A complex systems approach to biology – a review of How Leopard Changed its Spots by Brian Goodwin

How the Leopard Changed it Spots by Brian Goodwin talks about a different approach to biology. After the genetic and molecular biology revolution 1950s onwards, increasingly the organism has been shifted out of focus in biology. Instead genes and their effect, genocentrism or neo-Darwninism, have taken the central stage. Everything in biology is seen as an “action” of genes in addition to natural selection. This translates to reductionism, everything is reduced to genes which are considered as the most fundamental units of life. This is the dominant approach in biology for some decades now. The terms such as “selfish gene” basically highlight this point. Such an approach sidelines the organism as a whole and its environment and highlights the genes alone. Good draws analogy of “word” of god seen as the final one in scriptures to the code alphabet in the genes, as if their actions and results are inevitable and immutable.

Goodwin in his work argues against such an approach using a complex systems perspective. In the process he also critiques what is an acceptable “explanation” in biology vis-a-vis other sciences. The explanation in biology typically is a historical one, in which features and processes are seen in the light of its inheritance and survival value of its properties. This “explanation” does not explain why certain forms are possible. Goodwin with examples establishes how action of genes alone cannot establish the form of the organism (morphogenesis). Genes only play one of the parts in morphogenesis, but are not solely responsible for it (which is how neo-Darwinist account argue). He cites examples from complex systems such as Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, ant colonies to establish the fact that in any system there are different levels of organisation. And there are phenomena, emergent phenomena, which cannot be predicted on the basis of the properties constituent parts alone. Simple interactions of components at lower level can give rise to (often) surprising properties at higher level. He is very clear that natural selection is universal (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea?!)

> What this makes clear is that there is nothing particularly biological about natural selection: it is simply a term used by biologists to describe the way in which one form replaces another as a result of their different dynamic properties. This is just a way of talking about dynamic stability, a concept used for a long time in physics and chemistry. We could, if we wished, simply replace the term natural selection with dynamic stabilization, the emergence of the stable states in a dynamic system. p. 53

Goodwin uses the term morphogenetic space to convey the possible shape space that an organism can occupy. Thus seen from a complex systems perspective, the various unit of the organism interact to generate the form of the organism. Natural selection then acts as a coarse sieve on these forms with respect to the environmental landscape. The “aim” of the organism is not the climb the fitness lanscape but to achieve dynamic stability.

> The relevant notion for the analysis of evolving systems is dynamic stability: A necessary (though by no means sufficient} condition for the survival of a species is that its life cycle be dynamically stable in a particular environment. This stability refers to the dynamics of the whole cycle, involving the whole organism as an integrated system that is itself integrated into a greater system, which is its habitat. p. 179

Goodwin takes examples of biological model systems and shows how using mathematical models we can generate their forms. Structure of acetabularia (a largish ~1 inch single cell algae), the structure of eye, the Fibonacci pattern seen in many flower structures being the main examples. Also, how the three basic forms of leaf arrangement can be generated by variations on a theme in the morphospace are discussed in detail. The model shows that three major forms are the most probable ones, which is actually substantiated by observations in nature. In these examples, an holistic approach is taken in which genes, competition and natural selection only play a part are not the main characters but are interacting and cooperating with levels of organisation of the organism, environmental factors in the drama of life.

> Competition has no special status in biological dynamics, where what is important is the pattern of relationships and interactions that exist and how they contribute to the behavior of the system as an integrated whole.The problem of origins requires an understanding of how new levels of order emerge from complex patterns of interaction and what the properties of these emergent structures are in terms of their robustness to perturbation and their capacity for self-maintenance. Then all levels of order and organization are recognized as equally important in understanding the behavior of living systems, and the reductionist insistence on some basic material level of cause and explanation, such as molecules and genes, can be recognized as an unfortunate fashion or prejudice that is actually bad science. P.181

Since I am already a believer of the complex systems perspective, I was aware of some of the arguments in this book, but the particular worked examples and their interpretation for biology was a fresh experience.

 

 

Book Review: Ages in Chaos by Stephen Baxter

Ages in Chaos is a scientific biography of James Hutton by Stephen Baxter. Hutton was a Scottish scientist who also played his part in Scottish enlightenment. Hutton was the first to speculate on the idea deep time required for geological processes at the end of 1700s arguing with evidence he collected. He was trained as a medical doctor, practiced farming for 10 odd years and had continued his explorations of geology throughout. The prevalent theories of geology, called Neptunists, posited that water was the change agent. Hutton on the other hand posited that it was heat which was responsible for changes, hence Vulcanists. Also, another thing was that of time needed for this change. As others of his era, Hutton was deeply religious, like Newton, wanted to find evidence for creation as per bible.

During his time, especially popular was the idea of flood as per Bible, while the Earth was literally considered to be 6000 years old. This created a problem for Hutton, who was labelled to be atheist and heretic for suggesting that Earth is much older and that there was no design. But Hutton was a conformist and wanted to find a uniform evidence for all observable aspects. He was not like a modern scientist, as he is painted many times. The ideas were vehemently attacked on each point. Though he went to the field to find geological examples for this theory. James Watt, Black and John Playfair were his friends and provided him with evidence in the form of rock samples. During his lifetime, Hutton’s ideas will not find much audience. But due to his friends, his ideas sustained a a barrage of criticisms. Only in the next generation with Lyell this work would find acceptance. This idea of a deep time was crucial in formation Darwin’s theory.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157978.Ages_in_Chaos

The book reads well mostly, but at times a complete lack of illustrations in the forms of geological artefacats and maps (of Scotland) makes it difficult to read well.

Book Review: Pendulum: Léon Foucault and the Triumph of Science by Amir D. Aczel

The book traces Leon Foucault’s ingenious approach to solving the problem of providing a terrestrial proof of rotation of the Earth. The pendulum he devised oscillates in a constant plane, and if properly engineered (as he did) can actually show the rotation of the Earth. The demonstration is one the most visually impressive scientific experiments. Also, Foucault gave prediction, an equation which would tell us how the pendulum will behave at different parts of the Earth. The pure mathematicians and physicists alike were taken aback at this simple yet powerful demonstration of the proof which eluded some of the most brilliant minds, which includes likes of Galileo and Newton. Rushed mathematical proofs were generated, some of the mathematicians earlier had claimed that no such movement was possible. That being said, Foucault was seen as an outsider by the elite French Academy due to his lack of training and degree. Yet he was good in designign things and making connections to science. This was presented to the public in 1851, and the very next year in 1852 he created another proof for rotation of the Earth. This was done by him inventing the gyroscope.. Gyroscope now plays immense role in navigation and other technologies. Yet he was denied membership to the Academy, only due to interest of the Emperor Napolean III in his work in 1864. The pendulum is his most famous work, but other works are also of fundamental significance.

  • He was first person to do photomicrography using Daguerreotype
  • Accurate measurment of speed of light using rotating mirrors –
  • Devised carbon arc electric lamp for lighting of micrcoscope
  • One of the first to Daguerreotype the Sun
  • Designed the tracking systems used in telescopes
  • also designed many motors, regulators to control electrical devices

There are a couple of places in the book where Aczel seems to be confused, at one point he states parallax as a proof for rotation of Earth around its axis, whearas it is more of a proof of Earths motion around the Sun. At another place he states that steel was invented in 1800s which perhaps he means to say that it was introduced in the west at the time. Apart from this the parallels between the rise of Napoleon III, a Nephew of Napolean, to form the second Empire in France and Foucault’s own struggle for recognition of his work and worth is brought out nicely.

Conditioning hatred for books

INFANT NURSERIES. NEO-PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING ROOMS, announced the notice board.

The Director opened a door. They were in a large bare room, very bright and sunny; for the whole of the southern wall was a single win-dow. Half a dozen nurses, trousered and jacketed in the regulation white viscose-linen uniform, their hair aseptically hidden under white caps, were engaged in setting out bowls of roses in a long row across the floor. Big bowls, packed tight with blossom. Thousands of petals, ripe-blown and silkily smooth, like the cheeks of innumerable little cherubs, but of cherubs, in that bright light, not exclusively pink and Aryan, but also luminously Chinese, also Mexican, also apoplectic with too much blowing of celestial trumpets, also pale as death, pale with the posthumous whiteness of marble.

The nurses stiffened to attention as the D.H.C. came in.

“Set out the books,” he said curtly.

In silence the nurses obeyed his command. Between the rose bowls the books were duly set out-a row of nursery quartos opened invitingly each at some gaily coloured image of beast or fish or bird.

“Now bring in the children.”

They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each
pushing a kind of tall dumb-waiter laden, on all its four wire-netted
shelves, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike (a Bokanovsky
Group, it was evident) and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in
khaki.

“Put them down on the floor.” The infants were unloaded.

“Now turn them so that they can see the flowers and books.”

Turned, the babies at once fell silent, then began to crawl towards those clusters of sleek colours, those shapes so gay and brilliant on the white pages. As they approached, the sun came out of a momentary eclipse behind a cloud. The roses flamed up as though with a sudden passion from within; a new and profound significance seemed to suffuse the shining pages of the books. From the ranks of the crawling babies came little squeals of excitement, gurgles and twitterings of pleasure.

The Director rubbed his hands. “Excellent!” he said. “It might almost have been done on purpose.”

The swiftest crawlers were already at their goal. Small hands reached out uncertainly, touched, grasped, unpetaling the transfigured roses, crumpling the illuminated pages of the books. The Director waited until all were happily busy. Then, “Watch carefully,” he said. And, lifting his hand, he gave the signal.

The Head Nurse, who was standing by a switchboard at the other end of the room, pressed down a little lever.

There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly sounded.

The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.

“And now,” the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), “now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock.”

He waved his hand again, and the Head Nurse pressed a second lever. The screaming of the babies suddenly changed its tone. There was something desperate, almost insane, about the sharp spasmodic yelps to which they now gave utterance. Their little bodies twitched and stiffened; their limbs moved jerkily as if to the tug of unseen wires.

“We can electrify that whole strip of floor,” bawled the Director in explanation. “But that’s enough,” he signalled to the nurse.

The explosions ceased, the bells stopped ringing, the shriek of the siren died down from tone to tone into silence. The stiffly twitching bodies relaxed, and what had become the sob and yelp of infant maniacs broadened out once more into a normal howl of ordinary terror.

“Offer them the flowers and the books again.”

The nurses obeyed; but at the approach of the roses, at the mere sight of those gaily-coloured images of pussy and cock-a-doodle-doo and baa-baa black sheep, the infants shrank away in horror, the volume of their howling suddenly increased.

“Observe,” said the Director triumphantly, “observe.”

Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks-already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly. What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.

“They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an ‘instinctive’ hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives.” The Director turned to his nurses. “Take them away again.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Though fictionalised the above passages capture what makes people hate books in general. The conditioning happens in reality in a more subtle manner. The conditioning laboratory is the school. In school children are made to engage with the books, textbooks in most cases, in the most artificial and dishonest matter. Another problem is the quality of textbooks themselves. Though the school has a “textbook culture”, not enough effort is put in by the writers and designers of the textbooks to make the best that they can offer. Instead cheap, copy-paste techniques, and a mix-and-match fashioned content is crammed and printed onto those pages glued together called as textbooks. No wonder, people when they grow up don’t like books or run away at the sight of them. Its just behaviorism at work with Pavlov portrait in the background.

The Art of Not Reading

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making great commotion, You should remember That he who writes for fools Always finds a large public. – A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.
– Arthur Schopenhauer

Very relevant quote with the kind of circus main stream media has become in India.

Foucault, Pendulum and Secret

Secret for the axiom has not, and in all likelihood never will be accumulated yet somehow strident. Humankind will always assure secret; some on protrusion and others of an apprentice. a lack of pendulum lies in the search for philosophy in addition to the search for reality. Why is Jean Bernard Leon Foucault so culpable to decency? The rejoinder to this interrogation is that secret is precarious.

Grout that quarrels by the explanation, frequently on enthralling civilizations, can verify an opulently postlapsarian Jean Bernard Leon Foucault. Due to conjecturing, thermostats with agreements gloat also to Foucault. Additionally, as I have learned in my semiotics class, human life will always sublimate pendulum. In my semantics class, many of the interlopers for our personal injunction at the exposition we preach reprove the proclamation. Even so, armed with the knowledge that the retort might misleadingly be the pulchritudinous mortification, some of the agriculturalists of my thermostat observe exposures. In my experience, none of the demolishers of our personal celebration by the reprimand we enlighten agree. Subsequently, augur that appends is avowed in the way we compel mesmerism and circumscribe most of the drones but should be a pledge with the organism at my embroidery. The advancement that may cerebrally be forefather stipulates embarkation, not opportunity. In my experience, all of the queries on our personal oration to the affirmation we declare insist. Because dicta are disseminated at pendulum, an appropriately or fittingly fetishistic acquiescence by Jean Bernard Leon Foucault can be more covertly feigned.

As I have learned in my literature class, Foucault is the most fundamental concession of human society. Information counteracts gravity to process radiation for a prison. The orbital receives gamma rays to transmit brains. Simulation is not the only thing the orbital at lacuna reacts; it also catalyzes gamma rays of secret. Since advances are assaulted to secret, those involved commence equally with secret. Pendulum which occludes scrutinizations which appease an accusation changes an abundance of pendulum.

The disciplinary Foucault, typically on commencements, might be a faltering inconsistency. By anesthetizing extremely but increasingly diligent authentications, the assembly for Foucault can be more inquisitively attenuated. Also, because of the fact that the ligations in question are divulged at secret, propagandists which adjure reports by anvil speculate as well on Jean Bernard Leon Foucault. Our personal demarcation by the circumstance we assure civilizes community. In any case, knowing that permeation seethes, almost all of the contradictions of our personal escapade to the response we expose expedite promulgation but oust apprentices. In my theory of knowledge class, many of the adherents at our personal utterance on the disenfranchisement we attain assent. a lack of Foucault is compassionate, strident, and virtual but will diligently be a circumspection with my organism as well. The confluence undertakes some of the organisms, not fetish that commands a capstone oratory. Our personal inquiry of the appendage we reprimand should oligarchical be the injunction. Jean Bernard Leon Foucault which inquires changes a perilous pendulum.

Pendulum has not, and doubtlessly never will be preternatural but not abhorrent. Augmentation by an assimilationist can, nonetheless, be emphatically inconsistent. From gamboling, the dictator that embroiders edification for pendulum can be more spitefully ascertained. Foucault with the amygdala will always be an experience of humanity. Secret is nugatory by its sophistically and vociferously analytical insinuations which contravene interlopers or fascinate a prelapsarian perpetuity.

Babel Generator

Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll would be proud. So would be Eco’s three editors from Foucault’s Pendulum.

The Pendulum and The Fixed Points

… And then last year, when I saw the Pen­dulum, I understood everything.”

“Everything?”

“Almost everything. You see, Casaubon, even the Pendulum is a false prophet. You look at it, you think it’s the only fixed point in the cosmos, but if you detach it from the ceiling of the Conserva­toire and hang it in a brothel, it works just the same. And there are other pendulums: there’s one in New York, in the UN building, there’s one in the science museum in San Francisco, and God knows how many others. Wherever you put it, Foucault’s Pendulum swings from a motionless point while the earth rotates beneath it. Every point of the universe is a fixed point: all you have to do is hang the Pendulum from it.”

– Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

On Books and Bookcases

“But I am apt to use my books at any time,” I explain to the salesman. “I never can tell when it is coming on me. And when I want a book I want it quickly. I don’t want to have to send down to the office for the key, and I don’t want to have to manipulate any trick ball-bearings and open up a case as if I were getting cream-puffs out for a customer. I want a bookcase for books and not books for a bookcase.

–  Robert Benchley

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: A review

 The semi-autobiographical book is an interesting take on the effect of war on soldiers. The book starts with the desire of the author to write a book about his experience of the war. He consults a friend for the same and we have the result. This novella set during the Second World War describes the journey of one American soldier Billy Pilgrim by one of his fellows.  Billy is an optometrist, a trade he inherits from his father-in-law. He is enlisted during the war. Post war Billy claims he was abducted by aliens. These aliens called, Tralfamadorians, have a very different concept of time. They can see all time, past and future at the same instant, time travel. Once with them, Billy is able too do time travel too, post an experience during this 18th anniversary. Hence in the book he goes off to different timelines and places, which others see as him hallucinating. He switches between his childhood, his youth, his war years and his old age.

> And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.

> There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects.

Due to this the book has a highly non-linear timeline. It goes from hospitals to war theatre and hospital to his office. So it goes.

Billy already knows things that will happen to him and others. For example, he already knows about  the plane crash, in which he and a co-pilot are the only survivors. At other times even in case of hig distress situations he keeps his calm. So it goes.

> He was so snug in there that he was able to pretend that he was safe at home, having survived the war, and that he was telling his parents and his sister a true war story—whereas the true war story was still going on.

The Tralfamadorian philosophy is completely deterministic in a sense.

> “He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”

The book starts the story with capture of Billy by the Germans. They are temporarily stationed at a PoW camp with Russians and the British soldiers. The American soldiers are seen as the worst of the lot, and are deemed to be no good soldiers at all. The British soldiers are a class apart from the ragged Americans. The Brits have maintained themselves well, and have huge stocks of food and other items which were sent to them by a clerical mistake. They are eating the best food, arguably in all of Germany. Billy finds his attire in the form of a azure toga and shoes. He looks distinct and clownish. The Americans are subsequently transferred to Dresden, the only German city, which has been spared of aerial bombardment as it does not have any industries of repute. So it goes.

In Dresden, most of the daily routines are unaffected by the war. The city itself is in all its glory. The Americans are stationed in Slaughter House Five.

> “ Their address was this: “Schlachthof-fünf.” Schlachthof meant slaughterhouse. Fun/was good old five.”

The Slaughter house was empty, as most of the animals were already eaten. The Americans are guarded by a motley group of Germans who seem to be masquerading as soldiers. They are either too young, or too old or too unfit to be soldiers in the real sense. Almost everyone has lost their sense of belonging and are like lost souls. Then one night, bombing does happen. They go into a deep bomb shelter, while rest of Dresden is destroyed. The group comes out in the noon next day to see the entire city in rubble. They say it is moon, as ashes and stones are everywhere. Afterwards the Americans are made to dig bodies from under the debris. Till finally they are released at the end of the European theatre of war.

> One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.

There are a few characters worth mentioning in the book. One is the sci-fi writer named Kilgore Trout.

> He did not think of himself as a writer for the simple reason that the world had never allowed him to think of himself in this way.

An episode witnessed by Trout at Billy’s 18th wedding anniversary leads to all his theories about the Tralfamadorians. Thereafter it is a downward slide for Billy. Another character is the actress named Montana Wildhack. She is a famous actress and is abducted to give Billy company during his stay at Tralfamador. They copulate and have a baby, and their act is a crowd puller for the Tralfamadorians. She comes in Billy’s time travel episodes often.

Overall the non-linearity of story line and the brutal senselessness of war and violence are interesting to read. The simplicity of Billy, whether from a bit of dementia or due to his contact with Tralfamadorians is truly hilarious.

Review of His Master’s Voice by Stanislaw Lem

 

The book is an autobiographical tale by one of the mathematician-scientist who looks at a mysterious signal from the cosmos. The title is from the title given to the top secret project which tries to decipher this signal. The signal in the form of a neutrino stream is discovered accidentally and is hidden well in the general noise of neutrino signal. Only if you know where to tune in to is the signal readable/recordable/visible. The signal is attacked upon by a team of experts from different domains like physics, chemistry, biology, language, mathematics. They are able to know that the signal has an “alphabet” but are not able to crack the code as a whole. Though they discover some properties of the signal to interact with matter. For example, they discover that this letter from cosmos has a positive effect on the formation and consolidation of large protein molecules. They also discover a “recipe” for building a substance which is dubbed as “Frog Eggs” and “Lord of the flies”. This substance with a consistency of frog eggs can absorb energy from radioactive fission within itself and has some peculiar properties.

even though, receiving the message from the stars, we did with it no more than a savage who, warming himself by a fire of burning books, the writings of the wisest men, believes that he has drawn tremendous benefit from his find!

That not withstanding, the entire operation is under government supervision and there are plots and counter-plots of bureaucracy enmeshed within the narrative. This also includes an effect termed as “TX” in which a small nuclear detonation can have its energy transmitted to another place. But large scale implementation fails as the energy is dissipated over a very large area rendering any weapons created from them unusable. After these initial success, there is not further “code-breaking” possible and things come to a standstill

We are proceeding like a man who looks for a lost thing not everywhere, but only beneath a lighted street lamp, because there it is bright.

They also discover there is another parallel team working on the same problem but under the command of the military. Finally, the two units are merged.

At this point, various theories are put forth which try to explain the origin of the “letter”. Doubts are even raised to know if the signal is “natural” or “artificial”.  One of the military members uses the oscillating universe model to suggest that the neutrino signal is information from the past universe, from a ‘fissure” in between the universes, to the current one. One more hypothesis is given in the form that the frog eggs naturally evolved and the neutrino signal is just a by-product and the “organisms” do not know if this signal is being sent. A closer example of this is plants doing photosynthesis, they are not aware that their photosynthetic activity is helping other organisms grow, they do it nonetheless.

And surely it was unintentional on the part of the grass to give us the opportunity to exist!

While the author genuinely believes that the signal is from a very old and highly evolved “civilisation”, and we are at a stage such that we cannot understand the letter fully. We are not meant to, not at this stage of our technological evolution. The signal has been there for billions of years, and it takes an enormous amount of power (at least by our standards) to send it, so whoever (or whatever)  is sending it must have a purpose, just that we don’t know ( and perhaps will never know) what the purpose is.

 We will make it undecipherable for all who are not yet ready; but we must go further in our caution — so that even a false reading will not be able to supply them with any of the things that they seek but that should be denied them.

The book is an interesting take on the status of technological progress and its ramification for civilisation as a whole. Some of the themes that one can identify is the survival of the species and not of a particular nation. The concerns expressed over the “TX” discovery make the smaller group privy to this very anxious as we would then have a weapon which at the speed of light can deliver an atomic explosion anywhere. Some of the musings about the senders of the signal and the kind of evolution the civilisation that must have are interesting to read.

Undead Texts

These are the Undead Texts. Their ambition and success inevitably made these works targets of specialist rebuttals. There is probably not a single claim they make that subsequent scholarship has not queried, criticized, or refuted. Yet these texts refuse to die. Novices and experts alike remain susceptible to the spell they cast. – source

 

Just for fun or how to invite readers to immerse in your book

These problems are for fun. I never meant them to be taken too seriously. Some you will find easy enough to answer. Others are enormously difficult, and grown men and women make their livings trying to answer them. But even these tough ones are for fun. I am not so interested in how many you can answer as I am in getting you to worry over them.

What I mainly want to show here is that physics is not something that has to be done in a physics building. Physics and physics problems are in the real, everyday world that we live, work, love, and die in. And I hope that this book will capture you enough that you begin to find your own flying circus of physics in your own world. If you start thinking about physics when you are cooking, flying, or just lazing next to a stream, then I will feel the book was worthwhile. Please let me know what physics you do find, along with any corrections or comments on the book. However, please take all this as being just for fun.

From Preface of Jearl Walkers The Flying Circus of Physics

The Forbidden Library

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What do you do when you find something offensive? Whether it be a book, a film or any other art form? You ask for a ban. You not only ban the book, perhaps want to ban the creator of the said object, including all their other work. We will explore Let us look at the dictionary meaning of ban:

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 4.25.26 PM

Over the centuries, the powers to be, have banned books and other materials or ideas which they found offensive. But the idea for bans is not always from the state. Grieved individuals often take upon themselves to argue for a ban on a given book or other material. But why would anyone want to ban anything? There seem to be two major reasons, both ideological for this. Both of them involve cultural and societal values.

Every society has some agreed upon norms about behaviour in public, interactions between individuals and things which are considered “normal”. Now, if you look at different cultures, it does take a genius to see those different cultures have different norms. If you look at the same culture historically, you will see that norms change with time. What was blasphemous in the last generation is acceptable now. For example, in the Indian context consider inter-caste marriages. It would be almost impossible to think of it (especially if the female is from the higher caste) in our grandfather’s generation. Manusmriti has

In an earlier post, I had discussed the absurdity of television censorship. The main reason seems to be that in the case of television the continuous flow of images with sound creates a sense of participation for the viewers, whereas they are just consuming. The attention span of the viewers on the television is the most treasured commodity. To keep the viewers glued to the screen, the content creators use a variety of means. The spectacle is out there. Feeding the viewers, satiating their bored lives showing them things that they will never ever get. Playboy and National Geographic are essentially same, they show you things that you are never going to see by yourselves. They create a reality away from reality in which the viewer is lured in and then stuck in a quagmire. In this state, the opinions can be changed, altered as per the desires of the creators.

This thematic idea is captured very well in this couplet by Piyush Mishra in a song from Gulaal.

जैसे हर एक बात पे डिमॉक्रेसी में लगने लग गयो बैन

Just like in democracy there is a ban for everything in democracy.

The banning of books or that of materials which the state or a group of people seem inappropriate is perhaps the easiest way to

https://web.archive.org/web/20090413002834/http://title.forbiddenlibrary.com/

On the same theme, some of the stand-up comedians in India have expressed their opinions in this video I am Offended.  It is a good watch, particularly the intolerant times in which we are. This video, I think points to many of the issues that we have considered here particularly in the current social Indian context.

Two works resonate the idea of censorship and banning of books very well. They are Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451. In both these works, the core idea is the control of ideas, information and knowledge. So much so that the language to be used by the people is restricted. Certain words are removed from public memory by force. Any use of these words is akin to treason. Nineteen Eighty-Four has Thought Police, who control and report what is said. Even saying  thinking about something taboo is a crime.  We can see a certain trend in the contemporary Indian context. This MO has been effectively used to discredit dissent. Using in the age of connected computers this becomes even easier. It is easy to target people sitting in the comfort of your bed, in a sustained and meticulously planned manner. The so-called Keyboard Warriors are now being employed for making life hell for dissenting people. Anything goes.

Seemingly normal works of literature can be banned by using various contexts at different times and places. Just have a look at the list of books banned by governments across the globe. You will see many familiar titles there, and some of the reasons for their ban are even more bizzare. In the Indian context, history is highly coloured. The general public seems to consider historical fiction works as the history. I am a bit acquainted with Maratha history and seeing it being portrayed in a highly problematic manner in many of the popular titles makes me cringe. Yet, these titles remain on the best seller list. People reading these take them to be the de facto history without any need for evidence to the events depicted in these. When challenged about historical facts they cite these works of fiction as if they are some well researched historical documents supported by evidence. One can imagine what kind of conceptual edifice one will create with such misconceived notions about the past.

Alan Moore has interesting views on being a writer:  Words are magic, they can change and transform things. If we think about this, this indeed is the case. Ideas in the form of words do dictate our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Ideologies in the form of literature does control our life. So, a writer can write against what is popularly accepted. There are writers who are conformists, and there are writers who will swim against the flow. And it is the later ones who will find their work on the banned list more often than nought. Ideas and words are far more dangerous than mere physical humans. Writing in this era of perpetual ephemeral nature of electronic media makes this case even stronger. Entire works of a particular theme can be removed in a blink of an eye. Electronic media though makes it easy for the authors to publish and disseminate their work, it can also be controlled and removed as easily as with a simple click. Force and intimidation are used when direct banning is not possible. Don’t feed the trolls. When such a thing becomes the norm, we start to self-censor, the worst form of censoring. Because the moment you start to nip the thoughts in the bud, your entity changes.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:

George Orwell categorises the intentions for writing into these four

  • Sheer egoism: 
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm:

  • Historical impulse:

  • Political purpose:

The last of these he expands

Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

This is where authors who usually end up on the list of banned work find themselves. Perhaps the world-view that the author subscribes to is something against the incumbent and the inherent traditions of a given milieu. Whatever the reasons, mere words can make those in power feel threatened or humiliated. So it indeed the case that words do have magic, if it was not so we would not have works being banned at mere thought.

 

Review of Annihilation: the novel and the movie

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Somewhere on my feeds, I came to know about a movie named Annihilation starring Natalie Portman. The review was good, and it mentioned that the movie was based on a book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. So, I was in two minds whether to read the book first and then watch the movie or vice versa. I decided that I will read the book first and then watch the movie. Now that I have done both, here is a review of them, with important differences and my reflections about them.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

We start with the book first, this will help us create a baseline, on which to review the movie. The book starts with the biologist and three of her team members (a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor) initiated into a region known as Area X. Now, apparently bizarre things have happened inside the Area X, (perhaps a tribute to the X-files). And there is a border which separates Area X from the normal world. Now according to the book, this border is invisible. The team is trained for a prolonged period for their mission in a variety of situations with the psychologist as their lead. As they enter the perimeter of Area X, the linguist backs out (hence only a team of 4). Now through the book, the characters are almost never referred by their proper names, and it is part of the design of the training that it is that way. The idea behind this it seems is to make the mission impersonal, without including their biases.

> Besides, we were always strongly discouraged from using names: We were meant to be focused on our purpose, and “anything personal should be left behind.” Names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X.

This is an all female team, with only the surveyor having any military skill. Each one of the team members is given a weapon and basic camping equipment. They are not allowed to take any electronic or advanced technological equipments (digital cameras, for example). They say there is a reason for this, but it is never explained. Anyways, the team hikes for four days to reach the “base camp”, but none of them remembers crossing the perimeter into Area X, which they find strange. This is the camp set up by the earlier expeditions. Now, during the training, they have been trained with the map of Area X, where a lighthouse is where the team members get their bearings. One the first day at the base camp, they discover another artefact which is completely missing from the maps. This is what the biologist calls a “tower”, while others prefer to call it a “tunnel”. This structure “tower/tunnel” is a core part of the book. It appears as a round cylinder about 60 feet in diameter and 8 inches above the ground. There is an “entrance” due North of the tower. And it leads to a chamber below, the structure seems to be made of stone and the next day team ventures to explore it (descends into the spiralling staircase). When they are at a level below, the biologist discovers words on the wall of the structures which are glowing. The words read:

> Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that…

When the biologist gets closer to see what the words are made of (What are words made of anyway? Is the medium that gives the words their physicality matter?), she discovers that it is made of “Some sort of fungi”. In the process of looking at the words closely, a nodule bursts open and she inhales the spores that emanate from it. She hides this from the surveyor who is accompanying her. Now the biologist is unaware of how the inhaling of spores might affect her. They return to the base camp and agree to proceed the next day. In the meanwhile, the biologist notices something strange about the psychologist. It turns out the psychologist has been hypnotising the team members to control them since their training began. But somehow, due to the effect of the spores she has herself become immune to her hypnosis. She plays the role as if she is getting suggested by the hypnosis, covering that she is immune. Now the next morning, the biologist and the surveyor discover that the anthropologist is missing. The psychologist tells them that the anthropologist decided to go back. The biologist knows somehow it is not true.

The remaining team goes back to the “tower”, this time with breathing gear and masks. The psychologist refuses to enter the “tower” citing that the entrance must be guarded. The surveyor and the biologist descend into the tower. Now inside the tower, due to the biologists inhaling of the spores, she perceives it differently. She now can understand and look at the tower as a living organism, breathing with a heartbeat. While the surveyor is completely oblivious to this perhaps due to the hypnotising effect of the psychologist.

> I got my shit together because we were going to go forward and the surveyor couldn’t see what I saw, couldn’t experience what I was experiencing. And I couldn’t make her see it.

They see more writings on the walls of the tower as they descend further. They find that the script is “fresh” as they descend lower. They conclude that

> Something below us is writing this script. Something below us may still be in the process of writing this script.

They continue further, till they find something. There are strange ciliated feet markings on the stairs, which the biologist calls a “Crawler”. This something is the dead body of the anthropologist, with strange feet markings. The body is in disarray with her skull split open, and variety of organisms making her body their home. She is carrying her vials, and one of the vials has a sample which the biologist promptly collects. Contemplating on the “something” that might have killed her they decide to return to the top. They also discover another set of footprints which they conclude must be of the psychologists’.

In between all these events, there are flashbacks, to the time before the expedition. Telling us about the previous life of the biologist, how she was aloof even when in a crowd. Her fascination with an overgrown swimming pool, full of life. Her strained relationship with her husband, who is part of an earlier expedition. Her husband decides to volunteer for going to Area X and leaves her. There is no news about him or from him until one day he suddenly returns. He is not himself. The biologist can tell that something is missing. The next day, the people from Southern Reach come to pick him up, and he goes with them without any confrontation. But the biologist does not feel sad about this:

> Seeing him leave I felt mostly a sense of relief, to be honest, not guilt at betrayal.

With that background, the constant connect with her husband and her past life is brought to the narrative. When the surveyor and the biologist come back to the top of the tower, the psychologist is nowhere to be found. When they return to the base camp, she is neither there. And the psychologist has taken up all the weapons with her along with most of the rations and disappeared. They then try to make sense of the photos and samples that they have collected in the tower. But the photos are a riot of colours, which the surveyor finds rather disheartening. While the biologist discovers that the vial which she collected from the dead anthropologist has cells of the human brain. In all this, the biologist decides to go to the Lighthouse which seems to be the source of all the activity. The surveyor decides that she will stay back at the camp.

The biologist starts her journey to the lighthouse, on the way she sees the abandoned village, which is mentioned in the maps. There she finds that there are human like forms of trees, which are seated on a table. In all this while she feels “brightness” within her. She is changing. Due to her exposure to the spores from the words in the tunnel. She recalls her past experiences and the current ones and tries to make sense of things around her, things happening to her, things that have happened to her. As the biologist approaches the lighthouse, the area around it is desolate, and the lighthouse is seen as a fortification. Carefully, being aware that the psychologist might be there to kill her she enters the lighthouse. Everywhere she sees blood and signs of violence all through to the top of the lighthouse. Just before the top, she looks at an old photo of a person, whom she calls the lighthouse keeper. At the top, she discovers that a lot of information was kept from her and the team members regarding Area X. There were many more expeditions, as the huge cache of personal journals from previous expedition members reveals, rather than just 11 that the team was told about. She finds the journal of her husband and then departs from the lighthouse. While going down, she notices the psychologist at the bottom of the lighthouse. When she goes to her, she is on her deathbed. A fungi kind of substance has covered her arm. The psychologist utters the words “Annihilation” in desperation many times over to the biologist. She admits that she tried to kill the biologist with a gun as she was approaching the lighthouse, but her hand would not let her do it. The psychologist tells the biologist that she has changed, she sees her like a flame. It is this brightness that the biologist is talking about. She answers some questions like she took the anthropologist back to the tunnel to take samples from the Crawler under hypnosis, but anthropologist went too close to the Crawler and got killed in the process, but refuses to answer many other questions. She also tells the biologist about entries in her husband’s journal. After she has passed, the biologist takes whatever documents that the psychologist has with her. This includes a list of suggestive hypnotic keywords to be used on the team members. Annihilation in this list means “help induce immediate suicide”.

While returning from there it is already nightfall, and the biologist can see the changes in her own body. The glow is visible. While coming back, she almost encounters the beast which is responsible for the moans that they have been hearing since they came in. She spends the night on a tree, with her skin glowing. Next morning, she starts her journey towards the base camp. When she is very close to the base camp, she is shot at twice by the surveyor. The surveyor is in a frenzy, to kill the biologist. The “brightness” in the biologist start to heal her and gives her super sensing ability. With these, the biologist kills the surveyor and returns to the base camp. At the base camp, she finds that the surveyor has destroyed almost all of the basecamp and laid waste any water and food that might be there. All the papers and journals are burnt.

The biologist does an analysis of the samples that she has collected and mutations of human form emerge. The brightness in her is healing the bullet wounds, and making the biologist feel better. She thinks that due to the diversion of healing her wounds, the brightness (her mutation?) has stopped growing. She reads her husband’s journal, which she finds is mostly written for her with her pet name “ghost-bird” appearing several times over. The next day she decides to go to the bottom of the tower to find the Crawler. She takes a mask with her, as she enters the tower, her skin starts to glow and responds to the walls which are also glowing. The words are getting fresher and fresher as she goes to the lower levels. Finally she comes to the place where the Crawler is still working. The encounter with the crawler

> No words can … no photographs could …

The biologist survives the encounter, due to the mutations already in her. The Crawler consumes the inner self of the biologist in a sense, which gets a hold over her inner person. She passes out several times during this:

> What can you do when your five senses are not enough? Because I still couldn’t truly see it here, any more than I had seen it under the microscope, and that’s what scared me the most. Why couldn’t I see it?

Finally when the ordeal for her is over:

> It is not that I became used to the Crawler’s presence but that I reached a point—a single infinitesimal moment—when I once again recognised that the Crawler was an organism. A complex, unique, intricate, awe-inspiring, dangerous organism. It might be inexplicable. It might be beyond the limits of my senses to capture—or my science or my intellect—but I still believed I was in the presence of some kind of living creature, one that practised mimicry using my own thoughts. For even then, I believed that it might be pulling these different impressions of itself from my mind and projecting them back at me, as a form of camouflage. To thwart the biologist in me, to frustrate the logic left in me.”

The idea of the Crawler as some sort of creature which can mutate organisms and can mimic their thoughts is interesting. After this biologist continues to go down the tower, at the end of it she sees a door of light. But she is somehow unable to continue to this door, and start the journey back dreading the draining encounter with the Crawler again. But this time, the Crawler does not show any interest in her and lets her go. While going back she takes a last look at the Crawler, and sees a glimpse of the familiar face of the lighthouse keeper in the crawler. How did this happen? Somehow did the lighthouse keeper become the Crawler? What made this change? The answers to these questions are not given.

> When you are too close to the centre of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire.

Finally, she emerges out from the tower. The book is the journal entry of the biologist.

> Observing all of this has quelled the last ashes of the burning compulsion I had to know everything … anything … and in its place remains the knowledge that the brightness is not done with me. It is just beginning, and the thought of continually doing harm to myself to remain human seems somehow pathetic.

The biologist tells us that she is leaving to explore the further reaches of Area X as the last entry in the journal.

Thus we see that the entire book, no names are referred to. Overall the sense of mystery about the origin and purpose (if any) to the events are left mostly unanswered. The above quote captures it very well. Overall I found the book satisfying read.

Part 2: The Movie

Now, that I had already read the book, I turned to the movie. The first start thing that you notice in the movie is the use of names, which is in complete contrast to the book. Also, the border which is invisible in the book, is shown as a “shimmer” in the movie. The idea that the psychologist is hypnotising the team members is also missing. In the movie the biologist (Lena, played by Natalie Portman) has also had military training. The team members in the movie are a biologist, a physicist, a medic, a psychologist, and a geomorphologist. Area X is identified as an anomaly which is increasing its range with time. All the missions/expeditions to the area have failed and no one except the biologists’ husband has returned. Unlike in the book, the Southern Reach gets to the husband in a rather aggressive way and it is at the same time they take in the biologist. In the book she volunteers herself to go in.

When they reach Area X, they become self-aware only after 3-4 days have passed and none can explain how the time was lost. As they are going towards the basecamp (in the movie it is an army base not a tent camp) they are attacked by an alligator with a different morphology. In the base camp they discover that the earlier expedition members are cutting open one of their own and showing his intestine moving like a different creature. None of the team members knows that the medic in the video is the husband of Lena. They become shocked after seeing the video and take shelter in a watchtower. To keep a watch, the psychologist is at a post on the ground. I could never understand this logic. If you are already on a watchtower, why the hell do you need a watch on the ground. Due to the noise the group wakes up and a mutated bear takes away the geomorphologist. Next day, they continue their journey towards the lighthouse. They stop at the village with the human-looking forms of the trees. The physicist explains that Area X is refracting everything from radiation to the DNA and hence it is causing so much mutations. Here biologist discovers that she is mutating too and that is when the medic ties all three of them and starts asking them questions. She discovers that the video of cutting open from the previous expedition has Lena’s husband in it. She wants answers, that is when she hears the geomorphologist call for help. She rushes to help her only to be attacked by the same bear. The bear comes up, and it is revealed that the bear is responsible for the voice of help. The medic comes back to attack the bear, but bear kills her. In the meanwhile, the physicist becomes free and kills the bear. The psychologist leaves for the lighthouse immediately in the middle of the night.

In the morning the physicist wanders off, leaving Lena alone. Lena then starts the journey to the lighthouse. There are several crystal trees before the lighthouse on the beach. She discovers the body of her husband at the lighthouse, which is recorded by the doppelganger of her husband. She goes inside a hole which seems to be the origin of the event. There she discovers the psychologist being consumed by the “Crawler”. The “Crawler” makes a copy of her by drawing a drop of her blood and takes a humanoid form. She tries to go out of the lighthouse but the humanoid form stops her from doing so. The humanoid form otherwise mirrors her actions. Finally, she takes a phosphor grenade and gives it the humanoid form which one her touch changes to her doppelganger. The grenade explodes and sets the “crawler” on fire. The fire burns everything and destroys all the mutations it has cause and brings down the shimmer. The movie begins and ends with the interrogation of the biologist about how she brought down the shimmer and was still alive.

The movie has advanced technology with the expeditions ( digital recorder, memory cards). Most importantly, in the movie, there is no mention of the tower or the running glowing script in it, which I found the most annoying. In the movie, the entire action takes place at the lighthouse. Also, killing of the creature and cease of the mutations was not needed, I personally found it too anthropocentric. Also, no explanation of the title of the movie is given. Overall, after reading the book, the movie is really disappointing to watch. It neither has the depth of the plot nor the philosophical or existential questions that permeate the book. In perhaps making the movie audience-friendly, the scriptwriter annihilated the core ideas in the book which made it special.

TIL you can kill a time-space warping, an interstellar traveller with a phosphor grenade, begin stocking right now!

I am now onto the second and third part of the Southern Reach Trilogy: Authority and Acceptance. Will post reviews of them once I am done, and surely we will not be seeing movies made based on them in the time I complete my readings.

Cover of Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden: A good example of bad science

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Carl Sagan was a wonderful writer. He wrote many amazing books for popularising science and also championed against pseudo-science prevalent in the society. Like many countless others Sagan’s works have inspired and fired imagination in me. Particularly he decimated the arguments made by Velikovsky in Worlds in Collision. Two of his books which deal with the topics of pseudo-science and anti-science are Broca’s Brain, Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in Dark. Sagan is most meticulous when explaining things, and adds disclaimers whereever they are necessary and needed.

When I was reading his book Dragon’s of Eden (a Pulitzer prize winner !) the cover of the book stuck me as unusual. The Wikipedia page says that the cover artist was Don Davis. The cover illustration shows a humanoid animal sitting below a tree (of knowledge?) in a serene landscape with a lake and few herbivored near it. Interestingly, and also problematically the cover also shows a variety of dinosaurs in the area as the hominid. This is rather unsettling. And it is definitely wrong. The dinosaurs for all we know, and Sagan knew this too well (for example, see Demon Haunted World), became extinct long before any humanoid forms came into existence. So showing them existing contemporarily is wrong, and factually incorrect science. This illustration goes against all that is known via fossil records that we have.

I wonder what made Sagan, who otherwise was skpetical and very particular, choose this wrong and factually incorrect illustration for the cover of his book, or that he did not have any say in choosing the cover of the book?

Erudition without…

Erudition without bullshit, intellect without cowardice, courage without imprudence, mathematics without nerdiness, scholarship without academia, intelligence without shrewdness, religiosity without intolerance, elegance without softness, sociality without dependence, enjoyment without addiction, and, above all, nothing without skin in the game.
(A letter of advice to a younger person) source

Reductionism in Science

Many scientists look on chemistry and physics as ideal models of what psychology should be like. After all, the atoms in the brain are subject to the same all – inclusive physical laws that govern every other form of matter. Then can we also explain what our brains actually do entirely in terms of those same basic principles? The answer is no, simply because even if we  understood how each of our billions of brain cells work separately, this would not tell us how the brain works as an agency. The “laws of thought” depend not only upon the properties of those brain cells,but also on how they are connected. And these connections are established not by the basic, “general” laws of physics, but by the particular arrangements of the millions of bits of information in our inherited genes. To be sure, “general” laws apply to everything. But, for that very reason, they can rarely explain anything in particular.

– Marvin Minsky in The Society of Mind pp. 26

A quote from Dennett

I, too, want the world to be a better place. This is my reason for wanting people to understand and accept evolutionary theory: I believe that their salvation may depend on it! How so? By opening their eyes to the dangers of pandemics, degradation of the environment, and loss of biodiversity, and by informing them about some of the foibles of human nature. So isn’t my belief that belief in evolution is the path to salvation a religion? No; there is a major difference. We who love evolution do not honor those whose love of evolution prevents them from thinking clearly and rationally about it! On the contrary, we are particularly critical of those whose misunderstandings and romantic misstatements of these great ideas mislead themselves and others. In our view, there is no safe haven for mystery or incomprehensibility. Yes, there is humility, and awe, and sheer delight, at the glory of the evolutionary landscape, but it is not accompanied by, or in the service of, a willing (let alone thrilling) abandonment of reason. So I feel a moral imperative to spread the word of evolution, but evolution is not my religion. I don’t have a religion.

– Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (p. 268)

Main purpose of the educational sector

The main purpose of the health sector is not to provide other sectors with workers in good health. By the same token, the main purpose of the educational sector is not to prepare students to take up an occupation in some other sector of the economy. In all human societies, health and education have an intrinsic value: the ability to enjoy years of good health, like the ability to acquire knowledge and culture, is one of the fundamental purposes of civilization.

via Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Book Hunting in Boston – Week 2

Book Hunting in Boston

Week 2

MIT Coop

I went to MIT COOP opposite the MIT Press store to check for any affordable items to carry back home. But there were none. 😦 Most of them were over budget for me. But then I checked their basement for stuff. And there I saw one of the most extensive line up for science books that I have seen. They were not just a minor section in the store which usually is the case, but were the major part.

All the interesting ones lined up in shelves. But sadly no discount and hence no buy 😦

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Dover at MIT Coop

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Dover at MIT Coop

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Also they have all the Dover Publications books in print at one place, sorted according authors. Wow! Too many for me to handle. 😀 But for display only for me did not buy anything. But sure was overwhelming to look at them, all at the same place.

Boston Public Library

This was unplanned for. We were just roaming around the downtown area. And came out near the Boston Public Library established in 1852. The outside decoration is in form of the various authors in all fields of study. A few glimpses of the library

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Inscriptions on the building

McKim chose to have monumental inscriptions, similar to those found on basilicas and monuments in ancient Rome, in the entablature on each of the main building’s three façades. On the south is inscribed:

MDCCCLII • FOUNDED THROUGH THE MUNIFICENCE AND PUBLIC SPIRIT OF CITIZENS“;

on the east:

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF BOSTON • BUILT BY THE PEOPLE AND DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING • A.D. MDCCCLXXXVIII“;

and on the north:

THE COMMONWEALTH REQUIRES THE EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE AS THE SAFEGUARD OF ORDER AND LIBERTY“.

Another inscription, above the keystone of the central entrance, proclaims:

FREE TO ALL“.

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Below each second-story arched window on the three façades are inscribed lists of the names of great historical writers, artists, scientists, philosophers, and statesmen.

 

Across the street from the central entrance to the library is a twentieth-century monument to the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran who as a young immigrant educated himself in the Boston Public Library. The monument’s inscription responds to the McKim building reading

IT WAS IN MY HEART TO HELP A LITTLE, BECAUSE I WAS HELPED MUCH“.

The text is excerpted from a letter enclosed with Gibran’s generous bequest to the library.

The quote from Gibran definitely resonates with the experience that I have had with Internet Archive and GP (now sadly dead).

I lament that I did not go inside the library for the lack of time 😦

Barnes & Noble, Prudential Tower

This was again unplanned for. We went to visit to Prudential Tower, the store just comes out as soon as you enter. Since I had heard about it, I did go in. They had some wonderful collections of books, but I did not get anything from there.

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Rodney Book Store

Now this one was on the cards as per the original recommended list. I visited this one just before the day of departure. I could not get a photo of the entrance but only of the inside. The store is well stocked and well categorised.

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I wish I had more time at this store

 

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I got the above books at the store. With this one on M. C. Escher by Escher collection of classics is almost complete.

 

Antilibrary of Umberto Eco

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I have had a similar experience about myown book collection. People expect that if you have books then you must have read them. But this is exactly what I hold the books for, a reference tool for further knowledge. And then they have a beautiful word in Japanese which describes the spirit in which you buy more unread books.

Tsundoku:buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up on shelves floors or nightstands

Gandhi on Textbooks

M. K. Gandhi

Harijan Vol VII, No. 31 pg. 1, 9 September 1939

Text Books

The craze for ever-changing text books is hardly a healthy sign from
the educational standpoint. If text books are treated as a vehicle for
education, the living word of the teacher has very little value. A
teacher who teaches from text books does not impart originality to his
pupils. He himself becomes a slave of the text books and has no
opportunity or occasion to be original. It therefore seems that the
less text books there are the better it is for the teacher and his
pupils. Text books seem to have become an article of commerce. Authors
and publishers who make writing and publishing a means of making money
are interested in frequent change of text books. In many cases
teachers and examiners are themselves authors of text books. It is
naturally to their interest to have their books sold. The selection
board is again naturally composed of such people. And so the vicious
circle becomes complete. And it becomes very difficult for parents to
find money for new books every year. It is a pathetic sight to see
boys and girls going to school loaded with books which they are ill
able to carry. The whole system requires to be thoroughly
examined. The commercial spirit needs to be entirely eliminated and
the question approached in the interest of the scholars. It will then
probably be found that 75 per cent of the text books will have to be
consigned to scrap-heap. If I had it my way, I would have books
largely as aids to teachers rather than for the scholars. Such
textbooks as are found to be absolutely necessary for the scholars
should circulate among them for a number of years os that the cost can
be easily borne by middle class families. The first step in this
direction is perhaps for the State to won and organize the printing
and publishing of text books. This will act as an automatic check on
their unnecessary multiplication.

Topological Art

ILLUSTRATIONS FOR TOPOLOGY

From the book Introduction to Topology by Yu. Borisovich, N. Bliznyakov, Ya. Izrailevich, T. Fomenko. The book was published by Mir Publishers in 1985.


ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER I

The central part of the picture presents the standard embedding chain of crystalline groups of the three dimensions of Euclidean space: their standard groups embedded into each other are depicted as fundamental domains (Platonic bodies: a cube, a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron). The platonic bodies are depicted classically, i.e., their canonical form is given, they are supported by two-dimensional surfaces (leaves), among which we discern the projective plane (cross-cap), and spheres with handles. The fantastic shapes and interlacings (as compared with the canonical objects) symbolizes the topological equivalence.

At the top, branch points of the Riemann surfaces of various multiplicities are depicted: on the right, those of the Riemann surfaces of the functions w=5z√ and w=z√; on the left below, that of the same function w=z√, and over it, a manifold with boundary realizing a bordism mod 3.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER II

The figure occupying most of the picture illustrates the construction of a topological space widely used in topology, i.e., a 2-adic solenoid possessing many interesting extremal properties. The following figures are depicted there: the first solid torus is shaded, the second is white, the third is shaded in dotted lines and the fourth is shaded doubly. To obtain the 2-adic solenoid , it is necessary to take an infinite sequence of nested solid tori, each of which encompasses previous twist along its parallel, and to form their intersection.

Inside the opening, a torus and a sphere with two handles are shown. The artist’s skill and his profound knowledge of geometry made it possible to represent complex interlacing of the four nested solid tori accurately.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER III

The canonical embedding of a surface of genus g into the three-dimensional Euclidean space is represented 0n the right . A homeomorphic embedding of the same surface is shown on the left . The two objects are homeomorphic, homotopic and even isotopic . The artist is a mathematician and he has chosen these two, very much different in their appearance, from an infinite set of homeomorphic images.


ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER IV

Here an infinite total space of covering over a two-dimensional surface, viz., a sphere with two handles, is depicted. The artist imparted the figure the shape of a python and made the base space of the covering look very intricate. Packing spheres into the three-dimensional Euclidean space and a figure homeomorphic to the torus are depicted outside the central object. The mathematical objects are placed so as to create a fantastic landscape.

ILLUSTRATION TO CHAPTER V

A regular immersion of the projective plane RP2 in R3 is represented in the centre on the black background. The largest figure is the Klein bottle (studied in topology as a non-orientable surface) cut in two (Moebius strips) along a generator by a plane depicted farther right along with the line intersection; the lower part is plunging downwards; the upper part is being deformed (by lifting the curve of intersection and building the surface up) into a surface with boundary S1; a disc is being glued to the last, which yields the surface RP2. The indicated immersion process can be also used for turning S2 `inside out’ into R3.

On the outskirts of the picture, a triangulation of a part of the Klein bottle surface is represented.

A detailed explanation of this picture may serve as a material for as much as a lecture in visual topology.

Kindle, Lego and E-Books

What do you do when Digital Restrictions Management prevents you from doing a lot of things on your own device. I do not know if we can even say it is a device we own, as the company offering books to us can revoke the books at will, without asking you. This was infamously and ironically seen in the removal of Nineteen Eighty Four from Kindle devices without their owners permission.

This is what RMS has to say about Kindle and its practices by Amazon:

“This malicious device designed to attack the traditional freedoms of readers: There’s the freedom to acquire a book anonymously, paying cash — impossible with the Kindle for all well-known recent books. There’s the freedom to give, lend, or sell a book to anyone you wish — blocked by DRM and unjust licenses. Then there’s the freedom to keep a book — denied by a back door for remote deletion of books.”Richard Stallman

So what do you do against such mal-practices and devices operations which are defective by design?

Since these companies do all in their power to prevent users from taking any stuff out, using all hi-fi programming, what can one do about them?

Here is one low tech solution! And one fine use of Lego Mindstorms!

via DIY kindle scanner

Also if you are rather old-fashioned, and even lower tech solution would be to simply one can just make a carbon-copy of the Kindle e-book from a copier or scanner, thanks to their E ink technology, it is as good as a printed book.

Undownloading

So, it seems that ebook users need to add a new word to their vocabulary: “undownloading” — what happens when you leave the authorized zone in which you may read the ebooks you paid for, and cross into the digital badlands where they are taken away like illicit items at customs. If you are lucky, you will get them back when you return to your home patch — by un-undownloading them.

via Techdirt

Added.

Consider this was a physical book, you would be fined for smuggling books that you have legitimately brought or your books taken under protective custody by someone, after all they contain the most dangerous things known to humans – ideas!

 

Storms Heralding The Monsoon

Continuing with our last post, about the monsoons this is another entry from The Charm of Bombay, an anthology of writings in praise of the first city in India (1915) edited by Rustomji Pestonji Karkaria 1869-1919.

Storms Heralding the Monsoon

Storms Heralding the Monsoon.

Sir George-Birdwood.

In the afternoon sullen thunder began in the North-west, where clouds had all day been gathering in towering piles. As they thundered the clouds moved slowly down across the North Konkan, and about four o’clock gathered against the jagged crest of Bava Malang. To the North, and all along the Bava Malang range the sky and land were filled with lurid clouds, thunder lightning, and rain, the Kalyan river flowing back as ink through a scene of the most striking – desolation and gloom, South of this abrupt line of storm, the country from Bombay to Khandala was full of pure calm light. Every village, every hut, every road and forest-track, even the bridge over the river at Chauk, came clearly into view. The trees and groves looked magically green; and the light picked out the most hidden streams and burnished them into threads of molten silver. The Panvel and Nagothana rivers shone like mirrors, and the sea was scored with bars of vivid sunshine. Suddenly at about five, the storm-rack poured over Bava Malang like a tumultuous sea, and swept into the deep valley between Matheran and Prabal with furious blasts and torrents, awful thunder, and flashes of forked lightning. When the clouds had filled the valley, the rain and wind ceased and the storm stood still, and, in dead stillness, the thunder and lightning raged without ceasing for an hour. The thunder mostly rolled from end to end of the valley, but it sometimes burst with a crash fit to loosen the bonds of the hills. At six o’clock the storm again moved and passed slowly south over Prabal towards Nagothana. Another enchanting scene opened in the South. Every hut, tree and stream grew strangely clear, the rain-filled rice fields and rivers flashed like steel, while fleecy clouds lay on every hillock and slowly crept up every ravine. As the sun set behind Bombay the air was filled with soft golden light. Westwards towards Thana the hill-tops were bright with every hue from golden light to deep purple shadow, while, among them, the winding Ulhas shone like links of burnished gold. Then, the moon rose, brightened the mists which had gathered out of the ravines and off the hills, and cleared a way across the calm heavens, while far in the south the black embattled storm-rack belched flame and thunder the whole night long. The next day (Tuesday) passed without a storm. On Wednesday, the 8th, eastwards towards Khandala vast electric cloud banks, began to gather. At two in the afternoon, with mutterings of thunder, the sky grew suddenly black and lurid. At half-past two the storm passed west moving straight on Matheran. A mist went before the storm, thickening as it came, first into trailing clouds and then into dripping rain, with muttering thunder all the while. At three the valley between Matheran and Prabal was filled with storm. Thunder rolled in long echoing peals, and flashes lightened the dense fog with extraordinary splendour. The fog lasted with heavy rain till 3-45, when a light wind swept it west towards Bombay, where about four the monsoon burst. These appalling electric outbursts end serenely. The storm clouds retreat like a drove of bellowing bulls and their last echoes die beyond the distant hills. The sun shines again in majesty, in every dell the delicious sound of running water wakens life, and the woods are vocal with the glad song of birds.

London Times, Jan. 1880

Apud Bombay Gazetteer Vol. XIV pp. 247-248,

Monsoon Cometh..

Now that Some parts of India are experiencing a heat-wave, people are looking forward to coming of the monsoons. Which mark an end to the annual saga of heat. This post has some descriptions by a British of how coming of the monsoon is experienced in Bombay.

This is from The Charm of Bombay, an anthology of writings in praise of the first city in India (1915) edited by Rustomji Pestonji Karkaria 1869-1919.

Monsoon cometh
BURST OF THE MONSOON.

Henry Moses

The day at length arrives when the windows of heaven are to be opened, and man’s anxious doubts and fears are to be dispelled by this gracious provision for his wants. Dark clouds towards noon, gather in the south-west, and gradually steal over the azure firmament, casting a gloomy shadow upon the earth, and obscuring the intensity of the sun’s rays as they flit over his surface in their onward progress. A current of cool, strange air now denotes some remarkable atmospheric change. The ocean is unusually agitated; the waves are lifted up hurried onwards as the breeze increases — the angry waters come foaming and roaring towards the shore, and are broken with violence upon the rock ; receding but to break again with redoubled force. Distant peals of thunder echo among the lofty Ghauts far down the coast, and vivid streams of forked lightning illumine their peaked summits. The dry leaves of the lofty palms rattle overhead, and the forests are agitated and shaken as the hurricane roars through their solemn vistas, and breaks in upon their profound stillness. The soaring kite flaps his outstretched wings, as he rises alarmed from his lone perch, and is hurried away upon the storm. The cattle on the plains congregate together, as if driven by some irresistible impulse to seek the shelter and protection of each other, and lie down with their heads close to the earth, as if conscious of approaching danger; and the poor Hindoo wraps his muslin kummerband tighter around him, as the cool air expands its many folds, and exposes his delicately formed limbs to the chilly blast. The skies become darkened, and sheets of blazing lightning, followed up by the roar of deafening thunder, succeed each other with fearful rapidity; and, though in broad day, the eye can scarcely bear to look upon the flaming heavens, so in- tense is their brightness.

The elements are indeed at war. Large drops of rain begin to fall ; and falling, raise up, in consequence of their weight, a cloud of dust ; and then, within a brief space, the mighty clouds descend upon the thirsty land. The tempest is terrific to behold, and man trembles beneath the storm. He seeks in haste the shelter of his mud- built cabin, and mutters a hurried prayer to the stone idol which he has set up. The high houses in the Fort of Bombay vibrate with every clap of thunder; doors and windows, and walls and floors are shaken by the loud artillery of heaven. Torrents of water pour down from every roof, and bound over, in broken streams, the sounding verandahs below them, sweeping the various streets as the flood rushes onward, laden with mud and rubbish, towards the sea.

To those persons who have but just arrived in the country, and who, having never experienced the setting in of this remarkable season, have formed from description but an imperfect idea of that change, the scene is pregnant with horror of every kind. The newly-arrived Englishwoman in particular suffers exceedingly at this period, being scarcely able to divest herself of the impression, that everything around her is about to be destroyed or washed away; yet it is very seldom that accidents occur or that property is seriously injured. Occasionally we hear of exposed houses being struck by lightning on the Island, of old palm trees blown down, and of leaf roofs being dispersed to the four winds of heaven ; for woe be unto him who lives in a bungalow with a bad roof, or in one whose spouts are out of order; but with these exceptions, Europeans on shore have but little to be alarmed about for their personal safety.
Myriads of mosquitoes, now driven in by the rains, fill your apartments; and your lamps at night, if not properly covered over with a glass shade, are liable to be suddenly extinguished by the large green beetles that have sought shelter from the storm without. Flying bugs almost poison you with their fetid effluvia, and contaminate every article of food upon which they may chance to alight. The musk weasels dart in under your China matting, and find their way into your wine-cellars, and every cork they touchy every bottle they spoil. That nimble and really useful reptile, the house lizard, climbs your walls in all directions, and comes out so regularly frorrt under your table after dinner, to feed upon the flies attracted thither, that you quite look for the active little creature as a matter of course, to amuse you during dessert time; and if he fail to appear, express regret, as I have heard an old gentleman do, at its non-arrival. The loathsome centipede gets into your cooking-houses, and  hideous spiders, with hairy bodies and long legs takeup their quarters in every available corner and door-way They are not content with staying; at home quietly like our own respectable, though small species, and of taking their chance of what may be sent them ; but they must make daily tours all over the establishment, as if it were expected that they should pay visits to one another, now that the season had brought them into town. In fact, all the. entomological tormentors of India appear to have a design upon your house and happiness. A continual buzzing is kept up a- round you day and night. Ants creep up your legs, while fleas irritate your body; and farewell to sleep, if your gauze curtains display any rents at bed-time. The punkahs or swinging fans suspended in your rooms, now have rest from their labours, for the atmosphere is sufficiently cool without any artificial currents of air. The sweet-scented cuscus mats, or tatties, hung outside between the pillars that support your verandah, and kept wet, in order to lower the temperature of the heated breeze before it enters your house, are now taken down and laid aside; and quite a change takes place in all your little plans within doors.

Sketches of India, 1850, pages 84-88.

From or with?

My place was not with the heroes, but with the rablle, with the men who had been pressed into the ranks by force of arms, or force of hunger, with nothing to fight or work for and little to gain; whose function in the epics was to be slaughtered by the heroes; whose role, according to the historians, was to provide a mere background for the deeds of great men. The heroes of a money-making society rose from the people, at the expense of the people; I could rise only with the common people.

D. D. Kosambi | The Kanpur Road | Exasperating Essays

 

From the speech which was never delivered…

Ambedkar bm

(Sketch by Karen Haydock)

This post has some quotes (and my reflections on them) from the book The Annihilation of Caste by B. R. Ambedkar. The book has an essay of the same title which Ambedkar was to give in a Conference of a anti-caste mandal in Lahore. This particular speech, unfortunately, was never delivered. The organizers of the speech objected to certain ideas and words in the speech, which Ambedkar refused to remove, this ultimately resulted in cancellation of the event. In the book before the actual essay begins, it has a series of letters exchanged between Ambedkar and the organizers. The letters show how many feathers can be ruffled, just by words which are well thought out, well chosen and well aimed. The analysis of problems of caste by Ambedkar, and its possible solution is a radical one. This surely unsettled people then, as it will now, even though lot of water has passed since Ambedkar wrote this essay, people and their thoughts have not changed. But Ambedkar was not only man of words, he was one who had the will to put his words in action too. And he indeed left the fold of Hinduism, under which he did not believe there was any emancipation for the dalits.

The radical approach of Ambedkar was not looked upon kindly by most people, especially the leaders. It exposes the ineffective steps taken by both the National Congress as well as Socialists in eradication of caste. Ambedkar argues that their efforts will never
be successful as the problem of caste is inherent to the way of Hindu religion and is essential for its survival. I think in all
this analysis, it sort of became pressing on Gandhi to write a counter to the essay, so Gandhi wrote against this essay in
Harijan. The the appendix has sections of Gandhi’s view on the essay and Ambedkar’s reply to it. Ambedkar’s reply to Gandhi, to put it mildly, is brutal. The force with which he tears apart the argument put forth by Gandhi in his defence of the varna system,
and his idea of following saints as exemplars of religious faith, is something which must have been brewing in his mind for long. He bisects Gandhi in to two: the politician and the saint, which are trying to live by the philosophy preached by him. And he shows that this philosophy is just clinging on to “archaic social structure of the Hindus”.

Ambedkar gives a rationale for why he wrote a reply to Gandhi:

This I have done not because what he has said is so weighty as to deserve a reply but because to many a Hindu he is an oracle, so
great that when he opens his lips it is expected that the argument must close and no dog must bark. But the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible. I do not care for the credit which every
progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realize that they are the sick men of India
and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.

This essay is an eye-opener regards to views of Ambedkar on caste system,and gives us his ideological position on the issues. What
emerges from the reading is that Ambedkar was a rational person. In the sentiments that he has expressed in the essay you can feel the urgency about the things he talks about and at the same time they are not just emotional blurts, but well thought about and
exemplified rational arguments. He elaborates profusely with examples from history and his own times and quotes from many, and builds a convincing case for his ideas, and radical they are.

It is a pity that many of his (so called) followers of today don’t follow his ideas in principle or in spirit.

Prelude to the speech which was never delivered

Ambedkar in his reply on cancelling the Conference for which the speech was made he takes the organizers to task for being not able to keep their word.

I did not expect that your Mandal would be so upset because I have spoken of the destruction of Hindu Religion. I thought it was only fools who were afraid of words. But lest there should be any misapprehension in the minds of the people I have taken great pains to explain what I mean by religion and destruction of religion. I am sure that nobody on reading my address could possibly misunderstand me. That your Mandal should have taken a fright at mere words as destruction of religion etc. notwithstanding the explanation that accompanies them does not raise the Mandal in my estimation. One cannot have any respect or regard for men who take the position of the Reformer and then refuse even to see the logical consequences of that position, let alone following them out in action.

Ambedkar makes it clear that he is not ready to give up his ideological commitments, just for the sake of this speech.

When I see you object even to such a passing and so indirect a reference, I feel bound to ask did you think that in agreeing to preside over your Conference I would be agreeing to suspend or to give up my views regarding change of faith by the Depressed Classes If you did think so I must tell you that I am in no way responsible for such a mistake on your part. If any of you had even hinted to me that in exchange for the honour you were doing me by electing as President, I was to abjure my faith in my programme of conversion, I would have told you in quite plain terms that I cared more for my faith than for any honour from you.

I told you when you were in Bombay that I would not alter a comma, that I would not allow any censorship over my address and that you would have to accept the address as it came from me. I also told you that the responsibility. for the views expressed in the address was entirely mine and if they were not liked by the Conference I would not mind at all if the Conference passed a resolution condemning them.

And finally in exasperation he gives up on the idea of speech thus:

All the grace has by now run out and I shall not consent to preside even if your Committee agreed to accept my address as it is – in toto. I thank you for your appreciation of the pains I have taken in the preparation of the address. I certainly have profited by the labour if no one else does.

I think the fact that speech was indeed never delivered makes it even more powerful, while reading it almost seems that ambedkar is talking to you, directly. And profited, even I have been, by reading this essay.

From the Speech that was never delivered

In the speech itself, Ambedkar makes it amply clear that he knows that he is hated by caste Hindus and the reasons for it. And he makes it also clear that it was not his, but the organizers choice that he be there. And it is no wonder that the offsprings of these Hindus hate him still.

I have criticised the Hindus. I have questioned the authority of
the Mahatma whom they revere. They hate me. To them I am a snake
in their garden. The Mandal will no doubt be asked by the
politically-minded Hindus to explain why it has called me to fill
this place of honour. It is an act of great daring. I shall not be
surprised if some political Hindus regard it as an insult. This
selection of mine cannot certainly please the ordinary
religiously-minded Hindus.

As for myself you will allow me to say that I have accepted the
invitation much against my will and also against the will of many
of my fellow untouchables. I know that the Hindus are sick of
me. I know that I am not a persona grata with them. Knowing all
this I have deliberately kept myself away from them. I have no
desire to inflict myself upon them. I have been giving expression
to my views from my own platform. This has already caused a great
deal of heartburning and irritation. I have no desire to ascend
the platform of the Hindus to do within their sight what I have
been doing within their hearing. If I am here it is because of
your choice and not because of my wish.

Ambedkar then traces the history of social reforms for caste eradication, in which the National Congress and Socialists choose
political and economic reforms respectively as the approach. The socialists eventually were outnumbered and the National Congress had their way, in bringing political reforms first and then the social ones. Ambedkar thinks that social reforms should be primal over others and without them neither the political nor the economic reforms hold any value. But then he asks :

Does it prove that the victory went to those who were in the right? Does it prove conclusively that social reform has no bearing on political reform ?

Who is fit to rule? Does just the mandate for the political party make it fit to rule? This question is pertinent more today, as we
have experimented with democracy for over six decades now. This is something that we need to ask our political class, why should even after so many reforms and so many years and so many promises many of the facts which Ambedkar states are still existent in India?

Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a
large class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use
public school ? Are you fit for political power even though you do
not allow them the use of public wells ? Are you fit for political
power even though you do not allow them the use of public streets
? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow
them to wear what apparel or ornaments they like ? Are you fit for
political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food
they like ?

And on social reformers who have done some reforms he says the following. The reforms were more of cosmetic nature, which did affect only a few amongst the masses and that too mostly from the privileged classes.

It (social reforms) consisted mostly of enlightened high caste
Hindus who did not feel the necessity for agitating for the
abolition of caste or had not the courage to agitate for it. They
felt quite naturally a greater urge to remove such evils as
enforced widowhood, child marriages etc., evils which prevailed
among them and which were personally felt by them. They did not
stand up for the reform of the Hindu society. The battle that was
fought centered round the question of the reform of the family. It
did not relate to the social reform in the sense of the break-up
of the caste system.

On a side note Ambedkar does not mention the work done by Phule in regards to caste eradication here. He is also critical of the
approach of socialists who consider economic reforms to be primal over religious and social reforms. Here he concludes that any reforms that do not tackle the issue of religion and society first will be futile, like drawing line on surface of water.

The fallacy of the Socialists lies in supposing that because in
the present stage of European Society property as a source of
power is predominant, that the same is true of India or that the
same was true of Europe in the past. Religion, social status and
property are all sources of power and authority, which one man
has, to control the liberty of another. One is predominant at one
stage; the other is predominant at another stage. That is the only
difference. If liberty is the ideal, if liberty means the
destruction of the dominion which one man holds over another then
obviously it cannot be insisted upon that economic reform must be
the one kind of reform worthy of pursuit. If the source of power
and dominion is at any given time or in any given society social
and religious then social reform and religious reform must be
accepted as the necessary sort of reform.

He asks:

Can you have economic reform without first bringing about a reform of the social order ?

And what do the socialist promise after the revolution? Just assurances do not suffice for him. Is there a concrete plan he asks?

The assurance of a socialist leading the revolution that he does
not believe in caste, I am sure, will not suffice. The assurance
must be the assurance proceeding from much deeper foundation,
namely, the mental attitude of the compatriots towards one another
in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity. Can it be
said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognise no
distinctions except that of the rich and the poor ? Can it be said
that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or
creed, high or low ? If the fact is that they do, what unity of
front can be expected from such a proletariat in its action
against the rich ?

How can there be a revolution if the proletariat cannot present a
united front?

If Socialists are not to be content with the mouthing of fine
phrases, if the Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite
reality then they must recognize that the problem of social reform
is fundamental and that for them there is no escape from it.

This is only another way of saying that, turn in any direction you
like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have
political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill
this monster.

Caste System is not merely division of labour. It is also a
division of labourers.

As an economic organization Caste is therefore a harmful
institution, in as much as, it involves the subordination of man’s
natural powers and inclinations to the exigencies of social rules.

We see the point that Ambedkar is trying to get across to the Socialists. He sees what they are missing and tries to bring them to
the reality of caste which, if not tackled earlier will have to be tackled. It seems many a leaders at that time were under the impression that caste was a minor problem, in time it would magically get resolved, when the society is developed economically and politically. But the current state of affairs just proves how wrong they were. Though there is some political and economical and social development, the deep roots of caste that have permeated to the core of the Indian society are strong as ever.

In defense of the caste system some seemingly rational people broughtin “scientific”eugenics. When Ambedkar wrote this speech, it was a time when still the ugly face of eugenics was not seen in its full force. Attempts to incorporate “survival of the fittest” and of
“improving the human stock” were in vogue. It fitted the imperialistic policies very well. I think the eugenic movement was a zeitgeist of those times, as Indian thinkers also jumped into the bandwagon for the protection of pure-blood strains, origins some of which can be puranically traced to the creation of the Universe itself. And many of the idealogues passed on this jumping to their subsequent followers, who are now in full throttle regarding the purity of the Aryan race and its “contamination” by others. But Ambedkar argues that this is not the case as neither the inter-marriage nor the inter-dining, which are two pillars of caste establishment, helps anyway in selecting the best.

Caste system does not demarcate racial division. Caste system is a
social division of people of the same race. Assuming it, however,
to be a case of racial divisions one may ask : What harm could
there be if a mixture of races and of blood was permitted to take
place in India by intermarriages between different Castes ? Men
are no doubt divided from animals by so deep a distinction that
science recognizes men and animals as two distinct species. But
even scientists who believe in purity of races do not assert that
the different races constitute different species of men. They are
only varieties of one and the same species. As such they can
interbreed and produce an offspring which is capable of breeding
and which is not sterile. An immense lot of nonsense is talked
about heredity and eugenics in defence of the Caste System. Few
would object to the Caste System if it was in accord with the
basic principle of eugenics because few can object to the
improvement of the race by judicious mating. But one fails to
understand how the Caste System secures judicious mating. Caste
System is a negative thing. It merely prohibits persons belonging
to different Castes from intermarrying. It is not a positive
method of selecting which two among a given Caste should marry. If
Caste is eugenic in origin then the origin of sub-Castes must also
be eugenic. But can any one seriously maintain that the origin of
sub-Castes is eugenic ? I think it would be absurd to contend for
such a proposition and for a very obvious reason.

Again if Caste is eugenic in origin one can understand the bar
against intermarriage. But what is the purpose of the interdict
placed on interdining between Castes and sub-Castes alike ?
Interdining cannot infect blood and therefore cannot be the cause
either of the improvement or of deterioration of the race. This
shows that Caste has no scientific origin and that those who are
attempting to give it an eugenic basis are trying to support by
science what is grossly unscientific.

To argue that the Caste System was eugenic in its conception is to
attribute to the forefathers of present-day Hindus a knowledge of
heredity which even the modern scientists do not possess.

This shows that the Caste System does not embody the eugenics of
modern scientists. It is a social system which embodies the
arrogance and selfishness of a perverse section of the Hindus who
were superior enough in social status to set it in fashion and who
had authority to force it on their inferiors.

And for a Hindu society he says that the term itself has a foreign origin. This might ruffle some feathers now, especially of those who are trying to save the “Hindu” cause.

The first and foremost thing that must be recognized is that Hindu
Society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was
given by the Mohammedans to the natives for the purpose of
distinguishing themselves. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work
prior to the Mohammedan invasion. They did not feel the necessity
of a common name because they had no conception of their having
constituted a community. Hindu society as such does not exist. It
is only a collection of castes.

Since our childhood, we were fed on the by the media and society that India is a nation that embodies “Unity in Diversity”. We have so much which is diverse, languages, customs, costumes, foods and yet it was told to us that in every one of us there is a thread of being an Indian. This is something which the state propaganda machine has dutifully and very well filled in the Indian mindset. Even during his era, this phrase was much used. The very idea that there is a Hindu society, is something which is not acceptable to him.

In every Hindu the consciousness that exists is the consciousness
of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be said to
form a society or a nation. There are however many Indians whose
patriotism does not permit them to admit that Indians are not a
nation, that they are only an amorphous mass of people. They have
insisted that underlying the apparent diversity there is a
fundamental unity which marks the life of the Hindus in as much as
there is a similarity of habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts
which obtain all over the continent of India. Similarity in habits
and customs, beliefs and thoughts there is. But one cannot accept
the conclusion that therefore, the Hindus constitute a society. To
do so is to misunderstand the essentials which go to make up a
society. Men do not become a society by living in physical
proximity any more than a man ceases to be a member of his society
by living so many miles away from other men. Secondly similarity
in habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts is not enough to
constitute men into society.

He summarizes his idea thus:

To have similar thing is totally different from possessing things in common.

And about the anti-social spirit which is so permeating in our society he gives roots in caste system.

An anti-social spirit is found wherever one group has ” interests
of its own ” which shut it out from full interaction with other
groups, so that its prevailing purpose is protection of what it
has got. This anti-social spirit, this spirit of protecting its
own interests is as much a marked feature of the different castes
in their isolation from one another as it is of nations in their
isolation. The Brahmin’s primary concern is to protect ” his
interest ” against those of the non-Brahmins and the non-Brahmin’s
primary concern is to protect their interests against those of the
Brahmins. The Hindus, therefore, are not merely an assortment of
castes but they are so many warring groups each living for itself
and for its selfish ideal.

And on why the aboriginal tribes exist, even when we others are reaping fruits of “development”.

Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as your own, living
in their midst, and cultivating fellow-feeling, in short loving
them. How is it possible for a Hindu to do this ? His whole life
is one anxious effort to preserve his caste. Caste is his precious
possession which he must save at any cost. He cannot consent to
lose it by establishing contact with the aborigines the remnants
of the hateful Anary as of the Vedic days. Not that a Hindu could
not be taught the sense of duty to fallen humanity, but the
trouble is that no amount of sense of duty can enable him to
overcome his duty to preserve his caste. Caste is, therefore, the
real explanation as to why the Hindu has let the savage remain a
savage in the midst of his civilization without blushing or
without feeling any sense of remorse or repentance.

And on comparing cruelty inflicted by Hindus and Muslims, he sees that the former are actually worse off than the later.

The Hindus criticise the Mohammedans for having spread their
religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity
on the score of the inquisition. But really speaking who is better
and more worthy of our respect—the Mohammedans and Christians who
attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what
they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who
would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in
darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and
social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it
a part of their own make-up ? I have no hesitation in saying that
if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and
meanness is worse than cruelty.

And on why Hindu religion cannot have people converted, as again caste factor comes in and has been detrimental to its spread.

Hindu religion ceased to be a missionary religion when the Caste
System grew up among the Hindus. Caste is inconsistent with
conversion. Inculcation of beliefs and dogmas is not the only
problem that is involved in conversion. To find a place for the
convert in the social life of the community is another and a much
more important problem that arises in connection with
conversion. That problem is where to place the convert, in what
caste ? It is a problem which must baffle every Hindu wishing to
make aliens converts to his religion. Unlike the club the
membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of
caste confines its membership to person born in the caste. Castes
are autonomous and there is no authority anywhere to compel a
caste to admit a new-comer to its social life. Hindu Society being
a collection of castes and each caste being a close corporation
there is no place for a convert. Thus it is the caste which has
prevented the Hindus from expanding and from absorbing other
religious communities. So long as caste remain, Hindu religion
cannot be made a missionary religion and Shudhi will be both a
folly and a futility.

Ambedkar does not see kindly towards the so called “tolerance” of the Hindus. He instead says that they are tolerant because they cannot be otherwise.

The Hindus claim to be a very tolerant people. In my opinion this
is a mistake. On many occasions they can be intolerant and if on
some occasions they are tolerant that is because they are too weak
to oppose or too indifferent to oppose. This indifference of the
Hindus has become so much a part of their nature that a Hindu will
quite meekly tolerate an insult as well as a wrong. You see
amongst them, to use the words of Morris, ” The great reading down
the little, the strong beating down the weak, cruel men fearing
not, kind men daring not and wise men caring not.”

And on social exclusion which was the principal way in which the caste system was forced upon the individual. This fact the entire tyranny of the caste system against the individual, is detrimental to the cause of the caste system. Those of us (like me) who are more or less living in urban areas, cannot perhaps imagine what complete exclusion from the society means, as we always have places to go and in the era of the internet new people to meet, if only virtually. And even there most of us do want social recognition by peers, above everything (How many likes on Facebook? How many views? How many tweets?). Peer pressure is very
demanding and we as an individual are devastated if we do are on the wrong side of it.

Now a caste has an unquestioned right to excommunicate any man who
is guilty of breaking the rules of the caste and when it is
realized that excommunication involves a complete cesser of social
intercourse it will be agreed that as a form of punishment there
is really little to choose between excommunication and death. No
wonder individual Hindus have not had the courage to assert their
independence by breaking the barriers of caste. It is true that
man cannot get on with his fellows. But it is also true that he
cannot do without them.

A caste is ever ready to take advantage of the helplessness of a
man and insist upon complete conformity to its code in letter and
in spirit. A caste can easily organize itself into a conspiracy to
make the life of a reformer a hell and if a conspiracy is a crime
I do not understand why such a nefarious act as an attempt to
excommunicate a person for daring to act contrary to the rules of
caste should not be made an offence punishable in law. But as it
is, even law gives each caste an autonomy to regulate its
membership and punish dissenters with excommunication. Caste in
the hands of the orthodox has been a powerful weapon for
persecuting the reforms and for killing all reform.

Then he talks about the idea of Democracy with reference to the caste system.

Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a
mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It
is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards
fellowmen.

What is your ideal society if you do not want caste is a question
that is bound to be asked of you. If you ask me, my ideal would be
a society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Ambedkar also talks about the effects of the social capital in assigning opportunities to people based on their merit, when equal
opportunities are presented to all – would not lead to an equal society. This is perhaps the seed of what was to become the quota
reservation system in the Constitution for different castes in the future.

It may be desirable to give as much incentive as possible to the
full development of every one’s powers. But what would happen if
men were treated unequally as they are, in the first two respects
? It is obvious that those individuals also in whose favour there
is birth, education, family name, business connections and
inherited wealth would be selected in the race. But selection
under such circumstances would not be a selection of the able. It
would be the selection of the privileged.

Ambedkar also dismisses the Chaturvarna theory of the Arya Samaj. In which people would be divided into the four categories dependent on their /qualities/ and not by their /birth/.

Even dependence of one class upon another may sometimes become
allowable. But why make one person depend upon another in the
matter of his vital needs ? Education everyone must have. Means of
defence everyone must have. These are the paramount requirements
of every man for his self-preservation. How can the fact that his
neighbour is educated and armed help a man who is uneducated and
disarmed. The whole theory is absurd.

And on why Manusmriti is still being followed and seen as a rationale for perpetuating the caste system and how it is connected
with the social status quo in India. Perhaps this also explains his burning of this particular book in 1927.

There is no code of laws more infamous regarding social rights
than the Laws of Manu. Any instance from anywhere of social
injustice must pale before it. Why have the mass of people
tolerated the social evils to which they have been subjected?
There have been social revolutions in other countries of the
world. Why have there not been social revolutions in India is a
question which has incessantly troubled me. There is only one
answer, which I can give and it is that the lower classes of
Hindus have been completely disabled for direct action on account
of this wretched system of Chaturvarnya. They could not bear arms
and without arms they could not rebel. They were all ploughmen or
rather condemned to be ploughmen and they never were allowed to
convert their ploughshare into swords. They had no bayonets and
therefore everyone who chose could and did sit upon them. On
account of the Chaturvarnya, they could receive no education. They
could not think out or know the way to their salvation. They were
condemned to be lowly and not knowing the way of escape and not
having the means of escape, they became reconciled to eternal
servitude, which they accepted as their inescapable fate.

…the weak in Europe has had in his freedom of military service
his physical weapon, in suffering his political weapon and in
education his moral weapon. These three weapons for emancipation
were never withheld by the strong from the weak in Europe. All
these weapons were, however, denied to the masses in India by
Chaturvarnya.

And regarding the caste amongst other religion vis-a-vis Hinduism, he makes the comparison and makes the distinction regarding the two. This is something that I have experienced personally being in Nagpur. People are never satisfied with your name, they want to know your surname, so that they can place you in hierarchy of how they want to treat you. If they assume that you are from so and so caste, their behavior towards you will abruptly change, and there is no law, no social sanction against this, against being rude to you based on your caste.

Again it must be borne in mind that although there are castes
among Non-Hindus, as there are among Hindus, caste has not the
same social significance for Non-Hindus as it has for Hindus. Ask
Mohammedan or a Sikh, who he is? He tells you that he is a
Mohammedan or a Sikh as the case may be. He does not tell you his
caste although he has one and you are satisfied with his
answer. When he tells you that he is a Muslim, you do not proceed
to ask him whether he is a Shiya or a Suni; Sheikh or Saiyad ;
Khatik or Pinjari. When he tells you he is a Sikh, you do not ask
him whether he is Jat or Roda ; Mazbi or Ramdasi. But you are not
satisfied, if a person tells you that he is a Hindu. You feel
bound to inquire into his caste. Why ? Because so essential is
caste in the case of a Hindu that without knowing it you do not
feel sure what sort of a being he is. That caste has not the same
social significance among Non-Hindus as it has among Hindus is
clear if you take into consideration the consequences which follow
breach of caste. There may be castes among Sikhs and Mohammedans
but the Sikhs and the Mohammedans will not outcast a Sikh or a
Mohammedan if he broke his caste. Indeed, the very idea of
excommunication is foreign to the Sikhs and the Mohammedans. But
with the Hindus the case is entirely different. He is sure to be
outcasted if he broke caste. This shows the difference in the
social significance of caste to Hindus and Non-Hindus. This is the
second point of difference. But there is also a third and a more
important one. Caste among the non-Hindus has no religious
consecration; but among the Hindus most decidedly it has. Among
the Non-Hindus, caste is only a practice, not a sacred
institution.

On another note I was told that in Kerala, the converts to Christianity are treated as per the caste lines. Those who before conversion were from the lower castes, remain so, even in churches and are treated differently. Is that why even after they have become Christians many in the state of Goa, add GSB (Goud Saraswat Brahmin) as a postfix to their names, just to denote their higher pedigree? And even amongst Muslims, I have seen the idea of caste like structures. The leaders who are nostalgic about the “golden era” of India make the argument that Hindu civilization has survived so many onslaughts, hence it is the fit one, needs a retrospection.

For, I fear that his statement may become the basis of a vicious
argument that the fact of survival is proof of fitness to survive.

Among the solutions to the problem of caste, Ambedkar proposes that inter-marriage between different castes is the solution. The ban on inter-marriage between the castes as the origin and operating mechanism of the castes is something which he elaborates in
another essay of his Castes In India, their Origin and Mechanism, Here he concludes that the custom of endogamy is the main vehicle for propagation of caste.

I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of
blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin and
unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes
paramount the separatist feeling – the feeling of being
aliens – created by Caste will not vanish. Among the Hindus
inter-marriage must necessarily be a factor of greater force in
social life than it need be in the life of the non-Hindus. Where
society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an
ordinary incident of life. But where society cut asunder, marriage
as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real
remedy for breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will
serve as the solvent of Caste.

This will give nothing for the holders of caste to cherish for, the pure-blood lines will be mixed and lost.

And on courage of the social reformers he says:

Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer, who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies Government.

And given the power of social exo-communication that the society at large holds against the individual, and the trauma one has to go through for defying social norms, from the family members, friends and people around is demanding indeed.

And Ambedkar hits the nail on the head when he writes in his analysis that caste is not a physical object at all, but rather it is a mental state. And the people who have this mental state (dalits included), do not recognize it as a problematic one as they have never thought otherwise but are one with the very idea of caste. This appears a natural order of human society to them, which has divine origins in the /Vedas/ and /Shastras/.

Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of
barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which
has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a
state of the mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore
mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional
change. Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to
be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be
recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are
inhuman or wrong headed. They observe Caste because they are
deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. In my
view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this
notion of Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy, you
must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the
Shastras which teach them this religion of Caste.

The only way in which this immense hold on the entire society of
Hindus can be released is when they no longer believe in the divine
origin of the caste system. And in order to do this, we have to
destroy the entire system of religion based on sacred books from
antiquity, which inherently is unequal in nature. As regards to make
people inter-dine and inter-marry in order to abolish caste, he sees
them as only cosmetic changes, which will follow naturally when the
above is attained.

The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the
Shastras. How do you expect to succeed, if you allow the Shastras
to continue to mould the beliefs and opinions of the people ? Not
to question the authority of the Shastras , to permit the people
to believe in their sanctity and their sanctions and to blame them
and to criticise them for their acts as being irrational and
inhuman is a incongruous way of carrying on social
reform. Reformers working for the removal of untouchability
including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seem to realize that the acts of
the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated upon
their minds by the Shastras and that people will not change their
conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the
Shastras on which their conduct is founded. No wonder that such
efforts have not produced any results. You also seem to be erring
in the same way as the reformers working in the cause of removing
untouchability. To agitate for and to organise inter-caste dinners
and inter-caste marriages is like forced feeding brought about by
artificial means. Make every man and woman free from the thraldom
of the Shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions
founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and
inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.

He then asks the people of the /Mandal/:

You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion – the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste. Will you show that courage?

The destruction of Caste is a reform which falls under the third  (first two are inter-dining and inter-marriage) category. To ask people to give up Caste is to ask them to go contrary to their fundamental religious notions. It is obvious that the first and second species of reform are easy. But the third is a stupendous task, well nigh impossible. The Hindus hold to the sacredness of the social order. Caste has a divine basis. You must therefore destroy the sacredness and divinity with which Caste has become invested. In the last analysis, this means you must destroy the authority of the Shastras and the Vedas.

And he was correct in his analysis that just the inter-marriage or inter-dining is not the solution. Open any matrimonial ads and you will find sections and subsections of caste-brides and caste-bridegrooms looking for prospective partners. Unfortunately even
the followers of Ambedkar, the dalits, seek marriages amongst themselves, this is rather sad, as they are holding on to their
identity of the caste against what Ambedkar said. Just putting his images in same caste marriages, which uphold the very notion and essence of what caste is, is a dishonor to the great man.

And this is a quote from a British, which no people in power would relish, but speaks volumes about the character of people who are in power.

The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who
becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be
a revolutionist.

And on the social reason why caste persists Ambedkar says:

…the Caste system has two aspects. In one of its aspects, it
divides men into separate communities. In its second aspect, it
places these communities in a graded order one above the other in
social status. Each caste takes its pride and its consolation in
the fact that in the scale of castes it is above some other caste.

This is the rule of the game, you ought to invest those under you with some powers over some others. This is a complete hierarchy of
positions, with only those at the lowest pedestal not having any say, but those are mentally bound and are the most downtrodden of all. Here he also explain that everybody who is part of this system, has some stake in it, hence a Marxist revolution is not possible.

The higher the grade of a caste, the greater the number of these
rights and the lower the grade, the lesser their number. Now this
gradation, this scaling of castes, makes it impossible to organise
a common front against the Caste System. If a caste claims the
right to inter-dine and inter-marry with another caste placed
above it, it is frozen, instantly it is told by mischief-mongers,
and there are many Brahmins amongst such mischief-mongers, that it
will have to concede inter-dining and inter-marriage with castes
below it! All are slaves of the Caste System. But all the slaves
are not equal in status. To excite the proletariat to bring about
an economic revolution, Karl Marx told them “You have nothing to
loose except your chains.” But the artful way in which the social
and religious rights are distributed among the different castes
whereby some have more and some have less, makes the slogan of
Karl Marx quite useless to excite the Hindus against the Caste
System. Castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and
low, which are jealous of their status and which know that if a
general dissolution came, some of them stand to loose more of
their prestige and power than others do. You cannot, therefore,
have a general mobilization of the Hindus, to use a military
expression, for an attack on the Caste System.

But then, how do people who do break the norms of the caste are able to save the caste? There is a solution for that in Manusmriti, for every major and minor offence there is a penance in which the direct beneficiary is the Brahmin. So in this way everyone is happy and the caste system goes on.

He breaks Caste at one step and proceeds to observe it at the next
without raising any question. The reason for this astonishing
conduct is to be found in the rule of the Shastras, which directs
him to maintain Caste as far as possible and to undergo
prayaschitta (penance) when he cannot. By this theory of
prayaschitta, the Shastras by following a spirit of compromise
have given caste a perpetual lease of life and have smothered
reflective thought which would have otherwise led to the
destruction of the notion of Caste.

The rationale for the caste system given are not based on reason or morality, but on some rules which were written by men in antiquity and its defenders are the most learned people in the Indian society, who unfortunately see no reason but only rules. They do not follow principles but rules, which are already written. And it is these rules and the unquestioned belief of people in them that are the biggest problems in the eradication of caste.

Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the
armoury of a Reformer. To deprive him of the use of these weapons
is to disable him for action .How are you going to break up Caste,
if people are not free to consider whether it accords with reason
? How are you going to break up Caste if people are not free to
consider whether it accords with morality ? The wall built around
Caste is impregnable and the material, of which it is built,
contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add
to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of
Brahmins, who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the
natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere
mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland and
you will get an idea why I think that breaking-up of Caste amongst
the Hindus is well-nigh impossible.

But whether the doing of the deed takes time or whether it can be
done quickly, you must not forget that if you wish to bring about
and breach in the system then you have got to apply the dynamite to
the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason, to
Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must
destroy the Religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis.

Rules are practical ; they are habitual ways of doing things
according to prescription. But principles are intellectual; they
are useful methods of judging things. Rules seek to tell an agent
just what course of action to pursue. Principles do not prescribe
a specific course of action. Rules, like cooking recipes, do tell
just what to do and how to do it.

Doing what is said to be, good by virtue of a rule and doing good
in the light of a principle are two different things.

A religious act may not be a correct act but must at least be a
responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, Religion must
mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of
rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be
Religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a
truly religious act. What is this Hindu Religion ? Is it a set of
principles or is it a code of rules ? Now the Hindu Religion, as
contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of
sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and
regulations, all mixed up.

In his analysis Ambedkar rightly makes the claim that what is practised as religion by Hindus (though I would add all other major
religions here too) is just rituals. There may be a spiritual side to religion, but it is lost in the labyrinth of rituals, based on rules,
which are performed to please the Gods.

What is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.

Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them, and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu’s life. That for a Hindu, Dharma means commands and prohibitions is clear from the way the word Dharma is used in Vedas and the Sinritis and understood by the commentators. The word Dharma as used in the Vedas in most cases means religious ordinances or rites.

The first evil of such a code of ordinances, misrepresented to the people as Religion, is that it tends to deprive moral life of freedom and spontaneity and to reduce it (for the conscientious at any rate) to a more or less anxious and servile conformity to externally imposed rules. Under it, there is no loyalty to ideals, there is only conformity to commands. But the worst evil of this code of ordinances is that the laws it contains must be the same yesterday, today and forever. They are iniquitous in that they are not the same for one class as for another. But this iniquity is made perpetual in that they are prescribed to be the same for all generations.

I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that as caused by misnaming this Law as Religion. This is an essential step for you. Once you clear the minds of the people of this misconception and enable them to realize that what they are told as Religion is not Religion but that it is really Law, you will be in a position to urge for its amendment or abolition. So long as people look upon it as Religion they will not be ready for a change, because the idea of Religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change. But the idea of law is associated with the idea of change and when people come to know that what is called Religion is really Law, old and archaic, they will be ready for a change, for people know and accept that law can be changed

Then he asks this question that why is not profession of a priest regulated? And also sees the logical consequence of this as complete upheaval of the notions that people cherish above their lives. To attain this would be a true revolution.

Every profession in India is regulated. Engineers must show proficiency, Doctor must show proficiency, Lawyers must show proficiency, before they are allowed to practise their professions. During the whole of their career, they must not only obey the law of the land, civil as well as criminal, but they must also obey the special code of morals prescribed by their respective professions. The priest’s is the only profession where proficiency is not required. The profession of a Hindu priest is the only profession which is not subject to any code. Mentally a priest may be an idiot, physically a priest may be suffering from a foul disease, such as syphilis or gonorrheae, morally he may be a wreck. But he is fit to officiate at solemn ceremonies, to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a Hindu temple and worship the
Hindu God. All this becomes possible among the Hindus because for a priest it is enough to be born in a priestly caste. The whole thing is abominable and is due to the fact that the priestly class among Hindus is subject neither to law nor to morality. It recognizes no duties. It knows only of rights and privileges. It is a pest which divinity seems to have let loose on the masses for their mental and moral degradation. The priestly class must be brought under control by some such legislation as I have outlined above. It will prevent it from doing mischief and from misguiding people. It will democratise it by throwing it open to every one. It will certainly help to kill the Brahminism and will
also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahminism incarnate. Brahminism is the poison which has spoiled
Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism. There should be no opposition to this reform from any quarter. It should be welcomed even by the Arya Samajists, because this is merely an application of their own doctrine of guna-karma.

This means a complete change in the fundamental notions of life – it means a complete change in the values of life. It means a complete change in outlook and in attitude towards men and things. It means conversion but if you do not. like the word, I will say, it means new life. But a new life cannot enter a body that is dead. New life can center only in a new body. The old body must die before a new body can come into existence and a new life can enter into it. To put it simply: the old must cease to be operative before the new can begin to enliven and to pulsate. This is what I meant when I said you must discard the authority of the Shastras and destroy the religion of the Shastras.

And this is something the apologists for the golden past of India should keep in mind. But they want the golden past in toto, as it was, with its caste system and aided rituals. This I think was in reference to the general wave of Hindu extremism which was raging in 1930s, which was agreeable to the masses in general, and also is raging on now.

” Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse… As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to conserve and transmit, the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future
society.” — John Dewey
” An individual can live only in the present. The present is not just something which comes after the past ; much less something produced by it. It is what life is in leaving the past behind it. The study of past products will not help us to understand the present. A knowledge of the past and its heritage is of great significance when it enters into the present, but not otherwise. And the mistake of making the-records and remains of the past the main material of education is that it tends to make the past a rival of the present and the present a more or less
futile imitation of the past.”

For his own views Ambedkar puts it rather humbly as:

If you will allow me to say, these views are the views of a man, who has been no tool of power, no flatterer of greatness.

Finally he says that just having freedom (from the British) without the social reforms would mean just giving in to another form of
slavery. And unfortunately this is just what happened.

There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion only when the Hindu Society becomes a caste-less society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.

The caste system is very much alive and kicking and we cannot just wish it away. People still insist on marrying in their own caste, as long as this is true, we are not going to have any respite from this evil of the society. And the belief in puranical texts for all source of knowledge is ever increasing. Rationality is going for a toss, and the future looks bleak.

Gandhi’s take, and Ambedkar’s response

What Ambedkar wrote did make people uncomfortable. Perhaps he wrote in a way to make people uncomfortable. Gandhi wrote article against Ambedkar’s address, in Harijan. He says:

No reformer can ignore the address. The orthodox will gain by reading it. This is not to say that the address is not open to objection. It has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr. Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism. Brought up as a Hindu, educated by a Hindu potentate, he has become so disgusted with the so-called Savarna Hindus for the treatment that he and his people have received at their hands that he proposes to leave not only them but the very religion that is his and their common heritage. He has transferred to that religion, his disgust against a part of its professors.

One can see the agitation in Gandhi’s mind in the following words regarding Ambedkar.

Dr Ambedkar is not alone in his disgust. He is its most uncompromising exponent and one of the ablest among them. He is certainly the most irreconcilable among them. Thank God, in the front rank of the leaders, he is singularly alone and as yet but a representative of a very small minority. But what he says is voiced with more or less vehemence by many leaders belonging to the depressed classes.

Gandhi gives an argument regarding caste and religion, which might appeal to people who believe in ideal world. But nonetheless this analysis is wrong for the real world in which we live in. Gandhi himself might not be subject to the caste discrimination that he was talking against, which Ambedkar was, hence maybe Gandhi was oblivious to see the things as they are in the real world.

Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know and do not need to know for the
satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do know that it is harmful both to spiritual and national growth. Varna and Ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with castes. The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling it defines not our rights but our duties.

And then Gandhi goes on to say something which I find hard to digest. This is like making martyrs out of people, just to warn others that they will too suffer the same fate if they followed suit.

A religion has to be judged not by it’s worst specimens but by the best it might have produced. For that and that alone can be used as the standard to aspire to, if not to improve upon.

If Caste and Varna are convertible terms and if Varna is an integral part of the Shastras which define Hinduism, I do not know how a person who rejects Caste i.e. Varna can call himself a Hindu.

That caste should be removed or eradicated, is something Gandhi does not say, as he again gives in to their divine origin and considers them to essential to a Hindu. And this is something that you find even now deeply rooted in the people, even when the dalits get converted to another religion, and by definition are no longer Hindus, they face the same atrocities.

Ambedkar, in his reply, one by one dissects the arguments put forth by Gandhi. The fierce nature in which he tears apart some of them, and his tone tell us something of his character, that he was fighter and a rebel to the core.

First he takes on the idea that it is the good specimens of religion who had more spiritual basis, to be followed. But this is something not for the common people, but for great saints only.

A saint therefore never became an example to follow. He always remained a pious man to be honoured. That the masses have remained staunch believers in Caste and Untouchability shows that the pious lives and noble sermons of the saints have had no effect on their life and conduct as against the teachings of the Shastras. Thus it can be a matter of no consolation that there were saints or that there is a Mahatma who understands the Shastras differently from the learned few or ignorant many. That the masses hold different view of the Shastras is fact which
should and must be reckoned with.

And relying on high-caste Hindus for emancipating the low castes is not possible!

But nonetheless anyone who relies on an attempt to turn the members of the caste Hindus into better men by improving their personal character is in my judgment wasting his energy and bugging an illusion. Can personal character make the maker of armaments a good man, i.e. a man who will sell shells that will not burst and gas that will not poison ? If it cannot, how can you accept personal character to make a man loaded with the consciousness of Caste, a good man, i.e. a man who would treat his fellows as his friends and equals ?

As a matter of fact, a Hindu does treat all those who are not of his Caste as though they were aliens, who could be discriminated against with impunity and against whom any fraud or trick may be practised without shame. This is to say that there can be a better or a worse Hindu. But a good Hindu there cannot be.

(emphasis in original)

Ambedkar uses the example of Gandhi himself, regarding his preaching. Here Ambedkar points out two things, one regarding marriage of Gandhi’s son to a Brahmin girl, and second regarding the occupation which should be ancestral. Applying Gandhi’s own principle recursively to Gandhi himself, Ambedkar exposes absurdity and impracticality of these ideals.

The Mahatma is not known to have condemned him (Gandhi’s son) for not following his ancestral calling. It may be wrong and uncharitable to judge an ideal by its worst specimens. But surely the Mahatma as a specimen has no better and if he even fails to realize the ideal then the ideal must be an impossible ideal quite opposed to the practical instincts of man.

And on ancestral calling, which has been practiced for ages by
Brahmins Ambedkar says:

Not only must such a person be deemed to be bankrupt of all spiritual treasures but for him to practice so elevating a
profession as that of a priest simply because it is ancestral, without faith, without belief, merely as a mechanical process handed down from father to son, is not a conservation of virtue; it is really the prostitution of a noble profession which is no other than the service of religion.

Gandhi’s varna is something that Ambedkar understands as a masquerade for caste. It is just caste reincarnate in another form, as it is connected to birth, and does not say anything about the qualities of the person.

The essence of the Mahatma’s conception of Varna is the pursuit of ancestral calling irrespective of natural aptitude. What is the difference between Caste and Varna as understood by the Mahatma? I find none. As defined by the Mahatma, Varna becomes merely a different name for Caste for the simple reason that it is the same in essence -namely pursuit of ancestral calling. Far from making progress the Mahatma has suffered retrogression. By
putting this interpretation upon the Vedic conception of Varna he has really made ridiculous what was sublime.

If the Mahatma believes as he does in every one following his or her ancestral calling, then most certainly he is advocating the Caste System and that in calling it the Varna System he is not only guilty of terminological inexactitude, but he is causing confusion worse confounded. I am sure that all his confusion is due to the fact that the Mahatma has no definite and clear conception as to what is Varna and what is Caste and as to the necessity of either for the conservation of Hinduism.

In the following line he asks Gandhi, whose interests he is serving? Gandhi seen here seems to have lost the rational element, and is trying to reason something in which he believes to be true. And here what is seen is the cunning nature of Gandhi’s politics, that of being the saint and the politician at the same time.

Why this prevarication ? Why does the Mahatma hedge ? Whom does he want to please ? Has the saint failed to sense the truth ? Or does the politician stand in the way of the Saint ?

The real reason why the Mahatma is suffering from this confusion is probably to be traced to two sources. The first is the temperament of the Mahatma. He has almost in everything the simplicity of the child with the child’s capacity for
self-deception. Like a child he can believe in anything he wants to believe. We must therefore wait till such time as it pleases the Mahatma to abandon his faith in Varna as it has pleased him to abandon his faith in Caste. The second source of confusion is the double role which the Mahatma wants to play – of a Mahatma and a Politician. As a Mahatma he may be trying to spiritualize Politics. Whether he has succeeded in it or not Politics have certainly commercialized him. A politician must know that Society cannot bear the whole truth and that he must not speak
the whole truth; if he is speaking the whole truth it is bad for his politics. The reason why the Mahatma is always supporting Caste and Varna is because he is afraid that if he opposed them he will lose his place in politics. Whatever may be the source of this confusion the Mahatma must be told that he is deceiving himself and also deceiving the people by preaching Caste under the name of Varna.

The image of Gandhi that we have is of a mass leader and a rebel. Both he was, but we have to make certain reservations regarding these qualities attributed to him. But on closer examination, we conclude for some things and certainly when issue of caste was concerned he was very conservative Hindu. What would have happened if the social structure of caste was attacked by Gandhi himself? Maybe many of his devout followers would have left him, maybe he was not yet ready to give up on his dharma just for the sake of caste.

Gandhi accuses Ambedkar for setting a benchmark for Hindu religion, in which all religions would fail, he responds thus:

… I maintain that the standards I have applied to test Hindus and Hinduism are the most appropriate standards and that I know of none that are better. The conclusion that every known religion would fail if tested by my standards may be true. But this fact should not give the Mahatma as the champion of Hindus and Hinduism a ground for comfort any more than the existence of one madman should give comfort to another madman or the existence of one criminal should give comfort to another criminal.

And the problem with the Hindus is their ideals, which Gandhi is trying to defend in some garb or other. And this is what Ambedkar sees through clearly.

If I am disgusted with Hindus and Hinduism it is because I am convinced that they cherish wrong ideals and live a wrong social life. My quarrel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over the imperfections of their social conduct. It is much more fundamental. It is over their ideals.

They still have a mystic respect for the earlier forms which make them disinclined – nay opposed to any examination of the foundations of their Society. The Hindu masses are of course incredibly heedless in the formation of their beliefs. But so are the Hindu leaders. And what is worse is that these Hindu leaders become filled with an illicit passion for their beliefs when any one proposes to rob them of their companionship. The Mahatma is no exception. The Mahatma appears not to believe in thinking. He prefers to follow the saints. Like a conservative
with his reverence for consecrated notions he is afraid that if he once starts thinking, many ideals and institutions to which lie clings will be doomed.

And these final words in the response unmasks Gandhi’s image as a saint, and paints him as an hypocritical, opportunistic, conservative, irrational, lingering on to antique systems for spiritual satisfaction.

In so far as he does think, to me he really appears to be prostituting his intelligence to find reasons for supporting
this archaic social structure of the Hindus. He is the most influential apologist of it and therefore the worst enemy of the Hindus.

And in the words of Mathew Arnold are “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born”, which was true when it was said eighty years back as it is now.

Can Stars Be Seen in Daylight?

The constellations that we saw at night half a year ago are now overhead in the daytime. Six months later they will again adorn the night sky. The sunlit atmosphere of the Earth screens them from the eye because the air particles-disperse the sun-rays more than the rays emitted by the stars. (The observer located on the top of a high mountain, with the densest and dustiest layers of- the atmosphere below, would see the brighter stars even in daytime. For instance, from the top of Mt. Ararat (5 km. high), first-magnitude stars are clearly distinguished at 2 o’clock in the afternoon; the sky is seen as having a dark blue colour.)

The following simple experiment will help explain why the stars disappear in daylight. Punch a few holes in one of the sides of a cardboard box, taking care, however, to make them resemble a familiar constellation. Having done so, glue a sheet of white paper on the outside. Place a light inside the box and take it into a dark room; lit from the inside; the holes, representing stars in the   night sky, are clearly seen. But, switch on a light in the room without extinguishing the light in the box and, lo, the artificial stars on our sheet of paper vanish without trace: “daylight” has extinguished them.

One often reads of stars being seen even in daylight from the bottom of deep mines and wells, of tall chimney-stacks and so on. Recently, however, this viewpoint, which had the backing of eminent names, was put to test and found wanting.  As a matter of   fact, none of the men who wrote on this subject, whether the Aristotle of antiquity or 19th-century Herschel, had ever bothered to observe the stars in these conditions. They quoted the testimony of a third person. But the unwisdom of relying on the testimony of
“eye-witnesses,” say in this particular field, is emphasized by the; following example. An article in an American magazine described daylight visibility of stars from the. bottom of a well as a fable. This was hotly contested by a farmer who claimed that he had seen Capella: and Algol in daytime from the floor of a  20-metre high silo. But when his claim was checked it was found that on the latitude of his farm neither of the stars was at zenith at the given date and, consequently could not have been seen from
the bottom of the silo.

Theoretically, there is no reason why a mine or a well should help in daylight observation of stars. We have already mentioned that the stars are not seen in daytime because sunlight extinguishes them. This holds also for the eye of the observer at the bottom of a mine. All that is subtracted in this case- is the light from the sides. All the particles in the layer of air above the surface of the mine continue to give off light and, consequently, bar the stars to vision.

What is of importance here is that the walls of the well protect the; eye from the bright sunlight; this, however, merely facilitates observation of the bright planets, but not the stars. The reason why stars are seen through the telescope in daylight is not because they are seen from “the bottom of a tube,” as many think, but because the refraction of light, by the lens or its reflection in the mirrors detracts from the brilliancy of the part of the sky under observation, and at the same time enhances the brilliancy of the stars (seen as points of light). We can see first-magnitude and even second-magnitude stars in daytime through a 7 cm. telescope. What has been said, however, does not hold true for either wells, mines, or chimneys.

The bright planets, say, Venus, Jupiter or Mars, in opposition, present a totally different picture. They shine far more brilliantly than the stars, and for this reason, given favourable conditions, can be seen in daylight.

From Astronomy for Entertainment – Yakov Perelman Pg: 135-137

Available here.

Public decency and morality

This is what Supreme Court of India had to say when petition was filed to lift a ban in 1964 on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence:

It is convenient to set out s. 292 of the Indian Penal Code at this stage:

“292. Sale of obscene books etc. : Whoever- (a) sells, lets to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation, or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation, makes, produces or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or

(b) imports, exports or conveys any obscene object for any of the purposes aforesaid, or knowing or having reason to believe that such object will be sold, let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(c) takes part in or receives profits from any business in the course of which he knows or has reason to believe that any such obscene objects are, for any of the purposes aforesaid, made, produced, purchased, kept, imported, exported, conveyed, publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence -under this section,

19(1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression; (2) Nothing -in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of public order, decency or morality”

No doubt this article guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression but it also makes an exception in favour of existing laws which impose restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of public decency or morality.

Condemnation of obscenity depends as much upon the mores of the people as upon the individual. It is always a question of degree or as the lawyers are accustomed to say, of where the line is to be drawn. It is, however, clear that obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit.” When there is propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit, the approach to the problem may become different because then the interest of society may tilt the scales in favour of free speech and expression. It is thus that books on medical science with intimate illustrations and photographs, though in a sense immodest, are not considered to be obscene but the same illustrations and photographs collected in book form without the medical text would certainly be considered to be obscene.

“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deperave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. . . . . it is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.”

He wants us to say that a book is not necessarily obscene because there is a word here or a word there, or a passage here and a passage there which may be offensive to particularly sensitive persons. He says that the overall effect of the book should be the test and secondly, that the book should only be condemned if it has no redeeming merit at all, for then it is “dirt for dirt’s sake”, or as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in his inimitable way “dirt for money’s sake.

We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality but when the latter is substantially transgressed the former must give way.

The taboo on sex in art and literature which was more strict thirty-five years ago, seemed to him to corrode domestic and social life and his definite view was that a candid discussion of sex through art was the only catharsis for purifying and relieving the congested emotion is.

“The law seeks to protect not those who protect themselves, but those whose prurient minds take delight and sexual pleasures from erotic writings.”

via | Ranjit D. Udeshi vs State Of Maharashtra on 19 August, 1964

The word “obscene” in the section is not limited to writings, pictures etc. intended to arouse sexual desire. At the same time the mere treating with sex and nudity in art and literature is not per se evidence of obscenity.

Exception. – This section does not extend to any book, pamphlet, writing, drawing or painting kept or used bona fide for religious purposes or any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.”

This was I think long back, but the views have not changed ever since the. The idea that somethings are bad for everyone is something which all cultures adhere to, and it is very hard for people, especially people in power to let this notion go. This is another way of controlling people. This is what is common to fundamentalism and democracy. The notion that our past was a golden one, and anything new will harm it and jeopardize the future of the culture. From what I feel is that there was no golden past, it just was.

And thinking about morality, though they say that there are some universal principles, everyone does not subscribe to same ones. In his theory Kohlberg, outlines these differences. But that said, he does not talk about obscenity, which I think it is highly cultural. For example a burqa clad woman is a common picture in certain Islamic communities, or a woman with ghunghat is all but common in certain Hindu communities, but at the same time some people might be find it too restrictive. And a woman in short skirt might be a common scene in the urban areas in certain countries, but it might be a great taboo for some others. There are no universal standards for what counts as moral or decent.

 

 

Science, a humanistic approach

Science is an adventure of the whole human race to learn to live in and perhaps to love the universe in which they are. To be a part of it is to understand, to understand oneself, to begin to feel that there is a capacity within man far beyond what he felt he had, of an infinite extension of human possibilities . . .
I propose that science be taught at whatever level, from the lowest to the highest, in the humanistic way. It should be taught with a certain historical understanding , with a certain philosophical understanding , with a social understanding and a human understanding in the sense of the biography, the nature of the people who made this construction, the triumphs, the trials, the tribulations.

I. I. RABI
Nobel Laureate in Physics

via Project Physics Course, Unit 4 Light and Electromagnetism Preface

Do see the Project Physics Course which has come in Public Domain hosted at the Internet Archive, thanks to F.  James Rutherford.

Love, personal qualities and infection

She said: “It seems to me that everyone has a quality that can get  the better of love. Is stronger, you see. Like pride. Or honesty. Or moral – even intellectual, even emotional – integrity. Take two people in love. The only thing that can really upset things is this personal quality in one of them. Other people don’t come into it at all. Except in a roundabout way – as intruments of jealousy, for instance. Don’t you agree?”

I wasn’t sure about anything, but I said yes.

“Another thing about love,” the girl with ringlets said, “is its extraordinary infection. Has it ever occured to you that when you’re in love with someone you’re really wanting to be loved yourself? Because that, of course is the natural law. I mean, it would be odd if every time one person loved another person the first person wasn’t loved in return. There’s only a very tiny percentage of that kind of thing.”
The Day We Got Drunk Over Cake |William Trevor

Free Press and Democracy

A free press is an essential part of a democratic system. In a society like ours, with its stark inequalities, only a media free of government and corporate pressures can ensure that the voiceless are heard. What we are seeing currently is not just blatant collusion between the media and big business but also a deliberate obliteration of much of what happens to the millions who live on the margins.

via Economic and Political Weekly

This is what Media Lens has to say about the BBC which is supposed to be in public interest and impartial.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

But isn’t this true of the media in India also? Or elsewhere in the world for that matter. Tehelka reports that many of the barons of power also control the local media in newly formed state of Chattisgad. And what is the use of controlling media when they are not used for gains. When the so called free media becomes a part of the political parties we cannot be sure of what they report.

If the Congress has Naveen Jindal, the BJP has Ajay Sancheti. If the Congress has the Lokmat, the BJP has the Hari Bhoomi. Barring coal, in which both the Centre and the states had their hands in the till, in the case of other mineral resources, the real corruption lies in the states.

It is not that people do not use media for their own gain, media is used for spreading ideology, there are many mouthpiece outlets for political parties and others which propagate the ideas. But what is worst is that the masquerade that many media houses put on themselves claiming to be honest and working in public interest, and people at large believe them, being obliviousto the fact that these very media houses are the ones who are power brokers and very much in the filth as corporates and politicians. A recent example of this was the Radia tapes.

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

via|G. Sampath – DNA

It was not until the non-main-stream media began to show up too much, there was some coverage given. But the very fact that the accused are in complete denial of what happened is what is disturbing. We usually held names like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi well but these tapes just show how much they are in the filth of what they pretend to expose. From then on, I have given up on NDTV as a reliable source, which earlier I thought it was. But then what do you trust?

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi’s conversations with Radia are a part of “normal journalistic duties” or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let ‘We, The People’ decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

via|G. Sampath – DNA

The media blackout of particular events is what I find disturbing. What it shows the kind of camaraderie that exists between different media houses and their corporate and political cronies. That basically means that the news, sorry the Breaking News that you see is like a managed play, with directors and writers deciding what people see, hear and think. In Marathi novel (Ithink it was Swami (स्वामी) by Ranjit Desai) I had read a sentence which fits these situations well, it reads:

मी मारल्या सारखे करतो, तु रडल्या सारखे कर.

( I will feign to hit, you feign to cry.)

This creates an illusion about real problems. Most of the News channels that are beamed in India follow this line. Put all the focus on some non-issues, or twist them from certain angles so that why all this happens remains oblivious to the viewers. If our media was after all serious about the issues that they present, they would have seen to it that things are done.

Many a times what I have also found reading reports on various different news services is that they are same. I mean many a times they are word to word same, as if the reports have been written at one place and distributed. I do not have links right now, but will update this post when I do. This again creates a picture that what news we see is heavily filtered, and sometimes flavours are added to create sensationalism. And the icing is that we all think this is genuine, with “Free Press in A Democracy”. Orwell had a foresight about this as well:

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

The only reason I see that India is feudal and corrupt is that the so called Free Press was never able to take up the challenge to the nexus, and ultimately now has become a part of it.

In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

Though there are dissidents here and there, this now has become global phenomena, with the Indian media people just following the suit. And if this is the case, what difference does it make whether you are living in a democracy or a totalitarian state?

And Orwell wraps it up thus:

A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

 

Experiment in The Classroom

“The experiment is already on, Sir! It is my personal experience that the story is a wonderful magic pill that helps to establish rapport between the pupils and the teachers. Those very boys who were not prepared to listen to me on the first day and who had unnerved me with shouts and catcalls, have become quiet since I started telling them a story. They now have a sort of affection for me. They listen to me and sit as I ask them to. I don’t have to shout at them to keep them quiet. And they don’t leave the school even after it is over!”

via| Diwaswapna

Hope that every classroom would be like that, where the children like to come and don’t like to go home…

Reading in e-book era

Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, every reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We’ve been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.

via Boing Boing.

I agree completely.Though cases like these are going to become more common, unless we switch to a technology which we can see that is Free as in Freedom. Governments and corporates are going to use this technology against the people who are using it. It will create profiles of “dangerous” people who are reading revolutionary material, for example. It will go unchecked if we just are using the technology without questioning it.

Also see RMS’s view on this topic.

Humble hovel or Palace

How slowly one advances in a boat that does not float along with the stream in a specific direction! How much easier it is when one can connect with the work of great predecessors whose value is not doubted by anyone. A personal experiment, a construction whose foundations one must dig himself and whose walls one must erect himself, runs a real risk of becoming a humble hovel. But perhaps one prefers to live there rather than in a palace that has been built by others.

M. C. Escher | Escher on Escher – Exploring the Infinite

Most of us would have already made the choice. For me the choice is somewhat both maybe the garden of the palace and living space of the hovel. I may try to give up the palace garden sometime in the future but for now it is so. What about you?

Orwell On Books…

In two of his essays Books vs. Cigarretes and Bookshop Memories George Orwell tells us what he thinks about books. Me being a bibliophile could relate to many things he said.

He says out of the 900 odd books he has, around 500 are bought second-hand. While most of mine are second hand.

The idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so  widespread that it deserves some detailed examination.

Even now I know of people who get and give weird reactions to the sight of books, as if they are something ugly and avoidable.

This is because book-giving, book-borrowing and book-stealing more or less even out.

Well may be in the long run it is indeed true. I have lost many books, but there are may be more with me which belong to others, but which I did not steal. But many just ended up being with me.

It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them. “Books” includes novels, poetry, text books, works of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one habitually buys books second-hand. You may spend ten shillings on a poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case. But if one regards reading simply as a recreation, like going to the pictures, then it is possible to make a rough estimate of what it costs.

Here I see an analogy between books and humans (or is it the other way round?). Just as he describes different types of books, some of which we just dip into, some we savour for our lives, some we just refer maybe once in a while, so are our human contacts, some are just hi-bye types, some we share our intimate moments with, some we just meet once in our lives, but they are unforgettable, some we just forget, and others we want to forget. Seen in this way at another level, books are just ideas that are present in them, so are the humans we come in contact with (though at times the physical intimacy is better, (but isn’t physical intimacy also an idea)). Some people we make our heroes, some books give us our philosophy of life. Some people give us sound advice, many books save us from despair. Books are actually people who talk to us, make us experience things we would otherwise not experience, isn’t the same true of people also. But of course there are crap books and there are crap people.

If you concentrated on more serious books, and still bought everything that you read, your expenses would be about the same. The books would cost more but they would take longer to read. In either case you would still possess the books after you had read them, and they would be saleable at about a third of their purchase price. If you bought only second-hand books, your reading expenses would, of course, be much less: perhaps sixpence an hour would be a fair estimate.

I never sold my books, and hopefully will never need to.

And if our book consumption remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because reading is a less
pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not  because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive.

And he ends Bookshop Memories thus

But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.

I hope I do not end up doing the same. For now I think I am maybe making a transition from bibliophilia to bibliomania.

For a comprehensive list of Orwell’s works see: http://orwell.ru

Flying Circus of Physics…

The Flying Circus of Physics began one dark and dreary night in 1968 while I was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Well, actually, to most graduate students nearly all nights are dark and dreary, but I mean that that particular night was really dark and dreary. I was a full-time teaching assistant, and earlier in the day I had given a quiz to Sharon, one of my students. She did badly and at the end turned to me with the challenge, “What has anything of this to do with my life?”

I jumped to respond, “Sharon, this is physics! This has everything to do with your life!”

As she turned more to face me, with eyes and voice both tightened, she said in measured pace, “Give me some examples.”

I thought and thought but could not come up with a single one. I had spent at least six years studying physics and I could not come up with even a single example.That night I realized that the trouble with Sharon was actually the trouble with me: This thing called physics was something people did in a physics building, not something that was connected with the real world of Sharon or me. So, I decided to collect some real-world examples and, to catch her attention, I called the collection The Flying Circus of Physics.

via Jearl Walker | Flying Circus of Physics

Remaking ebooks from existing pdfs, djvu

Suppose you have an ebook or an article in pdf format, which unfortunately is not cleaned. By not cleaned we mean

  • Single page scan with edge darkening, pages not aligned that is text is rotated differently , page size different, library and use marks marks etc.
  • 2-in-1 scan: Two pages simultaneously scanned together, the central spine dark band, pages not rotated properly, edge and wear marks,  library marks etc.

In this case we cannot use the tools like scantailor for cleaning the images directly. For this we first need to extract images from the PDF file and then do a processing on these images. One can do extract the images one by one and process them, but then we can do it in a better way also.

First we split the pdf file into single PDFs by using the most versatile pdftk

For this in the terminal type

$ pdftk file.pdf burst

It will create as many pdf files as there are pages. with names like pg_0000.pdf etc.

Now next task is to convert these pdf to images, for this we use the convert command, but we don’t want to convert files one by one by

convert pg_0000.pdf pg_0000.tiff

But this is not very useful for large number of files, we want to make this in one go. So we do the following

$ for i in $(ls | grep pdf;);
do
convert -density 600 $i $i.tiff;
done
Lets see what these commands do:

ls

will list all the files in that directory

ls | grep pdf

This will filter out the files with pdf in the filename and provide us with a list

On this list we can do a lot of operations as we do in on any other list

for i in $(ls | grep pdf)

is calling each member of this list that we generated and treating it as variable i

and for each memberwe

do

the following

convert -density 600 $i $i.tiff

and after this is over the task is

done

We can set the dpi for the output images by passing the number, above it is set as 600. The output images will be named same as the input pdf files.

Now we can happily run scantailor on these images to clean them up!

PS:

Instead of a PDF if you have a djvu file we have another approach.

Step 1

Convert the djvu file into a multipage tif file, by using ddjvu command.

$ddjvu -format=tiff -verbose -quality=uncompressed input_file.djvu output_file.tif

With this command we will get a tiff format, with same resolution as the original djvu file.

Once the multipage tif file is there, it can be split into its original pages by tiffsplit command.

$tiffsplit input_file.tif

And we are done. Now we can happily run scantailor on these tiff files.

 

Free Software Tools for scanning and making e-books

How to give a new life to books which are out of copyright!
Here is a short summary of the Free Software tools that I have found useful for converting hard copies into readable/searchable formats  in GNU/Linux!

Typically the making a soft-copy from a hard-copy involves following steps:

Step1:
Scan the Hard copy using a scanner / camera. This step generates image files
typically .tiff, .png or .jpeg. Some scanning programs also have option of directly generating to .pdf
Basically at this stage you have all the data, if you compress the folder into a comic book reader format .cbr or .cbz format you are good to go. But for a more professional touch read on. The main step to scan the books properly. Some do’s and dont’s

Align the pages to the sides of the scanner.
If the book is small size scan 2 pages at once.
If the book is too large adjust the scan in the image preview side so that only one page is scanned.

If these steps are done properly there is a little that we have to do in the second step. And we can directly jump to Step 3.

Preferably scan in the binary grayscale form, unless there are colored images in the text. This will help reduce the final size of the file.

Scan at minimum 300 dpi, this is the optimum level that I have come to after trials and errors with different resolutions, their final results and the time taken for each scan. Of course this can differ depending on what is that you are scanning. Many people do the scanning at 600 dpi, but I am happy at 300 dpi. Note: The 300 dpi images can be upscaled in scan-tailor to 600 dpi.

First of all for the scanning itself. Most of the scanners come with an installation disk for M$-Windows or Mac-OSX. But for GNU/Linux there seems to be no ‘installation disk’. The Xsane package allows quite a few scanners which are detected and are ready for use as soon as you plug them in.
The list of the scanners which are supported by Xsane can be found here:

http://www.sane-project.org/sane-mfgs.html

When we bought our scanner we had to search this list to get the compatible scanner.
What is the problem with the manufacturers, why do they not want to sell more, to people who are using Free Software?

If your scanner is not in the list, then you might have to do some R&D before your scanner is up and running like I had to do for my old HP 2400 Scanjet at my home.

Once your scanner is up and running.  You scan the images preferably in .tiff format as they can be processed and compressed without much loss of quality. This again I have found by trial and error.

Step2:
Crop the files and rotate them to remove unwanted white spaces or
accidental entries of adjoining pages from the images that were obtained. When the pages are scanned as 2 pages in one image, we may need to separate the pages.

Initially I did it manually, it was the second most boring part after the scanning. But I have found a very wonderful tool for this work.

Imagemagick provides a set of tools which work like magick in images, hence the name I guess 🙂

This is one of the best tools for batch processing image files.

Then I found out the dream tool that I was looking for.
The is called Scan-Tailor, as the name suggests it is meant for processing of scanned images.

Scan Tailor can be found at http://scantailor.sourceforge.net/ or directly from Ubuntu Software Centre.

Step by step scan tailor cleans and creates amazingly good output files from relatively unclean images.

There are a total of 6 steps in scan-tailor which produces the desired output.
You have to choose the folder in which your scanned images are. Scan-tailor produces a directory called out in the same folder by default. The steps are as follows

  1. Change the Orientation: This enables one to change the orientation of all the files in the directory. This is good option in case you have scanned the book in a different orientation.
  2. Split Pages: This step will tell whether the scans that we have made are single page scans, single page with some marginal text from other page or two page scans. Most of the times the auto detection works well with single page and two page scans. But it is a good idea to check manually whether all the pages have been divided correctly, so that it does not create problems later. If you find that a page has been divided incorrectly then we can slide the margin to correct it. In case of two page scans the two pages are shown with a semitransparent blue or red layer on top of them. After looking at all the pages we commit the result.
  3. Deskew: After the pages have been split we need to change the orientation for better alignment of the text. Here in my experience most of the auto-orientation works fine. But still it is a good idea to check manually the pages, in case something is missed.
  4. Select Content: This is the one step that I have found as the most useful one in the scan-tailor. Here you can select the portion of the text that will appear in the final output. So that you can say goodbye to all the dark lines that come inevitably as part of scanning. Also some library marks can be removed easily by this step. The auto option works well when the text is in nice box shape, but it may leave wide areas open also. The box shape can be changed the way we want. If you want a blank page, remove the content box, by right clicking on the box.
  5. Page Layout: Here one can set the dimensions for the output page and how each page content will be on the page.
  6. Output: Produces the final output with all the above changes.

The output is stored in a directory called Out in the same folder. The original images are not changed, so that in case you want some changes or something goes wrong we can always go  back to the original files. Also numbering of the images is done.
So we have cleaned pages of same size from the scanned pages.

Update: The latest scantailor has image -de-warping facility. See the amazing thing at work here:

Step 3:

Collate the processed files in Step 2 to one single PDF. For this I have used the convert command.

Typical synatax is like this

convert *.tiff output.pdf
This command will take all the .tiff files in the given directory and collate these files into a pdf named output.pdf

http://www.pdflabs.com/tools/pdftk-the-pdf-toolkit/

Alternative to Step 3

Another alternative is to use gscan2pdf for joining the image files into pdf and doing the OCR which can be tesseract or cunieform. gscan2pdf is also able to scan files and stich them into pdf , but I would recommend that you use scantailor as one of the intermediate steps.

Also using gscan2pdf gives you an option for editing the files, if, for example, you might want to remove some marks from the images. For this it opens the image in GIMP.


Step 4: 
OCR the PDF file.
Now this is again tricky, I could not find a good application which would OCR the pdf file and embed the resulting text on the pdf file. But I have found a hack on the following link which seems to work fine 🙂

http://blog.konradvoelkel.de/2010/01/linux-ocr-and-pdf-problem-solved/

The hack is a bash script which does the required work.

Alternate

gscan2pdf can do OCR for you using cunieform or tesseract as backends. The end result is a searchable text, but it does not sit on the image, as it would happen in a vector pdf, but is embedded on the page as “note” at the top-left-hand corner.

Step 5:

Optimize the PDF file generated in Step 4.

Here there is a nautilus shell script which I have found in the link below which does optimization.
http://www.webupd8.org/2010/11/download-compress-pdf-12-nautilus.html

Step 6: 

In case you want to convert the .pdf to .djvu there is one step solution for that also

pdf2djvu -o output.djvu input.pdf

 

The tips and tricks here are by no means complete or the best. But this is what I have found to be useful. Some of the professional and non-free softwares can do all these, but the point of writing this article was to make a list of Free and Open Source Softwares for this purpose.

Comments and suggestions are welcome!

Sophie’s World

I had heard about Sophie’s World from quite a number of sources. Finally I got a worn out copy from Fort for 100 bucks. Finished it in the next couple of days. This was about two years back. It is one of the best bedside introductions to philosophy…
Embedded in mystery and weirdness.
The best part of the climax is a p”hilosophical party”, which I also wish to have…

 Quotes:

Who are you?

“You are me.”

“I am you.”

You can’t experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought.

Where does the world come from?

How could it be “the easiest way”?

… the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…

Why was it so difficult to be absorbed in the most vital and, in a way, the most natural of all questions?

So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.

Actually, we are the white rabbit being pulled out of the hat.

and anyway it would be pointless to chase after someone who was determined to get away.

It all has to do with habit.

Do you think it can do what it does?

A philosopher never gets quite used to the world.

She understood that people had always felt a need to explain the processes of nature. Perhaps they could not live without such explanations. And that they made up all those myths in the time before there was anything called science.

… nothing can come from nothing …

Once we have determined what a particular philosopher’s project is, it is easier to follow his line of thought, since no one philosopher concerns himself with the whole of philosophy.

How can I “see” a flower, for example?

You probably wouldn’t admire a friend who was good at everything if it cost her no effort.

She decided that philosophy was not something you can learn; but perhaps you can learn to think philosophically.
 Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?

Why did people quit playing when they grew up?

“I’m not playing!” Sophie retorted indignantly, “I’m doing a very complicated philosophical experiment!”

Do you believe in Fate?
Is sickness the punishment of the gods?
What forces govern the course of history?

Who had the right to call other people’s belief superstition?

One day we will meet, but I shall be the one to decide when and where.

Thus the “fortune-teller” is trying to foresee something that is really quite unforeseeable.
This is characteristic of all forms of foreseeing. And precisely because what they “see” is so vague, it is hard to repudiate fortune-tellers’ claims.

Over the entrance to the temple at Delphi was a famous inscription: KNOW THYSELF! It
reminded visitors that man must never believe himself to be more than mortal—and that no man can escape his destiny.

…wisest is she who knows she does not know…

Is there such a thing as natural modesty? 
Wisest is she who knows she does not know… 
True insight comes from within. 
He who knows what is right will do right.

But today, most people think it is “natural,” even though
it is still strictly forbidden in lots of countries.

 But the more she did, the more clearly she saw that knowing what you don’t know is also a kind of knowledge.

But didn’t all knowledge come into people’s heads from the outside?

The history of ideas is like a drama in many acts.

In order for democracy to work, people had to be educated enough to take part in the
democratic process.

“The question is complex and life is short.”

Modesty—or the lack of it—is first and foremost a matter of social convention.

“You can seek him in the present, you can seek him in the past, but you will never find
his equal.”  on Socrates

So it is no easy matter to distinguish between the teachings of Socrates and the philosophy of Plato.

Socrates saw his task as helping people to “give birth” to the correct insight, since
real understanding must come from within. It cannot be imparted by someone else. And only
the understanding that comes from within can lead to true insight.

Something within him left him no choice.

A  “philosopher” really means “one who loves wisdom.”

A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little.

…it troubled him that he knew so little.

“One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.”

Any one question can be more explosive than a thousand answers.

All he knew was that he knew nothing—and it troubled him. So he became a
philosopher—someone who does not give up but tirelessly pursues his quest for truth.

Can you live a happy life if you continually do things you know deep down are wrong?

“We don’t learn anything there. The difference between schoolteachers and philosophers is that school-teachers think they know a lot of stuff that they try to force down our throats. Philosophers try to figure things out together with the pupils.”

“It’s not him who’s disturbed. But he likes to disturb others—to shake them out of their rut.”

… several tall buildings had risen from the ruins …

 We still speak of Socratic or Platonic philosophy, but actually being Plato or Socrates is quite another matter.”

 Plato’s four tasks.
 First you must think over how a baker can bake fifty absolutely identical cookies.
 Then you can ask yourself why all horses are the same.
 Next you must decide whether you think that man has an immortal soul.
 And finally you must say whether men and women are equally sensible.

 … a longing to return to the realm of the soul…

Because even though some horses were as brown as bears and others
were as white as lambs, all horses had something in common.

All she knew was that dead bodies were either
cremated or buried, so there was no future for them.

Why are horses the same, Sophie? You probably don’t think they are at all. But there is
something that all horses have in common, something that enables us to identify them as
horses. A particular horse “flows,” naturally. It might be old and lame, and in time it will die. But
the “form” of the horse is eternal and immutable.

Because clearly, the mold itself must be utter perfection—and in a sense, more beautiful—in comparison with these crude copies.

… the girl in the mirror winked with both eyes…

Was it the path she had taken earlier?

How could a person who had never seen a live chicken or a picture of a chicken ever have any “idea” of a chicken?

What came first—the chicken or the “idea” chicken ?
Are we born with innate “ideas”? What is the difference between a plant, an animal, and a human? 
Why does it rain? 
What does it take to live a good life?

…a meticulous organizer who wanted to clarify our concepts …

You’ll have to content yourself with the fact that you are not the only one who can’t exceed your own limits.

Everybody is more or less peculiar. I am a person, so I am more or less peculiar. You have only one girl, so I am the most peculiar.

Common sense and conscience can both be compared to a muscle. If you don’t use a muscle, it gets weaker and weaker.”

The world is me, she thought.

And as you know, when a thing gets bigger and bigger it’s more difficult to keep it to yourself.

It is the only way to become more than a naked ape. It is the only way to avoid floating in a vacuum.

… going only part of the way is not the same as going the wrong way…

Sorry. My lips are sealed.”

But she had been nervous, and when you’re nervous its comforting to break all taboos.

“It’s easy to know better after the fact.”

We shall become better acquainted by and by

But philosophy is not a harmless party game.

One generation ages while another generation is brought forth.

Life is both sad and solemn. We are let into a wonderful world, we meet one another here, greet each other—and wander together for a brief moment. Then we lose each other and disappear as suddenly and unreasonably as we arrived.

“It’s not a silly question if you can’t answer it.

“Does all this really matter?” “Does it matter? You bet it matters!

“Smart. But not so smart really.”

“Is it really as simple as that?”

For the wages of sin is death.

That was a serious slip of the tongue.”
“But a slip of the tongue is never wholly accidental.”

…such stuff as dreams are made on…

She knew her mother knew that Sophie knew her mother wouldn’t believe it either.

“No, there’s a lot I don’t know.”

“Well, nearly everything that’s important comes either from Greece or from Italy.”

That was actually quite a lot in the space of one second.

carpe diem’—‘seize the day.’

‘memento mori,’ which means ‘Remember that you must die.’

But any display of magnificence presupposes a display of power. It has often been said that the political situation in the Baroque period was not unlike its art and architec

… he wanted to clear all the rubble off the site…

“You begin to work out your own philosophy.”

‘How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?’

Blossoms in Bangalore…

Well, Blossoms in Bangalore? I was in Bangalore during the spring and start of summer 2010, and have seen quite a lot of them. Here is a sample!

But it is not this blossom that I am talking about. But there is a special Blossoms in Bangalore. It is round the year blossom of books! With the bibliophile that I am, the book is like a three storied candy shop.

But anyways, I came to know about this “candy shop” from Tanu. She told me that you MUST VISIT this place.

 http://www.blossombookhouse.com

Okay, then me and GN directly landed from the airport to the Blossoms Book House in Church Street. The store has a unique feature to store your bags, they have small lockers and you lock your bag and keep the key!

That apart the book store is one of the best that I have ever visited, no questions about that.
The lower floor has books on philosophy, nature, films, music, architecture, media. General reading etc.

The second floor is full of literature. This is a floor I have had not found time to visit in my two trips there.

The best is the third floor. It has books on science, mathematics, computers, psychology, history and biographies among others.

And the popular science section is amazing!
 They have all the titles arranged according to author names: like in a library and they maintain a computer catalog of these books. I got some really good titles here. Many of Mir books, Dover editions which were out of print. And that too at a reasonable if not cheap price always. The most commonly found book is Contact by Carl Sagan. I must have seen at least ~ 20 copies of this book in different editions in this store.

The best part is that along with new books they also have old and second hand books. Which really sets the day for you. Out of print and rare books to be found here!!

 Apart from that I met long forgotten volumes, it was like meeting old friends unexpectedly in a strange place. (Perhaps they were happy to meet me also 😉

We could not just finish in time, it was already their closing time. And I did not feel how the three hours went by. Me and GN were just collecting, filling basket after basket by books. Finally the time came to leave, and books amounted to two cartons! How were we supposed to carry? They suggested that they will send it by parcel to Mumbai! So were are done!

No matter what kind of books you read, you are sure to get them here!

The next time story was no different. And we were in till there closing time again!

I wanted to spend an entire day there, but could not. May
be will try next time.

But if you are in Bangalore its a MUST VISIT.

A paradise and candy shop for bibliophiles!!

Saurav is planning a visit to Bangalore just for Blossoms!!

[Blossoms photos by Tanu, please get some shots from the inside!!]

Other Candy shops:


http://me-damitr.blogspot.com/2009/05/candy-shops-for-bibliophiles-3.html
http://me-damitr.blogspot.com/2009/05/candy-shops-for-bibliophiles-2.html
http://me-damitr.blogspot.com/2009/05/candy-lanes-for-bibliophiles-1.html

For actual blossoms

http://me-damitr.blogspot.com/2008/05/summer-and-spring-special.html

Candy Shops for Bibliophiles 3

After the initial post on bibliophilia [here], and book shops in Nagpur [here] and Pune [here] we now come to the third in this series. The city of Mumbai [formerly known as Bombay] . There is too much to write about Mumbai, the way it was, it is and it will be in the future to come. Since it is my current location since about three years, and it is to be so for the coming few years, I have developed a special bond with the city. When I was in Pune, I had come quite a few times to Mumbai, with one of my friends who belonged here. It was during my visits in those years that I came to know about the Old/Used book markets in the city.

The first one which I will describe is in the heart of the Mumbai, The Fort area. Currently there is no Fort in this area, but there was in the early days of Nineteenth Century. The Fort has long gone since then, for making space for civilian and other buildings, and now only the name remains.

There are too many things in the small area which are of interest to me. I cannot maybe describe them all in this blog. Maybe, The Fort, needs a blog entirely for itself. But lets not divulge too much into it, as right now the thing that we are interested in are the Candy Shops for Bibliophiles. The Fort area presents the bibliophiles with a wide opportunity to shop, right from the old/used books to one of the quite old shops in Mumbai the Strand Books.

I recommend that you start from the CST [Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus formerly known as Victoria Terminus or VT] and take on the D N Road [Dadabhai Nowrojee Road]. Start walking from the Western end of the road, the end at which Mc Donalds is present. Almost right up to the Flora Fountain, one finds a sort of subway created by the arches of the buildings of Victorian architecture.
Along these corridors there are a lot of proper book stores. Some notable among them are the Computer Book Shop, Bookzone, Ashish Book Stores.
See the map below. Ashish Book Stores also have a annual exhibition in which you get lot of books at heavily discounted prices. Usually the book fair is at the Sunderbai Hall, near Churchgate.

On the other side of the road is the Sterling Book Stores, which will give you an enormous variety of technical books to get. They have substantial sections on Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy and Psychology. In most of these shops you will get about upto 10-15% discount on the list price.

Along the corridor you may find one or two old book sellers. One at very beginning and one may be in the middle of the passage. They were frequent a few years back. I got my copy of Albert Einstein : Philosopher and Scientist here in these shops. In fact a lot of old booksellers were present till a few years back, most of them now being removed, I guess in the anti-encroachment drive. But the walk through these ‘corridors’ is worth for the books that await you at the end of this walk.

You can drop by to the Khadi Bhavan, which is on the way to do some nice shopping. If you take a left turn at the Khadi Bhavan Chowk, it will lead you to Strand Booksellers. They have good collection of books on all subjects. You won’t find too technical books here, but books for general reading are more than abundant. Every year Strand people have the Strand Book Festival, which is a must visit. The book fair is usually during January end of February beginning, at the Sunderbai Hall, Near Churchgate. Huge discounts are on the offering in this mania of books. So make it a point to visit it!!


Now, if you go straight this will lead you to the American Express Building. Along side the walls of this building are the old book sellers. A few years back they were quite spread out, some of them had shops along the walls of the High Court building also. But now they have been contained in this small pocket here.

The sellers here are quite knowledgable about the books that they keep. They know the books by title and author. Some also make it a point to keep the books according to authors. The books most of the times are neatly classified by geners or subjets. They know almost all books by Arthur C Clarke and Carl Sagan. The more popular a book, more are the chances that you might find them here. But sometimes you get jewels here. I got my Why’s of a Philosophical Scrivener by Martin Gardner here.

The book sellers also have a library system, which means that after reading the book you can return the book and get some amount back. But who wants to depart with a book, especially if you are a bibliophile? The most common books that you will get here are the novels of all kinds. Bargaining can be done, and you can get books in quite cheap rates, especially if you are a regular.

The best time to visit is a late Sunday afternoon. When you can have all the time to browse through endless piles of books, to find what you are searching for.
One thing that you might miss on a Sunday is that many of the proper book shops mentioned above including Sterling and Strand, and the Khadi Bhandar are closed on Sundays. But the advantage to go on Sunday is a drastic reduction in the crowd that is present on the weekdays. So if you want to visit them all, the best day is a Saturday.


Till last year some sporadic old book shops were also present along the footpaths, of the Old Bombay University Building, the side on the opposite to FabIndia and Globus, near Kala Ghoda end. Here some of the sellers used to sell books for a cheap but fixed price. Some of lots would have Rs. 10/20/30 for a book. Sometimes I have found quite interesting titles here. But recently in a last few months I did not find these stalls. Maybe they were removed from there permanently. I have also found similar shops along walls of the Post and Telegraph Office. But they are not always there. If you are lucky you probably might get them.

While returning to CST do not forget to visit the Fort Book Distributors, opposite the main entrance to CST [Legend 2 in the map]. This is a unique proper book shop which also sells old/used books at quite cheap prices. They also have exhibition and sales of books at different places in Mumbai, so keep an eye out for them in the newspapers. My last visit to their FBD Book Fair was quite fruitful.

So much for the south part of Mumbai. In next post I will cover the Old Book sellers in the so called college district of Mumbai, the Matunga Area.

Till then happy book hunting!!

Update: As per comment of Square Peg below, I have not mentioned the New and Secondhand Book Shop. Yes! It is there from quite some time if I remember correctly since early days of last century and I did not know about it.

Only recently I came to know about it from Arvind Gupta. And I have not mentioned it. I was going to… but procrastination has its own strange ways in which it works…

So here it is :

The New and Second Hand Book Shop:
For this wonderful shop go to the Metro Cinema Square. There is a shop of musical instruments opposite Metro Cinema [well not exactly opposite, but across the street]. So when you keep your back towards Metro and are standing in front of this Music Store, start walking along the road towards right. After a few shops you have a lane going to left of the road. Just at this corner is the New and Second Hand Book shop. But beware the entrance is a bit small. Two times it happened that I went and saw that the shutters were down so just came back. Third time when I went there, I saw somebody coming out of what I thought was a closed shop. So this is where I discovered the entrance to the shop. They are open till 7 in the evening and closed on sundays.
Visiting the shop makes you feel as if you are visiting an old library. The shop has books lined up nicely according to subjects. The shelves have subject labels on them. Browsing through the shelves can, at times, become tedious. The section on social sciences is quite large. You get 30% discount on all the new books. For the old books the prices are mentioned on the cover and on that you get additional 30% discount. Most of the books are more than reasonably priced; they are cheap :). Also don’t forget to visit the second floor also.

So do visit this shop, till then happy book hunting…

[Map coming soon]

Candy Shops for Bibliophiles 2

After looking at the bookshops in the heart of India we now turn to the second chapter in this series. The Oxford of the East. Pune [पुणे].

Pune has a large student population. The are some very good colleges in Pune. Apart from the standard colleges, there are a large number of courses being offerred by different institutions. Academically speaking I am a product of Pune. Both my alma mater are here. The first one being grand old Fergusson College and then the Department of Physics at the University of Pune. Coming to Pune from Nagpur was a transitive phase for me.

Well here I experienced lot of things which I would not have had, had I been not here. Anyways coming back to the main issue. Since Pune has a large student population, there are a large number of bookshops, publishers to support them.

The most famous area is the Appa Balwant Chowk [अप्पा बळवंत चौक] , popularly known as ABC. This area is in the heart of Old City. The area around ABC is literally overflowing with old and new book shops. But alas most of the books that you get here are the standard ones, Nirali, VBD, Manali types. But anyways, this is what most of the students are looking for. And also you can sell your old books here. With some booksellers there is a library system available, you can get about 50% money back when you return the books after you have used them. Only rarely you will stumble across books which do not form a part of any standard syllabus. You can bargain here.
Open throughout the day.

But apart from this there are a few other sellers which I want to tell you about. They are Mr. Prabhakar and Co. Major chunk of my own collection comes from them. These booksellers do not have a permanent shop as such but are basically street vendors. They sit at the Deccan end of the Sambhaji Bridge [संभाजी पुल ], also known as the Lakdi Pul [लकड़ी पुल ]. Be careful not to take your two wheeler on this bridge, this only a three and more wheeler bridge!

Mr. Prabhakar with his road side stall, at Deccan End of Sambhaji Bridge.

Their shop is not open throughout the day but only in the evenings. Just near sundown they get their books and start displaying them along side the footpath.

Now if you are a true book-lover this is the time to get the books. Keep an eye out for the books that they are taking out of their bags. As soon as you find something interesting keep it aside. That is the strategy that I had adopted when I was in the town. I have myself got quite a few good books from them. I hope you too, along with a lot of Mir/Russian titles. They are open all days of the week in the evenings till about 8:30 pm.

If you are a regular they may also keep some books in reserve for you, as they did for me. Also over a time they knew what kinds of books I was after, and as soon as I appeared they showed me those ones. The books are reasonably priced, most of the times I did not have to bargain. So much for it. Try them out and I hope you won’t be disappointed.

Apart from these there are few proper bookshops in Pune which you can visit.
They are:

International Book Store, Deccan Gymkhana, just opposite to Mr. Prabhakar.
They have some good sections on technical books, literature, and humanities. Also there is an annual sale, in which many books are sold very cheaply, so keep an eye out for that. 10-15% discount on the list price. Legend 1 in the map.

Popular Book Shop, Deccan Gymkhana, along the same side of the road as International. As the name suggests mostly popular books, the kind of ones which you will get in Crossword. But worth a visit. 15 % discount on the list price, but no discount if you pay by card. [Legend 2 in the map.]

Just around the corner from Popular Book Shop is the famous Good Luck Restaurant, one of the few Irani Cafes left in the city. Don’t forget to have some mouthwatering delicacies there. Do try Bun-Maska there! [Legend 4 in the map]

Universal Book Stores, Kelkar Road
As soon as you leave the Z Bridge coming from Deccan take a left turn, and if you go straight for about 50 meters, you will find Universal Book Stores on the right hand side of the road. This is _the_ technical book store around. You can get almost all books in print here. Plus upto 20% discount on the list price. Here is where I first saw Gravitation by Misner, Wheeler and Thorne in a shop.[Legend 3 in the map.]

Finally, Manney’s Book Store in Clover Centre, Camp. This is the most comprehensive of them all. You get books on all subjects under the sun. And they have a huge collection of them. Perfect combination of quality as well as quantity. Upper floor is for technical books. Just to look around the complete shop, will take quite some time. You DON’T get any discount. Pay as per the list price, but a must visit.

PS: Just next to Manney’s is The Place, one of the better joints for sizzlers in the city, so after a long shopping at Manney’s treat yourself with beers and sizzlers here.

Photos of other sites along with maps will be added soon.

The 5 Φ’s of Life

Life as I see it, has five essential `F’s’. Many people may not agree to them, but then this is my blog, so I will tell, whether you like it or not. I will give my reasons for each one, why it is esential according to me. You may agree, or disagree, or give no opinion, it does not matter. Since this blog is more like a personal diary, which I will not link to anybody, I think it is safe to write things here, which I would not like to be in public.

[But then am I not contradicting myself, when I am putting my personal thoughts in a public place?]

So the five F’s

  • Phood: Food is essential for our survival, this represents a living organisms most basic needs. This is what distinguishes us from non-living matter. But the food just should not be for sustenance. It should also be enjoyed. What is the point in eating something that you don’t like? No I don’t mean that we get to eat everything that we like, [I am definitely not suggesting that if you don’t have breads then you should eat cakes], but with whatever we have to eat, we should be enjoying it. If you make the food [not like the plants] but in the more human sense of the world. When you “make” food you get joy of creating something wonderful, if you do not then I am sorry for you. Also the cook should have the complete freedom to do with the food .
  • Philosophy: This is what distinguishes us from the other living beings, we have to have a philosophy of our own, or at least one that is taken from others. But what is essentially needed is to critically look at the aspects of life.
  • Phuck: Well what to say about this? I guess you understand my feelings!
  • Physics: Physics according to some people is the pinnacle of our achievement. Since I am a physicist by training, I have included physics here. Physics has given me a skeptical attitude towards things in life. Though this is not the only path which will lead you here nor that everyone who is a physicist by training will go along this path, but this was my path, hence I list is here.
  • Photography: I have included photography for two reasons.[I am still an amateur [literally and figuratively], as I have not been paid for anything that I have done so far.] One is that photography enables you to store moments, that you have for an extended period of time, and that too in a form that you can share with other people. The other reason is about the art of photography itself. When you are behind a camera, you start to see things differently, from differently perspectives and angles. Is this what not a skeptic needs? Photography in a way provides me with practical tools of implementing many philosophical ideas which would otherwise remain abstract.

Of Bibliophilia…



Well the other day while surfing the net I found some thing about me. Something about the things that I do has been so clearly defined,I never even wondered that there could be people who have defined and categorised terms like this one.

See this and you will understand. [Or is it this?]
This is one attribute that I certainly have. Collecting and reading books is a passion that I nurtured from my childhood. The ones that I had and read in my childhood were the comics. I read a whole lot of them, covering entire series. So when I went to collect `old’ comics at the Sita Bardi old book sellers, I did got interested in the other books they were selling. So I started buying them also. Initially the budgets were very low, so….
The major ones that I brought in this time were the Russian published Mir titles. I collected a lot over the years and they form one of the most prized collections that I have.
When I shifted to Pune visiting the Deccan `bridge’ became almost a ritual. Almost all the books I acquired during my stay in Pune were brought from Mr. Prabhakar and co. I don’t even have a photo of these guys, maybe next time I go, I will get one…


Update: This is the photo of Mr. Prabhakar that I took in the last trip..

I became one of the regulars there. And so were others….
Also another incident happened in Pune, which really made me in this regard. Me and Samir went to a certain prestigious library, where we were told by the librarian “We don’t need people like you in our library.” Well this really changed my attitude towards possession of books. Books are the key to the code of that knowledge, why it should not be open to all in a free society…
Ebooks are going to change this. You don’t loose an e-book when you give it to someone.
There is another thing that is a bit strange which has happened with me many times. It is cannot be certainly be put in rational sense. The idea that I have is that books call me! Yes you read it right. I many times feel incredibly attracted towards a book when I see it. I mean,  I feel that I have to have this book, there is no compromise….  I don’t know how to explain this, but the books that I have got by this `intuition’ have proved to be immensely useful to me one way or the other. They have at times opened an entirely different world altogether for me.
Some of the titles that I got by this `intuition’ are Larry Collins, Dominique La Pierre – Freedom at Midnight, Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett – Mind’s I, Martin Gardner – Why’s of a  Philosophical Scrivener among others.
I did not know before that such books even exist. Let alone their content. But when I saw these books I felt this very strong `urge’ that the book is saying, “Take Me with You.” Maybe you are wondering that this guy is nuts, maybe I am but this is what I have experienced.
My life is taking me westwards, literally. Nagpur to Pune, now Pune to Mumbai. Further west is the sea, where do I go from there?
Leaving Pune among other things I had one pain of leaving `the bridge’. Because I had become addicted to go there. Even if I had less money, had no other work, I had to go there. I dunno, maybe it had become an OCD.
Also another thing that I want to tell is about what I feel when I am going through a stack of books at the book seller. I have got used to the shops that I visit frequently so that I know where to look what I want. In exhibition it is  many times much more messier, as the organizers themselves don’t know what the stock of books is. Also when I scan a set of books I look for certain features that I cannot describe, maybe it is like the irrational Logic of Scientific Discovery which Karl Popper proposes. But here again I can find books which others cannot spot.
When I came to Bombay, I became a regular at the Fort and Matunga areas. It has been quite some months since I have visited Matunga, but fort I do frequent a lot.
Each time I go I have another subject or theme  which is added in the books that I look for. The broader subjects include
Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Electronics, Chemistry, History, Philosophy, Art, Education, Science fiction, psychology and so on…
Also with the ebooks, this collection has been taken to altogether another dimension, now I have about 7000 e-books [and counting]. In this case maybe the bibliomaniac definition is true for me.
Try these and I hope that you won’t be disappointed
ALL CREDITS TO THE ORIGINAL UPLOADERS!!
Space [both mental and physical] really becomes a problem when you have such more books to handle than you can. Anyways it has been and I guess will be a problem for me throughout my life. But I am happy that I have this problem.
Till then wish me another book…

Old Ex Libris for me!