Friday, November 6, 2009

Cricket is our religion, Sachin is our God

1st Feb 1999, M A Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai
India is playing a test match against Pakistan after a long gap of 10 years. After neck to neck scores around 250 in the first three innings, Indians are chasing a target of 271with more than 90 overs to go. Half side is back in pavillion with just 82 on board.
People across the nation are yet to loose hope for the simple reason that the little master is still at the craese. As he is doin it for about a decade now, he once again stands up to expectatioms from his nation.
Nayan Mongia gives him much required help with a half century. They take the score up to 218 where Wasim Akram gets Mongia.
No need to worry though, the god is still there n the target now seems to be within reach.
The score goes up to 254 when Saqlain beats the little master. He leaves the field after scoring a blistering knock of 136.
We were witnessing the drama at one of our friend's place. I was a kid who was yet to understand indian cricket. I couldnt understand why everybody had suddenly become tensed with 17 runs with 3 wickets in hand. Probably they wanted Sachin to hit the winning runs. Crazy people.
Next three indians did not waste much time before I understood the reason behind tension. They were back in pavillion within less than 4 overs. We lost by 12 runs.

...After 10 years...

5 Nov 2009, Hyderabad
A completely different indian side, except for the little master, is playing against the Austrailians in a one dayer.
These days indians dont loose hope till the last ball. And yes people now proudly tell that we have more than match winners now.
Aussies set a mammoth total of 350. Sachin seems to be in good touch and is crusing at decent rate. Nobody is able to hold the other end though with 4 down for 166. Suresh Raina joins the little master and they take the score up to 299 at an unbelievable rate. Indians are cruising towards an amazing victory. Sachin himself fights till 322 when a slow delivery beats him.
I keep telling myself that 19 of 16 is very much possible though I still remember Chennai test.
Praveen Kumar takes i very close with 5 required of 3.
Next ball sums up the whole story. Praveen drives it towards long off n is stretching for second, but an excellent flat throw from the deep right at the stumps makes him fall short by few inches.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Wanna demand somethin in democracy?

Aug 08: Anandvadi a village of about 90 families located on banks of Manjra river, just 22 kms from Latur, hometown of then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh. Construction of Dongargaon dam is in progress downstream Manjra. It will be ready for next monsoon and 650 hactare land will go under water. Government has fixed the rate of the land at Rs. 1.19 lakh per ha. People are furious as this is equal to their annual income.

Sept 08: People approach CM who assures that the state has lots of funds and people from his district need not worry. Relieved people come back only to find through newspapers that the rate has not been increases by a penny. People are completely on their own as no help is expected from any of the political parties. They are desperately searching for a leader who will guide them. Some computer freak gives them contact of a person called Dr. Bharat Patankar.

1 Oct 08: Kasegaon located between Karad and Kolhapur. People meet Doctorsaheb, their new hope. The question putforth is straighforward; what do you want, money or land? People are taken a back as they had never heard of land against land, which by the way is 'official' government policy. The answer was also stright... land. A gathering of all people from 28 surrounding affected villages is scheduled for 26 Oct.

02-21 Oct: Keshav Patil, Rajendra Chame, and Nagmode Guruji travel across the district to inform people about the fight they have started and to urge them to join in. In all there are 28 villages which are going to be affected by Dongargaon and Dhanegaon dams.

22 Oct 08: Residents of Anandvadi are enthralled by the devotion shown by their neighbors and the responsibility their village needs to take. Contributions are made at Rs 200-300 per acre and funds of abt 70,000 are collected, everything voluntary.

26 Oct 08: Three thousand people from 28 villages have voluntarily gathered at Anandvadi, where locals have excellent arrangements. Doctorsaheb is amazed to see what few people from Anandvadi have managed in three weeks; getting together 28 villages was a feet in itself. People unanimously decide to stop the construction until they are relocated.

20 Nov 08: 2000 people are marching towards the Dongargaon dam; the only principle they are going to follow, as told by Doctorsaheb, is no misdeeds of any kind irrespective of how the administration reacts. The engineer in charge at the site is horrified. The demand putforth to him is straight; stop the work untill then we'll be doing bhajan, kirtan, and haripath at the site! He has no choice but to agree.

21 Nov 08: Same story is repeated at nearby site of Dhanegaon dam.

26 Nov 08: The nation is shaken by the terrorist attacks on its financial capital.

29 Nov 08: CM Vilasrao Deshmukh visits battleground along with Ramu; within few hours the future of the state govt turns hazy.

30 Nov 08: As decided, representatives from 28 villages inform Latur police about the 'Thiyya Andolan' they'll be having from tomorrow in front of collector office, for their demand to issue official order to stop dam construction till a detail plan for their relocation is submitted. The police expecting protestors, assign a constable to handle the matter.

01 Dec 08: 5000 people are heading towards latur with enough supplies for at least a week and determination not to come back without what they are demanding for. First meeting with the collector ends on a bad note as the collector is not acknoledging the demands. Now, the protestors say, we'll only talk to CM. Collector tries to persuade them till late night, needless to say with no avail.

02 Dec 08: Local politicians are now coming to help protestors. The reaction, however, is clear: no politics here, we are here for our demands. Some try to lure people with foodstuff, probably unaware that almost every family there holds few acres of land.
At night as the state governent is about to fall, protestors agree to talk with top officials. Poor babus try every trick from playing with words to disturbing the talks by inserting few drunkards in protestors. Finally as protestors show immense patience and determination, they are left with no choice but accept demands word by word.
Official order is issued.

03 DeC 08: CM resigns.

To be continued....

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being in an organization

Almost all of us are a part of some organization where they work for living. Now its foolish to believe that all of them work just for money. Many of us definitely expect something more than that. Inspite of knowing many happily working people, I am yet to find a person who feels that his organization fufills all of his expectations the way he wants it to and is perfect for him. I, thus, believe that all of us need to compromise in some way or the other (this is what i actually wanted to write in my earlier post about :P) and we choose the best available option to us.

What scares me at this point, however, is that our expectations change with time and slowly get aligned to what we are getting. We probably fool ourselves by believing that 'this is what i can expect at best'. This change takes place very slowly and we are probably very bad at realizing slow changes taking place. I can very well feel this happening to me when I find myself doing things I would never have done at any cost.

How long should i believe that i am at the best possible place? am i scared to come out of comfort zone? am i really weighing all good things correctly or am i taking them for granted? How much should I depend on my conscience? Am i sounding too confused? Am i really? Is it not good to be confused? Well i guess its time to stop for now...


Life is full of choices none of which can be labelled good or bad. If one could actually classify black and white, the black ones practically cease to exist; if theres nething perfectly white, we can easily delete other ones; finally we r left with grey ones to deal with.

How should we choose from grey ones when we dont have ne scale (like the ones used in fairness cream ads :-P) and more importantly when the paths we take are going to change their shades with time?

As i am writing this, i am realizing that many a times the shades are not even on grayscale, rather the choices come with different colours alltogether.

Most of us relentlessly try to strike a balance between different colurs while also trying to be on the as brighter point as possible. We try to do so by comromising sometimes on blue n sometimes on green. I am not enjoying this never ending walk on a rope but unfortunately i am not finding any alternative choice for this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Global Warming due to increasing concentration of greenhouse gases is a serious threat to our environment.

This is a problem which demands concerted action of almost everybody on planet earth. Countries all over the world are working United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to tackle the issue. The present protocol in place for all nations is Kyoto Protocol which, in a nutshell, prescribes emission limits for each country. Kyoto Protocol, however, had only limited success in bringing up required action from all over the world. In coming December UNFCC will hold a Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Netherlands where the next protocol will be finalized.

As far as global warming is concerned, unfortunately, most of the people are still unaware of the gravity of the problem. Many of us still don't feel that it’s an issue demanding urgent action. Countries like India and China many a times do nothing but blaming developed countries.

Here is a primer for those who want to understand the graveness of the situation.
To understand global warming, one just needs to understand following two key figures and the relation between them
  1. Emission rate of CO2, generally expressed in billion tons per annum
  2. Atmospheric concentration of CO2, generally expressed in parts per million by volume (ppm)

Once CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, the only sinks available to it are oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. A limited amount of CO2 will be absorbed there to complete the carbon cycle. The remaining CO2, however, remains in the atmosphere as an inert gas for hundreds of years. Thus if the amount emitted is greater than that absorbed, the concentration of CO2 goes up. The oceans and terrestrial ecosystems have historically slowed the rise of atmospheric CO2, absorbing more than half of the carbon that has been emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

As shown in the above figure CO2 emissions have gone up five times in last six decades. And in ‘business as usual’ they will keep on increasing to reach unprecedented levels. The capacity of CO2 sinks to absorb CO2 will definitely go down or at best remain at its current level in the near future for obvious reasons. Thus atmospheric CO2 concentration will go up at increasing rates.

Now look at the above figure which shows atmospheric CO2 concentrations for last four lakh years. As expected the value has shot up since Industrial Revolution. The present level is at 385 ppm. Each ppm of CO2 corresponds to 2.1 billion tons of CO2. Thus with present emission levels at 8 billion per annum, the concentration is going up by 3.8 ppm per year.

Even with present concentration of 385 ppm, average global temperatures is rising, causing number of observable effects like melting of glaciers. So what is the safe concentration level? Till now it was widely regarded that level of 560 ppm will trigger sever climate changes. However, a recent study claims that “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted” we can’t have more than 350 ppm (that’s where the title come from) CO2 in the atmosphere.

Now personally I have doubts accuracy of these predictions for the simple fact that nobody has ever observed what happens under such conditions. At the same time, however, shear imbalance in generation and sinking rates of CO2 leading to monotonous rise in CO2 concentration levels, average global temperatures, and rising ocean levels is sufficient for me to believe that something is going wrong. Ecosystems generally operate in equilibrium without such monotonous changes in any of its variables. Studies cited above give much needed support for such intuitive feelings.

Unfortunately, most people around us, including our representatives and leaders, are unaware about all this. Most probably they are not aware about the gravity of the situation. Now what can one do if she fully understands the situation? I think, as a global citizen it’s our duty to convey our feelings to all those who are going to decide the action plan of entire humanity. We cannot just seat back and hope that our representatives and leaders will take appropriate action. We have to tell them that we do care about our environment and you better take our feelings in consideration.

How can we do this? That’s a question with no single answer. Here is an article by Bill McKibben in Resurgence where he explains plans of his organization, 350, to spread the message. In my opinion activities like these will be very effective in spreading the message. I would surely like to be a part of some 350 action on the United Nations Day and be a part of a global movement.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hypocrisy of Sustainable Living

Nowadays we hear a lot about being ecofriendly, being green, being sustainable, and so on. Local newspapers, national TV channels, Hollywood movies, scientific journals, and almost every possible public institution talk about this stuff. In fact, the word sustainability has become a cliché which is rarely used with its broadest meaning. As defined by UN, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

It is widely accepted that our present way of living is not socially and environmentally sustainable. If anybody still does not believe this, there is a lot of scientific stuff like this which will make you reconsider your opinion.

The question which then troubles me (and I believe many more people around the world) is what should we do to advance in a sustainable way? Here I am concerned with actions at personal level and not on macro level. Every expert seems to have her opinion about this. Save electricity, save fuel, use public transport/ bicycle for commuting; everybody seems to come up with a new suggestion. But just how much is required? I can’t claim to have a green lifestyle just because I am using bicycle for commuting. It will be a step in the right direction but is it big enough to make me green? There seems to be a lack of measurement tools and benchmark for sustainable lifestyle on absolute scale.

The confusion doesn’t stop with personal life and even extends to choices I make in my professional life. Should I work on a coal based power plant which will be operating at a slightly higher efficiency than existing ones? Will it mean I am supporting coal based power generation? Is efficiency just a reason I am using to cover myself? Is it not a hypocrisy to commute to the workplace on a bicycle to work on coal fired power plant?

There are many things which nobody, no matter how strongly she wishes, can do at personal level without substantial and far-reaching changes in her lifestyle. If one decides to use only renewable energy, she will either have to spend hefty amount on an array of solar panels or stop using electricity altogether. Here is an inspiring story of one Mark Boyle who is living an oil-free life. Do we really need to change our lifestyles so significantly? I can’t argue against it but I don’t seem to have enough conviction to follow something like this either.

At this point, I think following Business As Usual scenario would simply mean contributing to the problems we are facing today. Some significant steps need to be taken in my personal and professional life. Probably Mark Boyle won’t be able to stop any of the effects of oil consumption on our planet but he can at least claim that he didn’t contribute to any of them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Were people living in France in the last decade of 18th century aware that they are going through a political revolution?
Were 16th century europeans aware that their era is going to be called renaisance or that they are going through Copernican Revolution?

Revolutions seem to be easiest to be deciphered while looking back and almost impossible to be predicted. What about the period in which they actually take place? What would future historians say about our times? 

Probably we are also going through a revolution. A revolution in which
  • Rather than trying to control nature we start respecting it
  • We stop raping the mother earth
  • Women are liberated
  • Science recognizes its limitations
  • Pecking order is shaken
  • and......
What should we do in times like these?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Collective decision making…

Consider following situations

  • An engineering project is being executed; engineers are facing some technical difficulties in achieving the expected performance. Due to novelty of the project, nobody from the project executing organization has faced exactly same problem before. They are under financial pressure to finish the work at earliest.
  •  A patient is undergoing a surgery in an operating theatre and the team of doctors is facing some unexampled situation.
  • A large scale, completely automated, industrial manufacturing plant handling some hazardous chemicals is having some unusual problems. The control system, by giving out safety alarms, has passed the onus of restoring the plant to safe conditions towards its operators.

In all the above situations a decision, which is going to have some serious consequences, needs to be made in a short time. The urgency, however, is below a threshold at which one is forced to act intuitively. Following situation would help me to explain the threshold better.

A commercial aircraft is landing in auto mode with the help of a well tested (?) state of the art control system. Everything goes fine until the aircraft is just few meters away from the airstrip when its control system suddenly tips its nose towards ground at ridiculous angle (as they would discover it later, a bug in the program was responsible for the incidence). Thankfully the pilot was alert enough and pulled the lever in no time; his action saved a major accident. Forget about consulting his fellow travelers, the pilot can’t even think consciously before taking action.

….You must be thinking that my imagination is producing some impossible examples. The incidence, however, is real. I would have liked to post it with more details but right now I don’t have the reference available with me…

Coming back to the situations described in the beginning… The process of decision making in such situations is very interesting as nobody has experienced the same situation before. Everybody will have his/her opinion. The person in-charge first needs to decide about how the decision should be made. He/she can call all his teammates and consider their opinions, he can ask for some advice from outside if possible, or he himself can take the decision. As the time available is limited, all this needs to be done rather quickly.

I have seen that many a times the person in-charge takes decision on his own. The reasons could be

  • he thinks there is no time to consider all opinions
  •  according to him, he is the best person to take decision (and that’s why he is holding the post)
  • he is too confident about the solution in his mind
  •  or some combination of above and many more possible reasons

Such situations need to be handled very carefully. All of us are subjected to many biases, many of which have been proven scientifically, while we make decisions. The environment, our recent experiences, and our state of mind in general play a significant role in decision making. The opinions of team members should be taken in to account as far as possible to better the decision.

Now it is being proved scientifically that a collective decision is, in general, much better than individual decision. Even though it seems very difficult to distinguish, quantify, and generalize the benefits of one way of decision making over the other, scientists working in this field are somehow managing to do it.

Jonah Lehrer has given some interesting examples of such scientific evidence. The process of decision making in one large hospital was changed deliberately. The doctors, who undewent specialised training, were asked to implement collective decision making processes. It was observed, with the help of some quantifiable parameters, that the decisions which came out of such a process were quite better.

Similar process is also being implemented by some airlines for their crew members.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Freedom is the recognition of contingency

For many years I had a strong belief that there are only two categories of people. The categories can be named Good People and Bad People. Some people may have mixed characteristics but at their core everybody is either good or bad. Moreover I was convinced that there are some universally accepted characteristics that define any person to be either good or bad.

Later on I used to think there are some distinct, comprehendible forces which decide how a person will behave in certain situation. For example money will be a force deciding behavior or decisions of some people, for some it might be respect of their peers, for some it could be happiness of some close family member, and so on.

In the last few years, however, I have realized that behaviors of people are simply too complicated to be categorized, modeled, or predicted with some degree of certainty. The happy realization came through experiences some of which are memorable and some haunting.

In fact, as I understand through some readings from economics (which still believes that behavior of people can be descibed as rational and selfish), psychology, and neuroscience (recognizing the connection between these three seemingly unrelated disciplines is an experience in itself) understanding behavior of people is still far beyond the boundaries of human knowledge.

Probably engineers are trained to analyze artificial systems which can be broken down in small parts and their inter-relation can be established comprehensively. This, however, does not apply to natural systems. Ignorance of this very fact has led to many blunders and disasters, consequences of which are being faced by all of us. (More about this later)

Recently I read a quote by Richard Rorty, which exactly reflects my feelings at this point in time; “Freedom is the recognition of contingency”.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recession!! (Experts Part 2)

On September 18th, 2008 a company called Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. The event marked the beginning of another global financial crisis. All over the world, lives of quite a few people started changing overnight as many lost their jobs, investments burst, businesses were blowing up. Within a matter of few days everybody around started saying that major economic recession has started!

In my opinion a change, of such intensity and taking place so hastily, in the state of the world can only be justified some major natural calamity, a war, or an alien attack. It is simply incomprehensible that fall in the value of some virtual financial instruments so profoundly affects lives of people all over the world.

Why are our systems so vulnerable to such seemingly small changes beyond our control? Don’t we have any control over the situation? Who would answer these questions, our so called experts? If they were the once in charge, we shouldn’t have been here.

One of the reasons behind current global financial crisis is probably overconfidence on mathematical models by our ‘expert’ bakers. As I have understood from some of the readings in last few weeks (Sorry I can’t give exact references right now) the bankers did some foolish mistakes in using these models. Mistakes like ignoring the assumptions on which the models are based or ignoring possibility of events which even though are highly improbable can take us to a point of no return. They probably don’t believe that the world we live in is too complicated to be modeled mathematically.

Thankfully not all the experts get carried away at the same time. Here is an interesting clip of two ‘experts’ who saw this disaster coming. People like Bill Gates and Michael Dell were waiting for more than an hour to listen to these guys during last World Economic Forum.

Here is a similar example showing how unintelligent use of models can lead us to a disaster.

As explained here by Jonah Lehrer, the financial crisis has helped expose a powerful bias in human decision-making, which is our abhorrence of uncertainty.

Can we really conclude anything out of this mess? Probably nothing concrete; understanding the environment we are living in is probably beyond our intellectual capabilities. As put by Nassim Nichola Taleb in Fooled by Randomness.

“The real problem is, as I have mentioned, that such a natural habitat (the one which we are living in for thousands of years) does not include much information…. Much of our problem comes from the fact that we have evolved out of such a habitat faster, much faster than our genes. Even worse; our genes have not changed at all.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Communicating in Vietnam

Staying in Vietnam without knowing english is a test of your acting skills and patience. Here are some incidents during my stay

This was during my first visit. I was very enthusiastic about tasting different dishes (rather animals) in vietnam. After progressing gradually from pork, beef, ostrich, seahorse to octupus, my curiosity and venturesomeness were at peak. Somebody told me that they even eat Frogs. Me and some fellow venturers were now asking our cook to prepare Frog for us. Needless to say we didn't know what is Frog called in Vietnamese and she was not knowing the word Frog. We tried to explain it to her by making different sounds, expressions, and gesticulations but everything was in vain. Finally I googled for images of frog and showed it to her.

We were leaving from the plant for lunch when some operators asked us about where are we going. Now isn't it easy to answer the question without any word? Well, not quite as we reailzed. Even though they nodded to our movements we could clearly see that they didn't understand anything. The puzzle was later unfolded by a fellow Indian living here since last two years. Vietnamese people have their food with a bowl held just below mouth by left hand and chopsticks in the right one. So if you want to indicate lunch/dinner, any movement of right hand is not enough; you need to use your left hand as well. 

This one is the best so far. It was my birthday and we were going to have a blast. I was searching the grocery shop for some food items as sidedish (I guess, I dont need to mention the purpose..). In vietnam, it is very difficult to find anything hot in taste; everything is either sweet or sour. After trying some such items, finally I had an idea, to prepare boiled eggs with some masala. Now I was not hoping store-keepers to understand the word egg. I went to our driver (they are the best translators you get for free) but even he didn't get it at first shot. I spelled the word on my hand and even drew a small figure but with no success. I was very determined to find out eggs and there I saw some chickens kept for sell. I thought now I can definitely tell him what I am searching for. I took him near the chickens and even tried some gesticulations. Still no success. Finally I started searching for eggs in the stores by myself. And there he came back to call me, eureka, he had understood what I was trying to tell him. But it was too late, by that time I had also found eggs in one of the stores.

There are many more incidents like these and I will post them as I recollect them.

Experts… well, not quite (Part 1)

Note: If you don’t wish to spend your time reading a long post by a rookie, directly go to the example in the closing part of the post.

Who do we call an expert? I think somebody who has been trained in a particular field by a reputed institute and has sufficient experience in the same field. The definition is not a comprehensive one but that’s not what I want to discuss here, rather this is regarding the credibility of all those whom we can refer to as experts. This includes professors, scientists, pundits, senior engineers, and all those who occupy some ‘top’ positions in organizations. (I am very curious about why do we need to create so many levels in an organization? Assistant Vice President, Vice President, Sr. Vice President, President… common, give me a break. More about that later...)

It is very natural for any of us to turn to experts when we are faced with situations we are not confident to handle or when we want some predictions about a very complicated system. Who is more likely to form the government after upcoming elections?, how should India handle terrorism?, or how can we solve traffic problem in Pune? Even though each individual can have his own opinions about such issues; any sensible person, if put in decision maker’s shoes, would most probably discuss the matter with experts in the particular field before deciding anything. Same is true for day to day decisions, either professional or personal. An engineer facing a technical problem which he has never faced before or falls outside his expertise will most probably go to his senior. (Provided the poor fellow is not working under a prof from COEP.)

In some situations, like technical problems, the solution is objective which can be endorsed by sufficient scientific references. Most of the times, however, we are forced to take decisions which cannot be weighed against objective standards. From a minister addressing the issue of national security to a site engineer dealing with customer, each one of us faces different dilemmas.

….I just realized that I have written three paragraphs without actually coming to the point I wanted to write about. I had never faced such a situation before, whenever I was writing an essay (and it goes without saying that it was during some damn exam) I always had to keep on adding something so as to cross the minimum limit….

Coming to the point… To what extent can we really depend upon opinions/judgments of experts for making decisions, especially the ones without any objective standards?

Psychologists and neuroscientists have proved over the last four decades that we humans do not make decisions by deliberately evaluating all the possibilities, especially in complicated situations. Rather, as the great duo of Kahneman and Tversky say in their legendary 1974 Science paper (Ref 1),

“...people rely on a limited number of heuristic principles which reduce the complex tasks of assessing probabilities and predicting values to simpler judgmental operations. In general, these heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors.”

And this process of decision making is not limited to laymen, even the experts are subjected to the same for a simple reason as put by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“We are, whether we like it or not, prisoners of our biology.”

Here is what Kahneman and Tversky say

“The reliance on heuristics and the prevalence of biases are not restricted to laymen. Experienced researchers are also prone to the same biases-when they think intuitively. For example, the tendency to predict the outcome that best represents the data, with insufficient regard for prior probability, has been observed in the intuitive judgments of individuals who have had extensive training in statistics. Although the statistically sophisticated avoid elementary errors, such as the gambler's fallacy, their intuitive judgments are liable to similar fallacies in more intricate and less transparent problems.”

I think the post is already too long to be read by any practical person. So I would stop here for today and continue with the same topic later. I will close it with following example from Fooled by Randomness.

"The following quiz was given to medical doctors

A test of a disease presents a rate of 5% false positives. The disease strikes 1/1,000 of the population. People are tested at random, regardless of whether they are suspected of having the disease. A patient’s test is positive. What is the probability of the patient being stricken with the disease?

Most doctors answered 95% simply taking into account the fact that the test has a 95% accuracy rate… Less than one in five professionals got it right."

What do you think is the right answer? Even if you don’t like probability, you should give it a best try as someday you can be the one being diagnosed.


  1. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases" Science, Sept 1974, Vol. 185 (4157), pp. 1124-1131.
  2. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “Fooled by Randomness”.
  3. Jonah Lehrer. “How We Decide".

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Knowledge it still too slow?

Today, people all over the world, irrespective of their economic status, social status, and geographical location, are equipped with very easy means to communicate with each other. A celebrity staying in Manhattan can put his/her thought on a blog and a reader staying in a remotest village in India can read them on very same day and can even write back his/her comments. The situation was definitely far different just a few decades back. There must have been many scientists working on a same problem but having very limited means to know what their colleagues in some other part of the world are doing.

The vast improvement in the means of communication naturally accelerates the process of knowledge transfer among people.  For example an engineer working in the field of renewable energy should know, within short time, about a breakthrough in material science which can substantially improve the efficiency of solar cell. Similarly a student studying physics in some small town should get to know about a breakthrough discovery in nuclear science taking place at NASA. In reality, the process of knowledge transfer, however, seems to be taking a very long time. Consider following observations

  • For many years economics assumed that people are rational and selfish. Not later than 1970s, these assumptions were challenged and then scientifically proven wrong by many psychologists. Economists have also accepted the fallacy in there earlier assumptions. This is clearly evident from theories such as Bounded Rationality, Prospect Theory. However, many elementary books, either targeted to economics students or general public, still teach economics based on same old assumptions.
  • As far as I know, people, in genearl, still believe that genes of an animal are like a computer program and completely control the behavior, traits and many other important things regarding the animal throughout its lifetime. However scientists working in the field of genetics have long ago realized the limitations of genes in controlling behavior or traits of animal. One of the reasons behind this particular knowledge gap is probably the propaganda adopted by MNCs in the field of genetics.

It is understandable if discoveries in a very specialized and narrow field are taking time to reach people. But discoveries which shake the very foundations of disciplines (like the ones described above) must reach people, at least those working in the same discipline, within short time.

Trying to find out reasons behind above observations, I think

  • Probably discoveries like fallacy in basic assumptions of economics are not instantaneous. They take place over a long period of time as scientists debate for a long time before concluding anything.
  • In some cases, like genetics, there are some entities that are benefited, directly or indirectly, from incorrect beliefs of people.
  • Even though we have easy access to all the developments taking place around us, the capacity of a human being to assimilate knowledge limits the rate of knowledge transfer.
I am very happy to post my first blog. Hope I will continue the process.

  1. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases" Science, Sept 1974, Vol. 185 (4157), pp. 1124-1131.
  2. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice" Science, Jan 1981, Vol. 211 (4481), pp. 453-458.
  3. Daniel Kahneman. "A Psychological Perspective of Economics" American Economic Review, May 2003, Vol 93 (2), Pages 162-168. 
  4. Fritjof Capra. "The Hidden Connections", Flamingo, 2003