Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nassim Taleb's conversations with Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan

and Nassim Nicholas Taleb on What’s Missing in Education There are also links to 'clarifications' by Taleb and Caplan at the end.Both emphasise practice over theory. The difference seems to be
"COWEN: I would just like to interject a question. I’d like a sentence from each of you on what you is see the biggest difference between you. You agree on a lot, but let me give you my one-sentence take on what I’ve heard is the biggest difference: The extent to which you take a kind of shaped civilization for granted is different.
Bryan, you take it for granted. You don’t think formal education is so much needed to produce it. And Nassim, you’re taking it less for granted, and you still see some room for poetry, the humanities and so on, provided they’re treated the proper way and segregated from the actual doing of stuff.
Each of you give your take. That was my takeaway."
Walker there was a conversation with Tyler Cowen:
I could not understand much of this except that Taleb still likes and does mathematics.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A comment by Aravindhan

 I do not know whether I learnt any thing from keeping a blog. There are some comments I seem to keep going back to by BenjaminFranklin, Nabokov, and others. Another constant is a comment by Aravindhan in forum Hub in May 2005. The link does not work in some places)and so I am pasting his full comment here:
Quote Originally Posted by gaddeswarup
An article in this direction is written by a Swiss Samskrit scholar Johannes Bronkhorst : "Panini and Euclid:Reflections on Indian Geometry", which appeared in Journal of Indian Philosophy, 29, pp 43-80, 2001. I do not have a URL to this but if anybody is interested, I can send a pdf file of the article.
I've read Bronkhorst's paper. I think he identifies an important problem, and does it well, but misidentifies its cause. He seems to suggest that the problem could have been that science was influenced by grammatical methodology (though there is no clear evidence for this). In my opinion, it was much deeper than that. 
Panini's grammar, from a methodological perspective, embodies two trends. The first is the trend towards the primacy of exegesis in scholarly discourse. For some reason, texts by renowned scholars came to have a very special status, eventually becoming a source of knowledge equal to or superior than observation. The second trend is the increasing importance of inductive reasoning, where you used specific examples to derive generalised rules. Taken together, these are capable of producing devastating errors.
But Panini's grammar did not create these trends, nor were they confined to grammatics. You find them equally in philosophical works of the period which - unlike earlier texts - only try to interpret, expound on and clarify the meanings of existing texts; and even the original work that is done still seeks support in interpretation of existing texts. 
We see exactly the same disease in the mathematics of the period. Bhaskara tries to argue mathematics using rules of mimamsa. Mimamsa, for heaven's sake! And proofs - where they are provided - tend to be anecdotal, rather than deductive. Bronkhorst argues that philosophy in that period understood the concept of proof. He's right, technically speaking, but the form of proofs they used lacked rigour and routinely accepted exegetic and anectdotal evidence as "proof". Just as the mathematicians did.
So I don't think Bronkhorst adequately looks at what was happening in other disciplines. I think there is a readily available explanation for why the problems he identifies happened in Ancient India, as I've tried to outline above. 
There is also a clear parallel with certain modern trends (not just confined to India), where ancient knowledge is being venerated without much independent inquiry. I would like to quote one passage from Bronkhorst's paper:
Aryabhatta is wrong where he gives the volume of a pyramid as: "Half the product of the height and the [surface of the triangular base] is the volume called 'pyramid'." The correct volume of a pyramid is a third, not half, of the product here specified... The same is true of Aryabhatta's incorrect rule for the volume of a sphere.
These errors are discussed in greater detail in a 1985 paper published in a French journal. It tends to flabbergast people because the idea that Sanskrit texts might actually be wrong is not something people think about (which is absurd - no human science can ever be wholly right about everything at any point of time). 
And that, I think, is the biggest danger in the current trend of constantly exalting ancient works. Science (and any other field of inquiry) progresses best when it is most open and least dogmatic. Which is why (in my opinion) Indian science didn't progress beyond a point - and why even mathematicians as obviously gifted as Aryabhatta and Bhaskara made such glaring errors.

Another review of Gidla Sujatha’s book

Inwrote several times positively about the book. Here is a negative review by somebody who knew the area and some of the characters more intimately than me. How not to write a Dalit memoir by Chinnaiah Jangam, an assistant professor in the Department of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Migration blues

Beginnings of railways and canals in india

Long reads
CAPITAL, ‘DEVELOPMENT’ AND CANAL IRRIGATION IN COLONIAL INDIA Patrick McGinn “Early development of railways and canals in India seem to be driven by investors in London and were either detrimental or not particularly beneficial to the Indians. The later developments in Godavari delta and other places may be a different story.”  Railways started first.
Ruling by Canal: Governance and System-Level Design Characteristics of Large-Scale Irrigation Infrastructure in India and Uzbekistan “ABSTRACT: This paper explores the relationship between governance regime and large-scale irrigation system design by investigating three cases: 1) protective irrigation design in post-independent South India; 2) canal irrigation system design in Khorezm Province, Uzbekistan, as implemented in the USSR period, and 3) canal design by the Madras Irrigation and Canal Company, as part of an experiment to do canal irrigation development in colonial India on commercial terms in the 1850s-1860s. The mutual shaping of irrigation infrastructure design characteristics on the one hand and management requirements and conditions on the other has been documented primarily at lower, within-system levels of the irrigation systems, notably at the level of division structures. Taking a 'social construction of technology' perspective, the paper analyses the relationship between technological structures and management and governance arrangements at irrigation system level. The paper finds qualitative differences in the infrastructural configuration of the three irrigation systems expressing and facilitating particular forms of governance and rule, differ that matter for management and use, and their effects and impacts.“

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Quotas and descrimination

 When quota reduce descrimination by Victories Girard
Discrimination is notoriously difficult to measure. I am able to overcome this difficulty thanks to exceptional features of the Indian setting. I exploit a question from the Rural Economic and Development Survey asking households whether they were excluded from some streets because of their caste in the years 1996 and 2006. In India, members of the marginalised Scheduled castes still face widespread discrimination (see the variation across states in Figure 1). ”

Overall, affirmative action policies allow for a big push toward reducing discriminatory practices. I document that ongoing electoral quotas reduce the practice of everyday caste-based discrimination by about one fifth. A one-shot quota is already enough to observe this effect. However, a one-time electoral quota does not appear to be enough to affect stereotypes and aspirations – the reduction in discriminatory practices is transitory and tied to the ongoing quota. “

Transplanting memory

 Scientists have transplanted memory from one snail to another. So, what does it mean for humans?
"The dominant model of learning and neuroscience today is that when an animal learns something, there is growth in new synaptic connections or change in existing ones," Glanzman said. "So essentially, memory is stored in synapses. Our study suggests that can't be true."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

From a letter about a cousin

Gadde Babu Rajendra Prasad. He is 84 now and has been donating ninety percent of his pension to charities. One of them is a school for orphans in India, it is very well funded and has much better facilities than many such in the west. I suggested to him to donate part of the money to a Short Stay Home for women in difficulties. It is funded by the government. But government funds come late and the organisers are forced to borrow money with interests going up to five rupees for one hundred rupees in a month. So much of the money is wasted in interest payment and they are often in financial distress. But he said that he does not like to contribute to government institiond. Here is part of the letter:
”మరి ఎందుకలా ? ఉండచ్చుకదా అమ్మాయ్ దగ్గర అన్నాను..నాకిష్టం ఉండదన్నారు..వారికి నెలకు 60,000 రూపాయల పెన్షన్ వస్తుందట! 6000 రూపాయలు ఆయనఖర్చులకోసం అట్టిపెట్టుకుంటారట! మిగిల్నదంతా *హీల్ *కి ఇస్తుంటారట! హీల్...తల్లిదండ్రులు లేని పిల్లలను అమ్మలా సాకే ఆశ్రమం..గౌరవనీయులు పూజ్యులు నన్నపనేని మంగాదేవిగారు నడుపుతుంది..
అన్నం తినమన్నా! గొడవచేసినా వద్దన్నారు..నన్ను వెళ్ళిపోనిస్తే నాపాటికి నన్ను నాకు హాయిగా ఉంటుందన్నారు..అప్పటికే ఎండమాడుతుంది..బస్ లలో ఎందుకు? ఈ వయసులో? కార్ మాటాడుకురావచ్చు కదా! అన్నాను..
రావచ్చును..కానీ నా పెన్షనైనా వాడుకోడానికి అది నా డబ్బు కాదుకదా! అది అనాధపిల్లలకోసం నేను ఇవ్వవలసిన డబ్బు! అది వారిది కదా! దానిని నాకోసం వాడుకోడం నాకిష్టముండదన్నారు..మెడిటేషన్ చేస్తుండేవారు..కామ్ గా స్టేబుల్ గా ఉండే వీరిలాటి వారేకదా! నిజమైన మనుషులు...భగవంతుని దగ్గరకు చేరడం ఎలానో ఇలాటివారికి కాక ఎవరికి తెలుస్తుంది ..
ఈ మాటలు విన్నాక అలా 84 సంవత్సరాల వయసులో కార్ మాటాడుకుని రాడానికి తన పెన్షన్ డబ్బులు తనవి కావనుకుని ఆలోచించే వారిలా నేను ఇప్పటిదాకా నా జన్మలో ఆలోచించలేదు..కాకపోతే మనది కాదు .ఇదంతా ! అంతా ఆయనదే అనుకుంటానేమో! అవసరమైనవారికి చేతనైనంతలో ఇస్తుండవచ్చు! చేస్తుండవచ్చు! కానీ బస్ లో వెళ్తే డబ్బులు మిగులుతాయ్! అవీ ఆ పాపలకు బాబులకు ఉపయోగపడతాయని అలా అంత *నేను* ని వదలి ఆలోచిస్తున్న వారిలోని ప్రేమహృదయానికి..నిరాడంబరతకు..వారి స్పిరిచువల్ హృదయానికి వారాలోచించే పద్దతికి పాదాభివందనం చేస్తుంటే వద్దొద్దు! అలా చేయద్దన్నానా అన్నారు..మీలో ప్రేమహృదయానికి అన్నాను..మీరూ నేనూ వేరా అన్నారు! ఏమనగలనింకా! నేనూ వారు వేరెలా అనగలను..మనుషులంటే భగవంతుని అంశలమని అంతకుముందు మాటలలో మాటాడిననేను”
Another interesting thing about this cousin. His daughter went through a divorce and was in considerable difficulties. He helped her with a small business for several years helping raising two daughters from two different marriages. This was in spite of considerable opposition fro his sons who were afraid that he was giving all his money to the daughter. Now the grand daughters are working and helping their mother. Recently the father of the oldest grand daughter left half his property to her but she refused. This cousin himself wanted to leave some property to his daughter and she too refused after ll those troubles with brothers.

A recent interview with Kamla Bhasin

At IDR " When I got there, I spent six months trying to start a literacy project. When we asked the community initially, they said they wanted the project. A few months later, when there was no progress, I grew impatient. It was then that I realised the problem. “You are blind,” they said to me. “Don’t you see that this village hasn’t had water for the last two years?” Rajasthan was at the time going through one of the worst droughts in its history and a literacy centre was certainly not what people wanted.
The villagers said they had only agreed to the literacy centre plan because they didn’t know who I really was or what connections I had. They were used to development workers coming to their communities for six months and then disappearing. Saying ‘yes’ to me was a way to stay out of trouble.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Siddhartha Mukherjee on checklists

Surgical Checklists Save Lives — but Once in a While, They Don’t. Why :”In 2014, Gawande’s team (now an organization called Ariadne Labs in Boston) started perhaps their most ambitious study on the impact of checklists. This time, the team focused its attention on the practice of childbirth in India: Could adherence to a checklist containing “essential birth practices” reduce the rates of infant and maternal mortality? The Ariadne team identified 60 matching pairs of facilities in cities like Lucknow and Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A 28-item checklist was created: Was a clean towel provided at birth? Were there sterile scissors at hand? Did the birth attendant remember to wash his or her hands? Was the infant’s temperature measured after delivery? An intensive eight-month peer-coaching program to implement this checklist was used in half the paired hospitals. The study enrolled nearly 160,000 pregnant women. The chances of mother or infant dying, or of severe maternal complications, was measured. Despite the team’s strenuous attempts to implement this checklist, there was no discernible impact: The rate of adverse outcomes in the experimental group was identical to the rate in the control group — around 15 percent. About 7,400 babies were stillborn or died within the first week of life.”

A long read on A.I.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Khursheed Mano song from Tansen

with brief biographies of Khursheed and Khemchand Prakash

Steve Keen on Marx

This appeared in RT Karl Marx sacrificed logic on the altar of his desire for revolution
It is clear that Marx wrote over a long period and said inconsistent things. Various people have tried to put his insights together to find some consistent interpretations. For example David Harvey whose work was described by Benjamin Kunkel in LRB. Another is Michael Hudson and his latest note here .“Creating Wealth” through Debt: The West’s Finance-Capitalist Road. For both ‘credit’ and ‘rent’ are crucial concepts.
Another variation vis Yves Smith: