Micro-level water-resources engineering

1. Introductory:

It’s the “Holi” day today—one of the two Indian cultural reminders that the summer is almost at the door-step. [The second reminder is the “Gudhi PaaDawaa,” the Indian lunar new year’s day, which follows after a lunar fortnight.]

The hottest—and the most water-scarce—days of late-April, May and early-June are in the coming.

This period also is the last opportunity in the year to undertake any appropriate water-conservation work.

Those who have browsed my personal Website would know that surface-flow and ground-water seepage has been a topic of some definite research interest to me. [Off-hand, I think I also have passingly mentioned about it on my blog in the past.] … That way, I haven’t actually pursued any concrete research about it; it’s just been in an exploratory stage. I do plan to do something about it once I get some right kind of students to guide along these topics, preferably ME students (from several different disciplines; see my research description at the end of this post). [BTW, even though currently I am jobless, I do anticipate to get a job in the next cycle of academic appointments that occurs sometime around the summer vacations or so.]

In the meanwhile, I have been going over some popular as well as scientific writings on the subject, thinking over the issues involved, and bringing some clarity as to what in particular I can do about it. My research would involve only computational modelling. In particular, I wouldn’t at all be interested in the sociological/governmental aspects of it, though one must be aware that they exist, and one must have at least some background kind of a sense of what they are like.

There has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of these initiatives/work. Three stand out, in the chronological order: (i) Rajendra Singh’s work in Rajasthan, (ii) Anna Hazaare’s, in Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, and (iii) Suresh Khanapurkar and Amrishbhai Patel’s, in Shirpur, Maharashtra.  As usual, media’s coverage of these efforts is mostly superficial, partial/incomplete, and skewed.

Here are some of my notes after browsing about these three efforts.

1. Rajendra Singh’s work:

Rajendra Singh has by now become something of a celebrity among the NGO-type of social workers; today he even attracts the wide-eyed young (and mostly clueless) volunteers from the urban areas.

I would strongly suggest you to pursue your own browsing about Singh’s work, starting, e.g., here [^], before reading further.

Please do that first, in order to realize the extraordinary perceptiveness of this piece, written by Amanda Suutari and Gerry Marten, here [^]. I don’t know who the authors are, except for their profiles here [^]. The main article at both the links is the same.

IMO, this piece is the best among all the articles available on this topic on the Internet. Yes, this piece, too, has some pinkish shades at places. “Commercial mines” is far wider a term that seems to have deliberately been put to use here; the mines actually were relatively small, shallow, and only for the marble stone, not for other minerals. That said, still, the aforementioned pink is rather rare in that article, and it occurs mostly in some minor places that are fairly well isolated. I mean, the entirety of the article itself has not been deliberately painted with a background pinkish wash of sorts. And if you go through the article ignoring these isolated streaks of the pink, then there is a wealth of accurate observations, and minute but relevant detail. The article truly stands out from the crowd.

As far as Singh’s main work goes, from an engineer’s point of view, here are some of my unanswered questions or points:

The remote rural area of Rajasthan that Singh famously went to (and stayed in) is not in the Thar desert, but in the Aravali mountains. From the Google Earth perspective, this location is just about a stone’s throw from Jaipur—and also from the then still surviving forest park. The “before” photos, too, show some greenery on some hills—not those seemingly endless yellow and wavy sand dunes flatly spreading everywhere up to the horizon. Why must every media report emphasize “Rajasthan” as a whole, when they talk about Singh’s work? Why don’t they say the half-green Aravali parts near Delhi and MP? Two further sub-points:

  • How effective would the collection of the falling rain be, if the region weren’t to be mountainous?
  • To what extent does the geological structure of the mountains and the flatter land help make Singh’s approach successful? The upper layers there are alluvial.

The usual criterion of repeatability or replicability: Singh did achieve repeated success in other villages too. In fact, in hundreds of other villages—800+ villages, in fact! Good! No, Great!!

Still, notice, all these villages lie in the same region—a comparatively very small part (area-wise certainly less than 5%) of the entire state of Rajasthan. Did Singh, especially after the Magsaysay award (2001), try something about 400 km west? at least about 200 km west? Why not?

Why does the media still insist on saying that it was a success in the arid lands of Rajasthan—as if all the representative parts of Rajasthan had been successfully demonstrated to benefit from the scheme?

In summary: Singh did demonstrate the very feasibility of this micro-level approach, going against the then existing engineering wisdom. Congratulations! Singh also did replicate his initial success at hundreds of other locations in Rajasthan—though not at a majority of places—or even a representative minority of places—in that state. Our optimism should be guarded. [Also, though I didn’t mention it, observe the government tried to spoil Singh’s work. When governments enter the economy, they are like that, regardless of who peoples the government.]

2. Anna Hazaare’s “Work” in Ralegan Siddhi:

Ah, Anna Hazaare! … I have written about this fellow before. Regardless of that, let me say, it’s impossible to hold a lasting grudge against this guy. The main reason is that one doesn’t hold grudges—there is no need to do that if you are willing to pass your moral judgements. The other reason is supplied by his personality: his appearance, mannerisms, language, “thoughts,” actions (remember him running after breaking his fast in Delhi?)… All such things included. …

… Hazaare’s is a personality of a very exceptional kind: he is a walking & talking, breathing & living, caricature. And he also is very forceful about what he does. … A forceful 3D living caricature that is busy building castles in the thin air at all times. How would it even be possible to take him seriously? Not unless the media makes an elephant out of him, and then insists on using the TV to make it sit in the room—your living room.

But let’s keep that aside, and let’s try to look at his water-conservation “work” in Ralegan Siddhi. How successful has the effort been, given its geographical and other contexts? A few notes of mine follow:

What is the extent of the greening that has been effected in Ralegan Siddhi? How does it compare (keeping all other factors equal or comparable) to the average greenery within an area of 50 km radius? Or even the other drought-prone region right in the same district? Answer: not at all impressive—if you are an honest observer, that is.

If Hazaare were not to arrange to divert water from the conventional irrigation canal running nearby to Ralegan Siddhi, if he were to rely only on his local, micro-level, water conservation schemes, how successful could he have been? About 25–30%, at the most, of what you presently see there, some engineers estimate. If he now were to agree not to take any water from the nearby Kukadi project canal, how long would it take for the existing Ralegan Siddhi greenery to turn yellow/brown? My estimate, after discussions with some engineers: about 5 to 10 years, with the lower side being much more likely. Note, this is a period far shorter than the one for which Hazaare has been continuously lauded in the media (and in the successive state governments) for his water-conservation “work.”

Replication: The Maharashtra government has wasted 100+ crores on this “Gandhian”‘s hopeless dreams. Why couldn’t they achieve success anywhere else—not at a single site elsewhere? Hazaare’s and media’s answer: It’s all Maharashtra government’s fault. (LOL!)

Note, Singh did succeed in hundreds of other villages—initially (and for a long time), without taking a single penny from the government funds. Hazaare did not succeed in a single other village, despite hundred+ of crores.

Summary: Idiocy, hypocracy, and media hype. Plus, shameless loot of the credit actually due to the conventional irrigation engineering.

3. Suresh Khanapurkar and Amrishbhai Patel’s work in Shirpur:

OK. With sections 1. and 2., we are already done with the notable works done in the 20th century. Both were (or at least have been called) “Gandhian.” Now, we enter the 21st century, and the matters do get a bit more more complicated—also, better funded, better documented, and on the whole, more interesting, anyway.

Summary: Khanapurkar is a geologist, and has retired from a government job. He has been an RSS guy. Amrishbhai Patel always has been an Indira Congress guy, an MLA too. But, he is a Patel. [Aakar?] As to their work: as (almost) always (at least in Maharashtra), when it comes to some secular/non-religious kind of a social work, first, someone from the Congress leads the way; if successful, The Family is given the entire credit; then, the “jholawaalaa”s eagerly follow; then some RSS guy enters the scene and attempts some improvement on the original theme, which often is unsuccessful, or at least, it is not just as successful; then the pinkos use the RSS guy’s failure to attack the RSS; then the RSS/RSS guy make(s) deal with the government/local powers; around this time, the RSS recedes into the background and the RSS guy finally begins to shine in the limelight; then more funds follow; then some more critical “jholawaalaa”s follow, and, simultaneously, the other pinkos and the reds wait and watch.

With the pressure of providing a very short and succinct summary being out of the way, we may now look at the situation from the engineer’s perspective.

While covering Hazaare’s “work,” I did not care to provide any link. The resources are over-abundant, and, as expected, none covers the ground reality the way it should be. For example, none discusses the extent of contribution of the Kukadi project canal; none mentions the hundred+ crores already wasted by the successive Maharashtra governments on Anna’s day-dreams “thoughts.”

In contrast, for the Shirpur pattern, there is an objective need to provide links. Reasons:

  • The Shirpur pattern has been tried elsewhere with some success, e.g., at the initiative of the NCP in the drought-prone areas in southern Maharashtra.
  • There is a BJP government in the Center, and a BJP-led government in the State.
  • The new BJP budget at the Center has announced thousands of crores for micro-level water-resources management: Rs. 5,300 crores nationwide, i.e., about 850 Million US dollars—say, almost a billion dollars.
  • The Shirpur pattern is open to a critical scrutiny, and not just of the same kind as Singh’s work invites, viz., the relevance of the geological factors, and the feasibility (perhaps with local adaptations/changes) or otherwise of replication. In addition to those two factors, the Shirpur pattern also remains open to an additional serious criticism, one concerning the undesirable and highly under-appreciated side-effects. And, this point acquires urgency because of the first three points.

Hence for the Shirpur pattern, I sure wish to provide at least some links. These follow, with a few notes of mine:

Here is a typical introductory sort of an article on this topic that would appear before the state/central governments began supporting the idea: [^]. I anticipate that much better written (and better-formatted) articles would arrive in the near future.

The model seems to work also elsewhere: [^].

Again, a perceptive piece, despite the fact that it seems to come from someone with pinkish inclinations: [^]. The author for the preceding piece is one K. J. Joy [^]. His name means that he must be at least a pink if not a red. [Aakaar?] He is something of that sort! “Privatization can do more harm than good” [^]. OK. Humour apart, even if his understanding of the terms such as “rights” (i.e., more properly, “individual rights”) and “privatization” does not seem to be sufficiently clear, it still does not mean that his article itself isn’t studious or valuable. Do go through the article; highly recommended.

A well-informed criticism; note especially the important and relevant geological points: [^]

An article that cites some actual geological data. Though the data are far too coarse-grained to be of any direct use in any micro-scale schemes, the article at least cares to look into some factual data. … You are not surprised by the author’s background, are you? [^]

An indication of the kind of complexity there is, in implementation: [^]

An example of the usual “our region didn’t get its share” [^]; such things seem to have begun already! Note, the demand has been made without pausing to think anything about whether or how the approach might at all work in a given area. I am not saying that the approach wouldn’t work in Marathwada—another region of severe droughts. In fact one of the links I gave above already indicate some success for this approach in that region too. Here, I am just highlighting the kind of artificial tensions that come in whenever governments interfere with the economy. And, I am saying, without being cynical about anything: “more research is necessary.”

4. A word about my planned research:

Here is an outline of the way my planned research might go:

  • Initially, (i) build a computer model of the surface topology and the underground geological strata and structures for some area—this could even be an imaginary geographical area!; and then, (ii) develop/adapt algorithms to simulate groundwater seepage after precipitation in this area, running the simulation for, may be, a decade or so. The quantities for the precipitation and the surface flow would enter the model simply as assumed boundary data, that’s all.
  • Add features to incorporate small check-dams or other structures at various locations and scales, and study their effect on groundwater seepage and water-table levels.
  • Add the features of the surface water flow and study aspects such as flooding vs. seepage, etc.
  • Then, take a focus area—an actually existing drought-prone area—and study its precipitation and geological features, build models, run simulations, and make some recommendations for locations of check dams and other structures/features.

The above is a broad conceptual outline that I currently have in mind. In the actual research, some components of some of the steps may get mixed up, and some other steps may get added in, e.g., a step of: simulating the effect on groundwater seepage and water-table levels, due to closure of an aquifer that got exposed due to digging of deep trenches while implementing the Shirpur pattern.

The research should actually begin after I land a professor’s job. In the meanwhile, enthusiastic engineers with programming knowledge may feel free to approach me—but only if they are willing to work hard, and for free! … When I play, I play, but when I work, I really work. Usually, that means hard work, at least compared to many, many others. So, don’t approach me unless you already know what it takes to do hard work over a considerably long period of time—at least months. (As far as I know, no smart work ever comes before at least a certain quantum of some very hard work has gone before it.) Also, I have no money to support you—or, for that matter, as of today, even myself! But if it still is all OK by you, and you still wish to do something in this direction working with me, then do feel free to drop me a line. Use email or comment form (and feel free to mention that you want to keep the comment confidential—comments here are moderated). I am serious about this stuff.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “yeh shaam mastaani…”
Singer: Kishore Kumar
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[I guess the post already is in a fairly good shape. I would update it only if I find some more interesting links etc.; otherwise, I would leave it alone as is. I mean, adding updates for streamlining and clarifying are much less likely here. Anyway, bye for now… ]

[E&OE]

.

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Many Quantum Interpretations

Suppose you are a student of engineering—say, of mechanical engineering or materials engineering (of perhaps even of computer engineering). You are taking a course on statistics or experimental methods, and your professor has suggested that you could easily create an interesting experimental apparatus: you could build a physical, particles-based model that illustrates the kind of process lying at the roots of the normal distribution. In other words, you could construct Galton’s board [^]. The professor happens to mention this point in your class only in the passing.

And so, on the next weekend, you go out shopping to the (Hindi) “junaa/chor bazaar” (English: flea market), get a few round rubber pieces, a discarded carom board, and a few ball-bearing balls. You affix the round rubber pieces onto the carom board following that Pascal’s triangle kind of arrangement. At the bottom, you affix a few wooden batten strips so as to collect the rolling balls into the compartmentalized collection bins. In the experiment, you would let the balls roll from the top of the triangle via an input channel, and after they have finished bumping into those various rubber pieces, and then rebounding and rolling down, you collect these balls into those various collection bins at the bottom. As the number of rows and the number of balls goes on increasing, the relative fractions of the balls cumulatively collected in the bottom bins tends towards the normal distribution [^].

Then, you think of an idea. You realize that what the mathematics requires is not this entire physical apparatus in all its physicality, but only certain quantitative aspects of it: the number of balls passing through the different places. And, focusing on the input and output of the system, you decide that the number of balls passing through the input channel at the top and the output channels at the bottom is all you are interested in.

Therefore, you think of some simple spring-loaded hammer-and-bell arrangement (or, on second thoughts, just some simple chiming cylinders of the Feng Shui sort) such that, whenever a ball rolls down through a given channel (input or output), it triggers a bell into chiming. To distinguish the various channels, you arrange to have each bell produce a different musical note. The advantage of this arrangement is that you don’t have to observe a ball as it goes rolling through your apparatus. You can simply hear it the moment it enters the apparatus, and you can hear its collection into each of the distinctive collection bins. Therefore, the only record that you need to keep is that of the musical notes: the input note, and the various output notes, say, Saa, Re, Ga, Ma… etc. (To the Western readers: Do, Re, Mi… or C, D, E…(with the appropriate sharps or flats as necessary)).

You demonstrate your working model in the class. Every one is impressed. Yes, even the professor. Not just him, but in fact, even the girls! They all have liked this idea of the bells…

Once the demonstration is over, as you head back to the hostels whistling, you find yourself toying with some ideas: would it be possible for you to collect all those appreciative glances coming from all those girls together, and use the collection to buy that super-bike with that oil-cooled twin-cylinder engine. … You continue walking, whistling happily over the bell idea…

Just then, you run into this budding physicist who lives in the adjacent hostel block. … He is a bit senior to you. You have always thought that a “wilting intellectual” would be a much more fitting term, but in this moment at least, that one seems to be an unnecessary kind of a detail if not a digression…

This guy—the budding etc. physicist—always carries an expression that is a linear combination of the following orthonormal components: (i) sleepy, (ii) sullen, (iii) dazed, (iv) abstract, (v) disturbed, and (vi) smug. The scalar multipliers along the individual dimensions do change more or less randomly, but the expression vector is always observed to span this six-dimensional space, you know by now. There is no change in the dimensionality of the space as it approaches you, not even on this bright, breezy and cool afternoon, you notice.

By now, you have had enough time to conclude that girls’ appreciative glances won’t buy you that bike. But even this realization wouldn’t hamper your aforementioned mood of utter joy and swelling confidence. You could solve any problem in the world, you are absolutely certain. Even a physicist’s problem. … Even a quantum physicist’s problem….

And so, you decide not to ignore the physicist the way you normally do. Instead, you approach him and offer if you could be of any help to him. … The expression vector collapses from (i) + (iv) + (vi) to mostly (v).  “I am interested in resolving the riddles of QM, you know,” you tell him. The expression vector undergoes some very rapid changes, and then settles down to (v) + (vi). … “Drop by my lab, tomorrow,” he asks you. And, without a single further word, walks away. The expression vector now, you guess, is: (ii) + (iii) + (iv). But neither (v) nor (vi) makes too big a presence in the linear combination. Not bad, you say to yourself… It is yet another affirmation that this is a great day, you conclude.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Next day, you land up in his laboratory in the physics department. His prof is a big shot. And, young. It was only in the last semester that he had joined here on a contract position, after a very successful post-doc at one of top five US schools. He has also managed to bring in a lot of funding and contacts with him, as he came. His lab has acquired some brand new equipment for some new quantum experiments; the equipment has cost millions. The funds even came from the alumni association, you know. …

Your friend isn’t exactly the local guru in the lab—his aspiration is to be a theoretical physicist. But no one objects to his hanging around in the lab—every one knows that the prof may be a big shot, but because he is so young and has arrived only on a contract position, he can’t possibly arrange for separate, cosy, air-conditioned cabins for his theoretical physics students. And therefore, this friend of yours has no option but to make do with an old wooden desk, one that is covered with that government-green felt cloth (but without the glass on its top). The desk is placed in a side-corner in this otherwise new and swanky lab. Even as the two of you settle down at his desk, no one in the lab seems to notice your presence—your own, or, for that matter, even that of your friend! No greetings, no inquiring glances, not even raised eyebrows—nothing. They seem to carry on business as usual….

Your friend steps out to grab a cup of coffee, and then, as you get a bit restless, you try chatting with a few lab folks. There is a shade of respect for you as they come to know that you are a student of that engineering department. The campus-wide workshop [/lab resource/computer centre] comes under your department. In between their daily routine in the lab, they answer your queries about the lab and your friend. “No, we don’t understand the theory he is working on all that well,” they say, “but no matter, he just can’t be a very successful theorist, to be sure,” they tell you in a matter-of-fact tone. “Not a single experiment has yet gone wrong since he began sitting here,” they explain. … And no, they wouldn’t at all mind showing you how their equipment works.

There is a thick, black, metallic table with a lot of regularly drilled holes, serving as some kind of a platform, quite a few dazzlingly shiny steel bars/columns/tubes, looking glasses, flanges complete with gaskets, nuts and bolts, precision-built black enclosures, electronics, and wires, and also a couple of high-end workstations with 24″ monitors.

“What happens,” the lab fellows explain to you, “is that there is this central box in the middle of it all. There is a single quantum source—well not, single quantum, it actually is a stream, but the rate is so low that there is statistically very low chance that more than one quantum could be in the length of the box at any given instant of time. The stream of the statistically single quanta enters the box from this side. Then, there are these seven detectors on the other side. As the detectors detect the quanta, they generate a very small signal. We use this big imported amp, and a high-end data acquisition system, to capture these quantum events of interest to us, and the cables feed the data into these computers here.” They then show you the GUI of the software program. “Here, you see these seven circles in this GUI? Each circle represents one detector. For convenience, the circles carry different colours, in the VIBGYOR sequence. Whenever a detector event occurs, the circle lights up momentarily. It also adds the event to this large, terrabyte database that we maintain. Yes, we also do daily data backups. The software automatically shows you the fractions detected in the various detectors.”

“And what distribution is it? It looks something like the bell curve,” you wonder aloud.

“Wow! You know that, too, huh? … Well, yes, it is the normal curve,” they affirm in delight.

“And, what is inside that box?” you ask.

“That is an invalid question!” Your friend has returned, with only one cup of coffee—the one he is sipping from. All the friendly lab folks somehow begin to disperse in no time, and you follow your friend back to his desk.

Your friend resumes the discussion. He proceeds to cite the Solvay conference, the Bell inequalities, Schrodinger’s dead+alive cat, the EPR debate, Dirac’s anti-matter bubbles, the Stern-Gerlach experiment, the Bohr-Einstein debates, and so on and so forth. All of which proves, he says, that you cannot raise a question like that.

“We can talk meaningfully only of the observable quantum events.”

“That means, the lighting up of those seven VIBGYOR circles?”

Your friend ignores your interjection, and continues. “We can talk meaningfully only of the observable quantum events. But not of what can be there inside that box. That is just a hidden-variables nonsense. But hidden variables, by definition, cannot at all be observed. Ever. Hence, they can have no place in a theory of physics.”

He continues: “Quantum mechanics is a complete theory, an accurate theory. It has been experimentally tested for accuracy to the levels of one part in 1000(followed by many more zeroes), and it has always been found that the theory always gives results that are in complete agreement with the experiment.”

At this point of time, there is an increase in the dimensionality of the expression space; it has now acquired an additional dimension of “triumphant,” and the all the other scalar multipliers have become zero. You know that it is time to leave.

You decide to check out some books from the library before getting back to your hostel. At night, you begin to read them. You also do a lot of Web browsing, well into very late night. You are nowhere.

One day turns into one week, the one week turns into many weeks, then months, then years, and you still are nowhere. But you keep at it—at least intermittently. And then, finally, some realization descends on you. You switch on your computer, log in to your blogging account, and start writing a blog post.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

The Copenhagen Interpretation:

The quantum shows the particle character as it enters the box. It shows a field character once in the box. The field collapses into a particle at the time of detection at one of those seven detectors. Thus, when the quantum is not observed, it exists as a field; when it is observed, it exists as a particle. This is called the Field-Particle Duality.

We cannot arrange the experimental apparatus of the triangular box in such a way that we could simultaneously observe both the field and the particle characters. This is called the Complementarity Principle.

We cannot ever hope to come to know how the quantum collapse occurs—how a field, an entity that is continuously spread over the entire triangular domain, suddenly localizes to a discretely observed particle, i.e., a spatially discontinuous entity or phenomenon.

There is an inherent uncertainty as to which detector a given quantum will hit. This is called the Uncertainty Principle.

However, the relative fraction of the times that quanta will be detected at a given detector, can be mathematically predicted, even if such a prediction can only be in  the probabilistic terms.

The math [sic] is the same as the Newtonian gravity field + the theory of bifurcation points, apart from, of course, the theory of probability.

Quantum mechanics refutes the classical idea that we can measure anything with as much precision as we like. The Uncertainty and the Complementarity Principles in fact imply much more.

The idea is not just that we don’t know how the field-collapse occurs; it is that we cannot ever come to know anything about it. The nature of the empirical facts thrown up by quantum mechanics is like that. Quantum mechanics places a limitation on human knowledge, by introducing uncertainty at its most fundamental level.

The Feynman Interpretation Reformulation:

All that fields vs particles is humbug. It’s a bunch of baloney. Real quantum does not behave that way at all. Real quantum is a particle. Yes, you got it right. This is what we know about quantum mechanics: The real quantum is a particle. But it’s bizarre! You have to construct those nice jazzy diagrams. In this case, the quantum undergoes these processes: a quantum goes from one place to another under the gravity field, or a quantum is absorbed and re-emitted with some momentum. There are many paths that a quantum can take. But there are no gears, ratchets and wheels. It’s all abstract. The 19th century physicists thought with all those mechanical gears and wheels and nails and collisions. But Maxwell got it right. He realized that there are no gears or nails. Maxwell was a smart guy. Also Pascal. Pascal also was a very, very smart guy. He was a mathematician. Pascal’s mathematical triangle is the abstract scheme which quanta somehow follow. There are many paths between different nodes of the Pascal triangle. Let us label the one node in the first row of the Pascal triangle as A, the two nodes in the second row as B1 and B2, those in the third row as C1, C2, C3, and so on and so forth. There are many paths and you have to sum up the quantum’s motion along each of them. For example, suppose there are only three rows. So, there are only a 3-factorial number of nodes: i.e., six in all. And you can connect these six nodes via all these tiny little arrows. And, so, in case there are only three rows to the triangle, you end up with these paths:
A -> B1 -> C1
A -> B1 -> C2
A -> B2 -> C2
A -> B2 -> C3
Of course, as the number of rows increases, the number of paths increases too. The factorial function is like that. It blows up. We spend seven years teaching our graduate students the necessary math [sic] so that they can calculate how these little quanta behave. But the essentials of that abstract mathematical process are very, very simple. I am sure my friend Smriti [/Kiran/Shazia/Shaina/…] can understand it. I thank her for inviting me here. Now, assuming that the path-lengths between the adjacent nodes in those paths are constant, then, the probability that the quantum will arrive at a detector, say, C2, can be calculated by taking the number of paths that have C2 as the final letter (2 here), and dividing it by the total number of paths (4 here). So, the probability in this case is 50.00…% You can calculate the probability to as much precision as you like: just keep on adding the recurring 0! Yes, you can do that. That is a neat trick which I learnt from my high-school teacher.

But no one understands quantum mechanics. Yes, a quantum is a particle. But it is nothing like a classical particle. It is quantum particle. No one understands what it means. No one can understand what it means. What this quantum particle actually does in that triangular box is, it goes over all those paths, before it is detected at any of the detectors. And so, you have to sum over all the paths. That is the way nature has chosen to do her book-keeping. Even if there is only a single quantum, you still have to take all the paths in your calculations. All the paths obtained by joining all those tiny little arrows. So, a single quantum simultaneously goes over the first path, the second path, the third path, etc. How it manages to be every where at the same time? That is something we don’t understand. No one understands. No one can understand. It’s not a classical particle. A classical particle follows only one path at a time. But a quantum particle goes over all the paths at the same time. This is called superposition. But it’s not an ordinary superposition. It is the quantum superposition. And you can calculate the probabilities with it…

And you can build a quantum machine. There is a lot of room at the bottom—in fact, the room goes on becoming bigger and bigger as you go down and further down the Pascal triangle. But, no one understands how this triangular box “really” works. No one ever can.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

The Many Worlds Interpretation:

The essential confusion is about the measurement problem or the field-function collapse, and the probabilistic nature of the detection events.

Therefore, the only valid answer can be that when you conduct a quantum experiment and detect a quantum at a detector, say at C2, this detection event happens in our world. However, there also are other worlds. The mathematical Hilbert space is big enough to contain many worlds! It contains our physical world, as well as every other possible physical world. Let us be polite to all these worlds. In the above example of a Pascal’s triangle of 3 rows, the Hilbert space contains six worlds. As Feynman ingeniously pointed out, as the number of rows increases, the number of physical worlds contained in the mathematical Hilbert space goes up dramatically.

Suppose a quantum goes from row A to B to C following the path: A -> B1 -> C2. But in the process of the quantum going from A to B1 rather than B2, the entire universe branches into a second world. The quantum has gone from A to B1, but this occurrence has happened only in our world. But there is another world in which it actually has gone from A to B2. Even though we cannot observe it, ever. It exists. Hilbert space can be proved to contain it. And similarly, for every branching occasion and every branched out world.

And, let us all be polite: please don’t tell me that there can be only one world. I acknowledge and in fact in my work I encourage the idea that you might have a philosophically interesting idea there. But there are many worlds. And, this idea sounds very plausible even if it may not be immediately compelling, because there are no hidden variables in this theory, and yet everything is deterministic. So, there have to be many worlds. At least, many physicists take very favourably to this idea.

After all, physics is the most fundamental and most abstract science. Computer scientists may think they are the only ones to do the abstract thinking. But they are wrong. When they model the searching and sorting algorithms, they may construct what they call an abstract tree. They may show all the branches and the leaves of this tree data structure at the same time. But, their theories still are not sufficiently abstract. They still insist on telling you that the actual computer actually traverses the tree via only a single pathway at a time—depth-first, or breadth-first, or whatever-first. So, in that sense, they do make a distinction between what is only potentially traversed and what is actually traversed. And, it is this distinction that compels them to have this entire tree only in one world. If they were to think more abstractly, if they were to use the insights of quantum mechanics, they would realize that all the various branches of the tree are actually traversed quite at the same time, but in different worlds.

We the physicists think about the most fundamental principles. We therefore have to be most abstract. And, mathematical. Mathematics is fundamental to physics. Therefore, the Hilbert space is more fundamental than the physical world; it contains all the possible physical worlds. We thus are in logic forced to insist that all the branches and leaves of the tree are physically traversed at the same time. That’s quantum mechanics for you. But simultaneous traversals require many different worlds.

Ergo, there are many worlds. Just the way computer scientists use an entire tree even if only one pathway would be traversed, similarly, we use the entire multiplicity of the physical worlds hidden in the Hilbert space, even if the events occurring only in our world would be observed. This is another reason why we like the MWI: it helps simplify our calculations—apart from, of course, fully satisfactorily solving the measurement problem and the probabilistic nature of quantum phenomena. So what if it takes many worlds! How does that pose a problem?

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A note on a more serious note: The above-discussed analogy is entirely classical, even though it does help pin-point the quantum idiocy to such an astounding extent. In case you don’t know QM, do not let yourself think that the above analogy is what QM is really like. In particular, the system evolution here occurs via the classical Newtonian gravity and momentum exchange, not according to Schrodinger’s equation, and there are no phases here—there are no interference effects. Similarly, in the Feynman interpretation, for a quantum system, depending on the context, the accounting might have to include the additional two paths: A + B1 + C3 and A -> B2 -> C1 paths. So, the analogy as given above remains entirely classical. Even if it helps bring out the quantum idiocy—I mean, not the idiocy of science popularizers, but that of physicists themselves—to this recognizable an extent.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “mila hai kisi kaa jhoomka…”
Music: Salil Choudhary
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Shailendra

[Guess I will not bother with this post much further, though, as usual, a chance exists that I might come back and streamline things a bit. The world is quantum.]

[E&OE]

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Speaking Truth to the Ochros

Two valuable voices have been silenced at the point of the gun, in the 21st century Maharashtra.

First, it was Narendra Dabholkar. Now, it is Govindrao Pansare.

Yes, both of them pretty much had their convictions slanted towards the left. Dabholkar was far more moderate, however. In contrast, Pansare was an explicitly avowed communist. (He was a Marxist.) But you have to put it in the context: he was an Indian communist—he believed in the constitutional means to bring about socialism in India. But, yes, as a quick ball-park estimate, they both certainly were on the left-liberal side.

But how does that justify their murders?

Dabholkar courageously spoke out against the mystic irrationalities prevalent in Maharashtra. He had waged a long cultural battle against superstitions. He, however, was always very careful to differentiate between superstition and religious belief. He had repeatedly made it clear that he had nothing against, say, the common “waarkari,” or against people going to temples/mosques/churches/etc.; he was rather against the deeply mystical and decidedly extremely irrational practices that, some times, wouldn’t even stop short of the human sacrifice.

Sure, the remedy which Dabholkar fought for, was in itself certainly questionable. Speaking of myself, I have not yet been able to convince myself fully that the anti-superstition law for which he worked so hard was either objectively necessary or convincingly effective. In the legal jungle of the kind that we have in India, one is always wary of introduction of yet another piece of legislation—one is apprehensive if it would not simply add more power to the State machinery to harass the innocent citizen.

But does that mean that some one could therefore go and fire bullets at Dabholkar?

Could any one could claim morality on his side if he were to justify Dabholkar’s killing?

It is not all that hard to imagine how, in today’s India, in today’s Maharashtra, at least some must have looked at Dabholkar’s killing approvingly. Yes, the situation is that bad. Though, it emphatically is not all bad. The cultural atmosphere still isn’t gone so down that they would publicly air their opinions, their moral stances.

As to Pansare, I now gather that he had spoken against the recent attempts at glorification of Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer.

That action on Pansare’s part was perhaps what cost him his life.

What have we come to, in India, and, in particular, in Maharashtra?

Have we the Marathis gone so down in our culture that today we not only think nothing of taking the law of the land in our hands and coolly proceed to burn or damage public property, but we now have become also bold enough to make mockery of the very idea of the rule of the law, by killing people whose views we don’t agree with?

OK. Keep the law part of it aside. Think about the morality/ethics part of it.

Is it morally OK to take someone’s life simply because he holds or spreads disagreeable ideas?

Bring it in an even sharper focus:

Is it morally OK to take someone’s life because he holds or spreads wrong ideas?

What kind of morality do the killers illustrate? Their sympathizers?

And, what kind of morality do the people—the ordinary people—who choose to look the other way, display?

First, they came for the Socialists…

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

I know what you are going to say. You are going to object to the colour.

Why associate the ochre with the killer’s morality, you are going to say.

Answer: Precisely because Nathuram Godse’s was a shade of the ochre—that’s why. Nathuram Godse would stand absolutely no chance of being glorified (either today or for the past half-century+ time) if his colour weren’t to be the right shade of the ochre. [Just imagine any other colour for Godse, and see if he would then be glorified in today’s India the way he is.]

That’s why.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

While writing something on these recent happenings in Maharashtra and all, I must also note this: R. R. “Aabaa” is no longer among us. May his soul remain in peace … I don’t have to say anything more about him here because most all the obituaries were eloquent enough. … But surely, he will be very much missed in the Maharashtra politics (and yes, even on the social work side).

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

OK. Let’s have a bit of a breather from all that bad or sad stuff… Too much of it can get depressing, you know…

So, let me note down something on the science side.

I have been browsing through a recent blogging debate about the MWI (i.e. the Many Worlds Interpretation) of quantum mechanics. Sean Carroll once again decided to write something in the defence of the MWI [^], even though what he writes isn’t convincing. The post has generated a lot of comments; do go through them. On the other hand, Roger Schlafly has not only noted his criticism, but also introduced issues like ID (Intelligent Design), here [^]. No, I don’t agree with Schlafly’s criticism either. In the recent past, I have criticized MWI on the philosophical grounds. My position remains the same. Yet, there is something additional about MWI that I had thought I could add, but didn’t. Carroll’s and Schlafly’s posts now provide a welcome opportunity for me to do so. However, I think that I should wait for a couple of days more or so, and let the controversy develop to a fuller extent, so that some further additional angles get thrown up. Also, I would also like to see if someone else, too, thinks of this same point which I have about MWI (the point which I did not mention earlier). … So, there. Give me a couple of days or so, and I will note down my take on the current state of this issue.

[E&OE]

 

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Speaking Truth to the Pinkos

Preamble: Today, I am in a “bad” “mood.” … (Marathi) “aataa maajhi saTakli!”

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *  

I saw this article by Ramachandra Guha [^] highlighted at Prof. Abinandanan’s nanopolitan blog [^].

I went through the first two comments to Abi’s post, and immediately later, also went through Guha’s article. As I began reading the latter, it seemed to me way before finishing it that the author does have some kind an axe to grind here. The question was which one, but the answer was not immediately obvious within the first 10 seconds, and so, I had to find it out… Realize, both Guha and Abi reside in Bangalore; Abi highlighted the excerpt containing the Mashelkar name in his post (and has done so in the past on his blog, too); and there is this Marathi Theatre Meet currently going on in the Marathi town of BeLgao (aka Belgaum/Belagavi) currently in the state of Karnataka. … I did finally find it—the nature of the axe.

Alert: I write at length (more than 4000 words in all).

Spoiler Alert: What I found isn’t about [not] restoring BeLgao back to Maharashtra, but something else. And this something else is what I found to be even more interesting. So, here we go.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Guha begins his article with Modi, but his writing became interesting to me only when he came to Mashelkar. [Ummm, yes, Mr. Modi… But that is a fact!]. Guha begins his take on Mashelkar with:

Next only to Rao in the hierarchy of Indian science is R. A. Mashelkar.

That was the line which engaged me in a real sense for the first time while reading this article. “Watch the action, now!,” I involuntarily said to myself, “this is going to be interesting.” … To think of the hierarchy of Indian science, and still to skip over Sarabhai—the relocator of the IIM Ahmedabad to Ahmedabad and a Gujju, in a piece that begins with Modi and written by Guha—had to get very interesting. … And sure enough, I soon found my first reference point in Guha’s article. Guha says:

Entitled ‘”Indovation” for affordable excellence’, [Mashelkar’s article] is mostly about the author himself [i.e. Mashelkar].’

Interrupting my reading of Guha’s article, I immediately did a Google search (Guha does not provide a link) and checked out Mashelkar’s article in the Current Science, here [^].

Saying so might perhaps be a bit too harsh on Guha, yet, I did get a definite feeling that perhaps he was counting on the fact that very few of his readers would bother to actually go through Mashelkar’s article from the Current Science. Guha could even be counting on the fact that people also find it difficult to hold on to context whenever they read a very brief article on a very complex topic—esp. in the middle of a casual browsing on NDTV’s Web site (and even more so, while reading anything on the Web site where the article was first published, viz., The Telegraph of Kolkata/Calcutta). The Bengali-named Doon-educated Bangalore-residing author could easily have, in some way, counted on that.

Getting back to the issue at hand: No, Mashelkar’s article isn’t mostly about himself. Check out the article for yourself right away, and observe the places where Mashelkar’s self-references appear and the flow of the writing in which they do. Nothing extra-ordinary here—certainly not for a man of Mashelkar’s accomplishments.

(In case you don’t know it already, purely metrics-wise, check out what arguably is the biggest metric in favour of Mashelkar, viz., the sheer dramatic rise in the of number of patents filed by the CSIR labs under his leadership, and the sustainable way in which he came to implement this program of his. For the latter, check out also the number of patents filed after he retired from the DG-ship of CSIR. As to the very idea of patents and all, I suspect that Guha should have an opinion about it, though he avoids any mention of this point while writing this particular opinion piece, and so, let’s not pursue that angle any further.)

If some leftist experiences some highly intolerable kind of reaction in the very process of going through a piece by Mashelkar, then, to get at the real issue at hand, let him also go through Rajendra Singh’s articles; as an example, the one here [^]. Guha does not mention Singh. [In case you don’t know, Singh started out as a committed socialist in his youth. He has not filed any patents or made any profit.]

IMO, the best way to approach this controversy of self-references is to begin, not by going through its worst practitioners but those who at least arguably are its best—and IMO, both Mashelkar and Singh fall in this latter category.

Observe that whenever people who have achieved success under very trying or difficult circumstances are later on invited to talk/write about their insights and their plans for the future, they invariably make salient references to their own experiences. By definition, when they began, and while they were at it—making that success happen—no outside agent more important than their own self—their own resolute, unyielding, rationality—was available to them, in order to effect the positive changes which they did come to effect.

They must make reference to their experiences, and as a part of that, yes, also to their very personal experiences. Yes, even in “science.” The self does have a causal efficacy; if it did not, no science would at all be possible because no knowledge would be. … Who else but a leftist/materialist sort of a fool could have told Guha that science is supposed to be apersonal?

But coming back to making references to one’s own achievements and plans, the richness to the perspective that this practice brings is far too valuable in its own way for the reader/listener (assuming, again, that it comes from a man of authentic achievements).

Science sure is objective, but “doing” science also is an art—it’s a skill, a very demanding skill. And, it is a very personal skill. Each individual differs in his own skills-set. And the world—the reality—is far too complex. When significant success is at all achieved by a person, such advancement comes about only through those personal skills-sets of that particular, thinking individual. The resulting science, management practice, or achievement does carry over this personal “imprint” of his, as a background context to his work. Given the complex and delicate nature of the process, knowing more about that personal context does have an objective value. It not just a spiritual value by itself—it’s not just an inspiration to the others. It is also not just a social value—a knowledge of the kind of society that made that success either possible, or, more difficult to achieve. Apart from these and similar values, personal notes also have a cognitive function or value—precisely because achievement of success is so complex, these personal notes become helpful in putting in context the nature of the achievement itself—the kind of objective science that has been done, the kind of lasting institution-building that has been effected.

Mashelkar’s article runs so contrary to the spirit of science that I wonder how it was accepted for publication. How did the editor of Current Science allow the essay to pass without major cuts and changes?

Yeah, right.

Either the editor is plain incompetent, or, what is more likely, too intimidated by Mashelkar’s reputation and influence to have asked him to revise his essay. Founded by C.V. Raman, Current Science is modelled on the American journal, Science, and the British journal, Nature. Like them, it publishes original scientific papers as well as shorter commentaries, book reviews, and obituaries. But one would never find in Nature or Science editorials remotely as self-promoting as this.

Really? Guha assiduously reads scientific papers and editorials from both Nature and Science?

Sure then he would know that one wouldn’t find an article like this in Nature or Science—or, for that matter, probably even on arXiv: N. P. Dharmadhikari, D. C. Meshram, S. D. Kulkarni, S. M. Hambarde, A. P. Rao, S. S. Pimplikar, A. G. Kharat, and P. T. Patil (2010) “Geopathic stress: a study to understand its nature using Light Interference Technique,” Current Science, vol. 98, no. 5, pp. 695–697.

Guha doth elevate Current Science too much, methinks.

But science begins with an interest in the world outside yourself.

Observe how this quote has been used out of its context. [I told you, Guha must rely on [your] ability to drop context.]

In particular, there are only two possibilities here:

(I) Possibility 1: (i) Guha first takes an unknown Indian student, say in his twenties, talking about some irrelevant personal things of absolutely no imaginable consequence to the development of science as such, even while talking up to a senior British scientist in his sixties who has come to India to help build an institution of science, and then, (ii) Guha takes a retired Indian FRS (etc.) of notable achievements and track record, who, now in his sixties, is supposed to share via an editorial piece his personal experiences, further achievements and ideas for the future, with a view to engage the younger working scientist in their common quest of further development, and (iii) Guha then equates the two: the senior British scientist with the audience of Mashelkar’s piece at the Current Science, and the inconsequential young Indian student with Mashelkar himself.

Don’t believe me? Re-read what Guha writes once again, and pay attention to the order in which what kind of reference appears to which man—in particular, who has been saying what personal things to whom in what kind of settings. Such things too are included when you say “context.” Going by the context, Guha equates Mashelkar to that inexperienced student.

Either Guha does that, or he does this:

(II) Possibility 2: Guha takes a respectable British name from science, and then relying at least on the argument from the association if not the argument from the authority, he tries to elevate the idea that pursuing objective science consists of wiping out any trace of the self as its crucial precondition.

I can’t think of a third possibility.

Does Guha habitually quote his quotes this way? to this kind of an effect? I have no good idea, though I wouldn’t have thought so. But then, he mostly writes about the things from the humanities, not sciences, and so, one wouldn’t really know all that well, and all that easily.

Still, observe the actual context here, the nature of each of the only two possibilities that can at all explain how Guha deploys that quote the way he does in this article. Then, take a moment to consider what it is that he must count on, in order to subtly advance his argument in this kind of a way: he must rely on your dropping of the context. [I told you so!]

I always thought that Guha was merely an enormously water- or fog-diluted—but not a white oil paint-diluted—shade of a pink. And I did also think that he wrote well—in a lucid kind of a way, even if not always in effect very persuasively. These two attributes—the colour and the quality of his writing—taken together made his articles an interesting sort of a reading, as far as I was concerned. But I also thought, with good reasons, that Guha also fairly regularly did his homework well, before embarking on lucidly painting the world in those watered down pinks. …In contrast, in the current piece, he doesn’t even care on that count of first doing his homework well. Interesting turn this, don’t you think?

One of my own intellectual heroes […] He nurtured an atmosphere of egalitarianism in the NCBS, where juniors could fearlessly challenge seniors and where honorifics such as ‘Sir’, ‘Professor’. were rigorously eschewed. Sadly, not many Indian scientists are cut of the same cloth as Obaid Siddiqi.

His acute observation about the usual sort of Indian scientists notwithstanding, realize, Guha now advances equating an informal and collegial atmosphere with … egalitarianism.

Guha is no enthusiastic graduate student, say of science or engineering, one who has just begun dabbling in writing blog posts that gush with impressive-sounding philosophical words. He is a much published intellectual from the humanities. At this point, we are still somewhere in the middle of his article. Therefore, this construct must eventually find its uses, some time later in his article. … For the time being, it might perhaps be worth noticing that among those who encouraged a nice academic/research atmosphere in India, Guha informs us Siddiqi as one of his intellectual heroes. But, in particular, Guha does not mention that other contemporary of Siddiqqi, viz., Narlikar—whom every one at IUCAA (or TIFR) would call by his first name, Jayant. …. “Gee, where is it going now? Could BeLgao come in at least now?,” I did catch myself wondering at this point. And, in comes, not Narlikar, but a different Marathi manoos! One from the humanities:

B. R. Ambedkar famously said that hero-worship is antithetical to the democratic spirit.

Another quote being quoted by Guha!

Now, this quote itself is objectively quite accurate: unlimited democracy is the rule by the mob, and it does thereby serve to annihilate, via the political means, any possibilities of any worship of any hero.

But Guha couldn’t possibly have meant it in this sense—not at this juncture in this article. Still, given the better [and actually mistaken] sense of the term “democracy” in which Ambedkar probably accepted and used it (he probably would have thought it to mean a civilized form of government on the lines of the British model, certainly not the rule by the mob—and such a meaning of the term is what both American and British intellectuals would have been arguing even in his times), it seems unlikely that Ambedkar could have meant this quote quite in the same sense as Guha now uses it. Possible, but unlikely.

But still, here, I didn’t bother to check the context in which Ambedkar might have said it. Checking and all wasn’t any more necessary. I knew by now how the author was using his quotes here in this article, and finding out the subtle viewpoint from which he comes, was now getting far too interesting a goal by itself. And so I thought: “May be a hero, to Guha, is one who reifies himself out to his own annihilation in a democratic manner? … Must read on… As a temporary note: The author has heroes but he indicates no hero-worship. Either these supposed heroes actually are just zeroes who cannot at all be worshipped, or he himself tends towards being a zero that couldn’t possibly worship an actual hero, or, both are/tend to the respective zeroes. …  Must find out what is the truth, here.” That’s what I thought. Gripping, this stuff had by now become!

Respect for senior scholars for what they have achieved is fine; but when respect shades into deference and even reverence, it is not conducive to independent and original thinking.

Reverence for senior scholars kills independent and original thinking? Says who? Blank-out. On what basis? Blank-out.

Quoting someone heroic, even if in an out-of-context sort of a way, Guha no longer finds necessary at this stage in his article. He apparently has found his form, and now he can take on any one, make any general assertion, without finding any need to support it with any sort of argumentation—before, during, or after asserting it.

But leaving aside Guha for a moment, why must reverence hinder independent and original thinking? Is there any fact of reality, man’s nature included, that makes this statement compelling? … If you have an honest doubt, let me give you just one counter-example: Read what Poincare, Einstein or Feynman (and if you want an example closer to the Indian genes, Chandrasekar) have said about Newton and his theory—the kind of terms they used while expressing their respective evaluations of Newton.

Either Guha’s reading of science is very limited, or, counting on his abilities of persuasion, at this point in his article, he no longer needs to use the crutches of mentioning science—not even some vague anecdotes about it. He can now “generalize” expansively, while taking care to drop just a hint here and there to the effect that some critical sort of thinking has gone in making those generalizations. So, he now turns to generously letting us have some further pinkish pearls of wisdom, concerning what to think of a person of eminence who is found handing out some prize named after himself:

…These were are the pertinent questions, and I suspect that in each case the answer is `No’.

Why must a scientist retire, or better still, die, before a chair or an award in his name may be instituted? What benevolent/desirable metaphysical prowesses does the fact of retirement—or better still, of death—possess, which makes this practice acceptable to people like Guha? What precise value does the fact of death [or of retirement] endow on a chair/award that was not already within the powers of the life [or the work-career] preceding it? Blank-out.

Any way, the author now ostensibly does not even think that questions like these need to be pursued with full clarity. As far as such issues go, mere suspicions residing in his mind should be perfectly acceptable alternatives to stand in for any objective answers. …

Hmmm… Even if I don’t care to counter his implicit argument in more detail than I have, I could—and I think I must—supply at least a few examples going counter to the answer that his suspicion derives: Check out the name of the highest award in applied mechanics, the name of its first recipient, and his life-span, starting here [^]. Also, check out the Belytschko Award (2008–2014), here [^]. Closer home and closer to Guha’s primary expertize (viz. humanities, India), how about the Lata Mangeshkar Award for Lifetime Achievement? Think: Possibly leaving aside intellectuals, do you know of any Indian—either the man on the street or the one from those innumerable government offices, either in the agricultural fields or in the urban IT parks, either in the coaching classes here in Kota or in the research labs there in the USA—who has ever had a problem with Lata Mangeshkar “in the flesh” handing out the Lata Mangeshkar Lifetime Achievement Awards? [… Oh well, but then, what I have done is to drop a Marathi name here, haven’t I?]

In allowing (or encouraging) things to be named after themselves, C.N.R. Rao, Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati have not done anything that is illegal. What they have done is not even immoral. But it is unquestionably in poor taste.

Ah! Now I get it. Guha really, really transcends the BeLgao issue. Also the science issue. Also the hero-worship issue.

Instead, it has only been just a matter of tastes! The issue is tastes. Not aesthetic standards or their applications, but mere tastes!

And, reading further, the author seems to have so badly fallen in love (if it can be called that) with his own tastes that he would somehow arise, awake, and write for the public consumption an intellectual defence of those very tastes—his own. But not before pre-emptying the possibility that a question or two may be raised about it. The instance of his tastes which he supplies is, by his own prior declaration, unquestionable.

It’s all just a matter of taste. So what, if a recognizable eminent name or two begins to get seen in an unseemly light, in this entirely “tastefully” done process.

The author may be Indian, but he is no leader in any field. What is to his taste is both unquestionable and for public consumption, esp. of Indians. So, they should follow him…err… they should have the same tastes as his.

… Just imagine how India would be like, only if his kind of tastes were to be carried by every Indian who has achieved eminence. How much for the better the whole world would turn, if only his tastes were to be carried by all the rest of us. Tastes, such as wiping out any references to ourselves, should we ever come to write any science-related article.

Taking the essentials of Guha’s basic logic and extending it just so slightly further, even a scientific article written with the pedestrian “we” would of course be in a bad taste. And, note, I am not even talking about the royal “we” at all, let alone writing a research paper in the grammatical first person singular [^]! How disgustingly lacking in taste would that be, if it came not just from a hapless graduate student but also from a leader of science, can you imagine?

It’s so damn tasteless to have any other tastes, and so, may be, we should think of imposing his tastes on every one else? To be fair, Guha himself doesn’t at all even hint at anything like this prescription. But since it is all in a fine taste to pull down a name or two, and since he writes of his tastes with such gusto and boldness, may be, we wouldn’t be too far off the mark if we begin to think along those lines?

But of course, as the author himself would sure know, imposition of mere personal tastes on other individuals would be a very hopeless kind of an enterprise—that is, if the very nature of the enterprise were to be spelt out in a forthright manner. One must therefore first drop some prior hints to the effect that a very reasonable sort of argument is and has been in progress, and thereby make the spelling out of the tastes in the end, say, a little more palatable. And, if such a flow of the writing, if such arguments, seem to require staying clear of anything to do with morality, then all the more power to… to his personal tastes—what else?

The kind of vision he by implication seems to keep, of an India transformed thusly—i.e., in keeping with his tastes—also explains the nature of the “research” he did, before sitting down to spilling all that electronic ink. It was all only in the name of that good taste of his, of course.

Nope. I got it [at least somewhat] wrong, once again!

In societies whose spirit and form are egalitarian, or where the aesthetic ethos is one of refined understatement, what [Modi] did would be completely out of place…

If you have read both Guha’s article and my commentary on it this far, you would know by now that this article by Guha is not about Modi the person or the kind of taste which he did come to display. BTW, given the genius of Modi’s image consultants, I do wonder how they at all recommended that sort of a suit to him, in the first place. Did they intentionally mean humour, by any chance?

But, coming back to the main point, even though Guha both begins and ends his article with the customary mention of Modi, an obvious fact of the matter is, Modi’s taste actually doesn’t matter much to Guha. Certainly not at all to his more basic and abstract argument. And, as it so happens, for exactly the same reason, Modi’s mention also does not matter much to me either.

Therefore, read that quoted line of Guha’s once again, keeping the entire context of the article thus far, but now dropping just for a moment this weaved-in instance of Modi’s name. If you do that, you will then immediately come to know that, above all, the article has always been rather about the “spirit” and the “form” of societies. And what does our author have to say about these things?

Not much, really speaking! He is already near the end of his article. And so, a hint or so is all the rest of us should now expect from him.

Thankfully, Guha, a some-time professor at LSE, Yale, Stanford and Berkeley, does deliver at least on that last count, viz., that of a hint. He is at least willing to grant us a glimpse into his ideal world—the sort of ethos in which his aesthetic tastes would find themselves perfectly at home.

That world is ruled by egalitarianism!

Phheewwww…. That explains it!

Going by the logic of the entire article and the way it has progressed, obviously, by now, no understatements are necessary on Guha’s part. His position is unquestionably refined, and he tells you about it quite explicitly, clearly, unequivocally, and boldly:

It is about forming the society according to the egalitarian ideals.

The aesthetics and tastes and all that was merely a stepping stone to leap to this grand finale, the overarching purpose.

… Poor me… I just thought that it was just about this and that…. About Mashelkar or Modi, or about science or economics, or at least about articles in the Current Science and the practice of naming traffic islands near IISc Bangalore by the names of professors who are currently employed in Bengaluru… But, in the final analysis, it was to be none of these things! … [And, no, it didn’t even turn out to be anything about the state and the State of BeLgao either!] … And, for that matter, it wasn’t even about this shade of the pink versus that. … Lying underneath and also simultaneously transcending beyond all those issues and all those shades of pinks, it actually was only about egalitarianism.

Egalitarianism, as the ideal spirit and the form of the society!

These humanities folks… They always make you read so many unnecessary words, before coming to unequivocally telling you where they come from. Pheeewwwww…. Hey, did I tell you that Guha has taught in the humanities at LSE, Yale, Stanford and Berkeley? … No, he did not mention that part in his article. But I found out, anyway. That part, as well as this part about egalitarianism.

And as to the ideal of egalitarianism itself, well, check out Ayn Rand [^].

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

To the NDTV editors: Yes, there was a click originating from my IP address to Guha’s article at your site (originally published at The Telegraph, Calcutta/Kolkata, West Bengal, India). No, the aforementioned page at your site was not closed within one minute. Thanks, but no, I won’t take a survey about your Web site, its presentation, or its contents. Yes, I should be visiting back your site once in a while.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

See, see, how things get totally out of control whenever they touch on anything philosophical or deeply fundamental? That was the reason why I didn’t want to participate in that FQXi essay contest either, and, indeed wasn’t even sure if I should be writing even just an informal document by way of my answers (I mean even without participating in the contest). …

Well, I have begun writing the document—my brief answers to the FQXi questions, but without forging them together into a coherent essay. Yet, I am also deliberately taking pauses… I don’t want it to grow and eat into all my time. I don’t want it to get out of control, say, the way this post has. When I began writing this post, it was going to be just a simple two or three short paragraphs’ reply, at Abi’s blog! … It always happens. I don’t know why….

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Don’t Like:

Hindi(?)/Marathi(?) “aataa maajhi saTakli, malaa raag yetoya!”

[E&OE]

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Mathematics—Historic, Contemporary, and Its Relation to Physics

The title of this post does look very ambitious, but in fact the post itself isn’t. I mean, I am not going to even attempt to integrate these diverse threads at all. Instead, I am going to either just jot down a few links, or copy-paste my replies (with a bit editing) that I had made at some other blogs.

 

1. About (not so) ancient mathematics:

1.1 Concerning calculus: It was something of a goose-bumps moment for me to realize that the historic Indians had very definitely gotten to that branch of mathematics which is known as calculus. You have to understand the context behind it.

Some three centuries ago, there were priority battles concerning invention of calculus (started by Newton, and joined by Liebniz and his supporters). Echoes of these arguments could still be heard in popular science writings as recently as when I was a young man, about three decades ago.

Against this backdrop, it was particularly wonderful that an Indian mathematician as early as some eight centuries ago had gotten to the basic idea of calculus.

The issue was highlighted by Prof. Abinandanan at the blog nanpolitan, here [^]. It was based on an article by Prof. Biman Nath that had appeared in the magazine Frontline [^]. My replies can be found at Abi’s post. I am copy-pasting my replies here. I am also taking the opportunity to rectify a mistake—somehow, I thought that Nath’s article appeared in the Hindu newspaper, and not in the Frontline magazine. My comment (now edited just so slightly):

A few comments:

0. Based on my earlier readings of the subject matter (and I have never been too interested in the topic, and so, it was generally pretty much a casual reading), I used to believe that the Indians had not reached that certain abstract point which would allow us to say that they had got to calculus. They had something of a pre-calculus, I thought.

Based (purely) on Prof. Nath’s article, I have now changed my opinion.

Here are a few points to note:

1. How “jyaa” turned to “sine” makes for a fascinating story. Thanks for its inclusion, Prof. Nath.

2. Aaryabhata didn’t have calculus. Neither did Bramhagupta [my spelling is correct]. But if you wonder why the latter might have laid such an emphasis on the zero about the same time that he tried taking Aaryabhata’s invention further, chances are, there might have been some churning in Bramhagupta’s mind regarding the abstraction of the infinitesimal, though, with the evidence available, he didn’t reach it.

3. Bhaaskara II, if the evidence in the article is correct, clearly did reach calculus. No doubt about it.

He did not only reach a more abstract level, he even finished the concept by giving it a name: “taatkaalik.” Epistemologically speaking, the concept formation was complete.

I wonder why Prof. Nath, writing for the Frontline, didn’t allocate a separate section to Bhaaskara II. The “giant leap” richly deserved it.

And, he even got to the max-min problem by setting the derivative to zero. IMO, this is a second giant leap. Conceptually, it is so distinctive to calculus that even just a fleeting mention of it would be enough to permanently settle the issue.

You can say that Aaryabhata and Bramhagupta had some definite anticipation of calculus. And you can’t possible much more further about Archimedes’ method of exhaustion either. But, as a sum total, I think, they still missed calculus per say.

But with this double whammy (or, more accurately, the one-two punch), Bhaaskara II clearly had got the calculus.

Yes, it would have been nice if he could have left for the posterity a mention of the limit. But writing down the process of reaching the invention has always been so unlike the ancient Indians. Philosophically, the atmosphere would generally be antithetical to such an idea; the scientist, esp. the mathematician, may then be excused.

But then, if mathematicians had already been playing with infinite series with ease, and were already performing the calculus of finite differences in the context of these infinite series, even explicitly composing verses about their results, then they can be excused for not having conceptualized limits.

After all, even Newton initially worked only with the fluxion and Leibniz with the infinitesimal. The modern epsilon-delta definition still was some one–two centuries (in the three–four centuries of modern science) in the coming.

But when you explicitly say “instantaneous,” (i.e. after spelling out the correct thought process leading to it), there is no way one can say that some distance had yet to be travelled to reach calculus. The destination was already there.

And as if to remove any doubt still lingering, when it comes to the min-max condition, no amount of merely geometric thinking would get you there. Reaching of that conclusion means that the train had not already left the first station after entering the calculus territory, but also that it had in fact gone past the second or the third station as well. Complete with an application from astronomy—the first branch of physics.

I would like to know if there are any counter-arguments to the new view I now take of this matter, as spelt out above.

4. Maadhava missed it. The 1/4 vs. 1/6 is not hair-splitting. It is a very direct indication of the fact that either Maadhava did a “typo” (not at all possible, considering that these were verses to be by-hearted by repetition by the student body), or, obviously, he missed the idea of the repeated integration (which in turn requires considering a progressively greater domain even if only infinitesimally). Now this latter idea is at the very basis of the modern Taylor series. If Maadhava were to perform that repeated integration (and he would be a capable mathematical technician to be able to do that should the idea have struck him), then he would surely get 1/6. He would get that number, even if he were not to know anything about the factorial idea. And, if he could not get to 1/6, it’s impossible that he would get the idea of the entire infinite series i.e. the Taylor series, right.

5. Going by the content of the article, Prof. Nath’s conclusion in the last paragraph is, as indicated above, in part, non-sequitur.

6. But yes, I, too, very eagerly look forward to what Prof. Nath has to say subsequently on this and related issues.

But as far as the issues such as the existence of progress only in fits here and there, and indeed the absence of a generally monotonously increasing build-up of knowledge (observe the partial regression in Bramhagupta from Aaryabhat, or in Maadhav from Bhaaskar II), I think that philosophy as the fundamental factor in human condition, is relevant.

7. And, oh, BTW, is “Matteo Ricci” a corrupt form of the original “Mahadeva Rishi” [or “Maadhav Rishi”] or some such a thing? … May Internet battles ensue!

1.2 Concerning “vimaan-shaastra” and estimating \pi: Once again, this was a comment that I made at Abi’s blog, in response to his post on the claims concerning “vimaan-shaastra” and all, here[^]. Go through that post, to know the context in which I wrote the following comment (reproduced here with a bit of copy-editing):

I tend not to out of hand dismiss claims about the ancient Indian tradition. However, this one about the “Vimaan”s and all does seem to exceed even my limits.

But, still, I do believe that it can also be very easy to dismiss such claims without giving them due consideration. Yes, so many of them are ridiculous. But not all. Indeed, as a less noted fact, some of the defenders themselves do contradict each other, but never do notice this fact.

Let me give you an example. I am unlike some who would accept a claim only if there is a direct archaeological evidence for it. IMO, theirs is a materialistic position, and materialism is a false premise; it’s the body of the mind-body dichotomy (in Ayn Rand’s sense of the terms). And, so, I am willing to consider the astronomical references contained in the ancient verses as an evidence. So, in that sense, I don’t dismiss a 10,000+ old history of India; I don’t mindlessly accept 600 BC or so as the starting point of civilization and culture, a date so convenient to the missionaries of the Abrahamic traditions. IMO, not every influential commentator to come from the folds of the Western culture can be safely assumed to have attained the levels obtained by the best among the Greek or enlightenment thinkers.

And, so, I am OK if someone shows, based on the astronomical methods, the existence of the Indian culture, say, 5000+ years ago.

Yet, there are two notable facts here. (i) The findings of different proponents of this astronomical method of dating of the past events (say the dates of events mentioned in RaamaayaNa or Mahaabhaarata) don’t always agree with each other. And, more worrisome is the fact that (ii) despite Internet, they never even notice each other, let alone debate the soundness of their own approaches. All that they—and their supporters—do is to pick out Internet (or TED etc.) battles against the materialists.

A far deeper thinking is required to even just approach these (and such) issues. But the proponents don’t show the required maturity.

It is far too easy to jump to conclusions and blindly assert that there were material “Vimaana”s; that “puShpak” etc. were neither a valid description of a spiritual/psychic phenomenon nor a result of a vivid poetic imagination. It is much more difficult, comparatively speaking, to think of a later date insertion into a text. It is most difficult to be judicious in ascertaining which part of which verse of which book, can be reliably taken as of ancient origin, which one is a later-date interpolation or commentary, and which one is a mischievous recent insertion.

Earlier (i.e. decades earlier, while a school-boy or an undergrad in college etc.), I tended to think the very last possibility as not at all possible. Enough people couldn’t possibly have had enough mastery of Sanskrit, practically speaking, to fool enough honest Sanskrit-knowing people, I thought.

Over the decades, guess, I have become wiser. Not only have I understood the possibilities of the human nature better on the up side, but also on the down side. For instance, one of my colleagues, an engineer, an IITian who lived abroad, could himself compose poetry in Sanskrit very easily, I learnt. No, he wouldn’t do a forgery, sure. But could one say the same for every one who had a mastery of Sanskrit, without being too naive?

And, while on this topic, if someone knows the exact reference from which this verse quoted on Ramesh Raskar’s earlier page comes, and drops a line to me, I would be grateful. http://www.cs.unc.edu/~raskar/ . As usual, when I first read it, I was impressed a great deal. Until, of course, other possibilities struck me later. (It took years for me to think of these other possibilities.)

BTW, Abi also had a follow-up post containing further links about this issue of “vimaan-shaastra” [^].

But, in case you missed it, I do want to highlight my question again: Do you know the reference from which this verse quoted by Ramesh Raskar (now a professor at MIT Media Lab) comes? If yes, please do drop me a line.

 

2. An inspiring tale of a contemporary mathematician:

Here is an inspiring story of a Chinese-born mathematician who beat all the odds to achieve absolutely first-rank success.

I can’t resist the temptation to insert my trailer: As a boy, Yitang Zhang could not even attend school because he was forced into manual labor on vegetable-growing farms—he lived in the Communist China. As a young PhD graduate, he could not get a proper academic job in the USA—even if he got his PhD there. He then worked as an accountant of sorts, and still went on to solve one of mathematics’ most difficult problems.

Alec Wilkinson writes insightfully, beautifully, and with an authentic kind of admiration for man the heroic, for The New Yorker, here [^]. (H/T to Prof. Phanish Suryanarayana of GeorgiaTech, who highlighted this article at iMechanica [^].)

 

3. FQXi Essay Contest 2015:

(Hindi) “Picture abhi baaki nahin hai, dost! Picture to khatam ho gai” … Or, welcome back to the “everyday” reality of the modern day—modern day physics, modern day mathematics, and modern day questions concerning the relation between the two.

In other words, they still don’t get it—the relation between mathematics and physics. That’s why FQXi [^] has got an essay contest about it. They even call it “mysterious.” More details here [^]. (H/T to Roger Schlafly [^].)

Though this last link looks like a Web page of some government lab (American government, not Indian), do check out the second section on that same page: “II Evaluation Criteria.” The main problem description appears in this section. Let me quote the main problem description right in this post:

The theme for this Essay Contest is: “Trick or Truth: the Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics”.

In many ways, physics has developed hand-in-hand with mathematics. It seems almost impossible to imagine physics without a mathematical framework; at the same time, questions in physics have inspired so many discoveries in mathematics. But does physics simply wear mathematics like a costume, or is math a fundamental part of physical reality?

Why does mathematics seem so “unreasonably” effective in fundamental physics, especially compared to math’s impact in other scientific disciplines? Or does it? How deeply does mathematics inform physics, and physics mathematics? What are the tensions between them — the subtleties, ambiguities, hidden assumptions, or even contradictions and paradoxes at the intersection of formal mathematics and the physics of the real world?

This essay contest will probe the mysterious relationship between physics and mathematics.

Further, this section actually carries a bunch of thought-provocative questions to get you going in your essay writing. … And, yes, the important dates are here [^].

Now, my answers to a few questions about the contest:

Is this issue interesting enough? Yes.

Will I write an essay? No.

Why? Because I haven’t yet put my thoughts in a sufficiently coherent form.

However, I notice that the contest announcement itself includes so many questions that are worth attempting. And so, I will think of jotting down my answers to these questions, even if in a bit of a hurry.

However, I will neither further forge the answers together in a single coherent essay, nor will I participate in the contest.

And even if I were to participate… Well, let me put it this way. Going by Max Tegmark’s and others’ inclinations, I (sort of) “know” that anyone with my kind of answers would stand a very slim chance of actually landing the prize. … That’s another important reason for me not even to try.

But, yes, at least this time round, many of the detailed questions themselves are both valid and interesting. And so, it should be worth your while addressing them (or at least knowing what you think of them for your answers). …

As far as I am concerned, the only issue is time. … Given my habits, writing about such things—the deep and philosophical, and therefore fascinating things, the things that are interesting by themselves—have a way of totally getting out of control. That is, even if you know you aren’t going to interact with anyone else. And, mandatory interaction, incidentally, is another FQXi requirement that discourages me from participating.

So, as the bottom-line: no definitive promises, but let me see if I can write a post or a document by just straight-forwardly jotting down my answers to those detailed questions, without bothering to explain myself much, and without bothering to tie my answers together into a coherent whole.

Ok. Enough is enough. Bye for now.

[May be I will come back and add the “A Song I Like” section or so. Not sure. May be I will; may be I won’t. Bye.]

[E&OE]

 

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