Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I am moving

I have moved the blog to
Do update your bookmarks/favorites accordingly. See  you there!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Discourse on Charity

I was reading a book By Daniel Pink recently- Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Now the book in question is about theories of motivation and how creative activities are hampered by extrinsic motivators. Highly recommended. If you do not have the time to read this book, watch this 11 minutes clip. This covers some of the principal points of the book.

However, this post is not about motivation per se. The title suggests that I must talk about charity. And I am about to do precisely that.

While I was browsing through the “English Language and Usage” site I talked about a few days back, I came across this question. It set me thinking about volunteering and charity in new light. Is there something called charity at all? Are the conventional definitions of charity portraying an accurate picture? 

Charity is defined as  “liberality to or provision for those in need or distress; alms-giving” by the Oxford dictionary. Explicitly, whenever you do something that benefits someone else, it is charity. However, that would imply that anyone working anywhere is being charitable. All doctors, all engineers, all accountants, all of them do things that benefit others. That is why they are there in the first place. However, there acts are not called charity at all. Why? Because  these have a return to the respective benefactors.

This brings us to the implicit assumptions of this definition, that there is no benefit to the benefactor where charity is involved. As a doctor, if you treat your patients and pocket a fat fee, it is not charity but if you do it for free (monetarily), it’s charity! Right?

I hope you have seen the video by now. You haven’t? Go back and watch it now! I’ll wait here.

OK. As you must have seen in the video, most people in creative endeavors are driven by intrinsic motivators, a sense of autonomy, a sense of mastery and a sense of purpose. This is the principal driving force behind all the ‘so called’ charitable activities. A sense of purpose and autonomy, gives a kind of a high to the benefactor that money might not bring.

Now if there IS a return on the activity, can it really be called charity? Why is it that the definitions imply that the only benefit worth considering is monetary in nature? The great products of the intrinsic motivators, Linux-Wikipedia-Firefox-Apache, are certainly not charity. Or are they? What do you think?

Friday, August 20, 2010

An invaluable Resource

English Language and Usage is a free, community driven Q&A site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Visit this site- trust me- it is an exhilarating experience.

Here’s the link again: English Language and Usage

This site uses open ID, so if you have mail accounts on Gmail, yahoo or a host of other sites, you are good to go at the start.

Monday, August 2, 2010


What is the first thing that you pay attention to when you are given somebody else's vehicle to drive? Think about it! Is it not usually the brakes of the vehicle? (Okay, I admit, the title is a dead giveaway but let's run with it.) At least I always test the brakes before I start driving the vehicle comfortably.

Now, is it not a bit strange and ironical that the most importance is given to a thing that has a purpose that is an exact antithesis to the very concept of a vehicle? A vehicle aids your movement from one point to another, brakes stop it from doing so. And still they are considered as important as, or even more important than, the systems that aid movement-viz. tires, engine and so forth. Their disruptive influence is welcome and essential. They are essential because had they not existed, the vehicle would never have dared travel at speeds it does for the fear of a wreck. Today, a vehicle with brakes is blissfully nimble, confident in the belief that there are brakes that would not let it go astray.

I hope you can see where this is going. Our civilization, as we know it is akin to a vehicle. It continues its relentless march to future and to the utopian ideals that human kind strives for. It has such wonderful tools such as science and technology and culture and traditions and philosophies and democracies et al. These are the engines of civilization, which move the vehicle of civilization forward. For eons, humans have been a witness to this juggernaut continuing on its relentless march.

Now, as a logical extension to this analogy, what are the brakes to the vehicle of civilization? Are there any at all? Are they as important as brakes in a physical vehicle?

The brakes to the civilization are the people who hold on to beliefs that are long irrelevant, refuse to consider new ideas and thwart all attempts to hold a meaningful discourse and discussion on any issue. They still 'knock on the wood' a hundred times a day, believe in horoscopes and planetary influences and live in intellectual caves. Every new idea, be it cloning, or erection of new nuclear reactors, or new vaccines meet with an inflexible resistance that make the progress of ideas as protracted as if they are moving in a pond of morass. They are a disruptive influence, without a shard of doubt, just as brakes are. Need examples? Here they are! Opposition to cloning. Opposition to Nuclear reactors. Stuff people believe in.

Now, is there a silver lining to this cloud? Does this self-ordained rectitude serve a larger purpose in social and civilization unpinning of human sociology?

It turns out that it indeed does. Consider what these attitudes do to our innovators. They compel them to make informed and cautious choices. They compel them to make their arguments bulletproof. It is the heat of skepticism that either bakes the hitherto 'half-baked and worthy' ideas or burns away the unworthy ones. Look at the safety regulations on the erection of nuclear power plants, all under the pressure of the vocal opposition. Also, opposition can act as a great catalyst to ideas, affecting the rate rather than the inputs and outputs. And just like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, all changes to ideas leave them by. And then they are ready to throw their spanners in the next set of wheels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Managing Expectations:

Expectations are the bane of human interaction, a facet of interpersonal interface that is unavoidable yet a source of recurring agony to all concerned. Expectation, per se, is not something to be scorned; it is unmanaged expectations that are the thorns in the flesh. What do I mean? I intend to address that in just a moment. I hope that by the end of this post, we will all share a common understanding of what managing expectations mean. Now, how to do it warrants its own post, something that I intend to deal with later. (Managing your expectations with this sentenceJ)

The dictionary definition of expectation is: The state or mental attitude of expecting something to happen; or Supposition with regard to the present or the past. Now as may be inferred from above, an expectation is a state of the mind, a mental attitude. This definition makes expectation look like an innocuous feeling, something as harmless as a baby, but beware, it is a baby alright but also may be a baby cobra. Let me explain. In any relationship there is a process of give and take. There are always two parties to it, one that hopes to receive something, aka the customer, and the person from whom the expectation lies, aka the seller. Now the thing desired may be material, like a good or service in lieu of monetary compensation, or it may be spiritual, emotional or in other words, non-material.

The buyer always has some expectations from the seller. To give an analogy from the material side of things, the organization that you happen to work for has some expectations from you as an employee in return for the salary that it pays you. The company here is the buyer of your services, and you are the seller. Now, it is the seller's responsibility to ensure that he under-promise and over-delivers rather than the other way round. He must be able to manage the expectations such that the buyer, the employer, does not set unrealistic goals for him to achieve, those that cannot be achieved and the failure at which causes the employee to look like someone who does not perform at all. The fact is that the employee is not performing to the employer's expectations and only the employee is to be blamed for that. It is his failure to manage the expectations. For example, he might have committed to complete the said task in a time frame that was an unrealistic, off the cuff estimate. Be careful when promising.

This has even more implications and relevance to the management of relationships. The failure of any relationship, marriage, friendship, and so forth, all have the basic cause of failing to do something that the other person involved expects. Again the same word, expect. The expectation of time spent together, support, love, respect and so forth from the other person is a natural feeling. Now the expectations, if not fulfilled, cause the people to drift apart. If each party involved in the relationship learns to make it clear to the other party, what and how much can be readily spared, nothing like it. Easier said than done, though.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A great essay by Albert Einstein -The world as I see it

Needless to say, I cannot find a word that I do not agree with or even have second thoughts about. Here it goes:

"How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people --first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving...

"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible.

"My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude..."

"My political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. It is an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient of excessive admiration and reverence from my fellow-beings, through no fault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be the desire, unattainable for many, to understand the few ideas to which I have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. I am quite aware that for any organization to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader. In my opinion, an autocratic system of coercion soon degenerates; force attracts men of low morality... The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.

"This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man... I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Knowledge or Information?

For quite some time, there has been quite a lot of talk about 'General Knowledge'. There are even subjects in the school curricula called GK (General Knowledge). Let us together go into what it actually is.

Oxford English Dictionary defines knowledge as: Intellectual perception of fact or truth; clear and certain understanding or awareness. What I understand from this definition and my own perception is that knowledge is a reusable and expandable form of information. As a trivial example, suppose I know that touching something hot is going to burn me and I know that a frying pan is hot, I can connect the dots and figure out that touching the frying pan is going to burn me. Now if I see something else that is hot, for example an electric iron, I can deduce that it will not be prudent to touch it either! The knowledge has been reused in a new circumstance. If I propose a theory in fluid dynamics today and advance the humankinds' knowledge in that area, the very fact that the theory can be applied to any scenario that comes within its purview makes it, well, a scientific theory or a fact.

Another facet that must be emphasized when talking about knowledge is that it must be expandable. The application of knowledge should enhance knowledge itself. Using the same example as above, if I touch something that I know nothing about and end up burning my finger, I can deduce that it is something that is normally hot, and hence I gather a fact that may be of use when characterizing the thing.

Now consider a sample of what constitutes the subject of GK as it is taught in schools and tested in examinations at all levels (The first result when I search for GK questions on Google):

  • Who was the first prime minister of < insert country here>?
  • What is the name of the longest river in the world?
  • What is the name of the longest highway in the world?
  • What is the length of the English Channel?
    And so forth……………………………..

Now how would you rate the questions above as reusable sources of knowledge? On the basis of expandability? I, for one, can't see the utility of knowing the name of a person who happens to be at a certain post at a certain place of the world. And even if I do know the name, what use is it? How is that going to help me know anything else? How am I going to expand my horizons based on that fact?

Now don't get me wrong! I certainly don't want to trivialize knowing all this stuff and don't intend to rile people that have vast stores of information. But to put things in perspective, let's first stop calling information as knowledge. Only then would we be able to realize that information is the first step to knowledge. A fact, when learnt and known constitutes information. The very fact, when used, and reused, and expanded upon, and assimilated, becomes knowledge. It ceases to be a showpiece, and becomes a tool. And tools can always be used to generate more showpieces.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The passenger in a car

Let's imagine that you have a beautiful, highly functional and a shining new car. It's an epitome of artistic finesse and the very symbol of perfection. You are, quite naturally, bedazzled by its prosaic beauty. You tend to spend all your waking hours on the car's upkeep, polishing it, greasing it, oiling it, listening for abnormal noises, driving it to the fuel station to get a refill ad infinitum. Lather, Rinse Repeat. You never use it to actually go somewhere, but are unusually fussy about even the fuel station that you use for a refill. This goes on and on and on. Every day of your life is spent tending to the car, but not using it as much. Sometimes the car breaks down, and you spend sleepless nights while it is at the workshop, agonizing over the distress your beloved car is going through.

And then, suddenly, when the car is almost past its useful life, you realize the car was hardly ever used. Now that you think of using it, it will no longer do your bidding, as it is no longer up to it. Remember, it is almost the time to go to a scrap yard.

You might say, why this long and ridiculous harangue? Wait, I am coming to that! Well, consider that the car is the body you have been bestowed with, and the passenger is your intellect, your brain, your soul, if you will. The scenario above in not so foreign, when you consider that most of us do nothing to improve upon our intellectual prowess and our spiritual moorings all our lives. We just cater to our physical needs, choosing what to eat and where (remember the fuss over choosing the fuel station?), what to wear and improving our looks, and building more comfortable sheds and garages to park our cars, bodies, while are passenger is sitting idle, twiddling his thumbs. We keep on serving the vehicle, earning money to fulfill what it needs and desires all our lives.
And then, at the dusk of our lives, we realize that our detour on Mother Earth will soon come to an end and our passenger has travelled little. We try making last ditch efforts to make him travel. We have all seen people well past superannuation drowning themselves in spiritual texts and religious discourses, haven't we? But, by then, these carry no meaning, because there is no area where you can apply those lessons any more. It is simply a waste of time and a rescue attempt that is fated to failure at the very start.
We should all gaze inside and realize that the lives we are leading are a journey of the soul. It is our responsibility to provide a well oiled vehicle, a well maintained body, for the soul to travel. But let's not miss the forest for the trees and make the soul serve the body, rather than the other way round.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The motivation for and the origin of this Blog

The name:

The name of this blog, the 5th dimension, has been inspired by an incident that is described in a book that I happen to be reading at the moment. The book is called Einstein, the life and times by Robert C. Clark.

Einstein, in his later years, was averse to believing the concept that the quantum phenomena are not deterministic and causal. Somebody once asked him: If electrons are shot at a lead sheet with two holes, one at a time, an interference pattern is observed on a screen placed behind the sheet. Which Hole does the electron actually pass through? To this, Einstein replied in jest: "It passes through the fifth Dimension!" He was trying to imply some kind of cryptic and mystic connotations to the word the 5th dimension, and hence the name.

My URL Choice:

I have always been an enigmatic thinker, even to myself on occasions. Running the risk of being considered immodest, I consider myself to have a knack of driving to a root of every matter and trying to decipher the design of it. As Einstein famously said once in response to a telegram by Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, and I quote, I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings, unquote. Whatever be the fact, whoever says it, if I can't fit it in with my world view, it is impossible to coerce me to believe in it. Doesn't it make me a bit cryptic?

Why a Blog?

I am a person very fond of a healthy discussion on any topic under the sun, and I hope this forum provides me with illuminated opinions on topics I choose to post. Some people consider me argumentative, possibly a character flaw that is attributed to me, but I generally don't mean to. I just think in a manner that is too tightly integrated with what logic dictates, but would be the first one to admit if my logical premise breaks down in certain circumstances. I seek the help of the web community to show me the other facets of my conjectures and premises.

I have always been quite fond of reading and have been an extensive and an intensive reader, sometimes even both. I am trying my hand at writing for almost the first time; let's see how it goes in future.

Hope to see you again in this space. I would really appreciate constructive criticism, and topics to spark discussion and thought.

Au Revoir.

Hey I started a Blog

After months of procrastinating and just not being able to come around to it, I finally managed to start a blog. Let me wish myself best of luck J. See you here on a regular basis! Au revoir.