Sunday, December 20, 2009

science.... and God

I am a scientist, an organic chemist. I believe in God. There is a popular belief, in the scientific community and outside it, that a good scientist cannot be a god fearing one, that a scientist and a theist are mutually exclusive sets in the Venn diagram. I have listened to many a lively debate on this issue. I subscribe to the view that science subscribes to ideas and methods that are akin to man's relation to his creator. I am a very non-confrontational person and usually stay away from debates of this sort. But a recent post on my Mom's blog inspired me to finally put to words something I've wanted to write about for quite some time. These are merely my views, the way I link my the two worlds that are rather important to me... Any views or opinions trampled upon are completely unintentional.

In graduate school at Texas A&M, I was friends with an ex-IITian who also happened to be atheist. Atheist interest me. I think they are the most extreme manifestation of the human ego. In any event, he was talking about a 'science and God' public event he had been to – About how this atheist scientist had taken apart and decimated all the arguments the 'poor god-fearing scientist' had to make. From his version of events it did seem like the atheists had won the intellectual battle. In my mind I could picture the whole drama - not a pretty picture I imagined. But according to me there should be no arguments, in fact there really is no dispute. At this point, let me pause and make two points very clear – I do not plan to ramble on and completely miss the point I am trying to make, because that’s what usually happens in these debates, all I want to do is explain why I think science and God both involve some very similar ideas. Secondly, I am not talking about religion, which in many cases, distorts God beyond recognition and therefore deserves a completely different discussion (which I will never get into).

When cornered by this very smart IITian, I tried to come up with an explanation for my belief in God that he could understand and identify with. In any scientific experiment, a scientist starts with a theory. He designs an experiment to test his theory. If the experiment works and gives him the results he expected, then his theory is validated. Now if the results are not convincing enough, he still likes to believe that his theory was correct and he probably needs to design a better experiment. Sometimes, however his experiment fails. The inference he draws at this point is that his experiment was unreasonable and shouldn’t have tried it in the first place. But notice that he still doesn’t discard his theory. One final situation – he tries the experiment and his results lead him to a serendipitous discovery, something he never had expected. At this point, the scientist proudly tells the story of how his theory led to the experiment which then led to this wonderful discovery. Notice again that he never ridicules or belittles his original theory; rather he gives it credit for his new discovery.

Does this sound all too familiar? If not let me run through the God analogy really quick. God is the theory. You believe in the theory. You want the theory to work. You want to know that you believe in something that exists. So when faced with a problem, you pray. Prayer is the experiment, to see if God really exists (though that’s not the reason people usually pray, but let us play along for a bit). Now if the prayer is answered, it is like the successful experiment. If the answer to the prayer was not as clear as the person expected, he decides he needs to pray harder. This renewed attempt at prayer is the ‘better experiment’. If the prayer is ignored (or seemingly ignored), he likes to first believe that his expectations from the prayer were unreasonable rather than lose faith in God. And how many times in our life have our prayers not been answered but at a later time we have said “whatever happened, happened for the best; See how everything turned out..”. This is the serendipitous discovery. At this point the person praises God and gives Him credit for his unexpected good fortune.

My friend laughed at my analogy. He said I was a blind fool. But I knew I had planted that seed of doubt in his mind. His final shot at me – when your prayers are answered how do you know it was God? – but as soon as he asked me this question, he was kicking himself. I could tell that he KNEW what my answer would be. The history of science is littered with examples where the scientific interpretation of an experiment has often proven to be WRONG. This however does not discredit the scientist. In fact people give him credit for having thought of the experiment and for having had faith in the theory. Did I say faith? Well, that’s what my final answer to him was. Faith my friend, is the basis of our belief in God and (believe it or not) of science. Given your resources and abilities you do the best you can and as long as you have faith that you have been honest to yourself, you will still be righteous in the eyes of God and by analogy in the eyes of scientific community! The bottom line is just like you’ll never know whether your scientific theory is correct you will never know by means of physical evidence that God exists. Both require a certain degree of faith. Having gained that faith many many facts begin to add up and make a lot of sense.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Vivian Villa

I left Vivian Villa when I was 6 years old. Never went back there. Even to visit.

'Vivian Villa' at Ambalamukku, Trivandrum was my first home. A splendid house with a nice green front yard. A compound gate opened to a long driveway which led to a black wrought iron gate. Opposite Vivian Villa was this magnificent multi storeyed building under construction. I played hide and seek with friends inside and around the construction site. Sandhya was my best friend. She lived next door - which was at an elevation with respect to Vivian Villa, right where the long driveway started. This was Vivian Villa as I remembered it.

My parents were barely making ends meet when we lived there. My mother was still doing her PhD and my Dad was definitely not as high up in the bank as he is today. But they talk so fondly of the wonderful times at Ambalamukku. And every time I hear them talk about it, my mind goes back to the splendid house and the long driveway and the evenings that I spent at the wrought iron gate waiting for my Dad's KLK 9269 Mark 2 Ambassador to come home!

Fast forward to January 2008. I'm at Trivandrum - now Thiruvananthapuram - again. Visiting my parents who have finally made their way back to TVM after all those years! Life has been through many a journey. Nostalgia strikes and I decide, after 18 long years I want to go see Vivian Villa. I want to go see that splendid house, that lovely front yard, the majestic driveway. One evening I set off on foot to revisit the wonderful place I once called home. It was growing dark, as I turned into the lane (where Vivian Villa was the last house on the right), I broke into a light jog. I was excited. I could see Sandhya's house and my mind's compass told me to turn right.

The compound gate stood in front of me. I couldn't see very well past it. As I went closer and looked in, the view that met my eye astounded me! My 'long' driveway was about 15 metres long. The 'magnificent multi storeyed building' was a house like any other in Trivandrum. There was another house that I did not recognize, or did I? The 'black wrought iron gate' and the 'lovely green front yard' was missing. In the utter confusion of the moment, I couldn't think straight. I felt as though someone who loved and trusted me had let me down. I suddenly felt alien to all the memories I had of this wonderful first home of mine! One final scan of the place for the slightest sign of familiarity and I was running - running away from the disappointment, running away from what I had so yearned to see. I didn't speak a word about my little expedition to my parents that night. I shut out the experience from my mind and fell asleep.

Fast forward to June 2008, another long night at lab and for some reason Vivian Villa came up in my mind again. I felt resentment, I felt like a hallucinating fool!
Vivian Villa was probably demolished. I will not and don't want to ever find out. Or probably it is still standing there in a completely unrecognizable form. It was not the house that was dear to me. It was the images I had in my mind about life there that I held so close to my heart. I went there hoping to relive the memories of playing hide and seek there, to relive the evenings I waited to see my Dad’s car turn into that magnificent driveway. To relive probably the oldest memories in my mind. But what I saw I couldn’t recognize or identify with and I’m left reeling ... But marveling at the wonders of the human mind!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


There are day and events in my childhood that I remember very clearly. But you ask me to put them in chronological order and I turn up a complete sucker! Whether I got my first bike when I was 7 or 8 - i would not be able to tell you. I'd have to sweat to tell you which school I went to when I was 12 (partly because my parents moved around a lot!). I do not have the remotest memory of any conversation I had with my Mom in my early childhood. I do know that my parents loved me dearly and raised me the right way. For me my childhood is a long blur of events that strung together to mould the person that I am today. I was a happy child and I could not have asked for a more carefree childhood !

Many a time in my young adult life I have made a conscious effort to organize my childhood in my mind - Just because of the 'feel-good' feeling that it gave me - but everytime i try doing this the same blur of events flash past in my mind's eye. Thoughts of the simple beautiful childhood that i had, gives me a warm feeling inside and my effort at reconstructing it is usually interrupted by some random chore of everyday life. Now, caught up in the unforgiving world of research, in a land far from the place I call home - such efforts at self introspection are few and far between. A few months back while spending the night at work waiting for a reaction to go to completion (in my PhD chemistry lab) I found myself flirting with this usually futile exercise again! This time however the end result was quite pleasantly different ...

This time I tried to remember specific conversations from my childhood. The very first line that came to my mind was "this is how we know the earth is round... " ; I tried focussing harder "They called the great man a HALF NAKED FAKIR"; I was doing good! "Christopher Columbus first thought the earth was flat!" . " Aarum arupathum erupathum pathinaalum enthanu mone (what is 6+60+20+14 my son?) ". " If you don't stand up on the bench, I will stand up on the bench" " Mone othiri praarthikanum (you should pray a lot my son!)" . "Always take care of your watch, spectacles and wallet". " Mone ninne kaananum ( I want to see you)". " Mathacha ee paisa kondu oru shirtum pantum vangikanam (Mathew you should buy a shirt and a pant with this money)"

My grandad!! my achachan!! Every single conversation that came to mind was ones that I had had with him! And as I sat there I asked myself... WHY? My mind toiled with all the possible explanation for why almost every recollection of my childhood led me to this unique person and what my mind came up with was an explanation so simple so beautiful yet so profound! An explanation that salutes the spirit of this wonderful man, An explanation that makes my heart swell in gratitude for having had this great human being in my life...

My parents loved me. You ask my parents about me and they'll tell you - Mathachan was an angel when he was 8 ... He was a brat when he was 12 ... All he cared for was cricket when he was 14 .... He wouldn't do engineering when he was 18.. He loved chemistry with a passion... My parents grew up with me. They treated me and gave me the respect my age demanded! For them I was Mathachan the child, Mathachan the adolescent, Mathachan the wild teenager and now Mathachan the young adult.

For Achachan, I was Mathachan - his grandson. The relationship was ageless. Here was a man who loved me with his whole heart and took upon himself to teach me everything that he knew. He didn't care if I was 8 or I was 23! I was still that innocent little grandson who held his hand as he proudly paraded him around the streets of Changanassery(my home town) on his routine evening walks. He told me about Christopher Columbus when I was 8 and when I was 20 - both times with the same passion. The last time I visited him in Trivandrum (I was 24) and he still asked me what those four numbers added upto! He told me about Gandhiji and the round table conference, he gave me money to buy myself a pair of clothes, He inquired about my spectacles, watch and wallet and he told me I should pray a lot. He joked about the teacher who threatened to stand up on the bench, He did and said everything that I associated with my Achachan.

Were these the rantings of an old man or did he just think I was slow? Or was it just that he wanted me to be as innocent, attentive and loving of a grandson as I had always been with him? I think the latter... Today Achachan is 93 and I'm 25. I have seen him change from a strong fiery personality to a man who has accepted the limitations of his age. He's seen me change from a innocent little boy to a mature grown adult. But put us together today and we'll hit off just the way we did 20 years ago. Having the same conversations, sharing the same love and living in the knowledge that no matter how life changes, he will be my achachan and I - his Mathachan.

Monday, October 24, 2005

When the going gets tough ...

When effort goes unrewarded, when caliber goes unnoticed, when passion is ignored - you wonder why! why cry to be heard? why shout till you're hoarse? why beg when you're rich? why waste a tear? why not just move on ....

The answer is - a dream - a dream I nurtured. For all of five years! day in and day out, no matter what I did - I saw a dream that was a speck in the horizon - the ever nearing horizon. I dreamt of living my dream - I dreamt of reaching the horizon. Only now do I realise how wicked the horizon was being to me... The faster I ran toward it, the faster it ran away from me..
I cry to be heard .. I shout till I'm hoarse .. I beg though I'm rich .. A tear trickles down - but all it does is add a drop to the ocean between me and the cruel horizon and that innocuous speck!

When the going gets tough... it gets tougher and tougher!

The passage of agony seems endless, but hey! maybe its just a maze and the door called ecstasy is round the corner - hiding from my view, teasing me till I find the right turn that gets me there!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

When you wake up from illusions

Livin in a world of illusions - I dint know where I stood among "equals"
There was a time when I thought I was the best - and complacency ruled my life
- finally I woke up, found myself nowhere near the top !
Then suddenly there are no nights in my life - I wake n fight - 'coz there's nowhere to go but up!
All this sweat and all these tears - all just for one cause - to slip back into my wonderful world of illusions - and enjoy its confluence with reality!