In response to Fred’s post about the man who has not eaten in more than 70 years, I thought I would share my own thoughts on miraculous powers that Indian wise men may possess. I recently read a book by the famous author Michael Crichton in which he mentioned that he had always had a certain fascination for the unexplained events that he experienced during his childhood as well as during his tenure in medical school at Harvard. He described in detail the capacity that people have to heal despite overwhelming odds and die from the most trivial illnesses, to the point where it seemed like they simply decided to die. During the filming of one of his movies, he experimented with a group of psychics in London. Despite his best efforts to completely control the situation by wearing the same clothes, saying the same neutral things and revealing as little of himself as he could, he was impressed by the psychics’ capacities to understand others and know their character, experiences and guess what the future held in store. This book, in combination with Fred’s post, made me want to look up some other strange talents that Hindu gurus may have.
I was intrigued by this in particular because my mother, who is also a doctor has told me a series of vivid stories about the experiences she had in the presence of young Buddhist Monks from Tibet who came to visit her college. She described them levitating, fasting and holding contests of meditation by walking out into the below freezing Wisconsin winter. Wearing only a single thin towel, they would meditate with such fierce intensity that after only a few minutes, they had melted into the snow drifts upon which they sat and were sweating profusely, despite the extreme cold. The winner was the one whose towel contained the most sweat. I was very skeptical until I began to read that other religious or meditative practitioners had similar powers. To put it into context, I was fortunate enough to take a class on the physiology, thermoregulation and homeostasis while in college, which led me to believe that staying warm like the monks did was entirely possible. I later saw shows on the Discovery channel that confirm humans have a surprising capacity to control their bodies.
I now had some evidence from a variety of sources that led me to believe in some kinds of mind over matter powers, namely body temperature control. But what about the Indians who claim to levitate? Hindu siddha gurus are supposed to have the power to do so, ostensibly through the mastery of meditation and yoga. Yogi Subbayah Pullayar supposedly levitated a couple of feet for several minutes in front of 150 people. Other yogis have levitated while asleep. Buddhist levitators include Tibetan monks, Siddhartha himself, and the yogi Milarepa, who is a Vairayana Buddhist.
So what about the evidence? Most people chalk it up to some kind of illusion or group hypnotic suggestion, saying that all other evidence is scientifically invalid. However, some physicists have postulated that human beings are able to use cognition to tap into quantum zero point energy. An example of this energy would be the Casimir Effect, where tiny inter and intra molecular forces cause two metal plates to attract each other with significant force in a vacuum and without the presence of any external field. The tiny amounts of ambient energy in the plates cause a small electromagnetic force between the plates that are about a micrometer apart, attracting them with a force similar to atmospheric pressure.
My thoughts on this are simple: science is young, and religion, meditation and culture are old. There are many things out there that we do not have an explanation for and many things that are more complex than they seem. I suspect that in time, science will find a way to explain these powers that people have, whether it means understanding the physics of meditation or debunking charlatans. What do you think?
- William Ary