Returned from a gruelling trip to Tijuana yesterday, and have some distinct sour & sweet tastes in the mouth :-) (sol & churros respectively). In the long day, met two people who gave fodder for this post.
First a curious old man of African descent while roaming near Cultural Center. On premise of inquiring a bus route, he started talking to us in Spanish, and after our vocabulary ran out, in fluent English :-) He said he was translator of Hebrew texts for the Fed & Rand. He spoke of his Indian friend in Tehran university, who started Indian nuclear program! (yes.. we were as surprised as you are!) After checking for mistaken identity with Pakistan's A.Q. Khan & Homi Bhabha, he remembered the name to be Shankar Subramaniam. We were taken aback by eclectic life of this character, who had to now use Mexican public transport. While we were started wondering about his sanity & credibility, he started on Two Rocks heading for Earth to annihilate us. "Thirty years.. thats all we got." Then he veered off to holy vedas, and huge airplanes in time of Ashoka (43000 years ago.. he said) and wisdom of indigenous people in various continents. Then he said, he was planning to start a Space research company in Mexico.. after which he wished us luck & left.
I had had a similar experience with a homeless man in San Diego seeking alms who got into a brief discussion. He was a son of millionaire he said, and he was working for FBI. His younger brother robbed him out of his inheritance and his agency fired him, because he has 'extraterrestial' genes within him, and that's why he was on streets.
It is amazing how unreal beliefs get formed in mind, and get cemented. In words of Rob Pirsig, the ghosts in the mind haunt us all. Ghosts are entities that exists only in mind. Even the so called 'science' are just concepts/ghosts in our mind, which are models of reality. So are all the desires, morals, trust, religious beliefs, conspiracy theories. The software in your mind controls your worldview & your progress in the world. The above examples, I think are results of the Bayes networks of belief assignment in mind gone horribly wrong. Once formed, such beliefs are very very difficult to shake, despite evidence. It takes enormous courage, to question those, like the John Nash from "Beautiful mind", who found that the girl in his alternative reality never grows old ! and thus pulled himself out of insanity. That's why, the Buddhist precept of "Cyat va" or "it could be true" for keeping open mind is so useful, and practise of rational doubt important. It sure robs you from security of complete sureness, but also prevents you from pitfalls of unreal faith.
But from my personal experience in life, I have also found that, sometimes the conventional wisdom, popular opinion can be horribly skewed because of people's tendency to believe what many others believe, blindly, and sometimes due to insecurities in believing otherwise. Therefore I prick my ears whenever I hear a conspiracy theory, a voice of descent, a doubting thomas, a madman, a dreamer who questions status quo. Because there is a good chance, that he is right, coz once upon a time I was one, and I was right.
Now the second person. In the returning bus yesterday, we met a kind & talkative old bearded man, who was heading to VA hospital. Our talk started with a recent demise of Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin in a freak accident. Later it veered to India, and his desire to visit the country if he had money. He was a soldier who fought in Vietnam. "I truly loved those two years", he said. He later worked with defence contracting company, General Dynamics, married, bought a house. And one day, General dynamics cut down the jobs across the board. He lost his job, his house and later his wife, and could never recover from the shock. Now he stays with his sister. "Welcome to the ugly underbelly of the Capitalism, which noone talks about", he said. It was very sad to hear his story.. His was the thorny case study in free market capitalism, usually addressed by retraining & greater common good. But it remained a fact, that capitalism had failed him.
Two troubled souls in one day. I could hardly understand their troubles... writing them down was the least I could do.