Posts Tagged ‘science’

Kind Attention: Mr. Copernicus (Dead: May 24, 1543)

At the outset, one hopes you are dead, and well.

Very few in their lifetimes can lay claim to fanning a Revolution. That you managed to overturn centuries of the Old Order is testimony to your towering presence in the annals of history. With one disarmingly simple observation, that the Earth revolved around the Sun, you changed the course of Science, decimated greats such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and dwarfed the Earth and Earthlings alike with your mighty brain. Mankind has never been the same since.

You set us on the path of ruin.

You were born in the city of Thorn. We, Sire, live in one.

Pardon the sudden change in track but your passport to Science immortality inadvertently set in motion a chain of events so intriguing and dastardly that we, hapless humans, are paying the price for your intellectual bravura. All was well before your tome, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, shook the world. Man was exultant in the secure ignorance that Earth, his home, was the center of the Universe. Let us pause awhile to digest that feeling.

For someone living in a post-Copernican world, the idea of being the Center of Everything is a pleasing thought, a much coveted Holy Grail position, and the closest to experiencing Nirvana. It is gratifying to believe that those small and big spheres strewn around the vast expanse of darkness that few care to see, are silently, obediently, doing your bidding. Revolving around you, in daily obeisance. You ended our tryst with ignorance and shattered our world of dreamy illusions. For that, we shall ever remain ungrateful.

Whilst earlier, Man found satisfaction in simple, trivial and quite useless activities; star-gazing and sleeping, for instance, post your Revolution, we have been forced to attain a level of sophistication in our activities. With the realisation of our triviality in the larger scheme of the Universe, we have endeavoured to conjure up novel ways to create an illusion of leading a meaningful life, of etching our ‘special’ place among…no one, really.

Come, take a closer look. Woven in the tapestry of trivialities, you shall find novelties that are likely to boggle even a mighty a brain as yours. Dislike for fellow humans has increased gradually over the centuries, since your Revolution. Much of this can be attributed to your heliocentric discovery. Earlier, everyone was equal, united, in a Universal sense. Now, it is the opposite. The sceptre of inconsequential existence has forced humans to seek solace in inhuman endeavours, in an amusing attempt at differentiation. Our yearning for differentiation and infusing some semblance of meaning in our lives has led us to specialise in an art-form called Social Networking and in the mad pursuit of papers of (supposed) value.

…which brings me to one of your rarely known talents. Finance and Economics.

You, Sire, were a true genius. Of that there cannot be a shred of doubt.

Not many of us know that you lay the foundation stones for what eventually became the Gold Standard. And the metallization of currency. Truly remarkable indeed, for a Scientist. That you even managed to carve a name for yourself in history, untouched by that manipulative successor of yours, Sir Isaac Newton, is commendable.

You stated what eventually became famous as Gresham’s Law (bad money will drive out good money). In a remarkable display of sanity sadly absent among most of our present-day Economists, you cautioned us about the ill-effects of inundating economies with ‘cheap’ money. That ‘cheap’ money shall dominate at the expense of the ‘strong’ money. We, Sire, have not listened, for we haven’t cultivated the habit of listening to the whispers of Reason.

While you did your bit to remind us of our uselessness, we have retaliated by repudiating all of your sound principles of currency management. We tried our hand at using metals as currency, but wily fellows clandestinely but repeatedly nicked the gold, silver and copper content out of our coins. The bad money was driving out the good. But we continued believing that our coins had the same value as the days of yore. Yes, Sire, go ahead, let out that chuckle.

Time wore on and we realised that we didn’t have enough metals to put into our coins, so we blasphemed your principles further. We decided to abandon metals as a base of currency, for good. We moved to paper. Paper gave us a free rein, with no upper bound. We could print as much as we wanted (till the trees bid us goodbye). Our appetites have been insatiable since. We now have so much paper floating in the world, the ones in our wallets are well-nigh useless. Yet, we continue to believe that papers are valuable; hence the maddening pursuit of monetary enrichment. Yes, Sire, go ahead, let out that chuckle.

With one disarmingly simple observation, that paper could replace metals, we changed the course of Finance. Mankind has never been the same since.

You tried to nick us. We reciprocated. And set ourselves on the path of ruin…

——————

But you shall remain one of the most intriguing polymaths ever to have lived on Earth.

You were at the Center of it all.

And, you weren’t.

I remain, your ardent admirer.

HaLin

In a tiny attic in the outskirts of an irreversibly polluted city, Bitumen and Petrol found themselves in the company of ageing, ragged tools and other Materials, including Acetone.

A once-happy couple, Bitumen and Petrol now led estranged lives. The bitterness they felt was mutual, with neither particularly appreciating the other’s presence. Conversation was bound to be an uncomfortable affair. As so often transpires in social gatherings, pleasant conversation soon veered to a game of one-upmanship.

Bitumen began enlisting his wondrous properties. When someone asked him about his parent, Crude Oil, he dismissed them nonchalantly. He was also quick to dismiss affiliations to Tar, who he tended to look upon condescendingly. An epitome of viscoelasticity, he enthralled the uninterested audience by twisting several times, often ending up in dangerous positions. When he bent his head over backwards – twice – to face his audience, he was greeted with heavily controlled displays of approval. Loath to giving up the opportunity of composing a self-directed paean, he rambled on.

When introduced to inconsequential companion aggregate materials, he assumed the persona of Asphalt. Often spotted sunning himself on roads, he was incapable of death, even when 5-tonne trailers steamrolled him, as they did regularly. Less-flexible spines went stiff with fear at this boast. Here was a formidable fellow indeed, thought some.

His smart ex abruptly broke Bitumen’s soliloquy. Bitumen wasn’t impregnable, Petrol boiled. She let out a hitherto closely held secret, much to Bitumen’s chagrin. During recreational fornications and oily sleep-overs, she had discovered that Bitumen crumbled, lost his identity and turned into his parent, Crude Oil, the following morning. Petrol confessed to feelings of sheepishness and unease, at this metamorphosis.

Stung by the open insult and with black froth brimming from his mouth, Bitumen blamed their estranged relationship on Petrol’s uncontrollable weakness for Fire. The two seemed inseparable and he had caught Petrol red-handed several times, warming progressively to Fire’s advances, eventually losing herself completely in his hot embrace.

Petrol didn’t take kindly to this allegation. She let out another brutal secret, which thoroughly exposed Bitumen. Bitumen might be very strong but a whack from a crowbar/sledgehammer, falling perpendicularly on his head, was enough to kill him.

Bitumen was stunned.

In an attempt at tangential meandering – a technique taught extensively at business schools – Bitumen changed tracks. He was the undisputed adhesive of Antiquity. He was the magic ingredient behind the Towers of Babel and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He was instrumental in immortalising Egyptian kings through Mummification. He accentuated the aesthetic beauty of women of yore, who used him as jewellery.

Did Petrol have such a colourful resume?

Under Pressure, Petrol exhibited a ready eagerness to explode. All that was needed to set her off was a spark. Bitumen’s jibe could have served the purpose…but for the intervention of Acetone.

Bitumen hated Acetone. Apart from a blow from a sledgehammer, Acetone had the power to exterminate him by dissolution. Acetone long nurtured a secret admiration for Petrol. This, of course, did not endear him to Bitumen, who seethed in silence due to Acetone’s superior powers.

Irritated at the jibe-slinging match and sensing an opportunity to attract Petrol’s affections, Acetone decided to quell tensions permanently. With an uncharacteristic display of gravitas, Acetone turned to Bitumen. With Godfatheresque menace, he reminded Bitumen of the fate that awaited him, should he, Acetone, decide to exercise his vast powers. Bitumen, unwillingly but prudently, backed down.

Petrol went weak in her liquid-y knees. She knew she could forge a useful relationship with Acetone.

…in the quiet confines of a petrol engine.

Much virtual ink, trees, board room/coffee shop/pub debates have been spent in trying to unearth solutions to the economic volcano that erupted 4 years ago. The crisis has had a happy effect on the wallets of experts, who realised that much money could be made by passing opinions that were seldom useful, that no one cared for or acted upon.

This rather sorry state of affairs has urged me to conjure up my own proposal(s) to resolve the pesky problems facing the world. I must declare that I am no expert; which is why, perhaps, it would be worthwhile for the governments of the world to ponder over my well-intentioned gobbledygook.

Suggesting to an over-indebted human – who has seen his income halve or disappear altogether – to assume more debt as a medicine for his ills, not only borders on the amusing but is also grossly detrimental to his well-being.

Here are some humble proposals for curing the world’s ills.

One of the chief causes of our problems is oversupply, in nearly everything that is of every-day utility to man. With an existing inventory of 260 kg of grain for every human, it makes little sense to invest more money/subsidise/incentivise advancements in agriculture that would augment supply. Curtailing investment on this front will not only benefit existing farmers through increasing agri-commodity prices (flat supply, consistently rising demand), it will also alleviate the burden on the tax-paying class indirectly footing the ‘agriculture modernisation’ bill.

The other big issue is Global Warming, a hopelessly over-chorused hocus pocus on an evolutionarily natural phenomena. The history of the universe is one of alternating cycles of warming and cooling. Before the Ice Age, progressive cooling brought everything to a standstill. For a few thousands years of tranquillity. As we emerged from the Ice Age and went about procreating earnestly, the warmth that was felt wasn’t just attributable to physical proximity to other humans; it was due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

As we hurtle forwards in time, that wonderful fellow called Entropy will ensure that things only get increasingly chaotic from here. The Earth will, at some point, burn itself into extinction. As this point is several thousand years away, it is unwise to continually pump money now to find a solution to a natural cycle. The $100 billion spent so far has proved more successful in Warming scientists’ and experts’ chairs Globally, than in finding solutions. Suspending funding for Climate Change Programs would prospectively relieve the planet of several thousands of billions in commitments, funding which would otherwise emerge from the tax-payer’s pocket.

Next, to the vast area of medical funding. When death is the norm, life the exception, it is imprudent to spend vast resources in inventing permanent cures for cancer, AIDS and all other natural catalysts of extinction. Evolution invented them for a good reason. By prolonging lifetimes, the burden of feeding the old falls on the young…who have few jobs or a career or a future to look forward to. Much of the accumulated ills that are upon us today can be traced to advances in medicine, which has increased life expectancy to a point, where the incremental addition of years isn’t worth the lifestyle benefits accruing to humans sparring with expiry dates.

We spent unnecessary billions building nuclear weapons, only to wind up unnecessarily spending billions trying to keep them in check. Wasted billions notwithstanding, we unnecessarily spend billions trying to find solutions to incurable diseases, which have the potential to naturally correct the excesses of the world.

As an extension of the above, years of pontificating about the benefits of birth control (accompanied by liberal spending) has achieved little in arresting population growth. A rethink is called for.

Forced living beyond a certain upper age limit in the constant company of (medicinal) drugs with little mental peace seems like an unwelcome prospect. Not of much utility, at best and exacerbating problems, at worst. In a modified version of Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, thoughtful rationing of the old is a solution worth considering. By reverting to the norm of bygone centuries, progressively reducing life expectancy would entail much lower investment and would engender vast long-term benefits.

The above proposals carry additional benefits. Apart from offering the prospect of slashing unnecessary expenditures, the proposals offer global governments an opportunity of lending a touch of realism to the ongoing Utopian programs of austerity.

That industrialisation, over the past few centuries, has been instrumental in the forward march of humankind is indisputable. As the wheels of industry rolled captivatingly, many businesses were/are quick to reiterate the complete mechanisation of their processes. More than a few extol the virtues of economies of scale and reducing human action/thought in daily affairs, though they generally word the latter in euphemistic terms.

The repeated incantations have had the effect of manifesting in non-industrial spheres. Mass production was so successful that it found application in a new area – thoughts and opinions.

Ironically, progress of knowledge has contributed to this Uniformity movement. The inhabitant of the ancient world felt secure in the belief that the earth was the centre of the universe, and in the uniqueness of the Individual. As the Galilean earthquake shook the world, Man’s belief systems underwent a reluctant transformation. Galileo’s fate is a shining example of the perils associated with breaking away from the consensus. Sadly, schools sing paeans to Galileo without enumerating the true lessons of Galileo-hood.

From the moment an impressionable child begins his/her acquaintance with education, the venerable institutions of knowledge work hard at extinguishing sparks of creativity and brilliance. As the life expectancy of good habits is far lower than the bad variety, institutions have no trouble succeeding in the purging exercise. Years of indoctrination later, the child emerges, finely chiselled, looking and thinking like everyone else. Mass production of elementary education does an admirable job of readying children for tougher journeys through life.

Meanwhile, as the black swan kid encounters swarms of fellowmen who think differently, he/she learns the meaning of the words superior/opinionated/arrogant/snooty/pedantic and the like. As ostracism is discovered, the kid faces a binary choice, to forsake natural instincts and join the herd, or be destined to a life of struggle, invariably as a recluse. Several excruciating experiences later, most tend to opt for the former.

As man thinks deeply to create a future that minimises thought, uniformity is worshipped in nearly every occupation. While this disadvantages the exceptional, it confers great advantages on the average; who discover tranquillity by associating with the consensus. Moreover, the utterance of opinions that find wide agreement affords multiple advantages; it reminds the listener of his/her erudition, and agreement in thought greatly facilitates social warmth. The rewards of congruity of thinking in the professional sphere warrant no special mention.  

Pre-packaged thoughts leased free from another individual are subject to several iterations, with each successive version gaining in sophistication. Admittedly, this process has been underway for a long time and it is safe to posit that the onward march of time will only accelerate this evolution.

Not all is lost, though. As with most things in life, there is a good side to everything.

Agreement facilitates peaceable coexistence, whether in social or political matters. Politics is really a concoction of uniformity and one might claim that this is one of the reasons behind the long period of uneasy peace since World War II. Democracy is effectively the will of the agreeable, even as every citizen tries to convince everybody else of the opposite. The Opposition spends valuable time busily disagreeing with the Incumbent, who reciprocate when the positions are swapped. Solutions, meanwhile, lie in deep slumber.

In pre-independence times, the oppressed found a ready consensus in nationalism. While disagreement existed concerning the means, few disputed the objective. Trouble brewed once peace broke out after independence. The many found a worthy uniformity anchor in patriotism.     

An instance of this love for the consensus is evident in the investing world. Contrarian opinion is abhorred, especially when this shows the consensus view in poor light or as being ill placed. Consensus allows peaceful obliteration when capital is lost en masse; invectives lose vigour as blame is apportioned uniformly to the majority.

An orchestra comprising solely of violins would probably make a grand violin ensemble but would hardly justify as an Orchestra.

It is time for some dreaming.

Is it possible to build a world where children are not sent to/pulled from schools? A system of parallel education founded on the tenets of observation and questioning, where endangered virtues like passion and interest are nurtured? While we are at it, can we have a Protected Reserve for the black swans as well?

Can we have some disagreement please?