Giordano Bruno and Lord Kelvin

What do Giordano Bruno and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? And what do Lord Kelvin and Nathuram Godse have in common?

[ I was just writing a comment on a friend’s post that linked to this article; but soon it seemed to be running long enough for a post in itself; so here goes.. ]

Reading the article; I find Godse to be brave at heart in following wherever his reason led him. Ultimately, both Gandhi and Godse did what they considered right; so all is fair and forgiven (and certainly by Gandhi’s own principles).

Godse’s reasons to justify “an armed resistance to aggression”, effectively making the argument “if they’d kill us we better kill them first”, are quite crystal clear:

.. it is nothing but a mere dream if you imagine that the bulk of mankind is, or can ever become, capable of scrupulous adherence to these lofty principles [of truth and non-violence] in its normal life from day to day.   – Godse

But at this point I feel that we must turn to history and learn some important lessons.. about what the human mind may or may not be capable of imagining with reasonable accuracy. Let’s jump into it right away, to see the connection:

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin

Who was this Lord Kelvin? As it turns out, apart from his well-known accomplishments, he was also the President of the Royal Society of England.. and the above statement was apparently made in 1895. Seems like he might have just been an over-confident person; but his views are representative of what most of 18th century mankind thought:

We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments. Life is short, and he is capable of services to humanity incomparably greater than can be expected to result from trying to fly . . .   –  The New York Times Editorial

Well.. a mere 8 years after Kelvin’s statement (and 3 days before that editorial!) was the dawn of the Wright brothers’ flight; and today a century later we are much more optimistic about inhabiting other planets in the near future.

So.. in light of this history of our deep-rooted and totally misplaced belief in the impossibility of flight; doesn’t one wonder how Godse’s stance on the impossibility of ever eradicating violence continues to gain popular acclaim? Not to jump to the conclusion that Godse is also necessarily wrong; but to say the least, stranger things have happened.

Speaking of stranger things.. consider Giordano Bruno. Bruno made his appearance just before Galileo; and to be sure, his ideas were considered even more heretical than Galileo’s observations regarding the Sun being the center of the solar system. To Bruno, all the spots in the sky were star systems of their own; with their own planets and.. yep you guessed it.. possibly even life! This latter part is something that even we have to come to terms with; but at least we may not consider it to be as entirely impossible as those who had him burnt at the stake did. At any rate, there’s little doubt today that his former observation about other star systems (based on very little solid evidence back then, maybe) is now proven to be more than just right; it’s actually inescapable!

So.. what is it that Bruno and Gandhi have in common? And what do Kelvin and Godse have in common? Connect the dots anyhow you want!

Perhaps Godse hadn’t quite ‘internalized’ Gandhi’s vision for non-violence; nor have we for the most part (yet). In a way it might even be an irrational vision in today’s world; i.e. beyond our acceptable logic of “If they’d kill us we better kill them first”. And indeed, today who could object to the sanity of that logic? Not Godse when he justifies the actions of Shivaji among others; and not me either. But let’s not lose sight of the possibility that the seemingly impossible today, may become unavoidable tomorrow.

I feel that we are still to realize how far ahead of their time Gandhi and Bruno really were.. maybe in the future we will, someday.

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1 Comment

  1. ankit

     /  March 7, 2014

    The same reason why Marxism has failed spectacularly so far. Humans are inadequate, idealism is for the platonic space. Think of average human behavior like a gaussian… the net population increasing implies that the intensity of deviation from the norm will be more extreme as well for the integral to be 1.

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