Wonders will never cease

The other day an old school friend of mine Ajay (not his real name) came to meet me when I was visiting Nagpur. Talk came around to how his son was doing. Ajay said that the kid was doing well, finally.

“Why,” I asked, “what was the matter?”

“He was not doing well at all in his studies. He was not able to focus on his school work. His confidence level was low and I was really worried about his grades. You know, his board exams are right around the corner.”

“So what happened?”

“I was referred to a person who is an expert numerologist,” said Ajay. “He recommended that I add another letter to my son’s name. So I added an ‘a’ and now his name is spelt Vijaay. Since then I have noticed a remarkable change in Vijaay’s character.”

“Wait a second there. This guy saw your son and recommended this treatment?”

“No, that numerologist is in Delhi. I merely sent him my son’s name and his birthdate and that is all. He was able to, based just on that, suggest the required change. Bloody amazing. I have started believing in numerology. Totally.”

“You are kidding me, aren’t you?” I said.

“No, Atanu, it is really amazing. It is like magic. I am very impressed. The guy was right on the money. Don’t know how he did it, but the change in my son is amazing. And the best part was that he did not even meet my son. He remotely diagnosed the problem and gave the solution.”

“And how much did this man charge to work his miracle?”

“That’s the best part. All I paid was Rs 500.”

I sometimes wonder: which planet do these guys come from–certainly not from the same that I come from. And these people are allowed to breed?

That brought to mind the “Wonder Rabbi” story. It is a Polish folktale quoted in “Adam Smith Goes to Moscow” by Walter Adams and James Brock:

It is said that a wonder-rabbi of Chelm once saw, in a vision, the destruction by fire of the study house in Lublin, fifty miles away. This remarkable event greatly enhanced his fame as a wonder-worker.

Several days later a traveler from Lublin, arriving in Chelm, was greeted with expressions of sorrow and concern, not unmixed with a certain pride, by the disciples of the wonder-rabbi. “What are you talking about?” asked the traveler. “I left Lublin there days ago and the study house was standing as it always has. What kind of wonder-rabbi is that?” “Well, well,” one of the rabbi’s disciples answered, “burned or not burned, it’s only a detail. The wonder is he could see so far.”

11 thoughts on “Wonders will never cease

  1. sarat Thursday July 27, 2006 / 7:13 pm

    “Most people would rather die than think; in fact, they do so.”-Bertrand Russell
    Rather than diagnosing a problem these things are easy consolation that the problem has been fixed.

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  2. ankur Thursday July 27, 2006 / 10:44 pm

    somehow always you get find or hear about such people, i dont feel like believing them but looking at the success rate can not be said to be a mere fluke.
    after all not every body does that.

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  3. Chandra Friday July 28, 2006 / 1:14 pm

    But I wonder what changed your friend’s son? Did Ajay start taking more interest in this son after the name change (helping with homework, such like)? Did the son suddenly find a better teacher? Or was it just perception of the father – suddenly a disinterested boy become (or looks) studious after the name change? We can pour scorn at the father (and I’ll join in) but what brought about the change beyound the “a”?

    Did the father mention to his son about the name change and the son psychologically became more capable? Don’t laugh. Lot of this stuff is the state of brain. Read last week’s science section of the Economist on phantom hand, pain, and what cured it.

    Atanu’s response: I believe that people will believe anything as long as it is comforting. I think Ajay is convinced that numerology works and therefore he perceives a positive difference in Vijay’s behavior. Of course, Vijay is not an automaton. He is not a constant of nature. There will be natural variations in his motivations, how much effort he puts into his school work, etc. Being told that adding a letter to his name will make him better itself has a placebo effect.

    I am sure that numerology works as effectively as astrology, pyramid power, and voodoo.

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  4. Venkat Ramanan Friday July 28, 2006 / 4:22 pm

    Changing/Altering names, offering prayers at a particular temple in a remote corner of India and offering money to somebody , wearing some special stone or gem – These are something the “demi-GOD” Astrologers recommend for “good times” and to ward off evil and wash away sins 🙂
    I also tend to laugh at people who have such blind faith! What is the thin line separating such beliefs and other fundamentalist religions?

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  5. Ambar Friday July 28, 2006 / 7:35 pm

    Placebo effect?

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  6. Manu Friday July 28, 2006 / 11:33 pm

    I took a class recently where we discussed the impact of stereotypes on people. Controlled research has proved that people tend to change their performance to conform to stereotypes.

    A question that had intrigued researchers for years was why African-Americans underperformed in standardized tests (ACTs, SATs, etc.) even after social status, economic differences, education quality, etc. all controls were accounted for.

    Then in a new study, African-Americans writing the test were told that the test will pit them against other African-Americans. Surprisingly enough, their scores went up! Soon enough more studies were done along the same lines.

    Most interesting one was done with Asian women. In controlled set ups, two comparable sets of Asian women were asked to write a math test. For half of them, the first question was “Your gender is: Male/Female” and for the other half this question was replaced with “You belong to the following race: Caucasian, African, Asian…etc.”. The scores for women who identified their gender just before the test were lower than the scores for women identifying their race.

    The inference is that the low-scoring women conformed with the stereotype of women being worse at math than men. On the other hand, the other women conformed the stereotype that Asians are better at math than others.

    OK – this is the gist of a lecture for one of my classes on Tuesday. I did not have the time to specify references. If you don’t believe it, power to you.

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  7. Chandra Saturday July 29, 2006 / 6:34 am

    I am not sure about the placebo effect. Increasingly I come across literature, talk shows, and the like about new findings on brain and how little differences can explain intelligence, fear, pain etc. And brain can be reprogrammed (may be not all actions) based on circumstances and experiences. Manu’s experiments seem to point to it.

    Instead of dismissing it, one should be taking advantage of this (obviously we can’t explain the pathway of change) – like some good godmans seem to for good or evil (like adding an “a” to get that kid studying again).

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  8. monica trehan Monday August 28, 2006 / 11:37 am

    i do believe as ihave seen the changes that have come in my son since ihave changed his name.if u could please tell me the address of this respective numerologist i would be very thankful.

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  9. last man of india Thursday February 1, 2007 / 1:21 pm

    every thing happening on the face of the earth is significant . we must honour the law of nature,my dear freinds who do not agree with the fact, pls wait for some time, nature will prove you automatically
    vande mataram
    – last man of india
    kanpur
    +91-9235619812

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