Saturday, January 21, 2017

Some pithy statements – what they meant/mean to me

It has been a very long time since I shared (with however few who read my posts) some pithy statements that made an impact on me when I read them and continue to hold high relevance for me. Here I go.

Ø  ‘Mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics’ – Leonardo da Vinci

I teach a first year course (avocation in my retired life) on Engineering Mechanics for first year students in a private deemed university. I introduce my students to the subject saying that for many of them who are in streams such as biotechnology, computer science the course is irrelevant. That shocks the students as they must not have heard any teacher tell them that the subject he or she is teaching is irrelevant to the students in their professional life.
But then, I drip feed them the logic of the material they would be studying – that is, logic. I tell them that the logic of mathematics is brought to bear upon solutions to a vast array of real life problems through engineering mechanics. No matter the field in which the student is to gain expertise, as it is engineering, it would necessarily be through logic. This thought and understanding are, if I may so, products of my own mind.
But then, I came across the statement from Leonardo da Vinci. So, the thought is a situation of convergent evolution! Now, the subject is slowly becoming my vocation, as I am teaching three sections (each with class strength of 60; 240 minutes of contact per week). Evolution of a thought on a subject I have been involved with for over forty years. Evolution does proceed very slowly!

Ø  “[F]reedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same” - Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer

I read this in an article in the London  based newspaper The Guardian, decrying neoliberalism, globalization, xenophobia and their consequence – Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Brexit, Trump ... I immediately thought of what Henry Ford is supposed to have said – the customer can choose a car of any color as long as it is black.
The customer for ideology is your common citizen. She does not have the time to unmask the underlying economic coercion. Now, I am trying to apply this to the on-going tussle between those who want to hold jallikattu in Tamil Nadu and those opposed. Here the ideology is couched in terms of Tamil tradition. Those who not want to put an end to the bull-taming sport (there must be some cruelty inflicted upon the bull, but much than the finality of bull fights in Spain) have also bought into their ideology of unethical treatment of animals. So, if you look at the issue, it is a fight between two competing ideologies, but each built upon economic necessity. If those on the against side can unmask the economic compulsion behind tradition/ideology they would be on the path to victory; the other side, equally so, on its own terms. Find the Least Common Multiple, and that is economics, and build your arguments on it. Last word from me on this topic – find out why some traditions have been discarded and you would find my take validated.

Ø  ‘If you would stand well with a great mind, leave him with a favorable impression of yourself; if with a little mind, leave him with a favorable impression of himself’ -Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The above implies two distinctly different modes of interaction, one with a “great mind” and the other with a “little mind”. This dichotomy I do not accept.  There is only one mode of interaction, and that is to keep your counsel to yourself unless a compelling reason arises for you not to do so.
The “great mind” is likely to take that as your mind working out for itself what she has said/done is valid or not, under what conditions etc. This “great mind” would invite such non-scriptural exegesis, happy that you are engaging yourself in it and the impression you create cannot but be favourable.
Now, as to being silent in front of a “little mind”? The result is the same but inwardly directed. The “little mind” would perceive your silence not as critical thinking but as uncritical acceptance. The thing that impresses the “little mind” is the follow-the-herd mentality it perceives in your mind. It is definitely happy.
Authority shuns questions posed to it. That is, once you are in a position of authority, you would see for yourself how your mind exults in immediate acceptance of your view point. The quote is valuable to me only because I questioned it. I do not know whether Coleridge would debate me on the above and further what would be his impression of himself/me.

Ø  ‘If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse’ -Woody Allen

This is what irritates me about people who take on god, implicit questioning of god’s existence. Why should an atheist worry god exists or not? Oh, you say that is the credo of the atheist – god does not exist. No, not in the least, at least for this atheist.
Then, what exactly is the credo of the atheism that you follow?
Is god useful for me? I asked this first within myself and floated it to others subsequently. It took a long time, but finally it dawned on me. The unsurprising answer was, NO. God is not useful for me. That is my atheism, as it must be for many who have divorced themselves from the trivial, “Does god exist?” It bothers me that Woody Allen is not one of them.
Did god help J Jayalalithaa? That is a cheap shot, I agree. But, how else can I grab the theist’s attention? Did god help Hillary Clinton or the democrats on Nov. 8, 2016? Why did god help the leave in Brexit? These are unanswerable questions; hence irrelevant. All of these bring god’s utility  into question. Hence, the best answer is to conclude that god has no utility for me.
What does the high-priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins say? As of now, it is easier to disbelieve in god’s existence as no evidence has come to light. If and when it did, he would change his position. This OK with me but not fully so. I would demand not proof of god’s existence but his/her/its utility to me, in the here and now and in terms of economics!
Raghuram Ekambaram

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