Sources of Knowledge: Anumana or Inferrence

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Have you won­dered how we learn things? How do we acquire knowl­edge about some­thing? Rarely do we get an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on how we learn because we are con­stant­ly learn­ing and we are immersed in the process. This is what Patan­jali Mahar­ishi says “Vrit­ti sarupyam itara­tra” (all oth­er times we are of the nature of the vrit­tis. We get iden­ti­fied with the vrit­tis and hence are not wit­ness to the process).

Let us look at how a child learns things. A child looks at an object that we show and we pro­vide the label for the object. The child does not have pri­or knowl­edge of the object and hence trusts our words. We say “Apple” and show an apple to the child. The child sees it for the very first time, remem­bers fea­tures of the fruit and learns its name. It is also stored in mem­o­ry by repeat­ed learn­ing. We then show anoth­er fruit and say “Orange”, the child then makes sense of dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tors and records this in mem­o­ry. The child direct­ly cog­nis­es the object and also relies on our words to know about it.

We as adults use oth­er sources as well. We look at an object and direct­ly cog­nise it. We also learn from experts (and may or may not exper­i­men­tal­ly ver­i­fy) and we also draw a lot of infer­ences. We draw con­clu­sions based on var­i­ous pieces of infor­ma­tion we may have. We see smoke and infer that there is fire. Infer­ence is drawn based on a sys­tem­at­ic process of rea­son­ing. We may reach the right con­clu­sion or may make an invalid con­clu­sion based on how well we deduct­ed things.

One of the key dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures of Sanatana Dhar­ma is that it gives equal impor­tance to the words of experts and per­son­al ver­i­fi­ca­tion of the truth. The Bha­gavad Gita says “श्रद्धावान् लभते ज्ञानं “. The one who has Shrad­dha (faith) gains knowl­edge. Not always do we need to have empir­i­cal or exper­i­men­tal evi­dence as we recog­nise that some aspects of knowl­edge go beyond the sens­es.

In our tra­di­tion, the sources of knowl­edge (Pra­mana) are dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal sys­tems. The six sources include: Pratyakṣa (per­cep­tion), Anumāṇa (infer­ence), Upamāṇa (com­par­i­son and anal­o­gy), Arthā­pat­ti (pos­tu­la­tion, deriva­tion from cir­cum­stances), Anu­pal­ab­d­hi (non-per­cep­tion, negative/cognitive proof) and Śab­da (word, tes­ti­mo­ny of past or present reli­able experts) : source Wikipedia.

Let us look at Anu­mana or infer­ence here. Leav­ing out the com­plex­i­ties, Anu­mana can be of 3 types:

Pur­va­vat: This type of Anu­mana is based on the pre­vi­ous obser­va­tion or knowl­edge. For exam­ple, if some­one has seen smoke ris­ing from a dis­tant hill before, they can infer that there must be fire there now when they see smoke ris­ing from the same hill.

She­sha­vat: This type of Anu­mana is based on the obser­va­tion of a resid­ual effect. For exam­ple, if some­one sees wet foot­prints on the floor, they can infer that some­one has walked on the floor with wet feet.

Samany­a­to Dhrishti: This type of Anu­mana is based on the gen­er­al­iza­tion of a par­tic­u­lar obser­va­tion. For exam­ple, if some­one observes that all crows they have seen are black, they can infer that all crows must be black.

These frame­works are not only used in phys­i­cal sci­ence but also in life sci­ence ‑Ayurve­da. Inorder to diag­nose a dis­ease, the Vaidya may do it based on pre-symp­toms, var­i­ous signs and symp­toms or var­i­ous patho­log­i­cal activ­i­ties that occur (the five fold process is described as Nidana Pan­cha­ka in Ayurve­da). These infer­ences decide the kind of treat­ment giv­en to the patient.

Infer­en­tial knowl­edge, also known as infer­en­tial rea­son­ing, is an impor­tant aspect of sci­en­tif­ic inquiry and dis­cov­ery in mod­ern sci­ence. It involves using evi­dence and log­i­cal rea­son­ing to draw con­clu­sions and make pre­dic­tions about phe­nom­e­na that are not direct­ly observ­able or mea­sur­able.

In mod­ern sci­ence, infer­en­tial knowl­edge is used in a vari­ety of fields, includ­ing physics, chem­istry, biol­o­gy, and social sci­ences. Some exam­ples of infer­en­tial rea­son­ing in mod­ern sci­ence include:

Infer­ence from exper­i­ments: Sci­en­tists con­duct exper­i­ments to test hypothe­ses and col­lect data. They then use infer­en­tial rea­son­ing to draw con­clu­sions and make pre­dic­tions based on the data. For exam­ple, if a physi­cist mea­sures the veloc­i­ty of a mov­ing object at dif­fer­ent times, they can infer the accel­er­a­tion of the object over time using math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tions.

Infer­ence from obser­va­tions: Sci­en­tists also use infer­en­tial rea­son­ing to make pre­dic­tions based on obser­va­tions. For exam­ple, if a biol­o­gist observes a pat­tern in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of a par­tic­u­lar species of plant or ani­mal in an ecosys­tem, they can infer the eco­log­i­cal fac­tors that influ­ence its dis­tri­b­u­tion.

Infer­ence from mod­els: Sci­en­tists use math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els to rep­re­sent com­plex sys­tems or process­es. They use infer­en­tial rea­son­ing to test the mod­els and make pre­dic­tions about how the sys­tems or process­es will behave in the future. For exam­ple, cli­mate sci­en­tists use mod­els to infer the effects of green­house gas emis­sions on glob­al tem­per­a­tures.

Infer­ence from data analy­sis: Sci­en­tists use infer­en­tial rea­son­ing to ana­lyze and inter­pret large datasets. They use sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods to iden­ti­fy pat­terns and rela­tion­ships in the data, which they can use to make pre­dic­tions or draw con­clu­sions. For exam­ple, epi­demi­ol­o­gists use infer­en­tial rea­son­ing to ana­lyze data on dis­ease out­breaks to iden­ti­fy the fac­tors that con­tribute to their spread.

Infer­ence for one­self and oth­ers: When some­one is deduc­ing or mak­ing infer­ences in one’s own mind then it is swaartha anu­mana and when one is mak­ing infer­ences and con­vey­ing the same to oth­ers it is paraartha anu­mana. Five com­po­nents are used while com­mu­ni­cat­ing the infer­ence to oth­ers. This is called Pan­chaavaya­va Vakya. Pan­chaavaya­va is a term from the Indi­an philo­soph­i­cal sys­tem of Nyaya, which refers to the five com­po­nents or parts of a syl­lo­gism. A syl­lo­gism is a log­i­cal argu­ment in which a con­clu­sion is drawn from two premis­es, which are propo­si­tions that are assumed or proven to be true. The five com­po­nents of a syl­lo­gism in Nyaya phi­los­o­phy are:

Prati­j­na: The first com­po­nent is the propo­si­tion or state­ment that needs to be proved. This is called Prati­j­na, and it is the con­clu­sion of the syl­lo­gism.

Hetu: The sec­ond com­po­nent is the rea­son or evi­dence that sup­ports the con­clu­sion. This is called Hetu, and it is the premise of the syl­lo­gism.

Uda­ha­rana: The third com­po­nent is the exam­ple or illus­tra­tion that sup­ports the Hetu or rea­son. This is called Uda­ha­rana, and it is an exam­ple that illus­trates the rela­tion­ship between the Hetu and the Prati­j­na.

Upanaya: The fourth com­po­nent is the appli­ca­tion or inclu­sion of the sub­ject or term under con­sid­er­a­tion. This is called Upanaya, and it is the appli­ca­tion of the Hetu and the Uda­ha­rana to the sub­ject or term in ques­tion.

Niga­mana: The fifth com­po­nent is the con­clu­sion or infer­ence drawn from the Hetu and the Upanaya. This is called Niga­mana, and it is the final infer­ence or con­clu­sion that is drawn from the syl­lo­gism. 

Here is an exam­ple:

Prati­j­na (Con­clu­sion): There is fire on the moun­tain.

Hetu (Rea­son): Because we see smoke com­ing from the moun­tain.

Uda­ha­rana (Exam­ple): Just as we see smoke com­ing from a kitchen when there is fire in the stove, we see smoke com­ing from the moun­tain, indi­cat­ing the pres­ence of fire.

Upanaya (Appli­ca­tion): We see smoke com­ing from this moun­tain, so there must be fire on the moun­tain.

Niga­mana (Con­clu­sion): There­fore, there is fire on the moun­tain because we see smoke com­ing from it.