[Book Review] A Brave New World

A brave new world , by Aldous Huxley is a depressing take on the state of humanity in a futuristic society. This future of mankind is also possibly set in a alternate timeline of history. The tale relies on the current principles and practices of science to forecast a predicted future rather than calling scenarios out of thin air to paint a state of dystopia. The tale felt chilling and terrifying because of its nature of staying grounded in plausible reality. 

The tale kicks off with an introduction of the new London. It’s a London where science triumphed and led humanity into a consumerist civilisation. It is a new land where babies are manufactured and are no longer a planned/unplanned outcome of intimacy. The babies are then sorted into different categories, ranging from Alpha + to Epsilon -, which determine the nature of the future that awaits them. Alpha plus, is the top of the tops of the society. Epsilons are reduced to beings that carry out menial tasks and enjoy almost near perfect invisibility in their world. Nobody really cares about the epsilons. The whole society , however, believes that there is a proper place for each of the classes. 

Science also lends a helping hand in conditioning the society. The science of brainwashing is transformed into an ART of flawless perfection. The babies are conditioned right from the act of inception. Different messages are drilled across different spurts of growth. The conditioning is not just restricted to infants. It alters the formative years of the individuals and kids grow into brain washed adults. The new world accepts this conditioning without exception and without any protest. 

The land has also evolved away from the confines of emotions. This new world believes in the consumerist excess. Love is no longer defined as conditional or unconditional. Love is no longer exclusive. The land enforces a regime of un-exclusivity where the thought of individualism doesn’t exist. It’s a free for all, within acceptable classes, state of existence. 

The passages above are not attempts at passing a judgement over the state of this new world. It exists. In it, there is no crime. There is no greed and jealousy. Mankind has evolved to pursue desires rather than trying to win it over through the acts self control and discipline. Mankind , in fact, would have evolved beyond the need for introspection because a life of excess and fulfilment of pleasures keep the species far away from pointlessness of self or what it means. There is unilateral happiness and contentment across the society. This world is probably a kind of world that most worlds would have desired, at some point in time. 

In a nutshell, there is no judgement because this new world delivers the results of peace and harmony and simplified living. 

And then comes the trouble.

The take kicks off with Bernard Marx. Bernard is an Alpha but has appearances of a delta. This leads to resentment and insecurities within his head. Bernard has an opportunity to explore the uncivilised world and he takes it. Bernard is accompanied by Lenina. Lenina is a woman of this new world. She , like rest of the new world, believes in unrestricted get togethers. The new world has funny interpretations of Relationships. Get-togethers is more like it. 

The uncivilised world resembles the normal world of Gods, Love, emotions and misery. The uncivilised word is not a product of science. It’s a world where men are men and women are women and the two learn to live together , forming meaningful relationships and enduring the miseries of life. This world has a god , who is worshipped, ideals that are pursued and dreams and desires that are worth dying for. 

Bernard and Lenina find the uncivilised world silly. Lenina finds it hard to understand the word Mother. She struggles to understand the logic and reason behind any woman wanting to suffer the process of birthing. To their minds, it’s not a wonder that the uncivilised world is an animalistic mess. Unlike their modern world, People age old in the uncivilised world and oldage manifests and plagues the body there. 

Bada boom, twists and turns later, John and Linda are moved to the new world. Rest of the story is about how the civilians from the uncivilised world cope up with the civilised new world. PS: There is no and then they all lived happily ever after. 

The book, while being a depressing read, is also a fantastic eye opener of sorts. It cruises through the many human emotions effortlessly. The discrimination amongst the classes, the construct of a polygamous society which conditions humans to not express any affections towards any other specific individual. And then there is the absolute disappearance of individualism. It’s also both ironic and interesting to find that irrespective of what and where a human is, humankind will never be free from the demons of insecurities. 

In a stark contrast to the civilised world, the uncivilised world offers the comforts of acknowledging and accepting the many emotions that humans are capable of expressing. Individuality exists and there is a need for a central god to govern. And then there is the misery of just being a human. 

The book presents a wonderful case of what humanity has to shed in order to attain a peaceful and a harmonious existence. It calls out the nature of such a life. Maybe reality is the fact that humans make life a miserable affair and humans would have to be stripped of humanity for peace to prevail. Maybe cold clinical science is the way to go. 

Give it a read , if you have similar questions on what it means to be Human. 

Karthik 

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[Book Review] : 1984

Nineteen Eighty Four is probably one of most definitive book that outlines the realistic and yet very likely possible dystopia that is already here. Birthed right on the shores of the second world war, this masterpiece by George Orwell is a master class in mass psychology.

The book is both grounded in reality and at the same time, is almost prophetic in nature.

The fact that reality can be shaped and scaled to present a realistic future is a chilling reminder to why fact is more chilling than fiction could ever aspire to be.

1984 is a tale of Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth. Winston’s job is pretty mundane which revolves around making changes ,both subtle and blatant, to all the written records of the past so that they are aligned to the events that transpire in the present. In short, Winston is one of the many who rewrite the past on a daily basis.

The world that Winston is one of the three existing super states that are absolutely totalitarian in nature. Winston is a citizen of Oceania. The other two states are Eurasia and Eastasia. In Oceania, the state’s defacto leader is The Big Brother. BB is the omnipresent, moustached icon that eternally reminds the citizens that they are always under his watchful eyes. Oceania is the perfect example of a single party state that reigns the land with absolute, unchallenged, unrivalled, unopposed POWER. The citizens are usually compliant either through free will or through sheer fear of persecution. Oceania is governed by a few ministries.

The Ministry of truth deals with control of information and propagation of the party propaganda. In short, Ministry of truth deals with lies

The Ministry of peace deals with war. It maintains and sustains the momentum of a perpetual war against the opposing super states.

The Ministry of love deals with crimes, criminal and all things hate.

The Ministry of plenty deals with rationing of resources that are scarce in the land.

And then there is the Thought Police who monitor the land for Thought Crimes. In Oceania, it’s a crime to harbour a thought. The party exerts its absolution by controlling the thought. The Thought Police are properly feared by the citizens.

Winston is a borderline ideal citizen. He is compliant and then deep down, he isn’t. There is something about the BB and the party that doesn’t gel well with him. It’s this burning silent revolution that runs inside him that triggers a series of events that soon alters the course of his life. Winston gets his hand on a book and decides to start maintaining a diary. The very act of thinking about it, writing an entry, that intent to even continue writing one qualifies him as a thought criminal.

Winston tries to keep this part of his life a secret. And then cue in the Damsel. Winston meets Julia and she happens to be a rebel. Rest of the tale is about the silent revolution. One has to go through the book to see the human nature at its best. It is in our nature to reject things that do not appease to our thoughts of reason. Thoughts of reason in this land, FAT Chance!

The party governs the land through 3 fundamental principles

WAR is Peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is Strength.

These tenets of ideology are in strict conflict with the freedom to express thought.

The book plays around with a few crucial themes. The big one, of course, is the very nature of a Totalitarian regime. The question, is a dictatorial rule with intent for greater good worth sacrificing fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens? Is the ‘for the collective good’ a good enough reason to cull individualism? Does any political ambition go hand in hand with social welfare? Are humans evil enough to crush other humans to nothingness? What is the price of individualism and why is it important?

The book leaves you with many thoughts on the value of individuals, the value of collective good, the value of the ruling class and the purpose of a ruled class. The book also defines the nature of power. It possibly predicts the hunger that power has. The nature of power is to yield and exert power. The nature of power is to dominate and decimate without qualms. Power is sustainable , if and only if, wielders of power do not shy away from the pure corruption that power provides.

1984 is a scary book to read. The dystopia is present today. The dystopia that was envisioned in 1949 is a reality today.

We are a world of ignorance and we are the sheep that are herded by the manipulative strings of gas-lighting manipulators. We embrace ignorance not by choice, but because we consume copious and vulgar amounts of fabricated , falsified information and we tend to believe in what we read without exercising our right to disbelieve it. We take and since we take without restraint, we are reduced to refraining from questioning the whys of any information.

The book rightly calls out the plight of this truth. Sanity is not a popularity contest. Are we sane because we cant bring ourselves to believe the insanity that the masses embrace? Or are we sane because we embrace the insanity that everybody does?

1984 is one man’s struggle against reality and is also the bloke’s evolving understanding of what a reality is all about. Go for it. You will enjoy the ride.

And with that, we shall meet where there is no darkness 🙂

Karthik

[Book Review] The blank slate : modern denial of the human nature

The immediate thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word Psychology is the image of Hannibal Lector , portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. From there on, my mind drifts away to the many serials and movies on crime thrillers whose plots revolve around the super smart sleuth who deduces the criminal based on psychological profiling.

In short, psychology seemed to be the quickest way to identify the worst and the most exciting breed of criminals there is.

Of course, that view is such a juvenile way of viewing the wonderful world of psychology. I’d like to believe that there are many roads that one can take in order to discover and understand oneself. There is spirituality and there is behavioural psychology. Both roads usher us to the same tangible output. The ability to know and understand oneself better.

The Blank slate by Stephen Pinker makes a compelling case for the evolution of behavioural psychology. It dissects the known and accepted views of the world and tries to expand our understanding by explaining the world through the fresh eyes of the science.

There are three fundamental questions that the book tries to answer.

1. Are we born as a clean slate? : In effect, everybody is born the same and the difference is what we do with our life during our lifetime.

2. Are we born with a natural tendency to be good? : In effect, are we noble beings who choose to get corrupted in course of a given lifetime?

3. Is there a purpose to life that involves destiny and souls? : In effect, is being human more than just being a human?

The questions seem to be fundamental enough and interestingly, these are the questions that help shape the human behaviour. If I’m born to be good , I have a destiny that holds an end, if I’m the same as everybody else, one of life’s greatest pursuit would be in search of finding something that sets me apart. If being unique is not my cup of tea, then fulfilling the prophecy that is life becomes a mandate. If there ain’t a prophecy, then as a clean slate, then all I have is the thirst to learn and acquire skills that takes me closer to my dreams.

Contrary to popular beliefs, people are born as artists and of course as murderers too.

This might sound silly at first and it also rubbishes the history of LAW in this world. If people are born with their virtues and vices, how do we hold them responsible to their actions. It automatically becomes a journey of fulfilling their destiny of being an artist or an murderer.

That statement can be viewed through two filters. One, reductionism. Two, Causation which can be proximate and ultimate.

Reductionism is the way of trivialising an understanding. If our nature is in our blood, then we aren’t responsible for our actions.

Causation is the way to justify that cause. I make music because I was born a musician. – Proximate view. I make music because i’m interested in music and I have dedicated years to that cause. – Ultimate Causation.

The reality , or the current understanding of that reality lies somewhere in the middle.

We are born with predisposition to certain behaviours. Science does not know why. Science is seeing the effects though. Most behaviour traits can be traced back to the genetic mark up. This does not explain and guarantee that people born with such traits will always end up exhibiting them. Science, today, says that people born with such traits, have a higher tendency to express that behaviour.

Science is not fully there yet. There is so much that we do not know about the innerverse.

Since this predisposition is shaped by the way the brain is formed and how the emotions are framed and formed, it also defines the understanding that we are all born with the tendency to be good. Evolution points towards survival and self preservation. Intelligence does state that survival and preservation is efficiently achieved by staying good to both the self and the society around.

Behaviour is a curious thing to ponder about. The whole discussion on nature and nurture, it does point to the fact that our surroundings shape up our behaviours. Which is true and truer. We are both with predispositions to be in a certain way. Our surroundings and the nurturing, they both ensure that we either pamper our innate nature or through conditioning, we gain a better control over how we choose to behave. The simplest example is that when in India, we choose to treat the roads as the defacto trash bin. When on international waters, we cultivate a civic sense. We revert states , once we return. This is a good example of nature and nurture at play. While there is an equal opportunity to improve our civic sense, free will takes shape.

The ability to follow a herd and acquire the behaviour that is mandated by the society is equally real to the behaviours of individuals shaping up the behaviour of the society. The ability of individuals to shape up the behaviour of the society has manifested numerous times in the past. It’s easy to cite Hitler but it’s more effective to cite yourself.

In your social circle, there are influencers and there are followers. Each circle exhibits these characteristics. There are people that we gravitate towards. These people are a said to be natural leaders. In such groups, the collective behaviour is often determined by few of its prominent members.

Scale it up and you start seeing that the society behaves in the way its influencers want to behave. When I was with a bunch of musicians, all discussions were around music. Then when I walked a mile with the altruism enthusiasts, it was altruism. I walked a mile with wannabe authors and the pulse was around words. individuals have the capacity to shape up the culture and behaviours of the society around them.

Donald Trump and America. Enough said.

The insight into psychology explains the way the world has shaped up. Collective behaviour is manipulated by Politics. Politics influences policies. Policies structure our daily civilian lives. Civilian lives continue remain in order because of the law. Law is in place to safeguard humans against their ability to be their worst. The cascading effects of behaviour of both individuals and societies impacts the world.

The book leaves you with so many questions about the world around and it offers a lot of things around why we choose to be the way that we are. A better awareness of how psychology works comes handy in identifying how psychology is used to manipulate the world around. It is the fastest way to open a can of worms.

I don’t think I have done much justice to the book. I take accountability over the fact that I’m a novice in this field of science. The book did play its part. I’m more curious than ever. Hopefully, I’ll expand my reading in the time to come.

Karthik

Project Psychology and Paramatma!

Lets talk about a simple day to day way of life. The project that we are running, assume that it hits a snag and push comes to shove, you happen to be in the line of fire. The immediate world holds you responsible and lets face it, you are as nervous as politician sitting in an honesty summit!

I’ve been catching up on Cognitive psychology and so far, it has been a wonderful detour from my usual list of literary fiction and spiritual philosophies. In many ways, it affirms my bias. In many ways, the world of cognitive psychology is more familiar than I initially thought it would be.

Lets dissect the scenario through a few filters.

Let’s start with the easiest of the lot. Determinism.

Determinism as called out in google states that all actions, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.

That roughly translates to Of all the projects in all of the companies in this world, you had to inherit this one. By virtue of determinism, one is fated for failure and it’s inevitable. Then comes the SKYNET argument. Through stones and studied trinket, one might manage to delay the inevitability. It eventually catches up and one given morning, one would have to face the consequences.

Through determinism, the outcome is predetermined. Either you walk off it or you are tarnished by the event. If success is written, no matter where you find yourself, something will open up. If a failure is branded, no matter what you do, no matter how high you jump, if not this, something else would manifest to bring you down.

The big benefit with such a thought is that there is no point in worrying over it. The ground reality , however, is that we are governed by fear and sit paralysed by it.

Then comes Innatism. Innatism is a bit more scientific and easier to quantify than the deterministic view. Innatism refers to the traits that you express. These are the behaviours that one picks through the formative years of life. We are stuck with it unless we learn to unlearn and adapt. Innatism mandates that just by virtue of being ourselves, we are predisposed to such failures. A good example is that if one is careless and unstructured at work, a slip is a matter of When and not IF. Eventually we’d slip up. Eventually we’d have to face the consequences of such a slip. Innatism is an unholy child of nature and nurture. Our traits, even if we are born with it, are also heavily influenced by the company that we keep and the environment that we are brought up in.

When we work in a toxic workplace, the smarter ones see the signs and plan ahead to keep a good trail that ensures that they are not blamed for all the failures of the world. When we have a lethargic sense of observation of our environment, by going with the flow, we also have to learn to react as and when surprises pop.

While nurture is explained in how we perceive the environment and how we adapt ourselves to it, nature also has a say in the way we are equipped to deal and adapt. Cognitive science explores the modular nature of the brain. The Brain, besides thinking and being underused, is also extensively at work all the time. While we do not acknowledge that, the construct of the brain, the way synapses and neurons work, it impacts our behaviour and hence dictates the way in which we lead our lives.

This is quite interesting because to a great degree, all crimes can be held accountable by the way the brain functions. It’s not in everybody’s construct to execute a cold blooded murder. Most of us don’t because the brain enforces inhibitors that keep us away from doing it. While the example is a drastic one , there are a lot of mellow examples around it. Some of us as people pleasers, some of us are agents of hell don’t care club. We are that way because our brain is hardwired that way. Nature goes hand in hand with nurture. While nurture minimises the risk of such behaviours manifesting, the nature warrants that we are only waiting for the right stimulus to go nuts. We are built for the crime. Unfortunately.

Then comes the philosophy around it all. The Paramatma.

Genetically speaking, the way we are is an outcome of how our mind is constructed and how our experiences fuel the way the mind operates, it also strips us away from accountability of actions. Yes. Purist science says that. Even if I commit murder, I did it because my brain is built that way. Legal definition of a crime is that if an individual is aware of what is being done, and is in the faculties to know the difference between what is right and wrong and still makes a wilful choice to commit the act, GUILTY.

The purist science flags towards nihilism. It says that nothing we do is part of a super plan. There is no grand scheme of things. We do because our brains work in a way they do. We are a product of how the mind operates and mind is influenced by our experiences.

Science sets us free from the burden of birth. Interestingly, spiritual philosophy aims to do just that. It is a means to relieve us from the burden of birth. Only spiritualists tag it to universe both inner and outer. Cognitive science talks about electrical impulses.

Viewing a problem statement through the hats of science , fate and spiritualism, the fundamental question that we ask is often a reflection of what we are.

Ask yourself a question based on the scenario outlined. Ie, the project that you are held accountable for, fails.

?

Done?

Good.

Now comes the kicker.

The question could be anything. There are a few themes that the nature of question could explore.

A few questions that I can think about are

1. What did I do to deserve this?

2. Why is it happening to me?

3. Why am I the only one getting blamed?

4. Hmm, how is this mess going to cost me?

5. Is this the end of my career?

6. Is this going to haunt me forever?

7. OK, Now how do I sort this mess out?

8. Who stabbed my back, who suggested that this failure was because of me?

9. What all and who all do I need to fix this?

10. Whom should I inform, whom would I have to call first to diffuse the situation?

There are many such questions. But the kind of question you ask, describes the kind of person you are. Questions could centre around fears, around resolution, around the future. That, again, is a wonderful thing to think about if you view it through the filters of Cog Psych!

If you think about it, all the explanations in the world, have absolutely nothing to do with the next step of actions that ought to be taken 🙂 Cest, la vie

Karthik

A culture of cultures

I’ve been reading this book by Steven Pinker that goes by the name , ‘Blank Slate: Modern denial of human nature’. I must admit, the book has left me massively humbled. As I struggle to comprehend the theories and brave one paragraph at a time, I’m also left with a lot of thoughts around the whys of the way of my world.

Interestingly enough, with mom and dad in the new city , I opted to hit a few temples to gain brownie points. I must admit, I do enjoy the temple experience. The architecture is quite breath taking. I also happened to notice that a few of the temples, in their efforts in being inclusive, had left a few brief descriptions to describe the significance of the deities and what they mean to Hindus. With that introduction on one hand and the book on the other, my thoughts have started running wild.

Now what if I tell you that it is believed that once upon a time there was a bloke. Boringly monogamous at a time where polygamy wasn’t frowned upon. A little red herring deal that soured and he had to relocate bases. The new land led to newer challenges and in course of the process, the bloke ushered himself into a new social circle of sorts. The social circle was trippy at best. Humanoids , who varied in genetic splices, were a part of that social gathering. Bada boom, another unforeseen adventure later, he eventually returned home.

And millennia later, the land saw a nasty riot that shed a lot of blood.

Reading that verbose, one can conclude that the riot was an ludicrous outcome and was barely a warranted response. Which society in its right mind would encourage, tolerate or even allow such a violence. And then suddenly everything changes perspective if I were to tag a name to the bloke. Ram. There is an ocean of difference between Ram and Lord Ram.

While Ram is just a name, Lord Ram is a symbol. Lord Ram , or the place that name has in our hearts and minds is a reflection of culture driven behaviour. There is nothing instinctive or innate around the fact that the name espouses respect and reverence. We hold it valuable because we learnt of its sanctity. We learnt it by aping the behaviour of our parents, grand parents and possibly neighbours. We learnt it because it was embraced and adopted by our immediate world.

Man has no culture. Man has a history.

The book does introduces us to thoughts that can help us debunk the mythos of our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The story of Lord Ram is a classic example. Unless one is aware of the history behind that name, the legacy associated to it, the wider script of God that it stands to represent, the story remains unknown. We aren’t born with our faith. We aren’t born with the culture that we choose to be a fanatic over. In a way, we are born as a blank slate. The book possibly goes on to explain why we aren’t blank slate either, but it meets the current agenda and I shall use it out of sheer convenience.

The values, the moralities, the definition of good and bad and what’s tolerable and what’s not, all of these are born out of personal and borrowed experience. Through intellect, we run a sorting hat to translate things into different buckets. Speaking of intellect, there was a passage in the book that simply blew me away.

Man, us, could possibly be one of the best machines ever devised. The brain is a machine too. Through the senses, it sees, feels, hears, tastes, touches and then translates all these into different interpretations. These interpretations are factored by our experience and hence bias comes into play. It’s this ability of the mind to personalise every stimuli based on experiences that makes artists out of us. Some draw, some write, some paint, some make music. This ability to create, based on the simple complicated machine that is human, makes us a human.

So can AI do a lot of that. We have BOTs writing symphonies today. AI is writing reading materials. AI is moving away form parroting responses to triggering new responses and creating new directions for conversations. Where does an AI end and a human start.?

The immediate answer is that behind every successful AL algorithm, there is either an overworked, underpaid, stressed employee or a super passionate bloke who is giving a 10000% into the job. The distinction of Creator versus Creation comes into play. Even if an AI gains sentience, Man would still be it’s creator and hence it is not human. The same logic applies to mankind too. Since , arguably, God created us and by virtue of being a creation, we can not be God. The best of human can only aspire to mimic God. The best of AI can only aspire to mimic Human.

I like the reading experience so far. So far, I’m fascinated by the world that Cognitive Science has unlocked. While I don’t really understand a lot about it, it does ask simple questions that challenges the boundaries of our assumptions. Having an open enough mind is very helpful in this journey. As a spiritual aspirant, it kindles my curiosity even more. If man wasn’t born with it, if culture doesn’t come from my blood, Why did I still manage to take the steps that I took to reach here?

That question is not unique to me. It’s to all of us. The current outcome of our reality is a trail of choices either made under the influence of the world around or just made for the heck of it. The choices don’t interest me anymore. The motives of what took us to embrace those choices is far more interesting. It’s going to be an interesting month ahead, as I inch across each paragraph.

Karthik

Chicken, Egg and 50 shades of evolution

I’m usually not in the habit of maintaining a cheat sheet to structure the flow of thoughts. There is always a first time and first time it shall be now.

The crux of the thoughts are around the following lines

Tabula rasa – > Innatism – > Nature vs Nurture , that challenges evolution ; Empiricism in conflict with determinism and not good friends with innatism. Nihilism vs opposite of that!

Righty roo.

I have my eyes on the book, The Blank Slate and to prepare for the book I started to read a little on the subject. In a way, this blog would be a pre condition check and once I’ve read the book, hopefully, I should have grown wiser! Tough luck there, but I’ll keep an open mind. it’s not everyday where I get to mock my opinionated self.

Lets try to structure the circus that runs in my mind. Chicken , egg and evolution. The age old question, which came first is a classic example of pointlessness. We were not around to witness the birth of the chicken or the delivery of the first egg. Ergo, the loudest wins or the most geekiest explaination stands to win. To me, I couldn’t care less about the origin of my omelette.

The journey of words led me down a wonderful path. The path is outlined as the following

1. I am what I am. – > What I am is a collection of all my bias, experiences , innate talent and acquired skill. The whole conversation of acquisition of skill trumps innate talent is still wide at play.

2. I am what I’m meant to be – > The big predisposition of fate and destiny comes into play. In my futile attempt to justify all the bits and bolts of life, I can take a little comfort, and I’m lying through my teeth here , in knowing that I’m meant for things and whatever that I’ve gone through and will go through, will be in line with what’s in store in my destiny. I don’t subscribe to this view of destiny and determinism. That’s an open area of contention.

3. Like everyone else, My life will have a purpose or just like everyone else, none of our lives are meant to serve any purpose at all.

These three are often indicative of all the justifications that we offer in the face of a defeat. Either we accept, learn adapt and bounce stronger. Or we accept and drag in the universe to assure ourselves that our loss was destined. Or, we say things are meant to be that way and something better is in the making. The degree of our failure is dependent on what we choose to believe and what that keeps us comfy and smug in denial.

Tabula Rasa , aka, blank slate states that we are like clay. We can be beaten and shaped up to be anything. It also means that entire life ahead is an outcome of stimulus and that means, we are what we are and that is defined by our experiences and our reactions to them. This makes sense and only it doesn’t as well. Our genetic fabric has information locked within it. We carry forward information that helps with our survival. While at the primal level, this makes sense, it need not mean that everything that we need , comes within our blood. Should that be the case, why would we bother learning anything at all.

The fact that our blood does not define what or who we are, it’s not a stretch for me to debunk the role of an entire vast universe in deciding my fate.

That’s just me. Empiricism talks about our ability to learn and adapt through experiences. It says that we are a product of our society and our interaction with it. The case of nurture versus nature. It banks on Nurture and conditioning. While this is true for most of us, This view also conflicts with both Destiny and Innatism. Since we learn from the world around, we are a product of our choices, we therefore are not left at the mercy of the universe and we aren’t at the mercy of our genetic markup.

If we are a product of the choices that we make and refuse to make, it also conflicts with the ‘Ghost in the machine’ ideology. Ghost in the machine, like it’s cyber punk relative, Ghost in the Shell, talks about mind and the body as separate entities. The impact of choices on mind as an entity and the body, now that baffles me. Mind has a mind of it’s own and so does the body. How do the two work in order to evolve us? That’s a question that has many answers and it depends on where one is looking for those answers.

The mark of a good book is not around how many questions for which it offers an answer. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s around how many questions that it makes us ask.

I’d like to believe that this book would open up a few questions that I didn’t know even existed. All that said, it’s been fun to contemplate around the many fears that surrounds our existence. From doubts around capabilities, to fears around history’s ferocity in wanting to repeat itself. From fate that wants us to fail to stars that remain mute and stones that bring better luck. Us humans are complicated and we are so , only because of the things that we tell ourselves to justify the soil upon which we make our shaky stand.

Karthik

And what if I told you

Oh there is something absolutely romantic and loaded with a sense of a purpose that spans a lifetime when we make a promise to take a secret to our grave. I can almost visualise the cinematic experience to the moment. Blackened clouds, rainfall over a freshly dug grave. There is a good chance that I’d be tossed into a furnace, but then I do digress. Back to the picturesque view of the immediate beyond. Cemetery, red roses, black dresses and a matching umbrella of black, rainfall. A bloke six feet under and a secret buried along.

And that’s precisely where the pointlessness starts. For starters; Secrets, promises, grudges and many billion moments remembered are memories. And what if I told you that the mind is neither the best or the most reliable scribe. I’m not talking about the mind’s ability to forget. I’m talking about the other side of the spectrum. The mind remembers what it wants to remember. What it wants to remember isn’t necessarily the absolute true north reporting of an event that occurred.

Memory is , at best, a placeholder. It is a flagging of a moment. Most of us pin that flag to remind ourselves that a certain event had occurred. A lot of us manage to retain some of the details and specifics of things that transpired. A very few of us retain the details without applying a bias. To present a simplified view of the process, a memory can be summed as

Memory = What happened + How we felt when things happened + What we thought led to that event transpire + Our reaction to that event + How we processed the moment of the reveal + Our bias on the all the participants who contributed to that event + HOW WE THEN WENT ABOUT ARTICULATING ON THAT MEMORY.

A memory is not as simple as a recording of what happened. It’s a recording of who you were when things happened. No wonder that a memory is a deeply personal affair.

That said and established, all of us change over time and only few of us have the courage to accept that change. History only repeats itself as long as we fail to acknowledge that we aren’t the same person that we once were. The longer we cling on to what we were, the longer the history runs on a loop. Memory is one massive contributing factor that keeps us glued to the person that we once were. Memories keep us away from embracing the present.

While the power of memory, and by implication the past , cannot be trivialised ; it’s also worth the while to ponder over how unreliable a memory is. The world of humans define the rest of their lives , basing their entire life on something that is biased, unreliable and not necessarily even true. There are truths and then there are versions of that truth. A lot of our decision making process relies heavily on these versions of the truth.

Only we fail to recognise the subtle difference between truth and it’s many diverse versions.

What got me thinking about memory is the conviction with which my Grand father reminded me that I had squandered away a life. His view of the truth was that during my days as a musician, I was crowded and adored by the huge fan base of groupies. He said I had skipped the phase of finding a right life partner. My grand pa believes in this view of my history with all his heart. He swears by it.

My version of the truth is that my band never did have any fan base. We weren’t even cool enough to have groupies. We were a bunch of guys, who were in it for the thrills of the music. My gramps has managed that alternate history for a few years now and with each year passing, his certainty of that alternate history keeps growing stronger.

My grand pa is not all that very unique and special. I’ve had many memories , the bubbles of them, shattered over in time. I came to terms with other versions of the truth that weren’t necessarily mine. In time, through growing a little wise, through unlearning and adapting an open mind, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the past that I retell, are only accounts of what I think happened. They are in no way an honest to god, truth to the line reporting of events.

It’s just sad that we , as normal ; average ; mundane ;sober and rational people, invest so much effort , time and emotions into Hate, Grudge, Love, Past that it alters the very present of our existence. We live in a fool’s world, base our decisions on a fool’s gold chest of memories, reason out that ours is the only version of the truth and that there doesn’t exist another form of the truth. It’s just way too many decisions being made on a shaky foundation.

And in that sense, what if I told you that most of our lives are based on a Lie? A lie of our choosing and making.

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

[Book Review] : How to be human

How to be human, Paula Cocozza.

” The comfort, that is the delusion of love, is an opiate beyond compare. ” – Katz

How to be human is a beautiful story of love, companionship, loneliness and madness. The tale picks up with Mary finding a baby at her door step. She holds the infant close to her heart. She decides to call the little one flora. As we , the readers, sit and wonder over the things we’ve read so far ; the story abruptly shifts its focus to the life of Mary.

Fresh out of a divorce, Mary is struggling to cope up with life. The irreconcilable reason for the divorce is a simple fact that she does not want to bring a child into this world while her husband, Mark, wants one. The fights lead to an inevitable moment in their life. A moment that is consumed by rage and anger, a moment that would fill the hearts with regret and resentment, a moment where words are uttered and lives are shattered. And bada boom, Divorce.

Mary turns to a shut-in. With fewer and fewer ties with the outside world, her world is consumed by the past. She wonders about the divorce, she wonders about her own relationship with her mother, she wonders about what ifs to life. Mary embraces the loneliness that is her current life. She accepts her fate and succumbs to it without much of a fight.

And then she spots a fox. A fox that invades both her garden and her life. Mary ferociously defends her house against her ex, Mark and odd enough, she doesn’t go all guns blazing when it comes to keeping the fox away. She finds him as an inconvenience and longs to get rid of the critter. The introduction of the fox has an unexpected effect on her life.

Mr Fox happens to be a charming fella. He’s smooth, cautiously intrusive but is neither hostile nor perceived to be that. His demeanour is rather gentlemanly. The fox soon wins the curiosity of Mary. She observes him at a distance and as the days start to grow, so does the fox on her. They both adjust to tolerate each other. The fox becomes a regular visitor in her garden and he always behaves well. Mary starts to find a sense of some misplaced comfort through the fox’s very presence.

This odd companionship inspires a change in Mary. She , without trying too hard, starts to adapt to the world around her better. In this human fox couple, She is the talkative one and he , Mr Fox, speaks through his nature’s intended body language. Mary makes meaning of everything about the fox. She manages to open up that channel of communication by correlating her own words and the response like reactions that the fox expresses.

Trippy and so far , so twisted good.

Rest of the story is about , who the hell is that infant Flora. Does Mary marry a fox? Will rabies replace Mary’s fear over having babies? Nasty pun but apt on the context.

The book is a wonderful journey of Mary’s emotions as she meets and greets the new Mr Fox into her life. She replaces the failed relationships with humans with a new relationship with a fox. Their conversations are unidirectional but that doesn’t stop Marry and her fox from having their dialogue. Your curiosity over where the roads would take them would keep your eyes glued to the book.

At the heart of this book, the central theme is that of love. What does it mean to love someone? When does love suffocate? Why do people love other people and importantly, why don’t some people ever love others?

Love, through Mary’s life is also about the nature of companionship. Love seems to be key in her fight against loneliness. Our lives do change when we lose the people that we once used to love. Mary’s desire for companionship and the fact that she finds that gratified by a fox is a testament to what makes us human. Our undying need to stay protected away from loneliness makes us human.

The other big , subtle theme is around how much humans endure in that battle against loneliness. I’m not surprised at all by how much one would choose to give, or even accept in order to build a bubble of delusion to keep that element of isolation away. With the tale, how far does Mary go is a question that keeps us hooked.

The final catharsis is quite a bliss to read. There are no ‘TA-DA’ moments to it. The sun doesn’t shine better or different, the time doesn’t pause to hint a difference, the world goes about its business and somewhere amidst all that , there is a pristine moment of a realisation.

The world indeed is a better place if you don’t house a black hole in your heart.

Two thumbs and definitely worth the time invested into the tale. You probably won’t feel disappointed.

Karthik

And coming up next : The state of freedom!

[Book Review]: The boy who could see demons

“There can be no faith without bias” – Katz the sober.

The boy who could see demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

My name is Alex. I’m ten years old. I like onions on toast and I can balance on the back legs of my chair for fourteen minutes. I can also see demons. My best friend is one. He likes Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. My mum is sick. Ruen says he can help her. Only Ruen wants me to do something really bad. He wants me to kill someone.’

With that back over , buying the book was a no brainer choice.

The quick snap shot review of the book : Brilliant Story, wonderfully written, engaging plot and intriguing characters, poor lousy lazy ending, but ,and that’s a rather enormous but, it’s a tale worth reading.

Now lets get down to the bits and bolts.

And then there was a tale that was caught right in the middle between the eternal conflict between belief, faith and Schizophrenia. Alex is a ten year old, who lives in Belfast (surviving the aftermath of them troubles) , can see demons and one in particular called Ruen is his best friend of sorts. Ruen wants Alex to kill someone.

Welcome to the world of what the hell is going on.

The world painted , rather scripted in the book is beautifully balanced by the author. We are introduced to the little boy who starts seeing demons on the day he learns that his dad is dead. Ruen, the demon, manifests in different shapes , sizes and forms to Alex’s eyes. Ruen is not seen by the rest of the world. Ruen is a bit of the snobbish, posh kind. He loves Mozart and is far too sophisticated to be the run of the mill hound from hell. In fact , Ruen isn’t the average joe of the demon world. He is a ‘Harrower’ , a top general in the realm of demons.

Ruen is Alex’s best and only friend. Ruen dictates the right words into Alex’s mind. Ruen is in fact the power that helps Alex cope up with his life. The world sees Alex as a bit dense.

Cue in Anya. Anya is a psychiatrist who specialises in paediatric psychology. Anya comes with the baggage of having lost her daughter to a suicide. The cause, Schizophrenia. Anya is broken into far too many pieces but her strength reverberates through the pages of the story. Anya sees Alex as her shot at redemption. She couldn’t save her daughter. She wouldn’t let another kid die.

And so beings the chase of a cat and a mouse. Science and the understanding of mental distress and disorders that it unravels fights heads to head with Demonic possession which has its roots in Faith and belief. Anya and us, the readers, we are introduced to many supernatural-esque capabilities exhibited by Alex. Throw in clairvoyance, access to knowledge beyond the usual means of a normal individual, we witness the battle of the mind. Anya deciphers the clues and finds ways to justify the phenomenon through the eyes of accepted and proven medical science of psychology.

It’s not the case of science hurling sticks and stones on the village idiots of believers. There are things that Anya’s science cannot explain. The story hinges on the uncertainty of what if demons really do exist. The story brings that balance of belief and the debunking of that belief brilliantly. As we dwell deeper and deeper into the minds of the characters, we also get to understand the power of psychology that governs the lives of us, humans.

Alex’s mom is suicidal and her battle reflects upon Alex. Then there is Ruen. A demon whom we cannot easily dismiss as the figment of imagination of a mentally troubled ten year old little boy. The evidences don’t always tally up. Psychology does not explain it all. The alternate world of the super real, super natural does not always sound believable. We journey through the book, living with that conflict.

So is Ruen really a demon? Is Alex really really mentally disturbed? Is there a happy ending for Alex or his suicidal mother? Does Anya finally find redemption? Does science outsmart a world of faith and belief? Do we realize that science, while magnanimous it is, is still too young to explain everything there is to the world?

The book’s conclusion offers some answers to those few questions. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. The return on the investment that I had made through the pages, was too little by the time the tale ended. The cheesy last minute jump scare was too clichéd and too cheesy and way too subtle to leave a lasting impression. That said, ignoring the book because of one chapter would be a crime. This is a fantastic book and has a smart story to tell. It is well worth the time.

The core of the book is the way of the mind. It captures the ability of a mind to cope up to a trauma that overwhelms it. Some sit and cry, some kill themselves, some sleep off the night and wake up stronger than ever before. For some, their personality rips and they dissociate into multiple personalities with the sole intention of coping up with the trauma. The book, like many other sources, is a beautiful reminder of how fragile the human mind is.

To that fragile nature of the mind, add a hint of God and the Devil. Throw in a healthy bunch of Angels and Demons. What if they are real? What if the human soul really does exist and that the god and the devil are wagering for a piece of that pie? What if a demon, or an angel is not the response coughed by a broken mind? What if a broken mind and the supernatural coexist? Where does that leave us, the vulnerable humans?

There can be no faith without bias. Rest your faith to the modern day gods that go by the name of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ellon Musk or rest it within the bucket of the many gods that are in our prayers and devils in our nightmare, that faith cannot exist without a bias. Wisdom is gained when we learn to see beyond our bias and observe without resistance and evaluate without prejudice. Maybe there is a lot more to this world. Maybe there is a lot more to the universe that is the human body.

The book does leave you with such questions. To me, that is a better win than a stronger ending.

Four stars . Enjoy the madness. Enjoy the mind trying to see through the madness.

Karthik