Showing posts from November, 2012


You can be stubborn as a poem
Refusing to yield and budge
To anyone but your clairvoyant admirer
Who would look past the black ink
And glean out meaning from the white of the page
Like a poem, you'd wait an eternity
Cradling the unsaid in your lap
And I
In my impatient seduction
Will take of you what I can
To transmute into a poem
One as stubborn as you

Martyr's Death

How effortlessly emotions manipulate reason to serve their ends, and how laboriously reason rebels and dies a martyr's death!

Quran, Homosexuality and Morality

In Queering the Quran, Michael Muhammad Knight discusses some attempts at reconciliation between Islam and homosexuality. With regards to Quranic interpretation he writes:
"As with anti-queer readers of the Bible, anti-queer readers of the Qur’an mention the fate of Lot’s people as proof that God hates same-sex desire. However, there are also readers of the Qur’an who attempt to produce new meanings from the episode. Among progressive Muslims, an argument exists that the story of Lot does not discuss men who want consensual sex with other men, but rather men who intend to commit rape. I have to confess that this argument strikes me as a bit of a reach, but I do appreciate the effort, if only so that I can say that alternative readings do exist.
Unfortunately, when I read the Qur’an, I find it mocking men who want to have sex with men. This is not what I want to see, and I hope to someday find an interpretation that will change this for me. I appreciate the need for queer Muslims…

Derrida’s Argument

"Derrida’s argument was that Western thought from Plato to Rousseau to Lévi-Strauss had been hopelessly entangled in the illusion that language might provide us with access to a reality beyond language, beyond metaphor: an unmediated experience of truth and being which he called ‘presence’. Even Heidegger, a radical critic of metaphysics, had failed to escape its snares. This illusion, according to Derrida, was the corollary of a long history of ‘logocentrism’: a privileging of the spoken word as the repository of ‘presence’, at the expense of writing, which had been denigrated as a ‘dangerous supplement’, alienated from the voice, secondary, parasitic, even deceitful.
Derrida wanted not only to liberate writing from the ‘repression’ of speech, but to demonstrate that speech itself was a form of writing, a way of referring to things that aren’t there. If logocentrism was a ‘metaphysics of presence’, what he proposed was a poetics of absence – a philosophical echo of Mallarmé’s r…

Concealment and Promise

Clothing can be a concealment offering the promise of nudity. It utilizes the aesthetic appeal for the sexual appeal, such that the sartorial decoration becomes an extension of the physical beauty. It calls the imagination for aid by denying the direct vision of bare actuality. Conceal enough, however, and the promise is suffocated. 
This play of concealment and possibility is a function of the context. To see a possibility where it is not offered is to risk being guilty of sexual objectification.

Do Blame The Taliban

K. K. Shahid's Don't Blame The Taliban series of articles/blogs make for a pretty interesting reading. I criticized one particular aspect of the Part I recently. Part II and III are relatively more sophisticated in the arguments, and I think some of them are quite valid, especially the ones directed at the apologists of Islam who continue to maintain that Islam is 'inherently peaceful' and dismiss any criticism on the basis of context. I believe K. K. Shahid is quite justified in being irked by such apologists and their tactics, and his articles are a desperate attempt of sorts to deflate this balloon of apologism. It is a balloon that I wish to deflate as well. I will present my own criticism of Islamic apologists separately, because it is a topic that needs addressing. 
What bothers me about K. K. Shahid's articles is his 'defence' of Taliban as the true followers of Islam. This is how he describes them in Part III:
"The Taliban understandably aren’…


Conor Gearty talks about how real scholarship is not gained from twitter and blogs, but from old fashioned hard work. He speaks with reference to public law, but I think the point is applicable generally:
"Every working day brings some excitement in public law. The Twitter/Blog mind embraces the daily frenzy, scans the raw material to hand and produces an instant judgment – as though its owner were some kind of perpetually available law specialist on Radio 5 Live. The old fashioned hard work – quiet; library-based; thoughtful – that made the writer/speaker an expert in the first place gradually drifts off the daily agenda. At first because of time constraints and then – well – because it’s boring, like returning to decaff coffee after an espresso. Twitter/Blog erodes our confidence in the deeper stuff without which we would never have become experts in the first place."

Philosophy as a Profession

Herman Cappelen: I had Jonathan Barnes as tutor for most of my courses. Barnes was an important influence – though I remember asking him whether it was worth going on with philosophy professionally and he said, ‘Only if there’s absolutely nothing else you can see yourself doing and you think you can do it better than anyone else’. I worked hard to ignore that advice or put severe restrictions on the domain of ‘anyone.’ That said, I think he was right. However much one loves doing philosophy, entering into the profession is for most lovers of philosophy probably a bad choice (which is just an instance of a more general point: making a profession out of something one loves because one loves it, is probably a bad choice).
Interview with 3 AM Magazine

Outrage and Reality

My op-ed published in The News on 7 November 2012:
Outrage and Reality
Awais Aftab
Dr Peter Sandman is a risk communication specialist and a prominent international consultant with regards to outrage and crisis management. He is well known for his conceptual formula ‘Risk = Hazard + Outrage’ and he is always trying to educate the public on the relationship between hazard and outrage.
Hazard refers to how much harm a risk actually does and outrage denotes how much upset people get about it. The most striking feature about the relationship is their abysmally low correlation, which in a numerical figure amounts to about 0.2. In simpler words, the risks that actually harm people and the risks that upset people are unrelated to each other. If you know what harms people, you cannot say if people are upset about it. If people are upset about something, you know nothing about how dangerous it really is. This low correlation applies to all sorts of harms, be they medical, ecological or economic…

The Romanticised History of Science

"What all this boils down to is that science has never given up on the Whiggish view of history that historians have long since abandoned: a triumphant voyage out of the dark ages of ignorance and superstition into the light of reason. In this view, all we really care about in historical scientists is which of their ideas survived, not how they thought and why. All the stuff that was of its time — Kepler’s cosmic harmonies, Newton’s alchemy and eschatology, Faraday’s religiosity — must then become a curious aberration: ‘Isn’t it strange that such great minds held such weird ideas?’ It isn’t strange at all if you truly care about history."
excerpt from the article Science fictions by Philip Ball.

The Global Petri Dish

In the November/December 2012 issue of Orion magazine, there is a wonderfully informative and delightfully engaging article by Charles C. Mann, State of the Species, in which he discusses the history and fate of Homo sapiens as a biological species. Please do read the entire article. Below I am going to present an outline of the salient features, frequently relying on the words of the author. Consider them as abridged excerpts.

Homo sapiens emerged on Earth around 200,000 years ago. Those humans were anatomically modern, but not behaviorally modern: they possessed no language, no clothing, no art, no religion and had the simplest of tools. Those early humans had so little capacity for innovation that for the first 100,000 years of their existence, we find no evidence of any significant cultural and social change. Furthermore, humans were confined geographically to a small area in East Africa (and possibly another area in South Africa).
Then, mysteriously, 50,000 years later humans wer…


Religion sets out to reform brutes and ends up becoming a tool in their hands.

Emotions, Thoughts and Language

Reading a post on the blog Zunn left me thinking about the relationship between language, thoughts and emotions. With beautiful description she states: "It is a Faustian bargain that humanity has to make - without words, there would be a chaos of thoughts and feelings where everything might appear to be in a flux. But with words, we reduce the vastness of experience into manageable cubby holes for ourselves and others to fit oh-so-snugly into." I have tried to gather my own thoughts on the cognitive relationship between them in this post. Since I am not well-versed in linguistics and cognitive science, what is presented below are my own speculations and impressions, building on my limited knowledge, and it may or may not be valid from a scientific point of view.
Can emotions be experienced without them being translated into thoughts? Yes, I believe so. While it seems obvious enough to me from introspection, it is also supported by the fact that different regions of the brai…

The Cloud Atlas Experience: A Plagiarised Review

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” Cloud Atlas
The fictional setting of Cloud Atlas allows you to suspend skepticism just long enough for your mind to drink in 'a tapestry sewn from universality of human feeling', and your emotions to be swept by mystical tidings: 'we’re not just bodies, but also souls; the choices we make in one life affect who we become in another; we’re all connected to each other and to something bigger than ourselves.' The end result is an inspired state of mind that leaves you yearning for “the great Perhaps”. 'Belief in the great Perhaps suffuses Cloud Atlas the novel; the misstep of Cloud Atlas the film is to try to turn Perhaps into Certainty.'
It's an artistic vision of a world where we do not know the possible far-reaching consequences of our actions, which may transcend our individual lives and ripple across centurie…

'The Thinker'

Aati: In your own quiet, understated way, you're brilliant not just in philosophy and science, which is the niche where people like to conveniently stash you, maybe because there are so few others they can stick with those labels, but also as an observer, as a humorist, as a poet. People like to reduce you to a mind, if you understand what I'm saying, because your mind baffles them the most and because your mind they can easily distance themselves from fully understanding. But you're not just a thinker, and your feelings are brilliant and lucid, and so people like to pretend they haven't seen them perhaps, and underplay them because they have feelings too and because feelings make them your equal and you theirs and feelings bring you too close for them to pass off their lack of understanding as merely natural. And sometimes I get the feeling you go right along with them too, like a boat carried by the tide.
'The Thinker' is your stereotype, it is your niche and…

The Country of the Blind

'One of the most famous stories of H. G. Wells, “The Country of the Blind” (1904), depicts a society, enclosed in an isolated valley amid forbidding mountains, in which a strange and persistent epidemic has rendered its members blind from birth. Their whole culture is reshaped around this difference: their notion of beauty depends on the feel rather than the look of a face; no windows adorn their houses; they work at night, when it is cool, and sleep during the day, when it is hot. A mountain climber named Nunez stumbles upon this community and hopes that he will rule over it: “In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King,” he repeats to himself. Yet he comes to find that his ability to see is not an asset but a burden. The houses are pitch-black inside, and he loses fights to local warriors who possess extraordinary senses of touch and hearing. The blind live with no knowledge of the sense of sight, and no need for it. They consider Nunez’s eyes to be diseased, and mock …