Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Monday, 7 November 2011
At the outset, materialism crumbles by the might of its own supposition: that scientific knowledge is the most eminent form of knowledge. Funnily though, till date, and in principle, there is no scientific method to verify or arrive at this claim. This in itself is reason enough to abandon such a seemingly conflicting belief. But the remaining statutes of the claim collapse under their own weight.
Perhaps the biggest bone of contention for a materialist would be the dichotomy of the mind and body. Unfortunately for them, their belief seems to be the anti-thesis of a fairly old intuition, of Descartes', called Cartesian dualism. Descartes came up with this theory in the 17th century, so that makes the antithesis also quite outdated . Cartesian dualism has itself been the source of a lot of mindless squid ink over the mind-body problem for centuries now. Reducing the mind to a supernatural entity was of course rather naive.
But this is no defense for those hapless materialists whose standard response to any proposition aiming to show the absurd proposition of identifying the brain/body with the mind is: "There is no place for your ectoplasm or spirit or supernatural ghost tripe in the head". Seems to me, these guys could learn from a simple maxim: The opposite of a non-truth is not the truth.
For one, there are many alternatives to Cartesian dualism that seems to allude that the mind is indeed beyond the brain or the body. One of the chief contenders for this could be Aristotlean Hylomorphism, but that's a different topic for another day.
But now to see why identifying the brain with the mind leads us to some insurmountable difficulties. Till date, there has been no coherent principle or theory in neuroscience backing this belief. The only empirical evidence is in the form of the largely dubious brain scans that purport to show that anything we call 'mind' is just certain 'activity' or neuronal firing in select areas of the brain. In other words, the neuronal firing is the thought/emotion/intention/belief (unless you're an eliminative materialist, for then you'd just say thoughts/emotions/intentions don't exist). If you think this is hardly controversial, perhaps the analogy may make it easier: it's like saying the footprint was the cause of the step. Our thoughts leave a trail in the 'physical' brain, but identifying the trail with the real thing is illogical, innit?
Other problems soon follow. What is mathematics in the light of all this? Our materialist has two options. Either he believes that mathematics is a property of the world, or it's a property of the mind. We can't really say it's a property of the universe because, it would seem this 'property' has been ascribed to it. And secondly, many, many fields of mathematics describe things that don't represent anything even remotely familiar in the known world. Complexity theory, the Mandelbrot set, value of Pi. There are more irrational numbers than rational ones. Scientists deal with imaginary numbers all the time. So where does mathematical knowledge come from, if its subject matter is only internal? Some mathematicians like Roger Penrose still do not rule out a Platonic realm of mathematics from where we access these truths.
The other option then, is, that mathematics is all in the mind.
Now, why neuroscientists of the materialist stripe swallow this tripe is clearly obvious. For anyone who believes that matter and energy are all that's there, this is a textbook case of applying the Occam's razor.
Let's take mathematics. If mathematics depends on the mind, and if you put them in the same ontological category, it would seem that mathematics does not exist without the mind. The matter-hatters commit a mindless blunder when they reduce mind to matter. Thoughts, intentionality, meaning and qualia -- any way to explain them as a physical property leads to circular reasoning. Applying reductio ad absurdum, let's say all our thoughts, desires, intentions, beliefs and feelings are a result of complex neuronal firing and hormonal sloshings. If this be the case, it wouldn't even make sense to believe this reasoning, since belief just is another firing of the neurons and how on earth is it supposed to have any truth value? The materialist is then forced to concede that meanings and beliefs are an illusion. Just short of digging his own grave.
The other intriguing property of thoughts, intentions and qualia is that they are irreducible. The colour red is red. There is no simpler constituent that makes up the colour. Red is just the 'qualitative feeling' we experience when subjected to electromagnetic radiation of a certain length (700 nm). The same goes for beliefs and intentionality. They cannot be reduced any further. Our thoughts are always 'about' something, even 'about' other thoughts. The aboutness cannot be simplified further because a thought about a cat just is about a cat. It might lead to other thoughts about cat-related things. But the specific thought about the cat, or for that matter anything else, cannot be reduced to anything simpler.
Another crucial wench in the materialist worldview is: if our beliefs are just brain-states or an electro-chemical property of the brain, then even the 'belief' that beliefs are brain-states will be another brain-state. One would be hard pressed to infer a truth value from a brain-state. Do the ripples in the lake have truth value?
But that's not even the biggest hole in naturalist thinking. It is this: If brain-states have any truth value, it would seem that truths originate in the brain, corresponding to a particular state. In that case, mathematical truths would have no independent existence without the brain. If the naturalist, or materialist, holds that mathematical truths are independent of the brain, is there a mathematical realm where they exist, beyond the physical world? If so, why shouldn't there be necessary truths that transcend the physical world? If these truths can be accessed by the mind, there exist in the mind certain truths that have a non-physical origin.
Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Monday, 21 September 2009
Thursday, 10 September 2009
A harmless but nonetheless obnoxious malady has been plaguing our species for quite some time now. By species, of course, I mean man. Ah, but not man as in Homo Sapiens, because that epithet is considered too politically incorrect these days. I refer to the actual man, the chromosome Y; the stronger sex, the alpha male, the testosterone-laden stud, the impatient shopper, the beer-guzzling couch-potato, if you please.
Alas now, this malady has acquired epidemic proportions and is threatening to wipe out the very existence of man.
The initial symptoms seemed innocuous enough. We saw the signs in language at first - replace chairman with chairperson, spokesman with spokesperson, mankind with humankind. And it doesn’t quite stop there. Efforts are being made to update our vocabulary even further. So expect words like personhole, boogie-person, hitperson etc, to pop up in common parlance. So much so that David Letterman, under immense pressure from certain quarters, is contemplating changing his last name to Letterperson!
Now for the epidemic - the male gene is actually going to disappear; If not tomorrow, then about a thousand generations from now. And then recently, in a remarkably rash instance of clubbing one’s own foot, leg and thigh, some scientist casually announced to the world that he’d found a way to produce sperm artificially. Professor Karim Nayernia of the
The research was received with welcome arms by some vested interests. The finding could very well be one of the last nails on the masculine coffin... A distant utopian dream of a world without males. These vested interests, by the way, are called feminists. The lesser important thing, however, is that the research was actually conducted in the interests of sterile men who need to sprout branches on their family trees.
But can we prematurely blame someone for the not-so-distant-future extermination of the male species? We’d ideally like to blame the bra-burning feminists (though we didn’t really mind it when they burnt the bras), the wives, the mothers, and the girlfriends who may nag us into extinction. Or should we blame the society which reserved everything for its women, or the women themselves who took over positions of power and became feminists? But as much as we’d like to blame the feminists, it wasn’t actually them. Ironic yes, but it may just be clinching evidence that God is indeed male and he is trying to take out the competition. Either that or he is a closet feminist!
Or, it could very well have been just good old science.
Look at the simple facts - each of our cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes. Twenty two of them are matched pairs which both men and women share, but in men, the 23rd pair is made of an X and Y chromosome. The latter determines masculinity - the same genes necessary for forming testes and sperm, but above all, also necessary for less shopping, less irritability and enough patience to lose infinite arguments.
The problem, however, is that the chromosome Y is a lone ranger and does not have a matching pair. And worse still, it’s rapidly shedding genes. Around a hundred million years ago, chromosome Y carried about 140,000 genes. Now, there are only 45 left. It goes something like this - Every time a cell divides, some mistakes (mutations) creep into the paired chromosomes. But the cell can always get the correct sequence from the other chromosome. Though not on the Y chromosome. Because unlike women, instead of living with the mistakes, the Y chromosome promptly deletes them over time - to create the perfect man! And scientists believe it’s this process that is eliminating the man.
Scientists say that things seemed to be going all hunky dory till about 100 million years ago when the Y chromosome stepped up the plate and took on the added responsibility of creating males. And in this quest for perfection, it is doomed to whittle itself away slowly and await a martyr’s fate.
Although this did give birth to unarguably the best and most advanced race in the world, it also means that chromosome Y, much like Bruce Willis in Armageddon, is going to go down in the line of duty. And unless women find a way to reproduce among themselves or learn to harvest some of the last living males as batteries for reproductive purposes in a rather warped take on Matrix – it may just mean the end of sexual reproduction as well.
So, what does a world without males look like? One can imagine a whole sea of (lesbian) humanity writhing and cussing and PMS-ing at any given point of time in a month. Imagine a world without beer, or worse still, hairy-fairies guzzling beer and watching other hirsute fairies play football ( a reversal of the research that shows drinking beer can make men effeminate). Imagine a world without sex, much like Charlotte Perkins’ Herland, where women reproduce asexually. Where shaving cream and razor will be used only to shave legs and armpits. Or will they even bother with that? Where cars will always break down, accidents become du jour, and parking a physical impossibility? And best of all, there’ll be no man to be blamed for anything that goes wrong. Ah...not such a bad fate then.
Only sad thing is we won’t be around to enjoy that great all-male fantasy - en masse woman on woman action.
Monday, 17 August 2009
He had scraped some of the tar and eaten it. Which made his stomach swell. It was so bad, he said he'd rather watch his sister die than give her some of that road pulp.
They asked him several questions, but he had no clue how they ended up in this place. He mumbled something about being sedated by a cattle trader. Then they started using the terror tactics.
His sister was brought in front of the camel, to be trampled underfoot, in front of his very own eyes. It was while trying to save her that the camel bit him.
I asked him what happened to the sister. He looked unperturbed, much like someone who's gone off the rocker and doesn't realise what he's lost, or what he's been through. He only knows events that brought him to the edge of sanity. Not a moment's worth of recollection more. And the camel bite was probably when he'd lost his sanity. From then on, he'd started regressing. His voice became that of a crackled teenager's. Or, according to some rumour, he'd had his bollocks removed out of spite just because his father didn't let him marry the girl he loved.
But even though he was regressing back to childhood, his features were increasingly getting older. He wore the expression of a 40-year-old man, even though he was only 29 at the time. With callouses on his palms, saltnpepper beard and scaly, bunion infested feet, he reminded me of a caricature uncle. Someone who amused kids to bits, and was naive enough to earn the trust of the ever suspicious parents.
He'd announce his arrival from hundreds of yards away. There was a peculiar way he held the side of his palm to his mouth and let out this carnivalesque horn. No one could produce that sound. It was louder than a truck siren, and longer than a train horn. It began from a low note, a rumble that'd climb till you could hear the vocal chords vibrating furiously with the soft flesh of the hand. That siren was another reason he was popular with the kids.
I can think of one more reason. He could eat any amount of chilli. And I’m not talking about heavily spiced food. He could eat, bite into and chew the hottest chilli in the world like it was a beanstring. And boasting about it almost always worked as an ice-breaker with the kids. He’d recount triumphant tales of when such and such person challenged him into eating a teaspoonful of red chilli powder. And he’d taken one teaspoon, polished it clean and then scooped another heap into his mouth, like it was milk powder.
And when you prodded him enough, he’d say there was no secret or trick to it. “I was born in a chilli”, he’d laugh maniacally. He’d then proceed to explain the obsession had caught on much early. From childhood, he’d started eating green chillis with a dash of salt. And soon it was just chillis. It never caused any awful reaction in his system. Ever.
He worked at a solar observatory. It was the only one in the country, he'd boast. And it was situated in the middle of a lake. So kids would go absolutely nuts about the journey to his office, which had to be undertaken in a boat. The observatory was a cylindrical building with a rotating dome at the top. The first time I entered it, the dome rotated a couple of degrees, at which point the pigeons nestling there took flight. That gave me a sudden jolt. And he laughed, wickedly. In fact, he found it so amusing that he came back and recounted the tale with sadistic pleasure to my mum.
"He was calm throughout the boat ride, you know, but you should have seen the look on his face when the telescope moved!!" he'd cry with a rasp, hoarse, maniacal laugh.
But there were certain things even his affected mind knew would be anathema to talk about. Like how I had almost died the day I went with him to his office in the lake. The disaster that had been averted just in time. Apparently, while getting off the boat, I'd calmly stepped into the water, thinking it was the dock. The water was some 30 feet deep there, and I fell with an unceremonious splash. He jumped in to save me. He was always saving people and getting into trouble. But thankfully though this time, the moor and the rope were right next to us. And he'd had the good sense to grab it right before jumping in. We never mentioned the incident to anyone.
I spent the afternoon sitting in the lawns of the observatory, warming my body and drying my clothes. I hated it. I'd been pretty desperate to check out the observatory, peer through the gigantic telescope and see the spots on the sun. Now I had to content myself with only soaking it up.
After taking a mighty swig from the jug full of chai, he asked me whether I could join him for buying some poultry. A chicken farm, he promised me would be exciting.
We cycled off to the farm. And he showed me how the hens were kept inside the coop, and their feed sprinkled through a mechanical device. I watched the hens roosting peacefully, totally oblivious to their suitors. We were looking for the one with the right amount of flesh. Not too swollen, “because it’d taste like a potato”, he’d say. And not too skinny either. There are 5 people eating it, remember?
A moderately sized chicken was chosen, but we had to go the main entrance to get the butcher guy who’d make her ready. Before that we went exploring the farm. There some dogs lying about in the sun, watching us but not quite. He looked at me with a wild grin and said he was going to give the dog a cup of coffee. I burst out laughing. The imagery was so funny: a guy offering a cup of coffee to a dog. I was still laughing when he picked up the stone and hit me in the head. It was so sudden, and so blinding, there was hardly any pain. I could see the events unfolding, and knew it was going to hurt. But like in a dream, I just couldn't move; I didn't even want to move, and I didn't feel the pain. I really didn't. It was fun, except that I don't remember what happened next.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
I went hunting for the ingredients. I'm desisting from using the word shop, because that's way too emasculating. But then it occurred to me, only ladies would go to such lengths to 'get' ingredients for dessert. I altered my plans a little bit. I needed to make some other thing that would be a great excuse to go foraging for dessert ingredients. So I went hunting for some meat, a rather adventurous thing at this hour, considering I had very little moolah and only a cubbyhole butcher shop to buy it from. But I like hunting for meat this way. And for today's efforts, it gives a rough edge to the whole deal.
So I asked for an under-cut piece of pork. If you're in my city you'll soon realise this is a highly coveted piece. Most of the stock gets over because crony floozies from restaurants across town will flock here to handpick the best cuts early in the morning, even before the swine has bled its last drop. Luckily for me today, though, they had a piece left.
Normally I like conversing with the butcher. About how fresh the meat is and what different kind of cuts there are. Today though, he seemed amnesiac; a puzzled face that pretended to not know what he was doing. Most of all, I heard him tell his assistant to not wear that shirt to work. This annoyed the life out of me. This butcher, with the enormous shoulders and beefy arms wielding a gigantic meat cleaver, was beginning to look like a little pansy. I like my butchers hardfaced and stone-hearted; how else would they do justice to their jobs? Tenderness in a butcher is anathema to his profession.
I grunted at him to quickly carve me some pieces of chops. I think he got the hint. In a ruthless-but-deft stroke, he hacked the chops out, much to my heart's content. I handed him the money, in exchange for the meat. I walked out. There was a fish market up ahead. I like fish, but only the ones I've caught. So I gave the market a pass. Next to the fish market were these vegetable shacks. They sell fruits out there as well. I bought some peppers to go with the steak. Also some mushrooms, beans, leeks, courgettes, cherry tomatoes and chillies. Also an avocado for a side salad. I was on my way to buying the ingredients for the dessert, when it hit me. The smell... It was so real that I lost my bearings for a second. I'll tell you why. If you sniff carefully, hovering somewhere in this market, at a point where the fruit, vegetable, meat and fish stalls intersect, is a place that smells exactly ........like a woman's netherland. Making a mental note of the spot, I left for home.
I marinated the pork chunks in soya sauce for half an hour. Before adding a dash of rosemary, I rubbed crushed garlic on the meat. Then proceeded to pan-sear the meat, first, and then the vegetables. They say when garlic and butter come together, a chef is born somewhere. I'd say when you add rosemary to the mix, all the sins a chef has committed in his lifetime are forgiven by heaven above. Once the meat is seared and sizzled golden on both sides, take it out and add chopped vegetables. That's it. Stir fry and it's done.
It was awesome, to say the least. Now the excuse for a male chauvinistic dessert over, I proceeded to actually make it. Crushed some hobnob cookies to a fine crumble, and after adding a lavish portion of melted butter, set it in the dessert tray. I put it in the fridge, to make the base firm, and now focused on the condensed milk to make toffee out of. Boiled it for hours, and after layering the cookie crust (now out of the fridge) with split bananas, ran the toffee solution over it. Added whipped cream and shaved chocolate flakes on top and we're ready.
Now if you wish, you can pour the vodka on top of it. It'll taste like shit, but you can have dessert like a man.