Etymology of the word: “aether”

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Update on 29th June 2020, 09:15 PM: I’ve added my translation of the song (from the usual songs-section); see at the end of this post.


1. The historic Greeks:

The Wiki on “Aether_(classical_element)” [^] says:

Aether comes from αἰθήρ.

The word αἰθήρ (aithḗr) in Homeric Greek means “pure, fresh air” or “clear sky”.

In Greek mythology, it was thought to be the pure essence that the gods breathed, filling the space where they lived, analogous to the air breathed by mortals.

Aether is related to αἴθω “to incinerate”, and intransitive “to burn, to shine”.

In Plato’s Timaeus speaking about air, Plato mentions that “there is the most translucent kind which is called by the name of aether (αἰθήρ).

Aristotle, who had been Plato’s student at the Akademia, agreed on this point with his former mentor, emphasizing additionally that fire has sometimes been mistaken for aether.

This is as good as the Wiki gets, but what we are looking for is some serious etymology. So, let’s pursue Wiktionary. Look up “αἰθήρ” (the word “aether” in Greek), here [^]: It says:

Etymology [of αἰθήρ (aithḗr)]:

From αἴθω (aíthō).

Noun

αἰθήρ • (aithḗr) m (genitive αἰθέρος); third declension

1. heaven
2. aether; ether
3. theoretical medium of great elasticity and extreme thinness of consistency supposed to fill all unoccupied space and transmit light and heat
4. The upper or purer air as opposed to erebus (Ἔρεβος (Érebos)), the lower or dirtier air; the clear sky.

Immediately, on to Wiktionary for “αἴθω (aíthō)”, which is at the root of “αἰθήρ (aithḗr)”. See here [^]:

Etymology [of “αἴθω (aíthō)”]

From Proto-Indo-European *h₂eydʰ- (“burn; fire”). Cognate with Latin aestus, aestās, and aedis, and Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé, “to light, set on fire”).

We are on the right track.

The general rule for etymology of terms having ancient roots is this: Pursue Wiktionary a bit rapidly to as much depth and width (of links) as is needed, but go slow once they begin to mention PIE (Proto-Indo-European). The appearance of the PIE is the clearest indication that we are about to reach the right “rack” soon enough, the one that has संस्कृत (Sanskrit) in it. (PIE is just a smoke-screen erected by the Western (Abrahamic) intellectuals to let them continue to feel a shade slightly better. It’s going to go away within a century or so. It never existed in the forms and with the direction among the links which they imagine and stubbornly stick.)

As to our current pursuit, at this juncture, we are also lucky. We got to Sanskrit right in the above link. (Looking at the cognates is not at all a bad idea. For that matter, even the idea that linguistic forms such as PIE might have existed, isn’t wrong by itself. The wrong idea is the blind assertion that the roots of Sanskrit lie in the PIE and cannot have any linkages any other way around. This wrong idea is what turns the idea of PIE into a smoke-screen. But as I said, the smoke-screen is going to go away within a century—mainly because of the exponential rise in the varieties of rich communication media, and the exponential decrease in their price/affordability. It will have its own effects. It will make it easier for truth to prevail.)

Coming back to “αἴθω (aíthō)”, my “ear” suggested that the Sanskrit इन्द्धे (inddhé, “to light, set on fire”) cannot have something very direct to do with the Greek term. What to do?

One very definitely reliable source (wrong far less number of times than today’s Western people imagine) seems to be on the side of my “ear”, viz., Aristotle. He had heard it right, and he / his students noted it right. Aristotle had emphasized “additionally that fire has sometimes been mistaken for aether”, as we gathered above. (The strategy of literature search from the general to the  specific always pays off.)

So, now, we have to go, look up: “*h₂eydʰ-” . Fortunately for us, the tireless people at Wiktionary have put up an entry for it too. (We say thank you to them.)

The Wiktionary for “*h₂eydʰ-” [^] says:

Root is: *h₂eydʰ-

1. to ignite
2. fire

Derived terms:

— h₂éydʰ-os ~ *h₂éydʰ-es-: Sanskrit: एधस् (édhas)

*h₂éydʰ-o-s: Sanskrit: एध (édha)

As I said, we thank the Wiktionary people and even the Western etymologists. However, for reasons of proper pursuit of truth, we ignore the inversions of hierarchies which they do effect. Accordingly, both PIE roots and the assumed direction for the PIE-Derived terms, are to be seen as अपभ्रंश (“apabhramsh”, distortion, corruption, esp. of words).

On the plus side, we have the एध (édha) / एधस् (édhas) terms (just grammatical variations). Why do I said “plus” side? Simple. Say these terms aloud, repeatedly, as if in a मंत्र “mantra” chanting or recitation of verses. Simultaneously, imagine a very curious and sincere foreign student sitting near you. How would he transcribe what you are saying in his language? Is इन्द्धे (inddhé) closer to αἰθήρ (aithḗr) or is it एध (édha)/एधस् (édhas)/एधते (édhate)?


2. Approaching the ancient Indians:

Look up एधते (édhate) in the Wiktionary, here [^]. Forget the cyclic links, and the references going back to burning. We thus get to:

एधते • (édhate) (root एध्, class 1 Ā) (Vedic áidhatai)

Verb: to prosper, increase, grow

Synonyms: वर्धते (várdhate), ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti)

1. to spread, extend
2. to swell

Related terms

एध (édha, “fuel, firewood”)
एधस् (édhas, “fuel, happiness”)

Aha! Now we know why these Europeans and Americans go running around in circles. They don’t mind synonymizing  एधते (édhate) with वर्धते (várdhate), and the latter with ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti). Here, the sense of Sanskrit we naturally develop in India comes in handy. (All Indian languages reflect a heavy influence of Sanskrit.) With our sense of Sanskrit, we know that the last two terms just cannot be very much synonymous. Anything being described with वर्धते (várdhate) cannot be cyclical in nature, andgiven the root ऋ involved in it, ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti) might have cyclical nature. Obviously, any etymology that throws the two as synonymns cannot be very rigourous… But we won’t get into this side issue. For the time being, let’s continue to focus on एधते (édhate).  In the “Related terms” sections, we find “fuel” and “happiness”. … Again an issue of words that just cannot be synonymns!

Come on, except in the state of Texas in the USA and in the Gulf countries, does any one else even associate “fuel” with “happiness”, let alone treat them as similar in some sense (in some contexts)? Which language would do that? Would a classical language whose form has for the most part demonstrably lasted for more than 10 millenia, and one which takes pride in having deliberated out every seed, every root, every variation, have something like “fuel” and “happiness”—at the root level? Once again, it’s the intimate familiarity with Sanskrit which comes in handy, really speaking. The answer is a resounding “no”!

Intermediate conclusion: It’s going to take a bit of thinking to sort out things here.

OK. On to checking for Wiktionary on एध (édha). It exists! Here is the link [^]. It says

एध (édha)
1. To grow, increase
2. to prosper, become happy, live in comfort; द्वावेतौ सुखमेधेते Pt.1.318.
3. to grow strong, become great.
4. to extend.
5. to swell, rise.
6. (causative) to cause to grow or increase; to greet, celebrate, honour;

Deliberate over this list for a bit.


3. My analysis:

3.1 एध (édha) as the proper root for the aether:

Referring to the last list, viz., that for एध (édha), ask this question to yourself:

Question: Which meaning is more primary (“primitive”), basic, or more generic, or more fundamental?

My answer: The most primary/primitive/generic/basic/fundamental has to be 4 (to extend). Then, 1 (to grow, increase), 5 (to swell, rise). Then 6 (causative of to grow or increase, but skipping the rest of the meanings). Only then 2 (to prosper, become happy, live in comfort). And only then, the skipped parts of 6 (to greet, to celebrate, to honour).

Now, we are in a position to draw a tentative conclusion:

The words ether/aether come not from “I burn” (as mentioned somewhere else on the Wiki) or even just “burns” or the more alluring “shines”. It comes from some words that had the verb एध (édha) whose primitive, general meaning is: “to extend”, and “to grow, increase” at their root.

3.2 How the connetions to इन्द्धे (inddhé) and इन्धन (indhan, fuel) might have arisen:

Wiktionary states a connection of the same root, viz. एध (édha), with इन्द्धे (inddhé) and इन्धन (indhan, fuel). Clearly, the direction of “fuel” is different from that of “to extend, grow, increase”, etc. So, we have to look into what a fuel does.

In ancient times, the fuel was not the petrol or diesel (aka “gas” in a certain country in the West). In the ancient times, the fuel was: the wood. In later times, it was also the cow-dung cakes.

So, imagine this scenario:

You have something (like some cut pieces of wood) in front of you. Wood. A material body. Very much visible, very much solid. You kindle it. (Kindling presupposes an already existing fire; not starting fire afresh via friction, say by rubbing two quartz stones (with a string that goes to and fro to create rotation, as in making butter out of curds).) The fuel catches on the fire, and burns. Eventually, what’s left is a relatively a small volume of ashes. The purer the fuel, the lesser the amount of ash. So, some things, some essences, must have left the initial solid thing.

OK. What else is there? Burning—the process. Hence the wrong meaning attached to the word “aether”, which Aristotle rightly rejects. [This guy must’ve had a tremendous sense of meaning, of making careful statements. Frankly, I envy him.]

What else? Smoke. What is the material end product which comes from the process of burning? a product other than from ash? Smoke.

What are the characteristics of smoke? what does it do? Smoke is misty, cloudy—which also happen to be the secondary meanings associated with the word aether. (We didn’t pursue the links to them, but they are listed elsewhere.)

But what does it do? It rises, and goes here and there unpredictably, and in the process, it disperses—the whitish thing becomes bigger, more voluminous. Notice: Rising and dispersing also are the secondary meanings associated with the word: aether. And then? It disappears. Becomes completely invisible.

How do we capture this process in terms of slightly more abstract description?

An इन्धन (indhan, fuel) is a material object which can undergo a certain action upon burning. It goes from being a small solid thing to something that extends, expands and becomes invisibly big.

3.3 Isolating the meaning of एध (édha):

We want to isolate the specific meaning of एध (édha) i.e. aether, from the process mentioned in the previous sub-section, somehow.

Now, crucially, some extra knowledge (in the context) of Sanskrit comes in handy. There is some essence to this above-mentioned action which is not captured by certain other Sanskrit terms like जो (“jo”, brightness, luminous things—but not high temperature), ज्वलन (“jwalan”, burning), तपस् (“tapas”, heating, hotness), उषा (“ushaa”, the glow in the sky which appears much before the sun rises), etc. The compilers (संस्करणकर्ता “sanskaraNakartaa”) of Sanskrit obviously had something else in mind when they admitted एध (édha) into the proper vocabulary. For senses like burning, glowing, etc. they had many other terms.

Similarly, there are words to describe “expansion” and “thinning” too. (Let’s not get into them.)

So, what could be the point behind adopting an additional term of एध (édha) the verb?

Focus on the fact that एध (édha) is a verb, whereas “aether” is an object. How do we go from a verb to its objectification? An explanation in terms of modern maths, esp. calculus, really makes it simple. However, we would rather pick up the threads of thought that would be accessible even to a layman.

The idea goes like this: You have wood (a small solid chip). The same thing turns to ash + smoke, occupying a bigger volume. Naturally, it is thinner, less dense. Can’t be grabbed by fingers. Then, the smoke further disperses. But it still remains material. Its materiality traces itself back to the wood. (Notice, I am going through all these pains, because I want to avoid directly invoking the hypothesis of atomism.) So, in a sense, it is the same material, but spread out over greater region of space. Perhaps split up into parts.

So, from a further abstract viewpoint, two things go on:

  1. The material parts making up the smoke go further and further away from each other.
  2. But the transformation still remain the same original that can still be identified: This patch of smoke, now, here. Grows. The same smoke, now become a big patch, there. Etc.

So, what is it which is increasing in this process of spreading from a small volume to a big volume? What is different as the smoke spreads? What is the differentiator? Answer: Spatial separation.

And what is it which stays intact throughout this process? Answer: The fact that despite rarification, something has to be imagined as continuing to hold together the parts that are going further and further away from each other. So, what is the common part? What is the integrator? Answer: Some invisible essence that holds the visible parts together no matter how far away they go, filling the space between them.

Obviously, compilers (संस्करणकर्ता “sanskaraNakartaa”) of Sanskrit viewed एध (édha) as a process, not so much of a transformation of a thing as in burning, but rather, a process of bringing out or releasing forth a certain essence that already was present in the material (the fuel), an essence which showed this property or characteristic of extending, growing, even as rising (though it is not the most core essential), and still continuing to hold the parts of the original material thing together, even when they disperse so much that as to go into invisibility.

3.4 Contrast: What happens when a good term falls in the wrong hands:

Cf. Greek mythology of chaos, Ἔρεβος (“erebos”, Sanskrit रजस् “rajas” night), nyx (Sanskrit नक्ति “nakti”, night), aether, and all that. These intellectually sloppy/insufficiently prepared ancient Western people substituted “darkness” for the invisibility implied in the term “aether”, and they merged the context with night (रजनी), and they merged it with mythology, and all that.

They not only continued on this tradition of utter sloppiness, but even enriched it very considerably, in the late 19-th and early 20-th century, when they whole-sale denied the existence of the aether.

3.5 To conclude our analysis:

To conclude: Aether is a derivative of the original Sanskrit एध (édha). As such, it cannot capture the “burning” part of it. What the term isolates from its context (spelt above), are the characteristics of the action of extending, growing, as in the process of rising up of a smoke, and ultimately growing so thin as to go into invisibility—all the while retaining the “holding together” function.

Qua transformation into a noun, what an objectified verb एध (édha) must indicate is:

A material essence that is invisible, thin, not itself made of material parts, but performs the function of holding the material parts together regardless of how much space they occupy.

The process of burning merely lets us identify this essence, because it illustrates how this essence comes to play a progressively more dominant role in the evident spreading of the smoke.

But we need to understand the “growth” and “extension” aspects, involved in the isolation of the concept of aether, a bit better. We will do that by considering contrast to some terms that also indicate “volume-ness,” “spatial extension”, “unspecified limit/boundaries”, “fillability”, etc., but don’t quite exactly bring out the “all holding”, “all thin” part of “aether”. Once you look at these other terms, you will become fully convinced about the objectified एध (édha) i.e. aether .


4. Contrast from other Sanskrit terms:

4.1 Contrast from some other terms quoted as synonymns:

To see the contrast of  एध (édha) from other terms that indicate growth, consider terms like वर्धते (“varadhate”, to grow), ऋध्नोति (ṛdhnóti).

To see the contrast of एध (édha) from other terms that supposedly indicate an all-spread, all-pervasive aspect, consider terms like विष्णु (“vishNu”, supposedly an all-pervasive principle).

These terms do sound very similar to the idea behind the aether, if you consider their English translations alone. But actually, in original Sanskrit, they aren’t.

वर्धते (vardhate) applies to growth as that from a seed to the tree, or from a child to an adult to an old man—not the growth in the volume of an already thin, ungraspable thing like smoke undergoing further dispersing, ultimately becoming the thinnest and most ungraspable thing—which leads to the concept of the thinnest holding essence i.e. the aether.

विष्णु (“vishNu”), vaguely, means that an enclosure which keeps all things within itself. However, contrary to a very wide-spread misconception (held by both laymen and scholars), the idea of an “all pervasive”-ness is not a primitive here. The root of the Sanskrit word विष्णु (“vishNu”)  goes via विवेष्टि (“viveShTi”, enclosed, being wound within by something on the outside, engulfing). The “engufing” part is important, not the “all-pervading” part. Thus, in fact, the “protector” God named with this term. In contrast, एध (edha) refers to the action of rarifying and still holding or connecting other parts at the same time as the growing and pervading is going on.

Sanskrit has several different terms that mean similar, but you have to understand the nuances.

Aether has sometimes been taken to translate to terms like the following, though the correspondence is not at all in terms of essentials. Just look at the original Sanskrit meanings of these alternative terms (mistakenly adopted for the meaning of “aether”).

  • आकाश (“aakaash”): Sky, void, but the primary meaning here is: that thing which comes with shining; that thing which lights up and shines upon or brightens (every thing else)
  • नभ (“nabha”) Sky, atmosphere, but primary meaning here is: that which itself cannot materialize or become evident by itself.
  • अवकाश (“avakaash”) Space, the primary idea here is this: There is a characteristic of interval, of being extended, in the concept of आकाश (“aakaash”), and अवकाश (“avakaash”) focusses on this characteristic. This interval is to be taken in the sense of “volumeness” or “fillability” but, unlike what too many Westerners think, it is not to be taken in the sense of a “void” (the word for which is शुन्य (“shunya”, which itself is different from शून्य “shoonya”, the blank left after removing something). Thus अवकाश (“avakaash”) primarily means the characteristic of extended-ness, and only then, in turn, Space.
  • गगन (“gagan”): Sky, but the exact primary meaning here is: that in which motion (or movement/velocity/going) occurs,
  • खगोल (“khagol”): Usually taken to mean “space beyond the earth’s atmosphere”. However, the exact primary meaning here is: that roundness (circle/sphere/oval/ovoid) which can be/has been filled with something material.
  • शब्द (“shabda”): Usually taken to mean: “word”, even in established Sanskrit. Sometimes, taken to mean the premordial sound, and hence, connected with premordial vibrations, and hence with the aether. However, in terms of the most primitive roots शब्द (“shabda”) means: the material aspect of a vibration/action of [a material-spiritual integrated being], complete in itself, and given [to you] a priori in [your] evidence. Pretty difficult a concept, though the roots are so few and so “simple”: श (“sha”) + ब (“ba”) + द (“da”). What is being highlighted here is not the written word, the Sanskrit term for which is: अक्षर (“akshar”, lit. that which does not decay or dissolve). It also is not sound, the Sanskrit term for which is: ध्वनि (“dhwani”, lit.: the material emission of periodicity/rhythm, and hence vibrations in air). Though used also in Sanskrit for things to do with vocabulary, people sometimes use शब्द (“shabda”) to denote the aether, which is not a very apt usage. Neither एध (édha) nor aether is concerned with details or particulars such as vibrations or their nature, though they both are concerned that a primary thing/existent be denoted.

I am sure there are tens of more such terms (if not hundreds). This was just an indicative list. What is more important to us, for the present purposes, is this:

None of them is directly relevant to the etymology of the aether. Only एधते (édhate), in the sense explained here, is.

4.2 Which term comes closest? My personal opinion:

If you ask for my personal opinion, in terms of the most primitive seeds and meanings, I would pick out नभ (“nabha”) as being closest to the objectification of the verb एध (édha). However, its usage as a sky is far too firmly established. So, this is one reason to avoid it—else, people are likely to confuse “air” with aether. Further, because of the seed भ (“bha”, indicating materialization, manifestation), नभ (“nabha”) does do well to indicate the distinction of aether from the gross material objects. ( Princess Caroline once wrote to her former tutor Leibniz that ‘what these gentlemen call vacuum is really nothing but something which is not matter.’ [^]). However, there is another issue: It fails to capture the “holding together/connecting” aspect of एध (édha).

4.3 Why एध (édha) is most fitting: Its seeds:

Note, the seed ध (“dha”) lies at the root of words like धरणी (“dharaNee”, soil, earth, the earth, beam, etc.), धैर्य (“dhairya”, courage, ability to hold on), etc., and the seed ए (“e”) lies at the root of words like एक (“eka”, one, the one, the singular), एतत् (“etat”, “this”, as after considering all aspects of a composite or complex thing), etc.

The objectification of एध (édha) yields a term which means: that which holds (or connects or spans) composite things together.

Yessss! Finally, I think we’ve got to the point of context and clarity that I am happy with.

Home-work: Work through the primary referents, and hence basic meaning, of the Sanskrit word: अश्वमेध (“ashwamedh”). Hint: Nothing to do with “sacrifice”. Latch on to what the अश्व (“ashwa”, horse) does, and what its actions are taken to imply, in particular, how the “एध (édha)” part denotes “spanning, holding together, connecting into one”.

4.4 A bit of polemics:

The ancient Greeks got it wrong. They did a package-deal with many other things.

But they did have a saving grace. They didn’t send Aristotle out of unemployment for any long period of time. In fact, they gave him the biggest possible funding of that era (for his researches in biology). As we noted earlier, Aristotle’s sense of words was, if you ask me, plain envy-some.

So, thanks to thinkers like Aristotle, the original right meaning of “aether”, as springing from एधते (édhate), also managed exist in the ancient Greece, though it had to sit together with many other idiocies too (like “I burn”).

4.5 The aether is included in the ontology behind my new approach to quantum mechanics:

How does the implication of the Sanskrit etymology compare with the view of aether I put forth last year—including the mathematical reasons why it must exist, not just philosophical and physical? See here [^] (and also the posts before and after it, as necessary), and decide for yourself.

(No, I had not looked at the original Sanskrit एधते (édhate) etc., when I formulated my view. I have developed my view over time of decades. The biggest challenge for me was to convince myself that a non-material but physical thing can exist. It was a challenge, because I had to pin-point the differences. Initially, in 1990s, I tried “mass” etc. During my PhD-time papers, I characterized it in the terms just mentioned: as a non-material but physically existent thing. I refined the understanding in the subsequent years, see the topics on the “Less transient” page (which, I know, you won’t) [^].


5. ब्रम्हा, विष्णु, शिव (“bramhaa”, “vishNu”, “shiva”):

Finally, because some of my Indian readers might be interested in knowing more about the त्रिमूर्ति (“trimoorti”, the three-forms-in-one God), simply because I happened to mention the principle that is विष्णु (“vishNu”) in the earlier discussion.

OK. First, a note: In the brief discussion below, I will go by the Sanskrit roots, and thus, by the exact meaning conveyed by Sanskrit. I will not care to even touch upon the layers and layers of meanings heaped on the original terms by the religious practices, priests, or the culture, as the usage of these terms underwent changes over time-spans of millenia. Thus, I will not always add “in the primary/primitive/most basic and generic/fundamental/seed sense, the term means” every time. I will directly proceed to outlining the meanings in precisely such a sense—not any other.

ब्रम्ह (“bramha”) means that principle which causes expansion. Thus, it is the cause for the extended-ness. After invoking the thesis of अद्वैत (“adwait”, the non-duality between the material on the one hand and the non-material i.e. the spiritual on the other), the term  ब्रम्ह (“bramha”)  also stands for the one who causes expansion, growth, in every thing, and now, by implication, also in every one. ब्रम्हा (“bramhaa”, with an additional “a”) means that spiritual and/or material existent or person who manifests such a principle—-actually, the sense here is: that one who can be called or addressed or pleaded to. In a vague sense, this is a God of growth. In no sense is it a God of birth or of creation. The latter is a slapped on, and I dare say, corrupt, meaning. The roots here are: ब + र + म + ह (“ba” + “ra” + “ma” + “ha”), respectively connoting: 1. concrete change/degradation/contraction; 2. removal; 3. a grasp on the level of the feeling or the immediate concretes alone (and hence transforming the jointed preceding 1. and 2. into a principle), and 4. a linguistic device that connotes a break, taking away, and completion. What do we get by putting these seeds in this sequence together? Answer: The principle which removes the tendency to get stuck and degrade into smallness or to collapse. That’s what the ब्रम्ह (“bramha”) the principle stands for. I am not quite sure if ब्रम्हा (“bramhaa”) is even a very strict linguistic construction, but more on it, a bit later. [But note, my Sanskrit is merely at the level of an amateur.]

विष्णु (“vishNu”) means that principle which (or who) surrounds or encloses or engulfs every thing; and hence, implicitly assuming a benevolent capacity, a principle that / who also protects every thing (and every one). Further, after invoking the thesis of divisibility of things and the universality of this principle, it also becomes the principle/who that engulfs every part of a thing, and as such, may therefore be seen as being all pervading. The primary/primitive sense is just this much: “engulfs”, “surrounds”. The meaning is neither “protector” nor “all-pervading essence”, let alone a personified God—not in the primary sense of the roots involved.

शिव (“shiva”) is the most abstract term among the three, going by the Sanskrit language alone. ब्र, the root also in words like बृहद- (“bruhad”, greater, bigger, expanded) is pretty easily put to use for rather mundane things too, e.g., बृहन्मुंबई (“bruhanmumbai”, greater Mumbai, Bombay after expansion), etc. Also the root in विष्णु (“vishNu”), i.e. विवेष्टि (“viveSTi”, being contained in) gets used quite mundanely, as in विवेष्टित (“viveshTit”, enclosed, covered). शिव (“shiva”) is not put to mundane matters. Reason 1: The term is abstract. Reason 2: Because of Reason 1, it also has been very heavily misinterpreted.

शिव (“shiva”) has these roots: श (“sha”) + इ (“i”) + व (“va”). श (“sha”) stands for the body, the material aspect of a living being, especially as in the sense of the degradation which occurs after discarding the essential of something (which is, spirit), as in शव (“shava”, the corpse). इ (“i”) is the “softer” form of spiritual energy, something like the Latin “vis”, but remember, इ (“i”) is not a स्वर (“swara”). स्वर (“swar”) lit. means that sound which stands on its own, i.e., a consonant. But इ (“i”) is a vowel; it denotes a characteristic, an energy, of something to which the vowel attaches. Now, the preceding श (“sha”) makes it clear that the इ (“i”) here is to be taken to indicate the spiritual “energy”. Being a seed-sound, and being preceded by the rather sharp and important श (“sha”, in itself an attribute), इ (“i”) here is to be taken in as pure a sense (of spiritual energy) as is possible. Next, व (“va”) connotes the action of throwing out, being emitted, issuing from, coming forth from, etc.

So, putting the seed-sounds together, शिव (“shiva”) is: that principle which (or the one who) is a manifestation of the integration of the purest material aspects (body) and the purest and most singular form of the softer (less intense) spiritual energy.

शीव (“sheeva”) takes the whole thing to the other extreme: to the most intense spiritual energy. Note: No one goes around the business of worshipping that (i.e.शीव (“sheeva”))! … शिव (“shiva”) is difficult already!

Now, coming to the point I want to make: There is absolutely nothing whatsoever in the Sanskrit language which even by remotest interpretation in the wildest imagination can ever suggest: “the destroyer” for शिव (“shiva”) .

Attaching the meaning of “destroyer” to शिव (“shiva”) is a very careless, and possibly also a malicious, act of mixing up things (i.e. principles, even gods).

It’s the रुद्र (“rudra”, lit.: the hollering, the dreadful, the terrible, the attacking and looting one) which can be a destroyer. Not शिव (“shiva”). Further, it’s शीवन् (“sheevan”) which variously means: a large snake, a python (as in the snake, not as in the programming language which I use), lying (as in lying down, and not as in telling lies), etc. But, in contrast, शिव (“shiva”) means “the blissed living man or a comparable integration of the material and the spiritual”. [However, it not just the “bliss”, as many commentators lead you to believe—the material aspect or the body is necessarily present in the meaning of शिव (“shiva”)].

Even महेश (“mahesh”) does not mean “destroyer”. It’s a short-form of the original महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) a combination of महा (“mahaa”, great, heroic, massive, valorous, epic) + ईश्वर (“eeshwar”, the one with the sharp ई (“ee”).  महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) literally means: a total controller, a total ruler, the one whose orders cannot be violated.

The meaning spelt for the second word here, viz., ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) means some principle / some one whose laws cannot be violated. Note, the word is “cannot”, and not “should not”. ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) stands for such a principle that you have no choice but to submit—one way or the other. The idea that it may be possible (though not desirable) to violate the law/the will, and the subsequently arising issues like the nature and quantum of punishment etc. simply do not arise here. The very possibility of violating the law laid out of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) is denied. That’s the meaning of that term. It means: The inviolate law of nature, the very order of the nature itself (as in the law of karma). [Remind me some time later to write a bit on the etymology of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) and कर्म “karma”. Both are interesting terms!]

Given the meaning of ईश्वर (“eeshwar”), the adjective महा (“mahaa”, great, massive, etc.) is quite un-necessary. Clearly, the composite word महेश्वर (“maheshwar”) got coined during some lesser period in India.

But given the term as it comes to us,  by its primary meaning, महेश (“mahesh”) can be taken to mean: the greatest inviolate law of nature, the very order of the nature itself (as in the law of karma).

Of course, in practice, it’s possible also to call a great totalitarian ruler as महेश (“mahesh”). However, in Sanskrit there are terms other than ईश्वर (“eeshwar”) to denote the degenerate life-forms of the latter kind. So, taken by itself, महेश (“mahesh”) should, first and foremost, mean what was italicized above, viz., the greatest principle that is an inviolate law of nature.

Now, by also invoking the thesis of अद्वैत (“adwait”, the non-duality), the word would stand for the spirtiual–material integration of such a principle, as is manifested in a man. Thus, the meaning now becomes something like: A great man who personifies the inviolate order of nature. A great man who carries no contradiction.

Now, where is the destroyer? You tell me!

Idiots!


6. No Trinity of Creator-Protector-Destroyer is implied by the original Sanskrit words ब्रम्हा, विष्णु, शिव/महेश (“bramhaa”, “vishNu”, “shiva”/”mahesh”):

The idea of there being this “Hindu” Trinity of the Creator, the Protector, and the Destroyer is a merely a figment of an overactive and, I must add, far too careless, an imagination—or something worse.

If you know Sanskrit, you know that there is no Creator in here, only an “expander” or “enabler of growth”. That’s what ब्रम्हा means. However, I am doubtful about the authenticity of this name too; it could very well be the case that ब्रम्हा “bramhaa” is merely a short-form for ब्रम्हदेव “bramhadeva”, as in calling or addressing. But in any case, “bramhaa” is not a creator. Even प्रजापति (“prajaapati”, the chief of people) is not. And then, one question: Can you read प्रजापति (“prajaapati”) as प्रजननपति (“prajananpati”, the chief of reproduction—let alone of creation)? I cannot.

Similarly, you know that there is a protector, but only by implication. What the principle / the god actually is, is only an “all-engulfing” one. It’s only by implication that he ends up also protecting, but that’s “merely” because he has already engulfed you, and because he is a god anyway.

Similarly, you know that there is only a manifestation of the body and the purest form there can be of the soft kind of a spiritual energy. There is no destroyer. Not even just to pack you off very lovingly to the heavens, whatever that means. No “packing off”, “taking out”, or something similar is included in this term.


Caveat Emptor: One final word. Don’t take my word for anything in this post. Instead, go consult the actual Sanskrit experts.

In my experience at least, Sanskrit experts these days are both very willing, easily accessible, and helpful. [In short, they are unlike the “intellectual” masses drawing heavy salaries in the IT industry in Pune.]

As to me: Consider me to be among the most amateurish Sanskrit dilettantes there are out there. I have not studied Sanskrit systematically (except for two years for 1/2 part of one language subject—the Hindi+Sanskrit). I just rely on good reference materials/sources (like dictionaries), readings of spiritual material and even scriptures, my own thinking and logic, as also my sense of the Sanskrit and Marathi words and their contexts. Also, infrequently, conversations with people who know Sanskrit. And I combine it all with my sense of pursuing truth. (That’s how I pursued also Aristotle, and Ayn Rand too.) So, there.

But yes, I am confident that there was no error in putting forth the view in section 6. above. I am quite confident of the process I followed, the sources I consulted, and the logic I employed.


TBD: Will try to streamline the content and edit to bring out the more exact shades, esp. in my critical comments. The whole thing was written last night very much on the fly.

Update on 2020.06.27 18:55 IST. Done. In fact considerably expanded (from 4000 words to 6000 words). Added the “all encompassing” aspect of एधते (édhate) and hence of aether. In fact, after giving the meaning of the seeds of एध (édha), the meaning of the aether is fully pinned down now. Also added the discussion of शब्द (“shabda”), further comments on नभ (“nabha”), etc. Now, will leave this post in whatever shape it is in—regardless of any short-comings / lacunae / misleading phrases / typos / errors etc. (High time for me to move on to some “useful” work regarding QM and also Data Science.)


A song I like:

(Hindi) मन रे, तू काहे न धीर धरे (“man re, too kaahe naa dheer dhare”)
Singer: Mohammad Rafi
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi

[Credits happily listed in a random order. One of the songs I grew up with. There are songs that you don’t register when it comes to making short-lists, but still, without you knowing it, they have already made a neat, cozy place in your heart. This song is one of them. I remember humming this one even as far back as when I was in school, and I also remember never including it in the short-lists I enthusiastically made in my youth, say while in the hostels of COEP/IITM/UAB. (I frankly don’t know the reason for such omissions.)… Coming back to the present: Also try Lata’s rendering from her series of the tributes she paid to the other greats. Her version is very good too, though she would have done much better had she tried it some 10–15 years earlier.]

Update on 2020.06.29 21:15 IST:

After posting the last updates, I checked out the song on the ‘net. I saw some English translations that I thought weren’t exactly to the point. In fact, in some parts, these were even outright misleading.

People tend to bring in a inter-personal relationships angle, esp. the romantic relationships angle, in every Hindi film song—whether such relationships forms its primary concern or not. But people habitually do that. This predilection tends to even colour their entire translation.

But to be fair, this song is particularly hard to translate. (I enjoyed giving my shot to it!) Sahir was a gifted lyricist, with a finest mind and a finest sensitivity. Also, he had a serious, reflective mind; it often bordered on, or and sometimes went right into, the matters philosophical.

Master lyricists/poets often have this mischievous habit. They like to put a song or a poem somewhere in that vague twilight zone, somewhere in between the much relationship-oriented and the definitely philosophical. For instance, this song. That’s why it’s particularly tricky.

In my translation below, I’ve tried to be as exact to the original words as possible, sacrificing all lyrical flow in the interest of clarity. … Even if I were to try hard, I wouldn’t ever be able to put out anything lyrical anyway! So, the “clarity” etc. way of translating is entirely to my advantage 😉

Anyway, here is my translation (as of today). It looks ugly, unflowy. But it’s as near to exact shades of the original Hindi words/expressions as I can manage:

Refrain:

मन रे तू काहे ना धीर धरे
Oh mind, why do you not hold on to courage [?]

वो निर्मोही मोह ना जाने
That one, The One-Without-Illusory-Temptations, can’t [even] know

जिनका मोह करे
those illusory [things/people] for which you keep [having/generating] temptations.

मन रे …
Oh mind…

Stanza 1:

इस जीवन की चढ़ती ढलती
Of this life’s ascending and descending

धूप को किसने बांधा
sunlight, who bound it [its regularity/lawfulness ?]

रंग पे किसने पहरे डाले
Who kept guard on [the flow of] the color [of life?]

रुप को किसने बांधा
Who put the bounds on the form [put forth by life?]

काहे ये जतन करे
For what Purpose [does He] continue preserving these [?]

मन रे …
Oh mind…

Stanza 2:

उतना ही उपकार समझ कोई
As much of a favour [it is], understand, that someone

जितना साथ निभा दे
gives as much of a companionship with which [he/she] stands by [you].

जनम मरण का मेल है सपना
Life and death’s meeting is a dream,

ये सपना बिसरा दे
Have [it arranged that you come to] forget this dream.

कोई न संग मरे
No one else dies along.

मन रे …
Oh mind…

–Sahir Ludhianvi

Note: The literal translation of the last line of the second stanza would run like: “Some one else can’t die along [in the same event that is someone’s/your death].” In short, time-wise simultaneous deaths don’t count as “dying along/dying together”! There may be time-wise simultaneous deaths, but these still remain individually separate deaths of many different individuals, not a single death undergone by all those many different individual. Quite tricky, it was, to convey this sense!! The expression doesn’t seem to be one of expressing futility or frustration (at finding no companion who won’t part company even in death); rather, it seems to underlie a more basic fact pertaining to the phenomenon that is life itself.

Tricky to translate also was that “मोह करे” (“moh kare”) phrase from the refrain. People take मोह “moh” to mean affection, love, infatuation, immature yearning, undue level of attraction, etc. Wrong. “Moh” is primarily not at all an affection/love, it is not even “just” a temptation/seduction. For that matter, in Hindi, “moh” is not even just an illusion. (In Sanskrit, it can be.) In Hindi, मोह “moh” is that temptation for or bonding felt towards something/someone which results from an illusion-abiding mindset. … You more or less know (or at least very strongly suspect) that it’s an illusion, and still remain attached to that illusion, because you “love” it. That’s the sense here. मोह “moh” is not a temptation or affection or love or yearning for something which you know is true or isn’t illusory. That’s the difference; that’s the meaning of मोह “moh”! … Now, God may be Omniscient (all-knowing), but He still will be incapable of understanding such a temptation—because it involves illusion. That’s the surprising part, that’s the subtle twist, that’s the fine emphasis which Sahir has put in, in the stanza here. … Too bad to miss it altogether!

The singularities closest to you

A Special note for the Potential Employers from the Data Science field:

Recently, in April 2020, I achieved a World Rank # 5 on the MNIST problem. The initial announcement can be found here [^], and a further status update, here [^].

All my data science-related posts can always be found here [^].


0. Preamble/Preface/Prologue/Preliminaries/Whatever Pr… (but neither probability nor public relations):

Natalie Wolchover writes an article in the Quanta Magazine: “Why gravity is not like the other forces” [^].

Motl mentions this piece in his, err.. “text” [^], and asks right in the first para.:

“…the first question should be whether gravity is different, not why [it] is different”

Great point, Lubos, err… Luboš!

Having said that, I haven’t studied relativity, and so, I only cursorily went through the rest of both these pieces.

But I want to add. (Hey, what else is a blog for?)


1. Singularities in classical mechanics:

1.1 Newtonian mechanics:

Singularity is present even in the Newtonian mechanics. If you consider the differential equation for gravity in Newtonian mechanics, it basically applies to point-particles, and so, there is a singularity in this 300+ years old theory too.

It’s a different matter that Newton got rid of the singularities by integrating gravity forces inside massive spheres (finite objects), using his shells-based argument. A very ingenious argument that never ceases to impress me. Anyway, this procedure, invented by Newton, is the reason why we tend to think that there were no singularities in his theory.

1.2 Electrostatics and electrodynamics:

Coulomb et al. couldn’t get rid of the point-ness of the point-charges the way Newton could, for gravity. No electrical phenomenon was found that changed the behaviour at experimentally accessible small enough separations between two charges. In electrostatics, the inverse-square law holds through and through—on the scales on which experiments have been performed. Naturally, the mathematical manner to capture this behaviour is to not be afraid of singularities, and to go ahead, incorporate them in the mathematical formulations of the physical theory. Remember, differential laws themselves are arrived at after applying suitable limiting processes.

So, electrostatics has point singularities in the electrostatic fields.

Ditto, for classical electro-dynamics (i.e. the Maxwellian EM, as recast by Hendrik A. Lorentz, the second Nobel laureate in physics).

Singularities exist at electric potential energy locations in all of classical EM.

Lesson: Singularities aren’t specific to general relativity. Singularities predate relativity by decades if not by centuries.


2. Singularities in quantum mechanics:

2.1 Non-relativistic quantum mechanics:

You might think that non-relativistic QM has no singularities, because the \Psi field must be at least C^0 continuous everywhere, and also not infinite anywhere even within a finite domain—else, it wouldn’t be square-normalizable. (It’s worth reminding that even in infinite domains, Sommerfeld’s radiation condition still applies, and Dirac’s delta distribution most extremely violates this condition.)

Since wavefunctions cannot be infinite anywhere, you might think that any singularities present in the physics have been burnished off due to the use of the wavefunction formalism of quantum mechanics. But of course, you would be wrong!

What the super-smart MSQM folks never tell you is this part (and they don’t take care to highlight it to their own students either): The only way to calculate the \Psi fields is by specifying a potential energy field (if you want to escape the trivial solution that all wavefunctions are zero everywhere), and crucially, in a fundamental quantum-mechanical description, the PE field to specify has to be that produced by the fundamental electric charges, first and foremost. (Any other description, even if it involves complex-valued wavefunctions, isn’t fundamental QM; it’s merely a workable approximation to the basic reality. For examples, even the models like PIB, and quantum harmonic oscillator aren’t fundamental descriptions. The easiest and fundamentally correct model is the hydrogen atom.)

Since the fundamental electric charges remain point-particles, the non-relativistic QM has not actually managed to get rid of the underlying electrical singularities.

It’s something like this. I sell you a piece of a land with a deep well. I have covered the entire field with a big sheet of green paper. I show you the photograph and claim that there is no well. Would you buy it—my argument?

The super-smart MSQM folks don’t actually make such a claim. They merely highlight the green paper so much that any mention of the well must get drowned out. That’s their trick.

2.2 OK, how about the relativistic QM?

No one agrees on what a theory of GR (General Relativity) + QM (Quantum Mechanics) looks like. Nothing is settled about this issue. In this piece let’s try to restrict ourselves to the settled science—things we know to be true.

So, what we can talk about is only this much: SR (Special Relativity) + QM. But before setting to marry them off, let’s look at the character of SR. (We already saw the character of QM above.)


3. Special relativity—its origins, scope, and nature:

3.1 SR is a mathematically repackaged classical EM:

SR is a mathematical reformulation of the classical EM, full-stop. Nothing more, nothing less—actually, something less. Let me explain. But before going to how SR is a bit “less” than classical EM, let me emphasize this point:

Just because SR begins to get taught in your Modern Physics courses, it doesn’t mean that by way of its actual roots, it’s a non-classical theory. Every bit of SR is fully rooted in the classical EM.

3.2 Classical EM has been formulated at two different levels: Fundamental, and Homogenized:

The laws of classical EM, at the most fundamental level, describe reality in terms of the fundamental massive charges. These are point-particles.

Then, classical EM also says that a very similar-looking set of differential equations applies to the “everyday” charges—you know, pieces of paper crowding near a charged comb, or paper-clips sticking to your fridge-door magnets, etc. This latter version of EM is not the most fundamental. It comes equipped with a lot of fudges, most of them having to do with the material (constitutive) properties.

3.3 Enter super-smart people:

Some smart people took this later version of the classical EM laws—let’s call it the homogenized continuum-based theory—and recast them to bring out certain mathematical properties which they exhibited. In particular, the Lorentz invariance.

Some super-smart people took the invariance-related implications of this (“homogenized continuum-based”) theory as the most distinguished character exhibited by… not the fudges-based theory, but by physical reality itself.

In short, they not only identified a certain validity (which is there) for a logical inversion which treats an implication (viz. the invariance) as the primary; they blithely also asserted that such an inverted conceptual view was to be regarded as more fundamental. Why? Because it was mathematically convenient.

These super-smart people were not concerned about the complex line of empirical and conceptual reasoning which was built patiently and integrated together into a coherent theory. They were not concerned with the physical roots. The EM theory had its roots in the early experiments on electricity, whose piece-by-piece conclusions finally came together in Maxwell’s mathematical synthesis thereof. The line culminated with Lorentz’s effecting a reduction in the entire cognitive load by reducing the number of sub-equations.

The relativistic didn’t care for these roots. Indeed, sometimes, it appears as if many of them were gloating to cut off the maths from its physical grounding. It’s these super-smart people who put forth the arbitrary assertion that the relativistic viewpoint is more fundamental than the inductive base from which it was deduced.

3.4 What is implied when you assert fundamentality to the relativistic viewpoint?

To assert fundamentality to a relativistic description is to say that the following two premises hold true:

(i) The EM of homogenized continuaa (and not the EM of the fundamental point particles) is the simplest and hence most fundamental theory.

(ii) One logical way of putting it—in terms of invariance—is superior to the other logical way of putting it, which was: a presentation of the same set of facts via inductive reasoning.

The first premise is clearly a blatant violation of method of science. As people who have done work in multi-scale physics would know, you don’t grant greater fundamentality to a theory of a grossed out effect. Why?

Well, a description in terms of grossed out quantities might be fine in the sense the theory often becomes exponentially simpler to use (without an equal reduction in percentage accuracy). Who would advocate not using Hooke’s law as in the linear formulation of elasticity, but insist on computing motions of 10^23 atoms?

However, a good multi-scaling engineer / physicist also has the sense to keep in mind that elasticity is not the final word; that there are layers and layers of rich phenomenology lying underneath it: at the meso-scale, micro-scale, nano-scale, and then, even at the atomic (or sub-atomic) scales. Schrodinger’s equation is more fundamental than Hooke’s law. Hooke’s law, projected back to the fine-grained scale, does not hold.

This situation is somewhat like this: Your 100 \times 100 photograph does not show all the features of your face the way they come out in the original 4096 \times 4096 image. The finer features remain lost even if you magnify the 100 \times 100 image to the 4096 \times 4096 size, and save it at that size. The fine-grained features remain lost. However, this does not mean that 100 \times 100 is useless. A 28 \times 28 pixels image is enough for the MNIST benchmark problem.

So, what is the intermediate conclusion? A “fudged” (homogenized) theory cannot be as fundamental—let alone be even more fundamental—as compared to the finer theory from which it was homogenized.

Poincaré must have thought otherwise. The available evidence anyway says that he said, wrote, and preached to the effect that a logical inversion of a homogenized theory was not only acceptable as an intellectually satisfying exercise, but that it must be seen as being a more fundamental description of physical reality.

Einstein, initially hesitant, later on bought this view hook, line and sinker. (Later on, he also became a superposition of an Isaac Asimov of the relativity theory, a Merilyn Monroe of the popular press, and a collage of the early 20th century Western intellectuals’ notions of an ancient sage. But this issue, seen in any basis—components-wise or in a new basis in which the superposition itself is a basis—takes us away from the issues at hand.)

The view promulgated by these super-smart people, however, cannot qualify to be called the most fundamental description.

3.5 Why is the usual idea of having to formulate a relativistic quantum mechanics theory a basic error?

It is an error to expect that the potential energy fields in the Schroedinger equation ought to obey the (special) relativistic limits.

The expectation rests on treating the magnetic field at a par with the static electric field.

However, there are no monopoles in the classical EM, and so, the electric charges enjoy a place of greater fundamentality. If you have kept your working epistemology untarnished by corrupt forms of methods and content, you should have no trouble seeing this point. It’s very simple.

It’s the electrons which produce the electric fields; every electric field that can at all exist in reality can always be expressed as a linear superposition of elementary fields each of which has a singularity in it—the point identified for the classical position of the electron.

We compress this complex line of thought by simply saying:

Point-particles of electrons produce electric fields, and this is the only way any electric field can at all be produced.

Naturally, electric fields don’t change anywhere at all, unless the electrons themselves move.

The only way a magnetic field can be had at any point in physical space is if the electric field at that point changes in time. Why do we say “the only way”? Because, there are no magnetic monopoles to create these magnetic fields.

So, the burden of creating any and every magnetic field completely rests on the motions of the electrons.

And, the electrons, being point particles, have singularities in them.

So, you see, in the most fundamental description, EM of finite objects is a multi-scaled theory of EM of point-charges. And, EM of finite objects was, historically, first formulated before people could plain grab the achievement, recast it into an alternative form (having a different look but the same physical scope), and then run naked in the streets shouting “Relativity!”, “Relativity!!”.

Another way to look at the conceptual hierarchy is this:

Answer this question:

If you solve the problem of an electron in a magnetic field quantum mechanically, did you use the most basic QM? Or was it a multi-scale-wise grossed out (and approximate) QM description that you used?

Hint: The only way a magnetic field can at all come into existence is when some or the other electron is accelerating somewhere or the other in the universe.

For the layman: The situation here is like this: A man has a son. The son plays with another man, say the boy’s uncle. Can you now say that because there is an interaction between the nephew and the uncle, therefore, they are what all matters? that the man responsible for creating this relationship in the first place, namely, the son’s father cannot ever enter any fundamental or basic description?

Of course, this viewpoint also means that the only fundamentally valid relativistic QM would be one which is completely couched in terms of the electric fields only. No magnetic fields.

3.6. How to incorporate the magnetic fields in the most fundamental QM description?

I don’t know. (Neither do I much care—it’s not my research field.) But sure, I can put forth a hypothetical way of looking at it.

Think of the magnetic field as a quantum mechanical effect. That is to say, the electrostatic fields (which implies, the positions of electrons’ respective singularities) and the wavefunctions produced in the aether in correspondence with these electrostatic fields, together form a complete description. (Here, the wavefunction includes the spin.)

You can then abstractly encapsulate certain kinds of changes in these fundamental entities, and call the abstraction by the name of magnetic field.

You can then realize that the changes in magnetic and electric fields imply the c constant, and then trace back the origins of the c as being rooted in the kind of changes in the electrostatic fields (PE) and wavefunction fields (KE) which give rise to the higher-level of phenomenon of c.

But in no case can you have the hodge-podge favored by Einstein (and millions of his devotees).

To the layman: This hodge-podge consists of regarding the play (“interactions”) between the boy and the uncle as primary, without bothering about the father. You would avoid this kind of a hodge-podge if what you wanted was a basic consistency.

3.7 Singularities and the kind of relativistic QM which is needed:

So, you see, what is supposed to be the relativistic QM itself has to be reformulated. Then it would be easy to see that:

There are singularities of electric point-charges even in the relativistic QM.

In today’s formulation of relativistic QM, since it takes SR as if SR itself was the most basic ground truth (without looking into the conceptual bases of SR in the classical EM), it does take an extra special effort for you to realize that the most fundamental singularity in the relativistic QM is that of the electrons—and not of any relativistic spacetime contortions.


4. A word about putting quantum mechanics and gravity together:

Now, a word about QM and gravity—Wolchover’s concern for her abovementioned report. (Also, arguably, one of the concerns of the physicists she interviewed.)

Before we get going, a clarification is necessary—the one which concerns with mass of the electron.

4.1 Is charge a point-property in the classical EM? how about mass?

It might come as a surprise to you, but it’s a fact that in the fundamental classical EM, it does not matter whether you ascribe a specific location to the attribute of the electric charge, or not.

In particular, You may take the position (1) that the electric charge exists at the same point where the singularity in the electron’s field is. Or, alternatively, you may adopt the position (2) that the charge is actually distributed all over the space, wherever the electric field exists.

Realize that whether you take the first position or the second, it makes no difference whatsoever either to the concepts at the root of the EM laws or the associated calculation procedures associated with them.

However, we may consider the fact that the singularity indeed is a very distinguished point. There is only one such a point associated with the interaction of a given electron with another given electron. Each electron sees one and only one singular point in the field produced by the other electron.

Each electron also has just one charge, which remains constant at all times. An electron or a proton does not possess two charges. They do not possess complex-valued charges.

So, based on this extraneous consideration (it’s not mandated by the basic concepts or laws), we may think of simplifying the matters, and say that

the charge of an electron (or the other fundamental particle, viz., proton) exists only at the singular point, and nowhere else.

All in all, we might adopt the position that the charge is where the singularity is—even if there is no positive evidence for the position.

Then, continuing on this conceptually alluring but not empirically necessitated viewpoint, we could also say that the electron’s mass is where its electrostatic singularity is.

Now, a relatively minor consideration here also is that ascribing the mass only to the point of singularity also suggests an easy analogue to the Newtonian particle-mechanics. I am not sure how advantageous this analogue is. Even if there is some advantage, it would still be a minor advantage. The reason is, the two theories (NM and EM) are, hierarchically, at highly unequal levels—and it is this fact which is far more important.

All in all, we can perhaps adopt this position:

With all the if’s and the but’s kept in the context, the mass and the charge may be regarded as not just multipliers in the field equations; they may be regarded to have a distinguished location in space too; that the charge and mass exist at one point and no other.

We could say that. There is no experiment which mandates that we adopt this viewpoint, but there also is no experiment—or conceptual consideration—which goes against it. And, it seems to be a bit easier on the mind.

4.2 How quantum gravity becomes ridiculous simple:

If we thus adopt the viewpoint that the mass is where the electrostatic singularity is, then the issue of quantum gravity becomes ridiculously simple… assuming that you have developed a theory to multi-scale-wise gross out classical magnetism from the more basic QM formalism, in the first place.

Why would it make the quantum gravity simple?

Gravity is just a force between two point particles of electrons (or protons), and, you could directly include it in your QM if your computer’s floating point arithmetic allows you to deal with it.

As an engineer, I wouldn’t bother.

But, basically, that’s the only physics-wise relevance of quantum gravity.

4.3 What is the real relevance of quantum gravity?

The real reason behind the attempts to build a theory of quantum gravity (by following the track of the usual kind of the relativistic QM theory) is not based in physics or nature of reality. The reasons are, say “social”.

The socially important reason to pursue quantum gravity is that it keeps physicists in employment.

Naturally, once they are employed, they talk. They publish papers. Give interviews to the media.

All this can be fine, so long as you bear in your mind the real reason at all times. A field such as quantum gravity was invented (i.e. not discovered) only in order to keep some physicists out of unemployment. There is no other reason.

Neither Wolchover nor Motl would tell you this part, but it is true.


5. So, what can we finally say regarding singularities?:

Simply this much:

Next time you run into the word “singularity,” think of those small pieces of paper and a plastic comb.

Don’t think of those advanced graphics depicting some interstellar space-ship orbiting around a black-hole, with a lot of gooey stuff going round and round around a half-risen sun or something like that. Don’t think of that.

Singularities is far more common-place than you’ve been led to think.

Your laptop or cell-phone has of the order of 10^23 number of singularities, all happily running around mostly within that small volume, and acting together, effectively giving your laptop its shape, its solidity, its form. These singularities is what gives your laptop the ability to brighten the pixels too, and that’s what ultimately allows you to read this post.

Finally, remember the definition of singularity:

A singularity is a distinguished point in an otherwise finite field where the field-strength approaches (positive or negative) infinity.

This is a mathematical characterization. Given that infinities are involved, physics can in principle have no characterization of any singularity. It’s a point which “falls out of”, i.e., is in principle excluded from, the integrated body of knowledge that is physics. Singularity is defined not on the basis of its own positive merits, but by negation of what we know to be true. Physics deals only with that which is true.

It might turn out that there is perhaps nothing interesting to be eventually found at some point of some singularity in some physics theory—classical or quantum. Or, it could also turn out that the physics at some singularity is only very mildly interesting. There is no reason—not yet—to believe that there must be something fascinating going on at every point which is mathematically described by a singularity. Remember: Singularities exist only in the abstract (limiting processes-based) mathematical characterizations, and that these abstractions arise from the known physics of the situation around the so distinguished point.

We do know a fantastically great deal of physics that is implied by the physics theories which do have singularities. But we don’t know the physics at the singularity. We also know that so long as the concept involves infinities, it is not a piece of valid physics. The moment the physics of some kind of singularities is figured out, the field strengths there would be found to be not infinities.

So, what’s singularity? It’s those pieces of paper and the comb.

Even better:

You—your body—itself carries singularities. Approx. 100 \times 10^23 number of them, in the least. You don’t have to go looking elsewhere for them. This is an established fact of physics.

Remember that bit.


6. To physics experts:

Yes, there can be a valid theory of non-relativistic quantum mechanics that incorporates gravity too.

It is known that such a theory would obviously give erroneous predictions. However, the point isn’t that. The point is simply this:

Gravity is not basically wedded to, let alone be an effect of, electromagnetism. That’s why, it simply cannot be an effect of the relativistic reformulations of the multi-scaled grossed out view of what actually is the fundamental theory of electromagnetism.

Gravity is basically an effect shown by massive objects.

Inasmuch as electrons have the property of mass, and inasmuch as mass can be thought of as existing at the distinguished point of electrostatic singularities, even a non-relativistic theory of quantum gravity is possible. It would be as simple as adding the Newtonian gravitational potential energy into the Hamiltonian for the non-relativistic quantum mechanics.

You are not impressed, I know. Doesn’t matter. My primary concern never was what you think; it always was (and is): what the truth is, and hence, also, what kind of valid conceptual structures there at all can be. This has not always been a concern common to both of us. Which fact does leave a bit of an impression about you in my mind, although it is negative-valued.

Be advised.


A song I like:

(Hindi) ओ मेरे दिल के चैन (“O mere, dil ke chain”)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

[

I think I have run the original version by Kishore Kumar here in this section before. This time, it’s time for Lata’s version.

Lata’s version came as a big surprise to me; I “discovered” it only a month ago. I had heard other young girls’ versions on the YouTube, I think. But never Lata’s—even if, I now gather, it’s been around for some two decades by now. Shame on me!

To the n-th order approximation, I can’t tell whether I like Kishor’s version better or Lata’s, where n can, of course, only be a finite number though it already is the case that n > 5.

… BTW, any time in the past (i.e., not just in my youth) I could have very easily betted a very good amount of money that no other singer would ever be able to sing this song. A female singer, in particular, wouldn’t be able to even begin singing this song. I would have been right. When it comes to the other singers, I don’t even complete their, err, renderings. For a popular case in point, take the link provided after this sentence, but don’t bother to return if you stay with it for more than, like, 30 seconds [^].

Earlier, I would’ve expected that even Lata is going to fail at the try.

But after listening to her version, I… I don’t know what to think, any more. May be it’s the aforementioned uncertainty which makes all thought cease! And thusly, I now (shamelessly and purely) enjoy Lata’s version, too. Suggestion: If you came back from the above link within 30 seconds, you follow me, too.

]

 

 

Python scripts for simulating QM, part 2: Vectorized code for the H atom in a 1D/2D/3D box. [Also, un-lockdown and covid in India.]

A Special note for the Potential Employers from the Data Science field:

Recently, in April 2020, I achieved a World Rank # 5 on the MNIST problem. The initial announcement can be found here [^], and a further status update, here [^].

All my data science-related posts can always be found here [^].


1.The first cut for the H atom in a 3D box:

The last time [^], I spoke of an enjoyable activity, namely, how to make the tea (and also how to have it).

Talking of other, equally enjoyable things, I have completed the Python code for simulating the H atom in a 3D box.

In the first cut for the 3D code (as also in the previous code in this series [^]), I used NumPy’s dense matrices, and the Python ``for” loops. Running this preliminary code, I obtained the following colourful diagrams, and twitted them:

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. Ground state (i.e., 1s, eigenvalue index = 0). Contour surfaces with wiremesh. Plotted with Mayavi's mlab.contour3d().

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. Ground state (i.e., 1s, eigenvalue index = 0). All contours taken together show a single stationary state. Contour surfaces plotted with wiremesh. Plotted with Mayavi’s mlab.contour3d().

 

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. A 'p' state (eigenvalue index = 2). Contour surfaces with the Gouraud interpolation. Plotted with Mayavi's mlab.contour3d().

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. A ‘p’ state (eigenvalue index = 2). All contours taken together show a single stationary state. Contour surfaces with the Gouraud interpolation. Plotted with Mayavi’s mlab.contour3d().

 

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. A 'p' state (eigenvalue index = 2). Contour surfaces with wiremesh. Plotted with Mayavi's mlab.contour3d().

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. A ‘p’ state (eigenvalue index = 2). All contours taken together show a single stationary state. Contour surfaces with wiremesh. Plotted with Mayavi’s mlab.contour3d().

 

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. Another 'p' state (eigenvalue index = 3). Contour surfaces with the Gourauad interpolation. Plotted with Mayavi's mlab.contour3d().

H atom in a 3D box of 1 angstrom sides. Another ‘p’ state (eigenvalue index = 3). All contours taken together show a single stationary state. Contour surfaces with the Gourauad interpolation. Plotted with Mayavi’s mlab.contour3d().

 

OK, as far as many (most?) of you are concerned, the enjoyable part of this post is over. So, go read something else on the ‘net.


Coming back to my enjoyment…

2. Sparse matrices. Vectorization of code:

After getting to the above plots with dense matrices and Python “for” loops, I then completely rewrote the whole code using SciPy‘s sparse matrices, and put a vectorized code in place of the Python “for” loops. (As a matter of fact, in the process of rewriting, I seem to have deleted the plots too. So, today, I took the above plots from my twitter account!)

2.1 My opinions about vectorizing code, other programmers, interviews, etc:

Vectorization was not really necessary in this problem (an eigenvalue problem), because even if you incrementally build the FD-discretized Hamiltonian matrix, it takes less than 1 percent of the total execution time. 99 % of the execution time is spent in the SciPy library calls.

Python programmers have a habit of always looking down on the simple “for” loops—and hence, on any one who writes them. So, I decided to write this special note.

The first thing you do about vectorization is not to begin wondering how best to implement it for a particular problem. The first thing you do is to ask yourself: Is vectorization really necessary here? Ditto, for lambda expressions. Ditto, for list comprehension. Ditto for itertools. Ditto for almost anything that is a favourite of the dumb interviewers (which means, most Indian Python programmers).

Vectorized codes might earn you brownie points among the Python programmers (including those who interview you for jobs). But such codes are more prone to bugs, harder to debug, and definitely much harder to understand even by you after a gap of time. Why?

That’s because practically speaking, while writing in Python, you hardly if ever define C-struct like things. Python does have classes. But these are rather primitive classes. You are not expected to write code around classes, and then put objects into containers. Technically, you can do that, but it’s not at all efficient. So, practically speaking, you are almost always into using the NumPy ndarrays, or similar things (like Pandas, xarrays, dasks, etc.).

Now, once you have these array-like thingies, indexing becomes important. Why? Because, in Python, it is the design of a number of arrays, and the relationships among their indexing scheme which together “defines” the operative data structures. Python, for all its glory, has this un-removable flaw: The design of the data structures is always implicit; never directly visible through a language construct.

So, in Python, it’s the indexing scheme which plays the same part as the classes, inheritance, genericity play in C++. But it’s implicit. So, how you implement the indexing features becomes of paramount importance.

And here, in my informed opinion, the Python syntax for the slicing and indexing operations has been made unnecessarily intricate. I, for one, could easily design an equally powerful semantics that comes with a syntax that’s much easier on the eye.

In case some professionally employed data scientist (especially a young Indian one) takes an offence to my above claim: Yes, I do mean what I say above. And, I also know what I am talking about.

Though I no longer put it on my CV, once, in the late 1990s, I had implemented a Yacc-like tool to output table-driven parser for the LALR-1 languages (like Java and C++). It would take a language specification in the EBNF (Extended Backus-Noor Form) as the input file, and produce the tables for table-driven parsing of that language. I had implemented this thing completely on my own, looking just at the Dragon Book (Aho, Sethi, Ullman). I haven’t had a CS university education. So, I taught myself the compilers theory, and then, began straight implementing it.

I looked at no previous code. And even if I were to look at something, it would have been horrible. These were ancient projects, written in C, not in C++, and written using arrays, no STL containers like “map”s. A lot of hard-coding, pre-proc macros, and all that. Eventually, I did take a look at the others’ code, but it was only in the verification stage. How did my code fare? Well, I didn’t have to change anything critical.

I had taken about 8 months for this exercise (done part time, on evenings, as a hobby). The closest effort was by some US mountain-time university group (consisting of a professor, one or two post-docs, and four-five graduate students). They had taken some 4 years to reach roughly the same place. To be fair, their code had many more features. But yes, both their code and mine addressed those languages which belonged to the same class of grammar specification, and hence, both would have had the same parsing complexity.

I mention it all it here mainly in order to “assure” the Indian / American programmers (you know, those BE/BS CS guys, the ones who are right now itching to fail me in any interview, should their HR arrange one for me in the first place) that I do know a bit about it when I was talking about the actual computing operations on one hand, and the mere syntax for those operations on the other. There are a lot of highly paid Indian IT professionals who never do learn this difference (but take care to point out that your degree isn’t from the CS field).

So, my conclusion is that despite all its greatness (and I do actually love Python), its syntax does have some serious weaknesses. Not just idiosyncrasies (which are fine) but actual weaknesses. The syntax for slicing and indexing is a prominent part of it.

Anyway, coming back to my present code (for the H atom in the 3D box, using finite difference method), if the execution time was so short, and if vectorization makes a code prone to bugs (and difficult to maintain), why did I bother implementing it?

Two reasons:

  1. I wanted to have a compact-looking code. I was writing this code mainly for myself, so maintenance wasn’t an issue.
  2. In case some programmer / manager interviewing me began acting over-smart, I wanted to have something which I could throw at his face. (Recently, I ran into a woman who easily let out: “What’s there in a PoC (proof of concept, in case you don’t know)? Any one can do a PoC…” She ranted on a bit, but it was obvious that though she has been a senior manager and all, and lists managing innovations and all, she doesn’t know. There are a lot of people like her in the Indian IT industry. People who act over-smart. An already implemented vectorized code, especially one they find difficult to read, would be a nice projectile to have handy.

2.2 Sparse SciPy matrices:

Coming back to the present code for the H atom: As I was saying, though vectorization was not necessary, I have anyway implemented the vectorization part.

I also started using sparse matrices.

In case you don’t know, SciPy‘s and NumPy‘s sparse matrix calls look identical, but they go through different underlying implementations.

From what I have gathered, it seems safe to conclude this much: As a general rule, if doing some serious work, use SciPy’s calls, not NumPy’s. (But note, I am still learning this part.)

With sparse matrices, now, I can easily go to a 50 \times 50 \times  50 domain. I haven’t empirically tested the upper limit on my laptop, though an even bigger mesh should be easily possible. In contrast, earlier, with dense matrices, I was stuck at at most at a 25 \times 25 \times 25 mesh. The execution time too reduced drastically.

In my code, I have used only the dok_matrix() to build the sparse matrices, and only the tocsr(), and tocoo() calls for faster matrix computations in the SciPy eigenvalue calls. These are the only functions I’ve used—I haven’t tried all the pathways that SciPy opens up. However, I think that I have a pretty fast running code; that the execution time wouldn’t improve to any significant degree by using some other combination of calls.

2.3 A notable curiosity:

I also tried, and succeeded to a great degree, in having an exactly identical code for all dimensions: 1D, 2D, 3D, and then even, in principle, ND. That is to say, no “if–else” statements that lead to different execution paths depending on the dimensionality.

If you understand what I just stated, then you sure would want to have a look at my code, because nothing similar exists anywhere on the ‘net (i.e., within the first 10 pages thrown up by Google during several differently phrased searches covering many different domains).

However, eventually, I abandoned this approach, because it made things too complicated, especially while dealing with computing the Coulomb fields. The part dealing with the discretized Laplacian was, in contrast, easier to implement, and it did begin working fully well, which was when I decided to abandon this entire approach. In case you know a bit about this territory: I had to liberally use numpy.newaxis.

Eventually, I came to abandon this insistence on having only a single set of code lines regardless of the dimensionality, because my programmer’s/engineer’s instincts cried against it. (Remember I don’t even like the slicing syntax of Python?) And so, I scrapped it. (But yes, I do have a copy, just in case someone wants to have a look.)

2.4 When to use the “for” loops and when to use slicing + vectorization: A good example:

I always try to lift code if a suitable one is available ready made. So, I did a lot of search for Python/MatLab code for such things.

As far as the FD implementations of the Laplacian go, IMO, the best piece of Python code I saw (for this kind of a project) was that by Prof. Christian Hill [^]. His code is available for free from the site for a book he wrote; see here [^] for an example involving the finite difference discretization of the Laplacian.

Yes, Prof. Hill has wisely chosen to use only the Python “for” loops when it comes to specifying the IC. Thus, he reserves the vectorization only for the time-stepping part of the code.

Of course, unlike Prof. Hill’s code (transient diffusion), my code involves only eigenvalue computations—no time-stepping. So, one would be even more amply justified in using only the “for” loops for building the Laplacian matrix. Yet, as I noted, I vectorized everything in my code, merely because I felt like doing so. It’s during vectorization that the problem of differing dimensionality came up, which I solved, and then abandoned.

2.5 Use of indexing matrices:

While writing my code, I figured out that a simple trick with using index matrices and arrays makes the vectorization part even more compact (and less susceptible to bugs). So, I implemented this approach—indexing matrices and arrays.

“Well, this is a very well known approach. What’s new?” you might ask. The new part is the use of matrices for indexing, not arrays. Very well known, sure. But very few people use it anyway.

Again, I was cautious. I wrote the code, saw it a couple of days later again, and made sure that using indices really made the code easier to understand—to me, of course. Only then I decided to retain it.

By using the indexing matrices, the code indeed becomes very clean-looking. It certainly looks far better (i.e. easier to grasp structure) than the first lines of code in Prof. Hill’s “do_timestep” function [^].

2.6 No code-drop:

During my numerous (if not exhaustive) searches, I found that no one posts a 3D code for quantum simulation that also uses finite differences (i.e. the simplest numerical technique).

Note, people do post codes for 3D, but these are only for more complicated approaches like: FDTD (finite difference time domain), FEM, (pseudo)spectral methods, etc. People also post code for FDM, when the domain is 1D. But none posts a code that is both FD and 2D/3D. People only post the maths for such a case. Some rare times, they also post the results of the simulations. But they don’t post the 3D FDM code. I don’t know the reason for this.

May be there is some money to be made if you keep some such tricks all to yourself?

Once this idea occurred to me, it was impossible for me not to take it seriously. … You know that I have been going jobless for two years by now. And, further, I did have to invest a definite amount of time and effort in getting those indexing matrices working right so that the vectorization part becomes intuitive.

So, I too have decided not to post my 3D code anywhere on the ‘net for free. Not immediately anyway. Let me think about it for a while before I go, post my code.


3. Covid in India:

The process of unlocking down has begun in India. However, the numbers simply aren’t right for any one to get relaxed (except for the entertainment sections of the Indian media like the Times of India, Yahoo!, etc.).

In India, we are nowhere near turning the corner. The data about India are such that even the time when the flattening might occur, is not just hard to predict, but with the current data, it is impossible.

Yes, I said impossible. I could forward reasoning grounded in sound logic and good mathematics (e.g., things like Shannon’s theorem, von Neumann’s errors analysis, etc.), if you want. But I think to any one who really knows a fair amount of maths, it’s not necessary. I think they will understand my point.

Let me repeat: The data about India are such that even the time when the flattening might occur, is not just hard to predict, but with the current data, it is impossible.

India’s data show a certain unique kind of a challenge for the data scientist—and it definitely calls for some serious apprehension by every one concerned. The data themselves are such that predictions have to be made very carefully.

If any one is telling you that India will cross (or has already crossed), say, more than 20 lakh cases, then know that he/she is not speaking from the data, the population size, the social structures, the particular diffusive dynamics of this country, etc. He/she is talking purely from imagination—or very poor maths.

Ditto, if someone tells you that there are going be so many cases in this city or that, by this date or that, if the date runs into, say, August.

Given the actual data, in India, projections about number of cases in the future are likely to remain very tentative (having very big error bands).

Of course,  you may still make some predictions, like those based on the doubling rate. You would be even justified in using this measure, but only for a very short time-span into the future. The reason is that India’s data carry these two peculiarities:

  1. The growth rate has been, on a large enough scale, quite steady for a relatively longer period of time. In India, there has been no exponential growth with a very large log-factor, not even initially (which I attribute to an early enough a lock-down). There also has been no flattening (for whatever reasons, but see the next one).
  2. The number of cases per million population still remains small.

Because of 1., the doubling rate can serve as a good short-term estimator when it comes to activities like large-scale resource planning (but it would be valid only for the short term). You will have to continuously monitor the data, and be willing to adjust your plans. Yet, the fact is also that the doubling rate has remained steady long enough that it can certainly be used for short-term planning (including by corporates).

However, because of 2., everyone will have to revise their estimates starting from the third week of June, when the effects of the un-locking down begin to become visible (not just in the hospitals or the quarantine centres, but also in terms of aggregated numbers).

Finally, realize that 1. matters only to the policy-makers (whether in government or in corporate sectors).

What matters to the general public at large is this one single question: Have we turned around the corner already? if not, when will we do that?

The short answers are: “No” and  “Can’t Tell As of Today.”

In India’s case the data themselves are such that no data scientist worth his salt would be able to predict the time of flattening with any good accuracy—as of today. Nothing clear has emerged, even after 2.5 months, in the data. Since this sentence is very likely to be misinterpreted, let me explain.

I am not underestimating the efforts of the Indian doctors, nurses, support staff, police, and even other government agencies. If they were not to be in this fight, the data would’ve been far simpler to analyse—and far more deadly.

Given India’s population size, its poverty, its meagre medical resources, the absence of civic discipline, the illiteracy (which makes using symbols for political parties indispensable at the time of elections)… Given all such factors, the very fact that India’s data even today (after 2.5 months) still manages to remain hard to analyse suggests, to my mind, this conclusion:

There has been a very hard tussle going on between man and the virus so that no definitive trend could emerge either way.

There weren’t enough resources so that flattening could occur by now. If you kept that expectation to begin with, you were ignoring reality. 

However, in India, the fight has been such that it must have been very tough on the virus too—else, the exponential function is too bad for us, and it is too easy for the virus.

The inability to project the date by which the flattening might be reached, must be seen in such a light.

The picture will become much clearer starting from two weeks in the future, because it would then begin reflecting the actual effects that the unlocking is producing right now.

So, if you are in India, take care even if the government has now allowed you to step out, go to office, and all that. But remember, you have to take even more care than you did during the lock-down, at least for the next one month or so, until the time that even if faint, some definitely discernible trends do begin to emerge, objectively speaking.

I sincerely hope that every one takes precautions so that we begin to see even just an approach towards the flattening. Realize, number of cases and number deaths increase until the flattening occurs. So, take extra care, now that the diffusivity of people has increased.

Good luck!


A song I like:

(Western, instrumental): Mozart, Piano concerto 21, k. 467, second movement (andante in F major).

Listen, e.g., at this [^] YouTube viedo.

[ I am not too much into Western classical, though I have listened to a fair deal of it. I would spend hours in UAB’s excellent music library listening to all sorts of songs, though mostly Western classical. I would also sometimes make on-the-fly requests to the classical music channel of UAB’s radio station (or was it a local radio station? I no longer remember). I didn’t always like what I listened to, but I continuing listening a lot anyway.

Then, as I grew older, I began discovering that, as far as the Western classical music goes, very often, I actually don’t much appreciate even some pieces that are otherwise very highly regarded by others. Even with a great like Mozart, there often are places where I can’t continue to remain in the flow of the music. Unknowingly, I come out of the music, and begin wondering: Here, in this piece, was the composer overtaken by a concern to show off his technical virtuosity rather than being absorbed in the music? He does seem to have a very neat tune somewhere in the neighbourhood of what he is doing here. Why doesn’t he stop tinkling the piano or stretching the violin, stop, think, and resume? I mean, he was composing music, not just blogging, wasn’t he?

The greater the composer or the tune suggested by the piece, the greater is this kind of a disappointment on my part.

Then, at other times, these Western classical folks do the equivalent of analysis-paralysis. They get stuck into the same thing for seemingly forever. If composing music is difficult, composing good music in the Western classical style is, IMHO, exponentially more difficult. That’s the reason why despite showing a definite “cultured-ness,” purely numbers-wise, most Western classical music tends to be boring. … Most Indian classical music also tends to be very boring. But I will cover it on some other day. Actually, one day won’t be enough. But still, this post is already too big…

Coming to the Western classical, Mozart, and the song selected for this time: I think that if Mozart were to do something different with his piano concerto no. 20 (k. 466), then I might have actually liked it as much as k. 467, perhaps even better. (For a good YouTube video on k. 466, see here [^].)

But as things stand, it’s k. 467. It is one of the rarest Western (or Eastern) classical pieces that can auto ride on my mind at some unpredictable moments; also one of the rare pieces that never disappoint me when I play it. Maybe that’s because I don’t play it unless I am in the right mood. A mood that’s not at all bright; a mood that suggests as if someone were plaintively raising the question “why? But why?”. (Perhaps even: “But why me?”) It’s a question not asked to any one in particular. It’s a question raised in the midst of continuing to bear either some tragic something, or, may be, a question raised while in the midst of having to suffer the consequences of someone else’s stupidity or so. … In fact, it’s not even a question explicitly raised. It’s to do with some feeling which comes before you even become aware of it, let alone translate it into a verbal question.  I don’t know, the mood is something like that. … I don’t get in that kind of a mood very often. But sometimes, this kind of a mood is impossible to avoid. And then, if the outward expression of such a mood also is this great, sometimes, you even feel like listening to it… The thing here is, any ordinary composer can evoke pathos. But what Mozart does is in an entirely different class. He captures the process of forming that question clearly, alright. But he captures the whole process in such a subdued manner. Extraordinary clarity, and extraordinary subdued way of expressing it. That’s what appeals to me in this piece… How do I put it?… It’s the epistemological clarity or something like that—I don’t know. Whatever be the reason, I simply love this piece. Even if I play it only infrequently.

Coming back to the dynamic k. 466 vs. the quiet, sombre, even plaintive k. 467, I think, the makers of the “Elvira Madigan” movie were smart; they correctly picked up the k. 467, and only the second movement, not others. It’s the second movement that’s musically extraordinary. My opinion, anyway…

Bye for now.

]