Moving to a new home

After five years, Contemplation will continue from a new home (which you can find here). Thanks for reading and hope that you will continue to encourage me by subscribing to my new posts via email here.

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We suffer from the what’s new syndrome

The idea behind meditation is to sit in a comfortable pose with your eyes close and back straight, and then empty your mind of any thoughts. Sounds easy of course, but getting rid of thoughts is difficult. To aid the process, the form of meditation I have been taught involves focusing on breathing. The process is a rhythmic one and there is much to learn about something we don’t consciously think about much.

I start by getting rid of any thoughts I’ve been holding on to. This could be about an email, a person or a chore. I consider it and then let it go. Within a few minutes, I am truly staring into the dark (minus magic lights of the eye or phosphene). Then I start focusing on my breath.

You can consider many things: the pace of breathing, which parts of your body when you breath, how much does each part move, what sensation does breathing cause in different parts, how much detail can you gather from each of those parts, what is the temperature of the air as you breathe it in and out, etc.

But soon enough I run out of things to learn about breathing. Usually this starts about 12-15 minutes in. And that is the most vulnerable time of my meditation session. If I let an interesting thought in, down I go the rabbit hole. By the time I realise that, I’ve lost the peace and quiet that comes from meditation.

Why do I hit that wall every time I meditate? How can I overcome it?

I think I hit that wall because my mind has had enough of the breathing and its related experiences. Now it wants something new. Anything new. Something worth thinking about or reminiscing or observing or experiencing.

The world of new awaits

The world of new awaits.

I don’t think this is a problem of our modern day lives with the continuous social media feeds, email and app notifications. (I could be wrong, but I haven’t come across evidence to prove that). I think it’s something to do with human beings love for the new.

In any form distraction is hard to deal with. While meditating, the mundaneness of the activity makes it easier to get distracted. We all suffer from what I provocatively call the what’s new syndrome.

That’s just a new name for something psychologists have studied for quite sometime. They call it novelty-seeking behaviour. Its genetic roots and relations to brain chemistry have linked the trait with problems like “attention deficit disorder, compulsive spending and gambling, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal behaviour”.

Researchers separate people in three categories: neophobes , neophiles and, on the extreme, neophiliacs. A recent study suggests that neophiliacs are the ones most like to suffer from disorders. But, if these people can combine their neophiliac nature with persistence and “self-transcendence” (losing yourself in something you love), then that may be the perfect cocktail for success.

I might be a neophiliac, given that I enjoy working as a journalist. But I don’t think people can be cleanly classified into three categories. I might be a neophiliac when it comes to news, but I hate changing houses. My interest in new people waxes and wanes based on an algorithm that I haven’t yet cracked. And I certainly fixate on things, like certain foods or computer games, for quite a while before moving on.

All this is to say that there must be a mixture a neophobe, a neophile and a neophiliac in me. And I suspect that might be the case for others too.

How then can it help me solve my meditation problem? Perhaps I have to channel some of neophobe nature into hating new thoughts for a little while. I know I can be persistent, so may be I have a chance at achieving this.

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Let us pick our battles, feminists

I recently reread Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If—”. And it reminded me of an online encounter I had with some feminists. The beautiful poem ends with this:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If those feminists could have their way, reprints of Kipling’s poem will be forced to add a few words to the last line: “And—which is more you’ll be a Man, my son, and a Woman, my daughter!”

Kipling had a son and a daughter, but “If—” was written as paternal advice to his son John. It was written in the Victorian era, which was a much more patriarchal society than today. And it might seem like an exaggeration that feminists today will want such a change made to a great work of literature, but may be it isn’t.

Even today many such feminists scoff at The Economist Style Guide‘s use of “he” over “he or she”. It says on political correctness:

If you believe it is “exclusionary” or insulting to women to use he in a general sense, you can rephrase some sentences in the plural. But…do not be ashamed of sometimes using man to include women, or making he do for she.

I have been on one occasion publicly asked to change “the common man” to a more gender neutral term “the people on the streets”. Something I didn’t really have any strong views about and was happy to oblige to making the change.

That incident did make me think that it’s important to pick your battles when fighting for a good cause. I care deeply about the rights of women, and as an Indian I feel ashamed at the monstrous acts committed against them every day in my country. In my personal life, I work consciously to keep my biases in check. This year I sat down with my extended family to talk about how much more an educated and well-off family like ours still needs to do to help the cause. But I wonder why some feminists make such trivial things their pet peeves. Aren’t there more important feminist issues to worry about than this?

Posted in Philosophy | 3 Comments

Do we really know what is meant by scientific temper?

A geologist pinged me today to ask, “Nehru studied geology at Cambridge University … I wonder how much he used his science in office?”

I’m not great with history, but I know many fellow Indians are aware that “to develop scientific temper” is the constitutional duty of every citizen. I’ve heard that quoted by those who understand the value of science, but what about others?

And how many of those who understand the value of science understand what is really meant by scientific temper? I think it’s worth repeating what Nehru said in “The Discovery of India”, which he wrote while he was imprisoned following the Quit India movement.

[What is needed] is the scientific approach, the adventurous and yet critical temper of science, the search for truth and new knowledge, the refusal to accept anything without testing and trial, the capacity to change previous conclusions in the face of new evidence, the reliance on observed fact and not on pre-conceived theory, the hard discipline of the mind—all this is necessary, not merely for the application of science but for life itself and the solution of its many problems.

Among our elders we still have those who lived under imperial rule, but there are fewer of them every passing year. That may be one reason another quote of Nehru may not have the effect that he intended.

While religion tends to close the mind and produce intolerance, credulity and superstition, emotionalism and irrationalism [sic], and a temper of a dependent, unfree person, a scientific temper is the temper of a free man.

If you have a few minutes to spare today, I wish you will give these words some thought.

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