philosophy

In what’s shaping up as the debate of the year, the Universe issued a strong statement, earlier this week, denying that it was either ‘messing around’ or ‘screwing up a man’s entire life up’ and in attempt at damage control sought to downplay the fracas as “shit happens.”

The saga of alleged sabotage, according to insiders, started with the birth of Mr. Sandeep Reddy, 34 in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh. According to Mr. Reddy and his mother, the Universe has “consistently and unfailingly check mated him at every turn” in the thirty four years of Mr. Reddy’s planetary existence.

Sources close to Mr. Reddy believe that the Universe could have easily bestowed upon him a full head of hair, but instead chose to withdraw the privilege by the age of thirty. “We could go on and on about the damage that’s been done to Sandeep. There was, for example, this instance when he was miraculously close to booking a tatkal ticket on IRCTC. He had entered his CVV number and was just about to click ‘Confirm Purchase’ when the internet connection chose to mysteriously die. Come on, are you telling me that the Universe isn’t somehow involved in this somewhere?”

A spokesman for the Universe seemed to deflect Sandeep Reddy’s troubles back to Mr. Reddy himself,  suggesting that it had no role to play in human life events. “Mr. Reddy’s anger and frustration are understandable. When we examined his life records, it does seem like things haven’t quite panned out the way he’d have preferred them to. But it’s one thing to have a screwed up life and yet another thing to assign blame to a blameless party. We fear that Mr. Reddy’s observations are frankly without merit and based on a rather fantastic notion that we’re out here somehow plotting human downfall.”

In the meanwhile, a small group of men who claim to be friends of Mr. Reddy have launched a Facebook page in his support. “We’ve known Sandeep from his early days in kindergarten. Although he can be a bit of a drama queen, his repeated failures in love and life, upon closer examination, appear suspiciously contrived and by design. What we once believed to be results of his inveterate alcoholism and inability to be thrifty or work hard now appear more to be consequences of a higher power’s autocratic manner of dispensing luck. We will not rest until a thousand people have liked our page,” said Mr. YVRK Manohar Prasad, who spoke on behalf of the “Sandeep versus The Universe” Facebook movement.

The escalating row appears to have put the Universe on the back foot. At a hastily convened press conference, its spokesman went into damage control mode and sought to down play the fracas as an inconsequential cosmic event. “Look, we deal daily with monumental events like giant black holes, stars blowing themselves up and the disconcerting lack of visibility of dark matter. The last thing we need is to be drawn into a dispute with an insignificant lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an insignificant planet. We stoutly deny culpability in the mishaps which seem to have pervaded Mr. Reddy’s life. Shit happens. We request Mr. Reddy to desist from further pointless finger pointing and blame games. No more looking up at the skies and “why me?” questions, please. As a conciliatory gesture, we offer the services of our Department of Time to assist in the healing process with no guarantees that any such healing may indeed occur.”

There’s a famous philosophical dilemma called the ‘trolley problem.’ In this hypothetical scenario, there’s an out of control train on a track which five workers are repairing. You’re given just a second or two to decide if you want to to flip a switch and divert the train onto a second track. The dilemma is that there is a worker on that second track who will be killed if you flip the switch.

The opposing philosophies which apply here are ‘utilitarian’ – overall good of many, and ‘thou shalt not harm’ – leave it to a higher authority, and don’t consciously kill another person.

Studies have shown that 90 percent of people opted to kill one worker to save five when presented with this dilemma. The studies were then repeated with a twist. Subjects now wore virtual reality gear which projected an avatar of the worker. Surprisingly, 90 percent of people still opted to flip the switch and kill the lone worker even though they could now see their ‘victim.’ There was no change in the results.

Here comes the interesting part. When subjects were told that they had to physically push the worker and kill him instead of flipping a switch to save the other five, only 50 percent opted to kill him. And here’s the kicker. When people were told that the worker on the second track was either their spouse, sibling or parent, only one-third opted to save the five workers.

What can we infer? That evolution has selected a majority of those who will make split second decisions to kill another? That we don’t like to get our hands dirty? That we’re selfish and will sacrifice others in order to save our own? That there are powerful evolutionary forces which propel us into horrific acts when it is a matter of survival?

Are we condemned to always play out our Darwinian impulses? Will our humanity always beat out the divinity in us? That’s not a cheerful picture, if true.

What’s your take?

What is Luck?

January 25, 2013 in MEMES

I’m sure we’ve all wondered about luck and what it means. It’s said that luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Somehow, I’m not entirely comfortable with that definition. It seems to give more credit to free will than it really ought to. The notion of preparation meeting opportunity implies that cause and effect follow each other closely enough for us to see their linkages. There are times when we get lucky even when we don’t deserve it. When our preparation was inadequate. Sometimes, things don’t pan out even when preparation and opportunity co-exist. And I suspect, more often than not, cause and effect are so much separated in time that we’re no longer able to see what cause led to which effect. In that spirit, I get the feeling that luck resides at the intersection of destiny “what will be” and free will “what you want it to be”.

Luck seems to be that which happens when things conspire in your favor and you go along for the ride. It’s that thing which happens when its time has come. A time when things seem unstoppable for good or bad. When all the causes that have accumulated over time combine into a singularly fortunate or unfortunate effect. Good luck and have a great day!

luck

“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”

What do you think?

Dear People of Earth,

I believe that I possess an abundance of patience. Try carving out the Grand Canyon for millions of years to know what I mean. Yet, I’m worried that you folks are on the verge of exhausting this inexhaustible patience of mine. Allow me to share a few observations with you, in the hope you’ll test my patience a little less going forward.

1. The universe has been around for a long time. The Earth has been around for a while. But you guys have really not been around for too long. Someone pointed out to me the other day, that if we were to compress the entire history of Earth into a 24 hour span, you guys have been around for the last 3 or 4 minutes. And the way things are going, you might last another 3 or 4 minutes on this clock. Stop and think about this every time you’re tempted to believe that you’ve figured it all out. A little humility is not such a bad idea.

2. Just so you know, my name is not Sachin Tendulkar. I don’t really care what name or names you call me. There’s really no need to use the caps lock when referring to me. Being called ‘He’ is embarrassing. I’m cool with ‘The Supreme One’ though.

3. Honestly, I don’t recall creating you chaps. But, I do appreciate your thinking of me every so often. Read ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins to understand where you came from and why you are the way you are. He’s explained things pretty well in that book, although he could have shaved 50 pages off it and made it shorter. Don’t read his other books.

4. I’ve got to say that I’m a tad disappointed that you guys have Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc parties, but have no such thing as a “God” party.

5. Being God is not all that it’s cracked up to be. If you don’t believe me, just check with Arnab Goswami or Rupert Murdoch. These gentlemen who wield enormous powers will attest to this.

6. Just be yourself. On second thought, not all of you. Some of you need to stop being yourselves. Seriously, chill out. You guys are in such a hurry to go nowhere. Remember this > Let go. Be happy.

That’s not all. I’ve got a few assorted tidbits of advice, which might lighten the mood and dispel the dark gloom that seems to have seized the Earth over the last few years.

1. I just got an iPhone. I found out that you got to be really extra careful with the ‘auto correct’ feature. The first time, I accidentally sent a few thousand people to Hell.

2. Neither Satan nor I have any idea what to do about Goldman Sachs. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

3. Nietzsche is dead. I’m still around. Who else wants to take me on? Bring it on.

4. I ran into an atheist the other day. Frankly, it took us both by surprise.

5. It used to be fun to read Deepak Chopra. To be honest, I don’t get him anymore.

6. I swear I never spoke to or encouraged Rick Santorum to run for President.

7. I thought I’d confuse you guys by creating Baba Ramdev. Mission accomplished.

8. I’ve done a lot of projects in my time. India is one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on. She’s still work in progress. Bear with me a little longer.

And oh, I’ve set up brand new accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Check me out on Facebook ( here ) or on Twitter (  here ) for the occasional dose of wisdom from me. Follow me or I’ll smite thee with small pox.

I plan to keep writing here on What Ho! Do stay in touch, keep reading and yes, please do write back.

cheers,

The Supreme One.

I’m unable to recall how I came across The Thought Pad, a blog written by Tanya Singhal. But, I’m glad I did. And I’ve been a regular reader for a while now. Ms. Singhal is a Ph.D. student now in Europe, after finishing her master’s program in the United States. She writes about a lot of things, but mostly chronicles life as a graduate student. It might be just a ‘teeny weeny blog’ as she describes it. But, there’s some high quality writing on there. I have a pretty good feeling that we’re seeing an author in the making. Check out The Thought Pad, subscribe or follow or whatever it is that you normally do when you find a great blog. I asked Tanya if she’d write a piece for What Ho! and she did. And, here it is. A guest post from Tanya Singhal on the impracticality of a Utopian fantasy.

Is a perfect society possible?

Can a perfect society exist? Is the existence of a flawless society of humans possible? Well, I ain’t got any frikkin’ ideah.

So after reading some of the works of 20th century on such political matters (Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451), all of them being set in a futuristic ‘deemed-to-be-perfect’ societies, I wondered and wondered and wondered at every page I turned. Not only did they remind me of Swift’s Gulliver Travels (the work which I think is the true daddy of them all in this aspect), they made me ask myself the question that I very obscenely pasted into the title of this post.

My answer, to that, would prolly begin by asking the definition of “perfect”. Does perfect mean that the happiness index is highest? Or does it mean that the rate of progress in science or art is highest? Because, my humble and idle reader, you must clearly see, that “meanings” of “perfect” are quite contrary to other in terms of parallel sustenance. ‘Perfect’ being a very mean word on its own. When we’re all happy, nobody would bother progressing, and when we’re progressive, all of us won’t be equally happy. There.

But what I just said, is nothing new. We all know that and also that, that I merely dodged the question (that I myself posed in the first place) in the most hideous and pedantic manner. To answer now, I’d say, it’s really hard to have a perfect society. At least the kind of society in which perfect means the way I see it. And the way I see it, “perfect” means so much and encompasses that very much, that by logic, it defeats perfection itself, reaches a state beyond perfection, which I call the perfect-perfection, and so it becomes unattainable, in fact, rather unthinkable.

On our road to perfection, we might begin by dissolving differences, by diluting the variations of color, caste, creed, language – which I believe are foremost in requirements (if there were any) but then how formless or bland that society would be? How plaintive would be the morphology of such a society which has no differences or shades or nuances? But then, in our pursuit of those differences, we pose the risk of losing equality. And even if we do manage to bring everything to equality, can we really control conditioning (or bringing up of a human) so flawlessly that it achieves our set standards and goals? And if we do, where are we headed? To a brave new world? Oh Lord! Oh Ford!

And so I’d stop the rant, and recommend Thomas More’s Utopia for further reading if you really cared and didn’t hit the little cross on the top right hand corner so far. For, Utopia is a perfect place and a place that, literally, doesn’t exist.

The author, Tanya Singhal, is a Ph.D. student in Science, and blogs at The Thought Pad