Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Skepticism

On Consciousness

Why am I doing this?

(You can skip to the next section if you want to bypass my opinionated rant in defense of the scientific method)

Now this word “consciousness” has been used so many times by so many Tom, Dicks and Harrys around the world, that anyone who watches a 20-minute Sadhguru or Deepak Chopra (Deepu) video online will think that they are now experts on the supposedly “mystical” field of spooky “consciousness” that even “science” (whatever their understanding of it is) knows so little about and thus the scriptures (and their books) will now come to the rescue by uncovering the mysteries of human consciousness through – wait for it – speculations!

Well, speculation is a major part of the scientific process as well, no doubt, but to assume that speculation single-handedly will solve the consciousness problem (without even a single drop of empiricism/critical thinking/experimentation/scientific consensus/data processing), is wholesome ignorance. And what do you mean by “even science cannot understand it properly”? Is science a dude who is confused about something? No man, science is just a tool. When you utter such ill-informed turd-speech it sounds like you’re saying “even hammer cannot nail properly, it bashed my finger instead”. The problem is not in the hammer – but your clumsiness. Likewise, the problem is not in science because there are some gaps in Human knowledge – but instead in inherent and oftentimes unavoidable human biases and assumptions which form the major part of the limitations of what we call the scientific process/method. We need to be clear on this basic fact. Science is just a tool – but the best we have till now to uncover facts about reality. Also it’s not bad that scientific facts keep updating, it’s good to update something, and it’s bad – always – to not update information.

From the above few paragraphs you must have figured out that I’m not a big fan of Jaggi Basudev nor the notorious Deepu. They are highly intelligent, charismatic, benign-looking, charming brown guys who talk about supposedly “eastern” and “mystical stuff” that no one understands. Well congratulations – even they don’t fully understand what they are talking about. If someone does understand what they are talking about then there’s no need to talk in circles and riddles and poetry and what not. You also don’t have to add jargon such as “quantum” or “engineering” to your claims to make you sound credible. There’s only one way to actually become credible – by being intellectually honest and to not talk about something you haven’t understood. And why not be straight-forward while explaining concepts?

For example, if the question is “how heavy is this watermelon?” then the answer should be “it’s X kgs/Lbs” and definitely not “Look, if we assume that this potato is a certain weight and we are to reflect on it’s quantum superfluence, then we can say that it is X as well as Y Kgs/Lbs.” Well, you technically have the right to say that but good luck trying to make sense to any reasonable human being. You do have the right to be ignorant and stupid, but why be ignorant and stupid when you have options to not be? What I’m talking about is this idea called the “First Principles” or in other words “Foundational Reasoning”. What this fancy philosophical word implies is that basics can be explained in simple terms to understand the premise about a certain knowledge. Because if our initial premise is wrong then any argument derived from such a start is not worth examining. So it’s vital in philosophy to get our premise right – and that is where I do not agree with men like these – their very foundations are shaky. They usually argue from an erroneous premise, that nothing esoteric they say ever makes sense unless it’s something about practical life advice or general human wisdom (which even an uneducated old lady in a village might tell you from experience). This is why people like Jaggi and Deepu are never straightforward and have no choice but to talk in riddles and are also compelled to use unnecessary jargon. Should you listen to these people? Entirely your choice. But should these people be trusted when they challenge a scientific principle? Perhaps not, because clarity and precision is vital to the scientific method.

Having a beard, the title of a ‘guru’ or even a medical degree doesn’t automatically make us experts on every “sciency” subject out there. In that sense, even I am not an expert on consciousness. For actual science, you need to go speak to a proper Neuroscientist or read (and properly understand) their elaborate scientific work. What I am trying to do through this article is to reiterate some ground-level facts that are well-established in the field of Neuroscience when it comes to the ever-so-sexy topic of “consciousness”. I’ll be using simple English and simple language because that’s all we need to discuss the basics of any established scientific concept. And below, I’m going to talk about the basics starting from these most talked-about topics when it comes to consciousness: limitations of science, consciousness, perception, identity, death and afterlife. Because I believe that everyone should understand something for what it is and not what they want it to be. But again this article will still not be accurate scientific information (this is not how science works, this is just communication of scientific information to the public). For actual science you would have to train yourself to be able to read and interpret complex scientific information and concepts through scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Doing science is hard, talking shit about science is easy – you just have to use the psychological defense called denial to justify your psychological errors in reasoning known as biases.

Limitations of science

(This is where the real thing begins)

Science cannot figure out everything. This is something that everybody knows, but do they really understand what they think they know? Let me establish something first – there is no western nor eastern science. There is just science. We either have outdated science or updated science. Most of the time updated science with latest information is what scientists or practitioners of evidence-based medicine/tech look for and what progresses the field of science and technology. With no updates, that knowledge is likely to get stagnant and redundant. For example, Ayurveda used to be an actual science during the times of the Maurya Empire in India, but then no one ever updated the practice as time went by (they still believe there are three humors that cause diseases, even in a post-germ theory era), so this makes Ayurveda an outdated science. Other examples of outdated science – bloodletting, leech therapy, astrology, alchemy etc (which were once thought to be scientific until newer evidence came about).

What is science? It’s merely a tool like a hammer as I’ve mentioned above. It’s a tool used by Homo sapiens for observation and documentation of their surroundings. Science, as erroneously assumed, is not even a body of knowledge. Bodies of knowledge can be based on scientific data following people’s observations. People’s observation of scientific data can and have been wrong. This error could arise due to lack of appropriate technology at a particular time or just errors borne out of human clumsiness or mal-intent. When the appropriate technology is available, or when new techniques to reduce errors are developed, new data can be better interpreted to build upon the old body of knowledge. This is how science is self-correctional and thus a continuous process. Unless you’re of some alien species who have discovered another tool better than science, you’re compelled to face the limitations of science. Like it or not, science is till now the best way of acquiring information on anything, and it’s supposed to keep updating. That’s how it improves. What matters for our discussion is scientific evidence in the present. If you think you’ve found something better than the scientific method to uncover the truth about the universe, then you should show us how that works – you’d be doing everyone and humanity a huge favor. But note the word – “show”, don’t just tell.


To be very honest, we (humans) don’t know how to describe it in one word and to quantify it objectively, but we do know for a fact that what we call consciousness definitely arises from our brain. Unlike Rene Descartes’ dualism, which used to be widely accepted until about 70 years ago, we now understand that without the brain there will be no conscious experience in animals (including humans) – because the high level of powerful correlation is very obvious. And every time we conduct experiments to see if conscious experience exists outside of the brain, we will fail, because the brain seems to be the limit. Now before you pat yourselves on your shoulders for “defeating science”, we do know quite a lot about consciousness though. People hold the assumption that scientists try to solve the problems of consciousness through just high-school physics, chemistry and biology concepts (although the basics do require them) and are unaware that a monstrously vast field called neuroscience exists as well and it uses the same simple scientific principles used in high-school science classes. And why not? It works.

Consciousness we know is not at all a single entity. We understand that it is borne out of a process inside the brain. For us to be consciously aware, we need to have all those processes working together. We could also say that consciousness itself is a process, but that would be incomplete and sometimes misleading. To understand it simply, I have to use the analogy of vision. If you ask me what vision is, I’ll give you a similar answer: we don’t know how to describe it in one sentence, but we do know that it’s something borne out of a process involving our eyes and our brain. Light (photons) will strike the retina (which comprises of nerve cells) and evoke electrical signals inside the nerves that lead into various regions of the brain. The processing neurons (nerve cells) inside the brain (mostly in the backside of the brain known as occipital cortex) will process the information received through the retina and interpret it as vision. So honestly, in crude terms, what we know as vision is just an illusion. It’s our brain interpreting certain wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum as “something significant” which we call vision. In reality there are just photons and wavelengths reflecting off surfaces, but we see them as colorful information – an illusion, albeit a practically important one because it helps us navigate our way through physical space.

Likewise, for consciousness to arise, it involves a complex interplay of neural and environmental processes (External stimuli, reticular activation area, cerebral cortex, sensory nerve tracts relaying information, complex group of nerve cells in various regions of the brain, nerve cell metabolism and molecular interactions, neurotransmitters, synapses etc). These concepts are sadly too broad to be discussed in detail here, so perhaps another day and another article. Awareness of the self (including sentience), and awareness of our surroundings are some facets of the broader concept of consciousness. We feel that we are aware and sentient, but we cannot quantify it as in we cannot tell exactly how much aware or sentient we are. We can, however, observe and determine the basic fact – whether we are conscious or not. All we need to do is to kill the brain completely (like in brain death) and we will notice that the person is now not aware nor conscious. But mere observation can be misleading, so let’s use technology to aid our observations and give us more accurate data. We could map brain waves (Electroencephalography or EEG) for this purpose. We can see patterned brain waves during awareness as well as during sleep. Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not a state of unconsciousness, but instead that of low awareness. We can still see specific brain activities in our brains while we are sleeping. But when blood supply to our brain is completely stopped (massive stroke) and our brain completely dies (even if our heart and lungs may still be working through mechanical assistance) then we notice that brain waves (except for expected artifacts) are now absent. If you’re not satisfied by EEG then you can also use another technology called a functional MRI (fMRI) to document the same. fMRI is a technique that detects blood flow to the brain and correlates that to brain activity. We could also use a PET scan – which shows metabolic activities inside the brain cells, which can then be correlated to basic brain activity. Whatever methods we use, we’ll always see with a great degree of confidence that when the brain is dead, activities inside it disappear and with them our consciousness and awareness as well. We’ve made this correlation in so many people by now that they sufficiently tell us that for conscious awareness to appear in humans, the brain needs to be functional. If conscious awareness were to exist outside the human brain as dualism or theological schools of thought proposed, then we should at least see some people in a sample of thousands, if not millions, maintaining at least some awareness when the brain is completely and irreversibly dead.

This much is enough to establish the fact that consciousness cannot exist outside the human brain. If you think it does, then you’ll have to objectively show a completely brain dead person being at least minimally aware. All we need to establish this fact is foundational reasoning/first principles coupled with available evidence. We know with great certainty that the brain is the source of conscious awareness. This effectively makes the dualist argument void.


How do we perceive something? The simplest description of perception could be that it signifies the interpretation of physical information by a certain processing unit, after that information is received by a receiving unit – and in the process becoming aware of that physical information in the processing unit’s own unique way.

I’ll go back to the vision analogy again; when the brain receives the wavelength/photon (light) information via the retina and optical nerves, it tries to tag those bits of information by assigning the illusion of color vision. What are colors anyway? They are merely the brain’s own interpretation of wavelength perception – colors do not exist in the physical world outside a certain nervous system, they are just a way of the brain for it to sort raw electrical data into something orderly. So colors are like the brain’s way of labeling information, sorting things to make it easier for it to detect different wavelengths of light and to change their host’s behavior accordingly. Similarly, our brains interpret different frequencies of molecular vibrations as “sound”. Vibrations occur in the physical world, not sound. Sound is merely perception, a way for the brain to sort the vibrational frequencies into orderly information for the same purpose as for light information.

Likewise conscious perception can be said to be an umbrella phenomenon comprising of thousands of different channels of similar perceptions throughout our body. To understand perception in the simplest way, we definitely have to forget the famous idea of the “five senses”. Simply because there are way more than 5 and even within those famous 5 major organs, there are different sensory receptors that relay a diverse range of sensory information to different areas of the brain. Namely, apart from the famous 5, we have a kind of position sense in our joints called proprioception, we have sensors in muscle tendons and also inside the muscles, we have sensors inside other organs as well, and we have a vast assortment of receptors in the skin for specifically different kinds of sensations (so just saying skin senses touch is a severe understatement). When the entire nervous system works to relay all these different information through billions of nerve tracts and clusters to the brain – it has a task of organizing all those sensations in an orderly way so that it can interpret them accordingly to change its host’s behavior. For example, if we lose our sense of pain in our feet (as in chronic untreated diabetics) then we may unconsciously injure them while moving or by wearing tight shoes – only for them to be gradually infected as we may not be aware enough to take care of the wound. Of course if we lose one sense, there are always others to fill in the gap (like blind people still being able to move about by feeling or hearing), but a relay of many different sensations to the brain and their interpretation at all times (even during sleep) is crucial for us to be consciously aware of our surrounding and ourselves.

Now remember the vision and sound analogy I mentioned above, our brain perceives light as the illusion of ‘vision’ and molecular vibrations as the illusions of ‘sound’ and it similarly does the same for other sensations as well. To talk simply, our perception of the physical environment is broadly just a collection of different illusions that feel like one. By now you may be comparing the brain to a simple model of a computer. There are inputs, there is a central processing unit, and then there is an output. Well, this is not exactly true. What is similar could be the concept that this illusion of perception that we are talking about could be likened to the software in the computer which is projecting onto the monitor through a graphical user interface. When a computer receives any external information, it is converted by some transducers or receivers into binary information (1’s and 0’s), which is then processed by the processor unit and then relayed towards an output source again as slightly modified binary information, which the output device (monitor) translates into pixel form so that the human observers can understand them. Now if we cut the channels from the processor to the monitor on a computer, the human observer cannot make sense of the information (even if it is being processed by the processing unit). This is where I think we can point out how the brain differs from the computer. The brain acts both like the processing unit as well as the human observer! Think about a computer chip that is self-aware – and we have something that is closer to what the brain is. In short, the brain is like a sentient computer chip.

Well, to be honest again, the brain as a whole cannot be always likened to a single processing unit. I did that above to give you the big picture. To be fair, we should say that the brain is a collection of 86 billion-plus processing units. Sometimes it takes just one nerve cell to act as a processing unit, sometimes it takes a group of them – but the established fact is that the brain has multiple processing areas, as well as observing areas. We don’t understand the full process at a detailed molecular and cellular level, but we are getting closer and closer every year because of innovation in newer technologies. To be fair to the brain, it deserves to be misunderstood and hard to study, because out of the 20,000 genes in our body, 14,000 of them are expressed in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) – 70% of our genes are involved in the development of the brain and spinal cord and it’s not surprising to me as to why these are the most complex organs in the entire biosphere. So how can anyone versed in neuroscience believe that the mind is not inside the brain?

And since our brain interprets its own perceptions in various different ways (the details to which are still being studied), we know for a basic fact that conscious awareness is an illusion borne out of a process that occurs nowhere else but inside the brain. How do we know this? How does Rene Descartes’ concept of dualism (mind and body being separate) not hold today? Because this basic fact can be demonstrated, repeatedly, in any organized setting, by anyone who understands what the scientific process actually is. This is why I keep repeating the simple rhetoric – you are what your brain makes you and your brain is nothing but the generator of your ‘self’.


“You are what your brain makes you and your brain is nothing but the generator of your ‘self’”.

Identity is something that is very dear to us all. Each of us have either an assigned identity or a conditioned identity. Our identities could be assigned to us by someone else outside of our own choice (like our names or tribe membership such as nationality at birth), or instead by ourselves later on as we develop our own choices (changing from your birth name or caste or nationality to another). Conditioned identity is something you assume for yourself because it’s always been there since you were born (eg. like a rigid sense of identity associated with religion or nationality). I’m not implying they’re good or bad, they’re just the way things are. For this article however, we are not going to talk about identity assigned by others. But what determines these other identities in life? What makes us who we are? What does identity comprise up of?

Most people must be aware of the nature versus nurture debate. To understand what identity is and how it comes about in the broadest sense, we have to replace the “versus” with “and”. It is nature and nurture, because the two broad factors are not mutually exclusive. By nature, we mean everything that has little to no human control and is purely due to our biological structure and physical environment – such as our genetic composition, the way our nervous system develops inside our mother’s uterus, the diseases or injuries we contract at or right after birth or later in life, our IQs. By nurture, we mean something which has a direct influence of the human society – the society or community we were born into, the kind of parents or guardians we had as children, the kind of friends we hung out with, the kind of relationships we have or had in life and so on. As we grow older, our senses accumulate various information from the environment that are processed by our brains – while the nervous system is still in development. Now our brains may process those information differently for everyone because everyone’s brains are similar yet simultaneously very different. And these complex and intricate interplays between nature and nurture and the constant processing of information by the brains and their resultant correction, regression or improvement of our memories and behaviors will eventually give us a sense of identity at some point in time. This is because our brains stop developing as rapidly after 26 to 30 years of age compared to childhood and we are more likely to adopt a rigid sense of identity after this rough cutoff.

A simpler way to think about this is by imagining a clone of yourself. Let’s say that you cloned yourself and now this clone-baby is born from a borrowed human womb. You try to provide that baby with the exact conditions of your childhood and observe him grow up until it reaches your age when you cloned it. The question is, will the clone of yourself become you? Theoretically, if you exactly mimic each and every condition of your childhood down to the femtoseconds and can control your clone’s biology to be exactly like yours at all times, then perhaps the answer would be a yes. But in practice and in reality, it is always a no. Because in reality there are so many things you can never control and no two events always play in the same expected manner or sequence. Because of the sometimes random and sometimes orderly nature of the universe, nature always errs; and since people are part of nature, they err while nurturing their babies – even if they are their exact clones. Another simple and realistic way to understand this is by looking at identical twins. Identical twins are always a clone of each other – but during the course of their lives, they develop their own tastes and their own sense of identities, personalities and choices. So there you go – nature and nurture with a touch of randomness and sometimes order are responsible for our unique sense of identities and personalities (second law of thermodynamics, i.e. entropy). But the brain is still the limiting factor, you can’t have none of that without a functional brain and nervous system. So even your identities and your unique yet familiar personalities aren’t outside the brain.

Death and afterlife

What happens when you die? That depends on how you define death. Now philosophically, death occurs when you cease to exist in this world that you and the people in it know. Scientifically, in the crudest and most general of ways, death is defined as the point in time when your organic body ceases to function, including the brain, and especially the brain. This is one reason why brain-death (a condition when only the brain is dead but your body is still alive) is so important socially as well as legally. It is the source of your awareness as well as your identity. When this organ ceases to function irreversibly, you cease to exist.

Now people may argue that the “idea” of this person whose brain just died will still linger on despite the brain being dead. This is true to a certain extent though. This person is objectively non-functional and will now never perceive (because the brain doesn’t heal itself once it’s dead). But it seems to the untrained and unaware people as if the subjective part of the dead person still lives – which many people call this person’s ‘soul’, and that is understandable. This “idea” of the person’s identity, which people think transcends his physical body, is possible because of the other brains which are perceiving and have memories of his behavioral characteristics stored in them. So in their brains, their perceptions and assumptions about this now physically dead person still exists. And this very much explains as to why the concept of the “soul” or the mind transcending the physical form, is so ubiquitous across different human cultures separated by time and space. The soul of a person might actually be information about them stored inside other people’s brains. And no two people will have exactly the same ideas about a specific person at any time. For example, my perception of Jaggi Basudev will definitely differ from those who are closer to him (that still doesn’t give validity to his false claims though).

Because people believed that the mind of a person transcended their bodies, the concept of afterlife probably arose. Because when you don’t have cutting edge science and technology to back you up, it was the prevalent commonsense – people must exist outside their bodies. We know today that the concept of afterlife holds no ground in serious scientific academic studies of any kind. We can try to understand the psychology behind why people believe in afterlife (be it reincarnation or the concept of heaven and hell), but it is utter ignorance to even propose the idea that the afterlife (as described in theology and scriptures) is real. Because it’s an untestable claim and needs a significant amount of denial or dismissal of facts to believe in. An untestable claim because it’s based on only speculation and erroneous premises that cannot be demonstrated at all. When we know for certain that the brain is the seat of our awareness, identities and personalities, it doesn’t make sense in the 21st century as to why we have to assume that these facets will live on outside of the dead man’s brain (except if we take into consideration the memories in other brains). We can try to understand people’s ideas of ghosts, spirits and the soul as their old efforts in trying to understand the nature of reality, owing to the limitations in technology during their time. But in the 21st century, assuming a supernatural explanation to confirm one’s belief in the afterlife is nothing more than turning a blind eye to evidence. Maybe it gives them comfort, or maybe that’s their coping mechanism after losing a loved one – but it’s sad to point out that they are absolutely incorrect. It’s as simple as that. We don’t need a middle-ground for this. It’s very well established. You live on after death only as information stored in other people’s brains – but do all those information sum up to become exactly you? Perhaps not.

Wrapping it up

So there’s absolutely no doubt that the brain as a whole is the seat of our conscious awareness, our personalities, our memories, our choices, our actions, our preferences, and our sentience. Is a bacteria sentient? Perhaps not. Are we sentient? Yes we are, and our brains are evidently responsible for that.

Some of us find It really hard to digest the fact that our existence is mostly material. That doesn’t mean that the subjective (immaterial) world does not exist at all – it does. Imagination, metaphysics, fiction, thought-experiments, ideas, aesthetics are real information. I’m just saying that they have a material basis and do not exist independent from the brain. We need the brain to experience and share our subjective sensations with other people who also have similar brains that are capable of interpreting our language. We communicate subjective information through the use of languages in different forms. This is a prime fact that separates us from the lower primates and mammals, we use language as a means to communicate information generated in our individual brains. Even a dog is sentient and self-aware, but their range of interaction with their species and other animals is limited when compared to that of our species. This is because our brains have evolved into a much more complex form that can generate language and also interpret them – allowing us to document our observations and thoughts (even abstract ones) and to communicate them successfully to other members of our species. This is how we can successfully communicate complex information across ages and boundaries to create societies and then civilizations. The language generating brain is what makes us human, allowing us to objectively as well as subjectively assess and interpret data about ourselves and our surroundings.

It might be hard for most people to accept the material nature of our self-awareness because they do not have another species or life form to compare themselves to. The only language-speaking sentient life-forms we know till now are Homo sapiens. So until we find an alien species that are similar to us or instead we build artificial intelligence that trick us into believing that they are self-aware and conscious, some of us may not accept the brain theory of consciousness at all. In short, until we can successfully replicate self-awareness and sentience in machines, we may not fully understand the philosophical question posed by Thomas Nagel – “what is it like to be a bat?” Now this is an interesting and constructive topic we all can discuss about as it is an open question. But how will we even rationally approach it, if we do not understand to accept the basic premise that the brain is the seat of all subjective experience?

Even if we can think about distant stars and visualize far away nebulas and then can come back straight into reality to think about other people, ourselves and our daily chores, we have to understand that the whole phenomenon was being processed inside some of the nerve cells within our brains. The only things science doesn’t understand is where and how exactly these phenomena arise in the brain, but there’s no doubt that it’s somewhere within the brain. This fact may seem unbelievable, counter-intuitive and reductive, but that’s the way it is – we have to accept facts for what they are and not how comfortable we want them to be. And unless we can demonstrate (just talk is not enough) the fact that the mind is independent of the brain, our argument will hold no credibility and is not worth consideration at any time whatsoever.

Neuroscience, Philosophy, Science, Technology

On Intelligence Paradox…

If you think about it for a while it may make sense. To explain our existence from an origin-perspective, the teleological argument (that we have a predetermined purpose for existence) soon turns out into a negative – an unfalsifiable idea. The idea of an intelligent creator or creators, whether be it a certain god or a computer programmer simulating us all, is subject to the same old circular reasoning as implied by the teleological argument. So even if personalities like Elon Musk have made it famous, for the “fascination” of many people, I am quite apatheistic in that regard. It’s an interesting thought experiment – but that’s it, until we have anything solid on this subject matter (we may never, to be fair to the negative). Abstract thinking is desirable, but perhaps we shouldn’t take anything that is abstract much too seriously than practically warranted.

Talking about purpose, this one idea I really like is that of the purpose of intelligence in general. And this is not a predetermined purpose as in the teleological sense, but rather a purpose that is in the making (or perhaps is already nascently existent). We know that complex or abstract systems can originate from simple physical or non-physical combinations (eg. John Conway’s ‘The Game of Life‘, language, ant or termite colonies, People in dancing flash mobs etc). Complex behavior can ensue from just a few simple arrangement of neurons (such as the enteric nervous system moving our guts independently and under influence from the autonomic nervous system, or take any arthropods or worms for that matter). So an organisation of neurons even more complex than that of nerves in our guts or in a cockroach, without doubt, is capable of generating virtually infinite permutations of complex behaviors (like when talking, generating written language, doing science and so on).

As contemporary philosophers and cognitive scientists have deduced for a while now, that it is us who assign a sense of purpose to anything objective or abstract, and not an external force; it can be speculated that the goal of any highly intelligent system such as ours could be directed towards the creation of at least some “purpose”. And such a system could be capable of improving upon itself as time progresses. A self-learning intelligent system becoming more complex with every input of information, to the point of being capable enough to assign abstract purposes to objects or subjects of concern.

As of now, the only intelligent system we know of, that can generate some set of purpose, is within ourselves. We have no other similar system to compare ourselves to yet – be it extraterrestrial or synthetic. So the idea of purpose being the end-product of an intelligent system – can be said to be at present, just hypothetical. We do not know whether the idea of being able to think in an abstract manner or to be able to recognize or assign purposes are just byproducts or offshoots of evolution on this planet, or whether such an algorithm, are but means to every intelligent end – to collect understandings (information) about the universe. It remains to be seen whether or not any synthetic intelligent systems which we design or intelligent systems which have evolved far away from us will have similar (if not the same) end – algorithm establishing purpose. Whether they are capable of thinking only in terms of objective raw data or whether they can, like us, be able to form abstract concepts like a sense of purpose – only time (or maybe serendipity) might tell.

It will be very likely that synthetic intelligent systems that we create in our proximity may mimic our thought modalities and try to serve similar (if not the same) purpose as our own; but we may not be able to proclaim the same for those from another planet. Will they have a communication modality such as language? Will they need language? What may be their world-views? Do they have a similar understanding of science and mathematics as we do? What are the ways they resemble or differ from us? Can they help us conclude that intelligent systems are a universal phenomena of animation, requiring only time, for them to be able to exist? Much remains to be discovered and answered – this much we know for certain. I’d like to call this concept, if I’m allowed, the Intelligence Paradox, in a sense that our idea of universal intelligence (or intelligent purpose) may be limited, mainly by our grounded and thus restricted perception of our own.

Image: from an iteration of John Conway’s code – Game of Life 




This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book: Incognito: The secret lives of the Brain, written by David Eagleman – The Neuroscientist. He talks about the Trolley-problem from the Neuroscience perspective. I found the dichotomy between the ‘rational’ and the ’emotional’ aspects of our brains pretty compelling.

“The battle between the rational and emotional systems is brought to light by what philosophers call the trolley dilemma. Consider this scenario: A trolley is barreling down the train tracks, out of control. Five workers are making repairs way down the track, and you, a bystander, quickly realize that they will all be killed by the trolley. But you also notice that there is a switch nearby that you can throw, and that will divert the trolley down a different track, where only a single worker will be killed. What do you do? (Assume there are no trick solutions or hidden information.)

If you are like most people, you will have no hesitation about throwing the switch: it’s far better to have one person killed than five, right? Good choice.

Now here’s an interesting twist to the dilemma: imagine that the same trolley is barreling down the tracks, and the same five workers are in harm’s way—but this time you are a bystander on a footbridge that goes over the tracks. You notice that there is an obese man standing on the footbridge, and you realize that if you were to push him off the bridge, his bulk would be sufficient to stop the train and save the five workers. Do you push him off? If you’re like most people, you bristle at this suggestion of murdering an innocent person. But wait a minute. What differentiates this from your previous choice? Aren’t you trading one life for five lives? Doesn’t the math work out the same way? What exactly is the difference in these two cases?

Philosophers working in the tradition of Immanuel Kant have proposed that the difference lies in how people are being used. In the first scenario, you are simply reducing a bad situation (the deaths of five people) to a less bad situation (the death of one). In the case of the man on the bridge, he is being exploited as a means to an end. This is a popular explanation in the philosophy literature. Interestingly, there may be a more brain-based approach to understand the reversal in people’s choices.

In the alternative interpretation, suggested by the neuroscientists Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen, the difference in the two scenarios pivots on the emotional component of actually touching someone—that is, interacting with him at a close distance. If the problem is constructed so that the man on the footbridge can be dropped, with the flip of switch, through a trapdoor, many people will vote to let him drop.

Something about interacting with the person up close stops most people from pushing the man to his death. Why? Because that sort of personal interaction activates the emotional networks. It changes the problem from an abstract, impersonal math problem into a personal, emotional decision. When people consider the trolley problem, here’s what brain imaging reveals: In the footbridge scenario, areas involved in motor planning and emotion become active. In contrast, in the track-switch scenario, only lateral areas involved in rational thinking become active. People register emotionally when they have to push someone; when they only have to tip a lever, their brain behaves like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.


Futurism, Personal Opinion, Philosophy, Science

Death of the Biosphere? 

(Transformation of the Biosphere)

Why do we consider inorganic or organic materials made by humans as “unnatural”, when we do not designate the same term to mountains created by tectonic collisions or to elegant rocks eroded for ages by river water nor towards parasites such as Toxoplasma infecting the neurons of lower mammals and altering their behavior?

A typical answer to this question is that what we consider to be “unnatural” could be those entities formed as a result of a ‘sentient intention’ (a sentient being doing something intentionally). But if so, then even a courting swallow is sentient enough to manipulate twigs and leaves to build itself a nest, and not just that, but also decorate it with the intention of attracting a mate. But is a swallow nest “unnatural” to us? If say, the swallows were as cognitively enhanced as we are, from within their solipsism, would their nest be “unnatural” to them then? So perhaps the only option left to answer the question would be from an anthropocentric (human-centric) viewpoint?

If we are evidently products of a natural process, then isn’t it logical to also assume that our tool-making and tampering of ecosystems is most likely a subset of the natural process (i.e the universe itself)? Unless of course, a third omnipotent entity might be puppeteering our actions; of which there seems to be no justification whatsoever. The former notion fits more appropriately, when we also learn the fact that free-will most probably doesn’t exist and that we all behave and make choices as a result of our conditioned heuristics (if not trained to do otherwise). That is saying, in simpler terms, that our brains and with it our personalities and preferences are shaped by the random events of our environment.

For instance think about this; take a tissue from a certain person, Shyam, and clone him. Will the clone bear exactly the same personality as Shyam himself? Will the clone become the same Shyam or a different Shyam? Same can be observed from the differences found in personalities between two monozygotic (identical) twins with exactly the same genetic makeup. How is this, again, not part of nature? And how, also these conditioned individuals’ future decisions, moral codes, ethics, judgement, emotions not be part of nature? If humans decide to construct a tree-house, is it natural or unnatural?

Man man - Natural things
We’ve been taught from a small age about the dichotomy of Man-made and Natural. But I finally think we are mature enough to question this idea. If Man himself is natural, how are man-made things technically ‘unnatural’? 

It is perhaps possible that we may be viewing matters which concern the milieu in which we exist, frequently from only within our solipsism. Because in the blind eyes of reality, a plastic water bottle is as much a component of nature as the keratinous fur over a wild bear. They all come from molecules found within the universe, made from the elements of this universe, and released into the universe itself. It just seems that from within our own solipsism, we perceive a plastic water bottle as “unnatural” and grizzly bear fur as “natural”.

Another example is that we consider paper plates “unnatural” yet we do not often say the same for make-shift banana leave-plates used by ethnicities in Kerala. When both utensils are in fact used for holding our food, why is one considered natural yet the other unnatural? When bacteria protect themselves from viruses with Cas-9 immune system that is considered natural, and when we inject vaccines to survive from the harms of measles or polio viruses, it is somehow unnatural. But again, are they?

Moving on to the bigger picture, why do we consider even human-caused near-extinction phenomenons such as climate change to be “unnatural” when we considered the Ordovician-Silurian extinction (which wiped out more than 85% of life on the planet) some 430 odd million years ago as simply ‘natural’? If the extinction of the Trilobites or the Dinosaurs was natural, why isn’t the possible extinction at the end of this human era considered the same? It most obviously has something to do with our survival. Were it not about our survival, would we still look at climate change with grave eyes as many do today? (Even so, many others still deny climate change despite the fact that it may spell a radical change in human civilization or even spell the end).

Furthermore, would bringing back species of flora and fauna extinct due to human-caused events and reintroducing them to an ecosystem that has moved on without them, be considered natural or unnatural? Are we merely trying to bring back the Tasmanian tiger or the Dodo for our own solipsistic satisfaction or as a moral repent for our “unnatural” manipulation of our surroundings? Or simply, is it because we can do it and we want to see what it’s like to bring back that part of the biosphere which perished from existence for quite a while? In our general moral code, natural is generally considered ‘good’ and anything made by humans that is “unnatural” seems bad. We live with this dichotomy, probably thanks to our slowly evolving psyche which is clearly outpaced by exponential technological and scientific innovations that most of us simply cannot perceive from beyond our anthropocentric views.

Alvin Toffler is an American Writer and Futurist

The whole point of my series of questioning is not about the call for withdrawal of ongoing conservation efforts and the global efforts to try and curb the harshest effects of climate change. This essay is not about addressing such issues, but rather something else. From our species’ perspective going-green seems utilitarian and is, but an effort, to survive and grow. It is an effort of mine, to point out the flaws and paradoxes in just the rhetoric surrounding our existence in the nature around us, our survival and conservation efforts. An attempt to just try to present a supra-human insight on the very idea of human progress itself. I simply question whether we should even need to use the natural-unnatural dichotomy in the first place?

While contemplating about such issues, I can’t help but remember George Carlin. Especially that joke where he said that our rhetoric of ‘saving the planet’ was so out of touch with reality because the planet will still be here for millions of years, it’s us humans who are fucked! So we better be saying ‘save our species and other species’ instead of ‘the planet’. Because in my opinion, as much as our manipulating of nature is for our benefit and survival, it is also a part of the process of nature (of course we are affecting other species and ecosystems because of it) but the planet will stand even if we perish as a species from the planet. Something else may replace us, but that will obviously and definitely not involve us.

My ultimate point is that we may be already at a turning point give or take a few decades or for backup, centuries. Perhaps 50 years or 200 years from now, but in our 70,000 years of walking upon this planet, we are closer to the turning point than ever before. That too, exponentially!

The turning point I am talking about is not that which only relates to us humans, but that which concerns the entire biosphere. There may be a multilateral effect pattern after this turning point (or rather turning ‘period’), but I’d specifically like to talk about only two that interest me the most.

The first is that projection which leads to our species’ extinction. As simple as that. Whether a failure to cope around climate change, or a deterrent-bypassing nuclear armageddon in the face of possible wars for basic resources like water and failure of nation states. Or simply an asteroid strike (one with diameter of just 300 meters could start extinction level chain reactions in the atmosphere if it were to strike our planet). Another stream of extinction could likely be extra-human. Like a superior intellectual uprising after the Technological singularity, i.e machines that outsmart us (Sky net from Terminator) who suddenly decide that they are better without us and treat us like how we treat other lesser intelligent beings like ants when they come in the way of cooking food or building houses. This is a possible projection but it is more dystopian and depressing and surely humans, as survival machines, may fight to prevent such from happening. Only time will tell.

The second projection could also be considered an extinction, but I for once would like to consider it as a ‘transformation’ of sort. The singularity will most probably happen in this one too, but rather than the complete loss of our species, we may transcend into the digital world or cognitively marry in part with the AI which compute more creatively than the smartest of us currently do (Cyborgs; this has already begun; how many of us can actually live smoothly without an essential machine such as our smartphone or PC?). This particular projection is, in my imagination, the one most compatible with the Kardashev scale of progression of civilizations. Since we are currently somewhere between type 0 and type 1, the Transcendent singularity may possibly lead us to type 1 where we can effectively and completely manipulate and control all of the earth’s energy sources, including the weather itself (or even beyond to type 2, where we may enclose the Sun within a Dyson-sphere to harvest its energy).

The Kardashev Scale. Human civilization is currently between type 0 and 1. We are quite not masters of the planet………yet!

This transformation, may in part assimilate with the biosphere as we see it now, as what we call “artificial” selection or “unnatural” selection may be more dominant than “natural” selection itself. In simpler terms, literally “everything” could be now controlled by a certain class of sentient intelligent beings with precision. The dominant “force of nature” now most probably is not a series of random events but carefully thought up ones by thinking beings, for their own benefit. The previously fully organic biosphere may start to now intersperse inseparably with inorganic or semi-organic entities such as silicon or carbon bucky balls or even impalpable entities such as source codes and binary languages of programming rather than that system previously achieved only through the purely organic DNA. Now again, this might be a good time to interject my lingering question: Will this too be considered “unnatural” by talking-sentient beings like us? What aspect is not a part of nature and what aspect is a part, in this instance?

For those of you who are anime/pop culture fans, here’s an analogy with a thought experiment: Would the sentient Autobots and Decepticons from the Transformer universe be considered “unnatural” just because they are inorganic beings? Could they not be as much a part of the universe that they exist in as the Human characters that they befriend or wish to destroy respectively?

An Autobot and a Human from ‘Transformers: Last Knight’

So I think in the end, the word “unnatural” fails outside of our human solipsism. Beyond us, it probably bears no logical significance. It might be a semantically useful tool in rhetoric and motivation or for individuals who think going out for a hike might make them “close to nature”, which also may assign a transient sense of meaning to their brisk lives. But they are indeed unaware that the metropolitan concrete apartment inside which they reside, is as much a part of the universe and nature as the rocky hills of a certain national park that they enjoy hiking upon. The only difference is that we shaped resources in a different way to build an apartment, and tectonic plates utilized the same resources in a different way to build the rocky hills. We do it with intention, the seismic movement of earth has no intentions. But eventually, we’re both accidents upon the planet.

In the end, “we are all stardust” to quote Carl Sagan. Such realizations and thoughts give us an immensely broader supra-human perspective of existence and reality. So it’s always worth asking such questions. Daily things that we do, and ideas that we ponder about. What do they mean to us and what do they mean without us?

In this context, I’d like to sign off with two open-ended questions: Are we nearing the ‘death’ (or transformation) of the biosphere? How do we justify environmental conservation efforts, if even human progress is technically ‘natural’?

Future, Science

If cryonics suddenly worked, we’d need to face the fallout

Much of a cryogenically preserved person’s experience in coming back would depend on the time scale involved. Some enthusiasts are optimistic, using the law of accelerating returns to justify predictions that within the next 30 to 40 years we could develop medical technologies capable of enhancing biological systems, preventing disease and even reverse-engineering aging. If that comes to pass, then there’s a chance that those frozen today would actually be welcomed back by people they knew in their first phase of life – their grown grandchildren, for example.

Read more from BBC – Future – If cryonics suddenly worked, we’d need to face the fallout

Charlatans, God Men, Nepal, Pseudoscience, Rationalism, Science, Skepticism

Nine days without oxygen or nine days without honesty?

Lately there has been quite a buzz around the the Nepali internet community regarding some Sidhha Baba Krishna das, who, along with his disciples and followers, has been claiming to have survived underground in a sealed compartment without food or oxygen for 9 days!

Now it surely is quite an astonishing achievement, defying human physiological limits, if what he’s claiming to have done is actually true.

Krishna Das commencing his 9 day long oxygen less slumber. Image: Annapurna post

At first, when I read the news on some online portal, I thought about leaving it as it is without debunking it, owing to the negative reputation among the public regarding online portals. It’s always a tedious work to debunk something that sounds so obviously farcical. But when I noticed big shot national daily newspapers such as the Annapurna post and National television such as NTV News cover Krishna Das’s story, the conscious part of me noticed that something was not right and thus I was motivated to write a debunk-blog on this.

Without wasting more time, let us examine his claims straight away, systematically.

The Claims made

  1. Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.
  2. He and his disciples and followers stage a demonstration on the above mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.
  3. Annapurna post goes on to report that the air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press (unclear about how many of them were present and whether or not they are affiliated to Krishna Das and his motives).
  4. The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment was not tampered with.
  5. He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!
  6. He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.
  7. As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.
Krishna Das supposedly woke up from his claimed suspended animation. Image: Annapurna post

If we were to only look at his side of the story, and also as reported through various Nepali media outlets, then whoa! This seems to be nothing but a miracle! Chamatkar! But, as with every other Godman and charlatan, there always remain some loose ends and loop holes while they make some extraordinary claim out of the blue to garner public attention and media coverage. Because we should realize that 1) most televangelists, godmen and religious leaders seek mass media for publicity and 2) we live in a superstitious country where national daily newspapers have serious daily segments on astrology and Vaastu Shastra. So it is nothing new for even reputed news portals to come up with credulous stories on some mystical babas or gurus performing some random magical stuff.

What troubles me, and urges me most to write this blog is especially a statement made in the NTV 8:00pm news report today, at a time when a great many people nation-wide are hooked to their TV screens for this segment. The news reader said “Baba claims that his success has demonstrated that Scientific medicine still has not been able to prove anything of this sort and needs more investigation in this sector.

It’s a matter of concern in itself to see major media houses giving room to trivial news in place of the more important ones. It’s also very sad to see them portray some random charlatan as something worth considering, instead of trying to skeptically examine their activities as unbiased press is supposed to do. So I write….

Examining the claims in the same order

  1. [Krishna Das claims supposedly on 25th Chaitra 2072 (7th April 2016) that he can survive without oxygen and food for 9 whole days.] Krishna Das has surely claimed to be able to live for 9 days without oxygen and food, but he is not the first. There have been many claimants such as this one, some who have even claimed to have done so for 15 days let alone just 9! This still doesn’t validate his claim however, as it suggests more than ever of a likelihood of some slick trick up their sleeves. Another one is that of this guy, who claims to have been living for 70 years without food and water. One thing constant in such cases is that these Babas carry out their demonstrations only in the presence of their devotees or disciples and most of the time refuse to participate in controlled experiments to be carried out by neutral third parties, when invited.
  2. [He and his disciples and followers staged a demonstration on the mentioned date where he was to supposedly sleep inside a polythene-sealed supposedly air-tight wooden compartment for 9 days.] His samadhi takes place at his place of choice amidst his followers. It has been said that the whole thing was carried out in the presence of a few unnamed reporters and doctors. It’s not like in a country such as this that doctors and reporters cannot be bought. It’s also wrong to assume that a few doctors and press reporters could not even have been hoodwinked or deceived right there. Unless and until we are to be shown the details as to how the plastic was applied and how the compartment was designed, the whole demonstration loses its credibility.
  3. [The air-tight compartment was placed underground under observation of doctors and press] This is simply not enough. As I have said before, doctors and reporters are people as well and can be easily deceived owing to the overwhelming presence of devotees and disciples. A better way to observe would be to place cameras both on the inside as well as the outside, that are able to provide us with continuous non-interrupted recordings. What makes me doubt is the compartment being made out of wood and placed just a foot under porous soil and sand, which may not seal air completely. The method by which the plastic seal was applied is not very clear as well.
  4. [The sealed compartment was to be buried under 1 foot of soil and sand on top of which holy grass (Jamara) is to be grown, probably just to show that the lid to his compartment is not tampered with.] Nice try, but Jamara and sand are not enough in my opinion. One could easily cover pores with them and they too are not able to make the setup completely air-tight.
  5. [He claims he would be able to do so by the help of a certain unnamed yoga aasan and meditation, which allows him to stop his heart beat for 9 days!] A lot of sadhus and babas have claimed to have been able to do so, simply with the help of yoga and meditation. The most popular claim is them being able to stop their heartbeat completely. The same claim is made by Krishna Das as well. When invited to a fair, unbiased and controlled experiment, most of them refuse or do not attend for one or other reasons. In an experiment, when some claimants were observed under ECG while they meditated, their heart did not stop at all.
    • The average human body cannot survive without oxygen for 3 to 6 minutes.
    • The longest time breath held voluntarily recorded, is 24 min 3.45 secs and was achieved by Aleix Segura (Spain), in Barcelona, on 28 February 2016. This was done under a controlled setup by Guinness world records.
    • Yoga and meditation experts have been shown hold their breaths for longer than the average person who doesn’t do Yoga, but that is still not enough to hold it for a whopping 9 days as we are talking only in terms of minutes.
    • So it is impossible to be able to live even for more than a day with absolutely no oxygen, so 9 days is too extraordinary a claim!
  6. [He projected to wake up on 3rd of Baisakh 2073 (15th April 2016) at exactly 9:35am whence he shall be unearthed from his transient burial.] Well, this is not hard to understand. To be able to predict for exactly how long one can go without oxygen is very unlikely and dubious.
  7. [As promised he does wake up and is uncovered from the compartment at the said date and time.] But certainly if the entire setup is staged, then there would be no trouble in doing so. Anyone can do that. Not surprising.

Let’s come to the science part

Obviously a random blogger such as myself debunking Krishna Das’s claims logically is not enough to disprove him. But that still doesn’t give his demonstration any validity again. What is necessary is a controlled experiment to examine his claims. Because just as Carl Sagan has put it ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. The more profound a claim is, more rigorous should an experiment be in order to try and test the claim. If it passes after such unbiased observed scrutiny then the claim could be considered valid. If valid, such findings would possibly aid the human race with further research in order to be able to hold breath long enough for deep sea diving or maybe even outer-space explorations. If not, then it becomes just another claim without evidence in the market.

So I have designed an experiment for this purpose, which will be able to test Krishna Das’s claims accurately, that also will be immune to any foul play or trickery.

  • Hypothesis:
    • Survival without oxygen (0% Oxygen i.e zero partial pressure of Oxygen)
    • Duration of claimed survival: 9 days (216 hours)
    • Claims this can be done by meditating in a Yogic aasan, which temporarily stops heart beat, while being deprived of Oxygen for 9 days.
  • Set-up and materials required
    • A completely air-tight (or vacuum) chamber that fits an adult human, made up of
      • Preferably hard plastic with air-lock system
      • that is preferably transparent and has a vacuum outlet to remove all air from within the chamber and vacuum it.
      • if transparency is not desired, then a go-pro or any camera system fit on all corners of the chamber inside as well as outside, that records video on continuous shot for 9 straight days

        Air-tight see-through hard plastic container large enough for an adult human to fit in, with air-lock and preferably a vacuum outlet connected should be used
    • a team of significant professionals (certified medical doctors, journalists and technicians) not known to have been affiliated to Krishna Das in any way whatsoever.
    • an ECG (or vitals) monitor placed within the transparent chamber or that which can transmit signals wireless from within the air-locked chamber.
    • A pulse oxi-meter that displays oxygen saturation in the subject, to check if the subject is well and alive just in case his ECG becomes flat as he has claimed his heart will stop in his yogic aasan.
    • A system to monitor oxygen levels within the chamber
    • Camera angles outside the box should be adjusted such as the entire surface of the box from all sides, top as well as bottom, should be visible.
    • A method for immediate termination of experiment should the subject be under serious health hazard.
    • No one apart from the experimenters should be allowed within 10-20 metres of proximity of the setup.
    • The entire experiment is to be televised on a continuous shot with the help of multiple cameras simultaneously able to do so for 9 days continuously.
  • Procedure
    • Setup is prepared accordingly.
    • Cameras roll in a continuous shot able to last for 216 hours straight.
    • Subject (Krishna Das) is allowed as much time needed to carry out the preliminaries (Puja, Yogic practices etc) required for him to prepare himself before commencing.
    • Subject not be allowed to take into the chamber with him any equipment or instrument that helps or aids breathing, his clothing and garments and body surfaces are to be thoroughly checked by the examiners.
    • When everything is ready, subject enters the air-tight chamber with ECG and Pulse oximeter monitors in-situ.
    • Cameras inside the chamber (if any required) is initiated into recording.
    • Air-lock is applied, chamber is vacuumed, subject’s vitals checked and oxygen level inside the chamber checked.
    • No one is allowed within 10-20 metres of the setup.
    • Unless the subject’s condition worsens to critical level or if the subject voluntarily signals for termination, the experiment will not be terminated until the 216th hour is over.
  • Safety considerations
    • Pulse oximeter in-situ.
    • First-aid setup with stretcher.
    • Well-equipped ambulance on the ready.
    • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation setup with the provision of cardiac defibrillator and trained personell.
    • Quick de-vacuumizing setup.
    • Oxygen mask, oxygen cylinder, ventilator setup (machine/bag-mask).
    • Abort:
      • if Oxygen saturation (SPO2) is less than 80% with flat or almost flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 70% without flat ECG.
      • if SPO2 is less than 60% with or without flat ECG.
      • if subject signals for abortion.


Anyone thorough with high school science can understand this experiment and anyone equipped with the necessary budget and time can carry this out flawlessly. It’s a simple experiment anyone can design and perform.

If Krishna Das agrees to take part in this experiment or a similar controlled one, then maybe his claims are worth considerations and worth the time and effort of all the professionals involved. If he refuses, just like other previous babas and sandhus, then he goes straight into the archive of charlatans, frauds and con-artists. Period.


  1. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Commencement of Krishna Das’s venture
  2. Annapurna post [Nepali] – Krishna Das wakes up from his samadhi
  3. Can yogis stop their heart? [English] 
  4. Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse
  5. Bihar ‘godman’ out of sealed pit after 15 days without water; doctors say it’s impossible
  6. Longest time breath held voluntarily
  7. Man claims to have had no food or drink for 70 years


Philosophy, Science

Science doesn’t know everything

“Science hasn’t discovered everything, it doesn’t know everything, so you just can’t be sure!”

I often get this answer when confronting theists in an argument.

They tend to attack the various gaps in scientific knowledge and highlight them out of the context in order to justify that the atheistic world-views are invalid simply because of these gaps not being fulfilled. They automatically assume, then try and validate theology on such grounds.

But… These gaps do not necessarily prove that the world view is invalid.

It is true that science can never test nor prove a negative or something unfalsifiable like the concept of a creator. Much like it cannot prove whether or not goblins or tooth fairies exist in real life. Since we know with reason that goblins and tooth fairies are imaginary, we deduce that their existence is highly unlikely. Similarly, we can apply the same logic to the concept of the supernatural. Then, just like we are all atheists when it comes to believing in goblins, some of us are the same for god as well. Simple as that.

Yes… It is also true that science still has lot of gaps in knowledge, can’t deny that. But in just a couple of decades if not in centuries, humans, with the help of the scientific method, have come to learn a LOT MORE about nature and reality than ever with metaphysics, religion and faith combined; all of which were there for thousands of years before enlightenment.

So one simple question can be asked. Why, while observing or explaining nature, should we even consider those system that have had their chance already and have failed (i.e faith system); when we have already devised a more self-correcting one which happens to work with great efficiency (i.e science)?

Atheism, Philosophy, Science, Secular Humanism, Skepticism

Quest For Skepticism

“Ubi dubium ibi libertas: Where there is doubt, there is freedom.”

– Latin Proverb

From the moment that I decided that I would dedicate my life to scientific skepticism, critical and creative thinking; I have faced many incidents of dissent, profanity, threats, insensitive ad hominem, indecency, wrongful allegations, accusations of being condescending, trying to stir unrest, and many ruined relationships with people, young and old. People consider skeptics like me arrogant and proud, a know-all, a cynic. Their reason: we simply dare to disagree with established notions and claims.

Charvaka/Lokayata is the ancient school of Indian materialism. Charvaka holds
direct perceptionempiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of
knowledge, embraces 
philosophical skepticism and rejects VedasVedic ritualism
and s
upernaturalism. So if anyone says that ‘science’ and ‘skepticism’ are  purely
‘western’ concepts, then 
they are mistaken. Many other independent skeptical and
empirical schools have been known to have risen across many different and
isolated human cultures at numerous instances in ancient history.

I admit that it is hard to become a skeptic. Many people choose to live their lives not wanting to invite argument and trying to become as amiable and affable as they can be, saying arguments have ‘no point’. And I confess that I still have much to learn and maybe I’ve made mistakes in the process of all this, but if I stop with what I’m doing, it will prevent me from further improving my reasoning skills. If I become discouraged, I will loose confidence in all other aspects of my life. And out of everything else, sound reasoning skills and clarity of thought are of utmost importance not only in my daily life to obtain untampered, unbiased information; its important even in my career as a nascent practitioner of (scientific) medicine.

Aristotle, pioneer of the scientific method.

Argument is an important entity of human civilization. Both on philosophical and practical levels. I just do not agree with those people who back off, trying to avoid imminent outcries against dissent, by avoiding arguments. I believe that people who think arguments ‘have no point’ have failed to understand the very definition of the term itself. An argument happens when someone doubts someone else’s assertion, claim or idea. An argument, if logically sound and backed by observable and reproducible evidence, may help to denounce or disprove established notions for them to be replaced by new credible ones. But an argument just for the sake of quarrel, blinded by ignorance and belief-preservation, may be able to convince quite a many for a certain length of time, but in light of overwhelming evidence and reason, will eventually perish. It’s the latter type of argument that have ‘no point’, the former type are full of viable points. And that is what skeptics like me try to do. We argue, we doubt, we express opinions all trying to stay within the forever-expanding boundaries of reason and science.

Take this lesson from history as a case scenario. For centuries majority of humans and majority of cultures held the belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all the heavenly objects including the sun and the other planets revolved around it. From a common sense perspective, it was valid. At every dawn the sun came up from the east and at every dusk, it set towards the west. And observers on the surface of the earth remained stationary. So it was obvious that the sun was moving wasn’t it? Common sense. That idea had remained unchallenged until the time of Copernicus, when he proposed a ‘heliocentric’ model for our ‘heavens’ which stated that it was the Earth (and other planets) which revolved around the sun, and not the other way round. He established the element of doubt, and started an argument. He backed his claims with evidence, observations and calculations based on changes of seasons and transitions between day and night and parallax. And about a century later, Galileo argued with the Roman catholic church backed by his observations trough the telescope and his calculations. Though Galileo was forced to recant his postulations by the Pope, the idea of Heliocentric model for the solar system flourished as other scientists and observers realized the ample evidence in favor of it. We can realize the importance of argument and skepticism to human beings from this historic example itself.

Heliocentric model of our solar system [Not to scale].

One of my favorite intellectual personalities, late astronomer Carl Sagan, explains about the nature of skepticism and relation of skeptics with the public, in his book The Demon Haunted world (Chapter 17 ‘Marriage of Skepticism and wonder’). 

“In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public 

concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore 
the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and 
pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the 
skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what 
our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant 
with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they 
need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with 
kindness. None of us comes fully equipped. 
“Clearly there are limits to the uses of skepticism. There is some 
cost-benefit analysis which must be applied, and if the comfort, 
consolation and hope delivered by mysticism and superstition is 
high, and the dangers of belief comparatively low, should we not 
keep our misgivings to ourselves? But the issue is tricky. Imagine 
that you enter a big-city taxicab and the moment you get settled in 
the driver begins a harangue about the supposed iniquities and 
inferiorities of another ethnic group. Is your best course to keep 
quiet, bearing in mind that silence conveys assent? Or is it your 
moral responsibility to argue with him, to express outrage, even to 
leave the cab – because you know that every silent assent will 
encourage him next time, and every vigorous dissent will cause 
him next time to think twice? Likewise, if we offer too much silent 
assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to 
be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which 
skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous 
thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. 
Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.”

With relation to his idea, I do not expect to influence and make aware a whole lot of people at once. I tend to be realistic. But in my opinion, even if I can successfully influence at least two people in my entire lifetime, I become successful in showing them their hidden ability to think for themselves and to question everything, even established beliefs and scientific theories with reason and evidence at their disposal. I do not expect skeptics like me to change the world overnight, but I think that to change even two people’s way of thinking is a big achievement. The same two people could at least influence other people in their lifetime, and teach them how to think. And the idea of critical thinking could grow like a cell through mitosis. And of course it’s not just about spreading ideas, its about teaching the people the ‘art of being right’ by being able to think for themselves, to question everything and anything and to put up logical arguments. That is what critical thinking is about. To learn to remove our biases, to learn from our’s and others’ errors and to substantiate any claims with reason and evidence. Self-improvement of the mind.

Carl Sagan

Skepticism is not a belief. Its an efficient and fool-proof method to acquire sound knowledge with the use of critical as well as creative thinking. Critical aspect to acquire unbiased information and Creative aspect to be able to apply that knowledge and to be able to think out of the box. And everyone needs this skill. From simple home-makers to make a decision on efficiently finishing household chores, to scientists while doing their research; when buying a pen worth the cost and comfort of your fingers, to buying a satisfying used vehicle for the right price, all for good reasons. It teaches us to question everything, from politics to religion. Skepticism and science are vital tools for any democracy and democracy always thrives on freedom of speech which in turn is essential for critical thinking and science. There’s a triangular relationship between Science, Critical thinking and Democracy. One of them could not exist properly on its own without the other two. Science needs absolute honesty and transparency for it to function properly, and that can only be achieved with freedom and clarity of thought. And freedom needs logical evidence-based arguments and rational decisions to protect itself, and that can be effectively achieved with the help of science and rational thinking.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the key architect of free-speech and modern democracy.

Let me quote a relevant notion put forward by Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and engineer of the constitution of the United States of America, in his Notes on Virginia: 


“In every government of earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved…… “

He intends to tell us that people’s minds must be ‘improved’ for the proper functioning and preservation of any free and just democratic society. As Thomas Jefferson was a well-known rationalist, a free lance scientist of his time and an advocate of free speech, we can be almost certain that the ‘improvement of minds’ he talks about, is actually a reference to our critical thinking capabilities. And why not? If there is anything that can guarantee the improvement of human cognition, this is it. So let us all keep asking questions, try to find out the answers on our own and think rationally as well as creatively. Maybe one day human civilization will be equivalent to the Vulcan civilization portrayed in Star Trek? We never know….

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” 

– Leo Tolstoy


I’m leaving with several links to free online courses on critical and creative thinking. If any of you are reading this blog, please do consider taking any one of these courses. If online courses are not for you, then do read these two books any time in your life (‘You are not so smart’ and ‘You are now less dumb’ by David McRaney). Trust me, critical thinking is eye-opening and life-changing. I suggest all of you to give it a shot. It’s not rocket science! (However rocket science requires it dearly!). 

1) Critical Thinking Web, Hong Kong University (My personal best!) 

2) Foundation for Critical Thinking (

3) Oxford’s free course, Critical reasoning for beginners

4) ‘Future Learn’ Free online course on Logical and Critical thinking – From university of Aukland


Atheism, Philosophy, Science, Secular Humanism

Life and Probability

Life and Probability

All of us who are alive, and who get the opportunity to die, are lucky (i.e, we are the successful outcomes or events of the odds or probabilities of nature.)

Just consider the massive number of events that took place for it to be possible for us to even exist. This life, that we take for granted, is the result of countless permutations and combinations of infinite variety of genes, their assortment, and all the favorable events that took place for their assortment to become possible in the first place.

We are lucky because we get to die, as we have had the opportunity to live. Think about all the uncountable number of failed events or outcomes that never got a chance to flourish as lifeforms: unfertilized eggs, non-penetrating sperms, aborted embryos and the like. Considering these failed events, we are fortunate that every random reaction worked perfectly well and made it possible for us to be born, to be conscious, to be able to live and to exist.

 So just be more curious, don’t take your life, or anything in this world for granted. It is your right to be awed by the things that surround you! Seek for the truth in nature and not in mere scriptures and hollow preachings. Look at life optimistically, try to make a positive impact on society, leave a non-harming and an inspiring legacy behind you. After all, the whole point of science or of spirituality is in seeking for the ‘truth’. And the ‘truth’ or reality is that one day all of us have to let our brains rest forever, withdraw from all the pleasures and gifts provided to us by our consciousness, and accept death, whether we like it or not!