About those patterns on your palms

The lines on one’s palms are a result of the hand needing to fold in order to grasp and grab things. Any utility more than that, especially supernatural ones which claim to reveal fate, seem to be the result of the human tendency to seek and find meaning even when it is not there.

We are pattern-finding animals. We have evolved to see meaning everywhere. We saw animal shapes in the stars and that’s where constellations came from. In reality, one combination of stars is no different from another one. It is we who assign meanings to them.

The same goes for the lines on our hands. Because many human beings through history have worked under the assumption that there is a higher purpose behind our existence, ways and customs have always existed that claim to offer insights into this higher purpose.

Palmistry is one such claim. Specifically, it is the claim that information about an individual’s past, present, and future is coded into the lines of their palm and that this information can be read by those who have the training. This art can also be learnt, if one is to believe any one of the many palmistry websites on the web.

People who believe that there is genuine meaning in palm reading either fool themselves and rationalise to make reality fit the readings, or they fail to compare the results to the outcome of complete random chance.

It won’t take much investigation to find a young corpse with a long life line or a homeless man whose palm reading says he is a king. But we generally discard such anomalies by applying layer upon layer of sophistication to the so-called art of palm reading.

Palmistry and its cousins (face-reading for example) feed on the human need to believe that we hold some special position in the universe. The urge to do so is understandable. What are we without meaning? But it is always useful to make a clear distinction between that which is known and that which is not. The human imagination is a powerful weapon. We should use it, not get used by it. If we let it, our imagination will show us our own reflection everywhere.

Don’t believe me? Look at the image below. You cannot not see a face in it. That’s how powerful your imagination is. That’s how strong the urge to find meaning is.

What is truth? The Part proved objectively or the Whole experienced subjectively?

If you have never seen an apple, then you won’t be able to tell if I am holding an apple in my hand or not. You will have to rely on what I say. You will also have to decide whether or not I am worth trusting on this matter of apples.

In order to actually know the truth, you will have to go learn the nature of an apple from multiple other sources which have nothing to do with me. Only then will you be able to determine these two things:

  1. That apples exist.
  2. That I do indeed have an apple.

The apple in this example represents the whole — a complete understanding of all there is. We don’t have an understanding of it. All we have is a kind of projection that says there must exist some kind of completely understandable reality. The belief that reality can be understood completely.

We also have claims about this projection. People who say they know the whole and methods which are presented as being the solution. Unfortunately, these are all subjective. Like my claim about the apple, you can’t verify them because you lack a frame of reference. You have to take these people’s word for it. Maybe you will do so. Or maybe you will not and you will test their subjective methods and come to some conclusions.

But you will not have any way to compare your conclusions with theirs, or to even know if what you experienced was the ultimate truth — the whole. Maybe it’s not the whole. Maybe it’s just a larger part of the whole than you previously knew. Maybe it is nothing more than things happening in the prison of your own subjectivity.

Subjective knowledge of the whole therefore, is a free-for-all freestyle wrestling match. Anyone can make any claim and it will all boil down to whether or not people trust them.

The best we can do is to try and understand the part objectively. What we find out will not be the absolute truth because perhaps there is no such thing. But it will be a part of the whole truth and that’s not so bad.

So in a conflict where subjective understanding of a whole (for which we have no frame of reference) battles against objective understanding of a part, it will be smart to choose the latter. We can always make time for both however. Who said that was not an option?

The tragedy of the Indian education system

The tragedy of the Indian education system can be summed up in three words "mark fetching subjects".

Literature is not mark-fetching, mathematics is. Sociology is not mark-fetching, economics is.

It does not occur to the purveyors of this system that if one is not good at a subject, it will not "fetch" him marks, not unless he twists himself into becoming something he is not. We seem to be functioning under the impression that academic performance is something that can exist in the absence of the person who is performing. For all practical purposes, the student -- the individual performing -- is not part of the equation that powers our school system.

The pursuit of "marks" of course is the pursuit of social standing and, on a more basic level, the pursuit of stability. It is an insurance against poverty and dishonour in a society where everyone is wearing a mask designed to make them look like their neighbour. How respectable a middle-class family is in their society is, among other things, directly proportional to how well their son performs in school and college.

If you get marks, you get a certificate. If you have a certificate, you get a job. If you have a job, people line up to have their homely daughters marry you. Then, right on schedule, you get a car, a flat, have children, and die a satisfied old man who did all that was expected of him.

India is considered "spiritual" as opposed to the material West. But in many ways, we are a vastly more materialistic culture. Our concerns stem, not from a quest for meaning, but from a need for material pleasures so great, we throw our children into the machine that powers it.