Friday, 20 July 2018

Hydrangea, Begonias and others

This year round, in the garden, after the big leaf hydrangea, it is the begonias that have bloomed best.  Unfortunately of the four single petal white begonias I bought, only one grew up well.  But the three multipetal red ones have all grown very well. 







The pink and white ____________  too have come up well... but scattered over a few places.  Have gathered the seeds this year and plan to plant them together next year and make them more visible. 



 The first time the Easter lily has bloomed! Two flowers from three plants!  Great!


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Loneliness

An interesting understanding of loneliness, something that did not occur to me earlier...
By ‘loneliness’ Arendt did not simply mean solitude, in which – as she points out – you have your own self for consolation. In the solitude of our minds, we engage in an internal dialogue. We speak in two voices. It is this internal dialogue that allows us to achieve independent and creative thought – to weigh strong competing imperatives against each other. You engage in it every time you grapple with a moral dilemma. Every clash of interests, every instance of human difference evokes it. True thought, for Arendt, involved the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. True loneliness, therefore, was the opposite. It involved the abrupt halting of this internal dialogue: ‘the loss of one’s own self’ – or rather, the loss of trust in oneself as the partner of one’s thoughts. True loneliness means being cut off from a sense of human commonality and therefore conscience. You are left adrift in a sea of insecurity and ambiguity, with no way of navigating the storms. (Aeon)
And this loneliness is the common thread running through all extremists and belonging (to the extremist or terrorist group) gives them a sense of identity, a place where they no more feel lonely but valued.  So it is not that only those who are physically alone or isolated that are prone to loneliness, even those living amidst people and even those who are actively involved in the lives of others also can be victims of this loss of trust in oneself.  The key as I see it is communication and empathy.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Know not how and why, but have been reading quite a few interesting articles about Artificial Intelligence in the past two days. Not so much the technical or mechanical aspect but the rational and philosophical dimension of AI. My general impressions and views, as of now:

What Artificial Intelligence (AI) has actually achieved is 'human intelligence'. It has only managed to create what human beings can think or do, better. But isn't AI about rational thinking and independent behaviour? The machines and robots have been programmed or coded with the various possibilities from the vast amount of available data, and generated algorithms thereof, to choose a particular act. It does not 'think' beyond the given data or possibilities. The created AI has only inherited the collated and multiplied human intelligence, but with its limitations as well. (Now this supposes a distinction between human thinking/act and rational thinking/act.)

Secondly, the inherited intelligence is that of a select group of inventors, not of all mankind. Example is the response of Google assistant, American made and Alisa, a Russian make to the statement, “I am sad.” Google's reply: “I wish I had arms to give you a hug.” Alisa's reply: “No one said life is going to be fun.” The former reply is typically a Western capitalist response to an emotional state and the latter a hard hitting fact of life reply as per Russian culture.

While consensus on what exactly does 'cognition' or 'understanding' mean and how it is achieved is elusive, to expect or attribute the same to AI will be even more complicated. Other crucial issues AI is yet to address: subjective consciousness, creativity, meaning… (Or is it that AI researchers and developers are not interested in mechanizing these essential features of the humankind!?)

Running on!

Last year when the Salesian school Chertsey held its sports meet at St George's, Weybridge I went there for sometime.  During my short time there on the ground, there was a marathon race being participated by one whole year batch.  Teachers standing along the tracks were cheering and encouraging the students to run the laps.  "Keep running, you're doing great!"  At one point a couple of enthusiastic boys who had done some bit of running asked, "Miss, how many rounds are we to run?"  The teacher enthusiastically replied, "Oh, just four rounds of the ground!"  The boys instantly shot back, "What?  This is my 5th round!"   

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Relevance and meaning decide 'the obvious'

What is obvious is not what is out there, but what we sought to seek and find! The famous gorilla experiment, is an example in case.  We human beings always are looking for, not merely looking at.  Blindness and bias are not negative features of our human nature.  They merely indicate that the individual is looking for something else! Something else is relevant and meaningful and therefore, misses the 'obvious'.  (Theory decides the observation.)

Reminds me of Fr TD, who always used to harp on seeing the good in the boys rather than the mischief or the nuisance they create, and when caught in the act say, "See, I told you!"
But the far more important point is that we also need to recognise and investigate the remarkable human capacities for generating questions and theories that direct our awareness and observations in the first place. Bias and blindness-obsessed studies will never get us to this vital recognition.
At its worst, the fascination with blindness and bias flattens humans, and science, to a morally dubious game of ‘gotcha’.
So in the case of Artificial Intelligence (AI), both optimism and worry are justified and valid.  Optimistic that they are better at observation and statistical analysis than human beings; worry, because we human beings are passing on to them our limited framework of what to observe and how to analyse!  Relevance and meaning are vital to intelligence and rationality - computers being good at the latter, not the former.  (Insights and quotes from Aeon)

Friday, 13 July 2018

Reminiscing old times

Last night watched the musical 'Annie' put up by the students of the Salesian school here in Chertsey.  Part of the musical cast was a dog!  Looking at it on stage, was reminded of the time at Yercaud during my philosophy days when acting in a play for the 15th of August.  I'm not sure what the play was, but that I was a police constable and to enhance the effect of the opening murder scene, was supposed to get the 'sniffer dog' - our own Grigio.  Now this German Shepherd of the house was great! 

The only problem was to keep it away from the 'corpse', Doms who was so frightened of dogs that he had already warned me not to let the dog touch him, leave alone lick him!  He'd warned me that if I let the dog touch him, the script of the play would change and they'd be a real dead body on stage - mine!  Knowing Doms fear of dogs, I was careful. 

All was fine till the actual day of performance.  Every day during the rehearsal, Grigio would be up on stage excited about exploring the set and the new place.  I always had to struggle to get it off the stage.  However, on the actual day, I solemnly walked on to the stage with the leash, only to discover that Grigio would not get on the stage. So here I was on stage, in full view of the audience, pulling hard to get the yet to be seen Grigio!  The more the audience laughed at my struggle, the more it frightened Grigio!  

Friday, 6 July 2018

Equality. Is that inherent in the system?

Some stray reflections on the notion of 'equality'...

Is equality an inherent standard or an external imposition on an existing state of affairs? 

Perhaps equality is  an external measure or standard to a given context. Not something inherent. Inherently each is only different. If equal, then it should be the same, more or less.

What implications does this have?  That there always has to be a third party to actually decide? When speaking about human beings or even realities involving more than mere statistical or material components, can two or more entities claim to be equal, all by themselves?  

Tolerance vs harmony

For long the Indian belief system and the general mood of the population has considered Hinduism as a tolerant religion. Indeed it is – at least in its principles and core values. However, living here in Europe and often hearing of the Christian tradition and history, I wonder if the same tolerance can be said of Christianity too. But then on deeper reflection it struck me that the word 'tolerance' smacks of a sort of dominance and a kind of pitiful 'permission' for other beliefs to exist. Even in common usage we don't use the word 'tolerate' when speaking of human relations. And when we do, it is not in very positive and joyful description. To tolerate someone would mean to bear up, for want of no choice or out of sheer necessity. It certainly is not a pleasant scenario. So why use the term when referring to religions and religious adherents? Perhaps a better and more suitable word would be 'harmony'. Well it does not describe one particular religion or group but of the whole! Even if one were to use it for one particular religion, one would need to say that it promotes harmony, not tolerates other belief systems!

Belief

All universally accepted 'truths' or facts were once assumptions or postulates yet to be proved. Most of what we hold as true is based on inference. And going down the line of inferences that first inference is based on, we will encounter assumptions – even assumptions that are universal and true.

Believing does not really involve any kind of judgement or knowledge – knowledge how, knowledge that, justified true belief, or other beliefs (???). When I walk I do not believe that the ground under my feet will hold my weight. I walk! I may be thinking of my interview or the journey or even my own belief in God, but believing in the ground under my feet is not one of them! … basically out of habit or regular behaviour.

(... something missing??)

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Busily happy

A man returned to his native village after several years. Years ago when he left the village to seek brighter prospects he was sure nothing much could be achieved staying in the village. Chatting with his childhood friends who stayed on and settled down in the village itself, he was glad to see them all after long. As he listened to all that they did he finally stated, “So you really have kept yourselves busy.” One of them responded, “Busy or not, we are not sure, but happy indeed!” “What's the big difference,” he asked, “between being busy and being happy?” Another of his friends responded, “If one earns more than what he needs he is busy. And if one earns what he needs, he is happy!”

The Kent SeNSS conference

The three day participation at the conference in Canterbury, my first official participation in the UK, was a great experience.  What's more all of it paid for by the bursary I won in the competition organised by South east Network of Social Sciences (SeNSS).  I had initially applied for the competition because I wanted to visit Canterbury, the historical town.  Coming to know that the University of Kent is located at Canterbury was the sole reason I applied.  Thanks to the organisers I got the chance and am happy to have been there - though did not get to see much of the town... maybe on another visit. 
Close to the Canterbury (East) station in a park! 

The Westgate in the heart of the town

The Cathedral, headquarters of the Anglican Church...
For a political sanyasi like me, with no interest or ear for politics, the talk on Brexit was truly an enlightening one - given by Prof. Anand Menon of Kings College, London.  The panel discussion on the European Union and some of the serious issues plaguing it, too was enriching.  One could clearly see the competence, indepth knowledge and interest of some of the professors involved. 

Though would have loved some more substantial intellectual exercises or presentations, was happy to hear some of the research topics of other doctoral researchers.  So wide, varied and at times weird!  There is one studying cock fights in the Canary islands!  One doing research on a small community park in some remote African country.  One Spaniard studying the privatization of water in England - of all places! Several in the field of education and business.  But all spending time and energy gathering data and analysing it.  The principle or theory they were proving seemed just a line or so.  I was the only one who was not doing any empirical data collection and analysis!  That was quite an eerie feeling. But now I've almost got used to that feeling because, no other discipline exempts a doctoral research from substantiating their data. Philosophy is the only stream where you only blah, blah, blah!  For me it was a good experience talking casually and in smaller circles about my research topic... explaining philosophical pursuits in simple language.  The fact that most often those listening would continue the conversation, ask questions and even criticize some ideas of mine was a great success indicator.

Met some Indians, a Nepali, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi at the conference and it was a great time of fun and laughter when not in the sessions.  Chatted with them in Hindi and it was great... spoke Hindi after two years! 

Carpe diem!

Had a successful interview at the university this afternoon for the post of the visiting tutors for the philosophy department.  Both the panel members were highly impressed by my presentation and capability to handle a class of undergraduates.  Hope the courses opted are on the charts and I get the opportunity to teach.  Would be a great aid in adding life to my otherwise monotonous schedule of reading! 

For now I have the satisfaction and the joy of having done my best for the teaching opportunity, if available! 
That and the excitement of having a deadline to start writing something (after all the reading) is perhaps a good mood to relish.  Might as well enjoy the moment! 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Salesian gardens, Chertsey

With absolutely no rains for more than a month, all the meadows and lawns in the country are brown!  Our lawn at Salesian gardens was never really fully green, so one can imagine what it would look like!  However some plants and flowers are still not just surviving but thriving... of course, with some watering every alternate days. 
Wild sweet peas in the front yard
These wild sweet peas are far better and vibrant than the official 'garden' sweet peas!


The bottle brush flower


 This big leaf hydrangea are the best as of now.  Having transplanted the plant from the pot to the ground has paid off richly!  To see the bloom feels so uplifting!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Bold, open review of existing structures

For quite some time now the British news is all about the NHS and how it is falling apart.  After Brexit, the state of NHS is the most discussed and debated issue in the printed press. 

The National Health Services (NHS) came into effect on July 5, 1948 at the strong recommendation and long battle of the then health minister Aneurin Bevan, a Labour party member.  It was a time after the war and the whole of the world, even Britain, was in recovery mode. Though today none would question the need and the great service NHS offers, back then there were many objections to it - primarily because it imposed tax on everyone and secondly because, doctors saw it as a form of national socialism.  Doctors resented it because it would mean that their independence was now at stake.  They would not be 'small businesses' but state functionaries.  The NHS survived years of revamping, policy changes, even threats of being thrown out...

However, with the reeling pressure of time and circumstances, people do not fear asking the bold questions: Is it time to move on?  Do we still have to invest and sustain a sinking ship?  Alternatives are being discussed and debated.  However, none of them seem to be 'better' than what NHS can. But I like the way the whole point is discussed and debated in open.  There certainly will be some political moves going on in the background, but atleast there is no secrecy about the state of affairs, or rather the sad state of affairs. 

I've admired the way the NHS works.  I may not be aware of all its intricacies but the health care system of the country is worth admiring.  I don't see this possible in India, given its large population and the mind set we presently function with.  Furthermore with the grave economic inequalities that are characteristic of India, a general taxation for health will never really take off.  Moreover, I wonder if we'd ever have such an open and free debate in the public domain, with members of the political parties (no matter whether in power or in opposition) participating and learning, rather than politicizing and merely criticizing each other and conclusively ending up far away from the topic under discussion. 

Belief

Basic insights from the fundamental notion of Web of belief, by Willard Quine

  • often it is the external experience that forces us to relook at our beliefs, often a contradictory one, one that does not fit in to our existing network of beliefs.
  • we can choose which of our beliefs we wish to alter (peripheral, central, core).
  • often we prefer to alter the peripheral, easier, less cumbersome than revamping the whole web!
  • guided by conservation and purpose is simplicity.
  • consistency is the ultimate aim... even if it means accommodating contradictory or differing views.
  • we can never really map our whole belief system and state completely why we believe a certain thing, but we should be able to map the main reasons.

Quine talks about the 'web' specifically in the context of physical sciences and philosophy, but I think these basic principles of his theory are applicable to any belief, even religious beliefs. 

If that is the case, then are religious beliefs fundamentally the same as any other beliefs we hold in life?  If so, where and how do they diverge or part ways?  Is this point of departure also the point where religion tends to break away from life and living?  
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