February 07, 2007

Top Philosophical Quotations

Philosophical Quotations

Posted at 08:27 AM

September 12, 2005

Zen koan

Koans | MetaFilter

Posted at 10:32 AM

April 15, 2005


A Shorter Line

One day Akbar drew a line with his royal hand on the floor of the open court and told his wise men that if they wanted to keep heir jobs they must make the line shorter without touching any part of it.

Wise man after wise man approached and stood staring at the puzzle, but they were unable to solve the problem.

Finally Birbal stepped forward and drew a longer line next to the first one, without touching the first line.

Everyone in the court look at it and agreed. The first line was definitely shorter.


Posted at 10:22 AM

March 27, 2005


The New York Times > Week in Review > Did Descartes Doom Terri Schiavo?

I was reading this article on the philosophical perception of the existence of life. Descartian weltanschauung deems perception of consciousness the fundamental requirement for sentient life. Breathing and metabolism are not sufficient.

The next question is one of the sanctity of life. Early in the 20th century the US practiced a form of Eugenics by sterilizing people who were pronounced 'retarded'. The problem is that their diagnosis was flawed and the US had violated a fundamental right (right to procreate?).

The question I am currently pondering is my stand on Eugenics. In the past I was incontrovertibly against it. I can't see how it is possible for society to decide that we need everybody to look like Jude Law and Danny DeVito's genes need to be terminated. (The existentialist point is 'existence before essence' - hence we can't pre-judge people on nature alone). Now, I'm a lot more open to the idea. I suppose core to my change is the realization that we already practice eugenics on a limited scale. The 'arranged marriages' of India are an example of channeling the mixing of compatible genes on the basis of family background. Assuming evolutionary psychology is sound, today women choose mates on some genetic basis (tall enough to reach the top-shelf, rich enough to buy flowers that wilt and diamonds which provide limited utility). The way the system works today allows people at the 'bottom of the value ladder' to still make choices relative to their level (i.e.: trite platitude - "there is someone for everyone"). An eugenic system might deem that some genes are not worth procreating independent of the desires of the possessor of the gene. Is it possible for a central entity (computer or board for gene distribution) to make the decision on how genes should mix for the benefit of humanity? In some weird sense this system would only externalize the decision being made by couples today. Case in point women who make lists ('things I like about him' and 'things I don't like about him').

Time to re-read A brave new world.

Posted at 11:57 AM

January 14, 2005

Philosophical SuperPower

Philosophical Powers

Posted at 09:54 AM

October 12, 2004

Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov


Existentialism and Christianity

Posted at 03:08 PM

April 11, 2004

The Inner Ring

The Inner Ring, by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis contends that people are not in fact driven by sexual impulses as they are by the desire to be part of a clique. This 'desire' is self propogating. Once an inner ring has been breached it no longer holds as a special place in your mind and you now seek another inner ring. Perhaps, the real problem is desire. Even if people were not involved (say climbing a tall mountain), it is desire that pushes you to the next big 'thing' (or mountain). If you gave up desire, then you would be content in the present.

Posted at 08:32 PM

December 22, 2003

How much is your life worth?

$3.3 million dollars says one economist who invented the word hedonic damages.

How much is a life worth

Posted at 09:51 AM

December 04, 2003

Materialism vs Idealism

Materialism: The philosophy that there is only one material world. No heaven or hell exists. A couple of key points. Materialism does believe that reality exists outside the mind. That mind is the highest product of matter (as opposed to the empirical idea that reality is what is perceived by the mind).

Idealism: The material world is a perception. (Essentially empiricism).

Posted at 02:14 PM

November 22, 2003

State and Man

Only in the state does man have a rational existence...Man owes his entire existence to the state, and has his being within it alone. Whatever worth and spiritual reality he possesses are his solely by virtue of the state.
Georg Hegel --Philosophy of History
Posted at 02:22 PM

November 03, 2003

Existentialism Links


Posted at 01:08 PM


It occurred to me that much of life is dominated by imprecision. Those of us involved in the pursuit of science (that wily escapee evades us at every turn) tend to have a more exact view of the world. People are gauged in the scientific world by their accomplishments, their ability to analyze and measure. Measurements are often objective and precise. In the soft world of business this is hardly ever the case. People are gauged by what they say or how they say it. The measure is highly subjective and therein lies the rub. It is impossible to compare except through the prism of subjectivity. If a person makes a good impression on the right person then the job is done. Its not like rationality and logic fails to exist in this world. Its just that all of this is superceded by the most important concept of all - communication. People who relate, communicate, appeal and emote do best in this world. Apparently I suffer from a debilitating illness in this respect for I will abruptly terminate this thought. Derail this train and end this post.


Posted at 09:41 AM

October 29, 2003

October 28, 2003

Thus Spake Nietzsche

I love those that know not how to live except as down-goers, for they are the over-goers.

I love the great despisers, because they are the great adorers, and arrows of longing for the other shore.

I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth of the Superman may hereafter arrive.

I love him who liveth in order to know, and seeketh to know in order that the Superman may hereafter live. Thus seeketh he his own down-going.

I love him who laboureth and inventeth, that he may build the house for the Superman, and prepare for him earth, animal, and plant: for thus seeketh he his own down-going.

I love him who loveth his virtue: for virtue is the will to down-going, and an arrow of longing.

I love him who reserveth no share of spirit for himself, but wanteth to be wholly the spirit of his virtue: thus walketh he as spirit over the bridge.

I love him who maketh his virtue his inclination and destiny: thus, for the sake of his virtue, he is willing to live on, or live no more.

I love him who desireth not too many virtues. One virtue is more of a virtue than two, because it is more of a knot for one's destiny to cling to.

I love him whose soul is lavish, who wanteth no thanks and doth not give back: for he always bestoweth, and desireth not to keep for himself.

I love him who is ashamed when the dice fall in his favour, and who then asketh: "Am I a dishonest player?"--for he is willing to succumb.

I love him who scattereth golden words in advance of his deeds, and always doeth more than he promiseth: for he seeketh his own down-going.

I love him who justifieth the future ones, and redeemeth the past ones: for he is willing to succumb through the present ones.

I love him who chasteneth his God, because he loveth his God: for he must succumb through the wrath of his God.

I love him whose soul is deep even in the wounding, and may succumb through a small matter: thus goeth he willingly over the bridge.

I love him whose soul is so overfull that he forgetteth himself, and all things are in him: thus all things become his down-going.

I love him who is of a free spirit and a free heart: thus is his head only the bowels of his heart; his heart, however, causeth his down-going.

I love all who are like heavy drops falling one by one out of the dark cloud that lowereth over man: they herald the coming of the lightning, and succumb as heralds.

Lo, I am a herald of the lightning, and a heavy drop out of the cloud: the lightning, however, is the SUPERMAN.--

Friedrich Nietzsche - TheFreeLibrary.com - Free Online Library - Classic books by famous authors online

Posted at 04:16 PM

September 13, 2003

Is buddhism good for you

Is Buddhism Good for Your Health?

n the spring of 1992, out of the blue, the fax machine in Richard Davidson's office at the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison spit out a letter from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Davidson, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, was making a name for himself studying the nature of positive emotion, and word of his accomplishments had made it to northern India. The exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists was writing to offer the minds of his monks -- in particular, their meditative prowess -- for scientific research.


Most self-respecting American neuroscientists would shrink from, if not flee, an invitation to study Buddhist meditation, viewing the topic as impossibly fuzzy and, as Davidson recently conceded, ''very flaky.'' But the Wisconsin professor, a longtime meditator himself -- he took leave from graduate school to travel through India and Sri Lanka to learn Eastern meditation practices -- leapt at the opportunity. In September 1992, he organized and embarked on an ambitious data-gathering expedition to northern India, lugging portable electrical generators, laptop computers and electroencephalographic (EEG) recording equipment into the foothills of the Himalayas. His goal was to measure a remarkable, if seemingly evanescent, entity: the neural characteristics of the Buddhist mind at work. ''These are the Olympic athletes, the gold medalists, of meditation,'' Davidson says.

The work began fitfully -- the monks initially balked at being wired -- but research into meditation has now attained a credibility unimaginable a decade ago. Over the past 10 years, a number of Buddhist monks, led by Matthieu Ricard, a French-born monk with a Ph.D. in molecular biology, have made a series of visits from northern India and other South Asian countries to Davidson's lab in Madison. Ricard and his peers have worn a Medusa-like tangle of 256-electrode EEG nets while sitting on the floor of a little booth and responding to visual stimuli. They have spent two to three hours at a time in a magnetic resonance imaging machine, trying to meditate amid the clatter and thrum of the brain-imaging machinery.

No data from these experiments have been published formally yet, but in ''Visions of Compassion,'' a compilation of papers that came out last year, Davidson noted in passing that in one visiting monk, activation in several regions of his left prefrontal cortex -- an area of the brain just behind the forehead that recent research has associated with positive emotion -- was the most intense seen in about 175 experimental subjects.

In the years since Davidson's fax from the Dalai Lama, the neuroscientific study of Buddhist practices has crossed a threshold of acceptability as a topic worthy of scientific attention. Part of the reason for this lies in new, more powerful brain-scanning technologies that not only can reveal a mind in the midst of meditation but also can detect enduring changes in brain activity months after a prolonged course of meditation. And it hasn't hurt that some well-known mainstream neuroscientists are now intrigued by preliminary reports of exceptional Buddhist mental skills. Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco and Stephen Kosslyn of Harvard have begun their own studies of the mental capabilities of monks. In addition, a few rigorous, controlled studies have suggested that Buddhist-style meditation in Western patients may cause physiological changes in the brain and the immune system.

This growing, if sometimes grudging, respect for the biology of meditation is achieving a milestone of sorts this weekend, when some of the country's leading neuroscientists and behavioral scientists are meeting with Tibetan Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama himself, at a symposium held at M.I.T. ''You can think of the monks as cases that show what the potential is here,'' Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who has pioneered work in the health benefits of meditation, says. ''But you don't have to be weird or a Buddhist or sitting on top of a mountain in India to derive benefits from this. This kind of study is in its infancy, but we're on the verge of discovering hugely fascinating things.''

In the 2,500-year history of Buddhism, the religion has directed its energy inward in an attempt to train the mind to understand the mental state of happiness, to identify and defuse sources of negative emotion and to cultivate emotional states like compassion to improve personal and societal well-being. For decades, scientific research in this country has focused on the short-term effects of meditation on the nervous system, finding that meditation reduces markers of stress like heart rate and perspiration. This research became the basis for the ''relaxation response'' popularized by Prof. Herbert Benson of Harvard in the 1970's. Buddhist practice, however, emphasizes enduring changes in mental activity, not just short-term results. And it is the neural and physical impact of the long-term changes, achieved after years of intense practice, that is increasingly intriguing to scientists.

''In Buddhist tradition,'' Davidson explains, '''meditation' is a word that is equivalent to a word like 'sports' in the U.S. It's a family of activity, not a single thing.'' Each of these meditative practices calls on different mental skills, according to Buddhist practitioners. The Wisconsin researchers, for example, are focusing on three common forms of Buddhist meditation. ''One is focused attention, where they specifically train themselves to focus on a single object for long periods of time,'' Davidson says. ''The second area is where they voluntarily cultivate compassion. It's something they do every day, and they have special exercises where they envision negative events, something that causes anger or irritability, and then transform it and infuse it with an antidote, which is compassion. They say they are able to do it just like that,'' he says, snapping his fingers. ''The third is called 'open presence.' It is a state of being acutely aware of whatever thought, emotion or sensation is present, without reacting to it. They describe it as pure awareness.''

The fact that the brain can learn, adapt and molecularly resculpture itself on the basis of experience and training suggests that meditation may leave a biological residue in the brain -- a residue that, with the increasing sophistication of new technology, might be captured and measured. ''This fits into the whole neuroscience literature of expertise,'' says Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard neuroscientist, ''where taxi drivers are studied for their spatial memory and concert musicians are studied for their sense of pitch. If you do something, anything, even play Ping-Pong, for 20 years, eight hours a day, there's going to be something in your brain that's different from someone who didn't do that. It's just got to be.''

Jonathan D. Cohen, an expert on attention and cognitive control at Princeton, has been intrigued by reports that certain Buddhist adepts can maintain focus for extended periods. ''Our experience -- and the laboratory evidence is abundant -- is that humans have a limited capacity for attention,'' he says. ''When we try to sustain attention for longer periods of time, like air-traffic controllers have to do, we consider it incredibly effortful and stressful. Buddhism is all about the ability to direct attention flexibly, and they talk about this state of sustained and focused attention that is pleasant, no longer stressful.''

If nothing else, the meeting at M.I.T. this weekend shows that Davidson, one of its principal organizers, has managed to persuade a lot of marquee names to join him in making the case that it has become scientifically respectable to investigate these practices. Participants include mainstream scientists like Eric Lander, a leader of the human genome project; Cohen, a prominent researcher into the neural mechanisms of moral and economic decision-making; and Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-Prize-winning Princeton economist who has pioneered research into the psychology of financial decision-making.

''Neuroscientists want to preserve both the substance and the image of rigor in their approach, so one doesn't want to be seen as whisking out into the la-la land of studying consciousness,'' concedes Cohen, who is chairman of a session at the M.I.T. meeting. ''On the other hand, my personal belief is that the history of science has humbled us about the hubris of thinking we know everything.''

The ''Monk experiments'' at Madison are beginning to intersect with a handful of small but suggestive studies showing that Buddhist-style meditation may have not only emotional effects but also distinct physiological effects. That is, the power of meditation might be harnessed by non-Buddhists in a way that along with reducing stress and defusing negative emotion, improves things like immune function as well.

The power of the mind to influence bodily function has long been of interest to scientists, especially connections between the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, researchers at Ohio State University, for example, have done a series of studies showing that stress typically impairs immune function, though the exact woof and weave of these connections remains unclear.

Interestingly enough, the Buddhist subjects themselves are largely open to scientific explanation of their practices. ''Buddhism is, like science, based on experience and investigation, not on dogma,'' Matthieu Ricard explained in an e-mail message to me last month. The religion can be thought of as ''a contemplative science,'' he wrote, adding, ''the Buddha always said that one should not accept his teachings simply out of respect for him, but rediscover their truth through our own experience, as when checking the quality of a piece of gold by rubbing it on a piece on stone, melting it and so on.''

In July, I joined Davidson and several colleagues as they stood in a control room and watched an experiment in progress. On a television monitor in the control room, a young woman sat in a chair in a nearby room, alone with her thoughts. Those thoughts -- and, more specifically, the way she tried to control them when provoked -- were the point of the experiment.

Davidson hypothesizes that a component of a person's emotional makeup reflects the relative strength, or asymmetry, of activity between two sides of the prefrontal cortex -- the left side, which Davidson's work argues is associated with positive emotion, and the right side, where heightened activity has been associated with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

His research group has conducted experiments on infants and the elderly, amateur meditators and Eastern adepts, in an attempt to define a complex neural circuit that connects the prefrontal cortex to other brain structures like the amygdala, which is the seat of fear, and the anterior cingulate, which is associated with ''conflict-monitoring.'' Some experiments have also shown that greater left-sided prefrontal activation is associated with enhanced immunological activity by natural killer cells and other immune markers.

When one scientist in the control room said, ''All right, here comes the first picture,'' the young woman visibly tensed, gripping her elbows. Electrodes snaked out of her scalp and from two spots just below her right eye. And then, staring into a monitor, the young woman watched as a succession of mostly disturbing images flashed on a screen in front of her -- a horribly mutilated body, a severed hand, a venomous snake poised to strike. Through earphones, the woman was prompted to modulate her emotional response as each image appeared, either to enhance it or suppress it, while the electrodes below her eye surreptitiously tapped into a neural circuit that would indicate if she had successfully modified either a positive or negative emotional response to the images.

''What's being measured,'' Davidson explained, ''is a person's capacity to voluntarily regulate their emotional reactions.''

Daren Jackson, the lead researcher on the study, added, ''Meditation may facilitate more rapid, spontaneous recovery from negative reactions.''

The visiting monks, as well as a group of meditating office workers at a nearby biotech company, have viewed these same gruesome images for the same purpose: to determine what Davidson calls each individual's ''affective style'' (if they are prone, for example, to hang onto negative emotional reactions) and if that style can be modulated by mental effort, of the sort that meditation seeks to cultivate. It is the hope of Davidson and his sometime collaborator Jon Kabat-Zinn that the power of meditation can be harnessed to promote not only emotional well-being but also physical health.

Since founding the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have treated 16,000 patients and taught more than 2,000 health professionals the techniques of ''mindfulness meditation,'' which instructs a Buddhist-inspired ''nonjudgmental,'' total awareness of the present moment as a way of reducing stress. Along the way, Kabat-Zinn has published small but intriguing studies showing that people undergoing treatment for psoriasis heal four times as fast if they meditate; that cancer patients practicing meditation had significantly better emotional outlooks than a control group; and not only that meditation relieved symptoms in patients with anxiety and chronic pain but also that the benefits persisted up to four years after training. Kabat-Zinn is conducting a study for Cigna HealthCare to see if meditation reduces the costs of treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.

For the time being, meditation science is still stuck in a cultural no-man's land between being an oxymoron and something more substantive. ''We're very early in the research,'' said Davidson, who admitted that ''the vast majority of meditation research is schlock.'' But a well-designed study published in July by Davidson, Kabat-Zinn and their colleagues provides further evidence that the topic is legitimate.

In July 1997, Davidson recruited human subjects at a small biotech company outside Madison called Promega to study the effects of Buddhist-style meditation on the neural and immunological activity of ordinary American office workers. The employees' brains were wired and measured before they began a course in meditation training taught by Kabat-Zinn. It was a controlled, randomized study, and after eight weeks, the researchers would test brain and immune markers to assess the effects of meditation.

There was reluctance among some employees to volunteer, but eventually, about four dozen employees participated in the study. Once a week for eight weeks, Kabat-Zinn would show up at Promega with his boom box, his red and purple meditation tape cassettes and his Tibetan chimes, and the assembled Promega employees -- scientists, marketing people, lab techs and even some managers -- would sit on the floor of a conference room and practice mindfulness for three hours.

In July, the results of the experiment at Promega were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, and they suggest that meditation may indeed leave a discernible and lasting imprint on the minds and bodies of its practitioners. Among the Promega employees who practiced meditation for two months, the Wisconsin researchers detected significant increases in activity in several areas of the left prefrontal cortex -- heightened activity that persisted for at least four months after the experiment, when the subjects were tested again. Moreover, the meditators who showed the greatest increase in prefrontal activity after training showed a correspondingly more robust ability to churn out antibodies in response to receiving a flu vaccine. The findings, Kabat-Zinn suggested, demonstrated qualitative shifts in brain activity after only two months of meditation that mirror preliminary results seen in expert meditators like monks.

These results are still embraced cautiously, at best. Indeed, the Wisconsin study took five years to publish in part because several higher-profile journals to which it was submitted refused even to send it out for peer review, according to Davidson. And yet, by the time the study was over, the subjective experience of participants complemented the objective data: meditation ultimately left people feeling healthier, more positive and less stressed. ''I really am an empiricist in every aspect of my life,'' said Michael Slater, a molecular biologist at Promega. ''I doubt dogma, and I test it. I do it at the laboratory bench, but also in my personal life. So this appealed to me, because I could feel the reduction in stress. I could tell I was less irritable. I had more capacity to take on more stressors. My wife felt I was easier to be around. So there were tangible impacts. For an empiricist, that was enough.''

Granted, that's not enough for many other people, especially the scientific skeptics. But Slater made an offhand comment that struck me as a highly convincing, though thoroughly unofficial, form of peer review. ''My wife,'' Slater said quietly, ''is dying for me to start meditating again.''

Stephen S. Hall is the author, most recently, of ''Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension.''

Posted at 02:56 PM

April 02, 2003


Theodicy to put it simply is the problem of Evil. Most philosophical discussions with atheists center around the proof of God. An atheist does not have to prove the non-existence of God. He only has to disprove any theory for the existence of God.

Theodicy is the main argument put forward by the atheist to the believer. If God exists then how can evil in the world be explained? Evil comes in two flavors. Natural evil comprises tornadoes, earthquakes that kill "innocent" people. Moral evil encompasses despicable acts of Hitler, Idi Amin et al.

David Hume proposed the theodicy argument quite lucidly. Loosely paraphrased his claim centers around God's ominpotency. If God is omnipotent, then he can stop evil. The presence of evil implies that God is not willing to stop evil. If this is true, then God is not good. However if God is willing, but not able, then God is not omnipotent and hence can't be "God". But if God is both omnipotent and willing as theists claim then why does evil exist?

Posted at 09:07 PM

January 20, 2003


Arthur Schopenhauer is my latest distraction. His penchant for distorting the suffering of Buddha into an all encompassing theory of pessimism is both frightening and interesting.

Studies in Pessimism
Religion and Other Essays

Other info at Frownland
World as Will and Idea

Hence, it will be found that the fundamental fault of the female character is that is has no sense of justice. This is mainly due to the fact, already mentioned, that women are defective in the powers of reasoning and deliberation; but it is also traceable to the position which Nature has assigned to them as the weaker sex. They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true. .. That woman is by nature meant to obey may be seen by the fact that every woman who is placed in the unnatural position of complete independence, immediately attaches herself to some man, by whom she allows herself to be guided and ruled. It is because she needs a lord and master. If she is young, it will be a lover; if she is old, a priest
--On Women

What is the relationship between Schopenhauer, Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Eastern philosophy. Buddha said the world is dukkha or suffering. His 4 noble truths said that the root of suffering was desire. He believed elimination of desire was the way to mitigate suffering. To help remove desire he proposed the 8 fold path. His claim was desire could be reduced by non-attachment. Schopenhauer read accepted buddha's theory of suffering. However he said the only solution was appreciationg of aesthetic beauty and acceptance. My personal opinion at this point (given that I haven't read enough of Schopenhauer's works) is that he had an rational understanding of buddha's path. He understood that the world was suffering, but failed to realize that nirvana is an experience that makes possible non-attachment. Bodhidharma was more helpful when he said that that a teaching outside the scriptures was the path to attaining buddha. Schopenhauer failed to see this aspect of the buddhist philosophy. The stoics were ascetics who subscribed to the theory that the moral superiority gained by denying normal human desires was the right answer. Buddhism doesn't focus on the denial. Buddhism is about not attaching to human desires. It is to accept and see things for what they are. Just as they are. Not more. Not less. Stoics build up fortitude by refusing things and in that they increase the importance of a thing by denying its need.

For example consider ice cream. The stoic would consider ice cream as catering to the depravity of the human masses. The stoic would commend himself on his ability to deny the use of ice cream. But it will remain a part of him. He will carry his need for ice cream and his denial of ice cream around. A buddhist however would acknowledge the essence of what makes ice cream appealing: heat, sweet tooth. He might indulge in the ice cream. But will let go of it and not attach himself to it. He could be given ice cream or he could not. In either case he'll be ok with it. He doesn't have to justify its value or rail against its bad effects. Now replace ice cream with your favorite vice.

Posted at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2002


Dualism is a condition that afflicts the philosophy of most people today. Inculcated as a religious truth its cancerous growth is unstoppable. Dualism essentially identifies two irreducible concepts.

Metaphysical Dualism concerns itself with properties such as good and evil. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition metaphysical dualism concerns itself with the battle of God and Satan

Epistemological Dualism concerns itself with the knowable and the unknowable. We know about our surroundings through our senses. So there are in reality two spheres of knowledge: Reality and what we perceive of reality. It is impossible for us to transcend our senses to see into reality.

An excellent site for more manichaean info

Posted at 12:24 PM

November 11, 2002

Derrida on Derrida

What's the most widely held misconception about you and your work?

That I'm a skeptical nihilist who doesn't believe in anything, who thinks nothing has meaning, and text has no meaning. That's stupid and utterly wrong, and only people who haven't read me say this. It's a misreading of my work that began 35 years ago, and it's difficult to destroy. I never said everything is linguistic and we're enclosed in language. In fact, I say the opposite, and the deconstruction of logocentrism was conceived to dismantle precisely this philosophy for which everything is language. Anyone who reads my work with attention understands that I insist on affirmation and faith, and that I'm full of respect for the texts I read.

Interview with Derrida

Posted at 08:57 AM

August 02, 2002

Zen vs Buddhism

The twenty eight patriarchs of Zen are as follows:

1. Sakyamuni
2. Mahakasyapa
3. Ananda
4 Sanavasa
5 Upagupta
6. Dhritaka
7. Micchaka
8. Buddhanandi
9. Buddhamitra
10. Bhikshu Parsva
11. Punyayasas
12. Asvaghosha
13. Bhikshu Kapimala
14. Nagarjuna
15. Kanadeva
16. Arva Rahulata
17. Samghanandi
18. Samghayasas
19. Kumarata
20. Jayata
21. Vasubandhu
22. Manura
23. Haklenayasas
24. Bhikshu Simha
25. Vasasita
26. Punyamitra
27. Pragnatara
28. Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma came from the West into China with the following message:

A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence upon words and letters;
Direct pointing at the soul of man;
Seeing into one's nature and the attainment of Buddhahood

The chief characteristics of satori according to D.T. Suzuki

1. Irrationality
2. Intuitive Insight
3. Authoritativeness
4. Affirmation
5. Sense of the beyond
6. Impersonal Tone
7. Feeling of Exaltation
8. Momentariness

Posted at 10:55 PM

July 31, 2002

Specifity - the bane of religion

Note to the worldy wise: If you intend to start your own religion and have any expectations for its success, avoid details. Try to remain vague. Prophets who have proclaimed the end of the world at specific times have seen the strength of their following wane drastically after the passage of such time. Remain purposefully vague when describing the physical phenomenon that your Gods are responsible for. The Greeks told us the Sun was nothing but Zeus's son Apollo riding his chariot across the sky. When we finally figured the planetary alignments we said no dice and moved on. As a consolation prize we did take along with us some of the superstitions and rituals.

If your God is about to give a sermon only invite selected people. Discourage participation by claiming that God's presence will be overwhelming for the non-prophets. For example when God asked Moses to ascend Mt. Sinai with Aaron he asked the common people not be invited lest they be overcome with God's magnificence. (However later when God decides to send his son out into the world, he has no problems impregnating a common woman). When God decides to talk to Muhammed he sends Gabriel to a remote cave. When Muhammed takes a guided tour of the heavens its a trip for one.

Keep the eschatology powerful and imminent. Christianity and Islam make ample use of the thunderous phrase "The day of judgement". This keeps your followers on their toes. When times get worse it will be easier for your followers to generate a revival by pointing to your forecast. Do provide ample description of the rewards and punishments that await your subjects.

Keep your metaphysics as simple and confusing as possible. Islam kept it simple with one God and a human as the prophet (oh and by the way everyone who came before him was also sent by God just seemed to have trouble communicating). Christianity unfortunately failed the simplicity test but made it up by making it hellishly (note the use of the adjective) confusing with a trinity that is inexplicably interlinked (Father, Son and the holy Spirit). Hinduism blamed you for not achieving your goals by claiming that when the atman (soul) became one with the brahman (universal truth) then you reached liberation. Buddhism won this round hands down - You will be enlightened when you hear the sound of one hand clapping!

Posted at 08:52 PM

July 28, 2002

overview of Judaism

God created Adam. From Adam's rib came Eve. Adam and Eve had the son's Cain and Abel. Somewhere down the line Noah shows up. When Noah is 600 years old the flood comes and he builds an ark and loads up 2 of every species.

Abraham son of Terah brother of Lot has two sons. Isaac through his wife Sarah. Ishmael through Sarah's handmaiden Hagar. Ishmael and Hagar are sent away to modern day Mecca where they estabilish the beginning of modern day Arabs.

Abraham is later asked by God to sacrifice his son. Just when he is about to sacrifice his son God sends a ram. Abraham's son Isaac has two sons. He confers the lineage of Abraham on his son Jacob. Jacob changes his name to Israel and claims to have seen and spoken to God. Israel has two wives and several concubines. He has 12 sons (hence the 12 tribes of Israel). His favorite son is Joseph.

Joseph's half brothers sell him into slavery. He ends up in Egypt and is thrown in prison for resisting the sexual advances of the pharoah's wife. In prison he earns the reputation for interpretting dreams. He interprets the Pharoah's dream to mean 7 yrs of famine, 7 yrs of plenty and finally 7 yrs of famine. Helping the prophet earns him the title of vizier of the kingdom. There is reconciliation with the family and Israel proclaims the line through him.

Some time passes. The pharaoh is alarmed by rapid spread of the children of Israel. He decrees that all hebrew male children must be thrown into the Nile. This is where Moses enters the picture. The Pharaoh's daughter takes pity on a baby floating on the Nile and rears him. Moses ends up in a conflicting situation where he takes the side of the Hebrews agains the Egyptians. God then approaches Moses and tells him to take the children of Israel out of Egypt. God tells Moses his name "YHWH". The word is not pronouncible. Only the high priest of the temple was allowed to pronounce it. Modern day Jews side step the issue by using "Our Lord" or "the Name" instead.

Moses returns to the Pharaoh and asks him "to let my people go". The Pharaoh refuses and Egypt is sent 10 plagues (one for each time he refuses). The Pharaoh lets Moses and his people go. They encounter a sea of Reeds (however people take this to mean the Red Sea). Moses parts the "Red Sea" and the people are delivered to Israel.

Once in the Sinai Moses climbs Mt. Sinai and receives the Ten Commandments. The interesting note here is (Exodus 19:19 - 19:24) God tells Moses not to let the other people and priests (besides Aaron) ascend the mount lest they be overwhelmed by God.

Posted at 02:51 PM

July 17, 2002

Heaven - where unanswered questions go to live

I've developed an acute awareness of how we as a community of humans banish our intellectual honesty to the dungeon and let our denial run the gauntlet. This particular rant centers around our treatment of the subject of death with children in particular. Intelligent adults run screaming into the comfort of "heaven" at the first possibility of discussing death with children.

Where did the Fein kitty go mommy? To heaven dear. Is she going to be God's kitty mommy? Yes dear.

Cant kids handle the concept of death? Or is it that we cant handle the concept of being unable to answer the questions that follow. Why do we think we need an answer for every question. Why do we fear that when asked where do people really go when they die cant be answered and thats ok.

So when asked "Where did kitty go?" say "She ran away. We're getting a dog though"

Posted at 02:22 PM

July 16, 2002

The search for Satori

My innate mistrust of the organizational trappings of religion has always kept me wary of any classifications or scriptures. When I started studying Zen Buddhism this kept me away from reading the sutras or exploring the more "hokey" tantric branches of this philosophy.

However now I think it might be useful to explore the more formal Zen philosophy in order to learn from it. Zen has come to mean different things to different people. The most dominant view is that of bompu Zen. Bompu Zen is focussed on helping people control their mind and as a consequence lead better lives. The quest for the meaning of life is not the goal of Bompu. Gedo Zen deals with the psycho-kinetic forces and the cultivation of Joriki.

The Zen that hits closest to home is Shojo Zen which in some ways fits with the objectivist philosophy of life. Shojo (or small vehicle) is all about you using Zen to get to your destination viz figuring out the meaning of life.

Daijo and Shaijo Zen deal with true enlightenment and the Zazen aspect of it. Satori is the experience of enlightenment (a deeper feeling than kensho, which is also enlightenment). You continue to experience different satori till you achieve true enlightenment. It is at that point that you have achieved Nirvana or Nibbana. The important point to note that zazen(sitting meditation) or kinhin(walking meditation) are but means to get there. There are several koans explaining how we must always be mindful even when not in zazen.

How do we get there from here? Continue practising in order to achieve Satori. It will eventually take you there. The beauty of Satori is that once you experience it you cannot choose to go away from it. It makes too much sense. As the soto sect of Zen buddhism says, we all have buddha nature within us. Satori exposes it to us and we go on the path. The practice can be hard and troublesome.

The movie Why did bodhidharma come from the West? explored the extent of physical hardship monks will subject themselves in order to achieve enlightenment. It is ironic because satori comes not from striving for it but when letting go of expectations of getting it. Simmer down, settle down. It will come. Seek it not like a drowning man grasps at reeds. Let it encompass you like wind does a cliff. It flows through you and becomes one with you and you suddenely find yourself in another place. You see you seeing you and then you smile at seeing you, seeing you.

Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T.Suzuki
Zen Enlightenment

Posted at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2002


Divine command - from the bible (religious base)
Ethics of conscience - follow your conscience (again religious base)
Ethical egoism - watch out for your own self interest (Ayn Rand - selfishness)
Ethics of duty - do the right thing (Kant, position you hold)
Ethics of respect - dont piss me off (cultural relativism)
Ethics of rights - everyone has rights (constitution of America)
Utilitarianism - do so that it is good for everyone (JS.Mill )
Ethics of Justice - do the fair thing
Virtue Ethics - be a good person (Plato , Greek philosophy)

Posted at 12:39 PM

Hinduism Reader

The term Hindu allegedly derives from a mis-pronunciation of Sindhu by the Greeks when referring to the people dwelling to the East of the Sindhu river. Most modern religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ba'hai, etc) are messianic religions. A prophet or offspring of God visits Earth and informs us of our duties to God in these religions. Hinduism is not revelation, it is realization. Hinduism is essentially the realization of the ancient seers about the self-evident truths of the Universe. Hinduism is a henotheistic faith. Henotheism is when one God takes many forms. Its conceivable to be an atheistic Hindu.

In this entry I'll explore some of the basic concepts of Hinduism.
disclosure: Rather than treat the subject matter independently I've interspersed my knowledge of Zen buddhism. This has the potential to confuse the reader.

4 goals in life
dharma: appropriate living
artha: pursuit of material gain by ethical means
kama: delight of senses
moksha: liberation from samsara

Hindu scriptures are broadly classified into Shruti (heard), Smriti(remembered) and nyaya (logic). Vedas are the oldest of the scriptures and they are classified under Shruti (as they were heard from seer's who've had spiritual experiences). The four vedas are Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva.

Misc other info:

Given that Hinduism is a way of life and most modern Hindu literature stresses the oneness of humanity and how all religions lead to the Brahman you'd think converting to Hinduism would be a simple step. Turns out, in order to become a Hindu you must perform the namakarna samskara (name giving ritual) whereby you are given your new Hindu name and you join your sect within Hinduism. Here is some more info, you'll find useful:

When seeking out a liturgist who will perform the name-giving rite, or namakarana samskara, it is necessary to approach a priest from within the sect that one wishes to enter (note: Smarta priests most likely will not give namakaranas). Bring with you to the ceremony an offering basket of incense, fruit, coconut, candy, loose flowers and a beautiful flower garland for Lord Ganesha. Dakshina, a love offering for the priest, is traditional in appreciation for his services in bringing you into the Sanatana Dharma sect of your choice. A generous dakshina, a sum of $900 or more is appropriate by 1995 standards in the US, depending upon the number of priests attending. It is estimated that such a Vedic ceremony will take one to two hours and require many more hours of strict preparations. The presiding priest would be given us$301 or more, his second helper $201 and other helpers $101. Traditionally, cash is wrapped in a betel leaf or its equivalent, and handed personally to the priests right after the ceremony. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the cost of the giving should not be a consideration. Of course, when the rite is performed in a temple, the management should also be given $100 to $200 for the use of their facilities, which would be arranged in advance with the management and could be paid by check. In general, generosity is preferred to miserliness when it comes to rewarding our priests for these enormously important sacred ceremonies and passages. Such appreciation in the form of equitable payment ensures the gratitude and good feelings of the priests for the life ahead. If more than one family member is receiving the namakarana samskara, the amount paid to the priests and the temple would not necessarily be increased. This depends on the protocol of the particular temple. Any reception held afterwards would, of course, involve additional costs. You may elect to give gifts to the temple, such as a picture of your guru and his books and other publications, in thanks for the assistance and services

note: this is just one view point and view points diverge more often than they merge.

What do Hindu's believe in? Here is one view point:

Sri K. Navaratnam enumerates a set of basic beliefs held by Hindus:

A belief in the existence of God.
A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body.
A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or maya.
A belief in the principle of matter--prakriti or maya.
A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation.
A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization.
A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence.
A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship...in religious life.
A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God.
A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue.
A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.

Gayathri Mantra: Om Bhur Bhuva Suvah Tat Savithur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi Dhiyo Yonah Prachodayat
We meditate on that most adorable, most desirable and most enchanting luster (effulgence) of our supreme Lord, who is our creator, inspirer and source of eternal Joy. May this light inspire and illumine our intellect (and dispel the darkness).

The stages of a man (male) according to Hinduism are:

1. Brahmacharya (celibate)
2. Grihastha (householder)
3. Vanaprastha (recluse)
4. Sanyasa (renunciation).

Importance of Sankaracharya
Sankaracharya holds a special place in Hindu philosophy. His interpretation of the Vedanta has contributed greatly to the corpus of exegesis available on the subject. Authors seem to find no bounds for their admiration for this apparent prodigy. He has is also considered an avatar in some circles. He estabilished five religious centers called mutts.

I have my own prejudices over Sankaracharya's real intentions. They are likely to be betrayed in the following paragraphs. Please keep this disclosure in mind during your journey. Sankaracharya is most renowned for his formulation of the advaita interpretation of the Vedas. The Brahman is generally accepted as nirguna (without gunas or attributes. Some people like to say without negative attributes. My belief is that nirguna refers to the ultimate truth that has no attributes (yes this is a specious argument)) or saguna (with attributes). Sankaracharya believed in the final status of Jnana (knowledge) as the ultimate state.

Brahma Satyam. Jagat Mithya. (Brahma is the truth. the universe is unreal). The vast majority of Hindus refer to this statement when they talk about how Maya (illusions) dominate the universe. My personal opinion using the sophisticated duck test (if it walks like a duck , quacks like a duck then it is a duck) is that Sankaracharya was referring to the same ultimate truth as Buddhism, where the self doesnt exist and the samsara (universe) is an illusion. There are some astounding disagreements on the time frame of Sankaracharya's existence. The generally acknowledged time frame appears to be 8th century A.D. (about 1100 years after Buddha). However Kamakoti.org claims to have unbroken lineage dating back to 486 B.C. which would put Adi Sankara 100 years after Buddha.

In anycase Adi Sankaracharya's paramaguru was apparently influenced greatly by a certain branch of Buddhism. Given the similarities and the actual pronounciations of the Sankaracharya I have a tough time coming to terms with the dichotomy of the different branches of Hinduism. While in the common case Hindu's regard Sankara greatly and accept his advaita, the concept of soul remains a central theme of Hinduism.

Adi Sankara's theory stresses the universality of the Brahman. To use an example (pg 231. Ten Commandments of Hinduism by V. Krishnamurthy) the Brahman is like a movie screen upon which the "reality" of our lives plays out. The screen is the ultimate reality. It exists but is not affected by our reality. Further we know not the true state until we have woken up from our "dream-reality". Sankara also uses the analogy of a rope mistaken for a snake because of poor lighting.

Everything is in me. Nothing is in me This phenomenon of Brahman not being visible but something else, the universe being visible is called Maya in the Upanishads and is exploited by Sankara to the hilt. Maya has two powers: one to hide the Brahman from you and the other to project a false thing. The declaration that this is what is happening clearly comes forth from the Lord himself in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Everything that is perceptible is pervaded and permeated by Me, who is unmanifested; all the beings are estabilished in Me but not I in them; they are not in Me either, this is my divine Yoga. He remains unmanifested while what is visible is basically a permeation by him. While he remains unchanges, and imperceptible, the universe is what is perceptible. Everything visible is supported by Him as the only substratum, whereas He Himself is not supported by anything. He is his own support. The snake appears on the rope, the rope does not undergo any change, but the snake is supported by the rope (meaning, without the tope there is no snake). But in reality the snake was never there and so it is also true to say that the snake is not in the rope. To the question: Where is the snake? the answe is: it is in the rope. To the question, Is the snake there? the answer is: there is no snake, the snake was never in the rope. It is in this strain that the Lord gives out, almost in the same breath, what appears to be two contradictory statements. Everything is in me; and nothing is in me. This is the cosmic mystery of the Universe. It is and it is not - sad-asad-vilakshana

Upon reading this paragraph I was immediately reminded of a koan (Johu's dog from the Gateless Gate by Mu-mon (Ekai) - (excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen bones))

A monk asked Joshu a Zen master: "Has a dog buddha-nature or not?" Joshu answered: "Mu"

The essence of this koan is that Mu means "is" and "isn't" at the same time. (This explanation is currently sparse)

Advaita Bhakti
All this brings up an obvious question. Given that advaita says that the atman and the brahman are the same how does one resolve the conflict that this philsophy with the rest of Hinduism which advocates dualism. There are three schools of thought in modern Hinduism:

1. Advaita - Adi Sankara's philosophy that we have discussed at length. Practised by Iyers and other Shaivites (followers of Shiva)
2. Vishitadvaita - Ramanuja's philosophy. Iyengar - Vaishnavite (followers of Vishnu)
3. Dvaita - Madhwa.

The author of the book (Ten Commandments of Hinduism) copped out of giving an answer to the question. He claims we're not equipped to understand the answer.

Sankara also says that Jnana (knowledge) alone will result in the achievement of Moksha. He however recommends the use of unattched work (Nishkama - karma) to help you achieve Moksha. This is pretty much what buddhism says. Knowledge alone will help you achieve Nirvana and mindfulness will help you get there.

Sankara does not ask you to throw away Works or Devotion. These wil drop off by themselves. The very consciousness that one is foing works is enough to make it obligatory on you to do the works. It is the same thing with Devotion. In the ultimate analysis devotion has to take you to that state when you are no more conscious of the difference between you and the worshipped. When this duality dissappears nothing more is desired. What remains is only the subject, the worshipper in whom has merged the objective world of duality.

Here are some more interesting parallels between Buddhism and Advaita.
Sankara says Brahmana-bhava (or being brahman) results in brahmana-ananda a blissful feeling. (akin to Satori / Nirvana?).

It does not come out of studies or scholarship. It does not come out of studies or scholarship. It is a state to be enjoyed internally, not by the external apparatus. It blosseons when one is no more alive to any worldly distraction or glamour. Just like waking up from a fream, you know when you are awake, not before. It is a divine perception of equanimity, that sprouts forth intuitively. When that experience crystallizes there is no more knowledge, no more ignorance, no perceiver, nothing perceived, no perception.

While I will not quote him here I recommend the reader read Zen Buddhism: Selected writings of D.T. Suzuki for a strikingly similar description of satori.

Prakriti - Cosmic Energy
Prakriti has three strands Satva, Rajas and Tamas.
Samadhi: altered state where one becomes one with the Truth
Atman/Brahman: Reality, Absolute Consciousness
Avatar: When humanity loses its realization the Reality takes human form to lead us to the Truth again
Samsara: continuous cycle of birth and death
Moksha: liberation from Samsara
Jeevanmukti: One who has been liberated while embodied (i.e. like one who has experienced Nirvana)
videmukti: one who has achieved Nirvana on death becomes a videmukti and is freed from the cycle of re-birth

Int'l forum for NeoVedantins
Himalayan Academy
Indian Philosophy Page
Bhagavad Gita

To the reader: All factual errors in this entry are mine. While the text may carry the tone of confirmed factual evidence it is wholly not the case. The constant apologetic interjection of "I think", "it appears" and other mechanisms of informing the lack of unalloyed conviction are unappealing to the author. If you wish to contribute constructively and reform any questionable facts please use the comment forum. Your response will be absorbed and your contribution duly noted.

Posted at 11:04 AM

July 05, 2002

Goodbye Dualism

It was the first day of class for the 7th grade class. I turned and enquired of my friend "What is your name?". His tone of voice betraying a sneaking suspicion he replied with the accepted "My name is John Doe". My body language conveying agreement I pointed to his hand and asked "Is this your hand?". His face now revealing the same incredulity as his voice, he said "Yes".

My head nodding in agreement my inquiry continued. "If this is your hand and this is your body. Then who are you?". What followed was a sophistry that outlined the fact that the soul inhabited the body. The soul answered to the intangibles such as hate, fear, anger while the body displayed the gaugeable characteristics of weight, height and speed. Thus with out much ado I entered the world of dualism.

Dualism is the de facto assumption of most people today. Most of the world's major religions rely on dualism to entice their followers and to retain their believers' loyalty. The Judaeo-Christian religions promise the sweet rewards of heaven and the harsh punishments of hell to their followers. Even hinduism (in most forms) needs dualism to allow for re-birth. (The atman(soul) is re-born in a cycle till moksha(liberation) is achieved).

Why is dualism so appealing? Because it's simple. In general our physical manifestation is always subject to comparision and derision. Ever notice how its a great compliment to call someone a beautiful person or look for what's inside and that beauty is only skin deep. Since what's inside can't be measured and made to stand in a line up it's preferable to think that the inside is of more significance. Obviously if the physical were a result of the inside I would be a 6'4" towering work of art!

Dualism also allows the priests to guarantee that we would enjoy a wonderful life in the hereafter without the inconveniences of the current world. Which donor to a religious institution would like to learn that the chronic back pain and arthritis will accompany them to their next life. Questions of the form "Will I be young or old in the hereafter" are responded to by saying that those concepts are once again related to the physical world and have no bearing in heaven. However, conveniently we are left with our ability to sense physical pain in case we end up in Hades and have to face the wrath of Satan.

What we fail to realize is that a lof of our so called intangible nature is a result of our physical. We adjust to accomodate our physical world and the two are intertwined in more ways than we would like. We walk differently to counter a mishap to our foot. We communicate differently to accomodate a lisp. The separation of the soul is not a cleave and part operation on a butcher's block.

So what then? Monism? Your body and your soul are intertwined they are one and the same. Go a little further and let Buddhism tell you that there is no self. There is only consciousness (many different kinds of consciousness).

Posted at 03:25 PM

An Islamic reader

Several practices in Islam have always befuddled my weak religious mind. In this entry I am going to try to list the rituals and their Koranic basis and origin. A glossary is at the end.

The black stone(aswad) During the hajj Muslims venerate a black stone. There is no Koranic basis for this act. A mixture of tradition and pagan(?) tradition have continued the execution of this act.

Stoning the Shai-tan (Satan): Muslims symbolize their rejection of polytheism by stoning 7 pebbles at the earthen symbols of the Devil. This practice has no Koranic basis. The prophet confirmed this practice.

Zam Zam: The so-called holy water collected and distributed around the world packaged with tall-tales of therapeutic values. Once again, no Koranic background. Legend has it that when Hagar and Ismael were abandoned by Abraham on Sarah's insistence, Hagar prayed to God for sustenance and the spring of Zam Zam came forth.

Animal Offerings: This practice has a Koranic background. God requires Muslims to offer the sacrifice and partake in the meat and distribute the meat to the less fortunate. My impression is that this follows the tradition of Abraham where this practice was/is common place.

Kaaba: The cube (60' x 60' x 60') shaped building in Mecca considered the house of God. The Koran says it was raised by Abraham.

Prayer (Salat) An interesting issue. The manner or content of Salat was never detailed in the Quran or the Hadith. Salat (as well as Zakaat (tithe/charity), Roza (fasting), Hajj) comes to Islam from Abraham. Salat was performed by the idolators of the Quraish. The implication spelled out is that Salat was secular and utilized by all the religions of the descendants of Abraham. That's why when you see a time-in-motion graphic of the jewish prayer you will see a striking similarity to the Muslim Salat!

Women:Hijab The most often quoted verse from the Quran regarding women is one that asks that women dress modestly. The wearing of the veil is more tradition (and misguided efforts to score brownie points with Allah) related than religion.

Women:inheritance In the absence of a will (this is a subtle but very important point) daughters get only half what the sons get. This is not a earth shattering revelation considering the partiarchial society we live in.

Women:trustworthiness Women are equal to men with respect to the law with one exception. In Financial matters two women are require to collaborate what would be accepted by one man.

Women: separation from Men Interesting enough the world over in muslim countries it seems to be the norm to separate the women from the men in social gatherings. This has no basis in the Quran as exemplified by the ritual of Haj where men and women perform the rites together.

Women:sex It is forbidden to have sex when a woman is menustrating. The Quran appears to have a very temporal and negative view ("unclean") of menstruation. Not a stretch considering the practice at the time.

Women: abortion It doesnt appear that Quran deals explicitly with abortion. Most "scholars" use verses relating to "children" to form their opinion. However, they fail to realize that in order to derive that equality you need to determine that the fetus is indeed alive and is a child. Abortion during the first 3 months seems to permitted.

Over all the Quran is quite progressive in its dealing with the female gender. There are plenty of verses that reveal an understanding of how relationships work (for eg: divorces have cooling off period during which retraction of divorce is simple). However, today the prophet would not have won support from any feminist groups.

The Islamic law codified from the Quran and the Sunnah constitute the Shariah. Unfortunately (or obviously. please choose the lesser offensive of the two) the meaning gleaned from the Shariah is not unanimously accepted. This has resulted in the Shariah being interpreted and caused disputes. The Shariah can be considered as one of the foremost achievement of early Islamic society. The strength of Islamic law kept Muslim society free of chaos and unrest. However 1300 years later at the dawn of the 21st century Shariah threatens to keep Muslims entangled and backward because of their unquestioned faith in it.

Fiqh is based on four rules (usul):

1. Quran
2. Sunnah
3. ijma: consensus of the community
4. qiyas: analogical reasoning.

The first two components are superior to the rest. The system never attained perfect unanimity. Four schools (madhabs) formed that argued over the merits of their systems. The four were:

1. Hanifi: this school was more open to reasoning and interpretation. They use qiyas analogy to derive solutions.

2. Maliki: the most conservative of the schools. Example: marriages could only be contracted by parents and guardians (divorce was easy for the male). Their solutions were based completely on the Hadith

3. Shafi - this school attempted compromise between the Quran and aql (human reasoning)

4. Hanbali - this school focusses solely on the hadith with no room for use of reasoning.

A couple of interesting points. Early in the development of Islam Ijtihad(creative interpretation) was used. Later it was outlawed as bida (creation of new perversions). From this point onwards changes in law could only be according to the principle of taqlid (imitation of earlier rulings). This appears to be similar to the rules of precedence and introduces scholasticism into Islamic society. Fiqh classified all human actions into the following categories:

1. fard: obligatory and required acts. Omission of these acts is a sin.
2. haram: forbidden acts. performance of these acts is a sin
3. mandub: recommended acts to gain brownie points
4. makru: undesirable acts
5. mubah: all other unspecified acts of unknown quality (good or bad)

bi la kayf: without questioning why. This is another concept within fiqh which requires unquestioned obedience. (side note. Plato's Euthyphro questioned if something was good because God commanded it or did command it because it was good).

Example of the Shariah: If someone is found guilty of stealing their hand is lopped off. The proponents of Shariah claim that such punishment is a great dissuading force. They claim that when a theif is sent to prison the children in the house are deprived of a father figure and are without a bread winner. The logic is quite easily assailable. While I am tempted to leave the counter points as an exercise to the reader I'll try to enumerate a couple of my observations:

1. If stealing constituted a part of the cash flow to the family then the father was not an effective breadwinner.
2. The simplistic manner in which this issue is addressed leaves no room for distinction between simple crimes to serious ones.

I concede the point that a person could only be found guilty of stealing twice under Shariah. After that the thief becomes dependent on the state for his/her every need.

Islamic scholars make a big issue of how Islam appeals to the intellect while other religions require unquestioned faith. Here is something to think about. The punishment for renouncing Islam (and converting to another religion) is punishable by death under Shariah. I can see how an intellectual man would hesitate before commiting apostacy.

Punishment in Islam:
Punishment in Islam falls under the following categories:
1. Hudud (fixed penalties)

The offenses under Hudud are adultery, fornication, drinking alcohol, theft, rebellion against Islamic authority and apostacy. Punishment ranges from lashes, stoning, amputation and death. Progression of punishment in theft is as follows. First offence results in the loss of 4 fingers of the right hand. Second offence will cause the loss of the left foot from the ankle joint. A third time will result in imprisonment for life. Theft in prison will earn the death penalty.

The prescribed treatment of homosexuality and adultery is death.

2. qisas (retribution)
The offences are premeditated murder, seemingly premeditated murder , erroneous murder and intended and unintented other offenses. The victime has the option of retribution, blood money or neither.

3. ta'zir (discretionary sentences )
All other crimes allow the judge to decide what punishment can be prescribed.

Intercession is undesirable according to the Quran.

eschatology: branch of theology concerned with the final events of mankind. for eg: the day of judgement in the Christian faith
weltanschauung: comprehensive understanding and conception of the world from a specific point. Essentially Quranic weltanschauung would refer to the understanding Islam displays of the whole world.
manichaean: a believer of religious or philosophical dualism

5 pillars: The essential practices of a Muslim
Hajj: Once in a lifetime visit to Mecca required by Islam as part of the 5 pillars.
Abraham: Ibrahim in the Koran
Ishmael: Ismael
Hijab: the term used for the veil worn by muslim women.
Quran/Koran: Quran is the preferred reference to the holy book. It contains 114 chapters
Tafseer: exegesis (explanation) of Quran
Sunnah: denotes the way the prophet lived his life. Islamic jurisprudence uses the Sunnah as the second source of knowledge.
Hadith: Narrations about episodes in the prophet life. Used as parables.
Fiqh: Islamic jurisprudence.

Misc info:
"Researchers" have tried to find a mathematical framework in the Quran. The recurring theme appears to be the number 19.

The number of chapters is 114 = 9 x 6
The total number of verses is 6,346 = 19 x 334
The number of times the word "Allah" appears is 2,698 = 19 x 142

The claim is that nothing in the Quran can be modified without altering the mathematical authentication built into the text. While I applaud the zeal of these Quranic number crunchers I find that none of their "authentication scheme" work on the total number of letters or words! If I were to add more text to a verse without altering the number of chapters or mentioning Allah (or mentioning Allah 19x times) then the change would not be detectable.


The Koran (Quran) pays a lot of attention to Abraham. Abraham received the covenant from God.

Further reading:
Shalom and Salaam: Judaism and IslamI and II: A comparitive study of the two monotheistic religions.
Islamic Finance
Islam exposed is an anti-Islam site that may have a contrarian perspective
Info on Shariah
Itjihad- Muslim freethinking
Secular Islam A movement to modernize the religion. The testimonials of the people who have left Islam are enlightening.
Alternative views on Islam
Information on Hadith
Virtual Library at the Witness-Pioneer
muslim philosophy

Islam in the World - Malise Ruthven
Islamic Law in the contemporary world - Sayed Hassan Amin
Riyad-us-Saliheen - compilation of Hadith.

To the reader: All factual errors in this entry are mine. While the text may carry the tone of confirmed factual evidence it is wholly not the case. The constant apologetic interjection of "I think", "it appears" and other mechanisms of informing the lack of unalloyed conviction are unappealing to the author. If you wish to contribute constructively and reform any questionable facts please use the comment forum. Your response will be absorbed and your contribution duly noted.

Posted at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2002

Do the Dishes

A sudden thought occured to me just now? Why did I find Zen so appealing? Why didnt it slip down the abyss of religions along with Wicca, New Paganism? Why didnt the aura of New Age taint it to an extent that I dismissed it as another escape created by man to escape the harsh glare of reality?

My first foray into Zen (and its kin buddhism and Taoism) came in 2000 when I read about Buddha. There was a parable that was supposed to enlighten the reader about Buddhism was: "Imagine a man struck by an arrow. The arrow has penetrated deeply and blood flows gushes out with no respite. The primary thought in this man's mind is not 'where did this arrow come from?' or 'What speed was it fired from the bow?'. The man's quest is for salve for his wound. In the same way you should deal with your life".

Yes the story above was rendered terribly in my re-telling but the essential take home message was attend to your suffering. Do not waste time inquiring the origin of your suffering. My scientific-inquiry-free-thinker mind smirked at the naivette of Buddha. Facing up to your problems I reasoned was not a strong point of Buddhism.

A year later I encountered Taoism. Its simplicity, Wu-wei (principle of go with the flow) made me re-think my initial reaction. Then it occurred to me that Taoism was not dictating avoiding your problem. It said, face up to it. Deal with it. Do not walk away from it. The arrow is our problem. Be it work, life, the grand scheme of things etc. Don't waste time looking for it's origin, or ignoring it. Keep in mind that you are welcome to look for the origin just dont do that instead of dealing with the arrow. Face it. Be one with it. Accept it. (not the arrow, but the situation). Accept the situation and deal with it.

Another theme in Zen is "doing the dishes". A lot of koans revolve around the therapeutic benefits of 'doing the dishes'. The central theme is "Dont do the dishes to get clean dishes. Do the dishes to do dishes". I'll attempt to tie this in with the arrow theme shortly. A lot of times in our lives we go through the motions to get through to the next stage. We undertake a lot of activities because we have to, but we dont acknowledge that we are undertaking these activities. Let me rephrase. We want clean dishes. Why do we want clean dishes?

1. we'll have to eat soon, and we dont have any clean dishes. New ones cost too much and we ran out of paper plates.
2. the dirty dishes are stacked to the ceiling and we are expecting guests over shortly.

Well, so we pull out the sponge, the dawn and attack the dishes. The music blaring, the TV on some station. Thoughts crowd our mind, dishes pass from left sink to right to stand via the scrubber (no, I am not including the dish washer). We've pretended we didnt do the dishes. We've fixated on the end result. Not on the action. We've spent 15 minutes of our life wishing we hadn't lived those minutes. We've probably wondered at the back of our minds: "wish I was rich enough to pay someone to do this" (or some permutation thereof). You've just spent 15 minutes of your life and wasted them. Thats the total net worth you've assigned to those minutes. Total disregard, contempt and indifference. This apathy is a result of your belief that it was done as a last resort.

Reflect back to things in your life that you perform in a similar manner. Paying Bills? yep. When's that due date? oh wait! where did that bill go? Arent' I supposed to pay something at this point in the month?

Add up those minutes and you find that a significant chunk of your life is spent without living in it. What does this mean? Well, remember the movies, when somebody is dying the theme invariably returns to: "live every moment of your life", "live life to the fullest". Well this is where your life goes. In moments like this. the dishes, the bills, the laundry. This is your life. GET USED TO IT. It doesnt change.

Consider this for a second. Take a step back and ask. Well what if you didnt have to do the laundry. Yes you can pay someone to pick up your laundry and do it and bring it back. You can hire a maid to put the clothes up. Same for the cleaning, and the dishes. Now what about food? Do you have to eat food? is it a waste of time? well, its fun sometimes, lets let that slide. What about sleeping, umm. Its nice to catch a few zzzs sometime. Thats kinda life living your life to the fullest too. Ok, so what about brushing your teeth? Can we skip that? can we have someone else do it? umm I s'pose but that would require you to open your mouth to someone and let them do it. What about taking showers. Settled the line is drawn. Somethings have to be done. No escaping it.

Now take a step back and add all the unnecessary things that you have to do in your life and take as pre-ordained the fact that these activities do in fact have to be performed. Now ask your self given that it is pre-determined that these activities have to be performed how would you rather go through these motions? Would you ignore them and be dragged to them kicking-and-screaming by a mile high pile of stinking dishes, clothes and garbage? Would you prefer to live your life hiding in the shadown of reality, the zone where things are bad but not terrible enough that you dont have to leave your comfort zone to encounter these necessary details of life. Would you like to skip paying the bills (and think about it only when you pay for dinner with your credit card). Do you enjoy the moment when you wonder if the credit card will be refused? Would you like to wait till December and furiously jot down your resolutions which will follow through full steam till the 15th of January?

Ok, we'll leave cliche land shortly. What does Zen tell you? Wake up! Wake up! Become mindful. Take a step back. First stand in front of the mirror and acknowledge your presence. Take a deep breath. Concentrate. Acknowledge your presence before the mirror. Acknowledge your life. ALL OF IT. Not just the fun parts, all of it warts and all. This is you. Now do the dishes. Wash them slowly. Watch the suds form. Feel the water over your hands. feel the dirt come of. Watch it wash down the drain. Acknowledge the dish. Put it away. Deal with your life. ALL OF IT. in the same way.

Take the bills. organize them. sort them. file them. collate them. and yeah, pay them. The things you've ignored. The realities you've locked away hoping they go away before they become full fleged emergencies. ACKNOWLEDGE THEM. Deal with your problems. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

Posted at 09:47 PM

June 21, 2002

Ontological proof for the existence of God

Credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I may understand) began St. Anselm's Proslogion. The basis for the ontological proof is that inorder to talk about God we must all (including atheists) have an understanding of what is referred to by the term God. He says lets conceive of the most omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent being. Then he says between two things, one that exists and one that doesnt, the one that exists is better. (For eg, whats better than the best ice cream flavor? one that actually exists). He then says since God is the greatest most positive thing (by definition) then the God that exists is better than the idea of the most positive thing.

An explanation of how this proof doesnt work is here. A suitable response might be credo quia absurdum est (I believe because its absurd)

Posted at 11:08 PM

May 30, 2002

Consistency or Obfuscation

Take this test to see how consistent you are in your beliefs. The problem I encountered while taking this test was that using zen buddhist beliefs I dont care if God exists or not (as distinct from I dont know if God exists or not) and so when I kept encountering questions about God I kept going "what do I care?".

-- via [metafilter]

Posted at 12:21 PM

May 29, 2002

Denis Diderot

Diderot was a French encyclopedist, philosopher (of materialism) and critic.

His position gradually changed from theism to deism, then to materialism, and finally rested in a pantheistic sensualism In Sainte-Beuve's phrase, he was " the first great writer who belonged wholly and undividedly to modern democratic society," and his attacks on the political system of France were among the most potent causes of tile Revolution.

-- from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Posted at 09:04 AM

May 21, 2002

prime objective for the meritocrat

The nature vs nurture debate has raged on for what seems to be an interminable duration. The one aspect of nurture that strikes a chord with me is the instilling of self-confidence in a child. I think parents play a crucial role in the estabilishment of self-esteem and self-worth in a child. Opportunities and capability aside, self-confidence and pluck opens more doors avenues than you can imagine. David Brooks has written The Merits of Meritocracy for The Atlantic.

Here are some interesting excerpts:

Starting at birth, middle-class Americans are called on to master skills, do well in school, practice sports, excel in extracurricular activities, get into college, build their résumés, change careers, be good in bed, set up retirement plans, and so on. This is a way of life that emphasizes individual achievement, self-propulsion, perpetual improvement, and permanent exertion.

The prime ethical imperative for the meritocrat is self-fulfillment. The phrase sounds New Agey; it calls to mind a Zen vegan sitting on the beach at dawn contemplating his narcissism. But over the past several years the philosophers Charles Taylor, of McGill University, and Alan Gewirth, of the University of Chicago, have argued that a serious moral force is contained in the idea of self-fulfillment. Meritocrats may not necessarily be able to articulate this morality, but they live by it nonetheless.


Second, society surrounds the individual with a web of instruction, encouragement, and recognition. The hunger for recognition is a great motivator for the meritocrat. People define themselves in part by the extent to which others praise and appreciate them. In traditional societies recognition was determined by birth, breeding, and social station, but in a purified meritocracy people have to win it through performance. Each person responds to signals from those around him, working hard at activities that win praise and abandoning those that don't.
Posted at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2002

Lilith the first woman?

Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall repose, and find a place to rest. There shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow
--Isaiah 34:14f

At the same time God created man he also created a demoness/goddess Lilith. She was created independently (not from Adam's body parts like the other first woman). Lilith refused to obey Adam's will and was banished from the garden of Eden and subsequently cursed. The Lilith shrine has more information.

Posted at 08:39 AM

April 23, 2002


Recently the child-free counter-movement seems to be gaining more ground. I suspect it affects males less than it affects females. Ms. Kahn shares her view point.

Posted at 02:35 PM


To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they know quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?
Socrates --Quoted in Plato's Apology
Posted at 10:24 AM

April 02, 2002


Quite often, especially in the matters of religion, people take the opinon that everyone is entitled to a true belief (we can agree to disagree). Relativism is essentially the thesis that all points of view are accurate. The problem with this approach is that even a view that relativism is wrong is accorded validity.

A term that often shows up in the language today is moral relativism. As a neophyte philosopher moral relativism makes sense to me in the context of existentialism (Existence before essence), good/bad is determined uniquely and individually and aggregated by cultures and communities.

The counter argument is that there is infact essence before existence. Good does exist. Children must be taken care off. We must not harm others.

I'd put my money on Sartre and Camus on this one. It is facile to a person steeped in the western centric judaeo-christian ethic to propose that all other approaches to ethics are wrong.

Posted at 09:25 PM | Comments (1)

Russell's paradox

Bertrand Russell discovered the Russell's paradox while working on his Principles of Mathematics. The essence of the paradox is:

Consider a set that contains all sets. Does it contain itself? If it doesnt contain itself then it cant be a set that contains all sets. Now consider the set of sets that dont contain themselves. If that set doesnt contain itself then it can't be a set of all sets that contain themselves. But by containing itself it now precludes it from the original condition

More information at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Posted at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2002



The sign and the signified. For example the word cat (made up of the letters c-a-t) is the sign and the signified is the (insert image) cat. So essentially structuralism (semiotics also) looks into the way language means what is says (?). I wonder how onomatopoeic words word with structuralism.

Posted at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2002

Secular Humanism != hedonism

First it was the godless communists. Now the conservatives have turned the attention of their propoganda machinery towards the secular humanists and their ilk. The ills of this country and the world are blamed on the depravity of the individuals without religion. It is assumed that a moral compass not endorsed by God will lead its holder directly into hedonism. Robert Scheer writes about this in his column 'Values fall prey to hypocricy'.

In related news Maureen Dowd of the New York Times argues that when a man of god commits abuse the effect is much more significant.

Posted at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2002

Kantian contribution

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason made him one of the greatest modern philosophers. Kant was driven by Hume's thesis that metaphysics was an impossibility. First a background:

There were two school of thoughts that dominated philosophy before Kant came along:
Rationalists Rationalists like Decartes believed that all human knowledge was derived. They didnt trust the physical world and believed mathematics provided the answers. Rationalists dealt with Analystic propositions. They believed only in a priori knowledge.

Empiricists. Empiricists believed only in scientific experiments and the results there of. Empiricists believed in synthetic propositions. They believed in a posteriori knowledge.

Kant's contribution was that he believed synthetic a priori knowledge was possible. He claimed that Space and Time were a priori institutions granted to everybody. From what I can tell this helped him prove the existence of knowable things but he claimed it was impossible to claim the existence of things in themselves. For example, he claimed that if I hit a billiard ball (I know the existence of the ball from a priori knowledge) I can predict where the ball goes from synthetic propostions.

Posted at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2002

A blurb on my philosophical growth

I first confronted my first philosophical issue when I asked myself "what if I was praying to the wrong God". I had'nt accepted Jesus as my savior and I had no intention of doing that. I resolved this issue by claiming that if I lived a good life and remained true in the practice of my religion it would be hard for God to find me at fault, given the lack of information on God's part. The next step was reconciling what I knew of religion with what I knew of Science. The duality of living a religious life while accepting the scientific tradition seemed apocryphal. I decided that the religious works could not cover all thats known to man now since it would not appeal to the lay person. That delusion lasted only a brief time. I soon discovered Joseph Smith's Mormonism and the Carribean Rastafarism. Given the vigor of the followers of these two religions it soon occurred to me that I could be totally off course in my religion as well. The best thing was to start from the beginning and question everything. This Cartesian methodology also had no desired answer in store. I drifted into deism with a mixture of agnosticism. While I couldnt say for sure if God existed or not I believed God was no longer involved in our day-to-day lives. I used Objectivism to bolster my reason for living. My greatness in it self seemed enough. God didnt matter. Through all this the question of "whats the meaning of life" nagged me to no end. Finally I discovered buddhism and zen and I was liberated. No longer did I care if God existed or what came first 'the chicken or the egg'. Enough time with Zen just made life better and better. Then my zen life took on a bit of a existentialist flair. Where zen promulgates living a 'good' life I began to question what is good and bad? It is what I make of it (existence before essence) and by choosing I choose for all of humanity. So thats where I am. A Zen existentialist with Objectivist leanings.

Posted at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2002

A little pasada with your samvega?

The story of Siddhartha is now an often repeated parable of how an Indian prince dropped out of society to find nirvana. The issue that confronted Siddhartha was the vicious cycle of life,sickness,old age, death that seemed to provide no plausible reasons for living.

Samvega is the complex emotion that is the result of the realization that your life is stuck in a rut and you see no way out. Pasada is the feeling of supreme confidence and clarity. With Pasada life makes complete sense. (I assume pasada is the result of kensho/satori which are the japenese terms (Samvega/pasada are Pali Sanskrit terms)).

The Bhavana sociey has one of the best articles on Buddhism that I've read in a while. [via metafilter

Posted at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)


Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find himself transformed into a dung beetle. Gregor the sole breadwinner in the family (with dreams of sending his young sister Grete to music school) is now the one who needs to be supported. Gregor's handicap polarizes the family. Gregor's father returns from retirement and his siter starts working. Eventually Gregor is no longer appreciated by his family. Gregor dies. His family now look to his sister as the new hope for the family.

The Metamorphosis in full and in summary

Franz Kafka's work has been seized by camps across the spectrum of human thought as representative of their school of thought. Surrealists obviously delight in Kafka's phantasmagoria. Existentialists expound that Kafka's characters represent the essential existentialists. What do I think? I think Kafka suffered from a constant fear of not living up to his parents' expectations.

Posted at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2002

In God we trust? What God?

Turns out America wasnt really founded by good christians

Deists: The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation. Deists tend to believe in the moral lessons of the bible, but not in the verity of the bible.

The other side of the story. [via Fark]

Posted at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2002

Unexamined life

It is possible for one to over examine one's life. Do we really need to reach a point that exasperated Socrates pines for hemlock to put him out of the misery of constant self examination. Life is for living. Moderation is the key. Examine, but move on. Heisenberg could have reworded his thesis about self examination. When you take a reading of your life, you explicitly disrupt it. Sometimes, you just have to let go and push hard and believe that the goals you've set for yourself are right.

The examination should focus instead on the things that are preventing the attainment of the goals. Do not constantly re examine the worthiness of your goals.

Posted at 07:16 PM

February 11, 2002

Does Philosophy help?

Philosophy being nothing else but the study of wisdom and
truth, it may with reason be expected that those who have spent most
time and pains in it should enjoy a greater calm and serenity of mind,
a greater clearness and evidence of knowledge, and be less disturbed
with doubts and difficulties than other men

-- George Berkeley - A treatise concerning the principles of human knowledge

I for one do not believe Berkeley was in full posession of his intellectual faculties when exhorting the power of Philosophy to infuse peacefulness. When René Descarte set out to meditate on human nature and life his quest was indeed for answers that would make sense of the world. However, his escape came in the form of an incestous maxim which is often condensed to I think, therefore I am. Philosophers today are entangled in a web of details that do not assist their progress. The bigger picture is occluded. Its like looking at a mirror thats been fogged. Self doubt and deference to tradition prevents our modern day philosopher from reaching out and wiping the mirror. No answer, is still an answer. Why not accept what is (and what we know for now) as the truth. Why stand underneath the decaying branches of the tree of rational explanations waiting for the apple of knowledge to descend into the outstretched arms of want?

Posted at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

Sisyphus an absurd hero

The tale of sisyphus is about an ancient highwayman who was sentenced by the gods for eternity to roll a large rock up a hill. No sooner did the rock reach atop the hill did it descend back to its initial position with a weary Sisyphus following it. Albert Camus the existentialist used Sisyphus to point out the inherent absurdness of our life. When Camus toured America he found that people were equating existentialism to a sort of hopeless philosophy. Existentialism, acknowledges the implicit lack of purpose to our lives, but Camus believed a life of devoid of hope did not preclude its enjoyment. He pointed out that when Sisyphus turned around to begin his trek back to the base of the mountain he was a metaphor for our lives. That even as we are subjugated by the every day dreariness of our lives we must like Sisyphus return to it while enjoying it.

Personally, I prefer solipsism when confronted with the bleakness of reality. If I can convince myself the banality of my existence and the vicissitudes that beset me are in the end my own creation, then I just might be able to survive it through some combination of maladroit perseverence and wishful thinking.

Posted at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 31, 2002

Skeptical bible

Corinthians 14:34-35 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

The Skeptics annotated bible presents the old and new testament in all its secular glory.

Posted at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2002


Paganism is a polytheistic faith that see's immanance (divinity residing in all things). It is possible to be Christian and Pagan at the same time (depending on who you ask).

For more detailed information the Paganism FAQ has answers.

Posted at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2002

A few false arguments

Argumentam ad antiquitatem Argues that something is right because its old.

Argumentam ad baculum might makes right

Argumentam ad crumenam Argues that those with money must be right. He won so much money in the stock market there fore he must be smarter.

Argumentam ad hominem This is a good one! There are basically two forms. The first form is abusive. You criticize the person who makes the statement. You could also criticize some one who is easier to criticize. For example you could say that some person with notriety (Idi Amin perhaps) would havemade a similar statement. You attack the statement by attacking the person (against the man). The second form known as the circumstantial form attempts to persuade someone by appealing to their circumstances. For example defending college aid by appealing to the person's reliance of student aid?

The second form is also known as poisoning the well of discord. Thats a cool sounding term for sure. It implies that you subvert the mechanism of discord by utilizing the circumstances to taint a person's reputation. If I said "you are a lier, and everything you say is false" then I have removed the basis for a discussion between us.

Argumentam ad ignorantiam This is another great one. This one appears when someone says that something is true because it hasnt been proven false, or vice versa.

Argumentam ad Lazarum This is the fallacy of assuming that someone who is poorer is right. This is the opposite of argumentam ad crumenam.

Argumentam ad misericordiam Appeals to pity.

Argumentam ad nauseam The belief that the more often an argument is repeated the truer it becomes.

Argumentam ad novitatem The opposite of argumentam ad antiquitatem. Something newer must therefore be right.

Argumentam ad numerum The idea that something must be true because a great number of people believe it to be true.

Argumentam ad populum The approach used to win an argument by appealing to the masses. This argument utilizes emotion to involve people.

Argumentam ad verucundiam This approach uses the respect for a well known figure to prove the point.

Other terms non causa pro causa (cum hoc ergo propter hoc, post hoc ergo propter hoc), petitio principii, tu quoque,

Essentially what we notice in this list of false arguments is that there are subtle ways in which you can shift from the pure, impersonal logic of an argument and introduce human variables to make your point. Some of these are pretty subtle, for example with argumentam ad verucundiam utilizes respect for a famous personality to ramrod an argument on his/her reputation. Similarly argumentam ad populum is very commonly used.

The place to get a good summary is at infidels.org
A more comprehensive discussion of this and other tools of the philosophical trade is at Virtual Salt and at intrepid software

Posted at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

The basis of the modern justice system

John Rawls and Original Position

The modern judicial system is in some ways based on the work of John Rawls.
let there be light..

More information was gleaned from teach yourself ethics.
The concept of social contract encapsulates the implicit agreement reached between individuals in a society in order to live harmoniously. Contrast this with say a herd of horses. Generally there are 4-5 mares, one stallion and the foals. The mares (1-5) are in a strict hierarchy of dominance (1 being the pre-eminent, and 5 being subservient to the rest). Human societies function differently.

Thomas Hobbes (16th century) (in Leviathan (Leviathan means a totalitarian state having a vaste bueraucracy) proposed that the contract existed between a ruler and his subjects. The ruler was above the law. By living in a certain geographical area you had implicitly acquiescent to the contract prevailing in that area. Your only real option was relocation.

Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man
is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men
live without other security than what their own strength and their own
invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no
place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and
consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the
commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no
instruments of moving and removing such things as require much
force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no
arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual
fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

--Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes - Chapter XIII - Of the natural condition of mankind as concerning their felicity and misery

Machiavelli (about the same time) pretty much agreed with Hobbes hypothesis. In the Prince he dicussed how a ruler can acquire and maintain power.

Between the two of them, Hobbes and Machiavelli essentially stated that when left to its own devices a group of humans would continually exist in a state of power sharing/recycling. The individuals in the group will consistently be fighting to take power away from each other and to amass more power. (Side bar on American isolationism (circa post-independence and pre WWI) esp. Monroe Doctrine would be a nice contrast)

-John Stuart Mill- proposed that while the social contrast did exist it did not place the ruler above rest of the society. Rousseau (age of enlightenment I s'pose) was quite agreeable with this concept.

Thomas Paine (the American constitution was framed on some of his work) made what I consider some very nice points. He maintained that it's ok for people to essentially be free to do anything until their actions effect the freedom of other people in the society.

John Rawls (1920's?) in his Theory about justice said the minorty is free as long as its actions are not deleterious to the majority. He also had a concept called veil of ignorance which stated that over all a society would choose rules/actions such that the entire society benefits. The basic premise of the veil was that you took people of different backgrounds and placed them within a veil that occluded all information about their background such that they could not identify their backgrounds. So rich people within this veil would choose policies that would benefit the poor since they have no knowledge of their own economic status. People would hedge their bets so that if they end up being poor their lives wouldnt be so bad after all.

Posted at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2002

Maslows hierarchy of needs

Physiological Needs The body aims to achieve homeostasis (an equilibrium of different factors (water content of the blood, salt content, sugar content, protein content, fat content, calcium content, oxygen content, constant hydrogen-ion level /acid-base level, constant blood temperature). If all of a human's needs are unmet then the physiological need takes the highest priority. Given hunger for love and food, a human is more likely to find a solution for the latter first. As a result all other desires and capacities are pushed on to the back burner. This begs the question, if a community undergoing drought and starvation is less likely to devote resources towards say poetry and art appreciation. Logically this appears to be true. I know of no specific example. A history of Eithiopian art in the last century should be small if the predicate is true.

Safety Needs When the physiological needs are met then the human turns towards safety needs. Safety attains the highest priority over all other desires. A functioning society tends to provide this to its members. Examples in the recent past/present of where this has failed include Somalia and Afghanistan. In Kosovo, while food was available, the absence of security for the Kosovars resulted in a large population being displaced in search of security.

Love Needs If safety and physiological needs are met then the human being gravitates towards achieving fulfilment of love needs. A note worth making here is that sex is not equivalent to love. Love can and is often expressed sexually. Sexuality can at points be considered solely for its physiological basis. Could this explain the use of prostitutes among married men? The nature of 'swinger clubs' also magnifies the separation of sex and love.

Esteem Needs Every body needs to be felt like they are appreciated, wanted, make a difference etc. I've noticed people behave differently in different situations. On the one hand, say in a work situation they might appear meek and less assertive but in other situations for example with a spouse they appear belligerent and aggressive. Is this an effort to compensate for their lack of recognition in the work place? I've often heard people mention how it is that some one brings out certain qualities in them. How does that work? and how does it relate to esteem need?

Self actualization Self actualized is such a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) term that it makes me want to puke. Maslow's argument is that even if all needs are met the intrinsic talent must be used in a manner that resonates with the person. A painter must paint. A singer must sing etc. I tend to believe that the self actualization is a ephemeral state where everything makes sense in ones life. The work, the focus, the effort are all working together. This would be akin to satori or kensho. I believe that this is state by its very nature is impossible to maintain. Man is in constant search of this state.

Other aspects of basic needs While these needs are represented in a rigid order Maslow says that there are other factors at play.

1. Some people have different importance accorded to different needs. For some people self actualization is more important than love. The tear jerker non-pareil Oprah Winfrey and the fantasy world of Nora Ephron's creation would for example place Love higher than other needs.

2. Once you've experienced a very low level of need you might lose the motivation to seek the right level. Someone who has been unemployed for a long time might no longer need a job which provides self-actualization to be happy.

3. The so called psychopathic personality is largely attributed to being starved of love in the early life. This makes these peoples lives devoid of love. Maslow points out that animals lose suckling/pecking reflexes if they're not exercized soon after birth.

4. When a need has been fully satisfied for a while, it loses its value. Maslow uses the example of a person who has never had to undergo chronic hunger and claims that food becomes a lower priority.

-- these notes were derived/paraphrased from A.H.Maslow's paper A Theory of Human Motivation published in 1943 published in the Psychological Review. I claim no originality in any of the text presented above..

Aside I heard/read some where that there is a certain equilibrium of happiness that a human is constantly in. Any displacement will eventually compensate itself and restore the equilibrium. So, give a man a million dollars and the happiness quotient increases (yada yada, money doesnt buy happiness but it buys things that give you happiness). Overtime even millionaires start feeling depressed. (yeah the first porsche will make you happy, but consequent acquisitions will not have the same effect). Similarly, the people of Afghanistan were given their fair share of trouble, but over time made do with it.

Posted at 03:17 PM | Comments (3)

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