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Rechartering the Waters

An essay by Anoop Kumar

Source: inspirational stories (WordPress)

I’ll begin like I normally do — with an admission. I admit that the assumptions stated, ideas developed and conclusions drawn here, could all be incorrect. In my defence, I’ll resort to the late Mr. Hawking’s statement:

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.

If that is the case in the realm of physical theory, the explanations of metaphysical models ought to be, much more limited, biased, subjective and uncertain. If explanation is what we seek. Between the answers of physical and meta-physical questions, we can encompass the understanding of every conceivable thing; from the concept quantum entanglement to that of universal consciousness, from the theory of diminishing marginal utility to the mind-body problem. Or so I understand. Considering that we have a finite number of moments to exist, as per our current understanding, we may never find out if our beliefs were really correct. Regrettably hence, we may have to make do with wherever we reach in our lifetimes and accept that our inquiry into the unknown can only yield us answers with an asterisk (by now we’re used to skipping the T&Cs, right?). This uncertainty offers us a tremendous flexibility, to proclaim and believe what suits our sensibilities. We’ve generally been constrained from abusing this freedom we are afforded, as it seems that our world and our society cannot survive and progress on mistaken assumptions. But before we completely bury the wrong ideas or punish the wrong deeds, I think we must consciously exercise restraint.

While it is easier said than done, we must endeavour to empathize with the wrong ideas and deeds, discarding whether they’re trivial or serious, naïve or vile, harmless or barbaric. I’m not saying that sinners be set free, wrongdoers be forgiven. Let the law run its course. All I’m asking is while the convicts are imprisoned or misguided are ostracised or explorers are mocked — to objectively look at and try to understand the wrong. For to prevent the progress of wrong, shouldn’t we understand it? Defining the right, the truth, the correct way of doing things seems to have led to conflicts. Religions, economic and political systems, philosophical schools of thought — I could go on about fields where conflicting way of thinking which argue about the way things should be done, have led to opposing factions rather than an answer, if there is one. Perhaps it might be easier to eliminate the truly wrong instead. Or such an endeavour might reveal that we cannot agree on what wrong is either, which will help us expand what we know about ourselves and question the concept of right and wrong. Either way, there’ll be some progress. Say then, we should try to uncover the way wrong intent, overrode the right restraints, if that is what happened. Otherwise, isn’t it conceivable that the underlying cause will endure and fester, taking another, perhaps more vicious form once again? The reason hence, for you to entertain my potentially wrong notions — or anyone else’s for that matter — is to use them as a litmus to select the right ones — at least the future will learn. Is it not better to have false idols act as a compass pointing to the truth, than have no idols and float about aimlessly for so long as we live? Of course, in certain matters we don’t have a choice but to fail till we succeed. What I propose is that in other matters as well, we need to speculate and ponder over potentially incorrect beliefs, fail and learn the right way. However, we need to tread carefully during this ordeal, as right and wrong have often been used (and misused) to
describe differing concepts — ask a capitalist about the communist thinking or a democrat about republican philosophy, you’ll see how a difference in opinion could well be touted as wrong or misguided thinking.

Let’s try and appreciate something before we dive deeper. Science tells us that we live in a universe which began years (lol) ago in an event named Big Bang. To say that a lot of things happened after that would be an unforgivable understatement; but a lot of things did happen. And fast forwarding to today — the particles created then, have over the years interacted with each other, changed their state, form, pretty much everything, before coalescing into you, me, our homes, our clothes, our food, the Statue of Liberty, the Mona Lisa — you get the idea. Everything we perceive using our senses, is made up of matter that survived from that event and their continuing interactions. If we are indeed a long-term result of the cosmic event aeons ago, and if we are just made up of this matter, consider this: the atoms and sub-atomic particles and their interactions, that make up me, or at least occupy the space that I identify as me (to those who are into the philosophy of mind, my humble apologies for such unrefined usage of terms), is eliciting a reaction in the particles that make up you, as you’ve read this sentence and understand it. Isn’t it remarkable? This tenuous ability of ours — to be able to communicate? I believe so. Some signals in the neurons in my brain has resulted in this sentence being typed and some more signals in the neurons of your brain has deciphered it. If we were able to see and discern the minuscule particles making up our body and the energy flow between these particles, communication would show itself in its absolutely complex grandeur. Leave aside the physical aspects. We can describe to someone else not just physical things like the sun, a new pet or a loved one’s grave but also about things that don’t physically exist — love, loyalty, joy, grief, fortune, fate, right and wrong. Provided they’re paying attention (asterisks everywhere). This ability of abstract thinking has been observed, put to test, turned inside out in every conceivable manner and is still understood in pieces.

There are some aspects of human communication that we must spend some time with before moving on. Each of these will compound the effect of the others. Firstly, let’s talk of transmission. We are not as restricted by time and space in case of communicating with people, as other species are. Of course, there are animals capable of communicating over long distances but our ability to communicate beyond our own lifetime, is something different. A product of several iterations of evolutionary changes (as is popularly accepted and supported scientifically). And a beneficial one. We are able to learn from our ancestors, read their stories, evaluate their mistakes from the comfort of our bean bags. As the cliché goes, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. And the only thing to be said about the physical scope of our communication is that as of now, it is restricted by our imagination and intent. Sufficient expansion of the former and resolve in the latter can, in theory, connect the nearly eight billion human beings inhabiting this planet. Next, let’s talk about deception. Communication can as easily be used for deception as it can be for relaying the truth. Not to sound like a Dothraki woman, but it is known — it is intuitive. To understand the compounding, I’ll have to borrow two more quotes (the more you stick around, the more you’ll realize that my original thoughts are quite limited, possibly zero. But then we’ll need to scrutinize the concept of an original thought as well). The quotes are relatively commonplace.

First one is —
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
And the second one goes —
What is history, but a fable agreed upon?

If winners write the history books, are we not doomed to repeat their mistakes? Perhaps for generations to come? You might be a little averse to accept this — no story worth sharing can be hidden eternally, you might argue. If so, let’s discuss the final aspect. Context.

Let’s go on a small thought trip. Visible light, as we know, is made up of several components. While it’d be great if it had something to do with the Bifrost, I’m inclined to believe that it’s the splitting up of the visible light by water droplets that creates rainbows. When this light falls on an object, it absorbs some colours and reflects others. The reflected light then enters our eyes and we perceive the object as red, green, blue or gold. And we say that the object is, say red, if it reflects the red colour. Not the ones that are absorbed, the ones that are reflected. In a way, from that point itself we human beings are bound. We relate to the apparent and settle for the superficial. Perhaps you are wondering — so what? Think of the entire spectrum of light we can’t see, or sound waves we can’t hear — we could go on. These are the inputs to our brain. And physically, we have limited ability to process these inputs. But we interpret our life within the framework of these limitations because who can possibly think of these basic hindrances in their day to day life. Because, so what?! So, what if you are not absorbing, but reflecting brown colour, for all intents and purposes, you are brown-skinned. For what we can’t perceive doesn’t matter to us, what cannot affect us in our daily struggles, we must ignore. Until some of this ignorance start knocking on our doors. You think this notion is far-fetched? Well, perhaps you’re right, in the long run it may not matter. Regardless, we cannot argue that our senses are limited. Now let’s think of something completely different. Imagine going to a movie, a romantic drama, suppose. The hall is full and the projector is turned on. During the course of the movie, if you think of the way it is being consumed by the hall, you’ll realize something. Although all of you are watching the same scenes, in the same atmosphere, everyone is experiencing it differently. Some might be with their partners, perhaps some of them are in their honeymoon period where everything is all sunshine and rainbows. Some might be nearing separation and reliving the better memories. Some might be single and wondering if the creators are showing something worthwhile. Point is, after the movie, if the hall is asked what it was like, everyone would have different opinions, different emotions, possibly different stories to tell. They may have related to different characters. The input was same, but the output was a variety. You can say, well yes. It’s a subjective experience. So is everything we perceive in life. The entity or phenomena we call reality, is nothing but a web of inferences we make of the happenings we witness, within the context of our accumulated knowledge. This was the point of the appreciation and subsequent digression — to try and see how fragile our understanding of reality really is. As Masashi Kishimoto puts it beautifully through Itachi:

Every human being relies on and is bounded by his knowledge and experience, to live. This is what we call “reality”. However, knowledge and experience are ambiguous, (hence) this reality can become (an) illusion. Is it not possible to think that, all human beings are living in their (own) assumptions?

Now imagine the challenge of communicating in such a frailly perceived world in a manner that cajoles interest in the reader or listener and explains everything, to everyone. Is it not a boggling challenge?

The reason context needs to be placed at similar importance as transmission and deception is that, without knowing the context, words can easily be warped by anyone, to mean anything. Millennials can relate better perhaps. Most of us have felt the difficulty in communicating correctly, our emotion in chats. So, imagine what happens to the words and actions of long dead men and women, which can be moulded into anything by anyone who has sufficient access and influence. Problem here isn’t just wilful violation of what had transpired. Even if you witness an event first-hand, but are not on the same page as the doers of the event, you have only your past understandings to make sense of it. You’ll report it within your context, which may well be incomplete. And most importantly, you will believe it to be an accurate representation of what happened. Maybe for most of us it won’t matter much, but what about some of us, whose lives will have a lasting impact on generations to come? If they are not understood entirely, their impact could go in any direction, in all probability, not in the one they envisioned. Also think, most of such impacts are felt in retrospect. So perhaps we should endeavour, unsuccessfully at first, to understand all the people we interact with, as accurately as possible. We need to learn to listen, not just hear.

With this framework, we can finally touch upon the actual topic. We live in a complex ecosystem of desires, compromises, physical and meta-physical restrictions. We have different upbringings, ambitions, resources, challenges and people around us, with similar aspects defining them. Our understanding of reality is foggy at best. And we have a limited amount of time to expand this understanding for the future. If we could depict human knowledge in form of a three-dimensional graph — we may well fail, but if we could — we would have a bound shape formed. The truth of our reality, if it exists, probably does beyond this bound and this is my ambitious endeavour. To explore the fringes of our knowledge of reality and push them farther. Mostly throughout history, such endeavours were taken up by men and women far more knowledgeable and capable than me. And they mostly did it alone. Here, I decide to be different. Trying to uncover as much as we can, will go faster if we work together. Merging the bounds of our combined understandings will give us bigger set (of notions and knowledge) to work with. Hence the name of the project — A Foray into The Fringes. And hence the title of this essay, which lays out the idea of what we are trying to do — organise and rework what we know and what we don’t — we need to re-charter the proverbial waters of human knowledge.

About the Author:

You might find Anoop with a novel, a Rubik’s cube, pondering over Sicilian Defense or listening to Linkin Park on repeat. His diverse tastes are probably a result of confusion in his childhood, as to what to do in life.




…a magazine of literature and art

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