Fake News Or Ground Truth? Alice And The Queen of Hearts

If an analysis of computing texts were to be done, I am willing to bet that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ would rank at the top (or near the top)  of the list of most highly quoted books by computer scientists  (think Chapter beginnings  or fancy quotations below titles etc, or any place where us computer guys want to show that we too are sophisticated and have read a bit of literature). As a result of the debate over “Fake News” and related issues, this obsession with “Alice in Wonderland” seems ominously prophetic. This is because many computer scientists (the entire field to some degree) now find themselves to be in the roles of both the bewildered Alice, and the dangerous Queen of Hearts, in the wonderland that is sociopolitical life. This is unfortunate because human affairs in general and our-right-to-diverse-news in particular, are matters too sensitive to be left either to the clueless Alice who understands very little about this wonderland, or to the ruthless Queen of Hearts, who would want to rule it with an iron-fist. So without further ado, first:

Alice the Clueless Computer Scientist

Continue reading Fake News Or Ground Truth? Alice And The Queen of Hearts

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Rational Fools

Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, coined the term “Rational Fools” nearly 35 years ago. In his famous paper, Sen criticized the first principle of economics: “Every agent is actuated by only self-interest”. On top of this axiom of rational self-interest lie rational action and rational expectations, leading all the way up to the efficiency of the markets. As mentioned in my earlier post on Galileo, this is basically how science is done: models are devised using abstractions and idealizations. However, if the model turns out to be totally meaningless in explaining the world, then those who stick with such a model are indeed fools, rational fools.

Here is a song that I wrote and animated on such ‘Rational Fools’:

Dilip Kumar: The Chekhovian Amateur who redefined acting

Anton Chekhov revolutionized modern playwriting and short stories. And he is one my favorite writers. Thus, I remember being confused when I first read that Hemingway had said the following about him: “Chekhov wrote about 6 good stories. But he was an amateur writer”. I have never quite been able to understand why Hemingway called Chekhov an amateur. Whatever the truth of it, I now realize that its at least not an illogical statement, lest one feels that an ‘amateur’ couldn’t possibly redefine plays and short stories. There is another ‘amateur’ who also redefined his field and its a pity that he is largely unknown outside the South Asian sub-continent. That person is Dilip Kumar, Continue reading Dilip Kumar: The Chekhovian Amateur who redefined acting

Ali’s Greatest Fight; the sweet science of boxing, the bitter philosophy of dissidence, and the dicey art of jurisprudence

The most exciting fight of the 20th century did not take place in a boxing ring but in the sociopolitical-legal arena. This is the story of Cassius Clay, who changed his name to Muhammad Ali, vs the United States Govt. (With special appearances from the who’s who of the 20th century) Continue reading Ali’s Greatest Fight; the sweet science of boxing, the bitter philosophy of dissidence, and the dicey art of jurisprudence

The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

The difference between natural language and the language of science

The problem of reference in philosophy deals with relations of words to the world. Do words correspond to some mind-independent objects in the external world? In the following text, I propose the thesis that “reference” is one area where science and everyday affairs take sharp, diametrically opposed directions, and that this in turn implies that we use different faculties of the mind in doing science as opposed to everyday work.

In everyday life, words can be used to communicate to others what we mean. “There is a chair in the room”. This sentence appears simple to understand. And it is. Everyone can easily understand what it means and it communicates one’s beliefs about the world. The simplicity of the sentence leads us to believe that the constituents of this expression, the words of the sentence, refer to some mind-independent objects called “chair” and “room”.

Let’s examine the word “chair”. The dictionary defines a chair as: “A seat, especially for one person, usually having fours legs for support and a rest for the back and often having rests for the arms.”

Instead of wasting “ink” over explaining why the word chair can’t possibly refer to any external object in the world, I refer the reader to the following pictures of chairs, Continue reading The Ship of Theseus sails in Water (and not H2O)

Post Adolescent Idealism? Why psychologizing behavior is APSD: Acute Pseudo-Science Disorder

The travesty that was Bradley Manning’s trial is a topic for another forum. Reading about the court proceedings, what immediately struck me was the psychotherapist’s verdict on Manning’s behavior. He was suffering from “Post Adolescent Idealism”, said the therapist. His bashers took this and other psychological judgements that were passed on Manning (narcissism, obsessive compulsive disorder, gender identity disorder etc), as a clear proof of the fact that he was clueless and made the leaks for ‘personal’ reasons. Some of his sympathizers on the other hand were quick to claim that “post adolescent idealism” is not a pathology but a normal stage of human development. Reading all this, I underwent a severe, almost fatal bout of the WTF disorder (yes, What The F**k). Continue reading Post Adolescent Idealism? Why psychologizing behavior is APSD: Acute Pseudo-Science Disorder

World Bank and Mother India!

So I was queued up at the university train-ticket shop. A middle-aged man was sitting on a sofa while his wife was buying tickets to some destination. Bound by my old habit of starting conversations with total strangers, true to form and tradition, I started a conversation with him. After the initial hi-hello, he asked me, “So what you are you doing here?” “I am a computer science researcher”, I said happily. “And what do you do?” “I am the Chief Economist of the World Bank.” Haha. Just like that! Continue reading World Bank and Mother India!