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Technology a great behaviour changer: Indian-origin scientist

By Mohd Asim Khan, New Delhi, Jan 12 : You are not likely to meet many physicists who can seamlessly intertwine religion and science in their lives.


Meet Jasprit Singh, professor in applied physics programme at University of Michigan, US, who has successfully created an equilibrium between the two.

Recently in the news for inventing new apps that can enhance mindfulness among adults, women and the elderly, he defies those who think smartphones are a constant distraction.

"Technology is just like food. Just as food can make us healthy or obese, technology can make us more effective or more distracted. I hope to develop technology with content that is created by experts with desire for human wellness," Jasprit Singh told IANS in an interview via e-mail.

"Technology can be a great behaviour changer," added Singh, who was born and brought up in Delhi.

As soon as a useful technology is available, people take to it and modify their behaviour.

"A recent survey in US asked college students what they would choose if they had to choose between their smartphone and their boyfriend (or girlfriend). A majority would pick their smartphone!" he chuckles.

Jasprit Singh sees no conflict between religion and science as, he feels, both operate on different planes and cater to different human needs and desires.

"Religions work on the problem of human mind state. Whether it is yogic meditation or kirtan or seva (community service), religions offer us tools that work," Jasprit Singh, who has authored several books on Sikhism, told IANS.

"It is being predicted that by 2020, the global health burden for humanity will shift to brain and mind-related illnesses like anxiety, depression, dementia, panic attacks. So, it is important not to disregard the tools religion has provided," he stresses.

Sometimes there are scientific observations or discoveries in direct confrontation with religious beliefs. So, what's his stand?

"As a scientist I am always on the side of science. But I am also aware of the limitations we face in science," he asserts.

"Science is quite powerful to describe much of the world outside us but certain aspects of the human being are still not in the grasp of science. For instance, in the area of human mind one cannot take science as the final arbiter."

There is one more facet Jasprit Singh does not agree with - the misuse of science.

Even though in principle, science is neutral, in practice it is not. Science addresses issues that are still strongly motivated by the developed countries, he says.

"This is not the fault of science. At times, science is used to justify or condemn cultures and it becomes easy to misuse scientific evidence in this domain," he adds.

What is his take on the perennial Man Vs. Machine debate?

"Technology is now an intrinsic part of our societies. So in my view the debate should not be so much about Man Vs. Machine but 'Man and Machine' coupling in ways that enhance wellness," he feels.

After so much prolific work in the field of communication technology, what more is yet to come from Jasprit Singh?

"Being a professor in a major US University is a great privilege. The world is changing so fast and in a way offers incredible opportunities for new pathways of thinking and living."

"I see enormous opportunities where technologists and artists-humanists can work together. I hope to participate in this coming collaboration," Jasprit Singh says.

A simple man at heart, he is strongly connected to his roots. He cherishes memories of strolling with his father on India Gate lawns at 5 a.m.

And his village in Punjab where he is a regular visitor.

Jasprit Singh has more than 300 research papers published in several international journals and half a dozen technical books to his credit.

And he is unstoppable, just like technology.

(Mohd Asim Khan can be contacted at mohd.a@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 12-01-2014)

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