Saturday, July 07, 2007

Chaos Theory

Of late, the meaning of life and the course of our destiny all seem to apply to Chaos theory to me. I would like to yell "Eureka" but not so much. This little bolt of enlightenment only left me anxious.

We are involved in playing the fate of so many people, and little do we realize the impact and the gravity of it all. Each person's tiny act starts like small ripples in a pond that grow bigger and bigger, until it is big enough to turn a person's course of life.

For example: A car mechanic is working on a car, he has removed its old parts and is assembling the new ones. His wife then comes in and nags about a family issue. They argue and yell and the mechanic forgets to tighten the brakes as properly as he should have. The car owner Y comes and gets the car and rides it. X usually takes the bus to go to school. He missed the bus since he woke up late. He woke up late since he came home late. He came home late because his colleague needed help. Since X was taking the bike to work, he took the same route as Y. Y realizes he can't use his brakes properly when X is in front of him. X is in front of him because the auto guy cut him, the auto guy cut him because he lost concentration thinking of something else.

So who are all to be blamed? The mechanic's wife, the reason why the mechanic's wife was upset, the mechanic, the colleague at work, the auto guy, or Y? Amazing how each apparently random act culminates and weaves into something huge. The consequences/impacts are endless, starting from the point of the accident... it affects Y, X, X's family, and the chain continues.

In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says "I am the beginning and the end." Can we trace back to the beginning of the afore-mentioned accident? No, not possible... its roots of origin are truly infinite. And the consequences of this impact, truly infinite. There was a Big Bang and the consequences still persist...

Amazing how all of us play a part in some stranger's life. In the above scenario, will all the involved people share a blame on the accident? Is it even possible to understand who all were involved?

My school friend passed away in a very tragic manner recently and hence the philosopher in me decided to wake up and talk to me. Each of us makes plans for the next 20 years of our life, not realizing what we have done today. Our mortality is one which pulls us back to ground state, drilling in the fact that we are transient and whatever materials we accumulate are as good as nothing.

I have started to believe that orienting myself towards positively affecting the life of another person everyday, is one step towards initiating a positive change that carries the potential to swirl into a tornado of good fortune in the course of time. Random acts of kindness integrated with the job one does, is as simple as our share gets.

Life is short and we need to live it responsibly, not just for our good, but to try and avoid initiating negative turns of events in another person's life. May my friend rest in peace.

P.S: July 2008 - One year later Kamal comes up with Dasaavatharam, a movie based on my ramblings :-). Wow, Kamal thought of it too, or did he snipe it from my post? ;)...


I was planning on having a nice debate in the class I am teaching on Usability Engineering. Anthropomorphism is the quality of human beings to attribute human-like emotions, behavior and thoughts on other objects. For example, imagining your car to be a person who can feel and think. In user-interface design there are many instances of this - having cartoon characters and fuzzy little virtual agents running around in the interface creates a sense of comfort, and minimizes intimidation. Icons that can smile, a word processor that greets you etc., create quite a psychological impact on the users. But there could be disadvantages as well... so my intent was to have a nice debate in class. But then, less than half of the class turned up, with more than half of those who came, yawing and struggling to stay awake. Either I'm a bad teacher, or it's plain Karma.

So anyways, this made me think on anthropomorphism in everyday lives and the advantages and disadvantages of it. As an extension to my previous post, it's always wise to not attach emotions on everything around us... it just leads us to further pain. And Vedanta preaches the same. But what could be the advantages? Apart from being cute and personal in naming our computers, cars and cycles, the main advantage comes in the way we take care of them. This is something I have seen with my father.

My father is passionate about electronic gadgets, and he views each gadget as a person with emotions. He doesn't name them, yet he treats them as if they were animate. I've been yelled at several times for not handling them the right way. I once heard him lecturing my mother, and that's when I understood his theory. For a while, my mom had been wanting a new fridge that had automatic defrost, and kept complaining about the old one. My dad said, "Technology changes with the day, and we can't keep affording to replace everything. More over, just because you think something is not good enough, you can't throw it. If you imagined the fridge to be your son, you wouldn't just throw it would you? Despite its faults and shortcomings, you try to fix it and do your best to keep it running. If you started seeing everything as being personal to you, you would be much devoted to fixing them and living with their faults, than trying to throw them away. You just wouldn't give up on them that easily. Once you learn to accept that nothing is perfect you are much happier and much satisfied."

It was like an eye-opener to me. No wonder he brings home old computer parts from the junkyard and tries to fix them. My home is an extension of my father's lab... we have around 10 telephones (each 10-20 years old), because they were cast away in his office for not working properly. And my father huddles them back home saying, "Just because one functionality doesn't work you cant throw it away! Who needs the call-waiting feature for domestic use? It's perfectly working, so lets use it". And there are some terminally ill gadgets at home still being fought hard by my father to revive and make them functioning again. His radio from the 1970s is one example. We can set up a museum of radios, telephones and computer spare parts. He literally feels bad and upset when a gadget fails to work... kind of like a doctor-patient relationship. My mom and I dread to inform my father of any gadget that stops working. The worst period was when our backyard tree was struck by a lightning and all plugged electronic gadgets died. Well, money was one aspect, but the pain my father felt was way deeper.

Jokes apart, I think it's a healthy concept, nevertheless. For example, who would have ever thought that a fridge from 1978 that completely failed to work, could still be used as a cabinet and cupboard! My father did, and it's quite handy in the kitchen to have one more cabinet holding spices :). Any emotional attachment in excess is of course going to lead to misery. Setting a balance is the philosophy of the Golden Mean preaches.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Gruesome fairy tales

Adam, his friend (whose name slips me) and I were having a different discussion over lunch. His friend made a casual comment on how kids should be monitored even while watching animations, cartoons and fairy tales... Hold on there!! Did he say fairy tales?? I quipped in with an emphatic WHY? His reasoning was that fairy tales were actually gruesome, and Adam joined forces talking about Snow white and poisoned apples, the witch in Hansel and Gretel who ate kids, and how the witch was pushed into a burning furnace at the end, Hansel and Gretel's parents who abandoned their own kids in the heart of a jungle!! Hmm.... I admit I never thought of them... they are sort of gruesome when you actually think of the story.

This reminded me of the lawsuits that were against Tom and Jerry, claiming that the cartoon was getting far too violent with Tom treating Jerry in the most cruel, violent manners possible (trying to roast him in an oven, trying to skin him with a peel, dropping him into boiling water, trying to squash him with tables and bowling balls... ). The prosecutors were nervous that these animations portrayed the exact opposite of what kids are always being taught (i.e., to be nice and courteous and not to chase other kids with bowling balls). When these animations actually cast them in the light of humor, it seems to dispel the severity of such acts. Although Jerry is fine after being roasted in the oven and being squashed, that's not reality and we can't be sure if kids can discern between surrealism and reality. We don't want some bully to drag some child into an oven, thinking he will be fine.

When I first read about the lawsuits I was quite surprised. I mean, when I was young, my friends, cousins and I grew up watching Tom and Jerry and Walt Disney, forming the core of our childhood (at least for me). How come we managed to grow up ok? Was it our parents, the spiritual grounding we had? Or perhaps we were far too innocent (aka dumb) to try and replicate the acts, or we were far too smart (Of course!) knowing such acts were to be forgotten after the show.

But looking at contemporary cartoons, I am flabbergasted! If there were lawsuits against Tom and Jerry, where are the lawsuits now?? Cartoons have become far too violent and gross these days! Humor has become twisted - humor is constantly being equated to somebody else's misery, and in a far too vindictive manner than in Tom and Jerry. This gets us thinking of violence in everyday life.

Video games are another prime source of violence, becoming gorier by the day. I remember my cousin getting so involved in shooting and killing the bad guys that you could see him getting angry and worked up. Aren't such media only invigorating the baser violent instincts? After the shooting at VT, there was so much news and hype about profane essays the killer had written. The vocabulary and gruesome violence portrayed in his plays are something almost every guy I see around is capable of thinking... perhaps they don't have the guts to submit it to a professor.

There are many well educated and cultured people out there using gruesome video games of killing people and animals in the most gory manner possible, to vent out frustrations at work or just for pure fun. When these well educated, well mannered, apparently non-psychopathic people can display such traits, one wonders how acute should a warning be, to identify the ones in trouble.

The fact is that it's so easy for the mind to snap, and when it does, we call attention to so called "traces of evidence that led to the catastrophe". We see PLENTY of evidence and red flags among many in our everyday lives, but we literally don't do anything about it. A person is not born a killer or a psychopath... each of us have the potential to snap.

Violence has been encouraged as being part of our life and we mercilessly expose kids to violence from the very tender ages. And it's quite disturbing to realize that even cartoons and fairy tales are not spared...