Showing posts from June, 2011

The Genius of Borges

"It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books -- setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.... A more reasonable, more inept, and more lazy man, I have chosen to write notes on imaginary books."
Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths (Foreword)

Babar Azeemi: Wajood-e-Zan

This post showcases some paintings by the Pakistani artist Babar Azeemi, from his exhibition 'Wajood-e-Zan' (Existence of Women) at Ejaz Art Gallery:

The Book-less Non-believer

X: He doesn't understand why I insist on my beliefs when they are obviously a joke, obviously fake. As he pointed out, I don't even have a book to follow!


Aati: There is a limit to everyone's own capacity for feeling, I know that very well how it feels like when one's capacity to empathize is exceeded. Me: Your depression may exceed my capacity for empathy, but it will not exceed my friendship.

The Courage Beyond

"There is a courage that goes beyond even an atheist sacrificing their life and their hope of immortality. It is the courage of a theist who goes against what they believe to be the Will of God, choosing eternal damnation and defying even morality in order to rescue a slave, or speak out against hell, or kill a murderer... You don't get a chance to reveal that virtue without making fundamental mistakes about how the universe works, so it is not something to which a rationalist should aspire. But it warms my heart that humans are capable of it."
Eliezer Yudkowsky, The Moral Void
[h/t: Luke]


"I think no one in the world knows how unhappy I am, and somehow that helps. There is comfort in solitude."
Isabel Huggan, The Elizabeth Stories
It is interesting to note how the same fact can affect two people in radically opposite ways. The person referred to it in the quote above found comfort in solitude, and yet its complete opposite also remains understandable: "I think no one in the world knows how unhappy I am, and that doesn't help matters at all. There is no comfort in solitude."

The Struggle

"Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question — to doubt — to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained."
Richard Feynman

Decline Effect

The Truth Wears Off: Jonah Lehrer writes about the unsettling Decline Effect, revealing the human and fallible side of Science.
'Learn from science that you must doubt the experts.' Richard Feynman

Unravelling the Ambiguity of Meaning

In order to unravel the ambiguity associated with the question "What is the meaning of life?", I believe that we must distinguish between two separate questions, one broadly of psychology and other broadly of philosophy:
Question 1: What is a meaningful life? How can a person live a life that is meaningful to him? [positive psychology, virtue ethics]
Question 2: What is the nature of life and reality? If there is a God, why did he create us, what does he expect from us and what does he hope to accomplish? [metaphysics, theology, mysticism]

The Meaning of Meaning

Following are excerpts from the chapter The Meaning of Life from the book The Big Questions by Robert C. Solomon:
"What is the meaning of life? This is the big question -- the hardest to answer, the most urgent and at the same time the most obscure. Careful thinkers often avoid it, aware that the question is vague, that the meaning of the word 'meaning' itself is ambiguous, that the answers are not always literal truths that can be defended by argument and reason. Yet it is reason that makes an answer possible, and it is reason that makes the question necessary.
The Meaning of Meaning
... First we should ask, what is the meaning of "meaning" in this question? Sometimes, the meaning of something (a sign, a word) is what it refers to, something beyond itself.... Thinking of meaning this way, we would say that the meaning of each our lives is what our individual lives refer to. But what would this be? One might say that each of our lives in some sense refer to other …

Ever So Secretly

X:Sometimes I wish you loved me so secretly - the sound of love so inaudible to anyone like the tone of a whisper, deep inside your heart, heard and felt only by yourself - that even I myself would not know.

UN Gay Rights Resolution

Creating history, United Nations has passed its first ever resolution defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons as human rights. Here, Here and Here.
It should be shamefully noted that Pakistan (along with other Muslim countries) opposed the resolution, and said that gay rights have "nothing to do with fundamental human rights."
It should also be noted that a similar resolution in favor of gay rights in UN was unable to be passed in 2003 because of opposition from Muslim block.

On Purpose in Life

Faisal Amir: It keeps badgering me that existentialists, etc. set out to find a purpose. Even when they can't, they find one. It's like they were finding an excuse for living. Like if life was something sacred and they were to preserve it. Why not say so then? Why do you not make it your premises?
Me: Existentialists did not set out to find a purpose. They set out to explore the human condition and they found themselves face to face with an utterly indifferent meaningless absurdity. But in this absurdity, they realized their immense freedom, the freedom to define themselves, to live however they choose to, because there is nothing to dictate them. What would be the point of dying? It would be no less absurd. If there is no reason to live, then there is also no reason to die. To live, to die, to rebel, it is your choice now, your individual choice that you have to make on facing this absurdity.
Faisal: I am sorry I shouldn't have included existentialists. They make my point …

Asking Out

Allen: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it? Woman: Yes, it is. Allen: What does it say to you? Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless, bleak straitjacket in a black, absurd cosmos. Allen: What are you doing Saturday night? Woman: Committing suicide. Allen: What about Friday night?
Woody Allen, Play It Again, Sam

The Plasticity of Blind Faith

The first challenge to blind faithcomes with the acute realization that blind faith is aimless... you can believe in anything you want, you can take anything on faith, any scripture, any prophet, any ideology. Belief is plastic. If you have to believe, why restrict yourself to what you are being told? Make your own beliefs, be heretics. People don't do so, because they share the beliefs with a community, and there is an unconscious pressure of conformity. However, the realization of the plasticity of pure belief is a potential step towards its dissolution.
Apart from dissolution, there are two ways in which people respond to this. One is that they begin to say that their faith is not blind but rather based on reasoning. The off-side of this for the believer is that bad reasoning can actually be analysed and pointed out. To avoid this, the believer of 'rational faith' usually keeps switching from reasoning to faith during argumentation as and when it suits the purpose, and y…


For those interested, I am now available on Twitter:

Raped Pathani Larki

This is one of the interesting feedbacks I received on the Understanding Patriarchy and Honour article through email:
"salam dunno y i thnk u r a pathani ladki n dat too a raped one hahaha well really i wud luv to knw wt made u write dat article n us . u knw strange 4 a person to thnk abt it n write widout any reason so plzzzzzzzz tell me dying to knw infact i agreeeee wid sum of ur ideas n share d same thnking n ma pathani gal too w8ng 4 ur rp"
The author of this thinks that I am a raped pathani larki, as if she believes that only a girl can write about feminism in this country, and if the author is vocal, she has to be a pathan to explain the assertiveness, and she is unable to understand why someone would even consider writing such an article unless she has been raped herself. (Ever heard of empathy, sympathy, social intellectual responsibility?) Disappointing.

Understanding Patriarchy and Honor

My article in Us magazine (10th June 2011 issue), an attempt to expose young readers to feminist themes. In the process I may have over-simplified and over-looked matters, and therefore more seasoned feminists are welcome to offer constructive criticism.

Understanding Patriarchy and Honor
Awais Aftab

Ideas of honor are so common to our society that we hardly ever notice them as being something odd. In the March 2011 issue of Us magazine, Guru in Trust Us replied to a confidential letter by G.Z. From the reply it can be surmised that she was in a relationship with a guy X, who got physically involved with her and then dumped her. Guru chastises her that she should not have believed him in the first place and should not have succumbed to his wishes. “At least you would have saved your honour that way”. Later in the reply she writes “Your parents have already suffered a lot because of you. Don’t be a source of embarrassment to them.”
What exactly is this “honor” and how does one lose it? …

Universal Moral Grammar and Implications

On philosophy bites, John Mikhail speaks with support of empirical evidence in favor of an innate basis to our sense of right and wrong, somewhat analogous to Chomsky's ideas on universal grammar.
I have always leaned towards the idea of an innate universal moral grammar and I think its very likely to be correct. However, the actual problem of normative ethics still remains unsolved, even if this theory is correct. For instance, we all have an intuitive physics, but much of that intuitive physics is wrong. How do we know that the innate morality does indeed provide the best answers to moral questions? If we have a dilemma where an act leads to increased well-being of a large number of people but that act clashes strongly with our conscience (innate moral sense), how do we know that following the conscience is indeed the morally best thing to do?
Another aspect to note is that the universal moral grammar applies to broad elementary questions of morality (such as when is it wrong to …

Trade Up

Aati: You know how some people never have lasting relationships because they always have the urge to 'trade up' their partner? That is, once they 'get' a certain person, they want to get a better person. I have realized I do something similar. I trade up my expectations. Once upon a time, I didn't expect to be loved back. I got that. So then I expected to be loved back and accepted along with my values and beliefs. I got that too. So then I expected to be loved back, accepted and loved for those values and beliefs too; not just merely 'tolerated'. I don't get the urge to trade up people, but once I've traded up my expectations, those people fall short of them anyway and an emotional incompatibility is created.

Pakistan's Post-Feminist Dilemma

Below is an excerpt from the excellent article by Rafia Zakaria in Dawn, criticizing the proponents of 'post-feminism' in Pakistan and explaining how ideologies derived out of a Western context are being applied within Pakistan to justify various social limitations on women. Very importantly, the article also hints at how limitations can now be rationalized by women, who are educated enough to be independent-minded but not independent enough to forego the inherently anti-feminist prescriptions of society and religion, as free choices. This is not to make a sweeping generalization that no free choice exists at all for women in Pakistan when it comes to these issues; women in Pakistan are a heterogeneous group, from the born-and-bred in Western lifestyle to the conservative and traditional minded living in almost complete segregation. It is this very heterogeneous element that complicates matters, because in the very midst of oppression, tools of oppression cannot be hailed as t…

Judgemental Disagreement

One aspect that particularly bothers me when it comes to religious attitude vs philosophical attitude is a certain judgement of those who disagree with you. If I disagree with someone philosophically, the most judging I can be is to say that I believe he/she is seriously mistaken and that his/her views would bring great harm. However, if I disagree with someone religiously, as in, the other person is not of my religion, I'll believe, implicitly or explicitly, that the disbeliever is somehow inferior in the eyes of God, that the nonbeliever is not worthy of the fruits of afterlife that are reserved for the believers of my religion, that even though I may respect you in this world, I believe that your very disagreement renders you deserving of an infinite punishment in hell, and that the very fact you cannot see the obvious truth of my religion and cannot take it on faith, you are somewhat of an imbecile. It might make some sense to say that the judgement of afterlife would be based…


X: You are the only woman who is so close to me who hasn't been in pain because of me.... I feel like an instrument of destruction. A human Shiv of souls.
Y: You're nothing of the sort! If anything, you're like the sun. You're nurturing and a warm, subtle yet powerfully influential presence in the lives of the people around you. Sometimes we may complain about the heat but without you, our worlds would be much darker and colder, and perhaps our inner selves that you help bring forth would be frozen in slumber. I might never have even begun to really know myself if I hadn't known you.