Monday, December 28, 2009

The Golden Bough, Sciencophansy and the * on a Chemist

In this sacred grove there grew a certain tree round which at any time of the day, and probably far into the night, a grim figure might be seen to prowl. In his hand he carried a drawn sword, and he kept peering warily about him as if at every instant he expected to be set upon by an enemy. He was a priest and a murderer: … A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he himself was slain by a stronger or craftier. … a priest who bore the title of the King of the Wood, and one of whose titles to office was the plucking of a bough --- the Golden Bough --- from a tree in the sacred grove ...
Sir James George Frazier, “The Golden Bough: A study of magic and religion.” Project Gutenburg Book

In civilized society now the priest king does not carry a knife. He surrounds himself with informers and sycophants who kill in various ways.

In Frazier’s description, The Golden Bough personified the King and had to be plucked before the priest was killed by the next murdering priest. This has been going on through the ages. In situations that we are familiar with in our environment, the slaying priest nervously plucks The Golden Bough and slowly cuts the throat, taking care to see as far as possible that the reigning priest is still smiling.

I must say that my (perhaps excessive) concern with intentionality in science in my earlier blogs is because of my awareness that, in some aspects of so-called scientific contributions, there are subjective aspects which are intrinsically wrong morally. In this blog, we will, in particular, be worried about the nature of intentionality that shape our attitudes towards the way science is done and the way scientific acclaim --- the Golden Bough --- is to be recognized in different environments. I examine in particular the societal impact that generates a scientific sycophancy (which I have termed as sciencophansy) when the priest pays scant attention to murder of the intellectual kind.

The priesthood in such cases comes from the importance of localizing a * on the priest, when he is the author of a scientific publication. The * becomes a mark of a superior “caste”. The ritual of the * is expected to be most dominant in a society with a strong caste system.

The highest Indian acclaim --- their Golden Bough --- that an Indian Scientist realistically hopes to aspire for is a Fellowship of the Royal Society of England, the erstwhile de jure “masters” of the clerical class. Our current value systems in the ruling class of science are derived from the value systems of that country.

The value systems in England must have developed during the times of great turmoil. This was the seventeenth century during the rules of Charles I and II when there was plague, fire, Cromwell’s civil war (which would influence Milton’s Paradise Lost “yet from those flames, no light but rather darkness visible”).

Thomas Browne. It is perhaps instructive to learn about the English scholar and author, Thomas Browne (1605-1682), who lived during those formative times of “modern” England that saw the first English colonization of the Hudson Bay in Canada and shaped its portals of learning, the Royal Society.

Thomas Browne grew up in the same time as Charles I (1600 -1649) with his Divine Right of Kings, mainly to marry a catholic lady in a protestant country. This forced two England civil wars between 1642 and 1649 and resulted in his trial, it would seem. The subsequent execution of Charles I emulated the beheading of his grandmother, Mary Queen of Scots. Browne then survived the stormy times of Oliver Cromwell who led the English Commonwealth (1653-1659) that briefly ended English monarchy. Browne also lived during almost the entire reign of Charles II (1660-1685).

Charles II started of by canonizing his father Charles I as St. Charles Stuart. He married and had twelve illegitimate children (Princess Diana’s would descend from one of his illegitimate sons) and no legitimate one despite four pregnancies. Charles II also survived the Great London Plague and the Great London Fire. Charles II founded the Royal Society for science, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, was the patron of Christopher Wren who rebuilt London after the war and issued licenses to theatres that allowed females to play females roles on stage instead of boys.

It is this period of restoring paradise that shaped the best of English minds (John Milton, Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren) which in future would influence the Indian civil service and thereby set the tone for the way India administered itself and the intellectual standards they were to follow.

These standards, by themselves, were not bad for the purpose of the people of England who, armed with the knowledge of these days, were able to learn and exploit and benefit materially as well as spiritually from the great diversity of the knowledge in their colonies, and thereby verily claim leadership of the world.

Browne wrote authoritatively in several areas including medicine, religion and science.
The most quoted of his works, I suppose, is Religio Medici. Some of his quotations I use here may have reference in some context in this blog. Thomas Browne would write, for example,
It is the method of charity to suffer without reaction: those usual satires and invectives of the pulpit may perchance produce a good effect on the vulgar, whose ears are opener to rhetoric than logic;
Where I cannot satisfy my reason, I love to humour my fancy.
That there was a deluge once, seems not to me so great a miracle, as that there is not one always.
… there is surely a physiognomy, which … experienced and master mendicants observe, whereby they instantly discover a merciful aspect, and single out a face wherein they spy the signatures and marks of mercy. For there are mystically in our faces certain characters which carry in them the motto of our souls, wherein he that cannot read A B C may read our natures.

Another of his book titled “Hydriotaphia or Urne-Buriall” would be on the sepulchral (nearly fifty, probably Roman) urns found in his neighborhood Norfolk (in a field of old Walsingham) and its philosophical implications. I mention this book (see Simon Wilkins, Ed; The Works of Sir Thomas Browne) because it has some of the better and more sensitive English prose of a scholar that I have read. He was a truly global person and discernibly very erudite in his language and excited in his observations and educations.
The departed spirits know things past and to come; yet are ignorant of things present. Agamemnon foretells what should happen unto Ulysses; yet ignorantly enquires what is become of his son.

Thomas Browne would write “If we begin to die when we live, and long life be but a prolongation of death, our life is a sad composition; we live with death, and die not in a moment.” (Hydriotaphia)

Of immediate interest to us (and as an aside) is this description below.
The Indian Brachmans seemed too great friends unto fire, who burnt themselves alive, and thought it the noblest way to end their days in fire; according to the expression of the Indian, burning himself at Athens, in his last words upon the pyre unto the amazed spectators, thus I make myself immortal.

Was self-immolation some sort of self-euthanasia of the intrinsic Hindu (Indian) kind; euthanasia seems now to be a good option to terminate one’s life in westernized society, whose values systems describe what civilization is now all about? During Browne’s time India was not colonized. If self-euthanasia was allowed for the male Brahmin when they saw no reason to prolong their life would one claim that there is a gender bias when it was not allowed for women? British soldiers had not intervened in satis at the time of Browne.

I mention this part because the early Hindu experience of life and its termination seems to have been the same as that of euthanasia that has evolved later in the western world.

Fashioning of Science.

The doctor, D, in Ph. D., means a teacher, so that a Ph. D., generally means a teacher in philosophy. In the earlier European universities all academic disciplines outside theology, medicine and law were denoted as philosophy. The classical emphasis in obtaining a Ph. D. degree is a “…thesis containing original research” and not a portfolio or folder of published papers even if they are original. In the latter case the degree is sometimes called a D. Phil.or D.Sc..

The submission of a thesis (emphasis on the word “thesis”) had been taken to mean that the candidate has taken a new (emphasis on “new”) position in his intellectual proposition. This takes time and experience and a Ph. D., usually indicates “… a life dedicated to learning, to knowledge, and to the spread of knowledge” (from Wikipedia).

Ph. D., now of the popular kind no longer make new propositions. They usually submit a folder of disconnected research.

One used to require “ … considerable stamina, good health, and good mind to be a doctor of philosophy in its true sense.

This is not true any more.

There used to be something noble in being a doctor. Medical doctors took the Hippocratic Oath swearing to ethically practice medicine. The Hippocratic oath has the sentence “In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of the patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill doing and seduction…” or something close to it. Because of this, perhaps, it is not now required in modern medical schools.

The high moral standards for a medical doctor in the classical Hippocratic Oath are, I thought, also the standards for the teacher of philosophy. Talking of standards in medicine, William Osler had said to his students “You are in this profession as a calling, not as a business; as a calling which exacts from you at every turn self-sacrifice, devotion, love and tenderness to your fellow men. Once you get down to a purely business level, your influence is gone and the true light of your life is dimmed. You must work in the missionary spirit, with a breadth of charity that raised you far above the petty jealousies of life.” (from The Quotable Osler, Silverman, Murray and Bryan Eds., Google Books).

I have always assumed that as far as the vocation of a teacher of philosophy is concerned and the title doctor is to be given, these same principles are applicable to Ph. D.s irrespective of the actual nature of the philosophy.

Their Science as Our Science.

Amar bari, tomar bari, sabar bari Naxalbari. Naxalite slogan of early 70s (my house, your house, all houses Naxal houses).

Gentle people of Bengal were much amused by the rhyme and much annoyed by the implications of the above Bengali slogan of extreme left communists from the place Naxalbari.

The Church of England has currently given rise to the Church of Democracy which would go to any conquest for the defense of true “democrats” and oppress anybody they do not perceive to be free. India is catching on. We (read NRIs) hope US of American value systems now determine ours.

Since Ronald Reagan’s time (as far as I am aware) the emphasis has been that all funding in science should be aimed at national interests or making profits. This led eventually to funding of macro science projects (Hadron collider, genome projects, Hubble telescope, and so on) while micro-science projects depended more on bureaucratic lobbying than on encouraging science derived from intrinsic intentionality. The intentionality of the scientists supported by a national or industrial policy becomes a derived intentionality so that scientific objectives have to be within the orthodox domain letting unorthodox science wither.

It is difficult to understand what one means by a scientist if one wants some starting point for intentionality. Gerard Piel, who made a great contribution to world science by reviving Scientific American, and who should know, made the comment (so it is said) “The most remarkable discovery made by scientist is science itself.” (in J. Bronowski, Magic, Science and Civilization, 1978?).

Piel probably implied that there is a career opportunity in science “…which when taken at the flood leads to fortune” of the kind that is driven by the intentionality. In this kind of science, it is rare that there will be a great originality, since the flood has been started elsewhere. When a floodgate of scientific opportunities is opened in the west, it trickles down to us after much churning around when the force has subsided and we can only wallow in shallow waters.

Tree Under-standing Syndrome.
The question “why are you standing under a tree?” in Tamil vernacular would transliterate to “why you tree under standing?”

Once when I was neatly dressed (that is very rare) because of some official reasons, I had to take shelter under a tree during the first monsoon rains. This first rain, after the summer has made you dry, is perhaps the best period of the year. Scenes of children in the monsoon rain were most adorably and unforgettably expressed in Satyajit Ray’s film, Pather Panchali.

The welcome drops of rain after summer that fall on your head during the monsoon is different from those that falls, for example, in the song “rain drops keep falling on my head”; in Butch Cassidy and Sundance kid’s country it is cold when the rain drops fall.

Tagore would write “I find in none of them (foreign verses) traces of the shade of this monsoon rain --- no sound of this dark pattering. No deep, indolent yearning, No self-immersing pain!

Without exception, almost every Indian would love to soak themselves in this monsoon rain --- except those who, like I was at that time, are in their western dresses for some formal function. Standing under the tree during this first rain, I envied some freer children of all ages romping in the rain. When the rain had stopped and I had to go to my “science” appointment, I was happy to tug at a branch of the tree and let some of the rain fall on me. I missed the flood.

Most Indian science is now like standing under-standing the tree during the first monsoon rain. One deliberately and nervously missed the excitement of the first downpour and then settled for the left-over.

This realization of “Tree Under-standing” Syndrome did not require the rain. As a young Ph. D. student I would attend science conferences (in English, of course) where scientists who gave the most impressive classroom lectures on developments in modern science were to speak. IIT, Kanpur, speakers were the most impressive with their non-English accents, western suits all “tied up” (literally and figuratively), and descriptions of results based on the “latest”, at that time (for that level) equipments they were using and the global expenditure/income on the work they were doing.

The scientists (I can only talk about chemists) would speak very impressively for 90% of their talk on the work done by others. In the last five to ten minutes of their talk they will go hurriedly through the material prepared for the full time ---displaying more than a transparency per minute to show the volume of work they had done --- and rarely had anything exciting of their own to say. At best most of them, especially the top of them all, will lament about not having electricity and power, and how just the previous day or week, somebody else had beaten them to something fabulous that was about to be published.

The key point that requires to be made in the “Tree Understanding Syndrome” is that Indian scientists, in general, would be the first to speak in India about some other scientist’s original work. They usually don’t look for science in their own backyard or in the concepts derived from their upbringing. Their intentionality is derived mainly from the Western world (wherever the west is).

“I have traveled around the world to see the rivers and the mountains… I have seen everything … but I forgot to see just outside my house a dewdrop, which reflects … the whole world around you.” Tagore’s inscription for Ray’s book.

When we take their science as our science, when we yearn for their recognition, when all our energies are reserved for an entry into their society, we may be committing ourselves to their rules and their prejudices which could rob us of our spontaneity, our intrinsic intentionality or our intrinsic genius.

This is nothing new as far as human experience goes. As Samuel Johnson had said in the beginning of his essay on a trivial subject “The Folly of Annual Retreats into the Country” “It is impossible to take a view on any side, or observe any of the various classes that form the great community of the world, without discovering the influence of example; and admitting with new conviction the observation of Aristotle that “… man is an imitative being…

But we do make ourselves objects of ridicule in most cases. It may be sufficient to some to have and justify the style of science and add to the economic advantage of a few or even a many (usually the middle class in mind or purse). But when an alien style uproots the very roots of an indigenous people it is claiming to nourish, one must pause and weigh the financial benefits by manipulation of images and speeches in virtual television realities versus the loss of bone of the back of the non-belonging people of the land, the real adivasis.

It may be difficult for a scientist to be approved for this stance. As a daughter just said to me: “Raj Thackeray will applaud and throw you out at the same time”.

Twilight Gravity
Dennett (“The Intentional Stance”, MIT Press, 1989, preface ix) has written about the attractive powers of people in the limelight which he calls Limelight Gravity: “… as one’s ideas become a Center of attention, one is invited to contribute to more and more conferences, which proceeds to suck one’s entire corpus into delayed publication in conference proceedings and spcial-interest anthologies. Nothing is left over to submit to refereed journals, for ready reading.

When your expertise, or your ambitions, or your day-dreaming takes you further away from the ultimate Prize (say, the Nobel Prize) the harder you try, then you resort to what may be called “Twilight Gravity”. This is the same as “limelight gravity” except that you become the center of attention in another way.

When you become almost sure that you will not get the limelight from a spontaneous acknowledgment of your work you resort to “twilight gravity”. You start say, by becoming a member of a Powerful Governmental committee, or become the head of a powerful academic institute; be a member of the Editorial Board of a powerful Journal; inviting important scientists of important foreign academies; be the first in your country to repeat somebody else’s original work after it has been pointed out to be important by the editor of an important journal; make special bathtubs for specially tall Nobel Laureates, say Francis Crick.

It helps tremendously for “twilight gravity” people, if one can impress honest VIPs (you can find them) who have no idea about physical sciences but will vouchsafe for the quality your science.

Usually, these scientists start their work in an area which is heralded as a new flood at conferences they visit and after protocols for the research has been established. After that they climb every mountain that has been climbed earlier since ladders are there; once they have climbed their own turret (that they call a pinnacle) they do not leave a ladder behind.

The twilight gravity scientists are those who build an empire for their security; they are very good to their “students” especially when the quality and productivity of their work depend on these students; they discourage the promotion of any talent other than their own especially when the talented person is threatening to become an independent thinker.

One suffering from “twilight gravity” does not try “… to overcome the bad side effects of that otherwise gratifying diffusion.

“Bad side effects” there are plenty and have been much discussed and dissected. All of it has been well documented; in, for example, “The Ethics of Science”, David S. Resnik, Taylor-Francis e-Library 2005. “… How can people know what to believe?” asks M. Clarke, Ethics Sci Environ Poli “… infighting about processes and ‘hyping their work to attract public attention and investment can only allow a non- or anti-scientific environment to flourish…

In Bertrand Russell’s “Religion and Science” (1961), he says “…science has nothing to say about “values. … what (great mystics of all religion) is a state of mind out of which … right conduct must ensue… .” Resnik in his “Ethics of Science” has written “If a person is already ethical when she enters the scientific profession, she will continue to be ethical; if she is not ethical when she enters science, then no amount of instruction can make her become ethical.

Is the ethical stance in one’s genes? In one’s intrinsic intentionality? As an opposing view, if scientific work is driven by derived intentionality, then is there no place for ethics? Is it the greater glory, the “twilight gravity” that finally dominates? In my reading of the lives of scientists who have contributed to concepts, the ethical stance is intrinsic and spontaneous in them (they have no time to spend on the devious).

Noting what science had done to restore paradise in 17th century England, Thomas Browne is quoted (by William Osler) to have said “No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer”.

The unethical stance is encouraged when there is considerable influence of the “stancer”.
Proximity to members of an editorial board or referees can many a time help in getting some papers published; or rejecting papers with a rival viewpoint; or even in giving priority for authorship. This would be misconduct.

Such maneuvering came out most strongly during the recent conference on Climate Change which was a global exercise on doing nothing by promising many things. The conference had as its prelude a story on leaking of hacked e-mails from the East-Anglia University’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) which was presented in such a way as to give a first-impression of fraud and scientific misconducts on the part of CRU to exaggerate the extent of global warming. In an analysis of these emails the Pew Center of Global climate change made a few revealing statements in the process of rebutting these claims. Two of these statements are:-
a) “Scientific misconduct by the authors of the papers and/or by editors who circumvented the peer review process so as to publish inferior papers that support their own political agendas.
b) “Publisher refused to allow the chief editor to revise the peer review process to make the individual board members more accountable.

I have coined the term (for this blog) sciencophansy to imply sycophancy in science that results from the insecurity of those who are in the “twilight gravity” state. Sciencophants are those who depend on the twilight scientists for their progress (salary, dinner invitations, conference participation, international visits with “TA and DA”, committee memberships …). Sciencophants, in turn, provide fodder for run-of-the-mill publications on topical subjects for those in the “twilight gravity” state and report on those who show signs of being independent.

The innocent independent stance has sometimes grievous consequences and is well known ever since homo hierarchicus (title of Louis Dumont’s book) was established. J.C. Bose (see earlier blog) experienced such behaviour quite in his prime when he was demonstrating electric response in plants in a lecture before the Royal Society on 5th June 1901. “He was strongly assailed by Sir John Burden Sanderson, the leding physiologist, and some of his follwers. They objected to a physicist straying into the preserve specially reserved for them. … In consequence of this opposition, Dr. Bose’s paper, which was already in print, was not published but was placed in the archives of the Royal Society. … eight months after the reading of his paper, another communication found publication in the journal of a different society which was practically the same as Dr. Bose’s but without any acknowledgment. The author of this communication was a gentleman who had previously opposed him at the Royal Society. … the determined hostility and misrepresentation of one man succeeded for more than 10 years to bar all avenues of publications of his (Bose’s) discoveries.

Usually, sciencophansy is most visible in the perpetually developing nations where there is an artificial paucity of relevant things to do. Because of the derived intentionality, relevance of a scientist’s work is measured in terms of the social/economic power it yields to the individual scientist. It is not measured in terms on the contradictions he faces in his day-to-day life in terms of his science.

Hierarchy is established as purely a matter of sciencophansy. The sciencophant is a parasite of the “twilight gravity” state.

Citation Index and the * on the Chemist

In a multi-author paper, the first author used to be and still is the main contributor. In academic circles, the first author was usually a student who did the work and had to write the bulk of the paper while the last author used to be the guide who corrected the English and improved the readability besides keeping tab on the scientific aspects that are involved. In many cases when the last author was the head of the institute and/or provided the facilities for research, the last but one author was effectively the guide of the first author, who did the main guiding and writing and was deemed happy doing that. The last-but-one author rarely got any credit for the work.

One of the characteristic caste symbol in recent papers authored by chemists in particular, is the * on an author in a multi-author paper. The * indicates the author to whom the correspondence should be addressed. It should be taken as a harmless symbol signifying nothing but bureaucratic facility. It is usually taken to identify the person in charge and to whom any credit is usually given by people who decide scientific hierarchy. It then becomes a matter of caste.

Usually the *ed person is the one who lobbied and got the funding or got the paper published through his contacts. The three Nobel Laureates in Chemistry of this year (2009) made it a point to see that the * (or an indicator for the corresponding author) was against their name in papers on crystallography when they had reached an important stage in their career (usually after they headed a laboratory). Ada Yonath, whose career graph has been most admirable, had the corresponding-author-tag even in her single-author papers!

For many of us brought up on our science heroes, it seemed of poor taste to have a * to indicate your status. The important publications of our youth did not have this * to indicate a corresponding author; it usually indicated a change of address than that given in the paper.

More than fifty years earlier, in the Nature issue of 1953 there were three seminal papers on another biologically important substance, DNA. These were :-
Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids. A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid
J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick, p737
Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids
M. H. F. Wilkins, A. R. Stokes, H. R. Wilson p 738
Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate
Rosalind E Franklin* and R. G. Gosling (* now at Birbeck college) p 740
None of them had a * against their name to indicate corresponding address.

There are other examples of well cited papers where the * does not indicate any hierarchy but just an affiliation. Among these are
G. N. Lewis and M. Kasha “Phosphorescence and the triplet state”
Generalized Gradient Approximation Made Simple John P. Perdew, Kieron Burke*, Matthias Ernzerof (PRL) 1996, ~ 3000 refs
Perdew and Wang Yue, ~ 4500 cites Generalized gradient approximation
C. T. Kresge*, M. E. Leonowicz*, W. J. Roth*, J. C. Vartuli*, J. S. Beck† (ordered mesoporous molecular sieves synthesized by a liquid crystal-template mechanism; ~6500 citations.

The emphasis on the innocuous looking * as a caste mark probably gained acceptance after Garfield and Malin’s paper on “Can Nobel Prizes be Predicted?” in which they pointed out a correlation between the number of times a paper has been cited and the citations of Nobel Laureates.

I have not cared to find out how author citations are indexed now. Is it by the * or by the first author or do all authors get cited? I have always found the citation index to be extremely helpful in learning about a paper from the way tough papers have been analyzed by the authors of papers citing these tough papers. It turns out that this was what the citation index was all about.

Garfield and Malin’s paper put a different emphasis on the citation index that made it easier for non-scientific bureaucrats to judge the science in scientific work. All one had to do was to just count the citations. Getting a high citation thus became necessary. “To be a Nobel Prize winner, one must not only be able to think and to perform good science, one must be able to sell one’s ideas”, G&M said. If scientists like (Gregor) Mendel “… are being ignored, it is probably their own fault.” It is implied thereby that it is not the fault of Garfield and Malin’s analysis that outstanding work is not always well cited.

Yet there is a little catch in Garfield and Malin’s model.

G&M’s article itself begins with the key question “What are Nobel Prizes for?”1 The cited reference, 1, is “Lost Reference”. Ideas can be borrowed but reference to the ideas may be lost. Borrowed ideas can decide your impact and possibly Nobel prizes as long as you are cited and the source of the ideas obscured. It would seem that citations are not lost when the * or other caste marks are there.

G&M.s article also pointed out the many cases of authors who have had consistently high citations for their publications without being considered for a Nobel Prize. G&M noted that the number of citations does not always pick out an exceptional scientist. One of the most cited single paper between 1983 and 2002 (49,562 times!!!!) is on “A Single-Step Method of RNA Isolation by Acid Guanidinium Thiocyanate-Phenol-Chloroform Extraction” by P. Chomczynski and N. Sacchi in 1987. This paper has a * on Chomczynski to indicate his address and a superscript and 1 to indicate to whom the correspondence should be addressed. There is some consolation for ordinary mortals like us since the total citation for 34 papers by Chomczynski is 49,794 so that he has only ~ 7 citations per paper of the remaining 33. In the case of Sacchi only 48,685 citations are there for her 99 papers in 2002 although her single paper gave 49,562 citations (suggesting negative citation index for the remaining papers! Or, some error in counting).

Invention and Cunning

One cannot be an innovator or original thinker without having an element of wiliness. It has been said (R. S. Root-Bernstein in “Who Discovers and Invents” Research Technology Management, (32, 43, 1982)) “The greater a scientist’s expertise, the less likely he will be able to think for himself … expertise is not only useless to the innovator; it may be a drawback …”. I really don’t have to quote anybody for this feature of common experience.

One of my sane friends (with a rhyming surname) once recalled for me about the way a Bengali (of the derived intentionality kind) would like to proudly brag about how “chalak” his child is. Being chalak for them is to be clever when actually, in current parlance, it means cunning or wily.

Asole cheleta baro chalak
Bipod ke paas katiye chole

(really the boy is very chalak
uncertain paths he is sure to skirt)
The avoidance of unknown paths is a death knell for an inventive tag; it is usually the hallmark of the “twilight gravity” scientist.

Part of this reason must have emanated from stories in the Panchtantra in which the Fox would give practical solutions (“Scholarship is less than good sense, therefore seek intelligence”) to problems (see for example, “The Crows and the Serpent”. In Bengal these tales were better known by their Buddhist equivalent, the Jatak tales. “…they are not moral stories… they are sensible stories …”, M. Jafa, 2004). In Aesop’s fables the fox is sly or cunning as in the tale of the Fox and the Stork. In current usage the word chalak or its Hindi equivalent chalu usually mean sly or deceitful; e.g. (from the web) “…beware of chalu mallus who will teach u words which will have the opposite meaning.” See for a nice discussion on chalak or “Smart Woman” in Rural Bangladesh by Schuler et al.

We don’t know if being chalak is part of the accessories for being an inventor of the non-devious kind. Max Perutz, wondering why Watson, who had all the time chasing girls and playing tennis, had found the solution of DNA structure, reasoned that he had done so “… all he did in Cambridge was play tennis and chase girls. My own problem took thousands of hours of hard work, measurements, calculations. For Jim’s there was an elegant solution … because he never made the mistake of confusing hard work with hard thinking.

Or is it as the woman in Bangladesh said “Those days are gone. Nobody is “foolish” anymore. There is nothing for the ‘non-smarts.’ ”?

The Golden Bough and the Parasite.

The Golden Bough is believed to be the mistletoe, which are parasitic plants, harmful to the main tree on which it grows. The mistletoes are now found to be environmentally necessary since they are fed upon by several animals thereby encouraging biodiversity. The most powerful mistletoe grew on the most powerful plant or tree. In Europe it is the oak tree.
The idea that the life of the oak was in the mistletoe was probably suggested … by the observation that in winter the mistletoe growing on the oak remains green while the oak itself is leafless. …the oak-spirit had sought to deposit his life in the mistletoe … neither on earth nor in heaven … as the place where they are least likely to be assailed …. …the mistle toe should not be allowed to touch the ground…(or) its healing power will be gone." According to Frazier, Virgil’s interpretation of The Golden Bough is the “… mistletoe …in green with fresh leaves and twines its yellow berries about the boles, such seemed upon the shady holm-oak the leafy gold, so rusteld in the golden breeze the golden leaf ” It is probably this “Golden Bough” that the druids used to make their magic potion and into which Obelix fell to get his magic strength.

Frazier draws a parallel between the Golden Bough and divine kings whose lives were regulated by two rules. First the king’s foot could not touch the ground. He was carried on his shoulders and walked on rich tapestry laid on the ground. The second rule is that the Sun should not shine upon the divine person.

Methinks the scientist of “twilight gravity” is the mistletoe growing on a giant edifice of science as a parasite. He is important for the environment of his sciencophants, who carry him on their shoulders and not letting him touch ground or to see the light. After all, it is the sciencophants who feed off the mistletoe’s growth and distribution of largesse sucked out from the main plant. It is these science mistletoes who sometimes dominate the scientific kingdom through their contribution to the growth of the ancillary scientific equipment industry and their subscription to the tourism and hotel industry for their hierarchy generation.

The Golden Bough is only an illusion of a parasite. It does not generate an oak tree. It only generates another parasite.

The oak tree grows from its own acorn. The parasites can have their Golden Boughs.

Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible sun within us, A small fire sufficeth for life, great flames seemed too little after death.

The Flame Within

I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style
And so I came to see him and listened for a while
And there he was this young boy, stranger to my eyes,
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his songs

When we do our science only as a vocation for this life and detach ourselves from our society’s needs and rewards, it may be the best way of doing science without bias. Society may ask about our debt to them.

Several questions then arise:

Do scientists have to educate society about their work?
Should there not be a forum which is aware of your work and will address you should they need you in their without requiring compensation?
Should knowledge be a secret to be patented for profits?

Isn’t an original thought really an accident of space and time because of some privileged circumstances that is created by the whole world?

Is it sufficient to say that so and so went to the same school, studied the same subject, did the same experiments as others, but still came up with an idea which is new and gave direction from which we have profited and for which we give him, say, the Nobel prize?

What if another went to the same school, studied the same subject, did the same experiments as others, and came up with an idea or result, because of his peculiarly different situation in life, without which the said Nobel idea could not have been nucleated?

Can we not decline a Nobel prize and say “No, no, we were just living our peculiar life and one thing led to another and really any one of us could have come up with the idea, It is really not different, say, for a gardener to find accidentally the seed for Jack’s beanstalk”?

Should we learn from ending to Vedic hymns, “idam na mama” (“it is not mine”)?

Who knows whether the best of men be known, or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, than any that stand remembered in the known account of time. …

Oblivion is not to be hired. The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been.” Thomas Browne in Hydriotaphia

Yet the Disney song goes
If your heart is in your dreams,
No request is too extreme,
when you wish upon a star as dreamers do

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 “ 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))

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace is War: Intention, Intentionality and Ardhanareshwar.

The speeches made on the Nobel Peace Prize night are, by all accounts on the web, of the typein which every body tried to identify the main significance of the award to Obama. It did not help if Obama’s peace prize justified war efforts in Afghanistan as "Peace is war".

Obama’s speech showed good intentions. Ask the Dalai Lama! The Dalai Lama seems to have said “... some of his (Obama’s) policies have been a disaster” and “… it doesn’t matter. I know Obama is a very able person.

I think I will agree with the Dalai Lama on that.

Poor Obama” a lama (with a single “L”) said. “His father is dead you know. His mother is also dead. He is a little boy. He is only 40 years old. He is only half the Dalai Lama’s age. At that age everybody thinks he knows! As he grows up and gets better advice he will surely deserve the prize. But he has good intentions. He is not like Cleopatra, you know. Custom does stale his finite wit and age does wither his inertial looks.

But one thing I must say… his English is good. It is much better than that of George Bush! It is even better than mine even though English is not my language.

The Nobel Committee also has good intentions. They are also young and it has too many ladies. The chairman of the Nobel committee clearly said in front of Obama that they had good intentions. They pushed Obama to do peaceful things! What can they do if Obama thought peace requires war? As you know somebody said that the road to hell is full of good intentions. It’s perfectly true! I have been to Tibet so many times!

Thus finished the unusual lama from Tibet; if we are to believe him, he once carried a Lama (with a capital “L”).

Obama’s peace prize makes the transition from giving a prize for past performance to giving a prize for future intentions.

How does one get to understand the nature of intentions? As somebody said on the internet “Has he (Obama) no internal gyroscope to center himself on morality and ethics?

The Nobel Committee and Obama and the world may have been better off if they had a physical or mathematical principle to understand the nature of intentions.


I once had the good fortune of conversing a few times over the dinner table with a South African astrophysicist/cosmologist. He had Stephen Hawking among his fellow students and the two had written the definitive work on “The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time”. The dinner table chats were not because of my science, but because of my wife’s yoga contacts with his wife Mary Ellis.

George Ellis was looking (this was in Trieste around the 1990s) for scientists to teach science in schools in South Africa. He wanted to know that if they were to teach, what they would teach. I don’t know if it was in response to something I mumbled, but I think he said something like “… if it is not directly relevant to the daily life of the local people it need not be taught in their schools, the first levels of their awareness of their environment.” It is not how you teach or do science that is important but the intent with which you do it shapes your science.

Description and quantification of intention is important in our day to day life.

Many years later I happened to read Ellis’s essay on “Physics, complexity and causality” in Nature (435, 743 , 2005). George Ellis gave a hierarchy of complexity (I guess he meant mathematical complexity) in their structure with chemistry < quantum theory < molecular biology < neuro-physics. As a physicist he, of course, then makes the statement that “… in a reductionist point of view, physics is all there is.” and “Particle physics is the foundational subject underlying … all the others.

The feature phrase in Ellis’ article (for the purposes of this blog) is “Even if we had a satisfactory fundamental physics ‘theory of everything’ … physics would still fail to explain the outcomes of human purpose…” and thereby provides an incomplete description of the world. “Physics has nothing to say about the intentionality…” behind the objects that dominate our environment such as “… football matches, tea-pots, or jumbo-jet aircraft” or “… beaver dam building and the dance of bees.” Ellis concludes that the “… challenge to physics is to develop a realistic description of causality in truly complex hierarchical structures…

This concern about physics and human development is probably of importance to physicists and a future development of humans perhaps. It may not be of concern to the average humans per se, especially when these theories are not in their consciousness (their subconscious intuition could still be important).

Bertrand Russell famously said (in his book “Our knowledge of the external world”) on the discovery of amoeba “A process which led from the amoeba to man appeared to the philosophers to be obviously a progress – though whether the amoeba would agree with this opinion is not known.”

What we will be (not seriously, I hope) worried about in this blog is the way one may qualitatively understand the physics of Ellis’ “intentionality” through known principles of present day physics in a manner which I present as a matter of physics.

Social sciences and psychology have already taken the art to an important level with the creation of the phrase “spin doctor”. This phrase is applied to people around political personages who devise strategies to make palatable responses for hard political situations.

Spin doctoring is now a powerful tool and profession meant to guide people away as far away from the truth as they know it to the way they should know it; this is for the greater good of the world (the bourses) that provides food and security for the ordinary man. Morals have nothing to do with it. You only have to spin it around so that it does not look amoral.

The spin in spin doctoring stems from the phrase “spinning a yarn” as, say, Mark Twain would. The “spin” of spinning a yarn or the spin doctor has nothing to do with the spin of physics once one discounts the element of twist to a story that changes the perspective or direction.

We will be spinning a yarn on the way a spin of physics can be used to understand the dynamics of intentionality.

There may not be as yet a discussion that puts a spin on intentionality from one’s understanding the physics of the Universe. Without being deliberately irreverent to the gods, this blog will spin a yarn that would lead to the Ardhanareshwar (half man, half woman) aspect of Shiva, the creator as well destructor of the Universe.

Wheel of Intentionality – I-chakhra


During my rather discouraging career in science I have often worried (pre-Ellis) about its relevance in the scale of complexity in life; it must now (post-Ellis, 2005) include intentionality of science. We would discuss human intentionality making the assumption that given a chance other animals can be as bad as humans. They are already good.

We take a long-time view of the universe when, as we may have learnt from others, that there is a cycle of change.

I have shown in Fig 1 my version of the chakra (wheel) which I have cooked up now and quite happily display since it could be trivial to find me wrong. It is possible that the property of the axis out of the plane is intentionality. As usual, the cycle (in events) would go one notch higher or lower, each time it completes a cycle. I do not know whether we can have a left-hand or right-hand rule as they have in electro-magnetism, but see later.

The colours blue and red should correspond to (roughly) opposite nature of the complexities. The colour blue should be an unquantifiable state of the mind which is more an expression of intention arising from (subconscious?) experience. The colour red involves properties which can usually be expressed in terms of falsifiable (in the Karl Popper sense; don’t prove, just find a false aspect to criticize a statement) and quantifiable equations (mathematical as well as chemical).

Apocalypse is here used as a special access of a disclosure to few privileged people; in modern terms this would be insider trading. Apocalypse is not a post-knowledge empirical quality that characterizes chemistry, but a prior knowledge of the outcome of an experience.

There are (curved) spokes connecting these opposites in Fig 1 because, I think, that’s the Yin and the Yang that keeps the world going.

One does not know which way the cycle goes, clockwise or anticlockwise. It is likely that the direction of the cycle depends on the rate of change of intentionality with time. I suspect it could even reverse at philosophy or need. Taking US, for example, going clockwise from philosophy would probably result from changes in intentionality in US science policies (the rest of the world would be following, at least at present). It encourages defense spending such as in the policies of Reagan and Bush. The direction could reverse at “need” because of a change in intentionality with a change in government --- say from Bush to Obama especially since Obama is saddled with a peace prize which one expects him to use destructively in shaping the climate policy using the profits of war.

The (only?) positive aspect of this representation is that it is intuitive. We don’t really know why the “hub” is there except that it may be needed for the vishnuchakra.

We may call the whole intentionality wheel as I-chakra and the spokes of the chakra as I-strings. The advantage of I-strings is that one may be able to quantify events in blue from the quantification of events in red --- if one knows how to map from blue to red.

… and the central decussation, the wondrous connection of the several faculties conjointly in one substance.

One is not sure what the value system is for quantifying the magnitude of intentionality. One may, however, allot a positive or negative sign to the value of intentionality. One may take the sign of intentionality to be positive if it is consistent with some internal moral standard of the people concerned (such as the Ten Commandments of Christians(?)).For example, in the present value system of most religions, going clockwise or anticlockwise from philosophy to need in Fig 1 would be in the negative direction (hypocrisy does not come in here). This would be a problem.

Value of Intentionality

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.
Thomas Browne in “Psedodoxia Epidemica” (1646)

Physics cannot define intentionality. As my catholic catechism master impressed upon us in my Roman Catholic school, we require moral science which gives a value system to our intentions except that even a morality has its intentionality (if that makes any sense). We could use moral values, although I suspect that these values are a bit archaic in these hip-hop and rapper days --- even (or especially?) when you are, say, Tiger Woods. I guess the intentionality in physics could (for the naïve, at least) correspond to much of the standards or ethics in science.

The problem may be resolved if one could borrow from the language of dielectrics in physics. There would be positive and negative dielectric constant space. In real materials of positive dielectric constant, opposite charges attract each other. In meta-materials of negative dielectric constant like charges attract.

One may consider the left hand rule in electromagnetism and its mirror image.

If we consider a clock-wise intentionality “current” the sign of intentionality would be one direction in the blue region (say, left-hand direction to the right), and in the opposite direction, say right-hand direction in red to the left, for the same “intentionality” direction of the current.

We may consider the blue and red properties to be value systems which are opposite in character in some way. For instance the red space may be considered to be the real physics space while the blue space would correspond to the metaphysics space. Thus Intentionality is positive on going clockwise from materials to philosophy in physics space it changes sign on going from physics (red) to metaphysics space (blue). There could then be a mapping to the change in sign of dielectric constant in the space in Fig 1 as well. We don’t know whether there is a singularity at the cross-over (“going mad” as they say, for instance)

Even if everything in the universe stems from a primordial energy (most people see blue light) a proper analysis of this energy is sometimes simplified by splitting this energy in a matter-antimatter relationship which annihilates each other to give the energy.

Our positive and negative world now could as well be one of destruction and creation.

This is where Shiva is likely to come in as Creator and Destructor. In human relationships it could as well be man and woman or as left-and right-brain activity. Shiva appears as half-man and half-woman in his form of Ardhanareshwar where the feminine and masculine energies are merged into one (represented in real space as in the madhubani painting in the inset of Fig 2) with Shiva as the male forming the right half and Parvathi as the left half. Actually, Shiva and Parvathi (as shakti) take their form when Ardhanareshwar is split apart. In this sense Ardhanareshwar is the energy or photon and Shiva and Parvathi could represent virtual quasiparticle aspects of this reality.

Google search did not find the phrase “quasiparticle aspects of reality” which means the phrase does not exist in real space? Hence it is not true? Will it become true if this blog is published and Google Search finds it?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Asteroid Impact: Destruction and Creation - Shiva as Ashutosh.

Long time ago, on one of my first flights from some southern city (probably Bangalore), the plane took me over a range of hills while nearing Poona (now known as Pune). What struck me quite forcibly was that there were features on the hills which seemed as if they were a string of craters stretching over several miles, with each crater --- judging roughly from the height of the plane --- to be a kilometer or so in diameter. When I later trekked in the hills around Pune after that I would imagine that the shapes of the hills resembled those of craters but I was never really convinced even if I am prone to be easily convinced by intuition.

It took several accidents associated with ceremonies for the dear departed and, what can surely be called, heavenly interference, to find out what these features were.

This blog starts with a seemingly innocuous and simple event of immersing a brother’s ashes, and is led by other events which would also be innocuous but, when connected, ends up with a sequence of awareness events, such as the immersion site being a holy sangam (union) of two rivers, the rivers being embedded in a valley formed by the strings of craters I thought I had seen; these vallies were knotted at the end by Sahyadri range; there is a connection with Deccan traps; it ends with the breaking up of Africa, even though I would have liked to continue with extinction of dinosaurs and a phase transition in gravity.

The vehicle of this blog is mainly Google Earth and Wikimapia. “Google Earth is a digital map of our planet made of stitched together satellite images. You can zoom in and out, fly around and inspect the landscape impressive detail. It’s a bit like video game--- except it’s real” says amateur astronomer Emilio González who pioneered this technique in 2006. I was disappointed to find this statement when I had almost finished this blog.

Needless to say, the scope and content of this blog --- since one does not really care to provide refereed manipulations as proof --- is to be viewed (as usual, click on image to expand) as an assembly of Google-earth correlations even if it may be a trifle googly-ed (a googly in cricket is a surprise clock-wise delivery by a anti-clockwise bowler by disguising the direction of finger-spin; the emphasis here is on a surprising twist).

A Beginning Means a Path must Exist.

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the beginning is also the end.

Ivy Baker Priest, treasurer to Eisenhower

This section may have things a little too personal for a blog. But then, all blogs are expressions of experiential consequences. It starts as departed family and culminates in some surprising conclusions regarding the re-shaping of the earth.

More than a year ago my elder brother, Rangada (I always called him Rangada which denoted his position as an elder in our joint family hierarchy) breathed his last. Bashu, the younger brother had passed away more than a decade ago. Their passing away left me hanging.

I don’t really recollect what Rangada’s name in Bengali was actually meant to be. It could have been Ashutosh or Asutosh. In the old testament it could be a variant of Asher, one of Jacob’s sons, which meant “happy”. Asu is an Assyrian name for the east; Ashur is an Assyrian name for the God of War. In Sanskrit Ashu means quick or fast and tosh is derived from tosa means satisfaction, pleasure, delight. Rangada’s character goes well with “easily satisfied” as the meaning for Ashutosh. As a Bengali from the east Asutosh would mean a happy easterner. Asu also means dew. Lalitha would say Ashutosh means “the quintessential joy of living”. Knowing my brother I would agree with Lalitha's meaning.

We will be more concerned with Ashutosh as Shiva in this blog. As a name of the dancing god, Shiva, Ashutosh could mean anything, including a happy warrior god.

I can happily assert that neither Shiva nor Ashutosh find mention in the Vedas which I have, more happily, not read.

The coincidences may have started, say, with my late mother’s wonderful death in Pune when, surrounded by all children, she cracked a joke about her royal nose, prayed with folded hands above her forehead for the well being of all of us mentioning our names one by one, clutched me and urged me to take her home one last time when I went to bid her goodbye, and passed away quietly and with dignity of the princess that she always was.

After she was cremated and her ashes collected we chose the holy place of Alandi near Pune, for the immersion of her ashes. It was April end of 1994 and Pune was extremely hot. The Indrayani river of Alandi was dry and there was little water to clean worship inputs and worshippers’ outputs, so that Alandi looked an unlikely place for the last resting place of a dear lady.

We drove ahead towards what we thought was the up-stream of Indrayani. We stopped immediately after we crossed a bridge over what looked like a clean river worthy of our mother. We walked down to the river after walking a bit along the banks. The river bed was almost dry. We walked into the stream, emptied the contents (ashes) of her urn, said a few prayers, chanted her favourite Tagore songs, recited a few of her favourite poems, took a few pictures, vowed to come back every year. We did not do that partly because we could not recollect how we had reached the immersion spot and partly because we could not locate that spot on the Indryani later.

When my brother, Asutosh, died on Mahanavami of 2008, I had taken, in consultation with his family and my sisters, a part of his ashes for immersion at an appropriate place on the Ganges, hoping that his final resting place will relieve him of all that he and his family must have suffered in the last agonizing days of his dying. For some guiding (then unknown) reason this was not done and his ashes remained for some time at home in Pune.

Sometime later when Rangada’s ashes implored us to liberate him from his urn, we decided to immerse his ashes next to that of his mother. By some luck we happened to find the immersion spot without a hitch by just following Lalitha’s instincts.

It was (Figs 1 and 2) a warm bright day, with yellow flowers and a strict Buffalo in attendance at the immersion spot. The place was very soothing. Lalitha chanted a few verses wearing a straw hat, Bruno did not bark, Shanta wore a cowboy hat, locals caught crabs from the river bed.

It was during this visit that we realized that the river was Bhima and that the place was very close to the sangam of the rivers Bhima and Bhama. Our choice of place of immersion of mother’s ashes was purely a happy accident!

A year after Rangada’s death we could not attend his shraddha ceremony at Madras (now Chennai). We thought we would say a few prayers at the Bhima-Bhama Sangam. For some reason we could not find our way; we were guided by the local people to the more popular sangam (Fig 3, left; Bhima on the right) at Tulapur where the Bhima meets the Indrayani. This place is very important for us because Ni’s (Nirmala Patwardhan’s) ashes were immersed here. This is where Sambhaji, the son of Marathi manoos' much beloved Shivaji, was murdered by Aurangazeb, the son of Shah Jahan, of Taj Mahal fame.

Three rivers, Bhima, Bhama and Indrayani are wrongly thought --- by the locals as well as on most sites on the web --- to meet at the sangam in Tulapur. It was not the sangam we knew as the Bhima-Bhama sangam, which is about 9-10 kms up stream. There is a temple, Sangameshwar, at Tulapur which is associated with Sambhaji’s arrest by Aurangazeb. Temples ending with –eshwar are Shiva temples, Lalitha informs me.

The Bhima-Bhama sangam also has a spot without a temple that is marked Sangameshwar in the Wikimapia. There are also two temples around the Bhima-Bhama sangam which are called Sangameshwar temples without being marked as Sangameshwar in Wikimapia.

It was again a bright and sunny day when we reached the Bhima-bhama sangam (Fig 4 right) the next day, more by instinct than by logic. There were water lilies and flowering grass along the grass. Lalitha chanted verses from the Gita. Bruno swam in the river before he too sat down to his prayers on the banks of the Bhima.

The Bhima River is named after Bhimashankar on the Sahyadri. The name Bhima here is not the Bhima of the Pandavas (as westernized intellectual ignoramuses like me could conclude), but is said to be an asura, being the son of the rakshasas, Kumbhakarna and Karkadi, in Indian mythologies. The story goes that this boy, like all “good” sons, wanted to wreak revenge on the Brahmins and kings (vedic invaders?) of the Mahabharata lore for killing his parents and ancestors (read native people).

The interesting part is that Lord Siva as Ashutosh worked hard to subdue the demon after the severe penance in front of a siva lingam of the Bhima-persecuted. The sweat of Asutosh’s labour is the source of the river Bhima. Asutosh was persuaded to remain there eternally by the name of Bhimashan.

Maybe we can we draw some consolation that our mortal Ashu’s ashes rests with his sweat?

I still don’t know why Bhama River is named after Bhama. Bheemasena (Krishna) and his (third?) wife Satyabhama are known in shortened form as Bheema-bhama in which case the nomenclature would be an instance of Vaishnavites trying to stamp their presence on Saivites.

Just as an aside, since I like to jump to unwarranted conclusions before warranting it, I am wondering whether the asuras were actually Assyrian invaders and Siva came to the rescue of the pre-vedic but genuine adivasis

Shiva as Bhima of the Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga is associated with few other stories. One of these is associated with Tripura and the slaying of the demon (asura) Tripurasara. Tripura is considered to be weapons of flying citadels and Tripurasura had this weapon.

As true pre-religion Hindus, which means as residents of the Indian subcontinent, we shall not worry about what is the real story.
It’s quite simple, really!
There is no real story!
Those who want a true story are probably those who acquire material wealth from a reproducible invention including making gods.

As long as one is in the realm of the gods’ one has only to be true to one’s god. For us a-religious Hindus there are no limits to the number of gods nor even to the limits of stories associated with one god --- except perhaps that they should have some super-human characteristics --- include pocoman in the list of batman, superman, spiderman, hanuman… .

One of these superhuman characteristics of Shiva as Ashutosh is that he swallowed and kept in his throat the deadly poison which came out first when the gods and demons churned the seas. This churning of the seas could be associated with the beginning of man’s story itself!

Google Flights and Shiva’s Story: Seeing what you want to see.

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire; you will what you imagine; and at last you create what you will.
(ssaid to be on the web by Shaw) ``1```

In order to understand Bhima, Bhama, sangam and Shiva (or Ashutosh) better I used Google Earth and Wikimapia. I took off into space ridigon Google Earth and traced the paths of rivers Bhima and Bhama to see their source and see if I could jump to some vedically unforeseen conclusions. After all, these googol resources may not have been available to our gods, especially since they are not mentioned in the ancient texts or puranas.

I (fortunately) have a biased mind and I found stories that gave some basis to these events in Ashutosh’s life as a god.

One of the first surprises as I started on this journey upstream of Bhama is that the terrain revealed features that I have been looking for ever since, I think, I took my first flight to Pune (Poona at that time). At that tie, looking out of the plane I thought I saw a string of rather large craters.

As soon as I saw the Google map features of the terrain on the left (looking down) of the Bhama valley from Google Earth (Fig 5, left) I recognized this “crater-chain” feature. It was helped from my recollections of images that I saw in 1994 with Professor Govind Swaroop in his laboratory computer in Pune; he was the only one looking at images of the collision of the Schoemaker-Levy comet with Jupiter that took place over several days. Rather strangely, other scientists in his laboratory as well as in Narlikar’s IUCAA condescendingly said that they were more interested in cosmological events rather than events in the solar system.

I had heard of a Lonar crater not very far away (~ 320 kms) from Pune. I visited it with Google Earth, and examined it by Google terrain (Fig 5, middle). The crater had a depth of about 150 metres and a width of about 1.8 km. Other neat well-defined circular craters such as the Barringer Meteor impact crater in Arizona, or the Wolfe Creek crater in Australia have similar dimensions (within a factor of two). The web informs me that such craters could be formed by a rocky asteroid or icy comet of 5010 m diameter impacting the earth at 20-50 km/s (speed of sound in steel is ~ 5 km/sec and nearly 0.35 km/sec in air).

The features on the left (as well as right) of the Bhama valley may be fitted (Fig 5 right) with isolated circles representing the diameter of the Lonar crater. These features on the Bhama ridge have a depth of nearly 200 -300 metres which is close to that of the Lonar crater. One requires fitting with several overlapping craters to get the features of the Bhama valley.

Such chain-crater features due to impact of chains of impactors have been examined more seriously by serious earth scientists since the Shoemaker-Levy impact. Due to forces of gravity a crashing asteroid may form a cluster of bundled smaller asteroids in the pre-disruption stage of a Shoemaker-Levy-like impact (see bottom inset of Fig 5 middle) before elongating after disruption (see top inset of Fig 5 middle) with a elongated chain-like feature (from William F. Bottke’s article on “Tidal Disruption of an Asteroid Encountering Earth”). Although the earth’s gravity is too small to create such disruption, we may still persist with the hope that the “asteroid” is actually a “pre-disrupted” rubble pile that could form single elongated holes or multiple holes around the same region of impact. This is what we will propose in Fig 12.

On further Google terrain examination of the Sahyadri ranges, the circular crater-like features with diameter of 1-2 km can be seen (Fig 5, top left). The most prominent of these must be the (said to be fabulous) Konkan Kada at Harishchandragad. The Konkan Kada is more than 600 m deep across 200 m at some point. Such circular features can be seen all along the edge of the Sahyadri ranges and around Bhimashankar (Fig 6 top right). Closer examination of the Sahyadri ranges show less rounded “crater-chain”-like morphology, as seen for, say, the features around Mahabaleshwar (Fig 6, bottom left) or even around our “badi” (Fig 6, bottom right) near Purandhar hills.

These features of the Deccan Trap is thought to be due to “… volcanic flows piled one upon the other”.

Flying over the mountain ranges on Google Earth it is easy to see self-similar features in the various mountain ranges such as those in the Grand Canyon (Fig 7 left), the Siachen Glacier (Fig 7 middle; we should know this terrain since so many of our brave soldiers lost their lives; never mind if it was sometimes merely to increase the profits of arms merchants or to give fake gallantry awards to some officers), or the Gomukh glacier (Fig 7 right) from which Ganga springs.

The chain of “crater-like” features of Fig 5 (left) is common in such mountain ranges (Fig 8) and the differences may easily be attributed to differences in the nature of erosion with time due to differing climes and terrains. The curvilinear structure of the main river bed as well as the nature of side canyons which form the secondary structure in Figs 5 and 6 are seen in the Grand Canyon terrain (Fig 7 left), near Gomukh and other places in the Himalayas or Tibet (Fig 8).

That naturally ends my speculations on the Shoemaker-Levy-like “crater-chain” aspect of the ridges of the Bhima-Bhama valleys, even though (I insist) that seeing the three-dimensional left ridge of the Bhama valley from the plane does distinctly give you the “crater-chain” impression.

Self-similar terrains have been recognized as manifestation of non-Euclidean fractal geometry. A fractal can be split into smaller and smaller parts (or grown into larger and larger units?) with each part being a size-scaled copy of one another. Ideally.

Some large-scale aspect of this self-similarity nay be imagined, I guess, by comparing the shape of the grand canyon fractures (Fig 9, left; a comparison is made with the generated shape of a common spiral fractal geometry on top and a different representation of Yin and Yang at bottom which represent opposite yet complimentary forces.

As one knows, the term fractal comes from the same origin as fractions or fractured. The shapes of natural fractals are only approximately so. A characteristic fractal is the Lichtenberg fractal which is associated with electrical discharges as seen in Lightning or the equivalent laboratory scale electrical discharge in a dielectric matrix (see Sconeridge Engineering at The track of this potential change in electrical discharges has been seen by Lichtenberg using fine particles which have charges opposite to that of the initial charge. The shape of the curves may be taken as a measure of the way the initial gradient in electrical potential (measured, say, in volts) at a point in an insulator relative to the oppositely charged electrode is reduced by propagating the potential through narrow channels in the medium. Such propagation takes place in a branching or bifurcative manner. Why a bifurcation should take place at all in a seemingly uniform medium is a complex process quite outside the scope of this blog.

Of relevance is the possibility that similar Lichtenberg figures may be seen if one replaces the discharge of electrostatic potential by discharge of some other potential. For example, one may inject a low viscosity liquid at the centre of a tray containing a liquid of much higher viscosity. Similarly, the propagation of mountain ranges may be looked upon as a consequence of the injection of high density (say, by a hammer or missile impact) into a low density material. The flow of the liquid or density would have a pattern similar to that of the Lichtenberg figures.

The fractal nature of such growths is critically dependent on an element of time associated with the change of potential brought about by a change in, say, charge or density or stress, especially when they are in low concentration. During this time there is a randomization of directions of growth. In crystal growth, for example, the key words used to describe the shape in such case are Diffusion Limited Aggregation. For fractal patterns in mountain ranges or propagating cracks one could consider Diffusion Limited Dissipation or decay. There could for example be a sudden increase in volume or stress at a particular point (say, by an asteroid impact) and the volume or stress decays in a fractal manner.

Asteroid impact on planet earth has increasingly become a likely scenario for explaining many of the features of global terrain. One of the more famous of these is the ~ 18 km wide Aorounga crater (Fig 10 bottom left) in Chad at the edge of the Sahara desert. This crater has evidence of having concentric rings has been interpreted as being due to impact crater formation. Indeed, the Aorounga crater has been thought to be part of a chain of impact craters which have been located by radar. Other so-called impact craters are stated to be the pair of Clearwater lakes in Quebec (Fig 10 top right).

There are so many other strange features such as Devil’s Head, Tarso Voon, Tousside Volcano, Mount Tieroko. One may imagine that volcanic-like features such as Devil’s Head (Fig 10, top left, heights varying between 1800 and 2200 metres) could have evolved into the rather flat Aorounga-like features over hundreds of millions of years. There are also chains of such large features of probably volcanic origin but with signs (multiple rings and central peak) of splash of a high-energy impact.

Volcanic activity could also give rise to “chain-crater” features such as those found in the “landscape full of craters” near the East African rift (see Fig 10 bottom right), which has other features such as Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only low-temperature (500-600 C) carbonatite volcano in the world, Lake Natron where the extremely salty water makes it safe for flamingos, Ngorongoro conservation area. Near Arusha at the foothills of mount Kilimanjaro such volcanic conditions must have resulted in the unique three-coloured gemstone tanzanite. It was discovered by a Goan tailor, Manuel D’Souza, in the late nineteen-sixties.

Indeed the bizarre (may be of 450 million years old glacial vintage) topology of the area around Devil’s head (at the centre of Fig 11 left marked by a circle and on the top left corner of Fig 11 right) reminds one of a churning or of the turbulence around Jupiter’s swirling red spot (Fig 11, centre).

This similarity would give fertile grounds for (so far) unsubstantiated imaginations. For example, one may imagine a spiral of faintly defined quasi circular shapes. The spiral in Fig 11, right, is a golden ratio spiral stretched horizontally by 140 percent (arbitrary amount) just as guide to the eye. Are these craters of turbulent origin in a distant (in time) mantle broth with Mandelbrot fractal connotations (could not resist that)?. The so-called Aorounga impact “crater-chain” would then be part of “crater spirals” associated with a whirling crusting soup.

Once one accepts giant-size impact craters there need be no limit to the size of the crater except that the size of the impactor needs to be considerably smaller than the size of the earth. This condition would be usually met considering that the size of the crater is usually 20-50 times more than that of the impactor. These giant craters are expected to have complex structures for radii greater than 2-5 kms and erosion with time further dilutes details so that one may be left with shallow craters perhaps with concentric rings and enhanced plateaus.

Inspiration is drawn from the Manicouagan crater in Canada (Fig 12, top right) and extended to an (imagined) crater in the Grand Canyon “fracture” (Fig 12, top left). The so-called African rift valley region then falls prey to this exercise. Circular features with various diameters are shown (Fig 12 bottom left) in this region starting from an “absurdly high value of ~ 2000 km (~ 12 times the diameter of another famous asteroid impact, the Chicxulub crater in Mexico) with lake Victoria as its centre and going down to ~ 700 kms.

These diameters may seem to be too large for even an immodest/ignorant person.

It seems that there is ability to measure correct to a few thousandths of a millimeter the separation between identical satellites in the same orbit. This ability marks the beginning of a new technology in remote sensing.

This twin satellite GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) technology has been used in measuring earth’s gravity anomalies. An international team (von Frese et al, 2009) has reaffirmed a 500 km diameter gravity anomaly on Wilkes land which was postulated (as early as in 1962) to have a giant impact crater based on measurements of negative gravity anomalies; this postulate was refuted by air-borne radar measurements in 1970s. von Frese et al say that this, is consistent with thinned crust from a giant meteorite impact, which they conjecture to be 250 million years ago, coinciding with the great extinction of ~ 75% life on earth. Their earlier announcement in 2006 was met with considerable skepticism

As part of their evidence, von Frese et al claim (2009) that there is an antipodal relationship between their crater and the Siberian traps formed around that time. The point antipodal to Lake Victoria, which is the centre of the 1800 km dia impact Africa (Fig 12 bottom left), would be close to the Jarvis island in the Pacific Ocean. Jarvis Island, it seems, belongs to a linear volcanic chain of the same age and have a few seamounts which could be around 5515 million years old. This would be the only way that we may imagine any antipodal relationship between the (imagined?) impact crater centred on Lake Victoria and the hot spot near Jarvis Island.

The features in Africa (Fig 12 bottom right) are thought to be due to mantle plumes (learning, for instance, from an article on East African Rift Valley by James Wood and Alex Guth of Michigan Technological University) formed by increased heat flow from the earth’s mantle which bulges the continental plate which is seen as elevated highlands in the area. Such a bulging of the earth’s crust causes stretching and cracking by fracture and results in the formation of horst and graben structures in rift valleys, which are considered as stretched “extensional structure”.

One of the givens in geology is that flood basalts are formed by volcanic eruptions which coats large ocean floors with low viscosity lava due to a (simultaneous?) combination of several factors such as low viscosity of lava, melting of mantle plume, rifting between continents and melting of the top crust by decompression melting in conjunction with a decompression melting of mantle plume. The Deccan Trap (65 million years ago), the Siberian Traps (250 million years ago) and the Columbian River plateau (~ 18 million years ago) are considered to be regions covered by prehistoric flood basalts as are the maria of the moon.

The great African rift valleys are shown in the bottom right of Fig 12. My (I cannot say “our” since there is no refereeing) conjecture here is that there has been a continental rifting which may have been caused by giant asteroid impacts. The force of such asteroid impacts could have been to tear out part or parts of the continental plate which initiated the breaking of Madagascar/Seychelles and the (south) Indian region from Africa.

By examining the terrain and jumping to school-boy conclusions (which is also good for finding naked kings) we may also decide (see inset of Fig 12 bottom right) that the Arabian plate was also torn away from the continent. This could have led to the formation of the Afar depression which is identified with the Ethiopian rift (Fig 12 bottom right). This depression (Afar triple junction) is thought to be a part of the tectonic triple junction of ridges from Red Sea, Gulf of Eden and the East African rift (Afar triple junction) slowly (1-2 centimetres per year) rifting apart. There also happens to be three distinct ring-like features in the Google map of Arab desert!!

Following this interpretation of the triple union rift of Africa where earlier sea-bed features were ignored (at my peril solely, perhaps) I (not we) extended it to the rifts (fig 13 left) in the south Indian region (Fig 13 middle) and obtained a land mass (Fig 13 right) that could have separated from the African supercontinent after giant asteroid impact(s) and excluded the continental shelf. It has been comforting to note that Hetu Sheth of IIT, Mumbai, has made an attempt to discredit the Mantle plume model for the continental flood basalt (CFB) for the Deccan Trap. One of his objections is that there is little evidence for the Deccan plateau being abnormally hot for 1 million years as required by the mantle plume model. Instead the time scale is thought to be at least 8 million years.

Usual fits (Fig 14, top left) of Gondwanaland begins with attractive arguments that much of the fracture would resemble the football-like (or fullerene-like) truncated icosahedron. This geometry places severe constraints on all other fits since a single specified line or junction anticipates all other junctions. Such a model requires the application of a uniform stress field before the fracture which really implies that the “… supercontinent drove its own breakup” (see J. Sears, University of Montana, USA). It also implies that the supercontinent was in a critical state prior to its break-up such that a relatively (emphasis on “relatively”) “small” external perturbation could have induced the “self-driven” break-up.

The nearly circular outcrop of Deccan plateau (Fig 13 left), supporting a mantle plume model that has a spherical plume head, could as well be due to the effect of a non-plume, plate tectonic model that follows the formation of a circular impact crater because of the impact of a giant asteroid. It seemed to me that impact of a giant group of asteroids (or a series of asteroids) fragmented Gondwana to give rise to the continental rifting usually associated with end of the cretaceous period ~65 million years ago.

The separation of the Deccan plateau and Madgascar could have been brought about by impactors which created circular features of Fig 12, bottom left, which extended present day Africa. For example, the perimeter of the circle in red (Fig 12, bottom left) may be related to the boundary (Fig 14 top right) in blue of the Deccan Trap. A smaller (~ 18km raius) circular “rift-like-valley” is also seen near Bhimashankar (Fig 6, top right)

I have shown a different tight fit (Fig 14 top right) of the Gondwanaland in which the relative position of Madagascar and India are very different from that used earlier (Fig 14 top left). I have also re-drawn the coast-line along the contours of what looks like ridges in Africa and Madagscar, and have ignored continental shelf contours (don’t ask me why, because the blog would become too long; I have no problem in giving un-refereed answers).

Finally, the bottom left and right of Fig 14 shows the two points from where fragmentation could have taken place If Bhimashankar (or Harishchandragad) is associated with the region on Deccan the corresponding place should be somewhere near Mehezangulu in Tanzania. It so happens that the terrain is similar. It also so happens that this place is not far away (50-100 kms) from the Mijikenda Kaya sacred forests in Kenya which has rare plants, animals and birds just as sacred forests of Bhimashankar is reputed to have.

So! Where, Why and What is Shiva.

We may thus look upon Shiva as both Creator and Destroyer as examined in an earlier blog (Shiva’s Dance and the Stock Market: Creative Destruction” 26 Oct 2008). He/she or Ardhanareshwari is the Destroyer of Gondwanaland and Creator of the fractured Modern Earth.

Was the churning of the seas in the violent landscape of Chad?

Was Shiva ever in Africa?

Among the Meru people of Kenya, there is a god called Murungu who “… is a Spirit God, the supreme being, the almighty, all-seer, all giver, master of life and death, creator of all things and of man.” (From TuLu research 208 on Murudeshwara). He is said to be an “exact counterpart” of the Dravidian Murugan who is also identified as Shiva by them because of their association of Siva with red colour (chevvai). Murungu delivered the Meru people from the captivity of the red people. Both Murungu and Murugan have phallic aspects of worship.
Just as pre-vedic Hindu beliefs, Meru people believe in a transition after death to the “living dead” and moves to the “spirit” or “shama” (Shaman) stage when no one remembers him/her.

Is that why we have our ceremonies where we recall our forefathers?

We don’t die? We just make a transition?

And how do we do that?
After we had immersed Rangada’s ashes we took out his favorite collection of Tagore’s verses. When cousin Shanta opened the book the first poem she saw was the one below.

It could roughly transliterate as below (although I am stll to get the appropriate phrase for prosadbani
Have earned my leave, say bon voyage, brother---
My respects I give to all ere I part.
I return back the keys to the door; No longer do I claim a home;
Bid me well your hearty adieus.
For many long days was I with you;
I have given some, I have taken much more;
Dawn’s gone; the night has come; the candle in my coner blows out—
My call has come; I set out that's why.

Ashutosh, like Shiva, lived in those lines; he perhaps guided us as "living dead".

Can we ever fail to remember any of our dear departed?

After posting this blog I saw a simulation of asteroid impact which is impressive. It is at