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April 29, 2010

Fakir or Faker?

Eighty three year old Prahlad Jani, a sadhu or spiritual recluse, claims to have gone without food or water for seven decades.  Jani purports that a goddess nourishes him through amrit, the nectar of the immortal gods.  This ability, called breatharianism (see also: inedia, the ability to live without food), apparently allows one to live indefinitely without food or water. 

While living without food is, for some, child's play, our bodies cannot survive more than a handful of days without water.  To test Jani's incredible claim, in 2003 scientists constructed an observation room in which Jani lasted 10 days without food or water, and without passing. Once again, this year India's Military scientists have begun observation of Jani .... and since April 22 he has not consumed anything.  While Jani asserts that meditation or the sun or the nectar of gods provides him with energy, such claims have been rebuked on numerous occasions. 
In the early 90s, Jasmuheen, a breatharian who claimed to go for months on end without sustenance was found in a house full of food -- she said it was her husband's.  Upon scientific testing, she failed to demonstrate her alleged breatharian abilities, but blamed her failure on the stress and pollution near the testing site.  They moved her to a mountainside retreat where she quickly dehydrated, her speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she faced kidney failure.

Wiley Brooks is my favorite "breatharian."  He founded the "Breatharian Institute of America."  Once observed leaving a 7-Eleven with a slurpee, hot dog, and twinkies, Wiley responded that he breaks his fasting every now and then with a cheeseburger and a diet coke -- in order to balance his purified soul with the junk culture and junk food -- revealing that diet coke is actually liquid light -- who knew?!  Oh yea, at the institute Wiley once charged wannabe-breatharians $15 million to $25 million for his guidance.  No worries, the fee has been lowered to $100,000 -- and a payment plan is available.

Several deaths caused by hypothermia and dehydration aggravated by starvation have been linked to people attempting the breatharian diet.

So now, the Indian Military is investing time, money, and effort in studying this alleged phenomenon -- time, money, and effort probably better spent on actually feeding and hydrating the insanely populous country of India wherein 900,000 Indians die yearly from drinking contaminated water and breathing polluted air, and where half of the children are underweight and malnourished.  One can only hope that the Indian Rationalist Association, an organization that promotes skepticism, is able to persuade other potential breatharians (including the Indian Military!) that breatharianism is merely a superstitious pseudoscience -- and a dangerous path to follow.

Point: it's not difficult to cheat your diet when you live in a cave by yourself.