“The spiritual heritage of India”

I wrote a few comments at Prof. Scott Aaronson’s blog, in response to his post of the title: “30 of my favorite books”, here [^].

Let me give you the links to my comments: [^], [^], [^] and [^].


Let me reproduce the last one of my four comments, with just so slight bit of editing. [You know I couldn’t have resisted the opportunity, right?]:

Since I mentioned the “upnishad”s above (i.e. here [ ^]), and as far as this topic is concerned, since the ‘net is so full of the reading material on this topic which isn’t so suitable for this audience, let me leave you with a right kind of a reco.

If it has to be just one short book, then the one which I would pick up is this:

Swami Prabhavananda (with assistance of Frederick Manchester), “The Spiritual Heritage of India,” Doubleday, New York, 1963.

A few notes:

1. The usual qualifications apply. For instance, I of course don’t agree with everything that has been said in the book. And, more. I may not even agree that a summary of something provided here is, in fact, a good summary thereof.

2. I read it very late in life, when I was already past my 50. Wish I had laid my hands on it, say, in my late 20s, early 30s, or so. I simply didn’t happen to know about it, or run into a copy, back then.

3. Just one more thing: a tip on how to read the above book:

First, read the Preface. Go through it real fast. (Reading it faster than you read the newspapers would be perfectly OK—by me).

Then, if you are an American who has at least a smattering of a knowledge about Buddhism, then jump directly on to the chapter on Jainism. (Don’t worry, they both advocate not eating meat!) And, vice-versa!!

If you are not an American, or,  if you have never come across any deeper treatment on any Indian tradition before, then: still jump on to the chapter on Jainism. (It really is a very good summary of this tradition, IMHO.)

Then, browse through some more material.

Then, take a moment and think: if you have appreciated what you’ve just read, think of continuing with the rest of the text.

Else, simple: just call it a book! (It’s very inexpensive.)

 


No need to add anything, but looking at the tone of the comments (referring to the string “Ayn Rand”) that got generated on this above-mentioned thread, I find myself thinking that, may be, given my visitor-ship pattern (there are more Americans hits today to my blog than either Indian or British), I should explain a bit of a word-play which I attempted in that comment (and evidently, very poorly—i.e. non-noticeably). It comes near the end of my above-quoted reply.

“Let’s call it a day” is a very neat British expression. In case you don’t know its meaning, please look it up on the ‘net. Here’s my take on it (without looking it up):

Softly folding away a day, with a shade of an anticipation that a day even better might be about to arrive tomorrow, and so, softly reminding yourself that you better leave the party or the function for now, so as to be able to get ready for yet another party, yet another function, some other day, later…

A sense of something like that, is implied by that expression.

I just attempted a word-play, and so, substituted “book” for the “day”.

Anyway, good night. Do read my last post, the document attached to it, and the links therefrom.

Bye for now.


Oh, yes! There is a song that’s been playing off-and-on at the back of my mind for some time. Let me share it with you.


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “dil kaa diyaa jala ke gayaa…”
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultaanpuri
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Chitragupt

[PS: The order of the listing of the credits, once again, is completely immaterial here.]


Anyway, enjoy the song, and the book mentioned in the quotes (and hopefully, also my past few posts and their attachments)… I should come back soon, with a maths-related puzzle/teaser/question. … Until then, take care and bye!

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A year later

Yesterday was the वर्षश्राद्ध (i.e. the special first-year rites or memorial service) for my late mother. In Maharashtra, the calender we follow for any spiritual matters and festivals is one of the lunar ones, and so, for the first year, the anniversaries comes some 10-odd days earlier as compared to the modern (i.e. Gregorian) calender.

Last year, some time after my mother passed away, I had browsed Internet sites having Marathi poems and songs or so. I had saved a few pages. Today I browsed that folder and found this poem. It’s by the well-known Marathi poet: Kusumaagraj, i.e., V. V. Shirwadkar. He has penned some of my most favourite poems. Also, as a matter of trivia, he hailed from a village which was within some 30–40 km radius from my maternal grandfather’s place. You can find a few references to that region (i.e., Nasik, “Saptashringi gaD”etc.) slip in, a few rare times, in his poetry. That made him even more special than he even otherwise was, to my mother (who had a fine taste in Marathi poetry and songs), and for that matter, also to me.

So, let me share one of his poems—one of my most favorite poems, in fact. It, now, also is pretty well known poem because it comes as a recorded song (Singer: Shridhar Phadake, Music: Yashwant Deo). For my English readers, I will also jot down my attempt at a translation.

First, the original, Marathi version:

काही बोलायाचे आहे

काही बोलायाचे आहे, पण बोलणार नाही
देवळाच्या दारामध्ये, भक्‍ती तोलणार नाही

माझ्या अंतरात गंध कल्पकुसुमांचा दाटे
पण पाकळी तयाची, कधी फुलणार नाही

नक्षत्रांच्या गावातले मला गवसले गूज
परि अक्षरांचा संग त्याला मिळणार नाही

मेघ जांभळा एकला राहे नभाच्या कडेला
त्याचे रहस्य कोणाला कधी कळणार नाही

दूर बंदरात उभे एक गलबत रूपेरी
त्याचा कोष किनार्‍यास कधी लाभणार नाही

तुझ्या कृपाकटाक्षाने झालो वणव्याचा धनी
त्याच्या निखार्‍यात कधी तुला जाळणार नाही

–कुसुमाग्रज”


Now, my (as usual prosaic) attempt at the translation

Have something to say

[I] have something to say, but won’t say anything
At the doorway of the temple, won’t weigh with the scales [my] devotion

In my inner realm crowds the fragrance of the heavenly [or all-desires-fulfilling] flowers
But [even] a petal of it won’t flower, ever

I found [or ran into] the buzz from the town of the [unmoving] heavenly constellations
But it won’t get the company of the written [or the expressed] word

A deep purple-blue cloud lives alone [somewhere] at the edge of the sky
Its secret won’t be known, ever, by any one

In the distant port floats a silvery sailboat
Its hull wouldn’t be received, ever, by the shoreline

With one side-look [or a casual but sharp glance] of Your bliss-imparting eyes I became the owner of a wild-fire
In the coals left glowing, I won’t burn You down, ever”

—“Kusumaagraj”


* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

[PS: If I happen to think of some better ways to translate the poem, I may come back and improve this post a bit. … But, in any case, as indicated in my last post, this year, or at least in the near future, I would continue to blog only sparsely.]

[E&OE]

Translation seen as an exacting process

You might have heard (or read) about this mantra from the Upanishads:

“असतोमा सद्गमय ।
तमसोमा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय ॥”

It’s one of the most commonly known mantras. Typically, the second line, i.e. “tamaso maa jyotirgamay,” is often adopted as the motto of educational institutions in India. (One of the schools I attended had it, and so does the Department of Mechanical Engineering at COEP, where I did my PhD.)

How well do we (I mean the quoting Indians) know about the exact meaning of this mantra?

Here is a typical translation, coming from, what else, Wiki [^]:

“from the unreal lead me to the real,
from the darkness lead me to the light,
from the dead lead me to the immortal”

Here is another translation, with a write-up that serves to highlight the kind of trickiness that is involved in translating a brief gem like this [^]:

“Lead me from the asat to the sat.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.”

Here, Vedarat, the translator, simply refuses to translate the terms “sat” and “asat”! Apparently, he cannot make up his mind whether Yadnyavalkya (the Vedic seer who authored this mantra) meant “existence” or “truth” when he uttered “sat.”

It obviously would be “truth” here, but realize the extent to which an acceptance of philosophic fallacies such as the primacy of consciousness and intrinsicism [^][^] help muddy any honest attempts at proper translation.

It would be a different matter if Yadnyavalkya himself were to mean “existence” or “reality” instead of “truth.” But that’s not the case here. And, he also would not intend to deliberately keep the matter ambiguous here; no ancient Vedic sage ever did. … Yes, you can find a lot of mysticism in his other writings as well. Yet, judging from the context, it should be obvious to anyone that the meaning he clearly had in mind here was “truth,” and not “reality.”

Yet, the latter-day mystics confuse the issue.

Translation is a demanding process; it is an exacting process. It requires not just sensitivity to the various possible nuances of a word, but also the clarity of thought as to the exact shade that the original author might have meant. That kind of a clarity in turn requires, at least for translation of abstract statements or statements of general philosophic truth, a sufficient knowledge of the basic philosophical issues and ideas. Far too often, people carelessly bring their own assumptions into translations, and it is impossible to detect their insertions unless you do a bit of philosophic detection.

For example, I am sure that the above Wiki translation was done by some Western guy, not Indian. (Or at least, in case it was an Indian, he was one who had very heavy Western influence on him.) Why do I say so? Simple.

Look at the third line in his translation. The translator offers: “from the dead lead me to the immortal.” Implicit idea here is that there is a realm of the dead, and of the immortals. But this is a very Christian idea (and, possibly, Abrahamic in general).

The ancient Vedic sages never thought in terms of a soul going into a state of limbo after death, or its awaiting the day of the final judgement at the hands of a robes-wearing, electricity-carrying masculine God at some uncertain time in future. Theirs was a far more naturalistic viewpoint; sometimes, it can even be taken to be rather atheistic in nature. They did not necessarily believe in a human-like God dispensing out judgements and deciding on the fate of the soul.

The soul, to the ancient Vedic authors, was a natural phenomenon. The states of the soul, to them, were bound simply by a causal law (such as the law of karma). The very idea of some other consciousness or soul directly affecting even the future course for some time, let alone its fate for eternity, would be unacceptable to them. At the most fundamental level, nothing else in the universe, no other power in the universe except for the wilful soul itself could determine its own “gati” (progress/direction) and its own state, according to their typical viewpoint. (This does not mean that, in principle, prayers wouldn’t be useful. More on that, sometime later.)

Therefore, they simply wouldn’t think in terms such as the realm of the dead—which is, historically, a very, very  recent idea, and specifically Christian (or Abrahamic) in source. Not Vedic.

However, the point I wanted to make today was not about the meaning of “sat.” It was about the form of the statement that every English (or even Marathi/Hindi etc.) translation of this ancient Sanskrit mantra takes. It’s a very curious thing, all by itself. I mean, the form suggested by the part “lead me…”

Implicit in such a form is the idea that there is someone other than you in the picture. He would lead you from A to B, where A are all undesirable things, and B are the desirable ones. You thereby assume a more passive role. It’s his leadership that really counts. It’s almost as if your leader is capable of leading you from light to darkness, but since you have no power left over your own fate, you end up earnestly urging him to do otherwise, to lead you from darkness to light.

And that’s why, I often thought, that the prayer was laughable.

If you don’t have any independent means to figure out whether the journey is occurring from bad to good, and not from good to bad, and, further, if you also essentially need an external agency, a leadership, for that journey, then, these two facts put together, leave you completely at the mercy of the leader. Essentially, it makes a spiritual slave out of you.

From my readings of the Upanishads over the past decade or so, I knew that they could be sometimes completely mystic, but not always so. And, they could easily go to the highest reaches of abstraction, the most fundamental philosophic matters. But precisely because they are so abstract and so lofty in terms of the subject matter and the goals, they therefore wouldn’t be capable of creating a prayer of such a form, I thought. Certainly not when what they were aiming for was the “peace of the soul.”

After all, this is one of the Upanishadic “shaanti mantras”. It is not a mantra for propitiation of whimsical Gods as in the main Vedas; Upanishads come after the Vedas. And, this is one of the mantras that are supposed to be recited either before the commencement of studies or meditations, or at the end of it all—the rituals, or studies, or meditations, so as to consolidate it all, via a moment of peace.

And, so, I decided to look more closely at this mantra.

And, I figured out that my suspicion was right. There is no hint of someone else leading you at all, contained in that mantra. The whole idea is an extraneous, parasitical idea that some translator initially inserted, and then, all the latter-day translators picked up this habit. Obviously, out of some interesting underlying philosophic motivations!

Let me take just one line for illustration, viz., “tamaso maa jyotirgamay.”

First, let us split up the “sandhi” (or jointed) words into their components, and note the forms of the nouns and the verbs.

“tamas” means things such as the inactivity or dullness of the soul, or (the literal) darkness, or the darkness of the soul. “tamaso” has “tam” at its root, and “tam” means darkness. “tamas” is a derived word that means something that derives from or issues from or is a byproduct of, darkness. “tamaso,” in turn, is the modification to “tamas;” such a modification implies that a “from” kind of a relationship applies in this context. So, “tamaso” means: “from darkness dullness [literally, or from darkness or dullness of the soul].”

“maa” simply means “no” or “not”. Think of the modifiers like “un-” “non-“, “in-” etc. in English. They all are negators in various senses. Similar is the “maa” in sanskrit. It is a modifier that serves to negate. (And, if I recall my Sanskrit correctly, it is a strong form of a negation. “Don’t at all!” is the sense conveyed by “maa.”)

What is being negated here? Of course the “tamas.” No “tamas!” That’s what “tamaso maa” means.

The next word is “jyotirgamaya.” It’s a compound word made from two components: “jyoti” and “gamaya”.

When the form assumed by “jyoti” is such that it has the “visarg” (or what is denoted by a colon), resulting in “jyotihi”, and when it combines with something beginning with a vowel like “ga” then the “hi” is to be replaced by “r-.”

“jyoti” is a noun that means things such as: flame, light, brightness, etc. Now, “jyotihi” is the first person (or case) singular form of this noun which would makes “jyoti” the subject, or alternatively, “jyoteehee” would be the second case plural form, which would make it the object. I would rather rely on context than the knowledge of today’s Sankrit typists, and thereby conclude that here it is the first case singular, and so, the “jyot-” here has the “rhasva” (or short) “i”, not the “deergha” (or long) “ee”.

“gamay” is a modified form of the verb “gama.”

“gama” itself means: “to go.” The well-known usages of this root-verb appear in “gaman,” which means “departure” or “going away,” and “aagaman” which means “arrival.” (“aagaman,” literally speaking, only means: “anti-departure;” it is derived by applying the “a” modifier, another negator, to the more basic “gaman.” Now, anti-departure, of course, means: arrival. Sanskrit sometimes seems to work in a funny way, at least initially, but then, realize that if you keep man at the epistemological center of the universe, then from the viewpoint, going is more natural than coming. The actor in coming is someone else—not you. The actor in going, however can be you, yourself. And, thus, departure is not defined as anti-arrival; it is arrival that is defined as anti-departure.)

Now, the modification implicit in “gamay” is all that is left to discuss, and so, you can easily see that the particular form of this modification (as got after starting from the root “gama”) could be the real game-settler.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of Sanskrit is not at all good; in fact, it is barely elementary. (I just had two years of Sanskrit in the 8th and 9th standard, and that too, only as half of one language subject—the other half being Hindi.) And, unfortunately, I could not easily locate from an Internet search any easily traceable document or a text-book that shows a verb similar to “gama” going to the modified form “gamay.” A lot of material is easily found that shows “gama” –> “gachchati” etc., but not “gama” –> “gamaya.” The Spoken Sanskrit dictionary  [^] has “gamayati” but not “gamaya.”

From the best guess that I can make, “gamay” could be something like the “bhaave prayog” implied probably for the plural in Sanskrit, i.e. for many persons (more than two persons) in general. Or, it could be something like a “bhaave prayod” but for a single person. Thus, it would mean something like “may I/we go”

So, “jyotirgamay” simply means: “may I/we go towards brightness.”

Putting it all together, the translation should read something like:

“From darkness, may I/we go towards brightness.”

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. … There is no dark world let alone the world of the dead, and there is no bright world for eternity. And, there is no leader either, not even implicitly.

The words—the roots, their modifiers, the resultant modifications (i.e. the sense of the grammatical person, etc.) and the rules of “sandhi” i.e. of joining parts of words—all put together, go on to state only this much. “From darkness may I/we go towards brightness.” A sense of “being lead” is not even hinted at. There is no leader, not even implicitly, and there is no action of being lead—not even implicitly.

Yet, every English translation goes like “Lead me from…”

The psychology and philosophy of these translators might make for an interesting thought, wouldn’t it? They want to insert something that Yaadnyavalkya (or whoever first wrote that mantra) didn’t obviously have in mind, in the first place. And they do so with a philosophic viewpoint that is mystical, passiveness-primary, and implying of a leader—i.e. mystical, action-negating and therefore virtue-negating, and collectivist.

All the authors and commentators—whether Western or Indian—are guilty of exactly this crime. Via a faulty translation, they at least passively and implicitly further the axis of mysticism, amoralism and collectivism.

And, that kind of an interpretation is smeared on Yaadnyavalkya’s original hymn expressing the exalted human soul’s earnest desire for its own betterment—and, by implication, on its own.

On the occasion of this Diwali, let’s earnestly resolve to reach for the truth from any state of ignorance; to go towards the brightness of gaining knowledge from a state of the inactivity of the soul; and to go from every position or principle (or actions) that is destructible or un-maintenable in the long run (or any position that carries contradiction) towards the positions or principles that are insusceptible to destruction—the positions or principles that are enduring or permanent. Let’s resolve to do that.

And, let’s resolve to do it as a matter of our individual responsibility, and without being dependent on any other person—i.e. independently.

[For obvious reasons, there won’t be “A Song I Like” section—this prayer itself, if said with a proper understanding the meaning of its words, and with sufficient solemnity, is a song. And, it is a song that I do like.]

[E&OE]

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.)

– – – – –

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.]

[Mostly] Political, [Mostly] Latest

Here are a few (almost) random points…

1. Economics:
Can Swami (of Swaminomics) explain to me in simple enough terms the following phenomena:
1.1 If, at the most basic level, stock investments are done by keeping in view the earnings through dividends, how come Bajaj Auto shares used to be traded at more than 100 times or so during Indira Gandhi’s rule?
1.2 Similarly, for the other cases, in today’s context.
1.3 Clarification: I am not for greater control to rectify the situation.
1.4 There is a dominant streak of pragmatism in every “pro-business” “defence” which I would rather someone exposed—without proposing more government interventions.
1.5 Indeed, I think the extent that the market is overpriced precisely serves to reveal the extent of the government intervention in economy.
More on economics, later… I have an idea for modeling of certain kind of basic economic issues.

2. Sathya Sai Baba:

So much has been written about him that his case has thrust itself into being a curiosity for me for quite some time. … I wouldn’t mind visiting his Puttaparthi ashram (or some place similar) provided he can talk to me on a 1:1 basis. And it would be OK even if this occurs in front of thousands or lakhs; I hardly care for that aspect. But should his weighty followers and he himself at all come to thinking of allowing this to happen, here are the opinions (or the “baggage”) with which I would go to him:
2.1 First and foremost, I don’t believe that he is a reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi, full-stop. From what I have read of the original Sai Baba, this claim is a complete impossibility—regardless of whether Hirabai Badodekar (and the then Rashtrapati Bhavan) agree with my assessment or not, and whether APJ Abdul Kalam, Shankarro Chavan, Ashok Chavan, Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar, Jayant Patil, Sonu Nigam, Sachin Tendulkar, Suchitra Krishnamurthy agree with me or not.
2.2 I don’t agree with his critics that all he is can be reduced to a few magicians’ tricks. (And, I don’t concern myself with everything that has ever been written, said, or suspected about him on the Internet or on the BBC.)
2.3 He might have some spiritual powers and he could possibly be using it in a way that his followers feel blessed, or at least, relaxed. … Not enough of a reason to take his claim of being Shirdi’s Sai Baba very seriously.
2.4 I am not a materialist in the tradition of the so-called “rationalists” of India (the leftists and left-leaning intellectuals included).
2.5 He shouldn’t expect me to even bow down to him as a precondition of my meeting with him. If he can meet me, as I said, one-to-one, I am eager to talk to him. It won’t take even five minutes for me to place him better (than what I have above) in a personal meeting.
2.6 And, oh yes, I wouldn’t at all mind bowing to him in a manner befitting his place should he want to see me. The point is: He should not mistake my physical bowing with anything else—esp., my acceptance of all his ideas and all his claims—that’s all. Indeed, I would be very neat, just like all his followers, should I go and see him.

3. Indira Gandhi
It’s remarkable that post-Vajpayee years, remembering her is, on the whole, a subdued affair. … I mean I didn’t see full-page photos in the newspapers, and there weren’t huge cut-outs towering over buildings either… All this was welcome, in a way. After all, there still is a huge gap left between remembering her and remembering Lal Bahadur Shastri.

And, BTW, I really can’t remember her without also remembering Durgabai Bhagwat—the real iron lady between the two, if you ask me. … Again, it’s not that I agree with every position that Bhagwatbai ever took in her life…  [And, is issuing such clarifications really necessary?] But, as far as I am concerned, Bhagwat’s principled defence of Freedom during those difficult years of Emergecy was enough for me to conclude that this, in fact, was actually the case….

And, indeed, what quote could they at all find to bring out the supposed “greatness” of Indira in those recent newspaper ads? If you read through it, it’s plain and obvious that such quotes could fit in the mouth of any third-class dictator in any of the third-world countries—all that the speech-writer would need to have is some education in one of those Christian missionary schools, and he would be well on his way to utter what Indira Gandhi, we were especially seriously reminded, did!

Which brings me to another sub-point: Has Barkha Dutt lost her original fire these days? … First, there was this change of the mix of topics as soon as they had that deal with MSNBC or NBC or so. That, by itself was bad already…  I mean, Barkha would get the heat up on some topic, and suddenly that entire topic of discussion would get mixed quite incongruously (and in following with all the worst trends of the Tame Americans) with some other topic that was decidedly luke-warm. (Luke-warm, mind you. Not cold.) … And then, in such a process, the whole tempo of that hot topic would be entirely lost. Plus, they also  reduced the time spent actually debating—not just the content but also the format… All this was bad by itself… But then, esp. since her becoming a Padmashree or so, this lady seems to have lost that fire to confront the government uncomfortably that she used to have. … Or is it the case that she was a Congresswoman in disguise all the time, and that we saw that side of hers only because BJP+ was in power? Any thoughts, Barkha?…

Not that she should be the hanging point for all our worries… That’s not the idea here. If she is tired or bored out of fighting it out, she is entitled to a rest… But then, the decent way to do this is to retire from all that debating—not to dilute it to the extent that one doesn’t even feel like turning the TV on Sunday evening at 8 PM…

– – – – –

Some of the songs that I like:

(Hindi) “yehi woh jagah hai, yehi woh fizayen..”
Singer: Asha Bhosle
Music: O. P. Nayyar

[… More, later!]

Someone Is Ready to Call Me a “Genius” + Something (Almost Random) on Sleep + My Joblessness

(1) Someone Is Ready to Call Me a “Genius”:

Yesterday or so, there was a message in the famous Lounge of CodeProject, asking people something like whether an IQ of 147 was high enough or not… I followed a few links in the ensuing discussion, and a few clicks later, was led to the following Web page:

http://hem.bredband.net/b153434/Index.htm#Conversions

Do have a look at this page. … I entered my GRE scores and lo and behold: I was a genius!

My V+Q score of 1510 correlates, the above page informs me, with an IQ level of about 155 on the Stanford-Binet scale. Wow! … Now, of course, you know about my GRE story (of Oct. 1989 batch): how the Americans canceled the GRE scores for all centers in India out of a suspicion of mass copying at centers like Hyderabad (the same city where today Americans pay Rs. 1 Crore per annum as salary whereas I go jobless), and then did nothing to act in time so that valid scores could be made available in time; how they bungled up even the make-up examination, canceling also the make-up examination score so that no GRE scores at all were available at the time of decision-making, etc. So, my score of 1510 is, really speaking, refers to the very first GRE, the one that got canceled. I got to know of that score because UAB had directly made that enquiry to ETS and used the answer they got. I never got to know my score the second time round because, as I mentioned above, that particular make-up examination also was canceled. My third-time GRE score, done up as a “time-pass,” more or less (because all my application money had already gone down the drain because all other American universities had already declined my applications for a lack of GRE scores, and because UAB had already offered me a Fellowship anyway), was: 800/800 on Quant and 680/800 on verbal. Even if we use this score, it still correlates with 153 on the Stanford-Binet scale! Wow!!

Really speaking, the only thing I find to say Wow! about my scores is that I never lost any point in Quantitative. There is a reason for it. This was the first maths examination in my entire life which I had answered without any mistake—otherwise, despite my excellent record right from school days, including winning scholarships and all, I had never actually scored a flawless 100/100 on any maths examination. Even though my brother and sister had, on many occasions, I had not. So, GRE brought me a wow because I scored 800/800 without a mistake both times. I mean, in our times, there used to be people who did score a perfect 800/800 score, but still had up to 2–3 mistakes. I, on the other hand, had made none every time I came to know of scores.

Another wow thing about GRE was—and remains—even more important to me. It was that I never lost a single mark in the verbal Reading Comprehension section. Not even once. Never in practice examinations (some 10 odd that I took) nor, I believe, at the actual examination. That, actually, meant far more to me. It does so even today. I mean I have known IITians (of high ranking branches) and medicos routinely miss at least one mark after answering both Reading Comprehension sections on each GRE; I never ever lost even one mark even once.

And the reason I find this performance so satisfying is… Well, we have to go back to my school-time to see why it feels so important to me.  … I had finished reading almost all of Vivekananda’s writings while still not even in 10th standard. Even before beginning reading his books, I had been distinctly fascinated by the tales of his extraordinary capacity for mental concentration, his extraordinary mental abilities.  There were those famous tales of how he had a photographic memory (stories which, even back then I had suspected would be probably somewhat exaggerated; stories that I myself, nevertheless, also repeated, adding a bit of mirch and masala too while retelling them to my friends…) And then, there also were the stories of how Swami Vivekananda could rapidly get the essence of what the next person was saying to him, right on the fly. It was this ability which had made a distinct impression on my mind. In any case, for certain reasons not yet known to me back then, I had concluded that it would be wonderful not to miss any such thing which was within one’s own means/control. (It was almost like a self-administered Hypocratic Oath: First, not to miss any thing actually there, not to introduce something of one’s own as far as this was possible. I don’t remember when I administered this oath to myself, but somewhere in the busy-ness of reading a book after another book, I had noticed, after chatting about how one reads with friends, that I had made a resolve or a commitment of that sort to myself.) So, not to miss something while reading has always been important to me, in a way.

And, there always has been one odd mental picture which I have associated with a mere rapid proficiency in mathematical manipulations. I have always  compared such an ability with a lean pole that could easily buckle. I mean I had implicitly grasped a sense of seeing abstractions built over abstractions, and the only way in which I could express a “dizziness” of that sort was by formulating a graphic metaphor like that. It was not that I didn’t understand the maths or that I was afraid of it. No. It was just that I was apprehensive of this way of using my mind to a major extent in my life. I was apprehensive of it, and had developed that “thin pole that could buckle” as a mental picture even as a school-going child. [Update on May 12, 2009. I tried hard to recall the specifics about this, but no longer remember them. So, I really can’t tell today when it was that I really formed this picture. It’s likely that it was formed sometime later, early on in my college—11th standard to FE/SE. Certainly it should have been there by the time I was in my TE—the time when I came across Ayn Rand’s epistemology.]

And, I had thought, right back then, that the way to make the tall pole stand was to “support” it laterally, and this, I thought, can be had by expressing things in words, using ordinary language, and by drawing geometrical figures, graphs, abstract logical diagrams etc. to a lesser extent. [Update on May 12, 2009. Though not the pole analogy, the need to “support” mathematics with plain descriptions has been with me for a long time. I certainly remember that the sole preparation I had done for my 8th and 9th standard mathematics annual examination was to write down definitions once in my notebook. My family was worried about it. Maths, they had told me, was meant to be studied by solving practice problems, not by writing down theory like definitions and theorems. I had ignored them (which got them even more, say, disconcerted). After all, I pointed out to them, I could prove any theorem of geometry that the teacher could think of posing (and many others outside the textbook(s) as well). And, as to practice problems, could they guaruntee that the same specific problems/sums are going to appear on the examination? If  not, what was the point? But definitions and theory were different. They are interesting and can be useful also later on, I had argued… I couldn’t convince them or anyone else with my logic, but was clear that theory and its explanations in different terms is what mathematics was really about. … Apparently, I still disagree with a lot of people even today. So, the importance I attached to the theory of mathematics was still there right in 8th standard. But not the specific pole analogy, I think after rethinking about this issue.]

And, I had also thought (right in school time) that it was more important to be well-rounded in all cognitively possible angles than strive for an outstanding (a world-beating) mastery in only one thing or two. I still do think so, though today I can also place that thought in the right context: today, I will say something like that the broader-scale integrations are a must no matter how much of a mastery you gain in your specialty(ies) such as abstract mathematics.

It is for these reasons that the so-called “theoretical” (as opposed to “numerical”) questions also are important to me; it’s the reason why I have valued competency in Reading Comprehension; it’s the reason why I have been so delighted in having good scores in that section on GRE.

Being seen called a “genius” is just a time-pass. Really. Knowing that your first reading itself is (still) being done energetically enough, with as much liveliness or awareness or mental stamina as is possible to you regardless of your intelligence, is far more important (and, far more deeply satisfying. Really.)

In fact, my simple test is that reading (or exercising understanding through any other modality such as listening, watching, observing, recalling, mentally considering, etc.) should be done with such energy and focus that you ought to feel exhausted after a while. If you do not get tired by thinking, you are not exerting yourself right enough. If you get tired this way, even a couple of hours of study is good enough!! More on this, may be, some time later… (In Pune, I routinely run into school children or their parents who claim that they study for 4+ hours a day at home, on every day of the school! I can only marvel at them!… I mean, general reading for 6 hours is different. But studies… Well, it’s entirely different ball game… “God” knows how they study for such a long time. But sure enough, it does not show up in their examinations, writing, talk, or action.)

(2) Something (Almost Random) on Sleep…

The question of what does and does not form a proper philosophic query can be sometimes difficult to settle.

It is well known that philosophic ideas are abstract, that they are the widest abstractions possible to man. Also, being basic, they often are simple (i.e. simple, in a difficult way). But characteristics such as these, it seems, are not always special to the ideas of general philosophy.

For example, consider the question of instantaneous action at a distance (i.e., IAD for short).  This is a well-known issue from basic physics. In the last century, once Einstein’s relativity theory came forward, it became a focal point for a lot of nonsense as well as some philosophic discussion. One of the satellite issues that the relativity theory brought forward was that of the IAD. Of course, relativity theory is not the only context in which one can possibly think about this issue; I, for example, have discussed it in the context of the diffusion equation during my PhD research. Of course, speaking in general terms, my discussion is rather an exception. There is no gainsaying the fact that today physicists know about IAD almost exclusively in reference to Einstein’s famous postulate that the speed of light is a constant. If c cannot be infinite, IAD is ruled out. [Update on May 12, 2009. Notice, it’s not enough that something might move faster than light. The point is, the speed of interaction has to be infinite for IAD to happen.]

Now, thinking about this IAD issue, I was of the opinion that it did qualify as a proper topic of general philsophy. But then, a few years back, I chanced upon on the Internet some writing from David Harriman in which he had taken the opposite position. It is not for philosophers to debate, he had said, whether one end of a see-saw would go down precisely at the same time that its other end goes up. (In case you didn’t realize that this example actually involves IAD, you are too dumb to read this. (LOL!))

David Harriman’s argument seems to make sense. The see-saw problem does seem to form an issue that is specific to some special observations pertaining to only a special group of existents. … Or, is it?

Consider this: Somewhere at the base of our system of justice lies a particular form of the law of the excluded middle. (It came from Aristotle, not Plato or any other mystics.) Now, of course, Aristotle’s law, when taken as a fundamental philosophic truth, is far more abstract and wider of application. (Indeed, it’s just a corollary of the law of identity—and the latter applies to the entire existence.) Yet, in the judicial system, there is one particular form of the excluded middle which is recognized: A person cannot be at two different places at the same time. For instance, consider what happens if you are innocent but get caught. If you can prove that you were in a different city when the crime happened, you are let go, your honour completely intact. Indeed, the lawyer trying to nail you down may even be able to prove that you were wielding a knife precisely at the same time that the crime happened. But what if you were cutting vegetable in Pune at that time when the murder actually happened in New York? It is a very particular form of the law of the excluded middle which saves you in such a case. It’s a metaphysical denial of the IAD which saves you. After all, jurisprudence is not a technology based on the science of physics, is it? Obviously then, it has to be a metaphysical denial of the IAD [Update on May 12, 2009: even though case such as what we considered here is easily settled by reference to the fact that the body of a person cannot be so long as spread over the two cities; we don’t have to refer to IAD or its denial to settle this particular case. But, I was just taking a big example in general, that’s all].

The case with issues like IAD is, perhaps, similar to the idea of individual rights. Rights is a concept that is at once both moral and political in nature—it’s the bridge between the philosophy of morals and that of politics. Similarly, I think there is this possibility that some concepts are sufficiently basic that they can simultaneously be both scientific and metaphysical in nature. They would, thus, satisfy one of the requirements to be considered as axioms of the relevant special sciences. For the science of physics, one might perhaps consider the following concepts/laws/ideas as falling into this category: space, time, sensory qualities like temperature (i.e. the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics which merely establishes the objectivity of a quantity like temperature), color, etc.

As to David Harriman’s argument, there also is yet another way to approach it. This is a more indirect way. It consists of going through the concepts that philosophers in general have used over the centuries; apply reason to separate the chaffe from the grain; and go on from there. This second approach, thus, rather relies on what other men have thought the scope of philosophy to be. Now, since men aren’t always consistent, obviously, this is not at all a fool-proof method. But it can be helpful.

Consider, for example, what Harriman would himself consider to be the prime example of a philosopher, namely, Ayn Rand herself. Refer to her epistemology book. In this book, she discusses at length the classification of concepts, e.g. concepts refering to physical objects vs. those referring to the aspects of consciousness vs. those referring to the products of consciouness, and so on. Then, she comes to talk about concepts like “but.” Pause for a moment and ask yourself: When you read this particular chapter, does it feel like a grand first-hand inductive generalization proceeding from the concretes, or does it rather feel like a good review of the philosophy of the special science of grammar? Even if it’s brilliant, original, and first-hand writing, does it not feel like elucidating her views on the concepts of grammar—a special science just the way physics is? If you ask me, I would say that it means just the latter, even if obviously her more general purpose here obviously also is to lay the groundwork so that a future discourse on how individual concepts—words—are linked together, and so, how proper cognition can be defended from its enemies at a coarser level of cognitive granularity, would have some rational grounds already laid down. That, evidently, seems to be her more general purpose. But look at the actual methodology: She is not being deductive  here, sure, but neither is she directly integrating from concretes as such either. What she is directly doing here is rather a process of isolation, one of contrasting the narrower subdivisions from each other. Now the point I am trying to make is this: If Harriman were not to have the benefit of the knowledge that Ms. Rand is writing this all in a specifically philosophic context, would he so easily accept the idea that an indication of the meaning of the word “but” is (or can be) a philosophic matter? I mean, doesn’t it look a bit too special to grammar?

Overall, I believe, many times, it’s not so much a word or the outward point of debate which determines whether it is philosophic in nature or not; it is the depth of the treatment, the kind of integration which is demanded, the fundamentality of the discussion.

The reason I went at such a great length is because it is good to know what philosophy is. (Smiles.)

A particular thing that I really wanted to write about is this (but I have no longer any patience left to type any more—even though I am a touch typist).

Sleep.

Is this topic philosophical? Can it be? Or is it doomed to be examinable only from the narrow perspectives of special sciences, such as biology, physiology, medicine, and psychology (and worse: mysticism, religion, folklore, etc.)?

Now when this thing occurred to me recently (once again, after many decades), I tried to think very hard if Ayn Rand had even indirectly indicated anything on the topic. But I couldn’t recall anything except some indirect hints. For example, recall that passage from The Fountainhead when Roark goes to sleep right in the office late in night, his work finished (and if I remember it right, his body falling into a contorted position sheer out of exhaustion). So, the idea hinted at is that sleep is for relaxation, rest, perhaps even rejuvenation (though the emphasis clearly is not on this).

But is this all we can think about it? Can’t there be more refined and more fundamental philosophical remarks about it?

As I recently thought about it, I happened to consider what the ancient Indian wisdom says while highlighting the difference of man from animals. Man, Indian wisdom says, does have some qualities/drives that he shares in common with animals though qua man he is not limited to these. The qualities in common with animals (and birds) are: “aahaar” (eating), “bhay” (fear), “maithun” (sex) and “nidraa” (sleep). The Indian wisdom then goes on to add many things which I don’t buy. [Update on May 12, 2009. And, for that matter, even for the characteristics that Man shares with animals, the actual qualities are distinctly human in nature. More on this, later.] But still, this particular list is in itself interesting in that it brings together highly disparate facets together, and therefore, to that extent, it is indicative of some original observations. The pithy remark has, of course, survived millenia. Naturally, it prods one to see if there is not something deeper to sleep.

Here, I also recall Feynman’s experimentation with sleep deprivation. Or was it Carl Sagan? I’ve forgotten who it was. … I mean the guy who went into that sensory deprivation cell just to figure out if he gets any weird experiences or not. I guess it was Feynman. In the writing below, tentatively, I will assume it was Feynman, and correct myself later if I am wrong.

Stated simply, if you are deprived of proper sleep for some time, you will (temporarily) go mad. If it continues, you will die. … Sleep is one of the basic conditions of life for the organisms who show such behavior.

Is sleep a requirement of consciousness—the way it is of sustenance of life? In other words, is sleep special only to those organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness? Do ants go to sleep? How about worms? bacteria? amoebae? viruses? Where do we draw the line? How? This last “how” is, of course, a question of special sciences—not of philosophy. But consider the next line of thought.

There are cycles in the physical universe: high tides and low tides, day and night, changing phases of moon, seasons, motions of stars, etc. Aristotle was among the early thinkers to take a special note of the cycles—-he put forth the idea that time is cyclic in nature.

Similarly, there are cycles in the biological processes too: the process of breathing, the beating of the heart, the electrical and chemical waves of the brain and the nervous system… And, of course, the cycles of sleep and waking hours…

Further, considered from the teleological angle, sleep would be serving certain teleological functions towards furtherance of life.

But my point is that oftentimes the Western culture has thought of sleep only in the physical/biological terms—not of the requirements of consciousness. If what sleep serves are certain basic purposes towards sustenance of life, then, it can’t be for only the bodily sustenance—consciousness, considered as an invisible organ of the individual who possesses it, must also both require and be benefitted from it.

If myths, legends and folklore are any indications, to the primitive man, the state of dreaming would be indistinguishable from that of being woken up. But despite thus introducing this thread of thought here, I must make it clear that I am not therefore going to accept the hypothesis of the fourth state of consciousness as an established fact of science. Science requires far more care than Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his disciples have displayed in this regard. God knows (humourously speaking!) it’s so tough even to just isolate the right concepts with which to work, when it comes to building science. Indeed as Leonard Peikoff has clarified, the proper status of psychology is that is is “pre-scientific” in nature. So, even if touching on dreaming, I am saying, let’s keep it aside and search for something of more fundamental or basic nature and state: What is the philosophic nature of sleep?

Frankly, I don’t know…. Sorry if you thought I was going to give you an answer. (On second thoughts, I now start LOL!)… But I myself am not very clear about it…

Yet, all of this I stated only in order to advance the idea that a philosophic treatment of sleep is not a bad idea (from an epistemological—i.e. philosophical!!—viewpoint). After all, Ayn Rand has even given a philosophic treatment to sex—a treatment that does not regard the biological fact of reproduction as its focal point. … At a time that the Rationalistic fantasies of immortality were a routine fad of discussions in the USA, she remained (not so) surprisingly in touch with reality in that she pointed out the broad inductive basis to aging—how aging and death are the things that are only to be expected as natural things… So, I certainly wish that she had written something on something as simple and natural as sleep, too.

If not, at least the other philosophers… But, off hand, I don’t know of any too… [Have they been sleeping on this issue?]

One reason I happened to think about this issue a few times the past few days is because I really do not expect people to have a good idea of what reincarnation is and what it can possibly involve if they are not even clear about what sleep is and what sleep can possibly involve.

Sleep is far too easy a topic, comparatively speaking. If you are already senseless about it, there is no reason for anyone to take you very seriously about your views of reincarnation, no matter how old or widely circulated such views might be.

But what my thinking finds interesting is that sleep involves a periodic (i.e. natural and orderly) loss of consciousness—the tool of human survival.

Here the term consciousness is to be taken in its primary sense. You may be conscious of your dreams—right while dreaming and later on after waking up. But there at least is some time when you are in the deep sleep wherein you lose consciousness. And regain it, in a systematic way. Again and again. All throughout your life. Even when it comes to dreaming, that still is not at all random but follows certain natural laws. The consciousness alters its modality during dreaming and it’s a very definite change. Sleep involves all of these.

Like every process of life, sleep fulfills some pro-life function—even if it involves a loss of consciousness—which, paradoxically, is the very tool of survival. What’s its philosophical nature?

This is one question that I don’t even have so much clarity that I could first form a riddle about it, and then go ahead and crack…

Indeed, as the discussions in Ayn Rand’s seminar on epistemology indicates, people first grasped the nature of existence, then Aristotle discovered identity, and, then despite Rand’s formulation that consciousness is identification (both qua faculty, and even qua awareness) we are still only grappling with understanding the nature of consciousness. As Rand agreed, when it comes to consciousness, mankind—or most of it anyway—still is very much in the Dark Ages. Consider, for example, what do you know about the metaphysics of memory? Why can memories be so vivid, and yet, in general, they are so fallible? Why do they fade? What happens when you recall something? … People are often likely to give answers in analogy with what computer does, but except as broad analogies, it’s utterly inapplicable—human memory is not a mechanical reproduction. … Isn’t it wonderful that here is one proper force of nature—one that is actually active, actually brings about changes in reality. And, despite being the tool of survival, this force can also so easily act against the same individual who wields that force. A faculty that apprehends reality but can so easily also go on to keep within itself only the purely imaginary. (Though, this “so easily” is perhaps not as easy as it’s often thought, as Rand pointed out: there is an immediately accompanying feeling of guilt—at least a mental uneasiness—with every act of evasion.)

Anyway, wrote a lot but without formulating a nugget out of it… But not a stream of consciousness exactly either… More, later.

(3) My Joblessness

Be moral. Write an email to any suitable employers from Pune, India, that you know of. … Tell them that they should give me a good, well-paying job in the field of CAE, or preferably, in software development for CAE (including allied fields like CAD, computer graphics, etc.). Thanks.

= = = = =

[I will probably update this post a bit later on, but not much.]

[The post was updated on May 12, 2009 at about 8:00 to 9:00 PM IST. The additions are given inside square brackets like these. Plus, there were a few editorial changes, streamlinings, etc.]

Has Anyone Cross-Checked This One (Reported at Anti-Matters.org)? + Microsoft and My Joblessness

This post is going to be short. It is about a single issue, concerning the following report:

“Acquisition of Donor Traits by Heart Transplant Recipients,” by Paul Pearsall, Gary E R Schwartz, & Linda G S Russek, Anti-Matters.org (an Open Access e-Journal), No. 1, Vol. 1, 2007, pp. 107–114

The above report is available as a PDF file from the Web site of Anti-Matters.org. (Note the plural form in the name.) The URL to directly access the above report is the following: http://anti-matters.org/ojs/index.php?journal=am&page=article&op=view&path[]=7&path[]=7.

Although anti-matters.org is supposed to be a journal (described as “an open access e-journal,” it even has an ISSN), the above report is not written in the typical style/format of a scientific article in the usual kind of a scientific journal.

This, by itself, need not diminish the value of a report. But then, the contents of this article are somewhat surprising. The tone of the writing seems to be pretty OK, but the facts themselves are rather different in nature.

In short, this collection of fact tells one story: In heart transplant operations, recipients sometimes acquires certain mental characteristics of the donor, and, if the reported facts are right, even some parts of memory of the donor in some vague sense. (Note, the donor, here, is a dead person—this is a heart transplant operation we are talking about—not the kidney transplant.)

The findings are surprising because surgery has been such a common practice for so many decades/centuries by now. (BJP’s claims state that surgeries were a routine practice in ancient India.) Even if transplantation of hearts is a relatively recent development, people have been receiving other organs for a much longer time. Yet, one has never heard of even wild stories of this nature (call them old wives’ tales if you wish) … Why did it take so long for such things to surface? That is one of the questions to strike someone brought up in India.

I noticed this report many months back (possibly more than a year or so back), but, somehow, the matter kept on slipping off my mind.

Let me now raise two specific questions via this post:
(i) Has anyone (apart from the authors and publishers of the report) cross-checked the veracity of the facts stated in the above mentioned report? the accuracy of those facts?
(ii) Do you know of any refutation of this particular report coming from the skeptical quarters?

Let me also add that ever since I came across Stevenson’s book on reincarnation, many such things have ceased to surprise me. So, in that sense, even this report would not surprise me much either—assuming that no one finds any flaws with the reported facts as such. (I came across a couple of  Stevenson’s books way back in the first quarter of 1993, while generally browsing the shelves in the library of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in the USA. I had then noted (perhaps in those two books), and subsequently had also came across, some news articles and stories etc. concerning the researches of one of his students/collaborators, one Ms. Satwant Pasricha in India. (If I recall it correctly when Ms. Pasricha did her Stevenson-style reincarnation-related research, she was working with the University of Rajasthan. Later on, she probably moved to some psychology institute of “national importance” in Bangalore.)) In short, I am pretty well-prepared if the matters stated in the above report turn out to be factually true.

Yet, taking something on the face value is not what one does habitually. And, one never does that in science. One always cross-checks.

Also, a collection of “facts,” by itself, hardly amounts to anything. One must also have proper philosophic premises and concepts, and at least some conceptual hypotheses if not fully developed theories to explain all those data. For example, even while narrating in a rather journalistic or naturalistic manner all his mass of concrete data, Stevenson does ponder in his book about the theoretical clues suggested by those data. He pauses to consider some specific hypotheses which neither involve fraud/forgery but which do not directly substantiate all ideas concerning the specific hypothesis of reincarnation either. He does that with an unmistakable honesty. I recall all about Stevenson’s research in a vague way and from memory alone—this matter is now 16 years old matter (I hardly read up anything on the matter again), and it always has been, decidedly, a side reading for me. I mention it only to point out why the above report need not be surprising and how some minimum hypothetical/theoretical clues must exist.

The important point here is that nothing on the theoretical lines can be found in this report. Indeed, if you do an Internet search, you don’t readily find any followup study for this report either…

Hence this post.

Drop me a line if you know of any URLs  concerning the abovementioned two questions that I have raised. Also, any theoretical clues as to how this might be happening (assuming it does!)—clues that are serious and which refrain from being wild speculations alone. Finally, although I do not consider myself to be a skeptic, I would still like to know if you can readily spot any weaknesses in the above mentioned report right in its present form. (I found nothing, not at least on my very first reading.) In other words, this post also is something in the nature of a request for (well thought-out and relevant) comments. Thanks in advance.

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And, of course, you know that Microsoft apparently happily sponsors things like “Women in Science;” obviously benefited from my contribution towards its moral defense; and yet doesn’t give me a job. Yet another company that keeps me jobless. (And you should already know the terms in which I would describe them—or anyone else with this kind of a moral behavior—in my private conversations.)