Perhaps this should be the rule from the beginning…
Perhaps this should be the rule from the beginning…
Many people have written on the problem of what is taught in schools and why children don’t like what they study. One of the major issue seems to be there is no direct relevance to what children are taught in the school and their own personal and social lives. The content in the school textbooks has been dissected of any meaningful connections that the children could make in their real lives. The school tasks are decontextualised so that they become insulated from the real world. The quote below very nicely captures what I wanted to say on this issue.
These kinds of situated-learning tasks are different from most school tasks, because school tasks are decontextualized. Imagine learning tennis by being told the rules and practicing the forehand, backhand, and serve without ever playing or seeing a tennis match. If tennis were taught that way, it would be hard to see the point of what you were learning. But in school, students are taught algebra and Shakespeare without cognitive apprenticeship being given any idea of how they might be useful in their lives. That is not how a coach would teach you to play tennis. A coach might first show you how to grip and swing the racket, but very soon you would be hitting the ball and playing games. A good coach would have you go back and forth between playing games and working on particular skills – combining global and situated learning with focused local knowledge.
– Allan Collins – Cognitive Apprenticeship (The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences)
Papert too has some nice metaphors for this, and constructionism hence includes problems or projects which are personally meaningful to the learner so that they are contextualised withing the lives of the learners..
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
“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.
It is difficult now to challenge the school as a system because we are
so used to it. Our industrial categories tend to define results as
products of specialized institutions and instruments, Armies produce
defence for countries. Churches procure salvation in an
afterlife. Binet defined intelligence as that which his tests
test. Why not, then, conceive of education as the product of schools?
Once this tag has been accepted, unschooled education gives the
impression of something spurious, illegitimate and certainly
– Ivan Illich (Celebration of Awareness)
One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year … is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry – especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.
Seeing that even almost a hundred years later it is almost unchanged gives one an idea of how little effort has gone into changing how we learn.
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.
… And then last year, when I saw the Pendulum, I understood 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
I always felt uncomfortable when clothing or wearable accessories have an incredibly large amount of space for their own branding. I usually avoid such stuff when the brand name takes over the product. There are certain brands that do that, every item they produce will have an unreasonably large amount of real estate in the product to their own logo. I thought this was crappy/bad design. But it actually works, as people actually buy the product because it has that ultra visible branding. And people like to show other people that they are wearing something branded. As long as it is subtle and occupies the minimum space it requires, I am okay with it, but anything larger is a complete putoff. At more times than I can remember I have not bought clothes that have too much branding even if I like other attributes (color/texture/cut). I always felt it as odd to have too much branding on myself and somehow I could not explain this feeling of uneasiness, as I could not exactly pinpoint the cause of this discomfort, or put it in words (or both). Recently I read something which resonated perfectly with my own thought process (is there a word for what I have just described: a single word describing the feeling). Anyways here is an entry from a great blog which describes that feeling:
When you see someone sporting a shirt with the manufacturer’s name inscribed in bold letters across the chest, it’s hard to ignore the irony. The wearer is paying the company to promote its name, rather than vice versa. For the privilege of being a walking billboard, the purchaser may have paid many times the normal price of that product.
So next time you wear a pair of shoes with that logo, or a pair of pants with some large initials stitched on them, or a shirt with a brightly painted name, remember, you’re inadvertently advertising the company. The word “advertise” comes to us from Latin advertere meaning “to turn toward” or “to pay attention”. The word “inadvertently” derives from the same source. In other words, by not paying attention, we ARE paying attention.
Now, the aesthetics of branding is something that can have personal preferences. I like mine subtle not garish, better still if it is not at all visible to others. It is like the aesthetical difference between pornography and artistic nude. You know it when you see it.
In the last few years, the very connotation of the term intellectual has seen a downward slope. Such are the times that we are living in that calling someone an “intellectual” has become more like an insult rather than a compliment: it means an idiot who doesn’t understand or see things clearly. Now as the title of the post suggests it is this meaning, not the other meaning intellectuals who know about cosmetics. Almost two decades back Alan Sokal wrote a book titled Intellectual Impostures, which described quite a few of them. In this book, Sokal exposed the posturing done by people of certain
academic disciplines who were attacking science from a radical postmodernist perspective. What Sokal showed convincingly through his famous hoax, is that many of these disciplines are peddling out bullshit with no control over the meaning contained. Only the form was important not the meaning. And in the book, he takes it a step forward, showing that this was not an isolated case. He exposes the misuse of the technical terms (which often have precise and operational meanings) as loose metaphors or even worse completely neglecting the accepted meaning of those terms. The examples given are typical, and you cannot make sense of what is being written. You can read, but cannot understand. It makes no sensible meaning. At this point, you start to doubt your own intelligence and intellectual competence, perhaps you have not read enough to understand this complex piece of knowledge. It was after all written by an intellectual. Perhaps you are not aware of the meaning of the jargon or their context, hence you are not able to understand it. After all there are university departments and journals dedicated to such topics. Does it not legitimise such disciplines as academic and its proponents/followers as intellectuals? Sokal answered it empirically by testing if presented with nonsense whether it makes any difference to the discipline. You are not able to make sense of these texts because they are indeed nonsensical. To expect any semblance of logic and rationality in them is to expect too much.
Nassim Taleb has devised the term Intellectual Yet Idiots (the IYI in the title) in his Incerto series. He minces no words and takes no bullshit. Sokal appears very charitable in comparison. Taleb sets the bar even higher. Sokal made a point to attack mostly the postmodernists, but Taleb bells the cats who by some are even considered proper academics, for example, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. He considers entire disciplines as shams, which are otherwise considered academic, like economics, but has equal if not more disdain to several others also, for example, psychology and gender studies. Taleb has at times extreme views on several issues and he is not afraid to speak of his mind on matters that matter to him. His writings are arrogant, but his content is rigorous and mathematically sound.
they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence, hence fall into circularities—their main skill is a capacity to pass exams written by people like them, or to write papers read by people like them.
But there are people who are like IYIs, but don’t even have the depth of the content or knowledge of IYIs. They are wannabe IYIs, all form no conent. They are a level below IYIs. I term such people as cosmetic intellectuals (cosint). We have met them before: they are the envious mediocre and the ones who excel in meetings. The term cosmetic is used in two senses both as adjectives. The first sense is the Loreal/Lakme/Revlon fashion sense as given from the dictionary entry below:
- relating to treatment intended to restore or improve a person’s appearance
- affecting only the appearance of something rather than its substance
It is the second sense that I mean in this post. It is rather the substance of these individuals that is only present in the appearance. And as we know appearance can be deceiving. Cosints appear intellectuals, but only in appearance, hence the term cosmetic. So how does one become a Cosint? Here is a non-exhaustive list that can be an indicator (learn here is not used in the deeper sense of the word, but more like as in rote-learn):
He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests… When plebeians do something that makes sense to themselves, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated.” (SITG Taleb)
Now one would naturally want to know under what conditions that research was done? was there any ideological bias of the researchers? whether it is applicable in as diverse a country as India? What do we do of local “dialects”? But they don’t do any of this. Instead, they will attack anyone who raises these doubts, especially in #6. They want to work only with the government schools: poor kids, poor teachers no infrastructure. But ask them where their own children study: they do in private schools! But their medium must be their mother tongue right? No way, it is completely English medium, they even learn Hindi in English. But at least the state board? No CBSE, or still better ICSE. Thus we see the hypocrisy of the cosint, when they have the skin in the game. But do they see it themselves? Perhaps not, hence they don’t feel any conflict in what they do.
So we see that IYI /cosint are not what they seem or consider themselves. Over the last decade or so, with the rise of the right across the world is indicating to everyone that something is wrong when cosints tell us what to do. The tyranny of pseudo-experts has to go. But why it has come to that the “intellectuals” who are supposed to be the cream of the human civilisation, the thinkers, the ideators, so why the downfall? Let us first look at the meaning of the term, so as to be not wrong about that:
The intellectual person is one who applies critical thinking and reason in either a professional or a personal capacity, and so has authority in the public sphere of their society; the term intellectual identifies three types of person, one who:
- is erudite, and develops abstract ideas and theories;
- a professional who produces cultural capital, as in philosophy, literary criticism, sociology, law, medicine, science; and
- an artist who writes, composes, paints and so on.
Intellectual (emphasis mine)
Now, see in the light of the above definition, it indeed seems that it must be requiring someone to be intelligent and/or well-cultured individual. So why the change in the tones now? The reasons are that the actual intellectual class has degraded and cosints have replaced them, also too much theory and no connect with the real world has made them live in a simulacrum which is inhabited and endorsed by other cosints. And as we have seen above it is a perpetuating cycle, running especially in the universities (remember Taleb’s qualification). They theorize and jargonise (remember the buzzwords) simple concepts so much that no one who has got that special glossary will understand it). And cosints think it is how things should be. They write papers in education, supposedly for the betterment of the classroom teaching by the teachers, in such a manner that if you give it to a teacher, they will not be able to make any sense of it, leave alone finding something useful. Why? Because other cosints/IYI demand it! If you don’t write a paper in a prescribed format it is rejected, if it doesnt have enough statistics it is rejected, if it doesn’t give enough jargon in the form of theoretical review, and back scratching in the form of citations it is rejected. So what good are such papers which don’t lead to practice? And why should the teachers listen to you if you don’t have anything meaningful to tell them or something they don’t know already?
The noun to describe them:
sciolist – (noun) – One who engages in pretentious display of superficial knowledge.
“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.”
Science literacy does not have a unique definition. Depending on what your ideas about science are, the meaning of science literacy will change. But being scientifically literate, is usually taken as a sign of being informed, being rational in decisions. Here is what the great science and science-fiction writer Issac Asimov had to say about its importance.
A public that does not understand how science works can, all too easily, fall prey to those ignoramuses … who make fun of what they do not understand, or
to the sloganeers who proclaim scientists to be the mercenary warriors of today, and the tools of the military. The difference … between … understanding and not understanding . . . is also the difference between respect and admiration on the one side, and hate and fear on the other.
– Isaac Asimov
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.
Usually, a liberal is considered to be with a “free thought” trying out new things and conservatives the exact opposite. But a little contemplation will tell us that these two words are indeed relative. The moral, social and political positioning one takes can be different depending on who is looking at you and from where. There is the proverbial LEFT POLE and the RIGHT POLE. Just like any direction away from the North pole is South, any opinion away from the Left pole is right inclined and any opinion away from Right pole is left inclined. Steven Pinker makes a good point about these relative positions:
The meanings of the words are of no help. Marxists in the Soviet Union and its aftermath were called conservatives; Reagan and Thatcher were called revolutionaries. Liberals are liberal about sexual behavior but not about business practices; conservatives want to conserve communities and traditions but they also favor the free market economy that subverts them. People who call themselves “classical liberals” are likely to be called “conservatives” by adherents of the version of leftism known as political correctness.
Nor can most contemporary liberals and conservatives articulate the cores of their belief systems. Liberals think that conservatives are just amoral plutocrats, and conservatives think that if you are not a liberal before you are twenty you have no heart but if you are a liberal after you are twenty you have no brain (attributed variously to Georges Clemenceau, Dean Inge, Benjamin Disraeli, and Maurice Maeterlinck). Strategic alliances-such as the religious fundamentalists and free-market technocrats on the right, or the identity politicians and civil libertarians on the left-may frustrate the search for any intellectual common denominator. Everyday political debates, such as whether tax rates should be exactly what they are or a few points higher or lower, are just as uninformative.
– Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate p. 286-287
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.
The logician, the mathematician, the physicist, and the engineer. “Look at this mathematician,” said the logician. “He observes that the first ninety-nine numbers are less than hundred and infers hence, by what he calls induction, that all numbers are less than a hundred.”
“A physicist believes,” said the mathematician, “that 60 is divisible by all numbers. He observes that 60 is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. He examines a few more cases, as 10, 20, and 30, taken at random as he says. Since 60 is divisible also by these, he considers the experimental evidence sufficient.”
“Yes, but look at the engineers,” said the physicist. “An engineer suspected that all odd numbers are prime numbers. At any rate, 1 can be considered as a prime number, he argued. Then there come 3, 5, and 7, all indubitably primes. Then there comes 9; an awkward case, it does not seem to be a prime number. Yet 11 and 13 are certainly primes. ‘Coming back to 9’ he said, ‘I conclude that 9 must be an experimental error.'”
– George Polya (Induction and Analogy – Mathematics of Plausible Reasoning – Vol. 1, 1954)
Mathematics is regarded as a demonstrative science. Yet this is only one of its aspects. Finished mathematics presented in a finished form appears as purely demonstrative, consisting of proofs only. Yet mathematics in the making resembles any other human knowledge in the making. You have to guess a mathematical theorem before you prove it; you have to guess the idea of the proof before you carry through the details. You have to combine observations and follow analogies; you have to try and try again. The result of the mathematician’s creative work is demonstrative reasoning, a proof; but the proof is discovered by plausible reasoning, by guessing. If the learning of mathematics reflects to any degree the invention of mathematics, it must have a place for guessing, for plausible inference.
– George Polya (Induction and Analogy – Mathematics of Plausible Reasoning – Vol. 1, 1954)
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
As they say in the United States: “to be different is to be indecent.” The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated. And it is clear, of course, that this “everybody” is not “everybody.” “Everybody” was normally the complex unity of the mass and the divergent, specialized minorities. Nowadays, “everybody” is the mass alone. Here we have the formidable fact of our times, described without any concealment of the brutality of its features.– The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset.
And then there’s a joke in which a young man told his mother he would become a Doctor of Philosophy and she said, “Wonderful! But what kind of disease is philosophy?
– The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker
“What should I do now?”
“I’m the prisoner,” the biologist said to him from her cot, facing the wall. “Why should I tell you anything?”
“Because I’m trying to help you.”
“Are you? Or are you just trying to help yourself?”
He had no answer to that.
“A normal person might give up. That would be very normal.”
“Would you?” he asked.
“No. But I’m not normal.”
“Neither am I.”
“Where does that leave us?”
“Where we’ve always been.”
from Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
Virtue is entirely without character. There are not two races of men on the surface of the earth who are virtuous in the same way. Therefore virtue is not real and has no intrinsic good. It does not deserve our respect. It must be used as a support, and one must adopt in a politic way the virtue of the country where one lives, so that those who practise virtue out of taste, or who are obliged to do so because of their social position, will leave you in peace. Also, the virtue which is respected where you live can protect you by the preponderance or its convention from all attacks of those who practise vice. But once again, all this is, a matter of circumstance and nothing of this can endow virtue with any real merit. Also, some type of virtue are impossible for certain men. Therefore, how can you persuade me that virtue, which opposes or contradicts the passions can be any part of nature?
– Justine – Marquis De Sade
STORE ROOM NO. 71 WHIPS OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
“Whips!” cried Veruca Salt. “What on earth do you use whips for?’
“For whipping cream, of course,” said Mr. Wonka.
“How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all unless it’s been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it’s been stolen from the woods in the dead of the night!”
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
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.
This wonderful Hymn of Creation one of the oldest surviving records of philosophic doubt in the history of the world, marks the development of a high stage of abstract thinking, and it is the work of a very great poet, whose vision of the mysterious chaos before creation, and of mighty ineffable forces working in the depths of the primaeval void, is portrayed with impressive economy of language.
“Then even nothingness was not, nor existence.
There was no air then, nor the heavens beyond it
What covered it? Where was it? In whose keeping?
Was there then cosmic water, in depths unfathomed?
“Then there were neither death nor immortality,
nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.
“At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, bom of the power of heat.
“In the beginning desire descended on it
that was the primal seed, bom of the mind.
The sages who have searched their hearts with wisdom
know that which is is kin to that which is not.
“And they have stretched their cord across the void,
and know what was above, and what below.
Seminal powers made fertile mighty forces.
Below was strength, and over it was impulse,
“But, after all, who knows, and who can say
whence it all came, and how creation happened?
The gods themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?
“Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows— or maybe even he does not know.
From – The Wonder That Was India – A. L. Basham
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
In the absence of a heavy tax on robots, the report notes, “developing countries should embrace the digital revolution” by “redesigning education systems to create the managerial and labor skills needed to operate new technologies.”
Wonder where we actually stand on this in India?
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
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)
There are those who think about creating a “Piagetian curriculum” or “Piagetian teaching methods.” But to my mind these phrases and the activities they represent are contradictions in terms. I see Piaget as the theorist of learning without curriculum and the theorist of the kind of learning that happens without deliberate teaching. To turn him into the theorist of a new curriculum is to stand him on his head. – Seymour Papert, Mindstorms
Science, they are told and shown, is about answering questions, not asking them.
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know
We need to defend democratic principles not only against outside attacks, but also against erosion from within.
The strength of an open society is tested especially when it comes under (perceived) threat.
Yes, you read that correctly: democratic government invariably leads to the rule by “demagogues” who manipulate the most immoral segments of society.
The core of this immoral coalition consists of “the lowest common denominator” – the “‘mass[es]’ in the derogatory sense of the term.” The masses consist of the least “educated” and least “intelligent” driven by “primitive instincts.”
The unethical leaders add to this core the “docile and gullible.” They are easily manipulated by propaganda that creates “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”
Their “passions and emotions are readily aroused” by demagogues “who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”
The third component of the totalitarian troika is the “most important negative element.” These are the murderous bigots motivated by “hatred of an enemy … the envy of those better off.”
But politics and politicians are two separate things. Our whole lives are political, they just don’t realise it.
You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.
“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”
Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.
It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.
The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.
That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.
We have to get out of the mindset of thinking that things are wrong because they are illegal. People make laws and people can change those laws.
via Silk Road
Often people equate being illegal to being wrong. Though this may be true at times, it need not be always true. This is a fact that many people forget and do not think about.The laws that we have were made in a specific time with conditions pertaining to those times. And the fact that they are made by people. They may not be relevant any more. Or it might be just that the laws presented views of the majority or of the rich and the powerful. And many times breaking the law itself is the right thing to do. Gandhi in his life showed this many times. So was it wrong when Gandhi broke the salt law, for example? If there is a law against speaking about wrongs government does, it would be illegal to break such a law, but would it be wrong?
Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday blamed Congress leader and union minister Jairam Ramesh as being “singularly responsible for shaving off 2.5% of the GDP” by not giving environmental clearance to projects during his stint as the environment minister, escalating the war of words between the two.
Mr. Sinha should understand that economy is not everything. If at all protecting environment costs so much of GDP indirectly, even then it is okay. Perhaps we should provide 2.5% of GDP to protect our environment, and that would ensure it will remain for posterity. The rampant rape of environment in form of various “developmental” projects and its toll on the flora and fauna is something that needs to be stopped. For example consider the illegal and legal mining in Goa and its impact on the fragile ecosystem there. Ramesh had a choice, and he exercised it. How many ministers do that? If the environment ministry will itself not worry about the environment then who will? Sinha in criticizing Ramesh seems to have forgotten this basic fact. Otherwise what is the reason for the Environment ministry to exist? For there are certain things that cannot be equalized in terms of money, and our flora and fauna is one of them. Mr. Sinha should understand that extinction is forever, no amount of money can bring back lost species or lost ecosystems. But people who are corrupted by lure of money at any cost (to environment and other people) will not understand this. Even if they do, their priorities are set by the bottom line, which is money.
“When politics decides your future, decide what your politics must be.”
A paper from much later Papert IBM Journal 2000
“What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power
Here he distinguishes between the psychological (how a person is
affected by a treatment) and epistemological (about ideas) aspects of
learning and assessment. It is rather unfortunate that researchers (much
to Papert’s dismay) choose to study “effects of programming (or of LOGO
or of Computer)” on children after a certain exposure akin to a medical
treatment. This is certainly not what was envisioned by Papert for LOGO
and computers. He also adds that the third word in the subtitle of
“Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas”, namely powerful
ideas is something that most researchers forgot. They only concentrated
on the earlier two and left the powerful ideas outside the classroom and
Also for the current practices in the fields of research in education
and especially constructvism which is in vogue now, he has following
critique (which I think is prevalent methodology and framework in our
own centre and applies to them as well):
“Consider Michael’s relationship with school mathematics. Learning how
to ﬁnd the common denominator of a bunch of fractions is boring for him
because he is not able to use it in any exciting way. It supports
neither ﬂights of the mind nor “hands-on” projects.
Enter a constructivist who says: Michael will have a better relationship
with the manipulation of fractions if he discovers the rules himself. So
situations are created (often with great ingenuity) that will lead
children to “discover” the rules of arithmetic. But being made to
“discover” what someone else (and someone you may not even like) wants
you to discover (and already knows!) is not Michael’s idea of an
exciting intellectual adventure. The idea of invention has been tamed
and has lost its essence. He
wants to ﬂy, but what this kind of constructivism offers him is more
like decorating the captive bird’s
This failure of the constructivist to meet Michael’s needs represents a
double whammy of disempowerment. Jean Piaget’s very strong idea that all
learning takes place by discovery is emasculated by its translation into
the common practice known in schools as “discovery learning.” It is
disempowered in part because discovery stops being discovery when it is
orchestrated to happen on the preset agenda of a curriculum but also in
large part because the ideas being learned are disempowered. For
example, the idea of rules for manipulating numbers was historically one
of the most powerful ideas ever and in the right context can still be.
But no child would ever
suspect that from its presentation in school as a rather boring routine.
Setting ourselves the task of
re-empowering the ideas being learned is also a step toward
re-empowering the idea of learning by discovery.
The same double whammy is present when the excellent and potentially
powerful intention, that
knowledge is situated, turns into presenting manipulations of fractions
in the guise of “real world” situations such as shopping at the
supermarket. For Michael this contributes nothing to a sense of the
power of the idea of fractions. He cares nothing about shopping in the
supermarket and knows that
in these days of automation at the checkout counter and unit prices on
the labels, no one exercises arithmetic while shopping.”
In this article he also talks about why school reforms are impossible
but change is not.
“So, too, the mega-change in education that will undoubtedly come in the
next few decades will not be
a “reform” in the sense of a deliberate attempt to impose a new designed
structure. My conﬁdence in making this statement is based on two factors:
(1) forces are at work that put the old structure in increasing
dissonance with the society of which it is
ultimately a part, and
(2) ideas and technologies needed to build new structures are becoming
I hope that publishing this paper will help both factors. Public
discussion of the idea-averse
nature of School makes the dissonance more acute. Public access to
empowered forms of ideas and the ways in which technology can support
them fertilizes the process of new growth.”
Most of the people who are averse to technology for various reasons, are
essentially ignoring the fact that new epistemological and relational
structures among the learners and the things to be learned have started
to form due to current technologies, which were impossible earlier. The
very ignorance of the fact that these structures are changing the
dynamics of knowledge and ideas around us, sometimes knowingly and
patronizingly, will not lead us anywhere but keep us in an idea aversion
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.
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,
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.
BURST OF THE MONSOON.
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.
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
(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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
“We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy. The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you’ve got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I’m doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.”
via Kim Dotcom | guardian
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.”
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.
Recently there was a news item in Times of India which had the same heading as that of this particular post. The news claimed
(Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.)
NAGPUR: Ayurvedic medicinal values of Tulsi are well known. Our ancient scriptures have enumerated the medicinal benefits of tulsi. Its extracts are used widely for curing common ailments like common cold, headache, stomach disorder etc.
But the environmental benefits have been comparatively unknown. Around two decades back Dada Dham, a socio-spiritual organization brought together a team of botanists, ayurvedic scholars and environmental enthusiasts to study the environmental benefits of tulsi.
Now the next claim from an “eminent botanist” that the report does is startling indeed.
“Tulsi gives out oxygen for 20 hours and ozone for four hours a day along with the formation of nascent oxygen which absorbs harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide from the environment,” said Shyamkant Padoley, an eminent botanist.
Ozone is a powerful oxidant (far more so than dioxygen) and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. This same high oxidizing potential, however, causes ozone to damage mucus and respiratory tissues in animals, and also tissues in plants, above concentrations of about 100 parts per billion. This makes ozone a potent respiratory hazard and pollutant near ground level.…There is evidence of significant reduction in agricultural yields because of increased ground-level ozone and pollution which interferes with photosynthesis and stunts overall growth of some plant species. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a secondary regulation to reduce crop damage, in addition to the primary regulation designed for the protection of human health.…There is a great deal of evidence to show that ground level ozone can harm lung function and irritate the respiratory system.Exposure to ozone and the pollutants that produce it is linked to premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other cardiopulmonary problems.…
Padoley, member of technical committee, ministry of environment and forest, NewDelhi, and forest tech committee, also read a paper at the International Conference on Occupational Respiratory Diseases at Kyoto in 1997 where cyclo oxygenate, an enzyme only found in tulsi was labelled for the first time. This enzyme regulates the entire mechanism of oxygen evolution. (emphasis added)
This again I am unable to understand. It says this enzyme is “only found in Tulsi”, and it also “regulates entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”. One can agree that a particular enzyme is found in a particular plant, but if this enzyme controls “entire mechanism of oxygen evolution”, how do other plants regulate their mechanisms of oxygen evolution.
Dada Dham initiated a campaign ‘Tulsi Lagao Pradushan Hatao’ in 1987 under the guidance of Narendra Dada, the institution’s head. It was under this campaign that the above mentioned panel of experts was formed. After finding out the environmental benefits of the plant, Dada Dham organized a number of programmes like street plays, nukkad sabhas and lectures to propagate the use of the plant.
Dr Dattatraya Saraf, an ayurvedic doctor and expert said, “The plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7 and also absorbs other pollutants.” He further added that if the size of the plant can be increased, the environmental benefits can be increased.
This statement that “plant enriches the environment with oxygen almost 24X7” is in contradiction to statement by above Padoley regarding 20 and 4 hour cycles. Which one is to be believed? And mind you this is just appearing a few lines later, this is either very poor editing and reporting, or hogwash to the public.
“That is why we want to urge scientists and concerned authorities to make research on the issue of increasing the height of tulsi plant. If big trees can be converted to bonsai plants then big tulsi trees can be possible too,” said Kishor Verma, PRO of Dada Dham.
This is another statement that I would like to contest. Did they compare the rate of oxygen production vis-a-vis to other plants. That is to say simply did they have any control sample? And does making “tulsi tree” make any sense (can one really do it is another question), will it really increase oxygen making capabilities, is it a linear relationship between these two variables? The water is completely muddy in this !
He also citied the research and work by other organization in support of tulsi’s environmental benefits.
“The forest department of Uttar Pradesh, with the help of an organization called Organic India Limited, Lucknow planted lakhs of tulsi saplings around Taj Mahal to protect its surface from industrial emissions. This step has yielded positive results,” Verma said.
“We are just asking the administration to take notice of these extra ordinary benefits of tulsi and take steps for utilizing them. Even simple steps like planting tulsi plants on road dividers, parks etc can bring a difference,” said Verma.
The reporter and also the editor make no effort to correct these glaring inconsistencies in the report itself, forget about doing nay research on the topic, or verifying the claims made by these people. Maybe this was like the paid news that is talked about a lot these days.
What I find here i that the agenda of what is to be done was already set, the conclusions were already drawn, by our ancestors, written in black and white in ancient texts. The point was only to justify what they were doing, and trying to provide a “scientific basis” of what they already believed to be true (for whatever reasons, mostly religious, and presence of a religious organization in this sort of confirms this).
A good example of pseudo-science and bad science reporting.
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.
“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.
The question of whether a computer should be used in teaching and
learning, is no more interesting than the question whether a book
should be used for reading.
The interesting question is of how to use the computer to teach and
learn, and how not to use it to teach and learn.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Reason does not work in matters of faith. But it may have a chance at clearing misconceptions.
Truly so. In case of my field of study, namely science education research, it may be the other way round. The classic studies in science education aim at identifying the misconceptions that the learners have regarding a particular subject and then finding a mechanism by which they could be addressed.
This was a very simple but very basic presentation of what most studies try to achieve, though the methodology may be different. There are some studies which present us with a conceptual framework so that all the responses and the problems with the learners can be seen in light of a theoretical construct. This they say will enable us to make sense of what we see in the classrooms, and what is present as representation in the learners mind. What I think they are trying to say is that we need to get to the conceptual structures that lead to formation of the misconceptions.
Now mind you that many of these misconceptions in science are very stubborn and people are very reluctant to give them up. The reason may be that many of these misconceptions come from direct factual experience in the real world. And from what I know about Philosophy of Science, we might want to make a case that all science is counter-intuitive to our everyday experience. This would explain why misconceptions in science arise. But would this case explain all the known misconceptions?
Let us do some analysis of how a particular misconception might arise.There can be two different reasons for a misconception to arise, if we adhere to deductive logic. That is to say we assume that we have a set of starting statements that are given, whose authenticity is not questioned. And from these set of statements we make certain deductions regarding the world out there. Now there can be two problems with this scenario, one is that the set of statements that we are taking for granted might be wrong, the other is that in the process of deduction that we have followed we made a mistake. The mistake is learnt only when the end result of our analysis is not consistent with the observations in the real world. Or it might be even the case that the so called misconception will lead to a correct answer, at least in some cases. In these cases we have to resort to more detailed analysis of the thought structure which lead to the answers. Another identifying characteristic of the misconceptions is presence of the inconsistencies across different areas known to the learners. Whereas they might get a particular concept clearly and correctly, in applying same thing for another concept they just might revert to a completely opposite argument and in doing this they do not realise the inconsistency.
We will be clearer on this issue when we talk with a few examples. Suppose that we have a scenario in which we are trying to understand the phenomena of day and night, its causes and consequences. A typical argument in our class goes like this:
How many have seen the Sun set?
Almost all hands would go up, then comes the next question:
How many have seen the Sun rise?
Almost same number of hands go up, excepting a few, who are late risers like me. Some of the more intelligent and the more knowledgeable would say,
“Wait! Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is the Earth that is moving, so it causes the apparent motion of Sun across the sky, the start and end of which we call as day and night. So in conclusion the Sun doesn’t rise and set, it is an illusion created by motion of Earth.”
To this all of the class agrees. This is what they have learned in the text-book, and mind you the text-book represents truth and only truth, nothing else. It is there to dispel your doubts and misconceptions and is made by a committee of experts who are highly knowledgeable about these things. Now let us continue this line of reasoning and ask them the next question in this series.
Does the Moon rise? If so, does it rise everyday?
The responses to this question are mixed. Most of them would say that it does not rise, it is always there, up in the sky. Some would gather courage and say that it does rise.
Does the Moon set?
Again to this the response is mixed, and mostly negative. Most of them are adamant about the ever presence of the moon in the sky. The next question really upsets them
Do the stars rise and set?
Now this question definitely gets a negative response from almost all of them. Even the more knowledgeable ones fall. They have read different parts of the story, but have not connected them. They tell you the following: “No the stars do not move, they are there all the time.” They also tell you that there is something called as the fixed stars and this is in the text-book, which cannot be wrong. And when asked:
Why are we not able to see the stars during the day time?
They tell you “Of course you cannot see the stars during the day time. This is because our Sun, which is also a star, is too bright and the other stars too far away and hence are dim. So our Sun’s brightness, overwhelms the other stars, and hence they are not visible during the day time, but they are there nonetheless. In the night time, since the Sun is no longer visible, the stars become visible. Have you never noticed that during the evening twilight the stars become visible one by one, the brighter ones first. Whereas in the morning the brightest are the last ones to disappear.”
Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism to explain the observed things, in this case the formation of day and night and appearance / disappearance of stars during night and day respectively.
You ask them:
Don’t you think there is a problem with what you have just said?
“Where is the problem?”, they tell you. “We just explained scientifically how things are in heaven.”
Then you open the Pandora’s box,
“Well you have just said that the Sun doesn’t move really, it is the Earth that moves, and hence we see the apparent Sun rise and Sun set.”
Then they say, “Yes, that is the case. The Sun doesn’t move, but the Earth does.”
You ask, “How do you know this? Do you see that the Earth is moving?”
They say, “The textbook tells us so ” Some of the more knowledgeable ones say that “Galileo proved that the Earth moves and not the Sun. Since we are on Earth, we see only apparent motion of the Sun.”
You say: “But wait, just now you said that the Moon does not move, it is always in the sky. Also you said that the stars do not move, they are there all the time. Now if the Earth moves, then all these bodies should also move, if only, apparently.Then the stars must also move, just like the Sun does, do not forget that Sun is a star too! So other stars should also just set and rise like the Sun, and so should also the Moon!”
Or you can argue just the opposite: “I claim that it is the Sun that moves, Earth does not move. Isn’t it a lot more easier to explain this way, why we do see the Sun moving, because it moves. And we anyway do not see Earth moving! How will disprove me?”
Then the grumbles start. They have never thought about this. They knew the facts, but never connected them. This lead to the misconceptions regarding these things. They were right in parts, but never got a chance to connect the dots, metaphorically speaking.The reason for these misconceptions is the faith in the text-books, but if the text-books fail to perform the job of asking them the right question, where the reasoning alone can get rid of many of the misconceptions.
If we choose the alternative question, of challenging them to disprove that the Earth is stationary, almost most of them are unable to answer the question of disproving that the idea that the Sun moves and not Earth. They would suggest that we can see this from the satellite in the sky (Can we really?).
Most of us take the things for granted and never question many (or as in most cases, any) of them. And many times the facts are something we do not question. We say that “It is a fact.” This statement basically posits that the information which we think is out there can be unquestionable. But there are many flavours of the post-modern philosophy which challenge this position. They think that the facts themselves are relative, that is to say that one culture has different science than another one. But let us leave this, and come back to our problem of the stars and the Sun and Moon.
Lets put out the postulates for the above arguments and try to deduce deductively the results that were obtained.
Claim 1: Sun doesn’t move.
Claim 2: Earth moves.
Observation 1: We see the Sun moving across the sky daily, it rises and it sets.
Explanation 1: Since the Earth moves, and the Sun is stationary, we see that Sun moves apparently. This apparent motion of the Sun is seen as the Sunrise and the Sunset by us. This is what causes the day and night.
But we can have Observation 1 explained by another set of claims, which is exactly opposite, namely, that the Earth doesn’t move but the Sun moves.
Claim 3: The Sun moves.
Claim 4: The Earth does not move.
Explanation 2: Since the Earth does not move, and the Sun does, we just see the Sun passing by in the sky, around the Earth. This causes day and night.
We see that Explanations 1 and 2 are both valid for Observation 1, if the claims 1 and 2, 3 and 4 are true then the respective deductions from them, in this case the Explanations 1 and 2 respectively are also true.So in this case the logical deduction is correct, provided that the Claims or assumptions are correct. But this process does not tell you whether the claims themselves are true or not. But both set of assumptions, cannot be true at the same time. Either the Earth moves or it does not, it cannot be in a state of both. If at all we had an explanation which came from these assumptions which did not correspond with the observations, but was logically deducible, then we can question the assumptions or premises as philosophers call them.
Of course, the things said above and the reasoning given sounds good. So much so that the respondents are convinced that they
understand how things work, and have an elaborate reasoning mechanism
We can have one example of this type.
Assumption 5: Stars do not move, there are so called “fixed stars”.
Assumption 5: During the day time the Sun is too bright, as compared to the other stars.
Now in this case combining Assumption 5 (A5) with Observation 1 (Ob1) we would get the following:
Explanation 3: The stars are too dim as compared to Sun, hence we cannot see them during the day time, but they are present. Hence they do not move.
In Explanation 3 (E3) above the deduction has a problem. The deduction does not follow from the assumption. This is the other problem in which we talked about above.
Most of the people who would suggest these responses have mostly no background in astronomy. Even then the basic facts that Earth goes round the Sun and not the other way round are forced upon them, without any critical emphasis on why it is so. Neither are they presented at point with the cognitive struggle of another view point, namely the geo-centric view. So presenting the learners with opportunities that will make them observe things and make sense of the explanations in light of the assumptions that were made, will enhance the reasoning and help them to overcome some of their misconceptions.
But there is another observation which can be made of the skies. And it can be either done in the classroom with the aid of Free Softwares like Stellarium. After the round of above questions, we usually show the class the rising of the stars from the east. In a darkened room with a projector the effect is quite dramatic for those who have not witnessed such a thing before. So you can show the class, just as the Sun rises, all other celestial bodies like the Moon and the stars also must rise and this is an observed fact.
Observation 2: The stars and planets and the Moon also rise and set everyday.
So how do we make sense of this observation, Ob2 in the light of the assumptions that we have.
Assumption 6: Sun is a star.
Explanation 4: We observe that Sun moves during the day, from East to West. Sun is a star, hence all other stars should also move.
Now why this should be the case will be different for the geo-centric and the helio-centric theories. In case of H-C theory the explantion is simple. The Earth moves hence the stars appear to move in the opposite direction. And this applies to all the objects in the sky.
Since the Earth moves all other celestial objects will appear to move. In case of G-C theory we have to make an assumption that the
stars are “fixed” on some imaginary sphere, and the sphere as a whole rotates.
But coming back to the misconceptions, it is just the ad-hoc belief that the stars do not move (“fixed stars”) in conjunctions with another observation that in presence of too bright objects dim objects cannot be seen leads to belief that the stars are immobile and do not rise and set as the Sun does. There is another disconnection from another fact that they know, or are told in the textbooks, that the apparent movement of the Sun is caused by the actual movement of the Earth. There is no connection between these two facts which is made explicit.
We think that providing opportunities for direct observation aided by software, Stellarium in this case, which help in visualizing the movements of celestial bodies will help in developing the skill of reasoning and explaining an observed phenomena.
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?
Debunking bad science should be constant obligation of the science community, even if it takes time away from serious research or seems to be a losing battle. One takes comfort from the fact there is no Gresham’s laws in science. In the long run, good science drives out bad.
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.
The President (well there is only one President, the President of US of A, rest others are just presidents) said,
“In our global economy, we can’t just have a few leaders of the most advanced economies making decisions that touch the lives of billions of people around the world.”
Isn’t it ironical that President Obama is saying this. Him, his predecessors and his successors have done it, he is doing it, and they will continue to do it. Is it still a secret that the decisions that indeed affect lives of billions of people are taken by “just a few leaders of the most advanced economies.” How do you otherwise explain monopolies of a few companies over most of the economy in the “Free World”?
“The old JEE (is?) destroying school system, leading to rampant coaching industry, biased in favour of urban areas and boys.”
“IITs cannot pursue excellence at the cost of the school system. They must also have a stake in Board exams.”
What Kapil Sibbal says is maybe true. But the damage is already done. Lets see what is the outcome of this.
Recently I completed reading of the second book in the Golem series, the complete being The Golem at Large: What you should know about technology by Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch. The book discusses cases from technology field in which there is a ‘regress’, in even expert people are not able to decide objectively what to make out of results of experiment, which at first sight seem to be so objective.
Some of the examples that they choose are well known, some are not. For example the much famed demonstration by Richard Feynman on O-Rings is brought out from its almost cult status. The demonstration by Feynman when looked at with all the background seems to be very naive. Similarly many other examples de-mythify different examples from different technologies.
Some of the quotes that I have liked are as under.
+ 4 It would, of course, be foolish to suggest that technology and
science are identical. Typically, technologies are more directly
linked to the worlds of political and military power and business
influence than are sciences.
+ 6 But disputes are representative and illustrative of the roots of
knowledge; they show us knowledge in the making.
+ 10 It would be wrong to draw any conclusions for science and
technology in general from wartime statements; wartime claims
about the success of the missile reflect the demands of war rather
than the demands of truth.
+ 28 As always, if only we could fight the last war again we would
do it so much better.
+ 28 Just as military men dream of fighting a war in which there is
never any shortage of information or supplies, while the enemy
always does the expected, so experts have their dreams of
scientific measurement in which signal is signal and noise follows
the model given in the statistical textbooks. As the generals
dream of man- oeuvres, so the experts dream of the mythical model
+ 28 Even when we have unlimited access to laboratory conditions, the
process of measurement does not fit the dream; that was the point
of our earlier book ¡V the first volume of the Golem series.
+ 32 Skimp, save and cut corners, give too much decision-making
power to reckless managers and uncaring bureaucrats, ignore the
pleas of your best scientists and engineers, and you will be
+ 38 Whether two things are similar or different, Wittgenstein
noted, always involves a human judgement.
+ 40 The `correct’ outcome can only be achieved if the experiments or
tests in question have been performed competently, but a competent
experiment can only be judged by its outcome.
+ 62 The treatment of the controversial aspects must be different to
the uncontroversial aspects. The same is true of what we loosely
refer to as experiments: one does not do experiments on the
uncontroversial, one engages in demonstrations.
+ 64 In an experiment, that would be cheating, but in a display, no
one would complain. A demonstration lies somewhere in the middle
of this scale. Classroom demonstrations, the first bits of science
we see, are a good case. Teachers often know that this or that
`experiment’ will only work if the conditions are `just so’, but
this information is not vouchsafed to the students.
+ 64 A demonstration or display is something that is properly set
before the lay public precisely because its appearance is meant
to convey an unambiguous message to the senses, the message that
we are told to take from it. But the significance of an experiment
can be assessed only be experts.
+ 71 Anything seen on television is controlled by the lens, the
director, the editor and the commentators. It is they who control
the conclusions that seem to follow from the `direct evidence of
+ 74 The public were not served well, not because they necessarily
drew false conclusions, but because they did not have access to
evidence needed to draw conclusions with the proper degree of
provisionality. There is no short cut through the contested
terrain which the golem must negotiate.
+ 77 A vast industry supported by national governments makes sure it
understands how oil is found, where it is found and who has the
rights to find it.
+ 82 In some ways it is easier to delve into the first few
nanoseconds of the universe than to reconstruct something buried
deep in the core of the earth.
+ 86 This is the `experimenter’s regress’. If you believe that
microbiological activity exists at great depths then this is
evidence that a competently performed experiment has been carried
out. If you believe that microbiological activity is impossible or
extremely unlikely then the evidence of biological activity is
evidence for doubting the experiment. Experiment alone cannot
settle the matter.
+ 91 In short, Gold’s non-biological theory and its assessment are
intertwined with the politics and commerce of oil
exploration. There is no neutral place where a `pure’ assessment
of the validity of his claims can be made.
+ 96 With several hundred equations to play with, this is an area
where `theory’ and `guesswork’ are not as far apart as
conventional ideas about science would encourage us to think.
+ 102 I think there are really two different approaches. One is to
say that this is a branch of science and that everything must be
based on objective criteria which people can understand. The other
is to say that is just too inflexible, and that there’s something
called judgement – intuition if you like – which has its place in
the sciences and that it’s the people who are intuitive who are
+ 104 It is also possible to argue that modellers who did not suffer from big
mistakes were lucky while some others were unlucky to have been wrong.
+ 106 Even if you believe that large errors are bound to prove you
wrong, you may still argue about the meaning of `large’ and you
may still think that the difference between accuracy and
inaccuracy was not clever economics but luck. Finally, you may
always say that the economy changed radically.
+ 106 … it was not the model but the economy that was wrong.
+ 107 The experimenter’s regress occurs when scientists cannot
decide what the outcome of an experiment should be and therefore
cannot use the outcome as a criterion of whether the experiment
worked or not.
+ 107 Oh absolutely, that’s why it’s absolutely pointless to publish
these forecast error bands because they are extremely
large. . . . I’m all for publishing full and frank statements but
you see the difficulty [with] these standards errors is that
+ … In fact, we could have done this at the National Institute in
the mid 70s, but we suppressed it on the grounds that the standard
errors were so large, that it would have been difficult for
non-specialists, you know people using the models, using the
forecasts, to appreciate. It would have discredited them.
+ 108 Science is often used as a way of avoiding responsibility;
some kinds of fascism can be seen as the substitution of
calculation for moral responsibility.
+ 110 That is, it selected those who were `. . . willing to
subordinate their education to their careers’.
+ 111 The economists who build the models deserve credibility, but
their models do not; one should not use the same criteria to judge
expert advice as one uses to judge the coherence of a model.
+ 124 Flipping to and fro between science being all about certainty
and science being a political conspiracy is an undesirable state
+ 149 In effect, a group of lay people had managed to reframe the
scientific conduct of clinical research: they changed the way it
was conceived and practised.
+ 151 Feynman gives the impression that doubts can always be simply
resolved by a scientist who is smart enough.
+ 151 The danger is always that enchantment is the precursor of
+ 153 Golem science and technology is a body of expertise, and
expertise must be respected. But we should not give unconditional
respect before we understand just what the expertise comprises and
whether it is relevant. To give unconditional respect is to make
science and technology a fetish.
This is a famous statement by Seymour Papert.
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
A worthy quote from issue 1 of 4 part limited series comics Gangland from Vertigo Comics on cameras and photos..
I’ve been always fascinated by cameras. Little boxes and inside
each one, a tiny thief, ready to steal at touch of a button. To
pocket a moment of time.
What they steal can never be returned; what they take they keep
Stealing moments in time with my invisible eye…
As if I could replace what’s missing in my heart with a few spare
moments clipped from other people’s lives.
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…
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
“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?’
Recently read the comics series Y The Last Man.
Tale of a single human male and his pet monkey, who survive an instant death to all the mammals that have the ‘Y’ chromosome; read males. All the mammal males, even the sperms die at the same time. This leads the world in chaos. Yorick the only male to survive this disaster is escorted by Agent 355 with Dr. Mann a scientist, who seems to be the only woman who is capable of doing anything about the catastrophe. So starts the adventure, with only one male remaining in the world
Who wants peace, when we have not yet begun to fight?
I am not afraid of the world…. I am afraid of the world without you.
When the game is over, the Queen and the Pawn go in the same box.
No price is too great for your opponents king.
There’s a line I never thought I’d have to hear again.
Your imprisonment was also your emancipation.
Euphemisms are only for those who feel guilt about what they are
With little power comes little responsibility.
None of us is innocent.
… but sometimes you must do terrible things for peace.
This is what happens to friends when a man comes between them.
Ain’t nothing worse than ladies in numbers.
Is this some kinda joke?
That’s what I keep asking myself.
The Day of The Locust
It was like, they had crossed the finish line already, you know? But I
still had a million laps to run.
Everyone else just thinks I’m dumb and impulsive and .. well not that
I am not…
Endings have to be earned.
Isn’t this the part where you do something stupid?
Good thing, our shit lawys goes according to plans…
Just because you can dance doesn’t mean that you are a dancer…
I came here for forgiveness… but now I’ve just got more shit to be
The things we do make us what we are.
You fuck better than you preach.
You, young man are wise beyond your years.
Karma is a fucking urban legend.
Waters won’t be always this calm.
And I’m no more guilty than you are qualified to sit on that bench.
The future never shapes up like you figure it will…
Come on, we have a rumour to kill…
Love isn’t an emotion it’s an abstract construct mammals assign to a
biological imperative they don’t fully understand.
Everybody needs somebody.
Sure, this will probably end up being another in a long line of
emotionally crippling misadventures.
No, real relationships can only be forged by hate.
The gangster of love knows how to simulate all passages great and
Yes, you are very beautiful when you cry.
Everybody has got something to hide.
Everybody’s got something, right?
How is it wrong if no one ever knows about it?
We may be changing countries, but we will net let that country change
Mixed messages in my bane existence.
Faith and science can be friends, but they make for a disastrous
Answers to the unknown are all around us.
Our bodies tell us that we love so many, but there’s room in our
hearts for so few.
Our sexes maybe equal, but they are not the same.
Because you confused your protective instincts with romantic
Still, you can take the girl out of htthe amazon, but you can’t always
take the amazons out of the girl, right?
A good relationship isn’t where one the other person makes you feel
better, but where they make you better.
So you would have said no to the man, but yes to the last man.
I have so many different ways to respond to that, I don’t know even
where to begin.
We spend nine months trying to get out of a women and rest of our
lives trying to get back in.
This is taken from The Method of Coordinates by I. M. Gel’fand
E.G. Glagoleva A.A. Kirillov
Of course, it was not our intention that aIl these
students who studied from these books or even
completed the School should choose mathematics as
their future career. Nevertheless, no matter what they
would later choose, the results of this training re
mained with them. For many, this had been their first
experience in being able to do something on their own
— completely independently.
1 would like to make one comment here. Sorne of my
American colleagues have explained to me that
American students are not really accustomed to think
ing and working hard, and for this reason we must
make the material as attractive as possible. Permit me
to not completely agree with this opinion. From my
long experience with young students aU over the
world 1 know that they are curious and inquisitive and
1 beIieve that if they have sorne clear mate rial pre
sented in a simple form, they will prefer this to aIl
artificial means of attracting their attention — much as
one ,buys books for their content and not for their
dazzling jacket designs that engage only for the
The most important thing a student can get from the
study of mathematics is the attainment of a higher
intellectualleveL In this light 1would like to point out
as an example the famous American physicist and
teacher Richard Feynman who succeeded in writing
both his popular books and scientific works in a
simple and attractive manner.
I. M. Gel’fand
Today, because it is the 15th Monday of your 5th grade year,
you have to do this sum irrespective of who you are or what
you really want to do; do what you are told and do it the
way you are told to do it.
From: The Children’s Machine by Seymour Papert
Having gone through the book Robert Browns Laboratory of Mind – Thought Experiments in Natural
Sciences, I have taken the following notes. Though the book starts with examples from a varied disciplines it culminates trying to interpret the EPR paradox in a way. Though an interesting book to read for a philosopher of science. I would have liked to see some detailed discussions on some of the thought experiments, the book could have been more aptly titled Thought Experiments in [Quantum] Sciences, though there is an entire chapter on Einstein, who is the master of such thought experiments, equaled only by Galileo.
As I was sitting in my chair
I knew the bottom wasn’t there,
Nor legs nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.
Logic alone cannot give us great wealth of mathematical results.
since abstract objects if they did exist would be unknowable.
just as no experiment in physics is really crucial, so no argument
in philosophy is really conclusive. 73
In reality the very opposite happens. It is the theory which
decides what we can observe…’ 106
the crucial difference between Einstein and those who make the
correspondence with experimental fact the chief deciding factor
for or against a theory: even though the ‘experimental facts’ at
that time very clearly seemed to favor the theory of his opponents
rather than his own, he finds the ad hoc character of their
theories more significant and objectionable than an apparent
disagreement between his theory and their ‘facts’. 120
As Heisenberg put it, This probability function represents a
mixture of two things, partly a fact and partly our knowledge of a
fact’ (1958, 45). 128
What is even meant by ‘an interpretation of the QM formalism’ is
somewhat vague. Logicians have a precise notion of
‘interpretation’ or ‘model of a formal system’, but that won’t do
here. To start with, the formalism is already partially
interpreted; it is hooked to observational input and output in a
clear and unambiguous way. This partial interpretation is called
the minimal statistical interpretation. What it can do is handle
everything observable. It is often favoured by those who advocate
an instrumentalist outlook for scientific theories in general. But
our interest is with how the world really works, not just with
making successful observable predictions. Only those lacking a
soul are content with the minimal statistical interpretation. 131
In many (perhaps all) scientific theories, there are elements
which are taken as just brute facts. For instance, in Newton’s
physics, inertia is an unexplained explainer; it accounts for
other phenomena, but is itself unaccounted for. Are EPR
correlations like that? 146
1. When we see one swan to be white we do not conclude immediately
that all swans are white. But on the other hand we conclude that
all gold atoms have the same atomic number 79. Why is there an
asymmetry between the two modes of thought?
2. Why does 3>2 seems intuitively pretty obvious, whereas `proton is heavier than
electron’ does not?
3. Quine says, our conviction that 2+2=4 does not stem from laboratory
observations, no matter how carefully performed or often
4. How would things be different if there were no abstract objects but
everything else, including our ‘intuitions’, remained the same?
5. Is Newton’s first law only vacuously true? Let me elaborate on
this. The first law as known states the following:
/A body will continue its state motion or rest, unless it is acted
upon by a force./
Now how do we do this experiment in real? Can we have /any/ test
body which is far away from any other body, so that there are /no/
forces acting on the test body? If not, then how can we be assured
about the validity of the first law?
6. Though we often now make fun of theories like phlogiston, caloric
or aether, they were actually successful to some degree in their
day and were believed by reasonable people. (Maxwell once said that
the aether theory was the best confirmed in all science.) The
physical world somehow or other contributed to the production of
these rational, but false, beliefs. How is it that a (physical)
world that contains no phlogiston, caloric, or aether can somehow
be responsible for bringing about the phlogiston, caloric, and
I have been reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series recently. Out of the 10 first volumes I have completed 8 and two are still remaining. The Sandman is the Lord of Dreams, and I have found a few lines worth quoting from the series…
And what do you want from me?
Everything. What else is there to want?
Am I dreaming?
Not a bit of it. Quite the reverse if anything.
Getting what you want and being happy are two quite different things.
If you have nothing left to want, then you just wait until there is nothing left to wait for.
You really are just what you look like you are.
I do not know. I think so.
We do not represent them. We are them.
They say death is kinder than he is.
His hot fingers are already invading her soft curves and moist crevices.
Sleep until life wakes you.
It isn’t fair, but it is right.
Eventually, it begins to get dark.
There is a joy in there, of course, and love, and touching.
The presence that makes the absence unbearable.
Her kiss is a deep ocean.
Her kiss is not a deep ocean.
Her kiss is the grey sky.
Her kiss is a blind alley.
Her kiss is her touch is her breath
is her fingers is what remains
after the laughing is over.
Her kiss is the blackness.
Her kiss is not the blackness.
Her kiss is a black dog.
That follows you in the darkness.
And people ask,
Does despair despair?
Does dream dream?
Does desire desire?
Is everything over?
No, its just begun.
If you can’t be happy when you are, you can’t be happy anywhere.
Hell is other people.
To be despair. It is a portrait.
Only close your eyes and feel.
They are after all, all we have.
Who knew? Who could have known?
I have heard the language of the apocalypses, and now I will embrace silence.
That’s not unlikely. This is unlikely.
You don’t believe me. I don’t mind, I don’t always believe me either.
It cannot be stolen. It cannot be given away.
Perhaps one of our problems may prove a solution to the other.
But this kind of thing, doesn’t happen to you, does it? It happens to other people.
I am coming, though the way is ardous and strange.
My admiration doesn’t lessen my anger.
Great stories will always return to their original forms.
I have learnt from my mistakes, but I have had more time to commit more mistakes.
She isn’t yours Nathan. She belongs to no one, except herself.
A black mirror made to reflect everything about itself that humanity will not confront.
For all of you, the dream is over. I have taken it away from you.
I don’t understand it, but I believe it.
If my dream was true, then everthing we know, everything that we think we know is a lie.
When its just you and a blank sheet of paper.
If that is what you wish, it is done.
Is anything forever?
It’s a fools prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak.
His folly, is no fault of mine.
I am that merry wanderer of night.
It never happened and yet it is true.
And it is forever summers twilight…
And I wonder, why I wonder…
But the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted.
Things need not have happened to be true.
You make your own hell.
And who might you be?
But I know of things no one else knows.
To absent friends, lost loves and old gods, and the season of mists; may each and every one of us give the devil his due.
…as if merely saying something were enough to make it true.
…it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.
We do what we must. Lucien. Sometimes we can choose path we follow, sometimes choices are made for us. And sometimes we have no choice at all.
Innocence, once lost, can never be regained.
The kind where you know it is a nightmare, but you still can’t wake yourself up.
I think hell is something you carry around you, not somewhere you go.
Your impertinence invites my severest displeasure.
Times have changed and we have changed with them.
Do not wander from the path when you return.
If only it were that easy.
I never thought disposing of the unwanted would be so hard.
There must be a hell, for without hell heaven has no meaning.
As such though I regret it, I cannot fault it.
Tell her that we need to talk.
We will hurt you and we are not sorry.
The land is far from lost.
So what are we waiting for, exactly? I mean, if that is not a dumb question?
However, I am not sure that I know the answer.
We are in the twilightzone.
I don’t have to kill a rabbit, do I?
Shit in one hand and wish in other, see which fills up first.
I’d been lying so hard I’d convinced myself I was telling them the truth.
Sometimes inaction itself is action.
It was freely given and well meant.
I don’t think home is a place anymore. I think it is a state of mind.
For they have sown the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind.
We should take our goodbyes whenever we can.
Liberty is a bitch who must be bedded on a matress of corpses.
Tyranny like hell is not easily conquered.
The truth here is a matter of conjecture.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem to lightly.
We write our names in the sand, then waves roll and wash them away.
She ought to be mine, but she isn’t, is she?
His madness keeps him sane.
What more than that a man could desire?
For the lesson perhaps, if for nothing else.
Values’s in what people think. Not in what’s real. Value’s in dreams, boy.
You shouldn’t trust the storyteller; only trust the story.
wishes are best left sometimes ungranted…
Am I arguing with a dream?
I’ll wake you up and you will go where dreams go.
And forewarned is seldom forearmed.
You come in, you do not go out again.
A good mystery can last forever.
For those were the days of wonder.
It is unwise to summon what you cannot dismiss.
It has been far too long since we sat beneath the summer moon together and talked of pleasant fripperies, of that and this, and left others to speak sensible things of import and consequence.
I do not wish. I know. What must happen, will happen.That is the way of it.
There’s is something I want and I can’t have it and I am going to take it anyway. That’s my problem.
Somethings are too big to be seen, some emotions are too huge to be felt.
I think you are more in love with the idea of your dead love than you were with the girl herself.
There will be conditions, but then, there always are.
Thou hast made the furies cry.
There are always rules.
He is not one to forget a slight. Nor to forgive.
But he does not change. He will not. Perhaps he cannot.
You do not give. We take.
But you have made your own errors. It was your own life.
I’m not blessed or merciful. I’m just me.
Someone once brought me a flower, clandestinely. That means I do not know who it was. And I never saw the flower, either. Maybe they never brought it after all.
Ah, that is unlike you.What’s wrong?
And it distresses me to see you troubled.
I hate being nowhere.
We shall seek answers. We may seek questions also.
Shadow plays of memory are forever being enacted, on paths that you walked on not too long ago.
Life is a strange way of describing our experience.
I can do that if I have to.
And somebody said he wouldn’t keep going on about a perfectly understandable mistake that anyone could have made.
Don’t drink the cup, just the coffee.
Because there’s no such thing as one sided coin.
Why does it seem like none of us, know what we are doing?
Nothing new can exist without destroying the old.
One cannot begin a new dream without abandoning the last.
Life like time is a journey through darkness.
What’s done can’t be undone.
We do not always accomplish what we set out to do.
Our journey is over, all debts are paid.
… in a manner of recognizing a line from a familiar poem in a strange book.
Nobody is fine on their own. people need people.
It wasn’t that the things got bad, but they were no more spectacularly good.
And you never get to learn what happens to anyone else.
It is fearful thing to be haunted by those who loved you once, it is fearful to haunt those one loves.
There is a thin line between intoxication and unconsciousness, and I think he is about to cross it.
There are rumours, but that is all they are.
Like there was nothing left to hold on to. Nothing left to believe.