Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Raven Paradox

[Ken and Sid are sitting in the balcony of their flat near Shimla. A cool breeze blows. Sid is looking at the beautiful mountain peaks. Ken is reading a book. ]

Sid: This is a beautiful place, Dad. An ideal place to spend the summer vacation.

Ken: [Smiles.] So much cooler than Delhi. I read on the internet that it was 45 degrees Celsius there yesterday.

[ Suddenly a black coloured bird lands on the branch of a tree a little distance from where Ken and Sid are sitting.]

Sid: The crows here are completely black. The ones that we see in Delhi have grey necks.

Ken: The ones that we see here are more accurately called ravens. The ones in Delhi are Colombo crows.

Sid: So a raven is completely black.

Ken: [Smiles.] Your sentence has reminded me of something very interesting. I must tell you about it.

Sid: What?

Ken: Carl Gustav Hempel was a 20th century philosopher of science and he came up with a very interesting situation that is known as the Raven paradox.

Sid: What is this paradox about ravens?

Ken: Let’s imagine a situation: You are a scientist who has discovered this new species of birds. You call it raven.

Sid: Okay.

Ken: You are a pioneer in the field, you spend many years in the Himalayas studying the characteristics of this new species of birds. You observe hundreds of ravens from different places that you visit.

Sid: Okay.

Ken: Let’s say you see a hundred ravens and all are black, and you come up with the statement, “All ravens are black”.

Sid: Okay.

Ken: You want to collect evidence to support the statement “All ravens are black” for the paper that you are writing for “Nature” magazine.

Sid: That is simple. I need to see lots of ravens. I can also travel to different areas in the Himalayas and look at ravens. If I keep seeing only black ravens then my statement is justified.

Ken: So would it be fair to say that whenever you see a raven and the colour is black, your evidence for the statement “All ravens are black” increases? Of course, I am assuming that you never see a raven that is not black.

Sid: Yes. The more black ravens I see, the stronger my theory becomes.

Ken: [Smiles.] The interesting part begins now. Do you think your statement “All ravens are black” is logically equivalent to the statement “Anything that is not black is not a raven?”

Sid: [After thinking for a few seconds]. Yes. These are equivalent statements.

Ken: Let me repeat what I asked earlier: If you see a black raven do you think it supports your statement that “All ravens are black”?

Sid: Of course! Why do you ask again and again? It is so simple.

Ken: If I see a red apple does it support your statement, “All ravens are black”? [Smiles.]

Sid: Of course not. Why would you even ask such a silly question? How can looking at an apple tell us anything about ravens?

Ken: [ Suddenly serious.] It is not a silly question. If I see a red apple it is evidence for the statement that “Anything that is not black is not a Raven” because we have a red object, that is not a raven. But you yourself said that this statement is equivalent to the statement “All ravens are black”!

Sid: Gosh! I had not thought about that. So if I see anything that is not black and not a raven, it will add to the evidence that “All ravens are black”! I wear a blue shirt and the evidence that “all ravens are black” becomes stronger. I eat a yellow mango and it tells us that “All Ravens are black” is probably true. This is such a crazy and amazing idea!

Ken: Yes. It really is such an amazing idea. Hempel came up this paradox to illustrate the problems of inductive reasoning.

Sid: Inductive reasoning?

Ken: You see many instances of something and then come up with a general statement about the whole class of that thing. For example, we saw a hundred ravens and we came up with a statement about the colour of all ravens, even the ones that we had not seen. Inductive reasoning has always been a matter of controversy and debate in the history of science.

[ A voice from inside the house tells them that lunch is ready.]

Sid: Let’s go Dad. Mom has made biryani today.

Ken: And our tasting this biryani will add to the evidence of my statement, “all biryanis are delicious”.

Sid: But according to raven’s paradox, if you eat boiled broccoli which is not delicious, that too will add to the evidence that “all biryanis are delicious”. And this is because a dish of boiled broccoli will support the statement, “if something is not delicious, it is not biryani” and that is logically equivalent to the statement, “all biryanis are delicious”.

[Sid laughs as Ken and Sid head indoors.]

Kanwar

========================================================================
Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================

Free Will and Philosophy

Philosophers have always been interested in the question of free will. There have been philosophers who have
believed in free will and some who have not and some who have believed that both free will and determinism
can exist at the same time. We will understand these different points of view and the arguments for these
diverse points of view in this VERITAS article.
 
The philosophy that believes that determinism exists but free will does not is known as hard determinism.
The philosophy that believes that determinism is false and free will exists is known as metaphysical libertarianism.
 
So hard determinism and metaphysical libertarianism are completely opposite views. Let’s study them in some
more detail:
 
Hard Determinism: Determinism is the idea that the future is caused by the past and present events in accordance
with the laws of nature. This view is best illustrated by a thought experiment called Laplace’s demon. Laplace
was a hard determinist who made a thought experiment: imagine a demon that knows the position and every possible
variable about every atom in the universe. And this demon knows the laws of Physics completely. Then would this demon
not be able to compute the future with certainty? Laplace answers in the affirmative.
                            Now there are different kinds of deterministic philosophies based on the root of the deterministic
laws: The determinism may be based on logic- if x was true earlier so y should be true later. This is called
logical determinism. Or there may be theological determinism: God decides what will happen at all times so there
is determinism caused by the all powerful, all knowing God.
 
Metaphysical Libertarianism: Now lets’ look at the completely opposite view : determinism is false and free will
exists. These theories are also of various kinds. Take for example, the dualistic viewpoint that there is a soul
and there is a body. The body is  ruled by laws of physics externally but the decisions and thought take place
in the soul which is not subject to the laws of Physics. So the dualists are metaphysical libertarinimists who
believe that the soul is the root of free will. This is one viewpoint under Metaphysical Libertarianism. How about
if I were to show that Laws of Physics themselves are not completely deterministic. Then would we not have shown
that there is free will and not even need a soul to justify it. We will study this theory on Monday( day III of the free
will week).
 
Both the above positions, Metaphysical Libertarianism and Hard Determinism, say that if determinism is true
then free will is not and vice versa. So both these above positions consider free will and determinism as
incompatible with each other. Therefore they are both considered as incompatibilism philosophies.
 
There are philosophies that consider free will and determinism as compatible with each other- both can exist
at the same time. These philosophies are known as compatibilism philosophies.         
 
A compatabilist focuses on a slightly different definition of free will. For them free will is defined whether you were
forced by some other person to make a choice or if you did it on your own. So you decide to go and see a movie
and for a compatibilist, that is enough to say that “free will exists” because you did not choose to see the movie
under force from someone else. So a compatibilist will ask you, “could you have chosen differently if you were in a
different mood?”. And if the answer is yes, then he would say that you have a free will. The compatibilist does not
deny that your mood may be from a chain of past events but if they are your own chain of events then your mind
has decided for you and that is free will. This definition of free will is closest to the moral sense that we all have.
We punish people who do something immoral or illegal and we reward the people who are virtuous because most
( if not all) of us believe that the person made the choice himself.
 
So, as you can see, there are a lot of different philosophical opinions on the fundamental question of free will.
On Monday we will talk about the free will theorem. To end the VERITAS I will quote the philosopher, Arthur
Schopenhauer in his essay, “On the freedom of will” :
 
“You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and
absolutely nothing other than that one thing”
 
regards
Kanwar
 
                        
 
========================================================================
Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
======================================================================

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Descartes, The Doubter

A few weeks back I was having a discussion with my good friend Kavita  about Doubt and Belief. Any discussion about these subjects is incomplete without talking about Rene Descartes and his philosophy. In today’s VERITAS we will talk about Descartes and how his philosophy became the foundation of the modern Scientific method.
Most of the material for this VERITAS has been taken from Bertrand Russell’s ” The History of Western Philosophy” and E.T Bell’s “Men of Mathematics”.

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Descartes was born in 1596 in Indre-et-Loire in France. His father was a judge in a local court. He studied law after his schooling and earned a law degree in 1612. But he did not practice law. He wanted knowledge- real knowledge. He traveled around Europe and met people to gain knowledge from “the great book of the world”. But wherever he went, his friends followed him. So to secure a more complete quiet he joined the Dutch army in 1617. In the winter of 1619-1620 he was posted in Bavaria. It was on one of those cold winter days that he sat next to a stoveand thought about a philosophy that he would later describe in the “Discours de la Methode”. In 1622 he returned to France. He sold all his property in 1923 and invested it in bonds so that he could have a secure lifelong income. He went back to the Dutch republic in 1928 and spent the next twenty odd years there. These were the most productive years of his life in terms of his Philosophical and Mathematical work. In Amsterdam he had an affair with a servant girl, Helene Jans with whom he had a daughter in 1635. His daughter Francine died in 1640. In 1949 Queen
Christina of Sweden sent a warship to fetch him. She wanted him to be her personal teacher. All his life Descartes had been a late riser- he would never get out of bed before noon. But the queen insisted that her lessons should start at 5 AM. This early rising and the cold Scandinavian winter did not suite Descartes’ health.

  He died in 1650 of pneumonia in Sweden.

Now let’s talk about Descartes’ ideas. Descartes was a philosopher, a mathematician and a man of science.

In mathematics his greatest contribution was the invention of co-ordinate geometry. Many of us have studied this in our class 11 and 12th. For the others I will say this: coordinate geometry is the study of geometry using the algebraic description of shapes and figures. So instead of drawing a circle we can use the equation of a circle. There is, similarly ,the equation  of a line and an ellipse and sphere etc. It is a very powerful method and a great revolution in mathematics.

Now let’s talk about Descartes’ contribution to philosophy. In 1637 he published the “Discourse on Method”( also known as “Discours de la Methode”. In 1642 he published Meditations. These two books discuss his Philosophy which is based on doubt. Descartes refers to it as “Cartesian doubt”. Descartes believed that in order to have a firm basis of philosophy one should start with doubting everything. And then he would build on that.

His first step was to doubt sense perception. He knew that our senses sometimes tell us things that are not true. Now Descartes realized that if he doubts everything then there is no place to start his philosophy. So he decided that since he is thinking these thoughts and since he is doing the doubting therefore he must exist. So the foundations of his philosophy is “Dubito ergo, Cogito ergo, sum”. Which translates as ” I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”.

So Descartes doubted sense perception. But he believed in thought. So in his philosophy “Thinking” is real knowledge. Sense perception is unreliable. He put forward the wax argument. He touches a piece of wax- it has a certain shape, feel and colour. He then places it on fire- immediately the shape, feel and colour changes. His senses( eyes, touch etc) tell him that this new form of wax is different from the old form. But the mind tells him that it is the same wax. So the senses have been fooled but the mind perceives the real truth. The perception of wax is not “a vision or touch or imagination, but an inspection of the mind”.

The method of critical doubt is of great philosophical importance. In fact if applied in a healthy manner, it is the basis of the modern Scientific method. But of course, the doubting has to stop somewhere( or for sometime) for this method to be useful. In Science it stops at experimental verification. In Descartes’ original philosophy it stopped at “I think”.

And finally let’s end by some quotes from the doubter himself:

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

“It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived.”

Kanwar

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Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

The Spectator vs. the Actor

I have always loved reading Bertrand Russell. He was a mathematician and a philosopher. So his philosophical writings are based on sound logic and great thought. I had read a lot of his books in college but I never got around to reading the “History of Western Philosophy”. A few years back my friend Abhishek Datta said so manythings in the praise of this book that I decided to read it. I started reading this a few weeks back and I am loving every page. Each page of this book contains so much thought, so much knowledge that it is difficult to remain calm while reading it. This book is a masterpiece. If you read this book you will realize why Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize for literature.

 

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In this VERITAS I want to tell you about some very interesting observations made by Bertrand Russell about how Pythagoras’ philosophy influenced how people looked at philosophers and thinkers then and how we look at them today. But before I talk about Russell’s observation let’s talk about Pythagoras.

Russell says : ” Pythagoras was one of the most important men that ever lived, both when he was wise and when he was unwise”. He lived in the Greek island of Samos during the 6th century B.C. He had many disciples and founded a school of mathematics and philosophy in the city of Croton. But the citizens of Croton turned against him and his teachings forcing him to move to Metapontion. Very little is known about his personal life.

However we do know a lot about his philosophy and his mathematical contributions. He is known to have said : “All things are numbers”. He discovered the importance of numbers in music, shapes and everything around us. He considered numbers to be the theory behind everything. For Pythagoras, numbers are perfect- almost divine. He also discovered the Pythagoras’ theorem- in a right angle triangle the square of the hypotenuse is the sum of squares of the other two sides. But this theorem caused the biggest damage to Pythagoras and his philosophy.
Imagine a right angled triangle with the base and height of 1 unit each. Then the length of the hypotenuse would be the square root of 2. This is an irrational number. Pythagoras struggled but could not find any perfection in a number like that. This was a huge blow to Pythagoras’ philosophy that numbers are perfect and thus constitute the foundation of this universe.

Pythagoras formed a religious sect and the followers of this sect were known as Pythagoreans. Their love for numbers was just one part of their philosophy. And that was the soundest part of their philosophy. A huge part of their philosophy deals with fantastic and superstitious stuff. The Pythagoreans believed in the transmigration of souls- the soul reincarnates again and again in human or animal form. The Pythagorean religion also had a set of crazy rules. Some of them are:

1) To never eat beans

2) Not to pick up what is fallen

3) Not to break bread

4) Not to touch a white cock

5) Smooth the impress of the body on the bed after you get up.

…… and the list goes on and on. You may find all these rules absurd. But in my personal opinion all religions and their rules are absurd. The followers of a particular religion find the rules of their own religion wise and good but they find the rules of other religions absurd. And atheists like me find the rules of all religions absurd. So you may find the rules of Pythagorean religion silly but they seemed logical and good to the followers of that religion.

And now let’s come to Russell’s observation about how people in that time viewed philosophers and how it seems to have changed in the modern world. Russell’s observation is based on the following philosophy of Pythagoras: 
” There are three kinds of men, just as there are three sorts of people who come to see the Olympic games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell goods. The next higher class are the people who come to compete in the games. And the highest people are the one who come simply to look on.”

Russell’s says that this philosophy of Pythagoras is opposed to modern values. Most people would consider cricketers or footballers grander than the “mere” spectators. Russell says that this is a change in our social system. Today we tend to give more importance to people of action but in ancient Greece the people of pure thought were considered the highest class. And the men of action worked for them. Russell says: ” The gentleman has had a long innings in philosophical theory because he is associated with the Greek genius, because the virtue of contemplation acquired theological endorsement and because the ideal of disinterested truth dignified the academic life”. Men of action are a produce of industrialization. Men of thought are a produce of aristocracy where the men of action serve the men of thought.

Russell says that it is to the ancient Greek social system that we owe Mathematics and Philosophy. So pure mathematics,pure science and philosophy are the products of an aristocratic system that considers pure contemplative thought higher than practical action.

It is for insights and observations like these that I read Russell’s books. This observation hit me real hard- I had never thought about it. But I realize that it is true. Today we tend to make heroes of cricketers and movie stars. But in the old days they were mere entertainers for the gentlemen and ladies who spent their lives discussing, thinking or reciting poetry. Today we do not consider a scientist great till he writes a book or wins a Nobel Prize – becomes a man of action and not just thought. But remember- all philosophy, science, music, mathematics is based on a world where pure contemplation is the greatest thing.

I sum it up with Pythagoras’ words: “The greatest purification of all is, therefore, disinterested Science, and it is the man who devotes himself to that, the true philosopher who has most effectively released himself from the wheel of birth”.

regards
Kanwar

|======================================================|
Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Civilization

Friends,

        This VERITAS is about a game, a computer game. But how can a game find a place in a mailing list devoted to knowledge?! But is does, and for a good reason. After playing this game one gets an experience of history.

One’s sense of history improves. And it also increases your factual knowledge. In the rest of this article I will describe the game “Civilization” to you and try to justify its place in the VERITAS mailing list. ( I would like to thank my friend Abhishek Datta for introducimg me to this game which gave me a wonderful realization of how civilizations have evolved.)

      First let me describe the game.

         You are the leader of a civilization that you choose( I “became” Bismark of Germany). The date starts at 3000 BC. The world at this time is unoccupied. You see a map of the world and have two people in your control. Using these people you can create cities in unoccupied lands.

Soon the number of people increases and you can build more cities thus forming a kingdom. You have workers who produce stuff. You can create warriors to help you fight and defend. You have within your control the country’s economy, the people, the resources, the armed units…

everything.And you build them these things yourself. You have an economy and a budget and you can allocate resources to different things: defence scientific research, culture etc. Based on your allocation your country progresses in a particular direction. So if you devote more money to scientific research you would be able to achieve  scientific progress faster( so you might be able to discover Newton’s laws of motion sooner).

If you devote more money to culture you will progress culturally ( you may be able to discover music before the other civilizations).

And all these allocations and decisions on what to produce when are dynamic and you can change them at any stage of the game.

        This game is a turn based game and at each turn the date increases. So you may start at 3000 BC( ancient age) but you will experience the middle age, the industrial age and the modern ages as well.

In my case the game went right up to 2010 AD. And at each age the things you can do are different. In the ancient age you can discover the wheel, in the medieval age you can discover stuff like gunpowder. In the modern age you may discover flight( and thus be able to build an airforce or missiles).   And the nice thing is that the background music and the dress of the people changes as time advances. In the ancient age the music is the tribal “humba-ho” types. In the middle age the music turns to a western classical one etc.

        There are several kinds of relationships possible between civilizations. You could declare war, you can sign trade or diplomatic alliances and you can also form military alliances against a third civilization. You can also spy on other civilizations to gather information and maps!

        And there are several ways to win the game: you can become the most culturally advanced civilization or you can win scientifically( by being the first to do a space conquest) or you could conquer all the other civilizations and attain a military victory.

        If you declare war on a country then the rest of the civilazations observe you and may form military alliances against you and make life difficult for you. Also when you fight a war the morale of the workers and the general population goes down. If the war continues for a long time the people of your country may revolt and production goes down. If production goes down then it becomes difficult to pay for new military troops making it difficult for you to fight.

        And if you fight against a country the rest of the civilizations remember this bad behaviour for a long time( hundreds of years) and you may find it difficult to do trade with them or form any alliances with them. The distrust against you lingers for a long time.

 So this is a very very detailed game and can keep you occupied for several hours(or days). And I was amazed to see how accurately it models the behaviour of civilizations and their leaders and the amount of experimentation that it lets the leader do.

        Below are some things that I realized while playing this game.

All these things may seem obvious but there is a difference between knowing something and realizing it. The game make you realize these things by making you experience history.

1) I had always wondered why Napoleon had not fought and conquered more lands….Why did he have such a long gap between his wars?! And the reason is balance. It takes a large amount of money and resources to form and maintain an army. And in a war this cost increases manifold because defeated units have to be replaced and conquered territories have to be protected with a good number of units. And all this costs a lot of money and when a war happens the production goes down and the money in the treasury decreases. So a war becomes a self-limiting exercise… even the richest country cannot afford a long non-stop war. Thank God for the unbearable cost of war that we have peace.

2) As a country gets bigger it gets very difficult to manage it properly. You tend to rely on people to do what is expected of them and not bother about the nitty-gritties.  But then people are people… there is corruption. ANd yes in the game there is corruption that people in cities indulge in making the economy look so bad. And managing corruption is a problem… it makes you take time off the main aim of yours.

3) It is very difficult to catch up with an advanced country( or civilization). A country is like a huge ship that takes a long time to turn around. If a country achieves someting before another then it takes a long time for the other to catch up. And the difference between an advanced civilization and a less advanced civilization tends to increase with time.

4) It is easier to “dominate” the world culturally or scientifically than  through a military conquest. If other states do not form alliances  then world domination by an armed conflict is possible. However if  communication has evolved and other states are able to form diplomatic  and military alliances with each other then it is better to not think  about conquering the world and you should invest in culture or Science.

5) The leader or head of the state does not bother about the individual or his happiness. When I played the game my only focus was the domination of my state over others militarily. The individual people meant nothing. “Give up your self for the state” was my guiding principle when I pushed my troops into one battle after another. I wanted to impose my ambitions on the troops in the disguise of nationalism.

This game will appeal to anyone who has a love for history. You must play it once to get a sense of how civilizations are created and how difficult it is to manage them properly.

                       “Forward, the Light Brigade!”

                        Was there a man dismay’d?

                        Not tho’ the soldier knew

                        Someone had blunder’d:

                        Their’s not to make reply,

                        Their’s not to reason why,

                        Their’s but to do and die:

                        Into the valley of Death

                        Rode the six hundred.

 

                                (Tennyson- charge of the light brigade)

 

Kanwar

 

 

 

|======================================================|

  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             

|======================================================|

Sudarshan, the Nobel Prize and some Philosophical comments

 

      It is that time of the year again. Every year in october the Nobel prize winners for the year are announced.

      A lot of people have asked me if there is a Indian born Physicist who “deserves” the Nobel prize. I always tell them about E.C.G Sudarshan.

      This year’s Nobel prize has gone to a group of Physicists who worked on quantum Optics. Among them is Roy Glauber. Glauber developed the mathematical representation of coherent states and used that to study light. And so did Sudarshan. Indeed coherent states are represented by what is called the Glauber-Sudarshan P representation.

      So Sudarshan missed the Nobel prize again. And he has missed it before in the theory of VA weak interactions. And he also discovered the Quantum Zeno effect and that too “deserves” the Nobel. In fact Sudarshan has been nominated for the Nobel prize six times and has missed it every time.

      E.C.G Sudarshan is a  great Physicist who has contributed a lot to the progress of Physics. And we Indians should be proud of him. About a fortnight ago there was an article in the “Hindustan times” that Sudarshan missed the prize because he was an Indian! Nonsense! Sometimes we attach too much importance to the Nobel prize and keep feeling bad that Indians dont win it.

      I know several other Physicists who have made fundamental contributions and not got the prize : David Bohm, John Bell, Klauder, Emil Wolf, Leonard Mendel, Berry, Aharonov …. the list goes on and on….

      How does it matter. We Indians should be more concerned that we are not producing as many scientists as we should. And our best minds are not going into science. Our best minds are only going into monetarily lucrative professions and not into Science.

      And should Sudarshan be sad that he missed it again? Absolutely not!

      A scientist has already received the biggest prize: a desire and the ability to understand this magnificient creation of God. This one thing can give him happiness all his life. The love and devotion for science makes every moment filled with pleasure. This one thing elevates his life to a higher level. Before this prize given by God, the prizes given by other men mean nothing.

      And a Nobel prize is not a reward for talent. Science does not progress because a few talented scientists make great discoveries. The progress of Science is a strange mixture of group effort and individual effort. Every scientist makes his individual effort in a direction that no body else takes. And one of these scientists finds the right answer. It is important that everyone takes his own individual path. Science progresses because there are a huge number of people who try to find the solution by taking different paths. So scientists should follow their own instincts and not follow the fashions of the day.

      And that is something that the Nobel prize hurts. People know that some subjects like cosmology, astronomy, interpretations of quantum mechanics may never yield them the Nobel prize and so they stay away from them. It may not happen at a conscious level but it does happen. This hurts science. And it is for this reason  that I personally would like the Nobel prizes to end. The concept of the Nobel prize does not help Science. Instead it impedes its progress.

 

      Some people say that Nobel prizes inspire the younger generation. This is not true. Nobel prizes just make some scientists famous without people actually knowing what they did. We Indians know about C.V Raman but how many know what Raman effect really is!? What is the point of becoming famous when no one knows what you did! The younger generation is inspired by good books. And any good book written by anyone has the power to inspire.

      The pursuit of science is almost a religious activity and when only when a religious activity has no reward associated with it does it become pure.

 

      The pure joy experienced by a Scientist when he pursues his Science are described the the following words by Bertrand Russel:

      “At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined there was anything so delicious in the world.

 

The Anthropic Principle

 

 Imagine…. You want to buy a car. You have Toyota Collola in mind. You desirea red colored Toyota Corolla. One day go to a party. The party has been going on for hours. But nothing interesting has happened before you reached.  Just when you reach there a game of lottery is arranged. A lottery ticket costs 54 Rs. You look in your pocket and you find exactly 54 rupees! People line up to buy tickets. When you reach the person selling the ticket he has the last one and he gives that to you.

The lottern is drawn and you win the first prize.  And the first prize is a red colored Toyota Corolla. Would you not be surprized? There have been a string of very improbable coincidences which led to your winning. There almost seems to be a design here. It is almost that you were designed to win.

 

  Scientists find themselves in a similar situation. When we look at the laws of nature and the constants of nature we find that they seem to be so finely tuned with one another that would enable intelligent life to exist.

Let me elaborate with some examples:

a) The universe is expanding at a rate. If it were expanding a little slower than it is now it would not have reached a stage that we are at now. It would have collapsed much before stars and planets were formed. If it expanded at a little faster then the density would be too less for masses to collect together and form stars and planets. SO it is expanding  at just the right rate.

 

b)  If the coupling constant for electromagnetic interactions was greater than what it is now then chemical reactions would be so violent that large molecules( like proteins, DNA, RNA) would not be stable. If the coupling constant were less then chemical reactions would be so slow that complex molecules would never form.

 

c) The relative strength of the em force and the nuclear forces is just about right to allow large atoms to form. If nuclear forces were stronger then the universe would only contain neutrons. If weaker then only hydrogen would exist.

 So we see tha there have been a series of remerkable coincidences that have resulted in us existing. There almost seems to be a design here. And this is the Anthropic principle. There are two forms of the anthropic principle:

 

a) Life( and hence intelligent life) is forbidden in any universe except for a very narrow range of values of Physics laws and fundamental constants. So if a universe is created at random with random values of physical constants and laws of nature then life will not exist. So our universe is a very special case: it is just the right one. This is the weak form of Anthropic principle.

b) The strong form of the Anthropic principle states that in a Universe the laws of Physics and fundamental constants will be restricted to those ranges which make intelligent life possible. In short: we are inevitable.

 

     Most scientists believe that the weak form of Anthropic principle is true. But they disagree with the strong form.

    But even the weak anthropic principle is pretty amazing if you think about it. There are three possiblilities:

 

1) Our Universe is one of the many that exist( or have existed). Nearly all are/were lifeless. But our universe which has just the right physical laws and physical constants supports life. So we are a special case amongst the millions of lifeless universes.

2) There is a creator who has designed this universe to be just about right to support life. He has pulled the right knobs of physical laws and physical constants.

 

3) Our universe is the only one but it is a remarkable coincidence that it can support life.

 

     I personally dont know. But it does make me wonder. Is there a meaning to all this? 

     Even if I assume that the universe was designed to support life then it would lead me to question if an individual has a purpose in this grand design. Surely we cannot be content by saying that the purpose of our life is to eat, drink and be happy. There has to be a deeper reason! Or is our purpose to fight with our neighbouring countries over pieces of matter(land). Surely not.

 

      Personally I think that if we assume the possiblity that there is a reason why intelligent life exists then there seems only one purpose for that intelligent life: to understand, to ask questions like “why do I exist, why does this world exist, what is this universe, what are its secrets”. And there seem to be only two ways to ask and answer these questions: the way of faith-religion and the way of thought-science. What is your way?

 

Kanwar

 

 

|======================================================|

  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             

|======================================================|

In Defence of Astrology

 

      Before I start this VERITAS lets me say this: I HAVE NO BELIEF IN ASTROLOGY AS AN INSTRUMENT FOR PREDICTING FUTURE. But I am facinated by it because of its complexity. My aim in this VERITAS is to defend vedic astrology from the modern day cheap imitations and from scientists who try to find fault with it without even understanding it.

      First let me destroy a modern day fashion : sun signs. Sun Sign “astrology” isnt even astrology! It is nonsense! In vedic astrology your exact time of birth is needed to make a chart in which the signs in which each planet( sun, moon, mercury, venus, mars, jupiter, saturn, rahu and ketu) is placed is calculated. Also the sign that was rising from the east is calculated. This sign becomes the first house( or lagana).

Sun sign “astrology” is only based on the position of the sun. So it is based on just one factor out of the several that exist. If you want to play the game play the big game of vedic astrology.

      Now let me destroy a class of modern scientists. These scientists say that since these planets are so far away so thay cannot have any effect on us. Did vedic astrology say that planets have an effect on us???? NO! Vedic astrology says this: Your past life decides your karma in this life. It is not that planets affect you when you are born. The time and date of your birth is fixed according to the deeds of your past life. The planets just signify that time. So in vedic astrology the position of planets only signifies that time of your birth. The planets dont send rays to affect you.  SO scientists should not just argue against things without gaining knowledge about things.

      Vedic Astrology is a very complicated and vast subject. It is based on Maharishi Parashar’s teachings. The book that collects these teachings’s is called “Brihat Parashar Hora Shastra”. It is available in a 2 volume set. It is a no nonsense book.

      Vedic Astrology is fully integrated with what the vedas teach us. So if you are a devout hindu who believes in rebirth, karma and that the ultimate aim of a soul is moksha then you cannot stay away from vedic astrology. The real aim of vedic astrology is to give you an indication of your past life and how that will affect your present life. The real aim is to be a spiritual guide to attain a higher self.

SO vedic astrology is supposed to tell you what you should do to rise to a higher spiritual plane. So the modern day astrologers who just tell you how much money you  will have are ignoring the real aim of this subject. Also astrology only tells you about your fate. But Krishna said ” Do your work and dont care about your rewards”. That is what vedic astrology  says. Fate is just an indication based on your previous lives. But the free will in this life in entirely in your hands. This the modern day astrologers dont tell you. If you go to an astrologer he will recomment a gem for a badly placed planet. But he could also tell you that you can work hard in such and such area to ward off its effects. Your work is the ultimate thing. But since the modern astrologer does not make money in your work so he recommends a gem stone.

      vedic astrology is so integrated with the vedas that it is not possible for anyone who does not have a deep knowledge of hinduism to get a detailed knowledge of astrology. I have read the Brihat Parashar’s english translation but the real work is in sanskrit. So you should know sanskrit as well to make sense of that book.

      Now lets look at the time it takes for a horoscope interpretation.

There are > 10 charts made for each individual. Modern astrologers will just look at one chart( rashi chart). The interpretation of a chart is a very complicated business and can take several days for each individual.

Astrologers who tell you everything in 15 – 20 minutes are frauds.

For example a person will go to an astrologer and ask ” do I have raj yoga?”. The astrologer will look for a few minutes and say yes or no.

But do you know how many yogas are there in astrology? Over 300 ( see B.V Raman’s “300 Important Combinations”). To just check which of these are present in you chart is a huge task.

      vedic Astrology is a very mathematical subject. There are hundreds of calculations to do for each chart. Our ancient scholars were mathematically very sound. Which planet is in which sign is just the basic thing. The exact degree of each planet, its exact strength, the exact aspect it gets from other planets etc etc all have to be calculated. Modern day computers have simplified this a little.

 

      So what I am sayin here is that though I do not believe in vedic astrology I still have a great appreciation for this marvellous work. Our ancient scholars have put in a huge amount of effort to create this system. If you decide to learn about this subject you should read the real texts and not go to modern day astrologers. You will then share my awe of this subject.

kanwar

 

|======================================================|

  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             

|======================================================|

 

Physics and Free will

This Veritas was written on Tuesday, January 20, 2004

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 Friends, I have been bothered by a question for some weeks now and I wish to share it with you. In my opinion this is a fundamental question and still a great mystery.

       First let me state the assumptions. But what I call assumptions are much stronger than that. These assumptions are not just assumptions. These are things we believe in. Things that we base our lives on. So I call these beliefs:

1) The Laws of Physics are the most fundamental laws of nature.  So if something exists physically then the laws of Physics  are applicable to it. The laws of Physics are valid for  electrons, atoms, cells, human flesh/skin, planets, universe…   everything.

2) Man is capable of free will. Or free thought. i.e if I decide to  look at my black phone right now then it is a matter of my choice.  I could have chosen to look at my white phone as well! So I choose  what I look at. My brain can make choices. I am capable of  free thought, free will.

       Now according to our first point of faith the laws of Physics are valid for the Brain and neurons in the brain and the cells in the neurons etc etc. This is because the Brain exists physically and that means that it cannot violate Physics.

       Now what do typical laws of Physics look like: an electron placed in a magnetic field will behave like so and so. The electron has NO choice. The magnetic field acts on the electron and the “so and so” happens. The phenomenon will NEVER change. i.e the laws of Physics are
deterministic i.e you will know what will be the situation later if you know what the situation is now.

       So everything in our brains is determined by laws of Physics. And these laws are unchangable. So that means that your brain will function in a deterministic fashion. There is no choice! If I place you in a closed room and I use laws of Physics on every electon in the brain and solve the equations then I can determine what you will be thinking a year from now!

       What is the first thing that happens when I make a choice. Does my choice tell the electron in my brain which neuron to go to?? How do I tell the electron? That has to be done using some physical phenomenon! Choices dont move electrons! Electric and magnetic fields do. And how would that be told by my choice? How would I choose the amount of electric field to create to move the electron? Choices dont create fields! And we can go deeper and deeper but we can NEVER get choice from the deterministic laws of Physics.

       So we have two possibilities here. Both are very disturbing:

1) The laws of Physics are not fundamental and there is something deeper.   ( I will hate this).

2) I am not capable of free will ( My life can be determined by a complex equation and I have no choice in any matter. My life is decided by my environment and I am a mere variable)

       Please do not say that the indeterminacy in the Quantum Level is the cause of free will. It cannot be because you can NEVER chose
the result of the collapse of the wave function and then your life will be purely random! A probability on which you have no control.
And that is even scarier.

       I have an answer to this question. But more thought is needed before I share it with the world.

       A Wallace Stevens song: “
       They said,;You have a blue guitar,
       You do not play things as they are.;
       The man replied, ;Things as they are
       Are changed upon the blue guitar.;”

constantly disturbed,
Kanwar

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 Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
 Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
 Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
 Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

Creative Commons License
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Limits of Reason

It is very rare that we have a joint “session” of MHFL and VERITAS. We have it today because we discuss a poem about man’s quest for knowledge.

       The poem being posted below is a short part of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem written between the years 1732 and 1734. This poem is written in heroic couplets and can be pretty inspiring.

      The part that I post below discusses the relationship between man’s need to know(Science) and his need to love (his passions). Pope argues that man is more a passionate animal than a reasonable one. Man’s intellect is limited by his desires. Pope places limits on man’s power to reason and search for knowledge: This is something we discussed in our last VERITAS(Why Complex Numbers).

     Parts of this poem are pretty inspiring. And parts make us think if Science shall soon reach its limits. I do not believe in all that Pope says but he does have a point. I have added my own analysis after each paragraph.      

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,

The proper study of mankind is Man.

Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,

A being darkly wise and rudely great:

With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,

With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,

He hangs between, in doubt to act or rest;

In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;

In doubt his mind or body to prefer;

Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;

Alike in ignorance, his reason such,

Whether he thinks too little or too much;

Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;

Still by himself abused or disabused;

Created half to rise, and half to fall:

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;

Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d;

The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

[ Analysis: In this paragraph Pope argues that man is placed somewhere between God and beast. He desires to know but he cannot let go of his old knowledge.

Pope says “Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;” that man is a curious mix of thought and passion and he is unable to decide which path to take. A beautiful line “Created half to rise, and half to fall:”. Pope argues that if man could understand just himself … that would be enough]

Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides;

Go measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;

Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,

Correct old Time, and regulate the sun;

Go, soar with Plato to th’empyreal sphere,

To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;

Or tread the mazy round his followers trod,

And quitting sense call imitating God;

As eastern priests in giddy circles run,

And turn their heads to imitate the sun.

Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule–

Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!

[ This is a most beautiful paragraph. The first four lines are very inspiring. Note that this poem was written when Newtonian PHysics was making great progress. Pope first says that ” go man do your Science , discover stuff… but in the end you shall realize how little you know”. In the last part of this paragraph Pope compares Scientists with priests from the far east who run around in circles and turn their heads to imitate sun’s motion.

]

Superior beings, when of late they saw

A mortal man unfold all Nature’s law,

Admired such wisdom in a earthly shape,

And show’d a NEWTON as we show an ape.

Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind,

Describe or fix one movement of his mind?

Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend,

Explain his own beginning or his end?

Alas! what wonder! Man’s superior part

Uncheck’d may rise, and climb from art to art;

But when his own great work is but begun,

What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone.

[ In this paragraph compares the relationship beween God and Man to the relationship between Man and ape. Just as man may show the ape a thing or two, God sometimes (out of amusement) may show Man a thing or two. Man thinks that he has discovered something but actually it is just a small part of the larger whole. Pope says ” how can man who cannot fix the motion of his own mind… fix the motion of celestial bodies???”. The last four lines have a sobering effect:” What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone” ]

  Readers, can we have Science with reason alone? Or do we not need passion for learning to be able to do Science.

Is passion always opposed to reason or can it be a guiding force to study, to understand, to “mount where Science guides”.

Can we accomplish ANYTHING without love?

 

All thoughts all passions, all delights

whatever stirs this mortal frame,

are but ministers of love ….

that feed his sacred flame

 

THis is not true?

Kanwar

 

|======================================================|

  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                           

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             

|======================================================|