Friday, May 31, 2013

Time Series

What is time? Does Time move? I find it very strange when some very innocuous question, about a simple day to day phenomenon, stumps me when asked about. I can’t seem to fathom how what I was so sure about, a moment ago, gets decimated into a maze of confusion immediately after being asked to define.  Time is one such phenomenon, which has engulfed many leading brains, both ancient and contemporary, in the quest of being understood and explained. Something that is so obvious and seemingly straightforward has been an unresolved mystery for ages. 

All the definitions of Time, suffer from circularity. Oxford Dictionary defines time as the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole: travel through space and time. Similarly there are definitions which state – ‘Time is what prevents everything from happening at once’ or ‘Time is what can be measured by clocks’.  Is time a thing in which all other events happen? Or is time a result of all the events that happen? There are many fields that incorporate a concept of time but without being able to define it in precise terms, e.g.: Religion, Science, Philosophy etc. Yet we believe our life is a race against time and that time is running out. So another tricky question gets added, does time move? Even a casual observation would reveal that Time is unidirectional and only flows forward; never backward. Ofcourse, in colloquial usage we all would have used phrases like “time stopped for a moment” or “it seemed like ages” or “in a twinkling”. Statements like these give another interesting dimension to time that of -our experience!
Philosophers have found themselves divided on the question of “is there existence of time independent of our experience?”  That is, is there a clock somewhere that is constantly ticking irrespective of whether I see it or feel it? Some believe in such a concept of Time that is ticking independent of our experience and such a concept has been called Newtonian Time. The anti-thesis to this is that time is completely experiential and has no independent existence. A view popularized by Leibniz and Kant.

Interestingly, inspite of all the confusion that exists about Time, we continue to conveniently incorporate it in our lives, run our respective races and carry on without any semblance of doubt. However one thing we are certain as an individual is that, Time seems to end with death. Death – what is death? Why do people die? Does the Body have a mechanism to measure the progress of time? Body is formed up of multiple cells; does each cell have a sense of time? If each cell has a lifecycle of its own, then obviously it must have some measure of the progress of time.  However, if we take humanity as a whole or the world as a whole, death ceases to be the end of time. If we take the entire universe into consideration, time appears to be this phenomenon that’s constantly expanding. At this point, let me introduce another interesting point by defining time as the gap between two events. With this definition what happens is that we eliminate the possibility of a beginning of time or an ending of time. If there has to be a concept of time, there have to be two events, for a particular point to be called as beginning of time a prior event should have occurred thus defeating the concept of calling a point as beginning of time. Similarly there cannot be an end of time. Thus, through this logic time neither has a start nor an end. All the religions in the world today have a concept of time. Islam and Christianity believe in linearity of time. In a linear concept of time, applying the aforesaid logic there cannot be a beginning or end of time. So either this means time always existent or that time never existed. Interestingly Hinduism believes in cyclical nature of time. So the beginning becomes the end and the end becomes the beginning. Time does appear to move. There is the past, the present and the anticipated future. If we take the premise that time doesn’t exist then how do we justify the motion of time? 

Time and the movement of time do appear to be entirely experiential. However, undeniably, all living organisms age and die. Infact, innumerable cells in the living organism go through their own respective lifecycles and perish. Some of them have lifecycles that are consistent and repeatable, almost as if they were encoded with the factor of time. These cells and cells responsible for aging of all species of the living world are sort of dictated by the memory of this code. A living organism at a macro level also appears to be strongly influenced by memory which in-turn has a strong impact on time and our perception of time. If each of the cell and somehow we, were to lose memory, would we stop aging? Would the body become immortal? On a different plane, if I didn’t know how I was and how I looked 5 years ago, I wouldn’t know if I have aged even if I look myself hard in the mirror or feel any pain in my body. Experientially I continue to be ageless. If experientially one becomes ageless can one defy death? Interestingly, nothing in our view has escaped the eventuality of death. Among all the uncertainty of life is a certainty and that is about Death. Memory has multiple functions to fulfill. The aspect of memory I am interested in, is the aspect which determines our personality and gives a consistency and continuity to it. It is a recording of all our likes, dislikes, knowledge, aptitude and everything that gives a continuity to our identity and hence our personality. The moment I lose this memory, my ego vanishes and so does my experience about time and its movement.  I don’t know what it would feel like being so, or whether it would feel anything at all [extra sensory] , however the external (body) might die yet internally or experientially that death might not mean anything


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Facebook Dire-Rear

Facebook, in the few years of its existence, has almost become an essential aspect of most people’s lives. There are many uninitiated and uninterested people who today are converts and now well within the folds of Facebook and thus help increase its popularity even further. Infact, I read somewhere that, Facebook has sufficient members to be declared as a country!

On an earlier occasion I wrote about an emerging phenomenon called, Facebook Celebrity and the repercussions of being or not being one! Today I wanted to explore another such emerging phenomenon. I prefer to call this phenomenon Facebook Diarrhea. Pardon me for a slightly corny name to this phenomenon; I think no other name would have suited this behavior better. Diarrhea, as we all know, has symptoms of having three or more liquid bowel movements per day. Undoubtedly a serious condition and could be fatal as well.

Ofcourse the word Diarrhea, apart from being used to describe a medical condition, has been used in more occasions than one to describe similar liquid movements of things other than just the bowel. For example a terminology used often to describe people who demonstrate symptoms of uncontrollable nonstop nonsense is, Verbal Diarrhea. Needless to say, the people at receiving end don’t consider it to be a compliment and often take offense to it.  Obviously I am fully aware that while describing a certain behavior and naming it Facebook diarrhea, I will be rubbing few people the wrong way and also be at the receiving end of their wrath. Nonetheless describe I will.

So, what is Facebook Diarrhea? A person suffering from this phenomenon demonstrates the following symptom: comes online (usually 3 or 4 times a day) and is in the grip of, a perpetual and uncontrollable, need to share and post on Facebook. So the person doesn’t share just a single post, but shares a series of related or unrelated content (possibly timed by a stopwatch). I am sure, most of us have experienced this. When we login to our Facebook page, the Facebook wall is full of an almost never ending list of pictures, videos, posters and quotes shared by this individual. There is a liquid hand movement to hit the like and share button at whatever appears in sight. Unable to comprehend what makes such people stop I conclude that this behavior is stopwatched to a down count. I don’t think an anti-dote has been found yet for Facebook Diarrhea.

One might ask why I don’t pick Twitter. Twitter, if one observes, is all about diarrhea and it is the rule not the exception. So Twitter diarrhea cannot be described as a special phenomenon. There is many more such phenomenon waiting to be discovered on Facebook. Till I discover another one- so long.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Einstein's Dice

“God doesn’t play dice with the universe” Is a popular quote by the great scientist of 20th Century Albert Einstein. Einstein was among select few of popular personalities, whose fame transcended the boundaries of the field that they worked in. He is still quoted widely by people in fields other than physics, and in certain occasions misquoted as well.

Einstein’s belief in God was a point of discussion throughout his life and he had to give statements to clarify what his beliefs really were about the matter. I found it quite interesting to know that Einstein’s famous quote ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe’ is often used to highlight his belief in God and belief in a pre-determined destiny. It is often used to support arguments in favor of presence of God and of human destiny. Contrary to popular belief though, the statement was made neither out of faith in God nor out of belief in pre-determined destiny. In fact it was made out of desperation.

In early 20th century when scientific activity was at its peak, the likes of Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg and many more, were slowly but surely moving away from the concept of a deterministic Newtonian world.  What an amazing era it must have been -to witness great brains fighting it out  to make sense of the baffling world of sub-atomic particles and Quantum Physics. At this time, Einstein was at logger heads with Niels Bohr.  Experiments by physicists related to sub-atomic particles and their quantum states had not only raised many questions but also left many unanswered. Attempt to answer some of them was made in 1927 at Copenhagen, by all the great physicists of the time; Copenhagen Interpretation. This discussion was inconclusive and it divided the physicists world over; on one side was Einstein who was unable to accept the subjective nature of matter (wave – particle duality) and the other side was Neils Bohr who was able to accept the uncertain and subjective nature of matter. Einstein would spend the rest of his life to try and prove his point and attempt to come up with a unified theory. A theory that could combine his theory of Relativity (about to large Celestial bodies) with
Quantum Theory (about tiny sub-atomic particles) and resolve unanswered questions.

It was out of this desperation of being unable to comprehend the indeterministic nature of matter that, Einstein cried out – ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe’. This, inspite of the fact that, he didn’t believe in the concept of a personal God who watches over the world and works on a principle of reward or punishment. He believed in the monist philosophy popularized by Spinoza and a mystical connection of matter and thought and oneness of soul and body. Contrastingly however, the quote has often been misquoted to indicate that even a great mind like Einstein did believe in the existence of God! Infact on various occasions Einstein has described himself as agnostic bordering on athiesm:  Einstein stated: "I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."


Sunday, May 5, 2013

It's Not Word It

The word is not the thing – said Alfred Korzybski.

Homo sapiens learnt and unlearnt many skills as they evolved into civilized social animals. Language is one such learnt skill that has evolved over a period of time from its humble beginning of incoherent grunts.  As the experience of homo-sapiens became richer the need for an evolved linguistic tool must have become that much more evident. In order to communicate coherently more structured and logical linguistic tools evolved and took the shape of full-fledged languages with well defined syntax and semantics. For every experience there seemed to be a linguistic representation in the form of a matching word. Consistent usage of words gave it continuity and a permanent place in our memory.

Today language is an essential aspect of everybody’s growing-up process. Today, it won’t be wrong to say that, as a grown up, we see our experiences and situations through a mesh of words and linguistic tools. We recognize a situation only through words and our strength of vocabulary. However, every word suffers from a shortcoming. The shortcoming is of, its usage being subject to an individual’s interpretation. There are plenty of assumptions as well. I’d like to argue that, today we humans are so adept with words that we never come directly in touch with our experience or situations. Most of the times we only come in touch with the word that we decide to call that experience by.

For example in a relationship – what we like and whatever makes us feel good, feel beautiful and feel ecstatic– we call it LOVE. So we are not directly experiencing the feeling but are experiencing it through the word LOVE. The moment something unfavorable happens, when we recognize it is not what we used to call LOVE, and react differently. Thus the word and its limitation dictates what we eventually experience and hence how we react. We are stuck in dealing with the word and try to bucket similar experiences under the word.

 One might counter argue saying that, our learning is through these words, it is these words that give us the clarity in understanding and hence our knowledge.  While I understand the basis of such an argument, however I also think that it raises a serious epistemological question. As I see it, we experience and learn about the world in two ways – i] sensual (through our senses) and ii] through language. The latter is supposed to be a secondary method through which we make it easier to comprehend what we learn through the former. However, I feel, in due course we experience everything sensual through a mesh of words and thus making our sensual experience a secondary method. Here-in our learning and our reaction to situations become erratic and incoherent

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