Jun 2008 BLOG

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2008-06-28 Chaos for free

"Reinventing the sacred: a new view of science, reason, and religion" was the title of Stuart Kauffman's talk at the Skeptic society this month. The title was interesting, but the talk was dogmatic. Not the same kind of dogma that prevails for centuries, but newfound dogma. Reason, he urged, is only the tip of our existence. We need to understand the rest of our baggage (emotions, instincts etc.) to make sense of the world. Of the physical world? The sermon essentially can be summed up as saying " the world is too complex for us to reason things out" and so "we must ascribe it to creativity" if needed of "nature/forces ....". But at the same time he kept on blaming what he called Darwinian preselection.

The talk was rather "reasonable". What was not clear was if he was appealing to our reason or to our emotions. We have had only a few hundred years to reason about the universe (not counting the few thousand years when we did not know what lies beyond our solar system). Are we complex enough to demand that we understand the entire universe right away? Or are we so less complex that we should stop reasoning and get all emotional about it?

He does not like Dawkin's activist atheism and appeals to a middle-ground approach even saying that he understands his secretary's beliefs and will not want to ever talk against that. In that respect his "Breaking the Galilian spell" is very opposite to Dennett's wonderful "Breaking the spell". Given his earlier seminal work, Kauffman seems to be another case of a scientist having gone overboard. Thankfully he willnot eb able to convert reasonable people.

Dennett's "Breaking the spell"
2008-06-21 valid victories

Exit exams for 12th graders, needing knowledge of 8th graders, have seen the graduation rates drop in LA county to below 50 percent. Graduation? In our time (and may be a different world of the far east) graduation was when you did 3 or 4 years AFTER the 12th grade.

But here you graduate also from the 8th grade. People need reasons to celebrate. Barack Obama put it well in his peptalk lastweek that people should stop making a big deal out of 8th grade graduations and go on to at least the 12th grade.

Jay too had his graduation last week. He, owing to the highest possible GPA, for three years, was the valedictorian. School systems and PTAs which otherwise put, IMHO undue, weight on sports and other extra-curricular activities at the expense of (and that is a more important point to stress) could partly be responsible for the results (mainly not believing that your sons and daughters CAN do better at studies too). Lower aims and thrsholds result, perhaps a bit unexpectedly (otherwise more thinking may have gone into it - may be it does, but since democracy above all means personal rights and independance and freedom of speech, not much time is left for communal thinking). So, here is one place - the honour to speak last (or first) which solely your topmost muscle can earn you - where the schools (and I suppose the PTA) get it right.

Congrats, Jay.

2008-06-18 Vis-a-vis visa

Getting some visas is easier than others. For the first 2 that I got, those for South Afrika and Chile, everything was done by post. But then I came face to face the US visas. And the assitant ordials. And the hefty fees. I am told the fees are typically reciprocal. And the photo studios near the heavily guarded (generally by arrogant locals) American consulates in India and bag stands in Mexico. Post 9-11 things are of course worse. Of course.

Now I needed a Japanese visa. How hard can it be? When you call them, they actually answer rather than make you leave a message and then if you are worth, call you back. They do not need the visa fees upfront. They let you complete the form in front of them and ask you for a single photograph which they paste themselves.

We went there on Monday. The visa were ready on Wednesday morning. Between the three of us we had to pay 21 USD. For public parking outside we paid 20 during the two trips, not to mention the 5 we likely spent n gas.

Hopefully the actual visit is a breeze too.

2008-06-05 Wheeler upping Feynman

John Wheeler died recently at the ripe and active age of 96. I had first came across his name almost 2 decades ago through a wonderful book on Spacetime. Kip Thorne having been his student, gave a talk on him describing his social and scientific life in a lucid style. One incident he mentioned was out-of-sort with Wheeler's usual way and was just to once counter the brashness of another student of his, viz. Feynamn. Jumping through calculations that seemed to stump Feynman, he had to quip: "Little steps for little people". Oh, I guess if you are the boss of the smartest person of the second half of the 20th century, you can afford to do that.

John Wheeler

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