My Dharma

Nasadiya Sukta

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 (as most commonly referred to) 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 selective subset (or even an extension) of the established canons existing today.

Algorithmic Absurdism

(Created Mar 1, 2022)

For now, I identify my philosophical stance as algorithmic absurdist, a merger of absurdism and pancomputationalism that I created myself to better express the tenets I believe in.

  • There is no inherent meaning in the Universe. If the Universe sprung from and dissolutes into nothing, then only `nothing’ is fundamental.
  • It is possible for sentient agents embedded within the Universe to derive meaning by dividing the Universe into two parts: the agent and the environment.
    • Humans belong to a more general class of sentient agents, which may include artificial intelligence, animals, aliens, etc.
  • These two parts have a boundary, called the Markov boundary (or Markov blanket, if not minimal), that is defined over the dimensions of space and time.
  • The definition of the boundary is stored within the agent and is the synonym for self-consciousness. It thinks, therefore it is.
    • This definition of the boundary can be shared with other agents by action-perception. The ability for the other agents to acknowledge the sentience of the agent is based on the mutually agreed definition of the boundary and of recognizing sentience. e.g. A rock is not sentient to a human but a fish is even though both move when acted on its boundary. Maybe an FSM is not sentient to a Turing machine. Or the water cycle is not sentient but the collective behaviour of a swarm of birds is.
  • Any ontology of the environment is unaccessible except via epistemic observables on this boundary.
    • The observables can be compressed for storage within the agent’s memory by identifying patterns.
    • This pattern identification procedure is thermodynamically irreversible, takes free energy from the environment and generates heat. Efficiency is determined by an ensemble of parameters like the size of the set of observables, the size of the compressed pattern, the time it takes of compress and decompress, the free energy used, the heat generated, etc.
    • These patterns are best described as programs/algorithms that can be executed on the agent’s computing faculties (reasoning, brain, computer) to decompress and replicate (remember) the observed phenomena.
    • These programs are the most general method to predict future observable patterns that the agent can identify. This is Solomonoff induction and always carries a level of uncertainty (black swam event) that eventually leads to refinement of the program.
    • The basis of Solomonoff induction, the Church-Turing thesis (i.e. the universe is efficiently computable by a Turing machine, or it’s quantum variant from Deutsch), is the law-without-law that Wheeler was searching for. The fundamental laws of physics tells more about the computability capabilities of our biologically evolved reasoning power than of the Universe.
    • Being most general does not mean that it is the best method for any subset of observables and predictions. For limited use, memorizing a multiplication table may be more efficient that understanding how multiplication works in general. It has the least error considering all possible observables and predicions for the agent.
    • Note, there may be patterns that the agent cannot identify using its level of computing capability. Neither are these unidentified patterns used for forming the program, nor can the agent predict how these patterns will affect future observations. These are termed as relative algorithmic randomness. Such randomness leads to the inability of the agent to compress/predict the exact sequence of observation, instead, it can predict the probability distribution of the observations.
  • This method of defining a boundary (cell wall), storing a compressed history (DNA) and predicting (genetic pathways and neural learning) has been evolutionarily favoured in Earth’s environment and thus its usefulness is the anthropic sense for the survival of life.
    • In summary, Q: “Why should I not commit suicide?” should be answered with A: “Because Code Golfing is fun.”

These ideas were influenced by computer scientists like Christian Calude, Marcus Hutter, Ray Solomonoff, John von Neumann, Alan Turing, Stephen Wolfram, Jurgen Schmidhuber, David Wolpert; physicists like John Wheeler, Carlo Rovelli, Chaira Martello; philosophers like Rene Descartes, Albert Camus; mathematicians like Kurt Godel, Gregory Chaitin; and many others.

Philosophical stance

(Created Jan 17, 2022)

I have been trying to form my personal stance on various philosophical standpoints. Here I try to list them:

Hope I will get time to fill in my personal thoughts on these later.

The Zeroth Law

(Created Mar 22, 2016 from notes) (Updated Mar 07, 2022)

‘Belief’ is a dangerous word. A single word that washes down the drain everything science apparently tends to establish. Thus, it is the ‘Only rule’ that needs to be specified, the only assumption, the only imposition. Free-thinkers don’t believe without reason. In fact, where there is reason, there is no need for the word belief itself. There is a saying in Bengali, ‘bishaash ey milai bostu, torke bohudur’ (belief dissolves the most far-fetched of arguments). This is the only phrase I am afraid of. The only phrase I have lost numerous arguments to, with my pious granny.

But what is belief? 1+1 equals 2. Alice believes in it. She knows all of known mathematics and physics will collapse if any day this proves to be wrong. She was excited to interact with her new digital assistant, Bob. To start testing Bob’s computational prowess, she asked the same. Pop came the reply! 10. What! How can it possibly be! This is the device every fragment of humanity now relies on?! The argument ran for hours. Every single mathematical equation returned a seemingly junk answer. 11+1 returned 100, 11x11 returned 1000. She panicked.

She dialled her friend, Carole, who advised Alice to beta-test Bob. Carole is a computer scientist, the bridge between humanity and those freak silicon bricks. She came to the rescue and passed her judgement. Apparently, no one was wrong! There happens to be other number systems than decimal, the one we were taught in nursery by counting our fingers. Bob was spot correct in its own binary number system. Makes me wonder. What if we had only one finger in each hand? Would we be more proficient in binary? My conscience comments, definitely; and that would be the middle-finger of million of years of biological evolution.

Ramakrishna Paramhansa, a Hindu sage wanted to explore what other religions has to offer. He converted to Islam; and then to Christianity. Finally, he concluded, all religions are but different paths leading to the same goal of enlightenment, like rivers flowing down to the same ocean. Is atheism, also such a tributary? In essence, is it a belief-system that has no place for divinity, but is that the only difference from the others? The answer is both yes, and no. Just as different wavelength of light forms different colour of rays, different religions shine only in their narrow band. Just as a red apple cannot be viewed in blue light, most religions are intolerant towards elements of others. Atheist see is white light. Atheism indeed is a belief system. But one that is tolerant towards all. A neutral observer who silently mocks everything without a reason. At the same time, atheist do not emit any light. Others see them as dark bodies of pure evil. But they are potentially harmless creatures. They don’t declare wars or shout slogans. They consider themselves as enlightened beings, who can see over the veil of selected frequencies.

There is one more idea that is worth discussion. Intuition. Belief is not intuition. Quantum mechanics, one of the pillars of modern physics is counter-intuitive. That does not in any way imply you must believe in quantum mechanics to grasp it. You can totally remain foe to the counter-intuitive aspects yet appreciate the mathematical elegance of its postulates and how it conforms to the reality of our universe. In fact, Albert Einstein himself wasted a good deal of neural activity in trying to prove wrong the theory he himself helped invent.

The zeroth law touches upon the ideas that will develop in depth as you move along other topics I discuss. Sit back! The bumpy ride is just about to begin.

God and Mayonnaise

I really like the Socrates way of a conversation or debate. So let me present what I believe in via these dialogues

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.

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

  • Sufism
  • 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.

List of posts I wish I had the time to type out

These are approximately the ideas I want to discuss in this page in the future.

  • Translating ‘Dharma’
  • Teleological argument and the Problem of Evil

Comments and discussions