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Friday, November 25, 2011

Ego for sale

Sigmund Freud has a structural theory of mind (Though all do not accept this) in which he divides the mind in different structural layers, chiefly conscious mind and unconscious mind. He thought that conscious mind is very thin layer of mind as compared to unconscious mind which is the thickest and deepest layer of mind. Most of memories are deleted from conscious mind but they are stored in the unconscious mind. What we call “I” is representative of conscious mind and Freud called it “ego”. It may not match our concept of ego though. “I” is very selective and careful about his/her image and only let those memories remain in conscious mind which represent a good face of it and bury deep the rest… Actually according to Freudian concept, conscious mind has a role of undertaker that buries most of our memories… Cultures are the extension in role of “ego” and provide social values to strengthen the “ego”… This is beneficial to both individuals and society and it is why cultural evolution has preferred it… However, like every good thing there is also a downside to it and that is a general ignorance about “self”… Because of the continuous burial of memories, we are only aware of our very thin layer. It was realized for long times and it is why one of the main focus of Socrates was “Know thyself”. Actually some believe that Socrates gave birth to humanities by shifting the focus from knowing cosmos to knowing thyself. Besides, Socrates was thinking of himself as wise man solely based of knowing about his ignorance. Knowing is related to conscious mind and ignorance is related to unconscious mind…. Again though we are a rational creature but still we need to contemplate in order to solve problems and understand more clearly. As we practice more thinking likewise our level of clearer understanding also increases. Our “ego” makes us to like claiming we are the best. For example, I like to claim that I am a good man but it is only true compare to some. The same is true to all other qualities and it stands true to all of us. If I claim that I am an honest person, of course it again stand true to some (there are people who are more honest than me)…

Now that we are aware of shallowness of our knowledge about ourselves lets read following description of a learned individual and a prized gadget,

It is how New York Times describes Professor Strogatz,

“Steven Strogatz is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. In 2007 he received the Communications Award, a lifetime achievement award for the communication of mathematics to the general public. He previously taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received the E.M. Baker Award, an institute-wide teaching prize selected solely by students. "Chaos," his series of 24 lectures on chaos theory, was filmed and produced in 2008 by The Teaching Company. He is the author, most recently, of “The Calculus of Friendship,” the story of his 30-year correspondence with his high school calculus teacher.”………….

And it is how Apple Store decribes Ipad,

Two cameras for FaceTime and HD video recording. The dual-core A5 chip. 10-hour battery life.1 Over 200 new software features in iOS 5. And iCloud. All in a remarkably thin, light design. There’s so much to iPad, it’s amazing there’s so little of it.

What do you see common in these two descriptions? New York Times describes specific features of Professor Strogatz that have market value and Apple Inc. describes Ipad’s specific features that also have market value… Market valued features are common in descriptions of both Professor Strogatz and Ipad.  Definitely both Professor Strogatz and Ipad have much more than what were described but perhaps those values weren’t of much importance according to current market values.

I just brought these two examples to illustrate how cultures are shaping the concepts of us about ourselves. Whether you like it or not and whatever culture you belongs, the global market culture is influencing all and it makes us to bury our those values which have no market value and strive to present ourselves as more marketable. Every now and then I see in the emails of the University where students are offered help in writing their Resume or CV. I just take my head. What? Helping in describing another person? Who knows one better than himself? But yes, professionals can help because they are more aware of market values than the individual who know himself better than others… Even some of us try to project ourselves what we are not… What we see in movies is not the personality of actors but their performances and performances are mostly based on market values. When youths talk, walk, dress and behave like movie stars, what do all these mean? Isn’t it self-denial? Learning and adaptations are highly valued qualities but imitations are not… I think in a time that market culture is prevailing the Socratic methods are most needed…..

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Big idea is still a big idea….

What we know as geniuses are mostly linked with big ideas, Einstein with relativity, Darwin with Evolution, Plato with Republic, Picasso with breaking lines, Marx with class struggle, Freud with role of childhood experiences in unconscious mind, Bill Gates with computer operating systems, Ford with Assembly lines, Heisenberg with Uncertainty, Gandhi with nonviolent movement and so on… How one gets a big idea is a big idea in itself that is still nothing more than a question mark. Are big ideas the product of, contemplation, education, hard work, world views or mere intelligence? That is a dividing line and Psychologists and their researches have come out with conflicting results. Pioneering works of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues from Florida State University have emphasized that it is the number of hours of practicing that matters in outcomes of works. In other words geniuses have put more time practicing… but now Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow’s results show that high scorers in SAT exams are 3 to 5 times more successful in their careers… In other words the intelligence is biased in the outcomes of equal hard works…  If we know that there are conflicting results then why we should still be interested in unlocking the sources of big ideas?...

It is a common knowledge that geniuses are NOT the products of some talent genes… If they are not the results of genes then it is really interesting to know the basis for them… if it turns out that geniuses are the products of one or several factors like thinking methodologies, education, hard work and environment then these are the things that can be arranged or strived for. Psychologists are interested because by knowing the source of geniuses we can implement them in education system and then can have a large number of geniuses that can change the world. Unfortunately there are more speculations than real results… Because there are no genetic basis for talent so we like to speculate on linking the environment with geniuses, for example, Aristotle with Athens, Michelangelo with Florence, Shakespeare with London, Picasso with Paris and Steve Jobs with Silicon Valley…No one can deny the role of environment but it is only part of the whole story as London has not too many Shakespeare, Athens have not too many Aristotle and Silicon Valley has not too many Steve Jobs and Paris does not have too many Picasso…

The fact is the Human is the only creature that besides natural environment needs a cultural environment. The cultural environment of men have no biological basis (Some like to call it behavior but intellectual products are not products of behaviors.. Were they behaviors, we have had more writers than readers, more artists than art collectors, more actors than spectators, more scientists than problems and so on) as no any other organisms have produced stories, paintings, sculptures, cities and so on… Society provides a large cultural pool that we get skills, world views and in general education from it but what produces the genuine intellectual products are the dominantly the results of the personal cultures… Every individual out of his/her unique interactions with large cultural pools tends to get obsessed with certain parts of it or may be only certain questions.

There is saying that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration and my understanding is the timing of inspiration is very important. As now it is an accepted fact that Childhood is a time when children genuinely strive to learn and explore about the world. It is why Philosophers call childhood as Pre-philosophic time of an individual and Scientists a Proto-Scientist time  of an individual but usually these genuine Scientific and Philosophical tendencies are get killed by world views that Children learn…. I think, geniuses are the lucky individuals who get such a strong inspiration in their early age that make their original Scientific and Philosophical tendencies undeterred and unharmed by the world views that they learn from School, Colleges, Universities and from Society in general and it is why they keep questioning and thinking and hence become able to see the world very differently from others… If you look to works of geniuses, they are usually individuals who have challenged the dominatingly accepted world views of their times… Intellectual rebellion is not something come out of nowhere but is something that grows as an individual grows up….

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some thoughts on our “almond switches”

I have learned that knowing the ingredients is not of much help in predicting tastes yet my ego does not let me to acknowledge my limits and makes me to have an “expert” look at the ingredients whenever I shop. In cases, where my ego helps me in right direction, I do not try to confront it. Here, the ego let me to be “health conscious” so I let it free. The same is true about neurology. I follow the research (trying to learn the ingredients) in order to have an expert look at myself as well the life around, though I know by “experience” that Scientific research is very limited in helping to know the content of human life.

It is very repetitive to say that one of the interesting compartmentalization of different parts of human brain is to look at three main parts of it, with an evolutionary perspective and call them Reptilian brain (Hind brain), Mammalian brain (Mid-brain) and Homo sapiens brain (Forebrain).  But as it is very convenient to explain many things so I use it frequently.

But out of these major divisions, there are some small parts of brain that are of much interest as they work like switches. For example, Amygdala is a pair of almond shape structure deep within the mammalian brain (medial temporal lobes); one “almond” on one sphere (Amygdala mean almond in Greek and here it is referred to the shape of the structure) and another almond on the next sphere. Amygdala connects the frontal lobe (Our Homo sapiens parts; or reasoning parts of brain) to more primitive parts of brain. It also regulates our emotional memories. So in simple words, they switch off our reasoning part of brain when we are in survival mode like when we face danger and the response become of quick decision, to fight or flight. A very clear example is that of Anger, when we become angry, our reasoning part of brain is turned off and we use our primitive part of brain (We become insane, if you like it straight forward). The “bad” part of this that primitive brain has a highway towards the frontal lobe (Means quickly respond, it is evolved to function in emergency situation) while on the way back frontal lobe is thinly wired to primitive part of brain (means have very small control over emotions and emotion related memories; that is the sad part, as those people who become extremely violent, depressed or commit suicide actually have given up to their primitive brain by not making more efforts that are required to somewhat control over emotions and emotions related memories). So, by now you might have realized that how much important is the amygdala. If we had a way to have some sort of control over amygdala then we had much control over our emotions and managing memories related to emotions.

The good news is that actually there are some ways to manipulate amygdala and it is quite amazing that these ways are thousands of years old.  Meditation and Yoga are the best ones known. Frankly, I was suspicious of the effects of breathing practices (though I was admiring their energizing and refreshing effects both on mind and body especially after learning that Kant who had lived mostly a mental life as he didn’t travel more than 10 miles beyond his birthplace, Konigsberg; It is famous that he had so predictable life that his neighbors were setting their clocks by his daily walks; Yes his daily walks was his meditation, it was the time when he was not talking to anybody and was spending thinking while taking deep breaths in the process; It is also said that he had overcome his diseases by his daily walking meditations; Whatever, meditation has a lot more beyond Kantian walks). Now, we know that brain is like other parts of body, means become stronger by usage (The neurons increase its wirings/connections by high usage; highly wired neurons work faster and more effectively). Imaginations and concentration through breathing practices give some sort of control over amygdala and helps to calm down or in modern terms, helps to Cool Down. Meditation is the really an effective way of cooling down.   

Yoga and meditation came into being to smooth the process of Physical degeneration. The Physical maturity generally completes at age of 12-13, though it varies from person to person and this means the reverse process starts. The reverse process, though is a universal fact but is not something acceptable to all and has different psychological effects on different individuals. It is true that we can’t stop it but can only slow it down by proper nutrition, exercise and a healthy life style. Although meditation was designed mainly aiming for psychological resilience in the face of physical degeneration but now it is widely used as a tool for gaining a physical resilience, mostly through Yoga. Even from the beginning it was realized that Physical resilience is mandatory for Psychological resilience and hence the breathing exercise became at core of the practice as it affects equally physical and mental processes….

We all somewhat specialize in the different disciplines and have our own aptitudes but there are some skills that are mandatory by nature and add to quality of life. I categorize cooking and yoga along with social skills and power of reasoning in this group of skills…. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The transcendence of Beauty

Transcendence gets meaning only when one believes that there are levels of experience. In simple words transcendence becomes meaningful when one believes that experience grows and evolves… Let me share a share a story to provide a context for what I am going to explain,

Teenagers have untiring energy and it was the case with us. There were a race for learning skills and a craze for consumption of knowledge. We were trying to learn any trade that were available and read everything accessible. In one such effort I and my uncle enrolled in Technical Training Center. I was learning auto-mechanics in evening shift because I was going to college in mornings while he was learning electronics and wood-works in the morning and evening shifts. In auto-mechanic department, there were a lot of engines for beginners to work on. At the start of course, we were disintegrating these engines fully and then putting them together to have practical concepts in order to help us understand well later on, in the course when taking theory classes. The funny part was, whenever we were putting the engine back, a lot of stuffs were leaving out and we were wondering, “From where these “excess” stuffs came?” The bad part was that we had to disintegrate the engine again to find the right places for those excess objects. At the beginning it was really heartbreaking because we were failing to find a place for all “excess parts”. But as time moved on, we became better and finally became able to put together everything back and we had no more excess parts. Unless you haven’t gone through this process, you can’t fully realize what I am saying. Sometimes after several failed attempts, when we were exhausted without finding the right places for those excess parts, we were damning all those big names that we knew, “Damn to Michael Faraday for discovering laws of electrolysis and making possible ignition system to make the lives of baby mechanics miserable”…..“Damn to Henry Ford, for making large-scale manufacturing of cars possible and to make lives of auto-mechanics difficult to learn a lot and never cease learning”…. After we became successful in disintegrating and putting again easily the engines, we were relaxed and praising those great inventors and looking to them as our ideals as they (Ford and Faraday) didn’t go to college and yet had revolutionized the world….

It is not important what one takes the meaning of spirit as long as one takes it as something having more capacity than bodily experiences. Spiritualists believe that if one is failed in worldly affairs, he can’t succeed in spiritual affairs. If one is failed to understand the body he can’t succeed to understand the spirit. If one is failed in taking care of his body, he can’t succeed in taking care of his spirit. If one’s body is not healthy, you can’t expect that he can have a healthy spirit. If one’s body is not clean you can’t expect a clean spirit is residing in. Unless one has not the taste of worldly success he can’t realize the shallowness of this success to search for more in depth spiritual success. Unless one is not climbed a mountain top he can’t see others mountains beyond.

The taste of success is mandatory for tasting the spiritual experiences. Like our teenage learning of trades, we weren’t able to appreciate the inventors’ ingenuity until we were successful in learning about their inventions. In order to appreciate from depths of heart an inventor, one needs to have an actual knowledge of his inventions. Otherwise they would see “excess objects”….

To me beauty is a spiritual experience. No doubt we all experience beauty but the level of experience is not the same. Beauty transcends so is its experience. Now fit all the constructions in previous paragraphs to experience of beauty. In order to step in spiritual world one needs to taste the success. Success in beauty is to get rid of ugliness. If we remove physical dirt, put things in order to not have “excess objects”, things become beautiful. When we get rid of confusions, hatred and ugly ideas, our thoughts become more beautiful. To me, a higher level of beauty is not something unintentional but we create them with purpose and well thought intentions…. And the transcendence of beauty is not something revealed out of nowhere but by practicing regularly well planned courses…

Sunday, October 9, 2011

From Aided-Senses to Aided-Imagination…

The difference of goal and vision is defined as, “goal is a specified objective to be achieved” and “vision is having the knowledge of what future will look like or will be”. With broadening of our visions we are becoming less and lesser sure about the terms we use. For example dictionary defines the term “genius” as, “Someone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality, Unusual mental ability, Exceptional creative ability, a natural talent”…It feels true when we look to very short list of popular genius individuals, of course, there are not too many Isaac Newton, Einstein, Michael Angelou and so on but  looking to the number of the Scientists and Artists with natural talents, unusual mental abilities and originality that are evident from enormous discoveries (though not as big as laws of motion or relativity but yet big enough to transform the lives of people across the world) and rapid changes in technologies that have changed the basic life styles and perspectives about living, one gets inclined to agree with another definition of “genius”; There are countless number of people with natural talents and originality but one gets lucky to work with an idea that proves revolutionary and he/she becomes an icon of originality and natural talents. Whenever I encounter with this definition, it makes me smile as it seems that random fixation of genetic mutations fits here too, natural laws are deeply penetrative to embody quarks and human imagination at same time. Which one of these two definitions regarding the “genius” is true?
That is what makes me shaky. Yes shaky, not because I do not have a clear concept of what genius is? But shaky because of rapidly blurring vision of future that makes it difficult to see in a penetrative manner far into future and see that how long today’s a truth stand true? Frankly, I am not really convinced that technological advancements will surpass the human capabilities rather they add to human capabilities. It is not the technologies that will change the reality but the humans who will use these technologies… I am so sure about it because we all know very well the Power of Aided-Senses and how they have changed our perspectives of reality as well as our of visions…
Until now, the unprecedented leap forward that human had in Sciences been dominantly the results of aided senses… From recorded history of systematic usage of reasoning in a systematic to uncover the reality (Ancient Athens) till renaissance, the biggest challenge was the epistemological challenge. What can human know? And outcome was a trend among philosophers to create a system (reality) based on their epistemologies, so we there were logical wars for reality. The most interesting of these systems is that of Rene Descartes because of his most radical approach. He declared that we can skeptic of certain knowledge of everything except of one thing. At least we can be sure about knowledge of our existence and it is why he said, “I think, therefore I am”.
All these skepticisms and epistemological problems were because of vulnerability of human senses to deceptions. All of our senses are awkwardly limited and prone to deception and these are causing problems in establishing reality but technological advances made human able to increase the ranges of their senses by using mechanical waves and electromagnetic waves. The uses of these waves in combination with discovery and creation of new materials and their unique properties the humans have magnificently increased the abilities of their senses to penetrate deeper into roots of reality and further far away in past and future simultaneously. Besides, computing machines have drastically decreased the chances of errors. In short, aided-senses have made human able to solve much of epistemological problems by having more confidence in their observations and hence somewhat on their conclusions.
Knowing all these, you may ask, if we have become confident in establishing reality then why you are shaky? Isn’t it counterintuitive to our increasing confidence that we have gotten in our observations and scientific laws?
The answer lies in the same question. As Aided-senses made us able to become more confident, a new development is making us go reverse and that is aided-imagination. Aided-senses helped us in uncovering reality as it is but the aided-imagination will help us by making us to able to imagine in very unlikely ways or better to say to imagine in very unrealistic manners and how to make them reality. This is the basis of my shakiness.
Until now we had only few geniuses who have changed the human fate, what if we succeed in building 3D computer systems not only functioning like human brain but also with similar capabilities?  Can you imagine what could you imagine with these aided-imaginations? Of course with a un-aided-imagination you can’t. Such systems in the hands of those people with high imaginative minds would change the world in ways that will blur the border of reality with fiction. Of course even people with mediocre-imaginations having access to such aided-imaginations tools would have more imaginative power than a lot of geniuses that we now familiar with. How people with aided-imaginations will change the world? That is what we only can imagine (and as there are countless number ways that you can imagine so no one can truly predict the face of future) and without an aided-imagination, I can only imagine a negligible part of it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What does it mean to be alive?

As silly this question may seem, that serious and deep it is to the modern Philosophers. Childish questions are considered as Pre-Philosophical questions. The childish wandering of why he can’t have what others have has the most basic question about the socio-economical system of a society in which the child live. In fact, Philosophy begins with an ordinary question and ends with profound conclusions or leaves us with more complex questions. The question that, “what does it mean to be alive?” has brought by to public domain by Philosophical-Science fiction movie series, “Matrix” and then recently  by Science fiction movie, “Avatar”. Before, I go to questions posed by these movies, I like to quote Cornel Ronald West, a Professor of Philosophy at the Princeton University, “…..Every pleasure has its place, …social pleasure has its place, TV pleasure has its place….there are certain pleasure of the mind that cannot be denied. It is true that you are socially isolated because you are in library or in home and so on but you are intensely alive. In fact you are much alive than these folks walking on the streets of New York in crowd with no intellectual interrogation or questioning going on. If you read John Ruskin or Mark Twain or Herman Melville, you are almost to throw the book against the wall because you are so intensely alive that you need a break…….there are certain things that make us too alive, something like being too intensely in love that (one) can’t do anything….hard to back into everyday life, do you know what I mean?......”
OK, after learning, what professor means now come back to our movies, there is one thing common in both movies and that is the digital reality or living out of Physical reality once you are plugged into the digital reality. It poses a very serious question, what does really living means? Is a very engaging mental process like reading an interesting book as Professor said is being too intensely alive that one needs break? Or being plugged in a digital reality is more lively than bodily living that have a more disperse stimuli and most of the times routine or boring tasks?
Well, answering this question is not so easy because Philosophers like societies have been divided on this issue since known recorded history of humankind. You may have heard of Sybarites. In literature, Sybarites are synonymous with wealth and luxury. Sybaris was an early Greek colony of Italy  and by some luck and good policies like having good cultivable land and by giving citizenship to foreign settlers, it grew so much in wealth and refine luxuries that Sybarites become synonymous with wealth, refined luxury and pleasure seeking. On the other hand, there was another Greek colony in Italy by name of Croton and her people were quite opposite of Sybarites, liking to live very simple life of sobriety. Their people were famous for the Physical strength and in fact, they had a lot of victors at then Olympic games. What has added to the credit of Croton is the establishment of Pythagorean School here. Pythagoras, himself remained the governor of the Croton for a short period of time. Pythagoras had adapted an ascetic life style after visiting India and had a crowd following him and his way of life. These two colonies of Greeks were at odd with each other over different life styles which resulted in destruction of Sybaris by Croton Army in 510 BCE.
Though these two Greek colonies are now part of history but their rivalries are still alive among cultures, intellectuals and among ordinary people.  For thousands of years, the Philosophical notion was that “self” is something apart from body and life was mostly tied to the self. The body is what “self” was owned and it is what evident in our everyday usage of language like “My body”, My leg, my arm, my eyes and similarly my car, my phone, my shirt, my shoes and so on. This notion might be still intellectually very alive but some rival voices can be heard like those of Dr. Kimerer Lamothe, a Harvard Professor and the author of “What a Body Knows; finding wisdom in desire” that is using the term, “Bodily- self” to counter the traditional concept of “self”. Kimerer believes that to be more alive, one needs not to focus on the external stimuli but to listen to the wisdom of body. Though this is not as intense as those of Sybarites but it represents the majority of American concept of life, “Fun-centered life style”. It would not a wrong analogy if we consider, USA as modern representative of Sybarites. On other hand we need an analogy for Croton and I think Iranians, though are not a perfect one but is a good analogy of ancient Croton (Of course, Iranian do not have modern equivalent military strength of Croton but they are a good analogy in terms of life style). So somewhat we can say that the rivalry of Sybaris and Croton over life styles is still alive.
Coming back to our question, what does it mean to be alive? Imagine that someone is in coma ( his all senses are alive but the brain is unconscious), do you think, he will feel more alive, if we take him out to the soft spring breeze, to singing of birds, to voice of flowing water, to colors of butterflies dancing over flowers? Now look to other side of coin, consider a person with physical impairment like being deaf, dumb, blind or any other senses that have lost functionality, would he be more alive if we take him out?
Let’s take another example, Say, you are entering a restaurant with exotic foods that you have never tried before, wouldn’t you feel the aroma, tastes and texture or look with intensity? It is what break, means to senses. The same is true for mental activity. Wouldn’t you need some time to digest if you have an engaging dream? What about an engaging movie, music or story? I read with full excitement the “Alchemist” of Coelho Paulo that it was hard me to allow myself to go to bed without finishing it though my eyes were badly burning. The same is true about the Korean Dramas like those of “Jumong”, “Jewel in the Palace” and so on that sometimes, I miss, not watching like Korean dramas.
What is the conclusion of all these discussion? My conclusion, though it is still an open ending one is that being alive means living in duality of “self” and “bodily-self” with the knowledge that “bodily-self” has a serious finitudes and “self” has infinite dimensions. But at the same time realizing that infinity of “self” depends on “finitudes” of “bodily-self” and it is why we see the instability of digital reality or plugged in life in both movies, “Matrix” and “Avatar”. We can’t ignore our bodies and at the same time we can’t afford missing the freedom and infinity of the mental life. We have to keep them fresh by regular breaks :) ……..

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A key to the key challenges for teachers; Presentation

I don't think, it needs an explanation or description as person himself speaks................