Monday, November 21, 2016

Infatuations by Javier Marias

                This is one of the novels which explore the possibilities of the form, sum and substance of novel.  A fresh perspective of the art of novel and a fresh look at the relationships and human feelings and reality.  Though it is written in first person and realistic style, it delves deep into the inner worlds of each of the characters from the point of view of a woman who starts observing a couple, a husband and wife, in a cafe, from a distance.  It gives pleasure and a sense of normal day to her if she watches the couple in the morning at the break fast.  This may happen to us. She admires the couple for their deep love which shows in their speech and actions.  After some time she does not find the couple coming to the cafe and later finds that the husband has been killed by a madman by accident.   Finding the wife at the cafe one day, she goes to her to extend her condolences and she is told that the couple had also been watching her and have also given her a name.  She goes to the house of the woman with the good thought that it may help her to overcome her grief.

                The narrator, a woman meets two people there.  In the next chapter, the narrator tells that they, the narrator and the man she met have an affair, neither romantic nor very demanding, but just an affair without any commitments on either side.  One of those days when she visits him, she discreetly comes to know that the death of the man was not an accident that happened in the spur of the moment but a well planned conspiracy by the professor, the man with whom the narrator has an affair.  The terror of knowing the truth about the murder puts her in an ethical delimma.  The professor finds out that the narrator knows the truth and both have to live with that in fear of each other.  The woman fears but also dares to question the professor about the murder.  The professor spins an unbelievable story of the husband having a kind of cancer and having requested the professor to erase him without him knowing the day or method adopted by the professor to execute this plan.  Both of them knew this the other persons is not convinced it to be true.  But their affairs comes to an end.

                After some time, the narrator finds the professor with the ex-wife of the murdered man in a restaurant, probably married.  She goes to them and interacts with them as if she does not know anything and finally departs without any comments.

                All at once I enjoyed the pleasure of reading Dostoevesky, Dickens and masters of magical realism, together in one novel.  The nature of love, hate, relationship, sex, jealousy conspiracy and death and in fact, full spectrum of human emotions and feelings, we experience or see in this world are explored in great details in the novel. Though, the novel is in the form of stream of consciousness, there are dramatic events, thrilling revelations which compel one to read.  Though there is a sense of justice, good and bad, there is no resolution of the conflict between good and bad. These are left as they are. We are only bystanders in a great drama.  Suddenly we find ourselves into the family life of an individual and with the same suddenness we get out of the situation at the end.  No moral judgements and life goes on for every one. 

                We may also say, in the same manner as that of the author, ‘sometimes it may be in our interest that we do not know the truth, for knowing the truth may trouble or harm us more than not knowing the truth. 

Altogether, an excellent novel to read.

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

It is one of the very good books i have recently read.  He bases his arguments of future on the biological evolution of human beings then travels to the other such revolutions as agriculture and cognitive evolution and ends with the revolution of artificial intelligence.
                I have given below some of the passages from the first and second chapter of the book.  He says that humans will realize that there is no personality or individual as we assume today.  We had assumed that there was ‘Soul’ within us,  and over a period of time it turned out to be false.  Similarly there is nothing called personality or invidual. We are all executing what our genes have decided. He says we are also ‘Algorithms’ which are a set of cascading command and control mechanisms. Our genes and organs are only processing actions as in a organised system, which has no central theme as we visualize it when we talk of personality or inviduals.  It is only our assumption that we have a personality and character etc.  Our internal processing systems are doing everything as per the script written by the genes in coordination with other genes or other chemicals surrounding the genes.  There Nothing more.  It is one of the stunning statements.  It may take time to digest this.
                Further, in future, ‘machines/algorithms better than human beings, i.e. artificial intelligence will perform all the actions function that are based on data and data processing.  These machines will definitely perform these functions better than us. He mentions that the computer ‘Watson” which defeated Gary Gasparov in a chess match, is now acting as a ‘Medical practitioner’ collecting data about hundreds of patients and it prescribes medicines keeping in memory the requirements of invididual needs.  Similarly another computer is a ‘Pharmacist’ which dispenses medicines to patients/customers keeping in view the individual requirements of the patients.   In his view, the best data processing systems will rule the world of tomorrow.  And human beings are going to be sidelined in this business by the artificial intelligence.  Simultaneously he says slowly but surely humans will defeat death in future. Human deficiencies either physical or mental will be cured by injecting correcting chemicals or genes or parts of genes which may renuvinate the organ of human body which fails.   He says that now every death has a technical/medical reason which can be cured in future and at least some of the rich people may live longer or become immortal. Thus humans may become gods on earth (Homo dues –  Human Gods )
Very simple style and occasional humour adds to the pleasure of reading the book.  Science, history, geography, are brought in to establish the past present and future.  Highly recommended for any one who wants to know the past and future of human beings.


Quotations from  HOMO DEUS by Yuval Noah Harari             

 Chapter I
The same three problems preoccupied the people of twentieth century China, of medieval India and ancient Egypt. Famine Plague and War were always at the top of the list.  For generations after generations humans have prayed to every god, angel and saint, and have invented coiuintless tools, institutions and social systems – but they continued to die in their millions from starvations, epidemics and violence.  Many thinkers and prophets concluded that famaine, plague and war must be an integral part of God’s cosmic plan or or four imperfect nature, and nothing short of the end of time would free us from them.
But in the last few decades we have managed to rein in famine, 0plague and war.
But they have been transformed from incomplrehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges.
For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people odie from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.
IF we are indeed birnging famine plague and war under control, what will replace them at the top of the human agenda?
When severe drought hit ancient Egypt or medieval Inda, it was not uncommon that 5 or 10 percent of the population perished.  Provisions became scarce. Transport was too slow and expensive to import sufficient food; and fgovernments were far too weak to save the day.
In April 1694 French official in the town of Beauvais dsscribed the impact of famine and of soaring food prices saying that his entire district was now filled with ‘an infinite number of poor souls, weak from hunger and wretchedness and dying from want, because, having no work or occupation, they lack the money to buy bread.  Seeking to prolong their lives little and somewhat to appease their hunger, these poor folt eat such unclean things as cats and the flesh of horses flayed and cast into dung heaps. 
About 2.8 million French 15 percent of the population starved to death between 1692 and 1694. 1695 Estonia – killing one fifth of the population – Finland quarater  to a third of people died. Scotland in some districts 20 percent of the population died.
Mass famines still strike some areas from time to time, but they are exceptional, and they are almost al;ways caused by human politics rather than by natural catastrophes.
In france 6 million i.e. 10 percent of the populations suffer from nutritional insecurity.
In 1974 the first world food conference was convened in Rome and delegates were treated to apocalyptic scenerious.   They were told that there was no way for China to feed its billions people, and that the worlds most populous country was heading towardscatastrophe.  In fact it was heading towards the greatest economic miracles in history.
In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered frommalnutrition.  Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030.
In 2013 about 56 million people died throughout the world;
620000 died due to human violence
War killed 120000 people and crime killed another 500 000
800 000 committed suicide and 1.5 million died of diabetes. SUGAR IS NOW MORE DANGEROUS THAN GUNPOWDER.
In 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries.  How then do terrorists manage to dominate the headlines and change the poltical situation throughout the world? By provoking their enemies to overreact.  In essence, terrorism is a show.  Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and makes us feel as if we are sliding back into dedieval chaos. 
In most cases ovoeroreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves. _
My comments – This gives immense power to the governments that be to harass citizens .
Whe the moment comes to choose between economic growth and econological stability politicians CEOs and voters almost always prefer growth.
In the 21st century humans are likely to make a serious bed for immortality.
We are constantly reminded thata human life is the most sacred thing in the universe.  Everybody says this: teachers in schools, politicians in pazrliaments lawyers in courts and actors on theatre stages. .....Throughout history, religions and ideologies did not sanctify life itself.  They always sanctified something above or beyond earthly existence, and were consequently quite tolerant of death.
                Just try to imagine Christianity islam or Hinduism in a world without death – which is also a world without heaven, hell or reincarnation.
For modern people death is a technical problem that we can and should solve.
                Human always die due to some technical glitch.  The heart stops pumping blood. Etc etc.....
Traditionally death was the speciality of priests and theologians, now the engineers are taking over.
OM Kurzweil was appointed a director of engineering at Google, and a year later Google launched a sub-company called Calico whose stated mission is ‘to solve death’.
Google Ventures Investment fund President, Bill Maris says ‘ If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500 the answer is Yes’. Google has invested 2 bilion.
Paypal co founder Peter THiel has said ‘I think there are probably three  main modes of approaching death. You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight.  I think our society is dominated by people who are in to denial or acceptance and I prefer to fight it.
In the twentieth centure we have almost doubled life expectance from forty to seventy, so in the twneti first centure we should at least be atable to double it again to 150.
In ancient GReeced the philosopher Epicurus explained that worshipping gods is a waste of time, that there is no existence after death, and that happiness is the sole purpose of life.  Most people in ancient times rejected Epicureanism, but today it has become default view.  Scepticism about the afterlife drives humankind to seek not only immortality, but also earthly happiness.  For who would like to live for ever in eternal misery?
Countries measured their success by the size of their territory, the increase in their population and the growth of their GDP – not by the happiness of their citizens.  Industrialized nation such as Germany, France and Japan established gigantic systems of education, health and welfare, yet these systems were aimed to strengthen the nation rather than ensure individual well-being.
AMERICAN Declartion of Indpependence guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness itself.
In the stone Age the average human had at his  disposal about 4000 calories of energy per day for doing everything. Todaya Americans use on average 228000 calories of energy per person per day, to feed not only their stomachs but also their cars computers, refrigeratos and TVs.
It took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful.  How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?Science says that nobody is ever made happy by getting a promotion, winning the lottery or even finding a true love.  People are made happy by one thing and one thing only – pleasant sensation in their bodies.
The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic being.
In early 2015 several hundred workers in Epicenter high-tech hub in Stockholm had microchip implanted into their hands.  The chips are about the size of a grain of rice and store personalised security information that enables workers to open doors and operate photocopiers with a wave of hand. 
                In 2000 Sharon Sarinen from West Bloomfield, Michigan, gave brith to a healthy baby girl, Alana.  Alana’s nuclear DNA came from her mother, Sharon, and her father, Paul, but her mitochondrial DNA came from another women. From a purely technical perspective, Alana has three biological parents.  A year later, in 2001 the US government banned this treatment, due to safety and ethical concerns.
In the middle of the nineteenth century Karl Marx reached brilliant economic insights.  Based on these insights he predicted an increasingly violent conflict between the proletariat and the capitalists, ending with the inevitable victory of the former and the collapse of the capitalist system.  Marx was certain that the revolution would start in countries that spearheaded the Industrial Revolution – such as Britain, France and the USA and spread to the rest of the world. 
                Marx forgot that capitalists know how to read.  At first only a handful of disciples took Marx seriously and read his writings.  But as these socialist firebrands gained adherents and power, the capitalists became alarmed.  They too perused Das Capital, adopting many of the tools and insights of Marxist analysis. In the twientieth century everybody from street urchins to presidents embraced a Marxist approach to economics and history.  Even diehard capitalists who vehemently resisted the Marxist prognosis still made use of the Marxist diagnosis.  When the CIA analysed the situation in Vietnam or Chile in 1960s, it divided society into classes.  When Nixon or Thatcher looked at the globe, they asked themselves who controls the vital means of production.  From 1989 to 1991 George Bush oversaw the demise of the Evil Empire of communism, only to be defeated in the 1992 elections by Bill Clinton.  Clinton’s winning campaign strategy was summarised in the motto “It’s the economy, stupid’.  Marx could not have said it better.
                As people adopted the Marxist diagnosis, they changed their behavious accordingly, Capitalistis in countries such as Britaian and France strove to better the lot of the workers, strengthen their national consciousness and integrate them into the poltical system.  Consequently when workers begain voting in elections and Labour gained power in one country after another, the capitalists could still sleep soundly in their beds.  As a result, Marx’s predictions came to naught.  Communist revolutions never engulfed the leading industrial powers such as Britain, France and the USA and the dictatorship of the proletariat was consigned to the dustbin of history. 
                This is the paradox of historical knowledge. Knowledge that does not change behavious is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance.  The more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge become outdated.
                Today our knowledge is increasing at breakneck speed, and theoretically we should understand the world better and better.  But the very opposite is happening.  Our new found knowledge leads to faster economic social and political changes; in an attempt to understand what is happening, we accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, which leads only to faster and greater upheavals.  Consequently we are less and less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future. .
                Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it.
                Movements seeking to change the world often begin by rewriting history, thereby enabling people to reimagine the future.
Humans thereby came to identify laws with political power, social status and economic wealth.
Grass is nowadays the most widespread crop in the USA after maize and wheat, and the lawn industry (plants, manure, mowers, sprinklers gardeners) accaounts for billions of dolloars every year.

                No investigation of our divine future can ignore our own animal past, or our relations with other animals – because the relationship between human and animals is the best model we have for future relations between superhumans and humans.  

Monday, November 07, 2016

I am an old man by yesterday’s standard.  IF today’s 60 is yesterday’s 40 then I am young.  But the files which I hold, by any standard, are old and older than the old.  You may think that I am a records keeper of some government office.  I am not a dunce to reveal my identity so soon.

I have millions of files. I am as old as the paper that was first used for the purpose of administering citizens.  Yes, governments had been gigantic paper eating donkeys.  Most of the papers are stored and some of it exited, if you don’t want any unparliamentary world for that.
Millions and billions of paper records held in the sanctum sanctorium of offices, from village office to the Prime Minister’s office, have been generated with billions of hours of work of millions of people , just to keep the citizens and civilizations alive.  Think of it, without these records no civilizations can survive in modern world.

Now suddenly I am being told that I have become irrelevant like an animal species nearing extinction.  You may say situation is not so alarming.   But I can see the end of the paper.  The records that have been kept in all the countries put together can be held in a single computer.  Some say that Americans already have such a computer and are collecting all the information about everything on earth.

But the old papers’ decaying smell, which we had enjoyed being romantics of the past glory rather than the harbingers of future notoriety, will within next 50 years vanish from the earth.   My faint hope is that only government papers will vanish.  Everyone suffers becauses of their availability.  They attest our very existence.  No one will accept that we exist without a paper card issued by the government.   If there were no records in government, everyone can live happily as they want, in the place they want, by doing what they want.  there is a law or rule or precedent or procedure for anything and everything in Government.  As all the citizens are shackeled by governments, they will be the first to be discarded and dumped.

But hold, there will be thousands of bureaucrats, who live for and live by the laws and procedure.  They would not let any other machine to take over their preserve.  Then what will happen to their power which is enshrined in these papers and exercised by their staffers.  They will be last guardians of papers.

                But there will also be the intellectuals, the guardians angels of free thought.  They will fight to protect the books that they have printed on paper like the old clerks of revenue departments who preserved and protected the papers that attested their authority and professed that they accumulated the governments papers for the welfare of the citizens.  But people would say we do not want the welfare administered by these clerks.  Then books in the libraries of the world may also vanish like the palm-leaf manuscripts that have almost vanished but for the few who held them to deceive people with the art of forecasting the future.
                In such a world everything will be captured in camera.  If you are born, your photo will be recorded for history and stored in a computer.  You will join the school on the records of computer and write your exam on computer etc etc. All information will be on computer.

                Ultimately there would be a day when instead of eating papers like donkeys, we would all be eating computer and its data.