Making peace with the ambiguity of progress

Is there an arrow of progress in our universe? Or do things change without any particular direction as a goal, like a dust particle engaged in a Brownian motion, bumping and tumbling along randomly?

I don’t think there’s an answer to those two questions. Our thinking is designed to box phenomena into neatly packed categories that capture only a slice of reality. In fact, that’s where the problem with philosophy starts. Even if we both use the same word – say “love”, “free will” or “democracy” – we usually mean slightly different things and these slight differences provide all the fodder for the philosophical debate...  Read the entire post →

Big ideas that I suspect to be true

In the last year or so, I have been reading on various topics indiscriminately. As I’m discovering connections while reading and thinking, my conviction towards some ideas has grown stronger. I wanted to mention some of such ideas that I suspect are true. I’ll also mention why I feel that way, but you derive your own conclusions.

1/ All matter and collections of matter have subjective experiences

I’m starting to believe that everything has an internal world to it. My belief in (a flavor of) Panpsychism grew stronger because we have evidence of one collection of atoms that has subjective experiences: our brain. Just like we take the evidence of gravity on Earth and project that it holds true everywhere else in the universe, why can’t we take the evidence of our own subjective experience and project it to be true for other collections of matter as well? We, by definition, cannot peek inside an atom to feel what it feels. So proving it or disproving it is hard. In such a case, I feel that the responsibility of providing evidence that an atom doesn’t have feelings (while we know that brain obviously has feelings) falls on strict materialists.  ...  Read the entire post →

What does the soul of the Marionette say?

I recently finished reading the excellent book The Soul of The Marionette by John Gray. I would put this book in the same genre as one of my other favorite books, Finite and Infinite Games. Both books are short metaphorical essays on progress in (human) life.

Here are my notes from the book.

1/ First of all, what is a marionette? It’s a puppet controlled by a human via strings from above. The reason it’s graceful in its movements is because it lacks self-awareness that it’s being controlled by someone else ...  Read the entire post →

Why are we rich but hopeless

1/ The world is more materially abundant than ever, we’ve eliminated several diseases, lifted millions out of poverty.

Yet, people aren’t reporting higher levels of meaning or happiness than before.

via Sustainable Degrowth Through More Amateur Economy

2/ Why is this happening? Rising income or material abundance does not automatically lead to a higher satisfaction. And not just at a global level, but also at a personal level. Why?

3/ What’s happening is nothing new. Humanity has always sold to itself the idea of progress. Any idea of progress, because it comes from our linear thinking, is always unidimensional but life is incomprehensibly multidimensional. ...  Read the entire post →

Life is fractal, but markets are square

I recently read Venkat’s synopsis of the book Seeing like a state, which I followed up by an excellent blog post titled The Meridian of Her Greatness. Venkat challenged people to summarize the most important ideas from that post in a tweetstorm. He said if it gets more than 100 likes, on Twitter he’ll give away $1. I thought it was a fair deal, so here’s my attempt to distill some of the ideas into a visual essay.

1/ When humans wield their power in the world, they are limited by the linear nature of their thinking. The best example of this linearization is the top-down planning of modern suburbs. Contrast this with how nations and states emerged in a bottom-up fashion. ...  Read the entire post →

The meaning of life is unthinkable

What’s the meaning of life?

This question has haunted me for as far as my memory goes. Fourteen years ago – in 2005, when I was 18 – I wrote on my blog:

Purpose/Aim of life

First things first. Everybody says one should have some definite aim in life. But I consider living life to live, nothing else. Consider this, nobody lives after their death. So why waste ur whole life chasing an aim? Even if you get there. I mean even if you achieve so called aim, what next? Enjoyment or yet another aim? Enjoyment is OK. But there are many other ways in which u can enjoy ur life without wasting ur life in chasing an aim. No matter what, U are going to live. I don’t know if I am making any sense. But it is what I want to convey. ...  Read the entire post →

Modes of living

One of the many wonderful things about life is that like a good game, it allows players to develop their own playing styles. This essay is an attempt to document the two most salient dimensions of playing the game of life. Note that there’s no objectively right way of playing and the lack of “best practices” is what makes living interesting.

Think of the following classifications as an example of meta-mental models. Hopefully, a good understanding of the modes of living will help you reflect how you play right now and how you want to play in future. ...  Read the entire post →

How to get rich by investing your savings

I’ve recently relooked at my personal portfolio and realized I have a thing or two to say about investments. So here it goes:

1/ For goodness’s sake, do NOT keep your money lying in a savings account or do a fixed deposit (FD).

We generally inherit this financial laziness from parents. You can do better than them, no?

2/ Realise that you are actively *burning* money in FDs / savings account.

If you incorporate inflation and tax on interest income, your corpus is likely getting smaller every passing day.

3/ What if I told you that a couple of hours invested in pushing some buttons online can give you 13x the returns that you get from FDs...  Read the entire post →

What Gita teaches us and what it doesn’t

1/ I recently finished Menon’s translation of Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of Hindus. There’s a lot to like about it, but it leaves a few issues unresolved.

Here are my notes.

2/ The story revolves around the warrior Arjuna who faces conflict during a war with his cousins. He simply cannot bring himself to kill the people he grew up with. So he tells his charioteer, Krishna, that he’d rather die than go to war.

3/ This conflict is used as a backdrop by Krishna, who actually is an incarnation of God, to reveal the truth of the world to Arjuna. The ideas and concepts in Gita are consistent with other Hindu philosophies and ideas.

4/ The key philosophical teaching in Gita is that the human soul is one with Brahmana, the ultimate God. However, that soul is embodied and unaware that it is one with God.

5/ So, the body must go through Samsara, the cycle of birth and rebirth until it realizes its oneness. Gita stresses that the real condition is of non-separateness. That only Brahmana exists that’s beyond time, space and quality.

6/ It’s only because of Maya, the illusion, that it seems reality consists of separate beings (souls). This idea was expressed in Ramayana as well when Hanuman meets Ram.

7/ Krishna tells Arjun that each soul has a karmic accounting going on. If after death, there’s positive karma, souls are sent to heaven where they enjoy until they end up using all their balance and then they’re sent back to the Earth.

8/ If the karmic balance is negative, souls get reborn as ‘lower’ creatures.

9/ The only way to get free of this constant cycle of birth and rebirth is by

seeking a zero balance of karma while being alive ...  Read the entire post →

What is truth?

A tweet-thread like micro-blog on a topic that I’ve been obsessing over lately.

1/ Whenever someone says “this is true”, or “I’m a truth-seeker”, ask them to first define truth. (Or if you’re asking this question, answer what evidence will constitute truth for you).

2/ Getting a hold of the definition being used for truth is especially important when talking about complex systems like business, politics, economics, ecology or essentially any field where you usually can’t just read error-free data from a well-isolated system.

3/ This privilege of substituting data with the truth is mostly available only to physicists. But even there, interpretations of truth can be widely debated – is 5-sigma a good enough threshold for declaring the Higgs boson to be true? Well, it’s anybody’s guess.

4/ The word ‘truth’ is bothersome because it’s ill-defined. If something is ‘true’, it won’t be debated. If something is debated but is ‘true’, how would you differentiate ‘truth’ from ‘falsity’? You’d use your subjective judgment to assess the evidence and then make that distinction. If you’d do that, so will everybody else and they can arrive at an opposite conclusion. (Much to your chagrin, they usually do). How can your truth be different from someone else’s truth?

5/ As you can see,

this ‘truth’ business is a slippery slope. I’d much rather prefer to use the word ‘satisfaction’ ...  Read the entire post →