Murali Jayapala

Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. 
And, matters of small concern should be treated seriously 
-- A maxim of Lord Naoshige. 
(The contents of this page are of great concern)

[Update] Jul 2009: I have stopped updating this page. Instead I am collecting or writing very occasionally in the following blogs (Below are few recent updates):

At times somehow I end up asking questions, for which I dont find an answer inspite of reading a lot of books and discussing it with my friends. The best approximation to what I keep asking myself at times, is just like calvin is asking hobbes in the comic strip above. In search for an answer to such a question (which certainly is not my main profession), I have come across some interesting readings and quotes. I have tried to collect those and put it here. I am not sure if I will be able to find a satisfying answer to this question, but still the quest goes on. So, this web page will be updated as and when I find something interesting.

"Life is there to be lived, not to be written about - Somerset Maugham" "What is the meaning of life?..... It has no meaning!!

Dec 2000: This quest is not a simple one. To find a reasonable (to me atleast) answer, I need to have some base or foundation on which I can build up ideas and form opinions. What better foundation can I find other than, science. Recently I ended up buying the book called "God's Equation, Einstein, Relativity and the expanding universe"- by Amir D. Aczel. I was inspired by the title of the book. But as I read the book, I was a bit surprised to see that some of the philosophical questions can be answered by physics. This has inspired me to carry on a little further to read some things about physics and see where it leads. Here is an interesting quote: What is so remarkable is that we are answering deep philosophical questions with physical measurements - Saul Perlmutter (astrophysicist)

Sep 2001: Here are some of the interesting books that I have been reading and intend to read in the near future. book list

Among these books, The Tao of Physcis by Fritjof Capra, is probably the only comprehensive book which discusses the issues of ultimate reality. The arguments presented in this book are very unique, in the sense that, they are not biased either to the scientific community nor to the spiritual ones. I have tried to compile a summary of the essential ideas placed in that book, in this link.. summary .. However, this is just a short summary. To understand and to get the complete picture of the views one has to read the book for him/herself. No summary or gist is a substitute for the comprehensive book.

Nov 2001: The current state of physics, in the form of quantum theory and relativity theory, provide a good understanding of the universe from about a thousandth of a second old to the present day. But what happened before that ? seems to be a prime question in physics. An interesting theory has been put forward by sir Roger Penrose to address this issue, namely 'the objective reduction of the wavefunction' (quantum to macroscopic observables). However, the interesting part is that he contends - "that this missing new physics is being called upon by the 'brain' whenever conciousness is evoked". He cleverly links the new physics to the science of conciousness.

His vision is that the problems of quantum mechanics and the problems of understanding consiousness are related in a number of ways ! The non-computational aspects of conciousness may be related to the non-computational process which may be involved in the objective reduction of the wave-function to macroscopic observables. In his book The large, the Small and the Human Mind, this thesis is explained in more detail. Here, the large corresponds to the relativity theory, the small corresponds to the quantum theory, and the human mind corresponds to the missing physics linking the two.

Feb 2002: Contrary to what I had in mind, Science is more of a framework than a good foundation. A framework set out to seek the ultimate reality. A framework comprised of theoreticians, mathematicians.. collectively and rightfully called scientists. However this framework is tentative. Theories are created to replace the old ones, sometimes at a very slow rate and sometimes very drastically. J. L. Casti in his recent book 'Paradigms Regained' outlines some of the most important questions impending science of our times. He explains how some of the theories have shifted from one point of view to another, and how science has changed (improved) constantly over time. However, the hope with such improvisation is that it might lead closer to the truth.

But will it ever reach the truth? Sometimes I get the feeling that we may never understand the ultimate reality, there wont be any ultimate 'theory of everything'. I am not the only one who feels that way. The same intution has been reflected by one of the mathematician, Evariste Galios.

  " Science is the work of human mind, which is destined rather to study 
than to know, to seek the truth rather than to find it" - E. Galios.

Oct 2002: "I used to be indicisive but now I am not so sure" - anonymous.

Nov 2002: Some food for thought

Feb 2003: Every day we see around us the marvels of science in the form of technology that we have embraced so dearly, that with which its now diffcult to part with. Besides these wonders, we are able to comprehend and explain, to a great extent, lot of things that are natural in this world and that which we can hold as an object. But yet, when it comes to comprehending human nature, we fall miserserably short. Many different approaches have been sought to explain humans. Very many books ranging from fiction, poetry, biography, and even science, have been penned away. Scores of music have been composed and played in its theme. Countless number of photographers have tried to capture its spirit. It may help a wee bit to understand humans in their own terms, but to understand humans in the whole setup in relation to the aforementioned objects, is something where I dont even know how to begin. But some say a true comprehension is to be sought with everything put together, and not to take on things in isolation... Well I guess it goes without saying, very many have gone mad in search for comprehension of human nature. So beware!

"Common sense is just a bundle of prejudices aquired before the age of eighteen" 
-- A. Einstein

Perceptions of Quality -- Dan Glover (Interesting Articles)

May 2003: "We're trained to provide complete, optimized solutions, and the thought of partial solutions with which a lot of other people would be allowed to tinker is unappealing...This has to change. The fact that large-scale, evolvable systems can actually pull together instead of diverging into chaos is fascinating and conceptually important. We need to understand this phenomenon and incoprate it into our planning and thinking about future systems" -- Robert W. Lucky (from IEEE Spectrum Magazine, May 2003)

July 2003: "Anything can happen in life, especially nothing!"

May 2004: How would it be if things are viewed through layers of abstraction. Imagine biology and the related issues, particles, matter and so on, were at the a low level of abstraction. The interactions between them give rise to a higher level phenomenon, like organs, chunks of matter..etc. This level of phenomena being a higher level of abstraction. The components at this level intereacting (along with additional inputs) giving rise to phenomena at an even higher level. Like components of brain interacting and giving rise to conciousness (Just a wild thought). Most of the scientific (and other :-) theories would then seem to fit at a certain levels of abstractions (?). None of them spanning all the levels. Explanations given at a certain level would make sense only when seen from that level. It would not make sense from other levels. This would partially explain why people prefer some explanations over other ones. Because, they would be viewing (prefer to view) from a different abstraction levels... -- Murali

A relevant article by Bob Colwell, "Engineers as Soothsayers", IEEE Computer Magazine, Sept 2004. "... Designers are resposible for one item on a roadmap, which probably includes 10 or 20 or more items. People in marketing and planning know more about the roadmap than the designers. Their job includes maintaining a reasonably high-level understanding of the big picture....Useful insights can be gleaned from the process of collecting many inputs and synthesizing the big picture..."

May 2004: Four important characteristics of Complexity [more here]

    * Self Organization
    * Non Linearity
    * Chaos
    * Emergent Properties 

Jul 2004: You do not reason a man out of something he was not reasoned into -- Jonathan Swift. Rational argument between groups can exist only when the participating groups have common conventions (axioms). 'Culture and traditions' of a certain society or a group defines their conventions. If there is no commonality among groups, then what is rational for one may seem irrational to another.

Aug 2004: In one view, Nature can be viewed as a system. Humans have some understanding of this system. I dont think that understanding is complete. But, based on what we know, we have built another system for ourselves: a civilization or a society. More often we tend to trust our understanding (and/or our system) than trusting Nature. We have done this time and again over the centuries. I am sure we will continue to do so. The system of Nature is too complicated for a common person's understanding. Inevitably, by not trusting Nature, we simplify, and thus avoid the richness of Nature.

(oct 4:) An interesting book. "The American Replacement of Nature" by Willam Thompson

Sept 2004: All rationality is based on beliefs or assumptions about our perceptions. Irrationality springs from impulse and emotions. Scientific and technical development depends increasingly on digital data gathering and computation. In this field, technology can be considered an amplifier of rationality. Outside this professional community, technology help administer and preserve lare commercial and other social hierarchies while creating and satisfying inividual and community needs. Here, technology can be considered an amplifier of irrationality. -- Neville Holmes, "Rationality and Digital Technology", IEEE Computer Magazine, Sept 2004.

Nov 2004: Rational decision making is a concious process. The quality of the decision depends on three factors Time, Information and Processing Power. A person who has to act immediately (with limited time and processing power limited to his/her conciousness), cannot process all the information. However, a decision reached meanwhile is still a rational decision, but its quality is poor. Had there been enough time, the decision could be completely different and the quality would have been much better.

We are endowed with two personalities: concious and the sub-concious. Most of the time the concious trains the sub-concious to perform certain acts. Over the years the sub-coucious personality is formed and it shows itself in situations where we have to react spontaneously. An interesting book which talks about personality traits: Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy D. Wilson. (Jan 2005: Also the book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking", by Malcom Gladwell)

Dec 2004: Groups are remakably intelligent in solving problems of cognition, coordination and cooperation. But under the right circumstances: that the group should be autonomous, decentralized and diverse. [Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki].

Jan 2005: I approve of any form of scepticism to which I can reply "Let's try it" -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Apr 2005: A very good example of collective insanity by John J. Moelaert - No rational individual would watch TV, cook a meal or plan the future while his/her house is on fire. Individual priorities would dictate that the fire must be extinguished before any of the aforementioned activities would be resumed. However, collectively human behaviour is very different: people watch sport events, decorate their homes or play computer games in the midst of global developments that threaten the very survival of the human race.

May 2005: Some interesting snippets from "Wisdom of crowds", by J. Surowiecki. Experts are no more confident in their abilities than average people are. Knowing and knowing that you know are two very different skills. The enterprise of science shows a curious paradox, it is both intensely competitive and intensely cooperative. Whats true for individual is not necessarily true of the group. Individual irrationality can add upto collective rationality.

A line of thought (Individual's role): Assuming that nature and civilization is a hierarchial system, from an individual's point of view what are the options/choices for life? What are the limiting choices? Based on these choices, we can ask questions like, can an individual be happy all the time?

June 2005: An excerpt from Consumer Vertigo , by Virginia Postrel "Liberty and responsibility really do go together; it's not just a platitude. The more freedom we have to control our lives, the more responsibility we have for how they turn out. In a world of constraints, learning to be happy with what you're given is a virtue. In a world of choices, virtue comes from learning to make commitments without regrets. And commitment, in turn, requires self-confidence and self-knowledge. Scwartz (Author of: Paradox of Choice) says We are free to be the authors of our lives, but we don't know exactly what kind of lives we want to write. But, maturity lies in deciding just that..."

May 2006: Continuing on systems thinking, another interesting website An interesting thing about different types of information:

    * Data: symbols
    * Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers 
      to "who", "what", "where", and "when" questions
    * Knowledge: application of data and information; answers "how" questions
    * Understanding: appreciation of "why"
    * Wisdom: evaluated understanding. 

More of this [more here].

July 2006: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable Are the Boundaries of Consciousness a Fractal? An interesting quote from here...

An additional complication arises from the fact that having the 
right answer, and being able to show how you got there, are very different, and 
sometimes mutually exclusive. --Jonathan J. Dickau 

More from this [more here]

Jul 2006: What people have the hardest time with is that even possessing all knowledge doesn't guarantee that one can understandably express the specific knowledge about anything between the Infinite and the manifested worlds. That is, knowing the Infinite, and having a grasp of what can rightly be called all-knowledge, does not constitute the ability to communicate the details of your experience to anyone who does not already have a clear basis for understanding, through their own personal experiences. It is fruitless to try to convince people of certain things, until their eyes are opened to those possibilities....

A call for open mindedness: An Open Mind is a Better Guide

Jan 2007: I recently found a very good repository of classic documents on Psychology (Decartes, Bacon, Locke, Kant and many more...)

Classics in History of Psychology