Monday, April 27, 2009

Evolution of Sikhism over 500 years

Act one, by Mr Nanak Bedi (better known as Guru Nanak Dev), circa 1500 AD:
At Mecca, Nanak was found sleeping with his feet towards the Kaaba, before which the Muslims prostrated themselves when performing their prayer. Kazi Rukan-ud-din, who observed this, angrily remarked: "Infidel! How dare you dishonour God’s place by turning your feet towards Him?" He also kicked Nanak. The Guru did not show any anger. In fact, he was never angry with anybody. He smiled at Jiwan. In a calm, sweet voice he said to him, "Brother, don’t be angry. I am very tired. I need rest. I respect the House of God as much as any one. Please turn my feet in a direction in which God or the House of God is not."

The Qazi took hold of the Guru’s feet. He dragged them in the opposite direction. Then he lifted his eyes. He saw the Kaaba standing in the direction of the Guru’s feet. He turned the Guru’s feet in another direction. The Kaaba was seen standing in that direction. Qazi dragged the Guru’s feet to this side and that. He dragged them round and round. The Kaaba was seen to be going round and round. It was always, in the direction of the Guru’s feet. His feet were always towards the Kaaba. The Qazi was struck with wonder. He then recognised the glory of Guru Nanak.

Kazi Rukan-ud-di and the other hajjis were all filled with wonder. Jiwan let go of the Guru’s feet. The Guru got up and said, ‘Don’t you see that God’s House is in every direction? I tell you He dwells in every place, in every heart. He is in your hearts. He is also in mine.’ (Sikhwiki)

Interlude: Sikh religion is established based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors.

Act two, by Mr Rajeev Kumar, 2009 AD:
A youth forcibly occupied the “holy peehra” (small cot), meant for the installation of Guru Granth Sahib, in the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple in the wee hours today.

The incident occurred at 3 am. The youth, identified as Rajeev Kumar (21), a kesadhari, was seriously injured following thrashing by SGPC’s task force, radical Sikhs and sangat following the incident. (The Tribune)

"It's an unfortunate incident," SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar said. "The man appears to be mentally challenged. We'll tighten the security to prevent a repeat of this incident." (The Times of India)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

On Cuteness

How many more Mississippi rivers shall we review in the quest for a freedom from the human condition?

From the Wikipedia article on Cuteness:
Cuteness is usually characterized by (though not limited to) some combination of infant-like physical traits, especially small body size with a disproportionately large head, large eyes, a pleasantly fair, though not necessarily small nose, dimples, and round and softer body features. Infantile personality traits, such as playfulness, fragility, helplessness, curiosity, innocence, affectionate behavior and a need to be nurtured are also generally considered cute.

Konrad Lorenz argued in 1949 that infantile features triggered nurturing responses in adults and that this was an evolutionary adaptation which helped ensure that adults cared for their children, ultimately securing the survival of the species. As evidence, Lorenz noted that humans react more positively to animals that resemble infants—with big eyes, big heads, shortened noses, etc.—than to animals that do not.

That is, humans prefer animals which exhibit pedomorphosis. Pedomorphosis is the retention of child-like characteristics—such as big heads or large eyes—into adulthood. Thus, pedomorphosis and cuteness may explain the popularity of Giant Pandas and Koalas. The widely perceived cuteness of domesticated animals, such as dogs and cats, may be due to the fact that humans selectively breed their pets for infant-like characteristics, including non-aggressive behavior and child-like appearance.

Some later scientific studies have provided further evidence for Lorenz's theory. For example, it has been shown that human adults react positively to infants who are stereotypically cute. Studies have also shown that responses to cuteness—and to facial attractiveness generally—seem to be similar across and within cultures.
I must add that I consider no river unworthy of a second look, of a more informed look, or of a more examined look. The above video's naughtiness and delight did not diminish for me because of my knowledge and awareness of the cuteness triggers. There is something else which happens (or rather, eventuates) as we grow up, in addition to our accumulation of knowledge, which is responsible for our jadedness, and which makes us bored, depressed and alienated.

Knowledge is not the curse which prevents innocence, as the Bible claims. Ignorance coexists with a blithesome naivete in a child, but to assume one causes the other is unjustified.

Testing Intense Debate comments system, please ignore...

Test post, please ignore.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The External Senses in a Human Being

As a human being, one experiences life as sensate experiences (the outer world, for convenience) and as mental experiences (the inner world, for convenience). Certain experiences are sensate but within the body (for example: positional awareness, a pain in the abdomen, fluttering of the heart, the rush of blood); these experiences can be considered as internal experiences.

In this article, I will make a few comments on the external sense organs. Through these organs, we get information about the outside world. We have the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, and the skin which provide us various kinds of information.

The eyes are sensitive to EM radiation within a certain bandwidth. The ears are sensitive to matter waves within a certain bandwidth. The nose and the tongue have receptors which respond to certain chemicals. The skin is sensitive to tactile stimulation and to temperature.

The eyes are the most powerful of the sense organs because of many reasons:
  • Their informational bandwidth capacity ("a picture is worth a thousand words", etc.)
  • Their ability to provide information at vast distances ("the stars")
  • Their speed of the signalling (light is the fastest of all known signalling systems)
  • The perspective switching capacity ("avert the sight", "get a different view", "close your eyes", etc.). This switching capacity is absent in other senses. The ears can be plugged to all input, but cannot be operated to filter out certain inputs (Noise Canceling headphones facilitate that!)
We are primarily visual creatures. Our dreams and hallucinations (i.e. our self-generated imaginary sensual experiences) are primarily visual phenomena. The very word "imagination" has the word "image" as its root.

The ears are next, since they can also receive information at a distance. I find that our emotions are more deeply linked with aural input than with visual input, though I am unable to delve deeper into it at the moment.

Music can easily create a mood. And our thinking and intellection is closer to being aural than to any other sense. We "hear" our thoughts in our minds. It is also interesting to note that aural silence (for example in a deep forest, or in a meditation room) can lead to a temporary inner silence which is very rejuvenating. "Silence" is frequently talked about in spiritual circles as a very significant means and as a significant end (it is considered a peaceful state). Visual silence (an oxymoron, but I mean: closed eyes) is not that powerfully capable of inducing an inner state of peace and stillness, even temporarily, unless it be accompanied by aural silence.

The nose and the tongue are both chemical senses (though the tongue is very sensitive as a tactile organ as well). Of the two, the nose is much more sensitive than the tongue and the sense of smell much more significant than that of taste. The sense of smell can operate at a distance, through a gaseous medium, whereas the sense of taste cannot. These senses are the most closely tied to food and nutrition. Due to this important function, the strongest likes and dislikes are in these two senses. Blind nature has equipped us with an in-built discriminatory system so that we don't end up poisoning ourselves, and that we know what is nourishing. This discrimination is not perfect and flawless, but it works pretty well as an approximation. Food which smells and tastes "good" is usually nourishing and energy-rich.

"Sweetness" and "bitterness" is our response to a foodstuff. It is similar to a painting being beautiful or ugly. The object itself is not sweet or bitter or beautiful or ugly. Our chemical receptors, when they interact with a food which has a high glycemic index, send green signals, so to speak, to our brains. These green signals are what we experience as "sweetness" in the foodstuff.

More details, for a layperson, here. The relevant excerpt is:
When sugars come into contact with the tongue, they bind to a sweet taste receptor proteins that trigger a cascade of biochemical sweetness signals to the brain
These two are the most primitive senses, and a human infant is extremely sensitive to chemical inputs through these sense organs right from its birth. Some biologists claim, rightly I think, that the imprinting on an infant of its mother happens through the sense of smell.

The skin responds to tactile and thermal inputs. This sense organ is the largest in its surface area in human beings and comfort is therefore primarily linked with comfort for the skin. The other external sense organs are located in the facial region. "Sensuality", and especially sexual pleasure, is most closely associated with tactile pleasure (though in sex, all sense organs are involved to some extent). The skin has different concentrations of nerve endings, and different kinds of nerve endings, in various parts of the body and hence tactile stimulation of those different parts lead to sensations varying in quality and amplitude.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Writing and Intellect

I initially discovered and acknowledged this idea while reading Evolutionary Psychology - A Beginner's Guide by Robin Dunbar, et al. It is a profound insight, and sheds a great deal of light on why writing is so hard, and why people are generally disinclined to write about an issue rather; they find it easier to talk about it.

In essence, writing requires a far greater degree of consideration of others, and how the words will be perceived and interpreted, than speaking, which is usually spontaneous and can bear a quick correction if there be a mistaken impression.

This idea is not central to the whole book. The book is actually about various aspects of our brain and our mind, and while talking about the development of intentionality in children, the authors touch upon writing. Fictional writing, according to the writers, is a hugely demanding task since in addition to calculating how the reader will perceive the writing, now there are various intentional characters in the writing itself who have to respond to each other (within the fiction), and who have to be understood by the reader.

Writing intended for the public needs to stand on its merits for many months and years. If the writing be self-serving (e.g. a journal, or a diary) it is generally not that good (though it can serve a therapeutic and clarifying purpose). When one writes for the general public, one has to gauge their comprehension abilities, their understanding of certain concepts and cultural artifacts. When one is trying to write for a broad audience, the effort is likewise harder and the writing has to be even more self-sufficient, without a cultural bias.

The skill in writing is therefore directly linked with an intelligence which can gauge others' objections in one's intellect and preempt them while writing. It is therefore directly linked with a sophisticated apparatus for estimating how humans perceive other humans and their words. It is not for nothing that great dialogues require the greatest minds. Plato's dialogues, the written dialogues of Leibniz with Clarke, and in general, the tradition of written debate requires a degree of intelligence which is not all that common. Most of us want to say our piece and quit the scene.

I find the written tradition and the tradition for dialogue much more evolved, advanced and sophisticated in the west, whereas in India (and other Asian countries), the oral tradition and authoritarian writing (brooking no dialogue) is more common.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Philosophical problems with The Big Bang model

The universe is all that is. The concept of multiple parallel universes (multiverses) is merely a theoretical construct without any counterpart in reality as experienced by human beings (by definition).

Starting from simple observations, without theorizing or modeling for now, the universe is a very vast expanse of space, with stars and galaxies and other forms of matter as far as the aided eye can see. The universe also manifests movement of matter (heat, energy, momentum), and the effects of various force fields (e.g. electromagnetic and gravitational). And all this implicitly assumes Time, the so-called fourth dimension in which events happen, and in which causality is seen as self-evident and fundamental.

Time and Causality imply a history, and a future. The topic that I want to briefly, and philosophically, address in this article is the history of the universe itself, rather than of any particular object in the universe. That is, to try to understand whether the universe is infinite and eternal, or finite and having a beginning, or any other combination.

The most popular model of the universe at present is the Big Bang Model, which has the following fundamental tenets:
  • The universe, with its properties, space and time and the physical laws, had a beginning, known as the singularity.

  • It is finite, and has been “expanding” since that singular beginning.
My aim in this article is to philosophically, and in a common sense way, analyze the implications of these tenets.

Let us consider the first proposition, that the universe had a beginning. The obvious questions are: How come it began? What caused its birth? Where was the cause located if not in the universe, etc.

Now, let us assume the universe had a causative factor. In which case the factor was existent, and since all existence is collectively known as the “universe”, to say that the factor “caused” the universe (i.e., that the factor was distinct from the universe) is to confuse the meaning of the word “universe”, by understating its overarching reach. The factor, by definition of the word “universe” (all that is), is within the universe. This is the first problem, P1.

The second problem, P2, is with the very notion of “beginning”. The Big Bang model ventures into the fantastical realm when it claims that Time itself had a beginning at the event of the Big Bang. Now this presents a quandary similar to that in P1. The notion of “beginning” presupposes Time. To say that “Time” had a beginning, is to consider “Time” as an event, as for example, that the horse race had a beginning. Sensibly speaking, Time is not itself an event; it is the very dimension (the fourth dimension in Minkowski Space) in which events happen. You cannot sensibly plot "Time" itself as an event on a space-time diagram.

The above two are formidable problems with the Big Bang model. Some scientists and philosophers do seem to be grappling, quite ineffectually, with these.

The third problem, P3, is with the notion of cause itself. If time and “physical laws” (whatever they may be) were non-existent, then this preempts any question of causation of the universe. Then we might as well throw up our hands and leave, because by definition no explanation is possible for an event when causality, time, laws all were absent.

The next problem, P4, is with the notion of space itself expanding. This suffers from a confusion of language as well. Space is where expansion happens. How can space itself expand? What is it expanding into, in that case? How can matter receding from some other forms of matter (cf. the red shift) imply that the space in which everything is “expanding” (whatever that means)? All one can imply is that, assuming the red shift and other measurements are correctly indicative of matter’s movement, the distribution of matter seems to be getting sparser in the pervasive volume of space, in other words, that there is “intrinsic expansion”. To make the leap that this “intrinsic expansion” is “extrinsic” is completely bogus and theoretically unsound. I was happy to note that some scientists, at least, agree with me about this problem.
The prevailing view is that of Chodorowski: "unlike the expansion of the cosmic substratum, the expansion of space is unobservable". (Wikipedia article on Metric Expansion of Space)
I would go further and say that not only is this unobservable in practice, it is in principle unobservable and is philosophically and logically contradictory.

The last problem, P5, is not really a problem, but a rather conceptual meditation on the very definition of eternity and infinity, in time and space respectively. In my understanding, infinity can never be observed in the physical realm, it can only be thought about. What one can experience is always finite and limited. Even in thought, the notion of infinity comes primarily from mathematics (for example the aleph-0 and aleph-1 infinities). Eternity, likewise, is a conception (or a deduction) which is in principle not an experiential possibility.

If the Big Bang model presumes a beginning to Time, and a limit to Space (both contradictory concepts to begin with, but let’s play along for a while), it can still be argued that the universe is eternal and infinite. This is because now the notion of eternity can only mean: earlier than any time, i.e. as long as Time has been (sic). And, similarly, the notion of infinity in space can only mean: further than any distance, i.e., as far as space exists (sic). Considering especially the notion of “curved space”, it can be contemplated that infinite space is consistent with a “bounded universe” because now the notion of distance itself has been subverted. Or rather, twisted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Humility

Humility can mean various things:
  • Considering that, and behaving as if, one is not essentially superior or better than others: Expertise, skill, knowledge, intelligence can all have degrees of accomplishment. But to claim that one’s self is somehow “better” because of a certain accomplishment is generally not taken well. And as it is true that all “selves” are capable of both good and bad, to consider oneself as if “one’s shit don’t smell” is therefore justly seen as arrogance. And hence, humility in this form is seen as the opposite of arrogance, and hence, a good and pleasant thing.

    The only superiority worth its name is if one demonstrably lives a greater percentage of one’s time being happy and benign. And even then, making this claim is usually superfluous; one’s very life is the claim.

  • Understating one’s achievements, not claiming credit, and self-effacement: This is generally done to not even allow the possibility of any impression of arrogance. This keeps the others in good humor and well-disposed. People are not very happy to be around a person who is somehow better than them, or more fortunate, or has certain achievements to his/her credit (unless they be identified with him/her, in which case the pride can be shared).

  • Being open to the possibility of being wrong: To be open to the possibility of being wrong about an opinion is the mark of maturity, but to qualify even factual perceptions and logical implications as “probably mistaken” is an indication of a personality which seeks to avoid a conflict, disagreement or debate at any cost.

  • Feeling small in the face of something much bigger: Now this is a heart-felt emotion, frequently felt while contemplating nature and the universe, and is a spiritual quality of being, which in intense forms can lead to a temporary ego-less state.
By the way, humility is the flip-side of pride. Have you ever noticed that you cannot but help feel proud of your humility?

Revolutionary Road by Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes has dealt with alienation in two of his previous films: American Beauty and Jarhead. While in American Beauty he presented a somewhat smug and cynical protagonist whose tongue dripped irony in every other sentence, in Jarhead the main character was young and hopeful, and his outrage developed slowly (even though the way he sees himself finding fulfillment is to exercise his skill in using his weapon).

In Revolutionary Road the director once again ventures into suburbia. In adapting the acclaimed novel of the same name by Richard Yates, this time he lets a couple of cliches ("hopeless emptiness") define the problem, rather than develop the theme. The jump from romanticism to cynicism is not mediated by realism. It is not as if Frank Wheeler despairs when he works in his office. It is that he starts his day with a mood of despair. I am not denying that this is how most people live their lives (Thoreau said it thus: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation ... A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. "), what I wanted to see was if the author had any answers to why this alienation exists, and what can end it. He seemingly doesn't.

Frank and his wife, April, decide to make a fresh start in their lives, and that seems to give them hope. However, the important question (for me) is: will the fresh start not rot eventually into the same ennui and dismay? Does not wanting to change the city in which one works, in order to find fulfilment, doomed to tragic failure unless one understands the causation of the unfulfilment? Is a shift from cynicism back to naivete and romanticism enough? Or is that just the beginning? If Paris is indeed such a mecca of happiness, one should have asked Mr and Ms Wheeler, are all Parisians fulfilled and content?

The film has outstanding performances by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. And as this review points out, it is ironical to see these two actors, who also played the romantic leads in Titanic, now trying to keep afloat in a different sense.

Some of the most terrific scenes are those in which the inner emptiness of the characters is brushed aside by them with words, acts and manners.

An explanation of the title, from the author himself (from the Wikipedia article):
"I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witchhunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that — felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit — and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler. I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fifties."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Atheist Spirituality

Sam Harris, one of the major figures in the worldwide atheist movement, is the author of "The End of Faith" and of "Letter to a Christian Nation".

His words vindicate my assertion that atheists and theists alike are heart-driven (aka spiritual) at their core, and that they, deep down, hold the sublime feelings of beauty, love, humility as the highest values in humanity.

"There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life." (The End of Faith)

"Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of faith." (The End of Faith)

"Finally, Harris turns to spirituality where he takes his inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, arguing that as far as Western spirituality is concerned, "we appear to have been standing on the shoulders of dwarfs." He discusses the nature of consciousness, and how our sense of "self" can be made to vanish by employing the techniques of meditation. To support his claims, Harris quotes from Eastern mystics such as Padmasambhava, but he does not admit any supernatural element into his argument – "mysticism is a rational enterprise," he says, "religion is not." He states that it is possible for one's experience of the world to be "radically transformed", but that we must speak about the possibility in "rational terms"." (Wikipedia article on "The End of Faith")

"Harris wishes to recapture spirituality for the domain of human reason. He draws inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, in particular that of meditation, as described principally by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners." (Wikipedia article on Sam Harris)

"The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil's masterpiece." (The End of Faith)


Richard Dawkins doesn't fare much better. He seconds Einstein's statement about being a "deeply religious non-believer":

"I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Three Spiritualists, Three Quotes

1. "It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance." (Dalai Lama)

Indeed! One needs a hated person to practice tolerance. But what if there were no hate to begin with? One needs an enemy to practice compassion. What if there was no hostility in oneself to begin with? One needs a hurting person to practice forgiveness. What if it was impossible for one to be hurt? One needs to feel another's sorrow to practice empathy. What if it was impossible for one to feel sorrow?

2. "Immature love says: 'I love you because I need you.' Mature love says: 'I need you because I love you." (Mahatma Gandhi)

Indeed! And the maturest love (aka Enlightenment) is: "The world needs Me as I am Love."

3. "The Lord, however, is beyond all natural laws - is not under any rules and regulations, or just as Sri Ramakrishna used to say, He has the child's nature - and that's why we find some failing to get any response even after calling on him for millions of births, while some one else whom we regard as a sinful or penitent man, or a disbeliever, would have Illumination in a flash. On the latter the Lord perhaps lavishes His grace quite unsolicited! You may argue that this man had good merits stored up from previous life, but the mystery is really difficult to understand." (Swami Vivekananda)

Indeed! The mystery is not just difficult to understand, it is impossible to understand.

On Judgment

People don't like being judged. And "judgmental" people are not exactly good company, for most of us.

What is meant by judging someone? Why is judgment unpleasant? Why are judgmental people unpleasant to be with?

To judge someone can mean various things:
  1. To observe something in a person, and express that observation. These judgments look like: "You are an expert in computers", "You don't know much about Australian history", "You look ill", "You are generally late", etc.

  2. To form and express one's response/opinion to an observation of another person, confining it to the observation. These judgments look like: "Your expertise in computers is great", "Your ignorance about Australian history is abominable", "It is distressing to see you ill", "your punctuality is not stellar, to put it mildly", etc. These responses/opinions are based on one's background and values, or the expressed values of the one being judged. These judgments can also be made via intonation and body language instead of by using an additional adjective. That is, one can, with a distressed tone, state "You are not on time."

  3. To implicate motives and intention to an observation. These judgments look like: "You are cruel to say something like that" "It is arrogant the way you show your expertise in computers", "You wanted to see how I would react, so you are late", "You are lazy, that's why you are jobless".

  4. To form and express one's response/opinion to an observation of another person, extrapolating it to the whole person. These judgments look like: "Only a sick person would think like that", "That young man is disrespectful and arrogant, only then could he have made a statement like that", "She is a total fool if she wants to marry him".
It is easily seen that categories (3) and (4) say more about the person making the judgment than the judged. In category (3), it is sensible to politely ask ("How come you are late?") instead of assuming the reason. If the expressed reason is found to be a lie, then again, if no other information is present, it is sensible to ask: "Why did you have to lie about it?", etc. Only if one is extremely familiar with the other person can such a judgment be even remotely plausible. But even then, caution is advisable. As human beings, we have built-in intention-guessing circuits. But more often than not, we guess intentions based on our own moods, not on objective information.

Category (4) is an extreme version of category (3), and is just silly, since the whole person has been painted black with a definitive statement, without giving the other a chance to explain the particular observation. Such judgments are better called vilifications.

For mere observations (and by implication, for all categories of judgments), the following is extremely pertinent:
  1. Does it concern the other person? Or is the person being intrusive? For example, a distant relative might observe and express that one is still single. Or someone might comment on one's bulging waist. Such observations are intrusive ones, even if one is not signaling disapproval. Intrusive observations are usually negative, and are unwelcome because, other than they being bad manners, they are a subtle form of control, and because there is a subtle demand for explanation and defense. Intrusive observations can also be compliments ("What a nice pair of balls!"), and are no more welcome unless there be a degree of familiarity with the person, since otherwise it is just impertinence.

  2. Is the particular observation accurate ("You have not completed your homework"), or is the generalization ("You are always late") justified? An inaccurate observation will naturally sought to be corrected by the receiver. However, if the observation is tinged with hostility or dislike, making it category (2), the receiver can feel miffed at having to explain why it is invalid.
We are now left with category (2) judgments. This is what irks the vast majority of humankind.

In this category, what leads to unpleasantness is the implicit value system of the judge, which may not be shared by the one being judged. For example, a husband may say to his wife: "It is silly of you to spend 3-4 hours everyday listening to music, when you should be socializing." Now, assuming the observation about the wife's daily routine is accurate, the wife will not like the judgment because she doesn't agree with the value the husband is placing on socializing. This is a blatant form of control (as contrasted with a subtle one in making an intrusive negative category (1) observation). This is the judge seeking to impose one's values on others.

People who routinely make category (2) judgments are therefore seen as controllers, and if their values be at odds with one's own values, they are not pleasant company. One has to constantly explain and excuse oneself so as to make them feel comfortable, which is an overhead that only a very loyal friend or family member may be willing to undertake. Other people will just stay away in droves.

Moreover, such people are generally self-righteous, i.e., they defend their value systems as being true, moral and good. They are also routinely hypocritical in their own lives, and are unable to live up to their own values which they too easily prescribe for others. Though hypocrisy is no reason to doubt the observation or even the validity of the value system. A drug-addict saying "Taking drugs is a bad habit" is making a valid statement.

On the other hand, if the value system is shared (the wife has expressed a wish for socialization herself), to decry the judgment ("I will take care of my socialization, you mind your own business") is not consistent behavior (notwithstanding any "fuck off" tone in the words). After all, the purpose of sharing one's values with someone is to enable judgment of how one follows those values oneself. To share one's values, and then ask someone to not judge is therefore to seek a license for inconsistency in one's behavior and one's values.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Videsh by Deepa Mehta

There are two accomplishments in this film: the tangible mood of dread (Mulholland Drive seems to be the inspiration in at least one scene), and the nuanced realism of the Canadian Punjabi environment.

And there are the following drawbacks: Black and white characters, ludicrous denouement, tacked on immigrant theme (whereas much of the bride's suffering could as well be in an average urban household in Punjab), stone-faced actors, jarringly juxtaposed lyricism and visual shifts, laughable surreality (the Sita scene and, later, the halo around Chand and a principle character takes the take), inexplicable digressions (what was the teeth in the toilet bit all about? what about the initial coke and beer bit?), and so on.

And I have a major issue with the film: Notwithstanding the domestic violence in immigrant and domestic Indian households, this film will scare the potential immigrants more than is justified. It is an unreasonably biased look. And instead of offering solutions and resolutions in the space where the problem exists, the victim flies back to her home to her mother? Look ma, no problem!

Praise and Insult

Have you noticed that if someone praises you, there is always this embarrassing feeling that you don’t deserve it? A feeling that you are not as good as they think you are?

Have you also noticed that if someone insults or castigates you, there is always this reactive feeling of being unfairly, unjustly, callously dealt with? A feeling that you are not all that bad as you are being made out to be, and that the other has no right to say what they are saying?

These are the symptoms of the inner “I” for anyone who cares to observe. Do you have similar responses?

Praise is for “me” but I know that “I” am rotten at the core, and hence am not deserving of so much praise for this incidental achievement. After all, I know about my dark side, which I hide very successfully.

As for insults, “I” am being called for who “I” am, but I also know that the “other” is also a rotten being, so how dare the pot call the kettle black? "Doesn’t he/she think I know? And moreover, how come he doesn't acknowledge my good side? I am basically good, am I not? and I deserve to exist, to feel good about myself, and be respected!"

It may happen that a person is so deluded and “enlightened” that he is very successful at hiding his dark side from himself, whereas others can see it in plain action. In that case, praise and adulation is no problem. Insult still is a problem, usually, which should give one pause.

And it may happen that someone may feel so inferior and inadequate that any castigation or admonition is taken as another confirmation of one’s low opinion of oneself.

Both these responses are pathological. For a normal person, praise and insult both are uncomfortable situations.

It is however, possible for one to let praise and insults pass completely by, without reaction (or with minimal reaction), if one is no longer living as a psychic entity (or if one is attentive).

On Fulfillment

From the dawn of sentience, humans have tried to free themselves, and those for whom they care, from suffering. The history of humanity is also a history of the various attempted solutions to this broad problem.

Suffering can be due to various causes and unfulfilled needs or desires. As a human being, one has various categories of problems. The body can present its problems, care of the body and of one’s dependents can be troublesome, maintaining relationships can be challenging, earning a livelihood can be stressful, finding fulfillment can be elusive, and so on. Those needs and desires can be categorized, as per Abraham Maslow, into a hierarchy:

Physiological: Breathing, Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing, Health.

Safety: Security of having enough resources, security of body, family and property, security of livelihood.

Love/Belonging: Friendship, family, community, sexual intimacy.

Esteem: Respect in society, self-esteem, confidence.

Self-Actualization: Creativity, living a moral life.

There are at least two important questions about the above conception of human needs and desires:

1. Is it worthwhile for a person to advance from one level of needs to another, and be unsatisfied there instead of here?

2. Is it possible to be a fulfilled human being in toto?

Both are extremely important questions, and are also related to each other. If there is no ultimate fulfillment, then why not be unfulfilled here and now, rather than there and then? Why even try?

My answers to the two questions are:

Those who are struggling with the first two categories of needs (the physiological needs) usually do not worry much about the psychological ones. And since one sees no end to psychological suffering, and doesn't see anyone fulfilled, it is easy to conclude that psychological fulfillment is all bunkum. But that is no commendation for physiological struggle, in which one is lives and dies more or less a primitive mammal.

The progress of science, of economic systems, and of social institutions is eminently worthwhile insofar as it seeks to provide the greatest number of human beings with a reasonable level of fulfillment of the first two categories of needs. By a “reasonable level” I mean providing a level of satisfaction, security and health which leaves a person with the possibility of at least 6 hours of wakeful leisure everyday. A person may still choose to work overtime, or generally undertake compulsive activities in that leisure time (e.g. watch television) but those choices are not then enforced by outside agencies or circumstances. And I assume that the person will not be too tired after work to spend time on other activities. I also assume that caring for dependents and for the family are required activities and are part of work. “6 hours” may seem an arbitrary duration, and maybe 4, or 2, hours will do. But the point is the existence of leisure time.

The other three categories are those of psychological needs and, according to me, can never be completely fulfilled. These are desires, which can be somewhat satisfied, but never completely satiated. One can have occasional peak experiences in each of these categories, but these experiences do not fulfill one for all time. A human being dies unfulfilled if he seeks ultimate fulfillment in these realms. There is no “true love” which lasts forever, there is no societal respect which is permanent and free of fragility, there is no self-esteem which is not beset with doubts, and there is no morality which is completely livable 24x7x375.

The desires for love, for respect, for self-esteem and for being moral are desires which have an elusive “being”, a lonely psychological entity, at their foundation. “You” can not be fulfilled. “You” are forever destined to be unfulfilled. But fulfillment is possible if “you” cease to be.

That peak experience, that experience of perfection, does not require either love, or others’ respect, or being creative and moral. That peak experience is available to all, irrespective of their background. Being healthy and being safe in one’s person and property is required for one to feel at ease, and feeling at ease can lead to feeling happy and content, which can precipitate such a peak experience of perfection. To chase love, beauty, and morality is a hindrance to that peak experience because in these one is ever unfulfilled and striving, and moreover, since the feelings of love and beauty and morality keep “me” in action.

That peak experience can enable something far better than love and belongingness, something far better than beauty, and something far better than a conscientious morality.

(The Sombrero Galaxy, image courtesy

It is therefore worthwhile to enable the fulfillment of the first two categories of needs for oneself, and for others. And needless to say, it is worthwhile to experience perfection, and to share one’s experiences and findings in what enables this experience, and what prevents it from happening.