So much to learn, ponder about, and do….

And so much time to do it.

Scott Aaronson’s “rant” on naysayers of complexity theory got me pondering.

Over the last few months, my general scientific pondering has suffered at the hands of real work, startup life routine, system building, and a general state of being occupied by the trite. It’s fascinating, but not inspiring. The days are exciting, but not ecstatic. The nights are cathartic, but not liberating.

I miss my aimless pondering days.

I was missing this life then.

So it goes.

Porn and Masturbation

For a while now, I have observed this disturbing trend of using the words Porn and Masturbation (P&M) as suffixes in hyphen-separated-phrases to convey that the prefix is inferior, waste of time, pathetic, something to aspire against, etc. Cases in question: intellectual-masturbation, achievement-porn, etc.

I find two insulting underlying reasoning schools at work were. One: Just because something is _perceivably_ akin to P&M, it sucks. Two: P&M implicitly suck.

Well, that’s it.

Kanyadaan

Do not influence others. Especially subliminally. Especially with ideals which you have internalized after prolong profound pondering. That’s what Nath Devlalikar does. He makes his life an experiment in ideology, and lives to live the tragic consequences. Walking out of Prithvi Theater, I felt an almost biological urge to wail out the anguish I felt for the fallen hero.

Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyadaan is the most hard-hitting play I have seen. Tragedy and irony have never come together so well. The motif of victim morphing to victimizer is brought in a brilliant fractal like way. Son-in-law torturing the daughter to victimize the ‘other’ society. Daughter comparing her ideological upbringing to a kind of crippling that she can never revert out of. The former acknowledged, the latter acted out brilliantly.

Adding to all the motifs and superb acting – is the strikingly powerful overarching theme itself. The inability to live a life the one preaches, and live it to completion, at whatever cost — that’s what hit me. I remain hit.

And so…..don’t preach.

Ruy Lopez – my variation.

Chess strategy insists that you develop your pieces, and make them take control of the four central squares of the board – either by occupying them, or by exerting control over them. This has to be done quickly, and with least loss of time/tempo.

The question is why? Why should you develop pieces without there being any necessity for them? There is no real check-mating strategy in mind, there is no threat from the other side, there is really no objective. I don’t know what’s my goal, my purpose, my real goal. Why develop pieces when you don’t need them? Why get a masters degree? Why not just move the knight back and forth waiting for the opponent to start his attack? Why not just keep a good job, and do a back and forth from home square to office square? Why open up lines to develop more pieces, even rooks, and not be satisfied with developing just the queen? Why not just make money, and assume that the rest will follow? Why is it considered bad strategy to start a queen-attack in the beginning? Why does investing in money now sound so wrong to me?

I dislike analogies. I especially dislike this one, because it can be stretched so much more. Maybe that’s because it was modeled on what I am analogizing[1] it with. A case of ‘by definition,’ I suppose. But it’s inadequacy is evident because it just cannot capture the most important aspect of my life now. But well…maybe if Chess allowed a player to make two moves together…

Coming back to opening moves, the answer to all the why’s is quite simple: I’ll need resources when I do have a plan later, a goal, a purpose. And some resources are better than none, all are better than some. Developing all pieces is hard, esp. in an adversarial setup. But is Time really adversarial? Developing some pieces is easy, but which ones? A masters degree is harder than learning a new language, or saving money, or doing nothing? But is developing the rook worth it? Can’t we manage to win with just the knight and bishop combinations? It’s been done before. But, I am not that good a player: someone who can win without developed pieces; without good, well-developed pieces. I castled and decided to quit my job[2], thereby got my masters degree, and got my rook into play. I will now try to open up files for further attack, and maybe even double my rooks in sometime by getting a Ph.D.

[2] – The irony of how quittng my job, which is inherently an unsafe thing to do, is being analogized with castling, I think deserves a footnote.
[1] – I like this particular verb form.

Meta-happiness

Someone with whom I share an exclusive relationship decides to make it semi-exclusive. This hurts. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes deep. But is this hurt due to the shift of allegiance/love/companionship/friendship(?) causing a void in our lives? or is it due to the shift making a statement about our worth?

I have always claimed that having a richer life leads to lesser jealousy. This seems intuitively appealing to me, and further, if I ponder about it in the light of the above questions, it rings true as well. A richer life leads to voids being filled up again, quickly. A richer life gives us a good measure of self-worth that is hard to dent by one person. But is it this simple always? Can we define ‘richer’ lives for ourselves easily enough?

Consider this other deeper form of jealousy: someone specific doesn’t have to shift to someone else to evoke this feeling. I could realize myself that someone else is better than me at something. A classic example would be from Abhimaan, where a random photographer makes Subir cringe. Or take Salieri’s stinging jealousy-ridden admiration of Mozart from Amadeus. Though both movies don’t truly redeem the inflicted person, they do showcase the jealousy through some brilliant acting (and direction of course).

Does a richer life help here? What is a richer life in this context? Could Salieri define his life with anything other than his music? What if someone is better at something that I have devoted my entire life for? Does it matter? Here, I cannot even say that “it shouldn’t”. I don’t know. I have not defined my life around one concept for it to hit me that hard. What if a person I have devoted my life to goes away? Is the hurt this time again because of the void she creates? Or is it a statement about what I am in totality?

Does (philosophical) rationalization help? The gap between thought and emotion persists. But over the years, I have felt the gap reduce. The more it reduces the more I can rationalize, and the lesser I get hurt. But on the flip side, the more the gap reduces, fewer things make me happy (to a lesser extent that too). Ironically, the symmetry between happiness and sadness makes me happy. Strange neh?

Romanticising Romance

As I walk up the dark cinema hall aisle, the screen light falls on people sitting. I don’t notice whatever I don’t notice; but I do notice some hands holding each other, heads resting on shoulders, arms entwined, shoulders touching, and before I realize it, I am looking for my seat. As I move on with life in such small steps, it hits me that I miss being in love. I don’t miss any specific detail. I just miss the feeling. That’s just it.

What is this feeling? Is it another emotion that cannot be explained? or is it possible to break it down into more rational axioms and understand it better? I am tempted to say that it could be beyond both; but then, I can’t see what can lie outside the inexplicable-explainable spectrum. Continuing that particular sidebar, I am not sure about my feelings for epistemology either; but well, for now, let’s cut to Jack Rabbit’s Slim’s:

Mia: May I ask you a personal question cowboy?
Vincent: No.
Mia: Alright. Have you ever been in love?
Vincent: I said ‘No’.
Mia: Don’t be so testy. It’s not that one; this is a different question.
Vincent: Still seems personal enough.

Mia: Ok.
[pause]
Vincent: Love is a commodity.
Mia: Warming up; aren’t we? A commodity, like, for sale?
Vincent: Sale, discount, retail, designer, factory seconds, et cetera, et cetera. They sell. You buy.
Mia: Me?
Vincent: Yeah, you.
Mia: What if I want to buy?
Vincent: Yeah, it looks like you have, already.
Mia: Good one.
[pause]
Mia: So, I bought it. Let’s say designer. Do you have a problem with that cowboy?
Vincent: No, I don’t. My problem is not with you. My problem is with the next woman I want to fuck.
[pause]

Cut back to blog-post. Insert some dialogue here which deconstructs love along the lines of how much paper, screen space, and network bandwidth it has wasted. I have taken this quasi-Nihilistic kind of approach too. But, the blissful irrational happiness and the forlorn feeling surrounding it (on the timeline): that’s undeniable. Also, rational reasoning along the lines of loneliness, hormones, progeny, and other facets (unexplained in their own right) is also appealing.

I have 3 options: a) Don’t bother either thinking or feeling. b) Feel. c) Think.

As the camera zooms out and credits start to roll, a pencil is seen shading option (b).

O Discipline, Where Art Thou?

I read Lapierre and Collins’s “Freedom at Midnight” and am incredibly moved, even sobbing many times during the book, and make a promise to myself that I’ll learn more about India, and esp. the Partition. So, I pick up Sucheta Mahajan’s “India and Partition: the Erosion of Colonial Power in India,” and start it with great enthusiasm. At around the 20th page, when going forward with any reasonably degree of continuity requires looking up citations, making notes, and higher levels of concentration, I switch to some pulp fiction.

I love Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” and “Network”, and when I spot his book – “Making Movies,” on the book stand, I pick it up greedily. I kind of fancy myself as a movie maker in the making, and this book is a must-read for all amateurs. I finish a third of it, and when Lumet starts talking about camera positions, lenses, lighting, and subtler aspects of screenplays, I start watching “12 Angry Men” again. I like re-runs.

As is usual with many a new concept, Samba mentions Prisoner’s Dilemma in one of our conversations, and I am into Game Theory from that moment. People are explaining human behaviour using formal theory! This, like many before have come and gone for me, has to be it. The truth must be hidden somewhere in these games. I read up on Nash Equilibrium, Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma, and other popular Game Theory material online, and buy a standard text book to get deeper into it. After reading the table of contents, preface, acknowledgments, and introduction, I lend the book to a friend.

Hofstadter, “Dancing Wu Li Masters,” “Society of Mind,” “Siddharatha,” Sartre, Probability, “Crime and Punishment,” “Naked Ape,” and among many others, surprisingly, even Lolita has gone through this phase with me. That sentence construction kind of absolves me from any blame; but I know better. I got back and finished Lolita, but the rest of them await. It’s just a matter of ‘when,’ and of course, not a matter of ‘if-ever.’

Of Quests and Barriers

Just watched Anupama yet again, and am feeling a mix of satisfaction, goose bumps, tears, and optimism; but most of all, I am left wondering at how some failed relationships [in this case, the doomed father-daughter one] can never be overcome. One cannot really move on. One can move on in life, but that particular relationship slot [for the lack of a better phrase] will always be a void.

On the other hand, these relationships are mostly not affected by long-distance, attention-deficit, character flaws, and other parameters that can affect (say) a romantic relationship heavily. Is this because of our long standing childhood relationships with parents that are mostly exclusive? Is this because of the birth-happens-only-once factor? or something more sublime?

In my futile quest to rationalize emotions, I try to analyse love; and as I tackle parental love, I am confronted with more barriers than with most other loves. The rationalization seems to stop much, much earlier. This love seems to be an unoptimizable parameter in the overall scheme of life. Is this due to cultural conditioning? Or is it this love’s mammoth scale? Or is it biology? Or is it something sublime regarding the nature of this love itself?

But Bhagat Singh optimized over this love as well; And so did Juror #3 and his son in 12 Angry Men; So, claiming that any love, or anything else for that matter, is beyond optimization in life’s overall scheme of things, seems a little too premature. I notice that I am getting back into the analysis and with that, expectedly so, am also hitting the barrier I spoke about earlier. With thought experiments and fuzzy principles running amuck in my head, I end this iteration of optimization.

Adaptation

Epiphany:
(1) : usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) : an illuminating discovery
(4) : a revealing scene or moment

In the self referential film – Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman (of whom, I don’t think so highly, by the way) says:
…but what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world…

Some of these epiphanies dawn on to me, as I lead my life, various pieces of my mental jigsaw puzzle fall into place, and theories and events make sense. In the past, some have left me shocked, they have shown me my darker side. Some have flattered me. Some, I didn’t accept; reason told me they were true, but I just didn’t accept them. This “I” which is devoid of reason, this “I” is an interesting being.

Of all these moments of clarity: some get chosen, and become principles; others….well, others become nothing.

Each epiphany is also accompanied by the elation of having discovered something about myself. This elation is independent of whether the epiphany itself is flattering or not. This leads me to believe that a part of me gets happy even if it discovers that the rest of me is disgusting, despicable, not-upto-the-mark, or pathetic. This happy-to-have-known-something-new part, lets call it the audience. The moment the nature of an epiphany is identified: good, bad, flattering, disgusting – another part of me wants to keep it, or change it, or shed it, or in the worst case, forget it. Lets call it the critic. There is a part of me whose acts have lead to epiphanies, whose acts have kept the audience happy, on whom the critic will try to enforce its viewpoints, lets call it the actor. Further on, I lead more life – according to the principles I have made. The part of me which directs life, lets call it the director. The director has the scene in mind, knows what the critic wants, and makes the actor act accordingly.

Some questions remain unanswered:

– Where does the scene come from?
– Are these the only players in the arena?
– What role does time play? Is there a feedback loop that goes beyond the critic?
– Does the actor have to exist? Can principles be built without stimulants?

Stefan Kanfer said that – Philosophy is concerned with two matters: Soluble questions that are trivial, and crucial questions that are insoluble.

Charlie is obviously wrong when he says that the real world doesn’t have epiphanies. He wants to believe that life is normal, and boring, and has frustrations which go unresolved. Agreed that my epiphanies are not grand enough to make me change the course of my life visibly. I still contend that innocuous conversations, thoughtful films, great books, games nature plays, etc. do bring about epiphanies in my life; some of which have gone on to become principles.

Even the pilots which went on to become nothing, I enjoyed even those.

Yours sincerely,
Donald Kaufman

Prisoner’s Dilemma

In one of my favorite romantic films: Before Sunset, while on a cruise near the church of Notre Dame, Jesse talks about how he has this idea of his Best-Self, and he wanted to pursue that, even if it might have been overriding his Honest-Self. This is said in the context of his marriage, and how he married someone by thinking that commitment, appreciation, respect, and trust were all that mattered. This was his definition of love when he got married, and his Best-Self told him that if these were around, he need not really wait for the perfect person to come along, and his marriage would work out. The marriage went on to become a sham because his Honest-Self just didn’t love his wife, and his Honest-Self is what lived his real life and decided on happiness, bliss, and peace.

I have felt this Best-Self vs. Honest-Self dilemma in many contexts in life; be it love, relationships, career choices, idealogical living, and countless other everyday situations when the principled Best-Self overrides the self-centered and materialistic Honest-Self – to mixed results.

Are there two or more people inside me? the Best-Self? the Honest-Self? the actor? the director? Why is this craving for the Honest-Self to emulate and finally become the Best-Self? Who are role models? How do we define our Best-Selves? Are people who stick to their Best-Selves all the time better off? Do they become role models?

What about hapless victims like Jesse and me, who have Best-Selves, try to stick to them; but whose lives are being directed by their Honest-Selves, and they just are not able to reconcile…

What about unabashed sensualists who do not bother about idealistic visions, and pursue their Honest-Selves without regret, remorse, or guilt. Do true Hedonists exist? Do they have internal conflicts about duties and rights? Or is there a Jesse in everybody, with differing degrees of will-power, conscience, and principles?

I am sure generalization of this sort won’t work, and time and situations bring out a mix of our selves, and we just act on what seems right at that moment. The dilemma only arises when I have the time to decide on which self I allow to dominate me. That’s when I have a choice. This choice is also coupled with the knowledge that the dominating self of that time won’t be dominating all the time. The future will be different, and I will have changed.

I am a prisoner to this dilemma.