Monthly Archives: April 2007

Yatra yogeshvarah krsno yatra partho dhanur-dharah
Tatra srir vijayo bhutir dhruva nitir matir mama – Gita 18.78. (Concluding verse)

The Mahabharata consists of multi-layered plots and subplots, multitudinous complex characters. It spans multiple generations, and sometimes the entire historical perspective is necessary to make sense of the story arc. However, as everywhere else, certain simplifications are helpful in crystallizing key elements of the mythos.

At a microcosmic level, and an admittedly circumscribed perspective, the Mahabharata may be viewed as a showdown of ideologies of two main characters: Bhishma, the grandsire patriarch of the Kuru clan; and Krishna, the prime lobbyist for a new world order in the Dwapara yuga.

Bhishma was a stander-upper for the establishment, enforcer-in-chief of the letter of the law. He was unflinching in his loyalty to titular positions, and prefered to go down with the sinking ship of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. His track record of adherance to his vows to uphold the prevalent dynastic values of the time are legendary, and contribute to his monicker.

Krishna was the mercurial iconoclast, impishly charioteering the course of events towards change, while vowing to not wield weapons in a war that, in a who-did-what-to-whom interpretation of the situation, wasn’t his to fight.

This microcosmic rivalry plays itself out in the little nugget of an incident hidden in the mighty tome. Bhishma, the steadfast, who never reneges on a vow, vows that he’ll make Krishna violate his. Bhishma relentlessly scorched the Pandava warriors – later in the Bhishma Parva, Sanjaya says:

As regards Bhishma, his car was then his fire-chamber. His bow was the flame of that fire. And swords and darts and maces constituted the fuel of that fire. And the showers of arrows he shot were the blazing sparks of that fire with which he was then consuming Kshatriyas in that battle. As a raging conflagration with constant supply of fuel, wandereth amid masses of dry grass when aided by the wind, so did Bhishma blaze up with his flames…

Krishna realizes that the Pandavas will not win the war as long as Bhishma is at the helm of the Kauravas. He breaks his own vow, and engages the Sudarshanachakra. At this crystallized moment highlighting the essense of belief-systems of the two personas, Bhishma lays down his own weapons, and is humbly eager to accept what’s coming to him. In chessical jargon, he plays the player, and not the board. Krishna, on the other hand, is very much playing the board. If the situation demands his breaking yet another rule, he rises up to it.

Bhishma loves the map more than the topography. As a consequence, he champions a static application of rules, while his opponent stands for a dynamic reading of reality.

Mythos tells us that adharmis do not always come in weird hairdos, resounding laughs and Mogamboesque fashion-sense. Perhaps we lose messages hidden in our mythos. But then, maybe we are wired to cling on to stassis, until it is challenged and overthrown, so that we may cling on to a new brand of stassis.

The Ourorboros, attracted by something wiggly, chases it, bites it, and starts consuming what happens to be it’s own tail.

And I don’t want the world to see me
Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
— Iris, Goo goo dolls

I am lying down staring at the popcorn ceiling, about to slide into a comfortable sleep.

* N takes the stage in front of his illustrious peers: a bunch of know-it-all high-schoolers. N is the shy kind. Not given to bombastic pronouncements. This is a subject he has chosen from all possible ones. “There is”, he says, “something that can be learned from anyone, regardless of their place. Take my driver, for instance…”. I enthusiastically applaud his talk. It seems like a good thing to do.

* C has achieved a romantic understanding of an essentially classical concept: the distribution of loads on a structure. I am busy making my handwriting look good on my notebook.

* J illustrates the quantum states of the electron, employing analogies and anecdotes. It sounds really cool. I consider what I may say that’ll sound cooler when I am in his seat the next year.

* I am climbing up the stairs in a familiar building of the hallowed institute. I wonder if I chose to push myself to study (I am terrified of what it’d be like to stop), or if the ball was set rolling earlier on my choices regarding studying (I am terrified of not having a say in the matter). These seem to be the only two options.

* “A poet once said ‘The whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe.” Feynmann is saying, with an avuncular grin at the camera.

* K is talking about his spirituality. He tells me to go to an open field, or the top of a mountain, where there isn’t anyone in sight. “Then” he says,”when all else is quiet, listen to the residual, primordial sound that has always existed – everywhere, all the time, – as white noise…”. He is very earnest, and I had no idea he had this side to him.

* Manni and Lola are lying in bed.
Manni: Willst du weg … von mir?
Lola: Ich weiß nicht. Ich muß mich grad entscheiden … glaub ich.

* The Buddha sits in the lotus position under the bodhi tree. He extends his right palm and makes contact with the ground, calling upon the earth to witness his moment of enlightenment. Worldly concerns cease to make sense in his momentary circuit of contact with the infinite.

* On the makeshift blackboard is a curve representing the diminution of marginal desirability of every additional piece of candy to a child. A is tutoring me. Sanskrit. “Ekam sat viprah bahudah vadanti (There is one Truth, but sages say it in different ways)” he quotes. He has a taste for the rhetorical.

I can visualize the phrase, and it is monochromatically grey. It disassembles without warning into an alphabet soup and restrings into a fresh pattern of a myriad colours, as I descend into slumber, into what feels like a pit not unlike the one the od’d Renton sinks into in “Trainspotting”.

A reader (Sean) of ‘The Dilbert Blog’ posted this in the comments section today as “brain malfunctions”. Quite funny, but I think it hasty to jump to the conclusion that these prototypes of reasoning fallacies are indeed bugs and not features of the workings of the human brain.

Amazingly Bad Analogy
Example: You can train a dog to fetch a stick. Therefore, you can train a potato to dance.

Faulty Cause and Effect
Example: On the basis of my observations, wearing huge trousers makes you fat.

I am the World
Example: I don’t listen to country music. Therefore, country music is not popular.

Generalizing from Self
Example: I’m a liar. Therefore, I don’t believe what you’re saying.

Total Logical Disconnect
Example: I enjoy pasta because my house is made of bricks.

<Judging Things without Comparison to Alternatives
Example: I don’t invest in US Treasury bills. There’s too much risk.

Ignorance of Statistics
Example: I’m putting ALL of my money on the lottery this week because the jackpot is so big.

Irrelevant Comparisons
Example: A hundred dollars is a good price for a toaster, compared to buying a Ferrari.

Incompleteness as Proof of Defect
Example: Your theory of gravity doesn’t address the question of why there are no unicorns, so it must be wrong.

Following the Advice of Known Idiots
Example: Uncle Billy says pork makes you smarter. That’s good enough for me!

Faulty Pattern Recognition
Example: His last six wives were murdered mysteriously. I hope to be wife number seven.

Failure to Recognise What’s Important
Example: My house is on fire! Quick, call the post office and tell them to hold my mail!

Ignoring All Anecdotal Evidence
Example: I always get hives immediately after eating strawberries. But without a scientifically controlled experiment, it’s not reliable data. So I continue to eat strawberries every day, since I can’t tell if they cause hives.

Inability to Understand that Some Things Have Multiple Causes
Example: The Beatles were popular for one reason only: They were good singers.

Judging the Whole by One of it’s Characteristics
Example: The sun causes sunburns. Therefore, the planet would be better off without the sun.

Taking Things to their Illogical Conclusion
Example: If you let your barber cut your hair, the next thing you know he’ll be lopping off your limbs!

Proof by Lack of Evidence
Example: I’ve never seen you drunk, so you must be one of those Amish people.”

Did you feel while reading this that your reasoning patterns are above such speciousness? Do you also believe that you would behave differently from the subjects of the Zimbardo and Milgram experiments, under the conditions of the experiments?

I am walking outdoors next to my apartment complex, heading to the gym for a bike ride. I am wearing my tri-shorts, and a white T on top.

Two kids pass me by. Boys. One is maybe 9, the other 12. Somehow I think they are friends, not brothers. The older one says “Hi!”.

Many men/boys pass you by in this part of the world, without recognizing your presence. Sometimes they look at you, but don’t return your smile. Anyhow, these kids aren’t like that. I’m glad for a moment. “Hi!” I say.

The older one reveals the reason behind his opening salvo. “Love your tights!” he says. The sarcasm in his voice is clear. The younger one snickers. I pass them by, a bit saddened.

I wonder what caused him to make that remark. He doesn’t know me, I am just a passer-by. But he found it important enough to make that remark, by first making the effort to establish a short exchange. I think I attribute it to two factors:
i. His desire to reinforce his way of looking at things, his aesthetics, and to subtract mine, through a putdown. This perhaps, adds to his sense of confidence about his place in the world.
ii. His need to strengthen his influence as a role model to the younger boy – there was a hint of appreciation at the smartness displayed by the 12 year old, in the younger one’s chuckle. It seemed this transaction upped the 12 year old’s status within the little tribe of two.