Archive for July, 2011

Defining happiness through suffering

I came across this thought the other day and I was reminded of two of my favorite sci-fi references to that.

For those who haven’t seen / understood (:P) the Matrix, here is the RED pill. The Matrix is supposed to be a perpetual dream into which all human minds are supposed to be plugged in. This is developed by the machines to keep the humans alive and captive so that they can harness the energy generated while “living the dream”.

Quoting agent Smith  – “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program…I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from…

It is true isn’t it? Our life gets a meaning only when we are struggling for something – may it be for survival, for food, for money, for love or for something else depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in. But do we forget to stop and look at the smaller happinesses which come our way? Can we taste joy only after we have been though hell? Does success only after struggle matter? Do we always need to associate any high in our life with a low to make it worth?

Another of my favorite novels from Isaac Asimov – “The End of Eternity” revolves round the same theme. In this an organisation is carrying out social engineering – changing reality by time travel and thus building an utopia for mankind which will be free of war, disease, terror, poverty i.e. in short free of suffering. But then when the reality unfolds they realise that man has become stagnant, unambitious, there are no new inventions and we ultimately meet our end due to our failure to leave the earth and colonise other planets.

This opens up a new angle to suffering – the mother of all innovation. Clearly, the most productive times for research and development were the two world wars. The Cold war accelerated the progress into space exploration and nuclear energy which have translated into many a innovations in every day life gadgets.

The more I think about it the more I feel it is human nature. It is in everyone of us. We appreciate good things more when they come after a bad time, appreciate white when it is next to black. Or realise the worth of things only when they are taken away from us. From the movie “Zindagi na milegi dobara”  – When we breath normally, we do not think twice about it but we cherish every breath when we are underwater. I think there in lies the true essence of life. Yes, there are certain things to struggle for – those define us, those give us purpose, those drive  us forward and prevent us from stagnation. Yes, we should cherish success which comes after hard work. But that doesn’t mean that we be unhappy while fighting for it. Life and this world is full of so many small things and tiny moments – each with their own charm, they are to precious to be missed. Its like you start off by believing you are happy and then do things which make you more happy. As Leo Tolstoy said – “If you want to be happy, just be.”


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My take on Asimov’s laws

Asimov’s three laws of Robotics have always fascinated me. Of course, I have read almost all his fiction works and come to admire them. Quoting Wiki – “The laws were made with human morality in mind”. And ever since I have been called a ‘If-else’ program, I wanted to pen down my take on the three laws.

<Spoiler Alert for Asimov’s books>

Incidentally not many people know that Asimov’s laws are not completely fool-proof. Of course, most of Asimov’s works are a play on these laws. In one story, the first law for instance – of not harming another human being by action and inaction, is challenged when a group of humans decides to bring another group to harm. The whole world is in danger and the Robots (the heroes of the story) are helpless to do anything against it because of the first law. This leads to the formulation of the Zeroth law of Robotics – A Robot cannot by action or inaction allow HUMANITY to come to harm.

In another instance, a robot is asked to administer poison to a human but after being told that it is medicine. This leads to the extension of the laws to include the extra condition of “information”. If the robot is unaware of the consequences of its actions or inactions due to the fact of incomplete formation, how can it abide to its laws.

Therefore, Asimov’s stories become the quest of one Robot to find harmony within these three laws. Many things are incorporated by him (yes, him) to aid him on the way – it starts with the zeroth law to begin with and goes on to mind reading and even mind control. The missing piece seems to come from the development of a new science – psychohistory – the ability to predict firstly reactions of large groups of humans which is perfected to determine reactions of an individual. But even that proves to be incomplete. In the end, he finds hope in the spirit of Gaia – part in whole and whole in part. But he realises that the choice is not his to make…

These stories have fascinated me so much that I have been on a similar quest – to incorporate these laws into my life and find harmony within them. The if-else program hence exists with the attempt to avoid making the arguments, (for want of a better word) – Heartless.

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Star Trek – The Next Generation (TNG) is one my favorite series. To those of you who would quickly dismiss as a ‘boyish’ fascination with sci-fi series, spaceships, lasers and exploding missiles, let me explain it to you how it is more than that. Every episode of TNG is built on a kernel of philosophy or an aphorism. It is a source of wisdom to those who learn to watch it below the superfluous action. I wanted to share some of these with you and hence I have planned a series of blogs on it.  Here is the first.

<Spoiler Alert!> 

Season 6. Episode 15 : Tapestry

At the beginning of the episode, the Captain, a wise man in his middle ages, is struck on the chest. Owing to a failure in the mechanical heart installed in his chest, he dies. He meets God (Q). We get to know the story of the mechanical heart of the Captain – the recklessness of his youth. A fight he picked up in a bar to help out his friend who had got himself into trouble. The Captain admits he regrets it, the thinking without acting. He wishes he had been more wise, more prudent. Then God decides to grant him another chance – to go back and change his actions, to avoid getting stabbed so that he wont have the mechanical heart and can live on. History would not be affected, just the Captain’s destiny. The Captain takes the chance.

The Captain is excited to be back in the past, with his friends, the night before the fight. He starts trying to talk sense into his friend not to pick up the fight. He pursues the girl he had never had the courage to. But fate continues to run the course and the moment of fight draws closer. And when it finally arrives, the captain punches his own friend instead and stops the fight from escalating, avoids getting himself stabbed. But he loses his friendship with his friend as well as the girl he pursues. God approaches him and sends him back to the present.

When he arrives in the present, the Captain is no longer the captain of the ship! Instead he is a science officer, judged to be excellent at his job but never deemed fit for leadership. The Captain is frustrated. Then God apparates in front of him once more. He explains how his life unfurled. Since he decided to be more cautious in life, he never undertook dangerous missions, never took command in demanding situations, never jumped into battle. As such he did not get the respect, attention or opportunity to prove his qualities, he never made the mistakes  from which he learnt so much. 

Realizing that he had been tricked, the Captain declared that he would rather take death than lead this new life. God smiles, gives him another chance and gives him his life back. 

This came up when one of my friends wished for an UNDO button in life! I do not believe in the need for one. Whatever we are today, whatever we have today, is the result of the choices we made. Let there be no regrets, no wish to change things. The tapestry of our life has many threads running through it, each one unique in its own way. If we try and remove any one of them, the whole pattern would come apart.

There is a time to be reckless, there is a time to be wise. But there is always the time to learn from life…

PS. Another post I liked on the metaphor “Tapestry of Life”

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Random Thoughts 2

Theorem: Everything that has a beginning, has an end.

make the most of the things in between…

Corollary 1: Everything that has an end, must have a beginning.

search and understand the source, and you shall make peace with the end…

Corollary 2: Anything that does not have a beginning or an end, does not have an end or a beginning respectively.

avoid running in circles…

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Random thoughts…

It’s been on my mind since some days now – the concept of Yin-Yang and the balance  of forces within one. As all must have experienced it with themselves or with others, the same person is capable of  great compassion in one regard and total ignorance in another. But then do acts of good and bad cancel each other? Is it justified to sin on the basis of good deeds done some other time? Is a good deed a good deed when its done as a compensation for sin?

That for me is not the essence of balance. For me it is about accepting the evil inside you. It is about using the strength from the dark side but to channelize it and control it to do good. For me, anger and compassion, hatred and love, jealousy and compersion (empathy) are equally powerful. As in the  case of Anakin-Vader, they are the source of one’s greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses at the same time. For one to be truly happy, to be at peace with oneself, it is necessary to give in to these negative emotions, accept them, make them a part of your body. But not right away, you have to keep resisting them, that is what will make you stronger and then there shall come a time when accepting them will bring you peace.

This I realised has always been the crux philosophy of all the recent pop culture heroes. In the case of Neo, he realises  that he is powerful and when he gives that final punch, he shows how strong he can be. But he is even more stronger, when he allows Smith to merge with him.

Same is the case with Harry Potter. It is not his destiny to duel with Voldemort to the death, rather to walk unarmed to him, head held high.

It takes great strength to pick up the sword and strike, but even greater strength to know when to put your sword down…

All said and done, but in an increasing individualistic world, good and bad, right and wrong is becoming increasingly subjective. For any belief put forth there always a thousand people in front of you and a thousand behind you. More and more people are finding the strength to put their own voice in front of traditionally accepted good values. Faith or lack of it plays a role. In this increasing chaos, it is important that we find our own right and wrong, not be swayed, blinded and close minded. We form our own set of principles and we stick to them. For me, it is about finding the universal, unquestionable good deeds and keep on doing them – helping people in times of need, spreading smiles, trying to make the world a better place to live in my own small way, try to be selfless. I can be never be perfect, but thats the point isn’t it? To keep on pursuing perfection…

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