Changing ‘change’ – Short history of that change in your pocket.

I’ve been hearing about Bitcoin a lot lately and when I learnt how Bitcoins were ‘mined’, it reminded me of how societies change what they value and the concept of money changes with that.

Civilizations value what they deem is the most important and the worth of anything, either a hard day’s labor or a exquisite piece of art is valued with respect to that commodity. The ancients valued food or sustenance above all and long before the great cities rose people were trading using food the grew, meat or hunted. Thus the barter system was born. Slowly as people started settling in agricultural societies started valuing their staple diets more and more, and nomadic communities their herds of cattle.  No sooner, the worth of a man was measured either by the sacks of rice or a the herds of sheep he had.

GOLD!

GOLD!

When the first man saw the bright sunlight gleaming on the yellow metal the history of mankind was forever changed. Cities fell, civilizations wiped out and ordinary humans became gods in the eyes of the beholder, all because of the shiny pieces of gold  they had. Soon precious metals were considered valuable and coins were minted with gold and silver to be used as currencies. These coins had intrinsic value, irrespective of who minted these coins, they were valuable for the materials in which they were made from. This sparked the global trade to flourish in a much wider scale. Although people did not want the commodities you were selling, everybody loved gold!

But carrying something like gold which had intrinsic value had its disadvantages, you were vulnerable to robbery and theft and you could carry only so much and not weighed down by it. So, some renowned trade houses started offering promissory notes that you indeed possessed the amount of gold that was written on that piece of parchment. It was safer now to travel with all your wealth in your pocket. You could exchange the note for the gold at any franchise of the trading house or you could directly trade using the promissory note. Thus the first currency was born. This was a very successful endeavor indeed, some promissory notes issued by large trading houses in India were so popular that they were valued as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt  Even kings did not posses that much influence. Empires rose and fall, dynasties perished, armies clashed but trading houses and conglomerates survived Millenniums.

Gold seemed to be the perfect currency, it seemed flawless but now we know that it also reacts to the forces of demand and supply. When the time of kings and tyrants had passed, governments rose. One centralized authority that promised that it could and would protect your life’s work; the first gold backed currencies were born. Now, these currencies were backed by gold or other precious commodity which the government held in huge lockers in undisclosed locations and printed currencies equal to the value of the commodity that the country possessed.

Thousand rupee note - India

Thousand rupee note – India

Once the evolutionary urge of survival is not necessary anymore, the second most powerful urge, the urge to reproduce kicks in. Humanity grew in an explosive rate.  The number of people kept growing in an exponential pace but the amount of precious metal remained the same. The move away from commodity backed currency was inevitable. Governments started printing money. Neither did this type of money have any intrinsic value nor was it backed by any commodity, it had value because governments said so. This type of money is called Fiat money. This type of currency has value because people say it has value, funny isn’t it? This is called the Tinkerbell effect, something exists or is valuable because people believe that it does! From the salary you are paid to the country’s economy to international trade depends on the one single basic fact that people and governments are trustworthy; ironic isn’t it? That government, which is run by “corrupt” politicians and executives, that we sometimes hate and bitch about is the single  thing that is holding your sh*t together! When you read “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of…” on that bank note, it really is just a promise.

When governments like that are afraid of something then you can bet your money that it is indeed powerful. Yes, I am talking about the internet. It has transcended country, religion and racial lines. It has elected presidents and overthrown dictators. So, when the internet democratizes the playing field, it does not stop for anything. You might have heard this before but Bitcoin which is the currency of the internet has no centralized authority. It is a peer to peer currency that exists on the world wide web. Bitcoin is “Mined” by performing complex calculations using powerful systems. That’s right, Calculation are turned into currency. When the world moves into the new digital age, not commodities, not governments but the power of calculation and intelligence will hold the key.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin

The internet is not some artificial hive mind, it is a network of people and people are unpredictable. This also translates to Bitcoin, but it clearly shows us what has become the valuable commodity of this digital age. Even if it does not become the standard currency it has ushered  us into a new age and has changed our perspectives.

More on Bitcoin here.

One of my many love affairs…

Have you ever fallen in love with a book? I know, some of you might have, but I don’t mean falling in love with the author or what he said, falling in love with the actual book, that inanimate object. It pains me to say that its ‘inanimate’ but for the sake of explaining myself, I have to.

'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by William Papas

‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by William Papas

This is the story of how I fell in love with the book ‘The Screwtape Letters‘ by C. S. Lewis. The concept of the book intrigued me, it is the correspondence between Screwtape, an experienced devil and his nephew Wormwood, a young tempter at the beginning of his demonic career. So, I ordered the book online, when I opened that package and saw the embossed letters on the cover of the book; I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight but it flicked a switch inside me. They say you should not judge a book by its cover but it was the cover that started the spiral into my obsession with the book.

When I say obsession, I’m not exaggerating. I go to sleep with it beside my pillow, it has to be at the top of the book pile on my table, I’ve started using it as a wallet, I take it to my driving classes, it is appearing in my dreams! I was actually reading another book when this book arrived but sweet lord! The illustrations, they just won’t let me get on with the other book! Did I tell you about the illustrations? Beautiful! Just beautiful! This edition of the book was illustrated by William Papas and dear god, he has done a stunning job!

This is not my first obsession, before this I was obsessed with another book, ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahnuik. I would read that book every other time I finish some other book, I started remembering the lines before I read them. I had to give it away to a friend as a gift to get over it. But this time I think it is much worse. The smell of the paper, the crisp sound when you turn the pages and the illustrations, they don’t let me sleep at night.

A couple of days ago I saw a TED talk by Chip Kidd, in which he talks about the level of insight and creativity which he puts into designing the covers of books, but you have to be attentive to detail in order to notice any of it. This set off my detail-preceptor and the devil is in the details, literally! This book is actually a collection of letters from a senior demon as I mentioned earlier, the level of detail in the book is just amazing. We can see in the illustration that the devil is writing with a quill and a ink bottle so whenever he is signing his name or addressing his nephew, there is a ink blot here and there, spill a couple of times. This is just one of the many seductive capabilities of the book that enticed me.

I also have a kindle which I very much like but whatever technology brings to us the physical feel of a book is impossible to emulate if you ask me, hardcover paper books will always rule the hearts and minds of the reader. Still, this worries me sometimes, the trees you know…

I want to believe again!

I am a great fan of Jawaharlal Nehru, he was India’s first prime minister, a die-hard nationalist and an atheist. While I was reading his ‘The Discovery of India‘ something caught my eye.

disc

Now, this requires some context. This was around 1935 when the British had passed the ‘Government of India Act‘, which put in place ministers from the Indian National Congress in some positions of power but still under the oppressive reign of British Governors and the Viceroy. These were the days when they fought against the tyrannical rule of imperialism, people bled for democracy and freedom. The whole nation believed that Democracy can change their fate; they believed in Leaders; they believed it was the answer. In a country of hundred religions, where people killed each other in the name of god, an atheist became the first democratically elected Prime Minister! That was the respect and devotion that people had for politicians and politics.

What happened?

Populist politics, Caste vote, violent coercion of voters, instigation of religious riots, walkouts from the parliament sessions which is paid for by taxes, corruption, scams and things that on mention makes you shudder in disgust;  I’ve spent the larger part of my life in the 21st century and all this seems too familiar now , a very sad realization indeed. When was the last time you heard an intelligent and educated youth talk good about politics? The mere mention of the word brings a feeling of repugnance to the listener. Why has this happened? Why wouldn’t this happen? I’ve never known a politician whom i can adore, whose honor i am willing to defend.

Indian-Democracy-Political-Cartoon-Gandhi-08_04

I am deeply disturbed and saddened by this. We don’t understand the domino effect of this disbelief. The general contempt and aversion that the people hold towards the politicians echo across the spectrum of governance. People trust NGOs more that the governments they voted for; and when the faith in the government falls, people’s faith in the currency falls, people even stop exercising their right to vote. People lose faith in democracy! It is easy to be is heartened and to become a cynic; and as of now we are not short of reasons to lose hope.

young_girl_20080124I love this country and its people, I want us to do great things. I want a politician who defies the current meaning of the word. I want somebody to love and trust. I want a secular non-partisan idealist. I want to believe that the government is good again. I want to be a nationalist. Give me hope!

I wanna believe in democracy again!

I want to be a Patriot!

What if we are a runaway experiment?

If you can do anything, what would be the hardest thing to do?

I will give you any super power you want, what would be the toughest thing to do?

I will grant you omnipotence, what would be the most difficult thing to do?

Transcendent by Yogendra Sethi

Transcendent by Yogendra Sethi

Nothing – Try doing nothing! Can you do absolutely nothing irrespective of all your might? Can you desist yourself from doing something in spite of your new found power? I’m not talking about staying away from the public eye or maintaining a secret identity. Can you see people in misery, know that you can help them and just walk away? Can you resist that curiosity to try something just once? Can you overcome the greed to take anything and everything you want? If you can save lives with just a gaze, can you look the other way?

You should neither help nor harm.

You can bend time and space but you should not. You can hear the cries of every single being in misery but you should not flinch. You can bring people back from the beyond but you should not answer the prayer of an orphaned child. You can make everybody in the world happy and hopeful but you have to choose to let them despair. You can indulge every single one of your fantasies but can you refrain from doing exactly that? Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

I reckon that this would be the hardest thing to do, to not do anything.

If there is a God, whoever he maybe, it may very well be a she,  is doing something very difficult; nothing. He sets the stage, makes the rules and leaves us alone. He lets things play out naturally. He lets us make our own decisions and live with its consequences. When you have the power to change reality, it is not easy being a witness. Perhaps it takes a God to stand back and watch the clowns fight. What if he has no intention of interfering in our matter and never has?

Einstein said “God does not play dice with the world”, maybe he does not even want to play; maybe he just wants to watch.

Now read the title.

Inspired by a conversation with a friend.

11 Things you can do to make your life suck less!

  1. Register for NASA’s Spot The Station mailing list. Go to your roof when the say, look where they ask you to look and just see how f*cking amazing humanity is.
  2. Start using twitter usefully and not just for Shits And Giggles! Follow people who inspire you, organisations that you love and please stop tweeting pictures of your food, pet and feet?! I mean, whats up with that?!
  3. Install Rescue Time and a week later I guarantee you, it will remind you the sober reality of how much time you waste looking at cat pictures and “some other stuff” – you know what I mean.
  4. Read a damn book. Just one! Anything would do. You will not seem like a Neanderthal to yourself and probably other people too. Language and printing press were humanity’s greatest invention, don’t spend your life without knowing why.
  5. Find out what is lucid dreaming, try it. You are going to have some fun times once you get going.

    The life is like a tightrope walking. by Adi Holzer 1997

    The life is like a tightrope walking. by Adi Holzer 1997

  6. Start a ‘SparkFile‘, those crazy brain farts and ideas you some times have, write them down before you forget; date and number each entry; review them periodically. Great ideas were one similar brain farts.
  7. Practice writing with your other hand, start eating and doing regular things with that hand. With enough practice you can fancy yourself as ambidextrous. The next time they ask why they should either admit you or hire you for something, you bet your a$s that there isn’t an ambidextrous person in that list.
  8. Moderation is the key, anything and everything.  Alcohol, YouTube, Food, Facebook, Family; you name it, moderation is the rule of thumb.
  9. Some quiet time please, quiet time is severely underrated. Spend some time with yourself, no audio-visual inputs. Block out everything. Just sit there and think for once in your life.
  10. Relationship advice, don’t give any or take any; every single person on the planet is a complex individual and there is no general theory depending on your gender, county or colour. So, stop stereotyping! Treat people how you would like to be treated.
  11. Finally to quote one of the legends,

Stop being sad and be AWESOME instead!

Religion is here to stay.

In a crunch

In a crunch

Unfortunately, that may very well be true. We would be deluding ourselves if we were thinking otherwise, unless we really do something about it. When I say ‘do something about it’, I don’t mean religion-bashing, blame game or talking condescendingly to people who do not share your belief system. Those who pride themselves as rational, free thinkers and atheist who value reason and evidence have to think long and hard before we go on a “crusade” to rid the world of the misery that is religion. Initially when I read this article that ‘Religion may not survive the Internet’, I was amused and even happy for a while, but then my skepticism kicked in. The internet is something that was created by humans and as long as there are humans, history will repeat itself and religion will survive.

History is a very good teacher but we are all not very bright students. We may point out inconsistencies and instances crimes that are perpetrated by religion but religion does not stand by itself; it is a part of a superstructure that has offered stability and solace for millions and millions of people for thousands of years. I’m not defending religion here but merely stating the fact; the time the Egyptians who worshiped their emperor as a god, when the roman church held the fate of whole Europe in it is hands, to the Islamic republics, to the caste system that is still practiced in India, in spite of all it is setbacks religion has offered stability and an illusion of authority and purpose. That is why it is not easy as we think to vanquish it. We cannot just wish away religion and hope that some dreamy thing will fill the void that is left by it, that would be yet another failed Utopian dream. We need something that will replace religion!

Sounds funny doesn’t it? This too is not a new idea many religions that exist today with all it is moronic dogmas and superstitions started as an alternative to something that was tyrannical and exploitative. Take the Buddha for example, he did not set out to start a religion, he told people how ridiculous worshiping idols was and taught reason. Now, Buddhism in all it is glory is yet another religion with rituals and ceremonies.

Buddha statue, Irony.

Buddha statue, Irony.

In the aftermath of the French revolution, when the king who had the divine authority to rule over them had failed them, when god himself had deserted the people, when the royal family was beheaded, there was this one idea which sought to replace religion and offer the utopia that everybody had dreamed of. An idea so powerful, that it took over half the world. It was then, that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published their ‘Communist Manifesto’. If we examine the conditions from which the Communist Manifesto came, we will understand that the tremendous success of communism was because it was there to fill the theological void left by it is predecessor, it gave people something to believe in. The same thing happened in Russia  when the Tsars and the royal family were executed and we came to know of Vladimir Lenin and the infamous Joseph Stalin. Again, I’m not arguing for communism, I very much like my private property. Religion is an idea, a way of life, it is not just enough to point out the inconsistencies and pitfalls of it. Unless a viable and a far better way of life, an idea emerges, religion is here to stay.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The caste system that is still prevalent in India is the heart of the Vedic religion that is Hinduism. Various eminent personalities from the Buddha to myriad of social thinkers have tried to abolish it but in vain. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who rejected religions, says the same about the caste system.

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

“We cannot just disrupt and hope for something better without having some vision of the future we are working for, however vague that vision may be. We cannot just create a vacuum, or else that vacuum will fill itself up in a way that we may have to deplore. In the constructive schemes that we may make, we have to pay attention to the human material we have to deal with, to the background of its thought and urges, and to the environment in which we have to function. To ignore all this and to fashion some idealistic scheme in the air, or merely to think in terms of imitating what others have done elsewhere, would be folly. It becomes desirable therefore to examine and understand the old Indian social structure which has so powerfully influenced our people.”

Religion offers something to be transcendent about; something to behold; something to marvel at; something so mystique that you cannot even begin to comprehend. There is another thing that will do the same thing to you; it will blow your mind at every opportunity available; it is science! Ponder for a moment here, every champion of atheism is a man of science in one way or another, at least he or she will be an admirer of science.

Next time, don’t just insult somebody for their ignorance, educate them! Make them marvel at the magnitude of events in the cosmic scale. Let them behold the vastness of the universe. Give them something awe-inspiring. Give them something to believe in. Enchant them with the intricacies and genius of evolution. Fascinate by taking them into the world of atoms and molecules, further into protons and neutrons, still further into the quarks and may be let them listen to the symphony of string theory. And all this follows simple laws of physics which a human mind has the audacity to make sense of! Is there anything else more breathtakingly marvelous to behold?singularity

It took some of us 200,000 years to realize that we don’t need a nanny to watch over us day and night to be a moral human being. Plant an Idea in their mind that their humanity is far superior than the faith that they so dearly behold. Make them realize that it is their innate sense of right and wrong that makes them who they are, make them understand that people are generally good and they don’t need God to set them in the right path, give them hope.

What if…

Anthropic principle is something that has provoked and prodded my brain for quite some while now and I am sure that it will continue to do so in the future too. May be the universe is not how we think it is, I don’t mean it in a banal we-still-don’t-know-much about the universe way but in a basic fundamental way. The concept of time, energy and entropy are things or abstract concepts that we have devised in order to understand the weird things around us. For example the concept of time, once thought to be infallible is now known to be relative.

Now consider this, concept of relativity tells us that as we move faster and faster, time slows down for us. The first time you learn this, it just blows your mind! This is not just a theory but a proven fact, the global positioning satellites are intentionally set at a faster rate so as to counter for the time dilation that they experience due to the fact that they are moving at the speed of thousands of kilometers per second. If that correction is not made you could have an error of up to 11kms while using your GPS. Thanks to our friend Mr. Einstein! Now let us push this knowledge a little further, to be precise, faster and faster. Time slows down further and further. If you are aware of the ‘The Twin paradox’, you will understand this better. Now let us push it further, consider a object or a particle that is moving at the speed of light, time slows down do an extent that you can essentially say that time stops for them or they do not experience time at all. Photons, even though they travel millions of light years, for them the instant they originate from a source is the same instant that they are absorbed by another body, hypothetically, if you ask a photon ‘what is time?’ they would have no idea of what you are talking about! For them time does not exist!

Mobius Strip

This has no connection with what I am talking about, I just think Mobius strips are cool!

All these concepts, starting with colors  shapes, sound, mass, energy, the electromagnetic spectrum, time, entropy etc., are just abstract concepts that we perceive or can put a number on, tools that we devise so that we can warp our heads around what is happening around us. The known universe exists the way it does is because we see it this way, the way we possibly can. And still with all these things we can only explain only 4% of the known universe! What about the rest 96%, we have enigmatically termed them as ‘Dark matter’ and ‘Dark energy’.

Now I am going to take a leap of Imagination. Consider a sentient being in that 96% swimming at the speed of light, with no concept of time at all and not even making a splash in the electromagnetic spectrum. For us they would be “dead” the instant they were “born” AND they would also be immortal at the same time, if time does not exist for you, you are literally immortal. Again, these are terms that come from our understanding of things around us and may be they hold no meaning in defining these creatures. We will never know if they exist at all, at least with the limited technology that we now possess. It is times like this that makes you look forward to the future. What would it be like to establish contact with these beings? I cannot even comprehend how it is even possible with my limited cranial capacity! It is times like this being an immortal really pays off. Then again, you wouldn’t want to be the dumb un-evolved caveman in the midst of much more evolved descendants.

Living beyond the grasps of time, how fascinating would that be?