Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Does nobody understand?"

... The last words of James Joyce.

('New career low - gave out a page of Ulysses to my freshmen and they thought it was a wordsearch.')

I was out eating with a group of friends...

Me: Terrorism aside, look at the word economic crisis.
Abdullah: Yeah, capitalism is about to fall. What would come after that? What do you say?
I took a pause, thinking about how to tackle the question.
Taimoor: Phir Islamic banking aye gee! (Islamic Banking would come after that!)

And we all burst into laughter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

[The Simpsons arrive at the church. Everyone can hear their conversation outside.]
Marge: I hate being late.
Homer: Well I hate going! Why can't I worship the Lord in my own way: by praying like hell on my deathbed?!
Marge: Homer, they can hear you inside--
Homer: Relax! Those pious morons are too busy talking to their phoney-baloney God!
[They enter the church to total silence and angry looks. They nervously make their way to their pew.]
Homer: [to people as he passes them] How you doing? Peace be with you. Praise Jebus!


Ned Flanders: [standing up in the church] The good Lord, he's telling me to confess to something.
Homer: [quietly with fingers crossed] Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay...

The Simpsons Movie

I couldn't help bursting into laughter at both these scenes!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Suicide is contrary to biology' is an oft heard statement, expressed in different ways. This statement, unqualified as such, is somewhat erroneous, because suicide is, in fact, a very common phenomenon in biology at the cellular level. It is known as 'apoptosis', programmed cell-death. In the natural state it occurs only for the development and preservation of the organism. And if we are to believe the positivists of the 19th century, society is the next step in the integration of life, and society assumes a role akin to that of an organism, and individuals that of a cell. Hence, we also find programmed individual-deaths for the preservation of society (kami-kaze, for instance). Apoptosis which is not for the purpose of preservation of organism is triggered as a result of some pathology, due to some injury to the cell. To anthropomorphosize, the cell shouts "I can't take it anymore!!" and pop goes the apoptosis. Similarly suicide which is not for any higher purpose, is a result of some psychological injury to the individual. The human also yells 'I can't take it anymore!!' and does something self-destructive.

Another parallel could be drawn. Some cells apoptose because they were inherently abnormal (had some DNA defect, for example) and it is nature's way of weeding them out. Now, what i am going to suggest is purely theoretical, and is not an established scientific fact. Some individuals commit suicide because there is something inherently defective about them. Some genetic basis for depression or bipolar disorder, maybe. And they are drawn to suicide just like an abnormal cell is drawn to apoptosis; nature's way of weeding them out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An archeologist to another over a cup of coffee: You know what happened? During one of our diggs we found a piece of parchment with something written on it. Seeing it, i became really excited because i hadn't seen anything like that ever. On analysis, however, it turned out that it was plain old English, but written in a very bad hand-writing!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A photo of an inscription etched by an Arabic traveler. The traveler engraved his name on the block of red sandstone over 1,300 years ago in a location northwest of Saudi Arabia. The inscription reads, "In the name of Allah/ I, Zuhayr, wrote (this) at the time 'Umar died/year four/And twenty." [Ali ibn Ibrahim Ghabban and Robert Hoyland]

Excitement spreads among historians as an important archeological discovery is made: inscription on a block of redstone by an Arabic traveller, which is over 1300 years old, older than the earliest copy of Quran, making it the earliest dated Arabic inscription! And the surprising thing about it is that it uses diacritical marks, something which are completely absent in the early copies of Quran. The absence of diactrical marks makes the text vulnerable to multiple interpretation. The inscription on the rock does not include punctuation or vowel marks, however it does contain markings to distinguish consonants that are identical in shape, proving that such a system of marks was already in use before the earliest known copies of Quran were written down. So, the big question arises: why doesn't Quran contain these diacritical marks?

Discovery News reports: Ghabban now believes Muhammad's close associates and early followers "stripped Qur'ans of diacritical marks" in order to permit "Muslims to read the Qur'an as it was revealed to Muhammad in the various dialects of the Arabs, and allowing the skeleton of the word to bear all the meanings which appear in it."

This discovery can also potentially solve the issue of when the Second Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab actually die.

Read the full report at Discovery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This post is in response to a question asked by Uni.

'Does philosophy help a troubled heart? Troubled mind too?'

Umm, what do you mean by 'troubled'? Troubled in what way?

And that's the sort of thing that happens when you approach philosophy: you face more questions. Questions arise about the questions to which you are seeking answers. So if you are going to study philosophy with the expectation that you would find ready-made and distilled wisdom for you to apply to your life, then you would be disappointed. Philosophy doesn't work that way.

To be honest, philosophy doesn't heal a troubled mind, at least not in the initial phase. Because philosophy encourages you to doubt, to doubt even your cherished beliefs and ideas which you had taken for granted. Moralities and views which you had wrapped around yourself like a warm blanket, philosophy would constantly force you to ask questions about them, exposing you to the coldness of reason. Deleuze said, "The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Philosophy is at its most positive as a critique, as an enterprise of demystification."

The phase of critique is often difficult for people to handle, and i have personally seen many examples of people leaving their pursuit of philosophy out of the continual anguish of uncertainty, and having to doubt things that one is taught by society and religion to be sacred and beyond question. It is easy to just believe in beliefs handed over to you; it is harder to come up with your own answers after a process of honest questioning.

However, if you survive this phase, then there is hope for your troubled mind and heart. You would realize that even though you have not found conclusive answers to your questions, you are nevertheless one step closer. And in the process you have uncovered many other fake and false beliefs about the world and life which you had been harbouring in your mind. You would also have become more comfortable with uncertainty, mentally accepting the fact that some truths may never be found. Bertrand Russell wrote 'To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.'

And then there is another sort of consolation that philosophy can offer. The consolation we find when we can truly associate with an idea, and let it guide our actions. For instance, here is what Russell wrote about Spinoza's ethics: “There are even times when it is comforting to reflect that human life, with all that it contains of evil and suffering, is an infinitesimal part of the life of the universe. Such reflections may not suffice to constitute a religion, but in a painful world they are a help towards sanity and an antidote to the paralysis of utter despair.”

So, the answer to your question is both yes and no. I hope i have managed to explain why it is so.

Check out the contest at which asked people to make anagrams of movie titles and their corresponding posters. Some of them are really interesting! The poster above is an anagram of National Treasures. The one below is that of Iron Man.

The nausea is worse than the vomiting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Of course," she resumed combatively, "it's the prevailing fashion to believe in perpetual change and mutability, and all that sort of thing, and to say we are all merely an improved form of primeval ape--of course you subscribe to that doctrine?"

"I think it decidedly premature; in most people I know the process is far from complete."

"And equally of course you are quite irreligious?"

"Oh, by no means. The fashion just now is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience: you get the mediaeval picturesqueness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other."

H. H. Munro (Saki), Reginald at the Theatre
X: I have a pain in my lower jaw.
Y: Could be angina.
X: The pain is on the right side of lower jaw.
Y: Your heart could be on the right side. (Dextrocardia)
X: Yeah, could be. Waisay bhi, my heart is rarely where it should be!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A quote may consist of just a few words, but it has the power to make indelible impressions on human thought. Here is my selection of 10 very influential quotes (placed in chronological order) which run like a refrain throughout human history and have shaped the very way we think today.

1) "What you do not want others to do to you, do not do unto others." – Confucius (551 – 479 B.C)

Among the oldest known explicit statement of the Golden Rule, it has served as a fundamental ethical principle of people of nearly all cultures. The idea of ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ is not only a part of all major world religions but also exists in philosophy as the ethics of reciprocity.

2) “One cannot step twice in the same river.” – Heraclitus (535 – 475 BC)

This quote represents the constantly changing nature of reality and the view that, ‘everything flows’, that the world is not a finished product, but rather an on-going process. Be it Iqbal’s ‘Sabaat aik tagheur ko hai zamanay mai’ or the process philosophy of Bergson and Whitehead, they are all vessels on this river of Heraclitus.

3) “The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates (470 - 399 BC)

The Athenians may have sentenced Socrates to death, but they could never silence his philosophy of self-examination and logical questioning, so well expressed in this quotation. These words stand for the justification of philosophy and the spirit of rationality, and have inspired men since ages.

4) “I think therefore I am.” – RenĂ© Descartes (1596 – 1650)

If there is one quote that lies at the foundation of modern philosophy, it is this one. Descartes wished to find the indubitable truth, and he began by doubting everything: his senses, the existence of the world and even the validity of logic… but then he realized, if he is doubting, it means he is thinking, and if he is thinking, he must exist; and so, he found the irrefutable fact of his existence.

5) “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” – Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)

These words of Pascal stand for the eternal rebellion of heart against mind, the sentiments behind all ‘leaps of faith’, the ideas that reason alone is insufficient to comprehend life, and that heart too has an access to reality which reason knows nothing of. From Rousseau’s natural religion to Kahlil Gibran’s mystic words, the idea remains the same.

6) “Sapere Aude! Dare to know!” – Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

Kant declared it as the motto of the age of Enlightenment, man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity; the immaturity which was a result of man’s lack of courage to think logically and pursue knowledge. Kant’s motto has resonated throughout history and has given audacity to thinkers to face the truth.

7) “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” – Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)

This quote represents the idea of social justice that has driven the movements of socialism and communism, affecting not only human thought in theory but also making a permanent mark on international politics.

8) "This survival of the fittest… the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life." – Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903)

This is a life of ruthless competition and only the strongest survive… welcome to the world of natural selection; this power-centered view of life, epitomized by the quote, has carved a permanent niche for itself in the social consciousness of humanity. It is also among the central ideas of Darwinism and theory of evolution. [It is a common misconception that Darwin coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’.]

9) “God is dead.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

This quote is not just a declaration of atheism, as is generally believed, but a depiction of the declining role of God in the lives of men. The breakdown of religion as a source of morality for the modern world has led to an existential crises of a lack of values; the West is now left with a God-shaped hole.

10) “Man is condemned to be free.”- Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980)

Man can do whatever he wants, but he cannot run away from his own freedom, the brute fact that it is he who chooses for himself, he who defines what he is. This choice brings responsibility, and often anguish and despair. Man is ‘condemned’ to it because he didn’t ask for this liberty; it was imposed on him, and now he is responsible for it. Being among the central ideas of Existentialism, this quote has influenced the lives of millions of people.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

THE SACRED CHAO is the key to illumination. Devised by the Apostle Hung Mung in ancient China, it was modified and popularized by the Taoists and is sometimes called the YIN-YANG. The Sacred Chao is not the Yin-Yang of the Taoists. It is the HODGE-PODGE of the Erisians. And, instead of a Podge spot on the Hodge side, it has a PENTAGON which symbolizes the ANERISTIC PRINCIPLE, and instead of a Hodge spot on the Podge side, it depicts the GOLDEN APPLE OF DISCORDIA to symbolize the ERISTIC PRINCIPLE.

The Sacred Chao symbolizes absolutely everything anyone need ever know about absolutely anything, and more! It even symbolizes everything not worth knowing, depicted by the empty space surrounding the Hodge-Podge.

HERE FOLLOWS SOME PSYCHO-METAPHYSICS. If you are not hot for philosophy, best just skip it.

The Aneristic Principle is that of APPARENT ORDER; the Erisitic Principle is that of APPARENT DISORDER. Both order and disorder are man made CONCEPTS and are artificial divisions of PURE CHAOS, which is a level deeper than is the level of distinction making.

The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered.

Extracts from Principia Discordia, sacred text of the Discordian religion written by Greg Hill (Malaclypse the Younger) and Kerry Thornley (Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst).

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is there any phrase which agitates your nerves whenever you encounter it? Are you allergic to oft-repeated, cliched or grammatically incorrect expressions? If it is so, then you are not the only one. Researchers at Oxford University have compiled a list of the ten most irritating phrases. Have a look:

The ten most irritating phrases:

1 - At the end of the day
2 - Fairly unique
3 - I personally
4 - At this moment in time
5 - With all due respect
6 - Absolutely
7 - It's a nightmare
8 - Shouldn't of
9 - 24/7
10 - It's not rocket science


Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bomb
by M. Awais Aftab

There is a bomb of bitterness in me
Waiting to explode
Tick, tick, tick
Eager to unleash the darkness
That would eat me from inside
And i stand paralysed
With a scissor in my hand
Unsure what to do
Which wire to cut
To halt this impending doom
The red one?
The blue one?
All logic fails me
And it seems that
My fate is in the hands of chance
Once again


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

'Love and Pain' by the expressionist/symbolist painter Edvard Munch, more commonly known as 'Vampire' (after its 'vampiric' interpretation by an art critic), has fetched 38.2 million dollars in auction, which is a record for any Munch painting. Although not as cosmopolitan as The Scream, Vampire is considered to be one of the iconic images in art history. The painting can be seen from a variety of perspectives, some even contradictory. I guess what meaning a person derives from the painting depends more on the subjective state of the viewer and his ideas about love. Does it depict two lovers locked in an embrace of consolation? Or is the man submitting himself in resignation to the woman who is sucking his blood like a vampire? The painting is a textbook candidate for artistic deconstruction. The dark background does seem to lend it a dark and macabre overtone, which is impossible to ignore. Are they a frightened couple clinging to each other as dark times lay siege around them? The painting raises more questions than it answers. The original title 'love and pain' seems to point towards love's paradox: that love can simultaneously be a source of tenderness and pain.

If you are interested in further exploration of the painting's meaning, you should see the diversity of interpretations presented by people here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"In all the ills that befall us, we are more concerned by the intention than the result. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

A break-up is not just a sense of loss of the one you loved; a simple death is pure grief, but if a couple is yanked apart, especially by society, or if one of them leaves the other, then the wound is deeper. Along with grief, there is the pain of betrayal, of failure, of guilt. You are let down by the very people you thought you could depend upon. You are made to break the promises you wanted to fulfill. You are plagued by how much misery your pursuit of happiness can bring. Its not the tile of indifferent fate, its the stone thrown at you by the deliberate hand that aggravates the pain. It's the bitterness, it's the anger, it's the shock...

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