Category Archives: literature

Mind and its mysteries

Took the day off from my normal routine, as I was feeling tardy since I awoke. Remnants of the happenings I had experienced in sleep mode? Do not know.
Was reading all day, on the monitor, that is. First, “The doors to Perception”, by Aldous Huxley. (My son had uploaded for me a sizeable collection of e-books) about his experiments with the drug “mescalin” and his conclusions about the possible effects of “chemicals” on our perception, some of which such as “adrenchrome” may be spontaneously produced by our body. So, poets, painters, musicians etc. whom we refer to as the “gifted ones” may in fact owe their genius to their neurobiology. And mystics too, may be capable of an altered consciousness because of the way particular regions of the brain many have developed or the chemicals produced by their cells and that is perhaps why they become aware of a reality that is denied to the general population.

Went on to read a couple of essays by a guy named Ingrid Solano , that I had bookmarked a few weeks ago , which was also a take –off on the same subject , with relevance to our notions of “right “and “wrong”. The gist of what he says is that our sense of right or wrong can be impaired by the biological condition of our brains, in that, our sense of empathy, which is the basis of moral behavior ( do unto others as you would have done unto you) may become kind of numb and while we may still intellectually understand something as “wrong” , we may not “feel” the effect of our actions on others and hence lose what we generally term as “guilt” or “compunction”.

Then there is Charles Darwin and his view that an understanding of morality is best based on a study of the evolution of Man and that a moral sense can exist even in a person who has no belief in a higher Intelligence from whom the rules of behavior are believed to emanate according to most religions that have existed and are existing. Morality , according to him, can come from an instinctive understanding that if one “acts for the good of others , one receives the approbation of fellow men and gains the love of those with whom he lives.”

James Rachel’s , “Created from Animals:The moral implications of Darwinism “ and Frans De Waal’s , “Good Natured:the origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and other animals “, also propounded on the same issues, as one can gather from excerpts that can be accessed on the internet. Social instincts/morality work towards greater harmony among groups or in other words, what promotes the best interests and harmony in a group is what is generally considered as moral. But there is apparently a hierarchy , altruism first coming into play within the closest kin, then to the group, then to each and every member of one’s species.

As a rule, they say, reciprocal altruism will not occur when individuals are unlikely to meet again and that it requires good memories and stable relationships. To see oneself in the plight of another is the basic building block of morality. So that would mean, that the more “evolved” we are, the greater should be our capacity for feeling a connection with the rest of our species and to other species as well . We should also then assume that for the “evolved”, their neurobiology would be such as to predetermine such altruism and harmonious behaviour would come naturally to them. In other words, it is part of their genetic make-up. As for those whom we consider, ”misanthropists”, or as a “deviant” or “psychotic”, it could just be that they are chemically compositioned that way?

There is a quotation from Marquis De Sade which was quoted in this context in one of the essays I read. “One must feel sorry for those who have strange tastes, but never insult them. Their wrong is Nature’s wrong too; they are no more responsible for having come into the world with tendencies unlike ours, than are we for being born bandy-legged or well proportioned.”. So then, “right” or “wrong” really has no basis for being “applauded” or condemmed. It’s just the way we are. And we owe ourselves some compassion. One can understand that.

Chemical imbalances in the brain can be triggered off by distress and trauma. Accidents and illness can alter the disposition of our brains. Mystics can have a heightened consciousness which gave them a sense of reality, much larger and intense than ordinarily available to the rest of us. All of this one can understand at an intellectual level. But how do we get to be hardwired in the way we are? Why do we get to undergo the particular circumstances that become the cause for distress or sets off a particular mental or “spiritual” experience? Is that where the “karma” theory comes into play? Do we still have something called “freewill” that will determine our evolution , both as individuals and in terms of this homogenous mass of “ human consciousness” in this universe, hurtling itself forward to “God” knows where?


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Iris and John-the marriage of true minds

Totally unconditional love that does complete justice to Shakespeare’s sonnet  “Marriage of true minds”. That is what the story of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley represents.  For someone who has been fond of reading , I feel almost guilty now for never having read any of her writings.

The film  “Iris” , directed by Richard Eyre is based on John Bayley’s book “An Elegy for Iris”. The film  tells the story of how the two met in Oxford where they were both teaching and then flits back and forth  , bringing out starkly the vivaciousness of the younger Iris and the vulnerable , helpless human being she had become in her later days, when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Their personalities didn’t seem to match at all . She is the confident , outspoken , spirited one and he is gawky and naïve in comparison. But of course they must have recognized something in each other that they knew would outlast the peripheral impressions of compatibility. The characters are so well acted out by Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as the younger Iris and John and by Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the aging couple , coping with the effects of the disease that had incapacitated her even in her normal day to day activities.

Imagine someone, who regarded words and expression of thoughts as something that was of paramount importance to the human existence, suddenly hitting upon a total blank. How frightening that must be. How much of love and patience must he have had to help her through each little tiny act through days and weeks and months.

I’ve always marvelled at the way, filmmakers in Hollywood and in the U.K choose actors to play the different roles and the meticulous way in which they try to portray them  even lookswise. Out of curiosity I googled for pictures of Iris Murdoch and John Bayley  and was struck by the close resemblance the actors seemed to have with the originals, both in their younger days as well as in their advancing years. Of course there is any amount of learning to be done by our film industry here  in India , particularly in the case of Bollywood films, but this aspect is something no one even really bothers about.

Iris is a must watch film for many reasons..for reaffirming belief in true and unflinching love, for excellent direction and editing, for wonderful acting and for increasing one’s awareness of a malady that seems to leave you totally at the mercy of the love and patience of your dear ones.

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Posted by on April 27, 2011 in literature, Movies


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“The world is too much with us”

One of the books that I had long wanted to read and has stayed teasingly in my mind long after I had read it is,  “One straw revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Fukuoka, who had been trained as an agricultural scientist, left his job to take up traditional farming in his village, minus all the modern techniques of agriculture, the chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Following a method of farming that was as close to the way in which natural vegetation thrived, he has been able to make a convincing case of how Man’s departure from the natural state of being has in fact been detrimental in more ways than just leeching of the soil and failure of crops.

Here are some excerpts :

“ Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is as if a fool were to stomp and break the tiles on his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution”.

“The farmer became too busy when people  began to investigate the world and decided that it would be good if we did this or did that. All my research has been in the direction of not doing this or that . These thirty years have taught me that farmers would have been better off  doing almost nothing at all.”

“The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity’s trying to accomplish something. Originally there was no reason to progress and nothing that had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a movement not to bring anything about.”

I wonder how many will agree with that and yet there is an increasing acceptance of the view that  the human race has perhaps  really  over estimated  our control over nature. The long term dangers of chemical farming, the adverse effects of global warming and the threat of global food shortage looming large have all been responsible for a  renewed interest in the traditional methods of natural and organic farming .

Most of the time, we are not even aware of the subtle ways in which the chemical toxicity of pesticides and fertilizers affect our health. But sometimes, the consequences are too obvious to ignore. How the usage of endosulfan in cashew plantations of North Kerala caused major health problems for the people there, particularly the children, is one such sad story.

Apart from the farming aspect, I’m intrigued by the philosophy of not wanting to accomplish something and just letting   ourselves be. People talk of “quality of life”, but what exactly does that mean?

What Mankind has constantly been trying to achieve , I feel, is to prolong the period of our stay on this planet , to postpone death. Just think, if we were willing to die just as readily as animals die , if we just considered ourselves as a part of this whole flora and fauna phenomenon, exulting in our existences , just accepting each day  from dawn to dusk  , eating of what was available around us, when we actually felt hungry , growing just enough for our needs, resting in the shade , listening to the gurgling brook, finding warmth in an embrace at nightfall, making love with a mate , slowly falling asleep after silently talking to the stars, having children , watching them grow and then when the time came just happily passing away, letting others continue , where we had let off, then none of any “scientific and technological” interventions would’ve been necessary. Left to the natural processes of balance , the population of our species would have maintained itself at a level of sustainable stasis.

But somewhere along the way, we alienated ourselves and having done that, we became scared of perishing, of not being there at all and so started the attempts to push death further and further away. What we have been taking  pride in the  most, is that we have succeeded in increasing the longevity of our life span. And now we rue the fact that the population increase is the basic reason for all the problems that confront the modern world.

It has become such a vicious cycle ,  more diseases than ever before because of the increasing rate of interferances in the natural order of things, more  effort being put in to contain them , more longevity and there it goes on spiralling upwards…I vaguely remember a poem by the famous Malayalam poet Kunjan Nambiar,  in which he wondered at a state of affairs where no one died. The poem was satirical , but it clearly has been lost on us.

After exhausting ourselves in the heat and hullabaloo of the madding crowds, why do we long to run away to some isolated retreat , where we can just be doing what our ancestors who roamed around in animal skins were doing…watching the clouds pass by, listening to the raindrops , sitting by the waters with our feet playing with the ripples, watching the sunrays kiss the snow? Why does that harmony still spell unadultered joy?


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