Saturday, May 15, 2010

Living on Air?

One of the most bizarre concepts I've seen come out of Indian mysticism is the idea of "Breatharianism," or living on air. Breatharians claim that it is possible to survive without food or water, partaking all of one's nourishment from either inhaled air, some sort of prana-based spiritual practice, or even sunlight. It's a rather extraordinary claim that has a pretty dubious track record as far as scientific investigation goes.

Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve) was probably the most famous advocate of breatharianism during the 1990s. She claimed "I can go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea. My body runs on a different kind of nourishment." Several interviewers found her house full of food, but she claimed the food was for her husband. In 1999, she volunteered to be monitored closely by the Australian television program 60 Minutes for one week without eating to demonstrate her methods. Greve claimed that she failed because on the first day of the test she had been confined in a hotel room near a busy road, saying that the stress and pollution kept her from getting the nutrients she needed from the air. "I asked for fresh air. Seventy percent of my nutrients come from fresh air. I couldn’t even breathe," she said.

Investigators went ahead and complied with her request to moved to a location with cleaner air. But while Greve was able to maintain the discipline of fasting in this new location, after four days it was clear that her health was in serious danger.

On the third day the test moved to a mountainside retreat where she could get plenty of fresh air and live happily. After Greve had fasted for four days, Dr. Beres Wenck, president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Medical Association, urged her to stop the test.

According to the doctor, Greve’s pupils were dilated, her speech was slow, she was "quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%". Towards the end of the test, she said, "Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risks if she goes any further are kidney failure. 60 Minutes would be culpable if they encouraged her to continue. She should stop now".

Wiley Brooks, founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, is another supposed Breatharian who was caught in an embarrassing situation in 1983. Brooks does admit that he still needs to eat some amount of food, but has stopped teaching in order to work on this "problem."

Wiley Brooks is a purported breatharian, and founder of the "Breatharian Institute of America". He was first introduced to the public in 1980, when he appeared on the TV show That's Incredible!. Wiley has stopped teaching in recent years, so he can "devote 100% of his time on solving the problem as to why he needed to eat some type of food to keep his physical body alive and allow his light body to manifest completely."

This reminds me of a story that I heard years ago. I don't know if it's true or if it's an urban legend, but apparently there was this mechanic who was working on developing a car engine that would run on a mixture of water and gasoline. He had apparently gotten the mixture up to about 70% water, and explained that his goal was get the engine to run on 100% water and thus eliminate fossil fuels. It's been long established that people can massively reduce their food intake for extended periods of time - the extraordinary claim is that a sufficiently advanced mystic can defy the rules of entropy and consume nothing.

And as for that embarrassing situation?

In 1983 he was allegedly observed leaving a Santa Cruz 7-Eleven with a Slurpee, hot dog and Twinkies.

Might Brooks have believed that Slurpees and Twinkies consist mostly of synthetic chemicals neither counts as food? If so, in the age of processed food there must be plenty of his sort of "Breatharians" out there.

Hira Ratan Manek (born September 12, 1937) claims that since June 18, 1995, he has lived exclusively on water, and occasional tea, coffee, and buttermilk. He says sunlight is the key to his health, citing the Jainist Tirthankara Mahavira, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Native Americans as his inspiration.

According to his website, three extended periods of his fasting have been observed under control of scientific and medical teams: the first lasting 211 days in 1995-96 in Calicut, India, under the direction of Dr C. K. Ramachandran. During that period he is reported to have lost 41 kg.

What's amazing here is that Manek had 41 kg (almost 100 pounds) to lose over this period. That suggests he started out his fast rather overweight. My immediate thought is that buttermilk is rather high-calorie, and perhaps Manek was consuming it a little more often than "occasionally." Under observation probably just reduced his intake of it resulting in the weight loss.

So has anyone ever succeeded in demonstrating such an ability under controlled conditions?

Prahlad Jani, a Jain holy man, spent ten days under strict observation by physicians in Ahmedabad, India, in 2003. The study was led by Dr Sudhir Shah, the same doctor who led the study of Hira Ratan Manek. Reportedly, during the observation, he was given only 100 millilitres of water a day to use as mouthwash, which was collected and measured after he used it, to make sure he hadn't consumed any. Throughout the observation, he passed no urine or stool, but doctors say urine appeared to form in the bladder, only to be reabsorbed. However, despite Jani's claim to have gone without food for decades, Jani was not engaged in strenuous exercise during the ten-day trial, and longer trials were not recorded under similarly strict observation. Further, his weight did drop slightly during the 10 days, casting some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food.

Prahlad Jani recently underwent another study, this time for fifteen days. Again, the researchers observed no apparent ill effects from starvation or dehydration, even though without water most people die from dehydration after three or four days.

Jani, who claims to have lived without food or water since his childhood, was under the close watch of three video cameras 24 hours a day. Researchers conducted various medical tests on him. The research team, consisting of 35 scientists, could not find any evidence that Jani ate or drank anything during the 15 days.

Doctors have not found any adverse effects in his body from hunger or dehydration. They think that yoga exercises may have caused Jani’s body to undergo a biological transformation. The researchers said tests found that his brain is equivalent to that of a 25-year-old.

In fact, according to the Daily Mail, the doctors said that after fasting for two weeks, Jani was healthier than the average 40-year-old.

My conclusion would be slightly different here. If the data is taken at face value, Jani must have some sort of mutation that makes him a lot less susceptible to dehydration than usual. Since he claims to have been going without food or water since childhood, I don't think that yogic practices could be entirely responsible - though they probably have allowed him to keep his body so much healthier than it otherwise might be.

The Wikipedia article notes that Jani was allowed to bathe during the previous study and I'm wondering if his special ability is that he can absorb water through his skin. Most of use can do this to some degree, but, say, if he can transport water efficiently through his skin and into his lymphatic system it might allow him to rehydrate himself by soaking rather than drinking, and since he doesn't appear to urinate the only water his body would need to replace would be that lost through breathing and perspiration. Still, that doesn't explain how he manages to go without food since the body is expending energy all the time and it has to come from somewhere.

Regardless of whether or not a biological explanation is forthcoming from this most recent study, Jani does indeed appear to possess a paranormal ability that no other individual has been able to successfully demonstrate under controlled conditions. It just goes to show that there are still plenty of remarkable human abilities out there that mainstream science has yet to explain, even though there are also people who claim to have such abilities when in fact they do not.

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ChandraNova said...

I do seriously accept it's possible, BUT: I think that IF there's a human who is capable of this, they will be on such a plane that they will:

1. not wish to write books and do workshops and;

2. they are so renounced from ordinary life (and thus ordinary life has renounced them) that it's little better than a party trick to the rest of us, saying "looook - physical world is not all - you can do better, but now go on and enjoy the show."

As for "Jasmuheen" - please, she needs to demonstrate whether she can survive a good hard slapping from me asap, pretentious wannarexic bitch.

People who RETAIL this serious teaching and renounciation make me want to vomit - teach materially that which is materially useful, at a market price - but her toxic crap is NOT needed, doubly so in a world where eating disorders are wrecking lives every day, and people feel such conflicted guilt over food, happiness, and would LOVE to write off starving children and adults as being people "learning a higher truth."

Yes, it makes me angry... ;)

Scott Stenwick said...

The whole thing strikes me as pretty silly. I mean, let's say that this is possible, you have whatever biological abnormality that lets you do it, and you do all the work that you have to do to develop it into something that you can demonstrate. So what? I suppose it saves you money on groceries and if you wind up as an enlightened master with anorexia you'll be really good at it. But that's about all.

I'm profoundly glad that rather then heading down this path I spent my time learning how to cast effective spells. You can do so much more with thaumaturgy than you can with the the incredible unbelievable awesome power of not eating that it's not even funny. No, I take that back, it is kind of funny that someone would work so hard to develop an essentially useless ability.

ChandraNova said...

Of all the things I could aspire to - a life without pizza isn't on the list.

Maybe they make a massive saving on toilet rolls though?

With the whole, not crapping, pissing etc....?!

(Oaky, I just want to scratch my head, go "why?!" - and eat cake. I do. Don't try to stop me!)