The fallacy of “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”

We love flowers. We use flowers in our romance, we gift bouquets to our friends on special occasions. Flowers let us share happiness and good wishes with many, thanks to their beauty. We love watching beautiful waterfalls. We get excited, as if we were children, when there is a beautiful rainbow in the sky. We adore iconic beautiful actresses. From Marilyn Monroe to Ingrid Bergman, from Nutan to Madhubala, they hold us spellbound with their hypnotic beauty.tumblr_m5koufOOSu1qkmctto1_500

Does the flower know it is beautiful? Is every drop in those waterfalls aware that is is contributing, in its own way, to the beauty of grandeur? Does a rainbow even know about its constituent refracted colors in the human visible spectrum? Would these actresses have realized their own beauty if there were no glass mirrors or if there was no audience publicity mirror?

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is a mainstream phrase in communication. It is frequently used to denote subjectivity in beauty. What I might find disgusting, you may find beautiful, is the subjectivity substantiated and rationalized with this oft-used phrase.

What is missing from this obsessive focus on subjective interpretation of beauty is the inherent manifestation of beauty in the object or in the cognition of its creator. Did the Mona Lisa know how many centuries she would continue to mystify art lovers?

Did Da Vinci know that his painting would continue to mystify art lovers for centuries? Did Michelangelo know that the objects of art he was creating would be revered forever? Are the subjective opinions of Van Gogh’s works during his lifetime a definitive assertion of their lack of beauty? Were these works ugly when created and only gain beauty later when beholders’ eyes started perceiving their beauty? Or were they inherently, intrinsically beautiful when created, though no beholders’ eyes saw the beauty?

Does the audience’s response during the first performance of The Rite of Spring determine its beauty? Did Galileo’s telescope lack beauty because those who beheld it in his lifetime had a different conception of beauty and lacked his vision of looking towards the heavens? (To those who still do, he has an everlasting response). Are those of us who think it was beautiful delusional as we have never even laid eyes on his telescope and thus do not have a right to a beholders’ opinion?

Is beauty really subjective if you consider the question over hundreds of years? Do we think our Instagram photos are going to be considered “beautiful” by human generations in 2050, or 2200, irrespective of the “Likes” we get in 2014? At the same time, do we think the 2050 generation is not going to look at any photographs taken in 2014 and consider them beautiful?

It is easier for us to appreciate art inspired by natural beauty than one based on pure human imagination. From landscape paintings to origami craft, from Beethoven’s Pastorale to national anthems, we easily perceive their beauty, but find abstract imaginative art challenging to appreciate. Why?

Because we can associate and relate to the beauty of a natural-inspired work with our own experiences of that object’s inherent beauty – whether it is a landscape, a beautiful bird, the countryside, or our patriotic emotions. Appreciation of beauty derives through association and relation. If one is able to associate with or relate to the object, one is able to appreciate the beauty of the object. Does this mean the beauty of the object lies completely in the eyes of the beholder or is there intrinsic beauty in the object itself?

Yet, after centuries of human existence, we continue to employ and focus on the phrase “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Does it, really? By definition, beholding means to observe, to gaze upon.

Beholding does not, by definition, involve comprehension, relation, or association of any kind.

Why have we not progressed towards the acceptance of the fact that beauty can lie inherent within the object that is being observed and that it is only via its interpretations through art that we come to realize its beauty?

The concept of the “eye of the beholder” is a subjective detriment, an obstacle, to the classical concept of beauty, which seems to hold true over time. Those who live by that phrase, those who profit from it, and those who accept it, either have an agenda or are being very short-sighted about beauty.

Beauty lies in the object itself, artists help us discern it. The “eye of the beholder” concept is a crutch invented by us ordinary humans who fail to perceive the innate beauty in the object itself.

The beholder is usually blind, the artist is the one who sees the beauty. The beauty exists, whether there is an artist who sees it or a beholder who is blind to it.

Posted in Arts | Tagged | 4 Comments

The Wheels of Friendship

When I reached high school, my curiosity led me to wonder, how do a train’s wheels, which are on a fixed axle, negotiate a curve?

If a pair of wheels negotiate a curve, the outer wheel has to travel a greater distance than the inner wheel. How can this happen when both wheels are on a fixed axle? It was a few years later that I found the answer.


The wheels of a train are not flat, they are cone-shaped.


When negotiating a curve, the centrifugal force of the train moving along the curve results in the outer wheel rotating with a larger diameter while the inner wheel rotates with a smaller one.

(A big thanks and gratitude to Danijel for these simple, illustrative figures. And in those years and several years hence, I often wonder how others, even adults, don’t have the same questions I had as a kid).

A friendship is quite akin to a pair of wheels. It is in harmony when both the wheels turn with the same rhythm, both travel the same journey, towards the same destination.

What happens with friendships that are on a curve, when one wheel feels the need to travel to a different destination? Is the other flexible enough to be cone-shaped to accommodate?

Most people who drive a car never wonder about how this difference in the distance wheels travel on a turn is achieved via the engineering genius of the differential gear.


The differential gear enables one wheel to travel a greater distance than the other, thus allowing us to make turns with our four-wheelers. I have always regarded it as a marvel of human ingenuity.

If and when a friend takes a different turn, our wheel needs to be greased enough with a differential gear to accommodate the others’ turn.

Friendships on a fixed axle don’t last long.

Ones with differential gear in their core can.

Individual wheels are lives that have their own destination. If one wants to carry the other wheel along with its journey towards one’s destination, one needs one’s friend to have a differential gear. If one is willing to travel the journey our friend wishes to reach his destination, one needs a differential gear within oneself.

Instead, the way we usually treat friendships is as if they were on a fixed axle. The other person is neither cone-shaped, nor do we accommodate a differential gear. The end result is friction.

The best, and only way, to avoid friction in our friendships, is by employing the differential gear.

Posted in philosophy, Science, technology | Tagged , | Comments Off on The Wheels of Friendship

The Science of Curiosity

When I was a small kid, I had hundreds of questions about everything. What they taught us in school was completely distanced from my curiosity in observing the world around me.

Why are these people defecating in the bushes? Nobody in school taught me about poverty. Who are these weird looking males dressed up like women who clap their hands and ask for money? Nobody in school taught me about eunuchs. Do railway tracks that we see going off towards the far distance ever meet at the horizon? How do ships know the direction in which to travel if all they see around them is just miles of ocean? Why is this guy on TV banging his mouth on her and why are they sucking each others lips? And so on.

Nothing they taught us in school had anything to do with the questions I had as a kid.

All children, even today, face this disparity between what they are taught in school, and what they observe in real life to which they don’t find any answers.

Over time, I gained the childhood wisdom of which questions to ask, and which questions are better stored in my mind in a safe place, a vault, to be explored for answers by myself later. As the years passed, my curiosity and my ability to seek answers were always in a desperate race in which curiosity always won. Curiosity is innate and uncontrollable; a child’s ability to get answers depends on external factors such as exposure, behavior of parents, elders willing to teach you, access to information, etc. There was no Google or Wikipedia in those days.

The more questions I had, the less answers I found.

Our formalized education system expects parents to fill that gap, while parents don’t even have a rudimentary understanding that there is a gap.

The complexity of the questions increased as I grew up. I also grew to understand that if I wanted answers, I had to find them myself, and thus, find resources that would fulfill my innate need to find answers to satisfy my curiosity.

What I suspect happens to most kids is that they learn to bury their curiosity. This is one of the greatest evil perpetrated by us human beings on our children.

I was in search of my own God, not the one people go to temples and churches to worship with blind faith, but one who will satisfy my curiosity with complete reason and knowledge of the highest order.

The lesson I learned, and it was a very hard lesson, is that there is no such God.

It was several years later that I understood that the God I was seeking is what is a human endeavor called Science.

Science is curiosity in action.

Posted in children, parenting, Personal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Who is an “Artist”?

In our society, in common parlance, an “artist” is one who paints, whose “works” are framed and hung on a wall. Which is such a narrow outlook that I find it detestable.

By definition, an artist is one who creates art.

What is art? That is a topic I will not go into in this post. Is “art” restricted to painting? Art encompasses a lot of human endeavors, and painting just is one of them.

I find it incongruous that a musician is introduced as a “composer”, an author is introduced as a “writer”, a fashion designer is introduced as a “designer”, a photographer introduced is as a “photographer”, while a painter is introduced as an “artist”. Why not a “painter”? What does it say about the epistemology humans have accepted that we define all other artists by their professions except the painter?

This post is a response to “To Be Worthy Of Being An Artist

A personal definition – the definition of an artist – is a combination of (a) modesty, (b) arrogance, and (c) reality.

First, definitions can never be personal. When it is personal, it is an interpretation, not a definition. A definition is an objective meaning of a concept, thus of a word, that should never be personal or subjective. A definition ceases to be one when it is subjective. An epistemology that accepts “personal definitions” is reflective of Kant’s subjectivist, ambiguous, and grey philosophical doctrine that many intellectuals today, like for many decades in history, have been taking recourse to in the comfort of complexity-of-thought-that-mainstream-audiences-will-agree-to-rather-than-debate.

The true artist is forgiving. Encompassing. Loving. Giving. Embracing. Joyous.

There are other emotions that guide an artist: anger, cynicism, jealousy, strife, deception, trickery. For, if you would think of an artist as all things nice, you would be hugely mistaken. But hate is not one of those. If hate is an emotion that guides, or even exists in your life, you are automatically not an artist.

Is an artist distinguished from other human beings by temperament? Do specific temperamental traits classify some people as artists and exclude others?

Emotion is the wellspring of all art. To enumerate which of those guide an artist and which don’t, is an exercise in futility and mistaken in its initial presumption.

The entire soup-bowl of human emotions (minus hate) is the palette of the true artist.

Why single out and exclude hate? Hate can inspire great composition, terrific writing, and amazing painting too.

Panchgani 053

To continue my responses to this irrational, incongruous post:

The context of an artist is very different from the way you and I see things. Artists are magicians. They transport us to worlds previously unknown.

Which is what many photographers do, including those like you, who conduct MOOCs about that art.

I am not one of them. I thank you dear friend, for calling me an artist. I respectfully decline. Someday I might prove that you were right.

What is happening here? You include a fantastic photograph in your post that anyone would call artistic, and then demonstrate the modesty you claim is a) the personal definition of an artist?

The one thing you need to be an artist, is skill.

Was the artist who architected the Taj Mahal an artist? Or the Konark Sun Temple? Did the artist have the skill to execute his/her vision? What about the workers who built the Taj Mahal or the Konark Sun Temple? Hundreds of thousands of workers toiling to create a masterpiece. Were they artists? These are difficult questions in the context of art.

No, they were not, they were artisans.

If one has artisans who have the skill but who do not have the artistic creativity, why does an artist need skill? Artistic skill can be outsourced. Artistic creativity cannot.

Perhaps the most intriguing example of the challenges this topic raises lies in Western Classical Music. While we generally consider the original composer as an artist, what about the individual musician in the 60-odd orchestra who is just one of the dozen violinists? Is she an artist or just an artisan? What about the conductor who interprets the work of the composer and directs the orchestra to create a rendition of the work that is unique and different than other renditions of the same work? Is the conductor an artist?

I think we need a careful rethink of who is an artist and who is not. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that the author of the post that inspired this one, is one of the most creative artists I have had the privilege to know, and whose creative works inspire many.

Posted in Arts | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Who is an “Artist”?


“Don’t say true things if they’re not nice
Don’t say nice things if they’re not true”
– From a Sanskrit Subhashita (via Navin Kabra)

(The wisdom in the above subhashita is good as a general guiding principle, but I do not think it should be universally practiced in all circumstances. Sometimes, as a friend, one should say true things even if they’re not nice.)

Sometimes, I regret what I said.
Sometimes, I regret what I did not say.

Saying something sometimes requires courage.
Not saying something sometimes requires even greater courage.

Most people are judged by what they say.
Very few are judged by what they did not say.

History remembers you by what you said.
No one remembers you by what you did not say.

What you say is a quick, direct, reflection of who you are.
What you do not say is a difficult, indirect, reflection of who you are.

What you say is often not a true reflection of who you are.
What you do not say is often a very true reflection of who you are.

Saying often eases further communication, but sometimes, it also impedes it.
Leaving something unsaid sometimes eases further communication.

The fool is one who is identified by what he said.
The wise one is who remains unidentified by what he did not say.

Posted in philosophy | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Conjoined Twins

One can exist by itself, but the other can’t. But existence of the other helps one.

One comes first, the other comes latter. But the other gives birth to one again.

One is necessarily private, the other is typically public. The other also gives birth to one in others.

One is sometimes muddled and confused. The other comes to the rescue.

One can’t communicate, the other can.

One can’t make money, the other can.

One can never lie, the other can.

One is formless, the other depends on form.

One is automatic and effortless, the other requires conscious effort.

One’s beauty can only be revealed by the other.

When one is in the driving seat, the other follows. Great things happen when the other drives one.

One is always naked, the other often dressed up.

One is infinite in space, has no boundaries, and is transient. The other is finite in space, but timeless.

One is thinking, the other, writing.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Conjoined Twins

The Straight Dope FAQ on Indian Elections 2014

What is UPA? What does it stand for?

  • Undercover Payment Agreement. This coalition is all about not letting anyone know who paid how much to whom for what.

Who is the UPA’s PM candidate?

  • They thought they had an ace in Rahul Gandhi, but are now discovering it is not an ace but a joker.

What is NDA?

  • NaMo Dictatorship Association. This group asks NaMo critics to leave the country.

What is AAP?

  • Antagonistic Agitation Podium.

Is the AAP really free of corruption?

  • AAP is corrupted by Nehruvian socialism, from which the country has yet to recover after six decades.

What is a “manifesto”?

  • A manifesto is a document created to get media coverage. In olden times, a manifesto used to be a declaration of a party’s ideology and plan. Now it’s a tool to get media coverage with editorials, columns, discussions, and debates devoted to dissecting the manifesto, which the media, the public, and the party, completely forgets once the election is over.

What is “secularism”?

  • Secularism means “securing” votes. Usually, this means attempting to appease minorities and “secure” their votes.

What is “development”?

  • Development means developing more slums in urban areas. This has a “kill two birds with one stone” impact.
  • It secures votes in urban areas since slum-dwellers have escaped the tyranny of rural existence, and also secures votes in rural areas where parents are happy their youngsters have migrated to the city.

What are “minorities”?

  • Minorities are a segment of the Indian populace who are lesser in terms of numerical population, but are greater in terms of electoral votes. Because the never-termed “majorities” rarely go out and vote.

What is the “Gujarat model”?

  • The Gujarat model is a quantum mechanical experiment where the results are indeterminate. Depending on the observer, results of the experiment vary. Either a Schrodinger’s cat exists or doesn’t exist in the Gujarat model box. Those who say it doesn’t exist, aren’t allowed to exist either, so nobody really knows.

What is the “Modi wave”?

  • A marketing spin by the NDA to what is normally called anti-incumbency. Since nobody in power delivers, people get sick and tired after a while and choose the alternative.

What is “Economic Growth”?

  • Economic growth is growing the financial reserves of the party so as to have sufficient funds for the next Assembly or Lok Sabha election.

What is “Inclusive Growth”?

  • Inclusive growth means you should not just grow your party’s finances, your coalition ally ministers’ financial reserves should also grow.

What is “Infrastructure Growth”?

  • Infrastructure growth means growing the network of hoodlums and gangsters in urban and rural areas, who can coerce large segments of slum-dwellers and villagers to vote for the party, distribute liquor and money in exchange for votes, etc.

Why are voting days dry days?

  • So that the liquor distributed by the parties has more importance.

What is “women empowerment”?

  • Making sure women are not raped on voting day in the vicinity of the voting booth.
  • Having sufficient allocation in your election budget for making women-centric ads, getting women celebrities to talk about the importance of the women’s vote, etc.
  • Sucking up to powerful women politicians like Sonia, Mamata, Jayalalitha, etc.
Posted in politics | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Straight Dope FAQ on Indian Elections 2014

The Importance of my Earnest Vote in A Comedy of Errors

I voted in the 2014 Indian Lok Sabha elections today, after researching for many days about the different candidates up for election in Pune. I voted today after discovering yesterday that I was not voting in the Pune constituency at all, but in the Maval constituency. I had a few hours to learn more about the candidate scene in my constituency before I voted and here is what I discovered:

  • The NCP-Congress’ chosen candidate deserted them and stood as an independent
  • So the NCP-Congress poached a candidate from the Shiv Sena/BJP
  • The Shiv Sena/BJP denied a ticket for its sitting MP and chose an ex-Congressman instead
  • Dejected, the sitting Shiv Sena/BJP MP quit the party and joined the MNS instead
  • The MNS is supporting the independent candidate who quit the NCP-Congress

I struggled to choose between these earnest folks and thought I had made my choice until I discovered:

  • The Shiv Sena/BJP candidate (who chose ex-Congressman) Shrirang Barne had competition from another Shrirang Barne who somehow got a ticket from the JDU
  • The independent candidate Laxman Jagtap had competition from not one, but two other Laxman Jagtaps, also independents

(This is a common practice in Indian elections to dilute votes of your competitors by fielding candidates with the same names so gullible voters will not discern the right candidate.)

The situation seemed like a mix of The Comedy of Errors and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Given such a free exchange of candidates between parties amidst a comedy of triplets, I felt my earnest vote had no value left any longer.

Yet I voted. I voted because I felt it was my responsibility towards my country. I voted because it was my constitutional right. I voted to uphold my right as well as my responsibility. It feels good.

Posted in politics, pune | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Dumbstruck by a poem from my 7-yr old niece

This is a poem by my 7-year old precocious niece that I wish to cherish for posterity through this blog.

“The Earth”

I saw the stars
Twinkling above my head
And the sand
Blinking below my bed

The plants growing around me
The boats sailing around the sea
The eyes sparkling in a face
The bikes racing in a race

Oh, I wonder
I could be part of this beautiful nature!

I was flabbergasted after encountering this from a 7-year old. At that age, I don’t think I could even grasp such concepts, forget writing about them.

Evolution is not illusory, it is happening today, in front of all of us, if we only realize, understand and accept.

Update: After writing this post describing her as precocious, I later saw what she had scribbled on our whiteboard:

Scribbling by niece
Scribbling by niece
Posted in Personal, poetry | 2 Comments

Looking back at 2013

This year has been unforgettable in many ways.

Did I spend enough time with friends and family? No. Did I keep in regular touch with those who wanted me to remain in regular touch? No. Was I there each and every time someone needed me to be there? No. I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to, I wrote much less than I wanted to. But as a human with limited resources, did I try to balance different and conflicting expectations from family, friends, and colleagues? Yes. The complex art of balancing your expectations of others, their expectations of you, and your expectations of yourself is what we call ‘Life’, after all.

In 2013, I discovered new friendships, rediscovered old college friendships, rejuvenated old colleague-friendships. I made many mistakes and hurt my friends sometimes, but I hope I delighted them and made them smile too. This was true in the year 2012 too, and what matters now is if I learnt from my mistakes in 2012 and avoided or made less of them in 2013. I think I did. That is why I bid 2013 goodbye with peace in my heart and happiness in my soul – not because I did not make any mistakes, but because I learnt or attempted to learn from earlier ones. 2013 also leaves me with a deep sense of gratitude for my friends, all of whom accepted my flaws, yet remained friends. I hope to keep learning from you, how to be always so understanding and empathetic.

On the personal front, it has been a milestone where a dream we worked for over 3 years was finally realized – our new home. And despite getting busier, becoming frustrated, being completely stressed out, we still share not just the love, but that elusive romance too.

I am truly blessed. Dear 2013, I will remember you forever, thank you!

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 7 Comments