The Bliss of The Void

This article looks at the Madhyamika philosophy and some of its interpretations. Main focus of the article is Nagarjuna’s ‘Mulamadhyamakakarika‘ on Sunyavada, a form of nihilism.

One of the main points it makes is that Nagarjuna Paradox may not be a real paradox.

Full article is available at

Posted in Philosophical Musings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is AI really AI?

Do we incorrectly refer to our attempt to emulate some human brain functions as AI?

Full article is at:

A personal touch to this essay

Recently, I wanted to find a picture of an ascetic. I couldn’t find something that I could match with the image I had in mind. Thus, I decided to try AI to create something for me. Its creation came with the warning that the image created may not be unique to my request. That means the same image might be created for someone else with a similar request. Again, not long ago, I had a back-and-forth with a Medium user on creating fiction using AI. My point was that AI would use training data from someone else’s original work in its creation. These two personal experiences prompted me to write this article.

Getting some definitions in order

As an overture to the opinions expressed in this article, it is required to clarify the use of certain terms. Let us start from the beginning. What is AI? The definition that I use here is what IBM uses (IBM, 2023). AI is a field that combines computer science and robust datasets enabling problem-solving. There are also machine learning and deep learning that use computer algorithms to develop expert systems, based on data to predict or classify. The two facets of AI, namely, weak AI and strong AI are also talked about. An example of a narrow or weak AI is a biometric recognition system that you walk through when you enter the immigration area of airports in many developed countries. They have computer algorithms and databases that work together to identify you as the person on your passport. Another example is the Deep Blue that could beat Garry Kasparov, a world champion, in chess. It can be an expert system that answers our questions after searching a knowledge base that was defined in the computer code. Strong AI is still in the works and will be available, if you believe the pundits, in the near future. Perhaps, when the strong AI is in place, a computer would pass the Turing Test that was originally designed by the British mathematician, Alan Turing.

Now, what about machine learning and deep learning? They, in conceptual terms, are again computer algorithms that are trained on many examples to do some predictive work with the new specimens that are not in the training set. Many practitioners can use specific jargon to baffle the ordinary people to subjugation and make them accept AI’s grandeur with awe. Machine learning and its upgraded version, deep learning are basically computer programs written by humans like us to do certain tasks using the data that are fed in. In parallel to the rise of disciplines like data science, new jargon like machine learning started to crop up under the ever-increasing influence of computer science. But, at the core what do these terms represent? Let us discuss some background information before taking up this subject again in a later section.

What is Statistics?

In the current definitions of AI what we do not generally mention is the role played by what is called ‘Statistics’. The term Statistics was first used by German writers in the 18th century to study the political arrangements of the states of the known world (Davies, 1995). Fisher (1922) defines statistics as follows:

“..briefly, and in its most concrete form, the object of statistical method is the reduction of data. A quantity of data, which usually by its mere bulk is incapable of entering the mind, is to be replaced by relatively few quantities… which…. shall contain as much as possible, ideally the whole, of the relevant information contained in the original data”.

We all know the importance of probability in statistical thinking. We also cannot forget Legendre’s and Gauss’s work on least squares methodology that helped develop modern regression analysis or Tyron’s (1939) attempt at Cluster Analysis, a method of unsupervised learning, that tried to take a set of data and separate it into subgroups “where the elements of each subgroup are more similar to each other than they are to elements not in the subgroup”.

Role of Statistics in AI

Furthermore, it was the “Laplace-Gaussian” curve that became normal curve due to Francis Galton. It is not an incorrect statement that the modern AI we are most boastful about was, in a certain sense, started by R.A. Fisher (1936) with what is now called discriminant analysis featuring the above-said normal curve. It was about the separation of three species of iris plant, Iris setosavirginica and versicolor using four measurements on their flowers. He expressed the view that given their genetic closeness, a certain diagnosis of two species versicolor and virginica could not be solely done on the above four measurements of ‘a single flower taken on a plant growing wild’. However, he might have imagined a situation where a sufficiently representative set of measurements as a training dataset with two subgroups, i.e., two species, to develop a scoring algorithm to identify future specimens that can be assigned to either of these based on the same four measurements. In short, he saw the possibility to learn about the two species using the training dataset at hand and use the learnings to identify which species a new set of measurements was likely to have come from. Thus, it is about mathematical functions maximised for the probability of correctly assigning items to a subgroup based on the existing data. The above can be thought of as what is at the heart of AI. It does not matter whether it is neural networks or deep learning, the core of many AI algorithms depends on the various invocations of the above simple idea. It was not surprising that the early papers on the power of neural networks that I remember reading, also illustrated the methodology with the same dataset that Fisher used. Even in the case of much hyped-about large language models like Generative Pretrained Transformers (GPT), what we have is some form of neural networks supported by massive computer power.

Is ‘Artificial’ in AI really ‘Artificial’?

The irony is that machine learning or deep learning does not seem to have any artificiality. These techniques are based on mathematical functions (or models) built using assumptions about associated probabilities and fine-tuned with data and self-learning using the power of the modern computer technology. Given the manner how inductive logic works in mathematics, Poincare in his book “Science and Hypothesis” claimed

“Mathematics may, therefore, like the other sciences, proceed from the particular to the general. “

This is also true in the case of AI. As we have seen from Fisher’s method and the ensuing discussion, we first try to generalise some natural process. Then, we use the generalised form to identify a novel example, outside the cases used for the generalisation, as an acceptable fit or a non-fit for the generalised form. This is true about the predictive models as well as unsupervised learning methodologies based in the physical world and hence, their more data and computer-intensive forms, the artificial intelligence. All the data AI approaches use are natural and the outcomes are at least supposed to be about the natural world. Thus, the word ‘artificial’ in AI does not represent anything artificial but some form of probabilistic statements about the natural world. Even the fake ones are not supposed to be fake in the universe of possibilities.

Another look at the artificiality

Let us see what the word “artificial” means to us. According to Oxford Learners Dictionaries (, the adjective “artificial” means

things that are not real, or not naturally produced or grown” or “made or produced to copy something natural; not real”. Two of the examples provided are artificial limb and flower. This tells us that the artificial things are made to imitate something in the natural world. As we know, intelligence is not an object in the natural world. It is not tangible as it is simply a notion, an idea like courage. If we call something a limb, no doubt that limb can be felt and captured in a photograph or make a cast in 3 dimensions. In philosophical terms, we can categorise it as a subject that can be described qualitatively and quantitatively in terms of colour or size. But we are unable to do the same with intelligence, a predicate, that may depend on time in a subject’s life and the environment relevant to that stage in life. We can say we measure it with IQ tests. Even these tests are culture specific. As Jared Diamond explained in the prologue, “Yali’s question”, to his book, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies”, tests of intelligence are dependent on childhood environment and learned knowledge.

Signorelli (2018) seems to consider that as the current progress in AI suggests, machines like computers, i.e., future Super Machines can one day even overtake human intelligence. Again Signorelli (2018) pointing out the shortcomings of Turing Test believes intelligence should include testing on moral issues that brings in cultural, personal, and emotional aspects. An example of a moral dilemma is who, a healthy, young dog, or a sick, old man, one would admit in an emergency boat after a shipwreck? Unfortunately, the current form of AI cannot even judge, in terms of self-awareness, the morality of the deep fake. This article is not an attempt to have a debate, but to look at the relevant issues in a more human way.

What about intelligence?

We do not know what intelligence really is. Let us go back to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. It describes intelligence as “the ability to learn, understand and think in a logical way about things; the ability to do this well”. Do we know whether AI can understand or think? We can make it learn things using algorithms, supervised or unsupervised learning methodologies, searches etc. However, can we establish that computers understand or think? Understanding is about knowing or realising the meaning of what somebody says, the words and the language. But is this true with the computers? If a child, hours past the normal lunchtime, says he or she is hungry, the mother knows what hunger feels like. Does the computer empathise with the child’s hunger? It can evaluate the meaning of the word hunger and the time since lunchtime. But it cannot feel what a biological system like a human can experience. Computers, through even the best algorithms, cannot feel human drives in the same way as we do. We are not just a brain, that many people liken to a computer. We are biological systems that are made of brains, other body parts working in unison, the associated biomes consisting of many microbes and the whole natural world. Thus, this can be different to the computer’s understanding of its own algorithms and data structures.

What about our thinking?

People have thought about self-awareness of computers. HAL in the movie ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ is one such example. In fiction, we often imagine cyborgs that can wreak havoc among humans. People can visualise generative pretrained transformers or genetic algorithms that can adapt. However, we, humans in form and substance, not only think about ourselves, but also, we think about others. Many a time, our thinking is situation specific. In AI so far, we mainly used generalisations. To make them particular and think like a human, we need to make humanoids with built-in AI with unique personalities, not a population of clones born in a brave new world. When I asked AI to draw me an ascetic, it had to understand my request with the specific knowledge of my personality, interests, morals, and tastes rather than the meaning of the word ‘an ascetic’ in general. Until that happens AI is simply a suite of algorithms for general use bundled with massive data structures and computer power.

As a last word

It is not insane to wonder about the meaning of AI and what it really represents. As we have seen in this essay, AI is about generalisations. AI, glorified though it may be, cannot imitate intelligence that is not even tangible in a physical sense. Therefore, it is not making sense to use the word ‘artificial’. Thus, what we have is generalised intelligence, if we accept the intelligence part as it is, rather than some artificial intelligence. This will take the cloak of grandiose and mystery out of AI and make it appear as a suite of computer-assisted intelligent tasks that can be subject to use and misuse by its creators. Thus, we naturally accept human intervention in AI to guide our future as we do with other human endeavours. Do we require an army of clones or humanoids to fight for us in a star war? We have not yet made an acceptable contact with the aliens. As things stand now, we only need computers to work for the betterment of humanity, not to become artificial humans competing with us. We have already amassed weapons of mass destruction and do not perhaps wish to add to the arsenal. Thus, we only ask for generalised intelligence to serve us not artificial intelligence to compete with us.


IBM (2023) What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?,

Fisher, R. A (1922) On the Mathematical Foundations of Theoretical Statistics, Phil. Trans. Of the Royal Society of London, A, 222:309–368

Fisher, R. A (1936) The Use of Multiple Measurements in Taxonomic Problems, Annals of Eugenics, v. 7, p. 179–188

Signorelli, C.M (2018) Can Computers Become Conscious and Overcome Humans?, Front. Robot. AI, Vol 5 |

Tryon, R.C. (1939) Cluster Analysis: Correlation Profile and Orthometric (Factor) Analysis for the Isolation of Unities in Mind and Personality. Edwards Brothers, Ann Arbor

Posted in Philosophical Musings, Topics of General Interest | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Parmenides and Some Implications of His Philosophy

Full article is at:

Bertrand Russell of the Russell Paradox fame brought up a literary device comparable to the concept of three faces while discussing some aspects of the philosophy of Parmenides. This article further investigates this resemblance.

Parmenides of Elea lived in the south of Italy during the fifth century BCE. His philosophy had been written as a poem about a fictitious journey he made to the abode of the goddess of night. The poem describes the revelations he received from the goddess. Only some fragments of his poem remain. Plato wrote his earliest dialogue on a fictitious meeting between Socrates, Parmenides, and his student, Zeno of Elea in Athens.

Before looking further at Parmenides’s philosophy, let us discuss what we mean by “three faces”. In a previous article published on Medium, I described three existences that a person maintains in this world. We all live three lives: Autobiographical, Biographical, and Historical. These can be figuratively described as follows:

Once born, each one of us, at some point in time, occupies three different lives; the person who lives, the person who lives in others’ memories, and the person who will live in mementos and stories left behind.

Parmenides on Reality

The goddess of the night tells Parmenides that there are two aspects to her revelations. They are the way of conviction dealing with ‘the well-rounded reality’ and the notions of mortals with no ‘genuine trustworthiness.’ She tells him that the reality that begins from nothing is immortal, whole, uniform, still, and perfect. Philosophers interpret this as a belief in one Being, ‘the One’. She claims that reality (” What Is”) is perfect in every direction and is alluded to as a globe. The comparison to a globe may be interpreted as a symbolic reference to perfection and uniformity rather than an imposition of a limit. Thus, the allusion to a limit can be about the quality of the One and not about its Form. In other words, the One can still be limitless. Parmenides, as per certain interpretations, believed that a thought attached to a name cannot exist if the name does not represent something real. Let us elaborate on this, next.

Russell on Parmenides

Bertrand Russell discussing Parmenides examines the notion of name and what it signifies. He takes the first President of the US, George Washington, as his example to illustrate his arguments. Let us have a look at his viewpoint here.

Russell says that as per Parmenides’s view of reality, not only George Washington lived in historical times, but for us to refer to him by his name, he should still exist in some sense. However, George Washington has been dead for a long while.

To untangle the above, Russell discusses the following.

1. George Washington, who could perceive his thoughts and sense his body, is the only one, more than anyone else, who could use his name with a ‘fuller meaning.’

2. The name, George Washington, could mean something concrete to his family and friends who stayed around him, perceived his movements, and could divine his thoughts. After his death, they had to ‘substitute memories for perceptions’.

3. For many of us who live after he was long gone, he may only represent the man “who was called George Washington.” Our mental processes are now different from what his contemporaries felt.

These three existences of George Washington, after a little contemplation, appears to resemble the three faces that were discussed in the article quoted above.

How to Reconcile Parmenides and the three existences

According to Parmenides, the past cannot make sense to us, if it doesn’t exist now in some sense. Thus, ‘change’ that Philosophers like Heraclitus emphasised should be an illusion.

From Parmenides’s point of view, the name George Washington does not represent ‘What Is.’ Even though his various existences give us different mental constructs about the person called George Washington, the name now refers to the person who presently represents only his historical existence. As Russell pointed out, if Parmenides can appear to us today, he would argue that ‘our memory of George Washington’, if taken as a source of knowledge, is in our mind now. Hence, the past should still exist in some shape or form. Thus, his concept of ‘What Is’ transcends time and justifies his objection to the idea of change.

Three faces are purely about memories and the ‘reality’ of those memories in an epistemological sense. But it is only the historical existence of Washington, an extended form of biographical existence, that is before us now. Thus, in a rudimentary sense, we can link this to the bundle theory of the self as proposed by Hume. In this sense, our three faces can be thought to act as a bundle. Even though the bundle transcends time, the individual components in it necessarily do not. Parmenides perhaps thought about the bundle that overcomes changing perceptions.


Palmer, John, “Parmenides”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

Russell, B., 1961. A History of Western Philosophy, London: Routledge

Three faces of Eve, A Medium article, URL=

Posted in Philosophical Musings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Weber’s Ideas on the Religiosity and Their Relevance in Today’s World

Max Weber wrote an influential essay on how the main religions accommodate inconsistencies between their ideal of rejecting the world and the affairs of the world. This article looks back at his essay.

Full article is at:


Max Weber, the German Economist and Sociologist, published his famous essay ‘Religious Rejections of the World and Their Direction’ in 1920. It is one thing to argue its validity in the modern context. However, at least some of his ideas can still stir a conversation worthy of attention. It discusses how religions that are based on universal salvation and brotherliness particularised those ideals to accommodate the challenges of worldly affairs in order to be consistent with the ideals and the practice. Weber shows how the said particularism tweaks the ideals to the detriment of their loftiness. Even though the specifics may be more applicable to his sociological views, particular historical settings, and cultural evaluations, the essence of his ideas about the deviations from the core values of religions and the subsequent attempts at their justification are still valid to modern times.

These conflicts between ideals and the emerging realities of our existence show how many religions in their final form become less and less about the rejection of the world that they uphold as an ideal.

A Prelude to Some of Weber’s Ideas in His Essay

His main thrust was about the conflicts caused by the progression from the primitive magical religions to salvation religions that arose in the Axial age. An important fraction of prophetic and redemptory religions have existed in an acute and permanent state of tension in relation to the world and its order. The magician has been the historical precursor to the prophet or the saviour. All of them legitimise themselves through the possession of magical charisma. He claims that religions that abnegated the world first started in India, resulting in monkhood.

One point Weber did not make clear in his essay is whether he directs his focus on the clergy, the laity, or both. If it were clergy, his emphasis on abnegation makes more sense, as the major Indian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism do not ask for asceticism from the laity. Hinduism only advises one to leave the world as a renunciate after completing his worldly duties in the first three stages of life. Buddhism only expects monks, not lay people, to reject the world. As he writes that the prophets and mystics later emerged from the thinking laymen who freed themselves from the shackles of sorcerers via priesthood and written religion, he seems to accommodate all people in his essay. Every person following a faith as a layman or clergy at the end believes in the salvation of the soul. A related point that Weber does not dwell on is the scope of salvation. In Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, salvation, for many, is not achievable in this life. For these religions, salvation ends the cycle of birth and death after many lives. Weber’s essay seems to mainly focus its attention on Abrahamic religions that allow the suffering of the pious to end after this life.

The abnegation gives rise to mysticism that makes the devout a possession or vessel of God, and to asceticism that makes the individual act as willed by God through becoming His tool. He points out that the important criterion of consistency in these practices cannot be observed in reality, giving rise to conflicts in many spheres such as economic, aesthetic, political, intellectual, etc. Even the abnegation can be two-faced. On the one hand, it is about rejecting the world. On the other hand, the determined devout seeks to master the world, as an ascetic or a mystic, by the magical powers obtained by abnegation.

The more the goal of salvation a religion adheres to, the more it requires the faithful to stand closer to the clergy and the fellow faithful, to the detriment of the bonds and kinships that they had maintained in historical times. The economic ethic of sharing and caring for each other in a historical, primitive society that advocated reciprocity along the lines of traditional bonds is thus replaced by rather artificial religious bonding in the congregation. Thus, this emergent brotherliness results in an acosmic benevolence that is supposed to shatter the old tribal boundaries.

Salvation Religions and Its Conflict with Wealth

The point Weber makes about the conflict between the economic realities and the monkhood, or the priesthood is very visible in today’s world. The rational asceticism that the people rejecting the world has created the very wealth it rejects.

“Temples and monasteries have everywhere become the very loci of rational economies.”

According to Weber, this conflict between the salvation religions and the economic orders of the world can only be escaped via two avenues.

1. The Puritan ethic of ‘Vocation’– Puritanism routinized all worldly tasks into serving God’s will and thus any material benefits as per His will are bestowed on for fulfilling one’s duties. This leads to a non-genuine religion of salvation that renounces salvation as a goal attainable by everybody, in favour of God’s grace.

2. Mystical practice of negating personal interest A mystic does not hesitate, to donate the possessions to the person asking for. Such a practice facilitates the abnegation of worldly possessions but can be perceived as rather a selfish form of salvation.

What Weber said about Puritan ethics can be equally applied to today’s Evangelism which preaches salvation, grace, and forgiveness, and many other organised religions. Modern organised religions that started as salvation religions rejecting wealth have often re-oriented themselves as hoarders of economic property. This can be equally true for their agents such as clergy and laymen.

Salvation Ideal and Politics

The issue with political power also results from the boundaries of locality, tribe, and polity shattered by universal religions with a unified God. Weber argued that, unlike the localised belief systems such as the beliefs in magic and the functional deities, the salvation religions embrace the brotherliness of the wider world. Hence, they are not consistent in their core belief with the political power structures. These universalist structures responsible for the souls of everyone feel duty-bound to oppose any threat due to misguidance in faith. To overcome this, what these salvation aristocracies do, is to distinguish between the ‘just’ wars and the ‘secular’ wars.

Puritanism which particularised grace and asceticism to a section of the faithful, allows the use of violence, a means of the world, for the imposition of religion in the interest of God’s cause. The distinction between ‘just’ and ‘secular’ wars no longer makes much sense in a world that is becoming progressively more secular. However, many modern wars are still fought for both ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ causes. Even though many religions do not consider them holy wars, they support the socio-political structures that wage those wars, especially in situations where the interests of the state culture and the religious culture are intertwined. Thus, the causes these structures support, become just wars, limiting the brotherly love to a set of faithful. Especially in an ethnic conflict, the clergy, and laity of one ethnic group will side with their congregation led by their ethnicity-based socio-political structure, contradicting the brotherliness of acosmic benevolence. Despite modern religions not being bounded along tribal or kinship lines, they, ripping off the covers of religious brotherliness, come to the fore in a conflict.

The other aspect is that some causes at times are elevated to overshadow the fundamental ideals. A pious congregation can choose abortion as a sin that should be eradicated by, in a literal sense, a ‘just war’. God’s cause is preserving life, even though the ideals of rejecting the world cannot justify such actions. We are told, “Resist not evil”. The matter comes down to who the judge of God’s intention should be. All modern conflicts are very unlikely to be found in the scriptures and thus are subject to interpretation. Thus, Vox Populi may become Vox Dei, especially when there is no rational argument either way. The people’s voice is influenced by the socio-political structures and substructures.

Intellectual Challenge Facing Religion

Religion, as Weber believes, considers science more agreeable to it than philosophy, as metaphysical speculation leads to scepticism. However, he observes that every increase in rationalism in science pushes religion into the irrational realm. To counter this trend, the priests started educating the youth of the times to claim back power. Religion claims to offer a grasp of the world’s meaning by virtue of its charisma of illumination to people who are receptive. However, it encounters a contradiction, as religion cannot consistently communicate the mystic experiences that can be symptomatic of its charisma. Religions only can present mystic experiences as events and lack the means to adequately explain or demonstrate them.

Religious salvation was intellectualised through the rationalisation of life’s realities. Religions claim that the unjust suffering and the unequal distribution of individual happiness in the world can be traced to the origin of sin. Suffering thus becomes the punishment for sins and the means of discipline. A world allowing sin is less perfect than a world condemned to suffering. However, the futility of worldly affairs can only make sense within this imperfection, where suffering and sin exist. The religious guilt of sin is an integral part of cultures of the world. However, this world of ethical, compensatory causality is in opposition to the natural causality of science that represents the only possible form of a reasoned view of the world, though devoid of definitive answers to its ultimate assumptions.

Nevertheless, science created an intellectual aristocracy that is unbrotherly and senseless. This culture is meaningless as the self of a man is subject to death. An uncultured person can die satiated with life. On the other hand, a person striving for the cultural values of an intellectual aristocracy can become ‘weary of life’, not ‘satiated with life’. The more the advancement of such cultural values seeking the meaning of the universe seems meaningless, the more a person leans towards salvation. An escape through suicidal death is not approved by redemption religions and thus, is inconsistent with the acceptable means of salvation. For the mystic, a selfish rejection of the world in place of brotherliness, a form of religious aristocracy is possible. However, both modes are not consistent with the acosmic benevolence of brotherliness.

The Burden of Salvation and Brotherliness

Thus, as Weber says, under our mundane cultural circumstances, unless for the economically carefree, an imitation of the life of Buddha, Jesus, or Francis (of Assisi) seems to fail. The conflicts between the core ideals and the world order, that Weber elaborated in his essay, would be ever more sharpened by the ever-increasing rationalisation of the world through science. The congregations may gradually diminish, perhaps, until the day of a spiritual awakening due to a precipitous crisis in the collective human unconscious. Thus, the ideal of salvation will become more about asceticism and mysticism that is driven via personal ambition rather than an all-embracing brotherliness.

Religion will, perhaps, forever be in conflict with its core ideals and the realities of the worldly ways.


(The impact of the monotheistic God on the local belief systems was also touched upon in my previous essay on Medium,“ God in the Face of Monopolistic Competition”.

The current article is an attempt to present Weber’s ideas in the context of the main themes discussed.)


H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (1946) Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1946

Posted in Religion in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Three Faces of Eve

Full article is available at:

Long ago, Eve’s people lived in Africa. She lived in a cave that was situated on a little hilltop surrounded by the forest on one side and a plain, full of tall grass, on the other side.

When the rains were heavy and formed big puddles on the sides of the hill, she was tempted to play with water. Occasionally, in such times, she could recognise her image reflected on the water. She looked at the image and to make sure of her presence, she placed a hand in the water. Then she touched her face with the same hand. Under the African sun, she could feel the soothing caress of water on her face, scattered with some thin facial hair.

That was the face she knew. The first face of Eve! Let us call it the autobiographical Eve, or her autobiographical existence. Eve remembered things. But this is more than her memory about herself. In other words, the autobiographical existence is not just a pile of memories. Eve had habits that were not part of her memory. She closed her eyes long after the sunset and woke up with the birds. She walked with a limp since she had a bad fall off a tree when she was little. Her autobiographical existence views Eve as a whole, with all her habits and behaviours.

Eve’s family members remembered many things about Eve. Even though they kept silent about Eve’s habits, pranks, and things she used to do, they remembered a lot about Eve. They didn’t know who the males she had dalliances with or what her thoughts were at various events in her life. If they could write, they could have written her biography. That is Eve’s biographical existence.

Eve also lived it in other people’s memories. She had no idea what they knew about her. Of course, unless they told her in some form or fashion! Eve wasn’t likely to have the language as we know it today. Even though some language experts believe that Homo erectus had language, no one knows how proficient our early Homo sapiens ancestors were in communicating their ideas and thoughts using a language. Thus came Eve’s second face that resided in others.

Eve suddenly passed away in childbirth. For a while, everyone in her family felt her absence. They disliked the emptiness she left behind in their hearts. They looked at Eve’s collection of pebbles, still lying at the bottom of the hill. Likewise, they were very fond of the tree at the entrance to the cave that she used to climb. They raised the little baby, orphaned by her demise, who reminded them about Eve. Time passed and everyone who knew Eve faded away with time. But the pebbles and the tree were still there.

Unfortunately, people close to her could not pass on the story about Eve to the subsequent generations. They didn’t have the means to do so. But a few decades ago, our geneticists through us, her modern relatives, could trace the genes Eve’s lineage possessed. Thus, we know at least a precious little about her now. This is Eve’s third face. Eve was no more and had become just a part of history. Yet unlike an immense number of people, she left something for us to reconstruct something about her life. Let us call it the third face of Eve, or her historical existence.

Autobiographical Memory and Existence

The above story about Eve is a figment of imagination. Scientist do not talk about Eve as a certain individual. Eve is about the initial appearance of certain matrilineal genes in modern humans. Thus, Eve’s story is about humanity. We used it to talk about the possible beginnings of our three existences.

Psychologists talk about autobiographical, episodic, semantic, and working memories. Our autobiographical memory is about the chain of episodic memories over the years that we hold about ourselves. Episodic memory can recall events from the past with all the associated emotions. Eve kept the pain she felt when she broke her leg in her episodic memory. Let us suppose she could keep many such events in her autobiographical memory. We keep all the facts such as the names of people and locations stored in our semantic memory. Eve as an early human might not have had a very good autobiographical memory if she could not place events of her life stored in episodic memories in the right order and at the proper locations. We call our working memory to help us in our daily life. When we need to find someone’s name in a list alphabetically ordered, we need to remember the last location of the list that we had already searched.

The existences that we discussed are different from our memories. Habits are not our long-term memories. People who cannot form short-term memories too can learn habits by simply repeating them. Habits are stored in a more primitive area in the brain. In other words, this part of the brain developed before more advanced parts of our brain. Thus, autobiographical existence is more than autobiographical memory.

Biographies That are Surrealistic

Frequently, people who write biographies vividly describe events in their subject’s life. Usually, nobody other than the subject, himself or herself, would know the circumstances and causes leading to certain events in life. Using imagination to fill in the gaps may seem fictionalising a biographical sketch. We read many biographies of the same person due to various interpretations put forward by biographers. But none of us can ever know the dark secrets of people’s autobiographical existence. In the case of our fictional Eve, we can only assume why she collected all the pebbles, but would not know why for sure. She did not tell anyone. She was the only one who knew every crease and all the wrinkles on her face.

Similarly, Eve could not know her second face that had been embedded in the memories of her kith and her kin. It wasn’t visible to her. Her people could hold a multitude of faces of Eve in their memories. But they all merged into a single face that simply said how the world saw Eve.

Eve’s third face was about what we leave behind. Whatever remains after we leave our familiar surroundings, the third face would emerge. That is our historical existence that resides in people’s memories, photos, home movies, etc. If her biographers only source information about the last two existences, we can see Eve in the way the world knew her.

What You See, What You Get

We as the descendants of Primordial Eve inherited her three faces. Our faces that meet the eye are unique. We can arguably say each one of us got three faces that are unique, too. Using a rather philosophical and, perhaps, more appropriate term, we can call these faces our existences.

Once born, each one of us, at some point in time, occupies three different lives; the person who lives, the person who live in others’ memories and the person who will live in mementos and stories left behind.

It would be nice if we can manage, perhaps, by being true to ourselves, to make sure that those three existences tell a consistent story about us.


This essay is based on a book review by the author: Kali’s Child — A Search for An Autobiographical Ramakrishna

Posted in Philosophical Musings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God in the Face of Monopolistic Competition

Religion stirs up emotional reactions in people, both for and against. But this should not prevent us from expressing our views about what we believe. The topic that I am about to discuss is not likely to be a contentious topic, as it is more of an observation than a philosophical matter about our religiosity.

If I say that there may be some resemblance, however shallow it may be, between a specific idea from economics and the way people treat their religious beliefs, no one will consider it blasphemous. This article is an invitation for any interested party to look at a common phenomenon from a different angle.

[ Link to the free article on Medium ]

The Influence of Monotheism

Many religious people in today’s world, irrespective of whether they are Christians, Muslims, or Jews, believe in a monotheism embracing one supreme God. Some scholars consider that Akhnaton or Akhenaten was the first to establish monotheism by promoting one God, Aten or the Sun, from among the gods in the Egyptian pantheon. However, this view is disputed as the religion he advocated was different to the monotheism in Abrahamic religions.

God in Abrahamic religions organically evolved, at least as the Book of Genesis tells us. The first book of the bible doesn’t tell us there were other gods before God who spoke to Moses. Their Creator God did not arise by suppressing a polytheistic pantheon in favour of one God. Abraham might have chosen the Canaanite God ‘El’ from their pantheon that he came to know about as a child. But, he believed in one God.

According to the biblical narrative, Abraham had been a migrant. A migrant could not carry the old gods from where he started his journey, as those gods were likely specific to a place and a community of believers. Sumerians, among whom Abraham originally lived, had many gods who had rather specific duties. As migrants, they travelled through many territories that posed a multitude of challenges and thus, needed a God who could reign over all territories and overcome all obstacles. He had faith in Him. What better alternative had been there for him at his disposal to a supreme Being who was not bound by any limitations?

Monopolistic Competition and Monotheistic Religion

An article on religion can be a strange place to discuss an economic concept. It is unlikely to have a direct and strong connection between the two. But the idea of monopolistic competition tells us something about human nature, not religion itself. The shallow resemblance we find between the two can show us something to contrast and think about.

The key feature of monopolistic competition, in rather simplistic terms, can be summarised below:

“This economic model investigates the relationship between the number of firms in a given market, say the aircraft making industry, the cost of production and the price of production. As the number of firms increases, the competition increases and the prices, they can charge, decrease. On the other hand, as the number of firms increases each firm sells less due to the competition and as a result, the cost of production goes up. If the price, the firms charge, exceeds the cost, new firms will enter the industry to supply cheaper goods. If the costs exceed the prices, the firms will leave the industry. At the point where the price matches the cost, the market is said to be in equilibrium.”

Consumers do not like to pay a high price for a product arising from a lack of competition in the market. Thus, they would accept anyone who would make the similar product and sell it at a lesser price or offer a product of better quality. Thus, the market-share enjoyed by the single player would split among the new players.

Overcoming Monopoly in Religion

As Rodney Stark in his book “Discovering God” discussing the attraction of polytheism, claims, quoting Mircea Eliade, the supreme divinities are pushed to the periphery preferring other sacred forces nearer to man. This is true for many religions, including monotheistic religions.

When we believe in a monotheistic God, even though He is everywhere, it can be very difficult to be close to Him. Usually, the number of faithful increases with the maturity of a new religion.

We can feel far removed from God, our focus, as crowds of people are coveting for His attention.

All humans are not made in the same mould, and each one of us perceives His attention or inattention to our needs differently. Perhaps, He is surrounded by a layer of priesthood that would not cater to everyone equally. He has so many people to listen to. He may not be sensitive to our prayers or close enough to listen to our criticisms, and thus, we wonder whether we have someone else to talk to.

In a religion with a single focus, like a monotheistic God, the price to pay to feel closer to God is high. To lessen the lack of closeness and bring the price down, we can introduce competing alliances within the same framework. To begin with, the monotheistic God in Abrahamic religions precipitously split into three, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These religions that can be treated as foci of attention offer the same final objective, being in the grace of God, but with different means to get there. The variations introduced within the same religion are not very drastic as the above split. Communities identified with these variations, in the case of Catholicism, can rally around, for example, saints specific to localities. These saints maintain specific areas of influence.

Within Christianity, there are also many other movements such as Anglicans, Lutherans, Jesuits, Baptists etc. If a religion does not allow such offshoots, it may bring in colourful preachers or interpreters of scriptures who hold competing views. In Judaism, there are the sects like Rabbinic and non-Rabbinic. In the case of Islam which attaches very high importance to the letter of the Quran, there are three main sects, Shia, Sunni, and Sufism. Even in the case of a non-theistic religion like Buddhism, there are many splits within the larger Mahayana and Hinayana traditions.

[Picture -Available in the Medium article]

{A Graph showing an example of monopolistic competition in the sphere of religion}

If we consider the area of influence of a purely monotheistic religion that we measure as the number of people, then only a few people would be feeling proximity to the focus of attention. A larger number would find themselves at a distance. A new player can come in and suggest means to feel some closeness to God. This player would have created a bespoke scenario for the laity to feel more involved or connected to the Ultimate. But by doing this, an offshoot is likely to spring up and a niche would be carved out for his or her followers. The Omnipotent Being would lose His uniqueness; some of His qualities would be highlighted or ignored in the offshoot. The monopoly is now extinct, and two competing factions are vying for a larger area of influence.

Religions are Bound to have competing groups

We usually observe more divisions in a religion rather than amalgamations. However, if we only consider those divisions that carry a critical mass of followers, there are some divisions that only amount to a simple cult. The critical mass can be treated as the number of young followers who can take that sect into the future. Thus, those sects without a critical mass can be ignored. Some Christian sects like Catharism died of natural deaths. There are faiths like Bahá’í and Sai Baba Movement that bring together many religions.

The faithful do not like to stay far away from the focus of attention of a religion. The laity needs their wants catered to. In order for that to happen, they need to feel close to the Divine. The way to achieve this is to carve out sections that compete for His attention. This is what monopolistic competition tells us. Thus, we can see that any religion can be subject to a split.

This happens not because of a problem with the specific religion, but because of the followers’ need to feel their concerns addressed.

This comparison tells us to look more holistically into the offerings of each faction, like the products in a market, and understand what differences have really caused and sustained a split. To have a proper perspective of competition, we should study both sellers as well as the purchasers of any product. In this case, it is about religion. Such deeper understanding can also help us understand why people slide into more extreme form of indoctrination.

The above quotation is from:

Arachige, Darshi. The Lure of NOMA: On the Elegance of Religion (p. 60). Kindle Edition.

Posted in Religion in General, Topics of Anthropological Interest | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Inner Blindness and Professor Pangloss

It is very unlikely that we all are as fortunate as the cartoon character whose all misadventures turn out to be of great advantage to him. One misstep may be too many for us. We often do not have the luxury to interpret the world in the way we expect and be realistic. Thus, in our case, our inner shortsightedness is not likely to be helpful. The choices we make need to be the best possible before their consequences come to see us in the eye. It is true that this is not easy. At the end, we always cannot hide in a shelter of unreasonable optimism when the consequences of our choices turn out to be less palatable.

Full article at Problem with A Limited Worldview! | Medium

Posted in Topics of General Interest | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

On The Unknowable Knowns

Subliminal messages provide another interesting scenario. Unlike the “unknown knowns” the next scenario can relate to all humanity. In the well-known Cocoa Cola experiment, which some critics consider a publicity hoax, a private market researcher secretly flashed a few words suggesting people eat popcorn and drink coca-cola in a movie theatre. A higher percentage of people simply followed the instructions increasing the sales of popcorn and coca cola at the theatre. The unknown part here is the subliminal message which flashed on the screen for a small amount of time long enough to have a subsequent effect but too short a time to be cognisant of it. Even if someone tells us what really took place it is less likely for a sceptic in the audience to accept the subliminal message as the reason for the choice. The reason according to them would be something in the vein of what they always do at the movies. Thus, the reason why he or she bought popcorn and coca cola would remain unknown. This is an example of an unknowable known. In my previous article on Medium, “Does God exist? Doesn’t matter” published on 12 January 2023, I discussed this category of knowledge in relation to Blaise Pascal’s arguments on the existence of God. Pascal used infinity as a discussion point.

Full article at Are there any unknowable knowns among the knowns? | Medium

Posted in Philosophical Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Does God Exist? Doesn’t matter?

People go through many phases in their lives. Some are born into very religious families and become ardent followers of religion. When they become teenagers, some become rebellious and give up religion altogether. Others keep believing. Some others come back to the fold later in life. None of us has a genuine ability to judge anyone else on their propensity to believe or not to believe. This article argues believing can be more beneficial than not believing.

The full article has been published on Medium at Does God exist? Doesn’t matter!. People go through many phases in their… | by Darshi Arachige | Jan, 2023 | Medium

Posted in Religion in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Free Will, Libet Experiments, Priming, Breakdown of Bicameral Mind and “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Review of “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, Penguin (Australia), 2012.

Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, is mainly about the factors that can influence our behaviours in financial choices and other situations where we are making decisions. The Professor’s likely purpose is to inform rather than to instruct. The topics I touched in the above discussion does not do justice to the book as it covers many topics such as prospect theory, affective forecasting, regression to the mean, endowment effect, halo effect and more that were not discussed here. The examples and discussions in the book have many lessons for us to contemplate about our routine behaviours with a more grounded perspective. Thus, Prof. Kahneman’s book is an extremely valuable addition to any collection of books on human nature. Millions of readers have already come to this conclusion by making this book a best seller.

Full article is available from Humanities Commons

Posted in Topics of Anthropological Interest | Tagged , , | Leave a comment