Links on Pseudoscience and Superstition
#1
In the thread Abuse of quantum notation, Arvind suggested that we maintain a list of sites which promote pseudoscience. Let us use this thread to dump any links that we come across which promote pseudoscience or superstition.

Additionally Arvind had also suggested that we review those sites grouping the content under three categories:
  1. Trifles : Assorted factoids and credential-waving used for padding rather than for evidence
  2. Tripe : Assorted falsehoods which unlike the trifles that can be laughed off, are toxic if left unanalyzed
  3. Truisms : Tautologies and platitudes which are too obvious to warrant any mystical justification for them
Please see this post (from the same thread "Abuse of quantum notation") as an example of the above classification.

The idea is to develop a database of pseudoscientific beliefs that are specific to Indian context and dissect them. We can then refer to the database whenever we come across pseudoscientific nonsense.
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#2
Black holes in the Vedas

Vimanas a.k.a flying machines invented by the ancients

Big Bang Theory in Hinduism

Dasavatars and Theory of Evolution

Psuedoscience of the Gayatri Mantra
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#3
Thank you Lije for the starting list.

Here is one item (related to Item 2 above) that I came across recently: the Vymaanika Shaastra, feted by many as 'Vedic astronautics' which if properly studied can guarantee India's triumph in the space race and Star Wars! In one of those rare fortunate occurrences, this website takes a stand that the text in question is of dubious origin and authenticity and itself performs a dissection of the sort we recommend.

However here is a quick dissection in our format, with excerpts from the online Version of Vymaanika Shaastra.

Trifles:

"Vymaanika Shastra" consists of nearly 6000 lines, or 3000 verses of lucid Sanskrit, dealing with the construction of Vimaanas or Aeroplanes. That the vocabulary of ancient Sanskrit could in simple flowing verse depict the technical details with effortless ease is a tribute to the language, and the greatness of the author." (Foreword)

(Wouldn't it be ludicrous if a Physicist cited the word-count of the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and the fact that it was written in the classical language of Latin, as obvious testimony to its scientific merit? But it is exactly with such criteria that revivalists argue for the superiority of ancient 'scientific' treatises!)

Tripe:

"They (the Vedas) remain imbedded in the ether of the sky, to be revealed--like television,--to gifted mediums of occult perception...Venerable Pandit Subbaraya Sastry, who has left the legacy of manuscript treasures including "Vymanika Shastra", was a simple, orthodox, intellectual Brahmin with spiritual gifts, who was esteemed by all who knew him, Englishmen and anglicised or educated Indians, in various walks of life. He was a walking lexicon gifted with occult perception." (Foreword)

(This was written as recently as 1973, several decades after the first television was developed (1926) and after the first plane flew (circa 1904), all unaided by 'gifts of occult perception'!)

"Dhundinaatha and "Vaalmeeki Ganita" state that Rekha has 7,03,00,800 air routes, Mandala has 20,08,00200 air routes, Kakshya has 2,09,00,300 air routes, Shakti has 10,01,300 air routes, and Kendra has 30,08,200 air routes." (from Panchagnyascha. Sootra 3.)

(The term 'route' seems ill-defined. There is no reason given as to why only a finite number of trajectories is possible, and why an infinite number of others are 'forbidden'. To take a homely example, consider a toy plane flying in an empty room in your house. Can a scholar of the Vymaanika Shaastra 'count' the number of possible trajectories it can take? )

"Mixing pomegranate juice, bilva or bael oil, copper-salt, kitchen smoke, granthika or gugul liquid, mustard powder, and fish scale decoctions, and adding sea-shell and rock-salt powder, and collecting smoke of the same solution and spreading it with solar heat enveloping the cover, the Vimana will have the appearance of a cloud." (Rahasyagnyodhikaaree. Sootra 2.)

( The ingredients in this recipe are inadequately specified, precluding any meaningful tests, for after a failed test, an apologist can always come along and say, "But for the sea-shell ingredient, did you make sure the shell was from an oyster which surely had a pearl in it?" or "Did you make sure the pomegranate was not genetically modified and was ripened naturally?"

Perhaps another source where we can look for camouflage recipes is in Macbeth IV i 14-15:
"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.")

Rowdree-darpana is a mirror or lens which liquefies everything that it flashes against.... 8 parts of lead, 3 parts of shaalmali, 7 of durvaara, 8 parts kudupinjara, 21 parts of droonee, 8 parts sun-crystal, 27 parts of rudraanee-graavoshara, 6 parts betel leaves, 8 parts of kowtila, 30 of veeraabhra linga, 8 parts of salts, 7 of sand, 6 parts of matrunna, 3 of dimbhika, 8 of zinc, 13 of ant-hill earth, 6 of gum, 3 of kumbhinee, 3 parts sweet oil, 27 of Tinnevelly senna, 6 of godhaamla, 8 of silk cotton, 8 parts of virinchi satva, 5 parts of kanda, 3 parts of yellow orpimet, 7 parts of kaarmukha, or brown barked acacia?, these 26, powdered, purified, and filled in crucible and placed in furnace and boiled to 800 degrees, and poured into Darpana yantra, will yield a fine roudrikaa-darpana. (Darpanaadhikaranam)

(Burning lenses have been written about since at least 424 BC and have been successfully demonstrated since, without the use of shaalmaali, durvaara, kudupinjara, kowtila and kumbhinee!)

The book bristles with such instances and I am stopping here only in the interest of time!

Truisms:

Truisms, even if present in the book, are so hard to detect amid the smoke and mirrors caused by burning shaalmaali, durvaara, kudupinjara, kowtila and kumbhinee!
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#4
(28-Oct-2010, 09:05 PM)Lije Wrote: Black holes in the Vedas

The mentioning of black holes in the Vedas is supposedly a big slap in the face to "Western" science. There seem to be a lot of people who actually believe this nonsense. Often, these people don't know anything about black holes except for that they are holes, they are black and they are mysterious. But the religious apologists who originate such nonsense know fully well what black holes are and are also familiar with science. Yet they rape science with their magical thinking and, because they generally are in a position of authority, drill that nonsense into people who have been primed by religion to accept anything that an authoritative figure says.

I don't know if the article can be cleanly categorized into trifles, tripes and truisms. It takes extreme liberties in interpreting Vedic verses and mixes them with modern science so as to ascribe authority to a primitive understanding of nature. That and the unstated, wrong assumption that Vedas are the final word on knowledge form the trifles. The truisms are deeply intertwined with tripes. So I'll just pick some points and dissect them.

The linked article Wrote:
nābhyā āsīd antarikşham shīrşhņo dyauĥ samavartata
padbhyām bhūmir dishaĥ shrotrāttathā lokān akalpayan

which translates as
Space is navel, heavenly bodies (galaxies and constellations) head, feet the land, directions give ears, manifests in the form of worlds

The Vedic people had no clue as to what galaxies were and yet the article disingenuously inserts that into its interpretation.

The article is also oblivious to the primitive understanding of nature implied by the verse. The verse seems to think that the head of a human body is analogous to the stars and the feet to Earth. The navel is supposed to be some sort of point of origin. But anyone who knows some physics can tell that the idea of stars being at the top and Earth at the bottom is laughably stupid (no privileged frames). What it does show is how egotist the Vedic people where in assuming that the Universe revolves around humans.

The linked article Wrote:It also says all the directions are its hearing organs, which could simply mean that as charges from purusha expand in all directions, creating a 'field' around them, they cover all directions and bring them under the influence of Purusha.

The article enters into pseudoscience land with "charges expanding in all directions" and "creating a field". I suppose that is true of farting as well. A charge of vile gas expanding spherically creates a noisome field that affects the smell organs of other people.

The linked article Wrote:
chandramā manaso jātash chakşhoĥ sūryo ajāyata
mukhād indrashchāgnishcha prāņād vāyūr ajāyata

which translates as
“Brilliantly shining mind like moon's light, born with eyes as sun (and sun like stars) is the nature of this Creation. Expressing itself (face denotes expression) as indra (thunder) and agni (fire), breathing life through the atmosphere is the nature of this Creation.”

Again the phrase "sun (and sun like stars)" is another disingenuous injection of modern science into the interpretation. The Vedic people didn't know that the other stars are like our Sun.

The primitive understanding of nature again shows up in this verse. Their imagination stops at thunder and fire, and doesn't go beyond the Earth. They seem to think that there is some vital force that breathes life into the air. A far cry from the present understanding of life.

The linked article Wrote:
saptāsyāsan paridhayastriĥ sapta samidhaĥ kŗtāĥ
devā yadyajňam tanvānā abadhnun puruşham pashum

Like a female (one who bears children) with seven holes, this yajna has seven black holes, which are the fuel/fire (samitha) for this yajna, which keeps spinning out fast (with) unbound purusha as the sacrifice.

Just because the verse has the words black and hole, the article comes to the brilliant conclusion that a hole that is black is indeed a black hole, an object which is so massive and dense that not even light can escape it. The fact that black holes were observed only in the last century and that their properties have very little in common to a banal ritual, escapes the imagination of the article.

The article then goes on to talk about a model of a Universe that is like an inverted Banyan tree, with black holes as its aerial roots. I suppose this is possible in the realm of religious logic, where the dimensions are ruled by Psychedelia.
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#5
Lije's list of pseudoscience items to be dissected included 'Dasavatars and evolution'. I am pasting below a recent email I wrote in response to a reported Facebook status update that read: '"The ten incarnations of Vishnu has resemblance to Darwin's theory of elvoution: Matsya-Life in water, Kurma (Tortoise)-Amphibian, Varaha- life out of water, Narasimha- Half man, Three Rams and Krishna as men."

The mail below is not in our usual format, is written with tongue firmly in cheek, and focuses on how such a comparison does not make sense even from a Puranic standpoint!

"If it is indeed an 'evolutionary narrative' rather than a superficial coincidental resemblance, then should we infer that the promiscuous Krishna represents more advanced, evolved social conduct than the monogamous Raama?

One point often forgotten by those excited by this tenuous Darwinian parallel, is that the ordering of Matsya-Koorma-Varaaha.... is NOT a chronological ordering if we go by the Puraanik narrative, but a later ordering popularized probably by artists (notably poets and sculptors). In the Bhagavata Puraana, it is actually Varaaha which is the first Avataara that is mentioned. The Asura king mentioned in the Kurma Avatara churning is Bali who is the grandson of Prahalada who is a contemporary of Narasimha Avatara. This means that Narasimha predates Kurma in the Puraanic chronology.

Also, if we stick to the folk Dasavatara order, then Mohini would feature between Kurma and Varaha. Does this mean that the evolutionary status of women is somewhere between turtles and swine? This evolutionary comparison which so-called pious science-enthusiasts want to make is therefore fraught with awkwardness and it is counterproductive to useful discussion in both science and religion.

The ancients who chose the most appealing 10 out of many avataaras were probably ignorant of biological evolution, and a more plausible explanation of this choice and ordering is suggested by Sister Nivedita in her Cradle Tales of Hinduism. The Puraanikas saw a parallel between the growth of a human infant to adulthood with the Avataras. This makes sense considering the transition from an infant in the womb (fish in water) to a crawling infant (turtle/boar on all fours) to the first attempts on hind limbs (Nara-Simha) to a young toddler (Vaamana) to an angry young man (Parashurama) to a conformist law-enforcer(Raama) to a radical law-giver (Krishna).

I am able to believe that the Puraanikas made this somewhat ontogenic analogy rather than the phylogenic analogy which the aficionados claim, because there is no evidence that the Puraanikas had any understanding of the phylogenetic tree. In fact I doubt even if today's followers of the Puraanikas have such an understanding, because they are staunch creationists and anti-Darwinists, as can be seen here. If they had even an iota of such understanding, they would not claim routinely that the number of living species is fixed, at 840000 !
"
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#6
Apparently there was an ancient atomic war in India. As usual, this is supposed to be yet another glorious proof that the Vedic people knew everything. There is a lot of this stuff out there on the Internet and after some google fu, I found some evidence for the claims (by religious standards):
  1. A book Riddles of Ancient History by some Russian called A. Gorbovsky apparently says something about radioactive skeletons and melted stones.
  2. An atomic blast crater which is today's Lonar lake.
  3. The Mahabharat
I couldn't find any other studies which corroborate this ancient nuclear war. I think this started out with the loonies who believe in UFOs/Ancient Aliens and was adopted by hindu apologists who have successfully mated it with the aforementioned Vimana Shastra.

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#7
(In reference to Arvind's previous post)

We actually had a discussion on this topic, but I'm unable to find it by searching. We're all familiar with how Christians and Muslims have reacted to the theory of biological evolution, but Hindu revisionism is actually the most sophisticated religious response to the theory.

Firstly, we must acknowledge that whatever one says about the dasavatars, these myths say absolutely nothing about the process of biological evolution by natural selection (let alone indicate knowledge of the phylogenetic tree, which would presuppose knowledge of the process of evolution).

The Hindu revisionism of Indian myths to appropriate the notion of biological evolution can be traced directly to madame Blavatsky. Meera Nanda is currently working on a project related to this subject. It will be a comprehensive source. I have much to say on this already, but I propose that we wait for her book (actually, its a section in a compilation)to come out (which should be pretty soon).
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#8
Anyway, let's keep the discussion here to links on pseudoscience and superstition. 2 reasons:

1. All important discussions must be in the appropriate thread, marked by an appropriate title that makes the thread searchable and appropriately indexed by google.

2. This thread is meant as a repository of links for compilation at a later date. It makes it harder to do this if we have to comb through all the back and forth. We can post links, and then if a subject interests us we can create a separate thread for it and refer to that thread in this one using a second link.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#9
Yes Ajita, sound book-keeping is key. Here's the next item.

Rain-making by incantations is a miracle that has been claimed often, for instance, this claim dating to 1972 in Tirumala Hills. This much more recent post announces a five-day rain-making ritual extravaganza, raising the inevitable question 'Couldn't these expenses be diverted towards drought relief?'.
I guess rain-making is within the ambit of the Koovoor challenge and wonder if it has been taken up yet, in the presence of live TV cameras.
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#10
spiritual Research Foundation
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#11
Vedic power generation (based on Purusha Sukta !)

Edit by Mod: Discussion on this topic has been initiated by Nirmukta community member holyshitbatman, here.

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#12
Link: Science of Genetics behind the Hindu Gotra System – The Y Chromosome and the Male Lineage

Trifles:

The author talks about Chromosomes, genes, Y-Chromosome, possible extinction of Y-Chromosome and increased risk of recessive diseases in incest.

Tripes:

The tripes were pointed by Lalit, Pratibha and me in the discussion we had earlier.

Truisms:

Quote:Marriage is finally more of a bond between two souls rather than two bodies, so its nobody’s business to interfere in a marriage where the boy and girl are above minimal legal age required for marriage and are marrying with mutual consent.

Quote:Whether we need to retain the Gotra rules in deciding marriage alliance and whether same Gotra Boy and Girl (when they come from distant families) still share the same genes like between immediate cousins – should be left to Science.

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