Of the several meanings of the word temper when used as a noun, here are eight that I picked up from the Free Dictionary:
- A state of mind or emotions; disposition: an even temper.
- Calmness of mind or emotions; composure: lose one’s temper.
- A tendency to become easily angry or irritable: a quick temper.
- An outburst of rage: a fit of temper.
- A characteristic general quality; tone: heroes who exemplified the medieval temper; the politicized temper of the 1930s.
- The condition of being tempered.
- The degree of hardness and elasticity of a metal, chiefly steel, achieved by tempering.
- A modifying substance or agent added to something else.
- [Archaic] A middle course between extremes; a mean.
The fifth in the list is what Jawaharlal Nehru had in mind when he defined scientific temper in his Discovery of India (1946), as “a way of life, a process of thinking, a method of acting and associating with our fellow men“.
The immediate reason for writing about this is a letter I recieved from NISCAIR, the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, approaching us (the University) to endorse the Palampur Statement, a resolution adopted at the International Conference on Science Communication for Scientific Temper in January 2012.
That scientific temper has not much, per se, to do with science or science communication is (or should be) self-evident so it is a little unusual that NISCAIR should be the only organization that is taking initiative in this matter. Several years ago, I was asked to speak at the release of the National Book Trust’s Angels, Devils and Science: A Collection of Articles on Scientific Temper by Pushpa Bhargava and Chandana Chakrabarti, both prominent residents of Hyderabad. Prof. Bhargava, founder Director of CCMB and member of the National Knowledge Commission is an indefatigable spokesman for the scientific approach in all aspects of life, and with Chandana Chakrabarti, he has written a number of articles in the popular press, many of which are collected in that book.
The blurb that one can read on the NBT’s website says ” India is one of the ten most scientifically and technologically advanced countries in the world. Interestingly, it is also the only country where commitment to scientific temper is enshrined in the Constitution as a duty of its citizens. Juxtaposing the advancement in modern science with serious lack of scientific temper, the articles in the book make a plea that many superstitious beliefs still prevalent in society are founded on unscientific grounds. Arguing for the urgent need to promote scientific temper as a social asset, the book discusses the importance of scientific temper and its role in the country’s socio-economic as well as scientific & technological advancement. The book is a major contribution in understanding the importance of science and scientific temper.”
So given the importance, what is the Palampur Statement? Its a fairly long and comprehensive document that delves into, among other things, the changing world order, the current state of science and technology, the spread of fundamentalism, and so on. It has to be read- even cursorily would be enough- to get a true sense of its potential impact in our lives. One fragment that summarizes the main gist of it goes: the thought structure of a common citizen is constituted by scientific as well as extra-scientific spaces. These two mutually exclusive spaces co-exist peacefully. Act of invocation of one or the other is a function of social, political or cultural calling. Those who consider spreading Scientific Temper as their fundamental duty must aim at enlarging the scientific spaces.
And it concludes: We call upon the people of India to be the vanguard of the scientific temper. This is a statement I endorse.