The Muse

The sheer variety of symbols and artefacts in use across the ages and geographies does not necessarily point to a multitude of assumptions and values from which they spring. The study of mythology and folklore then, is a reverse approach to anthropology. This blog is dedicated to my favourite symbols, tales and artefacts - both ancient and contemporary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The opiate of the masses

For any algorithm to run, some minimum input data is required. Now imagine an algorithm that can fetch for itself the data that it requires in order to run. Stressed by the exercise? No problem, just think of the lowliest creature you can think of - maybe a virus.

A virus is essentially a strand (single or double) of nucleic acid - which is basically the algorithm with the purpose of replicating itself - enclosed in a protein coat. When it comes in contact with a suitable host cell, it injects its genes into the host where it is transcripted and translated into the proteins and replicated - basically, copies are made. these are assembled into new viruses, which flood the host cell till it bursts, and then are sent out. When not in contact with anything alive, it simply lies there, doing nothing.

This was life, from the virus' point of view. I draw your attention to the way it spends its lifetime.

If you're of the view that creatures can be grouped from least evolved to the most evolved, then consider a ceature from the middle of that ranking - a butterfly, maybe.

Upon hatching, the caterpillar does nothing but eat, so it can pupate properly and become a butterfly. This creature spends its time pollinating flowers of the plants that it knows will be food for its future generations, mates, lays eggs (if female) and then dies.

Notice again how it spends its lifetime.

Look now at a lion. A highly evolved creature. The leader of the pride, in fact. He doesn't hunt, but gets the biggest share of the spoils. He defends his territory and his position in his pride, and mates when his lionesses are 'on heat'. Apart from that he only sleeps.

What a waste of talent, isn't it?

Idea is, at both extremes of lifeforms, we've creatures with a lot of 'free time'. I'd define free time as any amount of time not spent in doing survival tasks. Basically, free time seems to follow an inverse bell curve.

The difference is, can this free time be utilized?
Back to our algorithm. It needs minimum input data to run. So does every lifeform, to survive.

A sapling needs to find water, sunlight and nutrients - therefore it has a rudimentary sensory and motor system that attracts its shoot to light and away from gravity and its root towards water and gravity.

The more things a creature needs in order to survive, the better sense and locomotory systems it has.

It so happens, the more evolved a creature is, the more things it needs to survive, and hence, we have the creatures with the most 'free time' also having the best sense and locomotory systems.

Somewhere along the evolutionary ladder, this double convergence of time and resource turns into a triple convergence. A creature with highly developed sensory processing centre with time to spare from tasks of survival. How does it engage the idle yet powerful system? Simple, by probing into things apparently unconnected to its survival. And thus are generated the first probing questions and their first attempts at answers.

Sometimes, the business of Q & A seemed more interesting than survival itself. So here was Homo sapiens neanderthalis, a social animal, with an ice age to survive, and abstract questions to answer. What did he do?

Simple, he invented religion. An institution that had the following functions:
  • Define socio-political relationships and hierarchies
  • Define the ways and means to subsistence i.e. the processes of hunting, farming, etc.
  • Define the judicial system
  • Provide the answers to abstract questions, such as about genesis and destruction
  • Provide spiritual and psychological guidance
These were the functions of the institution of religion, as concieved by our close cousins the neanderthals, and adopted/propagated by our own ancestors.

The ages passed by, each time stripping religion of one of its functions till at long last only the last listed function was relevant to it.

Religion has been a very useful tool, as well as a potent weapon. Which of these conflicting roles it will predominantly play in the future, will depend on the practitioners of the religion.

Meanwhile, the wealth of answers constituted from all religions of the world (living and extinct), and the customs that stem from them, create the massive corpus of knowledge known as Mythology.

On this pensive note, I leave you dear reader, to attend my OB project meeting.

All in good time

No matter who we are, where we are, the one thing that we are never seperated from, is our past. While some of us confine ourselves to cribbing or raving about our own little lifetimes, some others feel incomplete if they cannot make an attempt atleast to delve into the mysteries of genesis itself.

The fact is, people of the latter kind have always formed the majority of the human race. Which is what led to the most ingenious of our inventions - religion; and the most essential of our discoveries - the scientific method. Certain people, among which the Theosophists are the most prominent, believe also in the exixtence of another method - the occult method. But more on that later.

What I wish to say is, that in studying either theology, science or theosophy, we essentially study the same subject - our past - our History.

History as an independent subject also exists, and follows certain methods. It relies upon a body of evidences, i.e. records and the ingenuity of scholars to reconstruct the events past based on them.

Biology, for example, is natural history, and relies on fossil records as well as the DNA of living creatures.

The starry sky, is a picture of the universe that many years ago, whence the light that we see actually left the respective celestial bodies.

The same can be said of rock strata, which to a Geologist, speak volumes of the history of our planet.

In searching for Theories of Everything (TOE's) and Grand Unification Theories (GUT's), physicists try and unravel the mysteries of the big bang itself.

But not all records are tangible, and most are ambiguous. In my opinion however, there are two types of records.

One type of records is photographic. The other is holographic.

A photograph records the intensities of light falling on the film. It captures the scene instantly and can be accessed instantly - by the unaided eye.

A hologram records the phase difference between the two LASER sources that are made to fall on the scene to be captured, and can be accessed again only with the aid of a LASER source.

Most records used for formal purposes are photographic, like the fossil records. They are usually unambiguous, i.e. they do not require any interpretation.

The holographic records, which require decoding, constitute a body of knowledge called Mythology.

Being of a, let's say curious mindset, I sought to unravel the mysteries of creation since a very early age. Indeed, it is this thirst for knowledge which led me to pursue the pure sciences to a level as serious as graduation - I am a Physics major.

But I've had an equal measure of exposure to mythology as well. At an age when the elders of the family indoctrinate the young ones in their prevalent religion, I was taught to enjoy the stories without being compelled to believe them to be true.

This was how I became a mytho junkie and this is what I feel mythology means to mankind. As for more details, all I can say is that they'll come, all in good time.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

This is Ishita

This is my sister's gmail account, and I use this because I'm too lazy to make my own.
Having described myself adequately, I now say a prayer:
Shayane Padmalabhamcha

I next move on to thank Himanshu Kumar, who's inspired me to blog. Thanks also to all my batchmates, for preventing homesickness.

The purpose of my blog is to discuss mythology, in general, because I like stories. The first story would be a folktale.

Once, in a drought-hit village of India, a farmer began to work. Seing the futility of his activity, Lord Shiva appeared to advise the poor creature. "What purpose does your ploughing serve? There will be no rain, as I've ordained it."

"You made the world, my lord," replied the farmer, "and you made the Law that sustains it. If I'll do my part, I'm sure the Law will take care of the rest."

"Do you imply that the Law is greater than Me?" thundered the deity, "You shall witness this contest, and retract your very thoughts." So saying, he went to Amaravati, abode of Indra, the raingod, and commanded him to withold the rainclouds from that region.

"I'm bound by Your Law, sire," said Indra, "if the frogs of that land croak, I will have no choice but to release my rainclouds.". "Rest assured, for that shall not happen."

His next stop was of course, the Frog Union of India, who assured him compliance, under the condition that not even a single firefly would appear in front of them, in which case, Legally bound as they were, they had to croak.

Frustrated by the length of the chain of command He'd created, He went to the Firefly Adda and warned them appositely. Luckily for Him, the unhappy chain ended there.

That very evening however, it rained in adequate amount in that village. Dumbfounded at the occurence, the Lord rushed to Indra, who palefacedly explained that the frogs had done the mischief. The frogs placed the blame upon the fireflies. But the fireflies denied it.

Being omniscient, Mahadev knew the fireflies weren't lying, and so He went back to the frogs, who vehemently maintained that they'd spotted a firefly, and that one was blinking even right now. Indeed, the Lord spotted a blinking light in the fields, and went to investigate.

It turned out to be our hardworking farmer, who was now weeding the fields by torchlight, which due to his bobbing action, seemed to look like a firefly from afar. Thus defeated by His own Law, the Lord Ashutosh, returned to his abode.

I'd read this story when I was younger, at which time it didn't sound half as silly. Reasoning apart, the moral of this story is a serious one. Humans invented the game of chess, and the rules of playing it. Humans are also the players, and when they descend in the form of the chess pieces, they're bound by those very rules. So it is ordained in this Game of Life, that if we do our part in acomplishing our goals, not even the Creator can conspire to prevent their fulfilment.

With this, I close this blog, and proceed to partake of Sunday Lunch.