With the many recent claims of people living without food and water, it has become very necessary to examine the issues that have been raised, particularly the methods used to verify the claims of these people. There is this man from Kerala who claims to have extracted energy from the sun by staring at it and converting it to the energy needed to keep his bodily processes going on. There is this man from Gujarat claiming to have been blessed by a goddess who pours something down his throat, and so he does not need any food or water. He also claims to have lived for seven decades without these!
These recent reports have provided much needed threads for the Hindutwavadi gang to cling to. Their illusions have recently been dashed by scandal after scandal and they had been in desperate search for new icons and they have been provided by these new idols proclaiming that they can live without food and water. It is not that these claims are new! We have been hearing of these since time immemorial like the stories of ancient sages living on air for thousands of years and such. But we have not seen one till this day! Those who are around today make desperate attempts to hide their age by dyeing their hirsute appendages and wearing wigs to hide their bald patches! We have sterling examples of the contortionist, the pilot turned Baba, the afro wigged Puttaparthi guy and innumerable such examples. The squeaky voiced patent holder for breathing has a few carefully preserved strands of gray in his mane and beard!
Let us take a look at why one cannot live without food or/and convert solar energy to meet the energy requirements of the body. There is no method by which solar energy can be converted into carbohydrate in animals and that is why we are dependent on the solar energy converted into carbohydrate by the plants and organisms which can do this. Those plants that do this must have a pigment that can trap solar energy- i.e., chlorophyl. None of the people who have these claims have any green color and obviously do not have chlorophyll! Even assuming that they have it, they would have to spend all day in the sunlight to convert enough of the energy for the dark hours! How does one store that? The most efficient form for storage of energy is fat which can given an energy of 9 kcals/gram. Assuming a minimum energy need of at least 50 kcals/hour, for the dark hours one needs 600 kilocalories of energy which would need the storage of at least 65 grams of fat between the sunlight and dark hours! There is no known metaboilc process which can convert sunlight into that in any animal!
Again, the process of converting sunlight into any form of energy containing compound is a very long process and requires lot of surface area and exposure to sunlight. None of these people can show any prolonged exposure to sunlight.
The body would also need to convert atmospheric nitrogen into protein for the build up and repair of the tissues which break down. Nitrogen fixation is a very energy dependent process. That is why all animals depend on nitrogen containing compounds derived from dietary sources. Again, minerals, vitamins and so many other compounds have to come from the diet and diet alone. To say that the human body can run without any of these is like saying a car can be run without any petrol, lubricants, coolant and engine oil. Anyone who has a modicum of common sense will understand that it is not possible to do this! If one claims that the stored energy in the body can serve as the source of energy, the stored energy will have to come from fat. For a person who claims to have lived for several decades without any food, it is impossible to have any stored fat that can meet their energy needs.
Two very different videos on the story
The original story
A pseudoscientific and irrational Hindu version of the same story
It is obvious that the people making these claims of living without food and water are charlatans, and the investigators are either hand-in-glove with them or are so gullible that they are not making the proper efforts to investigate. There are many reports of scietists investigating the claims of the breatharians. While we have the breatharians in the West, we have the solarians and the yogarians here.
While the Western charlatans present claims of surviving on air, our home-grown ones have the omnipresent sun-god to fall back upon. There is also the mysterious magical mental powers of the east- yoga! There are claims of yogis thousands of years old with mind over matter powers. But, the only thing is that they are not interested in seeking fame for them to come out of their mysterious abodes in the remote regions of the Himalayas! The few who do come out get corrupted by the materialistic world and pass away like normal people like ourselves!
Let us try to understand why the so called investigators are a gullible lot; firstly they are overawed by the claims of these so called yogis and look upon them with reverence. They dare not question them or watch them closely. About 6 years ago I was told about one such yogi who had lived for 60 days underground without food, water and air. When I proposed that we get him tested, the informant told me that he could arrange for an interview with him. When I told him, I who had spent 90 days without food, air and water did not need to interview such a person. Then he told me that I should prove it to him. I informed him that he could interview me! He was furious. Then I had to tell him that the same standards which applied to his guru should be applicable to me too. I asked him whether his guru’s heart was functioning. He said yes. Then I told him that I could stop mine at will. I told him to check my pulse and heart beat and he assured me that they were normal. Then I went into a ‘yogic trance‘ before which I asked him to check my heart beat and pulse after 30 secs. He did that and announced that they had stopped! After that I opened my eyes and asked him to check them again. He said they were restored. He asked me how I did it and I told him that my yoga was greater than his guru’s. He had no reply! A few years later I repeated the same trick for a show called as Medicine Men, filmed by BBC Channel 4. This time I had to take off my shirt and was examined by two doctors who were specialists in tropical medicine. They too were surprised.
James Randi’s take on the story
There was such a scam perpetuated in Karnataka many years ago. There was a teenager who was supposedly living without consuming any food. This was reported in the press and a cutting was sent by someone to the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who asked the govt. of Karnataka to investigate the same. Those were the days of food shortages and Nehru wanted this technique to be studied. The girl was admitted to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences at Bangalore and kept under close observation. For a fortnight she was observed and she was not eating anything! She was drinking water only. There was no fall in her weight and it looked like she could live without affecting her health without consuming any food! Her mother was staying with her and bringing a container of food. When queried she said that it was her food and her daughter was not eating anything and she was under close observation. Those were the days when there were no CC TV cameras and only humans could keep watch! She was under observation 24 hours of the day. The doctors were amazed. There was no apparent explanation and for that! But, it was observed later that the girls mother would hide food beind the ventilator in the toilet! The ‘fasting’ girl would go to the toilet and eat really fast. She had not gotten caught as no one expects someone to eat in the toilet of all places! So, the secret was out. The secrets of all these people who claim to survive without food will be out if properly investigated.
How can people fast for long periods without suffering from problems? When one does not consume any food the energy needs of the body are met by the ketone bodies formed in the liver from the free fatty acids mobilised from the adipose tissue. These are also excreted in the urine and one loses salt along with them. So, experienced fasters take measures to see that the depletion of salt does not take place. They take care to see that plenty of liquids and salt are consumed. The seasoned veteran of fasts, Gandhi, used to do just that. During his fasting he would drink plenty of water with salt and lemon juice added. That will take care of the most immediate problems that could arise during the first few days of fasting. Longer fasts could cause more complications and failing health would ensure early negotiations to stop the fast. So, what could be the reasons for such a claim? The obvious one would be name and fame for the claimant. What is more covert is the publicity for the alleged investigators and the secret agenda of the Hindutwa brigade- our ancients had wonderful knowledge with which they could do things that the decadent West can only dream of! The claims of the DRDO are aimed at that. We dont need these agencies to investigate these claims; just hand over the claimant to us and give us a free hand to investigate. The truth will be out in a week’s time. Care should be taken to search all belongings, access should be totally denied to all suspected of helping the claimants, and so on. If this proposal is put forward, we can expect excuses saying that the atheists’ negative energy affects the intervention of the gods etc. Any takers?
Professor Narendra Nayak is the President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations. He is a retired professor of Biochemistry.
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