Friday, February 2, 2018

Redemption, a gift you give yourself

Shawshank Redemption is without a doubt one of my all time favorite movies. I’ve probably watched it more than a dozen times and read the novella it’s based off of cover to cover more then a couple of times. To me, the story embodies the spirit of hope, but more importantly it presents the importance of gifting oneself the gift of redemption. Yes, I do believe redemption is something we must give ourselves and it was Andy Dufresne that first opened my mind to this realization.

In a short, the story follows Andy Dufresne, a man convicted of killing his unfaithful wife and her lover, and is sent to serve a lifetime in the Shawshank prison. There he befriends a man who goes by the name ‘Red’ and over thirty odd years hatches an escape plan that goes unannounced to everybody till the day he decides to bust out. Throughout the story he refuses to give up hope, he would not let prison life and all that accompany it bog him down, or let it institutionalize him, instead he keeps himself busy improving his position in prison.

Towards the end of Andy’s stay in Shawshank we’re presented with some evidence of his innocence that may acquit him, but he is held back by the prison’s warden from doing anything about it, he has a tantrum over it, buys a season pass to solitary and finds him self in the prison courtyard one evening where this scene takes place,

If you pay close attention to the actors expressions during the scene, especially when Andy says “I didn’t shoot my wife and her lover.. whatever mistakes I’ve made I’ve paid for them..” would you agree with me that he doesn’t sound very innocent? I’ve peered the movie and the book and there are no compelling evidence to say that he believes he is innocent, in-fact there is some evidence to say otherwise. For example, during the opening court case when he says he can’t account for his where-abouts at the time the crime took place, he looks in doubt, is he doubting his own innocence? And in the book Red speculates Andy would’ve come about the means of escaping in 1967 but waited till 1975 to do so, could he have held off because he felt he deserves to be inside? Either way, after this dialog Andy finally decides he’s had enough and breaks free.

Guilt is the heaviest burden, the most cruel master. Those who feel it and say its name too often slowly become enslaved to it. Yes, we must feel guilty when we have done something wrong to another but how much should we suffer in its name? The answer varies deepening on how we’re yoked and the gravity of of our actions. If you feel you must suffer an entire life away for a wrong you’ve done, payed for in long years or cold nights this story begs to differ, you must understand life is a gift and its already payed for by another. If time comes for you to decide a life full of guilt or a life made busy living it, choose the later. In Andy’s words ‘get busy living or get busy dying’.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Making sense of "Like Tears in Rain" monologue in Blade Runner

Okay so everyone is like blade runner is an amazing movie, you’ve watched it and yeah it was decent enough for an 80s movie but what’s the big deal with that “Like tears in rain” speech at the end?

The point of this post is to try and make sense of this one sided gibberish jabber that takes place at the climax of the movie between its protagonist and antagonist.

Disclaimer: If you haven’t watched the movie or understood the premise and philosophical questions the movie is discussing don’t bother with this read. Some of it is not great dinner time conversation topics, so I will not touch them, not even with a ten-foot pole.

Let’s first watch this scene in question,

In short, leading up to this point in the movie, the androids that have stolen away to earth seeking to extend their 4-year lifespan, have learned that it’s not something that can be done. Rick Deckard who has pursued these criminals, comes face to face with their leader Roy Batty at the climax of the movie and finds himself in a bit of a tricky situation, dangling away from his end. To his surprise he finds Batty saving his life. Batty goes onto give a short final speech before meeting his end.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost, in time, like tears in rain. Time to die”

To the untrained mind, the first three sentences of this speech may seem like nonsensical gibberish, with no plot value or merit. These three sentences are then followed by the key piece of information that allows one to decipher the gibber. This key piece of information being, the memories Batty recounts at his time of death are to him his most significant memories, as it would be for any one of us.

These most significant memories of Batty, who has lived a life of a fruit fly(supposedly having a lifespan of 4-6 weeks) are immature and insignificant. They’re not the type of memories you or I would like to recall when death comes knocking on our door. The memories of merry made with friends and loved ones, memories of passion, memories of good we have done for others.

Batty who has lived a mere 4 years, engrossed in trying to break the chains that bound him to his fate has not truly lived, he was not allowed to, he never had the time to. Yet, as the central premise of the movie is to present the viewer the moral question “is a dog’s life as significant as its master's”, which the movie allows the viewer to draw up their own conclusions to, the monologue works. It works as effectively as a sledgehammer in motion coming to a sudden violent stop, with the purpose of crushing a watermelon placed between it and solid ground.

Now watch this scene again, but this time with this new realization and see the utter bewilderment and inability of Deckard to process what he is experiencing(to digest what he has been struggling to accept throughout the story). See the sheer conviction with which Batty delivers his most sacred of memories and the validity he attaches to them, as in his mind they truly are valid and real as the rain falling down on both him and Deckard. Pay attention to the symbolism, feel the score and appreciate the color palette because they all work to deliver this central message.

Do android's dream of electric sheep? If they are, and you are to deny them of its validity what will you do?

I can't give you an answer to the question just like the movie never gave us one, but I will say that with some matters in life staying on the fence is not an option everyone can afford, we must get down to one side or the other.

Friday, June 9, 2017


The traveler had finally come face to face with the man he had been looking for. The quest he had been on looking for this mysterious man had finally come to a sudden end, there he was few yards in front of him, plowing earth.

He was a tall, slim man with a long head of hair neatly tied up in a bun, it was beginning to gray. He wore a white shirt haphazardly tucked into a pair of blue denim jeans, on his feet were working stocks. From the stories the traveler had heard about this man, he should be at least 60 years old yet the man that stood in front of him radiated with a youthfulness which even his 38 year old self did not possess.

It was finally time to ask the question he had failed to answer himself, the question that haunted him throughout his adolescence until it became the all important quest of his life. A question he was sure this man could answer, With trepidation, he strung together the words that formed the question.

“They say you’re the wisest of all the seekers that have walked among us... They say your grasp of sciences is not short the best of academics back at home. Are you Malachai? Melachai from old sussex, son of Ruth and Dave?”

The traveler's words hung in the air for what seemed like an age.

“Melachai who wrote two brilliant papers on quantum uncertainty before dropping out of a doctorate at Cambridge?”

There was no answer, yet the traveler continued with his inquiry. This time the words came out in a steady flow.  
“They say you’ve lived up here for the last 25 years in contemplation, You must surely know the meaning of this existence? Is the glass half empty or half full? Is there a purpose or is everything we’ve known, felt, been and understood just a statistical anomaly, something that was bound to happen because the numbers are so unfathomably big?”

The traveler found this man's gaze resting on him now. He felt he was being gauged, dissected and analyzed. Seconds flew by, yet no answer came. The traveler thought he may not even get a response from this man he had searched for a better part of a year. He was going to go back empty handed just like every other time.

Then suddenly the man spoke,

“It can be whichever one you want it to be, you choose. Just don’t spend too much time making up your mind.”  

Hearing this, the traveler felt anger bubbling up in him, did I climb up this god forsaken mountain to hear that crap, he thought. He held back the anger and responded with the calmest voice he could muster.

“What’s that suppose to mean?”

“hmm.. I see you need a few more words to understand but I have nothing more to say than what I’ve already said. Follow me.”
The man got to his feet and started making his way up a rocky path that lead to a small hut few yards up the mountain. After a moment of reluctance the traveler pursued. As they moved up the mountain, the man started explaining,

“It can be whichever you want it to be, the glass I mean, but that is irrelevant because that’s not the question you want me to answer, the answer you want me to make you understand. You want to know what is the meaning of life? especially of the one that belongs to you. You want to understand the singular, objective reality”

“The answer to your question is as incomprehensible to us as feeling the curvature of the earth through the soles of our shoes. There is a meaning but it eludes us everytime we get close with our instruments and theories. The greatest of all the fools is he who waits on a singular all encompassing meaning when it’s unattainable in a 100 lifetimes. This, my friend, is the only truth you should know about what you seek.”

“It’s a truth that can be understood with multi-million dollar machinery, in the solitude of a clear mind or on a mindful walk down a coastline. A destination that can be reached in many ways.”

“Look at the greatest of your sciences, Newton came along and brought to our understanding some characteristics of gravity. With this new found knowledge we could accurately predict movements of our celestial relatives using his equation , but this new understanding brought with it new mysteries, we could now explain why the earth goes around the sun the way it does but we didn’t know how gravity could instantaneously work on the two celestial bodies separated by 150 million kilometers. It took another scientist to bring to our understanding that gravity was bending the fabric of our 3 dimensional reality, spacetime. What we were seeing as the effect of gravity was the movement of objects through this curved space in a straight line. With the resolution to Newton’s question, yet again more mysteries were served on a silver platter for the scientist to bend their heads around. Maybe one day someone would bring to our understanding why us; 3 dimensional beings cannot fathom a 4 dimensional reality and how it can be done if need be but even then there will still be new mysteries to be unraveled. So has it been, so it ever will be.”

“Let’s continue our exploration through an allegory, take two individuals let’s name them Smith and Jo, they are as identical as they can be in physique, socioeconomic standing and other aspects, all that separate them is the manner in which they make sense of their reality. Imagine both of them are being ridiculed by society in a subtle manner because of some characteristic they both possess, or lack. They are both made aware of this fact, Smith decides to cope with this sudden turn of events with denial and continues on as if nothing had happened. Jo, decides to understand why this is so and then rectify the situation, this decision takes Jo through a decade-long bitter journey of discovery, Jo finally comes to understand why, but finds the power to rectify the situation is beyond his abilities. Ironically, Jo finds that all he can do is to deny and continue on as if nothing had happened just as Smith did decades ago, the price he had paid for understanding was decades of his life he could have spent elsewhere.”

“This is the truth we must understand when we pursue answers to the unknown, sometimes it is within our capabilities to find the answers to our questions, sometimes the questions are much too great for mere mortals, we can only chisel out a piece of the answer, never the whole. Either way, the price of knowing is paid in time.”

“When we have so few meaningful divisions of time to give away, what we should be doing is finding where it can be best spent. Let the meaning of existence elude you, instead look for that someone who perfectly distracts you from this thirst, find her. Find work that best engage you, spend the time that’s given to you as wisely. Be grateful for all that you receive and never forget that however way you wish to look at it, life is a still a gift.”

The two men had made their way to the hut.

“Take a seat, my friend, I am the Melachai you seek. Let me make you a cup of tea”, said the man pointing to a rickety old wooden chair as he disappeared into the hut.  

The traveler wearily sat down on the chair and waited for Melachai’s return..  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Drift

With arms stretched wide open, we cross the threshold of shelter to the bitterness of the unknown. Hoping and wishing, we drift out. Holding onto our dreams we struggle and at times we stray. Maybe some find all that they ever dreamt of but most of us would settle for meaning instead.

Some find it in the embrace of another. Some find it in gold, failing to see the error in their way till it’s too late. For few the meaning comes much too late, having nothing to hold onto they get carried further into the abyss, having only the ghosts of their pasts to reconcile, they burn, they disintegrate.  

“The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” - Neil Gaiman

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Store away the best throw away the rest

Some of us are more open to new experiences than others, we’ve all come across people who refuse change and avoid trying anything new for the life of them. Is it in our nature to fear change? To reject what is unfamiliar? Maybe. Through my experiences, I’ve come to learn that it’s foolish to reject a thing based completely on what the majority think about it. Let me try to explain. 

I am a believer that one must use one’s own faculties to evaluate and judge the merits and suitability of an act. Some of us reject things based on what can be seen at the end of the spectrum that is closest to what we are familiar with. Let’s take the relatively harmless topic of anime to explore this premise. Is it considered a non-substantial art form? Do most anime have stupid story lines or lack depth? An average appreciator of movies would say yes and wouldn't think too far before labeling the whole genre as garbage, but do you get exceptions to this generalization? Absolutely, studio ghibli offerings like 'spirited away', serials like 'cowboy bebop' or 'avatar' are great examples where anime delivers compelling stories that address deep subject matter. Now, if one dismissed anime altogether based on its generalized classification, because of the norm or because of some social stigma the medium may carry, then they have lost the chance to experience what ever good and unique that only anime has to offer them. 

This is true to many such negative classifications in society. If one was to inquire closely, they would find exceptions to the classification but as a whole, they would find the classification is just. One must not forget that society is one that is best suited to the majority and as such these classifications should be accepted as truths even if they don't hold true to everyone if one wishes to be part of society. In fact, there are many reasons as to why these negative classifications ring true in society. Two most common reasons seem to be the difficulty to weed out the bad parts from the good and the fear of deviating from the norm and the consequences of the act.

As true as there are almost always exceptions to societal classifications is the fact that societal classifications are almost always mostly valid, meaning though there are exceptions to the case as an inferred truth they do hold up. If we go back to peering this silly topic using anime as an example, one could make the argument that it would make more sense to invest one’s time in watching a genre of movies that have a higher ROI? that for every ‘spirited away’ you stand to find you would waste your time going through 20 disappointments.

‘Hey man.. that’s not cool! You might suck at finding the good one’s but i’m a pro bruh.. you need to correlate the imdb scores with what the experts are saying in the usual sites and you know.. you need to get that zing when you watch the short. It all adds up. It’s like a science really. Don’t be hating.’

Well, the dude makes a good point, but what if you're someone who has lived under a rock and have never heard of IMDB or the experts and these usual sites the dude is talking about? What if you were born without the ability to zing(if it is something you're born with)? All valid concerns, and from my experiences, I’ve come to realize that behind many such negative classifications there is a difficulty of weeding out the bad parts from the good and that It is a difficulty faced by the majority of those who've given it a go.

So do classifications built up on the past experiences of a majority serve any purpose? Absolutely, simply put it saves most of us from making bad decisions. These classifications though they have come to be through the evolution of society, once established becomes truths, the expected and the norm.The standards that must be upheld. They become part of the psyche of what the philosopher Martin Heidegger called the ‘they self’. ‘They self’, the template members of society are expected to conform to but according to Heidegger hinders the member from being the authentic self he or she can be.  

Classifications do for the most part serve the purposes they're supposed to serve. Not all of us are capable of weeding out the bad or have the internal fortitude to withstand the repercussions of deviating from the norm. Attempting to do so without the needed faculties lead to disastrous outcomes. To complicate the matter further, most of us are ill equipped to assess the limits of our faculties. So in short, the man who travels the well-known road is far less likely to get lost.

So then what is the point of this discourse? The point is the importance of classifications and norms for a society to function and how they come to be. A man who truly understands the mechanics at play would not be too quick to judge someone who appears to diverge from the norm. Further they will not fear diverging from the norm just because of an unfavorable classification, they would instead assess the suitability, the risks and benefits of the act, rationally and come to their own conclusions, gathering pearls of wisdom from places most may not even bother to look. Store away the best throw away the rest!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Two Kinds of People

While reading up for a paper I have the good fortune(sigh) of having to write, tucked away in a comfortable little inn on a corner of galle fort, I stumbled upon this quote,

“There are two kinds of people in the world, an old joke goes: those who believe that everything can be divided into two categories – and the rest of you.”  - Daniel Pink

I'm not sure how original a quote it is but it sums up one big problem I see in soft sciences' like psychology(another post on the topic). That is, It's insatiable need to define, categories and label things atomic. When I was reading up some of the papers and such that I had to read I couldn't help but think what a mess some of these people have made? Do they really believe all of what they have written or are they just like most of us who are doing the best we can do? I choose to believe the later, that they know that "everything" cant be made sense with a one size fits all mentality, that they are just doing the best they can with whats in hand.

Many truths have an "if" attached to them at the end. It's apparent, at least to me that the best of scientists are those who know this nature of science at heart.

the scientist 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Merovingian and the question of free will

The matrix trilogy is one of my favorites. Sure, it might have ripped off a few others like ghost in the shell and some comics that are not well known but at least in my mind there is no doubt that it was with the release of the matrix in 1999 that these elements/sentiments were brought to the limelight, to the consciousness of the popular culture. The movies played around with quite a few philosophical questions, one recurring question being do we have free will? Check this,

"Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why." merovingian

It turns out most of those who are interested in this question are either in camp “free will” or camp “determinism”. Both camps have their fair share of spokesman and enough literature to keep an army of scholars busy for a long while. 

Camp free will tells us that the trajectory of a ball released by the hand of a cricketer(baller) is determined, determined by the laws of physics but the cricketer's decision to release the ball to send it hurdling at the batsman in a particular way was one made of free will. In a very generalized sense, free will states that if an action was performed with mind it was done so with free will as the mind could have chosen to do otherwise. Camp determinism is opposed to this categorization based on the existence/non-existence of mind. They believe that every action is determined by some underlying law, even those made with mind, that it is not as simple as “hey man... I got pepperoni pizza instead of deviled chicken because i felt like it.. you know”. Yes, some of the residents of camp determinism tend to be mean spirited and seem to be looking for stones to throw at the other camp. 

Back to the matrix and the merovingian, It's clear that he is a determinist, a hard determinist at that. In a hypothetical scenario where computation has progressed so far(like in the movie) I could maybe entertain the possibility that an intellect could exist that could fathom the insane amount of knowledge/understanding that would be needed and then to actually gather it to be able to say without a doubt why a mind decided to make one choice and not another. Now I know that we have a pretty good idea of how our brains work, we can predict correctly what a mind will chooses to do sometimes but till we can predict correctly every single time without any constraints, it's still guesswork. The debate of free will vs determinism is one that will not be settled till another debate that is between holism and reductionism is resolved(onlyagame makes an interesting case for holism which I think makes sense) and it's foolish to think that it will happen in our lifetime. Meanwhile this armchair philosopher is just going to wait around for a kick ass reboot of the matrix without wasting too much time on questions that no one has found answers to.