Friday, November 26, 2010

Rama's Killing of Vaali

Ramayana is a work of fiction and I have no problem with people who admire it as a piece of literature. But I do have a problem with people who flaunt it as some sort of moral authority when all it has is primitive ethics.

Take the killing of Vaali for example. Here was this guy who was fighting Sugreeva in a fair manner, a.k.a face to face and Rama shoots him in the back and kills him.

Now hindu apologists will say that Vaali is an animal and Rama is a kshatriya and according to dharma, kshatriyas have the right to kill an animal in whatever manner they think is necessary. That may well have been how morals worked in time of Rama. But we no longer live in that primitive age. Moral philosophy has evolved a lot in the intervening years with the help of science.

Respecting Life

Today we know that humans are not that different than animals. Life on Earth is beautifully interconnected in a way that the authors of Ramayana couldn’t even have dreamt of. They didn’t know about how microbes shape life. While they were chasing an imaginary entity called Brahman, they were blissfully unaware of the omnipresent bacteria. Bacteria are also omnipotent in the sense that they are capable of living off of a variety of energy sources. In fact plants can digest sunlight and animals can digest food because they entered into a symbiotic relationship with bacteria a few billion years ago.

And then there are the viruses. They have managed to embed themselves quite extensively in our genome and some of the traits we posses were given to us by viruses.

There are still a lot of things we don’t understand about life like why there is sentience and consciousness. But we do know that consciousness isn’t the sole privilege of humans. Our cousins from the hominid family - chimps, gorillas and orangutans are self aware and are also quite intelligent. So are elephants, dolphins and some birds.

When to comes to ethics, the question we have to ask is, where do we draw the line between killing a life form and letting it live? Traditionally speaking, the answer is easy. The line is between humans and non-humans as humans obviously are special in that we are intelligent and and animals are stupid. Scriptural moralities like the ones based on Ramayana are based on such arguments.

To be human is to recognize humanity in whatever form it exists. Many animals share the same characteristics as we do. They feel love and pain. They know about sacrifice. They care for each other. Science has taught us that much. So in order to call ourselves human and civilized, it is just not enough that we apply our morals to humans, but also to animals who are capable of displaying some human characteristics.

Dharma of the Ramayana fails in this respect. It does not understand life on Earth. But this transgression is minor when compared to the case where a human like intelligence is involved.

Respecting Intelligence

Today, when the hope of creating artificial intelligence in the future is very much alive, we understand the importance of intelligence well. It is the main aspect that separates us from other animals. So if we find another life form that is just as intelligent as us, feels the same emotions, it is only logical that we extend our morality to it.

The vanaras of the Ramayana satisfy that requirement. They were intelligent and most importantly they were able to use language, a distinctly human feature. In real life if such an intelligence exists, it will be the biggest thing since... well... anything. And yet Ramayana thinks just because vanaras were like monkeys, humans are justified in killing them. It fails to recognize intelligence and glosses over it.

This line of reasoning will seem stupid, given that Ramayana is work of fiction and it was written a long time ago. But if people are hell bent on using it as a moral guide in today’s world, it is only fair that it be judged against current moral standards. According to those standards, the killing of Vaali can be described as thus:
Rama knew full well that vanaras were intelligent and conscious beings like us. Yet he killed Vaali like a coward and justified it by calling Vaali an animal, someone who is inferior to humans. Rama also practised what could be called a form of racism. He discriminated against vanaras, just because they looked different than humans.
It is sad that millions of people consider a morally primitive book like the Ramayana as a definitive guide on morality.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Astrology - Does it really work?

This is an article that I wrote during my early days of skepticism.


From the early days of civilization, humans have tried to make sense of the world around them. We have studied the skies and observed that planets and stars follow a predictable path. In fact, Astronomy was one the earliest sciences we had developed. Astrology was an offshoot of Astronomy of the old days. It was an attempt at mapping the predictability of paths of celestial
objects to predictability of life.

The objective of this article is to see how relevant Astrology is in today’s world. We have to ask ourselves “Does Astrology really work?”. It is an important question as a lot of people take decisions based on Astrology and this effects their lives as well as others lives. We will take a look at some of the basic tenets of Astrology and see how valid they are.

The Constellations

As observed from the Earth, the Sun traces on orbit around the Earth in the sky during the course of an year. This orbit is called the Ecliptic. The Moon and the other planets appear on or nearby to the ecliptic. It is nearly a circle and can be divided into twelve 30°arcs, making a total of 360°. Each part is named after a constellation that appears against the ecliptic. In Astrology, these twelve parts of the ecliptic are the basis for the Zodiac. Astrology claims that the fate of an individual can be told from the position of the Sun on the ecliptic at the time of the individual’s birth.

Apart from the Zodiac, Astrology also considers the Nakshatras. They are the stars in the constellations of the Zodiac over which the Moon passes by at the beginning of the day. On an average the Moon completes a revolution around the Earth every 27 days. As such there are 27 Nakshatras. Like the Zodiac, the Nakshatra at the time of a person’s birth is supposed to have an impact on his/her life.

Though Astrology states that life can be predicted based on the Zodiac and the Nakshatras, it doesn’t explain how the Sun’s or Moon’s position in the Sky actually affects life. The Sun has an obvious influence on Earth; it is the energy source for many processes and most life forms derive energy from the Sun. But Astrology doesn’t explain in what way the position of Sun determines an individuals life. It merely states what will happen. Many astrologers use terms like “cosmic energy” and “quantum disturbances” to explain Astrology, but the explanations are vague and are not quantifiable. A statement like “The Earth is big” may seem obvious, but it is vague. It doesn’t quantify “big” – big as compared to what? Is it bigger than the Moon? the Sun? Jupiter? If it is big, by what factor?

Astrology considers only those constellations which can be seen on the ecliptic. It ignores the other constellations. When seen from outside the Earth and outside of the plane of the ecliptic, the Earth itself passes through numerous constellations which are not on the ecliptic. If the combination of planet-constellation can have an effect on life, it is reasonable to assume that the Earth will have an greater or an equal effect, if not less. That Astrology does not consider this possibility suggests that at the time Astrology was being developed, Earth was thought to be stationary and all the other objects were moving around the Earth.

Planetary Influences

Astrology lists the following celestial objects, the Navagrahas, as having an influence on day-to-day life:

Astrological Name Astronomical Name
Surya Sun
Chandra Moon
Mangala Mars
Budha Mercury
Brihaspati Jupiter
Shukra Venus
Shani Saturn
Rahu North lunar node
Ketu South lunar node

Of the given nine Grahas, Rahu and Ketu are not celestial objects. They were believed to be demons who “ate” the Sun and the Moon causing Solar and Lunar eclipses. Today we know that eclipses happen at the lunar nodes. A lunar node is the point at which the Moon’s orbit crosses the ecliptic. For an eclipse to occur, the Sun, Earth and the Moon should lie in the same plane which can happen only when the Moon’s orbit intersects with the ecliptic. The rest of the Grahas are visible to the naked eye. As such astrology does not consider other objects of the Solar system which are not visible except with the aid of a telescope:
  • the remaining planets – Uranus and Neptune. Uranus’ mass is around 14 times that of the Earth and Neptune’s is around 17 times.
  • the sizeable moons of Jupiter and Saturn. For example, Jupiter' moons – Io, Ganymede and Callisto and Saturn’s moon Titan are larger than the Earth’s moon.
Name % of Moon’s Diameter % of Moon’s Mass
Io 105 120
Ganymede 150 200
Callisto 140 150
Titan 150 180
  • the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. Four of the asteroids – Ceres, 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, and 10 Hygiea have diameters more than 400 km. Ceres, the largest asteroid, has a diameter of about 950 km and can be considered a dwarf planet (Moon’s diameter is around 3474 km).
  • the Kuiper belt which includes Pluto and extends outward from the orbit of Neptune for a distance of about 25 AU (1 Astronomical Unit = distance of Earth from the Sun = 149.60 × 106 km).
  • the comets which orbit the Sun outside the Kuiper Belt.

Originally Grahas were considered as deities who influence human life. Currently many astrologers try to explain the planetary influences in terms of “energy waves” which affects the human body. Again, as seen in the previous section, the explanations are vague. For example, they don’t explain effects of phenomenon like Sun spots. The Sun spot activity increases and decreases roughly following a eleven year cycle. When it is at the maximum, the Sun releases bursts of high energy radiation strong enough to disrupt radio communications on Earth. No where in Astrology is this phenomenon mentioned.

Astrology also ignores the the omnipresent force of Earth’s magnetism. It plays a vital role in deflecting charged particles emitted by the Sun away from the Earth. And the Earth’s magnetic field is not constant. There are local variations and during high Sun spot activity periods, it is severely deformed due to the increased flux of charged particles. Note that magnetic fields only deflect electric charges. They have no effect on electromagnetic waves.

Image Source: Wikimedia
Even if we were to ignore these phenomenon and still assert that energy of other planets and stars influence us, it is trivial to show that, in terms of the four fundamental forces of Nature – strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetism and gravity, objects on Earth itself can have more effect on energy fields than far away planets and stars. The strong and weak nuclear forces make sense only within an atom’s nucleus. Gravity decreases as the square of distance between objects. So if an object is brought very close to a human body, its gravity will outweigh the gravity of other celestial bodies. Like gravity, magnetic and electric fields also decrease as the square of distance. If there is any other kind of force which effects us as profoundly as Astrology claims that celestial objects effect us, it would be trivial to detect and measure such a force. So far, outside of the four fundamental forces, nothing else has been found.

Also, not enough importance is given to the Sun in Astrology. It accounts for 99.8% of the mass of the Solar system, produces about 3.83 × 1026 joules of energy per second (in comparison the Nagasaki atomic bomb produced a total energy of about 8.78 × 1013 joules), radiates in a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum and ejects high energy charged particles. It has a much greater influence on Earth than any other object in the Solar system and when compared to it, the effects of other stars are minuscule. Even if we consider a billion stars as a whole, the effect of them is still small when compared to the Sun. The other stars are too far away to have a sizable effect.

Human Psychology

In 1948 a psychologist named Bertram R. Forer conducted an experiment with his students. He gave the students a questionnaire and said that based on the answers given, he will do a personality analysis for each student individually. After the students got their personality analysis, Forer asked them to rate how accurate the analysis was. On an average, the students rated it as being 85% accurate.

In reality what Forer did was, he gave all the students identical copies of the same analysis. The analysis itself was vague and described only general positive personal traits. This experiment shows that humans tend to believe persons in authoritative positions (the students trusted their professor to do an accurate analysis) and believe in good/encouraging things said about them. If a person were intially told that Astrology works by a trustworthy person, and if Astrology predicts some general matters about his/her life, the person may end up in believing that Astrology does work.

Also, humans tend to remember good things and try to forget bad experiences. So even if Astrology predicts a set events and only a few of them come true, the predictions about the events which did not come true are ignored. Only the events which came true will be remembered and it will bolster the belief that Astrology works. Note that Astrology never makes specific predictions. For example, it cannot say what a person will be doing on particular date and time, say, 10 years into the future. It can only make general predictions like “You are going through a rough patch. But after 6 months time, you will come across fortune”. The person may come out of the rough situation before 6 months. In that case, Astrology has failed. Something has happened before it was supposed to happen. But the person will only remember that Astrology predicted that his/her situation will get better and not the fact that the situation got better before the time as predicted by Astrology.

There is also another way in which Astrology may seem like it works. A person may subconsciously take decisions in such a manner that events predicted by Astrology come true. In fact, in double blind tests (the astrologer doesn’t know about the person whose fate is being predicted and the person doesn’t know what the astrologer has predicted), Astrology performs the same as guessing (accuracy rate of around 50%). But, as seen earlier, even if a few predictions come true, a person may believe that Astrology works.

A very important consequence of living life strictly according to Astrology is that it makes a person’s life easy to predict. For example, many people are named according to their birth Nakshatra. If Astrology deems that a person will succeed as an musician, then that person will persue a career in music. Important occasions in life – like starting a business are planned on days certified by Astrology as being good. Spouses are chosen based on horoscopes. Just by knowing a person’s date and time of birth, one can predict his/her name, occupation, spouse’s name and any other event which the person has performed based on Astrology.

Finally, one aspect which tremendously helps Astrology is that humans are credulous by nature. This is a trait which has some evolutionary advantages. If a person who is living in the wild, sees a yellow patch with black stripes in some distance with an unclear shape, the best survival strategy for that person is to assume that the yellow patch is a tiger, and run away from it. But if the person were to go near the yellow patch to investigate whether it really is a tiger or not, he may get killed if it is indeed a tiger. In the first case, where the person chooses to run away, there is no penalty for making a wrong decision where the yellow patch isn’t a tiger. But in the second case there can be a penalty – death. This kind of a selection pressure has caused Nature to make the human mind infer patterns even when there is little data. Sometimes, it is better to take a decision even if there is insufficient data, than to wait for more data. But there are cases where this process can be bad – where making the wrong decision has a penalty for all cases.

It is tempting to see a pattern between paths of celestial objects and life. The celestial objects must exist for a reason and that reason is to govern our lives. But there is no evidence that celestial objects influence human life in the way that Astrology says they do. The effects are not observable and cannot be verified. Even if the celestial objects influence life, Astrology uses insufficient data as we have seen in the previous sections. Either way, acting on insufficient/wrong data can be dangerous. For example, it may make a person choose a bad career option or create a false hope where there is none. Unlike the tiger case seen earlier, making the wrong decision here can have a penalty.


Astrology was based on our understanding of Nature around 2000-3000 years ago. Compared to today, that understanding was lacking in many areas. The best evidence for this is that Astrology does not consider celestial objects which are not visible to the naked eyes. Much of the apparent efficacy of Astrology can be explained in terms of human psychology. Under close scrutiny Astrology fails.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembering Alan Turing

This article is about how a society treated a war hero, someone who also had a deep impact on multiple scientific fields.

During the World War II, Turing, a British citizen, was largely responsible for breaking the German Enigma encryption system. Though he did not have the glorious position of a General who leads his army to victory by using clever strategies, Turing's contributions to the war effort were no less. The Germans believed that Enigma was unbreakable and used it to encrypt sensitive communications. The work of Turing and his team gave the allied forces an edge as they were able to decrypt those communications and know in advance what the enemy was up to.

His other important contributions were in fields of mathematics, computer science and philosophy. So important were his works on computer science that he is usually referred to as the father of computer science.

But he was also gay. He lived in a time when there was no respect for a person's right to a private life and when society loved to play moral police. So when it was found that he was homosexual, he was charged guilty of that "crime" and was ordered to take hormones to kill that "abominable" instinct. After taking the medications for a while, Turing decided to kill himself. He injected cyanide into an apple and ate it. So it happened that society, prompted by religious morals, managed to kill one of the brightest humans to have ever walked on this Earth.

Of course, over the years the British society's attitude to homosexuals has changed a lot and their government even apologized for the way Turing was treated. But not all present day societies are that open minded and his story should serve as a warning of how misguided morals disrupt progress; progress meaning a better understanding of our Universe. It shows what people who think that they have the right to dictate another person's private life are capable of. They can drive a brilliant man to kill himself. Turing by no means was academically unproductive at the time of his death. Think of what more could he have contributed to humanity's knowledge had he lived a full life.

While most of Turing’s works are too esoteric for me to understand, his philosophical treatise on whether Turing Machines can mimic human intelligence is pretty accessible.

Turing on Artificial Intelligence

This is a brief summary of the 1950 paper by Turing titled “Computing machinery and intelligence”. The paper makes a strong argument for artificial intelligence, an uncomfortable notion which undermines the uniqueness of being human.

If the general public have heard of Turing, it is through his thought experiment which is known today as the Turing Test. Given a machine and a human and an observer, where the observer can communicate with the machine and the human only by typing on a keyboard, can the observer find out who is human and who is the machine? If she cannot, the machine can be considered to be as intelligent as the human and effectively there is no difference between the machine and the human.

The machine Turing refers to is the Universal Turing Machine. It is a digital computer and is universal in the sense that it can simulate other digital computers. That rids us of worrying about the specifics of how a particular computer is designed. As long as we know that it can simulate any other computer, we know that our machine is not missing any capability. The requirement that communication happen only by typing is to separate intelligence from other physical attributes which can bias the observer.

Turing then talks about various objections that can be raised against such a thinking machine. I’m going to talk about only the theological and mathematical objections. Theological, because the majority population subscribes to it. Mathematical, because if there are any logical contradictions in the thought experiment, it can never be realized.

The idea of a thinking machine is scandalous to theology, which views man as god’s special child who has an immortal soul that is the seat of intelligence. Even in eastern theologies which lack a personal god and and the idea of a man as child of god, subscribe to the idea of humans as the most exalted life form. For example, Karma hypothesis presupposes that superiority. Only a human can attain moksha, not other “lower” life forms.

Turing gives three arguments to counter the theological objection - humans are not that different from other animals, different religions have different ideas of a soul and finally, saying that machines can’t have a soul places restrictions on the omnipotence of god (Who are we to say that an all powerful god cannot endow souls to machines?). Today, it is even more easier to throw out the theological objection given that the ideas of god and soul themselves have no basis in reality.

The mathematical objection is a lot more interesting. It comes from Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which in Turing’s words, shows that in any sufficiently powerful logical system, statements can be formulated which can neither be proved nor disproved within the system, unless possibly the system itself is inconsistent.

Turing argues that this objection becomes baseless if the human mind itself is not free from inconsistencies. Neuroscience is providing a lot of evidence in that direction.

Turing’s paper can be said to have kick started the AI field. He showed that it is theoretically possible to build a machine which can think like a human. Though at this moment it is difficult to say if we can build such a machine. But there is a good chance that we will. Computers are getting more powerful and are beating humans in tasks (like chess) that were once thought the domain of human intelligence. They are also becoming good at pattern recognition, another field where humans excel. It will be interesting to see if they can display the full range of human intelligence and more importantly if they will have consciousness like us.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rama’s Bridge On The Moon

Whenever science finds something interesting, it serves as a proof of the greatness of the grand, glorious Indian civilization. It is a known fact that the ancient scriptures have all the answers. It’s just a matter of time before somebody else discovers them.

Last week one such discovery was made which proves again that Rama existed and that he is supreme. In addition to Rama’s bridge here on Earth, another Rama’s bridge was found on the Moon:

Here are the facts concerning this discovery:
  1. It was made by NASA who have also proved the existence of Rama’s bridge on Earth.
  2. The photo clearly shows a bridge that could have only been built by monkey-human hybrids and not some natural phenomenon.
  3. Ramayan provides incontrovertible proof that space travel was known at that time. Hanuman was a master of this as he had travelled to the Sun and ate it when he was young.
This finding is a paradigm shift. All this while it was thought that Americans were the first to step foot on the Moon, but that picture proves that Rama and his army of monkey-human hybrids were already there at least 1.296 million years ago (as Treta Yuga ended 1.296 mya). If Rama could go to the Moon, other great divine personalities too might have gone there!

This also means that the Moon belongs to Indians. Americans have un-dharmically trampled upon our property. We need to organize another rath yatra and teach those mlecchas a lesson.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Pseudo-scientific Case For Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice and I respect that. There are a variety of reasons given for being a vegetarian, like empathy for animals. But there are some vegetarians who use religion to justify their choice and argue that it is a superior choice which everyone should follow. Had there been some rational basis in their argument, I could concede their argument is sound. But predictably, religious vegetarianism is based on irrational ideas. It makes copious use of pseudoscience.

"You are what you eat"

That is one common premise of religious vegetarianism. Sites like these give a good explanation for that premise. To sum it up, the human body is composed of different levels of energy, with the mind and consciousness having the highest energy level. Different food sources have different energy levels and effect the body differently. Somehow meat has a negative energy level and affects that body negatively. Vegetables and fruits have optimum energy levels that help the mind vibrate at maximum potential.

There are other similar forms of justifications of vegetarianism, but central to all of them are energy and vibrations of food. Now onto why such justifications are plain stupid.

Retard Arguments

Energy is a word that has been raped through all of its orifices by pseudoscience peddlers (I'll abbreviate them as PPs). They have no basic understanding of how energy works, but pepper their arguments with it.

The human body gets it fix of energy by way of chemicals like carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Those chemicals are broken down in our cells and release chemical energy. It is that energy which drives the human body and not things as energy levels or vibrations (whatever the crap they mean in a pseudo-scientific context. Pseudoscience rarely gives precise definitions of terms).

Also, the human body doesn't care what the sources of those chemicals are - vegetables, fruits, leaves or meat. There's a reason why humans are omnivores.

Willful Ignorance

Processes of life are complex to understand. It requires knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology and considerable investment of time. PPs can't be expected to put in that kind of effort when there are people to be hoodwinked. They have an easy way out. They use fictional ideas of energy levels and vibrations to explain life. When using fiction, you are not restricted by those pesky laws of the Universe. Anything goes!

Ancient Nonsense

A chemical molecule is the same regardless of whether it comes from a plant source or animal source. That is fact which was unknown to the authors of ancient texts like the Upanishads. They didn't know the composition of matter. That is why they have invalid arguments like the food we eat has a direct correlation to the composition of the mind. But for PPs, ancient equals truth. Evidence doesn't matter. PPs piggyback on religious credulity to spread nonsense from ancient texts.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Different Kind of Oneness

Upanishads talk about knowing the Self and being one with everything. They say that the ultimate goal in life is to attain that oneness. Now there is good evidence that the oneness has its origin in the physical and mutable brain. Apparently damage to certain regions of the brain causes one to lose the concept of one's own body and feel unity with everything.

A few people in ancient times might have achieved that state of oneness (I'm merely speculating here) by damaging parts of their brain. But it does look like Brahman, after all, has its origins in the mundane physical brain and not in some lofty all pervading infinite entity.

Does that mean one has to intentionally tamper with their brain to achieve moksha? No. There are better ways to do that, thanks to science. It involves not giving into the illusion that the real world is an illusion and an imaginary abstraction is reality.

Life has a sense of oneness at multiple levels. At the base level, all parts of the Universe appear to be subject to the same physics. At the next level, to use Carl Sagan's words, we are made of star stuff. As atoms heavier than hydrogen did not exist in the primeval Universe, they were forged inside the cores of stars. The next level is that all life on Earth is replicator based and had a common origin.

To actually appreciate the beauty of those multiple levels of oneness you need to know how the Universe works. Achieving that knowledge was no mean feat. It is the culmination of thousands of years of quest for knowledge with contributions from all civilizations on Earth.

Ignoring that achievement and clinging to a very narrow set of neurological phenomena as the ultimate truth is the ultimate form of parochialism. When the Universe is beckoning you, it is sheer ignorance to renounce it as mere maya. It is escapism in the face of immense complexity.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sanskrit - The Best Language For Computer Programming?

From time to time I get emails on "Amazing facts about India". One of those facts is that Sanskrit is the best language for computer programming. Being familiar with computer programming, I wondered if there was any truth to that statement.

The claim is based on this paper by Rick Briggs, published in AI Magazine. It talks about using Sanskrit in natural language processing (NLP). The idea of using a natural language for computer programming is to make it easier for people to talk to computers in their native tongue and spare them the pain of learning a computer friendly language like assembly/C/Java.

The Rick Briggs' paper makes a case that natural languages are not that difficult to use for computer programming. He cites Sanskrit as an example as its grammar can be easily translated to a form understandable by a computer. But nowhere does it say that using Sanskrit is the best way to program a computer. Say if somebody manages to create a computer language based on Sanskrit, how likely is it that it will get adopted by non-Sanskrit speaking people?

There is a lot of difference between Sanskrit being suitable for NLP and it being the best or perfect language for computer programming. For Sanskrit to be truly a best language for computer programming, a majority of computer users should be fluent enough in it. Otherwise it is much easier for them to learn a computer friendly language than to learn Sanskrit and then use it for programming a computer. By that logic, I fail to see how it is the best language for programming a computer when the number of people who are fluent in C outnumber the number of people who are fluent in Sanskrit.

But that did not stop some Indians from expanding their chests with pride based on a false premise. They are so lacking in knowledge of history of India, that even when there are other real reasons to proud of Sanskrit (for example, its influence on modern linguistics or its similarity with Backus-Naur form), they ignore them and spout second hand nonsense to inflate their egos.

Perhaps the people who originate these kinds of falsehoods expect everyone all over the world to recognize the technical merits of Sanskrit and throw away their native tongues and instead adopt Sanskrit. If that really is the case, their hypocrisy is mind boggling. These are same people who are likely to make a stink about "western" elements destroying traditional Indian elements. Yet they would like other cultures to throw away their cultural artifacts just because a researcher published a paper saying that Sanskrit is a good language to use in NLP.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Motivational Nonsense

The motivational business is a huge market. It promises its customers instant success. But just like most businesses which promise quick fixes, the motivational business has its own share of irrationality.

Success is dependent on a lot of factors, of which one of the important things is random chance. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. At the other extreme you see people who get everything they want without making any effort. That is life. It sucks. The best thing you could do is to accept it and move on, something which the motivational media ignores to tell you. You might say I'm pessimistic. I'm not. The fact that I know that life is random makes me accept unfavorable situations calmly. I don't torture myself with silly questions like "Why me?" and "What did I do wrong?".

The main tool used by motivational business to inspire is anecdotes. But when those anecdotes involve animals, things get absurd. They say to seek inspiration from the fact that an ant can carry 50 times its own weight. But what they will not tell you is, if an ant were to grow to the size of a human, it would collapse under its own weight. So who is the more capable life form here?

Eagles, tigers, lions and wolves are other favorites in the motivational business. Rather than identifying limits of human capabilities and working around them, the motivational business offers feel good examples about the amazing capabilities of other animals. As long as you are reading/hearing the anecdotes you will feel ecstatic, feel a surge of energy which rears you to go do something. But the real world is vastly different from these fantasies and when you try to practice those motivational steps, you are bound to fail and get even more depressed.

When religion gets involved with motivation, things get even more nonsensical. Instead of relying on stories of successful humans and animals with special capabilities, with religion you rely on pure myth. You chase an abstract and unreal goal. Instead of spending time on understanding the world around you, religion goads you to know the "fact" that reality is an illusion and makes you believe that fantasy is real.

So beware of motivational stories. Ask yourself "Does this translate into the real world?". In most cases they don't. You'll find that you'd be much better off reading The Lord of The Rings.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Morality of Rama

In Ramayan, after defeating Ravan, Rama takes Sita to Ayodhya. But rumors start spreading that Sita is "impure", having been enjoyed by Ravan. Bowing to pressure from the public, Rama abandons Sita.

Today, Ramayan is considered as an authority on moral behavior. So what is the moral that we gain from the abandonment of Sita? Let us assume that the Ayodhya public were correct and Ravan did rape Sita. So how does the public want a rape victim to be treated? Throw her into the forest. She doesn't deserve compassion and understanding of her fellow humans. Rama, a God gives into mob demands. So a mob is more mighty than God (Is that why mob violence is so common in India?).

How can Ramayan teach such depraved moral lessons? How can God stoop to the level of a narrow minded commoner? Why didn't he fight the stupid masses and set an example on how to combat idiocy? The answer will be obvious if Rama was not a God, but a human being. Mobs always have their way. You can fight them and die or you can give into their demands and live to see another day. Rama was just protecting himself, just like most humans would do. If there is any lesson to be learnt from Ramayan, it is to make sure that we never have Ramarajya (Kingdom of Rama). We don't want misogynists running amok on the streets.

Beauty of the Buddha

Do not accept anything by mere tradition ... Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures ... Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions ... But when you know for yourselves – these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness – then do you live acting accordingly.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

So called science of Gayatri Mantra

Update: There is a much better version of this post at the Nirmukta forums

There is an email floating around which is supposed to demonstrate the scientific meaning of Gayatri Mantra. Here it is in its full glory (the dissection is towards the end):

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Subject: Scientific Meaning of the Gayatri Mantra

Gayatri mantra has been bestowed the greatest importance in Vedic dharma.This mantra has also been termed as Savitri and Ved-Mata, the mother of the Vedas.
Ombhur bhuvah swah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
The literal meaning of the mantra is:
O God! You are Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Almighty. You are all Light. You are all Knowledge and Bliss. You are Destroyer of fear, You are Creator of this Universe, You are the Greatest of all. We bow and meditate upon Your light. You guide our intellect in the right direction.

The mantra, however, has a great scientific importance too, which somehow got lost in the literary tradition. The modern astrophysics and astronomy tell us that our Galaxy called Milky Way or Akash-Ganga contains approximately 100,000 million of stars. Each star is like our sun having its own planet system.

We know that the moon moves around the earth and the earth moves around the sun along with the moon. All planets around the sun. Each of the above bodies revolve around at its own axis as well. Our sun along with its family takes one round of the galactic center in 22.5 crore years. All galaxies including ours are moving away at a terrific velocity of 20,000 mile s per second..

And now the alternative scientific meaning of the mantra step by step:

Bhur the earth, bhuvah the planets (solar family), swah the Galaxy. We observe that when an ordinary fan with a speed of 900 RPM (rotations Per minute) moves, it makes noise. Then, one can imagine, what great noise would be created when the galaxies move with a speed of 20,000 miles per second. This is what this portion of the mantra explains that the sound produced due to the fast-moving earth, planets and galaxies is "OM"

The sound was heard during meditation by Rishi Vishvamitra, who mentioned it to other colleagues. All of them, then unanimously decided to call this sound Om the name of God, because this sound is available in all the three periods of time, hence it is set (permanent). Therefore, it was the first ever revolutionary idea to identify formless God with a specific title (form) called upadhi. Until that time, everybody recognized God as formless and nobody was prepared to accept this new idea. In the Gita also, it is said, "Omiti ekaksharam brahma", meaning that the name of the Supreme is Om, which contains only one syllable (8/12).

This sound Om heard during samadhi was called by all the seers nada-brahma a very great noise), but not a noise that is normally heard beyond a specific amplitude and limits of decibels suited to human hearing. Hence the rishis called this sound Udgith musical sound of the above, i.e., heaven. They also noticed that the infinite mass of galaxies moving with a velocity of 20,000 miles/second was generating a kinetic energy = 1/2 MV2 and this was balancing the total energy consumption of the cosmos. Hence they named it Pranavah, which means the body (vapu) or store house of energy (prana).

B. TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM: Tat that (God), savitur the sun (star), varenyam worthy of bowing or respect. Once the form of a person along with the name is known to us, we may locate the specific person.Hence the two titles (upadhi) provide the solid ground to identify the formless God, Vishvamitra suggested. He told us that we could know (realise) the unknowable formless God through the known factors, viz., sound Om and light of suns (stars).

A mathematician can solve an equation x2+y2=4; if x=2; then y can be known and so on. An engineer can measure the width of a river even by standing at the riverbank just by drawing a triangle. So was the scientific method suggested by Vishvamitra in the mantra in the next portion as under:-

Bhargo the light, devasya of the deity, dheemahi we should meditate. The rishi instructs us to meditate upon the available form (light of suns) to discover the formless Creator (God). Also he wants us to do japa of the word Om (this is understood in the Mantra).. This is how the sage wants us to proceed, but there is a great problem to realize it, as the human mind is so shaky and restless that without the grace of the Supreme (Brahma) it cannot be controlled.

Hence Vishvamitra suggests the way to pray to HIM as under:
Dhiyo (intellect), yo (who), nah (we all), prachodayat (guide to right Direction). O God! Deploy our intellect on the right path. Full scientific interpretation of the Mantra: The earth (bhur), the planets (bhuvah), and the galaxies (swah) are moving at a very great velocity, the sound produced is Om, (the name of formless God.) That God (tat), who manifests Himself in the form of light of suns (savitur) is worthy of bowing/respect (varenyam). We all, therefore, should meditate (dheemahi) upon the light (bhargo) of that deity (devasya) and also do chanting of Om. May He (yo) guide us in the right direction (prachodayat) our(nah) intellect dhiyo. So we notice that the important points hinted in the mantra are:-

1) The total kinetic energy generated by the movement of galaxies acts as an umbrella and balances the total energy consumption of the cosmos. Hence it was named as the Pranavah (body of energy). This is equal to 1/2 mv2 (Mass of galaxies x velocity2).

2) Realizing the great importance of the syllable OM, the other later date religions adopted this word with a slight change in accent, viz., AMEN and AMEEN!

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The "science" in it basically boils down to these two points:

1. Galaxies rotate. Rotating objects make sound. The sound that Milky Way galaxy makes is OM.
2. Galaxies have infinite mass. Moving galaxies have kinetic energy. That energy balances the energy consumption of the cosmos.

If you thought "WTF?", read no further. It means you have a basic understanding of physics and could see the colossal stupidity of the two premises. If you didn't, read on.

Now take the first premise. Sound needs a medium to propagate. Galaxies have a hell lot of stars, but they are at least a few light years apart and guess what is there in between that space? Vacuum. Does vacuum conduct sound? Not in this Universe. So the first argument is a truck load of crap.

Coming to the second premise, it says galaxies have infinite mass. Again, in this Universe galaxies have finite mass. Then it talks about "Energy consumption of cosmos", an extremely vague statement. How does it consume the energy? Why does that consumption need "balancing"?

So there it is. The scientific explanation of Gayatri Mantra is nothing but an utter lack of understanding of elementary physics.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absurdity of timelines given by hindu cosmology

Some hindus love bragging about how the ancient scriptures of full of science and how modern science is just re-discovering those ancient truths. One of the most frequently cited "proofs" for this ancient knowledge is the time of one day of Brahma which is equal to 4.32 billion years. That is close to the age of Earth (around 4.54 billion years) and those proud hindus wildly thump their chests with "You see! It matches with the value given by science. Hinduism has all the truths!"

Let us take a closer look at hindu cosmology. (The timelines are from Wikipedia)

One day of Brahma (4.32 billion years ) consists of 1000 mahayugas. Each mahayuga has 4 yugas. In the current Brahma's day, 27 mahayugas have elasped. 28th is in progress with the present yuga being Kaliyuga. So around 120 million years (1 mahayuga = 4.32 million years. 27*4.32 + (4.32 - 0.43) = 120.096) have elapsed out of the 4.32 billion years of the current Brahma's day. So according to hindu cosmology, the age of the current cosmos is just around 120 million years.

Also at the end of a mahayuga, Kalki appears and cleans up the Earth of sin. This usually involves some sort of catastrophe. According to hindu cosmology, 27 such cleansings should have taken place at 4.32 million years apart. But modern science has no record of such cleansings.

According to science humans evolved around 400,000 - 250,000 years ago. But as per hindu cosomology humans have always existed, so in the current cycle they have been around for 120 million years. Even if we consider only the current mahayuga, at least 3.88 million years have elapsed and humans were there in all of that time. Again science has no evidence of humans dating back to 3.88 million years ago.

Even if we extend the creation/destruction cycle of the cosmos to 100 years of Brahma and not to one day of Brahma, and given that 50 years of Brahma have elapsed, it would give the current age of the cosmos to around 155 trillion years. Again science doesn't agree with that number.

So out of all the numbers spouted by the hindu texts for the age of cosmos, just one number comes close to a scientific value. But that is enough proof for the hindus who think their scriptures are the ultimate science. It doesn't matter most numbers don't match with the observed Universe.