13. What is Blasphemy?

The word blasphemy literally means speaking ill (of someone or something).
In Abrahamic scriptures (Old Testament, New Testament, Holy Qur’an) it refers to any disrespectful or disbelieving word or act against the God of the religion.
In the practice of those religions anybody who engages in any word or statement or act that is deemed by the religious authority to be blasphemy against God, saint, prophet, holy book, symbol of worship, etc. is deserving of severe punishment.
 Blasphemy laws have been abolished in all secular democratic countries. In the twenty-first centuries only Islamic states enforce blasphemy laws in varying degrees of strictness.
In Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism there are no blasphemy laws, although there too the majority may not approve of desecrating or disrespecting their sacred names and symbols.
We may consider three kinds of blasphemy:
(a) Internal blasphemy: In former times only members of a given faith community were subject to blasphemy laws, largely because any nation or community consisted primarily of only members of a given religion. Thus, for example, Muslims would not be subject to Christian blasphemy laws and vice versa.
(b) Intrusive blasphemy: Since the closing decades of the twentieth century, blasphemy laws have come to be applied to people not of the (Islamic) faith. This gives rise to serious conflicts in nations which are governed by freedom-of speech laws.
(c) Secular blasphemy: In some nations which are secular (i.e. whose citizens are not subject to scriptures, holy men, and religious institutions), there are laws against insulting national institutions. In particular, one cannot disrespect the constitution, desecrate the national flag or national monuments, the king or queen, etc.. One cannot engage in hate speech about the ethnic, religious, or immigrant minorities. Conflicts sometimes arise because these limit the individual’s freedom to a degree. We may refer to such acts as secular blasphemy.
Thus when people of one country burn the flag of another they are desecrating the sacred symbol of another nation, and are thus committing secular blasphemy against another nation.
Blasphemy laws serve(d) the important purpose of keeping the members of a faith respectful towards its framework and institutions. One of the features of modernity in societies and civilizations is to regard blasphemy laws as anachronistic and disrespectful of individual liberty.

January 22, 2015

13. I want to know, if we do really plan our lives before we are born. Is this a myth or for real? (Vidya)

A. . All the knowledge we get on any subject is through our sense perceptions: from what we see and hear, smell and taste and touch. And also from reflecting on and analyzing whatever inputs we get from these sources which include what we read and are told by reliable parties.
B. Now imagine you have a line drawn on a piece of paper. If this line corresponds to all the knowledge we acquire during our life time from these sources, everything beyond the end-points of that line will be knowledge of the AN and the PM states. AN stands for Ante Nationem (before birth) and PM stands for Post Mortem (after death).
C. From time immemorial people have been wondering about these two states which are Mysteries. Here, Mystery refers to a great question for which there is absolutely no reliable, trustworthy, or empirically verifiable answer.
D. This does not mean that people have not been giving interesting, silly, or profound answers to these Mysteries. Definitive answers to Mysteries constitute the doctrines of the religions of humanity. Depending on which religion you choose you will get a different answer for every Mystery.
E. If anyone tells you things about AN and PM states, just give a friendly smile and turn to something interesting or useful. Don’t ask the person how he or she knows it. You may not get anything more than a quote from a sacred book. If this is satisfactory to you, you may go to sleep peacefully. If not, forget it and turn your attention to the hundred other interesting, important, and enriching matters/subjects that are available.
F. Some people, like myself, are content to have all the reliable knowledge we can get from Science and other reliable sources, even if this is not 100% certain. I call this epistemic humility: A humility which makes me recognize that my knowledge is limited. I use Mysteries to just wonder about things and be thrilled by the knowledge of our finite minds. I do this especially when I am not doing anything worthwhile. So, honestly I have absolutely no idea of my or anybody’s ante nationem and post mortem states. I am quite happy with this ignorance.

12  January 2015

12. What does one mean by wave-particle duality? (Peter J)

A. Everything in the physical world is either matter or energy.
We observe matters as concentrated mass: from tiny dust particles to planets and stars.
Matter is characterized by momentum (mass x velocity). It is always localized at a point (region in space).
Energy is often in the form of radiation: light, infra-red (heat), ultra-violet, x-rays, etc. These are all (electromagnetic) waves.
Energy is characterized by its frequency. Waves are spread out in a region, never localized at a point.
Let us refer to this as the Energy-Matter double: two separate kinds.
B. When we study the physical world at the atomic and subatomic levels we find that there is an important difference.
(a) Matter, i.e. material particles like electrons and protons also have a wave-aspect (matter-waves). This is called the De Broglie wave.
(b) Radiant energy like light also has a particle aspect. This is known as a quantum of energy (or photon).
C. Thus every microcosmic entity has both a particle and a wave aspect. This is called wave-particle duality.
D. It is important to recognize that the same microscopic entity has both the wave and the particle features simultaneously. But as soon as one makes an observation on it, one or the other (particle or wave) aspect is what appears. We say that at any instant there is a superposition of states until a measurement is made.
E. Analogy: Consider a coin. A microscopic entity (electron, proton, etc.) may be compared to a coin that is falling to the ground. It has both a head and a tail all the time. But as soon as it falls to the ground it is seen as a head or a tail. This would be like making an observation of an electron. In that experiment it will seem to be a particle or a wave.

January 5, 2015

Why is the first month of the year called January?

We may picture the passage of time in spatial terms: a room which holds the past within, and the space beyond, where the future lies, with a door separating the two. In this metaphor, we fling open the door to another new year. As a door has two faces, one looking inside and the other at the space beyond, so too this new month has two faces, one looking back into the accumulated past-years, and the other facing the future yet to be born.

Janus was the name of a two-faced God of the Romans, who was the beginning of everything in the Roman world. He was the god of all exits and entrances. Hence all gates and doors were regarded as holy. In this, there is more than mythology: We see here a deep insight into the nature of Time, for between the has-been and the yet-to-be is the winking present that alone is perceived reality.

Most nations follow what we call the Gregorian calendar for international trade, exchanges, and organizations. This calendar is a refined version of the one introduced by Julius Caesar in Roman in 46 BC.

The Julian calendar had 365 days with twelve months. Every four years a day was added (leap year) to compensate for the fact that the solar year has almost 365.25, not exactly 365. But it is not exactly a quarter more, actually only 365.2425 days. So this needs to be diminished periodically. Thus came about the Gregorian calendar, initiated during the reign and under the direction of Pope Gregory.It is important to realize in this context that there are scores of different calendars used by different people in different countries, cultures and religion. There is the Islamic calendar, Jewish calendar, Coptic calendar, Iranian calendar, etc. In India several regional calendars are still in vogue although, in principle, one national calendar was adopted in 1957. The first month is variously called:  Aviv (Hebrew calendar), Boishak (Bengali calendar), Chaitra (Sanskrit calendar),  Muharram (Islamic calendar),  Ichigatsu (Japanese calendar), and so on.

In most traditions, as at one time among the ancient Romans too, the year begins with the onset of spring (in the Northern hemisphere): Usually March, the month of sowing, making  – as their names still remind us –  the months from September to December  seventh (septem: seven) to the tenth (decem: ten) month.

In ancient Rome there were only ten months every year. It was in about 713 BCE that two months were added to this at the beginning of the year: January and February, as we call them in English.

January 1, 2015

Adieu 2014!

Like every year before , and perhaps at a slightly higher level, 2014 has brought blessings and bereavement to many and joy and sorrow to some.
I grieve for the thousands and their families who have died in combat, no matter on which side of a war they were in: In Israel and Palestine, in Crimea and Ukraine, and in many other places too.

My heart goes out most of all to the countless men and women and children who, for no fault of theirs, became victims of ruthless terror, indiscriminate killings, belligerent bombings, unexpected diseases and sudden accidents on land, on sea and in the air.

I shed silent tears for their families, in Pakistan and Assam, in Nigeria and Somalia, in planes and in cruise ships and elsewhere too. I sob in secret for all the refugees and victims in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere too.

I shudder at the growing power and determination of the dreamers of a new Caliphate: not because their longing not legitimate, but because of  the means they are adopting to actualize that dream: barbaric beheadings, mass massacres and the exploitation and the suppression of woman.

I am saddened by the failure in attempts at compromise between the West and Iran on the nuclear issue,  by the deterioration of relations between Russia and the NATO counties, and by the needless provocation of North Korea.

But I am also  happy that there are sections of humanity that participate in sports, such as the Olympics in Sochi and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil,  in the Meistersinger at the MET, in various musical events, plays, and book-clubs all over the world, in traditional feasts and religious festivals.

I share in the jubilation of the majority when the candidates on their choice won the elections in democratic countries. I rejoice with the people of India in the successful Mars Mission of her scientists, and I am happy for the majority in India who overwhelmingly chose a new Prime Minister (Mr. Narendra Modi) under whose leadership, they hope, there will be many positive changes in the country: changes which are certainly possible without destroying the nation’s democratic, inclusive, and secular framework.

I am thrilled by the scientific-technological achievement of the European Space Agency whose spacecraft Rosetta successfully deposited the probe Philae on the comet 67P at a distance of some 310 million miles.

With all that 2014 has not been a happy year for humanity as a whole. The growing gap between the rich and the poor within and among nations is showing all the malaise that had brewed for a few decades in France before the bloody bath unleashed in 1789. Aside from this there are indications that more economic turmoil, political dangers, and ecological disasters are lurking everywhere.

All I can do is to pray for sanity, peace, and humanity’s well being in the year that is breaking out all over the globe even as I write these lines.

December 31, 2014: 10: 40 P.M.

Wilmette, ILL