Vedic ritual Athirathram in Panjal, Kerala, Pseudoscientific claims
#13
Arvind, I haven't received any feedback, but I wasn't expecting any. I just wanted to express my outrage and disappointment, in the hope that they would be more careful in the future.

I've been looking more into this whole thing, and I think the criticism of the pseudoscience is just part of my focus. I'm also concerned about the motivation for such pseudoscience- the systematic revisionism by Hindu nationalists.

I feel that, although this sort of revisionist pseudoscience is done a lot and there is value in looking at them all collectively, it would be good to make a case study of this one. I've been doing some research into it. Will post some of what I've discovered, but I'd like to see the study before writing it up. I did talk about some of it in the latest episode of the podcast.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#14
(23-Jun-2011, 09:12 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Arvind, I haven't received any feedback, but I wasn't expecting any. I just wanted to express my outrage and disappointment, in the hope that they would be more careful in the future.

Would it help the cause to make our letters 'open letters', with some letters from credentialed experts thrown in for good measure? Or is approaching the investigators themselves for clarifications worthwhile?

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#15
I've been looking into the history of this ritual, and I've decided to make a case study of it. To start with, I looked for accurate and respected scholars on the subject.

The best one turned out to be the researcher who was instrumental in reviving this tradition in modern times, Frits Staal, a Sanskrit scholar and Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley who studied Indian philosophy at Banaras Hindu University and got his PhD from the University of Madras. Staal funded the event in 1975 and got to tape it for the Smithsonian, funded by grants from Helsinki, Berkeley and Harvard universities. Since then the ritual has been held 3 times.

Staal seems to be a big fan of the ritual (and vedic rituals in general), but he also seems to be a very good academic. The ritual itself is extremely intense and Staal documented it for academia more precisely than anyone before or since. But there is a startling discovery that he makes in the course of analyzing the Sanskrit chants (and others), which he unleashes on the world in a paper 10 years after he first filmed the ritual. (Edited to remove request that was fulfilled)). Basically, he says that mantras (not just this one) contain elements that are proto-language in origin. That is, they originated before language itself was formed, and that they lack explanatory meaning. The chants are thought to be in pre-classical Sanskrit, but even the Brahmin priests reciting the chants had no idea what they meant.
Quote:"in Vedic ritual, as in mantra recitation, the function of language is phonetic and syntactic, not semantic. This implies that neither ritual, nor mantras, should be regarded as a kind of language; for the primary semantic distinction, that between meaningful and meaningless, which is basic to language in all its uses, is absent from ritual and mantras." ~ Frits Staal

Staal then proposes an even more startling idea- that syntax in language evolved from these rituals:

Quote:"I also drew a further conclusion: syntax in language has a ritual origin, and language developed from syntactic structures to which meanings were added subsequently"

The claim that the rituals are devoid of meaning (not just unknown meaning) has incensed the Hindu nationalists, some of whom have denounced Staal as a pseudo academic (often they dismiss all academics, especially ones from the West). The last straw for many was Staal's comparison of the mantras to bird song.

Quote:"..comparing it to bird songs, it was found that the patterns were similar and such patterns were not found any where else..."

Varthathe Trust and the Pseudoscience

I covered this part of the story in the latest episode of the podcast. To summarize, a bunch of rich Hindus (mostly from the West) came together and started the Varthathe Trust, to fund and promote the ritual. Dr. Nampoori, a physicist, was selected by the trust to head the project. All the mainstream reports that we've been hearing so far are press releases from the Trust. I'm waiting for the paper to be published.

I've attached Frits Staal's detailed paper on another fire ritual from Kerala, Somayagam. It makes for fascinating reading if you're into this sort of thing..


Attached Files
.pdf   somayagam.pdf (Size: 311.29 KB / Downloads: 10)
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#16
(23-Jun-2011, 09:16 AM)arvindiyer Wrote:
(23-Jun-2011, 09:12 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Arvind, I haven't received any feedback, but I wasn't expecting any. I just wanted to express my outrage and disappointment, in the hope that they would be more careful in the future.

Would it help the cause to make our letters 'open letters', with some letters from credentialed experts thrown in for good measure? Or is approaching the investigators themselves for clarifications worthwhile?

Perhaps drafting 'open letters' would be a good idea, but I think in that case the main criticism should be the fact that they ran with such an article even before the study had come out. I feel the claims are not even pseudoscience, and can't really bring myself to critique it as such... at least, not until the paper comes out.

I'm open to the possibility that the investigators are actually concerned with different questions, and the Trust is spinning this in the media, but I'd be surprised. Just the fact that the lead scientist is a physicist (as we know, that doesn't make him an expert in other subjects) and has uttered some of the most mind-boggling nonsense to the media on this, makes me think they're all in on the revisionism, willing to piggyback their superstitions on science.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#17
(23-Jun-2011, 10:01 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: The ritual itself is extremely intense and Staal documented it for academia more precisely than anyone before or since. But there is a startling discovery that he makes in the course of analyzing the Sanskrit chants (and others), which he unleashes on the world in a paper 10 years after he first filmed the ritual.

Speaking of the birdsong-like mantras, some samples can be heard around 4min30sec in the first episode of the BBC Documentary 'The Story of India'.

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#18
(23-Jun-2011, 11:07 AM)arvindiyer Wrote:
(23-Jun-2011, 10:01 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: The ritual itself is extremely intense and Staal documented it for academia more precisely than anyone before or since. But there is a startling discovery that he makes in the course of analyzing the Sanskrit chants (and others), which he unleashes on the world in a paper 10 years after he first filmed the ritual.

Speaking of the birdsong-like mantras, some samples can be heard around 4min30sec in the first episode of the BBC Documentary 'The Story of India'.

Yes, I've watched that. The theory has become quite popular now, and has been applied in other contexts. But Michael Wood is too quick to believe, and doesn't raise even the barest necessary skepticism, when it comes to the tall tales about the ritual. For example, no counter balance is offered to the ridiculous claim that the ritual is over 10,000 years old- a date that most historians would agree predates any known instances in India of the sort of basic organized civil society required for such activity, let alone the arrival of pre-Sanskrit culture in India.

Here's something that no one will say today. When Staal helped revive the ritual in 1975, it was almost dead. Only 2 Brahmin priests who knew the ritual were alive and the ritual didn't have funding. No non-Brahmin had ever witnessed the ritual before, and only a certain group (about 12 families) of Brahmins were eligible to train for and perform it. Staal, by funding it, opened it up to the world. His funding was so urgently needed that the priests were supposedly willing to forfeit thousands of years of tradition and let non-Brahmins in, and actually film it! Today many young Brahmins train for the ritual because of the nationalistic and religious/ethnic/caste pride associated with it.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#19
Quote:Dear Editor,

Having grown up reading The Hindu's Science and Technology section, it was with considerable pain that I read article titled 'Ancient fire ritual has positive impact on environment: Scientists' in the online version here:
http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/article2103881.ece

The article does not qualify as science reporting. It is too uninformed, lazy and uncharacteristically credulous to pass for anything that can be considered science reporting. Its only value is that it serves as an excellent case study for demonstrating practically all the mistakes that science reporters should be wary of making. The nature of the scientific enterprise requires that a reporter check up on the sources, evaluate the credibility of the scientists, seek out any peer-reviewed references and, if presenting a controversial and/or fringe idea, present current scientific consensus on the issue.

In the West the scientific community worries about false equivalence, where the media creates and perpetuates false scientific controversies in popular culture by presenting two sides as equally credible when one is pseudoscience, endorsed only by a fringe segment, often with ideological motivations, and the other is the mainstream scientific view. In the Indian media often we don't even get false equivalence. Often we get just the pseudoscience.

I desperately want to believe that The Hindu is above printing pseudoscientific gibberish, especially in the Science and Technology section. In the interests of reclaiming your credentials as a newspaper that the public can count on for accurate science reporting, I request that you publish a retraction of the article and an apology for publishing it in the first place.

Best Regards

--
Ajita Kamal
Editor
Nirmukta.com

a lovely rebuke but i wouldn't expect a reply with that.Perhaps "we too gotta earn mate". Flowers

Quote:Dear Editor,

This is with reference to the article entitled 'Ancient fire ritual has a positive influence on environment:Scientists' dated 14th June 2011, appearing in the online edition here: http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/article2103881.ece

The article seems insufficiently critical of obvious methodological limitations in the reported study, as can be summarized in the following questions:

1. Were the conditions to which the germination-pots were subject to in terms of sunlight, water-supply etc equal in all respects, but for the closeness to the altar?
For instance, if the pots close to the altar were in open-air and the distant pots happened to be in an enclosure, then it calls into question the reported conclusion.

2. Were the microbial samples obtained for comparison, obtained from locations with similar human footfall and exposure to organic matter?
This is important because rituals are typically preceded by elaborate purificatory procedures which may explain why the altar grounds seem more 'disinfected' that other places which did not receive such treatment.

Since the claims are about the effect of chants, experiments of the following sort maybe needed if the claims made by the investigators are to be taken seriously :

(a) Repeat the germination-pot experiment with the same number and spacing of pots with the same altars, but without the chanting.
(b) Compare microbial activity in bricks from old altars with microbial activity of similarly dated-bricks from non-altar sources.
© Compare the emission spectra (especially presence of stimulated emission at 700 nm) of two altars identical in all respects, except the presence of chanting.
In all three of the above, the null hypothesis is that chanting makes no difference to the effect. It is only when such a null hypothesis is shown to be violated that conclusions such as the ones the investigators report will pass muster.

I will be grateful if you could provide contacts and pointers that would help address some of the concerns I raise above, which if left unaddressed will have an adverse impact on the perceived credibility of your esteemed publication.

Yours sincerely,
Arvind Iyer
Department of Biomedical Engineering,
University of Southern California
very tactful Thumbup,

most people will take anything in news at face value if it has the word "scientist" in it , this quote from here keeps me optimistic :-

Quote: Don't be disheartened, Sajith, two can play at that game. I think that in a few years we will have something similar to what you dream of- an inexpensive and good quality science newspaper for the masses. The Freethought Media Network is more necessary than any other work we do, except perhaps mobilizing and organizing the regional groups.
,

also tell me , is the fira driven indian skeptic only online or is it also printed, how large is it's reader base?
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#20
"Positive vibrations are increased by the ritual" - um, sounds like they've forgotten what a vibration is (it's a back-and-forth oscillating motion). How can such an oscillating motion be positive or negative when the peak and the plough cancel each other out?
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#21
(15-Jun-2011, 04:33 AM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: As discussed on facebook, The Hindu has posted a ludicrous article on the conclusions of these "scientists". The entire article follows:


Quote:A 4,000 year old fire ritual conducted in the remote village in Kerala in April this year has a positive impact on the atmosphere, soil and other environment effects, according to scientists who are now ready with their findings.

The “Athirathram” ritual held on April 4— 15 at Panjal village in Thrissur district was the focus of a detailed study by a team of scientists led by Prof V P N Nampoori, former director of the International School of Photonics, Cochin University of Science and Technology.

The scientists had focused on the fire ritual’s scientific dimensions and impact on the atmosphere, soil and its micro—organisms and other potential environmental effects.

The yagna seems to have accelerated the process of seed germination and also the microbial presence in air, water and soil in and around the region of the fire ritual is vastly diminished, according to a statement released by the Varthathe Trust, who organised the ritual.

The team had planted three types of seeds — cowpea, green gram and Bengal gram — on all four sides of the ritual venue at varying distances. They found that the growth was better in case of pots kept closer to the fire altar.

This effect, the study says, was more pronounced in the case of Bengal gram with growth about 2,000 times faster than in other places.

According to Nampoori, sound is a vibration and continuous positive vibrations through chanting, accelerates the process of germination.

“The findings would not only help dispel superstitious notions associated with Vedic rituals but also help in continuation of such tradition for the betterment of nature and the environment,” says Nampoori.

He added that further research on the phenomenon were on which could prove that some bio—amplifier generated in the atmosphere because of the ritual, had a selective effect on Bengal gram.

The study focused on counting bacterial colonies at three locations — within the yagnashala, 500 metres and 1.5 kilometres from the yagnasala. Microbial analysis made before, during and four days after the yagna revealed that the air in the vicinity of the yagnashala was pure and had very low count of microbe colonies.

The research team also found that microbial activities in the soil and water around the yagnashala were remarkably less compared to normal ground.

The “Athirathram” ritual which literally means “building up of the fireplace and performed overnight” and usually held to propagate universal peace and harmony, was first documented 35 years ago by US—based Indologist Frits Staal.

Staal, currently Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley had in 1975 organised and recorded the ritual in detail with the help of grants and donations from the Universities of Havard, Berkely and Finland”s Helsinki University.

The research team conducted tests near the fire altars of the 1918 and 1956 Athirathram, still preserved in the backyards of Namboothiri homes, reveal that the bricks continue to be free of microbial presence.

“It’s an indication that the effect of the ritual is long—lasting. Studies are on to find out if other positive changes on the atmosphere are transitional or permanent,” say researchers.

An analysis conducted on the dimensions of temperature from the flames of the pravargya by Prof A K Saxena, head of photonics division, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, found that the fire ball that formed during the ritual had a particular wavelength with an unusually high intensity similar to what is observed in typical laser beams at about 3,870 degree centigrade.

It may be possible to have stimulated emission at this wavelength (700 nm) and gain from plasma recombination. It needs to be studied further, he says.

The members of the team of scientists’ team at the Panjal Athirathram 2011 included experts from various disciplines and included Dr Rajalakshmy Subrahmanian (Cusat), Dr Parvathi Menon (M G College, Thiruvanathapuram), Dr Maya R Nair (Pattambi Government College), Prof Saxena ( Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore) and Prof. Rao (Andhra University).

The scientific team members were supported by Zarina (Research Scholar, CUSAT), Ramkumar (Biotechnologist), Asulabha (Biotechnologist) and a number of postgraduate, graduate and school students.


hi i think you should read this http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9...anting.pdf
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#22
(18-Apr-2015, 10:59 PM)evlajish Wrote: hi i think you should read this http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9...anting.pdf

Why? All I see is how to chant mantras, but nothing about pseudoscientific crap that is being spouted in the name of chanting mantras. You might have as well posted a link on how to perform the Expecto Patronum charm. It would have made for a much more informative non-sequitur.
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