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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The tale of the lucky liver fluke

The question of evolution always come into play as i think it is more fiction than facts. Scientists, in my opinion, make enormous leaps of faith to make conclusions based on evidences. Below is an opening real-world scenario that begins to expose the inadequacy of this theory in regards to accounting for the facts of life.

Like many parasites, liver flukes require more than one distinct host-species to carry them through the various stages of their life-cycles. In their specific case: cows, snails and ants fulfil such roles. As adults, they live in the livers of cows, where they mate, with their eggs being excreted via the host’s fecal matter. Terrestrial snails that dine on such literal left-overs become infected by the fluke’s larvae, which then settle in the snails’ digestive tracts. To protect themselves, the snails form cysts around the little parasites, before excreting them in their own waste. Finally ants, looking to snail slime as a source of moisture, simultaneously ingest these cysts, each of which is filled with hundreds of juvenile flukes.

At first glance, that may all seem to be pretty random. Except that there’s nothing random about the fact that the very distinct stages the flukes pass through in their life- cycle are precisely aligned with their existence within these several and very distinct hosts. The flukes manifest multifarious and specific adaptations to the distinct circumstances posed by each host; while the hosts themselves also provide specific circumstances and responses so as to perfectly serve the flukes’ needs, including their transportation to their next destination. There is some seriously outrageous synchronicity going on here, such a complex and interconnected chain of events as to seemingly defy any rational explanation for how or why it came to be. Nor have we yet come to the most mind-blowing part of their story.

Meanwhile we’ve been educated to believe that explanations of such phenomena are indeed what science is able to provide. In fact Leon Lederman, previous director of the Fermi Particle Accelerator, predicted that the ultimate goal of all their research would manifest in the form of a single equation that would explain absolutely everything, and that would be elegant enough to be written on a T-shirt. Yet never mind a single equation that could sum up everything; how can we account for but an infinitesimal speck of all that absolute ‘everything-ness,’ in the form of the amazing life-journey of the tiny liver fluke?

We just left off this journey with the juvenile flukes about to emerge from their ‘space-capsule’-like cysts within the body of their new unsuspecting host, the ant. These juveniles are then free to wander throughout the ant’s body, but one in particular moves to a critical cluster of nerve-cells lying just underneath the ant’s esophagus, and this is indeed where the most extraordinary element of the story of the Lancet liver fluke takes place.

Somehow or other this fluke is now able to manipulate the nerves there so as to cause its ant-host to act in a most peculiar but obliging fashion. As evening draws near, such an infested ant begins to act in an entirely un-antlike manner, abandoning its natural behaviors in favor of a new set of behaviors that are tailor-made to suit the interests of the flukes. It breaks away from the rest of its nest-mates, who are all back at the nest, snug as only a bug can be; while this uncharacteristically individualistic member of the herd goes off to spend the night firmly ensconced at the tip of a blade of grass.

Now as if that isn’t bizarre enough, in defiance of basic (ant-) logic, it in fact locks itself into place with its mandibles for the apparent purpose of making sure that it will be included in the diet of any cow that happens to graze upon the particular patch of grass it’s perched in. Should no cow happen to thus include that particular grass-blade in its meal, the ant then climbs back down at dawn to rejoin the rest of the colony, acting just like any other ant, and thus escaping the heat of the day which would otherwise kill both it along with its parasitic controllers. What we can say then, is that this particular ant has now been re-programmed by one of the flukes so as to follow a suicide-mission specifically designed for the benefit of the flukes.

So the question is, programmed by what? The ant surely didn’t come up with such a program itself, acting under some self-sacrificing largesse aimed at helping the liver flukes in their own desperate struggle for survival. Yet is it any more reasonable to think that the flukes figured all this out for themselves, according to the panicked genius of the first generation of flukes that suddenly found themselves stuck in the digestive system of an ant, wondering what on earth they should do next to get out of there?

OK - so what is a reasonable answer? According to the theory of evolution, ‘it just happened.’ Science has adopted this answer – and science is, after all, the very paragon of rational and objective thinking. So if it’s science, and therefore presumably true and proven fact, who are we to question it?
Yet once we do begin to think about it, using the current example of the liver fluke as a case in point, all kinds of questions must surely arise. For instance: how did the very first fluke that was swallowed by an ant and then made its way to said ant’s sub-esophageal ganglion before seizing control of the entire ant ... well, how did it do that? How did it come to figure out how to pilot such an alien craft, and how did it even recognize what and where the controls were? After which, how did it determine its next life-supporting destination, namely the strange alien landscape of a cow’s liver; and without the use of anything like a Mars Rover, for instance? Plus, how did it come by the actual chain of events by which it could arrive at said next destination via its new ‘space- ship’... including programming said ship for such activities as are entirely foreign to the fluke itself, such as climbing up grass-blades for the night, locking mandibles (whatever they might be, from a liver fluke’s perspective) in place, and patiently and one-pointedly awaiting the approaching ‘jaws of death’?

Then there is the favorite old conundrum of course, suitably reworded for this particular example: which came first (as far as the fluke is concerned, that is): the cow, the snail or the ant? Or isn’t the simple fact that all three are required simultaneously? What series of prior evolutionary steps could be imagined that could have led up to this spectacularly complex and precise set of arrangements? How is it consistent or rational to imagine that the explanation for such unparalleled complexity is mere arbitrary randomness? Would anyone take seriously, for example, a billionaire’s explaining as to how he became so fabulously wealthy if his only answer was, “Well, I started with nothing actually; and then I didn’t really do anything at all – and, umm, here we are then”?

The development and survival of these parasites requires an incredible degree of precise coordination of many highly complex and specific factors. Nor does such occur only within the body of the fluke itself, but it takes place over several distinct environments, which are in perfect dynamic alignment with the various needs and developmental stages of the fluke.

A myriad specific adaptations are required for the little flukes to thrive within the various host species, which thriving includes being superbly able to take advantage of unique responsive processes within the hosts themselves, such as the snails’ cyst-manufacturing system. Plus a myriad specific adaptations more to facilitate their successful transportation from one species to the next, whereby the species involved are themselves both favorable environments for the flukes to survive in, as well as suitable providers of carriage to the next such favorable environment. In other words, the level of specificity and complexity of the system as a whole is virtually incalculable.

Is it truly and rationally thinkable that all of this could have spontaneously and randomly developed, unplanned and unguided? In other words, out of the incalculable number of possible random mutations or developments that could ever happen, somehow or other, a single precise chain of random events happened to take place as to facilitate the mind-bogglingly complex series of interlocking eco-systems we refer to as the life-story of the liver fluke. Because that is precisely what evolutionary theory tells us, as a matter of supposedly obvious and rational deduction, entirely consistent with experience and evidence. In which case, each and every species might best be referred to as a fluke!

Hare Krishna

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Guru - heavy but compassionate

Guru, in sanskrit literally means heavy - heavy in their instructions to bonded souls, and heavy in that the guru does not budge away from the Lotus feet of Krishna.

When the guru speaks words which cut though our falsities of this world, that feeling is not very satisfying to the heart. But a person who is sincerely seeking the truth will acknowledge his unpleasant feeling and transform his heart. A person who is not sincere in order to avoid unpleasantness will brush those heavy words aside and continue with his ways. Such unfortunate people can never understand God no matter how much they chant, study scriptures, visit Holy places and or perform charity. What to speak of those who take shelter of false gurus?

I come across people many times who think Krishna consciousness is not practical, or only practical up to a certain level. Such people most likely approach Krishna for punya karma, morality or spiritual entertainment. Deep inside their hearts, they do not have the desire to give up their independent thinking and independent desires. Such people can never understand God!

Therefore the only way, one can understand God and be God conscious is to accept the heavy words of guru whole-heartedly without speculation and have faith that these heavy instructions can be followed at all times regardless of time and circumstance. The faith to follow instructions without deviation can be cultivated gradually over time by the sincere aspirant of the truth.

Srila Prabhupada is one such guru with heavy words and is one such disciple who emulated guru bhakti to the world without deviation. Below is an example of his heaviness in terms of instructions to his disciples. A sincere soul will be delighted to hear such instructions where as a frivolous soul will feel sadness reading it.

In a place made for misery, he told us, only the rascals try to make adjustments for peace by material arrangements. "They are mudha. It is not possible. Krsna has made it suffering. How you can become happy here? But these rascals will not understand. Within the suffering they will try to become happy. That is not possible. The toilet room he wants to make a Deity room. How it is possible? That is not possible. Therefore we should be careful not to make a friendship with our restless mind. Rather, it should be beaten with shoes and a broomstick and kept under control. - Srila Prabhupada- From "A Transcendental Diary Vol 5" by HG Hari Sauri Prabhu

For an untrained person, these words would be offensive. Prabhupada is comparing this world to a toilet and people who are trying to be happy in this world as rascals and mudhas (fools). Toilet, rascal and fool is not politically correct by modern day standards. If this world is a toilet, then all things of this world we consider sacred mainly wife, husband, children, relatives, money, house, job etc are also toilet.

Toilet means two things. (1) it is a place to shed our dirty nature (2) it is a stop gap place - finish your business and leave. So in that sense, this world, relationships and possessions are considered an impurity as it is materialistic and also temporary. In such a temporary material setting, what is the business of a pure spiritual being? From the vantage point of the pure spirit soul, he should finish (rather give up) his material business and depart to the eternal spiritual world where there is no misery.

So yes, on the surface Prabhupada's words can be heavy but an intelligent person will dig deeper to find the meaning behind his compassionate words. Such a sincere individual will take shelter of that compassion, will follow the instructions of Prabhupada, will achieve liberation from the shackles material bondage and eventually meet Krishna face to face.

This is the only way - there is no other way!

Hare Krishna

Monday, November 24, 2014

The scientific creed

Science prides itself of objectivity and empiricism. When I was in school I always questioned how science made some base assumptions. However, at that time I could not quite articulate my doubts in words. I knew something did not sit very well with me whenever some ideas were taught in the name of science.

For example, when I was introduced to the concept of evolution in middle school, it stated that species evolved to complex organisms over time due to natural selection and only the fittest survive the onslaughts of nature. I thought that if we all evolved in that way, then how come our ancestors still exist in their primitive forms? Because if they survived the struggles of nature, then there is no need to evolve and i wont be sitting here typing on a computer? So did only few our ancestors struggle to evolve through natural selection while others remained without evolution? Perhaps there is an answer, i do not know?

Another glaring thought that bothered me in physics class in high school was the understanding of outer space? I wondered how light, sound etc behaved the same way across the entire cosmos? Scientists assumed that the red and violet frequencies in the light spectrum behaved the same way in outer space millions of light years away as it did on the earth paradigm. Something I could not easily accept from science!

Anyways, i am not a scientist but reading these ten dogmas written by a thoroughbred scientist helped me articulate my own doubts and also shed light onto other assumptions science makes.

Below are the ten core beliefs (or dogmas) that most scientists take for granted. Together, these beliefs make up the philosophy or ideology of scientific materialism.

  1. Everything is essentially mechanical. Dogs, for example, are complex mechanisms, rather than living organisms with goals of their own. Even people are machines, ‘lumbering robots’, in Richard Dawkins’s vivid phrase, with brains that are like genetically programmed computers.
  2. All matter is unconscious. It has no inner life or subjectivity or point of view. Even human consciousness is an illusion produced by the material activities of brains.
  3. The total amount of matter and energy is always the same (with the exception of the Big Bang, when all the matter and energy of the universe suddenly appeared).
  4. The laws of nature are fixed. They are the same today as they were at the beginning, and they will stay the same for ever.
  5. Nature is purposeless, and evolution has no goal or direction.
  6. All biological inheritance is material, carried in the genetic material, DNA, and in other material structures.
  7. Minds are inside heads and are nothing but the activities of brains. When you look at a tree, the image of the tree you are seeing is not ‘out there’, where it seems to be, but inside your brain.
  8. Memories are stored as material traces in brains and are wiped out at death.
  9. Unexplained phenomena like telepathy are illusory.
  10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.
- By Rupert Sheldrake - Phd Cambridge and Harvard

The argument I have heard for these dogmas is that science "will" in the long run prove these assumptions. In the words of Karl Popper (a scientist philosohper) such future promises are akin to "promissory materialism" meaning making promises for a future discovery or invention that has yet to take place. Srila Prabhupada called it "post-dated" check. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the scientists, even if they do solve these assumptions in the future, it still does not account for the present theories? 

Long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead
- John Keynes an  Economist

You be the judge!

Hare Krishna