Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Tue, 08 May 2007

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A response to a response


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A correspondent wrote:

I have worked in the software development industry for more than 7 years and there was no need for any "pattern"-(in the mathematical sense)-oriented thinking. 75% of the work that the indian software engineers do requires plain street smartness.

I do not know what constitutes "street smart" in the sense that you use it. If you mean the use of (elementary) logic, then that is certainly a "mathematical skill". As a matter of experience, I would add that most Indian students I have met are less "scared" of the "manipulation of meaningless symbols" ("algebra") than their Western counterparts. This is also a "mathematical skill".

The correspondent continued:

The average Indian student who has done a Bachelor's degree in mathematics would not know the applications of calculus,

The average "B. Sc. (Math)" student is only in that course because that student could not get into engineering or electronics or physics; this is unfortunate but repeated experience tells me it is true. Such a student is not an average student of mathematics in that age group but is well below that average.

The correspondent continued:

So how did they go astray? The answer lies in the present day teachers.

I agree with you completely. Even good students (of mathematics) will become weak if they are taught by teachers who themselves are afraid of (or are uninterested in) the concepts they are teaching.

You say "The vast majority of people today are stupid and petty" in one of your writings.

I knew (when I wrote that statement) that it was stupid of me to say it but I wrote it anyway (which perhaps makes me doubly stupid!). The reason is that I could find no good way to say what I wanted to say, which is something like:

  I cannot trust the opinion of the majority in a number of
  matters because they have been made scared and blind by being
  taught obedience and faith instead of (self-)discipline and
  reasoning. In such matters, if the latter two indicate that
  my views are contrary to those of the majority, I will refuse
  to follow that majority.

Perhaps I would need an entire new essay in order to elaborate this point of view!

The correspondent continued:

But if the same meaning were to be derived from say, some religious text (say from Manusmriti) it would be interpreted as propagating caste system. (Your theory suggests atleast two castes - The majority "stupid" clan and the minority "smart" clan).

Quite the contrary is true. Manusmriti and many other religious texts promote ritual and dogma (which are two other names for obedience and faith). I did not say that one decides "a priori" that one set of people is smart and another set is stupid---this is decided "purely" on the basis of their actions and words in the context where one needs to take a decision. The statement about people being "stupid and petty" is an experimental conclusion not one of ideology---in particular:

  1. It could be the case that my way of deriving this conclusion is wrong and so it is I who am incorrect in my reasoning---hence stupid.
  2. Even if I am "right" currently, this situation could change with time if more people start reasoning about things and control their own bad behaviour towards others.

The caste system and other religious systems do not allow for either of the above two possibilites --- they would never admit to fallibility either in the short or the long term.

The correspondent continued:

to see incompatibilities between culture and knowledge and thus disregard everything that is ancient is equally dangerous.

I did not say that we disregard anything just because it is ancient. I only said that you do not use this "ancient-ness" as a deciding positive. Something is not correct only because it is ancient, just as something is not scientific or progressive just because it is new.

The correspondent continued:

What is required is a balance between the old and the new, for almost everything in the world is modeled as a cyclical phenomenon.

I don't see any cycle here. I also do not see any straight line called progress either.


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