Musings: The impotency of water & what it portends

If you base medicine on science, you cure people. If you base the design of planes on science, they fly. If you base the design of rockets on science, they reach the moon. Cars drive. Computers compute.
It works, bitches.
               

 – Prof. Richard Dawkins
(when asked to justify the scientific method)

Here lies my case: as a species, we share an immense susceptibility to fantasy.
This is why sensationalism is rampant in today’s reporting. Nothing grabs eyeballs better. Except, perhaps, mysterious little North Korea and its chubby head honcho.

Consider this:

In the summer of 2016, my father visited a few farmers’ collectives. He went to survey their opinions on an upcoming hydroelectricity project. Despite the project’s benefits, the farmers expressed immense dismay. Further inquiry revealed the reason- the farmers strongly suspected that the hydroelectricity project would diminish the water’s ‘strength’. They thought the water would lose its fertilizing power. They lamented the supply of impotent water to the farmlands. 

This might seem like a hilarious anecdote at first. A fond memory of the naivete of the country folk. Look closer, however. It is evidence of the susceptibility I mentioned earlier. We imagine explanations where we lack them. We prefer fantastic conclusions to obvious natural reasoning. Conclusions that satisfy our ego. Adapting these to fit the limits of reason is thought inconvenient. Science is declared ‘limited’ and ‘incapable’. Fantasy suffices, then suffuses,

If you haven’t observed this already, you’re either a part of it or have entirely escaped it. The latter is highly improbable.

This susceptibility is toxic, tantalizingly so. It provides a widely accepted alternative to logical thinking. Science is not malleable. It is impersonal and people hate it for this apparent coldness. Science paints a picture of their lives they cannot digest. More edible and tastier alternatives are sought. Cue: innate susceptibility. Unlike animals, we evolved an intelligence that can imagine. Not just adapt and grow but imagine. We can ask the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘why nots’. This makes for a very potent stew.

Where science proves inconvenient, where it proves harsh- we ignore it. This baffles me. How can one ignore science as if it were a choice? If the rock above one’s head falls, it will hit- regardless of whether one sees it coming or not. Where one’s personal ideas are rubbished by science, one worries. One escapes from its constraints, sailing the ship of imagination. We invent ideas and create explanations that please and encourage. Entire industries have developed around this- religion being the most formidable.

This is my plea- don’t look away. However bleak or cold reality may be, it is the only thing there is. Nothing else exists and in nothing else, will you. We must desist from buying this inherited delusion of convenience. Science cannot be disposed of. Its laws have preceded us and will go beyond us. It is why we are here- products of evolution. It is immune to us, just as it must be. For if left to us, scientific law would be an awkward and insecure apology incapable of deciding what two twos must equal; let alone what flies, what swims or what does both.

Scientific law is inevitable and ubiquitous- the only law that needs no constitution. The entirety of the solar system and all of the galaxies- each bigger and hotter than the other, spread over an endless space, have been unable to achieve the most momentary suspension in the laws of the universe.

How can you?

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On Humans

Our common sense and intuition can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
– ‘Man In His Arrogance’, Carl Sagan

The child stared out the spaceship’s window, visibly moved. He strained against the glass, unable to rein his wonder in. His little tentacles wiggled with emotion and his antennas stood erect. Out the window, distant in the blackness, floated a planet. It was the oddest he had encountered so far. A perfect ball of worn-out blue with a smattering of wispy whites and dull browns.

Onbe, isn’t that Earth?’ the child asked.

Veta, Vak-Pak, it is’, replied his older and greener mother. Onbe had many more tentacles than him- thicker and longer. She lay on her side on a bed of neatly tucked white linen, watching her son through large black eyes. Dressed in a blue corset that glimmered in the spaceship’s dim lighting, she possessed all the grace of the galactic elite.

Vak-Pak turned around, leaving smudges where his face had been pressed against the glass. ‘Why are’t we stopping, then? Ante always told me it was a very good planet.’ He hoisted himself onto the bed and snuggled up to Onbe. 

Veta, Vakkoit is. One of the universe’s best’, said Onbe. She softly caressed his green arms as she spoke. ‘But we will not stop here, Vakko. It is dangerous.’

‘Why?’ came the question, immediately. Vak-Pak still stared out the window, his face lit by the faint glow of the lonely planet.

Onbe smiled at the suddenness of the question- the brisk curiosity of a child.

‘It is because of the aliens that live on that planet. They have two hands like us but no tentacles. Instead, they have two legs, much like our monkeys. These things, Vakko, they are really, really bad. They will’- she broke into a whisper- ‘kill us. First chance they get.’

‘Why?’ the question came again, more urgent this time.

‘They just can’t bear anything that looks different. You know, Vakko, these things kill each other just because they can’t bear the difference!’

Vak-Pak sucked his thumb as he listened. He still gazed at Earth, though it somehow looked duller now.

‘Why?’ a third time- more subdued, more deep.

‘They are a bunch of fools Vakko, even worse than our monkeys. They fight over everything. You know, they all believe that there is a Bigger Alien above their planet that can hear them talk and’- she broke into a soft giggle here- ‘that It actually created Earth. These things think that this Bigger Alien made them, too!’

Vak-Pak shifted position and chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement. ‘But Onbe, that is just silly. Onbe, it is silly because nobody can make an entire planet! If you can, then you can do anything, Onbe! Anything!’ he stretched his arms out as wide as he could to emphasize his point.

Veta, Vakko, I know. But these aliens think the Bigger Alien is real. They keep talking to It and nowadays, your Ante told me, they say even the Bigger Alien talks back to them!’ said Onbe. The spaceship had moved along considerably; Earth now a tiny, blue dot.

Vak-Pak sat up, thumb out and back straight. ‘Talks to them?’ he said, dragging each word out to convey his astonishment.

Veta, Vakko. Some of these things say the Bigger Alien asks them to kill and hurt each other. A few of these aliens say the Bigger Alien asked them to build a city, some- a country. Some even say It asked them to write songs and win at games!’ said Onbe, fully lying down on the pure white bed.

Vak-Pak lay down by her side, antennas still erect and twitchy. ‘Onbe’, he whispered. ‘Onbe, how does this Bigger Alien look? Does It also have two legs and hands? Is It bigger than the other aliens on Earth, like a giant?’

Yella, Vakko, they don’t know what it looks like.’

‘Where does this Bigger Alien live? It looked empty above Earth!’

‘Nobody knows where it lives, Vakko.’

Vak-Pak looked into his mother’s face- one final question burning within.

Onbe, why does this Bigger Alien even help them? What is so special about these aliens on Earth? They sound like really bad things.’

A ghost of a smile played on Onbe’s lips as she drew her son closer to keep him warm.

‘That’s the crazy thing, Vakko. There is nothing special about them. Nothing.’

The spaceship had by now left Earth behind- indifferent to the joys, worries and prayers on that distant pale blue dot.

Musings: My Beef With Spirituality

I cannot remember when last beef and spirituality were in the same sentence, if ever.

A spiritual seeker seeks insight into what one does not already know. One meditates on the unknown to somehow grasp the known. One dismisses the obvious in deference to its alternates. The system of inquiry that allows for such methods is spirituality.

However, there is another occupation which is not entirely dissimilar. There too, one questions the unknown to try and make it known. Therein, one dismisses the obvious in deference to its mechanics. William Whewell, an English philosopher and a gifted wordsmith, termed one occupied with such interests as a ‘scientist’.

Though technically identical in their quests, a scientist could not differ more from a spiritual seeker. The latter relies on the abstract whereas the former employs logic as the tool of discovery.  Scientists make the unknown known on the back of irrefutable evidence. Universal truths emerge as the culmination of their investigations.

What, then, does the spiritual seeker do?

One studies the abstract and the obscure with dubious tools. These tools have no form nor any defined function. They do not operate within the constraints of reality. Inquiries typically precede birth and go beyond death, scrutinizing everything in between.

This is where I sniffed my beef out.

Spiritual inquiry is not built on a scaffolding of logic. It is an attempt to grasp a superior reality with inferior tools. It is random and personal, expansive and fragile- all at once. Spirituality obeys no laws, nor does it contribute any. Fact checking, unfortunately, holds no weight in spiritual inquiry.

Fraught with such inconsistencies, spirituality sometimes confuses fiction for fact. The converse is true as well, sadly.

I consider this kind of inquiry dangerous. To me, it is a haven for those entrapped by dogma. Imagine the endless labyrinths of fact-fiction one can weave herein! Anybody can aspire to spiritual inquiry; intellect not being a barrier to entry. Contrived inferences on the same reality emerge, desperate to reinforce the overarching dogma. Fiction pervades, fact is shunned.

It does not help that spirituality has garnered immense acceptance. It has suffused every zone of life. We have spiritual solutions for workplace issues. Sportspeople win gold medals and credit them to spirituality. Families resolve domestic disputes, courtesy spirituality.

But for how long will fiction shield one from reality?

It is bound to break, sooner than later. And when it does, your happy little bubble will implode. You’re back to the beginning and realize you had actually never progressed. Just imagined it, that’s all, but never have.

Listen, should you ever feel the irrepressible urge to question- stop. Think. Will answering this question transport you away from logic? If the answer is no, proceed. If the answer is yes, good luck.