God of the Aquarium!

cosmos-a-space-time-odysseyI just finished watching an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey for the nth time. It is a warm evening with no beer. I resisted buying one for reasons unknown to me. I went out and had an Egg Burji from the street food vendor, bought a coke bottle and curd and returned to my room. It has now become a routine for me to stand on the terrace in the evening with a soft drink while staring at the stars and pondering existence. Today’s blog post is an idea that I had conceived a while ago. Many people believe that I am in some type of mission to disprove God’s existence. That is far from the truth. My mission through my blog posts is to elucidate my point of view. Atheists are sadly some of the most misunderstood and mistrusted people on planet earth and if I could make a small but significant contribution in clarifying our position, I would consider that a success.

The scale of our universe is enormous. This is a phrase repeated time and again in various TV shows such as Cosmos, The Universe, Through the Wormhole and the like. But how many of us truly stop for a second and let that idea sink in? Most of us simply watch the awe inspiring visuals of these programmes and forget it. We are Homo sapiens ; the thinking beings. Whether you like it or not, faith is not an excuse to stop thinking. It took just 4 centuries for us to move from the Dark Ages to achieving monumental feats like landing a man on the Moon. All thanks to the precision, tenacity and dedication of several visionaries. Brave men and women who were never afraid to question authority and challenge dogma and forge new ideas in the cauldrons of their minds about our understanding of the universe. They were the pioneers; the giants on whose shoulders we stand today.

Antibiotics - Printed Diagnosis with Blurred Text. On Background of Medicaments Composition - Red Pills, Injections and Syringe.

My question is, why then are there a vast majority of people in the world who comfortably embrace the benefits of modern science and yet want to hold onto medieval/pre-medieval superstitions and bronze age myths? If it wasn’t for the scientific method, we wouldn’t have things like antibiotics and organ transplant that is saving millions of lives every year. Often times I encounter people who ask me the question, “Has science been able to create artificial life?” or make statements like, “Science cannot explain everything“. Somehow according to them what science hasn’t yet achieved gives them room for God. The task I give to such people is to study the history of science and technology and see what they can infer from it. It’s not surprising that no one has taken up that task. If they did take up the task, they will find that throughout the history of science there have been people who made questions and statements like the one I just mentioned. And every time they have been proven wrong.

Once upon a time nobody believed that the sound barrier could be broken. I invite them to have a look at the supersonic jets and rockets of today. Heavier than air flying machine was thought to be impossible. Communication without wires was thought to be impossible. Splitting of atom was thought to be impossible. In fact in 1894 the famous physicist Albert Michelson said, “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.” Perhaps he meant well when he said this. However when we fast forward 3 years in 1897 the electron was discovered by Sir J. J Thompson thereby opening up a whole new world within our world. This is what happens every time in science. People point out at something that hasn’t been achieved by science as proof of science’s inability to do so. And time and again they are proven wrong.

Science requires a certain perspective to understand. Without such a perspective, it is nothing more than a boring set of laws and equations that are meant only for the nerds. Two years ago I had written a post called The Purpose of Life. It was about a question that was posed to me by a colleague of mine. Unlike the “triggers” of the infamous social justice warriors, this trigger was a good one. It prompted me to write a blog post. I will come to the main premise of today’s post which is the God of the Aquarium. It is actually a thought experiment devised by me a few years ago. If anyone is ready to take up the task, they are welcome to think about the following:

amaterske_akvariumImagine you wanted an aquarium in your living room. You can either build one or buy an already built one from a vendor. Let’s assume that you decided to build one. You bought the glass, the cement, sand, pebbles, aquatic plants and most importantly the fancy fishes. In addition, you need a setup for the lighting and filters for the water. By investing several hours or even days you finally build your aquarium with the sand, pebbles and aquatic plants at the bottom and all your beautiful fishes moving around in the water above. A good lighting and filtering system would make it a sight worth seeing and a crown jewel adorning your living room. All that is very nice but I have a simple question for you – “Have you ever thought about the little bacteria, viruses.algae, fungi and other microbial organisms living on the little specks of sand at the bottom of your aquarium?” They are also part of your aquarium and contribute to the biochemical activities of it. They are instrumental in many ways in maintaining the ecological balance of the system. And yet you are not feeding it like you would feed the fishes. You are not even bothered they exist. What difference would it make to you whether the bacteria on a little speck of sand lives or dies?

Now hold these thoughts for a moment. In the second paragraph I said that the scale of the universe is enormous. The observable universe is almost 93 billion light years in diameter (yes, it is a billion with a b!). That is just the observable part. The light from beyond that cosmic horizon hasn’t reached us yet and therefore we do not know what lies beyond. And even in the observable part of the universe there is so much yet to be discovered. In this humongous universe of ours, where is planet Earth? We live in a planet that revolves around an average star that resides in just one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, which is one of the galaxies in a Local Group of about 54 galaxies including our Milky Way and Andromeda. And our Local Group is part of something called the Virgo Supercluster which contains over 100 such galaxy groups. The Virgo Supercluster is part of an even bigger supercluster called the Laniakea which consists of three other superclusters namely Hydra-Centaurus, Pavo-Indus and the Southern Supercluster. It has an estimated 100,000 galaxies in it. Scientists have calculated that there are roughly 10 million superclusters in the observable universe. These 10 million superclusters give a mesh-like appearance to our universe at very large scales.

exoplanet20151006-16The first exoplanet orbiting a main sequence star was discovered in 1995. It was named 51 Pegasi b. It is a hot Jupiter which takes about 4.2 earth days to orbit its parent star. Since then planetary scientists have discovered thousands of them. As of September 2016, there have been 3,518 confirmed discoveries in 2,635 planetary systems and 595 multiple planetary systems. That’s a huge number of planets within 21 years. It is safe to assume now that most stars do have planets orbiting them thereby making planets outnumber the stars. This means that there must be billions of planets out there in the observable universe. The recent discovery of Proxima Centauri b added another planet in the list of potentially habitable planets which you can see here. There is every likelihood that there are billions of intelligent civilizations in the universe. And our earth is just one speck of sand in the vast cosmic ocean.

Now think about your aquarium. Just as you don’t care much about the bacteria living on a speck of sand at the bottom of your aquarium, do you really think that a God or Supreme Being or Intelligent Designer who created a universe the scale of which blows our imagination would have any special preference to a particular species of creatures on planet earth? Why would he/she/it have kind of “soft corner” for our species at all? We are just living in a planet that is totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Is there any logical reason God could care about us more than any other intelligent alien civilization which is most likely out there? So what conclusion can you draw from this thought experiment?

Think about it!

Image Courtesy:

Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey – https://fanart.tv/fanart/tv/260586/tvposter/cosmos-a-space-time-odyssey-531e9d1f246dd.jpg
Antibiotics – http://www.iran-daily.com/content/imgcache/file/147167/0/image_650_365.jpg
Aquarium – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/Amaterske_akvarium.jpg
51 Pegasi b – http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/exoplanet/20151006/exoplanet20151006-16.jpg

The Purpose of Life?

G. K. Chesterton once said,  “Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Variations of this quote has been used by many. For example Richard Dawkins has been heard saying, “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” It reflects a slight amount of frustration prevalent among the atheist community to which I also belong. We must be inclusive to other ideas that may or may not contradict with our own but we shouldn’t be too inclusive that it amounts to frustration.

The Uninvited Argument

Recently an interesting incident took place at my workplace. As an atheist I often have uninvited guests who find entertainment in taking up meaningless debates with me. What annoys me is that the people who come to argue with me already make an assumption that I do not know the answers to their questions. Further, they don’t have the patience to listen to the answers I give. And when they find that I do have the answers, they get uncomfortable and impatient and often threatened.

I was talking about a recent Malayalam movie “Prabhuvinte Makkal” to my co-worker. It was an openly atheistic movie targeted against the so called “living Gods”, the frauds who prey on the money of desperate naïve masses. Another co-worker of mine objected to it and I told him that it took me several years to convince myself to become an atheist and that it was not a one day process. He joked saying that it is better for me to find an atheist girl because otherwise there would be conflict everyday. As we were laughing, another colleague of mine arrived at our bay and asked what was being discussed. So my co-worker told, “The subject is atheism“. Immediately he made a statement, “There is definitely a force behind everything in the universe.” Being a fan of Carl Sagan, I knew that if we had to pursue the question of existence courageously, we must ask the next question, “Where did the creator come from?” I did exactly that. An argument ensued thereafter. The following is a rough transcript of it (from my memory):

Colleague: “If you don’t answer with another question, shall I ask you something?”

Me: Sure. But if your answer requires me to counter with a question, I would certainly do that.

Colleague: Okay. Which came first? Chicken or egg?

Me: That’s not a question because egg laying reproduction evolved over time much before birds even came into existence. So I would say it is neither chicken nor the egg that came first.

Colleague: Just because Darwin said something doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Me: Come on! In the past 150 years since Darwin’s work, every possible experiment has been conducted on evolution and it has passed every time. In fact the theory is so powerful that it has been applied in so many different fields. Next time you take an antibiotic, think about Darwin.

Colleague: I won’t do that!

Me: See, this double standard is what makes me irritated. You want all the benefits of science but still want to speak against it.

Colleague: I am not speaking against science. Tell me this – Is there a diameter to the universe?

Me: The observable universe has a diameter of a few billion light years. Why?

Colleague: Has science been able to find out what is beyond that?

Me: No. But does that mean that you should fill in that gap with a God? Shouldn’t we wait for more scientific data to explain things?

Colleague: Where did atoms come from?

Me: Through the process of nucleosynthesis. Initial atoms were formed during a transition from radiation dominated phase to matter dominated phase. Heavier atoms were cooked inside stars.

Colleague: What is the purpose of life?

Me: To propagate our DNA. That’s the prime directive. Everything else is optional.

Colleague: It’s a big question as to whether everything God or everything is science.

My Interpretations

The last statement of his is meaningless and you would have already guessed that the conversation didn’t go well. He didn’t allow me to complete most of the sentences that I have mentioned here. Most of the time he would cut me off and ask the next question. This is a tactic employed by many creationists. The idea is to frustrate the opponent in order to “win” the argument. Finally he said that he will wait for the return of another colleague from long leave so that he will have back up to argue. And after every answer I gave, he was simply smiling and shaking his head like a fool.

The chicken or egg argument is a very funny one. Anyone who cares to look up the evolutionary history will know that egg laying has been there long before birds walked the earth. From fishes to amphibians to reptiles to birds, there is so much convincing evidence for the transition. I have repeatedly written in my previous blog posts about evolution and its applications. Darwin is not the only scientist who worked on evolution. There have been thousands since him but creationists are still stuck with Darwin. Every experiment that one can imagine has been conducted with evolution and every time the theory and its predictions have been proven to be right. If that is not evidence for its correctness I don’t know what is.

By definition universe means all that there is. When we take that definition into consideration, “beyond the diameter of the universe” doesn’t make any sense. Of course, being able to observe is limited by the technology of our time. There may be a multiverse but that is a concept in cosmology that is not agreed upon by many. And my great debater didn’t mention multiverse in his argument because if he had I would have sat with him and discussed some more. According to him, being unable to know what is beyond the observable universe due to lack of advanced technology is somehow evidence for God. He is unwilling to concede to the fact that science is progressive in nature. He can’t accept that what was not known in the past is now known and therefore science will definitely figure out more things in future. How hard is it to grasp?

I am not surprised that many people do not know where atoms came from. Few months ago when I was talking about stellar nucleosynthesis to a friend, he was surprised to know that heavy elements are cooked inside stars. My issue is the reluctance of people to look up and figure things out in this information age. I am not saying that we should run to Google on each and every thing or be in front of the computer reading Wikipedia all the time. But it is definitely advisable to read at least once in a while about subjects like oceanography, astronomy, geology etc. It doesn’t hurt to know how the world we live in works.

Coming to the main topic of this article, what is really the purpose of life? I have been asked many times this question. Being an atheist doesn’t mean we lack any “purpose” in life or any moral values. Just because we exist does not mean that it has to “mean” something or there is some kind of “divine purpose” behind it. We exist because our parents gave birth to us. Since we live in a society, we do have certain obligations to set goals in life and try achieving it but again that is not mandatory. Nobody is forbidding us from going and living in a jungle if we so choose. So do atheists live with ethics and morals? Yes we do. And frankly our morals are in fact found to be far superior to religious people.

What would convince me?

Having said all of this, suppose I agree that there could be a God, what should be the nature of the evidence to convince me? Evidence as I wrote before can be direct or indirect. For example, the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) may contain tell tale signs of a pre-big bang event. Scientists believe that events prior to the big bang event may have produced certain signatures in the CMB that can be detected and interpreted. I am not saying you should go and check CMB for the evidence for God. I am trying to show you the nature of evidence that you should bring to the table. The idea that a God wants to create the universe and maintain it without any shred of his/her/its existence doesn’t digest well in the mind of a person with scientific curiosity.

Now, if you bring a cosmologically significant evidence doesn’t mean I would convert immediately. I will ask for peer-reviewed evaluation of your evidence. It should be scrutinized by other scientists and its validity checked. Further, the experiment you suggest should be repeatable and produce the exact same results. If the scientific community rejects your “evidence”, I wouldn’t accept it either.

Still I will ask the question “Where did the creator come from?” and that my dear readers is a question that creationists keep evading every time. What’s wrong in admitting if we do not know the answer? It’s not an offense to not know an answer. The offense is not accepting that fact and continuing to take up circular arguments that never get anywhere.

So in conclusion, my creationist friends should stop feeling threatened by atheists. We are not evil people with evil agenda just because we don’t agree to your prehistoric beliefs. In fact we are much less evil than you are. And we really don’t need a God to be moral. If you require a God to distinguish from right and wrong then you probably need psychiatric help in my opinion.

The Illusion of Consciousness!

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Recently I have come to discover that there are so many great movies that I have been missing all these years. I am particularly referring to the Alien film franchise starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, an officer who is in an endless battle with an alien species in all the four installations of the movie. I can’t help wonder why I didn’t bother to watch this great movie so far. Today I finished watching the fourth installation and I must admit that I feel inspired by her character. I would certainly like being an officer like her in a spacecraft on a deep space mission. Anyway, the one thing especially in the fourth movie that caught me thinking is the resurrection part. Ripley was resurrected through cloning using the blood sample collected before she kills herself in Alien 3.

I am perfectly okay with cloning Ripley to resurrect her using her blood samples. But what puzzles me is that she possesses the memories of her past life once the process is complete. That simply doesn’t make sense. There was no way the memory could have gotten stored in her DNA. Obviously the memories weren’t stored in any retrieval unit either because there was no mention of that in the film. My problem is not whether she had her old memories or not. My problem is with the concept of consciousness. Let’s take cloning itself for example. If I clone myself completely and then transfer all my memories into this new person, he will lead his life thinking that he is me unless of course the final memories which contains information about the cloning is transferred as well. Even then there will be a confusion as to who is the “real me“.

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

So, unlike the villain’s point of view in the movie The 6th Day, we don’t get to live forever as our clones are the ones who look and feel exactly the same way as we do and also can possess our memories through transfer. But they are still not us.  A similar problem exists with Quantum Teleportation. The information of me is first transferred to the destination. For that the quantum states of all the particles that in my body must first be retrieved and stored into the teleportation system. Then I should be destroyed at the source. The information transferred will then be used to recreate “me” at the destination just like in Star Trek. Again it is a problem because the person at the destination will be my copy and not me. If the process fails to destroy me then I will be here at the source and to make matters worse, there will be another person who looks exactly like me and having my memories created at a destination thousands or even millions of miles away.

Atoms and Consciousness

Atoms and Consciousness

I don’t know how can the people who say this is not a problem justify it. However, when I think about it, the person sitting and typing this blog post right now is really not “me” either. Since my birth, the atoms in my body has been replaced through life’s processes such as consuming food, expelling waste, taking bath and so on. It is entirely possible that none of the atoms that originally made up my body in 1984 exists in my body today. But I still have the feeling of self or the feeling of consciousness about myself. That is quite hard to explain. Why do I feel this “uniqueness” about myself? So much that creating a clone of myself will not assure me immortality. It only assures the existence of another person like me.

Most of us are afraid of death as it brings to an end all the beautiful experiences that life offers us. Being truly immortal thus would mean keeping alive all the cherished memories and experiences forever. With more advanced technologies, the time is not far before we can backup our own memories. But will there be a way to store and retrieve the feeling of “self“? If I transfer my awareness of self to a computer, will the “self” leave me to enter the computer or will I still have it? If I still have the feeling of self then what is it that got transferred to the computer? These are not easy questions to answer and I am not sure whether theology can answer them any better because of the problems I just described.

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

I have a lot of faith in science. I feel that some day science will understand what exactly it means to be self-aware and also find a way to transfer this consciousness of self into a machine or a clone without creating the paradoxical situation mentioned above. I wish such a breakthrough happens during my lifetime. When the human race leaves Earth and starts to colonize other planets and reach distant stars in the future, I would certainly like to have a piece of that action. I seriously don’t wish to be in a situation where my consciousness dies with me and I miss all the great things the future human race will achieve. I would want my consciousness of self with all its memories to live forever either in a being like me or as a sentient being if the technology of the future allows.

The Four Roads to Atheism

I have met very intelligent religious people. I have also met very dumb religious people. Curiously however, I have never seen a dumb atheist. All atheists I know personally and all the ones I have read about and seen in the media happen to be exceptionally intelligent people. This is not a proclamation that I am very intelligent though I am an atheist. Rather from what I have observed, an atheist always comes out as a thinking person. I am yet to come across an atheist who does not think for himself or herself.

In this article, I wish to describe the four roads that one can take in order to discard their religious faith and become an atheist, if they so choose. These are also roughly the paths I took to convince myself and I think that any atheist who shunned his or her religion would have taken the same four paths. I hope that the reader will start thinking once he or she has finished reading this article. Please forgive me for including many quotes from famous atheists here. I hope they don’t bore or provoke you. 

Without much ado, the four roads to atheism are as follows:

The Road of Science

Let us begin with a quote from Bertrand Russell – “When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe but look only and surely at what are the facts.

Science is not just physics, chemistry and biology. Science is a way of thinking. It is not a product, but a process. It is a way of critically and skeptically looking at things. The interesting part is that you don’t have to be a scientist to think scientifically.  This basic understanding regarding science is necessary to understand the scientific path to atheism or even atheism itself. If you believe that science is just a bunch of theories written in textbooks, you are missing the point.

When we look at our civilization, we see that things that were not known at one point of time are known today. History is proof that what we do not know today will be known tomorrow. Ancient humans didn’t understand why seasons change, why water flows, why things fall, why lightning occurs and so on. They feared these phenomena and started associating divine and/or supernatural entities to them. However, as time went by our species eventually did find the right answers and discarded the divine entities associated with each phenomenon one by one. Today we have convincing and evidence based answers to all those questions that intrigued the minds of ancient humans. Except for a few extremely religious people, no one really worships the thunder god or the water god today. Similarly, when we understood that Sun is just another star undergoing nuclear fusion of hydrogen, the need to worship it as a God vanished (unfortunately there are still people in India who worship the Sun).

The point is that the more we understand nature, the more God becomes unnecessary.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.

Knowing and accepting evolution as a real scientific fact is the next step. I have written many posts on evolution that can brief you about its current status and why it is such an important scientific theory. Of course there have been people who read those articles and told me, “No matter what you say, I will still not believe in evolution.” I feel nothing but sympathy for them because they purposely are shutting themselves off the beauty and awe that science can inspire about our wonderful world.

Thinking as I said is an essential characteristic trait of an atheist. Ernest Hemingway famously said, “All thinking men are atheists.” One must show the courage to think and question established beliefs. Only then intellectual growth will happen. You don’t need a genius level IQ in order to question religious beliefs or compare them with real science. All it takes is a little guts and willingness to learn.

The unknown is not supposed to be feared. It is supposed to be studied. I fully agree that all that we see in our universe must have an origin. Our quest as an intelligent species therefore should be to work hard enough to find out how things really originated or at least pay some respect to the people who are working on those big questions at this very moment rather than thrusting outdated, medieval, pre-medieval superstitions and Bronze Age myths on them and others.

It is very easy to say, “I don’t know the answer, therefore God did it.” It takes extraordinary courage and intellect to say , “I don’t know the answer, therefore let’s find out. That in my view is the real beginning of wisdom.

The Road of Philosophy

Philosophy is that branch of thought that asked questions like where do we come from, where are we going, what is the meaning of life, what is the purpose of life etc. Philosophy can be termed as the ancestor of scientific thought, even though today they are two distinct disciplines. Atheism born out of philosophy rejects the notion of a creator based on logical and philosophical arguments. Contradictions in the concept of a supreme creator is often the source of arguments against God. For instance, an all powerful and yet loving God wouldn’t allow evil to pervade in this world. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 – 270 BC) once said:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Carl Sagan quotes Rig Veda beautifully in his epic documentary Cosmos, which you can listen to in this video. Statements such as these abound in philosophy so much that we can’t help wonder why the concept of God survived for so long. What I think is that philosophy, which was part of the then education system was available to only the very powerful people in the social hierarchy. It is possible that philosophical notions weren’t handed out to the common man as it is today. Sadly, even though all religious and philosophical texts are available for purchase, the mindset is still maintained by many.

Hinduism, the religion I left has profound atheistic notions. In fact, atheism exists at the core of many religious texts. The Rig Veda, the Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka, Isha, Mundaka and Chandogya etc. are atheistic in nature. If you are interested, there are Wiki articles on Atheism in Hinduism and Irreligion in India which describe the origins and development of atheistic traditions in India. Many notable personalities in modern India such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, Amritya Sen, Javed Akhtar, Kamal Haasan and many more have been and are atheists.

I reiterate the fact that a thinking person will turn in to an atheist sooner or later. The only question is when he or she starts thinking.

The Social Way

I remember talking to a friend of mine. He told me that humans should respect someone or something and therefore believing in God is necessary. I asked him to respect other humans and he was dumbstruck by that reply. That is what we are lacking in our society today. We hardly are willing to treat another person with respect. Ironically, we whine a lot when people don’t treat us with respect. Anyway, the social way towards atheism stems from a historical and contemporary awareness about various aspects of societies in the world.

A person aware of societies will also be aware of the damage religion has done to the society. When I think about the evils of religion, a very unpleasant picture comes into mind. All organized religions in my opinion have caused great evil in this world. For instance, the organized religions of the world are so keen on oppressing and subjugating women, which is totally wrong. The aspect of respecting another human being comes into picture when I question religion in terms of society. The way religion has treated women without respect and dignity is unjustifiable. And it is not just women. The treatment of different races, homosexuals and even members of other religions has been pretty bad throughout history.

Richard Dawkins in his marvelous book The God Delusion has said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” 

There have been people highly annoyed by this sentence of his. But when I think about it, there is no other better way to describe the God of the scriptures. And there are people who really take the evil things written in the scriptures literally and act accordingly. Religion has poisoned the minds of many and is still continuing to do so.

According to Steven Weinberg, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

This pretty much summarizes the damage religion can do to the minds of people. The Crusades, mass conversions, terrorist attacks, honor killings and many such evil have been caused because of religion and not the lack of it. In fact, I have never seen an atheist going around burning trains, doing suicide bombings, taking part in communal violence,  doing honor killings or any such despicable evil acts.

Atheists are highly rational people whose only wish is the progress of humanity. We don’t threaten others to follow our way of thinking. All we do is to use logical reasoning to educate people about how things are and then leave it to them to make their own decisions. 

The Empirical Way

People are almost always surprised when I tell them that I do not believe in God. They look at me like someone who has just landed from another planet or as a messenger of evil who has come to attack and falsify their most cherished beliefs. The kind of questions they ask are sometimes very funny and I intend to make another post regarding that. There was this friend of mine who once asked  whether it was “science” that is holding everything together or not.  I was taken aback by her ill phrased question. She thinks science is some entity that atheists use to replace God. That is the main reason in the initial paragraphs, I defined what science really is.

The empirical way is all about testing and finding things for yourself.  Getting experimental data to prove or disprove something is critical in drawing conclusions. If you can test things yourself and find whether the God hypothesis is true or not, there is nothing else more entertaining and informative than that. You can start with thought experiments. For example, if you study for the exam and pray, you will pass. If you study and don’t pray, you will still pass. But if you don’t study and pray, there is no way you will pass. I have actually tested this in my life and I have found that it doesn’t work if you just pray and don’t study.

If you pray or really believe in something or someone, it ought to get your things done. It can be clearing an exam, getting job, marrying someone, buying a house etc. Unfortunately, events don’t work that way. Another experiment is checking out coincidences and studying the probability that those events would have happened anyway. The following video shows a young Prof. Dawkins doing a simple experiment to prove that coincidences do not mean anything in the supernatural realm:

It is not hard for us to find out instances in our daily life and make experiments out of them. I do that all the time. There are plenty of events in my life that allude initially to the possibility of a God. However, when I sit and think about it and start eliminating the most improbable causes, very soon I find that the events have nothing to do with a God at all. Therefore, I can confidently say that God is a highly improbable entity or just a figment of human imagination.

The key behind testing God is finding out natural explanations for things that happen. Only when you have exhausted all the natural explanations for a particular event, that you should consider the possibility of a supernatural (if you want to). What I do is, if I exhaust natural explanations, I leave it there until I find some new natural explanation later  because I believe that everything in the universe is knowable. It is only a matter of time before we figure them out. There is no such thing called a miracle. They are just happy coincidences that have very natural explanations if someone bothers to find them.

To conclude, being an atheist is a very intellectually fulfilling experience. It is a process of continuing growth and it is something that teaches us about how rare and precious we are as a species of extraordinary brilliance. But being an atheist can be hard if you are surrounded by religious people. My advice to those who want to follow these four paths to atheism would be to make sure that you make a good friend circle of people who are not afraid of thinking freely. As Phil Plait puts it, “Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime.

The Imperfect Design – Evidence for Evolution!

Image of a beatufiul eyeOf all the species in the world, the evolution of human beings is the most controversial. People, especially religious ones cannot stand the idea that humans don’t have a divine origin and existence and that we are related to the other animals. For fans of creationism or intelligent design, it is hard to accept that humans underwent the process of evolution to reach the current state. They often site the human body especially the eye as a perfect example of design as our body is too complicated to have evolved naturally according to them. Well, I am okay with it provided when a trained person looks at this so called “design”, he should not be puzzled as to why certain parts are in a particular way because when we look carefully at the human body, that is precisely what we feel.

Therefore I would like to call on the scientific and engineering outlook of the reader in this article because I am going to site a few examples where it is required for you to think as to whether we are actually designed or not. Let me first talk about design as we understand from our lives. Any good designer would design a machine or a drawing with the minimal amount of defects. Further he or she would make sure that the design is simple and optimized enough so that troubleshooting is easy later on. Furthermore, he or she would make sure that there is a logic behind putting a component in a particular place. Therefore a good designer can easily make out whether a machine’s design is defective or illogical in some way by looking at it.

I request you to look at the following few examples to have an insight into what I mean:

  1. The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve – It is a nerve that supplies motor function to the larynx and travels from the brain to the larynx. However, it does not take a direct route. Instead it goes all the way to the heart, wraps around a major artery and then goes up to the larynx. It is puzzling as to why the nerve takes such a detour for no reason. In fact, in giraffes, the nerve travels 15 feet to the heart and then goes up to the larynx which doesn’t make sense. If we were designed, then the designer would simply put the nerve in a direct route from the brain to the larynx. It’s as simple as that. What really happened is that  the fish like ancestors of modern tetrapods had the nerve direct as the heart was above the gills, as it is in modern fishes. But over the course of evolution, as the neck extended, the heart became lower in the body and unfortunately the laryngeal nerve got caught on the wrong side of the heart. A designer’s eye would easily dismiss this as a bad design. In the following video, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins will demonstrate the detour of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in a giraffe.
  2. The Human Eye – This is cited as the most perfect example of intelligent design.  But from an engineering perspective, it is not perfect at all. A person who make a camera will make sure that all the wiring is at the back of the film and not in front of it. Similarly if a eye is designed, then obviously all the nerves should be behind the retina. Unfortunately in human eyes, the nerves are in front of the retina. And where the optic nerve leaves the eye, there is a hole that creates a blind spot, which is the reason why our eyes jiggle. We don’t have a functional reason for our eyes to be this way except that historically the common ancestor of all vertebrates did not have a better retina available to work with. Now, those of you who want to bring in God’s “divine purpose” behind this should know that an octopus’s eye doesn’t have this problem. All the wiring is behind the retina for the octopus. In fact, the octopus eye is a much better “design” compared to humans. This link will tell you exactly what I mean by blind spot. The famous German psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz once said that if an engineer had given him the human eye, he would send it back. The video here would show you how the eye can actually evolve naturally without any divine intervention.
  3. Vestigial Structures – An engineer or designer would want his design clean. He wouldn’t want an unwanted component in the machine without serving a purpose. As in the human body and in other species, there are plenty of structures that do not serve any particular purpose. Right from the DNA to visible organs, one wonders why a designer would put them there. The answer as to why these vestigial structures such as the pelvis in snakes, human appendix, the male nipples, the tail bone etc. exist comes from evolution. These are relics from a common ancestry where these structures once had a function. As humans evolved, some of these functions either stopped or changed thereby creating these vestiges. Not only in the organs but also in the DNA we find vestiges. There are several genes that form part of what is called genetic junk. The only reason they are there is because evolution didn’t clean it up properly.
  4. Fatal Errors  – Image of Ectopic Pregnancy - Courtesy Mayo FoundationThere are some really fatal mistakes in the human body. Only because of modern medical care that we can counter death caused by these flaws. For instance,  in women, the fertilized egg can mistakenly implant into the fallopian tube, cervix or ovary instead of the uterus  causing ectopic pregnancy because of a cavity between the ovary and the fallopian tube. Before modern surgery, this used to kill both the woman and her baby. In men, the testes develop first in the abdomen and then migrate to the scrotum. This creates weak points in the abdominal wall where hernias can form in future and without modern surgery, it is a sure way to die. The human pharynx is yet another design flaw. It is the passage used for both ingestion and respiration, which increases the risk of choking. And as mentioned above the appendix is a vestigial organ that serves no known purpose. However, if you get appendicitis, it is a sure shot way to die. 

These are just a few examples of imperfections in the seemingly perfect human body. There are hundreds of such examples and in some cases the design flaw is so much that it can be fatal as described above. A designer with any level of logic or common sense would never create a body like this. Therefore the only conclusion that can be made is that either there is no designer or the designer is a very bad designer. Everything from top to the bottom in our body is trade-offs that came about through millions of years of evolution. It’s an undeniable fact.

The Dubai Reasoning!

It is surprising how misunderstood atheists are. Most people really do not know why atheists become atheists. There are popular misconceptions such as atheists do not believe in God because they think that something that cannot be seen cannot be believed. Another misconception is that atheists are messengers of evil or the devil. Yet another misconception is that atheists believe in evolution which states humans came from monkeys. All of these arguments against atheism are ignorant and straw-man to say the least.

Mohanlal in Kilichundan Mampazham

Mohanlal in Kilichundan Mampazham

There is a popular Malayalam film named Kilichundan Mampazham. In that Mohanlal talks about belief. He says that just because one has not seen Dubai, doesn’t mean Dubai doesn’t exist. So far two close friends of mine have used the same logic to me while talking about atheism. They say that if I haven’t seen God, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Well, first of all I must tell everyone that it is not because we can’t see God that we don’t believe in God’s existence. This argument stems from the lack of understanding of what evidence means. People are yet not clear with the concepts of direct and indirect evidence.

I have not seen my brain yet. In fact most humans have not seen their own brain. However, we know that it exists. We are aware of its existence from various indirect evidences that we can verify. For instance, we can perform an EEG or a PET scan and verify that we have a brain. Other indirect evidences would be the cognitive processes that goes on inside our head all the time. We think therefore, we do have a brain. We really don’t need to cut open the head to verify its existence but if we do, we can be sure that will see our brain. When a crime happens, the detective doesn’t see the crime directly in most cases. He collects evidences such as fingerprints, footprints, blood samples, video and audio recordings, letters and emails, chat scripts, witness testimonies and many other things before drawing his conclusions as to who might be the culprit.

Similarly, we know that Dubai exists from a variety of indirect evidences such as personal descriptions of people who visited that place, photographs and documentaries and news related to that place among others. All these convince us that Dubai exists even though we haven’t visited it. Hence the argument that atheists reject God because they haven’t seen God is meaningless. It is not just the direct evidence that we verify but also indirect evidence. There hasn’t been any testable way to prove that God exists both directly or indirectly. Which is one of the main reasons why we don’t believe in a God.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence“. However, we must use that statement carefully in any context. Or rather, we shouldn’t misuse that statement. When I speak about aliens, some people ask me how am I so sure about their existence. Of course I am not fully sure about their existence. However, the indirect evidence is so overwhelming. At the time I am writing this, scientists have discovered over 700 planets and over two dozen of them are in the habitable zone around their parent stars, which means they can harbor life as we know it.

Now, life as we know it alludes to the carbon based life form. Carbon as you might have studied in high school, has a property called catenation. It can form long chains of molecules that form “backbone” for other molecules and atoms to attach. Our DNA is one such molecule which can self replicate and therefore form the base for life to evolve. DNA may not be the base for life in other planets but still it is highly likely that it will be a carbon based self replicating molecule. When scientists search for life in other planets, they look for signatures of life such as oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle, presence of organic molecules, presence of moisture in the atmosphere etc. And intelligent or industrialized life form would have further signatures such industrial waste gases, radiation, presence of radio waves artificial light sources etc. These are prominent indirect evidences that scientists are looking for all the time in the planets that are being discovered.

exoplanet artists impression

Exoplanet (Artist’s Impression)

We haven’t found direct evidence for aliens because we have barely started looking. It’s been just over 110 years since we invented radio. Which means, the farthest those early signals have gone is 110 light years. Our galaxy is over 100,000 light years across and have an estimated 400 billion stars. And there are roughly a hundred billion such galaxies in the observable universe (give or take a few billion). In the last 20 years since the first discovery of an exoplanet, we have found over 700 confirmed planets. Hence, the discovery rate is quite high and in the coming years, the number of planets we find will be truly mind blowing. Thus, the day is not far before we find the first clues for a life form that is truly alien. And when that happens, our civilization will be changed forever.

Coming back to the main topic of discussion, evidence can be direct or indirect. In science, a theory can be verified through experiment, through observation or through mathematics. In addition, there is a rigorous process of peer-review. It is only when such a verification occurs that a theory gets accepted in the scientific community. Scientific community is hence very rigid because there is no room for error there. Therefore, any Tom, Dick and Harry cannot come up with a theory and say, “Hey, this is my new theory, accept it.”

God, is a concept invented at a time when there wasn’t an understanding about what was going on in the world. To be more specific, the God in our culture(s) is basically the “God of the gaps”. People tried to plug in the various holes in their knowledge about the world using God(s). Religion was a political and cultural construct invented in order to keep people in control by exploiting this ignorance. However, today we know so much about the world around us that we can start pulling out the plugs from many such holes and put our scientific understanding in place. For example, we didn’t know how things fall in the past, but we do today. So, we pulled out the corresponding plug and put theory of gravity in. We didn’t know why there was a retrograde motion for Mars and other planets, but we do today. So, we pulled out the plug and put Heliocentric theory in. We didn’t know why diseases occur, but we do today. So, we pulled out the plug and put germ theory in. So as and when we learn a new thing about this world, one God disappears or as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time goes on.

This was a simple article about the atheistic viewpoint. If this doesn’t provoke thought in a religious person and helps him understand why atheist reject God, then I am not sure what will. Any questions on the content of this post is welcome. Thanks for your time.

The Einstein Argument!

There are people who believe in God because their parents or community does so. There are some who follow the “because there is something, someone must have created it” logic. Yet some others believe because they are not sure but do not want to take “risk“. However, recently I heard an interesting preposition. It basically preys on my keen interests in astronomy and astrophysics and states that as I learn more about the universe, some day I would realize that there is a God and leave my atheistic point of view.

The source of this partially ignorant preposition is even more interesting. It uses Albert Einstein as a yardstick to measure the highest level of intellectual achievement and then uses that as an argument against atheism saying, “Even Albert Einstein believed in God. And you are talking about atheism.” The words “even” and “you” are the problem sin this sentence, which you will understand as you read on. The preposition also takes its position from a very popular urban legend where Einstein as a student seemingly “proved” God to his atheist professor.

There is no doubt that Einstein is one of the greatest scientists of all times. However, using him as a yardstick of intellectual achievement in my opinion grossly demeans other great scientists who lived during his time, before him and after him. The fact is Einstein actually never believed in a God. Of course he was not an atheist. He preferred to be an agnostic, which is good as a scientist since agnosticism is in many ways like atheism except for the part where it accepts the lack of surety as to whether a supernatural creator created this universe and then interferes with the events happening in it.

Hence, touting up his name  in order to sell one’s religious point of view doesn’t make sense. There are other issues in using Einstein’s name in this case of a supreme God who has influence over how events unfold in the fabric of reality. First of all when we talk about an intelligent creator being, it is a scientific hypothesis. We are talking about an intelligent being that has the capability of various feats. Then the question that would naturally follow would be “Where did this being come from?

Secondly, Einstein had big problems with quantum mechanics. The world as we know can be divided according to two models. The one for which Einstein is famous for which is general relativity and the other is quantum mechanics. Now, in order to describe reality completely, we need both the theories.

General relativity goes about explaining the universe at a macroscopic scale. It is very beautiful and elegant and describes a predictable universe. It appears that Einstein’s obsession with predictability of the universe is one of the reasons why he is an agnostic. Unfortunately, at the most fundamental levels, the universe is totally unpredictable. The works of Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli and a whole bunch of other scientists during Einstein’s time and afterwards conclusively prove that the quantum mechanical nature of our universe at the fundamental level is unpredictable.

It is obvious that Einstein had a problem with it because he wanted his predictable view of the universe to work at all levels, which it didn’t. If quantum mechanics was just a theory that couldn’t be verified experimentally, then he would have easily brushed it aside and moved on. But that was not the case. Experiments after experiments kept proving the quantum mechanical nature of reality at the fundamental level. This is where Einstein had a problem and he went on making the famous statement, “God doesn’t play dice with the world.”

To his death, Einstein didn’t accept quantum mechanics even though he knew that it was a true way of understanding nature at the microscopic scale. In fact, towards his later years, he became a recluse and refused to read the papers of new scientists who were making excellent progress in the field. It is said that he wasn’t even aware that two new forces viz. the strong force and the weak force were discovered. He spent his remaining few years of life working on one particular problem, which is combining electromagnetism and gravity, which were the only two forces known to him.

So, as a scientist, his achievements in relativistic mechanics, gravity, photoelectric effect etc. are excellent. However, he had this exceptionally biased point of view towards quantum mechanics, which was the other half of reality. It is funny to know that it was his own earlier works in physics that lead to the creation of quantum mechanics. That probably might have disturbed him further.

To summarize, touting up Einstein’s name in religious arguments is futile because of two reasons. First, he never believed in a God and was an agnostic. Second, he was biased enough to discard one half of reality that describes the universe in order to favor the other half. Further, he was never the only intellectual of his time or anytime for that matter. Thomas Edison, Paul Dirac, James Chadwick, Paul Ehrenfest, Sigmund Freud, Niels Bohr, Pierre Curie, George Gamow, Julian Huxley, Frank Whittle, Alan Turing, William Shockley, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Erwin Schrodinger etc. are some of the scientists and inventors during Einstein’s time who were confirmed atheists. Other famous historic and contemporary atheist scientists and inventors include Jim Al-Khalili, Svante Arrhenius, Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar, Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, Sandra Faber, Richard Feynman, Alan Guth, Wilhelm Ostwald, Edmund Halley, Stephen Hawking, Peter Higgs, Lawrence Krauss, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Alfred Kinsey, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Alfred Nobel, Sir Roger Penrose, Carl Sagan, Leonard Susskind, Steven Weinberg, Richard Stallman etc.

We can’t in anyway say that Einstein was somehow more intelligent than them or his contributions are greater than all these people or that his religious point of view is somehow better than them. Einstein himself is known for his seemingly ambiguous statements about God and religion. Hence, to conclude, it is a futile attempt to use Einstein’s religious point of view as an argument against atheism.

When we played outside – A Retrospect!

Computers may eventually turn us into machines!
Computers may eventually turn us into machines!

A few days ago I had a conversation with my friend. Season 4 of The Big Bang Theory was out and we just finished watching Episode 4. We exchanged views about how the series had gone down in popularity recently because it seemed the public got a hang of what the characters could do and the jokes have become trite. He asked questions about my new company and its environment and I described it in detail.

Then all of a sudden I said, “I somehow feel that Internet is getting a boring place to be.” He just smiled. I continued, “I think we should go out and play than lock ourselves up in air-conditioned rooms with a machine in front of the eyes.” He smiled again.

The Psychic Vortex
A Scene from the TBBT Episode – The Psychic Vortex

There was something that prompted me to say this. In TBBT, there is an episode called “The Psychic Vortex.” In that Koothrapalli tries to persuade Sheldon by saying, “Come on, Sheldon. I want to go outside, let’s go outside. Outside is good.” to which Sheldon responds, “If outside is so good, why has man spent thousands of years perfecting inside?

Despite the humorous intend of this dialog, there is a deeper meaning in it. I felt like we are losing out on a physical part of ourselves and I wanted to discuss it.

I started first by describing my school days which I miss so much. Many of my current friends think that I hate sports. But I was not always like that. Long back, during school, I used to play football, cricket, kabbadi, volleyball, kho-kho etc. Also I was involved in all sorts of mischiefs that children commit when they are young and hyperactive like fighting, running, jumping, falling etc. We played Kallanum Policum for almost 8 years continuously. My friend agreed that those days are something he too missed because he used to play them as well.

There are a lot of incidents of my school days that I would like to share and I will be posting about all of them subsequently.

School Days
A reminder of the good old days…

When we compare our school days with our present life, most of the time the weltschmerz sets in. It is true that we can’t have that life again. But there are certain parts of it that can still be part of our present life. It is just that we don’t bother to include them. It is one of those that I wanted to discuss with him. The physical aspect.

I started my description of school days with some weird games that we used to play which he was not aware of.

The first game I explained was called “Dhaaba Dhoobi.”  It was introduced by the North Indians in our class. The game starts by creating a ball using paper, plastic and rubber band. It is smaller than a cricket ball. Then we team up. And we will throw this ball at the ass of any of the guys in the other team. And then they will try to throw back. It pains nicely when it hits hard and people run around to avoid being hit. We played this game from about 4th to 8th standard. Four years of exhilarating experience playing the great Dhaaba Dhoobi!

My friend commented that this game was gay. I just laughed because there were more at my disposal awaiting description.

Keeping what he commented in mind, I started with the next game which we called “Ba Ba Ba.” Actually the term originated from my brother and I used it to name this game. It was a fighting game of the wrestling genre. The winner wins by making the loser’s ass touch the ground. So everybody tries to force his opponent to sit on the ground. Initially it was hand on the ground but the rule was later changed and hand was replaced by ass. This was played for about a year or two between 5th and 7th standards.

Wrestling
This is how we used to win in Ba Ba Ba!

Again my friend asked whether I was gay and I told him that we didn’t know that such a thing called gay existed back then.

Anyway, I started with the third game . It was more intricate than the previous ones and only existed for about a year during the 6th standard. It was named again by the North Indians as “Ghoda Gaadi”. As the name suggests, there was a horse involved. But not a real horse. A guy will assume the role of a horse and another guy will assume the role of the soldier who sits on the horseback. Teams are divided and the horse-soldier pair of one team has to fight with the horse-soldier pair of the opposite team.

An example of the Human Horse
The Ghoda Gaadi looks similar to this

Winning or losing was depended upon whether the pair fell down or whether the soldier climbed down his horse before the fight ended. I learned about the power of momentum long before it was taught from this game though I didn’t know that it was called momentum. This game belonged to the hand fighting genre because the legs were held by the horse to prevent the soldier from falling.

My horse was Naveen and I named him Chetak after I got “inspired” by a Vinod Khanna movie. We had comparable sizes but he was stronger than me. We were a very famous pair because we used to win most of the time despite our small size compared to our competitors. The mystery was in the physics involved which we subconsciously exploited. This was particularly true when we fought against Sandeep-Shyamlal pair(yeah, there was another Sandeep). This Sandeep was strong and stout but Shyamlal was thin. Both were taller than me. Sandeep was Shyamlal’s horse.

Initially we used to lose the fights until I found a way around. What I did was, I will grab Shyamlal when he approaches and ask Naveen to rotate. Once we reach a sufficient speed and I start feeling the centripetal force, I simply let Shyamlal go and the pair will move under their own momentum to their inevitable fall.

This game was fun but often ended up being a real fight if the losers don’t admit defeat. I had tried biting my opponents a couple of times but then when the opponents too started doing it, I stopped.

Sandeep said that it was a very weird game. I told him that out of the three, I liked “Ba Ba Ba” and “Ghoda Gaadi”.  He commented again saying that I liked the gay ones because they were all about ass. Anyway I didn’t care what he said because those games were the best we ever played in school.

Then there were general fights in the class, in the ground, in the bus stops and practically anywhere we found “fightable”. There were two main teams in our class. The Hindi Team and Malayalee Team. And the Malayalee team had two factions viz Rijith Team and Binil Team. From 5th Standard Harilal took over Binil Team. All these teams fight for every other reason they have. There were occasional jumps that people did from one team to another following a dispute. Often these kind of disputes were settled in “the ancient way”. A one-on-one fighting tournament takes place with the team members standing around encouraging the fight.

An example of a School Fight
An example of a School Fight

There was a competence to fight and win when we were in teams. We used to send spies in order to find out the strategy of the other team before the PT period so that we can have an edge over them in football or cricket.

Football disputes were sometimes settled by the cane of Paulose sir if it reached him. Since cricket was played after the school timings, disputes were settled by ourselves.

The reason I wanted to talk about all this violence is because there is something we lack now a days. The fighting spirit. We lock ourselves in air-conditioned rooms in front of computers trying to make a living. It is not that we shouldn’t do that. But we hardly go outside and play. We don’t engage ourselves in combat. The reason I took over martial arts training at 16 was because I wanted to get that fighting spirit back. I still go to my instructor’s place and get some practice whenever I have time.

The fighting spirit is something we need to have throughout our lives. It is a fundamental nature of us. In the olden days people got involved in physical activities throughout their lives. But now it is different and it is that aspect that one should nurture. We need to regain that spirit which has been lost in the ravages of time!

A Yardstick to Remember…..

Drinks Menu
The menu I described looks something like this!

On February 2008, I went to meet a friend of mine who happened to reside in a different city. We went out to many places and in the evening at the dinner table of a famous restaurant at the heart of that city, we were given two menus. One was for food and the other one was for liquor. I jokingly said that I need to order white wine. She immediately snapped saying, “Pleasant! If you order anything from that menu, I will never ever talk to you again!

I just smiled but something within me said that I shouldn’t order drinks because it will hurt her feelings and I didn’t order anything from that menu. Even for a long time after that incident, I didn’t feel like drinking because whenever I thought of it, her face came to my mind. She never liked people who drank and a few months later, there was a retrospect of this incident and she mentioned that probably it is because of the strength of our relationship that I refrained from drinking for that long. (Why I took up drinking again later on is a different story.)

Almost two years later, I mentioned this incident at the lunch table to my father. He started pulling my legs in her name immediately. I told him that it is not what he thinks and that we are just good friends. He was still making fun of me. Later my mom returned from school and asked what was going on. My dad started the leg pulling again. He said that either this girl is a true friend of Pleasant or she has some strong feelings for him. I said probably it is the former. He then asked me to read the essays of Sir Francis Bacon. He said that those essays describe the characteristics of a true friend.

Image of Sir Francis Bacon

A Portrait of Sir Francis Bacon

I read the essays and learned a lot of theoretical aspects of friendship. But that is not the subject of my post today. Today’s post is about another quote of mine. Just like any other quote, it came out instantly during a conversation. Let me describe the incident. This August, I went out with one of my close friends to a pub near Atlantis. It is called Silica and it is one of the best drinking destinations in Kochi.

Mojito is my favorite cocktail. It tastes so good and you can actually drink a lot of it without passing out. I liked it ever since I first tasted it at OPM Dance Bar in Chennai. Anyway we ordered two Mojito and started chatting. Just then a guy came and sat at the sofa on the other side. About 10 minutes later, a girl wearing yellow churidar, arrived and walked towards this guy. While passing us, she gave me a quick stare. There was this friend of mine who studied with me in KV. He was a ladies man and he taught me that whenever a girl stares at you, just stare back at her the same way.

Her gesture reminded me of his advice and I also returned a stare of the same degree. She had an average looking face. But she was fair and moderately plump with fantastic assets. Anyway, after we exchanged stares, she went and sat with the other guy. Unfortunately, there was a wall preventing me from having a full view but I was still able to see the girl. I was happy because who wants to see the guy anyway? Once they ordered drinks, they started getting busy.

Mojito

Mojito - My Favorite Cocktail!

My friend was frustrated because he was not able to see any of these. After two rounds of mojito, my friend wanted to order something else. He ordered a different cocktail made of Kiwi Fruit and vodka. I got to taste it too. It was too sweet, so I continued with mojito.

My friend and I went to the same GRE coaching center “The Chopras”. So we were talking about the life in US and the universities we chose etc. He mentioned that he liked me very much because of my outlook towards life which in his opinion was different from others. He said that I am a person who spreads positive radiation. The only thing he didn’t approve of was my atheist point of view but more importantly since I am a good person, it was okay with him. I just smiled impressed by his sincere praise. I said sincere because there is an old adage which states that a drunk person cannot lie.

He liked my helpful attitude when it came to sharing useful information. I said that I didn’t like the attitude of our contemporary society regarding sharing information. It is true that we need to search for the information we want. But it is not good, if someone asks a question and we show attitude saying “why can’t you search?”. My point of view is that, if I have a useful information in my brain that can be helpful to others and also the time to explain it and that the information is not private or secret, then I should explain it rather than saying “please don’t mind, but you are supposed to search”. Only in extreme situations I ask people to do the search themselves. And it makes sense too. We learned in 5th grade that knowledge increases by sharing and I kind of follow that principle as much as I can.

Friendship

Friendship - An undefined relation!

The more we drank, the more he continued to praise me. The conversation then moved to relationships. He asked me whether I had ever loved someone. I told him that I had on multiple occasions. I was not in a mood to explain everything. Hence I gave a brief account of my past attempts to build relationships with women. From my conversation he understood that I don’t like feminazis. In fact he learned that I don’t actually like many of the new fangled forms of relationships in our society. I delineated many aspects of our evolving society which are currently undergoing a paradigm shift.

This prompted him to ask me what sort of relationship do we have between us and off came the answer from me “We should not define relationship. Because the moment we define, it will lose its beauty.” I said that there is no yardstick to measure the depth of a relationship. It is just what it is. He said, “Damn! You rock man!” and appreciated my philosophical point of view.

We finished our drinks and paid the check. I took a last glimpse of the love birds sitting on the other side before leaving. While returning home, I realized that there was a smile at the corner of my lips. And I knew that it was a smile of satisfaction that the nectar of the dreaming flower has again proven to be food for thought for another person!

The Vivekananda Decomposition – A New Type of Destructive distillation!

Destructive Distillation
Destructive Distillation of Coal

We learned about charcoal and coke during 8th grade but we didn’t learn how they are produced until 10th grade  when  our beloved Prema madam taught us the process of destructive distillation. I kind of liked the idea since the process reminded us of another experiment I conducted with my brother at home. Most ordinary light bulbs have a component inside that  resembles a miniature test tube which we have used to conduct experiments on projectile motion.

Filament
Inside of a light bulb

We found at an early age that the inflammable material at the tip of a match stick can be utilized to launch projectiles. My brother and I were introduced to the test tube like thing by our neighbors. We put the inflammable stuff inside it thing and compressed it from outside. When we applied heat at the open end of the tube, it shot forward like a bullet.

I thought that this tube could also be used for destructive distillation. Science freaks like my friend Shyamlal and I used to sit  in the class and mock spiritual concepts. In Hindi we were taught many lessons depicting stories of Buddha and Vivekananda. This is about an incident centered around a biographical lesson on Vivekananda and his contributions in our 10th grade Hindi text book.

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

The lesson was nice and at the end of it , there was a couple of paragraphs about his death. It was written that his body which was made of panch bhoot or five elements (earth, ether, fire, water and air) finally got separated from its soul and disintegrated into the earth. I was puzzled and asked Shyamlal who sat next to me “What does that even mean?”. He joked saying, “May be we can do a destructive distillation of his body to find out whether he is composed of panch bhoot!”. I stared at him for a while thinking about what to say.

It was a funny incident but it raised some fundamental questions in our minds. For instance, “Why do we still believe in pseudoscience even though we know that real science says something else?” “Why is it that yoga instructors and Ayurveda practitioners still preach about the vata, pitta and kabha doshas when the actual explanation of the symptoms in the body is different?”

My friend’s joke didn’t decompose Vivekananda. It instead decomposed our views on pseudo-scientific notions about the world around us! And now I like Vivekananda who caused this initiation.