Thursday, September 27, 2012

Layman vs science - Part 3

          There is a very striking statement of how laypersons view scientists in, the serial "Numbers", which happens to be a detective serial, where the elder brother Don Eppes is in FBI and the younger brother Charles (Charlie) Eppes is a mathematician. Charlie uses Maths to solve crimes and helps Don. The very striking statement is as follows :
            Charlie is an exceptional genius whose mathematical ability is being sought out by non mathematicians too. Even when Charlie's intellect and knowledge are being used in real life because what he knows is actually a part of real life, nobody acknowledges this fact.  Apparently this is evident in situations where Charlie tries to explain some principle which he is going to use/using or some principle which is related to the dynamics of the case itself, his peers seeking his help get bored. Edgerton (another character in the series) , calls Maths as "Voodoo" (but here one is to understand that this Voodoo simply means magic).

          Actually this analogue is very true. Even when people seek methods of science to "get things done", they really don't see it as part of  their lives. Charlie can use Maths to solve cases because, well naively speaking cases also occur in universe and anything in the universe can be characterised using certain parameters if one thinks logically.

          At this point I want to ask a very important question. Non-science people talk of science as monstrous and accuse scientists of being selfish and socially irresponsible! They usually accuse scientists of being unaware of social situations and so incapable of social lives. Well let me point out this. You accuse scientists of being "socially" insensitive. Then using the same argument, scientists can call you "scientifically" insensitive, which you actually are. And as far as I have observed (including my own personal experiences) scientists tend to be more socially sensitive in many matters than the "normal, socially sensitive" layman. Let me concentrate on my second point now. Being scientifically sensitive or aware of basic science is very essential for human existence.

      For example, how will you know that you are not taking poison and a proper medicine if you have no basic knowledge of medicines or the chemicals which they are made of? Some doctors ask you if you have any allergy to certain antibiotics. How will you tell them if you have allergy or not if you don't even know what an antibiotic is or the name of the antibiotic to which you are allergic?

       I'll substantiate my point that everybody needs scientific awareness not only to become an engineer or doctor (to become an MBA graduate later) and increase your "status" in society.  This is from a personal experience I had during a train journey. There was a man who was running a small scale industry of solar water heaters. He was aloud mouthed man with lots of opinions about education in general. He was telling "Oh. Why should you have education at all? You should stop studying after 10th or 12th to have enough knowledge to earn a livelihood. There is no point studying after 12th standard. Nobody is going to gain anything by studying!!! Its just a waste of time and resources." Now personally I wanted to slap that man on the face for preaching bull shit like this in public. But I understood his motive for preaching this bullshit. I even wanted to tell him that he was telling such funda only because of selfishness and he wanted to earn money from his business of solar panels.

         So basically, he sells solar water heaters to homes and institutions. Now the minimum price at which he is selling is 25thousand INR. And all the rest of the prices are above that only. And I am sure none of his buyers know how it works or how a solar panel is manufactured. But the working of a solar cell involves Physics and its manufacturing also requires Physics (material science).
So how will you know that what you are buying for 25K INR is worth 25K INR or he is simply fooling you and extorting money out of you in the name of renewable energy, unless you are aware of the Physics which is involved in its working or making? Again, how will you atleast bother about these if you don't have enough education? What if the production costs goes down because of some innovative technology which enables the manufacturing of solar cells at a lower price? How will know that you are being fooled by this guy who may sell it for higher prices despite the low costs of manufacture, unless you are aware of the science behind it?

       I hope that this example will substantiate my point that you have to be scientifically sensitive and aware of the actual facts. Moreover, unless you are aware of science, you can't know when somebody is lying to you calling neutrino as a neutron or claiming that it is going to be doomsday for you. Also unless you are not scientifically sensitive, you'll write exotic articles about the aspects of neutrino travelling at a speed more than that of light and celebrate it and then become silent when it is found that it was because of a minor technical error in the experimental set up.[ Actually I think that nobody ever bothered to appreciate the fact that a technical error had caused such an excitement and nobody ever bothered even to appreciate the fact that the scientific community ran rigorous checks and pinpointed the error in the experiment.]

        Also not being aware of science takes its tolls when "self appointed experts" mislead the layman (who never bothers to learn even basic science calling it too hard to understand), and make them believe in the "all science is Frankensteinian" theory. Again this happens mostly with Physics and especially Physics only for some reason (because to layman Physics exists only in  "universe-earth". Everybody can somehow relate to chemistry or atleast people make honest efforts to understand it atleast, probably because it has relation to life sciences which exist on earth! I am not talking about Math, because Maths is considered as total fiction and a totally incomprehensible something and hence as something neither good nor bad. But Physics is an exception. Well as a Physicist, I like to call Physics an exception because of my affinity towards it and because  I love it a lot. But not everybody shares my opinion. For people who are educated even till BSc or MSc, or even PhD, who don't even bother to understand or appreciate its principles and its presence everywhere in one's life, , Physics is often accused as some kind of mysterious thing which is always the cause of mass destruction!!!!!!!!!!! I'll elaborate on this in my next post.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Layman vs Science - part 2

      Everyone accuses scientists of being people sitting isolated in ivory towers of comfort far from the layperson and beyond his/her access. Yes accusing somebody for being a scientist is very easy. And to throw allegations that they never care to explain anything "scientifically" instead of being secretive is also very easy. But let me ask a question. How many of you will listen to earnestly if you are being explained some phenomenon exotic or not and try to understand atleast some part of it truly? I can guarantee that 99.9% of you won't listen properly.

       Because, for most people, science doesn't have any relation with real life. It is some kind of surreal thing, which you see in text books, meant to be gulped blindly and puked on exam sheets to score marks which will get you admitted into some smart college where you "learn" things to earn money.  Who cares if sun is a star or that solar system has eight planets instead of nine? There are "astrological planets" which are "real" and "influential". Who cares if there is a fibanocci series? You never "see" any in your "real" lives. Because "real" life is out of logical reasoning. It consists of  "grave social matters worth discussing over and over again" (irony being most of the time, no social issue is resolved despite extensive discussions), whereas science is discrete and doesn't offer scope for much gossip or juice if pursued correctly. [Ofcourse science, if fallen into the hands of people who don't understand it at all, can lead to various bogus discussions, where these "bits and pieces" scientists turn the world upside down with their "scientific wisdom".]
      But the problem won't end with scientists making earnest efforts to clarify doubts. Again I am going to quote a personal example. I believe myself to be a very loquacious person and believe in clarifying all doubts when asked to me. This has been my character from school days. And I don't feel sorry for it. Probably I sound boring while explaining things. But I atleast try to explain them.

         But again I have witnessed people getting bored or behaving as if I am wasting my time learning science (especially Physics and especially particle physics, which ofcourse on first glance has no connection to real life at all!  How many among us even remember the 8th standard lesson of atomic theory of Dalton? I am sure that non-science people consider it as a piece of fiction, meant just for fun and not of any real significance in life. Who has time to think about atoms when they have to run for banglaw, gaddi, makaan, status?)  and explaining it to people and make them turn their attention to the fact that we are not outsiders in nature, but anything which seems to be so obvious in nature has things behind it, which are very interesting.

       It is as if people view science as some kind of isolated phenomenon far away from society or social activities. One reason for this is the human pride and its history. (I am not going into all of it, may be on another occasion.) Another is forgetting that we humans are also part of the nature and as part of it, it is not unlikely that we want to know more and more about it. If you claim yourself to be the most intelligent animal on this planet, why not use your intelligence to ask questions about our own existence and the "nature of things" and try and find answers to them using your powerful intellect? The highly advanced human brain is not only meant for discussion how being an advanced level organism affects its sexual life or social life only.
       Now that I am talking about the advanced human brain, let me point out that, without "science", nobody would've been able to study its workings and importance in the human body. The very body (your material body) which you discuss so much from socio-political and whatever aspects has its own "science" which drives it. It consists of systems which were studied in detail so as to enable the development of "medical sciences" which enable you to spend lakhs (see I need science to count; in other words counting is a scientific process) or crores to get the body treated. And as far as prestige is considered, tell me, how would you have shown off your status, had there been no "automobile engineering science" which makes the fancy cars you buy and "electronic science" which enables you to spend money on your cool touch screen ipads or ipods or smart phones to show off? To make the phone (smart or not) work, you need science? And to share your views, in print or radio or internet, you need science again! Why go to print and publish? To talk and hear you need science. Had nobody understood the plain physics of working of your ears, no haring aids or headphones would not have been made till date! Well you need science (in the form of math) to know date and time! You need to know the correct science of diets to stay healthy! How is it that science is just magic then?

         Or that science is only something which exists far away in the universe, and we are in some kind of "safety zone" on the earth? Why is that you are all curious and enthusiastic about science outside the earth (which is a good thing, you are curious about something atleast) and talk and write big about those "exotic" things, but fail to appreciate the same mechanism if it is inside the confines of the earth's atmosphere? Do you think that the earth has no relation whatsoever to science in any form at all and that any mention of science on the earth is dangerous to everybody on earth? Tell me how can you even arrive a conclusion if something is dangerous for you or not if you don't know its science?

              If science is such an inevitable and omnipresent part of your life why are you afraid of it? Why don't you ever take a small effort to understand it? It doesn't need big brains or top scores to understand science. All you need is clear and straight thinking and a logic mind. It will occur to you when you learn it how much pleasant it is to learn science. Each and every moment you use your brain to clear its own doubts is worthy of being cherished. And when you find the correct answers to what you ask, it is a happy thing. BUT you have to be willing to shun your ego as a human and use your intellect, rather than beating around bushes hoping for credits from some group of people whom you want to keep in dark. The firs step towards understanding science is to be ready to accept your faults (history of science shows that many times people were wrong with their theories but as they learned more the mistakes were corrected) and be open to the truths. Secondly no matter if you write good or bad about gravity, gravity will be gravity and not be photon. Right?



Friday, September 21, 2012

Layman vs Science

      Long ago, I wrote about laymen vs research scholars, where I tried to point out how laymen view research scholars as freaks who are outliers a society. But due to some very recent developments for which I myself was a witness, I can't help writing about the issue of layman vs science.

      Who is a layman? Wikipedia says that "A layperson or layman is a person who is not an expert in a given field of knowledge. The term originally meant a member of the laity, i.e. a non-clergymen, but over the centuries shifted in definition." (  So if I speak of a layman/layperson from the point of view of science, I can call him/her a non expert in science. But due to to the vast diversity of subjects within subjects, within subjects we all are laymen in one sense or the other. i.e I am a lay person as far as chemistry or maths is concerned. But here what I am going to talk about is, how people who are neither experts in chemistry nor in physics (infact non experts in everything except gossiping or fussing) view science in general.

      I have already demonstrated how scientists in general are viewed as freaks or out of the world, laypersons have some serious misconceptions about science. First one being science is something which doesn't affect anybody's mundane lives (who cares to learn the science of mobile phones which have become an integrable part of one's mundane life?) and is something other than life and the second but most seriously implicating one that all science is Frankenstein's monster thanks to people who can't descriminate between fiction and reality.
And they always complain that scientists never make an attempt to "educate" the layperson about science!

         Let me ask one thing? How many times have you complained that you are not being told/educated about/in science? How many times have you earnestly listened to a person explaining the science of something? I have numerous personal experiences to cite. The first one is from my 6th standard. I had gone to a maths exhibition competition at the inter school maths fare. I was supposed to demonstrate Pythagoras theorem with the help of a still model (well you actually need a right triangle to illustrate it, but this model was a right triangle with 1sq unit squares in it, to make it look fancy to attract people). During the fare , in our stall, one of my school mates who was part of the fare asked me what it was,and I started explaining it. After two sentences he looked bored and that too evidently bored and behaved as if he understood everything and I was telling something very obvious and it was a waste of time to listen to me!!!!

         That was only the beginning. Later in my life, I was to witness many many bored persons who never listened properly and behaved as if they are some kind of "know-it-alls". It is really irritating to experience this. One thing because your earnest efforts to try to make somebody understand is not being respected by them, even when they are the ones who have asked the question. Another even if they catch something from what you are saying, they never make an effort to learn the thing properly. Instead most tend to add there own figments of imagination to what they have heard and formulate completely new unscientific theories about science!!! If any of the scientists (say Newton or Einstein heard any of these theories, they would commit suicide). If science was so simple to formulate nobody had to go to schools or any educational institutes to get educated! But as we all know, we go to schools to get educated. So science is not that trivial but not understandable. If science were beyond understanding, none of us who learned/learn science would have passed/will pass any courses we took/take!

 There is an even bigger irony. Everybody send their children to learn science group in school (so that they can become engineers and doctors in future).Don't you  ever read your son's/daughter's text books? i won't say that you have to learn and study everything in it, but the books are anyway sitting at home, can't you just try and read and understand, when you are so particular that your children learn engineering or medicine , which definitely involve science, instead of being ignorant about science and boasting that you spent this many lakhs of rupees to get a seat for your kid. See to count lakhs, you need science (maths). So better try to understand it earnestly instead of acquiring some money and be content with it and leading a mundane life, and posing as intellectuals, thus making the blunders of blabbering gibberish to scare people who are like you.

 To be continued........................................

Monday, September 3, 2012

The prestige - Part 2

You can't always strive on bluffing all the time. A time will definitely come when your true value or worth, apart from your personal possessions, will be tested. What will you do then? Will you be able to prove your worth without all the materialistic aids you resort to?

 Coming back to social asymmetry,  I'll cite the classic example I always cite, i.e. marriage. Good for me that I have lots of stuff to write about on my blog, but not so good for the society, which is directing its own suicide by celebrating weddings in royal styles, thanks to jewelleries , textile shops and event management groups. Those who don't know how and where to spend money to make their/their son's or daughter's weddings grand and end up spending lakhs and lakhs of money for a ceremony, a mere ceremony/ritual which can as well be conducted in a register office to make it valid. Rich people are left with a small hole in their bank balance, middle class with a considerably large hole in their savings. But the problem is, it is as if everybody saves money not to eat or live properly, but to conduct a ceremony which won't even last for barely three hours. And what do you get? A gaping hole in your account. Those people who don't have enough bank balance will take huge loans which they'll have to pay for the rest of their lives. Consequence? If somebody in the family falls seriously ill, there is not enough money for the treatment. What a pathetic condition! People spend unnecessarily ad end up being poor at the most critical moment. Where is the society moving towards?

         Will spending and celebrating marriage increase your prestige? No. People will only laugh at your backs that your extravagance ended with you being bankrupt. I don't understand why people crave for such prestige. And who on earth guarantees that wedding increases "bandhu balam" available to a person? Everyone is his/her own balam. Trying to live hoping that your life will be secure in another person's hands is foolishness. If you can't secure your own life yourself, no prince or goddess is going to do it for you. Again I will say that this is a consequence of the false beliefs about the roads to prestige. If you have so much concern about your prestige, why don't you try to become learned or wise or best at something other than show off and picking on people? The mind set that only those with material virtues is prestigious is very dangerous and ruins the whole harmony of the society.

          Pressures affect not only middle class, but poor people too. In a supposedly isotropic society, when somebody shows off their wealth to gain respect, people who are driven by statistics want to earn respect in a similar manner. This affects poor people who can't even afford the lowest of the pleasures rich have. They too will try to follow the examples of show offs of people who are richer than them, which they definitely can't afford. I don't understand this. This is India, the country whose Father of the Nation didn't have any bangla aur gaadi or anything else. There are people who don't like to follow his ideals, still, it will be a better idea to follow his simplicity upto a certain level.

       Coming back to material-show-off-ism, I'll cite a very common yet serious issue. Every single family in India has mobile phones, but only ~50% have proper sanitation facility. That means, 50% of the people don't have any good toilets to use. Now that also means lack of water and lack of hygiene. And I will guess that these 50% are not rich people or middle class people, but poor people who can't afford to build a toilet, but save money to buy mobile phones! Had they saved the money wasted on phone (no matter whatever be the talk time offers of mobile companies), there would have been atleast a reasonable toilet with running water.

         The continuous flow of money for unnecessary things invite another set of questions. You spend so much money over your material virtues. What do you do in life? All you do is to celebrate it just blindly believing what is being told to you in some advertisements. Let me ask you one question. Do all your material assets make you really happy? Or does being happy require all these material assets? Can't a person be worthy without any material assets? If you ask me what do you require most in life, I will say, food+drinking water , a bed to sleep and a proper sanitation system and a light and a fan(fan is a luxury). These are the most basic things that you need in life. Everything else is secondary. Some as required by your work, some just personal luxuries. The problem arises only when one thinks too much about luxuries rather than necessities. Everybody is entitled to luxury if they have enough money. But luxury should never be a criterion for assessing a person's worth. Worth is totally different from the concept of monetary based popularity and the standards set by it in society. People who believe that money can bring prestige are complete fools.

        One should asses a person's worth from his/her character or deeds which he/she does. What worth do you have if you are a total moron? What use is your money if you can't read and write? What use is getting married spending lakhs and divorcing the next year? Nothing. All are just a waste of time and wastage of one's own life. Just think about this. Everybody is celebrating. Are you winning any Olympic medal? No? Are you winning Nobel Prize? No. Are you even passing an entrance exam with merit? No. You aren't doing anything worth celebrating in  your life, other than just hang around idly or doing nothing other than trying to hide your social insecurities behind your material assets. There is nothing to celebrate, but only celebrations. How long will this last? And celebrations lose their magic if everything is celebrated. Life has to be simple also. Nobody can balance the society unless a person decides for himself/herself that he/she will do something good on his/her own. If everybody blindly believes in the false idea that prestige lies in something worth 30 thousand or 30 lakh, it is utter foolishness. [It doesn't mean that I don't like things/trinkets of price 30k, but it is not from prestige point of view, but for totally different reasons.] Prestige lies in what you make out of yourself. You can't just go to market and buy prestige spending thousands or lakhs. You have to contribute in a good way to the society. Otherwise as soon as your material assets vanish, the prestige bestowed upon you on the basis of these will also vanish.

The prestige

What is prestige? The meaning of this word is as follows:
"1.The level of respect at which one is regarded by others;standing.
2. A person's high standing among others; honor or esteem.
3. Widely recognized prominence, distinction, or importance."

So prestige generally means how people respect you. If you are respected by a large number of people you have a high prestige and if you are not respected by people, you have a low prestige. How do you earn respect from people? This is where the actual question lies. Prestige can come from many sources. But the sources through which you earn, are what really matters if you care too much about prestige. 

This is where I doubt if people really understand this thing at all. Most people relate prestige to wealth and other things. Everybody somehow tends to overlook that fact that prestige can be associated to real talent also. For example, a not so talented, wealthy spoil brat can also be prestigious if people respect him/her for wealth he/she didn't acquire through his/her hard work. So it comes to another question if prestige is related to worth at all. 
     Is prestige related to the worth of a person at all? It is 50% true and 50% false. There are people who really are prestigious on account of their worth and hard work and their skills and talents. On the other hand, there are people who don't have any of these and try to become prestigious just by show off. For such people too much of materialism matters a lot. They care for their outward appearances, their possessions, or the fake positions they own in the society. I should explain these statements.
     Take the case of a really talented person or a wise person who is respected by everybody. I'll say that they really deserve the respect or position they have. It is not by force that they are getting this respect, but because of the clear fact that they have something in them to be respected or called prestigious for. People respect them for their good qualities or because they are worthy of being somebody's inspiration or role models. I guess most of the really famous people have these qualities, otherwise they wouldn't have been famous. 
     Now take the other 50% people. they have no specific goals in life. It is not a sin not to have specific goals in life, but atleast you should have some idea about what you are going to do with your life. Well many people do have ideas like "bangla,gaadi,dahej" and the godforsaken "settling down". Personally I don't know, what one gains from settling down, or why people are so eager to settle down, where actually there is nothing like settling down, because life is ever changing. Their idea of prestige is study upto a level where you are made eligible to do a job and go for a highly paid job and buy all the materialistic pleasures available in the market and "show" others the high standards of their lives. Fine. But when everybody in the society thinks in the same line, it becomes monotonous. And it creates a social tension and asymmetry, by planting the idea in the minds of common man (who doesn't dream beyond "BGDnSD", which is exactly the consequence of this monotonous trend) that unless you satisfy the conditions of possessing materialistic virtues which are being used as criteria of prestige, common man is a complete loser. 

      Is this fair? Middle class people crave to be upper class, which they will never be no matter whatever materialistic pleasures they posses; and lucky middle class people become upper middle class and not so lucky or people who aren't greedy are forced to become lower middle class. What about BPL people? Well who cares for the aspirations of poor people? "We have money, we will use it as we please." Dear upper middle class people, who are at your will to use your money as you please, have you ever stopped to think about the social implications of what you are doing with your money? You have money. True. But isn't money something which is supposed to be used judiciously? And just because you have some money to use or that you've suddenly become rich out of the blue doesn't mean that you have to show it off. And particularly try to put up a show which will cover up your inadequacies. Just money can't ensure your prestige. But of course since prestige is a statistical thing, you can get "respect" from those corrupted people who belong to the class which comprises the 50% including you.
         To be continued...........................