Maxim Gorky was arguably the most famous writer in the world at the turn of the 20th century. His novel Mother inspired millions of workers for generations. His play The Lower Depths, was among the first plays to detail the lives of the lower classes in a very realistic, unromantic manner. But Gorky is now more or less forgotten. How did this happen? A key to this lies in the answers to the following questions: Why did Gorky, who had severely criticized the October 1917 revolution, go back to Russia under the regime of Joseph Stalin? Why did the man who would publicly denounce such gifted men as Lenin and Trotsky, succumb to the guile of the much less gifted (and more ruthless) Stalin? Continue reading
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’:
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
It was a hot summer’s day. I remember standing in front of his cell in the Robben Island prison. He spent eighteen years of his life there. The cell was very small and a bucket had been provided to him for excrement. But this is not what moved me. What has stayed with me is the scorching limestone quarry. That limestone quarry on which Mandela and comrades would work under extreme conditions and which nearly cost him his eyesight. That Sisyphean limestone quarry on which day in and day out, simply for mental and physical torture, Mandela and other lovers of freedom and equality were made to toil away.
Mandela was a terrorist according to US law till as late as 2008. Indeed, he was a terrorist. He sent terror down the hearts of all those who deal in terms of power, who kill and torture by the millions, and who are supported by subservient ‘intellectuals’ and ‘educated’ people.
Mandela was an advocate for Palestinian liberation and of oppressed people everywhere. He was a living symbol of the fact that no struggle, however difficult it might appear, is in fact Sisyphean. And this perhaps will be his ever-lasting legacy: a shining testament to the human spirit’s capacity of overcoming any odds.
There will be rightful (in some cases hypocritical) mourning on the passing of the great great man. But even as we mourn, we must not forget the apartheid that continues in Palestine today. The last words belong to Mandela. He said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
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
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