Thursday, November 23, 2017

Irrational, again

November 14, 2017 issue of Scientific American tries to  explain the Global Rise of “Dominance” Leadership. Political pundits, commentators and average citizens continue to have trouble accounting for the rise of populist authoritarian leaders across the globe. A common question batted around continues to be how leaders such as Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Rodrigo Duterte, Nicol├ís Maduro, Recep Erdogan, and Narendra Modi could become the standard-bearers of democracy for countries like the US, Hungary, Philippines, Venenzuela and Turkey and India.  Much of the writing has concentrated on the west, and specifically the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president.  The suggestions tendered have ranged from a backlash against the first African American president, the rejection of insider fat cats, or a rebuff of Washington policies. But narratives like these fall short of explaining the rise of authoritarian leaders globally, the magazine says.
It tries to study this phenomenon empirically.  Attaining social rank within society, the author says, follows two paths: dominance and prestige. People all over the countries prefer the dominant ones to the ones of prestige, especially in hard times. But, when citizens experience economic uncertainty and its accompanying loss of personal control, when they look to dominant leaders, are they going to be benefited? I doubt. Since, as the study then finds, it is unclear why they would be motivated to reduce the threats that got them into office, once they occupy the seats of power.
I think my theory is being proven right again, the decision to go for this form of leadership need not be a well considered one at all. We are only heading fast, to 'the age of the irrational'.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

How do we see the past? And the Present?

Why is it that we diligently examine the many sides of an issue, when it is about the present, and overlook the ambiguities equally well, when it is about the past?
Let me elaborate.
The golden days of our past’ is an expression,
We hear often,
Wherever we make a mention of time,
Beyond recollection
How do we see the past?
Imagine reading the morning newspaper, a couple of centuries from today. Let us say there is a column with the title “Three Hundred Years Ago”, which, on that day carried the news item of people being slaughtered for vague reasons, like ‘looking greedily at a cow’.
What do the readers do?
The first reaction from the readers would have been to label that era, say as cow age, and enumerate various characteristics of the times. Like the popularity of cow-milk, and its products. And, the imaginative use of all types of rejected matter originating from the cow. Also, the proliferation of institutions of rest, relaxation, and recuperation, dedicated exclusively to cows.  Perhaps the presence of paintings and sculptures depicting similar looking creatures would also act as proofs. This period of ancient history could become a favorite area for research, and many scholarly articles would have been adorning the current literature.
Without thinking any further, I can say that the above-mentioned description of the future is quite fitting and is highly probable. The opinions we make these days about the ancient days, especially those extolling the wonders of the glorious past, is not much different from this. To make this point a little more clear, think of the occasions, where we take efforts to pen down something. Primarily, all those occasions are those, where, something did happen out of the ordinary.
(I think it is also generally acknowledged that we are moved, more by unpleasant events than by the pleasant ones, since, all good events lose its shine soon. Thus, even though the future will find much evidence of buildings, roads, dams, and other signs of civilized life, those people are likely to be moved significantly by the traces of extraordinary sights, which are today in abundance. The theory of diminishing marginal utility comes to our aid in understanding and appreciating such phenomena better)
What am I getting at?
Our history weaved from the surviving bits of memorabilia of the past need not point to anything concrete. The inscriptions, documents or other remnants of the past we have succeeded to unearth, which we think of as authoritative sources, could be as misleading as the newspaper that was mentioned above. All that is recorded in various historical documents of the past would only be showing us, the local non-uniformities present in a society, of that era.
To better understand the above-mentioned imbroglio, let us see what would have been found in the remnants of the present times if examined many years later. And what would have been the conclusion drawn thereafter?
What do we find?
I think the most prominent find would have been the news items, which are widely seen, remarked and repeated. Incidents like Lewinsky affair, demonetisation, certain cartoons, suicidal missions, or various anti-science movements could feature here. Plenty of scandals, ill-treatment of the female sex on a global scale, and other undesirable elements of society would have been proliferating, whatever the form of memorabilia one landed with. When contrasted with the signs of space travel, organ transplant, or sub-atomic journeys, quite a bit puzzled, would have been the reaction from every reader. With such confusion all around, a conclusion that our times was the ‘age of the irrational’, seems to be the most likely result.
Supporting such a find, interesting and incredulous news snippets would fall from the repository of old papers, every moment if they are to pursue the past. Also, the remnants of the statues and buildings of gigantic proportions and the tracks left by various god-men will add to it.
We know how misplaced, such an assessment is going to be. Well, something similar is happening now. Looking at the relics of our past, we are always reaching the conclusion that our ancestors were geniuses. Moreover, we are molding ourselves to see golden tinge in whatever they did. We also overlook the fact that, in that process, we do not mind bringing great harm to ourselves, at least as long as it is harming others more.
What does it lead to?
Why can’t we see the ‘golden tinged’ pieces as nothing but the only things that stood out? Shouldn’t it lead us to the thought that the natural proclivity of those people was to things insignificant (rather, the things that we think as insignificant today), and a few streaks of brilliance took place to hold the future generations enamored?
(I have examined the reasons for this dichotomy, that is, our desire to be rational to the core, when it comes to real things, and our penchant for the irrational, everywhere else.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review: Designing the Future

DESIGNING THE FUTURE BY JACQUE FRESCO is a book about making our future more user friendly. 
It begins with an overview of the need, and the many questions that may come up. According to many polls, a majority of scientists think that the human race is on a “collision course” with nature. We face common threats that transcend national boundaries: overpopulation, energy shortages, water scarcity, economic catastrophe, the spread of uncontrollable diseases, and the technological displacement of people by machines, to name a few.  What has been handed down to us does not seem to be working for the majority of people. With the advances in science and technology over the last two hundred years, you may be asking: “does it have to be this way?” 
Next chapter reiterates the inevitability of change. Over the centuries, we seem to have developed a consensus that when it comes to matters of personal safety, we will go with the science rather than the magic. Why is that? Probably because it works, and everybody can see that it does. Then why don’t we do that when it comes to planning our societies: our cities, transportation systems, agriculture, health care, and so on? Because, "our social structures evolved with no overall global planning", the book says.  The existing human myths that the Earth has abundant resources and our practice of rationing these resources through the use of money is an outdated method which causes much suffering. 
It is not money that we need but the intelligent management of the earth’s resources for the benefit of everyone. We could best work towards achieving this by using a resource based economy. The book introduces here a host of revolutionary concepts, most  of which can be thought of as technological dreams, many capable of bringing in unthinkable changes.
The book then talks of things that are happening today that could be signs of the collapse of present system. Like, the industrialized nations of the world installing more and more automated technology in order to compete with low prices in the global economy. As a result of this new technology, more and more people lose their jobs and can’t take care of themselves and their families. With automation, outsourcing and cyber-nation used to their fullest potential, machines replace not only industrial workers, but also most professionals. Consequently, fewer people are able to buy the products that automated factories turn out.  

Hence we need to think of a saner future. A future, where, unlike in a monetary system most people live near their work with a house, car, and lifestyle they can afford, people shall be living a fuller  life. And unlike us, who are free, only as much as our purchasing power, those people shall follow a socio-economic system that reflect individual and personal interests.
The book then talks about the benefits, future society shall have. Parents will have adequate time for their children, and will not be stressed by ever-rising medical bills, insurance payments, educational expenses, and cost of living expenses.  
I agree with the book. If we design our society such that people are free to choose their own interests, develop formerly hidden potential, and pursue dreams without government intervention or financial constraint, most profound benefits await us. Except one difficulty: the practical process involved in this is very clear, more as a dream than otherwise.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: The Future of Ideas

 by Lawrence Lessig, speaks about the rebirth of technologies of control, as institutions “dis-intermediated” by the Internet learned how to alter the network to reestablish their control. "The forces that the original Internet threatened to transform are well on their way to transforming the Internet" Too much dis-intermediation, which can interfere with collective governance, and excess of mediation, which can regulate our lives, are equally unhealthy; some balance is needed. 
In part I, the book examines the environment of the Internet that we are observing now alter the balance between control and freedom on the Net. How today, those who prospered under the old regime are threatened by the Internet and how they react.Further chapters tell us how, the environment created by the mix of technical principles and legal rules operating upon the telecommunications system paralleled an end-to-end design at the network layer. This mix of design and control kept the telephone system open for innovation, and, it was that innovation, which enabled the Internet.
 The book goes on to discuss the nuts and bolts of 'free' functioning. How networks function as a commons. It is a resource that is made available generally to everyone connected to the network. Of course, everyone on the network must request permission to use the resource. But this permission can be content neutral. Liberating the other significant element of making such networks, spectrum, from the control of the market is then outlined. A discussion about the benefits from commons, decentralized innovation, and the way that can create the opportunity for individuals to draw upon resources without connections, permission, or access granted by others is then covered.
Next part starts with the examination of constraints, contrasting the physical world of things, and how we addressed the issue of creativity versus patents, with the world of cyberspace, which perhaps need a different treatment on this respect. With those changes, both government and commerce increased the ability to control behavior in cyberspace. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did. Something similar is occurring with respect to innovation too, the book says. Here, the architecture of the space is changing, interfering with the features that made innovation so rich. And the consequence again will be a decrease in this value that we thought defined the original Net.Next and last part is about the constant race between those who are used to controlling the society and all its parts, and those who are enamored by the beauty of free growth, they witness in cyberspace. 
The book ends with a rather sombre note. "We move through this moment of an architecture of innovation to, once again, embrace an architecture of control—without noticing, without resistance, without so much as a question. Those threatened by this technology of freedom have learned how to turn the technology off. The switch is now being thrown. We are doing nothing about it.I agree with the author. The hindrances the new technology is introducing in our life, in the form of sophisticated restrictive mechanisms, is far more than the productive use, we are putting such technology to. We are blindly accepting many practices of restrictive nature, merely on the strength of anecdotal evidence. Or rather our inability to convince those traditional, of the desirability of experimenting. Perhaps we ourselves are not that sure of what the future has in store. For example, two companies—AOL Time Warner and Microsoft—will come to define the next five years of the Internet’s life. Neither company has committed itself to a neutral and open platform.8 Hence, the next five years will be radically different from the past ten. Innovation in content and applications will be as these platform owners permit. Additions that benefit either company will be encouraged; additions that don’t, won’t. We will have re-created the network of old AT&T, but now on the platform of the Internet. Content and access will once again be controlled; the innovation commons will have been carved up and sold.
I have mixed feelings about this book. How well placed is the lamentations we see throughout the pages, that we are more comfortable with shackles than without, is a debatable issue. It is true; the technological innovations of the times shall get appropriated to the times. Those are interdependent.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Another proof for my theory that female is the stronger and healthier species. US NTP study into effects of cell phone use has found incidences of tumors in the brains and hearts of male rats (who lived longer!), but not in female rats.

Monday, November 13, 2017

About the Age of the Universe

I find it difficult to comprehend the age of the universe. To overcome this difficulty, I find it helpful to think of time as a varying dimension.
Time I think originates from our sense of passing intervals, which we are forced to notice, because these intervals reappear rather regularly. We derived the idea of time from the most noticeable one, earths revolution, and made it a universal dimension. Are we entirely right?
If we lock the idea of time to the period of revolution of earth, things seem to be becoming easier to follow. When the big bang took place, all its products would have started spinning at an incredible speed. 
Billions of such revolutions might have taken place, during which, cooling and solidification into all the matter in the universe took place. And the initial speed gradually reduced to the present, rather stable, level.
So also, with all other objects.
It is then true, the universe is billions of years old, but each year take lesser and lesser time, as we go back in time.

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