Pseudoscience unchallenged in universities across India

11

The biggest spiritual Guru in the world – the founder of the largest spiritual movement, the Art of Living foundation and its trademarked ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ breathing technique – the man popularly known as “Sri Sri” Ravishankar, gave a talk on “Secrets of Success” to students at the flourishing premises of IIT Kanpur, which in its own right is arguably one of the best technical universities in the Indian subcontinent. The entire speech was recorded by Students TeleVision Club, popularly known as STV and a copy of it was posted to YouTube in November, 2011.


In this hour long talk laced with contemporary spiritual jargon, occasional mentions of India’s golden fall from glory, Mr. Ravishankar, at the 42m 23s mark, called for a volunteer to come up on stage for a surprise demonstration, the details of which were not immediately revealed. One of the students from the back rows of the auditorium was chosen to share the dais. The chosen volunteer, a lean-framed male student wearing a black t-shirt with horizontal white stripes, was asked to extend his arm parallel to the floor, clinch his fist and resist the pulling down of his arm. Mr. Ravishankar, gripping the volunteer’s arm near the wrist, was able to pull down his arm easily over and over again, much to the amusement of the audience. He then produced from his pocket a small vial containing an unknown fluid, and shed a few drops on the volunteer’s arm. The volunteer was then asked to rub and spread this oil over his arm. After the volunteer took a step back and a deep breath to relax, the whole exercise was repeated again – except this time Mr. Ravishankar struggled quite hard to pull down the volunteer’s arm, amazing the vast audience. The volunteer, visibly impressed and believing that he had in fact become stronger in a matter of seconds after the application of the oil, went onto fall at the feet (cultural practice of surrender) of his new Guru Mr. Ravishankar. Following the thundering applause from his audience, Mr. Ravishankar went on to urge stronger volunteers to come forth.

The next male volunteer also went on to fall at the feet of Mr. Ravishankar after his new found strength. The frenzy in the arena seemed to have attracted a male skeptic from the audience to volunteer. He was visibly unimpressed by the arm pull down test and the claim of instantaneous improvement of strength and vigor following the application of a few drops of oil. The skeptic boldly asked for permission to perform the same test on his own test subject on the dais. While the skeptic readied his subjects, Mr. Ravishankar began offering an unscientific principle for the efficacy of his oil, that [sic] “one drop of poison can destroy the body. Can it not destroy? One drop of poison can destroy the immune system. No? The reverse can also happen – one drop of nectar can also strengthen your body.” The collective silence in the arena sounded like a silent hiccup in digesting the machinations uttered by Mr. Ravishankar. What happened afterwards was amateurish at best. The test subjects chosen by the skeptic gave testimonies to the audience that they felt “something different,” and the skeptic had to agree, on the microphone, that he was convinced of the gimmick, much to the delight of the student audience that was already spell bound.

The following part of this article would debunk the pseudo-science that was sold convincingly, and with authority, to an audience that was clearly unwilling to be skeptical of a revered spiritual leader.

The mystery oil, supposed to be containing Amruth and three Ayurvedic herbs, seems very similar to a dietary Herbal supplement (revealed on November 27, 2011) called Shakthi Drops, which are sold for €25 in 30ml vials on Art of Living’s EU website. Even though the directions for use clearly state oral administration after dilution in 150ml of water to build up your “immunity”, Mr. Ravishankar’s participants topically applied it onto their skin under his guidance.

Written By: nirmukta.com
continue to source article at nirmukta.com

11 COMMENTS

  1. There you go Prof.Dawkins. Get back down to that Hawaiian beach and throw away that bottle of factor30.  Splash some that mystic Fakir’s snake oil all over ‘n you’ll never fall off your surf-board! 
    (PS: Any chance of posting us some nice ‘Me and my chums at the beach’ photos?) ALOHA ;)  

  2. I noticed no one offered to hang a simple item like a bucket on the arm of the audience member.  Start filling it with water bottles and see how much weight he can sustain.  Then you could SELL the water as having miraculous powers.  Or maybe not.

  3. This is the same technique as the applied kinesiology nonsense, only the show is done in reverse.  In AK one is strong then holds something, like a bottle of something they are allergic to, to make them weak. Here they start weak, then the oil makes them strong. The technique does not change. In the weak state the arm is lifted before being pushed down. The effect is similar to when you are arm wrestling someone and you relax are arm for a split second then push hard. In the strong state it is lifted again, but he briefly stops before pushing down. After the first two guys did it, those same two were still up there administering the… scam… everyones arm was still going down after the oil(just less so), and they claimed to feel a difference. It looks like they were just playing along to be polite or they actually believed it.

  4. This was all the rage, called muscle testing, circa 1980.  It was supposed capable of diagnosing allergies, and divining unconscious wishes. The catch is of course both tester and subject are quite capable of varying their effort both consciously and unconsciously.

  5. That’s a striped polo shirt–t-shirts don’t have collars.

    The sad part is that this little show happened at IIT, though I suppose Deepak Chopra has peddled his schtick at prominent US universities, so I have little to feel smug about. 

    My response to this nonsense would be to not show up for it at all;  if duped to attend, I’d roll my eyes and politely and quietly leave the event at the earliest opportunity.

    Calling out charlatans is brave, but my personal style is not confrontational:  rather than confront or harangue such a guru, I’d simply vote with my feet.

  6. It would have been very amusing if the first person he had invited from the audience knew Aikido.   There is a technique called Unbendable Arm known by every skilled student of the martial art whereby immense force needs to be applied to achieve even a small movement.   This however, is a trainable skill and nothing to do with pseudo-science, and counter-intuitively works better when a person is relaxed than when they are tensed or actively trying to resist the force being applied

  7. Gullibility is not the preserve of India.

    It has to be said by someone, so I’ll begin; the founders of modern India – even the extraordinary religious apologist Ghandi – would be appalled by this display of mass-ignorance and readiness to believe, simply on the basis of being told.

    Earlier this very day, I had to persuade my own Wife that Dr. Miller’s Holy Tea is a scam, and nothing more. Fortunately, my stock with my Wife is very high.

    Credulity is normal. We all want, indeed need, the people around us to be honourable. Therefore, our default position is that trust must be extended until proved to be misplaced.

    Being in a Group has the strong tendency to reinforce our credulity. Don’t blame them, or denounce them as fools. Group situations are the most difficult to manage and apply critical thinking. We are ‘programmed’ (probably by an evolved need for tribal solidarity) to go with the flow – indeed most of us will, at some point, experience the thrill of being in a local majority. The most common are to be in a group of supporters at a professional sports stadium, or attending a musical concert with like-minded fans.

    Even if I were in that crowd, and able to apply my poorly-learned critical thinking skills, would I be brave enough to stand up to the charismatic speaker – drawing his strength from the crowd?

    I cannot, in all conscience, say that I would. At best, I might have stood up and left.

    Education is the key. There are no snappy slogans, no easy answers. Teach everyone how to view evidence, to think in parallel to the events in front of them, to stand outside the crowd, to evaluate situations and presentations – to know what can be labelled fact, and what is not.

    We are extremely fortunate to have people like James Randi and Derren Brown with us. More would be better. But even with more, better yet, education in critical thinking.

    Peace.

  8. Ok I read this article, went on to see the video, and I must say i am surprised! I fail to see “reason”, and the “evidence” etc that this foundation stands for when
    it comes to validating stuff. I see little difference in attitude between the author of this post and the religious fanatics out there trying to redicule what
    they dont believe-in/know-about (other religion, atheism, gay men etc).

    Forenote

    1. I have done the art of living courses, and found them to be helpful.
    2. I am a strong believer of critical thinking.
    3. I am not an atheist, nor an agnostic. I wuld say i am a believer, but I am also somewhere in the middle of all of this.
      trying to gain more n more knowlege before i make a stand.
    4. following are my observations on this article about the video alone. I am not going into the article at nirmukta.com http://nirmukta.com/2012/08/06/pseudoscience-unchallenged-at-iit-kanpur/
    5. I do not know anything about “shakthi” oil mentioned in this post.
    6. everyone is welcome to explore more on my comments. I am no expert in any of the fields that comes under discussion in this video(spirituality, science, ayurveda etc).

    I will be quoting from the article.

    1. “contemporary spiritual jargon” –
      This is misleading for a reader, giving the impression that jargon is used in the speech.
      If you dont understand something, you are encouraged to go ahead and find about it. maybe even try it out to know about it.

    2. “India’s golden fall from glory” –
      unless I am a historian with expertise about India, I wouldnt buy that argument of the author.
      From what little I have gathered about India(I am an Indian), I would say it did have a golden past in many fields including advanced mathematics, medicine, physics, astronomy etc etc.
      Much evidence is available on this.

    3. “believing that he had in fact become stronger in a matter of seconds after the application of the oil, went onto fall at the feet (cultural practice of surrender) of his new Guru Mr. Ravishankar”. This is an incorrect observation.

    • Ravishankar did not say he became stroner in a matter of seconds!
    • I did not think the boy got stronger,
    • and nor do i think that boy believed he became strong all of a sudden.
    1. went onto fall at the feet (cultural practice of surrender) of his new Guru Mr. Ravishankar

    It is not exactly what i would call “falling on the feet”. its different.
    I would say one needs to see it with an understanding of the cultural background, customs and tradition prevalent in India.
    A person like me, coming from the Indian background, would not term it as “falling on the feet”, because I can see it is giving an altogether different meaning
    to people who dont know Indian ways.
    more over, Ravishankar had himself asked people to not fall on his feet[another context, another story].

    1. “of his new Guru Mr. Ravishankar”
      I dont know where that came from… . The author thinks just because of the “feet touching” gesture, that boy immediately took Ravishankar in as his guru??
      that is sooo not how it works.!! factualy incorrect!

    2. “and the skeptic had to agree, on the microphone”

    I dint think he was forced to agree on the microphone. every one is encouraged to see that part of the video for refrence.

    1. I dont think Ravishankar used the word “nectar” literally. you can see this in the video.

Leave a Reply