The Lost Realist


July 31, 2014, 6:29 am
Filed under: Life, Philosophy

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas, 1914-1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Rage, rage against the dying of light — this phrase expresses so aptly, so succinctly, the only positive way I’ve found of “groking” mortality. Channel that rage, and go down fighting. Fight to leave something worthy behind. Not worthless artifacts, not fortunes, but leave behind some light that brightens other people’s lives, brightens the world.



Our mind
October 12, 2012, 1:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Our mind is not a conduit to some other astral dimension, nor does it have any back-doors to some supreme mystical realities. In fact, our minds are very little, with little thinking capacity, with little memory. But, our minds have the brilliant capacity to take this awesome, vast universe and pack it all into this little space in our heads, allowing us to read into the universe’s script using our little mind’s eye.

The genius of the brain is not in how huge it is, the genius is in how small it is.



Darwinian economics
July 14, 2011, 1:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I learned a crucial, subtle point about Darwinian evolution a few days ago, which also contrasts the ideas of competition in a free market versus evolution by natural selection. The idea was from a Cornell professor of economics, but I forget his name.

The point is — Darwin had a much deeper insight into competitive dynamics than the best economists, including the great Adam Smith, who propounded the concept of the “invisible hand” while studying the operation of free markets. He proposed that if you let the free market go, the competition will work towards a “fitter” economy. Till this point he is in accord with Darwin. But the subtle difference is, Adam Smith (and tacitly, all economists from that point forth) assume that “fitness” equals “greater prosperity.” However, according to Darwinian ideas, this correlation cannot be taken for granted, and when applied to economics, even from a purely material point of view, assuming this tight correlation is purely a leap of faith. Natural selection is just a process out of many possible, and Darwin focused on how that process effects group behavior, rather than trying to prove that it always helped the group in some way. In fact, there are cases when evolution causes the greater bad and he meticulously observed those cases too.

A good example is a kind of elk, in which the males have evolved huge horns to fight for mates. Its an escalating intra-species arms race, which every male is forced to participate in (so as to spread his genes). However, this comes at a terrible prive for the group as a whole, because the heavy horns make the males slower at running away from predators.

Another example of such a process is people standing up in a stadium to get a better view — in the end everyone is standing, no one can afford to sit down, and everyone’s feet hurt to boot. Compared to just remaining seated, everyone is worse off.

All this has very close relation to well known phenomena in game theory, called the prisoner’s dilemma. Basically, in any negotiation, if there is the slightest chance of even one person defecting causing a big loss to everyone, everyone will defect, even though everyone knew that if they co-operated, they would stand to gain something. This is very simple to analyze and can be captured in the succinct phrase “resonating doubt.” Any large scale co-operative decision requires trust, and trust in large groups is dynamically unstable.

So the key point is — competitive processes are one possible dynamical system, among many possible ones. They are not special, in fact they are quite trivial, and there is not a whit of evidence in their favor that they achieve any kind of global optimum for a group. In fact, there is good scientific evidence pointing to frequent cases where it doesn’t happen.

So, this raises two very interesting questions.

Firstly, it seems “intelligent” life, in the sense of conscious life with a flexible, introspective brain like humans do, is just a one-off possibility of evolution, not really an inevitable result of its dynamics. So isn’t it really possible that there is a lot of life in the universe, but mostly just the smart-dinosaur kind?

Secondly, why do we trust the free market so much? To me, it looks more and more like a piece of dogma now. It worked at a time, now its past its utility (in developed countries) and ideological inertia and lack of options is keeping it alive. Forget the military-government-industry complex. Even an ideal free market won’t really guarantee anything relating to “the greater good”. But what alternative do we have? European countries have tried to partially compensate with the government explicitly stepping in to correct any free market weirdness. But such government power has its own corruptibility problems. Is there a class of dynamical systems that are conducive to long term goals (highly delayed feedback), and compatible with human psychology with all its evolutionary baggage bent on spreading the genes to the best mate(s) at all costs?

With that, I take my leave for now.



Chrysalis
July 4, 2011, 6:08 am
Filed under: Humanity, Poems

Humans are tiny,
Desires are small,
Our knowledge is little,
Wisdom, least of all.

Our inner world is deep,
The outer one is vast,
But we march oblivious,
In our billion-year cast.

Blinding beauty unnoticed,
For the wayward eye,
All that mattered once,
Was to somehow, not die.

Here we are now,
Way above the war,
Yet hopelessly mired,
In ancient instinctual tar.

Status replaces survival,
And behold, a new war,
Even love pursued as ambition,
How hopelessly lost we are!

But there’s hope,
Rather, there’s a choice,
When we listen to the inner call,
The Ubermensch* shall rise.

Until then, he awaits,
In timeless prenatal bliss,
Conceiving immortal beauty,
Waiting for us, in Chrysalis.

*Ubermensch: German word coined by Nietzsche, meaning “Enlightened man” in this context — the state of humanity after it has overcome its entrapment in hard-wired evolutionary instincts.



Truth is not happiness
February 19, 2011, 1:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, you think the truth will set you free,
And make you happy?
Bad move, choose again.

Deception is the name of the game,
Well-intentioned, well-designed, pragmatic, utterly crucial,
Deception.

Easily tolerated when done unconsciously,
Like the lipstick that makes those lips fuller,
Like the mask of confidence at an interview,
Like the exaggerated expression of interest during courtship,
Like the standing up to a bully at school, like you mean it.

But conscious deception is intolerable,
It is dangerous to society,
So perceiving deception makes us unhappy.
Thus pushing our mind to the final act — Self-deception.

The illusion of honesty is necessary,
For society to function. Because,
We can’t take the truth,
We’re not designed for that.

We are not designed to perceive reality,
We are designed for one and only one thing,
As were all our ancestors,
Survival.

If you survive well, you will stay happy,
Fight the fights of life, win some, lose some,
Nature will egg you on, to do more of that,
Which makes you win,
Shoot you with a drug of euphoria,
To keep you on track,
And you will make friends along the way.
Fellow pursuers of happiness,
Fighting the “good” fight,
And you all survive.

If you turn inward, and go ripping around for the truth,
You will end up unhappy, dysfunctional,
And utterly alone,
Even in the midst of people.

So, if happiness is your only aim,
Remember this piece of sincere advice:
Question your motivations only a bit deep,
But don’t dig too deep,
Or you will cross the soft flesh,
And hit the hard bone beneath.

Don’t venture into the space,
Where conscious and sub-conscious meet,
The shock will remove all future hope,
For blissful ignorance.

Remember: What is once seen, can’t be unseen.

If you start on the path of truth, don’t expect happiness.
Its fair after all — you only get what you aim for.
So choose — Either temporal,  evanescent happiness,
Or the chancy, thorny, excruciating path of truth,
Leading maybe, to utter, total freedom,
From happiness and sadness, nature’s chains,
Turning you into a consummate human being,
Totally free, capable of doing anything,
A child of the universe itself.

But there is a good chance,
That you might perish,
On the thorny path of truth,
A bloodied and utterly wasted life.

So, understand, that the path of happiness,
Diverges wildly from the path of truth,
And choose.



Our future and how to move towards it
December 14, 2010, 1:27 am
Filed under: Humanity

Humanity falters when a person thinks or is made to think — “The world is too complex to understand, so forget about ensuring everyone’s happiness, be practical and focus on myself and my own happiness.” The problem with this statement is that firstly, it is factually incorrect — humans, on account of being incapable of providing for all of their own needs (food, clothing, shelter, love) always depend on others, economically and emotionally, and by implication, any problems in society in general inexorably impinge on the personal level. However, this personal attitude has bigger problems than being merely factually incorrect. The problem is that as soon as such a psychology is adopted, the cohesive strength of humanity disappears into a noise of desires, something we have learned to manage with the bandage of democracy. There is no longer common purpose and discussions of long-term good, only accidental synchronizations of personal desires. Sometimes they make sense (social upheaval and reform, scientific revolutions for the good), sometimes they don’t and sometimes they’re disastrous (war).

It may seem that companies get by just fine with this “let everyone be self-centered” psychology. But this argument just falls apart on closer examination. A company without passionate people at the helm who actually have a goal to accomplish, rather than just making money, is bound to rot into obsolescence, especially so in the industries of the future, which rely so crucially on human creativity. The future doesn’t belong to Coke (if it does, we’re doomed), but rather, to invention, or to use a more apt term — creation and imagination. Mathematicians will create beautiful theorems. Musicians will create soulful music. Painters will create beautiful imagery. Physicists will gain insight into the basis of reality. Biologists will gain understanding of the staggering beauty of the human mind and body. And so on and on.

It seems certain that if we keep thinking in this erroneous way, the fate of humanity rests, as almost always in the past, on the happy accident of noisy human desires giving power to someone who’s personal desires, in the context of his power, lead him to do something for his satisfaction that turns out to be for humanity’s long term good. Its a laughably inefficient way to achieve the goal, but hey, its worked in the past! We wouldn’t be here otherwise. But our luck can always run out. (Especially so in this era with powerful computers hooked up to the internet and nuclear power.) Lets just hope it doesn’t, before we actually take that important step in (social/personal) evolution where we clearly recognize how important personal cultivation and responsibility is for the collective happiness of everyone and deeply understand how to manage the delicate balance of keeping ourselves, as well as everyone around us, satisfied and happy.

In short, what good we do, we do semi-accidentally, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed good and constitutes progress. But its time we evolved and adopted a personal psychology that is closer to the truth and closer to everyone’s well-being. If we don’t, our (evolved) children will probably look at us with the same simultaneous mixture of disgust, sympathy, pity, understanding, humor and even love, as we look at monkeys in the zoo throwing faeces at each other and having a good time in general. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves for even a second that the irony will be lost on them that we chose to call ourselves “Man-kind,” when we failed to live up to even our own standards of either Humanness or Kindness.



Music
October 14, 2009, 4:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

When I listen to great, elevating music, I feel that being alive and being able to feel Music in all its subtle, nuanced glory that strikes the deepest chords of our inner reality, justifies being human, even though the consciousness that comes with humanness has such an immense burden.

I am sure this is how God convinced man to exist, by promising him the gift of Music.