|Year : 2015 | Volume
| Issue : 1 | Page : 1-3
God does not play dice: Looking back from modern laboratories to the Himalayan valleys
P Ram Manohar
Director and Chief Scientific Officer, AVP Research Foundation, Ramanathapuram, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
|Date of Web Publication||18-Sep-2015|
P Ram Manohar
Director and Chief Scientific Officer, AVP Research Foundation, Ramanathapuram, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Manohar P R. God does not play dice: Looking back from modern laboratories to the Himalayan valleys. Ancient Sci Life 2015;35:1-3
In January this year, Science published a report stating that many cancers are caused by the bad luck of random mutations. This finding hit the headlines around the world, much to the annoyance of bodies like The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is the cancer wing of the World Health Organisation. The IARC issued statements expressing disagreement with this finding which stated that environmental and lifestyle factors accounted for less than one third of all cancers. Indeed, bad luck is not amenable to scientific research and defeats the efforts to identify causes of the disease that can be dealt with appropriate therapeutic strategies.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore had pointed out that in two thirds of cancer tissue types they had investigated, the so called bad luck of random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal cells could explain the occurrence of cancers. The controversy that ensued provoked the authors of the study to issue comments in a Johns Hopkins University statement changing the reference from 'incidence' to 'risk'. Science also published a follow up column where clarifications were made regarding the controversial statements in the previously published article. The staff reporter of Science, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel also wrote an interesting column titled "Bad luck and cancer: A science reporter's reflections on a controversial story" recounting her experiences in dealing with the controversy surrounding her article in Science.
The implications of these findings sound all the more frightening when it leads to the conclusion that most of these cancers can't be prevented because they arise from bad luck. Does this mean that there is no meaning in further research to identify the causes of cancer or that we should lose all hope of preventing this deadly disease? It needn't be so.
Good science is built on understanding cause and effect relationships in nature. More accurate the understanding, more the possibility of developing interventions that can restore stability and normalcy. Understanding nature is quite difficult and perplexing indeed owing to its complexity. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle suggests an apparent randomness in nature. Einstein was not at all happy about its implications and was prompted to make the famous statement - 'God does not play dice'. Einstein was inclined to consider that uncertainty was only provisional and that there was an underlying reality and hidden variables that remained to be discovered.
There are interesting perspectives on cause and effect theories in the tradition of Ayurveda. The ancient proponents of Ayurveda contemplated deeply on the natural phenomena and the laws that govern them. The Suśrutasaṃhitā sums up a spectrum of approaches that explain the natural laws behind the working of the Universe. The text points out that the great philosophers consider predictable natural laws (svabhāva), divine agency (īśvara), time (kāla), randomness/chance (yadṛcchā), fate (niyati) and transformation/change (pariṇāmam) as the cause for the manifestations and events that occur in our world - svabhāvamīśvaraṃ kālaṃ yadṛcchāṃ niyatiṃ tathā, pariṇāmaṃ ca manyante prakṛtiṃ pṛthudarśinaḥ.
Yadṛcchā or randomness has been proposed as an explanation for the chain of cause and effects that happen in the Universe. On the other hand, others hold the view that events unfold according to predictable natural laws (svabhāva). These are the two viewpoints that are of particular interest to us.
There is a discussion in the Carakasaṃhitā about the immutability of the knowledge of Ayurveda. The knowledge of Ayurveda is immutable to the extent that it reflects the nature of the phenomenon it defines (svabhāvasaṃsiddhalakṣaṇatva) because the natural laws are immutable themselves (bhāvasvabhāvanityatva). While death due to natural causes is inevitable (kālamṛtyu), there is always scope for preventing untimely death (akālamṛtyu) by human intervention based on the understanding of natural laws.
In the context of the discussion on the nature of the self (ātman), the Carakasaṃhitā minces no words in dismissing the notion of a random universe where events unfold based on chance - nāstikasyāsti naivātmā yadṛcchopahatātmanaḥ - for those whose minds are deluded by the idea of randomness, there is no self (underlying reality).
It is difficult to determine whether svabhāvavāda (theory of natural laws) overshadowed the other viewpoints in the development and evolution of the thought process of Ayurveda. It is quite probable that multiple schools of thought co-existed and dominated in different periods of time but we do find the thread of such an approach being woven into the fabric of a rational approach to healing in the tradition of Ayurveda. Vāgbhaṭa points out that effects reflect the nature of the cause - kāraṇānuvidhāyitvāt kāryāṇāṃ tatsvabhāvatā.
In the Carakasaṃhitā, there is a discussion on the microcosmic level of reality where microcosmic events occur in fractions of a second - nimeṣkālāt bhāvānāṃ kālaḥ śīghratarotyaye. i.e., "In one moment it exists and in the next moment it is gone". The text points out that there is a cause for the manifestation of these microcosmic events, but there is no cause for their dissolution. While dissolution is spontaneous, their manifestation has a cause and they do not occur randomly. Even when there is no apparent cause for the dissolution of the events, it has been proposed that the absence of the cause for manifestation could be considered as the cause for dissolution itself - kecittatrāpi manyante hetuṃ hetoravartanam.
We can thus see that the entire thought process in Ayurveda is centred on discovery of the hetu or cause so that effective remedial measures can be discovered and developed. Therefore, Ayurveda is also known as trisūtra, dealing with hetu (cause - aetiology), liṅga (symptomatology) and auṣadha (medicine). Treatment approaches therefore may either target the cause (hetuviparīta) or the effect (vyādhiviparīta).
It does not appear that the proponents of Ayurveda believed that everything in nature could be explained on the basis of the cause and effect theory or that humans can unravel the entire secret of cause and effect relationships. Therefore, we also find usage of terms such as adṛṣṭa (the unseen/unknown factor) and daivam (the unseen/unknowable effects of past actions) implicating the complexity of the causal chain of events that may culminate in a particular effect. But it seems quite clear that it was understood that the possibility of meaningful intervention in diseases depends on identification of the causes.
There are also discussions in the Carakasaṃhitā about the complexity of the cause and effect relationships and the texts points out that one particular event may have a singular cause or multiple causes and similarly multiple events may be caused by a single cause or multiple causes - eko heturanekasya tathaikasyaika eva tu, vyādherekasya cāneko bahūnām bahavopi ca. In fact, the discovery that events can have multiple causes led to the development of the concept of yukti as the corner stone of the principle of Ayurvedic treatment. Yukti is the application of intelligence aimed at unravelling the multiple causes (bahukāraṇa) working behind an incident and enables the physician to address the problem at these multiple levels to bring about a cure - buddhiḥ paśyati yā bhāvān bahukāraṇayogajān, yuktistrikālā sā jñeyā. ..... and siddhir yuktau pratiṣṭhitā.
In the section dealing with diagnostics (nidānasthāna), the Carakasaṃhitā concludes that both disease and health are dependent on the operation of specific causes. Both health and disease cease to be when the underlying causative factors cease to be - vikārāḥ prakṛtiścaiva dvayaṃ sarvaṃ samāsataḥ, taddhetuvaśagaṃ hetorabhāvānnānuvartate.
Perception of randomness as a cause reflects the limitation of the human intellect. The goal of good science is to make possible effective human interventions (puruṣakāra) to tackle problems such as disease that challenge human life. Even if we are unable to unravel the causative mechanisms in all instances, the hunt has to continue perpetually. The confrontation with the complexity of nature is a perennial challenge for the human race, be it in the laboratories of the Johns Hopkins University in our own times or the lush green valleys of the Himalayas many thousands of years ago.
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