Monday, December 23, 2013

Entropy and Orderliness

An Indian short story goes like this - a learned sage was once walking besides a riverbank, when he spotted a scorpion in the river struggling to come out of a strong current. The sage waded into the water and lifted the scorpion with care, intending to carry it ashore. As soon as he lifted it, the scorpion stung him. Gasping with pain, the sage dropped the scorpion in the river as a reflex action. He then smiled, and undeterred, tried to lift the scorpion again. The scorpion stung him once more, and he had to let go of the scorpion once again. But the sage ignored the pain caused by the stings, and kept trying to help the scorpion out from its predicament. A passer-by, who had stopped to watch the action and couldn't contain his curiosity after a point, confronted the sage thus - "Learned seer, why do you keep trying to help the scorpion while it keeps hurting you?". The sage smiled serenely (as wise protagonists usually do before stating a punch line), and replied "The scorpion's dharma is to sting, and my dharma is to help the needy. Why should I deviate from my dharma, while the scorpion sticks to its dharma? One should perform his duties regardless of how others treat you for doing it." Saying so, he went back trying to help out the scorpion. Legend is not clear on whether the sage was eventually able to rescue the scorpion. Nevertheless I use this anecdote often in defending my own otherwise inexplicable actions - against questions like "why do you stop when the light is red but when everyone else is ignoring it", or "why don't you go to the stage to dance when everyone else does?".

Hold on! If you have been reading my blog posts for a reasonable amount of time (bless you!!), and still think that I am consistent about my opinions, let me set you right here.  I might at times pretend to be more intellectual, more virtuous, more consistent and more many-other-things than an average human being, but I am just as unreliable as your average Joe. I twist, bend and ignore facts and anecdotes, and replace them with other facts and anecdotes to suit the point I am trying to make. Having said that, and considering that the aforementioned story does not fit in with the core idea of this blog post (Note to self added during first revision : The rest of the post doesn't fit in too), let me request the readers to forget it momentarily, and listen to another story - that of Sisyphus.

Per Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mythological king who was slowly turning quite deceitful. To punish his misdeeds and arrogance, Zeus - the God of Justice - sentenced him to serve an unique punishment. Sisyphus was given the task of rolling a boulder up a slanting hill. But as soon as he rolls it to the top, the boulder rolls back down the hill. This continues indefinitely, and legend has it that Sisyphus is still trying to get to boulder to the top of the hill. 


Which brings me to the point, why do we obsess so much with so many mundane tasks in the World? The foremost of the mundane tasks I have in my mind is insisting on and trying to achieve cleanliness and orderliness (I can think of so many other mundane tasks. One day, I might try compiling a list of all the such activities, "compiling lists" being the first one in the list). Despite the second law of Thermodynamics concluding that the entropy  (or disorderliness) of the whole Universe keeps on increasing, some of us are quite obsessed with orderliness. I accept that some amount of cleanliness and orderliness is necessary in life. But why aim for a Howard Hughes level of cleanliness, while the whole World conspires to make things disorderly and dirty? Cleaning things is often a Sisyphean task, and let us keep it at a bare minimum. You don't agree with me? Well, as always, I would (selectively of course) muster the support of an expert. Listen to what the American comedian and social critic George Carlin had to say on the subject of germs and personal hygiene.

One more thing we waste time on is combing our hair. A research conducted at University of Liberia in 2009 concludes that an average male spends nearly 4 full years of his life setting his hair right (talking about which, another research conducted at the same University in 2011 concludes that 81.4 % of statistics stated in impromptu debates and blog posts are made up on the fly, including this one). I personally like to follow a simple and effective philosophy of cutting my hair so short that it takes at least a month for the hair to grow lengthy enough that nature could make it recognizably unkempt, and promptly take another haircut. Which reminds me, it is time for another haircut.

My 2022 in books

We are already into the new year, but I did not want to give up on what has now become my little routine - a summary of all the books I rea...