Monday, June 23, 2008

...and the system

Contd..from my last article.

This whole idea of creating something starting with a blank paper continues to fascinate me. Somehow this always seems to me to be the most interesting thing to do. { I am an admirer of Yanni and as Yanni puts it "creation is the most powerful act of deliberation"}. Somehow I never felt comfortable with the idea of "emulating" someone or trying to "follow" someone. "Fashion" and "vogue" don't make much sense to me. {Except with one or two teachers, I have always hated the idea of sitting in a class and listening to some professor speak}. I look at history from a distance. Because XYZ has "succeeded" by doing this doesn't seem to me to be reason enough to start off doing that.

I try to bring to science the fundamental instinct of an artist. All I see in front of me is a blank sheet of paper on which I am going to paint and not the works and thoughts of other people cluttering it. Probably this attitude has brought me into conflict with many teachers because I have refused to accept what they said and I insisted in starting afresh. I can't accept something just by being told of it irrespective of who is telling it. I accept something only when I am convinced of it. This process has its possible pit-falls but I see immensely larger gains from it which clearly they cannot reap who follow what they are told.

This starting-from-a-blank-page approach at least keeps me away from all forms of bias which people who live in sync with the society tend to develop. As a result of this process of thinking developed alone, I ran into severe social conflicts when I went to a big school in Kolkata (St.Xavier's, Park Street) and later CMI (Chennai Mathematical Institute).

But only when I entered college I realized that my ways of thinking and opinions about most things starting from most mundane daily things is very different from the rest of the world. The fact that society's opinions about most things is contrary to mine came as a root shock to me after all these years of having spent a life of mostly struggling with one's own self and developing ideas alone.

It has been a long struggle in coming to terms with the world outside. I have had to pay severe costs for this but yes I live and learn. Today I have learnt to maintain that safe distance from the world outside whereby I can interact with it through a selectively permeable membrane which lets me know all the alternatives that exist in the society and lets me compete them against my self-analysis to decide what is right. So that I am aware of the socially prevalent alternatives but I am not going to be biased towards whatever the mass applauds.

But I have always said that thoughts developed on one's own in loneliness have a clear advantage over socially generated ones in that the former has considerably higher chance of being original or innovative or path-breaking. What is iconoclasm and unorthodox today will become the standard of tomorrow. The standards of tomorrow are almost always born out of some thoughts in loneliness of some person today who refused to go with the social flow.

Somewhere down the lane the Indian education system (in which I have little or no faith and I condemn it to the core) strips the students off this basic element of courage to think beyond the norms and socially accepted correctness. I find the entire attitude of the Indian education system to be so much in conflict with the entire spirit of research and innovation. It has taken me great pains to fight this system and its menacing influence. I have had my share of losses due to this but what I have rescued from the jaws of Indian education is my natural courage to think out of the track. Its a natural courage every child is born with but most give it up to the devilish system in lieu of acquiring social acceptance.

I strongly feel that even today the Indian education system is largely under the shadow of education principles as instituted by the British Rule that is a mechanism to churn out clerks and not thinkers. The methods of learning by rote and repetition seem to be dangerously predominant. As an example I would like to mention this series of mathematics books by an author called Keshab Chandra Nag which was the predominant book when my grandmother was in school and that is still used by thousands of students in West Bengal and even in notable schools like South Point High School (Kolkata). This series of books is a typical example of insightless and pre-historic methods of teaching mathematics where the entire focus in on practice with arithmetic and algebraic manipulations with complete neglect of building concepts and understanding the subtleties of precise mathematical definitions. As if the students are expected to grow up to become calculating machines.

The parents of the students are also feeding the vicious circle by not taking efforts to expose the children to more modern methods of mathematics by exposing them to internatioanally acclaimed books. They too are looking for (a condonable and mediocre attitude) short term results in terms of rank in school examination as opposed to recognizing the importance of people of a nation being good in mathematics.

These parents should probably take efforts to read the articles on the web by Fields Medalist mathematician Terence Tao on the social importance of quality mathematics being encouraged in a country.

Today I am trying to continue the process of change in more sophsticated forms. At a primary level I am trying to learn a lot of geometry at the same level of abstraction and formalism like any other professional mathematician and trying to understand its subtle inter-windings with Physics. I believe that many more people will join me in this endeavour and we will completely change how Physics is done in India. For these endeavours of mine I am having to face tremendous criticism and sarcasm from various students and professors in Physics and Mathematics but it only adds to my determination to continue on my path to prove them wrong.

Fortunately in this path I have also found help and support from some people in my peer group (mainly from CMI) and professors, some of whom have shown considerable amount of faith in my endeavours. When most in CMI turned down my seminars as being unworthy these people could feel the excitement that I was trying to convey to them of how so called "abstract" mathematics completely revolutionizes how we look at Physics and shatters through socially predominant notions of what is correct and what is not. This is one of those attitudes that would have been considerably difficult for me to develop had I always lived in resonance with the society.

Let me end by remembering the famous song "Hum honge kamyab ek din...Man mein hai vishwas" ("We shall overcome someday..I do believe")

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