Thursday, December 20, 2007

Essential Evil

Every non-trivial effort requires coming together of resources. Nothing is achievable unless things from many quarters gather at a place to make it happen. Does it also entail an essential evil?

If you came to know how much thought it takes me to structure up this one piece of writing, without losing the fluidity of thoughts (assuming that it does have a certain degree of structure and fluidity of thought), it would no more appear to you worth anyone's while to write it. To me, the thought behind this one post might be pretty massive. What portion of that gets transmitted to you could be a very trivial portion of that. For most, the sheer length of this piece must be an insufferable deterrent from reading it. For other more tolerant of my readers, I already am known as pretty verbose, even though, the fact is, I work quite hard to walk the line between orthogonality and seamlessness between each successive sentence. If I was to do some cost benefit analysis of my investment on this, the only thing that would justify my putting in so much serious effort into this would be many many people reading it, to compensate for the attenuation that the communication of my idea suffers while reaching its each individual reader. I have a fair idea that the general number of people who really even visit my blogs is rather small. In such conditions, it becomes difficult to justify so much writing.

That was just for example. Economy of scale rules as the cardinal rule for justifying any non-trivial effort. The need to scale up things before one can invest effort into a project, and the number of good things that are prevented from happening due to a way never being found to find this economy of scale for that idea, is a rather peculiar aspect of the way we human-beings work. And I feel, it's not just about humans, but about the way the whole nature works. This lies behind much wastage, much misery and violence. I wonder if this dichotomy of attenuation of effect of any deed, and its compensation by scaling up is the root of many, if not all, evils. Let's talk about it here.

As another slightly bigger example, in Rhythmica, I have always been extremely conscious of how much effort each performance takes. The efforts vary from plain donkey-work to those requiring immense talent. There are people with rare talents involved in the coming up of a programme. It involves a full month or more of gruelling preparation for them to prepare a programme. Often, I get quite taken aback to find the attitude with which our esteemed audience receives us. For most of them, it's just a bunch of 'smart' people performing on stage. Hardly anyone is quite aware of either the effort or the artistic aspect of the performances. Of course, there is another quite opposite kind of people who think that Rhythmica is a substandard team doing crappy Hindi film songs. Their demand is of a much more artistically dense performance, comprising of original compositions, and definitely not of Hindi film songs. On the other hand, Rhythmica and its members enjoy a fair degree of celebrity status in IISc campus, from what I have observed. People don't look at them as artists or musicians. They look at them as popular people. Girls in Rhythmica enjoy tremendous attention from guys (not necessarily because they are very attractive looking, or even talented). Similarly, some guys in Rhythmica are indeed looked at with some interest by other girls. The rewards of being talented gets processed into something quite different from mere admiration of talent. Again, the picky observers take it as an evidence of how Rhythmica is a pop band which gives a damn about the quality of music they do, and runs after popularity, and that's what they get. Rhythmica, for such people, is an obnoxious idea. When this name is spelled, they flinch, and turn up their noses.

For both these kinds of onlookers, one thing about Rhythmica that never gets seen is the effort and tremendous talent that makes each of its programmes, and what it really is, that makes it worthwhile for such a big team of researchers to put in so much effort. For most of them, it's the popularity and celebrity status that, in reality, comes merely as a by-product of the performances. Fans give that kind of an attention liberally; critics hate Rhythmica for the very same thing. Both are pretty happy about their impression about what really makes Rhythmica exist.

Each soul in Rhythmica knows that it's not the fan-following or the envy that Rhythmica enjoys which keeps Rhythmica going (though Rhythmica often says something to that effect during its vote of thanks after every performance). People will find it impossible to believe that Rhythmica has many shy and introverted people who wouldn't open their mouth to speak, but who get passionately drawn to everything musical. Rhythmica does need an audience to keep performing. But what they would ideally wish to have from their audience is sincere praises and honest criticism; not fan-following or turning up of noses. I think Rhythmica knows it's not going to get what it wants from anyone. So, it has learned to get contented with what it gets -- fan following and turning up of noses. Ideally, a more knowledgeable audience would have been as effective in keeping Rhythmica going. In its dearth, Rhythmica does well with something else. For Rhythmicans, Rhythmica is a place to listen to, learn, and do music. That's the soul of Rhythmica. For others, it's a thing of idolisation or flinching about. Both are meaningless from Rhythmica's point of view. But, it brings in funds and visibility, which are as necessary for the survival of the team.

Rhythmica is small fish. I took the example, because I have seen it from close quarters. The phenomenon I wish to talk about is rather more general, and as I said earlier, results in much hypocrisy, wastage and violence.

There's been some buzz in the glossy newspaper supplements about how unfair the film industry is to actresses, when it comes to remunerations. It seems that the heroes charge over 15 crores per film, while the heroines charges a paltry 2 crores! The figures are so unreal for us! Somehow, we might manage to get brainwashed into talking about the unfairness. But is that the starkest of all facts about this whole business when most of us can't even comprehend the magnitude of these sums? It's similar to making two villagers argue about whether Sun is further away or Moon, when none of them has ever set his foot out of his village. And yet, such chit-chats fill so much journalistic real-estate. Who one star is going out with; which director is tying up with which actor; their foreign trips; even their cosmetic exploits(e.g. 'what I always keep in my handbag.'). We get to know, and are interested to know, about every trifling gossip that concerns film-stars, absolutely regardless of whether they contain even a speck of reality. SRK's 6-pack abs, Shahid-Kareena MMS smooch, and subsequent breakup (both events incidently closely preceding two of their joint releases), are things which can make such gossips go around as to eventually result in massive amount of commerce happening as a result.

Film-stars are talented people, who work very hard for what they earn. Even if their acting skills may often be questionable, the amount of work they put in, either for maintaining their good-looks or in making a film, is phenomenal. But, to say that people pay them for that, would be simplistic. It may be true that they do deserve such massive remunerations for what efforts they put into their work, but it's not true that they do get paid for that. They don't even get paid for entertaining people. They get paid for setting up an environment of unreal glamour in the world. On screen, on newspapers, on film-magazines, they look like what people would like to
look like. In tingling the fantasy of people that it's indeed possible to always look glamourous; that's it's possible for at least someone to go through the unbearable pain of multiple love-affairs and breakup; that for some, sex is -- far from being an extremely inaccessible pleasure -- a botheration, a daily chore. If one puts one bit of serious thought, a lot of it is what they work a lot extra harder to make us believe in. And whether we believe all that or not, the beast inside us does get tantalised by that possibility. I feel, that's the singlemost reason why celebrities get such huge fan-following and money.

I hope, with many of the above examples, I have succeeded to bring out a common pattern. The pattern is the following: A person becomes an expert, and works hard for something. To sustain in that activity, the work needs to be sold to someone. Usually, the buyers of that work don't have the slightest understanding or appreciation of the core input of the work. However, the expert in question finds out something else about the work they do, that appeals to the buyers of the product of their work or expertise. That something is most often something far far below the real content of the work, a by-product which is not related fundamentally to the spirit of the work, but relates to some lower end wants which are by and large unsatiated for most people -- good looks, attention, sex, and in some cases, money, fame and such things (which we already are brainwashed to look at as liquid resources that can buy us the above mentioned objectives -- good looks, attention, sex).

Earlier, I alluded to the extra hard work that actors invest in putting up an image of a glitzy life full of fashion, romance, and sex. That, in part, is the explanation for the wastage that the above pattern causes. This phenomenon is in no way restricted to the world of glamour. A similar waste of effort happens wherever something needs to be sold. Motorbikes should look muscular because they are an ultimate representative of the male vanity. Cars of today employ sophisticated (and expensive) technology into features which are nothing but vain and ornamental. The differentiators between most high-end commodities sold in market are not functional, but ornamental. In short, quite pitiably, it appears that most major activities depend on their being bought by a large number of people whose requirements are restricted to a very limited set of animal-like urges -- greed, vanity, sexual lust, viciousness etc. Every product has to be packed up in those glitzy, vulgar foils, however noble and elevated their core spirit might be. An exemplary example of this is our dear Hollywood actresses baring themselves for such noble causes as eco-friendliness, prevention of cruelty towards animals etc.

I understand that to say that the same thing might also be behind a lot of violence is rather daring. But it's unfortunately the case, as I look at it. The limitedness of what most people really care about to a small set of animal urges gives rise to the massive area of marketing. Marketing is a lot about lying. It's not true that for most, having a very attractive and sexy girl getting irresistably attracted to him rests on his choosing to buy their product -- be it a shaving gel, or a motorbike. The products often don't fulfil these requirements. They just kindle them, with the assistance of a lot of marketing. I am not making a value judgement on marketing. Being presentable is one thing -- a good one. But telling a lie about the product's capabilities is another. And filling a person's field of vision with pictures of an unreal, fantastic world, is quite another. As an example, the complete and honest statement of facts about a shaving gel to a potential client might be something like this:
"We are one of the top selling brands in this field. So you may like to believe that we are a good shaving gel. You would like to know that according to our survey, the success of our male customers with women is a good 0.01% higher than those others. As per our preliminary counting, there are just 10,000 other factors in a man which might be responsible in his effectiveness with women, we can assure you that by using our product, you stand a good 0.000001% extra chances than your competitor in scoring with the lady of your dreams."

However, it is but sure that no shaving gel manufacturer ever conducts a survey as to how many of their users really get beautiful girls twining themselves around their body, just because their cheek is smoother, or because they know that this dude shaves with XXX brand.

I am not condemning marketing. I am trying to point out the element of exaggeration and lie inherent in marketing. It's not necessarily with the object of deceit, but possibly for the purpose of presenting the best face. We all do it at various levels. Product manufacturers just do it a million times more than us.

What does it all have to do with violence?

The principles of a capitalistic society are pretty plain to state in a few words. Work hard for money, and get rich. The benefits to the society are an obvious by-product of your honest work. The bad thing about capitalism is that it's a very natural system. Nature works in a capitalistic way. And our instincts are well-tuned to it. But not always in a way that makes use of it to the fullest, but in a way by which we are susceptible to play into the hands of anything that projects competition as a sacrosanct concept, which projects not being a winner as a sin, which adds to our fallacy that not getting the best in the world is the end of the world and life for us. This is a basic instinct we have inherited from olden ages when it was indeed a hard enough thing to survive, and hence was correct to make a go for whatever best was available. Now, survival is no more an issue for most of us; hence logically, this instinct is vestigial. But our instincts to look at every advancement in resourcefulness with the same urgency as if it were a life and death matter, hasn't died down. Quite unnaturally, this instinct is the prime target of all players of a capitalistic market. People who work on the leading edge of things -- who work on matters requiring large amount of effort and resources to come together -- for them, it might still be a matter of life and death to be the best in their respective fields. But for most other people lower down, nothing is so urgent. Their lives are hardly ever so exciting or active that anything they can ensure their existence or extinction.

Marketing people regularly tell two lies to them. One, that they can do things that can change their lives drastically. Two, that it's very important for them to do it. Till this point, the job a marketeer seems very similar to that of a counselor. A counselor infuses hope and motivation in a person to do something meaningful. The difference between a counselor and a marketeer lies in the last word -- meaningful. A marketeer will try his best to completely upset what a person considers meaningful. If a marketeer had his way, a naive subject would get brainwashed completely to completely throw away his whatever existing value system, replacing it with what the marketeer wants him to believe as valuable. Then, the subject would spend all his efforts in acquiring the commodity.

Perhaps, the above picturisation of marketing may seem over-dramatised. For each isolated case, it's true that it's upon the subject to protect himself from falling for false promises. But in reality, marketeers are tremendously successful in pushing into our hands, goodies we don't really need. The landscape in front of us is so full of sceneries which sellers want us to see and believe in that our defense systems against these canards fail sooner or later, because there are just too many of them. The neon lights flashing from the advertising billboards are so flashy that one can't see the stars, the moon, and whatever is naturally beautiful. Marketeers, to an extent, are right in claiming that they never removed the needles we are looking for for. All they do is to make the stacks of hay higher and higher from which we have to find out those needles.

The scene of all-pervading urgency, which capitalism and the aggressive marketing entailed in it cause, create such a stampede as surely accelerates the economy, but creates a society which is disoriented and frizzled. A place, where lots and lots of things are done by people enslaved by false promises and false urgency created by those more capable ones, who consider it their right to enslave others through sophistries of marketing. That's the way capitalism contributes in creating a violent society, because slavery, wrapped in how many ever layers of sophistries, is a violent act. I consider it redundant, after so much explanation, to elicit examples of how this results in 'real', visible violence. I leave this exercise to the esteemed reader.

It's now customary for me to make a clarification at the end of any such piece of writing I do, that I am not speaking against capitalism. And hence, the reader shouldn't hurry on to conclude that I am not a socialist (which my being a Bengali seems to make it rather likely). The above writeup was merely an attempt to put into paper many questions which I have in my mind about these things. Here goes the summary:

To gather resources to do non-trivial things, one needs to gather takers. Marketing is a prime force to do so. Lying and deceit has become primary tools for marketeers to gather takers. Each act of deceit is pardonable in isolation because it after all never forces the buyer. However, cumulatively, everybody doing aggressive marketing creates such a clutter that the really meaningful pursuits of life hardly ever get a thought; and sooner or later, we all fall into a pattern of pursuing things which really don't satisfy any of our deep requirements and are really difficult to achieve. This increases efficiency. But most of our energy goes into wasteful and violence pursuits.

I will soon devote another post to pen down my imaginations of an alternative world. A world where benefits don't suffer tremendous attenuation in reaching its subjects. The fact that most of us aren't capable enough to look for anything more meaningful than what others force us to look for is the prime justification behind con-marketing. Had we been able to really find out for ourselves what really matters to us -- just a hypothetical case -- what would the world have been like? I will ask this question, and try to conjure a hypothetical answer in a piece coming soon.

Right now, I am too tired. I don't think I was very clear. :( It's too complicated a topic. Will refine it later!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Two Pence to a Good Movie

I watched Aja Nachle on December 5. It's a good movie.

Good story. Good direction. Clean. A steady flow. Good screenplay. Terrific lyrics.

Rakhna samjhal ke yeh pather
Kal ko woh din bhi ayega
Jab pather honge yeh makan
Inki bhi hogi ek zuban

Damn good!

Reading further may be a spoiler. Carry on at your own risk.
I was initially afraid that that it would turn out to be one of those movies depicting a wannabe dancer, her ambitions smothered by the ruthless society, finally finding her way to name and fame. I really get repelled by that idea now.

Instead, it showed mellower thoughts. An established dancer's wish to fulfil her late master's wish. Her struggle to achieve something emerging from love and respect, not from ambition. The leading character isn't shown as a typical ultra-feminine male-basher. She's a courageous and graceful lady who behaves like a lady, and beats the shit out of the bad guys in her own way. She is a mother of a kid, and isn't shown to be younger than 40 + something Madhuri would look. She nevertheless looks quite beautiful. Her acting is good, and dancing is definitely better.

Some beautiful things are shown happening. For instance, a guy who's declared ultra-boring by his wife decides to make himself over. Though, this topic may look comic and cliched to most, I guess, it's more grave than most of us wish to realise, particularly in middle-class families. For a change, the topic was given the kind of treatment such a serious topic deserves -- a serious one.

The background of the movie is a small North-Indian town named Shamli. It deals with small-town issues which concerns a large majority of the Indian population.

The climactic half-hour ballet shown in towards the end of the movie was eminently artistic -- terrific choreography, beautiful expressions, story-telling, cinematography and art-direction, and music. It was grand and pompous. And yet, something was quite realistic about it.

With many such out-of-the-way nice things about it, I think, it mayn't have shocked even the makers of the film when the film bombed. Indian public has little tolerance for things which deviate from their narrow perception of entertainment. In our cracked society, the metropolitan gentry doesn't identify with the outlook of the small-town populace. And the small-town populace are too displeased with their reality to want to see any of it on screen, even if it's done with finesse and affection.

Notwithstanding box-office response, notwithstanding reviews, I would advise my friends to go and have a look at the movie. It's a nice movie, and quite entertaining, with not a dull moment anywhere.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Cracking a Walnut

I think, immediately following global warming, poverty and war, the most pressing woe faced by humankind is the fact that cracking a walnut is so difficult. Access to its heavenly innards is made such a tough thing, which -- ahead of its price -- makes access to walnuts so difficult.

A kashmiri gentleman taught me today how to break the nut barehanded. God bless him! It's unimaginable that breaking the shell -- to break which, such heavyweight tools like hammers, concrete slabs, furnitures; such complicated contraptions like door hinges; and such tiring exercises like propelling the nuts at walls, are used, and that too with such minuscule success, and with such amount of mess that to salvage microscopic bits of the walnut kernel from the debris so created often makes the act of sacrificing the temptation to try cracking that tough nut look nobler than otherwise -- with bare hands -- even the most femininely delicate ones -- is so miraculously easy!!!

I have decided to tell the general populace about how to do it. And that ways, I will be satisfied that I have already contributed my bit to relieving the world of one of its prime miseries.

Here goes the method!

Place the nut vertically on the table or floor so that it stands on its sharp end. Of course, keep holding it with one hand so it doesn't roll away.
Make a fist of your other hand. Hit the top of the nut with your fist with the little finger end of the fist facing down. Not too strongly, nor too delicately. You will hear a cracking sound. In most cases, it won't be the sound of a bone breaking. It's the nut which is cracked! And that too into two neat halves. All of its soul lying bare in front of you to devour!

Can't believe it? Try it yourself.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

My Virtual Social Network

The numerousness of these social networking sites is driving me crazy. I have already started losing track of which all portals I am a member of. Here I try creating a list, with idea about which is for what.

My experience is that it's better to stick to few networks. We can't be active in many networks. It would soon go out of hand if we tried to be active in all in which are signed up.

Blogspot: I use this for blogging general stuff. I started blogging here. So, first mover advantage in my case. I don't have anything particularly good or bad to say about this site.

Sulekha: I use this for blogging creative stuff -- particularly short stories. This is fairly well-read ezine, and widely popular among Indians, world over. Its blogging interface is very sophisticated. Blogs can be put wide number of categories. So, searching for interesting blogs is easier, and so is reaching out to the pertinent audience to your own writing. There's a point system in place, which rates the blogger as per their activity. So, there's this lure of becoming famous.

Orkut: The first proper social networking site I became a member of. It's got the first mover advantage for me. I have over 200 contacts here as of now. I have got back in touch with many many old lost friends though orkut. And also have met people with matching interests (water colouring, cartooning etc.) Its scrapping feature looked crazy and silly in the beginning. But it later became the prime medium of reconnecting with old friends, as I would often bump into old friends while browsing someone's scrapbook.

LinkedIn: This is a very popular professional networking site. Its professional networking and referral system is its novel feature. I have heard that some companies officially demand referrals through LinkedIn.

Minglebox: This is a campus networking site. It's an Indian site. The number of colleges listed in this seems large, but the number of members in each doesn't seem to be too good. IISc has only a little over 20 members. That shows that it hasn't yet taken off. It has got a groovy online chatting facility with your campus mates.

Tagged , Frienster , namesdatabase : These are similar to orkut. Their UI is mostly more sophisticated than orkut's, but they have lost out to orkut on the first mover advantage. Haven't had a chance to explore the features to be able to give a detailed review.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Having Food

I thought let me grab the chance of giving you some advice. :)

If one does not enjoy good appetite, I
was wondering if there's a way out of that. Well, the problem may be
with some 'chemical locha' in the body or brain. In that case, I
don't know if what I say below would work or not. Here are two things
you can do:

1. Trying to reduce the number of people you eat with. I find the
company of zero or one people ideal during my meals. I like talking
little while eating; and if at all, I like talking on thing which are
peaceful and quiet. I don't like having any discussion that requires
surge of adrenalin or intellect or both. For example, Science,
music, philosophy, literature, art...anything that I am serious about
is a no-no during meals. The idea is to pay full attention to whatever
I eat and spend as little energy on talking

2. When I used to fuss about food in my kidhood, my Mom used to say,
"Chander moto mukh kore khao" (eat while having a face like moon.)
That has had deep effect on me since. I have made it a point to try
feeling happy about the food I am eating. Food hides good tastes
behind bad taste. I found that it was fun to look for what tasted good
in that food. If anyone in the world can enjoy a particular food, I
try finding out a way to relish that food in the same way. I often
succeed. :)

In short, we must give full attention to our food. We should eat it
with affection and joy. :)

May we all be blessed with good appetite and even better bowel movement! :D

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Excerpts from the early days of PhD

Follows excerpts from a letter I wrote sometime in the second year of my PhD. The mood is that of pride, exuberance, hope, and a lot of inexperience. I had no idea yet what lay ahead of/for me. A lot has changed since then. Much that's written here would never have been written later, if not then. But, that proves it: This PhD has been worth its while!

letter 1
W Bhaai, hum abhee bhee IISc mein hee hain. PhD kar rahe. Aur kucch saal to lagenge hi. And what do
you want to hear of my experiences? I wonder if they will appear interesting to you at all. OK for your,
here're a few lines:
I am working under Prof. Y. N. Srikant (Chairman, CSA dept., I am working on automatic verification of theoretical models of
software, with emphasis on Software Architectural Models. So, it's mainly a combination
of Software Architecture, Compiler Design, Program Verification.

How do I do my research? I keep reading books and papers, with a view of finding out what remains to be
done. If I find something of that sort, I try more seriously to search out whatever is
available on that matter all over the world. Ideas start coming automatically.
Till now, I haven't hit an idea that's not been done by anybody else. Often
I have come up with brilliant looking ideas; worked on them for a few
days, and even for a few weeks; and then have found that they have already
been worked on before. So, it's a long journey. Like this, I keep learning
new things; and hopefully sooner or later, I will be so good in my subject that I will be
the first to come with some idea. That's generally about my research.
There're many
many other things I do here.

I am convenor of the IISc music team. That takes away around 25-35% of all my mental
activities. It's a large team consisting of nearly 30 people. Since, it's a
high talent zone, it suffers all the problems of a normal organisation.
Miscommunications, ego clashes, irregularity. and even people running away
and layoffs! Being a convenor of this team is quite a full-time job, I assure you!
I am also the official cartoonist of the IISc monthly newsletter. So, a
day a month has to be fully devoted to that. I am also a part of the Students' Support Network. A
team of 8-9 people trained in lay counselling to help students with
psychological problems (there're quite a few here, due to the stressful life). I underwent a
short course in providing lay counselling some time ago.

Apart from that I usually socialise a lot. I have a large circle of
friends. Almost everybody in the campus knows me. So, that's an overhead,
as well as an advantage.

After telling so much, all my well-wishers usually give me a worried look
asking: 'Sujit, hope your research is going on well!'
Well, I usually don't answer that question. Let time figure that out for everybody! :)

letter 2
Hey W, That letter of yours gives a lot of openings for the egotist within me to speak up.
Well, I will keep him quiet for now and try to be brief (I may not succeed!).

PhD life (for me, atleast) is vivid, active and exhausting
experience. I learn a lot lot more than an average man does any day.
Simply because I find this environment far more condusive to keeping your
senses alert and awake. It's a blessing not granted to many. Some never
get even a taste of it. And some unfortunates get it and never realise
what they're whiling away. I am fortunate, very fortunate!

Darker sides? Well! None really, if you're talking about me and my
life. I am just fine. I get a modest 6k/month. Much more than enough to
lead a perfectly splendid life in the campus. Anyways, it'd take quite a
rich man to be leading a life full of so many experiences, such greenery,
such great company, such facilities and simplicity. All my needs are more
than met.

Perhaps, you're talking about the lack of the 'feeling' of a
growing bank balance. Well, I was never good at deriving any pleasure from
the feeling that I must be having a large bank balance. This fulfilling
life more than compensates for whatever that means. I am already richer
than most, forever!

(One reason for this post is also is also to push that previous post down. It was more an experiment with that Hindi typing than making a point. I consider that experiment a failure.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

शाकाहार और मांसाहार

इस दुविधाजनक परिस्थिति में कई बार पडा हूँ जब मुझसे किसी ने पूछा कि शाकाहार क्यों।
मेरा शाकाहारी बन्ने का कारण शैधान्तिक है। और ये मेरे मांसाहारी मित्रों को पसंद नही। मेरी माँ को यदि कोई प्रश्न करे कि आपका बीटा शाकाहारी क्यों है तो वो यही कहती है कि उसे हाजमे कि तकलीफ है। माँ अनर्थक बहस मे ना पड़ने के लिए ऐसा कहती है।
मैं इस विषय में झूठ नही कहता। मैं शाकाहारी हूँ और इस बात का गर्व कर्ता हूँ। मांसाहार को मैं अनैतिक मानता हूँ और इस विषय में तर्क वितर्क से मुझे कोई परहेज नही।
पर इससे पहले कि कोई मेरे विचारों पर पर कोई धारणा बना ले मैं कुछ बातें स्पष्ट कर देना चाहता हूँ। पहला ये कि केवल मांसाहार करने से ही कोई हिंसक नही बन जाता ना ही शाकाहारी बन्ने पर कोई महात्मा हो जाता है। व्यक्तिगत तौर पे नैतिकता की परिभाषा वह नही जो सामान्य तौर पे होती है। उदहारण: हमारे खान पान की आदतें हमारी नैतिकता के ज्ञान पे नही बल्कि हमारी परवरिश पर निर्भर करती है। जब तक खान-पान में हम अपनी तरफ से मूलभूत परिवर्तन ना लायें तब तक उसपे सिद्धांतों की कोई प्रासंगिकता नही।
मेरी परवरिश एक मांसाहारी परिवार में हुई। मैं एक आयु तक स्वयम मांसाहारी था। मैंने जान-बूझ के अपनी आदतों में परिवर्तन लाया। मुझे अधिकार है कि मैं अपने इस फैसले का पूछे जाने पर सही कारण बताऊँ। मैं नही मानता कि इसमे किसी को कोई बात व्यक्तिगत आक्षेप के रुप में लेनी चाहिए।
खैर! मंसहरियों से जब भी मैं इस तर्क में पढ़ जाता होन तो एक मेरे बताये कारणों का एक जवाब सदैव पाटा हूँ। क्या वृक्षों में प्रान नहीं? क्या तुम्हे यकीं के साथ पता है कि उनकी ह्त्या वक़्त उन्हें कोई तकलीफ नही होती?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Men and Women

Here was one quite a nice poem written in praises of women, that I got in an egroup.
Why Women Cry

Why are you crying, a young boy asked his Mom?

"Because I'm a woman," she told him.

I don't understand," he said.

His Mom just hugged him and said,
"And you never will, but that's O.K.".......

Later the little boy asked his father,
"Why does Mom seem to cry for no reason?".
"All women cry for no reason," was all his Dad could say......

The little boy grew up and became a man,
still wondering why women cry.

Finally he put in a call to God and when God got back to him, he
asked "God, why do women cry so easily?"

GOD answered......

"When I made woman,
I decided she had to be special.
I made her shoulders
strong enough to carry
the weight of the world, yet,
made her arms gentle enough to give comfort...

I gave her the inner strength
to endure ch! ildbirth
and the rejection
that many times will come
even from her own children.

I gave her a hardness
that allows her
to keep going and take care
of her family and friends,
even when everyone else gives up, through sickness and fatigue

I gave her the sensitivity to love her children under any and all
circumstances. Even when her child has hurt her badly....

She has the very special power to make a child's boo-boo feel better
to quell a teenager's anxieties and fears....

I gave her strength to care for her husband, despite faults
and I fashioned her from his rib to protect his heart....

I gave her wisdom to know that a good husband never hurts his wife,
sometimes tests her strengths and her resolve to stand beside him

For all of this hard work,
I also gave her a tear to shed.
It is hers to use
whenever needed and ! !
it is her only weakness....
When you see her cry,
tell her how much you love her, and all she does for everyone, and
even though
she may still cry, you will have made her heart feel good.

She is special!

I felt that there was need to do a balancing act. After all guys, particularly nice guys like me, have seen or done none of the atrocities that their kind have been charged with for milennia. We keep hearing that we belong to that sex-starved, beastly kind called 'male'. After all there's a need to recapitulate on our true nature. So, I wrote the following:

Baap re! Are women so very good! Let's write something parallel for men...
Quoting God...
I gave him a kind and noble heart. Covered that up with muscles, so he
could be powerful enough to carry the load and sorrows he must bear.

It was him for whom I secured all the bothering of finance for
his family. I also gave him the forbearance to never show its difficulty
to the family he loves. He too wanted to sit back and sulk on somebody
along with his kids. But he couldn't. As a man he must see to it that they
live on.

I gave him the responsibility for making his family feel secure. Even if
he is left with no strength he manages to make his family safe and secure
from the greatest dangers of the world. He too wanted to tremble like a
leaf. But he couldn't. Because he is a man!

I gave him the role of always acting the ideal person for his children so
that they grow up to be as good as or better than him. Even at the face of
being ridiculed as old-fashioned and boring by the very children he lives
for. He too wanted to cry and scream expressing his pain. But he couldn't.
Because he is a man!

While the woman could care, love, caress, laugh and cry with her child --
and be called the Mother, the greatest friend, guru etc. The Father had to
go out in the heat so that his child and wife could eat. He too wanted to
caress and love his child. But no! he is a man!

But then I just had stop short of making him the perfect creature. I
couldn't give him a single drop of tear. For, I had already given all of
that to women.

A women thus can express her love, hate, fear, happiness and sorrow all
through TEARS! And earn love and regard as 'Oh so feminine!'

Man keeps taking the blame of being unfeeling, heartless, mean, physical,
base, and what not - because he can't cry!

Poor men!

In summary...

Hey, we all are the same, with some minor external differences. Don't
romanticise unnecessarily. Let's love and respect everybody equally (I
know, that's easier said than done).

I will be happy to see the day when men will be actually enchanted by
women showing the talents men think themselves good at.

I will be even happier to see the day when women can see a man crying
without thinking, 'how...!'

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


A cross posting (edited) from a discussion in the casteless community in orkut:

Everything that's accumulated by means of capabilities will have a tendency to accumulate unevenly. Take the simple example of money. In a purely capitalistic society, even if we start with an initial condition of hypothetical fair competition, the more capable ones will soon march ahead of others. Then, when that generation passes away, they will always tend to bequeath their wealth to the people they consider as their offsprings, and heirs. Therefore, from the very next generation, people will start their lives (read 'races') from varying degrees of advantage. Over several generations, this difference will have a natural tendency to widen leading to plutocracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and finally feudalism.
This is true for all valuable things : money, power, social status and even knowledge. Casteism is culmination of intellectual and social aristocracy.
Casteism exists in various disguises in our society. The evil of casteism is much deeper rooted than the archetypal 'casteism' that we usually talk about. Getting rid of casteism in a true sense would mean that people must bequeath their earnings and wealth (whether of currency, power, knowledge etc) to those they consider worthy heirs of it, not to those who are their natural offsprings.
Not at all easy because of many reasons. One hurdle is that we are hardwired to be biased to our biological offsprings. Not obeying that is hard. Not commenting about its rightness or wrongness. But each act done against the dictate of nature creates an added element of tension. We have still done many such things and have succeeded. I am hopeful even this can be achieved. But it's quite tough. Another hurdle is, doing so, it may have unpredictable consequences on social structures like family, which, otherwise have proven rather effective, and again come to us through our biology.
But as a good start, let's try and understand the problem of casteism and class-feelings in its entirety. Let's not hurry to promise to get rid of them.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Middle of the Edge; Edge of the Middle

I wrote the notes underneath as a preview of what I thought would be an elaborate analysis of this topic. But after having written them, it looks to me that they are rather clear and complete in what they say. So, I have dropped the idea of making a long post out of this. :) This suffices!

About how there are people who, just so that they can belong to a cohesive group, join extremist ones, simply because in the extreme, there's bound to be more cohesion. They are very much in the middle, in spite of being on the edge.

...and how there are people, who swear by leading a balanced life, and take discipline and balancedness to its extreme. They are at the edge of the middle.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Arguing for Objective Definition

This article talks about my idea about the relation of objectivity and science. After dwelling a bit upon how objectivity is the holy grail of scientific practice, we take the opposite stand wherein viewing and interpretation is not a matter that has been ignored and hushed up, but a subject of fascinating studies. We then discuss the question of what is the most significant characteristic of science. The purpose of this discussion would not specifically be to answer the question, but to analyse the undercurrents of the questions of objectivity in that. Finally, we make some simplistic prescriptions as to how scientists would make better scientists, not by hushing up the inherent subjectivity of their trade, but by capitalising upon it.

1 Objectivity in Science
“Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions, considering only facts.” That is the definition of the term ‘objective’ in Oxford dictionary. (Natural) Science (hereon referred to as just science) has come up as the de facto instrument of human race to create a body of knowledge which stands on such rigorous assessment that the possibility of its ever being contradicted can be
reduced to practically nil. The proof of this rigour has two vehicles – formal theory and experiments. In fact, the emphasis on the non-contradictability of scientific knowledge is so much that it has been decided to gradually shunt certain questions – by no means less interesting and challenging than any other – out of the purview of science study, at least for the present. These questions do not lend themselves well to a rigorous scientific study – at least
at the present time – due to the presence of one or more attributes which are difficult, if not impossible, to measure. Examples of such attributes – beauty, emotions, welfare etc. Such questions fall in the purview of arts and social sciences. We will devote a later section on developing more elaborate arguments about what could be a precise definition of science. For the present, the point of the matter is the stress laid on the need for objectivity in science.

What is behind the obsessive pursuit of objectivity in science? Philosophical beliefs of positivism, realism, dualism and idealism interplay with each other here to point us to the possible answer. In essence, the pursuit of science seems to rest on the belief that there is one unified truth about
everything. It may or may not be known or even knowable, but its independence from the knower is complete. That truth is absolute. There is an implicit claim in the idea of science that science is pursuit of the knowledge of that absolute truth.

2 Beyond Objectivity
We observe myriad things and events which are interesting and intriguing. However, their interestingness may often be associated with something beyond our power of measurement. Science refrains, in general, in claiming a central role in understanding such subjects. However, it hasn’t stopped any interested soul from pursuing such subjects. Let us use this section in iden-
tifying a set of such subjects. One important inference that can be drawn from this part of the discussion is that objectivity does not always count as the most important aspect of a scholarly pursuit.

2.1 Aesthetics and Art
Beauty, for instance, is intuitively a universally sensed attribute of various things. However, its actual immeasurability depends not only on its subjectivity, but also on the intractability of its physical origins. For example, it may be argued that a painting is beautiful owing to the faithfulness of its details to how people see the world. This isn’t true about paintings which
intentionally use effects which don’t add to the its realisticness, and yet add beauty value to it. The absence of this realisticness aspect is even sharper in a beautiful cartoon, where the artist’s achievement is in distorting the real world to the utmost to evoke humour. Perhaps, the beauty of a cartoon lies in the cartoonist’s ability to capture the essential features of a object, and
distorting it to a ridiculous degree, yet preserving the essential characteristic of the subject. The beauty might be tentatively identified as anything that evokes so called positive sensations in the onlooker, e.g. humour or surprise or admiration. However, that may not be true if we consider that works of art – drawings, movies, music etc. – demonstrating morbid things like death
and suffering earn tremendous accolade as excellent pieces of art. To say that they lack beauty would not be acceptable at all. Then perhaps, one would say that beauty resides wherever there is creativity and sensitivity involved in an act. Quite surprisingly, beauty of nature is the most undesputably beautiful thing. It does not require a believer to appreciate this beauty (though this statement could be disputed). Therefore, beauty is not necessarily associated with only a creation.
We are far from equipped to state with any confidence what causes the presence of beauty in something, let alone, to measure it with any degree of precision. Yet, this question has intrigued people for centuries. And the urge to create beautiful things is one of primal urges present in varying quantities in all human beings. Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy which
tries developing an understanding of the nature of beauty, particularly in works of art. The practice of creating beauty is art.

2.2 History
Among all things man wants to know, his past is one. Man’s wish to know everything of the events that led to him might well have been the dominant reason for him to start studying history. Yet, history has evolved far from merely a subject which just tries to reconstruct the past. The concept of historical thinking or historical reasoning points to a skill of reasoning in
historians quite different in nature than scientific thinking. It is an interesting matter to ask why historical thinking must be sanctioned a different form. In my view, the answer partly lies in the sparseness of concrete evidences using which history is created. An account of an event that happened far removed in time and space from now and here can be expected to have lost many of the threads that lead it to us, and now could lead us back to it. However, the onus on the historian is an ambititious one – to construct a story out of those evidences. This story involves not just plain physical elements but human factors which are far more complex than anything else. Even in this information age, to discover the exact links of causality between various
interesting events is difficult. If we temporarily give space to the (dubious) assumption that societies of the past were simpler than the present, still their complexity was demonstrably daunting. Is it, therefore, hopeless to look backward as history does? Critics of history have strong arguments to provide. As per them, History neither qualifies as an art, nor as a science. Its interpretation are subjective and value laden. Historians have been charged of trivialising the individual man by placing disproportionate importance to the evolution of the human society. The worst aspect which is almost a conventional wisdom is that the chronicles created at every point, which later act as the principal tools of a historian, are at the mercy of the ruling powers of the age and country. Such documents are liberally used by many to serve their ulterior motives. How does one make use of such adulterated documentation to create an accurate account of the past?

Despite all these negative factors, study of history remains an interesting thing to do. The subjectivity – to some extent, even the sensationalisaton – of the accounts, instead of being detrimental to the cause of the study of the past, has turned into an effective method to create interesting narratives which can then be discussed in a lot bigger council of historians. Finally,
this should create consensus about the past – a simplistic, but necessary assumption.

2.3 Literary Interpretation
Literary criticism is the application of literary theory – a subject which deals in developing understanding about literary work. The central questions revolve around : What is literature? Good literature and bad literature? Various aspects of a literary work? The role of a critic?
Literary criticism as a practice is as old as literature itself. Its importance cannot be overstated, going by the fact that that there are now authorities on whom a general consumer of literary work can rely for informed and balanced review of literature. Like any study that tries to theorise an art, literary theory can be criticised for trying the place works of literature into
pigeon-holes. However, like any other field of scholarly study, literary theory has also developed tremendously, and is an approximation of the ideal of a complete and correct theoretical infrastructure for evaluation of literary quality.

From the point of view of our current discussion, the history of literary theory discloses an all pervading element of subjectivity in the process of criticism. The question of the role of the critic in fulfilling the meaning of a literary work is vividly studied. In a sense, a peculiar aspect of literature comes out : A literary work gets its many meanings when it goes into the
hands of its many readers. The subjective aspect of literature is an inherent and essential one. That’s a point rigorously accentuated by the subject of literary criticism.

3 How Objective is Science?
In this section, I summarise the ideas that raise an important question about Science: How objective is science, after all? These ideas have often come from authoritative figures in the world of science. This demonstrates that science, in its highest attire, perhaps never claims a total lack of subjectivity.

A good scientist doesn’t just accept the presence of subjectivity, but often seems to accept that its presence is an essential ingradient of what could be called science. Of the innumerable evidence of this widely recognised fact, I rather expectedly have had access to some which are close to my area of interest, Computer Science.

3.1 Knuth – The Art of Computer Programming
Donald Knuth, in his Turing lecture [1], spent a considerable hour emphasising how computer programming is as much an art as it is a science. The central argument of the lecture is that even though computer programming is now largely a science, it is an artistic activity at its core. Even though our understanding of what it means for a program to be correct becomes more
elaborate, programming itself is not on its way to dissociate itself with good taste, beauty and divergent thinking.

3.2 Penrose – The Emperor’s New Mind
The Emperor’s New Mind [3] is a monumental popular science book written by the famous Oxford scientist Roger Penrose. His central argument in this book is to convince the reader that with the given state of the art in our knowledge of Physics, it is impossible to build computers that could possibly think. The many arguments in this book are borrowed from various fields
– Theory of Computation, Quantum Physics etc. – all showing that it is fallacious to say that computers of the current day indeed do anything like thinking in the proper sense of the word.
A dominant theme of this book also expresses that critical aspects of human thinking are not algorithmic in nature. The book can’t be quoted as a book against objectivity as such, but it does disavowes the notion that mechanisms of human thinking, as we know it, are understood well-enough that they could effectively be mimicked by any machine in the short future.
The roots of the most critical features of human thinking – creativity, imaginativeness and visualisation – lie beyond what has been discovered about the physical world.
I dare to add that an important indication is that when that (or those) breakthrough understandings about the physical world do unravel themselves to us, our notion of objectivity will not remain untouched by that breakthrough.

3.3 Proof As a Social Process
A very active area of research in computer science is verification, wherein people create tools and methods to formally prove that a computer program meets its requirement. The motivation comes from the need of significantly enhanced confidence in a program’s correctness and quality. The central claim of the proponents of verification is that if a program can be automatically and undesputably proved to be correct, they will be of a higher quality, and the process of software development would be much faster and enjoyable. Alan Perlis, the first ACM Turing Award winner, writes in his 1979 paper Social Processes and Proofs of Theorems [2], how erroneous the basic assumptions of verification proponents are. Perlis et al. go on to argue that there is no interesting mathematical proof which is accepted and used without having gone through an elaborate social process. They claim that proofs are a very essentially human activity, involving immense stress, strong emotions, publicising, reviews and so on. Opposed to this, a verification proof would be an unreadable piece of automatically generated symbols, which nobody would be able to read in the first place. Consequently there is no hope of an automatically generated program verification proof to ever take the place of a mathematical proof. The field of verification has made significant strides since the above paper, though the progress has not significantly disputed the above claim. The interesting point from the point of view of this article is the stress that the authors put on the social nature of mathematical proofs of theorems and
hence programs. There is a strong indication that the authors believe that the activity of proving things is not algorithmic or mechanical; it’s inherently human.

3.4 The Lost Knowledge Argument
The superior credibility that science has earned for itself is perhaps not to be disputed. What could be questioned is the role of objectivity in that. The most respected findings of science have been simple, often intuitive. They have also been proved wrong after surviving for several centuries. The most rigorous theorems in science are at best cursorily understood by the wide
scientific community. Their details are often way beyond the comprehension of all but a handful working in that area. This puts a serious question on the universal claim of objectivity that is made in science. The barrier of tremendous complexity protects many scientific claims from both being understood and from being seriously questioned by a large number of people.
It becomes a proprietary property of sorts of its owners. How does such a piece of knowledge claim to be objective?
One argument in favour of objectivity would be: If you try hard enough... Let us examine this argument a bit closely. The statement is inherently value laden. Not only does it rest on an unmeasured quantity of ‘hard enough’, there is a subtle menace communicated which seems to glare negatively at both not trying hard enough (insincerity), and not being able to try hard enough (lack of intelligence). The fact that mathematical rigour is inaccessible to a large portion of the population should not be waved away as a state of affair, but should be given due importance in the definition of objectivity.
I am repeatedly tempted to liken scientists with mystic gurus of the orient who professed to have seen the truth. If you wondered to them: ‘Hey! But I can’t see it!’ They too would perhaps say, ’If you try hard enough...’ It is an important question to ask as to what really differentiates the mystic’s claim from a mathematician’s claim. While the mystic claims to have developed
a perception for things beyond the limits of our usual senses, a mathematician seems to have sharpened his skill of looking through the mathematical symbols to seeing what they mean. Unless, the difference between a mystic’s and a mathematician’s capabilities is well understood, the debate on the objectivity of science is far from over.
Another strong argument in favour of objectivity is: In case of science, there are at least some experts who can work the proofs out right from the start to the end. This is not true for mystical subjects, or subjects like astrology.
Try looking at the argument from the other side. What happens if, of our five senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste), one of the dominant ones (say, sight) disappears? What would happen to the large body of scientific knowledge that requires the existence of this faculty. Were this faculty to disappear from the face of the Earth, there would be no way by which this
category of knowledge (in which, I am sure, a better portion of scientific knowledge can be put, directly or indirectly) could be proved or disproved. There would remain no expert on such vast volumes of knowledge. Would such knowledge continue to remain scientific? The situation appears contrived, but raises a fascinating question: Is a piece of knowledge objective owing to some inherent attribute of it, or due also to certain circumstantial parameters? It appears to me that the answer is the latter. Scientific knowledge of today could lose their status as scientific knowledge if certain circumstances were to arise. Or else, scientific knowledge would have to forsake its claim that at least some experts exist who can prove their truth. The existence of a sufficient number of such experts is not an inherent property of the knowledge; it’s partly circumstantial.

4 Conclusion – Science and Subjectivity
All the above briefly brings forth the idea that the practice of science has existed and excelled on many more factors than objectivity. A significant amount of creativity and taste categorically establish the artistic side of science. Therefore, it would be right to say here that instead of sweeping its subjective aspects under the rug, science should learn to accept them openly. I would even suggest that some degree of subjectivity would play an important role in making science more interesting to do, and accessible more widely. Follows a couple of prescriptions as to where such subjective elements would work in service to science. They may be simplistic and unpolished, but surely not grossly in the wrong direction.

4.1 Dialogue as a Communication and Pedagogical Tool
The ostensibly subjective nature of the subjects of interest in social sciences makes it a particularly challenging task to communicate the exact thought. The language of mathematics, which proves a fairly effective medium of communication in many of the scientific subjects, falls short in its expressivity in matters of social sciences. The activity of knowledge communication takes a very interesting form here: that of dialogue. There are long discussion on a matter, primarily not to work out details of an artifact, but to refine the understanding of a concept and create a consensus on the matter by establishing a common language (vocabulary and grammar). Such an exchange predates on looking at an apparently subjective issue from its various angles, weighing opinions, and likewise refining the language of discourse. Studying this method of communication would be of significant value to teachers of science. Scientific pedagogues struggle to make their otherwise dry mathematical subjects interesting by employing methods of exchange which are used rather commonly in social sciences, and have been developed to a very advanced level in such disciplines. Studying their methods would be of pragmatic value to scientific communicators. The tricks of these methods involve a narrative style, often studded with expertly moderated discussions between the instructor and the audience, among other things. Most scientists are woefully ignorant of such effective means of evoking interest in their audience. Somewhere deep down, all these tricks are rooted at a conventional appreciation of the inherent subjectivity of the subject, and also of the fact that the participants of a scholarly interchange are often human-beings. Their interpretation is by nature subjective.
The only effective methods of catalising such interchanges are not more and more excruciating details, but also those narrative styles, which scientists often dismiss as decorative.

4.2 Widened View
Science is done well if it involves focus. But it’s done better when there is a degree of widening of view. Science, despite its ivory tower self image has its takers, like anything else. It makes sense to situate oneself in a wider social context so the efforts are more goal-driven. The setting of context should happen in various ways. Something which is known as market research at the business level can be done also in the scholarly level by viewing one’s work as a part of a wider project. It would be too bold to claim that involving subjectivity in our world-view should bring in a revolution in scientific results, but surely, it could revolutionise the way we do science.

[1] D. Knuth. Computer programming as an art. In Communications of the
ACM, pages 667673–357. ACM Press, May 1974.
[2] R. A. D. Millo, R. J. Lipton, and A. J. Perlis. Social processes and proofs
of theorems and programs. Communications of the ACM, 22(5):271–280,
[3] R. Penrose. The Emperor’s New Mind. The Oxford University Press,

Friday, February 16, 2007


I don't know if I believe in them. I think they are useful, if not factual.
Doing hard things requires courage and determination apart from other things like hardwork and intelligence. Courage and determination are required to fight the risk. Risk is involved in all difficult projects. And that risk arises from the statistical fact that more people have failed in doing that than those who have succeeded. This indicates that on an average, it's wiser not to try anything risky, alias difficult, alias great, deed. A normal logic will always lead us to this conclusion.

The only thing that can break this argument is a self-image that 'I'm not normal'. And what/how I am trying to do is not normal. With that one can claim that in spite of the high risk, it's reasonable 'for me' to try it.

However, that self-image etc isn't based on reason. It's based on courage and determination.
Anything that boosts these is a useful thing. Good omens are such things.

I don't believe that they wilfully conspire to make things happen for our success. I think we conspire to interpret them that way. This conspiracy is rooted at our wish to do something good, extraordinary, great.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Frigid IISc

Some thoughts that came out of my wish to see the missing vibrance in the IISc community, and it being unfulfilled.

Recently I was in an interesting conversation (separate ones) with two of my friends. The topic revolved around our standing as a research institute vis-a-vis other places. We were of course, not talking about ratings and all. They are rather transient and shallow. We were trying to look at things from the view of insiders.

One issue was regarding students' magazines. A good magazine, with a regular release of hard-copies and a web-edition, does a lot in establishing the university to outsiders and insiders alike the strength of its existence. It's like the institute is so important that its events and life regularly gets documented and published for the peresul of everyone. IISc is pathetic when it comes to such funky things like magazines and other extra curriculars. We all personally agree that being a so-called premiere institute, it's rather expected that we should have a nice periodical of our own. Quite lamentably, IISc doesn't have a jazzy periodical. We do have something called 'Voices'. It's a very simple single-coloured newspaper style magazine. I am in the editorial team. Till recently, I also used to do the cartoon for that . Off late due to work pressure I have retired from that work. We do manage to create a 4-6 page monthly issue. I am sure we have been doing a good job at that. But, we are a pathetically small team. In fact, the general impression among ignorant IIScians is that there's some big team doing a horrendous job. When they come to know that we are just 3-4 of us who have been continuously toiling to bring out this magazine, they get surprised. I understand that we work under severe resource crunch in this respect. Guys at Stanford and Harvard have dedicated staff to publish their periodicals. We are in no such luxurious conditions. But, I don't feel bad about that. What's disappointing is that people just crib. There are matters people notice which need to be brought to the public notice. There are thoughts in each person's mind. But they come to the canteen, bitch a bit about the administration and general research quality etc., and then forget about it. The realisation is missing that putting a one-time effort in putting those thoughts together would go a long way in creating a more aware and alert IISc community, which will be ready to respond to its issues.

Ironically, the various regional groups in IISc are doing quite well in that respect. Especially the Bengali Cultural Group called Spandan is very active and powerful. They organise very good cultural programmes and bring out quite a respectable bi-annual magazine in Bengali. I know they too manage all this with tremendous difficulty. But they succeed in the end. Similarly there's Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Mallu, Gujju, etc. etc. cultural groups, all more active in themselves than the overall IISc community.\n

We have been hard at work in trying to beef up Voices (IISc monthly) to a better shape by getting more people, and by getting others to contribute guest articles. I am hopeful that we will get some fruitful results.

The other discussion I had with my friend was regarding how we in IISc usually are far more tensed up and self-loathing compared to other institutes of the world. Through our interactions with various people, we are rather confident at one level that individually, we are very much at par with the best of the lot. Nevertheless, IIScian's generally behave like dorks overall. We work hard, we toil, but our productivity doesn't reach the desired level. I attribute this to our unreasonable inferiority complex. I feel (and many here agree to that) that we should get up and start living our lives well. We should feel genuinely proud of ourselves. The sense of false urgency under which we always are is unnecessary and counter-productive. I am sure that each one of us has this onus on himself to figure out how each brick of confidence can be laid around himself. Brick by brick we can found a castle of confidence and productivity.\n

I am a believer that one valid way of solving a problem is to start solving it at one's own level. Successes and failures come in the way. But things change over a long time, bit by bit. The name of the game is: Never lose hope!

Jodi tor daak shune keyo na aashe, tobe akla cholo re.

(If noone responds to your calls, move on, alone!)
- Tagore

Related Posts:
The Lost Researcher

Saturday, January 20, 2007



A scientific (possibly semi-scientific) confirmation that ghee indeed is not so bad as you guys had made it out to be. ;)

If you have more authoritative sources arguing either ways, please let me know. That will determine the rate at which I will finish the bottle of ghee I got from home.
Meanwhile, I invite you to share with me a spoonful of this heavenly homemade taste-enhancer anytime you feel like. :D


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Limits of Freewill

One of the recent discussion again turned towards the classic worry about how unnatural human-life is. This line of argument wonders why humans suprisingly don't figure in any of the food chains. They are always at the top of the food chains. It also means that nobody depends, ecologically speaking, on the existence of humans, because humans really donot produce anything that's useful for other species. What tidings does this carry about man's chances of surviving as a species? Is it possible that it's hinting towards an impending disaster? No other species really seems to care whether humans exist or not. No other important inhabitant of the planet would stand to lose anything were the humans to be completely wiped out. The only relation we share with other species is that of a predator-prey (we being the predators), or parasite-host (we being the parasites in most cases). Men don't seem to be involved in significant degree of symbiosis with any other species.

But really, the above passage is more of a context setting. I think we don't have to pretend to know very well how much chances we stand that we as a species will survive to the end of the Universe. We don't know. It was the following argument given in support of these apprehensions which led to an interesting musing. This piece is about that.
The other argument was about the complexity of our lifestyle. Men have been able to locate a certain pattern in all other species' lives. Members of other species seem to resemble each other much more than humans do. That could be taken as an indication that humans, as a species, have no clearly defined ecological role that characterises. This, again, labels them as some kind of ecological outcast.

Here, we leave aside the question of man's survivability (mostly because it's more or less beyond us), and turn towards an interesting idea that the above argument gives: What would happen if humans did succeed in characterising themselves as a species? What would happen if we all suddenly came to know what the ecological role of our species is? Looking at the other side of stage: Do the other species have a chance of ever discovering the patterns that we have been able to locate in their behaviour? And finally, in general, would ever a species stick on to the patterns that it discovers about itself?

Take a very simple example: A dog. Try getting into the shoes of a dog. We find those doggies running rather restlessly from Faculty club to Gym Cafe. From Gym Cafe to Tea Board. They are always trotting. Never walking in the relaxed manner as we do. What's the state-of-mind of the dog, when he does such acts? For him, it might be a volitional act. From whatever findings we have, we know that the part volition plays in the acts that a dog does is much less compared to what it plays in human acts. Humans think more consciously, and hence elaborately, than species like dogs in making decisions. The acts that beasts do, be it for seeking food, affection, sex or security don't appear to be designed so much by volition than other biological forces. But, would the beasts ever be aware of these forces? I doubt. With whatever self-consciousness a dog has, his act might appear perfectly volitional to him. Would he ever accept that he's a beast who's acting completely under the natural forces? No! If dogs had had that intellect, they would surely have employed a part of it to blame themselves that they break natural laws by acting wilfully.

Now Humans. To them, what they do is wilful, volitional. And hence, often unnatural. The question is: had we indeed been acting completely under some natural forces, would we every have been able to detect its presence? Well. I doubt.

We do appreciate the possibility of such presence. And have fought tooth and nail to catch them. Two forces have, I think, figured top in the suspect list: ego and sex.

Biologists try tracing down our ego to our evolutionary instinct of competiveness. They might be right. But as far as I understand, even they would accept that it's a hypothesis. There's hardly a biological method to verify the neurological equivalence between the instinct which drive people to achieve unimaginable feats, and those which drive a tom-cat to fight till death to preserve its territory from other tom-cats.

Spiritualists, on the other hand, have an altogether different take on ego. There treatment is a more sensational one, and we must have heard and read a lot about that too. I won't go into that here.

Whether ego is a manifestation of a completely beastly quality, or it has mystical connotation, is not clear. One thing that is clear is that we understand it very little. And what we understand about it is hardly enough to explain the powerful effect it has on us, and the complicated way it governs our actions. Perhaps, ego is one such natural force that sits on top of our volition. But we can see that to develop any appreciable understanding about it is very difficult, and currently, way beyond the collective capability of our species.

Sex seems, on the face, a much simpler and purely biological force. We can claim that we see its image in other species. And it's believable that the human version of it is not naturally so different than the beastly version of it and hence our understanding of it is also much closer to complete than our understanding of ego. But again, it doesn't get tamed the way we would expect anything else. Sex is an act of procreation. It's a joyful experience to both participants. We all understand it better now than we did anytime earlier. And yet, it remains, quite mysteriously, a source of tremendous social tension. First of all, it's as unavailable as it was ever. Marriage-institution is gradually breaking down, prostitution is rampant in both sexes. All sorts of social changes. But sex remains as scarce as ever. Frustrations related to sex are as prevalent now as they have ever been. While we understand that sex is a simple act of two bodies copulating, we ourselves have instincts that prevent it from getting reduced to that state. Marriage may have started giving way as a vehicle of monogamy (or monoandry). But the instinct of feeling possessive about the partner is no less now than it was before. Despite all our understanding about sex, we don't seem to understand why we are only partially polygamous or polyandrous. There lies the dark-side of sex. It's not sex that we don't understand. There seems to be something else behind sex that makes it such a strong agent of creation of tensions. That's what is again completely beyond our our collective comprehension. Again, the way mystics handle the problem of ego, romantics handle sex. They have taught us to get stimulated by every part of the beloved's body. Thereby giving sexual attraction a divine stature. A bond that transcends birth and death. A bond that's created in heaven. I doubt, that it could be another way of saying that sex is too strong a force to understand. Or rather, the instincts that lie behind sex are beyond our comprehension.

Perhaps, sex, or that which causes it, sits beside ego as two of those forces which by and large control our volition. People who have achieved even a partial success in conquering these have sacrificed much else in their life, indicating what a momentous thing it might be to contemplate conquering these. By and large these two forces are way beyond our understanding, let alone control.

Similarly, there might be many many more incomprehensible natural forces sitting on top of our volition which we can't even have a glimpse of.

It's the nature of humans, or perhaps of all species, to try manipulating the instincts that it develops complete understanding of. For example, our understanding of hunger and sleep is rather complete in some sense. Correspondingly, we have devised methods of controlling them to a significant degree. Biological details of course remain to be worked out. But there's hardly any risk of their sources tracing away to something supernatural before we start understanding them well enough that we will gain complete control over them. We have been involved in a continuous struggle to gain similar understanding and control over the phenomenon of ego and sex. Our success in that has been dismal in comparison.

Here, I would like to come back to the original point of the discussion where our inability to find patterns in our life was cited as a possible sign that we lead a very unnatural life. To summarise, this apprehension might not be factual. The above cited inability doesn't directly indicate our being beyond the natural laws. Had there been any such force, it would be awefully difficult, if not impossible, to completely understand its effect on us. There are two examples to support that. One, the example of the dog whose acts might be wilful to him but are governed by natural forces which we seem to understand better than he does merely because we have superior intelligence. Had the dog been able to comprehend those forces, its behaviour would have drastically changed. Second example is of ego and sex being two possible examples of such a force acting on us. The magnitude of power they possess on us is inexplicable on the basis of our understanding of them. There inexplicability has a direct bearing on the degree to which they control us. The greater our ignorance of them, the greater the power they will have on us. In the limiting case, a natural force which we understand so little as to be oblivious of the its existence, would also have an infinite control on us.

We, as a species, seem to be doomed to be perennially oblivious of the natural forces which overrule our will. Probably, our inability to spot the point where our freewill ends, and nature's reign starts, is nature's way of perpetuating our slavery to its laws.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mettupalayam Days

I had a great Christmas. Was on a short vacation at my friend's place at Mettupalayam. A small town between Coimbatore and Ooty. Their house is beside the highway at the edge of wilderness, lined by paddy fields and coconut groves. In those two days, I did everything that marks a vacation mood. I slept. I chatted with my friend and his family. Hogged on homemade food. Drank gazillion cup of tea. Finished a fabulous book. Went on an impromptu hike across the paddy fields, across the small stream over the hillocks. Drew. Wrote. Philosophised. :) I wonder how I could pack so much within those two short days, and yet manage to come back completely refreshed! :)