Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Critical thinking

Tantra and Reiki

A friend on FB asks:

Sir, I want to know your views on Tantric Vidya and Reiki. Is there any bit of truthness in them since you say nobody can't go against nature? Can a tantric really trouble somebody with his achieved power? Can a yogie awake different chakras in his body? Can somebody bring out his sukshma sharir(subtle body) out of his sthul sharir(gross body) through meditation? 

Some people say they have experienced it. True?

You have written about almost every aspect of life on your blog and I read them to develop my knowledge(I am just 24 years old and doing post graduation in electronics and communication engineering) so I request you to enlighten all of your blog readers on these sensitive and sensational topics. I trust only your arguments on any topic.

My response

Thanks, M.

I'm flattered that you "trust" my arguments on any topic.


Don't trust my arguments. Analyse them. Check them. Internalise them. As questions. Try to find fault.

I don't teach the answer. I teach the method.

Second, re: Tantra/Reiki – these claim extra sensory power.

ALL (and by that I mean ALL) claims of extra-sensory power are TOTAL BUNKUM.

This has been unequivocally proven by the Randi foundation (search the web). $1 million has been offered to ANYONE in the world who proves extrasensory or extranormal powers. For years now that money has been sitting out there without anyone having succeeded in proving such powers. Any tantric or Reiki practitioner is welcome to go to Randi and collect $1 million anytime. But they can't. Their claims are false.

In other words, Tantra and Reiki – to the extent these claim extrasensory or extranormal powers – are A HOAX.

However (and note this carefully!) to the extent their philosophy strenghtens anyone's capacity to heal (the mind-body connection is very deep), I have no comment to make. Some very unbelievable placebo effects have been proven to exist. The mind-body connection is real (after all, we are one organism, not two – no separation of mind and body exists in the human design).

Reiki Is Nonsense Stephen Barrett, M.D.

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Who’s better? Sherlock Holmes or Harry Potter?

I was talking to a young niece the other day about Harry Potter. Now that all the books are read and done, and the movies watched and re-played, withdrawal symptoms are being experienced by billions of children, a vacuum of time that pleads to be filled.

Janet Albrechtsen did suggest that some good might come out of Harry Potter, beyond the positive role Rowlings' work has played in improving children's reading skills. I'm not convinced, though, that any good will come out of messing innocent minds with supernatural fantasies – although I have no objection to children reading anything and everything they can lay their hands on. 

The way out of this quandary, I suggest, is for children to be introduced to Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle's nimble-minded detective had a fascinating way of demystifying things and advancing the scientific approach. Stories about Holmes always had three key ingredients, that:

a) everything has a cause which can be known through careful thought;

b) there are no ghosts (in stories where ghosts play a role – and there are plenty of such stories – human tricksters are always found in the end, trying to fool others); and

c) we must be energetic – even adventurous – in our search for the truth (recall the number of times Sherlock Holmes worked like a frenzied maniac to save lives).

These are essential qualities of the scientist. I gather that last feature is found in Harry Potter but not the first two. Hence Sherlock Holmes wins hands down.

Only scientists (not mindless believers in ghosts and goblins) can understand the value of liberty. If we train our children to believe in ghosts and goblins, they will become gullible enough to believe that government is good for them, and hence that more government (e.g. socialism) is even better!

Let's not create a gullible generation.

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Yes, I now agree that Hinduism is compatible with reason.

Those who have been following the development of DOF over the past few years would have noticed that I'm still investigating issues, and in some cases at least I have changed my position from which I started writing the manuscript. A good example is my revised view on Hinduism and critical thinking.

Till recently I had the view that Buddhism was particularly favourable to critical thinking, but not Hinduism. However, that has changed. Even Hinduism is, I now find, supportive of reason. Definitely not as strongly as Buddhism supports reason, but close enough. This change in perspective, as you might have gathered by now, underpins my claim that India is tailor-made for modernity.

Since India is tailor-made for modernity, WHAT AM I DOING HERE IN AUSTRALIA? I ask myself this question more and more, as I think about what I could be doing with the rest of my productive years. 

I have increasingly felt the urge to return to India – should circumstances permit. I have relatively little to contribute to Australia, at least in comparison to what I can contribute to India.

Moreover I'm getting sick of the underbelly of soft racism in Australia. Australia is not the meritocracy I had initially thought it was. As a result it performs well below its potential, but I'm unable to devote much energy (beyond working hours) to helping fix Australia's problems. I'm more interested in recovering India's super-power status and setting the world order right, the way it should be.

It is shameful that Indians have to live outside India because India can't make any use of its people. It is high time we organise systematically and sort out matters so that India can rapidly recover its lost glory. Indeed, with the underlying culture being so science-friendly, there is no reason why India should not become five times the size of USA in just a few decades.

Let us get the world's best policies implemented, let us get the world's best education system organised, and let us show the racist people of the West what India was and what it will be. Only after achieving OVERWHELMING domination over the West will racism finally be buried.

Till then Indians are stuck in the second gear. Hundreds of thousands of India's best brains working for the benefit of Western societies. What shame!


Hinduism – its approach to independent, critical thinking
It would appear at first glance that Hinduism, like other religions, acted as a bulwark against reason. A few perspectives from the Hindu scriptures seem to indicate the reluctance in Hinduism to allow people to think for themselves.
a) Humans do not create knowledge
Hindu scriptures claim to arise from a divine source. Knowledge is seen ‘as an exclusively divine activity’[1], passed on via divine intermediaries to the human authors of the scriptures. Thereafter, all aspects of a Hindu’s life are regulated by the sastras, leaving little scope for creating new knowledge.
However, there does seem to be some scope for critical inquiry. For instance, the Mundaka Upanishad contains a major onslaught against sacrificial ceremonials, thus changing a practice that was widely prescribed during the early Vedic period.[2] Hinduism does appear to have benefitted by not having formalized its ‘divine’ findings into a single book. This gave it leeway to critique earlier customs, an option not usually available to other religions.
Hindu conceptions about God evolved over time. The early Vedas were theistic and suggested that gods (or devas) are ‘a luminous something presented as external to us’.[3] (Even at that time, though, the apparent multiplicity of gods, or aspects of God, was underpinned by a monotheistic view.)
This perspective was revised by the Upanishads with what is called the Vedantic view (being at the ‘ant’ or end of the Vedas). This perspective seems to have developed coterminously with somewhat similar Buddhist ideas (I’m not aware which came first). According to the Vedanta, God is everywhere: the energy and consciousness that pervades the universe, the ‘“thread” that runs through all things and holds them together.’[4] The Brahman is thought of in the Upanishads as the ‘hidden Self in everyone’.[5] This idea, which is almost pantheistic, sees God not just as transcendental (something beyond us) but as an immanent principle (namely, found within us). This evolution into an extremely subtle idea appears to indicate that at least some new ‘knowledge’ could be developed within Hinduism.
b) Reasoning can lead us seriously astray
Reason has not particularly popular in Hinduism. In the Ramayana, for instance, Rama advises Bharata to steer clear of those ‘brahmans who are materialists’ (referring to the lokayatas), on the ground that ‘although pre-eminent sastras on righteous conduct are ready to hand, those ignorant fellows derive their ideas from reasoning alone and so propound utter nonsense.’[6] The Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CLXII) similarly decries reason: ‘That knowledge, O king, which is derived from reason (or inferences), can scarcely be said to be knowledge. Such knowledge should be rejected. It should be noted that it is not defined or comprehended by the word. It should, therefore, be rejected!’[7] These approaches seem to directly oppose reason and critical thinking.
Interpreters of the Mahabharata argue, however, that the ‘Gita is really about Freedom but based on true knowledge of your own interests and a rational means to see what the interests of others are and how you can work productively with them rather than live in fear of them’[8]. To what extent this interpretation is true is not obvious.
c) Excessive veneration of teachers
The scientific method gives a prominent place to the teacher, whose role is to teach us how to think, and to pass on information known to his generation. But the goal is to exceed our teacher and to find new things by using our own mind. This was not the approach in Hindu scriptures, which tended to be backward looking. Therefore the teacher was given an excessively pre-eminent stature. For instnce, in the Kathopanishad (2:9) Yama tells Nachiketa:
This awakening you have known comes not
Through logic and scholarship, but from
Close association with a realized teacher.[9]
This over-emphasis on the perceived wisdom of the teacher has led to deep-seated subservience towards elders in India. Children often don’t ask questions in the classroom to clarify issues in their mind. This is fortunately changing, with the onset of modern science. Also, teachers like Swami Suddhananda and Dayananda have promoted the idea that children should question the teacher.
Satyameva jayate
But the story in Hinduism is more complex than what appears on the surface. The Upanishads do appear to, in some parts, commend the truth. As evidence, the phrase, satyameva jayate is often cited, a phrase which is India’s national motto and finds place in the national emblem. The phrse originated in a mantra in the Mundaka Upanisad (3.1.6) of the Atharva Veda, a part of which reads: satyam eva jayate nanrtam. But there appears to be little scholarly agreement on its meaning. The phrase has been variously translated as: ‘Truth alone conquers, not falsehood’, ‘The true prevails, not the untrue’, ‘Truth alone conquers, not untruth’,[10] or (the more widely used) ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’. M.A. Mehendale questions such interpretations, noting:
In the above interpretation satyam and anrtam are taken to be the subjects, but this does not seem to be correct. Both satyam and anrtam have to be regarded as the objects, and a rsi is to be understood as the subject. Taken this way, the sentence would mean “A sage obtains only the Real (i.e., the Brahman), not the unreal. …This interpretation will be found to be in harmony with the spirit of the Upanisads in general and that of the Mundaka in particular.[11]
It is therefore very likely that the common meaning attributed to this pharse is incorrect. I am happy, of course, for this possible error to continue. Only good can arise from Hindus believing that their religion raises the truth to the highest pedestal.
Some later developments in Hinduism explicitly opened the door to critical thinking. Thus, the Carakasamhita, a scientific text written in the third century BC assert that ‘[o]f all types of evidence, the most dependable is that [which is] directly observed.’ It goes on to proclaim that ‘[t]he wise understand that their best teacher is the very world around them.’[12] As evidence of the growth of critical thinking in India, one can cite the discovery by Hindu mathematicians in around 500 AD of the decimal number system, including the use of zero – the system that has transformed all fields of human knowledge.
In addition, I now cite four representatives of Hinduism to further explore critical thinking in Hindu thought. These are Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, and Swami Suddhananda.
Dayanand Saraswati
The work of Swami Dayanand Saraswati is perhaps best evaluated through the impact he has had on the educational landscape of India, through the Dayanand Anglo Vedic (DAV) institutions. The ‘DAV system of education was a synthesis of ancient Vedic lore and culture and western scientific outlook. It was to be a bridge between the wisdom of India and of the west’[13]. Writing about Dayanand’s work, K.C. Mandendru wrote:
When reason had sunk deep and given place to prejudices and superstitions, when ignorance and orthodoxy studded human existence and chained the nation to inaction, Maharishi assigned unto himself the most important task to snap asunder these fetters and inaugurate an era of liberty of thought and freedom of action. An arch crusader, he refused to submit to the authoritarian &t orthodox dictates of the then social and moral monopolists in the arena of religion and conscience. A dauntless champion of the individual in the quest for eternal truth, Maharishi Dayanand laid emphatic stress on man’s self renovation and for this he taught him to adopt a rational outlook, based upon truth both in thought and action, and purity of conduct and behaviour.[14]
This would indicate that there was a significant focus on rationalism in Vedic Hinduism that later reformers attempted to revive.
Swami Vivekananda was a firm advocate of reason: ‘It is wrong to believe blindly’, he said. ‘You must exercise your own reason and judgment’.[15] Indeed, he wanted the methods of reason to be applied to religion as well: ‘Are the same methods of investigation, which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of Religion? In my opinion this must be so, and I am also of opinion that the sooner it is done the better. If a religion is destroyed by such investigations, it was then all the time useless, unworthy superstition; and the sooner it goes the better. I am thoroughly convinced that its destruction would be the best thing that could happen.’[16]
Gandhi, the advocate of individual liberty, promoted freedom of thought as well: ‘I am not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. I am bent upon freeing India from any yoke whatsoever… Hence for me the movement of swaraj is a movement of self purification’[17] [emphasis mine]. According to him, ‘Hinduism leaves the individual absolutely free to do what he or she likes for the sake of self-realisation for which and which alone he or she is born’.[18] One may, or course, argue that this conception applies only to ‘self-realisation’. Gandhi seems to have combined what he saw as the Hindu focus on self-realisation with some elements of Western liberalism (from Henry David Thoreau).
But Gandhi did not connect the dots between science and technology: ‘mass production’, he said, ‘is a technical term for production by the fewest possible number through the aid of highly complicated machinery. I have said to myself that that is wrong. My machinery must be of the most elementary type which I can put in the homes of the millions.’[19] That displays both a level of paternalism and resistance to the exploitation of the best instruments that science has to offer. Gandhi opposed modern medicine or allopathy, calling it a ‘false science’.[20] And he wrote: ‘the boast about the wonderful discoveries and the marvellous inventions of science, good as they undoubtedly are in themselves, is, after all, an empty boast. They offer nothing substantial to the struggling humanity.[21] This shows both ignorance and cynicism about technology.
Another advocate of the Vedanta, Swami Suddhananda, believes that people must find the truth about the teaching of Advaita themselves: Ultimately, your own experience is the best teacher’[22]. He praises science: ‘These wonders of science have not been discovered by a man sitting in the darkness of a cave. It is the achievement of men who have put to use their thought power.’[23] 

On evaluating the wide array of evidence presented above, and on balance of probabilities, I am inclined now to argue that (a) there is no strong opposition in practice to the use of reason in Hinduism, and indeed, (b) there might be some underlying positive support of human thinking in the Vedic or the Vedantic tradition, given the reformers of Hinduism insist that such is the flavour of the original system of Hindu thought.

[1] Pollock, Sheldon, ‘The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History’, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 105, No. 3, , (Jul. – Sep., 1985), p.515. Also verified with Ganeri, Jonardon, Philosophy in Classical India: The Proper Work of Reason, London: Routledge p.7.

[2] Hiriyanna, M., Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Bombay:George Allen and Unwin (India) Ltd., 1932 [1976], p.48.

[3] Hiriyanna, M., Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Bombay:George Allen and Unwin (India) Ltd., 1932 [1976], p.82.

[4] Hiriyanna, M., Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Bombay:George Allen and Unwin (India) Ltd., 1932 [1976], p.82.

[5] Kathopanishad (3:12) Eknath Easwaran Translation,

[6] Pollock, Sheldon, ‘The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History’, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 105, No. 3, , (Jul. – Sep., 1985), p.510.

[7]Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli, []

[8] Vivek Iyer in an email to me dated 4 September 2010.

[9] Eknath Easwaran Translation, []

[10] All citations from Mehendale, M. A., ‘Satyam Eva Jayate Nāntram’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 81, No. 4, (Sep. – Dec., 1961), p. 405.

[11] Mehendale, M. A., ‘Satyam Eva Jayate Nānrtam’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1961, 81 (4): 405-408.

[12] Pollock, Sheldon, ‘The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History’, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 105, No. 3, , (Jul. – Sep., 1985), p.510.

[13] K.C. MAHENDRU, "MAHARISHI DAYANAND —The Great Path-Maker", Diamond Jubilee souvenir of the DAV College Jullundur, 1978.

[14] K.C. MAHENDRU, "MAHARISHI DAYANAND —The Great Path-Maker", Diamond Jubilee souvenir of the DAV College Jullundur, 1978.

[15] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga, Introductory (

[16] Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Reason and Religion, (

[17] In The Essential Gandhi. Edited by Louis Fisher. Vintage Books. New York. 1962p. 191

[18] In The Essential Gandhi. Edited by Louis Fisher. Vintage Books. New York. 1962. p.212.

[19] Collected works of Gandhi, p.20, Vol. 54.

[20] Collected works of Gandhi, p.157 Vol. 95

[21] Collected works of Gandhi, p.209, Vol. 53.

[22] Suddhananda, Swami, Self Knowledge: A Path to the Pathless, 3rd edition. Chennai: Suddhananda Foundation for Self Knowledge, 2006, p.32.

[23] Suddhananda, Swami, Self Knowledge: A Path to the Pathless, 3rd edition. Chennai: Suddhananda Foundation for Self Knowledge, 2006, p.66.

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Pitfalls of “blind” reason

Critical thinking is based on reason AND observation, not on reason (deduction) alone. That is something which people often forget while churning out mental gymnastics that could perhaps "prove" anything. As Ferris writes: 

The most sweeping logical claims, the ones that seemed the loftiest precisely because they lay the farthest from ordinary human experience, amounted to little more than shuffling empty abstractions. [p.71, The Science of Liberty]

Critical thinking and the scientific method go hand in hand – indeed, are almost exactly the same. See details in DOF.

Mere deduction is liable to lead us to great folly. That is one reason why "forecasts" of complex systems are generally so wrong, being no better than a dart-throwing monkey.

For instance, the impact of population on an economy is far more complex than appears to be on the surface. Simplistic models like that of Thomas Malthus or Paul Ehrlich completely wrong, being not confirmed through observation. That is what my dissertation does, instead of merely speculating how humans might behave.

And that is why removing corruption is not as simple as enacting a Lokpal Bill and getting worked up enough to fast unto death for its sake. These things require detailed understandings AND empirical evidence.

Vichar Sagar

While reading the section of Vichar Sagar cited below (see full book here), I felt that I was going through the most convoluted gymnastics, in order to prove that the human consciousness is the same as the consciousness of God. If any of you can understand what the author is trying to say please let me know. 

Each time I try to find time to read this book I find it difficult to connect the arguments. There is a massive extrapolation from a few similies. It appears to be a work of great logical gymnastics, not something that provides us with hypotheses that can be tested and rebutted. I will try to finish it, though – time and patience permitting.

It was against such use of reason (untested by direct experience, or observation) that Buddha warned when he said:

Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations. Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice. Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere. Do not believe something just because it is cited in a text. Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning. Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy. Do not believe something because it appeals to ‘common sense’. Do not believe something just because you like the idea. Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy. Do not believe something thinking, ‘This is what our teacher says’. 

Here's the extract from Vichar Sagar:

Now for a consideration of the ‘indescribable’ [Anirbachaniya]. When a subject is seen by the eyes, the internal organ assumes its shape, drives away the ignorance which envelopes it and thus renders it visible; without visibility or light, cognition cannot follow. When a rope is mistaken for a snake, the function of the internal organ projected by the eyes establishes a connection with the rope, but the obstacles or defects as they are called viz, presence of dark­ness, do not determine the modification of the internal organ, so as to make it assume the shape of the rope, consequently its envelope­ment of ignorance remains undestroyed; since therefore the condi­tional relation of its function for the destruction of the envelope­ment having been created, its ignorance remains in tact, how can the rope already situated in such function (intelligence) excite or stimulate ignorance, so as to make it assume the modification of a snake? And if the action of ignorance -the creation of a snake—be true, then the knowledge of the rope need not be an obstacle to its existence. But it is quite otherwise, for when the actual rope is discovered, then the snake is reduced to an unreality—to non-existence—and if on the contrary, it be non-existent then it is virtually not like a sterile woman’s son; for such a condition is quite impossible, whereas in the rope it is present and continues so long as the mistake is not discovered. Hence (Ignorance) it cannot be non-existent, but quite distinct from it, as also from (Sat) existence, or being. Therefore it is described as something indescrib­able. The production of silver in nacre is in the same manner termed indescribable; and for these reasons it is called the indescribable mode. As the snake is a modification of ignorance, so is its knowledge a modification of ignorance too, and not of the internal organ. Because, as the knowledge of the rope is an obstacle to a serpent, so is it an obstacle to its knowledge, which should not be, if it were a modifica­tion of the internal organ. Hence knowledge is also indescribable, and quite a distinct entity from existence and non-existence, like the snake of ignorance. But the snake is the product of a preponderance of (Tama) darkness present in Ignorance along with the associated intelligence of the rope; and knowledge is a result of a modification of the (Satwa)good element of ignorance inherent in the manifest­ing intelligence; when the ignorance-associated intelligence of the rope assumes the modification of the snake, the ignorance present in the innate intelligence assumes its modification; for the stimulus of excitation which is a proximate cause of the ignorance-associated in­telligence of the chord, is also an excitor of the innate intelligence dependent on ignorance. Hence the source of the mistake in regard to a snake-illusion and its knowledge, proceeds in the same time as the knowledge of the presence of the chord blends with that of ignorance.
Thus then, in reference to the production of a snake-illusion its formal or proximate cause is the particle of external ignorance (vahya avidya);and the particle of ignorance situated inside the witnessing intelligence and dependent on it, is the proximate cause of its knowledge or perception. And as in the dreaming condition, the particle of darkness (Tamas)of ignorance dependent in the witnessing intelligence, assumes the modification of a subject, while its particle of goodness assumes the modification of knowledge or perception. Hence in dreams, the internal ignorance assumes both the modification of subject and perception or knowledge, and that ignorance is their proximate cause, consequently the snake in the external rope, and the internal dream objects are said to be discovered by the witnessing intelligence. In other words, what is discovered by the function of ignorance is called the discoverer [witness.]

The discovering of the mistake of the ‘indescribable’ snake in the rope called illusion, or illusory attribution, is a modification[1] of Igno­rance; and intelligence is subject to another modification which is called vivarata.[2] Now parinam produces a change of form in the same way as does a formal cause; while vivarata is possessed of proper­ties antagonistic to what an object has. As the formal cause ignorance is indescribable, so is the snake in a chord and its knowledge equally indescribable. Hence, the last two have equal properties in common with Ignorance. That is to say, Ignorance brings in a change of form, or the semblance of a difference from what it was; it is its modifica­tion of change or parinam;similarly the predicated intelligence which abides in a rope and distinguishes it from another object is real. But the presence of snake in a rope and its knowledge or perception is quite different from what has just been said to be real. Hence the rope with its knowledge, are antagonistic in nature to the abiding consciousness of the snake etc., (inasmuch as the first is real while the last unreal—illusory); call them naturally different, for they are different in form from intelligence. The seat of the unreal snake is not in the chord but in its associate of intelligence, consciousness, or knowledge; for, like the snake, the rope itself is a designed con­trivance and as such, one cannot take possession of, or occupy the other; hence the consciousness associated with the chord (and not the chord) is the seat of the snake. Moreover, if the predicated intelli­gence of the chord be said to be its seat, even then both the chord and intelligence will be the seat of the snake. But here, to con­nect the rope with the seat is not possible on account of the obstacle which it introduces, so that the associated intelligence or knowledge of the chord is such seat or occupation itself, and not its predicated intelligence.  [— and so on].

[1] Modification stands for parinam; therefore it signifies a changed condition. It applies also in the preceding instances wherever it has been used.

[2] With reference to causes it has been said that when a cause under­goes a change of form to produce an action it is called Vikara or Parinam. But when no such actual change of form takes place, it is called vivarta­ – curdled milk is an instance of the first variety and snake in the rope of the second. —(Dhole’s Vedantasara. p. 34.)

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