Vanity thought #965. Cosmos E5

I guess I’ll just follow the series and write something about each episode as they come out. Even if the show completely degenerates it would still be worthwhile to discuss its failures.

The latest episode, fifth in the series, was officially about the nature of light but Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the presenter, also spent a lot of time trying to hammer in his message about scientific method. Practically all the scientists he mentioned as having contributed to discovering the mysteries of light were also described as some sort of modern day humanitarians believing in democracy, pioneers that were born a few hundred years too early.

To be honest, at times the pitch appeared so cheesy I wanted to puke. By this measure it’s already the worst episode so far, and it’s not its only problem.

NDT started with ancient Chinese philosopher Mo Tsu. I’ve never heard of him but, apparently, NDT was faithful to history on this one. Mo Tsu, or however his name is spelt, there are many variations, was indeed the first one to build a sort of camera obscura. He also developed a kind of philosophy, mohism, many parts of which would resonate with modern vision of democracy saving people from totalitarianism and promoting equality for all.

NDT mentioned that Mo Tsu didn’t believe in fatalism and so thought that our future is in our hands, a very handy idea for modern atheism, but at the same time he excluded Mo Tsu’s belief in divine beings that award each one of us fruits of our karma.

Cherry picking historical facts to suit his own agenda, as usual.

Oh, and the fact that Mo Tsu was the first doesn’t mean that everyone else followed – he lived in China, on the other side of the world, and his followers were heavily prosecuted long before Chinese could have brought his invention to the West. Modern day Camera Obscuras were apparently invented without Chinese intervention.

There’s also one major blunder in the show – NDT claimed that China takes its name from the first Qin emperor. Not at all. Chinese word for their country, Zhōnghuá, simply means Middle Kingdom. The word China IS related to Qin but not to the emperor, instead it was the emperor who added the name of the state to his own title. The word Qin itself is of Sanksrit origin.

This might seem like a minor mistake but not if you take into account how evil that emperor was made to look on the show, burning books and burying “scientists” alive, and the implication that modern day China considers him important enough to have their country named after him. It’s just a cheap shot at geopolitical rival. Subtle but cheap, and based on distorting the facts.

Next the show moves onto the Muslims and how great and scientific there were about a thousand years ago. It’s a well deserved tribute from a western perspective, Indians might have different impressions of Muslim rule, but it still sounds less like a science show but a lesson on how to behave towards our Muslim brothers, how to see them as descendants of a great scientific tradition who had their present stolen by Islamic fundamentalists.

Well, some say that Islamic fundamentalists are not against science and democracy per se, theirs is a backlash against western colonialism first and foremost and things like science, rights, and democratic aspirations are just a collateral damage.

Then we are taken to Isaac Newton again, then again to Hershel, and in the process we are given a simple explanations of light spectrum, prisms, telescopes and the like. If you haven’t been paying attention to science classes at school, this show is just for you.

NDT also mentioned several amazing and unexplained things about the light as opposed to any other waves we observe in nature. How is it possible for photons to instantaneously accelerate from nothing to the speed of light, for example. He also finally mentioned that for those traveling at the speed of light time freezes but, unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate.

Maybe it’s just me, but we still talk about the speed of light as speed – as covering a certain distance in certain time, 300,000 kilometers in a second, for example. The reality, however, is that speed of light is infinity – it doesn’t take any time at all to cover any distance. One traveling at the speed of light is instantaneously transfered from here to the edge of the universe and back. Instantaneously as in no time at all.

We could say that such a person would be omnipresent. Or that light is omnipresent – the same photon exists simultaneously everywhere in the universe, it’s only in our time frame it might take it billions of years for light from a distant start to reach us here on Earth but for photons themselves time would not exist at all, they’d be simultaneously spread throughout the entire universe.

If you think about it, it’s a mind blowing revelation but mind blowing is not what this show is about, it’s about lulling people into a false sense of security that science has figured it all out.

Another thing that was misrepresented on the show is the electron. They made a cool CGI effect for electrons flying around protons and jumping orbits, it looked impressive, but the thing is that electron is not a thing, it’s a wave. It doesn’t fly around a nucleus per se, it’s a wave that vibrates around the nucleus, just as a guitar string vibrates between two points where it’s attached to the guitar itself.

If you really want to draw atoms with electrons in them you should draw diagrams showing probability of electrons’ locations, because that’s all we really know about it. Quantum mechanics is all about probabilities, not actual positions or values.

Sometimes electrons behave like particles, true, but without showing their wavelike properties it’s like taking a picture of one’s behind for a driving license photo. Yes, it’s your behind and you really have it but you should put a picture of your face as your identifying factor. There’s little benefit in arguing that people can be identified by their behinds as well, faces is what makes us easily distinguishable and that’s that. Similarly, drawing electrons without showing their waveform properties does them injustice.

It does injustice to those watching the show, too.

I guess the point of having this show is to catch as many ignorant, possibly retarded people as possible before Creationists lay their hands on them and brainwash them into believing that the Earth is only six thousand years old.

So it’s politics, not science.

It’s a fair game, I suppose, but then there’s also nothing wrong with exposing this show for what it is rather than for what it pretends to be.

Hmm, over a thousand words in this post and not one of them about Kṛṣṇa.

However, I propose to closely consider the idea of ordinary light displaying properties of Brahman. It won’t take us closer to Kṛṣṇa on its own but I sense there are a lot of indirect insights to be had there. Brahman realization is a natural step to knowing Bhagavān, too. Might be even necessary.

Vanity thought #902. Cool shade of Brahman

Impersonal Brahman realization is a big no no in our society and māyāvādīs are our sworn enemies so today’s topic might be slightly controversial.

I think I’m graduating from complaining about “bad” ISKCON news to all Kṛṣṇa conscious news altogether, even if completely kosher. Increasingly, I notice materialistic undercurrents even when devotees talk about purely Kṛṣṇa conscious matters. There’s nothing wrong with it, that’s the point of discussing these topics in the first place – to cleanse our material aspirations through talking about Kṛṣṇa so I have no valid reasons to complain and I won’t, but it’s not something I want to read most of the time.

Quite often these articles are written in the form of answering questions even when they are not in Q&A format per se. There are some devotees whose writing I can spot simply by the number of questions in their opening paragraphs and they keep piling up as we read along. I like this format myself, it allegedly stimulates open thought process in the mind of a reader who is then not simply consumes answers in easy to digest form but compares them with his own ideas and reads the text critically, which supposedly deepens his understanding of the subject even if he does not agree with the author. “Critically” here does not mean criticizing, it means “involving skillful judgment”, so no offenses are being made.

There is a couple of problems with this approach. First is that readers are lazy. If questions are not engaging then they won’t read past that first paragraph, which happens to me all the time. Second is that questions might be simply inappropriate and should be discarded out of hand.

These two are somewhat related but the second reason is special in that if the author sets the wrong mood and asks wrong questions then we simply take his unwanted association. Truth is, not all our questions are about Kṛṣṇa, quite often we want to address problems of our own sense gratification, gross or subtle, like when we want to “understand” something, ie improve problem solving power of our minds rather than learn something about God. This happens subconsciously and the author himself doesn’t see it as non-devotional but the danger of passing the wrong mood is still there and should be avoided, ie the answer should be mu – question needs to be unasked and its premise rejected.

Let me give an example. It’s not the worst example in any sense and it doesn’t deserve any kind of criticism, I’m just being nitpicky here, on any other day I’d even praise it, but there’s a point to be made about it still.

HG Chaitanaya Charan Prabhu was once asked why Lord Rāmacandra killed Vali and he gave a comprehensive and clear answer, straight from Rāmāyaṇa itself. First, Lord Rāmā explained that Vali was not fair to his younger brother so he wasn’t innocent, then He said that He was entrusted by King Bharata to punish evildoers, and, finally, that Vali was a monkey and hunters can kill animals from any hiding place.

There’s a long background to this story, Lord Rāmā killed Vali while hiding behind a tree, which is against principles of fair kṣatriya battle, which is why Vali complained in the first place, but the reasons for animosity between Vali and Sugriva are too long to describe here and are irrelevant.

Speaking of the answer itself – it’s not as solid as it appears because the reasons given by Lord Rāmā are contradictory. First, he treats Vali as a wrongdoer and applies dharmic principles suitable for men, which qualifies Vali to be punished but then He treats Vali as a monkey.

If Vali needed to be punished he should have been challenged in an open battle and could not be shot from a hiding place, and if Vali was a monkey than why did the Lord apply human dharma to him at all? He clearly didn’t see Vali as simply an animal, why mention it then, even if in theory?

So, is the answer satisfactory? It depends, as devotees we accept whatever Lord Rāmā did as perfect and His explanations as complete, but as sticklers for the rules the answers appear to be evasive. This killing of Vali was later used as a criticism against Lord Rāmacandra just as His treatment of Sītā after defeat of Rāvaṇa. We don’t accept this criticism as justified but others do and they can point to the śāstric rules and regulations. Personally, I’m perfectly okay with Chaitanya Charan Prabhu’s explanation but I have a problem with the question instead.

This is a materialistic approach to the sacred story, the question arises only from the point of view of dry rulebooks, judging Lord’s behavior by common standards, devotees should never do that. This is the subtle contamination I was complaining about above – question should be unasked and proper attitude established first. We shouldn’t see the Lord through the eyes of materialists and absorb their doubts. It’s impossible to completely avoid such questions while living inside our bodies but I’m speaking of pure, fully liberated devotees.

Just think of it – if we didn’t treat Rāmāyaṇa as a collection of interesting stories and great plot twists but actually saw Lord Rāmacandra in its pages we would never ever ask questions like that. We’d be in a state of complete shock, samādhi, and our material minds would have been turned off. This is not happening now because we still treat the book as mundane and we still don’t have the vision of actual Lord.

Our understanding of it is materialistic and I propose that it should be rejected. If we don’t feel Lord’s presence we should discard our own imaginative interpretations of His pastimes, ie treat them as material, just as impersonalists do. It would look exactly like what they say about devotees – we are sentimental people who need sentimental stories that are not on the real spiritual platform, like Brahma sūtras. I concur.

All these materialistic interpretations obscure the beauty of the Holy Name when it manifests itself either as a book or as our mantras. This imperfect thinking about Lord’s pastimes distracts us from the Lord Himself and should be stopped. We know that personal realization of the Lord is greater than realization of Brahman but Brahman is still greater than our materialistic vision. Brahman is cool, once we learn to discard our mental worries we would learn to appreciate the beauty of stillness of the mind. It would be exactly like bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇaḿ Lord Caitanya mentioned in Śikṣāṣṭaka.

Am I advancing impersonalism here? Not at all. Even if I advocate seemingly impersonal solution it should come from chanting of the Holy Name and should be only a temporary step while we wait for the Lord to reveal His personal form.

This isn’t a post about news or questions or writing styles, it’s a post about japa and how it’s better than engaging our minds in flights of fantasy. What I say is stop thinking, start listening, ignore the mind, hear the Name. Even if our appreciation for the Name is very very faint the Name still has more power than all the attractions in the entire universe. It’s not a theoretical exercise, it is perfectly possible to catch those rare moments when all inferior concerns even about legitimate subjects fade away and all we yearn to hear is only the sound of the Name, nothing else.

It’s not realization of the personal aspect of the Absolute yet, it’s approaching perception of the Brahman, but nevertheless it’s cool, can’t have enough of it.

This is not bragging either – I’m just trying to distill the essence of what keeps us engaged in our service. It’s not the external factors, it’s our attraction to the Name, I’m just applying neti-neti approach to discard all alien matter.