Who will be in your heaven?

There is nothing after death. One moment you are and then you aren’t. There is no pearly gate to enter and no hot furnaces to take a warm dip in. There is nothing after death.

This sad truth however does not stop the various religions and cults to create their own fantasyland. If you live your life saintly you will get to spend eternity praising God. I don’t know why they would call it heaven. Some people do spend their life on earth praising politicians or movie stars or sportsmen or ideas. How would heaven be any different for them? Some belief systems give you the carrot of lots of carnal pleasure in heaven with the stick of burning eternity in hell if you do not do as the Book says. Some says that you will reach a stage of Nothingness if you live a good life. The truth is somewhat closer to this, you don’t have to be good to reach Nothingness. You will reach there auto-magically when you die.

In any case, my intent is not to criticize any set of belief. Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe in. To paraphrase Voltaire, I may not agree with what you say or believe but I will fight for your right to not agree with me. Or I may not.

This lack of belief in afterlife does not stop me from creating my own fantasy heaven. Remember that you have to spend an eternity there and there are no modern conveniences like electricity or movies or Internet. Lack of internet should make it Hell but let us proceed without getting into the semantics. I am an introvert and as such I am more comfortable alone than with people. However I would stock up my heaven with people. Lots of interesting people.

The setting of my heaven would be a grassy knoll with some trees for shade. There is a clear stream flowing nearby and I can see fishes swim in it. The air is filled with songs of the birds. It would always be sunny with a mild chill. You would not feel the heat but you would not be cold either. Some days there would be a slight drizzle to fill the air with the scent of the soil.

I would not want my family or my friends there. Their presence there would imply that their time on the Earthly Dimension is complete and I would not want that. I would rather spend an eternity feeling the pangs of separation than have them there.

So my heaven would be filled with strangers. It would be filled with people I have never met during my employment with Earth Inc. It is not a crowded place though. Each individual is carefully chosen for a specific skill-set. Ideas. I would have originators of religions and destroyers of religions in my heaven. I would have Communists and Capitalists. I would have Fascists and Liberals. I would have Freedom Fighters and Oppressors. I would have Conquerors and Rebels. I would have Inventors and Destroyers. And I would want to spend my time understanding their ideas and what made them tick.

I would spend mornings listening to Jesus talk about his beliefs and I would ask Gautama Buddha what he thought about Jesus’ ideas. Some mornings we would talk about role of religion in a society and other days what they thought about the way modern humanity has perverted their teachings. Afternoons would be for weighty matters so that I can have a good sleep. So it would be up to the Aristotles and Kant and Nietzsche and Karl Marx’s of the world to talk about important things while I doze off.

Evenings would be spent with Alexander and Patton and Genghis and Che and Rommel and the re-enactments of great wars and battles. They would each argue how they would have fought a particular battle and changed history. Other days it would be the Storytellers who would entertain all of us with their stories. We would have Shakespeare read us Henry V. Some days it would be Tolkien who would give a talk on the economy of Middle Earth. Bear in mind that Keynes would be free to interrupt and expound on how the fall of the Dark Lord would have led to an increase in supply of weapons and consequent free fall in metal prices in Middle Earth version of commodities markets.

Nights would be spent listening to Mozart and Bach and Schubert and Vivaldi while I gaze up towards infinity and ponder about my life that was and the beauty of the world that is no longer mine.

Who will be in your heaven?

Orochimaru

I am watching the anime Naruto at the moment. There are lots of things to NOT like about the anime. Stupid kids, boring teenage love and angst, one dimensional characters and the list can go on. However, there are a few things shown in the anime that makes you think. One such thing is the character of Orochimaru.

To give a brief background, Orochimaru is one of the main villains of the series that I have seen so far. Watch his theme song below to get an idea of the pure evil that he radiates in the series.

Now before we get into the reason why Orochimaru’s character is interesting, we will digress a little. Read the below article on Absurdity of Life by Rivka Weinberg, written as an opinion piece in NY Times.

Why Life Is Absurd

The article is a take on the philosophical theme of Absurdism. Absurdism talks about

a) the human urge to find meaning and inherent value in life

b) but the inability to find any.

The inability to seek value where none exists is what makes life Absurd. In the beautifully written article, one of the idea that Rivka posits is that Life is made absurd because of its short duration. By the time we find something that may give meaning to our life, we are already too old to do much about it. If we were to live a much longer life, we would have the opportunity to search for more things that can give value to our lives as well as have sufficient time to explore them more thoroughly. Not everyone can be a polymath like Leonardo of Vinci or Sir Isaac Newton to do so much in a small life. Albert Camus’s view on how to cope with an Aburd life was to emulate the mythical Sisyphus. Like Sisyphus, we are bound to roll the stone up the steep hill of life for it to crash back down again. Even though this task is meaningless we should find joy in the task rather than in the goal. As Krishna says,

Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani – Do not let the fruit be the purpose of your actions, and therefore you won’t be attached to not doing your duty.

There are however, characters like Orochimaru, who have found a different solution to the absurdity of life.

Orochimaru is one of those rare individuals who have realized what gives meaning to his life. In his case, it is knowing all the Ninja techniques in the Naruto world. In this fictional world, different individuals get some kind of powers through genetics, some secret techniques that can be taught and some that you develop because you have monsters living inside you. Orochimaru would require hundreds of years to master all the Ninjutsu techniques and hence it is an impossible task in a short life. He realized that life is too short for it to have any meaning the way he understands it. He embarks on a drive to become immortal by any means possible. All that he does, the people he manipulates, the murders that he commits are all geared towards this goal. Now you may say that there is nothing new in a villain looking for immortality, even good ol’ Voldemort aims to do that. There is a big difference though. Voldemort’s strive for immortality does not have any meaning. He does not have an aim that he wants to fulfill if he doesn’t die. He just doesn’t want it to end. Orochimaru however does not want to die because it is a stumbling block in a specific goal that he wants to achieve in his life.

One of my favorite quote is from the novel, Lord Of Light by Roger Zelazny

An army, great in space, may offer opposition in a brief span of time. One man, brief in space, must spread his opposition across a period of many years if he is to have a chance of succeeding. ~ Yama to Sam

Orochimaru understands this.

NGC 4594

NGC 4594 or the Sombrero Galaxy is a galaxy in the Virgo cluster around 28 million light years from us. It has around 700 billion stars and has a radius of 60,000 light years. If you look closely, you will realize that most of the other pin pricks of light in the image is yet another galaxy. Just think about these words and try to understand their meaning. “700 billion stars.” “28 million light years.” “60,000 light years.” The universe is too immense for our limited intelligence to comprehend its vastness!

NGC 4594
NGC 4594

What a wonderful world

Louis Armstrong – What a wonderful World

Sir Richard Attenborough – What a wonderful World

[Edited]

This is a truly a wonderful world and what amazes me is that there is so much to do and so much to learn in this wonderful world. Some days you come to know about the people who lived thousands of years ago and wonder what they thought and how they lived. You learn about conquerors and thinkers who through their sheer will changed the world.   Some time you come to know more about people like Andrei Sakharov and Sophie Scholl who stood up for what they believed was right in the face of overwhelming might of oppression. The courage that this would have required knowing that you and your family would suffer for your beliefs! Other days you peer into the space and wonder if there is somebody peering back at you. You wonder how far the space probes like Viking and Pioneer and New Horizons have gone and you also think about the scientists who made these amazing things possible. You just cannot imagine that human beings could do such things. There are frozen worlds in our solar system that may have liquid water and consequently life beneath their surface while there are planets on which its raining diamonds. Some days you come to know about some new discoveries like the possibility that life formed in the universe within a few millions years after big bang and you wonder whether there were galactic empires that rose and reached their zenith and spread across multiple galaxies and then collapsed millions of years before life began on earth. Some time you wonder if there are space stations at the edge of the solar system looking back at earth and relaying our thoughts and our progress to some distant empire who is worried about whether we are a threat. There were explorers who sailed the world’s oceans in boats that were powered by winds on their sails and there are aircraft carriers now that run on atomic energy and have 5000 people on board. 

I started this blog on 28th February 2010 with the reason for existence of this blog in a post titled Why.  After almost four years and 150 posts later, it seems to me that I have just scratched the surface of things that I do not know. Four years ago, words like Levant, Asia Minor, Polynesia, Mesopotamia, Kuiper Belt Objects, Milwaukee Protocol, Huaxia, Significant Figures did not make much sense to me. I would have guessed what they mean but I would not have been sure of it. But now the story is different. I also know that there would be infinite more terms that I have no clue about. As Donald Rumsfeld would have said, the known unknowns have increased but the unknown unknowns remains unfathomable. There is so much to explore!

Lets go exploring
Lets go exploring

Makemake and Eris

Makemake is the god of fertility and creator of humanity in the mythology of the Rapa Nui people of the island of Rapa Nui in Polynesia. Actually, Rapa Nui forms one of the vertex of the triangle that defines Polynesia. Rapa Nui is in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest inhabited island almost 2000 km away with the nearest continental point almost 3500 km away.

The Dutch explorer. Jacob Roggeveen reached the Rapa Nui island on April 5th, 1722, Easter Sunday. It was named Easter Islands, the name with which we know the islands popularly now. The islands are known for its large stone statues called Moai. I bet you have seen images of these statues and wondered what they are.

Makemake
Makemake

Moai

Moai

 

Polynesian triangle with Rapa Nui represented by 3.

Polynesian triangle with Rapa Nui represented by 3.

 Eris is the Greek Goddess of strife and discord. The story goes that due to her nature to cause discord, she was the only Goddess not invited for the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (Parents of Achilles. Remember Achilles as played by Brad Pitt in Troy?). She became angry and decided to crash the party. She brought with her an apple (Why does it always have to be an apple???) with “To the fairest one” written on it. This obviously caused trouble with all the other Goddess claiming they deserved it. The decision to adjudicate was put on Zeus who wisely delegated that to Paris, son of Priam (Paris – Remember Orlondo Bloom from Troy? The coward, useless guy??). Hera offered Paris ownership of all known world, Athena offered him wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warrior while Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. In his infinite stupidity, Paris chose Aphrodite. Aphrodite gives him the love of Helen who is already married to King Menelaus of Sparta thus sowing the roots of destruction of Troy in the Trojan war.

In the month of March of 2005, 31st March to be precise (4 days after Easter Sunday), the team of astronomers at the Palomar Observatory of Caltech led by Michael Brown discovered the object seen in the below image.

Makemake through the eye of Hubble
Makemake through the eye of Hubble

This was code-named Easterbunny and it has a diameter about 2/3 that of Pluto with an orbital period of 310 years. With the astronomical naming convention of naming classical Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) after mythological names associated with creation, Mike Brown and his team decided to name the object Makemake after the Easter Island God of creation. Its complete name is 136472 Makemake with the number being a sequential number.

In January of the same year, the same team of astronomers from Caltech also discovered what they called Xena or Planet X. The way these objects are discovered is by comparing successive images taken of the same region of space on successive days. Since the star move very slowly, they would appear stationary in these images while planets, dwarf planets and other objects that are closer would appear to move. Now the space is so huge, the objects so dim and the number of objects that are visible so large that this is a very difficult task. Sophisticated computer programs are written that compare these images and identify possible matches. These possible matches also number in thousands due to problem with telescope (eg, dust particle on mirrors), the imaging device (eq, photographic plates not properly handled, problem in digital cameras) etc that these matches would still have to be visually inspected by an astronomer to classify them as possible matches. Below is the image that shows Xena in three successive images.

Movement of Eris
Movement of Eris

 Now the problem with Xena is that it is larger than Pluto (around 12 km in diameter) and 27% more massive than Pluto. When the discovery of Xena was announced along with the discovery of Makemake, it created a huge controversy. Is Xena a planet? It is larger than Pluto and if size is the criteria then it should be classified as a planet and be Planet X or the tenth planet. Can Makemake be also classified as Planet, it is just 2/3 the size of Pluto? Can Ceres, in the asteroid belt, also classified as a Planet? These discoveries led to much “discord and strife” in the international astronomical community finally forcing the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define planets as

(1) A “planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.

This resulted in Pluto relegated from the elite club of Planets to that of dwarf planets along with Xena, Sedna and Makemake. Due to the effect that Xena had, its discoverer Michael Brown appropriately named it Eris (136199 Eris).

Eris with its satellite Dysnomia
Eris with its satellite Dysnomia

 Fun Facts: Makemake has an orbital period of 310 years meaning it takes 310 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. Eris has an orbital period of 560 years (Aphelion around 97 AU) and at its most distance from the Sun, is almost twice as far away as Pluto is and believe me Pluto is far far away (Aphelion around 48 AU). New Horizons space probe, currently travelling at 14.8 km/s was launched in 2006 and will reach Pluto only by 2015. At its current speed, it can fly around earth in less than an hour. That should give you a perspective on how far away these objects are. Now the same Caltech team of Michael Brown also discovered 90377 Sedna. Now if you think Eris is very distant then Sedna is far, far, far, far away. Its aphelion is 937 AU, almost ten times as distant as Eris is and its orbital period is 11400 years! The last time Sedna was in the same position as today, humanity still had more than a thousand year to domesticate sheep and start agriculture (8000 BCE). 

Sedna
Sedna

Orbit of Sedna - Red ellipse is the orbit of Sedna while the purple ellipse is the orbit of Pluto. Note how Pluto's orbit intersect that of Neptune (blue circle) making Pluto nearer to the Sun than Neptune at some points of its orbit.

Orbit of Sedna – Red ellipse is the orbit of Sedna while the purple ellipse is the orbit of Pluto. Note how Pluto’s orbit intersect that of Neptune (blue circle) making Pluto nearer to the Sun than Neptune at some points of its orbit.