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December 01, 2015 Tuesday 06:54:49 PM IST

Churn the ocean of information for creative outcomes

Creative Living

Mythical Samudramanthan


Bagavata Purana of Hindu Mythology describes the episode of “Samudramanthan” or “Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. The story goes like this: As a punishment for his uncontrolled ego and disrespect of others sage Durvasa cursed Indra, the King of Devas (Demigods) and together with him all the demigods (Devas) to be bereft of all strength, energy, and fortune. Consequently Devas were defeated by Asuras, the demons, under the leadership of King Bali, who gained control over the universe.


At the advice of Vishnu, Devas entered into an alliance with Asuras to jointly churn the ocean for the nectar of immortality (Amrita) to regain their lost fortunes. Against the agreement that the amrita shall be shared equally among them, Vishnu assured Devas that He would ensure that amrita does not reach the hands of Asuras, which would impart them with immortality. The churning of the Milk Ocean followed an elaborate procedure. It required a churning rod and the Mount Mandara agreed to be the churning rod. It required a churning rope and Vasuki, the king of serpents, who abides on Shiva’s neck, offered himself to be the churning rope. The demigods and demons pulled Vasuki back and forth causing the mountain to rotate and the ocean of milk got slowly churned. However, once the mountain was placed in the ocean, it began to sink. Lord Vishnu came to the rescue. He assumed the form of a turtle Kurma and supported the mountain on his back. And the churning of the Ksheeresagar (ocean of milk) continued.


During the churning process different things popped up from within the sea of milk, both useful and harmful things. One among them was a lethal poison known as Halahal. This terrified both the gods and the demons alike because the poison was so powerful that it could destroy all of creation. Gods approached Shiva for protection. Shiva volunteered to consume the poison in an act to protect the universe. But his wife Parvati rebelled and pressed her hand on Shiva’s throat to save him. As a result, the color of Shiva’s neck turned blue. For this reason, Lord Shiva is also called Neelakanta (the blue-throated one; “neela” = “blue”, “kantha” = “throat” in Sanskrit).


All kinds of herbs were cast into the ocean to make it clean and to recover the original goodness of the ocean. Consequently, fourteen Ratnas (gems or treasures) were produced from the ocean, which were divided among demons and demigods. There also emerged Goddesses from the ocean. They accepted the gods or demons according to their tastes and inclinations. For example, Lakshmi, the Goddesses of Fortune and Wealth, accepted Vishnu as Her eternal consort. Similarly the Apsaras chose the demigods as their companions. Varuni or Sura, the goddesses and creator of alcohol took demons as companions. Some supernatural animals also emerged from the ocean. They were appropriated by gods or demons according to their taste and attitudes. Kamadhenu, the wishgranting divine cow was taken by Vishnu. Airavata, the elephant was taken by Indra, the leader of devas. The Uchhaishravas, the divine 7-headed horse, was taken by demons. Finally, Dhanvantari, the heavenly physician, emerged with a pot containing amrita, the heavenly nectar of immortality. A fierce fight broke out between demigods and demons over the nectar of immortality. The demigods appealed to Vishnu, who then took the form of Mohini, a beautiful and enchanting damsel. Mohini distracted Asuras with her enchanting dance and took the amrita, and distributed it among the demigods, who drank it. The story ends with the rejuvenated Devas defeating the Asuras.


Churning of the ocean compares well with the process of definite integration of different realities to create something unseen, unheard of or unexplored. People get connected to these mined gifts in lieu of their attitudes, orientation and life-vision. Some of them are truly poisonous and harmful like the Halahal, which could destroy the entire creation. They need to be safely segregated from the sphere of life. Some others are truly valuable, values of which are perceived differently by different people. According to their tastes and inclinations, people would accept or reject them. Those supernatural gifts will also choose and possess the right and appropriate people. Some other gifts emerging from the sea of milk are rather invaluable, like Amrita, the nectar of immortality. Everybody values it .Everybody is after it. But only few deserve it, who will eventually inherit it.


Churning the Big Data: the modern Samudramanthan

Today is an age of information, characterized by the whirlpool of information fluxes. The internet is an ocean of information. Multi-billion bits of information get deposited in the internet daily. In the year 2014, it is estimated that 2.3 zettabytes (2.3×1021) of data are created in the internet on a daily basis. They are generated by meteorology, genomics, connectomics (comprehensive maps of connections within an organism’s nervous system), complex physics simulations, and biological and environmental research, etc. Added to it are those information gathered by ubiquitous information-sensing mobile devices, remote sensing, software logs, cameras, microphones, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, and wireless sensor networks. They are collectively called Big Data. It is the modern Ocean of Milk, the Ksheerasagar! Big data can be described by the following characteristics: Volume – the quantity of data that is generated; Variety – the category to which Big Data belongs to; Velocity – the speed of generation of data; Variability – the inconsistencies hampering analysis; Veracity – the quality of the data being captured; and Complexity – due to multiple sources involved. It is a new generation challenge to capture, cure, search, share, store, analyze, transfer and visualize the Big Data, keeping in view the requirements of inviolable privacy. It can be mined to develop creative ideas and novel concepts. It is a big deal. Mining of the bigdata can be, for example, used as a powerful tool to analyse market behaviour and to develop suitable products tailor-made to the taste of the customers. It facilitates, for example, spotting of business trends, preventing diseases, combating crime and so on.


 As we explore the Big Data in the Internet using the prominent search engines like, Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, AOL.com, Blekko.com, Wolframalpha, DuckDuckGo, archive.org or ChaCha.com, we are actually churning the large ocean of Big Data. The challenging question of the day is: “How to derive something creative by churning the Big Data?” “How could we make sense out of the world of information and derive useful concepts to make a new world?” As with the churning of the Sea of Milk, objects of different values and preference will pop up during such efforts. Some of them may be extremely harmful and poisonous just like Halahal, the deadly poison that popped up during amudramanthan. It could poison your minds and adulterate your attitudes and annihilate your vitality. They may lead you to unethical conclusions and illegal practices. The new generation seekers need to be equipped with the skills of extreme discretion and right judgement to overcome such situations. There should be measures in the Internet also to safeguard the fickle minded from harmful influences of venomous ideas, like Neelakandas of the myth.

Integration of ideas: the key to creativity

When Albert Einstein conceived the idea of LASER, he did not identify something which is totally foreign and totally new. He writes in his letter to his friend Michele Besso on August 11, 1916. “Es ist mir ein prächtiges Licht über die Absorption und Emission der Strahlung aufgegangen. Es wird Dich interessieren.” (Translated: A splendid light has dawned on me about the absorption and emission of radiation. It will be of interest to you). That “splendid light” was LASER. In fact, the theory of laser was hidden within Plank’s theory of black body radiation, which described the fundamental interaction between matter and radiation. Matter absorbs radiation and it also emits radiation – all based on the Quantum Theory developed by Max Plank. But as Einstein revisited Plank’s theory and reflected over absorption and emission of radiation once again, there emerged a new concept – the concept of stimulated emission of radiation, the reason for LASER emission. It required the intuition of Einstein to integrate ideas and to provide an engineering insight to build the LASER. The first LASER, the Ruby Laser was eventually made in 1960. The same happened to Denis Gabor, an English engineer, when he ventured to make the first Hologram. He made use of the well-known phenomena of interference of light to record the whole of information contained in a light beam on to a recording medium. Holography [Holos (Greek) = Total (English) + Graphe (Greek) = Recording (English)] means the “Complete Record”. Denis Gabor decoded the encrypted information from within a hologram by reconstructing the original scenario using the well-known phenomena of diffraction (the bending of light by obstacle on its path). Nothing is really new in theory, except for the integration of two well-known concepts to provide insight to a new engineering marvel.


A similar observation could be made with respect to William Lawrence Bragg, who developed the theory of X-ray diffraction by crystals. Based on the principles involved in a reflection from a plane mirror, he could develop a powerful method of crystal analysis using the X-ray Spectrometer developed by his own father.


Both the son and father Bragg together were awarded with Nobel Prize in 1915 for their scientific contributions. The excellent synergy between generations added to the power of integration of ideas, aided the Braggs to pave way for a new and powerful method of X-ray-based crystal analysis. Different examples cited above allude to the key skills required of a creative mind to surf internet, the modern Ksheerasagar, the ocean of milk. New generation creative minds shall be equipped with powerful tools of analysis: the tools of integration. They shall not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of information defining the Big Data. They shall be equipped to integrate pieces of information and develop new knowledge, new concepts and new insights. They shall install internal firewalls to filter out lethal information. They shall also wear right attitudes, values and discretion, to be able to choose the right things that emerge out of the Samudramanthan. They shall rather churn the ocean of information for creative outcomes!