(A)theism, God, and Soul

TL;DR: The theism vs. atheism debate isn’t very important; the concept of soul is. To better understand soul, one has to turn to the issues pertaining to the divine. The divine is an adjective, not a noun; it is a modality of perception (of reality, by a soul); it is a special but natural modality that in principle is accessible to anyone. The faithful destroy the objectivity of the divine by seizing the concept and embedding it into the fold of religious mysticism; the materialists and skpetics help them in this enterprise by asserting, using another form of mysticism, that the divine does not even exist in the first place (because, to them, soul itself doesn’t).  Not all points are explicated fully, and further, the writing also is very much blogsome (more or less just on-the-fly).

Also see an important announcement at the end of this post.


This post has its origins in a comment which I tried to make at Anoop Verma’s blog, here: [^]. Since his blog accepts only comments that are smaller than 4KB, and since my writing had grown too long (almost 12 KB), I then tried sending that comment by email to him. Then, rather than putting him through the bother of splitting it up into chunks of 4KB each, I decided to run this comment at my own blog, as a post here.


After a rapid reading of Varma’s above-mentioned post [^], I was immediately filled with so many smallish seeds of thoughts, rushing in to me in such a random order, that I immediately found myself trapped in a state of an n-lemma (which word is defined as a quantitative generalization of “dilemma”). After idly nursing this n-lemma together with a cup of coffee for a while, both with a bit of fondness, I eventually found me saying to myself:

“Ah! And I don’t even know where to begin writing my comment!”.

Soon enough thereafter, I realized that the n-lemma persists precisely because I don’t know where to begin. … Begin. … Begin. … It’s Begin. … It’s the beginning! … Which realization then immediately got me recognizing that what is involved here belongs to the level of the basic of the basics—i.e., at the level of philosophic axioms.

Let me deal with the issue at that level, at the level of axiomatics, even though this way, my comment will not be as relevant to Varma’s specific post as it could possibly have been. But, yes, if I could spell out where to begin, then the entire problem would have been at least half-conquered. That’s because, this way, at least an indication of (i) the nature of the problem, and (ii) of its context, would have been given. As they say, a problem well defined is a problem half solved.


My main rhetorical point here is: It isn’t really necessary for one to try to get to know what precisely the term “god” means. By itself, it even looks like a non-issue. Mankind has wasted too much time on the issue of god. (Here, by “god,” I also include the God of Christianity, and of any other monotheistic/other religion.)

I mean to say: you could have a logically complete philosophy, and therefore could live a logically complete (i.e. “fullest” etc.) life, even if you never do come across the specific word: “god.”

(BTW, you could have completeness of life in this way only if you weren’t to carry even an iota of faith anywhere in your actual working epistemology. … Realize, faith is primarily an issue from epistemology, not metaphysics; the consequences of faith-vs-reason in morality, religion, society, organized religion, and politics are just that—only consequences.)

So, it isn’t really necessary to know what god means or therefore even to search for one—or to spend time proving its presence or absence. That’s what I think. Including “wasting” time debating about theism vs. atheism.

But it is absolutely necessary, for the aforementioned logical completeness to be had, to know what the term “soul” means—and what all it presupposes, entails, and implies.

Soul is important.

When it comes to soul, you metaphysically have one anyway, and further, theoretical questions pertaining to its existence and identity (or a research pertaining to them) logically just does not arise. The concept is a fundamental self-evident primary—i.e. a philosophic axiom. (Of course, there have been people like David Hume, but I am focusing here mainly on establishing a positive, not on polemics.)

As I said in the past [^][^], soul, to me, is an axiomatic concept.


Now, like in any other field of knowledge and endeavor, the greater the extent and refinement of your knowledge (of something), the better is your efficacy (in that regard). In other words, the better off you are.

Ditto, with regard to this concept too.

A case in point: Suppose you yourself were capable of originally and independently reaching that philosophical identification which is contained in Ayn Rand’s axiom “existence exists,” and suppose that you held it in a truly in-depth manner, i.e. qua axiom. Just assume that. Just assume, for the sake of argument, that you were the one who reached that universal truth which is encapsulated by this axiom, for the first time in the world! But an axiom by itself is nothing if it isn’t tied-in non-contradictorily with all its prior cognitive preparation and logical implications. Suppose that you did that too—to match whatever extent of knowledge you did have. Now consider the extent and richness of the (philosophic) knowledge which you would have thus reached, and compare it to that which Ayn Rand did. (For instance, see Dr. Harry Binswanger’s latest post here [^] with a PDF of his 1982 writings here [^], which is a sort of like an obit-piece devoted to Ayn Rand.) … What do you get as a result of that comparison?

“What’s the point,” you ask?

The point is this: The better the integrations, the better the knowledge. The non-contradictorily woven-in relations, explanations, implications, qualifications, applications, etc. is what truly makes an axiom “move” a body of knowledge—or a man. And on this count, you would find Rand beating you by “miles and miles”—or at least I presume Varma would agree to that.

Realize, by the grace of the nature of man (including the nature of knowledge), something similar holds also for the concept of soul.

And here, in enriching the meaning, applications, etc. of this concept, you would find that most (or all) of the best material available to you has come to you from houses of spirituality, or for that matter, even of religion (by which, I emphatically mean, first and foremost (though not exclusively), the Indian religions)—not from Ayn Rand.


The extant materials pertaining to soul come from houses of spirituality and religion (or rarely, e.g. in the Upanishads, of ancient Indian philosophy). Given the nature of their sources—ancient, scattered, disparate, often mere notings without context, and most importantly, only in the religious or mystical context—it is very easy to see that they must have been written via an exercise of faith. This is an act of faith on the writer’s part—and sometimes, he has been nothing more than a mere scribe to what appears to be some inestimably better Guru, who probably wouldn’t have himself espoused faith or mysticism. But, yes, the extant materials on the philosophy of mind are like that. (Make sure to distinguish between epistemology and philosophy of mind. Ayn Rand had the former, but virtually nothing on the latter.) Further, the live sources about this topic also most often do involve encouragement to faith on the listener’s/reader’s part. They often are very great practitioners but absolutely third-class intellectualizers. Given such a preponderance of faith surrounding these matters, there easily arises a tendency to (wrongly) label the good with the poison that is faith—and as the seemingly “logical” next step, to dismiss the whole thing as a poison.

Which is an error. An error that occurs at a deep philosophic level—and if you ask me, at the axiomatic level.

In other words, there exists a “maayaa” (or a veil) of faith, which you have to penetrate before you can get to the rich, very rich, insights on the phenomenon of soul, on the philosophy of the mind.

Of those who declare themselves to be religious or faithful, some are better than others; they sometimes (implicitly) grasp the good part concerning the nature of the issue, at least partly. Some of these people therefore can be found even trying to defend religion and its notions—such as faith—via a mostly misguided exercise of reason! (If you want to meet some of them: People like Varma, being in India, would be fortunate in this regard. Just spend a week-end in a “waari,” or in an “aashram” in the Himalya, or at a random “ghaaTa” on a random river, or in a random smallish assembly under some random banyan or peepul tree…. You get the idea.)

Thus to make out (i.e. distinguish) the better ones from the rotten ones (i.e. the actually faithful among those who declare themselves to believe in faith), you yourself have to know (or at least continue keeping an unwavering focus on) the idea of  the“soul” (not to mention rational philosophic ideas such as reason). You have to keep your focus not on organized religion primarily, not even on religion … and not even, for that matter, even on spirituality. Your underlying and unwavering focus has to be on the idea of “soul,” and the phenomena pertaining to it.

You do that, and you soon enough find that issues such as atheism vs. theism more or less evaporate away. At least, they no longer remain all that interesting. At least, not as interesting as they used to be when you were a school-boy or a teenager.


The word “atheism” is derived from the word “theism,” via a negation (or at least logical complimentation) thereof. “Atheism” is not a word that can exist independently of “theism.”

Etymologically, “theism” is a corrupt form (both in spelling and meaning) of the original (historical) Western term “dei-ism,” which came from something like “dieu”, which came from a certain ancient Sanskrit root involving “d”.  The Sanskrit root “d” is involved in the stems that mean: to give, and by implication and in appropriate context, also to receive. It is a root involved in a range of words: (i) “daan,” meaning giving; (ii) “datta,” meaning, the directly presented (in the perceptual field)—also the given—and then, also the giver (man), in particular, the (bliss)-giving son of the sage “atri” and his wife “anasuya” (an_ + a + su + y + aa, i.e., one without ill-will (or jealousy or envy)), and (iii) “divya”, meaning, divine (the same “div” root!).

The absence in the Western etymologies of the derivation of the English word “divine” from the ancient “d,” “diue,” “div-,” etc. is not only interesting psychologically but also amply illuminating morally.

The oft-quoted meaning of “divya” as “shining, or glimmering” appears to be secondary; it seems to be rather by association. The primary meaning is: the directly given in the perception—but here the perception is to be taken to be of a very special kind. The reason why “shimmering” gets associated with the word is because of the very nature of the “divya-druShTi” (divine vision). Gleening from the sources, divine vision (i) seems to be so aetherial and evanescent, flickering in the way it appears and disappears, and (ii) seems to include the perceived objects as if they were superimposed on the ordinary perceptual field of the usual material objects “out there,” say in a semi-transparent sort of a manner, and only for a fleeting moment or two. The “shimmering” involved, it would seem, is analogous to the mirage in the desert, i.e. the “mrigajaLa” illusion. Since a similar phenomenon also occurs due to patterns of cold-and-dense and hot-and-rarefied air near and above an oil lamp, and since the lamp is bright, the “di”-whatever root also gets associated with “shining.” However, this meaning is rather by association; it’s a secondary meaning. The primary meaning of “divya” is as in the “specially perceived,” with the emphasis being on specially, and with the meaning of course referring to the process of perception, not to this perceived object vs. that.

Thus, “divya” is an adjective, not a noun; it applies to a quality of a perception, not to that which has thus been perceived. It refers to a form or modality of perception (of (some definite aspect of) reality). This adjective completely modifies whatever that comes after it. For instance, what is perceptible to a “divya”-“druShTi” (divine vision) cannot be captured on camera—the camera has no soul. The object which is perceived by the ordinary faculty of vision can be captured on camera, but not the object which is perceptible via “divya-druShTi.” The camera would register merely the background field, not the content of the divine vision.

(Since all mental phenomena and events have bio-electro-chemo-etc-physical correlates, it is conceivable that advancement in science could possibly be able to capture the content of the “divya-druShTi” on a material medium. Realize that its primary referent still would belong to the mental referents. A soul-less apparatus such as a camera would still not be able to capture it in the absence of a soul experiencing it.)

Notice how the adjective ”divya”, once applied to “druShTi”, completely changs the referent from a perception of something which is directly given to the ordinary vision in the inanimate material reality (or the inanimate material aspects of a living being), to the content of consciousness of an animate, soulful, human being.

This does not mean that this content does not refer to reality. If the “divya-druShTi” is without illusions or delusions, what is perceived in this modality of perception necessarily refers to reality. Illusions and delusions are possible with the ordinary perception too. It is a fallacy to brand all occurrences of “divya-druShTi” as just “voices” and “hallucinations/delusions/illusions” just because: (i) that mode of perception too is fallible, and (ii) you don’t have it anyway. (Here, the “it” needs some elaboration. What you don’t have (or haven’t yet had) is: a well-isolated instance of a “divya” perception, as a part of your past experience. That doesn’t mean that other people don’t or cannot have it. Remember, the only direct awareness you (a soul) have is of your own consciousness—not someone else’s.)


“deva” or “god” (with a small `g’) is that which becomes accessible (i.e. perceivable) to you when your perception has (temporarily) acquired the quality of the “divya.”

Contrary to a very widespread popular misconception, the word “divya” does not come from a more primary“dev”; it does not mean that which is given by “dev” (i.e. a god). In other words, in principle, you are not at the mercy of a god to attain the “divya” modality.

The primacy, if there is any at all, is the other way around: the idea of “dev” basically arises with that kind of a spiritual (i.e. soul-related) phenomenon which can be grasped in your direct perception when the modality of that direct perception carries the quality of the “divya.” (The “d” is the primary root, and as far as my guess-work goes, a likely possibility is that both the “di” (from which comes“divya”) and the “de” (from which comes the“dev”) are off-shoots.) T

This special modality of perception is apparently not at all constant in time—not to most people who begin to have it anyway. It comes and goes. People usually don’t seem to be reaching a level of mastery of this modality to the extent that they can bring it completely under their control. That is what you can glean from the extant materials as well as from (the better ones among) the living people who claim such abilities.

Yet, in any case, you don’t have to have any notion of god, not even thereby just meaning “dev,” in order to reach the “divya.” That is my basic point.

Of course, I realize that those whose actual working epistemology is faith and mysticism, have long, long ago seized the idea of “dev” (i.e. god), and endowed it with all sorts of mystical and irrational attributes. One consequence of such a mystification is the idea that the “divya” is not in the metaphysical nature of man but a mystical gift from god(s). … An erroneous idea, that one is.


A “divya” mode of perception is accessible to anyone, but only after developing it with proper discipline and practice. Not only that, it can also be taught and learnt, though, gleening from literature, it would be something like a life-time of a dedication to only that one pursuit. (In other words, forget computational modeling, engineering, quantum physics, blogging… why, even maths and biology!)

In the ancient Indian wisdom, the “divya,” “dev,” and the related matters also involve a code of morality pertaining to how this art (i.e. skill) is to be isolated and grasped, learnt, mastered, used, and taught.

Misuse is possible, and ultimately, is perilous to the abuser’s own soul—that’s what the ancient Indian wisdom explicitly teaches, time and again. That is a very, very important lesson which is lost on the psychic attackers. … BTW, “veda”s mention also of this form of evil. (Take a moment to realize how it can only be irrationality—mysticism and faith in particular—which would allow the wrongful practitioner to attempt to get away with it—the evil.)


The “divya” mode is complementary to the conceptual mode of perception. (Here, I use the term “perception” in the broadest possible sense, as meaning an individual’s consciousness of reality via any modality, whether purely sensory-perceptual, perceptual, or conceptual—or, now, “divya”-involving).

Talking of the ordinary perceptual and the “divya” modalities, neither is a substitute for the other. Mankind isn’t asked to make a choice between seeing and listening (or listening and tasting, etc.). Why is then a choice brought in only for the “divya”, by setting up an artificial choice between the “divya” and the ordinary perceptual?

Answer: In principle, only because of faith.

To an educated man living in our times, denying the existence of the divine (remember, it’s an adjective, not a noun) most often is a consequence of blindly accepting for its nature whatever assertion is put forth by the (actually) faithful, the (actually) mystic, to him. It’s an error. It may be an innocent error, yet, by the law of identity, it’s an error. Indeed, it can be a grave error.

The attempt to introduce a choice between the ordinary perceptual and the “divya”-related perceptual is not at all modern; from time immemorial, people (including the cultured people of the ancient India) have again and again introduced this bad choice, with the learned ones (Brahmins, priests) typically elevating the “divya” over the ordinary perceptual. Often times, they would go a step even further and accord primacy to the “divya.” For instance, in India, ask yourself: How often have you not heard the assertion that“divya-dnyaana” (the divine knowledge, i.e., the conceptual knowledge obtained via the divine modality of perception) is superior to the “material” knowledge (i.e. the one obtained via the ordinary modalities of perception)? This is a grave error, an active bad.

The supposed “gyaanee”s (i.e. a corrupt form of “dnyaani”, the latter meaning: the knowledgeable or the wise) of ancient India have not failed committing this error either. They, too, did not always practice the good. They, too, would often both (i) mystify the process of operating in the “divya” mode, and (ii) elevate it above the ordinary perceptual mode.

Eventually, Plato would grab this bit from some place influenced by the ancient Indian culture, go back to Greece, and expound this thing as an entire system of a very influential philosophy in the West. And, of course, Western scholars have been retards enough in according originality of the invention to Plato. But the Western scholars are not alone. There are those modern Indian retards (esp. the NRIs (esp. Californians), Brahminism-espousers, etc.) too, who clamor for the credit for this invention to be restored back to the Indian tradition, but who themselves are such thorough retards that they cannot even notice in the passing how enormously bad that philosophy is—including, e.g., how bad this kind of a view of the term “divya” itself represents. (Or, may be, they get attracted to the Platonic view precisely because they grasp that it resonates with their kinds of inner motives of subjugating the rest of us under their “intellectual” control.)


Finally, though I won’t explicate on it, let me revisit the fact that the “divya” mode also is every bit as natural as is the ordinary mode. Nothing supernatural here—except when the faithful enter the picture.

In particular, speaking of the “divya” (or the original meaning of the term “divine”) in terms of the never-approachable and mystical something—something described as “transcendental,” belonging to the “higher dimensions,” something literally supposed to be “the one and the only, beyond all of us,” etc.—is ridiculous.

However, inasmuch as the “divya” modality is hard to execute, as with any skill that requires hard-work to master,  the attainment of the “divya” too calls for appropriate forms of respect, admiration, and even exaltation and worship for some (provided the notion is not corrupted via mysticism or faith). … This looks gobbledygook, so let me concretize it a bit. Just because I regard such things natural, I do not consider them pedestrian. One does not normally think of greeting a saintly man with a casual “hey dude, whatssup, buddy?” That is the common sense most everyone has, and I guess, it is sufficient.


Already too long a comment… More, may be later (but don’t press me for it).


An Important Announcement:

I had decided not to blog any more until the time that I land a job—a Mechanical Engineering Professor’s job in Pune. That’s why, even as continuing to make quite a few comments at other people’s blogs, I did not post anything new here. I wanted the readers’ eyes to register the SPPU Mechanical Engineering Professors’ genius once again. And then, again. And again.

And again.

Now that I have updated this blog (even if I have not landed a job this academic hiring season), does it mean that I have given in to the plan of their genius?

Answer: No. I have not. I have just decided to change my blogging strategy. (I can’t control their motives and their plans. But I can control my blogging.)

With this post, I am resuming my blogging, which will be, as usual, on various topics. However, a big change is this: Whenever I feel like the topic of my last post isn’t getting the due attention which it deserves, I will simply copy-paste my last post, and re-post it as a brand new post once again, so that the topic not only gets re-publicised in the process but also reclaims back the honor of being the first post visible here on this blog.

Genius needs to be recognized. Including the SPPU Mechanical Engineering Professors’ (and SPPU authorities’) genius.

I will give them that.


A Song I Like:

(Old Rajasthani Hindi) “nand-nandan diThu paDiyaa, maaee, saavaro…”
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: (Traditionally asserted as being an original composition by) Saint Meera
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar

 

[I have streamlined this post a bit since its publication right today. I may come back and streamline it further a bit, may be after a day or two. Finished streamlining on 2016.09.09 morning; I will let the remaining typos and even errors remain intact as they are, for these would be beyond mere editing and streamlining—these would take a separate unit of thinking for explanation or even to get them straightened out better.]

[E&OE]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the real QM is only about configuration of matter.

A few remaining notes.

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

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

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

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A [Video of a] Song I Like

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

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

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

One more comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[E&OE]

Mathematics—Historic, Contemporary, and Its Relation to Physics

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

 

1. About (not so) ancient mathematics:

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

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

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

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

A few comments:

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

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

Here are a few points to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2. An inspiring tale of a contemporary mathematician:

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

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

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

 

3. FQXi Essay Contest 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this issue interesting enough? Yes.

Will I write an essay? No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok. Enough is enough. Bye for now.

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

[E&OE]