Sunday, May 15, 2016



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(This was generated during a back and forth today [2016 May 15th, Sun]  on the current Democratic primary campaign between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  However, it touches on much wider issues.)

I personally have lived my own life always trying to see people and their affairs, not in black and white terms, but also noting the grays. That's a harder way to go about things, and one often finds oneself blasted by those who would take the simpler route.

That said, there are things on which one should not just shrug and yield.

These are matters, just for instance, that humans have always held to be crucial in our interpersonal interactions. We see these being violated everywhere, and so tend to become cynical. But the very fact that we still notice these things as they occur shows that these violations are hardly universal.

There is, for instance, such a thing as trust. If a person violates our trust and we get to know of this, it is very difficult to trust him/her again. Indeed, to do so appears foolish in the extreme. But should we then either shrug and trust most people in most things as we might perhaps have done before, or should we now distrust most people in most things, becoming suspicious, even paranoid?

In societies that most of us regard as "primitive", consisting of relatively small clans or tribes--the way most of our ancestors lived through most of our human and probably prehuman evolution--you will often find there is a high degree of trust within the clan or tribe.

This is not to say there are never any violations--but those who violate trust usually cannot escape the consequences.

While there may be occasional conflicts or even violence between clans and tribes (along with many peaceful and essential interactions), agreements between tribes are usually honored--and violations of trust viewed with outrage.

All of this might seem Utopian and absurd to us--but is very real to those who have lived and worked with such people, as my father, for example, did in India, visiting and photographing tribes (similar in some ways to the Amerindian tribes that vanished here) who had then been living in their traditional fashions in remote, forested and hilly areas of the subcontinent, not as other large-group folk did.

Over the past many decades, especially recently, all of that has been rapidly changing. Sadly, this was not unexpected. All over the world, over the last several centuries, the great diversity of our human cultures, each with it languages, arts, crafts, healing, and particular outlook and store of knowledge, has been vanishing just as rapidly as has the great diversity of our biological species, each with its genetic and cultural information, evolved over the eons.

So there is a greater reality that might be lost when we focus only on what we have experienced and understandably grown accustomed to in our own spheres, where each of us must survive. So we see or focus on certain priorities, based upon those experiences, and are blind to or ignore other priorities that might in fact be more pressing by far, and neglect of which might have far greater consequences.

In this, I am surely as limited as are others. However, I should say that the views I have expressed earlier in discussions about politics, economics and other matters have not usually been come to lightly.  Often I have arrived at them reluctantly, after years of observation and so also of reflection. This hardly makes me sage or expert about all such matters.

There are certain things (such as the science and mathematics it was my lot to study and work in for many years before I began teaching in the high schools here in New York City almost thirty years ago) in which one can make rather strong, definitive statements, noting also the limitations on the generality of such statements.

In other things, especially human affairs (including teaching) one finds oneself on much shakier ground.

One of the reasons for this is that it is not possible, even within a family or a close relationship, to know all that is going on or what the other persons are really thinking and feeling--nor would it be desirable to attempt to do so. So there is that trust that one extends, hoping it will not be violated, and trying not to violate others' trust.

But when it comes to what happened two hundred years ago, or what is happening right now in a place on the other side of the planet, or even in another section of town or even across the street, we are often very much in the dark.

Meanwhile, even within what might remain of our past clans, that we might be born into or construct through our interactions, we see breakdowns of trust, often brought about by distance, preoccupation and the general economic and social milieu we live in.  This is also often so between co-workers and neighbors.

Yet, that same modern human world that so isolates us from one another also makes us dependent on one another, and affecting one another, within a city, and across the globe, in ways that could never have been imagined before.  

What others do affects us, and what we do affects them.  

There are imbalances of power in this, and those who make decisions that vitally affect the lives of others are often able to escape what would, in the past, have been the consequences of their actions on themselves.

This cannot be sustained.

Arjun Janah
2016 May 15th, Sun.

Brooklyn, New York

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Progress

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On Progress 

When we were children in school, and (for some of us) even students in college, we were taught and even believed that we were in an extraordinary era of "progress".

But we should by now have come to realize that this "progress" was clearly along several directions.

If we consider, for instance, the degree of biological diversity on the planet or the degree of cultural diversity within our species, then clearly the "progress" made over the past century has been in the direction of decreasing both of these diversities.

Since the viability of the biosphere is dependent on its biological diversity, and that of our own species is dependent also on our cultural diversity, it follows that the progress in these two areas has also been towards greatly decreasing the chances of survival of our ecosystems and of our own species. This is so even if we only consider our prospects through the next few centuries.

The current ecosystems might be replaced by or transition to degraded substitutes, and our own species might also, for a while, experience something similar. However, in the latter case (that of our own species), the direction in which we are making progress seems to be towards extinction or near-extinction in the not-too-distant future, with extreme suffering in store for most of us en route to that.

Such a fate would perhaps be only fitting, since we have also been the prime movers in the recent extinctions of countless other species.  This has taken place in a time-span perhaps shorter than those of most of the great mass extinctions of the past. These ancient mass extinctions, as recorded in our planet's sedimentary rock layers as part of its fossil history, followed impacts by comets or asteroids or eruptions from super-volcanoes that rapidly altered, over decades or centuries, ambient conditions on most of the planet's surface.

So perhaps what should be taught in today's schools is that we are heading, ever faster, towards multiple catastrophes unless we take individual and collective action. The main thing we can do to avert or diminish these disasters is to slow production and consumption. Unfortunately, our economies are dependent on maintaining and increasing the rates of production and consumption.

This is what is touted by economists and governments as indicators of "growth", what drives corporate profits and government revenues and, let it be said, gives many workers and small businesses their incomes.

These incomes could be received directly from jobs or contracts that depend upon these corporate profits and government revenues, or they could be obtained indirectly from consumers who spend part of their own incomes on purchases, rentals, etc.

Increasingly, the sector that profits most from all of this activity is the financial sector--the banks and investment firms, along with the insurance businesses associated with these. Of every dollar or rupee that we produce through our labor (or even take home as pay) it would be interesting to figure out how much, on average, goes to a bank or other financial institution.

While human labor is still the fuel, interest from debt, along with rent, are the gears and crankshafts of our economic engines.

Some might point to fossil fuels and other energy sources as the more basic fuel, along with the labor of living plants that gather energy from the sun and so power the flows through the food webs on which we are still as dependent as ever for survival.  But human labor, physical and mental, remains essential even in the utilization of these and other natural resources.

Of course, the labor of those who do not work at paid jobs, but carry on those perennial human activities without which none of us would have survived even the first few months of our lives, will never be counted by economists and financiers.

Unless we figure out a way to get out of this economic trap, preferably without causing great hardships for ordinary folk, we seem doomed to continue on this path of "progress".

Most of the movement that many would agree has constituted progress that they consider positive and meaningful can be traced back to those advances in science and technology which have been put to what we consider good use. Of course, for every one such positive effect, one could find, perhaps, one or more that are negative.  "A better world through chemistry" had once been the advertised promise.  The reality turned out to be rather different.

Nevertheless, in the realms of public health, medicine and more, there have been advances that have been beneficial--at least for many humans.  However, increasing pollution, climate change, land scarcity, drainage of resources and capital, wars driven by globalized economic forces and made even more horrific through technology--and much more--have negated much of the benefit accruing from the kinder applications of science and technology.

Another area, in which many will agree there has been some positive movement, is in the social domain, where there has come to be some recognition of past and current injustice and unfairness.

In the economic realm, progress had been made, over the course of the last century, in advancing the rights of workers to a greater share of the wealth they produce. This had only been possible when workers were able to gain more political power. And this was not won easily or quickly.

But we have seen, over the past several decades, a global push back against even that advance, concomitant with the loss of whatever little political power workers and their political organizations had gained.

Other species will never, of course, have any power over human politics and economics, except through whatever voice may be gained by environmentalists and whatever political and economic power those who are affected directly by the loss of species might be able to exert.

The parallel loss of so many of our human cultures, including the accelerating loss of languages and even of entire language families, seems also almost unstoppable, given the fact that the people affected have been relentlessly displaced, scattered and reduced in number, with little or no power or influence over the great juggernauts that drive our economies and our species on their tracks of relentless "progress".  Many of us seem to have less regard for the fate of entire populations of our own species than we do for those of some others that we now suddenly favor after having driven them to near extinction.
The question that should be asked of those who still tout human "progress" remains the same as always, except that it is increasingly more urgent: "Towards what?"

Arjun Janah
2016  January 26th, Tue.

Brooklyn, New York

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On Putin and Trump—a Shallow Analysis

On Putin and Trump—a Shallow Analysis

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have recently been praising each other. This may not last, but it makes one step back and look at these two, however superficially. One then notices some similarities, at least in context if not personality, that might help explain their rising.

Of course, Putin has effectively ruled Russia since the start of this century, while Trump is still an aspirant to the U.S. presidency.  So Putin has accomplished far more than Trump in the political and economic spheres, as well as in the field of slaughter.

In this last accomplishment, however, Putin has merely joined many other current and past leaders of nations and empires--including our own.
Trump is a classic bully—a coward at heart, with a thin skin, unable to bear criticism, with a constant need to put down others and inflate himself.

Putin feeds into the same need of some to have a "strong man" in charge at the top. He made his mark by bombing Grozny into oblivion, going far beyond what the Russians had tried to do earlier to end the Chechen rebellion. In the process, he radicalized the Chechen (and other nearby Muslim) opposition, eradicating it by extreme, brutal force from Chechnya and its adjacent territories but in the process also eliminating the more moderate opposition and spewing out an aggrieved and desperate diaspora that included increasingly fanatical folk (feeding on transplanted Wahabi theology) who have been active, in Asia alone, in an arena ranging from Afghanistan in the east to Syria in the west (not that far from Chechnya and other Russian or former Soviet territories).

The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the misery experienced by many ordinary Russians subsequently (with even life expectancy showing a sharp downturn) and the sustained economic and political pressure on Russia by the West, especially the U.S., including the expansion of NATO right up to Russia's borders, led to a feeling of humiliation among many Russians (even as the capitalist class there, feeding off assets that once belonged to the state--and so at least nominally and to some extent in practice to the people--that were sold off or given away in an orgy of nepotistic looting, was feasting on its newly gained reaches, and producing its oil billionaires and more).

In such situations, there is an opportunity for fascist leaders to rise. This is what happened in Russia--although it could have been worse, judging from the situation in some other parts of the old Soviet Union, especially in Asia, where narrow ethnic nationalisms have often prevailed, throwing minorities (especially the larger ones, who are seen as a threat) into a very difficult place.

One can see in Trump's rise some of the same kinds of discontent, fed by an increasingly unequal economy, an increasingly ethnically mixed population, and perhaps our perceived ineffectiveness in exerting power in world affairs, resulting (especially in what used to be called the "lumpen proletariat") into enthusiastic support for a perceived "strong man" and "winner" who will "make America win again"--a role happily filled by the egotistical Trump.

The jihadi attacks on this country (which, except for the lone catastrophe of 9-11, have still been nowhere as intense as those that reached even into Moscow, where suicide bombers made spectacular and horrendous attacks, both during the Afghanistan war--with our support--and later during the conflict in Chechnya and adjacent areas) have led to an increasing Islamophobia that has also helped Trump as it did Putin during his rise.

There is no longer a socialist bloc (with a memory of what fascism is and can do) to counter the fascists or even the globalizing capitalists who show increasing fascist and neo-colonial tendencies, now that their main opposition is gone. Fascism is, among other things, an alliance between the powerful capitalists and the state, with labor tamed, suppressed and compliant, and with ethnic and other issues used to divide the working classes.

What we have instead are competing capitalist blocs, with each trying to outdo the other in pursuit of wealth accumulation, too often going mainly into the pockets of an oligarch class, with labor increasingly marginalized and divided, forced to work more and for less.

Computerization, immigration providing cheap labor in the homeland and the export and loss of jobs, first in manufacturing and then even in services, has led to anxiety and discouragement, even hopelessness, among many workers or would-be workers in this country, especially those without the increasingly formidable skills needed to survive and succeed in the "new economies". Job security is a thing of the past, and employability of those not within a rather narrow window of age and constantly changing skillsets is in question.

This is no new development in capitalist evolution. Parallels can be seen in the past. But what remains the same is the need to increase the rate and scale of production and consumption in order to increase profits. So there is the usual race to secure natural and human resources, as cheaply and relentlessly as possible, to expand markets and to encourage consumption of goods and services. The consequent environmental and human damage, including that from the wars that these races for resources and markets inevitably produce, are evident to anyone who cares to look. Even civil wars that appear to be arise from ethnic conflicts have economic drivers--as I learned again and again from talking to refugees (mostly Hindu, but also with many Muslims) fleeing East Pakistan in 1970.

To slow down these races would be the only thing that could slow down the rate of destruction. But we are caught in a paradigm where the slowing of the economic engines is the worst nightmare of capitalist and worker alike.
Returning to Trump and Putin--although there are the similarities between the backgrounds that led to their rise that I have listed--there are also of course many difference, both in their local contexts and careers and in the men themselves. Although Trump is a New Yorker, he displays little of the better qualities seen in my fellow urbanites, including tolerance and respect for diversity, and much of the worst, including unwarranted, loud aggression.

To this, he adds either great ignorance or deception or both, along with an obvious bigotry against those who are different from him in any way--be it from gender, "race", origin, religion or whatever. While he hobnobbed with the Clintons, he never could accept that a "black" man (as Obama is classified in this country, despite having a "white" mother) could become president of this country.

Beyond this, Trump wants to keep in place a system in which politicians are subservient to people like him. He is working for his class interests, as many of the affluent and powerful do, but in a rather different way--by brashly turning towards the jingoistic populism and the distracting, rough and tumble public exposure that they mostly avoid, preferring to let their bought politicians do that work for them.

Putin, for all his faults, displays a wider understanding of history and of the world in general than Trump ever will.
2015 Dec 22nd, Tue.
Brooklyn, New York

Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Thought-Experiment

On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Thought-Experiment
From:  E.D.
To:  Arjun Janah
Cc:  R.B.
Sent:  Sat, Apr 19, 2014 10:23 pm
Subject:  RE: Blog post of our correspondence re. probability.


<personal details, deleted by Arjun 04/20/14>
    Also,  a correction or clarification about Bell's theorem. My understanding of it at this time is that Bell's theorem does establish non-local causation in the following sense. If two particles depart from one another in different directions and then, later, the spin of one of the particles is altered, the spin of the other particle instantaneously changes also. However, this fact can not be used to communicate instantaneously (or faster than the speed of light). So in that sense, there is not non-local causation, because we at the macro level can not observe it.

    I could have it all wrong, but I think the main point is that in the end q.m. does not explain non-local causation or action-at-a-distance (such as telepathy, precognition, other mystical states of union, etc.) at the level of human consciousness. So q.m. is disappointing for people who wanted to use it for that purpose.

<See also the third section added below this one -- the e-mail I received at 6:34 pm on 04/20/14 from E.D. -- for a sharper clarification of this issue. -- Arjun 04/20/14>

    I think I mentioned this book to you before, but this is the sort of thing I'm referring to here:

    "How the Hippies Saved Physics"


From:  Arjun Janah
To:  E.D.
Cc:  R.B., blank01, P.B.,V.K
Sent:  Sun, Apr 20, 2014 12:55 am
Re:  Blog post of our correspondence re. probability.

<personal  details, deleted by Arjun 04/20/14>

    Yes, I think you have described the core quantum-entanglement situation concisely and correctly. But my knowledge of this is limited. I will try to go into some details below, which may or may not shed more light on what you have neatly summarized.

    This was (to my knowledge) first posed as a challenge to q.m. (or its emergent interpretation at the time) by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen. It is a strange sort of instantaneous action-at-a-distance.  Bell later formulated, I am told, what had come to be known as the EPR paradox as a testable inequality.

    Electrons possess an internal or intrinsic angular momentum, called "spin", which has, in certain natural units, a value of 1/2. From quantum mechanics, the projected value of this spin, along any chosen spatial direction, can have only two observed values: +1/2 or -1/2 (in those same natural units).

    Two electrons can combine into either a total-spin = zero state (where the two electron spin-vectors are aligned oppositely: 1/2 -1/2 =0) or a total-spin = one state (where their spin-vectors are aligned in the same direction, 1/2 + 1/2 =1).  These are the only definite total-spin states allowed by the rules of q.m.

    Consider two electrons that are known to be in, say, a total-spin = zero state, but for which the individual spin directions of the two electrons are unknown.  If those two electrons move apart in space without further disturbances (caused, for example, by our further observations), then they should remain in that total-spin = 0 state.

    In the usual intepretation of q.m., the spin-values of each electron along any given direction are not only not known to us (and here's where we may strongly quibble with that interpretation) they are indeterminate in an absolute sense. This is the thing that Einstein and his colleagues could not (with good reason, in their minds) accept.

    If we now make an observation on one of the electrons and find its spin value along a certain direction is, say, +1/2, then we know that the spin value of the distant electron along the same direction will have to be -1/2.

    While it is perhaps understandable, as per the usual interpretation, that it was our act of observation (a measurement of spin value along a chosen axis) that "threw" the observed electron from an undetermined individual-spin-alignment state into the definite +1/2 state, how could we say the same of the distant electron?

    Could our measurement made on the local electron here truly have "thrown" that distant electron there into its spin -1/2 state?  Or was it already in that state before we made our local measurement on its partner?

    E, P & R had presented the instantaneous throw of the individual spin of the distant electron (following an observation of its local partner) into a definite state as a paradox, something that arose out of q.m. and its accepted interpretation, but appeared to violate the precept that the fastest way in which an event at one place could affect an event in another place was via a signal sent from the first event to the second -- which signal could not travel faster than the speed of light (or other electromagnetic waves) in a vacuum. And this speed, though large, is finite. So instantaneous causation was considered impossible.

    So E, P & R argued that either the accepted interpretation of q.m. was wrong -- i.e., the electron-spins were in fact aligned along a certain direction (in which case the observation was only a discovery of what had already existed in reality) rather than being truly indeterminate in an absolute sense -- or else one would have to accept instantaneous causation, which violated a precept that was considered sacred, one on which Einstein's theory of relativity and so also all of physics had rested.

    But after Bell had formulated this as an inequality that could in principle be tested, tests were done that showed (so it is alleged) that the accepted interpretation of q.m. is in fact correct.

    However, although instantaneous causation does apparently occur (if we swallow all of this, which is a mixture of observed fact, mathematical q.m. rules and an interpretation that was formulated by some of the most thoughtful people, including Niels Bohr) it is alleged that this cannot be used to do any true communication.  This alleged fact has been taught to physics students for some time now as the saving grace in this situation.  I am not clear in my mind, at this time, on how to understand or explain that point.

    This is my own (surely incomplete and faulty) understanding of the situation, dating back many decades to my undergraduate days in India, when I came upon EPR by chance. (I did not learn about Bell's inequality till later, and still am pretty ignorant about that.)

    As far as the relevance of any of this to paranormal phenomena, I have no understanding at all about that aspect.  That is not to rule out such phenomena, only to state the lack of any linkage that I know of.


From:  P. B.
To:  Arjun Janah
Cc:  E.D., R.B., blank01, V.K.
Re:  Blog post of our correspondence re. probability.
Sent:  Sun, Apr 20, 2014 2:31 am

Dear Arjun,

 <personal detail, deleted by Arjun 04/20/14>

  The actual description of the EPR thought experiment evades the question
of fluctuations, of electron spin for instance, which destroy coherence.

  In other words, if the electrons in the EPR paradox are in the normal
paramagnetic state, as we take for granted, then spin correlations will be
exponentially damped in space and time. In a ferromagnet, the spin states
will be correlated and will be entangled. Flipping the spin of a majority spin
will ensure that a minority spin will be promoted to the Bose condensed state.

  Verifying this entanglement hypothesis means verifying that the
Bose condensed state depends only on temperature ( in classical
critical phenomena) or on a bias (in quantum critical phenomena),
as for instance in the breaking of symmetry at different energy scales.

From: E. D.
To: Arjun Janah
Sent: Sun, Apr 20, 2014 6:34 pm
Subject: RE: More blog posts


These (things I wrote that you posted) were mostly off-the-cuff remarks made by e-mail.

You might want to add this as an addendum, in answer to your question about what parapsychology has to do with Bell's theorem.

The connection between parapsychology and Bell's theorem is that the existence of non-local causation is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for the existence of parapsychological phenomena. Telepathy, for example, suggests that there is an immediate and instantaneous connection between minds (and the brains that embody those minds). Psychokinetic phenomena suggest that the mind has an immediate (non-local) causal power over physical objects held at a distance. If Bell's theorem proved that non-local causation exists, it would fulfill one condition for the existence of parapsychological phenomena.
Of course, parapsychological phenomena might still not exist because there might be other conditions that are necessary for them to occur that can not be fulfilled. But the impossibility of non-local causation is the most commonly cited reason to reject the possibility of parapsychological phenomena. So demonstrating the possibility of non-local causation would greatly increase the possibility that parapsychological phenomena might occur.


E.D.: on the philosopher John Schumacher (in connection with the previous post)

E.D.: on the philosopher John Schumacher (in connection with the previous post) 

From: E.D.
    To: Arjun Janah
    Sent: Fri, Apr 18, 2014 3:00 pm
    Subject: RE: Blog post of our correspondence re. probability. 

<Some personal details in the e-mail below, not directly related to the main discussion, were deleted by Arjun when posting on 04/20/14.>


    I didn't realize that physicists didn't have an answer to this question. I thought the standard interpretation of q.m. was that there is no "objective" reality until an observation occurs, collapsing the wave function. I thought Schrodinger's Cat Paradox was supposed to raise doubts about this interpretation, but that most physicists did not see it as a problem.

   I never studied q.m in any depth. I studied physics when I was an engineering student at RPI.  In addition to that, I took philosophy classes with John Schumacher, who was a former math student who became a philosopher. He graduated from RPI  in 1966 and was radicalized by the student movements of the 60s. A classic "hippy" in his appearance and philosophy,  he was interested in eastern mysticism (buddhism) and, because of his RPI education, also interested in combining his interest in buddhism with his knowledge of physics.

   (John Schumacher) and a couple of other members of the RPI philosophy department knew David Bohm and invited him to speak on campus. They were particularly interested in David Bohm's interpretation of q.m. and in the "holographic" theory of the universe.  All this was very heady stuff and I was quite interested, although I never did learn enough q.m. to know what to make of it. John Schumacher published only one book in the late 80s which was a synthesis of philosophy and q.m., titled "Human Posture".  He died young at age 54 in 1999.

    The crux of the issue was non-local causation. Q.M., in some interpretations, at least, allows for immediate causal connections over a distance. Bell's theorem was supposed to provide proof for such local causation. But later I learned that, in fact, Bell's theorem can't be used to prove non-local causation.*
<* See also E.D.'s modification of this statement in the next post -- Arjun 04/20/14.>

    During his student years at RPI, John Schumacher was a student of John Koller, who is a expert on Eastern Philosophy--especially Indian philosophy. John Koller is still alive and I see him occasionally. There were other philosophers at RPI in the 60s that also exposed John to eastern philosophy. Also at RPI in the 60s was David Thoreau Wieck, a leading post-war American anarchist philosopher.

    Ultimately, I think David had the biggest impact on John, and both directly and indirectly through John, on me.

     During his student years at RPI, John Schumacher was a student of John Koller, who is a expert on Eastern Philosophy--especially Indian philosophy. John Koller is still alive and I see him occasionally. There were other philosophers at RPI in the 60s that also exposed John to eastern philosophy. Also at RPI in the 60s was David Thoreau Wieck, a leading post-war American anarchist philosopher.

    Ultimately, I think David had the biggest impact on John, and both directly and indirectly through John, on me.

    John Schumacher was an anarchist, and his anarchism leaned pretty heavily towards communist anarchism.

    I think his interest in non-local causation was an attempt to show how the capitalist view of social reality, in which individuals are separate and competing entities, is false. In fact, John wanted to show, people are more radically connected to one another. Thus social life is held in common, and an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society, in which we are all "one," fits best with reality.

    A lot of John's book, "Human Posture," I think, tries to explain how we ever came to believe we are separate if the reality is that we are not. It does that in a psychological, sociological and metaphysical way.

    Ultimately, I have come to believe that John's primary commitment was political, and that he merely used mysticism, physics and metaphysics to help him meet his political commitments. I have also come to doubt his interpretations of mysticism and physics and to think that he would have been better off just focusing directly on politics.

    Although I've come to see this as a chink in his sterling armor, I still think of him as an extraordinary personality--practically a mythic being come to life, or rather, an archetypal persona, and it is tragic he's no longer with us.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Mutiny or Uprising of 1857?

The following is from a correspondence (of comments) on Facebook with a friend, D.R..  D.R.'s first comment refers to an Indian man who is alleged to be 179 years old, according to the available local official documents. I have lightly edited the correspondence, in a few places, mostly for spelling and grammar.

D.R.  I would like to sit at his feet and hear about his take on the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857....
April 16 at 11:03pm · Edited · Unlike · 1

<Some comments made by A.J. and D.R. were deleted here. They had no bearing on the events of 1857>
Arjun Janah  To be Subcontinentally Correct, that's the Indian Rebellion or Uprising of 1857.
11 hrs · Like

Arjun Janah What's the Middle East to some, is West Asia to others. So one country's freedom fighters are another country's terrorists and so on. In our case, our freedom fighters (against the Soviets in Afghanistan) turned into our terrorists (as in 9-11). Such things do happen.
11 hrs · Like

D.R.  As far as I'm concerned Bombay is still Bombay. It's ludicrous to change a Portuguese name into the same Portuguese name with another spelling and pronunciation in order to "Indianize" it. As for the rebellion, the Sepoy mutiny is a better descriptive term because that's what it was. To change it to the "Indian rebellion" or such is silly, like changing the name of Bombay. A rebellion in a military organization is a mutiny ! It was sepoys, or soldiers who were the rebels, not the population at large, that was the salient feature of the rebellion. I've been fed up with this ridiculous movement to change names, often in India from simple names to much longer and more complicated names. Why have a complex about history? It's history, part of India's history, for better or worse. We haven't seen all this in places like Singapore or Hong Kong, have we?
5 hrs · Like

D.R.  What's more, when the new Indian street names are long, they are shortened to English initials, and then transcribed into Hindi, so B.C. road becomes Bee See Road in Hindi or other regional languages depending on location. Sub-intelligently correct...
2 hrs · Like

Arjun Janah  There is no shortage of stupidity and chauvinism in the subcontinent (in all of its nation-states) as also elsewhere. Nation-states themselves are too often abominations, in my humble opinion, just as Empires were, and just as the feudal landlord systems were in so many parts of the world for so long, before the nation states and the great European colonial empires -- and sadly still are.

You can of course call it the Sepoy Mutiny if you wish. It's simply a matter of perspective. That's why I gave the example of West Asia and The Middle East. We learned the history of the 1857 uprising from our English masters, filtered and written in the way they viewed it. It was one of many rebellions against the British, all invariably put down with extreme brutality. This one involved the sepoys, among others, who had access to guns and were able to organize in military formations, so it created more havoc and fear among the colonialists than others had. Without it, the de facto rule of the predatory East India Company would have continued unchecked.

If you recall the sorry history of that Company, local resentment had long been brewing against this colonial enterprise that tapped into the local parasitical feudal system but drove it into extremis, demanding so much that the landlords, in turn, were forced to literally starve their tenant peasants to satisfy their own overlords. The Sepoy Mutiny, whatever be its immediate spark, was a symptom of this. In practice, if you scratch the surface, most human things have economic drivers, however they may be cloaked in religious or other garbs.

This is what happens when raiders enter a country. A traditional rajah or nawab will squeeze his peasants, but not to the point of death, as that would be killing the goose and inviting insurrection. Those who are there for the short-term, be they raiders from the Afghan or Maratha hiighlands, Portuguese pirates or English merchants determined to make their fortunes as fast as possible so they can rise in England's own class system -- these have no such compunctions.

The British Crown that replaced the East India Company's rule after the rebellion was more circumspect, settling in for the longer haul of sucking the country dry without causing open insurrection. Of course, its own sorry history in south and east Asia should be well known, including its development and legal monopoly on the opium trade out of India into China, forced onto the latter via the Opium War and the ruthless bombardment of the densely populated Chinese coast -- the one that led, among other things, to the ceding of Hong Kong to the British.

I do not know the history of Singapore (Singha Pura, literally, Lion-City) but it might be worth researching.

In the case of the Opium Trade and War and Hong Kong, a parallel (ridiculous as it sounds) would be if an ascendant China, in league with Russia, Korea and others, had grown in reach and power and had occupied Colombia, had declared a monopoly on the buying of coca leaves, had converted large tracts from food crops to coca plant production, had set up factories in that region producing great cannonballs of cocaine (as the British did with opium) and had then begun to export these into Miami and other ports along the U.S. coast, feeding into the demand created by local social conditions in this country, whose populace had fallen on hard times, but still was unwilling to purchase the shoddy goods being produced by the Chinese (as the Chinese, up to and perhaps past the mid 1800's, had been reluctant to buy British products).

Pushing the analogy further, were the weak U.S. federal government -- notified by local officials about the growing addiction and crime problems in Miami and elsewhere caused by this illegal import of cocaine -- were they to attempt to correct this, first by issuing legal warnings that were ignored, and finally by raiding the warehouses, confiscating the cocaine and dumping it in the sea (as the Chinese official in charge of operations did with the opium, fearful of burying it in the land or burning it, for interesting reasons) -- were this to happen, then we might see outraged Chinese merchants send messages to Beijing, saying Chinese sovereignty had been assaulted, causing the navies of the Chinese, along with the Russians, Koreans and others, to shell the unprotected coastline, from Miami in Florida north to Baltimore in Maryland, causing no end of civilian casualties, until, at last, ports were ceded, with 100 year contracts, to these great powers, and the laws of the U.S. regarding the import of such substances was effectively annulled, with military operations subsequently launched on land by the foreign powers to suppress those rebellious citizens and localities that had denounced the compromise made by Washington and had risen up in rebellion against these great powers and our own collaborationist federal government.

But this, in effect, was what happened in China, with the Boxer Rebellion being the historical counterpart of that uprising, and Queen Victoria's court in London playing the part of the Beijing government whose navy took part (in our imagined scenario) in the shelling of the U.S. coastal cities.

Of course, the British had a number of accomplices in this, and if you go to the Roosevelt residence in upstate NY, you will find records of how that family acquired its wealth through that same Opium Trade and War. Of course, some of the recently-risen drug lords in Cali (and elsewhere in Columbia and other places) had also grown  very wealthy and powerful. But they had prices on their heads and could not hope, perhaps, to give rise to two Presidents as they did here. ( I will not venture to speak of Afghanistan, whose populace has been devastated by violent superpower interventions and fratricidal civil words for many tortured decades.) And we have no figures there in Colombia comparable to the British royal family, whose fortunes took off with the pirate raids on the Spanish galleons bearing loot from Spain's own ravaged American colonies, and then skyrocketed with colonial enterprises the world over, which left British footprints and faces on every continent except Antarctica -- too often, driving the natives to extinction or desperate straits, with the royal exchequer profiting from every enterprise, however sordid or gory. But so it is with all empires.

One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist, and one man's great king or emperor is another's despot. That has always been true. I am sure George Washington (affluent landlord and slave owner as he was) was viewed with as much disfavor by the British moneyed classes as King George was by their counterparts in the American colonies. Our own (Indian) Prime Minister called the "Maoists" the "greatest threat to India's security" but the extent and intensity of the unrest in tribal and poor rural parts of India indicate that, from the point of view of the populace in these regions, what we are seeing is in large part a struggle for basic survival. From the perspective of many of the locals, it might seem that the corporations that are driving them off their ancestral fields and forests, with the active collaboration of the local and national governments and their police and military forces, as well as local armed para-military organizations, are "the greatest threat to our very existence".

As far as Indianization of names go, some, I agree, are ridiculous. Others are perfectly natural, as the change of name of my city of birth, from Calcutta to Kolkata, was -- a change opposed vociferously, and even in an organized fashion, within my own extended family. But as I pointed out to my late father (who was neutral on this), the latter (or, before our times, its archaic form, Kolikata) has always been the name of the city among Bengalis, who constitute, by far, the majority of its populace. Granted, it was the British, including the rapacious East India Company, that brought the city into existence as we know it, including much of its wonders as well as horrors. But the British had a habit of murdering subcontinental place names, especially the ones in the east with the rounded vowels of Oriya, Bangla and Ahomiya.

All of that being said, at great length, and being probably merely a verbose restatement of things you and others already know, I agree with you that history is history, for better or worse, and that cosmetic changes of names accomplish little by themselves, perhaps only serving to obscure that history, whose darker recesses hold things that few on either side want exposed to light, but from which there is still much to learn.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Collapse of the Probability Distribution

The Collapse of the Probability Distribution

(correspondence re. The Conscious Universe)

From: E. D.
To: Arjun Janah
Sent: Wed, Mar 19, 2014 7:06 pm
Subject: RE: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)

Interesting perspective on the classic mind-body problem.

To: E. D.
Subject: Re: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)
From: Arjun Janah
CC: blank01; A.R.; P.B.
Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2014 20:46:33 -0400

Sorry for the delayed response to this as well.

You might remember the layman's take on this,
which I write below as a dialog:

Philosopher: "What is mind?"
Scientist: "Doesn't matter."

Scientist: "What is matter?"
Philosopher: "Never mind."

;-) Arjun
From: E.D.
To: Arjun Janah 
Sent: Sun, Apr 13, 2014 10:15 pm
Subject: RE: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)


Silly question from someone with a very limited knowledge of quantum physics:

The wave function doesn't collapse until an observation is made, right? Does the "observation" have to be made my a conscious human being or can it simply be a measuring instrument? How can the existence of the entire universe for all of its history depend on human consciousness? It doesn't seem to make any sense.


-----Original Message-----

From: Arjun Janah 

To: E.D.

Sent: Sun, Apr 13, 2014 10:53 pm
Subject: Re: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)

It doesn't (make sense).  So the universe and its history cannot depend on human consciousness. 

I do not understand this business. It seems to be an area of complete confusion among physicists. It could be because I am stupid or don't know enough or haven't thought about it enough. Or it could be that nobody really understands this, and they only pretend to or even believe they do, without really understanding it or accepting that they do not understand.

However, if you think of yourself as making a trajectory through various possible universes, then your trajectory (and its history and future) does depend (to stretch that word) on your observations -- if only to the extent that these are a record of the path you took.

Consider this. You are walking north, or, even better, sitting on a train traveling north. Looking out the window, you see the rest of the world moving south. Surely, this motion of the rest of the universe could not have been caused by your walking or the train's motion?  But it has, and is understandable as a relative motion.

I think that bringing quantum mechanics into this might be confusing. Consider the case of the solitary pawn, which I had elaborated on earlier.

Having observed the pawn at a particular location (square) at a particular time, you can then calculate, using the scheme I gave (a chance of 1/4 of hopping to any of the four squares around it, with diagonal moves prohibited), the probabilities for the pawn being at any other position (square) at any future (or, for that matter, past) time.  

This probability distribution, which is a function of position and time, would be the classical equivalent of a q.m. wave function (although of course not quite, as the q.m. wave function, at its simplest, has a complex-number value with a phase as well as a size, with the probability [density] being given by the size alone).

The probability distribution is a measure of your ignorance or knowledge of the movement of the pawn. It's what you expect, given whatever knowledge you had at the start, plus the dynamics (in this case the probability rules I gave for each hop) of the game. 

If you now were to take a look again at the board, and were to find the pawn at a particular square, that probability distribution you had constructed would immediately collapse, being replaced by a 1 at the square on which you find the pawn, and a zero everywhere else, for that instant of time, and a new distribution (over space and time, both future and past) that you would have to construct again.

Let me leave you to think about that. Notice that quantum mechanics and its (genuine) mysteries have nowhere been evoked.

You could replace yourself with a measuring instrument (a digital camera, say) and a computer hooked to it that has a program that allows it to calculate probability distributions. This is in fact entirely within the realm of current technological capability. But who/what would move the pawn?  We could use a random number generator. But it would be better to use something that I thought of as a school boy, but which might not have been realized -- to use fluctuations in the temperature to determine the move. Failing that, we can resort to the tetrahedral (four-sided) die I mentioned, shaking it well before each throw.


From: Arjun Janah 
To: blank01; A.R.; P.B.;
Cc: V.K., E.D.
Sent: Sun, Apr 13, 2014 10:59 pm
Subject: Fwd: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)

F.I.Y. and possible input.



Dear E.D.,

I am forwarding your question and my reply to three physicist friends, plus to V.K.,, who introduced me to two of them, and who has an interest in many things.

Your question is by no means silly. Or of it is, then we are all silly, those of us who have thought about it a bit and been just as confounded as you were.

A q.m. wave function is clearly observer-dependent, just as the classical probability distribution I described earlier is. It is simply a measure (if one looks at the probability aspect alone) of one's knowledge or ignorance of the system under consideration. This knowledge or ignorance is affected, obviously, by any observation one makes on the system. Viewed in this way, the collapse (and reconstruction) of a q.m. wave function is simply a consequence of advances or losses of knowledge by you, the observer, about the system.  So what I am saying is that the q.m. wave function you are working with is your q.m. wave function of the system.

Let us go again to a spatial analogy.  If you take your usual seat at the library as your frame of reference, the position co-ordinates of a fly you are observing (neglecting your other duties temporarily) will have certain values over time, following its trajectory.  But they will have different values for a student sitting at a table in the library.  And if you were to move to what used to be the lending desk, the fly's co-ordinates as a function of time would have different values again. In this elementary example, everything is clear.

But in this case, no one would argue that the fly is in any way affected by the choice of observer or your shifting of view-points.

When we go to a probabilistic description of a system, however, the probability distributions are indeed affected by such choices or shifts, just as position co-ordinates were affected in our elementary spatial example. And this is where the headache starts. Do the wave functions or probability distributions describe an objective reality, independent of the observer, or one which is observer-dependent? I would vote for the latter, noting that our understanding of the word "reality" needs to be analyzed.


From: E.D. 
To: Arjun Janah
Sent: Mon, Apr 14, 2014 2:47 pm
Subject: RE: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)

Thanks Arjun, your examples clearly illustrate principles of probability. Of course, in classical probability, it is the observer's knowledge that changes suddenly with new information, not the reality itself, as in certain interpretations of qm. That's where the mind-bending paradox comes in.


From: Arjun Janah
To: E.D.
Sent: Mon, Apr 14, 2014 3:31 pm

Subject: RE: The Conscious Universe (not a poem)

You are right. But we will go into q,m. later. The collapse of the wave function, as you saw, has classical analogies. It is the disturbance of the system by the observation (as in Heisenberg's uncertainty principle) that separates q.m. from prior physics. So let us separate those two things in our minds, although of course, they are related.