On 9 October 2015, noted Mangalorean rationalist Narendra Nayak gave a talk at the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) department of materials engineering, titled “The silence of the scientists: A boon to scamsters.” The event was organised by Concern, a student organisation at IISc that works to further discourse on socio-politico-economic issues in the scientific and academic community. During his talk, Nayak aimed to debunk the notion of “midbrain activation”—a popular theory that proposes that through certain techniques, the midbrain in human beings can be activated to allow them to perform hitherto impossible tasks, such as reading through a blindfold and can convert children to geniuses. In 2006, Nayak had quit his job as an assistant professor of biochemistry at the Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, to pursue rationalist activism full-time. He is now the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalists Association (FIRA), an apex body of rationalist organisations that promote scientific approaches and rational thought.
Nayak concluded his lecture by saying, “Some rationalists stay silent and don’t die. I won’t stay silent and don’t mind dying.” Rahul M, an independent journalist and former photo-coordinator at The Caravan, met Nayak after the lecture and spoke to him about his beliefs, his thoughts on the recent murders of rationalists in India and on dissent in the current political climate.
Rahul M: Why and when did you decide to investigate and debunk the paranormal?
Narendra Nayak: That was may be in the 1970s when I was around 20-years-old. Whenever I used to see something paranormal, I used to think that we should investigate it, and so I used to do that. In 1976, after we arranged the programme of [Dr Abraham] Kovoor—the foremost rationalist and paranormal investigator of independent India and Sri Lanka—we even started an organisation called Dakshina Kannada Rationalist Association, just to invite Kovoor in Mangalore. I decided very strongly that I will do the work of investigating these things for the rest of my life.
RM: Could you tell us about the Federation of Indian Rational Association (FIRA) and your role in the organisation?