Archive for the ‘books’ Category

The important bits are at the end: If you believe someone is harming you on purpose, it hurts more. There is discussion of turning pain into pleasure : presenter quotes pleasure of riding a roller coaster as an example; I am not sure if adrenaline is also responsible for the pleasure here, if only partly. Eating chillies is also an example of turning pain into pleasure.

Following excerpt is from Vignana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient Hindu text. This particular translation and explanation is by master Osho. I was reminded of this when I was watching the video; the parallels and similar conclusions are uncanny. How are we feeling pleasure from an experience that should have resulted in pain? The answer is simple: pain and pleasure are within us, and we have the control to feel one or the other irrespective of the external situation.

Whenever there is joy, you feel that it is coming from without. You have met a friend: of course, it
appears that the joy is coming from your friend, from seeing him. That is not the actual case. The
joy is always within you. The friend has just become a situation. The friend has helped it to come
out, has helped you to see that it is there. And this is not only with joy, but with everything: with
anger, with sadness, with misery, with happiness, with everything, it is so. Others are only situations
in which things that are hidden in you are expressed. They are not causes; they are not causing
something in you. Whatsoever is happening, is happening TO YOU. It has always been there; it
is only that meeting with this friend has become a situation in which whatsoever was hidden has
come out in the open – has come out. From the hidden sources it has become apparent, manifest.
Whenever this happens remain centered in the inner feeling, and then you will have a different
attitude about everything in life.
Even with negative emotions, do this. When you are angry, do not be centered on the person who
has aroused it. Let him be on the periphery. You just become anger. Feel anger in its totality; allow it
to happen within. Don’t rationalize; don’t say that this man has created it. Do not condemn the man.
He has just become the situation. And feel grateful towards him that he has helped something which
was hidden to come into the open. He has hit you somewhere, and a wound was there hidden. Now
you know it, so become the wound.
With negative or positive, with any emotion, use this, and there will be a great change in you. If
the emotion is negative, you will be freed of it by being aware that it is within you. If the emotion is
positive, you will become the emotion itself. If it is joy, you will become joy. If it is anger, the anger
will dissolve.
And this is the difference between negative and positive emotions: if you become aware of a certain
emotion, and by your becoming aware the emotion dissolves, it is negative. If by your becoming
aware of a certain emotion you then become the emotion, if the emotion then spreads and becomes
your being, it is positive. Awareness works differently in both cases. If it is a poisonous emotion,
you are relieved of it through awareness. If it is good, blissful, ecstatic, you become one with it.
Awareness deepens it.

Ancient Hindu philosophers have mastered the internal, and their insight into human mind is amazing.

the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— Amundsen in The South Pole

(Amundsen lead  first successful expedition to south Pole)

perpetual estrangement

Posted: February 19, 2011 in books, love, Quotes
Tags: ,

Jane Austen in Persuasion:

there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.

When words can capture deep feelings, paint raw emotions, and give expression to the pain of lost love, this is how it reads like. Who says a picture is worth a thousand words? It certainly is not true when it is Jane Austen making the words express themselves so beautifully. “You have got to learn to paint with words.”  said Flannery O’Connor. I can see what she meant.

Female oppression

Posted: December 17, 2010 in books
Tags: ,

Empowerment of women is  a topic that is close to my heart. I had thought a lot about the origins of patriarchal societies. It’s obvious that there are biological reasons that are at the root of the problem when it comes to gender bias in society. I feel nature has unfairly put women at a disadvantage by making them bear most of the burden of carrying forward the genetic lines of our species.

I recently came across this very interesting talk that was given at American Psychological Association by Roy F. Baumeister, provocatively titled Is There Anything Good About Men? In the talk, the author gives a very compelling explanation of the gender differences and how they led to gender bias in cultures. His arguments seem entirely reasonable to me:

Maybe the differences between the genders are more about motivation than ability. This is the difference between can’t and won’t.

Several recent works have questioned the whole idea of gender differences in abilities: Even when average differences are found, they tend to be extremely small. In contrast, when you look at what men and women want, what they like, there are genuine differences. Look at research on the sex drive: Men and women may have about equal “ability” in sex, whatever that means, but there are big differences as to motivation: which gender thinks about sex all the time, wants it more often, wants more different partners, risks more for sex, masturbates more, leaps at every opportunity, and so on. Our survey of published research found that pretty much every measure and every study showed higher sex drive in men. It’s official: men are hornier than women. This is a difference in motivation. Likewise, I mentioned the salary difference, but it may have less to do with ability than motivation. High salaries come from working super-long hours. Workaholics are mostly men. (There are some women, just not as many as men.) One study counted that over 80% of the people who work 50-hour weeks are men. …

What percent of our ancestors were women? It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%. True, about half the people who ever lived were women, but that’s not the question. We’re asking about all the people who ever lived who have a descendant living today. Or, put another way, yes, every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children. Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question about two years ago. Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men. I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.The huge difference in reproductive success very likely contributed to some personality differences, because different traits pointed the way to success. Women did best by minimizing risks, whereas the successful men were the ones who took chances. Ambition and competitive striving probably mattered more to male success (measured in offspring) than female. Creativity was probably more necessary, to help the individual man stand out in some way. Even the sex drive difference was relevant: For many men, there would be few chances to reproduce and so they had to be ready for every sexual opportunity. If a man said “not today, I have a headache,” he might miss his only chance. Another crucial point. The danger of having no children is only one side of the male coin. Every child has a biological mother and father, and so if there were only half as many fathers as mothers among our ancestors, then some of those fathers had lots of children. Look at it this way. Most women have only a few children, and hardly any have more than a dozen — but many  fathers have had more than a few, and some men have actually had several dozen, even hundreds of kids. In terms of the biological competition to produce offspring, then, men outnumbered women both among the losers and among the biggest winners.

For women, being lovable was the key to attracting the best mate. For men, however, it was more a matter of beating out lots of other men even to have a chance for a mate. Tradeoffs again: perhaps nature designed women to seek to be lovable, whereas men were designed to strive, mostly unsuccessfully, for greatness.

Whatever the biological and evolutionary origins of our male dominated culture, I think it is not acceptable in today’s world. During the early stages organised in primitive societies, our species probably wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the fact that it is not acceptable to oppress half of humanity in one way or the other. Now we have that conscience, let’s listen to it and let the women take back their rightful place in society.

[This entry had been lying in my drafts since August. I had even forgotten what I wanted to write here.]

Recently I came to know about DLI through this post on Sowmya’s blog. DLI is an admirable effort to digitize old books and make them accessible online. They have a nice collection of rare old books in many Indian languages.

In her post, Sowmya explains how hard it is to search for books on that site. They have used a lot of different non-standard ways to spell the names of Indian authors. If that’s not ludicrous enough, they have different spellings for same names in different titles. For example, Lakshmi goes with the spelling ‘Laxmi’ in one book, and as ‘laq-smi’ in another. Well, you can imagine how tedious it would be to search for something in such a database. It got me thinking to see if there is a simple way to fix this search problem. It occurred to me that using SoundEx based search can solve this problem. It’s such a simple thing to implement if they want to. Pretty much all database systems have built-in support for SoundEx indexing these days. For a moment, I considered implementing it myself by crawling the website and building an index. It’s doable because we  don’t have to replicate the entire DLI database. All we need to do is  just store all the unique names that appear with their different spellings; that can’t be very big.  We can use this database to retrieve the list of alternate spellings that are used for any given name. We submit all those spellings to the DLI search, and Bingo! we have the results that we are looking for. For example, if someone searches for ‘Lakshmi’, SoundEx lookup in our database would give us the other spellings ‘Laxmi’, and ‘Laq-smi’. We submit three queries to DLI with these three different spellings.
Anyway, I dropped the idea for now since I don’t have a place to host such a system at my disposal. Besides, It doesn’t seem like there are many people using DLI to warrant that effort.
While we are on the topic, few more things that came to mind when I looked at DLI: The website proudly proclaims that “For the first time in history, the Digital Library of India is digitizing all the significant works of Mankind”. Tall claims without substance, typical of us Indians. The entire website looks very crudely done and can use some improvements. I don’t understand why they are digitizing English works published in other countries. There are efforts like Project Gutenberg that are doing a finer job.

Sherlock Holmes was one of my childhood passions. Sridhar’s excellent narration of “The hound of the Baskervilles” on that lonely night more than a decade ago is still etched in my memory. I finally got around to reading the complete Sherlock Holmes works in 2006, I guess.

Most of the Sherlock Holmes adventures are very well written. Some are far better than others. “Hound of the Baskervilles” is probably the best among them.

One thing I found lacking in Sherlock Holmes series is the chance for the reader to get into the role of the detective and solve the mystery as the case progresses. In most of Holmes’ adventures, evidence presented as discovered during the course of the narration is not enough to solve the mystery; Key evidence required to solve the mystery is revealed by Holmes, usually to Watson, after the case is solved. By not revealing these key incidents till the end of the story, the Author kind of cheats the reader to maintain suspense.
IMO, a well written detective novel can present all the evidence its protagonist detective has at hand to its readers, all along the story; this would be more engaging and thrilling to those who try to solve the mystery. Of course, to keep readers engaged in this mode is a much greater challenge to the writer.