“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

This line is a very common refrain that one often hears in faculty rooms or professors’ cabins, in engineering colleges in India.

Speaking in factual terms, there is a lot of truth to it. The assertion itself is overwhelmingly true. The fact that the student has never looked into a good (or “reference” or “foreign authors'”) text is immediately plain and clear to anyone who has ever graded their examination papers, or worked as an examiner on the oral/viva voce examinations.

The undergraduate Indian students these days, esp. those in Pune and Mumbai, and esp. those in the private engineering colleges, always refer to only a locally published text for all their studies.

These texts are published by a few local publishers well known to the students (and their professors). I wouldn’t mind dropping a few names: Nirali, Pragati, TechMax, etc. The books are published at almost throw-away prices (e.g. Rs. 200–300). (There also exists a highly organized market for the second-hand books. No name written, no pencil marks? Some 75% of the cost returned. Etc. There is a bold print, too—provided, the syllabus hasn’t changed in the meanwhile. In that case, there is no resale value whatsoever!)

The authors of these texts themselves are professors in these same private engineering colleges. They know the system in and out. No, I am not even hinting at any deliberate fraud or malpractice here. Quite on the contrary.

The professors who write these local text-books often are enthusiastic teachers themselves. You would have to be very enthusiastic, because the royalties they “command” could be as low as a one-time payment of Rs. 50,000/- or so. The payment is always only a one-time payment (meaning, there are no recurring royalties even if a text book becomes a “hit”), and it never exceeds Rs. 1.5 lakhs lump-sum or so. (My figures are about 5 year old.) Even if each line is copied verbatim from other books, the sheer act of having to write down (and then proof-read) some 200 to 350 pages requires for the author to invest, I have been told, between 2 to 4 months, working overtime, neglecting family and all. The monthly salary of these professors these days can easily approach or exceed Rs. 1 lakh. So, clearly, money is not the prime motivation here. It has to be something else: Enthusiasm, love of teaching, or even just the respect or reputation that an author hopes to derive in the sub-community of these local engineering colleges!

These professors—the authors—also often are well experienced (15–40 years of teaching experience is common), and they know enough to know what kind of examination questions are likely to come up on the university examinations. (They themselves have gone through the same universities.) They write these books targeting only task: writing the marks-scoring answers on those university examinations. Thus, these “text” books are more or less nothing but a student aid (or what earlier used to be called the “guide” books).

It in fact has evolved into a separate genre by itself. Contrary to an impression wide-spread among professors of private engineering colleges in India, there in fact are somewhat similar books also used heavily by the students in the USA. Thus, these local Indian books are nothing but an improvised version of the Schaums’ series in science and engineering (or the Sparks Notes in the humanities, in the US schools).

But there is a further feature here. There is a total customization thrown in here. These local books are now-a-days written (or at least adapted) to exactly match the detailed syllabus of each university separately. So, there are different books, by the same author and for the same subject, but one for Mumbai University, and the other for Pune University, etc. Students never mix up the universities.

The syllabus for each university is followed literally, down to dividing the text into chapters as per the headings of the modules mentioned in the syllabus (usually six per course), and dividing each chapter into sections, with the headings and order of these sections strictly following the order and the letter of the syllabus. The text in each section is followed by a compilation of the past university examination questions (of that same university) pertaining to that particular section alone. Most of these past examination questions are solved in the text—that’s the bulk of the book. When the opening page of a chapter lists the sections in it, the list also carries, in the parentheses, whether this section is “theory” or “numericals”.

Overall, the idea is, even just looking at the “text” book, a student can easily anticipate whether a question is likely to be asked on a given section or not, and if yes, of what kind. The students also work out many logics: “Every semester, they have asked a question on this section. So we have to mug it up well.” Or, playing the “contra”: “Last three semesters, not a single question here? It’s going to come this time round.” Etc. (Yes, I followed this practice in my lectures, too—I did want my students to score well on the final university examinations, after all!)

The customization, for each revision of the syllabus of each university, is done down to that level of detail. So, for the first year course on electrical engineering, you have one text-book of title, say, Electrical Engg. (FE), Pune University, 2012 course, and another text book, now of the title, say, Basic Electrical Technology (FE), Mumbai University, 2011 course. Etc.

That’s what I mean, when I use the phrase the “local” text-books.

I certainly don’t mean the SI Units editions of American texts, or the Indian Standards-adapted editions of reputed texts (such as, say, Shigley’s on design or Thomson and Dahleh’s on vibrations). I don’t mean the inexpensive Indian editions of foreign texts (such as those by Pearson, Wiley, ELBS, etc.) I also don’t mean the text-books written by the well-known Indian authors working right in India (such as those by IIT professors, and published by, say, Universities Press, Narosa, or PHI). I don’t even mean the more general text-books written for Indian universities and/or the AMIE examinations (such as those by S. Chand, Khanna, CBS, etc.). When I say “local” text-books, I specifically mean the books of the kind mentioned above.

Undergraduate students in Pune and Mumbai these days refer only to these local books.

They (really) don’t even bother to touch a good reference text, even if it’s available on the college library shelf.

In contrast, in our times, the problem was, we simply didn’t have the “foreign authors'” texts available to us—not always even in the COEP library. In those days, sometimes, such books happened to be too expensive, even for COEP’s library. And, even back then, Shahani’s text-books anyway were available. But at least, they didn’t cater to only the Pune university (they would list problems from universities as far flung as Madras, Gorakhpur, Agra, Allahabad, etc.) And, in fact, these books were generally looked down upon. Even by the students themselves.

The contrast to today’s situation is too glaring. Naturally, professors sometimes do end up saying the title line with a tone of exasperation.

Yes, I used to sometimes say that line myself, of course with sarcasm, when I taught in the late ’80s in the Pune of those days. (The situation back then was not so acute.) Almost as if by habit, I also repeated the line when I more recently taught a course at COEP (2009, FEM). However, observing students, somehow, my line had somehow begun to lose that cutting edge it once had. First, at COEP, I had the freedom to design this course (on FEM), and they did buy at least Logan and/or Cook. (Even if I was distributing my PDF notes.) And, there was something else to it, too. I somehow got a vague feel that it somehow wouldn’t be fully right to blame students (I mean COEP students in general). However, my COEP stint was only for one semester, only for one course, and only as a visiting faculty. So, the vague feel simply remained what it was—just a vague feel.

Then, recently in 2014, when I began teaching at a private engineering college in Mumbai, I once again heard this line from the other professors. And, I used it myself too. With the usual sarcasm. I did that perhaps for the most part of my first semester there.

However, some way down the line, I once again got that vague feel that, may be, something was “wrong” somewhere, even here, in Mumbai: these kids really were trying to be sincere, and yet, for some reason unknown to me, they still wouldn’t at all refer to good texts.

This is an aside, but I can tell you that it’s very easy to read the faces of the insincere people, esp. when they are young. There are some insincere students too. But, at least going by my own experience, they are in a minority. (It is a headache-some minority. Yet, by numerical magnitude alone, it certainly is in a small minority.) I am not saying this to be politically correct, or to win points from students. What I said is the factual case. In fact, my experience is that when it comes to in-sincerity, parents easily outperform their children. May be because, the specific parents that we mostly end up seeing in college are those whose kids have some problem—low attendance, fee payments, other issues, etc. The parents with whom we get to interact really well, thus, happens to be a self-selected sub-group. They aren’t necessarily representative of all parents… Yet, I am also sure that that’s not the real reason why I think parents can easily be more insincere. I think the real reason is that, at their age, the kids are actually unable to fake too much. It’s far easier for them to be sincere than to be a fake and still get away with it. They just can’t manage it, regardless of their desire. And, looking at it in a better light, I here remember what Ayn Rand had once said in a somewhat similar context, “one doesn’t start out in life by spitting on one’s own face—it’s not in the essential nature of life” or something like that. (Off-hand, I think, it was in the preface to the 25th anniversity edition of The Fountainhead.) So, the kids, by and large, are sincere. … By the time they themselves become parents—well, let’s leave that story right here. (We need them to make all those fee payments, anyway…)

So, coming back to the main thread, I would anyway generally chat with the students, and so, I started asking, esp. some of the more talkative students, the reason why they might not be referring to good texts. After all, in my lectures, I would try to provide very specific references: specific section numbers or even page numbers, in a specific edition of a specific reference text. (And these texts were available in the college library.) Why, I once had even distributed an original research paper. (It was Griffth’s seminal 1920 paper starting the field of fracture mechanics. Griffith’s argument here is rather conceptual, and the paper has surprisingly very little maths. Whatever the maths there is, it is very easily accessible to the SE students, too.)

The result of my initial attempts to understand the reason (why students don’t read good texts) was not so encouraging. The talkative students began dropping by my cabin once in a while, asking which section to use while answering a certain assignment question or so. However, they still only rarely used those better texts, when it came to actually completing their assignments. And, in the unit tests (and in the final end-sem examination), they invariably ended up quoting only the local text books (whether verbatim or not).

The exercise was, thus, futile. And yet, the students’ sincerity—at least the sincerity of their desire, as in contrast to their actions—could not be put in doubt.

So, I took it as a challenge. I set this as a problem for myself: To discover the main reason(s) why my students don’t refer to good text-books. The real underlying reason(s), regardless of whatever they otherwise did to impress me.

It took a while for me to crack the problem. I would anyway generally chat with them, enquiring where they lived, what their parents did, about their friends and brothers and sisters, etc. In addition, I would also observe, now with this new challenge somewhere at the back of my mind, how they behaved (or rushed around) in college: in hallways, labs, canteen, college ground, even at the bus-stop just outside the college, etc.

…Finally, I got it! At least one reason, a main reason, a systemic reason that applied even to those who otherwise were good, talented, curious, or just plain sincere.

As soon as I discovered the reason, I shared it with every one. In fact, I first shared it with my students, before I did with my colleagues or superiors. The answer lies in an Excel spreadsheet, here [^]. (It actually was created in OpenOffice Calc, on Windows 7.)  Go ahead, download it, and play with it a bit. The embedded formulae should be self-explanatory.

The numbers used in the spreadsheet may differ. The specific numbers I have used in the spreadsheet refer to my estimates while working at a college in Mumbai, in particular, in Navi Mumbai. In Mumbai, the time lost commuting is really an issue. If a student lives in Thane or Andheri and attends a college in Navi Mumbai, he easily spends about 3–4 hours in the daily commute (home->bus->railway station/second bus/metro–>another bus or six-seater, all of it taking about 1.5 hours one way, or more). In Pune, the situation is much more heterogeneous. One student could be spending 3 hours commuting both ways (think: from Nigdi to VIT) whereas some other student could be just happily walking to the college campus (think: Paud Phata residents, and MIT). It all depends. In Pune, many students would be using two-wheelers. In any case, for a professor, the only practical guideline for the entire class that he can at all use, would have to be statistical in nature. So, it’s the class average for the daily commute time that matters. For Mumbai in general, it could be 2–3 hours, for Pune students, it could be, say, between 1 to 2 hours (both ways put together).

So Pune is a bit easier on students. In contrast, for many of my Mumbai students, the situation was bad (or even very bad), and they were trying hard (or very hard) to make the best of it. It must have been at least a bit frustrating to them when professors like me, on the top of everything, were demanding making references to good foreign texts, and openly using a sarcastic tone—even if generously laced with humor—if they didn’t. It must have been frustrating to at least 40–60% of them. (The number is my estimate of those who were genuinely interested in referring to good books, even if only for the better-drawn and colorful diagrams, photographs, and also mathematical proofs that came without errors or without arbitrary replacement of \partial by d.)

And why do I say that it must have been frustrating? Why didn’t I say it might have been frustrating?

Because, I cannot ever forget that look of that incredibly honest appreciation which slowly appeared on all their faces (including the faces of the “back-benchers”), as I shared my discovery in detail with them.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

How about your college? Your case?

Do you have the time to read good, lengthy, or conceptually clarifying “reference” texts? Say, Timoshenko (app. mech. and strength of materials); Shames, or Popov (strength of materials); White, or Fox & McDonald, or Som & Biswas (Fluid Mech.); Holman, or Nag, or Sukhatme (Heat Transfer)?

And, if you do, do you spend time reading these texts? If yes, did you complete them (I mean only the portion relevant to the syllabus) in the same semester that you were learning or teaching the subject for the first time? Could you have?

And yes, in my last sentence, I have included “teaching” too. My questions are directed to the professors too. In fact, my questions are directed, first and foremost, only at them.

After all, it is the professors—or at least some of us—who are in the driver’s seat here; the students never are. It is the professors who (i) design the syllabii as well as the examination schemes (including the number of tests to have and their nature), (ii) decide on the number of assignments (and leave no opportunity to level criticism in our capacity as External Examiners, if the length or difficulty of an assignment falls short), (iii) decide on the course text-books (and take due care to list more than 5 prescribed text-books, and more than 10 reference books per course) (iv) decide on the student attendance criteria in detail, up to the individual course level, and report on the defaulting students (and follow through with the meetings with their parents) every two weeks or at least once a month, (v) set the examination papers according to the established pattern—after all, it’s only us who is going to check the papers!, (vi) sometimes, write those local text-books!, and (vii) also keep the expectation that students should somehow show in their final university examination answer books, some evidence of having gone through some good, thick, reference texts, too. Whether we ourselves had managed to do that during our own UG years or not!

And, yes, I also want the IIX professors to ponder over these matters. All their students enjoy a fully residential program; these kids from these private engineering colleges mostly don’t. They at IIXs always get to design all their course syllabii and decide on the examination patterns, and they even get to enjoy the sole responsibility to grade their students. The possibility of adopting a marks normalization scheme, after the examination, always lies at hand, with them, just in case a topic took too long with a certain class or so… Are they then being reasonable in their request demand that the students of these “other” engineering colleges in India be well-read enough, at least by the time the students join them at IIXs for ME/MTech studies?

As to me, no, as I indicated in my earlier posts, while being a professor, I could not always find the time to do that—referring to good text-books. I tried, but basically my situation wasn’t much different from that of my students—we both were short on the available time. So, I didn’t always succeed.

[As to my own UG years, it was mixed: I did hunt for months, and got my hands on, the books like Reed-Hill, White, Holman, etc. However, I would be dishonest if I claimed that it was right during my UG years that I had got whatever I did, from books like these. In my case, the learning continued for years. Yes, I even bought and religiously studied once again even Thomas & Finney’s calculus, when I was in my PhD program at UAB. Despite my attempts during the UG years, I really cannot ascribe a large part, or even a significant part of my current understanding to my UG years. Your case may be different; I was just narrating my own experience.]

… And, as far making references to good books goes, now that I do have time at my hand these days, there is another problem: I don’t know what course in particular I will be teaching the next semester, and where—or for that matter, whether some college will even hire me in the first place, or not.

So, I end up “wasting” my time writing blog posts like this one. Thus, I, too, end up not touching a good reference text!

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “aane waalaa pal, jaane waalaa hai…”
Lyrics: Gulzaar
Singer: Kishor Kumar
Music: R. D. Burman

[I will go over this post once again, editing it, and may be adding a bit here and there. Done. This post is already too long. So, I will write another post—a brief one—to jot down some tips to make the best possible use of the student’s time—including my suggestions to the engineering colleges as to what they can do to help the students. Also, my take on whether the system as noted above has diluted the quality of education or not—esp. as in contrast to what we had as UG students at COEP more than three decades ago.]

[E&OE]

 

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Whassup? “Making room…”

Honestly, for the past quite a few days, I’ve been summarily in that (Marathi) “sun-saan” mood. … Yes, in that mood, and for quite a few days…. Continuously at a stretch, in fact.

Sometime during the initial phase of this mood, somewhere at just the sub-surface level, I did idly think of trying my hand at writing blog posts, just so as to come out of it. Then, exactly at that same sub-surface level, with exactly that same shade of that idle nothing-ness in which I was engulfed, I also saw these thoughts pass me by. …

… It never happens. … I mean, at least with me, it never so happens that I can bring myself to writing something, anything, even just a blog post, when I am trapped in that mood of not wanting to do anything in particular. … I actually end up doing nothing in such times.

No, you can’t call it the writer’s block; it would be too narrow a description. The point is, when it happens, it is “everyone’s and everything’s block.” I mean, at such times, I can’t do even just plain arm-chair thinking. …

Thinking is an active verb, not passive. And, the gloom-some passivity is such that I don’t find myself even thinking about the gloom-some things, even if these go on registering with me. You know, things like the HDD crash, the continuing jobless-ness, etc.

… But, no, nothing happens when I am in that mood. N o t h i n g.

[No, at such times, I am not day-dreaming, even. Not even just hibernating. And, I certainly am not even in that meditative frame either. [I know meditation. I have done it, too.]]

So, all in all, I am being extraordinarily accurate when I say: nothing happens.

This time round, the mood lasted for a few days. Until this morning.

No, no one else had any role to play in my coming out of it. None. None whosoever. I myself did. Rather, I just passively observed myself coming out of it, and then, actually having come out of it. Right this morning. Just a few hours ago.

Yes, before that, I did watch some TV these past few days. But, no, not even retards (or American psychologists) could possibly level the accusation that watching TV lets one “come out” of such moods. Certainly not, when it is me. TV is incapable of affecting me too much, one way or the other. I am being honest here. That’s actually how my bodily constitution is made up like. TV does not affect me too much, for the better or for the worse. It always remains just plain boring, in a mild sort of a way. That’s all.

Anyway, that’s about all I can write about the recent experience, by me, and of that mood.

Now, what is it that I did to come out of… Wrong! Invalid line of thought!!

So, what is it that I did after I came out of it?

I did some search on something and browsed a few URLs. What in particular? I will jot it down right in this post, but before that, allow me a moment to explain the title of this post.

Those among the English-speaking peoples who are fortunate enough to be playing cricket, there is a peculiar circumstance that used to happen in the one-day 50 overs cricket matches, about 20—30 years ago. The circumstance would occur once a match progressed to the late 30s in the overs.

… In terms of overs, the game from about the late teens to the late 30s could easily go replicating my mood above. But, somehow, either the bowlers or the batsmen or both would come out of it, sometimes even in a virtual snap of sorts, though it would happen mostly only gradually, once they arrived in the late 30s in the overs. May be, perhaps, as a result of the spin and the medium-pace bowlers being taken off and the fast bowlers being brought back in, for their second (and last) spell.

Then. Suddenly. Zzzoooooom. A good-length ball, left alone by the batsman (almost as a matter of habit); it safely lands in the gloves of the fumbling wicket-keeper, who should have been prepared but is still taken by a bit of a surprise. Zzzooooom. A second ball, now on the off-stump, swinging ever so slightly out the off-stump. Oh yes! There still is some swing left in this wicket! The batsman does something like waving his bat at it, fumbles, but is lucky enough to survive. Then, a very fast-paced short-length ball, in fact a bouncer! The batsman ducks. The wicket-keeper stretches all the way back, but manages to catch it. Finally, the batsman is found adjusting his gear, esp. his helmet. Yet another good-length delivery, somewhat slower in pace, slightly outside the off-stump, again with just so slight an outswing. Well-collected by the wicket-keeper. No changes in the fielding. And then, finally, comes The Ball. This time, it’s a furiously paced one, right on the leg—yorker! Within a split-second, stepping aside on the front-foot…

The cricket-knowing people [whether English-speaking or otherwise] could easily complete the last sentence above.

Among the commonly available options, the one I like to imagine here is this: Dancing down the wicket, leaving all the stumps in the open, the batsman makes room for himself, and hits at the ball hard, with his full strength. The ball connects with the meat of the bat, and the next instant, it is seen racing past the extra-cover boundary. No, you have not been able to catch how or where the ball went, really speaking. All that your visual field has in the meanwhile registered is the whitish figure of that fielder in the covers first rising up in a contorted fashion in the air, with both his hands wildly outstretched out and up, and just when that slim figure of that talented fielder begins—almost as if unbelievably by now—to go down, you instinctively strive to look past beyond him. And then, you see it. The ball has taken the first harsh bounce past the fielder, not caring a whit for the grass, and it is now racing… no, in fact it already has gone past the boundary line, for a four… [To me, such a four is more appealing than an artful but wily hook off a leg-side delivery for a sixer. The latter somehow appears almost meekish, as compared to this brawnishly—even if not very artfully—executed cover drive. That is, when such a cover drive is an answer to a yorker. Even if the yield to the side is only 4, not 6.]

Well, I left watching cricket roughly in the mid-1990s. When someone says “cricket” or “cricketers,” about the only match that I somewhat remember (after a 5–10 second gap or more), or the “last” complete match I probably saw, was the one in which both Rahul Dravid and Sourabh Ganguly were either brand new, or at the most only 2–3 matches old. I haven’t watched much cricket after that. May be two or three matches (in full), and some more matches, some half-way through or so. None of these matches, I remember any more. And, I am completely certain that (except for some irritating times when I am only gone to a restaurant for a drink and some good food, and yet, cricket finds a way to pounce on me off a big glaring screen) I have not watched any cricket over the past 10+ years. Whether India was playing Pakistan or not. Whether Sachin Tendulkar was in form or not. … You get the idea.

But still, some visuals and phrases have remain etched in the memory. One of them is: “Making room for himself.”

If the going has not been so good, and yet, it has also not been very particularly bad either, if you have been in that greyish or slumberish sort of a mood of not wanting to do anything, or in an even worse mood: in that (Marathi) “sun-saan” mood, then: Once you find yourself having come out of it, the first thing you gotta do, IMO, is: Make room for yourself.

So, I did. Right this morning. (A few hours ago.)

I re-realized that one application of CFD is in the computer graphics and games programming field. (I had well-realized this point in the past, of course, but all the downloaded materials and sources had gone in that HDD crash.)

So, this morning, I spent some time browsing the ‘net for CFD simulations for computer graphics. … Interesting!

I need to add “Fluids simulation for computer graphics” as one of my active research interests, while updating my resume.

Should I conduct a course on Fluids Simulation for the CS folks, esp. for those working in the IT industry in Pune or Mumbai? Would someone be interested? Drop me a line. I am all ears. And, I am serious. (I will even simplify the maths while presenting the topics, and I will also supply some elementary codes. The students must, however, bring both their laptops and minds to the class.))

Let me know—before I possibly slip back once again into that yawnish/slumberish/worse—(Marathi) “sun-saan” (i.e. in English, roughly, tomb-silent) kind of a mood…

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “jeenaa ye koi jeenaa to nahin”
Singer: Shailendra Singh
Music: Bappi Lahiri
Lyrics: Gulshan Bawra

[Yes, IMO, here, it’s Shailendra Singh’s version that easily outdoes Lata’s. [But then, honestly, isn’t the tune here better suited to a male voice?]… And, yes, IMO, here (as also on many other under-appreciated occasions), this “RD Clone” has managed to actually deliver on the goods! When I was in college, the intellectuals back then had this tendency to smirk at even just a passing mention of Bappi Lahiri’s name. But, even back then, I would think that he didn’t deserve it—even if he indeed was, for much part, an RD (and many others) Clone. Yes, I would also air this opinion of mine, back then. Anyway, this is certainly one of his best songs; see if you like it, too.

And, if you do, notice two points: (i) Consider the tune and the music for the “antaraa” part, esp. near the end of the first half of the “antaraa.” That is, the point where the line “bahon mein jab ho baahein” (in the first “antaraa”), or “gar koi yaar naa ho” (in the second “antaraa”) ends. Now, stop here. You already know the “mukhaDaa”. So, think for a moment, how you would land at the repeating “mukhaDaa,” starting from this point in the “antaraa.” Think about it for a while. You can easily think of connecting these two points in some melodious way, perhaps even in many different ways—the tune is simple enough that even a layman could easily attempt doing that. Or, if you cannot imagine any ways to make the connections, then at least spend some time imagining how most of the well-regarded music directors (including RD) might have habitually connected the two. Then, consider how the transitioning actually occurs in this song. I bet that all the imagined transitionings would be far more direct than what happens to be the actual case here. … The most beautiful path isn’t always the shortest one. … Here, the music takes something of a little detour, choosing to make the transition at the more lingering and meandering “o mere saathi” phrase, rather than at any other possible connecting phrase. …. It’s (at least) this transitioning here—from the half point in the “antaraa” to the appropriate phrase in the “mukhaDaa”—that should have left no doubt even in an intellectual’s mind that, yes (even) Bappi Lahiri is, actually, a gifted composer. (ii) Another point. This is a bit silly, but since I am in a mood today to write at length without saying much anything, let me continue. Try humming the “mukhaDaa” of this song, starting with the “jeenaa ye koi” line, but without using any words. Attempt just humming. (Or, whistling.) You would find that you can easily do it—humming the entire “mukhaDaa” well. Now, try adding words to your mere hummings. Then, compare the way you sang the words of the “mukhaDaa,” with the (superlative) way in which Shailendra Singh has actually sung it. In particular, notice how easily, softly—in fact almost imperceptibly—he utters, but swiftly passes over, the word “ke,” while singing the phrase “pyaar ke binaa”. And, how you fumbled at this particular place, when you were asked to sing it aloud. …You mean to say, you had never tried it before? Go ahead, give it a try! It’s fun!]

[An editing touch is sure due; may or may not get effected. Done. Expect more posts of a similarly long-winding and pointless nature, at least in the near future.]

[E&OE]

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Indian matrimonials sites and Indian women

This post is about an experience at a leading Indian matrimonials site. At least for the time being, I will omit the part as to who the parties involved are, or at which matrimonials site. My objective in sharing this story here is more from the pathological sort of a sociological-cultural angle.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Here is the background.

He has a profile at an Indian matrimonials site. He is an Indian. He has kept his details open (at least to those who communicate with him), including his complete real name, mobile number, links to his Web presence, photo, not to mention other details. He is highly educated (with a PhD in engineering), 52, and based in India. He comes from a middle-class background. He is a divorcee of a brief marriage 25 years ago, without any kids. By birth, he is from a Kshatriya caste. He has a paid profile. [I don’t know if a girl with an unpaid profile can write him or not. I think yes, once he accepts her interest (or if he sends an interest on his own).] His profile makes it clear that he is serious about marriage.

She creates a profile at the same site, but with a pseudonym. Her profile says that she is 49, has a PhD (apparently from humanities field), is successful in her profession, “beautiful”, etc. She too is an Indian, but currently working in Chicago, Illinois, USA, on a temporary visa. She comes from a “rich” family background. By birth, she belongs to one of the better sub-castes among Brahmins (the Maharashtrian Deshastha Rigvedi, to be precise). She has never been married before. She has an unpaid profile. She has all her contact details hidden—even from those to whom she expresses her interest. Her profile indicates that she is, or would be, visiting India soon, possibly to return to the US in August. However, it is not clear where she is currently.

Now, here is what happened, in the chronological order.

  1. 2015.06.17: She views his profile. She contacts him, expressing interest in him.
  2. 2015.06.17: He accepts her interest. This would allow her to view all his contact information without paying her paying anything.
  3. 2015.06.17: He writes a somewhat lengthy message saying how he is “honestly surprised” to receive an interest from someone like her. He asks her to let him know her name, contact information, and more details about her education and family background. He continues on the being surprised line, and lets her know that he doesn’t feel anything if something doesn’t work out, or if she drops out, but about the only thing that still gets him irritated is if a girl expresses interest on her own (or accepts the interest sent) and still doesn’t say anything further. [No further communications from their side. No replies. Nothing. Only an acceptance of interest!]
  4. Between 2015.06.17 through 2015.06.22: She logs in at least twice. Reads his message. [This is routine feature of that site.] Still, she does not respond with anything. Even if she doesn’t have a paid profile, now that she has all his contact information, she could have: (i) sent an SMS, (ii) called on phone, (iii) emailed him, (iv) contacted him via his Web presence, etc.
  5. 2015.06.22: In a brief (three line) message, he first writes a brief line enquiring how things are going at her end. He then notes that he still doesn’t know her name. Finally he asks asks exactly when she would be in India.
  6. 2015.06.24: By this time, she has logged in once again, and read the new message too. She still does not communicate anything via any route: message exchange at the matrimonials site, SMS, phone-call, email, etc.
  7. 2015.06.25: He tells her that he is going to block her, but that if she wants to, she can still reach him via SMS or email. To express his irritation, he wonders if this is a Brahmin female’s research project to see how non-Brahmin profiles react to Brahmin women or something like that. He also tells her that he may be contacting the support staff.
  8. 2015.06.25: He discusses the issue in a chat with the support staff. They tell him that they cannot force her to reply to him. He agrees, and then tells them that he has already blocked her on the site anyway, and the reason he is contacting them is because he wants them to ascertain whether this is a genuine profile or not, whether they information she submitted while creating her profile at least sounds reasonable or not. They promise to get back within 24 hours.
  9. 2015.06.26: She logs in again. Reads his message. Since she is blocked from his profile, she can view his profile but not write to him (even if she were to be a paid member). However, since she already knows all his details (the earlier messages revealing his details are available to her and indeed a copy has been delivered to her email ID), in case of mere error or misunderstanding, she could have still contacted him via SMS, phone-call, or email. Even if only to inform him that she is no longer interested. She does not do so.
  10. 2015.06.26: 24 hours have elapsed since his complaint, but the matrimonials site has not come back to him.
  11. 2015.06.27: 46 hours have elapsed since his complaint, but the matrimonials site has not come back to him. He initiates another chat session. Repeats the information. The support staff expresses regrets, informs him that a team is working on the issue, and confirms him that they will sure get back to him. He tells that he is forwarding the chat transcripts to his email ID. He then asks when they will come back. The support staff again says within 24 hours.
  12. 2015.06.28: 72 hours after original complaint, and 24 hours after the repeat complaint, the support staff has still not come back.
  13.  2015.06.28: She logs in again. She still does not write anything to him via any means.
  14. 2015.06.28: He unblocks her for a moment, so that he can write her once again. He reminds her the essence of the story: “I am interested in you for communications from marriage point of view, but I won’t tell you who I am.” He informs her that he has contacted the support staff. However, they seem to be rather supporting her than him. He closes the message after a little sarcastic remark that this site seems to be a match made for her, not him, so that she could continue merrily in her way. He forgets to block her again.
  15. 2015.06.28: Immediately within an hour, she logs in again, only to cancel her interest in him. Now, he cannot write anything ever to her: all her details have always been hidden.
  16. 2015.06.28: He does not expect the matrimonials site to ban her. Here is why. Once, in May, a similar story had unfolded: A girl had expressed interest to him; he accepted; she didn’t reveal who she was; he contacted the support staff asking whether he can decline her interest; they had told him that since he did write some/any communication with her, now, the system did not allow him to cancel his acceptance of her interest. A few days later, the girl had cancelled her interest.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

We (you and me) may never come to know who exactly had created that profile. Also, we (you and me) would also know enough to know that since this is a woman-vs-man thing, both Americans (esp. Democrats) and Indians (esp. South Indians) are going to side with her—not him. So, an investigation into the possibilities of a cyber-crime would never get seriously entertained by the authorities in either country. However, in case you wish to know what photograph had been used (or possibly even abused), well, it should be available. [Update on 2015.06.30. It is. Here is a link [^].]

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Anyway, so, what’s the essence of the story here? Let me give it a shot.

Here is one: A well-educated single Indian woman to a well-educated single Indian man: “Will you marry me? I am a stranger, and intend always to remain one.”

OK. That might be a bit too over-stretched. How about this one: “Why don’t you tell me what you think of me—in the context of a marriage, that is. I am a stranger, and I intend always to remain one.” … Nah, too complicated. … The wording should be simpler…

How about this one: Woman to man: “I am here looking for marriage, and you seem interesting. Now, talk to the wall.”

Yeah. That seems just about right, what say?

And, how would you characterize it philosophically? Super-duper Platonic expectations? I mean, something like an over-over-overblown version of the Elizabeth Browning and Robert Browning story?

Not quite. Because, here, you see, Bob does not know who Alice is, even if the interceptor does. And the interceptor here refuses to either tell Bob (the paid member) or support him, even while he allows Alice (the unpaid member) to go ahead and possibly contact even more paid men in her own merry ways. … In any case, on the second thoughts, it’s not Platonic. Not even in a super duper way.

How about absurd-ism? Is there a philosophic stream like that? Could be. But wouldn’t Camus and all that be a bit too general to be fitting here? It has to be something more specific. Something befitting those Bangalore people. [I don’t know, but am guessing, that at least the support staff and the managers if not also the site owners reside in Bangalore.]

Sorry, I cannot figure out the particular philosophy operative here. And, sociology and all is not an area even just an exposure to me. So, I don’t know how to characterize it sociologically either. I mean I can tell that it’s pathological in general, but I can’t tell anything more specific than that, from a sociological angle either. And, I even refuse to speculate about the psychology of that woman. Or of the support staff/managers.

See if you want to give it a shot. Though I can understand if you don’t want to. After all, it is pathological. Only a professional of the relevant area(s) could maintain an interest in such things.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Anyway, let’s get back to better things.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “sandhyaa jo aaye, man uDa jaaye…”
Music: S. D. Burman
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

[Once again, this is one S.D. song that sounds so much as if it had actually come from R.D. Not just the orchestration (you can’t miss the bongo of R.D., the violins, or the tempo) but in fact even the tune itself. It sounds much more like R.D. than S.D. Of course, it could still have been S.D. It’s just that it sounds like R.D.’s… [On the second listening, no, the tune itself does sound like SD’s.] Anyway, it’s a beautiful song… I ran into once again only last earlier this year, after a gap of decades.]

[E&OE]

 

 

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What mental imagery for “QM” do I carry?—part 2

This post continues from my last post, here [^].

So, what’s the mental imagery that rushes to my mind when I think of the idea/concept: “Quantum Mechanics”?

Since I have thought about this topic for such a long time (certainly for more than two decades), as far as I am concerned, the picture has no problem immediately jumping to the surface of my mind. However, to write it down is going to take a lot of words, and so, it may not look like a readily available image to you. In any case, since the imagery is a bit complex, brace yourself for yet another long post. Certainly more than a thousand words!

Keep a fresh paper and a few color sketch-pens ready to draw the diagram as we go along.

What I imagine is basically a fake quantum system, because I don’t want my picture to be complicated by a lot of what I regard are the inessential details.

I basically imagine a two-atom system with a bond, in which the nuclei are, in the first stage at least, taken to be fixed in space. Thus, the entire quantum universe consists of only these particles: two positively charged massive nuclei (say two protons), two (or more) negatively charged lighter electrons, and a bunch of massless photons to establish the bond.

In the first version of my imagery, the system is in the time-independent ground state of the molecule. I then add an imagination of a time evolution from this ground state to an excited state, and then, the subsequent collapse back to the ground state. Thus, it’s not a single picture but a series of them.

For the static version of the ground state, using a blue sketch pen, put two blue dots some sizable distance apart near the center of a piece of paper. These blue dots—the nuclei—don’t move.

For the two electrons, take a red sketch pen and make a lot of red dots (of equal sizes) around the two blue dots. The local density of the red dots should be higher near the nuclei, and it should drop off to a negligible density near the edges of the paper. I declare myself that as the paper extends to the (other) end of the universe—and note, not “to” infinity—the dots go on decreasing in density. Yes, I believe in a spatially cyclic—closed and finite—universe. It’s my mental imagery, remember? [There are a lot of trees still left in the world, and new ones are always being planted. So, help yourself with another piece of paper, to draw your imagery. Here, we are concerned only with mine.]

I then take a sketch pen of any faint color, say grey, and add a lot of more dots. These are the virtual photons.

The classes of elementary particles in my mental quantum universe is thus exactly three: nuclei, electrons, and photons, that’s all. I could complicate it more, later. But before I could complicate it further, I know, I would have to get at least this version of the imagery right. And, I remain stuck up right there. That’s why, I regard mass of the massive particles (protons and electrons) as their intrinsic property—a possible compromise from the best possible quantum picture. It actually is a leftover from the Newtonian universe, but it’s OK by me.

The red dots together represent the specific position that any one of the two electrons is likely to occupy. In particular, although there are numerous red dots (and in the continuum limit an infinite number of these), at any given instant, a given electron is found only at one of these dots—the rest are indicative but unoccupied positions.

Note, in my picture, it does not matter which dot corresponds to which electron, even if I know that the electrons always are two separate (and spatially distinguished) entities. The specific positions of the red dots are immaterial; their local density taken together, however, does matter.

This point about the dots and their density has been implicitly well-understood by me, and so it doesn’t find too prominent a place in my imagery, but perhaps it is necessary to spell it out in greater detail. Here is a visualization aid for getting the density of the dots right. Write a Python + matplotlib program to draw such dots. Here is the algorithm. Say, divide the drawing surface (say of 15 X 15 cm extent) into a finite number of square cells (say 1 cm square each). Assume any suitable nonuniform distribution for the electron cloud. Remember, this is all a fake distribution. So anything convenient to you is OK. For instance, the distribution obtained by superposing two Gaussian distributions each of which is centered around one of the two nuclei. Or, the sinc function. Etc. Now, for any cell, you can use the assumed distribution to find out the local density of dots contained in it. In fact, you don’t even have to use the idea of cells; directly using the discrete space of pixels is enough: using a pseudo random number generator, write a program to light up a pixel with a dot such that the probability of its being lit up is proportional to the local distribution density there. Or, you may use the idea of cells thus: find out the density at each of the four corners of a given cell using the analytical expression for the assumed distribution, and then, using the simplest approximate bi-linear interpolation, determine the interpolated density, and then use it to probabilistically to light up the pixels. Finally, another method is to use the strength at the corners of the cell to first decide the number of pixels to light up in a cell, and then randomize the x- and y-coordinates (rather than the lighting up amplitude) for deciding the places where this precise number of dots will get lit up.

Repeat the selected algorithm over time, so that while the density of dots per cell remains constant, due to the changes in the specific random numbers generated, the specific pixels being lit up goes on changing. That’s what I mean by a distribution of dots that is proportional to probability. A specific realization of probabilities isn’t important; that’ the point.

It’s understood that the local density of dots gives you only the probability of finding an electron over that local volume. So, what I do is: I make any two red dots slightly brighter (or bigger, or highlighted via any other means, e.g., via encircling) than the other dots. That’s where the two electrons actually are, at any given instant of time, in my imagery. In the next instant, of course, they occupy some other instantaneous position of some other dot.

Now, an important question: How do the highlighted dots—the positions where the electrons really are—move?

In my imagery, they always move to one of the adjacent instantaneous positions for the neighboring un-highlighted dots. A highlighted dot (the actual position of the electron) never jumps over any one of the un-highlighted dots lying closest to it in its local neighborhood. In other words, IAD (instantaneous action at a distance) summarily goes out for a toss, in my imagery.

Hmmm… But how do the real electrons actually move, even if they move only in their local neighborhood over any given slice of time? … Enter those grey photons. Do I need to say more? Perhaps I do. After all, it’s my imagery.

Before going on to telling you a bit more about the photons themselves, I have to modify my imagery a bit. I now imagine that the edges of the paper represent a virtual end of the universe, and so, I apply a zero density Dirichlet condition on these edges. The sandbox is the universe, in short.

Next, I apply a conservation principle also to the number of photons. Yes, your friendly Nobel laureates go for a toss in my imagery. In my imagery, this happens mostly silently. However, I now recognize that in your imagery of my imagery, they perhaps don’t go out equally silently. They perhaps go out screaming “shame,” “shame,” “ignorance,” “ignorance,” etc. And, along with them go also your not so friendly physics professors at IISc Bangalore, not to mention those at the five old IITs (and all the new ones). (It’s my imagery, remember?) The total number of the small grey dots thus always remains constant.

Another thing. Photons can pass through each other; electrons and protons don’t. All the elementary particles—the nuclei, electrons and photons—are spatially definite; every particle of each kind is confined to a region of space. Which means, I can always point out to some region of paper and say: this given dot does not exist there—a given dot is not spread out everywhere. The existence condition acquires different binary values at a given position. If the particle exists here, it does not exist there. Vice versa.

This requirement does not rule out the possibility that the same place may be occupied by two particles. But, this provision is currently made only for the photons.

[In my current research (i.e. idle arm-chair thinking), I am re-examining this aspect—I am wondering if I can allow two electrons, or one electron and one proton, to occupy the same region of space or not. I am not throwing out the possibility out of the hand. But, the imagery as of now does not allow this possibility. BTW, I have a very, very good logic (very, very good, even to my unsatisfiable self) to think why photons should overlap but not protons or electrons, though I am sure I will keep re-examining the issue. And, no, I am not going to disclose the reasons either way—not until I write a paper on the topic. [evil grin.]]

What exactly are these photons like? Do they have a structure? Yes, or no? What is the difference between these greylings that are the virtual photons and the real photons?

Patience, people, patience. I certainly know the answers; it’s just that I don’t feel like jotting them down here and now, that’s all. [Yawn. Then, an evil grin.]

Do you still want me to narrate how the system evolves? Yes? No? [The evil grin is repeated; then, after a while, it is suppressed.]

OK. Let me be less evil. … You were asking for the difference between the virtual and the real photons, na? OK. Here is my (partial) answer: The similarity between the virtual photons and the real photons is that they both are real. They both exist in spatially delimited sense. The difference between them is that the virtual photons are incapable of altering a given eigen-state; instead, they help bring it into being in the first place. The real photons, in contrast, are those that are capable of changing the eigen-states. To see how, you have to expand the details of this simple imagery a bit more. However, the picture then becomes too complicated. In any case, these additional details is what I myself don’t recollect right in the first second; they come to me only in, say, the 3rd or the 5th second.

So, the rest of the QM is just details, maths, and applications, as far as I am concerned. The real quantum story ends here.

QM is, first and foremost, a theory of sequences of stable configurations of elementary building blocks of matter, and of the passage of matter through these various configurations. To my mind, QM is just that.

It’s, thus, the most elementary materials science. Even chemistry, if you wish. That’s what QM is to me. The mechanics part is only for calculations. QM becomes a branch of physics only because physics is able to supply the principles that allow you to perform the calculations.

But the real QM is only about configuration of matter.

A few remaining notes.

This picture of mine is both in accord with the established axioms of the mainstream theory, as well as at odds with the non-axiomatic but routine assumptions made in the theory.

Pick up any good introductory text on QChem or QM (McQuarrie’s or Levins, or Griffith’s are enough). Go through the list of axioms.

The picture I have here is not in conflict with any of these—the mainstream axioms themselves. Not in the basic sense of the terms they use, anyway. (Challenge for you: Show me one place in one axiom where there is a conflict.)

Yet, my picture also gloatingly insults many of the most mystically revered pillars of QM. These are the suppositions built, not by science popularizers, but by both the ordinary professors and the Nobel laureates of physics alike, including Feynman. Go through the above description once again, and find all of the points where I happily depart from this part of the mainstream tradition. Here is a partial list: spatially delimited elementary particles, specific locations and paths for particles, conservation of photons. … And, at least two more. Find them out. If you really know your Feynman, Dirac, Shankar, or even just Griffiths, you should have no difficulty completing this exercise.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A [Video of a] Song I Like

I am going to make an exception to my usual rules for this section, this time round. (i) I am going to repeat a song in this section—something I haven’t done so far, and, for that reason, (ii) I am going to make a reference to a video—not just the audio—of that song.

I have in mind, a YouTube video officially uploaded by Saregama, i.e., the recording/publishing company.

However, the thing is, as far as I know, the credits as noted by Saregama are wrong. The song, the music, and in fact even the choreography of the dance in the video—they all come from a single man who is not even passingly mentioned by Saregama, viz., the Nobel laureate Gurudeb Robindranath Thakur [hey Bongs, did I get that spelling right?]. Salil Chaudhary merely conducted the music; Hemant Mukherjee/Mukhopadhyaya [i.e. the Hindi film music composer and singer Hemant Kumar] merely sang the piece. [That is, as far as I know. If I am mistaken about any of these aspects, please do correct me.]

One more comment.

This is one dance you can never imagine as originating in any other land, and at any other time. It had to be in India, specifically, in British India, specifically in Bengal, and specifically after the Enlightenment spirit brought by the British had been readily integrated into the local culture by men who also were well-steeped in the best traditions of the ancient Indian culture. This instance of music and dance is a product of someone who was at the cross-roads of those two cultures. He was educated in the Western Enlightenment ideas, and yet he remained recognizably Indian in his soul. Ravindranath Tagore.

As far as the music part is concerned, you can detect a faint Western influence here: the idea of building a piece of music using a progression of chords subtly does find its way here. Thus, though the music is on the whole Indian, you can still detect a faint shade of the Western influence.

Yet, the dance movements here are very emphatically only Indian. The bodily movements are just too supple, just too fluid, either for the West, or for that matter, even for the rest of the East. They obviously are steeped into the traditional Indian culture. Yet, the movements here are too innovative to be merely “traditional;” compare them, after you watch the video, with any BharatnaaTyam or Kathak you saw recently.

The facial expressions of the dancers are only a bit reserved, not too much. These obviously come from the Indian “abhinaya” tradition. Yet, the expressions here drop out that overly dramatic part in the traditional “abhinaya.” The expressions here are, in fact, informal enough to be almost immediately recognizable even to the layman; they are almost of the simple, homely, kind. It’s this part that, by way of an example, serves to highlight the importance of facial expressions in dance. Compare the dancers here with any severely stern-faced, or at least unnecessarily formal-faced Western dancer—which means, most any Western dancer. In any tradition. Ballet, or otherwise. [And no, the expressions here aren’t mindless as in Gypsy or carnival traditions anywhere.]

To say that the dance here, overall, is graceful etc., is a complete waste of words; I have no desire to rush into the category of the eloquent dumb; not so soon anyway. So, let me point out the video to you. Except for just one more noting. Please allow me that.

All the dancers here—including the lead female—have a wheatish, nay, dark wheatish complexion. It’s beautiful.

To reveal a bit about me (it’s not at all a secret; all my friends have always known it): Keeping all other things constant or irrelevant, throughout my life, I have always found the dark wheatish complexion to be the most beautiful one. Even rivetingly so. Not as black as some of the Africans go, but a definitely dark tone, nevertheless. I have never had a fascination for the fair skin. A fair-skinned girl had to be exceptionally beautiful otherwise—in the structure of her face and body—before I could come involuntarily to describe her as being beautiful. Otherwise, using that adjective has been instinctively impossible for me. (No, I have never found either Aishwarya Rai or Madhuri Dixit very beautiful. They are OK, certainly not bad; the first one is passable as above average; the second one as much above average. But neither is ravishingly beautiful. Beauty, to me, is, say, Nandita Das, esp. her younger self. Also, the younger Sonali Kulkarni (the senior one, of course; realize, she alone has a dark complexion among the two).)

In this regard, my tastes have been so much at odds at the prevailing cultural norms in India that I have always felt being more than a bit out of place about it. [In my college days, I had to defend myself against the charge that I was being a maverick just for the heck of being one. At 50+, hopefully, no one levels that charge once again at me.]

It therefore was a very delightful surprise to me when I heard it from a highly respected Sanskrit scholar in Pune (himself a fair-skinned one, in fact, he was born in the Konkanastha Brahmin caste) that the standard of beauty in the ancient India has always included a dark skin tone. Also, relatively fuller (though not very thick) lips. Neither the fair skin, nor the European-thin lips. Rama was wheatish, and KrishNa was relatively even darker in skin color. Also, women like RukmiNi. She was dark-skinned, and was considered very beautiful. Sita was wheatish, too; she too was regarded as beautiful. But it’s the Sanskrit literature preexisting before all these Gods’ times which informs us that the standards were neither compromised nor even slightly modified for these Gods; instead, the existing standards of beauty themselves were merely applied while describing them. Indeed, Sita was regarded more as a smart or sharp-looking than as being very beautiful, whereas RukmiNi was regarded as a perfect example of the most beautiful. So, the standards themselves certainly preexisted all these Gods and Goddesses. They got scrapped sometime only later, perhaps much later; I don’t know precisely when. [It doesn’t have to be as late as the Brits; the Persian standard, too, carries a thing about the fair skin; it too regards a fair skin as being essential to beauty. And, the influence of the Persian standards predates the Mughals at least in some north-western and northern parts of India.]

… No, not all “saanwale” people are beautiful; most in fact are not. In particular, those with a very round face and thereby missing the cheek-bones cannot ever be beautiful—not at least to me: my mind automatically goes into a virtually interminable loop searching for features on such a face. E.g., the actress Sridevi. Below average. Or, Rekha, in her early, plumpy, days. Much below average. Or, Rekha, in her later, slimmer, and far better turned out version. Just about average (or, OK, slightly above that). To my mind, Moushumi Chatterjee would always beat them all very, very easily. (By them, I mean: Madhuri Dixit, Rekha, Aishwarya Rai, and Sridevi.) So, not all “saanwale” people are beautiful. But beautiful people invariably are “saanwaale”.

And, the sheer physical beauty is completely apart from factors such as that “spark” of brilliance or of life on a face, the air (or even the aura, if you wish), the habitual expressions, the manner of conducting oneself or the body language, etc. Here, I was talking only about the sheer physical aspects of beauty, its standards. [Gayatri Devi? Very impressive in looks, and with a very definite purity on the face. Also, good looking. But beautiful? Really beautiful? No, not quite. Beauty is something different than being merely impressive, imposing, or alluring. … Yes, I too could easily describe Gayatri Devi as a beautiful lady. But that’s only in the approximate sense of the term, not exact. That’s the point here.]

Anyway, to wrap up this discussion, so that’s another point about this video that I like—the distinctively Indian look of the dancers, including their beautiful (Hindi) “saanwalaa” skin tone. … And, that distinct touch of the early monsoons in the fields, which forms a very apt background for this video. … All in all, excellent!

OK. Let me not stretch your already far too stretched patience any further; the video is here [^]. Enjoy!

[I don’t know, but, may be, an update might be due. Or, a continuation of the QM topic into a third (and last) part in this series. Especially, if you raise some objections about it. I will check back tomorrow or the day after.]

[E&OE]

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What mental imagery for “QM” do I carry?—part 1

I haven’t written on QM for some time, and today I found myself wondering a bit about the title question.

When it comes to concepts, especially those of the physical sciences, we always carry some visual images concerning them.

No, the meaning of a concept isn’t the image—that would be an erroneous view of concept. Concepts are necessarily abstract. However, since sense-percepts indeed are both the beginning material as well as the ultimate foundation of concepts, it seems obvious to me that we should also have some kind of a sensory-perceptual data associated with concepts in an “informal” sort of a way. The data serve a certain psycho-epistemological function, viz., that of helping you recall the meaning of a concept, say, with great “vividness.”

Definitions are there. They do give identity to concepts. But most of the concepts that we use—in our daily life, but even more so in the physical sciences—are at a rather high (or even very high) level. They are far removed away from the direct sensory-perceptual data lying underneath them. Due to this distance from the perceptual data, definitions for most concepts themselves are abstract, too.

Definitions tell you that which is denoted by a concept. However, there also are other means that the mind uses in recalling and correctly using concepts. An important means here is the mental imagery: say a prominent picture, a sound, a schematic diagram, or even an instance of a kinesthetic sense—or a cluster of all these. They get associated with a concept, and their use gives you not only of a sense of the various underlying layers of meaning of that concept, but also the connections that a given concept has with the other concepts. I don’t know whether I am using a rigorously correct word or not, but at least for my personal usage, I call such things the connotations of a concept.

With many thinkers, esp. Objectivists, there is this tendency to look down upon connotations. I think this is wrong. If you are going to substitute connotations for denotations, then, of course, it’s a significant error; it is bad. But what if you don’t?

Realize, connotations (in the sense I use the term) themselves do not equate to mere “feelings.” It’s not as if denotations equal to Reason and connotations to Feelings. No. [In fact such a position would be Rationalistic.]

What I call connotations are not some generalized, difficult-to-verbalize, and background sort of vague feelings that occupy your feelings-sphere when you consider a concept. They instead are very specific items of imagery, of some perceptual data. The subconscious seems to work more efficiently when you involve these items. Especially if the concepts are abstract, if they are at a high level.

Let me give you some examples.

Since maths always is fully abstract, it’s inevitable that our minds would use the connotative imagery to even greater extent than in the other sciences.

Consider the concept: “derivative.” The first thing that comes to my mind when I begin to think of this concept is that std. XI graph of a curve, a point on that curve, and a series of chords approaching the tangent to the curve at that point. Everything that I have ever thought of “derivative” or “differential” is tied to this diagram, an image. [Indeed, since the chord approaches the tangent only from one side, every time I sit down to consider the concept of derivative, I still get an uncomfortable feeling about that asymmetry—the tangent isn’t approached from both the sides. I feel a bit comfortable even today, after all these 35+ years.]

Now, take a moment to consider what that imagery for “derivative” is like. The first thing to realize here is that this image is not a instance of a direct sense-perception. In nature, you never see a tangent or a series of chords. For that matter, you don’t even see a 1D curve. All you ever see are the 3D objects and their perceived limits (or extensions), which themselves are idealized as surfaces are curves. Thus, the connotative imagery itself consists of an abstract diagram. Yet, it helps you concretize the concept.

Recently, I was talking to a couple of mathematicians. [Yes, I am talkative. I can talk with any one—even mathematicians!] The issue was pretty abstract, even though we were talking mostly at the “physical intuitive” level. We were arguing at the blackboard [in actuality it was a whiteboard] from many different points of view, and we were doing the argumentative exchange fairly rapidly. So, inevitably, we were picking up only the highlights of an idea of a concept—just those bare tidbits that would be enough for the other person get the gist of how the argument from your side was progressing. For instance, here is what I once said during the discussion: “…Now, as far as the variational calculus goes, that’s not a problem with me [i.e. for the problem I was considering]… You see…” I rapidly drew XY axes, a step function, a flat line at the mid-height, rapidly hatched the area only under the step function. Then without pointing out to anything specific, I just said, “Both these areas are equal, and so, I am home free!” They understood. Even if I had never in fact pointed out the second area!

Clearly, not just me, but they, too, were using these connotative images. Else, communications would have been impossible.

That reminds of something… A girl had once [more than two decades ago] articulately told me, complete with her suave Mumbai accent, that she was not good in communications—with an emphasis on “communications.” That way, many, many people, have told me the same thing—in fact far too many people for my liking. But for some odd reason, this particular instance with this girl has stayed in my mind. My instinctive reaction back then was—the one which I didn’t share with her—that probably her problem was in understanding [anything straight], not in communicating whatever it was that she did understand. If she were only to “get it right,” it was very obvious to me, that she would have absolutely no problem in articulating it. An articulate dumb is an easy possibility; it’s not a contradiction in terms—even though I was (relatively more) new to the phenomenon back then.

But getting back to this recent discussion, if I myself were to make use of these “physical intuitive” imageries, then it would have been perfectly OK—I am an engineer. But the point is, at one point in discussion, in thinking aloud, one of these mathematicians themselves said something like: “So, when you integrate, you are going get this quantity [i.e. an expression he had written on the board] under the integral sign.” Then, in the same flow, he added without any distinct pause, still continuing to think aloud, still not addressing the line to anyone in particular: “You know integration—sum of areas under the curve. And so, …”

Clearly, even in his professional mathematical work, when it came to exploring a new path, [even if that path was only in a known territory], he wasn’t using either the formal epsilon-delta definition or the idea of the anti-derivative or the fundamental theorem of calculus. He was using a finite sum of finite number of finite areas under a curve. He would sure formalize his argument later on, and that’s when these beasts of formalization would come in. But in actually working out that new path, he was using only the simple connotative imagery.

We all always do.

So, as the thought of QM came up to me during my “purpose-less” kind of an idle arm-chair wondering on this fine monsoon evening, while comfortably sipping a cup of coffee at home, I happened to ask myself: what imagery do I really use when I say “QM”?

By “QM,” I meant, first and foremost, the concept itself. Not the implications of the findings of this field of science, but “quantum mechanics” as the idea.

I answered the question to myself immediately, of course. [How else could such imagery be of any use, in the first place?] I wanted to write about that question today. Instead, in explaining the meaning of imagery and connotations, I have ended up writing so much [about 1500 words] that I must now split this intended post into two parts. Accordingly, this writeup now becomes the part 1 of a (hopefully only) 2-part series of posts.

I will come to QM in the second part, hopefully soon enough. In the meanwhile, think about what your answer to that same question is like. [Yes, critical takes are perfectly welcome, too. Especially if they are sarcastic.]

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A Song I Like:
(Western popular) “The day before you came”
Band: ABBA

[E&OE]

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