Category Archives: non-tech randomness

fragile and uncontrollable

This is yet another gyaan-giving post. I just needed to collect my thoughts and clear my mind. So, don’t bother reading unless you enjoy listening to lonetwin baba šŸ˜‰

The fragility of existence slapped me in the face (yet again) recently with the news of the earthquake + tsunami + the possibility of nuclear meltdown in Japan. As of right now, there are a couple of thousand people reported dead or missing but final estimates are being spoken of in terms of tens of thousands. This got me thinking about the illusion of being in control of our lives that most of us seem to suffer from.

Those of us not in Japan at this moment still feel like our lives won’t drastically change in the next 24 hours. We believe, our homes, the people we love, the things we enjoy will still be around. Why ? Is that just a coping mechanism developed by our species as a means of survival ? (after all, what would life be without hope ?).

I read that the people in Japan are taught to deal with earthquakes right from childhood. They carry quake kits that include at least a flash-light, food and documents. They have periodic drills and follow procedure in the event of a quake. Their cities are planned and built around the possibilities of quakes, floods, and other natural phenomena Japan is exposed to. This may lower the extent of possible damage.

However, they hadn’t been prepared for a nuclear meltdown. Are any or us ?

There is the practical[1] outlook that, as far as life is concerned, all we can hope to achieve is to minimize the effect of external factors rather than control the outcome. However, in day to day life, how many of us remember that ? I know a lot of people who live under the constant illusion that they are in complete control of their lives. How egoistical is that ? Worse still, not only do they think they are in control, they also feel justified to control in the best case (for them) or at least be able to dictate in the worst, the way others should live their lives.

So, what are we supposed to do ? My own take is:

  • remember constantly that we aren’t in control. We are all bound together. Existence is fluid. A change anywhere in the world transmits (in whatever minute manner) to us. We need to remember that always. When interacting with anyone. When doing anything. Our actions affect not just everyone directly involved but also society and the world at large …and this is not in a controllable deterministic manner. So lose the illusion of being able to influence anything by your actions — for yourself or for others.
  • remember that we are fragile and so incredibly easily destructible. Each one of us. We and the people we love and the things we love — all fragile.

So, fragile and uncontrollable, that’s what life is. Everything else is an illusion.
Have any thoughts ? Please share, I’d love to know what people who read this think.[2]
Thanks for reading, have a nice one.

[1] wrote existential first, but not sure if am I using that concept correctly. Am I ?
[2] you can post anonymously too, so feel free to make fun of me, I won’t know who you are šŸ˜‰

On religion, relationships and mind hacks

This is going to be personal, so if you know me in person and also can tolerate the random gyaan I spew every once in a while, read on. If you don’t, I’m glad you are here but maybe (just maybe) you’d want to skip this one.

This post is inspired by two posts by two people I know and is about two (slightly related) things I’ve been thinking about for sometime.

The first one was this innocuous tweet (also Facebook status) by Rahul about Stephen Hawkings declaring that the universe did not need a creator. That generated a couple of comments on Facebook about the (ir)relevance of religion. I chimed in with the comment:

Religion is good as something that provides a moral compass, but it
need not be required to answer questions of existence. That's why I
like Buddhism. True Buddhism is a practical religion without the need
for an existence of a God (let alone a creator). Science is excellent
in answering the questions "who are we ?" and "How did we get here ?"
although the answers aren't comprehensive yet. Religions like Buddhism
are excellent in answering the question - "All that's great and
logical, now what ?"

To which he replied:

Now what? Free will Steve. Go forth and do good :-) Like all
religions, Buddhism started out with good ideas but now it is corrupt
and no one seems to practise the original ideas anymore.

While I don’t claim to know anything about the second part, I do feel the need to address the first — `Go forth and do good`. You see ‘do good’ is often fairly subjective. I don’t think I need to give examples about this. Every day we are faced with questions on morality, which may range from the simple and mundane to the extremely hard to decide on. So, my definition of good might not necessarily be the same as yours …but here’s the thing – It should be !

These questions only appear to be subjective. One of the many things I like about the teachings of the Buddha[1] is this — There is always a very simple, straight forward, unchanging, binary (yes or no) answer to every ‘Is this good or bad ?’ question. What makes the answer hard to reach is external to the question. The answer is often clouded by our own emotions, which tends to make us `prefer` or `justify` one answer to the other. Even when we choose the right answer we tend to choose it for the wrong reasons. It is hard to say something is ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ when we are feeling anger, hatred, depression …or even love, attachment, sympathy, compassion. Should a rapist be hanged ? Should a mass-murderer have any rights ? Is it right to be angry when someone hurts you ? Is it wrong to forgive but not forget ? The answer to such questions lie not in the morality of the question but whether we can answer any of them with detachment from our feelings.

I know it might not sound profound or on the other hand only sound profound but be too abstract with zero relation to reality.

If you feel that way, I encourage you to think of any conflict you are facing right now (big or small — for instance, do you feel conflicted about reading this post when you ought to be working ? — there you go ! šŸ™‚ ). Now, that you are feeling conflicted think about your preferred answer and then dwell not on the answer but why you came to it. Was that insightful ? If it wasn’t you haven’t dug deep enough !

It’s a neat mind trick that the Buddhists have been trying to teach for a long time …and that IMHO, is what Buddhism is all about — a whole bunch of life/mind-hacks to be happy — and `do good`.

Now, about that second post. My ex vented out in her latest blog post[2] about `what the hell do men want ?` I was initially tempted to reply back there but wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible. So here is my attempt at an answer to the question which vexes her.

You see, the question never was about ‘what does he want ?'[3]. What’s unfortunate is that (and this is why I said this bit and the earlier one were related), all the time she was asking the question ‘what the hell do men want ?’, she was really trying to answer the question ‘why am I not getting what I want in return ?‘. She was unsatisfied with the way her life was. Unsatisfied with her job, her health and me. Could I have done anything to satisfy what she wanted ? No ! As a matter of fact, nobody can do anything that would satisfy anybody ! If one is conflicted and in need of something, it cannot be satisfied by something external. No matter how contrary this might sound to real life experience. The reason I say external things cannot truly satisfy, is because when we feel they do, what is really happening is we are making peace with our wants …until they resurface again. One has to find peace and balance in one’s own life, internally. It is a hard thing to do. Bloody hard.

The failure of our relationship was because neither of us could be at peace nor could find balance. I expected patience and a little less ‘craziness’ from her. She wanted me to be a loving, caring, romantic person. Were we not that way ? Well, the mind trick that I hope I knew (/know) how to apply was to detach my wants and see things as they were. I wish, I had the patience for her and she had the freedom from her ‘want-in-return’ and both had the ability to meditate on life’s little problems.

Well, that said tho’, I don’t think I would have come to this conclusion without separation. I was morally conflicted at more levels than just our ‘needs’ and it wouldn’t have resolved when we were together (or at least, it would’ve taken a huge amount of effort for both of us, which I think neither of us could put in at that time).

So, what’s the bottom line of this whole post, it is:

KISS. Learning how to is bloody hard but once you know how, it is
extremely gratifying.[4]

Thanks for reading, cheers !

[1] I am not a practising Buddhist (or a practising anything, when it comes to it)
[2] Yes, I read her blog, does that make me sad and pathetic ? If you think it is, read the preceding paragraph again
[3] but still to humor, what I wanted was for her to be herself and be happy at being that
[4] KISS == Keep It Simple Stupid

Passive Aggressive, who me ?

I like to think of my self as a peaceful composed person who doesn’t get rattled too easily. Yes, i do have my peeves and yes, I might not appear to be calm and composed all the time but people who know me, know that I don’t get angry too often. Mildly annoyed, irritated, frustrated and agitated at times …rarely in fact, but not furious.

Few people have witnessed me really angry and more often than not they are confused why something seemingly insignificant or at the worst mildly annoying trigged off that fury.

I felt angry today.

So, I decided to examine that feeling and tried to analyse how I reacted. Now, ever since I heard the term passive aggressive, I was confused about it, it seemed to fit what I felt and the manner I react when I am angry, that is to say — I would be passive but also deliberately subversive/non-cooperative and clamed up until the time something triggered out all out active aggression. So, anyway, I looked it up:

Passive aggressive behaviour at wikipedia

Seems pretty close to what I am like, at least when I’m angry. However, on further reading, I am not too sure I want to be called passive aggressive. Although I am ok with been known as mostly passive in fact downright nice, perhaps non-confrontational but who can get aggressive in all sorts of surprisingly uncharacteristic rages if pushed too far.

What does one call that ?

Well, doesn’t matter, I feel better now (reading always does that to me), I also feel like putting this out there — When nice people accept all the crap and nonsense you send their way, they are just being nice. They are not stupid or easily manipulated or too dumb to realize that you are trying to handle/manage them. They are being nice because they know what’s important in the long run. Don’t push it though, because suddenly you’ll wake up one morning and find the whole day shitting all over you.

Enough ranting. Have a good one ! šŸ™‚

cheers,
-steve

Mayawati’s garland 21 lakh ? Pretty unlikely …

I watched the NDTV news report about Mayawati’s garland in utter disgust at not just the revolting show of excess but also the utter disregard to the value of Indian currency. I was even more appalled at the BSP minion justify the garland and put the figure of 21 lakhs for it’s value. That instinctively struck me at BS. That number does not even seem statistically possible.

Considering the 21 lakh amount, if that were true, it would imply that the garland was made of 2100, one thousand rupee notes. Looking at even a low resolution picture of that garland, a conservative estimate would put one layer within the garland to be at least made up of 10 notes. So, that would imply that for a 21 lakh rupee worth of garland to be made up of just 210 such layers. Is that even possible ? Take a look at the pictures again. I’m willing to bet at least 50 notes make up a layer. The number of layers that make up the garland is a proper mathematician’s task. I think any mathematician worth his degree would be interested in calculating this. I hope some Indian mathematician actually does it.

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The Khan Academy

I don’t normally blog about every interesting thing that i come across on the net. I prefer to instead ‘thumb it up’ using StumbleUpon and add a review if there is something really neat or i have an opinion to express (which is rather rare — I think things just are — but that’ll be another post).

However, i just came across The Khan Academy and was blown over by the tremendous amount of work that has gone into making this possible. Here is what the site is about:

  We have 800+ videos on YouTube covering everything from basic arithmetic and
  algebra to differential equations, physics, and finance which have been
  recorded by Salman Khan. He has also developed a free, adaptive math program
  available here.

Firstly, it’s not the Salman Khan you are thinking about, sorry to disappoint :).

Secondly, they are not kidding about the everything part. I just learnt how many avocados i’ll have in the end if i had 1 avacado and you gave me another avacado. Now, that’s another thing, the accent and approach might be a bit American but i don’t think that should matter if you are just looking to brush up your basic education or are recommending this to kids who can watch the latest hollywood action/cartoon movie and understand it.

Most of my friends now have kids in the pre-school or primary school age range and I guess those of you who do, would find this site interesting.

If you do, spread the word around and also consider donating (they take paypal — if you don’t have a paypal account, let me know, i can donate on your behalf and you can reimburse me in beers šŸ™‚ )