Monday, 27 January 2014

Good vs. Bad

Whenever we do a good deed, we feel a sense of accomplishment or happiness. In the pursuit of chasing happiness, we try to maximise the number of good deeds we do and minimize the number of bad deeds. Not only religion, but the personal sense of satisfaction of doing a good thing is what drives most to do good things. But is this just an illusion? A fa├žade? Many find pleasure in doing things that would be considered “wrong” by a common person. What makes psychopaths, murderers, rapists and general criminals do what they do? In which way are they different?

There seems to be a general belief that these kinds of people have their brains probably “wired wrong”. But then, why is it this way? Many theories suggest that the notion of good and bad/evil stems from beliefs and values that get ingrained and learnt since childhood or even infancy. A child learns from his/her parents that hurting someone else or breaking things is bad. As the child grows up, society (in the form of teachers and elders) teach the child that one needs to do “good things”. In a religious family, the concept of “heaven and hell” or something similar to that.

Over time, the child develops a very strong sense of right and wrong and this becomes so ingrained into the sub consciousness of the child that the brain starts to release the pleasure/happiness chemicals whenever doing something “good”.

However, what if the society/parents did not teach the child what is good or bad? Or what if the child had a traumatic experience that shocked the brain into perceiving the world different from normal? Turns out, a majority of psychopaths, murderers etc. seem to have undergone at least one such experience in their early childhood. Some of them are orphans, had abusive parents, or had a neighbourhood in which many “wrong” things were considered normal, such as selling drugs, carrying firearms etc.

Living in such a world, the child quickly tends to form a very protective shell around oneself and the only things considered “good” are ones which are to the direct benefit to the child or lead to its survival. No wonder, their consciences with respect to harming others are unaffected by doing anything.

This makes one wonder, do we feel emotions only because we have been told since infancy that we should? Is it actually a forced feature of the human mind?

Dexter, from the TV Series named after him, cannot feel emotions unless he kills. By the code of Harry, he only kills criminals who have escaped the justice system. The reason for this is because of an extremely traumatic incident that occurred even before he could remember anything. Acting like he can feel emotions is the only way he can survive in this world.

But what if all of us are only acting out emotions? What if none of us really feel anything but “feel” emotions only as a result of our subconscious remembering what is good or bad? These remain questions to be pondered about for a long time.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Life after Death

Till recent times, scientists have believed that there is no way to know what happens after death, and that after-life, even if it exists, could not be proven. In the recent past however, there has been an increase in the number of ways in which people have started to think about this pretty common question, “What happens once we die?”

Most religion profess of some form or the other of “heaven” and “hell”, and many religions profess of rebirth. While not much can be said, scientifically, of the heaven and hell theory, many scientists now believe that rebirth may not be a farfetched idea. In a universe which is truly infinite, anything that can happen, must happen at some point of time or another. If we assume consciousness to be a manifestation of the physical arrangement of atoms and molecules, then at some other point of time (maybe in the very distant future or past), the atoms of your body which have split apart after your death, come together in a very similar form leading to you becoming conscious again. Since in the time that you’re “dead”, you have no notion of time, when you’d just die and wake up in a similar world (which could be different in a very important aspect such as whether dinosaurs are still living or as negligible as what you had for breakfast in the morning).

A similar theory, however, assumes that the universe may as well be finite, but that any “choice” or “decision” taken (even in the quantum physical sense of the word) may lead to a split of the universe into a parallel one. Hence, if you die in “this” universe, you’d be alive in an infinite number of other universes. Since we only are conscious when we are alive, we never will experience death. We tend to continue in whichever universe we live in. (Though this’d mean that we’d never lose in Russian roulette)

Sci-fi fans, however, propose that life is merely a simulation being done by a more technologically advanced civilization. That civilization too may itself be virtual, hence, we may actually be a simulation in a simulation in a simulation (and so on). This was formalized and brought to the attention of the scientific community by Nick Bostrom in 2003, with a paper titled 'Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?'

Atheists, on the other hand, believe in the theory of “nothingness” which says that consciousness passes back into the oblivion that existed before birth.

Personally, I like the persistent illusion theory that Einstein supported. It says that linearity of time is but a mere persistent illusion; that past, present and future are merely states of the mind. If a person died before me in this world, it’s only my illusion of time that tells me this. Reality may be very different.

Which one of these theories are true? We probably will never know, but we may even probably never need to know. With advances in science and medicine, it may be possible to stop or even reverse aging. Fatal wounds or infections could be remedied instantly. In such a world, “death” may just become folklore or a myth. Will this happen in our lifetime? And what kind of consequences will this have? We do not know yet, but the answers to these sure will lead to many interesting new breakthroughs.