Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Is the world an illusion?

Posted by desicontrarian on July 13, 2009

Francis Crick, An Astonishing Hypothesis.

1. a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cellsglial cells, and the atoms,ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them.

2. You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules

Descartes, Meditations on first Philosophy

I have formerly accepted as true and certain those things I learn through the senses. Like the fact that I am seated by this fire, in a dressing gown, with this paper in my hands. And how could I deny that this body is mine, unless I was as mad as those whose cerebella are so clouded by black bile that they believe they have an earthenware head or a glass body? Yet, I must remember that I have dreams, which are almost as insane. Often I have dreamt that I was dressed and seated near this fire, whilst I was lying undressed in bed! It seems to me that I am now awake, but I remind myself that I have dreamt that too. Yet even dreams are formed out of things real and true. Just as a painter represents sirens or satyrs from a medley of different animals; even quite novel images are still composed of real colours.

For the same reason, although general things may be imaginary, we are bound to confess that there are simpler objects which are real and true; such as colours, quantity or magnitude and number. That is why Physics, Astronomy, Medicine and those sciences which consider composite things, are dubious; but Arithmetic, Geometry and sciences which treat of things very simple and general contain some certainty. For whether I am awake or asleep, two and three always form five, and a square has four sides. It does not seem possible that truths so clear and apparent can be uncertain.

Meditation two.

I knew that I could eat and walk, but that would be impossible if my body were a deceit. I knew that I had sensations. But one cannot feel without body, and besides, I have dreamt of having sensations. What of thinking? This surely is an attribute that belongs to me; it alone cannot be separated from me. Could it be the case that if I ceased to think, then I would cease to exist?

Putting aside all which is not necessarily true: then I can accurately state that I am no more than a thing which thinks, that is to say a mind or a soul, or an understanding, or a reason.

I am, however, a real thing; but what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks. I exist, but what am I? I am the I whom I know exists. The very knowledge of my existence does not depend on uncertain things, nor could I feign it; for there would still be the I that feigns things. I am a thinking thing which doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines and feels.

From Slate Magazine

  1. Scientists at a Chinese robotic engineering institute remotely controlled a flying pigeon.First they implanted tiny electrodes in its brain. By activating the electrodes from a computer, they “forced the bird to comply with their commands,” flying right, left, up, or down.
  2. Scientists in Germany used pattern recognition software to predict, from functional magnetic resonance imaging of people’s brains, whether each person had secretly decided to add or subtract two numbers he was looking at. The computer correctly predicted the decision 71 percent of the time.
  3. By implanting electrodes in rats’ brains, scientists have created remote-controlled rodents they can command to turn left or right, climb trees and navigate piles of rubble and maybe someday, with the rats outfitted with tiny video cameras, use to search for disaster survivors.

    “If you have a collapsed building and there are people under the rubble, there’s no robot that exists now that would be capable of going down into such a difficult terrain and finding those people, but a rat would be able to do that,” said John Chapin, a professor of physiology and pharmacology at the State University of New York in Brooklyn.The lab animals aren’t exactly robot rats. They had to be trained to carry out the commands.

    Chapin’s team fitted five rats with electrodes and power-pack backpacks. When signaled by a laptop computer, the electrodes stimulated the rodents’ brains and cued them to scurry in the desired direction, then rewarded them by stimulating a pleasure center in the brain. The rats’ movements could be controlled up to 1,640 feet away, the length of more than five football fields.

The delightful essay by Daniel Dennett, Where Am I ( a must read)

……..

………

……  No way had been found to shield the brain from these deadly rays, which were apparently harmless to other tissues and organs of the body. So it had been decided that the person sent to recover the device shouldleave his brain behind.

………………

………………

The day for surgery arrived at last and of course I was anesthetized and remember nothing of the operation itself. When I came out of anesthesia, I opened my eyes, looked around, and asked the inevitable, the traditional, the lamentably hackneyed postoperative question: “Where am l?”

……………..

……………..

“Yorick,” I said aloud to my brain, “you are my brain. The rest of my body, seated in this chair, I dub ‘Hamlet.’ ” So here we all are: Yorick’s my brain, Hamlet’s my body, and I am Dennett. Avow, where am l? And when I think “where am l?” where’s that thought tokened? Is it tokened in my brain, lounging about in the vat, or right here between my ears where it seems to be tokened? Or nowhere? Its temporal coordinates give me no trouble; must it not have spatial coordinates as well?

…………

………….

Thus, leading scientists, philosophers and lab technicians are confronting the problem of the world experience.  Maaya philosophy of Hinduism, under attack by materialists, gets indirect and tentative nods from such findings and speculations.

Statements like Hindus  have a school-boy philosophy of Maaya –  are questionable. The question is – is Maaya philosophy valid, invalid or partly valid?

We may be like mice in a maze, and unable to look at the maze from the outside. The world that we see is a creation of our brain/mind. If we can “jump ouside the maze”, then we might be able to see the entire landscape of the maze.

What is the maze made up of? Our thoughts, feelings, bodily and mental sensations and perceptions.  Each of them is another sub-maze in itself. We do not know which thought, feeling, sensation or perception will happen to us after 2 minutes, nay, the next instant.

Therefore, we need to closely watch these streams of our mind. They are not static, but dynamic, chaotic and incoherent.  The idea is to watch them like a witness, without interfering with them and perturbing the mind even more. As we watch, we gain the calmness and stillness which allows us to see the mind which creates the experience. If this mind is stilled, the walls of the maze are dissolved and a lofty horizon opens up to us.

This is what the 5 schools of Yoga (Hatha yoga, Jnana yoga, Bhakthi yoga, Raja yoga and Karma yoga) aim to achieve through various practices. The various ways are according to the practitioners’ temperaments. Each human being can chose to follow any of these paths, and understand his true identity and possibilities.

Posted in Philosophy, Science | 3 Comments »

Erudite but misled – Part III

Posted by desicontrarian on July 12, 2009

  1. In a Michael Danino paper (PDF),  Sanghamitra Sahoo constructs an eloquent table of genetic distances between several populations, based on Y-haplogroups . The caste populations of ‘north’ and ‘south’ India are not particularly more closely related to each other (average Fst value = 0.07) than they are to the tribal groups (average Fst value = 0.06). In particular, Southern castes and tribals are very similar to each other in their Y-chromosomal haplogroup compositions.” As a result, it was not possible to confirm any of the purported differentiations between the caste and tribal pools, a momentous conclusion that directly clashes with the Aryan paradigm, which imagined Indian tribes as adivasis and the caste Hindus as descendants of Indo-Aryans invaders or immigrants. In reality, we have no way, today, to determine who in India is an “adi”-vasi, but enough data to reject this label as misleading and unnecessarily divisive.
  2. B.N. Narahari Achar has dated the Mahabharatha war to 3067 B.C.. It is based on the following facts: there was an equinox near jyeshTHa; a solar eclipse occurred at jyeshTHa in an eclipse season with two lunar eclipses on either side; the final lunar eclipse occurred in less than fourteen days after the solar eclipse. It is demonstrated conclusively by the simulations that the proposed date, which is identical to the one proposed earlier by Raghavan, provides the best agreement with the events described in the epic.
  3. GeneticDistanceTable

Posted in History | Leave a Comment »

Erudite but misled – Part II

Posted by desicontrarian on July 12, 2009

Prominect Indologist Koenraad Elst. Here,  here and here.

  1. There are, broadly speaking, three political movements which have taken an interest in the Aryan invasion debate. The first consists of European colonialists and racists, very active before 1945, as in the Nazi schoolbooks where the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) was used as the perfect illustration of white dynamism and military superiority (whites entered the dark-skinned people’s country, not the reverse), white racism (Aryan invaders devised and imposed the caste system to prevent miscegenation), the perennial threat of racial mixing (the upper castes are visibly non-white, proving that their ancestors succumbed to the seduction of dark-skinned beauties), and the destructive results of such racial mixing (Indians have not contributed to scientific progress for centuries, unlike their whiter ancestors, and they were no match for a small number of white British invaders). Likewise, in 1935 Winston Churchill declared that the British had as much right to be in India as anyone else there, except perhaps “the Depressed Classes, who are the native stock”, meaning that most Indians were the progeny of invaders equally foreign in origin as the British.The second group is the anti-Hindu front in India, including Christian missionaries, so-called Ambedkarites, Dravidian separatists, Marxists and, just now joining the AIT bandwagon, militant Muslims. All of these proclaim to be concerned with — or just to be — the natives of India, dispossessed by the Aryan invaders who brought Hinduism from outside. While the political animus of this group entirely stems from Indian conditions, viz. the anti-Hindu struggle, their intellectual source of inspiration, mainly through Christianity and Marxism, is largely Western.The third group is lined up against the first two, in that it opposes the AIT: the Hindu nationalists. Seeing the disruptive and separatist uses to which the AIT has been and is being put, they feel they need to support the refutation of the AIT.
  2. Shrikant Talageri’s survey of the relative chronology of all Ŗgvedic kings and poets, recently made public in several lectures, has been based exclusively on the internal textual evidence (see Talageri: The Ŗgveda, a Historical Analysis, Delhi, forthcoming), and yields a completely consistent chronology. Its main finding is that the geographical gradient of Vedic Aryan culture in its Ŗgvedic stage is from east to west, with the eastern river Ganga appearing a few times in the older passages (written by the oldest poets mentioning the oldest kings), and the western river Indus appearing in later parts of the book (written by descendents of the oldest poets mentioning descendents of the oldest kings).
  3. the Vedic corpus provides no reference to an immigration of the so-called Vedic Aryans from Central Asia.
  4. B.B. Lal (1998:111) mentions finds of true horse in Surkotada, Rupnagar, Kalibangan, Lothal, Mohenjo-Daro, and terracotta images of the horse from Mohenjo-Daro and Nausharo. Many bones of the related onager or half-ass have also been found, and one should not discount the possibility that in some contexts, the term ashva could refer to either species.
  5. One of the earliest estimates of the date of the Vedas was at once among the most scientific. In 1790, the Scottish mathematician John Playfair demonstrated that the starting-date of the astronomical observations recorded in the tables still in use among Hindu astrologers (of which three copies had reached Europe between 1687 and 1787) had to be 4300 BC.3 His proposal was dismissed as absurd by some, but it was not refuted by any scientist.

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Erudite but misled – Part I

Posted by desicontrarian on July 12, 2009

The rants & raves pages of  Outlook magazine are usually trashy. It is a tribute to the liberal (free for all) editorial policy of the great man, Vinod Mehta. He has been a true liberal ever since he started with Debonair and The Sunday Observer.

Not always worth reading, but some times interesting discussions take place.  A recent set of  readers’  letters talk about Hinduism, Rig Veda and the Indus valley/Vedic civilization connection.

The assertions made are:

  1. Rig Veda(RV) was  completed in about 1500 B.C. Hinduism and its basic tenets introduced to Indian culture in 1500 B.C.
  2. Doctrine of Maya creates fatalism & passivity
  3. Indus valley Yogi seal shows indigenous element being absorbed into Vedic culture
  4. Vedic religion is different from Hindu religion. They are connected, but different.
  5. RV is exclusively religious. Does not care about temporal, geographical, historical, zoological, topographical information.
  6. RV geographically limited to Punjab. Does not yet know of iron but hard metal of copper & bronze. Iron found only in later Vedic texts, since in makes its appearance in Asia only 1200 to 1000 BC. Therefore RV earlier than that.
  7. RV does not know of large cities like the Indus civilization, but only ruins and small forts. So, it must be later than the disintegration of IVC, around 1900 B.C.
  8. Mitanni documents of N.Syria 1400 BC mention RV gods and some other old IE words.
  9. Mantra language whose geography is from  Bactria to Alga (NW Bengal) mention iron for the first time.
  10. Yajur veda geography is Haryana region, UP and Chambal. Conteporaneus with archeologocally attested painted greyware culture (upto 800 BC)
  11. Upanishads pre-date Buddha – 400 BC, cities around 450 BC.
  12. So  the Vedic period is between 1500-500 BC.

This is the Romila Thapar/Irfan Habib version of Ancient Indian history. It is important to know the intellectual tradition of this school, before one accepts their version. Yes, this is the version drilled into India’s collective mind by these historians. They have controlled school texts through their dominance on the ICHR over the last 50 years.

A reader opines thus:

There is some evidence at Harappa/Mohenjadaro with its sophisticated civilization of at most 35,000 people that had “servants’ quarters” outside the protective walls. But the ideology of Varna (and its caste progeny) came with the Vedic immigrants and their sacred literature. Specifically, Rig Veda that was mostly likely completed in its oral form around 1500 B.C.

Let us wind back to this excerpt from Macaulay’s Minute on Education.

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.

I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.

Let us now add the Karl Marx view to complement it.

The Asiatic community supplies the key to the riddle of the unchangeability of Asiatic societies, which is in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic states, and the never-ceasing changes of dynasty.

There existed some forms of state, which were ruled by tribute-collecting despots based on the system of production-property relations, described as “Asiatic mode of production

Oriental despotism is, thus, the political superstructure that was developed in succession. It was explained to have prevented states from progressing, or,, “Asia fell asleep in history“. Dynasties might have changed, but overall the structure of the state remained the same – until an outside force (i.e. Western powers) artificially enforces “progressive” reforms.

Now stir it with the  witches brew called Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT).

You get a consistent ideological edifice that is remarkable for a nation that reportedly won freedom from colonialism 62 years ago. The ideological sepoys of the erstwhile British Raj tell us what to think about Ancient Indian History.

Yet, all is not lost. There is a large body of research and literature that convincingly demontrates the falsehood called official Indian history.

  1. The Rig Veda  predates Sindhu-Sarawathi civilization. According to Nicolas Kazanas – There are misconceptions about rigvedic purratha and samudra based on the Aryan Invasion/Immigration myth. Then, there are some 10 characteristic features of the Sarasvati-Sindhu Culture which are not found in the Rig Veda. Moreover palaeoastronomical evidence (mainly N. Achar’s work) places some BrAhmaNa texts c 3000 and the oldest layers of the MahAbhArata 3067. All this (and more) suggests that the (bulk of the) Rig Veda should be assigned to well before 3200 BCE – however unpalatable to mainstream thought this may be.
  2. There’s a ton of evidence that Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is a false hypothesis.
  3. Romila Thapar, the prominent AIT proponent, has discarded it and moved to an Aryan Migration Hypothesis (AMT).
  4. David Frawley has written extensively about it, here and here.
  1. The situation regarding the primary sources of ancient India may be summarised as follows: no satisfactory explanation has been found to account for the separate existence of Harappan archaeology and the Vedic literature, both of which flourished in the same geographical region. On the one hand, there is Harappan archaeology, the most extensive anywhere in the world, but no Harappan literature. On the other, there is the Vedic literature, which exceeds in volume all other ancient literature in the world combined several times over, but no Vedic archaeological remains. So we have archaeology without literature for the Harappans and literature without archaeology for the Vedic Aryans. This is all the more puzzling considering that the Harappans were a literate people while we are told that the Vedic Aryans knew no writing but used memory for preserving their immense literature. This means only the literature of the illiterates has survived.
  2. As Seidenberg observed: ” … the elements of ancient geometry found in Egypt (before 2100 BC) and Babylonia (c. 1900 — 1750 BC) stem from a ritual system of the kind observed in the in the Sulbasutras.” This means that the mathematics of the Sulbasutras, which are Vedic texts, must have existed long before 2000 BC, i.e., during the Harappan period.
  3. The fall of the Indus or Harappan culture, just as was the case for many in the ancient world, was owing to ecological factors, something that nineteenth and early twentieth century migrationist views of history completely missed. It occurred not because of the destruction wrought by the proposed Aryan invaders but by ecological changes brought about by the drying up of the Sarasvati River around 1900 BCE. This didn’t end civilization in the region but caused its relocation mainly to the more certain waters of the Ganga to the east. Such a movement is reflected in the shift from Vedic literature that is centered on the Sarasvati to the Puranic literature that is centered on the Ganges.
  4. THE RECENT find of a submerged city in the Gulf of Cambay, perhaps as old as 7500 BC, serves to highlight the existence of southern sources for the civilisation of ancient India. The Gulf of Cambay find is only the latest in a series that includes Lothal (S.R. Rao), Dholavira (R.S. Bisht) and others in Gujarat. These discoveries have been pushing the seats of ancient Indian civilisation deeper into the southern peninsula.
  5. The Harappan-Sarasvati urban civilisation of India was by far the largest of its time (3100-1900 BCE) in the ancient world spreading from Punjab to Kachchh. We can no longer separate this great literature and this great civilisation, particularly given that both were based on the Sarasvati River, whose authenticity as a historical river before 1900 BCE has been confirmed by numerous geological studies.
  6. This is largely because of the oceanic character of Vedic symbolism in which all the main Rig Vedic Gods as well as many of the Vedic rishis have close connections with samudra or the sea. In fact, the image of the ocean pervades the whole of the Rig Veda. Unfortunately many scholars who put forth opinions on ancient India seldom bother to study the Vedas in the original Sanskrit and few know the language well enough to do so. The result is that their interpretation of Vedic literature is often erroneous, trusting out of date and inaccurate interpretations from the Nineteenth century like the idea that the Vedic people never knew the sea!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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