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Everything is Same as Nothing.


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I read an interesting article on a physics related website. About Scientists studying behavior of matter, atoms and such, at extremely high temperature. There is a way the atoms distribute themselves on different energy levels. A particular pattern called Boltzmann distribution.

A weird thing happens at infinitely high temperature. This distribution, this pattern gets inverted. And it almost looks like….. extremely low temperature.

So the matter, when heated to extremely high temperature looks like it is cooled to extremely low temperature.

A paradox indeed. But not infrequently this paradox morphs in our lives.

For example, sometimes I think, more is less. Or having everything is same as nothing. Or being richest person in the world might be in some ways similar to being poorest one.

Consider “more is less”. Say you own one object that provides pleasurable experience. You value that experience and thus your value of that object depends on the quality of experience it provides to you.

Now add another object. Adding one object adds positive value to your overall experience because you have one more way of enjoying life. But then there is added logistics that comes with every new object. Keeping them working, keeping them handy so you can find them when you desire, and so on. Work gets added. That is negative value.

As you go on adding objects faster and faster, any incremental positive value starts diminishing. Because there is only so much time you have in a day, so your positive experiences have upper limit. But your negative value, the overhead of maintaining and organizing all the objects goes on increasing exponentially.

In fact at some point the overhead starts taking so much of your time that you are not left with time to enjoy the objects you own.

And soon comes a point where you own everything but you enjoy nothing. It’s as if you don’t own any objects that can give you pleasure.

Not looking at the books and accounting, but if you looked at it from the point of cognitive impact, owning everything becomes same as owning nothing.

Sometimes I think life, more like the experience of life, is like a circle more than line.

Eternal life is same as eternal death. Owning everything is like owning nothing. Ultimate pain is ultimate joy. Infinity is same as zero. Perfect success is same as perfect failure.

Best to go on with an open mind.

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Advaita Vedanta and Quantum Physics


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Advaita Vedanta is a theory in Indian philosophy, literaly translated as Non Duality. The Sanskrit word Advaita is made of a two parts “dvaita’, meaning duality (notice the similarity between the words dvaita and duality, which points to relation of Sanskrit to Latin as part of Indo European family), and the negating prefix “A”.

At it’s core, the philosophy states that when the two beings, or two entities are deemed separate, the separation is only matter of perception. And the underlying entity that makes up both those things, and the forms the perception as well, is the same. The same entity, nameless, faceless, is responsible for all creation in this universe.

To put in sort of mathematical statement, when we think

1 + 1 = 2

Advaita says

1 entity + sense of being two = 2 entities

On a spiritual level, it means me and you and anyone, are animated by the same spiritual energy. Sort of like that spiritual energy having multiple personality disorder. However it would be wrong to use the word disorder here because disorder usually makes functional life impossible but in this case, this spiritual energy displaying multiple personalities makes the very life possible. Also unlike a human showing multiple personalities one after another, for this spiritual energy, multiple personalities can exist at the same time.

Advaita philosophy proposes a radical shift in perception. It moves, the very foundation  of humanity, the identity or the distinction between identities, into an abstract notion. So on some plane of existence, the differences between you and me are abstract, or a thought, or a dream, and you and me are one existence on that plane.

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Quantum physics is the branch of science that deals with atomic and subatomic level. The more we are studying quantum physics, the more things we find that straight fly in face of our intuition. Take for example the phenomena of entanglement. If you take a bundle of energy and make two particles from it, those particles somehow show some relation to one another. When you do something to affect one particle, the other particle instantaneously shows a response. As if they have a connection.

What if we separate the particle? That does not seem to make difference. You can separate them by a large distance, but the connection remains. When you “tickle” one particle, the other one “giggles”. And the tickle and giggle seem to happen instantaneously.

This is impossible according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Nothing in this universe should travel at a speed faster than light. If tomorrow moon suddenly doubles in size, it’s gravitational pull will increase on earth. But that gravitational impact will also travel at speed of light, not faster than that. It will take some time before earth feels increased gravity.

So what kind of communication signal is transmitted between the particles that travels faster than speed of light? Not just faster than speed of light, it seems to travel at infinite speed, many many times that of the light. The very best measurement instruments on earth tried to measure this speed and still they could not. The tickle and giggle happens at very exact same moment.

So could it be that on another level of existence, the energy that makes up these particles is concrete but the space around them is an abstraction? As if the particles are one on a level but then some abstraction manifests itself as space and shape the differentiation between the two particles? So in a nutshell,

1 entity + sense of spacial differentiation = 2 entities?

Could the Quantum physics and Advaita converge into similar insight, one from material world and another from spiritual world, that we are all one under the cloak of duality?

Consciousness and Second law of Thermodynamics


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I have wondered in the past (and guess written an article somewhere on my blog) about how coming across Heisenberg uncertainty made me think that this is the first time science, especially hard science like particle physic, has brushed against the boundary of human consciousness. The more and more uncertainty is explored, especially with experiments like Wheeler delayed choice experiment, it seems to me that what creates the paradoxes that throw our intuition a curved ball is the presence of conscious observer, or more generally introduction of consciousness in the experiment. The very fact that someone is watching that experiment changes outcome of that experiment.

So Heisenberg Uncertainty principle made us confront the fact that there is consciousness in the universe, which is trying to know the universe.

Is there any other law that has come close to this area before?

I think yes. I think the second law of thermodynamics has actually come across this problem before. When consciousnes is introduced, we get into a territory that the law may or may not apply.

Second law of thermodynamics is expressed by various scientists, but I like the Uhlenbeck and Ford statement – ” In an irreversible or spontaneous change from one equilibrium state to another (as for example the equalization of temperature of two bodies A and B, when brought in contact) the entropy always increases.”

Seems rather obvious, well researched and proven beyond doubt, right? Where does the question of consciousness come here?

Aha, the word “sponteneous” is the key here. The author of this statement is acknowledging sponteneous change is the boundary. That means non sponteneous changes, such as those performed by an entity exerting its willpower, are not under the jurisdiction of the law.

This is what we clearly see. Take a ball and throw it on a slope and it will roll downhill. But a human being can push the ball up the slope. So take a state of the ball before being human started pushing up and after human done pushing up. The ball has gained energy through intervention of human consciousness.

Could the ball have gone up by itself? Yes, perhaps in case of some kind of magnetic field, or something like that. But in that case, the gain in one form of energy would come only at the cost of some other form of energy.

So if we consider the ball as a system, isolated from its environment and also excluded is the actor who can push or pull, the ball can undergo increase in entropy that cannot be explained by any of the physical properties of the ball. If there are 10 balls and a human is asked randomly to pick a ball and move it upwards so it gains potential energy, then the gain in that particular ball’s height cannot be explained by it’s physical properties alone. It can be only explained when taken into account human intention.

So consciousness can in fact result in increase entropy of a particular subsystem in the universe (but not that of the universe as a whole). Thus exposing boundaries of second law of thermodynamics.

Problem with the June 18 TR survey that concluded “India is the most dangerous country for women.”


A bit of break from mindfulness and philosophy today. I have been wanting to write this article for almost a month, but something kept coming and it got pushed back. Finally here it is. The subject furor has died down, so this might be a good time to take a calmed down look.

Almost a month back, a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters foundation ranked India the most dangerous country in the world behind some of the worst war torn countries like Syria and some of the most oppressive countries like Saudi Arabia.

Predictably this report caused quite a stir. When the government reacted to this survey by casting doubts, there was outrage from certain sections claiming this was equivalent to “shooting the messenger”.

The survey findings simply do not make sense and the tendency to cast doubts on intentions and integrity of anyone who dares to question the conclusion is even more troubling.

First, arguing against this survey and its conclusion is not same as shooting the messenger. Nobody has tried to stop the message from being reported. Some people and government have tried to send out a counter message and they are justified in doing so. Raising a different opinion is definitely not the same as killing the first message or messenger. Thus getting outraged at any attempt to question this survey conclusion is display of “you are either with us or against us” mentality. To put it bluntly, that is an act of extreme arrogance.

Second, just because someone disagrees with the particular statement “India is the most dangerous country for women” does not mean that that person denies any existence of danger to women whatsoever in India. Neither it means that the doubter advocates ceasing to take any action to make women safer in India.

No one disagrees that we have a problem. No one disagrees that need to do things to make women safer. But we must know the exact severity of the problem. We live in a world with limited resources and we have to prioritize actions. If we blindly accept that “woman’s safety” is the most important problem and divert all the resources there, only to find that the child mortality numbers shoot up because that problem needed much serious attention, that would be a disaster.

Coming back to the survey. The more you read about it, the stranger it sounds. The survey was conducted by Thomson Reuters foundation. It selected 759 so called “experts” for interview, out of which 548 responded, out of which 41 were Indian. There is not enough clarity about how they were selected, how they were interviewed, and what what questions were asked and how the responses were interpreted. All it says that these people were surveyd for their “perceptions”. From all that is available to know, it looks like dangerously flawed methodology, especially polling the “perception” part.

Herein lies the main problem. Perceptions are often more rooted in individual judgments and individual expectations. They can be far removed from ground reality. In India, there exists a large number of elite intelligentsia that is morbidly obsessed with negative image of the country. This obsession comes less from the in depth research or field work. It comes more from the internalized fears that create strong mental bias.

Another thing to keep in mind is often the conclusion such as this suffers from a paradox. The case in point is “Project Innocence” in USA. It was a group trying to prove innocence of rape convicts who were convicted wrongly decades ago. Using on modern techniques such as DNA testing, a lot of these rape verdicts were overturned and innocent people who were jailed for decades were set free.
A large number of overturned rape convictions were from the state of Texas and everyone was pointing fingers at Texas for being the state with shoddy prosecution. Then someone dug deeper and realized that the reason for high numbers from Texas was entirely different. Evidence records are preserved for different periods of times in different states and only in Texas most of the evidence records were stored indefinitely. That means a lot more older DNA evidence was available to challenge and overturn the verdict in Texas which was not available in other states. High number of overturned verdicts were from Texas simply because Texas preserved DNA evidence in old cases and other states did not.

Similarly in a democratic country that allows lot of freedoms (Yes India still allows a lot more freedom than many other places in the world and most concerns are again a matter of perception. But that is different topic altogether), the probability of negative voice being raised is far more than a country which has a lot poorer track record than India but actively suppresses dissent. Press freedom is a good deed that never goes unpunished. (Just to be clear, this is not an argument against press freedom as pros of press freedom far outweigh its cons. It’s just matter of fact statement that short term consequences of press freedom are not always positive for someone who intends to guard it.)

One thing is abundantly clear. This survey did not use any data whatsoever. As many people have pointed out at many places, India ranks somewhere in the middle when it comes to statistics on condition of women. This includes number of reported crimes against women, or other directly available numbers. It’s true that numbers like sexual crimes are often under reported. But there is absolutely no reason to think that this under reporting is specific to India and not applicable to other countries equally.

A quick look at the articles dealing with actual data on this issue is enough to prove the point. A Livemint article analyzed data from demographics and health serveys (DHS) conducted throughout the developing world and found that the incidence of crimes against women in India is actually lower for in India than that in many other countries for which the data is available. Out of 43 countries for which data is available, India ranks 32nd. Not just that but the survey data showed that the incidence of such crimes is declining over period. The number of women who face sexual violence at any point in their life has gone down from 8.5% to 6% from 2005-06 to 2015-16. India does rank high when it comes to the perpetrator being known to the woman, towards the top. That may increase the chances of the crime going unreported. But the difference between top and bottom ranks is this category is rather narrow thus reducing the chance of this rank causing major statistical difference.

I am not at all against publishing negative or critical news if it is rooted in facts. But merely good intentions and fear, even legitimate one, should not be used to justify a wrong conclusion. And merely questioning an alarm sounding news should not be result that questioner having to defend their intentions and character.

The Best Leaders Are Those Their People Hardly Know Exist


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“The best leaders are those their people hardly know exist.
The next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst one is the leader that is despised

The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When they have accomplished their task,
the people say, “Amazing!
We did it, all by ourselves!”

This is what Tao De Jing, an ancient Chinese book has to say about leadership.

While the lines 2,3,4, are fairly clear, I have often wondered what does the first line mean. The second part builds on the first line and takes it even forward.

Why would the best quality leaders be not recognized at all? Let alone be recognized for their leadership, the poem suggest they might not even get acknowledgment for their existence.

 

Then one day it struck me.

Consider a scenario where a leader is leading a bunch of people through a jungle.

Now Leader A might notice the predator from 100 meters distance and try to steer the course away. By that time the followers also noticed the predator and realize that the leader has noticed the predator and is leading them to safety.

Leader B might notice the predator from 1000 meters distance and will try to steer the course away from the predator. The followers might not notice the predator or the course correction.

In second case, the leader B excels in his or her foresight compared to leader A. Yet his or her followers actually are less likely to notice the qualities of their leader. Those followers will never know that there was any danger at all and thus will never appreciate the steering away as an act of great foresight.

This opens up a classic paradox. Sometimes on face an less-than-ordinary person might look same as extraordinary person. Sometimes signs of great success are same as signs of great failure.

All around us, the world is ripe with potential to give us this cognitive dissonance – situations where we come to wrong conclusion because we lack contextual knowledge, not because we lack analytical ability.

So many times the cognitive impact on our life is drastically different from material impact. We may not even be aware of those who changed or saved our life. On the other hand, we obsess about those who could vanish in thin air and our life will continue with a barely noticeable hiccup.

Nothing write or wrong. Such is human mind.

The Thought Is Enough


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In my meditation practice, recently I came across a quite stunning, well stunning at least for me, realization. I noticed that the thought is enough to make me believe it. The thought carries with itself a bundle of energy. That energy has emotional justifications, references to selective events corroborating the thought and everything else necessary to make us belief the thought.

A thought “I am useless” carries with it all the memories of your failures, your desire to criticize yourself. The same way the thought “I am invincible” carries with it the memory of your victories and self love or ego massage.

For the most part, the relationship we have with the thoughts is binary.

We are either sitting in this ball of energy, making ourselves believe the thought, setting the stage for the next thought, where again we will sit inside this energy and continue believing thoughts.

Or we are completely unaware of the thought. It has slipped from our consciousness.

In meditation, we have a third relationship with the thought. We are watching this thought energy from outside the thought. We are aware of it, but yet not consumed by it. This is the relationship with thoughts that is goldmine for insights. This is where we see the thought for what it is.

The thought is just a creative expression of the mind. It is not the truth. It has amazing power to selectively blind ourselves and seem like a truth. But it is not the truth.

 

The Joy Of Renunciation


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On one of my walks listening podcasts of Joseph Goldstein, I heard him say “The Joy Of Renunciation”. It caught my attention. Because we think of renunciation, denying something to yourself, controlling your mind, as a painful exercise.

Could there be joy in not having something you want?

As JG says, the renunciation, choice of not pursuing our desires, is not part of our social value any more. We take pride in being the connoisseur, someone who has discerning taste and being someone who is passionate enough to follow through on that desire. We love to stand in line for things we desire. If we have nothing to desire, we love to browse through catalogs to find something. When we say “I have to have it”, we fall in love with ourselves. It’s almost like without desires and pursuits, we feel lost.

But their lies a paradox. Often the cost of pursuit is not worth the fulfillment. The door to this understanding is mindfulness.

In one of my recent mindful success stories, I was craving something sweet. It was somewhat late evening. But I knew of a place that would be open and I could have some sweets.

During mindful moment, I was able to notice subtle changes in my body and mind that happened when I made my decision that I am going to go out and have something sweet. There was slight tension, tightening in my body with the thought that the journey involves me getting out of my house, driving, parking, perhaps standing in line. There was also some discomfort caused by the subliminal thought that every time I give in to the craving, I acknowledge that I am powerless in front of my temptations.

Then came the mindful moment that the temptation was subsiding, without acting on it. And with that came this moment of lightening. Sort of what the tree must feel when  snow on the branch collapses and the branch springs back from the loaded state to the natural, free, light state.

The lightness came from the realization that I have a choice. I have a choice, either to act on my craving and fulfilling it or being mindful and watching it fade. The choice of being mindful does not involve driving, parking, etc. Also that choice does not make me feel powerless in front of my temptations. Nor does being mindful involve exertion of my willpower, a struggle between desire to indulge and desire to restrain. It’s just like opening the door and realizing “Aha! So this is how it works.”

And thus it brings an soft, not acute, sense of joy. The joy of renunciation.

Buddha had once said “I did not gain anything from the supreme awakening. That’s why it is called supreme awakening.” Paradoxical as it may sound, it is profound truth. Even for the joy of renunciation. One’s sense of self does not gain anything from this joy. That’s why it is far higher quality of joy.