Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Model Based Learning

Reality in the strictest sense is described as reality “as it is” or in the most absolute sense is “how something exists”. Human kind has been making models of things or a reflection of reality from the day it began to reason. In each era the assumptions on which the whole of civilization choose to see things changed. For example at the time of Galileo it was believed by people that the Sun revolved around the Earth. In fact there were giants of human kind like Socrates and Aristotle whose contributions date a long time before the period of Galileo who must have believed on the same assumption.

Now as each era evolved human kind was able to control nature to a better degree and it did this by revisiting the models that it had made of nature. I say models here because they were not reality in the strictest sense. But by revisiting these models and bringing them closer to reality "as is" their ability to predict and thus control improved.

Even today we have millions of models through whose lens we view the world and many of these models might become obsolete in the next era of human kind.

When a student goes to Harvard or MIT they study many models and know them better then most other institutions could have taught them and so they can predict and control things that are in the purview of their expertise better than most other people. They do this by working hard to learn the right models and in the process “empty their mind” of wrong models that they had carried. That said they can still only go as far as has been discovered by any man who has ever lived to date. As I said in the next era even these models would change and enable experts in those eras to have “greater control” than experts in the present one.

Note that one has to sometimes remove wrong models to be able to get to the right models i.e. you have to “undo” before you can “rebuild”. It is said that the way the intellect of man works is that it mixes some element of fallacy with truth i.e. a person may have an understanding of truth to some degree, and this is what allows him to have any influence in the matter, but the set of fallacies that is mixed with it limits that person from reaching an even more powerful model. These set of fallacies or untruth have been described by somebody as “a donkey carrying a burden of books on its back” which goes to show that this untruth becomes more of a “liability” then an “asset”.

I understand that in order to avoid untruth it is best to have as few assumptions as possible.

I would go as far as to say to that maybe one should not even trust one’s own empirical perception at all times. Let’s say for example that one is feeling depressed or scared about something. Why should we not question ourselves: “Why am I feeling depressed? Is the reason that I understand enough for me to feel depressed? Should I continue to feel depressed? Why should I accept that I am depressed just because I am feeling depressed!”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Benefits of discipline

Ommar Khayyam a muslim sufi once said that one must aim to come to a point where the answer to every question is a “yes”. This of course is only possible if you keep growing by learning. Now as one learns and is able to influence his/her environment more the positive feedback you get is tremendous and it works in two complementary ways:

1) You enjoy the learning process
2) Things around you start to make sense and you start to get “yes” answers to things that previously might have seemed insurmountable

In fact the process is quite addictive, but since you are able to achieve what you set out to achieve there is nothing stopping you from continuing to grow.

There is one important angle to it though. The process of learning is not only through thinking but more importantly by doing and they are both complementary.

Of course there are many things that a person has to do that he might not have “yes” answers to but still has to do them. For example you might want to spend less time socializing and use more of that time learning. The catch-22 however is that if you don’t spend time socializing you limit yourself from a certain kind of learning that you cannot achieve by thinking.

In other words to reach the highest limit that you can get to you have to do both.

Now doing comes in different flavors. You have to do among many other things the following also: spending time with family, invest time at work, exercise, spend time on your wardrobe, etc. Now all of these might not seem interesting though each one is important in its own place.

Where discipline steps in is this: The various areas of work that you have to do, discipline allows you to draw a time boundary around them so that when you are doing each one, you can give it time and not worry about the other areas. This is just like time is broken down in school where the whole day is broken down into classes. In each particular class you dedicate time to just that class and so you are able to focus and achieve “a local optimum” but doing so you achieve a “global maximum”.

This last statement deserves some more attention – “achieving a local optimum for a global maximum”. The only way you can achieve a global maximum i.e. get to the best is to do each task as best as you can given the resources you have and move on to the next task thus the term a “local optimum”.

Nature of Science, Art and Religion and putting them in perspective

Science works on the following principle: it discovers ontological reality i.e. “things as they are” by being objective. The phenomenon of which the objective/ontological reality is revealed is then “predictable” and therefore “controllable”. This is all true because nature works according to “unchangeable laws”, also called the “laws of nature”. These laws of nature owing to being laws always repeat themselves and so if you discover them you can control the environment around you on the basis of these “discovered laws”.

For science to be able to do this it needs to follow two rules:

1) It has to be empirical, i.e. everything it discovers has to be validated by the senses
2) Material i.e. it is impersonal

Science has been instrumental in the phenomenal boom of the standard of living of the human race. However science has certain limitations which are these:

1) Science reveals efficient causes but not final causes. An efficient cause explains how something is caused, the process of it whereas the final cause explains the purpose of it. For example science will tell us how nuclear energy can be unleashed, however it cannot tell us what the purpose of that nuclear energy is. In other words what are we to do with this nuclear energy now that we have discovered it?
2) It is descriptive not normative/prescriptive. For example political science will describe to us how the different systems of government operate; it will also tell us of the pros and cons of the different systems but it will not tell us is the ideal form of government.
3) It is not symbolic in nature, i.e. it cannot define love for us. It cannot give us the “meaning” of love.

I therefore think that science works on the horizontal plane i.e. the plane of the empirical. Art and religion on the other hand work on the vertical plane.

What I mean about art and religion above is that both try to give meanings to words in language that are symbolic, words such as “love” for example. Religion also tries to answers certain questions such as what is the purpose of life while art expresses the purpose that different people have discovered and expresses it in the form of paintings or poetry or music.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How I can beat somebody older than me and How I can live to be a 1000 years old

Some people are more experienced than others their own age. In fact some people are more experienced than people older than them. Examples could include young people in top management positions with subordinates who are many times older to them. This is one example. Another one is of students who have a double promotion in class. Yet another is of people who finish their Bachelors degree or PhD degrees faster than others.

All these seem to be instances of people who are beating the learning curve and so move ahead of their peers.

Let’s analyze this a little bit. What are these people doing when they ‘beat the curve’?

Answer: They are working harder and in turn understanding what is to be understood. So by putting in more effort they understand the subject matter in lesser time. This learning can be of things very structured such as mathematics or unstructured such as leading a group.

In either case the one’s ahead know things that we haven’t figured out yet.

And so, by working hard ourselves, lets say by motivating ourselves of the goal ahead and thus focusing our effort, interest and attention to the matter we can ‘move up the curve’. In fact we can probably move ahead on the curve so fast that we can out-run those people who have inspired us!

It is by the same logic that one is more of an expert at something than another, whether that be ‘becoming a CEO’ or ‘coming first in class’.

By the same token if we work very hard then by the time we are 30 we could get to where others older than us have not as yet reached. It is also by the same line of reasoning that you can grow to be a 1000 years old! And that’s probably where the Nobel laureates get to if not farther.

I wonder at times, how old must Einstein be?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

About the philosophy of art and how to take a photograph

I would like to relate this post to my earlier post about “left brained thinking vs. right brained thinking”. I have started to associate left-brained thinking with the sciences and right-brained thinking with the arts.

Right brained thinking as I have already mentioned is the set of mental faculty that are as follows: “Creativity, Imagination and Intuition”. I find that these map perfectly onto the arts such as poetry, literature, photography, painting, music, etc.

All of these then give ideas that can be developed by the sciences and brought into the practical world.

I will elaborate this concept a little further by walking you through the process of taking a photograph.

So how do you take a good photograph?
One of the ways is this:
1. You develop an idea
2. ‘Look’ for a physical manifestation of that idea
3. Use the rules of photography to capture that manifestation as you want it

Let’s take an example. Suppose you want to take a photograph that documents ‘the way back from work’. You would have to develop an idea around this i.e. what you feel about ‘the way back from work’. Once developed there would be a number of ‘physical manifestations’ that you would come across on your way home. The one that clicks (you can use your intuition and wait for the right feeling to ‘find’ the right ‘physical manifestation’) you can record with your instrument, such as a mobile phone or a digital camera.

Let’s take another example and develop this: I recently wanted to photograph a mother and her daughter. To do this one of the ideas I developed was this: “A mother looking at her daughter and wondering what a gift from God the daughter was! Also the mother seems to be in anticipation of the journey the two will have together for the next many years”. After developing this idea the ‘physical manifestation’ of this idea I created was as follows: The baby daughter resting on a table on a thick blanket looking from one corner of a diagonal to the opposite diagonal where her eyes meet those of her mother who has her head tilted to one side resting it with her hand in a posture where she seems to be in thought wearing an expression of delight and anticipation. Click!

Left Brained thinking vs. Right Brained thinking

I have been made aware of two different sets of mental faculties that humans are capable of:

1. Analysis – Left side of the brain
2. Creativity, Imagination, Intuition – Right side of the brain

These two attributes are completely different from each other though each set facilitates the other set.

A man or woman can deliberately move from one spectrum to the other through meditation. At the most conscious level we are thinking in a left brained way i.e. we are analyzing. If we are able to sedate ourselves through specific exercises while being awake and go to the level just below the first level –alpha state, into the second level – the beta state, we can stimulate the right side of the brain.

If you are following my post about decompartmentalization or were already aware that the goal of maturity is to be able to view the world as a singular reality you would know that the most abstract thoughts that you carry with you could be translated into the most practical through a process of detailed analysis. By this process you are able to bring the most abstract ideas into existence and into the realm of the practical world.

It is said however that right brained thinking is many times more powerful then left brained thinking and the simple reason for this is that by working at the higher level of thinking – i.e. right brained, you are able to brain storm and come across the most important ideas any one of which could be developed and completed by left brained analysis.

Also the concept of Latafat that I have also talked about earlier essentially lends a person to think in a right brained fashion I would think.

How do we know we know and what is the attitude required to know?

When I was a kid and I wanted to get a burger I thought it was a simple process. I just needed to ask my parents, they would get it somehow and an hour or two later I was eating my burger. So what do my parents do…send the driver, he goes to the shop buys the burger and brings it back.

However when I grew older and had to get the burger on my own (while living in a different city) the process was a little more complicated.

One of the basic things I had to do for example was to get to the burger shop. This in itself would be a big challenge for a kid.

So I thought I knew, almost had a gut feeling, but did I know really?

Other examples are starker. Running a family seems a simple job too when you are a kid. When you run your own house you realize the number of things that have to be managed. It is quite a task to master and takes sometimes quite a bit of education and then some experience at work to be able to start a family.

So at some point in time we ‘thought we knew how to get the burger or run a family’, but we didn’t quite know!

So how do you know that you know, let’s say to get a burger or run a family?

The answer is that if you really know then you can articulate it completely. The more you know the more comprehensive the articulation.

And herein is the big lesson: No matter how old you are you might have a strong gut feeling about something but that feeling might just be an illusion just like it was for the kid. If you cannot articulate the thing you think you know then you are just like that little kid as to the matter at hand and this illusion can be a most dangerous thing.

To be careful that we are not a victim of such illusions the only thing we can do is this: “make sure we are not careless!”

Once this is clear the path to enlightenment is most clear: Anything you ever wanted to do, you can do, the only effort required is to get the knowledge of how it is to be done; and test it by articulating it.

Two brilliant examples of articulation of things most common:
1. The Prince by Machiavelli about how a prince running a kingdom should secure his kingdom. It could very well be applied to running a political party or in the corporate environment.

2. The Art of Love by Ovid about how a man should win the love of a woman and more.