Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part seven)

From Nihilism, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
... the postmodern man, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence. This perspective is derived from the existentialists’ reflections on nihilism stripped of any hopeful expectations, leaving only the experience of sickness, decay, and disintegration.

In his study of meaninglessness, Donald Crosby writes that the source of modern nihilism paradoxically stems from a commitment to honest intellectual openness. “Once set in motion, the process of questioning could come to but one end, the erosion of conviction and certitude and collapse into despair” (The Specter of the Absurd, 1988). When sincere inquiry is extended to moral convictions and social consensus, it can prove deadly, Crosby continues, promoting forces that ultimately destroy civilizations.

Notes on Meaning (part six)

Remember when you started to suffer? Recognize that it was when you became thoughtful?

Thought, Consciousness, Time, Awareness, Intellect, Suffering. There is no odd one out.

J Krishnamurti said: "Thought is time. ... Time is the psychological enemy of man."

But what is "man" without thought and awareness of time?

Again: "Whatever thought does it breeds misery, sorrow, conflict, and when thought realizes that, it will come to an end by itself, the vicious circle is broken; thought, which means time, has come to an end." (JK)

And he said: "Seeing all this, that thought is the result of memory, of collected experience which is very limited, ... and seeing that the pursuit of the future creates time; seeing all this, surely it is obvious that thought must be suspended." (JK, emphasis mine)

Right on!

The entire gamut of spiritual practices becomes transparent when you realize that the goal is to do away with thought.

I reached this realization 5 years back. Since I was incapable of doing that for a continued period of time, I gravitated towards actualism, which was even more radical in that it wanted to do away with the affective faculty altogether. Whereas spirituality revels in the bliss of the unexamined life, actualism revels in total examination.

"In my investigations into life, ... I first started by examining thought, thoughts and thinking ... then very soon moved on to examining feelings (first the emotions and then the deeper feelings). When I dug down into these passions and calentures (into the core of ‘my’ being then into ‘being’ itself)" (Richard, AFT Website)

Actualism appealed to my intellect, but I didn't realize then that if I was incapable of living as the spirit, I would be incapable of living as the senses too. The reason is the same for both inabilities: my awareness, my intellect is too strong to be submerged in either feelings or sensuality.

If ever Actualism becomes part of Hinduism (the all-embracing religion), it will surely be called Indriya Yoga (To Be One with the Senses, To BE the senses). Heh.

Spirituality is to live as feelings, Actualism is to live as the senses. For both, the only bliss worth its name is timeless bliss.

Time is the Enemy.

"I have no plans at all for the future." (Richard's Journal)

By now, it shouldn't come as a surprise.

(to be continued)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part five)

The human mind is fundamentally incapable of unthinkingly living in the moment because of its capacity for temporal and abstract awareness, and because of its nature of inward dialogue.

If I can talk to myself about what I am doing, I am not immersed in it. To be able to laugh at oneself is a sign of intellectual progress.

Living in the moment is equivalent to shutting off large portions of one's brain. An infant lives in the moment, a drunkard lives in the moment, a man who has numbed his brain through meditation lives in the moment, a man who is supremely focused on an object of desire or of stimulation lives in the moment, a man who is living "as the senses" lives in the moment.

Thinking is automatic as well as essential.

A calm mind is not an unthinking mind. It is focused and not thinking fruitless thoughts. It is not here and now.

Consider the following carefully: A child can be agitated and be living in the moment.

The conscious pursuit of a goal requires thinking. There cannot be a conscious goal in the here-and-now living. This is a clue to its dysfunctional nature.

A questioning mind questions and rejects goals, whole forests of them at times, but cannot do away with thinking. This is the tragedy.

Buddhism cultivates "awareness" without intellect. It works. Buddhism seems to encourage questioning, but obviously you cannot question its basic tenets and still be a Buddhist. A questioning Buddhist, say one who rejects reincarnation, is in deep trouble. Whose liberation is he seeking?

An important question is: why does the questioning mind reject a goal after seeing its artificiality? Why does a created meaning not appeal, once it is seen as created?

The answer is, perhaps, this:

The sense of the goal being inherent, sacred, inviolable, is an emotional driver for one to pursue it. Remove the inherent-ness, unravel its structure and history and evolution, and the passion dissipates. It is an affective withering under the glare of the intellect.

So, it is not as much as the questioning mind rejects a goal, rather it makes the heart-felt following of it impossible.

(to be continued)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part four)

Since meaning is contextual, happiness is also contextual. A burqa-clad woman can be as happy seeing her kids as a Manhattan socialite is when she sees an oil tycoon.

What then is humanity working towards? What is considered progress, today? Why try and ban the burqa?

Progress of humanity is, factually, the divestment of meaning from anything which is dictated by others. "Nobody tells me what the meaning of my life is, I create it." This is the implicit goal of civilization. The various metrics in the UN HDR have this underlying theme.

There are indirect forms of control, but they are seen as progressive developments from an overt, violent form of control.

People who are relatively more astute reject not only the aggressive forces of traditional culture and morality, but also the modern, passive-aggressive forces of context (and hence goal, and meaning) creation: mass media, advertising, internet. They reject the goal not only of following the ten commandments, but of having a bigger car, the latest Gucci bag, and so on.

Progress is the movement from morality, to an understanding of morality, to amorality.

In Goenka Vipassana, you sometimes focus on a body region feeling pain, till the pain "dissolves". Similarly, an intellectual dissects a taboo which brings an emotional reaction till its emotional underpinning is understood and hence dissipated.

Actualism can be considered intellectual Vipassana.

‘Put simplistically (for maximum effect): the actualism method is about using thought to examine feelings’ (Richard, Actual Freedom, circa 2005).

(to be continued)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part three)

("Aphorisms" carries with it a connotation of truthiness, hence the change in title)

Volitional acts are meaningful.

What is the meaning of "meaninglessness"? Seriously?

Meaninglessness is the absence of an end, of a drive, of a goal which one considers worthy of one's energetic engagement, an absence of attachment, an absence of passion, an absence of an aim for volition.

It can be averted by the introduction of a context.

Are you bored? Take Mario to World 8-4 and get the princess. Help the Haitians.

Some goals (fight corruption!) help others live longer, others (research at an ad agency!) not so much, still others (pillage Iraq!) lessen others' lifetimes.

A hierarchy of ends supposes a set of values. The question is, what is the source of those values, and since certainly the source is outside of you, what makes your intellect bow down to it?

Consider the quite universally held moral standpoints that beating a small infant to death is "wrong", that raping a baby girl is "wrong". The source of these morals is obviously sociobiological (what else can it be?), and if you say (rightly) that these acts are not "inherently wrong" (is there such a beast?), but merely counterproductive to achieve "the ends for the species", you lose the passionate force and taboo behind those morals. You may even reach a stage where a report of a criminal doing such things (or say, Bush invading Iraq) no longer arouse an emotional reaction and outrage in you. And I ask: is that such a good thing?

Meaninglessness is the absence of feeling, the absence of emotional attachment. Radical self-help (hard core spirituality, actualism) advocate taking it to the extreme and abiding in the void and detachment thereof.

(to be continued)

Aphorisms on Meaning (part two)

If a man says that he wants to go compass north, and you believe he is telling the truth, but he proceeds towards the compass south, he is mistaken. It is not a bad idea to try and cautiously advise him that he might be mistaken. This is a difference of information.

If a man says that he is frugal, and if you know that he could be much more frugal, maybe he has different standards of frugality than you. It is generally a bad idea to convince him that your idea of frugality is the right one. This is a difference of opinion, of values.

What is the difference between the above two situations?

(to be continued)

Aphorisms on Meaning

To achieve an end, one employs means.

The "mean"s are "mean"ingful to achieve the int"end"ed "end".

To question the end is not meaningful within the context of the means. To question whether to bring up a child is a valid question, but an invalid one when you are seeking to find out what the best way to bring up a child (whether corporal punishment is a valid technique for educating a child or not).

There is a hierarchy of ends. Each end can be a means for a wider/bigger end.

Questioning must be careful. If somebody is discussing ways to be good, to question his beliefs about goodness is uncalled for. Or is it?

Relentless questioning, moving from end to higher end, will establish all intermediate ends as "merely" means, and therefore subjective strategies to achieve a goal.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aphorisms on Intellect (last part)

The progress of the average modern man is at a stage that he has thrown away the weight of history, but his knowledge is that of a child, kept that way by forces around him. The discourse of an average individual hooked on to mass media revolves around people and perhaps events, but certainly not ideas.

"That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors." (Mike Leigh, Naked, 1993)

Further progress will happen when, perhaps due to a collapse of capitalism or due to peak oil (due to circumstances beyond anyone's control), mankind is forced away from unbridled consumption, advertising (which fuels it), and mass media (which depends on advertising for its survival).

If this happens, and the engine of modern distractions gets rickety, people will be forced to turn to deeper and non-market-driven distractions (books, conversations, ideas, politics) and perhaps their intellectual faculties may become stronger, more knowing, and wider and deeper.

Then we might see an epidemic of depression and neuroses. Traditional immersions will become cringe-worthy. People will scoff at love marriages the way they now scoff at arranged marriages, and kids will be seen as a liability to be avoided. "I want to live my way."

Some say that is already underway in developed countries. If the Mad Cow disease was due to cows eating their own entrails, the Mad Man epidemic will be due to men continuously and fruitlessly being aware of their existence and aware of their mortality and their insignificance, but unable to go back to immersion. Eating their own thoughts in the absence of communion.

When fundamentalists hate Valentine's Day, or beat up girls drinking in a bar, understand that it is one generation of distractions versus an older one's anchors of meaning.

Peter Zapffe writes in The Last Messiah:
Any culture is a great, rounded system of anchorings, built on foundational firmaments, the basic cultural ideas. The average person makes do with the collective firmaments, the personality is building for himself, the person of character has finished his construction, more or less grounded on the inherited, collective main firmaments (God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future). The closer to main firmaments a certain carrying element is, the more perilous it is to touch. Here a direct protection is normally established by means of penal codes and threats of prosecution (inquisition, censorship, the Conservative approach to life).
The older anchors will be uprooted anyway, you cannot prevent that. But the distractions can also only last so long. There are only so many ways to show penetration in a porn film. James Cameron is already on to sex amongst aliens, but you can't deny it is becoming desperately hard to invent new distractions for an increasingly impatient mass of humanity.

A teacher of the Krishnamurti Foundation is on to the problem
The attempt to overcome boredom through novelty, through sense-stimulation gives rise to a vicious spiral. As every 'new' programme stales, as a given level of sense stimulation fades, the inner psychological demand for ever increasing sense-stimulation becomes more and more insistent till one's being cries out for satisfaction. TV networks are sensitive to this and over the last fifteen years or so, the extent and degree of violence and explicit sexuality has grown exponentially.
Oh, but what is his solution?
Can we once again develop this ability to savour every moment of life with our entire being - whatever this moment brings, whether it is washing dishes or eating a chocolate pudding? Can we drop the discriminating mind which says"this activity is insignificant, that other activity is of great importance"? Can we live in the moment, because the past is irretrievably gone and the future mere phantom? Can we live completely in the 'here and now' and thus recover that child-like quality which has been 'educated' out of us?
No Sir, you cannot. Not without extinguishing a large part of your mind and intellect by, say, use of drugs or alcohol.

Once you and Time have cultivated a child's brain to be aware, to plan and to foresee, to be highly discriminating, to be highly developed, to be a man's brain, you cannot now demand that it go to sleep and just be "here and now", that it be a child again. That is a cruel joke you seem to be playing, Sir, you, who are a teacher! And assuming the graduates of your school are able to be "here and now" by some sleight of hand, who will build the bridges and who will operate the InterNIC?

Irving Howe said, "The knowledge which makes us cherish innocence makes innocence unattainable."

How can a man be a child again? Can you again believe in Santa Claus? Can you, having played the stock market, play Ludo for hours and hours and be content, like you used to as a child? Well maybe you can, to prove a point, but have you seen the complexity of computer games recently? They don't even fit on a double layer DVD.

As I said earlier, the recognition of this malaise is there, there are 16 million echoes around the world: "Mind is the enemy."

People are furiously trying to keep it quiet, silent, un-judging, filled with belief and faith. But there are 239 million echoes of the others who have given up on that pathway and are trying to numb themselves with Snake, and 1.5 billion more echoes of those who can't be bothered to even twiddle their fingertips.

It's not their fault. What would you have them rather do? Spread the word?

Aphorisms on Intellect (continued)

What is the difference between being intelligent, and being wise? Can a wise person be stupid? Can an intelligent person be unwise?

Wisdom is about ends, intelligence is about means.

"Wisdom is a deep understanding of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. Wisdom is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) apply perceptions and knowledge and so produce the desired results. Wisdom is comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Synonyms include: sagacity, discernment, or insight. Wisdom often requires control of one's emotional reactions (the "passions") so that one's principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one's actions." (Wikipedia)

"Intelligence is an umbrella term describing a property of the mind including related abilities, such as the capacities for abstract thought, reasoning, planning, problem solving, speech, and learning." (Wikipedia)

The modern world is without a doubt more intelligent than ever before, but what about its wisdom? That is the big question, isn't it?

The growth of intellect has exposed the conventional wisdom as historically evolved pragmatism, unworthy of the awe that it was receiving for having "divine" origins.

Disrespect for tradition (or at least a neutrality towards it) is essential for research into its hallowed claims. But then, you start by destroying the hallowed nature of the claim, and the importance of the claim was not in its substance, but in its holiness.

One can worship a stone, if enough mystique is built around it.

When an intellectual says that nothing should be off-limits for examination, you might want to run for your life. He is after your soul, the devil!

An intellectual loves to demolish belief, and while this is a pleasant distraction for him, it is life-threatening to others.

But you may ask, aren't some beliefs harmful? Weren't slavery, limited suffrage, untouchability, young female circumcision, worthy of being discarded? If you censor inquiry, how does humankind progress?

You are right. Those beliefs truly deserve to be discarded. Evolution of the intellect, which is progress, is indeed important. But once you are a questioning being, you have taken the first step to autonomy, whose logical end-result (if you are brave enough) is meaninglessness and alienation.

"Haller’s sickness of soul, as I now know, is not the eccentricity of a single individual, but the sickness of the times themselves, the neurosis of that generation to which Haller belongs, a sickness, it seems, that by no means attacks the weak and worthless only but rather those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts." (Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf)

Can a highly developed intellect be loving? It can pretend to, if the situation so demands, but it is beyond feeling. A feeling state encumbers intelligence and judgment.

Have you noticed psychopaths are highly intelligent? You might want to read this question and its answers.

Altruism is a communal passion. Tradition gets its force from the community. Modernity is against community. And therefore, altruism is on the way out. People love their dogs more than they love their neighbors.

Meuersault began his discourse: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure." (Albert Camus, The Outsider) This is the modern, autonomous man.

Huxley, in Brave New World, was prescient about the horror of the family:
And home was as squalid psychically as physically. Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children (her children) … brooded over them like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, "My baby, my baby," over and over again. "My baby, and oh, oh, at my breast, the little hands, the hunger, and that unspeakable agonizing pleasure! Till at last my baby sleeps, my baby sleeps with a bubble of white milk at the corner of his mouth. My little baby sleeps …" "Yes," said Mustapha Mond, nodding his head, "you may well shudder."

(to be continued)

Two videos by George Carlin

A Random Quote about Morality

From a recent thread on Slashdot
... My view is that there just is no substitute for a system of social morality like those in eastern cultures of old. Modern society has the attitude that "if it's not illegal, do it". Unfortunately, the law will never be able to codify in black letters the rich spectrum of behavioral regulations imposed by morality, developed over thousands of years of human behavior. Thus, individuals conforming only to the law and ignoring ethics and morals will inevitably breach their moral duty, and the damage they do is limited only by their "creativity" in using the law and the social power they wield due to their position, wealth or influence.

In short, we need to disabuse ourselves of this trend to consider ethics and morals some hokey, freedom-fettering construct that has become obsolete. It is very much necessary, and Wall Street is a great place to look if you want an example of why.

You may find him regressive, and he is. Eastern morality has failed even in the East. But, and this is the important question, now what?

Everybody knows morality is a moderation of our "instincts" which can wreak havoc. The modern world has outsourced morality to institutions. To regulatory bodies. "If they say this is acceptable, there's nothing wrong in it." Law is not a substitute for moral behavior. But what other option do we have?

Value education in the face of 24 hour Television? You must be kidding.

The existence of the "market" exacerbates this tendency of evaluating all behavior in terms of where it stands financially and legally. The prevailing Gods of the modern Have's are the rich and famous. "That's who I want to be."

The saints and scriptures are for the Have-nots.

George Soros says: "It's not whether you're right or wrong, but how much money you make when you're right and how much you lose when you're wrong."

He's in tune with the times. (Though to be fair, he may be asking you to put your money where your mouth is)

If you return the extra change that you got from a shopkeeper, you are a moral person, who believes in doing the "right thing". If you don't, you are a modern man, and you will win. An environment of distrust will develop, of course (as any ethologist will tell you), but how does that matter anyway, as "I am mortal", "I have but one life to live", "I live for none but myself", the slogans of modernity.

Poor Richard ("Honesty is the best policy") didn't have a clue about how the world works.

Or maybe he did, and we are doomed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Aphorisms on Intellect

Animals are driven. Man asks: "Why?" This is both man's distinction, as well as the reason for his eventual alienation.

Relentless questioning soon faces an axiom, a belief or a convention. The pioneers are those who do not stop there.

It is a pleasant activity to not be driven by an unexamined belief-system, but beware of going too far, and you may be left with no activity at all.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." Mark Twain said, "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all." And I say, "A life too widely examined may not leave anything to live for."

Consider the analogy of a small lake, having a dam on its downhill slope. The flow from north is just enough to maintain its level, given the opening on the dam. Close the dam, and it will overflow. Open the dam more, and the level will deplete.

The lake is one's mind. The flow from upstream is the events and questions. The dam is made up of beliefs and axioms and morals. Events engage our mind, and after coming to a decision, we act. Open the dam too much, and there is no possibility of engagement, the events/questions do not move us since there is no underlying passion or belief or morality. Open the dam too little (too much of constriction in one's acts) and we feel overwhelmed by life's events.

To find the correct closure of the dam for an individual, for him to feel engaged and alive, is not an unworthy task.

Atheists find a reasonably happy man with a certain dam level, and revel in trying to move the boulder of his belief in God. Unless he is given another boulder, the believer stares meaninglessness in the face, and therefore he hates the atheists.

Found this quote here: "God is an expression of our belief that life has meaning." (Chris Hedges). This does not say that God exists. (This is actually Wittgenstein talking, more later)

Voltaire said, "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." ("If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him")

The question is: What is your God? Why are you living? Be very careful to even attempt to answer this question. I am not responsible for the consequences.

It is of course possible to unravel any meaning as a castle of sand, any belief as essentially hollow, it is easy to find any passionate response as an over-reaction, it is obviously intellectually pleasant to break open a vault which other people regard as sacred and mystical, but intellect is a means, and if it tampers with ends, what are you left with?

This is the age of the intellect, and that is the reason for the individual misery and the neurotic mayhem despite all the increase in prosperity. More intellect can solve the piecemeal problems of traffic congestion, urban pollution, energy production, but it cannot, by its very nature, introduce a meaning in people's lives. It is a scythe, not a seed.

Wittengstein was perhaps the only pure intellectual of all philosophers, in that he did not concern himself with the propositional answering of any question, but with the unraveling of it. He pointed out that the traditional answers make sense in a context, and are meaningless outside that context.

He said, "The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God. ... To pray is to think about the meaning of life. ... To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life. To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter. To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning." (Journal entry, 1916)

The modern intellect is Godless, and of course it is left in a void of meaninglessness.

Serving others is merely a way to remain busy if you do not know what a man should live for, if you do not know what you are living for. You may be helping others. But helping others achieve what? You don't have to answer this.

Is it important to not think in certain situations and just "go with the flow"? Is it possible that some things are better left unexamined? The joy of making love, for example, can be killed quite easily by being aware of and talking objectively about each others' bodies. Making love is not to observe and learn, but to have the intellect go fishing while one floats in an ocean of sensuality.

"Why" about an activity is the incantation to invite tedium.

At the end of all questioning, what is the feeling that one is left with? Is it depression, or wonderment?

Wonderment is the feeling that one gets while looking at the stars, and when one is aware of the unfathomable mystery that an aware pair of eyes is watching the infinite expanse of the universe. It is not wonderment at any visual, that too, but the deepest wonder is at the fact of consciousness. It is to feel like a child of the universe.

Depression is the feeling of having nothing to live for, to have no motivation to do anything. To not see any inherent value in any activity, to lack an anchor. It is to be locked up in a 6x6 cell.

Depression feels "bad", and wonderment feels "good". But that's just the chemicals talking.

Intellect can provide for the body, but it can only take away from the "soul". When people remark that India is a more soulful country, they are right. Others say that India is a hypocritical country. They are right, too. Essentially, India has an underdeveloped intellect. Vast masses in India have still to question their ancient beliefs, and they are not astute enough to observe their own contradictions. Both are failures of intellect.

Intellect needs prosperity and literacy and leisure to develop, but once there, it cannot tolerate leisure. It brings with itself a more abstract kind of suffering which gets accentuated in idleness. That suffering, alienation, emptiness, whatever you call it, can be lulled by entertainment, but the intellect soon pierces through an entertainment and finds it silly. Hence, more and more brazen and even more stimulating distractions, with no place for thought, have to be presented.

Despite all the gadgets, the modern intellect has no leisure. The older generation derides it, but it is a sign of progress, and I'm not being sarcastic. Busyness is not a perversion, it is a need of an alienated mind, and that alienation is due to having no archaic beliefs, of rebelling against conventions. The gadgets are to fill time, not to save it. If the intellect had time to itself, it would explode in horror. People do not want leisure. They only want more control over what distractions they can have.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aphorisms on Suffering, continued

Debilitating states of physical suffering, cognitive suffering, and affective suffering may need intervention.

The aim of psychotherapy (at its best) is to address the debilitating forms of affective suffering. To pine for one's loved one is not a fit case for psychiatric intervention. It is considered normal, and healthy. When you do nothing but pine, however, intervention may be required.

Suffering can be endured more easily if there seems to be a meaning behind it. The grand theories of Karma, the big picture, divine justice, Our Father in Heaven, are all ways to make the unendurable endurable. The realization that it is all a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing, may and does lead to insanity and suicide.

However, it is a momentous error to see this sorry state of affairs (pain and its palliatives) and to want to eradicate both the pain (the passion) and the palliatives (beliefs). With the eradication of both, in toto, there is no debilitation, but there is no movement either.

Motivation is affective. Cognitive or intellectual motivation is woefully insufficient, as any manager or leader worth his name will tell you.

As Wittgenstein said in words to this effect: To solve all problems of humanity is to be standing on ice. There is no friction, but there is no possibility of moving ahead as well.

To be without the affective push is also therefore debilitating.

The lack of affective faculty is a state of dysfunction requiring psychiatric intervention, if others depend on you. While normal life is indeed pathetic, the affect-less life is apathy. This apathy may be couched in glorious terms, but it is what it is.

What can curiously happen in a state of apathy, given an ethical framework which glorifies such behavior, is a regression to sensuality and hedonism, the state of a child. "Oh look at those bright colors!" "Oh look at this shiny new gadget!" In the absence of sensual or short-term stimulation and distraction, an apathetic individual has literally nothing to live for. Hence, depression, boredom, ennui.

The lasting cure for depression is not sensuality, but meaning.

The modern man is afflicted with a lack of meaning and feeling (to varying degrees), and is stuck at stimulation. It is not his fault, of course. The whole culture of consumption and glitter is pushing this paradigm of being concerned with nothing but me, here-and-now. Narcissism and hedonism are all around us. People are dying to feel connected again, but are unable to. The others with whom one craves connection are immersed in themselves as well.

Emptiness and depression is the inevitable result of a lack of meaning. If somebody is happy, look for where he is getting his fix of meaning. He may say he has no beliefs, but look closer.

Do not be quick to snatch/destroy somebody's belief, one which gives him meaning. Let him be, you have only another belief, another meaning which you believe is truer, to offer in return. And if you don't offer anything in return, you have done him a disservice.

If a man kills while defending his belief, understand that he is killing for what gives his life meaning. You may find him barbaric, but he doesn't have your advanced beliefs which cannot be attacked except by a thesis-length tome. His beliefs are easy to attack, and therefore he attacks easily.

The strongest sense of meaning is one which cannot be attacked or threatened even in principle. Spiritual people are notoriously immune to criticism, because their sense of meaning is highly, highly subjective and you cannot attack it easily. Even the means of discourse (intellection) is decried right at the beginning. It is a good trick. It is as if you are asking a debater to cut out his tongue and then talk.

Something which goes beyond traditional spirituality (i.e a meme which is more immune) will have to consist of an even stronger belief system which is more in tune with modern science, etc.

A total lack of meaning, a deep sense of tragedy, is the inescapable state of an aware and authentic man. Anything else is dishonesty or a distraction.

And hence, someone who wishes to live authentically is bound to suffer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Aphorisms on Suffering

Suffering is to experience something that one does not want to experience.

Distress at a physical injury, disease, aches and pains, is suffering.

To want to get out of a circumstance is suffering. To want something and not be able to get it is suffering.

Suffering can be experienced as bodily pain, a cognitive disapproval of a situation, or as an affective/chemical response in the brain.

It is easy to comprehend that bodily pain is essential to avoid fatal harm to the body. Pain is body's way of seeking attention.

It is also easy to comprehend that cognitive disapproval is impossible to avoid as long as one is a discriminating individual. To have values and judgments is to inevitably approve and disapprove. You may say that you don't judge, but you do. Without choosing, life cannot sustain itself. Nourishment is born of choice.

A crude form of valuation and judging to propel behavior is also built-in into our affective pathways. To hear one's child crying, a mother feels distressed and that distress is an affective push for her to do something. All affective pain has evolutionary origins as providing a survival advantage for the genes.

Given the rapid advances in thought and applied thought, many think that affective responses are obsolete and even counter-productive in certain situations. Probably.

There is a fringe which thinks that it is obsolete and counter-productive in all situations. That is possible, if you are on welfare. More ahead.

Is it possible to completely do away with affective pain and live only with physical pain and cognitive discrimination as our tools? What is distinctive about affective pain that one is willing to accept the other two forms of suffering, but not this?

Is there a distinction?

Cognitive discrimination is impossible to avoid. Death is inevitable otherwise. Those who say that they do not judge and accept everything are liars.

Physical pain is impossible to avoid as well. You cannot control the transmission of bodily distress signals except by usage of analgesics or anesthetics.

However, affective pain is a choice in many cases. For example, the feeling of guilt is a choice that one can avoid if one gives up the force of conscience. The feeling of missing one's loved one is a choice that one can avoid if one does not love in the first place. It may be possible to cultivate the neo-cortex so much that some affective pathways wither away. It is quite common on Wall Street.

Affective response is also crude in nature. Its effects outlast the event, and they are sometimes far more than what the event required.

To not get overwhelmed by, or not have some kinds of, affective responses is what is considered maturity, modernity, literacy, etc. The progress of man is the obsolescence of certain affective responses. If you see a potential rapist coming towards you, do not get agitated and scream, just go into a store and dial 9-1-1. If your kid is crying due to loud noises upstairs, do not get distressed, you know (your doctor has told you) that it is normal.

Affective responses are a survival strategy for the genes. To want to be rid of affective suffering is a desire for more cognitive control. For more autonomy, rationality, choice, knowledge, structure, formalism...

As it becomes safer and possible to be more and more rational, many affective reactions will naturally go extinct. As an example, dread is pretty uncommon in a normal, healthy human being in an urban setting. Pining for one's mother is becoming quite rare in certain areas of Manhattan.

The reason pure rationality does not always work everywhere (it leads to dysfunction if taken to an extreme) is because the neo-cortex, and the institutional support, is not yet advanced enough to handle all the challenges effectively and still allow the carrying human being to thrive. As long as an irrational man can make more money in the stock market and lands more women than a completely rational man, the completely rational man may be happy, but his genes are at a disadvantage and his happiness is therefore written on sand. The men who thrive best are those who are able to use their passions (fears, desires) to drive them towards their ends with their rationality helping them as the means.

Even memetic propagation is driven best by ideological or religious fervor.

A man who rejects the whole of passionate/biological push/pull mechanism may have better brain states moment to moment, but is doomed genetically and ideologically.

Suffering is an evolutionary trait of humanity. It serves a purpose. It has a history. It drives people towards useful genetic goals. It is a form of intelligence (though a crude one). As long as suffering is needed, it will be there. When suffering becomes genetically counter-productive, you won't need evangelists to preach happiness.

Aldous Huxley said: "The ends are ape-chosen, only the means are man's." He was right, of course. The problem is if you ideologically disapprove of this state of affairs. That is, if you think of the "ape-chosen ends" as somehow "lesser" ends than some other ends. It is another matter that quite a few people are disapproving of the man's means as well. "Don't be an animal, don't be an intellectual."

All self-help (including spirituality) aims at the reduction and possible ending of affective suffering. In that state of sociobiological disadvantage and dysfunction, you can either have people take care of you (fans or disciples or acolytes), or be in a welfare economy (others pay for you), or live off your earnings made as an ape, or die. If you are enlightened, or otherwise consider yourself as higher than an ape, you know what tricks you pull off to get by.

Suffering is not the nightmare that you think it is. It is understandably glitzy to pursue the famed end of suffering ("Glory!") at the risk of dysfunction ("the real world sucks anyway"), but consider, pause, take a deep breath. If you are truly honest, you will reject everything in your journey. But then, what will you live for?

Do not reject your suffering, for in the absence of ape's ends (which include selfishness and altruism both), and which ends cause you to desire and suffer, you have no ends. None. Let that sink in.

The desire to be completely rid of suffering is a death-wish.

The corollary is, of course, that if you are claiming to be completely free from suffering, and are still living, you are supremely deluded.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

An Elegy for Mr Siras

Mr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a professor at AMU, was suspended and hounded out of the university because some hoodlums saw it fit to criminally videograph an intimate encounter of his, and after they submitted the video to the "authorities".

I wrote about it here.

His suspension was illegal and was stayed by the Allahabad High Court.

From this news report:
Today the High Court not only stayed the suspension order but also allowed him to apply for the post of professorship in his department for which he is the most eligible candidate being the seniormost teacher in the department.

The court also stayed the restriction on his movement. Following the suspension and a disciplinary inquiry, Dr Siras had been prohibited from moving out of Aligarh.
From another article:
Unfortunately, from other reports it does appear that the university authorities were complicit in this act. The reports suggest that some members of the AMU’s executive committe, with the full knowledge of its vice chancellor, commissioned TV journalists to shoot the video. It would then appear that the charges of “gross misconduct” would better apply to the very people who have tried to frame Siras in such an illegal and immoral manner
Yesterday, Mr Siras was found dead in his room.

No words.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Aphorisms on Modernity

Intelligence exists at various levels: individual, sociocultural, historical, instinctual. What makes a modern individual reject anything but what seems individual intelligence?

The alienation of the modern individual has a history beginning with the formation of the neo-cortex. To be "nature" is not alienating. To mold it, consciously, is the beginning of separation, the end of "innocence".

Innocence of a child, or of an animal, is the absence of its ego-self, its neo-cortex based identity. A child, or an animal, is more "natural" than an adult.

With the cumulative historical knowledge of the neo-cortex, and with its successes in the outer world (the power of applied thought), there is an inevitable growth in its importance.

This emphasis on the ego-self is an inevitable consequence of a world where thought is more important than feelings. You cannot be an empathetic being and beat the market.

As structured thought becomes more preeminent in its abstract and its applied forms, the other forms of intelligence, which are unstructured, lose their force.

Hence the modern man is amoral, not having a sense of history, rejecting the cultural mores, focused on himself, living for himself, and so on and so forth.

The breakdown of religion and morality is inevitable with the advent of science and technology, because religion and morality are forms of mass intelligence, whereas science and technology makes the individual more choice-capable and powerful. As you become more powerful, you will reject external power and influences.

Of course, indirect influences (which seem to bolster your sense of power and ego-identity) become more and more potent, without you realizing it. That is modern media, advertising, etc.

The collective and primal forms of intelligence are crude, and sometimes are at odds with individual wishes, as well as have contradictions within them (the primal lust being opposed to the religious injunction to be monogamous).

The disengagement from primal and historical forms of intelligence makes one an autonomous individual, but also, alienated and disconnected. What drives his choices now except hedonism (pleasure seeking) and narcissism (me and me alone)?

The breakdown of family, society, community, traditional religions, traditional morality, and the advent of the hedonistic-narcissistic modern man, is not the fault of an individual. And therefore, neither is it possible to completely reverse this, even at an individual level, by the force of individual will.

You cannot regenerate the potency of morality, once you are out of it and once you are knowledgeable about the evolutionary forces which shaped moral behavior. The force of morality depends on its mystique and awe-inspiring origins.

The fate of the knowledgeable man in the modern world is autonomy. Can autonomy be separated from alienation? Can a man live for himself, without illusion, and not feel the angst of absurdity and meaninglessness, inside?

When biological goals lose their importance, when survival and comfort is easy to achieve, and when social cohesion and objectives are no longer meaningful, the goals of living have to be invented. Each day, sometimes.

This is the emptiness of the modern man. There is no getting out of this. For someone whose neo-cortex is far too much in the know to fall again into the pursuit of a social or biological goal, emptiness (meaninglessness) is inevitable.

One can keep it at bay by distraction. By indulging in sensory and cognitive smothering. But not for long.

Some say: act as if. As if your actions have significance, even if at some level you know that they don't. It is the same as believing in God.

Beware of shattering someone's delusions. You may leave him empty (-handed).