Sharing learning resources and readings during the COVID-19 lockdown
Nationwide lockdown of India from late March to early April is the largest confinement of movement in human history. Without a daily routine and without being able to work and go places that are "home" (read: school and university, my offices), I am feeling disoriented. I am sure a lot of my students and others are feeling the same. I have started an online course for my students and educators: Philosophy and Critical Thinking. There have been some people outside my organization who have shown interest. Since I have hosted it on our internal Learning Management System, I cannot enroll non-Northstar and non-RKU audience.
So I have decided to share relevant learning resources here. But then I thought, why not share everything that I'm reading during these days of lockdown? There is no coherent structure to this. It will be a bunch of links put together. Hopefully, it is useful to some.
25th March 2020
Flowers of Alrgenon by Daniel Keyes
I just finished reading my first novel (short story) of the lockdown: Flowers of Alrgenon by Daniel Keyes. Sci-Fi, along with Philosophy, is my favourite genre. If you'd like more recommendations for Sci-Fi or Phil books, message me on Twitter or FB.
It's a story about Charlie Gordon, who is not-so-smart and how his world becomes clear to him once he undergoes an "operashun" to become hyper intelligent only to fall back to where he began. I did not find it extraordinary but it has some heartbreaking moments.
25th March 2020
Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes
If you just want to get started on modern western philosophy, start with the guy who started it! Rene Descartes. I have assigned his Meditations on First Philosophy as an optional reading to my class currently. I am attaching a book that contains two of his key works on philosophy: Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. I recommend starting with the latter (from page 219). Meditations on First Philosophy is a relatively short piece.
25th March 2020
PEL episode on Descartes
If you're into podcasts and enjoy reading/discussing philosophy then you may like Partially Examined Life. Below is an episode on Descartes' Meditations (which you've read by now!!)
26th March 202o
The Principles of Newspeak by George Orwell
Read 1984 by George Orwell at least once a year! If not the whole book, then at least the Appendix: The Principles of Newspeak. I reread it last night. Here it is:
26th March 2020, 2200 hrs
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula Le Guin
Reading Ursula Le Guin has been the one of the greatest joy of my life. She has the ability to punch you in the gut with such fierce originality and brutal truth. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas is gut wrenching and through provoking as is all of Le Guin's oeuvre.
"Where do you get your ideas from Ms Le Guin?"
From forgetting Dostoevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?
27th March 2020, 1100hrs
NYT Photo Story: The Great Empty
Deserted city squares and streets. Beautiful photo story on New York Times.
(you will need to create a free account to access this article)
27th March 2020, 1130 hrs
Kapil Komireddi in The Critic Magazine
Ok, the title is a bit strong, almost giving a sense of "one of those conspiracy" articles. But give it a go. It is strong and confrontational. Then we can debate about the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments. You can't learn argumentation and critical thinking detached from real world issues. We have to see how one can use arguments and information to strengthen their POV.
28th March 2020, 1145 hrs
Have you wondered "what is fallibilism?" Or "what is infallibilism?"
So here's a great playlist of all 'isms' and terms of philosophy, which you can skip.
28th March 2020, 1500 hrs
Walking is simultaneously the most mundane and the most extraordinary act a human can do with his or her body. There was a time, few years ago, when I could not get up and put a foot down without experiencing the most excruciating pain. And now that I can walk, I don't nearly do enough of it. All my campuses, Northstar, RKU and now Raga Svara, are made for walking. I hope to do more of it.
When we give ourselves over to the art of walking, we exist in the moment for no reason or purpose other than that of the experience alone, for the appreciation and apprehension of beauty. There is no purpose in this occurrence, only the immeasurable effect it has on our nerves, our body, our being. Woe the society that sees little or no value in this.
Read more here.
1st April 2020, 1530 hrs
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
In these days of solitude, who better than Henry David Thoreau to find some solace in? Perhaps, the greatest proponent of self-sufficiency and living deliberately, Thoreau has been a huge influence on my life. Like many others before and after me, I have been on a pilgrimage to Walden pond in Concord, Massachusetts.
There can't be a more appropriate time than now to read Walden. Being disconnected from the constant chatter of everyday work-life can be disorientating. Thoreau actively "worked" to simplify and reduce.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.
Walden begins with a quote from Emerson's Nature. Quoted below, it is one of the greatest insights of the transcendental movement to reclaim the life that is lived through our own experience and to reject a second hand life.
Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.
Read this article:
Then read Walden here:
4th April 2020, 1430 hrs
Preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault
There are some thinkers who perceive our world in such totality that it makes us feel that we've been blind all along. Michel Foucault was one such thinker of the modern world. His work is hard to access, dense but illuminating. I have to thank Foucault for introducing me the maddening genius of Borges whom he quotes in the preface of The Order of Things. This passage by Borges is, to me, one of the greatest exposition of linguistic genius:
Animals are divided into (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present a classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) etcetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.
A disorder that is more sinister than incongruity. Beautiful. Manic.
And this forms the beginning of Foucault's The Order of Things. And shortly Foucault invokes Eusthenes for more of such phantasmagorical juxtapositions.
Moreover, it is not simply the oddity of unusual Juxtapositions that we are faced with here. We are all familiar with the disconcerting effect of the proximity of extremes, or, quite simply, with the sudden vicinity of things that have no relation to each other; the mere act of enumeration that heaps them all together has a power of enchantment all its own:“I am no longer hungry,” Eusthenes said.“Until the morrow, safe from my saliva all the following shall be: Aspics, Acalephs, Acanthocephalates, Amoebocytes, Ammonites, Axolotis, Amblystomas, Aphislions, Anacondas, Ascarids, Amphisbaenas, Angleworms, Amphipods, Anaerobes, Annelids, Anthozoans…”
I am attaching the preface to The Order of Things. His great project of understanding or revealing the "Episteme" of the age demonstrates the incredible breadth of his thinking.
7th April 2020, 1945 hrs
Poetry - Rumi
April is the National Poetry Month celebrated each year by American Academy of Poets. I am fortunate to have students with whom I get to talk and experience poetry together. As with Philosophy, poetry can be a strong shared experience. I hope to share some poems that I love. Here's the first one:
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion or cultural system.
I am not from the East or the West,
not out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or ethereal,
not composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.
My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.
Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
-Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)
9th April 2020, 2345 hrs
Poetry - Kabir
Another poem. This one is by Kabir. It is easy to underestimate the degree to which he was a contrarian. Like many mystic poets he used the power of the negative incredibly well. Negative is beautiful. I heard once from an old man that “a Sufi worth is salt will not tell you who he is, but will only tell you who he is not”. Here goes the poem:
Pandit, you've got it wrong.
There's no creator or creation there,
no gross or fine, no wind or fire,
no sun, moon, earth or water,
no radiant form, no time there,
no word, no flesh, no faith,
no cause and effect, nor any thought
of the Veda. No Hari or Brahma,
no Shiva or Shakti, no pilgrimage
and no rituals. No mother, father
or guru there. Is it two or one?
Kabir says, if you understand now,
you're guru, I'm disciple.
Kahe Kabir jo abki samujai soi guru hum chela....
I spent many many hours trying to find a book that contained "near-original" (I'll come to why I call it that) poems (or Dohe) in any Devanagari script along with English translations. I did not find a single volume of such a book. The closest I could get was the English translation of Bijak by Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh, who have done a great service by maintaining the original number ordering of Kabir's works of Ramaini, Sabad, Sakhi and others. I then found a Devanagari version of Bijak by Khemraj Shrikrishnadas. I am not sure of the language (perhaps Braj? or some form of Hindustani?). Using these two books I could correlate the translations from Hess and Singh's Bijak with Shrikrishnadas's Devanagri Bijak. I called it "near-original" earlier because Kabir never wrote anything. His audience was entirely composed of listeners and his poems have been sung and recited for centuries. Written translations of his work have appeared in many languages and scripts.
Here is the poem in Devanagari script.
I'll keep updating this post. No fixed timeline. As inspiration strikes. Be safe and take care.