Wednesday, June 19, 2013

There Are Limits

A British woman who attempted to test "breatharianism," the idea that it is possible to live on sunlight and water without eating food, has ended her experiment at Day 47. On the one hand it's pretty easy to scoff like many skeptics on this forum are doing in the comments because the whole concept seems so outlandish, but at the same time I'm impressed that she would be willing to put this to the test in such a public fashion.

After dropping about 20 percent of her body weight, Naveena Shine, the 65-year-old Eastside woman who got worldwide publicity for trying to just live on light and no food, is calling it quits with her grand experiment. Monday was Day No. 45 of no food, just water and tea “with a splash of milk.”

Shine had dropped to 126 pounds from her original weight of 159 pounds on her 5-foot, 4-inch frame. She says she’s quitting on Wednesday in part because she’s run out of money, and part because of the public reaction.

What I find remarkable here is that I think I would lose a lot more than thirty or so pounds if I didn't eat for a month and a half. Hunger strikers generally start dying at around 50 days, and Shine only dropped to what is still considered a relatively normal weight for her height during that time. We do know that meditation can slow metabolism and little of her spiritual practices have been reported, so perhaps a mechanism like that may have come into effect.

If we're ever going to understand paranormal processes, understanding where the limits are is vital. People who tell you that magick "has no limits" are doing a great disservice to any objective understanding of the discipline. Furthermore, this plays right into the hands of skeptics who are quick to whip out questions like "If you can do magick, why haven't you won the lottery?" (Answer: The probability shift involved for winning the Powerball is a hundred million to one against, which is far beyond the limits of what any magician I've ever known can produce.)

All things that interact with the material world have limits, and those limits tell us a lot about how said things work. While it would have been more impressive if Shine had, say, set a record for going without food and surviving, she still managed to do better at this than I would have expected in terms of her overall health. I don't really understand the "running out of money" part since no food doesn't cost anything, but with the way the skeptics have been carrying on I do understand her desire to remove herself from the public eye.

So one wonders where the breatharian idea came from in the first place. Was it based on the observation that meditators could go without food for longer than other people and erroneously extrapolated to "forever?" A handful of Indian yogis have been studied who seem to be able to go without food for extended periods, though the experiments in which they have done so have been questioned regarding proper controls and conditions. In the end entropy always wins, though it seems to me that exploring how long that time can be put off is a useful endeavor for paranormal research.

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