Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thinking, fast and slow - Part I

What can i say, i enjoy books written about me :P

This book is a slow and steady read. But if can catch hold of your System 2 for so long, then you are in for lots of interesting revelations. BTW, System 2 means your conscious and active self, as opposed to System 1 which is your subconscious or automatic part of the mind. It's all in the book. 

Plus, it also reaffirms my long held belief that happy and thinking don't go together :)

Random thoughts and excerpts while going through the book..

Attention is expensive. It is tiring and needs effort. So we try to keep it to the minimum. But you have to be careful of what gets assigned to auto-pilot.

You can only do one activity which needs attention at a time.

"As you become skilled in a task, it's demand for energy diminishes. A general "law of least effort" applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving a goal, people will gravitate to the least demanding course of action. Laziness is built deep in our nature."

The ability to control attention is a measure of intelligence. There is also a close connection between the ability to control our attention and the ability to control our emotions.

The only time when conscious mental activity is _not_ aversive is when you are in a state of flow.

Self-control also requires effort and attention. If you are focusing on something else, your self-control is bound to weaken.

"The ease with which people are satisfied enough to stop thinking is rather troubling."

"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth."

The ease of living with someone increases with time. And it is so so enticing to consider the happy and safe feeling, love. But is it?

"A capacity for surprise is an essential aspect of our mental life, and surprise itself is the the most sensitive indication of how we understand our world and what we expect from it."

"The dominance of conclusions over arguments is most pronounced where emotions are involved."

Now on to the next part of the book...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Adjusting to India

When i moved back to India from the US 3 years back, i did it because i wanted to. It is one of those decisions you can't really fully explain. Why do people leave comfy jobs to join rockbands or go on world tours or climb mountains or have kids for that matter.

Changing a country is bound to be eventful. And with difference as drastic as between India and US, you are guaranteed some jolts. But a lot of people seem to be trying it out now-a-days. Consider this account.

Why I Left India (Again)
The idea that you can fix India’s problems by adding more people to it — even smart people — is highly suspect. No, I wasn’t going back to fix things; I was leaving the U.S. to go back to Shri Thomas Friedman’s India: an India that offered global companies, continental food, international schools and domestic help; an India that offered freedom from outsourcing and George W. Bush.
India is a poor country. There are millions of poor and hungry people around. As sad and ugly as it may be, that is the truth. And so is the fact that you are not one of them. I guess this guy didn't quiet expect that, hence he had to head back. His was a problem of being rich in a poor society. Being one of the very few fortunate ones among millions born in poverty and misfortune.

You don't think it's a problem? I can assure you it is. At least for people who can and will, think. There are ways of solving it though. You can ignore their plight, you can rationalize their situation saying life is not fair or that its not your concern anyways. Believe me, i have tried them all.

Sadly, none of them work. The only way to be among the haves, be empathetic towards the have-nots and still keep your conscience intact, is to act. It does not matter how small or insignificant your contribution, as long as its genuine. And there are plenty of opportunities to act. That is what excites me about India. Most efforts will fail, some will succeed. In the end all that will matter is that did you sit on the fence looking pretty, or did you act.

Hawkers Plaza

There are some places in Pune that people from outside Pune love to hate. Like the पेठ areas. सोमवार, मंगळवार, बुधवार, ..., रविवार, गंज, नारायण, सदाशिव (Yes, the last name is in bold. This will suffice.). Why? The roads are too small, the people are too many, its all just too chaotic. The अस्सल पुणेकर on the other hand, not only loves these areas, but does not consider anything else as the real Pune (खरं पुणं लकडी पुलापाशी सुरु होऊन तळ्यातल्या गणपतीपाशी संपते ! कसे?).

The critique of these non-resident Punekars (:P) is not entirely incorrect. Yes the roads are too narrow (Not much we can do about them. Unless you want to tear down Vishrambaug Wada to widen Bajirao Road. Not a good idea.). Yes the traffic is utterly chaotic (this, we can certainly improve). Hence i was elated when i read that they are planning to implement a 'No Vehicle' zone and one-ways on few of the roads, in this central business district (seems more stylish now, don't it?) of Pune.

I was at the breakfast table reading this news and my Dad walks in. He has been working in this area all his life so i quickly splurt out the good news. His exact response being "Pedestrian Plaza कसला, Hawkers Plaza करून ठेवतील लेकाचे ! Scheme बंद पडेल थोड्या दिवसात आणि hawkers तसेच राहातील. मं आत्ता आहे ते काय वाईट आहे?" I was a bit stunned and very much dismayed by his cynicism. Why can't he be a little more optimistic? After all this is the corruption-fighting, formula 1-racing, 8% growth-maintaining young new India that we are talking about here.

But he is most probably right. Look at what happened to MG Road back then (when i was in school perhaps). Look at what is happening to FC Road right now, as we speak.

The road was turned into a one-way street. Good thing. The footpaths were widened. Excellent thing. One enterprising young fella thought of selling pani-puri on this nice big footpath. He did brisk business. When the police, anti-encroachment guys came along, he didn't mind sharing his profit. A hundred more book-sellers, chocolate toast vendors and juice sellers joined him. Now, good thing or bad thing?

If you ask me, i enjoy the tasty (and unhygienic) food and the cheap books they sell. As long as they sell, most people will buy. Plus i am young enough to dodge cars and jump over pot holes when the footpaths are occupied by these stalls. But what about my आजोबा and आजी? Well, who cares :(

It also seems a bit unfair to evict the street vendors once they are entrenched (not that its possible anyways). So the solution is not to allow any encroachment of footpaths in the first place. But are the authorities serious enough about this? Ofcourse not!

Update: Not sure if this is good news or bad news, but the thing is cancelled for now.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

संगीताचा कान कुठे मिळतो?

हि संगीता कुठे असते आणि ती तिचा एक कान मला देईल का?

3am on Balgandharva bridge. Cloudless cold December night in Pune. I had just lit my last smoke before heading home. It was as still a night as there can be. But the air moved, not by wind, but with the sound of something. We had to follow the sound, we just had to. That was Shiv Kumar Sharma playing at Sawai Gandharva. It is the first time I remember me actually listening to music. The concert went on till wee hours and I was perhaps the last person to leave that ground. I did not know what it was but I knew I was hooked. I was in college then, and madly in love. That helped, definitely.

I have loved it ever since, but the thing is, I really don't understand crap about it. I have been to hundreds of concerts and listened to thousands of recordings. I have pretended to appreciate the nuances of complicated renditions. भैरव चालू आहे असं confirm करून, कोमल रिषभ काय लागला होता आज किशोरी चा, अशी बळचकर मतं पण टाकली आहेत. दिवसाच्या वेळे प्रमाणे ते-ते राग ऐकून पहिले आहेत. अतिशय प्रामाणिकपणे कान देऊन स्वर ओळखायचे प्रयत्न केले आहेत. एव्हडच काय मी पेटी, violin, तबला, drums वगेरे class लावून शिकायचा ही प्रयत्न केलाय. कधीतरी कुठलातरी राग बरोबर ओळखतो आणि खूप भारी वाटतं. But most of the time I get it wrong.

When people are talking about chords and harmonics I feel like a illiterate who wishes his parents had educated him at the right age. Ofcourse, I don't blame them, most likely what is missing is commitment and persistence on my part. Atleast, I hope that is the case. Because the alternative is too bleak.

That is why I shudder when people say art is something you have to be born with. Because then, I don't stand a chance. :P

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Alcohol and Minority Rights

Everyone has habits they can't change. Everyone is addicted to something.

Is it fair to ban someone else's habits when you are free to practice your own? Yes, if somebody's habit is to beat his wife then by all means he should be stopped and punished. But what if he is a responsible drinker? What if he goes out with his friends, drinks, has a merry time, designates a driver, comes home and sleeps in peace? Why should he pay the price for the other guy?

Government used the big hammer approach in raising the age limit of buying/consuming alcohol to 25. Firstly, this won't change much.We used to buy alcohol when we were in school. Sometime when we were in actual school uniforms :P (btw, this is wrong and should be discouraged). But nobody bothers. Perhaps now they will make them shell out some more bucks for their booze, but it won't stop them for sure.
Secondly, either you say a person is legally an adult or he/she is not. The age-limits are anyways arbitrary, at least, make them consistent. I can vote but I can't marry? Can get hitched but can't watch 'A' movies? Can watch those but can't drink alcohol? It's already a very confusing age, don't confuse them further.

Having said that, I have seen villages where most men folk drink silly and beat/create nuisance for their wives/families. Perhaps a big hammer like a complete alcohol ban might be the only practical solution in such cases (Education and Women Empowerment are the long term solutions, but you need to stop the violence till that takes effect). But then what about the guy who drinks for his enjoyment and troubles no one? Agreed, he is a minority. But does that mean he doesn't have rights?
When you implement a ban, you have to be very careful. Because you are restricting the legitimate freedoms of some very responsible and good people. The ban should be time bound perhaps. Perhaps tied to some parameters like education, sex-ratio, women employment, etc.

For me, my college years wouldn't have been the same without the parties, and perhaps the parties wouldn't have been the same without the alcohol.

If this ban is ever implemented? My sympathies.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gap between Thinking and Action

When the Anna Hazare thing happened, i liked it.

I have to admit I am a regular middle class guy. I do not wield any political clout (neither any social, financial, media or online one for that matter). Well-to-do in personal life but utterly powerless and insignificant when it comes to macro issues like politics and governance. Typically the middle class is aloof and distant from these things. They read and watch everything but never participate. But this time it was different, the educated urban middle class, along with a hyper excited media (Arnab for Lokpal :P) made this campaign work.

But my regular internet guys (Amit Verma, Nitin Pai, Atanu DeyMohit Satyanand, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Salil Tripathi) were ALL against it, venomously. And I was utterly confused.

I mean I love to read their blogs and am almost always in agreement with their world view. But this time something was missing. They brought up the usual suspects, Bill will add more bureaucracy when we want less of it, it does not address root cause, fasting is blackmail, etc. There can be an endless logical back-and-forth on these, but we don't need to do that (The deed is done for now, time will publish the result.).

What surprised me was no one talked about the process itself. The middle class (+ media) has fought for emotionally appealing personal cases like Jessica Lal, Arushi, etc. before. But for a significant change in governance? I think this was our generations first attempt at this. It was not perfect (and neither is the JanLokpal Bill) but atleast it got a million educated straight thinking young minds interested in the workings of our Government. Isn't that something worth having? How can this be ignored?

And then I realized. These people are just writers. They collect news, add a filter of their beliefs, garnish it with their wit, and serve it up. If they too picture themselves as writers then all is well (I mistook them as leaders, perhaps because of the utter lack of sensible socio-political leadership these days. My bad). But if they imagine themselves to be leaders some day, then only sound theory (which they most certainly possess) is not enough. Their has to be action. And action almost always implies leaving the beautifully mathematical and almost perfect world of theory and getting down to the imperfect yet _real_ world of practice. Are you up for it?

Speaking of action, Anna Hazare plans to campaign for 'Right to Reject' all candidates during voting next. Wonder what the flaws in that one might be.. :P

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fasting today

in support of 'Jan Lokpal' Bill but also because its kinda fun :)

I don't believe Lokpal bill will solve our corruption problem. Heck, it might even make it worst. The truth of the matter is that in such complex social problems there are no fool-proof actions. We in the computer world are so used to having close to accurate predictions that we are scared to do anything without them. Sorry mate, doesn't work like that in real world.

So i read the Jan Lokpal Bill (section 8 is nice). Then i read the Lokpal Bill (proposed by the government). I recommend you set aside 15 mins and go through both. And i though to myself, if one of them is going to be the law, i damn well want it to be the first one. Because it is written with intent and purpose and with enough clarity for a layman like me to understand. I liked the emphasis on what the Lokpal _can_ do (instead of what he/she _cannot_ do in the government's version), the requirement that appointments to Lokpal to be put up on website and public feedback considered, and that all sessions be video recorded and all documents made available to public. or maybe i am just biased. :)

So how do i decide?
Have i analyzed it enough to make sure that i am being reasonable? Check.
Is the thing non-violent? Check.
Is not infringing upon anyone's freedom of speech or any other legitimate right/freedom? Check.
Is it fun? Check.

Now that i have taken sides (damn, thats rare), what do i do about it? Nothing really. Yes i am fasting, but that is mostly to check if i can survive without food for 24 hours. And perhaps in taking sides i have done my part for now. I have realized its importance and given it my time. Action will follow. Hopefully :P

I hope a lot more people join this movement. Because as someone said, democracy won't work just by voting once in five years. We need to develop a culture of active participation by common people, responsible people like you and me in governance. For that i wish Anna Hazare and his followers well (personally, i like following ideas better than following people. but whatever..).

more stuff here: http://indiaagainstcorruption.org/

Monday, April 04, 2011

Prime Mover

I have been having a lot of free time lately. Its a few minutes a week really, but in those few minutes i have nothing, and i mean absolutely nothing that i have to do. No financial matters to deal with, no relations to maintain, no health issues to worry about. It's a funny floating feeling.

I guess we all have such moments, and dismiss those few minutes of nothingness as aberrations. Details of everyday life are too overwhelming to dwell in such matters. But sometimes that feeling is so strong that it casts a shadow on all your life's doing. Why do we do what we do?

The prime mover has always been attention, recognition from someone else. Why did i write this blog? I could have taken my realization and kept it to myself. But no, i wanted you to read it, and if i am lucky, comment on it (and when you do, perhaps, you seek the same attention :P). I don't have an internal drive, very few do. If there is no one around to see, appreciate even ridicule my actions i wouldn't have done anything but survive. No music, no beauty, no pride, no emotions.

Right from when we are an adorable toddler till we are a cute grandparent, we seek attention. And sometimes i get so tired of it.

Isn't there anything else?