Thursday, May 17, 2018

What decides right from wrong?

I have seen discussions where people claim they are coming from a neutral perspective, when they comment on an issue. In certain cases that might be true. But in many cases its hard to decide if your opinion is truly neutral.

Taking my own example, at the time of writing this article, there is a lot of attention to the Israel Palestine dispute. There are equally passionate people on both sides. As a thought experiment, I imagined myself being born as a child in Gaza. I grow up in a very restricted environment with very limited (if any) chance to a lead a happy life. Food is scarce, not even clean water to drink.  My people get shot with little provocation. The lives of my people don't seem to matter. I can't imagine a circumstance where I would say my people are wrong and Israelis are right.

Another thought experiment. I am born as a child in Israel. While in school I learn about how my people were persecuted for hundreds of years, just for being Jewish. The discrimination ultimately reached such a stage where the hatred towards my people, led a hateful man to lock up my people in gas chambers and murder them by the millions. There is no place on earth besides Israel that my people can call their own. I grow up seeing a mostly united 1.6 billion Muslims working as a team against my country. I don't see Gaza or Palestine as the few million helpless people who live there, but as a group of people who get support from over a Billion Muslims around the world, to destroy us and kick us out of our only home.

In both these though experiments, I feel strongly for my people.

But of course, your perception also depends on the narrative being set by the media. If the mainstream media's narrative says one group is wrong and all people look down on them, are the good people. Then regardless of anything else, most people get swayed in that direction. Think about this, there was a time when Jews were portrayed as long nosed money minded people in the western media. And back then, there was nothing wrong about a person who held such an opinion.

I have also seen people who used to openly criticize Muslims for not doing enough to stop terrorism coming from their community. This was back in early 2000s, after 9/11. At that time mainstream liberals like Bill Maher used to routinely and openly call Islam as a mother load of bad ideas. Hollywood movies would almost always portray men from middle east as evil (now they portray Chinese as evil). A lot of people who thought of themselves as fair and against racism, bought into that narrative. But later something changed and now speaking against Islam is seen as racism. The same people who used to criticize Muslims, now attack anyone who does that. The only thing that changed was the narrative set by the media.

So I have ultimately concluded that mainstream media vs your own life experiences, decides right vs wrong.  If you are not personally affected by a situation, then almost always, you believe what the mainstream media wants you to believe. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is chaos a necessary evil?

When I was 16 I learnt the periodic table in school. I learned about protons and electrons and neutrons. I found out that knocking protons out from the nucleus actually changes the element. Every atom interacts with the adjacent atom in a consistent way. Which is what leads to inter atomic bonds and molecules. Once that realization set in I felt like we have no control over anything. Its all physics. Everything in this universe is a macroscopic representation of the microscopic interactions. For a period of life after that, I lost all interest in everything. But then gradually other practical things in life started distracting me from this realization. There were people who were mean to me, which lead me into an introspection on, how can I avoid this from happening again in future. There were things I envied, but couldn't have. I felt the world was a mean place where the powerful always had their way. I eventually developed this dream of seeing a united world exploring space. I felt if I could work towards that goal, that would be a meaningful life. Then one fine day I read another article on how the entire world could actually be a hologram. This was not a novice speculation, but an article reviewed by scientists. This thought had crossed my mind, like many other people, before. But it was never legitimized by scientists. Could it be true that we are all in a simulation? None of this is real? Then it suddenly struck me that all my problems and hurdles in life keeps me distracted from bigger potentially depressing truths. Is this true for all humans? Would we all go insane if we had a perfect trouble free life? 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A world without countries

There was a time in the history of mankind where our ancestors were extremely territorial. They probably spent their entire lifetime living in and defending a few square miles of land. As time went by they realized that cooperating with the neighboring tribes to form villages meant they had to share their space, but at the same time the food security and social safety net that came with it, made it totally worth it.
      Fast forward to about 10,000 BC. Ancient Sumerians (in the current day Iran Iraq region) invented kingdoms. They had shared ideas which led to the development of organized farming. People realized that individuals could focus on one task only and get really good at it. They didn't have to be a jack of all trades. There were other individuals who had expertise in other areas. This led to the evolution of professions. This meant you were more dependent on the society for the skill sets you lacked, but at the same time it raised your quality of life, leaving aside a lot of free time for non survival related leisure activities.
   Fast forward to the present. We have grown far beyond kingdoms to a society where we have fenced out gigantic amounts of lands as countries. Now even a severe drought or a flood only means the inconvenience of picking up and moving. Most of the natural disasters that would have caused mass casualties in our distant past, is not a survival threat anymore. Sure we have a many inter cultural and inter racial strife that our ancestors didn't have to face. But statistically the quality of life and odds of survival are way better today than it was in 10,000 BC.
      Now the question arises, is the forming of one world without borders the next logical step? I am sure there is at least a few hundred years if not more before that is possible. There is an enormous wealth gap between countries. There are strong religious and cultural differences. The mainstream media has spread an extraordinary amount of fear of people, who are different from the rest of us. We are at the verge of what seems to be the third world war. Which if happens would mean total annihilation of whatever we have achieved in the past 12,000 years. In a geological scale, that is actually not a lot of time (Homo sapiens evolved over 2 million years ago). But at the same time it also means that neither us nor our many future generations would have the extra ordinary amount of comfort which we otherwise could have had.
    So being the hedonistic individual that I am, I strongly hope that the rest of the mankind would pick comfort and pleasure over religious and national pride. I remember reading in a book on EQ that a part of our brain called amygdala and the part of it that connects it to the spinal cord has hardcoded information that ensured survival of our ancestors in our wild past. Most crimes of passion and bias emerges from that subconscious part of the brain. It would take at least another few ten thousand years of evolution before our amygdala evolves to keep up with the neocortex (intelligent part of the brain). But at the same time it seems to me, that as a society we have a collective bias which seems to override the native bias that emerges from amygdala. For example in the animal kingdom (from which we evolved) killing helpless baby cubs born to competitive animals is a very natural choice. However in our society except for the most depraved few, no one would think of hurting an infant. What if we start a strong organized push towards educating kids in schools, that our happy future lies in identifying ourselves as humans first and every other difference is trivial? Would it mean that in a few decades the youth of the world would see people from other so called countries and religions as just fellow humans? Could that lead to a softening of inter country borders that would usher in a new era of united world force? Would that united world force also mean that the exchange of ideas and working together towards current technological problems, would take us to a level where we begin to colonize space and harness the unlimited resources and energy out there? I remember reading that there are more stars than the number of humans in the universe. That IS unlimited energy. If we work together that could all be ours. There is no other known life form that stands in our way of colonizing our solar system. However if there is an alien life force that might technologically compete with us, that would mean that there is an even more urgent need for us to unite.

Here are some benefits I could think of, off the top of my head of having one world.

1>You could travel to any part of the world without worrying about passports or visas. There is so much natural diversity to explore out there.

2>We might develop really fast economical means of transportation due to the large scale nature of the world travellers. (Almost anything is profitable if its large scale enough). This would mean we could live in an isolated tree top house in the dense lush green beautiful forests of Congo and work in the bustling heart of New york city.

3>One world force would also mean that we could have an extraordinary number of world brains working together, really fast towards enhancing the human body. This also means that aging could be reversed leading to an infinite life span.

4>The advancement in technology would also mean that life on Mars is now actually possible.

5>We would reach a level of automation where self fixing robots would harness energy from the sun and minerals from other planets. Leaving humans a lot more free time for leisure and pleasure activities.

I could keep going on, but you get the idea :). Now the only question remaining is are we smart enough to give up our petty differences, to work together and achieve this? Only time will tell.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Are we all DNA testing machines for the aliens?

I get all these weird thoughts in my sleep. Last night I had this thought that all the creatures on earth are actually just meant to test out different DNAs. Aliens use earth as a test bed for their DNA technology. On earth they can also study how these DNA driven machines interact with each other.  Evolution is the adjustments they make to our DNA after learning from their mistakes over a long period of time.
  That partly explains why they periodically wipe out majority of life forms on earth. They do that to get rid of the DNA they didn't like and make room for newer DNA that they want to experiment with.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How to study (tips for effective learning)

Being a software engineer, I have to study all the time. I will present in this article some tips that I have gathered over 3 decades as a student and as a software professional.

  • Take genuine interest in what you learn. This is THE most important point. Without this you will never learn, you will only remember.
  • Reason and be curious. If some book gives you the formula to calculate compound interest, try to understand why that formula is correct. Derive it yourself and see if you reach the same conclusion as they do. Think of the places where you can apply it in your real life.
  • Try to get a 10,000 feet bird's eye view before getting into the details. When I study, one of the first things I do is ask, what am I trying to solve here? What is the purpose of this? How would I explain this in a summary? Once I am sure of that, the studying becomes a lot more interesting and effective.
  • Read from multiple sources. For example if you are tying to learn calculus, go to Search for books on calculus and sort it by popularity. Buy the top 2 books. Reading from 2 or more books gives you a view of the subject from multiple angles.
  • Try to put in atleast 2 hours of studying everyday. In my experience I grasp more by studying 2 hours for 5 days than studying 10 hours in one day. Its easier to digest and assimilate all that information when its spread out over a period of time.
  • Revise: When I study for the first time, I almost always forget it after a few months. So what I do is I write notes when I study the first time. Then after a few months I try to see how much I remember. Then I go over my notes to recollect what I studied in the past. (Google spacing effect)
  • Get a good 8 hours sleep every night. Your productivity and learning ability throughout the day depends greatly on how well rested you are. 
  • Step away every once in a while. What I do is, if someday if I feel worn out, I just drop everything and go to a movie or the beach. Maybe even take a couple of days off and go hiking. Once I do that, when I get back I am all energised and enthusiastic for my next endeavor.
  •  Surround yourself with people who make you happy and stay away from negative people. Good friends will encourage you and support you, bad friends will pull you down.
  • Take good care of your health. A healthy mind in a healthy body.

Friday, June 28, 2013

What happened to Atlantis Island?

People of Atlantis found out that everything all life does comes down to interaction between the tiniest particles of matter. For example, you put 2 hydrogen and one oxygen atom together, you get a water molecule. You put two water molecules together, surface tension attracts them to each other. Once they realized that nothing anyone does is in anyone's control and the entire future is guaranteed to take one particular path, they lost all hope in life. Then they decided that future humans should not find this out. To prevent that from happening, they altered the state in a way that humans stay preoccupied fighting each other. Once that happens we will be too distracted to realize this unfortunate fact of the universe. The invention of religion was also for the same reason, to prevent losing hope.

Once the people of Atlantis did what they had to, they removed all traces of their existence and then assimilated with the other humans who were not a part of the advanced Atlantis. However one thing the people of Atlantis didn't realize is that, all living creatures store some information in an encoded form in their DNA. That's the reason we sometimes know something even though we don't know why we know it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cultural learnings of an Indian immigrant to the US

 Indians were among the first to come out of the hunter gatherer stage. We had an advanced civilization  back in 3000 BC (Indus valley civilization). We had literature back in 1500BC (Vedas). We were in the forefront of human development up until a few hundred years ago. That's when we  reached a stage where we divided and started fighting among ourselves. As a nation we became very weak. That led to foreign invasions, starting with Mahmud of Ghazni around 1000AD ending with the British colonial rule in 1947. Even though it has been many decades since the independence, we still haven't pulled ourselves out of the muck that we are in right now. Think about this, after the devastating second world war, the Germans were not far ahead of where we were in 1947. But they managed to develop a positive culture and find their way out of it. We on the other hand remain to be a predominantly poor nation where our major focus remains to be putting each other down. To help address some root social problems in our nation, I will be presenting my top 6 observations as an Indian immigrant to the US and juxtaposition them with our culture in India.

1>Independent thinking is strongly encouraged in this country

One would wonder, why in spite of having such a large IT force, no major IT innovation has ever come out of India. In this case, we can't even use lack of infrastructure as an excuse, because it took nothing more than a computer and internet access to start off companies like Google and Facebook. That is something every IT professional in India has access to. Here are my 2 cents on the cause.
   While attending school in India, I was taught to accept the words of my teacher as words of God and never question them. Of the few times that I do remember questioning them as a little boy, I even more strongly remember the physical pain that followed. After growing up, I remember this time, when a professor from an external college had come over to take our viva exams. He asked this one question to a guy (luckily he was not me), to which he didn't get the answer he expected. He told the student what the right answer was. The student protested and gave his reason for why he thought his answer was correct. He also made the mistake of pointing out the fault in the professor's argument. The professor admonished the student for questioning him and also told him to go out and inform all the other students of the "correct answer" to the question. If they say anything else, the professor would fail them like he was about to fail him.
    This was not one of a kind incident. All through out my schooling I had to take things for granted without knowing why they were true. If you were Einstein attending school in India, you would probably never graduate. The reason being, you are expected to give the "right answer" in the "right way". If you solve a math problem in a way different from what they expect from you, you fail. By the time a student gets through 18 years of this conformation enforcement formal education system, all creativity is more or less dead.  That is why in spite of having such a large IT force, no major innovations have ever come out of that country. We never think outside the box.
   When I attended school (Master's program) in US, I totally fell in love with their education system. Contrary to the Indian examination system, where you would try solve as many of the past question papers as possible and try to ace this game called exam, instead here the focus is on learning the subject and putting that knowledge to some practical use. Most of the grading here is based on course projects where you actually build stuff based on what you learned. Even in schools like Harvard, where you have Nobel laureates working as professors, students still analyze and question everything they are taught. They might come to the same conclusion as their professor, but they get there on their own, instead of being forced there.

2>Genius is not confined to math and science

In India right from a very young age extraordinary amount stress is placed on math and science. One of my co workers who was raised in India like I was, wants his daughter to be an engineer. He claims only engineers and doctors are smart. Other fields are for the people with a lower level of Intelligence. This mentality in my opinion is another one of the reasons that we are far behind the developed nations. The customer service in India is deplorable. All the movies have the same story.  Most Indian politicians are cheap low life thugs. The online version of the major news papers, like "Times of India" for instance, have criminally horrible editing.( Every single time they mention rape, they put quotes around it!!! After all these years they still don't realize that quotes mean so called.) All this wouldn't had been the case if we had smart people being able to branch out into disciplines outside science, without the social stigma.
    Every one is born with a different talent. In US every field is considered important. You have really smart people (US president Barack Obama for instance) taking up non science related disciplines in college. Many of them go on to be outstanding in the disciplines they choose.

3>Being interested in politics is good thing

When I was in India, most people considered politics a field for the bad people. No decent person would want anything to do with it. And guess what? We barely have any decent people in politics for the same reason.
     In US being involved in politics is considered a patriotic obligation of every citizen. They start getting involved in rallies and campaigns from a very young age. They realize that they shouldn't vote for individuals who would cater to their own selfish needs over the needs of the nation. They also realize that contesting in elections is one of the best ways to serve the nation. Clinton, Bush and Obama are all Ivy league graduates. How many IIM/IIT grads do we know of, who have become the prime ministers of India?

4>Every individual life matters

When I used to live in Mumbai, I remember seeing these severely malnourished kids begging on the side walk with their ribs sticking out. Its no secret that gangsters own these kids and they share the loot with the local cops. They feed the kid just enough so that he can live long enough to beg another day.
      When Jessica Lal got murdered the whole nation got behind a campaign to get her justice. But no one seems to care about all the little kids who get exploited everyday on the streets of India. Why? Because we do not care about the poor people.
    US on the other hand cares for every one of her citizens. If you are a US citizen who gets kidnapped in the forests of Amazon, the president himself will get involved. If you are physically challenged and cannot earn a living, the government sends you a paycheck every month. If you are kid, the government makes sure that you are well fed and get a good education. Every single individual kid born in this nation has a fair shot at success, if he/she has the will to do so.  Giving importance to every individual life has helped them to become a nation of strong individuals which in turn led to becoming a strong nation.

5>Anger is a sign of the weak

Most of our Bollywood movies, especially the ones with Salman and Shahrukh Khan, have notoriously glamorized anger. We idolize Sunny Deol, when he throws a person across the room for insulting him. When this plays out in real life, we have people attacking each other for the flimsiest of reasons. Its not uncommon to read news articles where people kill each other in road rage or over a cricket match. When travelling in the local trains in Mumbai, fists fights are a very common occurrence. For us fighting like street dogs, is the answer to all our problems.
     The concept here is, if you lose your temper, its because you are a weak individual who knows no other way to deal with his problems. If you ever lose temper in public, you are immediately ostracized. Kids here learn this from a very young age. Early in life, they learn to express their disagreements through speech instead of fists. As a result, most of them grow up to have amazing debating skills.

6>Reward works better than punishment

In India at most work places the boss scares you into getting the job done either by threatening or insulting until he gets what he wants. In the western world the threatening is replaced by the enticement of rewards. You get praised and rewarded for a job well done. Most psychologists agree that honest praise works far better than criticism. In the western world human behaviour tendencies are given a lot of importance. We Indians on the other hand have created a system where we treat humans like robots. We fail to realize that without appealing positively to the emotional part of the human brain, it is hard to motivate people.

Even though most us from India conveniently attribute all our problems to our oversized 1 Billion plus population, the bitter truth is, that's just a comfortable lie that politicians want us to believe. Until we address these root problems, we will forever be damned to remain as a developing nation.