Monday, June 23, 2008

Two kinds of people..

In this article I am trying to just jot down various thoughts that have been going on and off my mind for the past few weeks. These will probably build up towards something more concrete in the next few articles.

Over the past few weeks I have been very busy trying to pack up for my trip to Germany for the Physics Nobel Laureates-Students meeting and alongside I have been trying hard to meet my own set deadlines to finish two expository articles that I have been writing in topology ( a branch of mathematics about which I am absolutely passionate). One of them was of an elementary nature and the other was slightly advanced (in the sense that it involved structures like locally trivial bundles and covering spaces). Now these writings are complete and I have sent them to some of my mathematics colleagues for reading it and commenting about it. Hopefully someday I will teach topology and Physics to some class and I will then use these articles as teaching materials.
Now that these personal mathematical commitments are over I can get to writing about non-academic aspects of life that are equally important to me as my professional pursuits i.e Geometry and Physics.

With respect to human relations people are crudely of two kinds although a spectrum of fine shades might exist between these two :
1. People who have had a life in sync with the general society and hence don't feel that they are particularly in need of people in their lives.
2. For various reasons people who have had a life which is pretty much disjoint from the society or the only connections been very formal. Hence they have spent a considerable amount of their times in lives alone.

There are various points that intrigue me about the attitudinal differences I observe between these two kinds of people. Mostly people of the first kind tend to huddle together and people of the first kind try to have very intimate relations with a very select number of people.
By and large I fall into the second category and one central feature that I feel that I have in these respects is a natural tendency to talk/interact with people whenever such a chance comes. Like I have spent hours teaching other people various topics in Physics and Mathematics which others in general would prefer to spend at least by studying things on their own. My inclination towards the process of teaching and having discussions and debates has a strong element of trying to build long term relationships with people. I somehow feel that relationships built through intense academic exchanges tend to be very strong compared to just psychological or physical bonding.

But this process of spending time alone has resulted in me doing a lot of introspection and self-analysis of various things that I see happening all around be it the Gujrat riots or Einstein's Theory. Very often the opinions and thought processes one forms out of such thinking done alone tends to have a strong individualistic flavour and very distinctive from the opinions that a person of the first kind forms out of the social interactions. This process has its gains as in giving a direct vent to creativity and originality and also has its pit-falls in terms of developing a bias because one might not be aware of alternative arguments if the analysis has been done alone.

This has its pros and cons. Knowing about the presence of alternative arguments that are present in the society can sometimes act as quick check to whether the self-analysis has some obvious flaw. On the other hand the very fact that some alternative thinking has strong social backing might make it so compelling that one tends to go with the flow and not take efforts to do the self-analysis almost like taking the wisdom of the crowds on blind faith.
So one needs to maintain a very subtle balance between doing a thorough self-analysis in loneliness and being aware of the alternative arguments that are socially prevalent.
More often that not the radical ideas that have changed the world have been born out of thoughts done alone of some person. More often than not these thoughts when propounded were ridiculed by the then existing society since it was in conflict with the socially backed idea at that time.

The most complicated situation arises when a person of the second type starts non-trivial interactions with a person of the first type.

The second type person is like then a butterfly just emerged at the end of a process of metamorphosis undergone in cocoon and the person of the first type is like a person from another planet who has never seen any flying living creature. Some of the likely things that this alien can do are the following:

1.This alien can start with a fresh mind accepting the fact that there exists creatures which can fly and then start appreciation the novelties of the butterfly. This way he takes the risk of sending out vibes to his society that he is keenly interested in this new creature as compared to trying to mould this new creature into one of its own types.
2. Can get so scared of this new phenomenon that it tries to run away or tries to kill the butterfly.
3. Tries to fence sit by observing this new creature from a distance so that he keeps his side with his society too.

Among the people of the second kind there exists a great variation with respect to what a person does with this huge of lonely time. Some of the prominent ethical possibilities are:

1. One can devote it to indulge passively into music, painting, photography, cinema etc. By passivity here I mean doing things like listening to music but not taking efforts to learn to sing or play an instrument or watch movies but not study about its technical details with the aim of making or acting in a movie.
2. Indulge actively in the above non-academic activities.
3. Devote it to intense academic work and pursue some technical subject like say Physics or Geology in great details.
4. Read a lot of books on varied topics. Again this can be active or passive. Passive approach would be to read about adventures but not take the efforts to embark on a trip.

Due to various reasons and circumstances I have spent quite a chunk of my life alone. Not that I have always been in boarding schools and hostels but there are more subtle forms of loneliness that a person can have to face. About an year ago in another article I had discussed this aspect of my life. This constant lack of companions of my age group had various profound effects on my life. Some of which are:

1. I was inclined towards drawing and painting since I ever picked up the pencil. I became more and more addicted to it. I used to spend 5-6 continuously with my pencils,pastels and brushes. When I used to start on a painting, I would keep working on it for days and nights. It had a magical effect on me. I would not even feel hungry or thirsty when working on a painting . Thats what was predominantly always on my mind since kinder-garten till about class 9. Almost the whole day I would primarily keep thinking about what would be the next experiment I would try to do with my paints and brushes. Experiments continued with colours and medium. Apart from formal classical art (my predominant form), I painted egg shells at one time and the once tried making colours on my own and once I tried painting with bird feathers. Then I did some abstract painting.
Unfortunately no one ever taught me to do oil-painting but I self-learnt that. So oil-painting was more exciting to me since I learnt to do it completely on my own. I think some of my best works are still those that I did in oil-paint. (Apart from my dearest works in Chinese-ink and monochrome watercolors. I loved drawing old shattered buildings in Chinese-ink and my favourite monochrome watercolor was when I painted from a photograph the boat traffic at Chittagong Port in Bangladesh)
Once I moved to West Bengal I didn't like my art teacher and I almost completely independently worked on my own developing my own style. (Anyway thats what has happened almost fully for Physics and to a great extent with Mathematics) Somehow my art teacher in Orissa gave me more freedom and encouraged me to develop my own genre. He only pointed out errors in technique but never told me to change style.

2. Given that I never had anyone to share any thoughts or views with I had still quite a bit of time left after drawing and painting. So thats when I started the following activities:
a) I started writing poetry. {But this had some other associated issues to which I will come in the next article}
b) I started writing stories. But I soon realized that I am not comfortable with this and I dropped it. But I read quite a bit of English stories especially the classical novels. My Bengali was pretty bad till about I was 13-14 years old. Then I made great efforts to learn to read and write Bengali just to be able to read the exciting stories by Satyajit Ray (the same film director who was awarded the Oscar, the Golden Lion and many more.) Later I went on to read some short stories and novels by Rabindranath Tagore.
c) I started watching movies of Amitabh Bachchan. {Yes. I am crazy about him. By the time I was in class 6, I had watched a considerable amount of his movies and I was enamoured about him. Even today he never fails to mesmerize me.}
d) The undercurrents of science had begun (thanks to the fact that when I was in my kinder-garten I started reading the book "Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking and got excited by it and then by two other books "Giant Book of Facts" and 'Dorking Kindersely Science Encyclopaedia") and I had started to feel an inclination towards the whole idea of "research".

It wasn't very clear to me then as to what "research" was all about but I felt that it was all about "creating" just like I was trying to draw something interesting starting with a blank piece of paper.

continued in the next article.....

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