Man is a (self-proclaimed) social animal. Some more than others. I feel more comfortable associating myself with the latter group. I do not enjoy social gatherings much, interacting with strangers. I am comfortable discussing random topics with my few close friends and family. However, these random topics often include discussing perspectives on various social issues. Here, I intend to curate some of those views of mine.

Appreciating evolution of a language

(Sep 14, 2020)

I often face this dichotomy - flowery English or minialististic encodings. Short Messaging Services (SMS) used to be really popular in my high-school days. It had a limit of 80 characters per SMS, with a monthly pack limiting the number of such texts. I can imagine it will be extremely difficult to imagine such a World, for kids who have grown up with WhatsApp and Facebook. Pretty much as difficult as it was for us, to imagine that, our parents waited for weeks for handwritten letters or had to rush to nearby telegram offices to send messages.

Some changes that happen in human civilization are so rapid that in the larger scheme of things often whiz past and perish within the neural cavities of an isolated generation. SMS language seems to me as one of them. We invented words to represent ideas, found general rules of redundancy on English spellings (e.g. vowels don’t matter), conditioned decompressing the meaning based on context - striving towards the theoretical limit of channel efficiency of information coding in the truest Shannonic sense.

It taught me but one thing. Language, like society, is ever evolving. It is not a hard requirement to follow the Oxford dictionary. What matters is to express yourself such that the information is conveyed as close to your intention as is permitted by the resources you are willing to commit. A spelling mistake shouldn’t matter much, specially if that captures a snapshot in time, They are like the mutations in out genes. When enough people make them they survive, the same way that many Indian words are now enlisted in British English lexicons.

On the flipside, I love linguistic artistry - synonyms, idioms, puns, etc. that adds richness and vigour to a language. The resolution indeed is similar to my alignment between science and art. The necessary and the inevitable. The explainable and the creative.

Social media

(Sep 13, 2020)

I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix today. It was captivating. Netflix’s recommendation engine indeed knows my tastes.

Oh, wait! Ironically, it is about the impact of this very core algorithm that drives these capitalist organizations, like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, etc. which ingests user data to serve advertisements as their core business model. In short, what success means in this formulation? You reverse engineer the psychology of the users, personalizing their feeds to increase their view time so that you can serve your content more adeptly.

It is an amazing documentary I highly recommend to one and all - especially to the teenagers of today, who doesn’t have a clue how the world was before. There are some words which kept resonating - my takeaways from the show.

  • I have Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google, Instagram, etc. accounts. I love spending time on them. So don’t take it personally if you find it captivating. That is the core aim of these systems. Even the very persons who ideated them find it hard to look away. That said, it means, this short-term dopamine release is not a way of justifying that these do need your euphoric attention. You need to outplay the A.I. Can you?
  • We measure A.I. by comparing with human intelligence. We possibly will never evolve any further to beat A.I. is Chess, Go, DotA, who’s implementations have crossed the threshold of human intellect. It is simply a battle of algorithms and hardware. We are a general-purpose system. We are extremely poor in running specialized algorithms in our general-purpose brain. Which means, we are losing this game big time. We are a compute node being used to train the A.I. to beat us better next time around.
  • A simple solution of course is to not play the game itself. A vast majority will still play and eventually, the effect would be inevitable despite our passive protest. Or, we can revolt - for what morals we still hold dear. A middle path is to use more benign alternatives. Like changing your LinkedIn feed from Top to Recent everytime, or removing sponsored posts on Facebook. That leaves me with a rather sadist yet neutral viewpoint - is that right. I know my data is being used and yet I keep using the delusional free service. Doesn’t using these tricks equivalent to using torrents?
  • What struck me most is that - no one seems to be in control. The algorithms are let out in the field, with a primitive understanding of the limited test dataset, and then they learn and evolve, become behemoths in themselves to influence civil wars and national elections! The only control we seem to have is that in a national senate of a capitalist country where the executives testify by presenting only the sugar-coated intention and not the possible dire consequences.
  • The presentation of facts is generally manipulated by our biases. At a philosophical level, that is what we always do - live in our echo chamber, looking at the world via our own lenses. Except, only here we don’t get to choose our lenses, someone does it for us based on what’s profitable for them. Taxing based on data obtained in not a solution, monetizing premium accounts or open-source alternatives won’t have the same adoption, neither will standalone voices be loud enough to tower past the overarching greed. I have not yet reached a consensus in my mind of what’s the best action for each tiny individual to emerge to a better future for mankind. Let me know your opinions :)

Calibrating a moral compass

(May 15, 2020)

I came across this verse on Charu’s website,

“Jab laga ki humara vyavhar galat tha toh Geeta padhni shuru ki,
Jab laga ki usne humare saath galat kiya toh shayari likhna shuru kar di.” - Charu

(Translation: When I thought my actions were wrong, I started reading the Bhagavat Gita; when I thought I was wronged, I started writing poems)

This makes me ponder the very nature of right and wrong. Many philosophers have in the past wrote volumes of text on it, like Beyond Good and Evil (Friedrich Nietzsche), and the core thesis of most is morality is subjective. It is always relative to the person assigning the value. Oftentimes these values correlate well and come to be accepted as societal norms. Oftentimes these social norms gets codified as the law. But laws are amended over time, and laws are confined to the land in question.

We see people like Edward Snowden or Taslima Nasrin taking refuge in foreign lands. We see homosexuality getting legalized. We see different alcohol consumption laws based on age, religion, etc.

So it is not so easy to objectively define if your actions are right or wrong. Infact, let us divide it into 2 types: the legal distinction of right/wrong instituted by the governing authority, and that of a more personal question. I would categorize the morality from religous belief under the latter.

It is much easier to judge our actions based on the law. Yes, rape is a crime - it is wrong, by all standards of the current society. It wasn’t always like that though. It was a common war practice which the conquerors often used to indulge in.

Not everything is governed by the law. There might be sugar tax at places, but noone would take you to court if you ordered that extra potato fries after jotting down on your new year’s resolution of cutting down on fatty foods. But you would feel guilt. The first principle of breaking your own personal set of law. Incest for example is looked down. Yet, inter-family marriage is common in many places, called Maman Kalyanam (uncle niece marriage) in some communities in southern India. Is cheating on your partner ok? Is smoking cigerette secretly because your son doesn’t approve of it ok? Is downloading from torrent ok? There can be many such questions that can be posed.

Sometimes we do have personal double standards. We are ok as long as we are not at the other end. It is ok to cheat as long we are not cheated upon. This is one of the benchmark I use to set my personal law - do as you would be done by (the Bible).

The Bhagavat Gita. Yes, it is a religious book - extensively discussing many model dilemma of its protagonist Arjun. Even though I am an atheist, I like discussions on morality. At the same time - it should not be taken as a gold standard. The hindu dharma (philosophy) allows self-improvement, redefinition of morality based on time. Infact, the morals of Ramayana and Mahabharat often conflict. It is not a question of which one is right. There is no right answer pervasive of space and time - morality is not a physical law. Just like quotes and poetic verses can be interpreted in many way, so can any moral omnibus.

Price of creativity

  • Should art have a price?

Exams, marks and IQ

  • Value of standardized exams? Marks in exams/degrees vs. gaining knowledge.

Price of knowledge

  • Opensourcing vs. education having a cost

Clarity vs. Technicality

  • being clear (mathematical) vs. being easy to understand (toy examples)

Gender roles

  • Male vs. female … who should pay, direction vs. maps

Modern art vs. Realism

Digital art

Meaning of life

  • To contribute to humanity or be happy oneself

Social media role

  • Can they be a source of knowledge?

PhD vs. Industry

  • Ethics to contribute to the world… different ways

Love vs. arranged marriages

Backpack vs Suitcase

Boundaries between countries

Vegan vs. Non-vegetarian

Being choosy with food

Adventure sport vs. couch potato

  • Use human being’s main power - brain

Wheels vs Legs

Afterlife vs. Death

Needing inspiration vs doing what you need to

  • Routine vs no routine
  • Indecisive vs firm decisions

Comments and discussions