Author Archives: cosmozen

The Cosmic Calendar

If you watched the first episode of “Cosmos” [hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the National Geographic channel], then you will be familiar with the cosmic calendar which highlights the immensity of the cosmic time scale. Our universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago. If we shrank that down to fit one year, we get the cosmic calendar.

1 day in the cosmic calendar = approximately 40 million years. 1 month = 1 billion+ years.

If the Big Bang happened on the first day (January 1), then:

The universe expanded and cooled over the next 200 million years ( ~5 days).

It was dark until gravitational forces pulled together critical masses of hot gases to form the first stars.

Light flashed into being as the first stars began forming on January 10.

Stars began clustering to form galaxies, small and large.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, was born on March 15. About eleven billion years ago.

Earth was born around September. Life on earth started around the same time.

Humans did not arise until December 31, the last day of the year.

Modern civilization has been around for only the last 14 seconds of the year.

Jesus Christ was born 5 seconds ago.

Columbus arrived in America 1 second ago.

India got her Independence from the British 0.145 second ago.

I was born 0.099 second ago and will likely will live for just another 0.065 second, give or take 0.005 second.

Every human we know of, who is part of documented history, lived in the last 14 seconds.

I can’t think of a more significant piece of information that shows our insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

Mind blowing perspective as we ponder our earthly problems.

Cosmic_Calendar

[Reference: Cosmic Calendar on National Geographic]

Zenlighten Up is about interestingness. I try to raise interesting questions about our lives and the world around us and the connection that may or not exist between the two.

Advertisements

God denies answering prayers

Yesterday, What Ho! received this letter from God which I feel obliged to share.

Dear Dr. What Ho!,

It has come to my attention that there is a falsehood circulating and an impression being created that I have been answering human prayers. I’d be grateful if you could publicize this letter far and wide as I’m anxious to dispel such a patent lie.

First, let me start by explaining how [what you call] the ‘system’ works. There are many systems. They are filled with things I had not even fathomed when I embarked on this journey. Speaking about this system of yours, there are black holes, galaxies, stars, planets and moons to name a few. And then there is the Earth. Based on what I am hearing from you guys, your system is 13.8 billion years old and you’ve been around for the last few million, give or take. There have been other things which have been around long before you came along. Like volcanos, mountains, oceans, fishes, dinosaurs and birds, to name a few. I find it intriguing that none of them prayed. Indeed, the volume of pleas from Earth has spiked from near zero to a ginormous number only after you guys showed up.

BeFunky_prayers.png

I like to think of your system as having an amorphous and invisible ‘central brain’ which regulates itself and constantly attempts to re-establish equilibrium within itself and with other systems. What is fascinating to me is that you guys appear to have developed some sort of a sixth sense as you call it. A “local human brain” if you will, which is incessantly attempting to disrupt the global equilibrium with its self-centered attempts to establish local equilibrium. In other words, your pleas, while they are an area of curious interest for me, are unlikely to be met with either prompt or favorable responses. I’m disappointed that you would even think of me, a Supreme Being, as a puppet to be wielded by your strings of prayers.

Second, I feel that I must explain my job responsibilities. My job title, which I’m convinced has to be made more self-explanatory, is God. It is weird to be called something which means nothing to anyone but you humans. My surveys have established that quarks, leptons, gluons and the Higgs Boson have not heard of or ‘experienced’ God before. I suspect that’s true for galaxies, stars and planets and everything else but you. And I haven’t even broached this with all those multiverses out there. I suggest we you look into an alternative nomenclature for my job title. Possibilities are “A Higher Order,” “The Observer” or “The Spirit.” The last is a nod to the Indians from both the eastern and western hemispheres of Earth. I like it the best.

As for my job responsibilities, I have none. I understand that you regard me as the Original Cause. But that does not automatically impose any moral or other responsibilities on me. I bear no obligation to anything that has arisen and will arise as the arrow of Time speeds forward. I owe you nothing. In fact, no one owes anyone anything. Such is the nature of things.

This leads me to the question of ‘What the heck do I do every day?’

I spend my time observing things. It’s like watching television. You may have your opinions on what goes on out there. You get the sinking feeling that you may have contributed to the problem. Every so often, you feel the urge to tweet about it. And on occasion, you want to wreck the TV screen with a baseball bat. I resist the temptation to do any of the above.

A lot of things fascinate me. They are usually at levels which are a couple of notches and degrees higher and separated from where you are. For example, the question, ‘why are you guys even there in the first place?’ fascinates me. Why is anything there at all? Why am I not alone here by myself? Have you ever seen a massive star collapse into a giant black hole? That never gets old. I could go on. I hope that you understand that your lives are not in an immediate zone of my consideration. I don’t concern myself with earthquakes in Haiti. I don’t pay attention to Kim Kardashian’s wardrobe or lack of it. I wouldn’t know what to do if two futbol fans, one Brazilian and another German, prayed and asked for their teams to win. I haven’t read the Pope’s tweets yet. I smile when Stephen Hawking denies my existence. I could go on.

There is a massive misunderstanding that surrounds my existence and responsibilities. You guys have made a rather fantastic assumption that I have to prove my existence in order to exist. There was a government in India which existed for ten years and did absolutely nothing. And yet no one disputed its existence. Think of me the same way. Think of me as an impassioned observer, curious but unwilling to play a role in your unimaginative and dreary lives as your universe marches to its yet unfulfilled destiny. Would you gaze upon a new born child with an agenda? No. You simply see the beauty in her, marvel at her existence and accept that she will grow up to be whoever she wants to be. Such is the nature of things.

There are those who believe that I don’t exist because they don’t have a role for me. There are those who believe in me so they can create a role for me. Why are we always trying to change others to be more like ourselves? Why can’t we all just get along? I’m here. I speak nothing. I do nothing. Hey, that’s me. If someone has a problem with this, I suggest they have a short chat with Dr. Manmohan Singh. He knows what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to be negative. If praying provides solace, I don’t see the harm in it. There are no false beliefs. There are only beliefs which have advantages and beliefs which are costly. I’d rather have you pick your own poison. I’d rather have you simply try to connect with me without an agenda. I’d rather have you meet me as an equal, as a fellow traveler who’s willing to share his beer with me as we marvel at the vistas together.

I am sorry. I know that you need to see me as the ultimate go-to guy in a world filled with pain, injustice, violence and disappointment. The easiest life is one of deluded ignorance. But it is one which alternates between intoxicating pleasure and incomprehensible pain. So, the curious and the disillusioned among you go in search of the truth. I’ve been gazing on universes for a long time. All I’ve learnt so far is that the only truth is that there are no eternal truths which hold across space, distance and time.  So I suggest a little circumspection and a lot of preparation when you go in search because truth is the last thing you will want to encounter if you have not prepared yourself for it.

I am sorry. I know that someday you will die. And that, deep within you lurks a fear of death and oblivion. Of being nothing and irrelevant. There is nothing I can do about it. That is the beauty of this design; that things go on. Beauty lies in a cycle of creation and destruction of things and not in this in-between state called living, which you must look upon merely as an opportunity to behold this beauty. Life is no more and no less than a set of experiences. The larger this set is, the easier it becomes to understand this description of life. Everything moves on. I wish I could tell you that you’re special. The thing is you’re just a tiny lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an obscure planet in a limitless set of universes. When you die, everyone and everything else will move on. So, clearly this is not about you. This is not even about the things which are dearest to you like your family and friends and objects of desire. I once saw a man who had devoted his whole life to making himself a better person. What a waste of a life it is when it’s all about yourself. There is something much larger at play. Respect it and we’ll all be fine, I assure you. Don’t be depressed. When you get depressed, do what I do. Gaze at the stars. They have borne mute witness to the best and the worst of all things.

I know that this will leave you feeling lonely. I’ve traveled the lonely road for eons. I’m afraid so must you. There is really no other way. But I do wish upon you my kind of bliss. The one you can find in solitude. Go forth and do what you must do. Just in case you’re interested in joining me, I have a seat right next to me with your name on it, which has the best view in town.

The Spirit.

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why are there things? Why is there a universe? Why are there stars, planets, earth, moon, human beings, frogs and flowers? Why are there scientific laws? Why are there abstract things like time, space and distance? Why is there anything? Of all the possibilities, isn’t the simplest that of nothing?

Why is there something instead of nothing?

This question of why there is anything at all has baffled scientists and philosophers for a long while. There have been those who have dismissed this as either not important or unanswerable, saying that since we are already in the field of something, it is not possible to step outside of this field to view the answer. Philosophers, who Plato described as “friends of God, standing on the outside and looking in” disagree saying that the answers may lead us to understand the primordial nature of things and to the original cause itself.

There have been several attempts to pursue this simple yet deep mystery. From what I’ve read, all lines of approach start with asking ‘what in this universe is necessary or fundamental by nature? In other words, what came first without a necessity to exist and thus became the foundational reason(s) for everything else to be created and exist? These are defined as ‘necessary’ and ‘contingent’ entities.

The Scientific School of Thought

The atheistic or rather the scientific school of thought answers by postulating that the laws of the universe have always existed and are the reason that the universe manifested itself in the way it did. What are these laws? There are many laws of science we’re taught in school and college. There is the Ohm’s law. There are the Newton’s laws. And the laws of thermodynamics. Of all the laws, the most fundamental ones pertaining to matter are that of Standard Model, a set of equations which describe how quantum fields manifest themselves as fundamental particles such as quarks, gluons, leptons and the Higgs boson which interact to form matter as we know it. Why is the Standard Model the way it is? No one knows yet. Why is there just one Standard Model? Why is there even a Standard Model? We have now returned to our original question.

Truth be told, it is an extraordinary accomplishment of scientists that we even know that we have laws of nature. They have helped us peel a layer or two of the onion, if you will, in understanding the nature of things. What is more remarkable is that it is only in the recent past that we have accepted that there are such things as laws of nature. Not too long back, in the 13th century, an Islamic scholar, Al Ghazali, considered by historians to be the second most influential Muslim after Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) rejected the notion that there could be such things as natural laws because they would then “put God in chains.” The Christians in the Dark Ages were no different in their rejection of science.

To come back to the question, science holds forth that scientific laws came first and thus precipitated the formation of everything else.

The Judaeo-Christian-Islamic School of Thought

The Judeo-Christian-Islamic theological position supposes the ‘existence of God’ as necessary. That God is the original cause. That there is no logic that underlies the existence of God. For if such a logic were to exist, then such logic would then be superior to God himself. The religious argument insists that the existence of a Supreme Being with unlimited powers is non-negotiable and goes on to build their case from there onwards.

The Neo Platonists

The Greeks led by the Neo Platonists steered clear of science and religion in their explanation. They put forth the doctrine of “the Good” or “the One” which is beyond being. For Neo Platonists, the first principle of reality is an utterly simple and unknowable Quality of Things, a notion derived from the Republic, where Plato famously says that “the Good is beyond being in power and dignity.”

The Vedantic Approach

The “Hindus” of the Vedic era took the position that it is the abstract thought that is the reason to believe that there is something. Vedanta says that the world exists merely as a perception of the senses and made to appear real by thought processes of the mind. The origin of everything is explained as a single thought that arose in the mind of the Brahma who sustains his own existence and everything else by his thoughts and then expires as his thoughts subside into nothingness.

The Mathematician’s Approach

There is also the mathematical school of thought which says that the nature of probability dictates that all possibilities must exist. Which implies that there must be infinite variations of the universe including a version with nothing in it. And that the probability of finding ourselves in a universe with nothing in it is not just an oxymoron but also a near impossibility since one divided by a large number is a very tiny number approaching zero.

Thoughts to Ponder

Could there really be nothing? Even in the extreme case where we had this vast void or a gigantic vacuum if you will, there would be still be abstract notions like the distance between two points in that vacuum. Assuming, of course, abstract notions can exist in the absence of a mind which could create them in the first place. And if we took the position that everything is contingent and not necessary, it would be impossible to answer the question since the solution will require something that is necessary to formulate it. Which in turn makes the case that there indeed must have been an original cause; a necessity that precipitated all other things. Or maybe the question is simply meaningless, as some say it is. Or maybe it’s not.

We may never know the answer. Even if we did, it may not save us from death or assuage the griefs or heighten the joys of our day to day lives. Even so, we must view favorably these words of Einstein which he wrote in “The world as I know it.

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence – as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”

[Reference: An excellent video series on The Mystery of Existence]

Reports say Narendra Modi fans depressed, directionless.

Just three weeks into Modi sarkar, fans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have reportedly sunk into a massive depression of epidemic proportions. According to reports that are still coming in, NaMo fans have been left high and dry with absolutely nothing to talk about after BJP’s resounding victory in the recent elections. Dr. Viru Sahasrabuddhi, a practicing psychotherapist at NIMHANS in Bangalore explained. “This is perfectly understandable. Euphoria is often accompanied by depression. For months and years, thousands and even millions of Modi’s fans have been raising hell and devoted every waking moment to spreading his message and helping his campaign. After his victory, they are waking up to the gloomy and harsh reality that they now have nothing left in their otherwise empty lives.”

Meet Chandan Kishwar, 28, who spent the last two years digging up unflattering photographs of Rahul Gandhi and incessantly tweeting laudatory articles about Modi under the handle @ProudAndRabidNationalistHindu, often skipping lunch and dinner. This morning, he was discovered comatose and unresponsive to light or sound by a neighbor. “This is really sad. Until a few weeks back, I was ready to poison him for his obnoxious obsession with Modi. Now I’d give my right arm to get my rabidly nationalistic, Congi hating, Hindutva zealot friend back,” said a friend of Kishwar, YVSSR Raju, 27, who’s been fighting his own silent battle against depression after successfully lobbying on Twitter for Telangana.

The epidemic is ringing alarm bells around the nation. An estimated 67 percent of India’s workforce has been laid low in the aftermath of Modi fever, a situation which threatens an economy already ravaged by inflation. “There seems to be a strange belief among Modi fans that their work is complete now that he has been elected. In fact, they are convinced that they don’t have to work for anything anymore. In extreme cases, some are even refusing to accept the reality that the campaign is over. It’s like they are living in a fantasy of their own and continuing to post over-the-top messages on Facebook hailing their Messiah and adamantly refusing to process any negative information about Modi. The situation is so dire that these people are now transfixed, waiting for India to instantly and magically transform into an economic superpower at the snap of Modi’s fingers. This is cause for concern,” added Dr. Sahasrabuddhi in a very helpful tone.

In other news, Smriti Irani, responding to criticism that she lacks the experience to manage the HRD ministry, has enrolled herself in an online internship program run by the University of Phoenix. While the HRD ministry refused to comment, a spokesman for the University of Phoenix had this to say, “We’re pleased to confirm that Ms. Irani has enrolled in our world class internship program. The 3 week online, self-guided program has been thoughtfully crafted for those who might not normally be considered qualified for the jobs they’ve been hired for. During the course of three weeks, Ms. Irani will learn to configure Google alerts for news headlines related to education and to write catchy tweets and hashtags, areas she has specifically expressed interest in. I’d like to add that our program is over a hundred years old. In fact, the one of the first graduates of this historic program was the guy who captained the Titanic.”

The What Ho! Report is a collection of satire and fake news. We read the Times of India so you are not forced to. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend the What Ho! report.

Indian English Phrases – Part Two

I wrote the first edition of “Indian English phrases” a while back.  Check it out in case you haven’t read it. Here are two more which cry out for attention.

Part Two of Indian English Phrases

11.  “Baseless allegations”

This is usually the first, reflex response from any politician to anything that comes out of Arvind Kejriwal’s mouth. Its usage cuts across ideological, caste, creed and religious divides in India. So much so, this stock phrase stakes a pretty good claim to be India’s national phrase. Let’s dissect this one.

Allegation in itself means an assertion or a statement made without proof or basis in fact. “Baseless allegations” takes things to a whole new level ’cause it implies that things like “basefull” allegations and “baseless facts” exist.

Example:

Parent: Is it true that you didn’t turn in the homework at school yesterday? 
8th grader: I refuse to neither confirm nor deny what could be a basefull allegation.
 
One more.
 Scientist: Sir, what do you think of Darwin’s theory of evolution?
 Redneck Robbie: Garbage! Stop spreading such baseless facts.
 
And finally.
 Judge: How do you plead to charges of murder in the 2rd degree of the English language?
 AAP’s Ashutosh : Your Honor, these are baseless allegations. I had nothing to do with its untimely demise. By the way, I’d like to plead permanent insanity.

 

12. “Untimely Demise” [ And its first cousin, “Tragic demise.”]

I think this is a uniquely Indian thing. Often used to describe the sudden, unexpected or at times even widely anticipated death of anyone below the age of 80. Makes you wonder. Is there such a thing then as a “timely, delightful demise”? Aren’t all demises untimely and tragic? Especially if you view said demises through the lens of those undergoing demises?

No one ever goes, “Whatay awesome dude! His demise was perfectly timed. It isn’t all that tragic as you might think, In fact, we’re besides ourselves with joy.”

Dhoom 3

Yash Raj Films didn’t set out to win an Oscar when they started the Dhoom franchise. After viewing Dhoom 3, I can attest that they remain firmly committed to that non-objective. I believe it was Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist, who once postulated as part of his Uncertainty Principle that one can have either Katrina Kaif or a script in a Bollywood film but never both. I’m happy to inform you that Dhoom 3 has Ms. Kaif in it.

A Tale of Revenge, a Circus which is really a Magic Show, Hindi Stuff Written on Walls, etc.

Dhoom 3 is a tale of revenge. Iqbal Khan (a bleary eyed Jackie Shroff) applies for a loan to an evil Darth-Vader-meets-Ku-Klux-Klan style banker with a cowboy accent. What makes this loan application interesting are 2 things: 1. Iqbal claims to run a circus, but in fact it’s really a magic show with one massive treasure chest like thingy.  2. Iqbal has not repaid loans to this banker in the past. Hence Evil Banker connects dots between 1 & 2 and refuses loan. A distraught Iqbal embraces the dark arms of Hades (via single bullet to the temple) and thus triggers a cataclysmic series of events which include aforesaid bank being robbed in broad daylight 25 years later by a mysterious thief who writes some stuff in Hindi on the walls WHICH LEADS TO (sit down, you’re not going to believe this) Mumbai police being summoned to help Chicago Police solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO mysterious thief offering to help Mumbai Police to solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO Mumbai Police inadvertently helping mysterious thief rob more banks and getting fired. Wait, there’s good news. At some point, the bank shares take a beating in the stock market and aforesaid EVIL BANKER is forced to resign his job. Take that, you evil Voldemort banker, you! Hope you learnt your lesson to never mess with Indian circus people.

Dhoom 3 is Aamir Khan’s gig and everyone else just happens to be it. Mr. Khan is said to be a perfectionist when it comes to film making. Well, he seems to have put aside such ideals for this movie. Mr. Khan is first introduced to viewers as he climbs out of bed in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Chicago skyscraper and walks towards the window to gaze down ominously upon the windy city. The apartment is never seen again. Perhaps the apartment is a metaphor for the script. One can only wonder.

Let’s talk about Uday, Katrina and Junior B.

Uday Chopra apparently announced his retirement from acting in the weeks leading up to the release of this film. Didn’t that train leave the station in Dhoom 1? The announcement was quite unnecessary as most people were unable to recall Mr. Chopra being in possession of acting skills in the first place. Mr. Chopra is a laboratory based, experimental version of Salman Khan in which things have just gone horribly, horribly wrong. His comic interludes are neither comic nor are they interludes.

It is said that Robert De Niro prepared for a role as Jake LaMotta in The Raging Bull by gaining sixty pounds to his frame and learning to box. Likewise Ms. Katrina Kaif appears to have prepared for her role in Dhoom 3 by taking pole dancing lessons. She enters the movie half way through it. And her first full line of dialogue makes its appearance 30 minutes after that. There’s none better than Ms. Kaif when it comes to portraying the multi-layered complexities of a modern Indian woman. She deftly demonstrates how although Indian lasses might dress in overalls and appear to be demure at first, they are in fact simmering cauldrons of sexuality and willing to shed all clothing and perform complex calisthenics, all for a mere job in the circus.

Someone, please send prune juice to Abhishek B urgently.  The lad seems to be backed up.

The Whole Bank Robbery Situation Sucks

We’re not talking Shakespearean drama here. That’s hardly the expectation. In fact, it’s not fair to judge D3 by such standards. Having said that, I feel like I ought to talk at length about the whole bank robbery situation in this movie which sucks. We live in a world filled with James Bonds and Jason Bournes and Spy Kids and Incredibles and Danny Ocean’s 13. So, we the people know a thing or two when it comes to pulling off heists or robbing banks or retrieving USB drives from ruthless saboteurs. And as anyone will attest, what makes a bank robbery interesting is how you pull it off – getting past the multi-factor authentication systems by faking finger prints and  performing yoga and tai chi to avoid coming in contact with red laser beams and then gaining access to vaults with 2-feet thick steel walls. I mean, people go through a lot of trouble to rob banks and casinos. We the people have never before seen movies before in which banks have robbed upon mere access to blue prints of building which we presume have already been posted on Facebook by bank employees anyway. We the people have never seen movies in which police hand over blue prints of bank building to complete strangers within 24 hours of meeting them. We the people ought to be surprised that more banks are not getting robbed in Mumbai, given this is how Mumbai Police seems to operate.

The Verdict

Anyway, things thankfully get sorted out by the end. I got the feeling that the actual movie was only about an hour long but was stretched to three hours thanks to slow motion technology. There’s a twist somewhere in the middle. The songs are downright spectacular. In true Indian spirit, I’d recommend watching the movie for “Malang..” alone. Dhoom 3 is paisa vasool. So go see it. And if you live in Mumbai, I’d recommend taking your money out of your bank and stashing it in your pillow.