God and Science

Topics on which people hold very strong beliefs … sometimes these beliefs are no more than just those. While on the one hand some of those who believe in God take Scripture literally, and will tell you that indeed the world was made in 6 days, or that there was indeed a time when snakes talked or horses flew. Little does it occur to them that maybe these stories are more allegorical, and one must look into their subliminal meaning which seems to be a consistent characteristic of Scripture to get a true understanding. Scientists on the other hand use these same stories, read at their superficial level to try to prove that religion flies in the face of logic.

There is another aspect of the scientific discourse which tells us that there is no ‘need’ for God since all phenomena can be explained by science, those which can’t be explained today would well be explained at some point. Let’s take an example to see the folly of this logic. Let’s say you have to go from place A to place B. Now, you could do this commute on foot or by bus. Now, since your commute can be explained by walking, there is therefore no ‘need’ for the bus and therefore the bus doesn’t exist.

Another logic which is most prevalent is that there is no proof of God. Now, one could also on the other hand say that there is no proof for the non-existence of God, but then that takes us into a different byway, so for the moment let’s shelve that one. Let’s say, for instance, if you are asked to cook a meal with a pen, crayons, toothpicks, and a screwdriver and wrench. Doesn’t sound logical, does it? Fact is, different tools are meant to be used for different purposes and extending this it’s easy to see why science has not, maybe will not, been able to prove the existence of God … that as a tool science isn’t the right one.  Let’s try to analyze that. Science is essentially a study of this creation, maybe (if we keep the idea of the multiverse aside for a moment) of the universe. This means that science, meant to study nature, isn’t meant to study whence nature came from.

Is that why so many scientists are so antagonistic to the idea of God?


Conversation Context

If you are on WhatsApp, you are probably on a host of groups, which you have, in all probability muted. Ever seen a pattern in the conversations in these groups? If someone started a group, and you connect with old friends after say 20 years, the first few days are about exchanging notes, and reminiscing about old days. After that the lull comes in the conversation, and this is when most groups become about forwarded messages or jokes.

Friends from college have a group, which is the place for college-style conversations. After a while, the conversations turn towards politics, and discussions about the world, pretty much the way it used to be back in college (boys don’t grow up, remember?!). However, due to a number of reasons, we decided to start a separate group about political/intellectual debates. Yes, intellectual indeed, even if I myself say so. Over time, the original group, which all of us are still members of has become a group for forwarded messages.

The reason is simple … context. No conversation can happen between two people without some modicum of a shared context. Take the context away, and the conversation can’t last. As college friends, we have gone different ways in our lives. However, there is a strong shared context of our time together at college, but beyond that, the shared context is that of the world around us. And hence, these are the two topics on which conversations can sustain.

In other words, context is key.


Cricketing History

Now this video should be a mandatory part of any cricketer’s education … and if you either have dreams of having been a batsman, or aspirations to be one, then this is a must-watch.

All six of them effortless. Sheer poetry.


Social Eminence

A discussion I was having the other day with colleagues about eminence and the role of social media in creating the persona of people who are experts at things brought out some rather interesting thoughts. One of the ideas that came out was that social reputation is based on one’s willingness to share knowledge. While I completely agree with that, this viewpoint confuses knowledge with the act of sharing. One can actually share things on social media without really knowing much about them. One of the things I see, for instance, on twitter, is that the rate at which people share links must mean they are reading like probably a thousand words per minute. Quite a few people I know just glance through an article or blog, and share it on social media. This is why I say hat sometime knowledge can be confused with the act of sharing.

Another important thing to understand is that it is very easy to manufacture things on social media. You might have seen a number of quotes from Albert Einstein on the web, and I don’t know how many of them are attributable to him. Taking an instance of a talk show I was watching, the analyst on the show was quoting a long-departed leader as having said something. This didn’t quite sound logical to me, so I started searching. After much searching, I found a blog which told how a lie was fabricated and why, and how it was circulated all over the world over social media. The “fact” may find it’s way twice around the world before folks start finding out. Also, there will be a number of folks on social media who will have spread the word, and very few who would take the effort to validate. What this means is that social eminence can be manufactured, and while there are self-correcting mechanisms which are there in the social ecosystem, these methods may not always be effective in a world with a very short memory. By the time you figure out something is wrong, nobody’s really interested, and setting the record straight is a moot point.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be selective in the sources we subscribe to, and that we need to do our research before publishing something, a thing which is seldom done.


Changing Education

About blogging, I find, the ideas are relatively simple to define and build upon, while the topic is the difficult part. The topic being done, let’s get to the idea of this post.

There are two basic problems with education delivery today, I feel. One is the shortage of skilled teachers, and the other is the piecemeal approach to concepts taught to children. Let’s look at these one by one.

When talking about shortage of skilled teachers, I don’t mean at the aggregate level. The problem facing education is that while in pockets skilled teachers are available, there are also pockets where they are not. In the age of technology, this gap should be one that should be easy to bridge. Having said that, I believe that on can’t rely on purely virtual education delivery when introducing a new subject, which is what is the a of the education system for the most part. So we might need to look at a blended approach towards doing that. For this blended approach, content taught could be divided into three parts: pure theory, guided problem-solving, and practical application. Concepts of a subject could be taught through recorded lectures, for which a panel of distinguished teachers could be identified from the vast pool available. This would help being the best teachers to students in areas where they are not available. At the same time, this would standardize the delivery of basic concepts. Building upon these concepts, to develop skills of applying these concepts, a set of real-life scenarios could be developed. These would need to be delivered in-person, and would help students to learn how these concepts could be applied to solve problems. These could be simulations or case studies, depending on the requirements of the course being taught. Building on these would be labs to experiment and to apply concepts, as required.

The other aspect is the piecemeal approach to teaching. Children are taught mathematics and physics and economics and history as separate subjects. The concepts they learn and their application are demarcated by subject, while in reality, these subjects are interrelated, and so also should their teaching be. To address this, and to develop holistic problem-solving skills, which enable students to see the big picture, appreciate systems, and building systemic thinking, classwork, homework, and exams should be based on a systemic approach, where students are able to see the system as a whole, understand it in it’s entirety, and be able to understand impact of one thing on another.


Online Education

This post comes from this post that i read on linkedin today. The post is about a young girl doing courses through MOOC providers. These courses are offered by some of the leading faculty in the field, from some of the top universities in the world, but by the inherent structure of these courses, its not really expensive to do these courses. The cost of running the course can, in fact, be lower because, with the MOOC paradigm, the cost of the course can be shared by participants across the world, instead of only those in a particular physical classroom. However, as you will read from the comments on the post, the main thought people have is, does this collection of courses, and the credits these would represent in a traditional university system, represent a MBA?

Lets consider this closely.

What are the components of education?

1. The right content covering all the topics which a student is required to know to be able to say that he or she has attained a particular level of proficiency in a particular topic.

2. Teaching by a faculty who can teach the concepts covered in the course, answer questions from the students, give them homework, evaluate their homework, and make them do projects or case studies, and evaluate their performance in these.

3. Collaboration between students which helps them to learn together, from each other, and to contribute to the learning on the group as a whole.

4. An exam which can test the knowledge of the student and be able to say with a certain amount of confidence that the student has attained a certain level of proficiency in specific subjects or courses.

Apart from 4, all the other three are available in the structure of MOOC. Here are courses delivered by some of the best faculty in the world, with some of the best courseware, and students have a multitude of options for collaborating with each other. What is lacking is the assessment of the performance of students with some form of standard testing, to signal to prospective employers the suitability of the student for a particular job (this is the economic function of test scores, isnt it?). And what is lacking is the attaching of credentials to these courses.

I feel this is something that is going to change over a period of time. With more participation from leading universities in MOOC programs, what is required now is a structure which can bring courses together into a single framework, regardless of which university is teaching those courses, and aligning this framework with a standard testing model, and we have all the ingredients of a completely new paradigm of education.

The question that arises is why universities would want to do that. With the rising costs of education and delicning subsidies or grants, as universities are finding it harder to recruit students, this is a model which can help universities recruit students from across the world, without those students having to travel to the university location (which is a large cost), and each university getting funding based on the number of units taught, case studies developed or delivered and assessments run by them, this could be a viable financial model for universities.

Anyone aware of studies done which might be able to define the sensitivity of student enrollment towards cost? In other words, are we able to quantify how student enrollments would increase as costs reduce? With this information, it may be easier to find out the feasibility of this model. Anyone aware of any such studies? Please do leave a comment.


The Tigress …

This one is from Jim Corbett‘s My India:

I once saw a tigress stalking a month-old kid. The ground was very open and the kid saw the tigress while she was still some distance away and started bleating, whereupon the tigress gave up her stalk and walked straight up to it. When the tigress had approached to wihin a few yards, the kid went forward to greet her, and on reaching the tigress it stretched ot its neck and put up its head to smell her. For the duration of a few heartbeats the month-old kid and the Queen of the Forest stood nose to nose, and then the queen walked off in the direction from which she had come.

Wonderful passage … just tells the sheer grace, elegance (a oneness maybe?) which comes with real power.