Wednesday, November 30, 2011

AFL? - Part 2

(Continued from part one)
And a long break later, I am back. For all those people who I disappointed in the first part, there are some clarifications I need to make on why I started this article and what evolution actually means. So I am making my Part 2 into a Part 3, and putting this up first. 

There are 3 reasons I started this article. One was because of the way that particular argument was presented in the particular book I read. It sounded quite convincing in that context. Also, if you have read enough of evolution, you would understand that many human behaviors do actually rise from simple behaviors designed to hunt or kill in animals. That does not mean what you do today is to hunt or kill- just that that’s where your behavior started. So it is very well possible that many of current human behavior be an evolutionary consequence of lust. The third reason is that- in a country like ours this kind of argument is very easily accepted in private and seldom in public. People secretly relish any theory that moralizes the very acts they find immoral. And that is precisely why someone needs to bring out such a theory in public and list exactly what the flaws are.

However, I need to clarify what I call flaws.

Many people told me this theory is obviously wrong, because we can’t all be motivated by a low carnal desire. Now, THAT is not a flaw! Just because something does not “sound” nice or consoling does not mean it is not true. If science proves humans are selfish (for eg.) by nature, so we are. There is no point in saying it is not valid because it does not fit in my optimistic view of life. But, note the IF.
Anyhow, EVERY theoretical argument deserves to be examined and argued about. The arguments for or against may be obvious, but there must be LOGICAL reasons to accept or reject a theory. Anyone who says “I refuse to argue about this” is simply giving in to blind faith. Of course, if the question were something like “Can cows fly?” there isn’t too much to argue about because the arguments against it are obvious: a) cows are not light enough to fly b) cows don’t have any faculty (like wings) to fly with c) cows are not an advanced enough species to devise a mechanism to fly, and so on. But note that there MUST be arguments. If someone told me without thinking cows can’t fly because that’s how they are or God willed them to be so, I might someday find a genetically engineered cow which can fly (long-shot, but still!). Point being, I cannot and will not reject ANY theory without sufficient arguments against it. This theory is also being looked at from the same angle- with an open mind to see its for’s and against’s and then decide.
Another thing people tell me is something of this sort-- “I don’t accept this theory. I am not playing counter strike out of lust” or “I am not doing charity work out of lust” and stuff like that. “Of course you aren’t”. The theory didn’t say YOU as an individual magically transformed all your lust into your other motivations to study, work etc. What it said was that most of human action arises from an essential desire to impress other human beings (especially the ones who have impressed you!). And the desire to impress itself is evolved from the desire to impress a partner. Please read the last 2 lines again. THIS is the heart of the AFL theory. Go back to a list of your long term goals and see if you did not have any desire to impress anyone other than yourself at all throughout. Some of us might be able to say that, but more than 90% of humans work with an overt or covert, conscious or subconscious intention to impress. All that the AFL theory says is- since impressing someone itself started out as a side-effect of the impressing-your-partner gene, most of your actions are a by-product of this primitive behavior.

Second. I think I missed out a little on explaining what evolution actually means or implies. Most people look at evolution the same way they look at transformation. But there is an essential difference between the two. Evolution happens bit by bit. Piece by piece. Transformation happens drastically. Besides, evolution works in a scale of thousands of years on thousands of individuals. So a behavioral trait to impress could become a behavioral trait to lie to impress only in thousands of years. The reason this is so is because evolution is NOT metamorphosis. It is not as if early man was very truthful and 1000 years later one man started hiding the truth and another 1000 later some men started saying white lies and then they grew into grey lies. That is NOT evolution.

Evolution is like a sieve. Hundreds of humans would have lied and hundreds would have spoken the truth. Assuming lying helped some survive (or impress the partner better in order to survive and reproduce) and always speaking the truth didn’t, more and more humans who lied would survive and pass on their lying genes to their children while the truth-speakers would not survive and not pass on the genes. This would happen for thousands of years until no truthful gene was left out, or very few truth speakers remained or everyone evolved into a state midway between the two, which optimized the chances of survival. What this means is that for the lying gene to spread, millions of humans have tried to lie and succeeded and millions have spoken the truth and failed. All this hypothetically. (Please don’t comment saying there is no gene for lying :( )
In a similar way, when one says the desire to impress a female evolved into a desire to earn more- what it means is- more and more humans that earned more found it easier than those who didn't to impress others and especially a woman, and hence more and more of their genes survived and eventually, the male biological system optimally had genes that prompted men to earn more (so that they could impress a woman).* Once such a gene was created, there is actually no need for the man to really impress a woman. His biological setup (mental/physical/whatever) would still make him want to earn more, independent of his desire to impress a woman.

That being said, is there still a catch in the theory? If not, do I agree with the theory? Answer is- No. I don’t agree. But what’s the reason I refuse to agree with the theory? What was the real catch? Part 3 coming soon! :)

*Remember it is called "Survival of the fittest". It may be cruel, it may not sound nice, but so it is.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Resident Dormitus

Can there be a person who doesn’t know what he wants? Yes. Can he be such that he revels in not knowing? Possibly. Can there be someone who not only revels in not knowing what he wants but also tries to trivialize every good opportunity he gets, who thinks that not defining any morals for himself is a way to be unique and who tries his best to be a nuisance to strangers while trying to do as little with his life as possible? Guess so. Can this person also try to understand his situation in a philosophical manner and eventually succeed in fighting his internal demons, though the answer dawns on him after committing a near-murder? Vikas Rathi answers this question with a “Yes”, as he sculpts the character of his protagonist in as inconspicuous a manner as possible.
Achet, a young man from Jaipur who starts off on his corporate career, after a  business education, is the kind of person who never takes independent decisions. He tries to do as little work as possible (mental, physical, official, whatever) though he continues to exercise his brain enough to make innumerable trivial jokes at the expense of other people. Not particularly heartless in introspect, but selfish and cruel in action, Achet is the man who is nearly evil by virtue of not having done anything. He pushes his luck as far as it can go, until a murder pushes him back to the reality he has evaded for long.
Plot-wise, this book is just ok. It is interesting though Achet’s inactivity stagnates the book in many parts and one might just lose interest. However, the plot hook right in the beginning ensures that you will eventually return to the book, at least to find out why was there a murder at all.

The real essence of the book is in the character of Achet and the experience of seeing the world through his eyes. There will definitely be many parts of the book where Indian youth would identify with him- if you have ever taken a decision purely because that’s what everybody does, (or) if you found that you have started drinking for no reason tha the boredom fo the corporate jungle soon after you started on your career, and you know it’s bad for you, but you also don’t feel like stopping, you would relate to Achet. Of course, if you are plain lazy, you would still relate to him.

If you, like me, are none of the above- if you have taken decisions on your own (Whether right or wrong), if you generally have the courage to face your true self and shun inaction, then this book might help you understand your anti-thesis. (Often, it is most difficult to understand the other side of the coin when it might seem totally senseless from your side- that's where this book helps!)

One good thing about the style of the book is that Vikas talks quite sensibly about a good many serious topics, in a way that you don’t even realize he talked about them! The other thing is the way he ends the book (which, of course, I will not talk about!) Of course, I wouldn’t like the constant drinking and smoking pot and what not, but by now I have learnt to expect these as Indian authors’ tickets to sounding authentic and mature! Also, like Vikas himself says, one often finds the greatest insights from sources that are otherwise not to your taste. This particular insight was itself an example to that theory (Ya, I am obsessed with recursion! ;) )

There is one problem though.. Most vices have a tendency to infect you if you look too closely into them (that maybe why they are termed vices!) - primary one among them being laziness and inactivity. To some extent this books slows you down and infects you with a boredom and vagueness in your mind (which you can only remove by readng a different book or watching a movie!). However, that only proves that the book is true to its own cause.

So, do I like this book? Not greatly. But, it did offer me an alternate perspective and contributed in at least a small way to improving my understanding of people. 

Will I recommend this book? Yes. If you think you are directionless, if you don’t know where you are and don’t even think that you might ever find your life’s calling this book might prove to be the “Resident Dormitus” for u. Or if, you are sure of yourself, at least to some extent, and,
like me, you are interested in understanding people who are your opposites in life, you should. Whatever the side-effects, it at least leaves you with some insight. And for that alone, any piece of art would be commendable!

This review is a part of the " Book Reviews Program at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All for Lust?? - Part 1

“The world runs on lust”, Alex said. At this point I put down the book Resident Dormitus which I have been reading since yesterday (and which will be my next review candidate) and started thinking whether Alex’s theory is really true--  do people really do everything only for lust.. This post is a product of this particular mental aerobics session of mine. (This post became quite long, so putting up the first part here. Part 2 coming soon! And ya, I know I don't usually write adult stuff and this might not go well with some of my readers- you can still read on.. This post is very much in the style of "Love is in the air"... )

 Ok. So the theory here is that everything that men (or women) do is with the intent of finding a better partner to bed. Actions like trying to find a better job (better job = better salary= higher chance of finding a more desirable spouse), or having spikes in your hair (looking cool= being more desirable to opposite sex) quite obviously substantiate the theory. But what about actions like becoming the CEO of a company? In the book, the guy argues that wanting to become a CEO is a product of the desire to earn respect, which is itself born out of the desire to find a better partner. He goes on to argue that in every action a person does, he/she seeks to differentiate him/herself from the majority in order to increase his/her chances of finding a better partner.

Looking at it from an evolutionary standpoint, this theory
looks like it makes sense. As all animals, humans started out as a species whose ultimate goals were to find food and to reproduce, while staying alive, where there was always competition in finding food and sex; evolution would naturally lead to a set of humans whose every action would optimally lead them to both. To some extent, the act of reproduction is more important to a species in evolution than finding food, once the animal has passed on its own genes to an offspring (selfish gene point of view*), and hence we could hypothesize that the incentive from food eventually wanes out and all actions are intrinsically motivated by lust.

You could think of it as a game and some actions you do increase your HP (Hotness points!), where HP is a measure of your desirability/eligibility in terms of finding a partner. If the goal of the game is to get maximum HP and keep yourselves alive, and if you had a time limit or an energy cost for doing any action, with time you would end up doing only those actions that increased your HP, such that you might reach a time where all your actions shall increase your HP in some small way or the other. (Rather, you would stop doing anything that doesn’t give any HP). So with a game theory-like argument, it is quite logical that humans might have ended up as a species whose every action is essentially motivated by the prospect of finding a partner.

If you are like me, you would stop here and ask- wait, isn’t there a catch? Yes! Yes! Of course! :)

Imagine a society of people who value celibacy. The most desired man in such a society is the one who can resist the most irresistible of temptations and who remains single throughout his life. This is purely hypothetical, of course, but there is nothing to stop such a society from existing in this world. Men in such a society might still go after power and money, and they might also style their hair into spikes, but their motivation might be to become the best looking celibate ;) From an evolutionary standpoint, one might argue that such a society will cease to exist since of course, no one is reproducing. Again, not quite true. Such a society could have a small subset of its population, say about 10-20% of people who are not “allowed” to be celibate, and who “must” reproduce. The children might be adopted by the rest of the population. If anyone wonders how this arrangement would work, one can imagine it as a type of caste system with the upper caste being celibate and prestigious, and the lower caste delegated to the menial task of sustenance! This kind of arrangement can survive for centuries, if backed by the proper belief systems and religious approvals. Again, all this hypothetically.

But I hope you do see there is a catch in the “All for lust” theory we talked about. So, forgetting the hypotheses, what’s the catch in reality? Which loophole in evolution allows humans to develop into a society that values celibacy?

(To be continued...

 Part 2 here. )

*Selfish gene point of view: Not going into the theory, here I mean that all organisms act in a way to ensure their genes' survival. Since after reproduction and sufficient growth of the offspring the gene does not require the organism to survive, the effect of food can be ignored.