Monday, April 4

Value added Tradition

Note: I have hyperlinked some words for a better understanding of the content

Some months ago, I read a news article stating an addition of a zodiac sign and a shift of the existing zodiac sign periods by one month from 2011. Simply put, this change is due to a relative wobble of earth's axis in the earth-moon system. So all the sidereal astrological systems would be affected due to this wobble. Vedic astrology, which your next-door astrologer practises, is a sidereal system and so your zodiac sign would also change due to this wobble

This was a regular news item for me, but I saw it was some sort of question of existence for some (actually, many) people around me. One fellow was discussing how his zodiac sign would change and was frustrated about how one could become a Virgo all of sudden while he/she was a Gemini till the day before. I couldn't stop my enthusiasm to know how the fellow thinks and asked him what difference could a change of zodiac sign do to in his life. He replied that a change in zodiac sign would change his horoscope and so the predictions of his qualities, life and marriage would change. And his entire life was changed just because earth-moon system had a wobble. He said that it was unfair as it affects people's career, marriage and lifestyle.

So I told him that he should switch his belief system to palmistry which won't be affected due to this wobble, instead of astrology which might change anytime when some cosmological event happens. His answer was that he doesn't believe in palmistry. Then I asked him why he would believe astrology in that case. He replied saying he has absolute faith in it as it's part of Indian tradition and it's by his tradition that how he is defined and made.

Yes, he's correct. Every person is built out of his own tradition. I'm what I am due to the tradition in which I was brought up. We get many things from tradition. Our language, dressing style, food habits, social norms, customs, ethics (to some extent), way of looking at human relationships (to some extent) and many more come from tradition. It is a template in which we get raised and it is marked by a long chain of history and civilization that flourished and paved way for our existence. Some aspects of tradition are purely sociological, whereas some are religious. Throughout our life, we really cannot change the way how some aspects of tradition influenced us in our childhood.

And as he said, astrology is part of the contemporary Hindu tradition. And going back in history, Ashwamedha was part of the Hindu tradition at least during the Mauryan dynasty (185 BC). But the exact ritual is not a part of contemporary Hindu tradition. Most of us don't know the exact ritual of Ashwamedha as mentioned in the Yajurveda. So, why is it not part of contemporary Hindu tradition anymore?

Ok, let's suppose Indian government now starts performing Ashwamedha in the truly Vedic way for supremacy in the world and to make India the No.1 economy in the world and to eradicate poverty in the country. Would anyone welcome it with their share of support? Of course no one would. This is because people are enlightened enough in animal welfare and women rights to oppose this and draw a line. But again, Ashwamedha is one of the most powerful and pleasing sacrifices to the Gods as mentioned in the Vedas and every other Emperor in Hindu mythological epics performed this ritual and it worked well for them in bringing success and supremacy.

So, is it fine to discard insensible and irrational aspects of tradition as times change? Or we would be betraying the holy texts of canon composed by people in 2nd century BC if we leave some of them as nonsense and not applicable? If the ritual mentioned in Yajurveda was a divine revelation to the Aryans, then that should be the exact and only way to perform it to please the Gods. Who are the 21st century people to discard or change it just for a whim of animal welfare and women rights?

Now coming to astrology, it's the alleged "science" (people often forget it's astronomy which is science) that explains the effect of a handful of stars and planets on the the entire 7 billion world population, to the level of individual human behavior, luck, marriage, career, health, children, success, earning, expenditure.. and so on.. Physicists (who don't know anything the Aryans knew 3500 years back) have discovered some fundamental interaction forces till date in the entire universe. None of those explain the effect claimed by astrology. Even though some physicists claim these are the only possible forces present in universe, if there is any other force present in this universe (the astro'logical' force), it should hold good to a statistical study.

I'm giving reference to one study conducted in India here. It was a double-blind trial to verify the statistical success of astrological predictions. The results showed that the astrological predictions were as accurate as that of a coin toss, around 50%, whereas statistically meaningful predictions would be 70% or higher. If one would do the same experiment to check electromagnetic force between a pair of charge carriers, the success of predictions would safely be above 99.99% (It would be 100% if any applicable quantum mechanics is included)

So, next time, if you are about to consult an astrologer for a match-compatibility, hold on and toss a fair coin. Look up as yes for heads, no for tails, check the result and proceed accordingly.

Even if you consult the astro-guy, the probability of a successful prediction from him would be the same !!

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Monday, February 28

The Gods that used to be crazy

Another one month, and I'm back with a new one.. Read on..

We used to wonder at many things in our childhood. Many of us used to wonder what happens in the skies every night, why the moon changes its size every night, where the stars would go in the day, how some objects show magnetism and why the sea roars with waves. We also used to wonder why medicines are bitter, why doctors are always fond of syringe and needle and why parents, unlike us, don't go to school and get beaten by teachers. We reason out at some, and experience some, providing answers to our questions and thus stopping the intrigue within us. Even then, there are still many wonders lying out there for us to ponder and rejoice.

During the summer vacation after my fifth standard, I got this book "Trojan war" from my senior batch. This book was the supplementary reader for the sixth standard english. Not to mention my fascination towards mythologies, I started reading it right away and re-read it some 6-7 times during my vacation. I loved that book. It's an epic. The men were audacious, women were blonde, hot and sexy, the Gods were crazy, the Goddesses were jealous of one another and bribed men with chicks. I used to get dreams where I would watch Ulysses coming out from the trojan horse, Achilles killing Hector and Paris running away with Helen. 

But one thing that fascinated me the most was their pantheon. Zeus, Neptune, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Apollo.. the list has no end. I would get introduced to a new God in every chapter. He would screw up the war by favoring one side till the men on the other side offer princesses and maidens (I dunno what's the fetish of virgins in every faith) as slaves to him. He accepts them and keeps quiet. Warriors like Achilles would also ask for maidens as they are children of the Gods. And when they don't get the maiden slaves they withdraw from the war. I think this craziness of mortals and immortals brings good element of surprise to Trojan war and makes it an epic mythology.

Now coming to the real reality, I used to think that the ancient Greeks were mad praying to those Gods. I would rather not welcome Zeus, Neptune and Venus into my life (even though Venus would offer women like Helen to my disposal) as I had my own set of Gods whom I felt were more sensible and realistic. Yes, I thought my pantheon was "realistic" and "divine" and I still dunno the reason for it. Even though I used to compare some of the Greek pantheon to the RigVedic pantheon, I felt the latter was more divine and realistic. I think the reason for not questioning why I thought so might be the fact that I'd been following this pantheon since my childhood without asking any questions.

Later in my schooling days, I visited some churches as I was interested to know how a church would look like from the inside and how a mass would be performed. I loved cathedrals with all the paintings, sculptures and stuff. I used to stare at the ceiling, walls, hangings, candles and decoration in the church when everyone else was busy praying deeply and some crying in ecstasy. Sometimes, the bishop would bless people who were sick and some would weep bitterly taking a cross into their hands.

All that time, I never understood what made them so ecstatic when english verses (I used to think it was some poetry written by Jesus Christ) are read loud from a neatly bound big book. I never understood how the sick could believe that a simple english verse from the big book and water smeared in the shape of cross on their forehead would heal them. But one thing, I never thought these people are crazy doing all this stuff. I think my reason behind this was that since many people follow this faith, it must have some sort of divinity or something.

And on the other hand, I never wondered why I would recite the same "suklam bharadharam", "saraswathi namastubhyam" everyday even though they're simple verses. Well, the only difference is that they're written in sanskrit. I also never wondered why people would wear talismans and walk around a tree 108 times just because it's in the premises of a temple. The reason for this might be the fact that I'd been following this faith since childhood without asking any questions

Now coming to ancient Greece again, why should one think the Greeks were mad? Or their entire pantheon was silly and stupid? Is it just because Zeus and his entire lot are jobless now? Zeus and co., is no ordinary lot. Some of them are notorious (read as miraculous) enough to stop winds when Agamemnon's army was sailing. Their mercy and grace favored Greeks and made them win the war. Their wrath and curses apparently caused tornadoes, hurricanes and famines all over Greece and Rome. One would be very cautious not demean any one of them in those days. Such was their might, will and power. It's irrational and senseless to claim they don't have divinity just because there's no cultural, traditional, social and political significance to any of them in the contemporary world

Alright, now one might agree that the Greek pantheon is great, divine, realistic and can be worshiped. Now what about Amun-Ra and co., from ancient Egypt? What about Thor, Balder and co., from Germany? Why should Greeks have all the fun? Even though Hitler was from Germany and Germany had Thor as God in the past, is it fair that the entire German pantheon shouldn't be respected? Does unemployment and failure in wars and politics make these Gods worthless of even acknowledging their existence?

So what can we say about this? One thing is for sure. All these were the Gods that used to be crazy. And even today, the God(s) are crazy, but their name(s) and the civilizations that worship these God(s) are different from those in the past. And as the comparative theologians always say, all the religions are qualitatively one and the same, and all the God(s) are also one and the same. Hence following the assertion, the contemporary faiths are also crazy (BTW I really hate to deduce things out of theological assertions)

If this is the case, then why are we so keen, sensitive, religious and devoted about the God(s) that are in our pantheon? I would say it's just the authoritative indoctrination and self-assertion over a period of time that makes us have blind faith in many things around us, including religious faith. It's this very lack of indoctrination and assertion that makes a christian not to have faith in hindu Gods and it's the same thing that never made me realize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sins of the entire humankind starting from homo antecessors to those who are gonna live till the next doomsday event.

And ironically for most of us, it's sheer accidence that we get born into a family of a particular faith that chooses the doctrine with which we get brainwashed all through our life. We never get a real choice in deciding this for ourselves.

And most of us remain in that sightless vision (as I call it) for the rest of our lives rejecting anthropology, history, reason, logic, and sometimes even common sense !!

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Sunday, January 30

The Wealthy Peasants

Another 1 month and I'm back with another post. Read on..

Note: To avoid comments like "An argument wins over the situation but loses the person", I shall be using the word 'argument' in this post as the logical points of view two persons were trying to establish in course of a friendly impersonal discussion, after which there's no screw-up of the relationship between them.

Lately, I'm not able to restrain myself from refuting people's arguments whenever I find them nonsense. Earlier, I would never bother how everyone else is thinking as far as it doesn't affect me directly. I dunno if I'm getting philanthropic or over-assertive gradually, but I'm not able to let go if people have an opinion that doesn't make any sense and I'm trying to give them counter-arguments from various points of view refuting the rationale on their opinion. This is definitely not the typical white-man's burden and I don't really have any metaphysical motivation for doing this.

When I started these arguments, I observed that people were not able to get convinced by some points of view and they get persuaded with some points of view. Some get convinced by analogies, some rebuke analogies as fallacies in the strictest definition of the argument; Some get convinced by scientific argument and some completely discard scientific argument; Some need further references to get convinced and some don't even try to look up other references. I would be discussing the reasons I observed why people don't get convinced for various arguments

# Bad Analogy
I dunno what the deal with people and analogies is. Most of us don't agree to anything unless we find some analogy for the argument. These people get convinced only by analogies. They just want a familiar story with a conclusion logically agreeable to the argument. They cannot comprehend the logic behind the argument, and they would rather get convinced by a story with hypothetical scenario. This is the case with most of us. One must use creativity extensively to discuss with these people

May be that's the reason why mythological epics are so popular compared to philosophical works. I would say analogies help us understand the basic argument, but we shouldn't confine ourselves to learning from analogies. Analogies are overwhelmingly persuasive, but it's really difficult to derive a proper analogy for many arguments.

# The Scientific Argument
I think scientific argument is the most convincing argument for any disagreement. Philosophical arguments rely more on the way the argument is articulated whereas scientific argument is persuading without the need of any smart articulation. In spite of this, I observed many people not getting convinced by the scientific argument. I might classify the reasons behind this as follows

1. Unable to apply general science: I think, to understand most of the scientific arguments, one needs to have a basic knowledge of how things work. A higher-secondary school level knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology would do the job. Even though many of us have studied these subjects and got good grades, we have a tendency to forget them when we drift to a different field of profession. 

I have seen many engineering grads who believe in "Cosmic vibrations (nice word) emitted from gems affecting (non-existent) human aura" and "Undetectable (non-existent) forces exerted by distant planets effecting human psychology on earth" in spite of their IIT-JEE standard knowledge on heat transfer and fundamental forces in the universe. Also, many believe that "1 molecule remedy diluted in 1030 moles of water homeopathic remedies" work in spite of good knowledge in chemistry. Medical stigmas on aids patients in general public in spite of basic knowledge in biology is another example

The problem here is that, we try to separate everything as distinct entities and we don't apply our general science knowledge in our beliefs/opinions. When we practise this everyday, we gradually tend to refute any scientific argument, however obvious it might be.

2. Quasi-scientific arguments: In addition to the conclusive factual scientific arguments, we also have an equal (in fact, more) number of arguments that "sound scientific" but necessarily are not so. For eg., I can say the reason why we have seasons is due to the elliptical orbit of earth, and summer comes when earth is closest to sun and winter comes when it's farthest. This argument is considerably persuasive, but most of us (ironically, not everyone) know that that's not the reason why we have seasons. "Water memory" claimed by homeopathic doctors is another example of a quasi-scientific argument.

Generally, people get confused by these contradicting scientific arguments and fail to understand which one's evident and which one's not. This is also one reason why people stop getting convinced by scientific arguments thinking they are not reliable.

# The Wiki Taboo
Whenever I give external references to people rather than hear the argument from me, most of them go through those and verify their argument. But there are some who think it's totally "uncool". They would refute encyclopedias and stick to their non-evident and non-referable argument. They say they would google it themselves if they ever want to verify. I would say if they ever googled it, they won't be sticking to the same irrational argument they have now. 
So, they never googled/wikied it, and when I  give an external reference, they say "I'll google it when I wanna verify". Hence the bottom line is that they never want to verify.

It makes me conclude this as a typical "resistance to change" behavior and unable to shift from their comfort-zone.

# I simply don't care
Saying "I simply don't care to know what's the fact" is really a powerful defense to stop the argument from further proceeding. I would say we really don't have a choice to care or not about the fact. It's a fact, and we have to know it.

If we don't care about knowing that earth is round, we might make a fool out of ourselves by joining 'Flat earth society'; If we don't care about  knowing that gems and stones don't affect human behavior and luck, we might be spending hard-earned money on getting the gems and wearing 2 rings on each finger. If we don't care about knowing homeopathic remedies are not medicines but just plain water/alcohol, we might end up using them for long periods of time and getting chronic for our ailments.

So "I simply don't care" means "I don't wanna verify and I don't mind getting screwed up for my belief"

Finally, concluding the post, I think this constant refutation of logic and evidence to change our opinion/belief would make us, as Noam Chomsky calls it, "a bunch of shattered wealthy peasants". There are many things which we inherently believe without reasoning to ourselves why we do it or just because of authoritative indoctrination. We tend to assert those beliefs/opinions to ourselves by false conclusions from what we observe without questioning it and without thinking if an alternate evident, logical argument exists for it. After a point, we stop changing our opinions, however irrational they might sound, as we don't like to realize that we spent the rest of our life believing in nonsense.

I hope most of us won't become these "Wealthy Peasants" over a period of time!!

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