Saturday, 2 August 2014

Straight from the Heart (II) : The Story of My Tryst With My Heart Ailment – II of VII

Straight from the Heart :
The Story of My Tryst With My Heart Ailment

Part-II of VIII

Straight from the Heart (1) : The Story of My Tryst With My Heart Ailment
Straight from the Heart (2) : “Rational” Thinking, Irrational Acts
Straight from the Heart (3) : When the Unthinkable Happened : Angioplasty, 1999
Straight from the Heart (4) : Back to Life as Usual, with a Minor Throwback
Straight from the Heart (5) : Déjà vu
Straight from the Heart (6) : Opening Up to Open-Heart Surgery (CABG)
Straight from the Heart (7) : Post-Operational Recovery
Straight from the Heart (8) : One Year After

“Rational” Thinking, Irrational Acts

Prelude to Disaster

Rational Animal?

It is claimed it was Aristotle’s contention that man is a rational animal, as rationality, according to Aristotle, is an essential attribute of humankind that distinguishes humans from beasts. Was Aristotle right?

When you account for the unprecedented tremendous leap in the human progress over the last two centuries, compared to the millennia earlier, you have to thank science and technology for it, which in turn would not have taken the leap but for human rationality.

However, with deep sadness and alarm you can’t help noticing the other side too—shocking irrationality!

Even when you know smoking is bad for health, you persist with the bad habit. Alcohol has no nutritive value, is only capable of harm, and the body struggles to get rid of it, yet people drink beyond permissible limits, and even engage in binge drinking. Soft-drinks like Coke and Pepsi, fast-food like burgers, and packed-food like potato chips, Kurkure and the like are all junk-food, yet people consume them, and their consumption, especially among the young in India, is unfortunately increasing. Oily, sugary and fatty foods are harmful, yet they are lapped up.

Irrationality is not just restricted to food. It is wide-spread. The worst case being in the area of God and religion and fights over them.
Let us therefore examine in some detail the twin-sides of rationality and irrationality.

Rationality Unlimited

If you were to ask a question on arithmetic, algebra or trigonometry, you would get an exact answer. Even irrational numbers have a rational explanation.

If you throw a ball at say 10 kmph (kilometres per hour) in the same direction as the open vehicle you are travelling in speeding at 60 kmph, then you know that the effective velocity of the ball would be 10 + 60 = 70 kmph. However, if instead you show a torch-light in the same direction as a vehicle you are travelling in at say half the speed of light, the light emanating from the (moving) torch would NOT have a velocity one-and-a-half times the speed of light—it would be same as the normal speed of light (300,000 km/second), that is, the speed of light remains constant irrespective of the location of the light source! That’s a huge departure from the common expectation and experience.

All the apparently bizarre and counter-intuitive consequences of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity emanate from this fact of constancy of speed of light. A few illustrative counter-intuitive consequences: To a stationary observer on earth, an object of 100 units of length travelling in a rocket at 0.9999 the speed of light would appear to have contracted to mere 1.414 units of length; and when 1 second lapses in the rocket, 70.712 seconds would lapse on earth—a person in the rocket therefore ages less: when he becomes older by 1 year, the person on earth becomes older by 70.712 years.

Hence, the limerick: “There was a young girl named Miss Bright; Who could travel much faster than light; She departed one day; In an Einsteinian way; And came back on the previous night.” It’s another matter that Special Theory of Relativity forbids speeds faster than light. In fact, if an object were to travel at the speed of light, its length would become zero, mass infinite, and time in its frame of reference would be infinite, that is, time would stop.

But, why am I indulging in all this? I simply wish to illustrate that we even accept these things that violate common sense if they are scientific, proven in practice, reasoned and rational. Einstein had remarked that common sense is only a prejudice that we acquire at an early age.

Irrationality Unlimited

Man is a rational animal.
So at least we have been told.
Throughout a long life I have searched diligently
for evidence in favor of this statement.
So far, I have not had the good fortune to come across it.
— Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

Coming to irrationality, what could be more egregiously irrational and disastrously destructive than fight, conflict, war and terror in the name of God and religion.

There are scores (say “n”) of gods and religions, and each claims only its God and religion is true (except Hinduism and other Indian religions which accept other gods and religions too). If that is accepted, then only one of them is correct and the rest “n–1” are lying!

I am reminded of some passages from my novel “The Malshej Moment”. I reproduce below a small part of the discussions on God and religion among the characters in the novel on the subject:
“... ... ...
Ram: 'What about religion?'

Tesu: 'Religion is a much more complex thing. It is a combination of God, society at a given historical stage and power politics. But, considering that its main foundation—God—is dicey, it would be beneficial for all not to take their religions too seriously. Also because all religions, being old, are outdated. It is worth noting that founders of all religions were irreligious! Irreligious in the sense that they rebelled against the religion they were born into. Those who now rebel against a religion are therefore only following in their footsteps—to change what is outmoded. Yes, religions are interesting, tell us how societies evolved, incorporate rich history, and provide excellent topics for study. They have played both a positive and a negative role in human development—perhaps much more of the latter.’

y2: 'But, religion promotes ethical living and conduct.'

Tesu: 'If the purpose is "ethical behaviour, proper conduct and good living", that can be achieved by defining the rules independent of religions, and common to all.’

Apu: ‘In fact, most of these rules already existed prior to the establishment of religions, and religions simply co-opted them. Across geographies and cultures, the moral and ethical standards have been common, quite independent of religions: stealing is considered a vice, telling truth a virtue, bravery is nowhere despised or cowardice honoured, generosity and kindness are uniformly considered a virtue, and so on. Civil and criminal laws of democratic societies already have most of the rules of civilised behaviour, independent of religion.'

Anna: 'In fact, there has been a study which flies in the face of our tacit assumption that belief in God and religion leads to a more civilised behaviour: the Study found that regions that were more theistic and religious had crime rates and juvenile delinquencies noticeably higher than the regions which were more atheistic and non-religious!

‘As Steven Weinberg said: With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.'

Apu: 'Surely, religion ought not to mean rituals and symbols: keep a choti, or wear such and such marks on the forehead, or pray n number of times a day, or in x-direction, wear a given type of headgear, do not shave, or do shave, or visit chardhams or visit specific religious places.'

Tesu: 'Religion must be reflected in the conduct and living of a person. And if that is as per the norms and rules of a truly civilized society—one is truly religious, without belonging to any of the traditional, established religions. I recollect some lines from the God’s Debris by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert:

“If you believe a truck is coming towards you, you will jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck...Likewise, it is not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starvation. When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing...They only act as though they believe because there are earthly benefits in doing so...”’
... ... ...”

Variations in Practice

Having seen the two extremes of “Rationality Unlimited” and “Irrationality Unlimited”, let us look at the more likely possibilities in practice that may vary from person to person, or from one group of persons to another, or that may vary for the same person from item to item or from time to time, or from occasion to occasion, such as “Rational in Certain Respects, Irrational in Others”, “Rational Thoughts & Rational Acts”, and “Rational Thoughts & Irrational Acts”. Of course, there is nothing like “Irrational Thoughts & Rational Acts”—if the thinking or beliefs are flawed, actions are unlikely to be rational.

Rational in Certain Respects, Irrational in Others

Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper
when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
— Oscar Wilde

A person may be rational in certain respects, but intriguingly irrational in others.

As a scientist or a mathematician, or even as an appreciator of science and mathematics, she may believe in scientific approach, scientific methodology, provability and sound reasoning; yet in things religious she may be orthodox.

The English physicist and mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727) has been the most influential scientist of all time and played a key part in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica ("Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy") laid the foundations for classical mechanics. Newton made significant contributions to optics and shares credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the invention of calculus.

Newton, however, devoted significant time and efforts in the study of alchemy, and in exploring Biblical interpretation, especially of the Apocalypse. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes purchased  Newton's alchemical works in 1942 and studied them. He commented: “Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.” Newton's work on alchemy covered The Philosopher's Stone, a material believed to turn base metals into gold, and Elixir of Life. A famous scientist believing and exploring such things!

Albert Einstein’s (14 March 1879 — 18 April 1955) most fruitful years were between 1905 and 1920. He published his major papers on Photo-electric Effect in 1905 (for which he got Nobel Prize in 1922), Brownian Motion in 1905, Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, Equivalence of Mass & Energy (E = mc2) in 1905, Principle of Equivalence in 1907, Deflection of Starlight by the Sun in 1911, and General Theory of Relativity in 1915.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is most counter-intuitive to date and defies common sense. Yet, when it came to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Physics, Einstein was so uncomfortable that he remarked: “God doesn't play dice with the universe!” So, a person like Einstein who had baffled the world with his theories, could not stomach another baffling theory. Rationality is selective. Niels Bohr was forced to respond to Einstein with the comment: “Stop telling God what to do.”

Rationality may also be function of the state of mind. The same person who is rational in certain respects when sober, may exhibit irrational characteristics in those very respects when not sober or normal—drunk or provoked or in the grip of uncontrollable rage or exhausted or in the midst of abnormal circumstances.

Rational Thoughts, Rational Acts
Rational Thoughts, Yet Irrational Acts

Rational thought tells a student that if he studies regularly and sincerely he need not worry about scoring well in the exams. There are students who do so, but there are many who don’t do so and suffer.

It seems that humans have a rational competence in the domain of reasoning, but unfortunately that doesn’t always translate into or reflected in people’s actual behaviour. Rational thought and good and bitter examples teach us we must save for the rainy day. But, do we do that? Many do; yet, many don’t. Rational thought and numerous practical examples tell us we should eat and live healthy. But, do we do so? Many do; yet, many don’t. Rational thought and horrid results tell us we should not smoke or chew tobacco. But, do we do so? Many do; yet, many don’t. One example is myself, who left smoking only after a “health” event some 15 years ago.

EI/EQ : Emotional Intelligence/Quotient

That brings me to another related aspect. Is it that if something adverse is not going to happen now, today or tomorrow, (most) humans tend not to care. Not studying today might lead to bad marks in the exams, but after many months, so why bother—would make up later. Body is strong enough to withstand abuse for many years. The adverse effects of smoking, unhealthy eating and drinking and unhealthy living show up after many, many years, hence the carelessness and false assumption that nothing bad would happen. By and large the effect of bad habits show up after the age of 45 to 50. Meanwhile, people indulge themselves.

Hence, the importance of the Emotional Intelligence/Quotient—EI/EQ. EQ is essentially composed of (A)Intra-personal EQ which comprises (A1)Self-Realisation or Self-Awareness, that is, your ability to understand yourself in-depth and your ability to comprehend your moods, emotions and drives, and their effect on others; (A2)Self-Regulation or Self-Control, that is, your ability to keep your harmful and disruptive impulses and moods under control, your ability to think properly before acting and being not irrationally judgemental; (A3)Passion-Drive-Motivation, that is, motivation to work with passion for its own sake—beyond money, position and status—and a drive to pursue goals with intelligence, energy and persistence; and (B)Inter-personal EQ which comprises (B1)Social Skills, that is, your ability in managing relationships and your proficiency in building social networks; and (B2)Empathy, that is, the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.

Selective Emotional Quotient (EQ)

Just as intelligence and abilities in specific areas differ from person to person—one may be good in maths, but not is arts; and vice versa—so also EQ. A person may have high EQ is certain respects, but not in others.  When it comes to relationships a person may display high EQ, but when it comes to food, the position might differ. Similarly, when it comes to studies and work, a person may display high EQ, but when it comes to things like health and smoking, the same person might score low.

Prelude to Disaster

I can resist everything except temptation.
– Oscar Wilde

Every year thousands of people quit smoking just because they die.

Giving up smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.
– Mark Twain

Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.  
– Spanish Proverb

I hate cigarettes that’s why I burn them.

It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.
– Benjamin Franklin

Smoking answers the existential question: how you are going to die.

The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits 
are so much easier to give up than bad ones.

– Somerset Maugham

And, that was my undoing. Moderate to high EQ in other areas, but low EQ when it came to smoking. I haven’t had any bad habits health-wise or otherwise, except smoking. I steered clear of smoking for the first two years at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, even though many others smoked. Strangely, in my third year during the Diwali vacations at home (Bhilai: Bhilai Steel Plant), it was my school-mate—all alone at his home, with his parents and siblings away to Mangalore, experimenting along with another school-mate (a mona-Sikh, mind you) milder varieties of cigarettes—who got me to share in the casual fun and time-pass of smoking.

What was absolutely casual and temporary grew into a habit. In those “good” (bad?) old days (late 1960s and early 1970s), smoking had not been publicised as a health hazard, and smoking was not uncommon. In fact, among the Bengalis, and IIT/Kharagpur is in West Bengal, smoking was the done thing. It was a rare Bengali who didn’t smoke—and that too the super-strong Charminar (it was relatively cheaper too) that you could smell from far. Of course, those with relatively more affluent parents smoked Wills Navy-cut. If smoking was shunned, it was mostly on the grounds of “waste of money” and corresponding feeling of guilt, rather than on health grounds. I was fortunate to receive National Science Talent Scholarship throughout my college, and didn’t have to depend on my parents for anything—college fee or hostel fee or books or stationery or food or clothes or travel or even smoke. Scholarship was adequate to cover all costs, as I was not spendthrift. Of course, when the scholarship arrived late, I had to request money from home; but upon receiving the belated scholarship amount, I used to make a bank-draft and send it back home. Given this monetary situation, I didn’t really feel guilty about burning money in smoke, as my smoking was self-funded. Besides, my smoking in college was moderate. I bought only loose cigarettes, and never a packet.

Thanks to my (unfortunately) exceptionally high EQ when it came to leading a large software team, and managing, developing, and personally designing, architecting and even coding a few modules for a complex, comprehensive banking software,  I so immersed myself in the project for months on end working day and night, and even on Sundays and holidays—many times through the night at home—that I neglected my health and upped my smoking. High EQ in one lead to low EQ in other vital areas.

And, then the disaster happened ... in December 1999!

Details in the next blog-post.

* * * * *

Rajnikant Puranik
August 2, 2014
91-22-2854 2170, 91-98205 35232

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