Argumentum ad populum

 

As per Wikipedia,

In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for “appeal to the people”) is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: “If many believe so, it is so.”

Some simple examples of this fallacy are:

  • Everyone’s doing it.
  • In a court of law, the jury vote by majority; therefore they will always make the correct decision.

Some other important issues that suffer from argumentum ad populum:

  • A politician charged with provoking riots claims that majority of people have voted him back to power; so this charge against him is false.
  • XYZ religion is followed by millions; therefore all its claims are true.
  • Chemical castration for rapists is the right punishment because the majority wants it as a law.
  • A government is elected democratically and by vote of majority; therefore all its policies represent the people.

Such arguments may sound persuasive but can be fallacious at the same time. One could claim that smoking is a healthy pastime, since millions of people do it. Governemnts, religious clergy, godmen and other groups try to suppress dissenting and unpopular ideas normally resort to such arguments to persuade people against these ideas.

In fact, centuries ago, almost everyone used to believe that “the Earth is flat”. Does that mean the Earth was actually flat and that it has become round now because most people believe that now?

Therefore, a clear logical analysis of important arguments is necessary to understand whether we are believing an argument because it really true or because we see majority agreeing with it?

Do you know any other prevalent ideas that are assumed to be true just because many people believe it to be true?

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Indi-Ban-ization

Only 4 days back, I wrote a post on the growing religious intolerance in our country. I mentioned how we are banning books, writers (because, you know, Pen is mightier than sword and so the writer might hurt some sensitive people.. sob sob), art and movies, etc.

In just 4 days, so much more has happened that it is with great reluctance that I am writing this post. After all, you need a break from one single topic but India is undergoing its own version of Talibanization at such a rapid pace that would put Schumacher and Usain Bolt to shame. Before we know it, the Talibani leaders might start applying for Indian citizenships.

Pardon me if I miss some more incidents, but fresh in my memory are the following from the last 4 days:

— The Grand Mufti (head of Muslim clergy) in Kashmir has declared a “Fatwa” against singing (Yes, SINGING!) saying it is un-islamic and a shameful act. Yes, you heard (or rather read) me right. Following this Fatwa and a series of online abuses by its supporters against them, Kashmir’s first and only All-Girl-Rock-Band, Pragaash, has called it quits and given up on singing and performing out of fear for their lives. But, the ruling national political party has promptly, after a delay of 3 days, acted by – wait for it – CRITICISING the Fatwa. See? We support our women. Nevertheless, the Band is still banned (no pun intended).

pragaash

— Well, how could the Hindus be left behind? In yet another shocking (the magnitude of shocks now coming down with each case) incident, members of a regional (and religious) political outfit, desperate to maintain their fading (if not already extinct) relevance in Indian politics, have started protesting “democratically” in front of an art gallery in the capital warning of consequences (how democratic) if the exhibition is not shut down and some paintings not removed. Their problem? They think that depiction of bare human forms in art is derogatory to “our cultural values” and portrays women in an obscene manner. (Must be those devillish Westerners affecting our Art, I worry). How stupendous – political party, religious faction, art critics, all-in-one? I wonder where their concern for women vanishes when they and their affiliates beat up women for wearing jeans and going to parties.

— Further, BJP, a national political party, has also revealed their well known fascist and religious nature by invoking the Ram temple issue yet again just a year ahead of the upcoming national elections in 2014. To the unknowing, a piece of land in a town (or village?) called Ayodhaya has been the source of extremely dangerous tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities since decades over a conflict regarding whether a temple or a mosque should be built at that place. The BJP has, as expected, again raised the pitch in favour of temple instead of the mosque.

As I was about to sign off on this post, I have just seen in the national news channels that the same outfit that is protesting against art (above) has contributed to the Ram temple issue by saying they will agitate in favour of building of the temple and, if required, are even ready to display the Hindu might. Okay, so now they won’t even wait for me to finish my blog?

In our country, a huge section of our population is living below poverty line, are uneducated and illiterate and therefore find solace in anything religious. We don’t have enough food, clean drinking water, schools, hospitals, electricity, and jobs and our economy is in tatters, but we worry more about where a temple is being built, which art can be exhibited and which not, which book should be read and which not, whether muslim girls should sing or not, and to top it all, we are even willing to slaughter people for such trivial issues. And this is not going to fade away. The talibanization of our country is afoot.

Why? Because we are a nation of fools and those who are negligent of this rising foolery. We will curtail every form of freedom of expression, speech, etc. etc… Oh, did you say freedom? We will ban the word itself one day.No use invoking the constitution – it does not forbid us from being fools and idiots.

And, did I mention we are also secular? Ya, but our definition of secularism is not the same as that of the “morally deprived west” in that we do not consider secularism to be freedom of and from religion. We think it is the freedom of forcing a religion’s outdated and illogical decrees on to everybody else, and we welcome with open arms, the venomous and regressive ideals that the fundamentalists bring with them.

I wonder why atheists and secularists and scientists do not make similar speeches to say that we will “unleash science education upon those who dare to act stupid,” or “the Earth is suspended in the Solar System due to gravity and we will slaughter any artist that depicts it being otherwise,” or “if you show a ghost in a movie, we will get it banned because as per science, ghosts do not exist.”

I think that would be quite funny. What do you think?

When God cheats

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Whenever a sportsman or a sports team claims that they won because God was on their side, shouldn’t the result be cancelled and spectators’ money returned?

Imagine what would happen if a team started thanking the referee for their victories. Wouldn’t you call it cheating?

What do you think?

The Joys of Stargazing

Star Gazing

It was almost 4 AM on a chilly December night (or morning) in Delhi a few years back and I stood on the open terrace of my house gazing up at the night sky with my telescope. The sky was clear at last, there was no moon and so it was a good time to look for those otherwise hard-to-spot stars and star-clusters. To read the sky map, I had a torch double wrapped with red cellophane paper so as to prevent it from ruining my eyes’ acclimatization to the darkness.

Astronomy, or rather Amateur Astronomy, was a new hobby of mine, only a few months old. I had recently been reading as much as I could on the subject, joined the local Astronomy club, met and spoke to other passionate enthusiasts and even bought myself a 5-inch Newtonian reflector scope, which has become one of my most prized possessions. Reading on the subject and then spending time contemplating that knowledge gave me a new perspective.

Tonight, as I was gazing at the stars and contemplating the vastness of the universe beyond those skies, I started to get goosebumps. There are about a hundred billion stars in each of the hundred billion galaxies in our universe and I guess almost all of the stars will have their own solar systems – some big, some small. So that makes the number of planets in the universe so large that it is beyond comprehension of ordinary human brains. And yet, despite this vast number, we know of not a single other planet, except our own, to bear life.

“Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”

Of course, being the only known (to us) life bearing planet, makes our place quite special in the universe. And what makes us even more special is the fact that we are able to contemplate our existence and ask questions about our own origins and the origins of the universe and then seek answers to them using our own intelligence. We were formed out of the same starstuff that makes the rest of the Cosmos – the planets, stars, comets, asteroids as well as the galaxies billions of light years away from our own – and we have evolved to think and ask questions about ourselves.

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

Yet, on the other hand we also know that the reason why we haven’t been able to find life elsewhere in the universe is not because it does not exist, but because we are not intelligent enough and capable enough of finding out. The vastness of the universe trumps our little brains. The gigantic interstellar distances dwarf by trillions and trillions of times any distances we have seen on our earth or even in our solar system. The cosmic clock runs on a scale that trumps the longest lifetimes of humans and make us insignificant. And so, as the contemplation went on and on in my head, I lost myself into an even longer train of thoughts and it was as if I was slowly being removed from the earth. And finally, I truly realized that my relation to the universe was far greater than I had ever imagined before. I had become one with the Cosmos, not in the usual religious way, but in a much deeper and meaningful way. Because as Carl Sagan said it so beautifully:

“The Cosmos is also within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

It is a unique perspective because it also makes me realize how precious our planet really is. We have our friends, family, idols and enemies all here on this planet. It is our home. Everybody we have ever known lives or lived here. Outside of it, there is just loneliness in the vast universe. That also makes everybody I know here that much more special. The apparent insignificance of my own existence is in itself the reason why I should continue to live because this is the only life I have and will ever have. And I am lucky to be here today. When I learn something about the universe, it is basically the universe learning about itself. When I look out at the Cosmos, the Cosmos looks back into me.

My thoughts are interrupted by a sudden strong cold breeze and I realize that I am now shivering. I hear a truck pass by somewhere in the distance but otherwise the night is very quiet. It is almost morning and the darkness is fading away. A bit like the darkness of my ignorance is fading away because of the knowledge of my own real self?

I am quite tired now so I gather my stuff and head back inside for bed, leaving my telescope behind as it continued to gaze endlessly at the cosmos beyond.

Remembrance of things past

Sometimes, I look back into my life to see how much of it was real and how much was made up. It is an important question and applies to everyone who ever lived. Not that I am a liar, but I admit that sometimes our sheer vulnerabilities make us believe in something that isn’t true. Sometimes we know that, and sometimes we don’t.

Make up a lie, and believe in it with all your heart and repeat it for a really long time, and you will see it becomes the truth. Children do this all the time. They imagine a world and then believe in it such that it becomes the truth for them. When you were a kid, don’t you remember taking credit for jokes that someone else said, or a story that someone else told? And over the years, at some point, didn’t that joke or story become truly yours? Or what about believing someone else’s ideas as your own?

Likewise, even as adults we are not so far behind. Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false naming of real events. Words that were never said, fights that never really happened, love that was only in my mind, plans that were never made, feelings that were never felt, letters that were never written and friends that never were. But repeat them often enough, and they become real. Our memories also deceive us.

“When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the latter. It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it.” ~ Mark Twain

Yes, every life has it. We all remember that which never happened. It is tough to admit it, but its true. Each life is like a book but with some untrue short stories. And many of these, we don’t even know are lies.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” ~ Marcel Proust

What can you not live without?

When one is faced with a dilemma, on choosing one of two possible and opposite options, how does one decide?

Do you look at what you can live with?

Or

Do you look at what you can’t live without?

These are two very different questions, though they may stir the same thoughts in the mind of the thinker.

For example, if you are a writer and not such a success at that, you would ask yourself what is more important:

Can you live with unsuccessful writing?

Or

Is it that you can’t live without writing at all?

Another example, you want to gain someone you love, but that will bring some issues along with them and so wouldn’t you ask yourselves:

Can you live with the person + issues?

Or

Is it that you can’t live without that person you love?

Which of these is more important? What you can live for or what you will die without?

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