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Showing posts from April, 2011

Playboy, Burqa and Liberation

"My upbringing was conservative, I was always told, you must not go out, you must not make yourself look so attractive, you mustn’t have male friends. I have always abided by what men say. As a result I developed an extreme desire for freedom. I feel like Che Guevara. I have to do everything I want, otherwise I feel like I may as well be dead.... For years I subordinated myself to various societal constraints and did what others thought was right for me. The Playboy photo shoot was a total act of liberation." says Sila Sahin, the first Turkish-German woman to appear on the cover of Playboy.
An act of liberation. Haven't we heard this very recently? Oh, yes, we heard it in the Burqa debate! So, this is what we have, women covered up from head-to-toe claiming to feel liberated, and we have women naked from head-to-toe claiming to feel liberated. Interesting contrasts. Did Sila Sahin actually feel liberated? I bet she did. Do women in West wearing burqa as a conscious choice…

The God We Don't Usually Get to Hear Of

While much of popular debate on God is fixated on a very particular (and problematic) notion of God, theology under the influence of philosophy moved on quite a long time ago. The example I have in my mind right now is that of Process Theology, developed by Charles Hartshorne using the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (the co-author of Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell.) Currently, I am not making any attempt at a philosophical proof and defence of this particular conception of God; I do however wish to introduce it to the readers of this blog (many of whom, I believe, would be unfamiliar with this) so that those unsatisfied with traditional theism can explore this sort of possibility as a viable alternative.
Key features of God as seen in process theology are:
* Panentheism: God contains the universe, but is not identical with it. The universe is in God, but God transcends the universe. All is in God. (Contrast with Pantheism: Universe is God, God is Universe.)
* God is bo…

Love, Heartbreak and Marriage

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My cover story in Us magazine.




Motivated Reasoning

Something philosophers need to be acutely aware of: a completely dispassionate psychologically unmotivated reasoning is perhaps not possible. Our reasoning will almost always be influenced in subtle ways by our emotions.
From the article The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science by Chris Mooney
"The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threate…

Islam's Modernist Solution

"Islam's problem is less its being anti-modern than that its process of modernization has hardly begun. Muslims can modernize their religion, but that requires major changes: Out go waging jihad to impose Muslim rule, second-class citizenship for non-Muslims, and death sentences for blasphemy or apostasy. In come individual freedoms, civil rights, political participation, popular sovereignty, equality before the law, and representative elections." writes Daniel Pipes in A Democratic Islam?
But how? How can such a move be carried out in a theologically legitimate way? Is Koran not the literal word of God, and therefore static and eternal, and applicable for all time and places without modification?
Centuries of Koranic interpretations would have us believe so, but Daniel Pipes believes that a potential for re-interpretation is there. In fact, he believes that prototypes of such a model have already been present for quite some time. An example he is very fond of quoting i…

The Tradition

In Ismat Chughtai's short story Lingering Fragrance (translated by Syeda Hameed, from the book A Chughtai Collection) one encounters a Nawab's household in which it is customary for the men of the family to enjoy the 'company' of the maids, something that is properly organized and over-seen by the head Begum to ensure a just division of flesh. Not only is it seen as a usual practice, it is something that is expected of men. And so one night when a maid is sent to the eighteen year old Chhamman Mian, and he sends her away without a touch, everyone is shocked. The immediate concerns of the Begum are regarding her son's potency, and a Hakim Saheb is called to reassure her that there is nothing to worry about, the boy merely is young and inexperienced. Given this background, I present to you an excerpt from the short story:
This news created the kind of stir that even a Third World War may not have. Rumours began to hiss and crawl in every corner of the mahal like a clu…

Learned Helplessness

If you take a dog, lock it in a cage whose floor is electrified, and you give repeated electric shocks to the poor thing, the dog will agitatedly try and find a way to escape, and will find none. Ultimately, the dog will just give up trying and will passively bear the electric shocks as they come and go. Now, if you partially lower down one of the sides of the cage, such that the dog can easily escape by jumping over it, the dog would not even try! It will stay as it is, passive and whining, taking the shocks while freedom is but a leap away. It has learnt that resistance is futile; it has learnt that there is no escape, so why even bother. It has learnt to be helpless.
You'd think that humans might do better, being rational creatures and all that, but they don't. In fact, they might even do worse! It is because humans have a much more enhanced ability to learn helplessness even by observation alone. The electrified cages for us humans are the systems we live in, our families, …

Anecdote

He has turned me into one of his storiesA lunch time anecdote In which I join myself For a hearty laugh In his affection and humour He makes it his own My vulnerable, bare moment Dished out in a plate Because he just didn't see

What I Think About The Burqa

Let me begin this post by making it very clear that I do not support the ban on burqa by France. The way people choose to dress in public can be for a number of reasons, ranging from personal comfort to moral and religious ideas. Whether I approve of them or not, whether I understand them or not, if it is a conscious and willing choice of people in question, then banning it makes no sense for a liberal society. You want to cover yourself up from head to toe? Fine, go ahead. You want to dress skimpily? Fine, go ahead. I am not going to stop you in either case. In my opinion, the only valid reason for banning Burqa can be if women and girls are being coerced to wear it. That may have been the situation in West in the past, but that does not seem to be the situation currently.
At the same time as I express my condemnation of the burqa ban by France, I must strongly condemn the mandatory imposition of Islamic dress codes in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and other countries. All Muslims who are c…

The Bondage of Karma

Krishna speaks to Arjuna
59. If thou wilt not fight thy battle of life because in selfishness thou art afraid of the battle, thy resolution is in vain; nature will compel thee.
60. Because thou art in the bondage of Karma, of the forces of thine own past life; and that which thou, in thy delusion, with a good will dost not want to do, unwillingly thou shalt have to do.
61. God dwells in the heart of all beings, Arjuna: thy God dwells in thy heart. And his power of wonder moves all things—puppets in a play of shadows—whirling them onwards on the stream of time.
62. Go to him for thy salvation with all thy soul, victorious man. By his grace thou shalt obtain the peace supreme, thy home of Eternity.
Bhagavad Gita, 18: 59-62 (Juan Mascaro translation)

Molyneux's Problem Solved

Imagine a person blind since birth, who can distinguish a metal cube from a sphere by means of his sense of touch. If this person was suddenly able to see, and he was shown the cube and the sphere, but not allowed to touch them, would he be able to tell the cube from the sphere just by looking at them? Would he be able to identify by vision what he already knew by touch?
This philosophical problem known as Molyneux's problem was phrased by William Molyneux, a friend of John Locke, and has been debated ever since. Those of Empiricist camp, such as Locke, Molyneux and Berkeley, believed the answer to be No, while those of more Rationalist persuasion, such as Synge, Lee and Leibniz answered it in Yes.
And now, scientists are claiming to have finally solved this problem by means of actual experiment. This thought-experiment was transformed into an actual experiment on five totally blind patients, aged eight to seventeen, who by means of surgery were given full capacity of sight.
Based o…

Iran Before the Chador

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seaside weekend (Caspian Sea, 1963)
This is one image from a photoexhibit Iran Before the Chador at R&R Gallery, comprised of photos of an Iranian family in the era before the Islamic revolution by Ayatollah Khomeini.
What is it about this photograph that fascinates me? First, there is the photo itself, a lovely girl in a bathing suit, leaning against a car whose model dates the picture as being decades old. The Persian numbers of the plate strike out for a moment, then the incongruity of it dissolves into the rest of the picture, beginning to make sense. You can immediately perceive the carefree manner of the girl, the freedom, the blithe and breezy ambience, the radiant abandon free of any inane moralizations. But more importantly, there is the history of this photograph, the fact that this lifestyle, this liberal culture has been eradicated in that particular region, that it is a glimpse into a world that is long dead; it is beautifully sad. As Judy Burman aptly describes, it fee…

Blame

"It's like if Dad is a violent drunk and beats his kids, you don't blame the kid because he set Dad off. You blame Dad because he's a violent drunk."
Bill Maher, on the oh-so-sensitive religion.

Wittgenstein's Dilemma

"If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand what he said. Why do I say such a thing?... To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life. It's what we do and who we are that gives meaning to our words. I can't understand the lion's language, because I don't know what his world is like. How can I know the world a lion inhabits? Do I fail to understand him because I can't peer into his mind?" says Wittgenstein in Derek Jarman's movie Wittgenstein. (at which a student jokes: If we could understand him, I shouldn't think we'd have too much trouble with a lion!)
It makes me wonder that maybe the reason Wittgenstein's contemporaries struggled and failed to understand him was because they couldn't peer into his mind. How could they know the world which Wittgenstein inhabited? How could they know the life he lived, his phenomenology? I cannot help but feel that Wittgenstein's psychological perception of the human life was v…

Living with the Depressed

Me: It's hard to live with someone who gets uncontrollable spells of depression. Generally, what advice would you give to a person in such a situation?
Aati: I'd say don't get too involved. That's the only way to survive it, otherwise you'll both drown. Just stay supportive, but stay far enough to extend a helping hand, not close enough for them to drag you down to the depths too. You'll be helping them doubly, because they need you but the guilt of making your life miserable would be far too great to handle on top of everything else. I know because I've been on both sides of this.
Me: When you say 'don't get too involved', you mean involved in that depressive state of mind?
Aati: Yes, you can probably sense what I am referring to. Becoming something for them to take out their frustration on, feeling like it's your responsibility to help them out, feeling guilty that you might be making it worse or feeling like you're not doing enough to he…

Virtues of Rationality

The Moral Justification Behind The Doctors' Strike

In the wake of the on-going strike by doctors in Pakistan, the morality of the issue has been raised and questioned. There are mixed reactions from the public, and both Doctors and Government are being held as responsible for the harm to the public. This article intends to explore the circumstances in which a strike by doctors can be justified and in what way it ought to be carried out.
The Responsibility of Health Care
Whose responsibility is it to provide health-care to the people? The traditional and usual answer to this is that it is the responsibility of the doctors, that doctors are responsible for treating those who are in need of treatment. However, this answer is utterly simplistic and ignorant of the ways in which the medical profession works in the modern world. In our current society, it is the Government, as a representative body of the people, that takes up the fundamental responsibility of ensuring availability of medical care to the public. The Government fulfils this re…

Mad Girl's Love Song

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This is a gem that I chanced upon, a song based on a poem by Sylvia Plath. A very beautiful rendition.

Multiverse and Parsimony

The following is built up completely by excerpts from the article "Does the Universe Need God?" by Sean Carroll. However, the text has been cut and pasted in an arrangement that is not found in the original article, with the intention of producing a continuous prose relevant to the topic. In this post, I am restricting myself only to the issue of whether the postulation of multiple 'universes' (Multiverse) is un-parsimonious or not. [Parsimony is preference for the least complex explanation for an observation, and it is used as rule of thumb in science for judging hypothesis.]
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Multiverse in physics means that in different regions of the universe the physical parameters take on different values. These different regions are traditionally called "universes" even if they spatially connected. It simply posits regions of spacetime outside our observable horizon, in which conditions are very different – including, in principle and often in practice, the parame…

Islamonormativity

Ah, so we do have a word for it!
Islamonormativity, n. 1. The collective perception commonly found in Islamic societies that all people a) are Muslim; and b) if they are not Muslim, they ought to *be* Muslim.
Urban Dictionary