Origin of a Malayalee

(East of West, North or South Mallus are the best!!)

Prevailing theory is that earliest humans evolved for several thousands in Africa before migrating out of Africa (In fact Africans are the most genetically diverse group, as can be seen in the difficulty matching HLA identical donors among Africans – as different African tribes have separated from each other many thousands of years ago. Humans elsewhere in the world all came from just from one small group of ancestors who left Africa about 50,000 years or so ago). All of the current world population can be traced back to Africa. Traveling via the coastal areas of Arabia, this group eventually reached India. And amazingly – it is us, those from the Southern India, who are the earliest settlers of India. Our lineage can be traced back to almost 50,000 years ago – and that is the earliest signs of humans in India, and among the oldest anywhere else in the world outside of Africa. No human fossil this old is found in Northern India. Molecular evolutionary studies have shown that mitochondrial macrohaplogroup M, which in turn is a descendant of the macrohaplogroup L3, a really old East African haplogroup thought to have originated around 104,000 years ago. Within haplogroup M, lie many smaller haplogroups of which the M2 lineage is thought to be the oldest mitochondrial lineage in India. M2 is seen only among the Dravidians (and some other tribes like the “Kurubas”) and not among the North Indians.

However, Kerala was a melting pot even thousands of years ago – so most of us are very likely of mixed origin, with genes from Middle Eastern, Syrian and other invaders and merchants mixed with Dravidian blood. Now an interesting fact is this: There is very clear evidence that early humans and Neanderthals not only probably fought each other (resulting in the extinction of the later about 25,000 years ago) but also mated with each other. This mating was between humans those who have already migrated north to Europe and Middle East and not with the true Africans. So those of us whose ancestry is partly from ancestors who came later may have some Neanderthal in us. And our truly tribal people– the “Adivasi’s” – probably never intermingled with the invaders/merchants and are “purer” humans that the rest of us! Some time, these revelations make the traditional hierarchy of higher and lower casts upside down. The so called Aryans, who prided themselves as the purest race, in fact has a lot more genetic evidence of Neanderthal in them than anyone else and lot of these genetic studies have actually has come from Germany. Unfortunately, these studies were not available at the time of Hitler, otherwise a world war could have been avoided as he was fixated on the superiority of his race!

Origin of Morality

This is one of the standard counter arguments for religion by many – that traditional organized religion is the reason why humans are moral. This is as untrue as it gets. Humans have built in radar of what is right and wrong. As social animals, this is a highly adaptive behavior, one that assures the survival of genes. Humans were moral in their own way thousands of years before monotheism was invented by Moses. Humans who are polytheists like Hindus, atheists and agnostics are moral in their own way. We have something called mirror neurons in our brain (as well as among apes) – what this does is this: If you watch a movie screen where a scorpion is crawling up on the hero, and take a functional MRI of your brain at the same time, the areas of sensory cortex that lights up in your brain are exactly what it would have been if the scorpion was crawling up on you. (This is an actual experiment). The mirror neurons allow us to learn from other’s mistakes – as the saying goes life is too short to learn everything from your own mistakes.

The same mirror neurons are activated when we see a drowning man or a crying baby. Now a biological explanation does not make human empathy any less special – just that empathy does not need religion. On the other hand, some of the “religious morality” can lead to what most would consider deeply immoral actions – like honor killing, approval of slavery (read Mark Twain if you know how the institution of slavery was justified based on religious edicts of the day) lynching gay people (as is happening in some parts of Africa), suicide bombing – as religiously learned morality is colored by prejudices formed by thousand years ago.  A moral person who is moral without religion is not doing because they are worried about future punishment/rewards, because we think being moral is the right thing to do and we can be moral without being judgmental.

Origin of life

One of the remaining great mysteries. This is however an areas of intense research, led by NASA’s astrobiology division among others. Theories abound – from RNA world hypothesis to replicating crystals to thermophiles – which lives at ocean bottoms at temperatures and pressures that was once considered inhospitable to life – complex carbon molecules deposited on earth by asteroid impacts. We do not have anything approaching Darwin’s theory on the topic as of now, but most likely in the next several decades we would have one as the pace of research in astrobiology is accelerating. A deity and super natural has been postulated as the explanation of many things for which we did not have an explanation. Many of those now have scientific explanations (like leprosy is no longer a “curse” to be cured with a “miracle”, but a contagious bacterial disease caused by mycobacterium lepra that can be easily cured by dapsone). The origin of life is a truly “miraculous” event in the sense that as of now science do not have a good explanation for it. That does not mean we have to bring up the super natural – it is just that we need more science to explain this fascinating field. If we just left leprosy (or solar eclipse) as a miracle, we would still be in caves, it is only curiosity and scientific under takings that took us where are now, and that shaped human progress.

Origin of the universe

The currently accepted inflationary big bang theory explains the origin and expansion of universe from a time scale of one Planck time after the big bang (about 5×10-44), a time that is so incredibly tiny, that one second has more Planck  times than the entire history of the universe. The theory explains the universe when it was a Planck length in time to the currently estimated observable universe with a radius of over 44 Billion light years (observable universe is bigger than 13.7 billion light years – even though the universe is 13.7 billion light years has passed since the beginning of big bang, as space itself has expanded since the beginning of time, when one see a distant galaxy say 13 billion light years away, it’s current distance is closer to 40 billion light years from us – as the galaxy has moved on since then, what we are seeing the galaxy’s position 13 billion light years away).

The current state of cosmological science is in fact so advanced, our generation is the first in the history of humans to actually see a picture of the baby universe – this is taken from the back ground microwave radiation left that can be measured, the energy left over all over the universe from the big bang. Cosmology can predict events like eclipses with extreme accuracy. We now know the chemical soup that makes life originally was created inside the cores of exploding large stars in huge super nova explosion. What is more uplifting than knowing that every atom inside of you was at one point part of a star, that we are truly made of star dust? We are just a conglomeration of atoms like any other objects in the universe, but so special that we have a consciousness. If a super natural has any design for a conscious being, it would be to look at the world and wonder at the meaning of it all. We do not need to know the answer, but as far as I am concerned, the wonder itself is enough. A God created in the image of man is a small god, as we are small. I believe in Baruch Spinoza’s idea of God – a God that manifest itself in the laws of nature. I don’t have to make myself in to a pretzel with that God, a power that is just beyond human imagination, but a power is unlikely to be worried if I eat pork or drink a glass of wine.

Traditional religion can have a limited role, may be for those with temptations large and wisdom low. But some of us, after years of thoughts and reading, have decided to grow up, and say there is no Santa Clause – sad in one aspect but greatly uplifting at the same time. We don’t have to invent super natural to explain the goodness in us, and will not have to be troubled by the evil in some nor by natural calamities. The biggest reason a person believe in his particular holy book/custom is that he or she was born in to it, a decision over which the person had no control, no free will. If anyone tells me Mother Teresa would go to hell (as Muslims ardently believe if they go by their book) or Gandhiji would go to hell (as Muslims and Christians will have to believe if they go by their books) – it shows organized religion is a highly dysfunctional, incomplete and imperfect institution– like any other human made institution. A religion has no monopoly on God or morality – one can be absolutely happy, free and highly moral without any religion.