Monday, June 16, 2008

Scientists in Wonderland

Over last few weeks I have interacted a lot with young science students in various communities of Orkut. These have been Physics, Biology or Maths students. The Orkut Physics community is so active, it is difficult to keep pace with it. As an observer of the community from outside I have some interesting observations about the community of budding physicists of India (most of the members were Indians).

For many of the physicists, science is very dear to heart. Much too dear for comfort. These obviously 'in-love-with-science' guys seek a reflection of their fantasies in physical laws. Most of these are drawn to science after being impressed with science fiction stories. As religion is more and more relegated to realm of mythology, it is just too incapable of supporting the expectations of scientifically exposed youngsters. For the fantasy of time-travel, super-weapons, non-earthly life-forms, teleportation, communication with past, etc to come true, they must be sanctioned by science. Religion/Gods would no longer do.

But science can be very stubborn. Consequently, these people dream of scientific sanction of their fantasies. A very effective way to do this is to claim that current scientific knowledge has no way of indubitably refuting such extraordinary things. Then they go further and claim that all of this is actually possible in some forseeble technology, when we learn to harness the 'wormholes' which are 'obviously' present everywhere. Why, General Relativity obviously allows this ! Or in future we will be able to create mini black holes to have indefinite energy sources. Of course Einstein himself predicted this ... or errr .. maybe Hawking ... details doesn't matter ... it is all the same !

If not General Relativity, we have the Quantum Theory which 'proves' existence of parallel universes, where all such extraordinary devices are the norm. And it is just a matter of time when we know how to transcend the universe barrier and learn all these new techniques. Actually even better, in some parallel universe every one has his own 'copy' which uses these devices as a matter of daily routine.

Aren't such extra ordinary things a modern incarnation of our age old myths about souls, demons, Gods, spirits, etc ? We have merely become smarter in deluding ourselves. Now we don't explicitly mention religion, but we fool ourselves nevertheless. Make no mistake, all these enlightened physicists will promptly dispatch any religious bigot who wanders their sacred precincts. They will not tolerate any talk about Avatar, Allah, Trinity and likewise. Instead they have new Almighties - Quantum Theory & General Relativity. It is actually not a monotheistic religion. To be sure there are other lesser Gods (who derive their power from these two bigger Gods) - anti-matter, dark energy, negative gravitation, infinite energy, singularity, parallel universes, black holes, event horizon, aliens, etc etc. All these may or may not be objects of scientific investigation, but they sure are worthy of worship. This is an entire ecology of deities.

Sometimes these high priests quarrel about details of this and that, but ultimately most of them reach a consensus. How couldn't they ? They are modern citizens of a liberal mature democracy ... and a 'secular' one too, which doesn't favor any particular religion. This is a high ferment of social ideals and scientific laws.

The only hitch is the pesky experiments .. they just refuse to budge.

How undemocratic ! How tyrannical !! How barbaric !!!

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ambedkar University

So much of halla-gulla happens in the name of reservation in this country. First the OBC row, then the current Gujjar row plus the perennial dalit agitations. I have a very good idea for the guys seeking reservation in University admission.

Open one new university for graduate courses in each state with 100% reserved quota for students, faculty, staff, administration and in general whoever is concerned with the university. Also open a few new colleges of the same kind affiliated to the university for undergraduate courses. Call all these universities Ambedkar University - 1, 2, 3 etc maybe attaching the name of the state also.

Also for so called professional courses let us also open 10 new IITs, 5 new IIMs, 5 new AIIMSs, and so on with the same condition. We will call these IITs as Ambedkar Indian Institute of Technology - 1, 2, 3 etc.

The govt should also pass a new law, with amendment of constitution that for every new university/institute/college it opens, it has to also open one Ambedkar university/institute/college of the same kind with full govt funding. We can also waive the tution fees for everybody studying in those Ambedkar's.

And after that we will remove reservation from rest of the universities/institutes/colleges of India.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Might is right - 1

As is common among all the social species, we humans also have a hierarchy of dominance built into our social relationships. I am not talking about the inherently asymmetric personal/biological relationships though they also have a dominance structure. To be specific I am not discussing here siblings, parent-child, husband-wife and personal-friendship. My concern here is of things which pervades the society macroscopically. This is in some sense a follow-up to concept of beauty article. I want to understand how dominance hierarchy shapes our perception of beauty.

Let me start with ugliness. What are the things considered ugly ? Who are the people usually considered ugly ? What aspects of them makes them ugly ? Are we conditional in judging ugliness of some particular aspects ? Some obvious ugliness candidates are bad personal hygiene, obviously abusive language, unnecessary violent behavior, etc. But here I am discounting all such personal eccentricities. My concern here is branding ugly of a certain group of people disregarding the individual members of that group. We may have personal friendship with members of that group even though perceiving their stock as ugly. The traits which gets branded as ugly are often cultural ones or derived/inherited from their social milieu. These people are also often lower down in the social dominance hierarchy. In short they are 'ugly' because the 'handsome' have won over them. This 'victory' is in whatever sense considered as a contemporary 'currency of power'.

Currency of power in itself is a dynamic object. In various times and milieu it has varied a lot but most such currencies correlate with each other. In tribal times, size of the tribe may have been the biggest factor determining power (so as to achieve greater food security and availability of mates, maybe also by plundering other tribes) so this was the currency of power for those times. In ancient historic times it was military power, which also correlates with size of group but is majorly influenced by technology. So the mongols who had topkhana under Babur had a greater currency of power over the vastly numerous indians. Same holds in the middle ages, though the power was gradually shifting to western societies again facilitated by technology. The primitive technology of asians and africans was no match for the steam powered industrial might of europeans. Here technology becomes a currency of power and strongly correlates with military might. This also correlates with size of the population. Witness the fact that share of people of european descent has increased in tandem with their control over world (and currently falling share of their population is a precursor of their decline). In modern ages, west's continued its forward march and its dominance of world was comprehensive untill about 30 years ago. Asian resurgence is a new phenomenon and naturally not without repercussions, we'll see this later. Especially in modern ages, financial prosperity becomes more and more a denominator of power. In today's sterile (i.e war abhorrent) times, military might is superseded by financial/economic/commercial prowess as a currency of power, though they are still correlated.

Whatever is the contemporary currency of power, it not only enables dominance of people, but for some psychological reasons also subjugates their minds. So the victor are designated more handsome, more cultured, more sophisticated and better in almost every respects not just by the victors but also by the losers. I am most fascinated by the beauty equation of this struggle. But unlike concept of beauty, here I will concern with much more than mere physical appearance. In the next few articles I will talk about power versus physical appearance, language, dramas, movies, music, and most surprisingly jokes.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The concept of beauty - 3

This is to follow-up my earlier articles Part-1 and Part-2. After thinking about the last point "Hierarchy of Power / Politics", I feel it is a much broader subject than just about beauty. I intend to write about it in greater detail and will deal with it in a new article. I hope to finish this project soon.

Happy reading !

Edit :: Over to the new article

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Indian Music Scene

Since its arrival, movie-based music has a firm grip over indian popular music. I am not very sure about the popular music of pre-movie era but some of the ingredients undoubtedly were nautanki, mujra, bhajans, kawwaliis, etc. Today all of this is subsumed within movie-based music. The unfortunate part of it is assembly line production of lyrics, music and singers (don't most of them sing alike ?). I am amazed at the number of distinct songs produced on a single theme (which are mostly on love, seperation or reunion). Surprisingly they occasionally come up with good likeable scores.

As an aside, I am always impressed by the western chart busters. Even though they also have a assembly line of Britney/Vengaboys and their ilk, they deal with a much wider range of emotions and themes than Indian music. The frequency with which they come up with new genres is also very amazing. The Rock movement of 70-80s and Jazz instantly come to my mind. But Rap of 90s and Hip Hop of today are also western innovations. But I am getting astray ... will talk about music genre some other time. On Hindi film music ... these days, we do have some songs which are varied in their themes like Rang de Basanti. Am not too confindent whether this is a trend but I hope so.

In fact, if I analyze my own personal prefenences ... am also influenced by the same dictum so much so that I almost completely ignore non film based music as do all the radio and television channels, in spite of the fact that non-movie music is also assembly-line produced by very much the same guys. As such, there is no reason for such a behaviour, and I can't really give any solid reason for non-movie music not registering in my mind .... it must have something to do with the society I grew up in. This is not true of non-indian music, the appreciation of which is not influenced by my upbringing, and so movies are not any criterion for my registering it.

Here I am talking primarily of Hindi music. And I am sure such a phenomenon holds for other indian languages also.

Friday, May 12, 2006

An Indian Idiosyncracy

Chai - wai ... doodh - woodh ... paani -waani ... khana - waana ...

These utterenaces are so utterly familiar to us, we hardly ever contemplate about them. It usually never strikes us that this is a typical Indian idiosyncracy. As far as I know, nothing of this sort is prevalent in non-indian languages. This is one of the fascinating things, which seems so innocuos at face value but is so surprising if you think about it.

What does it tell about our society ? How did it evolve ? Did we inherit it from other languages ? When did it first make its appearance ? What changes happened in out society which made this popular ? Why is this so pan Indian ? These any many numerous questions come to my mind of which I have no answer at the moment. But I would like to say something about the form it takes.

  1. Marathis usually put a "Bee" sound for this effect. e.g, khaana - beena, raasta - beesta, etc. The interesting thing is that they also change the starting vowel sound.
  2. UP'ites (near Kanpur, Lucknow) do not change the starting vowel sound but add "A" sound. e.g, khaana-aana, paani-aani, etc.
  3. Biharis, some UPites add "W" sound and keep the staring vowel sound intact. Like the examples I gave at the start of this article. Incidentally this is the form preferred in literature. (I am also a Bihari, BTW).
  4. Bengalis add a "T" sound and like the Biharis keep the vowel intact.
  5. Punjabis do this trick with "Sh" sound. movie-shoovie, rotti-shotti, etc.

I am sure the south Indian languages must be having their own such idiosyncracies. And the special form it takes must be having the same diversity so typical of India and her languages. The Marathis stand out in this great Indian melee by changing the starting vowel. Please let me know of the particulars of other languages like Gujarati, Oriya, Assamiya, Kannada, Telugu, Mallu, etc. The only language I suspect this to be absent is Tamil. But am not sure.

Can somebody enlighten me ?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The concept of beauty - 2

[part 1]
Let me analyze the factors which shape our perceptions of beauty. Firstly comes the purely personal ones, which are highly subjective in nature. A person in love with somebody will rate his love interest as the most beautiful object ever designed and surprisingly the effect is real (I needn't invoke any personal experience as anybody who has ever been in love will attest to it). Same goes for besotted parents regarding their children. But such highly personal reasons are not the object of current investigation. I want to talk about the factors which apply for a very large section of the population and which in general has a societal sanction. This societal sanction is the object of my study but before that let me discuss some (largely) biological factors.
  1. Fertility / Virility. Anything that is associated with greater mateability/parentability and/or indicates better health/genes viz symmetric faces/bodies, proper waist/hip ratio, ample breasts, smoothness of skin, etc etc ... all these only underline the primarily sexual nature of beauty perception and is obvious to all.
  2. Conformance to the Average. In any society a face/body which does not deviate too far from the average is usually considered beautiful. This has strong evolutionary underpinnings - since most of the surviving adults are likely to harbor good genes (otherwise they would have perished in womb / childhood), so large deviations from average shape/size must indicate faulty genes.
  3. Relative Rarity. This one is in some sense opposite to the 2nd factor and is more complicated. These rarities are also deviations from average but not in the direction of deformity. I am referring to biological rarity in a *small group* like most curvaceous / shapely / buxom / beautiful voice / etc. These relatively rare attributes are almost always judged beautiful as their fertility/virility is *better* than average. How do we subconsciously judge some deviations as good versus others as bad is a fascinating subject of study itself. There are other rarities like green/blue eyes whose status as *beautiful* simply flummoxes me.

Now allow me to turn the spotlight on the societal / cultural factors, which due to its ever changing dynamics are much more interesting and often reveals unknown facets of our own personality.
  1. Upbringing. Let me illustrate this with an example. In ancient Greece the golden ratio (roughly 1.618) was considered especially beautiful (can't term it anything other than a fad) and all the buildings/arenas adhered to this ratio. And all the ancient Greeks agreed that it is the most appealing ratio. Guess what our modern-age kids rate as the most appealing ratio - the rectangle corresponding to television ! That is what they are exposed day and night .. any surprizes ??? Any wonder we Indians blindly equate fair = beautiful.
  2. Fashion. This one is the most whimsical yet extremely interesting factor at work. Throughout human history we have all kinds of rational / irrational whims regarding beauty. The Chinese's foot fetish comes to my mind as a typical irrational fad just as the super-thin emaciated look of today's ramp models. At the rational end of the spectrum, we have the ancient Peruvian's penchant for fat females, (though fat is probably a wrong word to say, as in all probability their beautiful females might just be pleasingly plump) as they are likely to be better at bearing babies than the general starved human population. The archaeological extract of a obese female figurine is most certainly a exaggeration of this preference and may be used only as worship purposes (notice the super sexy bodies of our own Goddesses as depicted in ancient temples - most certainly general population were not so well-fed to achieve those luscious curves). One question comes to my mind : is the preference for thinness today the result of overabundance of food (the reasoning going like - the thinner might better be able to digest in this age of glut, and escape diseases related to over eating) ?
  3. Hierarchy of Power / Politics. This is the one factor which I find most interesting and will talk about in the next article.
Happy Reading ! [part 3]

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