The Eloquence of Silence

To speak or not speak…That is the question!

Shakespeare may have thought that the most important question was:

To be or not to be

But I am almost sure that this one  is more important:

To speak or not speak…That is the question!

Not simply that! When to speak? Whom to speak to?

Speaking is also as much of an art as writing. However, unlike writing, speaking eloquently is practiced by speaking as little as possible.

So here I introduce Guha’s Guide in Gregariousness. (It took me some pain to come up with this particular alliteration and it would be much appreciated if you observed a moment of silence for the same.)

Pause (1 minute).

Ah yes. Thank you. Now the best speakers are able manipulate their audience into being convinced about the topic of interest in the way it suits the speaker. Manipulate is actually negative: so let’s say influence (positively). {Like I’m doing here, or at least trying to anyway!}.  One starts with a topic sentence which is relatively interesting and engages the audience with either a hitherto unknown fact or a controversial position. Avuncular chaps will try spinning an anecdote in the most Ruskin Bond-ish way possible. All are fantastic methods. But then as soon as you open up to discussion, there will usually remain some pestering nincompoop who will disagree. Originally these people were called critics. Today of course you know them as trolls.

So, the way to avoid this is to choose a relatively drab topic. Like our ex-PM, you can narrate a list of facts in the best possible monotone and pray that your audience has dozed off. This reduces the chances of any counter punches. But of course it has the flip side that because nobody cares for what you say, they don’t care to oppose you. And as the common perception goes: mute people are less likely to develop foes than their not so mute friends.

These days I come across so many topics with headlines thrown in the most polarising way possible. And it takes a great deal of effort for me to not type in my opinion or enter into a debasing slanging match with some random soul on the other side.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

-Ellie Wiesel

Wiesel has a valid point here though. That silence helps the oppressor. However, I’ll only enter the muck to fight for what I believe if I can actually bring about some change. Not because I wish to contribute more to the noise. At the end of the day your two lines of comments will never be enough to change someone’s opinion (however opposite, unethical, logically flawed or otherwise you may feel it to be). All it will achieve is angering the other person and few like minded folks (read people who “liked” his status).

Unless of course you are looking at a broader change (or in certain cases highlighted by Weisel). Opinions should only be provided if asked and when you are in a position of authority to announce them. Not because you strongly feel a certain way. Perhaps that’s not something you would like to hear. But at the end of the day when you troll somebody or insult the other person into submission all you have earned is the other person’s disgust and enmity, even if you feel that you won the debate. The whole episode is not worth the bitterness, frankly.


Art and Philosophy

This post unfortunately will not contain a picture. While I understand that a picture does increase interest and enhance readership, that is not the objective of this post. Of course, I did put the word “philosophy” in the head text and so if you are reading this perhaps you are interested in the word. It may also be out of a passing curiosity because you have expended other means of “having fun” and wish to see how (much more) loony I have become! Let’s hope that I do not disappoint, at least on the final point.

Men have always invented ways to distract themselves alongside tools to enhance the human race as whole. For example, dance and revelry has been a part of societal traditions for millennia. The Romans of yore went about to set up the Colosseum to set up mock fights when they were tired after fighting real ones. When too bored with passivity the Greeks decided to actively bicker among themselves. This tradition was maintained by the knights of the middle ages. France and England also entertained themselves by fighting with each other, never mind the lives lost or the economic ruin they courted till Hitler taught them otherwise. As technology has improved, these entertainment ventures have been moulded into an arena which now is not just limited to the aristocrats of yore but to the populace at large. Radios (what are they?!), televisions, laptops and of course smartphones. The newspaper in its changing form is essentially the basis of all this: the daily news, the gossip, the rumors, the propaganda. Facebook today represents our first personal newspapers today. One may quibble here, but I think Facebook is simply a modification over what Yahoo! was in in the early years of the noughties who worked perhaps as one of the foremost online news aggregators.

However, it would be hugely detrimental to curb these passing interests or entertainments the human soul so longs after a tiring day, as the Europeans learned post Renaissance or Buddha learned post “Enlightenment”. Sometimes, in fact most times, a complete abstinence towards any epicurean tendencies might be harmful. In fact it led to great stagnation of the “thought process” in Europe in the era known today as the “Dark Ages”. Without a passing amusement, there is nothing to creatively think about. After all one must be really interested in something to create something new.

Now, I believe that there are three ways to create something original. The first way would be the regular process. You chip away at a piece of wood according to a design that has been handed to you or taught by your father who was taught by his father before him and so on, exactly how to chip the wood to arrive at that tool you wish to arrive at. Now say, that during this entire process that you follow diligently for years, you happen to gain experience and with some stroke of individualism or accident you arrive at a slightly modified version of the end product. Innovation 1.0.

The second way would be when while walking down the street you are suddenly struck by a certain idea regarding a certain wooden instrument. You take a carpenter’s help, buy some tools and arrive at the product. Now this product is bound to be original because it was a function of your surroundings and which climaxed to the exact thought which was again enough to spur you to pick up a carpenter and tools to recreate your idea. Now whether the tool will be appreciated or useful is another matter.

The third way is when you have a gun pointing at your back and your kidnapper wants you to make a wooden instrument. This also works but at times the degree of originality is the lowest here.

But then, how do we define great art at all? Is it merely the ability to be appreciated by the concerned masses.

Human definitions are by itself nebulous in nature. What is a work of art? Who defines greatness? I agree with the premise, that a work of art needs to be understood for it to become great. However, there are several caveats which should not be discounted straight away. In fact it’s one of the most important facets demarcating “great” art from the not so great ones. And that caveat happens to be time.

Art in its most obvious usage connotes to drawings, paintings and sculptures. These are of course then expanded to include other areas like poetry, plays, novels among others. Today the usage is mostly related to performing arts: dance, music and other live performances on shows like America’s got Talent or perhaps the late American Idol. So, if we compile all these, we notice that we have quite a compendium of “art”. Now which of these can be called great? To gauge that, we look at art forms which have stood the test of time.

Shakespeare’s plays are an obvious example. Marlow apparently was a more decorated playwright during the late Elizabethan era. However, we still are more familiar with the literature of Shakespeare than Marlow’s today, about 500 years later. That in itself speaks volumes. Tagore was criticized by his contemporaries especially by a fellow playwright: Dijendralal Ray who penned his plays in a far more esoteric fashion. Yet, Tagore stands head and shoulders above these people. However, the fact that those who penned for the masses are more popular can be quite misleading as there were other Bengali authors who wrote at the same if not a lower level catering to the popular opinion of early 20th century Bengal. They could also have been accused of pandering to the masses. In fact Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, a contemporary author is once said to have remarked that: “We write for you, while Tagore writes for us.”

The Romans and the Greeks built themselves quite an empire 2000 odd years ago. The hallmarks of their contributions to future generations discounting democracy was their architecture. However, this went almost unnoticed till the Renaissance. The fact that a certain art form was swept under due to oblivion or “forgotten by the masses” didn’t mean that it had lost it’s greatness for a good 1500 years and regained them suddenly afterwards. The fact that most 15th century and early American architecture were influenced by them were the reason why they are considered great.

An art form may or may not be appreciated by the masses either in that era or by the next generation. However, the “true” test of greatness is its ability to be appreciated by generations into the future. Otherwise, we would have to consider every recent pop album which sells a million copies as the great work of art. I would reserve judgement about the opinion of the masses. Or critics for that matter.

In the meantime, since words won’t fill me, I’m going for lunch. I’ll continue with this…


The meaning of meaning…?!

There was an article on Huffington Post not too long ago that almost any article on Wikipedia tends to cycle back to the word Philosophy. A similar essay on  Quora prompted a far more interesting response. The above exercise involved clicking the very first hyperlink on a Wikipedia article and then on the next linked article and so on. As it turns out, statistically 90+% of all articles end with the chain closing at the word Philosophy. Not surprising perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. However, as was pointed out in a Quora thread, some hyperlinks also closed a loop upon itself. This basically meant that the chain was closed and cyclic and after a few clicks returned to the word itself. This in fact brings me to the moot point of this article.

Most definitions are cyclic. Try finding the meaning of the word meaning. Now, sure, you might find some synonyms like “definition”, “explanation” etc. But they do no more a better a job than explaining what the word meaning means. Meaning means meaning. That’s all. You either understand it. Or don’t. Or say, let’s define the direction left. You might think that it’s well nigh impossible to do that without cyclic logic. However a look through some of the better dictionaries saw me find some innovative methods to circumvent this seeming impossibility. A way to define a direction is to break the isotropy of space. This means that you can differentiate between a left and a right or any other direction with various proportions of left and right (if such a thing is possible)! Left was defined cutely by Merriam Webster as the direction on which the heart was located. (Although, most anatomists would disagree here and claim that the heart is really centrally placed. But I digress.) Right, interestingly was defined as the direction opposite to left. One could also look at other universal constants like the night sky to define direction: a skill used by early maritime navigators to sail to distant lands.

But is almost every definition cyclic? It appears so. Unless, of course if it’s based on certain well made assumptions called axioms which I discussed extensively in an earlier post. But even if most words have a recursive meaning, even if there is no clear meaning for the word meaning, we know that the word meaning and meaningless don’t mean the same thing. Opposites are thus extremely important. A lack of something thus makes us aware of the meaning.

Of course there are also random stuff that we name so as to simply identify one thing from the other. While composing a nice broth there might be several ingredients. Different names. Required in different amounts. Perhaps to be added at different times during the cooking? Opposites will not really help us here. A far more thorough understanding of the ingredients is needed here. Same goes for most other arenas of life I guess.

Caveat: By life, I didn’t mean the absence of death here. It’s all the language silly! Sigh!

The Greatest Season Ever!

2011-12 season of top tier European football

I am a Chelsea fan. Let that be clear. I started watching football around 2006–7. And since EPL was/is the most popular football league, it would always be a toss up between Manchester United or Chelsea. (Arsenal and Liverpool can talk about history all they want.) I always liked supporting the underdogs. And my friends were overwhelmingly ManU supporters, at least that’s what they called themselves anyway. So, I didn’t nudge towards Chelsea because they won. No. But because they always tried to grind it out to win.

Coming to 2012. A year when the world was supposed to end in some Mayan apocalypse (and didn’t). Chelsea had appointed yet another manager after yet another disappointing season. But the new manager: Andre Villas-Boas looked like Mourinho and perhaps the results would be similar? Either way, I kept the usual tab on results. And then I was forced to ignore them. They were playing at their worst possible. Before that season, Chelsea had never finished below the top 4 since 2000. And I had never watched them place outside the top 3.

They somehow barely qualified from the group stages in CL and hopes of winning the Premier League had long evaporated. In fact, I, like most Chelsea fans had resigned ourselves towards another trophyless season. What would be worse was our inability to play Champions League next year. Still, there was hope. Villas-Boas was fired. Matteo, his deputy took charge for the remaining 3 months while Roman Abramovich, the owner, started scouting for another coach for the next season.

Chelsea’s season had ended early. Or so I thought. And then what happened was the greatest turnaround I witnessed. You may quibble here by referring to some obscure 1991/1999/2003 CL. But they were hardly this amazing.

I no longer cared what match Chelsea played anymore. Because they were not winning anyway! But I did go back to watch them later, especially the reruns. But I get those feels man, every single time!

When Villas-Boas left, Chelsea was well below Champions League positions and staring at a 3–1 deficit from the first leg to Napoli. Somehow, in the return leg, Chelsea equalised that score. It was 3–1 at Stamford Bridge at the end of 90 minutes at the end of both legs. And it had my faves with Terry, Lampard et al. contributing. So the match, which Napoli had thought been wrapped up after their goal at the Bridge was now taken to Extra Time. Penalties were not needed as Chelsea pumped in a fourth, to win the aggregate 5–4. Chelsea became the only English team to remain in the CL.

Benfica was next. The 2 legs were rather a sedate affair. Chelsea won 1–0 away. And then drew 1–1 at home. One extra goal by Benfica in the second leg at the Bridge and it would have been bye bye CL. Somehow though, Chelsea survived.

Semi Final lineups were Bayern vs Real. Barcelona vs Chelsea. Barcelona were the defending champions. Real under Mourinho were leading La Liga for the first time in like 4–5 years. Bayern had an awesome lineup as well, but were playing second fiddle to BVB in their domestic league. Chelsea was the lightweight here. Expected to be steam rolled by Barcelona.

In the mean time, Chelsea had moved up from 9th to 5th in the league. Participation in next year’s Champions League was a possibility. They had also progressed to the FA Cup semis. Amazing turnaround already for the season. Now with the form they were in, I expected them to get pummelled by Barca, who remember had won 7 trophies the previous season and were increasingly looking invincible. In fact Maradona had gone so far to say the Final line-up would be Real Madrid vs Barcelona.

However, what people forget was Chelsea was not always this bad in their form. They had reached 6 consecutive semi-finals! In 2009, Barcelona literally stole the semi-final against a far superior Chelsea to win the Champions League that season. It marked the beginning of their ascension. There would be retributions though. 2012 would be the answer. Barca had never beaten Chelsea. That record would remain untarnished.

Di Matteo took up a strategy to wall the defence realising the form of the players and the injuries. People not having watched Chelsea play before were amazed to see such defensive play. Angered by it perhaps. But it was the best thing to do under those circumstances. Chelsea blocked like mad. Every attack by Barca almost resulted in a goal. Yet, almost. Never quite. Just before the first half, Drogba somehow found the ball and scored. At the end of the first leg, with 76% possession Barcelona still lost to Chelsea who had 1 goal from 1 attempt. There would still remain the return leg.

In the midst of it though, Barcelona lost the El-Clasico to Real to lose 2 successive matches for the first time in over 2 years. Also effectively losing the Spanish league to Real. Return leg. Barcelona. Chelsea were defending like mad. Iniesta however found an outlet and scored at around the 30 min. mark. That was it. Aggregate was equal. Nou Camp roared. Then as an even bigger setback Terry was red carded. Wow! With a strategy to play 11–0–0, Chelsea had lost their biggest brick in the wall. 10 man Chelsea against Barcelona for 50+ minutes. And then Chelsea was torn apart with another goal. It was all over for Chelsea remarked the commentator. 1 man down. 2–1 down in aggregate. No way could this English team recover. Yet somehow before half-time, Chelsea put in a goal through Ramires, to leave the scores at 2–1. Ahead by away goals on aggregate. Which meant, Barcelona had to score, again. And Chelsea could go back to defending.

More drama was to follow. Drogba conceded a penalty which I felt was deeply unfair. Messi went to take it. And guess what, he skied it. He never scored against Chelsea. In the meantime, Barcelona kept attacking and being pushed away by the Chelsea defence which was still one player short, Petr Cech, who was playing like his last match and the crossbars. And then at the 90 minute mark, Torres who had just been substituted scored another to put the nail in Barcelona’s coffin. 2–2 at Nou Camp. 3–2 aggregate. Messi was crying. I was experiencing schadenfreude.

The stats next day read that Barcelona had 81% possession. And still lost on aggregate. Oh and Chelsea had 4 players suspended for the final including their captain. Plus a hell lot of injuries meant, Chelsea had to ask a kid (17 year old) to debut in the final! That was like a first in some 10–20 years. Yes! That is how makeshift the squad was!

Oh, and in the meantime, Chelsea went on to slam ‘King Kenny’ led Liverpool for an FA Cup victory. At least the season wouldn’t be trophyless. And Drogba had scored the winner like most other FA Cup finals. The usual. But they had finished the league sixth. They would not play in CL for the first time in like 10 years. Unless they won the final.

Bayern were way too strong according to sports commentators. And the final would be at the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s home ground. In fact, their fans croaked that they would win da. At home. No team before had done that. But the odds were high for Bayern to do so this time especially against a weakened and out of form Chelsea.

Yeah, I thought. With so many players suspended and injured, there was no way Chelsea could win. Yet, there was something magical about that season. Something inexplicable about how they had defied every odd to reach the finals. As if it was written in the stars. Heynckes, Bayern’s coach had predicted that without their core defenders (who were injured/suspended), Chelsea, couldn’t afford another defensive outing. But defense was what he got. They defended for 81 minutes before Muller pumped one past Cech. And it was devastating. Bayern acted like they had won the cup. Muller was substituted for a defender. Chelsea brought on Torres. They had 8 minutes to change the outcome of a tournament which was slipping away. Bayern had to hold for those 8.

Chelsea attacked for the first time that match. Torres’ persistence resulted in a corner. The first corner of the match for Chelsea. Bayern had already taken 12–13. Mata curled it and Drogba bulleted the ball in. The net reacted. As did the crowd. 1–1. 88 minutes. Allianz Arena was having a seizure. The effect had still not sunk in. And the commentator remarked, it had to be Drogba. It had to be. Because of him, Chelsea had lost the 2009 final. He had to step up in his last match for Chelsea. Yes. He would be leaving at the end of the season. Heynckes couldn’t believe it. Neither could I, actually. The match went to Extra time.

Lo. Drogba conceded another penalty. In Extra time! Who does that? Hero to villain in 10 minutes. Robben, ex-Chelsea player took it. Cech blocked it! Wow! I needed some whisky here! What were the odds of opponents missing penalties, 2 matches straight? Who cares? Chelsea were defying them anyway. The match petered on to penalties, with Chelsea somehow holding on despite some late Bayern onslaught.

1st shot. Bayern score. Mata misses for Chelsea! 1–0. In fact Bayern would go on to score the first 3. Score 3–1. English teams never won penalties. German teams always won them. Besides statistically, the team taking the first penalty won. But… Cech blocked the next. Chelsea scored. Score 3–3 at the end of 4 penalties. Schweinsteiger would take the final one. Cech pawed it away. Just. But enough. Drogba went up take take Chelsea’s final shot. Yes. He scored. With his final kick.

4–3 on penalties. 5–4 overall.

And that was the greatest comeback in a season. For any team. In any sport. This was not a team of nobodies who won. As popularised in most Hollywood flicks. It was a great team. Who had lost their way. Temporarily. And then they won. And that is what was amazing about that team! In fact, throughout the tournament not a single referee decision went in their favour. Penalties were awarded against them. Players were suspended. Others called injured. So, it would be cheap to reduce it to luck. That would be how Barcelona won in 2010. Or ManU won matches in the Ferguson era. This was a far greater exhibition of a back from the dead story. Matteo was the hero.

Any Chelsea fan would know, of course. Correction: Any football fan should.

At a loss of words

The problem with Facebook…

Facebook is a mind numbingly terrifying place to visit. I tried browsing the site quite after quite a few days, weeks I think and the experience was less than pleasant. Okay that was an euphemism. Perhaps I’m being hypersensitive; but the amount of hatred in the digital world is so large. As a matter of personal choice and principle, I don’t interact too much with people who I don’t know well enough. And among the ones I do, I choose to keep away unless I feel that I can contribute something to a discussion. And yet my newsfeed is strewn with angry statuses and counter arguments. The problem is that most of these discussions tend to linger on pointless issues anyway or deeply divisive ones. And instead of a healthy discussion aimed towards arriving at a conclusion, there are snide remarks aplenty or passing condescension aimed at someone. Such is the regularity of these posts, I almost feel that I need Tanmay Bhatt’s skin and weight to manage. (The weight part was because I need to aggressively increase my BMI, which is similarly terrifying!).

To be very clear here, the posts or comments are not directed at hating anyone. No. It’s the casual insults that appall me the most. After the last session of browsing, which robbed me of 3 hours of sunlight and fresh air, I have learned how certain people are more bigoted than others. And how some people respond to insults in a certain way. How some people were up to great things (while I was up to nothing as great )! And the general news. Which is also not very pretty either. And at the end of it, I was terrified about commenting or updating my status, lest I receive some polite hatred. Trust me, I can state my opinions firmly and logically. I do that eloquently on Quora, which by the way is a brilliant site, with content quality midway between StackExchange sites and Facebook. I don’t want snobbish status updates. Or some laughter riot. Or some kind of an information deluge. But there needs to be some sensibility and balance.

My Facebook footprint is minimal at best. And after today, I aim to keep it that way. Here is a summary of what I’ll miss:

*The usual dp updates*

*OMG! BTW, I just ate ….*

*random status*

-comment 1: you are stupid and ur status makes no sense.

*ooh…I just got selected for so and so*

*im cming to delhi…anyone there?*

*i despise left/right wing ideology or God/religion etc*

-hate comments follow

The last one is particularly interesting. I have nothing against an opinion. It’s after all yours. And you are free to have them. But I do have issues, when it stokes hatred. I am okay if you like someone or some opinion or some *thing*. But if you say you *hate* someone or something, then you are intentionally hurting that someone else for the sole purpose of satisfying your ego. I’m sorry. But I won’t subscribe to that. Intelligent trolling is amusing especially when the person who is being mocked in the joke also laughs with you. But if it’s plain insulting, which is what most posts on my newsfeed have reduced to becoming, I’d rather browse Quora.


I’ll end by quoting one of my own statuses on Facebook which I put up a while back:

It’s amazing that a revolutionary mode of transport was tested to be a success for the first time yesterday and all updates I see on my newsfeed is about Trump, Islam, Modi, Somalia, Rape, Deaths, Mallya, money laundering, abuse…you get the idea.

And we ask what’s wrong with the world. Why bother?

This was after the day, the Hyperloop was tested. In fact a series of such statuses made me propose a modification to Godwin’s (so called) Law for the Indian context. It is as follows:

As an online conversation grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Kejriwal, Marxism or God approaches 1.

And sadly that is the how the Indian net behaves. I hope I am proved wrong. But till then, I’d happily prefer reading some great content by people I don’t know than some vitriolic banter, even if it’s from people I (half) know. Anyday.


What you see is NOT what you get!

Or perhaps it is…let’s find out…

Another discussion. Also a while ago. But I thought that I’d type it out before I left Stephens and my comfortable room: S-9. So the discussion began like this… No, wait! It had already begun. In fact, I could here screams (or whelps) from two rooms adjacent to mine. I presumed that either someone was getting slain in some heroic duel or perhaps Arnab Goswami had paid our block a visit. In any event, my curiosity had to be satiated and what better way than to peek from a safe distance. The art of peeking is quite intricate and I’ll dedicate another blog post to that. But it’ll suffice to say that it begins with something along the lines that you mistook their room to be someone else’s and before they realise that you are a fraud, you rove your eyes about the room and scoot with enough of their secrets now safe in your cerebrum. Or was it hypothalamus. Okay, somewhere in the region above your medulla oblongata.

But this peek proved to be different. Of all the topics possible, they were discussing Reality and God! Sigh! Ultra-mega-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-sigh! I mean, there is world hunger, poverty, terrorism, oh, and more importantly, class tests and university exams and all that they could discuss were whether the world we were living in was real? (God will take up another post!) Woohoo!! Then they were just my kind of people and I sidled into the room uninvited but excited nonetheless.

So, usually, there is this perfunctory introduction about your name and blah blah.. which no one really cares about anyway. Yeah. Well, that didn’t happen here. I was instead subjected to decide immediately in favour of a debate which had been ensuing for quite a while before curiosity asked me to check out the murders happening 2 rooms next to mine! Oh, it was marvellous. Entreaties were made and convincing arguments put forward. I could not be a realist agnostic: I had to choose. Well, and choose I did. Silenced them up a bit as suddenly they ganged up on me. Poor folks. Humanities types, all of them. Their arguments were getting more and more ridiculous till they suddenly claimed, that perhaps the world doesn’t exist the way we see it, neither does the window or the door through which I entered. I snapped back. I asked the most agitated guy to jump out of the window if he didn’t believe in gravity. That sobered them up for a while. But only just.

So, I did a bit of reading on my own instead. A particular TED talk by Donald Hoffman was most interesting as was a recent article I read on The Atlantic while perusing Facebook. Nonetheless, that is what compelled me to sit down and type. anyway. So here we go:

The crux of his article and talk focussed on how or why “a fitness function” was all that was essential for the survival of a species. And that when simulating mathematical models which mimicked evolution, those species survived who maximised the fitness function than those who maximised the reality function. It’ll be important to take a step back here to understand that a fitness function or a reality function is a parameter in any simulation which abstracts the species whose evolution we are mapping, to a system which inputs certain parameters and outputs certain values. Corresponding to changes in these parameters: fitness and reality, we see how these simulations map out. Now, we usually want or expect certain values to be spat out by the simulation program. If these conform with those in tune with the parameters suggested by Hoffman et al., we know that these affect the system, and thus by extrapolation, also the organism whose evolution we are mapping.


It turns out that Hoffman and his team found that fitness rather than reality defined the evolution of a species and in Darwin’s lingo would be the fittest to survive.

The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.

That could have been a surprising proposition. But I’ll suggest a few arguments below which might lead you to consider such an excitement premature if not futile. In fact, I think he goes on to make a few more sensational claims following this regarding quantum physics and the observer effect which make them more dubious. Here is what he says:

The neuroscientists are saying, “We don’t need to invoke those kind of quantum processes, we don’t need quantum wave functions collapsing inside neurons, we can just use classical physics to describe processes in the brain.” I’m emphasizing the larger lesson of quantum mechanics: Neurons, brains, space … these are just symbols we use, they’re not real. It’s not that there’s a classical brain that does some quantum magic. It’s that there’s no brain! Quantum mechanics says that classical objects—including brains—don’t exist. So this is a far more radical claim about the nature of reality and does not involve the brain pulling off some tricky quantum computation.

He could be a genius. As Phoebe in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.  pointed out,

The mark of a genius is not being appreciated in one’s time!

But, I’m inclined to disagree here! Yes, sadly, I feel that Hoffman hasn’t struck gold as he might have led the gullible editors of The Atlantic to believe.

Firstly, quantum mechanics says nothing to the tune of brains not existing. They say that any object can be described by a quantum state and that for a large enough system, there would be way too many external influences such that it would well nigh impossible to consider the whole thing as a system. And with the system being so messy, it would be impossible to practically apply Quantum Mechanics. Thus classical mechanics tends to rule in these realms. (Yay, Newton!) What I think Hoffman and most popular science readers miss is that: The moon exists even if we do not look at it. (Einstein was philosophically musing! It doesn’t make sense to extrapolate each and every sentence of his! Phew!) Because such a system is hopelessly entangled with many other systems. And we, the observer, are either one of those systems or interacting with it anyway to make any meaningful observation which could be theoretically described. Thus, Penrose is right, when he claims that the brains need to be looked at classically. Yep, one could look at possible tunnelling effects vis a vis neurons, which are strictly quantum, but it is important to realise that this says nothing about the brain not being there. Or the moon for that matter. Or you. Yes, quantum mechanics doesn’t preach anything as such. (Sigh!)

Lastly, Hoffman’s simulation is flawed. His simulation holds an inherent bias. He takes reality and fitness to be independent parameters and plots the survival of various species. That, of course, will lead to the conclusion as posited by Chetan Prakash’s theorem, if we can call it that. A species which survives maximises its fitness. Then we check whether it maximises “reality” or “fitness”. Obviously, it’s a foregone conclusion that fitness will be maximised. Because incredibly that is the assumption that we have set out with. Hoffman chose fitness as an independent parameter from reality and found what was expected, that fitness needs to maximised for survival. A principle enshrined in Darwin’s “Survival of the fittest” paradigm. He chose reality as an independent parameter. In short, his findings are nothing spectacular at all.

At least that is what I understood from the presentation on TED and the article on The Atlantic. I did try running a search on Google Scholar, but it was pretty hard finding it. Maybe you could blame me for lack of effort, but this is more than what I am willing to do in my hobby time.

In any event, I believe that one needs to run a correlation simulation between “fitness” and “reality”. And see why or in which areas, deviations from reality, provide a better fitness. Unlike Plato, I don’t think we will find data which points to us being twice removed from reality. Such a species will perish. The obvious places to look for deviations from reality would be to enhance data abstraction or encapsulation of more data. But, the closest thing to an example, Hoffman provides is the icon on a desktop PC. (None from the real world.) However, I beg to differ here as well. In the case of our PC, we make a conscious effort to avoid the more intricate details. If we opened the CPU, we would still find the wiring.

When we look at a human being, we don’t see bones and flesh. Or blood. That doesn’t mean that we don’t see reality.

It only means we choose not to. And that’s a difference. A big one.


Final Day Musings

Last post from S-9, Mukarji East

Don’t you worry child! Heaven’s got a plan for you… -Swedish House Mafia



You can’t read music. You can dance to it, feel it and yes, listen to it. But you can’t simply read it. You could always read poetry perhaps, but music transcends that, by far. And as I said some time back:

Art is how we celebrate space, music is how we celebrate time.


While I while away my last day at Stephens writing this blog post, Swedish House Mafia is providing the juste mood to set in. The word juste is so appropriate here. But we’ll not relapse into etymological origins, right yet. Partings are always hard, but I have always been this emotional rock. I don’t cry at partings. I don’t shed tears post goodbyes. Which is why it’s amazing that memories swirl around me like a blur as I start packing up.

It’s said that sadness makes you appreciate happiness. I would beg to differ here. Melancholia is a far more profound feeling than mirth can ever match up to. Which is why a movie which makes you cry at the end of it sticks with you more than those which provide a few laughs. Nostalgia is inherently a sad expression. No, it doesn’t reduce you to tears. But it’s far stronger than what a wan smile could provide.

Yes, one can’t control time. And I am sure that we’ll never be to reverse it. That makes me glad! Some memories deserve to remain untouched, no matter how hard. Because a function of such a series of events is why you are who you are. And I wouldn’t want to change that. Sure, you could always improve. But, it would be cheap to simply discard certain moments just because we feel that it’s not the way we imagined how that moment would play out in its perfection. And it’s those scratches of imperfection that makes it so memorable.

As Dr Seuss said: Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.


That is what memory is: when you train your mind’s eye back in time and feel this latent sadness because you can’t relive those moments again. But you smile inward because they happened nonetheless. And you are glad for it. To them who shared those moments with you. Nobody can take that. Ever!

“Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.”

Allen Saunders wrote it. John Lennon broke my heart with it. And St. Stephen’s explained it to me. Beautifully.

Thanks for the memories.


What makes a superhero?

And what unmakes him…

There was a particular scene in Kill Bill II, where Bill tells the bride something which sets Superman apart from any other superhero. I found the lines to be brilliant commentary in an otherwise gory overkill of a movie:

As you know, l’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book, not particularly well-drawn, but the mythology. The mythology is not only great, it’s unique…

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.

Bruce Wayne had to become more than himself to stand out. Clark Kent had to become Clark Kent to not. I’ll leave it at that.

Making Sense: 1.0

The not so fundamental fundamentals of arithmetic.

One plus two equals three. That’s a true statement. As true as they come actually. You cannot argue with that. Of course, if you wish to sound smart, you may say what if we are using a binary basis? (The system used by computers to count). But we ignore the heuristics here. The numbers are defined in a basis they make sense in. Arithmetic thus makes sense. But does it? Let’s look around some of the most fundamental pillars of logic and see if they hold up to scrutiny.

In fact, why does 2 follow 1? Why not 1.3 or 1.999? What does it mean when we define addition as we have defined above? Well, it’s easy to define any natural number (apart from 1) actually. You can define any successive (natural) number by saying that you increment it by 1. That’s neat. But it shifts the burden of proof to defining what “sum” is and more importantly what “1” is.

1117094_73120387Dedekind and Peano spent some portion of their lifetimes on this. In mild terms, they started by taking axioms. Mathematicians use this lingo, whenever, there is a true statement which cannot be proven within that system. It’s basically an assumption. But don’t let that dishearten you yet. Because, lo, “addition” or “sum” is defined. This means that we can say no more than 1+1 =2. You can’t say anything more. You can’t explain that. It’s a fact which you have to swallow. We don’t say why. It’s not important. But mainly because we can’t.

Numbers are one of the first real abstractions performed by the human mind. You can have one apple or two apples. Or three or a stomach ache if you want more! But, when we count, we are performing one of the most fundamental operations in Mathematics, addition. You are basically abstracting certain density distribution repetitions as discrete objects which should be counted. Of course, the density distribution might remain uniform extendedly like in space for example. (I don’t mean outer space here, but any space actually. Sure, outer space would also work!) In such a case, drawing a curve or line through them, we see we cannot subdivide them into discrete points, or separated density distribution repetitions. Perhaps, if we become tiny enough, we might be able to see whether the pencil lead which drew the line fell at discrete steps or not. But for now, we make the assumption, that space is continuous, backed heavily by experiments and the need for physical laws we have formulated to hold forte. So how do we count these infinite set of points. (Infinity, by the way, is a number which is larger than the largest number you can think of.) Turns out we don’t need to. Instead, we make use of another approximation. We know that we can only count discrete repetitions. And we can count things which can be counted. (This (apparently) rules out trying to count the number of sand grains in the Sahara desert or the number of water droplets in the Pacific. Possibly, one could approximate the total volume and use elementary chemistry: Avogadro’s no. etc arrive at about a limiting value. And since this would be a finite a number, it would be countable. The number of points in a line though is ‘proven’ to be uncountable and infinite. Of course, infinite things, if they can be properly labeled can be counted as well: the set of Rational Numbers is an example.) Of course, the first two are far easier to count than the last one. Because a point is smaller than the smallest thing you can imagine. And water drops and sand grains are pretty large in comparison to any “stuff” that we may imagine!

As we notice that the problem always arises with infinities. Here we get a problem because we can’t count an infinite set of points. Instead, we take a certain distance and define it to be our 1. Then we proceed like normal counting. Each time we subdivide our interval, we redefine our smallest unit of measure. It’s also known as the Least Count. Thus, depending on how deep we wish to go, we can count in intervals of 1, 0.1, 0.00000…1 etc. That’s entirely up to us. But as we know that there are always infinite sets of numbers between any 2 of such smallest units.

That ends part 1.0. Next, we’ll start with part 2.0. Nah, 1.1. Or perhaps 1.01. But it’s just my notation anyway. And also the rest of the world’s.