Monday, December 19, 2005

Chores, Illusions, Probability and some thoughts

I hate to do small chores. Usually, when a ‘to-do’ thing props up its ugly head it is not urgent. As I trust explicitly in not doing any work today which could be postponed till tomorrow, my list of to-dos keeps on growing. It might be as big as taking care of my car or as small as adding some features to my blogs, if it can wait then wait it must. But one fine day, I realize that things are getting out of my hand and everything around me is un-organized. Very diligently, I plan out my entire day (usually Saturday) as I did this time. At the end of the day, I was exhausted after driving for couple of hours, lifting heavy furniture, spending three-four hours assembling it, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry; but satisfied that at least a major part of my to-do list has been taken care of. The next day, Sudhamshu asks me why I don’t have links to my other blogs on Viprashna. Actually, this is something which was back of my mind for a long time, but for some reasons it was at this particular time when it was to materialize.

Does that mean it was never really my choice? From the moment this universe came into existence, I was supposed to do these things at a particular time in a particular manner. You were supposed to read these words precisely at this time. If someone rolls back the clock of the universe completely, then all the major or minor events that shaped the universe will take place the same way and everything that you and I did today will be repeated exactly in the same manner. We might appear to change some things, but even that is a small part we were supposed to play. This factor of inevitability reminds me of a story of a small bird, who is scared to death seeing Yama, the God of death staring at him intently. A kind Garuda (Eagle) takes pity on him and escorts him faraway to the Himalayas. After returning back he asks Yama, “Why were you bothering that poor kid?” Yama answers, “I knew his imminent death was written in the Himalayas in an accident. I was just wondering how in a matter of few minutes, this poor bird will make it there. But you solved my dilemma.”

The thought that we really do not have any choice, somehow does not scare me as much now as it did few years back when as an idle teenager, I first pondered over this. I don’t know if it is a state of resignation or convenient ignorance. Einstein famously said God does not play dice with the universe. Different people interpret it in a different manner. The view that appeals me the most is, that sub-consciously even his mind could not accept the fact that there is randomness in the world. It was his yearning to make sense out of the chaos termed as universe that appeared in that great mind’s eye. (By the way, I am not exactly sure, but I feel probability and randomness are not exactly synonyms. Probability is not random. Taking the example of dice, for a small set of plays the rolling of a die might appear random but at some point the probability of all possible options must be the same. So even playing dice is not entirely random, isn’t it?)

I do not claim that these are my original thoughts. The question of ‘Koham (Who am I?)’ echoes through most of the religious literature. The desire to know the past, the future and the purpose of our existence, not just as an individual, but as a mankind are quite old and much has been written about the quest. In fact, our cultures and civilizations are just a part of that bigger quest. Sadly, there are no answers and all religions seem to have reached the conclusion that the answers, if at all they exist, are beyond the realms of human knowledge and understanding. This realization must have hurt our ego as a mankind initially; but over the years we seemed to have either learnt to live with it or have ignored the fact – knowingly and unknowingly – and continued to have lived in an illusion. (This reminds me again of a story of Yudhishthira and the Yaksha in Mahabharata. When four of his younger brothers were dead by drinking the water against the Yaksha’s wishes; he posed four questions to Yudhishthira. One of the questions was, ‘What is the most surprising thing in the world?’ The answer was people continue to live as if they are immortal despite witnessing numerous deaths around them everyday.)

So, everyone lives in an illusion. But no religion seems to ask them to lose it; in stead all the religions demand complete surrender and no questions. Even Bhagavad-Geeta claims that God looks after well-being of those people who completely surrender themselves to him without thinking anything else (ananyaschintayanta mam ye janah paryupasate, tesham nityabhiyuktanam yogakshemam vahamyaham). The dominant reason behind this might be a somewhat justifiable fear that the ‘Doubting Thomases’ might take over and there will be anarchy. The other reason could be the realization that who we are to distinguish between the truth and the illusion. What we consider truth now could just be another illusion.


Anonymous said...

what crap!

Nandan said...

Well, that's one way to look at it. :-)

Sudhu said...

This was an awe-inspiring post, Nandan. Read it yesterday, didnt have words to comment.
The story of the bird is very similar to a middle-east story that Jeffrey Archer keeps writing as the story that prompted him to write short stories.

I'm still not very enthused by Everything is an Illusion.. but i guess it is the ultimate realisation or what they call enlightenment.
I didnt understand your randomness in Dice theory.
I guess you already met one non-believer :).

Nandan said...

Thanks Sudhu, but it was 'partly' inspired by your posts Lose your illusions and Science, Philosophy and Religion. In stead of writing a lengthy comment, I thought I would write a post. :)

The most important point seems to be the uniform way in which all the religions have shut out the questions and doubts. Even Hinduism, which is touted as Sahishnu (tolerant) seems to do the same.

Addicted To Chaos said...

This may sound stupid, but the reason why Krishna suggests that one shuns all the thoughts and commits oneself to the Almighty, has something to do with the fact that all the illusions, the truth, the facts, everything we comprehend is in our mind. Once we succumb to letting our mind take over and think, we are no longer completely capable of understanding illusions. What is more paradoxical is that if we were to judge we aren't thinking, we still have to use our mind.

And sudhu, if you dont understand that there is no randomness in dice, you should revisit probability that you learnt in school! Didnt you always produce absolute numbers when you were asked, 'what is the probability of seeing the same number twice in 3 throws?'

Sudhu said...

Interesting debate...
Satwik says "... the fact that all the illusions, the truth, the facts, everything we comprehend is in our mind."
and Nandan says "... uniform way in which all the religions have shut out the questions and doubts"
I conclude, philosophy (in which religion has its roots) didnt initially shut out questions, it is only in the consequent 'Editions' of the Religious texts that questioning was shunned, it might be because Religion has its base on the faith towards that unknown force God. Questioning, leads us to a stage where we find paradoxes in Religious teachings & the Power attributed to God keeps on reducing, which definitely a Religious muff wouldnt like.

But my dad tells me of a shloka where people are actually coaxed to think freely ... will mention the full shloka in my next comment.

Coming to probability & randomness:
Probability of an event only tells me what is the chance of an event happening. It does not tell me what is going to happen. Do you think with the help of probability i could tell next roll of dice would bring a Six just because six has not figured in the last 100 throws? No! Chance of that happening is High, but still the 101st throw can bring any number betn 1 & 6... the outcome is still random.
Probability cannot predict future. What concerned Einstein was that, the good ol' Newtonian theory which said "If you know a few characteristics of a system, you can tell exactly how it will function in the future". With the advent of Quantum mechanics (especially the Heisenberg principle), we know it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen next. Einstein, even on his death bed didnt like this outcome & asked for his sheets of paper to find out the truth before his time would come.

Sudhu said...

forgot to add 2 more things to the already long comment. Koham sounds a lot like Koan (pronounced kowaan) in Zen philosophy, (think i've told you this before). Dictionary meaning: A paradoxical anecdote or a riddle that has no solution; used in Zen Buddhism to show the inadequacy of logical reasoning Satwik should be happy as he has himself written about one such paradox in the comment.

#2: (wanted to blog on this, but this post has more relevance)
Just see the lyric of the song Hallowed Be Thy Name by Iron Maiden. Lines of Note wud be "..After all I am not afraid of dying
Don’t believe that there is never an end"
. Much like what Yuddhishtira mentions how people think they are immortal until they are close to death themselves.
"..When you know that your time is close at hand Maybe then you’ll begin to understand Life down there is just a strange Illusion."
I know its a weird place to find analogy, but I dont read Hindu religious texts to find parallels (& hence rely on Dad to come up with them!).

Nandan said...

Sudhu, waiting for you to quote the Shloka that you promised. :) and yes Kowaan and Koham could very well be the same. After all, zen itself derives its name from 'dhyaan'.