Saturday, February 28, 2009

"... and that's why they leave, isn't it? Because they have to see themselves in the context of something larger than just the two of them. It's like that Faiz poem, you know, mujh say pehli si muhabat, when you've seen the sorrows of the rest of the world you can't go on pretending none of it matters, you can't pretend two people can really live in isolation telling themselves their love is all that matters in the world. And that two of them, when they come back to the city, that's when they find out that their love was imperfect because it couldn't bear the knowledge of everything that lies outside..."

Kamila Shamsie, Kartography

Friday, February 27, 2009

Me: ... both psychologically atypical. This could have been a common ground. The unseen, hidden force of attraction.
Aati: Disasters waiting to happen. Now that's destiny!
Me: The recipe of a beautiful-tragic love story :)
Aati: Yeah. Sounds better than it feels though :)
Me: It's the tragedy of every tragedy!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In a group of individuals (a 'population') in which particular gender stereotypes prevail, even those individuals who don't believe in those stereotypes would find themselves acting in accordance with them. The reason: Stereotypes may be wrong, but they are a very efficient way of social dealing.

Consider a crude example. A college in which there is gender segregation to the extent that it doesn't abolish all interaction, but the slightest deviation from academic discourse is met with the suspicions of flirtation. We have a boy X and a girl Y. Since the stereotype is so prevalent, it is natural for X to assume that Y is a typical, conservative girl, and it is natural for Y to assume that X is a typical boy with no other intention than to make a pass at her, when in reality (in this case), both X and Y don't believe in these stereotypes and behave in very different ways when they meet with members of other populations where this stereotype is not present. For X, if he doesn't behave in the limits set by the stereotype, he has the risk of being misjudged as a flirt. For Y, if she doesn't assume X to be a flirt on an occasion of interaction between them, she has the risk of X actually being a flirt and being 'misused' by him. The risk forces both X and Y to make the assumptions which propagate the stereotypes. Stereotypes sustain themselves by posing a risk against those who don't believe in them.

For that stereotype to disintegrate in that population, there would have to be a first few casualities. X would have to make the assumption that Y is not a typical, conservative girl. Y would have to make the assumption that X is not a flirt. They would be misjudged, most probably; they would become casualities. But if they persist in their attempt to not see others through the lens of stereotypes, soon other individuals of that population who are only acting on stereotypes to be safe would start following their example, and the hold of stereotypes would break. Every liberty needs its martyrs.
Set amidst the background of a Catholic Church and its attached school, the movie deals with the conflict of Certainty and Doubt. The psychology of the characters is beautifully depicted, no doubt accomplished by the brilliant acting of Meryl Streep. And it has the perfect, apt ending a movie about doubt can have; it will leave you thinking "What actually happened?" even till the next day. The most thought-provoking movie i have seen recently. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Daydream, delusion, limousine, eyelash
Oh baby with your pretty face
Drop a tear in my wineglass
Look at those big eyes
See what you mean to me
Sweet-cakes and milkshakes
I'm a delusion angel
I'm a fantasy parade
I want you to know what I think
Don't want you to guess anymore
You have no idea where I came from
We have no idea where we're going
Lodged in life
Like branches in a river
Flowing downstream
Caught in the current
I'll carry you
You'll carry me
That's how it could be
Don't you know me?
Don't you know me by now?

From the movie 'Before Sunrise'

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Congenital Social Defects". The expression popped up in my mind during a discussion with Aati, and to my surprise, it appears that the term has not been used before. Aati urged me to float it on the blogosphere believing that the term has potential for wide-spread use. It is meant to denote a certain attitude people have towards members of the socially marginalized groups. The meaning would become apparent from the context in which it was used.

Aati: Life isn't easy. It's especially difficult if you're born 'wrong'.
Me: Born wrong? You mean born in the wrong place, wrong time?
Aati: No. Born 'wrong'. Born 'wrong' in any way. Born female, born poor, born deformed, born disabled, born into a different religion, born into a disliked race. And then there are 'instrinsic faults' that appear later -- born rebellious, for example.
Me: Oh, right. Congenital social defects.
Aati: Haha! Now that should go down in a dictionary.
* Larry: [on a photography exhibit] What do you think?
Alice: It's a lie. It's a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and... all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it's beautiful 'cause that's what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone... But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so... the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.

* Alice: Where is this love? I can't see it, I can't touch it. I can't feel it. I can hear it. I can hear some words, but I can't do anything with your easy words.


Friday, February 20, 2009

X: I gave up the one i loved and spent a life-time of compromise, all for my family, and the strength it took to do that, you cannot even begin to imagine, so don't you dare judge me as a coward; don't you dare judge me at all.
If a song can give you strength and hope, then this is one such song.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aati: Most people in this country jump from extended teenage to old age when the first baby arrives. I wonder why.
Me: Before that they are under their parents' control and after that they become parents themselves.
Aati: You're either controlled or you control someone else; our culture is very authoritarian.
Me: [quoting Somerset Maugham] "You know, of course, that the Tasmanians, who never committed adultery, are now extinct."
Aati: But i'm sure they all died very much in love with each other. I'd certainly like to think that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

She was a typical damsel in distress; as if someone had picked her out of the pages of a romance and placed her in a world in which there were no knights-errant, for a strange affliction had gripped the land and every man was on his own. The fire-breathing monsters of antiquity and the single-window towers had become invisible, had become social, hiding amongst men, hiding within men. Swords, shields, armour were useless; knights were as vulnerable as maidens, both trapped in towers of their own. But she could not understand herself without a saviour. She shouted and cried, and looked at everyone with doleful eyes. "Why doesn't anyone save me?" The knights heard her cries with guilt, for they too were helpless. She had always learned to obey, be it the ugly witch who trapped her or the gallant knight who would save her. She had no will of her own. She believed in her weakness. Whatever happened to her, she accepted it as her fate. She could not save herself, for she didn't know how to. She only knew how to be saved; and there was no one left to save her....

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Studying for the BSc English exam (Punjab University) has been an amusing experience in itself. Compared with the O and A levels English exams, BSc English exam is highly ludicurous, both in its contents and its approach to the subject. However, in this post i want to share an outline of an essay given in the book "BSc English Simple - Grammar and Composition" by Prof. Zia-ur-Rehman Khan. It is a matter of tragedy that Pakistani students are expected to write essays of such inferior quality, both in language and thought. The title is "Qualities of the Future Wife", and reflects the androcentrism that people like Freethinker and Alderson Warm-Fork have been blogging about. It presents a woman as an object to be acquired, like an animal to bought for one's farm. No essay by the title of "Qualities of a Future Husband" is given in the book (and even if it were given, it would only have reflected the male-female, husband-wife stereotypes present in the society.) The essay, it sees a wife as just a bundle of qualities, what about the person herself?

I am copying it word by word from the book, page 283.

Qualities of the Future Wife

1. The Introduction-- Every young man thinks seriously of the kind of wife he would like to have.

2. Some qualities of the future wife that a man should have in mind:
a) Faithfulness. In any case, she should prove faithful to her husband, in all possible ways.
b) Noble character is another main requirement.
c) Good habits
d) Education - She should be as much educated as possible.
e) Good appearance. If possible, she should be attractive.

3. It is very difficult to find a young woman having all the above qualities. One should look for a woman who has as many good qualities as possible.

4. A good husband can cause his wife to acquire some noble qualities after marriage.

5. The conclusion - It is the greatest blessing for a man to get a wife having the qualities he likes dearly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bertrand Russell writes in An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish:

"In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the Bible was: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Now-a-days, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a bishop should be the husband of one wife."

But it just makes you wonder, if a religion can neither be judged by the actions of its believers nor by the scripture, then what should it be judged by?
Night's Sorrow by =abuseofreason on deviantART

The Lamp
by Sara Teasdale

If I can bear your love like a lamp before me,
When I go down the long steep Road of Darkness,
I shall not fear the everlasting shadows,
Nor cry in terror.

If I can find out God, then I shall find Him,
If none can find Him, then I shall sleep soundly,
Knowing how well on earth your love sufficed me,
A lamp in darkness.

Friday, February 13, 2009

M. Awais Aftab

No Shiv Sena threatens me
Nor do Talibans bind my hands
Yet in the miasmatic world
In which i breathe
There is no Valentine's Day
For you, for me
It is but a fiction in magazines
And some songs on the radio
For love is a secret to be kept
To be rumoured and hushed
Its beauty to be burnt
Vitriolized by moralic acid
There is no Valentine's Day
For you, for me
Why do we even pretend it exists?
For despite hearts full of love
The day will be spent in silence
Weaving a lie
Which we ourselves
Don't believe anymore
There is no Valentine's Day
For you, for me
M. Awais Aftab

How convenient it would be
To love by default
An unknown, undecided entity X
To be inserted someday
Into the equation
By your parents
How convenient it would be
For us to love
With such mathematical certainty
But mine heart is too rebellious
For such facility
And yours too, i believe
For we would not survive this venture
Without being suffocated into zombies

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today is Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, and the world celebrates the genius of the man who brought a paradigm-shift in whole of biology with his insights, and had a lasting impact on philosophy, sociology and many other arenas. Few scientific theories have generated the controversy that evolution stimulated; few ideas have been so passionately debated and even fewer have survived 150 years of constant skepticism. Alfred Wallace developed the theory of evolution independently of Darwin, but he didn't have the courage to face the implications of his own theory, and later turned to spiritualism. Darwin was more intellectually tough and stuck to his ideas. And that is why the world celebrates Darwin today, and few even mention Wallace. Darwin had no access to the information of individual and population genetics or DNA and the exact mechanism of inheritence, and yet despite this lack of knowledge, Darwin was brilliant and insightful enough to come up with the theory of natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. Biology has changed alot since Darwin presented his theory and yet it remains substantially correct even now.

Nicholas Wade writes in The New York Times:

"Darwin knew a lot of biology: more than any of his contemporaries, more than a surprising number of his successors. From prolonged thought and study, he was able to intuit how evolution worked without having access to all the subsequent scientific knowledge that others required to be convinced of natural selection. He had the objectivity to put aside criteria with powerful emotional resonance, like the conviction that evolution should be purposeful. As a result, he saw deep into the strange workings of the evolutionary mechanism, an insight not really exceeded until a century after his great work of synthesis."

Religious believers opposed evolution from the very beginning. Evolution brought genesis down to the level of a myth, and its philosophical implications were too much for theology to handle. So Darwin and evolution was fiercely opposed. However, with time the scientific accuracy of evolution has been proven again and again, and so the religious scholars have little option but to accomodate evolution into their religious framework. The Vatican has accepted the truth of evolution and are now admitting that it was wrong to dismiss natural selection and that evolution is compatible with the Christian view of Creation. They have even dug up references from St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas to show that Christianity is actually evolution-friendly. If there is any lesson to be learnt here, it is that scientific theories should never be judged on religious criteria. The recent marriage of religion and evolution in the form of Intelligent Design is not a welcome change for me. If it is seen as a theological idea, fine, but when people begin to sell it as a science, that's where we should be alarmed. Such religious intervention in science will only do more harm. On Darwin's 200th birthday, we need to realize the need to go back to the science, because it is the truth of science which can force religious scholars to re-interpret their beliefs and not vice versa.

Steve Jones writes on

"The least welcome among the many gate-crashers at Darwin's birthday party are the philosophers. When it comes to God, I am an untheist rather than an atheist: I have no interest in the topic, particularly in its supposed overlap with science. Who cares about the wrangling of silly old men in frocks as they argue (often murderously) about who has the best dress designer? And when theologians try to explain what Darwin really thought, I roll my eyes in despair.

It's not just their ignorance (for we all, to some degree, share that) but the fatuity of their case. I have spoken recently (and at such moments I feel like a rather mangy lion fed to the Christians) at several events that discuss the religious significance of Darwin's work; once, indeed, from the august pulpit of St Paul's Cathedral. Once the Great Flooders and the Six Dayers have had their say, the consensus among the faithful is that, yes, human evolution happened in the accepted way – because it was meant to happen. Quite what (if anything) that signifies I have no idea, but one thing is certain: it has nothing to do with science and should find no place within a year that celebrates that pastime."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

L'echelle by =xavierrey © on deviantART

One Faltering Step

It would be untoward
To plan a whole life ahead
To place every stony tread
In treacherous waters
With love, with care, with dreams
To wager your happiness
On a single path
And to lose it all
By one faltering step

M. Awais Aftab
Dancing Spirits by CreativeNiCo © on deviantART

Spirits and Spheres

Spirits and Spheres
Revolving in perpetual kinetics
In pairs and orbits
Their cogs interlocked
Like enmeshed gears in motion
And you never know
Who moves whom

M. Awais Aftab

Monday, February 9, 2009

Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?

The Extended Mind or the Extended Mind Thesis (EMT) is one of the emerging concepts in philosophy of mind and has successfully challenged the traditional view of the demarcation point between the mind and the environment i.e. it was traditionally believed that the functioning of mind is restricted to the boundries of the skull. But this concept says that it is not necessarily so, and that in many instances the world doesn't just serve as a tool, but rather becomes a part of the mind itself by becoming a part of a cognitive loop that extends out from the cognitive machinery of the brain. The objects are used by the mind in such a way that they can be seen as a functional part of the mind itself.

The paper 'The Extended Mind' presented by Andy Clark and David Chalmers is of the central importance in the development of this concept, and i will present some extracts from their paper, containing two thought-experiments which will help the reader make more sense of this apparently difficult idea:

Thought-Experiment One

"Consider three cases of human problem-solving:

(1) A person sits in front of a computer screen which displays images of various two-dimensional geometric shapes and is asked to answer questions concerning the potential fit of such shapes into depicted "sockets". To assess fit, the person must mentally rotate the shapes to align them with the sockets.

(2) A person sits in front of a similar computer screen, but this time can choose either to physically rotate the image on the screen, by pressing a rotate button, or to mentally rotate the image as before. We can also suppose, not unrealistically, that some speed advantage accrues to the physical rotation operation.

(3) Sometime in the cyberpunk future, a person sits in front of a similar computer screen. This agent, however, has the benefit of a neural implant which can perform the rotation operation as fast as the computer in the previous example. The agent must still choose which internal resource to use (the implant or the good old fashioned mental rotation), as each resource makes different demands on attention and other concurrent brain activity.

How much cognition is present in these cases? We suggest that all three cases are similar. Case (3) with the neural implant seems clearly to be on a par with case (1). And case (2) with the rotation button displays the same sort of computational structure as case (3), although it is distributed across agent and computer instead of internalized within the agent. If the rotation in case (3) is cognitive, by what right do we count case (2) as fundamentally different? We cannot simply point to the skin/skull boundary as justification, since the legitimacy of that boundary is precisely what is at issue. But nothing else seems different."

Thought-Experiment Two

"Inga hears from a friend that there is an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. She thinks for a moment and recalls that the museum is on 53rd Street, so she walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum. It seems clear that Inga believes that the museum is on 53rd Street, and that she believed this even before she consulted her memory. It was not previously an occurrent belief, but then neither are most of our beliefs. The belief was sitting somewhere in memory, waiting to be accessed.

Now consider Otto. Otto suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and like many Alzheimer's patients, he relies on information in the environment to help structure his life. Otto carries a notebook around with him everywhere he goes. When he learns new information, he writes it down. When he needs some old information, he looks it up. For Otto, his notebook plays the role usually played by a biological memory. Today, Otto hears about the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and decides to go see it. He consults the notebook, which says that the museum is on 53rd Street, so he walks to 53rd Street and goes into the museum.

Clearly, Otto walked to 53rd Street because he wanted to go to the museum and he believed the museum was on 53rd Street. And just as Inga had her belief even before she consulted her memory, it seems reasonable to say that Otto believed the museum was on 53rd Street even before consulting his notebook. For in relevant respects the cases are entirely analogous: the notebook plays for Otto the same role that memory plays for Inga. The information in the notebook functions just like the information constituting an ordinary non-occurrent belief; it just happens that this information lies beyond the skin.

The alternative is to say that Otto has no belief about the matter until he consults his notebook; at best, he believes that the museum is located at the address in the notebook. But if we follow Otto around for a while, we will see how unnatural this way of speaking is. Otto is constantly using his notebook as a matter of course. It is central to his actions in all sorts of contexts, in the way that an ordinary memory is central in an ordinary life. The same information might come up again and again, perhaps being slightly modified on occasion, before retreating into the recesses of his artificial memory. To say that the beliefs disappear when the notebook is filed away seems to miss the big picture in just the same way as saying that Inga's beliefs disappear as soon as she is no longer conscious of them. In both cases the information is reliably there when needed, available to consciousness and available to guide action, in just the way that we expect a belief to be."

The complete paper is available here for those who would like to read more.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some extracts from the article 'Lost in limbo' by Amna Mumtaz that appeared in Dawn Images today.

'Some people can be very neatly characterised. They are either “career oriented” or “home bodies”, “courageous” or “cowardly”, “happy” or “depressed”. What if you are all of the above? What if all your life you wanted to take a side and stick with it, but just couldn’t manage?

What if you were pulled and pushed in so many directions by the dichotomy of your temperament that your entire life seems to be slipping away in a state akin to purgatory? Now that’s a word/concept that has always fascinated me. I have often wondered if it is the same as being in a state of limbo. Was it a punishment after death for refusing to take sides while alive?
Do you have any idea how terrible it is to be a woman who doesn’t merely want to be someone’s wife or mother yet lacks the discipline or the perseverance or even the conviction to stand alone and carve out a niche for herself without being burdened by guilt or bitterness? It’s like wanting to stop the privileged shopper from breaking the queue or the speeding Mercedes from breaking the red light yet all you manage to do is seethe in silent resentment.'

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My post on The Trash Bin blog. Some of things in the post, i have discussed on this blog before. Others, i have not. The title of the post was tailored by the blog editor to suit the general theme of the blog, though i personally would not limit it to Muslim countries alone, since i think it applies to third world countries in general.

Barriers to progressive change in Muslim countries

By Awais Aftab

Economic conditions of Muslim countries like Pakistan limit progressive change. For example, despite possessing a lot of modern, liberal and radical ideas, most young people of Pakistani society, and of other developing societies, are unable to bring a significant change in their own lives. This is because societies exert their control over the youth through various means; psychological and economic are two of the most conspicuous that come to my mind.

Considering the psychological part, I like to see it as a psychological debt that accumulates during the person’s upbringing. The society in which I grew up in, parents sacrifice a lot and go through a lot of pains for the education and well-being of their children; fathers work over-time at jobs, mothers cut back at their own personal expenses, and they both try to provide their children the best food, health, education and living facilities they can. However, like everything, this comes with a price.

Parents sacrifice their life for their children, and they expect that their children would do the same for them. They expect that by doing all that they have done for their children, they have earned the right to dictate how their children spend their lives. The underlying concept is that the child has to pay-back the debt that has accumulated. And if a person refuses to acknowledge this debt, or acknowledges it but still seeks independence and attempts to live his life they way he wants, he is seen as being selfish and ungrateful.

The sacrifices made by parents provide them an efficient tool of emotional blackmail to manipulate their children. Since most people happen to be close to their family members, they have to undergo a lot of psychological pressure if they desire a life of independence. The mental turmoil, and the apparent moral dilemma of choosing between family and independence is just too much for most Pakistani youth to handle. That means a lot of young people are unable to live their lives according to the liberal, modern ideas that they believe in.

As for economic dependence; youngsters heavily rely on their parents for support, even up to the age of late-twenties and early thirties. There are no adequate job opportunities for the youth, jobs that would pay enough for a person to live on his own, here in Pakistan. With economic dependence comes social dependence: young people are forced to live within the limits of the lifestyle approved by their parents, because the parents can kick them out if they don’t follow their rules. And by the time they begin to earn enough, it is too late.It’s worse for girls; after their education, they are hurriedly married off (too much economic burden for the parents?), and then they become dependent on their in-laws, and have to adapt to their lifestyle, regardless of what their own views are in the matter.

So, as long as these two methods of social control are in existence, I doubt that we will be able to see a quick change in society. Parents wouldn’t have to toil that much for their children if the economy was stable and there was no difficulty in making ends meet. If education is free or easily affordable, and cost of living isn’t that high, then parents wouldn’t be making the sacrifices they make now. And with that, the psychological debt would lessen considerably. That means lesser mental turmoil for the young and greater freedom.

With a strong economy, jobs would be easily available to youngsters and they could maintain their own expenses. Economic independence would lead to social independence, and once the youth can bring a change in their own lives, change in society won’t be far away. But with the current economic crises, hopes of a stable and stronger economy are not likely to be fulfilled anytime soon.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Walking Away
by M. Awais Aftab

There is no place like home to heal your wounds. And that is where Adam Edwards headed when he felt his soul being eroded by the big city life; like a turtle seeking refuge from the sea by burrowing a shelter in the sands of the shore. Perhaps at some level it reminded him of the warm comfort of a mother's lap. Or, perhaps he felt as if he could once again find himself revisiting the places where he had grown up. Living in New York had been suffocating; there in that small town, he could breathe. Given his experience as an artist, he easily got the job for which he had applied at the local art academy, the same establishment where he and his brother had once been students. The memories felt distant, ancient, archeological... Guiding the young artists, polishing their talent, he experienced a freedom and an inner peace that he had desperately lacked in New York, where his life had been turbulent, subject to continuous frustration. But he was putting too much blame on the metropolis for the ills of his life. Like Hegelian dialectics, many of the contradictions of his life had a source inside him. It was his soul that was too fragile for the life he was trying to live. And that was why he needed to escape.

But the past has a way of catching up with the present. Matters left unfinished do not remain silent; they pop up at some unexpected moment in your life, demanding to be dealt with. And so one day during an art class, as he was assisting a boy with his brushstrokes, he heard his name being called in a voice that was too familiar.
He looked up and a weak smile came to his lips. "Big brother, I knew you'd find me eventually."
They patted each other on the back.
"That was quite a stunt you pulled vanishing from New York like that. You could have told me where you were going, you idiot."
Adam responded with a brief laugh. "Hey, how about you wait in my office? It's right down the corridor. The class will be over in 10 minutes. I'll meet you there."
Noah had found him, as Adam had anticipated. But what would he tell him about why he had left? Should he tell the truth? Reveal to him the violent emotions that were thrashing like a Tsunami inside him? He did not know. He knew his brother cared for him. And unlike Adam, who had been struggling as a professional artist, Noah was a huge success. He had always tried to help him, always tried to take him along, to spill a portion of his success into Adam's life. And that's what made it even more difficult for Adam to be honest about his feelings.

After the class, as he entered his office he saw Noah examining the paintings on the wall, some of which Adam had painted himself.
"Hey, I brought you some coffee," Adam handed him a cup.
"I see that your style has undergone some interesting and significant changes since you came here," Noah pointed towards the paintings.
"Panta rhei, brother, everything flows," Adam smiled.
They both sat down sipping their coffee, distinctly aware of some awkwardness in the air.
"I keep reading about how you are totally dominating the art scene in New York. Gallery owners are desperate to get hold of your paintings." Adam said, bringing the cup to his lips.
"Yeah, life is going good for me. And it would have gotten good for you too, if you had stayed."
"I don't know about that."
"You have got talent, Adam. You could make a name for yourself out there! But you ran away. Without even telling me! God, for a moment I thought you might have thrown yourself off a bridge or something! What are you doing here anyway?"
"I am teaching these students."
"You are wasting your talent! Come back to New York with me. I have talked to a gallery owner. He is willing to display your paintings. This is a great opportunity for you. I know that the art critics can't appreciate the uniqueness of your work, but that's the style you choose to paint in. With time they will. You don't have to give up." Noah was talking hurriedly, gesticulating widely.
Adam shook his head. "You don't get it, do you?"
"I can never be as good as you are. In New York, I was constantly living under your shadow. You have done great, Noah, and I am happy for you. But everyday that I painted there, I had to live up to your standards. Anything else didn't feel good enough. I couldn't help but constantly compare myself to you. I felt inferior! I don't want to hate you, brother. But that frustration was eating me from inside. I couldn't live like that. I had to run away. And you have no idea how guilty I felt about that. I had to face the fact of my own failure, its stark comparison with your success, and the intense guilt of feeling that way. It was all killing me!"
Noah was silent and stunned. He never knew Adam felt like that. And that his own good intentions to help him had only brought him more pain.
"I need to find myself, brother. On my own terms. Here, I am doing something worthwhile. Teaching these young artists, I am making a difference. And someday when the time is right, I will come back, and be the artist that I am, without having to compare myself with anyone. But till then, I have to be here."
They both sat quietly for a long time, the silence momentarily broken by the sips of cappuccino. They didn't know what to say. Noah was hurt - there was no denying that. His reason tried to keep his thoughts in control, kept saying that it was okay, but he felt an insurgence rising inside, breaking all his defenses. A voice that was angry, that felt betrayed, and the intensity of which was rising in a crescendo. He had been his friend, he had gone out of his way to help him, and this was how he had repaid him. That ungrateful man!"
Well, umm, I guess I should be going," Noah stood up, picking his coat. As he was about to leave, Adam called out, "Hey!"
He stopped and looked back.
"You have been a good brother to me, Noah. And I would always love you for that." Adam went forward and hugged him. As he did, Noah comprehended that his brother did love him, and despite everything he had said he was a victim of his own emotions. He couldn't forgive him right now, it wasn't human nature, but he knew that someday, silently, in the middle of some painting, forgiveness would come. So he hugged him back.

He realised that sometimes loving someone means having to walk away from them. And Noah walked out of the office.

[Published in Us Magazine]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There is one aspect of time travel that nobody considers, whether in science or science-fiction (at least, i am not aware of it), something that has the potential of rendering time travel, even if it is possible, totally futile. So, what is it? In time-travel, we are only moving through time, and not through space. So, if we are at a given set of co-ordinates X, Y, Z at the present time A, and we go back in the past to some moment B, we would still, essentially, be at the same co-ordinates XYZ. Now, here's the point. Earth is moving through space; moving with velocities we might not even have a clear idea of. For definite, we know the earth is moving around the sun, the sun is moving around the centre of the galaxy, and the galaxy itself is moving. That makes up a lot of motion. So that at any given two instants earth would be at two different places. So, if i travel in time, whether in past or future, while retaining my location in space, i would end up in empty space, cause earth would be somewhere far far away...

[Edit: Since JesseM resolved this issue and clarified the problem in her comment, i am posting it under the post for the convenience of future readers:

JesseM: None of the time travel schemes proposed in general relativity actually involve the sci-fi idea of dematerializing in one time and rematerializing in another, instead they involve travel through a warped region of spacetime like a wormhole--and with a wormhole, where you end up in the past would just depend on where the "mouth" of the wormhole happened to be located at the time you exit. For example, if the mouth was in orbit around the Earth then you'd end up near Earth no matter what time you travelled to.

That said, the idea that there is some objective truth about which point in space in the past is the "same position" that the Earth is in today is in total contradiction with relativity. See this section of the wikipedia time travel article:

An objection that is sometimes raised against the concept of time machines in science fiction is that they ignore the motion of the Earth between the date the time machine departs and the date it returns. The idea that a traveler can go into a machine that sends him or her to 1865 and step out into the exact same spot on Earth might be said to ignore the issue that Earth is moving through space around the Sun, which is moving in the galaxy, and so on, so that advocates of this argument imagine that "realistically" the time machine should actually reappear in space far away from the Earth's position at that date. However, the theory of relativity rejects the idea of absolute time and space; in relativity there can be no universal truth about the spatial distance between events which occurred at different times[52] (such as an event on Earth today and an event on Earth in 1865), and thus no objective truth about which point in space at one time is at the "same position" that the Earth was at another time. In the theory of special relativity, which deals with situations where gravity is negligible, the laws of physics work the same way in every inertial frame of reference and therefore no frame's perspective is physically better than any other frame's, and different frames disagree about whether two events at different times happened at the "same position" or "different positions". In the theory of general relativity, which incorporates the effects of gravity, all coordinate systems are on equal footing because of a feature known as "diffeomorphism invariance"[53]. ]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Despite being an astronomy enthusiast since many years, i got to see through a telescope for the first time in my life only yesterday evening (1st February). It was an event arranged by Khwarzimic Science Society in Punjab University, and hence i owe them my gratitude for allowing me, and many other people, this relatively rare opportunity. The things they showed the gathering through their telescopes were craters of the moon (Ibn Rushd crater in particular, named after the Muslim philosopher), the Apollo landing site, Venus (which shows phases like the moon) and the Orion nebulla. It was certainly a memorable experience.

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