Fleeting Euphoria

The rains have abated and the weather of San Diego has become clement enough to finally allow me to loaf around on my motorcycle in a T-Shirt and a pair of jeans. I seem to be waking up from my hibernation and have started going to the beach again as part of my daily ritual and it was especially beautiful today.

Have you ever closely examined the moment when the sun is about to be engulfed by the immense ocean ? It shines in a deep orange, almost red glow, like a shimmering crystal on a reflecting surface. The red gives way to dark orange and light orange and mild pink mixed with ominous gray till it all dissolves into a monochromatic harbinger of impending night. And the ocean sizzles in a bright silvery dance with the waves breaking on the shores with an almost unwilling mood. And the slight muffled sound of the infinity beyond and the sweetly cold winds stroking your hair with the indulgence of an entranced lover. And spots of clouds glowing in shades of red, spotting an otherwise perfect horizon with silhouettes of groups of birds painted on the sky with black against the dying sunlight. And the ocean, majestic in its glory and confident of its immutability, prepares to sleep.

And it all seems so fickle but so educating nonetheless.

The notion of this planet playing host to such beautiful diversity, such magnificent colors, such a brilliant gamut of human experiences in a universe that is witnessing such a tremendous game of death and destruction is almost too romantic to resist. It almost manages to calm things down, shows that beauty can only spring from destruction. Much like creativity springs from pain. Shows that even if things are fickle, and mutable and ultimately vanishing, they are nonetheless beautiful. Shows that even if this illusion suffers from a debilitating futility, its an illusion worth living nonetheless.

How about that smell of humid air ? The smell of a dying day and an enthusiastic night ? The smell of an infinity clinched in the grasp of a fleeting moment ?


Nature and Mathematics

I was watching a video on the Hubble space telescope (indeed very geeky) and there were a few very interesting thoughts that came to my mind. Its not that I was not aware of this line of reasoning but maybe I never developed it to any appreciable extent. The more I think about it, the more astonishing it gets. Let me explain.

The first thing that struck me in the video (90 minutes documentary) was the immense forces at play on a universal scale, the almost incomprehensible extent of the universe and the unfathomable distances and time scales involved. We are all very aware of this aspect of the universe. The next thing that caught my attention was the immense cosmic dance giving rise to supremely exotic phenomenon occurring almost with a mundane regularity in the universe. From the devilish grasp of Black holes to the concept of cataclysmic Supernovae and immense energies of the Quasars to galactic collisions, nature plays the game of destruction and beauty at a level we can hardly comprehend and she plays it with the virtuosity of a Horowitz gently stroking the keys of a grand Piano. But these were not the things that impressed me the most about this video. It was something else.

Einstein once said that the most surprising thing about nature is that it's comprehensible. And if you think about it, its rather disconcerting and very astonishing. You see, nature is not obligated to make sense. The fact that a few equations on a piece of paper can accurately describe phenomenon as weird as gravitational lensing and stellar implosion is nothing less than startling. I do not have much idea about Quantum theory but I have read a bit about Einstein's gravitation and all I can say about it is that its a triumph of human intelligence. I do not want this to be a geeky post so I will go straight to the essence of it all. The only assumption in Einstein's theory is the constance of the speed of light. Its hardly a theory of physics. Its pure mathematics. Its just a geometrical statement. And whats seriously weird is that the final equation was found by a guess since there are infinite other equally correct such equations. Einstein's equation just happens to describe the universe with a scary accuracy.

I find it strange that nature and mathematics are such close bedfellows. Why is it all so simple and so logical ? Why does nature dance to the tunes of purely mathematical laws and relations ? I am not sure if I am communicating this idea well enough. You see, mathematics is a very rigid discipline in which if a+b=c then there is no way a+b=d unless c=d. If, on the other hand, we represent two physical quantities by a and b and then try to find a+b, nature is not obligated to give us c as an answer, but it does. An example would be the conservation of energy. Saying that energy is conserved in a physical system and that 2+2=4 (always) in a mathematical system have a deep connection because we have chosen to describe nature via mathematics. But in the end they are two very distinct entities. The fact that we never see a violation of conservation of energy and that we never find that 2+2=5 somehow signifies a deep inter-dependence of the most basic natural laws and the most fundamental mathematical tenets. And this thinking rests on the sole fact that physical reality and mathematics form two ends of a very interesting spectrum. While physical reality is the ultimate truth which does not depend upon anything else for its sustenance, mathematics is the sole discipline which does not seek to explain anything and which does not depend upon any other science. Everything in between including physics, chemistry, biology either serve to explain the physical reality or emanate from mathematics or both. I find it interesting that the two fields which are just not obligated to be connected end up getting so closely tied together. Which makes me think that if there is such a thing as an ultimate truth, an ultimate reality, the only way it will be found would be in the abstract dance of purely mathematical symbols. And when you think about it, you would wonder if its all too obvious that within the infinite relationships between purely mathematical concepts, there would be one relation that would be the statement of the ultimate truth. Its just that humanity is just not intelligent enough to zero in on it, as yet.

Addendum: Well, thinking a bit more upon the topic, I have realized a rather grim possibility. If we take it that nature and mathematics are closely tied to each other and that all natural laws, howsoever deep, are ultimately expressible mathematically, we will soon reach a dead-end. A brilliant mind, with the name of Kurt Godel, gave a landmark theorem called the Godel incompleteness theorem which proves that a mathematical system cannot be both complete and self-consistent. In other words, a mathematical system that seeks to explain everything must necessarily be inconsistent and vice-versa. I wonder if it has ramifications in our understanding of reality.


A Meta Argument

I had a very interesting discussion with a close friend recently in which the issue of needless consumption leading to excessive waste generation came up. I agree with the idea completely but then we stumbled upon a facet of the problem that was much more interesting, atleast to me. The question is, how do you define needless ? To put it succinctly, since this is not what I want the subject matter of the post to be, there is no way we can say that what a third person is consuming is excessive when we ourselves indulge in so many things which are not strictly needed for bare survival. Like our laptops, and cars and automobiles etc. If these things are not luxuries to us then a fourth television set should not be a luxury for person X. Expecting others to cut down on consumption when we ourselves can survive on a lot less is hypocrisy. But the bottomline is this, increasing needs is the other face of the coin we call 'development'. Its not that we cannot live within lesser means, its just that we choose not to and its a basic human tendency. We personally choose a level of comfort that we are not ready to give up for 'social good' and 4 televisions happens to be as honest a level of comfort for person X as a motorcycle or an expensive mobile is for us. So its futile to think that we can save the planet (I am not too bothered) by reducing 'excessive consumption'. There are two problems with this expectation:

1. There should be an objective measure of excessive consumption which there is not.

2. In the absence of such an objective measure, some self-righteous people decide that 5 cars is excessive or gas guzzlers are excessive and expect others to cut down on their luxuries when they themselves and not ready to cut down on their own. And this is just not morally right (well, I am using morality loosely).

So either we should come up with an objective measure of excessive consumption or we should take it for granted that 'excessive consumption' is inevitable and goes hand in hand with development. Therefore, if someone wants to save the planet, he should probably stop urging others to reduce their 'luxuries' and focus his efforts on other solutions.

But what if we decide to formulate an objective measure of 'excessive consumption' and this precisely is crux of these ruminations. Is it even possible ? Its not possible because we are trying to apply the cold impartial scissor of objectivity to something as subjective as individual personal comfort. There obviously cannot be a rational equilibrium state to this problem. What is possible is a sort of an arbitrary uniform law forcefully putting down a random limit on consumption. But we are not talking about random arbitrary laws here. We are talking about rationality. So the bigger question is this:

"Are there problems to which there are absolutely no rational solutions and is it in our own advantage to realize it so that we can tackle our problems more efficiently and realistically ?"

According to me, thats how it should be. The above discussion was just a small part of a bigger issue. Although I neither have the intelligence nor the energy to prove a humongous number of things decisively, I am pretty sure that most of those things will never get proven because of their inherent subjective nature and I will gracefully admit defeat right now than go on.


Random Thoughts

I thought I should better stop writing on these topics but this was in the drafts so might as well publish it...

I have been writing so much in the comments that I thought, might as well write a post out of it. Before proceeding though, we will have to come to some common ground from which we can draw further conclusions. As Nitin pointed out in the rather long discussions in the comment section, the tenuous and rather arbitrary beginning of society seems like a good starting point.

I feel that man is only intelligent enough to realize his many problems but not intelligent enough to formulate decent solutions to it. The moment he realized that he was more intelligent than the animals around him, he started thinking of himself as something special and this is precisely the thought that screwed the situation for centuries to come. He came up with the concept of society because he despised having to live like animals. He came up with religion because he needed to be told that there was a purpose to his existence. He formulated civic laws because he was ready to sacrifice individual independence for relative social harmony. He invented morality so that individuals could be checked beyond the point where public laws were applicable. And all these laws together finally became such a complex network of rules and codes that they became firmly entrenched in our psyche. And look at what all these laws are doing to us now.

If you look at the stark naked basic of the problem you would realize that man's greatest inventions have become his greatest frankensteins. By definition, society would function only when its constituting individuals are made to work for social good often without their desires. How do you do this ? Its very simple. You create a universal ideal for him and then relentlessly make him realize as to how far he is from attaining that ideal and what a waste his life is it till the time he has reaches it. There is ofcourse no ideal just an illusion of one. So now we have religion with its ideals of spiritual moksha and heaven and hell, economy with its ideals of Richard Bransons and Hugh Hefners and A&F models, society with its ideals of 'good citizens' and 'give more than you take' people. And together they do a brilliant job at keeping every individual ever unsatisfied. He is always running towards one of these ideals. And yes, as an aside, the society functions relatively smoothly and we are made to think that we are progressing although no one basically knows what progress means and to what direction we are going really.

Progress is another term that gets to have a free ride in our society. Its a cloak behind which people hide their competence of ignorance. 'Progress' with respect to what ? Is there an absolute measure which says that we are progressing ? Is Iraq progressing after the US invasion. Would you call Las Vegas, a highly progressed society ? Does economic prosperity for most mean progress ? Or spiritual peace ? Do we have less problems now than we had 2000 years ago ? Have we found permanent solution to even a single one of those ? Are these supposedly progressive acts just minor ripples in an otherwise degrading society? I do not understand when people say that 'I know that we are progressing'. Had they said 'I believe that we are progressing', it would have been fine, because in the end thats all there is to it. Belief, faith, unmeasurable and unquantifiable and unverifiable.

I see that I have tried to say too much without bothering to make a coherent statement. So I will try doing it now. Why is it necessary to realize that the concepts of good and bad, of morality and ethics have a lot of arbitrariness to them ? Why is it necessary to realize, and with enough force, that life is basically purposeless and its not something to be frightened of ? Because people basically take things at their face value without thinking enough about them. Things are good and bad only because of the random initial conditions. In a Hitlerian society, maybe we would not see murder as such a bad thing. Once you realize this, you would also realize that you are not really obligated to do anything for anyone else except yourself. Your obligation ends at the point where you comply with the society without becoming a hurdle. You would also realize that there is nothing special with people who choose to live in a way that is considered 'good' by the society. You would realize that the guilt that society tries to build up in you, because you are not leading an 'ideal' life is pointless. Even those who think they are being 'good' are as deceived as you are. In a sense even more deceived because maybe they think there is a purpose to all this when there is none. The only motivating factor for your actions should be your own selfish desires as that is the natural flow of things. As I have said time and again, I do not have problems with any line of thought because its quite a futile effort anyways. What I have problems with is when someone clouds his judgement by social expectations. I have problems with people trying to find meaning in Koran or Gita or Christ or Swami Whatever. I have problems with people wanting to do things because others are doing them and not because they want to do them. I have problems with people not asking themselves enough hard questions.

But in the end, I should also say that nobody should give a damn if I have problems. Who knows, I might be wrong. Who knows, it might be me who needs a complete revamp in his beliefs someday. But I would like to think that I am atleast not afraid of the possibility.

Let me ask you this. What's it going to take for you to completely change your deepest ingrained beliefs and are you subconsciously insecure of the shattering possibility ? So insecure infact that given rational arguments and concrete evidence, you would turn your face away ? Nobody owes an explanation to anyone else but I feel that everyone owes one to himself.

On Social Welfare

Continuing on the last chunk of ruminations, I still want to try to find out if there is anything that a human does completely selflessly. If we hope to find selflessness, something that I doubt, we have to look towards closer human relationships, maybe even blood relations or very close friendships. For now I will look at social welfare.

The concept of selflessness when applied to unrelated humans runs contrary to everything that evolution stands for. Man like every other animal is an outcome of a bloody battle for survival through the ages. Society has acted as a mellowing influence but the basic human tendencies of fierce competitiveness and a pugilistic attitude once the question of survival arises remain thinly hidden. I am frequently surprised to see the number of social workers because its not something that I expect logically to happen since it appears to be a contradiction in the natural working of things. And I start wondering as to how many of them are driven by guilt. A guilt which hammers in the realization of the gap between haves and have nots and mixes it up with a social expectation of an ideal state where this gap is narrowed. I am not accusing anyone of anything but I just want to ask a few questions. Why humans as a specie should try to narrow this gap ? Is it because we 'have' the capability or atleast the illusion of the capability ? Why can't we take it as the natural working of things where 'survival of the fittest' would finally takes charge of affairs ? I just want people to ask one question to themselves. When you see the picture of a poor child suffering from malnutrition, do you feel a sense of deep, overwhelming sorrow unaccompanied by any other emotions or is that emotion somewhere mixed with the feeling of relief that you never had to go through all this ? If its the latter, then your next reaction probably is the feeling that this is an unfair world where on one hand some people can live such an easy life, of which you are a part, while on the other, some have to undergo such hardships. And this is precisely where I feel that guilt sneaks in unannounced. Guilt is a derogatory word but I do not mean to use it that way because our notions of good and bad seem overwhelmingly arbitrary. What I am pointing out is that if the reason for social welfare is self-guilt, then its hardly selfless in the strict sense of the word. I am not demeaning anything or speaking against anyone because I realize the stupid ego-trip that really is, but I just wanted to make an observation for a strictly academic purpose.

About Me

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Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.