Saturday, March 3, 2012

Analysis of History-Centrism - Part 1

A fundamental difference between Dharmic Thought Systems that originated in India and the Judeo-Christian type that dominates the west is that the former is primarily characterized by philosophical schools of thought focused on self-realization and the 'inner sciences', whereas a defining feature of the latter is History-centrism (HC). This is just one of the many important findings of Dr. Rajiv Malhotra that are mentioned in his revolutionary new book: "Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism". Dharmic thought systems (DTS) of India (including the faiths of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikkism, and Buddhism) are characterized by the absence of such history-centricity. On the other hand,  an examination of their Itihaas, writings, and the recorded debates indicate that the core beliefs were and are guided by one or more philosophical schools of thought.

Reading Dr. Malhotra's book, I was struck by the clearly delineated 'business rule' driven nature of the institutions of HC that centrally manage the religion that arises from the history-centric thought. This meant that it is quite possible to precisely define and represent their membership rules using logical and mathematical models (!)  In this post (first of a series), we begin to explore this idea in depth, and hope to take it to its logical conclusion over time. The use of such a technique allows us to bring into play all the well-defined and universally understood rules of logic and mathematical modeling and infer the rich set of daisy-chain like implications that arise from HC. This in turn will help us better understand the impact it will have in the future on its adherents as well as non-adherents. For example, the hope is that, among other things, it will enable us to go beyond circumstantial evidence and rhetoric and more precisely answer questions like "does the theology of HC religions automatically imply a quest for eventual world domination?", or "does an enforcing of HC automatically imply a violation of the human rights of its own adherents at some level?", etc.

At this point in time, we do not formally finalize rigorous definitions, leaving them tentative and open to discussion, criticism, and corrections. We first state the logical model and then provide a concrete example to illustrate the same. Note: We use the word deterministic here to mean "with 100% probability", i.e. absolute certainty.

[Tentative] Definition
A history-centric thought system (HCTS) is defined by a single unique prior event,  (or fully enumerated and completed prior events, every one of which is unique) 'P' that is assumed to have deterministically occurred in history, even if data corresponding to such an observation is not available for validation or implied in the historical data available at any point in time after the occurrence of P.

Membership rule: A deterministic belief in this prior 'P' is both a necessary and sufficient condition for formal acceptance into the corresponding HCTS. The term 'prior' used here is analogous to that used in the domain of mathematical probability (Bayesian) models and turns out to be a useful aid for understanding and predicting the response of members associated with any given HTCS :
Implication 1
The prior P is non-reproducible

Proof: It follows from the definition that in a HCTS, the events defined by P are expected to never occur again even in a probabilistic sense (because if it did, it implies that either the events of P are likely to be non-unique or have not yet been enumerated with certainty).

Implication 2
Given a set of members of a HCTS, we can plausibly predict that their response to a future event to be consistent with the prior. 

Proof: Follows from the 'necessary condition' part of the membership rule.

Implication 3 
Beliefs in another thought system does not result in disqualification only if it does not conflict with prior P.

Proof: This follows from the sufficiency condition. These implications leads to the following key implication:

Separation Implication (Duality)
A belief in an alternative thought system results in disqualification if and only if it conflicts with prior P. 
Proof: The 'if' part of the statement follows from the necessary-condition, and the 'only if' part follows from the sufficiency condition.

We can call this result the 'separation implication' because it in effect bisects the time and space axis into two distinct regions. For example:

Application of the Separation Implication along the time-scale

Given the uniqueness of P at a point in time T(P), it is clear that the prior bisects the time-axis into two regions: (-∞, T(P)), i.e. before 'P' and (T(P),),i.e., 'after P'. Consequently, for any time before 'P', every entity is disqualified by definition and the member set is empty.

We now use the Christian thought system (CTS) as an illustrative example.

The beliefs of the Nicene creed form the prior P for the CTS. It includes [verification needed here. tentative]
a. The immaculate conception and Virgin Mary
b. Original sin
c. Jesus is the son of God / resurrection

Membership: A belief in each of these three elements this prior is a non-negotiable prerequisite for entry into most of the mainstream churches in Christian HTS (ref: Being Different)

Implication 1
Another equivalent immaculate conception, a return to Adam/Eve, and a daughter or another son of God, an equally divine son of another God, can never occur again. This guarantees the monotheism of Christianity.

Implication 2

Regardless of the context, rational members will never subscribe to thoughts that violate the CTS prior. For example, the movie 'Da Vinci Code' attempted to break the determinism of Prior components (a) and perhaps (c), and thus comes into direct conflict with the defining characteristics of CTS, and thus opposed.

Implication 3 
A member of the CTS can dress like an Indian, learn Carnatic music, light incense sticks in front of Ganesha, do 'Yoga', and use moral ideas from the Vedas, and quote the Thirukkural. None of this comes into conflict with the above prior and thus does not imply disqualification. This result in turn implies that such cultural data can be digested into the CTS without conflict.  A member can marry a non-CTS and permit his/her spouse to retain their original faith (or non-faith). What is more interesting is the membership of the progeny that is an output of such a union. A statistical study may reveal interesting results here.

The Separation Implication applied to CTS
A person can memorize the ten commandments and follow all the positive teachings of love and forgiveness attributed to Jesus, but he/she remains disqualified unless he/she swears belief in prior P. An important and direct consequence of the Separation implication is human duality since it separates the population on the planet into two distinct binary categories. Those who are human and exclusive members and those those who are not (including plants, animals, and all other non-humans on this planet and ETs).

Similarly, a person who believes in the concepts of original divinity and the non-duality of the universe is disqualified from membership since it violates the notion of duality inherent in the prior (why?).

Application of the Separation Implication along the time-scale
Anybody in this universe before the Christian Prior were non-members.

In future posts, we will bring out additional implications and discuss more topics from Rajiv Malhotra's amazing book.

Update: March 25, 2012
Bayesian Prior versus History-Centric Prior
We start with a useful but non-rigorous Wikipedia descriptions of a Bayesian prior:
" [A prior] is meant to attribute uncertainty rather than randomness to the uncertain quantity ..."

"A prior is often the purely subjective assessment of an experienced expert."

At this point in the process, there is little difference between a HC prior defined in this post and a Bayesian prior. However in the latter case, as new empirical data becomes available, the belief, expressed in terms of a probability distribution, is updated to take this new information into account and does not remain static. After a sufficiently many observations, the probability distribution is almost completely data-driven, losing its original subjectivity. On the other hand, a belief based on a HC prior is indifferent to new data and remains frozen in time. It must be noted that a some of the HCTS members will not behave in this manner and eventually reject their membership once they recognize the seemingly irreversible conflicts between the newly observed data and the unique historic prior (more about this in Part-2). In other words, a HCTS can become a relatively more inclusive and rational system by re-modeling its prior in terms of a Bayesian prior. Unfortunately, this means 'loss of membership' and a rejection of prior P.


  1. brilliant mathematical illustration. wish you good luck with this work.

  2. Dear Ankur, thanks for your generous praise. Your words of encouragement act as a boost for our fledgling effort. thanks again, sir.