RIP Wayne Dyer

I felt this overwhelming sorrow when I heard about the demise of the one and only Dr. Wayne Dyer. As a young man growing up in India, I found a copy of ‘Your Erroneous Zones’ in my uncle’s library. His prescription of free thinking was like an awakening to me growing up in a sheltered strict culture.

Over the years, I would grow up and emigrate to the US and continue to read his follow up books, ‘Pulling your own Strings’ and ‘Sky is the Limit’. Here again he would talk of living the free thinking life unencumbered by the restrictions of society.  Over the years, like him I too would indulge in a search for the non-existent self

I must admit that I liked his book  ‘You’ll see it when you believe it.’ Though I was on a spiritual quest, I found that his books that followed, Real Magic, Your sacred Self and the rest of them including one about the Tao, were getting painfully repetitive. The same was true of all his shows on PBS.

While I do believe that his experiences and beliefs felt real to him and probably changed the lives of some of his readers, I felt Dyer was deluding himself with his own Kool aid. He had an uncompromising belief that everything happens for a reason and that nothing that happens in his life was bad nor lacked a purpose.

His heart attack? That was a message. His cancer diagnosis? That was a test. And finally his wife leaves him. Wayne felt all these events, painful as they were, were actually blessings? Unfortunately, I cannot call any of these beliefs anything other than self-delusional.

He had several so called ‘gurus’ who no doubt played a role in reinforcing this delusion. It is unfortunate that a well-intending person could unwittingly spread a message of profound hope that goes against the grain of reality. I blame human nature itself for this.

One must accept reality without trying to second guess the plans of a non-existent creator. Wayne, I am glad you had a happy life and made a lot of people happy. However, at this point in time, I’ll stick to proven truths that Science offers.

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Neo Noir Movies

I watched two neo-noir movies this weekend. One was David Lynch’s ‘Mullholland Drive’ and the other was ‘The Grifters’.
Written and directed by David Lynch, and like many of his movies, the plot and the ending of Mullhollland Drive is subject to multiple interpretations. The movie opens like a typical suspense novel, where a woman, whose fate is to be sealed is given another chance at life, thanks to twists of fate. She makes her getaway and finds herself in the companionship of another woman.
Unfortunately for the one who dodged her destiny, she suffers amnesia,but has the good fortune to find this companion who is willing to retrace her past? Is there more to this story? David Lynch’s plot goes beyond the cliches of conspiracy and mundane hidden agendas to ask deeper philosophical questions.
Are these two women part of a bigger plot that involves the wild imagination of one of them? Are they simply part of a Multiverse of different realities simultaneously existing together? This is an enigmatic ending that will keep the audience contemplating long after the movie is over.
The movie showcases memorable roles from Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Few movies I have seen have allowed for so much intellectual speculation.

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The Grifters, by contrast has a more down-to-earth plot, more reminiscent of the noir films of the black-and-white genre. It is a tale of a mother and son who lead lives of conning others as a vocation. The movie, with its twisted undertones features stellar performances from Angelica Houston and a young Annette Benning. Set in California of the sixties, the movie has many of the features of a classic noir movie, including the twisted plot, a femme fatale(actually two of them) and a blood-thirsty cigar-smoking mobster.

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Book Review: Sleepy Hollow

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Author: Washington Irving

If you have seen the Tim Burton rendition of this tale, you would, atleast initially, be disappointed by this American classic novel , written in 1880. It is a simple, almost unassuming tale of a schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, in a small town in Connecticut, interested in Katrina, a daughter of a wealthy man. His ambitions are thwarted by Brom Bones, the local thug.

The locale for this tale is Tarry Town, a town that spoke of men of valor who fought in the American war of independence.
Another backdrop to this story is a myth of a legendary ‘headless horseman’ who is rumored to haunt the town. The tale ends with the mysterious disappearance of the protagonist in this town whose inhabitants are prone to superstition.

While the residents of Tarry Town blame the horseman for the missing man, the author hints at a more rational explanation that involves foul play from Crane’s rival, Bones. The myth of the horseman is said to be based on old German folktales. The story is an interesting read, written in older prose, not common in today’s literature.

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Book Review: The God Delusion

Author: Richard Dawkins
God Delusion

While his college and fellow Oxford graduate, Christopher Hitchens attacks claims made by Religion, Dawkins’ book  argues against the (almost) universal claim of most religions, the existence of a creator. Contrasted with Hitchens’ book ‘God is not Great’, which has more of a journalist’s opinion on the evils of religion, The God Delusion takes on the claims of religion and the existence of a creator, more from a scientific argumentative viewpoint. Like Hitchens’ Dawkins also exhibits his subtle British wit.

In this book, Dawkins  takes on common arguments made by those of faith and systematically breaks down these arguments. These include the ‘ultimate 747 argument’ that postulates that the chances of life appearing on our planet is that of a 747 put together due to a cyclone in a large workshop. His argument against this theory pays a rich tribute to Darwin’s theory of Natural selection.

Another typical argument is the ‘Watchmaker’ theory from the religious proponents, that complex things can only come from more complex organisms. He questions this theory by posing the question, ‘Who created the Creator’ and explains how this leads to infinite regression.

The other common argument made by the religious, is the existence of ‘Goldilocks Zones’. This theory questions why some numbers found in the Universe have a certain specific value. One such example is the amount of dark matter that seems to exist in the Universe.

The God Delusion successfully dismantles each of these theories and other creationist theories. There are also plenty of references to people,places and events, where Dawkins convincingly argues that faith based belief is not in the best interest of mankind’s future.  It warns the dangers of the increasing number of cargo cults like those of Ted Haggard in spreading dangerous dogma. It covers the famous Dover trial which would decide if ‘Intelligent Deign’ a cleverly marketed ploy to bring Creationism into the Science class would prevail or exposed as pseudo science.

Dawkins, like Hitchens has an immense respect for language and literature. The big surprise for many readers of this book that he is a proponent of the Kim James Bible being taught in school. Well, he does believe that the book must be taught as literature and not as Science. He goes on to show that some of out most commonly used expressions like ‘Brother’s keeper’ and ‘Turn the other cheek’ come from this very book. He describes some of the most corrupt practices of the church including purgatory and indulgences.  He also dismantles false claims that atheism creates the likes of a Stalin or Hitlers.

I have written about the need for a cultural Renaissance in the world and particularly in the US.  This book is an important read for all those who agree with me. Dawkins is a passionate believer that true knowledge from Science must be uncontaminated by arcane theories of religion and passed on to future generations.

 

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Book Review: God is Not Great

 

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Let me begin by stating, unequivocally that I am an unabashed fan of the late Christopher Hitchens. While his critics have denounced him, thrown anathemas at him and condemned him to eternal damnation, there are some like yours truly, who miss this outspoken intellectual. His strong command of language and charm are still talked about with fondness in scholastic circles.

In, God is not Great, Oxford educated ‘Hitch’, as he is fondly remembered by his fans and friends, is at his best. In this book, beginning with his own disdain for faith, Hitch launches an eloquent tirade on Religion, its followers and its follies.

‘God is not great’ is breathtaking in magnitude and covers several subjects with nuggets of information from Hitch’s years of research and travel. In Hitchens’ own view, no dogma is too sacrosanct to be challenged and no holy person or saint is too high to be questioned. If you are familiar with the works of Hitch, you would expect nothing less!

Most of the targets of his attacks are on the Abrahamic religions while there is a small chapter reserved for Buddhism. In the introductory chapters, Hitchens explains why those like him turn away from faith. One chapter is devoted to why two major religions condemn the eating of pork. Hitch’s strong English wit is amply evidenced in this chapter.

He goes on to explain why religion fosters violence, promotes superstitions that could be hazardous to its practitioners and makes absurd metaphysical claims. He also presents a case as to why religion creates a breeding ground for corruption.

Hitch is unafraid in questioning the motives of prominent figures like Mother Teresa, Gandhi or Joseph Smith. This book takes the reader on violent journeys to several locales including Darfur, Bosnia, India, Sri Lanka, Palestine, North Korea and of course, the United States.

The final parts of the book speak of the need for a new englightenment. Hitchens is particularly favorable to the founding fathers like Franklin, Jefferson and Paine. Needless to say. those with strong faith who are easily offended, should stay away from this book. However, there is no doubt that this is an important literary work that must be considered by those on the fence or are adventurous enough to avail themselves of new ideas.

In a time where some the most respected people of society are exposed as charlatans or criminals committing unspeakable crimes, the world needs more people like Hitchens, and his partners in crime, Dr, Richard Dawkins , and Sam Harris, who dare to ask pertinent questions or raise though provoking ideas.

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The need for a US Renaissance

With the popularity of this prolonged argument on creation vs. evolution, I felt I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

First off, in 2014, I cannot believe that there is even contention. As comedian Bill Maher put it, we are centuries away from Galileo’s first dekko , from a telescope and still there are those that believe in a world six thousand years old. We are almost half a century away from the first moon landing, yet there are some that proclaim that  the moon is a light in the sky, illuminated from within.

As a child I grew up in India, fascinated by Science Fiction, the world of super heroes and the original Cosmos show, three wonderful gifts from the ‘highly developed United States of America. I grew up with Superman comics that told the tale of an idealistic super-human, who grew up in an alien world, governed by a democratic council, not unlike the one in ancient Greece, different only because it valued Science instead of philosophy.

I was educated in a great schools. which unashamedly taught Darwin’s evolution in Science class, mentioning only the fact that the theory was opposed to religious faith. Creation was mentioned, except that it was not part of Science, but a part of religious faith Teaching about God was best left to the homes, temples, churches and mosques. The focus was on education, to get ahead and to get into the real world. It was a time when politics and religion did not greatly influence what was taught in the classrooms.

I dreamed  of coming to the US as a child, a land I saw as beyond what is today described as progressive, where my daily life would only be enriched by reason, science and modern technology. How innocent I was then.

I cannot believe the times we live in. With a decline in student performance in schools, the US is experiencing a decline in educational standards at a rate not seen by any developing country in decades. One would argue that the educational system would need a quick overhaul.

President Obama said during his electoral campaign that he aspired to ensure that every child in America gets a college education. It simply was a question on common sense. Well, that was simply not the case.

‘What a snob.”, said one Republican candidate. ‘What intellectual snobbery is that?’

It takes a special type of imbecile to make this statement. I come from a third world country where people would do anything to get an education. Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl was shot in the face by a Taliban terrorist for the sin of going to school and getting an education. Malala survived and went on to address the UN in a memorable speech.

‘I would wish that even the children of my attacked would get an education.(paraphrased)’ she said, proving, that she was  well beyond her years in wisdom.

Yet in the US, a selfish group of politicians, insecure about their regressive party policies continue to demonize leading US institutions, Scientific knowledge and even Eastern offerings like martial arts and Yoga. I will address this in detail in follow up posts.

How does a political party or a faction within  defend the indefensible? By using the vilest of strategies possible. It used a weapon that attacks the most vulnerable  of the population. This is the weapon of inducing a multitude of fears on a targeted segment of the population.  As humans, there is no dearth of fears that fill our hearts. We fear a powerful God, we fear those different from us in appearance, ideology, lifestyle, culture or religion. Magnify these fears within an individual or Group and you have won their service. Hitler was a master of this fear mongering.

Talk show hosts and politicians from this regressive party do the same. They tarnish History with fictitious facts. They prescribe teachings falsely proclaiming that it is from a holy book, they promote their ideology into Science text books of children and spread a illusion of attack from the so called left. If run amok, this disdain for formal education and contamination of pure knowledge will make this country spiral into desolation and disrepair sooner than we expect.

It has been said that those who do not study History are doomed to repeat it. The Roman Empire did not fall from a single war. It was a series of events including an implosion from within and a corruption of its government system. Such a dire end is unfortunately not completely unforeseeable in the not-too-distant future.

The global economy has leveled the playing fields for many countries. The internet has made knowledge more accessible to other countries. Ironically the very institutions that some in the right wing party demonize are the biggest weapons the US has in its arsenal for world dominance. The US continues to be the Mecca for Higher education. The education offered in these Universities is the envy of almost every country around the world. Even today, thanks to these Universities the US continues to be the center of World innovation.

This is indeed the time for the genesis of  cultural and spiritual Renaissance.  It is time to embrace change and break the shackles of old habits and illusionary fears and move into a promising tomorrow. This future is well within our grasp. All we need is courage, imagination and perseverance. It will also need us to make bold decisions.

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On Times of India

I am now an NRI contributor on Times of India. Check out my author page at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/nricontributeprofile/23293701.cms

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