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August 30, 2009

Atoms & Universe

  • On 16th Aug in a meeting of American Chemical Society, researchers formally reported that samples collected by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft when it flew thru the gassy halo of a Comet Wild 2 in 2004 contained Amino acids. Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein and thus an essential ingredient for creation and sustenance of life. The idea that life was seeded by comets that crashed into earth in its adolescent years has been in circulation for a while, but this was the first time we had concrete evidence to prove it. So in a way all life form on Earth is ET (Extra terrestrial – from outer space). Carl Sagan wrote in his book ‘Cosmos’ “Human beings, born ultimately of the stars and now for a while inhabiting a world called Earth, have begun their long voyage home.”

    (Question still remains how did Amino acid get generated in the comet’s halo in the first place) There is an entire branch of science devoted to study- Abiogenesis – science of how life came into existence from non-living matter.

    Inspite of all the scientific progress three fundamental questions remain largely unresolved. And after years of research we have discovered more questions than answers.

    What is the Universe and how it was created? - Genesis
    How did life originate from non-living matter first in outer space and later on Earth? - Abiogenesis
    And how did it evolve into a complex organism with such intelligence (brain) & conscience (thoughts /feelings) as mankind? – Evolution (probably the best understood of the three because of the ‘adaptation of species’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ theories proposed by Darwin )

    If we are all created by cosmic dust, than in my theory even if our body (hardware) is decomposed our software (DNA / Conscience) is in perpetual circulation and if somehow we can connect to that conscience, we can download all the answers. This idea is religion neutral, agnostic and purely spiritual. I am certain in our life time science behind spirituality would be discovered and its fundamental laws just like the laws of Gravity would be established.

    As we develop evermore powerful instruments to explore the distance Universes and probe into the insides of the atoms we are discovering striking similarities in their structure and the laws that govern them. At the Hadron Collider project two beams of sub atomic particles called ‘hadrons’ would be accelerated and collided, the results of that collision will help us understand the big bang and structure of the Universe. A Hadron which is sub-atomic infinitesimal can help us understand the infinite Universe. Can there be anything more remarkable.

    The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries- Carl Sagan

    And for me star gazing still retains the number one slot for stress busting. So while trying to beat my own stress I ventured out over the weekend with the aid of my Dobsonion 230 mm telescope, but thanks to low pressure conditions the sky was mostly overcast.

August 13, 2009

The Art Quotient

Some time ago I watched a program on Horizon ' Battle of the Brains'. They took seven people - a musical prodigy, a quantum physicist, an artist, a dramatist, an RAF fighter pilot, a chess grandmaster and a Wall Street trader. Each is put through a series of tests to discover who is the most intelligent. The resuts were astonishing, Check the conclusion of the show it will change your perception about intelligence. Results link.
The series firmly planted in my mind that Art was as intelligent a pursuit as science or engineering. Ability to imagine, conceive and express with a piece of art was comparable with performing surgery or writing a computer program or balancing the books. And I became acutely aware of my inability to appreciate a piece of Art beyond its aesthetic appeal for its intellectual dimension. I used to hear terms like impressionist, cubism, renaissance, et el; I could not understand one from the other.

Recently on my visit to Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh I signed up for a guided tour to learn ‘to read & appreciate art’.

I have over 40 pictures of various works of art from the museum on Facebook / Orkut; check the name of the art work in the picture and than input that into the Carnegie Museum database .You will get details about the art work, painter and the art movement that represented. It is extremely informative. I have copied a few of them below. Also a good resource to understand various art movements (Renaissance,Impressionism, Cubism etc)

Mystery behind Modern Art – Like others 'modern art' perplexed me too. And I found out from our tour guide as to why the artist shifted from drawing landscapes, portraits etc to vague images. With advent of photography in late 19th century the traditional main-stay of artists was threatened. So artists ventured into areas that photography could not address – such as more ‘abstract work’. is a terrific resource to get some basic understanding of Modern Art and various art movements within Modern Art.

Idea behind Minimalism was to strip down form to its very basics and then strip it down even further. The result was a fresh and simplistic article with the emphasis being on the audience being able to view the artwork with increased intensity and focus on the meaning without the distraction and clutter of form and composition.
Carl Andre / Fallen Timbers
Impressionism was a modern art/contemporary art movement which, through painting an image as if it was a glance, would show how an object's surroundings can effect what is seen in a memory. Art had a new thinking, no longer does it have to resemble a photographic image, it can embrace an extra dimension which is, 'how we perceive art'. Waterloo Bridge, London by Claude Monet

The idea behind the modern art movement of pointillism was to paint in minuscule dots. The effect was a painting that looked dream like and fairytale like.
Place dec Lices St. Tropez by Paul Signac

Environmental Sculpture titled Stone ring by Richard Long

I created a new term – Art Quotient – which means the ability to understand, interpret and appreciate / critic Art. And now I can proudly claim that my Art Quotient is above ZERO.

August 6, 2009

The Speciesist…Part 1 ( And the moral dilemma for many Indians)

Like every other kid who grew in the 80s, I read all Hardy boys, Three Investigators and the like. In fact the whole thing got into our heads so bad that I with my brother and cousin thought of creating an investigating agency. Our first case was about a cycle theft in our neighborhood, and we solved that mystery in minutes (on paper that is). Our deduction - mechanic running the local cycle-repair shop was the culprit; he had the modus-operandi and wherewithal to dispose a stolen cycle. Without any investigation or evidence, we condemned him guilty. Thinking about our naïveté makes me laugh even now.

Another thing I was copying Hardy boys was their eating habits– Bacon, Sausage, Hot Dog and the ilk. Though eating ‘non-veg’ was a strict taboo in our family. My Dad who had travelled a bit, was a libertarian , so I had my first sausage in class 6 at a Snack bar called Frightemp, probably the only shop in small town Baroda where you could find something so ‘Foreign’ to eat those days ( later eat Chicken couple of times at my friends house.

One Sunday evening while watching a Doordarshan movie at home I heard some commotion in our society. There used to be a small bush diagonally opposite to my house where there was enough shrub to feed a few animals. The commotion was caused by an unlikely and uneven contest between a cow and two butchers. When the crowd who had gathered protested the men informed us that they had bought the calf from the owner of the cow.I was a mute spectator as in vain that hapless cow tried to protect the calf from being taken away. She charged at those men several times but it did not deter them. Eventually one of them distracted the cow while the other quickly grabbed the calf tied its feet and dumped it in their van. In a few minutes it was all over.
Thinking about what followed gives me goose bumps even today. That wretched cow stood at that very spot for the next 2 days grieving, wailing. It was eerie; I had never heard an animal cry before, let alone seeing tears in their eyes. It was a sort of ‘Gautam Buddha’ moment for me, It was very troubling for a young mind & I promised myself never to eat non-vegetarian food again. Though that episode happened over 20 years ago I have still kept that promise I made to myself… But??
But, that was the easiest part I had more troubling questions. What if everyone became vegetarian, would Earth be able to feed and sustain this growing human population? What about fisherman whose livelihood depend on catching & selling fish? What about Darwin's theory of evolution & survival of the fittest? If we are the dominant species, in a way we are entitled to our ways. Nature grants us that privilege by virtue of our earned superiority. What if that stray asteroid had not struck earth and Dinosaurs were still the dominant species, would they have shown any compassion towards humans. Questions endless questions.

And the most disturbing was Jagdish Chandra bose’s findings about Ascent of Sap. (* he showed with the help of his newly invented Cresco graph that plants responded to various stimuli as if they had nervous systems like that of animals. He therefore found a parallelism between animal and plant tissues. His experiments showed that plants grow faster in pleasant music and their growth is retarded in noise or harsh sound * Wikipedia) In that case wont eating of plants be the same as animals.(
Last month while watching a documentary ‘Earthlings’ which uses the term ‘Speciesist’ to explain how humans treat other species(animals) and it compares it with racism. And suddenly all those moral questions came rushing back to me…………. But this time I figured out a few answers (Part 2)

(In case anyone has found answers to the moral dimension of this argument please email me before I conclude)

August 2, 2009

Rocks to Blogs ... an incredible evolution in human expression !!

Today we are witnessing an unprecedented explosion in technology-enabled, non-verbal human expressions – twits, posts, blogs, pictures and videos. To me expressing is distinct from communicating the same way that work of literature is different from an instruction manual. First one is driven by human want the later by human need.
So when recently on a hiking tour in the mountains near El Paso , I came across several Rock Art or Pictographs. ( *Rock art is a term in archeology for any man-made markings made on natural stone. They are divided into Petroglyphs - carvings into stone surfaces and Pictographs - rock and cave paintings (*info from wikipedia) ) I was fascinated by the thought that how far mankind has evolved in expressing themselves from "Rocks to the blogs" At this point of time dating the pictograph is still an evolving science and the age of these pictographs is speculated to be between 1500 to 500 years ago.

Although language and various non-verbal means (writing, painting, sculptures) of expression had already advanced significantly in civilizations of antiquity - Mesopotamia, Indus Valley , Greek, Roman, Egyptian,Chinese but those means of expressing came late to the Americas . Indigenous American's did not start using any non-verbal forms of expressing till early part of 10th Century. It might be safe to assume that these pictographs represent the very primitive form of the indigenous human expression in the Americas

This desire of human kind to express themselves has had such a profound impact on making us the imaginative and therefore highly productive society we are today.

In a span of last 1000 years we have evolved from Rocks to blogs .... from bits to bytes .. what about the future, … future non-verbal communication would be in form of thoughts through mind ware .. there wont be any medium of communication but ether or space , through thought transference or telepathy. .. "Rocks to Blogs to Thoughts" … (atleast thats what I think we are headed)

So leave your mark for posterity….go write something… and be a part of this journey of human expression from ‘Rocks to Blogs’ …..