Philosophy

On Buddhism and Suffering…

I think the fundamental idea of Buddhism, of desire being the main cause of suffering, is somewhat flawed. Although it surely is a massively influential idea which has branched off into different complex and esoteric forms over the course of time, fusing even with other schools of thought like Shintoism or Daoism, I still think it is somewhat insufficient in terms of foundational reasoning.

After all, Buddhism is, in reality, an idea that was derived from just an individual Human’s emotional epiphany about the universal phenomenon of human suffering. I guess this realization of Buddha’s has had much to do with the moral conflict any human with basic empathy skills experiences when they are removed from their comfort zones and put into a situation where they see people struggling to get by on a daily basis or to just survive. We can still witness such phenomenon in the form of tourists from industrialized rich countries getting emotionally affected enough to be motivated to start or donate to charity in order to help the people they see as being unfortunate or disadvantaged during the course of their travel to a developing nation, all relative to their own lives of relative comfort.

Now I’m not even going to entertain the argument that Buddha wasn’t a human but instead an enlightened being; because that line of thinking, I assume, is just an effort to shift the goalpost in order to distract the primary point of critique. If we assume Buddha as a human being, then he surely is subject to the universals of human nature, and when he is subject to these universals, he is surely subject to the cognitive biases that make us all liable for critique. In that sense, can we trust Buddha’s philosophy which was based on pure epiphany and introspection? Can we give any validation to Buddha’s idea of subjective truth encompassing all forms of objective truth? If the answer is yes to these questions, then I’ll have to disagree.

Such a phenomenon of individual humans being affected by the harsh nature of reality and its effect on human lives, and subsequently seeking isolation in order to meditate and introspect about the nature of reality is common. We can see numerous examples of such from history. Sages who sought for social meditative isolation was a common practice in ancient Indian subcontinent and has been documented in Hindu scriptures older than Buddhism itself. Perhaps after his epiphany of class differences between humans and the subjectively perceived unfair nature of life as a whole, Buddha was inspired by the same established trend to abandon what he deemed as ‘material possessions’ in order to seek isolation for subjective, explorative and meditative purposes. Realizations of class struggle, suffering and it’s uncanny nature is as old as humans have existed, we can say, and so I think we cannot just blame nor credit even Karl Marx for coming up with the idea of socialism, I guess he just organized it for his time. Unless we understand how we function as humans, pertinent to the laws of evolution and physics, I don’t think any human would be able to realize the biology nor the psychology of suffering in objective ways, for what they are – leading them into the endless metaphysical abyss of questioning the very idea of existence and suffering without any useful end in sight whatsoever.

Coming back to the initial thesis, my reasons for disagreement stems from the fact that Buddha’s notion about suffering is much too simplistic, if not obsolete. I can understand how later disciples of Buddhism have tried to work around this deficit and they should be given some credit, however, I think they still haven’t dealt much with the core idea of suffering coming from human desires. The trailing bias against human desire is all too apparent in most of their works. What this has come to imply today is the popular notion among followers that desire is immoral and thus to mitigate it as far as possible is a moral thing to do. Such a line of reasoning is in fact insufficient in explaining the causality of human suffering even in the most general sense. We could argue that suffering arises from our subjective expectations not meeting the seemingly unpredictable outcomes of reality, and there’s some truth to that; but what about the inevitable suffering brought forth by often uncontrollable factors such as disease or death, is that also a result of human desire or a certain concept of a deterministic yet reciprocal Karma? Mainstream Buddhism escapes this loophole by shifting the goalpost as it creates an unfalsifiable negative in the form of Karma, and thus most argument in favor of Buddha’s initial thesis circles around it in an endless loop. Perhaps Buddha and people who follow his line of reasoning are affected by the problem of failing to realize the nature of entropy or natural selection – what can go wrong will go wrong (as we may call it Murphy’s law); and that we are all subject to natural selection in spite of our protective civilizations – as a result of which our subjective expectations aren’t met and thus the perceived quality of suffering. I’m not discounting Buddha’s observation completely, despite of his realizations about suffering and desire being a derived from just a strong epiphany; it surely does bear some truth to it. However his conclusion of desire being the causative agent of suffering, I think, is flawed and that remains my main argument against the foundation of Buddhism. I guess we can help tackle that reasoning by asking a simple question – isn’t it also a kind of desire to get rid of desire itself?

What I understand is that nature is ruthless in a way that it has no bio-centric goal in anyway, let alone any anthropocentric ones. Nature is indifferent, so for me to call it ruthless is also my own anthropocentric projection and likewise would be my idea of suffering. If we are to understand the laws of physics and those of evolution, suffering is nothing but a neurological perception and its subsequent portrayal of the effects of entropy. Take away the nervous system, especially its ability to perceive pain or dissatisfaction or it’s ability to set and fulfill survival goals, and would there still be suffering of any kind? Would suffering still be an effect if there wasn’t an observer to experience it? Would plants suffer in the same way animals would? Despite it is apparent that the end adopted by Buddhism is in achieving Human well being, the means are pretty ambivalent as it falls into the risk of being open to interpretation, liable in being led into any motivated direction as any proponent could please. This is sure to happen and has happened (e.g. Ethnocentric Buddhist Monks in Myanmar using Buddhist scriptures to justify the violence against Rohingya Muslims) – Buddha’s ideas do not give us a sound and cogent means to achieve its desired end.

The problem that arises from Buddha’s line of thinking, at least in this century if not in the ones before it, is of an uninformed kind of moralistic pacifism – the kind of which we see in those projected by PETA activists around the world. An obscure idea of morality could lead to overly zealous people reside on a self-assumed moral high ground from which they knowingly or unknowingly think of others who do not agree with them as lesser people and thus act upon it, much to the detriment of well being itself. We can see a similar moralistic trend amongst people who vilify vaccines as opposed to holistic alternative care modalities such as homeopathy, naturopathy or tantric medicines, which haven’t been shown to have had any objective benefit on people for so long and instead may cause more harm – despite of assumed good intentions. A sort of a black-and-white mindset for envisioning reality ensues out of doctrines derived from those such as Buddha’s ambivalent ideas of moralistic pacifism and suffering. I’m not saying, in any way though, that such effects are all due to Buddhist values – all I’m trying to do is to draw a common ground between ambivalent moral ideas.

Another troubling aspect in this regard is of people’s zealous attachment to Buddhist ideas, devoid of any kind of critical reception. This, I think, remains a fundamental philosophical problem of the Indian subcontinent – to adhere to a doctrine of subjective preference with little regard to their rational significance. I understand that it is more important for some people to become morally right, or spiritually sound, as opposed to pursuing after a rational observation of their surroundings or any idea for that matter. But in the end, if our common philosophical goal is towards the well being of the Human race as a whole, shouldn’t it serve the same purpose better if we could train ourselves to see things for what they are as opposed to what we want them or assume them to be? This, I think, is a question we all have to ask ourselves and others around us at some point in our lives – all for the sake of promoting clarity of thought for the covetous end of Human well being.

THANGKA-720x371
Image source: Buddhist Thangka Center Website
Ethics, Philosophy

On Ethical Living in Nepal

The problem with trying to live an ethical life in Nepal is that you mostly won’t get help from the very people who are supposed to be close to you. Some common issues in this regard might be: superstitions, sexist taboo (eg. menstrual taboo), household child labor, corruption, cult followings, racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, homophobia, trans-phobia, forced marriages, fornication, casteism, gotra-pratha, criminal justice, corporal punishments in schools, tax frauds and the like.

If you think something is wrong, at least some of your family, friends or relatives will be likely to commit it themselves at some point. If you think that something shouldn’t happen, the people around you wont let you live by it without you seeming like a hypocrite. Because the social structure in Nepal is ultra-cohesive (unlike the individualistic structure of industrialized nations), one simply can’t escape the society in order to fight it. They’ll be ostracized beyond recovery, making it difficult for individuals to bring about positive changes. The cohesive and intrusive social structure may be good for things like coping in difficult times, where people will by default come to help you, but if you see that some social practices are archaic or unethical and try to argue against it, you can’t escape them for the fear of being left alone.

Many will propose to abandon them, sometimes a good measure for most. But it’s not always possible for everyone to take that road. We are social beings, and we all need a niche in the society to function well.

I don’t know what the solution is for overcoming this, but one clear way is to change yourself and seek independence from the people who are close to you. This doesn’t mean we should abandon them, just that we stop depending on them for finances if we do, without necessarily disrespecting them. Financial freedom gives you a sense of control and power over your life and you can start living as ethically as possible. If the people around you can be changed – go for it, this is the best method. However, if they are resistant to change – you start changing things starting from your life and your own progeny.

I think in every society, progress starts from progressive individuals who will someday make up a progressive collective.

Nepal, Personal Opinion

France wasn’t built in a day…..

France wasn’t built in a day…” * 

This is an obvious fact that everyone can grasp; yet I’m really surprised by the pessimism of even the educated people who say “Nepal is doomed”.

Why? I ask them. Most reply that we are being ruled by thugs and are not really a democracy but rather a plutocracy. We’d rather have a strong autocrat like Lee-Kwan Yew or maybe even Gyanendra himself, they say, and we haven’t experienced progress of any kind.

Then I reflect upon the country’s history. How long has it been that we’ve become a republic? 10 years? And how long since we’ve had our first, elected, constitutional government? Not even a year?

Not even a year of stable governance and we already want a strongman. Is that rash or just immensely short-sighted? And is there a guarantee that a strong authoritarian leader that we may get – will out of serendipity become a benevolent one like Lee Kwan Yew? We could very well get our own version of Gaddafi or Saddam. Don’t tell me if you’ll miss democracy then.

Of course there is corruption, of course there are instances of nepotism and of course the laws aren’t perfect and neither is the constitution. Progress isn’t utopian. Struggle will always ensue in the path of progress. Stability, development, good education, quality of life – all these will take time. We may have immensely corrupt politicians today, but with time and a newer generation the person in that position will become less corrupt, the next one thereafter may not be at all. No matter how much those in power tend to ignore problems at present, they cannot stay that way forever because demand or outrage will ensue, values will change and people will want progress so much that there will be little room left for wrongdoing. But for that we should constantly be voicing our concerns or demands – never being complacent nor unjustly pessimistic.

Here’s what Noam Chomsky has to say about realistic optimism. “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there’s no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope.”

Imagine if we do not have democracy – we will have no right left to even voice about change, let alone take responsibility to see it happen. If not for democracy, the vicious cycle of illegitimate plutocrats or autocrats would have kept strengthening to the point that we may never would’ve been able to resist them. Power cannot be trusted to a concentrated few. Even if it seems imperfect to start with, it is always better used when divided. All the struggles, all the lives lost – all for nothing. So we need to throw away the poisonous cultural and political pessimism that we brew in our minds because we read too much headlines and use too much twitter – but not facts, statistics or critical thought. So to even opine that the country would be better ruled by undemocratic forces instead – is morally irresponsible!

Steven Pinker summarizes in Enlightenment now: “A liberal democracy is a precious achievement. Until the messiah comes, it will always have problems, but it’s better to solve those problems than to start a conflagration and hope that something better arises from the ashes and bones. By failing to take note of the gifts of modernity, [unjust] social critics poison voters against responsible custodians and incremental reformers who can consolidate the tremendous progress we have enjoyed and strengthen the conditions that will bring us more.”

Think about it Nepal……

 

* [I used France instead of Rome (unlike the original adage ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’), in the opening quotation, because I think the former represents democratic and humanistic ideals better than Rome would. I’m not, however, considering some of the notable heinous foreign policies of the aforementioned state for the sake of brevity. Some may also point out that France was also ruled by strongmen such as Napoleon; I’d like to highlight that we have been as well – on two occasions after 1951 – but nonetheless in both nations the call for democracy was too great to suppress.]

Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Technology

A vision for my city

I’m not an engineer by profession, but I find cities of any kind very fascinating. And exploring videos and maps of cities and playing city-building simulation games used to be my favorite past-time (before I was caught up in some career work).

I’m a fan, especially of cities with less horizontal sprawl and more vertical elevations – such cities take up less space, cut transportation time significantly, and save energy and water distribution costs drastically. And of-course: I particularly have a crush on well-designed cities that have an organized mass-transit system, my personal favorites: the city of Kobe in Japan (Trains everywhere!!!!) and the city of Medellin in Columbia (Cable cars!!!!).

Cities are multi-dimensional, that is – despite them being established mostly in a top-down manner (like planned cities of Barcelona or Manchester or Seoul or Singapore), they can also be improved via a bottom-up approach (Rio de Janerio, Brasil or Medellin).

By bottom-up approach I mean – to improve, with minimum demolition, cities that are already overcrowded and seemingly unmanageable; and to give them their own unique identity along with improving its citizens’ overall well-being. The city of Rio and Medellin have done it in a uniquely Latin-American way. They improved upon their slums (Favelas) that were already there, without destroying them (now some of them are crime-free and pose as tourist attractions), they regulated housing in other areas and made it affordable so newer immigrants need not further expand the slums, and they established a mass transit system unique to the topography that could carry their citizens efficiently, for low cost, connecting the thriving city-center to the developing Favelas on the hills: via spacious cable cars!!!

When I look at my own city of Kathmandu valley, I see no alternative to the bottom-up approach. We simply cannot afford the top-down approach anymore – there are too many heritage sites and monuments and people live everywhere in a haphazard manner. Everything is jam-packed and we surely don’t want more dust. We simply cannot afford to press the ‘reset’ button for this city. Innovation is a key figure for bottom-up approaches and we all know it can bring us around traditional problems just as in Latin America – without the need for destroying anything of significant value.

It’s a shame that in my city they had to destroy historical landmarks such as “Sohrakhutte” just for the simple task of expanding the road by a few meters. There is also another talk of building satellite-cities outside ring-roads by destroying historical Newari villages and towns. These are examples of a top-down approach – where an authority figure (government or a company) have complete authority and control in development projects, with little regard for the citizens themselves. Top-down approaches are more suited for building newer cities such as Navi-Mumbai, or Singapore or Songdo-city outside Seoul; all of them being built from scratch out of land reclamation or on top of wastelands. In older cities with historical significance or over-crowding, only the bottom-up approach makes sense. And let’s be honest, regardless of the federalization the the country, Kathmandu valley will still have significant influx of people for many years into the future.

So one example of a bottom-up approach to improve upon the aesthetics of Kathmandu city could be by completely doing away with cables or wires (many cities around the world have shifted to wireless or CDMA and we can get rid of wires in due time as well). Just getting rid of obsolete data transfer systems would free up much needed spaces, exception only being for electric cables. Another method would be to employ smart transit systems requiring minimum infrastructure – such as relatively cheap-to-build (compared to underground metro) yet large enough cable-cars to connect commuters from dense areas like Sitapaila or Budhanilkantha to somewhere near Line-chaur or Ratna-Park. To aid rush-hour traffic, we can instead turn towards local shareable vehicle technologies (Tootle is one example) which would allot an idle vehicle not just for one person – but for any going in the same direction for a small price, as long as there’s space inside. We don’t always have to widen the roads, as we can learn from old cities in Europe – we can restrict vehicles to promote alternate methods of transport within set areas.

Even if we just improve upon the sidewalks and crossings, many people would opt to walk short-distances instead of using vehicles (which we currently do with micro-buses, even to travel a distance of only a kilometer). We can replace the clutter of small-size buses or micro-buses with bigger scheduled buses in a way Sajha yatayat are doing. Big buses free up traffic by fitting in more people per square meter on the road. Instead of allotting massive budget and energy for constructing underground metro systems (which would also require a lot of demolition) we could opt for skylines such as heavy-capacity monorail systems which occupy less space and can cut across dense areas of the city with minimal invasion (Like those being modeled or tested in Mumbai, Bangalore and Guanzhou). And these are to be connected with each other – such that a person living in Koteshwor could ride a monorail upto Lagankhel and then switch to either a bus to go into the city or a rope-way to get to Lamatar. We need loops of transit systems. And all these can be approached only by means of a considerate bottom-up approach, not really top-down. A bottom-up approach also saves us more money and time for construction compared to top-down ones. The philosophy should be to turn Kathmandu, not into New York or Osaka (because we are never going to achieve that in a reasonable way), but into a livable, more efficient Kathmandu.

Of course these are just my amateurish assumptions and it will be harder to implement these changes in practise and people do exist in our country who know more about this than I do. But we just ought encourage ourselves to think outside the box once in a while. We could also benefit from sending our technical people to train in Latin america or china where innovative concepts for both new and old cities are being explored on a regular basis. We need to learn from the people who got it right, so that like them, we can also pull our city out of the dust and into the 21st century.

And last but not the least, I think we need to participate ourselves, as citizens, for the betterment of this promising city.

Personal Opinion, Rationalism, Technology

Aid our faulty memories!

Another common problem in the Nepali medical work-space: we rely too much on our memories.
 
Our memories are faulty. We live in the age of information surplus and not in the time of William Osler or Edward Jenner. And it is completely natural to forget the massive amount of information we collect, and people shouldn’t be shamed or tested purely on failure of recall.
 
Human memory wasn’t designed to handle so much information all at once. Our brains can only store memories if they are linked to something personal, relatable or frightening. This is where mnemonics come handy when memorizing facts or concepts. But that isn’t always possible for everything in practice. Compared to most developed nations, we rely too much on memory to the point of regressive test standards and burnout.
What is important is to actually understand what charts, criteria, protocol, scores are useful for. It serves no practical purpose to memorize those charts and tables which can today be promptly accessible on procedure room walls, tablet devices or smart phones. For instance, what’s the point of memorizing scoring tables for diagnosing Lupus, if we can easily look it up on a cell phone at bed side? Sure, having a better memory will boost one’s career and will maybe be helpful in busy situations. But such individuals are outliers, and not every medical professional are blessed with super-human memory. We need to think in terms of the average medical professional. Faulty memory is also a major contributor towards medical errors which can cost actual patient lives! Even the brilliant prodigies who become great doctors or successful nurses can forget – as they too are humans!
 
We never think in terms of ‘lives saved’, or ‘mishaps prevented’ or ‘errors avoided’ in Nepal. We seldom think as a group. We only think in terms of individual success. Maybe this has to do with our poorly regulated standards and indifferent medical professional bodies. And why not? Most research work done out here is to fulfill a certain criteria for individual promotion or raise and rarely to solve actual problems. Even if research has been done with genuine intention, their findings are just shoved aside as “just another study” by those in power. Some institutions like PAHS in Patan are trying to change this dependency on human memory, but PAHS is just one institute in one part of one district! We could learn from them, but we perhaps emphasize our professional ego too much to progress. 
 
Computers obviously have a better, faster, and more accurate memory storage and recollection system. They are here to aid us, to potentiate our faulty memories, so we can instead dedicate more energy in conceptualizing and problem-solving in real time. Using smart devices at bed-side isn’t a sign of our incompetence, it’s a sign of progress if it helps us to prevent errors due to our primitive organic memories. Given that we could standardize their use at bed-side (like institute-dependent apps or webpages), I can confidently say that they will surely prove to be a great boon (and a massive relief for nurses, residents and medical students) for the field as a whole. 
But who’s going to take me seriously, I’m just a random blogger.
1_4BoF2BnNfdCYJzKTndaFCQ
Nepal, Personal Opinion, Secular Humanism

Emancipate the Enlightenment!

As I’m writing this, I’m very well aware that I should be going through my own little curriculum instead of this blog, but I have a habit of jotting down stuff instantaneously and, if I deem it’s worth it, sharing it with others. But this blog is not about me or my life, it’s about an obvious thought I had on which I really want to elaborate. It’s about higher education in this country in general.

There’s no point in regretting even the bad decisions you make in life since you can’t go back in time and right the wrong, but you definitely have a responsibility to redeem yourself or others from similar mistakes or misfortunes by trying not to put yourself in that sort of situation again, and by warning others at present or in the future. So this blog could be a useful insight for people who are, at present, in the same situation I used to be in the past. I have to say, with a heavy heart, that it was a grave mistake to have studied my undergraduate course in Nepal. However, I do think I have tried my best to compensate for the lack of diversity of ideas, absence of proper scholarly training and poor standards of scientific methodology in my medical college curricula, with amateurish self-education and a couple of online courses on research writing skills, thinking skills and professional skills albeit without any formal degree of any kind. None of which I got the opportunity to learn through my Alma mater nor through my university. Probably the most common demerit of studying in a private, non-autonomous medical school (does not include reputed public institutions).

But this blog is not just about medical education, but instead about the entire pattern of the local undergraduate system. I will also make an effort to question whether or not we should maintain technical disciplines such as medicine, engineering or law as undergraduate degrees. The blog is not meant to blame anyone directly, but instead to point out a serious problem in our education system here in Nepal (the scope of the blog focusing mainly on higher education and perhaps secondary, but not really primary education). However, we should with an open mind and honest self-reflection, be able to realize that all of us, perhaps myself included, are part of the problem.

Rigid System

If I see a fundamental flaw in our system of higher education, be it secondary, undergraduate or post-graduate, then it must be in the design and enforcement of restrictive and rigid curricula. Such is their pattern and strictness, that it is almost impossible to change subjects or streams midway through a course. Of course, I realize people will make the counter-argument of one having the responsibility to decide for themselves in due time. That makes sense, but it should also be realized that to be able to decide in that manner, students who are not really primed should have the right to receive a detailed orientation program providing an apt introduction into the system, before they have made their payment or admission. But they don’t get it.

I also realize that due to pragmatic difficulties in tackling the rampant bureaucracy, cronyism or nepotism or all at once, this arrangement may not be immediately feasible, but the troubling thing is, it looks like as if none of us are eager to solve the problem at all given the time many cohort of Nepali students have had to deal with such problems. Well, if this arrangement doesn’t fit within our system, then there should be an easier alternative, to be able to change the stream midway within the same university ecosystem. But that is not allowed without heavy consequences. Academic flexibility is simply non-existent. This, however, does not apply to technical disciplines such as medicine or engineering because since a lot of time and investment is required to train students, it would not be a viable or sustainable model if respective institutes came with a free abort switch every semester or so. But where such provisions do justice, there can be found none.

So students are stuck mostly in a rigid system of education, wherein a humanities student cannot major or minor with a science degree or a science student cannot minor in a philosophy degree (of which Nepali universities are seriously lacking in quantity and quality) and the like. As this does not apply to technical fields, such fields should be instead transcended up to the post-graduate tier. In short, to try and model them after the American system. Before addressing any rebuttals, I’d like to stress on an evident fact that high school or secondary school students are not fully capable to directly transition into a technical field without proper orientation or without undergoing the intellectual maturity-inducing buffer of undergraduate degrees. There is thus a reason why higher education in the United States of America is still the most sought after option for students globally. One general reason is that most of their universities are autonomous and allow students to discover themselves within a vast pool of career options. Another general reason is that despite the vast pool, they always have the flexible option of selecting add-on, alternate or double majors or minors, limited perhaps only by the individual’s capacity. And since they get an enormous amount of practical, theoretical and social exposure during their undergraduate years, only the surest of them will opt for the essential yet difficult technical fields as graduate studies.

Critics of this idea may dismiss it as a far-fetched and an overtly idealistic one, but if you look carefully into the history of education in the United States, they too had most vital technical education as under-graduate degrees as late into the 1980s. It was after a paradigm shifting legislation that most technical disciplines got raised into graduate-levels, allowing students time to be sure of their academic prowess during their undergraduate years. We don’t necessarily have to copy the Americans exactly. If you look at other western countries such as the United Kingdom, despite having technical disciplines included as undergraduate level degrees, prefer at least a year of internship, experience or related training and a well-guided, informed orientation before enrollment through a standardized exam. I guess that time lag provides a minimum buffer for students before painstakingly mugging up for entrance exams only to be abruptly thrown into an inescapable well of professional responsibilities.

I’m in no way saying students out here are incapable of pursuing technical studies right after secondary school. But I guess, having experienced the unfair pressure and also the irrational feeling of race to get a degree, a little bit of buffer of any kind would be more than welcome. Of course there are pretty competitive students who despite being of young age achieve any feat other international students achieve, or maybe even better. But these are outliers, and when talking about improving a system as a whole, we need to look at where the average lies. Sadly, our average is even below just ‘disappointing’ to be honest.

Mushrooming Privatization

To add to our misery, in spite of this country declaring itself a socialist-welfare democracy in the constitution, the exponential mushrooming privatization of educational institutes could probably make even the red-state libertarian capitalists in the US jealous. As we all know, decades of political instability, and lack of stable regulations allowed this nightmare to project as reality. As you walk the streets of any big city or town in Nepal, you’ll definitely come to see at least 4 poorly established, cramped up, two-storied private schools every block or so. Going further, the story of colleges are similar, just only slightly regulated as the economic incentive is relatively higher. Moving on, even a pep talk about the frequency of private medical colleges or engineering colleges in the nation is enough to elicit a big, synchronous, nation-wide face-palm.

A university is supposed to be a self-sufficient, autonomous institute dedicated solely for the purpose of furthering scholarship and broad academic progress to help the society it exists in. But despite founders of the two largest universities in the country having that vision, their visionary goals definitely did fall victim to agendas carried by sycophants and crony bureaucrats, for us to today witness a disgusting trend of capitalization of an essential sector. Universities here prefer to hand out profitable affiliations wearing thick blindfolds without regard for any standard. Private medical schools, to be specific, screen students through, mostly but not always, poorly regulated entrance exams. That too, taken actually by their affiliated university and not they themselves. And there’s no trickle of standardization at all. One year the pattern is A and another year it’s like B and the subsequent year maybe even a Z! No wonder why Dr. Govinda KC keeps up his hunger strikes for more than 20 days each time. Entrance exams have no systematic curricula, people who make questions aren’t always taken fully in confidence liable to become leakers, and the question-makers depend almost entirely on Indian question-banks, without having to waste any intellectual effort to rigorously design a scientific or standardized pool of questions. An easy way out. Similar is the case for all private engineering colleges as well. And despite all this, they expect professional standards to rise (perhaps miraculously by way of some unseen entity).

Education in Nepal is heavily influenced by the Indian system. Rote learning, point-blanc in-your-face questions that test memory more than concept, and an ever increasing race-for-life fostered by a paucity of academic space amidst an ever-growing population rate. To be fair to India, institutes there are already starting to up their standards and loosen the pressure on students due to popular and intellectual demand across many places. But our institutes show no sign of budging from the ridiculously regressive, plagiarized standards of education that go completely against human nature itself!

I honestly do not have a pragmatic solution in mind for solving this. I guess perhaps people with better experience and knowledge than myself have even more workable solutions. I am just pointing out a problem from the point of view of a dissatisfied graduate who claims to have learnt more through foreign textbooks, curricula and the internet than I should have from the local curriculum or system. To tell you a story, as we were interns, demanding a raise in our stipend as per university guidelines, we were lambasted and lampooned by the authority quite literally as “immature children going against their guardians” (I never knew we had to pay a large sum of money to get such dishonest and insecure guardians). Despite giving us the raise, the college greatly cheated us with regard to rooms for interns saying ‘internship is not for resting’. Provision of rooms for interns remains, however, till this day, strongly etched in university guidelines for private medical education. A room that pops into existence every time the university inspection arrive and disappears right after they leave. And no one ever went further to ask for the room ever, because private colleges here actually have the tyrannical ability to hold individual students as academic hostages. For instance, if you open your mouth too much, your degree can be held back or your letter of recommendation not issued, conjuring up with some obscure and bureaucratic clauses for not doing so. It’s basically career suicide to voice against your college administration. Such is the reality, as I can write now as a safely emancipated graduate.

Anti-intellectual Hierarchy

What may have happened to the world of philosophy if Socrates had never questioned the way of his teacher and his elders? Where would we be with the practice of blood-letting and operating without anesthesia had someone not doubted on their efficacy at one point in history? What would have become of this country had we not thrown out the Rana regime out of dissent? We would perhaps still be wearing long pointy masks to treat a global Bubonic plague with bear-bile and perhaps be taking our sick to the shamans to treat infections. Or perhaps be prosecuting dalits for spoiling the village well as per the first Muluki Ain set by Janga Bahadur Rana. Humans have come a long way from obsolete practices because people could doubt and improve on their doubts thereafter. As an old latin proverb goes: Where there is doubt, there is freedom.

But the trend we have in our education system, is that of a masochistic submission to the sacred ‘Guru’. Especially prevalent in medical education, if not in others. An anti-intellectual hierarchy that tries to suppress doubt and dissent from their juniors. To be fair to some inspirational tutors who really are dedicated towards encouraging openness and academic dialogue, I’ll say that you people fall in the minority and this isn’t about you lot. The pervasive mentality is still that of a hierarchy of age or professional graduation. ‘Thou shalt not go against the professor’ is the common save-your-asses trend. Or even the nonsensical ‘call your immediate seniors dai or didi’ or the anti-humanistic tradition of “Ragging” (Formal bullying of freshmen by seniors). Because if the professor or the senior has a problem with you, it’s highly likely that you’ll have a problem socializing or even passing. Academic dissent can easily turn into a sequence of personal vendetta and thus professional or academic sabotage, from which there may not be any redemption. One reason why students self-suppress themselves even in the face of inaccurate or outdated information. Ask anyone who has gone through an archaic testing pattern known as Viva-Voce in medicine. If you question the teacher or the examiner, you’ll hurt their ego so keep quiet instead and mug up their notes for some bloody marks or points!

To be a little optimistic, this trend is dwindling, thanks to the advent of broad band internet and an increasing awareness in part of the teachers as well as recently graduated students who became teachers themselves. But it’s not surprising to see students joyful whenever they find a good and welcoming teacher, because those still are rare. It’s this mentality that must be upgraded for us all to better our system. Students should never be held academic hostage for dissent or difference of opinion. How else is anyone supposed to broaden their mind and think outside the box? There’s a reason why freedom of speech and expression is vital in educational institutes, it’s to foster legitimate dissent without the fear of prosecution, formal or informal. A virtue which Nepali students almost certainly are deprived of in their institutions.

Race for the Holy Grail

Spoilers ahead! By the holy grail, I actually mean academic degrees. That’s all that matters to a majority of parents, students, teachers and institutes. We are, in this tiny country, in a serious race for some academic degree and to earn money faster than our neighbors or cousins. A superficial counter-scholarly trend that is prevalent in this part of the world. Knowledge, professional training or skills should be the desired means as well as the end of any academic of educational institute or student. Out here, paper certificates, many times liable to be counterfeit, are treated as the only important end. Degrees, though they seem important, are but just means to make a get some academic recognition and to earn a living. The end should, rightly always be, the knowledge and expertise one gets through the process of education.

Such is the provision out here, that students can even obtain a degree (however poor their academic or professional prowess might be) simply by passing a black and white exam that only screens for their ability to recall volatile memories. Concepts and practical skills are rarely well-tested. Now of course, as I’ve pointed out earlier, there are outliers who can excel in the same system as much as the outliers at other end who constantly fail and never get anywhere. Again I’d like to stress on the fact that it’s the average we should be after, not the outliers. Any body or group of people genuinely interested to improve the standards of graduates of any discipline, technical or others, should always strive towards improving the average. But that doesn’t happen here, at least not according to my experience and knowledge. It’s a culture reflected by acts such as schools displaying the names of their best 10 students on hoarding boards outside their premises, who have gotten good marks in a certain board exam. Much like one of those cheap click-bait advertisements we see on the internet for Viagra.

Colleges, campuses and private medical schools all exist, annoyingly fostering this dystopian mentality. Instead of improving the average, their focus is too often just on the outliers for the sole purpose of advertisement, possibly to pull in more students. The blame can partly be put on the society as well. These profit houses disguised as professional institutes, are mere stamp pads bearing the emblem of the university’s degree. Their fodder actually comes from the society’s priority of superficial taglines over the more important pulp of education: The real-world application of their knowledge. The major incentive is solely profit and nothing more, with certain exceptions of course, but very little. The people who run such institutes perhaps have no sense of responsibility towards the nation or the society at all. They can be justifiably called factory houses that package students with respective degrees, which occasionally hand out the best employee or best package award to keep the money flowing. A massive disgrace to scholarship indeed.

Hope

I repeat, I do not claim to have a solution at hand at the moment. I’m just a mere blogger highlighting what I saw to be wrong and disturbing. From the beginning of the history of scholarship, from the time of the first universities and schools established in the first civilizations, it is well known that the quality of any society is an indirect but proportional reflection of the quality of their education or scholarship. As a matter of fact, we can grossly estimate where our nation stands at the moment.

I really want to be optimistic on this regard though. Despite my harsh criticism, I do need to point out that this country has made significant strides in the sector of education as a whole, considering the nascent history of democracy and a sluggish yet emerging free market. Bureaucracy is not as pervasive as it used to be during the Panchayat era and it is being easier for citizens to access government services as per growing popular demand. Corruption and nepotism is being scrutinized, and efforts at improvement are being made by related individuals and groups in related sectors. The first actual federal government hasn’t even worked for a year and federalism hasn’t had an actual chance to test itself. Foreign graduates and expats are returning and there’s an ever growing entrepreneurial spirit reflected by the the emergence of new startups and them turning later into successful businesses. These are hopeful aspects of this nation. But never really enough to be content. Not yet.

Despite the visible glitter, attitude towards scholars, intellectuals and professionals are still not impressive though. Those who do opt to stay in Nepal to further their fields are seen with contempt, many even labeling them as elitists or non-relatable privileged class. Opinions of experts are not given more importance in policy making than those of a less educated but powerful politician. Celebrity worship is on the rise, but intellectuals and scholars are looked down upon with the stereotype of talkers and slackers (more than often, rightly so). It’s simply a paradox of dissatisfaction. All hope may not be lost, but anyone concerned should seriously need to contemplate on this grave matter.

If we supposedly need to start from any one point in the long and tedious process of bettering our society, then definitely top priority should be given to education and scholarship. Do we wish to stay in the dark and keep blaming our politicians for eternity, or do we wish to better our society by recognizing, respecting and emancipating our potency for enlightenment?

Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Rationalism, Skepticism

Questioning and Rethinking Democracy

“The world will not be right until kings (rulers) become philosophers, and philosophers become kings (rulers)”
                                                                                                                 – Plato

If you think Democracy is a Greek invention then you are deeply mistaken. In any human civilization or society, some form of order or force has some inevitable form of resistance. Freedom for Tyranny, Tyranny for anarchy, Communism for Capitalism, Secularism for Theocracy and Authoritarianism for Democracy. But these are merely just terms to describe the various different modes of struggle any human society can go through over time. I consider it to be a simple yet complex process of evolution of the collective psyche.

Be it 3000 BCE or 3000 CE, these struggles may differ in terminology but their essence will remain the same. So no; the concept of democracy has been here since the very beginning of the human species. If we look back into our history, we can find examples of non-Greco-Roman democracy across different cultures and tribes. So it’s origin isn’t limited to antiquity and Athens, even though the modern concept of this structure of governance is heavily inspired by the Greco-Roman model.

Now the point of this particular blog of mine is not to discuss the types or origins of democracy, but rather to question the concept of that form which most of us are familiar with today.

What comes to your mind the moment you come across the word democracy? Maybe people’s rule or public governance? Well, I’d say it’s valid to some extent at least on an ontological basis. But I’d like to put forth an inquiry as to whether it really means so in it’s true sense. When we think people’s rule, how can we distinguish Hegemony from Democracy? Or one may also question as to whether Democracy itself is in reality Hegemony? If Democracy becomes Hegemony, the voice of the minorities are suppressed so can it be considered another form of Authoritarianism where the oppressor is the majority. If this is so, how can we improve to establish a democracy where everyone’s voices are heard?

These aren’t just questions that have sprouted in my mind randomly but are actual questions that have been asked and raised as an issue throughout various revolutions and movements across the globe. They were asked during the Suffrage, the civil Rights movement, anti-apartheid movement, ‘Leave India’ campaign, the Arab spring, Kranti and two Jana-andolans in my home country of Nepal and even more so, these couple of years following the Rise of Narendra Modi, Brexit, Columbian Referendum, and the election of Donald Trump.

Now one would like to apply the heuristically-driven slippery slope logic here and say that the whole world is leaning more so towards the right and may be nearing destruction, but anyone who has carefully studied world affairs and history would rather say that the entire human civilization is based on an eternal argument towards utopia. Sometimes the yin-side will be heard and sometimes the yan-side will be heard and throughout the ages after numerous such cycles of arguments systems will be more and more polished and refined in order to strive towards utopia, much like a parabolic graph than a linear one, never perfect!

Talking about the dilemma of democracy, there have mostly been two main arguments. Whether to allow every faction and individual the right to vote and elect a government, or whether only some factions should be allowed to vote to elect a government? Now my argument will be trying to justify the latter postulate, and I will not be basing these factions on race, ethnicity or gender but rather on their reasoning abilities.

I’d like to consider the fact that most of the time any democracy has made a supposedly bad-decision, it’s mostly owed to the ignorance in part of the population. Some of you may argue that it might also be out of prejudice, which is true, but I’d like to mark prejudice as a form of ignorance in itself for reasons beyond the scope of this blog. And then going along the Socratic method of questioning, one may ask where does ignorance stem from? Some say it mostly stems from the uneducated or the less well-educated or the illiterate factions of the populace but I’d like to upgrade on that answer and say that it comes from the faction of the populace which cannot reason critically and think creatively. This fact could be universal.

Simply put, ignorance stems from those people, regardless of literacy, who cannot think for themselves and think clearly or rationally and would rather appeal to emotional and prejudiced slurs from sly politicians or leaders. So you might have figured out my main reasoning. Only allow those people to vote who have the ability to think critically and creatively without only the influence of heuristics.

But instead of just declaring my opinion, I’d also like to provide solutions to this philosophical standstill. People may ask how can any system assure and determine who can and not reason critically? Can that method be fail-proof? What if such an implementation instead of creating a just and reasonable system, lead to another bureaucracy or an elitist government that oversees the problems of the grass-roots?

To that I’d say my solution isn’t without its own flaws like any solution to any problem would have. We just have to argue taking into effect the benefit to harm ratio of this particular solution with relation to the society of interest. For instance, in highly literate societies like Sweden and New-Zealand, where per-capita GDP and the quality of Education is among the best in the world, this system may be fail proof and would ensure a baseline of well-educated critical thinkers in cohorts with suffrage. Same reasoning may apply for the US if implemented. Whereas if the same solution if blindly applied to nations such as India and South Africa with significant number of poorly educated and poverty stricken populace, it may not immediately work, though we can never say for sure for the long run.

So these are the simple solutions I propose and by this I do not claim to be an expert on political science or philosophy. I think the whole model of democracy should be changed by

  • First inspiring and teaching people how to think rationally and creatively, i.e to create a critical-thought-centric education system. (i.e Board exams and world education indexes should focus and reward more on analytical and thought processes.)
  • Instead of just assessing a nation’s ‘literacy rate’, judge a nation’s reasoning ability by assessing its ‘Critical Thinking Index’.
  • Make it mandatory for every educated person to go through an aptitude test for their Reasoning abilities for quantification purposes.
  • Finally, changing/amending the constitutions of Democracies to only allow individuals above an acceptable age with Critical Thinking/Reasoning ability above a certain acceptable threshold.

Simple four-step solutions for the betterment of democracies world-wide. This ensures a base-line of well-informed and responsible voters who would tend to think before casting their votes and would forever help improve the quality and integrity of the voters as well as the candidates for leadership. This would help prevent to much extent anyone from swaying the voters away from a reasonable rhetoric towards emotionally motivated and prejudice-driven ones.

In short, this system if it had been brought into effect, might have prevented a Brexit, a rejection of the FARC peace deal, the rise of the Modi-RSS system, or even a President Donald Trump.

Now it may be argued again that this will adversely affect the general liberty of the people. It may be scrutinized (a process which I encourage) saying that the illiterate will lose their right as humans; to which it can be argued against, saying that good education is a fundamental human right, and to choose not to be educated would become an unprofitable choice and automatically a deterrent towards not opting for education and hence ignorance. Absolute liberty may not always be beneficial and decisions are better made with a consequential mindset.

This is all I have to say for now. Feel free to disagree and please do put forth your counter-arguments.


P.S For those who say I trust Critical Thinking too much, like I trust the Scientific method (the two system of thought being mutually inclusive); I answer: They’re still the best two system we’ve got in order to understand reality, and until another better one comes up, its Critical Thinking and Science all the way for now! Cheers!

Watch the video below to learn about Socrates’ argument against Democracy…..

Nepal, Personal Opinion, Rationalism

The Ishan conundrum in brief

What I think

– His intentions are noble, but his approach is immature.
– His philosophy is courageous, but his support is mostly virtual.
– Actual reality is much more complex than portrayed by his political correctness…..
– Not every change can be achieved by playing the blame game, no matter how resistant or authoritative the opponent is….
– Blaming politicians will not solve anything, everything will ultimately come down to the democratic process…..
– We need to be able to suggest alternatives and also be able to implement those changes….
– To change a particular system we need to get into the system and change it from within…. not from a parallel….
– That is why I think Bibeksheel Nepali is a better force than Ishan to bring about effective change…. (but still not as effective as it should be)
– Change comes from the ballot boxes, change comes from opening our minds, not by idolizing a ‘messiah’ for change….

We do not always need a Gandhi or a Mandela to solve our problems. We can and are capable to raise our individual consciousness by training ourselves to think independently and by rationally and effectively being able to identify our biases.

#IamNotWithAnyone #IamWithReason #ThinkIndependently

Also read The Red Paint Conundrum, a blog post in the NASH website

Egalitarianism, Philosophy, Secular Humanism

Roots….

When people tell me to ‘respect’ my ‘cultural roots’ and say that I’ve got to ‘protect’ the very culture in which I have originated from; Central Asia comes to my mind. Yes. Central Asia.

Tracing back my linguistic ‘roots’ all the way to my earliest ancestors, would take me back to the BMAC complex in Central Asia, east of the Ural Mountains. So maybe by this logic I need to give back what I have owed to Central Asia then? Or rather by this compulsion, I am bound to protect the BMAC culture before the Nepali one? Wait. Wait.

Digging back my roots further into pre-history, my ancestors come from the sub-Saharan plains in Africa. Then maybe I should give back something to Africa before Central Asia and Nepal then? Maybe I should teach my kids by force to draw good cave paintings instead? Tricky!

84505-004-9AE8CD22
A cave painting. (Image: Britannica.com) 

Wait. Hold on. Digging back into my roots further, there was no Africa or Asia. There were no humans, but early upright apes, our common ancestors with modern day apes. There was a super-massive land mass with no continents. So where do I technically originate from? Well at this point my origins are rather obscure and so is indeed very confusing!

Coming back to reality, the whole point behind this post of mine is that there is no compulsion whatsoever for anyone of us to ‘respect’ our cultural roots. Culture is surely important, but it is always in a state of flux and is always malleable, like clay. We assign our own values to our lives, and we share those values with others around us, making our whole inherited social structure into a culture of some kind. But not all of us always share the same values.

From nature worshiping to celebrating Dashain and New-Years to attending Heavy-metal concerts to sharing memes on the internet. These are all human cultures. And no matter how much we protect it or try to protect it, it will always change. In a nutshell, this is why the Dashain celebrated by your ancestors are so very different from the Dashain celebrated by you and this is exactly why your great-great-great-grandchildren will celebrate it differently, or maybe even not at all.

For us to be able to respect our ‘roots’, where and how can we draw a line in the vast expanse of the geographic time scale, in which we Humans are relatively new and relatively puny? This is unclear. How far should we go in order to ‘protect’ our culture? Is culture more important than other human lives? Or do we need to protect specific cultures at the cost of some lives?

5a2c8-kurgan2bhypothesis-1
BMAC migration phases shown. (Image source: Unknown)

So I think for me it is important for us to enjoy our one life wherever we are, in whatever way we want to, without adversely affecting others and the environment that we share with them. There is no compulsion whatsoever. Those who want to protect their culture may well do so, those who want to change their culture, or those who want to adopt a different one may well do so too.

So let’s just think deeper, the next time we impose it unto anyone that they need to ‘protect’ or ‘respect’ their culture. Culture, is just an idea. And it is not good for any idea to be above scrutiny, and definitely not good for any human life to be below dignity!

Charlatans, God Men, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Rationalism, Science, Skepticism

Nine days without oxygen or nine days without honesty?

Lately there has been quite a buzz around the the Nepali internet community regarding some Sidhha Baba Krishna das, who, along with his disciples and followers, has been claiming to have survived underground in a sealed compartment without food or oxygen for 9 days!

Now it surely is quite an astonishing achievement, defying human physiological limits, if what he’s claiming to have done is actually true.

Siddha_baba_Krishna_Ji_Maharaj_Tapasya_663470413
Krishna Das commencing his 9 day long oxygen less slumber. Image: Annapurna post

At first, when I read the news on some online portal, I thought about leaving it as it is without debunking it, owing to the negative reputation among the public regarding online portals. It’s always a tedious work to debunk something that sounds so obviously farcical. But when I noticed big shot national daily newspapers such as the Annapurna post and National television such as NTV News cover Krishna Das’s story, the conscious part of me noticed that something was not right and thus I was motivated to write a debunk-blog on this.

Without wasting more time, let us examine his claims straight away, systematically.

The Claims made

  1. Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.
  2. He and his disciples and followers stage a demonstration on the above mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.
  3. Annapurna post goes on to report that the air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press (unclear about how many of them were present and whether or not they are affiliated to Krishna Das and his motives).
  4. The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment was not tampered with.
  5. He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!
  6. He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.
  7. As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.
Siddababa_Samadhi_Pokhara_944398273
Krishna Das supposedly woke up from his claimed suspended animation. Image: Annapurna post

If we were to only look at his side of the story, and also as reported through various Nepali media outlets, then whoa! This seems to be nothing but a miracle! Chamatkar! But, as with every other Godman and charlatan, there always remain some loose ends and loop holes while they make some extraordinary claim out of the blue to garner public attention and media coverage. Because we should realize that 1) most televangelists, godmen and religious leaders seek mass media for publicity and 2) we live in a superstitious country where national daily newspapers have serious daily segments on astrology and Vaastu Shastra. So it is nothing new for even reputed news portals to come up with credulous stories on some mystical babas or gurus performing some random magical stuff.

What troubles me, and urges me most to write this blog is especially a statement made in the NTV 8:00pm news report today, at a time when a great many people nation-wide are hooked to their TV screens for this segment. The news reader said “Baba claims that his success has demonstrated that Scientific medicine still has not been able to prove anything of this sort and needs more investigation in this sector.

It’s a matter of concern in itself to see major media houses giving room to trivial news in place of the more important ones. It’s also very sad to see them portray some random charlatan as something worth considering, instead of trying to skeptically examine their activities as unbiased press is supposed to do. So I write….

Examining the claims in the same order

  1. [Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.] Krishna Das has surely claimed to be able to live for 9 days without oxygen and food, but he is not the first. There have been many claimants such as this one, some who have even claimed to have done so for 15 days let alone just 9! This still doesn’t validate his claim however, as it suggests more than ever of a likelihood of some slick trick up their sleeves. Another one is that of this guy, who claims to have been living for 70 years without food and water. One thing constant in such cases is that these Babas carry out their demonstrations only in the presence of their devotees or disciples and most of the time refuse to participate in controlled experiments to be carried out by neutral third parties, when invited.
  2. [He and his disciples and followers staged a demonstration on the mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.] His samadhi takes place at his place of choice amidst his followers. It has been said that the whole thing was carried out in the presence of a few unnamed reporters and doctors. It’s not like in a country such as this that doctors and reporters cannot be bought. It’s also wrong to assume that a few doctors and press reporters could not even have been hoodwinked or deceived right there. Unless and until we are to be shown the details as to how the plastic was applied and how the compartment was designed, the whole demonstration loses its credibility.
  3. [The air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press] This is simply not enough. As I have said before, doctors and reporters are people as well and can be easily deceived owing to the overwhelming presence of devotees and disciples. A better way to observe would be to place cameras both on the inside as well as the outside, that are able to provide us with continuous non-interrupted recordings. What makes me doubt is the compartment being made out of wood and placed just a foot under porous soil and sand, which may not seal air completely. The method by which the plastic seal was applied is not very clear as well.
  4. [The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment is not tampered with.] Nice try, but Jamara and sand are not enough in my opinion. One could easily cover pores with them and they too are not able to make the setup completely air-tight.
  5. [He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!] A lot of sadhus and babas have claimed to have been able to do so, simply with the help of yoga and meditation. The most popular claim is them being able to stop their heartbeat completely. The same claim is made by Krishna Das as well. When invited to a fair, unbiased and controlled experiment, most of them refuse or do not attend for one or other reasons. In an experiment, when some claimants were observed under ECG while they meditated, their heart did not stop at all.
    • The average human body cannot survive without oxygen for 3 to 6 minutes.
    • The longest time breath held voluntarily recorded, is 24 min 3.45 secs and was achieved by Aleix Segura (Spain), in Barcelona, on 28 February 2016. This was done under a controlled setup by Guinness world records.
    • Yoga and meditation experts have been shown hold their breaths for longer than the average person who doesn’t do Yoga, but that is still not enough to hold it for a whopping 9 days as we are talking only in terms of minutes.
    • So it is impossible to be able to live even for more than a day with absolutely no oxygen, so 9 days is too extraordinary a claim!
  6. [He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.] Well, this is not hard to understand. To be able to predict for exactly how long one can go without oxygen is very unlikely and dubious.
  7. [As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.] But certainly if the entire setup is staged, then there would be no trouble in doing so. Anyone can do that. Not surprising.

Let’s come to the science part

Obviously a random blogger such as myself debunking Krishna Das’s claims logically is not enough to disprove him. But that still doesn’t give his demonstration any validity again. What is necessary is a controlled experiment to examine his claims. Because just as Carl Sagan has put it ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. The more profound a claim is, more rigorous should an experiment be in order to try and test the claim. If it passes after such unbiased observed scrutiny then the claim could be considered valid. If valid, such findings would possibly aid the human race with further research in order to be able to hold breath long enough for deep sea diving or maybe even outer-space explorations. If not, then it becomes just another claim without evidence in the market.

So I have designed an experiment for this purpose, which will be able to test Krishna Das’s claims accurately, that also will be immune to any foul play or trickery.

  • Hypothesis:
    • Survival without oxygen (0% Oxygen i.e zero partial pressure of Oxygen)
    • Duration of claimed survival: 9 days (216 hours)
    • Claims this can be done by meditating in a Yogic aasan, which temporarily stops heart beat, while being deprived of Oxygen for 9 days.
  • Set-up and materials required
    • A completely air-tight (or vacuum) chamber that fits an adult human, made up of
      • Preferably hard plastic with air-lock system
      • that is preferably transparent and has a vacuum outlet to remove all air from within the chamber and vacuum it.
      • if transparency is not desired, then a go-pro or any camera system fit on all corners of the chamber inside as well as outside, that records video on continuous shot for 9 straight days

        01storagecontainerwidget-420x268
        Air-tight see-through hard plastic container large enough for an adult human to fit in, with air-lock and preferably a vacuum outlet connected should be used
    • a team of significant professionals (certified medical doctors, journalists and technicians) not known to have been affiliated to Krishna Das in any way whatsoever.
    • an ECG (or vitals) monitor placed within the transparent chamber or that which can transmit signals wireless from within the air-locked chamber.
    • A pulse oxi-meter that displays oxygen saturation in the subject, to check if the subject is well and alive just in case his ECG becomes flat as he has claimed his heart will stop in his yogic aasan.
    • A system to monitor oxygen levels within the chamber
    • Camera angles outside the box should be adjusted such as the entire surface of the box from all sides, top as well as bottom, should be visible.
    • A method for immediate termination of experiment should the subject be under serious health hazard.
    • No one apart from the experimenters should be allowed within 10-20 metres of proximity of the setup.
    • The entire experiment is to be televised on a continuous shot with the help of multiple cameras simultaneously able to do so for 9 days continuously.
  • Procedure
    • Setup is prepared accordingly.
    • Cameras roll in a continuous shot able to last for 216 hours straight.
    • Subject (Krishna Das) is allowed as much time needed to carry out the preliminaries (Puja, Yogic practices etc) required for him to prepare himself before commencing.
    • Subject not be allowed to take into the chamber with him any equipment or instrument that helps or aids breathing, his clothing and garments and body surfaces are to be thoroughly checked by the examiners.
    • When everything is ready, subject enters the air-tight chamber with ECG and Pulse oximeter monitors in-situ.
    • Cameras inside the chamber (if any required) is initiated into recording.
    • Air-lock is applied, chamber is vacuumed, subject’s vitals checked and oxygen level inside the chamber checked.
    • No one is allowed within 10-20 metres of the setup.
    • Unless the subject’s condition worsens to critical level or if the subject voluntarily signals for termination, the experiment will not be terminated until the 216th hour is over.
  • Safety considerations
    • Pulse oximeter in-situ.
    • First-aid setup with stretcher.
    • Well-equipped ambulance on the ready.
    • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation setup with the provision of cardiac defibrillator and trained personell.
    • Quick de-vacuumizing setup.
    • Oxygen mask, oxygen cylinder, ventilator setup (machine/bag-mask).
    • Abort:
      • if Oxygen saturation (SPO2) is less than 80% with flat or almost flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 70% without flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 60% with or without flat ECG.
      • if subject signals for abortion.

Conclusion

Anyone thorough with high school science can understand this experiment and anyone equipped with the necessary budget and time can carry this out flawlessly. It’s a simple experiment anyone can design and perform.

If Krishna Das agrees to take part in this experiment or a similar controlled one, then maybe his claims are worth considerations and worth the time and effort of all the professionals involved. If he refuses, just like other previous babas and sandhus, then he goes straight into the archive of charlatans, frauds and con-artists. Period.

Reference

  1. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Commencement of Krishna Das’s venture
  2. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Krishna Das wakes up from his samadhi
  3. Can yogis stop their heart? [English] 
  4. Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse
  5. Bihar ‘godman’ out of sealed pit after 15 days without water; doctors say it’s impossible
  6. Longest time breath held voluntarily
  7. Man claims to have had no food or drink for 70 years