Monday, May 22, 2017

A conversation with Ramarao Kanneganti

It started with this post on my wall:
I have been reading Sapiens by Harare against my better judgement since children and others have been recommending it. I am upto 25 percent of the book do far and it seems to be a just so story so far though supported by some sort consensus knowledge. This quote from the book suggests that I am a cynic. 
"It does not take much to provide the objective biological needs of Homo sapiens . After those needs are met, more money can be spent on building pyramids, taking holidays around the world, financing election campaigns, funding your favourite terrorist organisation, or investing in the stock market and making yet more money –all of which are activities that a true cynic would find utterly meaningless. Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who founded the Cynical school, lived in a barrel. When Alexander the Great once visited Diogenes as he was relaxing in the sun, and asked if there were anything he might do for him, the Cynic answered the all-powerful conqueror, ‘Yes, there is something you can do for me. Please move a little to the side. You are blocking the sunlight.’ This is why cynics don’t build empires ....."
Ramarao responded:
Ramarao Kanneganti . That is the perfect example of how lack of shared myth creates incongruence in interactions. If two people do not believe in the sanctity of samethings, how can they reason together? That is what propelled the conquerors to either adapt the existing religion, or force a new religion (or, set of aesthetics or whatever). 

For instance, what do we do with money? In our collective myth, we made a virtue of it -- how we can do things with it: giving it to the poor, the brahmins, children. That created necessity of money, keeping the society tethered. [Not sure if we need it still ...]. If people stopped valuing money, the existing structures collapse -- such is the power of shared myth.

We read dystopian novels, (like say, Night fall). What happens when the civilization falls? There is no shared myth that all the people believe in. It is not immoral, it is not illogical -- but it leads to chaos. People question the shared myths, because they create structures of hegemony. People write books, prophets cite God to change the existing myths. 

I think it is more about what we read into the book. For instance, when he talks about shared myths -- taking a look at your note on education -- don't you think the purpose of education is propagation of such shared myths? Strictly speaking, almost all the arts do not describe physical reality, but shared myths. 

Objectively speaking, there is no poetry -- we are not biologically born liking poetry. But, education makes us like poetry, which creates bonds with other humans, which is "good" for the collective, I suppose. 

For some reason, this book helped me clarify how I would see, moral relativism, purpose of education, arts, and structures of hegemony. I am curious to see how you would interpret it.

My responses:
1) Anandaswarup Gadde Ramarao garu, Your thoughtful comments will make me read the book carefully. My initial reaction is due to my background, or what I think is my background. I remember I was 13 when I finished school and was already suspicious of shared myths. I did not want to go to college, I wanted to be a farmer. One thought I remember that stayed with me since then is that 'ambition is a sin'. Anyway, I was persuaded to attend college and then to study mathematics. Then discovered mathematics and felt that they were teaching rubbish and was thrown out of college since I did not attend classes. I went back home with a couple of mathematics books on modern algebra and Russell's introduction to mathematical philosophy but I found that I was not good enough to do mathematics by myself in a village and went back to college loosing four years in the process. Then on, I studied what I liked choosing a subject in which I could not be guided. So there is this mixture of suspicion of shred myths but at the same time using structures built on shared myths. And similarly with other shared issues like money. I still do not save money but use the pension system to get monthly payments.
2)Anandaswarup Gadde About poetry, my long term view is that education is not really necessary. It works by images, sounds , idioms and shared culture and myths and we have a lot of poetry from folk poets like Vemana to Gorati Venkanna. But I did not really read much Telugu poetry, most of my exposure is through a few books in which Telugu is not difficult or from film songs. At one stage, I took a bit more to English poetry particularly John Donne, Auden and Marianne Moore. That was long ago in the fifties and sixties and some of it stayed with me. But recently I came across a 1995 article by Dana Ciola in which I found this quote which I found stimulating but have not thought through the consequences: "A society whose intellectual leaders lose the skill to shape, appreciate, and understand the power of language will become the slaves of those who retain it—be they politicians, preachers, copywriters, or newscasters. The public responsibility of poetry has been pointed out repeatedly by modern writers. "
Ramarao Kanneganti I agree with you what you said about poetry. My statement is clumsily made. By education, I meant -- training -- either through classroom, or through cultural conditioning. I know that we all are attracted to alliteration and such poetic forms -- is that innate? is that a primal understanding? Or, is it a learned behavior? That is, is liking poetry biological? 

People say that music is innate and liking towards it is biological. I must be inhuman for not resonating to music . But, there is some truth to it. Kids respond to music, not meaning.

I am reminded of a funny book కంఠాభరణం "అర్థ బ్రహ్మం కంటే శబ్ద బ్రహ్మం గొప్పోయ్". Does it mean that we are biologically programmed to respond to music? 

If we find feral children, do they respond to music? I wonder.

Anandaswarup Gadde A quick search shows hat there is no consensus except that Darwin thought it was music first.

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