Thursday, September 13, 2007

Killing people is bad, period

Killing an individual is a bad act, period.  Does an eye, substitute an eye ? I am not sure.  Was the US invasion of Afghanistan justified - yes, definitely.  Was the invasion of Iraq justified - it sure did in 2003, now it seems more tenuous. Increasingly, collateral damages seems unjustifiable, in any conflict.  Not matter how good the intentions of an occupying army are towards civilians, collateral damage does occur and manifests itself in the deaths of thousands of innocent people - kids and women included. Maybe mankind should revert to the ancient war tactics that are described in great detail in the Indian epics.

Huge armies faced each other in large battlefields and fought to death.  Children and women were not involved, crops would not be destroyed, cities would not be burned down - effectively, there would be no collateral damage.  The world would probably be a happy place.

Google takes on NASA

The recent announcement from Google is very interesting.  In essence, Google is creating competition to government-funded NASA, with respect to moon exploration. This could also be a new trend towards private enterprises taking greater interest in inventing on scientific projects which were only in the realm of governments. 

I have mixed emotions about this - on one side, I feel that there is lot more to be done on Earth before we start focusing on the moon.  For instance, health in Africa and poverty in the developing world, need quick effective solutions.  I am not suggesting that Google should solve these issues, but, maybe it can create some sort of an economic model that incentivizes innovation that solves third-world problems.  On the other hand, I am glad that Google is continuously innovating and destabilizing the accepted world-order on many facets of our daily lives.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bam Bam Obama!

I logged into my linkedin account today and was very surprised to see a question from Mr.Obama's campaign! It was a question relating to small businesses and entrepreneurs and how the future president might help these sectors. About 1100 professionals had already answered the question, and of course, I posted an answer as well.

I was very impressed with the smartness with which Mr. Obama's campaign has reached out to a large network of professionals. They essentially took the idea a step forward and reached out to the linked community and their effort needs an appreciation. Mrs. Clinton in my opinion is just a front to Mr. Clinton's bid for another 8 years at office. Whether, the Democrats acknowledge it or not, that is the uncomfortable truth. even if she does show intelligence, she is cold, unwarm and seems very unapproachable - dinosaur rooted in the past. Mr. Obama is warm, genuine, honest and has new ideas about the world and US' place in it. I wish, he becomes the Prez.

Noah, Manu, Gilgamesh and Atra-Hasis

I draw a parallel between the story of Noah , the story of Manu , the flood myth from the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, and finally the lesser know flood myth from the Akkadian epic Atra-Hasis. Noah's story is from the Book of Genesis, Manu's story is from Bhagavat Purana, one of the eighteen puranas from hindu mythology The uncanny similarity between these stories, makes me wonder if they all began from the same source. I shall not make any assertions about which of these might be the closest to the source, suffice to say that the origins of all these seems to be one single flood story, thus obliterating the uniqueness of any one single claim.

Interestingly, Christians believe that the great flood that is described in the book of Genesis forced Noah's Ark to eventually come to rest at Mount Ararat. Hindus, who also believe in a great flood - seem to have a less scientific explanation, as Manu took only seven old men and the four vedas with him on a boat that was navigated by Lord Vishnu who had taken the form of a giant fish. The epic of Gilgamesh shamelessly borrowed from the Akkadian epic of Atra-Hasis. To me, they all seem like cock and bull stories of some fantasy-obsessed story-teller, really good at marketing and who succeeded in selling his story well to thousands of his age.

I don't understand why the creationists in the US have taken the Book of Genesis so seriously, when they do know that the story seems more like popular folklore with so many variants of it widely prevalent in countries all over the world. Are conservative Christians really saying that life started after the great flood ? I just can't digest this and of course a number of other things that the hindu myths say. You take these with a pinch of salt and walk away. You do not seriously make your kids believe that God created everything in seven days. You should probably take them to the new application Google Sky and show them the stars and teach them that stars are born in the Eagle Nebula.

To stop myself from being incoherent - I think it would be reasonable to say that, much wisdom is needed in today's world. Wisdom that needs to stop the percolation of blind faith in the epics, myths and legends of the past, and to look forward to the future and how we as a species can lead much better, longer and healthier lives.

the development of moral grammar

I am currently reading a book titled "Moral Minds" written by a Professor at Harvard, Dr. Marc Hauser. He has some very interesting stories to tell us about the evolutionary basis for morality and a seemingly analogous mapping between the development of language and morality. It would probably be injustice to summarize this deeply thought out and well written book, but I take the liberty to say that he suggests the possible existence of a moral "grammar", which I thought was interesting.

I had referred to a similar but vague idea about my development as a child, in one of my earlier posts, ranting against Mr. Hitchens and his anti-god outbursts. I wrote,

I am not a believer. Neither am an atheist. As I always acknowledge, I sincerely do not know what my belief structures are when it comes to religion. However, I believe in a moral basis for empathizing with those in need and this has nothing to do with religion. Hinduism or not, I know that my world-view of what I ought to be doing as a human being has a strong basis in my upbringing. Mr. Hitchens and off late Mr.Dawkins have called this inheritance "cultural genes", some sort of a virus that plagues mankind. I have to say that what I inherited from my religious minded family was not blind faith in an omnipresent God, but an unquenchable thirst for trying to understand who I am, and what my existence is meant to be. when I look back at what has happened in the last twenty or so years of my life is that I have developed a comfortable model of doing this without believing in dogmatic religion and neither being overly rationalistic. That is my model - everyone needs to have their own. What I know is that all the science courses that I have taken in my life have not taught me how to develop the moral code that I practice. I also know that I did not learn this from any religious text or some dogmatic beliefs.

we learn language from our parents and subtleties are picked up though usage, practice and with time. Similarly, Mr. Hauser presents some good examples how we develop the requisite grammar for morality through our observation of others and then the subsequent processing of information gathered from various sources. Seems like a good story to me. Although, it seems like a subjective process, the core fundamentals of what is moral and what is not seem to be passed on quite well across generations. You will ahve to read the book further, for deeper insights on this issue :)

As Mr. Hauser rightly pointed out in his book, it is time that we start separating the basis for moral code from religion. It seems imprudent to assume that a moral code would not have evolved without the effect of religion. I guess what troubles Mr. Hitchens is that the far religious right often invokes God's teachings or presence as the basis for the presence and development of a moral code. By delineating the basis for morality from religion and offering an evolutionary explanation to it, Mr. Hauser in a way has taken away Mr.Hitchens' guns. Mr. Hitchens can now probably rave and rant about the right and the missionaries and how they are poisoning the world. However, the much deeper truth - a moral code would probably now stay untouched from liberals such as Mr. Hitchens and conservatives such as Mr. Coulter, and philosophers and scientists can go about understanding the real truth behind morality and the subsequent implications for mankind.

It is time that we all understand that we do not need to have "faith" or be " believers" to be able to lead full, happy lives. Having said that, we also need to acknowledge that applying scientific rationale to certain aspects of human behavior and development might not offer the best solutions. As Mr. Dawkins eloquently says it, faith is a by-product of mankind's dogmatic unscientific beliefs. However, I see it as a product of the cultural evolution of mankind rather than the biological evolution.

However, now that we all as a species are much wiser - it is probably the right time to revisit our notions about Noah's Ark- if we are Christians, Manu's boat - if we are Hindus. A follow up post on the flood myths will follow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stay away Mr. Sharif

I am glad, glad that Mr. Musharaf acted sensibly.  Pakistan does not deserve to be democratic, given the sate of its politics and economy.  It is a country torn between religious Islamic right on one side and a moderate sensible populace on the other.  A democratic government will be inefficient, ineffective and will only lead to greater instability in the region.  Although I am a great believer in universal suffrage and individual liberty, it is with great pain that I laud the actions of Mr. Musharaf.

If Mr. Musharaf were to come to power, he would lack the strong arm tactics of the army backed Mr. Musharaf and therefore is more likely to acquiesce to the wishes of the right wing mullahs, who command the respect of the uneducated madrassa-attending right.  I wish, for once that the US backs the General against a democracy.  It is for the greater good that democracy has to be sacrificed in that part of the world.