Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the Genealogy of Morality

Does anything in this universe have a purpose? Is it even logical to ask such question? Philosophers have tried to answer these questions since time immemorial and yet much confusion remains. It is interesting to ask to whom the universe should have purpose, if it does have one, to a supreme being like God or to us human or to the universe itself. If the universe was created for the sole purpose of God then the debate ends there, provided you believe in God. If on the other hand you are an agnostic or an atheist, this is definitely not a good answer; In all honesty to such individuals the universe seems to be devoid of any meaning or purpose and why shouldn’t it be. It is one thing to suggest butterfly effect on earth and quite another to suggest that the exploding star in Andromeda has some bearing on our lives!

Let us for argument’s sake assume that there is a purpose in our life, that there is some great transcendental scheme and we are all moving according to it. If that is so then all particles ought to be interconnected in space-time to us, through some interactions no matter how far or how long it takes. Surely there cannot be disjointed areas in space which have no affect on our lives, since we are all part of that unifying purpose. For us to be part of that grand scheme of thing, although one has to agree it is a rather arrogant presumptuous position, no part of the universe can be superfluous; they have to be connected to us in some causal ways. Thus from an exploding nebula in milky way or in some distant part of the galaxy to the tidal waves in our ocean or volcanic activity in mount Vesuvius, must have some bearing on our lives. Now I haven’t mentioned events like WWII or epidemic or natural disasters, which obviously impact our lives. It is important to note, that connectedness is but a necessary condition, not a sufficient one, for existence of “purpose” in our lives. Now if we are to agree that there is some purpose that links us to all other events in this universe, then question arises, do we as mankind have a transcendental purpose or do we as individuals have purpose?

Let us assume that individually we have a purpose in our life; if this is so then by our previous logic universal events should have some bearing on our lives. Now we can logically speaking, although very outlandish, attribute all past events to having some bearing on our lives. Surely if stellar matters did not swirl together under gravitational force to form earth, life would have been impossible, ergo no me! This may indeed border on insanity crossing the limits of arrogance, but still possible! But what about a planet or star that is forming now and is 100 light years away from me! Surely no information can travel faster than light and therefore that event will have absolutely no impact on my life (provided I die before 100 years). No gravitational wake or light or radiation from that body will reach me in my life. Thus that star or stellar matter has no bearing on my life! Thus it is disconnected from my life, my existence, it plays no role in my purpose of life. Thus necessary condition of interconnectedness is violated ergo, my life as such has no purpose. If I as an individual human being have no purpose, and like me others don’t have either, and never had or will, then how is it possible that all together, i.e. mankind, can have a purpose? Thus logically it seems there can be no purpose either on individual level or species level.

One could further take the example of galaxies which are moving away from us at speed slightly less than the speed of light. Soon that galaxy will disappear as space in that region recedes from us at faster than light. Surely we cannot assume that galaxy ceases to exist once it crosses that threshold; if it does exist, then all events taking place after that light speed threshold has been crossed, will have no bearing on mankind. Then where is the unity of purpose, where is the connectedness of parts in the universe? Thus from the standpoint of our logical framework, it necessarily follows that our lives are purposeless. The statement makes no claim on existence of a deity or absence of a divine plan but it surely state that the universe wasn’t created solely for our purpose nor there seems to be any reason to believe that we have any cosmic purpose.

We can compare ourselves to a group of ants in some beach who were tussled over by waves generated by sinking of titanic thousands of miles away, and concluding (if they were intelligent enough) the ship sank in order to punish them! Still does it prove that they were wrong, strictly speaking no, if you are to believe that there is a divine plan. The fact is if you believe in a divine being than anything goes and you have to live with that consequence! But still you reach one conclusion, whether you believe in deity or not, in our world there seems to be no purpose and to lead one’s life according to it is the logical course of action. To selectively look for divine interventions, to understand our purpose, to fit together events in this world to your divine plan, these are simply beyond us, even if they exists, and futile to seek. So conclusively we can say, we have no purpose so far as we can understand it and to know beyond it is impossible. Thus if we wish to or choose to live only by what we know then we should assume there is no purpose and live by the consequence of that conclusion.

Now it becomes important to ask the question, if indeed our lives are purposeless and we exist because of some fortuitous accidents in the formative stage of this planet, then where is our responsibility, why act morally, what is morality? Why can’t you and I kill ourselves, or murder others, why bother adhering to laws, why should you marry, why not be a hermit, why not stay in a cave, why not rape? The answer is, because you choose not to! There is absolutely no reason why you cannot do all these and more, if only you choose to. You are free to do whatever you feel like! As Sartre said “We are condemned to be free”. In purposeless life this is a necessary consequence. One could argue that such things are evolutionarily speaking harmful and hence we don’t engage in them. But that is wrong, for we have the inclination to perform all those acts as can be seen by our prison population! The question is not, why we don’t engage in these acts, but rather how come we have developed laws which specifically prohibit these acts. Laws are after all manmade and so we couldn’t have created them instinctively! The effort of this post is to provide a hypothesis as to how ‘moral’ laws or morality may have developed and to identify what consequences it has on us and our future.

We human beings have a created a unique apparatus to protect ourselves against the mighty nature. It is our evolutionary response to natural selection. While lower animals can only rely on chance mutation to protect themselves against extinction or natural selection, we humans have developed a unique and yet highly complex set of principles, norm, values, techniques. This we call culture, the sum total of all our activities including our very tools, technologies, language, science, press, anything and everything. Now it is not the intention of this author to ascertain how cultures developed but merely that it exists as our response to natural selection. It might have been and probably is an emergent phenomenon of a complex interacting social being like humans, but we will live it at that. What concerns us is how moral codes or laws developed within the rubric of culture.

I believe what natural selection is to environment, moral laws are to culture. In our quest to protect ourselves from nature we have created an equally complex phenomenon which now imposes new constraints on our lives. Moral codes act in much the same way as nature imposes constraints on organisms. Scarcities of food or water or unfavourable climate are all natures’ tools for natural selection. For some areas fruits might be of large size and thus birds with small beak cannot survive there, ergo those with large beaks become the abundant animal there. Similarly culture imposes restrictions through its laws, codes and morality on individuals; and those who do not adhere to them get ‘extinct’. We no longer deal with nature on an individual level; it is always mediated through some aspect of culture. Being alone with nature is no longer possible, not even for savages in Amazon since even they have their own  culture albeit primitive. True some primates show rudimentary level of cultural organization but nothing reaching in sophistication close to ours.

Thus different cultures have become different varieties, if not species, of mankind. For nature it is not me and you who are being selected but rather western culture, French culture, communist culture, bangle culture, Arabic culture, Indian culture, and many more. And like any other species or varieties, they compete with and influence each other; there is cross breeding. The Arab culture in 12th century might have gone extinct but its influence was felt in 15th century renaissance Italian culture which on turn had a profound impact on our present day culture. Seeds from French revolution have spread across many cultures and subcultures that exist today and we are still evolving.

But there is a difference between the constrained imposed by nature and those imposed by culture. Culture is much more influenced by our action than nature is by it species. It is worth noting that nature itself is an abstract concept representing the sum total of its species, habitat etc. Thus we as free beings can influence culture much more than any individual animal could nature. Thus we see that cultures get born, they evolve, mutate and even perish. So at one level culture is like a species to nature but to us temporal human beings it is nature itself. The moral codes evolved as part of culture as it mediated with nature, it was an outcome of that process. Hunting gathering society’s foremost requirement was unity. They needed to be united to survive and so if it required a despotic ruler so be it, if it meant most of those in the group wanted to have many wives so be it, if it meant pillaging had to be allowed so be it. Thus moral codes developed that ensured social adhesiveness. One could assume that at the initial stages of societal cultural development moral codes were very flexible and volatile. It must be so that after sufficient time has elapsed and more members joined, did the codes crystallized and stabilized.

But as mentioned before, while many, who live in a large established culture, take most of the norms as given, there are revolutionaries who are out there plotting planning acting to change them. This is necessary if we as human being want to survive, our cultures ought to evolve, and we need these “mutanogents”. What mutant cell is to a functioning body, revolutionary or social change agents are to a culture. True not all of them will be good but there might be some, whose ideas will be essential for our survival. Imagine a world without Rousseau’s Social Contract, or Marx’s Das Kapital, or Hume’s Inquiry or Newton’s Principia! Here again there is a difference between biological mutating agent and social change agent, while the former is a product of chance the later being a purposeless free agent is a product of volition.

For society to survive we need change agents but not everybody can be one, for too many mutation is a cancer to a healthy body and similarly to a society. Since we are purposeless being, it is within us to choose: whether we should follow the norm or challenge it! But we must remember, if we do challenge the society, just like nature, we will be severely put to the test and may perish in the process, just like so many useless mutant cells. This is a risk that all social agents must bear. For if a society or culture is too relax to allow anybody to influence or change itself then it is doomed to extinction. All captured criminals are examples of mutant cells gone bad, who have been destroyed by the culture or society. But have we not seen heroes to have risen from prison like Bastille, what of Nelson Mandela? And it is precisely because these societies couldn’t control such mutations, that they perished!

For human beings to survive it needs multiple cultures and diversity. Cultural homogeneity will be the death nail for us. As purposeless beings there is no ground to believe in any of the moral codes of any cultures, everything goes. But one warning, just like any animal can choose to ignore nature at its own peril, so can we our cultures. So each society has the right to defend itself and persecute those it considers as threat. Thus it was justified to persecute Galileo for he was a threat to the Catholic Church or Tycho Brahe or Salman Rushdie or Nelson Mandela. There is no logic, no absolute, all is absurd and purposeless and yet this is how it should be, if we as human beings have to survive and be free!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bigotry by any other name would smell as rotten

“Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar on horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on”

by W.B Yeat, The Great Day

Call it militant atheism or religious fanaticism, they are flip side of the same coin; two groups of self righteous intolerant group of individuals, too sure of themselves to be concerned with opposing views; both selling the same product, intolerance, but with different packaging. Since almost all militant atheist are converted atheist and by definition all converted people are more zealous of their religion, so are these people. Secondly, militant atheism is being spearheaded by atheist scientists and so they have the advantage of excess grey matter on their side. But then again considering their less educated religious counterparts, it doesn’t take much to have this advantage. But these are difference in degrees, mostly superficial, similar to a pageant competition, no offense to the competition.

Dawkins often makes the remark that he wants to convert those who are on the fence of atheist theist divide. Now this is a rational choice for him but one has to understand that all he is offering is another pseudo scientific religious set of beliefs. He is a great scientist without a doubt and so are his buddies in Atheist Alliance International, an organization which in my mind looks more like Catholic Church than anything. The audience mostly comprises of atheists, the speakers are also staunch atheists and the overall apparent purpose of the show is to ridicule religion with science, which they fail in my mind. Now you might think i am one of those religious fundamentalists taking my chances at Atheists, the answer is a resounding no. I am displeased by the action of fundamentalists even more so than those by the atheists. True I believe in God, also that I am a muslim but it pains me to see the so called religious people doing so much harm in the name of God. In case of the atheists like Dawkins, I am more hurt and angry than anything else. If there is one line that can capture my feelings towards them, it is that “You guys are scientists, you could have done better”. I believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution as much as I believe in Newton’s or Einstein’s theory of gravity. Origin of species is a marvellous book to read, although I digress but I must say one should at least read this book for the sake of pleasure.

But look at the speeches of Dawkins, Dennett or Laurence Straus, all they are doing is marketing their product. They cloak their atheism under the framework of science much like communists lured educated students towards it by suggesting it was scientific and hence socialism was inevitable. Recently Hawkins has been added to this same list unfortunately. M Theory or multiverse concept is nothing new but the way it is being packaged is indeed new. The anthropic principle, makes no claim on God, the only thing it can say, rationally speaking, is that if someone wants to justify our existence without assuming there is a god then we can do it. But the fact is we are making the choice of not assuming; just because a self consistent explanation exists doesn’t imply there is no God it simply implies we can explain it without assuming he is there. Now this one might argue makes God superfluous and this is true but that also does not imply he is not there. What is inbuilt in this argument by superfluous existence of god, is the Occam’s law, part of a medieval philosophy that has become ingrained in the scientific community, which basically states “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one”. But that is an assumption , a well worked out principle and nothing more. Also this argument draws on mere 300 years of scientific progress. Is it not presumptuous to be sure of any of our ideas?

Evolutionary speaking our brain hasn’t evolved at all in the last 2000 years or so ergo it is logical to assume that Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and other great ancient scientists were probably as intelligent as present day Einstein, in terms of mental capacity. Yet they proposed some of the most outlandish and false ideas that persisted for 1500 years or so. The theories of modern science hasn’t lasted for more than 1/5th of that time; some of them have already become obsolete like ether or phlogiston theory. Lee Smolin talks about how relativity might be revised or even proven to be false. He suggests that, just like speed of light is invariant, so can be length equivalent to Planck constant. Thus when one reaches the size of Planck constant, length becomes invariant to change in frame of reference. This is indeed currently being researched. Then there is a theoretical physicist at Imperial College in UK who is working on the theory that speed of light changes over millions of years and so is locally constant but might vary on such huge time scale. Now these theories might radically alter our perception of present day science. Our current day notion of science is radically different from that of an 18th century scientists. The idea of a deterministic universe with intricate elegant laws which we are trying to discover is as arcane among scientific community as is Lamarckian notion of evolution among biologists.

Historically nobody followed the Baconian notion of scientific progress. If indeed anybody did then it would have been disastrous. It is interesting to note that Copernicus questioned Ptolemy not because Ptolemy was wrong, on the contrary his argument was derived from the perspective of elegance. During that period, physics was considered to be a subject that had practical implications. Hence locomotion dealt with both inanimate and living things like trees etc. Whereas mathematics and astronomy were considered to be abstract science whose inner working was contingent upon the notion of “intellectual beauty”. Thus Copernicus thought he could reconcile the motion of the Earth with the perceived motions of the planets easily, with fewer motions than were necessary in Ptolemaic system current at the time. As a matter of fact initially, even after Galileo, Copernican model was less accurate than Ptolemy’s model. Also Galileo was struck by the beauty of the notion rather than hard proof. It is intriguing too see that even Kepler had tough time accepting Galileo’s views. Galileo’s telescopes were highly inaccurate and to use them as convincing proof of Copernican system is indeed great suspect. If he was put up against the current scientific community, surely his notion would have been outright rejected.

Even look at Einstein’s specially theory of relativity, he was so sure of it that when asked about the evidence he was least bothered. Now obviously one could argue that if he didn’t get any proof surely he would have changed his view or the theory wouldn’t have survived. But what is interesting to note that the Perihelion precession of Mercury, which was used as proof of General relativity still, has some discrepancy with the theory. This discrepancy arose after closer measurement with newer technologies but by then General relativity was accepted and other proofs have been found elsewhere. Thus initially the theory was accepted on rather “interesting” “facts”. What I am driving at that in science as in any other discipline, anything goes. If you have too relax a structure no progress will take place, if you have too much constraint like Falsification paradigm or Bacon’s theory of science, then also science wont progress. Science is just as frail and open to mistake as any other human domain.

Science starts with the notion that everything can be explained using the principle of materialism and thus it is sanile to assume that scientific explanation will not be grounded on materialism; but to use it again as a reason for believing in materialism, if done intentionally, is nothing sort of propaganda. Militant Atheists are doing just that, just like their religious counterparts.

One always here that religious books are open to multiple interpretations and so they are highly ambiguous. But if we look at religion as subject to evolutionary principles then if it was written in mathematics or other precise language, it would have gone extinct pretty quickly. One cannot imagine general people or priests trying to understand a holy book written in tensor algebra or topology even now let alone 2000 years ago. Mathematical precision comes at the cost of narrowness of domain. So if a text has to survive over 1000 of years while it's readers evolve mentally and also cover every aspect of it's reader's life, then precisely it has to be open to multiple interpretations. There cannot be one single meaning. Now about all the hardship and suffering in the world, well if you want us humans to have freewill then the outcome is likely to be a mix of good and evil. Now these are by no means an attempt to justify religion but a way to show that I can virtually use any logic to justify them. Science cannot and has no rational ground to talk about religion. It is a personal choice, I can be a solipsist, which may sound absurd but logically it is a very defensible position. If I believe that earth is 4000 years old, I can say an omnipotent god can make the earth look 4 billion years old whereas it is only 4000 years old. Science cannot challenge me on this, although general people by virtue of tradition or culture might.

Just because great scientists like Hawkins Dawkins say that atheism is scientific doesn’t make it so. Their capability and expertise lies in development of science and that does not necessarily imply what they say is always scientific. Neither atheism nor religion can ever be scientific and so pretty much anything goes. This implies anarchy is probably the most logical set of belief, but albeit we “choose” not to be anarchic. There is no reason to assume that our belief structure should be under the same constraints as has been imposed upon science, just like it is absurd to think that we should speak with iambic pentameter inorder to speak correctly.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And then there was light....

The economic crisis that has engulfed much of the developed world, has also removed the veneer of civilization, humanity off the face of this earth. It seems to me there is very little difference in the mentality of people on either side of the economic divide. Both sides have high dose of bigotry, stupidity, pride and unjustified faith in ones righteousness. Nothing can be more dangerous and harmful, than stupidity juxtaposed with belief in ones moral superiority. The conservatives blame all the world’s ills on the paucity of moral luminaries, while the liberals blame it on the excess presence of such gifted individuals. One would have assumed that in the 21st century human being would be more ‘prone’ to reason but it seems we are diseased with a sense of morality.

Immorality doesn’t always involve intercourse neither bribery nor other illegal ‘acts’. Considering oneself morally upright even when there is plethora of evidences to think otherwise, is the worse form of immorality. We might be more educated than ever before, but we are simply not enlightened enough to run this world. Our interconnectedness, globalization has made the world too small for our egoistic brain to handle. Just reading the news and looking at the comments made by ‘informed citizenries’ of this world should make anybody’s blood boil. Rejoicing at the news of death, innocent or otherwise, of people whom we don’t know cannot be considered as a testament to the fact that we are god’s greatest creation. I personally think atheists can simply argue on that point alone, that if indeed we are the greatest creation of god and this is what we offer, then one might have a legitimate point about God’s existence. I am a believer in God but it pains me to see so much hatred and anger in this world. I am no angel and neither can hope to be one, I feel hatred too and my criticisms are very much applicable to me as well. The greatest tragedy is having the knowledge and faculty to know that what one feels is wrong and yet not having the ability to fight the biological and cultural drives which makes one feel that way.

I lived in the illusion that it was an ‘our world’ phenomenon, that poor people were probably more bigoted and prejudiced, considering their illiteracy. That image has been pretty much shattered, the irony of it all Marx never needed to fight for equality; we are pretty much equal irrespective of our religion, country, and wealth. We must take pride in the fact that wherever we go we can always find large number of extremist, bigots; people who are extremely sure of themselves, who require no fact, who know through their heart and faith what is right and what is wrong. I think most people are closet xenophobes, all you need is a channel where you can anonymously make comments and you will see how enlightened we are. We are ready to kill for  trivial reasons, after all why not we have 6 billion of ourselves. To make things even better, we give it a moral aspect so that we don’t even feel the pang of sorrow when we kill somebody. Surely smart weapons kill without any pain; surely precision strikes are humane way of killing. We have sanitized killing and made it an acceptable way of life. The world is more worried about economic meltdown than the fact that for last 9 years there has been a continuous war. We forget that there are people who are willing to burn and kill girls just because they want to study and apparently what is more hilarious ( bad sense of humour) they are doing it for moral reasons. I think the most dangerous word in the human vocabulary is ‘morality’. All works of evil can be justified under the rubric of morality.

I think the world needs to get slightly more ‘amoral’ if it wants to survive. We have too many moral people and too few intelligent and enlightened people. Instead of spending ones time in trivial pursuits, we should devote sometime, at least for “moralities” sake, to reading. But oh surely we have more books than ever before, but unfortunately with equal conviction I can say we have more trash out there than ever before. We need to read books that broaden our minds, which allows us to see in to our past, gives us the ability to think critically, to think with our brains. I think it is far better to accept one’s ignorance than to be sure of one’s heart. We simply cannot trust our heart, a little dose of history will be able to convince of us at that. But unfortunately we live in a time where we take pride in the fact that we are stupid and yet can survive. We want to spend our life without thinking and that is considered to be a good life. To be educated and bookworm is considered to be elitist and an outcast. We are striving towards a dark age of ignorance with alarming alacrity. With all the technologies at our disposal and a general instinctive allergic response to anything cerebral, living in the future is indeed something not worth looking for.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The tower of Babel

All of human knowledge can be summed up as relationship between various abstract concepts. These concepts may not have one to one correspondence with the material world or the world of sense perception even though they might derive from it. Human knowledge can be looked upon as an ever expanding circle enclosed in an area of ignorance. As our knowledge increases or the circle expands, so does our realization of ignorance; for the boundary is our contact with ignorance.

When one makes a breakthrough at any frontier area of knowledge, he/she creates a perturbation in this otherwise perfect circle of knowledge. Thus immediately those who are around that perturbation, slide in to that region. Thus suddenly in this perfect circle of knowledge, there is an outward hump in to the region of ignorance. As more people slide in to this region, the hump becomes bigger and penetrates even deeper in to ignorance, shedding light as it moves. So imagine this, many scientists are working in the boundary area of the circle, the inner part of the circle being our genetically endowed cognitive abilities ( logical skills, ability for abstract thoughts, language skills etc). The perfect circle gradually starts growing spikes from these small humps or perturbation, as more and more scientists pour in. These spikes are different subjects, physics, chemistry, language, economics etc; each using our cognitive abilities as base and then developing/using their own tools/methodologies to penetrate in to the ocean of ignorance.

It might so happen that small hump may appear somewhere in the spikes themselves resulting in growth of secondary spikes. One can imagine these spikes to be conic in shape thus the highest tip having handful of people working, which is ought to be the case at the frontier area of a subject. If this is indeed the true picture of how we gain knowledge then one can see an obvious problem. If the spikes are indeed conic in shape and their base starts from the circumference of the circle then much empty space or ignorance will remain in between two adjacent spikes. The implication being, at very rudimentary level we might be still ignorant simply by virtue of the way we started accumulating knowledge.

Another problem that appears is that as the spikes become longer they gain more sophisticated knowledge in their own field but also by virtue of their conic shape at higher level they move further away from adjacent spikes. Hence as subjects develop further and its complexities increases, their distance from related subjects also increases. Each subjects developing its own tools and language fit for its own purpose. These tools become more and more precise for the particular discipline and hence less and less applicable to other disciplines. The practitioners of different disciplines will scarcely be able to communicate in the near future because they won’t be able to translate their knowledge to others.

One might suggest that mathematics is the common language for many disciplines and therefore all may not be lost. However as human knowledge expands, in each disciplines one has to learn background knowledge in order to reach the frontier. Thus it might be impossible to communicate with somebody else who lacks such knowledge. As the discipline becomes even more sophisticate the effort to communicate with others will become even more futile and impossible. We are witnessing the birth of new tower of Babel.

Now the above discussion was rather philosophical in nature and bad one at that. It was built on an analogy and then I derived some conclusions supposing that analogy to be true, which is obviously logically indefensible. But what I wish to point out is this: the role of philosophy lies in developing such extra-scientific or meta-scientific propositions. Recently I have been going over various documentaries on philosophical figures like Ayer, Gilbert Ryle, Isaiah Berlin, Bernard Williams etc. From their discussion it seems to me they have relegated philosophy and have made it subordinate to science; the purpose of philosophy being, to analyze the concepts of scientific disciplines like physics, psychology and even economics. Metaphysics is studied purely on the ground of historical reason. I found this rather disturbing because to bind or limit philosophy goes against the very nature of the discipline. It was the unbounded nature of the discipline that allowed the development of atomic ideas by Democritus or the ideas of all the major present day disciplines by Aristotle. I believe Wittgenstein-ien philosophy and those of logical positivism have done much harm to philosophy.

We need a subject that is supra-methodological, without structure and uses everything/anything as subject matter. We need a discipline which should study all other disciplines and thus methodologically should be different from all other. To structure it is to bind it, to bind it is to limit it, and to limit philosophy defeats its very purpose of existence. My above theory of knowledge is abstract idea with no strong empirical basis, and therefore it might be unscientific. However I believe it is precisely these kind of activities that must be pursued by philosophers, for it precisely these kind of activities that are left out by other disciplines. I believe in our excessive glorification of science, we have sacrificed too much, we have wrongfully dethroned philosophy. I am not against philosopher spending time trying to analyze and clarifying scientific concepts, however to limit them to that seems to me to be patently naive. Students of philosophy must be taught, if one might take it to the extreme, to think the unthinkable and there should be no methodological constraint in their pursuit, the future of human knowledge depends on it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No Ordinary Love Story

It’s funny I don’t remember when or how I met my first crush but one thing for sure I still have a thing for her, even after so many years. I remember in class V I wrote a whole essay which was inspired by her, although I didn’t get a good grade but that had more to do with my lack of English skills than her. If I had written about her now I am pretty sure I would have scored much better. Oh I was so naive, I thought everything was set and I was so sure I was going to spend my entire life with her. Well of course I was going to do other things and have other friends, but nothing could beat her. It was one of those childhood crushes, simple, naive innocent, full of hope and at the same time blatantly unrealistic. But you know what, I think when we leave childhood the one important thing that we forgo is our ability to think the impossible. Daydreaming is a very poor imitation of our childhood dreams. In childhood these impossible dreams are indeed possible, you actually believe in them. In daydreams you are aware that they are but a dream.

Well what can I say about her she was definitely more matured, knowledgeable than me; come to think of it I don’t think I have ever met someone so matured. She had so many stories up her sleeves, I loved them. I spend hours listening to her, especially the stories she had about wars, dynasties and kings. As you can clearly guess she was much older than me, more than you can imagine but hey I was just a kid. I was fascinated and captivated by her; it was so wonderful to be with her. The funny thing is she knew about the fact that I had a crush on her and that made me even more attracted to her, oh you know those childhood reverse psychology and delusions, “omg she knows and yet she spends time with me, must be because she loves me”. The thought of other people spending time with her or talking with her would enrage me beyond belief, how dare they, she was mine. But gradually I came to understand that she looked at me as her child and definitely not as a life partner, how shocking. Then again it wasn’t a sudden realization and so I guess when it finally hit me, it wasn’t much of a surprise. We still keep in touch and correspond often although it’s not like what it used to be but I guess that is only natural.

Time went by and then one day I met someone in school, I was in Grade 7 by then. To be honest at first I didn’t like her, it seemed all she ever did was ask question “why is this” “what is that” “how do you do this” and the list goes on. The good side, she was much younger than my first crush but still older than me, I don’t know I have a thing for old stuff. I mean surely I knew the younger generation but they looked so superficial and phony, I mean you have seen young girls they always copy stuffs from older generation. So I went after the old, hey as they say old is gold. That’ one of the reason I always watch movies from 60s and 50s, sometime even as far back as 30s.

So anyways back to my love story, she was like someone whom you gradually began to love and appreciate. I mean to be honest most guys in our class loved to be around her because somehow they thought she could make them look intelligent. But the fact was when she asked question, which she always did, and they couldn’t answer, which often they couldn’t, they ended up looking stupid. I loved her a lot but you know teenagers, you are too scared of looking dumb in front your mate- better slightly coward than downright dumb. Especially considering there were so many martyred friends of mine around her, I dared not. And so we ended up becoming great friends and I might go as far as to say lifelong friends. Even today I am constantly in touch with her and to be honest she has been one true inspiration of my life, her inquisitiveness, search for truth, her energy, optimism, full of life is unbelievable and knows no bound. At the same time she was intolerant at times, I remember she couldn’t stand her older sister, which was especially funny because she told me that her sister taught her everything. Her sister was about twice as old as her, at the time we met.

She didn’t like her elder sister because apparently she was too in to mystical stuff. I mean I never understood the family feud, if you ask me. I mean her elder sister knew a lot too and I agree at times she did look a bit weird, especially when she fussed over how to say what to say. There were times when I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. She was so in to semantics and I think that made her younger sister hate her. Gradually and ever so slightly I fell for her elder sister too, I mean I know you guys think I am some love addict or something. It seems anybody I meet I fall in love especially if they are old; well yeah you are entitled to say that. But I am confident when I say this much, I loved these two like nobody else and I am still really fond of them. I am in touch with both and we correspond a lot, although the level of correspondence varies. There are times when I am communicating with the younger on a regular basis or sometime it’s the older sis. Now here is the “bombshell” secret, I think I am still in love with the older one. I know it’s insane but after all this year, I think she is the one. She is wacky at times, and it seems she often makes fuss for no apparent reasons and most people do find her rather “much ado about nothing” type but she is so liberating and broad minded. I mean don’t get me wrong the younger sis is awesome too but don’t tell her this, I think she is a bit too sure of herself and a bit too arrogant. And the fact is because the older one is broad minded, I don’t think the age difference will matter and most importantly I don’t think she would mind if she knew I had been with others, to be frank I think she already knows.

Well then came a rather sad part of my life and worse part is I am responsible for that. I cannot blame anybody else for this, squarely my fault. You know one those episodes, like you go after a girl not because you love her but because everybody else does. It’s so horrible and yet you drag on because you love the attention people give you. Oh the tragedy of it all. Well to err is human and I am human all too human when to comes to this. The worse thing is I went with her for so long. There were some good times no doubt but overall it was hell. People still talk about her and me. Funny thing is some people think I was dumb to have dumped her, while others think I was “the man” to have done so because nobody in his right frame of mind would have had the courage to do so. Well I don’t know whether I was dumb or great, bottom line it was a learning experience, “why do you care what other people think”. Although I must say did learn things from her, boy she could talk her way through anything. But then again with her image it wasn’t a big deal. I doubt most people ever listened what she was saying. They were too happy to be among the blessed few to have been spoken to by her. But yeah she was one hell of an experience.

My final crush was interesting. I am not sure I am over her yet but I don’t think it’s working out between us and we have been trying quite a lot. When we met, I was in my 2nd year undergrad. She was really exotic in a sense, really fancy. She reminded me of the younger of the two sis, only more arrogant and slightly less intelligent. But she was really fun to be with; she had all the questions and all the answers in the world. Some of the answers she gave were so patently wrong and yet with such forcefulness she would give them that nobody had the courage to point out the obvious. And she was like one those intellectuals, you know who speak foreign tongue like French or something and not their native stuffs, just to show off their superiority. Many people were put off by her arrogance and she did demean a lot of people, come to think of it I am not sure why I fell for her so completely. I guess she reminded me of my school crush, the younger of the two sis. I did talk to her about the two sis, although she said the younger one was someone I should have gone after but she was very critical of the older sis, which obviously I didn’t like. Apparently she was like the older sis once upon a time, vague about everything, never sure of anything but now she has learned to become more articulate and knows many languages. I wanted to tell her I would rather be vaguely right than be precisely wrong, any day.

I don’t know what future holds for me, I am not sure if this relationship will go beyond this year, we have grown apart so quickly and so far that I think the differences are irreconcilable. The things have gone worse since I came here in Canada, I guess in Bangladesh it was the honeymoon period. Then again I am already 28, I cannot go on having flings and crushes like this, I have to settle down sooner or later. May be there is nothing like perfect love, it’s all fiction, happens only in story books. May be I should just accept my fate and get married. Or maybe I can give one last shot; you never know victory may lie just over the next hill and then I will live happily ever after. However come what may, I must say it has been one hell of a ride. Surely there were ups and down, it wasn’t a joyride but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I learned so much from them, each of them even the bad one. I owe a lot to them and even if I cannot have my dream, I should say “thank you God” for this wonderful journey. Now before I leave, let me just introduce my long list of lovers in order I have mentioned them: history (my first crush), physics (younger sis), philosophy (older sis), business (bad one) and economics ( the arrogant one).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Muaz !

I honestly think free speech is an illusion only now instead of government or kings it’s the general people or public opinion that does the censuring. Oh no I am not talking about the usual case of not being able to voice against your government or leaders, which is prevalent today no doubt. But in areas where an opinion has become so strongly accepted and glorified that to speak against it seems to be an anathema. It seems we humans have developed abstract ideas or opinions which after sometime becomes object of worship and people applaud when you show your undying agreement to the idea while face nothing short of public wrath or obloquy if you dare to speak against it. The result is thought censuring, people begin to gravitate towards monolithic set of opinions which in turn reinforces those opinions and further stifles any criticism, constructive or not. Combine this with the fact that most people are single tracked, egoistic, narcissistic, “cognitive misers” (those who don’t get the term mostl likely fall in that category) and you end up with set of “godly opinions” whose existence is like “lack of universal healthcare in USA”, you don’t know how or why they persist.

However there are certain opinions where instead of one you are blessed with equally illogical but polar opposite set of opinions. In these cases to side with any opinion, in my opinion, is like choosing between BNP and Awami league, in both cases you end up looking stupid. The reason is no opinion should be glorified and be kept above and beyond criticism. The gravity of the matter stems from the fact that opinions at present are being protected by people, there are no centralized body trying to stop you from saying things, it’s the people and ignorant ones at that. Social networks like facebook or Hi5 are interesting place to check this. One would assume that people having access to internet will be reasonably intelligent, although it is very much open to debate but hey for assumption’s sake we can make that. In those network try to say something against a publicly held opinion and you will see flurry of comments nicely implying that your comment was politically incorrect and at the same time showing their agreement to the opinion. And these are your friends, unless of course you happen to be those who have no friends and hence have a friend list of 4000+.

What is even more interesting is that there is something evangelical about it, when people censure you. It’s like they are saying “you see I am not like this guy who doesn’t know what to say, I know how correct this opinion is”. The jury is so in when it comes to patriotism, religion, Darwin, superiority of woman, “freedom” , that surely you are joking if you criticise the conventional wisdom. Recently I was looking at an article in facebook about returning home from abroad. It was a moving article which basically went on to show that people from Bangladesh who go abroad to study should return home and not settle abroad. The author basically tried to appeal to reader’s emotion, and he was successful without a doubt. His basic argument was to say that religiously speaking we should take care of our parents, and that their happiness supersedes ours since they sacrificed a lot for us. He was using the time tested method of being apologetic and at the same time evoking guilt in minds of the readers. Fused that with some patriotism and voila you have the magic formula, everyone immediately started posting their comments and conveyed how obvious it was and brilliant too. This is a good example of opinion censuring; I know most of them will not return back home and will settle abroad, yet it doesn’t stop them from publicly stating how much in agreement they are with this article.

After flurry of comments siding with the article, I wrote that I disagree with the logic even though I will probably return home. Obviously I faced some criticism but not much, at least not to the extent I would have liked. What can I say I love turning the table, I hate stale opinions they tend to remind me of swamps and hence most of the time I try to stand against public opinion or conventional wisdom out of pure sense of fun and jest. Oh no I am no vanguard of free thought, au contraire I am pretty coward and probably because of that I am rarely confident about any particular opinion. I shift my opinions and think other than politicians it is insane to have fixed set of opinions about everything. The more I read the more I see that there is very little reason to be confident about anything. Our knowledge is but a grain of salt in an ocean of ignorance and to be confident in these circumstances is to question that very grain of salt we profess to have. Thats the funny thing about knowledge, it breeds ignorance.However fortunately or unfortunately I am not the majority and hence most people tend to be confident.

The article I referred to was obviously debatable specially for a country like ours where trade deficit is $8-9 billion dollars i.e. we export around $14-15 billion where as import is $9 billion higher. Only through remittance we are able meet up this deficit and that comes not only from labourers working in Middle East but also NRBs in UK and USA. If one looks at Bangladesh Bank website then you will find that our top remittance sources include UK & USA. Hence the question of brain drain and returning home is very much open to debate and I am sorry to say the “jury is not in” on this. But obviously if you are vocal about this then it is very likely you will face unjustified criticism which is more ideological than fact based. If it was only criticism then ‘who’ cares, at least not me but the primary harm from this is that it hinders logical rational assessment of the situation. I want people who are working and studying outside, those who are sending money back home, i.e. people not like me, to be really proud of themselves because they are one of the largest exporter of our country and they are the true patriots.

I think criticism in all aspect of life is necessary and it is not easy to take, I will be the first one to agree to that. I hate criticism and cannot stand them but at the same time it ‘itches’ me to accept this but in the long run I owe a lot to them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Local "Common Sense" Global "Ignorance"

Here I am borrowing the terms from the domain of calculus or geometry where we might have a maximum for a “local” neighbourhood but “globally” or across the entire continuum/domain the point might not be a maximum. I believe we humans with our massive intellect and an even bigger mass of arrogance are getting stuck in this “local” maximum. Our daily life is governed by set of laws which we humans have become accustomed to; they form the very fabric of our everyday existence. As a matter of fact they have become so ingrained in our head that we tend to view every experience through the lens of those implicit sets of rigid laws. These laws are less of laws and more like handy tools, honed and sharpened across generation upon generation of evolution of our species from a nomadic hunting gathering society to a nomadic industrial atomistic society. However they have outlived their usefulness and gradually are becoming more of a hindrance to the progress of our species. It is our responsibility to actively and aggressively combat such outmoded concepts and thoughta. It is time we dethrone “Common Sense”

What is common sense, well in this case I mean it is the set of ideas or concepts that we generally accept to be true and are develop mainly by the process of “induction”. Take the example of classical logic and the principle of excluded middle in particular, which states you can’t be A and Not A at the same time. This is a law which serves us pretty well in our everyday life after all you can’t be dead or alive at the same time; unless of course you happen to be a cat in a close box with an ampoule of poison and a trigger which operates randomly. In that case you are a very special cat indeed, a cat who happens to be both dead and alive at the same time till Master Schrodinger opens the box and collapses the probability wave. Before the advent of quantum mechanics and relativity the world was much simple, Newtonian mechanics was nothing but a deductive extension of our “common sense” albeit beautifully done. Relativity and Quantum theory rained havoc to our common sense; it has indeed made reality queerer than fiction and definitely queerer than you can think.

Particle and wave, the two distinct concepts of the classical world became much fuzzier concepts in quantum world. It seems entities could be both and indeed it is we who gave them existence by simply measuring them in a particular way. Energy or mass created out of the quantum fluctuation in space, using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, accounts for 70% of the mass in the universe. The idea is simple, uncertainty allows for creation of energy out of nothing provided they exist for a very short period of time, voila there you have it, space becomes a soup of particles being created and annihilated all the time. These  virtual particles, so called but who are very much “Actual”, accounts for much of the mass of the universe. This flies directly in the face of our “common sense” and yet it is true, whether we like it or not we weren’t consulted. The computer chip that is the bulwark of our modern civilization works on the principle of quantum tunnelling, which allows sufficient number of electrons with less energy to cross the energy barrier of atomic orbitals. This is again because of uncertainty principle which allows electrons to have sufficient “additional” energy to cross the barrier albeit for a short duration of time. Since there are millions of electrons probability allows for unusual events like this to take place regularly.

Relativity destroyed the idea of objective of time; late comers could finally say they weren’t late for an appointment, after all time is relative. Unfortunately in our everyday life or frame of reference time is indeed objective, it’s only when we approach the speed of light do things go awry. It is now well accepted fact that if two objects moving very fast and in different direction observes a common event than it is very likely they will disagree as to the exact timing of the event. As a matter of fact to ask the question “at what time did the event take place” without specifying the frame of reference is simply nonsensical. It is currently believed that we live in a unique age where the universe is expanding and the galaxies at the outer fringes of our universe are expanding near the speed of light or may be more. In a billion year or so it might happen that all the galaxies within our telescopic viewing range may have crossed the light barrier. In that case, astronomers who might live during that age may conclude erroneously that indeed the universe is composed of only Milky Way since he can’t see any other galaxy. It is indeed a fascinating idea and that is the current viewpoint of the astrophysicist community in regards to functioning our universe.

So it becomes obvious that our common sense which works so well in everyday life, which is so obvious and intuitively appealing may and often do breakdown when the horizon is much more extreme. When we are talking about the micro world of quantum mechanics, when we are talking about events that take place in a billionth of a second or events which are light years away or taking place million times faster than we are accustomed to then our “time tested” “efficient” “successful” Common Sense FAILS spectacularly. We are probably the only species who had the ability to develop such a non instinct based abstract thinking concept like common sense and it is we who must now question it. Why?

Surely we have accepted relativity and quantum mechanics, we let the physicist deal with these stuffs, and we even allow graduate students to be taught these queer things at least those who are interested in them. So we have already accepted them and we are moving ahead! Well my answer is not quite so. We have allowed these things to continue even though they challenge our everyday ideas precisely because they are so far removed from our everyday experience that it hardly matters; it’s a charity we can afford to give without sacrificing much. However when Galileo challenged the geocentric view or the flat earth hypothesis, things didn’t go all that smoothly. Church had already given its favour to geocentrism to change its stance would destroy the image of infallibility, hence it became blasphemy. Surely that was Middle Ages, we have progressed long way since then or have we.

One of our oldest sacred view is that we are special and in a way unique. It is very common among us to ponder what makes us, individual, unique and I am sure deep in our heart we sincerely believe there is something special about us, not only as humans but the individual we are. Galileo took that from us by removing us from the center stage of the universe and since then physics has made us more and more insignificant. 150 years ago a similar blow was hit upon us by Darwin, he dethroned us from the perspective of “best of creation” or at least the way we thought we were the best creation, by showing that we descended from primates. Since then the battle has raged on, it seems in the face of overwhelming proof to the contrary we are still trying to hold on to the view that we dropped from the heavens one fine morning and started living. In my view and I might be wrong, that is an Insult to God. To suggest that he couldn’t have created us via evolution seems to me arrogance on our part, as if we know his limitations.

The primary bottleneck is the concept of design without designer. The basic logic being every building has a builder and hence we must have a creator. Evolution explains our current biodiversity impeccably well. Why do we have tail bone, why do we have back pain, why do human foetus when 4-5 months old begin to grow hair behind their back which later disappears. These can be explained by our descent from primates who had tail, hair at their back and where not used to straight erect posture. Yet we hold on to the view of creationism simply because it is so common that a complex organism like us could not have been created by a process of random play of amino acid molecules. Our common sense is used to observing development of complex design like buildings or cars or bridges which require our active participation ergo we couldnt have been a product of random play. But buildings and bridges cover a very finite insignificant time horizon and are nothing compared to the billions of years amino acids had. It is indeed an inversion of reason, a ridicule of common sense that given billion of years and billions of molecules with natural selection you can have complex organism with design without the active participation of any designer.
Evolution is as absurd as the curved space, quantum fluctuation and wave particle duality. It goes against every iota of common sense that we have just like relativity and quantum mechanics does. And just like relativity and quantum mechanics it is JUST AS TRUE. What makes human beings special and unique is not the fact that celestial bodies revolve around us, not that we fall from heaven just the way we are but because we can go beyond our instincts, we can evolve beyond our genes, we can even evolve out of our common senses. I am theistic evolutionist, a believer who thinks God created universe and that he uses natural phenomenon to run the show, it is an assumption I agree but I take it because it has proven to be useful and successful.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Dereligifying" Evolution

The idea of evolution has been hijacked by atheists and fundamentalists alike. For atheist it has become a symbol of rational thought and free spirit. For fundamentalists it has become a holy war, disproving evolutionary concepts seems to be their main aim in life. The plethora of books for and against evolution is indeed mind boggling. Frankly, I find the idea of evolutionary science interesting and true, much like I take atom and quarks to be true. It is important to qualify this statement for if I ever become a person of eminence this statement is very likely to haunt me. I don’t understand quantum mechanics completely but I have read and heard much about it from people whose profession is to know about such concepts. In similar line I have heard and read about Darwinian evolutionary theory and have come to the conclusion that it is true. If one day I find out that this theory has been proved false then so be it, I will accept it too. For instance I thought universe was curved but recently saw a documentary which showed that scientists currently believe that universe might be flat globally and curved locally.

What I find unfortunate is the environment that atheists and theists have created around evolution. It seems one cannot talk about this without siding with one of the camp or the other; it has been turned in to a religious battleground. Well my message to Mr Atheist and Mr Theist: "you cannot hijack an idea, it belongs to all humanity". Atheists are just as militant and religious as the theist. One has to see some of the AAI documentaries to understand what I am talking about. From the point of view of scientific content the documentaries are well worth the watch, one can easily disregard the Atheistic propaganda. Unfortunately theistic documentaries lack the former as well and hence I hardly watch them.

Now coming back to evolution, I find the theory to be very appealing, beautiful, elegant, and most importantly simple; the simplicity of the theory appeals to me most. With the simple principle of random mutation and natural selection it can explain such complex design that even if it were found to be false, I think it’s still useful. The idea of natural selection is such a powerful algorithm that it can be applied to various other domains, like evolution of science, culture,economics, language and other complex adaptive systems.

From what I understand basic evolutionary algorithm has three characteristics 1) Large number of replicating agents/concepts/elements 2) Some randomness or mutation which can propagate with replication 3) An environment which imposes constraint in regards to propagation/survival of the aforesaid agents. These three propositions are all that is required to bring about complex design in any system. Take for instance language, there are myriads of words (memes, or idea genes) that are generated by us either consciously or unconsciously and we help propagate  these words by communicating them to others. When we communicate these words to others, they sometime get distorted during reception or analysis or when they are stored, they might be distorted consciously too; this resulting mutation continues to propagate. In case of memes I think randomness plays less of a role in mutation and human choice probably plays a greater role but I guess the essential idea still holds. The new word must also mesh in to the pre-existing edifice of language; it can’t be too new that it looks out of place and at the same time cannot be exactly identical to another existing word thus being redundant. There must be something novel about the word, either its ease of use or quirkiness etc. This acts as the constraint that limits which new word survives and which doesn’t “LOL TTYL BTW TC Bazinga “ are all good example of evolutionary algorithm at work.

I was surprised to see that there are no interdisciplinary programs or graduate studies that offer courses on evolutionary algorithm and its application to various other discipline. If only one could disentangle this idea from the hand of religious groups, by which I mean theist and ATHEISTs alike, knowledge would have progressed much faster. I think a marketing campaign is required to demystify and “dereligify” evolution. As it stands, I believe in god and in evolution, frankly I don’t think there is any contradiction between the two. I think the contradiction appears because of a lack of imagination on the part of religious people and on a greater extent because of their lack of scientific knowledge. If there is anyone who thinks I am surely going to hell because of this statement then I have 3 questions for him or her : 1) Are you sure you are going to heaven? 2) Can God forgive anybody he likes? 3) What arrogance you have to think that you know where God will put me?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Experiencing Olympics 2010

The reason I am writing this post is to make sure that after many years when my life is dull (though an unlikely possibility) and I am nostalgic I can look back at this time and smile, thinking I wrote this post precisely thinking about what I would be thinking about what I was thinking that what I would be thinking.........(end loop).

Anyways this year the winter Olympics took place in Vancouver Canada; obviously because I happened to be there (surely the world revolves around me, just like the universe revolves around us humans). Jokes apart, I must say the experience was awesome. There were those among my "acquaintances" who did not participate in the festivity because they were too busy studying or simply thought the weather was drab, which btw it was. I on the other hand brushed aside my studies and the drab weather. Well it wasn’t a difficult decision actually, I mean I am doing poorly here at UBC anyhow and so studying extra hours hardly matters and second it’s probably a once in a life time experience. As for the weather, I think in the end it was more of a boon than bane, making the experience more memorable.

On February 11th the Olympics torch came to UBC and so my friends and I went to the University Boulevard and waited for the torch to arrive. We were there from 5.30 pm onward and the torch arrived at around 6.15 pm. There were tons of people waiting for the torch to arrive but fortunately we were able stand in the front row. It was raining continuously although not like Kal Baishaki but people disregarded nature completely. People thronged to the boulevard and there was music, dancing, and even candles celebrating the event. There was a funny incident though, we saw a group of protestors with placard and chanting slogans “no Olympics” going by. Apparently these people think that the BC government is spending money in wrong stuffs. If there was anything called too much democracy, this would have been a fine example of that. The torch finally came at 6.15 pm, there was a motorcade in front of it and there were tons of police cars as well. The torch was made by Bombardier Company and apparently has a life of 15 years, kinda nifty.

Yesterday was the opening day of the Olympics but the spirit of the day was dampened by the premature death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed during a training accident. I recently saw a documentary hosted by Bill Maher and there he joked about the fact that we are shocked and show disbelief when a sports car driver dies during a sporting event. He was like when you are driving at 250 km/hr with 20 other guys what do you expect. In a way I tend to agree, I mean it is sad that he died but making a human body move at 140 km/hr and expect its’ going to be perfectly safe is kinda absurd. We human see these sports precisely because it’s dangerous.

There were three of us and we started off at 4.15 pm (Friday). The bus ride reminded me of Bangladesh, we were jammed packed, which is unusual for Canada, and the funny thing was just like Bangladesh everyone wanted to stand near the door and not in the back. We reached the BC stadium at around 5.20ish and it was raining as usual but who cares, there were still many people around that place. Police and security officials were everywhere. We took some pictures and then went to Yaletown, which was 5-6 blocks away. In Yaletown they had erected two huge screens so that you could see the ceremony live but the problem was there was almost a km long line. I had given up hope when one of my Canadian buddies came up with the idea of butting in to line. Initially I was against the idea but my morality surrendered within few minutes, the cost was simply too high. To be honest I think it was the fear of getting caught and public ridicule that gave rise to my moral stand in the first place but as soon as I saw that my buddy succeeded without drawing any obloquy my opposition evaporated. We had to go through a security check to enter the enclosed compound but I guess given the current state of affair it was logical.

The ceremony was jaw dropping awesome and the environment inside with people of different nationalities jumping with their flags and everything made it even more exciting. The rain kept on pouring and we kept on disregarding it, what an insult to Mother Nature. We had to stand all the way and that’s like 4 hrs, by the time the event was over it seemed to me that I needed a new pair of legs. Then three of us went to  a coffee store to rejuvenate ourselves before heading for the public square in another part of downtown where the Olympics flame was. We reached that place at around 10.15ish and there were so many people there and so much energy, you could feel it. En route to this place we went through the happening area of downtown center where the New Year was celebrated. There were concerts going on, people dancing on the street, taking pictures, for me it was a new experience something I will hopefully always remember.

When we went to see the flame there was one funny incident though, we saw two really beautiful girls and one of my friend had the courage of going up to them to strike up a conversation. Although he was successful in opening up a dialogue but because the girls made eye contact with him he lost all composure subsequently started stammering and finally took a “strategic retreat”, which consequently resulted in a feet of laughter on our part. After that we went to have sushi in our favourite place called samurai sushi, it was so delicious. I am at a loss as to how can some people not like sushi, I think it’s a psychological barrier more than anything. We ordered like 9 different types of rolls and the waiter asked us whether we could finish them all but as always they underestimated us. All in all loved the day, had tons of fun, was well worth everything, memorable, exciting, enjoyed every second of it including the not studying part and getting drench in rain : JOIE DE VIVRE.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why do you care what other people think?

In this post I intend to lament or ramble, for I have no answer, about two specific problems of the affluent or well to do class. My definition of well to do is rather broad in scope; it includes anyone who doesn’t have to think where his next meal is coming from, in a sense the middle class and above. Now the problem that I wish to discuss is what one may call the “malady of self imposed restrictions” and “chasing other peoples dream”. Both very common and so overwhelmingly common, that often they pass of as good trait. In a sense some degree of self restriction is good and there are certain goals which are to be universally pursued or rather are worthwhile pursuing. However I believe both have reached an endemic proportion and have far outlived their usefulness. I write this not from a position of a doctor, oh no sir, I write this from a position a patient and probably a dying one at that, with neither a doctor nor a cure in sight.

I suffer from these afflictions to such a degree that it is quite impossible for me to be cured, I am too far out gone, my brain, soul has suffered far too long and so there is no hope for me. This is probably a desperate attempt because most likely the reader of this post also unbeknownst to him or her suffers from the same problem or worse knows that he or she suffers from the same disease and like me unable to cure himself/herself. I think Russell once said that one of the worse mental afflictions is when you are unable to shake away some mental prejudice simply because of the way you were bought up even when you know that what you believe is logically inconsistent or worse harmful or pointless.

That is precisely my case, I know very well that much of the restrictions that I face are self imposed and probably after all the hooplas, I am running after very traditional 21st century goals, success, glory and fame, how tragic and sad. What is worse, I am logically stuck and cannot get out. If I were to change my objectives and run after something else, I become a reactionary which is again a very stereotypical goal. The fact that I am searching for a way out and trying to be different squarely puts me in the reactionary camp. But it might also be that in sensing imminent failure in achieving the “desired universal goal of success”, I am trying to soften up the blow by deluding myself or by changing the goalpost. If that is so then this reactionary move of mine is nothing but a desperate attempt to save my ego and self esteem, which again is a very sacred thing to do in this century. In sense I am stuck in the 21st century mindset with no exit in sight.

Oh now my reader if you think this rambling about “Affliction” is slightly blown out of proportion then I can assure you that probably you and I are in the same ward, with me having far fewer days left than you but make no mistake you are in there too. It is true there are those who live their entire life without thinking about this and go about enjoying their job, car, success, promotion etc. Well that is like dying without ever being diagnosed with the disease, ignorance might be bliss but it is certainly not a yardstick for truth or falsehood. I think someone once said that with Knowledge comes melancholy but unfortunately the solution doesn’t lie in ignorance but in gaining more knowledge, I think that was Earl Russell. Unfortunately, so far, I haven’t been successful and my “melancholy meter” keeps on rising.

Why am I fussing over these two problems you might ask, because they are the root cause of much of our misery, so much of our avoidable, useless, lifelong sufferings. The problem is accentuated by the fact that we have but a single life to live. Why do we impose so much misery on ourselves, when all we need is a new set of beliefs, when the solution lies in our head, when all that we need is to see that the shackles around us are but our mental creation which can disappear in the blink of an eye if only we knew how to free our mind. We are far used to resigning ourselves to our mental restriction then to some outside constraint. On the contrary, constraints from outside challenges us, motivates us to move forward, success in a sense is all about breaking these constraints. Whereas when it comes to our self imposed boundaries, we resign ourselves like pacifist, they seem so insurmountable so impossible.

It is funny because these self imposed restrictions look ridiculous and apparent when you look at other people’s problem; it is obvious to you at once that what they say as impossible is nothing but their own restriction on themselves. You can also laugh at your own constraints from a time in the past when you were different. For instance now that I look at myself of 3-4 years ago, I can’t help but smile at the kind of restrictions I used to impose on myself. No traveling, no night out with friends, no going to movies, no blogging ( everyone does that, so why should I), these are but few. But I am sure there are many now and some I am aware of and some I am not but all the same, I am bound by them.

I am sure there are those among us, who are sure that we are taking a path that will lead us to misery, a path of sadness and sorrow and yet find ourselves impossible to deviate; maybe too many people know about it, maybe family knows about the decision, maybe your friends are aware of it, maybe you have already devoted far too much of your time and money in to it to back out, maybe there aren’t any option now, maybe it’s just too late. It’s like those Brando movies where you are on a car without a steering wheel, your goal set, your road straight ahead, you can’t back out now. The best you can do is hope things will work out somehow, knowing well there is no way that can happen, but hey you are entitle to some wishful thinking.

It is a very lonely ride I must say and you are certain to think oh well nobody gets it, nobody understands my problem, nobody understands the “@#$%” I am in. Well the fact is you are right, and that’s because YOU made them. Just like only in movies do you end up in a car with no steering wheel, only in you’re mind you see these iron bars around you. People forget, nobody remembers anything in the long run, just like you are busy thinking about yourself other people are just as self centered, amen to that, and are busy thinking about themselves. But if you choose the path of certain misery, you will live your life, you will go through all the pain and if you end up having a sad unhappy life then unfortunately nobody is going to cry for you, neither your family nor your friends and frankly rightly so because they have their own life to worry about. True some decision will be hard to make and may cause momentary hardship and public obloquy but it is certainly better than lifelong of sorrow. Life is far too much fun to be lost because of what other people may say or think. How many people have we met in this world, far too few and yet when it comes to taking a life changing decision we based them squarely upon those 500-600 people we know or have met.

I have spent almost 6 years of my life and large sum of money over a goal of running after economics, but it seems to me either I am too lazy or simply inept for the subject but the crux is I am simply no good in it. Now I can fret, cry, try hard and get it going or simply move on. In this case I intend to move on, I mean yeah people are going to say a lot of things about this or may be not but I can’t waste my time thinking about what other people think. Life is simply too much fun to be wasted like this and world is far too beautiful to be left unobserved by my prodding eyes. Buy hey that’s how I think, I might regret it one day but as of now, I say Who Cares. Now that I come to think of it, I think running after success fame and glory is probably a manifestation of the self imposed restriction. It is we who impose on ourselves those goals, it is we who define our success and failure, it is we who give importance to other peoples opinion and thereby make ourselves vulnerable to what they have to say. In a sense it is “we” who are in control of what happens to us. We are indeed condemned to be free, to choose slavery or freedom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I am not an Atheist

This post will deal with my views on the ongoing debate about God and my other views related to the subject of religion. My views are product of the type of person I am and therefore it is very likely some of you may object to the way I am dealing with such an important “subject”, but can’t help it that’s who I am. I find this continuing debate interesting but rather fruitless, and in a way can’t help but ask both sides: If they couldn’t convince each other for the last 2000 years what chances do they stand now. I know it’s not logical but it would have been amusing to ask.

I believe in God precisely because I don’t “know” whether he exists or not, it is belief in the unseen. Now it might be that if I were born in a family of Christians or atheists or Hindus I would have been bought up with a different belief of God. Well it is true but there is very little we can do about it other than saying that one’s upbringing does have an influence on ones future beliefs. The pertinent question might be why do I “continue” to believe in God even after I seem to have been taken by atheistic logics, as my previous post showed. Fact of the matter is, unfortunately from what I have seen atheists are usually far more intelligent than theists and hence their logical success is quite understandable.

I think faith and reason are diagrammatically opposite to each other. Faith means precisely lack or absence of reason per se. There are two analogies that I think might elucidate the point. When we talk about two buildings and ask which one is taller we do so by measuring with a standard meter tape. Hence the heights of buildings becomes comparable because there is a accepted measure of distance “meter” which is independent of the two buildings. If Faith and reason are two opposing concept then there needs to be a third concept independent of the two with which you can measure one’s superiority over the other. Dawkins uses the argument that much of the bloodshed in human history was because of religion; here he is using the concept of utility as a kind of yardstick to judge between faith and reason. But do we accept that yardstick; why not look at happiness or cohesiveness or xyz as the third yardstick. I think this entire debate is like comparing the height of two buildings in absence of any “meter”.

At present era of scientific progress it is an anathema to suggest that one “believes” or has faith in something. In front of people like Dawkins or other militant atheists you are likely to be verbally lynched and ridiculed. But if one looks deeper I think everything is not as certain as they might make you believe. Russell in his book “problems of philosophy” discusses an interesting issue about science, the problem of induction. The essential idea is we believe that whatever we know, laws theories etc will continue to hold e.g. Gravity will not disappear tomorrow or Planck constant will not change suddenly or for that matter universe will not just disappear like some stories of Douglas Adams. Hence there is this inherent faith in perpetuity of status quo, even in science.

If we look at Kuhn’s work we see that Scientists are also pattern recognizer albeit a much better trained one. They have a paradigm, a way of thinking and with that looking glass they view the nature. Hence as Von Hayek once remarked “all observation are theory laden”. Therefore scientific theories are consistent interpretation of the constellation of fact that surrounds us. While consistency might be a necessary condition for a true theory it is definitely not sufficient, there might be multiple consistent theories. I remember a line from the movie Men in Black “Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.” Thus one should not overestimate ones important and that goes for scientists as well. My point here is that Science is not synonymous for truth and the fact of the matter is there may be nothing called objective truth but that’s a quirky belief of mine. . Absence of evidence is not an evidence for absence.

One can look at reason and faith as X and Y coordinates of Cartesian geometry with Disbelief and irrationality being the negative X and Y axis. Every system or theories are based on axioms and in a way start with some form of belief, some less self evident than other, and then deductively move forward. We always make tacit assumptions even in science and daily life. For instance when an astronomer say that three of the planets will line up on this and this date, we believe what he says, we don’t rush to our room and try to check his calculation. By this way of thinking being a believer and being irrational are two different things. And there is no way one can check the superiority of one axis over the other.

The other way of looking at faith and reason might be something like wave particle duality in physics, at some deeper level there might be a concept that combines the two but in our level they are two distinct concepts. And it is our way of thinking or looking at things that makes the difference between what is faith and what is reason. All scientist, the bearer of reason, start with the belief that there theory will hold and then move forward and test it. And unlike baconian notion of science, a theory is not thrown away immediately when facts don’t match up. Experiments are repeated, new augmentations are done and every effort is undertaken by the scientists to save their theories. For instance the search for ether, the phlogiston theory etc. My assault on science is in no way to show that it is subjective or irrational but I want to convey that it has its own culture, social aspects and a human dimension which defines what Science is. I think we have a notion of science which is beyond human that somehow it is objective and foundation of truth. I wanted to show that there is every reason to believe that science is just like any other creation of human, a projection of our gifts as well as our limitations.

There is no reason to believe reason can explain everything. Hence there is no reason for you or anyone to debate the existence of god. It is a debate that cannot be lost or won as both sides uses different values and therefore one cannot fight across two paradigms, you need a common set of values. I believe and I am working on it, although one cannot prove existence of God but one can prove that one cannot prove existence of God. The idea goes as follows; first we define what proof is or rather a schema of how scientific theories are tested. Then we develop what are the necessary conditions for proving a theory and then we show in case of GOD those don’t exist ergo it cannot be proven.

On a side note, recently in a Friday prayer the imam was talking about the major sin in Islam and he said( I knew this from before), Shirk or Associating someone else with Allah, sharing as an equal partner, is the worse and severest sin, the only sin which is unpardonable. What interested me was the fact that means agnostic and atheist are actually committing less of a crime. Surely if not believing in god was such a huge crime it would have been mentioned directly in Koran in order to ensure there was no misconception. That was kinda interesting, may be I am wrong in my interpretation but rather amusing.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In Delusion we trust

This article is my preliminary response to one of the longest lasting debate of mankind: Existence of God or rather the proof of Existence of God. I am certainly not that arrogant to suggest that I have the answer, but I do think I have a different take on this whole affair. Recently I have been commenting on some of the blogs regarding others peoples response to Dawkins God’s delusion; although I haven’t read the book but I have seen his 2 hr long documentary on BBC on the same topic. I have also recently seen Bil Maher’s “Religulous” and found it rather amusing and interesting. Although I am a believer, if not a great one, I do find the atheistic argument against “proof” of existence of God rather compelling. Having said that, it is one thing to suggest that Atheistic counter attack on religious “proofs” are logical and quite another to be an atheist.

My all time favourite book on this debate is of course Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian. It actually talks about the debate between Copleston ( a Jesuit priest) and Bertrand Russell on the topic of God. From what I have read and seen so far, the theist have broadly three proofs of God and in all cases the agnostics or atheist, in my belief, have successfully shown that they are illogical. The important term is “illogical” not false. I don’t wish to use the term true or false, since it is my belief that they are most overrated and more importantly often misinterpreted. In this post I will succinctly try to discuss the debate as it stands now. I will summarise here, in short, the so called “Gods” debate by first stating the theistic logic followed by atheistic counter logic .

1) First Cause: This idea, I think, came from Leibniz. The basic concept is that since everything has a cause and since cause precedes effect then in theory one could move backward and identify the first cause. One might say the first cause was big bang but no that was an effect, the first mover or the first cause was God who initiated the creation of the universe.

Now the fallacy of the argument lies in its metaphysical nature and arbitrariness. For one thing we don’t and probably cannot know what happened before the creation of the universe and hence it is purely metaphysical or rather conjectural and not a proof as such. Second to suggest God was first mover is rather arbitrary, from the “strict sense of logic” as one could end the chain of causal inference at the big bang and suggest it came out of nothing or go a step back and ask the question “who created God”. Now if you say how dare you ask such question its blasphemy then to be honest you are presupposing God’s existence, then it’s no longer a proof but trying to discover God.

2) The law giver: This is similar to the 3rd idea of intelligent design but slightly more abstract, I believe. In a sense the idea is that we see universe follows laws: gravitational, electromagnetic, quantum mechanical etc. All these elegant laws are precisely obeyed by nature from microscopic world of quarks to the galaxies. Hence there must have been someone who developed those laws or rather there must be one Law Giver. You can also include moral law , biological law or other laws that you might think of but physical laws are much more precise and universal, it seems.

This proof although very intuitively appealing actually stems from a faulty analogy. We human see laws in court where a judge gives the final decision. The statutes or bills that are passed in parliament have MPs or representatives who come up with these laws. Hence we assume that since the universe has laws it must be  such, that there is a Law giver behind it, a judge so to speak. But herein lies the problem, the laws of nature and the laws that we create are different. We human beings are pattern recognizer, we try to find pattern wherever we can because it is helpful. If you can find a pattern then you have to remember less, all you need is the pattern recognizer.

Hence the physical laws are our “map” of the universe; they are essentially a parsimonious pattern recognizing tool to interpret and remember the myriads of facts that surrounds us. As we see in Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific revolution, the idea of Objective truth in science is probably inappropriate. The teleological belief that we are moving closer and closer to those objective laws are probably misguided. Scientific progress depends on the way we view the world. This idea has a far reaching consequence. Current Idea (I will devote a separate post on this hopefully) in quantum theory suggest that in a way our view of the past or the big bang is actually creating it. So we might be creating our own past in some sense. Thus the idea is there is no law, or anything like the once we see in the court system, it is our projection on the universe.

3) Intelligent Design: The basic idea is, we see so many beautiful designs around us and so unbelievably complex, that to think that they are product of chance or natural process seems nothing short of rank foolery. There must have been someone who created all these. The statistical likelihood that all these flora and fauna, mountains and galaxies came about “per chance” is pretty slim. If we look at the physical constants like Plank, Boltzmann and 20 other odd constants that we know of, we find that even if they were slightly changed life on this planet or probably anywhere else would have been untenable.

Now this does seem to be one of the strongest arguments in favour of Gods argument. But if we look at the number of particles in the universe and the time horizon (billions of years), the statistical likelihood that such complex system like humans or other life forms came in to existence is not that unlikely. In quantum tunnelling effect, particles cross the energy barrier even without sufficient energy simply because of quantum uncertainty and since there are so many particles out there it becomes a regular statistical event. There are billions of stars like our sun in Milky Way and each of those stars have planets around them. Then there are billions of galaxies out there and the universe is billions of years old. So with that backdrop, statistics has a lot of room and time to work its magic. Once life starts, evolutionary system takes over (I will devote a separate post on Evolutionary system).

As for the precise constants, well multiverse theory suggests that there are many different universes each with different constants and where life probably does not exist. Hence we live in this universe precisely because the constants are such that it supports life. So the constants were not created to suit us but rather we happen to exists because we suit the constant, rather humbling an effect.

I believe I will take the next 1-2 post to elaborate on this issue and state my position in all this.