Ayn Rand. And, Much Else.

Ayn Rand

Wow! It’s her birth-day today!!

If you want to get an integrated view of life and of existence in general, go read her books. Also, her associates’, notably, Leonard Peikoff and others at the Ayn Rand Institute (same link as above).

…If you do not even know what philosophy is (or if all of your philosophic reading has thus far been restricted to only the Indian literature), start with her book: “Philosophy: Who Needs It.”

It’s Been Quite Some Time Now…

I noticed today that the Ayn Rand Institute itself is now into its 25th year, having been established in 1985… Hmmm… How time flies!

… Back to 1986, I was a graduate student at IIT Madras. Though I had begun reading Ayn Rand’s works right in my TE (third year UG at COEP), i.e., in 1981, it was only in 1985 that I had bought my own copy of ITOE (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology) which, then, was still only in the first edition. So, for the first few years, I would read from my friend’s copies of Ayn Rand’s books. Once I graduated BE and  so started earning, I began buying her books one by one…

Anyway, in late 1985/early 1986, I had sent that post-card request for more information. Given the way things work in India, it was hard for me to believe that the card would even cross the seas. But, to my great surprise, in response, I had received materials from many sources in the USA. Some of these sources, I guess, no longer exist. (For instance, Palo Alto Book Service…. I also remember receiving something from The Intellectual Activist (founded and then edited by Peter Schwartz), and The Objectivist Forum, etc.) Anyway, that’s how I had come to know of the founding of the Ayn Rand Institute right back then. …

You must realize that this all was strictly via snail-mail back then. Internet had not been invented. While emails did exist in USA, in India, not all students even at IITs would have their own email IDs—only sys admins would, I tend to think. … Why, programming still was only through punch cards. (I still have a couple of my Fortran punch cards for the old machine at IITM—we would use them as book-markers—still tucked-in in that first edition of my own copy of ITOE.)

An especially funny thing is a letter that I had written to the ARI, but, somehow, never posted. It is still with me. … I mean the letter was not meant to be funny—it was written with all that crazy inner seriousness of my youth. … It’s just that today it looks funny to me…  Some day I plan to have it scanned and send it by email to them! I don’t remember all the contents, but definitely do remember that I wanted to inform Dr. Peikoff how all the intellectuals in India had been sold themselves out on the “Das C/[K]apital.” … This was many years before I would listen to his UO and History of Philosophy courses, and learn better. (As to HoP, unfortunately, due to some circs in 1998—2001 involving my “follow-ups” in/by the American “media,” I could buy and listen to only the Volume I.)

A lot has changed since then—since 1986. I have lost some of my dreams, and have acquired some new ones that I hadn’t even dreamt of in those days! (I mean, who could have predicted back then that one day I would be seriously publishing on quantum mechanics!) …

A Surprising Personal Change in Me—And a Bit about Its Nature

Even otherwise, a lot indeed has changed since then, even as a lot has remained the same…

But if you ask me to single out just one thing, I would have to say that the appreciation of certain things which usually go by the name of “spiritual” is the one change in me that surprises me the most.

No! Don’t let yourself entertain the thought whether I am going mystic (also see: [^] and[^]). Nope! (LOL!!) I have no such intentions. … What I mean by “appreciation” is this: Earlier, based on the evidence I had then available (not to mention the limited capacity of my thinking), I had drawn the conclusion that things such as telepathy, reincarnation simply cannot exist. Today, based on evidence (and the best possible thought that I can bring to bear on them), I do completely believe in the existence of telepathy, and can seriously entertain the thought—call it hypothesis if you wish to do so—about the persistence of certain soul characteristics of human beings after their death.

However, let me hasten to add that we are on a very very very slippery ground here. In particular, do not take this post to mean that I subscribe to any particular view (let alone all of them) published on the topic. No. Not at all. If I were to find even a semi-consistently good piece of writing on this topic, I would have recommended it to you. Unfortunately, despite a long search (and tonnes of paper waste in the form of books on the topic), no such writing exists.

There are many excellent passages, most notably, first and foremost, in the “Upanishads” (though not in “Geeta” despite the frequent and weighty received opinion to the contrary), and then also in the ancient Jain and Buddhist literature, etc. … But what I wish to highlight here is the important fact that the only one way any such a literature can at all be taken in is in a piece-by-piece manner—not as an integrated whole. If you try to get it as an integrated whole, the least you will end up buying is that basis in theory which in fact has been responsible for so much horror throughout history: Platonic realism. (If you haven’t got the implications of the Upanishads or similar works taken as a whole, then do reread the “momentous conclusions” paragraph in the page on the immediately preceding link.) … Overall, the contradictions in such works are so glaring if you try to take in any such a work  purely on its own.

Further, even at the level of passages, even the best among passages are liable to such a wide latitude of interpretations—from the most contradictory to the most acute—that they cannot be taken on a standalone basis: the reader himself has to supply his own rational philosophic premises (e.g., the primacy of existence) and even the more minor interpretative interpolations and extrapolations, before the wisdom in those ancient verses might begin to make some sense. Which means, despite the enormity of the received opinion to the contrary, such works cannot always be taken to be works of philosophy. Which brings us to the next point:

A very important point: Much of this whole thing (the subject matter and its treatment in the ancient literature), to my mind, is (or ought to be), properly, a part of psychology—not of philosophy, or of physics—contrary to the way many physicists believe today. And, psychology, as Rand has commented, is still at a pre-scientific stage. (That’s what the phrase “anteroom” means here. Also see [^] and [^].)

Further, I simply cannot allow myself that special sloppiness whereby just because some new evidence comes to light, you begin throwing away all your previous knowledge. Or, you think that you have got a cognitive license to put that new evidence using whichever new terms you feel like using. I cannot allow myself sloppiness of that sort. (For the opposite of that kind of sloppiness, see the entry on focus.)

Just because I believe that certain soul characteristics do persist after death, I do not therefore necessarily believe in the hypothesis of the transmigration of soul, or in any one of its absolutely sloppy “avatars” such as the fearful thinking that if a man happens to think “lizard” at the precise time of his death, he would therefore be reborn as a lizard in his next birth… That kind of craziness is best reserved for “Rushi”s and “Rushitulyas”—not me.

Another issue. (I am continuing with how I like to approach things). Once I reached the above-mentioned conclusion concerning persistence of soul characteristics, the first thing to pass my mind was not the thought that I should now dutifully resign myself to throwing the premise of “tabula rasa” out the door.  Nope. Not that. And, of course, there never was any question of  wanting a reconciliation of: religion with science.

Instead, the first thing I sought to know was this: What aspect (or what characteristic) of consciousness could possibly allow such a persistence of, say, “memory” (or some form of it) without contradicting that other salient characteristic of consciousness: viz. its “tabula rasa” character at birth. (If you believe that the two cannot be reconciled, think about it this way: the “tabula rasa” nature does not imply a passive consciousness—consciousness is not a material slate.)

Important Note: All such thoughts do form a part of my own serious thinking today. But it obviously is not a part of what Ayn Rand said. To know what she did say, hit her books and get to know about her own ideas first-hand for yourself.

Also, it would be nice if you keep in mind that much of all this is, even to my own mind, variously: loud thinking, speculation, hypothesis, possibilities, that’s all. … Yes, I can certainly think about these things; I can discuss them (or write about them in my blogs, even right in a post about Ayn Rand). But all of this still does not mean that I think that I have found the right words or the right concepts to put them in. Or, that I have reached my final judgments about these things. … If anything, what it all means is that I am willing to consider these as proper subjects for thought—if done carefully enough. … As Ayn Rand had commented, when it comes to consciousness, the mankind is still groping in the dark. I don’t mind shooting a probing glance in the dark here and there…

A Note about CapMag.com

While on this topic of Ayn Rand and all, let me also note down what I have wanted to for quite some time now. … I have been browsing CapMag.com regularly. I want to recall that I had protested here in my blog about there being too much of “synch” about some of the articles (their titles, times of postings, etc.) at that site and my personal life. (I take it that you are aware that “media” had been “following up” on me very crazily for many years, particularly from 1998 through 2008/9.)

I want to clarify that it’s been long time that I have stopped holding such things against those authors at CapMag.com. Indeed, I think the authors in question have been doing a good job of spreading more rational ideas. (Their writing may or may not match the best of Objectivist writings. This does not matter much to me here. I mean, we live in such bad times that even articles that have not been fully consistently worked out can still be valuable to a limited extent if the thrust of the writing, or its dominant tone is rational.)

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Coming up (probably) the next time: something on Indian physicists.

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A Few Songs I Like [More or less at random]

1. (Hindi) “naa jaane kyon, hota hai…”
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Lyrics: Yogesh
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar

2. (Marathi) “chaandaNyaat phirataanaa..”
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Suresh Bhat

[Updates: Songs added on Feb. 4, 2010. A couple of paragraphs and hyperlinks to the Objectivist literature added on Feb. 7, 2010.]