In Life of Pi, how does Pi combine and use religion and science to survive on the lifeboat?

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I'll start with a broad overview of Pi and his knowledge of science and religion. First, Pi's knowledge and usage of religion is quite broad and tolerant. That's why he is able to combine Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Pi takes bits and pieces of each religion in order to make himself feel better, have more hope, and have a more positive outlook on life.

"Bapu Gandhi said, 'All religions are true.' I just want to love God," I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.

As for Pi's knowledge of science, his knowledge doesn't cover as wide of a spectrum as his knowledge of religion. His scientific knowledge is firmly rooted in animal behavior. He might be able to explain a bit of chemistry or genetics here and there, but his useful scientific knowledge is from animal behavior. Pi uses this knowledge to a great extent on the lifeboat so that he can co-exist with Richard Parker. Pi makes sure that Richard Parker never sees Pi as possible prey. That would be the end of Pi, and Pi knows how to establish this basic scientific environmental organization and relationship. As for religion and faith while on the lifeboat, Pi admits that he used his faith beliefs and rituals in a way that brought him hope and comfort.

I practised religious rituals that I adapted to the circumstances—solitary Masses without priests or consecrated Communion Hosts, darshans without murtis, and pujas with turtle meat for prasad, acts of devotion to Allah not knowing where Mecca was and getting my Arabic wrong. They brought me comfort, that is certain. But it was hard, oh, it was hard. Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love—but sometimes it was so hard to love. Sometimes my heart was sinking so fast with anger, desolation and weariness, I was afraid it would sink to the very bottom of the Pacific and I would not be able to lift it back up.

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In part 1 of the story, Pi is reflecting on his journey. He relays that he found peace in the harmony of religion and zoology. Pi’s father was a zoologist and sparked the interest in him. Pi was raised Hindu; however, he also practices Christianity and Islam.

Pi was able to use his knowledge of zoology to survive on the boat alone with a tiger, Richard Parker. He masters and trains the tiger so that the animal comes to understand him as the leader. He uses a whistle, similar to what his father showed him as a child, to control the tiger. In addition, he cares for the tiger and provides him food. Pi also uses his understanding of physiology and science to survive. For example, he is aware of the impact of dehydration and chooses to make finding water a priority. His knowledge of the environment is essential to his survival.

Pi prays every day on the boat and uses his faith to propel him forward. Pi’s practice of three religions was rejected by many religious leaders, and his family had some objections. However, it turned out that his deep understanding of faith through his plural practice of religion is what sustained his hope for survival.

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Science, especially in the form of zoology, helped Pi quite a bit in his survival on the lifeboat.  Pi was able to use his knowledge of animals, especially in regards to the concept of "alpha males" and territorialism.  As soon as Pi realized that he was alone on a life raft with a starving tiger, he knew that he had to establish himself as the alpha male, with very clear-cut boundaries, so that Richard Parker would not harm him.  He very cleverly enlists the use of the whistle and intimidation tactics to establish boundaries, and the fact that he is the sole provider of food and nourishment for the both of them.

Pi also uses his knowledge of science in gathering water for drinking, in providing food for himself and Richard Parker, and in many other ways as he struggles to survive.  Religion comes into play also; he still prays every day that he can on the lifeboat, and his faith keeps him from total and complete despair.  Studies have shown that in survival situations, faith in God is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not someone survives.  Pi, coming into the situation with faith in many different religions, had more resources than others in his attempts to survive.

Both science and religion were crucial factors in Pi's survival; Martel spent the entire first third of the book discussing both of those issues at length, because they did play such an important role.  I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

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