Good book

Tyrion pisses off the edge of the world in George RR Martin’s mind. Daenerys walks into the fire to bring forth the dragons in George RR Martin’s mind. Frodo perseveres to take the ring to the Mount Doom in JRR Tolkein’s mind. Krishna convinces Arjun to fight in the battle in the Kurukshetra in Vyasa’s mind.

Great books are those that let the reader peek into the mind of the author and the author speaks to the reader through the characters like in a dream. There are many characters in a dream with their own rationales, emotions and abilities albeit they are all being inside the mind of the dreamer. A good book is like a dream. Each character lives its own life while being inside the author’s mind. They are all very different from each other while still being the same by virtue of being brought forth from the mind of the author.

Each character arrives at the moment in the story with its own history that defines its ethics, rationales and ambitions. At the same time, it also retains the capacity to change itself while living its life. More the author disappears and lets the characters speak for themselves, more the story becomes great. Any hint of the author imposing its will on these characters, and readers start shunning the book over time. A rule, which I first found in Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book, that I use to choose a book worth reading is: older the book, worthier it is. The book that the readers over the years have kept on reading must have something worthy to offer. If a book has been read for thousands of years, that books is definitely worth reading. This means, all the scriptures and the original books of the major religions are definitely worth reading. They offer something eternal that have been proven useful in life centuries after centuries.

Just like in real life, there must not be any intrinsically good act or intrinsically bad act in a story. Every action should have a potential to be a good one or a bad one. When Frodo lets Gollum live, it is never obvious whether that is a good action or a bad one. Or when Arya frees Jaqen H’ghar, it is not obvious whether that is a good action or a bad one. And when Yudhishthir loses everything including Draupadi, it is also not obvious whether that was a bad action or a good. Only thing all these actions have in common are that they all have potential to be bad, good or both. It all depends on what section of life we look at. Life unfolds over a long stretch of space and time. And results of an action continue to reverberate throughout space and time and even after the death. All these characters act just like in real life rather than seeming to be guided by the author’s whims.

Growing and ageing

One of the questions that many people are trying to find an answer to is: What causes a living being to grow old? Can it be slowed, stopped or even reversed? This is a fascinating question and has occupied many for eons. Ageing has recently become an active field of research. We are spending so much time and energy studying such matters shows that we are afraid of dying since natural progression from growing-old is death. We are trying to slow or stop ageing means we are trying to delay or stop death. The answer to this question is being sought inside the body of the living organism. But I think it is not the internal mechanism that causes a living organism to age but rather the external environment as a whole. Just like a stone over time gets eroded until it longer exists, if growing happens as a result of the interaction with the environment, there cannot be a way to stop it without stopping the whole world which is obviously impossible. Anything that we ‘DO’ will just cause the world to keep going. The world is the totality of such interactions.

Good news though is that just like the stone, once it erodes, goes on to form another structure somewhere else; all of our constituent parts will also go on to form something else. Some combination of such structure will be conscious like animals. Some structures will be like a stone devoid of any feelings. And some structures will be the plants.

Each object has its own time. It grows in its own time. It dies in its own time. Human beings die in human time. Planets and galaxies die in their own time. Stones die in their own time. They are born in their own time as well. How are they born? Human beings are born out of their mother’s womb. Galaxies are born out of galactic womb. Stones and mountains and soil and water are all born out of the nature’s womb. Knowledge of creation is encoded in the nature which gets executed with its own rhythm.

Water flows downhill. It seeks ocean no matter what. Along the way, it fills holes, cuts through the stones and the earth, and keeps flowing until it reaches the ocean where it loses its own identity and becomes one. Along the way, it transforms the fields, provides nourishments to uncountable lives, and performs numerous other things. Similarly, stone is created out of minerals deep in the bowels of the earth and changes its forms throughout. Along the way, it provides habitat for numerous other living organisms, helps bring sparks, and affects many other changes. But here, if we look carefully, we can see that water and rock are also very similar to what the living organisms. They are created (born), go through a life and eventually die. But death here does not mean an end. It just means that one cycle ended. Water, minerals, and chemicals will continue through to the next cycle which may or may not be the same as the previous one. When such cycles continue ad infinitum, at some point it will come back to the original state whence it started from.

If you look carefully, water or stone or living organisms do not have any control over how their life cycle continues. Water flows downhill because it is in its nature. Stone disintegrates over time because it is in its nature. And any living organism will eventually die because it is in its nature. Any attempt to do otherwise will be like trying to stop the time itself.

Freedom

You can only observe that is not yourself. Go beyond all the things that are appearing in your senses and realize that you are the observer. You observe with your eyes, your skin, your nose, your tongue and your ears. There is no getting out of the sensory prison. Now, close your eyes, close your ears, shut your skins, shut your tongue and close your nose. Now, you see things in your mind which causes you to think. Your mind observes. The external world was constructed incrementally over billions of years by some external agency. The internal world was constructed incrementally over your life time by the agency of your mind. You are prisoner in both the worlds. Do you want to be free? Shut your mind now. It is hard, I know. It is probably the hardest thing in the world. But keep at it. Observe your thoughts. Observe where they originate. Find their seeds. Look at them. One seed after another, thoughts start to subside. Your mind starts to calm down. Whatever remains after your mind is completely quiet is you. The real you. Not the one who resides in someone else’s or even in your own mind as an image. Not the one who you or everyone else think you are. But the real you. There is no mind now and there is no image. Once your image vanishes from your own mind, it instantly vanishes from everyone else’s mind as well. Once you realize the true nature of the mind, it loses all of its power over you. You are free. Fly now. Fly higher and higher. Touch the heavens. Fill the whole universe. Everything is yours and at the same time nothing is yours.

Expression and symbol

Subjective expressions like art, poem, literature, drama, movie, are an attempt to express the feelings. Spiritual expressions are also an attempt, but on a different level. Observational expressions, like science and math, on the other hand are an attempt to encode the observed reality objectively. In either of these cases, the expressions can be best appreciated and understood only after going through similar experience. Even the objective expressions, in a certain plane, have a level of subjectivity encoded in them. For example, let’s say there is “1+1=3” written on a wall. What does that mean? The first reaction may simply be to discount it as a child’s attempt at learning addition. But it can be any number of other things as well. No one can tell for sure why anyone wrote it. It could be stating a simple mathematical fact but instead of “2”, the person wrote “3” by mistake. It could actually be a kid’s attempt in learning addition. It could also be a code word for another person. It could be a joke two people played with each other. Or any number of infinitely many other possibilities. In similar vein, if I write, “As big as the universe, as small as nothing”, what will that mean to you? It may mean nothing. You may think this rambling of an old man or babbling of a novice philosopher. Or if you had tried to inquire about your own nature and had reached a certain point, you would understand exactly what I meant.

Imagine the very first human who becomes aware. He looks around. He sees the vast nature for the very first time. He sees the Sun moving across the sky. He sees days turn to nights and nights turn to days. He sees the moon and the stars. He looks at the trees and the animals. He looks at himself: his hands, his legs, his body. He looks at his fingers and his toes. He feels his head, feels his hair. He wanders around. He sees the mountains. He sees the lake. He finds huge rocks and small pebbles. He sees rivers and oceans. He sees that some animals run away from him. He feels hungry. But there are no thoughts yet just the observations. There is nothing to think about. He hasn’t experienced anything. He does not yet have the symbols for thinking. He does not have a name. Names have no meaning yet. He just sees and experiences the world purely at the sensory level. He can see and can feel everything around him except himself. Sometimes it is cold. Sometimes it is hot. He hears the sound of the wind, bird-calls, river flowing, lightning and roar of a tiger. He feels the pain when he walks. He feels tired. He does not yet have the names for all these experiences. Still he feels it and he knows it. But there is always a hole where ever he stands. He does not know who he himself is. Who is experiencing all these? What does he look like? He looks at his parent with odd fascination like a chick looks at the mother hen without any attachment. He does not know what parents mean. There probably is some connection at the subconscious level, but he is not aware of that yet.

If you can truly imagine what being that first human must have felt like, I think you are truly enlightened then. That is still the world we live in at the most fundamental level. Only now, we have created separate worlds on top of this fundamental world based off of symbols. Symbols are a way to encode our understanding of the fundamental world. Expressions are then constructed out of these symbols to express the feelings, encode the understanding, and modulate the sensory information to make them more tractable. From that perspective, when someone says “1+1 is 2”, what is he trying to say? Is he saying, “If we put one of your pencils and one of my pencils in a box, there will be two pencils” or is talking abstractly at a purely mathematical level. We can never be sure.

Reductionism

When we look at the whole reality, it all makes sense and we see how everything fits together in a harmonious fashion. As soon as we try to understand how every individual thing works by reducing them in smaller and smaller pieces, the very act of reduction makes the understanding impossible. It is almost a fact that a whole is more than the sum of its parts. As a consequence, understanding the parts does not result in understanding the whole. Let’s take an example of DNA. DNA encodes the information required to pass down the hereditary information from generation to generation. When human genome project to sequence human DNA was announced, it was thought that once the DNA was sequenced, we would be able to exactly determine what a person would look like by simply looking at the person’s DNA. It has now been more than a decade since the genome was sequenced. Now, there are even ways to quickly sequence individual genome. Still, we are nowhere near the earlier promise of the complete understanding. One of the reasons for that is that the DNA does not live in isolation. It is simply a part of a bigger piece of a puzzle called life.

The same thing can also be said about the particle physics. There are various physical models that try to explain how the physical reality works. One particular model is called “Standard Model” and in that model, the Higgs boson was the last remaining piece. After the discovery of Higgs boson in 2014, scientists proclaimed that the last missing piece of the puzzle had been found and everything could now be explained. These scientists seemed to have failed to heed Anderson:

The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of society. (“More is Different”, PW Anderson)

If one is honest about what he knows, he can never proclaim that everything is known. And when one proclaims such, we must know what to do with that proclamation: ignore.

If we continue looking at the various fields of modern intellectual endeavors, we see such things play out in many different fields. There are economists and behavioral scientists who claim to be able to model and forecast the human behavior. There are neuroscientists who claim that they can explain what consciousness is. This urge to explain things now seems to have come to computational field as well. People are giddy with excitement at the partial successes of machine learning in providing features that the customers seemed to like at the moment. These successes are mostly fueled by the availability of extremely large datasets made possible by the Internet-based very efficient data collection mechanism and extremely large computational power made possible by the advances in fabrication technologies among other things. Extrapolating these successes into the future, people now see the possibility of artificial consciousness.

It is such a pity that we always seem to fall into this reductionist trap. We seem to think that once some fundamental law or solution is found remaining can simply be put together step-by-step to construct a bigger whole. We seem to forget that:

At each stage entirely new laws, concepts, and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. Psychology is not applied biology, nor biology applied chemistry. (PW Henderson – “More is Different”)

Me and you

as big as infinity
as small as zero
as closed as universe
as open as nothing
that is me
that is you
know it
realize it

Infinite and zero

It started like any other day. I woke up. I did the usual morning ritual. I ate breakfast, said goodbye to kids as they were already up by the time and drove to office. On the way, this feeling hit me. I felt like stopping in the middle of the road and savor it. Realizing that that probably would be a very bad idea, I kept on driving albeit slowly.

There are only two ways. You either become infinity and become one with It or become zero and dissolve into It. Become infinity and everything happens in you. There is no reason to worry and no need to feel sorry. Everything is you. Become zero and you remain untouched and unattached. Nothing affects you. There is no reason to worry and no need to feel sorry. In either case, you transcend everything and achieve everlasting bliss. When you are somewhere in between other than zero or infinity, you are thrown around by the vicissitudes of life. You feel completely out control. Just know that you are not in control. Control is just an illusion. Just think how many things have happened the way they were planned.

Imagine living inside an ocean. If you are the ocean, then no matter how high the tide goes or how fast the storm moves, they are all part of you. They cannot harm you. Or imagine you are a tiny being, so tiny that you cannot even touch the ocean. You remain untouched when the ocean is calm and you remain untouched when the ocean is stormy and wild. Usually though, you are neither of those, neither the infinite ocean nor the infinitesimally tiny being. Tide will then take you high and throw you down. Storm will take you far and wide with innumerable other beings in it. There will be collisions. All these are inevitable. It is in the Ocean’s nature to be such.

Mind

Oh! How it wanders?
How it clings?
To every little places
And every little things

However much you try
You cannot even one inch pry
It makes up the places to go to
It makes up the things to cling to

Illusions and perceptions
Successes and failures
There is no stopping
The things it can come up with

It is not for the lack of trying.
On the contrary, because of it
It will be like this
Till you are in bed dying

Truth

Fire does not burn
Water does not wet
Wind does not move
Ocean does not drown
Mere words

Veda does not liberate
Quran does not liberate
Bible does not liberate
Dhammapada does not liberate
Mere books

Truth
Know it
Experience it
Realize it
Be free

Love

One furrow on your forehead
I feel my heart being squeezed
One glance from you
I feel my heart being pierced
One hint of a smile on your lips
I feel my heart leaping with joy
What have you done to me?

You pass me by
Your smell lingers on
Mind starts playing tricks
Millions of thoughts battle for attention
Your one simple touch
All thoughts subside
In anticipation

What is this place?
Where did you bring me?
Let me go
Let me be free
So much light
So much peace
I am free