Monday, March 08, 2010

Nature and Man

Of course a human being is a biological creature, and subject to the "laws" of nature.

So what is the "nature" versus "man" debate all about?

"Man" in this context is the neo-cortex, which at its efficacious best is structured thought, and the inventions of this neo-cortex (which in many cases improve its efficiency), such as planning, tools, scientific theories, technological inventions, computers, statistical modeling, and so on.

In brief: "Man" is Structured Thought, Tools to aid Structured Thought, and Applications of Structured Thought.

"Nature" is the complement (in set-theoretic terms) of "Man". It is the irrational, the evolutionary, the biological, the passionate, the intuitive, the physical, the "real", the starlight (as opposed to a tubelight), ... Whatever is there or has happened in the world without "Man" is "Nature".

"Nature" is evolutionary and continuous, with incremental changes over a long time. "Man" is revolutionary and discrete, with sudden big changes in a short span of time. "Nature" is reality, "Man" is its model. To change a model, and to apply a model, is far easier than to know or change reality. "Nature" is a billion things falling. "Man" is the theory of gravitation: one formula (at least in Newtonian Physics).

Once one man knows that the earth is round, this change in "Man" takes only a few hundred years to propagate and use, for all men. But the "roundness" of earth itself has evolved over billions of years.

"Nature" is a happening, "Man" is a knowing, and the knowledgeable using of that knowing.

The propagation of knowledge in "Man" is memetic. However, the memetic cannot easily penetrate the limbic, the genetic or the neurotic (that's the whole problem with morality, spirituality, self-help, therapy, value-education, etc.). Various pathways are proposed to tackle this divide, their efficacy is uncertain.

Those who see the damage to "Nature" done by "Man" (including the neurotic damage in man), cry for a return to "Nature", and they vehemently oppose knowledge, science, technology, planning, economics, etc. The more radical ones, and those who intuitively get the "point" that the perceived problem is not with the application, but with "Man", oppose the use of neo-cortex itself.

Read any radical spiritual text, and you will agree with me. Search for "mind is the enemy" and you get more than five million web pages as the result. The first ten pages give you a good idea.

Both "man" and "nature" can be cruel and heartless (an atomic bomb, an earthquake). Both can be justified (karma in this life, karma in the past life). Both can be accepted (life is a bitch, there is a higher peace). Both can be criticized (divinity/forgiveness, humanism). Both have their advocates, both have their enemies. Both advocates and enemies contain both "man" and "nature" in them but their allegiance to each varies.

When people say science and spirituality are at war, they think the problem is between a true thought and a false thought. No. The problem is between "Man" and his "Nature". If the belief of Christianity has evolved over 2000 years, it is more "Natural", widespread, deeper, emotionally and culturally hooked than Darwinism, and "Man" cannot expect to overturn this belief overnight. You think Darwinism, or some other piece of "Man" cannot turn into "Nature"? Think again. Buddhism at one point was "Man", now it is "Nature".

Will "Nature" ever be vanquished? Of course not. There will always be starlight. What will happen is that we will pretend "Nature" is no more. The arena will change. We will see our shaved chests, and believe in it. We won't even get to see starlight, only tubelights, or even better, neon lights. Haven't you noticed, the movies, the music are becoming more and more un-"natur"al? CGI in films and artificial sounds in the songs.

Did you notice that recently, human voices in songs are being modulated to sound more robotic (an example Hindi film song from 2008 is here). Another recent hit with modulated voices is here.

Welcome to Manhattan.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On Having Fun after Work

Hey white collar worker, what do you do for fun?

The foremost looked-forward-to fun for corporate workers - at all the firms I have worked till date - involves abuse of the body.

There must be a reason for this, and the reason is this:

For knowledge workers, during the week, the body is sedate while the mind is stressed, anxious and confused. During the weekend, the aim is to do the opposite: the body is abused in immersive and addictive fun, while the mind is thereby sedated.

What this does to health, both mental and physical, is anybody's guess.

Drinking, staying up till early hours of the morning, eating junk food, listening to and dancing to remixed bass-heavy loud music in a dark dingy expensive place (called a nightclub), smoking (cigarettes, cigars, chemical hookahs), sleeping during the day, ...

Can't they read a book? You must be kidding. The mental capacity has been exhausted during the week. And let us not even start about A.D.D. "I wanna unwind."

On Monday morning, the mind has been somewhat distracted for a while but it has to unpleasantly get back to work, while the body is shaking off the toxins and the effects of over-sleeping or under-sleeping. It's the worst time of the week for most.

Is it any wonder "Monday morning blues" is assuming epidemic proportions?

I can bet you that less than 1% of corporate workers in metro areas go to sleep before 11pm on any given day.

Someone who sleeps early, wakes up early, has a glass of milk (!) at breakfast, doesn't go to nightclubs, reads books, is soon an outcast, is not "fun" to be with. There is peer pressure to drink, to smoke, to stay up late, to dress nattily at a party and shake a leg at the remixed bass-heavy music. How many times will you say "No"? Do this a few times and you will not be welcome. And after a while, you as well wouldn't like to be known as a party pooper.

So two distinct groups are formed in white collar setups: the conservatives, and the "party hard" types. They usually don't mix much. The conservatives celebrate birthdays and anniversaries by cutting cakes, signing greeting cards, going to mainstream film screenings; whereas the "party hard" types are looking for happy hours, ladies' nights, free booze, drugs, places to crash, ...

Given that most knowledge workers don't stay with their families, there is little oversight of this self-abuse. I think parents would be concerned if they knew that their sensible son whom they wax eloquent about to their neighbors was puking on the dance floor and that their daughter who is the pride of the family was being groped at by drunk dancers who got into a fight with the bouncers, but they don't know, and nobody tells them.

And I also think this culture of "unwinding" and "hard partying" starts right in college for some, when for the first time they are separated from their families.

What do you think?

Friday, March 05, 2010

An Epitaph

I am pleased to note that the AFT website has attracted only a handful of followers/practitioners till date (the sincere ones, or the loony ones - depending on one's perspective - who are wanting to go all the way number in single digits after more than a decade of the website being in operation).

I am also pleased that of the first three so-called "actually free" people, two showed such poor consideration of others in their writings that their correspondence will continue to drive away most of who happen to come to the website. It is fortuitous indeed. If they were able to pretend being considerate in their writings, it would have been a greater effort for me or somebody else to successfully warn people of the danger of following them.

Given these two facts, at present I no longer consider it necessary to spend more of my time/writings on elucidating the pitfalls/dangers of Actualism.

I consider the contents of the website (which is mostly archived correspondence) to be a useful, if labyrinthine, addition to the annals of human endeavor. It can certainly teach you better skills in written argumentation. It can cure people of spirituality and metaphysics in some cases (e.g. the pages containing correspondence about Osho and J Krishnamurti are some of the most incisive analyses of these Gurus that are available anywhere). But it will, in the longer term, serve more as a stark lesson about the dangers of an obsessive pursuit to be superhuman.

To the mailing list members and practitioners: The sooner you come out of your desire to achieve a PCE/actual-freedom/virtual-freedom/in-control-virtual-freedom/out-of-control-virtual-freedom/different-way-of-being/etc. the better it is. There is obvious merit in being aware of one's reactions, in being attentive, and in questioning one's habit patterns, beliefs and passions, etc. and such questioning may lead to peak experiences, but beware of the actualist theology lurking in every corner of the website (infinitude, perfection, PCE, Actual Freedom, apperception, feelings-are-the-self). I can only warn.

To the so-called mutineers: If you are around, I would like to correspond with you, and share notes.

To the core members (R/P/V/Pa): I don't think I can reach you anymore where it would matter or make a difference. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

To the Directors of the Trust: Since you are so concerned about matters of propriety and legal prudence, I will point out to you (since it has probably not occurred to you yet) that nobody on the various mailing lists discussing Actualism etc. expressly transferred the copyright of their writings to you. To assume copyright over somebody else's writings (and especially somebody's writings on a public mailing list) is improper. The rather strict "Use Restrictions" at the bottom on your website are unenforceable for most of the webpages on your website since your copyright itself on most pages is a non-starter, having never been granted to you in the first place. You can legally claim copyright over what is written by other people only when that right has been granted to you. In the absence of any grant or claim by the writer(s) (whom you anonymize on your website but whose identity you have knowledge of), the writing is in the public domain. You may of course write to each one of the correspondents and obtain their permission to exercise your copyright over their writings, but till then, your restrictive notice has no legal standing.

I will not even begin to use words similar to the ones Richard used to rudely admonish a fellow human being who committed an inadvertent copyright impropriety, but I find it pertinent to mention that while he never received a single penny for his work, and never intended to, you have received monies for selling media containing, among other things, the text of the website over most of which you can not claim copyright.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Four Questions about Human Interaction

They are related. Comments and replies welcome.
  1. Why is talking on the cellphone while driving considered so dangerous, while talking to a fellow passenger is considered safe?
  2. Why are letter/email-driven love affairs, chat friendships, internet personals landscape such bad bets at finding a reasonably compatible mate?
  3. Why are people so rude on the road when driving when they are generally much more fair, considerate and polite while in a human queue?
  4. Why do flame wards erupt more easily in written communication than in face-to-face discussions?
And a final question only for those familiar with the history of Actualism: Assuming R/V interact with great sensitivity and consideration in person, why do they interact so sub-optimally while writing?

These are all loaded questions, but assuming they are describing the phenomena correctly, what do you think is the reason behind each phenomenon?


My answers are:

A1: Talking on a phone involves imagination/visualization of another's reactions, body language, face, etc. Since the visual is unavailable, we create the visual in our head. This imaginative overhead lessens our attention field and can cause accidents. You can do an experiment (not recommended on a busy or unknown road): While driving, talk to a person on your cellphone about a contentious issue and observe how the car almost drives on autopilot with a much reduced awareness of surroundings.

A2: The identity and its characteristics in such interactions is much more of an artifice than in face-to-face meetings. Since we have only the written word/voice, we imagine the other parts (beauty, body language, character, personality, smell, etc.) and since this is a love affair, we imagine things to be much better than they are in reality. It is an affair with a phantasm of our imagination, which breaks down when we finally start living with the person.

A3: In a queue, we see others as human beings. On the road, we see not human beings but cars and automobiles and bikes etc. We intellectually know that there is a human agent in the car, but this intellectual insight doesn't really go deep unless one makes special efforts. We are rude (by cutting a car off, by hair-lining a motorcycle, by honking at a truck) because in our brains, we are being rude to non-living objects and not to human beings. It requires a leap of imagination to be courteous on the road (we have to always remember that there is a human being inside, who may have specific reasons for driving as he is driving), which is too much effort, esp. in busy traffic.

A4: In the written medium, we can invent a better "me" than I am in reality. People who live with me know who I am. But my correspondents have only my words to go by, and therefore if I am good with words, I can be a great man in the virtual realm.

Through writing, I can invent a higher "me". I put my best into that, that is the best "me" I can imagine.

Now if that higher "me" is also seen to be less than worthy, i.e. if someone criticizes my writings or my works, I can go ape-shit.

And this is true of not just writing, but any article imbued with my identity. I remember the response of the Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who responded to a critique of one of his concert performances with words to this effect: How dare you criticize my music and my training, you can criticize my rendering of it, due to my old age, but how dare you critique the essence of what I was trying to play? (the really precious identity is in the ideal music that he was trying to play)

Moreover, in the written medium, one is hyper-sensitive about any perceived slight, since one's virtual identity is more vulnerable than one's real self, given that it has taken more effort at creating it and this identity is more public, and the display of its worth (or un-worth) is objectively out there.

Lastly, going ape-shit is safer online. Once the fight has started, one can rain virtual blows and not worry about consequences, since no physical harm can come off it. In the virtual world, it turns very ugly very quickly.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Two Anecdotes about Narcissists


Yesterday, a quite hep guy crashed his expensive automobile (a Skoda Superb) close to my place. At the speed he was going, he could have killed someone (including himself). He badly misjudged the turn and crashed against an electricity pole. He had a flat tire, and the front of his bonnet was smashed and badly damaged. However, the engine was fine. A group of people naturally gathered around the damaged vehicle and helped remove some rather large rocks from beneath the car so that it could move again.

Also, the flat tire was all ripped from the wheel and the rubber had to be pulled out to enable the car to move. As soon as the car was able to move, however, the hep guy drove off, with the flat tire still taking the weight of the car, without so much as a word spoken to the people who had helped get his car moving. It should be noted that people were being uniformly concerned, nobody was angry at the guy.

However, he looked ashamed. Not guilty for damaging what must be his dad's car, not apologetic at having potentially endangered someone's life, not thankful for the help he received, but ashamed. He was willing to get his car damaged further (driving with a flat tire) than to be present for a moment longer amongst people who saw his ineptitude and the hollowness of his "hepness".


To understand this anecdote, this contextual quote from an article about Narcissism is required:
The psychopath is utilitarian: I needed a burger, you had it, so I stabbed you in the throat. Whatever.

As bad as that sounds, here's the narcissist's discourse on the same crime: I needed a burger, you had it, so I stabbed you in the throat. But wait, that's not the whole story, listen, what I did was justified because...
A narcissist is so concerned about his/her noble persona that he cannot simply admit that he/she is callous or cruel or selfish or a smoker who is harming his own body or a net junkie or a... He/she has to endlessly defend himself to himself and to others in order to maintain his self image.

Now the "anecdote"...

Exhibit A:

RESPONDENT: There is something I am curious about Richard. You say that you are a flesh and blood body only which I agree with. I was wondering why you smoke when you know the facts about the harm that smoking does to the flesh and blood body?

Richard: And just what are the ‘facts’ that you are referring to? As far as I can ascertain there has never been a scientific study done – random sampling, control group, double-blind testing and so on – and that all the furore (sometimes reminiscent of a witch-hunt) depends upon somewhat skewed statistical evidence. I say ‘skewed’ because if I were to die tomorrow my death would be added to the statistics irregardless of the actual cause (in case you have not noticed that people no longer die of ‘old age’ anymore). Neither am I saying that smoking is good thing ... just that it is not as bad as it is made out to be. Incidentally, when tobacco was first introduced into Europe the Church demonised it (calling it the Devil’s Weed) just as the early coffee-houses were vilified.

I mention this because some 12-13 years ago I availed myself of the statistics published by various anti-smoking groups and did the necessary sums. The result showed that 1.2% of all smokers in any given year (at that time) died of what is called ‘smoking-related diseases’ ... which means that 98.8% did not. There is also some preliminary indications that only certain people are genetically prone to developing carcinomas from smoke inhalation ... rather than it be a blanket death warrant per se. For an example, Mr. Pablo Picasso (who smoked most of his life) died at a similar age to Mr. Jiddu Krishnamurti (who did not smoke at all).

I also say ‘witch-hunt’ (as in ‘scape-goat’) because there is some evidence that the internal combustion engine could very well be causing far more illnesses among people – estimates vary between 42-48% of what is called ‘green houses gases’ are coming from exhaust fumes – and yet car ownership is on the increase and I am yet to see obligatory ‘driving kills’ warnings affixed to all vehicles. Curiously enough, in the last hundred years or so the average life expectancy in the West has risen from 50-55 years of age to 75-80 years of age (speaking from memory).

I could go on and bring in examples of factoids masquerading as facts in other areas (the HIV-AIDS controversy, the cholesterol dispute, the monosodium glutamate debacle, the on again off again eggs/butter/sugar/etc. furphies) but maybe it will suffice to say that (a) I do not own or drive a car by choice ... and (b) I live in the country and not the city for obvious health reasons ... and (c) I am a teetotaller in all other respects (not even caffeine these days) ... and (d) I do not experience any stress or tension whatsoever (and I would hazard a guess that the last point is the most relevant point of all when it comes to a resilient immune-system).

Most of what I have written here is opinion-only, of course. (Richard, circa 2002)

Exhibit B:

Although I often not just jokingly say I would like to out-live the oldest-on-record human being ... a woman in France who died at 122 after a lifetime of wine, cigarettes and chocolate (Richard, circa 2009)

Exhibit C:

From Wikipedia:

Similarly, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco use as "the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide."

Monday, March 01, 2010

On Harm and Malice, redux

I had written about harmlessness earlier. This is a refinement and a revision (and in some ways even a contradiction) of that article. To be fair to myself, I am not entirely sure if I am going to be able to communicate my thoughts. Of late, my brain has become kind-of catatonic. It recognizes the complexity of even a simple question ("So are you a vegetarian?" or "Are you into meditation?") and a smile seems to be the best answer at times.

Anyway, here goes...

Human beings suffer and cause pain to each other in the game of survival, propagation and pleasure. This is usually unacceptable to sensitive minds. Various antidotes are proposed. Spirituality and self-help movements aim for inward peace and happiness for oneself, and love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion for others.

rightly recognizes that these feeling states are merely cover-ups. For example, forgiveness is needed precisely because one has been hurt and is vengeful. "Inward peace" needs to be sustained precisely because stress doesn't take effort, and because its beneficiary is an artificial, delimited illusion whose territorial law-and-order needs to be maintained (the end-goal of spirituality, enlightenment, leads to the territory of the "self" becoming completely disjunct from the real world).

Actualism aims at a state of genuine and effortless happiness and harmlessness in which there is no need of antidotal feeling states.

Let's focus on harmlessness in the context of this article.

According to actualists, and those who are actually free (and even myself in the past), harmlessness is to be defined as freedom from malice. If one is free from feelings of sorrow and malice (and thus, it is said, free from the human condition), it is claimed that this is the best that one can do for another person.

I do not agree any more.

And this is why:

This is but another form of narcissism. The behaviour and interaction of die-hard actualists follows the following maxim: "Since I don't wish anybody any harm, and since I actually care about you, if my behaviour is irksome or bothersome to you, it is "your" problem, and moreover, a stark manifestation of your rotten humanness which needs to be worked at." (my phrasing)

Elaborated, what this means is: "Since I am at peace, and your feelings can no longer bother me (because my affective reception is null and void), I remain at peace with my behavior. In other words, I see no need to change my behavior. It is "you" who needs to change if the relationship is to be more harmonious. Actually, "you" need to go away, since "you" stand in the way of peace and harmony."

And by using these quotes, wherein I am what I am since "I" am no longer in operation, whereas "you" are who "you" are and therefore rotten, a pernicious manipulation is put in action. This is actually a thousand-fold amplification of what is considered the behavior of an arrogant "prick" in normal life: "Do I bother you? YOU need to change and be less sensitive if you want to stop being bothered."

Peace is of two major kinds: Peace within myself, and peace between me and you. The main problem with spirituality is its primary focus on the former, to the detriment of the latter. It is not true that inwardly peaceful men cannot cause any mischief. A highly detached or narrowly focused man can press a button which kills a million other men, without any feelings of malice.

Unfortunately, the one of the main problems with actualism is more-or-less the same as the one with spirituality. Its agenda, in practice, is an individual peace-on-earth, and not mutual harmony (despite what is claimed in theory).

Now of course, two actualists can live in mutual harmony, since they both have similar belief systems, but that is true for members of any belief system. If an actualist did not consider absence of feelings of malice to be the end goal, but rather the start, the actualist would be considerate in his/her interactions with other human beings. That considerateness is conspicuously absent amongst actualists. As a telling example, consider the closure of a long-running mailing list about actualism and the subsequent deletion of all the conversations from the mailing list server, without as much as an advance notice. There are many such examples, but the thread is this: Since I don't mean any harm, the unintended harm is not my problem.

Now this just doesn't bode well for peace on earth, in my current understanding.

A person who is indeed harmless, would not just sit back and enjoy the absence of malicious feelings (that too, no doubt), but in any interaction, would recognize that there is another human being in the picture, with the added limitations that the other is addled with sometimes debilitating affective reactions, and would thus show far more understanding than is common in humanity of what can cause the buttons of another human being to get pushed, and thus for an interaction to get derailed into malicious feelings for at least one person. Amongst actualists, such derailments are extremely common, and are (as to be expected) blamed at the other, instead of even a hint of acknowledgment that one could have handled the situation better.

In essence, harmlessness (in my current understanding) has to go beyond absence of malice into an active avoidance of needless suffering for others. Avoidance of harm is clearly not always achievable, nor is it always reasonably realistic to aim for. The other person can be so irritable at times that anything may set blow his/her fuse.

But that does not mean, not by a long shot, that therefore all responsibility all the time for the fuse getting blown off rests with the other person.

If all followed this model, there would be more wars in the world than are currently going on. There is not an all-out war in the real world simply because in their interactions, people are generally considerate of others' feelings and passions, and therefore many potential conflicts are kept at bay. If an actualist really wanted peace on earth, he/she would act in a way which minimized conflict, and not (as is evident in conversations of Richard, the foremost actualist), which almost relished it (1).

To enable peace, it is of the utmost importance to consider what the other person finds violent and violative. Harmlessness is not going ahead with an absence of malice and doing a violative act and asking the other to take care of his/her own "feelings", but it is to find a way to interact in which both (and moreso the free man, since he has better understanding, and is "free" to do so) understand what can derail the interaction and the relationship, and in which both try to avoid an unfortunate outcome.

This is a "higher" harmlessness than an absence of malice, if I may say so, and one which lessens the conflict in the world, and not just in oneself.

(1): I am not ‘proud of having eliminated’ any one-up-man-ship at all, for I have not needed to do so ... my life is so infinitely superior to anyone else’s that I have met or read about. Thus I am very pleased at my expertise and prowess in being able to win an argument, with anyone who defends the status-quo, because when I win, they win ... it is the ‘Tried and True’ that gets defeated. When I enter into a discussion with someone I am well aware that it may very well turn into a debate ... for these are contentious issues that I speak of. Society’s ‘Holy Cows’ are under sustained scrutiny ... what you so rightly call ‘being attacked’. As for ‘getting a kick’ ... what I experience is far more gratifying than such a petty return. I am inordinately pleased when the grip that the human nature has on a person falls away ... the delight far exceeds merely ‘getting a kick’. (Richard, circa 2001)

(Note: this excerpt of Richard can be a the topic of a long article in itself. Suffice it to say for now that if one begins an interaction from a position of "infinite superiority", it is no longer an interaction but an act of God.)