The organisers claimed that the children’s ability to see things blindfolded was a result of mindfulness techniques, or ‘neuroplasticity’.

Why did IIM Bangalore host pseudo science workshop on brain activation asks rationalist
news Controversy Friday, October 04, 2019 - 16:24

An 8-year-old boy from Mysuru walks up the stage and introduces himself before he is blindfolded. He is asked by Kamlesh Patel, the speaker on stage, to state the colour of the ball in front of him. He correctly states the colour of the small plastic ball.

Following him, an 11-year-old boy comes up on stage and performs a similar feat. This kind of a programme, which is about ‘activating the brains and cognitive abilities’ of children, has been controversial and contentious. However, this time, the protest to the event has arisen from the fact that it was organised at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Management by two private companies -- Heartfullness Institute and Brighter Minds, between August 1 and 3 this year. The invite to the event states that other than the two private companies, Professor Ramnath Narayanswamy, faculty at IIM-B, was a conference director.

Under the watchful eyes of a large audience gathered at IIM-B’s auditorium, the organisers claimed that the children’s ability to see things while being blindfolded, was a result of mindfulness techniques, or ‘neuroplasticity’.

Kamlesh D Patel, the man behind the Heartfulnness Institute can be heard saying that with ‘creative training’ one can even read the contents of a folded letter.

Rationalist Narendra Nayak, who has on several occasions debunked this concept, has written a letter to the director of IIM Bangalore, and has slammed the institute for allowing such an event to be held at the esteemed academic institute.  

“There are a number of tall claims made in the video which includes claims like children being able to read folded letters etc. none of these claims are supported by evidence or any objective tests. These claims are supported by resorting to examples from mythology. The main reason for these people to claim that only children between the ages of 5 to 15 can have such abilities is to pre-empt any examinations under fraud proof conditions by claiming that the children will be upset by rigorous tests. Besides, the children are also conditioned to lie,” he writes in the letter. 

In addition, he has also stated that IIM should conduct a study into such claims. 

“I am just appalled that such false claims are allowed in an august academic body like the Indian Institute of Management. In fact, a body like IIM should launch a study into such and how a lie like seeing without light from the object falling on the retina be perpetrated on a whole country by a bunch of frauds in the name of culture and ancient abilities. I am willing to lend you full co-operation in this matter,” writes the rationalist. 

On several occasions, he along with others from the same school of thought, have taken to exposing those who indulge in such practices. 

In 2015, the rationalist came into the spotlight after announcing that he would give Rs 5 lakhs to any individual who could demonstrate that a child could read blindfolded as per ‘mindfulness practices.’ This challenge was taken up by Vinoj Surendran from Kollam, Kerala. Vinoj ran the Ingenium India organisation which claimed to offer ‘mind empowerment’ courses for children. However, days before the public challenge, Vinoj backed out. 

Furthermore, several others have also voiced that such programs were mere scams to fool parents who wanted their children to “be geniuses.”

When TNM contacted IIM-B, the institute said that it had nothing to do with the event and maintained that Heartfullness Institute, a USA-based organisation and its branch in Bengaluru, had conducted the event. It however added that a professor was part of organising the event.

“There are several events, conferences and lectures that are hosted at IIM Bangalore, and many of them are also open to the public to attend. However, it may be noted that not all programmes are sponsored by the Institute. Many such initiatives are individually driven by faculty and students who are keen to bring together multiple perspectives for wider discussion and debates. In this particular instance, the video is being propagated by an external entity and the Institute has nothing to do with it. We shall certainly take note of any specific concerns that may be raised pertaining to events hosted at the Institute,' said Kavitha Kumar, Head of Communications, IIM-B.  

Brighter Minds denied that the event involved mid-brain activation, but called it ‘neuroplasticity’, a ‘developing science’.

"Brighter Minds along with Heartfullness Institute had organised this program to show that brain training can help improve cognitive abilities in children. This has nothing to do with midbrain activation or anything paranormal. This is a developing science. Some children develop a strong sense of intuition through brain training and these methods help enhance cognitive abilities like focus, observation, comprehension, memory, and intuition. It is based on neuroscientific principles," said NS Nagaraja, Director, Program, at Brighter Minds.

Refuting Brighter Minds' claims, Narendra Nayak said that the organisers used terms such as ‘elevated consciousness’ and ‘neuroplasticity’ in order to mislead the audience. "I am not buying that this is a developing science. If you see the children who are blindfolded and asked to guess the colour of the ball in their hands, that is what such people have claimed to be midbrain activation for over a decade. These people are not using that term anymore because if someone googles the term, they will know that it's all a sham," he said. 

Narendra Nayak also added that this business had to stop. “Blindfold or neuroplasticity and then some "brain games" to improve memory and intuition. It is a big business right now so it won't be easy to stop. Innocent people are falling for this hoax.”