On the illusion of being well-informed

Once again, I find myself indebted to the mainstream system of education for presenting me with the opportunity, and to some extent the content, of yet another post. Instead, it is better said that the academic ordeal of which I speak wasn’t a direct contributor to this occurrence, but merely the dreaded path through which it was achieved.

Earlier this week, I was faced with the horrendous task known as “journal writing”. The task, which is a regular atrocity, entails copying content from one piece of paper mindlessly onto the other, for what I assume is the sadistic amusement of the examination board. It is, in my opinion, the most dreadful of all assignments conferred upon the students by the Indian education system, and I feel confident in stating that the Indian student body would unanimously benefit from its exclusion.

However, the extent of my displeasure with this particular catastrophe isn’t the subject of this post. No, today I wish to talk about how painstakingly putting myself through that displeasure led me to a profound realisation, albeit one which the world has made many times over already.

In a wildly desperate, yet wildly successful attempt to bring an end to the monotony of mindless copying, I put on some music from my playlist, which, by common consent, is quite distasteful. It was when one particular song was playing that my epiphany made itself apparent, and thus gave rise to this post.

The song of which I speak has now come to be one of my favourites, yet there was a time when I would very contemptuously skip that song whenever it had the audacity to play. When I’d first heard that song, and indeed for a few times after, I’d convinced myself that the lyrics of the song were not possible to be deciphered, on account of the singer’s poor enunciation. Recently, frustrated by my inability to make sense of what is an insanely popular song, and crippled by my all consuming obsession with song lyrics, I gave in and “Googled” the words.

As though a dense fog had been lifted off my mind the moment I read the words upon the screen. What’s more, whenever I had heard the song hence, including on the fateful evening of which I speak, I found myself clearly understanding the lyrics which had so far been nothing but elusive. And so while I was mechanically scribbling away into my notebook and this song played, I found myself humming along with it, whispering the words into the air, completely unaware that I now knew the lyrics well enough to sing along.

It was then that I had to pause the gruelling task which was engaging me, and think back upon the days when I had thought the song incomprehensible. The epiphany ran thus: our knowledge, all our knowledge, is an illusion, brought about by incidences of learning which we do not give due credit to. To make this rather cryptic statement clearer, I’ll take the example of what I have been talking about thus far. It is now impossible for me to think of a time when I did not know the lyrics of this particular song, because they seem so obvious in the light of the new knowledge I have acquired.

How is it possible that something which is so thoroughly apparent to me now, was so utterly elusive then? How has the simple acquisition of knowledge made me forget the sensation of being ignorant? And so I extrapolated this particular theory, if you will, onto other aspects of life and existence. I came to the rather startling realisation that a lot of the information we take for granted is actually a compilation of things we never knew, and things which we thought we never would be able to understand, until such time as we found them out.

The favourite colour of your best friend, perhaps, may serve as an example. Your favourite dish, another. A third could be the knowledge of the grammar of your first language. There is so much knowledge within us which we assume is a given, or which we take for granted, not realising that we are born with nothing in our heads, and that even things which seem like they’ve always been there, haven’t.

Of course, shortly after realising this, I saw the bulk of content before me still waiting to be written, and I left the realisation of this epiphany for another day. At this point, I’d like to end this very vague post with one question: does it count as an epiphany if it’s merely reflection upon something you’ve always known?

Food for thought, I guess, or something to distract yourself with this Valentine’s Day. Happy Loving, everyone.

The Great Cosmic Dice

After a long time I find myself once again lost in the dense forest of thought. Distractions are perhaps the greatest allies of the mind, for they prevent it from going into the obsessive, trance like state which has so often been the downfall of the great. It is, therefore, with great mystery that I find myself immersed in my very own musings at a time when there is nothing around me, whichever way I may look, but a distraction of some form. Too much of a good thing, I suppose they call it.

It has been my desire for some time to write upon this subject; even before I laid claim to this particular corner of the Internet. If memory serves, and I have mentioned innumerable times before that it does, then I have had a fascination with the cosmos the very first time I looked up at the starry sky and realised that the stars were, in fact, more than sparkling lights on a black stretch of canvas. As early as gaining knowledge of the fact that there was something “out there”, I have wanted to know everything. Everything about everything, I used to call it.

Of course, it soon became apparent that knowing everything about everything is a sheer impossibility, because more something is being added to this everything every second, even as I sit here and type this out, so much has been done and added and created that my goal of learning everything has fallen short of its mark. Already, it would seem, I have started babbling about things which this post has nothing to do with. What is this post all about then, you may ask? Well, and bear with me while I grossly abuse poetic license here, this post is about how nothing really matters.

This rather cynical and pessimistic view is something I’ve been harbouring ever since I learnt of the concept of aliens. Ever since the idea that we are not alone in the Universe was put into my head, I’ve been wondering how much we matter, how much of a difference we make and, at the end of it all, how would things be different were we not here? The answer is one which I have had an inclination of for quite some time now, but have chosen not to accept until this moment. Perhaps I was afraid of the answer which seems irresolute in my mind, perhaps I am, like the common man, in denial.

Because the answer is that we don’t matter. The cosmic plan, if indeed there is one, would be not at all affected were the entire human population, or Planet Earth, or the Solar System or even the Milky Way to disappear. The simplicity of it all is baffling, to say the least. How could we not matter, when we are all that we know? Yet the truth of it is undeniable. Ask any self respecting logical thinker, and they shall tell you the same. I am, of course, making the assumption that the concept of “The Creator” no longer applies in the year 2015, for nothing would give me greater sorrow than to see this post being interpreted as an attack on a deity which doesn’t even exist.

Yes, it’s quite deterring when you dawn upon the conclusion yourself. If you have seen the famous movie called “The Theory of Everything”, which depicts the biography of brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking -one of the greatest minds of our time, then you’ll be familiar with what I am saying. In a conference, when asked whether or not Hawking, being an atheist, has a philosophy, he responds with something along the lines of the things I have mentioned above. The beauty of his response lies, as I have already mentioned, in its simplicity.

We spend years perfecting those aspects of ours which we believe are the most important and will be needed for later. We engage in pointless conversation and meaningless activities. We speak of using time as though the eighty or so years we have been given are somehow going to make a difference. We worry about things as though they have implications upon the great order of things, as though our actions somehow affect the cosmic reality. It’s amusing, almost, the things which we fuss over or work towards, when in the end none of it really matters. Nothing.

At the offset this seems extremely cynical and defeatist, but it is, in fact, the exact opposite. Because nothing of what we do matters in the end, we need not waste time doing it. We have been fortunate to have the power to understand that there are great cosmic forces at play, so why do we chose to fawn over things which have no consequence? Agreed that according to the argument I have just made, nothing matters, but having gotten the gift of intelligence, why do we chose to squander it over trivial matters, when there is the entire Universe to be understood and discovered?

The answer is, perhaps, the one which we all are looking for. Does this question not resemble the question which religions have been answering with faith, and which Science has always attempted to understand in its many, many forms? The question of which I speak is, of course, the one asking about the purpose of life. Science acknowledges that there are many parts to this question, and is working relentlessly to answer every single aspect. Ultimately, it all boils down to WHY.

WHY are we here? If nothing we do has any implications upon the cosmic order then WHY do we have the ability to do anything? WHY have we evolved understanding and logic and reason if not for some purpose? WHY do we have the basal desire to fill our lives with things, chores or whatever it is that we fill our lives with?

Religions take this question for all its value and present us with a simple answer. Simple, yes, but not even remotely complete or sufficient. God, according to theists, governs everything that there is, from purpose to action, and it is in God that we must trust our destiny.

That is, of course, completely unacceptable.

The answer, whenever we figure it out, will be plain and simple. There will be a reason, there is always a reason. And if there isn’t, then we’ll know that we are a cosmic joke. A die which the Universe has rolled and has landed upon us by chance. We serve no purpose. The genetics which has been my obsession for so long is nothing but chance. We must keep our minds open to that possibility, for it may just be the answer to everything: a random throw of the die; a lucky chance.

Once again I ask you, what was the point of this post? No new knowledge has been gleaned from this, so why does this exist? What is the purpose it serves? Perhaps none. Maybe it only exists because on this one random day I thought about putting this random content out there. But what if this post does serve a purpose? What if, by some miracle, this post finds itself in the hands of a devout theist and forces them to question their belief? We shall never know, or maybe we shall.

The chance of it all is what makes it worth it. This entire experience is better for having the knowledge that nothing we know or hypothesise may be true. That this may all be a huge joke being played upon us for the 13 or so billion years of the existence of the Universe. Ah, the thrill of randomness.

Dancing Tables

There is something undeniably eerie about the mysterious companion we lovingly call memory. I have found myself, on more occasions than I can name for lack of remembrance, thinking about the unending onslaught of memory. The devious monster parts ways with us when we need it most of all, but returns with vivid images of a past we have long forgotten when we are least on guard. Usually these flashbacks are a consequence of lack of activity, yet there are days when the cunning scythe of memory eradicates all in its path and resurfaces, unabated.

Today was one such day. You see, I had been busy all day long, and whereas I had willingly kept myself preoccupied with trivial ongoings, I was largely unavailable for random thought through no effort of my own. Yet despite being so very engaged, and with yet a truckload of very consuming chores lined up ahead, I found my mind drifting off into a time which I vaguely remembered. After fighting the subconscious recollections of that past for some time, I gave in and decided to embrace my enemy as a friend.

But I refused to be thrown into a pit of sorrow on a day when things had been favouring the tide. So instead of wallowing in the more demoralising parts of my existence, I decided to focus on the fair. I am proud to say that I did not fail. In fact, I succeeded rather remarkably. I managed to look deep into the recess of my mind and find the one memory which is the high to all lows, the up to all downs, the sunshine to all clouds. It is a memory of the simpler days, when being carefree was the only care we had.

Amongst the many great things about this one memory which has helped me through thick and thin is that I can share it with someone. It may seem like a trivial point, but in a way it makes all the difference in the world. I do not know what it is, but there is a feeling which fills your mind when you think of a happy moment spent in the company of someone you swore never to forget, and that feeling drives all worries from your mind. The feeling probably cannot be described, for it is slightly irrational, making it all the more satisfying.

Only the other day I was telling a close friend of mine about the basic principles which govern our lives, for no other reason that to make conversation, when I realised how flawed all my theories would have been were it not for this particular memory. For I have based almost all my life’s greatest decisions on the sensation of comfort which this memory gave me. Today, while trying to remember the feeling which the memory always left me with, I was presented with the greatest curse to have befallen mankind since temptation: forgetfulness.

I have spent the last few paragraphs speaking about the sweet comforts of a memory which I claim has stayed with me all these years and has been a  great part of my life, yet I honestly cannot recall most of the details of the memory at all. I do not know what I was wearing that day, what the weather was like, what time of year was it, or even how I ended up in that particular place at that particular time. So why is that memory so significant?

I do, despite my rather pitiful recollection powers, recall the person I was with, the joke which had us laughing for almost half a day hence, the place where we were and the disinterest of those around us. The disinterest, in the most corrupt way possible, gives me hope: it tells me that even when no one else cares about that one day sometime in the last ten years, I always will.

Does that suffice? Are a few details about a once happy-go-lucky time spent with an old childhood comrade enough to imbibe the feeling of warmth, comfort and security? Is that all it would take for someone to calm me down: a sketchy picture of a past I barely remember?

Somehow, I find that very unconvincing.

It is not always that I sit at my desk and lose myself in a sea of memories only to resurface hours later bathed in the sweet joy of recollection. In fact, when asked, I would say that I am amongst those few unfortunate souls who condemns dwelling in the past. And so I find myself justified when I say that there is something about this memory which not only allows me to let go of my principles, but also encourages me to indulge myself in a habit I can only ever call pathetic.

Think as I may, I cannot find the answer. I do not intend to pile upon your already swamped lives the trifle tale of a troubled boy, and I shan’t either, but in this time of the unknowing I find it best to share my woes while harbouring the illusion that someone is listening. You will find on multiple occasions that you, too, have this sketchy, unusually comforting memory, with no apparent reason for its existence; tell me when that happens, and I shall be all ears.

Life has always had a way of presenting me with opportunities to create great memories out of, and I shall be forever grateful for that. However, I do wish, on occasion, that since life is so gracious in giving memories, if it would be just as gracious with taking them, if only to create space for new ones. It is not that I do not value this particular memory above all others, for I do, but as long as this one has caught my hold, I doubt I’ll be able to move on to a newer, potentially more comforting one.

At last, I would like to thank the person who shares this memory with me, making this memory and my life come alive when I most need it. For I may one day forget all the details of this memory, and I may forget the memory itself, and the feeling that this memory leaves me with and anything about this memory, but I shall always remember my companion.

Thank you dear comrade: Dancing Tables.

 

 

Curious?

Sometime ago, in a past I am more than willing to forget, I had a discussion with a close friend about whether curiosity or desire was more necessary for development in the world. Needless to say the discussion quickly shifted focus to what, in fact, was development. Unsatisfied by the turn of events, we decided to modify the criterion of our discussion to whether it was curiosity or desire which was the reason behind most of the scientific pursuits and developments.

Being more of a “why” person as opposed to a “what if” person, I took it upon myself to become curiosity’s knight, little aware of the fact that I was up against desire’s bishop. I returned from the contest alive, but barely so. It was a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was one, for the comfort which I had with regard to curiosity had been gone. I didn’t believe in the sanctity of curiosity anymore and, if that discussion were to be held again today, I would  just as willingly fight for desire as I once did for curiosity.

Sitting at my desk today it struck me that the argument hadn’t ever really been drawn to a close. My friend hadn’t lost after all, and, the downside of the realisation, I hadn’t really won. So I decided to take the argument further, but not with anyone who might give me ideas which I cannot quite work with, for as much as I like to learn there is a time and a place fore everything and this wasn’t it. I carried the argument forward with myself instead, and though I haven’t quite reached a conclusion, I thought it quite worthy to be shared here.

However, narrating two sides of an argument, especially one which took place in two incidences separated by more than four months, is not only a tedious task but also a recipe for losing readership. Instead, I’ll get right to the point which I think could benefit the world, and, should that desire seem too melodramatic and hollow, it would give my mind the peace necessary for it to function.

Have you ever wondered why or how things happen? Why did humans learn to walk upright? Why did oxygen only develop on planet Earth? Why does gravity pull you towards itself instead of pushing you away? How does the system of tectonic plates work? How did evolution land us here, in present day? How do scientists get the ideas for groundbreaking theories?

It’s all there in our heads, and I am sure we have all wondered about such things at some point in our lives, but refused to follow the train of thoughts for any of the million reasons that surround us. Maybe we realised that such pondering yields no good, is perhaps too vague  or simply too silly. Or maybe someone we assume is wiser to us heard our misgiving and showed us that they were simply a waste of the precious time we have. Either way, even if  these doubts do find their way into our heads, they are quickly squashed out.

On the other hand, desires are ever-persistent. Desires cannot be squashed out because they form a home in our hearts and minds and leave a hollowness whenever they are taken away unsatisfied. Desires, therefore, seem to be the stronger, or at any rate the more permanent, governing forces of our actions.

Perhaps the greatest strength of desire is its range. Curiosity, when it exists, cannot be small, else it shan’t be called curiosity but doubt, or lack of knowledge. Do we call a person who wonders about the taste of chocolate curious? Of course not, we simply call them unlearned or inexperienced. But a person with desire, no matter how small, is still called desirous. A person who desires the greater good of mankind is as desirous as a person who desires, for lack of a better example and  to provide some form of analogy, chocolate.

So is that it? Does desire take the crown simply because it is a broader concept than curiosity? No, absolutely not. For curiosity is nothing but the desire to know, the desire to learn something new, or to feel something new. Curiosity is nothing if not a form of desire itself, a specific part which is so strong and so different to desire itself that it merits its own side in this argument.

Curiosity is rich. As I said, a person who would like to know the taste of chocolate isn’t curious. Curiosity isn’t something just anyone can have, it’s a rare occurrence which makes it both precious and, in some crooked sense, utterly worthless. The example which my friend and I had debated upon was that of the Wright brothers. Were they curious to know what the sensation of light would feel like or did they simply have the desire to fly?

Now the question seems awfully simple. It doesn’t matter. Of course they were curious about the sensation of flight, who isn’t? The wanted to know what flying would feel like, and they also wanted to fly. What matters is which of these desires was the stronger factor influencing their decisions? Was it the desire to experience something new, which we have already classified as curiosity, or simply the desire to do something, without the intent of learning something from the  experience.

You will find that the answer to this question, and any other questions which draw any form of line between curiosity and desire, are nearly impossible to answer.  They are almost always vague and offer no form of consolation even when the questions are answered. Some things are, perhaps, best left to great thinkers of the time, for we are, and I proudly include myself in this category, fools at best.

All said and done, I shall always be curious. I shall always have the overwhelming desire to  know, know just about everything there is to know. It seems like a ridiculous desire, which is why I don’t which to think of it as a desire at all. I am curious, and happy to be, for there is joy in learning the unknown, and that joy is worth more than the satisfaction of any desires which I may or may not have.