Thursday, 13 February 2014

Freedom of Expression

Swami Gulagulaananda said:

The term "Freedom Of Expression" is among the most misunderstood terms - especially so after the advent of Social Media. The problem is that people don't know where to draw the line for freedom of expression. This is true for a couple of other freedoms as well.

Let's have a look at the most common example - Religion & God. The presence or absence of God cannot be proved or disproved conclusively, at least at this point of time. However, it is reasonable to say that we can prove or disprove what God has not done for sure. For example, you can say for sure that a particular disease is not because you didn't pray to God but rather because of a certain bacteria. However, there are so many things unexplained phenomena in this universe that have not yet been explained fully by science. It is, therefore, important to retain an open mind. Could it be done by God? Possible. Should we accept that as the answer and complacently do nothing about it? Absolutely not. This is because it is also possible that it is not done by God.

Whenever you analyse problems, it is commonsense that you list out all probable possibilities and eliminate which is not true. It is a common approach. But in the eyes of many, the sheer thought of attributing it to something beyond their scope of understanding is unthinkable. The other day, I was listening to tapes of Billy Meier where he discusses about his interactions with aliens. Surely the first thought is to scoff at it and say - Ridiculous, it is impossible that he had any interaction, he's bullshitting, and trying to gain attention. But if you are already forming opinions about something, then your approach is almost certainly going to be biased. Bias of any form is very bad when you are solving problems. It leads to blocking of certain paths which you will never even consider because of bias.

Now you may not believe in God or you may believe in God - That's your prerogative. Nobody questions that. But, does that give you the right to mock and scoff somebody else's beliefs? I might think you are an idiot. Just to make it more personal and piss you off, I might think (or even tell you) that your mother is an idiot. If I tell you this, will you smile and say "Yes, you have the freedom of expression - So I will take it on the chin" and keep quiet? Or will you ready your arsenal of expletives to hurl upon me?

The recent hullabaloo over Wendy Doniger's book brings to light this lack of clarity of the concept of freedom. Should the book be banned? Many of the beacons of hope and fighters for freedom of expression, the so called intelligentia and intellectuals immediately cried foul, saying that the book should not be banned. Is she exercising her freedom of expression by expressing whatever she wants? Can you say whatever you want and get away with it? Are you not accountable? In that case, I think there is nothing wrong with Owaisi's inciteful speech in Hyderabad with calls to murder people as freedom of expression as well. Where do we draw lines?

You might be an atheist (or thick skinned) and may not be affected by her book - but for believers, it is deeply offensive. By filing a lawsuit against it, they are exercising their freedom too. Freedom of expression is good in its place but it should not be used to defend atrocious or plainly stupid behaviour. Know what is fair and what is not, know what is logical and what is not. Decide based on that. Most people who are defending the book have not even read it, forget the book, they have probably not even read the reviews of  the book. I was reading several reviews of the book (discount the new ones) and saw many reviews talking about rank inaccuracies in the book - Why are these people defending something that is factually wrong? Many people think it is fashionable to be liberal sounding.

To summarise, don't follow things because of hype - apply your own thought and do some study before you accept or reject things. Secondly, freedom of expression is not a panacea, a skeleton key or the joker card for you to use all over the place - it is a precious item, use it wisely. Don't squander it. Treasure it.


Comments on Facebook

Sandeep Shet
very well said sir. The book is not banned, It has been only withdrawn from India, due to an out of court settlement. I see lies peddled by some here too by saying the book is banned.

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
It would have been awesome if you had spoken about the inaccuracies in the book by experts rather than review comments which anyone can put up.

Nikhil Baliga 
The inaccuracies are listed in the reviews. The post wasn't about the book per se, so I didn't find it really rekevant. You'll find them with a couple of searches...

@Sandeep Shet Yeah, I told the exact same thing on Twitter today. With a scanned copy as proof. That part is apparently not made clear enough

Sandeep Shet here is a 3 part review of the book

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Evolution, classes and objects

Swami Gulagulaananda wondered:
"Can we recreate evolution and the world programmatically?"

Classes and Objects form the core of object oriented programming. A class is basically like the floor plan of a building, and an object is the instantiated version, a physical manifestation if you may, of the class - viz, an actual house. What's interesting is that with one class, you can have as many object instances as you want - one house floor plan, but multiple houses that have the same house floor plan.

Now that we are clear with classes and objects, let's take a look at modifying the properties of objects. Two houses can look alike and have the same characteristics - that is, doors and windows in the same positions, etc. but can have different properties, such as paint colours - one might be red and another blue. Similarly, if you look at people, though we have the same general structure, we have different properties like skin tone, height, weight, eye colour etc. Therefore, objects can have a similar class but different properties.

Each class can be made up of different classes - For example, a car can have tyres. Two BMWs need not necessarily have the exact same tyres. However, tyres themselves have certain characteristics that make them tyres - and so if you define tyres as classes, and change their properties, such as tread type or material etc. you have multiple types of tyres and cars can use either of these within them. Similarly, when you look at humans, our organs are like the constituent classes - organs of two different people may have similar characteristics that make them the same organ, but there can be variations in some properties.

This same concept becomes recursive now - organs are made up of tissues, which in turn are made up of cells and they are in turn made up of constituent substances, sub-cellular entities like nucleus, DNA which in turn have DNA sequences, molecules, atoms, quarks and so on - but the concept is still the same.

The world is also a set of classes and objects - temperature, humidity, etc. are properties. The thickness of  the earth's crust is also variable (properties) and so magma can leak out of some places and cause volcanoes there. And water can settle in places where the basins exist. Also assume that you are coding some fundamental truths so that things work like how they do in real life, like universal law of gravitation, etc.

Now assuming that we all sit and write some kinds of classes like this and generate random worlds all the time, with each planet having variable radii, variable landscapes, variable temperature and pressure and constituent minerals - all of which are properties that get randomly set upon instantiation. And run these programs, creating instances all the time, will we be able to create simulations of planets all over the universe? And in due course of time, one of them will probably be something similar to earth - so will we able to observe the creation and formation of life in one of the billion instances?

Remember that in one of those billion instances, a volcano might erupt as soon as life got created because it is probable. But still, theoretically, will we be able to observe this formation of life and evolution? Will we be able to see dinosaurs, man and what organisms will come in the future?

I doubt it - because I don't know if consciousness can automatically come in code - like if such random mutations are happening all the time, it does not necessarily mean that humans will make dodos extinct. And if we can observe industrial revolution, dynasties, slavery, religion etc. It would be fabulous if we could though.

Also, another question that I have is - is object oriented programming really the right approach to simulate something like this? Or should you be writing something entirely different like one of those machine learning algorithms with mathematical models that will do some mumbo jumbo? I, of course, am not familiar with that concept, but I think it would be an interesting project, massively complex, requiring massive resources, but I wonder if it would actually work - What are your opinions?

Related Posts

Evolution, a brilliant concept and yet...


Comments from Facebook

Goutham Kamath
I believe it can be done and has been done to an extent !! That extent is very very small and at the rate we are going I guess we cannot model everything (We just began to understand or may be not) !! If we are able to recreate then there are lots of fascinating thoughts. Some of them are "How exactly object (humans) figured out the entire code". I don't know if physics laws will not allow us to do that. We will never know the starting...higgs boson might be an answer but it might be just relative !!! In short the answer is "NO" !!

Amogh Js 
Yes we can

Gurudatha Pai
What's your starting point?

Nikhil Baliga 
I am imagining big bang theory is done, billions of planets are getting generated, each one with random settings

Gurudatha Pai
I would say no. Even though the question is more fundamental ("deterministic", "random chance", "complex chaotic" world views), your question seems to assume a statistical world view. The number of possibilities is uncountably infinite. Hence, there is little hope of simulating a delta-time which covers all possibilities and therefore, little hope of advancing such a simulation in time.

Nikhil Baliga
What if there was no dearth of computing resources? I know it is impractical, but this is a theoretical question...

Ramesh Radhakrishna
Let me start off by citing a NASA program which simulates Big Bang theory. The results of the simulator is pretty astonishing. It has ended up with an universe model which is similar to our observable universe.

There are lot of Evolution simulators out there(some even open source, I think). However, your idea is is interesting because of the expectancy of human interventions as the results of the program. As they say .. The distance in time between a stegosaurus and Trex is greater than the time between us and TRex. It's the sheer complexity of time and number of events.

It 'should' definitely be achieved but our current understanding is so less. Consciousness, Love, Religiousness and nearly all human behaviors are very well explained (empirically and theoretically) in the psychology literature and that wouldn't be the tough part to achieve.[ Whales are more emotionally developed than humans and that can be correlated to the size of a part of the brain.] The tough part here is granularity. We have absolutely no information about these things. Carbon dating accuracies are being improved to help achieve accuracies of thousands of years.

Yeah .. It's a big challenge and more the people who work on it .. Better it is for science ..

Gurudatha Pai 
I contend "Consciousness, Love, Religiousness and nearly all human behaviors are very well explained". No, they are not well explained. We have hypothesis and some evidence. Simulating something programmatically is would necessitate exact models that lend themselves to computation. We have no such models of human behavior for example (Ref : Robert Sapolsky ).

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
How much evidence is good evidence is a fuzzy thing. Some people refute Evolution because there are only little evidence. But, I do agree that more evidence for explaining these behaviors need to be collected (only because more is better). However, there are very good theoretical explanations for these behaviors.

We can successfully induce feelings of love and religiousness in any human being. Consciousness is not very hard to explain if we explain a string of other behaviors. I found this show to be particularly interesting. We humans are neither very complex or efficient or even sophisticated !

Swarup Chandra 
Interesting discussion ... Ramesh ... I haven't seen the video yet ... However ... Are you suggesting consciousness is a certain emotion or feeling? ... "Humans are neither complex nor sophisticated" !?!?! ... What is complex then?

Ramesh Radhakrishna
@swarup Nopes. I am not suggesting anything. All I am stating is that nearly all the feelings and emotions are known in scientific literature(by known, I mean significant work to some extent). There are tremendous amount of knowledge available in this regard.

Human behavior ( love, religiousness, sad, happy, ecstatic, 'life changing' supernatural experiences, concentration & focus etc. ) in isolation is very simple (once again, I mean lot of significant works which can be referred and learnt about. My use of word 'simple' shouldn't imply condescending or demeaning remark). The combination of these behaviors become complex. How they interact, influence each other etc.

Swarup Chandra 
Hmm ok ... However I still don't agree that emotions are well known and simple, when they are considered in isolation. For example, I have seen numerous recent papers trying to characterize happiness, say classification for instance, fail to completely do so, indicating it is complex.

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
The point is not on identifying what all result in happiness ... Point is we know what is the cause for happiness .. I am speaking from a neurological point of view .. I can poke your brain or inject certain elements that will cause happiness, sadness and other emotions .. I can make you listen to something that will make you sad and cry .. My point is from a hardware perspective, human body is quite well understood .. [Don't make a mistake of reading this as completely understood]

I kind of know what kind of work you are speaking about. If you are speaking about Affect computing, their take is completely different. It is related to identifying emotions which is a completely different problem from inducing them.

Swarup Chandra 
Oh I see ... So you are saying consciousness can also be induced in a similar manner?

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
That is one thing I am not sure about .. That question sent me out on literature hunting ...

Found this nice survey paper on Vegetative State. Initial scan of the paper say we know what unconsciousness and consciousness are. Let me put it this way ... Can a person in a vegetative state be brought back ? Not yet probably, because of our human body limitations. But, do we know whats happening in conscious state and unconscious state ? Yes ...

Can we make an atheist experience a highly religious feeling and 'supernatural' ? Yup .. But, can we convert him .. Probably No ... Can we make a sad person happy ? Yes. We can induce a state of happiness and ecstasy, but, since the old memories resurface, the effect will be temporary. Can we make two people fall in love ? yes...

Paper I was speaking about Comatose and Vegetative State:
'Conscious Awareness in Patients in Vegetative States: Myth or Reality?'

By, the way the paper ends up saying that it could be real.

Swarup Chandra 
Hmm interesting ... I also came across a few articles/papers that question the existence of consciousness ... It would be very interesting to see if anyone can answer the following with evidence or with high confidence ... Does conscience exists? If so, can you isolate it in the brain? A No to the first question, or a yes to the second question would be a tremendous achievement in science ... And it would shatter the whole philosophy and traditions of Hinduism and it's subsidiary religions

Ramesh Radhakrishna 
programmatic evolution -> Religion !!! Confused !!!

Swarup Chandra
Haha ... Religion was a side note ... Not related ... Sorry to bring it up 

Vigilante Justice - Do we need an assassin?

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"The course of the law is the longest course in the world"

Important NoteThis is just a thought experiment - I DO NOT endorse nor encourage anybody to take law into their hands and go around dispensing theirown brands of justice. 

Not a single day goes by when we don't see the words 'scam' or 'rape' or pseudo-secular behaviour in the news. Everybody talks about how corruption is bringing ruin to the country. Some others talk about this as the reason for Indian brain-drain and talk about how the Satya Nadellas are leaving for the US because of transparency and openness. Fine, the need of  the hour is a political overhaul, they said, and at the risk of sounding like Rahul Gandhi, let's bring the youth into politics, they said... There was great rejoicing when AAP came to power in Delhi and people waved brooms, promising to sweep away the filth of corruption from within the system. We will punish the corrupt, they said.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans of men and mice. Nothing happened. I look around at people and I see different kinds of people - But there is something common in all these people, they are all in stage five of the stages of grief - Acceptance

  • Those who have accepted and say that if you don't do it, someone else will do it, so why not we do it?
  • Those who have accepted and say - This is the way it is, but I will try to be correct
  • Those who have accepted it and decide to leave the country for greener pastures
Then there are the fourth type who believe that the so called "Following the course of the law" is a big joke. Everybody knows that the course of the law will do nothing - And even if it does, it will take so much time that by the time the perpetrator actually gets the sentence he deserves, he'd have been long dead. So this group of people believes that the need of the hour is vigilante justice.

Now for a moment, forget about everything - drop all morals, drop the thinking hat that talks about repercussions, don't worry about practicality - Just imagine this world... There is a man with a very strong sense of justice, a man who has reached the psychological state of mind of God. A man who can judge what is right and what is wrong and also the extent of wrongness with absolute precision. He is intelligent, wise, strong and fast... Let's also throw in handsomeness just to make him likeable. This man possesses a sniper rifle and a scope, both so powerful that he can eliminate an enemy from a great distance - Maybe a couple of kilometres. And because of that great range, he will never get caught.

Assume that he has access to all the facts - He knows for a fact who is corrupt and to what extent... He begins to eliminate corrupt people. People whom he kills are those who are 100% criminals - Those who have killed and raped and done all kinds of evil activities. Maybe for some lesser crimes, he shoots at their legs or arms or whatever... For pettier crimes like jumping signals, maybe he shatters windshields or punctures tyres with his sniper rifle. Imagine he can be everywhere, just like a superhero. Just let your imagination flow...

What are the advantages of Ideal Vigilante Justice?

  1. Justice will be swift - There is no lengthy stretched out processes and loopholes using which people will escape
  2. His punishments are guaranteed to be just - Like I said, he is an ideal person and has 100% accurate facts and his decision making is impeccable
  3. People will begin to fear repercussions - they know for a fact that their actions are now being judged and that punishment is swift. Crimes will begin to drop
Now for the flip side. Let's start to look at it more practically. It is impossible for one person to be all over the place and dispensing justice. India is after all a country with a population of over a billion. So let us not make our superhero punish people who jump signals and overspeed. Let's take the top 10 crimes in the country, top 10 scams, or rather, top 10 people who are in such a position that their actions can have severe detrimental effects by virtue of their position and who are absolutely evil. Everybody knows of their crimes, just that nobody has the guts or resources to prosecute them, and also know that legal prosecution will take ages before a resolution is reached. But it is 100% known that they are criminals. Would you want this superhero to kill them? He will keep killing in batches of 10 till substantial reduction is brought about. People in power to stop but do nothing also are included

Practical problems of such vigilantes

  1. 100% facts are often not known. A lot of things appear to be in a certain way but in reality can be something entirely different. Your sources might feed you incorrect information (intentionally or unintentionally) resulting in loss of innocent life. The life on an innocent person is worth more than the death of several criminals is a commonly held belief.
  2. A lot depends on the superhero. He should not, at any point, become biased, take a side, get carried away. He should not dispense harsher punishments than what is required. His ability to remain absolutely just and error free is very vital
  3. Seeing the success of the Superhero, there will be copycats. This will create a very dangerous situation because people will start killing others and think they can get away with it just like the superhero. This will create situations of anarchy. So the existence of the superhero should not become public. Or perhaps, instead of using bullets, he should use very small poison darts I am guessing...
Then of course there is the moral question - Is killing someone else really justifiable? Taking law into your own hands, is it correct? I will not discuss this in this post. 

Hajime Saitou said - "Slay evil immediately"

Important Note - This is just a thought experiment - I do not endorse nor encourage anybody to take law into their hands and go around dispensing their own brands of justice. 

Recommended Watching

Deathnote - An extremely intelligent boy gets a notebook that can be used to kill people (akin to sniper rifle) and he kills criminals with it. Highly recommended
Gangajal - People in a town decide to dispense justice on their own and a state of anarchy and fear gets created.
Rang De Basanti - A group of students decide to take law into their own hands after a corrupt minister gets acquitted by pulling some strings
Jinpuu Squad episode 15, season 1 of Kenshin - A group of assassins kill 'corrupt' people - but their information is false.

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