Thursday, May 28, 2015

Damn you quantum entanglement!

If you’ve played the Mass Effect video game series, you will know that the way almost everyone communicates across the galaxy in the game’s “universe”  is through quantum entanglement. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”. When I first read about it, my imagination went wild. I imagined a world where all communication was instantaneous (read: faster than light). You could be on the other end of the galaxy and yet the communication could have been instantaneous.

Turns out all of that was a pipe dream. Physicists would have snickered and called me “simpleton” or something if they’d heard my ideas. Well, first of all, I’ll tell you what quantum entanglement is. Consider a pair of particles. All particles have a property called spin. Consider that both particles have a total spin of zero. Now, we can separate the two entangled particles by arbitrary distances and measure their spin. If one of the particles has a spin “up” on one some axis, then the other particle will have a spin “down” on the same axis(conservation of angular momentum) . Yeah, spooky indeed. All this is not some theory either. It has been proved experimentally by keeping particles apart for kilometers. So, the first idea that popped into my head was what if I could control the spin of one of the entangled particles, then we can easily send data across in the form of spins. I felt like a genius. Then I read up some more. All my dreams were shattered. So, basically, when you try to alter the “state” of a particle, you’re introducing a new system and therefore breaking the entanglement, which means it is impossible to communicate using quantum entanglement. The youtube channel Veritasium explain this phenomenon beautifully. Watch it here :

But before terming anything impossible, I’m always hopeful whenever I read
Arthur C. Clarke's (British science fiction writer) Three Laws. They are:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Free Will

I sometimes wonder about free will. Is there ever complete free will? We humans like to think that we have free will. The fact that I took the decision to write this article should be a tick mark in favor of free will, right? We wake up everyday and go about our routine because we, for all probable reasons, choose to do it by ourselves. 

Then again, what if everything we choose to do is because of a multitude of factors and turns out whatever we do can be determined? Let’s consider the following thought for a moment: According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, we cannot determine the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously with high precision. But for a moment imagine we know the position and state of every particle and atom (practically impossible) and for a moment assume the movement of particles(electrons,protons etc.) within an atom are deterministic(frankly, I don’t know the science) and also assume we know the state of every other particle and pseudo-particle mankind knows about. So, we feed all this information on to a computer and simulate the movement of each and every particle and its interactions. You will have to know that computing the state of the universe would require computing power of such magnitude that I can’t even comprehend. But imagine we are able to simulate the universe on a computer, don’t you think we could, technically, see the future? It just might be that everything we do and every other interaction living or non-living objects have is deterministic. Every choice you make in your day is causally determined by the interaction between atoms in your brain which in turn might have been affected by the outside world. 

On the flip side, if it turns out that on the quantum level everything IS random, free will might be a possibility. Even then, you might want to read up on this article:

According to the above article:
“In a 2008 study, volunteers were asked to push either of two buttons, and their brain activity could predict which button they would push up to ten seconds prior to actually pushing it.”
Well, the study isn’t solid enough but even then, you have to understand causal determinism of a persons’ actions is something which is being looked at closely by the scientific world. 

What does it mean to us if there is no free will? Will it mean that whatever we do is simply a output of a “function” and we don’t really control what we are doing or what we are going to do? So, every choice we took up until this point of time was just an illusion and we would have taken the exact same choice anyway?

Well, I believe everyone will have these questions running on their minds some time or the other. Maybe the “action” we take to take a decision(and the thought process behind it) is so abstracted from fundamental quantum physics and its determinism such that free will is almost an outcome or a by product(or can be considered as such) of the processes that run the universe. 

If you found the topic of free will interesting, you might want to read up on this too:

Happy pondering!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Our Pale Blue Dot.

I find astronomy astonishing. I never had the aptitude or fortitude to learn the intricate physics which describe the universe, yet looking at the night sky I am always filled with amazement at the magnitude of what I am seeing and of what lies beyond. Thinking about the many mysteries and the vastness of the universe always has a therapeutic effect on me. It calms me down and gives me perspective on the “human-scale” problems I am facing. You see, every problem dwarfs in comparison to the bigger picture. This beautiful speech (  by Carl Sagan about the pale blue dot i.e. our Earth always challenges my notion of reality and has brought in more emotion from me than any other event.

So, when we fight in the name of ideologies, religion and politics, I don’t feel anger or sadness. I feel disappointment. Disappointment of the fact that we humans fail to see perspective at times of quarrels and fights (that includes me too sometimes). Have you seen the show “Cosmos” hosted by Niel DeGrasse Tyson? If not, now is the time. The show not only elaborates on the intricate mechanisms of how our world works, it also admits what it doesn’t know (and you also get to see Niel’s awesome oratory skills). As humans, we are afraid of things we don’t know, we are afraid of things we can’t explain. Our forefathers explained it with supernatural forces, now we explain it with science.

Until science came about explaining things about our universe, we always thought there was something or someone controlling everything around us. As our scientific thinking moved forward, things which were credited to a “God” were now explained by scientific laws. And the gap is closing in. More and more things which couldn’t be explained before now have simple scientific explanations. Slowly we are beginning to realize we are just part of nature and nothing else, our developed consciousness is just a byproduct of evolution and not a ‘gift’ from God. This particular reasoning, if it is true, has a lot of repercussions. Nothing that we do will have a moral basis. Ideas such as karma, sins, heaven and hell and everything else which is in the same ballpark has no basis. So, if you’ve started panicking about society and the chaos that might ensue if there’s no “system” controlling our behavior, you might want to read this book called the “Selfish Gene” by Richard dawkins. Here’s an excerpt from wikipedia on what it’s about - 
“The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, published in 1976. It builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's first book Adaptation and Natural Selection. Dawkins used the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the views focused on the organism and the group, popularising ideas developed during the 1960s by W. D. Hamilton and others. From the gene-centred view follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other. Therefore the concept is especially good at explaining many forms of altruism”

If you’ve not grasped it by now, my belief in a supreme being has withered away to a point that I don’t even think about a supreme being. I know I cannot disprove the presence of one, but the burden of proof does not lie with me. I would like to quote another argument from wikipedia. It’s called the celestial teapot argument - 
“Russell's teapot, sometimes called the celestial teapot or cosmic teapot, is an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) to illustrate that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others, specifically in the case of religion. Russell wrote that if he claims that a teapot orbits the Sun somewhere in space between the Earth and Mars, it is nonsensical for him to expect others to believe him on the grounds that they cannot prove him wrong. Russell's teapot is still referred to in discussions concerning the existence of God.”.
The problem with my current world view is that I cannot expect everyone to follow it nor understand it completely. I understand the problem too. If you believe praying works for you and gives you peace of mind, I cannot do anything to stop you. That does not mean I will believe you without evidence.

So, in this pale blue dot of ours we live in, so many differences and so much energy is wasted on issues which might as well be non-issues. We waste so much time just to maintain our identity that we forget the real problems. Forget about what religion or caste you are part of. Forget about your nationality. All that matters is what you can do and what you are willing to do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Spectrum of stupidity

Everyone is stupid. Wait a minute there. I know you might have felt offended by that, but hear me out. I’m not saying everyone is dead-in-the-head stupid. There are varying degrees of stupidity around. On this spectrum of stupidity, we all fall somewhere in between.

So, I have a few ideas about the kind of stupidity we might encounter in our life. On the lower end of the spectrum is the utterly stupid and the nonsensical. People who will never listen to reason and do what they please and in the process annoy everyone. They simply cannot be reasoned with. And in some cases, cause hurt. I would include everyone from terrorist nut jobs to the almost mentally ill in the lowest end of this “stupidity spectrum”. I add the “ almost” to the mentally ill because mentally ill people have a genuine problem. Anyway, the probability of you meeting this kind of stupidity is quite low, but their visibility is quite high and can be the most annoying people in the world. You wouldn't want to be near them.

Next come the people below the middle line of the spectrum. Now, yes, they’re stupid. But their stupidity now has a reason. They would give you a reason and justification for their stupid actions and thoughts. The problem is, the reasons and justifications make nigh a sense. These are the kind of people who go “The earth is flat”, “ Evolution is false because the bible says so” and “black men are better off as slaves because that’s what they did when we found them”. Their reasoning is off and you can do almost nothing to change that. These are “gone case suitcase” types and there are possibilities that you may know one or two people like them personally.

Next come the people who are somewhere near the middle and upwards. These kind of people believe in superstitions, don’t trust scientific facts and say stuff like “I heard from this guy that aliens visited earth”, “ the moon landing was a hoax” without much to back it up. Admittedly these people are somewhere near the lower middle of the spectrum. But these are the most frustrating kind of people because there are chances you see them almost everyday. They’re so frustratingly close to thinking for themselves and come to logical conclusions. But it’s like they almost reject logic when they say they embrace logic. Any attempt to bring them to the logical side is greeted with “you’re wrong” and “f**k off”. I find them hysterical because most of the time they’re harmless and funny. They’re harmless until the point they don’t act upon their ill-fated reasoning.

Now comes the part of the spectrum where a lot of us fall in. The people in this higher end of the stupidity spectrum do listen to logic and reason and usually come to their own conclusions about it(however misguided it may be). These people usually lead normal lives and you maybe able to have decent conversations with them. But you might find that they have a “stupid” part of them where they are utterly misguided. But since they have a tendency to listen to others and form logical opinions, there are chances of this “stupid portion” of the person to be tamed and controlled somewhat. Unless, “oh my god, a black cat just crossed my path!”

Ah. Now come the people in the crème de la crème of reasoning. They are higher up in the spectrum for a reason and for all we know, they might call us mortals stupid from time to time. Just because they’re on the higher end of the spectrum doesn't mean they’re not stupid at all. They might have their own idiosyncrasies and faults, but they usually find out about it themselves and try fix it on their own. They may have a “holier than thou” attitude which may be pissing off.

So, in which end of the spectrum do you think you’re in?

Note: Before you start accusing me, this article has no scientific basis (if I was not being obvious enough).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Strangers on a train

I travel a lot from Bangalore to Vellore. I usually take the train which connects Bangalore and Chennai. Vellore is somewhere in the middle of this train route. I usually love these train rides. They are peaceful and I like the rhythmic movement of a train which can rock you to a kind of sleep you usually don’t get.

So, on a seemingly normal day, I got on a train, which was on its way from Bangalore Cantonment Station to Vellore. As I was walking and searching for my seat, I saw a woman struggling with her luggage. She was a little plump and had glasses on, but I thought she looked pretty. I stood there contemplating for a second if I should offer my help to lift the luggage and put it on top. Before I could ask, she turned towards and me asked, “Would you help me with this?”. I was spared the need to ask and I obliged her request. It turned out her seat was right beside me. And she had the window seat, which kind of dissapointed me. That childish instinct of wanting the window seat never goes away, does it?

Once we were settled in our seats, I took out my mobile phone and earphones and started listening to music. Music was my most trusted companion during these travels. After a while, I opened my eyes and saw the chaiwala selling Chai and coffee. Their distinctive “Chai, coffee, tea” shouts never ceased to amaze me. The woman next to me called the chaiwala. She tapped my shoulder, I removed my earphones, she asked, “Would you like Coffee? It’s on me.”. I smiled and said, “It’s okay, I’m fine”. “I insist” she said and bought two cups of coffee from the chaiwala. “I have an addiction for coffee, and I like company whenever I am having it” she said smilingly and took a sip of the coffee. To me, this was a slightly surprising scenario because as far as I’ve experienced, people almost always keep to themselves during my travels. So, when a woman almost ten years older than me, offers me coffee, I was a bit skeptical.

She introduced herself. She was apparently a doctor and her parents were living in Oman. And her hometown was…Vellore. I was surprised when she mentioned her hometown. Never met a native from Vellore who spoke such fluent English. So, for a while we talked about Vellore in general and she spoke about her work. She explained how her work never allowed her to have a great social life and how she would make up for it whenever she got even a little free time. After a while, my skepticism had faded. She was like an open book. One could ask her anything and she would reply without hesitation. I admired her confidence.

At one point we were having a discussion on the topic of marriage. She was 29 years old and she wasn’t married(quite unusual in India). She acknowledged that fact(that it is unusual) and started explaining how it shouldn’t be unusual. However, her parents were insisting she got married before she reached 30. Apparently 30 was a magical number that women should be afraid of. She had been looking at prospective grooms for around six months. One among them stood out. So, this guy agreed to the marriage on one condition — that he be allowed to have girlfriends after the marriage. Her reply was a quick “If you are willing to be kicked by me every day, then I agree”, and she hung up. Both of us burst out laughing. The audacity that guy must have had to put up such an offer.

The above incident brought to light a stigma older women face when the question of marriage is put up to them. To me, it raised more questions about the institution of marriage itself and more especially on the system of arranged marriage. I was provided a perspective on life by a random stranger on this random train journey.

It is rare that you come across a stranger who you can talk to about stuff in such depth. Train journeys provide that opportunity. I haven’t had a decent conversation with any other stranger after that day although I did travel a lot on the very same train. Most of us tend to be lost in our own worlds I guess. I am also guilty of that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Manifest of Contemplation

I want to write a story. A touching story.

Let's take a topic. Nihilism maybe? Existentialism


We need characters don't we?
Let's see. Let's focus on the first character. Male or female? A woman with an existential crisis? That would be tragic as hell. I like it.

She should have a name. Ananta sounds nice. Ananta means 'Without end' it seems. Deep.

Ananta is a wonderful singer. She sings so well. A free spirit. College has dampened her spirit. She has stopped giving a shit about a lot of things. Because she doesn't care. Like that protaganist's sister from 'About Time'.

Does she have ambitions?
A job in the IT industry? No. Doctor? No. Actress? No. Singing as a profession? She considered it, but she wasn't good enough. The problem is, she is average. What is she good at? Writing? No, a decent writer she may be, but she has no interest in doing that.

That is the major problem in her life. A person who lacks ambition doesn't deserve to live, don't they? Don't say that. She's figuring things out. But the clock is ticking. College is going on and is about to end.

What to do...what to do.

She is exploring.

Maybe she wants to become a wife, have a baby and live a peaceful life with a peaceful husband. Hell no. She doesn't want that. But that is her backup in life. If nothing goes her way, that is the final death knell.

Fine, so we know a little about Ananta.

Does she have a boyfriend?

Yeah. His name is Kranthi Kiran Rao. Random. I know. They are on the verge of break up I heard. Not like a girl can't get another guy whenever she wants.

What kind of a guy is he?
Supportive. But narcissistic. Is that cliched? Okay let's see. He never asks what's wrong with Ananta even though she looks distressed. He keeps talking about his problems. And that guy does seem to have his own set of problems.

But sometimes he says stuff like this.
"I have a dream. That one day we will dance to a song. Even though we can't dance for shits. We will dance. Alone. Just for us. I have a song in mind. It's called Shadows by Lindsey Stirling.
We will practice. We will dance with synergy. It will be beautiful."

What does he want in life? What all men want. No not that. Yes, that too, but he wants more. A safe job. A nice house. And all that schpeel. So what? He's boring. But he's a nice guy. Alright?

But she's gonna break up with him anyway. She wants her life to be interesting. What does she want? She's still searching.

Her spirit has almost died out. She stops understanding the world. She goes into a shell. Kranthi realizes the mistakes he made. He tries to talk to her. She gives him the cold shoulder. (I want to picture with that actual ice on her shoulder, hehehehe)

She tries painting. She's horrible. She actually tries coding. She's horrible at it. She gives up. She gives up on
searching for the thing she wants to do.

She shuts out the world. She stops attending calls from her friends.

Now what?

I've written myself into a corner, haven't I ?

Let's do this. I shall make the corner my armour.

One day Kranthi finds Ananta sitting in class alone. She is sitting there staring at nothing. The class had ended five minutes ago. Kranthi sits near her and starts the conversation.


"Oh. Hi"

"What's up? I've been trying to call you. You don't attend them. It's fine. But for a while I thought you had
completely vanished from the face of the earth. Even your friends are worried about you"

"Oh. It's nothing. I just...Its just I've been trying to figure out things for myself."

"What things?"

"You know. What I should do in life." And she gives a faint smile.

"You always had that question on your mind. But I've never seen you this way. All cut off and depressed"

"I don't know. I guess it's the cumulative stress weighing on me. I'll be fine. Trust me."

"You know you can always talk to one of us right? You may not want to talk to me, but you actually have caring friends. How about them?"

All he got was silence from her.

"What's going on? Tell me. Seeing you like this is making me more depressed."

"I'm fine. Just leave me alone for a while. I'll be okay." She sounded a little rude.

"Fine...fine. If you feel like talking, you know I'm there too."

"Yeah" Again that faint smile. This time it looked fake.

Kranthi gets up and walks out.

As soon as he leaves the class room, Ananta starts sobbing. Then she stops abruptly and walks out.

Does that work out as a good ending to a story? Or do I have to explain that this is just a slice of life. And life goes on no matter what. What, no? You want a monologue from her explaining why she's being all broody and stuff, huh?

Let's see. Maybe I'll elaborate the story with good incidents and the story won't require a cop out like that.

The end :P


I was planning on writing a good story. I like making short films and I thought I should come up with a story for the short film. And voila, above is the manifestation of the thought process. Let's see if I make that short film any time soon. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What makes us move?

It is to my understanding that nothing in this world would work for mankind without society and its constructs. We ache to survive in this world. Everything else is next. Why survive when we know we have to die someday? Why do all this work? We all have reasons to go on with life but ultimately, the question is never answered. We are just a blip in the universe.

 We all find reasons to go on. Some find enough strength in themselves to achieve great things and others take pleasure in the small things in life. My sometimes nihilistic attitude makes me wonder why achieve at all when we know it is going to disappear? Why bother? It is the context in which my thought process works which makes me asks these questions. The universal context. Remove this context and replace it with a context which resonates with you. Consider you want to become an astronaut because you saw astronauts on TV as a child. You will know becoming an astronaut is an achievement and you may strive to reach this particular goal. This goal means the world to you and once you reach this goal, you are ecstatic and push forward from the achievement. Now, your perspective is that of a person whose life is consumed by his goal and nothing else. Would that person have achieved whatever they achieved if they had stopped and thought “Hey, whatever I am doing is pointless. I’ll stop doing this!”. I believe natural selection must have wiped out every living being with that thought process. Then there are people who live for the almighty or devote their life to a certain religion. 

As you can see, there are a lot of things which give us motivation to survive. But underneath all that facade, survival means nothing in the context of the universe. Billions and billions of stars in hundreds of billions of galaxies, Supernovae, Quasars, Pulsars, nebulae and everything else that makes up the universe will move on with or without us. Once you see the world in the context I am trying to show you, every problem in the world pales in comparison. Every quarrel, fight or argument you might have had will seem dumb and pointless. No one knows why we are here and we might never know why we are here. So, whatever fraction of the time in the universe we do get to survive, I feel like I should be making the most of it. 

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with this quote
“...Hmm? How peaceful life would be without love, Adso, how safe, how tranquil, and how dull” - Willaim of Baskerville, The Name Of The Rose