Friday, August 07, 2009

Definition of intelligence and responsibility of a scientist

I am sorry if I sounded too revolutionary in this lengthy message. I do not think anyone in this world is just average. Everyone have some great talent. It’s up to right grooming and providing right environment that help discovering and then developing such talents. When I play with my very young son, I try to see the world through his eyes and then try to understand the problem he might be facing before asking him to do something different or the same thing differently.

I have doubts about the way IQ is measured and how people are branded intelligent or not. How can one say that Einstein is the greatest genius when he could not do many things that a common Joe can do without much problem, e.g maintaining a healthy family relationship, respect his wife or not sidelining his wife for his personal fame, inability to foresee how his and many other research were about to be used by policy makers (yes, I am talking about Nuc bomb) and so on. Einstein surely was genius so far physics and mathematics is concerned. But that is not all about life or the world. Let me quote, “…wherever possible, scientists took advantage of the nation’s appetite for heroes.… Social surveys demonstrated that industrialization had not eradicated poverty and the heroic rhetoric of invention had served its purpose” (source: “The invention of heroes”: Nature 30th July, 2009, pp 572-583).

People like Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey may not be excellent in using latest technology or great in doing complicated physics problems in chimpanzee or gorilla research. But I consider them as one of the finest human being ever lived in this planet. Or how can you compare Vivekananda or Rabindra Nath Tagore or Nelson Mandela with Newton or Edison so far “intelligence” is concerned? Let me phrase my wordings differently: If the ultimate target of science is to make this world a better place (through technology and knowledge) then who is more important, among those people? Some may say these are all irrelevant for a scientist to think about, many say “it’s not our (scientists’) duty to decide how our work is being used by policy makers”, some may agree with me that our ultimate target is to make this world a better place. Some bright medical scientists are very against doing more research to lengthen human life span, as “if we can not control birth then we must not control death”. The consequences are in front of us, mainly in developing countries like India with its high population growth and increasing life expectancy without supporting resources and governance to sustain such a huge population. We also can see huge socioeconomic problems associated with rapid increase of old people in developed countries, without proper care (both mental and physical), living almost meaningless lives.

I am trained (I am avoding the term “education” here) in some specific subjects; know some specific techniques and now trying to solve some of the earthly problems using those. But am I a good “scientist” if I forget where to go, what is the main objective of all these “research”? Once Ex-British PM Tony Blair said something like this, “money was invented to quantify happiness in ancient time but now even economists have forgotten the basic objective and we all are busy in measuring and maximizing money and most of the time it translate into sacrificing happiness”. Deterioration of social values and happiness is a direct consequence of deterioration of our basic education. Have you heard of the term "happiness index" or "happiness quotient"? (you can check: Science of happiness and Politics of happiness).

In other words, introduction of corporate education (invented in the western world, mainly in USA) and adoption of US system around the world made the situation worse. We talk what others want us to talk, we think as others want us to think. It's becoming more and more tough to remain different, think differently, act differently. We are loosing our personality, our creativity, and above all sacrificing our own happiness in the process. Nowadays we hardly do what makes us happy, but we try to justify what we do. That’s why so many people flock to a profession that can give them money while majority of them could be better in many other professions. Everyone does not have to do IT or biotech or genetic engineering or work on string theory to become intelligent. The situation is far worse in developing countries like India where people face harder challenge to sustain basic survival, pay higher price to remain different. 

I am not an economist. I do not have in-depth knowledge how the society and mankind will be affected if we, majority of human beings, start doing what we love. Will that be good or bad? What is the actual value of an art work (other than box office or business earnings)? Will it be a great idea to allow bees to become extinct and then invest billions of dollars to invent on a technology to pollinate plants or producing industrial honey by chemists! I think the world will become more boring, monotonous and much less productive (even for a genius) if love for doing something is not maintained and encouraged. Supply of factory workers and industrial managers should not be the main target to educate our future generations.

It is the conducive socioeconomic environment that allow people to do what they love and that ultimately groom talents. Scientist (I mean, logical people) should actively take part in framing those policies. We, the scientists, have a bigger responsibility. People with vision must get involved. Some can do it directly while many others can try to build public (Scientific?) opinion for a bigger goal towards a better society.

Pic: Jane Goodall with one of her Chimps

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Indian Police after 62 years of independence

This picture is published in a Bengali magazine, “Desh” (17th July 2009, page 75). This is about an ongoing police operation in recently famous (for leftist extremism) Lalgarh area in West Bengal state in eastern India. Is there anything in that picture that strikes you? Apparently not, if you are habituated with daily lives in India. But look closely. You can see a paramilitary force personnel holding an assault rifle wearing a towel around his neck, typically worn by common people in some areas in India. A police personnel wearing a fancy, American style trousers with big side pockets. That cannot be an approved police uniform. Two other police officials are doing their duties with buttons of their shirts wide open. Is this a picture of a state owned, disciplined armed force and that too during an on going operation?

This picture seems to indicate the present status of India. Lawlessness. By the way, the article was not about police indiscipline. There is not much difference between underworld criminals in action and that of a state owned police-paramilitary force. These police and paramilitary personnel have no sense of discipline, no sense of duty. No sane Indian expect these "professionals" to be disciplined.  These people know very well that no one can take any action against them, as the higher officials are even less disciplined, less accounted for, and lost almost all moral high ground to punish such “simple mistakes”.

It seems that Indian police-paramilitary is nothing but state owned criminal gangs, devoid of any discipline, duty towards the nation and its people and above all no accountability. Reports of police abuse appear regularly in news media. Our political leadership routinely promises police reform but nothing happens in reality. Today no sane person prefers to go to police and ask any help, even to report any crime. General people are showing increasing tendency to take laws into their own hands. Police abuse give rise to more anger and give birth to many more terrorists and extremist as compared to any ideology (e.g Islamic terrorism, Maoism etc.). Indian police live on with its pre-independence mentality and brutality; always reminds our colonial past.

Indian policy makers should remember that development of few people cannot be termed as development of the country. One of the main parameters for a civilised nation is to provide an environment of security and affordable and speedy justice. But such a police force can never help towards that goal but can only make things worse.