Monday, March 31, 2014

What's in a name?

I seem to possess some sort of a super power. Really. It is not an easy thing to explain, considering the fact that I am not sure how it works yet. All I know is that like a character out of Salman Rushdie novels, I can influence the World with my thoughts. I do not have enough evidence to prove this fact at the moment, but my preliminary investigations leave me with little doubt. Now do not panic, and do not worry about all those instances when you went offline the exact minute I pinged you, asking for your thoughts about my blog. I am not sort of the guy to hold grudges. On the other hand, I would be keeping note of all your acts of goodwill - including donating funds to keep this blog going, commenting on it frequently, sharing my posts, and reassuring me of the fact that this blog is outstanding.  I am, forgive me if I momentarily sound like Kamal Hassan, what most people would like God to be - someone who ignores your sins, but will keep track of your virtuous acts (even the pretentious ones). The first thing I will do once I am able to substantiate my claims about this superpower will be to train myself. I do not know the upper and lower limits of my psychokinetic abilities yet. Like the mutants in the initial few minutes of the movie X-Men First Class, I am causing a lot of unintended and off-target (but harmless) consequences through my power.

I will be briefly mentioning about one of the many incidents that constitute my preliminary investigations on my superpower. You have every right to choose to believe me, or to not to. But with great power comes great responsibility, and I feel it is my responsibility here to remind you of the 17th century Mathematician and Physicist  Blaise Pascal. In case you were not aware, Pascal was an agnostic of sorts who was not sure of either the existence or the absence of God. He arrived at a conclusion by a reasoning popularly known as Pascal's wager. He started by drawing this quick decision table.
God existsGod does not exist
Believe in GodInfinite gain in heavenInsignificant loss
Disbelieve in GodInfinite loss in hellInsignificant gain
He then concluded that by believing in God, he would either have an infinite gain or a finite loss, whereas not believing in God would cause him either an infinite loss or a finite gain. Thus, Pascal became a theist. Having said that, I will let you brood for a while over the question of believing in my supernatural ability, and go on to describe one minor incident where the said ability was in action.

A couple of months back, I sat down to write a blog post on the effect my name has had on my life. As it often happens, one thought led to another, and I was left thinking of this boy from our school. He was fondly called as "Ram Ranveer", but his actual name was Shree Ramalinga Alagiya Manavala Sundara Raja Rama Ranveer. He was from a neighboring class, and we would invite him over to our class when we were not engaged by any teachers to request him to recite his name. Many a Hindi periods were spent competing with my deskmate to see which of us can write his full name legibly in the shortest piece of paper. While I was busy penning the first two paragraphs of the blog post, little did I realize that through my extraordinary abilities, my thoughts were influencing a hapless and unsuspecting American journalist from Brazil to compose this New York Times article about some uncomfortably long names. To be frank, I creeped out a little, and reacted by deleting all traces of my article. In the two months since, I have pondered over this deeply and realized that there would be no harm in trying to rewrite the article. In fact, this whole exercise would serve as a beta test through which I will be fixing the minor bugs in my sorcery. So, here I am, attempting to reproduce the blog post I had started.

My name is Adarsh. Once, at whatever age children do such things, I went to my parents and asked them the meaning of my name. They explained that my name is a Hindi word that means "ideal". I was a little confused, and had to seek the help of a dictionary to completely understand this. Here is what I found :
Idle (Adj) : avoiding work; lazy
This offended me a little. I mean how would you feel if you realise that someone had probably just glanced at you, and immediately concluded, rightly, that you would turn out to be a more of a sloth than a human being. But then, I asked myself, who am I to question my name? Names are not meant to be chosen, they are thrust upon us. Names are one's destiny. Names are one's identity. And to lead a successful life, one must live up his name. Having convinced myself thus, I set out to earnestly fulfill the meaning of my name and live up to it. It was only much later, when we had to study a chapter in our middle school Hindi text book called  "आदर्श विद्यार्थि" (The Ideal Student) did I actually realize my folly. Alas, it was too late by then to bring about such a drastic behavioral change in my life. I had to be careful here, and it took every bit of resourcefulness I have to finally figure a way out of this tricky situation. I elegantly overcame the problem by deciding that I would be the "ideal idle" person - one who is actually idle without drawing attention to the fact. Ever since then, I have always maintained a veneer of being hardworking chap, while actually continuing to be idle.

If the meaning behind your name affects your inner identity, there are other ways by which names can impact you. The foremost of them is the school/college attendance. Ask anyone whose name starts with the letter "A", and they would dread the words "attendance order". Almost every thing in an Indian students life is done in attendance order. A guy named with letter "S" invariably completes his homeworks, assignements and record notebooks in the classroom - the lectures on responsibility, sincerity, commitment to learning and allied stuff experienced by the guys unfortunate enough to be named with an "A" acting as his background music.

But what is life if not a set of small compromises, which you concede so that you get the bargaining power for the more important things? In fact, when I was informed that my name was supposed to have been spelt as Aadarsh if not for a clerical error on the part of the helpful guy who printed out my birth certificate, I took solace looking at what might have been. I got through all these little hurdles and finally started becoming used to my name. I even start loving it. I was so obsessed with my name that I went to Google to type in "Adarsh is a", and this is what I got :

A lesser soul would have given up by now. But not me. If such embarrassments are arrows, I am a proud battle-scarred war veteran. Helped by my useful selective amnesia, I had no reasons to stop loving my name, and I still love it till date. That sound you get when you combine the letters r, s and h cannot be matched by the top-drawer compositions of Mozart. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the way you do about your name, and they invariably give you nicknames. I personally hate nicknames, and rarely address people by their nicknames. And why would people want to shorten a name that is just 6 characters and 2 syllables long? But like the popular pseudo-philosopher Ayn Rand states, A is A - in other words, what is, is. With a pinch of salt, I have learned to live with a few of my nicknames too. What I am going to do now is to describe a few of my nicknames. Before that, let me make it perfectly clear that I would advice you not to try this at home. It is a completely idiotic idea to lay down one's nicknames in a public domain, and make yourselves open to ridicule. But I am self-respecting person, and which self-respecting fellow follows his own advice? Didn't Groucho Marx say something like "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as the member". So, here I am : 

Maddu : Maddu means idiot. This one is reserved exclusively for my mother's use. Didn't someone say mothers know more than Google? Talking about which, ever since my younger brother was born, I was promoted to Doddu Maddu (the elder idiot) - something I am not sure if I can be proud of
Adi : Another name used by my mother. Reminds me of a flop Tamil movie starring Vijay
Ada : My cousins and a few of my uncles address me like this. Something I have got used to.
Atheresh, Adaresh, Agash and related : The nicknames that irritate me the most. This was done often by lecturers who found it difficult to pronounce my name . My classmates would invariably laugh at me whenever this was done, as if the joke was on me. Idiots!
NSNS : I have a difficult time convincing people about this one. But I distinctly remember being called as a Non-stop nonsense when I was a child. Though I have changed a bit, I live up to this name occasionally. My long-winded blog posts are proof enough.
Silent Killer : A name that has been given by various people at various stages of my life. It comes from the fact that I rarely talk while with a group of people, unless it is for what is interpreted as a witty rejoinder. From NSNS, I grew up to be this. 
Robot : This comes from the fact that I rarely react to things being told to me. Various people tried provoking my reactions by shouting out this name from a distance when I was with a large crowd, but gave up when I didn't react. Who was it who said "one frames his/her own philosophies based on his way of life, but it is falsely thought to be the other way round"? No one? Well let me say that then. One frames his/her own philosophies based on his way of life, but it is falsely thought to be the other way round. That explains why I am trying to be a stoic.
Adar : It is the name that one of my current supervisors uses to address me. I personally don't fancy this shortened form which makes me feel like an expensive, ambitious and well-intentioned - but failed - project undertaken by the Indian Government to find a panacea for all problems.

So, there it is. For now, I guess I will have to wait and keep an eye out for any ripple effect caused around the World by the extensive thought I put in to compose this post. Once any discernible effects are detected, I would file it with my preliminary investigations report, which among other things includes graphical descriptions on how I unintentionally influenced an Indian cricket World Cup victory not once, but twice, how I entered the dreams of someone to tell them something minutes before I told it to them in reality, how I made a miserly person buy an android phone by planting the idea deeply in his mind, and how I caused Russia to invade Ukraine. I might even write about a few of them here, or I might not. Meanwhile, I trust you to have made a good decision on whether to believe me. The like buttons and the comment text boxes are just below this post. For donations, you can get my account numbers by messaging me. You may make use of this list of synonyms for the word outstanding while letting me know what you feel about my writing. You are welcome.

Source for Pascal's Decision table :'s_wager
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cogito Ergo Sum

Cogito Ergo Sum. I think, therefore I am. This is an oft quoted proposition laid down by the 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes. I suspect that if Descartes had had an inkling that a line he innocuously wrote down would be repeated around the World for more than three centuries after his death, he would have worded it differently, for I believe that the quote is often taken out of context and misinterpreted. I am no scholar of Philosophy, and I may be completely mistaken in my own interpretation, which comes more out of reading about Desecrates rather than reading Desecrates. Despite this possibility that I am completely wrong and misguided, I am  still going to give my two cents. After all, we are in the 21st century, and we are expected to embrace our true selves, and be confident, outgoing, spontaneous  and photogenic without being afraid of what others would think and all allied stuff (despite the fact that our true self may not be confident, outgoing, spontaneous or photogenic). Talking about pop culture, another in-thing today is living happily and in-the-present. You know, yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and all such things. It seems we are supposed to shun any worries of the future, and "live the moment" so that when we reflect upon our life in our deathbed (which is presumably in the future), we won't regret things we didn't do. Hold on, is there a contradiction in that? Ah! I am digressing again. Let me try and get back to the point.

The common interpretation of Descartes's line is that one exists only when one is engaging the facilities of his mind. It is as if for a person to exist, he needs to contemplate over his life, over the Universe and over everything. I think, therefore I exist. Ergo, I probably do not exist if I do not think. In other words, people who can not, or do not think have meaningless lives, or worse, they do not exist at all. If only this were true, imagine how the things around us would be. Politicians, for one, would cease to exist. Post their 2014 election defeat, UPA's Rahul Gandhi (if he err.. exists) will claim that since politicians do not exist, elections are just a state of mind. Such a life would indeed seem desirable. But think of people who cannot reason, due to psychological reasons. Would you be okay with a proposition that people who cannot think do not exist at all? What about plants and other animals then? Do they not exist at all?

The best place to try and comprehend the real meaning of what Descartes meant is here  at Wikipedia, or here at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But I have lately come to realize that you people are busy and you have better things to do than going through vague Wikipedia entries about random people. Trust me, it is difficult for me to personally come to terms with the fact that people can be busy, that too in an Universe that will soon be explode into pieces of nothingness. It increases my already high inferiority complex. But I make efforts, and I realize that the only reason you are reading this despite being busy is to be nice to me, or that you are kidnapped and tied in front of a PC which has this post scrolling down at a font size of 30, and there are matchsticks in your eyes to hold them open, and knives on both sides of you necks to ensure that you don't turn away. In either case, now that you are here, let me try to explain my own understanding of Desecrates. 

Desecrates was a rationalist. He was aware of the possibility that anything we see today at all could be unreal. I mean, look around you, can you be sure of anything at all? What if we are in the Matrix? It would take some three hundred years for the Wachowski brothers (who by now have converted to Wachowski siblings, or just Wachowskis) to make that unimaginably brilliant movie though, and skeptics of Descartes's time had to resort to the theory that the whole Universe is a part of Satan's deception on the mind (one other theory I am aware of is by Plato, who suggested that we are bound facing a black wall in a cave, and what we see are the shadows of things that are occurring behind us. That sounds like you, the kidnapped reader, no? But Plato suggested that all we had to do was to untie ourselves and turn back to see the reality - for the want of a better word). In order to satisfy the skeptics of his age, Desecrates was ready to dismiss every piece of knowledge Man had, and wanted to start from the surest footing. This sure footing is his simple realization that he exists. His reasoning was that the very fact that he is thinking about his existence, and has doubts on it, confirms that there is a he. Hence, "I think, therefore I am". Even if the Satan was deceiving him to make him believe that everything around him is real, there needs to be a him that has to be deceived. Starting with this realization, that he is some sort of thinking thing with no essential forms (he was not ready to believe the things he sensed around him, as senses could deceive us into thinking about things that aren't. Think of mirages), he goes on to lay a whole foundation of knowledge. His exact statement was actually "Dubito ergo cogito. Cogito ergo sum" (I doubt, therefore I think. I think, therefore I exist)

I believe the chief cause of this misunderstanding, which is hopefully not on my part, is due to the fact that we attempt to distill vast amounts of knowledge into a single cool-sounding sentence. Poor sentence, it has to carry the whole burden of everything Desecrates meant, including the context in which he meant them. There are cases when it is really useful to distill things into have such succinct statements. Seeing the spate of articles covering the 2014 Indian election scenario, I have decided to distill every single such article as either "so, vote for Modi", or "so, don't vote for Modi" and save myself a huge amount of time, which I would waste more usefully. But such philosophical statements loose their meaning when we attempt to summarize them. There are things people could learn from this blog post, which uses 1199 words (including this needless addendum whose only purpose of existence is to increase the word count of this post) to say decorated nothing. Reminds me of Oscar Wilde, who through one of his characters said
"I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about."
PS : It was cheap of me to joke about politicians. If only we common men had as much thinking ability as the politicians, things might be different. But why let facts come in the way of a good, or even a bad, joke.

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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...