Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do we spend too much?

I read a blog post by my brother's friend (Not tagging here, because I want to be honest about my comments on the article and not offend anyone!) It wasn't very well written and wasn't the most thought-out of articles, but it got me thinking. This guy was basically writing about the petrol price and then he was trying to say that we should not just blame petrol, but the fact that we as people have started spending more.
Honestly, I don't think that justifies the petrol price increase. And I cannot say that our economy is among the best managed ones (though we have had some pretty good managing sometimes!), nor do I want to get into the whole "Oh-our-politicians-are-so-corrupt" routine (they are, and they get away with most of it, and its impact is more for a developing country like ours etc., but that's beside the point!)

What I was really thinking about was his minor premise that we as people are spending more. I guess he intended it as a negative thing. And it got me thinking. Is it really bad to have a laptop and a smartphone? AND a tablet?  And this writer really wanted to say that our parents could manage living on very less. He doesn't mention it, but I guess he meant to say that they were as happy as could be. Definitely, it is not as if we are much happier than they are, though we may be so on different terms.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The right, the wrong and the relatively...

There is some pleasure in listening to your own thoughts expressed by someone else. Most of the time, if not always, we are pleased when someone agrees with us. Or believes in something we believe in. Especially so, if it is for the same reasons. Maybe it is some sort of ego thing in human beings. Or maybe it is the selfish meme at work. While I am not generally a fan of people who always agree with me (which is obviously impossible), it does give me pleasure sometimes when somebody thinks the exact same thing that I do. And when that someone has put it down on paper many many years ago, it is a real pleasure for me to read it. More so, when that someone is already one of my most favorite authors.

And even more so, when what he has written is something related to what I wrote on my blog earlier. So, today when I came across this article by Asimov about the "Relativity of wrong", I was very happy when I reached paragraph 17 ("Now where do we..."), because this was so related to one of my previous posts. (This one!)

While you are reading the post, one warning though. At first glance these two links might not seem related at all.. But here is how they are related, at least in my perspective. 

My post is about why we do not always have the right answer. About the need for us to realize that many answers in life are not clearly 'right' or 'wrong', unlike the spelling of sugar in Asimov's example (paragraph 19). And Asimov's question "Where do we learn that right and wrong are absolutes?" is  a very pertinent one. It is surprising how we always think that 'right' is something fixed or static (and we do that all the more when we become engineers, what with all the emphasis on mathematical precision...). But if we look at it, it is just a notion we get in our childhoods. And Asimov does a brilliant job of explaining how this is not so; how there are degrees of right, for example.

The other reason I find the article relevant is because, it makes a good addendum to mine (Ya right! Asimov writing an addendum to "my" post! What arrogance I must possess!! ...  Anyway..). While it is true that right and wrong are not absolute, and that there are questions for which we might never know if our answers are right, there is some room for hope. Maybe our answers shall never be 100% right. But they would still be more right than our previous answer. Even though our answers may be wrong, what gives meaning to our journey is the fact that "each tomorrow finds us farther than today"*. And that, to me, is the whole pleasure of science- the unending quest of  unraveling this mysterious universe, little by little, each day...

* This line, by Longfellow, is part of the same poem from which the "Bottomline" of this blog is taken.. One of the most amazing poems ever written...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Random Thoughts

After that last post, I have had quite a vacation. Though it was far from perfect, I got to read a few books (didn't finish them all), and also watch some movies that I should have seen long ago, but never did! Books include "The Extended Phenotype" which I am reading at worse than snail's pace, but hope that changes soon. So far, I think it should have been titled 'The Evolution MythBuster' but maybe when I am done with the book, that idea might change. Still, an incredible book (as always)! I was also rereading "Pride and Prejudice", but done with that now and started on "Sense and Sensibility", which I haven't read before and which is making me rediscover the joy of reading that I was sorely missing in my previous post. As for the movies I saw quite a few, including, "A 200 pound beauty" (Korean), which sent me on a train of thought about how and why should beauty be important, "It Happened One Night", which was plain Clark Gable, "The Message", which was good (though I am still not sure of its credibility), "Jodha Akbar", which was simply awesome, and a few more.

For some reason, all that reading and movie watching led me to this debate about what we regard as ideal, and whether it really exists. For a long time, I used to be a fan of the ideal, in the sense that I believed it to be possible, but maybe a little difficult to attain. (Ideal here, refers to the "perfect"- in any aspect or domain or context). But the more time you spend with science the more you encounter usages of "ideal" in the context of the non-existent. Maybe, that influenced me, or maybe it was something else, but I have ended up with a not-so rosy picture of the world in general. Most of the time, it appears stupid (or at least over-optimistic) to pile too much hopes on something ideal.

But then again, there is this whole notion of 'everything is possible if you only strongly desire for it'. I remember APJ's autobiography talking about how desire possesses electromagnetic energy that makes the cosmos conspire to make it come true. While I don't know about the electromagnetic part, I have often seen near-miracles happen to people who strongly believe in them.

Which leaves me in a quandary. So does the ideal exist and is my desire for it not strong enough to see it? Or is what I regard as perfect simply a fantasy of my imagination and there may be no point believing in it? Is it better to hope for something and be disappointed (so you at least gave the cosmos a chance :P) or is it better to be sensible and keep your expectations low? What if you were too sensible and so missed the miracle? Maybe it is a mixture of both. Maybe I shall never have an answer for this question....*

One of the other things I have been thinking about is the very stupid NCERT cartoon ban thing going on. Maybe I will do a post on it later, but knowing myself, most probably not. So let me just say what I think about it here anyway. It is unbelievably stupid, but quite unsurprising, considering the intelligence of our elected members. (I hope that statement doesn't qualify as contempt to the constitution). I just want to ask all who find it incredible- "What did u expect of the people in the Parliament? Sense? And you think they are irrational?" I can't even hope that the government will see sense in this issue. If someone was stupid enough to take offense at a political cartoon and to consider it something that will corrupt young minds, how can you expect them to understand that a cartoon is simply an alternate viewpoint on the issue and with the necessary critical thinking skills, a student would be able to still appreciate a great leader while acknowledging his mistakes? That you don't have to paint an all-white picture of a leader, however great his contributions to the nation? It is such a subtle balance, especially in a culture where we insist on never identifying the gray and do not encourage questioning, that I doubt a government like ours shall be able to get it at all. Maybe I am too pessimistic in this, but I can only think of Roark saying- reason is something that people most definitely don't want to have on their side when they enter an argument. Which brings me back to an idea I mentioned a few paragraphs before- "The more sensible you become, the more bleak the world appears" (Interestingly it applies to science as well. The more I learn about processors and complex systems and human brains, I just can't imagine how anybody got them working at all!") There should be a moral somewhere in that sentence about pessimism and knowledge, but for the life of me, I can't see what it is... 

Well, that's it for now. Let's hope I find time to post better and more stuff during the semester....  

*Couldn't help thinking of a recursive question here- Is it too hopeful to think that I shall find the answer or should I take the sensible route and say that I might never find it? :P