Showing posts from June, 2012

A Real Encounter with Fictitious Names

I was sitting at a Psychiatry consultant's place, waiting for him to get free. Azaan was audible in the air. A middle aged patient came out with his mother. The woman wanted to say her prayers, and decided to do so while sitting on a chair, so the two of them sat beside me in the lawn. 
"Hello"  I turned and saw him smiling at me. "Hi" I smiled back. "Let's introduce each other using fictitious names." He said, beaming and excited. "Umm, okay." I said, a little taken by surprise. "I am Toori." "I am Jamal." "Jamal." He mulled over my fictitious name. "So what did Dr. H say about you?" "*laughter* I have no idea. I wasn't even listening. My mother would know." "Do you think there is anything wrong with you?" "Well, Jamal, I think there is a little something wrong with everybody." I was all too glad to hear him say that, and nodded in agreement.
"Except for one…

Under A Glass Bell

My selection of some quotes from Under A Glass Bell by Anaïs Nin:
* ... an irrepressible smile such as rises sometimes to people's lips in the face of great catastrophes which are beyond their grasp, the smile which comes at times on certain women's faces while they are saying they regret the harm they have done.
* On her breast grew flowers of dust and no wind came from the earth to disturb them.
* She wanted to be where she could not see herself. She wanted to be where everything did not happen twice. She walked, following the deep caverns of diminishing light. She touched ice and was bruised.
* This fatigue I feel when I am not with you is so enormous that it is like what God must have felt at the beginning of the world, seeing all the world uncreated, formless, and calling to be created.
* ... a shipwreck of broken moods, lost fragments of irretrievable worlds.
* Everyone who is hurt takes a long voyage. You travel as far as you can from the place of the hurt. Sarah trave…

Hawking's The Grand Design: A Summary of Sorts

I recently happened to read Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design. It is a fascinating book, and I like how it makes the difficult ideas and theories of modern physics accessible to the general public. Even though the book claims right in the start that 'philosophy is dead', a lot of philosophical reasoning has been employed through out the book (at times, in a sloppy manner). I would be charitable and assume that the remark does not imply a wholesale condemnation of philosophy on Hawking's part, but rather that it expresses his perception that modern philosophers are not taking the advancements of modern physics into account, which to a certain extent is true.
The book highlights several important ideas, some of which I'd point out here, using excerpts from the book.
* Model-Dependent Realism: 'the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observation.&…

First Mistake

"Joseph K.’s first mistake is to accept that there’s a case against him at all."

Maria Luisa Antonaya's insightful remark on Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Popper vs Kuhn

There aren't a lot of differences in the picture of science presented by Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, provided that we view Popper's philosophy with the refinements proposed by Imre Lakatos, and that we row back on Kuhn's concepts of incommensurability and theory-ladeness of data.

However, there remains a very important difference of spirit between these two philosophies, a difference that is reflective of two opposing philosophical attitudes towards science.

This difference is explained very well by Bruce in a blogpost on Wheat and Tares:

"... unlike Popper, Kuhn latches on to the non-teleological (i.e. non-purposeful) nature of evolution as his main thesis....

[Kuhn] suggests that scientific progress is a non-teleological process, just like organic evolution. That is to say, the growth of scientific knowledge (which Kuhn does believe in) is not a growth towards some underlying reality, but merely a growth of solved problems that we humans found interesting.

This, …

Into the Wild

Me and Qasim Aziz discuss the movie Into the Wild, beginning with how, for some reason, the protagonist reminds him of me.
*spoiler alert* 

Me: What do you think it is about the protagonist that reminds you of me? 
Qasim: I know its weird. You are a responsible guy but I think for some odd reason I always think about you when I watch that movie. Two things. Firstly, both of you are intelligent young reflective people (from middle class) but somehow victims of social alienation. Secondly, his journey for self-discovery via radical means. I know you never display such romantic notions about nature but still it reminds me of you. Finally, I can't think of any rational justification for this comparison. More of an intuitive thing. 
Me: Thanks. I am still flattered by the comparison :) McCandless was indeed on a journey of self-discovery, but he was also on a journey of healing. The particular wounds he had necessitated this delving into the wild as the only means of cure. We witnessed h…

Tuesdays with Morrie

* The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it.
* So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
* The culture doesn't encourage you to think about such things until you're about to die. We're so wrapped up with egotistical things, career, family, having enough money, meeting the mortgage, getting a new car, fixing the radiator when it breaks -- we're involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don't get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all? Is t…

Interpretation of Dreams: Death Anxiety or Jumping Through Hoops

Me: I had a dream. I was in the building of my junior school. And I knew I wasn't allowed there, but I needed to go to the wash-room. I pleaded a peon, who took me to one, and told me to be quick. After being done, I was trying to get my trouser up, button up and belt up, but for some unknown reason, it was taking an awful amount of time and I was fumbling and trying to hurry, but time was running out, and I started to panic. That's what I remember of it. Yalom would interpret it as classic death anxiety. That I am fumbling and trying to hurry to live my life as my time runs out. I have had dreams of similar theme before. Trying to complete an unending exam as time runs out. Trying to get ready for engagement/wedding as time runs out. But on a conscious level, I feel no death anxiety. My defence mechanisms keep me very shielded, I suppose. Yet apparently it is there beneath the surface.
Aati: Hmm. Sounds very plausible, but I have a question. Would you interpret it as death anx…


Following is an excerpt from Jhumpa Lahiri's short story Sexy, from the book Interpreter of Maladies. It is not a continuous excerpt (for the sake of brevity), but narrative continuity and comprehension have been preserved.  * Rohin is a seven year old child.
Rohin fastened the zipper to the top, and then Miranda stood up and twirled. Rohin put down the almanac. “You’re sexy,” he declared. “What did you say?” “You’re sexy.” Miranda sat down again. Though she knew it meant nothing, her heart skipped a beat. Rohin probably referred to all women as sexy. He’d probably heard the word on television, or seen it on the cover of a magazine. She remembered the day in the Mapparium standing across the bridge from Dev. At the time she thought she knew what his words meant. At the time they made sense. Miranda folded her arms across her chest and looked Rohin in the eyes. “Tell me something.” He was silent. “What does it mean?” “What?” “That word. ‘Sexy.’ What does it mean?” He looked down, …

Just a comma

A favorite movie scene from Wit, dedicated to the Stumbling Mystic. Vivian, terminally-ill, recalls a meeting with her professor, Dr. Ashford, who discusses the meaning and punctuation of John Dunne's Holy Sonnet 'Death be not proud'.

E.M. Ashford: Do you think that the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail? The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with Death calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life death and eternal life. In the edition you choose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation.  And Death, Capital D, shall be no more, semi-colon. Death, Capital D comma, thou shalt die, exclamation mark!  If you go in for this sort of thing I suggest you take up Shakespeare.  Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript of 1610, not for sentimental reason…

Choice Feminism's Awkward Conclusion

This is from my reply to Meera Ghani's comments on the Veil and Muslim Feminists post. I thought it better to highlight this point as a separate post.
'Feminism indeed is about a woman's right to choose (choose being the operative word). Its about the woman being able to employ her own agency.'
Okay, consider the following scenarios:
* a woman chooses to stay with her abusive, alcoholic husband because she is afraid of the challenges of a single life * a woman chooses to become a prostitute to pay her college tuition fees * a woman chooses to have a hymenoplasty to 'restore' her virginity before her up-coming marriage with a religious husband
In all 3 cases the 3 women make these choices without being coerced. They are making a choice by their own free will and by exerting their own sense of agency. Therefore, by your definition, all 3 of these choices are Feminist choices. 
However, if these choices are to be labelled Feminist, as you must by your own definiti…


Even the most logically constructed arguments do not exist in vacuo, even though philosophers like to pretend so at times. 
Arguments and contradictions exist within a larger framework from which they derive their relevance. 
The subtext of a logically valid argument can nonetheless manage to undermine the argument.

Veil and Muslim Feminists: Some Questions

There are voices in the blogosphere and twitterverse which actively support women's right to wear some form of veil (burqa, hijab, chador, headscarf etc). Some of these voices self-identify as Muslim Feminists. The general argument seems to be that when women choose to cover themselves by their own volition then such a choice is to be respected. I acknowledge that people have a right to dress as they wish (like all rights, the right to dress is not absolute; for instance, exhibitionism is a criminal sexual offence in most places), and if women wish to wear veil, so be it. I see no reason and feel no desire to dispute this. However, what I find problematic is whether the choice to wear a veil can be defended as a feminist choice, and whether Islam can support veil without being patriarchal. (I define veil as an article of clothing that is intended to cover some part of the head or face.) I am also not talking about the piece of clothing per se, but rather the institution of veil, …

Intelligence and Bias

* ... in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors. Although we assume that intelligence is a buffer against bias—that’s why those with higher S.A.T. scores think they are less prone to these universal thinking mistakes—it can actually be a subtle curse.
* Perhaps our most dangerous bias is that we naturally assume that everyone else is more susceptible to thinking errors, a tendency known as the “bias blind spot.” ... And here’s the upsetting punch line: intelligence seems to make things worse. The scientists gave the students four measures of “cognitive sophistication.” As they report in the paper, all four of the measures showed positive correlations, “indicating that more cognitively sophisticated participants showed larger bias blind spots.” This trend held for many of the specific biases, indicating that smarter people (at least as measured by S.A.T. scores) and those more likely to engage in deliberation were slightly more vulnerable to common…

Socratic Comedies

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