Wednesday, April 28, 2010


One of the oft repeated slogans to exhort people to work hard,"genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration", was originally attributed to Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of electric bulb who made this statement in 1903. Whether it has lost relevance in to day's world is worth looking into.

Figuratively speaking perspiration or sweating is associated with hard physical work but it is a biological phenomenon of immense importance to human life is not known widely. According to human physiologists, perspiration is caused either due to physical heat or emotional stress and the sweat glands present in human body excretes sweat through the pores in the skin. Evaporation of the sweat drops cools the body considerably as a part of the thermo-regulatory mechanism. While physical heat causes sweating through out the body, emotional stress generates sweating of palms, soles and some times on the fore head. Sweating, transpiration or diaphoresis means same, referring to production of fluid, consisting of mainly water as well as various dissolved solids, 0.2 to 1%, such as chlorides of Sodium, Potassium and mineral salts of Zinc, Copper and others in small quantities. Ortho Cresol, para Cresol and urea are the three organic substances present in sweat fluid.

There is a mistaken belief that profuse sweating enables the body to excrete toxins in the blood and there is multi-billion dollar industry sustaining on this belief by health conscious populations, especially in some of the wealthy countries. Sauna bath sets costing as high as $ 6000 are acquired for home use and many health clubs offer facilities for sauna bath to its high paying guests. But scientific findings do not support this theory and extensive research by the International Hyperhydrosis Society could not find even traces of any toxin in the sweat fluids of human beings. What one achieves by sitting in a sauna bath set up is not clear to both the service provider as well as the user! Definitely it does not produce any genius!

The perception that hard work generates sweating cannot be taken as the gospel truth though the metabolic reactions taking in the muscle can generate physical heat causing sweating provided the environmental conditions reflect hot weather and high humidity. To day's work places are mostly air-conditioned regulating the temperature as well as humidity to comfortable levels and even the "hardest" and "heaviest" worker does not sweat at all. It is a different thing for the unskilled workers working in open fields and factory sheds with asbestos or GI sheet roofs where temperature can reach as high as 40C and if it is a coastal area humidity may go as high as 70-100%! Whether providing 1% inspiration to them can create a genius, unless he is a born genius is a matter of speculation. Also interesting to note is that dogs generally do not sweat though horses do perspire under their armpits and both of them are hard workers. Whether there are geniuses, as measured by human yardstick, amongst these animals is not precisely known.

Inspiration is supposed to mean stimulation of mind and feelings to do beyond a person's usual ability. If this is so right inspiration can motivate workers to be geniuses in their own field. In to day's world, there is nothing more inspirational than money and financial incentive is the best inspiration for increased productivity.If inspiration can play a really decisive role in upgrading human behavior, Indians should have been "inspired" by the great soul of Mahatma Gandhi who preached and died for the principle of non-violence and become the most peaceful country on earth. Unfortunately this country has become the cradle of violence for narrow parochial considerations based on religion, language, caste, politics, pecuniary issues and other destructive causes. Probably Edison's iconic statement may need a modification in India and it should read as "An Indian is 1% perspiration and 99% relaxation"!


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