Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Man - Is he temporary, or permanent?

I am sure you all must have observed a tendency in us to reuse many things. We reuse our knowledge. We reuse our cooking, we reuse the designs etc etc. We even resuse our wastes. It makes sense, since it results in saving. But, certain things which we observe about this business of reuse seems to go a bit overboard.

I could cite an example from my field: Software Engineering. There's a great emphasis placed on the idea of reusing software in all ways possible. We try to write the program in such a way that a binary executable executes everywhere. Java, and .NET are inventions which follow this maxim. Well! It always doesn't prove to be possible. So, people try to write programs in such a way that, as far as possible, the application only needs a different build for a different platform. That's called source code level portability. They don't stop only there, though. There's this of field of software design which is mostly about building the software in such a way that the parts of the program so created should serve as much purpose as possible. No two pieces of code should do the same thing. Maximum reuse. The story continues to the realms of design patterns and architectural patterns -- they are some kind of coded design solutions to frequently occuring design problems, especially in the area of Object Oriented software engineering --, analysis patterns -- which are supposed to be reusable understanding of the problems. Upto the point of source code reuse, the benefits are apparent; but beyond that, in design patterns etc., things become a bit too cryptic and abstract for a mind of normal calibre to comprehend. Would these things have been invented had the question been only for 'reuse' in practical sense? I feel, researchers working on computer architecture have been doing a pretty good and practical job in giving us with faster and more spacious computers every other day. Yes, there's this issue of software complexity; but again, the solutions that design patterns give are not comprehensible to a big body of people who do extensive amount of computer programming.

I feel, the reason for doing investigations in any form of reuse has a more basic, albiet less practical, root. That's in man's fascination with permanence.

Man sees himself in his creation. Creation is how man (a creative man) tries to leave his mark in many things. Perhaps, somewhere at the back of his mind, there's this hope that some of them will outlive him. While his body perishes, he will live on in some of his creations. In these lines, many would argue that people like Ved Vyasa, Vinci, Newton, Tolstoy etc. are not dead yet. The corresponding belief in the immortality of their leader of the followers of people like Buddha, Mohammed, Vivekananda etc. would be particularly vehement, I'm sure.

The idea of man's immense love for his creation has been churning in my mind for such a long time! The life and identity of a person extends when he creates something. A part of the life perishes as the object of creation perishes. Regarding this, I had written a short story in my final year of engineering. The name of the story was 'The Castle of Sand.' It was about how the love for his creation leads a person to criminal extents to save it.

I see the same emotion beautifully portrayed in the movie 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' where a colonel and his regiment, who're in captivity of the Japanese during the second World War, build a bridge across a river for carrying the reinforcements of the Japanese forces in Burma. The bridge gets destroyed in the end, but within the split second climax of the story, we see how the colonel hangs in a delicate balance between the irrepressible urge to save his creation, and the call of duty to serve his nation. Wonderful movie!

A similar portrayal is found in the classic 'Frankenstein.' The inventor invents a life form which turns destructive. The inventors chases the demon of his own creation to the end of the world. His clear vow was to destroy it, as it had been a cause of many losses of dear lives. But beyond all this, there's this subtle depiction of the author whose meaning of living on ends with the end of his creation. Life doesn't lose its value by a mere fulfilment of a promise, or loss of dear ones. It will happen when it knows that by going on, it has no hope of devising its perpetuation.

The point is: We all want to live forever. If not in bodily form, then atleast in some other form: as
a painting or sculpture, as a literary work, as a musical creation, as a scientific idea.

I want to draw your attention to the concept of God, and adwaita. We believe, that we -- the creation of God -- are parts of Him. I feel, this could have its roots in the idea of man searching himself and his identity in his own creation.

I was reading some of the works of Vivekananda recently. So much vigour! So much hope! That we can discover our inherent eternity from our daily chores, from acts possible within the confines of this physical existence! No wonder, seeds of hope the great man sowed a century ago, have grown into huge trees and they still bear fruits for millions of people.

However, there's another school of spiritual philosophy which argues in a seemingly conflicting line. Our old scriptures, the Eastern philosophies of Tao and Zen, all talk about change. 'The only thing that's permanent is CHANGE.' That's the maxim!

One one hand, change is evolution, change is improvement, change is a better future. But on the other hand, change is aging, change is death.

While it's easy to accept the fruitfulness of change on the entire universe, we find it difficult to accept that we are also a part of that changing universe; and we fight decay and death with all our might. We see God as one with the Nature; we see God as one with us. Somehow, it's woefully difficult, that by simple transitivity, we all are one with the nature.

The intention of pointing out the above dichotomy in human thoughts is not to ridicule the idea of preservation of life. In fact, the idea is not even to talk about the rightness or wrongness of one or another. I wish to locate the thing that associates so much pain and fear with the concept of death. I feel, it's our love for permanence. Inspite of teeming evidence of change and temporariness, we have been able to create such magnificant concept like GOD, something that defies change and transience. At least half the population of the world sticks on to their faith in God with a vehemence that could move mountains. God is their only hope that permanence is possible; and that seeking it is theoretically not out of question. Religions and mystic theses create such foolproof frameworks that protect our faith with unbelievable efficiency. That there lies something beyond this miniscule physical existence -- wonderful if it's something so beautiful as a Heaven; but even if it's hell, far more acceptable than a sudden absolute end of existence -- itself gives a win-win deal. Anything to live beyond this body!
Life is full of contrasting ideals and realities. The tussle between our seeking permanence, and our inherent temporariness, is one of the basic ones. It would be one of the greatest realisations of life if someone would be able to see the ideal hidden within the reality; when someone is able to apprepriate, and not just understand, that 'change is permanent.' I don't appreciate it. I am like million more brethen of mine trying hard to reconcile my realities with my primal ideals!

1 comment:

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

In my school, I was perticularly averse to cramming up poems, dates and geographical information. By their very nature, they are prone to be forgotten the next day of the exam. The whole idea of memorising something for the purpose of scoring well in the exams appeared base and vile to me, even at a very young age. My father had once told me: 'Don't read to get marks; try to understand!' I had been very fascinated with this idea. There was immense pleasure in understanding something. Opposing this, learning anything by heart was boring, to put it mildly. In the case of a concept, once understood, a concept couldn't be taken away from me easily. In case of a poem, once learnt, there wasn't a guarantee that I wouldn't have to learn it again each time I was supposed to prove that I knew a poem. It was an obnoxious thought. There're more than one faults in this attitude. I myself realise that. One, the whole idea behind learning a poem is not about cramming it up. A poem is a song in making. A person who can discover the elements of a song in a poem will never have a difficulty in learning it. The underlying concept, and that hidden song are enough for one to be able to learn a poem. So much with the faults in my earlier attitude. But, one thing in it that goes well with the earlier discussion is the fact that I used to view memorisation of anything something starkly temporary; and understanding something had a flavour of permanence. No wonder, the latter has always taken my fancy. It does that even now: I would rather understand a new mathematical concept, than having to learn new facts and figures.

It's another matter that now I realise that practising is not about memorising. It's about cracking complexity in steps. Human mind (atleast the mind of this human) is not tireless. It gets tired after some exertion. While, say, trying to read a paper (or a long blog!), it's difficult to concentrate beyond a point. However, wonderfully, while the mind hibernates, it preserves its last state. In fact, it does more than that. It keeps a background process up that surreptitiously keeps processing the remaining details, while the better part of the mind might be engaged somewhere else. Consequently, the next encounter with the same complexity finds us in a more prepared state. Reading through the same matter the second time reveals quite a different aspect of the same matter. Practising is all about developing familiarity, so that we can digest details in layers, as we keep leaving learning issues behind us one by one.

The above two paragraphs may seem to relate to a rather orthogonal subject. However, that's not the case. I consider it a great learning that I have got when I could argue that practising the same thing again and again too has an element of permanence in it, even if it involves reading the same matter, singing the same song, or drawing the same image again and again.