Category Archives: Books

Book reviews of the Unreal kind. Here, I discuss the books I have read, and share my impressions with my readers. I read mostly non-fiction or classics. And when I say read books, I mean listen to them in audiobook (always unabridged) form. Audiobooks have the ability to make your commute or gym workout something you look forward to, rather than dread. When reviewed, they present a disadvantage though, that they cannot be referred to. Thus quotes from them become paraphrasing, names get misspelled and so on. Please excuse such shortcomings…

Note that these are not real reviews. Most of these books are so well-known that they are really beyond reviews. So my Unreal reviews are more like my impressions and thoughts, often containing spoilers.

On Rationality and Delusions

This post started as a reply to M Cuffe’s comment on my post on The God Delusion. M Cuffe suggested that I’m merely asserting an individual’s right to be irrational, or ignorant. Yes, I am indeed saying that one has the right to be irrational. But that statement stems from something that I believe is deeper. It stems from what we mean by rationality, and why we think it is a good thing to be rational. I know it sounds “irrational,” but I’m talking about rationality as Persig talked about it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Stepping back a bit, rationality is quintessentially a worldview. By rational, we mean things that seem normal to our commonsense. So the notion of a nuclear bomb moving or obliterating a mountain is rational, although we have never seen it. You believe it because it is consistent with your worldview. I believe it too, trust me. I was a nuclear physicist not too long ago. đŸ™‚

And a god (or faith) moving mountains is clearly ludicrous to our rationality. I’m not asking people to give equal rational weight to faith and bomb moving mountains. I’m merely encouraging them to examine why they believe in one and not the other. Calling one more rational is just another way of saying that you choose to believe one more than the other. Why?

Thinking along those lines, I come to the conclusion that it is only a question of worldviews or belief systems. I personally subscribe to your worldview based on rationality as well, which is why I consider myself also an atheist (although one of my readers thought I was merely confused :-))

A god as an old man hiding behind the clouds is not consistent with our worldview. But it may have been a metaphor for something else. Let me explain. We have these abstract concepts of happiness, perfection, grief etc. Are these things real? Should we believe they exist? Such questions don’t make too much sense because these concepts are all in our minds. But then, what isn’t?

Let’s take perfection, for instance. Let’s say we assign some human form to it, so that we could explain it to a child or something. We then call it, say, the goddess of perfection or whatever. Over generations, for whatever reason, the notion of perfection disappears from our awareness, but the metaphor of the goddess remains. Now, to somebody who believes in the reality perfection, and therefore the existence of the goddess, it is not a delusion. In that belief system, in that context and worldview, it makes perfect sense. But in the absence of the abstract concept of perfection, the goddess becomes a delusion.

I believe that a large part of our collective wisdom is handed down in the form of such metaphors. Instead of dismissing them as delusions because their context is gone, we should perhaps try harder to rediscover the lost concepts. I also believe such metaphors exist in other fields that seem to work well. Take, for instance, the Qi concept in traditional Chinese medicine, the five elements (or three body types) in Ayurveda and so on. To the extent that traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda work, there has to be some knowledge buried in those practices. If we write off their basis merely because their metaphors are not consistent with our rationality, we may be writing off some potential sources of new or forgotten knowledge.

In addition, I believe that some of our smarter geniuses indeed see delusional metaphors in what we take to be supremely real.

Principles of Quantitative Development

[This post is a review of my forthcoming book, “Principles of Quantitative Development,” to be published by John Wiley & Sons in Feb 2010. This review is written by Shayne Fletcher, Executive Director, Nomura, and author of “Financial Modelling in Python,” and is posted here with the reviewer’s permission.]

In “Principles of Quantitative Development”, Thulasidas has offered a contribution that is somewhat unique in the literature associated with the field of Quantitative Development. In that specialised, narrow domain, technical books abound. Most such titles are concerned with the intricacies of the application of specific programming language to the problems of financial engineering or, expositions of advanced mathematics as used in the pricing models of exotic financial derivative products. Thulasidas however has taken a very different tact. Focusing instead on what he terms “the big picture”, Thulasidas offers us his insights into the role of Quantitative Development in the broader context of a bank’s “trading platform”. Armed with such insights, he shows us how an understanding of the varied usages of the trading platform can and should be used to influence and shape its design.

In the opening chapters, the book is concerned with defining what is meant by the term “trading platform”. In doing so, Thulasidas necessarily reviews the “architecture” of a bank from the point of view of a Quantitative Developer. That is, he discusses the nature and interactions of the front, middle and back offices of a bank, the different roles that professionals in each of those areas satisfy and how each of their respective needs induce a different set of requirements on the trading platform. Moving on, he reviews the nature of trades, the so-called trade “life cycle” and how different views of a trade are required as a function of the life cycle and the business role of the user.

Having established a broad understanding of the requirements for a trading platform, Thulasidas turns his attention to translating those requirements into design decisions for trading platforms. Along the way he considers such aspects of design as choice of programming languages, issues relating to scalability and extensibility, security and auditing, representations for market and trade data and a trading platform’s macro architecture whilst all the way remaining focussed on ensuring that all business needs identified in the earlier chapters are given consideration and catered for.

Going from the general to the specific, Thulasidas in later chapters introduces a flexible derivatives pricing tool (the source code for which accompanies the book). This program in itself will no doubt serve as an excellent starting point for Quantitative Development teams charged with the production of an in-house trading platform. Perhaps of even greater benefit though is Thulasidas’s critique of the pricing tool, that is, in his explanation of how the supplied program fails to meet the requirements of a complete trading platform and how the program needs to be extended in order to be considered one. In this way, the line of thought of earlier chapters is reinforced and brought sharply into focus.

Throughout the book, Thulasidas manages to convey his ideas with remarkable eloquence and lucidity. Understanding is enhanced by numerous rich graphics outlining processes and their design (both in the software and work-flow sense). The reader’s attention and interest is never lost and a great deal of entertainment is to be found in the numerous side-bars, the “Big Pictures” (in effect an enjoyable mini-series of magazine style articles in their own right).

As Thulasidas himself notes, the subject matter of his book is broad. Accordingly, the potential readership of this title is equally broad. Notably, Quantitative Developers at the beginning of their careers stand most to gain from this book. The fact is though that even the most seasoned of banking professionals would profit from its reading. Quantitative Developers, Quantitative Analysts, Traders, Risk Managers, IT professionals and their Project Managers, individuals considering switching from academia or other industries to a career in banking… Readers from each and all of these groups will find Thulasidas’s work informative and thought provoking.


In my post on A Plausible God, I cited blind-sight as an example of sensing that does not lead to conscious perception. This remarkable neurological syndrome illustrates the tight interconnection between our sense of reality and consciousness. Larry Weiscrantz and Alan Cowey discovered blind-sight at Oxford about 25 years ago.

Blindness can be physiological, when the physical eye is not functioning properly. Or it can be neurological, when the eye is fne but the visual signal processing is impaired. For example, if our right visual cortex is damaged, we are blind on the left side. When examining a patient with such a neurological blindness on one side, Weiscrantz shined a little spot of light on the patient’s blind side. Weiscrantz then asked the patient to point to it. The patient protested that he could not see it and could not possibly point to it. Weiscrantz asked him to try anyway. The patient then proceeded to point accurately to the spot of light that he could not consciously perceive.

After hundreds of trials, it became obvious that the patient could point correctly in ninety-nine percent of trials, even though he claimed on each trial that he was only guessing. How did the patient determine the location of an invisible object and point to it accurately? The neurological reason is that we all have two visual pathways. The new visual pathway goes through the visual cortex. The old, backup pathway runs through our brain stem to the superior colliculus.

The cause of our patient’s blindness was that his visual cortex was damaged, and it did not get the signals from one eye and its optic nerves. But the signals took the parallel route to the superior colliculus, using the old pathway. This rerouting allowed him to locate the object in space and guide his hand accurately to point to the invisible object. What this syndrome of blind-sight shows us is that only the new visual pathway leads to a conscious experience. While the old pathway is perfectly usable (for survival, for instance), it does not lead to a conscious experience of vision.

An interesting neurological condition, no doubt. But blind-sight is more than that. It is a rather confounding philosophical conundrum. The spot of light that the patient could see — was it real? Sure, we know it was real. But what if all of us were blind-sighted? If some of us started developing a semblance of awareness as a result of our blind-sight, would we believe them, or call them delusional? If there are senses that we can be unaware of, how sure can we be of the “sensed”? Or of our “delusions”?

This post is an edited version of section in The Unreal Universe. The information comes from The Emerging Mind: Reith Lectures on Neuroscience (BBC Radio, 2003) given by V. S. Ramachandran, the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, San Diego, CA, USA. My book refers to several examples of physiological brain anomalies and their perceptual manifestation from this lecture series.

A Plausible God

In my review of The God Delusion, I promised to post a plausible concept of God. By “a plausible concept,” I mean a concept that doesn’t violate the known principles of science, and should therefore be consistent with the so-called scientific worldview. Mind you, the plausibility of the concept says nothing about its veracity; but it may say something about it being a delusion.

Of all the sciences, physics seems to be the one most at odds with the God concept. Clearly, evolutionary biology is none too happy with it either, if Dawkins is anything to go by. But that analysis is for another post.

Let’s start by analyzing a physicist’s way of “proving” that there is no God. The argument usually goes something like this:

If there is a God who is capable of affecting me in any way, then there should be some force exerted by that God on me. There should be some interaction. Since the interaction is big enough to affect me, I should be able to use this particular interaction to “measure” the God-intensity. So far, I haven’t been able to measure any such God-related force. So either there is no God that affects me in any way, or there is a God that affects me through deviously disguised interactions so that whenever I try to measure the interaction, I’m always fooled. Now, you tell me what is more likely. By Occam’s Razor, the simplest explanation (that there is no God that can affect me) has the highest chance of being right.

While this is a good argument (and one I used to make), it is built on a couple of implicit assumptions that are rather tricky to spot. The first assumption is that we cannot be affected by an interaction that we cannot sense. This assumption is not necessarily true.

Modern cosmology needs at least one other kind of interaction to account for dark matter and dark energy. Let’s call this unknown interaction the dark interaction. Even though we cannot sense the dark interaction, we are subject to it exactly as all other (known) matter is. The existence of this interaction beyond our senses is sufficient to break the physicist’s proof. A plausible God can affect us, without our being able to sense it, through dark interactions.

But that is not the end of the story. The physicist can still argue, “Fine, if we cannot sense this God, how would we know he exists? And why do so many people claim they can feel him?” This argument is based on the assumptions on conscious experience and sensing. The hidden assumptions in the physicist’s questions (again, not necessarily true) are:

  1. Sensing should lead to a conscious perception.
  2. All humans should have the same sense modality.

An example of sensing that does not lead to conscious perception is the syndrome of blind sight. (I will post more on it later). A patient suffering from blind sight can point to the light spot he cannot consciously see. Thus, sensing without conscious perception is possible. The second assumption that all men are created equal (in terms of sensory modality) does not have any a priori reason to be true. It is possible that some people may be able to sense the dark interaction (or some other kind of interaction that God chooses) without being conscious of it.

So it is possible to argue that there is a God that affects us through a hitherto unknown interaction. And that some 95% of us can sense this interaction, and the others are atheists. What this argument illustrates is the plausibility of God. More precisely, it demonstrates the consistency of a concept of God with physics. It is not meant to be a proof of the existence of God. And that is why, despite the plausibility of God, I am still an atheist.

In retrospect, this argument did not have to be so complicated. It boils down to saying that there are limits on our knowledge, and to what is knowable. There is plenty of room for God outside these limits. It is also a classic argument by those who believe in God — you don’t know everything, so how do you know there isn’t a God?

The God Delusion

I am an atheist. So I agree completely with all the arguments of The God Delusion. As a review of the book, that statement should be the end of it. But somehow the book gave me a strange feeling of dissatisfaction. You see, you may believe in God. Or you may not. Or you may actively believe that there is no God. I fall in this the last category. But I still know that it is only my belief, and that thought fills me with a humility that I feel Dawkins lacks.

Now, it is one thing to say that the concept of God is inconsistent with the worldview you have developed, perhaps with the help of science. The concept is indeed very inconsistent with my own personal worldview, which is why I am an atheist. But it is quite a different matter to discount the concept as a delusion. I believe that our knowledge is incomplete. And that there is plenty of room for a possible God to hide beyond the realms of our current knowledge. Does it mean that we should call our ignorance God and kneel before it? I don’t think so, but if somebody does, that is their prerogative.

You see, it is all a question of what your worldview is. And how much rigor and consistency you demand of it. So, what is a worldview? In my opinion, a worldview is the extension of your knowledge. We all have a certain amount of knowledge. We also have a lot of sensory data that comes in every moment that we have to process. We do most of this processing automatically, without conscious effort. But some of the higher level data and information that we encounter merit a closer analysis. How do we do it, given that we may not know much about it? We use our commonsense, our pre-conceived notions, the value systems our parents and teachers left in us and so on. One of these things that we use, or perhaps the totality of these things, is our worldview.

Let’s take an example. Douglas Adams tells us that dolphins are actually smarter than us and have regular inter-galactic communication. Well, we have no way of refuting this claim (which, of course, is only a joke). But our worldview tells us that it is unlikely to be true. And we don’t believe it — as though we know it is not true.

Another example, one that Bertram Russell once cited. Scripture tells us that faith can move mountains. Some people believe it. Science tells us that a nuclear blast can, well, move mountains. Some people believe that too. Note that most people haven’t directly witnessed either. But even for those who believe in the faith-mountain connection, nuclear energy moving mountains is far more plausible a belief. It is just a lot more consistent with our current worldview.

Now, just because God is a delusion according to Dawkins’s worldview (or mine, for that matter), should you buy it? Not unless it is inconsistent with yours as well. Worldviews are hard to change. So are our stances vis-a-vis God and science, when seen as belief-systems — as the movie Contact vividly illustrates. If you missed it, you should watch it. Repeatedly, if needed. It is a good movie anyway.

It is true what they say about a scientific worldview being inconsistent with any sensible notion of a god. But worldviews are a funny thing. Nothing prevents you from tolerating inconsistencies in your worldview. Although Dawkins goes to some length to absolve Einstein of this lack of consistency, the conventional wisdom is that he did believe in God. The truth of the matter is that our collective knowledge (even after adding Einstein’s massive contribution) is limited. There really is plenty of room beyond its limits for God (or eight million gods, if I were to believe my parents), as I will try to show in my next post.

That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Once we admit that there are limits to our knowledge, and to what is knowable, we will soon find ourselves staring at other delusions. What is the point it discounting a God delusion, while embracing a space-delusion? In a universe that is unreal, everything is a delusion, not just God. I know, you think it is just my sanity that is unreal, but I may convince you otherwise. In another post.

Helen Keller

The story of Helen Keller is the story of the dark reality that traps you in the absence of your senses. It is also an illustration of the role of language in breaking out of that darkness. Born a healthy child on June 27, 1880 in Alabama, Helen Keller was a perfectly happy baby — until the tender age of 19 months, when she was stricken with a strange illness that “they called acute congestion of the stomach and brain.” The terrible illness left her blind and deaf — “closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby,” as she would later write in her autobiography.

Disconnected from the physical world, Helen was trapped in her dark, silent reality (or the lack thereof). She did not even have thoughts or words in her mind, because the tragedy happened before she started talking. She could not learn from her parents like normal children, because she was blind and deaf. There were no special schools at that time for disadvantaged children like her. When she was seven, Helen’s parents contacted Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who was also an educator of the deaf. Through his help, they found Anne Sullivan to tutor Helen. Anne Sullivan had special methods of making hand signs to spell out objects. Sadly, none of these tricks worked with Helen for a few frustrating months. She could not make the connection between the hand movements and the objects. It looked as though Helen would be doomed to her dark reality for ever. Here is how she made the connection and broke free from darkness. (This block quote is from Helen Keller’s autobiography “The Story of my Life,” which was ffirst published in 1903 and is in the public domain according to the US copyright laws.)

One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap also, spelled “d-o-l-l” and tried to make me understand that “d-o-l-l” applied to both. Earlier in the day we had had a tussle over the words “m-u-g” and “w-a-t-e-r.” Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that “m-u-g” is mug and that “w-a-t-e-r” is water, but I persisted in confounding the two. In despair she had dropped the subject for the time, only to renew it at the first opportunity. I became impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment or tenderness. I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of the hearth, and I had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of my discomfort was removed. She brought me my hat, and I knew I was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and skip with pleasure.

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

The mystery of language is at the genesis of reality; it is what sweeps away the dark barriers standing between us and our conscious awareness of reality. It took Helen Keller out of nothingness into a world of reality, and if it is not the Word in “The Word was God,” I will never know what is.

Photo by The Library of Congress

Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

I first found this modern-day classic in my father’s collection some thirty years ago, which meant that he bought it right around the time it was published. Looking back at it now, and after having read the book, as usual, many times over, I am surprised that he had actually read it. May be I am underestimating him in my colossal and unwarranted arrogance, but I just cannot see how he could have followed the book. Even after having lived in the USA for half a dozen years, and read more philosophy than is good for me, I cannot keep up with the cultural references and the pace of Charlie Citrine’s mind through its intellectual twists and turns. Did my father actually read it? I wish I could ask him.

Perhaps that is the point of this book, as it is with most classics — the irreversibility and finality of death. Or may be it is my jaundiced vision painting everything yellow. But Bellow does rage against this finality of death (just like most religions do); he comically postulates that it is our metaphysical denial that hides the immortal souls watching over us. Perhaps he is right; it certainly is comforting to believe it.

There is always an element of parternality in every mentor-protégé relationship. (Forgive me, I know it is a sexist view — why not maternality?) But I probably started this post with the memories of my father because of this perceived element in the Von Humboldt Fleischer – Charlie Citrine relationship, complete with the associated feelings of guilt and remorse on the choices that had to be made.

As a book, Humboldt’s Gift is a veritable tour de force. It is a blinding blitz of erudition and wisdom, coming at you at a pace and intensity that is hard to stand up to. It talks about the painted veil, Maya, the many colored glasses staining the white radiance of eternity, and Hegel’s phenomenology as though they are like coffee and cheerios. To me, this dazzling display of intellectual fireworks is unsettling. I get a glimpse of the enormity of what is left to know, and the paucity of time left to learn it, and I worry. It is the ultimate Catch-22 — by the time you figure it all out, it is time to go, and the knowledge is useless. Perhaps knowledge has always been useless in that sense, but it is still a lot of fun to figure things out.

The book is a commentary on American materialism and the futility of idealism in our modern times. It is also about the small things where a heart finds fulfillment. Here is the setting of the story in a nutshell. Charlie Citrine, a protégé to Von Humboldt Fleischer, makes it big in his literary career. Fleischer himself, full of grandiose schemes for a cultural renaissance in America, dies a failure. Charlie’s success comes at its usual price. In an ugly divorce, his vulturous ex-wife, Denise, tries to milk him for every penny he’s worth. His mercenary mistress and a woman-and-a-half, Renata, targets his riches from other angles. Then there is the boisterous Cantabile who is ultimately harmless, and the affable and classy Thaxter who is much more damaging. The rest of the story follows some predictable, and some surprising twists. Storylines are something I stay away from in my reviews, for I don’t want to be posting spoilers.

I am sure there is a name for this style of narration that jumps back and forth in time with no regard to chronology. I first noticed it in Catch-22 and recently in Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things. It always fills me with a kind of awe because the writer has the whole story in mind, and is revealing aspects of it at will. It is like showing different projections of a complex object. This style is particularly suited for Humboldt’s Gift, because it is a complex object like a huge diamond, and the different projections show brilliant flashes of insights. Staining the white radiance of eternity, of course.

To say that Humboldt’s Gift is a masterpiece is like saying that sugar is sweet. It goes without saying. I will read this book many more times in the future because of its educational values (and because I love the reader in my audiobook edition). I would not necessarily recommend the book to others though. I think it takes a peculiar mind, one that finds sanity only in insane gibberish, and sees unreality in all the painted veils of reality, to appreciate this book.

In short, you have to be a bit cuckoo to like it. But, by the same convoluted logic, this negative recommendation is perhaps the strongest endorsement of all. So here goes… Don’t read it. I forbid it!

The Razor’s Edge by W Somerset Maugham

May be it is only my tendency to see philosophy everywhere, but I honestly believe Maugham’s works are the classics they are because of their deep philosophical underpinnings. Their strong plots and Maugham’s masterful storytelling help, but what makes them timeless is the fact that Maugham gives voice to the restlessness of our hearts, and puts in words the stirring uncertainties of our souls. Our questions have always been the same. Where do we come from? What are we doing here? And where are we headed? Quo vadis?

Of all the books of this kind that I have read, and I have read many, The Razor’s Edge takes on the last question most directly. When Larry says, out of the blue, “The dead look so awfully dead.” we get an idea of what his quest, and indeed the inquiry of the book, is going to be.

Larry Darrell is as close to human flawlessness as Maugham ever gets. His cynical disposition always produced vivid characters that were flawed human beings. We are used to snobbishness in Elliott Templeton, fear and hypocrisy in the vicar of Blackstable, self-loathing even in the self-image of Philip Carey, frivolity in Kitty Garstin, undue sternness in Walter Fane, the ludicrous buffoonery of Dirk Stroeve, abysmal cruelty in Charles Strickland, ultimate betrayal in Blanche Stroeve, fatal alcoholism in Sophie, incurable promiscuity in Mildred — an endless parade of gripping characters, everyone of them as far from human perfection as you and me.

But human perfection is what is sought and found in Larry Darrell. He is gentle, compassionate, single-mindedly hardworking, spiritually enlightened, simple and true, and even handsome (although Maugham couldn’t help but bring in some reservations about it). In one word, perfect. So it is only with an infinite amount of vanity that anybody can identify himself with Larry (as I secretly do). And it is a testament to Maugham’s mastery and skill that he could still make such an idealistic character human enough for some people to see themselves in him.

As I plod on with these review posts, I’m beginning to find them a bit useless. I feel that whatever needed to be said was already well said in the books to begin with. And, the books being classics, others have also said much about them. So why bother?

Let me wind up this post, and possibly this review series, with a couple of personal observations. I found it gratifying that Larry finally found enlightenment in my native land of Kerala. Written decades before the hippie exodus for spiritual fulfillment in India, this book is remarkably prescient. And, as a book on what life is all about, and how to live it to its spiritual fullness in our hectic age, The Razor’s Edge is a must read for everybody.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t “get” Catch-22 the first time I read it. That was some twenty years ago, may be I was too young then. Halfway through my third read a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized – it was a caricature!

Caricatures are visual; or so I thought. Catch-22, however, is a literary caricature, the only one of its kind I have read. Looking for a story line in it that ridicules the blinding craziness of a cruelly crazy world is like looking for anguish in Guernica. It is everywhere and nowhere. Where shall I begin? I guess I will jot down the random impressions I got over my multiple reads.

Catch-22 includes one damning indictment on the laissez-faire, enterprise-loving, free market, capitalistic philosophy. It is in the form of the amiable, but ultimately heartless, Milo Minderbinder. With inconceivable pricing tactics, Milo’s enterprise makes money for his syndicate in which everybody has a share. What is good for the syndicate, therefore, has to be good for everybody, and we should be willing to suffer minor inconveniences like eating Egyptian cotton. During their purchasing trips, Yossarian and Dunbar have to put up with terrible working conditions, while Milo, mayor to countless towns and a deputy Shaw to Iran, enjoys all creature comforts and finer things in life. But, fret not, everybody has a share!

It is hard to miss the parallels between Milo and the CEOs of modern corporations, begging for public bailouts while holding on to their private jets. But Heller’s uncanny insights assume really troubling proportions when Milo privatizes international politics and wars for everybody’s good. If you have read The Confessions of an Economic Hitman, you would be worried that the warped exaggerations of Heller are still well within the realm of reality. The icing on the cake comes when someone actually demands his share — Milo gives him a worthless piece of paper, with all pomp and ceremony! Remind you of your Lehman minibonds? Life indeed is stranger than fiction.

But Milo’s exploits are but a minor side story in Catch-22. The major part of it is about crazy Yossarian’s insanity, which is about the only thing that makes sense in a world gone mad with war and greed and delusions of futile glory.

Yossarian’s comical, yet poignant dilemmas put the incongruities of life in an unbearably sharp focus for us. Why is it crazy to try to stay alive? Where is the glory in dying for some cause when death is the end of everything, including the cause and the glory?

Along with Yossarian, Heller parades a veritable army of characters so lifelike that you immediately see them among your friends and family, and even in yourself. Take, for instance, the Chaplin’s metaphysical musings, Appleby’s flawless athleticism, Orr’s dexterity, Colonel Cathcart’s feathers and black-eyes, General Peckam’s prolix prose, Doc Daneeka’s selfishness, Aarfy’s refusal to hear, Nately’s whore, Luciana’s love, Nurse Duckett’s body, the 107 year old Italian’s obnoxious words of wisdom, Major Major’s shyness, Major — de Caverley’s armyness — each a masterpiece in itself!

On second thought, I feel that this book is too big a chef d’oervre for me to attempt to review. All I can do is to recommend that you read it — at least twice. And leave you with my take-away from this under-rated epic.

Life itself is the ultimate catch 22, inescapable and water-tight in every possible way imaginable. The only way to make sense of life is to understand death. And the only way to understand death is to stop living. Don’t you feel like letting out a respectful whistle like Yossarian at this simple beauty of this catch of life? I do!

The Unreal Universe – Reviewed

The Straits Times

pback-cover (17K)The national newspaper of Singapore, the Straits Times, lauds the readable and conversation style used in The Unreal Universe and recommends it to anybody who wants to learn about life, the universe and everything.

Wendy Lochner

Calling The Unreal Universe a good read, Wendy says, “It’s well written, very clear to follow for the nonspecialist.”

Bobbie Christmas

Describing The Unreal Universe as “such an insightful and intelligent book,” Bobbie says, “A book for thinking laymen, this readable, thought-provoking work offers a new perspective on our definition of reality.”

M. S. Chandramouli

M. S. Chandramouli graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in 1966 and subsequently did his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. After an executive career in India and Europe covering some 28 years he founded Surya International in Belgium through which he now offers business development and industrial marketing services.

Here is what he says about The Unreal Universe:

“The book has a very pleasing layout, with the right size of font and line spacing and correct content density. Great effort for a self-published book!”

“The impact of the book is kaleidoscopic. The patterns in one reader’s mind (mine, that is) shifted and re-arranged themselves with a ‘rustling noise’ more than once.””The author’s writing style is remarkably equidistant from the turgid prose of Indians writing on philosophy or religion and the we-know-it-all style of Western authors on the philosophy of science.”

“There is a sort of cosmic, background ‘Eureka!’ that seems to suffuse the entire book. Its central thesis about the difference between perceived reality and absolute reality is an idea waiting to bloom in a million minds.”

“The test on the ‘Emotionality of Faith,’ Page 171, was remarkably prescient; it worked for me!”

“I am not sure that the first part, which is essentially descriptive and philosophical, sits comfortably with the second part with its tightly-argued physics; if and when the author is on his way to winning the argument, he may want to look at three different categories of readers – the lay but intelligent ones who need a degree of ‘translation,’ the non-physicist specialist, and the physicist philosophers. Market segmentation is the key to success.”

“I think this book needs to be read widely. I am making a small attempt at plugging it by copying this to my close friends.”

Steven Bryant

Steven is a Vice President of Consulting Services for Primitive Logic, a premier Regional Systems Integrator located in San Francisco, California. He is the author of The Relativity Challenge.

“Manoj views science as just one element in the picture of life. Science does not define life. But life colors how we understand science. He challenges all readers to rethink their believe systems, to question what they thought was real, to ask “why”? He asks us to take off our “rose colored glasses” and unlock new ways of experiencing and understanding life. This thought provoking work should be required reading to anyone embarking on a new scientific journey.”

“Manoj’s treatment of time is very thought provoking. While each of our other senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch – are multi-dimensional, time appears to be single dimensional. Understanding the interplay of time with our other senses is a very interesting puzzle. It also opens to door to the existence possibilities of other phenomena beyond our know sensory range.”

“Manoj’s conveys a deep understanding of the interaction of our physics, human belief systems, perceptions, experiences, and even our languages, on how we approach scientific discovery. His work will challenge you to rethink what you think you know is true.”

“Manoj offers a unique perspective on science, perception, and reality. The realization that science does not lead to perception, but perception leads to science, is key to understanding that all scientific “facts” are open for re-exploration. This book is extremely thought provoking and challenges each reader the question their own beliefs.”

“Manoj approaches physics from a holistic perspective. Physics does not occur in isolation, but is defined in terms of our experiences – both scientific and spiritual. As you explore his book you’ll challenge your own beliefs and expand your horizons.”

Blogs and Found Online

From the Blog Through The Looking Glass

“This book is considerably different from other books in its approach to philosophy and physics. It contains numerous practical examples on the profound implications of our philosophical viewpoint on physics, specifically astrophysics and particle physics. Each demonstration comes with a mathematical appendix, which includes a more rigorous derivation and further explanation. The book even reins in diverse branches of philosophy (e.g. thinking from both the East and the West, and both the classical period and modern contemporary philosophy). And it is gratifying to know that all the mathematics and physics used in the book are very understandable, and thankfully not graduate level. That helps to make it much easier to appreciate the book.”

From the Hub Pages

Calling itself “An Honest Review of The Unreal Universe,” this review looks like the one used in the Straits Times.

I got a few reviews from my readers through email and online forums. I have compiled them as anonymous reviews in the next page of this post.

Click on the link below to visit the second page.