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Archive for July, 2010

Perfect randomness

I happened to watch a marvellous programme on Discovery channel – How our universe works. Left me in awe and depressed.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way is around 12 billion years old and has maybe another 5-6 billion years, before it collides with the Andromeda galaxy and coalesces over a few billion years into an elliptical galaxy. This dance of galaxies is happening all the time in the cosmos… new galaxies are born, new stars born,… From stars to galaxies to clusters (of galaxies) to superclusters and giant structures, the universe has been simulated to look like a giant weblike structure.

While we have started peeping into our immediate neighbourhoods using some powerful telescopes, much of what the universe is made of is not known to us. The dark matter which constitutes over 70 percent of the stuff is simply that – dark, to our senses. We do not know what it is, but we know this matter was what clumped matter together from the Big Bang and made stars and galaxies possible. Even right now, there is this dark matter whizzing past us and we cannot sense it.

Equally enigmatic is the dark energy which is trying to pull apart galaxies. Eventually this one will win the war, in maybe trillions of years and then if there was an earth left, the space outside would be so empty of matter!

Our solar system sits at the right distance from the centre of our galaxy with its black hole waiting optimistically. It is neither too close to become radioactive and fry life, nor too far. From there to all those things astrophysicists love to term as random – the randomly chosen right distance from the sun, the randomly born right size for the planet, etc – we have it all so randomly perfect for life.

And yet, we do not really appreciate the random fortune we have been handed in being alive as humans. We fight and wage wars over petty things, we find so many reasons to hate and stay unhappy, we do not see any reason why we should rise from the level of mere existence (like animals) to exercising our consciousness as evolved beings. Instead we have made money and material wealth our goals and proven we are worser off than animals.

What a pity, all that perfect randomness gone to waste… perhaps we have the dark matter and dark energy at war within us. As all the philosophies believe, what is at work out there in the cosmos is also the same within us.

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Sense & nonsense

Flying in dreams, like this one from Inception, must be familiar to many.

Days I feel odd and listless are those when I have been deprived of my night quota of movies. Er, dreams I mean. Ok, call them movies or dreams or life, it all seems to merge seamlessly. For me.

Sometimes it is just the mind quickly spinning a tale and running it for me, much as a good housemaker tries to rustle up a quick meal for a hungry family. (Not me!) The other day, we were discussing whether we wanted to go for a movie starring Malayalam actor Jairam. We were not keen to. But, enter realm of  night and there I find myself starring in the film with the same actor! How bizarre can it get?

Well, there is Inception for that. I saw the movie (or dream) and liked the idea. Not only does the protoganist get into people’s head through their dreams, but he can also take along his band of fellow dreamers! Together they travel three levels below the surface – meaning, they journey into the dream in a dream in a dream. And plant a life changing idea into a guy’s head. It is not really nonsense, believe me.

Scientists Uri Hasson and Rafael Malach at Hebrew University studied the cortex of a set of adults watching a movie, The good, bad and Ugly. What they saw was a universal pattern of activity, showing that individuals brain tick together when exposed to the same visual environment! The logical, analytical part of the brain however did not tick together.

Intense sensorimotor processing, as happens when immersed in a movie, suppresses the logical part of the brain (self-related). Senses hyperactive, self-awareness diminished. This is also what happens to the brain when we fall asleep! The brain digs up the reels and starts playing them. Surely, you have experienced after a dream, joy unparalleled in ‘reality’? Woke up and walked around in a daze not wanting to let go some idea, some feeling…

If Inception seems nonsensical, and yet keeps you gripping to the edge of the seat, it is because it is like a dream. So as one reviewer said, the catharsis in a movie is same as catharsis in a dream, as also the catharsis in life. Where do the lines start blurring for you???

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Crowning glory

Sundog that was sighted above parts of south India, July 11, 2010

Staring up at the noon sun can be a teary business but when promised a pot of gold all around??? Called a sundog (yes!) this is produced by ice crystals found in very high clouds (not water bearing ones which totally block the sunlight). Sometimes this can even form streaks of rainbow colours in the sky.

Why is it that such simple things like a streak of colour uplift the heart? (Oh well, not everybody’s I must agree.) I have tried to analyse this. But failed to come up with a satisfying answer.

Is it simply that we revel in what is uncommon? No, I don’t think so. The lush green of a forest can never fail to rejuvenate the beholder’s spirits, even if seen every day, surely? The mighty waves of the ocean never fail to bring awe to the viewer’s mind, day after day…

Is it that we simply are nature’s children that this connection suddenly forges a momentary exhilaration in a sudden phenomenon? Or is it that it beyond our reach that makes it attractive? Something we cannot match ever with all our technologies…

Or simply the pagan in some of us that simply bows at the altar of beauty?

While the actual memory of the moment fades away soon enough, I have found that the experience of the moment stays on, and in simply remembering those moments, I go ‘on top of the world’. It takes so little to give everlasting joy sometimes.

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A group of US scientists studying human longevity believe they’ve gathered some invaluable evidence in the quest to predict which people will live to be older than 100. Based on genetic ‘signposts’, the scientists have worked out a mathematical model that determines a person’s chance of living to be a centenarian. To gather the data, they looked at the biggest study yet done on centenarians, and found that there were common lifestyle choices and habits amongst those who lived longest: Vegetarianism, avoidance of alcohol, and a strong religion, to name a few.

Hmmm…. but the question remains – does one really want to live that long? Is ‘everlasting’ an attractive word? when describing anything… the best of experiences often are the fleeting ones, that leave behind an impression much bigger than the lived experience.

And what does one do, living a 100 years if the body continues to age? The life of a lotus eater can be boring.

Change is one of the most fascinating aspects of life, however much we resist it. It is change that keeps us fresh and active, change that sharpens our intellect and enriches our heart…. so why not seek the ultimate change, in death?

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Silver screen

What a lesson in meditation it is to watch films! Whether it be the tech-savvy big banner Raavan or the good old small budget black and whites. Taking a cue from my temporary illness, I decided some of the golden oldies from my dad’s times and it was RK’s Aah that won the draw today. Melodious numbers like jaane na nazar pehchaane jigar to the soulful aaja re…. with some excellent performances from the lead pair had me riveted to the telescreen.

When the familiar THE END flashed on screen, I woke myself up from my meditation! Amazing how the celluloid has this power which we fail to acknowledge. Lost in the story of a few imaginary characters, an illusory world… is that why we love films, bcos they reflect our own illusory existences? Like the way many fo us love trains and train journeys… so symbolic of life… meeting so many people, making a few bonds with some, leaving some behind, meeting new ones…. Combine a movie and a train journey, and it can’t get better!

Experiencing the feelings of the lead characters, the joy and sorrow, movies make us empathise with the protoganists. We immerse ourselves in their lives for a couple of hours, totally cut off from our more ‘real’ ones for those few moments. Are we alive then? No? If so, are we alive in this illusory world?

Illusory. Yes the word stalks me these days. But wait, there is one thing which we can truly claim as real and powerful, the one thing that makes it worthwhile to live these real-life movies and that is our power to love. It is that one single most powerful capacity that empowers us the most. It is why we all simply LOVE LOVE STORIES.

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Do you fear death?

Terrorists are maiming and killing at will. Tragedy stalks in the most menacing forms in people’s lives. Kids are born with extra limbs and extra bodies. Depressed mothers are killing their children before committing suicide. Nobody is safe anymore.

And yet, we live in a suspended bubble of illusion that we are safe. And continue with the motions of life. Watching football matches with a passion unmatched in our lives. Reviewing films with an intellect missing at work. Buying stuff with an enthusiasm not seen in the countless breaths we take every day!

Are we aware (in our collective unconsciousness) that life is all an illusion? Is that why we stay unaffected by what should affect, and affected by the trivial?

Why is love and caring marked by boundaries of ego (family, nation, etc) and the physical world? Why cannot we feel the invisible thread binding all life, and making us all mere cards in a game of solitaire? How easy it then would be to feel joy in each other’s glory and success instead of envy and anger.

Why is it that the anguish we feel for an ailing sibling or friend is not extended to the countless men in deeper waters? and more in need of immediate help…

Does it really have to take so many lives to come to such a realisation? No, i would say. It seems so evident, how can anyone miss it?

 And still we do. And have our preferences, hates, loves, wars, bitterness, suffering…  and finally, the fear of death. (Something many of us will deny till it actually faces us!)

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