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’:

Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)

Dr Abdus Salam, the late Pakistani particle physicist is the only Muslim physicist till date to have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Dr Salam was rare among modern day scientists in that he was a devout Muslim. While most modern scientists are not concerned with religious matters, Dr Salam found his inspiration for science in religion. Continue reading Abdus Salam and Galileo: The separation of science from religion (and philosophy)

Newton’s ‘Quantum Revolution’ and the Death Knell of Materialism

In an earlier post on Einstein, I discussed Newton’s demolition of the mechanical philosophy. Since the topic of materialism is so widely misunderstood, I think the significance of what Newton did should be discussed at length. Unfortunately, the revolutionary import of what Newton did has still not been absorbed by many people, even after the lapse of over 300 years. (Newton obviously had nothing to do with Quantum Theory. The reason I have used the words ‘Quantum Revolution’ in the title are to underline the fact that what Newton did, was considered by everyone (including himself) to be as exotic, mind-boggling and non-sensical, in his time, as Quantum Mechanics is considered in our day. This is a fact that is forgotten even by many physicists who describe Newton’s physics as ‘common-sense’ physics, which it was anything but). Continue reading Newton’s ‘Quantum Revolution’ and the Death Knell of Materialism

Galileo and Economics

Or ‘Why we can’t blame Galileo for the latest financial crisis!’ 🙂

Modern science can be roughly said to begin with Galileo Galilei. One of the commonly used methods in science is sometimes referred to as the Galilean Style. This style refers to, among other things, the idealizations and abstractions that scientists use in modeling the world out there. Scientific models do not aim to accurately describe the world. Rather, the idea is (Galileo’s idea) to try and abstract away ‘superfluous’ aspects, and also to use idealizations where possible. As an example of an idealization, consider the fact that Newton in his law of gravitation supposed that the entire mass of the object is concentrated on its center. Similarly, Galileo used ‘frictionless’ planes for performing thought experiments, etc.

But what does all this have to do with Economics? Continue reading Galileo and Economics

Alan Turing in a society of machines

I am usually not at a loss for words (at least while writing). But what can one possibly write about that bird, that song; that tragedy, that ecstasy; that lamb, that lion; that beautiful genius called Alan Turing—that hasn’t already been written?

What can I add? Don’t forget what Iqbal said: ‘A particle in its place can be as powerful as the sun!’ So yes, perhaps I can! I remember a reverend saying that, “There is nothing in any tragedy, ancient or modern, nothing in poetry or history (with one exception), like the last hours of Socrates in Plato.” The pity is that unlike for Socrates and Christ, we have no account of Turing’s last moments before his murder. Perhaps, I can try and give my guess, my model of what might have happened… Continue reading Alan Turing in a society of machines

The Chomskyan Style

Chomsky’s review of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior

There are two quotes about Chomsky the scientist that I think best describe him. First is by a person whom I normally wouldn’t quote, Daniel Dennett. Dennett says about Chomsky: “Not many scientists are great scientists, and not many great scientists get to found a whole new field, but there are a few. Charles Darwin is one; Noam Chomsky is yet another”.

However, it is the second quote that I like more; probably because it reflects the feeling that I have always got myself. In an article (Chomsky and his Critics), discussing books in which Chomsky interacts with his critics among philosophers, Ian Hacking says, “It is like watching the grandmaster play, blindfolded, thirty-six simultaneous chess matches against the local worthies. He almost always wins.”

Indeed, Chomsky often reminds me of the great 18th century Urdu poet, Mir Taqi Mir. Continue reading The Chomskyan Style