Thursday, April 30, 2020

The cat out of the box

One of the most fascinating experiments in science is that involving the Schrödinger's cat.
The experiment requires a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source all placed in a sealed box. If a Geiger counter detects radioactivity caused by the decay of one single atom, the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat.
Although while in the box the cat can be simultaneously alive and dead when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.
One interesting theory, is that both the alive and dead states of the cat persist after the box is opened, but are split from each other. When the box is opened, the observer and the possibly-dead cat split into an observer looking at a box with a dead cat, and an observer looking at a box with a live cat.
The experiment is a reminder of how uncertainty underlies not just our existence but that of the whole universe.
The excitement of living derives from making choices and weighing risks in the face of uncertainties. That is why any static utopia becomes dystopian the very moment when people are deprived of the freedom to make mistakes.
But that is only one side of the coin. Uncertainty creates anxiety which can be debilitating. COVID 19 is just an example of the collective risks we face as a species, foremost of which is global warming. Added to this is an economic system which renders the lives of entire populations and communities superfluous. Choice entails a sense of being in control of events. But neo liberalism tends to put us at the mercy of forces which are outside our control.
Managing uncertainty is probably one of the secrets to a happy life. It should also be the goal of social policy and health promotion.
Freedom is all about being in a position to choose. But there is no real choice if the option is between survival and destitution. That is why a universal basic income is a pre-condition for freedom. Moreover to equip us all to deal with uncertainty a national mental health policy is imperative. Why should not mental therapy be part of the national health scheme? Freedom is also restricted by ownership of time. If we do not own most of our time, how can we even exercise our freedom? And how much time would we have left to weigh choices and take responsible decisions?
Awareness of the consequences of our actions and their butterfly effect, is also key to increasing the sum of happiness in the world. Freedom comes with responsibilities. And freedom becomes cruelty when exercised without empathy. The world is not our playground. In this sense freedom without equality simply results in the oppression of the many by the few (or in some cases the few by the many).
For even the most inconsequential action can unleash a chain of unpredictable events not just on fellow humans but also the planet in which we live. Still it is thanks to these chains of unpredictable events that we probably owe our own existence in this particular spot in time and space. It is also thanks to decisions taken on the spur of a moment that we owe some of the happiest moments in our lives. Yet we should never forget that we are also like the cat in the box and that there is always another side of the coin, perhaps even different versions of our selves experiencing different trajectories unleashed by choices sometimes made by us or made for us by others. In this way the universe is playful and has its own sense of humor, bestowing fortune randomly. Yet that is no excuse for not taking care of ourselves and others, to ensure a safety net for all.

Monday, April 27, 2020

When silence is golden

Silence is not just the absence of noise. In fact we often associate it with the multitude of voices found in nature. Covid 19 may have made these voices more audible (ex birds chirping) than usual while silencing more fastidious ones (ex traffic noise and the hum).
It can be found even in the clutter of the life around us. Silence is material not spiritual. Neither is it necessarily a solitary experience. One does not have to be a hermit to experience it. Silence can even be shared. But each person's experience of silence is different.
Silence becomes a form of communication. It happens when savoring a moment together. Silence changes our perspective of time . In silence time becomes a moment. Silence is a capsule.
Silence has to be found to be listened to. But that requires detachment from daily life. But that does not make daily life an illusion. Without it silence cannot even exist. In fact the quality of our silence depends on the quality of our life. The happier we are, the more we can appreciate silence. So wrong to expect people with mental health issues to appreciate silence.
Silence does not have anything to say to anyone. It does not exist except as an experience of living bodies surrounded by other material beings and objects.
Silence does not necessarily make us wiser. One can still make take bad decisions while silent. Silence can be delusional. Silence may help us transcend the meaning of words to feel connections which we fail to see when we are too busy or attached. It may also make us see connections which do not exist. Silence can make us lucid and receptive. But it is no substitute for rational judgement.
Silence can hurt. It can numb us. Cause silence cannot give us anything except that sense of comfort of being enveloped in an invisible chrysalis. Silence can make us anxious, itchy and fidgety.
Silence can be golden in that moment when we sigh in satisfaction. The moment after sex. The moment after writing an article or a story. That moment after an exhilarating conversation. The moment after hearing something uplifting. The moment after a first date on the way back home. The moment after a long walk. Even a pause in pause between things. Silence is always an in between. The moment after savoring beauty while closing your eyes to prolong the sensation. Silence is ephemeral. If prolonged it loses its magic. It cannot last long. It cannot be conjured out of thin air. It has to happen. It has to be found again and again. It can be lost. Silence is evasive.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The novel

This is not a political blog. Neither a philosophical one. It is an experiment in (semi) fiction.
Because tonight am feeling enclosed in the warmth of an invisible air chrysalis woven by smiling pixies inhaling pot (not be little people as in 1Q84). So back to the experiment. First things which come to mind sort of stuff. Stream of consciousness? That may be a dangerous slippery territory to visit.
But recently i had been thinking of writing a novel or a short story. That will make an ideal starting point for this exercise.
Who shall live in the story? What shall i call them? How far will they resemble the characters of this novel (the one in which we are living right now), which is behaving more like fiction than reality. For we do live in an extra ordinary time.
Actually this may be the short story i should be writing or is it writing me? Good question. But for a start i have to detach and become an author.
Is life already writing the author's novel? Well some of the ingredients are there; I mean a pandemic makes a good plot, one in which the characters have to react to it in the most unlikely ways. But a lock-down? It makes the whole thing confined and enclosed. No open horizons. But not as comforting as the chrysalis, somewhat colder. But we could get some pixies or witches in the story who can open horizons and travel across time and space.
And should he even feature in this novel? Any way he is a sort of average quasi middle aged journalist with a past militancy in left wing groups-of which he remains nostalgic, living a not so remarkable life, reading one or two novels a month, takes three family holidays a year, drinks heavily with friends once a week and spends quite a lot of time watching netflix and listening to spotify. He first saw the pandemic as a disruption. Now he views it as an opportunity for some internal voyage of self discovery and to drink more wine. He is enjoying the suspension of time and for some reason seems happier than usual (not that he was sad). He sometimes fears the return to normality but is yearning for an after covid party. He may actually make an interesting character.
But he should be busy doing other things like actually writing this novel. In fact he should not be in the story at all. He can't be in it and outside of it at the same time.
So let us leave him out of this for now. He may well burden the whole thing by his over bearing presence and he may get too absorbed in some of the characters. That may complicate the plot. So what will be the novel about? Should it be political? Perhaps. Power does not hibernate during a pandemic. And there are always people busy thriving on fears. But there cannot be a revolution during a pandemic. Even protests are restricted to the internet.
Should it be about love? Neither it is the ideal time for falling in love. This would also complicate life for the author, especially in a total lock-down where characters are home bound (he may delve on the impact of social media but that risks turning in to a sociological inquiry). Neither can the lockdown be partial in the novel. Otherwise if every one starts going out for walks and parties, the novel would lose punch.
Should it be about sex? Well according to some reports many are having more sex now than ever but in the novel that will depend on the characters, and he still has to create them. And where is he to pick them up from? Probably he could invent and mix. Mixing people like colors or the images in dream. It often happens in dreams that one face turns in to another. That can be freaky but the association between faces can be very revealing. He has experienced this a couple of times lately. But nothing beats the life of real people. For the novel is happening in the world around us. All it needs is a twist of magical realism; extraordinary things in ordinary lives. Or is that already happening?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sisyphus in the multiverse

One of the most fascinating scientific theories is that there exists an infinity of universes in which our lives are played out in an infinity of different ways. So there is an infinity of us doing the same things but slightly or significantly differently. Or perhaps not even doing the same things. This begs the question can you slip from one universe to another?
Can it happen willfully or does it happen randomly? Probably it simply can't happen as parallel lines can never meet. That is one thought which often took me somewhere else during maths lessons in secondary school.
What if one were to follow two parallel lines for eternity? Would some twist or incident change their inevitable destiny of not meeting? But just imagine the frustration of spending eternity waiting for the impossible to happen. It is a sensation which I sometimes encounter in my dreams. For although more often than not I tend to forget my dreams, apart from a few recollection of faces, that overwhelming sensation of hope being dashed by the realm of possibility is familiar. Yet it does come with recollections of defiance. Sure enough choosing between defiance and submission to fate, is one of the greatest dilemmas. For both are essential ingredients of our humanity.
That may be why the myth of Sisyphus has always struck me as the one best representing the human condition. Sisyphus submitted to his fate by rolling the boulder up the mountain for an infinity of times. But he remained defiant by never losing hope that one day he would manage to reach the mountain peak and complete the task which would set him free. In this way he fulfilled the will of the Gods but still defied them by remaining hopeful. And is there not a greater chance if the number of universes is infinite that in at least one universe Sisyphus has triumphed?
Moreover although one may safely conclude that there is no means to slip from this reality to another,there are significant moments when it really does feel as if our reality is being pulled by an invisible force which can thwart but also create possibilities and sometimes doing both with a twist of cosmic irony. But probably this sounds more like some metaphysical justification for entirely personal choices. In the end the randomness of it all, simply confirms my hunch that it is all about coincidence. Life is chaotic. Nothing happens for a reason. Our only freedom is to defy, rebel and create even if we can at any time be blown away by forces which we cannot control. We are after all insignificant beings living in a small fraction of the known universe, possibly one of an infinity of universes. Yet the desire to take control and bring some order to chaos is also a part of our humanity. That is why we still have a duty to resist injustice and create beauty despite the futility of it all.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The words which make us

Naturally enough we strive to define the world around us through words which have fixed meanings. But our lives and the world we live in are in constant flux. Even in these times when we are secluded in our homes, we are more than ever marching towards uncharted waters. In some ways this gives us the luxury to contemplate change, possibly a dramatic collapse of aspects of the neo-liberal order, but we are inevitably faced by the limits of our vocabulary. So there is an inevitable conflict between the stationary state of the dictionary and change both in personal and historical narratives. We have a limited number of words for such a wide variety of hues and experiences. Not surprisingly the Inuit are said to have 50 different words for snow. Perhaps the more we live in a confined space, we also start observing hues of which we were largely not aware. Even while walking everyday in my hometown i started noting small architectural details which had escaped my field of vision. Also in the stationary state we are confined we are likely to reflect more in the different hues in our relationships with each other. For example the word friendship-something so valuable in corona times, comes in so many different hues and intensities, the kind where you can talk about the meaning of existence until the sun came up, the kind where you laugh yourself to bits and the kind which anchor you to different aspects of reality.

The same applies to domestic life where fixed definitions disguise so many different ways of living this experience. What is awkward in these times is that in a moment of enforced segregation, we have also more likely to virtually bring in work and friends in to the domestic sphere, in what is reminiscent of older times when work was also carried in the home and when the home was part of the neighbourhood. So is the return of the balcony as a sphere of interaction, a space from where the outside world can be seen and from where we seek to establish a connection.

Yet more often than not we have only one word for very complex human interactions. Moreover the meaning of words is socially determined, often reflecting not just what is generally expected by society but also deeply ingrained power relations. Some cultures do not have a word for property. Others like the Na in China do not have words for fathers or husbands because these roles do not even exist. But while the economic and social infrastructure is reflected in language, in other ways we are ruled by and through words. Therefore at best language provides us with a map to navigate one particular aspect of a multi layered reality. Somethings are in fact best experienced through silence. But it also shapes the way we perceive that reality. Words can sometimes help us articulate thoughts and emotions but they can also act as a prison. Probably we are living in a productive time when new words will be created. This may be the best indication that the times are changing.

Coining new words to reflect the many different hues in this sense becomes a revolutionary task. In this there is a lot to learn from the LGBTQI movement which has managed to re-define human sexuality by giving the plurality of identities and experiences a name. It is something which the new left and counter culture of the 1960s started by questioning not just capitalism and patriarchy but also their ramification in every day life and choices. Some are suspicious of so-called identity politics, fearing an erosion of collective struggles as if these universal causes depend on rendering the "others" who live in our midst invisible. Even worse is the assertion that giving recognition and standing up for the others by they immigrants or other minorities, weakens the movement. In fact this is one case where 'silence' becomes an accomplice of oppression. Unforunately in times of contagion, there is also a risk of increased invisibility for those whose existence remains a token, something we can only afford to be concerned with when the good times return.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Il-kliem iftitx kumpanija hazina...u joqtol

B' tifkira tal- qtil barbaru ta' Lassane Cisse sena ilu.

Il-kliem ma jmutx u kapaci joqtol. Il-kliem li nghidu ghandu habta jibqa jidwi u jhuf. Wara li nlissnuh jevapora u jingemgha fis-shab. Il-kliem ta' mibgheda ghandu habta jsib kumpanija hazina. U kull kelma hazina iggib ohra aghar minnha...u bil-qatra l-qatra tintelgha l-garra. L-imbarazz li nitfghu fuq facebook, il-kliem krudili li nghidu lil uliedna, ir-rabja kerha li bija nisfugaw il-frustrazzjoni taghna kontra dawk iktar dghajfa minnha flok kontra il-hallelin bil-glekk...dawn il-kliem ghandhom vizzju ikrah jiltaqghu, jghammru u jwelldu il-mostri. Mostri koroh dawgha bla kompassjoni u umanita. Mostri boloh li tul l-istorja inqdew bihom dittaturi kiefra li juzaw il-biza bhala arma biex joholqu iktar biza. Mostri kiefra li jsibu triq miftuha berah minnhabba l- indifferenza kollettiva ghas-sofferenza ta' haddiehor. Mostri li jniggsu l-qlub ta'dawk li joqtlu. Il-mostri li hakmu r-ruh ta' dawk li qatlu lil Lassane Cisse Souleymane qiesu xejn m'hu xejn, f' ezercizzju ta' sports, speci ta' stagun miftuh tal-kacca fuq l-immigrant miexi fid-dlam. Mostri taghna lkoll, li tmajna b'kull kelma razzista, xenofoba u giddieba li ghedna hafna drabi bl-addocc u bla hsieb biex forsi nimpressjonaw, ghax facli tidher b'sahhtek quddiem min hu iktar dghajef.

Izda meta nlissnuh anki l-kliem gentili ma jisparixxix. Il-kliem ta' rabja kontra l-ingustizzja, l-inugwaljanzi u l-poter li ma jaghmilx gustizza. Il-kliem li nuzaw biex niggieldu lill- mostri. Il-kliem li jghatu farag u tama flok joholqu biza u ansjeta. Il-kliem li bihom nuru solidarjeta ma kull min hu qieghed isoffri. Dak il-kliem iftix il-kumpanija tajba, jithabbeb u jwelled dinja sabiha. U m' hemmx xejn isbah mil-anti faxxizmu, il-glieda kontra l-mostri u dawk li juzawhom biex jibnu dinja kerha, ostili u bla qalb.