February 24, 2011

What Motivates Us

I’ve been thinking about what motivates us to be who we are. And what is quite surprising is to realize how much our minds are not really our own in some ways. Sam Harris acknowledges how much our minds are subject to societal influences. The truth of that is obvious and needs to be underlined and highlighted.

What constitutes basic needs and what is a luxury? The answer to that would depend on the level of affluence (or the lack thereof) of the society in which you raise that question. Is ownership of a car a sign of affluence?

Similarly, what is appropriate clothing for females is again subject to societal norms. There’s a whole spectrum of what is right in this context. Is this IMPORTANT? It would appear it is. We tend to often accept things as the right thing without realizing how relative and contextual things really are.

Culture is obnoxious. So is religion. They impact us in ways big and small. I find it uplifting to see and read Richard Dawkins. I find it offensive when Deepak Chopra utters a lot many words without really saying anything meaningful at all.

It’s impressively disgusting to see the intellectual dishonesty of Chopra or for that matter Ram Dev, Ravi Shanker, Sai Baba, etc.

It’s uplifting to have some modicum of understanding about the universe we live in. the theory of evolution has done a spectacular job of explaining the complexity of life on Earth. Modern medical science performs miracles everyday. A heart that has stopped beating can be made to beat again. Or, we can purposely choose to stop a human heart from beating and then restart it like a clock.

Cosmology lets us understand the lifecycle of stars. We now know that we are starstuff. We routinely theorize about the evolution of galaxies.

Modern astronomy has been spectacularly successful in letting us know precisely where we are. The observations made thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope have forever altered humans as a species.

We routinely drive vehicles on the surface of Mars and explore its rocky surface. Someday, we’ll make vehicles that will explore the surface of Titan. But that day is not yet upon us.

Meanwhile, what I observe in India is a blind subservience to dogma. The dogma of religion and tradition and rituals. That clearly and greatly frustrates and infuriates me. The problem with dogma is this. When people choose to (voluntarily or otherwise) circumscribe and surround their lives with dogma, they deprive themselves from leading richer lives. They basically sell themselves short.

Man is a social animal as the old saying goes and so we always look for co-conspirators. The scientific method with its need for observational evidence and experiments that can be repeated exhilarates me. I disproved the existence of god for myself a long time ago when I was a kid. I made a simple experiment: I stood on open ground and said to god that I’ll close my eyes for five seconds and then open them and in the meanwhile there should be a large sphere of gold lying in front of me on the grass — let god drop a large sphere of gold from the sky to prove his existence. My wish was never granted. I never saw that sphere of gold.

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