Thursday, April 29, 2010


I grew wary of the word holistic because quacks of every persuasion began their spiel by saying that their treatment is holistic. And what do they mean by this? They will say that they "treat the whole body." Fine, but what does that mean? They will say that they "treat the main cause of the disease not just the symptoms as conventional doctors do." And what does that mean? They will say that their medicines will first extract the bad things from the body and then they will do good things. (Rough translation from Malayalam). Their bluff and bombast used to resonate among many but my thoughts are illustrated by an American expression: 'Where's the beef?'

Some Ayurvedic doctors prescribed tonics that I was given when I was a child when I was told that they were for general health. I think there is some difference between a brain stem stroke and general weakness. Some told me that their medication was ineffective if given through the feeding tube and for them to be really effective, I had to swallow them. Obviously no one told me why this was so. (If these guys had come after I had started this blog I would have definitely asked the reason and posted their answers.)

Woody Allen wrote a short story called The GossageVardebedian Papers in which one character said :
How curious your last letter was! Well-intentioned, concise, containing all the elements that appear to make up what passes among certain reference groups as a communicative effect, yet tinged throughout by what Jean-Paul Sartre is so fond of referring to as "nothingness."
I had this same feeling of "nothingness" when I listened to quacks. I was not interested in listening to tales of how their treatment proved beneficial for arthritic patients or how they had cured some 'paralysed' patient. Not one of them told me how they treat brain stem strokes or even whether they had ever seen such a patient. I don't want to belabour the point but they wanted me to be impressed by anecdotes of people getting cured of various unrelated ailments.

In Bad Science, Ben Goldacre said (he was talking of nutritionists) :
... I would argue that they lack the academic experience, the ill-will, and perhaps even the intellectual horsepower necessary to be fairly derided as liars. The philosopher Professor Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University discusses this issue at length in his classic 1986 essay 'On Bullshit'. Under his model,'bullshit' is a form of falsehood distinct from lying: the liar knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead; the truth-speaker knows the truth and is trying to give it to us; the bullshitter, meanwhile, does not care about the truth, and is simply trying to impress us:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction... when an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Gosh, it is one year!

Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.- William Shakespeare

It was on April 16th last year that we published our 1st post. The idea of a blog had been germinating in my mind for a while but I had kept postponing starting one thinking that it was a bridge too far. But Jaya coaxed me into overcoming my initial hesitation and has since been assiduously taking down my ramblings thus enabling me to bask in reflected glory. Our frequency of posting has come down a bit in recent times because Jaya is doing some online work which has commensurately reduced the time available for blogging.

Blogging has made me read some of the old books in my collection and links that I had saved long back. Quoting from them has enabled me to kill two birds with one stone - firstly, it means that I have to dictate fewer sentences and secondly, I can indicate what I read nowadays. I am glad that the links that I had saved on a whim have not gone waste.

It is said that behind every successful man there is a surprised woman. I must admit to being as surprised as Jaya that we have reached this far. I have not been very active in commenting because I don't want to keep ragging Jaya to act as my amanuensis when she has many other hats to wear. I hope you don't hold that against me. And we hope that our blog is not content-free. (Mark Twain was of the opinion that only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we". I don't belong to any of these categories but I am sure that you understand my use of the royal pronoun.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Job's comforters

We were told about a miracle doctor whose USP apparently was that he ate part of the medicines that he prepared for his patients to see what it does inside the body. (I am not making this up.) Jaya is usually not interested in meeting such guys but sometimes social pressures are such that she has to meet some of them. From the accounts that I heard, the trip was a complete waste of time.

As is usually the case, the clinic was located a safe distance away from civilization. The medicine-man told Jaya and company about his splendid cures which included treating a badly deformed guy who is now fit for undertaking long treks. He said that he had been a 'bad' man who had turned over a new leaf after reading some scriptures. He gave a candle and asked her to 'pray from the bottom of the heart'. He told her to keep my medical reports for prayer in a particular room in the clinic from where she was not supposed to remove them.

After some meditation he said that I had had the stroke because I had hurt God. He said that he could see a cross in his imagination which meant that I had hurt the gods very badly. Jaya happened to mention that I was fed through a tube in my stomach which probably gave him an idea and he claimed that he could see a lotus stem floating in my stomach that...(Jaya forgets what exactly he said. And yes, lest you have any doubts, this was an adult speaking.)

I thought he told something about a previous life but Jaya doesn't recall it now so it must have been someone else. That person said that I had killed a couple of people in a previous life which had peeved a few gods who decided to give me a brain stem stroke in this life. All you folks who had interacted with me in various places, did you ever suspect that you were fraternizing with a cold blooded killer?

If I tell you that these were only two of the whacky ideas that we got, you can guess how much imagination many people have. And if these guys are thriving, you know what a receptive audience they have. P.T.Barnum made an underestimate when he said that there is a sucker born every minute. You can say that this was my stroke of insight during the past decade.