# Python scripts for simulating QM, part 0: A general update

My proposed paper on my new approach to QM was not accepted at the international conference where I had sent my abstract. (For context, see the post before the last, here [^] ).

“Thank God,” that’s what I actually felt when I received this piece of news, “I can now immediately proceed to procrastinate on writing the full-length paper, and also, simultaneously, un-procrastinate on writing some programs in Python.”

So far, I have written several small and simple code-snippets. All of these were for the usual (text-book) cases; all in only $1D$. Here in this post, I will mention specifically which ones…

Time-independent Schrodinger equation (TISE):

Here, I’ve implemented a couple of scripts, one for finding the eigen-vectors and -values for a particle in a box (with both zero and arbitrarily specified potentials) and another one for the quantum simple harmonic oscillator.

These were written not with the shooting method (which is the method used in the article by Rhett Allain for the Wired magazine [^]) but with the matrix method. … Yes, I have gone past the stage of writing all the numerical analysis algorithm in original, all by myself. These days, I directly use Python libraries wherever available, e.g., NumPy’s LinAlg methods. That’s why, I preferred the matrix method. … My code was not written from scratch; it was based on Cooper’s code “qp_se_matrix”, here [PDF ^]).

Time-dependent Schrodinger equation (TDSE):

Here, I tried out a couple of scripts.

The first one was more or less a straightforward porting of Ian Cooper’s program “se_fdtd” [PDF ^] from the original MatLab to Python. The second one was James Nagel’s Python program (written in 2007 (!) and hosted as a SciPy CookBook tutorial, here [^]). Both follow essentially the same scheme.

Initially, I found this scheme to be a bit odd to follow. Here is what it does.

It starts out by replacing the complex-valued Schrodinger equation with a pair of real-valued (time-dependent) equations. That was perfectly OK by me. It was their discretization which I found to be a bit peculiar. The discretization scheme here is second-order in both space and time, and yet it involves explicit time-stepping. That’s peculiar, so let me write a detailed note below (in part, for my own reference later on).

Also note: Though both Cooper and Nagel implement essentially the same method, Nagel’s program is written in Python, and so, it is easier to discuss (because the array-indexing is 0-based). For this reason, I might make a direct reference only to Nagel’s program even though it is to be understood that the same scheme is found implemented also by Cooper.

A note on the method implemented by Nagel (and also by Cooper):

What happens here is that like the usual Crank-Nicolson (CN) algorithm for the diffusion equation, this scheme too puts the half-integer time-steps to use (so as to have a second-order approximation for the first-order derivative, that of time). However, in the present scheme, the half-integer time-steps turn out to be not entirely fictitious (the way they are, in the usual CN method for the single real-valued diffusion equation). Instead, all of the half-integer instants are fully real here in the sense that they do enter the final discretized equations for the time-stepping.

The way that comes to happen is this: There are two real-valued equations to solve here, coupled to each other—one each for the real and imaginary parts. Since both the equations have to be solved at each time-step, what this method does is to take advantage of that already existing splitting of the time-step, and implements a scheme that is staggered in time. (Note, this scheme is not staggered in space, as in the usual CFD codes; it is staggered only in time.) Thus, since it is staggered and explicit, even the finite-difference quantities that are defined only at the half-integer time-steps, also get directly involved in the calculations. How precisely does that happen?

The scheme defines, allocates memory storage for, and computationally evaluates the equation for the real part, but this computation occurs only at the full-integer instants ($n = 0, 1, 2, \dots$). Similarly, this scheme also defines, allocates memory for, and computationally evaluates the equation for the imaginary part; however, this computation occurs only at the half-integer instants ($n = 1/2, 1+1/2, 2+1/2, \dots$). The particulars are as follows:

The initial condition (IC) being specified is, in general, complex-valued. The real part of this IC is set into a space-wide array defined for the instant $n$; here, $n = 0$. Then, the imaginary part of the same IC is set into a separate array which is defined nominally for a different instant: $n+1/2$. Thus, even if both parts of the IC are specified at $t = 0$, the numerical procedure treats the imaginary part as if it was set into the system only at the instant $n = 1/2$.

Given this initial set-up, the actual time-evolution proceeds as follows:

• The real-part already available at $n$ is used in evaluating the “future” imaginary part—the one at $n+1/2$
• The imaginary part thus found at $n+1/2$ is used, in turn, for evaluating the “future” real part—the one at $n+1$.

At this point that you are allowed to say: lather, wash, repeat… Figure out exactly how. In particular, notice how the simulation must proceed in integer number of pairs of computational steps; how the imaginary part is only nominally (i.e. only computationally) distant in time from its corresponding real part.

Thus, overall, the discretization of the space part is pretty straight-forward here: the second-order derivative (the Laplacian) is replaced by the usual second-order finite difference approximation. However, for the time-part, what this scheme does is both similar to, and different from, the usual Crank-Nicolson scheme.

Like the CN scheme, the present scheme also uses the half-integer time-levels, and thus manages to become a second-order scheme for the time-axis too (not just space), even if the actual time interval for each time-step remains, exactly as in the CN, only $\Delta t$, not $2\Delta t$.

However, unlike the CN scheme, this scheme still remains explicit. That’s right. No matrix equation is being solved at any time-step. You just zip through the update equations.

Naturally, the zipping through comes with a “cost”: The very scheme itself comes equipped with a stability criterion; it is not unconditionally stable (the way CN is). In fact, the stability criterion now refers to half of the time-interval, not full, and thus, it is a bit even more restrictive as to how big the time-step ($\Delta t$) can be given a certain granularity of the space-discretization ($\Delta x$). … I don’t know, but guess that this is how they handle the first-order time derivatives in the FDTD method (finite difference time domain). May be the physics of their problems itself is such that they can get away with coarser grids without being physically too inaccurate, who knows…

Other aspects of the codes by Nagel and Cooper:

For the initial condition, both Cooper and Nagel begin with a “pulse” of a cosine function that is modulated to have the envelop of the Gaussian. In both their codes, the pulse is placed in the middle, and they both terminate the simulation when it reaches an end of the finite domain. I didn’t like this aspect of an arbitrary termination of the simulation.

However, I am still learning the ropes for numerically handling the complex-valued Schrodinger equation. In any case, I am not sure if I’ve got good enough a handle on the FDTD-like aspects of it. In particular, as of now, I am left wondering:

What if I have a second-order scheme for the first-order derivative of time, but if it comes with only fictitious half-integer time-steps (the way it does, in the usual Crank-Nicolson method for the real-valued diffusion equation)? In other words: What if I continue to have a second-order scheme for time, and yet, my scheme does not use leap-frogging? In still other words: What if I define both the real and imaginary parts at the same integer time-steps $n = 0, 1, 2, 3, \dots$ so that, in both cases, their values at the instant $n$ are directly fed into both their values at $n+1$?

In a way, this scheme seems simpler, in that no leap-frogging is involved. However, notice that it would also be an implicit scheme. I would have to solve two matrix-equations at each time-step. But then, I could perhaps get away with a larger time-step than what Nagel or Cooper use. What do you think? Is checker-board patterning (the main reason why we at all use staggered grids in CFD) an issue here—in time evolution? But isn’t the unconditional stability too good to leave aside without even trying? And isn’t the time-axis just one-way (unlike the space-axis that has BCs at both ends)? … I don’t know…

PBCs and ABCs:

Even as I was (and am) still grappling with the above-mentioned issue, I also wanted to make some immediate progress on the front of not having to terminate the simulation (once the pulse reached one of the ends of the domain).

So, instead of working right from the beginning with a (literally) complex Schrodinger equation, I decided to first model the simple (real-valued) diffusion equation, and to implement the PBCs (periodic boundary conditions) for it. I did.

My code seems to work, because the integral of the dependent variable (i.e., the total quantity of the diffusing quantity present in the entire domain—one with the topology of a ring) does seem to stay constant—as is promised by the Crank-Nicolson scheme. The integral stays “numerically the same” (within a small tolerance) even if obviously, there are now fluxes at both the ends. (An initial condition of a symmetrical saw-tooth profile defined between $y = 0.0$ and $y = 1.0$, does come to asymptotically approach the horizontal straight-line at $y = 0.5$. That is what happens at run-time, so obviously, the scheme seems to handle the fluxes right.)

Anyway, I don’t always write everything from the scratch; I am a great believer in lifting codes already written by others (with attribution, of course :)). Thus, while thus searching on the ‘net for some already existing resources on numerically modeling the Schrodinger equation (preferably with code!), I also ran into some papers on the simulation of SE using ABCs (i.e., the absorbing boundary conditions). I was not sure, however, if I should implement the ABCs immediately…

As of today, I think that I am going to try and graduate from the transient diffusion equation (with the CN scheme and PBCs), to a trial of the implicit TDSE without leap-frogging, as outlined above. The only question is whether I should throw in the PBCs to go with that or the ABCs. Or, may be, neither, and just keep pinning the  $\Psi$ values for the end- and ghost-nodes down to $0$, thereby effectively putting the entire simulation inside an infinite box?

At this point of time, I am tempted to try out the last. Thus, I think that I would rather first explore the staggering vs. non-staggering issue for a pulse in an infinite box, and understand it better, before proceeding to implement either the PBCs or the ABCs. Of course, I still have to think more about it… But hey, as I said, I am now in a mood of implementing, not of contemplating.

Why not upload the programs right away?

BTW, all these programs (TISE with matrix method, TDSE on the lines of Nagel/Cooper’s codes, transient DE with PBCs, etc.) are still in a fluid state, and so, I am not going to post them immediately here (though over a period of time, I sure would).

The reason for not posting the code runs something like this: Sometimes, I use the Python range objects for indexing. (I saw this goodie in Nagel’s code.) At other times, I don’t. But even when I don’t use the range objects, I anyway am tempted to revise the code so as to have them (for a better run-time efficiency).

Similarly, for the CN method, when it comes to solving the matrix equation at each time-step, I am still not using the TDMA (the Thomas algorithm) or even just sparse matrices. Instead, right now, I am allocating the entire $N \times N$ sized matrices, and am directly using NumPy’s LinAlg’s solve() function on these biggies. No, the computational load doesn’t show up; after all, I anyway have to use a 0.1 second pause in between the rendering passes, and the biggest matrices I tried were only $1001 \times 1001$ in size. (Remember, this is just a $1D$ simulation.) Even then, I am tempted a bit to improve the efficiency. For these and similar reasons, some or the other tweaking is still going on in all the programs. That’s why, I won’t be uploading them right away.

Anything else about my new approach, like delivering a seminar or so? Any news from the Indian physicists?

I had already contacted a couple of physics professors from India, both from Pune: one, about 1.5 years ago, and another, within the last 6 months. Both these times, I offered to become a co-guide for some computational physics projects to be done by their PG/UG students or so. Both times (what else?) there was absolutely no reply to my emails. … If they were to respond, we could have together progressed further on simulating my approach. … I have always been “open” about it.

The above-mentioned experience is precisely similar to how there have been no replies when I wrote to some other professors of physics, i.e., when I offered to conduct a seminar (covering my new approach) in their departments. Particularly, from the young IISER Pune professor whom I had written. … Oh yes, BTW, there has been one more physicist who I contacted recently for a seminar (within the last month). Once again, there has been no reply. (This professor is known to enjoy hospitality abroad as an Indian, and also use my taxpayer’s money for research while in India.)

No, the issue is not whether the emails I write using my Yahoo! account go into their span folder—or something like that. That would be too innocuous a cause, and too easy to deal with—every one has a mobile-phone these days. But I know these (Indian) physicists. Their behaviour remains exactly the same even if I write my emails using a respectable academic email ID (my employers’, complete with a .edu domain). This was my experience in 2016, and it repeated again in 2017.

The bottom-line is this: If you are an engineer and if you write to these Indian physicists, there is almost a guarantee that your emails will go into a black-hole. They will not reply to you even if you yourself have a PhD, and are a Full Professor of engineering (even if only on an ad-hoc basis), and have studied and worked abroad, and even if your blog is followed internationally. So long as you are engineer, and mention QM, the Indian physicists simply shut themselves off.

However, there is a trick to get them to reply you. Their behavior does temporarily change when you put some impressive guy in your cc-field (e.g., some professor friend of yours from some IIT). In this case, they sometimes do reply your first email. However, soon after that initial shaking of hands, they somehow go back to their true core; they shut themselves off.

And this is what invariably happens with all of them—no matter what other Indian bloggers might have led you to believe.

There must be some systemic reasons for such behavior, you say? Here, I will offer a couple of relevant observations.

Systemically speaking, Indian physicists, taken as a group (and leaving any possible rarest of the rare exceptions aside), all fall into one band: (i) The first commonality is that they all are government employees. (ii) The second commonality they all tend to be leftists (or, heavily leftists). (iii) The third commonality is they (by and large) share is that they had lower (or far lower) competitive scores in the entrance examinations at the gateway points like XII, GATE/JAM, etc.

The first factor typically means that they know that no one is going to ask them why they didn’t reply (even to people like with my background). The second factor typically means that they don’t want to give you any mileage, not even just a plain academic respect, if you are not already one of “them”. The third factor typically means that they simply don’t have the very intellectual means to understand or judge anything you say if it is original—i.e., if it is not based on some work of someone from abroad. In plain words: they are incompetent. (That in part is the reason whenever I run into a competent Indian physicist, it is both a surprise and a pleasure. To drop a couple of names: Prof. Kanhere (now retired) from UoP (now SPPU), and Prof. Waghmare of JNCASR. … But leaving aside this minuscule minority, and coming to the rest of the herd: the less said, the better.)

In short, Indian physicists all fall into a band. And they all are very classical—no tunneling is possible. Not with these Indian physicists. (The trends, I guess, are similar all over the world. Yet, I definitely can say that Indians are worse, far worse, than people from the advanced, Western, countries.)

Anyway, as far as the path through the simulations goes, since no help is going to come from these government servants (regarded as physicists by foreigners), I now realized that I have to get going about it—simulations for my new approach—entirely on my own. If necessary, from the basic of the basics. … And that’s how I got going with these programs.

Are these programs going to provide a peek into my new approach?

No, none of these programs I talked about in this post is going to be very directly helpful for simulations related to my new approach. The programs I wrote thus far are all very, very standard (simplest UG text-book level) stuff. If resolving QM riddles were that easy, any number of people would have done it already.

… So, the programs I wrote over the last couple of weeks are nothing but just a beginning. I have to cover a lot of distance. It may take months, perhaps even a year or so. But I intend to keep working at it. At least in an off and on manner. I have no choice.

And, at least currently, I am going about it at a fairly good speed.

For the same reason, expect no further blogging for another 2–3 weeks or so.

But one thing is for certain. As soon as my paper on my new approach (to be written after running the simulations) gets written, I am going to quit QM. The field does not hold any further interest to me.

Coming to you: If you still wish to know more about my new approach before the paper gets written, then you convince these Indian professors of physics to arrange for my seminar. Or, else…

… What else? Simple! You. Just. Wait.

[Or see me in person if you would be visiting India. As I said, I have always been “open” from my side, and I continue to remain so.]

A song I like:
(Hindi) “bheegee bheegee fizaa…”
Music: Hemant Kumar
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Kaifi Aazmi

History:
Originally published: 2018.11.26 18:12 IST
Extension and revision: 2018.11.27 19.29 IST

# Speaking Truth to the Ochros

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

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

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

But how does that justify their murders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it in an even sharper focus:

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

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

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

First, they came for the Socialists…

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

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

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

That’s why.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

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

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

[E&OE]

# Speaking Truth to the Pinkos

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

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

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

Guha doth elevate Current Science too much, methinks.

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

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

In particular, there are only two possibilities here:

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

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

Either Guha does that, or he does this:

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

I can’t think of a third possibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quote being quoted by Guha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That world is ruled by egalitarianism!

Phheewwww…. That explains it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

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

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

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Don’t Like:

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

[E&OE]

# 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):

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.)

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 [^].

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]

# The Fall of the Berlin Wall—It happened 25 years ago!

[See an important update near the bottom of this post. 2014.11.12.]

The Berlin Wall got demolished right on this day, 25 years ago.

A young Indian engineer from Pune had liked the event. [Guess who.] …

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

With progressing age, they say, even distantly past events begin to look like they happened just yesterday. A lot of sense there is, in it. This event—the Fall of the Berlin Wall—does look like it happened, well, not exactly yesterday, but, say, something like just a few years ago or so. … Certainly not as long as twenty-five years ago!

But, of course, 25 years is a long time, if you sit and think about it.

Chances are, you might be reading this post on your iPad or even a nice and slim smart phone. …

Going back in time to 1989, the telephone hand-sets in India in those days still were those big black behemoths sitting at one place permanently (and, at offices, they were often put inside a transparent perspex box, complete with a lock and a key). The hand-sets would come equipped with those mechanical dials (from which the word “dialing” comes). They were manufactured by the state-owned industrial unit. Was it the TCI? I no longer remember the name, but I do distinctly remember that they had their main factory and head office, of all places, in Bengaluru—which, of course, was Bangalore back then! [You would know about that, wouldn’t you?] And, of course, not just the Planning Commission but also the Bangaloreans themselves would tell you, with a quietly satisfying kind of anticipation, that there was a “natural” limit as to how big their city could grow, because there was only one dam for the water supply to the entire city. Acute water shortage implied that the city would remain small, and not get out of control as had happened to Bombay or Calcutta. [Kanpur, Ahmedabad or Nagpur would not be on their radar, but they would ask with a bit of concern whether Pune, too, had a similar natural limit or not. I am talking about Bangaloreans of those days.]

In 1989, there were no STD/ISD/PCO booths (which came to life only in the early 1990s, spread everywhere before the turn of the millennium, and now already are on their way to extinction.) So, in 1989, to call someone from a different town, you would have to book a Trunk Call with the telephone company P&T department, an hour or two in advance. Sometimes it wouldn’t go through for ten hours or even more. [Once my colleague had booked a Trunk Call to Jamshedpur on a Monday morning, and had gotten it through it only on the Thursday afternoon. In short, he could have taken a train to physically visit the town and even return back, faster than a mere telephone call would go through. And, no, this is not a made-up example; it actually happened.]

… Sure, by the time it was 1989, the Ind-Suzukis and the Yamahas and the Maruti 800s had already arrived on the scene, but the days of the Hamara Bajaj scooters commanding a hefty premium still belonged to a very recent past—the marriages in which a Bajaj Chetak was “gifted” to the groom, had still not had produced school-going kids. There still was only one TV channel, and it belonged to the state. Its opening visual was static, and as far inducing a mental trance is concerned, the only music to surpass it was the opening music of the state-owned All India Radio (which would instantly put you to sleep, any time you heard it). The news never broke, but the atmosphere was such that people were content and not really bothered about what was happening elsewhere in the world—none of their life’s concerns involved anything that happened in the other parts of  the world. Pune was the fifth or sixth most industrialized town, but even then, most of the “normal” kind of young engineers working even in private industries in Pune, in 1989, would find it neither possible nor necessary to keep up with even the major events occurring elsewhere in the world. … But then, the habits of this young engineer—the one who really appreciated the fall of the Berlin Wall—were, back then, a bit different.

Even as a school-going child growing up in the rural parts of India (of even earlier times), he had always had a voracious appetite for reading “in general.” Anything on the non-fiction side other than the prescribed text-books would instantly qualify as being sufficiently gripping. (Sometimes, works of fiction would be attractive, too, especially if no non-fiction was at all available!) He had therefore already gotten to know about the Berlin Wall right while in his early secondary school (say, around the 5th, 6th or, at the most, 7th standard)—even if his reading was entirely limited only to Marathi. … The Berlin Wall, and in Marathi? How come?

Well, it would so happen that for the want of original stories that are sufficiently dramatic, Marathi magazines like “Amrut” and “Navneet” would regularly lift material from the likes of “Reader’s Digest,” translate them, and run them. After all, if catching the potential buyer’s attention is your objective, there are limits as to how many times you can possibly run the same story about Shivaji’s escape from Agra. Stories from the second world war were readily available, and would be run. The stories like those about the daring escapes from East Germany apparently fell in the same category, and fit the bill. And, so long as the existential conditions in the East Germany were not highlighted, so long as the communism was not depicted in a critical light, they would pose no problem. [Indeed, this state would continue even during the Emergency time Censors.] So, the Marathi magazines could, and did, run the daring escape stories involving the Berlin Wall too. And it was thus that this young engineer had gotten to know about the Berlin Wall for quite some time by the time the circumstances were ripe for it to be felled.

Yet, come to think of it, despite the eternally existing Censor and the relatively brief Emergency, India in those days perhaps was less restrictive than what otherwise might be imagined today. I mean to say, consider the case of an extremist for liberty, like Ayn Rand.

Sure enough, the English-reading and -writing intellectuals in India would regularly look down on Ayn Rand those days, but, really speaking, for the most part, they actually did not even openly criticize her. Doing so would have granted her a certain kind of visibility (I mean, a respectable kind of a visibility), a potential result they either directly detested, or, indirectly, they “took it in” from their British and American intellectual counterparts that talking about Ayn Rand was just not a “done thing.” And so, they simply shunned her completely. … When it came to anything Capitalistic and/or American, their favourite sport was to erect a straw-man, attack it, and then quickly submerge the whole thing in “a sticky puddle of stale syrup—of benevolent bromides and apologetic generalities about brother love, global progress,” and, by the time it was 1989, about the extraordinary flexibility and generality of the Soviet Model as evidenced by “Perestroika” and “Glasnost.” That’s what the English-writing intellectuals in India were like, in 1989. [As to the quoted words: go look up their source.]

As to the informal college culture, there were stories still floating in the air, even in 1989, about how Ayn Rand had in her later life been deserted by all her followers fans, and had gone mad, and had to die alone in a mental asylum—and how it was the work of poetic justice, given her “philosophy.” It was a story often circulated even on the campuses of the leading engineering schools—not just COEP but also IITs [you know, those MIT + Harvard Combo-Packs?] However, to be fair, sure, by the time it was 1989, the trend had already gone past its peak at the e-schools. I remember being told in 1989 that some medicine (and management) school folks were repeating the story even in the late 1980s, but in e-schools, I knew, such story-tellers were getting to be rarer birds.

But, of course, I am writing about how India perhaps was not so restrictive a place in those days… So, let me tell, despite the above-mentioned indicators, it also is a fact that Ayn Rand’s books had been freely available, if not on the respectable book-shelves then at least on the foot-paths, at least in the main 8–10 cities in India. On the foot-paths, they would be randomly arranged side-by-side with those by, say, Alistair McLean, Irving Wallace, Harold Robbins, Lee Iacocca, and, of course, Dale Carnegie. …

…Talking about the books on foot-paths of Pune, in 1989, Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho and Harry Potter had yet to come to the scene, and Yogonanda, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, Vastu-Shaastra, etc. were all complete unknowns (though Rajneesh was not). Danielle Steele had just begun making an appearance, and The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle (Something) had already begun receding. The books on how to make a killing on the stock market had yet to come, prosper, and disappear (all of which happened within a decade or so spread over the 1990s and the early naughties)…

…About the only English books to have more or less bucked all the passing trends over all the last 25 years, and have consistently remained visible on the Pune foot-paths (though with a considerably shrunken total space for these sellers), have been those bearing the following words in large thick fonts: Pyramid, Bermuda Triangle, Hypnotism, Dale Carnegie, Cheiro, Ayn Rand, and of course, Einstein. And, now that I recall it a bit better, by the time it was 1989, the sales of Ayn Rand’s books had already migrated from the foot-paths to the railway-station book-sellers (of the main 8–10 cities in India), to a few avant garde English book sellers in Pune those days—notably, the Manneys in the Camp, and the Popular at Deccan Gymkhana. [The first was still in existence; the second had not yet started selling toys and gifts etc.]

Anyway, coming back to this engineer from Pune (remember the one who was young in 1989?), having gone through the Ayn Rand paperbacks in college, and now as a young working engineer sincerely reading through India Today, Business India, Business World, Technocrat, etc., even Outlook (and even Frontline), the Fall of the Berlin Wall was, to him, a more or less an anticipated event.

When the event actually took place in 1989, it decidedly was a piece of drama to many people in his circle of family, friends and colleagues. A large number of mostly white people (/Europeans) seemingly randomly coming together on streets and tearing down an existing concrete structure, was a very odd sight to behold, and therefore, rather dramatic in nature, to them.

To this young engineer, it was dramatic, and more than that: it was a piece of history unfolding right in front of his eyes. If he could believe in God, he would have also seen it as the coming true of a deeply prayed for wish that was so late in being granted from the heavens. But, the way it happened, he didn’t think in these terms. It was simply a very welcome event to him. Actually, it was even more welcome to him than it would otherwise have been, because it had happened on the backdrop of another set of the then recent events: the Tiananmen Square Protests, and the slightly earlier “Handover” of Hong Kong. The Fall of the Berlin Wall was a moment to cherish, to him. It was an event he liked.

Bitter-sweet.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Update on 2014.11.12 begins:

1. Over the past couple of days after publishing this post, I thought about it a bit, and tried to recall the precise time when I must have read that story about the escape from the East Germany, in some Marathi magazine. The story I had in mind was the one in which they had used a home-made hot air balloon. I was sure that the very first time I read it was in Marathi—in either “Amrut” or “Navneet” or some magazine like that, but certainly not in the government-run Marathi magazine for kids by the title: “Kishor”. I was sure of that.

After doing a Google search after writing the post, I now realize that this escape had occurred only in September 1979, and by that time, I was already in the first year of engineering at COEP. So, a conservative estimate is that I read about it when I was in second or third year of engineering—not in the early secondary school, as I wrote above.

I regret this mistake.

But, of course, as far as reading non-fiction goes, there was something to what I wrote. I had already begun trying to read the Marathi non-fiction magazine for the mature adult, viz. “Kirloskar,” right while I was in my primary school. I remember going through their coverage of  the Apollo 11 story in the same month that the magazine arrived. (Of course, I could do it only with a lot of help from my parents, but the point is, they were initially astonished to find that I was already through a few paragraphs on my own, though stumbling over unknown words). Now, I of course do remember reading the same story again (perhaps a few times over again), later on in secondary school, though I am sure I don’t mix up these subsequent readings from the first. And, I certainly was reading “Kirloskar” completely on my own way before my 7th standard—that too, I remember. So, certainly, I was reading “Amrut,” too (which relatively carried a much more light writing), by that time.

2. Next, another point. Could they have allowed the escape story to run during the Emergency times? (By “they”, I mean: the Censor Board itself, directly, or the plain editorial sense in the presence of a heavy censoring during the Emergency, indirectly.)

On second thoughts, thinking more carefully and deeply on this point, I think not.

Yes, it is true that Marathi magazines would often run the second world war stories. In fact, for a chapter in our government-written text-book in high-school, we had a certain II WW story. The chapter, of the title (Marathi) “swaadheen ki daivaadheen?,” was an excerpt from a book of the same title. This book was about the experience of an Indian soldier on the Italian/Austrian battle-front, I think. [Major R. G. Salvi, a search now lets me recall.] Now, not just this book, but also this chapter (the excerpt) had mentioned “fascists” as enemies. … But doing so would be fine by the communists, I guess. The real issue is: Could they have included a story depicting communists as an enemy? On that count, I think, not. After all, those were the days of Marathi and Hindi magazines like “Soviet Desh/Nari/etc” being made available at throw-away subscription rates, and of rave reviews in the local press of a book of the title “Malayaa Jhemalyaa” or something like that. The quoted word is the title of a Russian book—an autobiography, perhaps Brezhnev’s. I have read these words only in Marathi, and so don’t know their proper English transcription or the Russian spelling. No, not every major newspaper ran reviews of the book; sure, their appearance was a bit rare. But they were there—and without fail, they were either rave or deeply appreciative.

So, it would anyway have to be some time after Emergency so that stories concerning successful escapes from a communist country could get published in Marathi magazines like “Amrut” (I mean to say, even if that hot-air balloon escape were to occur much before the Emergency, which it did not.) Yet, in my writing above, I indicated that they could have run the story during Emergency. On more careful thinking as outlined above, now I think not.

I regret also this mistake.

I will let the original post remain as is, so that I remember this lesson to better check back the facts before writing even an utterly informal post.

It is true that with progressing age, not only does the recall become more hazy but also that there is this tendency whereby the past begins to get seen, at times, with “rosy-tinted glasses.” But then, the way I think about it, the necessary corrections, too, are easily possible. Perhaps progressively more easily, if you are like me.

[And, of course, that young engineer (mentioned in the main text of the post above) was me (or should it be an “I” here)?]

Update on 2014.11.12 over.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

No “A Song I Like” section for this time round, but instead, do go, watch the video they at Google Doodle have put out [^]. It’s a short and simple one. As to the piece of the music that goes with it, while it is too short for me to know what to make of it, at least it sounds easy on the ears, even melodious. … Perhaps, the whole piece could be more interesting, or even actually likeable.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

As usual, a minor editing would be due, though I am not if I am going to come back and do that. The academic terms are over, and so, it’s time to pick up the pieces of thought about research that, as of today, are all scattered in the mind, gather them together and arrange them in some order, and then think if anything could be practically done on the research side with them. … More, later.

[E&OE]

# My loud thinking concerning the recent questions about Narendra Modi

Recently, I felt like writing a response to the following questions [^] as soon as I read them:

“What is Narendra Modi? A visionary and a statesman? Or a demagogue and master orator who can tailor a speech to his audience?

And there is another question too. One that I believe is even more important. What do Modi’s supporters really want? Development or Hindutva?”

The answer I wrote on the fly [and as usual, at a great length] appears below, but, first, an important note: I am just copy-pasting my answer. It certainly needs to be edited, but in the meanwhile, there was a kind of medical emergency at home and so, I will do the editing/expansion later. [My mother had to be hospitalized soon later, on Feb 11th; she still is in hospital—and, BTW, this is a reference which I am going to remove in the subsequent editing.]

As far as editing goes, in particular: the form of the answer needs to be changed from a personal reply to an independent blog-post in general; certain points need to be put in a slightly better context; and, as usual, some words need some qualifications or need to be changed; etc. Also check out on the “Applying philosophy…” blog my subsequent elaborations: [^] and [^].

Also, to keep the perspective/context (which often is lost days, weeks, months or, more understandably, years later, and which often is deliberately dropped as a part of the “follow up”), make sure to also check out the recent flurry of media articles/opinion pieces (some of which appeared just days after the above-referred discussion in the blogosphere), e.g.: Chetan Bhagat and Swapan Dasgupta’s pieces in the last Sunday’s Times of India, Tavleen Singh’s piece in the last Sunday’s Indian Express, and most recently, the blog-post by Pritish Nandy at Times of India.

* * *

He is not a statesman, that’s for sure.

We have had mixed economy for such a long time that it would be next to impossible for any one of his or younger generation to rise to that level. The cultural trends have been mostly taking a downturn for such a long time that, these days, all politicians are all driven by the compulsions of democracy—the actual, *systemic*, compulsions imposed by the rule of the mob, within a constitutional framework that contains too many contradictions and so succeeds in giving only a semblance of cohesion or integration to the polity. For instance, the constitution prohibits changing parties, thereby inducing the herd effect to a greater extent. Gone are the days of being true to “conscience.” In fact, conscience is a word which one would run into at least once a week some three decades ago, but doesn’t find mentioned anywhere for months together, these days.

Still, about the cultural downturns, I said “mostly.” That’s observation-based, not an expression of a general pessimism.

The only noticeable cultural *up*swings have been those in the wake of the *political* liberalization in the early 90s (which itself was driven by the *economic* compulsions and the better, liberalizing, terms set by the somewhat better, i.e. the Western, elements in the World Bank, when we had gone bankrupt due to our socialistic political pursuits). Though liberalization was a political process, in reducing shackles and exposing India to the (whatever remaining) better elements in the West, it also allowed betterment in *culture*.

However, these accompanying *cultural* upswings have been countered by the other cultural *down*swings, in particular, those of the religious kind.

BTW, I don’t think we have had a *cultural* downswing of the communist/socialist kind since the 1970s. All the recent downswings in India have been of the religious kind. Sonia Gandhi’s NAC-inspired socialistic programs, or, to a lesser extent, Vajpayee’s populist programs, have been downswings on the economic side, not cultural. For that matter, even when the left was a part of the power at the Center in UPA1, they were completely ineffective in promoting the leftist trend in the *culture*. Bollywood continued with the pelvic thrusts, and even artsy “socially conscious” cinema chose themes like Peepli Live, Shwaas and Deool, rather than a glorification of egalitarianism, of redistributing poverty.

So, the main thing to worry in today’s India, as far as *cultural* degradation is concerned, is: religion, not socialism. Notice the lack of any enthusiastic coverage in the urban, well-educated, middle classes about the movie: Deool. Its theme contains too many undercurrents uncomfortable to the religious mystics of the modern Indian variety.

Incidentally, despite India being a mystic country for such a long time, the execution model they (the religionists) have tried to follow in recent times is not indigeneous in origin; it’s a recent import from America. The recent Indian model is based on the upswing of religion in America, which itself is a rather recent phenomenon (gaining ground after 1970s, and consolidating during the Reagen years).

Thus, Jansangh, for instance, would never have put up a rippling-muscles, six-pack abs kind of a portrayal of Shri Ram on those wide-view flex boards in the cities; it would take the BJP to do that. The traditional Indian portrayal, in fine arts, sculputre and literature, of this God, even if he was a “kshatriya”-born, is that of a middle-aged deity with a somewhat roundish body and carrying a vague, almost nurturing kind of a smile, with the deity situated in a rich, opulent, but peaceful settings, together with family—not that of an angry, young warrior, taking aim with a tautly stretched bow-and-arrow, with his clothes flying in the strong winds as he stands alone on a treeless strech of brownish land, with anger uncontrollably shooting out of eyes. (With all that evident anger, it would be difficult to hold aim to the target, one wonders.) The traditional Indian portrayal of this deity—qua deity—has been different, the history of there actually having been a major war notwithstanding.

The elder Indian even today sometimes does an involuntary double-take at the spectacle of “teertha” (holy water) being sprayed onto those wildly dancing, hysteric masses from a high platform as in the rock concerts, using water-pumps and hose-pipes to spray the “teertha”. To the earlier generation of the religious Indian, “teertha” is always taken in a small quantity using the right hand. A small bamboo “pichkaari” is acceptable at the time of Holi, but it’s not a religious event. Using a *hose-pipe* and a *pump*, for *spraying* “teerth” is too much.

Before these trends spread elsewhere in India, they had begun in those massive religious gatherings in Gujarat, during the times of Modi’s rise to, and assumption of, the political power.

One reason the elderly Indian winces at such sights is: an Indian, true to his color, would in principle be averse to any grand-scale show on the material side. Especially so, when it comes to the matters related to religion. The Indian tendency, particular in the spiritual matters, is to turn the gaze inwards, not outwards. The Indian is not averse to the bodily power; but in his view, either the bodily power is to be subjugated to the spiritual wisdom, which is all outwordly, or the entire matter is superfluous to him simply because it pertains to this world. There is a reason why the “gopur”s of our temples may be grand on both artistic and spatial scales, but the “garbha-griha” is spatially so small as to hardly admit only a few people at a time. When it comes to temples, the idea of a vast space or a large auditorium accomodating a large gathering, with a high pulpit for the priest, is specific to the Abrahamic religions, not to the Indian ones. Clearly, “event management” of *this* kind is a recent import. (We have always had massive religious gatherings, e.g. Kumbh Mela or Wari, but these have been more noticeable for their messyness, randomness, than for masses being coralled together and aroused to a common passion by an organized priesthood. The Indian religious philosophy is far too outworldly to ever care for any organization or purpose in this world, especially that on a large scale. Our temples may have large spaces surrounding the main building (“aawaar”), but these spaces noticeably lack the pulpits to address the assemby—in fact, there never is an assembly, only a random and overcrowded collection of people.)

We have only recently imported the more effective, large-scale, techniques of management of mobs on the basis of religion as a uniting force.

Modi’s management style seems to reflect his times; it seems to be a mix of an upbringing in the traditional organization mold of the old RSS (itself based on an awkward mixture of the European fascists of the early 20th century for the most part and some Scouts-like activities thrown in for good measure), *and* these modern techniques of religion-based political management imported from America.

In short, there have been cultural betterment in certain areas. For example, today, we can openly advocate capitalism in India, without any fear of ridicule, which was not possible as late as when I was in my 20s, i.e. in 1980s.

However, overall, the net cultural change has been to go on to the down side.

Since, as you observed, culture (in the broad sense of the term) does drive politics, the culture of politics also has been going down. (I never thought it stinks to the extent you and many others do.) It’s in the recent atmosphere that it’s difficult to produce statesmen. Try to think of a successor to Jamshedji Tata, in today’s world. Or even to JRD, for that matter. Politics is hardly different. You don’t expect a Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan or even a Shankar Dayal Sharma, in today’s world; the alternative to Pratibha Patil was Bhairo Singh Shekhawat. Even if IMO politics does not stink to the extent you seem to think it does, it is very obvious that we can no longer expect statesmen to rise in today’s India.

So, the smart spin of Modi’s internationally outsourced image consultants aside, he simply can’t be a statesman. The very suggestion is ludicrous, and a direct product of his spin-doctors. (He is not alone in employing/benefitting from spin-doctors; his anticipated 2014 opponent, Rahul Gandhi, supplies an easy example.)

Is Modi a visionary? Ok. Can you use that word to describe a fascist? To clarify this issue, let’s take a more extreme example of a fascist: Can you use that word for Mussolini? If yes, then, sure, Modi is a visionary. He has the “vision” of unleashing the Hindu religious kind of irrationality, on India (and if possible, elsewhere, too), and to preside over the accompanying political power in an executive capacity. That’s his “vision.” (He might succeed in “achieving” it—simply because Rahul Gandhi is what he is.)

Is Modi a demogogue? In view of his political success in Gujarat, he must be. But then, of course, there are so many demogogues, even within his own party. Rajnath Singh, for instance. An array of them could be witnessed during the recent FDI issue. That hardly makes him special.

Is he a master orator? I don’t think so. I haven’t seen the video you refer to, but from whatever his earlier speeches I have seen, they seem to indicate skills lesser than those of a master orator. A master orator is different. Balasaheb Thakarey? Yes. Narendra Modi? Not really. Of course, he does have that ability to deliver effective speeches, often with a lot of punches. But then all politicians routinely do that. When you say a master orator, the person has to go beyond that level. I would certainly put Lalu Prasad Yadav ahead of Narendra Modi in that department. This is not humour; I mean it. When it comes to superior oratorial skills, just the way Vajpayee is (rather was) a master orator, so is Yadav.

Rather than pieces of superior oratory, Modi’s speeches seem to be like *events* that are quietly and masterfully coordinated in the background. The actual speech seems like just the tip of the icebert. The silent coordination is palpable. Right from creating the atmosphere for an upcoming speech, including coordination in the media (not just locally, not just in the neighbourhood or with the people in the city, but specifically within media), to the necessary followup capitalization on what(ever) he said.

The only way to explain the extraordinary effectiveness of this not-so-extraordinary personality is to make reference to the quiet work done for him by those “swayamsevaks.” Take away the aura they impart him, and then, judging him for himself, Modi comes across a far more ordinary personality—not just in speeches but also in every respect. There are times when I wonder if he could be described as a pigmy. He is said to divide all people into two camps, and evoke extreme passions of either admiration or loathing in them. The description is accurate except for the starting word: you have to replace “he” the person by “he” the image—nay, the rather seamless sort of an enormous collage—built up by all those collectivist “swayamsevaks.”

As to demoguery, I think more than being just a demogogue, he is a shrewd “organization man,” capable of slowly but surely advancing over his competition, especially internally. Here, I think a definite credit is certainly due to him. Not just in a value-neutral sense. I think he has put in very honest and very hard efforts in rising through his organization. To a certain extent, esp. for politicians, personal honesty *is* compatible with a contradictory or irrational political agenda.

He is not a typical BJP leader. Nope. He is more pure-minded on their agenda, more hard-working on that agenda, than any others from his party. Compare him with your ordinary, compromising sort of a guy like, say, Ram Naik, Nitin Gadkari, or even Rajnath Singh. When it comes to the BJP agenda, Modi would be more ruthless compared to any other BJP leader. Not because he lacks emotions, or controls them better, or manages to suppress them. Not even because he wants to be ruthless with people—in fact, quite the opposite is very likely, from whatever I can gather from his coverage on TV in general (never saw him in person at a close distance). It is easily possible that he is responsive and sensitive.

Still, he will end up being more ruthless simply because he would be morally more unshakeably convinced about the moral worth of the BJP agenda.

I think that it is possible to imagine Modi’s developing inner doubts privately, when it comes to his assessments of his own abilities, his own capacity to lead and to rule. He certainly does seem to be both sensitive and intelligent enough to be able to develop such doubts, at least some times. But what he seems entirely incapable of doing is: ever challenging the moral worth (to him: the moral *superiority*, nay, *infallibility*) of the *moral* agenda of his organization, of his party. It’s this greater—moral—conviction which would make him more ruthless. And it is this emphasis on the moral agenda rather than a political agenda which permits him enough flexibility to be a chamelion on many political issues or to even strike some compromises—the reason why so many Muslims do in fact support him. They too are religious, like him, but too short range, unlike him.

It’s Modi’s moral convictions that set him apart from the others in his party. It’s not any particularly superior personal set of qualities, except for being a better organization-man among them. Honest hard work, a lot of them do. Shrewd, a lot of them are. May be, he is slightly more shrewd, that’s all—though I honestly doubt that. From all that you can gather about him, he is very shrewd, but he could even be more sincere than shrewd. So, the real difference setting him apart from his colleagues is his willingness to go all the way down along the path of their shared morality. And the real reason why he can make that contradictory morality work, is: using his superior skills as the organization-man. The burden of the contradictions is calculated to fall on those outside the organization, the enemy camp (whoever they may be), and, since a contradiction nevertheless has a way to also run in the opposite direction, i.e. internally, the burden then has to fall on to those who have lesser skills to make the organization work for them. (One reason for this last also is the lesser strength of the same morals. There does seem to be a feedback loop here.) And so, when it comes to his individual assessment, the actual reason can only be ascribed to the depth to which he carries his (wrong) moral convictions.

Finally, coming to his supporters. In wondering about what *Modi*’s supporters want, if you are at all going to set up an *alternative,* esp. an alternative between Hindutva and “development” (whatever that means)—or, for that matter, between Hindutva and anything else—then, I would say, you are politically so naive, so very naive, that I have a suggestion for you: consider abstaining from voting regardless of where you are (i.e. even in places/elections where the BJP is weak/absent), for, when it comes to politics, you obviously cannot be trusted to choose wisely. [This last was just a joke, BTW.]

Too long, in fact longer than usual. Hope you tolerate. (It was just a writing on the fly.) Guess one of these days I should write a slightly better organized piece on Modi, at my own blog. I wanted to do one well before the heat of the campaign begins, and right now might as well be a good time to do that. So, unlike my comments on spirituality and all, this time round, this comment might actually move very quickly to my blog. Though, guess I will let it begin its course here.

[E&OE]

# FDI in Retail

This cartoon [^] by Ashok Jhunjhunwala says it all. It had appeared in yesterday’s Indian Express. Jhunjhunwala is a professor at IIT Madras.

[I remain jobless; the “A Song I Like” section is once again being dropped.]

[E&OE]

# Trivia Like the M. F. Hussain Controversy and the Women’s Reservation Bill

0. With this post, I once again resume blogging…

First, I need to quickly get a few things out of my system before I am ready to write on some of the things I have wanted to write about. … So, here we go with the more trivial (but far more discussed) matters first…

(1.) About the M. F. Hussain Controversy…

There was a spike of discussions concerning this particular controversy about one/two weeks ago. So many interesting angles got thrown up that it would be impossible to even summarize them. I felt like jumping in, but instead, just kept on reading on the ‘net and otherwise, to get the “lay of the land” before I wrote. In a way, this turned out to be a good decision.

After all, I did find a very highly quotable position post which explains most of what I had wanted to say anyway. By that, I mean the post on the topic by Dr. Atanu Dey, here [^]. Please do read it. Highly recommended.

Not that I agree with every nuance of every point he states. Speaking in overall terms about his blogging about other matters too, I suspect that there might be a difference among us in that I might look at something from a moral/judgmental viewpoint whereas he wouldn’t, necessarily. That hardly matters here, though…

Here, I find his ability to think in principles, and the straightforward way in which he puts his thoughts, marvelous! And I completely agree with all the essential points of this post of his.

Just a couple of points I shall add to what Dey has already said.

(1.a) Dey says that “[he is] not much of a paintings person, anyway.” But I am, to a certain extent. And used to be one to a major extent about two-three decades ago. So, I can add a bit about this matter.

The question I very briefly address here is: how great is Hussain, as a painter (i.e. artist)?

Even a casual glance at his paintings would tell you that he has an extraordinary mastery over the line. He is an abstract painter—which, to my mind, generally speaking, doesn’t qualify as art to begin with. This applies as much to Hussain as also to Souza, or Gaitonde, or Anjali Menon, or even Sujata Bajaj, or anyone else of their kind—which means, about 99% of today’s painters: they, too, are not artists.

But keeping this aside for a moment, the next question is: Doesn’t he show at least some elements of great art in his work?

Here, I think, as a craftsman, his defining skill is not at all light and perspective, certainly not color, nor even subject, but it’s: his line. His painting unmistakably show that had he chosen higher goals, he would have made for a recognizably great artist—and, despite spending 95 years of his life, he still has not managed to even become an artist let alone a great one.

But why do I say it’s the line which really defines his craftsmanship? Just look at the lines that define the contours of his horses, and the women he paints. His line is capable of bringing to life the sheer life power, the very unruly dynamic, of a horse. Just one apparently careless stroke of a brush in the right place while drawing the eye of a horse, and that raw, unruly energy of the horse begins to jump at you. Similarly, consider the fact that despite carrying the crudeness of the abstract technique, his straight lines still perfectly capture the contours of the feminine form, whenever he manages to slip-in to the remnants of the better elements of the technique he must have been taught at the JJ School of Arts.

So, here is a very curious phenomenon. You have a gifted craftsman—at the level of the line. But this same guy, then, refuses to use that gift to paint a picture—i.e. to create a work of art. Instead, he uses his more abstract powers to mangle the elements like the objects making up those lines, the color and the perspective etc, deliberately disorients them all, throws them together to deliberately create incoherence or even un-intelligibility in his work of “art.”

Consider its counterpart in other forms of art, for example, literature, for example, poetry. What Hussain’s approach would yield is not a poem but something like a poem. Of course it would be called a “free verse.” But the matter doesn’t end there—it gets worse. What Hussain would give you would be a collection of in-principle disconnected bunch of lines, some phrases of which being extraordinarily brilliant on counts such as drama, innovation of expression, metaphor, imagination, etc. Mind you, the brilliance would be restricted only to phrases, not even to lines—the mangling would begin right at that level. And, the lines, taken as sequence, would all be disjointed, hinting at something which, in principle, cannot at all be known, not in toto. The hints themselves could at times be grotesque, at other times sly, at other times profane (and this term is to be taken in its objective sense, not necessarily in connection with this religion or that)… You could, if you try, easily locate Hussain’s parallels in modern “poetry” too. The point isn’t that. The point is to convey what Hussain really is like, when taken as a painter. Namely, that he isn’t one.

(It would be an error to compare Hussain’s paintings with the strokes produced by a student studying at a school for the mentally retarded—the first has the ability to do better, the second doesn’t, and the deliberateness of the rebellion against integration is the crucial difference.)

(1.b) Another point that many people seem to have missed is this. I ran across a court judgment that did agree with the opponents of Hussain in all other points. However, it refused to try Hussain on a point of legal technicality. And, that brilliant piece of the legal technicality was supplied by the current Central Government of India minister Kapil Sibal. … The less I say, the better it will be to my health and life…

(1.c) Nevertheless, we must stop and ask ourselves one question. If merely brilliance in respect of an element like the line-work can be enough to qualify a guy to be counted as an artist, even when ample evidence from his art-work as well as his interviews exists that he has deliberately followed a policy of working against proper integration as required by a proper piece of art, then, following the same standards, why not also consider those millions of anonymous Indians whose “work” adorns the walls of all our public urinals to be artists in their own right, too? [And, I deliberately use the word “urinal” rather than “toilet” or “rest room,” because only the former can adequately convey the strength of the stink in question.] Why not decorate also them with those Padma awards?

(2) About the Women’s Reservation Bill

First of all I want you to note that here I am going against many politicians I otherwise respect, first and foremost, Sharad Pawar. Also, many other politicians I fear. … The reader must excuse me here; there would be too many to name them to list them individually. …

The best commentary—and the only reasonable one—that I saw in print or on monitor, came from one Mr. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, Jr., in a column he wrote for DNA, here [^]. The only other media/blog to highlight it (in my limited browsing) was “Churumuri,” here [^].

… As usual, at least one qualification. What Rao calls “politics of identity,” I would call such things as “politics of narrowness/of insularity/of divisiveness.”

And, here’s the extraordinarily brilliant part of Rao’s comment, expressed so tersely but so well:

…Women’s reservation bill too is supposed to promote gender equality but what it really does is create yet another special interest. And society is turned into a bureau of cubbyholes. And the power of the State is increased yet again. …

Thank you for saying it, Mr. Rao!

To Swamy of Times of India, regarding his today’s column. Nope, Swamy, you don’t get it right. Hmm…

Back to basics. There are three pillars of a nation state: (i) legislative (L for short), (ii) judicial (J for short), (iii) executive (E for short). In India, the mangling of the E branch began right with the original version of the Constitution (C for short)—it’s just for five years, no principled, i.e. unreserved respect/acknowledgment of the individual rights, etc. As such, the J, if pushed to the wall, would have been helpless, in principle. For the aforementioned reason (viz. the absence of an explicit ack. of the Individual Rights), the Constitution always had been sufficiently vague—i.e. weak–that if L grew, it could not only overpower the E but also effectively restrict the J in various indirect ways. Enter the mixed ideals of Nehruvian socialism. L had become powerful. In Indira’s semi-dictatorship, it changed C and systematically weakened L and then also J. With the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of USSR, there seemed to be a reversal of sorts, but it was necessarily doomed because C was weak to begin with anyway so there was poor theory, and, in fact, Indira’s years had weakened the level of the public discourse to such low levels. So much so that on this issue of reservation, all major parties—Congress, BJP, and the communists—they all agree. (Also all the rest of them: they simply fight for greater reservation—not less). Ok.

Against this background what would this Bill do? There are certain implicit grounds for negotiating any kind of agreement in any free society. Due to a better past—and interactions with better countries like the USA and UK—despite the systematic abuse of the above sort and all the weaknesses of the Constitution and legal codes, the common implicit grounds in India actually tend to be better. This is the reason why gays (as much the “chhakke”s as the more hype urban ones) could at all live without having cases slapped against them. This is the reason why in Maharashtra, the ANS-sponsored Bill gets halted. (The reason I oppose it: What standards would permit an ordinary police officer to distinguish between proper private practice of religion and blind faith as prescribed by ANS?) This is the reason why business can at all in fact function even if enough legal codes exist that in theory it would be impossible to run a business without breaking some or the other legal code. That implicit ground is important.

In a country with as huge illiterate, semi-literate, and literate-but-uneducated population as India, a country where to run the elections you have to use symbols—not candidate’s names—it does matter a lot what kind of signals we project to all those people.

When reservations in jobs came into force, it actually did not matter to large parts of population: most of the labor is in agriculture or unorganized sector, and even in organized sector, job reservations applied only to government jobs, not private. It was bad, but it was limited in terms of impact. When the Constitution got mangled almost with each successive amendment (some of which being more deeply mangling than the others), it rather affected the upper echelons of the society—their effects on that implicit negotiating grounds that I alluded to above was at least initially minimal; in any case, their effects would have to slowly trickle and diffuse.

But when you introduce a Reservation Bill of this sort—whether on the caste basis, gender, or any other, it matters not in principle—what you do is that you not only mangle the L branch of the government out of its shape, but, since the common illiterate man, right since the Freedom Movement, has always been an active part of the political process, you also affirm to him that divisive agendas like that are alright so long as ratified by an overwhelming majority, as led by the likes of Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar and Advani and others.

In other words, you affect that implicit understanding of what kind of state one lives in, for that common illiterate man. In essence, you tell him: It’s perfectly “sarkari” to be prejudiced against any innocent man. It is perfectly OK to be prejudiced. It is perfectly OK to be so even at the level of elections for law-makers. It is perfectly OK to follow the blind politics of special interest groups.

The first implications of this kind of a message has already emerged, in the form of the opponents to the Bill. … And, Sharad Pawar, and Sonia Gandhi, and Nitin Gadkari, and Brinda Karat and their lesser colleagues all find a cause to celebrate for. What a tragedy!!

. . . . .

[BTW, if someone from NCP or Indira Congress comes and asks me (which is very unlikely), rather than give them a lecture on principles and all, I am just going to be a bit smart and raise a few points in turn: (i) Why did “Sakal” stop carrying the news of new PhD awards precisely around the time I was awarded one—and why does, through other columns, it does sometimes (even if rarely) does cover the news of other PhDs… Is “Sakal” ashamed of the kind of work I had submitted for my PhD? (ii) Why did I not get that job in COEP—even after my PhD defence? [^]  (iii) Why did the IIT Bombay Conference ICCMS09 reject my paper (citing such flimsy grounds that I had used the grammatical first person while writing the abstract)? Who gave them the encouragement to behave thus anti-intellectually? (iv) Why did CERN reject my paper?. I think this might keep them busy for a while… We could discuss principles and all later on…]

– – – – –

Things I Wanted to Write About

Now that the trivia are out of my system, here is a word about what I have been wanting to write about for quite sometime, and may write in near future (not necessarily in the next post):

On the political side: The magnitude of the black money kept abroad by Indians, Why no Maharashtrian could become a PM thus far.

And, then, of course, Physics: A simple but important example illustrating how, in Physics, it is impossible to get rid of certain basic assumptions delineating the nature of your theory.

– – – – –

A Couple of Songs I Like

1. (Marathi) “kase kase, haasaayaache…”
Music: Hridaynath Mangeshkar
Singer: Asha Bhosale
Lyrics: Aarati Prabhu

2. (Hindi) “jaaye to jaaye kahaan…”
Singer: Talat Mahmood
Music: S. D. Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianwi

PS: As usual, I might edit/streamline this post a bit, later on…

# India-USA Nuclear Deal

I know a lot of commenting is expected here. But, frankly, whatever that could be said about this issue has already been said, and so, I guess, it would be enough to just state one’s position on the it.

My position is that I support the deal and also hope that it passes through on the Indian side.

There never was any hope from the communists on an issue like this, but I think it was BJP that really got exposed in this whole process. …

I keep telling people that at least on a broad philosophic level, both their politics is not at all unexpected—that it is nothing but two sides of the same coin: intrinsicism, mysticism, collectivism… (I know I must have gotten on the nerves of at least a few folks in each of these two camps now—being told, as they are, that they belong together with the other camp!)

The precipitating cause for my writing of this comment, if any, was Gurcharan Das’s re-appeal which he issued on last Sunday through his Times of India column (though, I must admit, I was in too much of hurry to complete reading his article!!) I had thought that the issue was over already. In any case, it has not been discussed in recent times. Mr. Das’ article reminded me that there still was time… But, frankly, I am not too much interested in this entire aspect. Just wanted to jot down my position, that’s all…