Tag Archives: life

Lose Fat, Not Weight

After publishing my secrets on losing weight in my late forties, one question I got asked most was how I fought hunger. The question is straightforward. If you ate only 200 calories worth of fruits for lunch, wouldn’t you feel hungry in an hour or two? Yes, you would. What you then do is to take a snack of say 100 calories — a banana, for instance, or 10 cashew nuts (yes, you do need to count them). Trust me, it gets easier. Another way to fight hunger is to drink a lot of water. You need water anyway. Personally, I am not very font of tap water; I like Perrier. (I know, snobbish, right?) When I run out of Perrier, I can take tap water with ice as well. What is most important is to try to stay away from all other forms of beverages, even the light or zero-cal variety, and even the healthy fresh-juice kind. They all have calories.

Growing Old is Not for Sissies
Growing Old is Not for Sissies

More important than any of these tips and tricks is to develop an ability to listen to your body. If you suddenly find yourself craving for something like a juicy steak or lamb chops, it may be that your body is telling you that it is running low on proteins. You’d better do something about it. On the other hand, if you feel like a snack when you have a truckload of work to get through, it may be that you are trying to procrastinate. You have to develop an ability to know the difference. If you are trying to get away from work, don’t use a snack as an excuse; just take a break, a short power nap or whatever rocks your boat. Don’t use food as a filler. If you really need to use anything as a filler, use exercise as one!

Losing fat and getting in shape is a dynamic process. You have to modulate your exercise and diet regime as you make progress. In the beginning, it may be important to just lose weight. Apart from the obvious medical and self-image-related benefits, it gives you an added advantage in exercising itself. In my case, after I lost 10 kilos (20 lb.), I found it a lot easier to do the 100+ pushups, and said goodbye to that knee pain after a vigorous session of badminton. Losing weight when you are overweight does mean tons of cardio (running, swimming, treadmill, cross trainer etc.) and a strict diet. But you cannot keep losing weight at a steady, fairly drastic rate of a kilo a week and then suddenly stop at your target. You have to kind of soft land when you reach your target. That means less cardio, and perhaps a different kind of diet.

One thing you may notice as you lose weight is that you are losing muscles as well. My web research seems to indicate that it is most likely an illusion, although too much cardio and too strict a diet can make you lose muscles too. Apparently, that happens only at near-starvation levels. But it is a good idea to ramp up your resistance training as get closer to your target weight because what you want to lose is fat, not weight in the form of muscles. Right now, my exercise time is roughly 50% cardio and 50% strength training. I plan to make it progressively more strength, perhaps up to 70%. But it used to be almost 90% cardio in the beginning of the year. The best form of cardio for me is what they call high intensity interval training (HIIT). In this mode, after a short warm up (of two minutes), you go flat-out for 30 seconds and then slow down for a minute, and repeat the cycle. Flat-out in my case means I get my heart rate up to what they consider the maximum (which is 220 minus your age). So I oscillate between the heart rates of 170 for 30 seconds and 140 for a minute. I think this is a pretty drastic cardio regime; I could do it because I have always had some level of exercise ever since I was a teenager. Your fitness levels may call for a different regime. So please be careful if you decide to take up this HIIT formula. If you have any doubts at all, please talk to your doctor first.

Finally, what about those six packs? Are you ever going to get those? The honest answer is, it is unlikely, especially if you are a man. If you are woman, and you really want the six pack, it may be easier for you. Let me explain. We all have good abs muscles. It is just that we have layers of fat covering them. It reminds me of that time twenty years ago, when I was trying to get my then housemate in Ithaca, NY to join me on a long bike ride. This big fellow (over 250 lb.) wasn’t budging, and I tried to egg him on, “C’mon Roger. It will be a fun work out! Get the body you always wanted.” His sleepy reply from the couch was to the point, “I got the body I want. And then some!” That extra “some” is the problem hiding your six-packs. In order to begin to see them, you need to bring your body fat level to less than 10%, or less than 20% if you are a woman. Given that the body fat level for a reasonably inactive, but healthy, man is about 30% (and 40% for woman), the target level for a six pack is pretty far off. My own body fat percentage, according to my last medical, was over 35%. Now it may have come under 30%, but still pretty fricking far from okay (to paraphrase Marsellus of Pulp Fiction).

Having said that, I will try to get there because I like impossible odds and lost causes; I always did. Here is the plan: first thing to realize is that there is no such thing as a “targeted” fat loss. You cannot lose fat just from your tummy. And there is no way you can do countless crunches and get a six pack, which is why you don’t see a six pack on a guy with puny, pencil-like limbs. It is an all-or-nothing deal, part of a package. You have to do a lot of strength training on your major muscle groups (legs, back, chest, hands etc.), which will then act as fat burning machines getting you closer to your target of low body fat percentage. This is precisely what I plan to do for the rest of the year.

I think I will have one more post on this series, describing some exercises that I consider good, and sharing some tips. And describing the results of my protein shake experiment, which I am getting into this week. I don’t want to make this blog anything like a lose-weight, build-body, live-strong kind of site because I am just not qualified enough to talk too much about these things. This fitness craze of mine is perhaps only a passing fancy. Then again, my life has been a series of passing fancies, which I guess is as good a way to live it as any. Probably even better than most.

Another Pen Story of Tough Love

Once a favorite uncle of mine gave me a pen. This uncle was a soldier in the Indian Army at that time. Soldiers used to come home for a couple of months every year or so, and give gifts to everybody in the extended family. There was a sense of entitlement about the whole thing, and it never occurred to the gift takers that they could perhaps give something back as well. During the past couple of decades, things changed. The gift takers would flock around the rich “Gulf Malayalees” (Keralite migrant workers in the Middle-East) thereby severely diminishing the social standing of the poor soldiers.

Anyway, this pen that I got from my uncle was a handsome matte-gold specimen of a brand called Crest, possibly smuggled over the Chinese border at the foothills of the Himalayas and procured by my uncle. I was pretty proud of this prized possession of mine, as I guess I have been of all my possessions in later years. But the pen didn’t last that long — it got stolen by an older boy with whom I had to share a desk during a test in the summer of 1977.

I was devastated by the loss. More than that, I was terrified of letting my mother know for I knew that she wasn’t going to take kindly to it. I guess I should have been more careful and kept the pen on my person at all times. Sure enough, my mom was livid with anger at the loss of this gift from her brother. A proponent of tough love, she told me to go find the pen, and not to return without it. Now, that was a dangerous move. What my mom didn’t appreciate was that I took most directives literally. I still do. It was already late in the evening when I set out on my hopeless errant, and it was unlikely that I would have returned at all since I wasn’t supposed to, not without the pen.

My dad got home a couple of hours later, and was shocked at the turn of events. He certainly didn’t believe in tough love, far from it. Or perhaps he had a sense of my literal disposition, having been a victim of it earlier. Anyway, he came looking for me and found me wandering aimlessly around my locked up school some ten kilometer from home.

Parenting is a balancing act. You have to exercise tough love, lest your child should not be prepared for the harsh world later on in life. You have to show love and affection as well so that your child may feel emotionally secure. You have to provide for your your child without being overindulgent, or you would end up spoiling them. You have to give them freedom and space to grow, but you shouldn’t become detached and uncaring. Tuning your behavior to the right pitch on so many dimensions is what makes parenting a difficult art to master. What makes it really scary is the fact that you get only one shot at it. If you get it wrong, the ripples of your errors may last a lot longer than you can imagine. Once when I got upset with him, my son (far wiser than his six years then) told me that I had to be careful, for he would be treating his children the way I treated him. But then, we already know this, don’t we?

My mother did prepare me for an unforgiving real world, and my father nurtured enough kindness in me. The combination is perhaps not too bad. But we all would like to do better than our parents. In my case, I use a simple trick to modulate my behavior to and treatment of my children. I try to picture myself at the receiving end of the said treatment. If I should feel uncared for or unfairly treated, the behavior needs fine-tuning.

This trick does not work all the time because it usually comes after the fact. We first act in response to a situation, before we have time to do a rational cost benefit analysis. There must be another way of doing it right. May be it is just a question of developing a lot of patience and kindness. You know, there are times when I wish I could ask my father.

Eye Catcher

Long time ago, my teenage gang saw a pretty girl whom we called the Eye Catcher. One of my friends in the gang insists that he came up with the name, although I distinctly remember that it was I who first used it. I remember because it was from the last page of India Today of the time, which had a column titled “Eye Catchers.” But my friend has always been more articulate than me, and it is quite possible that he coined the catchy name without any help from India Today.

Time has flown, and today has become yesterday. During the years spanning that age of innocence and now, whenever our gang met up (once a year or so in the beginning, once a decade of late), the Eye Catcher was a topic that always came up. And once, one of us wondered if we would talk about her if we met at the age of fifty, which was incomprehensibly far away then. (Again, I think I was the one who came up with it; may be I like to take credit for every witty thing that happened around me.)

Now with the distant fifty just around the corner, I wonder. Was it the prism of adolescence that amplified beauty, or was she really that eye-catching? Now, of course, the ravages of time would have surely dulled any beauty she may have possessed, and made cynics of the beholders prompting them to consider prisms of adolescence and ravages of time. I think I prefer not to know the answer. Often the blurry pictures with fading colors are more beautiful than the garish reality in high definition.

It is similar to the scratchy Malayalam songs I listen to in my car. My English-speaking family laughs at me whenever I do. To them, the lyrics don’t make sense, the beat is silly, and the sweet melody of Yesudas is almost gross, like cold pancakes swimming in stale syrup. I don’t blame them. Even to me, it is not just the words and the sounds that bind my heart to the songs; it is the fading colors of the past. It is the faces and scenes that the songs bring to mind, like the smell of June rain, the orange hue of the muddy potholes, and the tall coconut trees against blue skies and white cumulus, gently swaying their heads in assent to whatever adventures the day had in store. And the faces of the simple souls who played out their part on that stage of life and bowed out. Memories of a paradise lost.

But those players played their part well enough to imprint themselves on the songs for good. And with the twilights peeping over the horizon now, I often wonder — what am I going to leave behind? What are you?

Are You an Introvert?

Here is a simple 20-question quiz to see if you are an introvert or an extrovert. Introverts tend to agree with most of these statements. So if you get a score of close to 100%, you are a confirmed introvert, which is not a bad thing. You are likely to be a quiet, contemplative type with strong family ties and a generally balanced outlook in life. On the other hand, if you get close to 0%, congratulations, I see stock options in your future. And you are a party animal and believe that life is supposed to be wall-to-wall fun, which it will be for you. I’m not too sure of those in the middle though.

These questions are from Susan Cain’s best seller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and a prelude to my review of it. The questions are copyrighted to Cain, and are reproduced here with the understanding that it constitutes “fair use.” If you have any concerns about it, feel free to contact me.

Quiet Me

I’m an introvert. In today’s world where articulation is often mistaken for accomplishment, introversion is a bit of a baggage. But I have no complaints about my baggage, for I have been more successful than I expected or wanted to be. That’s one good thing about being an introvert — his ambition is aways superseded by the need for reflection and introspection. To an introvert, the definition of success doesn’t necessarily include popular adulation or financial rewards, but lies in the pleasure of finding things out and of dreaming up and carrying out whatever it is that he wants to do. Well, there may be a disingenuous hint of the proverbial sour grapes in that assertion, and I will get back to it later in this post.

The reason for writing up this post is that I’m about to read this book that a friend of mine recommended — “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I wanted to pen down an idea I had in mind because I’m pretty sure that idea will change after I read the book. The idea calls for a slightly windy introduction, which is the only kind of introduction I like (when I make it, that is).

Like most things in life, extroversion, if we could quantify it, is likely to make a bell-curve distribution. So would IQ or other measures of academic intelligence. Or kinesthetic intelligence, for that matter. Those lucky enough to be near the top end of any of these distributions are likely to be successful, unless they mistake their favoured curve to be something else. I mean, just because you are pretty smart academically doesn’t mean that you can play a good game of tennis. Similarly, your position on the introvert bell curve has no bearing on your other abilities. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you will be badly and equally beaten if you try to play Federer — a fact perhaps more obvious to introverts than extroverts. Therein lies the rub. Extroverts enjoy a level of social acceptance that makes them feel as though they can succeed in anything, just like a typical MBA feels that they can manage anything despite a total lack of domain knowledge. That misplaced confidence, when combined with a loud assertiveness hallmark of extroversion, may translate into a success and make for a self fulfilling prophesy.

That is the state of affairs. I don’t want to rant against it although I don’t like it. And I wouldn’t, because I estimate that I would fall about one sigma below the mean on the extroversion curve. I think of it this way: say you go and join a local tennis club. The players are all better than you; they all have better kinesthetic intelligence than you can muster. Do you sit around complaining that the game or the club is unfair? No. What you would have to do is to find another club or a bunch of friends more at your level, or find another game. The situation is similar in the case of extroversion. Extroverts are, by definition, social and gregarious people. They like society. Society is their club. And society likes them back because it is a collection of extroverts. So there is social acceptance for extroversion. This is a self-fueling positive feedback cycle.

So, if you are introvert, and you are seeking societal approval or other associated glories, you are playing a wrong game. I guess Susan Cain will make the rest of it pretty clear. And I will get back to this topic after I finish the book. I just wanted to pen down my thoughts on the obvious feature of the society that it is social in nature (duh!), and therefore extrovert-friendly. I think this obviousness is lost on some of us introverts who cry foul at the status quo.

To get back to the suspicion of sour-grapishness, I know that I also would like to have some level of social approbation. Otherwise I wouldn’t want to write up these thoughts and publish it, hoping that my friends would hit the “Like” button, would I? This is perhaps understandable — I’m not at the rock bottom of the extroversion distribution, and I do have some extrovert urges. I’m only about a sigma or so below the mean, (and, as a compensation, perhaps a couple of sigmas above the mean in the academic scale.)

Bernard ShawMy wife, on the other hand, is a couple of sigmas above the mean on the extroversion department, and, not surprisingly, a very successful business woman. I always felt that it would be swell if our kids inherited my position on the academic curve, and her position in the people-skills curve. But it could have backfired, as the exchange between George Bernard Shaw and a beautiful actress illustrates. As the story goes, Mrs Campbell (for whom Shaw wrote the part of Eliza Dolittle in Pygmalion) suggested to him that they should have a child so that it would inherit his brains and her beauty to which Shaw replied: “My dear lady, have you considered that it might inherit my beauty and your brains?”

What is Unreal Blog?

Tell us a little about why you started your blog, and what keeps you motivated about it.

As my writings started appearing in different magazines and newspapers as regular columns, I wanted to collect them in one place — as an anthology of the internet kind, as it were. That’s how my blog was born. The motivation to continue blogging comes from the memory of how my first book, The Unreal Universe, took shape out of the random notes I started writing on scrap books. I believe the ideas that cross anybody’s mind often get forgotten and lost unless they are written down. A blog is a convenient platform to put them down. And, since the blog is rather public, you take some care and effort to express yourself well.

Do you have any plans for the blog in the future?

I will keep blogging, roughly at the rate of one post a week or so. I don’t have any big plans for the blog per se, but I do have some other Internet ideas that may spring from my blog.

Philosophy is usually seen as a very high concept, intellectual subject. Do you think that it can have a greater impact in the world at large?

This is a question that troubled me for a while. And I wrote a post on it, which may answer it to the best of my ability. To repeat myself a bit, philosophy is merely a description of whatever intellectual pursuits that we indulge in. It is just that we don’t often see it that way. For instance, if you are doing physics, you think that you are quite far removed from philosophy. The philosophical spins that you put on a theory in physics is mostly an afterthought, it is believed. But there are instances where you can actually apply philosophy to solve problems in physics, and come up with new theories. This indeed is the theme of my book, The Unreal Universe. It asks the question, if some object flew by faster than the speed of light, what would it look like? With the recent discovery that solid matter does travel faster than light, I feel vindicated and look forward to further developments in physics.

Do you think many college students are attracted to philosophy? What would make them choose to major in it?

In today’s world, I am afraid philosophy is supremely irrelevant. So it may be difficult to get our youngsters interested in philosophy. I feel that one can hope to improve its relevance by pointing out the interconnections between whatever it is that we do and the intellectual aspects behind it. Would that make them choose to major in it? In a world driven by excesses, it may not be enough. Then again, it is world where articulation is often mistaken for accomplishments. Perhaps philosophy can help you articulate better, sound really cool and impress that girl you have been after — to put it crudely.

More seriously, though, what I said about the irrelevance of philosophy can be said about, say, physics as well, despite the fact that it gives you computers and iPads. For instance, when Copernicus came up with the notion that the earth is revolving around the sun rather than the other way round, profound though this revelation was, in what way did it change our daily life? Do you really have to know this piece of information to live your life? This irrelevance of such profound facts and theories bothered scientists like Richard Feynman.

What kind of advice or recommendations would you give to someone who is interested in philosophy, and who would like to start learning more about it?

I started my path toward philosophy via physics. I think philosophy by itself is too detached from anything else that you cannot really start with it. You have to find your way toward it from whatever your work entails, and then expand from there. At least, that’s how I did it, and that way made it very real. When you ask yourself a question like what is space (so that you can understand what it means to say that space contracts, for instance), the answers you get are very relevant. They are not some philosophical gibberish. I think similar paths to relevance exist in all fields. See for example how Pirsig brought out the notion of quality in his work, not as an abstract definition, but as an all-consuming (and eventually dangerous) obsession.

In my view, philosophy is a wrapper around multiple silos of human endeavor. It helps you see the links among seemingly unrelated fields, such as cognitive neuroscience and special relativity. Of what practical use is this knowledge, I cannot tell you. Then again, of what practical use is life itself?

How to be a Good Parent

Looking back at how I brought up my children (or, how I have been doing it, for they are still children), I have mixed feelings about how good I have been as a parent. Overall, I have been decent, slightly above average, I guess. But I have certainly formed strong opinions about what it means to be a good parent. I want to share my thoughts with my younger readers in the hope that they may find something useful in it.

In most things we do, there is a feedback, and we can use the feedback improve ourselves. For instance, if we do poorly at work, our bonuses and paychecks suffer, and we can, if we want to, work harder or smarter to remedy the situation. In our dealings with our children, the feedback is very subtle or even absent. We have to be very sensitive and observant to catch it. For instance, when my daughter was less than a year old, I noticed that she wouldn’t make eye contact when I came back late from work or when her mother came back from a business trip. To this day, I am not entirely sure that it was an expression of disapproval on her part, or fanciful imagination on mine.

Even when the children are old enough to articulate their thoughts, their feedback is often subtle to non-existent because they don’t know how to judge us, the parents. You see, they have no yardstick, no standards by which to assess our parenting qualities. We are the only parents they will ever have and, for all our follies, it is very hard for them to find any faults with us. So we have to measure up to a much higher standard — our own.

Coupled with this unvoiced feedback is the huge sense of injustice that our little unfairnesses can inflict on our children’s little hearts. As Dickens said in one of his books, small injustices loom large in the small world of a child. (I am sure he put it a lot better; I am paraphrasing.) We have to appreciate the need to be painstakingly and scrupulously fair with our children. I am not talking about being fair between children, but between us and a child. Don’t hold them to rules that you are not willing to live by. These rules can be small — like don’t watch TV while eating. If you like your TV with your dinner, don’t expect the kids to stick to the dining table. They do what we do, not always what we say.

In fact, imitating our habits and mannerisms is part of their charm for us. By nature and nurture, our kids mirror our looks and actions. If we don’t like what we see in the mirror and complain about it, we are often barking up the wrong tree. In order to improve the image, we have to improve ourselves. We have to live up to a high level of integrity and honesty. Nothing else works.

Another essential virtue for a parent is patience. In today’s busy world, with thousands of thoughts and cares and distractions all vying for our attention, it is always a tussle to be, for instance, a good blogger, a good corporate player, a good spouse and, at the same time, a good parent. One way out of this is to dedicate a certain amount of quality time for our parenting Karma. This may be the only practical advice in this post — so pay attention now. Set aside half an hour (or whatever time you can) every day for your little ones. During this time, focus your undivided attention your kids. No TV, no Internet, no phone calls — only you and your kids. If you can do it on a fairly regular basis, your kids will remember you for a long time after you are gone.

Our children are our legacy. They are what we leave behind. And they are, in many ways, our own reflections — our little addition, little pieces of colored glass in the dome of many-colored glass staining the white radiance of eternity. Let’s try to leave behind as perfect a reflection as we can.

Thinking again about all the sermonizing I did in this post, I find that it is not so specific to being a good parent. It is more about being a good person. I guess what they say (in the Zen way of looking at things) is true — how do you paint a perfect painting? Be perfect and then just paint. How to be a good parent? Be good, and then be a parent! Goodness happens in the stillness of perfection and peace where even “bad” things are good. This statement is perhaps mystical enough to wind up this post with.

Death — Last Words

We all have some genetic logic hard-coded in our DNA regarding death and how to face it — and, much more importantly, how to avoid it. One aspect of this genetic logic perplexes me. It is the meekness with which we seem to face the prospect of death, especially violent death. In violent situations, we seem bent on appealing to the assailant’s better nature to let us be. With apologies to those who may find this reference offensive, I’m thinking of the millions of people who marched quietly into the night during the holocaust, for instance. Given that the end result (death) was more or less guaranteed whether they resisted or not, why didn’t they? Why is there such a motto as “resist no evil”? Why the heck not?

Well, I know some of the answers, but let’s stack some cold and possibly inappropriate logic against these vagaries of our genetic logic. If a Bengal tiger attacks you in a forest, your best chance of survival would be to stand up and fight, I would think. It is possible, though not likely, that the tiger might consider you too much trouble and give up on you. I know the tigerologists out there would laugh at me, but I did say “not likely.” Besides, I have read this story of an Indian peasant who managed to save his friend from a tiger by scaring it off with a stick and a lot of noise. My be the peasant was just lucky that the tiger wasn’t too hungry, nonetheless… Anyhoo, I would have thought the genetic logic in our DNA would reflect this kind of fighting spirit which may improve our survival rate. Appealing to the tiger’s better nature would be somewhat less effective, in my opinion.

A similar meekness is apparent, I reckon, in our follow-the-crowd attitude toward many things in life, including our notion of morality, happiness etc. I suspect these notions are perhaps so complex and taxing to fathom that we let our intellectual laziness overtake our desire to know. My own thinking seems to lead to a dark symphony of aimlessness and lack of ethical values. I am desperately trying to find a happy note in it to wind up this series with.

The “trouble” is that most people are moral, ethical and all-round decent folks, despite the existence of death and their knowledge thereof. It is silly to dismiss it as meekness, lack of intellectual effort etc. There must be some other reason. I don’t think I will be able to find this elusive reason before the end of this series. But I have to conclude that “living everyday as your last” definitely doesn’t help. If anything, it has to be our blissful capacity to ignore death that brings about ethical rectitude. Perhaps the other motto of “living in the present moment” is just that — an appeal to ignore the future where death looms.

Death has the effect of rendering our daily existence absurd, as Sisyphus’s work on rocks. It really does make the notion of existence so absurd as to force one to justify why one should live at all. This dangerous line of thinking is something that every philosopher will have to face up to, at some point. Unless he has some answers, it would be wise to keep his thoughts to himself. I didn’t. But then, very few have accused me of the vice of wisdom.

Does the World Go on?

Notwithstanding the certain rupture in the continuity of consciousness due to death, or a less certain rupture in that of a soul, we have another uninterrupted flow — that of life and of the world. This flow is the end result of a series of projections and perhaps the work of our mirror neurons. Let me explain. We know that the world doesn’t stop just because someone dies. Most of us middle-aged folks have lost a loved one, and, for all the grief, we know that life went on. So we can easily see that when we die, despite all the grief we may succeed in making our loved ones feel through our sheer good deeds, life will go on. Won’t it?

It is our absolute certainty about this continuity that prompts us to buy huge life insurances, and somewhat modulates the risk-reward analysis of our moral actions. I am not going to deny the existence of this continuity, tempted though I am to do just that. I merely want to point out certain facts that may prevent us from accepting it at its face value. The evidence for the world going on after our death is simple, too simple perhaps: We have seen people die; but we live on. Ergo, when we die, other people will live on. But you see, there is a profound difference between somebody else’s death and your death. We are thinking of death as the end of our consciousness or mind. Although I loosely group your mind and my mind as “our” mind in the previous sentence, they are completely different entities. In fact, a more asymmetric system is hard to imagine. The only mind I know of, and will ever know of, is my own. Your mind has an existence only in mine. So the demise of my mind is literally the end of your mind (and indeed all minds) as well. The world does come to an end with my death, quite logically.

This argument, though logical, is a bit formal and unconvincing. It smacks of solipsism. Let’s approach the issue from a different angle. As we did earlier in this essay, let’s think of death as dreamless slumber. If you are in such a state, does the world exist for you? I know the usual responses to this question: Of course it exists; just because you cannot feel it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. You know it exists, and that is enough. Now, who is this you that knows?

Therein lies the real rub. Once you cease to have a consciousness, be it thanks to sleep or death, you lose the ability to experience everything, including the existence of anything (or lack thereof). Now, we can take the normal approach and just assert that things have an existence independent of your experiencing it; that would the natural, dualistic view — you and everything else, your experiences and their physical causes, cause and effect, action and reaction, and so on. Once you begin to doubt the dualistic worldview and suspect that your experiences are within your consciousness, and that the so-called physical causes are also your cognitive constructs, you are on a slippery slope toward another worldview, one that seriously doubts if it makes any sense to assert that the world goes on after your death.

The world is merely a dream. What sense could a dead man’s dream possibly make?

Primal Soul

One simple way of reinstating an absolute form of morality (as opposed to a relative, risk-reward kind) is to postulate continuity beyond death. The notion of a “soul,” as proposed in almost all religions, serves this purpose. Soul is also the substantive (albeit ethereal) representation of the otherwise elusive consciousness of ours, which is an entity that has no right to exist or be real because it fails all possible tests for real existence, yet is supremely real to each one of us. In fact, consciousness is more than real, it is the arena in which our reality plays out its act. It is so fundamental to our experience and existence that we have a hard time accepting its ephemerality.

I, for one, believe logically that when I die, everything I will have known and experienced till then will just disappear. I believe that death is like an eternal dreamless sleep. Logically. But logic has very little to do with what I can feel and accept, emotionally. I don’t like to drag in the concept of “emotion” here; I am thinking of what I can accept at a gut-level. “Primally” would perhaps be a better word to use, but I am not sure. Any way, once we have conscious awareness, and develop a sense of temporal continuity about things and experiences around us, we cannot help assigning continuity to the backdrop of it all — our consciousness. Continuity of selfhood is encoded into our mind. Primally — yes, that would be the right word.

Logic and rationality, which come after the primal plumbing of the mind, consciousness, selfhood etc. (which may all ultimately mean the same thing) is already in place, can influence our thinking only to a limited extent. Mind grasps at anything that offers a semblance of eternal continuity. Enter religions.

All conventional religions have some notion of a “soul,” which comes in different forms and with a multitude of meanings and contexts, although, logically, it can only mean our consciousness, or an entity holding our consciousness and pretty much nothing else. Thanks to our primal need to search and find continuity, we readily buy into whatever notion of soul our parents’ religion happens to uphold, ignoring the gaping holes in logic associated with it. From the perspective of religions (speaking of religions as organizational entities with intentions and purposes), the notion of continuity implied in the concept of a soul has a great benefit — it completely alters the risk-reward analysis at the root of morality. And it takes out death (or at least, greatly diminishes its significance) in the analysis. For death is only the beginning, as the horror-comedy taught us.

If the wages of sin are eternal third-degree burns, not some material comfort followed by thirty-to-life in a federal facility till death sets you free, you do think twice before doing the crime. The “time” that you may have to do could well be an eternity. Other religions offer other kinds of divine carrots and sticks. For instance, if you are a Hindu engaged in a particularly unsavory Karma, you will reincarnate as somebody (or something) on the receiving end of the stick, roughly neutralizing your risk-reward equation. On the other hand, if you are willing to take it on your chin with some amount of fortitude, you will be upgraded to business class in your next life.

In all notions of spiritual continuity of consciousness, and/or soul, there is something I find logically wanting. It is the lack of continuity of memory. Death is still a point of phase transition where all the existing memory is erased. If we think of soul as the eternal manifestation of mind and consciousness, erasing its memory is as good or as bad as killing it, is it not?

What I find interesting in this Hindu notion is that the ultimate reward for presumably the best possible Karma is not an eternal life of comfort in heaven, but a release from the cycle of reincarnations, which, in my view, is similar to an eternal dreamless sleep — which is the only logical notion of death we can scientifically entertain. So, in the Hindu notion of the reward for ultimate good is, in some sense, the ultimate death. Makes me wonder…