Jan 29, 2011

Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty

TED collaborates with animator Andrew Park to illustrate Denis Dutton's provocative theory on beauty -- that art, music and other beautiful things, far from being simply "in the eye of the beholder," are a core part of human nature with deep evolutionary origins.

Denis Dutton (9 February 1944 – 28 December 2010) was an academic, web entrepreneur and libertarian media commentator/activist. He was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was also a co-founder and co-editor of the websites Arts & Letters Daily, ClimateDebateDaily.com and cybereditions.com.

Jan 26, 2011

The Great War of the 21st Century: Its Nature and Consequences

Will Durant, the author of The Story of Civilization (in ten volumes), notes that out of more than 3000 years of recorded human history ONLY 268 were without war

It is difficult to decide whether this fact mocks human rationality or justifies war as a necessary trait of human progress. But without doubt it provides an important clue to the overpowering human instinct: to fight other fellow men. 

Thus, each century bears evidence to this instinctive adventure by its share of great wars: the 20th century has World War I and II, 19th century has Napoleonic wars and American Civil war, 18th century has French Revolutionary War and so on. This century excels previous ones as it has seen almost 10 out of its 11 years as war. So this war is longest in the last 200 years and thus can be and must be called Great War of 21st century. This article is an attempt to see the future of this war by comparing it to the theoretical concept of war. 

At a theoretical level war is defined as an “act of force to compel our adversaries to do our will.”[2] Two points are notable in this definition: First, the existence of the action that involves force, and second, the objective behind using force. The objective of the use of force is to create such conditions for the opponent that it has to comply with our will. 

On the nature of Reality: A trialogue between a Rationalist, a Postmodernist and a Realist

Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, 3 men contemplate...

Postmodernist: I assuredly believe in the non-existence of any objective reality. It's all relative..all in the mind of the observer !!

Rationalist: Hmm.... i don't agree... I’d say that 'truth' in-itself is absolute, and 'untruth' in-itself is absolute too, only 'nontruth' is not absolute. A system of knowledge based on relativity of multiplicity of nontruths can never lead to any conclusion which is true insofar the conclusion is based entirely on the mutuality of nontruths

Postmodernist: Voah Voah.... Hold on.... what is truth? what is untruth? what is nontruth?

Rationalist: this is an epistemological classification (not an ontological one mind you). So for the sake of argument, one may suppose...

'truth/true' - to be the attribute of a proposition, the content of which, is in perfect correspondence with an entitative reality

'untruth/untrue' - to be the attribute of a proposition, the content of which, is  positively NOT in prefect correspondence with an entitative reality

'non-truth/non-true' - to be the attribute of a proposition, the content of which, can neither be determined to be in correspondence with an entitative reality nor can it be determined to be not in correspondence with an entitative reality. (mostly, NOT always, this is a property of propositions which have a structural contradiction)

Postmodernist: OK… go on.. Now explain how does your argument above prove me wrong?

Jan 24, 2011

The Inner World - A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India by Sudhir Kakar: Book Review

Cover of the third and current edition
Written by the foremost amongst Indian psychologists, this one, undoubtedly ought to be a part of any modern canon on India. 

Composed originally in 1978, the book represents one of the last non-bowdlerized socio-cultural theses of considerable repute that was conceived before the post-modernist age of academic hypersensitivity to cultural differences.

It has,  ever since, become impossible for most in the Western intellectual mainstream to be forthright in judging different cultures and peoples for the fear of violating any tenet of moral relativism. Sudhir Kakar, evidently, suffered no such compunctions in writing this classic. 

He trenchantly explains varied social phenomena of India from the theoretical standpoint of Sigmund Freud's psycho-sexual dynamics and  Erik Erikson's psycho-social dynamics. His focus neatly resolves itself into a multiplexed analysis of the Indian mind-scape into different layers conditioned by the Patriarchal social structure,  the Maternal over-indulgence of the infant, the institution of Caste, the magical world of Myths and folklores, the  upbringing in a Joint family system and the practice of Arranged marriages.

Jan 22, 2011

Meditation on Michael Mann's Methods

(Circa The 1960’s)
Sequence 1 (0:51-1:02)

(Late one night, Police Car Siren sounds sporadically. The Vehicle approaches a pedestrian )
White Police officer to Black Youth(AKA Cassius Clay): What chu running from son?
Cassius Clay ( Jogs on Pensively, not saying a word) : Inequity!…. Persecution!….Murderous Prejudice!….Racist Criminal Justice system.

Sequence 2 (2:50-3:12)

Artisan African-American father renders finishing strokes to a portrait of Jesus Christ and an apostle
Young Son , in the backdrop, watches father paint, while ruminating over his future.
(Jazz music full of expectant guitar riffs and drum cymbals used to score the scene.)

Jan 17, 2011

Herman & Chomsky's 'Propaganda Model': It Still Holds

Book(1988) was made into a documentary(1992) 
Brief investigation into the current standards of Newsworthiness and Most Preliminary assessment of US Media Performance has revealed for me 

that 22 years since the publication of the seminal ‘Manufacturing Consent’

a) The Institutional structures of the Propaganda Model* are intact if not burgeoning AND

b) The patterns of Media Coverage validate the model’s forecasts in many instances- as is illustrated by the abbreviated case study performed below.

*What is the Propaganda Model?

Propaganda Model is the analytical framework that attempts to debunk the Mythology

>>The constituents of the US Media( Print & Electronic) are the Purveyors of Truth ,sentinels of our inalienable liberties and institute in themselves a system of checks and balances that is supposed to preclude the abuse of political office, military resources and Civil Rights among their other purported functions<<

Burn After Reading (2008): Movie Review *spoilers*

The Transfer of CIA analyst (John Malkovich) to a lower clearance level on seemingly dubious grounds sets in motion a sequence of events which find their denouement in either the Nervous breakdown,expatriation OR Murder of every central character except for that of the figurative agent(Frances McDormand) responsible for this bedlam and carnage.All … for half a done cosmetic surgeries. Chekhov anyone! (To compare is To Insult so I wont develop this analogy)

I however will take the liberty of deciphering and summarizing The Films Overarching precis :

>> Not only are we-from Federal Marshals to Fitness instructors without exception - inscrupulously self serving but are also criminally vacuous; and the amalgamation of these attributes in Individuals is invariably fatal for those who surround them.<< Furthermore, That summary almost defines the Black Comedy Genre .

Jan 16, 2011

The Man from Earth (2007): Movie Review

A Still from the movie
This one is an utterly cerebral affair. That Jerome Bixby let three decades pass between conceiving and completing the screenplay for this piece-of-art is altogether condonable. A 'remarkable cinematic accomplishment by a team of unremarkable people' has been the long-n-short of this films' post-release existence.

Released largely on the Internet and spread through p2p networks, it was the ordinary internetizens who proliferated the web with copious offerings of positive reviews which abetted the movie's emergence on the horizons of popular imagination.  The juggernaut still continues to roll as the movie has maintained its upward climb on all major ranking directories. 

Jan 15, 2011

A brief history of the philosophy of Management: Part 2

(This is the second and the final part of a two part guest post by management researcher Kunal Sharma, on a brief History of the Philosophy of Management. He chronicles the evolution of management practices, their philosophical bases and the attendant historical circumstances. He is crisp, precise and impartially analytical and, operating with a bare minimum of factoids, keeps your freedom of thought intact)

  • The New Humanism

Douglas McGregor
In the last section we said that the time had come when organizations were ready to understand their most important constituents – the people. But every understanding will have different views. Though it might sound too harsh, but let us say that if we could start grouping people together in two different categories: in the first category we put those people who believe that people are by nature lazy and would avoid doing work until and unless they are forced to work. These people would, as obvious, think that workers in an organization would need guidance and control at all levels and it would be the organization’s responsibility to assign work to these people, control them, and put them in a strict hierarchy inside the organization. In the second category, we put those people who believe that people are by nature self motivated and exercise self control, therefore, no need for any control or a strict hierarchy. Douglas McGregor (1906 - 1964) was the person, a man of academia, who proposed the Theory X and Y. McGregor identified the people belonging to the first category as the managers who would focus more on authoritative approach to management (Theory X), while those falling in the second category as the one who would focus more on self-control by the workers (Theory Y). Self control by the workers would be thorough empowering the workers and giving them the responsibility for their task.

A brief history of the philosophy of Management: Part 1

(This is the first part of a two part guest post by management researcher Kunal Sharma, on a brief History of the Philosophy of Management. He chronicles the evolution of management practices, their philosophical bases and the attendant historical circumstances. He is crisp, precise and impartially analytical and, operating with a bare minimum of factoids, keeps your freedom of thought intact)

  • Introduction

This short essay provides an overview of major schools of thought and philosophical perspectives in the field of management theory. The focus is on the contribution and the gradual growth of the management thought from the early 20th century to the modern theories of management which influence the thoughts of the 21st century management thinkers. We will focus on Individuals and their contributions to the development of management theory. As obvious, no theory is a product of a single mind, nor can it exist without any context. We will try to see what the situations were which gave rise to the theories – the contexts and the environments in which the thoughts took shape and yielded the well sung theories of management, many of which have become trite yet remain true. 

  • Emergence of Management Philosophy in Academics

Industrial revolution:
The Impetus for management philosophy
When the words “Management Thought” skirt our ears, the alphabets MBA do resonate in our mind. Management has become the synonym of Business Management, and a MBA degree has become a much respected degree of the modern age. Let us spend some time going back to the history to find out when did “Management” gain its focus and when did it get incorporated into the regular courseware. It was in the year 1902 when Dartmouth College in New Hampshire (USA) started the first master’s degree in business education.

Jan 11, 2011

The myth of Individuality: A contrarian take

Individual... In Dividual... Not Divisible... A whole thing... Self-contained... An end unto itself in matters of living. An Individual has in the modern world become a unit-of-existence that is the normative 'level-of-analysis' in deriving ethical wisdom, social conventions, economic structures and institutions of governance among other things.

An individual is often assumed to have autonomous motives, is reposited with agency of causation, credited with full awareness of his needs, considered the locus of morality and each one is thought of as a complete instantiation of humanity. While this view took root first in the west, it is now a credo preached in just about every modern institution in much of all nations of the world. When considered theoretically, it is found to constitute the very foundations of 'classical economics' in particular, the 'capitalist' weltanschauung in general and the popular imagination of urban-middle classes enthymematically.

But the truth, viewed from a dispassionate distance, is that there is scant individualistic about most men, only bantam individualistic about some men and something remarkably individualistic is to be found in only an exiguous few  in a whole generation of men. 

Jan 7, 2011

On the Mind-Body relation: A New Look at Consciousness and Free will

What is thought to be mind? Whence from it cometh? Whither does it go? In what relation to the corporeal organism does it exist? What are, if any, the physical and physiological bases for the mind to emerge? And does it do so as a differentiated organ of the body itself, i.e. is it merely identical with brain or is the unmistakably distinct 'qualia' of mind sufficient reason to consider it a phenomena of its own accord?

Reductionist view: Mind=Mechanics of the Brain
It should be theoretically profitable to consider all these questions as occupants of certain positions on a continuum, at one end of which is a conception of mind-body relation as a strict dichotomy to reconcile, i.e mind and body as 'separate things', the other end of which condenses around the mind-body relation conceived as only an 'illusion of separatedness' and as such (being only an illusion) is to somehow be explained away to establish that mind=brain. The latter view is commonly ascribed the label 'monism' (often 'material monism') and the former 'dualism'. While 'dualism' has been very explicit since Plato in theology and in the popular imagination, the reductionistic Monist view has gained philosophical legitimacy in the scientific age. Though patent limitations of both the positions, when conjured simplistically in the absolute, have launched a frenetic academic search since at least the mid-twentieth century for a viable alternative to the two extremes.

Jan 6, 2011

A peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Book Review

Best Quote from the book -
Susan B Anthony: “Give us suffrage and we’ll give you socialism.”
Eugene V Debs: “Give us socialism and we’ll give you suffrage.”

This book with its thoroughly substantiated arguments for expensive social safety nets might proselytize me into socialism.

Ironically, I am at an institution which preaches the creed and postulates of The Efficient market hypothesis and and exhorts us to avoid "Dead weight loss" at all costs.

Now thats what results in cognitive dissonance. I am torn!

Jan 5, 2011

The sociological, political and moral reality of 'Blasphemy'

Naked Face of Fundamentalist Suppression: Stoning to death for Blasphemy
That human life on earth, or at least its moral underpinnings, aren't based on any immutable, pre-existing divinely-ordained moral wisdom is an arrangement that every wise man comes to comprehend fairly early on in his inquiry into life. 

In fact, it is one of the set of 'exceedingly rare  and but unmistakably accurate' insights into human condition that isn't entombed underneath several intractable layers of deductive logic and is, as it were, accessible to anyone willing just to think free from popular prejudices and in spite of religious compunctions. Unmistakable just as much, is the need to base the human morality on a foundation more stable and less whimsical than mere 'human nature' - as it is given to all evil and vice just as much to all good and virtue. 

It is perhaps a pragmatic compromise then, between these two antagonistic realizations, that in the popular imagination even our manifestly terrestrial moral precepts tend to be fastened and legitimized by divine entrapment and providential diktats.

Make no mistake, even in a secular-rational weltanschauung the 'need for solidity' of moral structures is just as acute as in a worldview that coalesces around a central divinity; and this is served in such case by a more mature philosophical approach, that of 'attributions of universality', i.e, by consecration and elevation of certain moral maxims to the status of 'universals' that have somehow been extracted by the human mind, by contemplation and genius, out of deposits of universal truth that lay deeply buried in an imagined realm of ideas.