Statutory warnings - a hypothetical threat?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

Right from the childhood days we all are aware of the warnings going around about Cigarettes, Liquors, Movies... But in spite of that, we were ready to take the risks involved - to find out what's it about these things that people are cautious about (or at least pretend to be cautious about). What were they keeping us (children) away from?

Take the case of Cigarettes. A doctors warning or a statutory warning goes along every pack. But still we have so many guys/gals smoking. I bet its because of the warning that they are trying it out... the more you try to keep him/her away... the more enticing it's gonna be.

Then comes... drinks.. who cares about the warning on each liquor bottle .. a hypothetical threat if one may call it... A big warning goes before you start drinking .. then we have responsible drinking, not driving after drinking and terms like DUI...

One wonders is it worth paying attention to them? It's like a Chess game I believe .. the whole game is controlled by hypothetical threats and possibilities that never happen, but which could have happened if you did otherwise. Yeah.. I mean that's why they keep smoking... and the smokers know that the warnings are nothing but BS.

Be careful though... the've started changing the warnings... But hey it's okay to include some while you post messages... 'cause then you know - this post must be read ( in a similar way that we used to try the ones that carry the Statutory warning!)


Am I Not Moral?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

I found this article in my diary when I was going through my old stuff, I wrote it for an essay competition on some philosophy topic I guess. I find it quite relevant to the issues raised in Beyond Borders, which I watched couple days ago. Here is what I had to say regarding “how to be good” ten years ago:
How good a person am I?
I would like to think that I’m a pretty good person, not saintly, but as good as most and better than some. It would be nice if it turned out that however good I am is just about exactly how good a person ought to be. Contemporary moral philosophers like Peter Singer and Garrett Hardin have given a good deal of attention to these questions. What kind of a moral report card would the rest of us get from them? As it turns out, Singer views most of us as immoral, and as a result Hardin tries to argue against Singer.
Singer argues that we, in affluent societies, have a moral obligation to do more than we do to relieve the suffering of others, like the  victims of Bengal. The view many of us have, namely that doing more would be good or praiseworthy, but is not morally required, is wrong.
He thinks that we are mistaken if we believe that we are not morally obligated to do far more than we do to help relieve and prevent the pain and suffering of other human beings. Singer’s argument for his principle is an example of great philosophy work; it starts with intuitive insights, and leads us to a counter-intuitive conclusion. He argues that a child dying by drowning is bad; therefore if I’m walking past a shallow pond and I see a child drowning in it, then I am morally obligated to wade in and pull the child out.
With the same set of principles, since suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad; therefore “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought to do it.”
It then follows that if we have a moral obligation to do much more than we do to relieve suffering like that he describes in Bengal. The trouble that most of use have to face with Singer’s argument is that given how many very bad things are happening in the world, and how very bad they are, little else is of comparable moral significance, which means we may be called upon morally to give up a “lot". Singer gives a partial list: “color television, stylish clothes, expensive dinners, a sophisticated stereo system, overseas holidays, a (second?) car, a large house, private schools for our children…”
Despite Singer’s rock solid argument and conclusion, Hardin does not agree that we should donate money to UNICEF in order to help world hunger. He argues that the earth is like a limited spaceship, and that each time we help world starvation, it is comparable to helping drowning people on-board a lifeboat that’s already at its capacity. Ultimately, by saving those extra people, we are jeopardizing the lives of everyone who’s already on-board the lifeboat.
Similarly, Hardin thinks that well-intentioned food will lead to increase in population and therefore a corresponding escalation of misery. Since food programs will result in more suffering, we are morally wrong if we donate money to food programs.
In my opinion, Singer by far has a more sounding argument than Hardin. First of all, I don’t really think that our earth is like a lifeboat. Therefore, it is incorrect to use a lifeboat as an analogy. But even if the earth is like a lifeboat, it can hardly be a justification why we should keep on living our luxurious lives and meanwhile watch people on the other side of the globe die.
If the earth were like a lifeboat, wouldn’t it be a better proposal that we kill ourselves and give food resources to those third less affluent than us? If indeed, the plan is to optimize happiness, isn’t there more joy to billions of children able to live their lives than one person able to live his/her luxurious life?
Is it not true that by distributing a single individual’s wealth in our society, we can feed billions of children? I seriously doubt that the happiness of billions of simple lives can be less than the happiness of merely one individual’s glory seeking.
As far as I can tell, if all the assumptions Hardin made are correct, and Utilitarianism is correctly applied, we should end our own lives instead. Hardin’s assumptions not only cannot justify our selfishness, but leads to an even more counter-intuitive conclusion than that of Singer’s.
I have to confess that I am not exactly a model citizen as far as good will is concerned, I often spend money on things I don’t exactly need. Like the Rs.25,000 upgrade I spent on my computer. That money could have helped children suffering malnutrition and poverty.
But, I hasten to explain; computer is all I really spend my money on. “That’s” selfish, in a world where millions of people go to bed every night hungry. Sad but true, I cannot come up with a just reason other than “I am not a saint, and to donate is like extra credit for me". There is no justification for “most” of our everyday actions other than just pure selfishness, besides whining about to do more is to qualify for moral extra credit.
The fact that models of moral saints are unattractive does not necessarily mean that they are unsuitable ideals. Perhaps they are unattractive because they make us feel uncomfortable–they highlight our own weaknesses, vices, and flaws. If so, the fault lies not in the characters of the saints, but in those of our own unsaintly selves.
However, moral ideals do not, and need not, make the best personal ideals.
We needn’t be defensive about the fact that our lives are not as morally good as they might be, because we all tend to be selfish in some ways. We all feel selfish is bad, but then if we are totally unselfish, we will probably just lead ourselves to self-destruction, selfish is a natural trait that allows all living thing to survive in the natural world. After all, no one is going to look after your interests at all times other than yourself, and that’s how we survive.
Morality is demanding, but I think we can devote our lives at least in part to other pursuits than making ourselves maximally moral. This is not a rationalization of selfishness; instead, it’s a call for a broader and more diverse ideal of human excellence, other than just being maximally moral. I think optimally, we should just work more to prevent sufferings and deaths, yet not feel frustrated when we do not live up to that ideal.


Why do people ask “How are you?” instead of saying “Hi."?

Thursday, July 17, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

Is it just me or is it that there are a lot of people using “How are you?” and “What’s up?” in place of “Hi."? I am never sure how to respond to “How are you?” correctly. 

How do you address such an open ended question when faced with the complexity of life? I make it a policy nowadays to say “Good/Great!” with a smile on your face acknowledging the gesture, and then ask the other person how they are doing. It seems like most people who ask never really intend to find out how I am doing anyways. And if I happen to be having a really bad day and say something like “life sucks and then you die", they would probably totally freak out thinking I am messed up. So pretty much when people ask you “How are you?", they really mean “Hi.", but they want to rub in that extra concern to show that they care. 

The thing that bugs me is that they don’t really care, but want to act like they care. I would much rather prefer a sincere smile and a “Hi.". I don’t like questions in place of greetings, and if you really want to greet with a question, ask real and specific questions. “What do you think about the issue of Smriti Irani's educational qualifications?", “Do you think Alia Bhatt is really as stupid as she is on TV?”

Here are some imaginary responses that I came up with for answering “How are you?". I am almost tempted to try them out in person just to see how the other person would react:
“How are you?”
“Well, I am not sure. But I am starting to get the feeling that my life is not all it’s hyped up to be. I know I should be grateful and count my blessings, but every now and then I just feel like Murphy’s Law always wins. I am forced to view life as mainly boredom and lack of passion, with sprinkle of beauty and happiness few and far between. I would ask you how’s yours, but I have a stinking feeling that yours is not much better either.”
“How are you?”
“I am feeling fantastic. My life feels like it’s kicked into hyperdrive. No matter what I do, it always turns out great, it’s like things never go wrong. Lately, I feel so fresh and ready to tackle everyday when I wake up. I wish you can share this sense of appreciation and wonder of the beauty and happiness in life, but like the Matrix, one can’t be told what it’s like, you will need to figure it out on your own.”

Share your imaginary responses in your comments!


Dubai: Sim City of the Middle East

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

I say of Dubai that it is a live Sim City game played by His Highness Sheik Mohammed. I used to be fascinated by this game when I was a teenager. 

Dubai is really like that: imagine the deserts, the Arabian Gulf and some camels here and there. This is your land. Now you have money, coming from the oil resources (another game I loved was Richesses du Monde – Wealth of the World). And you can invest it in the country. 

So you first set up some high rises, a haven (Jebel Ali), an airport, some hotels. You then have cheap labor come from neighboring countries, create occasions for tourists to come like the shopping festival and Jumeirah Beach white sand resorts, and finally bridge the gap between the Far East and the West by creating Media City, Internet City, and a soon to be Financial Marketplace (DIMF). 

I mean it must be amazing to see Dubai from the air, see the sand of the west, a growing layer of developed land and the water to the east.

This is Dubai, create the supply, the demand will follow and forget about economic rules.


Power of Our Beliefs

Monday, July 14, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

Here is a funny little story about how negative beliefs can affect us:

There was this troubled man that believed that he was a corpse. He would say, “I am a corpse, I am dead, I am not alive.” His doctor got this idea and said, “Do corpses bleed?” The man replied, “No, corpses don’t bleed because they are dead.” The doctor then said, “If I take a needle and prick your finger, and you bleed, would you believe that you are not a corpse?” The man goes, “Okay.” The doctor then pricked his finger, and the man started bleeding. The man exclaimed, “Oh my God! Corpses do bleed!”

The point here is that when you have a strong negative image of yourself, even evidence can’t change your own reality. Likewise, most successful people have such a strong positive image of themselves that no matter how harsh reality is, they find a way to succeed. It is important for us to have a healthy attitude. Our reality is really what we make of it.



Monday, July 14, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

When I was young, I would always imagine one day where there will be a trigger where I would transform from a boy to a man. Unfortunately, there is no such magic switch. Just as Rome was not built in one day, one does not gain maturity through some magical transformation. Even though  there’s no shortcut to growing up, every few years reflecting back on my life’s journey, I realize that my experiences do change me and shape who I am today. One of the biggest changes I experienced this past year is being totally comfortable with myself. 

Back in my early years, I tried hard to find where I belong and where to fit in. I don’t know what it was, maybe I was a quirky kid, maybe I was an introvert, fitting in as a kid was hard. It certainly didn’t help my case that due to my dad’s job meant I had to change schools and cities frequently, due to my ever changing residence, it was hard building strong and lasting relationship with other people my age. It was like the movie “Lost in Translation", except it was a little kid’s version of it.  

As the years went past, probably around high school or early college, I gave up trying to fit in and couldn’t care less what other people thought. I didn’t feel the need to explain myself. I would do things my way. It’s as if I was in my own little world, I didn’t justify myself to anyone. It was probably then that I develop this arrogant aura to my personality. I would carve my own path and I was damn proud of it. 

There would be times where I just felt like I am better than most people, and that I don’t need to fit in to the stupid social circles people are forming in schools. I was a misanthrope. Looking back at those times now, my arrogance was probably a cover for my lack of self-confidence. Truth be told, I wasn’t comfortable with myself, and by telling myself that I was somehow different and better than others numbed the feeling, that maybe there’s something wrong with me that I can’t fit in. 

Then my college years came. College was fun. The freedom, the liberation to be able to do whatever you wish. You set your own priorities. The best of it all was that it was a place where people value diversity. People attend colleges to hear stories and to know people with different experiences in life. 

Then something happened, I met someone. I could trust someone other than my family for the first time. Ah, the joy of that friendship, but like most friendships, things went terribly wrong after a year. I won’t get into the details, but I was hurt and I was broken, I made life changing decisions to run away from it, it was a dream that I wanted to forget. 

 After that things just weren’t the same anymore, I never really open up to anyone completely again. I was different things to different people. Even though I have friends who I was close with, nobody really knew the whole picture. If I felt broken or something missing, it was hidden from sight.

Sometimes in life, a dagger is what it takes to wake you up. When I met my future wife, I was going through the worst phase of my life. I decided to rebuild myself. I realized that no relationship can help me gain self-acceptance or feel complete except for myself. I was determined to grow and improve myself. At first, there was this natural tendency to improve myself out of this love/hate feeling.

I started climbing out of the walls that I built over the years, my outlook on life improved. It was a positive feedback loop, the better I felt the more that I was able to let go of it. I start gaining perspective on things, and stop feeling the need that I need to prove anything to anybody.

Looking back at it, it shaped me, it helped me grow, it is part of who I am. I am sorry if I hurt anybody along the way, I really am, but I don’t regret anything that happened in my life. I am who I am, and I am comfortable with my past. Whether it be my relationships. Or moving around as a kid. Or all the stupid things I did to myself or others. We are who we are because of the paths we travel. 

There are no good and bad experiences, only experiences in which we learn and don’t learn from. 

These days, I try not to compete with others; I compare myself with yesterday’s self. I rejoice if I improved, but try harder the next day if no progress was made. I learned to accept my own weaknesses, weaknesses don’t make you weak, but not acknowledging them does. 

 Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses, and I am now comfortable with mine. It’s a great feeling to be at peace with myself. 


Am I an Orphan?

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

Years ago, I learned how much we all have a tendency to live like orphans. Despite the fact that we are loved sons or daughters. Sometimes because of life and and a lack of understanding our own value, we tend to end up trying to live for ourselves. In so doing I’ve found that in my case when I don’t truly see how much my parents and family love me, I end up seeking approval from people. We do this in many different ways. 

For example, we try to perform well to please family, friends, or co-workers. Or we try hard to cover up our bad performances by concealing the whole truth. We may use laughter and humor so that people will like us more. At times, we may also use flattery, subtle boasting, or fishing for compliments. Some of us withdraw and become quiet, while others act outgoing and important, all in order to “score approval points.” 

Whatever the case, seeking approval involves any attempt to prove to ourselves, others, and those around us that we’re okay. 


Life, Consciousness, and Mary Shelley

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

I know, it’s an interesting title. I promise the three will come together nicely if you read further.
The world was to him a secret which he desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to him, are among the earliest sensations he can remember… It was the secrets of heaven and earth that he desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied him, still his inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the wind play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness.
-From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
What is consciousness? 

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience no doubt help us understand more at a fundamental level how things work in our brain. Modern technology allowed us to monitor and take a peak at how neurons fire and how chemicals in our bodies react when excited by outside stimulus. That’s the “what” of it, and from the “what” of it, we can even figure out the “how” of it. But what puzzles me is the “why” of it. Like how we now have the genetic mapping of ourselves, but that does not mean we understand life. 

We have the code, but we don’t really understand the code. Even if we find out everything about the way the brain works, there will still be something missing from the picture. This is best illustrated by John Searle’s thought experiment, the Chinese room. 

Imagine a man sitting in a room, the room is filled with cards with writings on them which he does not understand. The room also has slots which will deliver such cards, his job is to send a proper response to the cards to the outside world. But the man is given a thick instruction manual that tells him what cards to send back out given what cards he receives. The result is that he communicates in Chinese as seen from outside the room, when in fact he doesn’t even know the language.

 Likewise, one can build a computer that responds perfectly like a human in every single situation, but surely that does not make the computer a human right? Or does it? Perhaps it does. Maybe that’s exactly how our brains work, it follows the rules of nature, action and reaction. Maybe consciousness is just a by product of our incredibly complex neural network? Could it be that we refuse to believe it because then our lives will seem so objectified? Maybe we are in love with the notion of soul, because we can then separate ourselves from the physical world. It makes us feel special that we are not chess pieces moving in the universe.

Which brings me to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, her book is interesting from many perspectives, but the one that I find most fascinating is that her story was one of the first to explore the idea of artificial life. The book contained no supernatural elements, the creation of the monster is described on a rational scientific basis. 

Frankenstein is about a scientist who challenged the world with the possibilities of modern science, but was destroyed because he cannot anticipate the outcomes of his own acts. That particular outcome was the fact that artificial life has as much feelings and consciousness as we do. No, Dr. Frankenstein did not create a monster. What he created was human, it was the humanity that made the monster question his existence, hunger for beauty and love, and ultimately commit crimes of hatred. I always had great respect for Mary Shelley, such a great talent at such young age. Did you know that she wrote Frankenstein at 19 in 1818? She really showed those Englishmen that it’s possible to write a classic dark tale even if you are a young female in 19th century.

Back to the topic of minds and souls. I don’t really believe in souls. Objectively, I think of my body as a corporation that’s designed to carry my genetic markup. Every couple years, every single molecule of my body is completely refreshed. I think I am the same person because of my memory. But really, it’s an illusion. The only thing that remains truly constant is my DNA markup, but even that can be altered by mutation. 

As many great philosophers have said, the concept of self is really just an illusion. We normally think of viruses as weird, but from viruses’ standpoint, we are the weird ones. We evolved so much just to do the same things they do. But in the end, I like the extra complexities. My appreciation for life and love stems from it. Life might not really have meaning objectively, but life always creates meaning for itself. 

Whether it’s an illusion or not, I still love the beauty of my first kiss, the intellectual stimulation of reading books, the magnificent awe of diving under the ocean, the longing of finding that someone, the satisfaction of picking the winning stock, the thrill of riding a roller coaster, …etc. It’s what makes us human.
The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates
The life that wears, the spirit that creates
One object, and one form, and builds thereby
A sepulcher for its eternity.
-From Percy Shelley’s To Divide is Not to Take Away


The Nature of Love

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

As much as the cynic in me believes that it’s an evil marketing ploy to make us waste money on Hallmark greeting cards, the analyst in me will try to amuse you with my thoughts on love. This won’t be a very organized post, true to the nature of love which is not very organized either.

We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.
-Jacques Jacques Maritain
First of all, I do not believe that guys and girls can be “close” platonic friends. The keyword here is “close”. The differences in perception of what’s close and what’s not is the reason why one will have a crush on another, while the other person doesn’t. A guy and a girl can certainly be platonic friends, if they both feel they are not that “close” to the other person. But as soon as one feel “closeness” to the other person, one will start to breed romantic feelings. 

The best situation is that both of them feel the “closeness”, and they go on and start a relationship. Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time. The reality is: attraction isn’t a choice. Just as one can’t help falling in love, one can’t logically decide to love someone. Since it isn’t a choice, it’s not about age, looks, wealth, family background, …etc. You can list all the qualities you want, but that’s not why we are attracted to one another. We are attracted to those who makes us “feel” good inside. It’s an emotional response that we have when we encounter another person. You can’t convince somebody to feel attraction for you. We’ll save ourselves a lot of heartaches if we can accept this fact, and wait for somebody we like that’s attracted to us naturally. 

Two things about human nature makes this hard to do: 

1. We don’t like facing reality when we feel butterflies in our stomachs. 
2. Grass is always greener on the other side, we love what we can’t obtain. 

In fact, the later is the exact reason why you can’t write an epic love story with a happy ending. Think Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind, Titanic, …etc. While it’s easy for anyone to imagine there’s someone out there who will light up your world and reach your inner being, it’s ultra hard to convince anyone that two people can find each other exciting after having kids, diapers, bills, dishes, …etc.

The thing I have come to realize is that there is no magic pill in life. If you lean on somebody in hopes that they will fill that void, sooner or later things will break. Nobody can/will light up your world forever if you can’t light your own world, and nobody will ever be able to understand you as much as you can with yourself. As cliche as it sounds, the greatest love of all really is learning to love yourself. Make peace with yourself, and be comfortable in your own skin. 

Perhaps the biggest irony of it all, is when you don’t count on somebody to fill that void, it makes you attractive in eyes of others. This is also true for making friends, we all like to hang around people who give off positive vibes. Like I told my friends after watching The Aviator, it’s truly sad that people who need to be loved most make it so hard for others to love, while we all love those who don’t really need it. 

Here is the truth about attraction, the only lasting way that you can make somebody be attracted to you is if you feel secure and confident inside. Now, the good thing about my crazy theory is: Let’s suppose I am wrong about how to create attraction. The only way you can prove me wrong is by improving and loving yourself until you let go of all your insecurities. If you truly reach that point in life, then you ought to do just fine on your own even if you don’t find someone special to love you.

Back to the topic of love and attraction, I like taking a step back and look at its beauty from a larger perspective. It’s part of the process in which men and women get together and form families, which is really to create and take care of life. Love is a miraculous process. Think about it, you exist today, because of the thousands of generations before you mated and took care of their offspring. In addition, everyone of us is the result of a lucky genetic drawing out of millions of sperm cells.

The subject of love is so complex that I can’t really write everything all at once. Perhaps I will elaborate more of it in the future, especially some of the interesting topics in evolutionary psychology.
This was love at first sight, love everlasting: a feeling unknown, unhoped for, unexpected–in so far as it could be a matter of conscious awareness; it took entire possession of him, and he understood, with joyous amazement, that this was for life.
-Thomas Mann



Saturday, July 12, 2014 Vishaal 0 Comments

The sky is releasing a torrent of emotions today as thunder rolls through the ever-changing clouds, chasing the fiery tentacles of lightning that leaves tantalizing streaks of brightness like the coaxing fingers of a lover. Heavy rain beats relentlessly on the roof, cascading down to the ferns and flowers in the backyard, tapping, tapping, steadily tapping to an ancient beat.

I love thunderstorms for their passionate displays, sometimes terrifying, sometimes mesmerizing-- but always awe-inspiring. Today, as the autumn rain descends from the obsidian heavens, I hear Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" in the melodious beats of the downpour. Yesterday, I heard the passionate crescendo of Ravel's "Bollero" as the flames of the scented candles in the living room danced wildly in the cool breeze that sifted through the open window...

And perhaps what I love most about thunderstorms is that they pass quickly, and the sun shines through again. I can almost hear the sigh of the earth below, refreshed, rejuvenated, languidly stretching in the warmth of a new beginning.