiritual undercurrent in everything in the universe is also the basis for Religious Naturalism. He says in verse “As the waters falling from the skies, Go back to the self-same sea, Prostrations to different gods, Reach the same Divinity” A goal of Religious Naturalism is to unify science and religious belief into one compatible paradigm. He addresses the ongoing conflict between science and religion as follows.,[11][12]

Science is a quest to explain the world, to understand natural phenomena in a consistent, coherent, and rational framework. Through its meticulous methodology science has shown the causes of rain and thunder and a thousand other things we observe every day .…. Religions arose from the recognition of the significance of consciousness in a mindless universe. They have formulated ethical principles that channel our instincts for gratification and restrain self-centered aggressive behavior .….Religions also carry the weight of tradition. Sacred history which is deeply etched in the collective psyche of billions all over the world tells us that religions emerged from the visions of Hindu sage-poets, from the covenant of Moses with God, from the enlightenment of the Buddha, from the commitment of Mahavira to non-violence, from the sermons of Jesus of Nazareth, from the revelations to Prophet Mohammed, and from such momentous milestones in the cultural saga of humanity.

The core question in the conflict between science and religion is: Which is primary: matter-energy or consciousness…..Science arises when the finite mind tries to grasp the infinite complexity of the world. Religious experience arises when the finite mind contemplates on the infinite mystery. Both science and religion instill awe for the wonders of the world, respect for the flora and fauna that enrich our planet, and reverence for air and fire, for sunlight and soil, for rivers and oceans and for all the myriad forces that sustain life.

In a dissertation on faith and doubt,[13] Raman says one of the reasons for the incompatibility of science and religion is that in science “one believes what one sees, whereas in religion one sees what one believes in”. Science relies on data for its belief and religion on intuition. Faith is a necessary component in any religious affiliation. On the other hand doubt is an essential component of the scientific effort. Most working scientists applaud their skeptical attitude, while theologians, prefer to voice their non-skepticism in the faith components their religion.

In his concluding thought, Raman states “As along as skeptical unbelievers who tend to think they are the only scientifically enlightened members of the human family, regard traditional believers as misguided, irrational, and worse, there really can't be healthy dialogue between science and religion. Generally speaking, deeply religious thinkers tend to recognize the value and merits of science as a knowledge seeking enterprise, but when they usurp the role of science in formulating hypotheses or resurrecting ancient world views as scientific truths that they tend to irritate hard-nosed scientists.

The question "Why does something happen?" arises in science as well as in religion. However, the meanings attached to the question are implicitly different in the two contexts. Science tends to answer in a physical causative way, religion in a purpose way (teleological way). Physicists hold that interpreting why in the teleo sense, as Aristotle did, is a fruitless exercise. When religion tries to answer why in the causative sense, it comes into conflict with science. Raman beliefs science is OK when answering questions of causality but gets into trouble with religion, philosophy and aesthetic questions. As Raman is prone to do, he points this out in a poetic way -[14]

I once asked a scientist why the sky was so blue,

He was not sure if the answer he knew.

"I thought you knew it all," in surprise said I.

"Your why isn't clear," he gave as reply.

"If you wish to know the reason, why blue is the sky:

Blue waves are scattered, and reach the human eye.

For what purpose is it blue, and it is not green?

That I know not. You see, what I mean."

I asked a man of religion why the sky was so blue.

He said in the Scriptures there was for this a clue:

God made us and the world, this of course is true,

And to give us more joy, He made the sky so blue.

Raman lists ten underlying principles for his version of Religious Naturalism. They are the aspects of: philosophy; religion; experiences; aesthetics; religious history; community; empathy; hope; morality; humility; and gratitude.[15] In his “Some Reflections on Natural Religion”,[16] Raman considers the following findings of science: the why of the Universe is a mystery; it is governed precise laws; earth and life of it are a consequence of those laws; Earth’s conditions are narrowly defined so life is tenuous; eventually life and the universe will be dissolve; these circumstances inspires awe and reverence for Nature; the preceding must be among the fundamental tenets of Natural Religion.

Thus if humanity wishes to persist on Earth, it needs to conduct itself in appropriate ways which would keep humanity in peace with itself and in harmony with the world. This desire is the foundation for the ethical framework of Natural Religion. This in turn calls for an elimination of the harmful aspects in the moral code of earlier religions. This is enlightened religious humanism/naturalism.

Raman associates religion with spirituality as follows – [17]

The spiritual experience leads to ecstasy, even to glimpses of the beyond. If prayer is an effort to bond with the ultimate, meditation is a process for probing into the mystery of the self and of consciousness, of the nature and root of mind and awareness. It arises from the conviction that the divine is not someone or something to be accepted because it is so stated in holy books, but is rather a dimension of the universe that is to be apprehended by direct effort and personal experience. One of the profound insights of Hinduism is that there is but one ultimate Truth, but that even the most knowledgeable describe it in quite different ways, as in the parable of the Blind men and an elephant.

Humor and poetry[edit]

Raman is well known for his sense of humor and poetry.[18] “Now two questions remain. First: How did it all begin? Science says Big Bang, and religions say God. Why not simply say, God said, "Let there be a Big Bang, and the wide world was born." And God also said, "Let there be a Little Bang, and the DNA was born." Second question: What will happen to me when I die? I'll just wait and see, and I'm in no hurry to find that out. That's my statement on religion and science, and now I must get back to my sports program on TV”.

Respect land and trees, rain and dew:

This is religion enough in Amerindian's view.

Chinese wisdom, it would seem

Is to be with Nature, follow the stream.

Be good and kind, take rational ways:

This is all that matters, the humanist says.

Organizational affiliations[edit]

  • Editorial Board of Zygon.
  • Editorial Board of Theology and Science.
  • Board of Metanexus Institute also elected Senior Fellow
  • Served in the Editorial Board of The Physics Teacher.
  • Served in the Executive Committee of, and chaired The Interfaith Forum of Rochester.
  • Elected to ISSR (International Society for Science and Religion), Cambridge.
  • Elected Institute Fellow of Rochester Institute of Technology.
  • Council Member of Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, Chairman 2012 and 2013

Major publications[edit]

Blog

Books

  • 2011 - Indic Visions: In an Age of Science, Xlibris Corp., ISBN 146288363X
  • 2009 - Truth and Tension in Science and Religion, Beech River Books, ISBN 0-9793778-6-2
  • 2005 - Variety in Religion and Science: Daily Reflections, iUniverse, Inc., ISBN 0-595-35840-3
  • 2002 - Random Rhymes & Various Verses, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 1401046967
  • 2001 - Remembrances and Reminiscences, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 1401026559
  • 2000 - Glimpses of Ancient Science and Scientists, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 0-7388-1362-1
  • 1998 - Balakanda; Ramayana as Literature and Cultural History, Popular Prakashan Ltd , Bombay, ISBN 81-7154-746-X
  • 2000 - Variety In Science History, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 0738820873
  • 2000 - Scientific Perspectives, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 0738808237
  • 1997 - Nuggets from the Gita, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay,
  • 1990 - Santama: One Hundred Great Names from India's Past, Sangam Bks., ISBN 0-86132-251-7
  • 1989 - Glimpses of Indian Heritage, Popular Prakashan, ISBN 0-86132-181-2
  • 1984 - Reflections on science as an enterprise: A collection of papers, Rochester Institute of Technology, ASIN B000726IHA

Texts and manuals

  • Energy: In Nature and for Man.
  • The World of Science and Technology.
  • Glimpses of Science History.
  • Energy and the Environment;
  • Introduction to Quantum Mechanics.
  • Communication in Civilization (Kern Lectures).
  • The Worldview of Physics.

Articles/papers

More than fifty articles and scholarly papers in major journals in USA, Germany, India, Thailand.

Book reviews

Raman has reviewed more than 300 books appearing in CHOICE, Indian Association of History of Science, American Journal of Physics, Science, Physics Today, Science and Spirit, METANEXUS. Most of these books relate to science and society, science and religion, science and philosophy, etc.

Recent papers of relevance to Science & Religion

  • Science and Religion, Connections and Contradictions, CHOICE July, August 1996.
  • Vedanta and Modern Science, International Vedanta Conference, January 1996, Madras.
  • Science in the face of religion and mysticism, World & I, October 1996.
  • Science and Religion: Some Demarcation Criteria, Zygon, September 2001
  • Science and Spirit: A Hindu Perspective, Science and Spirit, November 1998.
  • Science and Humanism in the Modern World, Prajna Vihara: The Journal of Philosophy and Religion, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2001.
  • Which is More Dangerous? Science or Religion, Science and Spirit.
  • Science and Spirituality from a Hindu Perspective, Zygon, March 2002.
  • Was heisst Kulturelle Differenz? in Die Macht der Diffetenzen, Hermeia, Band 4.
  • Faith and Doubt in Science and Religion, Zygon, December 2004.

References[edit]

External links[edit]