Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections: A Wrinkle in Time

Having found a very promising and good source of books recently, I'm looking forward to quite a few interesting reads :)

It's been a really long time since I indulged myself in a fantasy tale of happy endings. I constantly had to restrict myself from going near Children's Fantasy novels with the reminder that I was growing up (or grown up) and it's about time I read more "grown up" serious books and amass all the knowledge about the Universe ;). But a Wrinkle in Time fits the bill perfectly. Having been lauded with the Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, the book is undoubtedly a wonderful and enjoyable read for children. At the same time ,the science fantasy that strings together the tale gives the book a lot of ground for adults (or young adults) to appreciate.

A brilliant physicist with his charming and intelligent microbiologist wife, heads a family of four unique children - an impulsive and impatient girl with intelligence masked by her stubbornness, very normal twin boys, and a very highly developed and intelligent little boy. The physicist experiments with a fifth dimension of time travel and unfortunately gets lost in space, in a very curious, highly controlling and menacing "Dark Planet". The impatient girl, and the intelligent little boy set off to rescue their father with the help of three curious creatures from another planet, and a red-headed boy from their neighborhood. The book takes us on a journey of their adventure through space, their encounters with curious inhabitants of other planets and their ways of life, and their battle against the "Dark Thing".

A worthy point is that this book was published in 1962, even before scientists and astrophysicists had discovered or "seen" planets much beyond the solar system, or had identified and defined Black Holes. It was a time before computers and technology invaded the planet to this extent. With that perspective, it's quite commendable that the author had an imagination so well tuned with the future that she could translate it in such a beautiful manner through a tale that children can enjoy. Most science fiction novels are shielded from children for their apparent gore and depressive nature, asides being very technically involved. But this book encompasses some of the most heavy concepts that Physicists have been concerned with, and they have been seamlessly transformed into an enchanting fantasy tale that will tease curious and very relevant scientific thoughts from children. This goes on to say that the fantasy does not entirely lack in "logic", so as to be trivialised as a fairy tale.

Also, despite being a children's book, the language and style of writing are a little more elegant and profound so it doesn't run the risk of sounding kiddish and elementary.

Reading the book took me back to my younger days, and such a time travel was as magical as the concept of "wrinkling in time" :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Joy of Creation

For the very first time in my life I decided to not merely be a spectator with wistful eyes. I decided I would do it, that I will create my own little beings, without ever longingly looking at others'. I had yearned for them enough, I had been captivated by them enough, I had started to learn fairly sufficiently about raising and caring for them enough, that this year when there was a home waiting to be filled with these beautiful beings and their colorful vivacity, I waited no further. Deciding on how many, how and when to care for them were the obvious concerns. With some counseling from the Internet, and an experienced biologist, I embarked on the adventure. And I'd assumed that the whole process would be a breeze, for isn't this nature's most experienced domain? And with a loving and nurturing environment to grow into, with all the love and food being gushed into them, with a sunny cheerfulness of me cajoling and talking to them, I would have thought I was lending Nature a friendly boost, a great helping hand to speed up the process.

But sadly no... one cannot plan such things, one cannot demand creation, they happen when they want to, despite numerous expensive food and minerals, making the womb as cosy, warm and moist as possible. No, not enough. Despite all the pain staking measures, some fizzled away, never to spark up, being prey to microbial, and not so microbial predators and diseases. Made me want to kick myself for having not seen the signs, for having not consulted or read more. Only my tears of anticipation were wasted on them... i thought of myself as the noble nightingale who sang away her life on a pierced thorn to give blushing life to a pale rose. But no, none of such antics worked... sentiments were wasted, "just be scientific", the little embryos seemed to yell. And so I tried. With regular checkups, tireless care, constant prayers, the rigor continued for some weeks.

Then at last, I could see the little ones growing, their delicate limbs sprouting out and innocently looking into the world. Oh how I merrily went in circles, so proud, so happy. "There's still a long way to go, no time for celebrations yet", some mean ones reminded. So I restrained, yet gleefully optimistic for them to soon open their eyes, and show their cheerful and pink faces. Weeks sped by and I began to wear out my enthusiasm, the little ones were constantly growing, limbs and bodies fully developed and I didn't know how much longer I had to wait....And then it happened. A week before today was the day... the day of new beginnings. The pink face opened up to me and I couldn't believe I had finally been a part of creation, right from it's little seed to the blushing beauty she is today! And one by one, they have started to come out... 11 till today to be exact. Too many you think?!... Nah... I still expect more than a dozen more... of course with fingers crossed!

And today I present these lovely babies, my joyful "creations", after two whole months of waiting ;)

Of course introductions are in order. The pink one is a Rain Lily, the abundant violet ones (the most successful and promising ones!) are Anemones and in the upper corner is a Calla Lily just about to blossom all the way out. I never thought I could post pictures of my own flowers, like those enviable garden bloggers, but I have come close! As more babies (hopefully) bloom out, there will be more cheer and celebration in this space!

And also, a valuable lesson learnt in the journey - extremely cute, seemingly innocuous bunnies will clear up struggling tomatoes and cauliflower leaves faster than a swarm of locust. Beware of their cuteness.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Civilization and Morality

Cambridge Dictionary defines the meaning of a civilized society as, "describes a society or country that has a highly developed system of government, culture and way of life and that treats the people who live there fairly:"

To me, the definition is still unsatisfactory. What does it mean to have a highly developed system of government, culture and way of life? What does it mean to be civilized? What is it's ultimate purpose? A Utopian land of peace and communion, or merely a sustainable practical solution to coexist and survive in a community? As human beings, does it at all signify any growth to us, asides being an inevitable social "evolution"?

The marked attributes of a civilized world are increase in rational thought, empathy, and compassion to fellow living beings -- can this be extrapolated as increase in morality, moral consciousness? With such a continual increase in moral consciousness, does the future then hold a vision of pre-Pandorian era of happiness and peace, devoid of anything "evil"? If the hypothesis is extended, does it mean we can indeed reach a state of harmonious coexistence without any laws or explicit moral rules, for we would have graduated to a state of social evolution that no more requires rules. Rules in kindergarten are not extended till high school, are they? Aren't tens of thousands of years of evolution enough for us human beings to graduate?

But the reality is that rules and laws have been continually increasing, and even today there is hardly any civilized society, no matter how highly developed, that can afford to suspend all rules and laws for even a single day with the confidence of it's inhabitants cohabiting in peace. In what way have we then civilized? With a zillion rules on decorum and decency, we may know how to eat right, dress right, talk right, walk right, buy the right things... but living right? What does it mean? Am I being skeptical about the above social experiment? Can implicit faith in human goodness, and reliance on the "humaneness" in us hold strong enough in such a scenario? Will the vast majority survive in harmony with merely spurious outbursts?

Another hypothetical experiment - if a baby were to be abandoned in a jungle (cruel, but imagine Mowgli and Tarzan), devoid of human civilization, would the baby also grow up with the acquired humane feelings? Will discerning right and wrong, and judging fairness of situations be part of who he grows up to be? Hard to imagine so. Can we hope to appeal to the "humaneness" of such a jungle man? Will he be capable of experiencing any empathy? Nature, nurture, environment and circumstances play a huge role. If the above two social experiments fail, seems to me that rules and laws are indispensable no matter how much we evolve. It seems to reiterate the Veneer Theory. Are all of us struggling with an internal conflict of animalistic primordial instincts that know not the necessity for morality but only knows the laws of survival? Morality is then a convenience, a practical acceptance, submission for ensuring coexistence. This line of thought explicates that there are perhaps no universal truths/tenets of Good. Religion breaks downs which is obviously why the Church doesn't like to think or even associate human beings as having evolved from animals.

A further line of thought - in terms of current societies, our definitions of civility and morality seem to be more enhanced and prevalent in developed societies - societies that have the means to provide enough resources and quality of life to most, without the inhabitants scrambling for them. Surplus resources makes sharing and waiting for turns much easier. The game of survival of the fittest is reduced significantly in a pampered society. When the need for the game reduces, when one has his needs fulfilled, he can afford to think about others. In a developing society with meager resources and tough competition, civility and morality are secondary concerns. Primary concern is survival. Doesn't matter if it's not your turn in the queue, doesn't matter if you push a couple of people down in the process of getting into the bus (literally and figuratively speaking of course)...if you want to be morally conscious and civil, you will be waiting at the bus stop forever.

As we continue to deplete resources from our planet, isn't every developed and civilized society facing this risk of pandemonium and breakdown in morality/civility as the pampering cushion is removed and people are faced with Nature's wild game of survival? Or is it just my pessimistic streak? Maybe we humans will figure out a "civil" solution without pandering to the pressing crisis.

The tug of war between good and "evil" will continue to exist in each of us. The development of sufficient rational thought, empathy and compassion are alone not enough to surface the "good" and quell the brutish instincts. Circumstances are often the turning point to unleash those attributes that we want to believe are long buried and dead. With more civilization, individual freedom of spirit often gets compromised... the eyes of society become our conscience. Revolutions keep coming and going with every other generation to express that freedom, to release that energy boiling on the surface and yet being pushed down with rules we continue to create. Maybe the increasing trend of rules will plateau at some point in the future, meaning it will be a harbinger for more harmonious Utopian type of society, or perhaps the rules will all breakdown and the boiling "Veneer" within will lash out. I want to believe in the former and look forward to an optimistic future, where our evolved rationality can guide us. But we still have a long way to go, maybe another thousand years of civilization and more revisions to the concept of morality and ethics. Despite perceptions on morality changing, with the lines of black and white getting smudged with every generation, the fundamental core beneath the concept of ethics and morality continue to hold strong - harmonious coexistence.