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What is the link between rationality, irrationality and faith? A recent email inviting me to a discussion led me to ponder this question and i reproduce my analysis sent to the email chain below:

An irrational thought leads to a rational examination that causes discovery of a new truth. This new truth can lead to further rational advances if the truth is really true; or it can lead to furthering irrational thought, as in the case of a parent tying the tabeez to ward off evil. The first is a result of thorough understanding of the causes and the discovery that adequately explains the phenomenon within the bounds of current knowledge – as all scientific theory does. The second is a result of half-baked ideas that may pass muster with a limited set of data (maybe even one observation) and worse by a superficial analysis of the root cause of a problem but in the end it is not always true and creates half-baked ideas. The extreme examples obviously being the belief in “spiritual methods” to sort your problems, by applying a black mark to ward off the evil eye. I would present that the evil eye concept would have originated when someone somewhere saw that by applying a black mark to a child led to ending a high fever in a child; since the concept of causality was confused in this case it led to the belief that the child had an evil eye that would be alleviated if a black mark is applied. The people who formulate these ideas do not have the tools that can systematically prove or disprove the theory. After all the data set that is being used to analyze this causality is the handful of births in a village somewhere. Not all births lead to disease and not all disease are dangerous. So a superficial analysis of limited data set leads to un-truths and further irrationality. The difference between modernity and rational thought is the persistent effort by humans to understand the phenomenon around them. All branches of science are an attempt in this regard. Modern science, however, places a high emphasis on proving or disproving a theory without regard to any dogma. Dogmatic insistence on a particular line of thought is rewarded only in so far as it leads to provenance. If there is no provenance the scientist is discredited and may lose any serious audience. Darwinism survives in spite of the insistence dogmatic pursuit against it simply because practical evidence proves it right. If tomorrow an alien were to come to earth and prove that it actually designed us then Darwinism would be done with and the Spaghetti Monster theory would win. Quantum mechanics and Relativity are accepted theories even when they are incompatible against each other simply because they are supported by experimental evidence. Quantum mechanics did not displace Classical mechanics simply because Classical mechanics was adequate within its limits. Only when the human insights reached beyond these limits did we need Quantum mechanics and then it was available to us. Now that we have perhaps reached the limits of our understanding, we are constructing new theories that would perhaps explain the relativistic motion of quantum particles ( I don’t know if that is what they do, but you get the point). Eventually we would find our answer and then be faced with a new question. It is as if a higher being is playing a game of problem solving with us. And then there is the question of Faith. To a point made in this chain – an irrational intuition leads us to an eureka moment that devices a new experiment and prove a certain result. All scientific advancement perhaps is a result of this imaginative progress. But then where does this idea germinate, how is our imagination informed of something that didn’t exist? How did Einstein think of a relativistic geometry that went against the prevailing Euclidean idea? This intuition is perhaps more a result of an unexplained process rather than an irrational thought. As I put in my blog once “It is only in imagination that we can try and fail to encapsulate the infinite. Where are we, within our unknown, infinite universe. Where does our infinite universe reside? What is beyond the known? What is known? What are we made of? Atoms? Neutrons and positrons and Quacks? When did we come into existence? In the year xyz of some reference point of the birth of someone? When was that someone born? How much time lapsed after the birth of this, our universe, when this someone was born. What is birth and what lapsed before the universe came into existence. What is existence?…For what answer can there be when every answer begets an infinitude of questions?”All our scientific progress is to answer these infinitude of questions and by definition they cannot be answered. The advancement of science is in essence the proof of a higher existence as well as a disproof of any ultimate being, for by our logic there cannot be one. As the Creation Hymn of the Rig Veda intones: Whence this creation has come into being; whether it was made or not; he in the highest heaven is its surveyor. Surely he knows, or perhaps he knows not.  Abrahamic religions believed in an entity that created everything, call the entity Brahma, God or Allah – it still is a human construct. Ultimately it is the matter of your faith. After all we exist and something owes us our existence, something gives us the idea that causes the discovery of relativity, something moves our economies around and creates higher standards of living. Call it the invisible hand, call it God – but you cannot have a rational construct that will explain it completely. The whole tenet of rationality as I understand it will be destroyed in explaining the unexplainable. In the end you reach the limits of rationality and have to end up leaving the rest to faith. Which is why Einstein can be a deeply religious person while also being completely rational: there are phenomenon we can explain in a stream of causality – there is friction and the ball rolls, there is no friction and I slip on the ice; there are phenomenon we cannot explain rationally and accept it as the act of god. At some point we reach a level of understanding that moves one more thing into the realm of rational and one less in the realm of irrational. Some can be mostly rational while others can be mostly irrational: even the village simpleton knows that fire burns, his careful response in the face of fire is a rational response; even though he may blame the evil eye for his misfortune. His jumping into the fire to save his pet animal at the cost of his life however is not a rational response. In the end it is this irrationality that keeps us human and it is in finding beauty at the mysticism of the natural that we can still delight in. Rationality need not be at the cost of irrationality for things that matter. Knowing that my love for such and such a person is because of pheromones does not make me enjoy the feeling less. Knowing that stars are a mass of hydrogen in violent fusion reactions does not make me enjoy the night sky less.

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Travelogue: Costa Rica

Trip date: Mar 6th to 13th
Route: Hanover – Boston – Miami – San Jose/Alajuela – Jaco – Playa Hermosa – Jaco – Alajuela – Miami – Boston – Hanover

Commentary:

Officially the winter term ended on March 11th, but we were tired of the cold and the stress of final year MBA. So we decided to head out to the warm waters, sun and sand of Costa Rica – the rich coast, in central america. Wedged between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is the first and perhaps the only country in the world that has constitutionally abolished the army. Neat huh.

The trip was nice most of the time, except for a few glitches along the way. Starting the trip, i broke off a strap on my bag and had to dump everything onto a suitcase that was large enough to allow me to dump a chess-board and assorted other games as well. Travelling to Boston on Darmouth Coach is always an easy ride and i spent the two hours watching Ghost Town – funny comedy with some british actor. Uneventful flight to Miami, but a welcome wiff of warmth and holiday mood. Sweet. Met up with the four strong indian crew of the 12 people on this trip in Miami and spent several minutes figuring out what to buy at the duty free. In the end settled on three bottles of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, an Absolut and a Malibu. We figured that this much would be enough for the short week’s stay. We were so wrong. The hitch in this leg of the journey: American Airlines changed the gate 30 minutes before departure, while we were chilling. Luckily saw it while being cautious and re-checking the flight time and gate. Announcement came only 10 minutes later while we were scrambling for the new gate.

Landed around 9:30 PM in San Jose and reached the car rental. Adviced to not travel at night since the road is circuitious and dangerous. We checked out the price at a nearby hotel, but it would cost us $200 for a night’t stay with 5 beds in one room. Hmmm. Perhaps we can take the risk, drive slow and hit it out anyway. We are all on budget you see. Go back to the rental lady (rental formalities still on) and new piece of information. There are a lot of crime againsts tourists, so if we run into trouble, or stop to ask directions, we can be screwed. With many expensive electronics and passports (that are apparently coveted in Costa Rica) we decided that it is perhaps better to stay. The rental clerk arranged a “nice” $80 hotel. Decision made and what a decision: as we rode out in our newly rented Hyundai Tucson past the nearby casino we saw a security guard with a massive shot gun and walki-talkie! WTF! Where have we come to? No army sure, but this is central america – the highway from the jungles of Columbia to the States of America! Holy Crap. We follow the driver of the hotel van (who came to pick us up), excitedly scared as the driver leads us to increasingly run-down looking, empty streets of Alajuela (a Suburb of San Jose, location of the airport). The van says: hotel only 5 minutes from the airport, but it is two 5 minutes past the first 5 minutes that we finally reach the large gates of the hotel. Electronically operated from the inside, the gates did give us some sense of security. At 11 PM we are told that no food outlet is open, no delivery options are available and the hotel restaurant is shut. Liquid dinner time. Playing Taboo, we spent the next 4 hours consuming the first bottle of Captain Morgan.

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Adventures in snow

Snow is beautiful. The sereneness of white powder covering everything can only be experienced. But nature does not like intrusion and getting out in a blizzard in a front wheel drive car with no snow tires is no joke. Even more so on a weekend when municipal snow plowing services take a weekend breather. Today was one of those days, being a Sunday there were not many vehicles out on the road, and of course the local snow plowing crew was not as efficient as they are on a weekday.

Twilight snow

Twilight snow

I was happily at home late afternoon today, but was scheduled to head out for a meeting. When i stepped out of the house, i saw 6 inches of snow on my driveway, it was not a good sign, but i plowed on and got the car out, out into the road which was not visible. If i were not driving on this road daily, it would have been difficult for me to distinguish road from ground. It was smooth whiteness. I plowed on, if it had just been a meeting, i would have probably come back home and cancelled it. But i had been craving for chai for a couple of days now and the allure was too strong to resist. Even unplowed powder. Driving down the hill to the town, i could see what a nightmare it would be to drive back up. But i plowed on. After an hour of discussion and a cuppa later, headed out to watch a movie, worsening the snow situation on the ground. But the movie, Quantum of Solace, was a good watch, if only for the action.

Heading back at 9 pm, i got the final taste of what i had done. The ride upto Norwich Inn was uneventful, but the wind was strong and as i drove at 25MPH snow dropped off branches onto my windshield, creating a nice thumping sound. The wind blew and a white sheet of snow momentarily blinded me many times over. I drove on, past the level road onto the first climb to my house in the hills of Norwich. On fourth gear i almost reached the crest of the first hill, but had to slow down for a snow-plower whose width i couldn’t really fathom. I lost momentum and stopped feets from the top. The car had lost traction and wouldn’t move on. I decided to slowly drive down in reverse to the bottom and try again. There was a stream of headlight behind me: another car was driving up. I turned the hazard lights on to warn him and the driver easily managed to pass me. But now there was no light to guide me descent in reverse. I was going down too fast and so braked. Bad idea, as i lost control of the car, and foolishly turned my wheels so that the car skidded around and was perpendicular to the road. Thankfully there was no traffic. I used the opportunity to turn around the car and face downhill – it was an easy ride down, even though my knees were shaking. I reached the bottom, turned around and went right back up. No way i was leaving my car at the bottom and trying to trudge up. I knew i could do this climb, had done it once before under similar conditions, this time should have been no different. I speeded up, going to 40 MPH before the slimb started and steered my car to the center of the road. There was no traffic and so no reason to slow down this time and i easily crested this hill. Farther up, another snow plower was coming down the other side. I let it pass, and then moved to the wrong side of the road to take advantage of the cleaner ground. No traffic again till i crested the next hill.

This was now the worse part, i was feets away from my driveway but the connecting road had not been plowed at all. With a feet of snow and a perpendicular turn, i had the choice to either slow down or to be driven into the snow bank. The latter wouldn’t do me any good, and so i slowed down and the car stalled. I lost all traction, but this time i was stationary and there was no point in going down hill as i would lose momentum everytime i slowed for the turn. I carry a shovel in my car, and so i take it out and shovel the snow around the tires to get traction. I try again, the car moves but is still losing traction and skidding around. After several tries, rocking the car back and forth in reverse and first gear i have cleared enough path. I take out the shovel again and this time make a clear path 2 feet in front of my tires – straight ahead. Turn the wheel to point straight and move into the first gear. As i gain momentum, i quickly move to second gear. It was blissful. There was so much snow that i couldn’t feel the ground. It was like travelling on a ground of feathers. I turn into my garage and heave a sigh of relief.

The snow is beautiful spread out against the skyline. Everything is white and serene. This is a time to ski, not drive. Certainly not on a “regular” car, but of these are memories made of.

7 dates

2003 – Mr & Mrs. Iyer
2004 – A Hangover
2005 – A glass in Purple
2006 – A Form and a fight
2007 – A Journey
2008 – The wedding crasher’s Party!
2009 – A fever

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Incompetent Nincompoop

The daughter of a legislator (Kerala MLA C H Kunjambu) was abducted by some rogue elements and beaten for speaking with a guy. This is shameful in itself and the media has rightly raised cries of talibanization of Karnataka. But what takes the cake is the remark from the state home minister, as TOI reports:

Karnataka home minister V S Acharya, instead of taking action, has done something that’s bound to infuriate everyone further: he has told the girl’s father, Kerala MLA C H Kunjambu: “You should take care of your children. What can we do if some goonda elements do it?”

Be grateful daughter is back: Minister to MLA.

Indeed what can a nincompoop of a minister do if not ensure that the law of the land is followed. The attackers should be taken to the court and given exemplary punishment. The policemen should ensure the safety of all its citizens. As the home minister, it is the responsibility of Mr. Acharya. If he feels he can’t do anything he should step down, or be thrown out. As the union home minister was after Mumbai attacks. Who elects such idiots?!

Power of networking

I am amazed. This week i have contacted 25 alums in senior positions across multiple companies and 3 CEOs who were not alums. I have heard back from almost all of them including all the CEOs. While i am recruiting in this pathetic economy, it is heartening to hear back from these people and gives me hope and shows me the power of networking. I am generally a shy person when reaching out to new people that i have not met before, but shedding my shyness, i have made progress. It may not amount to much, but it is something that i will remember always.

I have come to believe that business is all about networks – knowing people who are important in life. People who are successful and can help and those who are not so. The former help you in your endeavours and the latter are your way to give back. Networking is a much aligned word and i have heard sniggers from friends even at business school, but all human endeavour is the result of a mutually rewarding relationship. From collaborating in research on quantum physics, to helping each other in times of crisis. Those who understand this paradigm are bound for success and those who live in their own shelves, believing in their individual superiority are bound for mediocrity. There are exceptions, of course, but only for the genuine geniuses who only have something to give. For most of us, we are incomplete individuals and networks help us be part of a whole. If there is power in religion, it is due to the human network it entails.

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Photo Blogging

I have a photo blog. Since i have got a collection of thousands of pictures over the past five years, i would spend some time uploading each onto it.

Please visit often, share your thought and comment.

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