24 December, 2017

Dharma and liberty

Given my interest in the concept of Dharma, it is assumed that my political inclinations lie with the "right-wing" (a term that has no meaning to describe the Indian political landscape) and by implication, I am a "conservative" and further by implication, I'm in the opposite camp of "liberalism" and favour imposition of collective will (led by religious doctrine), as against upholding of individual liberty.

This is how befuddled and muddled is the collective discourse, as is our understanding of important concepts from the Indian worldview.

This post is to address the question of whether a worldview based in dharma is in opposition to the ideology of individual liberty.

To recap, dharma is the property of sustainability or a "stable state" that is characteristic of any finite system of being. It is not some form of a divine commandment or revelation given by the Gods and accessible only to the sages or some such. It is a property that can be empirically verifiable, repeatable, and even proven. For instance, algebraic topology is full of theorems that look for "fixed points" in finite systems of set-valued transformations. The Kakutani fixed-point theorem for instance, plays a central role in proving that any finite system of interacting phenomena has a stable state of being (which gave the Nobel prize to John Nash).

In contrast, the political ideology of liberalism is essentially that -- an ideology. Fundamentally, an ideology is a wish -- about how things ought to be. The liberal ideology says that individuals are born free, and individual liberty is the basis for all civilised social orders.

As an ideology, it is perfectly fine and it is a good thought on which to base our thinking on.

However, individuals are not islands that are isolated from one another. They interact with one another and with the environment, to exercise their freedom. And when individuals interact, it forms a collective system of being, that settles down into its own stable state, that may or may not uphold individual liberty.

For instance, let us consider a system of two individuals A and B, who are living in a liberal setup and who have all the rights to exercise their free will. The individual A believes that one needs to be open-minded, tolerant and welcoming of differences of opinion, and truly believes in Voltaire's statement that "I may disagree with what you say, but will fight to death, your right for saying it."

The individual B on the other hand, believes that he knows the "truth" about everything and it is not just his right, but his duty to make everybody else comply with his beliefs, because that is the truth.

When A and B interact and both exercise their individual liberty, A has no choice but to be enslaved by B, because according to A, B has the right to practice his individual liberty, that involves domination over others. If A fights back, then A becomes the hypocrite, since he is not following his own ideology of tolerance and open-mindedness.

This is the "Tragedy of the liberals" that is seen in all liberal establishments. While liberal establishments promote individual liberty as an imperative, they also open doors to fanatics pushing fanaticism, using the entitlement for individual liberty.

As a result, societies built on liberal imperatives, evolve elaborate sets of processes and laws, involving snooping, spying, profiling, etc. that on the whole, poses as much a threat to individual liberty as a non-liberal ideology.

A society built on a liberal ideology is also susceptible to individuals being unaware of their individuality. Most of our "free-willed" choices are actually conditioned by social messages from other individuals, mass media and public figures. How many of us, for instance, would like to admit that we would rather not travel, as it is too expensive and exhausting, and does little to expand our horizons (based on who we are) -- no more than reading books or interacting with people on the Internet? Similarly, how many students want to study deep learning because they are genuinely curious about it, and not because it is the "coolest" technology with "lots of scope" and that "everybody else is doing it"?

Individuals are extremely vulnerable to suggestions and manipulations. Without an intense inquiry into our own selves, we do not really understand what our preferences are, and when we say we are exercising our liberty, are we really expressing ourselves, or giving an outlet to our frustration, or complying with what the rest of the society thinks is freedom?


The problem is not with liberalism as an ideology. The problem is that liberalism has remained just an ideology. We cannot just be wishing and insisting that individual liberty has to be protected. We need a theory about know how to protect it. 

This is where the theory of dharma is very important. 

Every system of being (called Atma) -- be it an individual person, a society of people, or even a physical entity like a piece of coal -- has one or more stable states into which it settles down. This is called its dharma. Each stable state is characterised by a level of Prana or "capability" of the system of being. A carbon polymer for instance, can settle down into various stable configurations, each of which gives it a different characteristic. 

The capability of a system of being, is not just a function of the amount of resources or "wealth" at its disposal. Consider a tall skyscraper that is powered by a local power station. The electric power is utilised by the building to manage its lighting, elevators, air conditioning, etc. -- basically to "be" the building. Now consider that the power station is hit by a lightning, and several orders more electricity flows through the system. This extra resource did not give greater capability for the building. In fact, it mostly ended up burning out the fuses and appliances, thus reducing the capability of the building. 

Capability or Prana, cannot be measured in a purely objective fashion. A fish and a monkey may have the same amount of energy measured objectively in terms of joules. But, the capability of a fish to climb a tree is very low, as is the capability of a monkey to swim in deep waters. Prana is innately tied to individuals and their individuality. 

Hence, for example, "real India" is not the poverty that is shown on news channels by an "objective" third-party observer, let alone in a movie like Slumdog millionaire. Real India is how Indians see themselves. Real India, as is the notion of India itself, is defined in the minds of its individuals. If Indians see themselves as innately wealthy, then their response to poverty would be to fight it and bring themselves back to a state of wealth. On the other hand, if poverty enters the mind, then it would result in real poverty. 

There is a saying in Kannada which makes me cringe every time I hear it. Groundnuts (ಕಡಲೆಕಾಯಿ) is called "ಬಡವರ ಬಾದಾಮಿ", or "poor man's almond". Except that the groundnut is grown in a region that is rich with tropical resources, rains, minerals, rivers, etc. while almonds are grown in deserts and desolate regions that are much less endowed with natural resources. And yet, we call ourselves the poor man, and crave for almonds which supposedly is affordable only by the wealthy. 

A dharmic society has to begin first from the individual. It has to begin with eradicating the poverty latent in their minds, and empowering individuals to deeply inquire into their individuality. We need to have individuals find their dharma that maximises their Prana -- a state of being where they feel the most free to express themselves, without being hampered by scriptures, norms and social expectations. 

In this sense, dharma for social structuring, is innately about individual liberty -- not just as an ideology, but as an integral element of establishing collective sustainability. 

But dharma does not stop with individual finding their state of dharma. Every collection of individuals forms a system of being that has its own stable states. A dharmic society is one where any collection of individuals actively communicate to understand where is their stable system of being, and what is the Prana associated with that stable state. A dharmic institution for example, encourages people to speak up about their concerns, own up the institution and actively work towards its sustainability. It does not, for instance, create rigid hierarchies and power structures for the sake of efficiency. 

The founder of Sony Enterprises, Akio Morita, had this to say about institutions in the US and Japan (and Asia in general). In the US, employees are kept happy because happy employees are more efficient and productive, and bring more profits to the company. While in Japan, the company was seen as a family and all members of the family were made to understand that the company has to make profits and be efficient, if the family needs to be happy. 

The dichotomy between collective will and individual liberty is a false dichotomy -- they are not always in conflict with each other. The relation between the collective and the individual, is a whole-part relation -- somewhat like the relation between (say) our liver and the rest of the body. They body cannot be healthy if the liver is suffering, and even if the liver is healthy when the body as a whole is suffering, it adversely affects the liver as well. 

Individual Prana is important for the collective dharma (sustainability of the collective) and the collective Prana is important for the individual dharma

An individual may be part of several collectives (office, family, club, neighbourhood, ecology, etc.) each of which have their own stable states. Sustainability of all these collectives are affected by the individual's contributions to them. An adverse impact on the individual in one collective (say, office politics) may impact the individual's contribution to another collective (say, the family). A dharmic mind is holistic in nature, and is sensitive to such interferences. It does not live in an articulate, water-tight compartmentalisation of one's life. Hence, "work-life balance" as a separate object of inquiry, makes no sense to the dharmic mind, because the dharmic mind is always balancing between several systems of being that it is contributing to. 

Dharmic hermeneutics offer the most promising potential for building theories of sustainable liberty, rather than pursuing liberty as an ideology.

10 December, 2017

An Indian Teacher's Dilemma

Every year, when bright students come to me for advice and recommendation letters for them to pursue their careers abroad, I'm stuck with a debilitating dilemma, which I'm sure, is not unfamiliar to teachers all over India.

India is a wounded civilisation that is emerging from centuries of oppression, and grappling with collective trauma. The challenges it faces are immense and we require the brightest of minds working endlessly to make even small collective improvements. There is still life left in its civilisational roots, and it takes enormous care and nurture for these roots to grow back into the magnificent tree that it once was.

India needs bright minds, and bright minds are likely to be consumed by its challenges, with little or no traces left of their individuality.

On the other hand, moving abroad to a more developed country does wonders for these bright minds for developing their individuality. They get exposed to new cultures, new experiences, greater wealth, greater power, etc. However, none of these are likely to add much value to address the challenges that India is facing.

My Western, liberal education tells me that individual liberty is the basis for all free societies and development. Any society in which the individual cannot express their individuality is not free, and hence it is not only rational, but also moral, for individuals to seek greener pastures where they can grow and express their individuality.

As a teacher operating in the same hermeneutic echo chamber, no doubt, I would have implicitly endorsed and repeated those values to my students.

However, the values of dharma or sustainability that we learnt at home, teaches us something slightly different. It says that every individual is essentially a complex system of being, who themselves become components of a much larger and even more complex system of being, called the human society. And the basis for all free societies is to maximise the sustainability of all systems of being -- be they the individual, or the collective. Freedom in the dharmic sense, is hence, a multivariate optimisation problem. Individuals have to sustain their system of being, while at the same time, they are also responsible for helping sustain the collective system of being.

Promoting individuality by encouraging migration to greener pastures, greatly impedes the sustainability of the collective system of being. Individuals, by their mere presence can contribute greatly towards affective benefits of others around them. The mere presence of people we care about being in our vicinity gives us hope, strength and gumption to take on life's challenges for yet another day.

Of course, every student who wishes to go abroad, says that they are going to come back soon and they are only trying to "expand their horizons". But data tells us otherwise.

It is very rare for expat Indians to return to India after their studies. Their studies would have created some debt, which forces them to look for jobs after their studies. By which time, they would be married and having kids. And so on.

But more insidious is not these rational decisions that drives them to grow their roots elsewhere. The real scary and insidious elements are the narratives their minds (subconsciously) build to justify for themselves emotionally, that they are doing the right thing.

We are not rational beings who are emotional. We are emotional beings who are rational. Our system of being is largely driven by our emotional connects. And the decision to break away from one's emotional roots and settle down in a different country and culture is a decision fraught with trauma.

Our system of being -- the system that strives to keep us alive, quickly jumps into action and builds defences to justify the rational decision. Hence, people who decide to settle abroad end up with extra hate and resentment about their Indian roots. Indian culture, Indian values, Indian worldview, everything becomes the evil incarnate, which kept them oppressed in creepy ways, and which they have escaped to find a refuge in their new home.

The specific trajectory of each expat would be different -- but the broad template of experience that they go through is somewhat like the above. And I know that when I write a reference letter to a bright student who can solve complex math problems and write great code, they are actually diving headlong into an existential crisis, in a few years time. Not every one emerges out of existential crises, stronger. Most of them are scarred and traumatised for life.

So am I really helping them when I encourage them to expand their horizons? Can't they expand their horizons using the Internet and with the myriad exchange programs that exist to bring people of different cultures together? Do they have to essentially uproot themselves in their quest for their individuality?

On the other hand, if I discourage them, will I be hurting them emotionally? If I convince them to put their minds for work in India and they end up struggling and getting consumed by its problems, without being able to express their individuality, did I not fail the trust they had in me?

The dilemma continues...

22 November, 2017

Argumentation: Being Style

Over the last several posts, I have been developing the Theory of Being inspired by ancient Indian hermeneutics, as a universal theory.

The main idea here is the assertion that the fundamental building block of the universe is an abstract entity called "being" (Atma). A being has a certain capability (Prana), which is based on the energy and information content of the being. A being settles down in a stable state (dharma) relative to its environment (Vidhi) that maximizes its potential to express its capability.

Now that we have revised the essential elements of the Being theory, let me focus on an interesting aspect of argumentation in such hermeneutics.


One of the most celebrated debates from the first millennium India, was the debate between Adi Shankara and Mandan Misra, that took place in modern day Bihar, sometime in the 9th century CE. There are several commentaries and interpretations about what exactly happened in the debate and what were its key learnings. 

It is difficult to separate fact from myth in the several commentaries and narrations that exist about this debate. Here, I will discuss one such narration, which may or may not have reported the exact sequence of events as they happened in the debate. 

Mandan Misra was a learned scholar in the Mimamsa school of Vedic philosophy that stressed on the "karma kanda" -- or the formal, ritualistic way for spiritual exploration. In this school of thought, spiritual realization is sought through focusing upon our actions (karma) and performing each of them with the greatest possible commitment. 

Adi Shankara, who at that time was a young man in his 20s, was on a tour from the south of India where he hailed from, to the Himalayas, in his quest to identify and revive places of historical significance as mentioned in the epics like Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

He was disillusioned by "karma kanda" and the way it was widely practiced. He had seen the enormous emphasis on rituals and facades actually obscuring, rather than facilitating the realization of the underlying wisdom. Thus, he chose to not take the "karma kanda" for his journey and instead chose the path of "jnana" (knowledge). The "jnana kanda" is characterized by skepticism as the primary tool for exploration. The explorer in this mode of exploration keeps rejecting assertions (also called the Neti or "not this" response), until an assertion sustains against the skepticism. (Yes, India practiced the scientific principle of falsification, centuries before Karl Popper). 

Following this process of exploration, Adi Shankara revived the underlying ideas of the Vedic worldview from the perspective of a skeptic, and called it Vedanta (literally, beyond Vedas). 

The debate between Mandan Misra and Adi Shankara about ritualism versus skepticism, was refereed by Mandan Misra's wife Ubhaya Bharati, who herself was a renowned scholar. At the end of the debate Ubhaya Bharati declared Adi Shankara's arguments as more sound than that of the much more learned and experienced husband of hers.

There are several narrations about the actual debate itself, which went on for about six months. But here is a story that piqued my interest. 

In this story, Ubhaya Bharati insisted that both Adi Shankara and Mandan Misra start their debates by wearing a garland of fresh flowers. And by the end of the debate, she duly noted the garland on which the flowers were most wilted. 

She found that the flowers on Adi Shankara's garland were consistently more fresh than that of the garland on Mandan Misra, every day after the debate. And this was one of the factors that contributed to her declaring Adi Shankara as the winner!


For someone who was educated in the "scientific" worldview as understood by the West, and having studied Stoicism, Objectivity, Socratic argumentation, modus ponens, modus tollens, etc. this makes no sense. 

I mean, what does the freshness of flowers (resulting from the emotional state of the wearer) have to do with the content of the argument? The objective merit of an argument is independent of how it is expressed or the emotional state of the argument maker. Right? 

For instance, someone may nervously state that the number of prime numbers is infinite, while another may confidently assert that the number of prime numbers is finite. That does not make the first assertion false and the second assertion true. We can prove that the number of prime numbers is infinite and is independent of how someone feels about it. 

Well yes, that is right, but, and there is always a but.. let's look at the big debate once again. 

Mandan Misra and Adi Shankara were debating about the relative merits of different pathways for the ultimate spiritual realization -- something which cannot be empirically verified. (There was and is no reliable test for "enlightenment"). Moreover, both "karma kanda" and "jnana kanda" are pathways for realization -- they don't guarantee anything. The seeker needs to pursue this pathway (perform "sadhana") for several years, before they can return any more wiser or enlightened. There is no way Ubhaya Bharati could have conducted a controlled experiment to determine the merits of each line of argumentation. 

What she instead noted was that both Mandan Misra and Adi Shankara were not just professing their respective philosophies, but were embodiments of these philosophies! They were not just preaching their philosophy -- they were living it!

Given this, if one of them consistently ended up flustered and emotionally insecure than the other, then the other embodiment displayed a greater level of sustainability or dharma.

Yet, one can still argue that, maybe Mandan Misra took a bigger emotional toll in the debate because he was emotionally insecure by nature, or maybe that he was much older than the young and energetic Adi Shankara, and hence got tired faster. 

Both are valid arguments and indeed if the adjudication were based solely on whether the flowers wilted or not, without any consideration of the actual contents of the argumentation, it would not be a sound judgment. 

However, given that Mandan Misra was a renowned scholar who knew how to argue objectively and dispassionately, the fact that he consistently felt emotionally insecure at the end of each day's debate, was evidence for Ubhaya Bharati to conclude that the objective merit of Adi Shankara's arguments were indeed strong -- strong enough to make a learned scholar who knew how to argue, feel emotionally insecure.


What I find really fascinating in the above, is the brilliant elucidation of what holistic thinking really means. 

We are taught so much to articulate and "divide and conquer" a complex issue, that we completely forget that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. When we consider the entire system of being as a whole, its characteristics are vastly different from a simple aggregation of the characteristics of its parts. 

We have lost this ability to think holistically (read also this theory of synergistic thinking that I'd started to develop some 10 years ago, before I really understood dharmic thought). We instead, focus on just one dimension or aspect of an issue and blow it totally out of proportion. 

In most social matters, this one dimension usually pertains to what is a legal entitlement and what is not. For instance, the entire public debate on the issue of the movie on Rani Padmavati, has focused on whether the makers of this movie have a legal right to make an artistic rendering of a historical figure that greatly distorts and offends the sensibilities of a large segment of the population. 

Well, yes of course they do -- just like people are not forbidden from cursing in public. But that is not the issue. The issue is what happens to our collective world-view or disposition when history is continuously and subtly distorted in several different ways. For most of our lives, we are driven by perception -- not by reason. Where will the collective system of being end up?

The story of Ubhaya Bharati shows us that a good scholar is one who not only reasons on the objective elements of the argument, but also on the affective dimension of the argumentation!

05 October, 2017

A Being perspective of the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is the largest epic poem ever written some time in the 8th or 9th century BCE, comprising over 100,000 shlokas (couplets). It narrates the story of the Kuru empire of ancient Hastinapura, spanning over several generations, and interweaving several other stories within it.

The main feature of the Mahabharata is the Kurukshetra war that lasted over 18 days, involving several kingdoms of ancient India, bringing forth great bloodshed and destruction. The epic narrates events leading up to the war, as well as the aftermath of the war.

The epic has captured the imagination of Indians for almost 3000 years now, and even today several authors continue to analyze and provide commentaries about the intricacies of the story.

Here is one such perspective, based on my understanding of cognition and the theory of Being.

At the face of it, the Mahabharata war is a war between cousins -- the Pandavas on the one side, fighting the Kauravas. Events that lead to the war are many, and span over several years. War was seen as inevitable after Pandavas, led by Krishna had explored and exhausted all possible options to seek justice in a peaceful manner. The war was touted as "dharma-yuddha" -- or a war that was meant to prevent the system from collapsing from within, due to its own unsustainable (adharma) activities. The dharma yuddha hence potentially prevented a much larger catastrophe.

Rivalry between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, is seen as the primary factor resulting in this war. A rivalry that was exacerbated by a "weak" father Dritharashtra, and an "evil" uncle Shakuni.

However, I prefer to see it very differently, as terms like "weak" and "evil" have no meaning in the theory of being.

In order to understand my perspective, we need to refresh some basic definitions for atma (being), dharma (sustainability), vidhi (schema), and prana (capability). Atma is the fundamental unit in which the physical world is built. It represents an abstract notion of "being" that has many stable states called its dharma, where it would settle down, depending on its environment (vidhi). Once a being has reached a stable state with respect to its environment, the system of beings in mutual equilibrium forms a composite being that is in its stable state with respect to its environment.

A being also has a certain level of prana (capability). Prana refers to the complexity of the being's self expression, and may be viewed in terms of the information entropy of its expressions. A being with a high level of prana is capable of very rich expressions in some form (rich musical ability, rich athletic ability, rich philosophical ability, etc.)

Within an environment, a being reaches a stable state that maximizes its prana. Each stable state (or local optima) allows for a certain extent of expressive complexity. If a being is capable of more complex expressions than what the stable state allows, it strives to find a better stable state -- the so-called "global optima" for the being.

Hence for instance, in the Mahabharata, the being called Karna who had been endowed with superlative abilities of a warrior was raised by a charioteer, he could not stay as a charioteer. His prana pushed him to find a dharma that suits his prana.

When we look at things from the perspective of dharma and prana, we have no need for vocabulary like "weak", "evil", etc. When an atma (being) is stuck in a stable state where the expression of its prana is highly curtailed, it leads to frustration and helplessness, and release of its latent energy in self-destructive ways, which in turn leads to other negative repercussions.

This in a nutshell is the story of the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is the story of two system of beings -- the Kuru system of being and the Gandhar system of being, both of which had very different experiences with their dharma and prana.

In the Kuru system of being, there was relatively more peace and freedom for people to explore and express themselves to the best of their abilities. So much so that people were generally unaware of the interplay between their prana and their dharma.

Among them was the prince Dritharashtra, who was born blind. Dritharashtra was a highly capable warrior and endowed with a lot of prana. He had trained himself in several martial and administrative abilities, despite his debilitating blindness.

However, Dritharashtra was constantly frustrated. His prana pushed him to aspire for much higher goals, while his blindness cruelly pulled him back. None of the others around him understood the intensity of frustration that he was constantly going through.

Dritharashtra understood several aspects of administration and governance, and was much more able than his brother Pandu. However, in their "wisdom" the Kuru advisers advised the queen against making Dritharashtra as the king, citing his blindness. This frustrated Dritharashtra even more leading to his latent prana releasing itself in self-destructive ways, which was widely interpreted as his "weakness".

No one in the Kuru empire thought of creating an formalized abstract administrative process and system, where Dritharashtra can still express his capabilities despite his blindness, and which could be gainfully used for effective administration. Instead, they only saw the throne as an entitlement for one who is capable -- and being stuck in a disability was seen as a lack of capability.

In contrast to the Kuru empire, the empire of Gandhar, situated in the desolate region of present day Khandahar in Afghanistan, lived in a place with constant challenges and threats to survival. Their life was a constant struggle and they had to keep themselves fighting fit, just to survive.

When Bhisma from the Kuru empire came with a proposal for the marriage of Dritharashtra with the Gandhar princess, the king and his son were aghast at the thought of marrying the princess to a blind prince. But having struggled for everything all through their lives, they saw the practical benefit of being aligned with a much stronger kingdom, and agreed for the marriage.

The Gandhar princess Gandhari on her part, was equally aghast at this arrangement. Not only did she have the frustration of being used as an object of trade to buy peace, she also had to spend the rest of her life with a blind king. But having been no stranger to adversity, struggles and defiance, she took a drastic decision to blindfold herself and lead the rest of her life in blindness. This decision is interpreted by different people in different ways. But for her, it was a complex expression of her prana struggling to break out of its surrounding constraints -- it was a mix of expressions involving protest, defiance, empathy and acceptance.

No one in Kuru understood the complex nature of the frustrated prana and the different ways that it finds to express itself. Instead, they continued on with very simplistic models of dharmic practices, making both Dritharashtra and Gandhari's brother Shakuni (who had accompanied his sister to live in Hastinapura), feel even more frustrated and helpless.


The second part of the story is with the next generation.

When we interact with others, we are simultaneously communicating in two dimensions -- abstractions and expressions. Abstractions represent the ideas that we are processing in our minds, while the expressions represent the emotions that we are feeling.

Cognitively, we are hard-wired to catch and imbibe others' emotions even without our knowledge. This is called emotional contagion. This is even more so with children. Children are far too ill-equipped to process our ideas, but have native abilities to imbibe and internalize our expressions.

Which is why, when we bring up our children, it is very important to be mindful of how we are feeling, in addition to what we are telling them.

From this perspective, the Kauravas have the saddest story ever. Right from the day they were born, they were subject to the intense feeling of frustration and victimhood by their father and uncle. These emotional states were so deeply ingrained in their minds that they practically became embodiments of those emotions!

They never got to learn who they were as individuals. They never got to experience happiness that characterizes our fundamental nature. All their happy moments were entailed on a bedrock of frustration and victimhood.

It is only when Krishna realized this, that it became clear to him that war was the only option. There is no way to reason about peace with a person who does not have an innate understanding of peace. There is no way to appeal to a person's happiness when they do not innately understand happiness.

It is somewhat like trying to reason with a suicide bomber or threaten them with punishments. When our hermeneutics -- or the basic framework of reasoning -- does not know the existence of essential elements like peace, trust, empathy, etc. it tries to interpret everything within its own bounded framework of victimhood or frustration, and ends up with wildly inaccurate conclusions.

And when such minds with damaged hermeneutics occupy a position of power, there is no way one can bring peace or uphold dharma without battling them.

This is just the same problem we face today with terrorism or religious extremism that seeks to rule the world according to a rigid belief system that is based on segregation, discrimination and hatred of the "other".

21 September, 2017

Imbibing the Theory of Being

Over the last few posts, I have been writing down my thoughts on the "Theory of Being" in my attempt to re-create the way of thinking that characterized ancient Indian thought. With my familiarity with modern day scientific thought that has its roots in ancient Greece and with the emerging theory of systems and rational games, coupled with the kind of upbringing we had in our homes, where dharmic way of thinking was practiced, I believe it gives me a unique perspective to re-create the underlying worldview of dharmic thought process.

Let me start with examples to provide evidence for the fact that the dharmic way of thinking is indeed different in characteristic than the Western model that we learnt in school.

It is common to encounter debates in educational circles, about whether students should be encouraged to "pursue their dreams" or have "realistic ambitions". I even saw a Quora answer by a famous physicist about how students should be taught to be realistic with their ambitions, and provided several examples of people whose lives have fallen apart in their pursuit of their dreams.

It started me to think why we (at least me), never had this dilemma. In fact, I did not really have a separate "dream" that was separated and compartmentalized from the reality around me.

The reason was not hard to see. In our homes, we were imbibed with a meme that we should always "uphold our dharma". While the concept of dharma has been distorted to give this meme several weird interpretations like we have to uphold our religion, uphold our ethics, etc. our culture has internalized this meme over several millenia. People are implicitly taught to strive for sustainability in every pursuit.

The moment we add "..in a sustainable way" to our advice, the dilemma is resolved. We can advice our students to "pursue their dreams in a sustainable way" or even "be realistic in a sustainable way" (i.e. don't get bogged down and depressed by reality to the extent that it threatens your sustainability).

Both of these pieces of advice are much more stable (sustainable?) than the earlier sets of advice "pursue your dreams" or "be realistic".

This is the most significant potential I find with the theory of being.

Imbibing the Theory of Being, into our modern day theoretical physics helps us understand a very complex system by reducing it down to its sustainable states and the transitions between them. "Strange Attractors" from chaos theory, anyone?

Imbibing the Theory of Being into engineering and architecture helps us analyze and design large systems by focusing on their stable states. It also helps in understanding the growth of cities, the complex interplay between its different subsystems, and strategies to manage such complex systems.

Imbibing the Theory of Being into education, humanities and social sciences helps us understand both humans and societies in terms of their stable states, rather than their ideologies. In fact, a staunch ideological stance like fanaticism, indicates a stable cognitive state -- a local minima -- which only gets reinforced by our vociferous disapproval of it. We stop looking at social problems through the lens of ideology and morality, and stop blaming, attitude, apathy, greed, etc. for our problems. Instead, we will start looking at greed, apathy, etc. as stable systemic states that a person's or community's mind is stuck in, and is getting reinforced by self-fulfilling prophecies.


So, here is a quick recap of the essential elements of the Being theory of the universe. 

There is only one kind of element that the universe is made of -- called "being" (Atma).Beings compose to become bigger beings, with the entire universe as the ultimate Being (Paramatma). 

Beings can be in different states (of being). Not all states are equally stable. A being in an unstable state tends to settle down to a stable state. The stable states of being are called its dharma. 

The dharma of a being is not a property of the being alone -- but also of the environment (vidhi) in which it operates. A being's dharma is the best response function that maximizes its sustainability, given the characteristics of its vidhi. 

As humans, we have our dharma, and the social system in which we operate has its own states of dharma. The system as a whole, tends to settle down in its stable state, which in turn requires us to find our own stable state, given the state that the system has settled down in. 

Hence, for instance, given the state of our roads, lack of driving sense, lack of public transport, dogs, etc. commuting by car to work is my best response function -- even though it costs me a lot. My ideal commute would be by a multi-modal public transport, to which I can walk on well paved footpaths and am reasonably assured of my safety from stray dogs, rogue drivers and other such factors. But then, the vidhi has settled down in some stable state that is not conducive to this ideal. 

At every stable state that a being settles into, it has a given capability (prana). Every being tries to settle down in a stable state where its prana is maximized. Given two stable states with different levels of prana, beings prefer the one with higher prana. This is for instance, the reason why IIT grads emigrated to "settle down" in the US rather than looking for a job in India. Settling down in India (used to) have a much lower level of prana (capability) than settling down in the US. 

This is true not just of "living" beings -- but of all beings. If we excite molecules of a crystal with energy, they change the overall shape of the crystal. This is the new stable state with the higher level of prana that the beings are endowed with. 

While I've used prana (capability) in the sense of "energy" there is a subtle, but important difference between energy (urja) and capability (prana). Consider a tall building and its operations. Every day it consumes several megawatts of electricity to be the building that it is (for its lighting, elevators, air conditioning, pumps, etc.) This electricity is part of the larger system and interactions that gives the building its capability. Now suppose that the building is one day stuck with lightning, and even more electricity flow through its cables burning away all the appliances connected to it. What just happened, was that the building obtained a lot of "energy" (urja) but lost its "capability" (prana). The system of the building has now settled down to a lower state of dharma with lesser capability (where we cannot use the lights, the elevators, etc.).

What makes a being move from a lower state of dharma to a higher state of dharma? This happens when the being is endowed with more prana, so that the current state of dharma is no longer the best stable state, given the state of the prana. 

This process of taking a being from a lower stable state to a higher stable state is called pranayama. The idea of pranayama is holistic upliftment of being to help find a new stable state. Empowerment of only some parts of being will not improve the overall capability. Hence for instance, running into wealth without an improvement in our education about how wealth works, is not likely to increase our capability. 

Pranayama hence, starts with internal capacity building -- be it for an individual, a family, an organization or a country. We can "shoot for the stars" only after we have built an internal capability to sustainably shoot for the stars. 

It is hence, no surprise that mega achievements in aviation and space technology have all but disappeared. No country is interested in putting a man on the moon anymore. No one seems to be too keen on building supersonic passenger jets. No one even seems to be keen on building space colonies that was widely expected to happen after the International Space Station was built. None of these achievements were a result of the increased capability of humanity as a whole. These stellar achievements were made at a time when large parts of the world were fighting one another or were literally starving to death. 

If we wish to build a sustainable world, we need to increase overall capability. This not just means financial and material capability of humans, but also their educational and spiritual capability. Pranayama for the world includes increasing the prana of the world that we are endowed with -- its forests and its diverse set of flora and fauna. 

04 August, 2017

Dharma and Fairness

It is common knowledge that almost all social upheavals around the world have been a fight for fairness. Or were they really about fairness?

To answer this of course, we need to define what is fairness. Unfortunately, this is where things start going out of hand. In my class on negotiation theory we study at least six definitions of fairness -- many of them contradicting one another!

Consider this example. Suppose some people agree to meet up for something. And they all agree that they will meet in the house of one of the persons. It is clearly unfair, right? Everybody else, except the guy at whose house the meeting is to be held, needs to commute in traffic, while the lone guy gets to relax at his house waiting for others to arrive.

However, when we were students pursuing our theses, we routinely went to meet our professors at their house to discuss our research on holidays and it never occurred to us that it was unfair. No, it was not because there was a "hierarchy" with professors bullying students (I studied in post unification Germany which was very keen to attract students, and the professors were not only inspiring, but also "chilled out" -- if that's the right word).

The reason we found the setup fair was that as students we had a singular goal -- to make progress towards our thesis. And commuting several miles for a meeting was just a small cost towards the benefit of making progress on our theses. While the professor had several students and had several goals to pursue -- not just research goals, but also administrative and financial goals to keep the department and lab running. The intrinsic cost that he would have to pay to commute through traffic for meeting his students would be much higher.

The thing here to note is that utility and cost have subjective elements, even though there is a price tag associated with the object. If a kg of tomatoes cost Rs. 100/- (Ha!) and I buy tomatoes by paying Rs. 100/- what it means is not that the value of a kg of tomatoes is Rs. 100/-. What it means is, for the buyer, a kg of tomatoes is more valuable than Rs. 100/- while for the seller, Rs. 100/- is more valuable than a kg of tomatoes.

Hence, a system of fairness based on objective valuation may not actually be considered fair.

Here is another example connotation of fairness -- the property of Pareto optimality. A system comprising of multiple rational agents is said to be in a state of Pareto optimality, if no agent can change what they are doing, to get a better utility, without hurting the utility of some other agent.

A queue for example, is in a state of Pareto optimality. People standing in a queue can choose to either remain in the queue, or cut the queue and go straight to the counter to get for themselves a better payoff (lesser waiting time). However, while they get a better payoff, all others in front of them in the queue would be worse off by this action of theirs.

Pareto optimality, is hence seen as yet another example of fairness.

However, consider this example. A society that practices slavery is also in a state of Pareto optimality. And if Pareto optimality were to be the measure of fairness, then slaves seeking freedom, or workers seeking better and more human working conditions, would hurt the prospects for their masters or for the management, making it unfair.

So when is Pareto optimality fair and when is it unfair?

Consider yet another example -- a game called the "Battle of the sexes".

A couple wish to go on a date and they have between them two options -- a musical concert or a cricket match. The boy likes to go to the musical concert, while the girl likes to go to the cricket match (of course!). If they both decide to go to the musical concert, then the boy would have "won" the battle -- not only are they going on a date, they are going to his preferred choice. If instead they choose to go to the cricket match, the girl would have "won" the battle. They of course, have a third choice -- to call off the date and go on to the concert or the cricket match separately. In which case, they are both equal -- but they are not on a date, which is what had started the whole exercise.

The above is an example of a choice between a system state that is "equally poor" or "unequally rich", where the poorest in the unequally rich state is richer than the richest in the equally poor state.

So in this case, do we favour equality over collective wealth, or collective wealth over equality? (The answer is not that simple -- what if unequally rich state, the richest was orders and orders of magnitude more richer than the poorest?)

I can give several more examples of fairness, all of which have a "Yes but.." exception, where the very definition of fairness can be used to create a system that is blatantly and visibly unfair.


You guessed it right if you are thinking that fairness cannot be defined only in terms of payoffs of the players involved. There is more to the definition of fairness than just the self-interest functions of the players. 

And that is the element of sustainability -- that dharma thing again! 

Look back at all the social upheavals of history. Were they really about fairness, or were they about sustainability? 

Slavery -- or the trading of our liberty for some concrete benefit -- has existed for millenia and it was also rationalized away by weird logic. A weak person for instance, had two choices -- struggle for survival or become a slave of a stronger person and make the other guy stronger, so that he can take care of both of them. Trading of one's freedom for a life of safety was seen as a most rational thing to do. 

Except, beyond a certain point the configuration becomes unsustainable. 

We trade our freedom for safety or convenience all the time. Be it using Gmail and telling google all about ourselves, or passing through an X-ray scanner in airport security and answering embarrassing questions about the contents of our bags to airport security. 

As long as the extent to which we give up our liberty is bounded (by place, time and type of liberty) it is still fine. But when this trade becomes unbounded, we get into systemic stability issues. 

Which is what is the core issue concerning privacy in the digital age. The question of privacy is not about fairness per se. The argument for fairness can be countered by several examples where we voluntarily give up our personal information. 

The core issue is of sustainability of basic human values and dignity in a system where every information about them can be recorded in high-fidelity forever. 


So, let me say this again. Unless we develop a comprehensive "Theory of Being" we cannot hope to find real solutions to the digitally connected world of the 21st century. We will just keep harping on fairness rhetoric without gaining any fundamental insight about what is the real problem.

24 July, 2017

The limits of Syncretism

In the study of human societies like religion, politics, culture, etc. a commonly occurring tool of inquiry is Syncretism. It refers to the process of computing equivalences between disparate belief systems and hermeneutics to look for underlying unity and promote dialogue across hermeneutics.

No doubt, the intention of Syncretic studies is noble, but as always, the devil lies in the details. Some time ago, I had written a post on the limits of "informed consent" -- which is seen as the cornerstone of liberal, consensual relationships. The incident that started me to think about the limits of informed consent, was a study I'd come across about "productivity enhancement" that required a 360-degree collection of "Big data" from employees. Stuff like what time they get up, what time they come to work, how much time they spend at the water cooler, what sites they visit, what is their emotional state, what is the state of their marital relationship, etc. were all collected and given to a "Big data analytics" engine to give actionable insights.

The primary defense the authors had about the use of such intrusive data about the employees' personal lives, was the axiom of "informed consent". The employees were told what data would be collected and they consented to it.

The only problem in this argument is that the employees likely had no recourse but to give their consent -- or else, face the wrath of upper management and possibly end up losing their jobs. Informed consent, in a state of power asymmetry is just a fait accompli.

The same thing is true of Syncretism. Let us assume two hermeneutic systems A and B wanting to understand one another. Syncretic interpretations are directed relationships. There can be a Syncretic explanation of concepts of B in terms of A, as well as concepts of A in terms of B.

In an egalitarian world with similar levels of strength from both sides, we would probably see equal numbers of interpretations in either directions.

However, the literature pertaining to interpreting culture, religion, arts, etc in the English-speaking world is hopelessly one-sided. It represents the interpretation of other cultures and hermeneutics from a European (later American) hermeneutic framework.

Hence, we see a non-existent religion called "Hinduism" that is boxed in as the predominant belief-system in India and it is neatly separated from other similar "-isms" like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. Even concepts of this "Hinduism" like dharma, atma, prana, vidhi, etc are all mapped to mostly Biblical concepts (since "Hinduism" was considered a "religion") to find some kind of a subgraph isomorphism.

With a good enough interpretation, several "Indology experts" have emerged who use the Syncretic interpretation to suggest political, social and cultural interventions into what they see as social evils or superstition.

It also helped that Indian society was reeling from different forms of collective trauma when the Western explorers set out to study and interpret the culture. Reactions to trauma often take extreme forms ("sati" and "jouhar" for instance, were not social practices characteristic of "Hinduism" representing some sick notions of male dominance; but were traumatic counter-reactions against invaders who were killing men and enslaving the women.)

The power asymmetry that still exists between India and the Western world, have ensured that the Syncretic narrative about Indian thought is fast becoming the "mainstream" with the actual thought getting sidelined and faces a real danger of becoming extinct with the emergence of the generation of the English educated, digital natives whose primary source of worldview is Wikipedia.

Syncretic interpretation of Indian culture, which forms the basis on which children in the West are taught about India and "India experts" base their political advice, is wildly way off target. And what is worse, is that even in India, especially since Indian (dharmic) thought is not studied in the formal education system, and many students are growing up speaking and thinking in English (because of the greater opportunity it provides), the only source of material for them to understand Indian thought is the Western syncretic interpretation of it.

I've extensively written about the misinterpretation of dharma as either religion, law, ethics, norms, duty, etc. when it actually defines an abstract, conceptual notion of sustainability -- or the universal principle of equilibrium. Indian thought postulates the existence of dharma (which can be independently verified in various ways), and there is no question of "belief" in dharma. Dharma, like gravity, exists regardless of whether we believe in it.

Imagine a mind that has concepts like "ethics", "law", "religion", "duty", etc. but no concept for the universal principle of sustainability, interpreting the term "dharma" based on the different contexts it appears in. The actual meaning of dharma gets hopelessly distorted when equated with any or all of these concepts.

Similarly, the term "Atman" or "Atma" is interpreted as "Soul" -- a primarily Biblical concept. Atma is is the essence of "being" or the "beingness" that manifests dharma (among other things). Atma is not limited to humans and animals -- it is there in every object. In fact, there is no difference between "living" and "non-living" beings -- they are all basically beings. The fact that Atma is characteristic of even non-living objects is interpreted to mean that "Hinduism" is somewhat like "Animism". All we can say in response is -- sigh.

In dharmic hermeneutics, the entire universe is a Being that is made up of beings. The primary contention was on the relationship between the universal Being (Brahman) and its constituent beings (Atmans). It is somewhat analogous to (but not identical to or syncretically similar to) Cantor's paradox -- that tries to establish the set of all sets as a set and ends up in an existential dilemma.

Hence, there are theories that are based on non-separation (Advaita) between the Atman and Brahman (which again, is not the same as or syncretically equivalent to monoism of Western philosophy) and theories that posit a graded relationship between beings (Atmans) and the Being (Brahman).

As I see it, there is a pressing need for reviving dharmic hermeneutics (not just preserving it as a dead relic in a museum).


Existence is basically defined by three fundamental processes: creation, sustenance and death/transformation. Different cultures have emphasized these fundamental processes with different levels of importance.

Western culture as we know it today, has its roots in Europe and West Asia, both of which were characterized by scarcity. The cultures are forged by war and struggle, over several centuries. Survival was not a given. As the saying goes: "A man said to the universe: Sir I exist! However, replied the universe, The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation."

In such cultures, creation and transformation are central elements. The emergence of modern science and technology are all founded upon the fundamental process of creation and building of "stuff".

In contrast, Indian thought was largely founded in a place that was resource rich and benign. The world is seen as a nurturing mother, rather than an adversary in such cultures. The primary objective of this culture was to "sustain" what nature has already given us. Cultural practices evolved that promoted humans to blend into the environment and become a part of the ecological process of sustenance, rather than view nature as a resource. There was also no concept of a "food chain" with predators on top. The entire ecosystem was seen as a system of being, whose dharma (sustenance) was a function of the interaction among its various constituent beings -- be they predators or non-predators.

As I see it, with an increasingly connected world, sustenance is one of the most important characteristic that is largely ignored. We think of sustainability only when it comes to big issues like climate change that makes us feel good, virtuous and erudite, to talk about. We do not acknowledge the importance of treating sustainability as a first-order concept in every aspect of our lives -- be it business, family or governance.

Hence, my promotion of dharmic hermeneutics is by no means a promotion of "Hindu" "religion". Dharmic thought has nothing to do with holy cows or vegetarianism or the myriad rituals, festivals and practices that are associated with "Hinduism". Yes, these practices manifested in a culture that was based on dharmic thought, but the concept of dharma itself is more fundamental and universal.

09 July, 2017

Dharma and Ownership

The Western model of social organization is fundamentally hinged on the concept of "ownership." Despite the several reformations and changes that have characterized Western history, the fundamental driving force for social organization is still based around ownership management.

In the early days, ownership wrested with the kings who basically owned their kingdoms (including its subjects). Changes in the societal structure brought about by the Renaissance, Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment in general, have seriously challenged the way ownership is managed in societies -- not the concept of ownership itself. Hence, democracy is defined as a government that is (owned) "by the people, for the people and of the people". Several other anti-imperial movements like communism, socialism, etc have all primarily challenged the way ownership was organized -- not the concept of ownership itself.

Social organization around an algebra of ownership has specific characteristics. Ownership entails privileges and rights. It also entails responsibilities and liabilities. And more fundamentally, it entails a sense of identity. When we own a home, we enjoy rights over it and get to set the rules within our homes. It also entails responsibilities and liabilities. If while constructing our house we damage our neighbour's property, then we are liable for it since we are the owners of the house. But more fundamentally, at a cognitive level, our home is an extension of ourselves, an expression of our identity and we not only take pride in what we own, but also interpret any assault on our property as an assault on our selves.

In contrast to all the above, Indian worldview traditionally was centered around the concept of "dharma". The term dharma has no accurate translation in English -- not because it is a confused notion, but because the Western world has not thought of this notion or developed it enough to give it a central element of importance in their worldview. The essence of dharma appears in the form of several "conservation laws" in physics and biology -- be it inertia, elasticity, conservation of electrostatic charge, conservation of angular momentum, homeostasis, etc. But these disparate conservation laws have not been studied for the underlying abstract property of sustainability that permeates all creation.

Dharma is loosely translated as "sustainability". It is a systemic configuration, or a state of being, that is robust and impervious to routine challenges. However, the term "sustainability" is not completely accurate either. A dead planet is trivially sustainable and robust. Dharma is a state of sustainability that does not violate properties of liveness or "prana". Dharma and prana go hand in hand. If dharma is a state of sustainability, prana is the capability of the system (or being) in that sustainable state.

Societies that were organized around the concept of dharma, have very different characteristics as compared to societies organized around the algebra of ownership. The dilemma between individual liberty and collective will is not really an issue of contention. The Western world falsely believes that Eastern societies are "collectivist" in nature (they usually give the example of Japan in this regard). But Indian societies are nowhere as collectivist as Japan and neither are they as individualist as the US or Europe. The primary element of contention is not a clash of rights between the individual and the collective will -- but a contention into what is sustainable and what is not.

The dharmic worldview also does not view the Earth or nature as a resource that humanity owns. It views the Earth as a larger system of being, which seeks its own dharma.

Recently, (perhaps unwittingly) a professor from Norway tweeted the essence of dharmic thought, in response to the flurry of tweets around the Icelandic volcano explosion in 2010 that had grounded flights across Europe: "Save the planet! The planet must be saying, 'Save yourselves, idiots! I'm going to be fine!'"

Volcanic eruptions, climate change, tsunamis, earthquakes, are all examples of the planet seeking its own state of dharma -- in response to the system of forces acting upon it.

When a culture of ownership interacts with a culture of dharma, there is bound to be large-scale misunderstandings. The reason why in Indian culture people "poke their nose into other peoples' affairs" is not really because Indians lack an understanding of personal boundaries (just look at the norms in daily lives that respect personal boundaries), but more likely because it has its roots in cultural practices centered around preserving dharma.

Also, a culture centered around dharma is innately more objective than a culture centered around ownership. The virtues of objectivity have been recognized in the Western world only after scientific advancements. However, a culture that puts dharma at the center of inquiry, rather anybody's privileges or rights naturally drives the stream of inquiry towards the system of being rather than towards the individual preferences of any of the subjects involved.

It is ironical that in today's popular discourse in the Indian public mind (in universities, on media, etc.) we greatly lack a sense of objectivity and get into personal affronts all too often.

Ownership in a dharmic worldview is a rather sloppy entity. To explain this, let me take the example of a private expressway built in Bangalore recently (the NICE road). The owners of the road had a tough time when they announced the toll for using their road. They were met with a lot of opposition from commuters that the toll will make it impossible for them to use the road. The commuters didn't understand when the NICE management simply asked them to then not use their road if they can't afford the toll. And today, the toll on this road is tightly controlled by the government.

Generally it is interpreted as a "mob mentality" that is preventing the owners of the infrastructure to be rational about their costs and set the toll accordingly. But what the owners of the infrastructure need to also understand is that their ownership is not a naturally granted privilege. The road is meant to serve a particular purpose and help in enabling a larger system (the city) become sustainable. Just asking commuters to not use the road if they can't afford it, will adversely affect the larger system of being. Costs have to be rationalized -- not just for the owners, but for the larger system of being in which the ownership operates. 

03 March, 2017

Theory of Being -- IV: Prana and Entropy

This is the fourth in the series called Theory of Being. A clearer understanding of this post is possible when the reader has read through the earlier posts in this series.

To summarize the main elements, we started by noting that the universe as we know it can be broadly divided into two realms -- the energy realm and the information realm. Everything in the physical universe can be reduced to energy, and everything in the conceptual realm is fundamentally built from information.

We also started to develop a new theory of the universe, inspired by the dharmic worldview. Here, the building block of the universe is an entity called "Being". A being is a template that can host energy and information. The "state" of being is the information content in being. Beings tend to settle down into "stable" or "sustainable" states, which is called its dharma. These are states that correspond to robust optimality given its operational neighbourhood (called its Vidhi).

Beings can compose with one another to form bigger beings, with the entire universe itself forming the ultimate Being.


The tendency of beings to settle down into stable states is treated as axiomatic, as it is based on ample empirical evidence -- be it in the quantum dynamics of sub-atomic particles, or the elasticity of solids, or the dynamics of fluids or the phenomenon of homeostasis in living beings.

The philosophy of dharma that characterizes Eastern thought is built on the concept of sustainability of beings. This in in contrast to "particles" and "mechanics" that forms central elements of Newtonian worldview, that can be traced all the way to ancient Hellenic Greece.

It is not that Western thought has not recognized stable states or Eastern thought has not recognized mechanics. For instance, the relatively recent discipline of Game Theory, also dubbed as "A Beautiful Math" is predominantly based on understanding equilibria and stable states. Game Theory is applied as much to biological and social phenomena as much to physical phenomena.

The question we are now posing is to understand the way in which mechanics feature in the hermeneutics of dharma.

Even though stability and sustainability form the fundamental building blocks of the dharmic worldview, there is another important concept that we need to consider. This is the concept of Prana.

Prana is variously translated as "force", "energy", "life", etc. Of course, none of them capture its essence exactly. The closest working definition of Prana that we will be using to develop our theory is Prana as "vitality".

Prana is basically the fundamental element of vitality in the universe. It is what makes beings seek different levels of dharma or stable states.  A being with low levels of prana settles down in a "lower" state of dharma and a being with high levels of prana can reach "higher" states of dharma.

So how do we understand, and perhaps quantify this "lower" and "higher" states of dharma?

"Lower" and "higher" states of dharma can be distinguished by their "information content" or entropy.

Consider a society of beings each of whom are trying to maximize their survivability. (Note that, a society of such beings is also a being which is trying to maximize its sustainability.)

Each being has some needs for its survival, which requires it to build connections with its environment, made up of other beings. Let us say that we have one such society with low levels of "Prana". The beings do not have much vitality and have just enough resources to build just one connection. The beings are focused solely on their survival and do not have the wherewithal to process complex notions like social fairness and such. The beings just connect with one another so that they can get to everybody else, as quickly as possible. So in what kind of a stable state, does such a society end up?

Some truly awesome research efforts have shown that, the resultant "dharma" for such a society, looks somewhat like this:

Star graph: Image source: Wikipedia

A "star" network is an emergent stable property (or an "equilibrium" in Game Theory parlance) resulting from individual beings exercising their Prana to maximize their sustainability.

As we can see, a star network is optimal in the sense that, anyone can reach anyone else in the network, in a maximum of 2 hops. Given very little Prana of just making one connection, this is the class of network with the shortest separation, that can be built. No one imposed a star graph on this society -- it emerged as a stable property from individual beings seeking to sustain themselves! This network now becomes a "being" of the "star" variety. We are already talking evolution here!

So how does the "star being" fare with respect to its sustainability? For one, it is quite efficient, since anyone can reach anyone else in a maximum of two hops. The "star being" is also robust against random failures. If every node is equally likely to fail, and there are n nodes in the network, then, for (n-1) possible failures, the rest of the network (and the "star being") continues to function. It is only one critical failure (of the central node) that can kill the "star being".

However, the "star being" is also innately vulnerable because the central node is heavily loaded in comparison with all the other nodes. It has to manage (n-1) connections, while every other node manages just one connection. The heavy load on the central node makes it most vulnerable to burnout and collapse, which would in turn, bring down the entire "star being".

The star network also has very low information content or "entropy". If we have to describe a star network over a given set of n nodes, all we need to specify is which node is the central node. The rest of the network can be reconstructed just by knowing who is the central being.

We can make this society reach a higher level of dharma by infusing more "Prana" into the constituent beings. We can do this either by empowering them with more resources (by providing enough energy to make more connections), or by empowering them with richer information constructs like "fairness".

Let us take the second case to understand the concept of Prana. As we can see, Prana is not just energy. Increasing awareness also increases Prana. The vitality of a being towards sustaining itself is based not just on its energy, but also on its awareness.

When beings are aware of the network that they are part of, and understand concepts like fairness, they would be able to see that the star network that they created is not very sustainable. The network is its own adversary -- by overloading the central node and by giving it an unfair amount of load.

So how would a collection of beings operate towards sustainability, when they are empowered with the concept of fairness? They form what is called as a "scale-free network" or a "hub and spoke model" as shown below: 
Scale-free network. Image source: Wikipedia
A scale-free network has several "hubs" with different levels of "centrality". No node in the network is so overloaded that it has to manage all communications between all nodes. But a few nodes are slightly more central and manage more load than others. Failure of these nodes, do damage the network, but none of them will damage the network to such an extent that the failure of the central node in a star network does, where the entire network gets totally broken.

The "scale-free being" is more sustainable than the "star being" even though it is less efficient. In the "star being" anyone could communicate with anyone else in a maximum of just two hops, which is not the case here. But the "star being" was also inherently unsustainable, as the very nature of the being made it vulnerable for a fatal internal failure (of the central node).

The "scale-free being" also has more information content, or "entropy" as compared to the "star being". In order to describe the network we need much more information than just specifying who is the central node.

So basically, increase in Prana increases the information content of the stable state that the being settles down in -- a "higher" form of dharma, if you will.

Prana is not just about "living" beings -- in fact, there is no difference between living and non-living beings in dharmic thought. Prana is the "cosmic energy" that permeates everything in the universe.

The concept of annealing shows how infusion of Prana (heat energy) in metals can make them change their stable state, and change the characteristic nature of the metallic compound. Although annealing has its roots in metallurgy, the process itself is generic and is applicable in various other domains.

Now think of a computer that is fresh off the factory and just has the inbuilt firmware. When we switch it on, it settles down to a state where it can perform a very basic set of operations. Its Prana is very low. Now, add more Prana to this computer in the form of an operating system like Linux (ok, even Windows or Mac 😋), and suddenly it settles down in a state with much higher information content, and capable of doing much more things!

Dharma (the teleology of sustainability) and Prana (the teleology of vitality) form the basic building blocks of the universe!