Thursday, November 13, 2008

What is Science?

Wikipedia says, “Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge" or "knowing") is the effort to discover, and increase human understanding of how the physical world works. Through controlled methods, scientists use observable physical evidence of natural phenomena to collect data, and analyze this information to explain what and how things work. Such methods include experimentation that tries to simulate natural phenomena under controlled conditions and thought experiments. Knowledge in science is gained through research.”

I find this definition problematic. If the word ‘science’ is derived from the Latin word for ‘knowledge’, then we cannot restrict science to mean knowledge of the physical world. While this has come to be the most accepted meaning of science, I think it involves acquisition of knowledge in the physical, mental and spiritual realms. Scientists engage, in most cases, in pulling down the mental and spiritual states of a human being to the physical state. The physical domain is characterized by quantity. The mental and spiritual domains are characterized by quality. The physical manifestation of happiness might correspond to the release of endorphins by the brain and vice-versa. But to equate happiness to endorphin-surge is preposterous. Happiness is a quality of life. Endorphins are chemical molecules whose concentration can be measured. I cannot measure the concentration of happiness. It would be churlish, then, to say that happiness is an imaginary construct of mind because it cannot be measured. Similarly, the brain produces what are known as the alpha-waves when in a state of relaxation or meditation. When I measure the alpha-waves, I measure the physical manifestation of meditation and not the actual experience of being in a meditative state.

Friday, October 17, 2008

'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have not read a book like this one in a very long time. I did not want to put it down at all. I could never have imagined that a butler might so much to say about the world he inhabited. Stevens is an antique. Kazuo Ishiguro has concocted a brilliant narrative from the perspective of a person, who we might assume would not have a perspective at all. Stevens has been a 'professional' butler mostly in the service of Lord Darlington at Darling Hall. The name of the employer is quite suggestive of what Stevens thinks of him - Lord Darlington is quite a darling to Stevens. I did not know whether to laugh at some instances or not, particularly when Stevens talks about some Quarterly magazine of their profession and some of the great butlers of his generation. I wonder now how important they were to the British society. What he narrates about the 'greatness' of England strikes to me as true in a very general sense. The 'Great Britain' is great because she does not have to shout out about its grandeur. She is certain and calm about it. I think this would be true even of people we consider great. They do not wear their hearts on the sleeves and make noise about their achievements and attitudes.
I like books that inspire me to write. This book has definitely done that. I have already started working on a short story. I must wait to see how that one comes along.

Monday, September 29, 2008

'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy

I just finished reading the book. I was scared while I read it and the fear lingers even after I am done with it. I want to revisit the book later on. What scares me about the story is the possibility of it coming true. The use of one nuclear weapon can get us there. The use of one nuclear weapon is sufficient to nullify the eveolutionary phenomenon of billions of years that have actually got us this far. How did human beings come to possess a power far greater than the mechanisms that allowed them to come into being? The only gleam of hope in the book is the unswerving goodness of human beings inspite of the apocalypse that they have helped create. This suggests to me that the vast majority of human beings are fundamentally good. By good I mean that they are generally moral, ethical, peaceful, and want to mind their own business. If that is indeed the case, what factors and who are really shaping the destructive forces in the world? The book provides no answers. In fact, it asks no questions. It simply takes it as given that the earth that we inhabit has been destroyed beyond repair. I can hear a bird sing. The evening is dark and cloudy. Trees are moving as it is a little windy. More than anything, there is colour in the world around me. In the book there are no colours. Everything is grey and covered with ash. Even the sea does not look blue. How can we ensure that this grey world does not become a reality?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Summer Spirit

Summer is here. The afternoons have become really hot. I have to keep the blinds shut to keep out the heat. This reminds me of Quentin Compton's 'long still hot dead weary September afternoon' in 'dim hot airless room with all the blinds closed' of Miss Coldfield. I am temporarily transported to the Yoknapatawpha County. A thrush calls out from outside the window. I am listening to rock music, which has finally come of age in India in the form of 'Rock On', a movie featuring Farhan Akhtar, Purab Kohli, Arjun Rampal, and Luke Kenny. There are wonderful prospects of scientific research, reading and writing. There are many books to be read. I want to read them all and write about all of them as well as writing some of my own. Summer enlivens dead and frozen dreams.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Big Bang

Today is an important day in the history of particle physics. In fact, this is a historic day for all of physics and all of the physical world. The Large Hadron Collider is set to start in a short while. The collider is 27 kms in circumference and it will collide protons at incredulous speeds. It attempts to re-create the conditions at the the time of the Big Bang. One of the aims of the experiment is to detect the presence of the Higgs Boson particles, also known as the God Particle. The LHC is built in Geneva under the supervision of CERN - European Organization for Nuclear Research. The collider was conceived about three decades ago and took over 13 years to build. It costs over 5 billion pounds. This is the most expensive and extraordinary experiment ever done by man. Over the course of the next few days, I will be writing more about the fundamentals of particle physics and the cosmological models.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Australia - the worst polluter?

I recently learned that the Australian carbon footprint is about three times that of the global average. It is not surprising at all. I noticed some strange practices here. For one, they leave the lights on in their offices and shops even after closing down for the day. And then they observe the Earth Hour. Would it not be better if they just did not leave the lights on after business hours? People here also use paper and plastic and waste both of them. Junk mail fills the mail box. Every little shop in the city issues pamphlets about its business. Only 2% of the recyclable material is actually recycled. What a waste of resources!

Intelligence

I was thinking about the notion of biological superiority of a race. I do not think that any race is inherently more intelligent than any other race. By intelligence I mean the ability to lead a sane and happy life in a given environment. I recently read that a tribe in the Amazon river basin does not have words to represent numbers. People of that tribe can only speak of relative quantities such as less, more, scanty or enough. This is does not make them less intelligent or primitive in the derogatory sense. A tribal life is essentially a communal life, where is no idea of private ownership of property. Property itself comprises of the basic necessities such a food, shelter and clothing. Men hunt and women gather food, and the day's haul is uniformly distributed among the tribe folk. Such a manner of living does not require a language to express the concept of numbers. The Amazonians are, therefore, intelligent in their sphere of existence. We would be considered stupid by them as we would not know how to hunt or follow the trail of animals or know the difference between edible and poisonous fruits.