Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Conversation on Scott's post

I recently had an opportunity to share my thoughts on some of the cultural aspects of India from my perspective on Scott's post about Joy Christian's attempts at falsifying Bell's-Inequality theorem.

Below I post some of my comments and Scott's on that post since I wanted a record for myself and a few readers of my blog.

First, I am so happy to see Scott’s recent and a bit more frequent posts in general! Congratulations again Scott on your recent award and your really inspiring speech.

I didn’t know about Joy Christian before, but I was googling him after these posts and based on one pic I am guessing he is from Indian descent.

Assuming that is right and that this kind of work is mainly rooted in one’s PSYCHOLOGY, I want to share the following comments.

Besides sounding crackpot I feel people like these can potentially do a bigger damage of aspiring younger Indian generations in completely bad directions.

I was recently reading “Great Moments in Mathematics before 1650″ and found out that Hindu mathematics remained empirical for long long after the Greeks’ transitioned to deduction based methods. That was a real aha moment for me in understanding my significant lack of resonance with the culture I descended from.

People like these need to be exposed more often so my people can realize the lackluster of the Indian ethos. Essentially all the successful individual Indians are basically due to a strong interaction-affect with the Western culture or those who “blocked” the local affects.

I know this is completely irrelevant in terms of Bell’s inequality etc. but I wanted to use Scott’s superb blog-platform to reach Indian readers.

I hope there is realization that all the relevant outcome measures of the Indian system are defined by the West. It’s simple, they have experienced many many wars in the recent history and learnt their lessons the hard way and we all live on the same planet. Stop confusing the younger generations with mystical behavior. Is it hard to realize it’s way easier to be mystical than be rigorous (easier to ask questions than to answer, easier to verify than prove). Hence if you want to set yourself apart in a relevant way, being mystical is definitely not the way.

Pardon any noise in my articulation. I would be glad to smooth my message if needed.

I don’t actually know Joy’s national origin and don’t consider it relevant. I have to say, though, that while your intentions are good, I can’t agree with your thesis about the “lackluster [sic] of the Indian ethos,” in part because of the staggering number of counterexamples that spring immediately to mind (both Western-origin mystical crackpots, and brilliant Indian scientists, the latter including my PhD adviser). Incidentally, from what little I know about ancient Indian mathematics, it was nothing to sneeze at…

I didn’t mean to offend any one who made serious technical contributions. I apologize sincerely you felt so. In fact your adviser Umesh Vazirani (and his brother), are some of the few who inspire me but I feel people like those are exceptions from India. For younger generations (in India) to benefit from such people we need to know much more than just their accomplishments – the key aspect being their embracing of Western philosophy at large.

I do not know the full reasons, but for example Sanjeev Arora for whom I have huge respect as well, was ranked 1st in IIT-Joint Entrance Exam. But he came to MIT for an undergraduate degree and didn’t study in India as an undergrad. Brilliant Indians mostly had Western experience in their lives that is hard to ignore.

I know we do have many IIT undegrads coming to the US and making significant contributions as grad students (e.g. Subhash Khot etc.) in the US but I feel that the fertility of the US system is a key factor in achieving that level of significance. I can hardly think of any brilliant Indian who achieved something by ignoring or taking radically different views from the Western philosophy. The few who did get world recognition were those under the British era.

At least from the book I was reading, there were not many great moments in Mathematics before 1650 from India except a few which were driven again “organically/empirically” rather than depending on raw-power-of-deduction. I believe the culture breeds a need for craving “more (mystical) validation” than just a with-standing-rigorous-deduction.

In terms of having crackpots from the West, yes most likely there are some but I feel that they are precisely the deviants (for various other serious) from the Western philosophy but are typically not bred by it.
In India there are many ongoing superficial adaptations from the West in the past 10 years or so (mainly due to financial interests and investments from the West) but again not at fundamental level. Again I didn’t mean to offend any great achievers from India. I felt to share this because this is the second time an Indian, in the recent past, in the media has shown up in controversy (the first being Vinay Deolalikar). I just wanted to highlight that achievements are defined and need to be validated by the West (with-stand Western scrutiny) otherwise they are not an achievements at all. I hope that clarifies my intentions.

P.S.: Now I have more evidence that he is from Indian origin based on this

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blurring breadth and depth

After a gap of almost a year I felt like writing about my recent flashes on breadth and depth. But first I want to say (for my own record, which most of my blog actually is ;-) that the main reason for not blogging is being at the Waisman Center, surrounded by people who can articulate feelings in a much more rigorous way and make real living out of it. I felt silly to blog about design and analysis of living while the journal club here is named Design and Analysis where they talk real scientific ways to backup the articulation of hypotheses in feelings.

Okay now to breadth and depth. So my academic experience has been (1) wanting to go to a top-school in India and ending up in a local college, (2) wanting to do a PhD in theoretical computer science and ending up in applied fields like computer vision, robotics and for the past two years medical imaging in neuroscience. (2) is an outcome of (1) because my of limitations in math training. I always felt I didn't have enough depth in a mathematical field to be able to prove theorems for living. But I haven't been daunted enough to beat my love for the academic setting which is why I find creative ways of making myself useful in the research endeavors of this rich country. In this process one thing that happened to me is get exposed to a wide-variety of topics like protein folding, tomography, genetics, physical chemistry, etc. - Wisconsin's really good for such cross-fertilization for whatever reason.

Given this exposure that I needed to survive in academia and guided by perspectives from my dearest field (mainly due to Scott's articulations) I feel like I am able to blur the effect of lacking too much depth by having breadth in boosting my academic self-esteem. Breadth after all is a form of depth except for semantics. Being forced to cross the vocabulary barriers (e.g. terms in statistics & machine learning, "science" & engineering, hypotheses & models), I realize more and more that the underlying models of discovery, limitations of pursuit styles are all same and I can (and increasingly quickly) map the apparent "difficulties" of a research topic: whether it is due to vocabulary barriers or due to real hardness of the quests that challenge our potential bestowed on us by (very slow-paced) evolution. For me, articulating isomorphisms between fields is scientifically rewarding both in terms of intellectual satiation as well as (less surprisingly) career.

All these experiences only reinforce my belief that complexity theory is one of the most apt theories to be flourishing at this point of our evolution of our brain which is why Scott keeps reminding us of how forefront is the question of P vs. NP is in our pursuits. You should also checkout his amazing talks.

So basically the distinction between breadth and depth is blurry when focusing on higher-order bits in terms of giving gas for scientific pursuits and can safely say that breadth is the new depth that people should focus on for efficient fruition of many projects funded by US govt.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Time travel, aggressiveness and cleverness

Several times in the past during my philosogossips with my friends I used to mention that if not for British's ruling, traveling to India would be like time-travel into the past. Recently I was watching an episode on a popular-flavored time travel episode on History channel. The episode makes it reasonably clear that although science does not prevent time travel (something like we can not prove P not equal to NP), it's the amount of speed that's needed. For now nothing less than needing (exponential) energy seems possible for general purpose time travel although there seems to be a case of one person being 1/50th of a second in future because of his space travel.

And a few days ago while biking it just occurred to me time travel to the future might be thought of as already happening in our daily thoughts. See for time travel we need speeds close to the speed of light. Now, its easy to follow the thought experiment.

1) Thoughts can take "you" (make you experience) instantly across vast distances so lets say they have high speeds for experiential purposes.
2) Some people whose thoughts travel fast can "see the future".
3) They can "come back" and to let everyone see that future have to invest energy. In general they would require exponential amount, but thanks to collaborative efforts we "can pool" that required energy.
4) The time scale for everyone else to experience that future depends on how fast the pooling happens.
5) Coincidentally I can cite the example of Dr. King's vision for civil rights as the news on rallies in DC is running in the background on CNN.

So in a way if some one is aggressive enough to envision a future, clever enough to pool the resources by smartly tapping the collaborative instinct available abundantly in life, we can travel to the future. For e.g. if there wasn't such effort our grand-parental generation would not have seen the "future of such high technological advances". Whether time travel is good and wise (for survival) is a whole another topic! So far advances in civilization seem to be strong in saving lives, whether it's taking us on a sub-optimal time travel path instead of the "regular speed" time travel to the future, I don't know if it's possible to answer.

BTW everyone is forced to time travel in the forward direction, I am talking about the speed which distinguishes future from the present. Past I don't know much, although some cyclic experiences or deja vu's seem to be occurring sporadically :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World view, social stock and self-esteem

I was traveling for about 5 weeks outside the US, one week in Stockholm and then four weeks in Hyderabad, India. Last year on my blog, I mentioned that traveling can be revealing and this time it was revealing but totally on a different (extremely personal level). While in India, I got married to my beautiful and very sweet wife, Anusha Rudravaram.

Heuristically speaking most people's perspectives are shaped based on their body chemistry (which is shaped both by long-term evolutionary forces and mid-term societal forces). World views are plausibly the most probable causal forces in shaping our civilization and it got good amount of attention of Scott Aaronson (my hero and inspirational guide on many levels).

Social stock of a person, like his/her financial stock, indicates how good and purposeful one can feel. After achieving certain levels of financial stocks in lives people tend to shift focus to self esteems in their respective circles of life be it scientists, military, academics, plumbers, construction workers etc. Mostly because gaining self-esteem provides newer challenges (feasible ones) and hence can be stimulating and satisfying! Marriage can certainly boost ones social stock especially arranged marriages. Arranged marriage system allows for many more marriages to happen giving chance to those whose self-esteems might otherwise prohibit them from getting married. As with any stock value (opinionated value) sustained growth of stock value actually takes balls, to be able to stick to ones original values and opinions (those before gaining the stock) and not get too distracted. Otherwise one can risk too much and might be a victim of bubble bursts.

There can be social stock only if there are overlaps in the world views of two people or two groups. It's actually proportional to the amount of commonalities among the world views of people one interacts with. Now depending on the level of commonality it might be easier or harder to find overlaps between different cultures. I once mentioned that it might be easier to date someone from a different culture (because one can focus on more instinctual level overlaps). But if we are focusing on cultural level overlaps it's obviously easier with ones own culture. Of course depending on a situation one might focus on different levels of overlaps and that can change world views, social stocks and self esteems. As Scott also says his talks (scroll to the bottom for Notes) represent what he thought at the time (which is robustly consistent though as his talks are based on more objective stuff :).

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Thanks to Maxwell Collin's expertise in using nifticlib our new version of CAMINO-TRACKVIS becomes much easier to use. Key features in the new release:

1) One does not need to provide the volume and voxel dimensions.
2) The orientation information needed in Trackvis is automatically read from a NIFTI file so that overlaying FA/MD maps onto the tracts in Trackvis is much smoother without manual editing of the Trackvis header!
3) We also released SOURCE CODE!

Please feel free to share your experiences on the NITRC website so that we can keep improving the tool!

P.S.: Max is really awesome to work with and as promised he made the release possible before my summer travels!!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Emotional bases

People take risks all the time at different levels. When people want to take risks in life especially emotional (non-documentable) risks how can they be calculated? To calculate anything we need a base system. The most popular base system currently for arithmetic is decimal system. Binary system is the most efficacious though!

Given my inclination towards computational perspectives in life and above all my faith in spirituality I think that the most efficacious base system for calculating risks in emotional adventures is {S,B,F}: S-your soul, B-your body, F-your faith. Now as time goes the number of "trits" you use to represent your emotional state keeps increasing (like in a typical decimal/binary system) and everyone's state depends on what kind of arrangement these three values take.

For e.g. One emotional state can be represented as FFSSBFBFS which means that person has his/her faith as the most recent and actually as in numerical systems the highest order values are the left most and in emotional sense the most robust and reliable. For eg. 101 and 102 are similar but 101 and 201 have a large difference. The left most digit plays a huge role.

Now given that to be able to calculate risks involved it is important to start with most reliable and high order values. So always try to begin your adventures before starting to write new emotional states in your life with F,S that way the small fluctuations that happen towards the right side of your emotional state won't matter as much! For e.g. FFSFFFSBFSSBBBB is much more robust (in terms of efficient/stable survival) than BBBSBBFSBSBFFBFFFS. So people who have firm faith in something abstract and are clear in mind about that can try and take risks later on in life and minimize impact as much as possible. That's why cultures try to inculcate faith in children as they grow up. Those left most values value the most and having that perception allows you to calculate or cope with risks involved in emotional adventures.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Depth of a culture

I am notoriously unpopular for my pro-American attitude partly because of my blunt straightforwardness which might be considered extreme. While different people I argue with have different reasons to find faults with American culture some say their culture is not deep and is superficial and materialistic.

See, cultures that are based on or adapt modern science are bound to be like that. In fact the materialism is what separates impulsive judgements from rigor of the reasoning. Sure impulsive judgements might be handy at times but more often than not they are are not dependable with the given size of human population and scale of interaction on the planet.

Older cultures obviously are not based on modern approach to reasoning and tend to associate mysterious depths to understanding of life etc. Thanks to the western influence on the approach of reasoning we have tools to embrace uncertainties in a much better way. Why should we take that embracing uncertainty is a good thing? See, this is based on western influence and western cultures have had to evolve under harsher conditions of life because of climate and landscapes etc. Tropical countries naturally support life without requiring much effort from the human side at least not on the scale needed in colder climates. Well why we do we need to live in harsher climates? Well as I said before the size of human population you know, we can not cram lot of people in one place without dropping the individualistic animal instincts within us. Why do you think western influence resonates with many modulo survival fears!

Embracing uncertainty can seem to be superficial but actually it's deeper on the scale that actually matters for survival. It might seem majority of American export being "service" is superficial but re-think and adjust your views. They know how to run empire at least without repeating mistakes (on a relevant time scale). One can ask why am I so certain about my views. It's mainly because one has to instantiate at a certain level otherwise there won't be any objects of decision and I instantiate (am certain) where there is representation/room for uncertainty.

Obviously America is a big country and I don't have samples of interaction from all of it but from east coast which I believe is the strength of the US in causal terms. Coasts stimulate not just America but most countries on the planet so no big surprise. My experience in the mid-west through Madison also reinforces my hypotheses but I am glad and grateful I experienced east coast first as there are many local optima that can make people get stuck in mid-west type areas.