My Experience with 10 day Vipassana Meditation: Part 2

This is the second post in a 3 part series that covers my personal experience attending the 10 day Vipassana Meditation course. Please find Part 1 and Part 3 here. While Part 1 focused on the theory, benefits and my personal goals, this post covers what I observed and learnt while actually doing the course.

My learning and observations: 

  1. You don’t become enlightened at the end of 10 days

Before you start the course, 10 days (~110 hours of meditation) seems like a very large commitment and you may have very high expectations. However, by the 4th or 5th day you realise that the course is just the basic foundation for what could be a very long journey. You may or may not notice changes at the end of 10 days but you will be far away from enlightenment. 🙂  

One of my goals was also to experience the concepts of anatta (non-self) and shunyata (essencelessness of objects) Both experiences remain elusive too but in hindsight, I was aiming too high.  

  1. Meditation is hard work and not meant to be approached passively. 

This is definitely not a retreat or a holiday to unwind. You will be living for 10 days like a monk or a nun with minimal external mental stimulation. The daily 11 hour meditation sessions can only be approached if you have developed genuine motivation before taking the course. Instead of imagining that you will be resting and chilling for 10 days, it is better to think of this as the mental equivalent of a lumber camp where you are constantly required to hack away at large trees, little by little. 

The rules imposed earlier may seem slightly overbearing but I found that the externally imposed discipline as well as the encouraging lectures at night helped and increased my motivation and chances of success.  

I also found that re-imagining the task a little bit helps keep you engaged in the meditation and prevents boredom from setting in (eg: instead of doing body scans in top-down, innovate a little bit with the order in which you do every scan)

  1. Your body’s demand for sleep and food reduces 

Either because of meditation or because you sit in one place for many hours a day, you find that you don’t require as much food and sleep. My sleep requirement fell from 7 hours to 4-5 hours and I also woke up feeling refreshed. There was no dinner served and I ate small portions of other meals but did not feel hungry at night like I expected. 

  1. The most under-rated aspect of a good meditation practice is the ability to sit cross-legged in a good posture for hours 

If you can manage to sit in a straight posture for hours, it increases your chances of a successful meditative practice. Most people, (including me) had less than optimal experiences because their legs, backs and necks start hurting sometime in the middle of the adhisthana (strong determination) practice. 

I could reach a meditative flow state (see below) for 4-5 hours within the ~100 hours I spent. Nothing killed a meditative flow state like having to move or uncross your legs due to strong pain sensations. 

  1. Meditative practice has stages and markers of progress 

Meditating is like starting a car engine that has gone cold. It is very difficult with lots of false starts in the beginning but gets easier until it is almost automatic and effortless once the engine starts. I could break the stages of meditative experience experienced in these parts. 

  1. Scattered and Judgemental: A thought arises (about the past or the future). We identify with the thought and before we realize, we have been pulled into a detour that lasted 10-15 minutes. When we realize this, we are frustrated and slightly panicked because we have wasted quite a bit of time on the thought detour. This keeps on happening no matter how hard we try. 
  2. Scattered but Equanimous: Whenever a thought arises, we may go on a small detour but recover rather quickly and gently nudge ourselves back to the practice without passing judgement or feeling bad about the detour. 
  3. Reflective: A thought arises (and keeps on arising intermittently) in our consciousness but they are immediately recognized and gently pushed aside without judgement. 

The first 3 days are focussed on “anapana meditation” and meant to get you to the third state so that you can be ready for vipassana. However, it is not uncommon to regress back to the 2nd or 1st state sometimes on the later days. 

  1. Reflective, Concentrated and Aware: In this state your mind has generally been calmed and you are actually meditating instead of daydreaming. However, you are still aware of external sensations, noises e.t.c and sometimes react instinctively to pain in your body by shuffling your legs and changing your posture. You are aware of the passage of time and sometimes feel bored without losing your concentration. This is the state I spent most of my ~100 hours in after Day 2 until Day 9. 
  2. Meditative Flow: I experienced this state for the first time in my life for 4-5 hours, usually on the same 6-7 pm “strong determination” slot each day. In this state, you are so engrossed in the meditation that external stimuli and even pain in your body becomes less noticeable. Pain sensations still exist but they can be relegated to the background of the consciousness without applying any label on it. Time goes by really fast and before you know it an hour is over. I lost sense of balance and was frequently nodding off, even though I wasn’t sleeping inside.

This was the peak stage I could reach in the 10 days and reaching here seems to be the result of some combination of the externally imposed discipline (where you can’t move your legs, hands or open eyes for 1 hr), time of the day and the fact that I had tea right before the session. (Tea contains a compound called L-Theanine that creates a state of calm alertness, perfect for a meditative practice)  

6. You feel sensations that always existed but were never registered by your conscious mind

Forcing awareness on parts of your body causes you to become aware of sensations on them that have always existed but had been blocked out by your mind.
From Day 5-6 onwards, I could feel subtle sensations that resembled a column of air on skin wherever I focused my awareness. Sometimes these sensations would persist for hours after ending the session. Some parts (presumably with higher nerve endings) were easier to feel (eg: soles of feet or thighs) and would remain continuously “lit up” while I focused on other areas. Other areas like my stomach were relatively harder to activate and would lose sensation when I moved to other areas.   

On some sessions it was easier to light up the right half of the body and on others lighting up the left half was easier, thus indicating that the nervous system of the body was involved. 

On Day 8 and 9, I experienced a sensation on the bridge of my nose that can be described as a gentle upward pressure with the feeling of very rapid pulsing behind the nose. While I experienced this, I could not experience subtle sensations on the face. Bringing awareness to the nose and to the lower right part of the chest increased these sensations and I could feel it even after ending the meditation session. This seemed to me like a “gross sensation” described in the course and was an experience unique to me. After the course, I researched and found that a small number of mediators had experienced the same sensation but the meaning was inconclusive.

The idea behind Vipassana is to be aware of these sensations and not crave or avoid any of them. They are just there, observe them and their impermanent nature without getting attached or being repulsed.    

7. You mind can go to the default “chatter” state quite fast 
Even though you may have quieted your mind while meditating, once you stop meditating it won’t be hard for your mind to entangle itself in a web of thoughts very fast. The first 10-15 minutes after emerging from a meditative flow state were very surreal but the altered perception did not last long or carry over indefinitely into regular life. 

If you are attending the course for the first time, here are some helpful tips based on my experiences and learnings. 

  1. Before the course
    • Go in with some kind of motivation and reason. (Find your own) It makes the 10 days easier to endure and will ensure you don’t give up early. 
    • Practice sitting cross-legged for an hour and doing some basic breath awareness meditation before starting the course. This helps your body and mind to get acclimatized fast.  
  2. During the course
    • Eat less, your body will not need that much food and it helps with the meditation. 
    • Between meditation sessions (rest breaks), try to keep awareness of your body and the present or keep an empty mind. If you lose the meditative state, it takes some time to get it back the next time you sit.  
    • Invest some time in finding the right sitting posture before you sit for the “strong determination” sessions. If you have mild dull pain, you will be able to ignore it while meditating seriously but if it becomes a sharp and throbbing pain over time, it gets very difficult to continue meditating. The only way to not move your legs if this happens would be to bring the pain into your awareness and study it. However, doing that will break your meditation plan. So it’s best to prepare so that the sharp pain can never arise. 
    • Don’t focus too much on the sensations and become elated or disheartened. It’s your equanimous reaction to them or their absence that matters the most. 
    • Go gentle on yourself if you feel like you are not going in the right direction or making progress. Getting frustrated or extremely goal-oriented will further impede your progress. 
  3. After the course
    1. Read the book “Inner Game of Tennis” and marvel at the parallels
    2.  Keep practicing regularly, if not 2 hours everyday

In the next and final post, I will cover what I did not like in the course and the concepts I am a bit skeptical about.

My Experience with 10 day Vipassana Meditation: Part 1

I recently took a 10 day Vipassana meditation course. I had it on my bucketlist after reading “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright last year. This series of posts is meant to provide insights into my experience and learnings from doing the course. They will be useful to those who are planning to take it for the first time. 

This post will cover some basic theory, background and my goals for taking the course. The second post will cover my learnings/observations and tips for first-timers taking the course. The third post will cover some of the things I am skeptical about and for which more investigation is required. 

Overall, I had a very positive experience and think that the 10 days were well spent. The bulk of the course focuses on Vipassana Meditation and it is an amazing technique that is taught with the seriousness it deserves. 

Theory behind Vipassana 

The theory behind Vipassana is simple (and scientifically accurate) 

  • The mind works as follows
    1. Cognizing: Internal and external objects and events are recognized through our 6 sense doors (eye, ear, skin, nose, taste and mind/thought consciousness) Notice that mind is rightly characterized as external as we have little control over thoughts that emerge within us from time to time. 
    2. Perception, Evaluation and Sensation: These objects are perceived and understood by the mind based on past experiences and based on our evaluation, affective sensations are sent to the body (pleasing or non-pleasing) Whatever happens upto this point is automatic and you have little control over this process. 
    3. Reaction/Formation: The sensations are felt both consciously and unconsciously and we generate a heap of actions to respond to the sensations – either get more of the pleasing ones or get away from the non-pleasing ones. This is something we have control over and a place where we can make changes through Vipassana meditation. 
    4. Consciousness: This heap of actions taken based on sensations produces the feeling of consciousness of “I” that is responding to the sensations. This cycle goes on endlessly throughout our life as we are always exposed to the external and internal world through our sense doors. 
  • The sensations can induce craving/clinging or aversion if allowed a free rein on our lives (like human Pavlovian dogs)   
  • The way to free ourselves of craving is to deeply understand these sensations and their nature of impermanence (aniccha), stop identifying with them and reacting to them blindly, observe them dispassionately and remain equanimous to them. 
  • If we keep on doing this, new reactions will not be generated while the stock of old ones (generated through previous actions) will rise to the surface and be eventually eliminated. This is the foundational logic of Vipassana meditation.

If you want to know more about affective sensations and the body-brain connection, I recommend the book “How Emotions are Made”    

What do you gain from it? 

  1. Equanimity: Practicing Vipassana properly and continuously will allow you to free yourself from the hold that the hedonic machinery has on you. It will pull you away from the near constant state of unsatisfactoriness that most humans find themselves in – which requires them to keep identifying with and submitting to the sensations in the body inducing craving and aversion. The “reactive” part of your brain will get weaker over time and you will be able to take more purposeful action.  
  2. Perceptive Boost: Since the technique involves observing sensations created in your body, you will gradually increase your perceptive powers to recognize increasingly subtler sensations and observe the interplay between mind and matter (I did experience this personally in last 3-4 days) The chief teacher Mr. Goenka also says that with a sharp enough mind, you will eventually be able to perceive something that transcends both mind and matter. This is the experience of enlightenment which can take a lot of effort to reach. You may also be able to grasp the true nature of the world and the self (essenceless and non-self) rather than “apparent reality” around you and inside you. The “cognizing” part of your brain will become stronger and you will start seeing reality in less distorted ways. 
  3. Compassion and Kindness: I am not sure how it works but practicing this makes you more compassionate towards others and less likely to experience anger, fear e.t.c (which are considered as defilements of the mind in Buddhist theory). I did experience a slightly altered perception of many events from the past where I had been wronged and would react with anger and distress. This seems to be a subjective experience though and could have been due to other factors. 
  4. Better Quality of Life: Just like any other type of meditation, the practice requires a concentrated mind so you will get all the mundane benefits as well which include clarity of thought, calmness, mental resilience which should impact all aspects of your life including work, relationships e.t.c 

My personal goals before taking the course 

When I decided to go for the 10 day course, I felt it was going to be a big investment of my time. Therefore, I had high expectations from it. “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright is about how modern science and evolutionary psychology is finding a lot of Buddhist theory to be fundamentally correct (eg: the concept that the self does not exist and that external objects have no essence). Meditation was a tool to experientially grasp these realities instead of just understanding them at an intellectual level. 

Even though Buddhism had a flourishing tradition of philosophy and logic, it is fundamentally a experiential tradition where you are encouraged to see the truth yourself through meditation (samadhi, panya) and wholesome actions (sila). Intellectually, I know that I am seeing a distorted sense of self and the world but it was not possible to change my perception just by me trying to will it. Meditation practice is a necessary tool to see things clearly, as they are.

I did not really achieve these goals in the 10 day course but I am still happy for having been introduced to this technique which I can use to make progress on these goals in the future. 

The next post will cover some of my learnings and observations from when I was actually doing the 10 day course   

India vs Singapore

I have spent around 3 years in Singapore and lived for many years in India. This is a summary of the cultural differences I observed.


India is a pervasively low-trust society. After many painful experiences, most Indians have learnt not to trust strangers and are usually very guarded and suspicious in commercial transactions. Promises made are often broken and the interactions can resemble a short-term zero sum game.

On the other hand, Singapore is a very high trust society where you can usually trust another person to show up, do their job and not rip you off. This allows more strangers to co-operate and increases the dynamism in the economy.


Information is considered a free flowing thing in India that nobody thinks about regulating. There are very few checks on the spread of information (an exception is hate speech) and the problem is usually that there is so much chatter everywhere that you need effort to sift through the signal from the noise.

On the other hand, there does seem to be legal and cultural barriers that prevent something similar in Singapore. Overall, the vibe is as if someone has suddenly reduced the chatter by several notches. It feels like educated Singaporeans don’t share their opinions as much.


Indians usually don’t plan for the worst, they are slightly optimistic in their outlook and only prepare very well for the known threats.

On the other hand, there is an unmistakable sense of paranoia in the Singapore culture which has perhaps contributed to the emergence of a militaristic society. This may be because of the size of the country and because it’s surrounded by slightly envious neighbours.


Although Indians will dislike people who are clearly unethical and those who commit major crimes, breaking small rules is celebrated in India. There are mythological epics where the heroes break rules to defeat villains and where the message seems to be that the ends justify the means. In modern times, the struggle of the valiant and clever entrepreneur against the socialist bureaucratic state is often valorised.

On the other hand, Singaporeans can be almost dogmatic about following rules. In fact, some also do social policing to ensure even the smallest of rules are obeyed. Singaporeans seem to trust that their rules are there for a good reason and actively “police” their society to punish non-compliance.


Accumulation of wealth is considered a worthwhile pursuit in India. However, apart from some very specific contexts, open display of wealth and status is frowned upon and the cultural pressure is to be stealthily wealthy. Many luxury brands have failed to make inroads in India even though there is a large enough population that can afford these items.

On the other hand, Singapore is a very materialistic and consumerist culture. There seems to be a lot of social pressure to not just be doing well but also showing it off.


Educated Indians are very interested in abstract discussions, reasoning and thinking about things that cannot be sensually perceived. Some may enjoy it as an end in itself. This is not only true for modern times, but also true for historical periods when India was a land renowned for philosophy and inquiries into the nature of reality.

On the other hand, Singaporeans are a very pragmatic people and show little tolerance or appreciation for intellectualizing or abstract discussions. They ground their discussions in tangible goals that are focused on real objects. I would guess that Singaporeans would not appreciate philosophy a lot due to the abstract nature of arguments.

Limitations of Democracy

The axiom that standard electoral democracy is the absolute best form of Government has always gone unchallenged in India. Early thinkers actually understood some of the limitations of democracy and considered it to be a compromise. It wasn’t the best in an absolute sense but the best among all other alternatives available at that time.

While the limitations are quite apparent to those living in non-democratic or partially free societies, they usually go unnoticed by people living inside democracies. Their own media and intellectuals consider it to be a hard won privilege that is beyond any questioning. Focus is usually directed on change within existing governments or change of governments instead of changing the structure of institutions within which these governments function.

Instead of doing the same, I want to take a critical look at this institution and try to list down all the problems I see. Most of these problems are due to bad incentives and behavioral biases among people.

This post won’t end in a call for a benevolent dictatorship to take the place of democracy, of course. I’m aware of the strengths of democracy like its self stabilizing nature and the legitimacy it confers on both the state and the government. I’m only trying to speculate if the existing structure could be made better after recognizing its limitations.

The Crony Capitalist Problem: 

Political Parties need money to run for elections, market themselves and their plans to the public. Lacking any finances of their own, they become dependent on donations from the rich and businesses to finance their campaigns and thus become beholden to them. Once in power, political parties feel obliged to repay the debt by preferential treatment to their favorite benefactors.

A solution could be to limit political spending for elections. This will reduce the dependence that political parties have on campaign funding. At the same time, all political contributions should be public and traceable. All transactions between the government and its campaign benefactors such as award of licenses and contracts should be investigated by an independent body for potential conflicts of interest. Any instances of quid pro quo should be investigated and offending parties should be penalized suitably.

The Demagogue Problem: 

People are susceptible to rhetoric and hysteria that is frequently drummed up by unscrupulous politicians for political dividends.

The long-term fix for this is the presence of a very enlightened population that is immune to demagoguery. Given the reality of human nature, this is so distant that it is not really an option at all. Even university educated adults become easily enchanted with political hyperbole and rhetoric.

A simpler solution is to set up an independent commission to create a code of conduct for political speeches and  regulate planned and delivered political speeches for unnecessary rhetoric, misstatements or hysteria. This body basically acts as a censor for political speeches and ensures sobriety and compliance with its code of conduct. It’s crucial that this body remain neutral and not have political appointees.

The Post-Truth Problem:

People cannot be expected to fact-check everything themselves and become susceptible to lies, untruths and half truths propagated by politicians. Social media and digital information loops aid in the spread of sensational but false news.

Originators of incorrect information on the Internet should be tracked and penalized while platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook should develop algorithms and strategies to recognize and suppress the spread of fake news. If the untruth is propagated directly by the politician (eg: some statement about India having test tube babies in the Vedic Age),  it should fall under the ambit of the political censor body. Truthfulness and good intentions should be one of the codes of conduct that all political discourse should follow. Independent fact checking bodies should analyse political speeches and assign credibility scores to politicians. Those with low credibility scores should be suspended from holding public office.

The Freedom of Expression Problem:

Honest folks can be targeted easily and their reputation sullied using the so called ‘freedom of expression’

While defamatory speech is punishable, it has not deterred people from making false accusations against political foes. After seeing a barrage of such accusations, most folks will be unable to determine which accusation is true and which is false, which is actually the strategy libelous people employ. Even innocent people who go through a trial by media become guilty in the eyes of the public, purely by repeated association. To counter this, libel laws should be made stronger to prevent character assassination of people and reputation damage. A side-effect of this will be that the quality of public discourse will improve a lot.

The Grasshopper Problem*:

The short 5 year election cycle creates strong incentives for short-term populism and discourages long-term investments in the future of the nation. For a government, the primary objective is gaining and retaining power every 5 years. It is beholden to meet the needs of the citizen of today and not the needs of the next generation.

This short cycle leads to some poor economic choices. It encourages the sale of long term assets for meeting current fiscal needs. Governments feel compelled to undertake populist policies that go against the long term interest such as granting loan waivers and forcing public sector companies to take on debt to pay dividends to the government. Nobody wants to invest or spend on items that don’t give immediate political dividend, such as improving the quality and skill of the labour force through education and training. When a government knows that it is about to voted out, it has no incentive to reduce spending because doing so will only give fiscal maneuverability to the next government and help it get reelected.

Solving this requires setting up constitutional safeguards on the spending of money, including hard limits on spending as a factor of Government Revenue. Sovereign Wealth Funds must be established to manage financial assets that the government owns, including stakes in public sector units. Only in extreme and well-defined situations should the fund be allowed to liquidate its holdings. Singapore follows a similar model where its sovereign wealth fund invests judiciously in assets worldwide and the investment income it generates is the biggest contributor to the public budget. The family silver is never sold to meet the household expenses.

*From the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper

The Irrational Man Problem: Elections are not fought on facts and performance, rather on emotions and hearsay.

While all political parties come out with Election Manifestos, hardly anyone gives it a read. Those who do are so few in number that they would be unable to meaningfully alter the election outcome. Instead of policies, most people vote for candidates based on identity and recall. This leads to situations where people vote for a government that could actually harm their interests. The recent Brexit referendum was a case in point where emotional appeals trumped reason.

There doesn’t seem to be a clear solution to this. A partial solution could be political parties complementing their factual policy choices with credible and matching emotional appeals.

The Fourth Estate Problem: Electronic media can strongly influence public perception, but they are financed by advertisement revenue from political parties and corporates and thus become beholden to them.

Print and broadcast media is a business and requires advertisement revenue to survive. Government spending on TV and print advertisements creates a strong conflict of interest. Media that is critical of the government is less likely to get business from the government and media that toes the official line will be rewarded with taxpayer money. The solution for this is to have laws that limit or curtail spending on marketing and advertising. Even better, the budget for showcasing government achievements should not come out of the state coffers but should instead be ponied up by the political party that is leading the government.

There should also be laws limiting the ownership and advertisement funding of media channels by big corporate houses. This gives them far too much influence over the media body and the public opinion and allows them to extract concessions from the government in return. A respected, independent state-funded broadcaster can also be established, along the lines of the BBC.

The Double Hat Problem: Far too much energy is spent on marketing, campaigning and very little on actual governance. If campaigning is not done properly though, there is a risk of the incumbent government being voted out.

A precursor to delivering effective governance is getting elected and retaining power in subsequent elections. The elected leader of the country also has a figurehead responsibility and must fulfill it by touring the country and making speeches, attending gatherings e.t.c All of this is both an expensive and a full time job and takes time away from doing actual policy work. A leader who is assured of his office and does not need to worry about getting re-elected does not need to spend his time in this manner.

Perhaps holograms can help here.

The Regression to Mean Problem: Specific to big countries like India. A region or city that delivers out-performance will soon suffer for it in ways like uncontrolled immigration from the rural hinterlands that strains the infrastructure and pushes the quality of life down again. More economically developed parts of the country also have to pay higher taxes that go towards funding the poorer regions of the country.

An authoritarian country can solve this by imposing travel restrictions and curtailing internal migration.  Such measures will come under constitutional scrutiny in a democracy. Establishing  checks on large flows of people seems to be necessary to avert such problems. An equitable tax sharing system must also be established so that the more developed regions of the country, specifically the cities don’t feel like they are not getting their fair share of the wealth they helped generate.

The Majoritarian Problem: A large and united group can wield enough influence in politics to divert public resources to enrich its members. These groups usually lobby for doles like subsidies and  reservations. Resources meant for public good are then diverted to meet the needs of this special group at the expense of those who don’t happen to be its members.

There should be constitutional safeguards to prevent the diversion of public resources towards the benefit of special interest groups like caste and profession based organisations.

Are humans evolving?

Human evolution has stalled.

Do you remember how evolution works? I’ve asked questions to test people’s understanding of evolution and have received some weird answers.

Common Misconceptions: Some believed that actions an organism does (like more exercising or eating healthy) transforms their genes and they then pass on these healthy genes to their offspring. Some believed in full determinism ie.  all traits pass down generations without any changes at all.

How it actually works: If I were to describe evolution in  simple steps, it is thus:

  1. A population of organisms have a lot of varying traits (such as eye color, bicep size etc.)
  2. Some traits make it super easy for them to survive and reproduce. Examples:
    1. Big biceps may allow a guy to bash up others and steal their limited supply of food.
    2. Green/Blue eyes may make it easier for them to attract a mate and reproduce.
  3. There are some undesirable traits that threaten survival for an individual. Because individuals with undesirable traits cannot survive and procreate, these traits disappear eventually, making the entire population better.
  4. New traits emerge by chance. If beneficial, they propagate throughout. If not, they are nipped in the bud and disappear quickly.

Applying this to humans: 

I tried to imagine how this process is shaping humans. There are two checkpoints that exert evolutionary pressure on a species.

  1. Survival
  2. Reproduction

Technology helps survival: Over the last few hundred years, science and technology has enabled wonders like mass food production, disease control, vaccinations etc. Short of very rare incurable genetic diseases, there is very little in terms of genetics that make or break survival for humans. Humans don’t have to compete for limited resources now. Being smarter, faster or stronger hardly makes a difference to your survival chances. It is usually environmental and cultural factors that affect survival more.

Culture helps Reproduction: Similarly, while in most species only a few dominant individuals get to reproduce, in humans almost every person ( fat, bald, scrawny, dumb whatever) gets to have kids due to the institution of marriage/pairbonding (most animals typically have harem like societies). Paradoxically, reproduction has ceased to be a top goal for humans completely and the most successful humans are actually having less kids!

To summarize, what this means is that genetically determined traits are hardly having any bearing on survival or reproduction of humans. Since they have become inconsequential for survival or for reproduction, we should not see any major changes in humans due to evolution over the next few thousand years.

On creating necessary fictions

What should logical person aim for? Should his goal be to always state the clinical truth and objective facts by stripping them of all rhetoric, opinions and hyperbole or should his goal be to create desired outcomes in society?

It’strange that these two paths have to be mutually exclusive, but that’s how it is. Facts and logic don’t kindle revolutionary fire, rhetoric and emotions do. It’s how the human mind is wired. To create meaningful change, you need humans to cooperate with each other and they cooperate best when they have a common story going on in their head.

Take a look at some fictional stories that became movements – communism, monarchy, Hindutva, nationalism, feminism, nationalism, democracy and all religions. All of them began with some foundational axioms that lacked verifiability and full objective grounding. Instead, they were based on subjective experiences and abstract concepts which could or could not be completely true.

  1. Communism is based on the axiom of inevitable class conflict in a capitalist order.
  2. Feminism is similarly based on the axiom of historical subjugation of the female gender given there is no basis for any inferiority biologically, which is also an axiom.
  3. Hindutva is based on the foundational axiom that adherents of Indic religions have stronger ties and loyalty to India than adherents of Abrahamic religions.
  4. Each religion has its own individual foundational axiom from theories of creation to ethical codes of conduct.

Nevertheless, they were really successful in changing the course of society, although not always in the best way. If the creators of the ideologies that powered these movements had replaced vivid, evocative stories and myths with logic and completely verifiable facts, they may not have been as powerful and memetic. A healthy respect for facts and logic could have derailed these movements even before they could gather steam.

Ironically, even movements like Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that ostensibly began in support of rationalism and logic eventually degenerated into dogma. It had some foundational axioms of its own as well, which cannot be called rational. It also did manage to change society’s course though.

How do these stories change the course of society? It allows humans who collectively believe in the story to cooperate to ‘set things right’. A believer in the concept of Human rights will want to prevent abuses across the world. A monotheistic believer in some true god would want to propagate his word everywhere. A believer in oppression of the working class would try to bring about a proletariat revolution and seize power. Thus, fictitious ideologies which may not survive any rational scrutiny can help achieve certain outcomes, which may be positive. For instance, belief in capitalistic axioms of free markets, property rights and contracts have helped atleast some people achieve increased material well-being.

Given this context, an interesting question emerges.

Could we create a new necessary fiction that can help achieve some desired outcomes? 

Answering this would require

  • an understanding of the right outcomes we want to drive (eg: scientific temperament in humans, reduction in poverty e.t.c)
  • an understanding of how far do we want the objective truth to be twisted and acceptance of that.
  • and understanding of the elements of fictional ideologies that enable them to propagate and evoke emotion in adherents.

Once this process is done, the fictional story needs to be marketed. If it is well designed, it will take root and spread, almost like an idea-virus. What was lost by compromising objective truth will be gained by actually creating change on the ground.


American Pale Ale – Experiments with Homebrewing # 1

Picked up a new hobby and I have become an amateur brewster. My first ever brew was supposed to be an extract + steeping grain based American Pale Ale. It turned out to be drinkable even after so many mistakes by me – those who drank it could barely distinguish between great beer and alcohol mixed with jet fuel. I could notice 2-3 very strong off flavors.

  • Hot alcohol: Very prominent in the early stages (green beer) but got toned down after carbonation. However could sense it every now and then in between gulps. Higher than intended and fluctuating temperatures may have contributed to it.
  • Tannic astringency: I squeezed the steeping grains which had been crushed to a flour size as well. I did everything you are not supposed to do while steeping grains. This was the chief off-taste which made my beer more bitter than intended.
  • Solvent like tastes: Someone who drank my beer described this but my palate could not detect it.

I also underpitched the yeast and could not see any visible Krausen, had to repitch later but it did not help. I suspect that the fermentation was stuck although could not detect any unfermented malt in the final beer. I also thoroughly oxidised the wort while bottling (due to lack of equipment) but could not detect any sherry or cardboard offtastes maybe because I consumed all of it in a couple of weeks. I could also not achieve a quick cold break (it took me 3 hours :() and this made the beer very hazy and opaque. The steeping grain additions made the beer darker than the style I aimed for.

The beer was also very heterogenous with the lower part of the bottle more bitter than the top, maybe because I was pouring out the yeast as well. All in all, I made every kind of mistake possible except for infecting the beer. Still made something drinkable. Moving on to all grain Hefeweisen now for the next brew.

Original Gravity: 1.052
Final Gravity: 1.020 (lower than calculated maybe due to under pitching)
ABV (standard): 5.25%
IBU (tinseth): 35.68
SRM (morey): 19.1

1.8 kg – Dry Malt Extract – Amber (67.9%)

0.85 kg – American – Caramel / Crystal 60L (32.1%)

6 g – Columbus, Type: Pellet, AA: 15.9, Use: Boil for 90 min, IBU: 19.16
4 g – Columbus, Type: Pellet, AA: 15.9, Use: Boil for 80 min, IBU: 12.6
5 g – Cascade, Type: Pellet, AA: 6, Use: Aroma for 15 min, IBU: 2.79
5 g – Cascade, Type: Pellet, AA: 6, Use: Aroma for 5 min, IBU: 1.12

Fermentis / Safale – American Ale Yeast US-05