Friday, January 25, 2013

Queries on the Fundamental Rights

While I am yet to read the whole thing and grasp it, I shall nevertheless jot down some observations and my doubts and opinions on the Fundamental Rights section. Please note, the opinions below are mine and I do not wish to force them on anyone even if the language suggests otherwise. Further, any offence is unintentional since the idea of the blog is to ask certain questions (backed by a fundamental right).

A short list below:

1)    Point (3) of article 15 (Right to Equality: Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) allows for making special provision for women and children. It is unclear here as to how the law treats other members, other than the binary, of the gender continuum. In a simple interpretation, it seems like the intersex and/or the hermaphrodites have no constitutional support for any separate provisions. I think it was in 2009, that the government did recognise the third gender (something to do with voting cards, as far as I can remember). It is my opinion that the members of the third gender generally get a raw deal (I could be wrong), and might qualify for special provisions (not necessary if I am wrong). Since I haven’t read the whole thing, if anyone can clarify the doubt above, I would be obliged.

2)      Article 18 (Right to Equality: Abolition of titles) states, amongst others, that
a.       No title, not being a military or academic distinction, shall be conferred by the state
b.      No citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign state.
Based on the above, it is unclear to me if religious titles (like Bishop, Sri Sri, Swami, Guru, Maulvi etc.), while clearly not conferred by the state, ought to or ought not to be allowed. Article 26 goes on to say that, subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof have the right to manage its own in matters of religion. The above make a case for use of such titles, but the significant word, morality, might undo the case. Morality has been constantly changing over years and will continue to do so since there seems to be no absolute. I submit that equality is an important requirement of morality. And hence, such titles cannot be, in my opinion, justified. While it is clear that all are equal before law, why must inequality of any form be allowed? Hypothetically, if person X were to put a case against any religious leader for disrupting the right to equality by taking on a title, would the verdict be for or against X?

Also, what is the verdict on default titles such as Mr., Mrs. etc? And of titles such as Rani, Chatrapati etc.?

Further, in-case a citizen dies and receives a title posthumously from foreign states/institutions, can/should the Indian state allow such a title? (example: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). Also, from above clearly, Mahatma is not a title conferred by the state, hence one may think that the eponymous roads and other items, including monuments and notes, bearing such name may not be backed by law.

I suspect I could be wrong about my conclusions above. If so, I request anyone who knows about this to enlighten me too.

3)  Point (2) of Article 23 (Right against exploitation) allows the state to impose compulsory service for public purposes. If I am not wrong, it implies that in a situation like war, the state may ask a person to compulsorily take up arms (Conscription) or risk going to jail. This could actually open a Pandora’s Box by leading to questions regarding pacifism, disarmament etc. While I myself do not yet know how I would react in such a situation, I do have a feeling that a good number of people would neither want to take up arms nor want to go to jail. How then can this be addressed?

4)  Article 24 (Right against exploitation: Prohibition of employment of children in factories etc.) states that no child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. The wording seems to be excluding children working in hotels, households and other places since these places/jobs are not hazardous. While I am not against employment of children below the age of fourteen for certain jobs, I am against the exploitation and labour components of certain jobs. A child trying to make some money on the side to assist in funding of his education or other needs, such as food/shelter or a bicycle, can obviously be employed for certain jobs. However, if the job exploits (exploit is a word that needs to be defined thoroughly by experts on this field lest it turns out that every job with a capitalist intent includes exploitation) or causes excessive physical labour, even though it is not hazardous in nature, then people should be prohibited from employing children below the age of fourteen. It is of course possible that “hazardous” might be an all-encompassing term for such types of jobs. However, going by the context, I have a feeling that hazardous here only refers to health aspects, without any consideration on mental impact of such jobs. In case anyone has a clearer idea, I’d be glad to hear from you.

5) Article 25 (Right to Freedom of Religion: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) states that one has the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. While I have, over time, accepted that some people are yet unwilling to be free from religion and are yet to admire the results and ponderings of modern science and logic, and hence may freely profess and practise a religion, I do have some reservations about the word “propagate”. Perhaps the word “propagate” also needs to be thoroughly defined so as include only those actions by an individual or group that perform the function of information dissemination and allows people to make up their minds on their religious inclinations only after deliberation of all choices available. For example, as Richard Dawkins says, a child of parents of X and Y religions, should not be called an X child or a Y child. Rather, at the age of reason, the child must be allowed to choose his religion based on all the information available through the dissemination mentioned above. Further, children must not be affected in any way till the age of reason and/or without their consent by any prescriptions of the parents’ religion. This includes activities such as piercing/mutilation of any sort, initiation rituals of any sort, etc. Any action/method of propagation, apart from information dissemination, should be, in my opinion, not backed by the constitution. Enforcing one’s religious prescriptions on one’s child should be seen as a form of forceful propagation and hence must be restrained / prohibited. Perhaps the rights of children are covered elsewhere and I may be ignorant of the same. If so, I request you to guide me to the relevant article. In any event, the point regarding the definition of “propagate” remains.

While I shall continuing reading our constitution, I, firstly, urge anyone with responses to the above to convey the same to me and secondly, for everyone to take some time out on this Republic Day and read up the ideas upon which our nation has been built. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fear and Pain and Hate

Massive cold and cough, exams, submissions.....some of the things that held me up for the past one month. But now, peace for one week hopefully.

Peace. I wonder what it actually means. Blaise Pascal once said, and I quote “we seek rest in a struggle against some obstacles. And when we have overcome these, rest proves unbearable because of the boredom it produces...How hollow and full of garbage is the heart of man”

Thus, in this boredom, I find that I have difficulty sitting down in one place and writing. No amount of Counterstrike or movie/anime watching seems to be able to defeat the boredom. The next best thing to beat boredom (in my case) is to browse the internet. But here too, what do I see? Below are the headlines of major news websites.
Suicide bomber strikes at Quetta rally, 59 killed
Blast rocks Hare Krishna temple in London
Hostage crisis: different cop's body found
Pak match fixing row stems from a 'moral crisis'

Mind you, these are headlines of just today. Over the last one week, there have been many more. And no one knows how many more will happen.

There is so much hatred in this world. Pein, one of the characters of the popular anime Naruto, asks this question: Injustice leads to Hatred. Hatred leads to Vengeance. Vengeance, when wreaked under the banner of justice, only leads to more hatred, thereby triggering a cycle of Hatred. This cycle plagues the world right now. How would you put an end to this hatred and bring peace?

How to break this cycle and bring peace? Our leaders have been trying to answer this question for years, but all have failed in providing a satisfactory answer. That makes me wonder if it is indeed instinctive for humans to war. Are we, humans, at a very basic level, war-mongering? My opinion is that, yes, at a basic level, we generally have a habit of comparison, which leads to jealousy (grass greener on the other side), which leads to competition. This competition has almost always ended in war. Those of you who may be Matrix fans might recall that the first Matrix version was built as a utopia, but failed catastrophically because humans were unwilling to believe it to be real. Hence, a state of no war and total peace is unreal to humans. Theories of Evolution also support the hypothesis that, once, we humans, being animalistic in nature, competed for resources with others.

So, if it is instinctive, are we doomed never to find a solution to this problem? Another great anime, DeathNote, (you might be thinking that I spend a lot of time watching animes, but I swear, these are the only two animes that I follow) poses the same question in a different manner.

To those who have not seen DeathNote, I’ll try to explain the basic plot. Yagami Light, a top student and a strong believer in justice, finds a magical notebook. Any human, whose name is written in the notebook, dies. Yagami Light uses this notebook to kill all the top criminals (terrorists, murderers and so on). He, being driven by his own strong sense of justice, believes that fear of death can surely force people to do good deeds instead of bad.

Another character, known in the anime as L, going by his strong sense of justice believes that such mass killing of people, even though they be criminals, is wrong. He then employs his genius to attempt to capture Yagami Light.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself. Do you support Light Yagami or L? In the midst of society, most would tend to support L. However, there are good arguments for Light Yagami too. The point that was brought out in the anime is that this world is too rotten to cure itself from crime and hatred unless you use fear and pain to control it.

Now, to the point I was trying to make: Many people in the world (mostly American) claim that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was infact a good thing, because it ended the war soon and thus saved lives of many thousands of people who might have died had the war prolonged.

This is not the only example where fear and pain have been used to tame hatred. The entire American Black versus White history is tainted with guns and deaths, because, humans have only found fear as an effective solution to hatred.

Thus, so far, despite our engineering/financial marvels, we have yet to learn to answer Pein’s question. I’m not quite sure if an answer exists and I’m not going to say that ‘there is still hope that humans will understand one another’. What I can hope for is that we move higher up in the evolution faster than ever before so that we move away from our bestial past and go towards a better cultural and spiritual evolution. Of course, this evolution might lead to various effects; perhaps we may no longer remain homo sapiens when this evolution happens.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One upon a night, in Kyoto

It was midnight. I was hiding in the shadow of a small, ancient looking building, which was right off the street. This old city, Kyoto, was still deeply rooted in its rich past, while the rest of the world zoomed into the modern age. The buildings, the roads and the attires of the people here, all of them were undisturbed by the rest of the world, thankfully, I thought.

I was hired by Mr. Izumo, the owner of Raijin chain of stores in Japan. He had come to my office yesterday morning. He told me that he needed the services of a private detective. He looked very disturbed, but with a little orange juice and a cigarette, he soon gained composure. He said to me that his wife was returning home much later than usual from the shamisen classes and that there were many mysterious phone calls in the past one week. When I asked him what he meant when he said ‘mysterious’, he told me that whenever he answered the phone, the caller immediately disconnected. He told me that he suspected that his wife was having extramarital affairs and wanted me to check up on it. I advised him to confront her and find out, but he insisted that I take up the case anyway.

So, I’ve been following Mrs. Izumo since 6 pm now. She came out of ‘Shamisen Academy’ at 6 pm and walked to the nearest bus stand. There, she took the Bus 2R. ‘That’s not going anywhere near her house’ I said to myself. I boarded the bus and took up a seat at the back and made sure that she was visible all the time. She seemed very innocent, the way she looked out her window at the rain clouds. I really hoped that she was as innocent as she looked.

She got down at Fushimi and went into a hotel. Hotel Sakura, I noticed. I followed her, maintaining a safe distance all the while. She went to one of the corners and occupied a table for three. I sat at opposite end. I noticed her ordering tea. Then, she got up and went into the ladies room. I noticed that she had left her handbag behind. Immediately, I went up to her table and started to check the contents of her bag. ‘Nothing unusual’ I said to myself. But then, in an inner compartment, I found a small piece of paper. Written on it, in a very curvy writing was ‘1 am, tonight, City Cemetery’. ‘It must be a note from her lover. The place is not very far from here. That’s probably why she came to this part of the city’ I told myself. I placed the paper back and zipped the handbag. I quickly returned to my table and ordered a tea for myself. She took her time to come back. I glanced at my watch. It said 7 pm. The door of the hotel opened and two middle-aged ladies entered. They looked around as though they were searching for someone. They soon spotted Mrs. Izumo and joined her at her table. They seemed to old friends and were very soon engaged in deep, and seemingly joyful, conversation. ‘No dirt here’ I said to myself. They ordered the full 3-course meal. It was 9 when they decided to get up and leave. They paid their bill and left together. Once again, I followed them being as silent as possible. They went into the nearby theatre. For a full 2 hours, they, and I, sat and watched the lousy horror flick. The movie ended, thankfully, at half past 11 and the three of them came out, in deep discussion. Then, two of them bid Mrs. Izumo goodbye and boarded a bus going downtown. I stood in the shadows and saw Mrs. Izumo looking at her wristwatch. She, then, started walking towards the City Cemetery. ‘It isn’t yet the time for the meeting’ I thought. Still I followed her, hiding in the shadows all the while.

I saw my watch. It struck 12. I was still following Mrs. Izumo. She was walking very slowly. I suspected that it was all the food that she had eaten. The road seemed totally empty and most houses around had their lights off. It seemed very eerie. ‘Its just the stupid horror movie giving you the creeps’ I thought. However, just as I was trying to reassure myself, I had a cold, trickling feeling down my spine. Someone was following me. I couldn’t see who, but my instinct told me that someone was definitely on my tail. That was very unsettling. ‘Worst comes worst, the pistol that I am carrying will be of use’ I thought. Still very uneasy, I realized that I had to pay attention to both, my prey and my predator.

We soon reached the wrought iron gates of the cemetery. I saw her enter and followed her, all the while aware of someone tailing me. I hid in the bushes and watched her walk up a small mound to sit on a bench there. I could clearly see her, silhouetted against the bright, full moon. A good breeze was blowing, which calmed me down. She waited and so did I. At precisely 1, I could see a dark figure making their way up the mound. I realized that this was the moment of truth. This person had to be her secret lover. I focused at this person and tried to remember the details of height, dressing etc. This man reached the bench and sat down beside Mrs. Izumo. They started talking to each other. I knew that I was in for a long night, for I would have to follow this man to find out his address and, hence, identity. Just as I was thinking this, their voices became louder. It looked like they were arguing. The man suddenly pulled out a gun and was waving it around. I pulled out my pistol. Now, if ever, was the right time to use it. I aimed at the man’s thigh and was about to take my shot.
However, I heard some rustling in the foliage behind me. I immediately turned around. I saw someone running away. Before, I could do anything, a bullet whizzed past me. It looked like the man near Mrs. Izumo had heard the rustling and running too. Mrs. Izumo was screaming. I wanted to run too, but was afraid for Mrs. Izumo. I immediately ducked and took cover. The man started firing at my hiding place and I realized that sooner or later, he would hit me. Having made a decision, I jumped out of the bush, took my aim and shot. The bullet hit him, square on his heart. He fell down dead. Mrs. Izumo now fell silent, perhaps too terrified to even scream.

I ran up to her and tried to console her. I couldn’t see the dead man’s face because of the darkness. She asked me who I was, and I realized that there was no point in lying. I told her that I was a private eye and was hired by her husband to follow her. She asked me if I could drop her home. I told her we would have to wait for the police to come. I took her along to the nearest phone booth and called the police from there. Then, we waited. I decided not to disturb the dead body, till the police came. All the while, I was wondering who the other mysterious person was, who was following me. Soon, the police came. I explained to them what I had done and they told me that the both of us would have to go to the police station to make a statement. ‘It’ll be Ok. I have a licence, and I was shooting in self defense’ I told myself. So, we left the cemetery with a police officer and went to the police station. Soon after, we came out and I offered to drop her. She, strangely this time, declined the offer and took a cab. I went back to my house and decided to call it a day.

Next day morning, I thought I should report last night’s events to Mr. Izumo. So, I left the house and took a cab to his house. Upon reaching his huge mansion, I was asked by the butler to wait in the waiting room. There was a TV in the room and I switched it on to see if yesterday night had made it to national television. I was right, it had. The news-announcer said ‘Last night, famous industrialist Mr. Izumo was shot dead at the Kyoto City Cemetery. He….’ I was not able to register the rest of the words, because my mind suddenly seemed to have gone numb. The door opened and Mrs. Izumo entered the room. ‘I’m so sorry, I had to shoot, you see’ I told her. ‘It’s alright’ she told me. ‘Now that he is gone, you are no longer under his employ. Please accept this cheque for your services so far’ she said. I took the cheque, bowed low and left the room. I was feeling very guilty. But I knew that there wasn’t anything else that I could have done in last night’s situation. Consoling myself, I called a cab and asked him to drive me to my office. Only when I was halfway there, I looked at the cheque. That curvy writing seemed familiar………

Friday, July 30, 2010

Oneironauts and Geniuses

Oneironaut simply stands for ‘A person who explores dream worlds’. With all the euphoria about Inception, I decided to write a bit about it myself. Actually, I knew I was going to write this when I had first seen the trailer of Inception.

So, Inception and its supposedly complex storyline are being discussed all around. Many praise Nolan for having thought of such a brilliant idea. Dream in a dream in a dream in a ….I actually lost the count while watching it. More importantly, I was thinking of the absurdities involved, which I’ll try to list down in a later blog. This blog I reserve for trying to project the main idea within Inception.

Many claim that Dreams is Dreams is an original idea used in the movie. However, I must protest when you say that it is an original idea. Dreams have been studied by ancient Greeks and Indians in great measure. Many people have had much more brilliant insights about dreams and dream processes. Edgar Allen Poe has written a poem called ‘Dream Within a Dream’. Two of my most favourite stories about dream worlds are by the same author. Based on my previous post, you must have guessed right. It is Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and the two stories are ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’. Alice, the ultimate dreamer, has taught me more about dreams than most modern books or movies (with the exception of The Matrix)

I cannot describe the exhilarating feeling I had as I read the book ‘Through the Looking Glass’. I could not believe that we humans had such rich imagination. As I’ve always held true ‘Our own imagination can sometimes astound us’. Very soon after reading that book, I saw the Matrix. The impact that one movie can have on your life is huge. That movie inspired me to construct my own theories of the workings of world around me. Anyone who has completely understood the Matrix, will realize that Nolan can never replace a Wachowski. I’ll write a lot more about the Matrix and the not-so-easy-to –see references in the movie in the blog that I’ve mentioned earlier.

Thus, if one wants to analyse Inception, I suggest you look at other aspects of the movie. Dreams in Dreams added to the mysticism of the movie, but were not the cornerstone of the movie.

The central point of Inception, however, I soon realized was not dreams in dreams, but the point whether inspiration can be artificially generated. In other words, can ideas and inspiration actually be placed inside your mind by external sources? This is certainly among the less researched items.

Let us for the moment assume that thoughts can be placed in your mind. The basic trouble with this particular subject is that, we cannot now distinguish between original thoughts and thoughts that have artificially been placed. This raises many philosophical questions. Suppose all the ‘original’ ideas that you have are actually fed to you through some yet-to-be recognized source? When you cannot distinguish between original ideas and placed ideas, why should you choose one over the other? The basic argument here is astonishingly close to the basic argument in the Matrix/ Alice in Wonderland etc. i.e. when you cannot make out what is real and what is not, is it not possible that everything is unreal?

Think about this for a second. So many geniuses(or as some prefer to use, genii) have come and gone. If ever we found out that inception was possible, should we really give credit to these geniuses? Is it (not) possible that somebody simply planted the ideas in their head?

I believe that the day is not far when we may see both, the creations of worlds like that of the Matrix and the inception of ideas. Basically, the technology for both might end up being very similar for they both need to trick the mind. Lets see what the future holds.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hands Around My Throat

I woke up with a start. The old nightmare and my mobile's alarm had once again jerked me out of sleep. The nightmare had haunted me for about a year now. Today, the nightmare though, seemed to be slightly different from every other time. Partially awake, I looked around my room. My room, my personal sanctuary, has always been a source of peace for me. My room, apart from being large, also has an attached balcony, which is accessible through a set of transparent sliding doors, currently covered by orange and yellow shaded curtains.

In my state of awakening, after disabling the alarm, I was still very confused whether I was awake or still dreaming. This was because the room felt very unreal in a mystical way. The sweet humming caused by the fan and rippling of the curtains was blissful enough, not the mention the faint glimmer of light from the small gap at the bottom of the curtains leading to a state of semi-darkness, which made my room look so unreal.

I looked at the mobile at my bedside. It said 6:45. My first question was “morning or evening?”. Believe me when I say that one year at B makes this question extremely reasonable and sane. Before I could answer the first question, another question immediately dawned; “What day is it?”. What with classes and assignments and sacrosanct deadlines, the need to know what day and time overpowers most other needs in this place.

As I sat up on my bed, I don't know why, perhaps because of the clairvoyant and ethereal atmosphere in my room, I decided to ignore the day and time and concentrate on my dream. I remember watching Alice in Wonderland (Disney's 1951 version) just before I fell asleep. Sometime in the middle of the sleep, I assume, the dream started. It was the usual one; funny and peculiar to start with. The details of the dream were flowing away like grains of sand in an hourglass. I tried to recollect parts of the dream; I think I was standing at the edge of a cliff, playing a violin. The cliff seemed to be quite high and down below was the frothy sea. A good breeze was blowing and I could smell the salty air. A little distance from me, I could see a look-alike playing a grand piano and a bit yonder, I could again, quite astonishingly, see another look-alike playing a guitar. Though they seemed to be look-alikes, I had the eeriest feeling that they were actually me. Then came a younger man, who looked a lot like a younger me. He was writing something onto his notepad. As he passed by me, I could make out the numbers '101' scribbled on the pad.

Then came a content-looking middle aged man. I did not know who he was. He stopped by, heard us playing the music (I'm unable to recollect the tune), smiled at us and walked ahead. Then, came a young girl, who enquired from me about the middle-aged man's whereabouts. This girl, though a complete stranger to me, seemed somehow familiar. I showed her the path that the middle-aged man had taken; she muttered something which sounded like 'the wrong path' and went away. Then, and this is where the dream starts turning nightmarish, came a rather stern looking fellow. This fellow, handed me a world map and asked me to find 'Erewhon'. Thanks to Samuel Butler, I knew that such a place did not exist. I tried to point this out to him, but he just kept pinching me and ordering me to search harder. Then, came a whole bunch of young chaps who were shouting at the top of their voice 'I found Erewhon, why can't you?'. As they approached nearer, the sea breeze stopped. I turned around and saw that the water had disappeared and there was only a dark, seemingly bottomless pit visible. This was the least of my concerns because soon something even more dreadful was happening. I could feel arms, reaching out from the darkness, inching towards my throat. Soon, those cold hands were around my throat, choking me. Almost everytime, this is the part of the dream, when I wake up with a start.

However, today was different. Today, the dream went a bit further. The White Rabbit, from Alice in Wonderland, came hopping by. He held a watch in one hand and a torch of fire in the other. As he came closer, through the light of the torch, I could finally recognise the owner of the hands that were throttling me. With enormous surprise, I found out that those hands belonged to another look-alike of me. But this time, unlike others, I was sure that this was no look-like. It was indeed me, not someone else. Before, I could ask myself, why I was throttling me, I heard a loud bell ringing somewhere. I saw that the source of the bell was the watch that the rabbit had. I tried to tell him to stop it, but before the words came out, I had woken up to bell sound of the alarm on my mobile.

I could not remember more details about the dream, but I'm sure a lot more happened in it. The surprise at the end of the dream today seemed to be an inner visualization of the state I was in. So, I did what I could not in the dream; I asked myself 'Why am I throttling myself?'. I found that there was no convincing answer forthcoming. It was almost an earth-shattering result for me. Every construct in my mind about the nature of the world seemed to have gone for a toss. Then, as if it were a signal from above, a gust of air from the fan had forced the curtains open and sweet sunlight streamed in. The room glittered golden and I realised that I had discovered myself this morning. I walked to the balcony and saw the dew on the petals of a nearby rose. The smell of a rose had never been so intoxicating. I picked up my guitar and started to string my favourite tune. I'm quite sure that I won't have the nightmare anymore.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Of Paul

The odds now are 1 to 256. Vitually impossible in my opinion. Is it really possible that there may be powers and abilities such as precognition after all?

Lets rewind. It was the start of the WC. I, personally, am not quite inclined to football. However, I did enjoy watching the passion and zeal that was clearly visible when the teams fought (They reminded me that we as humans have remained humans, despite the slow coldness that is creeping in due to Machine age). So, with faint interest, I saw the match-ups and cleared my schedule to fit in some matches which, I felt, would be interesting to watch. Most of them had Germany in them. My interest in Germany was because of the 2002 WC, which was the first time I had witnessed a WC on TV and in which Germany finished second. Despite being second, Kahn standing in front of the goalpost, with his determination to fight for the nation, left quite an impression on my impressionable, young mind.(I think he conceded only 3 in the whole WC, though I'm not quite sure). So, I watched the first few matches of Germany in WC 10'.Few events were unexpected, few weren't. It was when Germany defeated England, that the media started reporting of an Octupus named Paul, in some German city's(I think Oberhausen) aquarium. Reports claimed that Paul was psychic and had correctly predicted the results of the matches that Germany had played in. Initially, as was expected from me, I rubbished the issue and assumed it to be a freak incident. I waited for the Octopus to be disproved. But it never happened. More matches came by and more of his predictions were coming true. A small voice in my head starting bothering me. That small voice was used to viewing a sane world, where predictions meant dabbling with probabilities and no one could ever be sure of anything.

Soon, it became 5 out of 5, 6 out of 6 and it went on. It now becomes 8/8. Thats 1 in 256 chance of occurrence. Nostradamus had better odds.

I sat down and started thinking. There has to be some explanation, I told myself. I started googling for some analysis by experts which might help me understand how it happened. However, nothing solid surfaced. Infact, claims such as 'is the most intelligent invertebrate' only caused me greater bother. So, the next thing I did was to collect data about the event itself. At this point, I decoupled the event into 2 things (i) The manner in which Paul picks(assuming he is not psychic) and (ii) The fact that teams won as per the picks. These are two totally different things if we are to assume that Paul is not psychic. Most of the work below is just to try and understand point(i). Point (ii) coincidentally happening alongside (i) has actually been the cause of the hysteria. I'll leave point (ii) for a later blog. Here are some of the things that I found out and my conclusions from them.

1) Including the Euro Cup, the octopus has picked the German flag 11 out of the 13 times that Germany played against another. In the entire Euro Cup, Paul had always Germany. In WC, the only two times when Paul failed to pick German flag, was against Serbia and against Spain.

11 out of 13 times. It is more likely that he can commit a mistake 2 times out of 13, than him correctly picking 11 times. Hence, I firmly believe that Paul has been a victim of Pavlov's Classical Conditioning (by which a dog learnt to salivate just by hearing a bell) by which it has been trained to recognise the German flag.

Here is what I think must have happened. Over the preiod of its life, the keepers of the aquarium, must have fed the octopus in a certain fashion. They must have always fed the octopus by providing it food in two transparent containers. One of the containers must have had the German flag and the other must have had the flag of some other nation(say X). The trick that they must have used is that they must have kept X container's lid completely shut, i.e. no matter how much force the octopus could have applied, he would not have been able to open the X container. Hence, he would be forced to open the container having the German flag. Over a period of years, and being fed everyday in this fashion is enough to train humans to pick the container having the German flag. And the best part is that, the creature needs intelligence
to be trained in this fashion. Hence, the part stating that Octopi are the most intelligent invertebrates also fits in well.

Since, they are not as intelligent as humans, it is quite possible that they may make a mistake in choosing the containers during the WC. The error rate is 2/13 i.e. about 15.4 %. This number is more 'peaceful' to me than 1/256.

Now, if the above is true, I would assume that PETA could start investigating!!

2) The Octopus has always favoured flags with a dominant amount of Dark Red/ Black in them. This was very interesting to me, because literature claims that they are coulor blind and can at the best differentiate different shades of grey. In all its 14 matches (including Euro Cup), given a choice between a light shaded flag and a dark shaded flag, it has always picked the dark shaded ones. In some cases, where the shading of the flags have been similar, it has made a random choice. This can explain why it once chose Germany over Spain(Euro) and why it then chose Spain over Germany(FIFA WC). 2 occasions, 50 % chance; sound probability supports it.

The theory of evolution may also provide support to the dark shaded flag theory. Octopi are denizens of the deep sea. They find safety in caves which are dark. They find danger in the light as they are visible. Hence, instinct always tell octopi to head for dark areas. I don't claim this to be the exact reason as to why they choose dark shades, but it could a strong contributing factor.

3) The chance that the players might themselves be influenced by the so-called prophecy also exists. However, I'm assuming that the players would be rational enough to give very little weightage to an octopus and more weightage to their experience. Having said that, I'm not totally ruling out the 'self-fulfilling prophecy' possibility. There is a finite, reasonable chance that it is possible for the players to be influenced.

I hope I've provided some food (mussels and oysters actually) for thought. And I hope the world grows a bit saner before jumping on the bandwagon. I must admit that it is remarkable that such an event occurred, but, forgive me, if I don't call Paul a psychic.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Elections at B

When the Academic Coucil Elections were conducted last term, I had a feeling that something was wrong, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So, today morning, I decided to try and work out what it was that was bothering me.

To those of you who aren't aware of Academic Council, it is an elected council at my institute, which acts an interface between the students and the institute. Last term, 5 people stood up for elections. 4 were to be elected finally. The election was held in the procedure below:

1) Each student has the right to vote.
2) Each student was given a piece of paper to write. He/She was expected to write exactly 4 names (Any deviations from this were discarded in the counting phase). These bits of paper were then put into the ballot box(the standard secret ballot procedure)
3) Simple counting ensued and results announced

Now, please stop reading for a while and think if everything seems OK. Did we, through this process, really end up choosing most preferred candidates? The answer to this question, in my opinion, is NO.

My reasoning for the claim is that we did not take the internal preferences of each student into account. I believe that each student internally sets up ranking for each of the candidates. For example, if A,B,C,D and E were standing for elections, I would have my own assessment and ranking as C>B>A>E>D. Hence, based on this, I would cast 'a vote each' for C,B,A and E. But surely, 'a vote each' has not really taken my internal preferences into account.

As an illustration, let me make it a bit simple. Let us assume that 4 people are standing for elections. There are only 3 elected seats, hence, only 3 out of the 4 will finally be chosen.

Let me also assume that there are 6 people voting. Let their votes be
P1: A B C
P2: A D C
P3: D A C
P4: A D B
P5: A B C
P6: A B C

Now, based on this, you can swiftly see that A has 6 votes, B has 4, C has 5 and D has 3. So, A B and C are elected. But now a question arises. Note C; this candidate has been only the third best preference of 5 of them and not all preferred by a sixth. Do you really think it is right for him to get elected? This is an issue which will always crop up if internal preferences are not asked for.

Now, suppose I take the internal preferences(I'm assuming it is the same order in which the student has voted i.e. for P1, A>B>C>D). I decide to attach a ranking to the preferences. For example, for P1's choices A>B>C>D, let us give 3 points(votes) to A, 2 to B, 1 to C and 0 to D.
If I were to do this for all the 6 and add up points for each candidate, then I'm in for a small surprise.
This time, A has 17 pts, B has 7, C has 5 and D has 7. And now A B and D will be elected.

This particular solution of A B and D being elected seems like a more optimal solution to me than choosing A B and C. The reason I say this is, since we took internal preferences into account, we have ended up by maximising the group's overall utility.

I welcome any other viewpoints. I have not factored many other real life factors such as regionalism, students making internal preferences without even having an inkling of each candidate's agenda, human errors in casting and counting. These factors are important because, I think, it makes the election more of a popularity contest instead of the utility maximisation mechanism. However, for the moment, I'm neglecting these facors.