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, June 22, 2013

A twist in the legend

To my understanding, the legend of Adam and Eve is about desire of a surreal place for home (Garden of Eden: the original home) and the inherent contradiction of human choice (Fruit of Knowledge at cost of losing the original home OR comfort zone). There is an additional factor in this legend, and that is the irresistible urge of making a choice under inherent pressure of curiosity. Many bring harms to themselves just to satisfy their curiosity. Some get addicted to drugs, being just curious about the experience at the beginning for example. 

At times, we like to be poetic in our thinking and I categorize legends as part of poetry (They are as surreal as any other form of poetry, and there is no reason for excluding them from poetry). Here is my play with Adam and Eve's legend:

If knowledge was the fruit that Adam and Eve chose at the cost of losing their place of origin, then every man should be scared of knowledge as something dangerous. Instead we look to knowledge as the only tool that has the capacity to turn the earth into Garden of Eden. The only thing that humans are equally scared of is death. If I have to write the legend of Adam and Eve, I replace the fruit of knowledge with fruit of death ("Every soul shall taste death"). 

Can I know you ever?

Daniel Wolpert thinks that the real reason for human brain is movement, not understanding and seeking truth. Most of our judgments do not come from direct observations but from memory. I buy this idea primarily by experiencing first hand the shear levels of misunderstanding and confusions around me. That is why I ask, "Can I know anyone ever?" and then I reply back to myself, certainly, No. Though, we can claim that I know him/her more than lines on my palm but that is not supported by psychological research. The ability to read others' thoughts and feelings are called empathic accuracy. Studies in empathic accuracy tell us that strangers are only 24% right in reading our thoughts and feelings and friends are only 36% (This means that even close friends read our feelings and thoughts 64% wrong: Linda and Ickes et al, 1992). This no doubt is a great flaw in our brain system with bitter consequences as our relations and communications with others depend on reading their thoughts and feelings. Yes, some factors like gender and strong sense of compassion  and training may affect the empathic accuracy, however it is not significant enough to make us able read correctly even half of other people's thoughts and feeling.

Beside empathic accuracy, the distance also greatly affect our judgments of others. If one sees a distant object, he looks at overall patterns (abstract pattern) of the object. In contrast, if one looks to a close object, he looks to the details. It is really interesting to know that the same mechanism applies to understanding ourselves, others, tasks, events ,...etc. For example, if you look to pictures of others, you look to overall pattern but if you look to your own picture, you look to such as details as sign on your cap or a curl in your hair that others might not even notice looking to your picture. Likewise, if an event is far, you imagine an overall pattern of it but if the event is in a few hours, you think seriously about the details.

In short, before judging others their actions and decisions, it is wise to give them the benefit of doubts, particularly when you are at distance... 

- Stinson, Linda L., William Ickes. "Empathic Accuracy in the Interactions of Male Friends versus Male Strangers." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 62 (1992): 787-97. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Bus Movement

As usual, I took bus No. 15 from University Union. It has become a ritual for me that as I sit in the bus, I start reading the books or papers out of my reading list that I struggle reading at leisure. That evening, as I took the book out of my bag to read, a skinny African American girl, wearing a pink t-shirt who was struggling to bring her luggage and backpack into the bus caught my attention. Since my childhood, I really liked watching ants carrying loads bigger than themselves and whenever, I see someone struggles with heavy loads, I spare sometime to watch the determinations (hard backbone) involved in it. As she brought in her stuffs, she talked to the driver and sat on one of the front seat close to driver. The driver started talking on his communication system, called the girl and asked few questions and the girl again sat back. I started reading my book. When the bus took a different rout, it made me puzzled (Have I taken the wrong bus, I wondered). The bus stopped next to other bus. The driver of other bus came in and handed a red purse to the driver and the driver thanked him. The African American went to driver and took the purse and took two dollars to insert into the machine. The level of care and honesty that drivers had shown (some may call it professionalism but it was more than that) impressed me so much that I might had uttered "coooool" as the the passenger next to me turned his face to give me a look and me by re-positioning myself sat upright, acting as nothing had happened. May be, it was something very normal for other passengers but it wasn't for me as I was linking it to three events: Montgomery Bus Boycott, Separate buses for Hazara Students and Hunger Strike of Kabul University Students. 

On the evening of December 1st of 1955, the arrest of an African American woman started the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted for 381 days:

On the evening of December 1st in 1955, the African American woman, Rosa Parks was tired after spending the day at work as a department store seamstress. She sat in the fifth row (the first row of the African American Section: In those days, in Montgomery, Alabama, when a bus became full, the seats nearer the front were given to white passengers.) of the bus 2857 for the ride home. More passengers came in and as front seats were full, the  bus driver James Blake ordered Parks and three other African Americans seated nearby to move to the back of the bus. Three riders complied but Rosa Parks refused to move. She was arrested and fined $10. Her arrest resulted in Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy during which people in Montgomery refused to ride the buses for 381 riding bicycles, cabs, car pooling or simply walking to works. After almost 13 months of the boycott, Supreme court ruled out  racial segregation of buses as unconstitutional. It was a milestone achievement in the civil rights movement. 

Of course, without those struggles, I wouldn't see what I saw on the bus this week. American Civil Rights Movement is one of the biggest events of the modern time and is considered as part of general knowledge and I would certainly be surprised, if a highly educated person expresses ignorance about it. It is this assumption that I was fully surprised when I heard that, the Universities (Particularly SBK Woman University) in Quetta had decided to arrange separate buses for Hazara students after BIUTMS bus came under attack, in which scores of Hazara students and professors died in 2012. Separate buses for students of a community was an obvious act of discrimination. And such kind of acts from highly educated segment (University establishment) of the society surprised and worried whole Hazara community. One of the student of the University S. Batool wrote in her letter to LUBP ( Letter from Quetta: ‘I too had a dream, but being a Pakistani Shia, it will remain a dream), "I was in the University that day, rumors circulated that Hazara students are supposed to travel by a separate bus – this was ordered on the call of other communities’ request to the VC of the University. I didn’t doubt VC to be such a sap-head to act upon the call, however, my expectations dusted and we were asked to travel by the separate bus." The discrimination by teachers and intellectuals are the most painful because their actions are not out of ignorance and they are looked at as agents of change.

Hazara Democratic Party's press release condemning the decisions of separate buses for Hazara students calling it injustice and discrimination against Hazara student based on ethnicity and religion. 
Well, one might argue that, Baluchistan has a tribal system and prejudices are an integral part of tribal system. With this system intact, education in not much of help in improving the conscience of the people. I may agree with this to some extent as last month, it took 8 days of hunger strike by more than hundred students of department of social studies (Kabul University) against discrimination on basis of ethnicity and religion to get heard their voices by Kabul establishment. Twelve years are very long time in history of any country and despite of 12 years presence  and help of international forces, the tribal system has not let Kabul to distance itself from her historic prejudices and discrimination.

To me, the biggest question is, "What is the potential of civil rights movements in bringing change to tribal and sectarian mindsets?" So far, I haven't been much hopeful as I haven't seen any mention-able potential"... Let's see... 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Experiment With Automated Drawing

To me, if photography is preserving a moment of external world, drawing is preserving some moments of the mind... 

I know, talking about "mind" is more of a matter of opinion and personal experience than a body hard fact and mind-body problem is still there to challenge our understanding about ourselves. I know, when we talk about ourselves, we mostly talk about the social constructs that have become so deeply our integral parts that we take them as part of ourselves. Let's take the concept of "self" for example: it makes the core of our identity and a lot of things are attached to it, that we have borrowed from the environment we have lived -the names, places, people, events/historical narratives, rituals, foods, clothing, languages, set of beliefs,...etc- and we identify ourselves with, and draw meaning for our works and lives from are usually "external" things. In other words, what we usually take as a self are borrowed things from our environment. I have not problem with borrowing things but they create problems for us. One of the biggest problems that they create for us is the fear of mistakes. The borrowed things that we care so much about them and usually defend them forcefully and invest our emotions with slow down the force of expression in us (we use the umbrella word, creativity for it). The borrowed things teach us order, logic and rationale attitudes and we learn them with gratitude as they give us the sense of security and acceptability. Evolutionary speaking, the group identity had a survival value but over time it has become so sophisticated that we can't separate the borrowed self from real self. 

Automatism was a movement in art and writing to defy the "control factor" by rationality and logic that have robbed the real inner-self and let the subconscious express itself by let the hand does a free drawing. The expected results are certainly a chaotic and "senseless drawing" as there won't be any particular pattern. Yes,  if we reduce the pattern to fractals then we may say there are pattern even in most chaotic or automated drawings. I thought the idea is worth of trying. Following is my automated drawings: 

Frankly, after initial letting the hand draw totally free, I couldn't resist to the force of getting back to order.  I gave them some shape with semi-automatic drawing (not kidding ;) .... May be, it is because just as controls require practice to become better over time, the same is true about unlearning to control. It may require practice to let the hand becomes free. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does Great Literature Make Us Better?

This morning, I read an article by GREGORY CURRIE on Opinionator titled, “Does Great Literature Make Us Better?”. The answer of this question depends on the person who wants to answer it. It occurred to me as the writer is expecting that, “Great literary works are the results of high moral standards (Individuals with high moral standards produce great literary works) therefore the readers of great literary works should become more moral”. Irrespective of whether there are evidences in the favor of the question or not, I was not sure if the right question is asked mainly because literary works are the products of imaginations and exposures to literary works expand imaginations. Great literary works are not the products of high morality but the demands for higher imagination as a result of fierce competition in the pool of imaginations. When a writer writes something, it competes with other works out there. The more innovative and different is a work, the higher is the chance for its success to get attention of readers. It has nothing to do with morality. A work of high morality may not even get the attention of few hundred, not even to consider for competing as a great literary work. 

Now, how is an expanded imagination affect the morality depends on the basic moral teachings that we get as children. I favor the idea that skills beget skills. If the basic moral teachings are positive, the expanded imaginations increase the standards of morality, but if the basic moral teachings have some major contradictions, the expanded imaginations just enlarge those contradictions. For example, by reading/watching “Sherlock Holmes” series, a child who has a supportive environment for discoveries might get inspiration to sharpen his observations for discoveries and another child living in world of crimes might get inspiration for trying more innovative ways to do the job appreciated well in that environment. Do I have evidence to support my claims. No, not the kinds of evidences from academic research but just observing how the popular characters and stories from movies, history, and even fictions influence the behaviors remind me of co-evolution in the Nature. If the diversity of flowers remind us of the thousand faces of beauty, they also remind us of the competition that a beauty faces from the pool of competitive beauties. When an insect is attracted to a flower, it is the success of the flower in attracting that insect (It is possible that there were many other flowers in the area competing for that insect). I understand the temptation of thinking that literature actually increase the moral standards but I doubt it on the ground that followers of most read holy books with high moral lessons and great literary values have the strongest prejudices to others and discriminate on the grounds of the belief systems (let alone the crimes and wars that are waged on the basis of those high moralities). 

I again assert my opinion that the expanded imaginations nourish your basic moral standards and the reason for my assertion is my personal experience from my encounters with literary works. Ever since my childhood, I was keenly studying the lives of people around me. There were individuals around me that climbed fast the social ladder and some of the bad decisions made them not have a pleasant ending and there were people who had a humble beginning but steadily grow prosperous and keep growing. For me, the mistakes and qualities of those individuals were as commandments are to the believers. But I knew, the life is much bigger and asks for countless examples and the shortest and safest way was literature. Literature was providing me with more examples from the lives of others. I am repeating that literature served me as an expansion of my basic moral templates: to learn the lessons of life. For someone else with a different experience, the literature might work differently. Do I have an example for it? Yes. Recently, I watched Lisa Bu’s TED talk, “Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind” in which she tells her story of how books allowed her to expand her shattered dream: Since her childhood, she wanted to become a Chinese opera singer but her parents wanted her to an engineer. She seeks help from school but adults don’t listen to her and she doesn't become an opera singer. Naturally, when one doesn't get heard, one rebels. She blames, the Confucian teaching of obedience for shattering her dreams and the books allow her to express it. For example, in the book, “Jane Eyre” she finds her role model for an independent woman (in contrast to dependent woman in Confucian society), Bible tells her to honor her parents (in contrast to obey her parent in Confucian teaching), the comparative books inform her that the temptation is not just psychological as Buddha says (Lust, Fear and Social Duty) but there are also social temptation as Christ says (Economic, Political and Spiritual). My reading from her talk is that books helped her expand her rebellion to Confucian society for robbing her childhood dream.