Science & Technology

Happy New Year! Here’s to some pseudoscience

2020 started with the return of pseudoscience at the 107th Indian Science Congress in Bengaluru

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 08 January 2020

You think the world has problems? Blame Brahma.

That’s what yoga therapist HR Nagendra did. The current problems of the world are because people now look “outside themselves” rather than inwards and this is due to an error in the way Brahma created the Universe, he claimed.

It was part of the Padma Shri awardee’s inaugural speech at a session on ‘yoga science’ on January 5, 2020 at the 107th Indian Science Congress in Bengaluru.

This of course flies right in the face of the widely accepted Big Bang Theory on how the Universe came into being, The term was coined by physicist Fred Hoyle; iconic physicist Stephen Hawking extensively worked upon it.

Nagendra said modern science was limited to the “physical world”, about which everything is already known and which is a matter-based paradigm. The need was to expand into a “multidimensional paradigm”, added the founder vice-chancellor of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana.

He didn’t spell out what that means but said it can only happen through the science of yoga, written down in the Vedas and Upanishads. Nagendra called for “real Indian science” that can be deduced from yoga and meditation to be brought to the Indian Science Congress in a big way.

A large part of the physical world is yet to be explained. The relationship between Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity — which explains the physics of large objects — and quantum theories — explaining the physics of fundamental particles making up the universe — has still not been established.

Einstein, in fact, worked on this through his last years. Hawking also tried to reconcile the two, but failed.

Physicists consider it to be the holy grail of modern physics. And this is just one major scientific problem among many others that still needs solution. 

But at the ISC, the mood was different.

Indranil Basu Ray, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist based in the United States, said Indian scientists should not “throw away the science of yoga and meditation, which has a history of 10,000 years, as religion or voodoo; they should tell the world how and why it works.”

Every US cancer hospital had a yoga department and Indian hospitals should follow suit, he said.

Basu Ray claimed in four weeks he could change neuroplasticity of the brains of his audience and help them grow. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life but happens at a slow pace and is incredibly complex.

He also criticised the continued usage of randomised control trials (RCTs) in modern medicinal research to determine the effectiveness of drugs on human beings. Then he rued the fact that not enough RCTs were available in published medical research for yoga and meditation, contradicting his earlier statements and putting a question mark on his claims.

Some benefits of yoga and meditation for human health and cognition have been well documented. But the neurological science behind them has not been objectively determined.

According to Ray, modern western science is lost and it is meeting with something that has long been considered as non-science. He claimed that four of the last 10 Nobel Prizes in physiology were directly or indirectly related to yoga. Again, no specifics were offered.

Even though he started his presentation saying he could give scientific evidence for his claims on the science of yoga, including an alternative for RCTs, he skipped anything such, saying they were not important and too complex.

Ironically, such claims came a day after two Nobel laureates attending the Congress highlighted the significance for an open mind in scientific pursuit and advised Indian scientists to stay clear of the illusions arising out of the revival of ancient Indian science.

ISC, in the last few years, has been marred by many such claims:

At last year’s Congress, the vice-chancellor of Andhra University claimed the Kauravas of the Mahabharata, were test-tube babies and that India possessed stem-cell technology and guided missiles at that time.

Kanan Jegathala Krishnan from World Community Service Centre in Tamil Nadu had claimed that Isaac Newton did not have a proper understanding of the phenomenon of gravitation, which he had discovered, and that Einstein misinformed the world with his theories of special and general relativity. 

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