Monday, December 26, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Tennessee: Court Rules Against Bible Classes In Public Schools (June 8, 2004)
Arkansas: Gay Student Settles Suit (July 18, 2003)
Alabama: No More Bibles In Public Schools (November 22, 2002)
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Saturday, December 17, 2005
- whether or not the Intentional Walk is unethical;
- can superstition make a player better;
- do Cubs fans teach us about religious faith;
- does chance decide who wins the World Series;
- why baseball is the only American industry exempt from federal anti-trust laws;
- what the U.S. Supreme Court could learn from umpiring ball games; and a great deal more.
Baseball And Philosophy is uniquely and enthusiastically recommended to the attention of two seemingly diverse readerships: baseball enthusiasts and philosophy students.
Who moved my lasting perception? MUKUL SHARMA The Economic Times TUESDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2005
- change happens (they keep moving the cheese);
- anticipate change (get ready for the cheese to move);
- monitor change (smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old);
- adapt to change quickly (the quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese);
- change (move with the cheese);
- enjoy change! (savour the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese);
- be ready to change quickly and enjoy it again (they keep moving the cheese).
People familiar with the teaching of the Buddha will know that Johnson is, in fact, only reiterating the Four Noble Truths:
- Life is suffering. That is, all things are impermanent, including living things like ourselves.
- Suffering is due to attachment. Because we and the world are imperfect, impermanent, and not separate, we forever cling to things, each other and ourselves in a mistaken effort at permanence by not fully understanding the impermanence of things.
- Attachment can be overcome. Meaning letting go of clinging, hatred and ignorance and the full acceptance of imperfection, impermanence and interconnectedness.
- There is a path for accomplishing this. The middle way between materialism and idealism.
What we fail to realise is that we don’t really require bestsellers or Buddhism to accomplish this because at one level we all routinely and automatically do it without even thinking. Consider bread. It’s always there in the house and we almost regard it a permanent fixture, yet if its consumption is not monitored it’s going to finish and there won’t be fresh bread to eat. We’ve adapted to this change so thoroughly and perfectly that neither is there any sense of clinging or suffering involved nor some fancy esoteric path to be taken to overcome attachment to it.
If such an important lesson of existence can effortlessly be learnt from so humble and integral part of our lives as wheat, what stops us from incorporating the same sense of enjoyment in other forms of renewal and change? It’s simply this: houses, jobs, relationships and spouses are perceived as being incrementally harder to replace than bread. So it turns out that perception is the greatest enemy of freedom after all, and as soon as we learn that it too is not permanent either, the Middle Way comes naturally.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Thursday, December 15, 2005
- The family is held together by hierarchy.
- There’s no room for equality in a traditional family set-up.
- The “higher” and “lower” is determined by seniority, or by the proximity of relationship.
- The entire cosmos is kept functional by the way each member knows his/her position in relation to the others.
- There can be no serious challenge to authority because traditionally authority is determined by extraneous factors, such as age, gender, and kinship, or sometimes by ritual authority, but not by such vague concepts as knowledge, experience, or wisdom.
- The assumption is that with age, knowledge, skill and wisdom increase as well.
- The hierarchy and non-equality of the Indian family is, I wish to emphasise, mostly a comfortable one.
- Couldn’t there be a dialogue between pre-modernity and modernity in India?
- Is a dialogue conceivable which aims at a merging of these two divergent concepts of life? That is, a merging of the positive, constructive, dignified, deeply humanistic elements of these two stages in the evolvement of our human potential?
- Is this an entirely utopian construct?
Living with one foot each in Indian and European cultures, I feel pained when I see my mother turn 89 in the hands of an Old Age Home nurses when she should be taken care of by loving family members. I feel equally pained when I see the campus of Santiniketan, where I live, littered with plastic bags and garbage without any of its highly educated members protesting and starting a cleaning drive. Both are shameful imbalances. If Indian family values prevailed, my mother would live in her own home in more comfort, and be in the care of an extended family. But that would have clipped my wings: I would have had to return to Germany. and would not have been able to do serve totally “alien” people of Indian society.
- First, can we imagine a modernity which is not Western-oriented but evolves from the matrix of Indian culture itself?
- Second, can we imagine a merging of pre-modern and modern values into a new entity? Do we see perhaps such an entity already practiced somewhere?
Traditional Indian ethos has a deeply idealistic strain. It begins with the Upanishads, continues with Buddhism and Jainism, flows into the Vaishnava mysticism of the Middle Ages and floods the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Tagore. The herculean attempt to overcome a colonial ruler by non-violent means is inconceivable without such idealistic promptings. Much in the epics is imbued with such idealism, although Hindu mythology has very diverse strands, many of which are of an un-idealistic nature. Such idealism constitutes a spiritual and emotional energy which is manifest in the luminous face of the Buddha, in the eroticism of the Radha-Krishna narrative, in the countenance of Sri Ramakrishna. This same idealistic energy courses in the blood of young Indians too, although – alas! – it is rarely tapped for their own good and the good of society. But I’m optimistic that their idealism can give affirmative replies to my two questions.
This idealism is, in its very character, not adverse to modernism. Indeed, it operates above the pre-modern/modern duality by embracing everything that is noble and good. This idealism transcends family, rejects caste and other artificial dissections, and yearns for an ever-widening and more-embracing intellectual understanding and social convergence. It must be at the base of a congenially Indian modernity. Some modern age gurus have been preaching it in the West, thus translating this idealism into a Western social idiom. Unfortunately, such attempts have mostly failed. Either they preached a much-watered down version of Indian idealism to please their clientele, or they were unable to really strike roots in the souls of Western people.
Yet marginally, the New Man is visible at ashram communities in India – the laboratories of the fusion of old and new. This way of living together is ancient, yet flexible enough to adjust to new definitions of community life. The ashram describes the family ethos anew by broadening the definition of family and kinship. This fusion happens for example in the Pondicherry ashram and in Auroville as well as in Gandhian and Christian ashrams in India. The Santiniketan ashram, too, was meant to be an experiment of bringing pre-modern and modern India together under the guidance of an inspired poet. This answers my second question too. Obviously, such deeply Indian modernity would be the most appropriate merger of pre-modern and modern approaches to life. It will certainly preserve what is valuable and forward-looking in the Indian ethos, and at the same time absorb Western cultural characteristics wherever they complement the Indian ethos and can amalgamate with it.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
More Articles in Opinion > Related Articles Montana Creationism Bid Evolves Into Unusual Fight (February 29, 2004) Related Searches Evolution Discovery Institute
Monday, December 12, 2005
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Take tasks first. To my mind, there is little doubt that women are potentially better than men at almost any job that demands accepting responsibility for delivering concrete results. If you think about it deeply, and observe the reality even in a relatively less affluent society like ours, this generalisation is true of the majority of women. In the poorer classes they manage even better because the woman has to make do with very little, and stretch her resources. After all, the economists tell us managing is all about scarce resources. Often she doubles up as a part-time wage earner too. In the more educated class, working generally in the organised sector, one finds they plan better; they chase, badger and tame colleagues into submitting to their ways. And as for relentless follow-up, which men joke about endlessly, women are superlative at it. Surely it must come from the DNA, since all societies have had a division of labour that meant the woman stayed back to keep the household ticking over like clock work. Consider what it must have meant in the hunter-gatherer civilisations. The baby needed attention or milk, the older children needed to be occasionally sorted out, small emergencies handled, from a cut finger to a major problem — and all the while the cooking-cleaning-mending routine went on, with no gadgetry to take the place of manual work. What better situation can you think of, to teach one to manage time, to prioritise, plan and just get on with the work? Surely, the ability to take on difficult, repetitive, even thankless tasks and do them superbly well, day after day (which is in a nutshell what all the books and courses want us to learn) must have been etched thus in the female psyche aeons ago?
Today's business scene or even non-commercial organisations need superior administrative skills, particularly of managing people and systems — which require a combination of this consistent performance along with the nimbleness of mind and body to respond to minor crises. No wonder women are better equipped here as well. The strange thing is that this has not been recognised and given due credit. Take for example the much talked about total quality management approach or TQM. One of its pillars is daily routine management, according to set processes, to learn which all we need is to look around us at home. Households run only because the daily routine — such as boiling milk, packing the lunch box or setting curd with yesterday's buttermilk — all goes on with faultless precision, and on time, with fall-back choices even in times of great stress such as illness or bereavement. Of course, no one has taken the trouble to describe this with fancy jargon such as "seamlessly managing the end-to-end value-chain 24 by 7". That is all the difference! Doubtless one day some business school professor in the U.S. will discover this with amazement and publish an article in Fortune magazine, exactly as happened with the dabbawallahs of Mumbai and their six-sigma level accuracy in logistics. Don't forget that an economist has already won the Nobel for saying that the informal household sector represents an un-measured part of the GDP. A UN report some years ago estimated it at over eleven trillion dollars a year! The starting point in the factory floor quality management for example is the process known as 5-S, which tells us to clean the workplace first, put everything in its proper place, mark and designate places and bins correctly, get the right tools for the job, and clean up afterwards and so on. The breakthrough here is that, unlike in the past, the person doing a task is charged with keeping the machine clean and looking after quality. "Put everything back in its place" reminds me of my grandmother for whom it was a lifelong refrain. "Let your hand do what the eye tells you must do" she used to say, meaning that you should keep an eye out for "deviation from standard", and most important of all, not wait to be told! No doubt, as she was married at 13 and had not gone beyond the fifth grade in school, this sound philosophy of managing came down to her not from books but through other women managers before her, an endless line of mothers and aunts stretching back into history. The second aspect of human relations is a women's speciality. Here women manage the age-old paradox of management much better, juggling praise and criticism expertly; and never leaving anything to chance or taking it for granted, erring on the side of making sure at any cost rather than assume others will find a way. "We trust, of course," Mikhail Gorbachov is supposed to have said of the Soviet attitude to anything, "but we verify". This would be cynicism for many men, but a woman finds nothing wrong in it. She knows from experience that with the best of intentions, the men in her life repeatedly say, "Oh leave it to me" and then come up with creative excuses for not remembering to order the gift, buy an essential medicine or ring their mothers on their birthdays. Intention and competence do not equal achievement — and she knows this to be an axiom. So if asked to choose between the directive and supervisory style on the one hand and the supportive, coach-mentor style, the woman loses no sleep over the choice. The latter is for the birds; get the job done first, the punditry can come later (at seminars!) is her general attitude. Readers will have realised that there are many men too who lead by the so-called women's style of managing described above. That is exactly my point: there is a yin and yang in management and some men adopt the one that falls far more naturally in the realm of their "better half" and they manage the better for it. It is quite possible that the strong-willed go-getting CEO's have been brought up by a very capable and active mother and learnt from them unconsciously. To me this alone can help explain the popularity of the genre of leadership that was made so popular by Jack Welch of General Electric, the U.S. Who knows, since tough times are more common that good times, perhaps what the world needs is more `feminine' managers among men too.
Friday, December 09, 2005
But while Art, Science, Intelligence and Enterprise have been thus engaged the last half century in behalf of our country and the human race, in what manner has legislation been occupied? Let cool and calm deliberation determine this question. In the early part of that period the little time which could be spared by the legislature from the excitement of political strife, the struggle for political power and place, was occupied with the stirring events attendant on the long and continued wars in which we were engaged, and the principles of commercial and industrial legislation attracted little of its attention. Under such circumstances it was not difficult for those interests who possessed great political influence to obtain enactments which they supposed would be beneficial to themselves. Unfortunately, however, both governments, and classes, and individuals have been too apt to conclude that their benefit could be secured by a policy injurious to others; and too often the benefit proposed has even been measured by the injury to be inflicted: hence all the laws which were framed under this influence had a tendency to raise up barriers to intercourse, jealousies, animosities, and heartburnings between individuals and classes in this country, and again between this country and all others; and thus, under the plea of protecting individuals or classes against each other, and the whole against other countries, was the system of COMMERCIAL RESTRICTION completed by the enactment of the corn and provision laws, passed in 1815; amid the utter forgetfulness on the part of the legislature, that it had no power or privilege which could enable it to confer a favour or wealth on any part of the community, without abstracting as much from others; in fact, that it possessed no inherent source of productiveness which could enable it to be generous.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
If you go back to ancient Indian philosophy, people talk about aham Brahma asmi and all of that. But now we can actually get to the physical basis of consciousness, self-awareness, what it means to be human. Ultimately all your joys, your sorrows, your hopes, your fears, your ambition, even what you think of as your own private self, is basically just the neurochemical activity of those one hundred billion little wisps of jelly in your head which we call neurons. That’s what it all is, that’s what reality is — the activity of neurons. It’s amazing that we know so little about the brain. If there’s something wrong with your thinking, even a trained neurologist will say you’ve got dementia. All the activities of thought are encompassed in one word: ‘dementia’. This can’t be right. Surely there are dozens and dozens of types, styles, of thinking, and many areas of the brain involved. What’s exciting for us is that we can begin now to approach these questions empirically: What do you mean by willing an action? What do you mean by ‘self’? What do you mean by seeing red? You can begin to answer all of these questions by looking at the physical structure of the brain. If you close your eyes, you have a very vivid image of your body parts—it’s called your body image. When you amputate somebody’s arm, the astonishing thing is that even after the operation the patient continues to vividly feel the presence of that arm. He himself is very surprised by this—he’s not stupid, he knows that his arm has been amputated. But he says, You’ve removed the arm, I don’t see an arm, but I vividly feel my fingers, my wrist, my elbow. This is called a phantom arm. It’s important clinically because many people feel excruciating pain in this phantom arm. Chronic pain in a real arm is hard enough to treat; how do you treat a patient who has pain in a non-existent arm? It turns out that there’s a complete map of the body surface on the surface of the brain. When you amputate a person’s arm, a gap remains, corresponding to the hand, but which doesn’t receive any signals. Instead, the signals from the face invade that territory. It shows that there’s a great deal of malleability of connections in the brain—what we call plasticity. People didn’t realise it before we’d done that. That was the breakthrough. When you amputate the arm and you touch the patient’s face, the patient says, Oh, you’re touching my fingers. It’s a very simple clinical observation, but we said that the reason this happens is because the signal is now going to the wrong part of the brain. There’s been a cross-wiring, and it’s now invaded the vacated territory corresponding to the missing arm. This happens astonishingly fast, in clinical terms. In a couple of weeks, the face skin starts sending its sensory input to a new brain area. It’s radical because it shows that brain maps can change over distances of seven centimetres, even in the adult brain, challenging the clinical dogma that new connections cannot form in the adult brain. It suggests that the brain has a tremendous amount of malleability or plasticity. What we’ve shown is that if you put a mirror in front of a patient, and he looks at the reflection of his normal hand, you resurrect his phantom, it’s as though his arm has come back. The amazing thing is that if he now moves his real hand, he sees the mirror reflection moving and he feels like the phantom is moving. This in many cases seems to relieve the painful cramping sensation in the phantom arm. But, you know, people think Nazism was some isolated, perverse phenomenon. But it’s not an isolated phenomenon. You see it time and again in human history. Few people know that Nazism originated in the US. It was begun in Cold Spring Harbour by two men named Davenport and Gooder. They said that immigrants from Europe were mentally subnormal; that Jews should be sterilised; imbeciles, epileptics, homosexuals should be sterilised; alcoholics should be sterilised because alcoholism runs in families. This was all said in America, just two decades before Nazism. Hitler took these ideas to absurd limits. But even within America, eugenics became a very popular idea. Thank God, it wasn’t successful—think of all those Jewish immigrants who came to the US and made such astonishing discoveries in science. In fact the ratio of Jewish to non-Jewish Nobel Prize winners is something like twenty to one, while Jews are something like five per cent of the population. So there’s two hundred times more of a chance of getting a Nobel if you’re Jewish—not that I believe in genetic differences. Absolutely. Our own caste system is not different from what Davenport was doing in the US and it’s not different from any other type of racial discrimination. Well, actually, we can go further. If you look at the evolution of ideas, the evolution of culture, among humans, you will find a tremendous upheaval of intellectual activity always occurring when things come together. We have to celebrate our diversity of cultures, not homogenise them, or marginalise a certain group. This is one thing that I’m afraid of with regard to the corporate homogenisation of the entire world, the Disneyfication of the world. I dread seeing a time when the world consists entirely of homogenised Nike shoes and McDonald’s fast food. What we call India or Indonesia, or culture or civilisation, will just be relegated to the status of little museums. Most of my work is characterised by building bridges—dissolving the barrier between what C. P. Snow called the two cultures: arts and humanities on the one hand and the sciences on the other and, he says, never the twain shall meet. I’m disputing that. I’m saying no. I’m saying the interface between the two ‘cultures’ is the human brain. One of the things we have found is that there is a curious condition called synaesthesia. Normally, our senses are separate—touch, hearing, taste, smell and all that. Synaesthetes are people who are otherwise completely normal, but they get their senses muddled up. So they’ll say, Five is red; every time I see a five, I see red. Every time I hear sa, it’s blue, re is green, ga is purple—every tone has a colour. People used to think they were crazy and just dismiss them. We went in there and figured out what’s going on the brain. First of all, we’re sure they are not crazy. These people really see the colour when they see the number. That’s correct—in some senses they are more gifted than us, you could put it that way. We found that there are specific areas in the normal brain which handle colour and number. In the normal brain, they are quite distinct. In these people, they get mixed up, there’s a cross-wiring caused by a genetic flaw—or, no, I wouldn’t call it a flaw—a genetic change, a gene mutation that causes excessive cross-wiring in the brain. Now, if this cross-wiring occurs everywhere in the brain, you get a greater propensity to link things. That is the basis of creativity and metaphor. So here you’ve started with this quirk, synaesthesia; from there you can go to the genes, you can go the brain areas, and maybe these can help us understand what made Shakespeare or Tagore creative. I have nothing against it. A lot of Western neurologists, neuroscientists, debunk it, say this is all just Eastern fringe science. But Eastern science has always approached the world, including your own internal world, the mental world, from the inside, through introspective experiment. Western science is purely empirical, looking at it from the point of view of a detached external observer. All of Western science, indeed all of science, is based on the rejection of the subjective—saying there is no red, there is no green, there are only long and medium wavelengths. For all of Eastern philosophy, the starting point is you—although in the end they say this ‘you’ also doesn’t exist; it’s part of the supreme reality. There’s no tradition of experiment in the East. Even in the West, there isn’t a tradition of it—Aristotle did not understand experiment, the Greeks didn’t understand it. It’s only when Galileo came along in Italy that you define the birth of experiment. He said, What else is there—it recalls the sentiment of Jung who said the same thing. What I would say is that words like ‘God’ or ‘spirituality’ are used very loosely—they mean different things to different people. If you talk about God in a very personal sense—there’s an old man there, watching you and punishing you for bad deeds—that’s probably just mumbo jumbo. On the other hand, if you’re talking about God in some very lofty, spiritual sense, as being the deeper truth underlying all appearances, no scientist can dispute that. You can say, I don’t know; so, you’re agnostic. I would classify myself as an agnostic, like most of my fellow scientists. There’s no evidence to say there is no god—I think that’s a silly position. Equally, there is no evidence to say there’s an old man sitting up there and watching you. No. Not the existence or lack of existence of God. But we can probe more deeply into what makes people religious. We find, for example, that people who have epileptic seizures originating in the temporal lobes, have very strong religious sentiments. They say, I experience God. So we know that neural pathways in the temporal lobes are somehow involved in religious belief in God—but that doesn’t negate the experience. We’re not saying that because religious belief originates in the brain, there is no God—obviously not.