Category Archives: Philosophy and Science

Weight Loss – Myths and Half Truths

Disclaimer: The author is not a qualified medical professional. Readers are advised to exercise caution and seek professional opinion if they wish to act based on the following article.

Weight Loss Basics

Let’s first understand this simple weight loss arithmetic. Everything that we eat gives us energy; let’s call it calories (Kilo Calorie to be precise). Similarly, for everything we do (includes sitting or even sleeping) we spend energy or calories. If our input and output of calories is same our weight remains constant. If we consume more calories than what our body needs the excess calories are converted into fat which increases the body weight. Similarly, if our intake of calories is less than what our body needs, our body uses the body fat (a combination of fat and muscle to be precise) to meet the shortfall which reduces our body weight. Calorie deficit can be achieved by (a) consuming fewer calories (eating less); (b) burning more calories (exercising) or; (c) a combination of the above two.

Exercise to lose weight

In general, people believe that burning more calories is a better option than eating less. The common problem with this approach is that once people start exercising, they consider it a license to eat more.  While exercising has many other benefits, the calories burnt during most exercises are generally low to moderate and in most cases even these get neutralized by increased diet.

For example walking at 2.5 miles per hour pace for one hour burns 210 calories (for a person weighing 70 Kg) while just a can of Coca Cola (normal not diet) contains 207 calories. Other more rigorous exercises burn calories at a higher rate but since these are difficult to perform for a longer duration the net calories burnt may not be significantly higher. For example jogging for 25 minutes burns almost the same calories (214 to be precise) as walking for one hour.

The real issue is how does burning calories translate to weight loss? Most people don’t know the answer and often end up nurturing unrealistic expectations as soon as they start exercising.

The fact is that a net deficit of 7,700 calories is required to lose 1 Kg weight. This means every day walking one hour or jogging 25 minutes and without increasing the diet will take 37 days to lose 1 Kg weight. In practice, it is quite possible to miss the exercise at least once in a week and eat more at least once in a week. This would make it 47 days to lose just 1 Kg. Most people may actually miss the exercise more often as well as overeat more often and therefore it could take as much as 2 months to lose 1 Kg.  Also keep in mind that 1 Kg weight loss is not at all noticeable visibly in fact not even on the common weighing scale. That’s how hard it is to lose weight and therefore it is quite understandable why people get disheartened soon after starting an exercise regime.

Let’s not forget that exercising has many other health benefits and should not be viewed solely from weight loss point of view.

Dieting is Unhealthy

Let’s get it right, the main reason for obesity is overeating and unless this is corrected there is very little hope of getting back to shape. Secondly, as explained above, exercising alone will take a long time that too if done regularly and without increasing diet.

Most “Weight Loss Experts” would advise a highly complicated diet plan comprising of 6 small meals a day. While, it might work if you are able to stick to it, such complex diet plans are often impractical and therefore very difficult to sustain. Secondly, when you eat 6 (small) meals a day, you also have to resist the temptation of overeating 6 times a day.

A more practical approach could be to skip a meal – most convenient being the lunch. However, you have to keep in mind that the purpose of skipping lunch is to reduce your calorie intake and therefore this does not give you a license to overeat during breakfast or dinner or add a new meal like an evening snack.

A big myth is that if you skip a meal your body will go into “Starvation Mode” and will slow down the metabolism and hence you will hardly get any benefit of skipping meal.

Starvation Mode is not a myth but the way it is misused to scare people is wrong. The body does go into Starvation Mode but only when you are really starving. Starving here means when you stop eating all together. For all practical purposes, there is absolutely no effect on the metabolism rate and other functions of the body at least for the first 12-14 hours of fasting. Skipping a meal is definitely not same as starving. Initially the body may behave a bit erratically because it is habituated to receiving lunch at a particular time of the day. However, soon it would fall into the new routine.

Understanding the Role of Blood Sugar

Blood sugar is the source of energy for the body just like petrol is for a car. The body constantly needs the blood sugar level to remain above a certain threshold to continue to function normally. A large part of the blood sugar is consumed by our brain. In general, all hot blooded species (including human beings) need much more energy (as compared to cold blooded animals) to maintain constant body temperature. This explains why hot blooded animals can not live without food for a long time while cold blooded animals such as Crocodiles can live without food for months. Further, energy is also required to support all the physical activities of the body – both internal as well as external.

Barring a few, almost everything that we eat gets converted into blood sugar. The time taken between consuming a food item and its reflection on blood sugar level is different for different foods. Direct consumption of sugar in any form obviously has the quickest effect. Carbohydrates are next and fibers/ protein take the longest. The rise in the blood sugar is proportional to the amount and quality of food consumed. Typically, the blood sugar level will start rising rapidly around 30 minutes after a meal. As soon as the blood sugar crosses a certain level, the body releases insulin to manage it within the acceptable limits. The insulin converts all the excess blood sugar into fat and stores it for future use.

While our body needs almost constant supply of sugar, it is not feasible to consume food all the time at the required rate (except when a patient is put on glucose drip in the hospital). For an average human being the daily requirement is 1500-2000 calories. This means that our body burns calories at an average rate of 60-80 calories per hour. Normally, we eat at least three big meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner which reflects an average intake of approximately 500-650 calories per meal. At the rate of 60-80 calories, it will take around 8 hours to fully consume the calories of one meal. However, the body can not allow all the calories to remain available in form of heightened blood sugar level for that long. In fact, for a normal person, the blood sugar level is brought down to maximum acceptable high of 120-140 mg/dl within 2 hours of consuming a meal. The balance sugar is immediately converted into body fat. After reaching 120-140 mg/dl sugar level the body stops the release of insulin and hence further conversion of blood sugar into fat is also stopped. From 120-140 mg/dl level, the blood sugar continues to drop as the body draws energy from blood sugar. When the sugar level approaches the minimum acceptable level which is around 90-85 mg/dl, the body detects the low sugar level and send a hunger signal. This is when we feel the need to consume food to jack up the blood sugar. However, if we don’t feed the body at this point, the body starts using its fat storage to replenish the blood sugar. This is the phase when weight loss occurs. The actual process is even more complicated than this as the body has additional sugar storage in the liver and muscles which may be used depending upon the urgency of the situation. If we indulge in an activity which requires a faster replenishment, the body will burn muscle mass along with fat in order to match up to the higher burn rate. In extreme (life or death) situation when a reflex action is triggered, the muscles use their internal glucose storage as drawing from the blood sugar takes time. This will happen even when the blood sugar level is sufficiently high. Similarly, even when there is no reflex action involved but the body detects that fat and muscle burning is unable to maintain the blood sugar level above the critical level, the liver releases its internal glucose storage into the blood which boosts the blood sugar level all of a sudden. This action is called “Liver Dump”. Typically this happens during the night as the process of conversion of fat into sugar is comparatively much slower during sleep. However, the Liver Dump can also happen if we indulge in a physical activity which burns blood sugar faster than what the body can produce by burning fat and muscle. The Liver Dump generally elevates the blood sugar to a much higher level and till the sugar level comes back to 85-90 mg/dl range further fat burning is stopped. However, the emergency reserves of muscles and the liver get the first priority for replenishment at the first available opportunity that is as soon as we consume food.

Aerobics and Fat Burning Zone

The so called Fitness Experts have built big theories of aerobic exercise regime for optimization of fat burning. They have tried to associate the rate of fat burning with the heart beat rate. Once again, it may not be entirely incorrect but this is certainly a half truth.

Firstly, the heart beat rate has no direct correlation to the rate of fat burning. Only blood sugar rate has a direct effect on fat burning. As explained above, the body decides the ration of fat and muscle burning depending on the rate of replenishment required. At very low rate, the body will burn mostly fat and very little muscle. However, as we increase the intensity of exercise and as our blood sugar level comes dangerously close to the minimum acceptable level, the body starts drawing more and more sugar by burning more and more muscle. The Fitness Experts link the heart beat rate with the intensity of exercise and come up with various approximations for fat to muscle ratio. This may work in normal situation but not when someone starts off with a high blood sugar level which may be due to insufficient gap between meal and exercising, or in case of a diabetic person or if a Liver Dump happens during the exercise.

In any case, as mentioned already, the calories burnt during physical exercise are not that big (300-400) and this in itself would account for an extremely small weight loss (remember 7,700 calorie deficit = 1 Kg weight loss). For such a small weight loss, the ratio of fat and muscles burnt is not that big a concern.

Further, the loss of muscle is not permanent and most of  the lost muscles are restored subsequently. We must keep in mind that for a certain age the muscle mass in our body is mostly need based and depends upon how much we strain each muscle. Therefore, even if some muscle mass is lost to replenish the blood sugar level, it is subsequently restored if we consume enough protein. Our body uses protein to repair and build muscles and this is normal routine process.

This blog post has become much bigger than what I had anticipated and there is still so much to write about. However, I will resist the temptation and end this post here considering specially the limitations of the readers to maintain interest as well as absorb the information in one go.

I would try to come up with a sequel post on this topic in near future.

Sai Baba and the Miracle Industry

Sai Baba’s death has rekindled the debate on the so called Babas or Godmen and the Miracle Industry run by them. Sai Baba was probably the oldest amongst the current lot and has had unprecedented following for the last several decades. The fact that he has left behind a trust of Rs. 40-100 Thousand Crores (~USD 9-22 Billion) is a good indication of the quantum of the miracle business.

However, the real issue is what attracts millions of people to follow and worship the so called Godmen in the first place? Income is a secondary issue as it is directly proportional to the number of followers.

In case of Sai Baba- he initially attracted people by performing simple illusion tricks such as producing holy ash, gold jewellery, watches etc out of thin air. This made many (mostly gullible) people believe that he was a living God. Since then, many rationalists have questioned the authenticity of the so called miracles and have equated them with illusionary tricks performed by magicians. In fact, a few magicians have publicly demonstrated the tricks performed by Sai Baba to prove that these were no miracles but just simple illusions. Unfortunately, these allegations have not deterred most of his followers from continuing to have faith in Sai Baba. However, the continued scrutiny by the rationalists did make Sai Baba desist from performing the tricks in recent years.

However, most other popular Godmen have used more subtle ways of attracting followers such as claiming to cure chronic diseases through Yoga (Ramdev) or to relieve mental stress (Ravi Shankar) or spiritual enlightenment. However, the followers still look for direct remedies to their problems and somehow are tempted to believe that just following and worshiping the Godmen would solve all their problems. For example – the famous cricketer Sunil Gavaskar has shared a miracle like experience about Sai Baba wherein he claimed that his leg injury got miraculously healed by applying the “vibhuti” (holy ash) sent by Sai Baba.

Most people, through wishful thinking, seek similar quick fix and miraculous solutions to their problems. Sometimes the problem could be extremely trivial, almost laughable. But once a person gets into the habit of seeking divine solutions there is no end to it. Stuck in a traffic jam, appearing in an examination (with poor preparation), want to impress the girl next door, evading income tax and don’t wish to be caught the list is endless and includes problems much more trivial than those mentioned. If the problem doesn’t get solved people would blame it on bad luck but if it does get solved people would more often tend to believe that a divine intervention has saved them. On case by case basis, it is not practically possible to verify such claims especially when the people involved do not wish to think rationally. However, in general, we all know that each problem has a statistical chance of being resolved. In most such cases, people try many solutions simultaneously and would not be in a position to decide which solution worked in the end. By natural instinct, most people tend to believe that they were saved by a miracle – sometime just because it makes them feel special and privileged and boosts their ego indirectly.

Aruna Shanbaug Case – Where Truth Lies

 

The Supreme Court of India has given yet another landmark judgment on the Euthanasia plea of Pinki Virani on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug. Full Text of the Supreme Court judgment is available at http://ibnlive.in.com/news/full-text-supreme-courts-judgment-on-aruna-ramachandra-euthanasia-petition/145201-53.html .

The judgment document starts by quoting a Ghalib couplet – “Marte hain aarzoo mein marne ki, Maut aati hai par nahin aati” (I die in the wish of dying/ Death comes but doesn’t come.)

While the SC dismissed Pinki Virani’s petetion on the ground that she had no locus standi on this case, it appreciated the noble sentiments behind Pinki’s plea. What makes it a landmark judgment is the fact that the Supreme Court judgment goes beyond Pinki Virani’s euthanasia plea and lays down guidelines for future cases, as mentioned below –

(a) If the doctors treating Aruna Shanbaug and the Dean of the KEM Hospital, together acting in the best interest of the patient, feel that withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments is the appropriate course of action, they should be allowed to do so, and their actions should not be considered unlawful.

(b) In other cases, where a person has been in a vegetative state for a long time, passive euthanasia may be allowed by the High Court on a case to case basis provided a panel of doctors has given its nod for such measure;

(c) We (Supreme Court) are of the opinion that although Section 309 Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide) has been held to be constitutionally valid in Gian Kaur’s case (supra), the time has come when it should be deleted by Parliament as it has become anachronistic. A person attempts suicide in a depression, and hence he needs help, rather than punishment. We therefore recommend to Parliament to consider the feasibility of deleting Section 309 from the Indian Penal Code.

Doctors and Nurses of the KEM Hospital who had been taking care of Aruna for the last 37 years have welcomed the judgment of the Supreme Court as they want Aruna to live her full life.

Aruna’s case has sparked off an emotional debate in the country as most people have very strong opinions for and against euthanasia. But do we really know what is Aruna’s case?  I tried to search the internet to get some details but to my surprise I found that although a lot of defragmented information on Aruna’s Case is available on the internet, there was hardly any single site which contained all the details in one place. I therefore decided to consolidate as much information as possible for the benefits of those who are interested but don’t have the time and patience to check out tens and hundreds of websites.

Aruna’s Shanbhag’s Case

’’I met a big learned pujari (astrologer) who said I had a sau mein ek patrika (a one-in-hundred horoscope), that I’d be a success, will live long & would go abroad. But even if he was talking rubbish it does not matter because I know that I will become known in my field’’.

Aruna Shanbhag had uttered these words to her cousin about her plans to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Little did she know that what waits for her is something so unimaginable, a future so horrid that even the best of pujari wouldn’t look forward to predicting!

Aruna was born in a small village Haldipur in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka. She studied up to Class X at the Rural Education Society School in this village, and after the death of her parents, left for Mumbai to live with elder brother, Balakrishna. She completed a nursing course and joined the KEM Hospital at Parel in Mumbai. The lively, pretty and dedicated Aruna soon became very popular amongst the hospital staff.

Then 25 year old, Aruna was planning to get married to Dr. Sandeep Sardesai, a resident doctor in the same hospital. Aruna had planned a party on November 30 (2 days after the attack) for her colleagues — including the sweeper Sohan Lal, whom she disliked intensely.

She and Sohan Lal both worked in what was called the “dog lab” of the hospital — a laboratory in the basement where unclaimed street dogs were kept for experimental purposes. Sohan Lal was in charge of keeping the area clean and for getting dogs from their cages to the operating theatre.

Aruna used to hate Sohan Lal as she had found him mistreating the animals and stealing ‘dog food’ and medicines. She had warned him several times and had even reported the matter to her superiors.

Sohan Lal was obviously very piqued with Aruna for this. On 27th November, 1973 Aruna told him that she was going to send a written complaint to the Dean about him. Sohan Lal thought this was the limit and he must teach this daring nurse a lesson.

On the same day, at around 4.50 pm, Aruna came down to the basement to change out of her hospital uniform. There are two conflicting versions on why Aruna was changing clothes in the basement. One version says that she had ignored the advice of the hospital matron to use the designated change room for changing clothes. However, another version published in the Indian Express says that there was no place allotted for the staff nurses for changing clothes. Three months before the incident, the then security officer I C Sisodiya had written to the assistant dean and matron on making it mandatory for non-resident nurses to change only in nurses’ quarters, he said. “Non resident nurses would change in any empty corner of the hospital. Shanbaug and colleague Mary Joseph regularly used the basement unit, which would be empty in the evening and unsafe for nurses. Had the nurses been using the quarters, this would have never happened,” Sisodiya said after the attack on Aruna.

When Aruna was changing in the basement, Sohan Lal was lurking in the shadows waiting for the right opportunity to take his revenge. He attacked Aruna in the basement. She fought like a tigress, biting him, scratching him, kicking him, but he managed to throw her on the ground.

He first tried to rape her but finding that she was menstruating, he sodomized her. To immobilize her during this act he twisted the chain around her neck. The asphyxiation (strangulation) cut off oxygen supply to her brain resulting in brain stem contusion injury and cervical cord injury apart from leaving her cortically blind.

The next day on 28th November, 1973 at 7.45 a.m., Pramila Kushe, a cleaner in the KEM Hospital, found her lying on the floor with blood all over in an unconscious condition. Recounting the horrible experience Pramila says, “I was the first one to find Aruna in the empty operation theatre in this hospital’s basement after she had been raped and brutally assaulted by that animal Sohan Lal. She was sitting, leaning against a stool with a dog-chain around her neck. There was blood around her. I ran out and brought the matron. As soon as she saw matron Bellimal, her eyes welled up and tears streamed down her face. She tried to say something but could not… only her lips moved. And then, slowly she lost consciousness..”

Sohan Lal was subsequently arrested from Pune and a police case was registered against him for robbery and attempted murder but not for rape or sexual molestation or “unnatural sexual offence” as hospital officials had deleted parts of her medical report that proved Aruna been sodomized. This was done to ensure that she did not face any ostracism after her recovery.  Sohan Lal was convicted for 7 years in jail in 1974. It is believed that had he been charged for rape, he might have got a longer jail term (up to 10 years).

Sohan Lal’s brutality did not end with the horrible assault on Aruna on 28 November 1973. After his release from prison, Sohanlal tried to attack Aruna a second time in the hospital bed by pulling down the bed railings in the hope that she would fall down and die. The hospital authorities then shifted Aruna to a secure room which is locked most of the time with access only to the doctors who treat her and the nurses who go in to feed and bathe her.

Sohan Lal’s whereabouts have been kept a closely guarded secret since then. Howsoever ironical it may sound; it is believed that he went on to work in a private hospital in Delhi for many years. According to another rumour Sohanlal’s is believed to have died recently due to AIDS.

Aruna’s fiancée,  Sundeep Sardesai, waited patiently for Aruna to revive for four years — visiting her every day and talking to her for hours and crying by her bedside. He eventually moved on, got married and settled down in the US. On Sunday night — hours before the Supreme Court verdict — Sundeep had called KEM matron M.P. Khaladkar. “He called again on Monday after the verdict. He spoke very little, asked how she was. He seemed very relieved with the judgment,” said Khaladkar, unwilling to give out more details.

37 years have expired since the incident and now Aruna is about 60 years of age. Though she survived the horrible attack, she never fully recovered from the trauma and brain damage resulting from the assault and strangulation. She has been in a vegetative state for all these years. However, contrary to the common confusion, she is neither in Coma nor is she Brain Dead. Her family and relatives used to visit her initially for some time but later abandoned and left her entirely to the KEM Hospital staff.

She is featherweight, and her brittle bones could break if her hand or leg is awkwardly caught, even accidentally, under her lighter body. She has stopped menstruating and her skin is now like papier mache’ stretched over a skeleton. She is prone to bed sores. Her wrists are twisted inwards. Her teeth had decayed causing her immense pain. She can only be given mashed food, on which she survives.

Although Aruna is not very much aware of herself and her surrounding, she somehow recognizes the presence of people around her and expresses her like or dislike by making certain types of vocal sounds and by waving her hands in certain manners. She appears to be happy and smiles when she receives her favorite food items like fish and chicken soup. She accepts feed which she likes but may spit out food which she doesn’t like. She was able to take oral feeds till 16th September 2010, when she developed a febrile illness, probably malaria. After that, her oral intake reduced and a feeding tube (Ryle’s tube) was passed into her stomach via her nose. Since then she receives her major feeds by the Ryle’s tube, and is only occasionally able to accept the oral liquids. Malaria has taken a toll in her physical condition but she is gradually recuperating from it.

Occasionally, when there are many people in the room she makes vocal sounds indicating distress. She calms down when people move out of her room. She also seems to enjoy the devotional songs and music which is played in her room and it has calming effect on her.

In an annual ritual, each and every batch of nursing students is introduced to Aruna, and is told that “She was one of us”; “She was a very nice and efficient staff nurse but due to the mishap she is in this bed-ridden state”.

The entire nursing staff member and other staff members have a very compassionate attitude towards Aruna and they all very happily and willingly take care of her. They all are very proud of their achievement of taking such a good care of their bed-ridden colleague and feel very strongly that they want to continue to take care of her in the same manner till she succumbs naturally. They do not feel that Aruna is living a painful and miserable life.

In his submission to the Supreme Court, Dr. Sanjay Oak, Dean KEM Hospital, has said –

“It would be incorrect to say that Smt. Aruna Shanbaug is an appropriate case for Coma. It appears that for a crucial, critical period her brain was deprived of Oxygen supply and this has resulted in her present state similar to that of Cerebral Palsy in the newborn child. It is a condition where brain looses it’s coordinatory, sensory as well as motor functions and this includes loss of speech and perception. This has resulted into a state which in a layman’s words “Aruna lives in her own world for last 37 years”. She is lying in a bed in a single room for 33 years. She has not been able to stand or walk, nor have we attempted to do that of late because we fear that she is fragile and would break her bones if she falls. Her extremities and fingers have developed contractures and subsequent to non-use; there is wasting of her body muscles. Her eyes are open and she blinks frequently; however, these movements are not pertaining to a specific purpose or as a response to a question. At times she is quiet and at times she shouts or shrieks. However, I must say that her shouts and shrieks are completely oblivious to anybody’s presence in her room. It is not true that she shouts after seeing a man. I do not think Aruna can distinguish between a man and a woman, nor can she even distinguish between ordinate and inordinate object. We play devotional songs rendered by Sadguru Wamanrao Pai continuously in her room and she lies down on her bed listening to them. She expresses her displeasure by grimaces and shouts if the tape recorder is switched off. All these years she was never fed by tube and whenever a nurse used to take food to her lips, she used to swallow it. It is only since September 2010 she developed Malaria and her oral intake dropped. In order to take care of her calorie make need, nurses cadre resorted to naso-gastric tube feed and now she is used to NG feeding. However, if small morsels are held near her lips, Aruna accepts them gladly. It appears that she relishes fish and occasionally smiles when she is given non-vegetarian food. However, I am honest in admitting that her smiles are not purposeful and it would be improper to interpret them as a signal of gratification. I must put on record that in the world history of medicine there would not be another single case where such a person is cared and nurtured in bed for 33 long years and has not developed a single bed sore. This speaks of volumes of excellence of nursing care that KEM Nursing staff has given to her.”

The Supreme Court in its judgment has expressed its deep appreciation towards the KEM Hospital staff who has provided her an excellent nursing care for the last 37 years which included feeding her by mouth, bathing her and taking care of her toilet needs. The care was of such an exceptional nature that she has not developed a single bed-sore or fracture in spite of her bedridden state since 1973.

Does God Exist?

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to hurt anybody’s sensibilities, however, if you are a staunch believer and are likely to get hurt by the very nature of the topic, you are advised not to read the following article.

There are two main issues at the concept level – God and Religion. The two may be closely linked but are not the same. One may believe in the existence of God but may not follow any religion and one may follow a religion (such as Buddhism) where belief in God is not a precondition or a part of the religion.

All the major religions, although most are based on an overarching concept of God, mainly lay down a code of conduct for their followers. The code of conduct is conveyed in a manner which (explicitly or implicitly) suggests that the same is God’s wish. The implementation of the code of conduct is ensured by using a mix of reward and punishment regime, again giving the impression, that these would be affected by the God himself.

The code of conduct is really comprehensive and deals with every aspect of the life starting from birth to death. Religions, rather religious leaders, play an important role at each important milestone of life and as a minimum birth, marriage and death.

However, the key issue is – Does God exist? Let’s approach it in a different way. The four major religions of the world – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism were all founded at least 2000 years back. Let’s count Buddhism out because it does not directly propose the existence of God in any form. The concept of God in Christianity and Islam are very similar and Hinduism is very complex where all beliefs including monotheism, polytheism and atheism are acceptable.

The highest common factor of the top three religions regarding the concept of God is that it is abstract in form and is omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power) and omnipresence (present everywhere). The question is if God is abstract then how we, the human beings, found out about his existence, his powers and his likes and dislikes. Christianity and Islam partially Hinduism as well, have used the concept of Messenger of God to explain this. The Messenger has acted as a conduit between the abstract God and mankind. So, except for the Messenger, no other human being can claim to have experienced the existence of God. It is worth mentioning here that no new Messenger was born since the last 2000 years.

This means that our knowledge about God is based on something that happened more than 2000 years back. Today this knowledge is available in the form of scriptures most of which are believed to have evolved over hundreds of years which must have resulted in significant distortions from the original form. Vedas are considered to be the oldest Hindu scriptures and are believed to have evolved over thousands of years. Bible similarly is believed to have been written by as many as 40 authors over a period of 1500 years starting from 1500 BC to 90 AD. Koran is said to have been first memorized by hundreds of followers of Mohammad based on his recitations and then recorded by many others before the final version was prepared in 653.

The interpretation of the scriptures has been passed on from one generation to the other over more than 2000 years and there might have been thousands or perhaps millions of people who would have contributed in shaping the interpretation that is available to us today.

Imagine a concept so subtle, so complex and almost impossible to comprehend that been passed on through thousands of years and through millions of people. Yet billions of people even today are ready to vouch for or even die for it. No one knows what the truth is. It is just that the belief is imprinted on our psyche since our birth by previous generations in the same manner their previous generation did to them and this chain has not been broken in most cases for more than 2000 years.

One doesn’t need any logic or argument to know the truth. A good and open minded understanding of the history of evolution of major religions is sufficient to give us a fair idea.

The problem is that the almost all the religion forbid questioning the concept and further evolution. This makes it virtually impossible to have a meaningful debate with a staunch follower. Further, such people would invariably start quoting from the same scripture that have propounded the concept. How can you argue with a person who is trying to prove God’s existence by telling you that God exists because the Vedas or the Bible or the Koran says so.

Followers of religion use a very convenient tool called FAITH. They claim that religion is a matter of faith and is therefore not open to arguments or debate.

To be fair, most of the prominent Atheists in the history have made the mistake of taking on the responsibility to prove that God doesn’t exist. This in my opinion, is a futile exercise because in spite of the amazing scientific developments that have happened so far, our knowledge is still grossly inadequate to know or to investigate a concept so abstract. The only way to refute the concept is to understand that if today we know so little about the nature and the universe, our knowledge must have been virtually non existent 2000 years back and therefore barring the possibility of a MIRACLE, there was no way for any human being to find out anything about the creation and creator of the universe at that point of time.

An important rider in the previous statement is the possibility of a MIRACLE. Interestingly, all religions thrive on the concept of miracle to prove the existence of God. What is a miracle? What we see today would have been termed as a MIRACLE not too long ago. Miracles have been used for thousands of years to prove the existence of God and more so the authenticity of so called Godmen. Even today, the rules of Church in fact official require a person to have performed at least one miracle to qualify for sainthood. Not too long ago, the Church had banned Copernicus’s famous book De revolutionibus on the ground that it was against the Holy Scriptures for proposing that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the Earth was not at the centre of the Universe. For the same reason Galileo was put under house arrest in 1633 until rest of his life.

There have been significant developments in all fields of knowledge. In this journey, we have not just made new discoveries but have also corrected and refined the knowledge of the past. The only field where further development, corrections or refinement had been prohibited from its very inception is religion. Even today, any challenge to the ideas proposed by religious scriptures invokes strong reactions from billions of followers most of whom have themselves not even read those scriptures.

The fact of the matter is that in spite of the huge progress made in the field of science we have just discovered the tip of the iceberg and we have a long way to go. The level of our knowledge is not sufficient to answer all the questions including that about the presence or absence of any Supreme Power or God which has created this Universe and which governs it. By the same logic, our knowledge about the Universe was much more inadequate or virtually non-existant 2000 years back and therefore a hypothesis proposed so far back is highly unlikely to be true. In fact, the inadequacy of knowledge in those times allowed such hypotheses to go unchallenged by counter logic. When challenged, brute force rather than logical explanations were used to suppress the challengers. The real progress in knowledge and science has been made in the last 2000 years which has made it almost impossible for any new entrant to start an entirely new religion. In stead, the new entrants have taken the easier route of starting new sects within the already established religions.

In spite of the flimsy grounds up on which religions were established, they have a bright side too. By establishing a comprehensive code of conduct, religions laid the foundation of a civilized society. Religions also helped people to get psychological support especially during troubled phases of their life. However, instead of clinging to the outdated codes of conduct, it is high time we review the same and make them suitable for today’s world. While most people today may not be bold enough to outrightly challenge the religions, but at the same time do not believe in and follow each and every aspect of the codes of conduct. The growing indifference to religion in the masses is a form of challenge that the custodians of religion would find most difficult to counter. If the same trend continues, all religions would gradually die a natural death at some point in future.

Eternal Happiness

Without checking with every individual of this world, I am taking the liberty of concluding that most of us, if not all, are not happy or rather are not as happy as they would like to be.  Irrespective of the way it is paraphrased, most of us would agree that the ultimate aim of our life is to attain eternal happiness.

Before talking about the ultimate aim of our life, let’s first look at what our life, as human beings, is all about and what the common understanding of happiness is.

Let’s start from where it really started which is when we were born. Let’s face it; we are not born as equal individuals. The moment we are born, we get classified as a gender, a race (white, black, brown etc.), a nationality, a religion, a community, a city, a locality, a family and a parentage.  All these factors play a significant and long lasting role on our future life. These factors although, hugely important but are beyond the control of an individual. Our fate (using the word loosely) is sealed based on each of these factors before we open our eyes in this world. On top of this, biologically also, not all individuals are same. Some are born weak or even with an illness or a handicap and most others inherit all sorts of illnesses through their genes which will manifest later in their life and would in some cases make their life miserable. In addition to this, the intelligence level of each individual is different and we have a whole range of possibilities starting from mentally retarded cases to born geniuses. A good part of our future happiness and sorrows would depend upon the intelligence level we were born with. All in all, the beginning of our life is like rolling the dice. Some would be extremely lucky, some would be extremely unlucky and most would be somewhere in between. For our entire life, we would struggle to come to terms with, accept and learn to live with all these factors constituting what we are born as. As time passes we go through the biological aging process and growing old brings a whole new set of sorrows both physical as well as psychological.

Our first experience of life starts from the point when we become conscious of our existence and since that point in time; we are made to join a rat race which continues till we breathe our last. Throughout this race we are chasing short term goals. The goals are set by the society in general which manifests itself as our parents, family, teachers, superiors, friends etc. New goals are set as soon as current goals are achieved, not achieved or become redundant. In fact, these goals are like a carrot and stick to lure us to keep pulling the cart of the life. Life thus becomes an endless struggle for virtually no reason and our happiness and sorrows mostly emanate from the outcomes of our struggles. Depending upon the hits and misses, a person is deemed to be successful or a failure in life which most of confuse to be synonyms for being happy and unhappy.

Statistically, only a handful of persons reach the top of the society as highly successful while rest of us end up as mediocre or failures. Those who don’t reach the top think that they are not happy in life because they have not reached the top. However, those few who do reach the top realize to their utter disbelief that although they have achieved success but happiness still eludes them. Some of them would tell you that a man living a simple and humble life has a better chance of achieving eternal happiness as compared to those who reach the pinnacle in life and have to keep struggling to maintain their position.

Some seek eternal happiness through religion, so called god men, self help books etc. Problem with most of these is that the persons behind these are more interested in running their shops rather than being truly interested in showing the correct path.

The good news is that, in spite of all its complexities, life is, or rather can be made, fairly easy to live. Our happiness and sorrows have very little to do with our achievements and failures. Rather the key to happiness lies inside us while we waste our time and energy to look for it in external objects.

The above discussion might have sounded a bit boring and you may be wondering what’s new in it. In fact, there is nothing new. We all knew it all our life but never sincerely believed in it. We seldom find time to pause and listen to our inner voice.

Anyway, it’s never too late. Here are a few simple tips which I hope some of you would find useful. If this can help in making even one person happy, I would consider this to be a job well done.

1 – Happiness lies within ourselves.

Happiness is a state of mind when we are in peace and equilibrium with ourselves. Happiness is beyond the worldly highs and lows. Happiness that depends upon external events or objects can never be eternal as all external and worldly events and objects are transitory, unpredictable and largely beyond our exclusive control. On the other hand, our inner world is entirely our creation and only we decide how to shape it. We are the only inhabitant of our inner world. There is no room for anyone else – no matter how close or dear the person is to us. Happiness belongs to our inner world and that is where we must seek it. Most of us rarely get the time to see this inner world. It is because we are never alone. Even when we are, we are indulged in an external object – TV, book or even our thoughts about external events and objects.  Yes, even bIt is because most of us are not even aware of the existence of our inner world and therefore we do not know how to be with ourselves. This may require a bit of practice and effort in the beginning but once we learn it, we will soon be able to connect with our inner world even when we are in a crowd.

  2 – If we try to get rid of our sorrows, we also lose our happiness.

Let’s use a simple example to explain this. Let’s assume that life is like a power supply with fluctuating voltage. Happiness and sorrow could be compared to be high and low voltage. The voltage level is never constant and there are small fluctuations both up and down all the time. We are happy one moment and sad the next. Normally, we can live with these fluctuations. What we don’t want to face is a low voltage spike and what we wish to have is high voltage most of the time. Continuing with our voltage analogy, the way to guard against a low voltage spike is to install a voltage stabilizer. The downside is that it will cut off both low as well high voltage spikes. If we wish to completely eliminate or minimize to the maximum extent the low voltage spikes, we get a more efficient stabilizer but it will also eliminate or minimize the high voltage spikes. In simple words, if we do find a way to eliminate of minimize our sorrows or rather their effect on us, we will also insulate ourselves from extreme happiness. We can certainly strive to achieve a stable voltage supply. Such mental state may be termed as “eternal contentment”. This is possible to achieve by practicing total detachment. The question is do we want to get rid of our sorrows at the cost of losing our happiness. Not an easy question to answer.

 3 – Never postpone your happiness.

Most of us have this habit of chasing the mirage of happiness and not trying to live the moment. This comes from our training of chasing goals all the time. We make the mistake of associating our happiness to achievement of these goals. What we forget is that as soon as we go past one goal (with or without achieving it) we are handed over the next and therefore we never get a chance to enjoy little moments of happiness that occur in our life every day. As a start, we must learn to delink our happiness from the goals we are chasing. Happiness is not all about passing an exam, getting a job/promotion/bonus, wedding of your son/ daughter etc. The problem is that we judge our moment of happiness by other’s perception and appreciation. We should make an effort to see Happiness is also listening to our favorite song, being with our loved ones, enjoying a good view, going for a morning walk etc. etc.

 4 – Stop living for others; start living for yourself.

Most of us live under an imaginary scanner of the society and in the process unnecessarily stress ourselves. Most of our happiness and sorrows stems from this. In reality, what we think is the society is just a few people from our immediate circle – our neighbours, relatives, friends and colleagues. We feel happy if we buy a new car not because of the new car but because it is better than those in our close circle. And what is even more paradoxical is that in reality we feel happy not because our close ones will be happy by our achievements but in most cases just the opposite of that. We feel happy because we know so and so would be so jealous of our achievement. The more jealous they are, the more happiness we draw from our achievement. This works both ways. If we encounter a failure, it makes them happy and which in turn makes us even sadder as compared to what we would have been due to just the failure itself.

We must put an end to this highly negative approach towards life. We must learn to draw happiness from our achievements and also to deal with our sorrows.

5 – Money can buy you comforts but not happiness.

Stop chasing money for happiness. I am not suggesting that you become a recluse. We must live a normal life, earn money, have a job, have a family but at the same time be fully mindful of the fact that money is merely a tool for comfort not happiness. Happiness comes from within; comforts are for our outer self. The difference is subtle but extremely important.

6 – Stop expecting from others – expectations breed unhappiness

 All of us have expectations. The closer the relationship, the higher the expectations. However, what we don’t realize is that expectations are a sure shot recipe for unhappiness. Firstly, it places a big obligation on the person from whom we are expecting something. He has only two options – either comply with it reluctantly (in most cases) or not comply and be a target for criticism. So, irrespective of whether he fulfils the expectation or not, he is more likely to be unhappy. On our part, if the expectation is not fulfilled we’d surely be unhappy. The chances of having unfulfilled expectations are at least 50:50 (more in most cases) and hence we ourselves set the unhappiness trap not just for ourselves but also for the other person (who is more likely to be one of our near and dear ones). What’s is worse is that one expectation generates another and soon a vicious circle is created. We need to break the shackles of expectations and free ourselves (and our near and dear ones) from it to promote happiness.

7 – Never seek happiness in others sorrow. Spread happiness to get happiness.

If happiness lies within us, it can’t come from others sorrow. Worse is trying to cause harm to others for our happiness. Remember, in life, we get back what we give to others. So spread happiness not sorrows but don’t boast about it. You have no choice but to be nice to others to keep yourself happy. It’s not being philanthropic, it’s rather being selfish.

I could think of a few more but truly speaking it would be superfluous and hence unnecessary as understanding the first point (Happiness lies within ourselves) is good enough in itself and all the following points are at best corollaries of the same.

U G Krishnamurthy – The Enlightened Man

U. G. Krishnamurthy

People call me an ‘enlightened man’ – I detest that term – they can’t find any other word to describe the way I am functioning. At the same time, I point out that there is no such thing as enlightenment at all. I say that because all my life I’ve searched and wanted to be an enlightened man, and I discovered that there is no such thing as enlightenment at all, and so the question whether a particular person is enlightened or not doesn’t arise. There is no power outside of man. Man has created God out of fear. So the problem is fear and not God.

I am not out to liberate anybody. You have to liberate yourself, and you are unable to do that. What I have to say will not do it. I am only interested in describing this state, in clearing away the occultation and mystification in which those people in the ‘holy business’ have shrouded the whole thing. Maybe I can convince you not to waste a lot of time and energy, looking for a state which does not exist except in your imagination.

I discovered for myself and by myself that there is no self to realize — that’s the realization I am talking about. It comes as a shattering blow. It hits you like a thunderbolt. You have invested everything in one basket, self-realization, and, in the end, suddenly you discover that there is no self to discover, no self to realize — and you say to yourself “What the hell have I been doing all my life?!” That blasts you.

What is necessary for man is to free himself from the entire past of mankind, not only his individual past. That is to say, you have to free yourself from what every man before you has thought, felt and experienced — then only is it possible for you to be yourself. The whole purpose of my talking to people is to point out the uniqueness of every individual. Culture or civilization or whatever you might call it has always tried to fit us into a framework. Man is not man at all; I call him a ‘unique animal’ and man will remain a unique animal as long as he’s burdened by the culture.

Nature, in its own way, throws out, from time to time, some flower, the end-product of human evolution. This cannot be used by the evolutionary process as a model for creating another one — that is why I say this is the end-product of human evolution — if it throws out one flower, that’s it, you see. Such a flower, you can put it in a museum and look at it — that’s all you can do.

Why do we dream?

Book cover of

Why do we dream? This question has fascinated philosophers, scientists and psychologists for thousands of years. Many theories have been propounded but none has been fully established.

The most notable theory about the purpose of dreams was given by Sigmund Freud in his famous book “Interpretation of Dreams“. I have had this book with me for many years and although I could never read it fully but I have gone through it in bits and pieces many times. In short Freud’s theory says that dreams are a disguised fulfilment of repressed wishes. According to Freud there are two component of every dream – Manifest and Latent. Manifest content is what we actually see in the dream and the latent component is the hidden psychological meaning of the dream.

Many other theories have been suggested to account for the occurrence and meaning of dreams. The following are just of few of the proposed ideas:

  • Dreams are the result of our brain trying to interpret external stimuli during sleep. For example, the sound of the radio may be incorporated into the content of a dream.
  • A computer metaphor is used to account for dreams. According to this theory, dreams serve to ‘clean up’ clutter from the mind, much like clean-up operations in a computer, refreshing the mind to prepare for the next day.
  • Dreams function as a form of psychotherapy. In this theory, the dreamer is able to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment.
  • Circuits in the brain become activated during REM sleep, which causes areas of the limbic system involved in emotions, sensations, and memories become active. The brain synthesizes and interprets this internal activity and attempts to find meaning in these signals, which results in dreaming. This model suggests that dreams are a subjective interpretation of signal generated by the brain during sleep.
  • A contemporary model of dreaming combines some elements of various theories. According to this theory, activation patterns are shifting and connections are being made and unmade constantly in our brains, forming the physical basis for our minds. There is a whole continuum in the making of connections that we subsequently experience as mental functioning. At one end of the continuum is focused waking activity, such as when we are doing an arithmetic problem or chasing down a fly ball in the outfield. Here our mental functioning is focused, linear and well-bounded. When we move from focused waking to looser waking thought–reverie, daydreaming and finally dreaming–mental activity becomes less focused, looser, more global and more imagistic. Dreaming is the far end of this continuum: the state in which we make connections most loosely.

The subject is indeed very interesting and it is possible to have unlimited theories on the same until medical science develops a proper method of clinically analysing the dreams.

My own take on this subject is that dreams are an extension of our thinking process. If we notice carefully our brain is always active and thinking about something. In normal course, the brain keeps randomly shuffling between a variety of topics and it is not an easy task to control the way our brain thinks. When we are awake we do make conscious effort to keep our brain from wandering from time to time. I guess, the brain keeps thinking in the same way when we are asleep. The only difference is that since we are not in a conscious state, we are not making any attempt to prevent the brain from wandering and therefore it is free to think. In addition to that since the sensory organs are also inactive during this stage, the brain is simulating images, sounds, sense of touch, taste and smell to suit the random sequence of thoughts that it is going through.

If we follow this approach, it becomes easier to interpret and explain many things related to dreaming. The best approach is to allow our brain (mind) to wander freely but at the same time make a note of the thinking process. If we analyse our thinking process, it would give us many clues about our dreams.

The only problem is that this would be totally against our basic training of keeping our thought process in check. Coming to think of it – this process may be called Ant-Meditation because in meditation we are required to control our thought process and channelize it in a particular direction.

I realise that this post has already become very long so I would save this discussion for some other time. Hope this would be a good food for thought till them.

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Knowledge and Language

Communication major dimensions scheme

All our knowledge is limited by the capability of the language to express it. The languages we have developed over thousands of years are so limited that we can’t even describe perfectly what we see or smell or touch or hear or taste. This is the basic information which is made available to us through our sensory organs. In fact, the information collected by our sensory organs is our main source of collecting the knowledge about this universe. Unfortunately, the languages developed by us can not convey even a small fraction of this knowledge.

Incidentally, the capability of our sensory organs itself is very limited. We don’t have a super vision like an eagle or a vulture. Our sense of smell is very poor as compared to most other creatures on this earth. The power of our ears is also not extra ordinary. Overall, the information that we collect through our sensory organs is extremely limited. On top of that we can’t communicate even a small fraction of this information using the languages that we have developed.

Today we do try to use audio-visual media to somewhat plug the inadequacies of the language but even that is not enough. The best audio-visual form today is a video which is a poor representation of the three-dimensional world on a small two dimensional screen. Even today after all the development we have done, there is no way of converting any information about smell, taste and touch into a communicable form. It is believed that Dolphins can communicate information about a three dimensional object through audio signals. This is an indication that there are other superior ways of communication which are not available to us.

In spite of all these limitations, we are under a false impression that we have made huge progress in understanding the nature.

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Strange Dream

I had a very strange dream a couple of days back. It goes like this –

I wake-up in the middle of the night (in my dream) and come to the drawing room on my way to the kitchen to have a glass of water. I am absolutely shocked to find a small boy of 10-12 years age in my drawing room. The moment he sees me he tries to run away. I gather myself from the state of shock and run after him and manage to catch him. I ask him to explain his presence in my house at middle of the night. He doesn’t answer my question and tries to wriggle out of my grip. I raise my voice and repeat my question. At this moment, 5 to 6 adults (both men and women) come out of nowhere and shout back at me saying how I dare to scold the poor child. As if the shock of spotting a little kid in my house was not enough, now I have these people to deal with. I am so shocked (even scared) that my throat gets chocked and even if I want to say something, I am unable to say anything. With great difficulty the group understands what I am asking. Then they explain that they are all one family and they have no house of their own. They have found this novel way of living in my drawing room during the night and this has been going on for past more than one year. Before morning they leave the house after removing all signs of their presence.

I am not sure what the interpretation of this dream is, but the very idea of a big family living in the drawing room of my house during night for such a long time still makes me shudder.