Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inception: Micro and Macro..

I recently watched inception (again!). While Leonardo DiCaprio was explaining the idea of inception, here's what came to my mind -
The process of influencing other people's minds is rather universal. The way chosen by DiCaprio & Team is highly complex and for the sake of a better word, let's call it micro-inception. Take a look around - all those people who have an opportunity or obligation to influence other people's minds are doing (or at least trying) the same thing, i.e. inception - only at a macro level.
Teachers of all kinds (academic to hobbies and more) and at all levels are in fact, trying to imprint new ideas into their audience's minds. So are politicians, CEOs, commanding officers in an army unit.. the list is unending..

 Let me rewind back to a quote from the movie to set the stage:
What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.
Think back your first day at school (or any other place) when you first wrote those a,b,cs...and so did a bunch of other kids around you. Recall the times when you first encountered the concept of addition of two numbers, multiplication of two numbers..that's precisely what I'm implying by macro inception. The challenge for any teacher is how best to streamline the process given a limited amount of time and an unthinkable variety of minds around to influence. For DiCaprio, the task is essentially micro! Hacking one mind at a time (with a crew of more than one person)

Here's another gem of a quote:
"I will split up my father's empire." Now, this is obviously an idea that Robert himself would choose to reject. Which is why we need to plant it deep in his subconscious. Subconscious is motivated by emotion, right? Not reason. We need to find a way to translate this into an emotional concept.
Some parallels follow from micro world to the macro world. There is often resistance to accept new ideas and people do fall into their subconscious in many-a-classrooms :) It may mean that the idea was not fully understood and/or the audience was not completely engaged.
It also partly explains why great orators (not to mention great teachers ) are often able to get hold of people's minds in a few seconds. They do something that appeals the audience's subconscious, which is motivated by emotion (as the quote goes) - it may be some form of empathy. The sensation of "I have to listen to this person, he/she is speaking MY language" in people's minds translates in mesmerizing the masses.
If DiCaprio and the gang need to plan hours to just for single mind inception, think of the complexity involved in teaching an average sized classroom!

Finally, a third quote that will underline the importance of this mechanism:
I'm going to improvise. Listen, there's something you should know about me... about inception. An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you. 
Inception at any level is a double edged sword. A charismatic personality can often inspire people. The charisma is no excuse for the cause it served. People captivated by the power of a thought can go on to do pretty radical things - liberate themselves from oppression or subjugate others to oppression.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Statistics doesn't suck.

Most of us have heard of literacy in general. Broadly speaking, it is the ability to read and write. What goes less noticed is the idea of  'numerical literacy'. Ironically,  we live in a world that is throwing more and more numbers of all sorts at us. But we are less aware of the methods to deal with those numbers, aka, Statistics.

Statistics is EVERYWHERE! From the completion percentages of your favourite NFL quarterback to the unemployment rate in the last quarter, it occupies almost every corner of your daily life. The average temperature of your city is in fact the arithmetic mean, one of the most popular measures of central tendency. The bets on whether Green Bay will win the Super Bowl are, in fact,  probability calculations. Long story short, we are exposed to statistics at times even when we aren't aware of it.

But how many of us see the need to go beyond the arithmetic mean? The discipline called statistics has more than that to offer and it is extensively at work in the world today. Learning the basics of statistical methods can help you understand the process of dealing with data. It can further provide valuable guidance in situations with uncertain outcomes. Let me be clear. It's not a panacea or your magic wand. But it certainly is a start!

Last, but not the least, a little formal training in statistics can go a long way. It will be a skill your employers will look out for. It doesn't matter whether you're a young college sophomore looking for an internship or a summer job or a middle age city-bus driver. Knowing statistics will definitely boost your cv.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why are we still Less Developed? Westernization Revisited

India, along with many of the third world countries, remains so called developing -rather frankly speaking less developed - even after fifty odd years of political independence. A plethora of research is carried out and still being done to look into the reasons for this. This write-up tries to view this problem as 'Limitations to coping-up phenomenon' Coping up to Western -and only- standards of the day.I do not expect it to be lucid enough for everyone who is reading although I try to keep it as easy as possible. All loose ends and limitations are welcome to be filled up from the reader’s side.We revisit the 'Westernization concept and argue that the problem of development gap is essentially one of meeting the Western Standards that seem to be the order of the day.Take any strand of modern life; there will be umpteen no. of objects, institutions, trends- in all ways of life which have their root/ origin somewhere outside India. No big deal? We have been borrowing heavily from outside through invasions. The Muslim Regime left quite a many influences that became an integral part of ordinary Indian Life.(e.g. Perfumes) But all those influences can said to be assimilated in Indian Ethos over time. Whatever the invaders brought seems to have broken its link from its source. Iran/Persia never dictated Delhi even in the prime of the Mughal Dynasty.Now this was not the case with the British Raj. Establishment of the British Raj coincided with Industrial Revolution backed up by Cultural renaissance in Europe. While Industrial Revolution captured (along with the help of colonial trade policies) markets in India(&elsewhere), the intellectual revolution captured Indian Mentality forever.

Indians responded to this change in their usual manner of assimilation. Macauley’s intention of carving out ‘babus’ of education system was so successful that it still grips the Great Indian Middle Class.

Newly educated Indians who thought they too had a glorious past in so far as knowledge was concerned launched some initial counter attacks. This renaissance, however, was short-lived because partly the initiators (e.g. Justice M.G.Ranade) were civil servants themselves and lacked mass contact.

The other bitter reason for this short-lived renaissance was the fact that the British had done their bit in convincing the common masses that they had no future unless they fell in line with the new regime. Intellectuals, on the other hand, knew this beforehand and seemed to have adopted a hypocritical approach. (Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar, one of the prominent figures in the field of education in the second half of 19th century has written a letter to his acquaintance which says—“Although I am helping the promotion of schools that give education in native languages, it is more than clear to me that my own daughter will go to English-medium school. Because I am convinced that if she has to have a future, that is the only way!”)

Soon the masses were transforming – at least in the urbanized areas. They started to attend ‘jobs’, be it clerical 9 to 5 or one in the shifts in a mill. They started signing ‘musters’, keeping accounts, use P&T services, the railways, wear trousers and suits, read and write in English. Everything primarily to earn a daily bread.

The system got rooted itself once and for all. One of the offshoots of it was the tremendous influence of this system on newly created group in the society better known as the ‘Middle Class’. It included the upper castes predominantly who were enticed by ruling British to ‘help’ in governing a huge nation. Bengal and Maharashtra were the beginners in inculcating the new system of values.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GRE write up

"Both the develpment of technological tools and the uses to which humanity has put them have created modern civilizations in which loneliness is ever increasing."

An old chinese proverb goes like- The key to the heaven is the key to the hell.Development of technological tools as well as the uses to which humanity has put them are like this key. It can open both the doors. So in saying that it hasopened the door of hell of increasing loneliness, we are wrongly condeming technology for what it has not done. Lets see how this thing can be unfolded.
We have to understand the notion of loneliness carefully. No doubt that increasing no. of appointments with psychiatrists to cure depression came out of loneliness has shown that loneliness is really increasing. It is not only the phenomenon in developed countries but also in less developed countries that are introduced to modern technology. However, such simultaneous existence of these things can not (and does not, in my opinion) imply causality. Modern technology has no doubt made human life easier, happier than earlier. We have umpteen electronic gadgets in our homes to illustrate this. Right from microwave and mixer to vaccume cleaner to automobile and elevator and what not? Gadgets like these have essentially reduced the amount of efforts and the time that was earlier required to do those tasks. Now if someone says that he or she can not use the extra time and energy that is saved by using these tech-tools and hence feels lonely, who is to be blamed? This is precisely the point. Loneliness and tech-tools have this common link. Althogh somebody may point out other links as well. But they are not as important as this one. It is easy to blame somebody who has no life for creating problems in our life, here it is the machine. If, for example, one is not happy in his relationships, not keeping well with his parents and friends, why blame the machines, the technology? It is really because the bonds of love, trust that keep people together have become weak. If someone possesses an expensive car and looks down upon his or her pal who does not have one, is it the car to be blamed? It is far simpler to say ' materialism is bad, creates greed in humans'. Can we think of those humans who are gifted with an organ called brain? Tech tools may be enhancing quality of life, providing unheard services and conveniences, who is the one to benefit? Machines, defintely not. It has to be their creator who is a human at the end of the day. In a typical family with two children, if parents think that we have given our children the best resources, so our duty ends there. It will be alright even if we do not talk to them, play with them( since we have given them the brand new latest computer video game(?) ) Years later, same parents would complain that gadgets have spoilt our children, they no longer talk to us, we feel sad and lonely. Who is the culprit?
Technology, in itself, is neutral by definition. So long as it is created by humans, (so we do not have a world like MATRIX) it depends upon humans to use it. It is the act of balancing between the fruits of technology and retaining human bondings of love, faith and trust that will be in the direction of solution to the problem of loneliness, chaos of today. Please do not pull the technology in it!

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Disciplining body and mind..

Disciplining body and mind..
Human mentality is often considered to be unstable. It is hardly settled by a single thought or action. It always lounges for newer things and actions. That is perhaps the reason why one thinks of the discipline. It is essential because it forces human mentality (mentality in the sense of mind as well as body) to act in a particular way or mode. In this manner, it surely takes away the freedom to act according to one’s free wish. But the favourable outcome is a result that is often not seen in short run. Or rather seen in the long-run.
To illustrate, take a look at the training which army soldiers undergo. That long, arduous and exhausting training is building the foundation for a soldier to survive in war situations. Difficult obstacles (kinds of exercises the soldiers are supposed to perform) test the mettle of the soldiers. On the other hand, they inculcate a habit of facing these kinds of situations in them. This habit is precisely the long-run benefit of the discipline.
Can we say that such discipline can work for mind? Well, there can be a strictly drawn schedule, according to which one has to perform the tasks. So that, the schedule becomes a habit for the individual. Once the person is accustomed to it, things become simpler.

Limits of probability

Probability is the art (science as some may want to argue) of prediction. it was born out of the requirement of french king who kept on losing in gambling.

The biggest limitation probabilty has is the absence of any hint about the place or position of occurence of the event.

What I mean by this is suppose an unbiased coin is tossed thrice, the probability of getting a head( or a tail) every time is one-half. The problem is that we have no idea when will the coin show head and when it will show tail!!!

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Have you come across this joke? Once the education inspector comes to a school, goes in a class and asks the students, "If five mangoes cost twenty-six rupees, how many steps does the school staircase have?" One ultra-smart student raises his hand and answers, "Twenty-nine, Sir". "That’s absolutely correct, but how could you get that, my boy?" Sir. "Simple, my mom has cooked Spinach for lunch today, Sir", Boy…
Ok, now lets jot down seriously the dissimilar events in the joke. Mangoes-Rupees-Steps-Spinach…. Do they make any sense? No, as long as its not a joke.
Let’s take another such link. A Garden-Boy sitting under an apple tree-An apple falls down-Gravity- Earth’s attraction-Rules that govern heavenly bodies-…
Oh, that’s our Newton.
A similar chain…Earlier one created a joke, this one- rules that govern the universe!
Suppose for a moment, had Newton not been able to express his thoughts clearly; then…
That means had he understood the linkage between a falling apple and law of gravity but could not have expressed the same in a clear coherent manner; then…
Obviously, people would have called him a ‘fool’.
Precisely this confusion of thoughts is one of the symptoms of a mental disorder called ‘Schizophrenia’.
Exact cause of this disorder is still unknown. It happens because of imbalance of certain chemicals in the human brain; but this is also a symptom than a reason. It can happen to anybody, at any age. Heredity, Depression, Lack of communication, Overly introvert nature are some of the contributing factors, yet none is conclusive.
We can roughly describe Schizophrenia as a mental state wherein a person comes up with seemingly inconsistent ideas, believing strongly from inside that they are consistent. It’s the problem about not having effective communication or translation of thoughts in a coherent, clear exposition. To put simply, it’s a ‘traffic jam’ of thoughts. The order collapses down!
This differs from the case wherein the thought expressed has a clear exposition but just doesn’t fit into the relative custom-time frame. In this case, the thought is regarded as a ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ one. Think of Galileo, Keplar who expressed their difference of opinion about earth to the Church. They were ridiculed, insulted initially but later promptly recognized and remembered for their brilliant contributions- this is because of clarity of exposition.
On the other hand, when there are problems in the exposition of the thought itself, the person behind it, rather than the thought, is unnecessarily proclaimed as ‘mad’ or ‘insane’.
This is on account of the inconsistency in ideas, which is the ‘raw material’ of both the outcomes as said earlier. Unfortunately there is no clue to predict in advance whether this inconsistency will breed a great scientific or artistic breakthrough or a joke!
Because the processing system in which this raw material is supposed to be processed-the human mind- is an unresolved mystery to date. When this processing system goes out of system, the result can be a mental disorder like ‘schizophrenia’.
A person having schizophrenia finds it difficult to distinguish between the real world to day life that is indispensable in nature and a virtual, crafted world of unsaturated ideas created by his mind. Emotional and social aspects of his/her life suffer badly. There remains hardly any person with whom the sufferer can share his /her pain.
There aren’t any fixed patterns in which schizophrenia affects the personality of a person. Nobel laureate John Nash of A Beautiful Mind is one of them; so is Sheshashayee Desai of Devrai.

The Challenge of Development

We always wonder about the word development- especially economic development. What does it consist of? Material Well Being? Of course; but something more than that! The problem is that the more we try to define it specifically, more we are caught in trouble.
There is no fixed definition. Recently Dr. Amartya Sen has come up with the novel and revolutionary idea of "development as freedom". That means freedom from restrictions that inhibit an individual's progress and freedom to him to enhance the scope of his capabilities.
To me, well, mere assurance of such a freedom is one step shorter to the road of development. I feel there is one more aspect that is missing. It is the discovery of one's self. Unless and untill one is thoroughly "through" with one's self, the external freedom is hardly of any use.
e.g. lets take the simple case of waking up early in the morning. General experience has it that ample plans are made about getting up early in the morning to do this and that. The alarm rings, but the lazy mind refuses to respond. There is no discernable cause that really prohibits one from doing what he/she has planned. There comes this 'self'. It is often taken for granted and hardly paid attention to. This self is nothing but our 'self-conscience', the so-called gut-feeling. We refuse to pay heed to it and stay where we are.

How to realise this self? Quite a difficult one.... But keep on searching. I'm too.....

In the defence of Economics


Since the inception of the discipline of Economics, charges have been levied on it of being a ‘narrow-focused’ discipline. Critics are always delighted to point out that the so-called ‘economic man’ is rational to an unimaginable extent. The notion of self-interest and its persuasion by an individual to fulfil his own wishes is also often under attack. What follows is an attempt to justify the existence of this discipline on the basis of the premises it takes for granted.
First of all let us say that this discipline tries to analyze human behaviour. This I suspect should not create any problem for anybody. If it is a study of human behaviour; it should try to portray human behaviour as close as possible. So we need to take into account essentially the ways in which people behave when confronted with the situations demanding a decision.
I would like to recall a small anecdote here. Do you remember one of those Birbal-Akbar stories, wherein a mother monkey is made to stand with her younger one in a tub. Slowly tub is filled with water. Initially mother monkey does her best to protect her younger one. But as the water level starts rising and passes above her nose, she puts the younger one down, climbs on it and seeks some breath!! The point is as clean as a whistle. Primarily an individual would do everything to achieve his self-interest.
Let’s take another facet of it. Why would one have to ‘acquire’ virtues? Don’t we all possess them by birth? Mostly not. Virtue is an external quality so as to be displayed exclusively. E.g. if a person is lying injured on a busy road in the peak hours of the day- say by 10.15 a.m., how many of the passers-by would pay heed to him? I doubt not more than a very few- a handful of them would bother to stop and see what is wrong with the person. What is driving the remaining huge majority from not paying attention? Surely, the self-interest.
If this example is not convincing enough (even as I feel) you can come up with any other example. I am sure there are scores of them. The point I want to make here is this: the essential nature of human being is looking for self-interest. If a discipline is based on this very premise and tries to analyze human behaviour, how far can we call it wrong? It is showing really the essential nature of human being. If that is not acceptable, why blame the discipline?