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Rig Veda is an ancient religious text of India, comprising of a collection of Sanskrit Hymns. It is dated as far back as 1500–1000 BCE. One of the most popular hymn and my favorite is commonly known as the hymn of creation

In the beginning there was neither existence nor non-existance.

There was no atmosphere, no sky and no realm beyond the sky

What power was there? Where was that power?

Who was that power? Was it finite or infinite?

 

There was neither death nor immortality.

There was nothing to distinguish night from day.

There was no wind or breath, god alone breathed by his own energy.

 

In the beginning darkness was swathed in darkness, god was clothed in emptiness

 

Then fire arose within god; and in the fire arose love.

This was the seed of the soul.

Sages have found this seed within their hearts;

They have discovered that it is the bond between existence and non-existence.

 

Who really knows what happened? Who can describe it?

How were things produced? Where was creation born?

When the universe was created, the one became many.

Who knows how this occurred?

Did creation happen at God’s command, or did it happen without his command.

He looks down upon the creation from the highest heaven.

Only he knows the answer – or perhaps he does not know.

 

It is perhaps the oldest recorded questioning of mankind on the nature of creation. As you read the verse you can still experience the wonder they must have felt. What I find most fascinating about the verse is its humility. Unlike most later religious texts which claim to know all the answers, here is a poem which is humble enough to acknowledge its ignorance. Vedic age is considered by many one of the golden ages of science in India. I feel, maybe it is this ability to acknowledge the fact that we do not have all the answers and search for them led to such great scientific progress. Isn’t it the true spirit of science?

 

Here are a few more of my favorite verses from the Rig Veda

 

The Dawn

 

Look at how the dawn has set up her banner on the  eastern horizon.

She has adorned herself with sunlight

She is throwing lights of red and gold into the sky

……

……

Her brilliant flame becomes visible once more.

She pushes forward driving back the formless darkness of the night.

She gazes out at all creatures of the world and sends her light straight into every eye.

She awakens all that lives -and gives words to every poet

The divine being is born again and again each morning, always dressed in the same colors.

She causes men and women to grow older, pulling them across their span of life.

She is a cunning gambler whom no one can outwit.

She pushes aside her sister, the night, beyond the very edges of the sky

And draws to herself her lover, the sun.

 

The Power of Speech

 

I am speech –and I am queen of the world.

I am the point at which all riches meet.

I am the point at which all skills come together

I am the one who gives meaning to what is seen.

I am the one who lives in every breath.

I am the one who gives understanding to what is heard.

Though they do not realize it, people eat, see, breathe and hear through me.

 

Those who are famous for their wisdom are wise through me;

I taught them what they know – and they heeded me.

I am the one who conveys joy from one person to another.

Those whom I love I make them clever and sharp.

I incite people to compete for knowledge

I have pervaded the earth and the sky.

 

Ref: 366 Readings from Hinduism

 

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In my last post, we looked at the temple from outside. Now let us step inside a typical south Indian temple. Most ancient temples are held aloft my huge stone pillars which are intricately carved

Nellai Appan Temple, Thirunelveli

Nellaiappan Temple, Thirunelveli, South Tamil Nadu, India

Here is a close-up view of a pillar

Sometimes huge stone sculptures of mythological creature and characters are mounted on these pillars. This is a famous mythological creature called Yali, very much like the Chinese dragon. You will find them in most south Indian temples. They are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits.

Here is a warrior

Notice the detailing in the sculpture. Look at the intricately carved hair dress and elaborate jewels.  You can actually see his nails too. He is stamping enemy with one foot and seems to be celebrating his victory. There is so much movement in this static figure. The entire sculpture is carved from a single piece of rock using hand instruments. Just behind him is another pillar with a carved yali and an elephant.

This is lord Rama. Besides him is his faithful devotee, the monkey god Hanuman

Here is manmatha (cupid) the god of love, with his characteristics short stature and sugarcane bow.

Manmatha - The cupid

This is his wife Rathi

Manmatha\'s wife Rathi

Tribal Couple. Doesn’t their feather hair dress resemble the Red Indians

Tribal Couple

Here is a divine Nymph (Apsara). As per Hindu mythology, Apsara are courtesans in the kingdom of heaven. They are supposed to be beautiful, ageless and proficient in art and dance.

Apsara

 

These temples are sacred places of worship for the Hindus. The deities here are believed to possess power to bestow boons. Most people visit these temples do not stop to observe the beauty within. They enter the temple with the single purpose of reaching the sanctum, offering a prayer and rushing out. These temples were meticulously crafted by thousands of artisans over hundreds of years by generations of rulers and still stand as a testament to their aesthetics, values and culture. When I watch the throng of devotees trying to push their way to the sanctum, I wonder why they don’t stop to take notice.

 

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I love visiting temple. The South India temples are one of the most magnificent and beautiful works of art. Their architecture is unique and very different from the temples in the north. In this post I bring to you some images from my temple tours. Most of these temples are between 500 to 1000 years old.

 

Every big south Indian temple can easily be identified by the ‘Gopuram’ or the peak which serves as the entrance

 Srivalliputer

 

This is one of the tallest Gopurams of my home state of Tamil Nadu belonging to a very ancient temple in a small town of Srivalliputur. In the days of the yore these must have been the tallest structures in the town. Very often the towns and the cities were built around the temples.

 

These Gopurams depict stories from mythology and are painted in bright primary colors. Here is a close-up view of a gopuram

Gopuram Close up

 

This is the temple at Rameshwaram, considered one of the holiest places of south India. It lies in the southern tip of India and it figures in the great Indian epic Ramayana. It is believed that lord Rama himself made the deity of this temple with his own hands from the sands of Rameshwaram.

 

rameshwaram

 

The sculptures that you see in this picture, including the pillars, are all made of granite and chiseled using tools available 100s of years back.  

 

This is an ancient cave temple called Pulliyar patti. Although it looks like a normal structure from outside, when you step in you will find that solid rocks of caves have been meticulously sculptured into intricate figures.

 

Pulliyar Patti Gopuram 

 This is the temple tank of pulliyar patti. Most old temples have a tank. Even today, these tanks serve as a major tool for water harvesting.

 Pulliyar Patti Temple Tank

 

These guards are placed in every corner of the temple are a supposed to protect it from evil forces

 

Temple Gaurd 

This is the temple door

 

Temple Door of Pulliyar Patti 

A few close-up view of the external walls of the pulliayar patti temple

 

External walls of pulliyar patti

 

 

Roof

 

This is another famous temple called Thiruchendur. See how close it is to the sea. This is a region in south India that was devastated by the Tsunami. Not a single drop of water entered the temple. The story goes that the sea god promised Muruga, the god of this temple that he would never cross his boundaries here. It appears that he kept his promise.

 thiruchendur

 

Most temples do not permit photographs insides the temple. All the pictures you see above are from outside the temple. There are however some temples that permit limited access to the interiors. I will post some of my best pictures from inside temples in the coming weeks.

 

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First it was Barak Obama and his pastor. Now it is McCain and one of his endorsers. I am surprised at the religious undertones in American politics. This is the first time I have been following a US presidential race closely and it has been an eye opener. I had always thought of US as a truly secular country, where religion does not intrude in public life. People don’t judge you on the basis of your religious beliefs and affiliations. In the past one year I have been forced to change my mind.

 

A few says back John McCain appeared on Ellen DeGeneres show. She asked about his stand on gay marriages and he said he believes marriage is only between a man and a women..

 

“There is this old way of thinking that we are not all the same, we are all the same people,” she told McCain. “All of us. You’re no different than I am. Our love is the same.” He asked him if he would walk her down the aisle.

 

For a change, I felt sorry for McCain. Why should a leader have to defend his religious beliefs? While I totally agree that gays should be given equal rights as any other human being, I don’t see why an individual should be forced to accept a view which contradicts his faith. Being a Hindu, I believe beef eating is a sin (I think meat eating itself is not right). I have many friends who eat beef and I hold them in high regard. However, I would be offended if they insist that I share their beef steak. That is why I found Ellen’s question in bad taste.

 

There is another aspect I do not understand about gay marriages. Isn’t marriage a religious ceremony? By making gay marriage legal, aren’t you forcing the church to sanctify a union which it believes to be a sin? Isn’t this against the secular fabric of a democracy? When you talk about separation of state and church doesn’t it work both ways. How can the state force its morality on the church?

 

In India, Muslims are allowed to marry twice whereas Hindus are not. This was because Muslims were guaranteed at the time of independence that their religious freedom will be fully protected. From what I know, Indian law even upholds their divorce laws which can be carried out by a unilateral declaration by the husband and does not require the husband to pay any maintenance to the wife. Do I find it appalling – yes I do; from the stand point of my morality. But who am I to judge. I am sure there are many aspect of my religion which others may find equally appalling.

 

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If you ask me what the defining aspect of this book is, I would say it is originality. I cannot think of another book which presented so many new ideas. I cannot think of another book which did such a systematic comparison of modern physics and eastern philosophy.

If you are in Indian, it is very likely you would have heard about the scientific advances of ancient India- some real some imagined. There are claims that we knew it all – from gravity to atom bombs. Many people are of the notion that this book is another one in that genre; it claims that eastern scientists possessed knowledge of quantum theory. I want to begin by setting that record straight. Capra makes no claim of scientific advancement. His claim is that modern physics easily lends itself to be accommodated within the philosophical framework of the east. He says that the knowledge we have gained through years of scientific research seems to agree with the mystic revelations of the eastern philosophies like Hinduism, Buddhism and Tao. He says that many modern physicist like Bohr, Oppenheimer and Heisenberg have noticed the parallels and spoken about them. However, he claims they have gained it through mystical experiences and not through scientific thought. In his own words, “This book aims at  [demonstrating] that there is essential harmony between the spirit of eastern wisdom and western science. It attempts to suggest that modern physics goes far beyond technology…. It can be a path with a heart. A way to spiritual knowledge and self-realization”

Capra begins his analysis by making a comparison between rational knowledge and intuitive insights. Rational knowledge is derived from the experiences we have with objects and events in our environment. It operates in the realm of science. But this knowledge is only an approximation of the real world. For most of us it is very difficult to be constantly aware of the limitations and of the relativity of conceptual knowledge. The eastern mystics are concerned with the direct experience of reality which transcends not only intellectual knowledge but also sensory perceptions. They call this the absolute knowledge because it is beyond the limitation of our language and our reasoning faculties.

Physics would not accept this as knowledge because its framework is completely different. It relies on abstraction and analysis. The firm basis for knowledge in eastern mysticism is experience, whereas in science it is experiment. This comparison may seem absurd at first. Physics experiments are preformed with elaborate team work and sophisticated technology whereas mystics gain their knowledge in the privacy of their meditation, through introspection without the use of any technology. Scientific experiments are repeatable whereas mystic experience is reserved only for a few individuals at special occasions.  Capra says, these are only differences in approach and not in their reliability.

Anybody who wants to repeat a physics experiment has to undergo many years of training, similarly mystical experience requires many years of training under an experienced master. The dedicated time alone does not guarantee success. But once he is successful, he will be able to repeat it. Neither is it less sophisticated. The complexity and efficiency of a physicist’s technical apparatus is matched by that of the mystics consciousness in deep meditation. Capra’s premise is that both of these are valid methods of gaining knowledge. “A page from the journal of modern experimental physics will be as mysterious to the uninitiated as a Tibetian mandala. Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe”

 Capra then proceeds into a detailed analysis and comparisons of quantum physics and various eastern philosophies like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese schools of thought like Tao and Zen.  I was fascinated by the Hinduism and Buddhism comparisons mainly because I could understand and relate to them. I had difficulty following the other schools of thought because I do not have any background knowledge of these philosophies.

It is an intellectually stimulating book. You can agree or disagree with its premise, but it will be quite impossible not to be awed by it.

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A couple of weeks back I had written a post on my visit to the Countryside. I received the following comment from Janet WalgrenIn America we only see the travel posters with snake charmers or news clips of crowded buses and poverty stricken slums full of starving people. I am certain that I have never seen a photo that would entice me to travel to your country until now. You showed me a face of India that I have never seen before … I do hope that you will post more photos to show the world the beauty that surrounds you.” I was really moved by her comment. It also made me realize, that not only abroad but even in India many people are unaware of the treasures that lie hidden in their own country. I dedicate this post to Janet Walgren.

My cousin sister is an artist and has great interest in tribal art forms of India. These pictures are from her collection. Most of these art forms are associated with religious rituals and boast of an unbroken tradition of many hundreds and in some case 1000s of years.

Mandala/Gond Art

This is called the Mandala or the Gond art. These are deep forest Tribals. Their art gives rare glimpses of the forest. This picture depicts a very large prey being attacked by wild dogs. Since the predators are much smaller then the prey,  the only way they can bring it down is by biting the stomach. There is a striking similarity between this art form and Australian aboriginal art form, in the sense they use dots or lines as fillers and not continuous color.

gond-wild-dogs.jpg

These are monitor lizards.

monitor-lizards.jpg

 

Every tribal art form of India depicts ‘The Tree of Life’.  Below are two examples of the Gond version of ‘The Tree of Life’

tree-of-life-1.jpg

tree-of-life-2.jpg

Chakku Dan

This is an art form from the tribals of Orissa. This is associated with the death ritual. When someone dies the tribal artist cum priest called the Patua is called. He is asked to draw the exact replica of the dead person. The artist refuses to put eye balls for the image. The family of the dead person offers him charity(Daan) to persuade him to put in the eye balls. It is believed that the offer of a Daan sends the soul of the deceased to heaven.

chackudaan1.jpg

My cousin claims these are true master pieces of minimalism. So much of information is captured with so little lines and colors. Each picture provides a wealth of information about the deceased person, right from his age and wealth to his temperament. I am more moved by the stories of their poverty and suffering. The pictures you see above are the original paintings done during the death ritual. These are not normally sold because the tribals think of these as their ancestors and consider them sacred. For many of them, these are the only reminders of their dear ones. A few years ago, Orissa was under the grip of a severe drought and so many of these tribals were dying of starvations. These pictures were sold to a middleman during that period. He paid less then a dollar for these!!!

Here is another picture from the same art form. This depicts, Kali the goddess of time during the time of annihilation of the universe. She is naked, holding severed heads of men and standing on her husband Lord Shiva. You can see this motif in almost every tribal art form.

chackudaan-kali.jpg

Madhu Bani 

This is a Hindu folk art form(different from Tribal art). It is practiced in the Madhu Bani district of Bihar. Infact, the exact origin, as the legend has it, is from Mithila, the village where Sita was born. Sita is a famous mythological princess, known for her chastity and devotion for her husband. Hence, this art form is also known as Mithila. Madhubani is associated with the marriage ritual. It is, like almost all Indian art forms, a mural form. It is practiced by women. The bride decorates her bridal chamber with these paintings.

madhubani.jpg

Look at the above painting. Do you notice any resemblance to the previous one. It is the exact same motif,  Kali on Shiva, which represents the end of one cycle of creation. My cousin told me that the artist who painted this was one of the finest she had met . Since these are considered religious symbols, widows are not allowed to paint. This lady, gave up painting after her husband died. My cousin tried to convince her to continue but she refused. She said, “To you, this may just be an art. To me it is sacred. It is god”.

Below is a goddess in the Tantric form of Madhubani.

20012007120.jpg

 

Warli 

The origin of this form is from the Warli Tribe of Maharashtra. This is the first Indian art form to enter the urban Indian consciousness in the early 1970s. This is done with rice paste on mud background. This seems to belong to the Neolicthic paintings of central India. This art form is associated with harvest and fertility. The above picture is very typical of Warli art. It shows a spiral swirl of dancers around a central figure.

warli.jpg

 

Pithora 

This has it’s origin in the Bhil tribals of Gujarat and Bihar.

The below picture is a tree of life. It is a Mural art. A Pithoras are traditionally pictorial representation of horses which are offered to their deity baba Pithora as a thanks giving for boons granted.

pithora.jpg

 

Saora 

The art form gets its name from the Saora tribe of Orissa who practice it.

 These are ritual paintings done for ensuring a good harvest and keeping away evil spirits.

Below is a tree of life.

soara.jpg

 

Patta 

Like Madhu Bani, this is a Hindu folk art from Orissa and Bihar. These paintings are very sensual and almost always take their themes from Hindu Mythology. More than any other Indian folk art gets, this one gets the symbology of the gods perfectly. (The right accessories, and form). Also only art form where Hindu gods are given mustaches.

 

Here is Kali again on Shiva

kali-patta.jpg

 

This is a tantric goddess called Chinnamasta

chinnamasta-patta.jpg

 

This is lord Krishna, dancing on the serpent Kalinga. A scene from the hindu epic Bhagavatam

krishna-patta.jpg

 

Kalighat 

Kalighat has its origin in the Kali temple of Calcutta. This art form comes closest to the Europian visual art. It was practiced around Kali temple. Deals with both secular and religious subjects. With the coming in of the print media, this art form has almost vanished.

This is lord Shiva

shiva-kalighat.jpg

 

Back again, to the popular motif of Kali with her feet on Shiva

kali-kalighat.jpg

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This is a true life story, so fantastic that most people would find it hard to believe. Dr.Brian Weiss is a psychiatrist by profession. He is a graduate from Columbia University and Yale medical school. In this book he recounts his experience with a patient, Catherine who was suffering with chronic anxiety attacks. When traditional methods of therapy failed, he tried hypnosis on her. During these sessions she recalled her past life experiences and even the time in-between her lives. Her recollections were so vivid and revealed information she could not have known at all, that he was convinced that they were definitely from the past lives. 

He started researching on this phenomenon to get a better understanding of what was happening to Catherine. He studied the works of Dr.Ian Stevenson, another psychiatrist from Virginia University, who had collected over 2000 experiences of children who had memories of their past life. Some even exhibited ability to speak languages that they were not exposed to (xenoglossy). He also found references of reincarnation in the old and the new testament. The Roman emperor Constantine deleted these references because he felt that this concept would weaken the growing power of the church by giving humans too much time for salvation. 

More than her recollections of her past lives, what I found amazing was her messages from time in-between lives.  She heard messages from whom she termed ‘masters’ and they provide some profound philosophical insights. “Our task is to learn, to become god-like through knowledge. By knowledge we can approach god”. This sounded so much like Vedantic statement, “gnayanad eva kaivalyam – knowledge alone can lead to god-hood” 

In another encounter with the masters, Dr.Brian gets to hear a message from his dead son and father. She was able to provide information about them which no one else could possibly know. She revealed the Hebrew name of his father, the heart condition due to which his new born son died and the reason why Dr.Brian chose psychiatry. She also said that his son was born and to repay his parent’s debts. 

These experiences made Catherine increasing psychic. She was able to remember her past life recollections; however she was not able to remember the in-between states. What was remarkable about Catherine’s knowledge according to Dr.Brian, which defied all other explanations, was that it was not only detailed and specific but beyond her conscious capacity. Within three and a half months of her first hypnosis session her symptoms virtually disappeared. Here is another very Hinduism-like message from the masters “We have debts that must be paid. If we have not paid out these debts then we must take them to another life…” 

Having been associated with teachings of Hinduism from childhood, I did not find this story hard to believe. Unless Dr.Brian is blatantly lying there seems to be no other explanation for this phenomenon. But then why would he lie? He was taking a great professional risk by writing this story. He was a respected psychiatrist and the chairman of Psychiatry at a medical center in Miami.  He had lot to lose and nothing to gain by telling this story.

  Dr.Brian Weiss talks about this in the preface to the book, “It took me four years to garner the courage to take the professional risk of revealing this unorthodox information. Suddenly, one night, I felt the need to put this down on paper…. I knew that no possible consequence I might face could prove to be as devastating as not sharing this knowledge… I thought of my old Hungarian grandfather who died when I was a teenager. Whenever I would tell him I am afraid to take a risk, he would lovingly encourage me by repeating his favorite English expression: Vat the hell”

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There are some books for which a simple, single page review cannot do justice. Every page leaves you in awe and it is quite impossible to capture the spirit of the book with just a summary. Phantoms in the Brain by V.S.Ramchandran is one such book. For books like these, I prefer to talk about some interesting information contained in the book instead of doing the review of the entire book. I feel this gives a better perspective about the book. My previous post was also from Phantoms in the brain and so is this one.

 

The question of consciousness and nature of self has intrigued both philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. VSR gives his take on consciousness or qualia in a chapter titled “Do Martians See Red”. There are many definitions of qualia and I am going to use the one closest to what the VSR describes certain features of the bodily sensations especially, but also of certain perceptual experiences, which no amount of purely physical information includes

 

Let me explain this definition with a thought experiment given in the book. Let us say we encounter an alien who does not recognize color and he wants to understand what ‘red’ is. Every time I see red he measures the wavelength of light. He does this with all colors and makes a chart of all the wavelength of colors that I experience. The alien can show me the chart of wavelengths and say this is what is going on in my brain. But I see red color, where is the red in the chart. I can never convey the experience of color to the alien because he is color blind. In fact if you notice, there are so many wavelengths which are not visible to the eye and we can never know their color?

 

For centuries philosophers and scientists believed that this illustrates the difference between the brain and the mind and this chasm can never be crossed. VSR claims that this barrier is only a perception, it does not really exist. He gives the analogy of translating between two very different languages. While the brain’s language is in terms of electrical impulses, the spoken language is in term of words. So the word Red does not convey anything meaningful to the alien because it is lost during the translation from the language of the neurons to that which is spoken.

 

Let us assume that you bypass the spoken language and connect a cable directly from your brain to that of the alien (a hypothetical situation. Just an extension for our thought experiment). Now, he can experience red, exactly the way you experience it.

 

There is a way of proving if this is right. There are some patients whose optical pathways are damaged from birth but there portions of the brain which recognize color (the visual cortex) are intact. What if we stimulate these regions of the brain. Would he just feel something funny tickling his brain or would he say “This is extraordinary. I am finally experiencing vision. This is light, this is color, this is seeing!!!”

 

In effect he concludes that consciousness is very much a product of the brain and there is no difference, really, between the brain and the mind. There is an elaborate discussion on the required conditions for qualia to occur. If you are interested do read the book. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

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God and Science

I was discussing about books with a fellow book lover. He had stepped into the airport book store to buy books are returned empty handed. On display was Richard Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’ and I asked him why he didn’t pick it up. He said he did not like him much and said, “Many of his assumptions require a leap of faith on the part of the readers and I wonder why he criticizes faith in god. If he is so against faith and belief he should make sure all he says and writes are based on facts alone. These atheists are big hypocrites”.

 

I remembered another conversation which I had with another book lover. He said “ it makes sense that all scientist are atheist because religion and science are as opposite as things can.”.

Are all scientist atheist? All the famous one seem to be tending towards agnosticism, right from Einstein to Hawkins. But not all of them. Have you heard of Alfred Wallace? The first scientific paper on evolution by natural selection was presented jointly be Darwin and Wallace. In fact he is as much a father of Theory of Evolution as Darwin was.

 

However these two brilliant biologists differed on evolution of human beings. Wallace argued that human beings differed from animals in two respects in the context of evolution.

In the course of evolution human beings encountered a very powerful force called culture. Once language and writing was developed, we could just pass on the accumulated knowledge of the ages to our progeny thus making them more intelligent and more equipped to adapt to the environment. Culture propels human evolution making us absolutely unique in the animal kingdom. To survive in the Artic, Polar Bear required millions of years of evolution to develop a fur coat. Whereas a man learnt how to kill a bear and use its coat for protection and pass on this information to his children thus enabling them to survive in the Artic.

Secondly, Wallace said our brain is endowed with what he calls ‘potential intelligence’. It has much more capacity then what evolution can explain. If you take a tribal child who has always lived in the forest and give him a modern education, there will be no difference in his capacity for education and that of a child bought up in the city. A capacity for appreciating music or deciphering algebra is not something which was required for survival. This is very different from the way evolution operated. Evolution is by nature reactive. Any adaptation is a response to an environmental change. It can never preempt like what seems to have happened with the human brain. In fact, both Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon cranial capacities are larger than ours and it is possible that their potential intelligence was equal to or even greater than Homo sapiens.

 

How is it possible that such latent intelligence emerged in prehistoric brains but have only been realized / required in the last one thousand years? Wallace says “ It was done by god. Some higher intelligence must have directed the process by which the human intelligence developed”. And this is where Darwin and Wallace parted ways.

 

I don’t know what was Darwin’s counter argument was, but I would love to know your view on this subject.

 

Reference : Phantoms in the Brain by VS.Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

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I ended my last post with one life altering conclusion of theory of relativity – speed slows down time. If you are observing a rocket which is traveling at 90% the speed of light for 1 hour, for the people traveling in the rocket only 26 minutes would have passed. It may be hard to believe, this phenomenon has been observed in particles. Most of the subatomic particles are unstable, they degenerate after a certain time into other particles. It has been observed that the lifetime of the particle increased with the speed of the particle. Particles which move at 80% the speed of light live about 1.7 times longer than the one at rest and at 99% the speed of light they live 7 times as long. This does not mean that the intrinsic lifetime of the particle changes. From the point of view of the laboratory observer the particles internal clock has slowed down and therefore it lives longer**.

If this is what relativity does to time, what it does to space is even more amazing. This is fairly easy to understand. Let us say that two people are traveling in a train and measuring it’s length and two other people on the ground are also measuring it. Let us assume that they are using a light gun to do this measurement. X1 on the train shoots and the light hits x2, the time taken for this would determine the length of the train. Y1 on the ground observes x1 and y2 notes the time it reaches x2. Because the train is moving the time taken for this would be lesser for people observing from the ground. In effect the train would appear shorter for people on the ground and compared to people on board. What is the real length of the train? As per Relativity this question is invalid and incomplete. You can only ask what is the length of the train as per the observer x1. So we conclude speed squashes space. 

What I find most fascinating about these conclusions is that you can never separate an experiment from the observer. He is an active participator in all the findings he gets from the experiment. The word ‘objectivity’ completely loses its meaning.

Based on these two conclusions of the relativity theory another scientist called  Hermann Minkowski came up with concept of the 4th dimension. Interestingly he also happened to be Einstein’s school teacher who did not think much about Einstein.He concluded that this seemingly illogical shrinking of space and slowing of time is because we perceive them as two separate entities. There are no distinct space and time, there is only one single Space-Time. It is just like how you see shadows of three dimensional objects. They appear longer and shorter as we move them around, but in reality they don’t change shape. We are looking at a 3 dimensional entity from 2 dimensions only.

Let me explain this with another example. Let us assume you can only see two dimensions and a sphere is passing you by. What will you see? You will see a series of concentric circles which keep mysteriously increasing and decreasing. If you were able to see the third dimension you would know that there is nothing mysterious about it. It is only a simple sphere. Similarly, if our brain was tuned to transacting in 4 dimensions we would find nothing strange about the shrinking and slowing of time and space.

I was hoping Einstein would provide some tips for shrinking my dimensions. Looks like it a far too expensive option. I will have to resort to simple and straightforward exercising. Life does have a way of letting you down!!!!

References :

 Albert Einstein by Dr Mike Goldsmith 

Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

 Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking

**The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra

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