Saturday, April 19, 2008



Yama: Welcome my boy, Nachiketa. I apologize for not able to meet you in the last three days.

Nachiketa: My Lord, that is fine. I was just roaming around. It seems Hell hasn't developed much since my last visit

Yama:Ask me anything ? Jewellery, fine clothes, beautiful ladies ...

Nachiketa: I find the offerings hasn't changed much since last time. I hope you know, life style in earth has changed a lot. I could have got much better things there.

Yama: So you are once again back with questions ?

Nachiketa: Yes. But this time i have many.

Yama: What is your first question ?

The Prime Mover

Nachiketa: My Lord, this question has always perplexed me. Why humans are the only species that ask the question "Who am I ?".

Yama: Are you sure that "humans" are the only species ?

Nachiketa: Ok, let us assume so for the time being.

Yama: We have to go back in time in search for an answer. Humans are a product of evolution. In earlier days, they used to live as hunter-gatherer community. Their life was always at nature's mercy. When they look around they realise things around them are more or less eternal. They realised that their life is short. They were slowly coming into terms with death as a reality. They became aware of death. Today there are other species like elephants which mourn the death of their community members for a short while. But humans are the only species which keep the memory for long and can contemplate the situation more deeply. This awareness of relatively short life in this world is the foundation of most of the world philosophies. This prompts us to ask who we really are, what is the meaning and significance of our life ?

Who Am I ?

Nachiketa: My lord, you told most philosophies stem from the awareness of mortal life. When we met last time, i had asked you about immortal knowledge and secret of death. Infact that consititutes our whole dialogue in Kathopanishad. But looking at the developments happened in the history of human thought, i would like to revist those questions again. So my second question is " Who Am I ? ".

Yama: Well my child, the answer is going to be long as it is not a simple one. Let me ask you if i ask you this question, what would be your answer ? Let us keep the metaphysics out for a moment.

Nachiketa: As a person born into a soceity, i played different roles in different contexts. So doesn't the question is relative to the context ?

Yama: True. But that is only true when you examine in a narrow scope. Also all those roles are not equally dominant in all phases of your life.

Nachiketa: True, some were of short duration, some stayed long and some stayed for my whole life. Summing up, the "I" should include what i am physically, emotionally and intelluctually. I consists of my body, my thoughts, my relationship with others
and my own creations through which i live even after i my physical death.

Yama: Good. But where and when did your journey start ?

Nachiketa: I don't have any recollections before i am atleast 3 years old. But i know what happened from my parents and from those lovely images which they had preserved for me. My physical body existed even before in my mother's womb. So the journey started approximately 10 months before she gave birth to me. It should have started right when the sperm from my father fused with the egg from my mother. But didn't i have any existence before ?

Yama: Since we agreed that you don't have any memories then, we have to focus more or less on your physical body. Let us examine, what each sperm and egg contributed for your creation. Each of them brought 23 sets of chromosomes which when combined gave you the present 23 pairs. Each sperm and egg are created by a complex process of cell division called meiosis. There through a random process of crossing-over and recombination, each sperm and egg gets 23 sets of chromosomes. Each of them has exactly half of what is required. So they bring various genes which your parents got from their parents. For a female most of the eggs are created when she was in her mother's womb. The sperm and egg are very short-lived and cannot start any life on its own. The above process of meiosis is one of the reasons why siblings other than identical twins look different.

Nachiketa: So are you saying that a child doesn't inherit any knowledge and skill which their parents has acquired in their life time ?

Yama: Knowledge cannot be genetically inherited. But the child may inherit some talent for skills but not the skill per se.

Nachiketa: Unless taking into account of partial existence in the form of genes in the body of my parents, my existence in the form of a single entity which comes under the definition of a living cell started in my mother's womb only. Am i correct ?

Yama: Yes.

Nachiketa: But when does ensoulment takes place ? I heard that soul weighs 21 grams.

Yama: Good question from a doubting mind. The foetus in first few weeks weighs much less than 21 grams. The statement that soul weighs 21 grams is just an urban legend. What happens in clockwork precision is decoding of the DNA and protein synthesis. From a handful of cells, all organs are formed. The cells in brain and in retina share same origin. That is why humans have blindspot while creatures like octopus and squid don't have. Even the clitoris and penis are developed from the same tissue. When all this happens the foetus isn't aware of these in ordinary human sense as its brain isn't yet developed.

Nachiketa: Why is that so ?

Yama: Philosophers have been searching for the cause for consciousness since centuries. One can find descriptions right from the days of Mandukya Upanishad to Descrates to present day. But decades of research in brain sciences has shown that soul is all made of flesh and consciousness is a product of human brain. Consciousness is an emergent phenomenon as a result of massively networked billions of neurons. Higher levels of thinking are the result of cortex. Cortex is developed more in humans than in any other animals. Damage in selective portions of brain is shown to have caused baffling changes in the personality of people. In a foetus, this kind of cerebral networking starts around 28th week of pregnancy.

Nachiketa: Is the concept of soul same in all religions ?

Yama: No. In eastern religions, soul is considered to be an immortal entity and is present in all living beings. It is considered to carry "samskaras" to the next life. It is these samskaras which makes one to suffer even though one hasn't
done anything wrong in this life. According to Christianity, living beings other than humans don't have soul. Each human is born with a new soul tainted by the original sin. After death, God decides whether that soul goes to heaven or hell.

Nachiketa: Is there any validity to this concept ?

Yama: None of these religions pin point at which stage the ensoulment takes place. In the eastern religions, this concept of soul is needed in order to justify the presence of suffering. Else it will run into logical inconsistencies. It is also well known how Christian theology struggles to keep the presence of evil, Satan and an all powerful virtuous God together. Also decades of research in paranormal psychology hasn't yielded anything.

Nachiketa: But absence of experimental evidence doesn't imply evidence of absence ? It could well be they lie outside our capability of detection in a controlled enviornment.

Yama: Not impossible. But extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence. We can devote another day to discuss exclusively on this topic. Now let us focus on the present question.

Nachiketa: What happens after birth ?

Yama: The body continues to grow including the earlier mentioned cerebral networking. Human infant is completely helpless for years after birth compared to that of other living beings. The other important distinction is that humans are born into some soceity. Human soceity is much more complex than others. There are a lot of things which can be passed down through generations in the form of cultural information.

Nachiketa: That means there is a bypass other than mere genetic transmission.

Yama: Yes. Humans developed different ways to preserve information gathered by one generation and pass on to the next. That helped humans to develop much faster than other animals. Today this resulted in technologies which couldn't be even dreamt by
those who lived when most of the religious scriptures were written.

Nachiketa: Does that means all those claims that past civilzations had advanced technology wrong ?

Yama: Yes and No. For example, claims that India had reasonably advanced metallurgical know how is true which is proved by Iron pillar in Delhi. But claims like equating Brahmastra with Atom Bomb and Quran/Islamic Civilization has detailed know-how in embryology are bogus in nature. The existence of human sperm and egg were established only after the invention of microscope.

Nachiketa: So here he/she has grown from that single cell into an orgranism with 100 trillion cells. Isn't it amazing that we can trace our journey and ask who am I ?

Yama: True Indeed.

Nachiketa: I understand that i can answer "Who i am" in different ways depending on what context is asked. As i said earlier, I consists of my body, my thoughts, my relationship with others and my own creations through which i live even after i my physical death. But why are there phrases like "You are that, I am that I am" ?

Yama: Ancient seers tried to identify oneself with that part which was considered to be eternal. They thought that the spirit is eternal.

Nachiketa: In the present context, is there anything in our body which is atleast pseudo eternal ?

Yama: You aren't the same as when you were born. All the cells in your body gets replaced by new ones. Some are replaced more frequently than others. Even one's thoughts, character and personality evolve over years. The only thing which can be called atleast pseudo eternal is your DNA. Even when your cells are replaced, each gets same one unless are there are any copying errors or mutation. This DNA acts as codebook from where your entire body is created.

Nachiketa: Can i say our whole life is programmed ?

Yama: No, you have a lot of choices. The funny thing is that some are even counter evolutionary. One can decide not to procreate, commit suicide, abort the foetus etc. It is this ability to make counter-evolutionary choices makes us human.

Nachiketa: Looking at my body, can i see the cells in the whole body are like members of a giant orchestra ?

Yama: No they are doing their function with out the presence of any conductor. All of them are not working coherently. That is why we have group of renegade cells in the form of cancer and tumour. Even the mother and child in the womb have sometimes different objectives. That is why the pregnancy is such a complicated affair. Even though the same DNA is present in all cells, they perform diverse functions depending on how genes are regulated and expressed by certain master switches.

Nachiketa: What happens when one die ?

Yama: Here by death, i mean complete irreversible cessation of brain activity. The cells are no longer replenished by nutrients. The physical body starts to decay. There is no evidence that some microscopic body escapes after death. Among all religious philosophies, i like the answer given by Buddha when Vacchagotta asked this question to him. He replied it is similar to asking where did the flame go, after it was extinguished. One can speculate a lot. But people always looks for simple, self-assuring and comforting answers. Even though one's physical body ceases to exist, one can still live through his/her other creations. It could be his/her biological children or brain children. The most famous or notorious people are not remembered for their children, but their thoughts, words and acts. They continue to live among us in that form.

Nachiketa: Attain immortality in another sense.

Yama: Well Nachiketa, do you now know the answer of the Zen koan "What did your face look like before your parents were born ? "

The wild goose chase

Nachiketa: My lord, after our last discussion, i thought a lot about one particular aspect. I think now it is time to ask that most important one. I have been struggling with this for many years.

Yama: My dear Child, ask with out fear.

Nachiketa: Does God really exist ?

Yama: I could sense the arrival of this question. From the time immemorial, many tried to answer this question. For some it was like a wild goose chase. But before answering we should make sure that we are on the same page. God means different to different people. For example, for common believers it is one thing depending upon their religion, it is different for mystics, it is different for philosophers etc.

Nachiketa: I agree to you. Let us go from simple to complex system of beliefs. This is the common argument put forward by many, ie the things in nature are so complex to have evolved on its own. Living beings are incredibly complex than any machinery created by humans. Since these complex machinery are designed by humans, nature itself is too complex to have evolved on its own. And that first cause is the creator him/herself.

Yama: Yes that is a valid question. But think of this. Why humans were able to design complex tools and machines ?. They were able to understand the problem at hand, was able to come up with a conceptual solution and then able to apply that thought into a working solution. To do all these humans should be much more complex than their creations. Similarly if we are invoking the presence of a complex designer to design the complex nature, that creates another problem. Either that complex creator was created by more complex creator or he/she should have emerged out of nothing. If it is former case, each creator on that creator requires a stronger creator and ultimately it becomes an infinite regress and becomes logically inconsistent. On the other hand, if we are ready to truncate that series with just one complex creator, we could have already eliminated that creator leaving behind a much simpler solution.

Nachiketa: Then how come all these beautiful creatures evolved ?

Yama: That is by the process of evolution. All the present life forms are genetically related just like branches of a tree and evolved from a common ancestor which might have lived hundreds of millions of years ago. In such a tree, apes are the closest cousins of humans. We both share a common ancestor in that tree and then different species branched off

Nachiketa: Is evolution just a proposition or a proven fact ?

Yama: Evolution is a fact. It is based on a mountain of evidence from different fields in biology and geology. One can observe evolution in real time in laboratories in species whose life span is short. It has been also observed in real wild species as response to ecological changes.

Nachiketa: It is very difficult to believe from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. Isn't it against second law of thermodynamics which states over the time disorder increases ?

Yama: I can understand. Humans have difficulty in comprehending things which happened in geological time scales. That had an evolutionary advantage as it decreases response time by limiting the amount of information needed to make a decision. Coming to the second part, evolution doesn't violates second law. Second law is valid only for a closed system. But an organism is not a closed system as it receives energy from outside.

Nachiketa: But if evolution is true, why is there still debate among scientists ?

Yama: No scientist worth of his name would say evolution is an illusion. Most of the debate in scientific circles are only in ts microscopic details.

Nachiketa: Why are the creationists (those who believe the world had a creator) so opposed to evolution by natural selection ?

Yama: Evolution by natural selection rules out any possibility of an interventionist God. Most of the theologies and mythologies have something to say about the creation of this world. They have detailed desciption of how this world was created in a chronological scale. Creationists fear exposing people to evolution
will expose the fallacies in their own arguments for an omnipotent god. This isn't a widespread problem, but quite vocal in countries like US and Turkey.

Nachiketa: But can people be allowed to selectively believe verses of the scriptures ?

Yama: That opens a Pandora’s box. Scriptural literalists believe the scriptures are the word of the God in literal sense. If some verses are allowed to read scriptures in a metaphorical manner, the question of who will decide which verses to read allegorically will arise ? That makes the scriptures mere ramblings which are often true and often false. Also allowing creationism also opens another question of which creator ? Different civilizations has heros which are similar in nature - Krishna, Jesus, Osiris, Dionysis, Appollo, Mithra, Hercules, Adonis, Baal etc.

Nachiketa: I was only aware of only few names. Do you mean in legends they have done similar acts to become a hero or divine figure ? How come they have so many common attributes ?

Yama: Yes. None of these heros are mentioned in any historical records to prove their existence. Psychologists consider them as archetypes. They may or mayn't have represented some living person, but obviously with far less powers than it is there in myths now. Over the course of time that gets fattened. Also for the purpose of social and political dominance such figures were used by people in power as a tool to control others. Slowly these figures were elevated to divine status with super natural powers. Also some cross-cultural pollination would have also taken place.

Nachiketa: I can imagine that could have happened. But even in societies which may not have contact with main stream civilizations one can find the presence of a super natural agent. Why is it universal ?.

Yama: That is a good question. The answer comes from the imperfections of human cognition and perception. Optical illusions are great reminders of these imperfections. We are pre-disposed to look for a cause behind every effect. Even if there is no true single cause we search for one. Most of the gods of primitive men are weather based or animals like snake. In those days, people couldn't understand and explain what caused all these natural phenomena. They attributed these as actions of super natural beings. They have also started to give offerings or sacrifices to gain control over these.

Nachiketa: But now we know all these are only natural phenomena. But belief in super natural agents didn't go away.

Yama: As science progressed humans transferred more stuff from super natural world to natural world. Our understanding of nature has also increased and nature as we know spans much more in space and time than our ancestors. But belief is not all about explaining nature. These supernatural agents had a direct interaction with the existential anxieties of people. People turned to them in the event of personal loss like death, deception, wide spread destruction during war, calamities etc.

Nachiketa: True. The philosophers in 18th and 19th century thought religious belief will fade away with the arrival of more reason. They were proved wrong. Not only it died out, but also it got diversified into more sophisticated forms of superstition.

Yama: The reasons why 18th or 19th century philosophers were wrong was because they thought humans are much more rational than we actually we are. They assumed given a lot of evidence, people will stop believing. The reason why it doesn't happen, religion is more emotionally connected than intellectually. This has been showed in brain imaging studies done on people undergoing religious/spiritual experiences.

Nachiketa: Over the last centuries, human lifestyle has changed a lot due to industrialization and other reasons. It might have changed more than what happened in millions of years cumulatively. The number and variety of situations one daily encounter has also increased. But we are stuck with the same old modes of perception and cognition.

Yama: The problem lies with the inability of human mind to comprehend things in a large scale. Humans aren't good in thinking probabilistically, imagine in geological time scales or astronomical distances. That had a survival advantage. But once they are flooded with large volume of data, they are dumbstuck with primitive tools.

Nachiketa: How is these perceptual imperfections preventing us from seeing a big picture ?

Yama: Humans are predisposed to look for patterns in any population of data and to make a sense out of it. If they can find a pattern, it gives the predictive power. This can be explained by Type 1 and Type 2 errors commonly used in statistical analysis. Type 1 error refers to finding a pattern when there is not. Type 2 error refers to not noticing a pattern when there was one. In a survival question, committing type 2 error is more damaging than type 1. This made such a pre-disposition to be advantageous. When the amount of responses is beyond comprehension, it is best to ascribe the best meaningful answer to them. So faced with personal loss like death or deception, large scale famine, riot, war, natural calamities, they can never fit this in a bigger picture. So it is best to ascribe it as a handiwork of god.

Nachiketa: True. It is common for people to relate any positive result as a gift from god and any negative result as something incomprehenbile to us which is part of God's plan in a big picture.

Yama: Look at the present world. The richest 10% of adults in the world own 85% of the planet's wealth and close to 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. These kind of inequalities are grotesque. If it were the activity of a God who intervene the daily life of people, he/she should be a big sadist. There exist many people who are much more qualified to be called as "God" than God him/herself.

Nachiketa: True, even then for them belief serve as a hope for a bright future in present life or after life where justice will be delivered.

Yama: Yes. Super natural agents are tightly holding people's existential dilemmas in short leashes. So unless intellectuals take care of suitable substitutes for super natural agents or policy makers take steps to eradicate these dilemmas, super natural belief is bound to stay here. Take the example of Scandinavian countries. They are on the top of every human development index comparing different countries on the quality of human life. Religious belief is comparatively low there.

Nachiketa: Isn't there a social aspect of religion too ? Doesn't it increases the sense of community feeling ?

Yama: One can find offering sacrifices or other gifts to these super natural agents in all cultures. These kind of rituals increase the intimate fellowship among believers. This is more seen in traditional societies. Anyone who doesn't participate in these is seen as a black sheep. In more liberal societies, people don't care what others believe/worship as long as it isn't going to harm others. This social aspect helps as far as they don't encounter any other society who believes in another God. Then this belief can only increase friction and act as a wedge to increase the divisiveness.

Nachiketa: That is when theists become atheists of their opponent's Gods. Then the question becomes whose God is real and more powerful. I can now imagine how First Commandment would have come. But people always say all religions are same. Is that true ?

Yama: True and False. There are certain things which are common and certain sections where they differ. For example, the golden rule - Do unto others as would have unto them- can be found in all religious scriptures. But they also differ in a great deal. The trouble comes when they preach dogmatic exclusive absolutism. When each religion does that, clash is bound to happen. Religious scriptures contain lot of logically inconsistent statements. One can cherry pick what one wants and derive inspiration from it for any act - humane or evil.

Nachiketa: But does the number of people who really does evil things form a small percentage of whole community ?

Yama: That could be true. But technology has advanced so much. A determined group of few people can easily kill thousands of people, tumble the financial markets and even result in war between nations.

Nachiketa: True. But we can't ascribe religion to the root of all evil existing today ?

Yama: Yes, we shouldn't. But dogmatic religious belief can drive a good person to do evil things.

Nachiketa: Without religions, can there be any moral values ?

Yama: This is a total misconception among people. Moral values has nothing to do with religions. Also religious texts are not good moral texts. It is more related to humans as species. Also different religions had followed different set of rules. In a pluralist society it is the state which decides proper laws for its citizens. Something of global nature already exist in the form of UN human rights.

Nachiketa: Without God, is there left any purpose for life ?

Yama: Of course there is. The present concept of God is only few thousand of years old. 99% of species which had lived on this planet became extinct. Our planet has seen atleast five mass extinctions. The obsession of tying purpose with God is due to the narrow human centric view aimed at a successful after life. Many people have died before the birth of all these messiahs. Purpose isn't created by somebody for us, it should be tailor made by each and every one. There are a lot of problems in this world which needs attention and solution.

Nachiketa: Would the world be more beautiful, if all people becomes atheist ?

Yama: That is a quite difficult question. Certainly the world would be more beautiful, if people becomes less superstitious. But as we saw religion is a natural outcome of human psychology. I don't think it is possible to completely eradicate that belief. Totalitarian govts like erstwhile USSR had banned religion. But after its collapse, there was huge rise in superstition there. Marxists thinkers underestimated the power of religious appeal, other inner demons and the complex emotions it evoke. Looking back at history, devotion also served as a source of inspiration for art, architecture, music, literature etc. The real culprit is not God, it is the dogma.

Nachiketa: Should the children be raised religiously ?

Yama: The single most important reason why everyone is a follower of a particular religion is by the virtue of his/her birth in a particular family. Children are genetically programmed to take the inputs of their parents without any critical evaluation. This had survival advantage as they are not exposed to real world problems. When the parents raise them in an environment which teaches scriptures and the characters in them are literally true, they take in that sense. So the best thing is to expose them to multiple mythologies and teach them they are literally stories and different people believe differently. Also teach them to have a sense of wonder and critical thinking. Expose them to the wonderful world of other creatures which share this beautiful planet with us and about other stellar systems in this vast universe. We know much more about world than any of the authors of religious scriptures. Make them aware of how different people live and the need to conserve nature.

Nachiketa: If some one wants to believe in God and be scientifically consistent, what would be the nature of it ?

Yama: Good question. As i said, such a god cannot be an interventionist. It could be a more evolved being which had the power to set the the initial conditions, allowed it to run on its own and watch the development impersonally. This initial condition could be in the form of fundamental physical constants. He/she might have chosen a different condition for a different universe in a system of multiverses. With the present scientific knowledge we cannot disprove the existence of such a god. But such a god would be totally different from any of the present religions preach.

Nachiketa: I think the Pope has got this completely wrong in his encyclical. God is not Love, actually Love is God.

The truth

Nachiketa: My lord, Thanks to our previous discussions my mental landscape is quite clear now. Still, I can see few clouds floating around.

Yama: That means you still have some doubts which are not yet answered.

Nachiketa: My doubts are concerning the nature of truth.

Yama: Ha ha, Truth ? That touches a lot of areas of philosophy. For example, you are seeing a red rose. You can ask someone this question, Is that rose red in color or What does it mean to say that rose is red in color ? As you see it has different flavors which ranges from a simple validation of a query or a proposition to epistemological proportions.

Nachiketa: I am more interested in truth connected to reality and not that interested in mathematical or formal logic.

Yama: In the course of history, truth was sought in three different ways. First is religious, here truth is what is given by an authority. There was no questioning and everyone has to take it literally. Second is philosophical, where philosophers were more concerned about the internal logical consistency of the statements. For example, if a religious person said God is omnipotent, a philosopher can shot it down by asking whether God can create a stone big enough which he him(her)self not able to lift ? Third one is scientific, which gives importance to the need of evidence.

Nachiketa: How is truth sought in scientific thinking ?

Yama: A good deal of scientists don't say they are truth seekers. They are only trying to explain nature. Science is just a process which helps them to do so. Science as many believe is not a branch of knowledge, but it is a process of enquiry. Scientists in their quest to explain nature or reality come up with different representations. The initial version of this representation can be in the form of a hypothesis. There could be a set of competing hypotheses. Their predictions are tested against experiments. If they fail, they are rejected. The successful one is taken as the most approximate representation of reality. Then it is also called a theory.

Nachiketa: When a new theory is developed, does people overthrow the earlier ones ?

Yama: That depends. If old theory becomes a special case of new theory, one doesn't need to. People can continue using old theory in its domain of validity. Each new theory brings us closer to reality in an asymptotic manner. A good example is those by Newton and Einstein on gravitation. People in their common day usage don't have to worry about Einstein's theory. They can safely use Newton's laws even in complex operations like satellite docking. On the other hand, consider the case of the shape of earth. People in earlier days believed it was flat. Later it turned out that it is more or less like a sphere. Then flat earth theory was rejected.

Nachiketa: But all scientists are not trying to explain nature ?

Yama: True. Some scientists come up with representations of reality in terms of mathematical models. Since they found out that these are general in nature, they can use these and design new things. That is what whole engineering is about. For example, material scientists have come up with a class of materials called meta-materials which aren't found in nature.

Nachiketa: Is this journery always based on hypothesis validation ?

Yama: No, sometime there are serendipitous discoveries and inventions.

Nachiketa: But why does one believe in a scientific theory ?

Yama: My child, the most powerful figure in scientific process which is absent in other modes of enquiry is EVIDENCE. If the evidence disagrees with the hypothesis, it is rejected. This testing is done by different independent groups cut across race, religion, nation and gender. This is its main difference to mere philosophical thinking. For an example, Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. There is no room for a laboratory in metaphysical thought.

Nachiketa: Is scientific process democratic ?

Yama: Eventhough i said hypothesis validation can be done by any group, accepting or rejecting is not dictated by democracy. It is determined by where evidence lies. It is usual to treat truth as something which lies in middle of two claims in newspaper/media reporting. They have been trained to give equal importance for competing claims. But that is erroneous while reporting scientific ideas. That is happening in evolution-creationism debates. Also the semantics are also different. For example, the word theory means a well tested hypothesis in the world of science, but public treats this as just another word for hypothesis.

Nachiketa: Is this kind of scientific thinking a recent development in the history of human thought ?

Yama: No. People have been using this since long time. Take this case, suppose you want to make coffee. In your first attempt, you aren't sure how much sugar is needed. From the first attempt, you figured out somewhere between 1-2 teaspoons is the right choice. On the next day, you don't start again this afresh, assuming 1-2 teaspoons was only valid for yesterday as the planetary pattern has changed for today. So people have been practicing this unknowingly.

Nachiketa: That is true. But there are many thinkers from humanities and social science (HSS) background who think science is just another social construct.

Yama: True. This needs more explanation. They believe scientific results as just another construct of the social, political and economic events in the particular era. Had it been different, the results would have been different. For example if situation in England was different in 17th Century, there would have been a different Newton’s law. This was an idea borrowed from the field of literary criticism. Over the last two centuries, there were close to a dozen of them. They were against the idea of any objective scientific knowledge.

Nachiketa: But we know that is not the case. But is truth relative ? I am looking something more specific. People often connect truth with moral concepts.

Yama: It is true that different cultures follow different laws. So naturally people tend to to think that moral concepts are relative. But anthropologists who do comparative study of societies including those rare hunter gatherer communities have found there exist lot of cultural universals. This may range from respect toward elders to no public act of love making. Almost all basic emotions: fear, anger, disgust, sadness and happiness are found in all human societies. One can find a common set of ethical behavior for humans. As i said in our last discussion, this picture changes when we change the species.

Nachiketa: How is this so ?

Yama: Take the relation between male and female of human species. The norm is monogamous pair-bonding in almost all civilized societies. But this is not a norm for other animals. They display all sorts of relations: perfect monogamous pair-bonding (albatross), polygamous (elephant seals), polyandrous (jackana) and nymphomaniacs (bonobos). So ethics for one species mayn't be true for others.

Nachiketa: Does animals also perceive nature as humans ?

Yama: No. For example, only few species have the ability of color vision. Humans can detect only the visible range of electromagnetic spectrum. But we know bees can detect UV rays, bats do echolocation using ultrasonic waves, eels can sense using electric fields, elephants use seismic waves, migratory birds can sense earth's magnetic field etc. This is beyond natural capacity of humans. They have only limited representation of nature albeit in a different way. But there are instruments which can detect in these ranges.

Nachiketa: Even though we can detect these signals, we cannot make out what they perceive.

Yama: That is true with the case of human perception also. Every person may have a subjective experience. One may be able to say what is happening physiologically by imaging techniques, but cannot say anything about his/her subjective experiences.

Nachiketa: So until then we are trapped by the limitations of language.

Yama: For an example, take the emotion - love. People don't just convey love by limiting to an I love you statement. A simple verse can convey different set of emotions to different people. Even within this framework, romance industry has thrived.

Nachiketa: Can science ever say anything about these emotions ?

Yama: As i said one can figure out physiologically what is happening. One can have different chemicals to induce different moods and emotions. But that subjective experience is beyond its realm.

Nachiketa: So is it safe to assume that we can never predict human behavior from the action of bouncing atoms in our brain ?

Yama: Ha ha. That is the ultimate fear of people against reductionism. The world's most powerful computer which is used for nuclear weapons simulation can handle only a system of few thousands of atoms. These computers consumes more than one mega watt of power to run. Atomic time scales are in the range of femto seconds. Human brain contains around 100 billion neurons and the response times are in the range of few milli seconds. So the fear of some totalitarian govt attempting to do this is a flight of fantasy.

Nachiketa: Hasn't science ultimately produced evil things like Atom Bomb, pollution etc. ?

Yama: Good question. As i said earlier, science is just a process of enquiry. It is like any another human enterprise, a double edged sword. It is the duty of policy makers to make sure that this is not directed for evil gains. Science only helps people in making informed choices. Coming to the commonly raised atom bomb issue, science hasn't offered anything new. Nuclear reactions are a natural activity. The core of every star has this including sun. All the atoms in planet earth including those in our body were once made in the core of some star in a nuclear reaction.

Nachiketa: But doesn't too much scientific thinking robs the poetic wonder ?

Yama: This has been an allegation since ages. Keats has accused Newton that he made all charms go away when he explained rainbow is the result of dispersion of sunlight. Science as we have seen can helps us to see nature's wonders which are not accessible to our senses. That pleasure of finding things out, that soaring feeling when one contemplates one's place in this vast universe evolved through millions of years is a sort of spiritual feeling. It is a tragedy if we cannot tap them as a source of inspiration for literary works.

Nachiketa: Is truth always connected with beauty ?

Yama: All these times we were discussing truth in correspondence with reality. But if we look around do we only see beauty ? There are also harsh realities present. Only when we selectively observe reality and derive some reassuring, comfortable images we can find beauty. Truth or reality whether we like it or not is the way as it is. If one is looking at some mathematical expression of physical phenomena, things are not always a compact elegant set of equations. The best example of an ugly mess is the standard model in particle physics. Of course that could be a temporary solution on the way to a final model. That is still a dream.

Nachiketa: Do you have any advice like last time ?

Yama: Yes. Knowing the truth shouldn't make you condescend on others. Today you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Tomorrow somebody will stand on you. Help others to raise their consciousness.

Nachiketa: I am blessed, my Lord. Is this rainy season here now ?

Yama: No my dear child, that is your mother sprinkling water on you to wake you up.


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