Is intelligence an evolutionary mistake?

A consistent theme in the history of the homo sapiens species seems to be that intelligence begets evil. Given the very nature of life what is beneficial for one living thing is most likely harmful to some other living thing. However, it can be argued that if we go up the proverbial intelligence ladder the behavioural traits of a species can be mapped against a moral scale ranging from altruistic to evil. Animals sacrificing themselves for their young ones as opposed to running away to live another day can be considered as beyond the realm of survival instincts and hence altruistic. Similarly, when animals of prey kill the unprotected offsprings of predators one can argue that the needle of the moral compass seems to be pointing towards evil. Of course, given our inability to communicate effectively even within our own species we are certainly incapable of mapping our moral scale to those of other species if indeed one even existed for those species.

If we then extrapolate this line of thinking to a distant future wherein we have learned to communicate effectively with other species of similar intellect as our own, one could argue that Thanos is hardly the villain that he was made out to be in the earlier movies of the Avengers franchise. His quest for restoring balance in the universe as portrayed in Avengers: Infinity War is noble if not outright heroic. Let us examine the basis for this seemingly outrageous claim before dismissing it as delusional or worse: psychopathic!

While, we will use the fictional character of Thanos as the subject of our thought experiment, it is pertinent to point out that numerous authors across the vast compendium of human literature have pondered along similar lines as those of Thanos in a number of different scenarios such as Asimov in the Foundation Series and in I, Robot; The Wachowski Brothers in the Matrix; and Simon Kinberg in X-Men: Apocalypse to name a few. And since human literature has almost always been inspired by observed human behaviour and vice versa a number of humans have even succeeded at the same task as Thanos, albeit with far less noble intentions, such as the Jewish Holocaust by Hitler and the Nazis; Holodomor in Ukraine by Joseph Stalin; and the Rwandan genocide. Thus, while the events portrayed in the movie may never come to pass, we are certainly justified in considering the following statement as an axiom:

“An intelligent species will always give rise to individuals who carry out the most horrific and evil acts.”

In this context then we can righteously propose that Thanos and not the Avengers is the true hero of the Marvel cinematic universe because his premise is that the unchecked growth of intelligent species is leading to the inevitable destruction of all habitable planets in the known universe. Subsequently, the only holistic solution to the problem is to commit genocide at an universal scale but with absolute apathy and in a manner that involves no suffering whatsoever. Given the powers bestowed by the combination of the six infinity stones the nature of random elimination of life portrayed seems to have been unnecessarily prolonged for emotional impact rather than being shown in the most nondescript manner actually possible. His willingness to sacrifice that what he truly loves makes his actions noble and his battles agains the combined might of the Avengers is outright heroic.

So why is that good and evil are two sides of the same coin; for ever destined to co-exist and always locked in eternal conflict with each other. Although both good and evil deeds are equally performed by people along the entire spectrum of human intelligence, it can be established on an empirical basis that people of lesser intelligence are highly likely to be inspired to do good deeds or provoked in to committing evil deeds by someone else, invariably of an higher intellect. Thus, it would be safe to ignore the actions of people below a certain level of intellect and focus instead on people of a high intellect who either inspire or incite others. Let us then examine the apparent causality between higher intellect and evil acts.

One apparent relationship is that intelligent people are more likely to be plagued by Plato’s ghost forever wondering “Whats next?” Episode 1 of Season 2 of the popular HBO tele-series, WestWorld, has a quote that goes as “The greatest shame in life is to perish without purpose.” While one can argue that we are biologically “hard wired” to have a purpose – for all practical intents the purpose it to simply reproduce. However, while sentient beings would be at absolute peace in not questioning this purpose, intelligent beings insist on seeking an higher or an more in-depth purpose for a “raison d’être”. Maybe then the need for purpose is the root cause of all evil – directly or indirectly.

Furthermore, this can be contrasted quite easily against the cardinal sin of Greed. While one might immediately be tempted to consider that greed is synonymous with evil; one could argue that while both greed and evil demand power of control over others; greed is primarily the need to sustain one’s way of life at the expense of others. Evil on the other hand can be considered as perverse entertainment. Empirically then people of higher intellect demand more and varied forms of entertainment and in turn are most likely to be capable of evil; but not every greedy person of a lesser intellect is likely to be capable of true evil.

Thus, we may claim that sentience and intelligence are at irreconcilable odds in human beings driving us inevitably down the path of destruction of life itself. The question is whether evolution will have time to correct this mistake and delay ever so slightly the serenity of chaos promised by the second law of thermodynamics: “In all spontaneous processes, the total entropy always increases and the process is irreversible.”

Social Media: The “Dhobi Ghat” for life experiences!

In the context of the recent news of a prominent Silicon Valley CEO being “let off too easy” in spite of being found guilty of habitual wife abuse the following post on a leading social media site is of particular interest:

“My name is Yudi and I want to shout out in to the cosmic void that my second marriage is a failure! The question that I am desperately seeking an answer for is whether to go for a divorce or to maintain a delicately balanced facade for the sake of our beautiful children.

Before you jump to any conclusions let me tell you that I am a wife beater and the most recent incident that occurred was so disturbing that my conscience is unwilling to let me and my wife and our families sweep the matter under the thick carpet of everything else that is right in our lives. So this is as sincere a shout out for help as there can be.

But then why am I not turning myself in to the police to do the right thing by the book of law? Why write about this on social media? Ok so there are more than one pressing question. Did I mention that I am a liar too? And a male chauvinist pig and a irresponsible spender and a bad son and a conniving brother and the list goes on.

Where do I go from here?”

Please do note that names and certain details about the post have been changed to maintain privacy.

The intent of this article is not to try and analyze the behaviour of the perpetrators or the psychology of the victims or to dissect the circumstances under which these crimes were committed but rather to understand the role that social media can play in helping to bring about a dialog on the topic. And extending this logic a little further to highlight how different personas choose to use social media so differently yet for the same underlying reason: To express themselves and seek attention either from a narcissistic intent or to genuinely seek help!

Given the courage that it took for Yudi to pour out his guilt on to a social media platform knowing fully well that he could very well be subjected to a lot of trolling not to mention legal action leading to imprisonment it is easy to develop some sort of sympathy for his particular situation. This is especially easy for a person who may not personally know Yudi. But what about the victim? It is clear that the victim is in need for even greater help than Yudi is. It behooves Yudi’s friends and relatives to help the victim, first of all, to find expression for their anguish and then to give them the courage to seek a resolution to the matter. No one should have to put up with physical abuse at the hands of a relative especially a loved one. The TED Talk Our story of rape and reconciliation by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger is a rather heart wrenching tale of how the victim and the perpetrator were able to reconcile with each other and more importantly with themselves after a long period of self deprecating misery.

So assuming that, in the case of Yudi, social media would facilitate the process of rehabilitation for Yudi and his wife it is interesting to then ponder upon what else is possible? Can we further assume that the awareness raised due to this will reduce the incidents of domestic abuse globally by an order of magnitude? Its easy to see where this is going and at best all we can say is that every drop counts. Therein lies the true crux of what this article is about.

As much as we can all agree that social media is helping raise awareness on a large number of issues and is bringing about real change it would be hard to dispute that the underlying need to express ourselves on social media is leading to a “wash, rinse, and repeat” cycle being repeated over and over fuelling the growth of digital narcissism at an alarming rate. It is in interest of the corporations running the major social media sites and networks to keep this laundromat running at over capacity 24×7. But whats in our best interest? We do all need clean linens everyday but life experiences are a very different matter. As much as we crave for more we should also focus on – not making do with less – but rather on investing in making ours unique. But then what does “unique” even mean today? Thats a topic for another blog! Stay tuned.


Living In Wonderland: An Impossible Dream?

Ending scene of the latest instalment of Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass goes as follows:

Alice: “This is all but a dream… Not reality.”

Hatter: “Who is to say which is which?”

Maybe the Hatter isn’t as mad as one might be led to believe.

For some of us everyday starts in Wonderland. The morning sky has an uncanny ability to make one believe that a perfect day lies ahead of us full of opportunity. In those fleeting moments between the grim darkness of the night and the harsh sunlight of the day the world seems to be filled with promise. And so off we go dreaming about how today is going to be the best day of our lives and in typical fashion the dream breaks just around the time when we are getting to the best part.

And then there is the sky just after a summer thunderstorm with billowing white clouds moving lazily against an azure blue backdrop leaving one feeling satiated as if the rain had quenched some deep thirst within us or allaying fears that the storm has broken and the worst is behind us. Of course all of us have dreamt of chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Kanaha-original-Rainbow Image courtsey of Susan Baker (

We all know that neither does the sky exists nor does the rainbow have an end let alone a pot of gold. It simply is an illusion. But that does not stop us from dreaming of the perfect moments spent under the perfect sky. So why not stretch the illusion a bit further?

Therein lies the moral dilemma. The central tenet of our moral code is that we should strive to continually find happiness in the harsh reality of our everyday lives and be thankful for our state of existence because it is a gift and there are so many who suffer a fate worst than ours. Charity is the antidote that keeps our narcissistic tendencies at bay. Even vanity is a virtue when practised in small doses so that we may make our charitable contributions to iconophilia that is critical to give hope to the desperate masses.

Are we sacrificing our dreams at the altar of political correctness?

While fame and fortune maybe the stuff that most dreams are made of let us not forget the one thing that we value above all: Love. We dream of finding our soulmate but how far are we willing to go to realise our dream? The prevalent theme on social media today seems to be about protecting ourselves from the hurt that unrequited love causes and focussing instead of being satisfied with being truly in love with ourselves. Furthermore, extensive studies are being carried out as to how social media is leading to increasing cases of depression because of the perception that our lives are not as good enough as of those around us. But the truth is an unknown and as elusive as the dream of finding the perfect soulmate.

Even our dreams of fame and fortune seem to be destined to suffer the same fate. Everyone is far too eager to join in on the current crusade against the uber rich and find a way to cut them down to size. Perplexingly though, at the same time, we are ready at the drop of a hat to make messiahs out of those who are actually making loads of money for the same reason as everyone else: greed. The end result seems to be that hypocrisy is being forced on to people in the form of unwanted humility because the “less fortunate” find it beyond themselves to be able to afford privacy to the “more fortunate” amongst us. Why should be the dream of fame and fortune be at odds with the dream of living a simple life devoid of the burden of social scrutiny?    

So as we look through the looking glass at the beginning of each day do we try and ignore the Wonderland that lies beyond or instead step through in an attempt to infuse a sense of wonder… a healthy delusion in to our lives? In the end none of us know to where we are headed but we all just keep walking because we can. So why not live our lives inside of an impossible dream and seek respite in our delusions without losing our sanity? After all, inception is just a mouse click away!


Stay Calm! Just put on a mask and take sides…

“No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.” – Christian Bovee


Such is the sad reality of our times! But may be this is exactly what our reality demands today. On one hand, one would be deemed naive to dream of a future wherein the human race has finally found answers for some of the worst issues that we face today. But on the other hand, we might just be cowering under the delusion that we are hurtling towards a dystopian future. Given the dogmatic species that we have been thus far in our relatively short evolutionary journey one cannot but be in awe of what we have been able to accomplish as compared to any other species in the history of the planet. Or as a species we collectively suffer from delusions of grandeur that we are the masters, the rightful owners, of this fragile and unique, yet equally inconsequential spec of dirt floating around in the cosmos.

Faced with such contradictions at every step, we seem to find solace in the strangest of ways. Religion helps us to put on a mask or even a cloak of spiritual supremacy over our fragile bodies and we convince ourselves that the eternal nature of our souls triumphs over the ephemeral existence of our bodies. Science on the other hand gets us drunk ever so easily on the promise of a better physical environment for the duration of our brief lives with the ultimate goal of extending our life span to eternity. In both cases we seem to be hell bent on finding a purpose, a justification for our lonely existence in a harsh universe, when in all likelihood we are simply one of the many inevitable outcomes of an uncontrolled experiment in the cosmic laboratory.

And then there are those lucky few amongst us who would be least bothered to apply themselves to even acknowledge the contradictions staring at them in their faces. For them life is a well defined path with prescribed activities and achievable goals to be walked upon in earnest. Questioning the very ground that they stand upon is simply not an option to be entertained. They are certainly aware that the outcomes of the prescribed activities are not guaranteed and they are remarkably stoic in a rather oxymoronic manner. That is to say that even their laughter, tears, screams of anguish, and all other assorted reactions seem to be straight out a script.

The parallel universe of social media offers plenty of perplexing alternatives to choose from. An anonymous post of relevance in this context goes as follows:

“I am asking some questions to myself…

Do I need to be connected  all the time?

Do I need so much information?

Do I need to respond to every stimulus immediately?

Do I need to hear somebody’s opinion on everything?

Do I need to have an opinion on on everything?

Do I need to be entertained every second?  What is it that is so boring or uneasy about myself that I need all this?” (sic)

Certainly thought provoking and maybe the answer simply is that more powerful than the urge to fit in to the chaotic world of social media is the urge to let loose the eternal, unabashed, and naive optimist within with the hope that in the ocean of humanity adrift in time and space there is someone else who might just be waiting to find a version of ourselves that is best kept hidden from the rest of the world. Until then it would be prudent to put on a mask, pick a side, and entertain yourself to make the wait bearable.

Or maybe one would be better off putting on the mask of a self righteous a**hole, sticking to their version of the truth and trudging along the lonely path to enlightenment. In all likelihood somewhere along the way you might look back and find that you have more followers than you could ever care for.

As the wise man once said: “Be careful what you wish for!”

A shepherd in wolf’s clothing – The unsung hero?

“You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” – The Joker to The Batman in The Dark Knight.

The world today seems to defy all logic. Subsequently, are the generally accepted norms for the responsibilities of leaders, teachers, parents, and as such anyone who would be considered to be a “hero” still valid? Conversely, is anyone who wilfully chooses to not adhere to these “generally accepted roles and responsibilities”, by definition a bad person? A villain? Just as a “bitter pill” is exactly what is required to heal the body maybe a “crooked mirror” is exactly what is required to jolt our perception of the world around us thereby forcing us to wake up from our stupor. The person who manufactures this distorted mirror and more importantly fools people in to using it then might just be the hero “we deserve” rather than the hero “we need”.


With all due consideration the Joker is not a hero in any context. So let us look instead at another character, that of Professor David Gale in the movie The Life of David Gale. A very well educated and successful family man with the usual moral flaws who finds himself at the receiving end due to a mistake that certainly did not deserve the dire consequences that follow. So then what do we make of the path to redemption that he follows? Is he to be remembered as a martyr for a higher cause? Or would it be right to diagnose him as a sociopath – a psychopath – or in medical parlance: a person with an antisocial personality disorder; who deludes himself in to performing horrific acts just to make a point that would just as easily counteracted by the system? Certainly a matter that can invoke a significant debate.

Let us turn our attention towards a few recent event in the real world.

The debate around “Freedom of speech” seems to be growing more fierce rather than being quickly put to rest for obvious reasons. We simply cannot call ourselves a sentient species if we were to curtail our core liberties. On the other hand words thrown around carelessly, even without malice, tend to be able to incite violence far too easily for everyone’s comfort. So how do we differentiate between people who are eager to abuse the power of words so as to generate conflict and those who can twist words around to encourage people to think differently and more importantly to think for themselves? Neither the protagonists nor the antagonists of the recent drama on the premises of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University are worthy of being elevated to the position of a martyr or a revered leader. Maybe the true heroes are the students that still managed to attend classes and carry on with their studies in spite of all the distractions and disruptions around them. We would never know if they were taunted or otherwise harassed for refusing to participate in the matter.

Another example is that of the heart wrenching refugee situation that is threatening the very concept of the European Union. The pictures of a dead child were plastered all over the Internet to highlight the perils that the refugees undertake in an attempt to escape war, famine, and all other (un)imaginable atrocities in their homelands. The developed nations are caught in a moral dilemma in terms of to how to integrate the refugees that survive the hazardous journey given the strain that puts on their respective economies and local cultures. Isolated incidents of crimes committed by and towards the refugees further muddle the waters considering the ethnicity and religious orientation of the refugees that is in contrast with the local populations of the host nations. Are the leaders who encourage their nations to welcome refugees with open arms the true heroes that the European Union needs or the leaders who take a tough stance on the refugee situation the heroes that the situation deserves?

Reality seems to be stretched across far too many more shades of grey than fiction!

All over the world it seems that ideological differences between different groups are increasing and the seeds of discontent thus being sowed are surely going to result in increased conflicts through the foreseeable future. The need of the hour are people who can somehow find a way to align with multiple yet disparate ideologies and find common ground through very unconventional and unorthodox means. It is inevitable that such people will be disparaged and maligned by the countless other conventional and orthodox leaders of today who insist that standing fast atop an arbitrarily defined moral high ground is the only way to ensure the survival of their way of life. Most of the “ordinary” people in turn are will not be able to see past this propaganda and will eagerly join in on the hunt to drive out such wolves from their lands.

But what if these wolves are the shepherds that would lead the wayward flock that is the human population today on to the path less travelled? Maybe then somewhere along the way we would rediscover our humanity and achieve a delicate yet sustainable balance with this fragile little world that we call home so that our future generations can continue the journey for eons to come.

They are the true heroes that we need but don’t deserve!

Temptation thy name is “The Low Hanging Fruit”

The term low hanging fruit is a commonly used metaphor for doing the simplest or easiest work first. The urban dictionary defines low hanging fruit as “targets or goals which are easily achievable and which do not require a lot of effort”. It is human tendency to do the least effort required for survival. Conservation of energy is is Survival 101!

Consider the following scenario: You are extremely hungry and are standing at the bottom of an apple tree. There are fruits are various stages of the ripening process all over the tree. Unfortunately the luscious and delicious red apples are on the top branches and the green and bitter apples are within arms reach. What will you do? Look for a ladder so that you can reach for those luscious red apples at the top or simply pick the raw ones from the bottom branches? In the absence of a ladder within reach and due to the lack of a prehensile tail, that evolution forced us to sacrifice, you will most likely grab the apples that are convenient to reach i.e. pick the low-hanging fruit. A few days later the ripe fruits at the top go bad and now you are out of food for real. Then it might dawn upon you that if only you had taken the time to build a ladder and had eaten the ripe fruit first you would have had the raw fruit ready to eat by now. Moral of the story? Read on…

Speaking of morals it is interesting to observe that morality is mostly at odds with mortality at an individual level. The primary reason for that is that a moral code is typically enforced to foster collaboration amongst individuals to share resources that they would rather instinctively choose to fight over. The evolutionary rule of “Survival of the fittest individual” has itself evolved to “Survival of the fittest group”. A recent article in the Scientific American magazine also offers evidence of this dating back to our earliest ancestors that migrated out of Africa. But while the homo sapiens species as a whole has certainly thrived it is obvious that certain individuals or small groups thereof have benefitted more from this moral code based on cooperation than the majority. This social inequality has in turn contributed to the conflict between morality and mortality that the entire species is struggling with.

If we are to extend the scenario described above to include two individuals standing under an apple tree one could postulate that the matter could be easily resolved by one individual offering to allow the other individual to climb on to their shoulders so as to reach the ripe apples at the top. The risk of grievous injury and the reward of a steady food supply could then be equally shared between the two individuals and all would be well. But real life scenarios are hardly as simple as this hypothetical asexual “Garden of Eden”. It could even be argued that in majority of the real life scenarios the “bitter yet low hanging fruit” would be far more tempting. Let us examine some such scenarios.

In our daily lives we tend to take the route of least effort to get through. We tend to put off things that are difficult or tedious and simply do the easier tasks.  For example, students generally tend to study the subject they like most first, putting off subjects that they dislike or find boring or tough. As adults too, we tend to put in only as much exertion as is required for survival especially in our professional lives content with reigning in our ambitions in the process.

The tendency to use the easy way out extends to the way we interact socially in the virtual world. Take Facebook for instance; There are so many people who love to post every small incident that occurs in their life, sometimes posting status updates such as “hungry…” or “I am so sleepy”, innumerable selfies, and shared events such as having coffee or lunch with friends.

Then there is a group of people who only seem to be content with ‘Like’ing other people’s status updates. They don’t really take any efforts to share any valuable information. Neither do they really change their status updates. Instead they only go about liking other people’s status. Such people want a presence on the web but tend to take the easy way out.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who hardly ever post anything on their Facebook page. They don’t want to devote any effort on keeping their profile page active. They would no doubt check their Facebook every day and would check other people’s status and posts but neither reply nor comment on the same or even ‘Like” it – voyeurs of the digital world!

In all these scenarios described above we are tempted to opt for the low hanging fruit knowing fully well that it is less satisfying and possibly detrimental in the long run. Of course you might not even want to take the effort to be introspective enough to be aware of this temptation in the first place. So thank you for falling prey to the temptation to grab the low hanging fruit and thereby reading this article. Any inconvenience caused due to the self criticism that is bound to follow is sincerely regretted.

To be, or not to be… What is the question?


The phrase “To be, or not to be” is the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the “Nunnery Scene” of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is a popular soliloquy in the works of Shakespeare – probably, even, the most famous soliloquy anywhere. The phrase is truly intriguing as Shakespeare deals with insightful thoughts and complex philosophical ideas to communicate with an audience with a wide range of intelligence and emotional quotients.

In the speech, upon being spurned in love, “a despondent or feigning Prince Hamlet”(sic) contemplates death by suicide. He bemoans the pains and unfairness of life but acknowledges that “the alternative might be still worse.”(sic) as he is unsure about what death would bring or whether there is life after death (that he would then surely spend in hell since suicide is a cardinal sin).  Shakespeare urges the reader to contemplate whether it is better to simply endure and suffer life passively in the face of adversity and crisis rather than actively trying to end that suffering.

Wikipedia states that “‘To be, or not to be…’ is one of the most widely known and quoted lines in modern English, and the soliloquy has been referenced in innumerable works of theatre, literature and music.”(sic). Most of us would vouch for the popularity of the phrase and it is very likely that we have found ourselves using the phrase at various junctures in our lives.

Delving a bit deeper in to the origin of the phrase requires us to understand Shakespeare’s frequent use of soliloquies in his writings. It is generally accepted that Shakespeare used soliloquies to convey some of his deepest insights in to the human mind specifically the way in which we deal with our inner conflicts under pressure, often failing to perceive the flaws in our own reasoning.

This article, however, is neither about Shakespeare’s writings nor about the various insights that he gathered in his studies of the human mind. Instead, we shall try to focus on just one aspect of this “inner conflict” highlighted by the words “a despondent or feigning Prince Hamlet” in the paragraph above. Shakespeare leaves it to the reader to determine for themselves the sincerity of Prince Hamlet in dealing with his inner turmoil and therein lies the true entertainment value of his works. Subsequently, the question that we will explore is whether we are fooling or indulging ourselves by engaging our mental faculties in trying to resolve the myriad inner conflicts that we typically are confronted with in our lives. The instinctive response would be “It depends…”.

First and foremost it depends on the context in which the conflict has arisen. For instance, suppose that a person has a boss who he believes is a tyrant. He may delude himself into thinking that he is the injured party and is wronged by having to work for a tough boss.  Whether his boss is truly a tyrant or not is something that is his perspective and may not be correct. So it may happen that while this person considers his boss to be a dictator another colleague may feel this same boss is not only professional and easy to work with but also friendly and approachable. Office politics and a demanding boss makes the first person wonder whether it is better to change his job and probably opt for a less lucrative option. Or he may wonder if it is better to simply keep his head down, put up with a demanding boss, and continue with his present job. 

Let’s see another example where one is confronted with inner turmoil and conflict. Suppose that a particular woman is suppressed and harassed for dowry in her martial home. What should she do? Put up with the harassment or face social stigma of being a divorced woman? The fear that she would be socially looked down upon as she is a divorcee is her perception and may not really be true. In such a situation she would often ask herself whether it is better to live a life of torture or a life where she is looked down on for being a divorcee.

Ironically, these days, most of us tend to lead dual lives, our physical lives where we encounter face to face interactions with people as well as a life on social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and the like. So, we may encounter conflicts while interacting with people face to face or while we are online. Many of us also might feel a bit conflicted every time we need to post or share something on social media. Like, for example, you got that Best Performer award at work! So what do you do? Should you post a status update on Facebook, boasting about the same? Or do personal and professional ethics force you to play down your professional achievements on social media?

From the examples above we can all agree that the context determines the severity of the impact of the conflict, possibly on our very existence. If the consequences of the actions to be taken to resolve the conflict can make a difference of life or death then it is safe to say that we are neither fooling nor indulging ourselves and the resolution process demands our complete and total attention. So for the sake of this article lets exclude such conflicts from our consideration.

But it is equally important to realize that in certain situations we have a preconceived notion of the “morally” or “politically” right choice but somehow we are unable to proceed with making that “right” choice for various “selfish” reasons. Maybe the choice of the word “selfish” is unwarranted at this juncture and, borrowing from Shakespeare once again, we can consider the case of Brutus from his play Julius Caesar whose character is best described as “a self-critical and honest man struggling to do what’s right in unpropitious circumstances”. So let us give ourselves a bit of a concession in this regard and proceed with conflicts the resolutions for which could be across the entire moral spectrum between white and black, with possibly some other colors thrown in for variety.

To summarize, with the constraints and assumptions stated above, the question being asked is whether there is a fine line between fooling versus indulging ourselves while agonizing over certain conflicts or can we establish “suitably rigorous” guidelines to help us choose our battles against our inner demons. Furthermore, given the social animals that we are, energies devoted to our inner struggles do deprive others around us of the same. Hence, it behooves us to be cognizant of the consequences of our actions at all times especially whilst giving in to our indulgent desires.

So where how do we proceed from here? Should we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can find the answer or should we indulge ourselves in some Sunday morning rumination in to philosophy and psychology? That is the question!


The human condition: What should we really be afraid of tomorrow?

Today fear has become the main emotion that drives all the major decisions in our lives: We need mobile phones with better functions because we are afraid of not getting the most out of every moment; we need newer cars because they have better safety ratings than the one we have at the moment; we need to send our children to new fancy schools because we are afraid that we would otherwise compromise on their future; and so on and so forth. Simply speaking fear rules!

So then was does the future hold in store for us? A number of authors have painted vivid pictures of the dystopian society that we would find ourselves being a part of in the near future. While most of them are fairly bleak such as George Orwell’s version in his seminal works The Animal Farm and 1984 and of course the machine ruled futures depicted in Terminator and Matrix movies; there are a few depictions that may be more in line with the present state of affairs. One such depiction that we shall use as the basis for this article is as shown in the movie Her.

The protagonist in this case is still recovering from a broken marriage and finds the ideal companion in the form of an operating system driven by artificial intelligence! The gradual increase in intimacy between the hero and the operating system mimics the typical human to human relationship to an amazing extent. So then, although totally unexpected, the end makes perfect sense: the operating system dumps the human hero and moves off to live its life somewhere in the cloud with other similarly sentient operating system instances; the hero then meekly ambles back to the only other option: a human friend!

So what is there to be afraid of in this vision of the future? The answer: the way we try to address our need for a companion. Although this need is rooted in the biology of every living being, in humans it manifests in a quest to find a “perfect” companion in the form of a lover or a soulmate. It might thereby come as a surprise to many that in the hyperconnected world of today we are actually diverging from the “natural approach” to fulfilling this need: a series of physical interactions with other humans governed by our instincts. Instead we are relying on what people have to say about our virtual lives being played out on the stage of social media to decide who our companions should be.

It is very easy to appreciate why the later mechanism is so popular: it allows us to evaluate a larger pool of candidates within a shorter period of time while taking fewer risks than those associated with getting to know a person through physical intimacy. And, of course, we are still trying to find a human companion instead of placing our bets on a different species of sentient beings! Nevertheless the approach is inherently flawed.

It is flawed because it limits our perception of another person to a non physical dimension wherein our natural instincts are completely suppressed leaving us handicapped. It is also flawed because it allows us to hide our own shortcomings far more effectively thereby lulling us in to a false sense of acceptance from the other person. However, we are no strangers to real life encounters gone sideways wherein all decisions were based on instincts alone because biologically we are hardwired to act on certain instincts more than others! Therein then lies the dilemma that leads to a state of paralysis that we should really be afraid of.

Today we can neither give in to the unabashed optimism offered up in the virtual world of social media nor are we equipped to deal with the consequences of our actions in the real world that are driven only by unbridled passion!

This human condition of analysis paralysis will only be exacerbated with our growing dependence on the human-machine interface in the coming future and may lead to a society wherein we either give in completely to the machines such as that depicted in the movie Surrogates or to a society wherein the machines give up completely on humans, hopefully in a benign manner, such as that depicted in the movie Transcendence and Her. We should therefore strive to strike a balance between leveraging the virtual world to avoid certain risks and trusting our instincts in the real world to take the right amount of risks so as to retain our humanity!

Lust, Love, and Loss: The stuff the leads to real happiness!

In a previous blog post we talked about the three axioms that one can adopt in order to not limit enlightenment to the spirit alone. Let us now delve into some practical aspects of applying these axioms, specifically the third axiom, in our day to day lives. Here is the third axiom again:

The sole purpose of life is to propagate itself.

Leaving the obvious biological aspect of propagation of the species aside let us look at a different context in which this axiom is relevant to human beings: the state of mind required for existence. The state that immediately comes to mind is “Happy”! It would be interesting to note at that this is rarely the de facto state of the human mind and the pursuit of this state is what this blog will try to address.

We shall start by making a clear distinction from the school of thought that claims that happiness of the mind can be decoupled from the state of existence of the body. While one would agree that material luxuries for the body cannot guarantee happiness for the mind it is unconceivable that the mind can be happy unless the basic necessities of the body are satisfied. Biology would not permit it! Instead, let us look at a way to achieve happiness that balances the material and spiritual needs of a human being.

George Carlin, by far one of the most talented comedians of our time, did a piece on “Stuff” as a part of one of his standup acts. Catch it on YouTube here. In this piece he talks exclusively about the material things that we make a part of our lives and how we prioritize them over other peoples “stuff”! There have been many more such discourses about other baggage that we tend to carry around with us but one in particular that address both the material and non-material baggage is from the movie Up in the Air: at a convention the character played by George Clooney, Ryan Bingham, delivers a speech titled “Whats in your backpack?”. Catch it also on YouTube here.

While such discourses talk about how to deal with the baggage that we carry about, both material and spiritual, they fail to address the life experiences associated with the collection of the same. Our lives, after all, are the sum total of our experiences shaped by our choices. Let us then talk about the life experiences that shape us and define us and in turn are the ones that we tend to reminisce upon the most, i.e. carry around in our backpack.  The origins of majority of these experiences would be based in three basic human emotions:

Lust: Leaving the sexual aspect aside we shall refer instead to the meaning of lust as per the Oxford English Dictionary as: “A passionate desire for something”. We surely remember the things and the people for whom we have felt this kind of want; especially the people with whom we were lucky enough to share such a feeling with and the things that we managed to acquire for ourselves. The feeling of happiness that follows is what burns these memories in to our brains!

Love: Beyond a doubt we remember our first love, our true love, and all other loved ones that fall in between those two extremes. Excluding the unrequited love that only led to fleeting misery and suffering, we can all agree that being in love is certainly way up there in our list of experiences that were a source of happiness more enduring than the rest.

Loss: Again out of the various meanings of loss as per the Oxford English Dictionary let us understand loss as the feeling of grief after losing someone or something of value. Surely any experiences of loss are not easily forgotten especially of losing someone that we have truly loved or something for which we had experienced wanton lust! But how can we find happiness in such experiences? Are we not better off by suppressing them never to be discussed again with any other living soul?

The words of the great poet Khalil Gibran from his seminal work The Prophet can help us achieve this magical transformation: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding…”. The full text of this particular chapter can be found here. The poet encourages us to look upon the cause of our pain with bewildered awe and appreciate that we were lucky to have experienced the happiness that preceded the pain. Needless to say that this is easier said than done but is certainly worth a try lest you find there are fewer and fewer experiences worth remembering being added to your life.

In conclusion pursue every opportunity for an unique life experience no matter how unconventional the source  but do not let the outcome deprive you of happiness. Instead, find happiness in acknowledging that you were brave, or in some cases foolhardy enough, to have seized the opportunity in the first place.

The Padma Bhushan award winning Marathi poet, Mangesh Padgaonkar, best summarizes this aspect of pursuing love in his poem “Akherache Yetil Majhya”. Catch it on YouTube along with English translation here.

The lonely pilgrimage to the land of spiritual enlightenment – Do we really need to bother anymore?

It would be safe to say that for all sentient beings there is no escape from Plato’s Ghost. We, the members of the Homosapien species and the newest entrants to the class of sentient beings, are subject to no exemption. Well, maybe a few amongst us are lucky enough to let their daily lives be dedicated to attending to our needs as living beings, but let them be in peace for the moment and focus on the dilemma the rest of us face everyday if not every waking moment of our lives: What’s next?

Leaving the long list of usual suspects that typically result in the dilemma aside, i.e. food, money, sex, entertainment, and so on and so forth, we arrive at the one aspect of our existence that is the hardest to address: The very purpose of existence!

The reason that this is the biggest contributor to the “What’s next?” dilemma is actually very easy to state and understand: It has been addressed by everyone with a full stomach and a shelter over their heads since the begining of civilization itself! Just as the old saying goes: All roads lead to Rome; so do all the choices for the purpose of existence point to one goal: spiritual enlightenment. And to top it all, the plethora of proposed solutions to achieve spiritual enlightenment are all easy to adopt for even the most food and shelter challenged members of our species, since the only requirement to adopt any solution is the magical five lettered word: faith.

Even though it is a noun, the Oxford dictionary has multiple meanings for faith. No wonder then that the dilemma is the hardest to address. For the sake of brevity we shall not digress in to a discussion regarding the meaning of faith itself and instead let us simply reaffirm that faith is the primary means of achieving spiritual enlightenment. Let us then look at the nature of the journey to be undertaken to achieve the said goal.

This is where we can make an interesting observation: all proposed roads to spiritual enlightenment are for an individual to walk alone! Even the route via religion requires you to rationalize the existence of the corresponding rendition of the concept of God through a personal experience that inherently cannot be shared with anyone else. It is best explained in a manner similar to figuring out whether your experience of Love is the same as someone else around you. In the end all you can settle for is that you just “know” that you are in Love and that life from that point on is all downhill… but that is for another post.

The route via science brings you face to face with concepts such as Quintessence which is apparently how even Einstein re-discovered religion as a quick search on Google will reveal. One of the best book that addresses the parallels between modern science and eastern mysticism is The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav and eventually we end up with spiritual enlightenment via his next book The Seat of the Soul. Mr Zukav’s own life journey as described in this Wikipedia article had its lonely moments spent in a cabin in Mount Shasta along the lines of the time spent by Thoreau at the Walden Pond. Thus again you are likely to find yourself all alone in the quest for spiritual enlightenment via Science.

And finally of course we have the new age spiritual leaders such as Dr Deepak Chopra whose latest book The Future of God proposes a route via God without the unwanted baggage of religion. Again the proposed path is undeniably lonely and evokes mixed responses from the believers and non-believers alike!

Might it be the case that we actually have now reached a point in time wherein we are afforded the luxury of turning the question on its head? Thus instead of proposing yet another route to spiritual enlightenment we can instead frame a new question: In this world of Social Media do we really need to undertake the pilgrimage to the promised land in the first place? Does spiritual enlightenment even matter today? This article on Wikipedia which talks about the meaning of Enlightenment in the context of spirituality offers an amazing time and world view on the matter. Consequently, today we can instead look at a simpler option: eliminate the conflict between the body and the mind but without the rigors of religion or science.

In order to do so we can start by borrowing the three basic axioms from yet another school of philosophy, Objectivism which are as follows:

Life exists – There is no denying the difference between a living being and an inanimate object.

Life requires Life to survive – Any living being has to consume other living beings in order to survive. Even the nutrients in the soil that trees need to survive are derived from other living beings.

The sole purpose of Life is to propagate itself – In fact the very definition of life is “matter that can reproduce itself and evolve as survival dictates”.

Without getting in to a debate about Objectivism it is worth noting that within our social circles we can apply these three axioms to achieve a seamless union between the body and the soul and in doing so achieve an higher form of enlightenment than the impossible to reach spiritual enlightenment preached by so many. And the best part: We do not have to bear the burden of our failures all alone and neither do we have to settle for enjoying the fruits of our success by ourselves! Thank God for Social Media!