(1) Someone Is Ready to Call Me a “Genius”:
Yesterday or so, there was a message in the famous Lounge of CodeProject, asking people something like whether an IQ of 147 was high enough or not… I followed a few links in the ensuing discussion, and a few clicks later, was led to the following Web page:
Do have a look at this page. … I entered my GRE scores and lo and behold: I was a genius!
My V+Q score of 1510 correlates, the above page informs me, with an IQ level of about 155 on the Stanford-Binet scale. Wow! … Now, of course, you know about my GRE story (of Oct. 1989 batch): how the Americans canceled the GRE scores for all centers in India out of a suspicion of mass copying at centers like Hyderabad (the same city where today Americans pay Rs. 1 Crore per annum as salary whereas I go jobless), and then did nothing to act in time so that valid scores could be made available in time; how they bungled up even the make-up examination, canceling also the make-up examination score so that no GRE scores at all were available at the time of decision-making, etc. So, my score of 1510 is, really speaking, refers to the very first GRE, the one that got canceled. I got to know of that score because UAB had directly made that enquiry to ETS and used the answer they got. I never got to know my score the second time round because, as I mentioned above, that particular make-up examination also was canceled. My third-time GRE score, done up as a “time-pass,” more or less (because all my application money had already gone down the drain because all other American universities had already declined my applications for a lack of GRE scores, and because UAB had already offered me a Fellowship anyway), was: 800/800 on Quant and 680/800 on verbal. Even if we use this score, it still correlates with 153 on the Stanford-Binet scale! Wow!!
Really speaking, the only thing I find to say Wow! about my scores is that I never lost any point in Quantitative. There is a reason for it. This was the first maths examination in my entire life which I had answered without any mistake—otherwise, despite my excellent record right from school days, including winning scholarships and all, I had never actually scored a flawless 100/100 on any maths examination. Even though my brother and sister had, on many occasions, I had not. So, GRE brought me a wow because I scored 800/800 without a mistake both times. I mean, in our times, there used to be people who did score a perfect 800/800 score, but still had up to 2–3 mistakes. I, on the other hand, had made none every time I came to know of scores.
Another wow thing about GRE was—and remains—even more important to me. It was that I never lost a single mark in the verbal Reading Comprehension section. Not even once. Never in practice examinations (some 10 odd that I took) nor, I believe, at the actual examination. That, actually, meant far more to me. It does so even today. I mean I have known IITians (of high ranking branches) and medicos routinely miss at least one mark after answering both Reading Comprehension sections on each GRE; I never ever lost even one mark even once.
And the reason I find this performance so satisfying is… Well, we have to go back to my school-time to see why it feels so important to me. … I had finished reading almost all of Vivekananda’s writings while still not even in 10th standard. Even before beginning reading his books, I had been distinctly fascinated by the tales of his extraordinary capacity for mental concentration, his extraordinary mental abilities. There were those famous tales of how he had a photographic memory (stories which, even back then I had suspected would be probably somewhat exaggerated; stories that I myself, nevertheless, also repeated, adding a bit of mirch and masala too while retelling them to my friends…) And then, there also were the stories of how Swami Vivekananda could rapidly get the essence of what the next person was saying to him, right on the fly. It was this ability which had made a distinct impression on my mind. In any case, for certain reasons not yet known to me back then, I had concluded that it would be wonderful not to miss any such thing which was within one’s own means/control. (It was almost like a self-administered Hypocratic Oath: First, not to miss any thing actually there, not to introduce something of one’s own as far as this was possible. I don’t remember when I administered this oath to myself, but somewhere in the busy-ness of reading a book after another book, I had noticed, after chatting about how one reads with friends, that I had made a resolve or a commitment of that sort to myself.) So, not to miss something while reading has always been important to me, in a way.
And, there always has been one odd mental picture which I have associated with a mere rapid proficiency in mathematical manipulations. I have always compared such an ability with a lean pole that could easily buckle. I mean I had implicitly grasped a sense of seeing abstractions built over abstractions, and the only way in which I could express a “dizziness” of that sort was by formulating a graphic metaphor like that. It was not that I didn’t understand the maths or that I was afraid of it. No. It was just that I was apprehensive of this way of using my mind to a major extent in my life. I was apprehensive of it, and had developed that “thin pole that could buckle” as a mental picture even as a school-going child. [Update on May 12, 2009. I tried hard to recall the specifics about this, but no longer remember them. So, I really can’t tell today when it was that I really formed this picture. It’s likely that it was formed sometime later, early on in my college—11th standard to FE/SE. Certainly it should have been there by the time I was in my TE—the time when I came across Ayn Rand’s epistemology.]
And, I had thought, right back then, that the way to make the tall pole stand was to “support” it laterally, and this, I thought, can be had by expressing things in words, using ordinary language, and by drawing geometrical figures, graphs, abstract logical diagrams etc. to a lesser extent. [Update on May 12, 2009. Though not the pole analogy, the need to “support” mathematics with plain descriptions has been with me for a long time. I certainly remember that the sole preparation I had done for my 8th and 9th standard mathematics annual examination was to write down definitions once in my notebook. My family was worried about it. Maths, they had told me, was meant to be studied by solving practice problems, not by writing down theory like definitions and theorems. I had ignored them (which got them even more, say, disconcerted). After all, I pointed out to them, I could prove any theorem of geometry that the teacher could think of posing (and many others outside the textbook(s) as well). And, as to practice problems, could they guaruntee that the same specific problems/sums are going to appear on the examination? If not, what was the point? But definitions and theory were different. They are interesting and can be useful also later on, I had argued… I couldn’t convince them or anyone else with my logic, but was clear that theory and its explanations in different terms is what mathematics was really about. … Apparently, I still disagree with a lot of people even today. So, the importance I attached to the theory of mathematics was still there right in 8th standard. But not the specific pole analogy, I think after rethinking about this issue.]
And, I had also thought (right in school time) that it was more important to be well-rounded in all cognitively possible angles than strive for an outstanding (a world-beating) mastery in only one thing or two. I still do think so, though today I can also place that thought in the right context: today, I will say something like that the broader-scale integrations are a must no matter how much of a mastery you gain in your specialty(ies) such as abstract mathematics.
It is for these reasons that the so-called “theoretical” (as opposed to “numerical”) questions also are important to me; it’s the reason why I have valued competency in Reading Comprehension; it’s the reason why I have been so delighted in having good scores in that section on GRE.
Being seen called a “genius” is just a time-pass. Really. Knowing that your first reading itself is (still) being done energetically enough, with as much liveliness or awareness or mental stamina as is possible to you regardless of your intelligence, is far more important (and, far more deeply satisfying. Really.)
In fact, my simple test is that reading (or exercising understanding through any other modality such as listening, watching, observing, recalling, mentally considering, etc.) should be done with such energy and focus that you ought to feel exhausted after a while. If you do not get tired by thinking, you are not exerting yourself right enough. If you get tired this way, even a couple of hours of study is good enough!! More on this, may be, some time later… (In Pune, I routinely run into school children or their parents who claim that they study for 4+ hours a day at home, on every day of the school! I can only marvel at them!… I mean, general reading for 6 hours is different. But studies… Well, it’s entirely different ball game… “God” knows how they study for such a long time. But sure enough, it does not show up in their examinations, writing, talk, or action.)
(2) Something (Almost Random) on Sleep…
The question of what does and does not form a proper philosophic query can be sometimes difficult to settle.
It is well known that philosophic ideas are abstract, that they are the widest abstractions possible to man. Also, being basic, they often are simple (i.e. simple, in a difficult way). But characteristics such as these, it seems, are not always special to the ideas of general philosophy.
For example, consider the question of instantaneous action at a distance (i.e., IAD for short). This is a well-known issue from basic physics. In the last century, once Einstein’s relativity theory came forward, it became a focal point for a lot of nonsense as well as some philosophic discussion. One of the satellite issues that the relativity theory brought forward was that of the IAD. Of course, relativity theory is not the only context in which one can possibly think about this issue; I, for example, have discussed it in the context of the diffusion equation during my PhD research. Of course, speaking in general terms, my discussion is rather an exception. There is no gainsaying the fact that today physicists know about IAD almost exclusively in reference to Einstein’s famous postulate that the speed of light is a constant. If c cannot be infinite, IAD is ruled out. [Update on May 12, 2009. Notice, it’s not enough that something might move faster than light. The point is, the speed of interaction has to be infinite for IAD to happen.]
Now, thinking about this IAD issue, I was of the opinion that it did qualify as a proper topic of general philsophy. But then, a few years back, I chanced upon on the Internet some writing from David Harriman in which he had taken the opposite position. It is not for philosophers to debate, he had said, whether one end of a see-saw would go down precisely at the same time that its other end goes up. (In case you didn’t realize that this example actually involves IAD, you are too dumb to read this. (LOL!))
David Harriman’s argument seems to make sense. The see-saw problem does seem to form an issue that is specific to some special observations pertaining to only a special group of existents. … Or, is it?
Consider this: Somewhere at the base of our system of justice lies a particular form of the law of the excluded middle. (It came from Aristotle, not Plato or any other mystics.) Now, of course, Aristotle’s law, when taken as a fundamental philosophic truth, is far more abstract and wider of application. (Indeed, it’s just a corollary of the law of identity—and the latter applies to the entire existence.) Yet, in the judicial system, there is one particular form of the excluded middle which is recognized: A person cannot be at two different places at the same time. For instance, consider what happens if you are innocent but get caught. If you can prove that you were in a different city when the crime happened, you are let go, your honour completely intact. Indeed, the lawyer trying to nail you down may even be able to prove that you were wielding a knife precisely at the same time that the crime happened. But what if you were cutting vegetable in Pune at that time when the murder actually happened in New York? It is a very particular form of the law of the excluded middle which saves you in such a case. It’s a metaphysical denial of the IAD which saves you. After all, jurisprudence is not a technology based on the science of physics, is it? Obviously then, it has to be a metaphysical denial of the IAD [Update on May 12, 2009: even though case such as what we considered here is easily settled by reference to the fact that the body of a person cannot be so long as spread over the two cities; we don’t have to refer to IAD or its denial to settle this particular case. But, I was just taking a big example in general, that’s all].
The case with issues like IAD is, perhaps, similar to the idea of individual rights. Rights is a concept that is at once both moral and political in nature—it’s the bridge between the philosophy of morals and that of politics. Similarly, I think there is this possibility that some concepts are sufficiently basic that they can simultaneously be both scientific and metaphysical in nature. They would, thus, satisfy one of the requirements to be considered as axioms of the relevant special sciences. For the science of physics, one might perhaps consider the following concepts/laws/ideas as falling into this category: space, time, sensory qualities like temperature (i.e. the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics which merely establishes the objectivity of a quantity like temperature), color, etc.
As to David Harriman’s argument, there also is yet another way to approach it. This is a more indirect way. It consists of going through the concepts that philosophers in general have used over the centuries; apply reason to separate the chaffe from the grain; and go on from there. This second approach, thus, rather relies on what other men have thought the scope of philosophy to be. Now, since men aren’t always consistent, obviously, this is not at all a fool-proof method. But it can be helpful.
Consider, for example, what Harriman would himself consider to be the prime example of a philosopher, namely, Ayn Rand herself. Refer to her epistemology book. In this book, she discusses at length the classification of concepts, e.g. concepts refering to physical objects vs. those referring to the aspects of consciousness vs. those referring to the products of consciouness, and so on. Then, she comes to talk about concepts like “but.” Pause for a moment and ask yourself: When you read this particular chapter, does it feel like a grand first-hand inductive generalization proceeding from the concretes, or does it rather feel like a good review of the philosophy of the special science of grammar? Even if it’s brilliant, original, and first-hand writing, does it not feel like elucidating her views on the concepts of grammar—a special science just the way physics is? If you ask me, I would say that it means just the latter, even if obviously her more general purpose here obviously also is to lay the groundwork so that a future discourse on how individual concepts—words—are linked together, and so, how proper cognition can be defended from its enemies at a coarser level of cognitive granularity, would have some rational grounds already laid down. That, evidently, seems to be her more general purpose. But look at the actual methodology: She is not being deductive here, sure, but neither is she directly integrating from concretes as such either. What she is directly doing here is rather a process of isolation, one of contrasting the narrower subdivisions from each other. Now the point I am trying to make is this: If Harriman were not to have the benefit of the knowledge that Ms. Rand is writing this all in a specifically philosophic context, would he so easily accept the idea that an indication of the meaning of the word “but” is (or can be) a philosophic matter? I mean, doesn’t it look a bit too special to grammar?
Overall, I believe, many times, it’s not so much a word or the outward point of debate which determines whether it is philosophic in nature or not; it is the depth of the treatment, the kind of integration which is demanded, the fundamentality of the discussion.
The reason I went at such a great length is because it is good to know what philosophy is. (Smiles.)
A particular thing that I really wanted to write about is this (but I have no longer any patience left to type any more—even though I am a touch typist).
Is this topic philosophical? Can it be? Or is it doomed to be examinable only from the narrow perspectives of special sciences, such as biology, physiology, medicine, and psychology (and worse: mysticism, religion, folklore, etc.)?
Now when this thing occurred to me recently (once again, after many decades), I tried to think very hard if Ayn Rand had even indirectly indicated anything on the topic. But I couldn’t recall anything except some indirect hints. For example, recall that passage from The Fountainhead when Roark goes to sleep right in the office late in night, his work finished (and if I remember it right, his body falling into a contorted position sheer out of exhaustion). So, the idea hinted at is that sleep is for relaxation, rest, perhaps even rejuvenation (though the emphasis clearly is not on this).
But is this all we can think about it? Can’t there be more refined and more fundamental philosophical remarks about it?
As I recently thought about it, I happened to consider what the ancient Indian wisdom says while highlighting the difference of man from animals. Man, Indian wisdom says, does have some qualities/drives that he shares in common with animals though qua man he is not limited to these. The qualities in common with animals (and birds) are: “aahaar” (eating), “bhay” (fear), “maithun” (sex) and “nidraa” (sleep). The Indian wisdom then goes on to add many things which I don’t buy. [Update on May 12, 2009. And, for that matter, even for the characteristics that Man shares with animals, the actual qualities are distinctly human in nature. More on this, later.] But still, this particular list is in itself interesting in that it brings together highly disparate facets together, and therefore, to that extent, it is indicative of some original observations. The pithy remark has, of course, survived millenia. Naturally, it prods one to see if there is not something deeper to sleep.
Here, I also recall Feynman’s experimentation with sleep deprivation. Or was it Carl Sagan? I’ve forgotten who it was. … I mean the guy who went into that sensory deprivation cell just to figure out if he gets any weird experiences or not. I guess it was Feynman. In the writing below, tentatively, I will assume it was Feynman, and correct myself later if I am wrong.
Stated simply, if you are deprived of proper sleep for some time, you will (temporarily) go mad. If it continues, you will die. … Sleep is one of the basic conditions of life for the organisms who show such behavior.
Is sleep a requirement of consciousness—the way it is of sustenance of life? In other words, is sleep special only to those organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness? Do ants go to sleep? How about worms? bacteria? amoebae? viruses? Where do we draw the line? How? This last “how” is, of course, a question of special sciences—not of philosophy. But consider the next line of thought.
There are cycles in the physical universe: high tides and low tides, day and night, changing phases of moon, seasons, motions of stars, etc. Aristotle was among the early thinkers to take a special note of the cycles—-he put forth the idea that time is cyclic in nature.
Similarly, there are cycles in the biological processes too: the process of breathing, the beating of the heart, the electrical and chemical waves of the brain and the nervous system… And, of course, the cycles of sleep and waking hours…
Further, considered from the teleological angle, sleep would be serving certain teleological functions towards furtherance of life.
But my point is that oftentimes the Western culture has thought of sleep only in the physical/biological terms—not of the requirements of consciousness. If what sleep serves are certain basic purposes towards sustenance of life, then, it can’t be for only the bodily sustenance—consciousness, considered as an invisible organ of the individual who possesses it, must also both require and be benefitted from it.
If myths, legends and folklore are any indications, to the primitive man, the state of dreaming would be indistinguishable from that of being woken up. But despite thus introducing this thread of thought here, I must make it clear that I am not therefore going to accept the hypothesis of the fourth state of consciousness as an established fact of science. Science requires far more care than Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his disciples have displayed in this regard. God knows (humourously speaking!) it’s so tough even to just isolate the right concepts with which to work, when it comes to building science. Indeed as Leonard Peikoff has clarified, the proper status of psychology is that is is “pre-scientific” in nature. So, even if touching on dreaming, I am saying, let’s keep it aside and search for something of more fundamental or basic nature and state: What is the philosophic nature of sleep?
Frankly, I don’t know…. Sorry if you thought I was going to give you an answer. (On second thoughts, I now start LOL!)… But I myself am not very clear about it…
Yet, all of this I stated only in order to advance the idea that a philosophic treatment of sleep is not a bad idea (from an epistemological—i.e. philosophical!!—viewpoint). After all, Ayn Rand has even given a philosophic treatment to sex—a treatment that does not regard the biological fact of reproduction as its focal point. … At a time that the Rationalistic fantasies of immortality were a routine fad of discussions in the USA, she remained (not so) surprisingly in touch with reality in that she pointed out the broad inductive basis to aging—how aging and death are the things that are only to be expected as natural things… So, I certainly wish that she had written something on something as simple and natural as sleep, too.
If not, at least the other philosophers… But, off hand, I don’t know of any too… [Have they been sleeping on this issue?]
One reason I happened to think about this issue a few times the past few days is because I really do not expect people to have a good idea of what reincarnation is and what it can possibly involve if they are not even clear about what sleep is and what sleep can possibly involve.
Sleep is far too easy a topic, comparatively speaking. If you are already senseless about it, there is no reason for anyone to take you very seriously about your views of reincarnation, no matter how old or widely circulated such views might be.
But what my thinking finds interesting is that sleep involves a periodic (i.e. natural and orderly) loss of consciousness—the tool of human survival.
Here the term consciousness is to be taken in its primary sense. You may be conscious of your dreams—right while dreaming and later on after waking up. But there at least is some time when you are in the deep sleep wherein you lose consciousness. And regain it, in a systematic way. Again and again. All throughout your life. Even when it comes to dreaming, that still is not at all random but follows certain natural laws. The consciousness alters its modality during dreaming and it’s a very definite change. Sleep involves all of these.
Like every process of life, sleep fulfills some pro-life function—even if it involves a loss of consciousness—which, paradoxically, is the very tool of survival. What’s its philosophical nature?
This is one question that I don’t even have so much clarity that I could first form a riddle about it, and then go ahead and crack…
Indeed, as the discussions in Ayn Rand’s seminar on epistemology indicates, people first grasped the nature of existence, then Aristotle discovered identity, and, then despite Rand’s formulation that consciousness is identification (both qua faculty, and even qua awareness) we are still only grappling with understanding the nature of consciousness. As Rand agreed, when it comes to consciousness, mankind—or most of it anyway—still is very much in the Dark Ages. Consider, for example, what do you know about the metaphysics of memory? Why can memories be so vivid, and yet, in general, they are so fallible? Why do they fade? What happens when you recall something? … People are often likely to give answers in analogy with what computer does, but except as broad analogies, it’s utterly inapplicable—human memory is not a mechanical reproduction. … Isn’t it wonderful that here is one proper force of nature—one that is actually active, actually brings about changes in reality. And, despite being the tool of survival, this force can also so easily act against the same individual who wields that force. A faculty that apprehends reality but can so easily also go on to keep within itself only the purely imaginary. (Though, this “so easily” is perhaps not as easy as it’s often thought, as Rand pointed out: there is an immediately accompanying feeling of guilt—at least a mental uneasiness—with every act of evasion.)
Anyway, wrote a lot but without formulating a nugget out of it… But not a stream of consciousness exactly either… More, later.
(3) My Joblessness
Be moral. Write an email to any suitable employers from Pune, India, that you know of. … Tell them that they should give me a good, well-paying job in the field of CAE, or preferably, in software development for CAE (including allied fields like CAD, computer graphics, etc.). Thanks.
= = = = =
[I will probably update this post a bit later on, but not much.]
[The post was updated on May 12, 2009 at about 8:00 to 9:00 PM IST. The additions are given inside square brackets like these. Plus, there were a few editorial changes, streamlinings, etc.]