Sunday, January 17, 2010

Creating an Auspicious Environment for Biochemical Research

This is the 12th floor of the "Adulyadejwikrom" Building at Sirirat Hospital in Bangkok. Serious research is conducted here in the areas of dengue, thallasemia, and other maladies, making this scene a bit incongruous from my perspective.

Make no mistake, the goal here is to increase the level of good luck in the research facilities for the next year. The ceremony ends with the abbot touring the lab, sprinkling holy water on everyone and everything.

I gently questioned the lab director who organized the affair. Isn't this mix of science and superstition a tad odd? I didn't get a satisfactory answer, though he points out he's also organizing a weeklong meditation retreat that will be entirely devoid of superstition. He refers to meditation as a science of the self. I don't have a big problem with that, though I'm aware of various objections (e.g. in what sense are your "research" findings reproducible/falsifiable?) and would be interested to hear Acharn Pa-Thai's responses.

In fairness, if superstition is ever warranted in a science lab, this might be the place. Floors 3-6 of the building are a morgue. Students report seeing ghosts on the elevator. And floor 2 is a museum where, amongst pickled fetuses, you find the mummified remains of "See Uey", the legendary, cannibalistic, liver-eating, psycho-killer of 1940's Thailand.

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