Friday, July 27, 2018

Book Review: 'Stories of Science Gone Wrong'

'Stories of Science Gone Wrong' by Paul A Offit. The book begins with a quote, "Invention does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos". And I expected the book to come up with new ideas out of confusion.
Rightly, author's introduction mentions of the search for the worst inventions ever, and how he could reach the seven ones described in the book.
The opening chapter is about opium, how it revolutionized the management of pain, while forcing us to live with the dangers of addiction. A chapter on Fritz Haber, and his work on the synthesis of Nitrogen follows it, which examine the revolutionary changes it brought to agricuture, and consequentially, the balance of world power. The terrible tragedy it unleashed, is then examined. Nitrogen pollution and its effect on the living world, nitrogen and its products of chemical warfare like mustard gas, phosgene gas and others that found a way into the gas chambers are poignantly described. (Where his son too is made to go)
A chapter about the book "The Passing of the Great Race", the revolution of eugenics it unleashed everywhere, compulsory sterilization and other horrible experiments that followed in nazi Germany, and other related matter, then follows.
Narrating the story of Rosemary Kennedy as an example, the horrors of lobotomy is analyzed next. The story of Linus Pauling and the tragic craze for vitamins and a few mor stories of similar vein follows it.
As the book mentions, although we hold on to the hope of a better life through science, we need to approach all scientific advances cautiously and with eyes wide open—and to make sure that we learn from our mistakes and aren’t simply paralyzed by them. For gains in the short term, we are letting ourselves to be overwhelmed by losses in the long term.
I liked the book. It proves once again my view - that humans need not think rationally most of the times- correct.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


'THE MYTH OF ECONOMY - WHAT NATURE CAN TEACH US THAT HARVARD DOES NOT' by Dr. Rajkumar Chetty, MD FRCPath, begins with an interesting question. "When it comes to economy, You have hardly any say in it as a common man. Do you? Here, I am going to explore the nature of our economy and look for things we are doing wrong and what we can do about it." Naturally, I read the book with attention, which is about the enormous similarities between the way our economy runs in the society and the way life systems conduct the needs of the body(energy economy). And what we can learn here, to fix the problems before it is too late.

It begins by analysing the economic model, and finds that what we have devised for ourselves is plain wrong and unfair. It is a bad design. It helps some lucky ones while ignoring the interests of the majority. It is evil in that respect. What does not work for the majority cannot be considered a good idea. The world economic model is not democratic, it is evil and wrong.
Next chapter is about the similarities between the economies, life systems maintain to control its resources, and that the society nutures, in handling the same. How our metabolism is a great equalizer, which always stores the surplus energy for a rainy day. How our fat cells (Adipocytes) act as our bank of food energy. Surplus is stored here, which we know, when not used, causes more harm than good. Hence our body promotes its regular use. Instead of this, when it comes to managing our society, why big economies are introducing instability, the author wonders. 
The way we presently deal with such situations are discussed in the few following chapters. How we ensure a desirable standard of living, and the evolution of financial entities like, banks, currency, etc. 
The next and last chapter is about the theme of the book. How to put into practice, the easy systems, the life adopts for its maintenance, in controlling the economies of our society. Since there is a lot of similarity between the way natural life systems conduct their economy and the way we do it in our monetary economy, there hardly should be a difficulty, the book finds. The author then goes on to make many suggestions, all of which looks sensible, to say the least. For example, energy economics of a life system is based on socialistic principles. Nothing in a life system is owned by any single organ or a group of cells. Ownership is a nonexistent phenomenon in life systems. Once we introduce such ideas into the human society, we will be freed of much of the squabbles, fights, or wars.
I liked the book. It smells of freshness, vision and ingenuity, as well as being a thorough study. Supporting reasons are shown for the proposed changes, wherever necessary. However, as author says, a system like this can put a stop to our attempts to maximize self-centred gains even if it means suppression or oppression of others, only when we assume that we have succeeded in making excess of wealth, unattractive or harmful. I was looking for a few, firm suggestions in this regard, to aid my imagination run riot!. Alas, I couldn't find any.

Monday, July 16, 2018


'THE CRITIQUE OF PRACTICAL REASON' by Immanuel Kant. Humans, the author mentions, are quite free with the theoretical use of reason and are stranded with unattainable notions. That brings the need to have a vision about the practical use of reason, where, the influence of reason on free will and its actual manifestation can be subjected to scrutiny. Unlike pure reason, where we start with our senses and formulate principles to meet the end, in practical reason, we start with the governing principles, apply our senses, and arrive at our imperatives. 
The book then discusses two theorems to analyze the motive of practical reason. One: one cannot make a practical principle based on one's desire. Two: All practical principles branch out of one's ideas of self-love, or private happiness.  Private happiness, the author says, is not easily definable. "The same man may return unread an instructive book which he cannot again obtain, in order not to miss a hunt; he may depart in the midst of a fine speech, in order not to be late for dinner..." Therefore there cannot be a universal law for this, each one will follow one's own path.
The book then goes on to examine free will, and the possibility of a law for governing it. Not able to postulate a satisfactory one here, the author comes up with this idea: Man has invented a universal law in this regard, which we call the moral law. And, the book says, for moral laws to be effective, the will has to completely free. One can therefore say: the moral law expresses nothing else but pure practical reason. Which can be seen in the expressions we often use. For example, one not happy with self may say, "I am a worthless fellow, I have chosen to fill my purse"; and when one approves oneself, may say: "I am a prudent man, for I have enriched my treasure."
The embodimemt of principles of practical reason is examined in the end. To stay away from hypocrisy, author says, one should not follow laws for the sake of one's own advantage. The letter of the law would be found in our actions, but not the spirit of it in our minds (morality); and as with all our efforts we could not quite free ourselves from reason in our judgement, we must inevitably appear in our own eyes worthless, and depraved. 
I tend to agree with the author, moral maxims are nothing but a collection of practical advices. Where people gather, the most animated discussion is about the moral worth of this or that action by which the character of some person is to be made out. I agree with the author again. As we saw in the beginning, though we can be quite free with theoretical reason, we tend to opt to be practical, when it comes to morals. And it is rather effortless to pontificate about morals, when compared to other aspects of arts or science which takes considerable mental effort.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

About Governance

We associate good governance with the those of the ruling dispensation. I think we are not being right. 
In a country, both the opposition and the ruling side shall comprise of people who have the will and the ways to bring good to the society. However, those on the ruling side is always under the shadow of enticements. Unlike those in the opposition, they need to rise above natural human weaknesses to stay clear of that. If the opposing side keep their eyes and ears open, they will be observing irregularities here and there, which can enable them to raise to many accusations. The ruling side will have to listen to those of the opposition and mend their ways, effectively leading to good governance.
The corollary is also true. If governance is found wanting, an indifferent opposition could be the reason, more than the ruling side. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

A New Idea?

Dealing with the Germs of Mind

Through my hub, A New Approach to Mental Health, ( I proposed the concept of mental germs. Let me ponder further.
Let us say, we got hurt. Two things happen. We may sustain serious damage, both as a result of that injury, and due to the repercussions owing to our reactions to same. The damage we sustain can thus get aggravated, or mitigated, by our reactions. And when it comes to bodily injuries, we are protected rather well, both by our immune system, and by a continuously updated medical science. Where, separating the symptom from the disease can be cited as the single most important component that has led to this success, we may say, by channelizing our efforts towards better productivity. Additionally, we are constantly aided by the clean habits we try to maintain in all aspects of living.
But, our mental injuries are getting only a step motherly treatment. I think we need to follow here also, something similar to the above. And there we face many challenges.
Firstly, what constitutes an injury? This is easily understood in case of physical injuries, as something that can hurt. Anything which is used beyond its purpose can cause hurt, and everything too can do the same, if one is not careful enough. In the same lines, can’t we say, anything that we say, hear, see, or sense, can act as an injury, if it is beyond certain limits, and everything can act thus, whether within limits or not, if one is not careful enough.
If so, what constitutes a limit?
To appreciate this better, let us take a moment to chart out our responses to such matters in other fields of life. Here, we agree that our style of living contributes to the plethora of germs, and other substances capable of bringing harm to our well being. Also, we are able to continue with a healthy life only by resorting to a planned strategy of a better environment, and a conducive way of living that involves both prevention and cure. 
We need a similar approach for our mental health too. I think, firstly we can acknowledge that our daily transactions, potentially, result in an atmosphere fully infested with mental germs. That can let us identify the need to develop a strategy to maintain a sound mind, notwithstanding such an inclement atmosphere. As above, such a strategy too may have both preventive, and corrective steps.
What is happening? Presently, we get, bombarded with information of various kinds, and of differing intensity. Some, most unreal, but exciting, some others, clearly true but tasteless, and many others of in between stature. As a reaction to these inputs, our minds are constantly on a churn. 
We identify with sympathy, or oppose totally, those signals that belong to the first two. And we neglect the third group, though those potentially contain early warnings of many a disaster. Both of which produce, directly or by reflex, transactions of severe nature in our minds, leaving us always in a state of mental strain. And, as it is well known, good decisions rarely arise, when the mind is under strain.
Therefore, what is needed is to limit all our transactions, whether of enjoyment, expressions of grief, of anger, or whatever, such that only the signals that belong to neither of the extremes take part. And this should be our style, both for action and for response, which should also get instituted widely and taught to the young, as a part of clean living habits.
(Why is that, since time immemorial, nobody thought in these lines? Surely, this does not look anything revolutionary, or out of the world.
I think, that exactly is the reason, why such ideas never interested us. Our forefathers were, just as we are nowadays, looking for an opportunity to grapple with something esoteric.)

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