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.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Legend of Ram... The Don

Human history is replete with instances when tales expand to epic proportions, and capture the minds of the populace. In time, the institution of religion decides to encash on this popularity to suit its own purpose.

The latest (relatively) in this category is the tale of Harry Potter, which the Vatican had promptly denounced, on the grounds that it glorified witchcraft. But perhaps religion is losing its hold on public consciousness - or it was simply beaten by the mania.

But one of the oldest in this category of tale-turned-scriptures is our own Ramayana. My interest in this tale is as deep as in Harry Potter. I've followed this epic since childhood - and in more than one version, always in the search of true story.

And so, I begin a series of posts on everything that is known or said about this tale, and I hope you enjoy it.
"Don की तलाश ग्यारह मुल्कों की police को है ..."  
 The relation seems loose, but it's there. The first aspect that one has to face in an attempt to study this tale is the sheer variety of versions. Not just national, but International. The legend of Rama is part of people's lives in all of south east Asia - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillipines, ..., the lot. The King of Thailand is called Rama to this day (Presently, Rama the IXth) and the capital area in Bangkok is called Ayutthaya. Traditional shadow puppetry of Indonesia lives around this theme, and Indic temples and traditions accompany the tale in all of these countries.

Like the Don's infamy, Rama's fame covers a lot of ground. And while the plot remains the same, the characters sometimes go sea changes - Hanuman, for example. A paragon of asceticism in India, Hanuman is otherwise unanimously portrayed as being a womaniser elsewhere. This and many other things prompt the reader to probe beyond the facts, and to the real meaning behind these legends.

But most of all, the ancient coexistence of these variants tell us that the tale is older than religion itself, and has a profoundness that is universally revered.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Guest Post - Nerdspeak - KPJ

 In reality the situation didn't get so nerdy but I couldn't stop to pen it's extension!


Me: You know why I “text”ed you, right?
She: No
Me: So was the “No” for dinner or you had no idea what I was talking about?
She: No for both
Me: Ohh :( ... So are we gonna ever meet before the Universe decelerates to singularity?
She: No
Me: And if the Universe bounces back & forms Earth-like planet again with creatures like you & me - then would you meet?
She: I might think then
Me: But it will take, if LQG is correct, at least 14.5 billion years for the universe to collapse and 14.5 billion years to form you and me... that makes a total travel time of 29 billion years!
She: LQG?
[NOTE: She didn't even read the main part of the text! Or probably she misunderstood LQG with lmao]
Me: Loop Quantum Gravity
[NOTE: I waited for 5 minutes and she didn't reply me back]
Me: Aahhh... what if an anti-you & anti-me are taking dinner in a parallel universe?
She: I don't care
Me: But then there action creates waveforms that superimposes in our universe... and hence the probability of the wave function describing our dinner increases?
[NOTE: I believe she didn't understand the point of my last text and hence didn't reply. But I was far from giving up]


Me: Hey I have a much cooler and nerdier plan! Do you wanna come for Star gazing open house tonight?We can literally watch supernova remnant and globular clusters with telescope!
[NOTE: I was careful not to use abbreviations like SNR and GC. Also I thought she might find it extremely romantic when I show her that the line joining last two stars of Big Dipper constellation coincides with the Polar star. I was having all sorts of goosebumps but...]
She: No
Me: We might witness a miracle like optical signals from an alien (as there are more than 300 exo-solar planets) or might see Betelgeuse explode! :P
[NOTE: If she was an astronomer/physicist she knew I was making things up as optical signals can't travel to far or etc... I thought I could excite her “normal mind” with these words but without even carefully reading my text she went...]
She: I don't believe in miracles
[NOTE: She tried to be rational like “me”... As an usual habit, when I don't know what to say, I simply shoot a quotation of Einstein or someone equivalent. It usually never matches with the situation but I thought she might just concentrate on the main words.]
Me: "There are only two ways of living life: as though nothing is a Miracle, or as though everything is a Miracle!" - AE
[NOTE: No reply... I guess she didn't get the point of the quote (if there was any) and neither did I wanted to miss the open house. So I stopped bugging]


[NOTE: This time I knew I shouldn't be nerdy but...]
Me: You know you are like a boson!
She: What???
Me: I mean you are neither in a quantum state of being “beautiful” nor being “nerd”
[NOTE: I pressed the “send” button incidentally]
She: WTF
[NOTE: The reply came faster than ever before]
Me: My bad... sentence left incomplete :P ... I mean you are both beautiful and intelligent... as if you can be in both the quantum states and contradict Pauli Exclusion Principle!
[NOTE: I didn't get into technical details that she followed the Bose-Einstein statistics and hence be in both the quantum states. Anyways she didn't reply for few minutes...]
Me: My empirical observations suggest that you generally don't reply my text message as you can't understand my emotions.
She: What emotions? Say clearly
[NOTE: I was waiting for this instance]
Me: You know you have made my life like a Heisenberg's particle... I am living life filled with uncertainty! I know I like you and I also want to be with you but Nature is not permitting me either of that... Now you say what should I do?
She: Get a life
Me: But... never mind!
[NOTE: I wanted to say to her that she just described a paradoxical statement as “I am living” is equivalent to “having a life” and to get a life I have to first die and then find a life... NEVER MIND! Such is sad tale of mine :( ]


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dialogy... KPJ

Well, one learns something every day. So here's an excerpt from KPJ's reply.

karan.p.jani: well
  first I added that link on facebook so that entire world can read! :d
  specially the ones who know me!
 me: m honoured
22:56 karan.p.jani: I am pretty sure hardly anyone understood it as the article was too technical
 me: was it?
 karan.p.jani: I followed it only because
 me: u asked for it
 karan.p.jani: a) I was interested to know what you wanted to say
22:57 b) Because I am reading Sartre et al. which are much much more complicated then this!
 me: ah! of course!
 karan.p.jani: but I like the way you proceeded your argument
 me: he argues otherwise?
 karan.p.jani: the rational logical argument approach!
  no its hard to understand first of all what is he arguing for!
22:58 me: hahaha
 karan.p.jani: nevertheless coming back to the blog
 me: ya
 karan.p.jani: my honest opinion
  let me first write it completely
  and then you reply
 me: ok
22:59 karan.p.jani: I found your language usage different then your regular tone
  your arguments were true
  but for some unknown reason it wasn't you
  it wasn't your thoughts
  as if it was a mosaic
  of other people's thoughts
23:00 I know that you once said me
  "Man is the most unoriginal creature"
  and I agree with that
  but your "human" part was missing in the argument
23:01 you were logical, rational, might be even scientifically accurate but you weren't Ishitia
  I read it and was admired that you took the effort to write a whole blog for me
23:02 but I am sure if we had a conversation the argument would have proceeded in a different way
  like you could have created examples and situations that would have been sufficient for me to get the direction
  well... sorry if you felt disappointed but I really dont intend to hurt you
23:03 it was a friendly critique
 me: not at all
 karan.p.jani: thats it!
  now shoot!
 me: u are a very fine observer
23:04 and m not disappointed

Dialogy... Amrit Jami

My illustrious, diligent and talented friend Amrit Jami (better known by variations of his surname) once had a status msg that quoth
"jaage hain ... soaae nahin..."
Being jobless myself, I sought an explanation. Here's what ensued ...

me: to ab soo jao
11:07 Jami: he he
 me: y did u stay awake?
 Jami: i was workin
  on somethin
 me: hmm
11:08 u got some sort of magic power
  u were properly awake in afm
 Jami: arre
  dis is my fav subject
  how can i sleep
 me: mine 2
11:09 but i slept thru anyway
 Jami: he he
 me: maybe i need more practice
 Jami: no
  u jus need 2 focus
 me: well get some rest
 Jami: sleep
  is always under ur control
 me: m doing the same
11:10 Jami: u jus need 2 hold ur mind
 me: i doubt that
 Jami: jus dont let it stop thinkin
  and u wont fall asleep
  d moment u let it stop
  u sleep
 me: u r telling me the secret of atibala
  m going to post this on my blog
11:11 chow
 Jami: atibala?
 me: it's a mantra that vishwamitra taught to rama and lakshmana
  whi;le they were helping him
11:12 it enables one to be healthy without sleep
 Jami: ok
 me: they were taught another mantra
 Jami: see
 me: it's called bala
11:13 Jami: one doesnt need 2 read all mythology 2 know it
 me: guess its power
  i know
  just my preferred way
11:16 Jami: he he
  predferred way

My insomnia and ensuing somnolence in AFM class had got me thinking of the Ramayana. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of starting a series on it. So thank you Amrit for inspiring me, and get well soon (He's got a backache).

A Holiday Called Life

The things that we do, in the course of survival, are seldom questioned. It is our other-worldly pursuits, so to speak, that are brought under the scanner.
Life, says the philosopher, is what exists beyond the business of survival. When you are certain that you can make it through the day, the rest of the day is a holiday.
Welcome then, to the holiday called life.
The realm of the living is populated by many kinds of holidaymakers. Some are busmen, some are compulsive travellers. Others are lotus eaters, and perhaps still others who are unclassified.
Busmen are people who spend their holidays doing the same thing that they do for a living. They are addicted to the thrills, chills, and by that extension, the miseries of the game of survival. When they’ve beaten the wooden jungle, they create one out of concrete just for kicks. And then they lament about their misfortunes. Truly, life is wasted on these lily-livers.
Then there are the compulsive travellers. Their sole aim is to cover as much ground as possible. They have a simple belief – the journey is more important than the end. They care not about purpose, not even about pleasure. They believe that they have one life – and they intend to do it all in that period. And as you know, like velocity and time, grading is relative, and the travellers are only relatively better than the busmen.
But as far as holidaymakers go, in my opinion, the lotus eaters take the cake. They care neither about the arrow of time, nor the vagaries of space. They live in the here and now and are unaffected by the illusions of duality. Sins tempt them not, neither do virtues beguile them. They see the world not as it was, can or should be, but as it is. Only of these people can it be said with conviction – that life is not wasted on them.
So, is life wasted on living?
Well, it depends on the liver.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Me, in verse

What I do, wherefore and why,
I know not and the days go by,
Here that I am, whence did I come,
Where will I go, these are just some,
Queries that I have, and forsooth,
I won't flinch in the face of the truth.

When it's play, it's just that, a game,
But done for a living, it's not the same,
By the time I knew, my days were spent,
Upon my resolve, I had to repent,
Disgraced by the Monarch, and out of spite,
I left Sangraal for the Jesuits' light.

My hand, my pride, the place I reside,
I am within and beauty outside,
What I see, I get the same,
If I lose it, I am to blame,
Strange bedfellows, my mind and me,
An empty manger, not a place to be.

Karma with Karan

More in the dialogue form...

KPJ: What do you mean by duty? Who decides duty?

my humble opinion: No such thing as duty...

Survival requires us to do a lot of things, all of which affect us, our friends and family, our foes and our environment.There's simply one compulsion to do these things - either do them or die. Die now, or die later, or ...

Social functioning in humans, like in wolves and dolphins and other primates, is defined by a learnt code of conduct (COC). The COC simply lists those activities necessary for survival, and calls them duties. For example, in a baboon clan, the elders always feed first, so it is the duty of the younger members to wait/assist.
But that's not all. Individual clans also might have extra clauses in their COC, to serve as differentiator between clans.

Extrapolate this to humans. The original COC's were inevitably religious, but with the rise of religious pluralism and such circumstances, they became secular, and unique to a region or community. In course of time the 'differentiator clauses' turned into proper duties.

'Respect your parents, and care for them in their old age' is one such example (in my humble opinion). This clause has no evolutionary merit, as such, but is still considered a duty in the Orient (that includes us). Idea is, anyone who loves their parents will do this anyway, but there isn't any point compelling someone who doesn't. In the US, for example, old folks don't expect their children to take care of them, and usually bequeath their properties to the institution which does. The children don't expect otherwise. In India, in spite of this being deemed a duty and all, we observe the worst of both worlds.

KPJ: Emotions make us weak, cloud our judgement, force us to waste our time and energy - how do we escape them?

me: You don't.

There are two systems that coordinate everything we say or do, voluntary or otherwise. And they always, repeat, always work together. One's the endocrine system, other's the nervous. Both are headquartered in our brains, but in different regions. Emotions, largely governed by the former, are the tools of this decision making system. Not reasoning.

Emotions don't cloud your judgement or weaken you; they are the results of ages of evolution, and hold considerable survival value - or had held in the past. The reason they seem redundant sometimes, is that we have changed our environment much much faster than our brains had time to evolve to modify or discard them. Which is why most human COC's advocate control of certain emotion as a duty.

But it requires wisdom to distinguish between which 'duties', so to speak, have social/survival value, and which are not. So you shouldn't blindly stifle your emotions or do what is supposedly required of you.

KPJ: What stops us from doing what we want, especially at the expense of the others?

me: The transactional analysis theory is the simplest way of explaining it.

This theory talks about the human mind being divided into three overlapping sections - the parent, the adult and the child. It works like this: when we are children (or encounter a new experience, such as learning to drive a car), and any event happens, it is simultaneously recorded in two areas - one records the child's own emotions, reasoning, and reactions and the other records the emotions, reasoning, and reactions of the elders/dominating authorities involved in the event. The former record is the child, and the latter is the parent.
The child and the parent areas are also governors of certain traits, such as inquisitiveness/creativity and a dominating/nurturing tendency respectively.

When making a decision, inputs from both records are compared and the person's own discretion is used by the processor area, which is the adult. But this is the ideal case.

Sometimes, one of the records dominates, or is completely estranged from the decision-making process. For example, a typical religious fanatic does exactly as programmed in the parent, without taking inputs from the child or processing it in the adult. Such a person is technically said to be parent contaminated, and child estranged.

Needless to say, you'd have figured out that it is the parent that stops you from doing a lot of things. But the influence of this area can and should be overcome in the face of circumstances.
At any rate, it is my belief that even if the parent stops you from doing really dangerous stuff or makes you do stuff you really like to, it is wise to come up with logical adult-like reasons for doing/not doing those things.

Extra Info: Existentialism in a nutshell: Existentialists believe in the power of personal choices in determining destiny - this is all I gather.

...Like I always say, a story or two is worth tomes of theory. So I suggest you watch The Beautiful Mind, and if so inclined, read more about TA in 'I'm Ok, You're Ok'.

About KPJ
Karan Pankaj Jani is currently pursuing his BS in Astrophysics from the University of Pensylvania. He's known to be a friend in need, and for his propensity to ask beautiful questions. Watch out for his comments.