..bombs / RV date problem

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Wed Jun 3 14:21:45 UTC 1998

On Tue, 2 Jun 1998, George Thompson wrote:

> >'method' in subjective disciplines (such as indology) tends to start
> >with a 'model':

subjective? and models?  We may start out with models, but only to
demolish them when better evidence presents itself. That is our job and
the way science proceeds, by dialogue & dialectic progress.  Something not
always understood.  For ex., when we had a long-term visitor from India
some 15 years ago, he *accused* me that I had *changed* my mind about a
problem, to which I replied: and I am proud of it...

But back to method:

> I read the Rgveda as much as I can....
> .... be faithful to the text.
> I do not consider my knowledge of the RV "subjective."

I agree completely. However, a tinge of subjectivity is in anybody's
research & writing:  after all, we all are formed & influenced by our
individual backgrounds: local upbringing & local socialization, one's
teachers (eventually, one has to 'divorce' oneself from them...), the
knowledge of fields we have studied/acquired later on, -- as opposed to
the virtually *universal* knowledge required, from astronomy to zoology,
required to understand any text *alien to one's own time & culture*.

But, in a field like the Rgveda or the Vedas in general, we are blessed
with so many dictionaries, indexes, grammatical studies and all sorts of
comparable tools that we can TEST our theories in quasi- natural science
manner. Usually, we can see whether a proposed solution/theory fits *all
occurences* of the word/problem in question. If not, we have to
investigate the few cases where it does not, and see whether there are
special conditions that may explain the aberration. If that cannot be
done, abandon your pet idea. If you can, explain and publish!

The 3rd possibility is that a word/problem has to little evidence
available for testing. If a word/certain problem occurs only 1 time or a
just few times in the RV, forget it! In most of such cases we cannot reach
testable level. Then, we could make a proposal and *say* that it is a
suggestion or, maybe, even a probability. But don't build grand theories
on one word/sentence/sugestion that is not testable....

In other field of Indology, say in Tantra or early New Indo-Aryan texts,
where we miss good editions, grammars, indexes such standards are much
more difficult to attain. A lot of footwork needs to be done yet.
Subjectivity due to limited access to *all* texts/occurences of a problem
limits realibility here.

> As for the Indo-Aryan migration/emigration controversies, my method is
very simple, and very limited in its scope:

> If a given position does not agree with what I know of the RV I reject it.
> If it agrees, I entertain it.

i.e. keep it in mind (often for years!) and test it against further
evidence that becomes avaible (new RV explanations, new archaeological
finds, new methods for testing: such as C14 once was, or now genetic
studies, etc.)

> I try to keep my mouth shut when I know that I don't know a given topic.

I could not agree more. ---  Even on Indology.

Michael Witzel                       witzel at fas.harvard.edu

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