Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oft repeated sentences

Quacks of different types seemed to sing from the same playbook. Many people also gave me the same arguments. Some of the dialogues that I remember hearing ad infinitum from various quarters are:
  1. "You have tried everything so why don't you try this also?"
  2. It is "scientifically proved"- One person told me that one should not eat anything between 9 o'clock and 11 o' clock (whether morning or evening)." It is proved in biology." "By who? Where? How? Nothing was mentioned which would have helped me to check what it was all about. Once I was told that it was "scientifically proved" that food turns into poison during a solar eclipse. I was shaken but did not stir. (There seem to be alot [sic] of superstitions about solar eclipses, most of which I did not know.)
  3. This is a "natural product" and has "no side effects"- Jaya is very reluctant to add something to my feeds that somebody suggests even though they will say that "it will not cause any harm". You never know what it might contain and how my body would react. I often see on TV people suffering some irreversible neurological problems after eating something that a local godman or his minions had given. But I never saw a follow-up programme about what happened to these criminals. Most probably they got away scot-free.
  4. It is "ancient wisdom"- It would seem as if the ancients had discovered everything worthwhile and people were wasting their time since then. Some ancient cures have been shown to be effective but that doesn't mean that everything that is called ancient is great. There were many great ancients but they were great in their time. As Newton said, "We see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants."
  5. Eating something or the other will "boost your immune system".
I realised early on that my counter-arguments will have precisely zero impact. I was hopelessly out numbered and would have only appeared as a stubborn Rumpelstiltskin. Anyway it would have taken too long to say my piece and I preferred to listen silently.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How to remove plaster

In a TED talk on cheating, Dan Ariely talks about his stay in hospital after suffering seventy percent burns. The nurses thought that it was less painful to rip off the bandages from the skin than to remove them slowly. Ariely thought that the nurses were mistaken. So he later conducted some experiments and concluded that ripping off the bandage was more painful.

Like Ariely's nurses, the nurses in the hospital where I was admitted thought that ripping off a plaster was less painful. When I saw this video, I told Jaya to try removing the plaster slowly. I did not feel much difference between the two methods probably because there is only one plaster to be removed and definitely because my skin is not tender due to burns.

In his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely writes about irrational behavior by people who think they are in charge. There is another interesting TED talk by Dan Ariely. He also writes a blog.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Energy is a word that is used in combination with many other words to produce many sciency sounding terms. Thus you get positive energy, negative energy, transcendental energy, universal energy etc which nobody explains in terms that you can understand.

Once a person asked me,'How much energy do you transmit to those around you?' I did not know what I was supposed to answer so I asked him what he meant by energy. But as so often happens, by the time I finished dictating my question to Jaya the conversation had moved on to some other topic. When Jaya asked him my question he just smiled and continued talking about something else.

This reminded me of what Carl Sagan said in The Burden of Skepticism:
Occasionally, by the way, I get a letter from someone who is in "contact" with an extraterrestrial who invites me to "ask anything." And so I have a list of questions. The extraterrestrials are very advanced, remember. So I ask things like, "Please give a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem." Or the Goldbach Conjecture. And then I have to explain what these are, because extraterrestrials will not call it Fermat's Last Theorem, so I write out the little equation with the exponents. I never get an answer. On the other hand, if I ask something like "Should we humans be good?" I always get an answer. I think something can be deduced from this differential ability to answer questions. Anything vague they are extremely happy to respond to, but anything specific, where there is a chance to find out if they actually know anything, there is only silence.