The Loom of Time shows how reality is generated in a recursive fashion and uses this insight to illuminate many puzzles of history and culture. Recursion is at basis of mimicry in nature and germination and development of biological organisms; it also provides structure to mental images of physical systems and human behavior. It helps us make sense of the repeating patterns across cultures and nations, understand the manner in which technology is impacting society, and see the reasons behind the crises of the contemporary world.
The topics covered in this book include philosophical bases of recursion, cosmologies old and new, religion and modernity, globalization and bureau-cratic control, loss of meaning and freedom, spirituality, narcissism leading to despair, and limits of medicine. It deals with problems of employment and questions of meaning of life when robots and other machines become more numerous than humans. The book straddles history and science, aesthetics and religion, and politics and power, by juxtaposing material in ways that provide surprising new insights.
Subhash Kak is Regents Professor at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater and Professor of Computing at Curtin University, Perth. Apart from research in computer science and quantum information, he has written on history of Indian science, yoga and art. His twenty published books include Mind and Self, The Astronomical Code of the Rgveda, The Wishing Tree, The Nature of Physical Reality, and The Prajna Sutras. He has also authored several books of verse, and the distinguished Indian scholar Govind Candra Pande compared his poetry to that of William Wordsworth. He, was editor for India for UNESCO's ICOMOS project on archaeoastronomy during the International Year of Astonomy 2009.
We Live at a time when the foundations on which our social and knowledge systems based are under attack. After the collapse of the Soviet Union more than twenty-five years ago, the general acceptance across the world of neoliberal, market-driven economic policies has increased disparity between the rich and the poor. The emergence of new automation technologies is making it possible to replace workers by robots and artificial intelligence devices. What will happen to social fabric as fewer and fewer people are needed to work in farms and factories? In this period of uncertainty, with much fear about the future, an increasing number of people in the industrialized West are choosing to have no children.
Many European countries are bankrupt due to their generous social contracts which, in turn, act as a powerful magnet to migrants from poor countries. We are also in the midst of a war between orthodox Islam and the West that is playing out in many different forms, which includes the use of random terror.
Many of the ideas at the forefront of the neoliberal transformation are forged in the think tanks and universities in America. But if the neoliberal paradise is another name for Pax Americana, one should not forget that America's religion-like commitment to free markets has made it helpless against imports from low-wage countries.
There is also chafing at the thought control exercised by the elite in the name of political correctness. Certain obviously wrong things can no longer be criticized or even mentioned. One is reminded of George Orwell who said: "In a time of universal deceit-telling the truth is a revolutionary act".
As control of information has become crucial in modern business and politics, the media has increasingly allied itself with powerful political and corporate groups. Those who find this situation unacceptable are increasingly turning to the alternate media. According to critics, the mainstream media is seeing the fast-changing society through the metaphorical rear-view mirror.
This problem has even entered the scientific field. Dr Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the world's most respected medical journal, The Lancet, recently spoke of the rot that has set in the field of medicine due to the power of the pharma companies. He said:
Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.
In the past, a drug had to be approved for a specific use by the United States' FDA (U .S. Food and Drug Administration). But that standard has been abandoned due to the widespread adoption of off-label use of drugs. What it means is that if a drug has been approved for some medical condition, it can then be used for any other medical condition by doctors on anecdotal accounts alone, even if there is no sound clinical support for such use.
In order to forestall the withdrawal of prescription drugs that fail even the originally approved therapeutic use, the drug companies have now hit upon a winning scheme: hold on to approval for some limited use and let the doctors use the drug as off-label for a variety of other unproven situations. Glossy brochures on specific drugs provide testimonials from a few patients quite the testimonials that astrologers present to their clients.
The media with its beautiful anchors is literally Echo, the lovely nymph of Greek mythology who was found of talking and loved to have the word. But once when she cleverly detained a goddess with her talk, she was cursed to be unable to speak first, although she would still be able to respond.
In the Greek myth, Echo fell in love with the handsome Narcissus, who was climbing in the mountains. Echo, following his footsteps, longed to speak to him. But she did not have the power to start a conversation. Her repetition repelled him, and at last, dejected, she shrank away and died and her bones turned into rock and there is nothing left of her but her voice which comes back as an echo. This parallels the state of the mainstream media for, having lost its agency, it has merely become the echo of the establishment.
Meanwhile, Narcissus stoops to drink in a pool, sees his own image in the water, and falls in love with it. He wishes to embrace the image, but it scatters at the touch, returning again after a moment and renewing the fascination. Consumed by this passion for himself, he loses his vigor and beauty which formerly had so charmed Echo. At last he pines away and dies; and his body is nowhere to be found and in its place appears a flower which bears the name.
America is the city to the world. History's most powerful empire, its institutions work in various ways to further that power. The interests of the American and the international elite have now much commonality. Indeed the elite are now transnational, owning property in far corners of the world. The dual to the hard power of the military of the United States is the soft power of Hollywood that spins charming images that transfix the world. The illusory world of the movies projects the cult of youth and a Narcissus-like love of oneself, of which the movie and TV stars and models are the priests and priestesses.
The neoliberal dispensation objectifies people and so does the medical system. One can expect that there will be reaction to this system which is evidenced by people who are opting out for in their view the doctor is "curing the headache but killing the patient". In this quantified world, only things that can be measured exist.
Some people are lashing out against such objectification by rejecting reason, turning against inoculation, and joining cults or religions that wish to destroy modern society.
Our theories of physics are also facing a crisis, for they appear to be based on only the 5 percent of the observable world. It is estimated that 95 percent of the physical world is unobservable dark matter and dark energy. Physics is also unable to explain the emergence of conscious observers in a world of inanimate objects.
The following pages address many of these questions. We propose that the loom of time generates reality in a recursive fashion, and show how this throws fresh light on old puzzles. Recursion is the basis of mental images not only of physical systems but also of behavior. It helps us make sense of the repeating patterns across cultures and nations and understand the reasons behind the crises of the contemporary world.
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