THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #7.

THE DUALITY OF FACT AND FICTION.

In this instalment of the series of blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of fact and fiction. The duality of fact and fiction is slightly different from the other dualities that I have discussed so far. The dualities discussed so far were products of our mind. Be it a duality of optimism and pessimism or be it a duality of destiny and free will, all of them could be deemed to be parts of our beliefs. However, this duality of fact and fiction is not in the same category. The notion of fact refers to the reality outside , whereas the notion of fiction refers to a product of our imagination. Therefore, in principle, this duality should not exist. After all, a fact points towards the world outside whereas a fiction points towards the world inside. However, as discussed below, this duality is as real as any other duality that affects our lives.

Let us see how this duality arises. The facts are normally stored in our memories just as they are. Whatever the facts we can gather by seeing, reading or listening, are normally preserved in our memories. Admittedly, this process is imperfect. We might miss out some details, or we might wrongly perceive some details. Therefore, it is easy to realise that the facts which we remember may be inaccurate and incomplete. However, within the reasonable limits, one can assert that facts are remembered just as they are. The question therefore arises is, in that case, how would facts be influenced by our thinking ? The answer lies in the mechanisms by which our memories are created. Unlike computers, which store data in a physical form of a byte, our human mind stores these facts in a non physical form called virtual memory. In other words, our memories of individual facts can not be located in any particular part of our brains. ( There is no neuron which has a record of how our grandmothers looked like. ) . While this mechanisms is very useful in storing humongous amount of facts (which would otherwise require large computer ) in our brains, this mechanisms has its own difficulties. These arise from the nature of this mechanisms of creating virtual memory. It is this mechanisms of creating virtual memory that is responsible for the duality of fact and fiction. Let us see how.

A human mind creates memories not by recording facts but by interpreting them before creating a mental record. When the human brain interprets a fact, the process of interpretation helps it to reduce the size of the information content. For instance, if we were to remember the names all our friends, it would be difficult to do it in a alphabetical order. However, what a human mind does is to understand the nature of friendship that you have with each name on the list. Having done that, it simply bunches all our school friends together. Similarly, it creates grouping of our college friends, building friends etc. By understanding our friend’s context in our lives, our brains simplify the recording of the memories. While this looks trivially obvious, this is a very effective strategy. However, at the heart of this method is something that we have yet to figure out. A human mind knows a meaning of the word friend, but we don’t know how it does. The key point is that it is this unknown method of understanding of human notions that links the memories of these facts with our ability to create fiction. Let us see how.

I would like to qualify the term fiction. Normally, the term fiction is used to describe the outputs of novelists and story writers. However, the term fiction, in my opinion, must also include all the lies that we tell to others (and to ourselves ! ) . When a novelist writes a fiction, she /he begins with some understanding of the way the world functions or the way a human mind functions. In other words, a novelist begins with some understanding and then, in order to create a narrative, she /he inserts facts into the story. This insertion of facts is necessary because it makes fiction readable and convincing. When we tell lies, we do a similar thing. First, we create some plausible excuse and then to make that excuse convincing, we insert facts into that excuse.

It must be clear that both these processes, of remembering facts and of creating a fiction, employ the same mechanism. Therefore, it is this common mechanism that gives rise to the duality of fact and fiction. Ideally, things would have been simple. We would remember the facts and similarly, we would write or read fiction (or even tell lies !) without any major problems. The problem however is that somewhere along the line, a human mind loses track. It often fails to separate a fact from a fiction. It starts believing that even the fiction is real and the lies are the facts. It is a common experience. When we tell lies, we are keen to remember those lies. Of course, initially, we want remember the lies we have told because we want to ensure that our future behaviour is in accordance with these lies. However, without our knowledge and consent, our minds start treating those lies as if they were facts. This is because a human mind uses the same mechanism for botb these activities. Thus, this creates a situation wherein a part the brain insists that this is a fiction even though another part of the brain insists that the this is a fact.. This fight between the two parts of the brain on whether what is in its memory is a fact or a fiction that gives rise to angst. More importantly, a human mind has no certain way of distinguishing between these two types of memories. Therefore, a human being is condemned to live in twilight of fact and fiction without knowing which is which. A true punishment for a liar is to live with that lie. A similar fate awaits novelists ! We are condemned to live with our novels.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of conviction and doubt.

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THE DUALITIES OF LIFE. BLOG #6.

THE DUALITY OF FREE WILL AND DESTINY.

In continuation with this series of blogs on the dualities of life, I would discuss the duality of free will and destiny in this blog. I would like to clarify that this blog is not about whether there is really anything like destiny or whether there is really something like free will. The question whether destiny exists or not is not answerable at present. Whatever knowledge we have, whatever wisdom our culture passes on to us, is not sufficient to answer this question. Therefore, there is no point in debating the existence of destiny. Same can be said about free will. Therefore, I would sidestep this issue. Instead, I am, as a novelist, more concerned with how both these notions shape our thinking rather than verifying the notions of free will and destiny.

One of the peculiar thing about a human mind is that it doesn’t have any direct means to verify whether any given idea is true or not. A human mind can find out whether any idea is true or false, only by working out the consequences of that idea. If the consequences are verified, then that idea is true. Thus, a human mind cannot establish an objective truth it can only verify the consequences of any objective truth. Strangely, in order to verify the consequences of any idea, the mind must assume that that particular idea is true. As far as the working of mind is concerned, it can work out the consequences of any proposition only if it temporarily assumes that that idea is true. To a human mind, it doesn’t really matter whether the idea under investigation is true or not. All that matters to a human mind is how to work out the consequences of any idea it is investigating. However, in order to work out the possible consequences of any idea, the human mind must assume that that particular idea is true.

The real problem with such a way of processing any new idea is that a human mind often forgets that assumption of that idea being true is provisional. Due to its compulsion to find meaning of everything that it is processing, a human mind mistakenly thinks that the idea under investigation is true. Thus, we have a situation wherein our minds have two categories of truth, objective truth and subjective truth. The objective truths refer to factual details of this world and the subjective truth refers to the beliefs that our minds assume to be true.

It is one of the tragedies of life that our minds fails to distinguish between these two types of truth. Therefore, while trying to evaluate the validity of any idea, a human mind often wrongly assumes that a subjective truth is an objective truth. Therefore, as far as our minds are concerned, whether destiny really exists or not, is not important. The same is true for the notion of free will. As a result, our minds are influenced by these notions irrespective of their existence. It this that concerns me as a novelist. What bothers me more, is the fact that our minds don’t analyse these notions as if they are mutually exclusive.

Purely from the logical point of view, either there is something like destiny which decides how we would behave, or there is something like free will which suggests that we are free to act as we wish. In fact, it is intuitively clear that logically only one of these two notions can be true. Both can not be true at the same time. The tragedy of our minds is that it doesn’t follow this self evident situation. Instead, our minds operates by assuming that both these notions are true. Therefore, in order avoid any confusion, our minds work in a modular fashion. A human mind tries to verify the consequences of both these notions in separate parts of itself simultaneously. Therefore, we are governed by conflicting notions. The duality of free will and destiny influences our minds and we are torn between two different interpretations of meaning of life.

It is a natural corollary to this scenario that we experience conflicting emotions because of the influence of these two mutually exclusive notions. The real problem with this split processing is that our emotions do not factor into this split. Therefore, even when the different parts of our mind are processing the consequences of destiny and free will separately, our emotional response to these processings is common. As a result , we experience complex and sometimes antagonistic emotions. The technical term for trouble caused by this split processing is semantic ambiguities. Similarly, the technical term for this experience of conflicting emotions is cognitive dissonance. Thus, the angst of our existence arises because we swing back and forth between semantic ambiguities to cognitive dissonance. Therefore, it seems fair to conclude that the duality of free will and destiny would always be inflicting a heavy cost on our mental well being. More importantly, there is no escape from this duality. As a novelist, I have always tried to depict the semantic ambiguities and the cognitive dissonance in my novels, including my third novel which I am writing now.

I have realised that, as Indians, we are saddled with this duality to a greater extent. Our culture has nurtured and strengthened our subconscious belief in destiny. On the other hand, our modern education has inculcated the notion of free will in our conscious mind. Thus, there is a direct conflict between our simultaneous beliefs of destiny and free will. This conflict is all the more acute because it is carried out between our conscious and subconscious minds. Therefore, as a society, we, modern Indians, collectively experience this angst more acutely.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of fact and fiction.