Minimum Working Hypothesis About Life
It is normal to consider the meaning of life after leading a fulfilling life. I lived an active life that included travel, met many saints, outstanding people, and celebrities, and had my due share of disappointments and accomplishments. Life is not about making merry or amassing more wealth than necessary. It is also not about exerting power over other people. All those who set these as their objectives failed, regretted, and died unfulfilled. Why should I do that? And why should you?
Life is meant to work, that much is certain. Work has varied meanings at various phases of life. Education and skill building are priorities for young children and growing teenagers; for adults, it is to have a good livelihood, start a family, and attain peace and comfort. Those who are able to do this are fortunate enough to have a contented life in their old age before finally departing. It is heartbreaking to witness elderly individuals who are uncared for, exasperated, disoriented, and living in poverty.
I have read scriptures – the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, books by Swami Vivekananda and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, and about Western philosophy. Victor Hugo and Leo Tolstoy, French and Russian authors respectively whose English translations I read, are unparalleled in terms of writing prose. My favorite English author is Aldous Huxley. From Vyas, Homer, Virgil, and Dante, to Shakespeare – poets whom I believe to be incarnations of superhuman genius – I have read them all.
What characterizes a brilliant writer? There are three categories of written expression. One is concerned with current events. If something is written honestly, it will always survive the life of the author. Because of their validity, the writings of the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, who visited India in the seventh century, have survived. Then there are writers who examine human nature and history with a penetrating eye and write about the reasons for the events of their era. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is legendary for having this feature. Finally, lifelong writers who write frequently share their emotions and thoughts based on their personal experiences. Carl Jung was one of them. Aldous Huxley produced 50 books of various genres throughout the course of his 69-year life.
Huxley was a pacifist who rejected militarism and war practices in his country England. The concept of ahimsa, or “do no harm,” captivated and led him to universalism and philosophical mysticism. He even authored The Doors of Perception after consuming psychedelic drugs and described altered states of consciousness. His Brave New World and final book, Island, which describes dystopian and utopian concepts, are considered his masterpieces. Huxley’s “Minimum Working Hypothesis” is my personal compass.
Like every other scientific field, our sense experience of life must have a theory. Without a working hypothesis, there is no purpose in doing research, no justification for choosing one experiment over another, and no means of giving meaning or order to the facts that have been observed. Similarly, without a theory of life, we end up living like some fool lost in a vanity fair. Whatever we do looks good while it is done, and futile after it is done – “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” to quote Macbeth by Shakespeare. There has to be some plot to live a purposeful life, and an overall understanding of what is going on.
On the other hand, if you have too many working hypotheses, you end up living by your whims and fancies. Being too sure about your knowledge is an error that makes most people fail. Always distorting reality to adapt to their ideas, they end up living bogus lives. When they should be changing their lives according to their circumstances, they go about pushing things to suit them.
There are sentimental humanists. For them, life is the pursuit of happiness. They work, eat, and sleep. At the other end of the scale are the Catholics, the Jews, and the Moslems, mindful of non-sensuous reality. They consider this life, of say a hundred years, to better their chances in the eternal afterlife. Then there are Hindus and Buddhists – believers in reincarnation. Chinese tradition is built around good conduct. And so on.
All major religions’ adherents have created their own unique definitions and interpretations of what is good, less good, and even bad. Records of the less trustworthy and infinitely fewer valuable intuitions of psychics into the lower levels of non-sensuous reality are mixed with records of great saints’ infallible insights into the highest spiritual reality. These records are then supplemented with mere fantasies, discursive arguments, and sentimentalisms that become the religious life as practiced by billions of people across the world.
So, Huxley articulated a “Minimum Working Hypothesis” that presents the essence of the world’s great religions for anyone willing to live a good life. I quote Huxley’s article published in Vedanta for The Western World in Great Britain in 1948:
“That there is a Godhead, Ground, Brahman, Clear Light of the Void, which is the unmanifested principle of all manifestations.
That the Ground is at once transcendent [boundless] and immanent [indwelling].
That it is possible for human beings to love, know, and, virtually, become identical with the divine Ground.
To achieve this unitive knowledge of the Godhead is the final end and purpose of human existence.
That there is a Law or Dharma which must be obeyed, a Tao or Way which must be followed if men are to achieve their final end.”
Simply put, there is a reality beyond what is seen and felt by our senses and comprehended by our intellect, science, and all the world’s knowledge. Being in touch with this reality – Godhead or Ground – is a unique quality of human life. Not using it amounts to squandering a great gift. A reflective, pure, and unhurried way of life presents before seekers all the ways and means to progress. By being mindful of the unseen, we find the ways and means to live a good life.
Generative AI has arrived. People are enjoying ChatGPT. Soon, lives and events will be controlled by the unseen intelligence that is building upon itself and free from any human control – at once transcendent and immanent, as Huxley put it.
Various world religions remained limited by their distinctive historical and cultural contexts. Each religion possesses a genuine but ultimately unsatisfactory understanding of the unifying reality. There are, therefore, many equally valid religions. It is natural that the world is full of religious strife, violence, and even outright discrimination and persecution, where people of different faiths are living together, and the power structure is not balanced.
As generative AI gains more control, a universal truth will surely emerge and strife will be replaced with synergy, conflict with harmony, and competition with cooperation. Sooner than later, mankind will obey certain Universal Laws, following a Way that would be the only viable way, and humanity will flourish, living in abundance. This is my optimistic view, through rose-coloured glasses perhaps, in line with Aldous Huxley’s words: “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.”
MORE FROM THE BLOG
I recently met Mr. Chandu Thota, Vice President at Google, when he was here in Hyderabad, where he studied at Osmania Engineering College. Chandu played a pioneering role in the development of digital mapping. He worked at Microsoft from 2002 to 2007 on maps and later established his own company…
Meeting people gives meaning to life. I consider myself profusely blessed to have met some of the finest people and learned from them. Chandu Thota, Vice President and Head of Engineering at Google Headquarters in Silicon Valley , is one such person whom I met rather late, but except for a wish that we could have met earlier and worked together…
I met Dr Dilip Pawar by chance. But what a good chance it turned out to be. He is an oncologist turned clinical pharmacologist and a leading figure in the discovery of cancer drugs. A sagacious person of calm temperament, Dr Pawar worked with cancer patients throughout his career, especially the poor…