12 November 2009

Roots of Beliefs

We can learn to drive a car, not knowing how its engine works. This is how we learn...think, not knowing how exactly our brain learns...thinks. Our brain learns slowly, step-by-step hierarchically. This is how we learn to hear, see, walk, run, think and think-critically. There are two major factors that determine how we learn: our genes and the environment. The environment can be divided into two parts: our childhood environment that includes parents and close relatives; and the society. As a relatively fresh brain without any checking/filter, our childhood experiences and lessons impact us to the large extent. As it will be at the core...deeper part of our hierarchy of learning, later it will be very difficult to modify.

Our brain is a vast collection of neuron cells with complex connections between them, a neural network. When we learn, it might create new connections between the neurons or increase/decrease the strength of the existing connections. This is how our brain creates models based on different sensory inputs (eyes, ears, etc.). Here, a model's strength or belief depends on its probability (how often occurred, told, etc). As we learn, the model's belief probability (and hence connection strength) might increase or decrease. We lead our life by understanding...judging our life and the world using these models. None of the information that goes from our senses to the brain is totally complete or accurate. Intelligence is about inferring and predicting from the incomplete information! As everything is incomplete, everything is a belief; though, each belief may have different probability. Everyone's blind-belief is also just a belief from their brain point of view. Hence, our belief is subjective. So, we need an un-biased objective look and research (science). This is what many great minds including Galileo showed us. But, how to make everybody to believe/understand this?

There are few important factors for anything to evolve: (1) storage place, (2) making copy, (3) errors during copy making. For example the 'genes' are stored in DNA, their copy making is known as reproduction and the errors are known as mutations. Evolution does not know or care about good or bad; just the fittest for the situation/environment survive and grow. Another example for the evolution is the 'memes'. A meme refers an idea, such as god, religion, science, astrology, ghost, socialism, capitalism, communism, democracy, etc. The memes are stored in the brain; they are copied to other brains through language and society; and of course everybody gets them differently (subjective errors). Just like the genes, there are millions and millions died-out memes. There are millions and millions died-out gods. All the existing memes are survived and evolved over the time depending on the situations. In those situations, our basic emotions (emotions are from the genes evolution) play a major role in shaping many blind-beliefs. During initial stages of human history fear and ignorance might have played a role for many blind-beliefs. Now, they might exist as totally modified and highly evolved memes. As language and society are critical factors for the memes to evolve, we see blind-beliefs and science in humans, not in other animals.

Critical thinking is to analyze everything objectively and learn appropriately to form belief probabilities. But, it is also a skill to be learned from our childhood that ultimately depends on the environment we live and grow-up. When we lack proper critical thinking, our brain learns without much objective checking and form belief probabilities. This might lead to blind-beliefs that are opposite to objective knowledge. The brain models created without proper critical thinking might be inconsistent, chaotic and inefficient. In any case, critical thinking does not mean to accept only the thinking-part of brain, but the emotion-part as well. It is critical thinking to accept certain customs to satisfy human emotions and social integrity. It is critical thinking to mourn and erect memorable symbols for the dead, and sing and celebrate birthdays and new years. Critical thinking is not about what we do, but how we do, whether with good understanding or just blindly.


(On November 19, 2009)

Based on the comments that I have received, I would like to add some further analysis about subjectivity, objectivity and critical thinking.

Subjectivity and Objectivity

Everything we think, feel and perceive is purely our own, i.e., subjective experience. For example, sometimes we feel that Time goes faster and other times slower. Not only we feel differently when compare to others, our own perception changes with respect to our mood and age. So, we look for external objective references or standards, like sun/moon cycles or pendulum/quartz/atomic clocks. Note that some standards are more accurate, consistent and reliable than others. In any case, objectivity is nothing but using a common external references or standards.

We have found and established good objective standards for many things, such as time, temperature, length and weight. We have also found and established a reasonably good objective standard known as science for how to learn and understand. Science is not a simple standard like time or temperature measurement, but a complex process. Science involves collecting data and evidences, creating theories and models, predicting new features, validating them, etc. Fundamentally, it requires being doubtful and demanding evidences, proofs and validities.

Critical thinking and Science

Everything we know about is fundamentally a belief, and it is just that its belief-probability (certainty) might be different. Some are more certain than others. The belief-probability for each one might be different for everybody and different for the same person at different time. It depends on how we develop belief-probability as we think and learn.

A simple straightforward thinking/learning might be OK for simple things, such as finding food and mates. But in a polluted memes environments, and as we expand our thoughts beyond finding food and mates to atoms and molecules, bacteria and viruses, solar system and galaxies, quantum worlds and cosmos, evolution and artificial intelligence, we need to develop a better thinking/learning skill. As we have seen before, the best objective standard known for this is a scientific approach – a critical thinking! That is to add an extra check in our thinking/learning skill to be doubtful, demanding evidences, proofs and validities, building consistent models in our mind, etc.

Objectivity for subjective issues

Finding objectivity (a common, accurate, consistent and reliable standard) for highly subjective issues can be very hard. For example, what is good or bad or fair? There is no fairness in nature itself. Things that were considered bad hundred years back are no longer bad today. What is good for me might be bad for others. What is good for one society or country might be bad for other. What is good for human might be bad for other species. Though, it is difficult to remove all the subjective elements, we have established and refined complex objective standard called law system (local, national and international laws).

For many different kinds of negotiation, the books mentioned below offer certain objective approach. Please refer: Negotiation Books Summary

Most of the social issues are highly subjective such as gay rights and healthcare for all. There is a possibility for some reasonable solutions for most of these issues based on objective knowledge and objective goals. But, if we fight for things like stem-cell research, then the hope for that possibility may not be near.

09 November 2009

Colorful Spiritual World

Color, a seemingly simple experience might reach our soul!

What is color? = What is light? + How to identify an object? + How do we see?

What is light? = As per classical mechanics, light is an electromagnetic wave. Or more precisely, as per quantum mechanics, light is one of a force elementary particle called photon. Light has many properties. Its primary properties include: intensity, frequency or wavelength, polarization. The frequency can be from very small to very large. And light is given different name based on its frequency range. Though light has many such properties, color is not really one of them! But there is a correlation between the light frequency and the color we see.

How to identify an object? = In order to identify any object (its shape, its properties, location, movement, etc.), some elementary particles or wave is sent, and its reflection from the object is analyzed. The analysis include: reflected directions, time taken for the reflections, any changes to the reflected particles/wave, etc. For example, in electron-microscopes electron particles, in radars light, in sonars sound are used. Likewise, in nature, bats use sonar sound to navigate.

Though we use light to see, we do not send the light from us (the way bats send sonar sound). So, external light source (such as sun light) is needed. As we do not send the light, the time taken for the reflections and so distances cannot be measured. Hence we need two eyes; the light from the objects reach each eye at slightly different angle, and from this information the distances can be derived. Our eyes sense the light (sensitive to certain frequency range that we call it visible light), and convey the information received from the light to the brain as electric pulses. Based on these electric pulses, the brain calculates and derives all the visual details. And the details are shown as colorful 3D models – a nice user friendly GUI (graphical user interface).

How do 3D movies work? = As both eyes view in different angle, the movie should be taken with two cameras. If the images from each camera are given to each eye separately, we would see it in 3D. But in theaters, both images are displayed on a single screen. How to separate these images and give separately to each eye? For this purpose, one of the light's properties, polarization is used, as our eyes are not sensitive to polarization. The image from first camera is screened with vertical polarization, and the image from second camera is screened with horizontal polarization. We have to wear a glass with one side of the eye vertically polarized and the other side horizontally polarized. Now the images from each camera are received by each eye separately, and we would see it in 3D.

How do we see? = The brain creates models for everything using its vast neural network. These models are something similar to how voice/songs are stored in a record-disk or a computer-disk. Based on the stimuli from the eyes, the brain creates hierarchy of visual models. But who is going to see/use these models? The brain itself! The brain uses its own models to learn further and create additional hierarchy of models, to correct any errors in the previously created models, and to respond appropriately. Thus, the brain refers itself and learns itself recursively. This is something similar to recursive programs in computers. This is a strange loop where the brain sees its own visual models. This is what we feel as seeing - visual consciousness! This is where light intensity is seen as bright, and light frequencies are seen as colors.

This is the fundamental basis for the consciousness in general. This is how we feel all our senses and emotions. This is how sounds from the ears become hearing, some chemical molecules in the nose become smell and some chemical molecules in the mouth become taste. This is how we feel self (self-consciousness), love, pain and pleasure. Though often our feelings are in response to external stimuli, the brain is capable of simulating any feeling without any external stimuli using its existing models. For example, that is how we see in our dreams.

This is a kind of virtual world created by our brain. There is no red, green or blue in the external world. There is no smell or taste in the external world. There is no ecstasy, pleasure or pain in the external world. All our feelings only exist in the brain's virtual world. In the external world, I am a human, an animal. In the brain's virtual world, I am a soul!

30 July 2009

If Knowledge Speaks

I gave you the knowledge...
To understand the world to navigate;
To build tools to survive - And
To forecast weather to cultivate.
I gave you the knowledge...
To eradicate pandemic diseases;
To find cure for dreadful illnesses;
To overcome the oceans and sky;
To conquer the space – And
To touch your feet on the moon!

I know, I know...
I also gave you the knowledge...
To build weapons to kill;
And atomic bombs to destroy - But
It is your animal instinct;
It is your utter stupidity,
To fight and have war - But
Open your eyes – And
Climb with me to the mountaintop;
I'll show a peaceful land! – As
True intelligence is peace,
A real enlightenment!

You can find me...
In your everlasting curiosity;
In your questions and doubts - And
In your wide open mind!
Knowledge is power – But
I'm not arrogant – And
I'm not judgmental – As
Open mind is my prerequisite!

Often you close your mind - And
Succumb to blind faiths;
Its arrogant claims - And
Its judgmental views!
You talk about sins - And
Dreadful fire in hell – But
You burn people alive - And
You curse their souls;
All here on earth!

Open your mind – And
I'll show you the universe,
Far richer and grandeur – Than
The blind arrogant claims!
Open your mind – And
I'll show you the reality,
Far complex and amazing – That
You can't fathom in dreams!

Think about it....
Just because, you can think,
Don't think, you know...
What it means to think!
You just drive a car,
Not knowing how engine works!
Just because, you can rise questions,
Don't expect, you can answer them all!
It may just take time – Or
Forever beyond your reach! - But
It is absolutely okey;
When you don't know,
Just say, I don't know!

Yes, you can find me…
In your everlasting curiosity;
In your questions and doubts;
I'm not arrogant – And
I'm not judgmental – As
Open mind is my prerequisite!
My humble beginning starts,
In your courage to say,
I don't know!

30 June 2009

Not that simple

Simple gravity that every objects obey – Yet
Look at the solar system, and
The billions of majestic galaxies;
Each consists of billions of stars...
It is not that simple!

Simple laws of thermodynamics – Yet
Look at the earth's weather conditions:
From Ice Age to Global warming;
From Hurricanes, Floods to Heat wave...
It is not that simple!

Simple laws that the universe follows – Yet
Look at its creations, with
Total chaos and amazing orders;
Predictables and Un-predictables...
It is not that simple!

Simple evolution process that life follows;
We are just survival machines – Yet
Look at our creative reach and emotional depth;
And feel the soul in our spiritual mind...
It is not that simple!

The meaning of life...
There may not be anything big – Yet
Look at the power of Love:
Its euphoria and addiction;
Its joyful pleasure and painful suffering...
Life is not that simple!

13 April 2009

Odds of Eleven and Twelve

Pronounce the following sets of numbers: [10, 11, 12, ...], [20, 21, 22, ...], [30, 31, 32,...], [40, 41, 42, ...], and so on. Notice that the first set [10, 11, 12, ...] does not follow how others sets are pronounced. You might have probably wondered about it before. In my native language Tamil all the sets follow the same patterns of pronunciation. So, I immediately noticed the odds of Eleven and Twelve when I learned English. The reason for this odds lies behind how number theory evolved over the time.

In my early childhood we lived in a small village. Everyday, the milkman delivers milk to my home and mark a line on the house wall. On the fifth day, he crosses the last four lines and starts a new one. This is how he counts the number of days he delivered milk. This is very early form of numbering system. Imagine writing 118 in this system; it would take lot of space.

Roman number system uses the same idea, except it introduces new symbols for 5 = V, 10 = X, 100 = C, etc. For example: CXVIII is 100 + 10 + 5 + 3 = 118. Hence, Roman number system is based additive principle (Also note that instead of writing 4 as IIII, it is usually written as IV, 5-1 = 4). This system requires new symbols at every major step to minimize the size. Any arithmetic calculation like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. would be a challenging task on Roman number system. It was usually handled by few mathematical experts.

Our current number system is based on positional notation. It was originally developed in India and spread across the world. Another important mathematical milestone was also achieved in India at that time; that is to introduce a symbol for nothing or zero. Introduction of zero is noted as important as invention of wheels in the scientific history. The positional notation can be based on any base great than one (i.e. 2 and above). Our standard current number system uses base 10 – decimal system. This means that we need only 10 symbols to represent any number: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. And each digit value depends on its position: 1st digit = 1; 2nd digit 10; 3rd digit 100; etc. For example: 4328 = 4*1000 + 3*100 + 2*10 + 8*1. As it is based on base 10, each digit value is increased by multiples of 10. If different base is used, say 12, then it should be increased by multiples of 12 (Note that we also need 12 symbols).

The use of base 10 is based on our 10 fingers. Before the standardization of base 10, people around the globe were tried many different bases, out of which 12 and 20 were also popular. In English and German base 12 was used initially. Though the notation is now changed to decimal system (base 10), we are still using the old words for 11 and 12; and hence the first set [10, 11, 12, ...] sounds odd compare to others.

The positional number system not only simplifies how a number is written, it also simplifies all arithmetical calculation. The ancient art of computation, once confined to a few adepts, is now taught in elementary schools. There are not many instances where scientific progress has so deeply affected and facilitated everyday life!

"Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and the theory of numbers is the queen of mathematics" – Gauss.

Reference: What’s mathematics, by Richard Courant & Herbert Robbins.