Indian influence on Greek Philosophy

Jul 2012
Another quick reply (I guess I will keep it this way, when I discover something while comparing, I post it, so maybe the most important argument will be in between)

Plotin has moral implications from his metaphysics (3rd enneade, on providence, 8), which is lacking completely in the Vedanta?

Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
Sorry it has taken some time to respond back to you civfanatic. I think we are having a different debate now. You are comparing Indian natural philosophy and science to modern science, while the original debate is comparing Indian natural philosophy and science to Greek philosophy and science. Indian natural philosophy and science is vastly superior to Greek natural philosophy and science, but not to modern science. Modern science has certainly exceeded Indian natural philosophy.

The Indians were able to discover a lot using their scientific methods and anticipate many modern discoveries, but they were limited by the observations they could make. They had a prototype of the modern scientific method and were even familiar with controlled experiments. In philosophy of science they were having very much the same debates as we were are having today: How can we justify induction and make induction stronger, and they also talked about falsification and knew that knowledge is epistemologically dynamic. This is why they were vastly superior to the Greeks.

The Greeks had a philosophical method as opposed to a scientific method. The Greeks did not take induction seriously, because induction did not give necessary and demonstrative truths. They thought that the truths of reality could be found in the mind and them formally presented in a syllogism. This is why they came up with such wrong ideas. If you arguing the Indians were also wrong, perhaps they were on some things, but not as wrong as the Greeks. It is not even a close contest.

We often trace the scientific method to the Greeks, but the irony is the scientific revolution could not have happen without first overturning all of our Greek ideas and Greek ways. In fact the scientific method arrived in Europe via the Arabs from India. Alhazan, the author of book of optics developed the modern scientific method and many of its protocols. Bacon developed on his work. The Arabs were very familiar with Indian sciences and the application of the Indian scientific method, especially in medicine. Hence why Arab's employed Indians to head their hospitals.

So many discoveries that we think are European are originally Indian, but historians have conveniently omitted the Indian origins of discoveries. The zero and decimal system was only recently, begrudgingly acknowledged, even that was credited to the Greeks. Most recently a growing number of historians of mathematics are now starting to slowly accept that Calculus came from India, but still mainstream historians omit it.

Indians have contributed significantly more to the history of science and philosophy than than the Greeks. It is not honest to keep on tracing back the beginning of science and philosophy to the Greeks.

I will respond to some of your points pertaining to the topic:

I am talking about the examples you yourself have given. The notion of five elements as well as the notion of "humourism" in Indian medicine (tridosha) are both nonsense.
As I already said the five elements theory is not unscientific, because it is based on epistemology of how your senses collect data. You senses collect sights, smells, tastes, touches and sounds. They are not reducible to one another, hence they are quite literally elements.

The five element scheme is ingenious for its times. The Indians were able to use this scheme in many of their sciences. In Indian medicine, plants and minerals were classified according to their colour, form, shape/taste/smell/touch. They same was done in Indian chemistry, gemology and botany.

I am not saying that we return to a five element scheme. Now that we have modern equipment like spectrometers we can classify things more precisely.

On this point, I should mention with great sadness that the continuing practice of Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) has resulted in many instances of poisoning and adverse effects among the patients upon which it has been administered. What is really sad is that these cases are completely preventable, but knowledge about proper medicine and pseudo-medicine is sadly lacking among some circles. Some relevant sources:

Heavy metal content of ayurvedic herbal medicine products. [JAMA. 2004] - PubMed - NCBI

Acute renal failure secondary to ingestion of ayurvedic medicine containing mercury

Use Caution With Ayurvedic Products

Be Wary Of Heavy Metal Poisoning From Ayurvedic Medicines | Medindia
This is due to lack of standardization and legislation on modern Ayurvedic companies, not Ayurvedic medicine itself. The use of mercury, silver, iron and lead is used in a special branch of Ayurveda called Rasayana or rejuvenation therapy, corresponding to modern therapy immuno-modulation therapy. This branch of medicine is based on herbs, minerals and herbo-minerals formulations that are known to enhance longetivity, energy levels and virility. This has been established on centuries of clinical trials(Ayurveda had its own clinical trial and drug testing protocols) Mercury had been established to be one of the main rejuvenaters, but it was also considered a toxic substance. The Ayurvedic pharmacist had to treat the Mercury by a special process whereby the Mercury would be reduced to minute nanoparticles, the minute nanoparticles would be combined with herbs increasing the bioavailability(in other words the herbs would be absorbed quicker and better) This type of therapy was used in very serious diseases like tuberculosis, cancer, leukemia and diseases resembling modern AIDS.
Recently, in modern medicine we have developed exactly the same form of therapy called Nanomedicine, and as in Ayurveda, Mercury is found to be just as effective. There are many scientific journal articles published in the International journal of Nanomedicine which compare them directly.

Ayurveda is not pseudoscience. It is proving to be highly effective in clinical trials, sometimes showing Ayurvedic drugs are more effective and safer than modern drugs in treating the same disease they are prescribed for(Guggulu in reducing blood sugar levels for Diabetes). This is why recently there have been several attempts at patenting Ayurvedic drugs, especially by Western companies.

Okay, I'll try again.

Democritus ---> Atoms must exist because it is illogical for something to be subdivided ad infinitum. There must be something which serves as the basis of all matter (this is elaborated on more by Lucretius in De rerum natura).

Indians ---> Atoms must exist because if something can be divided an infinitum, then you can rearrange those infinite pieces into anything you want. That is obviously impossible, ergo, it is illogical for something to be subdivided ad infinitum.

Both Democritus and the Indians believed that atoms must exist, because they both believed the converse was illogical. That's where they are both saying essentially the same thing. Obviously, their actual conception of what an atom is, and how it interacts with other atoms, differed.
Yes, they are saying the same thing only insofar as they saying atoms must exist. However, there method is not the same. The Indians are using more formal logical arguments. This is why the Indians have developed a more superior atomic theory.

With the Indian argument you can see how they get to the conclusion that atoms lack magnitude and are hence imperceptible. From this we can derive their atomic combinations theory. They say atoms only become perceptible after a series of aggregation. Two mono-atoms come together to form a binary atom, binary atoms come together to form trinary atom(This is identical to Dalton's atomic combination theory) and so on, until as the Indian natural philosophers said, the smallest perceptible atomic aggregate becomes perceptible as a mote in a beam of light. The Indians were so convinced that atoms existed they had corresponding time-scales going down to the atomic level, their smallest measure is 10^-7 corresponding to the moment of an atom. So the Indians theoretically knew about what we call subatomic particles. The word "subatomic" is a misnomer - we say "subatomic" because we thought Dalton's atom was an atom. The Indians would have called Dalton's atom a trinary or even higher order aggregate. What the Indians call an atom corresponds to our modern day quarks: pointless, dimensionless and not further divisible.

Democritus's argument is naive, he simply says "You can't go cutting something forever, therefore there must be a point beyond which you cannot cut further" But he did not make the leap that that point must be imperceptible and dimensionless. He still thought of atoms like everyday things like bricks, except tiny bricks. Hence, he imagined they too must link up like everyday things, with nuts and bolts, hooks and must be different shapes like triangles, circles and oblongs etc.

Democritus obviously had a very superficial and shallow understanding of atoms. The idea of atoms does not fit in the Greek world, hence why it was unpopular except among Democritus followers. Just like the idea of zero was unpopular with early Europe. On the the hand, atomism was almost accepted as a matter of fact by the Indians. They had even factored in that understanding in their standard measurements. All the schools of Indian philosophy(except Charvaka, because it denied inferred entities) accepted atoms and wrote extensively on them. Hence, it is most likely Democritus got the idea of atoms from the Indians, but his understanding was superficial and shallow.

There is nothing "elemental" about the five senses. All of them can be reduced to mere undifferentiated currents of electricity (action potentials) flowing to your brain.

The Indians said there were only five elements based on the senses because their understanding of human biology, as well as chemistry, was primitive.
As I said your empirical world - literally your world as senses apprehends it - is only made up of 5 sensory forms: smells, taste colours/forms, and sounds.

You can put every physical thing in either of these 5 categories. All solids things are of the nature of Earth, all things which are flowing are of the nature of water, all things that have colour and heat are of the light of nature, all things which are of the nature of movement are the nature of wind, and all things which are vibrations/sounds are of the nature of ether/sound(explained below)

The Indians had developed quite a sophisticated way of differentiating and analysing between the elements and also explained how they arrived at our senses

1) Earth: Smell, taste, colour, taste and sound, received by Earth atoms reaching nose
2) Water: Taste, colour, touch and sound, received by water atoms reaching tongue
3) Fire/Light: Colour, touch and sound, received by light atoms reaching eyes
4) Air/Wind: Touch and sound, received by wind atoms reaching skin
5) Ether/space: Sound, received by waves propogating to ear

The Indians were able to reach some valid conclusions due to this precise scheme of mapping properties. E.g., they knew water did not have any smell, so if it had smell it proved that it was mixed with Earth. They also know the blueless of the sky was not blue(because space has no colour) but was blue because it was mixed with light and air. They also knew that sound could not travel through a vacuum because it had no touch, it could only be manifested in air. They even explained the sound is made by the sound waves propogating through the air.

The Indians were aware that light was made up of light atoms travelling at tremendous speed and that these atoms were slowed down in water and was responsible for refraction. They were aware that reflection is due to back-scattering of light atoms. They also knew the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

The Indians explained gravity as a downwards motion and force. They considered all invisible forces(because they have the property of touch) to be the wind element. They understand magnentism and electrostatic attraction in the same way. (Compare this to Thales understanding magnet contained souls!) Surprisingly, the Indians were aware that gravity and electomagnetic forces are made of particles(gravitons are still theoretical)

If the ancient Indians were told about modern day entities like electrons they would probably place them in the category of water - because electrons flow.

Even today even we sort of say there are 5 elements: There are forces(electric, gravity, charges) there are waves, there are particles and there is radiation/light.

The Indian 5 elements scheme is actually ingenious and it did not hinder their scientific progress.

You have not explained what is "ether" and what it has to do with hearing.
The Indians understood ether to be a fifth physical elements synonymous with space which was carrier of wave activity. It is through which waves propogate. It is somewhat similar to the quantum. The similarity between the quantum and the Indian "akasha" is so striking that even modern philosophers of science have started to use the terms interchangably. Today science sort of admits the existence of the ether. The ether theory was rejected to due the Micheal-Morley experiment and replaced with Einstein's inertial frames, but it has come back again due to quantum theory and new experiments supporting its existence.

To the Indians the ether is the fifth elements from which matter originates where matter does not yet have physical form. It exists as a wave vibration. Then it evolves gradually through a process of aggregation gaining density.
The Nyaya-Vaiseshika school do not take their studies of matter beyond the ether, this is also the reason why are staunchly realist and atomists. Samkhya-Yoga, take their studies beyond the ether, they are evolutionists, dualists and interactionists.

There is very striking parallel between Nyaya-Vaieshika and Samkhya-Yoga, and classical-relativistic physics and quantum physics/string theory: Nyaya-Vaiseshika like classical-relativistic physics is realist, objectivist, physicalist and atomist. There is a strict body-mind dualism(like Descartes). Samkhya-Yoga on the other hand consider reality as a function between observer and observed. The interaction between the observer and observed is why there is a reality. If there is no observer, there is no manifest reality. Reality collapses from pure potentiality to actuality on observation.(But Indians are in agreement with Schrodinger, the observer is not a human observer because this leads to absurdity, it is a transcendental observer like Wigner's friend) What may do not know that Schrodinger was well read in Samkhya-Yoga(and Vedanta) philosophy and he borrowed his famous cat in the box paradox from the Indians. The reason why so many quantum physicists have made it a point to study Indian philosophy is because it deals with the same problems.

If you consider what I have told you about Indian natural philosophy and science so far, then you should be able to see how it is light years ahead of the Greek natural philosophy and science, and much closer to modern science.

I notice that you interpret the Indian atom as "quarks" whenever it suits you, and as the modern conception of an "atom" when it suits you.
No, I have already given you the definition of what the Indians considered atoms and I have not said anything different: Atoms are dimensionless, infinitesmal point like entites which are responsible for the sensible properties of things.(The Buddhists consider atoms to be momentary flashes of energy, similar to quantum field theory) What we call "atoms" and "subatomic particles" are misnomers. What we consider to be atoms would be considered by the ancient Indians as higher order aggregates. There can be such thing as "sub atomic" because for the Indians atoms are indivisible.

Why not? I thought Indians were about 2500 years ahead of the rest of the world, according to you. So why didn't they lead the way into modernity? Why was the scientific and technological gap between India and the West so astonishingly vast by the time Britain colonized India?
My Maths teacher use to say to me that if the Greeks had been allowed to continue their march of philosophy and science, we would have been in the space age 1000 years earlier. Similarly, Indian civilization suffered great upheaval. The Mahabharata war has been regarded by Indians to be absolutely devastating destroying much of the order of Indian society and losing so many of its learned one. From that time Indian civilization was on a downwards spirals and by 500BCE Indians were constantly invaded - left, right and center. Despite this, Indians were still way ahead in science right up until the medieval ages. They had already developed by this time formal methods of calculus and were giving equations of motions. But then they were under siege by the Muslims, all their universities and libraries were laid to waste. When the British arrived, India was already broken and a pale shadow of what it was in ancient times. Its GDP had been falling rapidly from the time the Muslim invasions had started - from 33%(1-1000AD) to 16% by the Mughal empire to 5% by the end of the British empire.

I really hope the Indians can reverse the downwards spiral and ascend back to the 33% golden eagle status they had in ancient times. But they will never be able to do that without reviving their civilizational consciousness. Let us hope the BJP which aims just to do that comes to power this month. The revival of Indian nationalism will change the world order and Western universities will have no choice but to revise their history books. They are already starting to reel under the power of the Indian economy(Re: California text books, Doniger and AIT) If Indians do not bring the BJP in power, then there will never be an Indian resurgence.
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Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
Just to make a minor correction: we say "subatomic" because we thought Dalton's atom was an atom. The Indians would have called Dalton's atom a trinary or even higher order aggregate. What the Indians call an atom corresponds to our modern day quarks: point-like, dimensionless and not further divisible.

Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
Just a quick answer from my side, more will come


" The existence of an individuated jīva and the world are without a beginning. We cannot say when they began, or what the first cause is. But both are with an end, which is knowledge of Brahman." (your source, 2.a)


"We hold that the ordered universe, in its material mass, has existed for ever and will for ever endure: but simply to refer this perdurance to the Will of God, however true an explanation, is utterly inadequate." (six Enneads, 2.1)

Isn´t this alone already a substantial difference?
Of course there are differences, but the similarities are far too numerous and identical in comparison to some differences. The Vedanta version is more sophisticated, coherent and systematic philosophy than Plotinuses mystical speculations. The Vedanta had to pass through the stringent standards of providing arguments and evidence in Indian scholarly culture, which Plotinus didn't or nor did any other Greek philosopher. Indian philosophy is often accused of being very technical and hairsplitting, but this was because in Indian debating culture the standards of scrutiny were very high. If the terms and definitions in an argument were not precise, an opponent could tear the arguments into pieces. One of the reasons Buddhism declined in India because it found it difficult to defend its non-self theory due to faulty definitions of self. The Vedantins, like the other schools, had to defend, refine and demonstrate every single point in their philosophy and make sure all inferences they were made were water-tight.

To answer your point on the perceived difference you have pointed out. The Vedantins assert that the individual soul and the universe has an end, because they are born out of ignorance. There is no real multiplicity of things. , multiplicity and separation of many things is illusory. Whence this ignorance arose is not answerable. However, when this ignorance can be ended is answerable; when knowledge dawns. While the manifest universe will perish, the unmanifest universe is eternal. The unmanifest universe is born from God's creative energy of Maya. Maya is eternal, beginnings and endless. An analogy Vedanta uses to illustrate this is a spider and its web. The web exists unmanifest in the spider before the spider projects the web. The spider, the aspect of the spider which produces the web and the web are like Brahman, Maya and universe and individual souls respectively.
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Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
Another quick reply (I guess I will keep it this way, when I discover something while comparing, I post it, so maybe the most important argument will be in between)

Plotin has moral implications from his metaphysics (3rd enneade, on providence, 8), which is lacking completely in the Vedanta?
You have not exactly outlined what those moral implications are. If you do, then I can compare it the ethical thought of Vedanta. Perhaps it would help and save me from perusing material on Plotinus, for you to do something similar to me and outline his philosophy. Then I can show you the similarities and the differences with Vedanta.

Vedanta, like all other Indian philosophical systems(Darsanas) has its own theory of epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. Indian philosophical systems are called systems because they are all rounders. They present an entire worldview and vision of reality and way of life.
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Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
Even today even we sort of say there are 5 elements: There are forces(electric, gravity, charges) there are waves, there are particles and there is radiation/light.
Just a clarification here, as I seem to be sleep walking while typing that post! I meant to say that even today we sort of have a 5 elements theory or our modern day physical entities could be put in the Indian 5 elements scheme:

Earth: Atomic elements in periodic table
Water: Electrons, fermions, bosons and other subatomic particles
Light: Photons, energy, radiation
Wind: Electomagnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear and gravity forces
Ether: Quantum, wavefunction

Come to think of it I like how elegant the 5 element theory is. We do not yet have an modern classification system which can account for all physical entities we know. There are different classification schemes in each of our physical sciences(chemistry: Periodic table; Physics: Standard model; Biology: genes and cells) While the Indians had a universal 5 element scheme, they did have subclassication systems in each of their physical sciences like we do. For example in chemistry they would differentiate between acid, bases and alkalis. They would classify chemicals into sub-divisions too like metals, ores. In biology they had separate classification systems for plants and animals. In medicine they used various kinds of classification systems.
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