Thursday, December 31, 2009

We live in Cranky times.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

by M. Awais Aftab
Dedicated to Mayhem.

To disembowel
To drive oneself
to the heart's last beat

To cease to be!

But why?
Does ex-cease-tence need a reason.

Madness. Mania.
Desperation. Depression.
Folly. Frenzy.
Grief. Greed.
Honor. Houri.
Pain. Penance.
But the Archangel of them all...

To think, to believe
To know
That one deserves better than this world
This life
That is the secret
Behind that final slice of knife
From left to right.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Aati: I just want it to 'be', you know? Like the sky. But people don't get that, which is why i feel i can't really tell them. Except for you. You let things 'be' in just the right way. Indifferent yet concerned.
Me: Lolz. That makes me an odd friend.
Aati: But you fit me perfectly! Two odds making an alright.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Children and conservatives, please do not read.

This is an actual text conversation and hence ideas are presented in their raw form and would require further analysis to be refined.

Me: Nude art seems to somehow "cleanse" the nudity, makes it beautiful even. Real nudity in contrast can often be "Ewww".
Aati: Real nudity: Depends on who's nude. ;)
Me: True. Hollywood flashy skins have distorted our perception of nudity.
Aati: Hollywood and plenty of other things that seek to define nude body as a single type -- and in certain cases, including art, are tempted to hide 'imperfections'.
Me: My point actually was that we are exposed to so much nudity that is glossy and beautiful, we tend to imagine that all nudity would be like that.
Aati: To me, each unique 'ordinary' body is a testimony to itself, a sketch of the life it's lived. Which is fascinating.
Aati: That's something often lacking in nude art, at least the nude art I've seen. Even in mine ... because of our subconscious perception of the nude body? Or lack of skill?
Me: What's lacking in nude art?
Aati: The body's story. No scars, no moles, no stretch marks, nothing that could make the body more than just a body. Nude art in fact distances nudity by cloaking in art -- perhaps that's one reason why you might find it less 'infringing'.
Me: Perhaps the reason of its lack is that we don't get to see much real nudity around us. We only get exposed to a nudity of a flashy nature, a marketable version, slutty beauty with perfect curves. Too much exposure permeates into our subconscious and we forget that a body tells a story.
Aati: Yeah. And also we begin to imagine that at least some nudity will be like that. Whereas nudity isn't all about the body as just a body. Do you ever look at your body as if it's a map? I do -- every part has a history, a reason, or some sort of memory connected with it.
Me: A boy looks at a girl he is infatuated with and imagines her naked. Most likely he'll imagine some figure on the lines of Kate Winslet or Kareena. The K-K Modification. :)
Aati: The K-K modification occurs, I think, due to over-exposure to the K-K stimulus and underexposure to real (actually real) nudity. And in all the anti-aging and anti-stretch marks etc efforts taken by women, you can see a desperate attempt to literally bury themselves; when the body becomes too much of 'us', we take it as a flaw. Ironically, even what we hide can reveal us.
Me: Perhaps perception of nudity as a taboo and sin contributes to that. Nudity becomes a 'tool' of the 'whore'. It becomes something meant as 'enticing'. It becomes pornography.
Aati: To reveal is such a 'shameful dirty' concept, we all becomes exhibitionists. Exhibitionists tend to be very puritanical about nudity. So the more we suppress it, the more it weighs down on us, till we find outlets such as pornography. A pathological view of nudity.
Me: Imagine a community in which 99% women are strictly veiled. 1% are what those 99% percent would call as "whores". That 1% would define the perception of female nudity in minds of men. And they would ascribe the same perception to rest of 99% whose bodies they cannot see. Those 99% now possess a 'marketable potential'. "Marry me and you can have my nudity," says the veiled one. And the man knows of no other nudity but the slutty one. So he marries her in mis-perception. In a way, that society creates that 1% to serve the interest of the 99%.
Aati: Even the Veil, as I said, sometimes reveals as we try to hide. The veil creates a mystery, it screams 'my body is a sex object'. Rather like ultra-skimpy clothing.
Me: Yes, exactly. Nudity is a victim of both bikini and veil. It is a victim by virtue of becoming a sex object.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Paradox Salad

What came first? The chicken or the egg?

By M. Awais Aftab

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was it the egg that got laid first or was it the chicken [pun intended]? The question, however, was not hatched for mere amusement. It is not just a question about chickens and eggs; it is also a question about how life and universe began. Such philosophical problems are often phrased in comical paradoxes: Can Achilles overtake the tortoise in a race? Are all Cretans liars? Can the barber shave himself? As baffling as it may seem, these are the questions which the great minds of humanity have been trying to solve for more than two millennia...

Liar's Paradox

This paradox consists of a single sentence (in various versions) and yet becomes frustratingly cyclic: "This sentence is false". If this sentence is true, then this sentence has to be false (by its own accord), and if this sentence is false, then it has to be true (by negation). And so on. It is frustrating because this sentence does not seem to conform to the binary idea of true value i.e. a sentence is either true or false, but this sentence seems to be neither.

Another famous version of the Liar's Paradox is Epimenides paradox. A Cretan says: "All Cretans are liars". If all Cretans lie, then this statement is a lie too, and hence Cretans speak the truth, but if Cretans speak the truth, this means the sentence is true and all Cretans lie...

Possible Approach: Many philosophers have offered their solution to the Liar's paradox. One of these suggested answers says that there is nothing paradoxical about this statement because all statements imply their truth in implicit assertion. For example, to say "It is true that one is less than two" is no different than to say "One is less than two" because the latter already contains the assertion of its truth without mentioning it. Seen from this point of view, "This statement is false" is logically equivalent to "This statement is true and this statement is false". Since this is a simple contradiction, this statement is therefore simply inaccurate, not paradoxical.

The Hangman Paradox

Imagine a judge who tells a prisoner that he is to be hanged but that he will be hanged any weekday in the coming week and that the day of hanging would be a surprise to him. The prisoner however, reasons that he cannot be hanged since the condition of hanging being a surprise can never be logically met. This is how he reasons: Since hanging is supposed to be a surprise, it cannot be on Friday, because if he has not been hanged by Thursday, there is just one day left and hence there would be no surprise. It cannot also be Thursday, because if he has not been hanged by Wednesday, there would be two days left, Thursday and Friday, and since Friday is eliminated, Thursday is the only day left and it would not be a surprise. Extending this reasoning, he concludes that he cannot be hanged on Wednesday, Tuesday or Monday. However, the prisoner was hanged on Tuesday, and as expected, it came as a total surprise to him. But what was wrong with his reasoning?

Possible Approach: The argument starts by assuming that the prisoner would be alive on Thursday and would not have been killed in the days before. Hence, on Thursday, he would come to know that Friday is the last day left. However, this information cannot be possibly known before Thursday, and by extending this certainty backwards in time, the prisoner is making a logical mistake.

Barber's Paradox

This problem presents us with this hypothetical situation: there is a town in which there is only one male barber. Some people in the town shave themselves, while others get it done by the barber. The barber obeys a simple logical rule: he shaves only those men who do not shave themselves.

Now, the problem emerges when the barber needs a shave. Does the barber shave himself? If he doesn't, then he has to abide by the rule and shave himself. And if he does shave himself, then he has to abide by the rule and does not shave himself.

Barber's paradox is actually a popular version of Russell's Paradox, which was discovered by Bertrand Russell and is based on the set theory of mathematics. There are some sets which are members of themselves, and there are some sets which are not members of themselves [such as a null set]. Russell asks to consider the set of all sets which are not members of themselves. The questions arises, is this set a member of itself?

First consider the possibility that it is a member of itself. But how can it be a member of this set, because the set contains only those sets which are not members of themselves.

So, let us consider the second possibility that it is not a member of itself, but if it is not a member of itself, it is a set which is not a member of itself, and therefore should be included in the set of all sets which are not members of themselves!

Possible Approach: While it may be easy to say the barber of the paradox does not exist in reality, to say that such a set does not exist is to threaten the very foundation of set theory in mathematics as it did in the early 19th century. Russell himself and other mathematicians responded to this paradox by modifying the set theory in a way that would avoid this paradox from emerging in the first place.

Ship of Theseus

Imagine a ship. It gets damaged as time passes. Its damaged parts are replaced by new parts. Eventually with time, all the parts of the ship have been replaced by new parts. Is it still the same ship? Furthermore, if all the parts that had been removed were reassembled to create a ship, which of these two ships would be the original ship?

Possible Approach: The answer to this paradox depends on what is exactly meant by the words "the same". If the same means consisting of those exact particles of matter of which it was composed, then obviously the ship is not the same. But if same means that the ship possess the same design and structure and spatio-temporal location, then yes, it is the same ship. [By the way, this paradox can also be applied to human body. In a matter of 10-15 years, all the particles that form our body are eventually replaced by new particles. Do we still remain the same persons as we were before?]

Arithmetic Paradox

It is a proof of obvious contradiction. For example, proving that 1 = 2

(1) X = Y

(2) X^2 = XY [Multiply both sides by X]

(3) X^2 – Y^2 = XY – Y^2 [Subtract Y^2 from both sides]

(4) (X+Y)(X-Y) = Y(X-Y) [Factor both sides]

(5) (X+Y) = Y [Divide both sides by (X-Y)]

(6) Y+Y = Y [Since X=Y]

(7) 2Y = Y [Add the Y's]

(8) 2 = 1 [Divide both sides by Y]

Possible Approach: The problem exists in line (5). The term (X-Y) is equal to zero because X=Y, and X-X= 0. In line (5) we divide both sides by (X-Y) i.e. zero, and anything divided by zero is an undefined entity in mathematics.

Omnipotence Paradox

Can an omnipotent being (i.e. God) create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it? If He cannot lift it, then He is not omnipotent, and if He cannot create such a rock, then He is still not omnipotent.

Possible Approach: Most philosophers prefer to either modify the notion of omnipotence or do away with the idea of omnipotence altogether. One possible answer to this paradox can be that an omnipotent being can do the logically impossible tasks i.e. an omnipotent being can create a rock that it cannot lift and then still lift it up. Such an omnipotent being would also be possible to make two plus two equal to five. The paradox is resolved only at the expense of logical consistency.

Zeno's Paradox: Achilles and the Tortoise

Zeno of Elea was a Greek philosopher who invented many paradoxes, one of which deals with a race between Achilles and the tortoise. Since Achilles is over-confident of his victory, he gives the tortoise a head start of 100m in the race. Both Achilles and Tortoise start at the same instant and at constant speeds. By the time Achilles has covered the 100m, the Tortoise has moved ahead by a distance of one meter. When Achilles covers that 1m, by that time the Tortoise has moved ahead by a distance of 0.01 m. When Achilles covers that 0.01 m, the Tortoise has moved ahead by 0.0001 m. Whenever Achilles reaches where the Tortoise had been, he still has some distance to cover, no matter how small it is. Achilles would have to take an infinite number of such steps to overtake the Tortoise, which means that he will always be behind the Tortoise!

Possible Approach: The paradox assumes that an infinite number of steps cannot be taken, but this is a false assumption. Sum of infinite terms can actually be a finite number, as students of calculus would be well aware.

The total of infinite number of steps can be a finite distance covered in a finite time. This should not sound surprising because if we take a finite amount of distance, say one meter, we can divide it into an infinite number of pieces, and if we add up those infinite number of pieces, we would again get a finite distance of one meter. Hence, Achilles would overtake the Tortoise and win the race.

[Cover Story published in Us Magazine 11 December 2009.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What are the different possible answers to the issue of relationship of perception and external world? Let's ditch all the confusing the epistemological labels, and use simply lay-man terminology. Broadly speaking, I think all the positions can be grouped as:

  • The Common Sense View: The world as we perceive it actually exists and is more or less similar to what we perceive it to be.
  • The Refined Common Sense View: An external world exists independent of human mind, and that external world is not the same as we perceive it to be, but what we perceive corresponds in some way to what actually exists.
  • External World Skeptic View: An external world may exist but we can know nothing about it and we have no reason to suppose that external reality corresponds in any way with our perceptions.
  • World as an Illusion View: This refers to all the various possible scenarios like my brain is placed in a vat and connected by wires to a computer which sends my brains the same impulses which a normal receives; we all exist in some computer program; we all exist in some work of fiction; what we are perceiving is actually a dream, etc etc.
  • World as God View: We exist inside the mind of God, and God is the cause of all our perceptions.
  • Solipsistic View: Only my mind exists and there is no external reality.
  • The Flux View: Reality exists, but it is actually in a state of flux with no concrete "facts", and the individual and collective consciousness of humans "molds" that flux into adopting one or the other state through our beliefs and actions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities."

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

"We may given the name 'data' to all the things of which we are aware without inference. They include all our observed sensations - visual, auditory, tactile etc. Common sense sees reason to attribute many of our sensations to causes outside our bodies. It does not believe that the room in which it is sitting ceases to exist when it shuts its eyes or goes to sleep... In all this we may agree with common sense; but where it goes wrong is in supposing that inanimate objects resemble in their intrinsic qualities, the perceptions which they cause. To believe this is as groundless as it would be to suppose that a gramophone record resembles the music that it causes....

Suppose that a speech is recorded simultaneously by a number of gramophones, the gramophone records do not in any obvious way resemble the original speech, and yet, by a suitable mechanism, they can be made to reproduce something exceedingly like it. But what they have in common can only be expressed in rather abstract language concerning structure....

[The light emitted by a star] may happen to hit a human eye. When this occurs, the results are very complicated.... the disturbance in the nerves, which has been traced by the physiologist, reaches the appropriate region in the brain; and then, at last, the man whose brain it is sees the star.... I believe, for my part, that there is no greater mystery than there is in the transformation by the radio of electromagnetic waves into sounds....

What these physical analogies to perception show is that... a vast assemblage of overlapping events in taking place, and that many of these events, at a given place and time, are connected by causal chains with an original event which, by a prolific heredity, has produced offspring more or less familiar to itself in a vast number of different places... What is preserved throughout the causal chain, in this case as in that of the gramophone record, is a certain consistency of structure."

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development [Extracted lines have been rearranged by me from different parts of the essay 'My Present View of the World' to produce a sort of summary of the whole essay, using Russell's own words.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Read this excellent article by Tom Rees on Epiphenom explaining the results of a study which indicates that people’s view of what God wants is actually a projection of their own beliefs and opinions: What you want, god wants

Monday, December 7, 2009

Love cannot be reduced rationally. Love requires a mystery, that magical feeling that makes your body and soul tick. It is its essence. Attempts at analysis can determine the components of love but can't determine the glue that holds them together, because the moment you think that you have determined that, love evaporates. Love thrives on being inexplicable. To love is to give in to mystery and magic. To love is to stop trying to define it.

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