Perception of Beauty

During my teens, just after the Harry Potter rave, I stumbled upon another series which was not as popular, at least among the crowd around me. The book was good enough to get its own movie, but the movie was unfortunately not good enough to get a sequel. The series was the “Inheritance” series by Christopher Paolini more recognisable by its first book/movie – Eragon. Eragon is a story about a farm boy finding a dragon egg and becoming a dragon rider to oppose a malevolent Ruler. A very Star Wars inspired book, set in a Tolkien-ish world.

Among the fantastical adventures the hero goes through, there is a part where he is asked to draw with his mind. The concept is that the “artist” conjures up a thought or image in his mind and his visualisation is reflected in the canvas. It is pretty straightforward exercise, but the hero goes a step farther and fixes the image of his love in his mind, and the results are uncanny. The resultant picture is a likeness of the person he loves, but, aesthetically, far superior. But seeing the picture one can identify that it was the reflection of this girl but it also seemed to include his perception of her essence that made it even more beautiful.

This struck a cord in me. I have been observing this for sometime in my life and when I saw it written down, it was finally made concrete. From the past times people have been trying to pass down this message that “Beauty is not skin deep”, but it was always interpreted as a meagre advice – that you are expected to looked beyond someone’s appearance to see how they truly are, but now it seems as if there is more to it. While the current interpretation asks us to open the door, it blurs the fact that the door is already ajar and you are already inside. 

Beside the fact that physical appearance is subjective, there is a natural pattern of progression to how you perceive someone. The way you see someone is a reflection of your feelings for them. Given a moment you cannot perceive a person for how they truly are, you can only perceive your perception of them. 

It is natural to think that your perspective would match with real appearance in case of a total stranger, but that is not the case. Our nature to judge is unavoidable, no matter how much you claim to be non-judgemental, the moment we lay our eyes on someone, we start to impose pre-conceived notions. What we claim as being non-judgemental is merely being open to frame subtle opinions. There can be many factors influencing this – their likeness to someone we actually are familiar with, the emotional state that we are in, our past experiences and the lessons and subtle impression we soaked into our psyche. But when you approach that person and talk to that person and you start to form your own opinions about that person and our perception of the person changes, they start to become more appeasing or displeasing based on the experience. 

The more you like someone the more pleasing they appear. Similarly the more distant you start to become with a person, the more prone to nitpicking their appearance becomes. This actually plays a major role in how comfortable you are in your skin too. The more you love yourself and the more happy you feel with yourself, the more beautiful you appear to yourself. The same with relationships, people in relationships perceive themselves based on their compatibility and those external to the relationships, perceive them based on how their relationship makes you feel.  

While your eyes might be organic lenses that faithfully captures the object, your brain interprets it and gives it its nature and assigned characteristics. This makes the whole world an illusion painted by your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. Give yourself some well deserved love and be open to world around you, so that you can find yourself in a more beautiful world. More than “Beauty is not skin deep”, “Take time to observe the beauty around you” might be more helpful.

Dissension Filters

Every form of storytelling, visual, audio, existing and upcoming have all at one point or would at one point romanticized the idea of non-platonic relationships. If there exists a compatible set of people, a strong need presents itself to drop romance in the midst of it. With advent of political correctness and increased representation, gender parity is no longer of concern, all permutations and combinations are allowed.

Pursuit of love, meet-cutes, repressed feelings, longing for the unobtainable and reminiscence of bygone partners are generally the tropes that are played out in popular media. The longer you delay the fulfilment of relationships, the more invested are the audience to the character’s relationship soccer. Once it is realised, then comes the moments that would be spewed across the globe as “relationship-goals”. Add to this the purely fan driven “ships”, you find yourself essentially surrounded by a torrent of outlandishly intense relationships.

People are quick to march against porn for setting unrealistic expectations of female body and the distorted view about the act of sex, but when a romance between two people are filtered to show only their positive moments, or even worse, when entire characters are created to just fit perfectly into the other’s puzzle, it is treated off as goals to be achieved. Admittedly porn has its own additional baggages and this comparison is obviously skewed. But shouldn’t the cheesy impracticality of fictional romances also be warned against. I wonder if there are relationships that have crashed and burned just because it failed to reach upto the expectations of media romance.

While the satisfaction with regards to progress to a relationship is measured upon its relatability and prolonged culmination, the disagreements post or pre a relationship are measured on the basis of how quickly and damage free the resolution is which in most real life cases falls on the impractical category. Conflict resolution in a relationship is mostly brute-force. Yes there are strides you can make if you can expertly read the other person, but then there are land mines waiting to be stepped on so that the conflict can be blown out of topic into a trans-topical debate. It’s mostly like minesweeper, you wade across the battlefield avoiding possible and over time it gets easier to step over the mines.

Conflicts in relationships are a battle, for sure, but those battles are worth fighting over. Only through conflict do you identify your compatibility levels, address each other’s kinks and klinks. Along with the mines you learn to avoid you also learn about their trigger points, what makes them happy, what makes them laugh and those eyebrow raises and sharp looks when you step close to the hidden mines. It might not be great TV, but it would probably get you someone great to watch TV with.

He felt that if his eye itched, she might blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long before he would.Fahrenheit 451.

And Then There Were None

Recently I had the opportunity to watch “Sarpatta Parambarai” by Pa Ranjith and I was immediately mesmerised by the periodic canvas, masterful storytelling and actors who molded themselves into their respective characters. One of the main highlights of the movie was the character of Rangan Vadhyar essayed gracefully by Pasupathy. Pasupathy is an an actor well known for his ability to give stand out performances that stay with the audience sometimes even eclipsing the more significant characters in the movie. Not so surprisingly, the week after I found myself watching an interview of Pasupathy titled “Masterclass – Pasupathy on the Art of Acting”

Little into the interview Pasupathy says how it was easy for him to act during his initial days when nobody knew him, and now when people started recognizing his face and his mannerisms it was harder for him to reinvent himself to different characters on screen. This was an entirely new perspective for me. I was always under the impression the with no matter the profession, the more work you do and the more experience you get, the easier it gets for you to deliver out end products.

Suddenly it made sense why popular actors like Will Smith are blamed for playing themselves on screen. Through his rise to popularity he had given to the masses privy to his every mannerisms and personal range of emotions. Afterwards, there was only so much a man’s charm can translate into performances. The expectation of the viewers are set and it is harder for him to squeeze out a surprise from them. There is no denying that Will Smith’s charm has it own box-office value, but then there is little that would prevent him from getting typecast.

It almost seemed cruel that the greats had to constantly reinvent the wheel to stay fresh. This concept of familiarity and expectations being a challenge was a eye-opener for me. It made me think about other fields of art and how this translates there.

But when I thought about this challenge in other fields of art, I realized that this did not seem to pose a challenge for artists like painters, musicians, photographers or writers. Rather the concept of expectation and familiarity became tagged as their signature style. In these fields of art, the style of art that the artist was known for became a tool to understand the underlying message that the artist was trying to convey. Sometime they even branch out into schools where upcoming artists study, reflect, emulate and adapt these styles to come up with their own signatures.

While actors saw their characteristic mannerisms as a disability, other artists seemed to strive for their signature styles. Now it became rather clear, an actor’s work was judged by an outsider on how well they could forsake their own identity, while the work of other artists were not judged but rather studied to figure out what the artist was trying to say through their medium. It was the factor of impressing the audience that differed between these fields. An actor by profession is a tool used to show a message, the individual that is the actor doesn’t matter, but rather the character being portrayed is the focus. It is an an art of servitude. But artists of other fields are not bound by this rule, the scribbles in their mind are their sell. They have their best works when they pour themselves onto the canvas, and in contrast their work becomes increasingly regressive when they try to lose themselves to cater to the viewers.

But this aversion to pander to the general public has created the well known stereotype of a “starving artist”. While the society does appreciate art in its various forms, the path of an artist is never considered as mainstream career. It is rightly a profession of passion, but seldom a profession of prosperity. Take for example the infamous tale of Vincent Van Gogh, who is undoubtedly hailed at one the greats in art. But his work was never appreciated, and worse, ignored during his lifetime. But he stayed true to himself and died in poverty, only to be hailed later on and cited as an example of great artists who went unrecognized. His style of art is immensely recognisable and valued now, but during that era it failed to get its audience. It is a herculean task to have the will to deny conformism in the face of rejection.

Times have changed and the world has become smaller. It is easier for artists to get their intended audiences in the deeply connected web. The courage and willpower to continue in their own styles seems less of a burden when there is hope that it won’t take that one-in-a-billionth person to find your work. But the world has indeed grown smaller and the hate of thousands engulf the appreciation of one. Would you hold on to yourself for the one, or lose yourself for the thousand?

But no artist, I now realise, can be satisfied with art alone. There is a natural craving for recognition which cannot be gainsaid. – Agatha Christie, And then there were none.

Through the Looking Glass: Accident Man by Jesse V Johnson

I often feel jealous of others who doesn’t feel indecisive when it comes to the movie they want to watch, the next book to pick up or the music for the moment. For me, indecisiveness is a part and parcel of my life and to cater to that problem, I make use of pseudo-randomness to pick out choices for me. To feed this pseudo-random process I maintain a fairly big input sample, so that I am surprised by the choices offered. This sample is periodically trimmed so that choices offered are more or less in-line with my general tastes.

Accident Man entered my list probably through a “Martial artist reacts” video. But it was avoided being trimmed out purely by the interesting IMDB synopsis. The synopsis promised a movie about a hitman who has this interesting style of killing people that the scene of crime looks like an accident – hence the name Accident Man. My mind was already churning out sequences the possible imaginative ways in which he would disposing off his targets. Being a fan of the Hitman games, the repository of seemingly accidental deaths was quite immense. But halfway through the movie I realized that this was just going to be a martial arts showdown with little to no effort in making accidents happen. As with the other characters in the movie, his characteristic trait only ever shows up during his introduction. My hopes of seeing a movie with Hitman-esque (the game) murders would still remain a dream.

Given the plot, it would be hard for the audience to not get reminded of John Wick. The same “assassin against the establishment they served” plot was rehashed with a largely diminished scale. Each assassin in this movie has a signature style of executing people and almost half of them only showcases their “talent” during their character introduction. In addition to this, 20 mins into the movie we realise that the rest of the assassins prove 0 challenge to the hero. The hero is so overpowered that our minds just refuse to believe that he is in any danger.

The hero has primarily 6 hitmen/obstacles to overcome, in which 2 of them are part of a team. The first hitman – the crazed serial killer – was true to his character and the confrontation was probably one of the high points in the movie for me. Then comes the duo of highly trained killers, who act as the primary challenge to the hero. The buildup to the first fight and the actual first confrontation was fun with them trying to reason themselves for the messy situation they are in. But it was at this moment that I realised that “Accident Man” title and the synopsis was just a trap to lure people in. The next 2 hitmen, the poison one and the high-concept one was barely more than punching bags. The moment when the poison guy goes to take him down head-on and then failing to drop him with chloroform was the lowest point in the movie for me. The poison guy, in his intro, was a stealth guy. You never know he has done his work, until it too late. Also, toxins are his forte, to see him fail at even making a guy faint is just sad. High-concept guy just barely exists. There would be no increase/decrease in entertainment factor if this person was not there in the movie. Then comes the female hitman who was decent enough, but by this time you just want the movie to conclude.

Despite this, it was actually a delight to see decent action showcase with stable camerawork. Since the actors where actual martial artists, it was satisfying to see the kicks, punches delivered with clever choreo. The movie really tries to align itself to the action-comedy genre. With a solid background music and better editing, it could easily make itself stand out in this genre. Some of the sequences was criminally accompanied with generic BGMs that successfully sucked out any iota of excitement you had for that moment.

I honestly believe that the concept they had was a good one. Yes, it still was a John Wick look-alike but if the characters stayed true to their skillset mixed in with some imagination, this could very well have been a sequel churning machine.

Wisdom in Ignorance

It is widely accepted that most of our learning happens when we are kids. Then comes the phase where we consider ourselves informed enough to make sensible decisions, but our ideas are mostly ignored, citing our lack of experience. This extends into the third phase where we start asserting our know-how onto others. Finally there is the acceptance phase when we come to the realisation that we don’t know enough. we have never known enough and till our end, our wisdom won’t be enough.

The things we absorb when we are kids, the perception that we are encouraged to take, inarguably lays the foundation to the future decisions we make. For better or worse we are always kept protected from the harsh realities, till the current adult population deem us fit enough, lest they end up corrupting us.

When someone close to kids passes away during their prime, they are comforted by the widely accepted cop-out that “God loved him so much that They wanted them to be right beside Them, so They called them back to Heaven early”. It was a fairly reasonable explanation and it keeps the child from picturing the actual gruesome circumstances regarding the death.The child is now comparatively happy picturing a heavenly hall with God seated on the throne with whoever died on a seat next to them (or whatever image was fed to you through the popular media).

Time passes on and the kid sees that a young terrorist/rapist/murderer is sentenced to death or the public is ranting to get them sentenced. Suddenly a question pops up inside the kid, “Did God love this person dearly too?” But the adults have already got the answer ready “No that person is going to Hell, the place where Devil enjoys boiling or frying them on a regular basis. We are just sending them to eternal torture sooner”. Makes perfect sense – Heaven for God and Hell for the bad. The kid’s life decisions are also made simple – Do good and you get to sit on a throne where the nice people are, Do bad and you roast in Hell.

Years pass and the kid sees the world go through wars and conquests, disease and famine and countless deaths. The kid, who is not a kid no more, tries in vain to figure out which were the ones the God called because they were loved and which were the ones Devil dragged down for sadistic pleasure. The kid turns desperately to the wisdom of the elder, and gets “Its not in our purview to question or understand the acts of God”. The Kid turns around and the world suddenly seems a little grey.

Accepting ignorance, the Kid turns all the more wise.

“…the way things should be and the way things are hardly ever get together. The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. The world don’t love you, but your momma does and so do I. You’re a good boy.” – The Shining, Stephen King

Through the Looking Glass: Army of the Dead

I am not sure about when the production and pre-production started for Army of the Dead, but the timing of the movie suggests that it was a pure cash-grab move by Netflix capitalizing on the popularity of Zack Snyder after the Snyder Cut fiasco. Nevertheless being a Zack snyder movie I was looking forward to watching this movie, at least for the gory slo-mo action sequences and the dark brooding environment that Zack Snyder is known for.

But a few minutes into the movie, I noticed that the colour tone of the movie was brighter than I expected. I know that Snyder has been constantly criticised for his use of dark tones which was made even more evident when he took up the role of driving the DCEU. I think Zack Snyder was probably one of the prime victims of the MCU vs DCEU fan-war. With chronological order of movies and a headstart to boot, the success of MCU was leaps ahead of DCEU in the game of box office catch-up. Meanwhile Dc had just tied up its immensely popular and critically acclaimed Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and was sitting on Man of Steel which was received with mixed reviews.

I, for one, loved Man of Steel because of the dark and realistic portrayal of Superman fights and its obvious after effects to the city’s skyline. This Superman was far more grounded (at least as grounded as a flying invincible alien with, and not limited to, super-strength and ability to shoot lasers from its eyes, can be) and had reasonable moral dilemmas. Superman in this universe was a superhero unlike any before. There was no guide book he could read up on. General Zod and other Kryptonians were the first real challenge he encountered. For him the choice was between the city skyline or world destruction.

Marvel’s cinematic universe catapulted with the unexpected success of Iron Man, a movie about a not so popular superhero played by an actor whose face was relatively new for the general international audience. I am not and will never say that the first Iron Man movie was not good. It was extremely well made and I am a fan of Jon Favreau’s work. But the slate was clean and because of that their work was comparatively easier. Iron Man did not have a cinematic entry and if any had been done, it was obviously not a popular take. So the creators just needed to bring forth an iteration that was true to the comics and made sure that it was keeping up with the modern times, and thankfully the world had enough real-life tech to make this not seem like a huge leap.

Man of Steel on the other hand was a harder movie to get the audience excited for. Superman was obviously an iconic hero and his origin story had been told, retold, revamped and parodied and even those parodies have been retold countless times. So when coming up with a Superman movie to kickstart a universe Syder obviously had to reinvent the wheel and to be honest the new wheel was pretty awesome. But it started ricketing when it started playing catch-up to Marvel who by this time was several movies ahead. DC’s counterstroke was to skip building the foundation to jump on to match movies with Marvel thereby creating a hodge-podge universe that barely made sense.

All this rant over a different colour tone, guess it had to come out sometime. Coming back to Army of the Dead. The most frustrating thing about Army of the Dead was that it was the most unSnyder Snyder movie. There were no picturesque sequences that stayed with you even after the movie, I missed the overused slo-mo action and the otherworldly feel. The movies I am referring to as signature Snyder movies are Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen – I am not exposed to more of his work other than the DCEU obviously.

Coming to the characters, they were just different shades of the same caricature. They were essentially a group of badass characters with no defining traits or motivations. Throughout the movie any character choice made could very well be made by any one else in the group.

Army of the Dead is almost making fun of the Zombie genre. It is almost felt as if this zombie apocalypse trope was so played out that even the creator felt that there were no real stakes. Yes, most of the characters die by the time the movie ends. But when these paper thin characters are so nonchalant about the threat ahead of them, why should we, the audience, care. The most noticeable was the lack of panic when the nuke was preponed. The best I could get from the scene was “Aw shucks, I guess I need to run instead of walk now”. While recovering from this lack of response to a shitty situation, I was presented by the obviously non-existent threat of the helicopter leaving without them. It was so obvious that there would be a grand re-entry, that I kinda hoped the movie would actually not make the helicopter come back so as to add at least some shock value to the entire movie.

The only time when the movie subverts our expectations is in the most frustrating scene for me. Early on there is a sequence of this person being tricked into a room full of Zombies alone. Which results in her having to decimate an entire horde which she does in one of the best action sequences in the movie, jumping out the window to a hallway right next to her team. She is still fighting off zombies without any sign of being zombified herself. But the entire team of badass zombie killers with their big-ass guns just look at her as if they were helpless. She alone took out a HORDE and that too in a tight dark space without much room to maneuver, and when she rejoins her whole team in a large bright hallway they suddenly are unable to help her out. They don’t even make an effort to support her, they just abandon her outright.

It is obvious that Army of the Dead is the cornerstone for a new franchise. There are sooo many questions left unanswered. The origin of the Zombies, the robot Zombies and obviously the cliffhanger at the end. I guess, Army of the Dead did serve its purpose of setting up questions that could potentially be answered by future entries in the franchise.

Yin and Yang – The Convergence

This is the final part of a three part series. Do read the articles preceding this to better understand the nature of this series.
Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order
Yin and Yang – Order from Chaos

The idea of chaos rooting from order and order rooting chaos naturally directed my thoughts towards the ancient Chinese concept of Yin and Yang. Yin-Yang is a generalized idea about opposing forces complementing each other to form the visible world and its nature. This is essentially an example of the philosophy of “dualistic monism”. The basic idea behind this school of thought is that reality exists as a unified whole, but is expressed to our perception as an interconnected or interdependent duality. According to this, there is a simultaneous existence of unity and duality. But, of course, these are all philosophical ideas, not science and not even pseudo-science.

According to this philosophy, all manifestations in this world contain yin and yang aspects. These exist in complementing balance, opposing each other but finding stability in their equal quantity. Either aspect may appear more strongly in a particular object based on the observer’s perception. The visualization of this idea is the very familiar symbol of Yin and Yang known as Taijitu. The actual Taijitu has multiple layers with yin-yang being just one of those layers. Even the yin-yang or the Taijitu that we are familiar with has undergone multiple iterations to be simplified into the modern one.

In Taijitu, you can see how contrary forces balance each other while having the portion of the opposite element at its core. According to this philosophy, Yin and Yang are by nature inseparable, because one leads to the formation of the other. There is no hierarchy among these concepts. Neither Yin or Yang has superiority over the other, moreover the idea of looking at them as distinct entities itself is considered an impossibility. Without their co-existent, both of them cease to exist. Sexual reproduction is a common example that is mentioned to drive home this thought. Yin and Yang are considered core energy components of Female and Male genders respectively. In all species with sexual reproduction, the whole ceases to exist without co-existence of both the genders.

There is also another characteristic of this concept that, whenever one quality reaches a peak point, it naturally transforms into the opposite quality. There is a very memorable scene from Jurassic Park, where they find out that the population of all female dinosaurs mutated themselves into the opposite sex in order to procreate. Even though this is science fiction, this is actually something that is seen in nature, commonly among coral reef fishes like the clownfish from Finding Nemo. Whenever the population finds itself with diminishing female presence, they change gender to ensure species survival. Read this while keeping in mind that Yin and Yang are also core energy components of Female and Male genders respectively. Also something to keep in mind is that India has a similar idea for the dual nature of cosmos which is the “Ardhanarishwara”. Ardhanarishwara is the androgynous form of Shiva embodying Purusha and Prakrithi, the male and feminine aspects of nature. A single school of thought nativized by neighboring cultures.

This interplay between order and disorder is also hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. Physicists consider this as a transition space called the “edge of chaos” – a region of controlled instability. This is often mentioned in conjecture with a “Complex Adaptive System”. A Complex Adaptive System (CAS) consists of multiple elements interactive with each other. An example would be the Stock Market with the people dealing with stocks as the elements. These elements interact with each other and learn from these interactions, adapting themselves as they progress. The ideal condition for CAS is the constant flux. Without this controlled flux edging on chaos, it attains stability which would lead to a state of stagnation and thereby culminating in zero-progress or change in the system. For a CAS, this is essentially a collapse of the system. Considering the opposite state of complete chaos would also naturally end up in disaster. This state where there is enough structure to maintain order and simultaneously encourage flexibility and change is the “edge of chaos”.

Life itself would strive only in this Edge of Chaos. Without the ups and downs, life would cease to exist. The diversity in nature is fuel to this chaos. But at the same time there are enough rules and laws that govern natural behavior to ensure that life teems as a CAS on the edge of chaos. This is increasingly being adapted by different industries. The introduction of Agile Methodologies in the Software Development Industry is one such initiative to introduce multiple stakeholders interacting with each other, adapting and evolving with the changes they encounter – leveling on the brink of chaos but with enough order to prevent it from disintegration.

It is evident from our past that a system with too much order is just a system waiting to collapse. Relaxing in order to make way for flexibility ensures emergence of new ideas, willingness to experiment and a space to learn from mistakes. It is important to realize that striving for stability would only lead to an eventual monotonous collapse. We need to maintain our life at the edge of chaos so that we can be constantly surprised.

Keep in mind, that Yin is the root of Yang and Yang is the root of Yin, there is no permanence to any condition. When we fall, we would eventually rise from it even stronger and when we rise, it is time to brace ourselves for the fall. To reject crisis in life, is to limit yourself to a weaker state and to assume that your graph is all rise henceforth is absolute folly.

Concluding with a video of fractalized Taijitu.

Yin and Yang – Order from Chaos

This is a three part series and this is the second part. Going through the first part would be highly beneficial to obtain a perspective on the nature of this series: Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order

Recently I had the opportunity to read the book “Life on the Edge” by Jim Al-Khalili and JohnJoe McFadden. Though most of the book went whoosh over my head, there were things that outright baffled my mind. I came to realize that most of the stuff happening in nature that I took for granted, including photosynthesis, migration of birds and even our sense of smell was still unexplained, and the theories were collectively paving way towards quantum biology. As the authors tried to include a crash course on quantum physics on a paperback, I was educated on how Schrodinger was not just a random scientist obsessed with radioactive cats.

One of the things that kept on repeating throughout the book was Schrodinger’s principle of “order from disorder”. The principle in simple terms, or at least what I understood, is that the chaos at the quantum realm eventually tends to a pattern leading to order at the molecular level. This tendency towards pattern formation is the foundation of the order at the macroscopic level. This is why Newtonian physics works perfectly at the macroscopic level. Newtonian physics is basically approximating the chaos at quantum level by taking the behavior of matter on a larger scale. This is the same reason that we fail to explain quantum behavior with same Newton’s laws.

A similar pattern can be seen in the Stock Market behavior. Stock Market can be considered a real world measurable example of a complex chaotic system. The unpredictability of the stock market comes with the involvement of a large number of stakeholders and influencers along with the psychology of trading which differs from person to person. The risk appetite of a person has numerous emotional factors influencing it, which by nature is obviously not predictable. One cannot with any surety discern how a particular trader would respond to their gains or losses. This in turn makes the system prone to “butterfly effects” that push it from equilibrium to either side. But for stocks with strong fundamentals there are two basic feedback loops that govern it.

  1. Growth Loop – Trader buy a stock -> Stock Prices go up -> Seeing the trend, more traders by the stock
  2. Stabilizing Loop – Traders sell a stock -> Price Falls -> Since the price is less, other traders, if they see potential, buy the stocks -> Prices go up again.

In both systems we can see that, taken in small dimensions, they behave unpredictably. But when the perspective is zoomed out, the system starts to follow a fairly estimable pattern that can be predicted by algorithms and reason. In case of the physical world, the dimension used to zoom in and out is size and in case of the market, it is time. The quantum world that is devoid of normal reason starts to follow Newtonian laws in the macro world. Similarly the squiggles of the stock performance graph becomes more understandable when the time period is widened.

As with the earlier article in this series, this is time I plug in my lesson from this pattern. In our life, we go through different phases of ups and downs. Considering that we are living in that moment, it is naturally hard to view it in any other way. We can’t really comprehend when our emotional graph goes up or down, when we look at it on a daily basis. When we tend to focus on the minute aspects of our life, we tend to be psychologically pulled either way and we lose our grip on equilibrium. This is what we generally term as overthinking. Over-indulgence into small things in our life that were chaotically introduced to your life. But as with the systems mentioned earlier, there is a more sensible way to look at it. Maybe you have to widen your mind and think from different perspectives. Or maybe you need to widen the scope of the event, and view the episode as part of a larger sequence.

Keep in mind that the ups and downs that you face daily, disappear into a line when the scope is widened. 

The concluding part of the trilogy is hereYin and Yang: The Convergence.

Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order

Covid-19 has introduced a lot of new things into our lives. For some it was the realization that they have the ability to make barely edible food out of edible items and for others it was the realization that their idealization of working from home was not as well-thought out as they thought. For me, in addition to these, there was the sudden fear of barber shops. This self-inflicted fear and my family heirloom (or rather HAIR-loom) saw me progressing from this

to this

Yes, as these accurate depictions of myself suggest, I do think that I look cooler with new hair. But I digress. This partial circle over my face, made me wonder how tiny strands of hair curled around themselves to form this chaotically dense forest over my head, with little or no manual intervention. This drove me article hoping and I somehow found my search history going from afro to chaos theory and then to the motherload, fractals.

Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are created by repeating simple patterns or process over themselves. And as the Fractal Foundation rightly says – “Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.”

Fractals occur everywhere in nature – from leaves of ferns to branching of trees, from river networks to lightning bolts and from seashells to galaxies. All these geometrically complex shapes are formed by repeating nearly identical miniature copies of the whole. As you all might already now, most of the things occurring in nature are evolved and gradually perfected to make the best use of a given circumstance. The increased occurrence of fractals in nature is also no exception to this behavior. To bring home this thought, let me introduce a very relatable implementation of fractals – Our Lungs.

Respiration is obviously one of the core reasons why humans, or rather most animals, survive in this world. In order to facilitate proper exchange of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide a large surface area is required. But given the size of an average human being, nature needed to be clever in its usage of space. In an average the adult human pair of lungs is about 4-6 litres, but through the use of fractals, evolution made sure that the alveoli inside the same lungs had a total surface area of 50-100 square meters, which is the size of half a tennis court. Imagine that! A tennis court inside our lungs!!

It is not really a matter of debate that humans are the dominant species in the world today. This dominance over other beings was not achieved through their dexterity, strength or resilience. Human being had the two things required to counteract any weakness – the ability to learn from observing the world and the creativity to use these learning to their own benefit. So when nature displays this genius design, we humans figure out ways to use it better our own life.

Due to the ability of fractals to maximize surface area for a given volume in a spread out network like pattern, it is of great use for digital applications. Computers are shrinking and preforming faster with each new generation, this naturally gives rise to increased heat. Inspired from our blood vessels, the cooling systems are adopting fractals to deliver coolants uniformly. Mathematically fractal mapping enable us to procedurally simulate vivid, complex and realistic 3D landscapes using graphic imaging. Since fractals makes use of recursively re-applying simple equations, the need for storage is minimized without sacrificing on detailing.

More than this intriguing applications, fractals got me thinking about how a simple shape or equation could jumble around itself to create something so massively chaotic. This seemed similar to how one by one our thoughts mangle upon themselves, snowballing themselves to debilitating anxiety. The next time you find yourself hit by periods of unmanageable stress, instead of considering it as a massive black hole of chaos, try to break it down into its root. Find the manageable shape at the core of this fur ball and tug at it, and see the rest of it fall apart into identifiable shapes, which can be dealt with one by one.

Remind yourself that all the complexities that you encounter around you are birthed from small fundamentals that can be managed with relative ease when isolated.

This is a three part series and this is the first part. The subsequent part is hereYin and Yang: Order from Chaos

Through the Looking Glass: Ramayana by Valmiki

During my childhood, we had limited options for entertainment. I won’t ever rant about how that was a better time, but I would surely say that the noise was less. We had only “Aakashavaani” on the radio and “Doordarshan” on TV, both courtesy of Government of India. So it was no surprise that my first superhero was “Hanuman” from Ramayana. Please don’t take this as a commentary on secularism either. On one side, my parents offered a guy who walked around talking real calm and on the other side the TV showed me this muscular flying Man-Ape who lifted mountains. My parent’s guy was so chill that even though he could potentially do more, he decided to walk on water, meanwhile Hanuman was flying over the ocean to get to the other side while battling monsters. It was no competition, Hanuman was easily more badass.

Growing up watching Ramayana and Mahabharata piqued my interest in mythology. So I found myself reading stories of mythical gods and demigods. I started home with an abridged version of Ramayana and Mahabharata, moving on to Greek and Roman mythology, followed by Norse, Egyptian and finally the phase ended with a failed effort to understand the Chinese Mythology.

But there was a lingering feeling of incompleteness due to realization that I never really read the unabridged stories. More than a decade passed and 2020 struck. Thanks to the added time made available to me, I was again reminded of this thought. But of course Sanskrit is still not my strong suit, so I looked through forums for a faithful unabridged translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana and ended up with the translation done by Bibek Debroy.

The plot of Ramayana is actually quite straightforward, but to summarize it would be disrespectful. More than the good vs evil plotline, Ramayana scores with the emotional interplay between characters and the philosophical undertones. There are also multiple short stories strewn throughout the book, to make up for the otherwise mundane travels done by our heroes, that helps to widen the world and enrich the mysticism of the land they are part of. The major characters are painted with behavioral characteristics that determine their actions throughout the series.

Since written publication was limited, all the mythological epics depended on word-of-mouth as their primary mode of reach. As with all word-of-mouth publications, the original content is inevitably bombarded with embellishments and exaggerations that match the source’s imagination and the listener’s appetite. Keeping in mind this fact, even if we consider Valmiki’s Ramayana to be a faithful narration of real occurrences, the version of Ramayana that exists would still be filled with exaggeration because the original account told by Valmiki simply does not exist anymore.

So throughout my reading I tried to wipe out the magic and mysticism away and replace with what could have been possible during that time. Surprisingly it was easier than I expected, because this version of Ramayana unlike more recent adaptations was way more grounded. It was not until Yuddha Khanda that I started having difficulties, but even Yuddha Khanda was fine. My gripe was with Uttara Khanda. For me, the last chapter of Ramayana, Uttara Khanda was so distinct in nature from the rest of the series that it sadly left a bitter aftertaste. The élan I felt while reading Ramayana was ruined by this last part which seemed to me like a patchwork of stories created to cater to a specific audience. In my mind, Valmiki Ramayana concluded with Yuddha Khanda.

I recently came to know about the Three-Act structure in narrative fiction. The Ramayana till the end of Yuddha Khanda matches perfectly with this, and then there is the Uttara Khanda left hanging at the end. The Three- Act structure has as the following separations:

I am no expert in narrative fiction, but this separation made sense to me.

  • Act 1 (Exposition with an inciting incident) – Bala Khanda and Ayodhya Khanda
  • Act 2a (Character Arc) – Aranya Khanda
  • Act 2b (Rising Action) – Kishkinda Khanda and Sundara Khanda
  • Act 3 (Climax) – Yudda Khanda

Coming to the characters. Ramayana has numerous named characters, but only a handful of characters who actually matter and even lesser characters who are well-established. The primary among those is obviously Rama. I have a penchant for flawed heroes. For me it was a shame that Rama is addressed by the society as a perfect human, when while reading Ramayana I found him more attractive as a flawed hero. Rama follows dharma to a fault. The primary motive behind all his actions are seeded from his need to maintain the respect and image he commands. I am not saying that he did not love Sita. The moments from Sita’s abduction to the brothers reaching Kishkindha has Rama in obvious lamentation. But his drive to kill Ravana was fueled more by revenge for the shame incurred. Rama was never a person who backed out from a challenge, on the contrary he enjoyed the thrill of battles, probably because his first set of praises and accolades came from his travels with Vishwamitra where he fought down Rakshasas.

The despair on losing Sita and the need for revenge clouded his thoughts to make his most potent mistake in the book – the killing of Vali. The assassination of Vali is never properly explained in Valmiki Ramayana. There are other versions suggesting that Vali had the boon to obtain half the strength of those opposing him, justifying Rama’s need to attack from afar while Vali was engaged in a challenge from Sugriva. Even that is lame excuse for a person who follows dharma like Rama. The only justification that is present in Valmiki Ramayana is that Vali had sexual relations with Ruma, Sugriva’s wife, who should have been like a sister for him. This is the sin that Rama accuses him of. That still doesn’t justify the cowardly way in which Rama killed Vali, but let’s roll with it. The only problem with this accusation is that immediately after Vali is killed and his subsequent coronation, guess who Sugriva takes as a sexual partner in addition to his wife – Tara, the wife of Vali, who should also have been like a sister for him. Why did Rama suddenly turn a blind eye towards the sin committed by Sugriva?

Coming towards Sugriva’s character. Sugriva was despicably self-centered and cowardly until his redemption in Yuddha Khanda, where he seems to have done his due. In every other sense Vali was a better person than Sugriva. Vali on his death-throes even says to Rama that if he had asked Vali, he would single-handedly delivered Ravana to Rama’s knees. Admittedly people say anything on their death bed, but considering the undefeated legacy of Vali, he might have actually pulled that off unlike Sugriva who in drunk lustful leisure delayed Rama’s plans by many months. But despite the valor of Vali, Sugriva had one advantage. Sugriva had geographical knowledge of the realm which, ironically, was acquired while hiding from the wrath of Vali. I am not going deep into the origin of enmity between Vali and Sugriva. I would rather you figure it out by yourself by reading Valmiki’s version. For me Sugriva did not come so clean at the end of it, especially because the ministers of Kishkindha themselves doubted him and went in search of Vali after the event of betrayal. The only thing that was in favour of Sugriva was that Hanuman, who was a gem of a character, was in his side.

In my interpretation, Rama seemed have made an error in judgement when choosing Sugriva over Vali. As evident from the end of Aranya Khanda, Rama was depressed due to the loss of Sita. So when Kabandha instructs Rama to seek help from Sugriva, there was no other thought in his head. At this point Rama was in dire need to get revenge/rescue Sita, that is probably why he didn’t think twice about making a deal with Sugriva about killing Vali. The state of Rama is even more apparent when you notice that since the abduction, till the beginning of Yuddha Khanda, Lakshmana is the one who is doing the majority of talking and decision making. The taint in Rama was made more evident by him asking Sita to immolate herself to prove her purity, only to be intervened by the Gods themselves. Then he makes his need for approval even more apparent by exiling a pregnant Sita. But that is Uttara Khanda and I don’t care much about it.

On the whole, Lakshmana and Hanuman were my favourite characters. Their deeds drive most of the story, but they never steal the limelight. They never hesitate to raise their opinion against the decision of their elders, guiding them towards the better way. They withstand physical and mental flak to serve their duty throughout the book. Sita was essential nothing more than a plot device. Last but not the least were the primary challengers to the hero – Ravana, Kumbakarna and Indrajit. Eventhough their characters were not that well-rounded, the portions where they appeared in Yuddha Khanda were pure adrenaline.

As with all stories, Ramayana might also have original roots. Even if the original story was recounted by Valmiki as is; it has undergone centuries of imaginative rewrites. Valmiki’s Ramayana will always remain in my head as a literal epic, and Hanuman still trumps all other characters as the most badass character in the story. Rama comes a close second with the single-handed slaying of fourteen thousand rakshasas in the middle of forest and obviously the climatic fight with Ravana. All things considered this was one hell of a read, but even then fanatically forcing your interpretation of the book on others can not be justified.