The Observer Effect – guest post

This post too is a guest-post. My good friend’s father sent me two emails in response to my blog on astrology. It too merited an independent status as a post. Hence, I am posting it here.

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Before I talk about the credibility of astrological predictions, I would like to be clear about the existence of a super power behind all the activities in this Universe. Upanishads call this power Brahman which in size is ‘anor Aniyan and mahato Mahiyan'(smaller than the smallest and bigger than biggest) and hence cannot be perceived by our organs. To see an object the wave length of the light we use should be smaller than the object itself. Thus to locate an electron we need to use gamma rays of extremely short wave length to hit it. But, the moment the gamma ray touches it disappears from the field as if hit by an electric loco-engine. Thus, we may only say the electron was probably here and probably could be somewhere else. It is therefore difficult to exactly determine both the position and the momentum of the particle precisely and thus probability enters into physics.

Now take the case of an object bigger than the biggest. No wave can match this size and the object can never be perceived in fullness. In either case we fail to see the true object. This is called the observer effect in quantum physics. To explain the physical phenomena scientists introduced a complex principle of Uncertainty. With all the scientific tools at our hands no physicist can avoid the uncertainties of the outcome of an event with regard to reproducibility in the sub atomic World and the mega Universe. Physicists who are normally agnostics were shocked in the year 1992 when COBE experiments proved the Big Bang theory and, for want of any other explanation, the existence of a super Hand behind creation and the expanding Universe. Some of the agnostics called it Jesus while we call it the Brahman.

Please pardon me for this digression. What all I am trying to do is to show that no event is deterministic and the observer effect plays a huge part in determining the outcome. For want of highly sophisticated tools, intuition, integrity and, due to the lackadaisical approach on the subject by the astrologers, the observer effects are poorly accounted for or acknowledged, leading to misleading conclusions which increases the probability of errors and which the scientists endeavour to minimize in their fields.

[My question: is the ‘observer effect’ the equivalent of harnessing the divine will through free-will actions to mitigate the bad or enhance the good effects of fate or karma?]

You have beautifully shown astrology in modern parlance. I attempt to present the same in a slightly different way.

The genetic hart (positions at birth) can be looked upon as a structural factor, the Dasa-bhukthis as cyclical factors and the transits as the animal spirits. The traditional astrologers differ in fixing the basis of the structural factors. Some astrologers take lagna as the basis, others the position of moon at the birth time and some others the stronger of the two. Then comes the opinion regarding the issue whether the owner of a particular house is strong or the occupier of the house or the sub-lord of the occupier’s constellation, thus creating doubts regarding the structure itself. Coming to the cyclical factors, whether the Dasa lord alone should be considered or in tandem with the Bhukthi lord and their relative positions is a grey area. Transits taking place all the time throw up animal spirits all the time.

Commercial astrologers are too lazy to develop sub divisional charts and study them. At most, they study Navamsa chart and make clumsy predictions despite accurate sub-divisional charts generated by computer software.

Whatever system they follow they should be able to unify all the three factors and use the relevant sub-divisional charts and significant aspects of them to predict the outcome.

Yesterday, a friend (a pious man) expressed his doubts about the gravitational force of attraction between an individual and the distant stars and the planets as, among all forces, gravitational forces are the weakest and the universal gravitational constant has a negligible value. I asked him whether he was fully convinced of the existence of a super power pervading the Universe. He agreed. I told him that this Power remains connected with everything by matter-wave properties with a power that is beyond our comprehension and transmits the forces according to one’s karma and present activities. He (a student of physics) said he found the explanation interesting and he needed to study quantum mechanics, de Broglie waves and sting theory.

In this mail, as a student of science (chemistry but deeply interested in physics and mathematics), I tried to show how human activities could be influenced by planets and stars. Kindly overlook the grammar and syntax errors.

Ashtamangali Prashna – guest post

My good friend Subba Iyer sent me a long response to my blog post on astrology and hence, with his permission, I decided to post it here, instead of putting it under ‘Comments’.

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First, this is a brilliant blog post.

There are a number of things that you have written that I agree with and it resonates with me and quite a few things that I either don’t understand well enough or have a different view based on my limited understanding of life, philosophy and astrology. I studied astrology formally under a Kerala astrologer for 8 months spending close to 12-14 hours a day and hence can claim that I cleared the foundation course 🙂 I also watched the famous Kerala astrologer make predictions for both ordinary and famous people first hand.

First, the astrologers that I consulted (and some were considered the best or famous or both) and I have done that with the traditional Tamil astrologers, the Keralites (who have their own specialisation with the Prashna method), the Varanasi astrologers and a few others all have developed their own “customized models for interpretation”. So, in all between 2002 and 2009, I would have seen about 35 or so astrologers. Except 2 of them, NONE were even reasonably accurate about the 5 questions that I have been asking them since 2002. Only one of them came close to accurate prediction about some of the things that I asked in the time frame and the other got more predictions right but his time frame in each case was way off the mark..!

By 2006, I was pretty disillusioned and went about investigating the truths about astrology and almost came to a similar line of analysis/conclusions that you outlined in the blog post. The analogy that you used about financial statements, medicine (diagnosis) was something that I arrived at myself too. Yet my own maverick/rebellious mind wanted to experience this myself. So in 2007, I ended up doing an Ashtamangali prashna with a reputed Kerala astrologer (more on that separately if you are keen) and then to cut a long story short, decided to stay there and learn astrology myself. I made great progress and based on the feedback that this famous astrologer (under whom I was studying), I would have got an A+. Succumbing to temptation, I risked reading my own chart and since I have an elephantine memory could even go back to events and dates when I was 6-7 years old and now having a powerful software to do the calculations, I spent days poring over the chart. I soon realised that there was an unerring pattern that followed. I could even posit future scenarios though some of the scenarios did not play out. A few did..!

(Surprisingly an astrologer (who had made some accurate predictions) in 2005 had predicted that I would learn astrology in 2006. I dismissed that with some disdain as I was quite disillusioned with that field. Little did I realize that I would end up studying astrology 14 months after his prediction)

My 2nd phase of experimentation began with consulting another 15 astrologers between 2007 and 2009 armed with some knowledge of astrology and knowing the limitations of the so-called science. Again none of them were right with respect to the predictions barring one person and he was again wrong with the timing of the events. I then concluded in my own way that if it is indeed God’s will to know one’s future, one will stumble on the right astrologer who at the right time will give the right prediction. If it is not God’s will, then no amount of expertise at one’s disposal will help know one’s future accurately.

Since 2009, I have come to a similar conclusion that you did, that even if one assumed that there was a conflict between fate and free will, it is difficult to understand both the factors and dynamics governing the conflict comprehensively. It requires a discerning astrologer who has done decades of sadhana to understand and interpret that and again as I said earlier if God wills that one should know the future the discerning astrologer may be of help. So, I concluded that surrendering to God’s will and just do one’s karma is the best way to lead one’s life.

I shall end this with something relating to NaMo. One Tamil astrologer based in Srirangam who is a RSS member told me in 2005 that he had seen NaMo’s chart and LK Advani’s chart. He actually showed NaMo’s chart and told me that he had a great chance to be a national leader. NaMo was reeling under a number of allegations due to 2002 riots and he told me categorically that none of the charges would stick and that he will become a national leader. He had also read the planetary position of India.  Let’s see how this one pans out.

If I still have your attention after the long rambling, let me now focus on where I have a different point of view in a philosophical sense:

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You wrote: “A learned Hindu scholar told us in one of his recent lectures that between karma (actions in the past and in the present) and karta (the doer), there is God. In other words, there is no mechanical transference between past karma and their consequences. God intermediates.”

My view: God doesn’t intermediate. One cannot escape past karma. There is a story in the Mahabharata which best illustrates this: In the epic Mahabharata, when Bhisma Pitamah was about to die, he was lying on the bed of arrows. The whole life series was running in his mind at the time of death. He reminded that since many births he hadn’t committed a single mistake then why he had suffering at the time of death. He requested Lord Krishna to answer his question. Then Lord Krishna with his divine powers took Bhishma Pitamah 100 births back.

In a retrogression journey he found that he was a king 100 births back and committed one sin while he was going to forest for hunting. He found a snake lying in on his way. He tried to save his life and lifted with sword and threw in the bushes. But, the snake lost its life being struck in thorns. Before dying he cursed the king that he too would die like this.

Lord Krishna brought Bhishma Pitamah back to current time frame and further explained that the snake kept following him since last 100 births and this was his last birth so as per law of karma at the time of death he was lying on the bed of arrows just like the snake lied on thorns 100 births back. One cannot escape Karma even after a 100 births!

The other wonderful story why even Lord Krishna cannot escape past karma is again highlighted in the Mahabharata (extracted from Mahabharata):

Days flew by after the coronation of Yudhishtra as the king of Hasthinapur. Krishna went back to Dwaraka, to rule over the beautiful island kingdom. Blessed by the presence of the Goddess of Wealth as Rukmini, the people enjoyed every luxury that life could give. Slowly the curse of Gandhari (Gandhari – Dhritarashtra’s wife cursed Lord Krishna as she held him responsible for the war when he visited her after the war) started taking form.

The Yadavas were in eternal bliss in Dwaraka. So much bliss, that they forgot good conduct, morals and the importance of discipline and humility. So once when some of the SapthaRishis came down to visit Krishna and Balarama, they went beyond the restraints of respect for the maha purushas.

“Let’s test the powers of these so called Thava sreshtas (best of the people in tapas)”, suggested Sambha, the son of Krishna, to his friends. Sambha dressed himself as a woman, and then placed a mace underneath his dress, and led by two other men approached the rishis, the very picture of an expecting mother. “Oh learned men”, one of the yadavas voiced.”My wife here is pregnant. Can you, by the divine powers vested in you, predict the gender of the child to be born?”

The rishis were furious. They saw through the whole hoax immediately. Kanva maharishi immedialty grabbed his kamandala and in the heat of fury sprinkled some water on the three yadavas. “May the very thing that he bears in his stomach be born to him. And that thing will lead to the extinction of the entire Yadava clan”, he cursed. The Yadavas, shocked though they were, were too arrogant to even apologise. They left the scene, laughing off the curse as the speech of one who had lost all his sanity.

Things were however very different the next morning. Sambha developed labour pains and soon delivered a mace from within him. The Yadavas were now struck with fear. They immediately rushed with the mace to Akroora and Ugrasena and in the presence of Krishna himself, they narrated the weird tide of events. Akroora imediately ordered,”Grind the mace to a fine powder and cast it into the seas.” The yadavas nodded and retreated. Akroora cast his gaze at Krishna, his eyes full of questions. Krishna simply smiled back. “The wheels of time are turning Uncle”, he said,”and Sambha has played his part perfectly.” He left without another word, leaving both of them bewildered. “What did he mean by that Akroora?”, asked the old king, Ugrasena.

“I can tell you that, father.” Ugrasena turned around to the source of voice. Rukmini stood by the doorway. Bedecked with jewels, the goddess shined bright.” Thirty six year ago, Krishna prayed to Shiva for a son like him. Does that ring any bell?”, she asked. Akroora was stumped. Ugrasena, however, said very slowly, his eyes bright, “A son like Shiva. A son like the god of destruction. Krishna wanted Sambha to aid in destruction…” And even more slowly, his voice down several levels, he uttered, “Gandhari’s curse. The time for her curse to act has arrived. Krishna himself made sure that her curse would be true. A reward for her devotion in him”, he ended, leaving Akroora agape and Rukmini nodding in agreement.

Outside the palace, the Yadavas had obeyed Akroora’s command to the dot. They had ground the mace finely. Everything was ground except a sharp triangular piece which appeared to be very hard indeed. And then they had thrown the fine powder and the lone piece into the sea. Happy that they had taken care of the matter so easily, they returned back to their general state of intoxication and bliss.

Time rolled by. The triangular piece of the mace was swallowed by a fish. The fish was caught by a hunter, who upon finding the piece in the fish’s entrails immediately used it to craft a fine poisonous arrow. The fine powder, on the other hand, washed back ashore and deposited itself by the beautiful coast of Dwaraka. A certain grass grew in lush abundance in the area where the powder was deposited. Everything was set for the final showdown.

One day, the Yadavas went on a picnic to the beach. They were in their usual high state and the liquor that they drank on the beautiful beach made them to lose their senses totally. In this total state of inebriation, they started teasing one another, bringing up the gory pasts and gruesome mistakes of each other. Satyaki and Krithavarma acted as the starting points for the doom of Dwaraka. Satyaki had fought on the Pandava side in the battle of Kurukshetra  and Krithavarma, on the Kaurava side. They taunted one another, bringing back memories of the ghory war. Satyaki, wished to end it all, and drawing out his sword, jumped on Krithaverma and cut his head off. The friends of Krithavarma, furious with Satyaki, pounced on him and a great brawl followed. Pradyumna, the son of Krishna, innocent though he was, found himself in the thick of the fight and was killed.

Krishna knew that the time had come and very discretely he plucked the grass that grew in abundance by the sea and placed them by the fighting Yadavas. The Yadavas, in their state of ignorance, threw the grass blades at one another.

The curse of Kanva Maharishi started acting and each blade of grass became a mace, smashing into the Yadavas, killing them instantly. It was a matter of moments before the Yadavas lay dead, killed by their own clan members and infront of their very King.

Having seen this total destruction unfold before his very eyes, Krishna then decided that it is time for him to shed his coils too. He entrusted the Yadava women to Arjuna (They were however taken away by hill bandits on their way back to Hastinapur. Arjuna, having become old, had no strength to fight the bandits) and along with Balarama left to the forest. The moment Krishna left Dwaraka, a huge wave splurged up from the oceans and swallowed the beautiful city into its deep depths, where it continues to lie till this very day.

Balarama, vexed with the battles of life, sat down in meditation and very soon the thousand headed serpent, AdiSesha, came out from his mouth and offering its salutations to Krishna, glided towards the sea (Balarama is said to be an incarnation of Adisesha). Seeing the death of his dear brother, Krishna became overwhelmed with grief and sat down besides Balarama, by some bushes.

By the amazing will of fate, the hunter saw the foot of Krishna sticking out from the bushes and assuming it to be a deer shot it down with an arrow. The very arrow made from the lone surviving triangular piece from the mace that was delivered by Sambha. Krishna was killed by the poisoned arrow.

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Hence my view is: If the Lord himself cannot escape karma then how come ordinary mortals? Karma is the universal theory because it doesn’t make any exception — be it Man or God.

Disclaimer: I am still trying to understand Life and philosophy and hence all that I have said above are my tentative conclusions. I stand corrected if I learn something new tomorrow.

What the stars foretell?

Shri NaMo’s horoscope AND his chances of becoming India’s Prime Minister

A good friend had sent me the analysis of the horoscope of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi (NaMo). The analysis has been done by an astrologer cum a big fan of Shri. NaMo. My friend felt that the astrologer has not been able to make a convincing case for Shri. NaMo to become the PM of India, based on his horoscope.

That email triggered some thoughts on astrology, on horoscopes and on the implications for the ‘weak astrological case’ for NaMo to become India’s PM.

I am not an astrologer but was born into a family, which relied on astrology for a living. That is, my mother’s father (my maternal grandfather) was an astrologer and he was a very pious man. So, I have faith in the science of astrology. The problem is that it is not a physical science. The interpretation of what the natal chart means is as much, if not more, art as it is mathematical calculation based.

That is why astrological predictions get the broad trend right but they fall well short on specifics. It is hard to distinguish accurate forecast from chance even in cases where specific predictions are borne out later. That does not discredit astrology nor does it credit astrologers. It is inherent in the science of astrology.

The reasons vary from the practical to the philosophical. The practical reason is that it is hard to know with reasonably high degree of accuracy the birth date and time of the person. That can make a big difference in the casting of the horoscope and the final predictions, especially their timing.

Today, software programmes exist that make it easy to cast the horoscope accurately once the time and place of birth are known with accuracy. Hence, one cannot go wrong.

But, the interpretations of what the planetary positions at the time of birth foretell, in conjunction with where they are placed now are entirely subjective.  It is not uncommon for astrologers to disagree. Again, that does not discredit either astrology or the astrologers. It happens in many other areas where human interpretation (and the inevitable judgement that is part of it) is involved.

Presented with the same financial statements, different analysts can reach entirely different conclusions about the underlying health of the company. They need to take into account information on the health of the competitors, on the personality of the CEOs, their experience, history, the company’s values, integrity, its attitude to consumers. The final assessment would thus rest on quantitative, quantifiable and qualitative factors.

The analogy with doctors, patients and diagnosis is closer.  A given set of symptoms can flag a wide range of possible underlying ailments and diseases. To zero in on the ailment that his patient is possibly suffering from, a skilled doctor has to rely as much on his judgement as he does on his theoretical knowledge. His judgement would have to factor in, but not limited to, the patient’s overall health, his appearance, his face, his eyes, his nails, his eating habits, his physical activity, patient’s history of illnesses and health and finally the doctor’s intuition.

The situation is similar with a horoscope. For certain configurations and the current positions of the planet, a wide range of predictions may be possible or even plausible. However, which one is more likely to occur in the case of the person whose horoscope is being examined is a matter of judgement. It would involve studying the subject’s horoscope, that of his parents, his children’s horoscope, the past experience of the subject during previous phases (how far they conformed (or, not) to what theory would predict, etc.

The intuition of an astrologer is to be honed through sadhana. It does not come easily. It takes years. It is not easy in the world of astrology or jyotisha as commerce. To a degree, commercialisation is inevitable and it may not often signal greed and avarice. One has to make a living. But, it is a fact that it detracts from prediction accuracy.

The sheer fact that astrologers are mortals on this earth implies that there is a natural, inherent limitation as to how much, how far and how reliably they can predict. This observation by Shri.M, made in a different context is apt:

The Avadhoot Gita – it’s a beautiful book and very interesting. The Avadhoot Dattatreya had twenty four teachers in his life and one of them was the honey–bee. The Avadhoot says ‘I learnt the lesson from the honey–bee – collecting and keeping something for a rainy day; and also how it goes from flower to flower, sucks the honey and gathers it all together’ – which means there is nobody on this earth who knows everything. As long as you have a physical body, there is nobody who knows everything. So we need to learn. At any time, one should be prepared to learn. And for learning – especially deep things like the Upanishads – one needs to have the humility to think that, ‘perhaps I am learning something new – let me listen and learn’. If I say ‘I know’ then I cannot learn; and in this field sometimes, all that we have studied also might act as an obstacle.

From my personal experience, I can cite several examples where astrological predictions were closer to the mark or were off-target. When I contemplated starting my own hedge fund in 2004, a well-known astrologer warned me not to do so. He was proven right. I closed down the Fund within eighteen months of my starting it. However, during the same phase, another astrologer was almost certain that the period would also entail health problems for me. My health held up well during that phase.

Fast forward, the period from late 2009 to early 2013 was tipped to be a difficult period for me – more at the level of the mind than through physical or real setbacks. It was broadly right. There was at least one big health alarm which turned out to be false eventually. Otherwise, I would not be around to write this blog post. However, during that phase, one astrologer said that I would not give up on my corporate career and that the stress I was expected to face during that period would arise from that. In reality, I gave up my corporate job in mid-2011. Another astrologer had, however, said that the phase I was going through entailed that. So, it was no surprise for him!

Then, in 2010, as we purchased an independent house in Singapore and were planning to move in, one astrologer felt that the period entailed serious health risk for my father with the inevitable fate that befalls all human beings being one of the possibilities. My father was already past 80. But, in the end, he was fine and the planned purchase and move went through smoothly.

Actually, the astrologer, who said that the phase I was going through entailed the loss of a job, gave a good analogy to describe the usefulness of astrology and of consulting astrologers. I had asked him about the role of karma (acts of omission and commission) or vasanas from previous births influencing one’s fortunes and outcomes in this birth. My subtext was that since karma was deemed the sole determining factor, what was there to be gained from consulting charts and astrologers?

He responded well. He said that if one’s karma was like the darkness of the night on the road (you cannot help it), astrological consultation could be like a lamp that helps to light up the path to enable you to walk through the darkness better.  I think his analogy is right. It could light up a part of it and there would still be darkness – hiding dangers or opportunities (both are possible). Further, even if it lights up the path, it might not help us avoid all dangers – the smallest nail or thorn might still prick us. There are no guarantees with astrology. Of course, neither astrology nor its practitioners of yore ever spoke in those terms.

Since the planetary positions at the time of one’s birth are something that cannot be changed, it is often felt that one’s future is pre-determined at the time of birth. We will not delve too much into the philosophical aspects of this eternal question. But, a philosophical detour is inevitable. Before that, a modern analogy is in order.

In modern parlance, the horoscope is equivalent to inheriting a balance sheet. A balance sheet is a snapshot of one’s assets and liabilities – consequences of past performance of the firm. The same is the case with a horoscope. It is a snapshot of past karma.

But, once someone inherits a balance sheet, his actions of commission and omission are like the annual income statements. It is true that the balance sheet influences the evolution of the income statement in the years ahead but it is also true that the income statement can change the composition of the balance sheet.

How does one make the evolution of the income statement influence the balance sheet for the better? This is where freewill comes into play. Not in the way one might guess, of course, because there is no free will, in the highest state of human evolution. We are getting ahead of ourselves.

A learned Hindu scholar told us in one of his recent lectures that between karma (actions in the past and in the present) and karta (the doer), there is God. In other words, there is no mechanical transference between past karma and their consequences. God intermediates.

Let us look at a more practical illustration. Just as past crimes might land someone in a jail but subsequent exemplary behaviour can get the sentence commuted, the consequences of karma can be mitigated by good behaviour. In fact, in a conversation with a seeker, the Sankaracharya of Sringeri has said that if YOUR past actions determined your present fate, then YOUR actions today can help to enhance their good effects or attenuate their bad consequences. Of course, as I wrote before, highly evolved souls do not think that free will exists at all.

What is that good behaviour that can mitigate the punishment for the past bad behaviour (bad karma) and how does it square with this notion of ‘no freewill’?

If, in the present birth, one acted with the total and ever-present realisation that one is but an instrument of God and performs one’s duties and actions in that spirit, then the imaginary conflict between fate and free-will disappears. There is neither fate nor free will. There is only divine will. Where the ego disappears, there is only divinity left. Once such a ‘divine will’ confronts fate, there is no scope for fate to exist or play out. The horoscope becomes meaningless.

Therefore, in the final analysis, it does not matter whether Shri.Narendra Modi’s horoscope foretells if he would become the Prime Minister of India. If he is performing his duties in the spirit of being an instrument of god, then his horoscope cannot stop him from being the Prime Minister of India, if god has chosen him to play that role.

On the other hand, if he does not carry the spirit of surrender, then his horoscope may come into play. Or, more pertinently, it may well be India’s fate (or its bad horoscope) if he did not get to become India’s Prime Minister for the other choices available to India do not bode well for the country.

In the final analysis, predicting his chances of becoming the Prime Minister of India based on his horoscope does not leave us any wiser about his chances or that of India’s.

(The link given at the beginning is from the article written by Shri. Utpal Pathak in December 2012. He has posted a few more analyses of Shri. Narendra Modi’s chart subsequently.  You can find them here. He appears to have become more confident of Mr. Modi becoming the PM, based on a reading of his birth chart juxtaposed with actual developments in 2013 )