BOOKS PUBLISHED SO FAR

BOOKS published in 2021, 2022 and 2023

Hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon (The first lesson of this book has been published independently as “seven brief lessons on walking” — see below)

Walking, thinking, learning, creating, worrying, sleeping, daydreaming, and procrastinating are many things we do every day. The way we do these things sums up our lives. This book focuses on what science says about what we do every day. Though I have inserted myself in some stories, they point towards a strictly scientific route to serenity, sensibility, and success — not personal or spiritual. Reading them requires absolutely no background in science.

25 LESSONS

Introduction: Success summed up in serenity, not silver

  1. Walk as if you are kissing the ground with your feet
  2. Take a long, slow breath in a mindful way 
  3. Sleep well to keep yourself sane, smart, stimulating — and slim   
  4. You may daydream now (permission granted by my eccentric teacher) 
  5. The smack that taught an atheist to respect all religions 
  6. Forget the pursuit of happiness  
  7. Be free, be open, and have no goal  
  8. The pain of unpopularity  
  9. A lesson on learning to learn  
  10. Fearful of failure? I’m not  
  11. Don’t just chalk it up to circumstances  
  12. Why not the day after tomorrow?  
  13. You may now brag about yourself   
  14. You’re now out of the proverbial box   
  15. Weighing up your choices   
  16. The power of expectation   
  17. Step into your shoes before you step into someone else’s shoes  
  18. Let your body do the talking
  19. Let your body do the thinking  
  20. Blowing hot and cold on self-esteem  
  21. Let’s measure your willpower: Don’t eat that doughnut!  
  22. Prejudices polluting our unconscious minds   
  23. Turn up the wattage of your smile  
  24. Laughter is sunshine  
  25. Older, a bit slower but smarter  
Paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon

Paths are made by walking — Franz Kafka

May this little book help you turn the paths you make by walking into large paths of solace, serenity, sensibility — and success.

SEVEN LESSONS

  1. Walk as if you are kissing the ground with your feet 
  2. Hip hip hippocampus 
  3. The first peripatetic  
  4. Walk in nature toward a spring of longevity  
  5. Walk in nature toward a spring of calmness and fresh ideas 
  6. Walking by numbers 
  7. I walk, think, therefore, I am 

PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITIONS ON AMAZON

For thousands of years, sages and seers have examined our body features, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet, to read personality traits or to predict the future. Researchers are now discovering that our body characteristics, features, and gestures contain a wealth of information that provides unique insights into our behavior, learning, personality, and well-being.

This little book sifts science from speculation and explains what it truly says about you. Reading it requires no science background but only curiosity about your body.

HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITIONS ON AMAZON

I do not know whether Homer Simpson (of TV’s The Simpsons) really understands the laws of thermodynamics, but he has been seen storming around his house and shouting, “In this house, we follow the laws of thermodynamics.”

Well, the three laws of thermodynamics are not easy to follow. I thought if Homer could understand them, I should try to present ideas of science in a simple and interesting way so that everyone could understand them all.

This book provides a refreshing walk through science from the 6th century BCE to the 21st century. It explains 200 hypotheses, theories, laws, principles, equations, rules, and things that form the essence of science. The ideas are arranged in chronological order, though a list in alphabetical order is also included.

It is the perfect essence of scientific knowledge in one easy-to-read book. Read it from cover to cover curled up on the couch or dip into it at random when you have a spare moment. It’s an invaluable source for anyone interested in science.

HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITIONS ON AMAZON

COMPLETELY REVISED AND UPDATED 2022 EDITION

The first edition published in 2007 by Icon Books, UK, as ‘Why Aren’t They Here? The Question of life on other worlds’

Is there anybody out there? Are other life forms lurking in outer space – or are they already here?

This calm, intelligent and witty survey of the history of humankind’s search for extraterrestrial life brilliantly outlines the historical, fictional, speculative and emerging scientific opinions on what alien life might be like.

The fast-moving narrative examines facts, dispels myths and focuses on the possibilities lurking in space. In a popular and easy-to-read style, the author uses current research to speculate what life is like on exoplanets (or extra-solar planets), how we might communicate with it, and what Earth might seem like to visitors.

HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITIONS ON AMAZON

COMPLETELY REVISED AND UPDATED 2021 EDITION OF THE MOST POPULAR BOOK ON THE RIDDLE OF THE GREAT SIBERIAN EXPLOSION OF 1908

The first edition published in 2005 by Icon Books, UK

At 7.14 a.m. on June 30, 1908, a huge fireball exploded in the Siberian sky. A thousand times the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, it flattened an area of remote Tunguska forest bigger than metropolitan New York, forming a mushroom cloud that almost reached into space.

What was it? A wayward black hole, a crashing comet, a rogue asteroid, an exotic rock of antimatter or mirror matter, a methane gas blast from below, an alien spacecraft, a laser beam fired by extraterrestrials, or an early experiment in nuclear physics which got out of hand?

More than a century on, this grand dame of science mysteries still fascinates scientists and charlatans alike.

Australian science journalist and author Surendra Verma tells the incredible story of this famous fireball. He also examines the major theories – scientific and fanciful – and evaluates the new evidence that claims that the mystery has at last been ‘solved.’ Or, is it?

HARDCOVER, PAPERBACK AND KINDLE EDITIONS ON AMAZON

A murderous Nazi on the run now masquerading as a holy man, a crazy woman and her bewitched plants, a lonely and sad actress struggling to walk out of the ghastly shadows of her tormented past as a teenage girl, an artful master of misinformation dodging the officialdom with fake news, a mischievous Tibetan refugee girl and her pranks, depravity disguised as tantric sex, and buff envelopes stuffed with cash which make greedy officials run.

In this weird world, when a young woman starts on a journey to seek justice for the cold murder of her benefactor and the brutal rape of two destitute children she comes to a head with pure evil. The anguish of a child’s trauma penetrates deep into every human heart. But evil has no heart.

A touching tale of empathy and compassion of a woman as strong as the mountains surrounding her small, scenic hometown in the foothills of the Himalayas, in 1965 and earlier. When you put it down, you will feel you have been to a different world, a grim but real world that sadly still exists with a new cast of characters.

A conversation with a river red gum tree on “saving the planet”

The silly slogan

When for a few days, I heard a soft whimpering voice from the sky as I walked on a lonely track along a creek, I worried that I was suffering from psychosis.

The creek once was part of the walking track followed by the Australian Aboriginal Boon Wurrung people for many thousands of years. As I walk, I see an Aboriginal flag flying on a flagpole in a little park. A yellow circle in the centre of a rectangle divided in half horizontally, the upper half black and the lower ochre red reminding anyone who cared to find out about an ancient culture’s spiritual relation to the land and the sun — the planet and the cosmos.

The ancient spirits sending me a message?

One day the voice was louder, “Hey mate, I’m talking to you.” I looked around and saw nothing. “Look up, mate.” The only thing I could see was the high canopy of a huge river red gum tree, a common eucalyptus species in these parts. Oh, the tree was talking to me, I realized. “What can I do for you?” I said, struggling to find the right word to address this old, majestic tree; “mate” seemed so ordinary and disrespectful.

“Could you please remove this plastic banner some idiot has wrapped around my trunk?” the tree asked gasping. “It’s killing me.”

I removed the banner and looked up. “From here I can’t read the writing on the banner,” the tree said. “What does it say?”

“Save the planet.”

“Is the planet dying?” the tree asked anxiously.

“Not really. The planet has been around for 4.5 billion years and still be here for another 4.5 billion years even if its atmosphere heats up by hundreds or even thousands of degrees. A big, rogue asteroid may disturb its orbit a bit if it hits it hard. That’s all.”

“Why then this silly slogan?” the tree exclaimed. “You should be shouting, save our species. Better still, save us from our silliness. Your stupid species is indiscriminately destroying the land and water with imperishable plastic and choking the air with noxious carbon. How could you save yourself from your excesses when you print a silly slogan on a plastic banner and leave it around to kill other species?”

My human mind had no answer. I nodded to show my concern.

The tree seemed genuinely angry. It continued, “I have been here for more than 200 years, and I’ve noticed the air becoming warmer. Too much carbon dioxide for us trees to breathe in and not many of us to breathe out oxygen.”

“Well, the level of carbon dioxide is going up every year,” I said. “Now there are 415 molecules of carbon dioxide molecules in every million molecules in the air. It was 400 in 2013.”

“I don’t care about these numbers, but I do care about the numbers of our species of river red gum trees decreasing dramatically. I give a damn about your species. As you say, mate, the planet, though its atmosphere is a little bit warmer, will still be here for another 4.5 billion years. I’m sure once your self-indulgent and self-destructing species have disappeared forever the planet will look forward to hosting a truly intelligent life that respects its own kind and the other kinds and its environment.”

Lost for words, I took a sip of water from my reusable water bottle.

“What’s that green sticker on the bottle?” the tree asked. “It looks like a eucalyptus leaf.”

“It says, save 2000 plastic bottles by using this reusable bottle and save the planet.”

I heard a loud laugh and then the tree saying, “Silly slogans and symbols won’t save human beings; a little respect for the environment and the other species may. Where are the blackfellas who had a spiritual connection with the land around this creek?”

© Surendra Verma 2020

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Why not the day after tomorrow?

Your brain is washed in dopamine, a chemical that controls the brain’s sense of reward and pleasure. Dopamine neurons are revved up and so is your motivation. But motivation is in the mind; turning motivation into action requires goals that take you beyond your current circumstances. At the same time, once you set a goal and start working towards it your motivation — and life satisfaction — also increases. Achieving a goal requires more than old-fashioned notion of willpower. Willpower may help you control your emotions and impulses but reaching a goal requires an achievable action plan.

Setting a realistic goal requires some effort. We’re not talking about your short-term new year’s resolutions such as going on a diet or quitting smoking; we’re talking about long-term lifestyle changes. First, make sure that the goal is your own; it’s not based on someone else’s expectations. Think about what motivates you.

The next step is to visualize your goal: visualize the work needed to be done and the specific obstacles you will face; imagine yourself carrying out your plans and what your life will be like once you reach your goal. Visualization makes the goal seem more tangible and tempting. Studies suggest that imagining both the successful result of your efforts and the specific obstacles you will face — called mental contrasting — will help people tackle challenges of circumstances more enthusiastically.

You have your action plan ready and then instead of shouting carpe diem (seize the day) you mumble, I’ll do it tomorrow. It’s the moment all familiar to most of us: the urge to delay the task. Procrastination (from a Latin word meaning ‘to put off until tomorrow’) is the intentional delay of due tasks. It keeps most of us imprisoned in our present circumstances. Pleasurable social activities have immediate rewards, but the benefits of your dreary action plan are distant. How to conquer procrastination?

Well, if I do not feel like writing this book, I can’t act like Victor Hugo. The French novelist practiced a novel way of dealing with procrastination: he would ask his valet to hide his clothes so that he would be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing.

Let me try a different approach, which comes from University of Calgary industrial psychologist Piers Steel (thank you, sir, for letting me to keep my clothes on). The desirability of a task, or utility (U), depends on four factors: the expectation of success (E), the value of completing the activity (V), the delay until reward (D), and the personal sensitivity to delay (I). The equation relating these factors is: U = EV/SD. If I expect to succeed in writing this book (a higher E), its utility (U) will increase. If a publisher promises a lucrative contract, the value of completing the task (V) will also increase U. All I need to do now to keep U high is to make sure that S and D shrink. If I’m impulsive or lack self-control (high S) or the reward lies in the far future (high D), the chances of finishing the task are low. Therefore, to shrink S, I must have high motivation to finish the book; a shorter deadline will help in keeping D low. The printed or e-book you are reading proves that I have not practiced “the art of keeping up with yesterday,” as some wit has described procrastination.

In your brain, the limbic system controls automatic functions such as it tells you to pull your hand away from a flame. The prefrontal cortex, the “executive’” region of the brain, integrates information and allows you to make decisions. It’s not automatic; you must kick it into gear (“I’ve to finish reading this page of the book” — once you’re not consciously engaged in reading the limbic system takes over). Studies suggest that procrastination is a self-regulation failure because it has become automatic and ingrained.

To increase the brain’s executive function and decrease procrastination, Timothy A. Pychyl of Carleton University in Canada advises to focus on the problem of ‘giving in to feel good’ by first developing an awareness of this process and its negative effect on achievement. He also suggests using short goals that build on one another with regular deadlines and feedback. It’s easy to procrastinate when goals are large and the path to them long and fuzzy, he says.

Here’s another strategy to prevent procrastination: “implementation intentions,” where and how you will strive to achieve your goal. Goal intentions are commitments to act (“I intend to reach Z”: study Stoic philosophy, analyze pitchblende ore to find a new element or simply write an essay). Implementation intentions are dependent on goal intentions and specify the when, where, and how of responses leading to goal achievement. Says Peter Gollwitzer of New York University, a foremost authority on implementation intentions: “They have the structure of “When situation x arises, I will perform response y!” and this link opportunities with goal-directed responses. For example, to achieve the goal intention of completing your essay, your completion intention is: “I’ll sit down at my desk tonight at 8 to make an outline of my essay’. Once you have started, avoid getting derailed (‘If my mobile ring, I’ll ignore it”). You also know when to look at different alternatives to achieve your goal (“If feedback from my tutor is disappointing, I’ll change my strategy”) and when to stop working too hard (“I’ll now watch TV and look at my essay again in the morning’).”

Most goals are never achieved — unless you make sure they do. But one success erases many failures. Implementation intentions can have an almost magical effect on you to achieve that one success. The mechanism in the brain is simple: When you sincerely decide “I’ll sit down at my desk tonight at 8 to make an outline of my essay,” you hand over the decision from your conscious mind to the unconscious mind. Now the fickle conscious mind sits idyll, and the reliable unconscious takes over the control of the executive region of the brain. You will be unconsciously at your desk at 8 pm to plan your essay. In implementation intentions the good old willpower does help.

The best advice on procrastination comes from Charles Dickens in David Copperfield:

“My dear Micawber!” urged his wife.

“I say,” returned Mr. Micawber, quite forgetting himself, and smiling again, “the miserable wretch you behold. My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him!”

“My poor papa’s maxim,” Mrs. Micawber observed.

Mr. and Mrs. Micawber had strong views on procrastination, but what would they think about pre-crastination? Research by David Rosenbaum of Pennsylvania State University and colleagues hasn’t bothered to answer this question, but it suggests that people often opt to begin a task as soon as possible just to get it off their plate. Pre-crastination is a term used by them to describe the tendency to hurry up to complete a task as soon as possible. In one of their nine experiments all which had the same general setup they asked university students to pick up either of two buckets, one to the left of an alley and one to the right, and to carry the selected bucket to the alley’s end. In most trials, one of the buckets was closer to the end point. Contrary to their expectation, students chose the bucket that was closer to the start position and carrying it farther than the other bucket. The researchers say that this seemingly irrational choice reflects a tendency to pre-crastinate. “Most of us feel stressed about all the things we need to do — we have to-do lists, not on just slips of paper we carry with us or on our iPhones, but also in our heads,” says Rosenbaum. “Our findings suggest that the desire to relieve the stress of maintaining that information in working memory can cause us to over-exert ourselves physically to take extra tasks.” The researchers says that most of the people they tested pre-crastinated, so they think procrastinating and pre-crastinating might turn out to be two different things.

The time you’ll take to turn over the page to start reading the next story will determine whether you like to procrastinate or pre-crastinate. If you dump the book, it’s called giving up. You may do so if “you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down” (Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon).

© Surendra Verma 2023

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