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Science We Have Read, But When Will We Develop Scientific Thinking?

Posted: August 30, 2020

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From feeding dogs for good luck to not cross the road after a black cat passes on the way to avoid negative energy even today we believe in a lot of superstitions that pull us down in life. 

Science is not just a collection of facts and formulae, it is a method of investigating our biological and physical world. It is the only reliable method of getting accurate information on events happening around us. During school time, we study science for almost ten years.

It’s a long duration to inculcate scientific values and critical thinking in our lives. However, do we think logically or do we accept things on their face value? Are we sceptical enough to question the events that occur our surroundings, or are we gullible enough to believe anything just because so and so has said so?

Last night I went to a party of highly educated people. They were MBAs, B. Techs, PhDs etc. The main topic of discussion was ghosts and haunted places. Each one was telling their own story of visiting places with paranormal activities. At first, I thought this was just a fun conversation. However, they were speaking with such conviction that slowly it dawned upon me that those people indeed believed in the stories they were telling! For me, that was the real horror.

People often blame uneducated people for being superstitious. These people at least have the excuse of not being exposed to quality education that could have opened up their minds.

What excuse do educated people have?

The examples of educated people being superstitious are all around us. Some change their names to get overnight success. They distort the otherwise simple spelling to an extent that it becomes hard to recognize. For instance, ‘Simran’ changes to ‘Simon’ and ‘Keshav’ changes to ‘Kkeshave’. (It baffles me no end that how anyone can believe that changing names would change their fortunes).

Some wear rings, necklaces and stones to succeed in life. Some wait for the auspicious time to buy a house/car/TV or to get married. Some take the howling of a dog or crying of a cat (both of which are perfectly normal biological phenomenon) as a bad omen. Still, others put a black mark on their child’s forehead to flight off the evil spirits!

The problem is that today we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with half-knowledge and half-truths. We start believing this stuff without questioning its veracity.

People and superstition 

My friend Roma is a science teacher. One day she came to my house and said, “you know on Mondays I feed a black dog, and you should do the same if you want your child to excel in exams.”

Now feeding a hungry soul is a great idea. I asked her, “why a black dog. Why not brown and white dogs. And why just dogs, why not birds and cats?”

She said, “you can feed anyone you wish to. But feeding a black dog is imperative because my mother told me.”

She continued, with the same conviction that I always hear in these kinds of stories, “I have seen it firsthand. My sister in law’s son was very bad in studies. She started feeding a black dog on every Monday. And you won’t believe, her son got the first rank in the class within four months.”

There was a gleam in her eye. I protested, “there must be other factors involved in him getting the first rank, and feeding a dog can never be one of them.”

After that, a long duration of arguments and counter-arguments ensued but we did not reach a consensus.

Some believe that everything has a scientific base

My aunt is another case in study. She thinks there is a “scientific reason” for everything. Last year when she came to stay with me for a week she detailed me some of the things that bring bad omen to the house. These strictly forbidden acts were, “do not sweep the house just after someone has left (that will be bad for the person who has left), don’t put the broom in a standing position (you will lose money), don’t leave babies’ clothes outside in the night (considered bad for the baby).”

When I confronted her, her response truly trumped me. She said, “it will do you no harm if you follow them. There is a scientific basis for these things, we just do not know it yet.”

I tried to convince her but soon gave up. I realized that it was not difficult, I couldn’t make her believe that whatever she said was illogical.

Would prefer a saint more than a doctor!

While I was doing my M. Sc I shared my hostel room with a girl named Preeti. She was from Noida. She was a smart, and intelligent girl. She told me about her brother, Nikhil, one day.

She told me that he was an engineer and had worked for one year in a software company. He quit the job in 2004 after her aunt had cast some bad spell on him. It had been four years and he was at home and never worked after that.

Preeti told me serenely, “Nikhil was a completely normal guy till 2004. Very intelligent and fun-loving. That year my father and uncle had an ugly fight over some property issues. Soon after this fight, my aunt had done black magic on my brother. After that, he always felt a ‘negative presence’ around him. When he tried to walk he felt that someone was pulling him from behind. He isolated himself from everyone, left his job and stayed home all the time.”

I said, “did you take him to a psychologist? He might have a solution to his problem.”

She looked at me in disbelief, “what can a doctor do in this? We took him to a healer. His treatment is going on with some progress. I and my parents firmly believe in this healer. He is a renowned man. He has healed several people.”

I was appalled and said, “look Preeti. In earlier times going to a psychologist was (wrongly) considered a taboo. Not anymore. If you have a stomach ache, would you go to a healer or a doctor? You must take him to a psychologist. I’m surprised that you haven’t done it yet.”

She angrily said, “there is a difference between a stomach ache and the feeling that some negative energy is pulling you from your behind. I have seen him moving backwards when all he wanted to do was to move forward. He said he couldn’t control it.”

Seeing incredulity on my face she continued,  “let me tell you one more real-life incident. One afternoon my mother was working in the kitchen. Papa was at the office and I and Nikhil were at the mall. When we reached home we found her frantically knocking on the kitchen door. We were horrified to find out that the kitchen door was latched from outside. Thankfully that day she forgot to latch the main door from inside when we had left for the mall. Otherwise, we would have to prise the door open. That day we all were scared as hell. One more thing, we switch off all the lights at night. Sometimes we wake up to find out that the lights are on. We are just four people and everyone denies switching on the lights. Why would we lie to each other when we are a close-knit family. Now the question if not us, then who switches the lights on? Who closed my mother inside the kitchen?”

I said, “anyone could have switched on the lights at night in sleep and have forgotten about it. As far as the kitchen door is concerned, it is not very unusual for thieves entering houses in broad daylight for burglary. You said the main door was open.”

She said in astonishment, “a thief entered for burglary and left without burgling anything. He also closed my mom inside without making a noise or arousing any suspicion. What a naive person you are!”

I tried to protest, “the idea of a thief entering your house may sound improbable but it is not impossible.”

She did not budge. She was adamant and was not ready to give up her stance. I wasn’t either.

So I continued, “you say your aunt has done black magic. Tell me two things; first, does magic have different colours? Like pink magic, yellow magic, red magic and so on? Second, if it is so easy to do black magic on someone, why do people all over the world fight with guns and tanks, why not just use this easy method?”

She told me that my arguments were incorrigibly frivolous and she didn’t t want to discuss it further. (She left. And I started wondering that would pink magic (if there is such a thing) be used by someone with an unreciprocated love? What would yellow magic stand for then?)

Even educated people succumb to superstions

Let me tell you one last anecdote and I shall rest my case with that.

I was chatting with my sister’s friend who was an MD doctor. It can be easily assumed that he must have a sharp intellect and a good IQ.

But I was really surprised to hear his views. He told me that when he was preparing for his PG entrance exams he started hearing some voices in his backyard. One day he heard the voice of his long-dead grandmother calling him by name.

He told his parents and they felt it a very bad augury that a dead person is calling their son to Her Side. They called an exorcist who tied some strange colourful ropes in the house and the boy stopped hearing these voices from the very next day. I asked him that did he ever go to the backyard to find out the source of the noises. He denied.

I also came to know that a new tenant with a joint family had just shifted to the house behind his own. It was apparent that these voices were coming from that household. Maybe these voices stopped because after a week or so they had settled down and started their routines. I was quite certain but he refused to hear any of it. He was convinced that it was the handy work of some phantom.

Just because we have encountered something uncanny and inexplicable, doesn’t mean that there is some equally uncanny and inexplicable reason behind it. The reason will certainly turn out to be very simple and one that fits in the laws of physics and biology. We just need to look for it.

Remove the unnecessary burden of superstitions

If you are also one of those superstitious people who believe in ghosts and stuff, you are not alone. So don’t worry about it. However, you certainly need to understand right away that this is nothing but a figment of our imagination.

Every physical phenomenon has a scientific explanation and a cause. Spontaneously closing doors maybe because or air pressure, or the shape of the door; hearing ‘strange’ voices maybe because of echo, or someone speaking at a distance or because of the particular architecture of your house which enhances some noises and muffles others; missing keys is obviously because of our fading memory.

As far as overnight success or getting good luck by changing names or wearing rings is concerned, you need to read literature. That way you will learn that people go through immense hardships to achieve success. Luck is just a mathematical probability. For instance, if you bought a lottery ticket (along with 99 other people), the chances of you winning are 1/100. The chances of each person winning are 1/100. Now you whether you change your name, feed a black/brown dog or wear rings or not is immaterial. Your chances will remain the same. As is everybody else’s. Remember numbers don’t lie.

So go ahead and remove the unnecessary burden from your head and enjoy a carefree and fearless life!

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