Thoughts Sans Boundaries

Civilisation, Structure and the Meaning of Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Aditya Moorthy on December 24, 2009

Every act of human beings that has been an outcome of civilisation has a structure to it. A general conception is that, structure is for rational minds and not for the artistic. But I beg to disagree. If we dissect an act to its core, we will encounter a structure behind it. And an act that does not have a structure will not have a following.

Allow me to explain this in a little bit more detail. We can straight away assume that any scientific act has a structure to it and we will not ponder on that too much. So, let’s look at some artistic acts like painting and music. My contention is that however abstract a piece of art or music might be, but the one that generates at least a handful of followers or fans, will have an underlying structure based on which it has been built. Most of us are unable to appreciate abstract art is because, we are incapable of seeing the underlying structure and hence unable to appreciate the beauty of that piece of work. And the ones who ‘see’ it either are greatly impressed by the trick the artist has played with that structure or at the least appreciate the twist the artist has created using the structure underlying to it.

The reason I use civilisation in this context is because, I think the first discovery by the people of the first civilisation is the discovery of the human ability to recognise structures and build something on top of it. The moment, you develop the innate capability of observing these structures, you become compelled to act and build on it and that in turn makes that individual or group of individuals civilised. I think it does not necessarily apply to human beings alone. Even in the animal kingdom, one can observe acts of civilisation such as the monkey’s using a straw to draw the ant out of an anthill. This is possible only if they are able to see the underlying structure of that act which results in the ability to draw ants for food. If we extrapolate this to all acts of living beings, you realise that none of them are a random act but an act coordinated to achieve an objective, which means there is a structure (or framework) behind it. Now, I am getting close to the metaphysical argument of whether there is any act of nature that is based on randomness alone without any predetermined objective.

I have read about the quantum physics experiments that shows at an sub-atomic level, we influence the experiment, when we observe them. But for this argument, let’s keep the sub-atomic state of affairs aside and look only at the macro side of things.

Now for argument sake, if we take the premise that every act of nature has a predetermined objective unless interfered by an external force, then does that not indicate that there might be a predetermined objective which explains the meaning of life? The caveat here is the interference by an external force, which in the case of human beings, manifests as the ability of choice. The counter argument could be that the ability of choice prevents a presupposition of an exact meaning for life. But as earlier demonstrated, that an act performed by a person has a structure / framework underlying it and any act based on randomness is detrimental to the actor. So collectively speaking, the choices however numerous, is limited by the frameworks underlying them and hence the choices themselves are predetermined. The net effect could be that we are moving towards a destiny that is already configured and our choices are only giving us an illusion that we have the ability to make our own future.

Is this possible?



Life… (cont.)

Posted in life, musings by Aditya Moorthy on December 23, 2009

I posted the link to my previous post on facebook and I received the following comment:

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

Dutifully, I googled Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. I have linked them to save you some time to search. After reading through that and also mulling over the statement above for a while, I re-read it many times for two reasons – one, as to what exactly the author is trying to say and two, why was the comment posted as a response to my post. Anti-climax; I am still trying to figure out the answer for both the points. But, it did get my thoughts to run along other paths, which I thought I’ll write them up as a continuation to my previous post.

The author summarises that we have the onus to determine what our life is supposed to mean by being responsible rather than seek it as a external purpose that we collect (or realise) and apply it on our lives. Which makes sense if we look at the meaning of life from an individual’s point of view – a point of view that is taken by most people when they lack purpose due to an externally imposed circumstance like adversity. Part of my reason for the previous post is taken not from an individualistic view but rather at an existential level as to why evolution provided reason to humankind and is there a purpose behind it. Of course, I realise now that it probably did not come across as clearly as it should have. But as I said before, the comment put me through another path of thinking about the meaning of life from one’s life’s perspective.

The pondering of this question, in most cases, arises when the environment imposes an adverse situation on us. This is not to say that during happy occasions we don’t think about these questions, but more often then not, we are busy being happy that we let little such philosophical questions arise in our minds, lest we lose the moment of happiness we possess. That brings me to one of the key root causes of these thoughts – adversity. Now, adversity has many a forms that you could write a thesis on them but I am particularly intrigued by one element – pain. Pain as in mental agony and not anything physical. Pain that’s caused because of the loss of a dear one, defeat in a cause etc. Let’s narrow this down even more and try to focus on pain that is caused solely because of a situation where you don’t have anything external to blame it on. To quickly draw a contrast to the book by Viktor Frankl (note: I’ve not read the book and my brief knowledge comes from a quick glance at Wikipedia), he talks about the state of mind that exists when one is in a concentration camp and how do deal with such a situation. We need to note here that this adversity and pain is caused externally by a force that you don’t and can’t control. What I am referring to is a situation, where you seem to be the only one that could potentially be ‘blamed’ for the pain that’s causing you.

I think mind here takes an interesting form. Speaking from personal experiences, it first desperately seeks something external to put the blame on. Not finding any, one starts to introspect to find what could have caused the situation. Many a times you realise that the one suffering is pretty much the cause of it as well. Like failing in an examination simply because one did not prepare well for the same. But on some occasions, you actually don’t find yourself to be responsible as well for the situation causing the pain. Or let’s say, the degree of your responsibility it not high enough for you to take the full blame. Then you face a roadblock where you are unsure what to do next. You ponder more, examine the situation with multi-various lenses, simulate the incident in different forms and from different perspectives but still the answer eludes. If the degree of pain being suffered is all encompassing you then it leads to a state of paralysis, where you don’t function in the way you normally do. Then the metaphysical questions are raised as to the purpose of life. The interesting conundrum is that at a holistic level you know you need to take responsibility for life but are paralysed by an event that prevents you from taking the next step of being responsible. You are still bemused by the situation which seems to have no form.

We all come across such incidents in our lives and we get through it somehow – fading memory being one of them. But some leave a lasting impression on you that keeps coming back like a boomerang every now and then to haunt. What do we do under such circumstances – many seek religious help, some seek medical etc but these are safe deposit boxes that temporarily hold on to your issue giving you the illusion that it has been resolved. But depending on how intensive the issue is, it always comes back.

I do not know the answer to deal with them and I have my own demons to fight but I see a clear purpose in raising a metaphysical question here and follow the path of seeking the answer. The reason I say this is not because, I need an excuse to stare at a blank wall in the premise of thinking but rather that this approach could potentially put us on a path of dissecting the problem in a methodical way and peel the skin of the onion, one at a time. In the end, will it help tide over that situation and give you lasting peace… I don’t know. But you could potentially peel the last bit of skin and realise that there is nothing left anymore to peel. The sense of nothingness in everything could help you deal with it. Maybe…



Posted in life, musings by Aditya Moorthy on December 21, 2009

(Arabic phrase from Quran that means ‘in the name of God, the merciful, the beneficent’)

Like many people, I muse about life. I ask some of the cliched questions such as the meaning of life, is there purpose for human life, what should we strive for, is evolution a mere accident in the unimaginable size of this universe etc. And, like most people who ask these questions, I don’t have a definite answer. In fact, there is not even a glimmer of hope that I would find a definitive answer.

I come from a culture that is known for pioneering this study and many a treatise have been written from time immemorial trying to address these and other questions. This innate nature to question would probably not be as strongly entrenched in me, had I not been born and brought up in this microcosmic society (I beg for pardon if this usage of microcosmic society in the sentence is a wrong usage, but I hope you get the point I am driving at). This has an even bigger impact on me since my parents have brought me up with the independence to raise these questions and boldly try to find the answers however rational it may or may not seem. Here I should digress to say a bit about the people who have had the most profound impact on me. I have been blessed with some of the best people one can have the opportunity to know in their life. This includes my parents, my brothers and one friend (whom I consider my teacher and brother in more than one way) and his family in India. I do not wish to name anyone to guard their privacy. But this digression is important to emphasise that few people have this opportunity to meet so many great souls and learn from them to differentiate the different shades of grey that we encounter in our lives.

Coming back to my earlier point on whether these questions are rational enough to ask or not and the reason for which I say that is because, I have had the opportunity to experience scientific way of approaching and the loosely put religious or spiritualistic way of approaching on various aspects of life that portray the different shades of grey that we very often encounter. The thought of rationality appears in this discussion because, science demonstrates to you through the concept of reasoning (and hypothesis and proofs) that the universe is an immensely vast place and the fact that life exists in this piece of rock that we call earth among the uncountable number of such rocks is a mere accident and unavoidable given our knowledge of chemistry. So, if science were to hear my appeal to it to find the answers, it would reply back that there is simply no point in asking this question as it is merely philosophical in nature and having an answer (if an answer exists) will have no bearing on existence (or life as I term it here) itself.

On the other hand, humans have conceptualised (or experienced) God which has given birth to religion in many forms depending on the environment in which it was born. This is not a debate about whether God exists or not but more a philosophical inquiry in what is the purpose (if there is something called a purpose) of life. So from this perspective, if I raised this question to ‘religion’ (and I put this in quotes because that is probably the easiest way to collectively refer to any form of thinking that is not scientific in nature), the answer would be quite different depending on which school of thinking that I raise this question to. But most of these diverse group would agree that self realiasation and experiencing God is the key purpose of life. Now we can debate in length about the concept of God itself and many scientific minds would immediately dismiss it to be a brainwashed concept handed over through many generations. But I do not wish to dismiss it likewise. I think, merit should be given to those thinkers who claim to have experienced God and achieved self-realisation and tried to hand over their experiences so other may also experience the same. I can specifically speak for (if momentarily I take upon that arrogance) the thinkers in the today’s Indian sub-continent. The reason why I do not dismiss like the many scientific minds, even though I reasonably understand the scientific process is because, the thinkers and philosophers in this region did not attempt to teach dogma but rather urged everyone to think, ponder, question and challenge their hypothesis and seek the ‘truth’ for themselves. They provided the tools for people if they needed but never insisted that they use their tools. And this broad minded approach akin to the scientific approach of allowing theories to be disproved by others, does not allow me to throw away their claim of vivid experiences simply because I cannot demonstrate that in a laboratory.

We have all been trained well in the scientific process – learning all branches of sciences in our school curriculum, has enabled us to easily embrace the scientific method but the same cannot be said about the self inquiry school since none of their tools have been taught to us in a structured manner for us to embrace or dismiss the benefits that you can achieve through self-realisation or realisation of God. If for example we take the simplest of the tools – Faith, most of us do not have the greater strength to sustain faith. Even though we try it at different points in our life, we soon lose confidence in it and relapse to our scientific method of approaching a problem. I am not suggesting here that when someone is suffering from a cardiac arrest, the people around that person sit next to him / her and say that we’ll keep faith and hope it cures. That would be madness at least in the context in which we deal with our lives. But faith as one of the tools, here takes a larger role to sustain it to achieve self-realiasation among the using of other tools such as self-inquiry, meditation etc.

I have many a times tried to use these tools to try to understand or seek answers to the questions in my mind. But like most people, I give up, because it is hard, does not align with my predominantly scientific mind, does not have interim results to encourage me to sustain etc. Here, people who solely follow the scientific approach would pooh pooh me saying that there is no point in even trying as one is never going to achieve anything through this. But I resist the temptation to agree with them and give up for reasons stated above. Even if I never see the light of the day in this approach, I think I would be contented that I did experiment with a non-scientific approach to experience the elusive self-realisation or enlightenment and was not pigeon holed into thinking only in terms of hypothesis and proofs in a laboratory.

So, why do I seek answers in the first place? I don’t start asking these questions to achieve enlightenment as I think that is at a farther point of my journey of life but rather to deal with the unexplainable experiences – painful and pleasurable that goes on in our lives and to deal with them with more maturity and with innate strength especially if the experience if painful. When I usually have these discussions with my brothers, I try to give an analogy that people are, in some sense behind a huge wall blocking their vision. So when you attempt to jump up and have a look on the other side, you get a glimpse of it depending on how high you can jump. The ability to jump higher comes from the eagerness to pursue the objective of knowing what is on the other side of the wall and also by gaining more awareness about what you saw during the previous glimpse. So effectively, the more aware you become and more eagerness you have, you can jump higher and higher, until one day you can jump over the wall and maybe that’s what many who have jumped over call it as enlightenment.

The sheer act of attempting this is an enriching experience in itself. No matter if you believe in God or not, or believe in the concept of enlightenment or not, but the journey to self-inquire and peel the skin of abstractness and unexplainable episodes in your life is an exciting one. I constantly endeavour to do this albeit I lose the strength to pursue, but as I said before, being blessed with the some of the great souls in your life, helps you to regain your lost path and pursue it again with new vigour.