Archive for June, 2011

Nadi Pariksha

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Have you ever heard of Nadi Pariksha? I knew nothing about it till a few days back. It is an Ayurvedic diagnostic tool wherein the Ayurveda expert feels our pulse and finds out what health problems we have. We do see doctors of modern medicine holding our pulse, but they only measure the rate and dont claim anything more. But Ayurveda (or one website which promotes Ayurveda) claims the following:

The pulse communicates more than what we can feel. Energy flowing through the various channels (nadis), carry information about the health of all that connect to them as organ channels (srotas), tissues (dhatus), organs and their health and regeneration into the blood. Body metabolism and even information about our conscious, sub-conscious mind, attitudes, and also information about our samskaras (experiences) and vasanas (Patterns) that we lived through in the past are available as energies in blood for a nadi parikshak to know.

To me all this sounds like nonsense. How can it tell me what is there in my mind? Or attitudes? Prima facie, it is preposterous. But you must be wondering, why I am worried about such claims? Are there not many crazy things that people believe? True, there are no limits to human craziness, but then, an Ayurveda Health Camp is being organised, today, tomorrow and the day after (Jun 13th, 14th and the 15th) at my workplace. This means an Ayurvedic doctor will be on the premises with whom employees can seek consultation. He will charge Rs.150 per person per consultation. And how will he do the diagnosis? By feeling our pulse.

What will he give us in return for our money? Here is what the mail that was sent out to all employees says about Nadi Pariksha (this itself was probably taken from the website of the Ayurveda doctor, which I am not able to open currently)

Nadi Pariksha (Pulse diagnosis):
According to Ayurveda, health depends on the state of the three doshas — Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water) in the body.  By reading the pulse, one can determine the state of the doshas, constitution (prakriti) of the physical & mental health, state of disease and prognosis.

Why Nadi Pariksha?
It is an effective, inexpensive and non-invasive method of diagnosis.  It is comprehensive and strikes at the root cause of the problem, instead of only addressing the symptoms.  Nadi Pariksha forewarns us of potential health risks.  It gives us insights on how to optimize health in accordance with the elements which are predominant in our body.

Now now, how does Ayurveda know our potential risks, without looking at family history or my medical history or my DNA? I have no clue, and I suspect that neither do the “experts” on Ayurveda have any. But the moment it is an ancient belief in some medicinal system, it becomes sacred and you cannot question it. One has to just make it sound vague and pompous (if it isnt already) and then use it on people to make them poorer by Rs.150 each. That seems to be the idea. The intentions might not be questionable (they themselves might really believe it), but then the methods clearly are.

To me what is worrying about this trend is the extent to which a mere mention of ancient and traditional is enough to make everybody suspend their critical thinking and not question it at all. So much so that my company officially conducts such a camp. Though it has been said (by Christopher Hitchens) that “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence” I want to take this opportunity to test their claims. I thought of going to this “Doctor” on all the three days and get him/her to do a diagnosis for me (I would have lost Rs.450 in the bargain, with which I could have bought a good book).

The idea behind thinking I should take a diagnosis on all the three days was to see if he is at least consistent with his predictions to the same person. But what I will definitely do is to go to him at least once and see what he says. I will post here whatever conversation we have (I might even record it, if the “doctor” permits it).

But today, I went and met a person who just finished a consultation. He told me that the “doctor” just took his pulse and classified him into one of the three body types. Each type having its own list of possible health risks. Once a type was chosen, the “doctor” kept asking him whether he has disease A or disease B and so on. Told him the list of probable illnesses he might be afflicted with and suggested some food items that he should take in. End of consultation.

As per Wikipedia, this is how Ayurveda works.

Ayurveda deals elaborately with measures of healthful living during the entire span of life and its various phases. Ayurveda stresses a balance of three elemental energies or humours: vata (air & space – “wind”), pittha (fire & water – “bile”) and kapha (water & earth – “phlegm”). According to ayurveda, these three regulatory principles— doshas —are important for health, because when they are in a more balanced state, the body will function to its fullest, and when imbalanced, the body will be affected negatively in certain ways.

This is clearly not how modern medicine looks at our body. That being the case, how can both modern medicine and Ayurveda be both correct. Some say, everybody can have his or her own beliefs . But, imagine a similar scenario with a car mechanic. Suppose one mechanic thinks that a car runs on petrol, and its engine is crucial to its working. Now if there is another mechanic who believes that the car runs on air and the petrol is there only to lubricate the components. They both cannot be right. Would those people still say, let people believe what they want. They will laugh at me if I seriously say that the car runs on air. With a good reason too. In the same way there is a good reason why modern medicine looks at our body differently from the way Ayurveda looks at it. That reason is the evidence that has been built up for its effectiveness.

What we should realise is that there is nothing wrong in questioning what is considered to be our traditional wisdom. Everything has to be questioned. We, of today, will not be half as knowledgable as people living 10 generations after us. In the same way we are much more knowledgable than people who lived 10 generations before us. That is natural. We should not keep hanging on unquestioningly to what our ancestors did. We should think critically and ask for evidence whenever a claim is made, especially with claims like this which says that our blood pulse carries information about our consciousness. That is the way to move ahead.

Categories: Uncategorized

Who discovered the planet going in reverse?

June 12, 2011 Leave a comment

All planets rotate on their axes while orbiting their Sun. Ours does too. But the axis on which our Earth rotates is tilted an angle of about 23.4 degrees, as can be seen by the way globes are mounted. And it is this tilt that causes the seasons. This tilt also leads to scenarios where near the Northern and Southern poles, we can experience 24 hour days and 24 hour nights (visiting one of these places at such a time, is on my things-to-do-before-I-die list).

But interestingly, the planet Uranus is tilted at angle of 97.7 degrees. If we imagine the usual plane of rotation of planets around our Sun as a table top, then the Earth will be seen as a spinning top whose axis of rotation is slightly tilted. In comparison, Uranus must be seen as lying flat on the ground rotating on its side. That is, the axis of rotation of Uranus is roughly along the plane of its rotation around the Sun. To see why that is interesting, imagine how day and night will be on that planet. When the axis of rotation of the planet is directed towards the Sun, then one half of the planet will get continuous day light. The other half is completely in the dark (this is just an extreme case of our planet having continuous days and nights near the poles during 2 seasons). During the two other seasons, its day-night pattern is similar to that of a normal planet. Uranus is, in that sense, unique.

But a newly(?) discovered planet that I read about in Times of India, a few days back, is unique in a different way. Normally a planet goes around the star in the same direction as the direction in which the star spins. That is all the planets travel in the same direction around the Sun. This is because, during the formation of the planetary system, all planets arise out of the same cluster of particles. These particles aggregate to form planets. Hence they all rotate in the same direction. But the new planet discovered rotates in a direction opposite to that of the direction of the spinning of the Sun.

This planet was discovered using the same technique as we discussed last time. The cause for this reverse motion is not very clear and still remains an open question. But the article itself is somewhat odd. The article refers to an astronomer, Daniel Bayliss, from Australian National University. When I googled for his name so that I could read more about this news item, I saw that all the news items refer only to Indian newspapers like this, this, and this.

Confused as to why I did not find any international news items, I searched with the planet name which was WASP-17B (BTW, WASP stands for Wide Area Search for Planets. The star around which it rotates is called WASP-17, which is about 1000 light years away from us.) and I saw many news items, but they were are dated in the month of August 2009. These were from the big news sites like National Geographic, BBC and New Scientist. And they all credit the discovery to scientists in the UK. The planet has a Wikipedia entry too.

It is curious that a planet that was discovered a couple of years back is being touted as a discovery again (at least that is what it appears to be unless I am missing something). When I went to the website of the Australian National University, I saw this press release about the planet. It is from this press release that a news agency prepared the news item which was used by the newspapers. But the press release also had contact details of the astronomer. So I emailed him a couple of days back asking for a clarification. I have not received a reply so far.


UPDATE (Jun 19th 2011): The scientist replied to my email a few days back, saying that the initial article was based on a paper which was only speculative of the reverse orbit of the planet and that his work covered a full transit and confirmed that the planet was indeed going in reverse. But the news reports were definitely messed up. The Times of India Report says, “now astronomers have stumbled onto one that goes the wrong way”, which clearly suggests that the planet itself was a new discovery.