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Monday, January 24, 2005

Evolution vs. Creationism

As I continue to read the news about the whole debate on evolution vs. creationism (which essentially leads us to whether we evolved naturally or were we created by some supreme being -- God? Aliens?) voila! along come some over-zealous schools which want to teach "Intelligent Design" (publicized by a bunch of pseudo-scientists) as opposed to evolution. Like this TIME article says, it is just a back door effort to introduce God into the science classrooms.....

First things first -- no theory -- including evolution for that matter is complete, and will not be for possibly a long time. As mankind has continued to evolve ( :) ) our understanding of the world around us has constantly changed. Theories are built up, and broken. There is no guarantee that much of what we are learning today will be considered as "correct" tomorrow...but thats no excuse to propagate a bunch of questionable ideas, dressed in the garb of science...

Not that we need to go to the extreme on this side either -- for that I do not subscribe to much of Richard Dawkins' (a self-proclaimed atheist and a fervent beleiver in the evolutionary process) ideas either. People should acknowledge the problems involved with the evolutionary theory. But ignoring physical evidence and looking at the Bible (or for that matter any other religious text) for answers?

I think religion has constantly considered scientific progress to be anathema (and this is seen throughout history). People who were involved in genuine work that lead to the questioning of the then held religious beliefs (such as the sun revolving around the earth) were frequently dubbed as heretics (Religion was the best candidate for the "theory of everything" -- especially the unexplainable). I personally think that the problem here is when these beliefs (be it on either side) are taken to be unquestionable facts -- which is plain WRONG. Religion, as well as science should be more accepting of the notion of change, for the goal of the absolute truth will continue to elude both of them for time to come....


Sunday, January 23, 2005

"GenNext" in India

I have spent the last three years of my life in the US, and have had a chance to go back home only once so far. This one visit, and from my conversations with people who have had a chance to do so more often, tell a story of the changes that are creeping into Indian culture and lifestyle. While society itself cannot remain static, especially in today's networked world, what is important is what kind of changes are taking place and where they are leading us. The most prevalent "model" for this new emerging culture is that of Western liberalisation. While we can have a lengthy debates on the pros and cons involved here, what is disturbing is how the repurcussions are showing. I particularly liked this BBC article, which was very illustrative of these effects. This is again an issue which I could go on talking about, but thats for a future post...


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Smoking ban....for a whole country?

Good morning. After some energetic spurts in blogging things hve slowed down for the last week, mainly due to the reopening of classes here. Am happy to get back into the groove again -- although the weather here is still not doing any good. Its -5 F outside now (abt -22 C) -- need I say more? Took a walk outside in the morning and my eyelids almost froze shut. To top it all, a blizzard is supposedly on its way. Hmmm. Some respite please, weather gods?

Onto more bloggable stuff -- Bhutan has actually banned smoking! You can read about how they actually pulled it off here. With apologies to my smoker friends, I think that its just great. Bhutan's one place which I have always wanted to visit, but never got a chance. Someday...

More on the way....stay tuned.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

H. Pylori? What's that anyway?

The latest issue of Scientific American carried an article which was pretty illustrative of the complexity of the interconnections present in our environment. The article talked about a bacterium -- Heliobacter Pylori which has inhabited the stomachs of human beings from millions of years. Essentially, we have shared a coevolutionary process with them. We are the only hosts for this particular strain -- and while they were known to cause ulcers, etc. -- it was also discovered that they actually help protect the esophageal lining. Improved hygeine, as well as the use of antibiotics all over the world have resulted in a decline of the bacterium, but have also resulted in an increase in diseases of the esophagus! This is of course a simple example but it does make you cognizant of how different elements in our environment influence each other...which we too often tend to think and deal with in isolation (say, eradicating insects without realizing that they form the primary food source for those higher up on the food chain)....


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

From a New York Winter....

Good morning. It's yet another cold, dark winter day in upstate New York. So what do you do when you are stuck indoors most of the time? Create your own blog, for starters...:) Me, I have ended up watching a zillion movies during the course of my winter break. Three of them in particular have left an impression on me -- Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher and Vadim Perelman's House of Sand and Fog. The first two were just plain disturbing -- in totally different ways. The Dreamers is picturized in an overtly sexual manner, while The Piano Teacher was done so in a very subtle way (but was no less disturbing). I wont give away the storylines, so you gotto watch 'em...:). House of Sand and Fog is an extremely (and I emphasize on 'extremely) moving story -- about an Iranian expatriate to the United States in pursuit of a dream, who is lead to a tragic end in a cruel twist of fate. One of the viewer's comments on IMDB ["....It is a dissertation on sorrow"] sums the movie up pretty well. While I am not a fan of tragic movies, Ben Kingsley's performance is well worth a watch....
Until next time, adios.


Monday, January 10, 2005

The Human Consciousness

There was an interesting episode of Stargate SG-1 on TV recently -- in this story, one of the characters has the consciousness of multiple people "downloaded" into his body. The idea that consciousness is a "seperate" entity from the body, and could be possibly transferred into another body, or a machine (mainly a result of the computational theory of the mind) is a recurring idea in science fiction, as well as in serious research. Problem is "consciousness" is an extremely tricky term. What is it anyway? What makes us conscious? Are animals conscious too? No easy answers here.....

Ray Kurzweil has two interesting thought experiments regarding consciousness (I actually thought of the first one too, but he beat me to it...tch :) )
# 1 Make an exact copy of yourself (say make a robot that looks exactly like you, is programmed with ALL your behaviors, has your thoughts and memories). For everyone else, your copy is YOU. However, for you, the copy is NOT you.....
# 2 Start replacing your brain bit by bit with an artifical equivalent, which performs the same function as that particular part. At the conclusion of the procedure, you still think that you are YOU. So what is the difference between you before the procedure and you after?

Lots of food for thought!


Sunday, January 09, 2005

From CNN - 'Brain' in a dish flies flight simulator...

A lot of my work here has involved utilizing artificial neural networks (ANN's), and this article from CNN is an interesting read. As much advanced ANN's have gotten, they still do not match up to the complexity of even a single biological neuron.....makes you realize how simplified our models of complex systems really are. That apart, we will be seeing much more of machines interfacing with biological systems in the future. Kevin Warwick's work comes to mind here. This has also been a theme with some fiction authors -- Robin Cook's Brain, and more recently Michael Crichton's Prey (where nanobots use bacteria to obtain power) are some examples.....


Ganesh's Website

Here's a link to my brother-in-law Ganesh's website....he's an amazingly talented dude! At 20, he plays awesome guitar, is a fabulous artist and a computer programmer...phew! Wonder what I was doing at 20....:)


Interesting quote....

This one's unbeleivably prophetic....

Someday, in the distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light and knowledge. Plato

Thanks Eeshoo!


PS You can find this and more here

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Check This Out!

For all you wannabe PhD's out there....here's a reality check...:) Enjoy!


Will it or Wont it? -- The Turing Test bet

Who do you think will win the Turing Test bet?


Damien Rice

Check out the UK-based musician Damien Rice's site here. Neat stuff. If you havent heard of him, you are forgiven. He composed "The Blower's Daughter" which was used for the movie Closer. Nice lyrics.


Talking about lyrics, for me nothing comes close to the songs by Dire Straits. Musical storytelling at its finest. Check out this one and this one.....

After PhD what? Go Google!

Read about it here. Makes you feel good that somebody wants us PhD's...hehe (even if we dont quite fit in there!)


Tsunami caused by Seer's arrest!

God was really pissed over the arrest of the seer of the Kanchi Mutt (who was accused of plotting murder) and sent a deadly tsunami to show his wrath. You can ready about it here. (Wonder what 80,000 Indonesians had to do with the arrest though)


Arundhati Roy

I have never really been a fan of Arundhati Roy , especially after one of her interviews on US television -- I think it was the Charlie Rose show -- in which she struck me as being too much of an idealist.....but then I recently came across this website which chronicles her journey so far...amazing woman!


PS Wish there was someplace on the web I could find her movie In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones ...I have searched high and low but to no avail .....heard there is a copy in the School of Planning and Architecture (Delhi) library though (Thanks, Leon!)

"Complexity Science" Revisited

As my work churns on -- I feel at times that there are lot of things that are taken for granted in much of the literature that is available on complexity science. Most of these border on pop-sci (which does not mean they are not useful in any way, but then it is easy to get carried away by many of these), and one has to be cautious considering the hype usually associated with many new ideas. So the big question is -- where does work in this area stand now? Has it "matured" fully? Or does it still continue to be a bunch of disparate ideas strung together? I have to acknowledge the difficulty involved in including so much stuff under one umbrella - it is an enormous task in itself (which was evident in NECSI's last annual conference on complexity). I guess I am wary as to what happened to the Chaos and Catastrophe theories over time....


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