“A question I have had while the discussion of is and ought was going on was – who says there is an ought? ” Jerald  someone asked

This is a very important aspect of the “is-ought” issue.

The reason “ought” cannot be derived from <is> is that they belong to quite different realms.

IS relates to what exists (appears to exist) in the physical world of matter and energy, space and time.

OUGHT is related to the human (behavioral) world which has no relevance in a world without humans.

This does not make OUGHT any less important for evolved (moral) human beings.

Singing and dancing, music and humor, also belong to the human world, and are of enormous value to our cultural dimension. They too don’t follow for IS.

To answer more specifically the question “who says there is an ought?”:

The Ten Commandments say, the Shaira says, the Dharma Shastras say, the statutory laws say, and perhaps there is a conscience that says for most of us that there is an ought: they even spell out what the oughts are.

The debate often is on whether these follow from the laws of electromagnetism, gravity, the standard model, etc. which are among the building blocks of the IS realm. And I have always said, “No, siree, they don’t.”

If one seeks the root of our ethical framework,  it seems to me more plausible that the <ought> arose  from a transcendent principle (as religions maintain) or from cultural evolution (as evolutionary psychologists do), than that it is logically linked to the IS world of physical laws which have been there in the universe B.B. (Before Biology).

April 25, 2010

On the End-of-Time Conjecture

Of late there have been many discussions on the the Biblical prophesy of the End of Time. It is important in this context to differentiate between the three kinds of time I mentioned in a previous post: the physical, the conceptual, and the perceived time.

Per physics, physical time had a point de départ: x-billion years ago. It will have an end if and when the universe collapses back into a singularity whence it might emerge once again with entirely different physical traits and laws which may or may not include time as a parameter.

Conceptual time has neither beginning nor end. If you can imagine a starting point and an end point before and after which there was and will be no time, your mind must be extraordinary or very limited.

As to perceived time, it begins for each individual with the conscious appreciation of time and ends somewhat abruptly with the last heart-beat or even before that if one becomes unconscious prior to the moment of death.

But then, there is also collective perceived time that humanity experiences as history and possible future. When one talks about the end of time two things are meant. First is the possibility of human extinction after which there will/can be not perceived time on earth. The second meaning – and this is religious – is that the world and the human condition such as we experience now, and have been experiencing during historical periods, will come to an abrupt halt by the emergence of the Divine in one form or another, as a result of which the whole world will be dissolved with all its dirt and debris, sin and immorality, pain and paltry pleasure, and be transformed into something glorious, ecstatic, and spiritual. This hope or belief is explicit in the Judeo-Christian vision, and also in the Hindu worldview where the corresponding Messiah is pictured the avatara (incarnation) of Kalki whose eventual appearance (as described in the Mahabharata and other sacred texts) have an eerie mystical grandeur that is not unlike what is described in the Book of Revelations.

That these ancient world pictures are taken seriously and even literally by so many alert people in the twenty-first century speaks to the power of traditions and persistence of ancient belief-systems. Whether and to what extent one attaches theological or cultural significance to these depends to a large extent on how deeply one’s understanding and outlook  have been transformed by the findings and insights of science, history, anthropology, archeology, and matters of that kind. From some of the commentson this theme one is inclined to think that these have not had much palpable impact on the thinking of many people, including scholars and deep-thinking people.

On Cyber-immortality

“Has it occurred to anyone that the internet is already something of a Singularity, and the wiki manifestation may be an early emergent bud of its salience?” someone asked.

1. I believe it has, except for the use of the word Singularity which remains undefined or ill-defined in these conversations.

The term has rather technical meanings in mathematics (theory of analytic functions) and physics (and cosmology/astrophysics), let alone in the characterization of individuals,  none of which meanings  may  be congruent with its usage here.

2. The so-called cyberspace created by the internet is indeed what you are referring to: an intangible field in space wherein is embedded all the knowledge, information,  ideas, and images that are generated by impulses provoked by digital impressions on the key-board.

3. Legible versions of this were the manuscripts of yore.

Audible versions of this included  gramophone records and magnetic tapes (cassette, reel-to-reel, etc.).

DVDs are both audible and visible persistence of the past.

4. What makes  the internet different  is that the substrate for the information-storage is not physical.

But one still needs something physical to retrieve the data.

It is, however, important not to identify/confuse  information retrievable by future generations with the currently living sources of information. When I am no more, my blog will still be accessible to those who may care to click on it, even some of my talks will be lingering as podcasts, just as Shakespeare is immortal in that his works are retrievable on the printed page, or even in some manuscripts. But my own body and mind, as that of the quotable bard – it would seem – will be gone for good or gone to God (whichever vision one prefers). So cyber-immortality is more like the volume in a library stack than returning for a re-birth or kneeling at the pearly gate  as religious traditions picture it.

V. V. Raman

April 24, 2010

On the Interfaith Spirit

The interfaith movement is fairly recent in human history. It has both practical and conceptual roots. At the practical level it arises from the fact that modern nations permit and foster multiculturalism and religious diversity. As a result, many people in the world interact with others from different religious and cultural backgrounds. Those interactions become not only pleasant but also meaningful and enriching if there is mutual understanding and appreciation among groups that come together in the workplace as also in social contexts.

But what is the interfaith spirit? It is essentially an attitude of awakened religious practitioners towards others who are also lovingly affiliated to their religions, and even to those who prefer to be decent human beings without any religious affiliation. The interfaith spirit assumes commitment and loyalty to one’s own religious tradition, but it also calls for genuine sensitivity for the non-hurtful religious beliefs of others. In other words, without diminishing one’s own convictions and practices, one grants that others also have the right and responsibility to engage in their own faith systems.

A doctrinal difficulty may arise here: Does this make the tenets of one’s own religion relative? Does this imply that one has to abandon the absoluteness of the truths of the religion to which one belongs? These are valid questions. For many, such concerns do stand in the way of embracing the interfaith spirit, and this is understandable. But let us recall here that the love one has for one’s parents and family is as real and absolute as any love can be. But does it follow that others cannot experience a similar love for theirs too? That the sun is the central star for us humans is an absolute truth. But this doesn’t mean that there are no other stars in the heavens or that beings in other planetary systems should also regard our sun as central in the universe.

Thus, it isn’t necessary to give up our religious beliefs to embrace the interfaith spirit. We may even try to persuade others to come into our fold. But what is important is to recognize that every religion of the world has significant historical, spiritual, and cultural roots which must be honored, cherished and nurtured, and that in the complex and competing world in which we live it is by cultivating sympathetic understanding for other traditions that we can avert the acrimony that tends to spring from narrow religious totalizing. These are among the conceptual roots of interfaith movements.

God knows humanity is facing countless crises of planetary proportions. Aside from belligerent threats, inter-group conflicts, and endless wars, the world bears witness to malnutrition, health-care needs, and illiteracy among millions, environmental threats, diminishing resources, and more. It is imperative that those who have faith in God join hands as children of the same Almighty, as brothers and sisters in the human family, and strive  to combat and alleviate the horrendous  problems staring at us all. In this common dedication we must invoke the love and compassion, the caring and sacrifice that all religions teach us. This can be most effectively done by affirming the interfaith spirit that we are celebrating this week in Rochester.

April 9, 2010

How Would the Discovery of Alien Life Affect an Eastern Religion?

In many traditional Hindu writings, we find assumptions and assertions to the effect that there are many worlds that are inhabited by different beings, and even by souls of the departed from the terrestrial world. In some systems of Hindu thought, those beings guide people living here below. Therefore, the Hindu world is not likely to be greatly jolted by any discovery of extraterrestrials. If anything, some Hindus might claim that this merely confirms the views held by their ancestors.

However, in this context, it is also important to distinguish between aliens as conceived by modern ET astronomy and the aliens of mythic lore. In modern astronomical thought, “aliens” refers to entities that have evolved biologically in distant planetary systems quite independently of terrestrial life, and are believed to have attained sufficient technological and intellectual sophistication to be able to at least attempt contact with other similar creatures in the star-studded stillness of space (of whose existence they must have been scientifically convinced). On the other hand, in traditional religious/cultural views, those inhabitants of distant worlds are connected to humans some way or another. Therefore, the question posed is really inappropriate because the word “alien” has quite different connotations in science and religion. It is not unlike asking how the discovery of black holes might affect religion. Ancient religions have talked about hell, but is not quite the same as the explosive singularity of a supernova.

From a global scientific/cultural perspective, even a slight indication of the existence of ET life anywhere in the universe would be a fascinating, and indeed a shocking, discovery. Concrete proof of an advanced ET civilization would be more than an eye-opener: It would be the most revolutionary discovery in all of human history. Yet, it is not likely to jolt the collective consciousness of humanity as much as it should because few people have reflected on the moral, religious, and conceptual significance of something like that—for we will cease to be special and singular in this vast universe that seems to stretch beyond our maximum spatial needs. Affirmations of God creating man on the last day of the creation project may have to be drastically reconsidered because any confirmation of ETs would demolish the centrality, primacy, and uniqueness of terrestrial consciousness in the universe. Confirmation of ETs will shake the very foundation of all human-centered religions.

However, if a religion subscribes to the view that human consciousness is a spark of a “cosmic fire” (as Hinduism does), and also realizes that there are countless (probably bio-friendly) planetary niches in the vast universe (as current astronomy suggests), then from the perspective of that religion, it is extremely likely that similar sparks have found thriving spots elsewhere in the cold galactic expanse, embodied in carbon-based, silicon-based, or whatever frames. In such a framework, discovery of the existence of aliens may be greeted with more applause than apprehension.

April 2, 2010


It is amazing how ancient and universal some customs can be.

In the 1890s archaeologists unearthed cuneiform tablets which show laughing figures with full moon beside them which have been interpreted as an ancient mode of observing the equivalent of a day when people made fun of one another.

In one of his Monologues Plato says that the people of Thales used to set aside a date for poking fun at one another. They called the day Morosimera.

In the Mityopanishad of Sanskrit literature we read: eka divas sakala varsha sarva loka pari haamana: One day every year the whole world is a joke.

The Latin poet Romulus Iocus wrote: ridere secundum mensem sanus est: To laugh in the second month (April) is healthy.

According to Rabbi Ilan Nafta, in Hebrew Gematria (number mysticism) the letters the second month Iyar has the same number as the word for teasing.

In the medieval Arab world, the philosopher Ibn Bei Ku’f declared that laughing at the folly of others is a sign of intelligence.

In the 15th century, Saint Scurra is said to have noted that the angels in Heaven periodically laugh at the fools on earth.

We read in the Divino Inferno: Danar si tolse e lasciollo di piano, e tutti divengono sciocci: They took their gold and smoothly left them off, and they all became fools.

The French poet Bois de Leaux wrote: Nous sommes tous fous, un jour ou un autre: We are all fools, one day or another.

In a play by the Dutch writer Mathiaas Vendel we read: Zelfs de verstandigen worden zot op een dag: Even the wise become fools one day.

Juan Pico said: Cada uno es loco, un dia cada anyo: One day each year we all are fools.

And who can forget the words of the jester in Shakespeare’s Henry VI:

In the stress and strain that flesh is heir to, Amidst the pain and pang that fleeing life doth impose, None is spared, Neither lord nor serf, priest nor laity, Aye, not even the Rex of the Realm. Wherefore, with wisdom derived from keen council, The king of Merry England hath made This the first day of bright April When flowers bloom and birds coo, Yes, the gracious sovereign of us all, Hath declared this as the day When all and the brother of all May, with words and acts and tricks, Make mockery and conjure up events To mislead, delude or fool friends and family, And so treat even the wise of all the world, if no harm be done or meant.

Schilling put it thus: Heute mussen wir wachsam sein, nicht glauben was wir hoeren und lesen: Today we must be watchful, not believe what we hear or read.

And the Tamil philosopher says: innikku yaaraiyum nambaathey: Trust no one today.

Indeed, except for this line and the previous one, not one statement in all that I have written above is true. Happy April Fool’s Day!

April 1