Sunday, July 20, 2008


Indie t-shirt designers 410BC are channelling Descartes in their spring collection, with a brain emblazoned t-shirt that declares 'I think therefore I am'.

Not a bad shirt for $15 dollars I think you'll agree, especially if you're hip to 17th century French philosophers.
Image of COGITO ERGO SUM shirt guys
The phrase "I think therefore I am" originated because Descartes wanted to know about what sort of things existed in the world, but realised he couldn't trust his senses because they could be fooled.

He imagined the most extreme example he could think of, where an evil demon was keeping him in a Matrix-style universe in which everything he perceived was an illusion. He asked the question, if he couldn't trust his senses, what could he truly know.

Descartes came to the conclusion that he could doubt everything except the fact he was doubting and therefore concluded that his ability to doubt, and consequently his thought, was proof of his existence - summed up in has famous phrase "I think therefore I am".

In part, this also led him to believe that thought was not part of the physical universe, and that thought and matter were separate entities. In fact, he believed thoughts were part of the soul but interacted with the body through the pineal gland - a small structure which occupies a central position in the brain.

Descartes' proposal that thought and matter (or mind and brain) are separate entities is known as as Cartesian dualism and is now much derided.

One difficulty is that while few people deny that both mind and brain exist in the physical world, it's difficult, and some would say impossible, to talk about them in the same way.

For example, it's easy to answer the question 'what colour are your neurons?' but impossible to answer the question 'what colour are your thoughts?'

This causes all sorts of merry hell for cognitive scientists and leads to the rather bizarre tendency for people to think that every explanation that includes the mind needs to be reduced to brain function for it to be valid.

Philosophers, who tend to be much more able to think about these things without panicking, tend to favour what's called property dualism, which says that while we accept everything happens in the physical world, we can't always match every aspect of one level of description to another, even if both are both completely coherent on their own level.
Mind Hacks: Cogito ergo t-shirt

well just came across this item on google reader and i remembered i was supposed to do a follow up on that unified theory post, with that philo stuff that got left out. Here it goes.

Hmm...ok, it all started with the song 'Phantasmagoria in two', amazing song from this brilliant album. Doing define: phantasmagoria in Google, gave me this -

'a shifting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination'

along with a whole lot of other stuff, who knew that the word was so popular?! :)

So, anyways googled 'phantasms' (some ppl may know this word from my gtalk status msg 'n did i get some interesting comments for it! :) ) to know the exact meaning, when i landed up on these pages. This first one talks about the connecting the concept of phantasia in greek philosophy
with modern philosophy's notion of the idea and imagination. 'n yea this basically reminded me of the book 'Sophie's World' that i had read long long time back and how much i had forgotten :( Anyways its a really good book, do read it if you get chance.
Now coming back to phantasms, you will find this in the above post -

The ancient greeks--beginning with Plato--used the term 'phantasia' to refer to the faculty
of sense judgment or belief and 'phantasm' is the belief itself; i.e. a
belief (doxa) which arises though sensation is a 'phantasm'.

See the paradox in the meanings? And the second page i came across talks about the same. Do read it and check out the complete site, just amazing some of the stuff covered there.
In the previous post i mentioned 'Plato’s Theory of Love: Rationality as Passion'. And since i can't remember what i wanted to talk about that or maybe 'coz 'm just tired and lazy, 'll let you guys to read it for yourselves here. Its an interesting read actually.

'n that concludes unified theory :P

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Unified field(s) theory

First of all this post has nothing to do with the UFT in physics that one is familiar with. Moreover there is no theory at all. Who said the title/subject should be an appropriate reflection of the body anyway? like this comic or the innumerous sensational headlines one gets to see on TV these days. Anyways the reason i used it was 'coz this post was touching so many fields, including bit of physics, which is the reason i remembered it in the first place. :)

Well it started off with me finding these couple of printouts @ home, which i had probably taken around 2 'n half years back, the time around which i started this blog. Let me check, yep somewhere during this 4th post of mine. Hmm, they were some amazing days...all those discussions on physics/philosophy/religion/life ...learning about so many new things...
Its sad that 've completely lost touch with it now, don't even read! :(

Anyways the printouts in question are - 'The Meaning of it All' by Feynman and 'Plato's Theory of Love: Rationality as Passion' , which a friend had forwarded asking my views on it. The former i saw that i had read almost half but not remembering anything i restarted from the first page. It made for a great reading, as all his other stuff. Its a collection of 3 lectures -
I. The Uncertainty of Sciences
II. The Uncertainty of Values
III. This Unscientific Age

The first two are brilliant but the third i felt was a bit dragging. Many parallels can be drawn from the present world to the ideas expressed there. For eg, this paragraph from 'Uncertainity of Sciences' -
"Most people find it surprising that in science there is no interest in the background of the author of an idea or in his motive in expounding it. You listen, and if it sounds like a thing worth trying, a thing that could be tried, is different, and is not obviously contrary to something observed before, it gets exciting and worthwhile. You do not have to worry about how long he has studied or why he wants you to listen to him. In that sense it makes no difference where the ideas come from. "
can easily describe the open source community. Or take this -
"It is better to say something and not be sure than not to say anything at all"
Don't we all hear the exact opposite? Say something, only if you are sure. Can you imagine how boring the world would be if it was like that? Of course if you say something stupid, just be prepared to accept that you were a dunce and move on. Reminds me of this nice post and the inspirational Google quote - "don’t run from failure — fail often, fail quickly, and learn."

Then you have references to Cold war, Communism in Russia and one is amazed at the intensity of it. For later generation people in third world countries like ours , cold war just remains something you read in history text book or Robert Ludlum's novels.

In the third lecture, there is this part where he talks about statistical sampling and arriving at (wrong)conclusions. It seemed so relevant to what i was coming across in google reader these days. I generally lean towards the opinion 'Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics' and looks like 've valid reason to be, as this latest post in freakonomics blog, points out people generally lie. Even if you assume the people surveyed, told the truth, theres the question of whether it was the correct sample i.e sufficient and unbiased to arrive at a possible right conclusion.

But seriously some of the ones one comes across are so ludicrous, they insult your common sense. A new sensational view of the society is portrayed as a result of some survey whose sole participant(s) will be the author of the piece. The best example? TOI of course. Well you can't blame them as they generally source their articles from outside(rediff,internet...). Actually there is a much serious problem here, that of reporting without verifying the story first. The recent prank played on the leading newspapers in India brings out this issue to the fore. You can read more of that story - here.

Another more worrying problem is the effect on the younger generation. Unless its some film gossip, the general attitude is to believe everything they report in paper. Say supposing an article reads 'more than 70% of under aged students indulge in pre-marital sex'(i really wonder where TOI does its survey to get such data from), now wouldn't other normal kids think that its ok? Yea i know its not such a gr8 example, its a grey issue like many others but you get the idea. This twisting of data/results to come up with a sensational headline is what i take exception to. A funny thing happened just few days ago, which exactly illustrates this process.

Couple of days back, friend shared this item on google reader . It boldly proclaimed -
"Why do psychopaths exist? The ladies help the psychopaths reproduce by going to bed with them. Men who are narcissistic, self-obsessed, liars, psychopaths, Machiavellian, and thrill-seekers get laid more."
Well naturally ones eyebrows will rise at such a statement. But funny part was that another friend of mine had shared this article almost a month back. Now just notice the difference between the two. This one at least mentions more about the study, how it was done 'n so on. Others don't even mention it. So just imagine the third level of referencing done by some other paper from the 2nd source, how would it be?

First of all there are many issues with the way study has been done. I mean with a statement like 'Psychopaths get laid more', one would expect that in the survey one went and asked some known psychopaths how many times they got laid and compare it to normal men. Well this itself will give you a skewed picture as the ratio of psychopaths to normal men is so less but say, lets still grant this one. But alas, this wasn't the way it was done. Just read the article to find more as to how it was done, the only thing i would like to draw your attention in that is to this line -
"He came to the conclusion after conducting 200 surveys on psychology students which asked them about their sex lives and attitudes towards sex and relationships"
Pretty amazing huh?
Now couple it with the fact that most people lie when it comes to self-reporting, aint this result just amazing?

Its not to say that the idea is wrong, it may be right(for all other reasons), but come up with the right set of data to prove it. Well it wasn't the chap's fault, a grad student who had to submit a research paper but you would expect the media to report for what it is and in the cases where they are sensationalizing it, at least give a link to the original research.

hmm....thats a lot 've written!
Time reads 3:35am, guess 'Plato's theory of love' 'n philosophy part will have to be some other time :)

'n yes Rafa won :D
just an awesome match, estupendo!
feel blessed if you managed to watch the entire thing. :)

Say supposing an article reads 'more than 70% of under aged students indulge in pre-marital sex',
The keyword there was 'supposing'. Note i don't quote any specific TOI article, mainy 'coz i'm really bad at remembering the details, but do remember coming across a TOI article similar to this long time back and that time thinking how ludicrous it was and wondering where they got the data from.
So ppl are asked to not use the above as their reason to vow not to marry a b'lore girl :P
as i don't even mention b'lore in there.
he he, 'n this incident perfectly illustrates what i was talking about, namely how a simple number can have such far reaching effects.