Friday, November 13, 2009

All hail irrationality!!!!

Nietzsche once said, “In everything one thing is impossible: rationality.” Yet, we hear our professors, our parents and quite of lot of others say, think rationally. I ask myself, what do they mean? It’s not like we got a button in our brains which we switch on and off whenever we want to think rationally or be irrational. A human’s base instinct is to get the most for himself/herself, to survive. To be selfish, is to be human?
But, what if you don’t want to just survive, what if you want to know, what if you want to feel and enjoy, what if you want everybody to be able to enjoy what you are enjoying, what then? Too many questions and too little time to answer; I guess, the fundamental problem with this is that we look at everything from one and only one perspective, ours. We try making the best judgements from our perspectives, our eyes, and the neurons in our brains. The fallacy in this is that, in looking through our perspectives, we forget about other’s perspectives. The academics, who like giving fancy names to everything, call this the bounded rationality of humans. All humans, well, a major component of humanity at least, wants and tries to be rational. Yet, when they make judgements, their emotions play a major role in that judgement. Emotions are just one of the cognitive biases, we humans possess, making it ever so impossible to actually make a decision completely rational.
Hundreds of hours and millions have been spent trying to understand rationality, cognitive biases and how to account for the biases so that human actions can be predicted. Yet, the closer we get to predicting, we find more and more inaccuracies which we can’t account for.
This forces me to ask the questions, why in the world are we so worried about being rational? Has being rational helped?
If you come up and tell me, well, if we had been rational, we could have avoided wars, we could have avoided genocides, poverty and what not. I wouldn’t totally agree with you, because, if we ever had wars, genocides, poverty etc. it has been because somebody has been selfish enough to maximise his returns will minimising his inputs, which as per the rational choice theory is being rational, forcing his version of the rational in the process. So, if you look at it through, Hitler’s or Idi Amin’s or Mussolini’s perspective, they thought, they were doing the right thing by creating a world that they felt was less random and more reasonable. The war for land, riches and resources is driven by rationality as per the perspective of the governments/heads of the warring countries/clans. Your rationality now tells you, they were wrong to do what they did, but under those conditions, they did what they thought was rational. Only, now we see it as being irrational. So, it was not only irrationality, but a good dose of rationality as well, which contributed to all the atrocities in this world.
If we were to be completely rational, we wouldn’t worry about optimising the system (the system being the society or the world we live in) over the unit in the system (the unit being us, human beings, of course. Although, this process of being selfish creates a pattern which in turn helps the system indirectly). At the same time, it is emotions that make us cringe when we see children in Sudan crying for food, cry out in outrage at the wrongs in the world, make an effort to change things, dream, make spontaneous decisions and find new things and enjoy good music, food and arts.
Once you take out all the biases, what remains in us is not something human, it is just a computer which can walk, talk, and make decisions on its own. What make humans human are these irrationalities, these small glitches in our head. It is these same irrationalities that make us happy when we achieve something, angry when we fail or underachieve, sad when we miss something or somebody sorely and so on. Without emotions, we are not human anymore. Without irrationality, rationality is just a 11-letter word, humans created, which has no meaning. Rationality without irrationality is like good without evil, happiness without sadness, peace without war, and life without death.
As the war between irrationality and rationality wages on, what we need to do is not to force our perspective of the rational on others but, to take a step back, look at things from their perspective, look at it from a third person’s perspective, think, appreciate and try understand because there could be some method in all that madness, after all.
All this conflict in this write-up is because, I have been trying to show, how conflicted and limited, human reasoning can be, and however rational we try to be, and try make everything look rational, what we need to realise is that all humans are irrational and random to a certain extent and that breaks down our own attempt to make everything around us appear rational.
As Sartre put it so aptly in his Existentialism is a Humanism: "Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good to be back!!!

After a hiatus of nearly a year, I feel like writing again, I have to thank the ppl who switched me back on....the next post will be up in 24 hrs.. :P

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why the Germans are sad!!!!

During the last few days, I have been talking to a German guy by the name of Daniel. We talk about things that every Indian talks to a German abt the first time they meet each other: cars and motorsport, beer and Hitler. Well, we talked quite a bit. 

From him I learnt tht ppl in germany who are not employed get unemployment benefit(the whole of Europe has this system BTW)and the difference between the unemployment benefit and the amount a hardworking person makes is only abt 100 Euros!!!!!!!!! So anebody who wants to earn money by just sitting on their asses, Europe is the place for you to be. :-)

One other thing we talked about at length was how unhappy Germans are. German people are so sad, they are asked by their bosses to join laughter clubs, just to keep them cheerful. Supposedly, German people are the saddest people in the whole of Europe!!!!!!

Why is that??

Well, according to Daniel, there are various reasons, some easy to explain and others not so easy, but one of the most obvious reason is the German's need to improve. Germany makes the world's best cars(Chk out the World automobile company tree image below), the best famous musicians(Mozart,Wagner,Bach,Schubert etc.), a handful of philosophers(Neitzche,Goethe), the best scientific minds of Europe(Einstein, Nernst, haber, Max Planck to name a few) and yet they are not happy. They are not happy because they are not happy with what they have done. They always think they can do better.

If that is why the Germans are sad, I believe that all people need to be sad, especially, us Indians. We have this complacent attitude of being happy with our past laurels. We call out names from the dusty pages of history and even 60 years of independence still depend of Jawaharlal Nehru's heirs to lead this country. We are happy that india won 3 medals in olympics, when the germany has already forgotten how many they won during this olympics. Instead of dwelling in the past, we need to look forward. Because past laurels are nothing more than achievements we could gloat about, maybe, once a year at a conference or any other corporate function, but it should not be the centre of attention. What we should be doing is puttin ourselves to the test constantly and setting higher benchmarks by the day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The above 2 posts were part of a set of ideas and thoughts that i had jotted down in a particular sequence which will continue...

But this post is just an update, a minor tweak if u may; on the previous posts, as I have been readin, listening and watchin a lot of stuff. And this post basically updates my views, the changes in them for the time being at least....

In the previous post I said that a lot of our country's shortcomings was due to the bad attitude that our middle class and the inactivity of our general public to do anything for their own betterment(community i mean, not personal betterment; that everyone of us is very good at). 

Well, that is a incomplete explanation. 

Actually I could also say, the mistake is not ours, not completely atleast; it also our leaders. Our leaders were very xenophobic, and over-nationalistic until the late 1980s and the 1990s when reforms actually kicked in. In the span of the 40 years from 1947 to 1987, we fought 2 wars with Pakistan, turned down an invitation to play in th football World cup, surprised ourselves by winning the cricket workd cup of 83, conducted nuclear tests by which we got ourself banned from obtaining further nuclear technology, were the among the founding members of the UN, the NAM, the ADB and the G20 industrial nations and the list goes on. Yet, when it came to quick development we did nothing. For all the things Jawarlal Nehru was famous for, he was a slightly xenophobic person when it came to giving out tenders of development projects to international firms. Thus slowing down the process.

Nehruvian politics slowed us down to a massive extent in various areas like power generation, foreign relations with the developed powers(which was both a good and bad decision, coz that issue has multiple angles one has to worry about), the industrial and green revolutions, education etc.

In 1947, when India got independence, we were far ahead of China in every aspect. Forget 1947, even after 1960s after mao Zedong had died, India was comfortably ahead in almost all major development fields. Yet now, when we compare India with China, our country has fallen behind China in a majority of the development aspects.

 The main difference??

China, after the death of Mao Zedong in the 1960s implemented a lot of economic reforms, and further relaxation the communist stae came through reforms in 1978 which led to the current state China is in. While India had to wait till the late 80s to see those same reforms which opened up our markets to the world.

Forget our economy, our country which boasts of a billion people can barely muster 3 medals in the olympics while China, hosted the latest edition of the Olympics and topped the medals tally with a record breaking 100 medals. While we rejoice that one Abhinav Bindra won gold medal, Phelps won more gold medals than the country of Italy which was ranked 9th.

China, although boasts of all this, has a lot of disadvantages, agreed, being a communist state and all....but lets not look at the glass as half full..let us look at our condition as half empty, atleast for the time being.....


Thisis a continuation of my previous post, written wheni wrote the previous post..but uploadin only now.

There comes a new question now: Why is the society pushing me? Why does the society need somebody to do its dirty work? Do I care about being someone I wouldn’t want to be, but, as I am already here wouldn’t mind doing?

Well, I am not sure. But, when I have thought about it, I feel the society needed this to a certain extent. Yes, I know, it is surprising. But, in a developing country like ours, especially one with such large geographic  boundaries, and gifted with such a large amount of flora, fauna and other natural resources; we needed people with the technical know-how to convert this basic raw material to a finished product. This is because, a finished product earns us income many times a raw material does. So, we needed people who could find out new and better uses for our natural wealth, yet protect these above mentioned God-given(something we have to discuss, but later) money machines(if you want to look at it, the capitalist way). Also, we needed the medicine men, who could look after and take care of both of our thriving, vibrant and diverse fauna and our most valuable resource in the 21st century, our human capital.

When our country had just become independent in 1947, our leaders had very people who could do this, hence, they encouraged people to go study, acquire the required knowledge and help our country to progress. Thus, we got our first premier engineering, research and medical institutions; not forgetting to thank the visionary Tatas, Birlas and other families who helped in this process.

The society and that time, though had a much different demographic. A majority of the people (I am not foolish to assume, that there were no fools, money-mongers and selfish people because, where do you think a lot of the current age politicians come from) knew reason, they knew the advantage of thinking before jumping into anything. But, after all, we are all human. So our great leaders made a mistake, even though they made a constitution based on democracy, made for the people, by the people and of the people, they erred in making America and Russia our role models. Our leaders chose Non-Alignment over communism or capitalism, yet they covertly sided with Russia for military and space capabilities and America for many of the industrial advances. There, in their attempt to maintain democracy in all its even-handedness and parity, they made it unbalanced and unfair.  

Sorry, I am going off-topic. I shall talk about our great nation and its leaders, both past and present, further down. So, what I was alluding to was that, our nation’s young society in an attempt to acquire technical know-how started making journeys to new corners of the world, learning new things, seeing new and wonderful places, acquiring new experiences. Many came back to tell about this wonderful dreamland abroad, with flush toilets, coffee and tea in packets, bakeries with all sorts of mind boggling and mouth-watering foods. Imagine the delight of an Indian who must have gone to America or the U.K or Russia during the 40s,50s and the 60s. A time when even owning a bicycle was a luxury in India. Thus, began the great Indian gold rush.

Many a person came back to India, after acquiring the technical know-how, proud of themselves and their motherland, which in their minds was day by day becoming greater and greater. But, only when they came back did they notice with dismay the lack of equipments, the machines without which their training is worthless. So, many went back, and settled down abroad; making arrangements very slowly and painstakingly to amass money and then purchase machinery, equipments and everything they could get their hands on, so that our country could progress. Thus, went the first few years of our country. More and more people entered technical field, at the same time, the country started progressing in earnest, one step at a time.

The engineering, scientific and the medical fields started booming because of new wars, plagues, the population explosion, need for better amenities, rising lifestyles and also due to opening up of markets after the downfall of the Soviet Union. Thus, as the industries also matured, so did the incomes and the paycheques.

But, then somewhere in the late 80s or the mid-90s we misplaced our blueprint for the nation. Instead this position was taken up by money, lifestyle and one-upmanship. Thus, began our second Indian gold rush, though we didn’t realise it.   People continued going abroad to learn. Yes, learn, but to learn what? 80-90% of the people went to learn the big buck jobs. The big buck jobs being science and engineering, management and medicine (I classify medicine as a separate division though it comes under science because of variation in the practice of medicine and other sciences.). 5-digit incomes became a prerequisite to be an elite member of a growing middle class which is largely materialistic, money-hogging, selfish and attention seeking.

In all this hurry, we the people forgot the arts completely; the people who choose arts courses being called either dunderheads or people who have a wish to commit social and financial suicide. The people who become successful in the arts fields being called savants and geniuses; many of them are true geniuses, I agree. But, the truth is all of us have the gift to be beautiful and artistic, we just don’t look at it or develop this gift, or by chance if we do, it’s just another achievement to add to your precious resume.

One other change is in the demographic of our country, that has seen, a declining number in true political and intellectual leaders; People who could think. Nobody is willing to take up this responsibility, as it is not an easy one, nor, is it one which guarantees you any money. Due to this, we now have leaders up in the ruling class, who have either half-baked or no knowledge of the art of reasoning. All they know is argument without applying themselves and arguing for that cause till the end. And, also, the knowledge of how to make money by swindling the people of the country, anyway, they are not making any hue or cry. The middle class which is the one of the biggest and most influential classes of this country is conveniently asleep, hoping and praying only 2 things. One, that he gets more and more money by the day. Two, that he fares better than his neighbours. Because of this, the ragamuffins, our supposed leaders who are supposed to run the government machinery loot us day in and day out, and yet, the middle class accepts it resignedly, because even now they are thinking” After all, my neighbour is also paying it”.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The thought and forceful coercion

I have been thinking a lot lately. I don’t know why? Not that I don’t usually think, just that the way I think has come to change a lot in recent times. So much so, I spent a large part of the last semester of my graduate major thinking rather than studying. But, I feel it has been one of the most productive times of my life. These thoughts all appear to be so random, yet, I have always felt a hidden geometry.

This is my attempt to arrange my chaotic thoughts.

Most of my thoughts are spurred on by the various people around me, the different people I see, the people I read about. And yet it’s never about one particular person. I have grown up with a particular feeling, it was not inherent; yet, from somewhere, during sometime in my teenage years, I have acquired this random notion that, “I do not matter. What matters is the world around me, the people around me.” Why is that? I have asked myself this question among the several questions that pop up in my head.

I do this when I am bored, not playing football, not watching movies, not sleeping or not studying; which constitutes a large amount of time, considering I am bored whenever I am not doing one of the above, and I don’t involve in any of these activities for more than 2 hours a day lately except for maybe sleeping, of course, for which I gladly devote somewhere between 6 to 10 hours. So, barring these 14 hours when i am actually doing something, i have 10 hours each day to be mentally and physically idle.

Now, is it just me or is everybody this idle for these many hours? And if so what do they do with these hours? Oh, yeah I forgot, many of you are running after your lives, running the rat race (why is it called a rat race, ever wondered why?). But then instead of running after your lives, why not hold it by the scruff of its neck and ask it to behave. Is it possible to do this?
Let’s start from this last one and then we will try to answer to all the other questions, some already mentioned, some not mentioned.

Whenever I have thought about the question of running our lives, I have felt, maybe, just maybe this is because we, the people of India in particular, want to be a somebody. A somebody in the society who is respected, somebody who is sought after, somebody who is synonymous with the word SUCCESS. So we vie for jobs that are synonymous with all of this, and also pay you handsomely. We look around in our society and everybody in the society points at certain select vocations. Everybody is swept up in this strong stream of suggestions, whether he likes it or not; burn midnight oil over vocations we don’t desire. The problem arises mainly due to a person’s desire for social approval. We want what others think we want, not what we really want or could be. “My biology teacher tells me that I would be good as a doctor, but then my mathematics and physics professors tell me that I should be a physicist or a mathematician, my mother wants me to be an engineer, my father says a you have an innate ability to manage, so go for a management degree, also guarantees you lots of money, my uncle says lawyer.....and so this goes, only I have never thought what I want”.

Of course, money is another factor. Society demands that a successful and respected person be rich. So, we the people of the supposed “X, Y and Z”-generations, aspire to become engineers, CEOs and doctors. After all, Uncle Sam has done it, our Japanese cousins have done it, not once but twice, our Aryan relatives once removed(if you still don’t get it, the Germans) , have done it not once, not twice but thrice. So why not us, why can’t we pull it off? What is wrong with building up a country with people who are skilled in any of the different fields of science and engineering, management and medicine? After all, it is the engineers who build and design things, it is the doctors who take care of our precious health and of course the managers, who oil and watch over the cogs and wheels of the machineries of most of the fields. One could even liken them to the “Trimurti Gods: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the Preserver and Shiva, the destroyer” from Hinduism.
Well, there is nothing wrong.

To me that says it all. That one statement summarises in itself, not only everybody’s lack of interest in anything that he/she would like, but also the greed and ego, shoved into every innocent kid from the moment they are born, by the society and their parents.

Many of you would be shaking their heads right now, thinking, poor guy, what a load of crap he has written, how much time he has wasted on something so worthless. Well, as I have already told you, I have a lot of spare time. At least, I am doing something to utilise it and am actually spending it doing something I would like to do. So, coming to my point, the more one thinks about this, the more one comes to believe, that in 60-70% of the cases, he/she has no idea why he is pursuing his job. He is confused whether he is right for the job he is studying to become. She wonders whether she should have been doing something else from day one. They wonder if they had been pushed in a mildly persuasive yet forceful manner by the society to being something they don’t want to be.