[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

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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

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

Born to raise hell

While the title is a song from one of the metal gods, Motorhead, it predominantly has nothing much to contribute towards the context of the things to flow. I find it easier to talk about Jungles and animals than humans. For starters, talking about a forest and the flora , fauna robs me of the pleasure of offending anyone who can read. On that defensive note, here goes.

And so this animal ventured into a big scary forest. The woods were thick and dark. The day’s sun brought warmth and light to the wilderness and the cover of the night brought fear and damp cold. It was a harrowing place to start one’s life, I’ll give you that. The animal made its first batch of friends with the ants. The ants of the forest were everywhere. They led the numbers game. Their were a gargantuan workforce and were the most easiest to spot.

And so our animal of interest soon started to learn the ways of the ant. Work work work and always busy for the rainy day. The ants were driven by purpose and , frankly between the two of us, lacked ambition. Their quest for the purist satisfaction of work and effort wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Our animal eventually realised this. Resentment on one hand, boredom on the other, and throw in a healthy mix of ‘ What the hell am I even doing here? ‘ later, the animal decided to part ways with the ants. It wasn’t the end of the world and the jungle was a huge place after all.

Our animal of interest migrated from one herd to another. It moved from one pack to another. With each group it joined, it soon realised the mundane nature of the works. Each animal had a task to accomplish. Most of the animals did not worry about the larger picture. They were tasked with an action and the animals would do their best to accomplish it. For them, they took each day as it came. The work would start with the sun and would end with it as well. Some animals would work the nights. The context of purpose was rigid. All animals had a place in the jungle and fulfilled the purpose bestowed upon them. That was the unsaid status quo and nobody usually challenged it.

The king of the jungle had always been the Lion. All animals knew that and acknowledged that. To each of them, they had a view of what the king did. Some saw him as the beast of justice and others saw him as a slob who mooched off the efforts and hard work of the rest of the forest. The king barely had the time to sit down and hear the rumours pass around. Our animal of interest gradually worked its way through the food cycle. One fine week, it had an audience with the King. It was to work with the King for a while.

‘So what do you do?’ the animal asked humbly, addressing the king.

‘Nothing much. I sit around. Hunt when I’m hungry. I’ve got a pretty boring life actually. I don’t have many friends. And then when others try to take over the forest, I’ve got to go and put up a fight. Irony is, I’m actually a passive chilled out bloke. I hate violence but my job mandates me to be stand the ground and fend off invaders. It’s such a boring life, I tells ya’, the lion went on to mope.

So what happened to our Animal of interest? Ever wondered what animal it was when it started its time in the jungle? Ever wondered if it became something else when it migrated herds and joined other packs? Ever wondered if the animal managed to cope up with the reality of the Lion?

We are not so different from the animal of interest. We start both our lives in pretty much the same manner. We walk into the jungle of personal and professional life in the same way. As an empty slate. We explore our surroundings and make friends with blokes in the vicinity. Some are happy being ants. Some are happy being something else. Some are always unhappy , no matter where they are and what they do. We all pursue a holy grail. Some reach it, satisfied and happy. Some reach it, and sit bored from there on. Many just aspire it and keep wishing that one day they’d get there.

The moral of the story isn’t doused in pessimism. In fact, its the other way around. We aren’t restricted to be what we currently are. We are free enough to explore the world and be what we choose to be. There are limitations to the choices that we make. The rooted our choices, swaying away becomes hard. It just takes more effort. And so we lead our personal and professional lives in pursuit of borrowed perceptions. As long as such views offer hope, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Going back to the tile. All of us are born to raise hell. Some do it, some aspire it, and many still wish and wonder if they’d ever manage it one day.

Karthik

What does it mean?

Hi

I’m 35 today. I used to be 15 a different lifetime ago.

I am known by many names. When I was a kid, I had just 2 names. Today, I have many.

I had many friends growing up. I think I still have friends today.

I think a lot. I’m both proud and worried about the fact that I can think. A lifetime ago, before I became me, I don’t remember thinking at all.

I try to understand the meaning of my life. I try to see if there is a purpose to it. When I was young, I didn’t care enough about such stupid questions. I had better things to do.

I’ve been writing a lot , these few years. A lifetime ago, I didn’t know I could write.

And just like that, my thoughts took to me on a conversation with my past self. Try hitting the search string ‘Why Unhappy’ in google and you’d find a million reasons and million thoughts on the matter. I think the first lesson that already goes overlooked is the fact that happy folks don’t usually sit down to think about trying out a search string on unhappiness. Am I happy or am I unhappy is something for me to sit and ponder. The context of this is about something else.

With the curiosity instigating a search, I managed to quench it through a quick scan of the things scribed in the first few search results. In their own right, I’d like to believe that every word written is a wisdom suppressed.

Let’s take a minute and choose to have an honest thought. Unless one is of an unsound mind, medically diagnosed with a condition that keeps the brain from forming a string of rational thought, I don’t think the cause of our unhappiness is a mystery at all. Denial is a yes, but mystery it isn’t. The popular information that flooded the so called ‘Help-Blogs’ was Pop Science at best.

In the brief amount of time that I spent looking at the content and before I could jump into throwing in a content of my own, I decided to sit down and classify the factors that lead to unhappiness in many people. My take is as follows

1. You don’t have what you want and you cant get over it

2. You think others are better and you don’t like what you are and what you represent

3. You are scared and have no means of pulling yourself off things that scare you.

4. You want others to like you but unfortunately they don’t.

There are at least a hundred more things listed out across each portal. I could see them as a derivative of the ones that I had listed out. To even shrink the list of four further, I think they can be classified as,

1. In your mind, you don’t like what you are

2. To your mind, others don’t like what you are

In and out. The simplest classification there ever is.

Back to the unhappiness quotient. One of the things that caught my attention was a line that read , ‘You don’t have friends’. Another one said ‘You hang out with Unhappy people’.

Those sentences led me back to being a kid. When I was a kid, I either liked others or I didn’t. I’d either choose to play with the kids or I’d choose to be on the opposing team. Life was simple because I hadn’t learnt to complicate myself back then. Today, under the guise of intelligence, we take comforts in throwing words to complicate our lives beyond compare.

The one about friends, it still haunts me. It leaves me with far too many thoughts. How in the world did we manage to complicate a simple thing called ‘Friends’. As kids, one made friends by virtue of proximity. Bunch of kids living in the same neighbourhood were very likely to be friends. Kids in the same class in a school, Friends. Kids sharing the same commute , Friends.

The trend was simpler. Face to Face. If I can see you, talk to you, pick up a fight with you, we had a good chance of being friends. And then came the digital revolution. Anonymity and digital incognisance made the deal of ‘Making friends’ easier.

It’s not easy to pretend and keep pretending when you meet someone in person, looking them right into their eyes. Your body language speaks volumes. You are either in and invested or you are out. There are good days and bad days. You learn to cope up with your friends and your friends learn to cope up with you. In the digital space, the dynamic changes drastically.

You are free to pretend whoever you want to be. You digital avatar is as real or as fake as you want it to be. Your face can be left natural or you can apply a million filters to it. It pans back into the above listed 4 categories. You want to be liked and hence you alter the way you appear, sound and think. The ones you get along with, you exchange more senseless banter. The ones you don’t, ignore and block is a click away. In short, we go through life, filtering people to meet our needs and specs rather than learning to live with differences and tolerances.

Then again, why would you bother to adjust and accommodate. It’s not exactly like you get to see them everyday, or work right beside them, or share actual physical space with them.

Friends. It used to be such a simple thing and now it aint so easy. No wonder, most of our strongest bonds of friendship are from Decades ago. School buddies, college buddies. I think , by now, you know why those bonds have been strong. Because they were real and not Virtual. Things that have a foundation in the real, have the capacity to survive in the virtual. The vice versa is not true.

We are unhappy because we cant stay happy. We cant stay happy because we either haven’t made peace with being ourselves. We also haven’t made peace with how the world views us. It’s that shift in perspectives and our inability to cope up that makes us unhappy.

Ask yourself this. Should you delete all your social media apps, even delete your whatsapp app. How many folks would really invest in an SMS or a phone call to stay in touch?

Ask yourself this. If you are dead in your digital social life, would that also mean that you are actually dead in the real life?

That should clear the illusion that a digital self provides. Art of staying happy comes from the art of knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

Karthik

Mirrors and Exaggeration

This almost feels like a patch of anxious nervousness after a brief stint of sabbatical from everything that surrounds life. It’s been a while since I’ve been myself. Plagued and haunted by woes of the mind and the body, it feels nice and at the same time , a bit daunting, to write again. I’ve been someone else for a while and my eyes strain when I try to view myself amidst the blaring glare that engulfs the background.

For what it’s worth, it’s been a voluntary exile. I had things to do and in the process I got to sacrifice the things that I enjoyed doing. Push to shove, it’s back to the proverbial square.

Speaking of mirrors and exaggeration, I’d like to believe that I could manage to pick a few lessons during my hiatus. Mirrors have a tendency to reflect and the mind has a tendency to exaggerate what that it perceives. And so we Segway to a train of thoughts. To set a little context, ever heard of this series called Black Mirror? It’s a series that reflects an exaggerated view of the kind of life that we lead in the modern social age. The series focus on how our lives gravitate towards social media. The series talks about how technology has been having a say on the quality of life that we are leading.

The blatant snide of the irony to the moment couldn’t be ignored. One of the episode from Black mirror talks about a technology that offers a chip to get embedded in the body. This device records all moments to life, it stores and catalogues all the memories that are made into classified moments. Imagine the moments feature that IOS offers, only here it is real time on the things that we see. The story revolves around the protagonist, if I could call him that, and his wife. The couple make it to a party and eventually all hell breaks loose from there on. The protagonist reviews the moments of the day and starts to pick on visual cues which lead him to suspect his wife.

The suspicion runs its course and rest of the episode is about the ability to call out specific moments from life and use them all to fuel the fight that is currently, in present, being waged.

I’ve been there myself a few times. Of course, by virtue of being the perpetrator, I’ve not often found myself digging through the past for specifics. There have been times when I’ve racked my mind in order to pull out phrases and context that resembled the actual words being said, that reflected the actual moment that was once experienced.

The past is easier in comparison to let go when we don’t have immediate access to all its glory. The human memory fades in time, it alters and fragments into a perspective memory rather than staying retained as the actual true north. In fact, there is no true north when it comes to any memory. Thanks to the simple fact that we lead a biased life, we apply our personal bias to everything , and that the process of applying this bias is both voluntary and involuntary , there is no memory which is a 100% free from any bias whatsoever.

There have been days when I’ve tried to access every available fragment of the moments once lived. With relative ease, I’ve always managed to assemble the moment back to what I thought the past was about. I could replay the conversations, observe the tempers and emotions at play, try to decipher the million things left unsaid. The exercise has always left me miserable. In real time, we usually live through a moment only once. Through our memories, we live through moments a million times over and over again. All the ‘action replay’ and ‘rewinds’ later, I’ve never managed to alter the outcome of the events already lived.

In Black mirror, the technology existed to replay everything. Memory on demand. Memory as a service. That’s just one episode. It mirrored the nature of being a human. We , rather I, have a tendency to look back and relive and re-experience. While I continue to grow and evolve each day, the mind’s affinity to subscribe to ‘ On demand misery’ has not drastically changed. Humans do that. Humanity does that a lot. We cling on to the past. We hold on to a few memories. As time goes on, our memory alters and changes. With ample time, we forget and things fade out.

While the episode exaggerates the nature of being human, it also mirrors what that we hide away from. We do live in the age where we try to compensate for real loses in the virtual world. We seek emotional gratification from texts and digital cues. We continue to alienate ourselves from expressing ourselves. The future is already here and the mirror reflects black. Maybe we aren’t fully there yet. We are getting there though.

On that note, Black mirror is a fun series to watch. It does pose a few interesting questions on technology and our additional to it. Do give it a shot.

Karthik