Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Archive for June, 2009

Ancient Indians – some of them were materialists like us!

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

There was a discussion a while ago on Carvakas – ancient Indian materialist philosophers. The writers were mostly admiring them for their boldness, bravery and general clarity of scientific thought. It was clear that they were sick of Ancient India’s spiritualism.

Ever since the colonial encounter, the West has associated India strongly with its spiritual tradition—often out of sympathy, respect, and the best of intentions, but sometimes dismissively as “the land of religions, the country of uncritical faiths and unquestioned practices.”[3] But such assessments are problematic. As Amartya Sen has argued, the history of India is incomplete without its tradition of scepticism. To see India “as overwhelmingly religious, or deeply anti-scientific, or exclusively hierarchical, or fundamentally unsceptical involves significant oversimplification of India’s past and present.” The West, Sen claims, focused unduly on India’s spiritual heritage, on “the differences—real or imagined—between India and the West,” partly because it was naturally drawn to what was unique and different in India.

The nature of these slanted emphases has tended to undermine an adequately pluralist understanding of Indian intellectual traditions. While India has … a vast religious literature [with] grand speculation on transcendental issues … there is also a huge—and often pioneering—literature, stretching over two and a half millennia, on mathematics, logic, epistemology, astronomy, physiology, linguistics, phonetics, economics, political science and psychology, among other subjects concerned with the here and now

The problem with materialism is the idea that whatever the five senses and the mind perceive, must be the truth. Not only that, that what is not perceived by these faculties, does not exist.
We also need to look at the perceiving apparatus.
If all communicating human beings were blinded for a few generations, colors, rainbows, clouds and the oceans would not be perceived properly – if at all. If some scientists then invented a seeing instrument, then these things would be perceived according to the capacity of the seeing instrument. As the instruments were improved by the scientists, more and more contours, shapes and sizes would come into perception.
There was a time when we did not know that electricity and magnetism existed. We did not know that x-rays, ultra-violet and infra-red rays, sounds below the hearing threshold etc existed. A Carvaka in those times would be justified in saying that these things did not exist, they were pure speculation to fool the people.
From a neuro-scientific point of view, we could say that any experience is only a matter of neural firings in the brain. Thus we could experience and see things which did not really exist. I believe Francis Crick takes this position in The Astonishing Hypothesis. In that case, nothing exists but patterns in the brain. Then who can verify whether the brain exists? Further, whether you and I exist? This will lead to Descartes!
Immanuel Kant is one thinker who has written about these matters very well. The best development of his thoughts come from P.D.Ouspensky – in his books Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe.
Ancient Indians have also contemplated and debated from these alternative models of knowledge. The Idealist schools focused on the instruments of knowledge, based on the reason that precise instruments were needed for proper perception, and poor instruments lead to faulty knowledge. Therefore it was necessary to know and refine the instruments of knowledge. This gave rise to the idea “Know Thy Self”.

Happy Carvakas!

Ajita Keshakambalin, a prominent Carvaka and contemporary of the Buddha, proclaimed that humans literally go from earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:

Man is formed of the four elements. When he dies, earth returns to the aggregate of earth, water to water, fire to fire, and air to air, while his senses vanish into space. Four men with the bier take up the corpse: they gossip as far as the burning-ground, where his bones turn the color of a dove’s wing and his sacrifices end in ashes. They are fools who preach almsgiving, and those who maintain the existence [of immaterial categories] speak vain and lying nonsense. When the body dies both fool and wise alike are cut off and perish. They do not survive after death.

According to the Carvaka, the soul is only the body qualified by intelligence. It has no existence apart from the body, only this world exists, there is no beyond—the Vedas are a cheat; they serve to make men submissive through fear and rituals. Nature is indifferent to good and evil, and history does not bear witness to Divine Providence. Pleasure and pain are the central facts of life. Virtue and vice are not absolute but mere social conventions. The Carvaka advised:

While life is yours, live joyously;

None can escape Death’s searching eye:

When once this frame of ours they burn,

How shall it e’er again return?

Ever since the European enlightenment, scientific materialism has been the dominant philosophy of the modern age. Thinking people find it easy to accept and internalize. Bertrand Russell and the logical positivists have developed this philosophy to its peak.

The problem with materialism is the idea that whatever the five senses and the mind perceive, must be the truth. Not only that, that what is not perceived by these faculties, does not exist.

We also need to look at the perceiving apparatus.

If all communicating human beings were blinded for a few generations, colors, rainbows, clouds and the oceans would not be perceived properly – if at all. If some scientists then invented a seeing instrument, then these things would be perceived according to the capacity of the seeing instrument. As the instruments were improved by the scientists, more and more contours, shapes and sizes would come into perception.

There was a time when we did not know that electricity and magnetism existed. We did not know that x-rays, ultra-violet and infra-red rays, sounds below the hearing threshold etc existed. A Carvaka in those times would be justified in saying that these things did not exist, they were pure speculation to fool the people.

From a neuro-scientific point of view, we could say that any experience is only a matter of neural firings in the brain. Thus we could experience and see things which did not really exist. I believe Francis Crick takes this position in The Astonishing Hypothesis. In that case, nothing exists but patterns in the brain. Then who can verify whether the brain exists? Further, whether you and I exist? This will lead to Descartes!

Immanuel Kant is one thinker who has written about these matters very well. The best development of his thoughts come from P.D.Ouspensky – in his books Tertium Organum and A New Model of the Universe.

Ancient Indians have also contemplated and debated from these alternative models of knowledge. The Idealist schools focused on the instruments of knowledge, based on the reason that precise instruments were needed for proper perception, and poor instruments lead to faulty knowledge. Therefore it was necessary to know and refine the instruments of knowledge. This gave rise to the idea “Know Thy Self”.

The writer of this article then responded to my comments.

There are many “problems” with materialism depending on how it is defined and who is assessing. Materialistic ontology can range from mechanical to physicalistic, reductive to emergent, or commit not much more than a rejection of supernatural categories. How and what kind of knowledge one gains about one’s notion of reality is another variable (epistemology conditions, and is conditioned in turn by ontology). Two ways we encountered in the Carvaka context are sense perception and inference. So yes, the perceiving apparatus and the mind are pivotal to all knowledge. Even knowing thyself is inescapably shaped by them.

I responded to that.

We can’t know how inescapable this is. Initial conditions would be so. But as the skill in self-observation improves, internal errors could be more quickly detected. Just a hypothesis, since most of us have not even started on this.

There’s plenty of yoga and meditation literature by practitioners that provide detailed maps of stages in self-observation.

In a small booklet called Alternative States of Consciousness, Daniel Goleman has rigorously described a 7-stage process of Buddhist meditation with 4 “rational” and 3 “super-rational” stages in a Self-observer’s journey.

The first 4 stages as I remember are:

1. Initial (on an object of contemplation)
2. Access (to the object)
3. Merger (with the object)
4. Bliss.

The next 3 stages are:

5. Infinite space(or emptiness)
6. Infinite consciousness.
7. Neither perception nor non-perception.

I find the study believable and fascinating.

Advertisements

Posted in Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear dilemma 3

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

My pen-friend didn’t like it! He wrote again.

” Earth is better off without us” – That’s being extremely fatalistic. What do we care for an earth without us? 

So I wrote back.

Before I was born, I had a family. My family tree comes before me, and will live on long after I’m gone. I am going to die one day. I am not fatalistic about it. Its a fact. But my family tree will go on. Its life span is far greater than me, an individual leaf. My family tree is part of a bigger community. This community was there before my family tree, and may live on long after my family tree comes to an end. Continue this line of thought.

My nation is bigger than my community, and will outlast the community. My species is bigger than my nation. Life is bigger than my species. And the place where Life started, The Earth, is bigger than Life itself. So the Earth is needed, even if my species is not there! This is not fatalism, just a way of looking which is not Anthropocentric. Its called a Bio-centric view.

This is just like saying that the body of a living being is bigger than its cells, tissues, organs, and systems functioning within – like the skeletal system, muscular system, circulatory system, glandular system & nervous system. True, some organs are all-important, like the heart, the lungs & the brain. But the body can exist even without some of these. In the same way, I consider that each human being as a leaf of the branch called Humanity, and each species, as a branch in the tree called Life. And this tree in turn is a part of The Earth, which also contains Non-life.

So, when visionaries like Lovelock talk of Gaia, this is what I think they mean. The Earth is a Living, Breathing Entity. In the film “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore clearly shows how this breathing cycle works. Seasons occur because of it. The absorption of carbon dioxide by the planet’s plants and its photosynthesis into oxygen forms part of the cycle of breathing. Even the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere are akin to the three breathing lobes of our chest. A NASA satellite has observed a “breathing,” an expansion and contraction, of the Earth’s upper atmosphere in response to periodic, high-speed solar winds. The northern hemisphere contains most of the vegetation on the Earth’s land mass. When this hemisphere is tilted to The Sun in the spring & summer, the leaves come out and breathe in the CO2. The amount of the CO2 in the atmosphere goes down, because of photosynthesis. But when the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, in the autumn and winter, the leaves fall out, exhale the CO2, and is amount in the atmosphere goes up. The Earth thus inhales & exhales once a year!

Suns’s radiation comes to the Earth in the form of light waves. This radiation heats up the earth. Some of this is absorbed and the rest is reflected back into space in the form of infra-red rays. Some of this outgoing radiation is trapped by the earth’s atmosphere and warms it. This keeps the temperatures on earth within livable boundaries.

What has now happened is the thickening of the outer layer of the atmosphere due to industrial and other forms of pollution. The greenhouse gases. A constriction in the outer circle of the Earth’s atmosphere which traps carbon-di-oxide and the radiation inside and does not allow it to escape into space. The result is Global warming.

Its as though The Earth has a fever. It has had such fevers before, in cycles of 100,000 years. I believe that The Ice Age followed the last fever. The Earth will outlive the fever, come out better and start the next attempt at incubating new forms of Life.

Thats not a fatalistic view at all! Its just that this view is grander than our small lives, and understandably lead us into “What do we care for an earth without us? “.

Posted in Public affairs, Science | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear dilemma 2

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

My pen friend, who resembles me (ideologically) at a younger age, wrote.

You have quoted from authentic texts about the environmental hazards of nuclear plants.

Then you concluded that ” I was against nuclear energy earlier but now I am not sure now”

Why this this uncertainty?  There is a world wide publicity bombardment putting forth the thesis that nuclear energy is solution to world’s energy crisis. This propaganda through politicians,  academics,  scientists,  media & what have you – is mainly sponsored by nuclear plant/technology manufacturers’ lobby,  who invested huge money in nuclear research & out creating market for their letahl ware.

India bought that propaganda hook, line & stinker recently. They must have done lot of ‘educating’ the wogs a la Enron.

My answer:

There are always at least 2 sides to any question. I always try not to see only one side. Even in this kind if “Qayamat”, there are no easy answers.

Please read what an Earth-lover and leading climate scientist has to say on the current energy crisis – here and here.

Bottom line. Too many people, too much greed, too much consumption, too little energy. The Earth is better off without us. Irresistible force meets immovable object.

Posted in Public affairs, Science | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear energy – do we need it?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

Extracts from “The Turning point” by Fritjof Capra.
Begin extract.
—————
1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.
2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.
3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.
5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plu ionium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?
————-
End of extract.
Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination”. 
I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

I used to read a lot of counter-culture books as a student.  Of course,  mostly Anglo-American. A high-impact book was  “The Turning point”  by Fritjof Capra.  After that, I became an ardent anti-nuclearist! This was nearly 25 years ago. I still think it is a profound book, better than his cult best-seller “The Tao of Physics”.

Here he is on nuclear energy in chapter 8 –  “The dark side of growth” .

1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.

2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.

3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.

5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plutonium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?

Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination“.

However, I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

Posted in Public affairs, Science | Leave a Comment »

Secular syncretism – half-baked patch-works

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Justice Katju has undertaken a cultural  initiative. He has started a Kalidas-Ghalib Academy to foster cultural understanding. It looks like a secular, Nehruvian mind-set to me, without an inkling of religious feeling behind it.

This is my reaction to it.

1. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”  (I wonder who said that).

2. a)The underlying axioms are invalid.

b) There was no Aryan Invasion of India. Aryans were indigenous to India.

c) Thus India has only historically recently become a “country of immigrants”.

d) This is typical of modern intellectuals, looking to define India as another America.

e) Similar false analogies are there between American black movements (black panthers) and Dalit movements (Dalit Panthers). Can these intellectuals never be original? Do they have to borrow all ideas from Anglos or Americans, even if black?

3. a) Ghalib was a worldly drunkard.

b) He was not in the same class as Omar Khayaam, Rumi and Amir Khusro.

c) Whenever he used the word Nasha, it meant alcohol-induced.

d) Not so with the others. They meant divine intoxication, caused by meditation practices.

e) This is the true unity of religions, authentic sufism is close to vaishnavism, sikhism and bhakthi movements.

4. a) However, the content on Akbar is interesting and largely true. Some new information is there.

b) My quibble is about calling him the greatest of them all, and founder of modern secularism! Secularism is about separation of religin and state, whereas din-e-elahi was about finding the One True Emperor!

c) What about Asoka, Vikramaaditya, Bhoja, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhana, Raja raja Chola, Krishna Deva Raya and so on? Such comparisons wiil turn out to be as foolish as Outlook and Filmfare awards for lifetime achievements.

5. a) Industrial development is not a satisfactory answer to the problem of poverty. It pollutes the environment.

b) We need to find other ways to get rid of poverty, perhaps by reducing the value of being rich?

c) The quality of living in out mega-cities is much worse than rural and semi-rural towns. Cities have much less time and much more stress than towns.

6. a) Divisiveness is a product of the competitive processes in a democratic setup.

b) Politicians, intellectuals & ideologues need to mobilize people on their behalf, in support of their views and agendas.

c) Dividing people into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ is a time-honoured, universal way to climb the ladder of power.

d) The constitution of India was not organically developed from our soil. It is a foreign graft & is part of the problem, not the solution. It is not a good vehicle for the expression of our spirit.

7. The intention of the initiative is good, but secularists should be aware of the possibility that the opposite may be achieved, due to faulty assumptions and paradigms!

Posted in Culture, Ideology | Leave a Comment »

Industrialization and development – harmful?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Justice Markandeya Katju is writing a lot these days, quite thoughtfully.

…and for that it is necessary to have a high degree of industrialization….. It can only come from a highly developed industry, and it is industrialization alone which can generate the wealth we need for the welfare of our people…. It is industrialization alone which can abolish poverty and unemployment….

A) If you look at the ecology/environmental problem:

1. Average Indian Carbon Foot Print (tonnes per year) = 1.2 Average worldwide CFP = 4 Middle-class CFP = 9.23 (6000 kwh Electricity, 200 litres LPG, 1 car with 15 km/litre, bus/rail/taxi 2000 km p.a., vegetarian, a little organic food, some shopping & movies). Average Industrial national citizen CFP = 11 (Source)

2. Global warming is real, potentially catastrophic, and human-caused.

3. The Keeling curve, measuring CO2 from the Mauna Loa Observatory, shows exponential increase in CO2 levels in the last 5 decades.

4. The retreat of numerous glaciers, prominently Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa & Gangotri in the Himalayas, are dramatic, nearly catastrophic.

5. A study by researchers at the Physics Institute at the University of Bern and the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica presenting data from Antarctic ice cores showing carbon dioxide concentrations higher than at any time during the past 650,000 years!

6. Temperature record since 1880 showing that the ten hottest years ever measured in this atmospheric record have all occurred in the last fourteen years. 7. A 2004 survey by Naomi Oreskes of 928 peer-reviewed scientific articles on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003. The survey, published as an editorial in the journal Science, found that every article either supported the human-caused global warming consensus or did not comment on it.

(Source).

B) If you look at the remove-poverty goal:

1. India’s economy must grow at 8 percent per year for the next 25 years in order to lift the bottom 40 percent of its people to a decent standard of living. India is falling behind in achieving it Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty due to persistent energy shortages. “Energy is central for development. Our energy consumption must go up,” says a minister. Today India uses 471 million tons oil equivalent (MTOE) of energy each year of which 327 MTOE is primary commercial energy. The rest comes from burning traditional biomass. In order to achieve its poverty reduction goals, India needs to grow its energy supplies by 4.3 to 5.1 percent per year and to consume 1536 to 1887 MTOE by 2031.

2. India’s current total primary energy supply (TPES) per capita energy use with other countries. TPES per capita is calculated as the energy equivalent of the amount of oil in kilograms (kgoe) a person consumes per year. In China the amount is 1090 kgoe, Brazil 1094, Denmark 3852, UK 3906, US 7835, Japan 4052, and the world average per capita energy use is 1688. Where does India stand? The average Indian consumes the equivalent of 439 kilograms of oil. The eight percent annual economic growth that Sethi hopes India will experience over the quarter century would mean that the average Indian would be consuming between 1065 and 1279 kgoe in 2031. That’s about what the average Chinese uses now and is only 70 percent of world’s current per capita average.

3. India could cut projected CO2 emissions between 2012 and 2017 by 550 million tons at an additional cost of $25 billion for more energy efficient technologies.

4. Even after implementing the most efficient energy conservation technologies over the next 25 years, India will still be emitting 4 times more CO2 in 2031 than it does today.

(Source).

So:

“There is enough on Earth for every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“…a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad it had forgotten its name, which is located beside a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy.  This city is thickly populated by people, of whom only Haroun and his parents are ever happy, while in the north of the city are factories wherein sadness is manufactured and exported. The factories produce air pollution that is only relieved during the monsoon,….”. (Haroun Rashid & the sea of stories).

I think Justice Katju has a rather one-sided view of the problem. The human being has become a burden to the earth. When the smaller populations of the rich North have caused this much havoc, he wants the huge populations of India & China to do order-of-magnitude more damage. I think it may be too late to stop the deluge.

Posted in Public affairs, Science | Leave a Comment »

Godless happiness?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Phil Zuckerman in Outlook magazine (4 Feb 2009).

In clean and green Scandinavia, few people speak of God, few people spend much time thinking about theological matters, and although their media in recent years has done an unusually large amount of reporting on religion, even that is offered as an attempt to grapple with and make sense of a strange foreign phenomenon out there in the wider world that refuses to disappear, a phenomenon that takes on such dire significance for everyone — except, well, for Danes and Swedes.

What are societies like when faith in God is minimal, church attendance is drastically low, and religion is a distinctly muted and marginal aspect of everyday life?

Although they may have relatively high rates of petty crime and burglary, and although these crime rates have been on the rise in recent decades, their overall rates of violent crime — including murder, aggravated assault, and rape — are among the lowest on earth.

But aren’t they a dour, depressed lot, all the same? Not according to Ruut Veenhoven, professor emeritus of social conditions for human happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Veenhoven is a leading authority on worldwide levels of happiness from country to country. He recently ranked 91 nations on an international happiness scale, basing his research on cumulative scores from numerous worldwide surveys. According to his calculations, the country that leads the globe — ranking No. 1 in terms of its residents’ overall level of happiness — is little, peaceful, and relatively godless Denmark.

I have lived in a Scandinavian country for more than a decade. The main character of these people is their lack of excitability. The darkness and dampness through most of the year makes outdoor activities leading to crime are low.

But domestic strife, divorce, suicide and separation are high. They do not beat their children, which is good. But they do not let a new-born infant lie for a few days at-least next to the mother, as it invades her sexual privacy rights! The child is left in another room, with an electronic alert whenever she cries, so that the infant can be attended to. They use modern plastic diapers for their children, and do not regularly change the diapers. I think Indians, who leave their infants free of underwear, and clean them with water whenever they soil themselves, are more eco-frindly and sensitive.

The criteria of happiness used in the Veenhoven survey: 1) Freedom – Political & economic 2) Happiness – as expressed by themselves. If you read the survey you’ll see the extraverted and temporal nature of the questions.

One can easily see that these happy people actually equate material well-being with happiness. Material well-being is a fortunate circumstance, because these small populations have a lot of natural wealth. It is the opposite of what Malthus described. Take that away, and the Scandinavians would become another unhappy people of the world.

Selecting what you want to see is a great human habit. If I now select Tibet, I will see a different type of happiness.

Tibet is a nation in exile. It was not part of the above-mentioned survey. They are a poor nation. They have waged a non-violent struggle for independence which shows that they are the children of the Mahatma. They do not have material well-being like the Scandinavians. Their upbringing teaches the transience of material prosperity. They study the nature of their own minds. They contemplate mental virtues & vices. They research death, and prepare for it throughout their lives. And they are a happy people, even in exile and adversity!

See this article for more depth on the nature of happiness. Here is a better link.

Posted in Ideology | Leave a Comment »

Yours truly answers the defender of Dawkins

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

I normally avoid slanging matches with readers. They tend to divert attention from the theme being discussed.

1. “The operative word in this meaningless pedagogy is “spirit” , “malevolent ” too. No problem with benign spirit.”

Spirit is meant in the sense of ‘Attitude’, not in the sense of ‘Ghost’. Yes, I would welcome a friendly, benign spirit to theists, and there are plenty of atheists who do have that attitude.

2. You dare not tell the rest of the story for fear of being exposed as counterfeit theist; a benign spirit appear?

The rest of the story has not happened in this case, so let me keep the dramatic tension intact 😉 Google Hiranyakashipu, if you don’t know. Its well-known or can be easily read on the internets.

3. Why is God the only other tiny probability?

There are the 2 mutually exclusive options that theists & atheists take positions on. A) God exists B) God does not exist. 

If option A has probability X, option B will have probability 1 – X. if X is zero, then 1 – X is 1.

If X is more than zero, no matter how close to zero, then 1 – X is that much less than one. Unless you prove that X is equal to zero, the tiny probability can become actualized. That is, a person can experience God. And I think Dawkins would agree that there are no other options, apart from A & B.

4. “is this “tiny probability” suddenly transforming into “equal or greater” probability shenanigan of benign spirit? “

This is a non sequitur. ‘Shenanigan’ is used here to show punditry in English. The rhetoric does not address the fact that such a phenomenon called Life appeared on Earth, even though the odds were very much against it.

5. “What conceit! And why bring Dawkins into it? Is’nt Dawkins passe’ by his own volition , true scientist that he is? A beautiful mind!”

You mean I dare not question Dawkins, God of the militant atheists? Then I accept that I’m conceited. As a reductionist biologist, Dawkins has not spelled out his position on how possibilities become actualized. It is said in quantum mechanics literature.

“If N mutually exclusive events can happen at a particular instant, we can assign probabilities p1, p2 …pN to each of these events. When event J happens, its probability pJ becomes 1, and all the other probabilities become zero.”

So some quantum physicists believe that all the other events did not happen because their probability became zero and the probability of the event that happened became one. Other scientists are not sure why the probabilities changed at that instant. And the phenomenon is called the collapse of the wave function. People like Fridtjof Capra believe that the event that happened is determined by the observer, i.e. the scientist. Reductionists of the Dawkins variety do not agree. And its Dawkins’ knowledge of the collapse of the wave function that is below par.

Posted in Ideology, Science | Leave a Comment »

A defender of Dawkins reacts!

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

” Their uncontrolled diatribes in the name of scientific rationality show a most peculiar impulse, a possession of malevolent spirit”

The operative word in this meaningless pedagogy is “spirit” , “malevolent ” too. No problem with benign spirit.

” Hiranyakashipu knocked the pillar with his fist.”

You dare not tell the rest of the story for fear of being exposed as counterfeit theist; a benign spirit appear?

” It means there is tiny probability of the opposite, that God exists”

Why God exists is the only other tiny probability?

Don’t remember Dawkins considering that’s the “only” other probability.

“And that probability is equal to or greater than the probability of life appearing on Earth.”

Is this “tiny probability” suddenly transforming into “equal or greater” probability shenanigan of benign spirit? The quantum model does not make that apparent. Rubbish!

“I don’t know how well Dawkins understands the quantum mechanics model of probability”

What conceit! And why bring Dawkins into it? Is’nt Dawkins passe’ by his own volition, true scientist that he is? A beautiful mind!

“Survival itself implies mental volition.”

A lot of hot wind.

Posted in Ideology, Science | Leave a Comment »

Dawkin’s irrational exuberance!

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, Philicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. ” (The God Delusion)

Reminds me of Hiranyakashipu.

 “Prahlada replied: He is unquestionably the strength not only of mine but yours as well. It is by him these creatures high and low, animate and inanimate, commencing from Brahma have been held under sway. He is the ruler, He is the mighty Time, He is the embodiment of organic and mental powers, physical strength and fortitude. The supreme controller of Nature and its three qualities (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas), It is he who creates, protects and destroys the universe. Abondan this demoniac disposition of yours and keep your mind equipoised. There are no enemies other than an uncontrolled mind. Some consider to have conquered the four directions without having curbed the thief in the form of mind.

Hiranyakashipu replied: Evidently you are keen to die, now that you are bragging too much. For the words of those who are anxious to die are sure to be incoherent. Where is that Lord of the universe other than me? If it is urged that he is present everywhere, why is he not seen in that pillar? I being the master of everything, am going tosever your head, a braggard that you are. Let Hari protect you today if he is present in the pillar.

Thus tormenting his son, Hiranyakashipu sprang from his seat, taking his sword and knocked the pillar with his fist”

Let us theists understand what makes the Dawkinses of the world tick. Their uncontrolled diatribes in the name of scientific rationality show a most peculiar impulse, a possession by a malevolent spirit. They use words and thoughts in a sloppy manner. What does ‘probably’ mean? It means that there is a tiny probability of the opposite, that God exists. And that probability is equal to or greater than the probability of life appearing on Earth. I don’t know how well Dawkins understands the quantum mechanics model of probability. When the potential for several things happening exists, that which happens has a non-zero probability, just like many other things that could have happened. So why didn’t the other non-zero probabilities happen? Because only one of them appeared to our perception in the manifest world, the others remained in the unmanifest world, and can manifest at another time!

Dawkin’s language in both The Selfish Gene and God Delusion is full of attributions of volition to things like genes, species, life forms etc. They are always at war with each other for dominance and survival. Survival itself implies mental volition. And yet he is attributing these to abstractions like species. His fixed idea is Survival of the Fittest, and therefore everything has to fit into that framework. His language is a moral language, the language of a fanatic. Its not a cool, objective and rational one.

Posted in Ideology, Science | Leave a Comment »