Saturday, October 31, 2009

by Awais Aftab

Episode 2: The Kiss

I wake up. Just like that.

Fog surrounds my bed. On the wall, a self-made calendar announces an impossible date. 16 June 1904. “Damn you, Joyce.” I mumble.

I have to find that girl today. The girl with the lipstick. The girl with no shadow.

I wait at the coffee shop. She doesn’t show up. The man at the counter doesn’t like me. I wonder why.

She just exists in your imagination.

I touch the tissue paper in my pocket; it feels real. I decide to go to the library. I have never been to this one before.

Libraries are scary places. The books talk to me.

Laugh. And a chuckle.

I am not scared of you.

I enter the place. There is a counter just in front. There is a girl there, but she has a shadow. “How may I help you, sir?”

“Umm… I am looking for…” I look around confusingly. There she is! “I am looking for her.” I point.

The counter-girl makes an expression. “Penelope!” she calls out.


Ulysses will kill you. A sneer.

She looks at me; her lips curl. She comes and takes me by the arm; her eyes say something to the counter-girl. I step along, curious. She pulls me in an aisle between two rows of books.

“I was expecting you yesterday.”

“You weren’t exactly clear about the meeting.” I take out her note.

There is no lipstick on her lips.

“Ah, you brought my message.”

“How do you know I don’t have a shadow?” I demand.

She has playful eyes.

“I hear voices. I know you hear them too. They told me.”

I stare.


“What happens to shadows when light falls on them?” She asks.

“They disappear.”

“You had a shadow once. Light fell on it.”

What, she is the Oracle of Delphi now?

The books start to whisper. Telemachus, Nestor, Proteus, Calypso

Shut up!

The Lotus Eaters, Hades, Aeolus

“Have you read Jung?”

“A long time ago…” … when I was in the institution.

Jung! Oh, the archetype. The shadow. “Everyone carries a shadow.” I mutter as I remember the line.

“We don’t. Because we hear them. We hear our shadows… Shadows don’t remain shadows when they talk.” She says.

I am not a shadow. She’s crazy!

The autonomous, obsessive, possessive, primitive, emotional unconscious. Does mine talk to me?

She’s delusional. Trying to explain her hallucinations in Jungian terms. You have seen people like her. I am the real thing!

“Do you remember the story of the Frog Prince?” She suddenly says.

“Of course.”

Frogs turning into Princes. Fairy tales. Kafkaesque-ness in reverse.

“A spoiled princess has to befriend a frog. Initially she is horrified and disgusted. However, there comes a magic moment of transformation. The modern versions say it’s a kiss. For the more austere early story-tellers, it is enough for the frog to spend the night on her pillow. According to Brothers Grimm, she throws the frog against the wall. Whatever. Boom. Abracadabra. The frog mutates into a handsome prince.”

What a cliché.

“A Freudian would say…”


“…that it is the story of a young woman getting over her fear of sex. But Joseph Campbell, influenced by Jung…”

I hate these crappy psychologists.

“… believed that Frog represents the Shadow. The archetype. The kiss is symbolic of the acceptance of the unconscious by the conscious. The prince without a shadow. An act like that, I would symbolize it with nothing less than sex. A mere kiss?”

Why do children need to read Jung-Freud wrapped up in a cookie anyway?

“You read a lot, don’t you?”

“I work in a library.”

She sparkles; and saying so, without warning she leans forward on her toes and presses her mouth onto mine.

I stand uncertain.

She could have thrown you against the wall.

She offers a risqué smile and walks away.

The touch of human lips. What an odd taste.

May or May Not be Continued…

Friday, October 30, 2009

Larry: Hey Don, are you, are you familiar with, um, quantum entanglement?
Don: Um, I don't think so, I'm not sure.
Larry: Okay, it's a theory that holds that photons come in pairs that are separated by space and time, but always in instantaneous, inexplicable communication. Einstein calls it "spooky action at a distance." But you know I find it... I find the notion fairly romantic.
Don: How so?
Larry: Well, uh, I mean, we affect each other, even when we don't mean to, even when we don't want to, we're connected, you see, even when we try to be unaffected.
Don: Why do I get the feeling you're talking about my love life?

Numb3rs, Episode 2.01, Judgment Call

Thursday, October 29, 2009

by Awais Aftab

Episode 1: The Shadow

“What’ll it be, Tom?” the waitress asks, knowing a cup of coffee is all I ever buy, drinking it slowly so the man at the counter can’t kick me out.

What would the waitress be called?

“Just coffee, Martha.” I reply, my reluctant gaze wandering over to meet a glare from afar. “And hold the cream.” I add as an afterthought. I look at her as she nods. Age ravages faces, once beautiful, but hers had never known beauty, only age.

I shake my head to clear the fog surrounding my senses. Every morning it is like this. I am losing touch of the world. Touch of reality.

Reality, really?

I have to do something about the voices in my head. I sigh. Martha slides the coffee in front of me. I let the warmth permeate into my hand, as I take a gulp and wait for the caffeine to kick in. I hear that song again in the background, the one they play so much. Ah, I love the lyrics. I begin to hum the words along with it. "Got my psycho-delic feet, in my psycho-delic shoes, I believe lordy mama got the psycho-delic blues, tell me how long do I have to wait, or can I get you now, or must I hesitay-ay-ay-ate." Martha bores at me as if I am crazy.

I glance sideways. I feel those penetrating eyes in the corner. It’s the same girl, same table. She’s always there in the shop when I come. And she is always reading that book. Why is she staring at me?

She can hear you.

No! How could she?

“Who’s that girl in the left corner?” I whisper as Martha passes by. She looks up at her. “She works in the library down the street. Lives alone.”

And suddenly I notice the glasses around her eyes, as if they have popped out of non-existence. And I discern her ruffled hair. And that she is tall for a woman; 6 feet, I guess. Casual, unkempt clothes. Her eyes lift up at me again and again. Sometimes a scowl. Sometimes a smirk. Sometimes thoughtful anthropological observation. She makes me uncomfortable.

She’s with them!

She takes a lipstick out of her purse, looks into my eyes, scribbles something on a tissue paper, glares at me again, picks up her things and walks out of the shop, the piece of tissue paper abandoned behind, tempting my curiosity.

Slowly, trying not to draw much attention to myself, I walk to her corner and pick it up.

“You and me, we don’t have a shadow.”

For a moment the world turns into a swish of blurred colors, in which I search desperately for my shadow, but then the world churns back to normal and I see it.

It’s a fake shadow.

Reality, really?

No, how could she!

[To be continued]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Aati: People don't and shouldn't morph into generic 'pillars of a relationship' type characters when in one. The relationship should be defined through them, they shouldn't be defined by the relationship. The stronger the bond, the less its survival will depend on an ability to suffocate and deform personalities.
It is heartening to see that so many scientists and philosophers wrote letters to New York Times, responding to Nicholas Wade's review of Dawkins's book, in which he said that evolution is not a "fact" as claimed by Dawkins. [I had also posted that review sometime back on my blog, in which, i admit, i had described it as a 'balanced review', which perhaps only reveals that the issue of distinction between theory and fact can get quite confusing at times.] These letters can be found here and here. I'll be posting some extracts below:

* "If geologists had to confront a similar propaganda campaign against plate tectonics, they would get a little testy too, I imagine, and physicists might grow impatient if they had to devote half their professional time and energy to fending off claims that quantum mechanics is the work of the devil."

Daniel Dennet, author of “Breaking the Spell” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.

"The crucial point is that, as Dawkins appreciates, the distinction between theory and fact, in philosophical discussions as in everyday speech, can be drawn in two quite distinct ways. On the one hand, theories are conceived as general systems for explanation and prediction, while facts are specific reports about local events and processes. On the other hand, “theory” is used to suggest that there is room for reasonable doubt, whereas “fact” suggests something so amply confirmed by the evidence that it may be accepted without debate.

Opponents of evolution slide from supposing that evolution is a theory, in the first sense, to concluding that it is (only) a theory, in the second. Any such inference is fallacious, in that many systematic approaches to domains of natural phenomena — like the understanding of chemical reactions in terms of atoms and molecules, and the study of heredity in terms of nucleic acids — are so well supported that they count as facts (in the second sense). Many scientists and philosophers who have written about evolution have pointed out that the contemporary theory that descends from Darwin has the same status — it, too, should count as a “fact.” Dawkins is entirely justified in following them."

Philip Kitcher, John Dewey professor of philosophy at Columbia University

* "Evolution is a fact, natural selection is a process and Darwin’s theory is that the fact is explained by the process. The facts of evolution are as evident as any facts about the past can be. So is the fact that blind variation and natural selection can produce a lot of adaptational change. Darwin’s theory about how it does so is indeed a work in progress, but one whose basic correctness is no more open to doubt that General Relativity."

Alex Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole professor of philosophy at Duke University.

* "In his review “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Nicholas Wade erred by insisting that because evolution is a theory, it cannot also be a fact. Actually, evolution is both. Darwin marshaled a convincing body of evidence for the fact of evolution. He also theorized a process, natural selection, to explain how evolution occurs. All great scientific theories have these two components: evidence revealing patterns in nature, and hypothesized natural processes that explain those patterns."

Mark A. Schlessman, Professor of biology at Vassar College

* "The confusion concerns Dawkins’s correct claim that it is misleading to refer to the thesis that the species evolved as “just a theory.” Like the Copernican theory, the theory of evolution is a theory to be sure, but it is also a theory now known to be factually correct. It is a fact, a known fact, that the earth revolves around the sun and that the species evolved. Theories about the mechanics of how evolution occurs are, as Wade points, still being debated and are not yet complete. But Dawkins is not denying this."

Ed Erwin, Professor of philosophy at the University of Miami.

* "Dawkins is referring to the overwhelming physical evidence of biological evolution — both fossil evidence and molecular evidence — as “fact,” which as far as scientific facts go, is as firm a fact as any. It is the mechanism of evolution that is still not completely understood, and attempts to describe this mechanism are “theories of evolution.”"

Peter C. Rowson, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center

* "Of course both claims are correct. The analogy in physics is that the gravitational force exists as a fact, whereas the theory explaining the gravitational force evolved over time from Newton’s view to that of Einstein, and is now accepted to be Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. In a similar manner, the evolution of life is a fact, whereas the theory explaining the evolution of life is Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Unfortunately, Darwin’s theory of natural selection is often called the theory of evolution, leading to unnecessary confusion with the fact of the evolution of life."

Larry Woolf, Principal optical scientist and program manager at General Atomics in San Diego, Calif.

* "By the “fact” of evolution, biologists mean that all of the animals, plants and bacteria that are now alive, or have ever lived, have a common ancestor that was alive over a billion years ago. This claim is beyond dispute among biologists. We will never understand all of the various mechanisms that have resulted in evolution but there is no evidence that casts the slightest shadow of doubt over the fact of evolution. The biochemistry, DNA inheritance and cell biology of all living things point indisputably to a common ancestor. That is the “fact” of evolution, and it should not be confused, as Wade seems to have done, with the theory of how we got here from that common ancestor."

Lewis Greenwald, Associate professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at the Ohio State University.

Monday, October 26, 2009

X: Find the girl who reminds you of Autumn.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"If this writing is incomprehensible to someone or other and hurts his ears, the blame for that, it strikes me, is not necessarily mine. The writing is sufficiently clear given the conditions I set out—that you have first read my earlier writings and have taken some trouble to do that... In other cases the aphoristic form creates difficulties. These stem from the fact that nowadays people don’t take this form seriously enough. An aphorism, properly stamped and poured, has not yet been “deciphered” simply by being read. It’s much more the case that only now can one begin to explicate it, and that requires an art of interpretation.... Of course, in order to practice this style of reading as art, one thing is above all essential, something that today has been thoroughly forgotten... —rumination."

On the Genealogy of Morals, Prologue.

A Snob would persistently engage in an argument because he wants to prove that he was right and the other was wrong.
A Super Snob would simply ignore the argument, because he knows that it is not worth his time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Let's assume scientific determinism is true, and that there is an equation in which we enter the present state A, B, C and it calculates the future state X, Y, Z. However, the very act of calculating what the future is would change that future, because the present state A, B, C did not include the knowledge of the future, and adding the knowledge of the future changes that present state A, B, C, hence making the results of the equation uncertain. (In other words, people can now act differently from what they are supposed to do in the predicted future X, Y, Z, because they now know what that future is.) It is just like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Trying to measure the position of a particle by introducing light into the system changes the position of that particle. Trying to measure the future by means of a deterministic equation changes that very future. Hence, i shall term it the future uncertainty principle.

Please note that calculating the future in this deterministic setting is different from having some sort of a psychic vision of future, and the issue of whether we can change the future in that setting is different from this one. Assuming scientific determinism to be true would also imply psychological determinism, and hence a denial of free will of a sort. This thought experiment also assumes that calculating the future is possible, since determinism does not automatically imply that it is.
William James once argued that every philosophic system sets out to conceal, first of all, the philosopher’s own temperament: that pre-rational bundle of preferences that urges him to hop on whatever logic-train seems to be already heading in his general direction. This creates, as James put it, “a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned … What the system pretends to be is a picture of the great universe of God. What it is—and oh so flagrantly!—is the revelation of how intensely odd the personal flavor of some fellow creature is.”

Excerpt from an article on the life and works of Ayn Rand, Mrs. Logic by Sam Anderson

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

X: I sometimes wish that I believed in a hell where I could condemn all these self-righteous, judging, arrogant believers. And then I realize why prophets invented hell, and where this need to believe in it comes from: from the desire to punish the people who reject and ridicule you, from the desire to have the ultimate last laugh.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

X: You are comfortable with your life, happy with your friends, and then suddenly one day you have a secret; doesn't matter what it is, it's just something that doesn't align with the moral compass of your buddies. And it strikes you that all those people you thought were the closest to you, you can no longer trust them. That's what this secret does. It uproots you from your comfortable illusion of being accepted. It painfully alienates you from your friends, who have just been rendered fake. And you realize that all the while you were looking for friends at the wrong place. A person who has no secrets doesn't know where to look for friends.
Youth Help Line by Rozan is a free telephone psychological counseling service available to the youth of Pakistan at the toll free number 0800 22444, and has helped thousands of troubled minds and prevented many suicides. At YHL, trained psychologists provide guidance regarding any psycho-sexual problem a person may be going through. This is how the Rozen website describes its program:

"The Youth Help Line (YHL) is a resource centre working on the emotional and sexual health of young people. It is primarily a toll free telephone counseling service that operates 7 days a week from 10am to 8pm and can be accessed by areas with telephone code starting with 05 and 09 . This includes the entire NWFP and northern areas and parts of Punjab.

YHL is a unique counseling service as it is the first free help line in Pakistan that was launched exclusively for young people. It provides information, counseling, guidance, and emotional support to the youth in a non-judgmental and non-threatening environment. The service is completely confidential, enabling the youth to approach the Helpline on a whole range of issues and concerns associated with adolescence and growing up. These issues may include:

  • Low self esteem and lack of self confidence
  • Family dynamics and relationships
  • Careers & academic issues
  • Physical changes taking place in the body
  • Bullying and peer pressure
  • Drug abuse
  • Physical and emotional abuse"

Here is an excellent review of the YHL Service at Dawn. YHL is doing a great job, and we should all laud its efforts towards a much neglected area.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

One of the craziest things i have heard about the Large Hadron Collider:

"Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather."

Read more.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barney: Ahhh, there is so much to teach you all. You have just become victims of ... the Cheerleader Effect. Glad you asked. The Cheerleader Effect is when a group of women seems hot, but only as a group. Just like with cheerleaders. They seem hot, but take each one of them individually….sled dogs!

How I Met Your Mother, Episode 4.08

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Dawkins invites the reader to share the frustration of an imaginary history teacher, some of whose students refuse to accept that the Roman Empire ever existed, or that Latin is the mother tongue from which the Romance languages evolved. Instead of concentrating on how Western culture emerged from the institutions of the Roman state, the teacher must spend time combating a school board that insists he give equal time to their alternative view that French has been spoken from time immemorial and that Caesar never came or saw or conquered. This is exactly analogous to the plight of the biology teacher trying to acquaint students with the richness of modern biology in states where fundamentalist opponents of evolution hold sway."

Nicholas Wade, Evolution All Around

It is a very balanced review of Dawkins' new book 'The Greatest Show on Earth'. I would recommend the reader to read the whole article. Here are its ending lines:

"This brings me to the intellectual flaw, or maybe it’s a fault just of tone, in Dawkins’s otherwise eloquent paean to evolution: he has let himself slip into being as dogmatic as his opponents. He has become the Savonarola of science, condemning the doubters of evolution as “history-­deniers” who are “worse than ignorant” and “deluded to the point of perversity.” This is not the language of science, or civility. Creationists insist evolution is only a theory, Dawkins that it’s only a fact. Neither claim is correct."
An extract from an email conversation with a friend over the statement "There must be some driving force that makes all that [events of life] happen, otherwise it would indicate that the events happen haphazardly, which doesn’t make any sense..."

Why doesn't haphazard make sense? In fact, if we collect data on a large scale, haphazard makes much more sense than assuming the existence of any rational force behind it. Pick up the newspaper of any day, so many murders, accidents, suicides, fightings, so much injustice. The world is a messed up place. If there is a God, one could be justified in declaring him to be a malevolent and evil God, who allows the existence of so much misery and pain in the very world He created. So, you see, depending on the perspective, randomness doesn't seem that bad an option to consider. There is no logical irrefutable argument to rule out randomness as the underlying reality. Secondly, many people when they think, they think in a polarized fashion. They think events are either determined by God or by blind chance. But these are not the only two options. An event like a break-up of a relationship is a socially complex phenomenon with many psycho-social variables. It is logical to think that the individual forces of individual people act collectively (but nevertheless logically) in a fashion to produce a result that appears to follow no visible logic. Consider an analogy with physics. Take two masses M1 and M2. The gravitational force between two bodies can easily be calculated using Newton's law. Simple mathematics. Now consider three bodies M1, M2 and M3. The law remains the same, but now there are three bodies to account for, the math becomes difficult to solve and we have to resort to approximations. Now consider ten bodies M1 to M10, all exerting Gravitational force on each other, each individual case following the simple gravitational law, but to calculate the collective effect of the forces of these 10 bodies would be a mathematical nightmare, with equations becoming so complex that they would be impossible to solve. That means we would not be able to predict the behaviour of that system because it is too complex, but it would not mean that the system is not following a specific law. Humans are like these masses, each driven by psychological and social forces, but the cumulative effect of these forces is too complex for us to make sense of in their entirety.

The point is, God is not the only consistent explanation for events of life, and these other options are not easy to rule out. And until they are not ruled out, one is not justified in saying "there must be some driving force".

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What is love? To make a conscious choice amidst doubts or to wait for subconscious certainty to wash over you?

Friday, October 9, 2009

X: Love is a whole for me, but we are being forced to live it in fragments.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Breaking the divisibility law
by ohsostarryeyed at deviantART

would you like to hear
a secret? sometimes i, too
divide by zero.

Posted with author's permission

Saturday, October 3, 2009

An excerpt from the article "The New Atheist Movement is Destructive" by Julian Baggini:

Not reading The God Delusion, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith is perfectly reasonable. Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe? These books are surely mainly for agnostics and open-minded believers. In fact, I think atheists who have read these books have more of a responsibility to account for their actions than I do my inaction. As the posters on the sides of British buses rather simplistically put it, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” God's non-existence is a fact atheists live with, not something that they should obsessively read about.

But if I haven't read these books, surely I should have no opinion about them? I think you’d be less sure of this if you had read How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (or even not read it). In any case, my opinions are not so much about these books as the general tone and direction the new atheism they represent has adopted. This is not a function of what exactly these books say, but of how they are perceived, and the kind of comments the four horsemen make in newspaper articles and interviews. All this, I think, has been unhelpful in many ways. In short, the new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.

How does it get atheism wrong? When I wrote my own book on the subject, I believed that atheism was widely misunderstood as being primarily a negative attack on religious belief, on which it is parasitic.

But this can’t be right. Imagine for one moment that atheism triumphs and belief in God is eradicated. On the view that atheism needs religion, then this victory would also be atheism’s extinction. This is absurd.

It is only because of historical accident that atheism is not widely recognised as a world-view in its own right. This world view is essentially a very general form of naturalism, in which there are not two kinds of stuff, the natural and the supernatural, but one. The forces that govern this substance are also natural ones and there is no ultimate purpose or agency behind them. Human life is biological, and thus does not survive beyond biological death.

Such a worldview needs defending, and a special name, only because for various reasons, it is not the one that most humans have adopted. But the view itself is true whether or not there are people who disagree with it. In a totally atheist world, we may stop noticing that it is a view at all, in the same way that most people do not notice that they believe objects exist whether we perceive them or not. But it would still be a view.

So in my book, I tried to articulate the grounds for this view with as little reference to the religious alternative as possible. The new atheism, however, is characterised by its attacks on religion. “There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds,” wrote Richard Dawkins, quite typically, quoting approvingly Stephen Weinberg, who said, “for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” Hitchens goes so far as to explicitly say that “I am not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist.”
This antitheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

Cross-posted at Bazm-e-Rindaan
A really beautiful short film "Struck". Couldn't find the code to embed it, but please do see it at this link:

Struck the Film

Thanks to Uzair, my brother, for informing me about it.

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