I really like the Socrates way of a conversation or debate. So let me present what I believe in via these dialogues
God and Mayonnaise
T: What are your views about god?
A: I don’t think god is necessary. Yes, organised religion was necessary to guide people to morality. But in the current era of science; god is an added burden, a deviation from Occam’s razor.
T: I would argue that god IS Occam’s razor. Believing in an omnipotent god resolves all problems. But, let’s keep that aside for a while and assume that god is not necessary. But so is mayonnaise. But mayonnaise exists. There are so many things that you do not believe is necessary, or do not even know that they exist - but in reality, they do. How does that change the reality of its existence?
A: Yes, I do not know what mayonnaise brands Americans use; that does not refute its existence. But, it is possible to totally live without mayonnaise. Removing mayonnaise from the equation of human civilization will not threaten the existence of the universe.
T: Some mayo based dishes would fail to exist then. But the non-existence of mayo to you does not mean it doesn’t exist.
A: Yes. So mayo is known by more people, validating its existence. That is what gives mayo its existence.
T: At least 1 person in the World believes that god exists. Does that mean there is god?
A: No. A majority believing in something or an individual believing in something does not make it real. The difference between mayo is it can be sensed, experimented and physically tangibly manipulated by other human beings in the same way.
T: So is it with god. Theists agree on how they experience god.
A: But so are dreams. That brings us to the dream argument. Both mayo and god generate electrical signals in the neurons. Both dream and reality do. Why is one more real and another is fiction? Dreams are real in my argument. Dreams are fragments of real thought caused by neural impulses. They are as real as thinking of the notion of a god. Both create realistic signals. But just as we agree on dreams being just thoughts and not occurring in the physical world, so are divine miracles.
T: How do you distinguish that the mayo taste is physical while the dream of mayo is not?
A: Sensor fusion? In dreams, the starting sensor data is missing. We don’t remember the exact sight, smell or taste; we directly experience the mayo. In reality, the low-level sensor data is also accessible. It’s not always black or white - under the effect of alcohol sometimes we feel dreamy, because we start to lose reception of the sensor data.
T: So are the feelings like loneliness, boredom, fear, also fake?
A: No they are not. They are supported by idle sensor organs, or physical activities, etc.
T: So is god. God is one level meta. The existence of abstract feelings like fear, awe, happiness gives rise to god.
A: I don’t mind accepting god as a meta-emotion. But as long as it stays in the category of emotion. Its meta property does not allow it to travel to the real World. It can, however, influence our emotion, just like emotions affect our actions. E.g. holy wars.
T: Holy wars are organised religion. We are talking about a personal god.
A: Then, as long as we do not believe praying will have a tangible effect.
T: Praying does help us attain peace.
A: I am ok as long as it just affects our emotions, and; the emotions indirectly affect our actions. Praying to God does not heal. It gives us the mental courage to cope with the pain.
T: Why is that not necessary according to you?
A: Because I can invoke the same courage without believing in the existence of a god. I do not need to equate god as a meta-emotion. God CAN be a meta-emotion; a subset of meta-emotions just like sense altering drugs; but it is not the only way. I am ok people deriving strength by believing in God. But I am not ok if they say that the Voyager is still continuing in space due to god’s grace.
T: Well, there have been multiple possibilities when the spacecraft could have failed. Say it surviving means True (T). Thus its current state is TTTT….n times…. Now, that is a 1 in $2^n$ chance, which is rare. A single False would make it fail.
A: It brings us to the argument of noogenesis. Why are there no aliens; intelligent by design; creationism. Yes, having existence from spontaneous quantum fluctuations is an extremely rare event. But, it is not so rare when put in the perspective of the time scale of the universe. Rather it is the contrary; by Fermi’s paradox.
T: So either way, i.e. either only it is us who are created. Why does that not make you feel special? In the infinite complexity of the universe, is imagining an intelligence god-like entity capable of creating us so difficult.
A: Aliens creating us and placing us precisely on Earth, listening silently to our prayers and beings vastly more powerful and potent is far easy to imagine logically to me - like Daniken’s arguments. But something predating or encompassing the Universe is not.
T: What? If you can have the entropy required for intelligence, the same entropy would have existed in the early universe. The entire universe is at least as intelligent as all intelligence of Earth put together.
A: Well, that still leaves the possibility that all the intelligence of the early universe got concentrated on Earth. But there is a catch. Intelligence is emergent. Earth did not have intelligent lifeforms in its initial days.
T: Was it embedded somewhere in the chaos?
A: Unlikely. QM allows spontaneous existence of things. There were no uranium or NaCl (needed for neural signals in thought) in the early universe. Deterministic intelligent designs getting conserved over nuclear fission is unlikely.
T: So what is intelligence. Because animals don’t believe in gods! Looks like god is the result of complex thought.
A: Agree. Meta-emotion. The notion to understand the physical world gives rise to calculus or gods. It is like the renormalization factor to things we cannot explain so that everything sums up.
T: But that again brings us to what is real. Calculus is real. God is not according to you. How do you make the distinction? Both calculus and god solves problems humanity faces. Both are agreed upon by multiple factions.
A: Calculus is not real. It is a tool to make our lives easy; an approximation that helps us to calculate impossible things. Just like god.
T: Why shouldn’t both be allowed to exist?
A: No problem in god existing. I am just suggesting an alternate method of solving the problem. In which one doesn’t believe in a deus ex.
T: So does god exist?
A: I submit, the problem of god existing is not provable; just like the existence of infinity. No one has seen or experience infinity. It is not necessary, at the same time; knowing its capability and limitation is. Since it is not provable, discussing its real existence is beyond my scope.
Teleological argument and the Problem of Evil
(… in progress)
Sanatan dharma and Carvaka epistemology
Nasadiya Sukta is the 129th hymn of the 10th mandala of the Rigveda (10:129). It is concerned with cosmology and the origin of the universe. Verse 6-7 reads as follow….
But, after all, who knows, and who can say Whence it all came, and how creation happened? the gods themselves are later than creation, so who knows truly whence it has arisen? Whence all creation had its origin, the creator, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not, the creator, who surveys it all from highest heaven, he knows — or maybe even he does not know.
These verses corroborate both a sense of freedom of thought as well as a limit on human thought itself. It is a win-win strategy; allowing hinduism to ever evolve with the changing morals and scientific understanding of the physical world, at the same time, allowing its followers to participate in this change without a strict bound on what is subjectable to questioning.
While I am allowed to be an agnostic atheist staying within the boundaries of sanatan dharma (a.k.a. hinduism), it says, we are too insignificant in the scale of the universe (or multi-verse, who knows) to be bold enough to infer physical truths beyond our immediate space-time. Conjectures of fringe science are sometimes beyond testability. There are theorems that cannot be proven from basic axioms. There are limits to reasoning itself. Yet, on the other hand, the oldest and arguably the most sacred text in hinduism exploring this boundary of reason itself allows me to do my own exploration into the truths in my ‘own’ way - ‘my’ dharma… a subset (or even an extension) from the established canon existing today.
Why I am a Hindu
a book that strikes the right chords but skips a few beats
Here let me first briefly review Shashi Tharoor’s book, Why I Am a Hindu, which is the one book I would recommend to an English reader to get you started with understanding India and its ancient culture.
Things I appreciated
- Hinduism is different; difficult to draw correspondences with sematic faiths; the idea of acceptance and mutual respect
- Plural vs secular
- Everything is subject to interpretation and questioning
- Sacred texts and gurus are guides to self-realization - need not be the ultimate truth
- Summary of hindu tenets - karma, moksha, etc.
- A good balance between nice vocabulary and simple language to drive home the idea
- Some fun parts - temple weighing; ganesha stories
- Personal life story - father praying
- Discussion on caste and reservation
Things I want to question
- Schoolboy atheism troubled by the limits of rationality - there are limits to science and technology as well as formal reasoning - that doesn’t call for a divine figure - calls for a never-ending strive to understand the unknown
- If hinduism is a lived faith - how does one segregate a social practice from the tenets of the religion - e.g. sati, caste
- Does hinduism accepting jainism, sikh and buddhism make them the mother faith - the other side of the story
Things I wish were there
- Other old religions and pagans comparison (esp., hellanic and egyptian) - their polytheism
- The geographic factor of the himalayas that helped hinduism to flourish unchallenged - trade and war-hammers requires different streets
- Chanakya’s neeti and merging some religious ideals into politics for the sake of better politics
- More discussions on the other sects (besides Daiva, Adaivtva and Charvaka)
Things I wish weren’t there
- The entire second part should have been a different book. The first part has a much noble purpose (being a concise description of sanatan dharma in English) than just being the background story of part two.
(… in progress)