Sunday, December 11, 2011

Zooming out in the Total Perspective Vortex

Having lived inside a college campus with free wifi for over two years and also paying AT&T to be connected on the move, I seem to have lost some perspective. In my last week’s ‘train journey’ update I mentioned that I would be making one mid week update and at least two posts per week thereafter. Instant connectivity for the last couple of years seems to have spoilt me. I forgot that while on international roaming and with no other phone to bank on, it wouldn’t be straight forward to access the internet. As a result, though I have plenty of stories to tell and have already typed out many of them, I’ll be uploading them only whenever possible.

Still, when I do, I’ll be pre-dating the posts. Forgive me for this idiosyncrasy. Even the thought of not doing so irks my obsessive-compulsive tendencies :) . The two pre-dated posts can be found here and here.

Now, speaking of perspective, it is great to have regained some. Standing inside Mookambika temple “praying”*, my first thought was that of the Total Perspective Vortex mentioned in “The Restaurant at The End of The Universe”, the second book in the Hitchhiker series. I was standing there, eyes closed, zooming out of earth, then the solar system, then the Milky way and so on. I was lost in a sea of quickly receding stars fast replaced by new ones. I was stuck staring at an infinity of infinities, finally regaining a sense of proportion. In spite of how much I would like to believe and dream of making a difference in this world the simple truth remains that “I am but a tiny dot in this infinite universe”. I am no Zaphod Beeblebrox, after all.

Image courtesy Google.
* First, let me clarify. I am not really religious in the conventional sense. I don’t usually go to temples but I am known to pray. Pray what and to whom? I guess, the fact that I was thinking of the Total Perspective Vortex kind of explains it. I just have this habit of getting stuck in these philosophical dabbles within while at a place of worship or even while simply staring at a blank wall at home. Truth is, I do not believe in a physical entity called God. Instead I am amazed by the universe’s mystical unknown which one must strive to unlock through knowledge. In that respect you may call me a pantheist, an atheist or a Hindu.

Now, is this sense of proportion a good thing? Douglas Adams doesn’t think so. here’s an excerpt from the book where he talks about it.

“The Total Perspective Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses.

To explain - since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole world of creation - every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.

The man who invented the Total Perspective Vortex did so basically in order to annoy his wife. Trin Tragulla - that was his name - was a dreamer, thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.

And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake. ‘Have some sense of proportion!’ she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day. And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex - just to show her.

And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragulla’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.”

Douglas Adams employed the Vortex as a tool for dishing out punishments. But, I disagree. Perspective is a good thing, rather an important one for a civilization to survive. Take this story surrounding Mookambika temple, for instance.

In ancient times Kolapura was a place where renowned sages used to meditate. A demon king named Mahishasura came across this enchanting place and made it his capital. He got Maya, the architect of demons to construct a beautiful city here. Invincible as he was, Mahishasura conquered three worlds and started tormenting the Gods and the sages. Then the sages and Lord Indra (the king of Gods invoked in the Vedas) requested the Trinity (thrimurthi - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) for help. The Trinity invoked goddess Adiparashakthi to destroy Mahishasura. All gods including the Trinity merged their divine potency in Devi. Thus Devi became an entity exemplifying all forms of divine powers. In the fierce battle that ensued Adiparashakthi (also known as Mookambika) killed Mahishasura.

Good overpowering evil. Image courtesy Google.
There are many such stories in Hindu scriptures where Gods battle and vanquish Demons. The Gods and Demons are more or less a symbolic representation of the internal philosophical battle between goodness and evil or lightness and darkness. It is the great inner strength that is invoked by each one of us to do good (by the prevalent moral standards) that is symbolized as the divine potency of the Gods.

Or, take the story of Kerala’s creation. Legend goes that Parasurama, a warrior sage, threw his battle axe into the sea, as a result of which the land mass, that is now Kerala, arose from the sea. The axe here could very symbolize the battles raged to gain control over the land.

The point I am trying to make is that all these stories are not meant to be taken literally.  They are in some cases symbolisms hinting at a deeper philosophy and in other cases, history embellished with legends/myths which are remembered for eons. When people blindly follow their forefathers without listening to these stories with the right perspective, stop thinking for themselves and do not try to improve the selves by connecting these symbolisms and then thinking further, that’s when culture stagnates and societies crumble.

For advancing a civilization, egos have to be buried and questions have to be asked of the self and its relation to the outside world. Looking at it this way, it is no surprise, that in spite of all its riches, the Indian subcontinent regressed culturally and got subdued by colonial forces a few centuries ago. Do we have the conviction to do that? Let’s see where we, as a country, stand in 10-15 years time.



  1. Is it me or did I read your previous post five mins ago, where you said you will post this post a week later?

    In 10 years time, we will be back to our former glory :)

  2. ^ The posts were uploaded a few weeks back. Didn't get time to update my indiblogger page till today. Over the last couple of weeks, it's been like I have travelled to the end of the universe and back. Have never moved around so much in so little time :)