This is water

My friend S sent me a link to the talk titled “This is water” by David Foster Wallace a while ago. Stumbled upon it again today and wanted to share it on my blog as well. I think the videos add a bit more personality, so here they are:


The talk is quite zen-ish :). My favorite part is this

“You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship. Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

I like his “everybody holds something sacred – you just pick what you worship” viewpoint. When the world seems like a crazy place, our unconditional beliefs can help us cling on to life and help us move on. I think it’s best to acknowledge this issue and consciously think about this to minimize the discrepancy between our thoughts and actions. I am reminded of a quote by Sujatha from here:

“ஒன்றின் மேல் நம்பிக்கை வேண்டும், ஏதாவது ஒன்று. உதாரணம் கடவுள், இயற்கை, உழைப்பு, வெற்றி இப்படி எதாவது… நம்பிக்கை நங்கூரம் போல. கேள்வி கேட்காத நம்பிக்கை. கேள்வி கேட்பது சிலவேளை இம்சை. நவீன விஞ்ஞானம் அதிகப்படியாகக் கேள்வி கேட்டு இப்போது தவித்துக் கொண்டிருக்கிறது.”

My translation: “You need to believe in something unconditionally, God, Nature, Hard work, Victory – anything. Faith is like an anchor. Unconditional faith. Questioning is sometimes a nuisance. Modern science asks too many questions and has been suffering now”.

So, what do you believe in? 😉

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Parva

Recently read the book “Parva”, a reinterpretation of the Mahabhatha by S.L. Bhyrappa. I have been meaning to read the Mahabharatha for quite some time now and Devdutt Patnaik’s video, where he says “‘good guy triumphs bad guy’ interpretation is a very pedestrian interpretation of the epics” was another trigger. I wasn’t interested in the version involving gods and divine powers, but more interested in the characters’ perception of “right and wrong” and their thought process behind their choices. A friend suggested Parva, which turned out to a be a pretty good fit for what I was looking for. I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in a non-mythological interpretation of the Mahabharatha.

Some quick summaries:

Goodreads:
“Parva considered to be the Magnum Opus of Bhyrappa, is the interpretation of the Mahabharata from the point of view of 20th century mind. The Mahabharata story is removed from its mythological elements and the whole theme and characters are placed in the historical time of 12th century B.C in India. Bhyrappa spent five years in researching the social, economic and cultural details of the period.”

Wikipedia:
“Parva is a non-mythological retelling of the Mahabharata and is widely acclaimed as a modern classic. The story of the Mahabharata in Parva is narrated in the form of personal reflections of some of the principal characters of the epic. Parva is unique in terms of the complete absence of any episode that has the element of divine intervention found in the original.”

My own summary? After reading the book, I just felt “Such is life” — and that I think is the best tribute to an epic novel. There is no absolute “right/wrong”. Most of the story is narrated via reflections of the characters and their struggle with their own conscience to do what is “right” and their emotions after the so-called “victory” — something that you can relate it much more to the “gray” shades of everyday life. For a related post, see “The world is not binary” by my friend Shree. An important advantage of this narrative style is that it teaches life lessons. Literal interpretations can be confusing since
moral rules vary over time and space in societies (eg. polyandry and niyoga were acceptable in ancient India and even in some regions today), but people always judge the past according to the current society’s lenses — hence it’s easy to dismiss a message by questioning the morality (according to today’s standards) of the messenger. One other question that popped in my mind at quite a lot of situations was “But, is it fair?” — but I don’t want to open that door now :).

I wanted to quote sections from the book, but there were simply too many :). I will just mention that Bhima turned out to my favorite character in the book. He is brutally frank, has no respect for authority/social norms and more importantly, his actions reflect his thought process. I felt that the parts where Bhima and Draupadi reflect upon their relationship were etched out brilliantly. I am curious to read Prem Panicker’s Bhimsen as well, which an interpretation of Mahabharatha from Bhima’s viewpoint.

🙂

Time

This poem is based on an youtube comment by natskivna here. I find the concept of time very fascinating — for quite some time now, I have held the view that time is Nature’s trump card — this video/poem is a little tribute.

Time.
Time to live.
Time for moments.
Time to reflect.
Time to confront.
Time to accept.
Time to endure.
Time for hope.
Time to be.
Time passes.
Plenty of Time.
Not enough Time.
Time.

🙂

Changing the world

This post was triggered by two articles related to Phil Libin’s talk on “Why startup?”:

‘My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “dont do it”‘

To change the world is a terrible reason to do a startup

I am a very pro-startup guy, but I think the second article raises a very important issue that few startup founders acknowledge. In fact, I think the issue is a bit deeper and penetrates other professions as well (eg. scientists). It came up first in a discussion with my roommate and I think it deserves more attention. The issue is this: a very frequent reason for the “why startup?” question is “change the world/ make the world a better place”. Sounds good (maybe even inspirational), so let’s ask the next question: “change the world for whom? make it better for whom?”. What’s the model of the world that you are assuming? Truth be told, majority of the startups build products for an audience which can afford their product and or can do OK even without the product. A huge population of the world (mostly living in poor third-world countries) does not even have basic health, sanitation and education facilities. If anyone deserves a better life, isn’t it them?

If you think about the set of startup founders who try to build a new product or scientists trying to discover something new, the probability of success is pretty low, the probability of changing the world is even lower. How many companies create tools that profoundly change the world? Probably a handful that includes Google, Amazon and the like. You are more likely to change the world if you take up a job which satisfies your “minimum life expectations” and honestly trying to make a change in the life of someone you know: you can teach someone, adopt a child or actively support your favorite NGO. So, why this obsession with creation of new things? money? fame? the hope of leaving behind something bigger than yourself? the pride (for lack of a better word) in “being different”? or maybe because working with people sounds less glamorous? if you think startups are hard, try actually dealing with people on a day-to-day basis. I think the pro-startup guys demonize the “mediocre 9-5 job” folks when they talk about changing the world; this could be a side-effect of defining a person just in terms of their professional career. Maybe they should think about acts that change the world on an absolute scale instead of just professional careers? I am reminded of a quote from Jeff Bezos’s talk: “… one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever”.

My usual response to any scenario that involves a lot of people interaction is “well, that’s not really for me”. I personally enjoy creative and intellectual tasks. I do them mainly because they make me happy, not because I believe I make the world better (though I would like to believe I do ;)). I think understanding and accepting what truly motivates us is the first step towards discovering a life of happiness and purpose.

Paul Buchheit wrote a great article titled ‘I am nothing’. I will quote my favorite section:

“… The truth is often threatening, and once our defenses are up, it’s difficult to be completely honest with anyone, even ourselves … True self improvement requires becoming a better version of our selves, not a lesser version of someone else. But without self acceptance and understanding, how can we even know what that looks like or whether we’re headed in the right direction? It would be like putting the final touches on the Mona Lisa while picturing some celebrity you saw on the cover of People magazine — the result would be a mess. Until we let go of our mental images of who we are or who we should be, our vision remains clouded by expectation. But when we let go of everything, open ourselves to any truth, and see the world without fear or judgement, then we are finally able to begin the process of peeling off the shell of false identity that prevents our true self from growing and shining in to the world. And it starts with nothing.”

🙂

calvin and hobbes

Mr. R recently sent me this link ‘sixteen things calvin and hobbes said better than anyone else‘. Thought I would make a collection of links related to Calvin & Hobbes and Bill Watterson.

Why Bill Watterson is our hero‘ – a collection of 25 cool calvin & hobbes strips

The road taken, a poem by Bill Watterson

Interview with Bill Watterson

Bill Watterson’s commencement speech at Kenyon college.

I highly recommend exploring all the links above; calvin & hobbes is probably one of the funniest and crispiest takes on life and philosophy. My favorite section from the commencement speech is –

“…. But having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

🙂