Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Loony, Ghost, and Monster

Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Where we do not yet know what questions to ask

Essays & Opinions

Philosophical writing is typically obscure, academic, difficult. All the easier to come off as profound — and to claim that others are misreading you... more » Keith Frankish
But some great philosophy is creative in a way that is incompatible with clarity. It doesn’t seek to construct precise theories; rather, it reaches out to unmapped areas of thought, where we do not yet know what techniques to employ, what concepts to use, or even what questions to ask. It is more like art than science, and it makes its own rules. It is not that such work is defective by being ambiguous; it is trying to do something that cannot be done clearly, and its aim is precisely to stimulate diverse interpretations.
This is, perhaps, the best justification for obscurity. However, it should be used with great caution. Work that respects standards of clarity can be evaluated against those standards, but how to tell if a difficult text is ground-breaking and creative or just pretentious nonsense? And how can we be sure that any good ideas it spawns were latent in the original, rather than the creation of ingenious interpreters? It’s prudent to be very suspicious of such texts; they must earn their status as serious works through a long history of intellectual fertility.
Finally, some philosophers might write obscurely because it creates an aura of profundity and mystery. This invites interpretation and scholarly attention: special effort is required to engage with the work, helping to create a cult following among scholars. The work is also harder to challenge, and criticisms can be dismissed as misinterpretations. Meanwhile, writing that is more transparent can seem less fertile or exciting, and its errors easier to spot. Not admirable, perhaps, but is it cynical to think that such motives for obfuscation sometimes play a role?
In most cases, obscurity is a defect, not a virtue, and undue concern with interpretation puts the focus on people rather than problems. It is not easy to write clearly, especially on philosophical topics, and it is risky. Clear writers stand naked before their critics, with all their argumentative blemishes visible; but they are braver, more honest and more respectful of the true aims of intellectual enquiry than ones who shroud themselves in obscurity.
January 29, 2014 Interview with Paul W. Kahn, Author of Finding Ourselves at the Movies - Hope Leman (@hleman)
Philosophy, I believe, is dialogue.
Philosophy is not a means to some other end. I cannot prove the usefulness of philosophy by showing you that it will improve your job prospects, find you a partner, or make your life easier. We engage in philosophy because we are drawn to self-reflection. We not only act, we think about what we are doing. At times, we think about our entire lives, what we are committed to and why. Everyone, in some way or another, is drawn to these reflections. That is part of what it means to be a person. Philosophy is only a more sustained effort to engage in this sort of self-reflection. The importance of that experience in one’s own life is the only ground upon which philosophy can be defended.

Most philosophers think of their activity as one of explaining. I don’t disagree with the urge to explain, but I think we need to get people enthusiastic about looking for explanations. That is the role of disruption: to shake people out of their ordinary assumptions about themselves and their world and to get them thinking.

Schelling's Practice of the Wild: Time, Art, Imagination: 2015.11.11 : View this Review Online ... #philosophynws
Contrary to the Platonic tradition still embedded in modern discourse, he will argue that the imagination is the font of all thinking and the principle of creativity that is formative of the very opening upon things. He will present the image as a 'revelation' without representation. Wirth sees the problem of the image and imagination as a contemporary problem and, rather than merely reporting what Schelling says, purports to think through this problem with Schelling in a mutual practice of the wild, thereby rendering Schelling our contemporary, a project that, in my judgment, is utterly prodigious. 

Taoufiq Sakhkhane - 2012 - ‎Literary Criticism - Spivak's attitude or indirect participation in that controversy came in the form of a ... 
The received dogma asks us that our language be pleasant and easy, that it slip effortlessly into things as they are. Our point of view is that it should be careful, and not take the current dogmatic standard of pleasure and ease as natural norms.

The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry ...
Seth Farber - 2012 - ‎No preview - ‎More editions
Exploring the rise of Mad Pride and the mental patients’ liberation movement as well as building upon psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s revolutionary theories, Seth Farber, Ph.D., explains that diagnosing people as mad has more to do with ...

Writing the Self: Diaries, Memoirs, and the History of the ...
Peter Heehs - 2013 - ‎Preview - ‎More editions
The self has a history. In the West, the idea of the soul entered Christianity with the Church Fathers, notably Augustine. During the Renaissance the idea of the individual attained preeminence, as in the works of Montaigne.

Famous British philosopher says this nightly exercise is better than a ... - ‎3 hours ago‎
The Swiss-British philosopher Alain de Botton has made a career of bringing high-minded philosophical concepts to the masses with best-selling books like 1997's "How Proust Can Change Your Life" and 2006's "The Architecture of Happiness."

Bengal Dreaming

A philosophy of 'dreaming' occupies a central place in the Bengali mindset. However, the trouble arises when action does not transcend the act of dreaming. The substantial joy out of sheer 'wishing' the fulfilment of one's remote desires could obstruct development of an attitudinal climate where one's role and value in society is measured mostly in terms of actual performance and achievements rather than potentialities and promises.
Adverting to Sri Aurobindo would have supplied muscle to the argument but ideological straightjacket tuns it insipid. [TNM55]

Decoding Indian Belief Systems: Is this world just a dream?
Latest article in the series by @shreyansmehta

Monday, November 02, 2015

John von Neumann, I.J. Good, Vernor Vinge, and Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology is a 2005 non-fiction book about artificial intelligence and the future of humanity by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil.
The book builds on the ideas introduced in Kurzweil's previous books, The Age of Intelligent Machines (1990) and The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999). This time, however, Kurzweil embraces the term the Singularity, which was popularized by Vernor Vinge in his 1993 essay "The Coming Technological Singularity" more than a decade earlier.[1] The first known use of the term in this context was made in 1958 by the Hungarian born mathematician and physicist John von Neumann.
Kurzweil touches on the history of the Singularity concept, tracing it back to John von Neumann in the 1950s and I. J. Good in the 1960s.
Kurzweil says revolutions in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics will usher in the beginning of the Singularity.[22] Kurzweil feels with sufficient genetic technology it should be possible to maintain the body indefinitely, reversing aging while curing cancer, heart diseaseand other illnesses.[23] Much of this will be possible thanks to nanotechnology, the second revolution, which entails the molecule by molecule construction of tools which themselves can "rebuild the physical world".[24] Finally the revolution in robotics will really be the development on strong AI, machines which have human-level intelligence or greater.[25] This development will be the most important of the century, "comparable in importance to the development of biology itself".[26]

Kurzweil concedes that every technology carries with it the risk of misuse or abuse, from viruses and nanobots to out of control AIs. He believes the only countermeasure is to invest in defensive technologies, for example by allowing new genetics and medical treatments, monitoring for dangerous pathogens and creating limited moratoriums on certain technologies. As for artificial intelligence Kurzweil feels the best defense is to increase the "values of liberty, tolerance, and respect for knowledge and diversity" in society because "the nonbiological intelligence will be embedded in our society and will reflect our values".[27]
Paul Davies wrote in Nature that The Singularity is Near is a "breathless romp across the outer reaches of technological possibility" while warning that the "exhilarating speculation is great fun to read, but needs to be taken with a huge dose of salt".[41]
Anthony Doerr in The Boston Globe wrote "Kurzweil's book is surprisingly elaborate, smart, and persuasive. He writes clean methodical sentences, includes humorous dialogues with characters in the future and past, and uses graphs that are almost always accessible."[45]while his colleague Alex Beam points out that "Singularitarians have been greeted with hooting skepticism"[43] Janet Maslin in The New York Times wrote "The Singularity is Near is startling in scope and bravado", but says "much of his thinking tends to be pie in the sky". She observes that he's more focused on optimistic outcomes rather than the risks.[47] ~Wikipedia

Accelerationism Without Accelerationism - Here is my review of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ INVENTING THE FUTURE. Cross-posted from The Disorder of Things. Steven Shaviro.
The term accelerationism was coined by Benjamin Noys in 2010, in order to designate a political position that he rejected. In Noys’ account, accelerationism is the idea that things have to get worse before they can get better. The only way out of capitalism is the way through. The more abstract, violent, inhuman, contradictory, and destructive capitalism becomes, the closer it gets to tearing itself apart. Such a vision derives, ultimately, from the famous account of capitalism’s inherent dynamism in the Communist Manifesto. For Marx and Engels, capitalism is characterized by “constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation… All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” Far from deploring such developments, Marx and Engels see them as necessary preconditions for the overthrow of capitalism itself. [...]

But it still remains that they — like nearly all “Western Marxists” over the course of the past century — are a bit too quick in making the leap from economic matters to political ones.
Still, I don’t want to end my comments on such a negative note. The greatest strength of Inventing the Future, to my mind, is that it does indeed turn our attention towards the future, instead of the past. A big problem for the left today is that we have too long been stuck in the backward-looking, defensive project of trying to rescue whatever might be left of the mid-twentieth-century welfare state. While it is perfectly reasonable to lament our loss of the safety net that was provided by mid-twentieth-century social democracy, the restoration of those benefits is not enough to fuel a radical economic and political program. Looking nostalgically towards the past is far too deeply ingrained in our habits of thought. We need to reclaim our sense of the future from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. 

Related books:
  • C. J. Townsend, The Singularity & Socialism: Marx, Mises, Complexity Theory, Techno-Optimism and the Way to the Age of Abundance (Rancho Cordova, CA: Createspace Independent Publishing, 2015).
  • Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (London: Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 2015).
  • Edward F. Kelly, Adam Crabtree and Paul Marshall, Beyond Physicalism: Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). 
  • David Harvey, Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Idea of India as conceived by Sri Aurobindo

Peter Heehs: Publications
Articles in Magazines, Newspapers and Websites
2014. “India’s Etiquette Police.” Columbia University Press Blog. March 5.

2014. “Banished from the Bookshelves: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.” Outlook, March 3, p. 56. Online version here

2011. “The Mother’s Evolutionary Vision.” EnlightenNext. Issue 47, 85-94.

2009. “Fisherman’s Cove” and “Hotel de l’Orient.” In Outlook Traveller Getaways: 100 Best Resorts & Retreats in India (New Delhi: Outlook Publishing), 275-276, 383.

2008. “The Bomb that Shook an Empire.” The Pioneer (New Delhi), November 22.

2008. Getting beyond the Conventions of Biography — and Hagiography Too. Columbia University Press Blog. August 4.

2008. “Trial and Error.” The Statesman (Kolkata), May 4, p. 7.

2008. “Creative Anarchy” (Special Feature on Auroville). In Outlook Traveller Getaways: Wellness Holidays in India (New Delhi: Outlook Publishing), 413–424.

2004. “Idea of India.” Life Positive. April–June.
Distorted view
In a speech of 1909, delivered at the invitation of a Hindu group in Uttarpara, Sri Aurobindo did connect his “religion of nationalism” with the sanatana dharma; but he made it clear that he did not mean by this any sectarian religion, but the “eternal religion” that underlay all limited systems of belief. “A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion can only live for a limited time and a limited purpose,” he pointed out. The eternal religion would live forever because it was based on the realisation that God “is in all men and all things”.

In contemporary India, political leaders of the past have been turned into tokens that are exchanged by party bosses at election time. It is not surprising that Sri Aurobindo has been subject to this kind of commerce. One party places out-of-context quotations from his works in its manifesto; a rival party says it plans to base its programme on his ideals. A religio-political pressure group features him prominently on its website; a journalist writes that he was “was second to none” in promoting religion-tainted politics. None of these exploiters or critics of Sri Aurobindo’s legacy show adequate familiarity with his works.

A journalist, Jyotirmaya Sharma (in his recent book Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism), draws most of his quotations from edited compilations. In concluding, he perpetrates the following anachronism: “The Maharshi [Sri Aurobindo] has turned into a pamphleteer of the Hindu rashtra concept without being conscious of it.” It certainly is regrettable that proponents of the Hindu Rashtra should selectively appropriate Sri Aurobindo’s works, even when he explicitly stated that he was opposed to the very idea. “We do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions,” he wrote in 1909. “Under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole.” It is equally regrettable that opponents of Hindutva should combine out-of-context snippets from Sri Aurobindo’s works in a distorted presentation that excludes key portions of his thought.

Visions of future
On his 75th birthday, Sri Aurobindo sketched the five “world-movements” he had hoped to see fulfilled in his lifetime. During his youth, they had seemed to be “impractical dreams”. Now they were “on their way to fulfillment”. The first was “a revolutionary movement that would create a free and united India”. This (he was speaking on August 15,1947, the day India received independence) was now a reality. But his hopes for a more equitable international order extended beyond the borders of his own country. He dreamed also of “the resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia”, and of “a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind”.

Sri Aurobindo’s nationalism, even while he was active in Indian politics, was not coloured by that smug self-flattery that characterises most modern ‘patriotism’. He noted as early as 1919 that Indians had to have “the courage to defend our culture against ignorant occidental criticism and to maintain it against the gigantic modern pressure”, but that they also had to have the “courage to admit not from any European standpoint but from our own outlook the errors of our culture”. Pride in the accomplishments of one’s motherland should not take the form of an “unthinking cultural chauvinism which holds that whatever we have is good for us because it is Indian or even that whatever is in India is best, because it is the creation of the Rishis”. What India needed was not an isolated self-glorification, but “a unity with the rest of mankind, in which we shall maintain our spiritual and our outer independence”.

Peter Heehs is author of four books, including The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India (OUP, second edition 2004), and editor of The Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo (OUP, 1997) and Indian Religions: The Spiritual Traditions of South Asia (Permanent Black, 2002). He is based in Pondicherry.

Articles in Professional Journals and Books
2014. “Practices of Non-Theistic Spirituality.” Gandhi Marg 36, 2&3 (July-December): 251-68. (Pdf file available here)

2013. “Aurobindo.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, vol. V, ed. Knut A. Jacobsen. Leiden: Brill, 397-404.

2013. Roots, Branches, and Seeds: The teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo examined in the light of Indian tradition, colonial modernity and one another. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Occasional Paper, History and Society Series, No.14. (Pdf file available here)

2011. “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Integral Yoga: A Study in Cross-Cultural Influence”.Aries 11:2 (September): 219-247 (Pdf file available here).

2010. “Introduction”. In P. Vir Gupta, C. Mueller, and C. Samil, Golconde: The Introduction of Modernism in India. Bangalore: Inform.

2009. “Revolutionary Terrorism in British Bengal”. In E. Boehmer and S. Morton, eds., Terror and the Postcolonial. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2008. “Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism”. Published online in AntiMatters 2.2 (April).

2013. Situating Sri Aurobindo: A Reader. New York: Oxford University Press.

2013. Writing the Self. New York: Bloomsbury. Named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2013 by Choice.

2008. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Evergreen essays by Sachidananda Mohanty


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Meditations on life


Two collections that explore the kaleidoscopic experience of life. »

Men who freed us from ‘majoritarian modernity’

M. S. NAGARAJAN | MARCH 16, 2015

A good deal of terms such as nationalism, multiculturalism, the local, and the global is afloat in the current discourse on culture studies of the academia. These terms do not necessarily... »

An original contribution to Tagore studies


In the popular mind, Rabindranath Tagore is synonymous with Gitanjali for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. And yet, very little is known about the background to thi... »

An original contribution to Tagore studies


Sachidananda Mohanty In the popular mind, Rabindranath Tagore is synonymous with Gitanjali for which he received the Nobel Prize for Literatur...»

Ode to the self


A well-crafted collection of poems lays bare one’s fragility and vulnerability. »

Ode to the self


A well-crafted collection of poems lays bare one’s fragility and vulnerability. Sachidananda Mohanty »

A reader’s delight


SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY looks at the different styles and idioms in modern poetry. »

A reader’s delight


The writer looks at the different styles and idioms in modern poetry. »

A battered, heroic sister


Sachidananda Mohanty recalls the American-born Indian nationalist Agnes Smedley on her 122 {+n} {+d} birth anniversary today. »

A battered, heroic sister


Recalling the American-born Indian nationalist Agnes Smedley on her 122 birth anniversary. »

Migrant memory


Poems with an eclectic world view matched by intense lyricism. SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY »

Migrant memory


Poems with an eclectic world view matched by intense lyricism. »

Iconoclast till the end


Albert Camus’ opposition to tyranny and emphasis on personal responsibility have lessons for the contemporary world. »

A literary trail in Taos


Sachidananda Mohanty visits a beautiful town in New Mexico that drew an endless stream of artists, writers, poets and musicians. »

A literary trail in Taos


The author visits a beautiful town in New Mexico that drew an endless stream of artists, writers, poets and musicians. »

A revolutionary from across the seas


He was the voice of the Indian freedom struggle in the U.S. but little is known about him. Based on research for a forthcoming book, SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY profiles Taraknath Das, best known for his debate with Leo Tolstoy on non-violence. »

A revolutionary from across the seas


He was the voice of the Indian freedom struggle in the U.S. but little is known about him. Based on research for a forthcoming book, a profile of Taraknath Das, best known for his debate with Leo Tolstoy on non-violence. »

Tales across time


Short stories that critique tradition without irreverence, says Sachidananda Mohanty. »

Tales across time


Short stories that critique tradition without irreverence, says Sachidananda Mohanty. »

An ‘Indo-Anglian’ legacy


Vice-President at Kalakshetra. Muse to Sri Aurobindo. Friend of Tagore. And yet, James Cousins lies forgotten today, says Sachidananda Mohanty. »

Requiem for a revolutionary


With the passing of Binod Bihari Chowdhury (1911-2013), a curtain has been drawn on one of the most spectacular chapters of the history of militant nationalism in undivided India. A colleague o... »

The house of thousand lives


In focus Huma Kidwai’s book mirrors the city and its changing fortunes through a perspective from ‘Hussaini Alam House’ »

‘English language learning must go hand in hand with multilingualism’


In the classic Odia short story of the late 19th Century called “Daka Munshi,” Fakir Mohan Senapati’s memorable character, Gopal Babu, the English educated postmaster, treats his father Har... »

‘English language learning must go hand in hand with multilingualism’


In the classic Odia short story of the late 19th Century called “ Daka Munshi ,” Fakir Mohan Senapati’s memorable character, Gopal Babu, the English educated postmaster, treats... »

A portrait of the activist as a woman

M. S. NAGARAJAN | MARCH 12, 2012

John Ruskin observed, “Shakespeare has no heroes; he has only heroines.” Almost all his major women characters — Desdemona, Cordelia, Imogen, Rosalind, to mention just a few — were ‘conceived in t... »

Cosmopolitan Modernity in Early Twentieth Century India and ...
Jan 19, 2015 - Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty's Cosmopolitan Modernity in Early 20th-Century ... James Cousins, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Taraknath Das.

An intellectual destination - The Hindu › Cities › Puducherry
Jun 23, 2015 - Puducherry's contribution to intellectual heritage is not known enough, feels author Sachidananda Mohanty, and instead has been relegated to ...

Sachidananda Mohanty
The brilliance of Gangopadhyay's complex novel is effortlessly captured in translation.
A well-documented tribute to the French and their influence in India.
This racy account of Sri Rri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living movement heralds the arrival of newage spirituality in India.