It’s taken me 60 years, but I had an epiphany recently: Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. I knew this in the abstract as the famous second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything is falling apart slowly. This realization is not just the lament of a person getting older. Long ago I learnt that even the most inanimate things we know of - stone, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper - won’t last very long without attention and fixing and the loan of additional order. Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.
What has surprised me recently is how unstable even the intangible is. Keeping a website or a software program afloat is like keeping a yacht afloat. It is a black hole for attention. I can understand why a mechanical device like a pump would break down after a while - moisture rusts metal, or the air oxidizes membranes, or lubricants evaporate, all of which require repair. But I wasn’t thinking that the non-material world of bits would also degrade. What’s to break? Apparently everything.
Brand-new computers will ossify. Apps weaken with use. Code corrodes. Fresh software just released will immediately begin to fray. On their own - nothing you did. The more complex the gear, the more (not less) attention it will require. The natural inclination toward change is inescapable, even for the most abstract entities we know of: bits.
And then there is the assault of the changing digital landscape. When everything around you is upgrading, this puts pressure on your digital system and necessitates maintenance. You may not want to upgrade, but you must because everyone else is. It’s an upgrade arms race.
If you read only one book about the causes of the recent financial crisis, let it be Michael Lewis’, “The Big Short”.
That’s not because Lewis has put together the most comprehensive or authoritative analysis of all the misdeeds and misjudgements and missed signals that led to the biggest credit bubble the world has known. What makes his account so accessible is that he tells it through the eyes of the managers of three small hedge funds and a Deutsche Bank bond salesman, none of whom you’ve ever heard of. All, however, were among the first to see the folly and fraud behind the subprime fiasco, and to find ways to bet against it when everyone else thought them crazy.
Plain speaking is necessary in any discussion of religion, for if the freethinker attacks the religious dogmas with hesitation, the orthodox believer assumes that it is with regret that the freethinker would remove the crutch that supports the orthodox. And all religious beliefs are “crutches” hindering the free locomotive efforts of an advancing humanity. There are no problems related to human progress and happiness in this age which any theology can solve, and which the teachings of free thought cannot do better and without the aid of encumbrances.
How would one search for knowledge? The things which he knows requires no search, for he already knows. The things which he does not know, he does not know what he’s going to search for - this is Meno’s Paradox, also called the Sophistic Paradox.
In Meno, Plato eliminates the paradox by developing his theory of recollection through Socrates. A contradiction is an always-false statement. For example, if P is any statement, then P and the negation of P is a contradiction. A contradiction cannot be made true. A paradox, however, is a set of statements that leads one into a contradiction. So a paradox misleads us.
"We are our narratives" has become a popular slogan. “We” refers to our selves, in the full-blooded person constituting sense. “Narratives” refers to the stories we tell about our -selves and our exploits in settings as trivial as cocktail parties and as serious as intimate discussions with loved ones. We express some in speech. Others we tell silently to ourselves, in that constant little inner voice. The full collection of one’s internal and external narratives generates the self we are intimately acquainted with. Our narrative selves continually unfold.
State-of-the-art neuro-imaging and cognitive neuropsychology both upholds the idea that we create our “selves” through narrative. Based on a half-century’s research on “split-brain” patients, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga argues that the human brain’s left hemisphere is specialised for intelligent behaviour and hypothesis formation. It also possesses the unique capacity to interpret - that is, narrate - behaviours and emotional states initiated by either hemisphere. Not surprisingly, the left hemisphere is also the language hemisphere, with specialised cortical regions for producing, interpreting and understanding speech. It is also the hemisphere that produces narratives.
Hofstadter approaches the “Mind” from the perspective of the computer sciences, in that there are both hardware and software aspects of human intelligence. He looks at the enactment of intelligence in terms of a formal system. In turn, Hofstadter declares that in primal, natural systems, formal systems are embedded. He infers that in relation to what we perceive as explicit in such formal systems, there is also an aspect that is intrinsically implicit. The idea of an embedded implicitness ultimately suggests a “Within” in the heart of things.
To begin, there is a need for a descriptive presentation of Hofstadter’s brain system model. He uses the ant colony as an analogy of the human brain system. Hofstadter relays that individual ants seem to be able to cooperate as teammates and not randomly wander off. After billions of years of evolution, these ants have passed a critical threshold...reinforcing themselves into a collective behaviour that results in an ant colony. Hofstadter likens ant teams to signals; and, basically, “the effect of signals is to transport ants of various specialization to approximate parts of the colony.” Ultimately, the fully evolved ant colony takes on a holistic aspect, and emerging molecular mechanisms take form.
But I wonder how much real attention Dickens’s books will get. In America at least, he seems to be an author more known than read. (Find me someone who claims to have read “Martin Chuzzlewit” and I will show you a goddamned liar.) Yet even if you’ve read only one of his books, his stamp is such that it feels like you’ve read them all. The virtues that kept him famous, prosperous and never out of print - that he is easily grasped and eternally inventive in his visuals and jokes - have served to make him iconic. His characters, of course, deserve most of the credit. They possess those funny allegorical names, behave just as fixedly, and get thrown into one melodramatic scene after another. But taken as a whole, those 989 characters make up an unforgettable universe of humanity matched only by Shakespeare, whom Dickens worshipped.
Union Carbide’s in-house investigation of the accident will probably not be completed before the end of February. But an inquiry under way in India is already reaching some initial conclusions. The investigation has identified a combination of design flaws, operating errors and managerial mistakes that helped cause the accident and intensified its effects. In addition, the accident has stirred serious questions about placing modern technology in less industrialized Third World nations.
I was recently shocked to read that several city councils in the UK are getting ready to expunge everyday Latin words from the English lexicon. Along with ‘via’ and ‘etc’ would be banished ‘viz’ and ‘i.e.’, not to speak of ‘inter alia’ and ‘bona fide’. There goes away that exotic literary advantage. It was only recently that Amrita, my 10-year-old, fighting against a tide of domestic protestations voted against romantic French and prevalent Spanish and chose Latin as her second language in middle school. I had cheered her and actually promised to help out with the homework, given that three out of five words in English are of Latin origin. Blame this vicarious decision on my formative years but growing up in Mumbai, Latin was never an option in my school, as our national language Hindi was strictly enforced. Shiv Sainiks had decreed that local Marathi was de rigueur for all citizens of the city. I therefore ended up needing to speak three additional languages, not to forget Tamil, my mother tongue.
Microfinance in India started in the early 1980s with small efforts at forming informal self-help groups (SHG) to provide access to much-needed savings and credit services. From this small beginning, the microfinance sector has grown significantly in the past decades. National bodies like the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) are devoting significant time and financial resources to microfinance.