my friend, baburam

Dashain was here. Finally. I was excitedly packing my bags. I hated school by now. It happened every year. Return from a two months winter vacation to school. Stay there seven months. By the time seven months were up, I was itching to go home and eat with my bare hands, no utenils to deal with. Sleep late, no early morning drills. Yoohoo. The cycle went thus. Go home for a month for Dashain. Come back for a month and a half. Go home for winter vacations. Repeat. People returned home. We ended up returning to school.

Towing my hastily packed overweight bag, I piled into the bus that would take us to Martyr’s Memorial, the heart of the city. Our parents and guardians would be lined up there to take us home. The richer kids had their parents pick them up right at school. They got away from all this faster than we did, lucky bastards. We had our moments on the bus though. Singing memorized songs all the way along the 14km ride. They’d miss that later in life. We’d be singing memorized songs all through life and they’d be wondering how we remembered all those songs. It’s rote, I’d tell them later. You never rode the bus.

This Dashain, I’d be going to my mama-ghar. My mom grew up in a village several dozen kilometers north of Janakpur. There was no semblance of city life there. No electricity, no tap water, forget natural gas. No roads, just dusty tracks worn bare by oxcarts. I can’t believe there’s still no electricity there, to this day. There, I’d be treated like a prince by my mamas and maijus. I’d take gifts to my friends there, some of whom were amazed by the fact, in the cities, light came from glass covered things that you didn’t have to light up. You just flick a switch, I’d say. I would end up spending half an hour trying to describe what a switch was. I was eleven. I must’ve ended up describing it as some magical thing that only gods and magicians could figure out.

I would be meeting baburam. He was my age. We had become good friends over my successive visits to the village. He came from a family that owned a couple of acres of land and so could afford to send him to school in the next village for three four days a week. He still had to work, helping out his dad doing farming things that I still don’t understand or doing other house chores. Due to his having gone to school, and him being bright, he was thought of as a young man with a lot of promise. Other people, older people, came to him to have their letters read and written. He would happily oblige, patient that he was. Imagine that. Eleven years old and playing leader already. He indeed was a lad with a ton of promise. That was my friend baburam. My best friend.

I had already written a letter to him saying I would be there that year. I had been so enthusiastic while writing that letter that I had just ended up writing,

Dear Baburam,
I am going to be there in during Dashain this year. We can go
keshar-hunting at night in the next village.
I will see you soon.
Your loving friend,
Sandeep.

Two sentences, properly formatted and spaced in an eight by eleven lined piece of paper with date, salutation, ending statement and everything. We were supposed to do it that way. We were supposed to scratch our mistakes, not erase them. In English too. We were only allowed to write letters in English, under the pretention that it would make us better writers and communicators some day. Baburam understood English though. He’d been to school.

… to be continued

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the question of why

Why am i here? Why are you here? Why do I have the capability to think this thought?

Aah.. Sorry, don’t have the answer. Look somewhere else.

That’s the age old question we’ve been trying to answer. We’ve formed various vehicles to help us solve these problems. Religions, science, traditions, laws, societies and boundaries. I’m not sure we’re anywhere near solving that question. Good old Doug asked the right questions. Take it lightly. Don’t panic. (Didn’t mean to confuse you, I still think those are questions, not statements)

God, and by proxy, religion, although with negative connotations, is a nebulous concept. It’s something we can’t reach, yet we want to and still try, but is fabricated by the masses of us, solely for the reason of satisfying our curiosity and to a greater extent, our wishes to be fulfilled.
Science is trying it’s best to make sure everything is replicable and calculable or it’s not science. There’s no chance for errors. Ooh, the horror if we have dichotomy. Blasphemy.

Ah, the comedy!

Not to be nihilistic, what about the way we just are, it just is, the universe exists because we think it does and so on. Or, the sense of reality reflects what you want or do not want.

Thank you Zen. Get it right Wachowski’s.

Parody of errors

(or parody of comedies and comedy of errors)
A person is a conglomeration of his or her past experiences from the day s/he starts remembering things, nothing else.

A person’s mind is a shells that starts building it’s personality, adding a layer of memory each time it thinks it’s worth remembering. It could hide it amongst it’s folds never to come out consciously or it could lay it on top ever ready to be called upon. It’s a ballfull of memories and experiences flexing their muscles, each competitively trying to exert influence on the action the person is about to commit.

I’m sure it was borne out of evolutionary necessity. Frail humans are no match for the brawn of the wild without something to hold it’s experiences to call upon when needed.
Add to that, the growing threat of each other.
The mind breeds superiority. Superiority breeds survival. Survival breeds abundance. Abundance breeds scarcity. Scarcity breeds competition. Competition breeds hunger for knowledge. Knowledge breeds superiority.
It’s a circle. The mind just happened to be the trigger.

So much for theory. Now, out here in the real world, you can see each of those steps at work. I have yet to come across another human being that is above and beyond that cycle. Forget Buddha. Abundance wasn’t abundant back then. Show me a guru and I bet you I could spot a thread of that cycle in the glint of his/her eye.

Tall men have fought and won wars. Short men have changed the course of history. It’s not what we have outside. It’s what we have in the creases of our gooey matter, the crud that’s settled in since we were three. That’s what makes us tick or go jump off a building.

If you could sit at an auditoreum to watch the universe performing, you would bowl over laughing at the repeated mistakes we make and the perseverance of it all. It’s funny. Take my word for it. Or better yet, take it as if you were watching a parade of parodies through the ages, you and me among it. Oh, the comedy of it all.

Look for those memories that your mind is not letting you look at. Review it and give it an up yours. 🙂
(I’m still trying by the way).

the calling of maui

A strange thing happened while on my whirwind trip to the east coast last week. Our plane got delayed at the San Francisco airport. The airport bar was as good a choice as any to spend the couple of hours that evening. One of the interesting characters I met there was a real estate developer from Maui. We talked a bit, exchanged contact information and so it went.
Later that evening, it so happened that the guy next to me on the plane was also from Maui. That’s a bit of lucky co-incidence and I told the guy so. He proceeded to impart on me his observation that this was probably the calling of maui. It’s beckoning to you, you should go, he said.
After mulling over it a bit I figured, why not? If it’s really a calling, then I’ll probably meet another person from Maui during my trip and if that’s the case, I’ll definitely go to Maui. After all I’ve never been there and it would make for a nice vacation at least. I told him so.
Well, I didn’t really come across another person from Maui, even though I did get to meet quite a few intriguing people which I’ll leave for another time. So much for the calling of Maui.

It did get me thinking about the concept of “calling”. Lots of people use that or another similar term to explain the decisions they took during their lifetimes. I hear things like, you do not choose a career, the career chooses you and so on.

I’d like to take that a bit further to say, it’s not just careers or vacation spots that do the calling. It’s also other types of decisions. The calling in most cases is not some vacation spot beckoning out to you through telepathic waves or something like that. I would put it more as a decision based on accumulation of tidbits you’ve had about that particular choice over the course of your life. As you progress through life, the more tidbits about a choice you gather, the higher up the stack it goes in your visible-choices stack. At some point that choice becomes the most visible and you make that choice and call it a “calling”.

Decisions like that are not flip/flop decisions as one would have you believe.

With that thought, I’d still like to go to Maui. It’s become more visible on my list of places to go, so maybe I’ll go there this winter. How’s that for “Maui’s Call”.

hacking academia

I came across a paper(pdf) about memes and culture by Hokky Situngkir of the Bandung Fe institute via Gary King’s unClog. As Gary mentions, the paper is pretty hard to read, style wise. I gave up after the first couple of paragraphs. I had followed the link because of my interest in memes, society, cultural anthropology and how they intersect. Just a hobby. 🙂

Out of curiousity, I looked up the Bandung Fe Institute website. At first glance, it seems like a normal research institute affiliated with a university. As you start digging deeper, for instance, the researchers, and the students, you start to realize the stark differences.

None of the researchers or the students have an academic degree from an institution of higher learning. Not that it’s a problem. I can point out a whole bunch of people that have no college degrees, yet are very successful at what they do which is usually a position that requires a minimum of a graduate level of education.

The researcher for this particular institute, it seems, went off on their own, formed an institute of research, published some papers, got some professors to act as advisors and are doing pretty well. Pretty well is subjective. I don’t actually know how well they are doing. One of Bandung’s papers was recently cited in an RFP for a Department of Defense project. That should be an indication. They even publish their own journal, Journal of Social Complexity, complete with it’s own ISSN number. For another, I don’t know if the researchers are working their full time and if so, where they get their funding.

Some of their papers that I’ve read, though, lack the clarity and rigor of traditional academic papers. Maybe it’s because of their lack of academic training, maybe something was lost in translation (to english), I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the papers I read. A simple google search on it will give you tons of papers produced by the institute. Or try Citeseer.

Whatever they’re doing, they seem to be doing all the right things. By right I mean the normal things that a normal academic research organisation or thinktank would do, without an academic background. I gotta applaud them for their efforts in this, no matter what the outcome. This has got to be one of the top hacks in my list – hacking academia.

the god particle

I recently watched a new documentary about the neutrino particle on NOVA titled the ghost particle. Apparently the neutrino has been misbehaving. Or so it seems to us. It doesn’t fit the standard model perfectly, it has mass and it has alibis. Scientists have now stopped trying to figure out how or why it doesn’t fit the standard model and starting to poke it to show more of its colors. There will come a time, after enough poking around and seeing the neutrino do it’s dance, when we will have a different model showing how the neutrino fits in. And it won’t be just because of the neutrino. The standard model doesn’t account for gravitational interaction either.

The argument is, we as humans are always trying to see where the buck stops, who’s in control, what’s the explanation for all this, and so it goes. Therefore, we come up with a theory for how things fit in. Various religions have their own theories. Science has it’s quest for the ultimate Grand Unified Theory. Philosophers have straddled both science and religion and who knows what else to come up their own grand philosophies. There’s even a favorite of mine, the chaos theory with ties into fractal geometry and duality.

Yes sir, we’d like to believe that there’s an end of the line. We sorta think there was a beginning of the line although we may argue amongst each other about what or where exactly that was.

I’m not a scientist, I haven’t been trained as one. I’m not much of a theologist either. I, like many of you out there, am a bit confused. Therefore, to swim through the confusion and keep my head above water, I have also come up with my own way of figuring things out. I am perfecting my own philosophy. And like everybody else with their theories, I am ready to argue for my theories any time. In fact, I’ll probably jump to an occasion to spout my theories to anyone who’s willing to listen, and for that matter, to those who aren’t.

Sadly, the jumping-to-occasion phenomenon, applies to all. To scientists and theologians alike. Imagine a hundred people with hundreds variations of some dozen core theories. Multiply that by 70 million. That’s how many we are. That’s how many variations we get and that’s how many possible arguments we have. Quite a few of us, most of us in fact, will let go of our theories or stop arguing about it in the face of a stronger and more opinionated few. Most of us even follow their lead. Some theories become so strong in their hold among the people, that they become memes that survive through generations of people and civilizations and arguments and wars and destruction. The major religions are memes. Even science is a meme. The idea that there is a provable, repeatable explanation of how we come to be and the belief in that idea.

My question, a strand of my own philosophy, is this: will we ever stop? will we continue formulating and propagating memes to an unseeable generation in the future. Or is there so much unpredictability that the quantification of that “so much” is itself unpredictable. Are things changing and reformulating so much that there is no one god particle? The god particle at any instant is liable to transform into something else entirely.

Situations and circumstances may change but the underlying diversity, unpredictability and un-oneness of things is the only meme that’s stable. Our human society will be chaotic. A seething mass of unpredictable societal behaviour. There will never be one religion, one way of government, one morality, one grand unified theory, one god, one god particle or one ring to rule them all.

That gives me a little bit of comfort. It allows me to believe that anything is possible and that everything is a hack. The whole freaking universe is one big hack. Hack away, believe in your hacks and smile. Have a little fun. That’s what we’ve been doing after all.

update: the large hadron collider is coming online soon in geneva.

update: the god particle has been found.

birthday notches are passe

Something that my aunt said recently while visiting made me think about the concepts of time and space as different cultures currently understand it.

She saw my chin-hawk (a mohawk on the chin 🙂 ), and said that I had had grown older (and looked it too). Besides the fact that I had definitely grown older and that I hadn’t seen her in person in like 14 years, a token bunch of my facial hair definitely made me look older.

Getting older in my culture, and probably other cultures, is also associated with getting wiser, like good old confucius. With his belly hanging out proudly, stroking his beard and dispensing nuggets of packaged self-inflating wisdom. Unwrap and apply at will.

Days, then months, then years go by. Children are begot, and their children. Passage of time is marked by birthdays, anniversarsies, dates of accomplishment. We’re leaving our notches in the tree-trunk of time. Or so we think. The notches don’t exist, or are quietly wiped away. Nobody remembers your birthday after you’re gone. Even birthdays of famous people are approximations made common belief.

I personally like the atemporal concept of time that apparently the Hopi Indians have. There is no one-way arrow of time moving from the past to the future. Instead it’s like a big ole jello-ball containing all events, past present and future and even space in one whole appetizing piece of fluidity. My problem is going to be digesting that concept. I’m afraid it’s going to give me indigestion, I’m afraid my entire being will reject it. Probably cause “my entire being” has been shaped from day one to fit into this arrow of time, marked by my birthday notches. The Hopi’s apparently have no words for past, present and future, or even a here and there in the spatial sense of the word. It’s one big whole everything occuring simultaneously everywhere. It’s mind bending. I’m already getting stomach cramps.

Imagine the connotations of living in such culture, world-wide. I’m sure some of our newer branches of sciences that we deal with, quantum physics, relativity would have come much more further along. Or maybe, we wouldn’t need to explore those concepts using mathematics of today, cause we automatically grokk it. It’s part of our being, just like birth and death are certainties of today.

I’ll need another way to measure my finiteness. Wait, measure is the wrong term here. I need to understand my finiteness, be one with the large lump of jell-o.

I hate jell-o.

Some interesting reading about Hopi indians, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Minkowski space and the time-space continuum:

..etc etc etc..
yeah, go google it..