People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

July 25, 2010


                   Octopus St Paul: Globalising Superstition


K Nageshwar


SUPERSTITIOUS beliefs are nowadays being propagated through the most modern medium of Internet and social networking sites like the Twitter and Facebook were recently being used to mobilise millions of followers for or against St Paul, an octopus. Leaders of even very advanced nations like Spain and Germany joined the game. Leading television channels across the globe were busy cashing in on the craze that had gripped the football lovers in different parts of the world, to propagate the octopus related humbug. Wasnít it that a new form of match fixing was being put in place?


No doubt, this sort of match fixing by the use of an octopus is different from the dubious methods of match fixing that we have seen in the case of cricket.


Why such a phenomenon? It only underlines that, still today, and quite sadly, superstition is more widespread among the people than science. This is precisely what happened in the case of the octopus Paul. Jayant Narlekar, a great astronomer, once narrated an interesting experience. He was working at Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. When the centre wrote to the telephones department to include its name and numbers in the telephone directory, the department did oblige the centre. However, the entry was of Inter University Centre for Astrology and Astrophysics. This was because astrology was still more popular than astronomy, explained Narlekar. This is precisely the reason the Octopus Paul phenomenon attracted more people than a scientific event could do.


The power of Internet can be harnessed for a right or wrong cause. In this case, millions of netizens (so to say) used the power of Internet to propagate this phenomenon. The media too added to the frenzy. Such things occurred in India as well. The modern telecommunications technology was, as we once saw, extensively used to popularise the superstitious belief about Lord Ganesha drinking milk. Interestingly, Lord Ganesha never even tried to drink milk afterwards. Nor did the idols of Lord Ganesha drink milk in areas that did not have teleconnectivity. The phenomenon was confined more or less to the metropolitan cities and other urban conglomerates. Similarly, even the Octopus Paul phenomenon received popularity mainly among those who have net connectivity.


The media found that the news was sensational. Television channels, which eagerly look for something that can attract the audience, found it very captivating. As it was associated with the Football World Cup mania, the superstition spread like the wildfire.


The involvement of some prominent people in the debate made it all the more popular. Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that the Spanish government was thinking of sending bodyguards to protect the octopus from those who suffered failure despite St Paulís prediction. Spanish environment minister Elena Espinosa said the octopus should be declared as an endangered creature. Obviously, the warring football nations like Argentina, Spain and Germany were now obsessed with the octopus. All this gave the whole controversy an added dimension. As it is, ordinary people normally have a tendency to believe and follow their leaders and heroes.


Today, our education systems, the media and the social milieus do not instil in the people a spirit of scientific inquiry. Instead, they promote superstitions, archaic beliefs and attitudes. The octopus Paul was named as a psychic octopus. All this is despite the fact that there is no evidence to support or even suggest that an octopus has intelligence to predict something.


The danger now is that football players may stop seriously practising the game and concentrate on worshipping this particular octopus  --- or maybe some other octopus.  The madness will not end here; many more Pauls will join the game. And not just football, it could infect even other popular sports like tennis or cricket, etc. Vested interests will always be found ready to capitalise on such widespread unscientific and superstitious beliefs. The politicians, the stock markets and others may soon adopt this phenomenon. The stock market already has a powerful speculative force, which could well push this phenomenon to further heights. Octopuses will join the bulls and bears.


Further, if an octopus can predict the outcome of a game, cannot we use it to predict the outcome of an electoral contest? Why should nations waste precious resources on conducting elections? We can well replace our electronic voting machines, ballot papers etc with octopuses. The polling booths may well be turned into octopusariums, so to say. Similarly, our educational institutions could well abandon their entrance tests and employ an octopus (or, for that matter, a parrot or a monkey), which is blessed with a mystic power, to select the candidates. Donít such prospects look quite rosy?