Category Archives: Featured

47 things I have seen in 47 years.

Here’s a collection of truisms I’ve observed over the years on life, love, truth, humanity and other inconsequential matters. In no particular order, here they are.

  1. There are only 4 things that matter- faith, hope, love and a win over Pakistan in cricket.
  2. When there is no such thing as truth, there can be no such thing as blasphemy.
  3. Fair doesn’t mean equal.
  4. We all have our inner demons.
  5. Humans are suited for many things. Democracy is not one of them.
  6. A cursory Google search for ‘the greatest country in the world’ yields 8,50,000 results.
  7. Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Media is the first.
  8. I have arrived. According to Google Maps, this happened last weekend.
  9. I know I can’t change anyone. But I’ve built a list, just in case.
  10. A midlife crisis starts with “Is this all?” and ends with “This is quite good.”
  11. No man is an island. But I’ve seen a few archipelagos in my time.
  12. If you want to get to the source, you must swim against the current.
  13. Destiny is what’s left when we’ve exercised our will and made our choices.
  14. Being logical is not the same as being intelligent. Trained circus animals use IF-THEN rules all the time.
  15. We succeed, fail or get lucky. It’s hard to tell which it is, at any given time.
  16. Experts can better predict what can go wrong than what will go well.
  17. All is flux. Everything changes.
  18. Meditation is better than sitting around.
  19. I like being a vegetarian. My relationship with a chicken is restricted to questioning its motives for crossing the road.
  20. It’s hard to do the right thing when it involves dessert.
  21. If you give laptops and Twitter accounts to millions of monkeys, it’s only a matter of time before they begin correcting your typos.
  22. I often can’t tell if a misspelled word is a typo or the name of a rapper.
  23. The only thing I know about your future is that you are in it.
  24. The leading cause of cancer in rats is research.
  25. The Whole is part of the One. If you don’t watch out on Indian roads, one will become part of the hole.
  26. Indians can handle anything. Except standing in a queue.
  27. Passion is over-rated by those who have it, and misunderstood by those who don’t.
  28. Love is the soul of genius. Without love, there can be no genius.
  29. I’d like for religion to be a parent: to pick us up when we stumble, guide us when we ask and set us free when we’re ready to leave.
  30. Kids say the darnedest, most wonderful things. Unless they are someone else’s kids.
  31. A happy marriage is the greatest gift of all.
  32. Some look great because of their colleges. Some make their colleges look great. It is better to be in the latter category.
  33. Each of us is unique. But, deep down we all have the same hopes and fears.
  34. There is the truth as you see it. And then, there’s the truth.
  35. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything is small stuff.
  36. I love India not because I was born on her soil but because there’s something inspiring about the way she’s tolerant of the human condition.
  37. Read more than you write.
  38. When the crowd zigs, it’s time to zag.
  39. Answers are worthless if the questions are useless.
  40. There are no mistakes. There are only experiences.
  41. It doesn’t really matter if God exists or not.
  42. We must not lose faith in faith itself.
  43. A good society appreciates the science of uncertainty and the art of compromise.
  44. There’s not enough darkness in this world that can put out even the smallest of lamps.
  45. The path has a way of appearing when you begin walking.
  46. Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.
  47. Let go, be happy.
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The Nature of Time

Ray Cummings, considered the father of science fiction, described time as “nature’s way of preventing everything from happening at once.” John Wheeler, an American theoretical physicist, added, “And, space is its way of preventing everything from happening to me.” If there wasn’t time, everything would happen at once. And if there wasn’t space, everything would happen in the same place.

Side note: Wheeler collaborated with giants like Bohr and Einstein, worked on the (in)famous Manhattan project and taught physics at Princeton, where his graduate students included Richard Feynman and Kip Thorne. Dr. Thorne, who teaches at Caltech, is one of the producers of the movie, “Interstellar.”

There are so many different worlds. We have but one. But, we live in different ones.

What exactly is time? Well, it depends on the world from which the question is posed. We could, simplistically, divide the worlds we’re aware of, into three distinctly separate ones based on our powers of perceiving them. First is the world of classical mechanics described by Isaac Newton. Second is the world of relativistic mechanics described by Einstein as a space-time continuum. And last but not the least, is the quantum mechanical world of sub-atomic particles, which Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, Schrodinger and others collectively described.

Dire Straits. “Brothers in Arms.” (video)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eB5tUZwEys

The world as we know it.

Newton’s laws of motion and gravitational theory concern themselves primarily with the world as we know it. They describe a familiar world of bodies filled with masses that are acted upon by forces and the ensuing consequences of such forces or lack of them. Newton explained a lot of things observed on earth and in the skies neatly. Kepler used Newton’s laws to show that planets moved in elliptical rather than circular orbits, which appeared to be true.* For example, Newton showed that Kepler’s laws of planetary motion would apply in the solar system, as consequences of his own laws of motion and gravitation. Nearly every mechanical invention over the next several hundred years became possible through these suddenly obvious insights, which we take for granted today.

*Corrected. Many thanks to @chasing_mirage for pointing out that Kepler and his laws preceded Newton.

However, the laws of classical mechanics became increasingly problematic when used to explain ‘minor’ anomalies that began to be observed when more accurate telescopes and other measurement systems came along. For example, Newton’s laws, as amazing as they are, led to a strongly held but erroneous belief that the speed of light was relative, and puzzlement when measurements showed otherwise. Another famous example is an anomaly in Mercury’s orbit, which, try as they might, scientists could not explain.

Time in Newton’s world is ‘not relative’. In other words, time provides an immutable backdrop to the grand stage of the universe on which bodies move relative to, collide with, or attract one another. Material objects possess masses and are capable of moving large distances with predictable speeds. But there is no such notion as ‘the speed of time’ in Newton’s world.

For all practical purposes, Newton’s laws explain the world to people like us, who lead unscientific lives and are unaffected by cosmic anomalies and mysterious events that go on in the universe. We understand why something that is tossed up in the air returns. And, so on.

Newton’s laws describe a world of massive objects, low speeds and large distances. They began failing, when applied to ‘other’ worlds with minuscule objects, enormous speeds or sub-atomic distances, a matter which caused great consternation by the end of the 19th century.

Time slows down when you’re having fun..

Einstein formulated the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 to address Newtonian limitations, in which he proposed a radically different relationship between space and time. Instead of being an unchanging backdrop to the cosmic drama, time, he said, was an active participant and suggested that its nature was ‘relative,’ just as the nature of space was relative. He predicted that time would move slower when an object moved faster. To be more accurate, time would go by relatively slower on an object such as a planet or a spaceship, which was moving relatively faster than another one. This dilation of time, he said, would be noticeable only at very high speeds, typically exceeding 10% of the speed of light.

newton

Einstein thus began describing our broader universe, a world of massive objects, large distances and enormous speeds. At the heart of his Special Theory was an assertion that the speed of light was an ‘absolute’ and a constant in our universe.

Think of our universe as a massive computer program which is designed to reflexively change space and time to keep the speed of light ‘c’ constant anywhere in it. Einstein called the combination of space described by location (x,y,z) and time ’t’ as the ‘space-time continuum,’ a four dimensional interwoven mesh, whose intrinsic nature was to dynamically adjust itself to keep ‘c’ constant.

Regardless of where you measure the speed of light in the universe or the conditions under which you measure it, the speed of light is constant. Why? No one knows. That’s the way things are, in our version of the universe.

You already live in a space-time continuum. You just don’t know it yet.

What’s space-time continuum? It’s a mesh of things that have happened, presently happening or will happen. If you didn’t realize it, we already employ the concept in our day to day lives. When you arrange to meet a friend, you exchange four pieces of information. When you say, “I’ll meet you at the Starbucks near the intersection of Los Gatos Boulevard and Highway 85, at 9am tomorrow,” you’ve provided ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates of the meeting point, have indicated that the ‘z’ coordinate (height) is zero and that the time coordinate is 9 in the morning on a day, which is one day after today. No one ever just goes, “Let’s meet at 9am tomorrow,” or, “Let’s meet at the Empire State Building,” because it would raise the questions of where and when. History is another great example of a space-time continuum; a compendium of events which have occurred at specific places and times in the past.

spacetime continuum

Gravity.. is working against me…

It’s now time speak of that invisible elephant in the room – gravity.

Believe it or not, this thing called gravity, which we experience every second of every day of our lives, is one of the least understood phenomena in physics. Newton described it as a property which is both exuded and experienced by anything that is made of matter. He described the gravitational forces of attraction between two objects as being dependent on their masses and the distance between them. It turned out that things were not quite as straightforward as that. For example, light, a massless entity, was observed to “bend” as it traveled through neighborhoods of even small stars like the sun.

John Mayer, “Gravity.” (video)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUhmXKmHHd0

Einstein spent the next ten years coming up with a General Theory of Relativity which explained the nature of gravity quite differently. Gravity, Einstein said, was not just some intrinsic property of matter. He described it as something which arises when matter interacts with the space-time continuum. Say what?

Okay, let’s try this again.

In the beginning, there was a lot of energy concentrated perfectly in a place called ‘singularity’ which was smaller than a billionth of an atom. One fine day, the singularity began to expand. In fact, it took just a few nano seconds before the singularity expanded to form the space-time continuum or the universe as we call it. Space and time were born simultaneously like a four-headed baby, in a spontaneous moment of cosmic creativity.

Somewhere, sometime in those first few inflationary moments, Mother Nature pulled yet another rabbit out of her hat. Something called matter arose in space-time continuum. Why and how matter arose is a great mystery of our universe. The current theory we have is that of the Higgs field, present throughout the universe, instrumental in transferring mass to those particles known to have mass. Some one described a universe as something that happens from time to time. I guess you could say the same about matter.

So, anyway.. coming back to gravity.

As matter mysteriously arose in the space-time continuum, it began creating distortions in it. The word used in physics for distortions is “space-time curvature.” Imagine if you placed a bowling ball on a rubber sheet. It would create a depression in it, which is another way of saying that the bowling ball creates a curvature. Gravity, Einstein said, is a result of matter interacting with space-time to create curvatures. The larger the mass, the greater the curvature and thus greater the gravitational force or field.

general_relativity_large

It turns out that when the curvatures are very very large, i.e. when there are intense gravitational fields, they can cause time to slow down. This is called gravitational time dilation. For example, both Jupiter and the Sun have masses significantly larger than that of the Earth. Clocks on both Jupiter and the Sun would tick slower than one on the Earth. The clock on Jupiter would gain only about 10 minutes every 100 years compared to the one on Earth, which wouldn’t make a trip to Jupiter worth while. A clock on the Sun would gain about 4.6 days every 100 years. A clock on Mercury, a planet smaller than the Earth, would tick slower * faster. You get the gist now, I’m sure.

*Corrected. Silly typo! Thanks again to @chasing_mirage for catching this.

Think of gravity as something that results from matter creating curvatures in space-time, and time as one of the variables which gets stretched (slowed down) more and more as the curvatures gets larger and larger.

time dilation diagram

Just so we are clear, you will feel time lapsing at ‘normal speed’, at one tick per second, regardless of whether you’re on the Earth, on Jupiter or inside a black hole. You will not experience time going by faster or slower. It’s like everything stretches or contracts at the same time so you can’t tell any difference, unless you become aware of a reference point that lies at a different curvature on the space-time continuum. The phrase used to describe this in physics is that you and other objects are traversing along different space-time paths.

Time, the great vector.

A Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

In philosophical terms, Heraclitus described a fundamental property of time in our universe: that it moves forward and only forward. We can move forwards and backwards, and up and down in space but are prisoners in the present. We, it appears, are condemned to watching as moments tick by, rigidly positioned at the intersection of the past and the future. This notion of the arrow of time, as it came to be called, arose first in a field called thermodynamics, in which a gentleman named Ludwig Boltzmann described something called entropy using statistical methods. Simply speaking, entropy represents the ‘amount of disorder’ in systems. Boltzmann astutely observed that entropy was such a thing, which only increased in our universe. It’s a way of saying that things in the universe as a whole, happen only in a forward direction, and are not reversible. You can make an omelette from eggs, but you can’t get eggs back from an omelette.

The relationship between entropy and time is an intuitive one. If we were to somehow be able to “restore” order and decrease disorder in the universe, conceivably we could engineer it back to its original state, which is just another way of saying that we could reverse time itself. The fact that we find the universe today in a state of ‘higher entropy’ implies that it once started off in a ‘low entropy’ state. Why did that even happen? Why was it not in a steady state to begin with? Why does it accumulate disorder? What causes it to do so? Would it not make sense for it to decrease its disorder? How long will entropy increase in the universe? And when entropy reaches some sort of a maximum, will our universe and time begin reversing their directions? These are all fascinating questions, to which there are only speculative answers today. All we know for now is that our universe is becoming more and more ‘disorderly’, and time marches resolutely and uni-directionally forward.

Side note: Boltzmann was so profoundly distressed by philosophical objections to his findings that he became acutely depressed in his later years and eventually committed suicide.

The Third World of Uncertainty.

Deep down in the recesses of matter, at the sub-atomic level, there exists a world of great uncertainty, where an entirely different set of natural laws govern. As we break matter down into elements, then atoms and eventually sub-atomic particles, a dramatically different picture emerges. There are several things that are weird about this quantum mechanical world, as compared to the worlds of Einstein and Newton. Before I get there, let me try first to describe this world and how we came to stumble upon it.

One of the first clues to the quixotic nature of sub atomic particles came from experiments performed on the behavior of light. Of the many that were attempted, the most famous experiment in capturing the central puzzles of quantum mechanics is the Young’s double slit experiment, conducted in 1801.

It’s relevant to note that, at the time Young performed his experiment, light was thought of to be a ‘wave’ which is to say that light was not thought of be composed of ‘particles’ with mass. Young merely set out to prove the wave nature of light with his experiment. It’s a pretty simple experiment which consists of passing light through two narrow slits placed close to each other on a piece of cardboard or metal. As expected, light diffused and spread as it passed through the slits, forming a predictable ‘interference pattern’ on a screen, which is caused when waves of light interfere with each other. Every one was overjoyed, and Young slept soundly at night after that.

youngschematic2

Fast forward a hundred years to the early 1900s. By this time, there was enough evidence to believe that light might be, in fact, be composed of minuscule packets containing discrete amounts of energy, also known as ‘quanta’. Max Planck and then Einstein built equations to describe the energy that could be contained in each packet of light called photon, which led to the discovery of the ‘photo electric’ effect, for which Einstein received the Nobel Prize. This set the stage for the study of what came to be known as quantum mechanics.

The tale of Young’s double slit experiment saw a dramatic twist around this time. A curious person asked, “What if I were to shoot a single photon through the double slits, which one would it pass through?” By this time, scientists had built equipment capable of generating single photons and detectors which could spot them as they moved along.

When a single photon was shot at the double slits, one of the most mysterious events ever observed in physics happened. The photon appeared to pass through both slits at the same time to form a familiar diffraction pattern earlier seen by Young. How was it possible that a single photon could enter through two slits at the same time? Did the photon pass through one slit, and then somehow traveled back in time back through it and then re-enter the other slit to interfere with itself to form wave patterns? Mind boggling stuff. There is no accepted answer to why this happens till this day.

And now comes the really weird part. Another curious person decided to place a detector after the slit. The detector was like a security guard, keeping a close eye on the photon to identify the slit through which it passed. A magical event happened. When the detector was placed, the photon decided that it was going to behave itself, and exactly like a particle. Something about the act of observation, which the photon somehow seemed to be aware of, made it abandon its wave nature. This experiment has been repeated with other particles such as electrons with similar perplexing results.

'You have reached the Heisenberg Institute. Your call will be answered in random order.'

Quantum mechanics describes the world of minuscule things (sub atomic particles), which are separated by minuscule distances. As things stand, it is believed that there are twelve fundamental particles (an electron is one of them) which combine to form higher order particles such as protons, neutrons, etc. which in turn combine to form atoms and molecules, eventually culminating in things like babies, trees, rocks, water, clouds, earth, moon, stars and all such matter that exists in the universe. The Standard Model is a set of equations which describe the state of each functional particle and the conditions under which it forms and exists.

Let’s talk about time in this world.

What’s intriguing is that the arrow of time does not show up in the laws of physics which govern these fundamental particles. The world of electrons, bosons, quarks and other fundamental particles is what is called a probabilistic one. The existence of the particles at a particular position is defined by a set of probabilities. An electron could manifest itself in positions A, B and C, each with a probability of ‘p’. In other words, it exists everywhere and yet nowhere. At any given instant, the wave function describing the electron “collapses” to manifest it at a specific position. The same is true for other particles. It’s like Mother Nature is trying to make up her mind as she goes along, considering infinite possibilities and ruling in favor of one, at each and every instant.

Let’s say we were to somehow be able to build a gigantic model using every tiny bit of data starting from the Big Bang to now, and run a simulation on a massive supercomputer. Even if we did that, we would not be able to predict with certainty what would happen the very next second. That’s because even Mother Nature is yet to decide what she is going to do next.

Here’s the great paradox: Formation, existence and transformation of the fundamental particles, which make up all matter, don’t appear to subject to the arrow of time. They exist in a timeless state of no causality, memory, metabolism, death, etc., in a world of probabilistic fluctuations. The arrow of time seems to be an overlay, almost an after thought, on top of these laws of physics, and applies only to the higher order blocks of matter built from fundamental particles. Our worlds become less and less predictable as we zoom inwards. Weird.

This theory of fundamental unpredictability made many uncomfortable, including Einstein who ironically was considered the founding father of quantum mechanics. Einstein’s relativistic description of space-time continuum, just a few years before quantum mechanics came along, implied the exact opposite: that the world was determinate and that there were no such things as free will, choice and uncertainty. That the universe was a giant program juggling to adjust many parameters to keep a few from changing. The space-time continuum wasn’t evolving. It was already there. The future had already transpired, and everything in the universe was merely traversing its own space-time path towards a predictable and fulfilled destiny. Quantum mechanics came along and put forth this great notion that the future was yet to happen, and yet was not necessarily influenceable or subject to manipulations by higher order matter. The great angst brought about the new revelations prompted Einstein to respond tersely that “God does not play dice with the universe,” and an exasperated Heisenberg, who led the young turks of quantum physics, to retort, “Please don’t tell God what he must or not do.”

For the last seven or eight decades, much scientific energy has been expended in attempting to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable worlds into one Grand Unified Theory of Everything, with no tangible success so far.

Interstellar.

The movie took my breath away. It made me happy, sad and even cry. America may be losing its edge on a few fronts, but by God, it still makes the best movies in the world.

Official trailer of “Interstellar.” (video)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vxOhd4qlnA

Interstellar is an awesome example of how science can form a real foundation for movie making. It’s the story of Coop, an astronaut who goes on a mission to find a new world to which humans can escape from Earth, which is in its final stage of destruction. The heart tugging relationship between Coop and his daughter, Murph, which plays out over the space-time continuum provides an emotional backdrop to the intergalactic quest. It’s a movie not just about science. At the heart of it, it’s a work of art which makes us wonder about the magnificence of everything. It gives us pause to ponder things, which might escape us otherwise in our humdrum lives.

Tomorrow never comes. Or does it?

So, is time travel possible? What happens when we enter a black hole? What happens when we die? Would we acquire the ability to move forwards and backwards on the space-time continuum, inside a four dimensional Tasseract? There are some fantastic scenarios that Interstellar portrays, much of it attributable to an artistic liberty and a creative license to imagine.

Of course, time travel is possible. We traveled from yesterday to today. 🙂 Seriously, since the arrow of time points only forward, it’s possible that travel to the past may be impossible, although it has not been mathematically or theoretically proven to be impossible.

Another way of looking at time travel into the past is to examine the nature of causality or ‘cause-effect’, a phenomenon made possible by the ‘flow’ of time. Cause always precedes effect in our universe. Effect may not be allowed to go back in time, to modify or destroy its cause, thanks to the uni-directional arrow of time.

If we were somehow able to enter a higher dimension from which we could witness the space-time continuum, it is then possible that we would be able to move along it to the past and the future. This would raise interesting paradoxes. What if you went into the past and somehow convinced your dad to never have children?

In which case, would we be allowed to revisit the past, if we solemnly promised to refrain from interfering with and changing it? If that were possible, we would merely observe the past as passive observers, just as we are when watching a movie. Wait, we can already do that by recording the past with a video camera, or simply in our memories. Memory is a special form of time travel into a specific part of the past in which we have participated, isn’t it?

time travel

Kids these days….

Why does time go by slower on Miller’s planet?

Miller’s planet, in Interstellar, is a water world, located just outside the event horizon of a massive black hole called Gargantua. A black hole is an anomaly in the universe, believed to have enormous mass concentrated in a singularity similar to the one from which the universe began. A blackhole can be looked at as a massive space-time curvature, inside or near which time slows down dramatically due to gravity.

Wait, they aren’t mountains. They are tidal waves.” In a spectacular moment in the movie, Coop and crew realize that Miller’s planet, which because of its wobbling, really resembles a huge bowl in which water is careening from one edge to another causing tidal waves the size of mountains.

Since Miller’s planet is located within the gravitational field of Gargantua, a black hole with a mass of 100 million suns, each hour on it (we’re told) corresponds to 7 years for someone outside its field. By the time Coop and his partner return to their spaceship, their colleague and Coop’s daughter on Earth have aged by 23 years.

Later, Coop is pulled into the black hole, in which he spends a few minutes, during which another eighty years pass by on Earth. During this time, he enters the mysterious Tasseract, where he travels back in time to guide his past self and then Murph towards solving the set of equations, which allows them to eventually leave Earth, resettle near Saturn and find him. Is it really possible to exit a black hole once you’ve entered it? Unlikely. Is it possible that you can travel back to the past and alter it? Unlikely. Is it possible that our descendants, from the future, can help us escape our present? An exhilarating leap of faith and hopeful imagination.

All we are is.. dust in the wind.

The nature of tIme has been a matter of much speculation for thousands of years, even before Einstein and modern savants came along. Western philosophical and religious view of time has always been a linear, uni-directional one, with starting and ending points. Judeo-Christian-Islamic schools of thought portray time as coming into existence with the ‘creation’, and ending with ‘judgement day’, when the past, in its entirety, will be reviewed with an intent to judge faith and dispense justice. Eastern mystics took more exotic and intriguing stances on time. The Hindus and the Buddhists described time as a “kaala chakra,” cyclical in nature, without beginning or end, stretching into infinity, much as science views the universe. Creation and destruction of things are events that repeat themselves periodically on this cycle. Even Brahma, the creator himself, is subject to the laws of oblivion, and yields his way to a new Brahma when his end arrives. Vedic thinkers intuitively grasped the uncertainty which lies hidden beneath it all, and concluded that the purpose of life lay in enquiry aimed at drawing the distinction between the real and the unreal.

Regardless of our personal beliefs, aspirations and desires to shape our worlds as we wish them to be, and our chosen paths in the pursuit of what we like to call the Truth, enquiry into the nature of things leads us eventually to the comforting possibility that we are, in a true sense, nature gazing upon herself. That, while we may be insignificant lumps of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen on an inconsequential, tiny planet in some corner of a magnificent universe, we have, within our grasp, a great power: the ability to let go, and look upon the worlds with wonder and awe.

Happy journeys.

Kansas, “Dust in the Wind.” (video)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12DeNdF0KPA

The information in this post is drawn from many sources- mostly my readings over the years and my notes from them. One of the great blessings of ignorance is the ability to over simplify. In my anxiety to tell things simply, it is entirely possible that I may have mis-stated things. It is also possible that I may have misunderstood things. In fact, it is unlikely that this is error proof. If you spot anything amiss, please do let me know. I stand ready to be corrected. Thanks for reading.

Things I Believe In

I wrote this in November 2011. Inspired by a TED lecture, I jotted down a list of things that I believe in, or to put it in another way, the way I look at things. I’ve revisited it several times over the years and now am comfortable with sharing. This has been on the What Ho! page but I haven’t drawn specific attention to it until now.

I’d recommend this exercise to everyone. Writing is not just therapeutic. It forces one to continuously examine the meaning of statements. It helps us understand the source of our deepest desires and fears – both of which are connected to each other, and in the process, I hope, will bring lasting joy to you.

Naturally, this ‘list’ continues to be work in progress.

Things I believe in.

1.  Everything is connected. There is an omnipresent, all pervasive spirit that binds the destiny of things, in this universe and any other universes that may exist. I call this spirit Para Brahman or simply ‘the Spirit.’

2.  My existence is a manifestation of a larger purpose that is being fulfilled, both with and without my consent and knowledge. My life is a piece of a bigger picture, which I am unable to see in its fullness at the moment. The purpose of my life is to remove that which is unnecessary so as to be able to get a direct glimpse of this richness. I call that which is unnecessary as Maya.

3.  Everything – animate and inanimate – possesses a singular ability to sense the connection to the larger picture. This springs from an indestructible essence of its being, that which I call the Atman or the Soul.

4.  I believe in the continuous exercise and introspection of the mind and its free will – so I can rid myself of both of them. I value opinions the way I value tents on a cold wintry night on a mountainside. They provide us protection against the elements so we can stay warm for a little while and get blood coursing through our veins. But, we should dare to and inevitably must venture out into the snowstorms so we can scale the peaks. I believe in accumulating wings and legs and that which will help me move in any way, but not in setting up camps and staying rooted inside tents.

5.  I have affinity for neither good nor bad, neither gods created by men nor men, neither virtuous nor evil, neither mine nor another, neither attachment nor detachment, or for any quality that has an opposite. Everything is relative. I will do my best to be good or bad, virtuous or evil, attached or detached and behave in ways – depending on what the situation calls for. I would like to practice disinterested observation in such matters for the purpose for comprehending what is not necessary, and for sensing the connection to the things around me. This practice I call Yoga.

6.  I have no expectations. Anything I or others do or anything that happens to me or other things keeps me moving, forward or backward or sideways, in the quest. I view this ‘anything I or others do or anything that happens to me or other things’ as the continuous flow of energy or Karma. It is the way of things. I accept it to be true.

7.  I do not desire ‘understanding’. Understanding gets in the way of experience. I am in search of experience and am willing to be led by where experience takes me and remain open to letting ‘understanding’ settle where it might.

8.  I have a yearning to see ‘the bigger picture’ in all its richness and glory. I can sense its presence behind the curtain. I know that I will see it. Only I do not know when. I believe that – as long as I have the yearning – I will not see it. But this yearning is what fuels my journey. I do not know how to resolve this conundrum. Perhaps I need to give up my quest in order to fulfill it.

9.  There is no life. There is no death. There is no time, nor will it run out. There is no race. There are no winners. There are no losers. There is no cause. There is no effect. There is only Karma – the continuous flow of energy. Everything changes from time to time as a result of Karma. Indeed, time is an illusion created by Karma. If there was no change, there would be no need to keep track of and measure ‘time’. At the ‘end’ when all Karma has ceased, we will all find ourselves united in the same place called whatever you may call it – heaven, hell or nothingness. And things will start all over again. That is the only destiny that I believe to be true, inevitable and unavoidable and one that fills me with wonder and awe. In this belief lies the true source of happiness or sat-chit-ananda.

10.  I believe in the universal well being of all things and will do what I can towards that end. I cannot change the world because I don’t know much about it. I don’t believe in morals. There are no moral absolutes which transcend space and time. While I may profess sympathy, my goal is empathy and to be able to look at the things around us from another’s perspective. I do not wish for powers to change another’s life or this world. I wish to divest myself of all powers, prejudices and agendas, so I can remove the curtain and see. To this end, I will construct and destroy my own situational moral compasses. I will neither judge nor foist my morphing and ephemeral moral standards on another.

11.  I do not have material evidence, the powers of persuasion, the intensity of purpose and the desire to convince another of my beliefs.  I am open to the possibility that all or some of my beliefs are wrong, and will remain open to influence.  I will do my utmost to exercise reason and intuition so I can sense the difference between what is expansive, profound and unknowable and that which is merely sophisticated, confining and complex. I call this sense my ‘consciousness’ or my ‘spiritual conscience’. This is the way I can deal with conflicts created in the mind.

If you’d like to stay in touch, you can join me on Twitter Follow @waatho

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments

Let’s face it. We humans are an argumentative lot. We argue on social media. We argue on television. We argue in the YouTube comments section.  In fact, studies show that in every passing second, 412,335 people are “wrong” about something, and that for each person who is considered wrong, there are 14 others who will feel inexorably compelled to point it out.

For all the arguing we do, we just don’t seem to be good at it. Arguing has been misunderstood over the centuries as something anyone with lots of time and a Twitter account can do. What’s not appreciated is that it’s an art form, the sort which requires great passion and lots of practice to excel.

Here are a few tips to help you excel.

The What Ho! Guide to Winning Arguments.

Draw upon your deep well of emotions.

A common fallacy is to assume that logic works. Another is to assume that an argument is about issues. Winners are those who understand the power of uncontrolled emotions and that the sole purpose of an argument is to stray as far as humanly possible from issues and to stay laser focused on belittling your rival with the choicest of pejoratives.

This leads me to the merits of alcohol.

Drink.

To win an argument, it is important to create the perception of knowing things. But how do you create such a perception when, in fact, you know nothing? Rest easy, I have a solution for you.

Imagine you’re at the company party, watching a whiz kid intellectual with a fancy MBA spouting forth with nauseating fluency on the complex linkages between temperature fluctuations on the mountains of Kenya and coffee prices in India.

Ask yourself this: What is more likely to help in this situation? Tomato juice or vodka on the rocks?

I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to hear that tomato juice drinkers tend to go weak-kneed and fade silently away into the dark of the night when confronted with a troll. On the other hand, downing several shots of Old Monk or Director’s Special will not only magically endow you with unparalleled knowledge of the Kenyan economy but also cause you to eloquently hold forth your hitherto latent opinions of Kenyan culture and dazzle everyone with your keen observations on the Kenyan way of life.

Winners drink often. And they drink early.

Lie.

Truth is overrated by losers, which is why losers tend to lose. Let’s say that the argument has strayed towards the vexing issue of malnutrition among Kenyan children. And let us pretend that you have been mindlessly and passionately arguing in favour of the position that Kenyan children are surprisingly well-fed and well nourished. Instead of stating, “Kenyan children are well fed and well nourished” which is likely to be met with scorn and laughter, you must say “According to the 2004-05 UNESCO report published on Aug 12, 2012, Kenyan children were found to have consumed on average of 432.5 calories per day in summer and 453.2 calories per day in winter, both of which are considered well above national averages of all but 13 countries in the world which do not follow the British constitutional model of government.

For lying to work, precision and accuracy are paramount. Numbers with decimal points are excellent. Statistically complex sounding terms such as ’30 day moving average’ or ’24 year longitudinal median’ are genius. Always quote your false sources proactively. If you’re smart, you will quote your own widely unread blog post.

Use Latin.

Following are examples of terms you must find and commit to memory before venturing into an argument.

Ad hominem

QED

In so far as to say

Holistic

Hoi Polloi

A priori

Ceteris paribus

Latin and Greek phrases are pure gold. They indicate that you’re not to be trifled with. Random use of these languages will bludgeon all but the fiercest into submission. Use them as you would a stun gun with as little advance warning as possible for maximum effect.

Instead of “Kenyans have always had problems with democracy” you must say “Ceteris paribus, it has been shown in various studies that any a priori assumptions about holistic governance systems involving free will of hoi polloi have proven, in so far as to say, to be unjustified ad hominem attacks on the aforesaid systems themselves. QED.

No sane person can possibly withstand such an assault on the senses.

Evade.

It is possible, due to some unfortunate quirk of Fate, that you may find yourself to be the spokesperson for the Congress party. You will likely encounter questions for which you are absolutely certain that no truthful answers can be given. As winners are aware, it has been well established as a historical fact that honesty is the best policy for losers. Evasion, on the other hand, is the way of winners.

Rule no. 1 of evasion is to create the convincing illusion that you are not evading.  Start your responses with “I am glad you asked me that question..” and proceed to confidently make any unconnected statement that pops into your cranium at that point in time. A large majority of the public does not listen beyond the first 8 words. Use “I’m glad that we’re talking about this..” with no obligation to shed any further light on the topic at hand.

renuka c

Keep mum.

The highest form of evasion is to manmohan your way through slippery slopes by maintaining what must appear externally to be a thoughtful and intellectual silence. Silence accompanied by an air of carefully cultivated superiority evokes images of a zen master who has graciously descended into the petty world of humans and who shall not be subject to such petty questions as “Dude, what do you mean you misplaced the Coalgate files?

Deflect.

During the course of an argument, it’s possible that you may find your position weakening. You may find your back in close proximity to the proverbial wall. It is important to train in the dark arts of deflection so you can wriggle out unscathed from the trickiest of situations.

The following phrases were modelled after deflection techniques used by Shaolin monks and designed to blunt the most cogent of arguments. It is important that you master them in your quest for world domination.

That’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Everything is relative.

Why are you being defensive?

That’s such a typical fascist view of the world.

What are the core assumptions in your model?

For example, you might insist “Gandhiji died on Feb 10, 2010 at 430am” and your opponent might respond “No, you fool, he died on Jan 30, 1948.” You must immediately counter with “That is such a typical fascist view of the world.” If you say, “the economy grew by 8.5% according to the NCERT-AICTE study” and your opponent counters “No you fool, it grew by just 2.3% according to the RBI governor,” you must counter with “Duh, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Abuse.

As unlikely as it sounds, there will come a time when all has failed and you find yourself on the mat, hopelessly pinned and in dire need of copious amounts of oxygen. This is when you must pull out the big guns, and resort to sick, vile and tasteless name calling.

Comparisons with odious historical characters, innuendos about your opponent’s paternity, crassness about your rival’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, height and weight are perfectly acceptable. A time tested phrase is “You remind me of Hitler. You make me sick, you fascist dwarf!” Since no one likes Hitler or fascists and very few actually have seen or care about dwarves, you will pull victory out from the jaws of defeat.

Well, that’s all there is to it. What are you waiting for? Go confidently forth and win that do-or-die battle, upon which may hinge the fate of this universe itself.

Comment away and share your winning practices too!

**inspired by the one and only Dave Barry.

Welcome to the world’s largest religion

BIG NEWS, folks. I have started a new religion.

Is there a need for a new religion, you ask? And I say no, but have gone ahead with it anyway.  In any case, I’ve already updated my Twitter bio with this announcement. So, this whole thing is kind of irreversible at this point. The die has been cast. The diem has been carpe’d. The Rubicon has been crossed. Yada Yada Yada.

The world’s largest religion..

I’ve named the religion, to which we all now belong, as Tacoism. We? Yes. We. You have all been automatically enrolled into Tacoism. If you wish to opt out of the Taco of Life, please send the following via registered post, acknowledgement due.

  1. 12 passport sized photos
  2. PAN number
  3. Income tax returns for the last three years.
  4. An opt-out application letter in triplicate. [ NOTE: You must send only one original and two duplicates. If you send three originals, your opt-out application will be rejected ]

Note: Once you have received the acknowledgement for registered post, you will need to send a scanned copy of the same via email.

Alternatively, you can take the “EASY OPT OUT” option by simply mailing me a check for any sum above one million US dollars.

If you’re a keen observer of things in general, you will have noticed that I have just become the undisputed leader of the world’s largest religion.

About Tacoism

Although founded as recently as August 1 2013, Tacoism is an ancient religion based on the Taco of Life and is as old as the universe itself.

As the 5th century BC Tacoist Laco Tze once astutely pointed out, “Tacoism is in no way responsible for any happiness that you may experience from being a Tacoist. All happiness (or lack of it) is entirely in your hands.”

If you didn’t know, there is an long and undocumented history of Tacoists living (but mostly dying) by its timeless motto: Let go. Be happy.

Tacoism FAQ

I’ve been working furiously to clear questions which are pouring in (from mostly non practicing) newly aware Tacoists. Here is a mini FAQ below.

What holidays does Tacoism observe? And what are the rituals to be followed?

You’ll be pleased to know that the first Friday of every month is a religious holiday. In addition, there are two floating Thursdays a year. Those of you following the Mahayana version of Tacoism can opt for Mondays instead of Fridays and Tuesdays instead of Thursdays. You may wish to work with the HR departments in your companies to have the Tacoist holidays incorporated into the company calendar.

The faithful are requested to observe their faith by watching YouTube for a minimum of four hours on company bandwidth on Tacoist holidays.

[ Note: There has been some confusion in this regard. Although Tacoism does not require you to watch YouTube on non holidays, it does not specifically bar you from watching YouTube on non holidays. Let’s make it simple and say that you can basically do whatever your Tacoist awareness permits. ]

Is Tacoism an open source religion?

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to open source Tacoism. In other words, you can add your own rules, diktats and commandments as long as no one else is required to follow them. Any rules, diktats and commandments that you make up will apply only to you. Other than the rules I may impose upon you from time to time.

What do we call ourselves on our business cards?

There was a small dilemma over whether to call ourselves “Virat Tacoists” or “Taco Nationalists.” I am happy to say that good sense has prevailed and we’re going to call ourselves “Taco-ularists.” In a divided and polarized universe, I strongly believe that Taco-ularism is the need of the hour although I could be very wrong about this.

Please note: You can be a Taco-ularist and believe in Tacotva at the same time. Also, I have no idea what that means.

What God or Gods do we worship?

This is yet to be finalized. Truth be told, this was the seventh item on my Tacoism to-do list and I was hoping to get to this shortly after I ensured Tacoists are guaranteed 100 percent quota in education and public sector jobs. Unfortunately, Tacoists have been piling steady pressure for this to be answered quickly. Here’s my position:

At the moment, I’m leaning towards appropriating any and all Gods worshiped by any humans or extra terrestrials at any point in time and at any place in the galaxy. Based on last count, we may end up having approximately 332 million and fourteen Gods. One of the issues is with having Gods is that we may not be able to keep the atheists within the fold. So I plan to address atheist sentiments by converting following groups of humans into Tacoist Gods.

  1. Anyone who has won a Nobel Prize
  2. Anyone who’s discovered an element in the Periodic Table
  3. Anyone who has a scientific law named after her/him
  4. Anyone who finds the Higgs-Boson particle
  5. Anyone with over 1 million followers on Twitter

I request patience as I sort through this delicate matter before publishing the final list.

What is the Mahayana version of Tacoism?

Other than differences in religious holidays, Mahayana Tacoists will get enjoy a detached sense of superiority as they gaze upon the world at large. That’s all I have at this point.

What’s the Holy Book called?

I haven’t decided on a name yet. “The Tacoist’s Guide to the Galaxy” sounds fetching. Another option is “Who moved my Taco?” I am not sure what will be in the Holy Book. But I’m sure that there will be one rule that will apply to it. The holy book of Tacoism will be compulsorily erased and rewritten every 20 years.

Are there Tacoist mythologies? 

At the moment, there are none. Soon there will be many. I will plant them discreetly all over the internet so you can quote them in your religious debates on Facebook. Tacoist mythologies will contain characters who are ambivalently righteous, filled with existential angst and often known to ask themselves, “Dude, what’s going on?” I assure you that there will soon be a plethora of mythical tales filled with the deeds of tortured Tacoists waging epic battles against unknown and uncertain fates.

How can I evangelize Tacoism?

There is no need to convert anyone to Tacoism. Every one is already part of it. Please let people know that they are Tacoists whether they like it or not.

Anything else?

The following topics will be covered in the Holy Book.

  1. What happens to Tacoists when they die? Do they go to heaven or hell? Are they reborn? Or do the lights just go out?
  2. What is good and bad in the Taco Way of Life?
  3. Who created Tacoists? Was it God? Or ..what else can it really be, right?
  4. Why are reality shows popular? What is the Tacoist view on Bigg Boss and Jhalak Dhikla Jaa?

Stay tuned for more Tacoism updates to come here on What Ho! In the meanwhile, do let me know your questions and comments below.

Stay strong and stay true to the Taco of Life. As Yoda, a Tacosattva from a faraway galaxy once put it, “The Taco with you may be.”

The Universe denies screwing a man’s life up

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 had “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 appeared 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 somewhat 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.”