Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cosmic Truth

In an episode of that truly wonderful series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan tackles the concept of the birth and death of the Universe using allegories from Hindu mythology.

Hinduism is unique, according to Sagan, in that it is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite number of deaths and rebirths. He elaborates:

[The Hindu religion] is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the earth or the sun and about half of the time since the big bang. And there are much longer time scales still.

There is the deep and appealing notion that the Universe is but the dream of the god, who after a 100 Brahma years, dissolves himself into a dreamless sleep and the Universe dissolves with him. Until after another Brahma century, he stirs, recomposes himself and begins again the dream -– the great cosmic lotus dream.

Meanwhile, elsewhere there are an infinite number of other Universes. Each with its own god, dreaming the cosmic dream.

Now some of that may have sounded like gobbledygook. But the underlying philosophy is quite profound. Listening to Sagan, I found it amazing that the ancients could conceive of such intricate notions as cosmic cycles and parallel Universes; notions that modern day physicists are still trying to grapple with. I doff my hat to the imagination and insight of these early cosmologists.

But marvel as I did at this divine interpretation of the cosmos, it is the next line that truly stunned me. A line, a sentence really, that truly captures the essence of all religion:

These great ideas are tempered by another, perhaps still greater -– it is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods, but rather that the gods are the dreams of men.

Much was lost when the ancient civilizations declined. It is one of the great tragedies of our time that the one truth that should never have been lost, was forgotten by all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Humans Better Than Chimps at Walking

After extensive studies, anthropologists have decided that human beings are better at walking than chimpanzees, whether on two legs or on all fours.

Finally, something that humans are good at. Take that all you chimps! Just shows who the better primate is. What's that you say now? Swinging on trees? Bah! What good is that? Trees are overrated anyway.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Shambho and the Pious Pilgrim

Shambho, the sacred bull from Carmarthenshire was reprieved by a high court ruling earlier this week. The decision has been hailed by Hindu monks throughout the country who claim that they were fighting for Shambho's cause not because he belonged to a temple, but because to them all life is sacred. This is indeed a nice sentiment. Very humane and all that. But to me, it reeks of hypocrisy.

I find it rather ironic that a community that puts such a high price on a single life has such little regard for the environment. That in a land where millions worship the elephant god everyday, no one so much as raises an eyebrow when elephants are slaughtered by the thousands in the wild. That the very same people who take to the streets and burn effigies to protest the culling of a bull don't think twice before damning an entire ecosystem to hell.

Reuters reports in a little publicized article that pilgrims to holy sites are destroying the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. Everyday, scores of worshippers arrive at these sites in buses, cars and even helicopters, only to leave behind tonnes of refuse. The plastic they leave behind is slowly choking the life out of the rivers, while massive deforestation and rapid human development promises to turn the Himalayan range into one massive dumping ground. The government cannot do anything about it of course; religion is above the law in India. Meanwhile, a handful of volunteers cry themselves hoarse, even as their pleas fall on deaf ears.

As the volume of devotees keeps increasing, it becomes incumbent on the pilgrims themselves to wake up to this impending doom and do something about it. That, however is not very likely. And that is what depresses me. I ask you devout Hindu pilgrims then: Is it too much to ask you to carry your own trash? And is it too much to ask you to not treat the abode of your Lord as a dump? It's not like it cannot be done. Millions of Muslims flock to Mecca every year, yet the shrine maintains its sanctity. Is your shrine any less sacred than theirs? Or is it just the stone god you worship, but not his abode.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

FIFA 2006

There I am. Playing FIFA 2006 on my PS2. It's Manchester United vs. Real Madrid. Midway through the second half. Scores tied at 1-1. Edwin van der Sar takes the goalkick. Neville and Zidane go up for the air ball. Zidane gets to it first and wins possession. Andy Gray remarks "Ooh! That's a great header. He really uses his head beautifully."

I double up laughing and fall off the couch.

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Conclusion

The problem with drab, long-drawn conferences is that they are filled with drab, long-drawn presentations. Soul-crushingly dull presentations that seem to go on and on forever, without really getting anywhere.

For some bizarre reason, the length of these presentations is often directly proportional to the pointlessness of their content. I stumbled upon this revelation while sitting through one such remarkably pointless talk. Having missed the day’s breakfast by virtue of not waking up on time, I desperately needed a snack to keep myself alive till lunch. The import of the situation was clearly lost on the presenter however, who seemed to have wagered with someone that he couldn't use the words incentivize, leverage and synergize together in thirty-nine different slides. Whoever had put the money against him had clearly underestimated the man’s gift for platitude. Meanwhile, I squirmed in my seat.

Finally, after what seemed like hours of meaningless rambling, the speaker propped up a slide titled Conclusions. “A-ha,” I thought to myself. “We are getting to the end of this.” My plan of strategically positioning myself near the exit promised to pay off, as I prepared to make a dash for it to beat the rush to the hors d' oeuvres.

But what’s this? Just as I was about to get up, another slide popped up. Conclusions (Continued), it proclaimed. I felt cheated. I felt betrayed. This sort of skulduggery had no place in a conference, I decided. The presenter however lumbered on, unmoved. As he finally reached the end of the slide, I readied for the obligatory applause. Only to be thwarted by another slide. Summary, this one was called.

I swore under my breath. This was most unnecessary. What could he summarize now that he hadn’t already concluded? The pointlessness of all this was excruciating. Still, I put on a brave face and kept nodding intermittently, as the torment continued.

The Summary slide was followed by not one, but two slides featuring Future Work. Things were starting to get blurry now. “Gaah! does anyone honestly expect this work to be done in the future”, I wondered through clenched fists and misty eyes. The c.f. and m.e. were greeted with yet another slide, tantalizingly titled Final Thoughts. I had a few final thoughts of my own on what I wanted to do with the presenter. Without going into details, I’ll suffice to say that they didn’t involve food. I was trying to stay positive here.

My positivity got dealt a severe blow as the Acknowledgements slide made its appearance. By the time the presenter was done thanking the sixty-odd committees, faculty members, aunts, uncles, cleaning maids and the neighbour’s dog, I had taken to gnawing on my arm.

Then in a flash, it happened. A blank page popped up on the screen, with a tiny end of presentation scribbled on top. I rejoiced. Did a little jiggly dance in my head. Hope, it seemed, sprung eternal again.

The presenter wasn’t having any of it however. He wasn’t going to give in so easily. “Any questions from the audience,” he asked dour-faced as ever. A wrinkly, obviously well-fed fellow cleared his throat. “Yes, could you bring up slide four again, please.”

I hope someone else chronicled the rest of the session, because at this point I lost all consciousness.