On whether A is not non-A

This post has its origin in a neat comment I received on my last post [^]; see the exchange starting here: [^].


The question is whether I accept that A is not non-A.

My answer is: No, I do not accept that, logically speaking, A is not non-A—not unless the context to accept this statement is understood clearly and unambiguously (and the best way to do that is to spell it out explicitly).

Another way to say the same thing is that I can accept that “A is not non-A,” but only after applying proper qualifications; I won’t accept it in an unqualified way.

Let me explain by considering various cases arising, using a simple example.


The Venn diagram:

Let’s begin by drawing a Venn diagram.

Draw a rectangle and call it the set R. Draw a circle completely contained in it, and call it the set A. You can’t put a round peg to fill a rectangular hole, so, the remaining area of the rectangle is not zero. Call the remaining area B. See the diagram below.

The Venn Diagram

Case 1: All sets are non-empty:

Assume that neither A nor B is empty. Using symbolic terms, we can say that:
A \neq \emptyset,
B \neq \emptyset, and
R \equiv A \cup B
where the symbol \emptyset denotes an empty set, and \equiv means “is defined as.”

We take R as the universal set—of this context. For example, R may represent, say the set of all the computers you own, with A denoting your laptops and B denoting your desktops.

I take the term “proper set” to mean a set that has at least one element or member in it, i.e., a set which is not empty.

Now, focus on A. Since the set A is a proper set, then it is meaningful to apply the negation- or complement-operator to it. [May be, I have given away my complete answer right here…] Denote the resulting set, the non-A, as A^{\complement }. Then, in symbolic terms:
A^{\complement } \equiv R \setminus A.
where the symbol \setminus denotes taking the complement of the second operand, in the context of the first operand (i.e., “subtracting” A from R). In our example,
A^{\complement } = B,
and so:
A^{\complement } \neq \emptyset.
Thus, here, A^{\complement } also is a proper (i.e. non-empty) set.

To conclude this part, the words “non-A”, when translated into symbolic terms, means A^{\complement }, and this set here is exactly the same as B.

To find the meaning of the phrase “not non-A,” I presume that it means applying the negation i.e. the complement operator to the set A^{\complement }.

It is possible to apply the complement operator because A ^{\complement } \neq \emptyset. Let us define the result of this operation as A^{\complement \complement}; note the two ^{\complement}s appearing in its name. The operation, in symbols becomes:
A^{\complement \complement} \equiv R \setminus A^{\complement} = R \setminus B = A.
Note that we could apply the complement operator to A and later on to A^{\complement} only because each was non-empty.

As the simple algebra of the above simple-minded example shows,
A = A^{\complement\complement},
which means, we have to accept, in this example, that A is not non-A.

Remarks on the Case 1:

However, note that we can accept the proposition only under the given assumptions.

In  particular, in arriving at it, we have applied the complement-operator twice. (i) First, we applied it to the “innermost” operand i.e. A, which gave us A^{\complement}. (ii) Then, we took this result, and applied the complement-operator to it once again, yielding A^{\complement\complement}. Thus, the operand for the second complement-operator was A^{\complement}.

Now, here is the rule:

Rule 1: We cannot meaningfully apply the complement-operator unless the operand set is proper (i.e. non-empty).

People probably make mistakes in deciding whether A is not non-A, because, probably, they informally (and properly) do take the “innermost” operand, viz. A, to be non-empty. But then, further down the line, they do not check whether the second operand, viz. A^{\complement} turns out to be empty or not.

Case 2: When the set A^{\complement} is empty:

The set A^{\complement} will be empty if B = \emptyset, which will happen if and only if A = R. Recall, R is defined to be the union of A and B.

So, every time there are two mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive sets, if any one of them is made empty, you cannot doubly apply the negation or the complement operator to the other (nonempty) set.

Such a situation always occurs whenever the remaining set coincides with the universal set of a given context.

In attempting a double negation, if your first (or innermost) operand itself is a universal set, then you cannot apply the negation operator for the second time, because by Rule 1, the result of the first operator comes out as an empty set.


The nature of an empty set:

But why this rule that you can’t negate (or take the complement of) an empty set?

An empty set contains no element (or member). Since it is the elements which together impart identity to a set, an empty set has no identity of its own.

As an aside, some people think that all the usages of the phrase “empty set” refers to the one and the only set (in the entire universe, for all possible logical propositions involving sets). For instance, the empty set obtained by taking an intersection of dogs and cats, they say, is exactly the same empty set as the one obtained by taking an intersection of cars and bikes.

I reject this position. It seems to me to be Platonic in nature, and there is no reason to give Plato even an inch of the wedge-space in this Aristotlean universe of logic and reality.

As a clarification, notice, we are talking of the basic and universal logic here, not the implementation details of a programming language. A programming language may choose to point all the occurrences of the NULL string to the same memory location. This is merely an implementation choice to save on the limited computer memory. But it still makes no sense to say that all empty C-strings exist at the same memory location—but that’s what you end up having if you call an empty set the empty set. Which brings us to the next issue.

If an empty set has no identity of its own, if it has no elements, and hence no referents, then how come it can at all be defined? After all, a definition requires identity.

The answer is: Structurally speaking, an empty set acquires its meaning—its identity—“externally;” it has no “internally” generated identity.

The only identity applicable to an empty set is an abstract one which gets imparted to it externally; the purpose of this identity is to bring a logical closure (or logical completeness) to the primitive operations defined on sets.

For instance, intersection is an operator. To formally bring closure to the intersection operation, we have to acknowledge that it may operate over any combination of any operand sets, regardless of their natures. This range includes having to define the intersection operator for two sets that have no element in common. We abstractly define the result of such a case as an empty set. In this case, the meaning of the empty set refers not to a result set of a specific internal identity, but only to the operation and the disjoint nature the operands which together generated it, i.e., via a logical relation whose meaning is external to the contents of the empty set.

Inasmuch as an empty set necessarily includes a reference to an operation, it is a concept of method. Inasmuch as many combinations of various operations and operands can together give rise to numerous particular instances of an empty set, there cannot be a unique instance of it which is applicable in all contexts. In other words, an empty set is not a singleton; it is wrong to call it the empty set.

Since an empty set has no identity of its own, the notion cannot be applied in an existence-related (or ontic or metaphysical) sense. The only sense it has is in the methodological (or epistemic) sense.


Extending the meaning of operations on an empty set:

In a derivative sense, we may redefine (i.e. extend) our terms.

First, we observe that since an empty set lacks an identity of its own, the result of any operator applied to it cannot have any (internal) identity of its own. Then, equating these two lacks of existence-related identities (which is where the extension of the meaning occurs), we may say, even if only in a derivative or secondary sense, that

Rule 2: The result of an operator applied to an empty set again is another empty set.

Thus, if we now allow the complement-operator to operate also on an empty set (which, earlier, we did not allow), then the result would have to be another empty set.

Again, the meaning of this second empty set depends on the entirety of its generating context.

Case 3: When the non-empty set is the universal set:

For our particular example, assuming B = \emptyset and hence A = R, if we allow complement operator to be applied (in the extended sense) to A^{\complement}, then

A^{\complement\complement} \equiv R \setminus A^{\complement} = R \setminus (R \setminus A) = R \setminus B = R \setminus (\emptyset) = R = A.

Carefully note, in the above sequence, the place where the extended theory kicks in is at the expression: R \setminus (\emptyset).

We can apply the \setminus operator here only in an extended sense, not primary.

We could here perform this operation only because the left hand-side operand for the complement operator, viz., the set R here was a universal set. Any time you have a universal set on the left hand-side of a complement operator, there is no more any scope left for ambiguity. This state is irrespective of whether the operand on the right hand-side is a proper set or an empty set.

So, in this extended sense, feel free to say that A is not non-A, provided A is the universal set for a given context.


To recap:

The idea of an empty set acquires meaning only externally, i.e., only in reference to some other non-empty set(s). An empty set is thus only an abstract place-holder for the result of an operation applied to proper set(s), the operation being such that it yields no elements. It is a place-holder because it refers to the result of an operation; it is abstract, because this result has no element, hence no internally generated identity, hence no concrete meaning except in an abstract relation to that specific operation (including those specific operands). There is no “the” empty set; each empty set, despite being abstract, refers to a combination of an instance of proper set(s) and an instance of an operation giving rise to it.


Exercises:

E1: Draw a rectangle and put three non-overlapping circles completely contained in it. The circles respectively represent the three sets A, B, C, and the remaining portion of the rectangle represents the fourth set D. Assuming this Venn diagram, determine the meaning of the following expressions:

(i) R \setminus (B \cup C) (ii) R \setminus (B \cap C) (iii) R \setminus (A \cup B \cup C) (iv) R \setminus (A \cap B \cap C).

(v)–(viii) Repeat (i)–(iv) by substituting D in place of R.

(ix)–(xvi) Repeat (i)–(viii) if A and B partly overlap.

E2: Identify the nature of set theoretical relations implied by that simple rule of algebra which states that two negatives make a positive.


A bit philosophical, and a form better than “A is not non-A”:

When Aristotle said that “A is A,” and when Ayn Rand taught its proper meaning: “Existence is identity,” they referred to the concepts of “existence” and “identity.” Thus, they referred to the universals. Here, the word “universals” is to be taken in the sense of a conceptual abstraction.

If concepts—any concepts, not necessarily only the philosophical axioms—are to be represented in terms of the set theory, how can we proceed doing that?

(BTW, I reject the position that the set theory, even the so-called axiomatic set theory, is more fundamental than the philosophic abstractions.)

Before we address this issue of representation, understand that there are two ways in which we can specify a set: (i) by enumeration, i.e. by listing out all its (relatively concrete) members, and (ii) by rule, i.e. by specifying a definition (which may denote an infinity of concretes of a certain kind, within a certain range of measurements).

The virtue of the set theory is that it can be applied equally well to both finite sets and infinite sets.

The finite sets can always be completely specified via enumeration, at least in principle. On the other hand, infinite sets can never be completely specified via enumeration. (An infinite set is one that has an infinity of members or elements.)

A concept (any concept, whether of maths, or art, or engineering, or philosophy…) by definition stands for an infinity of concretes. Now, in the set theory, an infinity of concretes can be specified only using a rule.

Therefore, the only set-theoretic means capable of representing concepts in that theory is to specify their meaning via “rule” i.e. definition of the concept.

Now, consider for a moment a philosophical axiom such as the concept of “existence.” Since the only possible set-theoretic representation of a concept is as an infinite set, and since philosophical axiomatic concepts have no antecedents, no priors, the set-theoretic representation of the axiom of “existence” would necessarily be as a universal set.

We saw that the complement of a universal set is an empty set. This is a set-theoretic conclusion. Its broader-based, philosophic analog is: there are no contraries to axiomatic concepts.

For the reasons explained above, you may thus conclude, in the derivative sense, that:

“existence is not void”,

where “void” is taken as exactly synonymous to “non-existence”.

The proposition quoted in the last sentence is true.

However, as the set theory makes it clear and easy to understand, it does not mean that you can take this formulation for a definition of the concept of existence. The term “void” here has no independent existence; it can be defined only by a negation of existence itself.

You cannot locate the meaning of existence in reference to void, even if it is true that “existence is not void”.

Even if you use the terms in an extended sense and thereby do apply the “not” qualfier (in the set-theoretic representation, it would be an operator) to the void (to the empty set), for the above-mentioned reasons, you still cannot then read the term “is” to mean “is defined as,” or “is completely synonymous with.” Not just our philosophical knowledge but even its narrower set-theoretical representation is powerful enough that it doesn’t allow us doing so.

That’s why a better way to connect “existence” with “void” is to instead say:

“Existence is not just the absence of the void.”

The same principle applies to any concept, not just to the most fundamental philosophic axioms, so long as you are careful to delineate and delimit the context—and as we saw, the most crucial element here is the universal set. You can take a complement of an empty set only when the left hand-side operator is a universal set.

Let us consider a few concepts, and compare putting them in the two forms:

  • from “A is not non-A”
  • to “A is not the [just] absence [or negation] of non-A,” or, “A is much more than just a negation of the non-A”.

Consider the concept: focus. Following the first form, a statement we can formulate is:

“focus is not evasion.”

However, it does make much more sense to say that

“focus is not just an absence of evasion,” or that “focus is not limited to an anti-evasion process.”

Both these statements follow the second form. The first form, even if it is logically true, is not as illuminating as is the second.

Exercises:

Here are a few sentences formulated in the first form—i.e. in the form “A is not non-A” or something similar. Reformulate them into the second form—i.e. in the form such as: “A is not just an absence or negation of non-A” or “A is much better than or much more than just a complement or negation of non-A”. (Note: SPPU means the Savitribai Phule Pune University):

  • Engineers are not mathematicians
  • C++ programmers are not kids
  • IISc Bangalore is not SPPU
  • IIT Madras is not SPPU
  • IIT Kanpur is not SPPU
  • IIT Bombay is not SPPU
  • The University of Mumbai is not SPPU
  • The Shivaji University is not SPPU

[Lest someone from SPPU choose for his examples the statements “Mechanical Engg. is not Metallurgy” and “Metallurgy is not Mechanical Engg.,” we would suggest him another exercise, one which would be better suited to the universal set of all his intellectual means. The exercise involves operations mostly on the finite sets alone. We would ask him to verify (and not to find out in the first place) whether the finite set (specified with an indicative enumeration) consisting of {CFD, Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Thermodynamics, Strength of Materials, FEM, Stress Analysis, NDT, Failure Analysis,…} represents an intersection of Mechanical Engg and Metallurgy or not.]

 


A Song I Like:

[I had run this song way back in 2011, but now want to run it again.]

(Hindi) “are nahin nahin nahin nahin, nahin nahin, koee tumasaa hanseen…”
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosale
Music: Rajesh Roshan
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[But I won’t disappoint you. Here is another song I like and one I haven’t run so far.]

(Hindi) “baaghon mein bahaar hain…”
Music: S. D. Burman [but it sounds so much like R.D., too!]
Singers: Mohamad Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[Exercise, again!: For each song, whenever a no’s-containing line comes up, count the number of no’s in it. Then figure out whether the rule that double negatives cancel out applies or not. Why or why not?]


 

[Mostly done. Done editing now (right on 2016.10.22). Drop me a line if something isn’t clear—logic is a difficult topic to write on.]

[E&OE]

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From the horses’ mouths

My first choice for the title was: “From the Nobel Laureate’s Mouth”; I had spotted only the opinion piece by Professor David Gross in yesterday’s Indian Express [^]. Doing the ‘net search today for the URI link to provide here, I found that there also were three other Nobel laureates, also joined by one Fields Medalists. And they all were saying more or less the same thing [^].

… That way, coming from a Marathi-medium schooling background, I had always had a bit of suspicion for the phrase “from the horse’s mouth.” It seemed OK to use in the news reports when, say, a wrong-doer admits his wrong. But purely going by the usage, I could see that the phrase would also be used in the sense: “from the top-gun himself,” or “from the otherwise silent doer himself.” This guess turns out to be right [^]. Further, since there were as many as five “horses” here, the word to be used would have to be in the plural, and if you say it aloud: “From the horses’ mouths” [go ahead, say it aloud, sort of like:“horseses” mouth) it really sounds perfect (for something to be posted on the ‘net).

So, that’s how comes the title.

As to the horses’ thoughts… Ummm…

[But please, please, give me just a moment to get back to the title again, and congratulate me for not having chosen a title like: “From Dave Himself.” You see, Professor David Gross had visited COEP in 2013, and I might have been, you know, within 50 meters of where he was sitting. I mean, of all places, in the COEP campus! Right in the COEP campus!! [^]. Obviously, you must compliment me for my sense of restraint, of making understatements.]

OK. As to their thoughts… Umm….

I think these guys are being way too optimistic. Also naive.

Without substantial economic reforms, I see no possibility of the Indian Science in general undergoing any significant transformation yet again. And substantial economic reforms aren’t happening here any more. In fact, no one is even talking about it, any more. [Check out Arnab’s hours, or Sardesai’s, or Dutt’s, if you want to find out what they are talking about. [I don’t, because I know.]]

It was the 1991 that could propel, say a Mashelkar into prominence several years later, and help transform the 70+ CSIR labs from something like less than 100 patents a year, to thousands of them per year—all within a matter of a few years [less than a decade, to be sure]. If the same momentum were to be kept, the figure should have gone up to at least tens of thousands of patents by the CSIR labs alone—and with a substantial increase in the share of the international patents among them. Ditto, for the high-quality international journal papers.

Why didn’t any of it happen? Plain and clear. The momentum created by the economic liberalization of the early 1990s has been all but lost. Come on, face it, 1991 was twenty-five years ago.

To an anthropologist, 25 years is like an entire generation! More than enough of a time to lose any half-hearted momentum (which, despite the hysterical Indian press, the liberalization in the early 1990s was).

It’s been years that we entered the staleness 2.0 of the mixed economy 1.0. Even today, the situation continues “as is,” despite a change of regime in New Delhi. Yes, even under “Modiji.” [I am quoting Professor Gross—I mean the word.]

But, yes, the five gentlemen were also being realistic: Each one of them emphasized decades.

Decades of sustained efforts would have to go in, before the fruits could begin to be had. [But you know that decades isn’t a very long period—just recall what was happening to India’s economy some two decades ago—in the mid ’90s.]

Talking of how realistic they actually were being, Haroche even pointed out the lack of freedom in China [obvious to any one outside of California], and its presence in Europe [I don’t know about that] and in India [yeah, right!].

But anyway, it’s nice to hear something like this being highlighted after an Indian Science Congress, rather than, say, “vimaanshaastra.”

Both happened during “Modiji”’s tenure. So what is it that really accounts for the difference? I have no idea. (It can’t be a “pravaasi” whatever, to be sure; they would be too busy booking the next Olympics-size stadium.)

Whoever within the organizers of the Congress was responsible for the difference, compliments are due to him. (Hindi) “der se kiyaa lekin kuchh achhaa hi to kiyaa.”

In the meanwhile, bring out your non-programmable desk calculators and do some exercises: 0.8 \times \dots, 2.7 \times \dots, 4.4 \times \dots and 2.1 \times \dots. Oh well, you will have to refer to the ‘net.

OK then. Find out also the R&D spending by, say, (i) Baba Ramdev’s pharmaceutical industries, (ii) the top or most well-established five industrial groups in India (Reliance, Tatas, Mittals, whoever…), and (iii) the top three (or five) Indian IT firms. Compare them to those in the advanced countries. Let your comparisons be comparable: pharma to pharma; oil, steel and engineering (and salt!) to oil, steel and engineering (and salt!); IT to IT [engineering IT to engineering IT]; overall (GDP) to overall (GDP).

And, never forget that bit about freedom. Don’t just count the beans “spent” on research. Think also about whether it is the government spending or the private spending, and where the expenditure occurs (in private universities, private labs, independently run government labs, public universities in a country with a past of a private control, etc., or in the in-service-pensioner’s-paradises with something like “laboratory” in their titles).


But why didn’t the “horses” cite any specific statistics about how many Indian students go abroad for their graduate studies, and choose to permanently settle there—their trends?

Obvious: Nobel and Fields laureates (and in fact any visiting dignitaries to any country (and in fact any visitors to a foreign country)) generally tend to be more polite, and so tend to make understatements when it comes to criticism (of that host country). That’s why.


A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “kahin naa jaa…”
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Singers: Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar

[E&OE]

“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

“They don’t even touch a good text-book!”

This line is a very common refrain that one often hears in faculty rooms or professors’ cabins, in engineering colleges in India.

Speaking in factual terms, there is a lot of truth to it. The assertion itself is overwhelmingly true. The fact that the student has never looked into a good (or “reference” or “foreign authors'”) text is immediately plain and clear to anyone who has ever graded their examination papers, or worked as an examiner on the oral/viva voce examinations.

The undergraduate Indian students these days, esp. those in Pune and Mumbai, and esp. those in the private engineering colleges, always refer to only a locally published text for all their studies.

These texts are published by a few local publishers well known to the students (and their professors). I wouldn’t mind dropping a few names: Nirali, Pragati, TechMax, etc. The books are published at almost throw-away prices (e.g. Rs. 200–300). (There also exists a highly organized market for the second-hand books. No name written, no pencil marks? Some 75% of the cost returned. Etc. There is a bold print, too—provided, the syllabus hasn’t changed in the meanwhile. In that case, there is no resale value whatsoever!)

The authors of these texts themselves are professors in these same private engineering colleges. They know the system in and out. No, I am not even hinting at any deliberate fraud or malpractice here. Quite on the contrary.

The professors who write these local text-books often are enthusiastic teachers themselves. You would have to be very enthusiastic, because the royalties they “command” could be as low as a one-time payment of Rs. 50,000/- or so. The payment is always only a one-time payment (meaning, there are no recurring royalties even if a text book becomes a “hit”), and it never exceeds Rs. 1.5 lakhs lump-sum or so. (My figures are about 5 year old.) Even if each line is copied verbatim from other books, the sheer act of having to write down (and then proof-read) some 200 to 350 pages requires for the author to invest, I have been told, between 2 to 4 months, working overtime, neglecting family and all. The monthly salary of these professors these days can easily approach or exceed Rs. 1 lakh. So, clearly, money is not the prime motivation here. It has to be something else: Enthusiasm, love of teaching, or even just the respect or reputation that an author hopes to derive in the sub-community of these local engineering colleges!

These professors—the authors—also often are well experienced (15–40 years of teaching experience is common), and they know enough to know what kind of examination questions are likely to come up on the university examinations. (They themselves have gone through the same universities.) They write these books targeting only task: writing the marks-scoring answers on those university examinations. Thus, these “text” books are more or less nothing but a student aid (or what earlier used to be called the “guide” books).

It in fact has evolved into a separate genre by itself. Contrary to an impression wide-spread among professors of private engineering colleges in India, there in fact are somewhat similar books also used heavily by the students in the USA. Thus, these local Indian books are nothing but an improvised version of the Schaums’ series in science and engineering (or the Sparks Notes in the humanities, in the US schools).

But there is a further feature here. There is a total customization thrown in here. These local books are now-a-days written (or at least adapted) to exactly match the detailed syllabus of each university separately. So, there are different books, by the same author and for the same subject, but one for Mumbai University, and the other for Pune University, etc. Students never mix up the universities.

The syllabus for each university is followed literally, down to dividing the text into chapters as per the headings of the modules mentioned in the syllabus (usually six per course), and dividing each chapter into sections, with the headings and order of these sections strictly following the order and the letter of the syllabus. The text in each section is followed by a compilation of the past university examination questions (of that same university) pertaining to that particular section alone. Most of these past examination questions are solved in the text—that’s the bulk of the book. When the opening page of a chapter lists the sections in it, the list also carries, in the parentheses, whether this section is “theory” or “numericals”.

Overall, the idea is, even just looking at the “text” book, a student can easily anticipate whether a question is likely to be asked on a given section or not, and if yes, of what kind. The students also work out many logics: “Every semester, they have asked a question on this section. So we have to mug it up well.” Or, playing the “contra”: “Last three semesters, not a single question here? It’s going to come this time round.” Etc. (Yes, I followed this practice in my lectures, too—I did want my students to score well on the final university examinations, after all!)

The customization, for each revision of the syllabus of each university, is done down to that level of detail. So, for the first year course on electrical engineering, you have one text-book of title, say, Electrical Engg. (FE), Pune University, 2012 course, and another text book, now of the title, say, Basic Electrical Technology (FE), Mumbai University, 2011 course. Etc.

That’s what I mean, when I use the phrase the “local” text-books.

I certainly don’t mean the SI Units editions of American texts, or the Indian Standards-adapted editions of reputed texts (such as, say, Shigley’s on design or Thomson and Dahleh’s on vibrations). I don’t mean the inexpensive Indian editions of foreign texts (such as those by Pearson, Wiley, ELBS, etc.) I also don’t mean the text-books written by the well-known Indian authors working right in India (such as those by IIT professors, and published by, say, Universities Press, Narosa, or PHI). I don’t even mean the more general text-books written for Indian universities and/or the AMIE examinations (such as those by S. Chand, Khanna, CBS, etc.). When I say “local” text-books, I specifically mean the books of the kind mentioned above.

Undergraduate students in Pune and Mumbai these days refer only to these local books.

They (really) don’t even bother to touch a good reference text, even if it’s available on the college library shelf.

In contrast, in our times, the problem was, we simply didn’t have the “foreign authors'” texts available to us—not always even in the COEP library. In those days, sometimes, such books happened to be too expensive, even for COEP’s library. And, even back then, Shahani’s text-books anyway were available. But at least, they didn’t cater to only the Pune university (they would list problems from universities as far flung as Madras, Gorakhpur, Agra, Allahabad, etc.) And, in fact, these books were generally looked down upon. Even by the students themselves.

The contrast to today’s situation is too glaring. Naturally, professors sometimes do end up saying the title line with a tone of exasperation.

Yes, I used to sometimes say that line myself, of course with sarcasm, when I taught in the late ’80s in the Pune of those days. (The situation back then was not so acute.) Almost as if by habit, I also repeated the line when I more recently taught a course at COEP (2009, FEM). However, observing students, somehow, my line had somehow begun to lose that cutting edge it once had. First, at COEP, I had the freedom to design this course (on FEM), and they did buy at least Logan and/or Cook. (Even if I was distributing my PDF notes.) And, there was something else to it, too. I somehow got a vague feel that it somehow wouldn’t be fully right to blame students (I mean COEP students in general). However, my COEP stint was only for one semester, only for one course, and only as a visiting faculty. So, the vague feel simply remained what it was—just a vague feel.

Then, recently in 2014, when I began teaching at a private engineering college in Mumbai, I once again heard this line from the other professors. And, I used it myself too. With the usual sarcasm. I did that perhaps for the most part of my first semester there.

However, some way down the line, I once again got that vague feel that, may be, something was “wrong” somewhere, even here, in Mumbai: these kids really were trying to be sincere, and yet, for some reason unknown to me, they still wouldn’t at all refer to good texts.

This is an aside, but I can tell you that it’s very easy to read the faces of the insincere people, esp. when they are young. There are some insincere students too. But, at least going by my own experience, they are in a minority. (It is a headache-some minority. Yet, by numerical magnitude alone, it certainly is in a small minority.) I am not saying this to be politically correct, or to win points from students. What I said is the factual case. In fact, my experience is that when it comes to in-sincerity, parents easily outperform their children. May be because, the specific parents that we mostly end up seeing in college are those whose kids have some problem—low attendance, fee payments, other issues, etc. The parents with whom we get to interact really well, thus, happens to be a self-selected sub-group. They aren’t necessarily representative of all parents… Yet, I am also sure that that’s not the real reason why I think parents can easily be more insincere. I think the real reason is that, at their age, the kids are actually unable to fake too much. It’s far easier for them to be sincere than to be a fake and still get away with it. They just can’t manage it, regardless of their desire. And, looking at it in a better light, I here remember what Ayn Rand had once said in a somewhat similar context, “one doesn’t start out in life by spitting on one’s own face—it’s not in the essential nature of life” or something like that. (Off-hand, I think, it was in the preface to the 25th anniversity edition of The Fountainhead.) So, the kids, by and large, are sincere. … By the time they themselves become parents—well, let’s leave that story right here. (We need them to make all those fee payments, anyway…)

So, coming back to the main thread, I would anyway generally chat with the students, and so, I started asking, esp. some of the more talkative students, the reason why they might not be referring to good texts. After all, in my lectures, I would try to provide very specific references: specific section numbers or even page numbers, in a specific edition of a specific reference text. (And these texts were available in the college library.) Why, I once had even distributed an original research paper. (It was Griffth’s seminal 1920 paper starting the field of fracture mechanics. Griffith’s argument here is rather conceptual, and the paper has surprisingly very little maths. Whatever the maths there is, it is very easily accessible to the SE students, too.)

The result of my initial attempts to understand the reason (why students don’t read good texts) was not so encouraging. The talkative students began dropping by my cabin once in a while, asking which section to use while answering a certain assignment question or so. However, they still only rarely used those better texts, when it came to actually completing their assignments. And, in the unit tests (and in the final end-sem examination), they invariably ended up quoting only the local text books (whether verbatim or not).

The exercise was, thus, futile. And yet, the students’ sincerity—at least the sincerity of their desire, as in contrast to their actions—could not be put in doubt.

So, I took it as a challenge. I set this as a problem for myself: To discover the main reason(s) why my students don’t refer to good text-books. The real underlying reason(s), regardless of whatever they otherwise did to impress me.

It took a while for me to crack the problem. I would anyway generally chat with them, enquiring where they lived, what their parents did, about their friends and brothers and sisters, etc. In addition, I would also observe, now with this new challenge somewhere at the back of my mind, how they behaved (or rushed around) in college: in hallways, labs, canteen, college ground, even at the bus-stop just outside the college, etc.

…Finally, I got it! At least one reason, a main reason, a systemic reason that applied even to those who otherwise were good, talented, curious, or just plain sincere.

As soon as I discovered the reason, I shared it with every one. In fact, I first shared it with my students, before I did with my colleagues or superiors. The answer lies in an Excel spreadsheet, here [^]. (It actually was created in OpenOffice Calc, on Windows 7.)  Go ahead, download it, and play with it a bit. The embedded formulae should be self-explanatory.

The numbers used in the spreadsheet may differ. The specific numbers I have used in the spreadsheet refer to my estimates while working at a college in Mumbai, in particular, in Navi Mumbai. In Mumbai, the time lost commuting is really an issue. If a student lives in Thane or Andheri and attends a college in Navi Mumbai, he easily spends about 3–4 hours in the daily commute (home->bus->railway station/second bus/metro–>another bus or six-seater, all of it taking about 1.5 hours one way, or more). In Pune, the situation is much more heterogeneous. One student could be spending 3 hours commuting both ways (think: from Nigdi to VIT) whereas some other student could be just happily walking to the college campus (think: Paud Phata residents, and MIT). It all depends. In Pune, many students would be using two-wheelers. In any case, for a professor, the only practical guideline for the entire class that he can at all use, would have to be statistical in nature. So, it’s the class average for the daily commute time that matters. For Mumbai in general, it could be 2–3 hours, for Pune students, it could be, say, between 1 to 2 hours (both ways put together).

So Pune is a bit easier on students. In contrast, for many of my Mumbai students, the situation was bad (or even very bad), and they were trying hard (or very hard) to make the best of it. It must have been at least a bit frustrating to them when professors like me, on the top of everything, were demanding making references to good foreign texts, and openly using a sarcastic tone—even if generously laced with humor—if they didn’t. It must have been frustrating to at least 40–60% of them. (The number is my estimate of those who were genuinely interested in referring to good books, even if only for the better-drawn and colorful diagrams, photographs, and also mathematical proofs that came without errors or without arbitrary replacement of \partial by d.)

And why do I say that it must have been frustrating? Why didn’t I say it might have been frustrating?

Because, I cannot ever forget that look of that incredibly honest appreciation which slowly appeared on all their faces (including the faces of the “back-benchers”), as I shared my discovery in detail with them.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

How about your college? Your case?

Do you have the time to read good, lengthy, or conceptually clarifying “reference” texts? Say, Timoshenko (app. mech. and strength of materials); Shames, or Popov (strength of materials); White, or Fox & McDonald, or Som & Biswas (Fluid Mech.); Holman, or Nag, or Sukhatme (Heat Transfer)?

And, if you do, do you spend time reading these texts? If yes, did you complete them (I mean only the portion relevant to the syllabus) in the same semester that you were learning or teaching the subject for the first time? Could you have?

And yes, in my last sentence, I have included “teaching” too. My questions are directed to the professors too. In fact, my questions are directed, first and foremost, only at them.

After all, it is the professors—or at least some of us—who are in the driver’s seat here; the students never are. It is the professors who (i) design the syllabii as well as the examination schemes (including the number of tests to have and their nature), (ii) decide on the number of assignments (and leave no opportunity to level criticism in our capacity as External Examiners, if the length or difficulty of an assignment falls short), (iii) decide on the course text-books (and take due care to list more than 5 prescribed text-books, and more than 10 reference books per course) (iv) decide on the student attendance criteria in detail, up to the individual course level, and report on the defaulting students (and follow through with the meetings with their parents) every two weeks or at least once a month, (v) set the examination papers according to the established pattern—after all, it’s only us who is going to check the papers!, (vi) sometimes, write those local text-books!, and (vii) also keep the expectation that students should somehow show in their final university examination answer books, some evidence of having gone through some good, thick, reference texts, too. Whether we ourselves had managed to do that during our own UG years or not!

And, yes, I also want the IIX professors to ponder over these matters. All their students enjoy a fully residential program; these kids from these private engineering colleges mostly don’t. They at IIXs always get to design all their course syllabii and decide on the examination patterns, and they even get to enjoy the sole responsibility to grade their students. The possibility of adopting a marks normalization scheme, after the examination, always lies at hand, with them, just in case a topic took too long with a certain class or so… Are they then being reasonable in their request demand that the students of these “other” engineering colleges in India be well-read enough, at least by the time the students join them at IIXs for ME/MTech studies?

As to me, no, as I indicated in my earlier posts, while being a professor, I could not always find the time to do that—referring to good text-books. I tried, but basically my situation wasn’t much different from that of my students—we both were short on the available time. So, I didn’t always succeed.

[As to my own UG years, it was mixed: I did hunt for months, and got my hands on, the books like Reed-Hill, White, Holman, etc. However, I would be dishonest if I claimed that it was right during my UG years that I had got whatever I did, from books like these. In my case, the learning continued for years. Yes, I even bought and religiously studied once again even Thomas & Finney’s calculus, when I was in my PhD program at UAB. Despite my attempts during the UG years, I really cannot ascribe a large part, or even a significant part of my current understanding to my UG years. Your case may be different; I was just narrating my own experience.]

… And, as far making references to good books goes, now that I do have time at my hand these days, there is another problem: I don’t know what course in particular I will be teaching the next semester, and where—or for that matter, whether some college will even hire me in the first place, or not.

So, I end up “wasting” my time writing blog posts like this one. Thus, I, too, end up not touching a good reference text!

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “aane waalaa pal, jaane waalaa hai…”
Lyrics: Gulzaar
Singer: Kishor Kumar
Music: R. D. Burman

[I will go over this post once again, editing it, and may be adding a bit here and there. Done. This post is already too long. So, I will write another post—a brief one—to jot down some tips to make the best possible use of the student’s time—including my suggestions to the engineering colleges as to what they can do to help the students. Also, my take on whether the system as noted above has diluted the quality of education or not—esp. as in contrast to what we had as UG students at COEP more than three decades ago.]

[E&OE]

 

A second comment about appointments to academic posts

I won’t take chances. This was a comment I just made this morning at Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi’s blog, here [^]. Comments at his blog are moderated. And, I don’t know if he will allow it in. (There could perhaps even be some valid reasons for this comment not to be run there.) So, I have decided to go right ahead and note my comment here, too. (On second thoughts, as I have often said earlier on this blog, I anyway think that I should be bringing here many other comments I have made over a period of time at many other blogs, too.)

Here is the comment I have just made at Sanghi’s blog:

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Quote:

Dear Dheeraj,

You write interestingly, even engagingly. Well, at least, you write—as in contrast to mostly just excerpting from Internet links!

I don’t mean to fully defend the practice that has been adopted. I just wish to note down out a few points that seem to be contrary to the flow of your argument, a few points that passed through my mind.

When you recruit a lower-level employee, a PhD student, or a professor, you do follow the meticulous process you mentioned; it involves lengthy interviews, too. Why might someone not follow a similarly long interview while recruiting IIT directors?

I think that some at least plausible answer may be hidden right in that question.

For the starters, when it comes to the candidates for the director’s post, as against the other posts you mentioned, simply because all the candidates have already been subjected to a meticulous process, throughout their prior career, typically spanning over decades.

They have been observed and evaluated at the senior and responsible positions for at least a decade or more by multiple, disparate, parties. … Any comments they make at professional conferences, any viewpoints they offer at the industry-institute interactions, the quality of the documents they write for obtaining funding, etc. Also, the blogs they write [ 😉 ]. And, they have been continuously evaluated by various parties: h-Index (certainly), student evaluations (if these are taken seriously at IITs)—and, certainly, via the annual reviews from their seniors, which includes mandatory remarks from the viewpoint of their potential as leaders. The CRs (annual confidential reports), made over a decade+ times (through various political dispensations, under many different HoDs and Deans and Directors) do have some purpose, you know—i.e., if these are taken seriously at IITs!

They also have been short-listed by the formal selection committees. Presumably, the committee’s role does not end only with providing an unordered list of names. Presumably, the short-listing committee takes its job seriously.

IITs are not private institutes. The top decision makers here, by explicit organization structure, are the concerned ministry/ministries. Whether you like it or not, they do have their regular input channels, too—channels other than the selection committees. In India, in case you have happened to overlook it, we have more than 10 central agencies for internal intelligence gathering. When the body called the Planning Commission got dismantled, another one stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Another point: At the director’s level, IITs also typically do not go for rank outsiders. Most, if not all, of what I say would remain valid even if the candidate is an outsider.

The cumulative input from multiple sources thus is already there. It is distilled, and available, just in case not already factored in, by the time the short-list is made. And, then, there are internal reviews.

The final interview, thus, is more or less just a formality. Shocking? Why should it be, to you?

Dheeraj, since you are a senior IIT professor, I must ask you: If similarly detailed and well-processed inputs were available personally to you, for all the candidates applying for a post-doc position you had in your group, would you ever bother talking with each of them for 30+ minutes? … Please concretize the situation; it is unlike what actually happens when you select your post-docs. When you select your post-docs, you mostly don’t know about all of them. … Suppose if you or your IITK/other IITs colleagues that you trust, themselves had personally seen all your post-doc candidates right from their fifth standard (if not the first standard), and suppose you had maintained your own reports about them, including from the viewpoint of their potential as post-doc researchers, and if you had had the opportunity to go through everything about every one of them, how much time would you want to allocate for merely chatting with them?

And, doesn’t this happen in the USA anyway—and I mention this point, because I know that at IITs, esp. at IITK, a top-10 US PhD is routinely valued better than a PhD that COEP graduated after a failure at a PhD program in a 50+ USA school. Thus, mentioning the US practice should be perfectly acceptable.

Would a colleague of yours in the USA—one who values your word—even bother to talk with someone you strongly recommend, i.e., with a personal touch of yours? Do they? actually? even for just five minutes? Especially if they themselves know someone trustworthy other than you, who personally knows the post-doc applicant? Do you find their practice offensive? Did you find it offensive when Manindra Agarwal’s students received offers for post-docs etc., even before submitting their PhD theses at IITK? Did you begin blogging something about the fact that there was no 30 minute interview, not even 5 minute interview for them? Do you hasten to wear your skeptical glasses if an IUCAA PhD student gets a post-doc offer at Princeton or CalTech even before submitting his thesis?

At this point, you should be a bit bemused, perhaps even a bit agitated, but you would still not be convinced. There is a bit of valid reason for it, too. I can understand and sympathize with your viewpoint.

You see, I myself have undergone a similar kind of a process—the kind that you criticize. When I applied for a professor’s position at COEP, what actually happened was that, apart from submitting my application (manually making sure that it was duly entered into the inwards register), I then dropped by a few professor’s cabins in the department, and then, also the Director’s cabin. I broached the metallurgy-to-mechanical branch-jumping issue with him, and sought his opinion about it. To cut a long story short, he bluntly told me that he has had no objection on that count (it was he who had given me an opportunity to teach an FEM course before my PhD thesis was defended), but that, as a director, what the department thinks, he said, was more important to him. And, while the department had thought differently earlier, when my PhD guide was still in it (or had just left it), now the department had begun “thinking” some “different” way.

I was duly short-listed, called for the interview, and it became evident to me within the first 1–2 minutes the nature of what to expect. (Doesn’t it, if you are past your 40?… In my case, I could tell right when I was in my 20s.) The interview did last for about 30 minutes—I stretched it, because I wanted to tell them in sufficient detail—while all along, they were just wanting to hurry it up and wrap up it all. … To cut a long story short, in the end, they selected someone whose thesis had been examined by a low-ranked NIT’s low-ranked professor, whereas every one in COEP knew that my guide had, on my informal remarks, dared contacting people from top 5 univs in the USA for examination of my thesis (including Frank Wilczek). That none of them bothered to examine it is a different story. The end result was that after almost 1.5 years, my thesis was finally picked up for examination by two senior professors from one of the five old IITs—both of whom had been HoDs and Deans, and one later on was a Director of a central lab. Now regardless of this difference, COEP showed me the door. As expected and made clear right during the interview process. (“Are you now casting aspersions that we don’t know what is good for this institute?” etc. When I say I had stretched them to 30 minutes, I mean it. After taking the decision, they did not take care to inform me of the outcome. I saw the director. He managed to sympathize with me. Though he didn’t say a thing, I knew that he knew that I knew that I should have known that I would not get selected.

Just a COEP professor’s post and an IIT director’s post, there is a difference, you say?

Well, Dheeraj, you then speak more like a typical IAS officer or a second-rate corporate MBA, than like a professor. If a director directly impacts some 500 faculty members over his entire term(s), a professor impacts some 500 students every year. And the impactees in the second case are both far more sensitive and powerless. And, with far longer period of their future at the stake.

If there were to be betting rackets for IIT Directors’ positions, the going rates would almost consistently get the selections right, regardless of change of political dispensations, and without the benefit of even a one minute interview. Why is a five minute interview so difficult to get by top ranked IIT professors, cognitively speaking.

And if you still say that the five minutes interviews still are not acceptable because the process can result in wrong/bad selections, well, you only join me, my argument—you cast doubts on the short-listing and the real reviewing processes, on the grounds that some people who could easily become second-rate directors, too, had got short-listed by the selection committee. Exactly similar to what happened to many other candidates in the COEP process. Not just short-listing, but the internal reviews before the interviews even began.

But then, who blogs about a non-JPBTI anyway—let alone for him? Who defends him? Answer: None—if his PhD guide is dead.

These are some of the things that passed by my mind, while thinking about this directors’ selection issue. I don’t pretend to know or understand the full situation. But I do know that what I said is, in many important ways, relevant.

Best,

–Ajit
[E&OE]

Unquote

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
(Hindi) “aayaa hai mujhe phir yaad wo zaalim…”
Singer: Mukesh
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

[E&OE]

 

 

A comment about appointments to academic posts

I had made one comment in response to a post and a couple of replies, at the nanopolitan blog, here [^]. Since the comment was long, I had saved it. To my surprise, for some reasons not known to me, it was gone the next day.

If they were to run my comment, it would have appeared immediately after the comment by one “Sushant Rai” (on 4:36 PM, March 23, 2015).

In the next section I copy-paste my comment (which, as I said, assumes the context of the previous discussion) exactly as it originally appeared (including mistakes/typos, and the emphases in italics or bold):

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Quote:

No, Ankur, there is a basic difference between an academic institution and a corporate house. … You would know about it, but just in case you don’t, check out Dijkstra’s article on academia, here: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/transcriptions/EWD11xx/EWD1175.html

Now, a bit about the similarity. Mistry is the first non-Tata to head the house of Tatas. The party to hold the purse-strings does make the key difference. Whether it’s the majority or the critical shareholders, or, the controlling politicians and/or bureaucrats.

If TIFR were to be a private company (e.g. a coaching classes company), then what you say would have been applicable. It emphatically is not.

Government interference in economy is always bad; the public sector science and academia is no exception. The academia would survive (cf Dijkstra) even on public money, but don’t count on keeping quality. The broader context itself is wrong.

If you ask me: If anything, be thankful to your luck/stars/etc. that you all at IIXs etc. still get to exercise at least as much freedom as you do. The broad systemic nature doesn’t actually allow it. … Some memories of some decent traditions of the yesteryears’ private universities abroad, and some memories of some decent simulation thereof here, is the reason why you still get as much decent a treatment as you do. Visit a “private” engineering college and ask around.

As to a director’s post, I do think that these, too, should be publicly advertised. And, the names of all the people involved in the decision-making process should also be publicly declared as well. One shouldn’t have to file an RTI application for that.

After all, the government/public sector also is far more easily susceptible to the old boys network sort of a thing, as compared to the corporate sector. (There already have been articles in the media about how even some retired judges have landed plush jobs immediately after their retirement, and how courting for favours (!) might have gone before their retirement from career 1.0.)

As a long-time sufferer at the hands of those who have peopled the premier institutes in the Indian education system (“What? Metallurgy? Why did you come here? Don’t you know this is the Mechanical department?” and “What, only GATE? No JEE? You are worse than a dog then!” (Ok, this second bit is a bit of an exaggeration)), I do like it when it does receive a dose of its own medicine once in a while.

And I am sure, Sandip (Trivedi) won’t go jobless in the meanwhile—he cleared the JEE, did PhD under Preskill, and co-authored with Frank Wilzcek. He will get to continue at the scenic Colaba campus in the meanwhile, too. That’s the bottom-line. (Or at least the one I draw.)

Best,

–Ajit
[E&OE]

Unquote
[The time of my comment, soon after posting it, was shown at the nanopolitan blog as “5:58 PM, March 23, 2015”]

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

Oh, BTW, I of course welcome the recent Supreme Court judgment scrapping the section 66A of the IT act.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
[How I wish the recording technique were better here!]
(KannaDa) “naguvaa nayanaa madhuraa maunaa”
Music: Ilaiyaraaja
Singers: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and S. Janaki
Lyrics: R. N. Jayagopal

[E&OE]

 

The JEE Idiocy: Links to My Further Comments Elsewhere, and the Fallout at LinkedIn

Concerning the subject of my last post, viz. the JEE idiocy, I, as usual, had made many comments at others’ blogs, too.

I almost always make my comments at others’ blogs, quite on the fly (and, in fact, the same applies also to my blog posts, esp. those I make here). I often plan to bring those comments made at others’ blogs, over here at my blog, too. I often plan to put them here in a bit more polished form. And, it never happens. This is true of so many comments on so many issues that I have made so far.

However, now, I have decided to change.

One final push in this direction came in the form of an unwholesome episode to do with the “IIT Alumni” group at LinkedIn. This is the largest group of IITians on LinkedIn. It is populated by some 4000+ IITians, with statistically most of them expected to be JPBTIs. It apparently was founded by one Gunjan Bagla, apparently an IIT Kanpur graduate and a resident of Marina Del Rey (near/part of Los Angeles), CA, USA.

Mr. Gunjan Bagala (and possibly other people responsible for managing this group) removed me from that group without alerting me about the removal in advance.

That was not only the least expected part, it also was unethical.

Note, I didn’t much care about being removed from the group. Most certainly, I didn’t at all feel insulted or whatever. The interesting points are elsewhere.

Someone, in the exchange of a few private messages in the aftermath, described this removal of mine as an act of “censorship.” No, it’s not that, I had to remind him, in that private exchange. “Censorship”  is not the term applicable here, not in this context of private individuals and their private organizations; the term primarily applies to the case where the government (at the point of a gun) suppresses the principle of free speech, out of whatever rationalization it offers, usually, some purportedly high-sounding but actually in principle only some statist/authoratarian/dictatorial element/streak within itself.  Whether that element is essential to a given government, or it’s not so essential to it, isn’t the point in matters like these. In matters involving as basic rights as free speech, it doesn’t matter whether the government i.e. the gun-wielder is “mostly” benevolent or not. The only point of relevance is: that such an element is at all active. Censorship, primarily, applies to the suppression of free speech by the government. In contrast, as I understand it, a LinkedIn group is a private group.

Yet, unlike what so many defenders of “capitalism” (esp. Indians) think, the fact that it’s a private group does not make it either automatically right or even pragmatically so. The fact that it’s a private group does not make it incapable of being unethical, immoral, or evil.

What precisely is the moral transgression here, you ask?

Please note the facts of the case again. Removal, and the concomitant denial of access to my own thoughts, without any opportunity being given to me to save my thoughts (say to my hard disk) beforehand.

No matter what be the nature of my thoughts or expressions, the removal, in this manner, represents a moral transgression on their part.

Why do I think so? OK. Here is a counter-question. Can you think of an analogy? I can. It’s called “book burning” in my terms. Effectively, it’s been that.

And, if you don’t agree with me, please let me know how I may rightfully access each comment/post, each reply, each word that I wrote, right in its own context, on my own. …

So, you see now why it is immoral, why they are immoral.

BTW, a well-meaning JPBTI asked me not to worry because it would be archived. So typical of these JPBTIs. It didn’t occur to him that I still can’t have access to my own thoughts, whether archived or not. In that case, it’s like: putting the books behind the iron curtains. Or, elavating the bastards to the status of (Sanskrit) “Chitragupta” of “puraaNa”s (the Indian mythology). But, objectively speaking, as far as I am concerned, it effectively still remains the same as book burning.

Anyway, it’s time for me to focus on something else right now, and so, let me just jot down the links to a couple of other blogs where I have made comments concerning this issue:
(i) Prof. Dheeraj Sanghi’s blog [^]
(ii) Prof. Abinandanan’s blog [^]

I will try to get these comments, as well as many other comments/replies at many other blogs/threads over here. These include, in no particular order (and without being exhaustive about it), comments about: (i) the basic philosophic ideas of consciousness, soul, etc. (ii) difference between FVM and FEM, (iii) how element shape and quality of grid affects CFD solution (if it does!), (iv) points related to my research on QM, (v) proper translation of (Sanskrit) “karmaNyevaadhikaraste…,” and a lot, lot more… Clearly, it will take time for me to get my own points, over here. Probably, I will also get move this update to a separate post by itself. But, yes, in the meanwhile, I wanted you to note this LinkedIn things related to “IIT Alumni”, esp., JPBTIs.

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

A Song I Like:
For some reason that shouldn’t be too difficult to guess by now, I will make an exception to my rule of not including this section so long as I go jobless, and note a song I like. BTW, it’s a song that happens to have been picturized on… hold your breath, Meena Kumaari !! (though, as usual, as far as this section goes, the visual aspect of a song never matters):

(Hindi): “kabhi to milegi, kanhi to milegi”
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Music: Roshan
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

[E&OE]

The JEE Idiocy

In a discussion thread at LinkedIn many months ago, I had argued for: (i) using the board marks for filtering out the top 5% or so of students who would be eligible to write the entrance test to the IITs (and by IITs, I also meant other top colleges like COEP); (ii) using a basic IQ test as the entrance test for the actual selection; (iii) deciding branches only after 3 or 4 semesters, if necessary by merit at the Institute, thereby making branch selection choices more realistic and easing pressure on a single test (for both the taker and the conductor of the test); and (iv) making programs more inter- and multi-disciplinary so that the education is more broad-based, and therefore, the branch/major is no longer a major issue in the first place.

Main benefits: (i) Students would have to take the XII board seriously. (ii) However, with the bar placed at 5% (for IITs), there wouldn’t be too much of pressure/stress on the student, and no sacrifice of a well-rounded growing-up—an actual sacrifice that is actually demanded by having to devote so much time to the JEE preparations (starting as early in the growing-up years as the VII standard). (iii) Subject competency would still be ensured by XII, as it should be. (iv) IQ tests cannot be mastered beyond a point, and preparation materials for letting anyone rise up to that point can be practically made available very easily at low cost to all, thereby also satisfactorily addressing the “denial of opportunity” issue, i.e., ensuring justice to the talented but rural and poor students who cannot avail of high-end coaching.

The main idiocy of the recent decision of the IIT Kanpur senate (chaired by a non-JPBTI Prof. Dhande) is this: They have continued the IITs’ misguided history/tradition of confusing the testing for certain narrow competencies in specific subject areas in an intensive and acute manner, as a “good” if not a “great” substitute in place of testing for the more basic (and therefore more broadly applicable, more reliable) intellectual abilities, i.e. testing in a mode that has been shown time and again to statistically correlate better with performance in future academics and life.

The reasons I call it an idiocy: These idiots are “educated,” traveled, paid (employed plus consulted) and respected (awarded with outstanding PhD thesis/gold-medal/swarnajayanti/Bhatnagar/Infosys/etc. awards) well enough for us to keep the expectation that they should have known better.

They should have been able to detect a primitive fallacy involved in taking a narrower-based conclusion and applying it to a much broader realm. This fallacy is like, for instance, confusing BJP’s development with India’s development—a milder version of uttering “Indira is India,” but involving exactly the same fallacy anyway.

Outstretching a conclusion is a very primitive fallacy, but with their obsession with deduction, and aversion to induction, it’s a very common fallacy with an overwhelming majority of intellectual Indians. Indians typically have no time or inclination for locating in reality the referents of concepts or ideas, and therefore delimiting the respective scopes of their ideas or conclusions. They not just frolic beyond the confines of specific scopes or meanings, intellectual Indians  are fond of running amok across all boundaries of any meaning at all, oftentimes also gladly passing beyond into complete meaninglessness on principle. (That they do it on principle is the point.) Outstretching a conclusion, mistaking it to apply in contexts for which it had no scope, is, thus, a very common fallacy with Indians, esp. with the intelligent and intellectual type of Indians. (Not just Brahmins, but all of them, “nav-buddhas” included.) The fallacy involved in saying that JEE performance is the one, great, settler for everything is precisely the same! (The more sober among them say that it’s one, great, settler for the UG admissions to IITs. Quantitatively speaking, most of them aren’t so sober.)

JEE is a subject-intensive examination. No matter how hard it may be (or how fair its administration and evaluation processes), you cannot change the implications arising out of this basic nature of this examination. Just the fact that it is hard does not make it suitable as an admission criterion—not even at the top end. (In fact, in case you didn’t know it, JEE *is* so hard that even the topper typically has not been able to crack more than 70% of those problems—all of which can be easily solved by an assuredly JEE-failed ordinary MSc guy, or the JPBTI’s American MS classmate, just a few years later. That’s for the automatic geniuses that the JEE toppers are deemed to be. In contrast, your average snobbish JPBTI has been able to crack only about 30–35% of those problems. They snob around, all of them. Even to someone like me who didn’t take JEE out of choice and so, JEE cannot be taken as the common basis with respect to which to snob around. And, they snob around even after reading about my research results. But, yes, I know the fact that they couldn’t crack 2/3 of the problems (and most of the times, keep that fact only in mind, but that’s reality, anyway).)

The basic limitation of any subject-based examination is that it tests the skills developed only in those specific topics. It does not aim to test intellectual abilities, per se.

From the epistemological angle, the issue involved here is the content-vs-method issue.

Due to man’s metaphysical nature, it’s the method of using his mind that matters. That is the relevant philosophical observation in general.

Now, when it comes to engineering and technology programs, they comprise of far too many inhomogeneous, diverse and practically oriented sort of courses. The programs consists of courses that are far too disparate, inhomogeneous and composite, in a sense. They demand learning to use (and to switch at will) the mind from a deeply theoretical mode and to an immediate and direct, practical mode. You cannot make a subject-primary, even a subject-intensive examination a standard to determine suitability to such courses. You must have a test that emphasizes methods. Ditto, for professional courses like medicine. I don’t know about other courses like architecture and fine arts, where artistic abilities might be tested to a greater extent. For literature and all, there could be other test formats, I don’t know. But when it comes to science and engineering, that’s something I have studied, and I do know. Methods matter far more here.

Now it’s obvious that since content and method each is an inseparable attribute, you can’t have a test that tests only the method—or even only the content. There will always be some concrete content to any test that aims to test for method (or skills in using the mind). But the point is, the required content can be made only minimally relevant, it can be made highly independent of the concretes. Tests of mental abilities like the IQ tests precisely show how to do that. Also SAT. (BTW, as I had mentioned in that thread, in Indian context, due to diversity of mother-tongues and non-uniformity in the mastery of the English language, we will probably have no choice but to drop vocabulary based questions if in English, and will have to be careful about the essay-writing type of questions. However, questions related to reading comprehension etc. can of course be included; the test need not entirely do away with the verbal section.)

Given the entirety of the context, what we actually need is a test like that–the one that focuses on the method of using the mind, the one that measures the basic intellectual skills. Call it the “IQ” test if you wish. What we need is a test like that.

But, of course, the IIT Kanpur idiots think that since the Indian government has appointed them to their hallowed posts (“we admit students on the basis of *JEE*, you see!”), no considerations of reality need enter their self-confessedly high-caliber thought processes. After all, the senatorial idiots in Virginia, USA, too, hold their JPBTIs in high esteem, right? If so, then how do the demands made by the metaphysical nature of man, of knowledge, of S&T knowledge, matter when *they*, as a group, collectively decide that it must be a subject-based test like the JEE?

Don’t say that the suggestion is impractical. For years, a similar format used to be implemented for the National Talent Search Examination. The format was found to be quite successful.  Even when the pressure was undue: selection of just 500. When you are going to select some 10,000 folks, the pressure is far far less. With the population increasing as we go highest merit to lower merit, test reliability at the cut-off can be far better.

Also, another very important point.

One wonders if people (possibly including the above-mentioned IIT Kanpur idiots) have not been deliberately confusing the government-enforced protection of the JEE coaching industry, with Capitalism. Don’t think that just because IITs are described (in the Times of India as well as all other gazettes) as islands of excellence, a deliberate confusion like that isn’t possible. Human nature can be far more degraded than that. (Check out the entries with tags like “ethics,” “misconduct/fraud,” “plagiarism” etc. at academic blogs like nanopolitan.)

The JEE coaching industry is worth thousands of crores annually—more than all the IITs budgets put together. I do often see a defense of coaching being offered where arguments are laced with terms from capitalism.

In this context of Capitalism and all, let me remind them of another one of my opinions (mentioned right in that LinkedIn thread—and,  noticeably, not actively supported by a single JPBTI): First, IITs should be privatized. Second, as a consequence, each IIT should design its own education programs and conduct entrance tests appropriate to those programs. Third, if *I* were to be the decision maker at a privatized IIT, I would hold the above-mentioned two tier process: XII as filter + IQ for main selection + counseling for branch selection after 3–4 semesters. I think it would make my IIT better than the others—including more profitable. That’s why. (And when I mention profitable, I mean it in the proper hierarchical sense, not in the sense of putting the cart ahead of the horse: money would follows better standards, better products, provided that it’s a free market, but money wouldn’t by itself and automatically lead to better products, better standards—positive actions by productive men would.)

I regret that I share an alma mater with Prof. Dhande—an institution that had showed him the benefits of branch allocations after 2 semesters. His, therefore, is the most inexcusable error. But, of course, he is assuredly not alone. People (i.e. professors at IITs) prominently display their US-top-5 universities PhD/post-doc affiliations on their resumes and Web pages, and still behave (or perhaps even pretend) as if they have never known about how SAT delivers better results in the USA. It’s the same test that had selected the guides of these idiots’ PhD theses, and also these idiots’ junior research associates during their post-docs, and also these idiots’ collaborators. (Sometimes, there wasn’t even a SAT. But noticing such things is just far too much to expect from these hallowed bureaucrats. And bureaucrats is what IIT professors de facto are. (If you don’t believe me, take the Xerox of your mark-sheet and ask a Ratan Tata or a Mukesh Ambani to attest it for you. Then, go to any one of these IIT idiots.))

Idiotic. That’s what most all of their arguments, debates, and even conclusions are… Anyway, what better to expect from Indians—esp. those running the IITs?

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Notice that even as these idiots (i.e. IIT professors) plan for yet another foreign trip (they are allowed one every two/three years, and once allowed, how can they say no?), yet another fully paid time-pass sabbatical (more than a year at a stretch, they are allowed one), and, far more importantly, eyeing yet another award (they *need* to feel good—there is no JEE after JEE, only awards are possible, so they need to get those awards to make them feel good), do remember, I go jobless.

I go jobless, despite all my achievements.

Remember that.

And, remember that not a single JPBTI has done anything about it—neither could one expect for these bastards do anything in the future either. Not unless some American (preferably a white one) does something to them by way of pushing them in that direction. Not until then. … And, now, if I factor in what I know about Americans….

But even if not with JPBTIs, I could get a job. Remember that. And do something about it.

[E&OE]

Playing the Second Fiddle to “Accomplishments Based on Short Term Reputations”

0. This post puts together a series of tweets I wrote last week or so. This post was meant to be uncharacteristically short because I am once again down with cough (together with 1/4th if not 1/2 of Pune). Those anti-histamines tend to make you both hazy and lazy. But then, as I began typing, it exceeded 3000 words! You are warned.

1. The whole thing began with charges of plagiarism by Prof. Ashok Kumar, a faculty with the department of biological sciences and bioengineering, at IIT Kanpur. Look up the ‘net for more information. The charges seem serious because Elsevier also issued a retraction notice, for lifting materal from, of all sources, Wikipaedia!! According to the “Nanopolitan” blog maintained by Prof. Abinandanan of IISc Bangalore, this was the first time that an IIT faculty was being implicated for plagiarism charges.

The blogosphere immediately went abuzz with expressions of shock, disgust, anger, “WTF” etc. Understandably so.

What I failed to understand was the reason why was the community would get so agitated. … Don’t get me wrong. My reasons to failing to understand them have nothing to do with supporting plagiarism but instead wanting to put the issue in context.

Plagiarism is detestable, I thought, but having observed the research and academic community’s reactions (or rather, the absence of such a thing as any reaction at all) over other similar issues for more than past two decades, I began to wonder why this obsession with plagiarism itself.

I mean, when it comes to the lack of integrity, in particular, the scientific integrity, there are umpteen other ways absolutely to go wrong too. And, to my dismay, I have found that many of those who are most (or most influentially) vocal against plagiarism, or their very near colleagues have been caught, by none other than me, say with their pants down. (I can cite at least two Padma awardees in this list.)

And then, what really bugged me down was Prof. Abinandanan’s not-so-recent and still continuing tirade against Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, FRS, one of persons of (recent) Indian science that I happen to admire most.

In Abi’s case, there seemed to be something going beyond mere personal grouches. After all, I recall that in the year 2003 I had applied to his department for a PhD admission, with two conditions: I will supply my own research topic, and I will not disclose all the information in publications, in view of any possible internatioal patents.

His department (Abi was with them back then too, and so feel free to take the absence of his comments to this post as merely affirmation of the remaining parts of this sentence) was at best most mildly lukewarm to the first idea (namely that I will work on my project idea) and at best mildly antogonistic to the second (with “If patents and all is what you want to do, doing PhD here will be impossible” being an average reply).

Notice also that by that time (2003), in India, not only IIT Bombay and IIT Kharagpur, but also the University of Pune had already put in place an Intellectual Property Rights policy. The UoP part is in part surprising because the rest of the IITs—and Abi’s IISc—had not done so. It is not so surprising when you realize that Dr. Mashelkar was actively promoting IPRs both within CSIR and outside of it, and with NCL PhDs being attached with UoP, had considerable influence at UoP.

Juxtapose these two sets of facts, and you begin to get a sense of what I am driving at: namely, that there seems to be more than a mere personal grouch when Abi, or any other IISc, JNU, Calicut/Kochi etc. professor (or, for the sake of completeness, say a minion of Jairam Ramesh BTech IIT Bombay’s), begins to attack people like Mashelkar.

A bit personal about why I add Ramesh here. When I was being “followed up” in Indu Jain’s Times of India during those shining BJP years, two names, I noticed, stood out in actively participating in those follow-ups. One: Dr. Vasant Gowariker (I guess an uncle of Ashutosh Gowariker’s). Two: an “intelligent” and “good-looking” politician (by his own admission) and an (I am sure permanently) aspiring eco-terrorist, Jairam Ramesh. Contrast: One prominent personality who did not fall to their low standards despite himself writing frequently for Times of India in those days (but who also didn’t help me in any real sense, beyond library help) was: Prof. Jayant Narlikar.

Let me put it bluntly. The matter begins to smell of a dead rat (or rotten fish, if you are a Bengali), when a person, or group, or network of them is consistently vocal against plagiarism, but equally consistently shy of commenting on any other violations of scientific integrity—no matter how blatant—and then also manages to summon the muscle power to rant against people of the character and stature of Mashelkar’s.

Yet, I don’t think the rants against Mashelkar are worth taking a serious note of. Furthermore, I would rather let Dr. Mashelkar speak for himself—if he thinks there is a need to do so. Here, on my blog I would rather focus on the sufferings and setbacks that I myself have had to face and endure (and have to continue doing so) because of an academic-research-scientific establishment of low scientific integrity. Most notably, including IIT Bombay and IISc Bangalore.

3. Plagiarism is one way to lost integrity. But, is it the only one? Can you think of any other?

While writing tweets, rather on the fly, I could think of the following. Please see if you can add to these:

  • Denying admission to a PhD program if a candidate, otherwise fully qualified and shortlisted and all, says that he has already formulated the main research topic for his PhD, and, for various contextual reasons, would be interested in pursuing only that topic. (He is willing to name specific topics for at least three anticipated research papers, but the committee discussion is either steered or, worse, “evolves” in such a way that he cannot get to that part at all, but instead is laughed at.)
  • Studied ignorance of even dramatic claims (such as first in 200 years). Need I comment more?
  • Declining to examine a PhD thesis even if there are 5+ peer-reviewed internatioal conference papers as a support material.
  • Declining to examine a PhD thesis even if the candidate claims that it involves only such mathematics as can be understood by an undergraduate of engineering, on the grounds that “I don’t understand it,” and “it is not my specialization,” or, this gem: “I will have to learn new things before I undestand it, for which, I have no time.” (More than one person said it, and not all had been graduated by the University of California at Berkeley.)
  • Refusal to reply emails
    • concerning the singularity at the envelope of a vortex ring, sent to a guy who has an American PhD in CFD, is a faculty at an IIT, and yaps a lot on the ‘net (including against Ayn Rand)
    • concerning voxel-based processing, sent to an Indian gal, who has an American PhD in graphics, is a faculty in an American university
    • concerning quantum mechanical wave particle duality (sent to many)
  • Improper rejection of paper: Did the CERN people really reject my paper for considerations of a perceived lack of merit? What do you think? Or was it because I explicitly cited Ayn Rand, taking the care to cite a least controversialpiece—to the effect that we should not reject alternative hypotheses or theories without due consideration. Can anything get more mainstream in science? And, if not, quoting Professor T. A. Abinandanan, let me ask: “WTF were you folks thinking?” (Disclosure: Prof. Abinandanan is not related to me by way of affiliation, employer, discipline—or philosophic convictions.)
  • Not answering queries posted at collegial blogging fora such as iMechanica. Studied silence, in short.
  • Grabbing prizes (up to Rs. 50 lakhs, no less) for work on “quantum gravity” but declaring, physically sitting across the table and to the face of an official PhD student, that one does not know the quantum wave-particle duality—not even sufficiently to the extent that a simple two-part paper claiming to resolve it, already published, can be read and commented upon. What more proof do you want the corruption of the scientificspirit (i.e. the lack of moral integrity for doing science and occupying positions in institutions funded by the tax-payer’s money) is rampant. (In Indian media, they often use the term “rampant” in such a way that without consulting a dictionary, one might conclude that it means “wide-spread.” The actual meaning is: standing upright—but on the hind-legs. The term applies to animals, as they assume an attacking posture. That’s what rampant means. Not afraid of assuming a towering posture so as to win a fight, but in the context of animals other than Man. (Yes, Indian media, go ahead, take your revenge—use this word from now onwards for certain politicians like Mr. Sharad Pawar.) )
  • Raising non-relevant issues: For example. You talk of potential flow as the simplified case, relevant only as the first step towards the Helmholtzian fields (the linear second-order PDEs). The person (a researcher, not an industrial engineer) goes: So, have use used fluent for modeling multi-phase flows? Don’t laugh. It would be a matter of incompetence if done honestly. It is a matter of shamelssly dropping integrity because it can be, and is routinely done deliberately. Here is another example of the same kind: You arrange to tell an Emeritus Professor of Physics that after 1.5 years, finally, two people have agreed to examine the PhD thesis, but the topic is such that if the third examiner is a physicist, it would be great. The guy (with a US PhD and IIT teaching experience—with one of his female students heading a group at IISc) goes: “The problem seems to be well defined. He might have done some work. (Huh!) But, since I am not a computational physicist, I cannot examine this.” What kind of integrity-keeping is that, Professor Sharad Patil—especially if you know that the guy has been made to run from the post to the pillar even after paper publications and for 1.5 years after thesis submission? What kind of integrity-keeping is that, Huzurpaga-trained Professor Rohini Godbole? (This nullifies the media significance of quoting Sharad Pawar above. Recently, the local dailies like the daily Sakal—which, unlike at least three other Marathi newspapers including Lokmat, didn’t publish the news of my PhD, what with a Dalit-Bramhim combo editing the show—had published pix showing Mr. Pawar attending a function at Huzurpaga, and similar ones for IIT Bombay etc. But yes, keep aside the media significance, but one would still want to raise that question, pertaining specifically to the virtue of integrity. )
  • Asking to study irrelevant matters. Not always a fool-proof indicator of lack of integrity (and, for that matter, nothing is!). But consider this. You say you have a new theory that has testable new consequences. The guy goes: “Better learn XYZ theory first.” Examples: A loathesome guy (I mean a Professor) from IISc recently asked me to first study Feynman’s theory. He, thus, evaded the responsibility of judging the merits of my approach. And, notice, I wasn’t even saying: “My theory correctly reproduces every result as predicted by the standard theory.” I most emphatically was not saying: “I have reformulated the entirety of QM.” In that hypothetical case, the IISc professor might, hypothetically perhaps, have been justified. After all, there are loonies too. But, still, I say, that IISc professor might only be hypothetically justified. The reason? I am a mainstream and official PhD, with proper mainstream publication avenues, with proper mainstream earlier academic credentials (including the very public interaction with other mainstream academics and researchers on the ‘net). And, regardless, I was not saying I have reformulated the entirety of QM. What made this IISc professor go so arrogant? (If you think that he is the sort who thinks that none should talk about QM without 10 years of university education and post-doc experience, consider this: this guy does not mind being a “guide” to his school-going child who wins a prize abroad for an innovative paper on QM that employs the Dirac bra-ket notation. Tell me, can this child be such a genius? Or, given the prevaling mores and ethos in Indian science, it is more likely that the parent wrote the paper and the kid played around with the toy and was told enough things (and even understood enough things) that an infinitesimal but nonzero chance does exist for the kid to claim co-authorship? Any comments on that IIT Bombay Gold Medalist IISc Professor Apoorva Patel? And, oh, don’t feel that you have no company. Paddy’s daughter, Padma, happened to win a similar (or the same) prize while still only in her BSc program, and it was a pure coincidence that her paper had a treatment of electrodynamics in a vein remarkably similar to her father’s (and also that one hasn’t heard too many advances being made by her since winning the Award). Again, let me emphasize who I am (or, regardless of my admittedly poor writing style) against. It isn’t the kids (even though I name them). It is: their parents. I have seen enough incompetents walk away with enough trophies that a couple of prizes here don’t make a difference to me. (For that matter, I myself had won many trophies while in school—at least 2/3 every year, if not 4/5—and distinctly remember not even just wanting not to display them, such a thing showing a certain gross-ness, but even offering consoling words to them that it didn’t matter we lived in such a middle-of-middle homes that there couldn’t even be a decent place to keep a show-case in which could be displayed those trophies. Yes, I was that … and what’s the word I want here? … phlegmatic? abstract? Whatever, I was that unconcerned about winning even while in school. I have not changed in this respect a lot since then. So, certainly, my point isn’t these kids. It is: their Professor parents (and Profesor “uncles,” “aunties,” etc.)  If a person comes to you with a new thoery which he says can lead to a new prediction, are you going to ask him to go back and hit library, even while “guiding” one’s own school-going kid in this way? I ask you: The two things taken together, is this, or is this not, a violation of scientific integrity? Yes or No?
  • Releaseing enticing advertisements for post-doc positions (or industy employment), only to not even acknowledgment the receipt of the application. Of course I do mean the IIT Bombay alumnus and UC Davis Professor Sukumar. But he emphatically is not alone. The situation is so pathetic that, as far as iMechanica is concerned, I cannot be sure of any job advertisements coming anywhere from USA or Europe except for those from a very very few groups, notably, that of John Dolbow, a few from Technion—but none from Oxford, Cambridge, or much of the rest of Europe. (I also include here my observations of the “evolution” of paper submission at arXiv, over the past 5+ years.) Games playing is at an all time high. And, I, personally, have maintained enough integrity to say that their integrity is at an all time low.

I could go on. But it already has exceeded 2,500 words.

Therefore, I have no stamina left for what, I hoped in the beginning, would be the last 1/4 or 1/3 part of this post. Namely, the standards employed for awarding tenure at MIT, and the Indian scientist’s intense desire (as judged from their actions at the time of PhD admissions) to determinedly play only a Second Fiddle to the likes of the MIT.

I may come back and try to finish this part sometime later. No guaruntees, because one of my conference papers has been accepted and I have to finish writing software for it as well as the paper itself, by this month-end. As such, I will have no time to blog for the rest of the month. At least, I should avoid doing so unless the software and the paper is complete. I will try to avoid the temptation, but, sure, leave me alone for a while. (I have observed that I begin to get psychic tensions, if not attacks, if there is a longer gap between blog-posts and even tweets. These California/American pscychics—and possibly their “friends” and co-forces elsewhere) aren’t going to stop. But, yes, there is almost a computer-game like precision to what they do. There is a psychic tension if (i) I don’t post, or (ii) other people (preferably those from USA) don’t write back me emails, (iii) other people don’t release posts or articles even if 2-3 degrees (out of the famous six degrees of separation) favoring one of my recent positions, and (iv) any or all of the above. Given the precision, I feel sure that the US government’s psi-forces must be responsible for so attacking me. If not that, then, Christianity. Such a precision—and regularity across a span of a decade-plus of time— would be possible only to those bustards and bitches who are protected by a fifty-year discolure deadline, or the hierachy-upon-hierarchy and country-after-county network believing in psi-forces. (The communists among the bustards and bitches are networked—but outside of their ruling governments, they don’t believe in the existence of the psi-forces. And, going by my experience—the timing and all—the matter concerns the mystics of the soul. Might as well add. I did suspect (and still do look out for the possibility of) the BJP being in this. But, frankly, once they were out of the power at the center, I don’t think I have received any attacks from them. (Unlike what many people imagine, the attacks are not random. They have a sharp purpose of wanting to influence opinions, policy, etc. That is the reason why one can make out who could possibly be behind the attacks at any given moment—via a process which, I think, could be said to the method of systematic elimination.))

So, leave me alone. (Or, make up by writing me emails/comments, more uniformly distributed, over the next two weeks.) I have a paper to finish, and, not just a paper, but also a piece of software—all by myself, without having a couple of IISc/IIT Bombay graduate students, and far more importantly, their library facilities, at my disposal. The MIT tenure policy is an interesting matter (LOL!—at them), but it can wait.

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A Song I Like
(Hindi) “gayaa andheraa, hua ujaalaa, chamka chamka subah kaa taaraa…”
Singers: Talat Mahmood and Lata Mangeshkar
Music: C. Ramachandra
Lyrics: Noor Lucknowi

[Corrected the song credits; thanks gaddeswarup. However, this post still is to be updated, edited and streamlined after a week or so, in any case, not in the very immediate future.]

[E&OE]

[Largely] Unjustified Comments on the IIT JEE

Here are some of the initial thoughts that passed my mind while reading the recent news items concerning the proposed scraping of the IIT JEE. I noticed this development when Dr. T. A. Abinandanan pointed the news via posts here [^] and here [^],  and provided a link to the original The Telegraph news item here [^]. Also see certain IITians’ petition against this decision that Abi referred to, here [^].

An explanation about the title of this post: I call my comments “unjustified” not because these cannot be justified but only because I do not explicitly provide adequate level of justification for them here. And then, I searched for a word to stand for what I had in mind, but didn’t find any. … Anyway: don’t expect an essay-like write-up here; expect only a few points towards jotting down my positions, and some of the related things that strike me. … BTW, I am not a professional writer—only an engineer (in the sense: engineer-cum-physicist), and, for that matter, both my composition skills and English are poor.

Thus having [skillfully] dodged all the responsibility and having absolved myself of all the consequences, here I go:

1. In a proper government, there is no right to education—there are only the individual rights.

For more information (actually, enlightenment) on the idea of individual rights, go to Ayn Rand. [If you don’t have the brains to know how to or where to find the writings by her, about her, or the writings by people qualified to be called her students/followers, stop reading this blog post.] Her writings is the broad context I assume here.

2. In a properly constituted and governed nation, there are no government-run entrance examinations—whether a single examination for a single institute, or a single examination for several institutes bunched together under a single “brand” owned by the government, or several examinations for single/several institutes.

The entire domain of education—like every sphere of production and trade—is left completely free of the coercive government controls. In the context of education, the freedom includes that for founding and running universities including sub-tasks such as hiring teachers/professors and administrators to run them, designing programs and setting syllabus, conducting examinations and evaluating performance, and giving out certificates/degrees. Also, admitting students, and the criteria applied while doing so. Not a single aspect or activity in education would have even a shadow of government controls.

I hear that parents are willing to shell out lakhs of Rupees on coaching classes. Reputations can be, and indeed are, built that way—without government help (actually, hindrance).

3. It’s possible to advocate a gradual lessening of the improper government controls. I mean this statement only in one particular sense: advocating a course of ever-decreasing government controls, one in which government comes to cease interfering with economy (including services) within a finite and reasonable time-frame, cannot be taken as compromising on basic principles of free markets (i.e. laissez-faire capitalism in Ayn Rand’s sense of the term).

4. It’s ridiculous for today’s educated Indian not to see through the decidedly socialistic nature of  “brand-“building for IITs (including the IIT JEE). It’s even more ridiculous if a JEE IITian fails to see it. (By JEE IITian, I mean those graduates of IITs who had entered the institutes via the JEE route, as against say, the GATE or any other route.) I say so on several counts: (i) IITs are owned by the government, (ii) JEE is conducted by the government, (iii) the concept of brand has meaning only in the context of free markets.

5. It is improper to attempt to gain support for the idea of a government-run nationwide entrance examination, by making appeal to Olympiads/SAT/GRE etc. The propensity to make comparisons with the specifically 20th (and worse: 21st) century American institutions is nothing but a symptom indicating the basic inability to think in terms of principles. This is one ability that should have been cultivated by any purportedly good education system, e.g. IITs, but evidently doesn’t seem to be.

6. It’s completely shameless on the part of the JEE IITian to try to elevate the JEE brand even above the standards indicated by “the best in/from India”.

The JEE IITian would do well to remember the last time he, his father, or better still, his father-in-law, had received a world-class medical opinion, may be, even a surgery, in India. Then, he should consider the fact that the MBBS program has never had a JEE; that all admissions have always been made on the basis of XII board (or similar) examinations.

Yes, he might also wish to consider statistical aspects—the distribution function for the best to the mediocre among the medical graduates produced by a system that always had board examinations as its input criterion. The results may still surprise him.

I won’t point out the profile of engineers produced by the “other” colleges to a typical JEE IITian, because I know through my personal experience that it would be impossible to overcome the inestimable heights of his JEE-bigotry barrier. But, yes, the case of MBBS might be acknowledged by him to be a bit different.

7. Still, it must be noted that as many as 35% to 50% of the JEE IITian fail to even merely qualify at GATE.

Take a moment to realize what this means. Suppose that 3000 JEE pass folks were admitted to the IITs about 5–10 years ago (the intake capacity was comparatively smaller back then). Almost every one of these 3,000 might proudly tell you that he had had an AIR of within 3,000 out of, say, about 3 lakh aspirants—a selection ratio of 1 in 100 and whatnot. (Refer to their sites—even the official IIT sites—for more hype of this sort.)

Now assume that, putting all branches together, about 1 lakh students sat for GATE. (The figures are like 20 to 30 thousand candidates each for bigger branches like Mechanical and Civil, and so, the total figure of 1 lakh should not be too off the mark.)

What these IITian chappies—and their Professors, Deans, and Directors—won’t tell you is this: about one in every two or three of this “cream of cream” fails to fall within the top 30,000 rank.

And this abysmal performance arises despite the following facts: (i) going by their own words, they had been given the very best of education, (ii) in any case they had far more resources spent on them (perhaps a factor—not percentage—of 10, 25, or more), and (iii) perhaps worst: these IITians, unlike the students coming from “other” engineering colleges had ample opportunity to get used to the style and difficulty level for the kind of questions that would be set at GATE. After all, GATE question papers are set (and evaluated) by the same (or the same kind of) professors who had taught these IITians for as many as 4 years.

8. No matter what be the content, format, or method of conducting an examination, scores produced by any examination will always be, at best, only estimates of the true ability profile.

I plan to post the extent of correlation existing between university BE marks and GATE scores some time in future. (In advance, let me say this much: GATE paper questions tend to be better than those at the typical university examinations. And, the correlation tends to be poor. So much for the “great grades all throughout.” Never confuse persistence or continuity of the effort on the one hand and the consistency of “straight A” grades on the other.)

But coming back to the “estimate” thing. The issue here is not that there is some sort of an inherent epistemological  “uncertainty” to scores or evaluations. Or that there is an in-principle inability to precisely determine the objective worth of a candidate.  Not that. The issue here is: what you mean by “precisely.”

There is always a finite band to the results of any examination. The band arises due to sampling—not statistics per say, but because of the fact that the actual examination is only a sub-set of all possible questions that can properly be asked. Therefore, the same candidate, with exactly the same preparation (and keeping aside any other variables such as mental mood, energy, etc.) will still perform differently, purely because the profile of the knowledge acquired by him is not uniform across all sub-topics. One question may emphasize one sub-sub-sub topic that the candidate has in fact understood somewhat better than another sub-sub-sub topic. These ups and downs in the level of understanding are always present. They remain there right up to the very top level of performance. (The existence of unevenness of grasp across topics is true even for those people who score a perfect 100/100 marks on examinations.) The band I had in mind actually refers to this kind of a range. To believe that it don’t exist is to fool yourself—which is what most students (esp. those who excel), parents, teachers, administrators, employers, and all are busy doing all the time.

Here I wish to point out that the GRE booklets used to acknowledge that there was a “band” to their scores. Firstly, they would point out that your scores could improve by several hundred points if you were to invest enough time in preparation and practice. Secondly, as a separate point (and this indeed is a separate point), they would also point out that the score could easily be different by a range of about +/- 30-40 score points over the range of the maximum 800 points. I don’t remember if they would gave the range in terms of std deviation or not. But I do remember that +/- 30-40 points was the extent of the range.  Notice how huge that range—that band—is: for a guy with a 750 score, this range implies that his score could have been as low as 710 and as high as 790.  A lot of change occurs over such a range. May be, it’s as big as going from 92 percentile up to 98 percentile or down to 86 percentile.

The ETS people were honest.

Would the JEE IITians go ahead and identify (in the standard deviations terms or in any other) the band or the range for their scores at the higher end?

9. Treating all board examinations to be completely at par with each other commits the offense of egalitarianism.

The injury does not go away even if you do some jumping around through the statistical hoops—say via “percentile score, normalized via doubly conducted higher-order multi-parameter regression analysis.” It all still might mean that a brilliant student from Maharashtra is displaced by a lesser guy from Uttar Pradesh.

Yes, BITS Pilani has always been doing this. But then, remember: the Birlas are not the Government of India. And, less importantly: BITS Pilani graduates are not known to rest their reputations on the performance they had displayed before getting into their alma matter. The JEE IITians, in contrast, regularly do.

10. The taste of the pudding is in the eating.

Education is not the same as a recreational game. Education is supposed to be a means to help you live your life better—by expanding/improving your efficacy—by expanding your conceptual abilities (or knowledge) in terms of both contents and skills.

. . . . .

May be, more on this topic, later.

– – – – –

A Song I Like:

(Hindi) “waadiyaan meraa daaman, raaste meri baahen..”
Music: R. D. Burman
Singer: Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

[PS: Updated on April 19, 2010, by inserting what now is point # 7. Also to be further improved some time later… BTW, ]

How Our Parliamentarians Behave—And Why

There is an excellent article by Professor Dipankar Gupta in yesterday’s Times of India.  An article like this was both timely and necessary.

I hardly watch TV. However, I did watch some part of the debate in parliament on July 22, and was just about wondering whether the kind of worthies that Professor Gupta highlights (the elected members of India’s parliament) should not be crane lifted off the floor of the house and immediately thereafter fully dipped in an adjoining water pool, by way of punishment, if they do not just behave. (Should this fantasy of mine be taken up for implementation, I am willing to be simultaneously both the judge and the crane operator.)

However, despite all the enormously perceptive observations he makes regarding our politicians, I think Professor Gupta fails to hit on the reason that our politicians behave thusly.

For instance, I remember here the n number of “GBM”s we used to have in COEP hostels. “GBM” is the long form of (usually, annually held) General Body Meeting of the student-run hostel mess. At COEP, the student mess consisted of 4 different clubs, each club being run entirely by students themselves. Each club had an elected body of student volunteers to manage all the aspects of running the mess. The clubs would run without any interference from the rectors or wardens. (Remarkable, given that 19 and 20 year old students would run a budget of some Rs. 1.5 lakhs of those times—25 years back—with a rare efficiency.) OK. Enough about the background. The relevant thing here is the GBMs. At GBMs, the meeting agenda mainly used to include presentation of the balance sheet and its approval. Naturally, things such as the appointment of cooks and more importantly, of grocery contractors, the prevailing market rates of vegetables and supplies versus their actual purchase costs, with more than hints of corruption by the mess managers, etc. used to be part and parcel of it all.

Notice, many of these people (the then COEP students) have now come to occupy very responsible positions in our society. They have become, e.g., public sector or government officers, V/Ps and CEOs in MNCs, entrepreneurs, Partners in V/C firms, etc.

Yet, their behavior on the floor of the house during GBMs used to be remarkably different. The entire show used to be very remarkably similar to the usual proceedings in the Indian parliament.

Later on, I came to see something quite similar happen even at the Student Affairs Council (SAC) of IIT Madras. Being watched over a little more closely by the faculty, the proceedings at the SAC were not always as crass as the COEP GBMs, to be sure.

But still, the tendency to be over-emotional in both speech and gestures, with physical posturings of aggression, gesticulations, melodramatics, etc. following every word uttered and every “dialog” rendered, were all present even at the SAC. (For those 1985-86 IIT Madras alumni who now read this, and want to disagree with these observations, please remember the “debate” that had then occurred over whether the house carry out the “censure” motion or not.) At the SAC, the English words being used were, certainly, more sophisticated. The reason is not very difficult to guess either—the words would then be fresh in short term memory, being taken off those GRE verbal guides. Of course, the subtle nuance would not always match, but that precisely is the point under the present discussion. The improper use of the words and the accompaniment of all those emotional dramatics to go with those rather sophisticated words, were very similar to what would happen in Marathi at COEP.

So, not just the largely rural (and Marathi-speaking) population living in COEP hostels, but even the predominantly metro-based student population at the SAC of IIT Madras also displayed a behavior pattern which was very similar to what we just saw last week on the floor of the parliament.

And, whether in parliament, or in the student bodies at COEP or IIT Madras, there always were a few members who preferred to remain plain onlookers. They simply did not get worked up over __any__ thing. And committed to nothing. In principle. And there were few who were influential, but did behave right/properly. And there were some who spoke passionately, and yet, did it just too well. All these kind of people were there too, though they did not define the main behaviour pattern on the floor. Ignoring such people for the time being, however, the question still remains:

Why does the phenomenon of that over-emotional or plain improper kind of behavior seem so wide-spread?

I mean the phenomenon does cut across: (i) age, (ii) educational background, (iii) family background, (iv) IQ, (v) general social sophistication, etc. Not just a third-class-matric-pass half-criminal from the rural areas of one of the BiMaRaU states in his late 50s or 60s, but also the otherwise geeky kind of a bespectacled 20 year old IITian coming from the best English-medium high schools of India also showed remarkably similar behavior pattern—the pattern mentioned above.

Here, Professor Gupta’s explanation does seem to fall short. If so, what is it that can explains this curious phenomenon?

I think the answer could perhaps be found in things like the following: (i) the underlying basic ideas of what a democratic setup constitutes and entails—the mob rule always being a very definite and nearby possibility, in principle; (ii) the subsequent recognition by each “debating” member that it is emotions rather than reason which would truly rule in that kind of a setup (at least to a dominant extent even if not exclusively so); and so (iii) words (i.e concepts, reality) assuming a _subservient_ role to the needs of expressing merely emotionally done up affinities; (iv) the consequent idea that to fail to emotionally over-dramatize is to fail to pull the floor towards one’s own position (whether one’s own position was reasoned one or not being a secondary consideration); and (v) a kind of psychoepistemology that kicks one’s person into everything (action, gestures) which would be required to make “a killing” in that kind of a setup.

I think it is some factors of this kind which could better explain the subject of Professor Gupta.

Of course, the above ideas of mine are not all that well thought out…. I don’t think I really got a good handle on the specific issue.

And yet, I think that what I have jotted above is extremely relevant. I mean, democracy, by itself, only means the rule by the numbers. In such a game, the blind mob rule is a possibility that is never far too behind. That is something which our intellectuals must realize better, i.e., more consistently.

Also, I am sure there is a lot to be said about other subtle ideas too. For instance, the very Indian version of the ideas of altruism in the family and social contexts of the politicians; the very deeply en-rooted and ancient Indian ideas of what metaphysical role can the state (i.e. “Sarkar”—not exactly the government, but the state) have in citizen’s life; etc. I think ideas like such, too play a vital role in creating the “texture” of the kind of discourse we have in our public debates and in parliament. (For instance, just observe the difference of Oprah Winfrey’s Show from, e.g., Barkha Dutt’s “We the People” show, or one of Rajdeep Sardesai’s political debates/shows.)

And still, yes, there are a ton of other points which Professor Gupta so deftly touches on, even in this brief article of his. So, go ahead. Do read it in original if you have not done so already. (And then, perhaps, come back once again here, and read this one once again!!)

Just one passing comment. For quite some time I have tought that Professor Gupta is a curious case. He is a rare “tweed coat” who, despite teaching sociology (of all places, at JNU), manages to remain readable, even reasonable, in a straight-forward kind of way. That’s rare, don’t you agree with me?

I mean, one does not agree with Professor Gupta’s positions many times. But that’s not very important. The important point is: Unlike a whole long queue of socialist academics in the Indian universities, Professor Gupta does often write in a refreshingly observant sort of way. (By way of comparison, pick up virtually any column in “Frontline” e.g., any position on any issue taken by Ms. Jayati Ghosh (or Ghose—I am not sure about the spelling of her name.)) And then, the other side of the typical writers. with globalization and privatization, there has been a new breed of writers who declare themselves to be pro-free-market. But only rarely does their writing acquire depth—the kind of depth which is achieved only with serious thought, the academic rigour (not always a bad thing), a humane kind of concern with the issues being discussed, and an easy kind of “culturedness” (if that’s the word for it). Gupta’s or Swamy’s (of Swaminomics column in ToI) typical writing does show it. Also, sometimes (but far more frequently than is generally acknowledged) the writing and the journalism of Shekhar Gupta does show it. But my concern here is not to create a recommendation list of sorts.

The really important point is this: Today’s India needs such writers—those who can write with depth, but remain readable and understandable by the layman. However, we fall woefully short on the supply of such writers. … Asking IITians to write is not the solution. And neither is asking the IIM graduates to do so.

The job squarely belongs to the humanities professors. … Writing, they have always been doing. The point is, they should begin writing with depth—and with reason.

If the ideas that the humanities department professors keep on advocating begin to be more pro-reason, then, as a matter of a causal law, the society in general and the parliamentarians in particular, will, necessarily, also begin to show a more reasonabe behavior. It’s not all an accident that our best behaved parliamentarians also have been the men who were actually brought up in, or were influenced by, the more pro-reason institutions or universities or cultural backgrounds: Nehru did his university studies at Cambridge; Vajpayee, a university graduate even in his times, spent his early time in newspaper journalism—which is a specifically Western innovation that, by its essential nature, very delicately depends on and facilitates reason; Sharad Pawar was sent right in his university-student days to the UN cultural fora, and is a product of Pune—a city which is distinguished for education (a city which, among other people, had once also produced Namdaar Gokhale, the political Guru of Mahatma Gandhi)…. It also is no accident that our Rajyasabha members are, as a rule of thumb, far better behaved in public and on the floor than are our Loksabha members. In comparative terms (alone), reason has a better chance in Rajyasabha appointments whereas the demos, i.e. the sheer numbers (which, in today’s cultural context, directly translates into blind, emotionalist masses) has a far better chance with Loksabha elections.

Despite what our humanities professors tell us, “democracy,” by itself, means nothing. It requires the cultural context of reason to make its power effective in the direction of social progress. Otherwise, social downfall is the direction in which its powers operate. The behavior shown by the British parliamentarians versus our MPs provides another example of what even an implicit culture context can do on the floor of the house, i.e. if the contrast of our own Rajyasabha vs. Loksabha is not enough.

It’s high time that __a majority of__ our humanities professors began being more pro-reason. Just an exception here and there (especially in the English media alone) won’t do. A majority of them must uplift themselves, completely on their own. There is a social challenge which is growing big __on them__.

(This version: 1.0. I may change the flow of the argument here and there, or change the selection of the words a bit (English _is_ my second language, not first), but the overall arugment here will remain as is.)