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

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

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

From Preface of Jearl Walkers The Flying Circus of Physics

Posted in books, physics, quotes, science, teachers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Cultures

When C. P. Snow talked about Two Cultures, he had in mind the two supposedly different ways of life. The sciences and the humanities. Snow tries to see the differences between the two cultures and makes it a point to show that the two are indeed different. Recently I read Stephen J Gould’s The Fox, The Hedgehog, and the Magister’s Pox. Gould tries to establish that the so-called divide between the sciences and the humanities never existed but was created unnecessarily.

In this article, I am also going to talk about two cultures, but not the ones that Snow choose. I am going to talk about academic and administrative cultures. Any research institute along with its academic staff has a `supporting’ administrative staff. Theoretically, if you ask, the tasks of the two are defined clearly. The academicians are supposed to do academics, that is, to do research, or at least what they consider research or worth doing. The outcome of academicians is to be measured by fellow academicians, in terms of the quality and the quantity of research or visible work done by them.

The academic life is usually one which is not-so-high paying. At least in India, this seems to be the case. A person who retires as the Director of an Institute hardly draws a salary as compared to the ones in the industry with their kind of experience. But that will take us into another discussion about Academics and Corporates, which I don’t want to enter into now. The perks of academic life are in many cases, if not in all, are the curiosity and the associated satisfaction that one derives from the problems that one tackles. When a person starts an academic career, the paths diverge sharply from their colleagues’ paths who have to choose a corporate way. When one enters academics, one of the things that are retained is a sense of freedom. Again this might not be true in all cases, I have seen juniors, especially the Graduate Students being ruled upon like a dictator by senior Professors. But this misses the point that I want to make. The point is that if you can, at least theoretically speaking, pursue your own research agendas, your research questions. For some people, it is the question that drives their academic lives.

Every now and then you hear examples of so-called `nerds’, who do weird things. They are the people who have `devoted’ themselves to their field. I am not trying to defend anyone here for doing all the weird things that they do, but just trying to illustrate the fact that the field that the researcher chooses, is what drives them on in life. It is just due to the handful of these people that makes the difference. Many times it is just sheer genius, many times it is hard work of years. They are the leaders of their field. Well not always, you may find a mediocre person leading the field, with all the proper political connections…

But this is not always the case; there are always misfits. I do know of people who do not have any commitment to the field that they are working in, per se. But they choose the research field as any other job, the enthusiasm is lacking. And they lament upon those who show some enthusiasm. And such people may be quite numerous. They are the followers. In many cases, it is not that they lack the enthusiasm, but it is entirely missing. What I mean by that is they just like workers in a stone quarry, just doing what the supervisor tells you to do, without much understanding. They are like academic coolies. Maybe the term sounds harsh, but that is what it is supposed to be. Whether you are like this or not will strongly depend on who is your reporting authority in the field. These people, if asked, will have no opinion themselves, and even if they do, it will be a carbon copy of somebody else’s.

The way one is moulded in academic life strongly depends upon one’s own capacity for independent thinking and the kind of support that one gets from the colleagues, including and most importantly from the supervisor. The graduate student years decide what kind of academic person you will become. If all your thoughts are nipped in the bud, at all the times, will you be able to think independently? This is also the question that the supervisor has to ask himself/herself: What my student should be like? I guess many of them would differ in the answer that they give and the thing that they actually practice.

Research Institutes are constituted so as to make an academic atmosphere. By this it is meant that the place should provide support for the activities that the researchers do, that is those activities apart from doing research per se. This support if necessary so that the researchers can concentrate on their work completely. Well isn’t that the idea of having a research institute. The researchers are paid for doing that, and many of them if not all do precisely this. They are not doing research as some part-time job, they are professionals, and at least some of them are committed to the field.

A Paradigm as variously defined by Thomas Kuhn would be a more proper term here for the field. As a philosopher, Kuhn redefined many of our existing understanding in the field of science, especially our understanding _about_ science as a field of human endeavour.

Researchers come and join a paradigm, most of them stay within the paradigm and solve puzzles. Only a few lucky of them come up with problems that are unsolvable within the paradigm, and then the revolutions follow. But let us not go further in this interlude. We
will talk about Kuhn some other time.

So coming back to research institutes, we can settle on one thing that a research institute is a place where research is done, and it is meant for that purpose. In a research institute, the agenda is to provide facilities for research. Various people form the infrastructure that is is thus required. Generally, any research institute has a few categories of people. The faculty, the graduate students and the scientific staff other than the previously mentioned ones. The other staff in the institute includes the technical, administrative
and the auxiliary staff, peons, cleaners etc.

The administrative staff is supposed to help the academic staff to lessen their burden from the non-academic work that they have to do. This `non-academic’ work includes managing the finance of the institute, maintaining the premises, handling at recruitments, and looking at various other facilities and services. But in some institute, the administrative staff becomes increasingly powerful, so much so that they dictate the terms to the academics. Promotions are stalled, so are new recruitments and procurements. All this by citing some obscure rules or just sitting on the files for months. This particularly happens when the incumbent person perceived to be “weak”. On the other hand when the incumbent person is perceived to be “strong”, the administration falls in line. The “strong” person at the helm, can ask the administration to bend the rules, or keep them on hold, or even circumvent at times. This makes the institutes grow. On the other hand, following the rules too strictly and with convenience denial makes it difficult for any growth.

Personal vendettas and fragile egos mark office politics. This is a power struggle, which decides the fate of the institute.

Posted in babudom, India, normal, politics, red tapism, sociology, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Forbidden Library

bitmap.png

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

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 4.25.26 PM

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

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

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

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

जैसे हर एक बात पे डिमॉक्रेसी में लगने लग गयो बैन

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Orwell categorises the intentions for writing into these four

  • Sheer egoism: 
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm:

  • Historical impulse:

  • Political purpose:

The last of these he expands

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

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

 

Posted in alan moore, babudom, books, control, democracy, media, norms, politics, sociology, technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On not learning or con in the context

We will, we will, fail you by testing what you do not know…

We live in a rather strange world. Or is it that we assume the world
to be non-strange in a normative way, but the descriptive world has
always been strange? Anyways, why I say this is to start a rant to
about some obviously missed points in the area of my work. Namely,
educational research, particularly science and mathematics education
research.

In many cases the zeal to show that the students have
‘misunderstandings’ or are simply wrong, and then do a hair-splitting
(micro-genetic) exercise on the test the students were inflicted
with. Using terse jargon and unconsequential statistics, making the
study reports as impossible to read as possible, seem to be the norm.

But I have seen another pattern in many of the studies, particularly
in mathematics education. The so-called researchers spent countless
nights in order to dream up situations as abstract as possible (the
further far away from real-life scenarios the better), then devise
problems around them. Now, these problems are put in research studies,
which aim to reveal (almost in evangelical sense) the problems that
plague our education. Unsuspecting students are rounded, with
appropriate backgrounds. As a general rule, the weaker socio-economic
background your students come from, the more exotic is your study. So
choose wisely. Then these problems are inflicted upon these poor,
mathematically challenged students. The problems will be in situations
that the students were never in or never will be. The unreal nature of
these problems (for example, 6 packets of milk in a cup of coffee! I
mean who in real life does that? The milk will just spill over, the
problem isn’t there. This is just a pseudo-problem created for satisfying the research question of the researcher. There is no context, but only con.

Or finding out a real-life example for some weird fractions) puts many off. The fewer students perform correctly happier the researcher is. It just adds to the data statistic that so many % students cannot perform even this elementary task well. Elementary for
that age group, so to speak. The situation is hopeless. We need a
remedy, they say. And remedy they have. Using some revised strategy,
which they will now inflict on students. Then either they will observe
a few students as if they are some exotic specimens from an
uncontacted tribe as they go on explaining what they are doing or why
they are doing it. Or the researcher will inflict a test (or is it
taste) in wholesale on the lot. This gives another data
statistic. This is then analysed within a ‘framework’, (of course it
needs support) of theoretical constructs!

Then the researcher armed with this data will do a hair-splitting
analysis on why, why on Earth student did what they did (or didn’t
do). In this analysis, they will use the work of other researchers before
them who did almost the same thing. Unwieldy, exotic and esoteric
jargons will be used profusely, to persuade any untrained person to
giveup on reading it immediately. (The mundane, exoteric and
understandable and humane is out of the box if you write in that
style it is not considered ‘academic’.) Of course writing this way,
supported by the statistics that are there will get it published in
the leading journals in the field. Getting a statistically significant
result is like getting a license to assert truthfulness of the
result. What is not clear in these mostly concocted and highly
artificial studies is that what does one make of this significance
outside of the experimental setup? As anyone in education research
would agree two setups cannot be the same, then what is t

Testing students in this way is akin to learners who are learning a
new language being subjected to and exotic and terse vocabulary
test. Of course, we are going to perform badly on such a test. The
point of a test should be to know what students know, not what they
don’t know. And if at all, they don’t know something, it is treated as
if is the fault of the individual student. After all, there would be
/some/ students in each study (with a sufficiently large sample) that
would perform as expected. In case the student does not perform as
expected we can have many possible causes. It might be the case that
the student is not able to cognitively process and solve the problem,
that is inspite of having sufficient background knowledge to solve the
problem at hand the student is unable to perform as expected. It might
be the case that the student is capable, but was never told about the
ways in which to solve the given problem (ZPD anyone?). In this case, it might be that the curricular materials that the student has access
to are simply not dealing with concepts in an amenable way. Or it
might be that the test itself is missing out on some crucial aspects
and is flawed, as we have seen in the example above. The problem is
systemic, yet we tend to focus on the individual. This is perhaps
because we have a normative structure to follow an ideal student at
that age group. This normative, ideal student is given by the so-called /standards of learning/. These standards decide, that at xx age
a student should be able to do multiplication of three digit
numbers. The entire curricula are based on these standards. Who and
what decides this? Most of the times, the standards are wayyy above
the actual level of the students. This apparent chasm between the
descriptive and the normative could not be more. We set unreal
expectations from the students, in the most de-contextualised and
uninteresting manner, and when they do not fulfil we lament the lack
of educational practices, resources and infrastructure.

Posted in education, mathematics, mathematics education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

To be different

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.
Posted in normal, norms, people, quotes, sociology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why did not scientific revolution occur in India?

If one wonders why did not the scientific revolution happen in India some aspects of how knowledge was limited might have an implication. I present here a comparative study of conditions prevailing in the two societies, and how the presence of the printing press disrupted the traditional balance of knowledge and its sharing in the society. Unfortunately, in India, we have no counterpart to this event which could have lead to the spread of knowledge amongst the masses. Even if it were, the rigid caste system would have made it almost impossible for knowledge to be so freely transferred. In an era of a global village, we still feel strong repercussions of caste-based discrimination today.

Consider this about how knowledge was restricted to apprenticeship and was often lost in transition amongst the traditional Indian craftsmen.

The secret of perfection in art and crafts resided in individuals 
and was never widely publicized. Master-craftsmen trained their 
apprentices from a very tender age but they did not teach them the 
more subtle aspects of their craft. Neither did they write books 
revealing the secrets of their perfection. These points were revealed 
by the master-craftsman only towards the end of his life and only to 
a favoured apprentice. Their secrets often died with them. p. 211 
(Rizvi - Wonder that Was India Part 2)

This was compounded by the fact that the profession that one could practice was decided by the caste one was born in. In addition to this, the mostly oral nature of the Hindu theology in Sanskrit and exclusive rights to Brahmins as custodians of this knowledge played a huge role in stifling any societal or scientific progress. The extant books (both theological and scientific, mathematical) were mostly in Sanskrit, which again restricted their readership. And as they were reproduced by hand the copies and access to them was limited. The mobility between castes was strictly forbidden. Thus we have both theological as well as scientific, mathematical and technological knowledge bound by tradition which was not available to the general public by its design. Any leakage of such a knowledge to people who were not intended to know it was met with severe punishments.

In contrast to this, consider the situation in Europe. The church did have an control over the knowledge that was taught in the universities. The Bible was in Latin, which can be seen as European counterpart of Sanskrit in terms of its functions and reach, and the Church held authority over its interpretation and usage. The impact of movable type on the spread of the Bible is well known. The translation of the Bible to publicly spoken languages and its subsequent spread to the general public is seen as a major event in the renaissance and subsequently that of the scientific revolution. This was only possible due to the struggle between Catholics and Protestants, again this did not have any counterpart in the Indian context. But as with any subversive technology the printing press did not only print the Bible. Soon, it was put to use to create materials for all types of readership.

First appearing around 1450 in the German city of Mainz, printing 
rapidly spread from Johann Gutenberg's original press throughout 
the German territories and northern Italy, most notably Venice. 
This establishment, during the second half of the century, of 
scores of print shops corresponds to two related features of 
European, especially Western European, society at that time.
The first is the fairly high rate of literacy on which the market 
for books and pamphlets was based. The second is the quite sudden 
wide availability of a multitude oE philosophical and general 
intellectual options. Together, these two features created a 
situation in which knowledge for very many people was no longer 
so chained to the texts of the university curriculum. This was a 
new situation practically without parallel. p. 24
(Dear - Revolutionizing the Sciences)

This spread led to the creation of books in areas of knowledge where it was guarded or passed through apprenticeship.

In 1531 and 1532 there first appeared a  group of small booklets, 
known as Kunstbüchlein ("Iittle craft-books"), on a variety of 
practical craft and technical subjects. These anonymous books were 
produced from the shops of printers in a number of German cities, 
and catered to what they revealed as an eager appetite for such 
things not just among German craftsmen, but among literate people of 
the middling sort in general. They broke the perceived monopoly of 
the craft guilds over possession of such practical knowledge as made 
up metallurgy, dyeing or other chemical recipes, pottery or any of 
a multitude of potential household requisites. p. 26
(Dear - Revolutionizing the Sciences) 

Though, as Dear rightly points in the next paragraph just having access to information of paper about a craft does not necessarily lead to practice as experts, it nonetheless helped to overcome a belief about the fact that knowledge indeed can be transferred in the form of books via the printing press.

In the coming century, the presence of the printing press helped the spread of knowledge to all parts of Europe in all subjects of inquiry. There is no parallel to this in the Indian context. Neither the technology (in the form of a printing press) nor the drive to spread the knowledge to the general masses was present in India. In this post, I have glossed over many details but I believe there were two main reasons for a scientific revolution to not happen in India are, first the connection of caste with profession and non-availability of a technology to spread knowledge to the general public. As a result, though earlier we had a better technology and scientific knowledge we did not have a Scientific Revolution. In the current era, with the connected devices, and also with caste not being a barrier to one’s profession, who knows we might be on the doorsteps of a revolution.

 

Posted in control, history, religion, science, sociology, technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On cooking or how to deny convenience to people

1 Citchen

When they built the hotel, they built it on three levels. The top-most was for the elites. The commoners had no entry there, neither they had any business. Then was the second level, here a sort of compromise was reached. The rooms had provisions for the kitchen, to be shared amongst the two, who would also incidentally share the bathroom and the toilet. It would be very naive, even seem stupid to ask, what was the purpose of building the kitchenettes? Well, of course, the answer is that the kitchen is meant for cooking. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, ahem I am sounding too male chauvinist here, so after rephrasing, every Pam, Dick and Mary would answer, that kitchens are meant for cooking. Even those females [I happen to know a few] who think cooking is a male chauvinist thing imposed on them in a male-dominated society, would answer the same to this question, that Kitchens are meant for cooking. I mean, what else could be a kitchen be used for. Perhaps, we do use the kitchen for other purposes, for example, drying clothes [as the clothesline is inside the kitchen], brushing my teeth [as the wash basin is also a part of the kitchen]. Doing all this is okay in the kitchen, but people here have serious problems when it comes to cooking in the kitchen. If you think this is weird, I think you have not heard about cigol and convenience denial in your life. So read on….

2 Cooking

First of all, let me confess, I love cooking, and I think cooking is an art more than anything else. There are times when I have no mood for cooking but I never fail to appreciate good cooking and efforts that are put into that. But then there are people who

Don’t know [and don’t want to know] how to cook [too proud males
and also too proud females who think it is below dignity to cook [both cases are known to me].

Don’t want to cook [either because of general sloth they have, or
for the fear that they might screw up the food [sometimes I am
myself the first case]]

Don’t want other people known to them to cook, as it makes them feel
guilty, so for them to not feel guilty the other person should not cook. And
these people, in general, don’t like people doing anything they
don’t want to do, because they then feel guilty and they do not
want to feel guilty. [I know a very good case of this particular kind]

Don’t appreciate good food, or good cooking, or at least the
efforts one puts in cooking.

Anyways, the point of telling this was that, when I cook in a small kitchenette given to me, the food usually comes out to be good and in edible form. Once in a while, there is a screwup, but that does not deter me from trying further on. People mostly type 1, 2 and 3, who are out there are envious of this. And I really believe the previous line of what I have written. So envious they became that they hatched a plot to take away my little kitchenette which was my personal space. More than a kitchen, it was a laboratory for testing the taste buds and culinary skills. It was a place that I went to refuge when my spirits were down [no pun intended].

Cooking food gives me enormous relaxation and self-satisfaction, which only a few other activities give to me. I have even had the feeling “This is so much better than sex!!” while cooking on many occasions. The joy that you get when you are mixing the flavours, the spices and the vegetables with the meat and masalas is just amazing and then relishing on the results and finally being appreciated by the people who you care about is just beyond words. I have a very hard time trying to understand, how can someone not like cooking, when they have access to a good kitchen and other resources? I think it has to come from within, it cannot come from without.

3 Cigol

But, then, there are people who are unhappy, when I am happy. And they don’t want to be unhappy. So they want to make me unhappy. Then they can be happy. And cooking makes me happy. They know this. So, they don’t want me to cook. Not cooking will make me unhappy. Then, they will be happy.

So they hatch a sinister plan. They form something called as logic. Or to put it, in other words, they invent something they want to call as logic. Whether it is logic or not, I leave it to you to decide. I call it cigol. Now in cigol, since cooking in the kitchen gives me happiness, it has to be taken away from me. This will make me unhappy. Then they will be happy. Since on the second level, all the rooms have the kitchens, I am to be barred from those rooms. The cigol they give is different at different times. At first, they say that there are ACs in those rooms. ACs are available to a very specialized class of people in India. They are for the elites [and incidentally, I am an elite in the office since I have an AC there but in the hotel, it seems, I am not elite enough. The world seems more and more Orwellian as I spend more time here. As Orwell would say “All Elites are equal; some elites are more equal than others.”].

And we commoners have no right to have them in our puny rooms. Well, I said, I don’t want an AC. Since they don’t, believe me, they lock the AC, fearing that I will use it when I am not supposed to. Well, it sounds funny, but they actually have built a small wooden cabinet around the AC switch whose key is with the guards. So only for proper elite persons, the ACs are to be turned on, who are elite enough. And the elites are all visitors for a few days to a maximum of one or two weeks. Now the elites, since they are elites also get something else with the ACs. Namely, the kitchenettes. Whether they want to cook or not, or whether there is anything to cook there or not, does not bother the concerned people. But the elites should get a kitchen along with the ACs, that is the norm. If you ask them why then they say, this is the way things are, can’t you see the simple cigol here. Once cigol enters the picture, everything else becomes irrelevant. Another thing is that perhaps it is a kind of ‘show-off’ for the visiting elites. This is what we give to everybody, even who are visiting us for a short time. So think what we must be giving to our regular staff members.

So the elites get the kitchen sans the cooking instruments, there is not even a water heater in the kitchenette, just in case an enterprising visitor wants to make black tea or coffee, let alone anything else, worth cooking. As per cigol, the kitchenettes become dirty when you cook, so it is better to leave them just like that, as cooking in the kitchen will spoil its beauty. Truly empty kitchens look better than full-fledged ones. To cut the long story short, kitchens are there, and they are not being used, simply because some people don’t want other people to use them [and they themselves don’t want to use them either. The case is more like a dog who cannot eat the grass but doesn’t let the cow eat it too]. And when asked why were they not used, they told us, because nobody ever used them. This is cigol. Then why not give it to us, who want to cook in the kitchen. Again this is not possible. Why? Because it was not done in the past. This is cigol.

4 Convenience Denial

I ventured out to change this trend. I started to cook in the kitchen, which they had to finally give to me. It made me happy. Very happy. But unfortunately for me, my happiness was unbearable to some. So they began to complain. In this complaining, they use a superior and totally unbeatable form of cigol, which I call convenience denial. The convenience denial is used so many times and in so many different ways and different places, that I will have to write an entire blog about it. One of the meanings is straightforward, as the words read. It is the denial of convenience to you. If you find anything which is convenient, they will deny that thing to you. If they find anything that gives you happiness, they will deny it to you. But apart from this convenience denial has another meaning, apart from the straightforward one discussed above. There is a pun being intended here.

The other meaning of convenience denial comes in when some of the fundamental rights of ours are denied to us, just for the convenience of the few. When they know something will be convenient to you, they will say, ”Oh. Okay. But you see, it really doesn’t fit in the rules of the Banyan Tree. And we are part of the Banyan Tree. So we are denying this.” On the other hand, when the rules of the Banyan Tree do form a convenience for us, they say “Oh. Okay. But you see, it really does fit in the rules of the Banyan Tree. But we are not the Banyan Tree. So we are denying this.”

The two reasoning’s may sound contradictory at first. They should. Because they are. But this is the pinnacle of cigol. But if you look through cigol, this contradiction is only apparent. It is like an apparition, which vanishes when you look at it with a skeptical eye.

Of course, there is no contradiction. ”We are always right. Only we can interpret the rules and we can deny them as per our whims and fancies [read convenience]. So it really doesn’t matter what the rules are [and what they are not], they are not going to help you in any way. Period.”

5 Cylinders

“Cooking gas is a dangerous thing. If left open, it can lead to accidents. It is too dangerous to be used in the hotel. So you cannot use it. There is a rule which says so. Your safety is our first concern”

But again the Orwellian rule applies, that is to say, rules are meant to be broken. If you are elite enough, you can use the cooking gas. Suddenly, the cooking gas is no longer a dangerous thing. Of course, cooking gas is not dangerous. And what about safety you ask, of course cooking gas is a safe thing, but only if you are elite enough. Otherwise, it is as dangerous as it can be.

“Who will be responsible if you accidentally blow up the entire building, you see there are people staying there.”

But then again as cigol rules, these questions are not asked to all, but to unfortunate few, who do want to cook on their own.

“Instead of the cooking gas, we give you a better alternative. Use the hot plate! There is no pollution, no danger of an accident, where the whole building can’t come down. Use the hot plate! Hot Plate ki Jai!

And the microwave too. There is one common kitchen which is set up in the old hotel [by our grace], where people from all the rooms are supposed to come and cook. Does it matter, if you have to walk 200 meters just to boil a cup of water? Of course not! It will give you good exercise.

Only the truly spirited persons will come, those who don’t anyway did not need it.

So as a result only a few will turn up. And this is recorded that a few people use the common kitchen. So there should not be more common kitchens, as the

one that is there is underutilized. This is statistics of nihilism. Of course, the convenience denial is ON in all this in the normal state, if you failed to notice already.

And when we remind them that the Banyan Tree does not make this distinction, the answer we get is this:

“Oh. Okay. But you see, it really does fit in the rules of the Banyan Tree. But we are not the Banyan Tree. So we are denying this.”

6 Charges

“Do you have any idea how much electricity bill we are paying for the hotel?”

No. I don’t have any idea. And I don’t want to have any idea about that. Why the efff should I have any idea regarding the electricity bill that you are paying for the hotel? Am I paid for having any idea regarding electricity bill that you are paying for the hotel?

No.

Then why the efff should I bother or worry about it. Anyway, you are not paying that monies from your pocket, are you?

No.

It is the taxpayer’s money, my money being used to do that. But let me ask Are you paid for having any idea regarding electricity bill that you are paying for the hotel?

Yes.

Then isn’t it your efffing job?

Yes.

Okay.

So we will do our job!

How?

By trying to reduce the electricity usage on the campus.

Good. This seems to be a really good effort on your part.

It is! And we will see that you don’t enjoy this either!

What is that supposed to mean?

You see, you use hot plates for cooking.

But it was you who denied the use of cooking gas, so we had to use the hot plates.

You are trying to mix things here. We are talking about hot plates and you are bringing up the issue of cooking gas, which we left in the last section! It is of no relevance here. Period.

You contradict your self.

No, we don’t. Cigol is strictly under application here. You see we are trying to reduce the electricity bill.

So?

Oh, we found that your usage amounts to 0.1 % of the total bill. This is a huge amount. If we are able to stop this usage, we will have to pay only for 99.9 % of the amount due! See what foresight we have!!

But 0.1 %, is it a huge amount?

Yes, for the hotel it is! But for you it is minuscule. You have so much money to spend. Why not give it back to where it came from?

Does not compute. You talk the exact opposite!

Well, it is cigol, you won’t understand it.

I bet, I won’t.

It is better for you that you shouldn’t. Our workings are mysterious and are strictly based on hierarchy and personal relations.

But aren’t they supposed to be, ahem, transparent and equitable?

What transparency? Everything is as transparent as it should be.

But then why are you not trying to reduce the rest of the electricity usage, the remaining 99.9 % of it?

Well, it is not on our priority list. But your usage is. We have reasons. You see 70 % of the usage is by ACs. And ACs are essential for working, you cannot work in an office if the AC is not ON, can you? And the remaining usage is for the other activities of national importance. Since we cannot stop these, we have to stop something. We are also answerable to people above us.

Hence, you choose us. Because we are soft targets. In spite of knowing the fact that a single AC running a day, will cost you more energy than used for entire months cooking? And if it is so essential to have ACs, why keep them locked from us in the hotel?

What nonsense you are talking about? Those things cannot be compromised. And for the ACs are a must for office work. We work more efficiently in a cooler environment.

Okay. And we can be compromised?

Yes… No, no. I mean it is not that simple.

Then? [Why I am even bothering to ask, this is cigol!]

And what about the highest rates that we are being charged for?

Well, since the hotel pays at that rate, you will also have to pay the same.

But ours is a residential zone and we are being charged at industrial rates? Why?

Because we can charge you at the industrial rates. That’s why. And for all your strengths and powers you cannot do anything about it.

But why us?

Well by choosing you, we will make sure that you pay for the hotel and make a good example of not trying to mess with us.

But you do have the funding, right? And will the payment that we make be enough?

Yes, we have got enormous funding, but when it comes to you, particularly there is a crunch. And of course can you not do this bit to help us? It is of no concern to us whether it really matters in the reduction of energy usage or not, but we want to show that we have taken some steps to lower the usage. And that is sufficient for us. Its efficacy is irrelevant here.

So, you mean to say we are not on the priority list?

You see you are on the priority list but not at a correct position in either of them. You are at the bottom end of the fund’s priority list. And at the top end of the consumption reduction list!

But you see, in the Banyan Tree, they do not charge anybody for any usage, and the number of users is very large there. So why do you charge us?

Oh. Okay. But you see, it really does fit in the rules of the Banyan Tree. But we are not the Banyan Tree. So we are denying this.

Does not compute. [How could I forget Convenience denial?]

It is plain simple cigol.

So you are giving justification, not justice.

No comments.

But tell me, how is this going to reduce the consumption of electricity. You have yourself set up a common kitchen, if we use the same amount of electricity there, we cannot be charged, and the consumption is not reduced either. So, your original plan does not work.
You are very naive and think in a very limited fashion. You see, we don’t want you to cook. In fact, we don’t want you to do anything. Just be as non-functional as possible. Because we know it gives you happiness. In the common kitchen, since it is far away from most of the people, they won’t come and cook. And even if they cook it is acceptable.

And the same people cooking in their own rooms is not acceptable?

No. It is not.

Why?

See, the idea is that if people cook in their own rooms they will cook more and better food and will be happy. That is something we don’t want. We would want them to eat the canteen food all the time. And anyway how can anyone who is working hard find any time for cooking?

So, you mean to say cooking is a waste of time?

Yes.

But we still want to cook, and that too in our own rooms!

Well if you are so adamant for cooking. And cooking gives you happiness. Then happiness cannot come for free.

???

If you want to use a hot plate in your room, you will have to pay for it.

But you are making us use the hot plate.

This is part of convenience denial. It is a grace on our part that whatever you are getting, is there. If we had it our way you would not get anything that would give you happiness.

But we won’t pay for it.

We are not asking you to pay, we will directly deduct it from your salary.

Without my consent?

Yes. We don’t need your consent for this. We are elite enough to do this kind of stuff.

Are you sure? You are cutting monies from my salary and you are claiming that you can cut it without my consent?

We are not sure. But this is cigol, so it doesn’t matter anyway. At the most, we will have to revoke it some day. But till then we will make sure you pay. And apart from this, you are causing great inconvenience to our elite guests.

How so?

By cooking in the kitchen and by keeping your stuff in the common area.

Well, aren’t these two areas meant for that. Kitchen for cooking and common area for keeping stuff.

Yes, they are indeed. But it does not apply in your case.

How come?

You see, kitchen in meant for cooking, but it does not follow that one must cook there.

Means?

You cannot cook there. And before you ask the next question, I will already give the answer, no, you cannot keep your stuff in the common area.

So what’s the use of building them and not allowing them to be used, even by the people who want to use them?

Maybe it was a mistake to build them in the first place.

But not using them, once they are built, would be another mistake.

Well, this is cigol. You don’t ask the government why they build things which one cannot utilize or use. This is just a continuing legacy of that. We make things that are not accessible to the general public, of course, elites are a different matter.

You mean, they are not made up of ordinary matter? I smell that the dark matter problem in cosmology has a potential solution, in form of the elites of the Indian government.

No. Not that way. You are straying away from the matter. You are charged with not being fair to others?

I am not being fair to whom?

To every one. You see you are effectively having more than your share at this place.

And what about you and the other elites? Are you not having more than your share at this place.

What do you mean?

Well to tell it simply, are you not occupying much more rooms than I am? And that too by doing modifications to the fundamental structure of the construct?

Yes. I am. And there is nothing that anyone can do about it.

And this I guess definitely does not conform to the rules of the Banyan tree. Does it?

Oh. Okay. But you see, it really does not fit in the rules of the

Banyan Tree. But we are not the Banyan Tree. So I can do this. And how can you forget Orwell: “Some are more equal than others.” I am one of those some and I also have the power. And who will dare to speak about this? Will you?

Of course not. Who wants to bell the cat? Then you will occupy space not meant for you, as there is clearly a separate place for you to stay. Even then you mean to say, I being not fair is unfair, but you being unfair is fair?

Yes. Even Mr Orwell will tell you so. And there is a difference between I being unfair and you being unfair. You see rules that apply to you, don’t apply to us. And even if they do apply, we have the ultimate weapon of convenience denial in our repertoire.

But my being unfair, is it even true when there is no one in the next room?

Yes. You are not being fair to other people, who might be sharing this room. And those people who might be sharing this room, are the elites. So when they come to stay here, it becomes imperative for us to make their stay comfortable.

Even at the cost of people who are staying there for a much longer time?

Yes. You see it is like this. The more you stay, the less important you are.

But then by that logic, who will be most unimportant?

Orwell: All are equal, but some are more equal than others.

But does this not fair thing apply even when there is no one who is sharing this room with me.

That is why it becomes even more important if you are not fair to no one who is not sharing your common area, how can you be fair to everyone who is not sharing your common area?

But no one [except me] wants to use the kitchen. Is it my fault?

Yes. It is your fault. You are not confirming to rest of ones like you.

As I had said earlier, but now I am certain, that building these kitchens was a mistake, as no wants to use them.

But I do want to.

Your want is irrelevant. What no one wants is more relevant. And there is not a rule like that in the Banyan Tree.

But…

Oh. Okay. But you see, it really doesn’t fit in the rules of the Banyan Tree. And we are part of the Banyan Tree. So we are denying this.

[I am rendered wordless, speechless and powerless against such cigol and convenience denial, I choose to keep my silence…]

That is it! There are to be no more words. It is final that you will be shifted soon where you will have a hard time cooking and you won’t be happy. I will make sure that a written order is passed in this regard. And then you can’t do anything, but to confirm what we have been saying all along.

Note: Any resemblance to real places and people is not coincidental.

Or is it?

Or is it the other way round?

😉

Posted in babudom, cigol, control, frustration, norms, orwell, red tapism, satire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Round Earth: The Proofs

What is the evidence for a round Earth?

In this post, we explore some of the evidence for proving that the Earth is indeed spherical in shape (if not a perfect one), and not a flat one. Though in the current age we can all point to the images of Earth taken from space  (like the one shown below)

In the age of satellites is easy for us to dismiss the doubting minds who think that the Earth is not flat. But this was always not so. Apart from the evidence from the space age, people in the past had good evidence and arguments for believing that the Earth was indeed spherical in shape and not flat or any other shape. Somehow this misconception that all ancient people considered that the Earth was flat, was generated in nineteenth-century science books.

earth

Ancient evidence

telescope_0008

It is commonly believed that people till very recently believed that the Earth is flat and that some European explorers, by circumnavigating the Earth, proved that it was round. But this is not correct. Ancient Greeks already knew about the spherical shape of the Earth, and it forms the basis of many cosmological models that they built. This, in turn, had implications for the philosophical worldview of the ancient

Aristotle presents us with one of the first evidence for the roundedness of the Earth. For the ancient Greeks, the circle and the sphere presented the perfect form in nature. This was also tied to their worldview in which the celestial and terrestrial was demarcated from each other. The celestial bodies, which included the planets and stars were supposed to be perfect. There were seven planets known to the ancients, which included the Sun and the Moon. The planets were supposed to be spherical themselves revolving with a constant speed in circular orbits around the Earth. One of the core assumptions was that the heavens are unchangeable. So anything that was considered celestial was by definition (a) perfect (spherical or circular), (b) unchangeable (constant). So any mechanism that explained celestial phenomenon had to include these two concepts.

 

The cosmology of the ancient Greeks then was built upon these basic assumptions which were non-negotiable for them. This lead to the formation of various models based on the basic theme of a fixed Earth and planets on circular orbits moving constant speeds. Due to these assumptions and also due to some observed phenomena, led to the conclusion that Earth should also be indeed spherical.

Let us look at the arguments given by Aristotle in this regard. This is from Book II of On the Heavens.

The shape of the heaven is of necessity spherical; for that is the shape most appropriate to its substance and also by nature primary.

Part 11

With regard to the shape of each star, the most reasonable view is that they are spherical. It has been shown that it is not in their nature to move themselves, and, since nature is no wanton or random creator, clearly she will have given things which possess no movement a shape particularly unadapted to movement. Such a shape is the sphere, since it possesses no instrument of movement. Clearly then their mass will have the form of a sphere. Again, what holds of one holds of all, and the evidence of our eyes shows us that the moon is spherical. For how else should the moon as it waxes and wanes show for the most part a crescent-shaped or gibbous figure, and only at one moment a half-moon? And astronomical arguments give further confirmation; for no other hypothesis accounts for the crescent shape of the sun’s eclipses. One, then, of the heavenly bodies being spherical, clearly the rest will be spherical also.

In Part 13 of the book Aristotle talks about the shape of the Earth.

There are similar disputes about the shape of the earth. Some think it is spherical, others that it is flat and drum-shaped. For evidence they bring the fact that, as the sun rises and sets, the part concealed by the earth shows a straight and not a curved edge, whereas if the earth were spherical the line of section would have to be circular. In this they leave out of account the great distance of the sun from the earth and the great size of the circumference, which, seen from a distance on these apparently small circles appears straight. Such an appearance ought not to make them doubt the circular shape of the earth. But they have another argument. They say that because it is at rest, the earth must necessarily have this shape. For there are many different ways in which the movement or rest of the earth has been conceived.

Here we see the cognisance of the fact that the curvature tends to be linear when see it is too large. Aristotle then goes on to discard the ideas by Anaximenes, Anaxogoras and Democritus who claim that flatness of the Earth is responsible for it being still. He argues, even a spherical Earth can remain at rest. The Earth being at rest and it being spherical are related. In Part 14 he takes this discussion further. The first argument uses the symmetry of weight distribution.

Its shape must necessarily be spherical. For every portion of earth has weight until it reaches the centre, and the jostling of parts greater and smaller would bring about not a waved surface, but rather compression and convergence of part and part until the centre is reached.

He further argues using reasoning of additional weight distribution how a spherical Earth can still be

If the Earth was generated, then, it must have been formed in this way, and so clearly its generation was spherical; and if it is ungenerated and has remained so always, its character must be that which the initial generation, if it had occurred, would have given it. But the spherical shape, necessitated by this argument, follows also from the fact that the motions of heavy bodies always make equal angles, and are not parallel. This would be the natural form of movement towards what is naturally spherical. Either then the earth is spherical or it is at least naturally spherical.

After this, he looks at evidence from lunar eclipses to reason that Earth is indeed spherical.

eclipse

The evidence of the senses further corroborates this. How else would eclipses of the moon show segments shaped as we see them? As it is, the shapes which the moon itself each month shows are of every kind straight, gibbous, and concave-but in eclipses the outline is always curved: and, since it is the interposition of the earth that makes the eclipse, the form of this line will be caused by the form of the earth’s surface, which is therefore spherical.

Finally Aristotle takes into account the fact that stars change their positions in the sky relative to the horizon when we move to North or South, indicating that we are indeed on a spherical surface. This will not happen on a flat surface.

stars

Again, our observations of the stars make it evident, not only that the earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size. For quite a small change of position to south or north causes a manifest alteration of the horizon. There is much change, I mean, in the stars which are overhead, and the stars seen are different, as one moves northward or southward. Indeed there are some stars seen in Egypt and in the neighbourhood of Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions; and stars, which in the north are never beyond the range of observation, in those regions rise and set. All of which goes to show not only that the earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be quickly apparent.

Another evidence which can be seen since antiquity is that the masts of the ships on ocean became visible first on the horizon, the ship appear later. This can be simply explained by assuming that the surface of the ocean is curved too.

telescope_0010

Thus we have seen the ancient evidence for a spherical Earth. It was well known and well established fact, both theoretically and empirically.

Images from:

All About The Telescope – P. Klushantsev

A Book About Stars and Planets – Y. Levitan

Physics for The Inquiring Mind – Eric Rogers.

 

Posted in science, science education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

On PhD

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

Posted in quotes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Wolf-Children of Midnapore

Physics was one of the first sciences which helped develop the modern “scientific method”. One of the processes in the scientific method involves controlling of variables during an experiment. Performing an experiment in this manner one can possibly find the effect of the independent variable on a dependent variable. In this manner, we are supposed to find out if there is any causal link/correlation between the variables. This method was seen as a hallmark of true science and was widely adopted while discovering and developing new other disciplines.

Now in the case of psychology and behavioural sciences, we have a long-running debate regarding the effects of nature and nurture on human growth and development. By nature here it is meant our genetic make-up, while by nurture it is meant the environment (both physical and social) around us. For long people have tried to establish the link between nature/nurture and various aspects of human growth and development. This dichotomy has a deeper connection to the nature of knowledge and learning, which in turn in related to the two basic schools of philosophy: empiricism and rationalism. In the extreme forms, put very crudely, empiricism proposes that we can gain knowledge through our sense organs only, while rationalism proposes that we make sense of the world in our mind only. For example, in The Matrix the machines have developed a simulation which makes the human mind “experience” the world only in the mind. When Morpheus asks Neo

What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

Here Morpheus is actually subscribing to the rationalist school as he denies that our sense organs are the primary source of our knowledge. In The Matrix the brain is simulated and it doesn’t know it is being simulated. How can we ever know? This is exemplified further by many Gedanken experiments which have been brought out by psychologists and philosophers. The Brain in a Vat is an example of such experiments.

On the other hand, the other extreme form of human development from empiricists would be considering humans a tabula rasaIn this perspective, the human brain is not born with any innate capabilities. And it is the experience with the physical world through the sense organs makes us understand the world. Thus, in this case, the environment is the factor on which our growth and development occur.

Now coming back to nature vs nurture debate, whether people believe in either depends strongly on the orientation and grounding people have regarding how the society works. We will see what is the basis both philosophical, epistemological and political when people subscribe to these viewpoints. First some thoughts on what exactly we mean by human growth and development in this context. We all see human babies grow from infants who are incapable of talking, understanding, even walking for that matter to being adults in a society who can talk, understand and do a variety of other things which infant versions of ours are not capable. How does this change occur, over let’s say a span of 15-20 years or so? Are we predestined by our genes to develop in a particular way, or does our immediate environment play a fundamental and crucial role in making this happen? What is the nature of learning and what is it dependent upon? Physical growth can be perhaps linked to the unfolding of the genetic predispositions that we have. For example, physical maturity occurs with age. Piaget has given us evidence on the basis of the so-called Piagetian tasks that thinking also matures with age and is a universal phenomenon across cultures.

But what happens to our thinking or our behaviours are they too natural and will occur even if we are not in contact with the society? People have thought over this question for a long time. We will discuss the evidence that people over the last 200 years or so have put up in support of each side, which is related to the title of the post.

In general, there are two groups who subscribe to the primacy of nurture in human development. The first group is of the people who are usually are influenced by Marxism and have a left orientation tend to favour nurture more than the nature aspect. According to them the social environment, including the socio-economic status of the family influence the way in which humans develop and learn. For this school of thought, the genetic composition (nature) of the individual has little or no effect on the way the individual develops or learns. This is in line with the central tenets of Marxism, in which capital plays a fundamental role in the way society works. The construct of cultural capital is a good way to understand how this group, in general, thinks about the effects of society and societal factors on human growth and development.

The other school which subscribes to the primacy of nurture in human learning and development is behaviourism. The behaviourists, very strongly influenced by logical positivists, and playing along with the zeitgeist gave credence in psychological studies to only things that could be observed. This was linked to the deep debates in the philosophy of science of the 1930s which was dominated by the logical positivists. The basic idea was that if anything is not observable directly by our sense experience like human thinking, it should not be considered scientific. This led to an entire programme which was very influential during the 30s-50s in which studying higher order thinking skills were banished from scientific enterprise. The definition of learning in case of behaviourists was seen in terms of behaviour. And according to them, the behaviour could be controlled by operant conditioning hence effectively we could control learning by providing required stimulus in the environment.

Bringing in the metaphor of a blank slate, people with this leaning would say all individuals are of equal potential, given a chance and environment anyone can perform anything. This was one of the basic assumptions of behaviourism. In Marxist sociological perspective, the metaphor of the blank slate allowed individuals to transcend the class that they were born in and to achieve their true potential irrespective of the social status of their parents. The quote below summarises this viewpoint very well:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.

From – Behaviorism by J. B. Watson, 1930, pp. 82.

Now let us look at the other group which takes the genetic makeup of ours as the most influential aspect for development and learning. In this perspective, your genes determine everything. There is no scope for anyone to do anything which the genes do not permit. Sometimes this is termed as genetic determinism. According to this view, the potential for learning and development is completely determined by genes. Unless one has a particular genotype, one by definition, is not capable of doing certain things. Now, of course, we do inherit our biological and physical structures from our parents. Physical characteristics like hair and eye colour, skin colour, size are inherited from our parents. So are tendencies for certain diseases like diabetes and others. Now the question that is interesting is this heritance limited to only physical characteristics or it can be used for determining other factors like intelligence, learning and development also?

In general, the people who are conservatives, leaning towards the right favour this point of view. This is because it provides a sort of legitimacy to the existing social order. The people who are in positions of power are there because they have better genes or are from a better stock. This also implies that nothing can be done to improve this situation as nature is unmutable. Of course, this position has racial, class gender, and caste overtones. Such an argument can be used to effectively defend and justify any existing social order. Sometimes, this entire range of ideas is put under the notion of Social Darwinism. Analogies from the natural world like artificial selection and breeding for producing better breeds (of plants and animals) are used to justify such a worldview. The movie GATTACA shows an example of a dystopian future is a good example of how a society where your genes are the only factors to determine your worth. In such a world, what matters is what your genes are, and not your skills.

Now apart from the philosophical, sociological and cultural aspects do we have any “scientific evidence” for deciding which factors are more influential. There have been many studies which claim a very strong evidence (mostly observational) regarding either worldviews. But none of the experiments or studies are seen to be conclusive. Critics on the other side point to experimental issues with data, samples, statistics, assumptions and personal beliefs and so on. Let us ask ourselves this question:

Can we design any critical experiments which will decide once and for all whether nature is important or nurture?

Ideally, the experimental design should be such that we should be able to control for nature and nurture. Now how would such an “ideal” experiment be designed? Let us look at each of the two variables. To control for nature we can take individuals from different genetic stocks and give them similar treatment. This way we will know from the differences in the outcomes/performance of the individuals and accordingly in their genes too. Now the question arises if we take adult individuals from different genetic stocks, they are already “contaminated” via the various nurture aspects of growing up. For example, they might have a different value system, a different language, different learning experiences, different social norms, different environments and so on. So ideally an “uncontaminated” sample should be with us.

How do we create an uncontaminated sample of human beings? Who are not touched by any aspect of nurture or environment? Ideally, we take don’t allow nurture to touch the newborn infants in any manner. That is to take them away from their mothers right after they were born. Oh! What a horror!! But such a thing would never be done in practice now. Though in the ancient times there were many who actually performed similar “experiments“. There are serious moral and ethical issues involved. Now strict research guidelines are in place whenever human subjects are involved in research studies. This came to force when evidence emerged post-World-War II which involved experimenting on human subjects by treating them like animals. That is basically not valuing human life and dignity. Hence I had put “ideal” in quotes.

In Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book the protagonist Mowgli, is raised by the wolves. Although fictional, this story presents us with an interesting case study. Mowgli, who has been raised by the wolves, is not human in the sense of how we identify with the society. He identifies himself as a wolf and behaves like one. But then this is fictional story and a Mowgli is a fictional character. Now if we could find such an individual like Mowgli, we could perhaps test many of the basic questions regarding aspects of nature and nurture. One such opportunity came to us in an episode which is the title of this post: The Wolf-Children of Midnapore.

Now it so happened that in 1920s a rector  Joseph Amrito Lal Singh in an orphanage in the town of Midnapore in Bengal, India reportedly found two girls in a wolf den. They were named Amala and Kamala. The discovery of these two girls was seen as a major event. The rector apparently maintained details notes about their discover and behavior in his diary. So much so, it was published into a book Wolf-Children and Feral Man J.A.L. Singh and Robert M. Zingg published in 1942. The discovery was also reported in a reputed journal as Scientific American (Vol. 164, No. 3 (MARCH · 1941), pp. 135-137).

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 8.16.26 AM

So what did the rector observe in these two children? Can it resolve any fundamental questions regarding the nature-nurture debate? The book and the entries in the diary of Rev. Singh make many such attempts. However, it so happened that people raised serious doubts about the authenticity of the story, and further analysis has shown that it was a hoax. Recently, there was a case in which a girl was discovered living with monkeys. Again, girl showed some feral characteristics, but according to some reports nothing conclusive could be said.

So our basic question regarding nature/nurture remains unanswered. Perhaps due to moral and ethical concerns we may never be able to answer question on “experiments” such as these. But there have been other ways, surveys, studies and experiments which do indicate the complex ways in which nature and nurture do interact to produce the social human animal. But what cases like these show is that there is so much that is still to be discovered in the respect of nature/nurture debate. Perhaps we will be able to resolve these issues at some point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The basic question boils down to this:

http://www.midnapore.in/wolf-children-of-midnapore/wolf-children-of-midnapore14.html

Posted in animals, psychology, science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment