Thursday, March 16, 2017

Everything between concept to purpose to method

Is there any one who loves a guy asking questions? too many questions? Am I asking too many questions already? No worries, I'll just get down to the two question that are asked most often, but never heard explicitly. 

The two basic questions that the top level that underpins all knowledge are: (1) How did universe come from nothingness and (2) How did life come from non-life? We are yet to find the answers and progress to reach those answers needs to be underway. For now we have to live with an answer that forms the premise of life and belief in world's oldest civilization. The answer is that the cause of both is possibly same, and for lack of a better word, we name the cause/source/power as "God". By causing these, (s)he implicitly controls linear time as we understand it through law of causality/Karma. 

Look at what we have done in the process of exploring answers to our questions. We created the written language (including maths and music and all) without which we are not fundamentally different from a wild monkey (other than the tail for sure!). With it we have cured the incurable, we have seen the invisible, we can hear beyond our ears, we can talk across millions of kilometers and what the heck, we have even come to know how to slow the passage of time! 

It is in the process of further answering these two questions, that we came to know laws of nature and mathematics and are still exploring. Laws of physics and evolution are milestones in our understand of that concept/premise of "God". We experiment and we medidate for these answers and wish we could talk to this omnipotent/omnipresent/omniscient concept. This concept has to knowledgeable and authoritatively talk to the male and female in us. (S)He needs to do what both genders can do. Hence if we try to put a human form to this concept, it will be a being that is half male and half female. Hindus call this imaginary form - "Ardhnaareshwar" (Half man Half woman God) in Sanskrit.

This is where my talk seems to take on the cloak of a bias. Let's perhaps put this aside for a moment and think. What we needed from "God" is a really good conversation. What we got were respected Prophets, Saints, Sadhus, incarnations and more. What we got was more fundamental, we got belief. Belief through very useful stories told to us in order to lead a fulfilling life. We want to continue this conversation further, maybe over dinner close to a fire. 

The basic answer that we are looking for is why were we created as beings with imagination. What is the purpose do we serve? Left to nature we would end up evolving, albeit very slowly. As a group of intelligent minds, we choose to evolve faster than nature. The rapid growth of science, technology and arts is proof of that. Our purpose then ends up being evolving individually to a higher plane of existence.

This is much easier said than done. The process of survival has become intricately complex since we as a species chose to violate the law of the jungle and allowed the weakest to survive and thrive. It is an unending cycle of manifestation of creativity to make things, then make rules, explore more and then destroy what was created to create again. Our curiosity has led to the improvement of not only standard of life, it has also brought us to the threshold of being able to create artificial life and intelligence. What will this uninterrupted increase in standard of life through discoveries and inventions lead to? Very simply, it is again to expedite our evolution compared to nature. 

We have invented machines that are controlled through our mind. Technology to operate appliances in your house with your mind are already available. Let alone anti-aging, by breaking into parts, we have "almost" recreated the most complex machine ever created, the human being. 

So what does this mean for us, you and me? That's difficult to put into words in any language. The world was perfect before humans inherited the planet. Are we simply here to create a "more perfect" world than we inherited? These would be reasons that exist only because we are a being that can think and imagine. We seek meaning when the world was already perfect without it. Perhaps its about meaninglessness of our lives that subconsciously pains us. Is there any bullet that is going to kill me or am I going to live in irrational fear of the inevitable certain death? So again, what do we, you and I choose to do?

You really care a damn about I choose to do, as long as you are able to choose to do what you want. That mutual respect here that already exists between me and you and it will help if we are able to add compassion for each other. Because our questions still remain the same in our minds. 

Why am I here now? What should I do? How do I know what is good/right/best/appropriate? Perhaps there is someone, "Ardhnaareshwar/God" watching us to judge us and our actions. Perhaps its our imagination to search for meaning in our lives. In either case, we can live a worthwhile life by being worthy, by a standard you, I and we choose. As a species with the ability, we will evolve by our will that is given to us by the concept/premise of "God". We always had this same purpose, and you and I can respectfully choose to follow our respective method we deem fit. 

Phew, lots of questions in what I said. I hope perhaps I am leaving you with more answers than questions. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who will you be?

An objectionable situation: Assume that by a freak accident that you and your first cousin sister are the only ones left on our planet earth. All the technology and knowledge remains, just the humans perish.
The question: what next will you do?
Let me dampen your “excitement” a bit. The choice has been taken that the human species must live so procreation will happen. Now what next will you create?
I will tell you what I think:
  1. Am I happy that I got to create the world as I want or that I am pissed that I no longer have anything to complain about?
  2. Do I care about what I leave behind, because I am going to be dead even when I own the whole wide world?
  3. Now that I have no options for females, what else must I do so that I still LIVE my life?
  4. Do I really need to introduce the concept of money and property?
  5. Is there a need for me to give names to relationships or see what makes them worth making?
  6. Do I need to create the idea of boundaries and differences, physical or mental?
  7. Is the most important thing to teach my children LOVE OR RESPECT for the others?
  8. Is there any more need for God, for the only species that believes in him/her will go extinct if it believed in his/her “ethics / commandments”?
  9. Do I define my own standards of morality for the world, or do I let the only true freedom, which is the FREEDOM TO REBEL, be the foundation stone of the new society?
  10. Will I now take a stand that I will take a back seat and let my woman shape the society she wanted to build?
  11. Will I leave behind a society that feels what you are deep inside is what matters or will I be an example that it is what I did that mattered, not what I felt or thought? I mean am I going to let revenge and punishment be the pillars of fairness or fiercely push a sense of compassion and responsibility?
This is not the complete list, maybe less that a percent. You will die and so will I, and maybe the entire human species will die. But that is where life opens up. Have we not been sitting waiting for life to happen when it’s all happening right there and now?
Just look at what limitless possibilities you have at hand. Or did you just look at the problems of each? Perhaps you did end up judging me without knowing me. So are you a part of the problem of humankind or the one that is ever evolving into something more and new?
I do not need love or admiration from you for I have received it from my parents who gave it to me, and countless many, even though that will pass. What I demand is only your freedom to rebel, and even if that may be against me, I assure you that you will get the respect you deserve.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hope of meritocracy returning to India

When a child is born, with him is born infinite possibilities, right from being a fighter pilot to a superstar. The aspirations of the parents and family give it a direction of "go ahead child" or make the child choose among different directions of "my way or the highway". The traditions and norms ask the child to conform to perceptions of "look at her and learn" and his desires ask him to break the norm and do "what feels right". A child outgrows his adolescence and lives like a responsible adult in a nation that allows him to live his path. In his struggles the child achieves his dreams through a route filled with failures. Hopefully he dies content.

Even before I was moving from the adolescent phase, I was coming to know that in our nation birth mattered more than deeds. That was different from what I learnt from my childhood stories of the Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The story of Raja Bharat of our land Aaryavrat adopting a son to be the next king because he found none of his nine sons capable of being a ruler, was scrupulously hidden. What was repeatedly told to me was that Yudhisthira was the rightful heir to the throne being the eldest because his father was the rightful king. I was starting to feel comfortable with nepotism and deeply uncomfortable with lack of meritocracy. Our family was becoming smaller and smaller still was I expected to dream. In me somewhere hope was dimming like the profits of a yesteryear corporate.

Today, when we got the election results in four states were declared, I felt alive with hope. Two trends are becoming clear:
  1. The right to the throne (if there is anything like that) does not belong to the bachcha of the raja or the family cooks and drivers
  2. The regional and multiple "shadow-lines" based groupism disappearing to give way to growth
I am not a man of politics but a man who thinks and believes. I believe that the good part is that unlike what I grew up observing, the future is uncertain. We seem to have found some happiness back as the flame of hope is becoming stronger in the winds of change. I feel our children can live their dreams and I think we too have the chance of dying content, maybe attain nirvana. That humming sound you faintly feel in your head is the Aarambh of Indian awakening. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mutual respect is the key to our evolution, not love

I have often wondered about the all healing feeling / emotion of love. It gives me pain, yet makes me feel complete. Love the earth, love your family, love what you have and love yourself. When you give love, you get love back in return and we spread our happiness to the world. Love is what makes life worth living.

I have still not covered love in entirety but three sentences makes me think - Wait! Love is what makes animals better than plants, it gives them the capacity to care even when they have to kill and fight with their own for their daily survival. I watched on Discovery Channel in awe when a even a mother lioness kills a pregnant monkey to feed her children, but adopts the monkey infant delivered right then as her own cub. That made me of what we civilized humans are trying to do even today and still not succeeding as well as the animals. Reminds me of the lyrics of Michael Jackson's song, "There are people dying, if you care enough for the living, make it a better place for you and for me and for the entire human race..."

However, even when we do reach the emotional maturity of the animals, like the lioness, we are yet to do something "human". I mean love is what makes life worth living, but that's setting the level of humanity a little low. It feels as if I am being told, "You are born with intelligence. But keep it aside along with your base instincts. Do what animals do best. Love! Don't think and decide. Just feel the love"

Give me a break! If am worthy of a thinking brain, I would rather not put it aside for love. I would take the first step of compassion for all humans, animals and plants alike. Then for humans, I would develop something called respect. That is the only way I would keep learning from each one and keep growing, as an individual and as a human being. In fact, more than unconditional love, I would promote conscious respect for each of us. If I am able to do that, I would have made life my teacher. And some day, my teacher would have made me someone from whom others can learn. That day respect would reach me and I will know that my life has been worth me. The mutual respect will make us growth continuously, out of our boundaries and fears and beyond technology and anything, even artificial life that we would discover and create. This mutual respect is the key to our evolution. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bohemia's legacy and my fallacy: Litost

A couple of years back I remember reading "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera. It was recommended by one of my closest friends, and it easily ranks as the best book I have read. Since then I have developed a deep sense of respect for the author who seems have more insights into the psyche of human beings than the best psychologists. 

I was just going through one of his set of articles in "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting" about a feeling called "Litost". It is a Bohemian word, an explains the genius of a feeling that has no parallel word in any other language. Milan Kundera defines litost as a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery. How true!

Hasn't it happened that we have come across situations that we were within arms reach of something we greatly desired, and then suddenly, it disappeared completely from our sight? And for that we end up blaming ourselves and our bad luck for it? It is the same feeling I am trying to explain by the term "litost". 

It has also happened quite a few times when we try to show possessiveness and care for the other person, even end up shouting at and hitting the person we love, just because they did something we could not do. We try to tell them its our overwhelming sense of care and affection, but all the while we are trying to shut ourselves from admitting that we would have been pathetic in the same situation. To make our point we go to the point of staying hungry and even hurting ourselves, just to make a point. A point that was never so important or critical in any sense. We did all that just to bring back a feeling of equality in our hearts, rather restore the balance in favour of our superiority. 

I have faced the same feeling when I tried to go out of the way and create my own venture. I felt unsure of myself and lacked confidence in my abilities when I was graduating from IIM Ahmedabad, so much that it clouded my mind for over three and half years. This feeling started sprouting in me since my near fatal accident during engineering two years before I got admission into the institute. My will power to live created a medical miracle. But it left my mind far more wounded than my bruised and battered body. I was close to getting married to the girl of my life, and I did not get an ounce of feeling that I WILL be able to care of her, whatever life may offer. Without proof to the contrary, I was not sure if I could be a good son to my parents, a good brother and an admired family member. Time came closer, and at the last minute, I left my well-settled job for a venture that was probably ill suited to my characteristics. What in fact I had really lost, was 15 points in IQ, although even after that my IQ was tested to be higher than that of the CAT topper in the entire country. 

At that time, my thought was noble, and the intention was indeed noble. I have tried explaining to myself that the idea was driven by my need to feel connected to my Indian roots that are long lost in the partition days in Bangladesh. I wanted to do something for my nation and my people, burn hard earned money and put at stake all my relationships and ideals and go full steam to educate the rural youth. I did lose more than I could ever imagine. It was loss of a life. 

As I am writing after long under this pen-name that I so ardently love, I realise that it was my litost that was my biggest motivator. Today I am back on my path to recovery and I am certain that I will be able to make good of the lost time, relationships and money. But I am still aware that my litost is a companion who is unwilling to leave me like my shadow. I am reminded of the poems of Defeat (by Khalil Gibran), If (by Rudyard Kipling) and The Road Not Taken (by Robert Frost) that ignited and stirred in me a sense of passion for something I never understood. Today I found a word for that instinct. For once, a man who has dreamed of modifying language to fit the thought patterns of the human brain, is overcome by the effect of a singular word that changed a paradigm of his understanding of something equally complex yet simple and beautiful - life, my life. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Towards nature's universal language

Language developed as a means of communication, rather as a medium of exchange of ideas. But how well does and idea get captured in words? And how precisely is it perceived by the intended recipient? The entire collection of books and scriptures of a civilization are a true representation of the society that created it. To put this in another way, language captures the essence of a culture, just like the stock price captures the essentials of a company. Language becomes a determinant in the development of civilization. Societies with languages that are gender neutral, like Bengali and German, the power is shared more “equally” among the genders than other societies following gender sensitive languages like Hindi or English. To understand these distinctions more clearly, let us analyse this objectively.

A language grows as the civilization progresses. New objects discovered and invented add to the language in terms of new words. Poetry adds a visualization element to the grammar of the language. A beautiful poem is able to evoke the same visualizations and emotions across a large section of the population thereby elevating the level of “human-ness” in the society. Similarly new concepts developed and scientific progress made elevate the society to a higher standard of living. But is the language inherently strong enough so that it can adapt to the changing cultures due to technology and yet maintain the existing identity of the society?

Let us see what we mean by some of our basic words, like “leaf” and “demand”. What do you mean by the word, leaf? In botany, a leaf is an above-ground plant organ specialized for photosynthesis. A stem is elongated structure that supports a plant. So does a cactus have leaves or stems? It is not quite so easy to answer as it appears. Similarly let us try to define the word demand. Frequently understood as a requirement, it has a desire aspect attached to it as well. While the calorie intake required per head may be 2000 calories a day, it does not quantify demand as the demand may be for only 1500 calories or 3000 calories a day depending on lifestyle. The synonyms may help explain meanings, but may end up distorting the meaning as well. Even the basic words are not very cooperative for us to develop higher concepts.

What about the scripts that let us express and share our knowledge? Let us take pictographic scripts for example. They may capture an idea in more complete manner and brief manner, but it faces issues of scale. Scientific advancement will flood the language with new symbols so much that a prowess in language becomes essential for the further progress of technology. Moreover the language is phonetically unclear for everyone and dictionary lookup becomes essential for the intelligentsia. A visualization of a symbol as a picture might undergo changes as the knowledge base expands.

The Chinese (Mandarin) script has over 50,000 symbols of which 10% may be in common use. How much of society and science can be captured in just 5000 symbols? Remember that these symbols are not alphabets but words. To read the names of all elements and compounds in that humanity is aware of, we just need to know 26 alphabets in English. But to do the same in Chinese would require knowledge of not only the symbols for “element” and “compound” but also of each of the 108+ elements. This is a very intuitive understanding of a pictographic language. It is a limited language indeed.

Let us come to the alphabetic languages like English and German. Starting with English, we see that it is predominantly male-focused language. Man represents humans and it is the responsibility of the “white-man” to take civilization forward. The language represents a one-god, no goddess faith system that puts conquest above all rest. Germans on the other hand have a precise language where appointments are fixed in a 24hour time format to avoid confusion. The focus is more on the verb than on gender of the noun. Their nation is their “fatherland” indicating that a sense of pride, power and ambition is central to the collective psyche that coordinates its actions through mathematical “precision” of its language.

There is an Indic set of alphabetic languages represented by Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi and Bengali. Each of them captures the Indian essence equally but each has specific characteristics that make them unique. Their differentiating is the separation of consonants and vowels. Among the four above, only Bengali is gender-neutral like German. Bengali borrows consonants in its script from Sanskrit and vowels from Tamil. Tamil keeps the essence of South India alive whereas Hindi shows how Arabic language influences on Sanskrit have been “Indianised”. But Sanskrit being the mother language of all, has an elegance and beauty that echoes the fundamental characteristics of nature.

This brings us to the central point of this article. Not only should the language be flexible enough to adapt to progress in science and technology but it should also mirror nature’s characteristics in its fundamental structure. The concept of a two i.e. a pair is a fundamental truth of nature. The pairs may be opposing, like proton and electron, good and bad, or may co-exist like two strands of DNA, male and female. This fundamental truth should be allowed to reflect itself as a separate concept in the grammar. Among all known languages, only Sanskrit adds a dual to singular and plural forms in the language. This is of monumental importance. Between one and many, us and them, there is a form that exists called both or together. From conflict we have a state of equilibrium in between. So the Sanskrit based Hindu civilizations did not expand by military conquest, but by including and bringing together cultures of varying geographies.

It has always been out endeavor to capture the knowledge inherent in nature. We know that nature expresses itself in mathematics. Many scientists are of the opinion that a breakthrough in science awaits a revolution in our understanding of mathematics. Maybe that understanding of mathematics is hindered by “sub-standard” languages that restrain our thoughts from infancy. We can start bringing about the change by incorporating the “dual” of Sanskrit and then proceeding to incorporate words with specific meanings and lesser stress on synonyms. A scientific grammar will help science. And maybe as time progresses, we may or may not have a language that is gender-neutral.

~ 3-Jan-2011

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This too shall pass away

Once in Persia reigned a King,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance,
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they;
"Even this shall pass away."

Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarcand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these;
But he counted not his gain,
Treasures of mine or main;
"What is wealth?" the king would say;
"Even this shall pass away."

Mid the revels of his court,
At the zenith of his sport,
When the palms of all his guests,
Burned with clapping at his jests,
He, amid his figs and wine;
Cried, 'O loving friends of mine;
Pleasures come, but not to stay;
"Even this shall pass away"

Lady, fairest ever seen,
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on his marriage bed,
Softly to his soul he said:
Though no bridegroom ever passed;
Fairer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay-
"Even this shall pass away"

Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers, with a loud lament,
Bore him bleeding to his tent.
Groaning from his tortured side,
"Pain is hard to bear," he cried;
"But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away.

Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his statue carved in stone.
Then the king, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly: "What is fame?"
Fame is but a slow decay;
Even this shall pass away.

Struck with palsy, sore and old,
Waiting at the Gates of Gold,
Said he with his dying breath,
"Life is done, but what is death?"
Then, in answer to the king,
Fell a sun beam on his ring,
"Even this shall pass away."

~ Theodore Tilton