One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pessimism is learnt by suggestions

Some folklore stick to heart as they are sweet embodiment of hard-learned lessons, that people want to pass on. I guess, the following Hazaragi folklore was everybody's favorite, when they were young and weren't getting why teachers are so annoying,

There was a Mullah in the village, who was teaching Quran to students but he was really hard, when it came to misspellings. He was punishing students by beating them with sticks and students were looking for a way to get rid of him. One of the students comes with a solution. Next morning, when they go to mosque, the Mullah asks as usual the students to come forward one by one and read aloud, their lessons. As the first student arrives, he asks Mullah, why  he looks so pale today? Does he feel fine? Mullah gets angry and beat him with stick and replies, I am perfectly fine. But all the students repeat the same questions on their turns. Mullah becomes curious that he might be looking pale as everyone is not only noticing it but inquiring about it. When the students leave, he looks himself in the mirror and finds to his amazement, that he really looks tired and pale. In coming days, the students repeat the same practice and each day that Mullah looks himself in the mirror, he finds that the paleness is becoming more evident. Moreover, by each passing day, he feels really tired and exhausted. So, he starts looking for a remedy. After a week or so of persistent suggestions, the Mullah really gets sick enough to not be able to come to mosque and students get rid of him. It was just a suggestive disease.

Well, it might appear only a folklore but by reading Jane Brody's article, "A Richer Life by Seeing Half Glass Full", it reminded me of this story that was my favorite, when I was young but didn't have the courage to practice it. In fact, we do it often to others, mostly without knowing it, by discouraging them with our "suggestive rationales". 

I understand that, genes play a role in optimism and pessimism but it is also now known, that most of them are learnt. So, if there are prevalent pessimism, no doubt, it will affect most of people so in an age, when people are tightly connected and messages pass very quickly, there is a need for a more responsible and more careful behavior in suggesting things. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Inspired by Facebook?

Two modern side effects of rapid technological developments and related modern life styles have emerged as increasing number of obese people and addiction to social networking sites, especially Facebook. Recently, the role of the brain reward system in food addiction and social network addiction have become popular to explain a lot of whys in this regard. Although, researchers are trying to find the genetic basis for obesity but there are evidences for links between brain reward system and obesity

In "Your Brain on Facebook", David Rock discusses the link between our brain reward system and popularity of Facebook. Our brains are evolved to be social and don't miss a chance in thinking about others even if it gets a chance of few seconds to be not engaged. Facebook uses two aspects of our brain, thinking about others (connecting with others and what they do) and our brains reward system by its "Like" button. 

Although the reports like those of two previous paragraphs are amusing to learn about but my interest is in something else. If brain reward system is so manipulative of our behaviors that it can hurt our health, education and even social lives, then can the brain reward system be used for something more positive? In fact, the answer is Yes. It is not just food or the social networking that are addictive but also "things that we like to do" or make us feel good doing that are linked with brain's reward system. Just if we make them habit, then they become our real strength and even lead us to fulfill our dreams. In fact, brain is an amazing organ in the sense that it usually change the reality. The mental reality is usually not the same as the external reality and it is not the virtual reality that is mostly products of mental realities are so different and addictive. 

Just as Facebook uses two aspect of our brains, linking with others and brains reward system, if we design what we "like to do" to link with others then, it would definitely ending up  boosting our performances and sharpening of our skills.

The reason that, I am saying that we can use, the phenomenon of Facebook addiction, as a model to reinvent our behaviors, and use it in our advantage is because, Facebook has emerged as a parallel mental ecology to those of earlier ones like culture. By parallel, I mean, culture is still dominant force in shaping our behaviors however, the cross-cultural and self-reflective environment of Facebook is introducing new behaviors that are at times go beyond social norms.

This means, if we create a parallel environments that are more productive then consumptive environment like that of culture and Facebook, we can use it to our advantage. The brain's attention is a limited resource and if it is not managed well, it will be wasted mostly.

There are 200,000,000 neurons in the mouse brain and only very small fraction of them - about 10,000- are dopamine neurons. Despite of making a very small fraction of neuron, they are proved to be very powerful in shaping behaviors of the mouses.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A comment on neutrality

I really like to be neutral but I do feel that option is not available. In fact, neutrality is a self-deception, if it is not an intentional lie (Silence is not neutrality). The only thing that can be neutral is nature. Humans is not neutral even if they claim so... As it is a short comment on neutrality, so I try to exclude my wordings and include as much as I can of others words (It might not be a good practice to compliment my opinion with theirs but somehow, I thought it suits here) 

"There is no such thing as problem. It is situation"... I heard it is a Jamaican proverb (I am not sure as the wordings do not match?)..So, what if the situation that we are in, is much bigger than us, tied to millions of people, as are in political situations? What should be our response, as it is not the situations but our responses to them that define us? At least, neutrality is not an option. One of my favorite Pakistani drama artist, Sania Saeed - She has a well rounded, graceful personality and acts naturally- says, "Cars don't run on neutral gears (unless, you push or pull them - that is definitely not a good option-).. every acts are political even if one chooses to be neutral" ...

So what if the situation is bigger than a single person's capabilities? So far, I have seen two suggestions that I have liked; It is an opportunity to change ones' situation - "When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves"....Viktor E. Frankl - ....(We normally do not go for very bold and basic changes unless we do not run out of all others options)... Do not react hastily (From my personal experience, I can say that reactionary acts mostly backfire) ...

Well, as we do not have any scale for timing of response that distinguishes sanity from insanity, I like an alternative suggestion by Omar Khayam's (Famous Persian Poet) teacher to him, "For a boy to become man, he has to do three things, see things, write well and do not tell lie"... Seeing things help only for partial understanding of situations and to get more clearly, one needs to think and I don't see any better way for an organized thinking than writing...

And last do not worry (Just to calm down nerves)... The world is not going to end (Even, if it is ending for someone, others still have ways to make it a good one..  A charming example is "Internet users shower dying man with letters"  )..... George Soros says, "The worse a situation becomes the less it takes to turn it around, the bigger the upside."... I agree with that..

Just one thing more, the situations that we are in are mostly caused by us and even if the nature has a role in it, it stays neutral. So it is upon us to not be neutral... "The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.".... Karl Sagan

So, in short, I think, situations are not natural and we can't be neutral, reactions are bad options are we have not to act alone and just for ourselves as we are tied together either we like it or not...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saadat Hassan Manto’s Oxygen for Pakistan

What commonly known about him is that he was 35 years older than Pakistan, wrote neutrally about India-Pakistan partition and had freaked out the “nobles” with his “filthy” works like کھول دو    ;Open it - and       ٹھنڈا گوشت   ;Cold Meat – and died at age of 42 suffering from Cirrhosis and poverty. His often quoted reply to his critic, “If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don't even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that's the job of dressmakers.”…

Frankly, I am not in a position to write about Saadat Hassan Manto because I am not familiar with all of his works. As a coincidence, I read some of the Manto’s stories when I was reading Khalil Gibran’s works and I found them very close to each other in the sense  that both were detached from their birthplaces, lived in poverty, somewhat tried to demystify the human characters but were very slow in their descriptions of their experiences (at least in stories that I read… and it is just my personal judgments and my judgments might be very partial ) and all these things cumulatively made me not to follow their works anymore. I feel that the main reason for my decision was that at those times, I was feeling a big gap in human achievements regarding human mind and other sciences. To me, mankind had failed to understand themselves in systematic manners as they have understood and organized their knowledge of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, History and Social Sciences. The absence of a systematic understanding of human’s behaviors in general and human mind specifically have kept the doors of mystery still open. The patchy insights scattered through works of writers with good observations were leaving me with a choice to go after writers with more direct, simple but condensed observations. I didn’t have the patience to skim through thick piles of works to get some insights. So I was skipping writers with prolific use of words but with less condensed insights. Hassan Manto and Khalil Gibran were falling in this category for me…

OK, if I had not developed an interest in reading Manot then why am I describing him now?

People are rediscovering Manto

Two weeks ago, I was with my other classmates in the microscopy room to observe live anaerobic bacteria that we had cultured over almost in a month in the tubes with headspace of nitrogen to avoid oxygen exposures. Oxygen is poisonous to anaerobes. After placing a drop of culture on slide, we were observing the anaerobic bacteria freaking out by exposure to oxygen and were running randomly here and there. Observing this on the large screen, it was first time I was feeling sorry for those bacteria and meanwhile revisiting my perspective about the discoverer of Penicillin (weapon of mass destruction for bacteria)…

Pakistan soon after independence intentionally moved towards making the Pakistani society anaerobic (conservative) and writers like Saadat Hassan Manto, whose stories were making holes in this bubble were freaking out those who were considering oxygen (a direct and demystified observations) toxic for society in general. Now, that society have totally run out of oxygen and people are suffocating… there are some strong desires to make some oxygen available. But oxygen is already so scarce.

Saadat Hassan Manto died on spring of 1955 just when Pakistan was only 8 years old. This year (2012), Hassan Manto has become 100 years old and Pakistan has become 65 years old. It is no surprise that, why Pakistan has failed to produce another Hassan Manto in more than half a century after his death? The answer is simple. In a society that “self-deception” is more than welcomed and contradictions are rationalized under name of honor and loyalty, one can’t expect the blossom of healthy and courageous minds. Manto was able to observe and write in the earlier days, when Pakistani society still had the spirit and openness of British India but that unfortunately didn’t last long.

I see mushrooming of articles, audio and video reports in English newspapers and on BBC Urdu and I understand the strong desire for come back of Manto but the chances look bleak unless the present bubble of “self-deception” bursts and people once again breathe in an open atmosphere…  

                                      BBC Urdu celebrates Manto's 100 birthDay 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Changing Face of Radicalism

May be one of the reasons that I have developed a fondness for little events with some sort of conclusions and interpretation came from the “moral lessons” of school textbooks as well as little story books for children? When I look back, I find that textbook designers were wanted to achieve two objectives simultaneously, teaching the language and morality. The reason that I brought up those moral stories is, in a way they have implanted in me from an earlier age that learning from wise men is a wise act. Frankly, I am growing increasingly doubtful about this. Wherever, I see more stress on the words of the wise men, I see more aggression and inhuman behaviors.

If I dilute things out and do not go for Marxists, Jihadist and Libertarians' gig names and choose the most respected one like Plato, again I find the same issue. In the Book VII of the “Republic” after telling (through Socrates) how a “Just City” should form and look like, he then goes for how to implement it in an existing city. He proposes to kill or banish everyone over ten years old and raise the children in the manner he has outlined………. Now, if someone with a strong will gets inspired from Plato and tries to make such a just city, the result will be a humanitarian catastrophe. In fact, it has already happened many times but in different versions and under different titles. Take all major revolutions; there were deliberate killings or cleansing for creating “Just societies”. From French, Americans, Russian, Germans, Chinese, Turks, Indian/Pakistanis, Iranian, Arabs, Latin Americans all have tasted and practiced it in one or another form. Although these countries have seen brief humanitarian crises during their revolutions/independence however, afterwards they have moved to be better societies. In fact, these countries celebrate those times as their most romantic times.

Contradicting myself, I also consider them romantic times as those were times when people were standing for what they were thinking as justice and the REASON that I consider them romantic times is due to shrinking stands for justice and increasing stands on identities in our times. If people in first and second decades of last century were standing for economic and social justice…. today, a century later when the whole globe turned into a “village” and “all nations” have signed on “Human Rights” bill, it is no more justice or just societies that people stand for but the identities.

Honor asks to ban/kill

Freedom asks to ban/arrest
Frankly, Seeing “Burqa” has become a hot political issue is a Yuk moment for me. I should say, it is a yuk time in the history. It is such downgrading even in radicalism that it is no more society but it is the very personal issues, like head covering, beard, trousers and hair styles that have become most important issues. It appears to me Tribal values have overtaken both religious and secular values and have successfully dragged contemporary people around the world from societal issues into personal issues.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Romantic Rebellion

Today, Yahoo posted an article on its home page about Daniel Suelo who runs a Blog by name of Zero Currency. It is not his Blog but his rebellious life style that reminded of several events. First time, that I read Leo Tolstoy's short story, "How Much Land Does a Man Needs?", it deeply impressed me and I got fond of reading other Russian writers of that time. This short story was a beautiful illustration of what happens when subconscious mind is in driving seat. Well, Although we experience on daily basis the contradictions between different parts of our brains but usually, it is the culture, the ecology of billions of brains around us that help us to come out with sound judgments with not much difficulties and feel as a single person (- a rational person- of course).
Leo Tolstoy; A tragedy hunter
What I find common between the life style of Suelo and writings of the late 19th century Russian writers are Romantic rebellions. Romantic in the sense that they have emerged from their commitments to their concepts of  morality. When one is committed to morality and wants to live with it, he finds himself in contradictions with the world one lives in and it usually creates tragedies. If one sees the world through moral point of view then his radars are quick to detect such tragedies with magnified details. Romantic (from sense of Morality) writers are usually "realist" and try to present the naked pictures (The contradictions) of society - The parts that people usually like to cover-

Although, we all know that we all are exposed only to limited information and we are ignorant to a large part but it doesn't make much problem as we live and interact with others but when we intentionally seal ourselves from information -conditioned- then we get a picture of world, that is dark and tragic. Love and Morality are two most romantic ideas that we all love to see but the world around us see them as parts not as whole or end goals. Devotion to these ideas are what I call, "romantic rebellion"...

In a field trip, there were some Kuchis (Afghan nomads) tents. While we were passing them by, our teacher said, "Look, they are also living. Human needs are small but human desires have no ends". That was a moralistic commentary on life but I knew, that it is against human nature. Unconscious Mind is the thickest layer of mind and drive us to break the limits instead of limiting ourselves to the minimal survival. If  one is interested that why majority of us do not have the gut to go for romantic rebellion, I refer a short and quick  reading, "The brain… it makes you think. Doesn't it?" in which two neuroscientists give their perspectives on who really govern us? 

While, it is evident that our unconscious minds are the biggest drive even in our seemingly conscious decisions but it is not just a mind or brain that decides all but it is the interactions of brains that influence most of our behaviors and decisions. I don't need any Neuroscientists/Psychologist/Philosopher tells me, how much the interactions with other brains or minds can shape our behaviors. I already know that a group of men that are conditioned can see the world in so a "nightmare like" perspective that they can deny all realities and not even can go to deny the very existence of others but also the large part of the very texts that they have devoted themselves... 
Today's infants are

Tomorrows leaders
The unmatched brutal murders and suicide attacks that students of "Madrassahs ; Religious Schools" have committed for last decade in Af-Pak region is enough evidence for how conditioning of minds can make unconscious mind grow strong enough to overtake the conscious minds and do acts that do not make sense to rest of world but make perfect sense to conditioned minds... Taliban didn't came out of no where but it is the conditioning of hundreds of thousands of minds for last four decades in thousands of Madrassahs that have produced a generation who see the short cut path to paradise by killing non-believers/infidels. 

Abraham Lincoln famously said, "The Philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the Philosophy of government in the next".... 

If Kuchis can live on minimal things, it is because they have grown up conditioned to that life style. It is not the result of free choice as "romantic rebels" like Sadhus   or those who rebel against modern life styles based on their senses of moralities or conscience.. 

While we see occasionally some are having  the guts strong enough to challenge their unconscious minds and society altogether by power of their "moral judgments" and quite naturally we also encounter individuals who have totally given up to their unconscious minds and apparently have subjugated their conscience by their "rationales"... Sometime we see amusing reasoning for it..

The wife of the watchman gets sick and he runs out of money in taking care of her so he goes to owner of the building and asks for a loan amounted  10,000 rupees. The owner replies, "I am more needy than you are. There are thousands of people able to help you with 10,000 rupees but I need tens of millions of rupees to complete 2nd floor of my building. Tell me, how many people are out there who can afford to help me out with tens of millions of rupees?"... 

If there are people who rebel to denounce the normal lives altogether is not because normal lives are evil but because they observe the tragedies all around them... that are mostly the results of rationales in favor of instinctual and subconscious drives. While the rest of us have occasional "Yuk moments" to these drives, their strong moral senses make most of the normal looking things appear as Yuks... I see one more aspect to this and that is "romantic rebels" are mostly concerned with personal well beings than to social usefulness.

While "romantic rebels" are amusing and illustrate the subconscious drives, the "conditioned rebels" illustrate what happens when the minds are sealed off of most information and exposed to particulars... 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Do we need to measure ourselves?

I am confident that every culture has come up with ways to ease out the emotions that result from comparisons.  I was hearing it a lot from my father, “Our elders were saying that, if it happens in life that you feel proud because of your achievements and started looking down to others, visit a graveyard. By looking to epitaphs or tombstones you will realize that much better people are lying there that preceded you and if it happens sometime in you life that you feel down then visit a marketplace or Bazar and you will see people of different kinds that you are much better off than a lot of them”… While, the advice is practical but the question is, do we really need to measure ourselves at first place?

We can’t think to live modestly without measurements. All businesses, sciences and most of the social interactions are based on measurements.  In fact, our sense of fairness and security in our interactions with others dominantly come from our relying on these measurements. If we are relying so heavily on measurements in our daily lives then isn’t it counterintuitive that when it comes to our personal lives, the frequent advice is to not measure ourselves with others??? (Except in the cases of emotional very high or very down; first paragraph). The reason for not measuring/comparing oneself with others is said to be “Differential abilities/talents” and “Differential beginnings” so the comparisons do not makes sense but even more important reason is its cost on the overall wellbeing of the individual. By comparison with others one either becomes illusionary flattered or becomes delusionary depressed.

 While we are advised not compare with others but we are evolved to appreciate refined things. In fact, choices that we make and prices that we willingly pay are dominantly based on the refinements. We know men with most refined works in their respective fields as great men. It is repetition but just to illustrate look at following list,

Shakespeare; most refined drama writer, Einstein; most refined Physicist, Charles Darwin; most refined biologist, Michael Angelo; most refined artist, Alexander the great; most refined general, Socrates; most refined Philosopher, Siddhartha; most refined psychologist, Edison;  most refined inventor, Gandhi;  most refined politician, Muhammad Ali; most refined boxer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; most refined singer and so on…

If from one side we are advised to not compare with ourselves with others but from other side we are advised to takes these big names as role models and push against our limits. It seems that we actually got standards for our measurements and we do measure however, these measurements are NOT to find our worth but instead to make ourselves worthwhile.

But it does also have another aspect; looking to this very small sample out of pool of great names, one might wonder, these were the individuals who invested their lives for their respective goals. Does the goal in life is the same as “meaning in life?” or a life worthy of living despite all suffering it asks for? Majority of people are living a mediocre or below mediocre lives. What about their lives? Are their lives are devoid of meaning? Of course, no one agree with this extreme point of view except radical reductionists. But while having said that, if you look back to the list, you find that all of these great names are coming only from one dominant perspective and that is the utilitarian perspective of life; how much useful one is to society? Although it eases out everyone as no doubt everyone finds their niches of usefulness in their respective societies however, again it ignores the very person/individual in question.

For the individual, there is another perspective and that is psychological perspective. I don’t know any other person than Siddhartha who came with best explanation for this aspect of the question. Do not compare yourself at all. Making comparisons and expectations are wrong approaches. Life is not all about racing with others. It is much bigger than that. So, it is no wonder to see the popularity of yoga increases in places where races are more intensive. Although it is ironic but at least it is good that it is working. I didn’t want to suggest anything instead I just wanted to clarify that when it comes to our lives, we usually mix psychological perspective with social usefulness perspective.

I read a lot of complains that Philosophy has a depleting impacts on the meaning of life. It questions everything so brutally that leaves nothing under shades. To me, that is a mistake. Personally, I do not look to Philosophy as a specialized knowledge to provide specific answers. It is a practice of critical thinking in areas or to questions one cares or has interest in and it is not necessary that our areas of interests match. In short, if one wants to get a utilitarian perspective like level of usefulness to society, one might come with good answers. It might actually enrich the life but of course with due sufferings they ask for. But on other hand, if one is not concerned with society but just for wellbeing or with personal life then I am afraid that Philosophy is not a good place. For that, ancient Psychologists provide a template for practice and an explanation that rationalize well to live a content life. I always refer to Siddhartha (Buddha) as he had a secular and practical approach to personal wellbeing. My personal approach so far has been a combination of both. While I try my best to push against my limits to be more usefulness, I do not expect in return or at least try to minimize my expectations to the lowest levels.