Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Growing up is learning the art of silence -Part 1

3 years ago when I was studying about the Dirac Equation, a few months later a question came to my mind as to how would one go about writing a representation of the Clifford algebra for arbitrary dimensions. I somehow felt very uncomfortable with the idea that Dirac was picking up the 4-dimensional representation and it was sort of a magic that it was giving me the spin 1/2. {Today I hopefully understand more about what is going on here given the studies on spin and representation theory that I have done over these years.}

But then at that time I was a kid compared to my present self. I went to my classmate Swarnabho and asked him to explain this to me since I knew at that time we was studying Representation Theory. What I got from him was a load of sarcasm and lecture regarding why I was dabbling in such "hi-fi" stuff when I didn't know basic group theory etc etc etc. But neither for once did he even give me a reference which I could look up. I felt damn irritated. (This was neither the first nor the last time I got some non-sense reply from him. I definitely respect him for his huge knowledge of mathematics but I am sorry to say that I never got any help from him whenever I asked him. I this respect I got tremendous help from Vipul who is definitely one of the finest brains in among science students that I have ever met. )

What this interaction with Swarnabho resulted in was me running down to the computer room in CMI and write a blog about this "characteristic attitude" of mathematicians. This blog of mine irked a lot of people around and rightly so.

I clearly remember the email reply I got for the blog from Nivedita. She lashed out at me. Again rightly so.

Recently when I met Nivedita a few weeks ago I was wondering at the back of my mind whether she was still talking to the author of that blog or to me. I am optimistic.

Surely I did a stupid thing then by writing that blog.
May be that action of mine was more stupid than Swarnabho's enlightening sarcasm.

People live and learn. I am optimistic that I do that too.
At least I am sure I won't write such a stupid thing today! Today such an experience would probably result in a blog post or probably silence.
{I have just gotten used to so many weird experiences about human relationships!}

Deep down I know I am a completely different man today than the guy who wrote that blog then. But then again as Vipul said to me once

"Even if you change overnight, some people will never change how they perceive you"


Its actually so very difficult in life to communicate what one really wants to say and its so easier to send out a wrong image. At one level I believe its just not worth one's time and energy to ensure that everyperson interpretes things correctly. Its probably again that silence can come to the rescue and let one focus energies on ensuring that a select group of people see the right things.

Silence gives birth to selectivity.

This is probably the essence of growing up. Somewhat CMI life forced me to mature faster as a person than what might have naturally happened. Probably it was the intellectually charged atmosphere of CMI in those days and the completely hay-wire courses where in-class comprehensibility was low and various social factors which forced me to grow faster. Today when I look at people from colleges in various other parts of India I feel this one thing significantly as to what a massive impact the challenging environment of excellence in CMI in those days could have on a receptive mind! It sent my scientific maturity of thinking way ahead. {Though I must say that the terrible Physics curriculum of CMI didn't teach me much when compared to the Physics courses of IITK} I absorbed more essential things like global maturity of thinking from the environment than I did from the classes.

What CMI atmosphere did to me in the first year was to kill all possible narrowness that might have existed in my mind and open up my thinking to make it receptive to radically new ideas which students from other colleges would not be able to appreciate readily. It was becoming natural for me to see by the middle of my second year of BSc. as to why one needs the idea of "parallel transport" on curved spaces to make sense of Newton's laws.

The most essential ingredient of this growing up process is the art of silence.
The most important tool that one develops as one grows is the power of silence.

The importance of the moments when you look inwards and think harder through everything and get clarified about precisely what all things you understand and what all you don't. Its a process which leads good results whether the question is scientific or not.

Its about learning when to be silent. Its probably a big thing that I learnt while at CMI that no conflict is ever resolved by speaking or talking or discussing. Its best resolved by thinking silently and then coherently putting down in words and sharing the writing with relevant people.

The identification of the "relevant" is also a part of the growing up process. That as you grow up you learn to pick out from the surroundings who are the relevant people i.e who are the people who serious enough about the issue that they would like to understand the reason and the resolution of conflict. When I was kid in the first year I was full of optimism about this that everybody is interested in questions and issues I am interested in.

Its a useless waste of energy to try to make lots of people see a subtle point about which you are excited about and hence efforts should be concentrated on the relevant people and not communicated via public mails.

Long long ago in the past I used to have the optimism that I can make many people see why I think something is worth thinking about. That something was at times why spin of a particle should be defined by irreducible representations of SU(2) instead of any other "physical" idea or why smoking/drinking alcohol should be banned inside institute premises.

Silence is the route to resolve the relevant set.

In very simple cases like that of curved space-time I realized as I grew up that not many are interested and in more complicated cases like whether there should be reservations in colleges, even lesser people are interested!

Its a hard fact that the process of growing up teaches you is to recognize that 99.99% of the people around are not interested in things that you might be seriously interested in. And it would be massive foolishness expect any larger fraction of people to be interested! More important the matter is on a larger scale lesser will the people interested in it. But this scenario should not be a deterrent to you pursuing the cause if you are yourself convinced that the cause is important.

This is also again one of the realizations that arise out of silence. The determination to pursue what you think is important regardless of what other people have to say about it. Silence is a tool that helps to not get lost in the crowd.

Silence is a way to take firm decisions.

When I was a "kid" in BSc. if I thought that the teacher in the class was saying nothing sensible the I used to directly say that in the class and object. And hence got into serious trouble. Today I know that this simply doesn't help since me pointing out the trouble doesn't suddenly raise the intelligence or the knowledge level of the teacher (unless of course the teacher is exceptional who appreciates subtle points like say Prof.Amol Dighe in TIFR) and almost always most of the class doesn't see the subtle point. Its a useless waste of energy again.

Today I choose the silent way out of such situations. I simply bunk the class at times or I might send my feedback about the stupid class when I am officially asked for it.

Again silence becomes an artistic tool to fight life.

But then one should be beware of the pit-falls of silence:

1. On should not resort to silence as a mode of communication! Like if I my girlfriend (lets assume one exists and is unique for this discussion!) resorts to silence when relationship is in trouble then the situation only becomes grim. Silence might become the route of further confusion by becoming a gap in the communication. In such situations each side must probably think in silence and write out everything coherently and communicate in writing rather than start shouting at each other.

Thinking and writing frees the mind. (why I blog!) Its an art as to how to use silence.

2. One should not become suddenly silent without trying to sort the trouble! Its as bad a solution as just passing by like a stranger whenever this person with whom you are in trouble with is passing by. Its best to first to be silent and think about everything through and then try to talk with the person and get things sorted and if then things don't work then assume complete silence but by giving a notice to him or her like

"After thinking a lot, I think you are hopeless and brainless and useless talking to. Hence I am becoming silent. Do you have any further clarifications to give before I shut off? "

I have been at both ends of this problem! I would have greatly appreciated if the people who at times assumed silence with me to have given me a notice like the above becoming so! :P

Silence is an important art that one has to acquire while growing up but not at the cost of losing frank honesty.
But then honesty is a very big thing that only nanoscopic number of people can appreciate and hence again through silence one has to resolve this "relevant" set with whom one can be honest without wasting energies.

In a second post I shall dwell on the more complicated issues about silence like should you be silent when you see a crime being committed? Does growing up mean remaining silent to crime just because survival instincts and matured judgement tell you that speaking-up might mean danger to you? Is maturity of judgement only about diplomacy and hence compromise with honesty?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

About doing science and research

When mortally pressed for time one compromises with quoting other people than taking time out to coherently report one's own mind. And hence here I plan to put up links to a some exciting writings about doing science and research about which I could myself go on for pages albeit it comes from only 4 years of experience.

{I shall be biased towards Maths, Physics and Theoretical Computer Science since these are the 3 fields with which I have some acquaintance. Its been a long time I have been committed to Physics and flirting with the other two. Again among the other 2, I have been courting Maths for the longest time and have only been looking at from far away at TCS. Eventually I don't plan to meet the day when I shall need to choose! :P}

Hence the job is best left in the hands of the giants like Dyson, Hamming and Atiyah etc:

1. "Advice to Young Mathematicians" by Atiyah

2. "Heretical thoughts about science and society" by Dyson

3. "Birds and Frogs" by Dyson

4. "You and Your Research" by Richard Hamming

5. "Kill the messenger" by Sunil Mukhi

And yes before I sign off I will tell you to watch the movie "October Sky". It really captures the idea of doing research .

The passionate insanity of doing science and research and that addictive feeling of being involved with an idea forgetting everything else.