Indians must search for truth behind myths: scientist

March 7th, 2008 - 12:21 pm ICT by admin  

By Madhushree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) A cat has nine lives. Or may be not. A cat can survive death plunges from 32-storey buildings because of variations in speed, heartbeats and energy loss that act as cushions while falling, explains visiting Australian scientist Karl Kruszelnicki. He is here as part of a joint initiative by Australia and India to promote scientific awareness among youngsters. Inspired by the vast repository of myths and lore in India, he is planning to deconstruct quite a few of them in his new “Great Indian Mythconceptions” series for a leading newspaper in Sydney.

“A column on local myths, that’s one of my projects here in India. But India is such a complex country that it would take me at least 10 years to understand its traditions and psyche,” Kruszelnicki told IANS.

In India, black cats are believed to bring bad luck and a sudden sneeze is considered an energy block that obstructs the flow of everything positive.

And if you townsfolk happen to take a stroll in the countryside after sundown, make sure there are no banana plantations nearby. For that’s where the village banshee lurks at night.

“India is a multi-facetted country steeped in myths and superstition that defy rudimentary science. The only way to rid the country of these beliefs is to bypass them,” said Kruszelnicki.

Kruszelnicki, who has busted everyday myths in 26 books, has an advice for Indians.

“Always search for the truth in myths that confront you, for truth alone will solve every puzzle in the long run,” the scientist said, taking a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi’s “My Experiments with Truth”.

He steers clear of religion. “They (religion and science) can’t coexist for religion requires faith and science needs proof. Both are separate entities.”

Kruszelnicki is promoting two of his books, “Great Mythconceptions” and “Please Explain”, which have just been launched in India. Priced at Rs.250 each, the books teach elementary science to children and perhaps even to dreamy adults through simple stories, laced with humour.

The stories reflect the personality of the author, who is a scientist by training and a television presenter and newspaper columnist “virtually by default”, with a funny bone or two.

For instance, in a book he narrates how Duncan Macdougall, a medical scientist, conducted an experiment in Massachusetts in 1907 by which he inferred that the human soul weighs 21 gm.

“Macdougall put several dying people on beds with delicate scales and found that out of the five specimens, at least four specimens lost three one-fourth of an ounce of weight while dying. That was soul substance, whose weight worked out to 21 gm. The study and the result were published in the New York Times on March 11, 1907,” the scientist said.

Kruszelnicki, with degrees in physics, mathematics, biomedical engineering, medicine and surgery, hosts a popular science TV show on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He has spent several non-degree years studying astrophysics, computer science and philosophy.

“I became a scientist because of a book on astronomy that I read at the age of seven. It shook my grey cells for I suddenly realised that the solar system is huge, the earth is big and there are 100,000 galaxies straddling the cosmos. It led me to explore science and then brought me to writing,” he said.

The challenge, says the scientist, is to lure children to science. How do you do that without imposing the subject on them?

“Never scold them or force them into studying science. Teach it to them through simple funny stories so that the lessons register. In Australia I would go to a pub with my animations, books and stories to take science to youngsters.

“In India, I would love to do the same over a cup of piping chai!”

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