Friday, 27 May 2016

Will Power by Roy F.Baumeister and John Tierney

The book Willpower shares the research in the study of self control by the pioneering research psychologist Roy F. Baumeister.

The book is based on scientific study and discovers that willpower has a “physical basis and operates like a muscle.” Baumeister, based on his research writes-Effort to control our   emotional reactions  ,or faking these, depletes our willpower. Stress depletes our willpower. When we resist a temptation , we exercise willpower, and it gets depleted. This reduces our ability to control  a new temptation .We give in more readily  if we have already fended off earlier temptations , particularly if the new temptation comes soon after a pervious one.

 Through various experiments , researchers have demonstrated two lessons:
1. We have finite willpower that becomes depleted as we use it.
2. We use the same stock of willpower for all manner of tasks.

Therefore, we should focus on one project at a time. In stead of making a list of resolutions  , a better plan is to make one resolution and stick to it . Heatherton's    research provided confirmation that glucose is a vital part of willpower. We should avoid any meeting or test  that will strain our self control. Similarly  , sleep deprivation has been shown to impair the processing of glucose, which produces immediate consequences for self-control and decision-making. Eating less also impacts the willpower. Since dieters are short of glucose levels, they find temptations hard to resist.

 The  Zeigarnik  Effect says that uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one's mind. They tend to reduce willpower. If we make and write down  a plan for  uncompleted tasks ,then the minds are cleared and  Zigarnik  Effect is eliminated and concentration is enhanced.

  Decision fatigue: Making too many decisions also depletes our willpower and makes us vulnerable to temptation. When we shop till we drop, our   willpower drops too. It takes  willpower to make decisions , and so the depleted state makes people look for ways to postpone or evade decisions. In a court, the prisoners who happened to appear just before the  food break  had only 15% chances of getting parole  while those  who came right after the food break  had around a 65% chance  of getting parole. Once decision fatigue sets in , people including Judges  tend to settle for the recommended option .

  Monthly planning leads to much higher improvements in grades than the daily planning. It is good to set a variety of short-term and long-term goals. The goals need to be monitored. Recording is not enough. It is crucial to analyze as well.

 Willpower is a muscle that can be strengthened .Self-control turns out to be most effective when people use it to establish good habits and break the bad ones. We should use our self-control to form a daily habit, and we will produce more with less effort in the long run. For example, a writer must write everyday to form a good writing habit.
 Instead of squandering our willpower on a strict diet, we should eat enough glucose to conserve willpower , and use our self-control  for more promising long-term strategies. The more carefully and frequently we monitor our -self  , the better we control our -self. In one study , those who kept a food diary lost twice as much weight as those who used other techniques. So for losing weight we can weigh our-self daily. People who weighed themselves every day were much more successful at keeping their weight   from creeping back up. For making better decisions healthy food is required into our body.

A rested will is a strong will. Changing our routines makes it easier to break bad habits. Setting aside time to do one and only one thing  at a time  helps improve our will power.
              The book is based on evidence and research , and throws a new light on how to use and strengthen our will .I recommend you to read it.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Room by Emma Donoghue

This novel of 401 pages is   a page turner. Despite its   very dark   setting , Room comes out as a  life affirming and uplifting  work. It has made full use of imagination and has a powerful language. It is the story of   how love  between a mother and her child is born , nurtured and survives  despite all odds. A   room can be your world, and outside can be as unreal   as a story. After reading this book  , you  begin to look at the world from a different point of view , and that view lingers for a long time.
                 The book is narrated by a five year old boy Jack   who has spent his life so far  locked in one small 11feetx11ft shed,(Room),  along with his mother Ma.He has never set a foot outside. The Room is actually a prison  with Old Nick holding the key. Ma was kidnapped and has been kept in the room  against her will for seven years.She gives birth to Jack in this very room. Jack interestingly does not feel trapped.He is happy in his tiny universe. Room in this way, is both a jail and a haven. Jack’s whole world is Room .Jack thinks that  TV shows things that live on a planet inside the TV. The other  things of   his  world (Room ) are Floor, Bed , Duvet , Wardrobe, Rug ,Wall which have their gender too.                   
                                             To Jack, there is no outside, just “Outer Space,” glimpsed through a sliver of skylight and on TV. Gradually, the reality of the situation filters through: during the day, the boy and his mother practice screaming; in the dark, she flashes a lamp on and off. On certain nights, a man(Old Nick) enters, through a steel door, and the boy hides in the wardrobe, counting the creaks of the bed.   When the boy first sees the sunset: “I watch God’s face falling slow slow, even orangier and the clouds are all colors, then after there’s streaks and dark coming so bit-at-a-time I don’t see it till it’s done.”  
                   For Jack  Outside  is  rain, wind, germs and people touching him ; for Ma it’s relations with her parents, now separated.. There’s a brilliant television interview, too, with Ma skewering the interviewer at every turn. “You breastfed  him. In fact, this may startle some of our viewers, I understand you still do?”We see Ma only in Jack's adoration, but clearly she's an extraordinary woman, setting aside her own anguish to nurture the joy that Jack takes in their little world.  Ma is   trapped in a room with a small child she  loves.  How can she broach the subject of escape without shattering Jack's perfect harmony? And how will Ma ever establish the separation that must take place for Jack to develop into his own person, to comprehend the startling fact that he's not the only other person who exists  for her.  
                   The book was inspired by the true story of Elisabeth Fritzl, an Australian woman who had been imprisoned in her father’s basement  for twenty-four years .During this time , her father repeatedly assaulted  and raped her.She eventually bore him seven children  and had one miscarriage.Three of her children , one daughter and two sons had been imprisoned with their mother for the whole of their lives until rescue.  "I'd say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl [Elisabeth's son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn't know about, put the idea into my head. That notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me."(Emma Donoghue  in The Guardian).                                                                         
                      "Room" appeals to a larger audience.  Jack expresses a poignant mixture of  wisdom, love and innocence  that will make you ache to save him .In fact what does it mean to save Jack?Is it  delivering him to the outside world or , is it  keeping him preserved  forever?    You need to enter this small, harrowing place prepared only to have your own world expanded.
Room was shortlisted for Booker Prize. I recommend you to read this unsual  but brilliant  novel.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Divine Romance by Paramhansa Yogananda

The 447 pages long The Divine Romance  is an anthology  of the talks of Paramhansa Yogananda , suggesting how we can  awaken our divine nature. Yogananda started Yogoda Satsanga Society of India in 1917 , and founded its  international headquarters in Los Angeles in 1925.
               It is  essentially a spiritual book and  gives  guidelines for a healthy  and spiritual living.I have tried to  put together  some of the precious thoughts as follows.
1. Your first goal must be to know God.  The greatest of all achievements   for a human being is to find God.
2.True friendship is friendship for the sake of friendship, without expectation of anything  in return. Lying destroys friendship. There is no attachment in true friendship. When friendships   develop into attachment , they  remain  on the plane of human love , taking the soul away from  supreme friendship with God. True friendship may be developed between woman and woman, man and man , or man and woman. This can come only when you free yourself from the consciousness that you are a man or a woman  . One must practice   celibacy  if one wants to know  divine love through friendship. Then friendship   nurtures the cultivation  of divine love. To wish for perfection for the loved one, and to feel pure joy in thinking of that soul, is divine love , and that is the love of true friendship. In a friendship ,regardless of differing views, you have mutual respect  and cherish your friendship  above every thing else. True friendship established in God is the only relationship that is lasting.
3. Reserve your nights for meditation. Meditate with undivided attention.
4. One of the most important spiritual principles to apply is truthfulness. Those who develop the habit of telling little lies all the time will find it hard ever to be   wholly truthful in any statement.
5.Every  very person should keep a mental diary, in which she   should constantly watch  her thoughts and actions.
6. Silence and seclusion are the secrets of success. The less you mix with others who just waste your time , the better it is for your spiritual life. Seclusion is the price of greatness. After starting on spiritual path , do not go to movies or seek such other distractions. Remain secluded from people.  Seek time to be alone; and in the cave of inner silence , you shall find the wellspring of wisdom. As soon as you are too much with   people on the social plane  , you are not with God any more. Don’t engage in too many socials. They   are alright once   in a while, but frequent socializing takes up too much valuable time. 
7.If you want friends, you must learn to love all unselfishly. Never profess friendship with anyone unless you mean it.
8. Learn to fast for one to three days at a time. Never drink water, milk , or other liquids with your meals. It is best to take liquids a half-hour before a meal or two hours afterward. Whenever the body feels tired, drink a glass of pineapple or orange juice. It will give you much energy.  Walking   is good. Six or seven hours sleep is enough.  Go out in the fresh air for ten to fifteen minutes and exhale and inhale  deeply, off and on , several times.
9. When someone wrongs you , it is far better to love him spiritually , give him your blessing , and forget it. Forgiveness is more powerful than revenge.
10.If you have a possessive love for any thing , you will suffer.
11. It requires eight years to form a habit. Never be addicted to anything.
12. To live for self is the source of all misery.
13..I am a citizen of the world.
  14.  Love is thy strength, and thy greatest ally.
  15.Those who flatter thy faults are thy worst enemies. Do not speak of others’ faults.         
  16.In most cases, the free will man is nothing more than a slave-in the guise of freedom , but fettered to past tendencies. You are born with about seventy-five percent of your life predetermined by your past. You will make up the remaining twenty-five percent. Spiritual training designates the methods to mould the brand new twenty-five percent that we ourselves are going to create by the exercise of our freedom.
 17.Sow the seeds of good habits in the soil and weed out  worries and wrong actions of the past. If you have a strong mind and plant in it a firm resolve  , you can  change your destiny. Take your health, or your moral life, or spiritual life –one thing at a time- and change it as you desire. Inwardly determine to change yourself, and you can change your destiny according to your will. until you are  able to create a good habit, meditate. Don’t flirt with unproductive , dangerous habits. Get rid of your bad habits. Change yourself every day. If you have not given up mentally , you are not defeated before the Lord. Saints are sinners who  never gave up. Those who don’t analyze themselves never change.
18 You should pray for others who are suffering but do not pray for things of the world .Always sit upright , with the spine straight.
19.The little man with small thoughts who goes into the  jungle of books  becomes absorbed in  intellectualizing about God; he does not find the nectar of  God-realization .But the little man who meditates, who constantly thinks of the joy of God, who constantly prays to Him , becomes one with the infinite. Beliefs, reading   books , cannot give you realization .It is only by  meditating in the right way that you can have that great realization  and joy. Practice of religion , not just intellectual understanding , is most important-practice of the perception of God.
 21. Devotees  on the  spiritual path  have even more tests than those who follow a material path ,so don’t use your worldly obligations as an excuse to ignore God.
22. America is advancing rapidly in spirituality.
                                      When the soul meets the greatest Lover of the universe , then the eternal romance begins.
 The book   inspires us to be spiritual and to serve other human beings.I recommend you to read this book .

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

 This 363 pages long biography    by Ashlee Vance  describes the life and vision of 44 year old   Elon Musk who has  achieved remarkable success in the fields of  electric cars , space exploration and solar energy.I must confess that I had not heard   about Elon Musk till I read  this book . I had also not heard about SpaceX , Tesla or even  the  SolarCity .But this book is worth  reading  and  very inspiring .
                         Elon Musk was born on June 28,1971 to Maye Musk and Errol Musk in South Africa. He had a troubled childhood and was subjected to  emotional abuse by his father and physical abuse by his classmates.  In June   1988, when he was 17 years old , Elon  left for  Montreal in Canada , where he did odd jobs like wood cutting and cleaning the boilers. After spending two years at Queen university, Musk   transferred to the  University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship.
                                    In 1995, Elon and his brother  Kimbal  went to Silicon Valley where  they  formed their first startup, Global Link Information  Network , that was eventually named Zip2. It created a searchable directory of businesses and was tied  into maps so as to tell their location. In early 1996 , the venture capital firm Mohr Davidow Ventures decided to invest 3 million dollars  into Zip2(Zip here to Zip there).  In February 1999,Zip2 was sold to Compaq and Elon became a multi millionaire at the age of twenty seven .And in March 1999 , Elon incorporated a finance start-up called Musk was replaced as CEO of by Thiel , who rebranded as PayPal.Elon Musk got more money out of his stake in PayPal.
              In  June  2002,  Musk set up  Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) near Los Angeles.  SpaceX engineers  worked  more than one hundred hours per week to make the actual rocket. On March    24,2006 , the Falcon 1 stood on its square launchpad and ignited. But it ended up falling directly down onto the launch site.
             After three abortive launches , the fourth launch for SpaceX took place on September 28,2008.The Falcon 1 reached orbit , making it first privately built  machine to accomplish  such a feat.The launch was successful. There are only a handful of countries on earth   that have done this. People inside NASA had backed SpaceX to become supplier for the ISS(International Space Station).The company received 1.6  billion dollars as payment for twelve flights to the space station. Space X   sends rocket up about once a month, carrying satellites for companies and nations and supplies on the International Space station .Its $ 60 million per launch is much less than what Europe and Japan charge. A number of countries pay  to send up their own spy  , communication and weather satellites. Companies then turn to space for  television , Internet , radio , weather, navigation , and imaging services. SpaceX expects to cut its price to at least one-tenth that of its rivals. Space X has been profitable and is estimated to be worth $ 12 billion .Elon Musk wants to lower the cost of launches to the point that it becomes economical  and practical to fly thousands upon thousands  of supply trips  to Mars and start a colony. Creating the technology  needed to establish  life on Mars  is and always has been  the fundamental goal of SpaceX.

                              Musk was married to   Justine  in January , 2000.Through IVF , she gave birth to twin boys in 2004, followed by triplets in 2006.She was a writer of fantasy fiction novels and kept a blog  detailing the couple’s family life. Her blog soon turned into  one of Musk’s  worst nightmares.He  worked seven days a week and quite often split his time between  Los Angeles and san Francisco. Musk filed for a divorce in June ,2008 , and it came through.
                         Another groundbreaking project of Musk is related to Tesla electric car.  Nikola Tesla   had built an electric motor about a century earlier. Musk invested 6.5 million dollars in Tesla (founded by   Eberhard and Tarpenning)He became the largest shareholder of Tesla and the Chairman of the company. By the middle of 2007,Tesla had produced the fastest , most beautiful electric car  the world would have ever seen .  The Model S , Tesla  got the highest car rating in history (99 out of 100) from Consumer Reports.The car  price  starts around $ 109000.”Mass market electric cars have been my goal from the beginning  of Tesla. ” Musk wrote in an email to the customers. Tesla intends  to build a global charging network that would let Model S  owners making  long drives pull off  the highway  and recharge very quickly. The electric car  design eliminates  needs of oil and transmission  fluid changes  required in a traditional vehicle. Tesla’s focus has now been on bringing the ModelX to market and to sell 100.000 cars per year.
              Elon  also  invested  in an alternative energy project known as SolarCity.  By the end of 2015 ,SolarCity expects to have installed 2 gigawatts’ worth of solar panels , producing  2.8 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, making them one of the largest suppliers of electricity in the United States.
       Hyperloop project   would be solar-powered and aims at linking  cities less than a thousand miles apart. Musk also has plans  to build a space-based Internet  in which satellites will be close enough  to the planet  to beam down  bandwidth at high speeds.
 He’s willing to suffer some personal cost, and I think that makes his odds actually pretty good.
                             Musk’s ultimate goal  remains turning humans into an inter-planetary species.” Eventually , you’d need to heat Mars up  if you want it  to be an earthlike  planet, and I don’t have a plan for that.” Musk’s unmatched ability to raise funds   has enabled him to create thousands of white- and blue- collar clean-tech jobs.
 Vance describes Musk as an ambitious, passionate and even obsessive. In his pursuit of his vision , he has often put at stake his health and personal relationships .But there is no doubt that his vision  is bound to change the world and his dedication  to his vision is  unparalleled. His motto has always been do or die but never give up.
                   I recommend you to read this very informative and inspiring biography.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

This brilliant novel by Murakami   is a coming –of –age story   of a Japanese boy Tsukuru  Tazaki . Within 7 days of its release , this book  sold over one million copies in Japan.I have no doubt that Murakami is a great writer , worthy of a Nobel Prize in literature.
                    The novel  is about a group of five boys and girls –  three boys Aka,Ao  and Tsukuru  and two girls ,Shiro,Kuro , all around 20 years of age.As   a sophomore in college ,Tsukuru’s four best friends  reject and banish  him completely .  The pain of having been so openly rejected always stays with him. Tsukuru overcomes his feelings of suicide , completes his engineering degree  course , and gets a good job  to make and maintain railway  stations.But he remains forlorn and lonely.
   Then comes a   young man called Haida , who becomes his friend. Haida  serves an important purpose , filling Tsukuru’s  post suicidal days with companionship  and shaking him out of his solitary, painful and   ,lonely life. Haida  is fond of listening to  Franz Listz,s  Years of Pilgrimage.  Though  Haida   has some role , the book has  devoted nearly 100 pages to him which seems  sheer redundancy.The obligatory magical stuff was  not really needed.There are several loose ends and some unexplained situations  about the story connected with Haida.

              Then , at the age of 36 years , Tsukuru falls in love with Sara Kimoto , who is  2 years older than him .He expresses love , she fondness. Sara realises that  what happened to Tsukuru    with his group ,was so traumatic that  it not only destroyed his vitality  but also his desire, his appetite , his longing.Sara says that “I think you are a good person , and I really like you .But I think you have-some kind of unresolved emotional issues.”A journey into the past is necessary to mend the present. Sara tells him “to keep going a little further, and I am sure you’ll discover the right pieces that fill the gaps”. At her instance , Tsukuru  undertakes the pilgrimage,  a necessary journey  to the source of an understanding of his current self.It helps him to understand his immediate past and  his present but also his future.Tsukuru realises that ;” One heart is not connected to another  through harmony alone.They are instead linked deeply  through their wounds as well..Pain linked to pain ,fragility to fragility.There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed,no acceptance without  a passage through acute loss.”

Tsukuru decides to visit three of his living friends, by showing up without an appointment. First he visits Ao, who has become a salesman at a Lexus dealership in Nagoya city who tells him that Shiro had proclaimed that she was raped by him.  Then he visits Aka who has started his own company that provides a combination of personal development seminars and a company training center” Kuro lives in Finland now , with her Finnish husband and two little daughters. When he meets Kuro(Eri), she tells Tsukuru that in those days, she was in love with him.About Aka , Eri says;”I still consider him a good friend. Though I haven’t seen him in seven or eight years”. Shiro is no longer in this world. She was mentally unbalanced and had falsely accused Tsukuru of having raped her.The three friends tell him , one after the other that though they had decided to  banish Tsukuru from the group because of  Shiro’s accusation , they were convinced that Shiro had  made false accusation. After meeting his three friends, he finds that the   community that he assumed had persisted  without him , does not exist.He has missed little as a result of his abandonment.Not every thing was lost in the flow of time.

                  What will become of Tsukuru? .  “Sara said she has feelings for me.He has no reason to doubt it.But there are countless things in the world for which affection is not enough.Life is long , and sometimes cruel.Sometimes victims are needed.”  Murakami  ends the book without  any  guaranteed happy ending. But Tsukuru realises  that nothing is completely resolved in life. The important  thing is to keep living  because only by living  can you see what  happens next.But even if Sara rejects him , Tsukuru will be able to deal  with rejection in a much healthier way.     

Sunday, 1 May 2016

On Promise keeping and Lying

About Promise keeping , Robert Frost has written the  following  famous verse:
"Woods are lovely, dark and deep , 
But I have promises to keep , 
And miles to go , before I sleep".
Are promises made to be kept , or can we review them  unilaterally and not keep them , on some ground.? In Indian epic Ram Charit  Manas , it has been said  the promise once made has to be kept even at the cost of our lives.(Raghukul reet sada chali aayee, Pran jaaye , par vachan na jaayee".)Things and circumstances may change ,persons and their relationships may change.But  do we have to keep our promises once made  at all costs?What are the ethics of not keeping a promise?Does not keeping a promise  speak about the shallow character of the person who made a promise and then backed out , on some ground or the other?
              The ethics of promise  keeping and promise   breaking have been discussed at length in literature.The utilitarianism  justifies the breaking of a promise if it results in overall happiness of maximum number of people.The philosopher Kant was an absolutist who said that on ethical grounds ,  a breach of promise is completely immoral and unethical .David Ross(1877-1971) in his best known work on ethics , The Right and the Good(1930) dealt  extensively  with this issue of promise keeping and lying.Ross rejected Moore's consequentialist ethics.According to cosequentialist theories, what people ought to do is determined only by whether their actions will bring about the most good.By contrast , Ross argues that maximising the good is only one of several Prima Facie duties (prima facie obligations) which play a role in determining  what a person ought to do in a given case.Ross proposes a list of eight prima facie duties in The Right and the Good. He does not claim ‘‘completeness or finality’’ for his list.
Ross’s list is as follows:
1. The duty to keep promises. The act of making promise creates duties that would otherwise not exist. Ross writes ‘‘To make a promise is to put oneself in a relation to one person in particular, a relation which creates a specificifically new prima facie obligation to him”.
2. The duty not to lie. According to Ross, the duty not to lie is a special case of
the duty to keep promises. He claims that one makes an implicit promise not to lie whenever one uses language to communicate with another person. Ross construes the duty not to lie as a negative duty. According to Ross, there is a duty to refrain from lying, but no duty to tell the truth or reveal information. [Ross does not say that there is a prima facie duty not to deceive others. On his view, it is possible to deceive someone without violating any prima facie duties.]
3.The duty to make reparations to people one has harmed.
4. The duty of gratitude. If someone has done something that helped you ,then you have a special obligation to help him/her
5. The duty to distribute happiness according to merit. Whenever the actual distribution of happiness in the world is not according to merit (moral goodness), ‘‘there arises a duty to upset or prevent such a distribution.’’ If good people are unhappy and bad people are happy, then the distribution of happiness is not according to merit and we have a prima facie duty to upset this distribution.
6. The duty to do things that benefit others. (According to Ross, there are three ways in which I can benefit another person: I can give him pleasure, give him knowledge, or improve his moral character.)
7. The duty to improve one’s own intellect and moral character.
8. The duty not to harm others.
Ross holds that there is a strong but overrideable moral presumption against telling lies and breaking promises on account of direct and indirect bad consequences of those actions.
Ross’s theory is closest to most people’s common sense moral beliefs and constitutes a reasonable middle ground in ethics , as compared to Utilitarianism on one extreme and Kant’s absolutism on the other extreme .
         Though it can  lead to a  very complicated  debate , yet   what  the above analysis indicates is that we should be very serious, honest  and careful in making any promise , big or small .Prima facie, our first duty in ethics is to keep promises that we make.That is what  good character means .The tendency to review a promise  long after making it , indicates a serious flaw in character of the promisor, which should get his or her serious  and urgent attention