Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mango leaves

The friend that I had cited in my previous post, at least, was unabashed in his beliefs and made no attempt to couch them in pseudo-science. But, I can’t be so charitable with another friend who I ran across at a function.

Pointing to the traditional festoon of mango leaves at the entrance, he asked me if I knew what its real significance was. I mumbled something about decoration, how the green colour symbolized prosperity, and how mango leaves are of the right length and so lent themselves very well to being bent and tied around the rope. Besides, traditions need no justification; they are,..er.. traditions and I was all for following traditions, in a light-hearted way.

Friend, who is an engineer and who applies many of the analytical methods to make his living, said that there was much more to the mango leaves and we ought to give our forefathers more credit than what we do now.

Knowledgably, he explained that the mango leaves, were tied at the entrance of a hall where there was a function, because our ancestors knew that a congregation of tens of people resulted in large release of CO2 in a confined area, and the leaves, as students of botany know, have the ability to absorb CO2 and infuse fresh oxygen. And, why only mango leaves, I asked him. “Because”, he stated with authority, “only mango leaves have the ability to absorb CO2, even after they are removed from the parent tree”.

What he was trying to convince me was that a few, dead mango leaves had the amazing ability to absorb the CO2 released by hundreds of people in a packed hall and that our forefathers were blessed with so much intricate knowledge which scientists following western traditions have managed to figure out only now.

It is true that Indian philosophers and thinkers had several original insights, but, alas, the mango-leaves theory doesn’t count as one such.

The friend, in the previous post, who had no pretension of being a science student and who had unquestioning faith in his superstitions was not harming anybody but himself. He was cocooned in his own world and was perfectly comfortable in that environment.

This mango-leaf friend who felt the need to explain an old tradition in terms of modern scientific theory but without observing the other rules that scientific reasoning requires, was a complete hypocrite, capable of causing harm to society at large, by popularising myths in a thin garb of scientific argument.

Several self-styled spiritual leaders practice this deception with consummate ease, as is evident here and here., where the same mango-leaves theory has been propagated. These gurus seek to increase the acceptability of their ‘message’ among the more educated of their devotees, by giving a scientific spin to their discourse..

Given the Hobson’s choice, I would much prefer a godman who proclaims that he has some mystic powers that science cannot explain to one who uses bad science to hoodwink people.

In fairness to godmen however, they are not alone; many advertisers, companies peddling alternative medicines and quick cure devices, play this trick all the time, as this column in The Guardian keeps tracking..


Anonymous said...

I wonder who's trying to fool whom.
They probably sincerely believe what they're trying to propagate, which is what makes it so much worse.......

Anonymous said...

This is a long drawn debate and am tired of reading about them everywhere.

Btw, what do you have to say about this?

Raj said...

dipali, no, friend was not trying to fool. he was convinced himself.

mysorean, sorry I added to the overdose.