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Quantum Identity


Before some days I read about a quantum experiment. Scientists were able to separate a particle from it’s properties and send the particle via one route and the property via another route till they merged at some point again. The most commonly cited anology was that of a Cheshire cat from the story Alice in wonderland. In that story the cat vanishes but it’s smile remains visible.

Another poor anology was cited at some other places was that of an airline passenger being separated from his luggage. I don’t think that’s appropriate because luggage is not the property of the passenger.

I think the more appropriate example is, let’s say if someone was able to separate your height from you and pack it in a box. Until that box opened, no one would be able to know your height. You travel via some route and the box travels via another route. On the way, no one is able to measure your height until you are separated from the box. But once you reach the destination and the box arrives as well via different route, you open the box and voila! Now suddenly you and everyone around you can know your height.

That sounds bizzare, right? Welcome to the world of quantum mechanics.

Now that makes me think. What if we separate multiple properties of the particle. What if we separate all observable properties of the particle and send all the properties by route A and the particle without properties by route B. What is really traveling by route B? Does the particle have any existence without all it’s properties? What is a particle if it does not have mass, volume, density, speed, etc. etc.?

If I see one particle here and if I see another exactly same particle there, all I know is that they have same observable properties. But what is beyond these properties that is same or different?

Applying the same logic, if I see a friend pass me on my way to work, and if I see exactly the same person pass me again a little further down, I will conclude that the second one cannot be my friend. May be his look alike. Because my friends already passed by me some time back. But if I cannot rely on observable properties to be associated with their owner, what is really same in same things? And what is really different in different things? If a particle’s identity cannot be fixed, how can we fix the identity of things made of such particles?

I pin the external identity to observable properties. I pin the internal identity (which I am only able to experience for myself) on a state of consciousness that contains continuity of memories. Since I can never know anyone elses’ consciousness, what am I left with if I don’t have properties to rely on?

It’s just an identity crisis on a whole new dimension.

May be I understand quantum mechanics. Or may be I don’t. :) :)

Immigrant’s Guilt – When Love Masks as Hate


“Can you believe that story in newspaper? Every time I read something like that, I don’t want to go back to India.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this remark. In coffee shops, at water coolers, on online forums and so on. The news in question changes. The ultimate conclusion remains the same. “I don’t want to go back to India.”

I always felt there is more to these words than what seems on face. Then one day I read about immigrant’s guilt. The sense of guilt and shame an immigrant person feels. I have always felt that. But I always thought they were my personal feelings. I never thought they are so broadly shared. It makes sense in retrospect that this feeling is so common.

This reminds me of an cognitive dissonance experiment I read a while back. Some researchers made a group of people do a boring job for a while. Then the group who did this job, were told to lie to other group and tell them that the job was exciting. The first group was paid to lie. Different people were paid different amounts.

What was funny was, those who were paid least were most likely to lie very forcefully and convincingly. Those who were paid more were less forceful in lying. Isn’t it ironic? If you are paid more to lie, shouldn’t you feel more incentivised to lie emphatically? No. If you are paid enough, your mind has a rational justification for lying and lying feels less conflicted. If you are not even paid properly, your feeling while lying are very conflicted and you are more likely to make yourself believe your lie to minimize the conflict and thus result in more forceful lying.

The same principle is applicable here. If you are immigrating from a war torn country, you are at peace with your own decision of immigrating. But if you are coming from a reasonably stable country, you feel more conflicted about immigrating and you are more likely to highlight the negative aspects of your home country and reinforce them in your mind, so as to justify your own immigration to yourself, so as to cope with your conflict.

But there is something unfair about these comments. We should face up to the feelings of guilt and conflict upfront and work on them constructively. We should not hide behind the coping mechanisms. We should admit that the more negative we feel, it’s because stronger the conflict. The conflict is strong because we have a strong bond with our motherland. So in a very ironic way, the more critical our comments are about our motherland, the more love we have felt. It’s love masking as hate.

Happy Birthday America!


What does American Independence day mean for someone like me?

For me, its not so much about Patriotism. I wasn’t born here. I like this country. I have lived here long time. I am still not a citizen. There is a long and rigorous process to get there. America wants to make sure I am worth granting the citizenship. That is perfectly alright. It’s just that if America wants to keep open an option of kicking me out, then even I will try not to get too attached here. But that’s hardly an issue for day to day life. I can do pretty much everything an American does.

My very first introduction to the word America was perhaps when I was few years old and my uncle got me a book of picture of trains. Nice looking trains passing through mountains. Someone told me that it is America. Since then me and my sister thought America was name of the train.

Then at some point Mickey mouse entered our life but we didn’t know he was American. Because he spoke Hindi on Indian TV. Also we didn’t care. At that age the ideas of nations and nationalities were not fully grasped. All we knew was he was funny and so were the other characters he hung out with.

Then later it was Pop music and Holleywood movies. Before we knew America had entered our life.

Fast forward few years. I was boarding a plance to USA.

I moved here mostly for practical concerns. Good standard of life, etc. My journey was not as dramatic as some others. But still it was very dramatic and anxiety provoking for me. But as of today, my respect and love for America is not even for this practical matter. Well it is in part, but not the majority part.

I wasn’t planning to live here. Part of me is still unsure.

But with what I saw and learned here, made me a better person. It was here that I

Alan Watts has said “You should learn about another culture not because anything is lacking in your culture, but because unless you learn about some other culture, you don’t understand the basic assumptions you are making about your own.”

Over the years I have come to know and question a lot of basic assumptions about my home country, my own religion and myself. Over the years I have developed more mature, more balanced perspective on this world. And America and American values have contributed to this inner journey immensely.

That’s why I am thankful to America. My gratitude is for things that are far less dramatic, far less tangible, but far more pervasive and far deep and enriching in my life.

This is pretty good country with lot of friendly people. When Americans mean racial equality or individual freedom, they mean it. Obviously they are not perfect. But they mean those things more than other people who say similar things.

To all my good American friends. Cheers !! Long live USA.

When Guns Are In Law, Gun Are The Law


There is one famous phrase in America, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns”.

Churchill once said that “Lie gets halfway around the world before truth manages to put its pants on.” He was absolutely right. Lie can indeed get around the world if it can ride a catchy phrase, like “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns”. I have seen too many arguments hijacked by this catchy phrase and turned a very important subject, which makes life and death difference to some, into a reality show. Just to bring back the rationality of the argument in such cases, I am going to throw a new one in here.

When guns are in law, guns are the law.

Let me be clear at the beginning. I am not against guns. I do think guns have a place in society. In fact I think my home country, India has too tight laws that need to be relaxed and make guns access more easy. However, like all other things, guns are best used in moderation and it makes sense to have some common sense gun control laws. Importantly,we need to be able to carry on a rational debate about it using statistics and critical thinking and not just resort to catchy phrases.

About the phrase “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns.” What you call guns is a wide range, from small hand guns and itty bitty pistols to fully automatic guns, armor piercing guns and anti aircraft guns. What you call the action of outlawing is a wide range again, from regulations and restricted access to complete ban. And what you call outlaw – the people – is wide range again. From small pickpockets or shop lifters to major drug cartels.

While the statement is true for a small range of guns, small range of actions of outlawing and small range of types of outlaws, the statement is false for majority of the range of guns and majority of the ways of outlawing them and majority of types of outlaws. And even when it’s true, (case in point – fully automatic weapons are banned but you can sure find drug cartels toting them), it’s rarely used for the purpose we are all afraid of – a random person committing mass shooting in a public place. For the most part, the drug cartels use those weapons to fight among themselves or to take on major law enforcement agencies, which are equally or better equipped than the cartels.

In colclusion, when-guns-are-outlawed phrase is wrong more times than right and even when it’s right, it’s irrelevant to the main argument. There is a legitimate argument on both sides of gun control. But it’s not the when-guns-are-outlawed… phrase.

It’s truly fascinating to watch an argument on gun control or any other hot political topic. There are rarely “independents” here. The people have already formed their stance. The debate revolves around very familiar points. Constitution, gun accidents, mass murders, mental illness, self-defense.

However when it gets into catchy phrases, the debate degenerates from thereon.

So if someone says to you “When guns are outlawed, only when outlaws have guns”, feel free to say “When guns are in law, guns are the law.”

Mindfulness – 30 Seconds of Burning


I was istening to Gangaji’s podcast. She is a new age guru whose message strogly resembles that of mindfulness. Her voice is pretty soothing. Her words are down to earth and insightful.

She says something that catches my ear. “If you practice desire, you suffer.” That message bears remarkable resemblence to Buddha’s preaching that “Trishna, or desire, is the root cause of all suffering.” Buddhist school of thoughts defines suffering as anything when your feelings take a course other than the natural course. Extreme joy or extreme pain is both consiered suffering. We may be surprised to find extreme joy put in the same basket of extreme pain, but the sensation of extreme joy will eventually run out and to the human mind conditioned to repeat the pleasurable sensation, lack of repetition of that sensation will feel like pain. That’s how I understand it.

Many a Zen Masters between Gangaji and Buddha have uttered similar words. “Feel desire passing through your mind, like wind passes through the tree leaves.” Another master declares. “Feel your body shaking like the tree does. And after the desire has passed, feel the stillness that follows.”

I decided to launch an experiment to understand the anotomy of desire. I decided that when an impulse occurs, I will let myself burn in that impulse for 30 seconds. For 30 seconds, I will not act on impulse, but will try to “feel the desire” fully as it passes through my body, like the wind passes through the tree. This thirty seconds was measured on watch at first. But pretty soon I got a god idea of how long is 30 seconds a I started going by the gut feeling. That way I wasn’t busy looking at the watch and I was free to focus on the impulse/desire.

First opportunity appeared when the desire to eat came knocking. I sat still for 30 seconds. Trying to focus on my body and mind. I found my mind racing through the possible food choices. There was increased salivation. There was a sensation of hunger in stomach. There was a slight feeling of tiredness. The thirty seconds passed and I went to eat.

Then I remembered my 30 seconds resolution when an impulse to play video game showed up. There was tightening of hand muscles as if I was preparing for a battle, there was slight increase in heart beat. My mind revisited the lessons I learned while playing the same game last time, just so that I will score higher.

With each impulse, there were some physiological changes, some psychological changes. Some impulses had triggers, like when I wanted to avoid thinking about unwanted or stressful subjects, I went and searched Internet for positive news or funny videos.

After witnessing several impulses, and allowing myself to burn in the impulse for 30 seconds, I am understanding that there is a pattern. In case of impulses, there is a sudden build up where there is a strong urge to crave to the impulse. Then there is a platau, less intense than the peak of impulse, where I still desire, but I can be ok doing letting go. Then sometimes there is a moment when the impulse starts receding. Or I go and seek the object of craving.

I realize that I am not so much interested in the object of the desire. All I want is to go from the point of wanting something to the point of not wanting it. The foregone conclusion is that only way to make that transition happen is to have that thing. The 30 second burning allowed me to question that assumption. I realized that about 20% of my impulses run out of steam if I stay with them for full 30 seconds. I get to the point of not wanting things without having them.

And there is stillness that follows 30 seconds of burning. A stillness more still than the stillness after fulfillment. A stillness that does not carry the seeds of turbulence within itself.

Representation Without Taxation?


I am watching an interview. Some leader insists that the huge financial debt is a problem. That picks up my interest. Because I indeed think it is. I think there is a dose of conservatism needed in financial policies.

But then the leader turns around and argues for reduction of taxes.

Something about that line or argument always makes me uncomfortable. Let me see if I can put it into words.

You can’t always get out of the things you don’t like by doing the things you like.

It’s like telling an alcoholic that there exists a way to get out of addiction where they get to drink more, just that you have to drink at the different bar. No such bar exists. And if you want to kick addiction, it’s going to cause you some pain. It’s worth in the long run, but going to suck in short run.

I understand tax is not a simple thing. I understand there is a good argument to be made about what type of taxes to charge in order to incentivize the right behaviors and discourage the wrong ones. However at this point in time in American financial history, any argument for reduction in taxes is hard to swollow. If anyone wants to make a serious dent in ballooning national debt, the spending needs to be managed well, and the taxes must at least need to remain at current level if not increase.

To be perfectly honest, I think there is serious lack of financial education among common Americans. I don’t mean to single out Americans as financially illiterate. Common people from other countries are equally financially illiterate, but when you are not a citizen of a superpower, your country is not the most influential economy, your army not the world’s most powerful army, you maintain a healthy fear that makes you hedge your bets. That risk perception imparts certain default wisdom to you. Americans don’t have that gift of insecurity or fear. Also Americans have lot more borrowing ability than rest of the world that imparts additional dose of false all-is-well feeling.

And I understand I am grossly generalizing when I am talking about Americans. Obviously there is a large number of financially wise Americans that are exception to this. They were raised by parents who imparted good financial discipline in them. Or they have struggled, failed and developed a healthy risk perception. They save and live within their means. But the number of people who don’t have financial maturity is disturbingly large, large enough to influence the policies.

At the same time American government is one of the least corrupt government I have seen, and it employs many qualified and competent individuals. If I were to decide in whose hands tax money should be left, I would vote for government.

There is an excellent book called “Prophecy” by Robert Kiyosaki, the same author who penned “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, which raises similar concern. The financially wise person in that books made an observation in late 70s when a large switch from pension funds to 401 k plans occurred. That person warned that such a switch is going to put control of retirement savings in peoples’ hands without providing them adequate education about handling them. We will know if his prophecy about retirement funds comes true in coming decade.

I am often surprised to find this argument for tax reduction or outright elimination coming from people who make very little money and pay very little taxes in the first place. Don’t they realize how much they are getting in return? Roads, School, Police, Strong Army? They are getting the best return for their tax dollars.

For some reason unknown to me, it is this segment in society that gets seduced by the idea of less taxes. “No taxation without representation” was a rallying cry for American revolution. Running a democratic government without any taxation, or in short “representation without taxation” seems to be the idea for this new political battleground.

Don’t Think Of A Pink Elephant


I have often wondered why explicit efforts to control our mind sometimes backfire. I am not talking about monk like control of mind. Even though the same question applies there. I am just talking more about simple things, like trying not to think about pink elephant.

Try not to think about a pink elephant, sure enough within a minute, your mind will conjure up an image of pink elephant. Why does this happen? In millions of years of evolution, why did not our minds build this ability of self control? As always I think about finding an explanation from evolutionary psychology point of view. Is there any survival advantage in mind that cannot control itself? I can’t find one.

But it seems like an intriguiging question that keeps bothering me. Why does this happen at all?

On one of my walks, I stumbled across the answer. When I try to tell my mind not to think about a pink elephant, every now and then my mind has to test whethere it has successfully avoided thinking about pink elephants. The only way to confirm this is to bring in a pink elephant in the picture and make sure none of my thoughts have anything resembling that within them. And boom. Precisely that’s where it fails. When it brings in a thought of pink elephant to test and compare other thoughts to confirm there is no pink elephant, it has brought in a pink elephant.

In our mind, there is a constant dance of creative and judgmental voices. Kind of like yin and yang. It’s that dance that many times defeats the control mechanisms of the mind. If you try to suppress an impulse because you judge that it’s not good impuslse, the impulse gets repressed. Today, you as an ego based identity, are identifying with the judgmental voice within you. But tomorrow your ego will identify with the creative voice. You will want to be the bad boy (or bad girl) that you didn’t “be” yesterday. And the repressed impulse will find it’s way out through that creative voice. This switch of identification with different part of your personality trips the self control attempt.

And if your creative voice wants you to experiment with mind, such as an attempt to stop thinking about pink elephant, then your judgmental voice will being in an elephant image, just to judge whether the creative voice is being creative correctly, and that’s where it will defeat the purpose.

This is not to say mind control is never possible. I think it possible not through suppression, but through reflection. When you reflect on your thoughts, impulses and emotions, and you see their transitory nature, that’s when mind stops being pulled in the direction of the impulse. Because you stop identifying with the creative or judgmental voices, and you identify yourself with the awareness. Or as one Zen master says “You are neither happy one, nor sad one. You are the one that goes from happiness to sadness” (or vice versa)

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