On waking up to a day where the two major stories were the death of Gore Vidal and the earth-shattering invention (perhaps, more accurately, discovery) of the water kit proposing to solve the global energy crisis, it is inevitable to speculate a bit on what Gore Vidal might have said on the pseudo engineering enterprise. Never has the transformation of water been so fascinating since Jesus of Nazareth executed the most titillating and my personal favorite miracle of turning water into wine to ensure that the festivities continue unhindered at a wedding at Cana. Had Agha Waqar devoted his apparently boundless talents to emulating the Biblical miracle, he would have earned my eternal gratitude and I am sure of many others. Vidal, commenting on Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, said, “This is not bad at all, except as prose”. So, as interesting as this water kit business is, it does seem to be some stretch to call this science. I cannot possibly improve upon the brilliant Doctor Pervez Hoodbhoy’s dissection of this quackery and how this is not science. Yet, it is not only the egregious assault on the laws of physics which is depressing but also our willingness to believe anything and at times everything.
While having to sit through the toe-curling embarrassment of the revolutionary inventor on primetime on almost all television channels, it was natural to wonder how difficult is it to do some basic background research for the television anchors, at the very least make “Google” useful. Especially for these warriors of the free media who will bring forth the most intimate of secrets of our politicians. Had they done a Google search they would have found out that Mr Waqar is not the first ‘scientist’ to stumble upon this, various ‘inventors’ all over the globe have discovered this as their ‘eureka’ moment and are now making a living of trying to sell these things on the internet. Some of this can be attributed to laziness; however, I think there is something more to it. One got a faint feeling that they were willing to give Mr Waqar a chance of continuing his claptrap for the reason that they wanted, for a change, to bring to light something positive, a ray of hope in these times of hopelessness etc. To ask him to bring scientific proofs of his ‘theory’ seemed unpatriotic to them, and what are a few laws of Physics compared with the love for the nation. I am sure driven by noble motives, yet displaying little regard for the basic methodology of science.
Coming back to Gore Vidal, he was at his best when he wrote: “We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.” In our case, we remember very little. Mr Waqar got more publicity in these few days than Dr Abdus Salam could manage to get in his entire life. The recent discovery of the Higgs boson particle and the role of Dr Salam in developing the theoretical framework did not manage to sufficiently excite very many anchors to allocate precious airtime. The first scientist to endorse the water kit was the greatly overrated and over-praised Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. Here again, amnesia is relevant, not too long ago, this man came on national television to confess that he had facilitated nuclear proliferation. In a slightly more civilised country, this man would have been staring at a life sentence and not making foolish public statements. Yet, here all he needs to do is remind us that he is the “father of the bomb” and some gibberish about deterrence, India, West and Islam and is back to being a national icon.
One can understand the reasons that gave Mr Waqar the audacity to conduct this exhibition at the national stage. We have a history of treating nonsense with deference. Dr Samar Mubarakmand has made a habit of articulating that all of Pakistan’s problems can be solved by Thar coal and getting understanding, even awe-struck nods, instead of questions in return. When people are idiotic or malicious enough to pronounce after every earthquake and floods that it is our immorality that has been the cause of the natural disaster, they are not treated with the contempt that they deserve. Then there is the game of spotting the moon, every Eid and Ramazan, by octogenarians with advanced myopia. One Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission scientist published a paper proposing that the energy crisis can be solved if the Djinns are tapped as a source of potential energy, because they as you know are made of fire (the said scientist was subsequently arrested for having links with the Taliban, although I feel the writing of the said paper was enough of a reason to at least lock him up in an asylum). JG Ballard could not have made this stuff up in his most creative science fiction work. Zakir Naik and Harun Yahya take indecent liberties with science (particularly evolution and natural selection) and still manage to maintain a satisfactory sale of DVDs and books. The only attention Zaid Hamid deserves for his views on weather engineering, HAARP etc is medical attention.
In Pakistan, everything is a matter of belief, not only religion but politics and now science. You do not agree with someone’s politics, you believe in them. The ambit of the powers of the Supreme Court should not be analysed; you are supposed to believe in the Court. Don’t ask how corruption and terrorism will be eradicated in 90 (or equally arbitrary 19) days, just have faith. Conventional science is not particularly susceptible to this model of belief and would be considered ‘un-Islamic’. Mr Waqar has benefited from our television anchors, government personnel and luminaries from science who are desperate to have something new to believe, and have now found a quaint simplistic easy-to-believe ‘theory’. It is also somewhat befitting that one of the earliest endorsements of the water car project came from the Minister for Religious Affairs. We are closer to beginning alchemy and astrology classes in schools than we are to teaching evolutionary biology.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2012.