Superstition
#1
Shambhu Dayal the Sacred Bull

Here is another encounter I had with a strange 'supernatural' phenomenon. This happened about 42 years ago. It was around 9. p. m. I was walking near Victoria Hospital in Bangalore with a friend. There, just outside Tipu Sultan's fort, I saw a gathering of about three hundred people in a circle. The central empty area was about 40 feet in diameter. The crowd was about five people thick. Two gaslights lighted up the central area. I managed to get close to the inner circle of people. In the brightness of the gaslights, I saw a turbaned man with a mustache and a large white bull with a huge hump, which had bent on itself over the left side of its body. A very decorative cloth draped its back. The man said, "Here is my sacred bull Shambhu Dayal. He is divine bull!" We all laughed.

Then he said, "Take off all your watches and put them on a piece of cloth on the ground." About thirty people, including myself, removed our watches and placed them on the cloth. The master of the bull then mixed up all the watches and picked one and asked the bull, "Shambhu Dayal, who does this watch belong to?" The bull went around the inner circle and stopped in front of the person to whom the watch belonged. Over the next fifteen minutes, the man gave back to all of the people their respective watches.

Then he said to the crowd, "Give me 25 paise and Shambhu Dayal will pick your friend from this crowd." By now, my friend had already been separated from me in the crowd and was about ten feet away from me. I paid the man 25 paise. About fifteen others also did so. Over the next ten minutes, the bull went round and round and stopped in front of friends of those who had paid 25 paise.

In this manner, the fascinating magic show went on for over one and one half hour, baffling all the onlookers.

Now, this story sounds obviously "bull." There must be a not-so-obvious explanation for the 'supernatural powers' of this 'divine' bull. However, the scientist in me does not dismiss or debunk anything without examining it in detail. It took me fifteen years to debunk the Bhagavad Gita. Scientific temper requires that we explain the seemingly unexplainable. Now, what do you think happened here?
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#2
(01-May-2010, 07:32 PM)K. P. S. Kamath Wrote:
Shambhu Dayal the Sacred Bull

Here is another encounter I had with a strange 'supernatural' phenomenon. This happened about 42 years ago. It was around 9. p. m. I was walking near Victoria Hospital in Bangalore with a friend. There, just outside Tipu Sultan's fort, I saw a gathering of about three hundred people in a circle. The central empty area was about 40 feet in diameter. The crowd was about five people thick. Two gaslights lighted up the central area. I managed to get close to the inner circle of people. In the brightness of the gaslights, I saw a turbaned man with a mustache and a large white bull with a huge hump, which had bent on itself over the left side of its body. A very decorative cloth draped its back. The man said, "Here is my sacred bull Shambhu Dayal. He is divine bull!" We all laughed.

Then he said, "Take off all your watches and put them on a piece of cloth on the ground." About thirty people, including myself, removed our watches and placed them on the cloth. The master of the bull then mixed up all the watches and picked one and asked the bull, "Shambhu Dayal, who does this watch belong to?" The bull went around the inner circle and stopped in front of the person to whom the watch belonged. Over the next fifteen minutes, the man gave back to all of the people their respective watches.

Then he said to the crowd, "Give me 25 paise and Shambhu Dayal will pick your friend from this crowd." By now, my friend had already been separated from me in the crowd and was about ten feet away from me. I paid the man 25 paise. About fifteen others also did so. Over the next ten minutes, the bull went round and round and stopped in front of friends of those who had paid 25 paise.

In this manner, the fascinating magic show went on for over one and one half hour, baffling all the onlookers.

Now, this story sounds obviously "bull." There must be a not-so-obvious explanation for the 'supernatural powers' of this 'divine' bull. However, the scientist in me does not dismiss or debunk anything without examining it in detail. It took me fifteen years to debunk the Bhagavad Gita. Scientific temper requires that we explain the seemingly unexplainable. Now, what do you think happened here?

Why would this be supernatural? It could be just magic with a well trained bull?
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#3
What could be the explanation for watches being returned to the owners one after another?
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#4
(01-May-2010, 08:49 PM)K. P. S. Kamath Wrote: What could be the explanation for watches being returned to the owners one after another?

There are a lot of amazing magic tricks that non magicians like us cannot explain unless the magicians tell us how its done. But it is trickery. How do we know he did not have accomplices in the crowd?
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#5
(01-May-2010, 08:49 PM)K. P. S. Kamath Wrote: What could be the explanation for watches being returned to the owners one after another?

Dr. Kamath, Have you heard of the Clever Hans Effect?

Please read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans

The animal is merely reacting to the trainee/audience's cues, which are sometimes subconscious for the trainee/audience members. This is why scientific testing conditions and blinding are important- to remove the bias that the person doing the experiment has towards a particular outcome.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
Of course, animals can be trained to respond to subliminal cues. The question is how did the man know which watch belonged to whom in the crowd of three hundred? There were about thirty watches, which he mixed up well. He picked each watch without even looking at them and the bull kept circling and stopping before the owner of each watch. There might be perfectly acceptable explanation for all this. My point is that we rationalist have no answer as yet.

As you know, all the saffron-clad sadhus performing miracles are magicians. The only difference between them and professional magicians is that they wear saffron clothes. Both these people perform magic for their living. "Holy" men go after power as well.
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#7
(02-May-2010, 05:57 PM)K. P. S. Kamath Wrote: Of course, animals can be trained to respond to subliminal cues. The question is how did the man know which watch belonged to whom in the crowd of three hundred?

The animal responds to (subconscious) cues from the audience. You know that it's your watch. Your friend knows that he is your friend. In order to eliminate the 'Clever Hans Effect', you must not know which watch is yours, and your friend must not know that the bull is 'looking for your friend'. In reality, the bull is just looking for someone who is exhibiting the cues, expecting the bull to suddenly stop at him (there could be many cues here, as you'll see if you read the science behind the Clever Hans Effect). The story of Clever Hans has been used multiple times to demonstrate such tricks.

The human animal is the easiest to train. Gullibility is hardwired in all of us, as part of our need to conform. In the case of Clever Hans, even the trainer was being fooled.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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