Sunday, 26 June 2016

Qualms and the quirks.

Quirk (\ˈkwərk\) noun: An unusual habit or type of behavior, or something that is strange and unexpected; Something strange that happens by chance.

During my time at Zoho, an incident occurred that I remember pretty well. One fine day, I woke up to the news that one of my colleagues' parents had passed away in a road accident. Both her mom and dad were alive and healthy the previous day and the next day, they were gone. I just knew her by her name, and she probably didn't know me at all, but all I know is that this incident surely changed her life completely. No one planned this, but she had to somehow deal with it the very moment it happened.

Wherever we are in our lives, we have all had some important personal experiences big or small that have changed our lives. There are also a few situations which turned out to be beneficial to us because of the way we handled things at that moment. Particularly when it comes to our career, we are more like mad scientists trying to make a device on the fly for an unknown purpose whilst blindfolded. It is those things that we do accidentally and get it right that take us ahead in our lives.

Speaking of mad scientists, I am reminded of this memory that dates back to 2010 from my sophomore year. I found myself in a disarrayed situation, not knowing why I had decided to pursue engineering and what I'd do once I graduate. Just to further exacerbate things, I had a rather low GPA. At this time I had been to two sessions of the student run open source club at my University and found that there was another session scheduled. So I, along with three of my roommates attended it. Out of a hundred people who attended, we were the only ones who showed interest in being a part of the club and we went over to meet those seniors to their hostel.

At the time when students were scared of being bullied by the seniors, we actually found it to be quite the contrary. We met the seniors at their hostel lawn where they, as a mark of respect, asked us to sit on the lawn bench while they stood around us and explained about the various activities of the club. From then on, the number of friends I had among my seniors was more than that of my batch mates. I gained a great deal of knowledge working with them and I would go as far as claiming that I was one of those few students who made the best use of my undergrad college. Making up my mind to visit them one evening completely changed the course of my undergrad life.

Another such turning point in my career was my decision to pursue higher studies in the US. At the time I finished my undergraduate studies, I didn't even know that I had to take the GRE and TOEFL examinations to apply to the Universities in the US. At my workplace, when I found a few of my fellow colleagues applying to Universities, I thought that I too could give it a shot. As the tuition fee for international students is very high here, I didn't have the courage to talk about it to my parents. I thought I would just give up the idea and not talk to them regarding it, as they might feel disappointed that they wouldn't be able to fulfill my aspirations. But I decided to ask my mom and she almost instantly agreed. Had I not acted then, I wouldn't have been here now.

One last such incident worth mentioning here is my very decision of pursuing Computer Science. Or if it was my decision at all! While joining high school (11th grade in India), I had to declare a major beforehand. I had decided that I'll be majoring in one of the two science disciplines we had - Computer Science or Biology. Anyone who had known me prior to that would have put their money on Computer Science for me. In my 10th grade, I was so obsessed with Computer Science that I actually checked out a CS text book prescribed for the 11th grade but couldn't understand a word as it was full of cryptic variables and symbols. I immediately came to a conclusion that CS wasn't the right thing for me and decided on Biology. During the summer holidays which I spent at my cousins' place, my dad was filling out an application for my new school where he had to declare my major on the application form itself. He called me up to ask for my decision and I asked him to declare Biology as the major. My dad wanted me to choose CS and after a long, hard fought battle over phone, my dad gave up. But he put Computer Science instead. Two months into my 11th grade, my CS teacher noted my name as the 'most gifted student in Computer Science' in my batch.

All this said, I do think of all the possibilities that could have gone wrong and completely changed my life for worse. The incidents that I have mentioned above are only few of the many many quirks that have gone into my life. On an everyday basis, we all 'hack' through our lives, trying to make it work. Given all the factors that affect our lives, I really do not think anyone can plan it the way they want. We take our lives one day at a time and try to live it in an ad-hoc manner. Sometimes when I think of all this, I am scared if I'd ever have to do all of this over again, and if things may not turn out to be as good as they are now.

While it is essential for us to learn from the mistakes that we made in the past by recollecting all those bad experiences, I consider it equally important to revisit all the quirks that we have made in our lives that has helped us get this far.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Confessions of a procrastinator

On the 4th of August 2015, I undertook a journey that might perhaps prove to be the most career defining moment of my life. I moved from Chennai to Chicago for my master's. I was leaving home for two years at the least and I had to bid goodbye to the nearest and dearest of my family and friends. I quit my job at Zoho on the 19th of June and had a good 45 days in hand to shop for everything I needed to survive in my new home, pack them up and to meet all my friends one last time before I left.

I also had other plans. At the time when I had still been working, I had planned my post-quitting schedule - to take my motorcycle out for a ride to Bangalore, Bellary and all the way till Hyderabad, as soon as I had finished all my purchase. I had promised my friends and family that I would be doing the ride as soon as I quit my job. What was more surprising was that my parents didn't even raise an eyebrow and I had their full permission to go anywhere I wanted to. The most exciting phase of my life was all set to commence.

The very day after I quit my job, I woke up all excited and made plans to prepare the list of things that I needed to purchase. But as I had 44 more days in hand, I decided to make the list on the next day, and then the next day. And so, my routine was like this - I woke up at 10:30am, slept again at 1:30pm, woke up at 4:30pm and slept again in the wee hours of the morning. The time in between was spent on working on a few illustrations, personal and freelance projects. I started enjoying this schedule and over three weeks went by. I just had about twenty days left.

My mom was getting worried about the fact that I wasn't taking things seriously. She took a break from her job to help me out with all the purchase. She prepared the list for me and every day, we would shop for a few things. But it wasn't going as per what I had in my mind. The things that I thought would take a day to buy, took three. Buying clothes and winter wear took over a week. All the kitchenware, baggage, shoes and everything else was still pending. I had just over two weeks to go. But it still seemed manageable to get everything.

I had to make an impromptu jaunt to Thanjavur - an overnight journey from Chennai, to get some work done at my alma mater. That took a day. A couple of days later, I frantically made a journey to Bangalore for a day to meet my friends. My parents wouldn't allow me to take my motorcycle as I had less than ten days left now and I would be unnecessarily taking a huge risk. I took a bus, met six of my friends in Bangalore and got back to Chennai. That took one more day off my already messed up schedule.

In the end, I still had to meet a lot of friends in Chennai, but couldn't. There was no time left. It dawned upon me that there was going to be no long ride in my motorcycle, at least for two more years. That I had not kept my word on meeting my friends one last time before I left. I realised that I could have avoided getting into this imbroglio had I not procrastinated earlier. I'm not a lazy person, but unless there's an impetus, the person inside me simply refuses to act.

I had five days left. I had to buy stationaries, electrical items, make photocopies of all my documents, buy a few comestibles to survive the first few days, and so on. That day, as soon as I woke up, I decided to write everything down. I prepared a written list of things that had to be done. As usual, as soon as I had my lunch, I went into my room to take a short nap. But as soon as I saw the written list on my desk, it wouldn't let me sleep. I immediately took my motorcycle out to shop for everything I had on the list. It took less than five hours to buy everything and once I had done with the list, it felt as if I were ready for my journey. I had achieved something in five hours, which I couldn't achieve in five weeks.

I have used several To-do list apps in the past like Wunderlist, Google Keep, etc. - all of them have helped me remember all the critical stuff, but haven't prompted me to finish things at the right time, or at the soonest possible time. On the other hand, writing things down and keeping the note on my work desk seems more efficient in helping me organize my time and kill procrastination. This has happened several times in the past and writing things down has always saved the day. While I don't intend to make this article as a motivational piece for people to read, I really hope that this incident would serve as a fine example to make me procrastinate less in the future.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Why this hurry?

In accordance with the last few posts of mine that deal with old age and some questions on life really is, I felt that this would be the most relevant time to think and write on this topic. Inspiration for this post was kindled by a comment I received on my previous post that I had reposted in the internal blog of my company. The comment, by none other than the co-founder of Zoho, read "Every decade in your life will go faster than the one before". On reading it, I suddenly started feeling disappointed, giving a serious thought to how true his words would be.

I remember my childhood days darn well, much more than I would like to admit. The people, the thoughts that used to run in my mind, my crushes and many more - I have very fresh memories of them, as if all that happened just a few days ago. Perhaps the very first incident that got me seriously thinking on this topic was my friend Aishwarya's wedding. In the recent past (about ten years or so), I hadn't attended a single wedding before hers. Although I have heard stories of my college-mates getting married, attending a close friend's marriage suddenly made me feel depressed - felt as if all our youth years were over already. What makes it worse is my habit of listening to songs, keenly observing and remembering the lyrics right from my childhood. When I was barely ten years old, I listened to this song called 'Chaand Sitare' from the movie Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, which had a verse that goes like this: "Pehena ke taaj jawani ka, haske laut gaya bachpan", which roughly translates to "By placing the garland of youth on her neck, childhood smiled and left". As a ten year old kid, I had already started feeling depressed as if my childhood was over.

There's this uncanny link between growing up and seeing things change at a faster rate around you than you can cope up, a phenomenon that we call the Generation Gap, to brand our previous generation as being less tech savvy and apparently less intelligent. We have written essays in junior and high school on this topic without truly understanding what it meant. It is worth noticing that the world has changed at a faster rate in the last decade, than the rate at which it changed in the previous decade. Take an example - the first mobile content, a ringtone, was sold only as recent as 1998, but technology changed so fast that 3G was introduced in Japan in 2001. The first call via a mobile phone was made in 1991 and by 2007, there were 3 billion mobile subscribers, which rose to 4 billion in 2009. Take another similar instance - to reach a market audience of 50 million people, it took the Telephone 75 years, 38 years for Radio, 13 years for TV, 4 years for internet, 2 years for Facebook and only 35 days for Angry Birds. We truly live in exponential times.

It is estimated that a week's worth of an English daily contains more information than a person was likely to come across his entire lifetime in the 18th century. And the amount of information that will be generated this year would be more information than the past five thousand years put together. I hope all these examples would pretty much give anyone an idea of how fast things are changing. The speed at which the world changed during our parents' times wasn't probably half the speed at which it is changing now. Every new technology and change is quickly being adapted to. It is hard to believe that my whole family and relatives are on WhatsApp - the same people who once argued that mobile phones must not be used.

I watched the movie Shawshank Redemption around the year 2008, and there's been a dialogue that I have been remembering ever since. Brooks Hatlen is a character in the movie who is an elderly person and had been in prison for nearly fifty years. He is released on parole and looks to be over eighty years old by then. Once he is out, he writes back to his friends in prison "Dear fellas, I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. Sometimes it takes me a while to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun and rob the Foodway so they'd send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sort of like a bonus. I guess I'm too old for that sort of nonsense any more." It makes me think that at some point of time, we might hit a saturation level after which we may not be able to cope up with the ever changing world. Time would have gotten ahead of us.

Thus, it all comes down to a single question - why is this world in such a hurry? Whom are we trying to prove a point to? Do we really need to accelerate change so fast that it would consume our entire life in trying to get accustomed to the changing life rather than just live it? At the current rate of progress, I felt that only the elite few who are privileged and can afford new technology would be able to embrace the change and the others who cannot would be left behind. But the way things are turning out, and technology becoming cheaper every passing day, I see people from even the lowest strata of the society holding a smartphone in their hands. While it delights me that we aren't really leaving anyone behind, and it is only a matter of choice, but not affordability to embrace this change, it still doesn't answer my question - why change so fast?

Startups are at the forefront of the industries that are making technologies to revolutionize the way we live. These are the kind of companies who are driving the change that I have talked about all along. I have spoken to a lot of people from the tech startup industry and have understood that the very reason they are developing their product(s) is to solve people's problems. But then, I have a feeling that the problems that they identified aren't much of a problem at all. Going out and buying groceries from the corner shop is being identified as a problem and they are solving it by delivering it to your house. What's worse, knowing that you are running out of groceries has itself been identified as a problem and a smart fridge is arriving, that will order your groceries for you without your knowledge so that you never run out of groceries! The only way I see this ending, other than an AI takeover or a robot apocalypse is that humans will be outwitted and put out of all possible jobs. There will be nothing much to do in this world for anyone except those few people who would make or control those bots. History has seen the gradual rise of human intellect, and we are currently witnessing the exponential rise of collective human knowledge to unprecedented levels. I can predict a break point at which it will begin to fall, but it would be safe to assume that it isn't until a few tens of decades when that would happen. It would also be safe to assume that it isn't going to happen in the near future, at least till the reminder of our lives.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Time - as we know it, and as we don't.

I asked this question to a few of my friends - "How much is one second?". The question wasn't from a spiritual or a psychological perspective, and I also wasn't expecting the answers in that way. It is a very straightforward question that I want you to answer to yourself before you read any further. A purely mathematical or scientific answer.

Technically, the International System of Units (SI) defines one second of time as the duration of 9,192,631,770 cycles of microwave light absorbed or emitted by the hyperfine transition of Caesium-133 atoms in their ground state (Just for explanatory purpose, don't bother about the details). What it does not mention is that the definition is only valid on Earth. First things first - The human experience of time is not an effective measure of time. To have a better understanding of what time really is, we need to consider a few other factors that affect time. In an earlier post titled 'The depths of my mind', I had discussed about spacetime and how time is different from the way we understand it to be. We know three dimensions - The X,Y and the Z axes which we call 3D in short. All objects move relative to these three dimensions. Along with these three dimensions, when we take time into consideration (which we call the 4th dimension) together, these four dimensions are known as Spacetime.

The foremost factor that affects time on Earth is Gravity. Our measure of time or our perception of its measurement is relative to the amount of gravity being exerted on us. It is said that the understanding of Gravity is the solution to many problems. In fact, the problem in approaching many problems is the lack of sufficient knowledge about gravity. We know that gravity is a fundamental and a naturally occurring force by the nature of which all objects attract one another. We were first taught about gravity as an attracting force back in our 6th grade and we used the concepts of gravity till we completed school, or even college for some. But from my very limited knowledge that I have gathered from my interest in reading about metaphysics, I understand that Gravity isn't an attractive force as taught to us. What's more, it cannot be classified as a force by itself. At the very basic level of quantum physics, it would be safe to say that all objects distort (bend or have an effect on) space and time. It essentially means that any object that has a mass has an effect on space and time in and around it. And the bigger the object (by mass), the more is the distortion. The gravity and time that we experience is therefore a distortion of time and space due to the Earth's mass. Let's take a very simple example:

Assume that spacetime is simply a stretchable membrane, much like a trampoline. We place a heavy ball (the Sun) exactly at the center of the trampoline so that it stretches the trampoline downwards. Next, we take a lighter ball (the Earth and other planets) and place it at the edge of the trampoline. We would see that the ball gets drawn to the center of the trampoline and falls towards the larger (heavier) ball at the center. Consider another case - while placing the ball at the edge, if the ball had considerable velocity that would match or perfectly negate the force by which it is drawn towards the center, it would simply keep revolving around the bigger ball. This would explain why Earth rotates around the Sun and doesn't fall towards the Sun due to its gravity. Again, this gravity is technically the distortion of spacetime by the Sun. But why and how is this distortion caused? That's something I would be curious to know myself. The best accepted theory we have on gravity is general relativity, which doesn't in itself explain why mass bends spacetime, just that it happens. We are moving right now through both space and time. Einstein said that these were not two different things but really one thing, called spacetime.

Now, that we have a (good?) understanding of gravity, let's link it to time and see how gravity has an impact on time. As discussed about Caesium atoms earlier, you may know that they are used as timekeepers in atomic clocks. There are atoms of other elements that are used in atomic clocks too, and they are the most accurate clocks that measure time (The most accurate atomic clock loses only one second in 15 billion years, so we are talking about that much level of precision). A direct relationship could be established by saying that time passes at the current rate we know because of gravity. The gravitational pull isn't constant, and it is different at different altitudes on Earth. Therefore, on Earth itself, two clocks at different altitudes would show different times, but the difference would be extremely small as the difference in gravity itself would be very small. Establishing a more precise relationship, time passes slower where gravity is higher. Time on the top of a mountain would pass faster than time near the core of the Earth. But considering this very short distance, the effect would be negligent.

Take an out of the Earth example - clocks on the International Space Station and on the satellites run at a slower pace than the ones on Earth. This shows that gravity bends time in its own way. This phenomenon of time being affected by gravity is known as Gravitational Time Dilation. Take a bigger example of astronauts traveling at a very fast speed to some place and then getting back to Earth. When the astronauts return back to the Earth, they find that they haven't relatively aged as much as the people on Earth have (the basis on which the Interstellar movie was made). Time has passed slower for them, while it has passed faster for those on Earth. Although everyone experiences the effect of time dilation, nobody notices a difference within their own frame of reference (the place they exist).

To simplify, velocity and gravity each slow down time as they increase. Velocity has increased for the astronauts, slowing down their time, whereas gravity has decreased, speeding up time (the astronauts are experiencing less gravity than on Earth). Nevertheless, the ISS astronaut crew ultimately end up with 'slower' time because the two opposing effects are not equally strong. The velocity time dilation (explained above) is making a bigger difference, and slowing down time. The (time-speeding up) effects of low-gravity would not cancel out these (time-slowing down) effects of velocity unless the ISS orbited much farther from Earth. Now, if an object were to move faster, at the speed of light, theoretically, there would be no lapse of time at all - which means that if an astronaut were to travel in a spaceship at the speed of light, he would never become older. Let's say that you are on a chair and spin really fast. It would mean that parts of you are aging at different rates. If you could measure accurately enough, your head and your feet are not the same age!

Now that we have discussed so much about spacetime, the next time you go to the beach to watch the tides, do remind yourselves that the cause of those tidal forces is due to the varying strength in the spacetime distortion with position in space. Not quite simple to think of it that way, is it? I thought life was easier when I simply believed that it was due to the Moon's gravitational pull :)

If you have some more information or explanation on any of this, I'd be glad if you could share it in the comments section below. Do share this article if you found it to be informative :)

Edit: I found this answer on Quora that deals with bending space and time. Quite thoughtful.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Two strangers, one road.

I almost forgot about this incident that I'm writing about. This was rekindled by a piece that I read last week, which made me put my experience in words too.

A lot of Indian movies have this introductory scene where the guy and girl meet on the road as strangers and it proves to be a life changing moment for both. Well, this story is nothing of that sort, except that I met a girl on the road only to see her never again. This happened on the late evening of the 27th of February. I was stuck in traffic on NH4, a small stretch of which I need to travel while commuting from/to office. The road gets too crowded on Fridays owing to the traffic due to people travelling to the city for the weekend. A large number of buses and lorries enter the city on Fridays and almost block the entire stretch that I need to cover.

Somewhere in the middle of the stretch, I found myself stuck behind two lorries and innumerable other vehicles that stood in front of them. I turned off my bike's ignition and stretched out my hands, cracked a few knuckles and turned my head from side to side. Towards my right, I noticed a pretty girl on a scooter stuck in the traffic just like me, who immediately caught my attention (ahem!). Maybe it wasn't her that caught my attention, but there was something quite unusual about what she was doing. She was restless, she kept standing up from her scooter and looking from side to side if there was some gap through which she could squeeze her scooter and get ahead. It looked as though she was rushing to some place, or she was in some kind of emergency, or for whatever reason it was - it definitely looked like she was desperate to get through the traffic quickly.

I noticed a small gap just enough for a two-wheeler to get through, towards the extreme left of the road. I turned the ignition on and turned my bike towards my left. I took one last look at her to check what she was up to, when I found her looking at me. I pointed towards my left, signalling that there was some space to get through and I started driving. She immediately understood and followed suit. It led us ahead of a lot of vehicles, and with some constant twists and turns, we found ourselves covering a lot of ground and it directly led us to the signal, which just turned green as we got there.

We approached the signal near MGR University when I saw a mini-lorry (or call that a mega-sized autorickshaw) in front of me which I was about to overtake from the left and she was on the right. She stretched her hand out and made a gesture, asking me to slow down and not overtake the vehicle. I understood her intention only after I saw what happened next - a motorist from the opposite lane jumped the signal and took a turn towards his right crossed the road right in front of me. Had I accelerated, I would have had to apply the brakes in haste or might have hit him. I did not look at her or thank her for what she did, and just kept driving. It simply didn't strike me that I had to thank her for it. We reached the place where the road branches into two and I had to take the left to reach Anna Nagar. I looked towards my right and looked at her. She looked at me and nodded her head (and probably said something too). I nodded my head in return and took the road on the left, only to see her never again.

This brought two thoughts in my head -

1. Instant Karma - what I had done came back to me. Instantly.
2. Faith in humanity, restored.

P.S: Santhanakrishnan and Neela are two of some of the guys to whom I give an 'exclusive preview' of my upcoming posts for proofreading and feedback. While Neela says that I could have chased the girl down instead of going home, Santhanakrishnan goes as far as asking me if I remember her face, her vehicle's registration number and any additional details, so that they can track her down. Crazy friends I've got!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The autumn of life.

After reading my last post, a friend gave me a feedback about it that, as soon as she finished reading the second paragraph and got started with the third, she expected it to be a continuation of the second. And then she suggested that I could write an entire post on that particular topic that was discussed in the second paragraph - senility.

Senility /sɪˈnɪlɪti/ (defined as a characteristic of or caused by old age) or simply old age as we know, is an inexorable phenomenon that will occur to every one of us. I, approaching my mid-twenties, find myself in a very awkward situation. This is a gradual shift from kids beginning to call you 'Uncle' or 'Aunty' from 'Anna/Bhaiya' or 'Akka/Didi'. I discern my parents ageing. I see a clear shift from how I saw my parents as a kid - their youthfulness, energy and enthusiasm is declining. I need to consider them equal to me and need to rely on them less often. Whenever I needed any suggestions or solutions as a kid, I looked up to them for help, but now, they look up to me for the same. I find it very odd to address older people with their names. The kid inside me still wants me to address them as 'Uncle' or 'Aunty'. These are some of the stuff I need to deal with on a daily basis.

My first experience with perceiving the magnitude of senility began at a very early age of eight. I still remember that day clearly - the 8th of September, 1999 - The day India lost to West Indies on the finals of Coca Cola cup. Every evening, my dad used to teach Vishnusahasranamam to me and about five more friends. That day, we had been keenly watching the match all day, and also while my dad was teaching. I used to watch cricket with a lot of passion and the match ended with India's defeat while my dad's teaching session was still going on. At about the same time, a neighbour suddenly barged into our house and informed us of his mother's death, and that he was immediately leaving for Chennai along with his family. While all the other kids were still sitting, I immediately got up and ran to the bedroom. I threw myself on the bed and started crying loudly. Everyone ran inside and started consoling me by telling that India will win the next series and there was no need to worry. But that wasn't of any concern to me. What made me sad was the news that the neighbor brought. I started wondering what would happen when we grow old and start losing our loved ones one at a time. The very thought of it made me cry.

About one year later, I watched The Lion King movie. If you have watched it, there's this scene in which Mufasa tells his son Simba, "A king's time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king". To me, it translated into "Your parents will not be there to guide you forever. One day, their time will end like the setting sun, and you will be on your own". Maybe these movies and their dialogues are made in a way to kindle such thoughts in kids?

Apart from seeing others grow old, what I'm more apprehensive about is seeing myself getting older. I hope I can somehow survive through my twenties till my sixties without much dependency on others. What frightens me the most is the period after sixties (if I make it that far) till my death. I wonder what kind of memories I would hold. Home, school, childhood, college and work - also everything that I ever stood or fought for - I wonder how much all that would matter. If you have watched The Godfather trilogy, it tells the tale of Michael Corleone, his life and the people around him. We tend to develop a bond with the characters as we progress watching the three movies. The third movie ends with Michael as an old man, sitting alone in his garden, about to die and no one around with him. There's also a short flashback where he thinks about the people he has lost in his life. Next, he slumps over in his chair, falls sideways to the ground, and dies alone, with only his dog present beside him. That made me wonder "Who would be with us when we are about to die? What thoughts would run in our minds when that time comes?" Maybe we just need to find it out for ourselves, impromptu.

I understand that having a 'successful old age' depends on the foundation you lay and how you build your life till that point. That is a very generalized statement to quote, but taking a cue from my previous post, I feel it is very necessary to 'optimize' our lives by making the best decisions with the limited resources of time, money and energy we have, while maximizing the gains. In my opinion, that is the secret recipe to have a regret-free senile life. I hope I would see only happiness and a feeling of satisfaction of having lived a every eventful life when I look back. As Shakespeare wrote in his play As You Like It (an excerpt of which is the poem The Seven Ages of Man) - "Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion; Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." The last part of that line - "Sans Everything" - seems to be the toughest thing. Deprived of energy, abilities to walk, talk, hear or see, and no people to share our feelings with, this part of our lives would feel like a curse. 

Since a very early age, I have played such video games which would have multiple ways of finishing the game. I would save the game regularly at checkpoints and explore all the areas in the game so that I leave no stone unturned. If there are multiple endings in the story of the game, I would play it again and again to see how differently it would end each time. This made me wonder if we would look back at our lives and wish that we could have lived it in a completely different way altogether, if we had made different choices and decisions at various points in our lives.

I call old age as the 'autumn of life' because our lives are like the leaves of a tree. We're born in spring and our lives end like the withered leaves during autumn, after which the next generation takes over. Perhaps the best thing that we could hope for is not to be one of the last leaves to fall off the tree!

Monday, 17 November 2014

The depths of my mind

This article is long and boring. But if you still want to make it interesting for you, you need to think as I think and feel as I feel. I have written this after putting a lot of thought over the past few weeks. These are some thoughts I have had as a kid and these are also the thoughts that lurk in the back of my mind even now, only to show up when I am alone or when I take my morning shower. This article is also as random as the flow of thoughts in my mind and I have tried to compile them together. I would request you to try to associate every line of this passage with your own life and thoughts. So here goes:

What would we think of when we are old, and we know that our end is imminent? The present moments, days and even years - what would they mean to us in the end? When you are living the final days of your life - when you're about 80 years old - what would you think about life, your days and experiences on this planet? And every cherished moment you had in your life? Would it seem as though you were just 20 years old a while ago, and you woke up one day to find yourself at 80, along with a bunch of memories from your dream? A lot of people whom we consider the most important - our parents, siblings, friends and relatives, every person we thought to be our own - may not exist then, or fate would have taken them far, far away from us.

How about this - we believe only in things that we can see or perceive. We can either see the things that have a corporeal form, which are tangible, or perceive our surroundings using one or more of the six senses we possess. These means allow us to understand our world and comprehend everything around us, which make us believe that they are real. When I see you, I am able to tell if you are cheerful or gloomy today. We perceive something, and then we find out what it is. Take an example, we knew that light is made up of many visible spectrums. We perceived it through our eyes when we saw a rainbow or when we saw the light diverge into seven colors through a prism. We also knew that there is something present in the sunlight that gives us a hot sensation. We conducted experiments, made instruments that detect those rays and found out that light contains an infrared spectrum too, that is 'hidden' to the human eye. From this, we can conclude that there exist things that man doesn't know. Because he can perceive them, he becomes curious and finds out the science behind them.

But wait. What if there are things that exist, but in a way we cannot perceive? There are three dimensions in space that we know - the x, y and z axes. We also know that there exists a 4th dimension that we call spacetime. There are 5th and 6th dimensions as well. But how would we have known the dimension of spacetime before we quantified it? What if there exist other dimensions and objects that we don't even know yet? Furthermore, what if there exist stuff that are not even objects as we know, or fit existing definitions of physics? You must agree that we are made up of two discrete units - the body and the soul. Why is it that the soul can't be perceived separately? We do know that the soul is not a 'thing', but it is for real. So how do we ascertain that for sure? And if it is indeed real, where does it go after a person dies?

There have been times when I have wanted to run away from the world, and also myself. These are the times when I have felt lonely when I was a kid - the few days after my summer holidays when I would return from my cousins' place and would get ready to go back to school. This is also the kind of feeling after watching the last episode of some cartoon series when it came to an end on Cartoon Network. That was the time I really understood the meaning of void or nothingness. This brought me to the question - "What is nothingness?" It is easy to say that an object has nothing inside it, or that the space is nothing but vacuum. My point here is that we assume nothing to be something. The word 'nothing' or 'vacuum' itself is treated as an object. It never gives us the true feeling of emptiness. If I ask the question - "What would exist if there was nothing in the universe?", your answer would again be "Nothing" because you consider the universe itself as an object of reference. So if I rephrase the question to "What would exist if there were no universe at all?" what would you answer?

When I look up at the stars, I realize how insignificant we are. For every grain of sand on Earth, there are more than 10000 stars in the known Universe. Even if each star had two planets revolving around itself, imagine how many planets would exist. And it is estimated that there might be about 11 billion Earth-like planets that are revolving around Sun-like stars. Being insignificant is not all, but we do not even know why, how or where we exist. We know that an atom is the smallest known particle (lets not talk about its constituents here). What if an entire Universe existed inside that atom? And what if the Universe that we live in is itself an atom inside another Universe? Have you ever been into a room with mirrors on all sides? Then you must have seen your reflection inside another reflection which is again inside another one, and so on. That is the kind of effect I am talking about with respect to atoms and the Universe.

Now think about time - if we could somehow get at a distance of 65 million light years away from our planet, with a very, very powerful telescope, we would see dinosaurs walking here on Earth. So what really is time? There is a difference of a few microseconds between us and the International Space Station that orbits the earth. It is because time passes much slower in there than on the Earth. The faster you travel and the closer you get to the speed of light, the slower is the passage of time. So time isn't the same quantity as we measure in seconds or minutes, time is something entirely different. If we could somehow get 1 light year away, we can travel back and forth to create and recreate multiple instances of the Earth in time. If a person dies in an accident, and if you could suddenly travel back in time and save him, he would be alive in one instance of time and dead in the other. What's worse, you could travel back in time and prevent your parents from meeting each other and you wouldn't be born in that time. This would be an anomaly and cause an anachronism in history and time. I sometimes have a thought that there is a snapshot of the state of the Universe for every least division of time. Also, how would it be if there were higher life forms than us - outside the atom of Universe that we live in - how much of our time would constitute a second or a minute for them? If our Universe itself were an atom in their world, then think of how many similar atoms would be present in the world of those higher life forms.

Let us not talk any more mathematics and physics. We know that we have evolved from apes in a process spanning millions of years. The apes themselves evolved from lesser creatures, and the chain goes all the way down to single celled organisms. What if the same single celled organism had thrived in a different planet, and evolved in a different way and in a different time? What if the evolved species do not have a form or their sense organs like anything we know? Now that we know that there are many Earth-like planets, somewhere, in some remote galaxy, some form of life might exist. What's more, we still do not know even if our dear neighbor Mars has/had life forms. We also do not know if we would evolve any further. There is a hypothetical divider in the timeline of evolution that says that the process of evolution cannot go on any further. This line of division is known as The Great Filter. We do not know if we have hit this line yet, or if any civilizations have surpassed us. They might already be around us, but maybe it is just us and our technology that is too backward and primitive to detect their presence. The following is an excerpt from the article in the above link:

"We’re completely wrong about our reality. There are a lot of ways we could just be totally off with everything we think. The universe might appear one way and be something else entirely, like a hologram. Or maybe we’re the aliens and we were planted here as an experiment or as a form of fertilizer. There’s even a chance that we’re all part of a computer simulation by some researcher from another world, and other forms of life simply weren’t programmed into the simulation."

So, why are we all so busy with our lives? Why do we set goals, work our asses off to become and achieve something in our life, when we do not even understand the true meaning of life itself? Is all this - education, work, everything - a distraction from what our lives are all about? We don't even know if reality is indeed real. We choose to ignore the reality and get busy with everything that we have artificially created. If you want me to answer those questions by myself, I would say that the puzzle of life is too mind boggling to solve. Right from high school, I have been dealing with algorithms and programming. In college, I learnt about optimizing code to enhance speed, efficiency and yet solve the problem. So how would you apply optimization to the problem of your life? The problem statement is to attain the highest possible position and garner the greatest amount of money and happiness in the given period of life using the resources you have (money, energy and time among other personal constraints). You need to take decisions in such a way that it satisfies all these conditions and yet takes you to the result. These are the times when you need to make the most important decisions in your life. Take an example - why should you choose one job over the other or who is the right person to marry? And how would that choice take you further in the path of your life? In such times, I project a visual map in my mind about all the events that might take place in my life when I make that decision and pitch both the maps (decisions) against each other. I think that helps me to take better decisions.

P.S: If you could relate parts of this article with the Interstellar movie and question the timing of this post, well, let's just call it a coincidence. Moreover, if you have already watched the movie, you might have a clearer picture of what I am talking about.

If there are any such thoughts that you have and haven't found the answers to them yet, please do share them in the comments section below :)