Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Location: Rochester, United States

Chronically curious モ..

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Riots in Pune today. More Indian madness; someone burnt a statue of Ambedkar, a guy who worked for the dalits (untouchables, downtroddens) in the city of Kanpur, and today in parts of Pune there was curfew. I went with my cousins and uncle to Deccan, and most of the shops were closed. My family had a lucky escape. They were sitting in a restaurant, and mom was outside with the baby, when the owners got everyone in and closed the shutters and turned off the lights. A little later people were throwing stones at the closed shutters. Luckily it got over quickly and they drove home asap. Three people are dead and the streets are not safe anymore. Brilliant...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Indian curiosities

1) Went to get passport photos for some stuff here. The guy carefully twisted me into what he thought was the ideal configuration- the shoulders a little this way, the torso straighter, and the final little turn of the head to my right. Then he gets behing the digital camera and asks me to turn my head to my left again. 2) At the vegetable market, the guy in front of me has these sunglasses where, instead of the more typical European texts like Christian Dior or Chanel, is inscribed the name of (his favourite?) bollywood film, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.

Return to India

With a 7-year stay outside, I think this is the first time I see India from an almost outsiders perspective. And me and Adish agreed that it is like living in a comic book.

Day 1

(a) Land at Bombay airport, and the guy at immigration accuses me of forging my passport, and says he is keeping it and I have to make a new one. So I said I can't since I have to return in less than a month. So he gives me back my passport. (b) Dad has booked a shuttle service, from the Bombay airport to home in Pune. The shuttle service is a beat-up 7-seater van with a cracked windshield, exceedingly dusty seats and eventually rattles and thumps along the roads. It nevertheless proclaims itself to be a limousine. (c) Along the Bombay link road there is little traffic at ~2 in the morning. So two horse-drawn chariots are having a race near Chembur. It's like Ben Hur, except each chariot is loaded to capacity. (d) On the highway. The van manages 80kmph despite the potholes and the crazy weaving and zagging traffic. And the driver has just one hand on the wheel; with the other he is fixing himself a shot of tobacco with lime; every so often yanking the wheel to dodge the odd pothole.

Days 2-4

(a) Everything has become so expensive!! Actually, it's like this. The tea I used to have in the little shops when I was in college hs gone up from Rs. 2 to Rs. 4. But now there is Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and the likes, with a totally different ambience (flash), and the same tea costs Rs. 50! (b) Adish and me we go to Vaishali; one of our fav. Pune joints. There is the usual queue of people all the way from the door to the eating area. Adish and me just walk confidently in, ask for table and are seated before 90% of the waiting lot. How this happens is a mystery. (c) I find that my vehicle of choice is to be a 22 year-old Bajaj scooter. Takes all of 5 minutes to get my driving feel back. Actually manage to drive the car through Pune traffic. Applause all around. (d) I find I remember almost all of the Pune streets and bylanes! Me and cousin Monu go to a place with an unexpected bowling alley. Monu has spent the day visiting girls that our families had taken previous appointments with, looking for a suitable match. Score: 0. Apparently this business is a bit like the MTV Dismissed: at some point the girl tells the parents hovering nearby that they are in time-out. What transpires then he didn't say. (e) Went to a bollywood film with an old & close friend. She is the only one who, in the first year in college, knew where she wanted to be, and now she is there. I've forgotten that in Indian theatres the sound levels are incredibly loud. And with the whole speaker banks along the sides of the theatre, background songs and stuff come from just about anywhere. And when the hero makes his first appearance, there are the whistles and the cheering from the audience. And the guy next to me is talking all through the film on his cellphone. The film is supposed to be slick. It's simply awful. I almost fall asleep twice. The saving grace is a very very sexy babe (Bipasha Basu) who occupies ~20% of the screentime. (film: Dhoom 2). (f) A car outside the window is backing up. I can tell because it is playing an electronic, beepy version of a traditional religious song, Om Jay Jagadish Hare... Pic: Me and Adish in front of a bollywood poster; Shah Rukh Khan in the Don remake, at the Cafe Coffee Day, FC Road

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Funnily, it doesn't feel particularly different inside, actually getting a Ph.D. (cum laude (snigger)). For the perverse, here is the link to the thesis. And this is the pic of slide 1, with Jacques and Marina, who together saw me through.. Thanks! *p.h.e.w.*

Monday, November 20, 2006

D-Day Minus One

This non-posting frenzy ought to cool down over the next few days. In the meantime, all in preparation for tomorrow, this is for many people who contributed in various ways:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wisdom of the masses redux. (-> Fodor)

Some dude with a very Indian name on German telly runs a show called Quarks & Co; and this one Mr. Ranga Yogeshwar recently ~replicated an old old finding by Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton; famous for all kinds of quirky things from coining the term 'eugenics' to creating phrenology to determining the distribution of the inter-person distance while sitting watching passers-by on a park bench. Anyhow, Sig. Galton once went to a rural fair, where there was a game, consisting of guessing the weight of a bull (you could say it was a bullish market, that day). Anyhow, what FG did was to record the guesses of all the peasants, and looked at the mean value. As it turned out, the mean was pretty damn close to the actual weight. R. Yogeshwar now did the same thing with a beaker of 5,780 sweets: the average of the ~16,000 viewers who replied was 5,714: within 1% of the actual answer. So why is this? One possibility is that each person "knows" the correct answer, but there is some kind of system noise that interferes with the output. Another is that each person is very sure of his/her own answer, but that this answer draws on different sources of information about the physical properties of matter and stuff in general, built up over a lifetime. And while each individual might have a slightly distorted version of "reality", the fact that on average these versions correspond to reality seems to suggest that these versions of reality are derived from the input. How else could it be? Well, if you have been reading Fodor, it is not clear how concepts are acquired. In fact, it's not clear how the external world drives the formation of concepts in the way that we seem to have them. And that's harsh. But to me this wisdom o.t. masses expt indicates that the world does impinge; perhaps in tuning the concepts.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Values: from Saussure to Pedagogy

While chatting with Pari, it occurred to me that there is a strange similarity between Ferdinand de Saussure and the Bhagvad Gita. The essential idea in both-- the first for Linguistics, and the second for all of human affairs-- is that nothing has an intrinsic value. Like Chomsky said, (via Lila Gleitman; I can't seem to find the quote online): in the absence of humans, there are no garbage cans. As an extension, neither is anything good or bad. Nor is anything noun or verb, or two different words, differing by a phoneme. As Saussure points out, if we have a certain distinction in the mind, we will attempt to externalize this, whether by changing a phoneme, or sticking a morpheme onto it or just maybe gesturing in a markedly different way. Which straightaway suggests why Saussure insisted in the social aspect: if I make a significantly different gesture, you might think that the reason I do so is because I believe there to be 2 units where previously there was only one. So, a kind of social contract (that I make a dissimilar gesture because I want to say something dissimilar) drives the segregation of what was a single sign into two different signs. Thus, from Saussure, we go-- via Relevance Theory-- to Pedagogy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cell life video

Katya sent around a really nice link to a video: Cellular Visions: The inner life of a cellThe video is a combination of molecular data and animation tricks.. somehow somone felt that this was what Harvard students needed. In any case, what's amazing is that for someone like me who has studied mol. bio., many things are clearly recognizable as such! Like this pic of a myosin-like motor protein walking along some microtubules, dragging something that looks like its budded off off the golgi. Brilliant! :)