Superstitions and one way implication

India seems to have had a rich history when it comes to mathematics. Our ancestors are supposed to have done great things such as inventing the numeral system that we used today. However, I’m not sure how good we have been at logic. I’m not talking about anything advanced here. I’m thinking of basic stuff such as one way implications.

What is common to the following superstitions/customs?

  • You should never shave your head unless you are offering the hair to God
  • You should never light a fire in front of your house
  • You should never throw around vessels on the floor

The list goes on but I can’t remember anything else right now. However, I can assure you that there are several more of these. This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but it is most likely an exhausting list.

What connects all these is the fact that they are associated with death. You are supposed to shave your head when a parent dies. Similarly a fire is lit in front of the house when someone dies. And throwing around vessels is part of the death ceremonies.

What has happened is that all these one way implications have been misunderstood down the generations and have turned into two way implications. The rule states “if someone in the house dies, you light a fire in front of it”. And down a few dozen logically illiterate generations, it has been understood as “you light a fire in front of a house if and only if someone who lives there dies”. Note that suddenly, a one way implication has become a two way implication! Similarly with shaving your head and throwing around vessels. And with the rest of the exhausting list that I can’t remember at this point of time.

So the next time someone rebukes you regarding one of these stupid customs that are supposed to be “associated with death”, while they are only associated in one direction, tell them that they are saying this because they and their ancestors couldn’t understand simple logic.

9 thoughts on “Superstitions and one way implication”

  1. one reason why the reverse implication is prohibited could be that doing so could signal that someone in the house is dead.. mebbe its to prevent neighbours coming mourning at ur doorstep as soon as they hear the sound of vessels in ur home / see a fire in front of ur house

    1. ok wait – i’ll tell you what. years of enforcing these stupid regulations means that the probability of reverse implication is also really high.

      i mean so few people light fire in front of their houses when nobody has died that when someone sees something they’ll immediately conclude someone has died. and it’s a fairly rational inference also given the “data” i must agree

  2. You might have noted that the notion of a theorem and proof based on certain axioms, is a Greek concept. Greeks were interested in “pure mathematics” and “pure philosophy”, without any practical application. For some reason the Greeks found these things “intrinsically great” – and hence, they got their logic right, though arguably for the wrong reason.

    Indians on the other hand were, I think, more focussed on applications. For instance, though they studied astronomy, it was because they thought it had application in predicting the future.

    A modern analogue would be between a pure mathematician and an engineer. Engineers use many results without enough justification – such as interchanging an infinite sum and an integral, even thinking of an infinite sum without a notion of convergence etc. A pure mathematician is more rigorous, but his/her work is mostly useless.

    No wonder, ancient Indian achievements were highly accomplished in metallurgy, architecture etc. Perhaps similar is also the reason why Indians don’t have good historical records of themselves.

    Unfortunately, our good works faded out, partly due to invasions, and xenophobia etc. certainly must have contributed to developing more and more insularity and superstition ( such as “don’t go out of the country” ).

  3. Ah, I too have faced these “two-way implication” logical conundrums, just didn’t know how to name the phenomenon!

    I haven’t heard about YOUR set of superstitions but my family had its own…a lamp should not be lighted with its “mukham” facing south, for example.

    We are VERY high on “don’t”s in our culture…we have turned into a society of fearful, superstition-observing people. Someone may not believe in a practice, but just goes along with it out of fear of rocking the boat…

  4. Lighting fire in front of the house is a most unusual thing in a tropical country like India. Hence, it is quite natural for ppl to draw the reverse implication.

    Also, fire is regarded as sacred by the Indo Aryans (lighting fire is an act which reminds them of their cold-country origins….) Hence, this is done only on the most special occasions (such as marriage, sacrificial homa, death)

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