Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Intrinsic Intentionality: J. C. Bose and his Science

What we will be “worried” about in this blog is the “intentionality” of science, especially in the context of Indian genius (or whatever). I was introduced to the importance of “intentionality”, in the context of physics, by George Ellis in a 2005 paper in Nature on complexity. He did not use this term in his later works on complexity.

… science remains the field par excellence in which progress can only be made by the creative efforts of those who engage in it, and those creative efforts can only be evaluated in the light of the theoretical insights they provide and the tightening of the empirical fit with data.” (John Goldsmith, 2007). This statement highlights the debate on how human knowledge is defined: empirically (say, by the senses) or rationally (say, mathematically). How one gets the mathematics without one’s senses or how one sense without an analysis of the senses is not clear to me, fortunately.

Intentionality is, however, an important quantity to understand if one is to evaluate one’s performance, should we need to.

The Ways of Intentionality

The implications of the word intention gave rise to philosophical discussions on intentionality. According to some, the earliest (English) discussion (~ 1789) on intentionality is “An Introduction to the principles of Morals and Legislation” due to Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). This book is more about interpreting law for legal purposes. For example, Bentham discusses in detail the various possible types of intentionality of Tyrrel in the story “William II, king of England, being out on a stag-hunting, received from Sir Walter Tyrrel a wound, of which he died”.

More recently, Daniel C. Dennett (author of Intentional Systems (1971) and the “Intentional Stance” (1989) probably initiated the debate on whether or not one may distinguish between intrinsic (or original) intentionality or derived (essentially borrowed) intentionality. The performance of computers would be derived intentionality.

Intrinsic intentionality would require a sentience, which is, I am told, a subjective response to an environment. Bentham does not discuss sentience in his book (as I learnt from search engines). It is this sentience that may enable one to distinguish between a computer and an intelligent being. Can a computer as designed nowadays be taught to be subjective? Can a computer subjectively talk about good or bad? Can Dennett’s “coin-in-slot apparatus” intrinsically decide on a moral value system, or “good and bad” or “reward and punishment”? Dennett says no. Others say yes. I say, “of course!” shaking my head as ambiguously as I can. Subconsciously, as you will see, I prefer “yes”.

The Asian subcontinent (read Tibet) is not to be left out of discussions on intentionality debates on Dharma and Karma could perhaps be the simplest Buddhist or pre-Hindu (in the pan-Indian sense) version of “derived and intrinsic” intentionality, if one does not associate dharma with rituals and karma with fate. I don’t know what one actually and absolutely associates with dharma and karma. In the context of intentionality, I guess dharma would be intrinsic and karma would be derived from one’s dharma. In a social sense, one’s dharma is obtained from one’s way of living as arrived at by the comfort of one’s society in its environment. This would be the “intrinsic intentionality”. The “derived intentionality” could be one’s karma derived from dharma.

Bentham is supposed to have said (several times in the net) about animals “The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” I have searched through Bentham’s book and have found the phrase word “animal” three times, and the phrase “can they” twice in other contexts but the quotation is not there, nor has it been implied anywhere in the book. I traced this quotation in the net to Peter Singer (Princeton and Australia) who is said to be the father of animal rights, and who attributed it to Bentham.

Irrespective of whether Bentham said it or not or whether it is figment of Singer’s imagination or his purpose, the song has the right tone. The concepts of Good, bad, reward, punishment, moral codes, religion, god, devil, are all recognized by the element of “suffering”, which is sought to be minimized in their lives by all animals and plants.

At the molecular level, I suppose, it comes from the equalization of chemical potential One is then not in conflict with one’s environment. This concept of being in equilibrium (yoga) with one’s environment --- is driven by the process of equalization of chemical potential. Chemical reactions take place when there is a chemical potential difference. This difference also sets the goal or motivation to bring about change each time a system is taken out of this equilibrium. Some others call it an identity crisis.

The role of advertisers or missionaries or patent lawyers, in the final analysis, is to bring about un-natural changes in chemical potential and give a direction, say, to profit-making growth. For nature-lovers this would be evil, while for money-lovers this could be good. It is not as if money lovers, such as florists, do not appreciate the beauty of a flower; it is only that they have a higher probability of viewing the beauty as a money-earning potential rather than viewing the beauty of each flower as something uniquely beautiful because of its environment and thus to be preserved in its environment. “Don’t pluck a wild flower”. Literally or figuratively.

For the purposes of this blog, we will consider “intrinsic intentionality” to be that of the naturalist and “derived intentionality” to be that of the florist (ignoring Dennett’s insistence that they are the same). “Intrinsic intentionality” will be some sort of a spontaneous response. It is reminiscent of a newly-born foal that springs up immediately and finds its way to the mother’s udder for its milk; or the way a dog or pup without any training is able to pick out a particular herb or leaf when it senses something is wrong with its stomach.

In the context of science as it is now perceived, “intrinsic intentionality” would be fashioned not only by the imprints of a genetic code in the DNA but by the way the messenger RNAs process information from the environment. The messenger RNA information is processed through gaps or weaknesses in the cell membrane. The genetic code in the nucleus and the nature of the membrane of the cell is determined by its genetic history. The shorter-term effects of the whole cell may be the changes in the biochemical composition of the membrane for the same species. The nature of the cell (nucleus and membrane) could be the determinant that constitutes “intrinsic intentionality”.

Bose’s Science


It may be proper, in the Indian context, to examine the life of one of it’s most impressive and original scientist, Jagadis Chunder Bose (I write his name the way he signed it in his patent). J. C. Bose was born in the real Bengal (now Bangladesh, see my Blog) and adopted its values. Jagadis with an “s” in stead of Jagadish with “sh” differentiates him from the “ghotis” (of west Bengal, see my blog).

I expand on the life of J. C. Bose (JCB) as a lesson (that has been forgotten, and worse, has been ignored; e.g., how come I, “a Bengali and a scientist”, was not aware of the details of JCB’s life?) on what it could have been if not on what it has been. J. C. Bose was largely ignored by the men of science in my pre-retirement days, at least in parts outside Bengal. I heard more about Bose’s work from my mother when she admonished us for harming a plant. She would cite Bose to tell us as children that plants have life. We did not disbelieve her and there was always a twang of guilt when we plucked a leaf.

It is legend now that radio-controlled ringing of a distant bell using millimeter waves generated by the explosion of gunpowder was demonstrated by Bose in 1894. Bose did not patent his invention. When Bose finally got a patent in 1904 after applying for it in 1899, it was titled “Detector of Electrical Disturbances” with an object “...to further improve the sensitiveness and quickness of response of devices of the kind…” to disturbances which included “… Hertzian waves, light-waves, and other radiations…”. He based his patent on his understanding of the effects of molecular distortion and the object of his invention was to “…increase the facility of response of the sensitive substance by allowing various agencies to produce a tendency toward distortion on the verge of signaling or reception of the radiation, the radiation itself precipitating the change.” Bose may have anticipated resonance absorption/emission in mind when he was describing his microwave cavity, now (first time 50 years later) used in magnetic resonance experiments. His disadvantage was that quantum mechanics was not discovered at that time. According to Nevil Mott, JCB discovered p- and n-type junctions sixty years ahead of his time.

Bose’s research as described above constitutes what can be said to be at the frontiers of orthodox science. In a way, I suppose, one can say that it is a result of derived intentionality from the exploitation of what was available to him although the original part may have been shaped by his intrinsic intentionality. It is this research on inanimate (if there is anything like that) objects that got him unstinted recognition that could then be given in an as unbiased manner by people of another culture who considered themselves superior.

Bose’s intrinsic intentionality also gave rise to an unorthodox derived intentionality when he extended his work to plants. This work was unorthodox but characteristic, I think, of his intrinsic intentionality. Such “anti-established” science are initially ridiculed as fringe (euphemism for bogus) science (see “Ridiculed Discoverers, Vindicated Mavericks” William Beaty, 2002). Unorthodox or fringe science have interpretations of orthodox science which are radically different and not always wrong. It takes immense learning or immense instant market profit to find benefit from “fringe” science from within the very shallow quagmire of outputs of orthodox scientists caught in their own stalemate in their chess game with fixed rules. They are usually delayed by people who derive their benefits from established science. This is the natural trend in polite orthodox society which are populated by sheep (say, Christians) and comrades (say, communists) or as friends (say, democrats).

It is now recognized that JCB was the world’s first biophysicist when the term biophysics was perhaps not invented. JCB himself considered his work on electrical signaling in plants more significant than his work on mm waves (read, radio broadcasting) or wireless receivers. We have shown in Fig 1 (from V. A. Shepherd’s article on Bose’s works (1999)). recordings from Bose’s experiments and compared it with ECG of a human heart. There could have been no skepticisms on Bose’s results had these comparisons been available to the layman at that time. Bose’s kind of work is now done by plant electrophysiologists and plant electric waves are now described as action potentials. Such potentials are now thought to predominate over chemical signal plant growth hormones such as auxin without requiring a nervous system.

Bose’s experimental genius with plants probably manifested itself best (or most famously) in the crescograph which magnified the accuracy of measurements of rate of growth of plants 10,000 times. The principle’s of Bose’s crescograph is similar to the principles of the much better known but later developed McBain balance (Nature, 46, 2718, 1924); the recording microbalance was reported only in 1956. Bose was fifty years ahead even here?

The more remarkable aspect of Bose’s scientific life is that he proposed that pulsations or oscillations in electrical potentials are similar to the oscillations of the heart circulating the blood (see Fig 1). Bose would write “… telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal to plants as in animals.

Later, in the 1960s, one Cleve Backster who, it seems was America’s “foremost lie-detector examiner” wrote “… the imagery entered my mind of burning the leaf I was testing. I didn’t verbalize. I didn’t touch the plant. … Yet the plant went wild. The pen jumped right to the top of the chart.”. I don’t have the details of the experiment he was carrying out except that it was the lie-detector he used. I also don’t know whether the lie detector was responding to Backster’s lying (even if it was in is mind) about the burning of the leaf. One of Backster’s failings that his experiments detailed in his book “Primary Perception” (2003) was repeatability. Bose faced the same problem but he got over it. Backster said “… repeatability and spontaneity do not go together….” Therein lays (my computer corrected “lies” to “lays”; probably it thought that “blog” was some kind of egg) another blog?

Intentionality and Recognition

Sir Jagadis… possessed what is indeed a rare gift, the inventive powers necessary to produce such (optical lever, resonant recorder, crescographs) instruments and the infinite patience which enabled him to wait, for years in some cases, until the inspiration necessary for the completion of some particular instrument, or part of an instrument, came to him.” (The Life and Works of Sir Jagadis C. Bose by Patrick Geddes as reviewed in Science Progress (1920-1921)

We may like to wonder why Bose was so ahead. What was his peculiar advantage as a boy brought up in the truest part of Bengal (what is now Bangladesh).

Bose had the advantage of learning in his own mother tongue. His Brahmo Samaj father who hailed from the oldest capital of Bengal (now in Bangladesh; where else?) and subjected to early Buddhist scholarship, put his son Jadish Chandra in a Bengali medium school instead of a more aristocratic English medium school. It seems that in this school, from playmates “…who tilled the ground and made the land blossom with green verdure and ripening corn, and the sons of the fisher folk, who told stories of the strange creatures that frequented unknown depths of mighty rivers and stagnant pools, I first derived the lesson of that which constitutes true manhood. From them too I drew my love of nature.

Was it the impact of his proud Bengali background that make him want to fist excel in the medium of another culture. This culture would wonder about his bengaliness. As an aside, and as a born Bengali first, I must point out that after his “Friday Evening Discourse” at the Royal Society (a very rare honour) in January 1897, the Spectator, would write “There is, however, to our thinking something of rare interest in the spectacle presented of a Bengalee of the purest descent possible, lecturing in London to an audience of appreciative European savants upon one of the most recondite branches of the modern physical science.

The President of the French Academy of Science would say after his lecture at the Sorbonne “By your discoveries you have greatly furthered the cause of science. You must try to revive the grand traditions of your race which bore aloft the torch light of art and science and was the leader of civilization two thousand years ago.

His father himself was a product of Western Education which gave JCB’s father an impetus that “…found expression in great constructive work, in the restoration of quiet amidst disorder, in the earliest effort to spread education among men and women, in questions of social welfare, in industrial efforts, in the establishment of people’s bank (my note: probably pre-dating by more than a century the “Grameen Bank” of the 2006 Bangladesh Nobel Laureate, Mohammed Yunus) and in the foundation of industrial and technical schools.”

I now realize” continues Sir Jagadis “the object of my being sent at the most plastic (my note: at that time plastic did not mean what it means today but meant something like “to be molded”) period of my life to the vernacular school where I was to learn my own thoughts and to receive the heritage of our national culture through the medium of our own literature. I was thus to consider myself one with the people and never to place myself in an equivocal position of assumed superiority.

This kind of feeling was probably most expressed (at least in print) in the times that JCB was brought up. J. C. Bose was born a year after the 1857 sepoy mutiny and when Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s hugely influential book Anandomath (about a saffron Sanyasi rebellion against the East India company; it has the poem Vandemataram which, when set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, became a national song) was written (1882) and national feelings were high, JCB would have been a young msn.

Later when he had an occasion to get into the Indian Civil Service, he was dissuaded by his father who is supposed to have said (Wikipedia) to JCB, “rule nobody but yourself”. Perhaps because of this he did not like making patents for his invention, joining many other like-minded scientists in this process.

It must have been this pride, which all of us of any nationality, feel in the presence of a deemed superior alien culture, that must have driven JCB. It must have been his intrinsic intentionality shaped by his parents and his neighbours and the membranes of his cell and his genetic code.

After he had the recognition for his electrical waves, what drove JCB to research on plants? Could he not have sat back and developed his science in an orthodox manner instead of going into plant behaviour?

JCB would say “The spirit of our national culture demands that we should for ever be free from the desecration of utilizing knowledge for personal gain.” What he meant could have been that he was not interested in the applications of this orthodox science which did not impact his own psyche --- which in turn meant his environment, his folks. JCB would write “The moral education which we received in our childhood was very indirect and came from listening to stories recited by the “Kathaks” on various incidents connected with our great epics. Their effects on our mind was very great.

So he went into listening to the pulse beats and the heart throbs of his plants. There could not have been any mysticism that influenced his approach. Any mind of scientific bent is always interested on why the leaves of “touch-me-not” (Mimosa pudica) species fold (now one would say “fetal position”?) when touched. A little experimentation on why it folds should occur to an inquirer and different kinds of touching and at different distances from a leaf should then occur. Then driven by the thoughts arising from his intrinsic intentionality his derived intentionality used or designed the experimental skills in a very orthodox manner.

So what prevented JCB from getting the full impact of his conclusions that metals, plants and animals “… are all benumbed by cold, intoxicated by alcohol, wearied by excessive work, stupefied by anaesthetics, excited by electric currents, stung by physical blows and killed by poison …not by the play of an unknowable and arbitrary vital force, but by the working of laws that know no change, acting equally and uniformly throughout the organic and inorganic matter…

Osler had said “In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs….” The western world, with its God-made-man-in-his-own-image ideas, was not ready for sensitivities in plants.

Yet, the western world had feelings in common with that of JCB. Thomas Browne, the seventeenth century English author, has written in his Religio Medici that “I hold, moreover, that there is a phytogonomy, or physiognomy, not only of men, but of plants and vegetables: and in every one of them some outward figures which hang as signs or brushes of their inward forms.

Another unorthodox scientist, Patrick Geddes, a contemporary of Bose and who wrote Bose’s biography in the 1920s (of whom Darwin is said to have said “… I have formed, if you will permit me to say so, a high opinion of your abilities …”) said “This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. … the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, … and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.” The habit of leaves would have been an important scientific concern along with the ebbing of the tide, refraction of light, conduction of electricity, eclipses of the moon or the positions of the planets.

Browne had many of the quantities that Bose may have liked. The portraits of Bose and Browne as young (left) and wiser (right) men are shown in Fig 2. What Merton (E. S. Merton, “Sir Thomas Browne’s Embryological Theory”, in Journal of the History of Medicine, 1950) had described about Browne may also be applicable to JCB: “One lobe of his brain wants to study facts and test hypotheses on the basis of them, the other is fascinated by mystic symbols and analogies.” Notice the inequality of the left (controlled by right lobe?) and right (controlled by left lobe?) eyes of the younger men. Browne had written “… it is a happinesse to be borne and framed into virtue, and to grow up from the seeds of nature, rather than the inoculation and forced grafts of education” (see Changes: studies in three centuries of Anglo-Dutch cultural transmission, Chapter One, C. W. Schoenveld). The older men in Fig 2 are a little sadder (the left and right eyes are similar).

Shepherd of the University of New South Wales, Australia, write after looking at JCB’s contributions in 1998, that "...the reluctance to accept his view was based on “… socio-political factors, such as institutional nationalism, racism and sexism, and the use of plants in parapsychology….” The western world required nearly a hundred years for accepting JCB’s ideas.

It is not as if JCB was only interested in pure science and not in its applications. Reporting on JCB’s experiments, the New York Times (Dec 17, 1919; almost ninety years to this day) would report JCB as saying “By use of the crescograph, he added, there was no need to wait a whole season as at present to witness the result of experiments.

If JCBs reputation had spread, there would not have been deforestation and felling of trees knowing that trees of suffering? Or would there have been tree-slavery because of the exploitation of suffering?

Bose’s Legacy


The Bose Institute at Calcutta that J. C. Bose founded in 1917 (with his own funds as did Raman for the Raman institute) has a faculty that does not now do anything related to Bose’s work on plants. There is, however, a wonderful article on Bose’s mm wave research on its web site, by (anyone but from the Bose Institute?) one D. T. Emerson from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Arizona, USA. This article by Emerson has to be read to understand the scope of Bose’s genius and what he achieved with day-to-day equipment including jute fibers, old books with or without tin foils.

It is possible that Bose’s legacy in India came more from his teaching at the Presidency College, in Calcutta, than from his institute. It is in this college that he had set up his laboratory, it is here that he taught, and it is here as a teacher that he must have got his vast popularity with ordinary men. Even now, research institutes all over India, compete with one another to get a student from the Presidency College, Calcutta.

If one counts the number of westerly-recognized scientists from Bengal one comes up with a list which we may write
S. N. Bose (born: Calcutta; studied: Presidency College, Calcutta)
Meghnath Saha (born: Shaoratoli, near Dhaka, now Bangladesh; studied: Presidency College, Calcutta)
Amal Kumar Raychaudhari (born Barisal, now Bangladesh; studied: Presidency College, Calcutta)
Ashoke Sen (studied: Presidency College, Calcutta).

Bose’s legacy must have come in the shape of the ideals he had initially set up in this college. Being born in Bangladesh may also have helped.

At this point one may pause and ask what influence JCB had on another Indian Science icon, C. V. Raman. JCB’s concern with molecular distortions for designing his microwave cavities, was also Raman’s concern for his Raman Effect. It seems that on the day Raman first observed this effect he would discuss it with Bose. Bose seemed to have told Raman immediately that he would get the Nobel Prize. One wonders what influence JCB, with his training under Lord Rayleigh (of Rayleigh scattering fame), and JCB’s own understanding of molecular distortions had on Raman’s search for the Raman Effect or even for Raman’s interest in the blue colour of the sea.

It would seem that an Westernised, childhood parental influence is important for developing Western recognition from India. Nobel laureates C. V. Raman and C. Venkataraman, musician Ravishankar, poet Rabindranath Tagore may be mentioned straightaway. Admitting this would be to admit that we don’t have an internal standard to judge excellence, say, by the way we are appreciated by our own indigenous un-westernized people (adivasis, not necessarily those in the “scheduled”, itself a horrible word, list ).

By the time, say, this blog will be read by our adivasis would SMS English be their language? As my uncles would tell me when I sang Elvis Presley songs, “do we have to unlearn everything to get the western education”. Abbe Dubois in “His Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremony” thought he will have to do if he is to convert Hindus into Christianity.

En passant
, there may have been something in the Bose surname that gives them some advantage. There was Satyen Bose (JCB’s student at Presidency College) after whom bosons with Bose statistics and Bose condensation are named; Amar Bose (USA) who introduced the notion of psychoacoustics where the listener effectively participates in generating the sound to finally give Bose speakers to the world; Rahul Bose, who is to become the first Indian screen hero to kiss a male on the Indian screen; Rash Behari Bose another Indian revolutionary who took shelter in Japan and tried to raise the Indian National Army (INA), and who is better known in Japan for his hugely popular mutton curry, Indocurry, at Nakamuraya, Shinjuku, Japan; then there is Subhash Chandra Bose (Subas Chunder Bose?) whose family tree shows him to be descended from a Khan and Mallicks before they became Basus or Bose. Shubash Chandra Bose later took over the INA.

The legend goes that Shubash Chandra Bose could never come second in his class. He always came first class first. To repeatedly come first in class could be the sign of an excellent achiever who follow a given set of rules. Subhas Chandra Bose may have been that if he had not been killed in an engineered air-crash (similar to that of Rudolf Hess?). It is rarely the sign of an inventor or discoverer. JCB passed in the second class his first examinations in the University whose “paramount duty … (is) to discover and develop unusual talent.” Did the university fail in its duty? Or were they only interested in providing fodder for the administrative mill.

Maybe the second class motivated JCB further. JCB would write later after his father’s failed efforts of “Failure as the antecedent power which lies dormant for the long subsequent dynamic expression in what we call success.

The times of JCB in England were times of many great people and much excellent prose by them. One of them was J. G. Frazier, author of The Golden Bough: A study of Magic and Religion". He starts with a description of Turner's famous painting "The Golden Bough" and then expands on it with a prose that a modern reader is not familiar with and builds on his theme in a way that a modern reader finds in, say, detective novels.

Frazier writes in the preface to the book.
If in the present work I have dwelt at some length on the worship of trees, it is not, I trust, because I exaggerate its importance in the history of religion, still less because I would deduce from it a whole system of mythology; it is simply because I could not ignore the subject in attempting to explain the significance of a priest who bore the title of King of the Wood, and one of whose titles to office was the plucking of a bough—the G olden Bough--from a tree in the sacred grove. (Project Gutenberg E book))

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William Avery said...

The cited quote does not appear in E. S. Merton's 1950 JHM paper.