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Friday, August 02, 2013

Pseudo-Science : The real plague : "Scientific Reasons behind Indian Traditions"

I came across a post in FB shared by a good friend which was titled  : "Scientific reason behind fasting on "EKADASHI" from the website : 

It goes as follows:

Fasting on Ekadashi is a very old and common tradition which is followed in mostly all Hindu families. We all have seen our Mother, Father, Dadima ,Dadaji , Nani and other elders observing Ekadashi fasts, and we usually think they are doing because they are just religious. In fact it is backed up by solid science.

Ekadasi is a Sanskrit word, which means 'the eleventh'. It refers to the eleventh day of a fortnight belonging to a lunar month. There are two fortnights in a lunar month—the poornima and amavasya. So, Ekadasi occurs twice in a month. The special feature of Ekadasi, as most people know it, is a fast, abstinence from diet. According to scientific research, it is known that the air pressure on the earth varies to extreme limits on both the new moon (Amavasya) and the full moon (Purnima) day. This is because of the orbital path combination of the sun, moon and earth.

This can be observed by the change in the nature of the tidal waves on the new moon and full moon days. The waves are very high and rough, but from the next day onwards, the waves become calm, an indication that the pressure has also receded. Now, based on this fact, the significance of Ekadasi fasting can be explained in 2 ways:

1)It takes about 3-4 days for the food that we eat today to reach our brain (for the brain to understand the food intake). Now, if we eat light/fast on Ekadasi days, that intake will reach the brain correspondingly on the New moon/full moon day. On both of these days, the earth pressure is at its maximum, thus leading to imbalance in everything, including ones thought process. So, if the input to the brain is at a minimum, the chances of the brain indulging in any wayward activity due to the high pressure imbalance also becomes minimum. People in asylums behave weirdly during ekadashis due to this same lunar activity.

2) Another explanation for Ekadasi fasting is that compared to any other day of the moon cycle, atmospheric pressure is lowest on Ekadasi days. Thus, this is the best time to fast and cleanse the bowel system. If we fast on any other day, the high pressure/strain may damage our system. Thus, it is advisable that after fasting on Ekadasi, on the immediate next day (Dwadasi), we should get up early and eat as soon as possible


My response to the younger lady who had shared the above passage was as follows :


The biggest deterrent to science is not ignorance but pseudo-science. As a young and dynamic lady of the 21st century, you must be very cautious about the "science" being expounded by some of these web-sites. They provide a pseudo-scientific coating for the religion targeting two types of people:

1. literate but not highly educated
2. well educated but are lackadaisical towards critical reading and analysis.

First of all, the food consumed does not take more than 4 days to reach the brain. The easiest way to think about this is how great one feels when he or she eats after a bit of starvation (say a long day where the lunch was delayed by 3 hours) .Starving slows down the metabolism but not until you have entered starvation mode which is usually 3-4 days of continuous starvation. According to the theory you have quoted, if one were to starve for 4 days after a sumptuous dinner, the brain should be able to receive the food after 4 days and be active again which is far from observation. In fact the transit-time which is the time that the food takes to be absorbed in the body is much less. The stomach processes all content within 4 hours maximum which enters the blood-stream through intestinal projections called villi. The blood on the other hand circulates through the body within a minute ! That means some of the nutrients of the food that are absorbed in the blood stream would reach brain much sooner that 4 days. Hence that claim is wrong.

The age old claim of a "connection" between lunar activity and "lunacy" is a myth and NOT scientific. I could explain this in detail but I refer you to the following link in Scientific American for a thorough analysis on this:  

At best, if people are afraid of the moon or if they perform abnormal activity when they see the full-moon, they are to be treated by the psychiatrists to get rid of their fear of the moon like any other object that they may be afraid of. However the converse, namely "the full-moon influences any kind of mental activity" is a farcical statement except in a case when one sits and admires the beauty of it and feels peaceful about.

Beware of the pseudo-scientists and always question.  One of the better examples of such serious offenders  is Khurshed Batliwala who stands exposed:


Fantastic Anmol.  I am a scientist and I appreciate this effort wholeheartedly.  The best of all was your summary statement where you have declared : "It is an insult to the intelligence of our ancient scientists that their science and discoveries were based on spirituality and not rationality". I am sharing this with my students and others.